One definition of opportunity is: “a favorable combination of circumstances, time, and place”. I was recently presented with an “opportunity” to go birding in a very unique area. I thought about it for, oh, about 3 seconds and said “yes, please”. A large group was to be provided a tour of the area and I was to be part of a small scouting party the day before in order to determine what birds might be available for viewing.
A project has been under way for several years to create a wetland mitigation area on the south side of Lake Hancock in Lakeland, Florida. The Southwest Florida Water Management District oversees the project.
Basically, water will be pumped from the south shore of Lake Hancock and flow through three “cells” planted with vegetation which filters impurities from the water. The result will be improved water quality from Lake Hancock into Saddle Creek which will ultimately flow into the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor. The newly created wetlands consists of approximately 1,000 acres and will eventually be opened to the public.
We started late in the day (3:00 p.m.) and dodged rain showers most of the afternoon. Despite the weather, our tally at sundown was 63 species observed. Over 3,000 American White Pelicans chose to roost here this evening! We also saw 12 species of ducks, over two dozen American Avocets, over two dozen Black-necked Stilts, heard at least ten Soras calling and found a good mix of additional birds. Other animals also apparently like the place as we found tracks of raccoons, opossums, white-tailed deer and wild hogs. There are plenty of alligators and snakes here as well.
As the weather settled down, so did the birds and the sound of Barred Owls echoing across the marsh provided an exclamation mark as to how special this area is becoming.
Some American White Pelicans spend the winter in central Florida and their numbers fluctuate locally from year to year. They apparently liked what they found this year. Our conservative estimate was at least 3,000 Pelicans roosting here on the day we visited.
First, there was one.
Then, a line formed.
Soon, the word had spread.
Chaos as choice spots were fought over.
A bit of pushing and shoving to establish personal space.
The crowd pays attention as the Head Pelican explains the rules of deportment.
A late-comer finds it a challenge to locate an open spot for landing.
The early birds show from whence came the expression: “slept like a rock”.
If you endure enough rain storms, you will eventually get to enjoy a rainbow.
As the sun made an appearance late in the day, Tree Swallows began their forays over the water for supper just prior to roosting for the night.
Black Skimmers likewise went on the prowl for small fish foolish enough to be too close to the surface.
Even more Pelicans began to arrive just at sunset.
A quartet of American Avocets relax and prepare for bed.
As night began to assert itself over the marsh – a true birder’s thoughts turn to one thing – there MUST BE OWLS OUT HERE!
If you’re in central Florida in the future, check to see if this area has opened to the public yet (not sure of the estimated date) and don’t miss this very special opportunity!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
See more birds at: Paying Ready Attention (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)