I visited some well known and pristine nature preserves during our trip to Florida in early May. The birding was good, though a bit lower than my expectations, given the reputation that Corkscrew Swamp and J.N. Darling have. To complete the weirdness then, by far the best single-spot birding I had, in terms of overall species seen and the proximity at which they were seen, was a large pre-fabricated suburban hang out called Lake's Park.
Yes, flock to it!
The series of connected reservoirs making up Lake's Park come complete with paddleboat and canoe rentals, and are circumnavigated by bike trails and even a miniature train for the kiddos. Different areas also have sand volleyball, grassy picnicking, and other pedestrian loops through the swampy pine forests. All in all it's a pretty sweet park, but it's also crowded and one really feels the overwhelming 'hand-of'man' effect.
This doesn't stop just about every Florida heron and egret from maintaing at least small breeding colonies in the park, nor the other expected Florida riparian birds from making their appearances. The tree islands provide plenty of seclusion and shelter in the middle of the lakes, and since the water is continually stocked with fish, there's no shortage of food.
In about two hours of birding, I literally re-saw almost every single other bird species I had this far seen in Florida at Lake's Park. It felt a little cheap in a way, since it was not a very natural seeming place (though, again, it was still a very nice city park), but like many other urban birding scenes, it was a great spot to load up on photos.
Upon arriving at the park, my first route was on the lengthy boardwalk vivisecting the largest central lake. From the boardwalk I could look down into the bullrushes and reeds, spying on Anhingas, Grackles, turtles, frogs, and any trolls living under the bridge.
Yes yes, they're Grackles...but hey, Boat-tailed Grackle is not to be underestimated by a predominantly Arizona birder, so here's to a photo-first!
The boardwalk provided a very nice vantage point for this candy-corn Common Gallinule--not always the easiest bird to photograph--and her offspring, which are, given their aesthetic, kind of a bitter sweet bird to photograph.
One of the best initial highlights for Lake's Park, something that made the unplanned stop immediately worthwhile, was the close opportunities for observing Anhingas. These serpentine birds were at most of the other Florida spots I birded, but usually at a distance or seen flying away.
Here, as one might expect at a park bustling with sunburnt fishermen, paddle-boating romantic teenagers, and ice cream-faced little kiddos, the Anhingas were quite used to people. In fact, it was a lesson in patience just waiting for this gal to unwind herself.
Certainly one of the more unique birds in North America for their anatomy/shape and swimming habit, I also noticed, and then later confirmed online, that Anhingas have no nostrils. Perhaps this is an advantage when plying one's trade in smelly swamplands, or when one's primary means of acquiring food is by smashing one's face through it at lightning speed.
At any rate, it was very satisfying to finally get some up-close observations of this bird, all the more so with the rest of the sprawling Lake's Park to explore. More of that to come later.