For the Birds?

For the Birds?

For the Birds?

Story by Ilona Merritt, Photography by Kai Rambow

Some information courtesy SCC History Society

 

When the greens of the North Courses were re-sodded in 1987-8, the chemicals used to fumigate the soil had been covered with plastic, but high winds and heavy rain washed the chemicals onto fairways and into lakes. The chain reaction was overwhelming.

Fairways were covered with dead mole crickets. Gulls flew in for the feasting, joined by Muscovy ducks and Mallards. Then there were dead gulls, ducks, fish, and turtles on the course and in the lakes in a few days. Who would clean this up? About 100 turkey vultures arrived to do the job while making the islands in the Middle Lake their new rookery. In 1990, a newly contracted company’s mistake of killing weeds in the North Course lakes created more food for the Vultures. The Island in Middle Lake had become a new rookery for about 100 vultures, the food that had attracted them was gone, but they decided to stay. They cruised the SCC community by day, perching on house roofs, church steeples, and porches. They would grab the asphalt tiles with their claws and create costly leakage problems. They attacked automobiles causing damage. Bacteria left by the birds could cause health problem… Something had to be done.

At the time, Richard Thompson, director of the Animal Damage Control Division of the US Department of Agriculture, suggested a solution. Shoot blanks to scare the birds away. Residents acquired state and a federal licenses. Everything they bought, used or shot, had to be recorded in great detail. Five residents on a silver pontoon boat sent stream sparks toward tall pines. The noise they made rivaled any Fourth of July celebration, sending black, hulking vultures soaring in every direction.

Fast forward to today, and the situation has taken a new turn. Many different species of birds have come to live on Egret Island in Middle Lake. There are still a few vultures, but the list of other birds that have made their nests on the island is long. Biologists who have visited the Island are amazed at the type of birds nesting near each other, because many would never get this close in the wild. Ibis, egrets, blue herons, tri-colored herons, anhinga, cormorants, and many more.

On a recent visit to a friend’s home, we sat in the back yard and watched wood ducks and cormorants guiding their young through the water, while a bald eagle perched high in a tree above. Yes, there are still vultures, and, yes, they can still be destructive. When some residents decided to bring back Mr. Thompson’s suggested solution, others pointed out that scaring those birds away would scare the other birds away, causing some adults to abandon their nests and their young. So, for now, the guns are packed away, and all the birds are free to hunt and fly and raise their young. Some residents would like to see Egret Island designated as a bird sanctuary. But, official or not, the nesting birds on Egret Island are just one more beautiful reason to love Sun City Center.

All Photos By Kai Rambow

Wood duck with 19 babies.  Wood ducks are very skittish and attempting to get a good photo is a real challenge.

Tri-color heron stepping away from the nest for a few moments right by the waterline.

This lone eagle likes to visit at Middle Lake perching on the highest tree.

Male wood ducks have amazing colors.

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A Guided Tour of Native Florida in SCC

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A Guided Tour of Native Florida, Right Here in SCC

By Diane M. Loeffler

On the first Tuesday of the month, without fail, John Lampkin is at the West Campus Nature Trails at 9 a.m. ready to take you on a free tour. This is your chance to see how this area once appeared and to learn from someone who is knowledgeable and enthusiastic. You certainly will not be bored!

The latter part of August was quite wet, so when I decided to take the tour on September 1, I wore boots. Figuring that mosquitoes like wet places, I put on a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and long pants. I sprayed some bug repellant on my neck and hands and was ready to go.

Lampkin begins his tour at the canal that runs under West Del Webb. The canal is part of a system of ponds, lakes and canals Del Webb dug to drain the area for development.

Lampkin points out the non-native grasses and the native plants surrounding the canal. Three years ago, a grant for $20,000 was given to help clean out the non-native species that were taking over the canal area, since club volunteers clear out the area by hand. A combination of donations and dues from the SCC Audubon Club help fund periodic assistance from an outside service to remove invasive plants.

Entering the forested area, you will walk through the Mesic Pine Flatwoods ecosystem. You will also see the shady, closed canopy flatwoods area. There are many oak trees including one Lampkin says is, “at least 200 years old judging from the diameter of its trunk.”

There is a large area of saw palmettos. Saw palmettos are spread by rhizomes. The saw palmettos we see here could well be part of a very, very old plant. Only three percent of Florida’s longleaf pines remain, so seeing a virgin stand in our little trail area is very exciting. Lampkin says, “You can tell this is an old area because you can distinctly see four generations of longleaf pines next to each other.”

On the tour, Lampkin points out all sorts of bugs, spiders, lizards and birds. He shows you where they nest, the plants that feed them and the flowers they pollinate. Best of all, he knows the names of the plants, animals and insects.

Like me, you may see turtle eggs on a sandy mound. Lampkin shows you the wasps, bees, and butterflies feeding on flowers and laying eggs on leaves. Some of the creatures are very, very tiny. Lampkin often took photos and then enlarged them so that I could see the detail of the plants and of the life forms on them.

One of the smallest flowers was on a hatpin plant. Lampkin says, “When I first saw it, I thought, what kind of insect will pollinate that? As I observed it over the years, I found 26 species that pollinate it.” By the way, Lampkin also keeps track of all the species of bees and butterflies that make the trail area their home. Ray Webb (not a relative of Del Webb) keeps a record of all the types of birds in the trail area.

Lampkin says, “People may not realize it, but the landscape here is very harsh. Plants and animals must learn to adapt to dry springs and very wet summers. Turtles and some insects lay their eggs in the ground and must find a place higher than where the water will rise.”

In nature, areas such as this would periodically catch fire and the cycle of growth and life would begin anew.

The trails were the brainchild of Mike Raff and were originally maintained by the Hiking Club. The SCC Audubon Club took over in 2015. In 2018, the SCC Audubon Club and the Community Association won 2018 Environmental Project of the Year from the Tampa Bay Association of Environmental Professionals. Club volunteers maintain the area with help from the Community Association staff who mow the paths.

The trail is on the west side West Del Webb, north of Seton Hall Drive and south of Vincennes Drive. There is no car parking there, but you can drive your golf cart over the grass to a marked parking area under the trees. You should leave your cart there as golf carts are not allowed on the trails.

Wear closed toe shoes or boots so that you don’t trip over any roots or stumble on uneven areas. You may wish to spray some insect repellant on any uncovered skin. You can learn more about the trails at “www.sccauduboclub.com/nature-trails”. You can also learn about Florida ecosystems at “www.fnai.org”.

Visit the trail whenever you can for a peaceful walk and some time with nature. Also, consider marking “9 a.m. the first Tuesday of the month” on your calendar. You will be amazed at all there is to see when John Lampkin is your guide.

If you wish to know more about the Audubon Club, contact Mary Duncan at 813 260-3322.

 

IN THE PHOTO: 

John Lampkin conducts tours of the West Nature Trail path. Lampkin uses his experience as a musician and naturalist to make YouTube videos. He has won awards for his nature photography including one of a palmetto skipper for the American Butterfly Association’s magazine.

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By Kai Rambow

 

Stunningly beautiful with seemingly infinite varieties, orchids fascinate even people who don’t pay much attention to flowers.  Selby Gardens does a tremendous job of creating thematic displays showcasing orchids.

Blossoms of Asia showcases Asian orchids in a Japanese inspired setting in the conservatory.  Note: The bamboo and many other materials were harvested on the grounds. The beauty of the flowers is intoxicating; the calming effect of the Zen-like landscape garden is relaxing. It’s a wonderful, ascetic combination.

The Payne Mansion, once again, hosts part of the exhibition. Fabulously colored pages from old botanical reference guides are displayed.  Resplendent Japanese woodblock prints and paintings on vellum are also visually entrancing.  This should be of particular interest to any artists or craft enthusiasts.  Tip: Recommend catching a docent led tour in the mansion to learn more about the displays here.

Selby Gardens is a worthwhile destination and an especially rewarding one during their special themed displays. Blossoms of Asia runs until December 1.

Trip Tip: Mornings and weekdays should give you cooler temperatures and fewer people.  An early time will also give you the opportunity to revisit your favorite display before leaving.

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