The Sun City Center Audubon Society celebrated the 51st anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 at the SCC Community Association’s West Campus Nature Trails. The weather cooperated beautifully with clear skies, a light breeze, low humidity and temperatures in the upper seventies.

Sixty-seven individuals signed up at the trailhead. Most of the participants had not been on the trail before despite living here for some time. One couple, Brent and Brenda Green, just moved into the Community Association a week before. Barb Durant joined the Audubon Society just before the pandemic hit. She is excited about the society’s programs and trips resuming. 

At 10 a.m. master birder, Ray Webb led the Bird Lovers’ Walk. Webb says, “ I have been a birder all my life. I joined the Tampa Audubon Society in 1975 and then here in Sun City Center in 2004.” Webb says he has seen 105 species of birds in the West Campus Nature Trails area. He pointed out the osprey on its nest on an elevated platform near West Del Webb saying, “Ospreys have been coming to this spot for the last three years. Great horned owls nest every year near La Jolla and North Pebble Beach.”

Since the park and its trails are near homes, there have been no prescribed burns. Some plants, animals and birds require an environment that has recently been burned. One of these is the scrub jay. Webb says, “If you want to see scrub jays, go to Duette Preserve in Manatee County, a wide-open area these birds love.”

Webb likes to walk on the West Campus Nature Trails early in the morning.  He says, “The best time to see the birds is around 7:45 in the morning. They are at their most active then. The best place to see them is along the water.”

Melanie Higgins led the 10:30 Tree Huggers Walk. She says, “I am passionate about restoration.” She explained the various habitats we saw along the walk and which plants and creatures need specific environments. Higgins also pointed out examples of the phases trees progress through. Did you know that slash pines and longleaf pines go through a grass phase before looking anything like a tree?

John Lampkin put some Spanish Moss under a microscope so we could see its scales. Lampkin says, “Spanish Moss has a tremendous amount of surface area to absorb water.” Lampkin led the 11 a.m. Bugs and Blooms walk. Lampkin not only tells the names of the “bugs and blooms,” he also describes how they interact with each other and the environment. For example, the button plant— a very tiny plant with a small bloom—is visited by 37 different types of bugs.

Peter Aluotto Is the Chairman of Conservation for the local Audubon Society. This event was his inaugural project. Aluotto says, “We were going to do something like this last year but cancelled because of the pandemic. We hope that residents know about the trails and become familiar with them. If you look at Ideal Living magazine, trails have become a selling point for housing areas. This community is a pioneer in having nature trails.”

Mary Duncan has been the president of the Audubon Society for four years. She says, “ZOOM meetings have continued to take place during the pandemic.” Duncan says, “There used to be field trips every month.  We plan to resume them after things begin to reopen.”

Duncan says, “I love being out in nature. This club is enjoyable on all levels of interest and knowledge of nature and birds. We have a variety of speakers at our monthly meetings. We travel to many places such as the Bishop museum, boating trips and nature preserves.”

Currently, only the south side of the canal is available for walking. The Audubon Society has drawn up plans for developing the part of the preserve north of the canal at some point in time. Doing so would require approval from the board and funds for a bridge and boardwalks.

There is talk of another Earth Day Event possibly being held next April 22. In the meantime, tours are available the first Tuesday of every month at 9 a.m. Bug spray, closed toe shoes and hats are recommended. The trails are on the west side of West Del Webb just south of Vincennes and just north of Seton Hall. Cars can park along the road. Golf cart parking is available in the field or back under the trees.

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