Just east of Sarasota, Florida, is The Celery Fields, a 360 acre area owned by Sarasota County and used as a primary flood mitigation zone. The fields are managed by Sarasota County Storm Water division and the County Parks & Recreation departments. The Sarasota Audubon Society helps manage the area and their volunteers operate the pavilions and give bird tours. Formerly farmland, this area grew various crops, primarily celery, hence giving the fields their unique name!
I have driven by this area many times on my way to other destinations and it looked like a great place for our Florida birds. The name of the place came up in a conversation during the week, so when I contacted my photography buddy about a place to visit this weekend, I suggested the Celery Fields.
He had been there a few years ago and said he saw many birds. So we decided to give it a try and we were not disappointed.
The Celery Fields showcases a number of ponds, lakes and canals that are all interconnected. Some of the ponds are shallow and some are deeper, so they provide various water bird habitats. On this visit, we arrived prior to sunrise and explored the main area to see what birds were already there. We spotted a flock of Cattle Egrets on the pavilion and some ducks in the pond by the road. As the sun came up, we watched Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Ibis, Wood Storks, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Tri-Colored Herons, Roseate Spoonbills and more come flying in.
Unfortunately, the birds aren’t always in the best place for photography. In addition, they move around each other to get to the best feeding areas and never totally settle in to opportune photo locations. On the day we were there, the first birds we saw were not that close and quickly flew further back from the parking area.
We saw that there was a lower section beyond the main parking area that my friend had not gone to when there before. Looking around, I spotted some other photographers out there. So I started walking and found a trail of sorts that had been mowed through the brush.
When I made it out to the new area, it was easy to imagine that most of it would be underwater in the summer rainy season. Fortunately it was dry now, allowing me to follow along in the general direction that I thought the birds had flown. Once there, I found a fairly large pond that appeared to be shallow — a perfect place for the waterbirds. I was amazed at the number of species that were there and all busy feeding together! I ran back and brought my friend to see the sight!
We approached the pond and stopped about 20 feet from the edge, literally not moving from that spot for about an hour. Because we kept still, the birds came over to the edge and were feeding right in front of us. This meant that we were able to see most of the species fairly closely. We singled out individuals to photograph and looked for great interactions between the same and different species!
As bird photographers, one of our biggest challenges is to get sharp images of birds in flight. Boy did this place deliver on that! It was an ideal location for that endeavor as many birds flew in and out due to the wind. The birds were often circling or flying into the wind, which slowed them down allowing for some great shots.
Capturing that moment as a bird comes into land is always fun as they are slowing down, using their wings and feet as air brakes before they hit the water!
Catching them as they fly by or over head is not easy, as they are speeding up, but it is possible!
Oh! And guess what else we saw? Raptors! There was a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks periodically flying by!
A winter visitor was also hanging around. We had seen a very fleeting glimpse of a Northern Harrier last weekend at Lake Apopka North Shore Wildlife Drive, but we were fortunate to see one or two of them a bit closer at the Celery Fields.
Then, to top it all off, we saw two Bald Eagles! We had moved across the street to another pavilion that goes out into one of the larger bodies of water, and were watching the Harrier and a couple of Osprey. At this point a mature Eagle flew over. He landed an a bird platform that was out in the lake and, as we watched, another eagle, this one a juvenile Bald Eagle, came flying in as well. We thought this might lead to a confrontation as the juvenile circled the platform a couple of times before landing. Fortunately there was no excitement between the two eagles, but it was still pretty cool to watch the scene play out!
So, if you are in the Sarasota area, I highly recommend The Celery Fields. Join the other photographers, birders, joggers and walkers and enjoy this beautiful nature area! You can check out their website for more details.
Please visit my Celery Fields Gallery for these and additional images.
That is all for now!