Sunday, October 7, 2012

Moccasin Lake

In the middle of Clearwater, right next to the commercial corridor of U.S. 19, sits a woodland whose oak canopy stretches over magnolias and shares space with a handful of oddly located slash pines.

These woods are city property and are preserved as Moccasin Lake Park. They are home to a classroom where the Audubon Society meets every month, and as you might expect, their bird-watching is very good. When I visited for the first time on a Saturday last month, I saw a pair of red-shouldered hawks fly through the trees within seconds of stepping onto the trail. Not long after that, I was treated to the sight of a pileated woodpecker.

However, the most notable sighting was of the non-native variety, when I stumbled upon a flock of peacocks. In Florida it is not unusual to see an occasional, escaped specimen of these showy birds roaming about, but when I rounded a bend in the park’s trail and found myself looking at about twenty of them, including chicks, I realized I was in the presence of a wild, established, and reproducing population.

The trail through Moccasin Lake Park is a mile long (one-way) and easy to follow. It forks several times, and the resulting prongs always rejoin even though the signs usually point you in only one direction. It has a few boardwalk sections, one of which passes over a swiftly flowing stream.

At one point the trail comes close to a couple of homes, then plunges back into the woods and eventually reaches Moccasin Lake itself: a five-acre body of water where you might see multiple species of wading birds. One of U.S. 19’s overpasses is just beyond the lake’s western bank, but in a way that enhances rather than detracts from the natural appearance by making you appreciate that such a setting exists in an urban area. The two best spots for viewing the lake are from a covered dock on its eastern shore and a bird blind on its northern one. I took this photo from the latter:

There is quite a bit more to this place than what I have already mentioned. Behind the visitor center are enclosures, mostly aviaries, that injured animals call home; among their current residents are a screech owl and fish crow. A path branching off of the primary hiking trail leads to a wooden windmill and butterfly garden where the winged critters flitter about and flower species are identified by signs:

Obviously, Moccasin Lake Park is not for you if you are looking to walk long miles through wilderness, but it is a fine place to easily escape the congestion of the city. When daytime highs are hot, as they often are around here even in fall and spring, a two-mile round-tripper in the shade of oaks might be all you need.

To get to Moccasin Lake Park, turn east onto Drew Street from U.S. 19, then left onto Fairwood Avenue. Six-tenths of a mile later, just past the train tracks, take another left onto Park Trail Lane, which dead-ends at the park. There is a $3 entry fee, and if you intend to bring the family along, be aware that the fee is per person. Happy Trails!

1 comment:

  1. Always good to see cities that preserve some of the land for the people in large parks with nature trails. Looks like a beautiful place. I'd love to birdwatch there.