Natural Wonders of Lemon Lake/Amberjack

In the Englewood/Venice/Pt Charlotte area we are most fortunate in having a large number of outstanding county and state parks that showcase SW Forida’s remarkable flora and fauna. One of the best is Amberjack Environmental Park (including Lemon Lake) adjacent to and totally dependent on water from tidal Lemon Creek which flows through Wildflower Preserve ( It is most famous for the shallow estuarine Lemon Lake, which can have amazing numbers of water birds. But this avian display is seen primarily when the lake is drying up after a deeper period. The dry-down can attract astounding numbers of birds to feed on abundant fish (mainly sheepshead minnows) and a lush growth of aquatic ditch or widgeon “grass,” Ruppia. If you go when the lake level is high, you may be disappointed by the few birds present, but this is a part of the natural cycle.

When we visited the two boardwalks at Lemon Lake recently, there were white pelicans (wintering here from western N America), black necked stilts in abnormally large numbers, many blue winged teal, roseate spoonbills, and a variety of other water-dependent birds such as eagles and ospreys.

The land area of Amberjack is primarily scrubby flatwoods which can be accessed by a network of walking trails. A short hike along the southern edge of the park in middle March revealed several interesting flowers in bloom. The rock rose is one of my favorites due to the spectacular circle of orange stamens that encircle the style. Apparently it lacks nectar and bees visit it to obtain pollen. But a second type of self-fertilizing flower appears later that does not require insect visitation.

A truly spectacular flower is the blue lupine that is especially attractive to bees. Indeed bumblebees are believed to be blind to red and are especially attracted to blue flowers that are vase shaped. The photo shows a bumblebee making its hurried rounds of the lupine flowers collecting nectar. Lupines were originally named after the wolf (lupus) in the mistaken belief of early farmers that its growth in low nutrient soils was due to its theft of soil fertility. Indeed the opposite is true- that lupines are especially adapted to growth in existing sandy, nutrient poor soils caused by geochemical factors.

I noticed one small butterfly, a type of skipper, in this case a female Horace’s duskywing. It is extremely well camouflaged and thus relatively safe when it often sits on the ground with its wings open. But you may notice a slit in the right hindwing, which I interpret as a bird bite in an attempt to eat this plump morsel. But this female escaped, possibly to breed and spread her tiny brood.

There is no place that so richly repays return visits to observe seasonal natural changes as Amberjack Park and Lemon Lake.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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