Surprising Natural Beauty of Arlington Park


You would normally expect to find wildlife in relatively unspoiled places, but sometimes a city park will reveal unexpected natural wonders. In mid- April I dropped off my wife at Sarasota’s (FL) Pinecraft Park, a place famous for spring birding fall-outs, while I explored nearby Arlington Park.

At Arlington I found a very attractive city park with many beautiful trees, a pond, recreational facilities and lots of humans walking dogs on leashes. But the abundant “wildlife” was a strange blend of beautiful migrating birds, exotic species and bizarre hybrids.

There were at least three adult male scarlet tanagers in a mango tree; they are one of the most spectacular birds that migrate from the tropics to North America to breed. The adult males have just molted into a brilliant scarlet color with black wings. A summer tanager nearby was a half and half mix of red and yellow; it was a first year male just molting into adult plumage. Other migrants were various warblers, a wood thrush, and bright blue male indigo buntings.

These migrants were not as numerous or diverse as at Pinecraft Park, but nonetheless impressive.

There were three types of ducks in the pond and ditches. The domestic muscovy ducks are derived from captive populations and are breeding. One female had a brood of eight fuzzy ducklings which diminished to three over several days of predation. There were several ducks which resembled mottled ducks and one mixed parentage or “muddled” duck. This strange-looking bird might be a cross between mallard and mottled ducks, with possibly some back-crossing involved. I show a pure mottled duck from our sea water dock as a comparison, since mallards rarely occur there.

The influence of humans and domestication extended also to the numerous large turtles in the pond which were mostly red-eared turtles. They have a distinctive red patch on both sides of their head. These farm-reared turtles used to be commonly sold as pets before it was discovered that they carried salmonella; many were likely released and have thrived primarily in disturbed wetlands. They do not occur naturally in peninsular Florida and could be considered an invasive exotic worldwide.

So while Arlington Park is certainly visually appealing and provides significant habitat for migrating songbirds, the resident ducks and turtles are a bizarre mixture of domestic hybrids and invasive species.

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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