We are very fortunate in Charlotte County FL to have a natural tidal wetland (Lemon Lake). It can be a bonanza for birds during times when the water level has declined (due to low rainfall, elevated evaporation, and less tidal flow). Under these conditions fish are concentrated and predatory birds can capture them more easily. In addition aquatic plants on the bottom are made available to surface dabbling ducks. Lemon Lake is part of Amberjack Preserve and is fed via Lemon Creek which comes through Wildflower Preserve from Lemon Bay. It is quite unusual in that it is tidal through a tenuous connection via Lemon Creek, but also receives periodic rainwater runoff from the surrounding uplands. So the salinity may be nearly fresh up to quite salty and also varies due to evaporation. Indeed the lake may go dry in some months.
Proof of the long-standing and natural presence of Lemon Lake can be found in an aerial photograph taken 68 years ago in 1951. This shows the long thin tidal lagoon with a more robust connection to Lemon Bay than is now the case. Mangroves have now choked the creek and it is no longer possible for mullet boats to enter the lake from the bay. The outline of Wildflower Preserve is shown just to the north. A current panorama of Lemon Lake shows a dense natural mangrove shoreline except for the tall Hammocks condominiums to the west.
Not many prey organisms can survive in these highly variable salinities and a small herbivorous fish, the sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon), is a predominant prey species for carnivorous birds. It is very tolerant of changing salinities and can also cope with low oxygen levels by gulping at the surface as shown here. Herbivorous ducks primarily feed on ditch grass (Ruppia) a cousin to the famous turtle grass eaten by manatees and sea turtles.
In the winter white pelicans may visit during their sojourn from their breeding lakes in western N America and feed on fish. Spoonbills are FL residents and feed on small and fish and invertebrates clamped in spatulate bill tips. Black necked stilts feed on tiny organisms picked from the surface of the water. The blue winged teal, a common winter duck, is a dabbler that upends itself while grubbing plant food from the shallow bottom; the sight of numerous duck tails in the air is quite comical.
Most of the wetlands famous as places to see aquatic birds are constructed habitats utilized for treatment of sewage effluent or roadside or agricultural storm water runoff. The fact that this natural estuary has persisted while so many other wetlands have been destroyed or severely altered is a wonderful thing and a tribute to the foresight of county planners who purchased and preserved the land. The presence of Wildflower Preserve owned by the Lemon Bay Conservancy and its role in preserving Lemon Creek is also important. Remember that this marvelous lagoon is not a zoo and birds come periodically for food and to rest. They are most abundant after a cycle of high water (leading to reproduction of food organisms) followed by low water to concentrate the prey and allowing for dabblers and waders to reach the bottom.