Environmental and Agricultural Reserve (PEAR) in Leesburg, and Emeralda Marsh Conservation Area, a 7,089-acre preserve in Leesburg where renovations include a new 4.3-mile wildlife drive that takes visitors deep into the habitats of a large and diverse wildlife population. One of four sections of the Great Florida Birding Trail is the East Section that extends from Jacksonville to Cocoa Beach and includes many sites in Lake County. The trail combines prominent birding sites with smaller local sites, according to the Audubon Society.
Among the many species commonly seen in Lake are the sandhill crane, Northern cardinal, anhinga, wood duck, blackbird, grackle, cormorant, osprey, red-shouldered hawk, heron, egret, ibis, Northern bobwhite, European starling, Northern mockingbird, tufted titmouse, vulture, woodpecker, and wren. During the winter migratory season, birders can expect to see kites, ducks, hawks, bald eagles, and smaller birds like warblers. “You have water, canals, big open areas. Lake is a really great area,” Linda says.
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One of the most storied native creatures in Florida is the black bear. In Lake County, the city of Umatilla devotes its Florida Wildlife Festival to raising awareness and appreciation of the Florida black bear. The 19th annual festival, which is a free, family-oriented educational event, is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 20 at Cadwell Park, 4 Cassady St., Umatilla. When the festival started in the 1990s, the Florida black bear was listed as an imperiled species. More recently, the bear’s population numbers have increased to the point where it is no longer in danger of disappearing, festival organizers say. The festival also offers field trips to Ocala National Forest, where visitors can learn
about bear habitat, biology, behavior, and management from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologists. Mike Orlando, assistant bear program coordinator for the FWC, is a regular presenter at the festival and tries to educate humans about living in bear country—and Lake is bear country. “We have a very robust, growing Florida black bear population, in Lake in particular,” he says. More than 1,000 black bears live in the Ocala National Forest and the surrounding areas, which includes Lake County. Male bears average about 400-450 pounds and have a home range of 60 square miles, while smaller female bears weigh about 250-300 pounds and have a 15-mile home range. While bear sightings occasionally are reported in
A Visitor's Guide to The Place We Call Home