The Venice Area Audubon Rookery is located along the west central coast of Florida in Sarasota County, near other photography hotspots such as Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge near Sanibel, the burrowing owls in Cape Coral, the white pelicans near Gasparilla Island in Placida, and Circle B Bar Reserve in Polk County. A good plan is to choose a central area such as St. Petersburg or Fort Myers, and then travel among locations.
To reach the rookery from either the south or the north, take I-75 to exit 193 and head west, merging onto Jacaranda Boulevard. Continue a few miles to U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail), turn north and go ⅛ mile, then turn left on Annex Road. Go a couple blocks past the Sarasota County Administration Center and Venice Audubon Center, and the rookery is on the right. There are no entrance fees, but a secure donation box is available to assist the Audubon Society with maintenance fees and local education programs.
Weather At The Venice Area Audubon Rookery
Springtime weather in central Florida typically includes sunshine with temperatures in the 60- to 80-degree range. Occasionally, a cold front will bring chilly weather, so a light jacket is good to pack. It’s not usual to have afternoon thundershowers in the spring; however, these are more common throughout the summer. Summers are hot and humid, with daytime highs in the 90s and evening lows in the 80s. Autumn weather duplicates the moderate temperatures of spring. Winter weather temperatures range from 45 to 70 degrees, and there’s seldom snow.
Florida is one of the premiere photographic locations for wading birds, shorebirds, burrowing owls, a few raptors and some songbirds. Not only does Florida have this diversity of birds, but also most are habituated to human presence, allowing relatively close images.
The Venice Rookery is a former borrow pit with a small central island surrounded by water. Relatively dense shrubbery grows on this island. The island is protected by water, and alligators are common in that water, reducing the mammalian predators. For these reasons, multiple species of birds, such as great blue herons, great egrets and anhingas, use the island as a rookery, and other birds use the island as an overnight roost.
Using a focal length of 500-800mm will yield frame-filling images of nesting activity on the island. Some of the birds are deep in the shrubbery, and others are near the top. For this uncropped image, I chose a great blue heron that was near the top of the shrubbery and waited for the light to strike the bird and the distant background simultaneously.
In addition to nesting activity, Venice Rookery is an excellent location for flight shots, with many roosting birds leaving the island in the morning and nesting birds fetching sticks and food. Lenses in the 100mm to 400mm range will yield multiple flight images.
Timing is everything. As Ansel Adams said, “Sometimes I arrive just when God's ready to have someone click the shutter.” Nesting activity at the rookery begins in December and extends through May (but many birds continue to use the rookery island during other times of the year). Photographic opportunities during this period include nest building, mating behaviors, tending and caring for chicks, roosting and flight shots. Because of Florida’s latitude, the sun is intense after approximately 10 a.m. until roughly 4 p.m. The best opportunities include the soft light of early morning and late afternoon. Most bird photographers prefer a morning shoot at the rookery with frontal light or slight side lighting; however, there’s access around the perimeter, providing additional lighting opportunities.
Contact: Venice Area Audubon Rookery, veniceaudubon.org/rookery
See more of Moose Henderson’s photography at moosehenderson.com.