Considered one of Venice's best-kept secrets, the Venice Area Audubon Society's Rookery, or VAAS Rookery, is a very small island in the middle of an equally small lake. It is a classic example of the symbiotic relationship between alligators and birds. Alligators in the lake protect the nesting area from snakes, raccoons, bobcats, and rats that might otherwise take eggs and chicks from the nests. A handful of fledglings are lost every year because they fall from the nest or are snatched from lower branches by the alligators, but these losses pale in comparison with the damage a single raccoon can do in one night to a rookery as dense as this one can be.
The rookery tends to be the most crowded from January through March, though different birds continue to nest on the island throughout the rest of the year. Since the various species that use the rookery tend to nest and hatch at different times of the year, there is something going on here every month of the year. The list of birds observed on the island include great blue herons, snowy and great egrets, anhingas, ibis, green herons, and cattle egrets. There is a large covered pavilion adjacent to the pond.
Because the distance between the shoreline and the island is less than 100 feet, the VAAS Rookery has become an extremely popular place to photograph immature chicks, feeding parents, and mating couples. A good telephoto lens will bring the nest so close that you can actually see the colors of the eggs being laid or catch a parent feeding hungry chicks in the afternoon light. The best viewing is down the path and to the left of the pavilion. Be sure to look up into the surrounding slash pines and live oaks for fledglings, nervous parents, or avian predators waiting for an opportunity to turn an unattended chick into dinner.
The beauty of the VAAS Rookery is that you do not need to wade though wetlands or hike miles to find this urban rookery. In fact, the road leading up to the rookery is fairly commercial in nature and seems a rather unlikely place to find an island filled to overflowing with birds. All you have to do is put the above address in your phone or GPS and drive there. You'll be glad you did.
In the Know:
Venice Area Audubon Society Rookery
4002 Annex Road, Venice, FL 34239
E-mail: info @veniceaudubon.org
Admission is free.