On a cold day in January, a group of reviewers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission took a field day. After all, seeing wildlife in person and surveying firsthand how it is impacted by development is always a nice break from the computer screen. Being familiar with Starkey Ranch, one of the reviewers had mentioned to the group he knew the perfect place to visit. More specifically, he said, “You have to see this.”
From across the state, the FWC team arrived at the Starkey Ranch Welcome Center to begin their tour. The goal was simple. Get an overall sense of the community and how it has mitigated development impacts. And, of course, compare pre-development wildlife surveys with current ones.
Practically as soon as they left the Welcome Center, the team started getting its data in all shapes, sizes and colors. Wood ducks and whistling ducks. Roseate spoonbills and sandhill cranes. Endangered wood storks. Ospreys, herons and egrets. It seemed like waterfowl was everywhere, and the sandhill cranes were even nesting. Half-jokingly, one FWC reviewers wondered out loud if some of the birds were “planted” by Starkey Ranch to make a good impression.
As the day progressed and more data was presented, it became apparent the birds’ presence in Starkey ranch was quite natural. And more significantly, the surveys showed there is actually more wildlife present in the community today than there was before it was developed. But how could this be?
Starkey Ranch representatives explained how, before it was developed, Starkey Ranch was heavily pastured with very little marsh or other habitat for wading birds. Then they pointed out all that’s been done to change that. From the man-made lakes and storm water ponds, to the marshes and littoral shelves, they showed the FWC team how Starkey Ranch has not only maintained the habitat, but also improved it. They also showed how the bodies of water are connected, almost like a trail system. It became abundantly clear that this community is much more than a development. It’s the result of thoughtful planning and an unwavering commitment to connect people and nature.
Today the sandhill cranes can be seen walking along the grass with their babies. And there are duck boxes installed around ponds and mitigation areas throughout the community – the work of a young boy getting his Eagle Scout badge. Just two of many examples of how Starkey Ranch is alive and thriving indeed.
“My parents met at Starkey Ranch.”
“I grew up in Cannon Lake, how about you?”
“Please drive carefully – we love finding bugs in the roadside grass.”