At the edge of Grassy Lake, within the 8,300 acres of Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park, sits a brand-new bird blind. Accessible at the end of a 100-yard long, crushed shell path, the blind is the culmination of years of effort and dreaming by leaders of the West Pasco Audubon Society. As a light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, members look forward to spotting rare birds from the new blind as soon as the COVID-19 crisis passes.
“I first visited Starkey Wilderness Park about 25 years ago when my wife and I came from New Jersey to New Port Richey to visit our son and his family,” says Peter Day, Secretary of the chapter. “The size of the park impressed me, and when I walked in among the trees I was surprised to find rare birds. Where the edges of forest land met open spaces, I could often see mixed flocks.” More than 180 species have been spotted within the park’s boundaries.
Using a seed grant from the National Audubon Society to get started, Christine Rowland, then the newly elected president at West Pasco, teamed up with Audubon staff to research threatened species that could be monitored using the blind, including Sandhill Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Wood Storks, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, and American Kestrels.
With architectural services donated by Ed Hoffman of Hoffman Architects, Rowland and West Pasco Audubon applied to a competitive grant program administered by Duke Energy to earn the funds to build the blind itself. Duke Energy Foundation also supports Bald Eagle conservation through the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey EagleWatch Program. Raised above the water level, the blind would provide a valuable vantage point for birders, while being sheltered from the elements beneath a slanted roof.
“By this time the staff of the park had caught our enthusiasm,” Day continues, “And offered to help by clearing palmetto to lay 100 yards of shell path to reach the edge of Grassy Lake.”
They won! Using the grant funds and an upgrade from Weardeck to composite decking and rails, Ameridocks, a local veteran owned contractor, began and completed construction in March of 2020.