Dinner Island's large acreage and mix of wetlands and uplands create outstanding wildlife viewing opportunities. Heron, egret, ibis, roseate spoonbill and wood stork regularly congregate at ditches and wetlands. Crested caracara and Florida sandhill cranes are easy to spot in open pastures and prairies. Watch for the yellow flashes of the eastern meadowlark as it perches in low shrubs in pastures. Power lines and fence posts provide convenient perches for kestrels, loggerhead shrikes, hawks and tree swallows.
Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills in Flight
Listen for screech, barred and barn owls in the palm and oak hammocks that also host migratory warblers in the spring and fall. Blue-winged and green-winged teal, Florida mottled duck and wood duck use the wetlands in the winter.
White-tailed deer and wild turkey prefer woodland edges or are attracted to clearings such as the dove fields, which are planted in a mixture of seasonal grasses and seasonal grains. Swallow-tailed kites are a spring and summer specialty usually spotted in flight over open areas. Autumn blooms in wetlands and roadside ditches attract numerous species of butterflies.
Wildlife Highlight: Eastern Meadowlark
The eastern meadowlark provides a bright splash of color on Florida's open grassy fields and prairies. Scan fence posts, low bushes or power lines for the adult bird with its yellow throat, breast and belly, and black "V" across the chest. Or listen for the sweet, melodious song: a plaintive, clear, descending whistle.
The eastern meadowlark breeds throughout eastern and central North America and in Mexico and parts of Central America and the Caribbean. This year-round Florida resident is not a lark, as its name suggests, but is in the same family as blackbirds and orioles. In size and shape, a perched meadowlark resembles a starling, but it is quail-like in its explosive take-off from the ground. Insects make up the bulk of the meadowlark's diet, but grass and weed seeds are also consumed.
In Florida, breeding takes place from late March through July. During courtship, the male jumps straight up into the air to display its bright yellow and black markings. Males often have two mates at a time. Females build nests on the ground, weaving fine grasses into surrounding vegetation and often incorporating a domed canopy of grass into the construction. Many nests are destroyed each year when cultivated fields are mowed.
Eastern meadowlarks are common on the prairies and pastures of the Florida peninsula, and are found throughout the state in suitable open habitat, including croplands and golf courses. In general, however, scientists have noted gradual population declines throughout the eastern meadowlark's range, probably due to habitat loss.