On Sagebrush Road, just inside the residential North Lakes subdivision, a tiny island sits about 30 feet from the shore of an unnamed lake. This time of year, the island attracts hundreds of wading birds looking for a safe place to build a nest, lay eggs and tend to the young.
The island also draws a steady stream of bird lovers and photographers who come to watch the pageant of nature from along the grassy shore of Sagebrush Road.
Cheryl Merz visits the site at least once a week, counting nests and chicks and checking on the welfare of the colony of birds. The Hillsborough County Colony Watch coordinator for Tampa Audubon Society, Merz has a special attachment to the colony on Sagebrush Road. It was the first colony she was assigned to monitor four years ago.
“The Sagebrush Colony is what got me totally hooked on monitoring birds in general,” Merz says. “That type of island is very well suited for wading birds to build their nests. There is usually an alligator in the lake, which actually protects the birds by keeping mammalian predators, like raccoons, at bay.”
The island first came to the attention of bird watchers when endangered wood storks began nesting there years ago. Reduced water levels in the Everglades forced wood storks to find new nesting areas, and now the Sagebrush Road island is home to the largest colony of wood storks in Hillsborough County.
Merz says that people can call her at (813) 541-8217 if they notice anyone harassing the birds or any injured birds, adding “we are very lucky to have such a great colony in our area. It’s amazing. I could stand there watching for hours. It is a wonderful thing to watch these birds nest and know that you helped protect them.”