View by land & by sea

Published May 12, 2007

Capt. William Toney grew up in Homosassa, as did three previous generations of kinfolk. He knows as well as anyone the angling abundance found in local waters.

But Toney knows a different side of this Nature Coast hot spot - a side blessed with the ambient beauty of Old Florida scenery. No doubt, fishing makes a fine use of one's time, but there's much more to see and photograph throughout area rivers and creeks, along with coastal marshes and backwaters.

Favoring the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area and islands between Homosassa and Ozello, Toney said visitors riding to various fishing spots often enjoy the nature viewing as much as their angling objectives.

"You can see a lot of wildlife out here if you look around, " he said. "Much of this area is still wild, so there's a lot to see."

The critter list includes raccoons, squirrels, deer, hogs, manatees, alligators and otters. Bird life offers additional viewing opportunities. Majestic bald eagles usually remain tucked away in the river marshes, but bring binoculars or a telephoto lens and you'll enjoy the occasional candid glimpses. Others include brown pelicans, white pelicans (winter months), hawks and redwing blackbirds. The latter's crimson shoulder feathers, trimmed with a yellow edge, adds a splash of color to the typically sedate tones of river and coastal habitats.

Ospreys, the perennial favorite, are master fishermen. Blending speed with accuracy, these black and white anglers can spot a mullet or trout from high above and nab their meal with a talon-first power dive. With nesting sites ranging from tree tops to channel markers, the shrill-voiced ospreys usually sit still long enough for good photos. But when close observation makes them nervous, they will bob their heads side to side in disapproval.

Interlacing with the natural elements, Homosassa's cultural heritage enhances a visitor's experience. From Indian mounds to shrimp docks, the area's "feel" is just as enjoyable as its sights.

"Our area is rich in Native American history, Florida history and local small-town charm, " Toney said. "Commercial fishing is my town's heritage and it can still be seen every day from the men who work at the crab/shrimp docks to the men who pull the blue crab traps in the river on a daily basis."

At the end of a recent coastal fishing trip, Toney and I drove through the scenic backwaters of the Little Homosassa River. As we observed a bald eagle perched on the barren branch of a dead tree, Toney offered some insight on local eco tours. "Although birds and wildlife can be found in Homosassa throughout the day, early morning and late evening are best, " he said. "It's cooler then, so the animals are more active."

Low-traffic periods usually reveal more, Toney added.

"I like mid-week during the morning hours because there is no one around and I feel as though I have stepped back in time, " he said.

Viewing tips

Approach: Each creature has its tolerance zone and encroachment will send the animal running or flying to safety. Motor into general areas, but switch to a trolling motor, push pole or wind drift when moving into position. If your subject becomes fidgety or starts vocalizing, back off until the animal relaxes.

Vantage point: The bow usually is your most spacious position. However, because the back end of a boat sits the lowest, the bow is most affected by water motion. Even on calm days, that means an unstable position.

Stay in the boat: Not all coastal areas are pedestrian-friendly and some spots are privately owned. Making landfall reduces mobility. In almost all cases, pursuing a wild animal on foot just hastens its retreat and leads overzealous viewers into potentially hazardous environments.

Optics: Binoculars are rated by a two-number description. The first refers to magnification power, the second to the diameter of the front lens in millimeters. Given the balance of quality, price and model weight, binoculars with 8x40 or 8x42 ratings serve most casual viewing needs.

Photography: Assume you'll need zoom capabilities. More is better, but with careful framing and attention to light angles, you can capture nice memory shots with a lot of the point-and-shoot digital cameras. Lenses with image stabilization features are ideal.

For nature viewing tours, contact Capt. William Toney at (352) 621-9284.