Nature tour offers glimpse of ‘the most beautiful mile of water in the world’
|Heritage Lake Tours of Tavares, Fla., is located east of the Dead River Bridge on Highway 441 in the Palm Garden Fish Camp. Narrated nature tours depart daily, except Sunday, between October and May at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; and between June and September at 10 a.m. Cost per person is $12.50, though specialized group tours for a minimum of 20 passengers are offered. The boat is ADA accessible and the tour is not recommended for children under 6 years old. For more information or to make a reservation, call (352) 343-4337.
After 14 years of trolling the lakes of Eustis and Harris, Capt. D.J. and Lynne Hollander know about every nook and cranny in the picturesque Lake County, Fla., waterways.
At least once a day, they share their knowledge with dozens of locals and visitors aboard the “Sea Haven.” Touted as one of the most complete nature excursions in Florida, Heritage Lake Tours is a popular attraction for Audubon Society members.
“People can’t believe how close we get to the wildlife,” Lynne said. “You can see each feather on a bird.”
The 1.5-mile round trip offers sightings of about 25 bird species that nest along the banks of the Dead River and Dora Canal. The most well-known waterway in Lake County, a leading sports writer in the 1930s penned the Dora Canal as “the most beautiful mile of water in the world.” Lined with towering cypress trees draped with Spanish moss, the canal and Dead River are safe havens for nesting ospreys, herons and egrets.
“There are a lot of people that are physically unable to go out birding,” Lynne said. “This is a way they can go out and see the wildlife — and leave the driving to us.”
The narrated tours also highlight historic tidbits about the area such as the near extinction of the Great Egret in the 1930s. The bird was eventually saved as the members of the fledgling National Audubon Society lobbied for women to stop buying hats that were made from the egret feathers.
After conducting countless trips over the years, Capt. D.J. and Lynne say there is something always different to see on each excursion. During the winter season, when Heritage Lake Tours offers two tours a day, repeat customers are the norm as visiting snow birds to the area are treated to their annual cruise. Though recommended for bird lovers, alligators, raccoons and turtles are also commonly spotted on the nature tour.
“On every trip about 60 percent of the provided bird list is seen not to mention alligators and occasionally some freshwater otters,” said Capt. D.J.
The 40-passenger pontoon boat is covered from the sun and is an ideal perch for photographers. Capt. D.J., a heralded local photographer of 12 years, openly shares his candid shots of posing Anhingas, Cormorants and other Florida wading birds. His wildlife photo albums on the Sea Haven became such a popular feature of the trip, individual prints were sold in the gift shop.
In addition to its regularly scheduled cruises, Heritage Lake Tours also arranges specialized group tours such as a three-hour excursion of Haines Creek or an extended wildlife nesting cruise.