EMERSON POINT -- It was a perfect day for bird watching Thursday at Emerson Point Preserve as a group of VIPs walked its trails through dense undergrowth.
They emerged on a deck overlooking Tampa Bay with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge glistening in the distance.
Binoculars poised, the group spotted a number of bird species: a loon, an oystercatcher, a couple of grebes, terns and pelicans.
A lacy fringe of mangrove habitat shaded the birdwatchers, who also incidentally witnessed fish exuberantly leaping out of the clear water.
In the distance, three fishermen in a ragged boat cheered at the sight of silvery fish jumping all around them.
One of the group, Arlene Flisik, 75, of Bradenton, said she joined the tour because she is not an early bird.
"I like to bird, but the birds get up much earlier than I do," she said. "So if I can attend an afternoon trip, I do, if I can fit it into my busy life."
At a pond nearby, the group of about 15 was joined by Audubon of Florida President Eric Draper, who was to speak Thursday night to the Manatee County Audubon Society in Palmetto.
"It's great," Draper said of the 365-acre preserve at the mouth of the Manatee River. "I love this place."
As part of his speech, he said he intended to back a constitutional amendment to earmark money for environmental land acquisition and maintenance, protect water resources and beach management.
A few ospreys, ducks, great blue herons, ibis and one roseate spoonbill later, the tour neared its end.
"Wow, incredible," said Asked her reaction, Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac. "I'm so glad the birds cooperated throughout. I'm glad I got the opportunity to come out this afternoon."
Emerson Preserve, operated by Manatee County, is at 5801 17th St. W., Palmetto.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.