Ranger Mike McLaughlin wields a camera in hand as he drives around Lake Manatee State Park and checks on the various habitats.
An elusive red-shouldered hawk sits atop of a tree, but takes flight before McLaughlin readies his camera.
Scenes like these are commonplace for McLaughlin, who came out of retirement to become a park ranger about two years ago.
The 500-acre Lake Manatee State Park, located at 20007 State Road 64, Bradenton, not only is home to Manatee County’s drinking water supply but also a variety of plants and animals, including bobcats, horned owls, eagles, gopher tortoises and the Florida golden aster, a plant currently only found in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Hardee and Manatee counties in Florida.
“You look around and there’s very little pre-Columbian property here,” McLaughlin says. “We bring this back (to its original state). We’re kind of like farmers, but our goal is not to produce an abundance of one thing; our goal is to create as much diversity as possible.”