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Just beautiful birds!
Article by Sandra Bush; Photography by Ric Bush
A flash of blue, yellow and red peeks out from a bush followed by two quick movements and it’s in view.
As it flits from branch to branch, the bird is still unnamed. It takes focus and great patience, and sometimes a set of binoculars or spotting scope to discern what it is. A naked eye cannot always tell.
Yes! It’s a Painted Bunting. Or is it?
Some 45 million Americans say they regularly observe birds in their backyard, while hiking or at parks and wildlife preserves, according to U. S. Fish and Wildlife.
Still, every day is a different experience. Like bird species, no two are alike. What you see today could be gone tomorrow, or forever.
The benefits are plentiful. Not only do you get the challenge of finding a bird and ultimately identifying it, but the birdwatcher also gets to observe wildlife in a natural setting. It means exercise, fresh air and hopefully, spotting that elusive bird.
Being in the warm south, Floridians are lucky to have year-round birds like osprey, red-shouldered hawks, Roseate Spoonbills, white and brown pelicans, mockingbirds, Florida scrub jays and a variety of woodpeckers, sparrows, warblers, herons and egrets.
But in the fall and winter, many feathered friends from Canada and the Arctic Circle decide to stay and vacation in brackish and salt water marshes, freshwater ponds and lakes. In early spring, birds fatten up in the anticipation of the long flight home.
Visitors are treated to avocets, horned and red-breasted mergansers, coots, Northern shovelers, snipe, white pelicans, sora, black-necked stilts and maybe wood ducks to name a few. Like the plethora of birds, there is also an increase in the human flock who strive to catch a glimpse of the migrating species.
As birdwatchers get more comfortable and knowledgeable, the bird takes on a personality. Some are sweet and shy while others are aggressive. For instance, a cattle egret could care less that a human is nearby and blue herons will yell and fly off. Kingfishers are solitary and kestrel hawks are super shy, cautiously flying away the second a car stops.
In Central Florida, there are plenty of opportunities to view birds. Off SR-406 in Titusville, Black Point Wildlife Drive, part of Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, is a popular destination. The seven-mile auto tour is a one-way gravel road and takes birders through mudflats, coastal marshes, and mangrove ponds. There is a nesting pair of eagles near the end of the route in spring. Cost is $10 daily entrance fee or free with Senior Pass. Peak season is October through March and it is open from sunrise to sunset.
Nearby, Biolab Road is a six-mile auto tour alongside Mosquito Lagoon and offers fishing spots too. At the end of the one-way road is Canaveral National Seashore. There are not only birds and alligators, but also great views of NASA’s launch pads and Vehicular Assembly Building. Take SR-3 from Oak Hill in Volusia County. Keep watch on the 15-mile stretch for other wildlife. There is a $10 daily entrance fee or free for seniors with a National Parks pass.
On the Gulf of Mexico, Fort DeSoto State Park in Tierra Verde offers a great spot to see migrating birds. It’s listed on many birding websites as a Southeast Hot Spot. The park also offers swimming and walking paths among the dunes and shoreline. Don’t be surprised if you spot wild Nanday parakeets in the trees loudly squawking. Parking is $5 and it is open seven days a week from sunrise to sunset.
Fifteen miles northwest of Orlando, Lake Apopka Loop Trail is a 15-mile dirt road with several driving loops and alligators sunbathing along banks as well as dozens of freshwater birds. Plan for at least 90-minutes to get through the free park which is only open on Saturday, Sunday and federal holidays from sunrise to sunset. It is located on the lake’s north shore.
Remember, the best time to view birds is early in the morning as the sun rises and the warmer air wakes up the insects in time for breakfast. Birds take siestas in the middle of the day, so spotting them becomes more of a challenge. Later in the afternoon as the sun sets, it becomes refueling time for a long night so activity is at a high.
At day’s end, look for birds to sleep standing in the water or on predator-safe strips of land. Birds such as larks and sparrows sleep on the ground in dense vegetation while others choose the protections of trees.
Regardless of your bird bucket list, take the less-traveled roads and turn your eyes toward the trees, power lines and ponds. You never know what you will find.