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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Bird watching 101: Florida’s winter months offer great chances to see avian visitors

Ever seen a white pelican? Or a yellow-rumped warbler known affectionately as a “butter butt?” Or how about a yellow-bellied sapsucker? (That’s its name, honest). They are all hiding in plain sight on the waters or in the trees, if you know when to look.Like the snowbirds who come south to visit or live in Florida during the winter months, so, too, do the real birds. It’s the perfect time of year to get outside, hike a trail and keep your eyes open for some of the rare birds visiting our area.“The weather’s perfect, the number of birds is perfect,” said Diana Kyle, a park ranger at Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, east of USF. “There are large birds around and also the itty-bitty guys. It allows birders of all ranges to find the birds they are looking for.”Winter is an especially good time to get a closeup look at a roseate spoonbill or a wood stork. Birds such as summer tanagers, little green herons, night herons and limpkins also head south.“We have these little windows of opportunity to see these birds,” Kyle said.That’s why parks are usually full of birders in the winter more than any other time of year. The more serious bird watchers will be off the beaten path, armed with the latest equipment and a checklist of birds.But you don’t have to be an expert to go bird watching. “There’s really no bad time of year to go birding in Florida, but this time of year is especially nice,” said Ann Paul, regional coordinator for Audubon Florida. (The group offers more information on Florida birding here.) “And there are so many good places to go birding. We have more birds in our area right now than any other place in the country.”

You also can go here for more information on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

What you need

Since birding is basically hiking, a comfortable and durable pair of shoes is a must. Then there is bug spray and sunscreen. But perhaps the most important thing while bird watching is a reliable pair of binoculars.“They really help,” Paul said. “You can be far away but still see them clearly without disturbing them. You can watch them go about their everyday business.”A camera is also useful to document a bird sighting. “If you are a budding photographer, I highly recommend you come to Lettuce Lake,” Kyle said. “It’s ideal because there is a boardwalk, but we also have over a quarter-million people per year visiting the park. That means our birds aren’t afraid of people. You can get pretty close because they know no harm will come to them.”And of course, there is an app for birdwatchers. Merlin Bird ID, put out by Cornell University, is a free app that asks a series of questions about the bird (size, color, part of the country), then narrows down the bird in question to tell the user what kind it is.“It’s a very good app for the beginner,” Kyle said.

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