Fun Finding Birds on Florida’s Nature Coast
After returning from an extended trip this summer, I was happy to settle back into my front porch, enjoying the early morning sights and sounds of home. In central Michigan, I stayed in a lakefront home that boasts a resident Loon family. I really enjoyed the calls and antics of small, feathered family that call Five Lakes home. I also enjoyed seeing the robins and red-winged blackbirds of my youth but are absent from Florida’s Nature Coast.
Here I enjoy the morning arrival of the Sandhill Crane family that visits one of the open fields to walk around, hunting for food, hopping about, and calling to each other in their guttural voices. Then off they go – woosh, woosh, woosh and they are airborne to the next stop.
The smaller white egrets arrive as a flock in military-like formation overhead, turning in unison, and gracefully landing in the huge oak tree where they seem to enjoy the view from their perch, planning who knows what.
Along the fence, I am taken aback by the size of the red shouldered hawk eyeing its next field mouse or reptilian meal. In some seasons, the fences are used as perches for pine warblers, who flit about, repositioning themselves as I pass.
The heat of late July gives me motivation to be the early bird, enjoying the sights and sounds of our winged companions before humidity and temperature force us all into hiding.
Florida’s Nature Coast is a Birder’s Paradise
Thousands of birding enthusiasts visit Florida’s Nature Coast to fill out their checklists and to enjoy our pristine habitats each year.
The number of diverse wildlife habitats presented in Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco Counties provide a birder’s paradise. In fact, there are 315 species of birds listed on the Citrus County Birding Checklist, 341 on the Hernando County Birding Checklist, and 359 on the Pasco County Birding Checklist.
Prized sightings include painted buntings, wood storks, skimmers, roseate spoonbills, red headed woodpeckers, and Florida scrub jays, and there are literally hundreds of birds that either call Florida’s Nature Coast home or visit annually, including the lofty swallowtail kite.
1,234 types of bird species are listed as residents or visitors for the entire U.S. – 559 are in Florida. Florida’s Nature Coast offers an avian enthusiast the opportunity to experience over one-fourth of the birds that have been seen in our Nation and over half of the sightings that are available in the Sunshine State!
Let’s get out and enjoy birding throughout Florida’s Nature Coast – but where to start?
Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT) is a 2,000 mile long collection of 500+ locations across Florida where bird habitats are protected. Its purpose is to promote birdwatching, environmental education, and ecotourism. The GFBWT is a program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, supported in part by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. Its website is a treasure trove of birding information.
Florida’s Nature Coast is in the center of the West Section of the Great Florida Birding Trail. It opened in November 2002. Citrus County features 21 official locations, Hernando County features eight official locations, and Pasco County features ten more, all covering a great variety of habitats. Each location is listed here, with a link to a unique page featuring that park, trail, or area, and previous species sightings.
This website is full of great information for birding, including checklists and a Trip Planner tool with the ability to search GFBWT locations by amenities such as camping, handicap and horseback trails and restrooms!
How to Get Involved in Birding on Florida’s Nature Coast
You may want to start on your own, but birds of a feather learn more quickly together.
Each County has its own Audubon Society chapter. The Audubon Society seeks to educate new birders in how to identify bird species, as well as to protect habitats, sanctuaries, and natural areas. To this end, each chapter offers educational materials, bird walks and field trips to practice identification skills, and educational presentations for its members.
Membership in a chapter is $20/annually, which helps the chapter further its goals. There are newsletters and fellowship as part of your membership.
Citrus County Audubon Society
The Citrus County Audubon Society was incorporated in 1971. The all-volunteer local chapter of both Audubon of Florida and National Audubon Society seeks to involve the people of Citrus County in protecting and maintaining a variety of pristine habitats, sanctuaries and natural areas that are havens for wildlife. “Dedicated to the conservation of our wildlife and natural resources through education and community support” is the Chapter’s mission.
CCAS’ newest project is a “backpack program” at the local libraries. Backpacks containing birding information and a pair of binoculars for the library to loan out to interested patrons will be provided by the Chapter. The program expects to launch in November 2022.
Additionally, they offer monthly birdwalks for beginners through experienced bird watchers from Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
Hernando County Audubon Society
Hernando Audubon was established in February 1959 as a chapter of the Florida Audubon Society. Wellman Tucker, conservationist, was the first president and Lisa Von Borowsky, who established Ahhochee Hill Sanctuary, became treasurer. Steve Fickett, a biologist with the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission was the first field trip chair.
The Hernando Audubon Society helped to fund the Chinsegut Conservation Center, 23212 Lake Lindsay Road, where anyone can enjoy educational programs, guided hikes, and seasonal outdoor skills programs. The bat houses onsite host a 2000-member colony of native Brazilian free-tailed bats that emerge just after sunset. It is a sight to see!
The Hernando Audubon Society offers a beginner’s birdwatching class at Chinsegut Conservation Center, and provides a Birding Sites guide, available in Florida’s Adventure Coast’s Brooksville Welcome Center.
West Pasco Audubon Society
The West Pasco Audubon Society is a Florida chapter of the National Audubon Society, which was founded by Wm Wolfarth in 1966. “Working together to preserve and protect our ecosystems through our joy in watching birds,” is their mission.
The Chapter believes that the inclusion of people from all backgrounds, lifestyles, and ethnicities will enhance our ability to conserve habitat and wildlife for future generations and resolves that these principles will guide its future activities and outreach.
Each month, on the first Saturday, a nature walk or presentation is at the Starkey Environmental Education Building in the J. B. Starkey Wilderness Park in New Port Richey. The next nature walk is August 6 at 7:30am. The complete 2022-2023 schedule is here.
Beginning your Birding Adventure on Florida’s Nature Coast
There are a lot of resources available to help you get involved with birding, which I find rewarding and relaxing. I began my journey with a couple of bird feeders in my back yard and a Florida field guidebook. I learned to identify the regular visitors to my feeder.
I visited the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and observed the many native birds that make their home there. I went on field trips to various parks with groups who were familiar with the birds who flew about, as well as a few presentations about these winged marvels.
Today, I still consider myself a newbie, but I know several species. Florida offers a Wings Over Florida recognition program, with certificates for 25, 50, and 100 species sightings, which adds to the fun.
If you want to learn more about Florida’s Nature Coast birds, please reach out to any of the resources in this story and get started. It is a fun and leisurely hobby that allows us to integrate with God’s creatures and each other.