Capture a human’s-eye view of the plentiful avian treasures on the Paradise Coast with some tips from Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve naturalist guide Randy McCormick. “Seek out a place that birds frequent, such as a park, protected natural area, or depending on where you live, your own backyard,” he says. “Slow down, tune in and let yourself soak in the place for a while. Go somewhere you can give your eyes time to go from looking to seeing, and your ears from listening to hearing.” McCormick suggests visiting different environments (upland forest or coastal beaches, for example) to see a variety of birds. While it’s possible to spot rare birds, it is also rewarding to focus on common species, which McCormick prefers. His favorites include the swallow-tailed kite, roseate spoonbill, the American oystercatcher, the Florida scrub jay (a threatened species), painted bunting and the burrowing owl. Some important tips for novices:
Use more than one bird field guide, because each has its unique take on what’s important. “They are like shoes … you need to try them out and see which fit you best,” he says.
Get to know the bird, not just its name. “It’s like people … a name is meaningless if you don’t learn something about the person.”
While seeking the best views and photographs, take care not to disturb the birds by using the correct equipment, such as high-powered binoculars, a spotting scope and/or a camera lens capable of 300-foot minimum optical zoom. The disturbance threshold varies, but a good rule of thumb is if it moves away, you are too close.
For more on birding in Southwest Florida, check out the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail, Audubon of the Western Everglades, and don’t miss McCormick’s seasonal monthly class at Rookery Bay—“Wing It! A Beginning Birder Workshop,” April 11.
Rookery Bay’s Randy McCormick recommends these local spots for bird sightings:
- Tigertail Beach County Park on Marco Island
- Trails and boardwalks at the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge
- Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
- Eagle Lakes Community Park in East Naples
- J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Sanibel Island