It was just past 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, but already a small crowd had gathered at the Blackwater Fisheries Research and Development Center in Okaloosa County, Florida. Based on the proliferation of cameras and binoculars, it was easy to identify the group in question: birders.
The event was hosted by staff from the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT), a network of 500+ excellent birding sites across the state; the fisheries research center is one, for example. Each trail site is marked with a unique sign, and information about all the sites is located on one website. In addition to learning more about the trail itself, the event gave us attendees the opportunity to bird with some real experts.
We began our walk near one of the center’s holding ponds, covered in a thin layer of water. The site has many small water bodies, but all but this one were dry to prepare for an upcoming construction project. In fact, the center staff had purposefully kept one full of water so we’d have some shorebirds to see on our trip! Now that’s what I call thoughtful.
Using a large spotting scope provided by the GFBWT, we approached cautiously to avoid spooking the birds. Four or five Greater Yellowlegs walked slowly at the edge, foraging for food, while at least a dozen Killdeer chased each other on the muddy edges. The highlight for me was a pair of Wilson’s Snipes, secretive birds that rarely feed in the open.
The morning spent at the fisheries center was a pleasure, moving from pond to field to forest with a group of curious naturalists. In addition to spotting 29 species of birds, I also learned how to identify 10 new butterfly species, including Gulf Fritillaries, Buckeyes, and more. I can’t wait for future events!