This is the time of year that we locals live for, and for which snowbirds from northern states flock to our area to enjoy our sunshine and subtropical climate. Of course, not only retirees and tourists visit us during the High Season; migratory birds also winter here, or pass through on their way north. These migratory birds--together with species that make Pinellas County’s beaches, pinewoods, oak and palm hammocks, and wetlands their home year-round--provide rich and abundant bird watching, or “birding,” opportunities for the casual observer and serious hobbyist alike. In fact, according to the St. Petersburg Audubon Society, as many as 411 bird species have been reported in Pinellas County—almost as many as can be found throughout the state.
Birding is also big business for our tourism economy. According to www.floridabirdingtrail.com, more people travel to Florida to view wildlife than to any other state, and Florida wildlife viewing generated over $3 billion in revenue in 2006 alone. Pinellas parks and beaches can also be the mother lode for bird enthusiasts looking to add wading birds, shorebirds, waterfowl, and other birds to their lists of sightings. Indeed, several locations along the Great Florida Bird Trail are here in Pinellas, including Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island State Parks, Dunedin’s Hammock Park, and several Pinellas County Parks, including John Chestnut Sr. Park in Palm Harbor; Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs; on Clearwater Beach; Boca Ciega Millennium Park in Seminole; Weedon Island Preserve in St. Pete; and Fort DeSoto Park in Tierra Verde.
If you are intrigued by the birds that make Pinellas their full or part-time home and would like to explore birding as a hobby, there are fortunately many resources available to you. The Clearwater Audubon Society is a good place to start. Pinellas County also offers a variety of opportunities free of charge for birding and wildlife watching, including the following programs this month:
- Great Weedon Bird Quest, Friday, Jan. 13, from 8 to 10 a.m. at Weedon Island Preserve: Participants will learn to identify marks and behaviors of bird species found in the preserve.
- Birds of Brooker Hike, Saturday, Jan. 14, from 8 to 10:30 a.m at Brooker Creek Preserve: Participants on this hike will discover and collect observational data on diverse species found in the preserve.
- Amazing Ospreys, Saturday, Jan. 14, from 2 to 3 p.m. at Weedon Island Preserve: This program, lead by Barbara Walker of Clearwater Audubon Society, will teach participants about these fish hawks that thrive in our shallow coastal waters.
- Saturday Bird Walk at Weedon, Jan. 28, from 8 to 10 a.m. at Weedon Island Preserve: Join trained volunteers to document a variety of wading birds, birds of prey, and other species that frequent our local coastal shores.
For more information and to sign up for these and other events, visit www.pinellascountyextension.org and click the Registration page for easy-to-follow prompts to the calendar of events and classes held at Extension offices in Largo, Weedon Island Preserve, and Brooker Creek Preserve.