Cheeew. Cheeew. Cheeew. Cha-chew. Chirp-chirp.
With the sequence rising and falling reaching crescendos sounding like the high pitch of a whistling kettle, the call is unmistakable. It’s a baby begging to its parent.
A baby osprey that is.
Now, look up.
These birds of prey prefer to build their large nests in high places – amongst the top branches of dead trees or on platforms mounted to the tops of tall poles like those used for street lights.
Next, wait. Wildlife drama like nesting, feeding or flying antics often unfold for those who are patient.
Welcome to the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail (GFBWT), which has dozens of locations throughout the state including three key areas in southern Pinellas County: Clam Bayou Nature Park in Gulfport; Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Petersburg; and Ft. De Soto Park in Tierra Verde. See: floridabirdingtrail.com.
“We’re part of a migration trail that happens two times a year” in the spring and fall, said Chris Muhrlin, chief ranger at Ft. De Soto.
The ranger station offers a printed, multi-page brochure that includes a map of the park and a checklist of birds to look for in the spring, summer, fall and winter seasons. In the lobby, thick ring-binder notebooks created by staff and volunteers contain color photographs of birds and wildlife to help visitors identify their sightings.
Boyd Hill also offers bird, butterfly, amphibian and reptile checklists and has staff on hand to help visitors identify wildlife that has been photographed.
“Roadside signs marking the trail have a huge impact even for unplanned stops,” said Whitney Gray, GFBWT coordinator. “They’re great tourism draws. Over 60 percent of the people who see them make an unplanned stop and 83 percent come back.”
Though it is possible to enjoy the trail through serendipity and do self-learning, it’s faster to gain ethical wildlife watching knowledge by participating in a guided walk to discover the variety of experiences, said Gray.
The state’s Wings Over Florida program motivates people to identify as many native birds as possible while progressing through five achievement levels earning certificates along the way. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) website, “the beginner level starts at 50 birds and goes all the way up to 350 species. FWC staff will make a presentation at Boyd Hill on Saturday, September 24.
As people gain more experience, they can create a free life-viewing list on eBird.org – a website that lists recent sightings by volunteer enthusiasts – connect with others through a local Audubon chapter, go to birding festivals or volunteer at either the Florida Wildlife Commission or a local park, said Gray.
At Boyd Hill, “volunteers maintain the butterfly garden,” said Barbara Stalbird, park supervisor. “And, we have monthly guided bird walks.”
Experienced volunteers also lead organized bird walks at Ft. DeSoto September through May when the temperatures are cooler.
“Stand still. Take a deep breath. Listen. Engage. Do this in a park or on the street where you live,” said Gray. “When wildlife cannot tell that you’re there, that’s the best thing.”
Find a statewide map that details individual parks in four regions, typical bird species that can be found at each and within each park entry, a link to eBird here. Consult the websites of individual parks regarding entrance fees, if any, and hours of operation.