With millions of participants, bird watching has solidified its spot as a top hobby, and the COVID-19 pandemic blew additional wind in its wings.
This spring, the Alachua Audubon Society will hold a number of programs for beginner and veteran birders to enjoy. And with spring migrations coming, Debbie Segal, president of the local Audubon chapter, said it’s an exciting time to search for birds.
“Right now, we have a lot of winter birds here and rare birds can show up at any time, but then in the spring, when spring migration starts, you have a lot of birds passing through that you don’t see normally,” Segal said.
And rare birds do pop up. During the 2022 Gainesville Christmas Bird Count (CBC), birders encountered a Broad-billed hummingbird visiting a local home feeder.
Andy Kratter coordinates the local CBC and said the Broad-billed hummingbird sighting is the first to ever be recorded on a Florida Christmas Bird Count—an event that has run for the past 123 years. During the winter, Kratter said the bird should be fluttering with its friends in northwest Mexico.
Starting Feb. 11, the Alachua Audubon Society will host a bird watching course through Santa Fe College’s Community Education program. The course meets four Saturdays in a row to visit local hot spots, and a second class will start March 18.
The class costs $49 and is led by experts who walk participants through beginner hurdles. Segal said the class typically fills up during the spring and fall schedules. You can visit the registration page here.
The 2023 Backyard Birding Tour will happen on February 18 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. During the self-guided tour, you can visit six local backyard bird habitats. Volunteers at each home will discuss different feeders, water features and more that help attract birds.
Tickets and maps are available at Wild Birds Unlimited (4212 NW 16th Blvd), for $12 with cash or check and $15 with a card. Kids under 16 years old attend for free.
A number of free field trips and birding walks will happen throughout February and March.
- February 4 at 8 a.m. at Alligator Lake Park, Lake City
- February 25 at 8 a.m. at Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, Orlando
- March 4 at 8 a.m. at Fox Pen Preserve, Hawthorne
- March 18 at 8 a.m. at Longleaf Flatwoods Preserve, Hawthorne
- March 25 at 8 a.m. at Hague Dairy, Gainesville
Segal highlighted the Wednesday guided tours at Sweetwater Wetlands Park.
“That’s a really good way to learn birds that are easy to see, and we’ll have an expert there each Wednesday morning for that,” Segal said.
The tour is held each Wednesday and visitors must pay $5 to enter the city park.
Also, the Ninth Annual Pints and Predators event will happen on Feb. 25—hosted by First Magnitude Brewing Co., the Alachua Audubon Society and Sunrise Wildlife Rehabilitation. The family friendly festival and fundraiser will feature animal ambassadors not healthy enough to release into the wild.
Visitors will get up close looks at birds of prey like a bald eagle, barred owl and red-tailed hawk along with snakes, bats and a spider exhibit.
Find more details for the event at the Facebook page.
Lastly, for the DIYers, the local Audubon society donated 10 birding kits to the library district. Available for checkout, the backpack kits feature binoculars, Sibley’s Bird Guide East and a guide to local birding spots.
The kits are great for homeschoolers or retirees, Segal said, and anyone who doesn’t have a good set of binoculars.
She said the chapter donated five kits to begin and another five after high demand. Right now, the library system reports all 10 kits are in use with four people on hold. You can add yourself to the wait list online.
You can also follow the Alachua Audubon Society on Facebook to keep track of events.