June brings the start of summer for many and the beginning of the June Challenge for birders across Alachua County and Florida.
The Alachua Audubon Society kicked off its 19th annual June Challenge with a bird trip on Wednesday to Longleaf Flatwoods Preserve, Owens-Illinois Park and Sweetwater Wetlands, hoping to identify 50 to 60 species.
For the challenge, birders try to identify by sight as many species within their county as they can during the month of June. The participant who identifies the most gets a trophy and bragging rights.
The challenge happens in counties across Florida, and even the nation, but has a special hold in Alachua County where the challenge first started in 2004.
Rex Rowan participated in the inaugural challenge and has helped coordinate them since.
“We thought June was sort of the birding doldrums for Florida and there was really nothing going on there,” Rowan said in a phone interview. “But we found that there was a lot more going on than we thought.”
Rowan and Becky Enneis, a beginner bird watcher, were walking around San Felasco State Park when the idea occurred. Enneis thought it odd that birders seemed to give up once June came around.
The Christmas Bird Counts kept spirits high over the winter, and migration and cool weather prompted field trips in the spring and fall. Enneis wanted to push birders into action during June as well and developed the challenge.
“So the first year, we had a fairly minimal number of participants, but then it began to grow,” Rowan said.
On the Florida Birding Trail website, Rowan reports that the challenge grew to 25 Florida counties along with some in Delaware, Texas, California and even Norfolk, England.
Rowan said the friendly competition is just that. Participants share any uncommon finds so others can go out and look for the bird.
Since starting the June Challenge, Rowan said participants have spotted birds no one thought would be around.
The Alachua Audubon Society will host another outing on Saturday at 6 a.m. at the Longleaf Flatwoods Preserve. Four other official trips will include visits to Watermelon Pond and La Chua Trail.
If you want to test your birding skills, you can participate in the June Challenge and see how many species you spot. In 2021, the Alachua County June Challenge winner, Tim Hardin, reported 127 species.
Here’s a list of all the birding sites in Alachua County included in the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail:
- Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
- Gainesville Regional Utilities’ Chapman’s Pond
- Lochloosa Wildlife Conservation Area
- Morningside Nature Center
- O’Leno State Park and River Rise Preserve State Park
- Palm Point Nature Park (at Newnans Lake)
- Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park (Gateway)
- San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
For a full list of sites, visit the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail website.