By Sallie Paris
When my brother Daniel was a toddler, we often walked the sand road by the lake on our Alabama farm. One day, his little hand tugged mine as he pointed up and said, “Sallie, look at that white egret flying in the sky!” Since then, I have tried to look heavenward for a glimpse of soaring fowl.
Over 60 million Americans are active “birders.” Avitourism is an international pastime, so Florida advertises our waterways.
I volunteer for the South Walton Turtle Watch. On my pre-dawn Friday morning walks, I see pelicans, blue herons, sandpipers, and seagulls hovering over certain Gulf channels. Those waterways must be good fishing holes.
American white pelicans are true snowbirds, while brown pelicans live here year-round. Bright white pelicans charmingly nibble across the water’s surface. Brown pelicans are showstoppers. They dive from as high as 65 feet to snare their prey.
Great blues are the largest herons. Their wing spans reach up to six feet, so they are spectacles in the sky. I watch them wade shallow shorelines, lake edges, and marshes. They also follow fishermen.
Seagulls are entertaining. What child hasn’t tossed a handful of crackers to bring a flock of seagulls as close as possible? Florida has over 30 species. They may travel (and harass) in packs, but seagulls mate for life. Seagulls have sharper vision than humans.
Timid sandpipers dart back and forth with the waves, as though they’re scared to get their feet wet. Sandpiper couples build a few nests during courtship but build a final home once they are in a committed relationship. The quirky birds furiously flap or glide close to the water.
Families of wood storks pause in Florida to rest for the remainder of their journey to South America. Thanks to the migratory Species Act, SoWal has discovered at “stork tree” at the northwest corner of Allen Lake. See the colony around early October. You’ll know juveniles by their light-colored beaks. The species has been upgraded from endangered to threatened.
To learn more, contact local state park rangers at www.floridastateparks.org/learn. They have great programs for children and adults alike!