Back to Nature (Published on - Oct. 14, 2005)
Becoming a birder – back to basics
Photo by Karen Mitchell Tremmel
A little blue heron searches for lunch.
Visitors to Florida have long been captivated by the beauty and abundance of bird species that exist within the state’s 58,560 square miles. Floridians have discovered bird watching and bird feeding.

Florida is graced with a great diversity of habitats, location on migration routes, wildlands and a geographic span of both temperate and subtropical climates. It’s possible to see 200 to 300 species in Florida. The question you’re asking about right now is, “Where do I start?”

Begin at your local book or nature store. They offer plenty of information, birding equipment and gadgets to get you started. Also, your area’s Cooperative Extension Office has a wealth of publications on just about everything from sparrows to ibis.

Feeders: You will want a feeder that is impervious to squirrels and vermin. We’ve tried many, but have only found one that really measures up: The Heritage Farms Bird’s Choice Squirrel Proof Feeder. We purchased it after observing a frustrated squirrel fall to the ground in aggravation from a Heritage feeder mounted upon a pole in a North Carolina State Park. We’ve never observed a squirrel gaining access to our feeder. The rats also are unable to gnaw their way through the metal exterior.

Bird bath: Even the simplest offering of daily fresh water will bring a multitude of birds to your backyard. I believe at times, the bird bath may be more enticing than the bird feeder.

Guide books: Walking into a book store can be overwhelming. The shelves are lined with field guide books. Which one should you choose? If I could only purchase one Florida guide book I would choose “The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Florida.” It has a little bit of everything in it, from habitats to star gazing, insects, trees, wildflowers, reptiles and of course birds.

Second book: “Birds of Florida Field Guide” by Stan Tekiela. This little book, perfect for a backpack, contains 140 species – only Florida birds with large photographs. It’s extremely handy. I wouldn’t go anywhere without it. If you are building a birding reference guide library then I suggest: “All the Birds of North America – American Bird Conservancy’s Field Guide,” by Jack Griggs; “A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America” by Roger Tory Peterson; “The Sibley Guide to Birds” by David Allen Sibley.

Binoculars: Every birder needs a good pair of binoculars. It will be necessary to conduct research to ascertain your personal needs. A good place to start is: Birding Optics: This Web site has reviews, testimonials and guides on purchasing a wide variety of binoculars. Michael and Diane Porter are avid birdwatchers. They’ve been reviewing binoculars and spotting scopes for “Bird Watcher’s Digest” since 1993, with their most recent review in January 2005. My own equipment includes a large and small set of binoculars, but the pair I religiously use is a full-sized, Olympus 10x50 DPS R. They’re rubberized, non-slip, central focus knob and dioptric correction, field of view: 342 feet (at 1,000 yards).

They’re bright, but also heavy, so I use a suspender shoulder harness binocular strap that goes over the shoulders, crisscrosses across the back and relieves the stress and weight on shoulders and neck. They’re not Bruntons, Leica’s or Swarovski’s which cost on average, over a thousand dollars, but they have served me well and fit my modest budget.

Accessories: If you plan on broadening your horizons for birding away from home, you’ll need additional equipment such as: A comfortable pair of shoes that stabilize and protect your feet, padded hiking socks such as Thorlo, hat or cap with brim, sunscreen and insect repellent. (The total number of West Nile Virus cases in Pinellas County is up to 18 since the first human case was confirmed on July 29, 2005. This is serious. Someone close to me is just now recovering from this disease, months after being infected.)

You’ll also need a comfortable back pack with padded shoulder straps. It should be designed with a place to carry water, a snack and lightweight rain gear. Often I’ve been out Florida birding with a group when one of Florida’s torrential rain clouds floats overhead and dumps its payload upon the unsuspecting. I’m continually surprised at how many people didn’t consider this circumstance and are completely unprepared. That is just no fun.

One reason bird watching has become one of the world’s leading sports and hobbies is it doesn’t require a lot of specialize equipment to get started. With a guide book, a good pair of shoes and binoculars, you’re on your way. No matter where you go from this day forward you’ll be able to joyfully occupy yourself with your new found skills.

Open your eyes and ears, look and listen to what the great outdoors has to offer – such beauty back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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