Sunday, January 08, 2006

Sunday Birdwatch - Florida

The Clog-wife and I took a short walk from our home, Clog House, Est 1935, in High Springs, FL, to the downtown area, which is essentially the old business district of a rural last-century town thrown into the 21st century by burgeoning growth in Alachua County, and tourism to the many world-famous springs whose runs feed the Santa Fe River. We visited a large inactive sinkhole, around which a small city park has been laid out. I stopped under a spreading old live oak to see what birds might appear. Emulating the alarm calls of wrens and titmice called numerous birds to the branches over my head. I noted these birds that gathered in the single oak tree:

Black and white warbler
Yellow-throated warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler
Palm warbler
Tufted titmouse
Carolina chickadee

There was a warbler? in the tree that had chestnut-red hues on its sides. I haven't identified it as yet. Perhaps a bay-breasted warbler that hasn't completed its migration to Central/South America. Must. Return. With binoculars.

Local birdlife never ceases to delight and amaze me. Most folks have
no clue about the startling diversity of birds that live or pass through their locale during the course of a year. Here in north central Florida, folks might recognize common local neighborhood birds like cardinal, bluejay, titmouse, "vulture", "hawk", "owl", "heron" or turkey. But they are almost to a person ignorant of the dozens and dozens of bird species that frequent their community on a seasonal basis, and wouldn't know or care to distinguish a house finch from a chipping sparrow, or wouldn't think to distinguish a pine siskin from a goldfinch.

These knowing folks stand up in public meetings and will swear that birds are not affected by development and sprawl, and that since moving to their home "x" years ago, bird diversity has remained *constant*. The truth is that it's only those few common birds that they can identify that have adapted to urban conditions, that seem constant. I know, because before I started observing and identifying birds, I, like the good folks I've described, thought only 5-10 different birds lived in my little part of the world. But what about the dozens and dozens of seasonal visitors who linger for a short time taking brief advantage of local resources on their yearly migrations hither and yon?

I suggest that the birders in your area have a better understanding of local ecology than most folks in your local government that make important decisions regarding where and how development occurs in your area. Contact local officials and bid them include birders of the local Audubon chapter in local city and county comprehensive plan discussions. Serious birders take the long view. Their knowledge of local bird population demographics, seasonal bird migrations through your area, and the habitat requirements of the individual species may be among the best ecological advice available to those who plan for the long-term future of your community. Birds are citizens of hemispheres and continents, and so planning for their survival requires more than the typical blinkered thinking we apply to our neighborhood associations, cities, and counties. The well-being of bird species and populations, however long or short their stay in our particular areas, requires knowledge, coordination on a large scale, and passionate representation.

On the walk home I spotted this year's first (for me) flock of cedar waxwings streaking overhead, announced by their shrill weak whistles.

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