Camping in Alafia River State Park: The Only Way I’ll Bird Early
In terms of early morning birding, I’m the worst. I have the best of intentions: planning my trip, getting my gear ready, setting my alarm. But when the time comes, the snooze button is ever ready and I immediately fall back asleep. As a result, I more often bird in the afternoon or evening, despite the fact that there are fewer birds I can actually see.
That’s why camping is good for me: I am already out and about so the second I wake up I can begin birding. So it was with Alafia State Park in Florida.
Our tent was situated in a relatively grassy campground,, lawn-like spaces set up beneath the canopy of Live Oaks. To one side was the camp road, to the other lay a wetland meadow. Songbirds of all shapes and sizes called from between the reeds, while Red-tailed Hawks and vultures swirled in the empty air above us. We fell asleep to the laugh-like sounds of Common Gallinules making their presence known on a nearby pond, as well as the tell-tale whistling of the aptly named Whistling Ducks.
Pond near our campsite.
I woke twice that morning. The first time the sun had barely begun to rise, a pink color just visible behind the mesh of my tent “windows.” My body had woken me for the golden hour of morning, and in addition to the gallinules, I held my breath as a Barred Owl hooted, calling after the fading night. I love seeing Barred Owls, but on this morning I chose to remain in the warmth of my sleeping bag, letting the symphony of dawn wash over me.
Eventually I dozed again, and when I finally roused myself it was past nine. The majority of the avian calls had disappeared, replaced with the near-constant braying of Red-winged Blackbirds and buzzing of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers. For a late sleeper like me, camping for just one night provided a glimpse of the sunrise birding lauded by, well, pretty much all birders. Who knows, maybe the experience will inspire me to rise another morning!