sunset, nature, florida

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.

sunset, nature, florida

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!


Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.