coot, florida, nature, birding

I have journeyed far and wide to bird, awestruck in national parks, windswept on top of mountains, mosquito-bitten in mangrove swamps, and more. But sometimes, like this month, I  haven’t been able to get anywhere with the express intent of birding and birding alone. As a result, I have turned to a local pond I pass every day on the way to work.

Ecologically, it’s not much. The pond is probably there for storm-water purposes, and is sandwiched between a giant parking lot and US-98 (a four lane highway). However, the pond is located on a barrier island along Florida’s Panhandle. Despite its less-than-beautiful surroundings, there are always birds there.

This month it has been mostly wintering birds. I slow down as I drive by (probably infuriating the commuters behind me), craning my neck to catch a glimpse of which avian species are making up the feathered assemblage.

coot, florida, nature, birding

American Coot

In the colder part of the year, American Coots are almost always feeding in the short grass at the shore, while two or three Pied-billed Grebes dive beneath the surface of the water. Lately, a Snowy Egret, Great Egret, and Great Blue Heron have also been prowling the edge. Double-crested Cormorants dry their wings on raised debris in the center of the pond, while Common Loons swim slowly from end to end. Every day brings a different eyeful, and when I reach work a few moments later I have already gotten at least a small dose of daily birding.

nature, birding, florida, okaloosa

US-98 and the pond on the other side

As the seasons shift, so will the birds. I haven’t experienced a spring here yet on Okaloosa Island, but I know summer will bring more Laughing Gulls to the pond; the coots, grebes, and loons will leave; the herons and egrets remain, adding Green and Yellow-crowned Night Herons to their ranks.

Perhaps it is not great habitat, but the pond remains habitat nonetheless. It’s a testament to the resilience of these species, and as a birder I appreciate them every day.

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.