Note: Erika is the Communications Director for Audubon Florida.

The Great Backyard Bird Count kicked off yesterday, and will continue throughout the weekend before ending on the 15th.

The idea is simple: birders from around the world count birds at least one time for at least fifteen minutes, and submit their data through eBird or the Merlin Bird ID app.  The aggregated recordings help researchers gain a snapshot of bird populations and their distribution.

I decided to participate at least on the first day, if not more. During the work week I take a walk with my toddler during my lunch break, as I have the sidewalks to myself.  Down the road a tad we stopped at a neighborhood park to scope out birds that gathered at the edge of a large pond. 

The pond is long and thin, with shallow edges and plenty of aquatic vegetation to attract wading birds, waterfowl, shorebirds, and more. Live oaks with dripping Spanish moss and tall pines line the edges, and the park offers a wide, grassy expanse in which to let my kid run while I searched for birds.

Spring has already sprung in North Florida. Magnolias and cherries are blooming, and dandelions line the grassy borders of the road. Still, the bird community still reflects our winter residents. Black and Turkey Vultures soared overhead, joined by the occasional Osprey. A trio of wading birds – Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, and Little Blue Heron – stood silently on a raised hillock of plants. 

Per usual, the Canada Geese proved to be the most prevalent species – and the loudest. They are such a ubiquitous part of my local outdoor symphony that sometimes I don’t even hear them anymore, tuning the flocks out like white noise.

The highlights? A pair of gorgeous Wood Ducks spooked by something I couldn’t see, flying to another part of the lake before settling down once more. And a lone American White Pelican, its impressive wing span reminding me for the umpteenth time of the hugeness of this species. 

Just over the required 15 minute mark, I spotted 17 species, including a few firsts for my 2021 list. A fine start to GBBC!

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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.