checklist, birding, nature

Over the weekend, a fellow naturalist friend of mine came to visit the Florida Panhandle from the Big Bend’s Cedar Key. We spent a day on the beach, a morning on Turkey Creek, and took walks around the neighborhood. She is an expert identifier of marine invertebrates, sea grasses, and reef fish, but is just beginning to learn birds.

I love hanging out with new birders. I remember my first months of birding; the excitement when discovering a new species, the challenge of recognizing field marks in my Sibley guide, the novel way I began to look at the world. Plus, I usually bird alone, so sharing the experience with a friend is that much better.

checklist, birding, nature

As we walked, my friend would periodically exclaim, “That’s a new entry in my checklist!” She was referring to the Checklist of Florida’s Birds, put out by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The small, black-and-white booklet has over 500 species, with spaces for locations and dates. Because there are no species descriptions or images, the booklet is small and lightweight, easy to take around to different birding adventures or to keep in an office drawer.

I totally recommend checklists like this for birders. First, I think they’re fun. I don’t always want to be on my phone or computer keeping track of tallies, and the book is simply satisfying to my Type-A personality. Second, they are usually organized by species groups, and thus point out holes in one’s birding strategy. For example, flipping through my booklet I find a ton of locations and dates for wading birds, shorebirds, and waterfowl. I live on the coast, so it’s not surprising that I’ve seen most of the coast-dependent species. However, one page is nearly blank, indicating that I have completely missed pelagic species. After contemplating the page, I realized I really do want to see these incredible seabirds, and have been researching pelagic voyages for the near-future.

For beginners, such checklists can be even more valuable. I remember looking at a Maine checklist for the very first time when I became interested in birding in 2013. The checklist obviously revealed how many bird species I’d identified (almost none), but also so many species I didn’t even know existed.  “What’s a Broad-winged Hawk?” I wondered. “Or an American Three-toed Woodpecker? The checklist literally opened my eyes to birds I had never before imagined.

Does your state produce checklists for birders? Let me know in the comments below!

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.