County park converted into outdoor science lab for ‘bird count’

By Nick Blank
Posted 1/9/19

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Birdwatching is harder than it sounds. Birds are small, blend into the foliage, have short attention spans. Other factors such as weather or noise determine if they’ll come …

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County park converted into outdoor science lab for ‘bird count’

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Birdwatching is harder than it sounds. Birds are small, blend into the foliage, have short attention spans. Other factors such as weather or noise determine if they’ll come out into the open.

About 25 children hit Camp Chowenwaw Park’s trails armed with binoculars last weekend. After a brief lesson on how to spot birds and different bird species, they were joined by members of the Duval Audubon Society for the Fifth Annual Christmas Bird Count for Kids.

Finding birds is a waiting game, guide Lauren Flesher tells a group of 12 children, parents and Girl Scout troop leaders. You walk a bit, then stand still, scan the trees and wait for movement. A bird’s placement on the trees, color and chirping is enough to identify it.

“You usually have a second,” Flesher said.

Near the camp, Flesher hears the call of a small, brown Eastern Phoebe and it zooms in and out of view. Flesher sees an eagle, but it’s too fast for the rest of the group. A turkey vulture and six black vultures soar overhead when the group is on the boardwalk. After a bird is spotted, Flesher delivers a lesson.

“(Vultures) have a very important job. People think vultures are ugly or bad, but it’s not true,” Flesher said. “They’re nature’s garbage crew.”

The birds are sparse and reclusive the first 20 minutes of the walk. Squirrels and frogs set off plenty of false alarms. Things will get better when the sun hits and drives out insects.

Flesher hushes the group and does a bird call. Eventually, two red-bellied woodpeckers, which Flesher said are partners, hop from branch to branch, latching to trunks searching for insects.

At the end of the Tree House trail, Flesher plays a birdsong on her smartphone. She said technology was a boon to birdwatching.

“There’s a bit of a generational divide. You have old-fashioned books and digital forms of the books,” Flesher said. “You can take photos of the bird and the app tells you what it is. It helps people get involved if they’re really beginners.”

The trail is nearing the end and the group has seen only seven or eight birds at close range, some for a split-second. With the camp in view, a symphony of birds darting around two expansive trees greet the group and sit on branches within touching distance.

“We’re getting dive bombed!” remarked Duval Audubon Society volunteer Deb Hill. “Things got very lively at the end.”

Taylee Price, 9, and Amie Stutts, 11, were constantly at the head of the group and pointing birds out. Price was fond of the ruby-crowned kinglet and the yellow-throated warbler, while Stutts’ favorite was the bald eagle.

“I think this is a good experience to look for birds and it’s fun, and we just get to learn about birds and stuff,” Price said.

“Here you can just have fun and explore,” Stutts said. “You can see all kinds of cool birds you haven’t seen before.”

There are so many birds Flesher can hardly keep up. A yellow-throated warbler, a black-and-white warbler, a cardinal, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a nuthatch, a goldfinch and a ruby-crowned kinglet are among the 30 birds that made an appearance.

“Birds are really charismatic and colorful. They get people interested in the environment,” Flesher said. “Between the birds we’ve heard and the birds we’ve seen, they’ve been pretty unique. I think it’s been a good haul.”

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