Be Your Own Birder

Flying With Wings Over Florida

Many birders I know, myself included, keep a variety of lists – life lists, yard lists, year lists, seasonal lists, trip lists, species family lists and more. Most lists are just for our own entertainment, study and enjoyment, but there are times when lists can mean more. Competing in a big day race, for example, necessitates a list to tally up birds for the competition. A local list can help out regional research about bird populations, and submitting sightings at a refuge or nature sanctuary helps other visitors know what birds to watch out for.

Wood Stork

Wood Stork – Photo by Larry Hennessy

Since I’ve been a birder I’ve always kept a life list. I added my lifer wood stork to it on a visit to Florida in 2012, when my husband and I were initially scouting whether to move to the area where we now live, and in fact I saw that lifer wood stork just 20 miles or so from our new home. I also regularly keep trip lists whether it is just a short visit to a local hotspot or a longer journey to far-flung or exotic locales. After becoming a homeowner, I’ve also kept a very rigorous yard list. Each of these lists have been just for my enjoyment, but after moving to Florida just about a year ago, I discovered a statewide program that encourages listing in a big way – Wings Over Florida.

This program, organized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, features two types of birding lists – a Florida life list and an annual Florida big year list. Participants can apply for six different levels of the life list, with a minimum of 25 birds and the highest level recognizing participants who have seen more than 400 species in Florida (there is a similar life list program for butterfly sightings as well). These recognitions can be applied for at any time when participants have reached the appropriate levels. The birding big year list recognizes anyone who sees 50 or more bird species in the state in one calendar year. All participants who qualify are awarded full-color, frame-worthy certificates personlized with their name and the total number species they’ve seen.

Several important things must be noted about this program…

  • It’s completely free for anyone to participate, including earning a certificate.
  • Non-native birds are not eligible to be counted on life or year lists.
  • You don’t need to be a Florida resident to participate, but all birds counted for the recognition must be seen in Florida.

It makes me wonderfully proud to live in a state that has such as a fine program established to encourage enjoying Florida’s wildlife, because enjoying birds is the very first step toward appreciation, conservation and protection. Because I’m already well beyond the 400-bird mark for the life list overall, I’ve chosen to forgo the life list certificates and only work on a big year list, but it is something I can enjoy each year (and the colorful certificates change, so that makes it worth collecting!). For my own records, I’ve only counted birds seen after “officially” moving to the state. In 2016, my total was 56 species – not bad for living in the state for less than five months, and for not going out and deliberately birding when the demands of the move and settling in, not to mention work and family, were competing for my time and energy.

Wings Over Florida 2016

Wings Over Florida 2016 – Photo (and birds counted!) by Melissa Mayntz

For 2017, I’ve already counted 86 species (including my first wood stork of the year this week). I’m still not out and about as much as I’d like, but it is interesting to experience the sheer diversity of Florida’s birds, without even truly trying, and I still have five months of birding and counting left this year. I hope this will be a wonderful goal in years to come as I discover more refuges and birding hotspots both locally and throughout the amazing peninsula that is my home. And I hope I always have a wood stork on those lists.

Learn more about Wings Over Florida – including how to join in!

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