The following is an article in today’s The Ledger, our local newspaper: (the bold type is mine)
THE NATURE OF THINGS
Bird Watcher Hits Goal, Finding 216 Species in Polk
By Tom Palmer, Published: Monday, January 12, 2009 at 9:50 p.m.
Roy Morris‘ quest to see how many species of birds a person could find in Polk County in a year is over.
The total was 216 species, one species more than the minimum of 215 species he said was his goal a year ago.
His total would have been a little higher if he hadn’t been out of town when a couple of species showed up at Saddle Creek Park one fall weekend.
Nevertheless, his list includes some surprises.
This is the first time I know of that anyone has set out intentionally to see how many species they could check off in a year in Polk County. In bird-watching parlance, this is what is known as a “Big Year.”
Morris said the way he looks at it, he has now set a benchmark for others to try to top.
He said his quest revealed a few things about bird-watching opportunities in Polk County. For one, there’s no one place where there are mass gatherings of waterfowl or shorebirds that compare with some of the coastal areas of Florida.
Some local birdwatchers have broached the idea of building “scrapes” in section of wetlands areas of local parks. These are areas that are open, wet and sparsely vegetated, which would attract more shorebirds.
The advantage to something like that is that uncommon species sometimes join the masses of common species in this kind of area.
Although other sites looked promising, Saddle Creek Park near Lakeland remained the best and most dependable place to see songbirds during the fall migration.
Circle B Bar Reserve, one of the better local bird-watching parks, was closed during most of 2008 because of construction.
During the spring migration, songbirds are more commonly seen in coastal parks.
Morris said his quest reinforced the idea that Polk County is a good place to see Florida specialties, such as snail kites, caracaras and burrowing owls.
Morris said he had fun tackling the project and it did get him out of his normal bird-watching haunts to explore new areas of Polk County. He had hoped to reach 220 species or so and that could have been possible if he had found birds that he knows were present in the county because other people saw them.
So what did Morris see?
The list is long and varied. His first bird of the year was a pied-bill grebe, which he saw on Jan. 1, along with 91 other species.
The last bird of the year was an American woodcock he found on Dec. 2.
The most unexpected bird he saw was a magnificent frigatebird, which he spotted among a large group of vultures soaring over Saddle Creek Park on Oct. 25.
Frigatebirds are seabirds. I’ve seen several in Polk, but only after they were pushed inland by a hurricane or tropical storm. This bird’s appearance didn’t appear to be weather-related, which makes the sighting particularly notable.
Some other notable finds included a peregrine falcon, a black-throated green warbler, Canada warbler, red-cockaded woodpecker, dunlin (a kind of shorebird), lark sparrow and scissor-tailed flycatcher.
In case you’re wondering, the official Polk County bird list contains 306 species, but many of them were one-time wonders that showed up years ago, never to be seen again locally.
There is a Web site on Polk County birds that’s maintained by local birdwatcher Chuck Geanangel.
To learn more go to www.polkcountybirds.com.