By Captain Bob Branham, birding photographer, wildlife enthusiast and Palm Beach County resident
To get started birding in South Florida is easy—simply go outside and look around. Even in the city, there may be plenty of opportunities to observe birds. Do a simple Google search for birding spots near you and you’re likely to find a park or natural area nearby. Ponds and canals are great habitats for wading birds, osprey, ducks in winter and maybe a hawk if you’re lucky. Some county parks such as the Green Cay Nature Center and Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands have engineered boardwalks and are managed to attract birds and wildlife—these spots are exceptional places to try. Beaches will have variety of gulls, terns, pelicans, plovers, sand pipers and loads of other maritime visitors . Never pass up a chance to drive through the agricultural areas west of town. You may find many species of raptors including eagles, caracara, and owls. As your appetite grows, you may find yourself on an airboat or bass boat trip through the heart of the everglades—a must have experience for sure.
Generally, any park with some open space, a pond or canal, and plenty of native plants will have interesting bird life. Between January and February, Palm Beach County’s bird population is enhanced with migratory birds from up north. Many warbler species fly through the area to end up farther south but some stick around and spend the winter here. Migratory raptors include red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, white-tailed kites and American kestrels. Some nature centers put out feeders to help attract songbirds. One of the stars of our winter visitors is the painted bunting—a truly spectacular sight. My favorite parks in PBC are Wakodahatchee Wetlands and Green Cay Wetlands. A visit to these areas is never disappointing and they are very close together, so you can do both in one outing.
for great birding opportunities:
While you’re out looking for interesting places you will quickly be able to recognize quality habitat. It’s not always what you would expect. When you find a group of birds in a field try to identify what has brought them there, then try to find those conditions elsewhere. Some birds have learned to live with people. They will be the easiest to approach and photograph. Wading birds are very dependent on water levels and water levels continually rise and fall. Winter brings our dry season and falling water levels are what concentrate these birds. It is not uncommon to see 10 species together feeding in these drying ponds. If you go birding on the coast or at the beach, remember it will be best the last half of the falling tide—low tide is best.
I like to take pictures and I find the best light for photography is morning and evening but if the weather is nice I’ll stay out all day. Changing weather seems to get the birds moving so the days before a front passes and a day or two after can be great. I like a bit of wind rather than a calm day and I like to catch the sunrise when I can. Clouds and colors can be pretty special when things are right. Birds are usually most active in the morning—ospreys will be fishing, caracara will be hunting for road kill and the song birds will be singing.
At some point along your birding adventure, you may want to take your own pictures. Generally, the better equipment you have the easier it will be to get a great shot. A fast, long lens will help and wearing earth tones or camo in the field will help you get closer without drawing too much attention. I find my car makes a suitable blind but I also have a small pop up blind that I use from time to time. Try to stake out an area of activity and be patient. Birds that live in parks near people are usually much more approachable than those in the wild are. I seldom use a tripod—preferring to hand hold the camera most of the time—but a good sturdy tripod is worth having especially in a blind. Have your camera settings dialed in and always be ready for a shot—it sometimes happens very quickly so keep alert and watchful. Take lots of photos and delete the bad ones. Only show off you best shots.
Tips to make your birding experience more enjoyable:
- Borrow or purchase a pair of binoculars.
- Get a field guide to birds. The library is a great resource and has many books about birds in North America.
- Wear comfortable shoes and sun protection like a hat and sunscreen.
- Wear comfortable shoes and sun protection like a hat and sunscreen.
The Palm Beach County Parks Department was created in 1951 as a department under the direction of the County Engineers Office. By 1965, the department was managing twelve parks and included a work force of sixty-nine employees. Reorganization in 1972 led to the separation of Parks and Engineering and so the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department was born. The department steadily expanded during the late 1960s and 1970s. During the 1980s and 1990s, responding to Palm Beach County’s exploding population growth and its equally exploding demand for leisure services, aggressive expansion efforts were accomplished. Today, The Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department is recognized nationally for excellence in park and recreation management, operates more than 110 parks and recreational facilities, spanning more than 8,500 acres, and provides organized recreational programs and services for people of all ages and abilities.
Join us in celebrating our 50th Anniversary milestone as the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department. Connect with us on social media and be on the lookout for upcoming publications and events highlighting the history of your county park system.
Find out how the Tropical Milkweed plant protects animals from their predators on this episode of What’s that Plant?
Volunteer docents at the Pioneer Home offer a look into Jupiter’s past and serve to broaden the public’s understanding of the unique cultural and historical landmark that sits in DuBois Park. Built atop a Native American shell rock mound by the DuBois family, the home is an excellent example of life in a self-sufficient pioneer homestead. Listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department operates the Home and takes visitors on a journey back in time through guided tours to better understand and develop an appreciation for the land and its past inhabitants.
Lynn Desy, a volunteer docent at the DuBois Pioneer Home shared, “Most of all, I love volunteering for PBC’s DuBois Pioneer Home because I love meeting a wide variety of people and sometimes learning of their connections with the home. However, I love researching historical facts and learning more continuously as questions and thoughts arise all the time. My biggest reward is becoming particularly good friends with the descendants of this pioneer family and interacting with, and enjoying them, in their current life.”
The Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department recognizes volunteer efforts as a valuable resource in working towards its mission in providing opportunities for healthy, happy living through award-winning parks, inclusive experiences and environmental stewardship. Volunteering is a rewarding way to give back and connect with the community and the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department is looking for volunteer docents who enjoy interacting with people and who have a passion for art, history and culture.
Join our team by volunteering and become the heart of PBC Parks! Apply to become a volunteer at www.pbcparks.com