Category Archives: Animals

A Beginner’s Guide to Bird Watching in Palm Beach County

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.

Top Locations

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.

Birding Tips

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.

Eagle Scout Project Complete at Daggerwing Nature Center

Daggerwing Nature Center congratulates Michael Yao, who, after over two years of planning and setbacks with the pandemic, completed his Eagle Scout project at the nature center.  As part of the final project, Michael provided two Wood Duck nest boxes and built and installed seven Screech Owl nest boxes in the natural area. 

The Screech Owl nest boxes are located close enough to the boardwalk for observation and can be seen by guests when walking along the trail.  The Wood Duck and Screech Owl nest boxes will provide places for these species to raise young and will help support the diversity of wildlife around Daggerwing Nature Center. 

Animal Encounters: American Alligators

American Alligators, the Florida State Reptile, are common in South Florida — and can even be spotted in some PBC Parks. In this episode of Animal Encounters, Daggerwing Nature Center Manager, Sean Mallee, shares some interesting facts about the American Alligator, including a number of useful adaptations the reptiles have! This episode features Nibbles, an Animal Ambassador at Daggerwing Nature Center.

Photographers get Unique Opportunity to Photograph Birds of Prey

  • Owl
  • Hawk
  • Owl
  • Hawk
  • Kestrel
  • crowd

Raptor Day for Photographers was held at Okeeheelee Nature Center (ONC) on January 18, 2020. Sponsored by Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center, this annual event provided 50 photographers with an opportunity to take close-up portraits of birds of prey. This year, ONC partnered with the Treasure Coast Wildlife Center (TCWC) to ensure a diversity of species for the participants to photograph. The birds displayed included two species of hawk, three species of owl, a kestrel, and a crested caracara. The birds are placed on outdoor perches so the photographers can capture images of the animals in natural light and in front of wooded backgrounds.

All of the raptors live at educational facilities under human care because they have an injury that prevents them from returning to the wild. Although many of the birds have visible imperfections, the talented photographers were able to bring out their best features and highlight their natural beauty.

ONC staff and volunteers were present throughout the event to provide information about the birds and answer questions. Participants were also given a brochure that included facts about the raptors and explained a little about each bird’s history.

Feedback from the participants was tremendously positive. Irwin Goldzweig wrote to share some of his beautiful photos and say, “Thanks to you, Heather, and your staff and volunteers. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed Raptor Day. It was professionally organized and implemented which made it totally enjoyable for us as visitors. The staff and volunteers were wonderful, informative, and very helpful. We look forward to the next one.”

Friends of Okeeheelee Nature Center sold out the event within two weeks, raising over $1,200. All proceeds benefit the programs, exhibits and animals at Okeeheelee Nature Center.