SPRING HILL — There’s about 325 native birds that call Hernando County home, and a look at the latest membership rolls show there’s nearly one bird watcher for each and every one of them in the Hernando Audubon Society.
Hernando is great birding territory, said Bev Hansen, vice president of the group, which is celebrating its 60th year and has about 300 members in the winter season. In addition to the native birds, there are scores of migratory bird species, a few rare winged visitors, and even some blown in by hurricanes.
No kidding, said Hansen, who’s most interesting sighting was a Double-toothed Kite she spotted last year after Hurricane Michael. The sighting was a record, and the first of its kind in Florida, said Hansen. It’s the kind of thing birders live for.
She said experts believe the kite, which is native to the Yucatan Peninsula, was likely swept into Hernando County by Michael, which came up the Gulf of Mexico from the southwest. She spotted the unusual bird in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area, in the northern part of the county.
“I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was out of the ordinary,” said Hansen, who later identified the bird by internet research. “It was exciting, and only the second one ever seen in the U.S.”
Spotting, identifying and recording the sighting in a log book is what birding is all about, said Hansen, who said many also enjoy photographing birds.
The latter applies to Marcie Clutter, the Audubon chapter’s president, who said its studying the habits of birds that fascinates her and other members of the group.
“I’m a naturalist and I like to watch their behavior, how they get their food,” said Clutter, who has been a member of the chapter for 15 years. “They are amazing and they can ride through hurricanes even though they are so light; it’s amazing how they adapt; I have a lot of admiration for them.”
Clutter said her group, above all, is about preserving the environment that allows birds to thrive. Causes the Hernando chapter supports are educating the public about planting native species of plants that attract the bees and butterflies that in turn pollinate and create more plants, which in turn produce the seeds upon which birds feed. The proliferation of exotic and non-native species of plants is displacing the regional and native species, throwing the ecosystem out of balance, said Clutter.
Her group has adopted Eastside Elementary School and is working with students there to plant an eco-area that will be beneficial to local birds.
“The exotics (plants) look nice but it’s becoming a problem because they don’t provide the food the birds need,” said Clutter.
For those interested in learning about birds and going on outings to watch and photograph them, the Hernando Audubon Society is always looking for new members, said Hansen.
“The only thing you need is binoculars,” she said.
For more information, visit the group’s website at http://www.hernandoaudubon.org/.
The group meets at the Community Activity Center in Brooksville monthly. Meetings usually include a speaker who educates members about different bird species. The next meeting is Sept. 26 and will highlight the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Regular, guided outings to sight birds are another part of what the group does. Members will be going to the Chinsegut Conservation Center to sight birds that live around the top of the 270-foot-high hill that is home to oldest remaining plantation home in the state.
“It’s a great hobby,” said Hansen of birding, adding it is ideal for anyone who loves nature, wildlife and getting out for fresh air.
So, aside from rare Double-toothed Kites what interesting birds should Hernando residents keep their eyes open for?
“Painted Buntings are always exciting to see,” said Hansen. “They’re so colorful and very striking.”
Now’s the time to spot one, she added, as they migrate through Hernando in the fall.