If you get excited about seeing birds, then you might know what the Forgotten Coast has to offer. When it comes to birding, we have unbeatable natural areas to explore and a staggering list of birds to discover. Winter is a blissful time to visit our beautiful county as many species are migrating and stopping to fatten up before their long trek farther south. Winter is also when the Audubon Society conducts the Christmas Bird Count here.
Why is bird watching so good on the Forgotten Coast?
There are several reasons for the remarkable bird watching in Franklin County, Florida. In North America, there are approximately 800 species of birds. Florida hosts 525 species, and Franklin County, Florida, boasts of 350 species. That means almost half of all species of North American birds pass through the Forgotten Coast.
Almost 85% of Franklin County, Florida, is protected land. This means no pesticides and lots of natural space. Our protected and preserved areas provide clean air, healthy soils, and healthy plants for birds and other wildlife to thrive.
Franklin County has several “Migrant Traps.” Birds take a look at a large body of water and typically decide to stay awhile before traveling on. Migrant traps are peninsulas or coastline areas that offer birds a place to eat, put on some weight, and gather energy before traveling over waterways. Bald Point State Park, a 5000-acre protected area located on Alligator Point, is a migrant trap known as an annual stopover for many migratory birds.
What is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count?
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere. Volunteers perform this count annually around Christmastime. A compiler for each area gives volunteer groups a count circle with a 15-mile diameter and specific assigned routes within the circles. The volunteers count and document all of the birds they see and hear.
The Christmas Bird Count began over 120 years ago. It started as a bird hunt, but in 1900, birders began counting and logging birds instead of hunting them. The CBC has been tracking long-term and short-term trends in bird populations for over 100 years.
Who participates in the Christmas Bird Count, and when is it?
Anyone interested can participate. However, beginners are typically paired with more experienced birders. Often spirited, experienced birders follow the Christmas Bird Counts and participate in more than one (or several) counts per year. Some fowl enthusiasts travel and track bird counts like a zealous hippy might follow the Grateful Dead.
In North America, the Christmas Bird Count is held between December 14 – January 5. In Franklin County, the CBC is usually the weekend after Christmas. Nearby areas, like Panacea and Gulf County, hold their counts directly before and after ours. That way, those that want to participate in all three counts are available to do so.
Why is the CBC so important?
Birds tell us so much about the health of our environment. They thrive in healthy environments, and, conversely, birds leave if the environment is polluted, overrun with predatory species, or overdeveloped. The annual Christmas Bird Count provides essential data about bird population trends and helps inform conservation efforts.
“Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we’ll soon be in trouble.” – Roger Tory Peterson
I might like to participate this year…
The National Audubon Society is the primary organizer of the Christmas Bird Count. Franklin County’s local chapter is the Apalachee Audubon Society. You will need to contact them, and they will put you in touch with the local compilers of our area.
Birders must have good walking shoes, binoculars, water, a snack, a field guide, and a notebook. Several apps are available to help you identify birds and log them, like The Merlin and eBird. No matter how you do it, you will note all the birds you see and hear.
Where to stay on your birding trip
If you are interested in participating in Franklin County’s bird count, and even if you are interested in participating in other regional counts, we have great places to stay in Apalachicola, Alligator Point, Carrabelle, and St. George Island.
I can’t make the Bird Count, but I want to go birding on the Forgotten Coast.
This time of year, we are excited to greet many migratory shorebirds and small songbirds, diving ducks (Redheads and Lesser Scaup), and falcons (Peregrin, Merlins, Kestrels). You might also spot some of the epic birds nesting here this winter, like Bald Eagles and Great Horned Owls.
Whether you are a birding pro or an eager beginner, the Forgotten Coast is a fantastic place to be this winter. Grab your binoculars and meet us for some mind-blowing birding and outdoor fun!