Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
The weekly series ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ with Lilly Browning was popular for local wildflower enthusiasts, and now I will take you on another journey: ‘Wild Skies’ Birding with Bev Hansen of the Hernando Audubon Society.
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is a network of 510 premier wildlife viewing sites across the state, and eight of those locations can be found in Hernando County.
For this ‘Wild Skies’ series, Bev and I will explore a few of these locations and showcase a variety of popular winged residents.
But before we begin, let’s get to know Bev Hansen, President of the Hernando Audubon Society.
When Bev and her husband of 54 years moved to Florida, they became involved in all sorts of programs. Soon, their interest in backyard birding would lead them to travel all over the United States in search of birds.
“I knew backyard birds, but I never knew anything more than that,” Bev said. “When we first started birding, we got a camper, and we drove all around the U.S. We picked destinations, but on the way, we stopped at (different) places (to see birds).”
After joining Audubon, Bev and her husband became avid birders and she describes a challenge in their birding adventures.
“There was one bird that we just couldn’t find for a long time: a Yellow-breasted Chat, which lives in Florida but not very many,” Bev said. “We went through many states that said ‘Oh yes, we have the Yellow-breasted Chat,’ but we couldn’t find one. And then all of a sudden, we found one, and once we found one, we found a whole lot more.”
For avid birders, the adventure usually begins just before dawn. However, we weren’t seeking any particular birds on this day; it was just a day to take a little stroll in the forest, following a trail through an amazing upland pine habitat.
Bev and I met at the Smith Prairie tract on County Rd 480 W/Croom Rd in Brooksville, just a little over 1 mile east of Tucker Hill, to begin our adventure.
Just as we stepped on the soft sanded trail, Bev started to name all the birds we heard chirping in the forest.
“That’s a Bachman’s Sparrow. Dahhhhh Da da da da da.. That’s a bird that people come to see here,” Bev said. “There’s a Summer Tanager way off and Pine Warblers were just calling.”
After taking a couple of minutes listening to a pair of Bachman’s Sparrows calling back and forth, we decided to venture closer off the trail in attempts to pinpoint their location. Taking a few steps ever so quietly as we went deeper into the forest it was just under five minutes I heard Bev whisper, “I found it.” Perched high above on a broken branch of a longleaf pine there it sits, a Bachman’s Sparrow.
Along that hiking trail just off Forest Road 7, we were able to identify Eastern Bluebirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse, Summer Tanager, Blue Jays, and a Common NightHawk just by their call.
Within the Withlacoochee State Forest, there are many species of woodland birds and birds of prey like Red-tailed Hawks, Swallow-tailed Kites, and Barred Owls. Still, it also holds an extraordinary place for a very special woodpecker, the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Bev has been monitoring the clusters of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers for 20 years with the Florida Forest Service.
Birding is a fun and exciting way to get anyone, at any age, exploring the outdoors.
“I think partly it’s the challenge. It is sort of like a hunt except you are looking for birds just to identify or photograph. It’s exciting to see something new or different, and it gets you outdoors,” Bev said.