Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Come to Hernando and Pasco to see our glamorous songbirds

We don't need the "Bollywood Oscars" in our semi-rural counties; we don't need to offer glimpses of Indian movie stars.

We have the Nature Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival and the chance to see sights that, to at least some people, are much more thrilling.

"There he is!" said Marion Monahan, 71, of Ormond Beach, focusing her binoculars on a yellow-throated vireo — stripes of bright white on its gray wings, a namesake swath of canary yellow at the base of its neck.

"That's my best look, ever. Oh, he's darling! Oh, that yellow throat is beautiful! Look at that wing bar!"

This walk Thursday morning in Pasco County's Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park was one of more than 30 outings offered at last weekend's event. Almost all of them were filled to capacity.

There also was good attendance at talks by widely known naturalists and a festival Saturday at the Chinsegut Nature Center.

Altogether, several hundred people showed up. Lots were locals, which is great. Even more welcome were the out-of-towners.

These are people who can help establish this area as a destination for nature-based tourism, which is why, after all, it's been called the Nature Coast for more than 20 years:

... People who will encourage environmental preservation because there's money in it.

... People who spend a good deal of that money at our restaurants and hotels.

... People, in other words, like Monahan.

Though birding is cheap, requiring nothing more than a bird book and binoculars, the travel associated with the hobby is not. Monahan's been on birding expeditions to Ecuador, Costa Rica, Africa and, now, Spring Hill.

She wasn't crazy about the location of the event's host motel, the Holiday Inn Express on U.S. 19, about a 45-minute drive from Chinsegut. She was disappointed there was no shuttle service.

But she approved of the festival's timing, designed to catch migrating birds as they return north after winter. "It's spring and you have to bird," she said repeatedly, like a mantra.

She and a friend were impressed by the landscape north and east of Brooksville.

"We are totally enamored of your hills," she said.

And she was delighted with the birding on the walk through Starkey, led by Ken Tracey of the West Pasco Audubon Society.

Playing bird songs on a smartphone app, Tracey not only flushed spectacular birds, he seemed to be able to summon them to highly visible branches.

We saw brown-headed nuthatches, one of the walk's featured species. Two birders even saw these birds engaged in the tool-using they are famous for — hunting insects by prying off one section of pine bark with another.

I was there for a close-up of a Northern parula, with a neck as vividly yellow as the vireo's, and for a rare view of the aptly named hermit thrush.

After I'd left the walk, Tracey said, he was able to find an equally reclusive bird, the Eastern towhee, that usually stays hidden in palmettos. It was a female, with a brown rather than black head. Both sexes have bright orange swaths on their chests and on the sides of their belly.

I'm sure Monahan was thrilled.

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