Travel

The Joy of Birding

Birdwatching on the Banana River Lagoon. Photo: Soma Basu

Birdwatching on the Banana River Lagoon. Photo: Soma Basu   | Photo Credit: mamp01bird2

A guided bird watching cruise in Florida gives SOMA BASU a transformative experience

After cruising for two hours on calm waters aboard the Island Boat Lines, I realised one thing – bird watching is not just for experts. Learning to recognise them may seem tough but if you are given a bird list in hand and have a competent captain helping you to catch the action of winged visitors, birding is surely thrilling. Even if they quickly disappear giving you only a glimpse, it is the sheer pleasure of watching the agile movements and being close to nature that makes it all so exciting and memorable.

I was lucky to be in one of the best places in the world to bird. The Thousand Islands Conservation Area and the Banana River Lagoon in the Indian River County, Florida, it is commonly said, never disappoint.

We start off early to discover Florida’s treasures. Bob and Arr welcome us inside their 40-seater boat with a pamphlet which lists names of two dozen birds, six mammals, one reptile and 20 trees. They request all of us on board to mark an X for each bird or animal we spot. Their job is to ride through the sections of the Banana River only accessible via boat and give us a running commentary on the species, habitat, feeding habit and behaviours of birds that are visible to us.

With a crystal clear sky above, no sooner the boat launches from a waterfront restaurant on the West Cocoa Beach, out come the cameras and binoculars. We can already hear the chirps as the boat moves gently past the elegant waterfront homes along the Thousand Island Nature Preserve. Bob starts identifying the various trees, red cedar, cabbage palm, orange tree, live oak tree, Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, coconut and banana trees and keeps gifting away colourful picture post cards to those who identify a tree first or spot a bird first.

The 120-minute ride is full-on fun as he leads the boatfull of excited passengers to the spots known for sighting. “We are maintaining the slow speed because manatees and dolphins may also be swimming alongside,” says Arr and just then much to our delight we see a dolphin taking a small leap in the air. But alas, too short a moment to be captured as your eyes keep searching wildlife in all directions.

The captain slows down as we see an Osprey, a white and brown feathered bird of prey that eats only fish. At a little distance, he points to a Blue Heron with a nest. As we all look up to see the white ibis spread its wings, somebody lets out a small shriek of excitement. We all look down delighted to see a manatee near a seawall poking its head out at us.

We drive past thickets of mangroves and stop at a small lighthouse. “The smallest in the world perhaps,” exclaims Bob and maintains his astonishment at spotting the pink coloured Roseate Spoon bill. “It is an endangered species,” he says, “and you are lucky”.

Lucky we are as we excitedly continue to tick mark the names on the pamphlet given to us -- The Double Crested Cormorant, the Green Heron, the Herring Gulls, Wood Stork, Black vultures, Turkeys, Sandhill Cranes, Yellow-legged Thrush and Warblers. Some we see flying, some perched on the fencepost and some wading in the waters.

The Indian River Lagoon, we are informed is one the most diverse estuaries and a variety of birds is easily visible here. As we sail along, we see a few more playful dolphins enjoying their natural habitat and also a band of humming birds whiz past. The aesthetically designed million dollar homes along the waterfront present yet another eye-catching sight.

Wildlife greets and keeps you company at the Banana Liver lagoon that stretches 47 miles long and three miles wide. There is something exciting here always for birding novices and veterans alike.

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 7:18:53 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/travel/The-Joy-of-Birding/article14928731.ece

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