Birdwatching course scheduled for Aug. 20 at Levy Center

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By Steve Waters

In these tough economic times, more people are looking for different ways to enjoy the outdoors.

Birding is one outdoor activity that is increasing in popularity, and Levy County has a plethora of sites to view and enjoy the unique aspects of Florida birdwatching.

To help get people started with the new hobby, the College of Central Florida is offering a Birding Basics course Friday, Aug. 20 at the Levy Center in Chiefland. The class is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and the cost is $15 per person.

Carolyn Retey, a 15-year member of the Marion County Audubon Society, is teaching the four-hour class and said that birding is a great low-cost way to spend time outside.

“People have jobs where they’re shut in all day, and more and more I think people are trying to connect with nature,” Retey said. “People can’t get outside as much as they want to.”

To get started, Retey said all that’s needed is a pair of binoculars and a field guide.

“In Florida, a big-brim hat is pretty good, too,” she added, laughing.

The course will cover basic bird identification techniques, helping newcomers identify birds in their own backyard and in the area. Subjects such as size, shape and habitat will be covered, so participants will know where to look and what they’re going to see.

“It’s nice to be able to go somewhere else, but almost any place in Florida is a good place to bird, even if you’re in your own backyard,” she said.

Retey said most residents already have seen birds such as Northern Cardinals, Carolina Wrens and Mockingbirds. She added that hummingbirds are starting to enter the area more often.

“I’m hoping they will learn how to identify the birds that they see every day,” Retey said.

Also, the course will cover birds of prey such as Red-tailed Hawks and Bald Eagles. Though somewhat rare to view, Retey said Florida has the largest Bald Eagle population in the country, next to Alaska.

“I’ve seen them in Cedar Key almost every time I’ve been over there,” Retey said. “You can see them almost anyplace where there’s water.”

After the course, Retey plans to take students on a short walk to view birds in the area.

She said she’s thrilled to be able to show people the joys of something new.

“We’d be glad to have people enjoy the class,” Retey said. “I enjoy introducing people to a new hobby. Seeing the look on people’s faces when they see a new bird is great, but I most enjoy just being outside.”

 Students are encouraged to bring binoculars and field guides. Students may enroll at the Levy Center, by telephone at 352-493-9533 or online at CFItraining.cf.edu. The deadline for registration is Monday, Aug. 16.