ST. PETERSBURG - A red-headed woodpecker banging on the oak tree outside my front door roused me from my slumber.
I tried to go back to sleep, but it was no use. So I got up, sat on the porch and admired its work for a while.
It was quite different from my normal morning routine - feed the dogs, make some coffee, read the newspaper - and I found it therapeutic. Those 15 minutes spent watching a bird probably dropped my blood pressure by 10 points.
Then I thought, maybe I'm on to something.
Birding is an inexpensive outdoor sport that anybody, no matter how young or old, can easily get involved in.
All you need is a field guide and binoculars. Roger Tory Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds is a thorough, easy to use introductory book, and binoculars with 7x35 power are available at any sporting goods store.
Florida is a birder's paradise because of its diverse habitats. And our location puts us in the middle of many migration routes.
With both temperate and subtropical climates, the state is home to more than 470 bird species at one time or another.
Nationwide, birding is big business, with 46-million people in search of birds each year. Florida is second only to California in retail sales generated by birding.
Think about it ... birders travel from all over the country to watch and catalog birds, such as the red-headed woodpecker, that we take for granted. They rent hotel rooms, eat in restaurants and buy gasoline while participating in a hobby that has no impact on the environment.
According to a 1993-94 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission study, birding in the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida had an economic impact of $9.4-million. It is estimated that non-consumptive bird use generates $477-million in retail sales in Florida every year.
That is why state officials invested time and money in the Great Florida Birding Trail. This 2,000-mile "highway" that unifies existing and new birding sites throughout the state was modeled after the successful Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.
The east Florida section of the trail opened in November 2000, and the west Florida section followed in November 2002. Subsequent sections will open every 18 months, and it is expected to be completed by 2006.
In the past, only locals knew about great birding sites in their area. Well-known federal and state sites, such as J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge and Everglades National Park, got all the attention.
But the Great Florida Birding Trail will combine these sites with the lesser-known local sites.
If you would like to receive updates on the progress of the Great Florida Birding Trail, send your name, address, phone number and e-mail address to: Julie Brashears, Birding Trail Coordinator, 620 S Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600.
Chat with Terry
Join Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin online at www.sptimes.com at noon Monday. He will answer questions about fishing, boating and other outdoor sports. If you cannot attend the live chat, you can send your questions in advance by logging on to the Web site.