Sharp-eyed and well outfitted, John Groskopf fits the mold of the birding archetype. The local is an avid member of the Sarasota Audubon Society—a local chapter of the National Audubon Society—dedicated to the protection, conservation and enjoyment of birds, wildlife and the environment here in Sarasota. Members volunteer to conserve and restore the region’s natural ecosystems that primarily inhabit birds and other wildlife. “I always keep my camera handy because I always seem to find something worth photographing,” says John Groskopf, a seasoned birder with an appetite for rarities. One early morning, from 1000 yards away, Groskopf sights what he believes to be a hermit warbler through his Celestron Regal M2 80ED scope. Endemic to the coast of the Northwestern United States, the diminutive bird, all of 5 inches long with a wingspan of 8 inches, has never been reported in Florida. He zooms in for a closer inspection, noting the bright yellow head, the greys and blacks on its body, the white stripes on its wings. The avian admirer reaches into his knapsack and pulls out another implement, this one with a Sigma Sport 150-600mm lens. He goes for the shot. The Sigma zoom lens was attached to a Canon 7D Mark II, and between its 20 megapixels and the length of the lens, not much escapes Groskopf’s sharp eye. “If you see me walking around with the camera, you can definitely tell you have a hardcore birder in front of you,” he says. The hermit warbler above was spotted in Palm Beach County this past September, and word spread quickly enough through Cornell University’s eBird database that by the time he arrived, there were 30-40 birders chasing after it. “The adrenaline was pumping, I was making phone calls to friends,” says Groskopf, “it was everything that defines birding.” — A. FABIAN Birder and Member of the Sarasota Audubon Society & Nature Center,, 941-726-8816.

Favorite Spots to Bird Watch

Though Siesta Beach gets crowded during the day, I love to get out and search for gulls and terns that might not be native to the area. Last year, we had a California gull that was documented for the first time this far East. I like to get out in the morning before the typical Siesta Key crowds arrive and catch the birds when they touch down from their roosting area just North of Sarasota. While relatively new to the birding scene, the Sarasota County parks department recently cleared away large swatches of underbrush at the back of the Bay Street Park that has made it more accessible. It’s a great place to just sit and watch and unwind. Last winter, I spotted a Broadwing, the first reliable sighting in the county.

Beginner Tips

Arrive early. When a rare bird crops up on birding message boards, I like to arrive just before dawn to increase my chances of a sighting. Most birds are also most active during the early morning hours as insects warm up and become easier to forage.

Use eBird. Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab created a portal for birders that includes a vast database of birding locations, species and ways for birders to connect with one another. The portal can also compile a birder’s sightings into a running list to help keep track of milestones.

Join Sarasota’s Chapter of the Audubon Society. With a headquarters at popular birding destination, Celery Fields, the Sarasota Chapter of the Audubon Society offers tons of resources and information for local birders. In addition, the nonprofit group is instrumental in preserve local rural areas as habitats for birds and other animals, and as green spaces for humans.

Top Gear

Though newcomers will be glad to hear that birding can be accomplished without the use of expensive equipment, the seasoned birder demands the superpowers afforded by good, telescoping glass. 

Canon 7D Mark II DSLR This camera comes chock full of features for the avid bird watcher, like a 20-megapixel crop sensor, lightning-quick auto focus and legendary Canon quality. 

Sigma sport 150-600mm lens. A good lens often costs more than the camera body itself, but this Sigma zoom lens helps ensure your shots are crystal clear no matter how far away the subject. 

Celestron Regal M2 80ED spotting scope. With the ability to zoom up to 60x, no bird will ever be beyond the reach of this scope. 

All Terrain herbal armor natural insect repellent, an oil-based, DEET-free spray to help combat the mosquitos and bugs. 

Outdoor Research sombriolet sun hat and/or CoolNet UV+ Florida buff to keep you protected and cool in the hot Florida sun.  CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, 1249 Stickney Point Rd., Sarasota, 941-349-4400,, @cbsoutfitters. 

Nourishment + Snackage 

Apricot Paleo Granola from local Sarasota Farmers Market vendor Flex Bar Company.  Curry Quinoa Salad to take with me from CROP Juice. And an iced Matcha Lemonade from Perq Coffee Bar.