Anatomy of a Birding Road

When we plan a trip for going birding, we typically have a specific destination in mind.  It’s usually a place known to have lots of birds.  Duh!  So we often find ourselves within a nicely maintained park or wildlife refuge or national forest or at a seashore.  There are large volumes of birds and varied species in these areas for a reason.  They like something about the place, usually an abundance of food, water and shelter.

We’ve always liked to get off the beaten path and explore new areas.  I recall driving down a well-maintained road in a beautiful forest in central Germany many years ago only to have the road turn into a very muddy, ill-defined track with no opportunity to turn around.  Four hours (!) later, we emerged from the forest, skidded down a slippery hillside and enjoyed a wonderful dinner in a small village gasthaus.  Being a typical American male, I simply told the family:  “I knew this is where that road would lead.”  Being the typical American family, they didn’t buy it.

So every once in awhile, we just take off with no particular idea where we’re going and look for those “interesting” side roads we usually zip by headed elsewhere, telling each other:  “That road looked interesting.”  Sometimes we find nothing very interesting at all.  More often, we revel in the beauty nature placed on every side of us for our very own personal pleasure.

What makes one road better than another for a birder?  As the folks who sell real estate keep telling us:  “location, location, location”!  We’ve actually started to plan some of these “spur of the moment” trips by looking over maps of an area first.  With today’s technology, it’s easy to see where nearby roads are and where they may lead.  Also, a simple mouse click can show a satellite image of the area and you can note what might be around to attract birds (e.g., forest, swamp, creek, lake, agricultural fields, etc.).  We especially like “unimproved” roads, as those are less traveled than a nice wide paved highway.  As you drive along a back road, watch and listen for birds.  If you see or hear one, stop and look around for a bit.  If you see or hear other birds, you may be on to something.  Many birds seem to congregate in similar areas and you may just find a treasure trove flitting back and forth across the road, singing in nearby trees or feeding in the weeds along a fence row.

Our trip yesterday along such a road was simply wonderful.  Not only did we see a nice variety of birds, we found wildflowers, butterflies, curious cattle, handsome horses, a Fox Squirrel, a pair of Bobcats and the persistent aroma of freshly opened orange blossoms.

So, when you have a chance to visit a wildlife refuge, local park or the coast, by all means, take advantage of it!  But don’t forget to note those little side roads along the way which look “interesting” and make a point of exploring them.  You may find it worth your while.

Here are a few pictures of our most recent side road exploration.

Utility wires are simply not attractive but many species of birds find them quite convenient for perching to sing from or to watch for prey.  Here’s an Eastern Kingbird on the lookout for a nice juicy insect.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

The Loggerhead Shrike also likes the view from high up on a utility line.

Loggerhead Shrike

Loggerhead Shrike

A small retention pond outside the security gate of a large research facility produced both a Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs probing the shoreline for breakfast.  We were a bit concerned about pointing the camera lens out of the truck window so close to the guard building, but I guess he determined we were fairly harmless as no shots were fired.  (I must apologize for poor quality images due to distance and cropping was required.)

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Wildflowers are beginning to bloom and the butterflies are taking full advantage.  We found a patch of blue Skullcap which was filled with Spicebush Swallowtails and Cloudless Sulphurs.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush Swallowtail

Cloudless Sulphur

Cloudless Sulphur

Near a one-lane bridge crossing a small creek, we found the pretty fruit of the Rosary Pea.  Lovely to admire, however, they are very toxic – a single seed from this plant can be FATAL to humans!  Best to leave them alone.  Also, these plants are not native to Florida and are very difficult to eradicate.

Rosary Pea

Rosary Pea

This Tufted Titmouse called from an orange tree.  “Peter, Peter, Peter.”  A small flock flew across the road and disappeared into the citrus grove.

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

We enjoyed our sandwiches under the shade of an oak tree with a stand of nearby Longleaf Pines offering their special scent carried on a warm breeze.  Above us, a Northern Parula bubbled continuously, cocking its head to see what we were having for lunch.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Just before turning back onto the main highway which would return us to reality, we looked up to see an American Kestrel holding its position in the wind, searching for prey.  It was a nice ending to our day of discovery on a seldom traveled road with no destination in mind.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

By the way, I know the bird in the photograph above was an American Kestrel because on Page 128 of “The Crossley ID Guide:  Raptors”, are many exquisite photographs of American Kestrels accompanied by a detailed description of them.  This recently published book arrived on my doorstep (literally) about an hour ago, courtesy of the publisher, Princeton University Press, by way of Phil Slade, blogger and ringer extraordinaire, who conducted a contest on his superb blog, Another Bird Blog.


Be sure to check Phil’s blog for his expert reports on ringing (banding) and bird observations.

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel, Wildflowers, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

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38 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Birding Road

  1. Love that Parula! THey should be up here soon!

  2. Hi Wally, great, fun to read post, as always! I like to keep my camera in the car with me as often as
    possible as I never know when I may end up one of those roads! The Northern Parula is a beautiful little fellow! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for taking us along on the ride. What a splendid trip! Reminded me of one time in New Mexico when we did something like that during winter and slid down a hill in the road about 3 miles in. Couldn’t turn around and drove another 20 miles before landing on pavement.

  4. Great image series showing. Wish you a good weekend 🙂

  5. We used to seek out those “roads less traveled.” But we weren’t watching birds back then, just checking out the scenery. The Northern Parula is cute! I’ve never even heard of that one.

  6. Enjoyed the ramble with you two. I keep studying your pictures and am gradually learning a teensy bit more about identifying what I’m looking at. That shrike is really a handsome dude (or dudette). The Rosary Pea is wild looking. Never seen one before, and now I hope I never do. The only contest I ever won was a “name our pirate” contest at a local restaurant. Sounds like a superb book! 🙂

    • Hey Younger Sister! Wish you’d been along with us! Those pea seeds I remember using as slingshot ammo when we visited Grandpa Jones. Cousin Mary Etta was smarter and retaliated with china berries. Ouch! You’re right, the book is superb. I already had Crossley’s ID Guide for Eastern Birds. His guides represent a unique approach which uses multiple photographs on a single page showing the same species of bird from many different aspects.
      Talk to you soon!

      Love you!

  7. Great advice and nice post as always. I think it’s fun to find spots that are good despite not being a park or refuge. I feel an extra thrill when I find things there.

  8. Excellent advise on taking the road less traveled Wally! I also like the idea of looking up locations on a satellite map and checking the topography. You got some great sightings on this day and some awesome photos to boot! I love the backlit American Kestrel and that great Northern Parula pose!

  9. Great advice on taking ‘the road less traveled’….and beautiful bird pictures as always. I’m thinking maybe a person might get away with being a good industrial spy as long as s/he dressed and acted like a birder…everyone just thinks we’re harmless ;>)

    • I’m afraid a few of us have been getting some very negative publicity lately. 😦
      Hopefully, we can get rid of the bad weeds somehow. In the meantime, we’ll keep having fun out there! And sometimes those back roads are great!

  10. sounds like a wonderful place to visit Wally…so many of us birders spend our days in search of a good birdy road trip, pack a luch and off we go. I do like tht titmouse and Parula. As always a greatl bird blog here.

  11. Very nice captures and find. When it comes to road trips, I am not the adventurous type. I have to have a map or plan, because I get scared most of the time….Congratulations to the win!

    • Ebie, thank you! Just make it your plan to explore a new place! When you get home, it will be fun to THEN look at a map to see where you’ve been! Maybe you’ll even discover something new! 🙂

  12. You won the book fair and square Wally so enjoy. I’m jealous you got a signed edition though. Thanks for the plug for my blog but now I have a lot to live up to after your glowing reference. I’ll do my best. Some good tips you give about exploring new places Wally and if anything I’m guilty of going to tried and tested places. Youhad a great selection of birds on your latest adventure and going to try and emulate that when next I’m out although there are no warblers here just yet.

    • Thanks so much, Phil! Combining new places with the tried and tested keeps things interesting! I’ll be out this weekend trying to find raptors to identify with my brand new guide!

  13. I would think that a birder driving on an unmade road must be one of the most dangerous combinations in the world! Distractions and iffy road surface – its a bad combination! I did an emergency stop yesterday for parrots!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW- Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Stewart, of course you are correct (sounds like you’ve seen me drive!). We need to get the UN to immediately authorize birders to equip our vehicles with large emergency flashers and signs in big letters reading: “CAUTION – THIS VEHICLE STOPS WITHOUT PRIOR WARNING !!”.

      Parrots constitute an emergency on any continent!

      Take care — Wally

  14. Utility lines do seem to be a favorite resting spot and birds do seem to adapt to what we have added to their natural environment. Personally I would rather all the lines be underground, but then I suppose they would be interfering with another habitat… Great post as usual 🙂

    • Thank you, Rebecca! We appreciate your visit! Poor birds wouldn’t know what to do if there were suddenly no power lines! 🙂

  15. Man, you had some major finds on your outings. I’ve only seen the shrike in a tree once; all the other times they’ve been on utility lines. Congrats on winning that book! I saw that and was instantly happy for you. 🙂

  16. A great series of photos and the birds I would most like to see would be the Yellowlegs which are very rare vagrants out here. I like your description of following little interesting looking roads. I just wish I could do that around me but I am surrounded by National Park with the tracks ONLY for 4 wheel drive – which I don’t have!

    • Surrounded by a national park – I think I’m envious! I totally understand about the need for 4-wheel drive at times! Maybe there’ll be one in your future! But you have a kayak – sort of like 4-wheel drive in the water! 🙂

  17. I think I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – I enjoy reading about your exploits as much as your photos. I get swept up in the telling of the story – sign of a good writer. 🙂
    Wonderful captures but the Kestrel steals the entire show!
    I read your reply to Mia about the bobcats. Sometimes it has to be enough just to experience the moment if you can’t record it with the camera.

  18. I believe in serendipity and I think that taking the road less traveled can lead right to it! You never know until you go 🙂 and you had some wonderful finds.

    • Some of the best images weren’t taken as the opportunity window slammed shut so fast! Male and female bobcat right in front of us, materialized into the woods before I could swing the camera their way. Gorgeous Prairie Warbler disappeared as I tried to focus. Sigh.

  19. TexWisGirl

    i saw kaholly post about her crossley raptor guide today, too. i have their eastern bird id book (that i won from kaholly) and love it!

    nice roadside venturing!

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