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.
The Loggerhead Shrike also likes the view from high up on a utility line.
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.)
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.
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.
This Tufted Titmouse called from an orange tree. “Peter, Peter, Peter.” A small flock flew across the road and disappeared into the citrus grove.
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.
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.
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.
THANK YOU, PHIL! GOT THE BOOK AND IT’S TERRIFIC!
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