Spring At The Fort – Part One

It’s that time of year in Florida.  Our severe winter weather has abated and the air and water temperatures are emitting  their siren song attracting great throngs to the coasts to enjoy white sand beaches, emerald green seas and shady woods for siestas.  It’s the time of crowds pushing each other out of the way to gorge themselves on whatever they can find to eat, drinking their fill and fueling that age-old “urge to merge” which is overtaking their hormonal instincts.

Yes, it’s bird migration in full swing.

Huh?  What did you think I was talking about?

This will be a two-part series on our recent visit (April 15) to Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We have written about exploring this area before.  (See the previous posts:   Fort De Soto – July and Sunrise, Surf, Storms.)  There will, undoubtedly, be future articles on this location.  It’s one of those places which can be overwhelming  for birders, photographers, tourists or just casual visitors.  Located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it boasts award-winning beaches, has one of the finest boat launching facilities in the area, woods to explore, outstanding fishing and sensational sunrises and sunsets.

This post will take you along our paths in the woods.  It’s quite a wonderful sensation to be surrounded by tall trees and dense undergrowth yet still be able to hear the pounding surf as the beach is only 50 yards away.  In the second part, we’ll stroll along the beach and see what we can find in the sand, water and sky.

Due to its location along a major migration route, unique position on the coast, mix of hardwood and pine woods and freshwater ponds, it is a major stopover spot for migratory birds in spring and fall.  We planned to spend the day searching for warblers in the woods.  I have no self-discipline.  If I get that close to saltwater, I will eventually wind up in the stuff.  I can’t help myself.  Warm, salty water is meant to wallow in and wade along pushing your toes in the soft sand and having crabs and rays scuttle out of your way and watching the mullet jump and……but I digress.  We wandered the beach and marsh areas as well as explored the woods.  We spent the whole day there – and loved every second!

A popular spot to locate our migrant friends is a wooded area adjacent to a beach.  There are a few mulberry trees and the park has placed a freshwater fountain here.  The trees were fruiting and the birds were eating.  It’s Florida, so the insect-loving crowd was also happy.  At times, this little area can contain hundreds of warblers and other birds in a single tree.  Today, we had to hunt a bit but were rewarded with some beautiful sights.  The adjacent picnic areas have scattered oak trees which are also quite productive.  It’s easy to get a case of “warbler neck” after bending your head back all day to scan the tops of trees.

Hope you enjoy our winged tourists returning from South and Central America.  They will soon be building nests further north, raising their young and returning to the woods and beaches of Florida this fall.

Male Hooded Warblers were fairly abundant today.  Most were busy looking for insects on the ground but I found this fellow up on a tree branch where a warbler belongs!

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

The Gray-headed Catbird was well represented.  I counted seven in one tree.  This one can’t hide the fact that he has been enjoying mulberries for breakfast.  Those purple stains in his feathers will be a challenge to get clean.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Bright blue Indigo Buntings were in the trees and on the ground gorging on anything that resembled a seed.  They made for a very colorful and lively walk in the woods as they never seemed to hold still.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Speaking of bright, a Yellow-throated Warbler was quite curious about me standing under his tree.  That throat was like a beacon as he hopped up and down every branch sucking up insects as he went.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

The Northern Mockingbird may not be a migrant, but he sure knows where to find insects.  I was leaning  against a tree to rest in the shade when this one flew in to gather insects from a hedge of lantana.  He was about four feet away and was oblivious to my presence.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Prairie Warblers provided a yellow exclamation point to the trees and bushes.  Most of these birds are so intent on fueling up for their long flights that they almost don’t notice the human stalking them with a camera.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

As usual, I’m easily distracted.  Giant Swallowtail butterflies were quite busy feeding at the lantana.  These were as large as some of the birds we were chasing!

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

Sometimes, your wings just get tired of flapping and if you can find a nice paved sidewalk heading north, why not walk for awhile?  This Blue Grosbeak has the appearance of a bird who won’t put up with any nonsense.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

The small Common Ground Dove is another non-migratory bird enjoying a day at the beach.  This species has been in decline throughout the southeast.  They have a distinctive cooing much different than the longer call of the Mourning Dove.

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove

A lizard on a tree.

Lizard

Lizard

After watching a Nuthatch running down a tree trunk, the Black and White Warbler tried it, liked it, and is now seen upside down more often than not.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

I think this is a Mangrove Skipper but would appreciate anyone knowing differently letting me know.

Mangrove Skipper

Mangrove Skipper

White-eyed Vireos were numerous and hearing them sing is wonderful any time.  This one checked me out with a serious stare and then returned to the mulberry tree for more juice.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

I watched three female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks methodically work through a mulberry tree gorging on every ripe fruit they found.  This one continually chased away any other bird daring to come near.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

One of those birds who kept coming near to the above Grosbeak, was this female Orchard Oriole.  She eventually found good eating at the top of the tree.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

An Eastern Wood-Pewee found an oak tree he liked and continually swooped down to grab a bug.  We checked later in the day and he was still there.  Others said he’s been in that same tree for at least a week.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Well, technically, this is a warbler.  But he was not in the woods.  This Palm Warbler apparently saw the shorebirds feeding and thought he would check out the wrack line to see what was so good.  This offers a perfect segue into our next episode involving beachcombing.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

We hope you’ll return to enjoy the remainder of the day.  It will be more enjoyable if you’re bare-footed.

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

Additional Resources

Fort De Soto – Park Information

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

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44 thoughts on “Spring At The Fort – Part One

  1. Lisa Goggin

    Very nice shots! Sid sent me a link to your blog. I look forward to seeing more pictures!

  2. Wow! This post was a special treat even before I got to the photos. Great narrative. We had a determined group of hungry blue grosbeaks come through the clearing last week. The field of oats, wheat and rye have topped out, so it’s attracting all kinds of pretty tweets. And not just birds. The seeds have started falling to the ground, now, and today as we were heading to town, we had to brake hard to keep from mowing down squirrels that dove out of the field when we started to drive by. I haven’t seen a rose-breasted grosbeak since we lived in North Carolina. Beautiful bird, and your photo of that one with the mulberry is super. Great series.

    • Hey, Sister! Thank you very much. Wish you’d been with us! I can only imagine all the birds enjoying the hospitality at Long Leaf!

  3. The cobalt hues of those two birds are just brilliant… Nature is just AMAZING! Such a wonderful (and funny) post, love it!! 🙂

    I just joined a Facebook page – a birding group – that showed satellite images of the birds migrating over Florida. WOW! So incredibly beautiful and fascinating. I’ll try to find a way to send!

  4. Florice

    Both your pictures and dialogue are so good. I was interested in the Northern Mockingbird. I’ve seen mockingbirds all my life, but never one like that.

    • Hello, Sister! Gini said the same thing! That Mockingbird was less than four feet from me and in dappled sunlight and shade. It makes him look “different” than the normal gray, black and white bird we’re used to seeing. I have other photos of him and he looks quite “normal”.

  5. So beautiful Wally! I hope next season will be a little less busy for us and we’ll be able to do more birding….can’t wait! Meantime thanks for sharing these remarkable pictures. Mulberries obviously are a favorite treat for the migrating throngs.

    Your first paragraphs made me laugh .

    • Thank you very much, Sallie! It’s difficult to visit ALL the places we would like! (But some of us keep trying……)

  6. I’m not ashamed to admit I sat and drooled while reading this and viewing this post Wally! Love the images and how they brought back fond memories of my times near the Mulberry trees.

  7. Hi Wally! Great shots of my favorite warbly things! I can’t wait to see them up here soon…

  8. Marvelous pictures, as always here in your blog!
    I also love the beautiful blue birds, maybe because we don’t have any of those!
    Thanks for your comment! Have a nice weekend! Greetings Pia

  9. Ok you had me fooled. There was me thinking you might indulge in “white sand beaches, emerald green seas and shady woods” but you were just there for the birding – pull the other one Wally. Luckily you found time to push your toes in the soft sand too – I wish.

    Great shots today and some super birding shots. What is it about your US blue birds that I admire? Probably simply that we dont have any. Love the Prairie Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Black and White Warbler and White-eyed Vireo shots. Hope is stays warm and sultry for you both – think of us.

    • Luckily, we’ve learned how to indulge ourselves wherever we are! Birding is one of those indulgences. Thank you for your compliments. The blue seems to be a bit unusual in nature, maybe that’s what makes it special when we encounter it.

      We’re thinking of you from warm and sultry central Florida!

  10. Gorgeous bird photos Wally!!!!
    I loved the blue grosbeak immensely ’cause I don’t recall ever seeing one of those.

  11. What a great story line and an even better set of pics, the colours on some of those birds are so stunning, and such great captures, and so many different species in a small area.
    All the best Gordon.

    • Gordon, thanks for stopping by! It’s a unique area and we were hoping a few migrants would be there and we weren’t disappointed! We appreciate your kind remarks. Hope you have a great weekend!

  12. I’ve had warbler neck a time or two. 🙂 You have so many varieties of them. I didn’t know woods still existed in Florida, but I’m glad they do. What a great place you have found. The lizard looks a lot like the tree he’s on, the white flecks and all.

    • Thank you for visiting, Patti! There are actually quite a few places in Florida with woods which support warblers. Ft. De Soto is a bit special due to its location and attracts a large number of migrants.

  13. I am just a tad envious of all the variety you have. You certainly did justice to each bird, capturing personality and plumage. We’re supposed to have some of these warblers here, but I haven’t seen them yet. That blue grosbeak is another one that’s been spotted here recently, so I hope to see it in person some day. If not, I’ll come back and look at yours. 🙂

    • Gail, your area is full of colorful birds! You’ll find them and based on your wonderful images I’ve seen, you will do them justice! But you can return any time for a look!

  14. OH My Goodness!!! I was thinking each photo was my favorite until I got to the end and then realized all of them are so darn good! I never have seen a hooded warbler, wow, that is such an interesting and pretty one….I think this is your best photo post, until you do another one!!! Again the white eyed vireo is so incredible….up close and personal shots….Amazing.

  15. Beautiful photos!

  16. Awesome birds & captures, Wally! The Bunting & Grosbeak are stunning, bright blue beauties! I’ve only been to Fort De Soto once and hope to get back there soon!

    • Hi, Tammy! Welcome home?
      It’s pretty startling to have those bright blue jewels jump onto the path in front of you! It’s a fun place.

  17. Wally, wonderful collection of warblers. Sounds like another great birding spot. Beautiful photos.

    • Thank you very much! It is a great spot to bird, but some days you have to take a number to stand under a tree! (Just kidding! Plenty of room out there.)

  18. A great series of photos and very interesting to read about all the birds which I would call “bush birds” out here. It is interesting that most of the ones you photographed where migrants. We have very little migration of such birds around here. The climate lets them stay all year – and their breeding season is winter! But then strawberries are a winter crop around here.
    I look forward to your next post on the shorebirds.

    • Thanks, Mick! Our climate here is semi-tropical with the occasional couple of below freezing days in winter. Many species remain here all winter but many continue to South and Central America. Strawberries happen to be a winter crop in my local area, too! 🙂

  19. What a wonderful menagerie of birds. Thank you so much for this wonderful post – your posts are better than the expensive bird books I have.

  20. What a wonderful array of wildlife. Gorgeous photos.

  21. I had a rare Monday off and was down there as well on that day. I probably walked right by you. There were a lot more people there than I thought would be there for a Monday. Although, there are so many places to check out it’s easy to miss people. You got some great shots. It looks like you found way more than I did. I never did see the grossbeaks.

    • Gini and I made the same observation about the crowds. Not as much variety as hoped, but we’re glad to have seen the ones we could find!

  22. wow, once again a virtual bevy of beauties you share. thanks for risking ‘warbler neck’ in getting all of these! the palm has gorgeous colors! the white-eyed vireo is intense! that blue grosbeak is just a marvel. WONDERFUL!

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