“Birds Of The World – Migrate!”

One of Nature’s truly miraculous events is the annual migration of birds. It’s not something they do for fun. The survival of an entire species depends on successfully navigating to and from breeding areas. When one thinks of the obstacles such relatively small creatures must overcome twice each year, it’s incredible they continue to exist at all. I think of the logistics involved in planning a trip of just a few hundred miles and I’m overwhelmed by the journey a small bundle of feathers undertakes. And without a GPS or thermos of coffee!

Groups of migrating birds tend to use a similar route each year. This permits earth-bound creatures such as birders to know where to look for certain species in order to snap a photograph or place a check mark on a list. Many things can affect a migrating bird’s path: weather, food supply, changes to habitat, back seat driving. So a successful birder wishing to maximize the number of migrants observed on any given trip must rely on that age-old, proven, reliable tool: luck.

With fingers crossed, we headed toward the Gulf of Mexico and our local Mecca of migration, Fort De Soto Park. The park is spread across a collection of islands which forms an arrowhead when viewed from above. The vast Tampa Bay estuary is continually refreshed by changing tides from the Gulf of Mexico which flow beside the park. One can view Tampa Bay from one end of the park and look into the infinity of the Gulf from the other end. In between are beaches, ponds, mangrove bogs, tidal streams, wooded areas and protected bays. It also happens to be located along a major bird migration flyway. Bad weather in the gulf can force all sorts of species to seek shelter along the coast.

All of this prime bird territory, coupled with the potential for seeing rare species at any given moment, make Fort De Soto a prime birding hotspot. The beaches of Fort De Soto have consistently been voted among the best in the United States. Also, within a 30 minute drive are the cities of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa with a combined population of nearly three-quarters of a million. Translation = more people than birds.

We normally prefer less-visited venues but this is the sort of sacrifice we make for you, dear reader.

Our day was typical for the Fort. A jumble of shorebirds, migrants, residents, sun bathers, fishermen, bicyclists, butterflies, skaters, ships, flowers and fellow birding thrill-seekers. At the fishing pier we found Red-breasted Mergansers and a Common Loon. On the beach were peeps, plovers, swallows and a Red Knot sporting the latest in leg-wear. The woods produced migrating warblers, singing vireos and humming hummingbirds. A new bug, a surly mammal and very friendly birders empathizing with our “warbler neck” syndrome made the day quite special.

I managed a few photographs which you are welcome to look upon. If you are ever in the Western Hemisphere, do not fail to visit Fort De Soto! You’ll be glad you did.

 

It was early. Too early for this female Red-breasted Merganser to be awake to greet visitors. Or brush her hair. Okay, she always looks like this. A few stretches and she’s ready to face the day.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

 

We typically see many Common Loons during winter migration, however, they are usually in non-breeding (that means “dull”) plumage. This one is all dressed up for Spring and was busy gulping as much fresh seafood as possible in preparation for the long flight north.

Common Loon

Common Loon

 

A single Barn Swallow flew up and down the beach for awhile. I have a feeling he got separated from his tour group.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

 

The little Semipalmated Plover works the upper part of the beach looking for easy to grab morsels. His sandpiper cousins prefer to probe the wet sand as the waves roll in.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

 

A Wilson’s Plover is distinctive with a relatively large dark bill.

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

 

I couldn’t get a picture of this Red Knot with his head up as he was intent on touching every grain of sand under the shallow water. His leg flag tells us he was originally captured a few years ago on a New Jersey beach and has spent his winters enjoying the gulf coast of Florida. Last August, he stopped for a few days on the coast of Georgia for a change of pace.

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

As we explored the woods, we discovered a different type of migrant. This Monarch Butterfly looks quite worn and may have had a tough winter.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

 

White-eyed Vireos serenaded us almost continually as we hiked the woodland trails. Although this species breeds in Florida, most of the birds here are probably migrants.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

 

Black-and-White Warblers were abundant and this brightly colored male shows off his upside-down tree climbing prowess.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

 

A male American Redstart is unmistakable with its glossy black, orange and white plumage. It “flashes” its tail and wings which startles insects from their hiding places and makes it easier for the Redstart to catch them.

American Redstart

American Redstart

 

We counted over 20 Hooded Warblers in the park. This one prepares to enjoy filet of beetle.

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

 

With all the human visitors to the park, it’s inevitable (and unfortunate) that many of the park’s creatures have learned how to panhandle for food. And when they don’t receive the expected handout, they turn downright nasty. This young raccoon snarled and hissed when he discovered I had nothing for him.

Raccoon

Raccoon

 

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird enjoyed the profusely blooming Lantana. I chased him for awhile hoping to get a photograph of his namesake gorget but I just couldn’t do it. Maybe next time. The second image is highly cropped to show how they probe a small flower for nectar and come away with a bill covered in pollen.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

 

Almost as large as the hummingbird, a Scoliid wasp also enjoys the Lantana blooms. Some species of this wasp are called Scarab Hunters as they will dig into the ground to find beetle larvae to sting and lay eggs in.

Wasp - Scoliid sp. ??

Wasp – Scoliid sp. ??

 

As we were leaving for the day, an Eastern Kingbird gave us a farewell look. We hope he has a successful journey home.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

 

Check your local area to see if you might be near a migration route. You might be surprised. Don’t forget the birder’s most useful tool – pure luck! I use it all the time.

 

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

 

Additional Resources:

Fort De Soto County Park

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

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42 thoughts on ““Birds Of The World – Migrate!”

  1. It pays to be on the look-out, never know what surprise one might spy. Thanks for sharing yours.

  2. As always, your combination of words and photos works magic for me. The quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it,” is apparently your mantra. It’s working! 🙂 Love you, big brother.

  3. Oh my goodness….where do I begin? Such wonders you’ve shared. I’m a bit behind visiting because of Mother’s Day and our wedding anniversary, but here I am. Better late than never.

    Extraordinary photos Wally. Absolutely extraordinary. I must ask tho, is that a ruby throated or a black chinned? I can never tell them apart unless they’re flashing the purple or red. How do YOU know the difference…your expertise will help me out.

    • It’s good to have you visit no matter when it is, Anni! Congratulations on your wedding anniversary!

      Thank you so much for your very kind comments. Telling the difference between the Ruby-throated and Black-chinned Hummers is a challenge. In our area of central Florida, we typically only see the Black-chinned during migration, so that helps a little. Otherwise (and for you in central Texas where both species breed), I have to see those beautiful throat feathers before I make the call. Wish I could be more help!

  4. Just dropping by to tell you that I have nominated you for four great awards. Check out the nomination here (scroll down the page):
    http://thetropicalfloweringzone.com/2014/05/07/dendrobiums-orchids/
    Congratulations and best wishes,
    Maria F. from Tropical Flowering Zone

  5. I had a big smile on my face whilst reading your informative, and fun, post, Wally. Superbly ilustrated too!

    Not too keen on you Americans calling our much-loved Divers ‘Loons’, and ‘Common Loon’ sounds even more derogatory, whereas Great Northern Diver sounds quite majestic. ‘Loons’ conjures up images of clowns to me, when they’re always exciting to see (I live about as far away from the sea as you can get in UK), and their mournful calls are anything but amusing!

    Keep up the good work – – – Richard

    • Well, Richard, think about it: American birders, Loons…..maybe the “Committee Who Names Things” wasn’t too far off the mark on that one! 🙂

      Hope your week is off to a great start and I truly hope your owls are having a successful breeding season! Cheers!

  6. Wonderful photos!! I’m envious of a few of those sightings, including the hooded warbler and loon! I’m over here on the NE coast of Florida. Enjoyed watching my first redstart here in our backyard today, flitting all over.

  7. You have some excellent photos in this collection, Wally. I especially enjoyed the second merganser, the barn swallow in flight, the Wilson’s Plover and the Hooded Warbler. And as always your narrative was fun to read. Well done!

  8. Great set of birds! I assume you have seen the film Travelling Birds, which is all about migration – if not you really should!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Hi, Stewart! I haven’t seen that film but will keep an eye out for it. Thanks again for being such a consistently outstanding host for Wild Bird Wednesday!

  9. Awesome photos! I love the cute swallow and the gorgeous hummingbird.

    • Thank you, Gunilla! I was surprised to see the swallow along the beach and trying to keep up with the little hummingbird made me dizzy!

  10. You’ve really got great pics on this post. I love each of them and each has their own personality. It’s gotta be fun birding in your area during migration. I was in Florida last month and wish I could have stayed longer. Next time….:)

    • Hi, Chris! From what I read on your cool blog, you seemed to have a pretty good time here. It’s fun birding here in any season!

  11. Oh my gosh, Wally!! You have seen so many birds that are still on my wish list that I hope to one day add to my Life List. 🙂 The black and white warbler, vireo and the hummingbird are standouts here. I had to scroll back up and look again…oh my…the hooded warbler is magnificent. Such a beautiful job on all of these.

  12. Gorgeous array of beautiful birds and critters here!

  13. Hi Wally and good to see you found your way to another wonderful place to bird and didn’t go wind-surfing instead. You are truly spoiled for choice in Bird Florida.

    Surprise, surprise I loved the loon. I can’t decide whether the name ’loon’ is a little OTT or if I prefer our more discreet and very English “diver” What do you think? Anyway it is a cracker of a shot.

    A Wonderful Wilson’s, heading your way too?

    Your warblers and vireos are to die for, so colourful. Maybe you posted the B&W warbler upside down though? Just kidding!

    Florida gets ever more dangerous. Being mugged by a Racoon isn’t mentioned in the tourist brochures either.

    Enjoy your weekend. We’re off to Spain.

    • “A loon by any other name would dive as deep….” (Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare.) I was laying flat on my belly and that Wilson’s almost walked into me. Raccoon muggings are a very under-reported crime here in order not to frighten potential visitors.

      Spain?? Again?? Have a great time, Phil!

  14. Hello Wally!
    That was definitely a well worth trip!
    Such magnificent species and pictures!
    I am especially impressed with your proximity with the flycatcher!
    One thing that bugs me quite a bit is the mushrooming of so many different associations raising nets at the migration period to tag, ring or mark as many birds as they can.
    A tiny percentage is fine to survey the species and get info but nowadays it is getting out of hand, so many people around the world find this activity thrilling.
    Well I have spent many years breeding birds, and the stress of being caught and handled and re-caught is terrible.
    I wish they could be more reasonable about it.
    Ok, there I go again!!
    I loved this post!
    Keep well 🙂

    • It’s a really special place, Noushka, and we try to get there often. Once in awhile, our timing is good and we see a few birds!

  15. HI Wally As they say in this part of the world, YOUR replies and descriptions. ‘just crease me up’! it is good to laugh and I always get that when I look at your posts. Now this is a wonderful place and your photography is second to none. The close ups are stunning especially the Hummingbird. The Plovers and warblers are so pretty, oh I could go on and on but I will just say, I really enjoyed everything in your lost. It started my day well. Thanks.

  16. Absolutely fabulous captures. Wow!

  17. A very interesting description of bird migration in your part of the world. It is especially interesting to me that your small “bush birds” are also migratory – most of ours are not – but then who would move from a great temperate place like this 🙂 Lovely photos of the Hummingbird – and the Merganser just looks to be showing off – congrats on catching her like that!

    • Thanks, Mick. With our sub-tropical climate, we have many resident “bush birds” (passerines) and we’re on the major flyways for migrating water and shorebirds as well. A lot of them stop off here for the entire winter while others push on to South and Central America but even those stop off here for refueling. All the best!

  18. All beautiful shots! And you described my favorite place perfectly. We might have just missed each other or even pointed out birds to each other although, I’m assuming you were there during the week? I’ve been there for the last 4 weekends. Very busy. This past weekend there were more birders than birds but it was still fun.

    • Yes, Dina, it’s that time of year when there is a mix of migrating actual birds, migrating snow birds hoping for that last minute tan and paparazzi following them all!

  19. Amazing post. Great that you were able to identify them all. And you caught the hummingbird mid-flap!

    • How very nice of you! Since our lovely state (Florida) is a prime tourist destination, we require all animal life to wear identification tags and the birds must pause every 20 seconds in order to facilitate mid-flap photography. It’s the least we can do for our visitors. 🙂

  20. thanks for sacrificing for us! 🙂 loved the kingbird – such a handsome bird! the plovers, warblers are so pretty. the vireo is neat! love the hummer and merganser shots, too. all in all, thank you!

    • Thank YOU! I’ll continue to sacrifice as long as the birds continue to cooperate. We sure appreciate your consistently kind comments.

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