That Primitive Urge

“Propelled by an ancient faith deep within their genes, billions of birds hurdle the globe each season, a grand passage across the heavens that we can only dimly comprehend and are just coming to fully appreciate.”  – Living On The Wind, Scott Weidensaul


It was cold. Just the thought of reaching outside the sleeping bag to find the zipper made me shiver and curl up even tighter. But the darkness was ever-so-slightly beginning to yield to inevitable sunrise. The tall grass around our small tent was barely discernible and resembled the stockade wall of a fortress. My brother, Steve, made the sacrifice and wriggled free of his goose-down cocoon and applied a match to the small burner which would soon heat enough oatmeal to fortify us both for an eventual beach adventure. A week before Christmas found us exploring what Maryland locals call “the Eastern shore”, that coastal expanse sandwiched between the huge Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.  Later in the day we would hike the rugged Atlantic shoreline of Chincoteague and admire the wild ponies of Assateague Island. At the moment, though, we relished hot oatmeal, trying to gulp each spoonful before the frigid air cooled it too much. Breakfast was interrupted when Steve asked:  “What’s that sound?” What followed was one of the most thrilling moments I’ve ever experienced in nature. Canada Geese. Tens of thousands appeared as a dark cloud from the west and gradually swept over us like a tidal wave of noise and darkness. We sat and marveled at the spectacle during which we literally couldn’t hear each other shouting. The geese were a small part of a huge number of migrants along the coast and had roosted in a nearby corn field during the night and were now moving toward the marshes and ponds to feed. What a glorious way to start a day!

More recently, while driving near Lake Okeechobee in south Florida, Gini and I stumbled upon a field being plowed which contained over 500 Sandhill Cranes. Although Florida has a resident population of these large birds, each fall sees huge flocks migrating from the mid-west of the United States. That many cranes trumpeting can be deafening!  Last winter, we visited Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on Florida’s east coast and were excited to find hundreds of Northern Pintail and thousands of shorebirds enjoying the shallow water impoundments.

Such large numbers can provide a very dramatic birding experience. But at the moment, it’s August in Florida and it’s really hot and humid. It’s difficult to think about the above scenes of masses of migrating birds. Nevertheless, some sort of migration seems to always be happening in the bird world. Right now, a few species are beginning to head south for the winter and for the birder who’s willing to put up with high temperatures, regular thunderstorms and voracious mosquitoes, there are rewards to be found.

I travelled with two birding friends the other day to the southern part of our county (Polk) where there is a commercial sod operation. These fields can be productive for migrating shorebirds, especially if bad weather forces them to stay put for awhile. Alas, our weather was perfectly clear. We found plenty of Boat-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and Killdeer, but only a smattering of shorebird migrants. A couple dozen Pectoral Sandpiper and a couple of Semipalmated Plover probed the soft soil of the fields. We did manage to hear an uncommon King Rail in a nearby wetland. Next, we visited a large dairy but again found no shorebirds to speak of. We did find a Solitary Sandpiper and Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks with young. Not far from the dairy we heard three more King Rails at various locations. We visited Paynes Creek Historical State Park in Hardee County and found a few Northern Parula, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers and an eastern Wood-Pewee, all likely migrants. A nice bonus was at least four Red-headed Woodpeckers. We know they breed in this park but it’s always a treat to see this strikingly handsome bird! Our last stop of the day was back in Polk County along the Peace River Hammock Trail. We could only hike a portion of the trail due to flooding and the clouds of mosquitoes were particularly dense, but we found three Yellow-billed Cuckoos and a couple of Ovenbirds for our efforts.

Not a large number of migratory birds for the day but a very rewarding trip!


The little Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is very active, usually travels in groups with other species and can be quite curious.

Lake Parker Park

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher


One of the earliest warblers to migrate through our area is the Yellow Warbler. Some individuals can be very bright still in their breeding colors and others, especially first year birds, can be almost dull looking.

Banana Lake Park

Yellow Warbler


Although the Northern Parula breeds in Florida, during migration the trees become full of these brightly colored birds.

Lake Rosalie Park

Northern Parula


A quiet warbler which resembles a thrush is the Ovenbird. They can often be seen on the ground scratching through leaves but will stop for a look at an old guy stumbling over tree roots.

Fisheating Creek WMA



True to its name, the Solitary Sandpiper is frequently seen alone and will check out any spot of mud for a meal.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Solitary Sandpiper


Pectoral Sandpipers resemble a larger version of a Least Sandpiper. As they feed, they seem to be always leaning forward about to fall over.

Avon Park Cutoff Road-Sod Fields

Pectoral Sandpiper


The Semipalmated Plover have very small bills and are not very large birds (seven inches). Normally seen in coastal areas, they can be found almost anywhere during migration.

Pool Road

Semipalmated Plover


One of our residents, the Black-bellied Whistling-Duck has thrived during the past couple of decades and can be found in large numbers throughout its range.

County Line Road (Hardee)

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck


Also a resident, the Red-headed Woodpecker has not adapted very well to loss of traditional habitat and populations have seriously decreased in the past 20 years.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Red-headed Woodpecker


Florida is blessed with a climate which produces some sort of flowering plants throughout the year. Insects appreciate that. A White Peacock poses briefly.

Locklar Road

White Peacock (Anartia jatrophae)


A small Delaware Skipper goes deep into the bloom of a Wild Potato Vine, a member of the morning-glory family.

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)

Paynes Creek Historic State Park

Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan)


Dragon down! A Needham’s Skimmer got a bit too close to the water and became too wet to fly.

County Line Road (Polk)

Needham’s Skimmer (Libellula needhami)



As migrants begin their long journey to warmer climates, we look forward to the privilege of sighting a few birds we don’t otherwise have an opportunity to observe. Hopefully, you, too, will be able to spot a few visitors as they snack their way through your neighborhood!

We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “That Primitive Urge

  1. I worry, I know it was in August of this year that you made the trip with your true friends to the south but that seemed to be a wonderful trip for you and I know you didn’t see many migrants you still saw a good number of birds. I love in the first photograph on this post hi this little bird is looking directly at the camera. I wonderful shot. Hi this little bird is looking directly at the camera. I wonderful shop The red headed woodpecker is a beautiful bird and that is an excellent shot of it however it is sad that the numbers are declining over the past 20 years due to loss of habitat. The butterflies and dragonflies are very pretty. Once again thanks for sharing all these beauties of nature that you have come across and photographed

    • Of course, for me, the insects are almost an impossible challenge to photograph well. That hasn’t stopped me, though! They are just so diversified in their beauty!

      We trust you are having a spectacular week full of joy!

  2. Sorry Wally, I have been running around a lot lately and not blogging much… as usual!
    That is a magnificent post with very beautiful species (especially photos 1, 2 and 3) many of which I have not seen when I was in the US.
    Poor Needham dragon, they can still be rescued when one reacts fast!
    Enjoy your weekend 🙂

    • Never be sorry for “running around”! It’s called “living” and we should all do it as much as possible! – 🙂

      Thank you so much for your always kind remarks. We have also been “running around” most of this year instead of being able to explore nature and blog about it. Hopefully, that will soon change and we look forward to once again being outside more than inside.

      Enjoy each day and we shall do the same!

  3. i have been fortunate to see most of the birds you featured here – except for the parula. so pretty!

  4. I’m impressed by you camping out in the cold like that Wally. And here’s me thinking that camping (of all sorts) was for the younger generation and not us oldies. A fine write-up my friend surpassed by your phenomenal warbler pictures. Love the Parula and the Yellow Warbler plus of course the Oven Bird, which may not be a warbler? The Delaware Skipper is a little besauty too – a lovely colour.

    OK now you can get back to the heat of Florida. It must be cooling soon? It is here.

    • Well, although I still love camping, you are right that my days of crawling in and out of sleeping bags on the ground may be numbered. The trip my brother and I were on occurred many years ago. Sorry I was not clear about the time frame. In my addled brain it seems like yesterday…..

      Thank you for the kind words! The Ovenbird (Seiurus aurocapilla) is a member of the New World wood warbler family, Parulidae. It gets its name from the dome shape of its nest which is built on the forest floor (very un-warbler like!) and resembles a Dutch oven. It’s a small bird, usually less than six inches (15 cm) and spends a lot of time foraging on the ground where it typically walks with its tail erect rather than hopping like other ground feeders. They don’t breed in Florida so we only see them during migration.

      No cool weather here yet, although we may have a tropical storm visit next week which might lower the thermometer temporarily. (Not to mention blow some migrating birds off course and into our area!)

      Happy to hear you’re cooling down a bit and we hope you’re able to get out while your millions of migrants are observable. Maybe you can spot some birds, too.

  5. Hi Wally. I hope you checked your porridge throughly before eating it after all those Canada Geese had passed overhead!

    A delightful post with super images which remind me how superbly diverse the wildlife is all over the planet, but also how some of our familiar species are also familiar to, and loved by (hopefully!), people thousands of miles away.

    Love to you and Gini – – – Richard

    • Nature binds us all.

      Thank you very much, Richard! I really enjoyed savoring your post this morning. Small creatures, gigantic beauty!

  6. Beth

    Sure am glad the “old guy” was able to stumble back home and post this report.

    • If it’s one thing I’m good at – it’s stumbling! (Must be all that practice.)
      Hope y’all are enjoying the “dog days” of summer (and if Lou is reading this, that’s a compliment). We got out for a bit yesterday and enjoyed a ride through an orange grove where Gini spotted a pair of Bobwhite scooting under a tree. Neat!

  7. Great photos of beautiful birds. I especially liked the photos of the butterflies deep inside the flowers.
    As you loose all your migratory birds we in the southern hemisphere are eagerly waiting for the return of our migratory shorebirds.It is so strange all winter to find roosts almost empty!
    Migrating flocks of birds are a wonderful sight. A few years back I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and saw a huge flock of several thousand migrating Terns as they stopped off for the night close by. An amazing sight and a very special experience!

  8. I am so grateful that you share the exotic (to me) beauties you see on a regular basis. Feathered enchantment.
    The sound of all those Canada Geese must have been incredible. You are so right. WHAT a start to the day. 500 Sandcranes? Wowsers.

    • I think that’s the whole purpose of these blog things, to share something others may not be able to experience. A new fall migration is just beginning so we hope to have new stuff to share soon!
      We hope your Spring is bringing you beautiful weather to enjoy.

  9. Adele Jennings

    Hi Wally!
    I love the colors of the Northern Parula! I’ve never seen one before. You mention Assateague Island. In the 70’s I camped ‘tented” on Assateauge Island for 3 years (summers) (a week each year!) in a row! The wild horses were there to greet me as I drove on the island…and were there outside my tent eating as I slept….that was a neat experience! I loved walking the beach there.
    I just started my own bird blog. It’s called
    Thanks for your blog. I really enjoy it.

    • Thank you, Adele, for visiting! We really enjoyed living in Maryland for a few years and visited the Eastern Shore a lot. Your blog is really lovely and you have quite a talent for photography and writing.
      Enjoy the rest of the week!

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