Migration Fascination (A Love Story)

“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

 

Florida. Sub-tropical, humid. Economical for raising children. Toss ’em outdoors. Tell ’em to come back when they get hungry. Minimum investment in clothing, no shoes required, Mother Nature provides the toys. (If you are under 40 years old and, by accident, have stumbled upon this article, the above will make no sense to you and may even cause you to question whether you should alert authorities. I don’t blame you. Proceed as your conscience guides you. But – call your Mother first and see what she thinks.)

Thus, two products of such an upbringing met in middle school, discovered sea shells, caught fish, swam, tossed rotten oranges (okay, I was the only tosser), held hands, kissed over the fence (yes, Gini was the girl next door), married and immediately moved 1200 miles from home. My Uncle Sam insisted I attend Syracuse (New York) University before sending me around the world for the next 20 years. That girl next door has remained as beautiful as when I first saw her in the band room those many years ago. (We shall not speak of what happened to yours truly in those ensuing years.)

“Wow!” My lady has a knack for understatement. Autumn. This was something new for us. Florida has two seasons:  green and brown. Upstate New York puts on a show around the middle of October that simply has to be seen to be appreciated, as mere words or photographs are totally inadequate. The colors, the crispness of the air, the crunchiness of the forest floor littered with confetti from the trees – overwhelming for a couple of flatlanders!

The Air Force allowed us to reside in Europe for almost ten years and autumnal scenes reminiscent of  New York were replayed for our enjoyment. Eventually, we returned home. Two seasons. Which we thoroughly enjoy! However, images of “fall color” on calendars, magazine covers or television screens  elicit heavy sighs at this time of year from each of us.

Ma Nature has compensated us, somewhat, by sending little balls of colorful feathers our way every year so that we may enjoy our memories of yellow, red and orange leaves drifting on the breeze. If we worked at it, we could catalogue a lengthy list of migratory birds as they travel through Florida on their annual journey to the southern hemisphere. Key word, “work”. So, we are content to make shortish trips and scan the tippy-tops of impossibly high trees in the hope of spotting impossibly small birds. Fun!

Here, for your enjoyment, are a few of the world travelers we have met this fall. We wish them a safe journey and hope to see them again next year.

 

The Tufted Titmouse is a gang leader. Their clear whistle is usually the first sound to be heard in the woods and they will soon appear above our heads with a quizzical look as they try to figure out what sort of danger we pose. The good news is, they are usually accompanied by an assortment of fellow gang members. Safety in numbers.

Colt Creek State Park

 

With plenty of water in our area, it doesn’t take long to hear the chattering from a low twig of a bush near a pond or stream indicating a Common Yellowthroat is in the area. They are quick to jump out of their hiding spot to see who’s there, but just as quick to dart back into the shadows, chattering all the time.

Fort Meade Outdoor Recreation Area

 

Mr. and Mrs. American Redstart are quite a handsome couple! Insects are frightened from hiding places as these warblers flare their wings and tails with bright patches of color.

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

Colt Creek State Park

 

Looking more like a thrush than a warbler, the Ovenbird even acts like a thrush as she scours the forest floor, scratching up leaves and twigs hunting for a meal. Raising her crest, she lets me know I intruded a bit too close to her dinner table.

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

 

Pine Warblers can be quite variable in plumage. Some individuals are very bright yellow with crisp markings while others may be quite drab (and easy to overlook!).

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

Bereah Road East

Bereah Road East

 

Speaking of bright, this Prairie Warbler was very curious about what I was up to. He followed me for quite awhile before losing interest.

Tenoroc FMA-Bridgewater Tract

 

With behavior more like a nuthatch, Black and White Warblers really stand out with their striped plumage. Running “down” a tree trunk or clinging to the underside of a tree limb is just “un-warbler” like!

Colt Creek State Park

 

Most of the waterfowl have not yet arrived on the scene. With the exception of the advanced guard. The Pied-billed Grebe. These little water warriors live here all year, but in the fall they are joined by fair numbers of their northern cousins. Have you ever seen a Pied-billed Grebe fly? Me either. I have a theory they migrate by bus.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Florida has a diverse population of resident woodpecker species. One we only see in migration is the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. In the photo, you can see the characteristic drill pattern around the tree trunk which may be designed to expose sap which in turn will attract insects for the bird to scoop up.

Hardee Lakes Park

 

Downy Woodpeckers breed in our area but we also see many non-resident birds during migration. I really don’t know if this male and female are residents or tourists. I just like the picture.

Saddle Creek Park

 

Our wetlands are “abuzz” this time of year. Lots of insects, as usual, but new voices come from the noisy wren family. The diminutive Marsh Wren has that “attitude” which all the wrens seem to possess. Daring you to come out in the marsh and say that to his face.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

Just as pugnacious as his relatives, the House Wren is easy to identify by having virtually no identifying features. A “plain brown wrapper.”

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

Most of the year, Florida is devoid of sparrows, except for the old world House Sparrow and endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow. Fall is, for me, a time when I get to re-learn which sparrow is which! They all look the same for awhile. Okay, more than awhile. This Swamp Sparrow remained in the open long enough to see the nice bright brown wing patches and distinct facial pattern.

Itchepackesassa Creek Wetland

 

In a ball of moss, among the fronds of a palm tree or on a twig, the bright black and white and yellow of the Yellow-throated Warbler is hard to miss.

Coleman Landing

 

As with many warblers, Magnolia Warblers in fall plumage are much different than in breeding season. The subtle colors and striping makes me think twice about what I’m seeing.

McIntosh Tract

 

Palm Warblers are one of our most numerous fall migrants. Arriving earlier than most, little mobs of the tail-waggers can show an amazing difference in plumage range. Two races (eastern, western) can be seen in our area with the eastern being brighter overall.

Bereah Road East

Lake Parker Park

 

Not much later than the Palm Warblers are the invading hordes of Yellow-rumped Warblers. Just as numerous as their Palm cousins, these bright birds usually prefer trees while the Palm is equally happy foraging on the ground. A hint of yellow on the shoulder, dark streaking, two wing bars and the namesake yellow rump all help to identify this enthusiastic bug hunter.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

Lake Gwyn Park

 

For the past couple of weeks, every path taken has resulted in cat-calls. The Gray Catbird has arrived! Dozens of these handsome birds have been seen (but especially heard!) on each trip.

Mosaic FMA-Haul Road Pit

 

For a bit of relief from so much yellow, we found a half-dozen Eastern Bluebirds hanging out with a flock of Palm, Pine and Prairie Warblers on the edge of an orange grove last week. Not sure if these are residents or not?

Bereah Road East

 

It’s not all warblers. The White-eyed Vireo sings almost constantly to ensure we don’t overlook him.

Colt Creek State Park

 

Although the White-eyed Vireo above might be a resident, we only see the Blue-headed Vireo during migration. It’s song is very vireo-like, but quite different than the White-eyed.

Saddle Creek Park

 

Fall means Phoebe is here! And she CONSTANTLY reminds us her name is:  “FEE – bee!!” The Eastern Phoebe, with its wagging tail, is very common at the moment, but numbers will subside a bit as many birds will continue on further south.

Tenoroc FMA

 

Once in awhile, a rare bird shows up. A resident of the western United States, the Yellow-headed Blackbird is noted passing through Florida once every two or three years. Luckily, this was one of those years! (Remind me to tell you about crawling through blackberry brambles to get this shot.)

McIntosh Tract

 

 

Gini and I are thankful we experienced fall foliage and it’s one of the things we do miss by living in central Florida. (Snow is very pretty. Miss it? That’s another story …) If you live in an area which provides a riot of color each autumn, get out and relish it. Don’t take it for granted. If, like us, you are season-limited, check out the little fluffs of color in your trees. You will be amazed.

 

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

Categories: Birds, Florida, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “Migration Fascination (A Love Story)

  1. Stewart M

    Migration is a remarkable thing – the seasonal change in birds here is much less than in your neck of the woods – or the UK for that matter. Great pictures and information.

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

    • Thank you, Stewart! We’re very fortunate to be in such a favorable spot! Now, if I could just those little bundles to hold still …

  2. noushka31

    WOW Wally,
    What an impressive post!
    Not only the quality of your photos is fabulous but the variety of species is amazing!
    And 2 discoveries for me: the magnificent Yellow-headed Blackbird and the Ovenbird.
    Congratulations, I wish you both a great weekend 🙂

    • Merci, Noushka! This is a very nice compliment coming from you. I appreciate it. Our weekend is off to a fabulous start! We just returned from a day exploring a new area and it was FULL of birds!
      Take care!

  3. Beautiful photography!

  4. Oh Wally. You poor chap. All that sunshine may have dimmed your memory of Europe, as good as it was. Our own UK seasons have many colours, in particular in 2017 dominated by shades of grey with just the occasional hint of blue or a rarer glimpse of yellow. Squelching through layers or slipping upon fallen leaves while singing in the rain is not as wonderful as those black and white films tell us.

    Once again you have excelled with your images of warblers, helped by the sunny FL days but due in no small part to your ability to get close to the little beggars. I reckon that 4×4, an open window and a laid-back cup of coffee helps? Give my best regards to Gini, your silent but understanding better half sat in the passenger seat, croissants at the ready.

    It is quite worrying for me, a die-hard Brexiteer that folk several thousand miles away can see the nonsense in allowing Great Britain to be controlled and dictated to by a committee made up of non-elected Europeans. Meanwhile our gravy train politicians and hangers on from here and in the EU move heaven and earth to try and frustrate the will of 17.4 million people. Oh for a Leader with balls!

    Thank you for your support my friend. When you need rescue in Florida from a many headed hydra that is trying to squeeze the life out of you, I will be here to help.

    • I remember the first bit of advice upon arriving in Europe was to buy good rain gear or else we would be destined to spend the next few years completely indoors!

      Working hard, here, on your behalf to create a hybrid Churchill/Thatcher for you. All I can manage so far is a large ego with interesting hair. However, I continue to hope against hope he will drag us forward a bit. At the very least, he has been a refreshing change from the globalist/interventionist mind-set of the past 30 years. And he sure is entertaining!

      I must dash for now, as Gini is offering delightful-looking croissants for my enjoyment – hmmm, I THINK those are croissants …

      It’s the beginning of a new week. Enjoy it!

  5. Richard Pegler

    I love this post from you, Wally! It’s a little different from usual – in addition to your delightful and amusing introduction and super images, you’ve provided us with a great wealth of interesting information in the main body of the post.

    Ulike EC, I’m not usually too interested in LBJs which, I guess, means that I’m a write-off as a true birdwatcher. However, the bird that I find most attractive in this post is the Eastern Phoebe with its simple beauty!

    I’d be interested to know what that amazing vegetation is in the third image of the Pine Warblers – I’ve never seen anything like it!

    With my very best wishes to you both – – – Richard

    • Thank you, Richard, for your very kind comments. A “true birdwatcher”, in my opinion, is one who enjoys (ready for this profoundness?) — watching birds. Having seen the loving way you describe the beauty of a Little Owl, there is no doubt about your fidelity!
      I believe the tree in question is a Washington Palm (Washingtonia robusta), also known as a Mexican Fan Palm. This location was the edge of a large commercial nursery. It’s not native to Florida but is used extensively as it grows very tall very fast.

      Gini and I hope the week is off to a smashing start for you and Lindsay!
      Best regards.

  6. Adele Jennings

    I’ve never seen a Yellow-headed Blackbird! Speaking of fall colors….I just got back from spending a week in Maine…the fall foliage was beautiful! Thanks for your wonderful bird pictures!

    • Now I’m really jealous, Adele! Happy you were able to see actual trees in colors other than our green and brown here.
      Take care.

  7. Your wonderful images go perfectly with this quote from Scott Weidensaul. (I devoured his book in about a day, I might add.) Thanks for sharing…and thanks for the laugh from the under-40 comment. So sad, but so true!

  8. Thank you for the feathered enchantment I may never see.
    I am grateful to live in an area which has four seasons though I loathe and detest the sweaty season (aka summer).
    I am also a big fan of lbjs (ittle brown jobs). I have discovered that if I take the time to look (and they stay still long enough) there is a heap of subtle beauty to be savoured.
    Thank you so much for the subtle and the showy beauty you gave us in this post.

    • What very nice comments, EC! Thank you so much. I guess since I was raised with it, I love the sweaty season! Would be nice to see more of distinction in our seasons, though!
      All the best!

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