Watch Out For Falling Birds !

The miracle of bird migration is typically portrayed by images of thousands of ducks and geese filling the skies with noisy quacking and honking as they lift off from northern climes headed for the warmth of tropical locations each autumn. If one is fortunate enough to observe flights of such large numbers of birds it is truly awe-inspiring.

There is another aspect of avian migration not well known to “non-birders”. It involves stealthy little feathered jewels who travel mostly at night and may never be seen by human eyes as they complete their annual journey of survival. Small songbirds begin showing up here in central Florida in late summer and even though they may travel in groups it is not unusual for them to escape unnoticed as they make their way south.

We sometimes describe Florida as having two seasons – green and brown. The sub-tropical climate is perfect for billions of insects to breed and bird migration is timed to perfectly coincide with the peak of the bug birth bonanza. With little fanfare, warblers and other woodland birds arrive in dribs and drabs surprisingly ahead of what the calendar says is the first “official” day of autumn.

So here we were, the last week of August, trudging along a sandy path at dawn already soaked due to high humidity, craning our necks to see what that movement is in the very tops of the tallest trees in the area. (Aren’t there perfectly good bugs in the lower branches?) By noon, a serious case of “warbler neck” would be making itself felt.

Today we were exploring Tenoroc Public Use Area, which was formerly a vast phosphate mining operation in Polk County. As the minerals were extracted to the maximum extent possible, the land was eventually sold to the state and private parties. An effort began to reclaim the mining pits, restore the land to a more natural ecology and develop an area which has become a premier destination for fishermen. Largemouth Bass grow well in the deep waters of the pits and careful management has made the area very popular for those seeking a “trophy”. All bass must be returned to the water immediately so the gene pool is kept intact.

Mining operations ceased here over 50 years ago, and the reclamation process by humans as well as natural forces has been impressive. In addition to great fishing, the diverse habitat has resulted in the area being a “gateway” for birding. The large number of lakes (former mining pits), wetlands, open grasslands, hardwood and pine forests – make this a very rewarding place to visit for a casual walk or serious day of birding.

It was early in the year to be expecting a very large number of migrants but we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity of what we did find. By noon we had observed 50 species of birds.

(Some individual totals which are more than one would expect on a “normal” day here: 10 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 8 Downy Woodpecker, 10 Prairie Warbler, 8 Yellow-throated Warbler, 5 Black-and-White Warbler, 5 Ovenbird, 12 Tufted Titmouse, 13 Northern Cardinal, 9 Carolina Wren, 26 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 27 Northern Parula.)

So although the calendar (and thermometer!) says it is “summer” – fall migration is under way!


Tenoroc FMA

Great Crested Flycatcher

Tenoroc FMA

Downy Woodpecker

Tenoroc FMA

Prairie Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Yellow-throated Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Red-shouldered Hawk

Tenoroc FMA

Carolina Chickadee

Tenoroc FMA


Tenoroc FMA

Tufted Titmouse

Tenoroc FMA

Northern Parula

Tenoroc FMA

Carolina Wren

Tenoroc FMA

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The sleek yellow and blue Prothonotary Warbler has long been a “nemesis” bird for me, escaping my lens too often.

Tenoroc FMA

Prothonotary Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Black-and-white Warbler

Tenoroc FMA

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck


Swallow-tailed Kites breed in Florida, migrate to South America and return in mid-February. This bird should have left the state a couple of weeks ago!

Tenoroc FMA

Swallow-tailed Kite


Not a migrant nor a warbler. Just beautiful to look at.

Tenoroc FMA

Black Vulture


When you visit Tenoroc, be certain to check in at the ranger station. It’s a big area and they try to keep track of all their visitors.

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


Additional Information

Tenoroc Public Use Area

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Watch Out For Falling Birds !

  1. David Gascoigne

    This is an exceptional series of images, Wally, with great definition and wonderful detail in the plumage. Not only that it is a range of birds to satisfy even the most discriminating ornithologist.

  2. I’m back from Greece where my species list from 3 weeks is less than your own in one day Wally. Skiathos is not the best place to observe huge migration as the island is perhaps too far from mainland Greece. As we know, birds, especially small ones do not like to fly over water. Having said that, we did observe some species in smallish numbers. At 28-30 degree we took advantage of sunshine and the Greek way of life.

    Did you climb trees to get those pictures Wally? They are remarkable good considering that so many were in the tree tops, the Ovenbird in particular. If that species occurred in Europe the name Ovenbird would be a good reason to add to their eating list.

    • Welcome Home, Phil!

      Sounds as if you had a wonderful time.

      I’m happy any time I see a bird on a trip. Large numbers and diverse species are just the icing on the cake which keep us birding.

      No tree climbing required. In Florida, birds are required to perch on the lower branches and hold still for photographers. It’s a state law.

      Have a great British weekend!

  3. I wondered from the header photo and title combination if the sleepy downy was going to fall off her perch! What an amazing birding day. And as always your pictures awe! And another place to add to my database of places to go (or places I wish we had time to go).

    • Thank you, Sallie. The header is the way I feel before coffee. 🙂

      So many places, so little time …

      Have a great day!

  4. edro123

    Great photos and thanks for the report Wally.

    I need to make a trip over there. Lynn’s father was a mining engineer and worked the phosphate mines in the area.

    • It’s a good place to explore anytime, Ed, but as with the rest of the state, it’s more pleasant once (if) the weather cools down a bit.

  5. Hooray for restoration projects which actually work.
    And thank you to you and Gini for enduring warbler neck to bring us these charmers.
    I am also in favour (big time) of trophy catches which will never decorate the hunter’s walls.

  6. Your photography of these wonderful birds is superb, Wally, and I find myself once more wishing I’d been there to witness these gems. Excuse me please if this is a daft question (I’m not familiar with your birds), but is that a woodpecker in your banner image? If so, I’d have to guess at Downy. If wildly wrong, my excuse is that I’m not used to seeing woodpeckers from that angle.

    Things are going great here, apart from the fact that the weather has not been conducive to wildlife photography!

    My very best wishes to you both – take good care of yourselves – – – Richard

    • We are very happy to hear things are great for you! And we certainly hope that includes the health news!
      Yes, you are right about the banner photo, it is a Downy Woodpecker. Apparently she worked the night shift and needed a nap!

      We’re doing wonderful here and have been out looking for birds and bugs quite a bit lately.

      Gini and I send our hope that you and Lindsay have a fantastic weekend!

  7. Superb selection, what a great day out.

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