Posts Tagged With: downy woodpecker

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Storm Dodging

My dad didn’t know I was using his long-handled minnow net to scrape along the bottom of the drainage ditch trying to catch crayfish. That changed when I hit an unforgiving root and bent the frame of the net. Fortunately, he was more forgiving than the root and a quick twist of the pliers and the net was as good as new. But I wouldn’t be using it in the drainage ditch anymore, he said.

That was in Miami, Florida about 60 years ago. At about that same time, a towheaded tomboy was busy trying to catch tadpoles in a drainage ditch near Tampa, Florida. Two kids, two drainage ditches, infinite curiosity about nature, 200 miles apart. Who knew fate would bring us together in a music room where love eventually blossomed and is still in full bloom.

Florida summers bring sudden and ferocious thunderstorms with raindrops the size of quarters, earth shaking rumbles and bright streaks of lightning hurled from inky skies. The only thing more frightening than the storm was what would happen to my rear end if my Mother had to call me indoors more than once! Although the storm would usually pass quickly, it was difficult to be patient. I knew the rain would add more water to the drainage ditches which could hold frogs, their thousands of tadpoles, turtles, crayfish and who knew what other wonders!

We are older now and much wiser, with enough sense to remain indoors when a severe storm is brewing —–

NOT!

Why, that’s when all the birds are busy hunting for a last minute meal before the rains begin! We simply MUST be out there with them!

Thus, so it was last Wednesday. About a week ago, as I was traveling to an appointment downtown, I thought I glimpsed a Snail Kite along the shore of Lake Parker. There was too much traffic to stop safely and I was running a bit late so confirmation would have to wait. Until Wednesday. Until gathering storm clouds motivated me to pile Gini and bins and camera into the truck and go hunting. Bingo! There she was, atop a small cypress tree. She didn’t like my slinking around trying to hide behind trees to get close enough for a photo, but she remained in the area and I snapped a few shots for the record and left quickly so she could continue hunting for her escargot lunch. Before the storm.

We decided to check out a couple of the public boat ramp areas on the south and east sides of the lake since the rain had not yet begun. At the south ramp, a pair of Royal Terns were busy criss-crossing the lake in front of us while a young Limpkin extracted an apple snail from its shell. Half a dozen Osprey appeared to be suspended in the sky as they faced into the stiffening wind of the coming storm.  At the east ramp, there are more trees and we found a group of 14 Yellow Warblers feeding voraciously. Along with these migrants were Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, a couple of Prairie Warblers and a Yellow-throated Warbler. I even got a rare glimpse of a migratory Northern Waterthrush, a bird usually heard but not often seen very well. A couple of woodpeckers and a vireo were scouring the branches of a large oak tree. Along a canal leading to the lake, the soft “chortle” of a Least Bittern led me to the spot where he slowly emerged for exactly one picture before he melted back into the reeds. A young alligator was totally unconcerned about any storms as he was way too busy demonstrating how to relax. In a protected spot, a dragon posed in the sunlight before the storm clouds rolled in.

Gini and I found a small barbeque place that sold us a couple of sandwiches and we parked on the shore of a small lake and enjoyed Nature’s show while we ate. The lake’s surface was whipped into whitecaps, the sky was black as night, thunder rolled, quarter-sized drops hit the windshield and we reminisced about running barefoot in a drainage ditch full of rain water. I am blessed.

Images from before the storm.

 

This lady started it all today. A Snail Kite, endangered due to loss of habitat throughout Florida but, happily, holding their own.

Lake Parker

Snail Kite

 

A Royal Tern enjoys the breeze before the storm rolls in.

Lake Parker

Royal Tern

 

A secretive Least Bittern. In the proper habitat, they are usually heard but prefer to remain deep in the reeds. (It is a smallish heron measuring only 11-14 inches (28-36 cm) in length.) Here is its soft chuckling call:  Least Bittern Call.

Lake Parker Park

Least Bittern

 

Yellow-throated Warblers breed in Florida but in fall we begin to see numbers of them as migrants head south for the winter.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Warbler

 

A Prairie Warbler can have very subtle or very vivid facial markings. This one is a bit in between the extremes. These birds don’t breed in our area and are only enjoyed during migration.

Lake Parker Park

Prairie Warbler

 

Another migrant, the Northern Waterthrush resembles a member of the thrush family (even bearing the name!) but is actually a warbler. It spends most of its time on the ground or low perches in boggy areas.

Lake Parker Park

Northern Waterthrush

 

This Red-bellied Woodpecker is likely a first-year bird transitioning into adult plumage. Thus the “dirty” face.

Lake Parker Park

Red-bellied Woodpecker

 

Small Downy Woodpeckers are common in our area. This female is examining a lichen-covered branch hoping to find a snack.

Lake Parker Park

Downy Woodpecker

 

A Yellow-throated Vireo stopped hunting for a moment to gaze down at the old guy gazing up. This species breeds in our area so don’t know if this is a local or a fall visitor.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow-throated Vireo

 

When we drove up to the east side boat ramp area, before we got out of the truck, a gang of Yellow Warblers was very actively feeding in trees adjacent to the parking lot. It was interesting that within the group we spotted brightly colored males, the more subtly hued females and some almost gray looking immature birds.

Lake Parker Park

Yellow Warbler

 

Storms hold no fear for a dragon! Well, I imagine once the wind and rain begin, this dragon will seek shelter. This is a Four-spotted Pennant and is a young female. As she matures, the spots on each wing will become darker. The bright white stigmas on each wing leading edge and the slender abdomen are diagnostic for this species.

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

Lake Crago Park

Four-spotted Pennant (Brachymesia gravida) – Female

 

“Storm? What storm?” Typical alligator attitude.

East Lake Parker

American Alligator

 

We love living in the Sunshine State with its clear bright blue skies most of the year. But when the storms arrive, we still don’t mind dodging the raindrops to find a few birds. And if we happen to spot a drainage ditch full of water, well, these shoes and socks can disappear pretty quick!

 

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

 

 

 

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

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