Posts Tagged With: gray catbird

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

Spring At The Fort – Part One

It’s that time of year in Florida.  Our severe winter weather has abated and the air and water temperatures are emitting  their siren song attracting great throngs to the coasts to enjoy white sand beaches, emerald green seas and shady woods for siestas.  It’s the time of crowds pushing each other out of the way to gorge themselves on whatever they can find to eat, drinking their fill and fueling that age-old “urge to merge” which is overtaking their hormonal instincts.

Yes, it’s bird migration in full swing.

Huh?  What did you think I was talking about?

This will be a two-part series on our recent visit (April 15) to Fort De Soto in St. Petersburg, Florida.  We have written about exploring this area before.  (See the previous posts:   Fort De Soto – July and Sunrise, Surf, Storms.)  There will, undoubtedly, be future articles on this location.  It’s one of those places which can be overwhelming  for birders, photographers, tourists or just casual visitors.  Located on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, it boasts award-winning beaches, has one of the finest boat launching facilities in the area, woods to explore, outstanding fishing and sensational sunrises and sunsets.

This post will take you along our paths in the woods.  It’s quite a wonderful sensation to be surrounded by tall trees and dense undergrowth yet still be able to hear the pounding surf as the beach is only 50 yards away.  In the second part, we’ll stroll along the beach and see what we can find in the sand, water and sky.

Due to its location along a major migration route, unique position on the coast, mix of hardwood and pine woods and freshwater ponds, it is a major stopover spot for migratory birds in spring and fall.  We planned to spend the day searching for warblers in the woods.  I have no self-discipline.  If I get that close to saltwater, I will eventually wind up in the stuff.  I can’t help myself.  Warm, salty water is meant to wallow in and wade along pushing your toes in the soft sand and having crabs and rays scuttle out of your way and watching the mullet jump and……but I digress.  We wandered the beach and marsh areas as well as explored the woods.  We spent the whole day there – and loved every second!

A popular spot to locate our migrant friends is a wooded area adjacent to a beach.  There are a few mulberry trees and the park has placed a freshwater fountain here.  The trees were fruiting and the birds were eating.  It’s Florida, so the insect-loving crowd was also happy.  At times, this little area can contain hundreds of warblers and other birds in a single tree.  Today, we had to hunt a bit but were rewarded with some beautiful sights.  The adjacent picnic areas have scattered oak trees which are also quite productive.  It’s easy to get a case of “warbler neck” after bending your head back all day to scan the tops of trees.

Hope you enjoy our winged tourists returning from South and Central America.  They will soon be building nests further north, raising their young and returning to the woods and beaches of Florida this fall.

Male Hooded Warblers were fairly abundant today.  Most were busy looking for insects on the ground but I found this fellow up on a tree branch where a warbler belongs!

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

The Gray-headed Catbird was well represented.  I counted seven in one tree.  This one can’t hide the fact that he has been enjoying mulberries for breakfast.  Those purple stains in his feathers will be a challenge to get clean.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Bright blue Indigo Buntings were in the trees and on the ground gorging on anything that resembled a seed.  They made for a very colorful and lively walk in the woods as they never seemed to hold still.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Speaking of bright, a Yellow-throated Warbler was quite curious about me standing under his tree.  That throat was like a beacon as he hopped up and down every branch sucking up insects as he went.

Yellow-throated Warbler

Yellow-throated Warbler

The Northern Mockingbird may not be a migrant, but he sure knows where to find insects.  I was leaning  against a tree to rest in the shade when this one flew in to gather insects from a hedge of lantana.  He was about four feet away and was oblivious to my presence.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Prairie Warblers provided a yellow exclamation point to the trees and bushes.  Most of these birds are so intent on fueling up for their long flights that they almost don’t notice the human stalking them with a camera.

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler

As usual, I’m easily distracted.  Giant Swallowtail butterflies were quite busy feeding at the lantana.  These were as large as some of the birds we were chasing!

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

Sometimes, your wings just get tired of flapping and if you can find a nice paved sidewalk heading north, why not walk for awhile?  This Blue Grosbeak has the appearance of a bird who won’t put up with any nonsense.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

The small Common Ground Dove is another non-migratory bird enjoying a day at the beach.  This species has been in decline throughout the southeast.  They have a distinctive cooing much different than the longer call of the Mourning Dove.

Common Ground Dove

Common Ground Dove

A lizard on a tree.

Lizard

Lizard

After watching a Nuthatch running down a tree trunk, the Black and White Warbler tried it, liked it, and is now seen upside down more often than not.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

I think this is a Mangrove Skipper but would appreciate anyone knowing differently letting me know.

Mangrove Skipper

Mangrove Skipper

White-eyed Vireos were numerous and hearing them sing is wonderful any time.  This one checked me out with a serious stare and then returned to the mulberry tree for more juice.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

I watched three female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks methodically work through a mulberry tree gorging on every ripe fruit they found.  This one continually chased away any other bird daring to come near.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

One of those birds who kept coming near to the above Grosbeak, was this female Orchard Oriole.  She eventually found good eating at the top of the tree.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole

An Eastern Wood-Pewee found an oak tree he liked and continually swooped down to grab a bug.  We checked later in the day and he was still there.  Others said he’s been in that same tree for at least a week.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Well, technically, this is a warbler.  But he was not in the woods.  This Palm Warbler apparently saw the shorebirds feeding and thought he would check out the wrack line to see what was so good.  This offers a perfect segue into our next episode involving beachcombing.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

We hope you’ll return to enjoy the remainder of the day.  It will be more enjoyable if you’re bare-footed.

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

Additional Resources

Fort De Soto – Park Information

Linking to Stewart’s “Wild Bird Wednesday”.  See more birds from around the world at Paying ReadyAttention for

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

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