Posts Tagged With: hooded warbler

“Birds Of The World – Migrate!”

One of Nature’s truly miraculous events is the annual migration of birds. It’s not something they do for fun. The survival of an entire species depends on successfully navigating to and from breeding areas. When one thinks of the obstacles such relatively small creatures must overcome twice each year, it’s incredible they continue to exist at all. I think of the logistics involved in planning a trip of just a few hundred miles and I’m overwhelmed by the journey a small bundle of feathers undertakes. And without a GPS or thermos of coffee!

Groups of migrating birds tend to use a similar route each year. This permits earth-bound creatures such as birders to know where to look for certain species in order to snap a photograph or place a check mark on a list. Many things can affect a migrating bird’s path: weather, food supply, changes to habitat, back seat driving. So a successful birder wishing to maximize the number of migrants observed on any given trip must rely on that age-old, proven, reliable tool: luck.

With fingers crossed, we headed toward the Gulf of Mexico and our local Mecca of migration, Fort De Soto Park. The park is spread across a collection of islands which forms an arrowhead when viewed from above. The vast Tampa Bay estuary is continually refreshed by changing tides from the Gulf of Mexico which flow beside the park. One can view Tampa Bay from one end of the park and look into the infinity of the Gulf from the other end. In between are beaches, ponds, mangrove bogs, tidal streams, wooded areas and protected bays. It also happens to be located along a major bird migration flyway. Bad weather in the gulf can force all sorts of species to seek shelter along the coast.

All of this prime bird territory, coupled with the potential for seeing rare species at any given moment, make Fort De Soto a prime birding hotspot. The beaches of Fort De Soto have consistently been voted among the best in the United States. Also, within a 30 minute drive are the cities of St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa with a combined population of nearly three-quarters of a million. Translation = more people than birds.

We normally prefer less-visited venues but this is the sort of sacrifice we make for you, dear reader.

Our day was typical for the Fort. A jumble of shorebirds, migrants, residents, sun bathers, fishermen, bicyclists, butterflies, skaters, ships, flowers and fellow birding thrill-seekers. At the fishing pier we found Red-breasted Mergansers and a Common Loon. On the beach were peeps, plovers, swallows and a Red Knot sporting the latest in leg-wear. The woods produced migrating warblers, singing vireos and humming hummingbirds. A new bug, a surly mammal and very friendly birders empathizing with our “warbler neck” syndrome made the day quite special.

I managed a few photographs which you are welcome to look upon. If you are ever in the Western Hemisphere, do not fail to visit Fort De Soto! You’ll be glad you did.

 

It was early. Too early for this female Red-breasted Merganser to be awake to greet visitors. Or brush her hair. Okay, she always looks like this. A few stretches and she’s ready to face the day.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

 

We typically see many Common Loons during winter migration, however, they are usually in non-breeding (that means “dull”) plumage. This one is all dressed up for Spring and was busy gulping as much fresh seafood as possible in preparation for the long flight north.

Common Loon

Common Loon

 

A single Barn Swallow flew up and down the beach for awhile. I have a feeling he got separated from his tour group.

Barn Swallow

Barn Swallow

 

The little Semipalmated Plover works the upper part of the beach looking for easy to grab morsels. His sandpiper cousins prefer to probe the wet sand as the waves roll in.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

 

A Wilson’s Plover is distinctive with a relatively large dark bill.

Wilson's Plover

Wilson’s Plover

 

I couldn’t get a picture of this Red Knot with his head up as he was intent on touching every grain of sand under the shallow water. His leg flag tells us he was originally captured a few years ago on a New Jersey beach and has spent his winters enjoying the gulf coast of Florida. Last August, he stopped for a few days on the coast of Georgia for a change of pace.

Red Knot

Red Knot

 

As we explored the woods, we discovered a different type of migrant. This Monarch Butterfly looks quite worn and may have had a tough winter.

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

 

White-eyed Vireos serenaded us almost continually as we hiked the woodland trails. Although this species breeds in Florida, most of the birds here are probably migrants.

White-eyed Vireo

White-eyed Vireo

 

Black-and-White Warblers were abundant and this brightly colored male shows off his upside-down tree climbing prowess.

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

 

A male American Redstart is unmistakable with its glossy black, orange and white plumage. It “flashes” its tail and wings which startles insects from their hiding places and makes it easier for the Redstart to catch them.

American Redstart

American Redstart

 

We counted over 20 Hooded Warblers in the park. This one prepares to enjoy filet of beetle.

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

 

With all the human visitors to the park, it’s inevitable (and unfortunate) that many of the park’s creatures have learned how to panhandle for food. And when they don’t receive the expected handout, they turn downright nasty. This young raccoon snarled and hissed when he discovered I had nothing for him.

Raccoon

Raccoon

 

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird enjoyed the profusely blooming Lantana. I chased him for awhile hoping to get a photograph of his namesake gorget but I just couldn’t do it. Maybe next time. The second image is highly cropped to show how they probe a small flower for nectar and come away with a bill covered in pollen.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

 

Almost as large as the hummingbird, a Scoliid wasp also enjoys the Lantana blooms. Some species of this wasp are called Scarab Hunters as they will dig into the ground to find beetle larvae to sting and lay eggs in.

Wasp - Scoliid sp. ??

Wasp – Scoliid sp. ??

 

As we were leaving for the day, an Eastern Kingbird gave us a farewell look. We hope he has a successful journey home.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

 

Check your local area to see if you might be near a migration route. You might be surprised. Don’t forget the birder’s most useful tool – pure luck! I use it all the time.

 

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

 

Additional Resources:

Fort De Soto County Park

 

See more birds at:   Paying Ready Attention   (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)

Categories: Birds, Florida, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 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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