Posts Tagged With: house wren

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

The Unforgettable Coast

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

We have been planning an extended visit with my brother in Florida’s panhandle for years. There were interruptions. Finally, we decided to just do it or else we knew there would be more delays. He lives in the town of Apalachicola, a small community located at the mouth of the Apalachicola River which empties into Apalachicola Bay. The huge estuary is protected by a couple of barrier islands between the shallow nutrient rich bay and marshes and the vast Gulf of Mexico. The seat of Franklin County, Apalachicola is about an hour and a half southwest of the state capital, Tallahassee. Population is less than 3,000. Over 80% of the county is environmentally protected state or federal land. The chamber of commerce has coined the term “The Forgotten Coast” in an effort to attract tourism. Please don’t tell anyone about this place.

It takes about five hours of easy driving to reach Apalachicola from our house. We made it in about nine. There was stuff to see along the way. Trees, creeks, birds … you know – stuff. The drive was by way of a four-lane divided highway in great condition and we often drove for miles without seeing another car ahead of us or in the rear view mirror. Thank you, interstate super-highway system. It took most of the traffic away from some of these formerly major travel arteries. As we approached the “big bend”, where Florida’s coast line begins to curve westward, we saw huge thunderheads building over the Gulf of Mexico. About 30 minutes from our destination, drops of water the size of pancakes crashed onto the windshield.

I wanted to find “something different” from a standard hotel room during our visit. My search uncovered a nicely furnished place with two bedrooms, open living area with a fully stocked kitchen, screen porch and a balcony, all with a view of the Apalachicola River and extensive marshes. And only a few blocks from my brother’s place.

“A HOUSEBOAT???”

I could tell, Gini was excited at the prospect….

….until we pulled up to where our accommodation was moored. It was getting dark, the torrential downpour showed no sign of easing, the water level had risen with the high tide and gusting wind, the gangplank of the floating dock was fixed in mid-air at a 45 degree angle. We have both been in hurricanes before. This was eerily reminiscent.

My brother pulled up and was prepared to help me hustle our provisions on board but suggested since the town’s eateries would all be closing soon it might be a good idea to find some fresh seafood and wait for a break in the storm. “Fresh seafood.” What storm?

After a very enjoyable platter of sweet shrimp, the clouds parted long enough for us to scurry on board and secure our belongings. I promised my brother a pot of fresh coffee at sunrise and Gini and I surveyed our shelter. The rain began again and the wind literally howled around the rope lines holding us fast to the dock. Thank goodness the hallway was narrow or else we would have been thrown to the deck several times. I was going to recount the experience of someone being actually thrown off the toilet seat, but who would believe such a tale? As we pulled the covers up tight, we could hear the waves breaking over the dock, the rain pelting the side of the boat, the palm trees bending to the wind and their fronds sounding like one long, loud “sssshhhhh”. It brought us a whole new meaning of “rock and roll”. We held on to each other in order to keep from being thrown out of bed. Things were looking up.

The coffee was brewing as a steely-gray bay tried to calm itself after a restless night and the sun found a hole in the remnants of storm clouds through which it illuminated our surroundings. Shrimp boats returned from a rough night in the bay, visiting yachtsmen checked their moorings along the dock, dark clouds scuttled northward across the extensive marsh, seagulls screamed, pelicans grunted. A new day was ready for us to enjoy.

And enjoy it we did. Along with several others. The rest of our stay was filled with blue skies, calm waters, birds galore, fresh seafood and just plain visiting. To add to our joy, my sister and her husband arrived and for the first time in at least 25 years I sat in the same room with my brother and sister and our families and talked and listened and laughed and – lived.

This trip was all about me but I took a couple of tourist snapshots for those who might be curious what another part of Florida looks like.

 

Dawn following a stormy night. This is the view from our back porch looking eastward where the Apalachicola River flows into Apalachicola Bay.

Apalachicola

Sunrise – Apalachicola River

 

A shrimp boat returns to port after spending most of the night in the bay. We were moored at the entrance to Scipio Creek and many shrimpers dock up the creek at a city marina which is in protected waters.

Apalachicola

Shrimper

 

From our back porch we had a great view of the expansive salt marsh north of Apalachicola Bay. Many of the shrimp we enjoyed during our stay were born in this area. This was, thankfully, the last we saw of any storm clouds.

Apalachicola

Storm Over The Marsh

 

One of the large barrier islands, St. George, is home to a large state park and offers fabulous birding, especially during fall and spring migration. We were a bit late for the height of fall migration but we managed to find a few birds hanging about.

Saint George Island

House Wren

Saint George Island

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Saint George Island

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Saint George Island

Eastern Phoebe

Saint George Island

Downy Woodpecker

 

From the upper deck of our floating hotel, moonrise over the bay was heavenly, even if it was obscured by clouds.

Apalachicola

Moonrise-Apalachicola River

 

After more coffee and a leisurely breakfast, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise over the western part of the bay with another barrier island, St. Vincent, in the distance.

Apalachicola

Ten Mile

 

Hard at work as the sky begins to lighten, oystermen ply the shallow bay for some of the world’s best oysters. This is a tough job and has usually been passed from father to son. With an onslaught of natural and man-made disasters over the past several years, this may be a disappearing vocation.

Apalachicola

Ten Mile – Oystering

 

There are many unique features along the stretch of coastline between Apalachicola and Indian Pass to the west. This whole area bears many geological features more typically found further north.

Apalachicola

Ten Mile

 

At the western boundary of Apalachicola Bay is St. Vincent Sound and one can transit Indian Pass into the Gulf of Mexico. A beautiful side trip into the quiet waters of Indian Lagoon is very rewarding.

Apalachicola

Indian Lagoon

Apalachicola

Indian Lagoon – American White Pelicans

 

 

A popular spot for beach-goers in Cape San Blas jutting into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, there are extensive salt flats and marshes begging to be explored and fished.

Apalachicola

Road To Cape San Blas

 

Returning to Apalachicola, Lafayette Park near the public marina and historic residential district has a terrific pier from which to fish, crab, watch the bay or enjoy a little sunshine under whispering palm trees.

Apalachicola

Lafayette Park

 

Fiddler crabs hunt from a tidal pool.

20151030 Apalachicola 00234.jpg

 

In a dramatic change from our first evening, a more typical Apalachicola sunset highlights the grasses of the salt marsh. A trio of Black-crowned Night Herons flew by our screen porch at eye level grunting to each other along the way. This was to be a nightly occurrence as up to a dozen herons followed the creek as it opened into the bay and promised a successful night of hunting.

Apalachicola

Scipio Creek

 

As we lay in bed the second night and the boat moved gently with the incoming tide, I was happily surprised to hear my bride gently sigh:  “I could get used to this.”

Stay tuned! Coming next, Chapter Two of our Exciting Excursion: “Into The Forest”!

 

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

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

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