It’s dark in a cemetery at night. Okay, I know, it’s dark at night – duh. But it seems darker in a cemetery. The mosquitoes didn’t care. They bite when and where they find you.
Dawn was still over an hour away. We had actually hoped to hear the call of the Eastern Whip-poor-will. Happily, we heard the soft trilling call of an Eastern Screech Owl. They are usually closer than I think. Perhaps the darkness does something to my sense of distance.
We were at the Tenoroc Fish Management Area just before Christmas scouting for the upcoming annual bird count. An old cemetery provided a clearing surrounded on three sides by woods and two lakes were nearby. A perfect hunting patch for an owl.
Scanning the tree line with a flashlight, I hoped to spot the reflecting eyes of the Screech Owl, when a movement caught my attention. There he was! Right behind the car on a mid-level branch. I had pre-set the camera to its highest ISO, widest aperture and lowest shutter speed I thought would work with my shaky hands. Not wanting to shine the light in the bird’s eyes, I kept it pointed at the lower tree trunk and clicked a few images. We walked down the road to give the owl time to leave the area so as not to traumatize him any further.
Twenty minutes later, we found another Screech Owl and heard two Barred Owls calling to each other some distance away. The day was off to a nice beginning!
The rest of the morning was filled with small birds, hammering woodpeckers, soaring raptors and busy flycatchers. Our final tally bode well for the volunteers who would be searching this area in a few days.
All aspects of birding are exciting for us! But there seems to be something a little extra special about standing in the darkness, deprived of sight, and hearing an owl call from a few yards away. In a cemetery. With a mosquito on the end of your nose.
Eastern Screech Owl. Not a great technical photograph, but was pleased with the results considering how dark it was.
Gang leader. When we find a Tufted Titmouse in the fall and winter, it seems there are usually other small birds in the area. The titmice seem to act as “lookouts” and determine threat levels before the rest of the group show themselves.
Two white wing bars, a broken eye-ring and yellow breast with white belly identify the Pine Warbler.
Not a resident in Florida, the migratory Eastern Phoebe is constantly on the hunt for insects. Even from a distance, the pumping tail and posture help in identification.
The perch used by the Phoebe above was apparently popular. Another winter visitor, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, chased the smaller flycatcher away so she could enjoy the view for herself.
There are not many field marks to help identify the Orange-crowned Warbler, which actually helps to identify it, by process of elimination. Not many warblers are this “indistinct”. Overall plain yellow/yellow-green, grayish head and always with yellow undertail coverts.
From fall through spring, one of our most numerous migratory visitors is the Yellow-rumped Warlber. Groups of these industrious bug eaters swarm tree branches throughout the state.
Sometimes, a picturesque setting can enhance the photogenic qualities of a subject. The jury may still be out on whether this works for the Black Vulture.
A curious Prairie Warbler checked us out. Yellow underneath with black streaks along its flanks, white eye arc and grayish head indicate this is a female or immature bird.
What? A dragonfly in December? We love Florida. I chased this dragon a couple hundred yards (well, maybe 20 feet) to snap a photo. This was only my second sighting of a Band-winged Dragonlet (Erythrodiplax umbrata).
Diminutive and agitated. The tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet seems to be a non-stop bundle of energy, flashing its wings and scouring every leaf on a branch for an insect morsel.
From the dense brush along almost every path, the bubbling song of a White-eyed Vireo serenaded as we wandered. Although, once we got too close, the serenading turned into scolding until we were out of sight.
Beginning in darkness, ending with chasing a dragon. What a wonderful morning! If you have a chance to stand in the dark and listen for an owl, do it! Even if it is in a cemetery. With bugs biting you. You won’t soon forget it!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!