The miracle of bird migration is typically portrayed by images of thousands of ducks and geese filling the skies with noisy quacking and honking as they lift off from northern climes headed for the warmth of tropical locations each autumn. If one is fortunate enough to observe flights of such large numbers of birds it is truly awe-inspiring.
There is another aspect of avian migration not well known to “non-birders”. It involves stealthy little feathered jewels who travel mostly at night and may never be seen by human eyes as they complete their annual journey of survival. Small songbirds begin showing up here in central Florida in late summer and even though they may travel in groups it is not unusual for them to escape unnoticed as they make their way south.
We sometimes describe Florida as having two seasons – green and brown. The sub-tropical climate is perfect for billions of insects to breed and bird migration is timed to perfectly coincide with the peak of the bug birth bonanza. With little fanfare, warblers and other woodland birds arrive in dribs and drabs surprisingly ahead of what the calendar says is the first “official” day of autumn.
So here we were, the last week of August, trudging along a sandy path at dawn already soaked due to high humidity, craning our necks to see what that movement is in the very tops of the tallest trees in the area. (Aren’t there perfectly good bugs in the lower branches?) By noon, a serious case of “warbler neck” would be making itself felt.
Today we were exploring Tenoroc Public Use Area, which was formerly a vast phosphate mining operation in Polk County. As the minerals were extracted to the maximum extent possible, the land was eventually sold to the state and private parties. An effort began to reclaim the mining pits, restore the land to a more natural ecology and develop an area which has become a premier destination for fishermen. Largemouth Bass grow well in the deep waters of the pits and careful management has made the area very popular for those seeking a “trophy”. All bass must be returned to the water immediately so the gene pool is kept intact.
Mining operations ceased here over 50 years ago, and the reclamation process by humans as well as natural forces has been impressive. In addition to great fishing, the diverse habitat has resulted in the area being a “gateway” for birding. The large number of lakes (former mining pits), wetlands, open grasslands, hardwood and pine forests – make this a very rewarding place to visit for a casual walk or serious day of birding.
It was early in the year to be expecting a very large number of migrants but we were pleasantly surprised by the diversity of what we did find. By noon we had observed 50 species of birds.
(Some individual totals which are more than one would expect on a “normal” day here: 10 Red-bellied Woodpecker, 8 Downy Woodpecker, 10 Prairie Warbler, 8 Yellow-throated Warbler, 5 Black-and-White Warbler, 5 Ovenbird, 12 Tufted Titmouse, 13 Northern Cardinal, 9 Carolina Wren, 26 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 27 Northern Parula.)
So although the calendar (and thermometer!) says it is “summer” – fall migration is under way!
The sleek yellow and blue Prothonotary Warbler has long been a “nemesis” bird for me, escaping my lens too often.
Swallow-tailed Kites breed in Florida, migrate to South America and return in mid-February. This bird should have left the state a couple of weeks ago!
Not a migrant nor a warbler. Just beautiful to look at.
When you visit Tenoroc, be certain to check in at the ranger station. It’s a big area and they try to keep track of all their visitors.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!