“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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
Speaking of bright, this Prairie Warbler was very curious about what I was up to. He followed me for quite awhile before losing interest.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just as pugnacious as his relatives, the House Wren is easy to identify by having virtually no identifying features. A “plain brown wrapper.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
It’s not all warblers. The White-eyed Vireo sings almost constantly to ensure we don’t overlook him.
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.
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.
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.)
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!