THEY’RE HERE! THEY’RE HERE! The frenetic, enchanting and exhausting Spring Migration – a month of wall-to-wall bird mayhem and wonderment. Everything in the rest of your life that can go on ‘hold’ – will.
For early migrants, Hooded, Prothonotary and Prairie Warblers are the ‘Big 3’. If I had to pick one, seeing the year’s first ‘Hoodie’ makes spring official. They aren’t the only early spring warblers and warblers aren’t the only early spring birds. There are vireos, buntings, tanagers, grosbeaks, flycatchers and their cousins the kingbirds. Not to mention hummingbirds with luck a rarity or two. Like I said, wall-to-wall mayhem and wonderment.
Back to the ‘Big 3’.
See a Prothonotary in field or woods, their gold-yellow breast contrasted against the blue-gray wings blows you away. More so against fresh leaves. All three have the ‘contrast thing’ going on, vibrant yellows running my thesaurus out of superlatives, delivering a jolt making pre-birding coffee a distant memory.
But a ‘Hoodie’ means spring…the way a Robin or Forsythia meant spring when I was up north. Make no mistake, I’m crazy about spring. My favorite season by far, undaunted by Florida’s spring coming in February and March. Thrilled Azaleas are blooming when the Northeast and Midwest are ducking ice storms.
Beyond giving a ‘rah rah’ for Florida, warblers wearing yellow and spring in general…do I have a point?
YES – make the emotional investment in having favorites in nature. If you’re wired to have 10 favorites, have 10. If you could care less about spring and wish it would get done so fall could come…WONDERFUL! But have a favorite. (And yes, even though this is a birding blog, if your favorite is an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, I’ll support you. Though you won’t get a picture like the Forsythia.)
A few years ago, I had a spring with no ‘Hoodies’ – it was a tough year. Seeing 2018’s first a few days ago, even if only for a few seconds…was pure magic.
GET OUT THERE AND ENJOY IT!
Spring Fashion Spectacular...for Birds
If you think the latest in couture comes out of Milan, Paris and New York – think again. The spectacle of ‘Fashion Week’ evaporates next to the heart-pounding glamour of ‘Fashion Month’…spring migration in Florida.
In Paris, a few hundred underfed models strut unwearable contraptions to a cacophony of skull-crushing backbeats. In Ft. DeSoto thousands of freshly feathered fashionistas flock to fountain, oak and mulberry. A feast for the soul and senses.
Forget Versace and Donna Karan, the real fashion statements will come from names like Warbler, Tanager and Vireo as runways give way to flyways. These beauties shed the muted beige and browns of winter to don take-charge yellows, resounding reds and buoyant blues. Head-turning, eye-catching, dramatic.
Expect nothing less than f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s from Prothonotary, Parula, and Redstart. Baltimore Orioles flaunt their whimsy with black and orange. Simply stunning. Classic elegance is the watchword for Black and Whites, understated style. Vera Wang – eat your heart out when the Painted Bunting shows.
Who will be there? Spring Migration is THE EVENT to see or be seen in 2018. Without the hassle of international flights, currency exchange or translating French, Italian and New York.
In April, every day is a fashion show and Ft. DeSoto is your runway. Yes, spring migrants can be seen throughout the county and the rest of the state. Ft. DeSoto is world renown as a migration hotspot – don’t be surprised to hear a word of German, Japanese or Dutch. If you don’t already know, look for the Park Ranger’s house, East and North Beach and Arrowhead Picnic Area. Any time is a good time.
Who will be there? If you’ve ever had the slightest inkling to see a natural spectacle, which on any given day will eclipse the best Nat Geo TV has to offer – this is it! The answer YOU, is a must.
I typically close my post with ‘GET OUT THERE AND ENJOY IT.’ To honor the fashion theme, I’ll make an exception...
GO FORTH AND BE FABULOUS! [TAKE YOUR BINOCULARS]
Are New Year's Resolutions For the Birds?
Happy 2018! Prepare yourself for the January deluge of TV ads, news reporters and talking heads blathering on about The New Year and New Years’ Resolutions. According to them, by 11:59 PM New Year’s Eve, 2018 plans to lose weight, exercise more, work smarter instead of harder, make more money and spend more time with loved ones should spring into action. They brush off your week would need to expand from 168 to 192-hours to get everything done and gloss over life’s unexpected surprises poised to derail your freshly minted resolutions.
Hearing them, I’m thinking, “New Year’s Resolutions are for the birds!”
Personally, I’ve had an up and down relationship with resolutions; some years running chock full with other years, ignored. With mixed results on both counts. The most successes were ‘objective and behavior based’ – meaning, “I need to do some action, with some frequency to get my desired result.”
Enough of the resolution soapbox, rather than becoming a talking head myself, find what works for you, and do it.
Birds are magnificent, amazing and fun! Watching them brings joy. Becoming a better birder improves the experience. Getting better is a skill – an ideal use for ‘objective and behavior based’ resolutions. Yes, these resolutions are for the birds...
Looking to up your birding game in 2018? To give you an idea what’s worked for me, here’s the ‘top 5’ actions and outcomes I used to grow as a birder.
- Bird local – we can find great birds on less than a tank of gas and without a sleep over. Being a bird-nut can coexist with the rest of your life.
- Get connected with Audubon societies – birders are generally pleasant, non-judgmental (a.k.a. forgiving) and open to share knowledge with beginner or expert. Just about everyone I know has grown through and with other birders.
- Start a life-list – a life-list keeps you mindful, motivated and is a good yardstick. Life-lists are the stuff ‘Type A’ birders are made of and equally worthwhile for everyone else. Have one.
- List on every trip – is an extension of the mindfulness of item #3. At first, it’s for your learning – you grow faster when you list. Next, listing builds camaraderie in group birding. Last but not least, listing on eBird helps all birders learn about and preserve birds and birding for the future.
- Learn to bird with others, then bird alone – as much as it is important to learn from and with others, you have to fledge and start birding on your own.
- This is fun, go easy on yourself – makes my ‘baker’s dozen’ for a top 5 list. Skills take time and repetition. Enjoy the journey, enjoy the birds, let progress take care of itself.
Let’s Hear from You!
This post deviates from my pervious cute bird stories to open up and share how I plan to become a better birder in 2018 as well as ‘what’s worked’ until now. We’re all different people at different levels with different methods. What’s worked for you? Write back to email@example.com and I’ll publish a ‘best of’ list from what you send in. You can be named or anonymous.
GET OUT THERE AND ENJOY IT!
Gone Away is the Bluebird...
Spoiler Alert - They Came to Florida
Christmas music is in high-gear with ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ playing in the background Black Friday morning. “Gone away is the bluebird…”, gets me thinking – if it’s such a ‘winter wonderland’, why are the birds leaving?
Florida’s holiday season is a sharp contrast from the picture postcard Pennsylvania the song imagines. Bare trees and ice storms are replaced by boat parades and holiday gardens. My friend the Bluebird agrees…leaving the winter wonderland for the balm, and palm of Florida. Joined by a host of ducks, sparrows, and robins. Shore birds from the Artic along with Palm and Pine Warblers too. Snow birds arriving for the winter.
With all these birds – we’re the ones who should have a song!
Snowbirds are birds – who woulda’ thought? Ask most Floridians, snowbirds have Illinois license plates and found in grocery store parking lots.
Great thing about snowbirds (the bird kind), so many can be found in your neighborhood. Not to discourage you from a trip to St. Mark’s or Merritt Island to see the myriad of ducks or scouring daily e-bird alerts for a rare sparrow. Take a break from gift wrapping at your local park or one of our many lakes. There’s a duck family in our neighborhood pond. We love watching the ducks be ducks – it makes the day go easier.
Thinking more about snowbirds, my list above is far from complete. Local Eagles are joined by wintering cousins from places like Minnesota and Wisconsin. I saw one soaring over the house yesterday. There’s also Kestrels, Northern Harriers and Merlins as far as raptors, Yellow-Rump Warblers and Common Yellow Throats near marshes. I could go on.
Next to Spring and Fall Migrations, Florida does become a winter wonderland for birds and bird lovers. Time is limited, though not as quick as the done-in-a-month of Spring Migration. Ducks are in full swing from mid-November through end of January, depending on the weather, sparrows about the same, warblers and raptors staying a bit longer.
It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday season – there’s so much to do. Presents, parties, wrapping, dinners to plan, friends and loved ones to connect with. Enjoy this “Most wonderful time of the year.” (There’s a song about that too.)
Along with the rushing and merriment, give yourself a treat to enjoy nature’s presents too!
The Face That Launched a Thousand Trips
I’m often asked how I got started as a bird nut. The long answer dawdles through childhood and includes cleaning snow off a backyard feeder. Today – we like short answers, so two words…PAINTED BUNTING.
Spying one electrifies an outing. Chatting birders are hushed, eyes and optics trained, cameras clicking in a scene more fitting a red carpet walk than birding. Legend has it Helen of Troy had a ‘face that launched a thousand ships’. Our quest to see this bunting became the stuff of legends too – a face that launched a thousand trips. When we started, we were clueless, knowing nothing about the birds or how to find them, armed with ‘70’s hand me down binoculars and oblivious to the ‘bird-o-sphere’ – the people and websites packed with what we needed for a sighting. Our initial sorties are better classified as ‘nature walks’ than birding – drives down Loop Road outside Everglades City and Black Point Drive in Merritt Island, walks through Corkscrew Swamp. Beautiful scenery and an occasional bird. Definitely no Painted Buntings; though we got a Painted Bunting postcard from Corkscrew’s giftshop. From what we could see, we were at the right place at the wrong time. The axiom, “A winner never quits and a quitter never wins” was drummed into my head from childhood through my 20’s. Despite the bunting quest reaching the 2-year mark, we were determined to be ‘winners’. Our next tactic was going to birding festivals – more structure, more birders, and knowledgeable guides. And while we remained undaunted, there was a gnawing at the back of our minds, would our quest end in vain? Sagging spirits were re-energized by one festival guide assuring us we were, “Guaranteed to see Painted Buntings in Jekyll Island. There’s a great birding festival and you can’t miss.” The six-hour drive to Jekyll was filled with optimism and anticipation – dashed early the following morning. Beach-goer’s not birders filled the Hampton Inn’s breakfast tables. Anyone with a camera was there for Driftwood Beach – purported as one of the best photo sites on the East Coast. The ‘great festival’ was all but cancelled, a victim of a delayed opening of the new convention center. The few remaining walks were led by sympathetic locals who didn’t want the fools who actually showed up to be disappointed on what was likely their first trip to the Island. We were encouraged to take advantage of Driftwood Beach.
Buntings? Most had migrated south but if any were left we should check the feeder at the campground. Being as close as we’ve ever been, we staked out the feeders an entire afternoon and were back the next morning. Our last day on the island and the Painted Bunting outlook was bleak. Around 1:30 PM, less than 30-minutes left on our departure clock what was likely the last pair of Painted Buntings in Georgia came in for a bath. EUREKA – my wife and I would not die a ‘bunting-less couple’.
All told, seeing our first ‘Paints’ took about 2 and ½ years. Somewhere in all this questing, we were rewired. Long drives to tiny towns became interesting – cities less so. Odd hours and researching habits of target species became challenging – not boring. In short, unashamed bird nuts.
Was it worth it? To see a ‘Paint’ light up a room – I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
GET OUT THERE AND ENJOY IT!
Two Yellow Throated Warblers in the oak canopy tell a different story than TV weathermen yammering about heat index and the summer shower patterns. The mercury may be headed for the 90’s but FALL MIGRATION IS STARTING
The pair flit from branch to branch, their yellow and black glows in the morning sunlight. Their breathtaking beauty kindles the same warm flash as seeing old friends, the summer’s layoff intensifies a soft spark to electric jolt.
Fall migration is so many ways the opposite of its spring counterpart. Spring is frenetic…Cardinals crooning, females eyeing males in fresh breeding plumage. All choreographed to nature’s silent stopwatch. Fall is less rushed, lacking the hormonal rage of spring. A ‘brunch feel’, meandering through August, September and early October. Spring is ‘breakfast on the run’, starting in April and a memory by early May.
Regardless of seasons, the walk is about the birds. The sense of discovery I get focusing binos on these magnificent creatures. My entire being smiles. Don’t get me wrong, nature is a big part of the experience. Butterflies, trees, and streams drain modern life’s tension. Our time together is short, warblers off to the next tree and next bug, people off to the next bird, Titmice heard chattering up the trail. My warbler friends are most likely passing through, roughly the half way point to their Central American winter home. Some stay, most keep going.
The hopeless romantic in me wonders if I’ll see them on their return trip next spring – with fresh feathers and lookin’ for love.
Florida is graced with two migrations, each with different tones and rhythms, nature providing a different backdrop. Two opportunities to see incomparable diversity, color and movement
GET OUT THERE AND ENJOY IT!
Photo Credits - Steve & Maureen Swanson