Friday, April 18, 2014

A Day Worth Writing About

Black-throated Green Warbler
During spring migration, seeing a large number of migrants on a single day is a matter of some science, some luck and a lot of patience.  On their migration route, many birds have to cross the Gulf of Mexico, flying all night until landing, usually on the first bit of land they see where there is some food to be had.  Usually there is a steady stream each  night for a few weeks, but occasionally a series of storms in the Yucatan, for example, might prevent birds from launching for a few days, packing loads of migrants into one night's flight. Their path across the water is affected by several factors including the presence or absence of storms and wind speed and direction.  So, based on some lucky circumstances, a single area of the coast and a mulberry tree filled with ripe fruit can become a bird magnet.  Unfortunately, predicting which area of the coast will get all those birds on a given morning is a tricky business.  When you guess correctly,  and you hit the right place at the right time, it can be a day worth writing about.

Tennessee Warbler
April 14 and 15 were stormy and windy in the Yucatan, over the Gulf and along much of the coast of Florida.  I went out birding on both days and saw very little, but the conditions were ripe for a fallout on Wednesday the 16th.  For a variety of reasons, I hoped Cedar Key would be one of the hot spots.  The Red Van Gang pulled into the Episcopal Church parking lot early in the morning and was greeted by Rex Rowan who pointed to a tree and said "Black-throated Green!"  What a great bird!  What a great way to start the day!  Two trees over was a Tennessee Warbler.  Behind us in the mulberry trees were 50 or more Cedar Waxwings and both Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks feasting on ripe berries.  Over in the bushes were several Indigo Buntings and at least six Orchard Orioles.  Then everything scattered as a Merlin flew through in hot pursuit of a breakfast of a different sort.  Soon a Black-and-white Warbler made an appearance, skittering along the branches of an oak.  Then a Worm-eating Warbler was seen nearby.  We scrambled over to the spot and saw it almost immediately.  Amazingly, all of these birds were in a space no bigger than a third of an acre, packed tightly together like a big family at a reunion buffet table.

Baltimore Orioles
Eventually we crossed town to the cemetery, usually a really good birding spot.  At first there was little to look at.  Then we reached the northwest corner and things got better quickly.  A Blue-winged Warbler grazed in one tree while a male American Redstart ate in another.  Two Baltimore Orioles hopped from tree to tree.  There were several Indigo Buntings in the grass and a Summer Tanager overhead.  Other species included a Blue-headed Vireo, a Prairie Warbler, a Common Yellowthroat and several Yellow Warblers.

With all of the day's success, I hadn't yet seen a Scarlet Tanager.  We heard there were several at the museum, so we headed there next.  We struck out on that bird, but found several others worth noting. Another birder told us of two birds we definitely wanted to see, a Wood Thrush and a Lincoln's Sparrow, both in the brush beyond the house.  We walked over there and saw the thrush right away.  A little effort paid off and we found the sparrow - a real surprise for April.  We also added a Northern Parula to our day's warbler list.

Yellow Warbler
Suddenly our museum visit was cut short by a phone call - there was a Nashville Warbler downtown.  We raced to the site, but soon learned that the bird had disappeared into the bushes along the canal.  We weren't able to relocate it, but were rewarded with a Gray Kingbird, an Ovenbird, a Hooded Warbler, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Then the phone rang again.  There was a Cerulean Warbler back at the church parking lot, just a few blocks away.  We dashed over there and this time we had success.  The Cerulean put on a nice little show.  She moved too quickly for my photography skills, but I got several good looks at her.

Our next destination was the Trestle Nature Trail.  As soon as we arrived we saw a gorgeous Magnolia Warbler, but the trail itself was nearly devoid of birds.  But Grove and Live Oak Streets were busy.  Several Indigo Buntings and the day's second Lincoln's Sparrow were within a few feet of the trail's entrance.  I also saw a Least Flycatcher that had been previously seen and identified by several others.

After some discussion, we decided to go back to the museum to search for the Scarlet Tanager.  On the way, we drove through some neighborhoods, searching for anything new.  Other than some Purple Martins and Tree Swallows, we had little luck.  And once again, our museum visit was cut short by a phone call.  A Kentucky and a Swainson's Warbler had been found at the sirport.  Another mad dash got us there in just a few minutes.  We dipped on both of them but saw a wonderful Golden-winged Warbler. 

Scarlet Tanager
It was getting late, but we weren't ready to quit just yet.  We decided to check the church again, and at first there was nothing new.  Then I saw a flash of red fly into a bush behind the mulberry trees.  I couldn't see anything up high, and the rest of my view was blocked by a fence.  I got closer and peered through a narrow opening.  And there at last was a Scarlet Tanager.  I put my camera to the opening and snapped a few shots.  You can see the results on the left. 

With that success under our belts, we decided to go back to the neighborhood near the Trestle Nature Trail.  It was still quite busy.  Several Yellow Warblers darted from tree to tree.  While we followed them, I saw a flash of a rich reddish-brown moving through the leaves.  I looked again and saw a bright yellow cap looking down at me.  It was a Chestnut-sided Warbler in brilliant, magnificent, gorgeous spring plumage.  The photo below isn't perfect, but it's the best we could get.  Still, you can clearly see how spectacular the bird was.  Our persistence had paid off, and it was a fitting end to a day worth writing about.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Orchard Oriole

Black-throated Green Warbler

Baltimore Oriole

Indigo Bunting


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  2. What a wonderful day! Congrats, Bob. We all need a nice pump of adrenaline with beautifully-colored birds to fuel our passion.
    Susan Daughtrey


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