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Monday, April 9, 2012

Early Spring in South West Florida

April in Southwest Florida and there's lots of action both on the mudflats as well as in the trees. For this trip during Easter Break, target species were burrowing owl, semipalmated sandpiper (seen here only in migration), breeding Northen Parula, and Waterthrush.

First stop: Herons. Florida excels in diversity and number of breeding heron species. Perhaps the only heron not found breeding here is American Bittern. Seen on this trip were the rarest of our herons, the reddish egret [middle], the great blue [upper left], snowy [lower left], black-crowned night [upper right] and tri-colored [lower right]. These were found in the premier birding sites of the area: Bunche Beach, Little Estero, and Corkscrew Swamp.

Migrating peeps and breeding plovers: western sandpiper [middle and lower left], least sandpiper [upper right] were fairly common. What took a little more work to find was the semi-palmated sandpiper [lower right]. Similar in appearance to the Western, it has a shorter and less drooping bill. The semi is only a passage migrant unlike the western which overwinters here in large numbers.

In Spring, it is easily possible to see 6 plover species: Piping [lower left and upper right], Wilson's [upper left], Semi-palmated [middle and lower right], Snowy, Black-bellied, and Killdeer. Both the Snowy and Semipalmated plovers were earlier considered conspecific with Kentish and Ringed Plover respectively but are now recognized as full species in their own right. It is no surprise that the beach [sea or lake] breeding species such as Snowy and Piping are finding reproductive success difficult given the enormous recreational pressures from humans and their animals.

One more look at the peeps.

This is also the time to see the resident breeders in their alternate plumage. White Ibis becomes resplendent with blood-red legs and face. The herons look striking as well and the otherwise plain laughing gulls look distinguished in their hoods. Royal tern [upper right] was in alternate plumage unlike the Forster's [middle left] and, unlike in winter, the beachscape popped with color.

At Corkscrew Swamp, Northern Parulas [middle and left] were busy singing and establishing breeding territories. Black and white warblers, together with Indigo Bunting and Blue-headed Vireo [lower left and right] , were passing through to their breeding grounds in woods up North.

Besides Palm Warbler [middle] and Common Yellowthroat [lower left], waterthrushes were also found in the Swamp. One diagnostic feature, as highlighted in the photographs, is the throat streaking -- heavy in the Northern and clear in the Louisiana. The other is the buffier white of the Northern vs. clear white of the Louisiana.

One note to DSLR users -- if you've had your camera in "DR" (dynamic range optimization) mode to prevent highlight clipping at the beach, remember to turn it off when shooting in the shade as this will introduce noise and blur detail in your images.

Burrowing owls are small [hardly bigger than an American Robin] and extremely photogenic. They can be found relatively easily owing to their fidelity to their burrows which they reuse every year for breeding. These individuals were found on Marco Island.

Southwest Florida is the perfect April destination given the variety of habitats and species that can be found.