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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Northern Parula and the First Stirrings of Spring in Southwest Florida

[Southwest Florida, Jan/Feb 2014]

In February, Northern Parulas in Southwest Florida are already singing. Of course, neotropical migration is still a couple of months away but Spring is already in the air. At this time of year early migrants such as Robins are joined by over-winterers and residents for a great mix of species including:
  • Northern Parula
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Myrtle morph of Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • Blue-headed Vireo
  • Carolina Wren
  • Painted Bunting
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Pileated Woodpecker
  • Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
We lead with the Parula:

Northern Parula seen at Corkscrew Swamp

The Northern Parula warbler is unlikely to be confused with any other (and the white eye crescents aren't present in the otherwise similar Tropical Parula).

And, in February, the males are singing away at Corkscrew Swamp -- establishing their territories through song. What an admirable practice that surely merits emulation by us primates!

The parula is a small grey warbler with a reddish bib on on a yellow breast; their double white eye-crescents are distinctively prominent.

The song of the Northern Parula is a series of galloping musical clicks and tonally-ascending whistled buzzes; sung not too loudly, but once heard, the audible imprint of the melody is indelible.

While the Parula's are getting into the mood, another warbler, the Yellow-throated (see below) is getting ready to conclude its winter sojourn in SW Florida.

Yellow-thorated Warbler seen at Tigertail Beach

The distinctive black facial markings and lemon throat are field marks that both contribute in simplifying the task of identification of this species.

A fellow over-winterer, the Black-and-white Warbler was seen at Corkscrew.

Black-and-white Warbler seen at Corkscrew
Black-and-white Warbler

Like most warblers, the Black-and-white is a difficult species to photograph; however, compounding the challenge to its successful photographic capture, is its habit of creeping and slithering incessantly along trunks and branches.

Myrtle Warbler seen at Corkscrew

The Myrtle Warbler is abundant this time of year. It is found widely across SW Florida; even in suburban settings.

Myrtles are early migrants; generally arriving just after Pine Warblers at migrant traps such as Magee Marsh.

Blue-headed Vireo seen at Corkscrew Swamp
Shifting gears to vireos -- both white-eyed and blue-headed vireos are observed well at Corkscrew. Unlike the White-eyed which is a resident breeder, the Blue-headed will head North in April.

In contrast to the White-eyes of the White-eyed, the Blue-headed has bold white spectacles, a grey face and head, olive upperparts and a white underside.

Blue-headed Vireo seen at Corkscrew

Surely, the award for the loudest songster at the Swamp belongs to the Carolina Wren.

Carolina Wren, Corkscrew Swamp

This chestnut colored wren is about the same size as a domestic sparrow but its physical dimensions are dwarfed by its vocal prowess -- its "tea kettle, tea kettle" song resounds loudly in the Swamp.

The race found in Florida averages larger and redder than in other parts of the country.

Carolina Wren

The next bird is everyone's favorite bunting:

Painted Bunting seen at Corkscrew

The Painted Bunting is impossibly colorful -- a riot of blue, red and lime green.

The female Painted Bunting is a pale green -- a much more sensible color if you're trying to blend into the vegetation.

Indigo Bunting in molt

The other Bunting seen was the Indigo; unlike the Painted which prefers to keep low, the Indigo prefers a higher perch point.

Both buntings are seed-eaters; on the insectivore front, both Eastern Phoebe and Great Crested Flycatcher were observed:

Eastern Phoebe seen at Corkscrew
Great Crested Flycatcher seen at Tigertail

Red-shouldered Hawk is a resident nester at Corkscrew and February is breeding season.

Red-shouldered Hawk seen at Corkscrew

Red-shouldered hawk is found year round on both halves of the US -- the Western Red-shouldered Hawk has a bright orange head. The Florida race (above) has a very pale head.

At this time, the hawks were very vocal -- the (presumed) female (above) would perch and call loudly to the male to offer enticement.

Pileated Woodpecker

Among woodpeckers, both Pileated Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker were seen in the Swamp.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Finally, one of the most charming birds of SW Florida: the Burrowing Owl:

Florida Burrowing Owl seen on Marco Island.

Spring is every birder's favorite season and eagerly awaited for the rewards in avian observation it offers. And, while Spring's peak is still 2 months away, the signs of its advent ring in birdsong and the passage of birds.

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