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Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Migration Crossroads in Southwest Florida Starring Summer Tanager, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Kentucky Warbler

[Sanibel Lighthouse and Corkscrew Swamp, Sanibel, FL. April 2014]

Around the first week of April, migration momentum is starting to build in Southwest Florida. And, Sanibel Island is a great landing point (or launch pad) for arriving migrants (or departing ones). In late April, the South-bound migrants such as Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Western Kingbird will have left; so early April is the better time to observe both arriving and departing species at this crossroads of migration that is the Sanibel Lighthouse. The other migration hotspot included here is Corkscrew Swamp which sometimes offers a different mix of species than the lighthouse.

The full list of observed species is as follows:

Tanagers, Grosbeaks and Buntings:
  • Summer Tanager
  • Indigo Bunting
  • Blue Grosbeak
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeak 
  • Palm Warbler
  • Hooded Warbler
  • Kentucky Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler 
  • Tennessee Warbler
  • Northern Parula
  • Northern Waterthrush
  • Black-and-white Warbler
 Tyrant Flycatchers:
  • Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  • Western Kingbird
  • Eastern Kingbird
  • Grey Kingbird
  • Great Crested Flycatcher
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Blue-headed Vireo 
  • Swallow-tailed Kite
We start with the Summer Tanager:

Summer Tanager observed at the "Picnic Area" of the Lighthouse

Summer Tanager is hailed as our only "completely red" bird -- it is redder than a Northern Cardinal with none of its black markings. Speaking of cardinals, the Summer Tanager has been reclassified from the Tanager family to the Cardinals. Seen above gorging on fruit, Summer Tanagers are also insect eaters (especially bees).

Indigo Bunting seen at Sanibel Lighthouse

Another member of the Cardinal family, Indigo Bunting is a small, brilliant blue, seed-eating bird (eating insects in the summer). They are night migrants and navigate by the stars.

Blue Grosbeak seen at the Sanibel Lighthouse

Larger and a darker blue than the Indigo, the Blue Grosbeak, with distinctive chestnut wingbars, is an unmistakable bird of shrub habitat. It is expanding its range Northward as forests are cleared; they can be seen as far North as Ohio.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak seen at Corkscrew Swamp

The spectacular Rose-breasted Grosbeak ranges farther North than the Blue and prefers woodland habitat; it is classified as "Least Concern" and is renowned for the sweetness of its song.

Now the warblers:

Hooded Warbler

The Hooded Warbler has a preference for the understory; and, sure enough, this individual was found foraging amidst the shrub. This Eastern warbler is always a crowd pleaser given its distinctive looks.

Kentucky Warbler seen at Sanibel Lighthouse

The Kentucky Warbler ranges in the Southeastern US; famed for its skulking habits, it is largely terrestrial in its habits. Any sighting of this warbler comes at a high cost to the birder -- exacting frustration and patience as it hides and feeds in dense thickets offering rare and obscured glimpses.

On the other hand, both the Tennessee and Cape May Warblers are generally easily seen in foliage gleaning for insects. Both species are breeders in the boreal forests of Canada.

Cape May Warbler seen at Sanibel Lighthouse

One of the pleasures (and, more importantly, advantages) of birding in a group (that inevitably and spontaneously forms at well known migration hotspots), is that not only are more species sighted but also delightful birding lore can be exchanged with fellow birders.

And, the Lighthouse venue was no exception -- the Kentucky Warbler was spotted by Vince McGrath, the Tennessee Warbler by Don and Lillian Stokes (among others), and the Cape May Warbler by Tom Obrock while developments in the local birding community were shared by Gayle Sheets of the Lee County Bird Patrol.

Tennessee Warbler seen at Sanibel Lighthouse

There are 4 warblers named after US States (Kentucky, Connecticut, and Tennessee Warblers plus Louisiana Waterthrush). Two of these 4 "State Warblers" were sighted at the Lighthouse.

Palm Warbler seen at Corkscrew Swamp

Moving to Corkscrew Swamp, a spectacular Palm Warbler in breeding plumage was joined by a mostly invisible Northern Waterthrush -- betraying its presence through loud chips that even to the initiated sound very similar to those of the Northern Cardinal.

Northern Waterthrush at Corkscrew Swamp

The other warbler at Corkscrew is the tiny Northern Parula; although it is likely not migrating -- indeed, at this time the males are on territory.

Northern Parula seen at Corkscrew Swamp

Black and White Warblers numbers are thinning out at the Swamp as they start their Northbound migration.

Black and White seen at Corkscrew Swamp

Besides warblers, Tyrant Flycatchers were another migration attraction with the highlight being the always stunning Scissor-tailed Flycatcher:

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher seen at Sanibel Lighthouse

This distinctive flycatcher is headed to Texas over the Gulf as is it's migration partner, the  Western Kingbird:

Both were joined by several Eastern Kingbirds:

Eastern Kingbird seen at the Lighthouse

While the Eastern Kingbirds will be headed further North, the next tyrant flycatcher has just arrived from the Caribbean and will stay in Florida for the summer: the Grey Kingbird:

Grey Kingbird seen at the Lighthouse

Finally a resident species: the Great Crested Flycatcher:

We end with Vireos -- Yellow-throated, Red-eyed and Blue-headed:

Yellow-throated Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo seen the Lighthouse

Blue-headed Vireo seen at Corkscrew Swamp

Raptors migrate too -- and nothing defines Florida Birding better than its mascot -- the Swallow-tailed Kite:

A couple of bonus birds to end the post -- migrating Orchard Oriole:

Orchard Oriole seen at the Lighthouse

.. and a resident Pileated Woodpecker:

The spectacle of migration never ceases to amaze; and, Southwest Florida is a great venue to experience nature's magic of movement.

1 comment:

Bob Pelkey said...

Very sorry to have missed you (and your birds), Hemant. Tough to pic a favorite image, though I particularly like the STFL with outstretched wings. I became a big fan of Hooded Warbler at Fort De Soto Park. The species was very social.