Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Palm Warbler Subspecies

Mullet Lake Park
Palm Warbler
Central Winds Park
In Florida, we have the pleasure of being inundated by Palm Warblers throughout the Winter and Spring. You can almost always count on seeing them bobbing their tails and distracting you from your quest to find rarer wintering birds. What I find most interesting about is species is that there are two distinct populations of Palm Warblers: a "western" subspecies and an "eastern" (or "yellow") subspecies. While there appears to be a good deal of variety, eastern birds are much more yellow. I find it easiest to identify them by looking at their supercilium, or eyebrow; eastern birds have a yellow eyebrow.  Western birds, though, are rather drab in their coloring.

Marl Bed Flats
"Eastern" Palm Warbler
Marl Bed Flats
Canal St.
"Western"  Palm Warbler
Oviedo, FL
Western Palm Warblers are much more common than Eastern Palm warblers in Central Florida; I haven't done a scientific study of them, but I would guess from my eBird checklists that western birds outnumber eastern by at least 50:1.  When I do find the western subspecies, though, they are usually in drier, grassier habitats, rather than marshes and other wetlands.

Lake Apopka
"Eastern" Palm Warbler
Lake Apopka
Paynes Prairie La Chua Trail
"Western" Palm Warbler
Paynes Prairie, La Chua Trail
Since Florida is on the East Coast (and I live in one of the more eastern counties of Florida), you might wonder why we get so many "western" birds and so few "eastern" birds.  Well, it turns out that the subspecies are named after their breeding ranges, rather than their wintering ranges.  Western birds breed north of the Great Lakes (from Ontario west), while eastern birds breed north of New England. But western birds migrate southeast toward Florida for the winter, and eastern birds migrate southwest toward Louisiana and eastern Texas.  You can actually see a map of their migration paths here.

Marl Bed Flats
"Eastern" Palm Warbler
Marl Bed Flats
Mullet Lake Park
"Western" Palm Warbler
Mullet Lake Park
So for me, this adds a little bit of interest to birding for warblers in Florida's winter.  A little extra yellow goes a long way.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Birds of the Gulf Coast

This past November, my husband and I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with family down in Longboat Key, Florida. Below are several of the lovely birds seen while visiting a few birding hotspots in the area.

A beautiful Roseate Spoonbill flaps its impressive pink wings

Foraging at the shoreline ~ American Oystercatchers

Seeking food in the calm Sarasota Bay waters ~ Great Egret

Stepping gingerly amid the reeds ~ Little Blue Heron

An Anhinga soaks in the sunshine

A Yellow-crowned Night-Heron delights in its crunchy crab catch

A female Osprey seeks a perch to feast on her large fish entree

Exploring the lush vegetation ~ Limpkins

A lone White Pelican soars aloft

Wading in the shallows ~ Tricolored Heron

A Great Blue Heron shows off its handsome profile

Searching for insects in the palm fronds ~ Yellow-throated Warbler

A Northern Harrier swoops through Celery Fields

Below I have listed some of my favorite birding destinations on the West Coast of Florida

~ Myakka River State Park -

~ Oscar Scherer State Park -

Posted by Julie Gidwitz 
Nature's Splendor Blog ~ 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2015 Backyard Big Year--Week 1 Report

One week into the Backyard Big Year, I've seen some great birds, including 4 new birds for my overall yard list--Great Black-backed Gull, Gadwall, Common Merganser, American Black Duck.  On January 1, I saw 36 species.  The next day, I saw four additional species for the year.  Since then I've hit a wall, and haven't come up with any new species.  But I'm digiscoping and taking pictures with a goal of getting shots of 150 species in the yard this year--so far up to 25 species.  So life is good.  I won't post weekly here, but I will post monthly updates and perhaps other highlights.  Meanwhile you can check out the daily action on the Backyard Big Year blog or on Facebook.

Good yard birding!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The little birds of winter in south Florida

Winter has arrived in south Florida. The sun will continue to rise after 7:00 AM for a few more days, making it easy for us to beat the sun as we look for deer and Bobcats in the wetlands next to our south Florida home. 

Clear and cool weather promised to persist until Christmas. Sunrise on a cloudless sky is less than spectacular. This view from our back patio, on December 19, showed a bank of low clouds over the ocean, reminding me of the mountains we could see from our front windows when we lived in New Mexico.

Sunrise HDR COREL 20141219

The waning crescent moon can be seen in the upper right corner of the above photo. In winter it is lit from the bottom, pointing up, a "wet moon" that traps the rain in its cup, heralding the dry season.

Crescent wet moon 20141219

In a recent post I lamented the lack of little birds, the "dicky-birds" the few species present when the days are long, warm and wet. I define "winter" as that period between fall and spring migration, loosely from October through February. During winter we can see more of the little tykes, sparrow-sized or smaller.

Although Florida's big birds are relatively easy to find and photograph, I enjoy the challenge of capturing these evasive creatures. Some northern sparrows have now arrived, including this Savannah Sparrow, first seen on November 4:

Savannah Sparrow 3-20141104

Savannah Sparrow 2-20141104

When just learning to use my first DSLR camera (the first Canon EOS Digital Rebel) I took my favorite photo of a local Savannah Sparrow back on October 31, 2008: 

Savannah Sparrow 2008_10_31

About a week later after the first Savannah Sparrow, I caught this quick glimpse of a Swamp Sparrow through the brush, on November 13:

Swamp Sparrow 2-20141113

After a few near misses, this one came out into the open on December 19:

Swamp Sparrow 20141219

I hope to find other winter sparrows that have appeared rather irregularly over the years, Among them, the Grasshopper Sparrow, photographed here on February 1, 2011. Loss of grassland habitat in our patch makes this species less likely to appear locally in the future:

Grasshopper Sparrow 2-20110201

A Lincoln's Sparrow showed up only once, on October 16, 2013:

Lincoln's Sparrow 20131016

I sighted my first local White-crowned Sparrow on October 18, 2012:

White-crowned_Sparrow Zonotrichia_leucophrys 3-20121018

At least two White-crowned Sparrows were present the next year in the same tree, first on October 23,... 

White-crowned Sparrow 4-20131023

...and again on October 26, 2013:

White-crowned Sparrow 20131026

Two visiting species of bunting qualify as "dicky-birds, less than 6 inches long. The Indigo Bunting is seen irregularly all winter. The males show very little of their summer blue plumage (November 7, 2014):

Indigo Bunting 7-20141107

While male Painted Buntings retain their colorful plumage all year around, we see mostly green immature and female birds (this one also on November 7):

Painted Bunting female 20141107

Other non-breeding migratory "dicky-birds" (sparrow-size or smaller) that stay here all winter and are relatively common include the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (November 11, 2014).

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 20141111 

Tiny House Wrens breed widely over the northern part of the US and are fairly abundant all winter long (November 7, 2014):

House Wren 20141107

A few warblers are seen only during the winter-- the Palm Warbler (December 10, 2014),...

Palm Warbler 20141210
...and Yellow-rumped Warbler, giving me an inquiring look,...

Yellow-rumped Warbler 2-20141130

...and suspended in mid-air on November 30, 2014:

Yellow-rumped Warbler 6-20141130

Although I have not photographed one this winter, Black-and White Warblers are fairly reliably present (October 17, 2013):

Black-and-white Warbler 2-20131017

Their plumage is striking and they are amusing acrobats:

Black-and-white Warbler 6-20131017
Orange-crowned Warblers, though reclusive and hard to find, are also here all winter (November 20, 2014):

Orange-crowned Warbler 2-20141130

Many other warbler species spend the winter nearer the coast and in richer habitats than our wounded and deteriorating local wetlands, but so far I have not found them locally except during migration.