SUMMER BIRDS

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Contrary to many's expectations of fantastic bird diversity in the tropics or near tropics, central Florida's bird species diversity actually takes a significant dive in the summer, once all the migrants have left.   There are still plenty of interesting birds and fascinating behaviors to be seen though.

The last of the migrants were the bobolinks (left), which were gone by mid-May.  The breeding passerines are interesting, but not particularly species rich. Blue grosbeaks (right) arrived about the time the bobolinks left, and a few have been singing and presumably nesting in the drier areas of the flow-way.

Its something of a mystery why breeding bird diversity is so low in Florida; it's sometimes explained (unsatisfactorily, in my view) by the "peninsular effect", which is simply an observation that peninsular landforms have lower species diversity than continental areas at the same latitude.   It doesn't explain why, though.  There seems to be an abundance of habitat at Emeralda  superficially suitable for many of the breeding birds common in old fields and disturbed habitats further north, but many species simply don't use it (many sparrow species, for example), and others that are present in Florida are scarce at Emeralda (indigo buntings, for example).

No shortage of breeding herons, and egrets, though.  The rookeries on the northwest corner of the flow-way are constantly bustling with activity from about late March on.  The composition of the breeding species seems to change fairly rapidly as early-nesting species get their young out and the later-nesting species are still feeding nestlings.  That's a cattle egret on the left, in high breeding plumage and color, carrying a stick for nest-building. The number of anhingas on and off the rookeries is sometimes stunning.  A female in breeding color, as indicated by the greenish skin around her eye, is below, and on the right is a small section of one of the anhinga rookeries.  Other common species at the rookeries include snowy egrets, tricolored herons, little blue herons, white and glossy ibis, and great blue herons.
           

Other wading birds are present in the marshes, but either don't nest in rookeries, or don't nest in the parts of the rookeries I can see from my census route.  Huge flocks of great egrets (left)   and snowy egrets are sometimes seen in frenzied feeding forays throughout the flow-way.  Other species are more solitary, and less conspicuous.  The least bittern (right) is an example.  These tiny little herons are fairly common in the marshes, but are very secretive, and I rarely see them in the open, and then, never for long.    Another heron that I began seeing in the last month or so is the yellow-crowned night heron (center); there have been 3 or 4 of these birds at the same spot along my census for the last 5 or 6 weeks, but they are fairly shy, and usually retreat before I can get a decent shot. 

      

Other species of the wetland habitats that are generally conspicuous throughout the summer are the purple gallinules and black-necked stilts (below).

The purple gallinules are still a bit too shy for my tastes - they rarely let me get any closer than about 50 meters or so, and if so, they are incredibly wary and sensitive to movement.  They usually flush as soon as I try to photograph them.  The stilts, on the other hand, are usually pretty tolerant of my presence.  One pair has been at the same spot nearly every week since they returned from their winter range; one week, they were joined by a second pair, and apparently were having some dispute about who belonged where.  The four birds stood in the middle of the road, yipped back and forth at each other, and occasionally two of the rivals would fly up a couple of feet off the ground towards each other and battle (kind of) in mid-air.  One pair eventually got the message and split.

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