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The first migrant to appear at Emeralda was a belted kingfisher, sometime in early August. Probably not a true migrant, since they likely breed not too far from here; however, they weren't present on the flow-way earlier in the summer. These birds are one of my photographic nemeses, never allowing a very close approach. This is my best effort so far. The greatest diversity of migrants, though, is found among the insectivorous passerines that tend to be found along the edges of hammock (right) and shrubby, densely vegetated habitats with more foliage and structure in which they can forage.
Based on the density and diversity of mixed species flocks of dicky birds I had seen last winter, I expected major changes in the avifauna sometime in the fall, but it exceeded my expectations.
Of course, for everything you win there's something lost (I think Dan Seals said that in "Everything that glitters"....), and birds are no exception. Great crested flycatchers (left), which were so obvious and vocal throughout the summer, disappeared by the middle of September. But in addition to the influx of migrants, birding became a lot more fun as even the resident species, such as the cardinal above, became more conspicuous and responsive to screech owl tapes. Birds that a month earlier wouldn't give me the time of day were now trying to climb in the car with me.
One of my most pleasant surprises was the abundance of yellow warblers, which arrived by late August, and are still present (early October) in small numbers, though I suspect they will soon disappear for good. Flocks of up to ten or so of these brilliant little birds were sometimes lured in by the owl vocalizations. Like most mobbing birds, though, the little buggers do not sit still long. The bird on the left is a female, which are quite colorful, but not as striking as the males. The male on the right is not nearly as colorful as some, whose red streaks against a sun yellow breast can be stunning in direct, early morning light.
Other migrants seen on several occasions include the lovely prothonotaries (left), and both northern and Louisiana waterthrushes (the bird on the right is Louisiana). I've seen a number of other species, including black-and-whites, ovenbirds, redstarts, prairies, and palm warblers. It should go without saying that photographing every species I see is an impossible (while at the same time a highly desirable) goal, so I have yet to trip the shutter on a number of these species at Emeralda. Below are a couple of species I have been (somewhat) successful with - the bird on the top is an immature or female American redstart, the bird below left is a female prairie warbler, and the beast below right is just a dragonfly that I had nowhere else to place. With the colorful thorax and bright white stigmas on the wing, Sid Dunkle's great book, Dragonflies of the Florida Peninsula, Bermuda and the Bahamas, identified this for me as Brachymesia gravida, the four-spotted pennant.
If you've been kind enough to read through all of this long-winded verbosity thus far (thanks for the effort!), you may recall the startling exodus of the blue-gray gnatcatchers (below left) in March. They returned in September, with almost the same ferocity, such that they are once again one of the most frequent and brazen of the little birds at mobbing flocks. Much less bold, are the white-eyed vireos (below, upper right), which though frequently present as vocal members of mobbing flocks, generally prefer to stay hidden. Below (lower right) is another female yellow warbler, in a typical position - the dappled light of a a senescing Sesbaenia plant, and highly reluctant to pose on a clear, exposed perch for me.
|Another of my favorite warblers, the yellow-throated warbler, started appearing in mobbing flocks in September as well. Though these birds do breed in central Florida, I think these are migrants that are passing through or who will winter on the flow-way. Their song is quite distinctive, and I never heard them during the breeding season. They are a tree-top species, who usually approach mobbing flocks from above. It's very gratifying to see them at eye level on infrequent occasions.|
I'll end this installment with another one of the many little surprises that have made this work so enjoyable. Common yellowthroats. They are permanent residents, abundant as breeders in marshy and moist brushy edge habitats, but they seemed to completely disappear by early summer. Initially I was quite sure that this was entirely due to behavior, and the onset and cessation of singing by males. Further observation and reflection, though, has convinced me that the yellowthroats' return to one of the most commonly heard, seen, and attracted birds in the fall was mostly due to a huge influx of northern migrants. Whether resident breeders or migrant northerners, it really doesn't matter, as they are charming little warblers that can at times be quite bold and fearless.
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