WINTER RESIDENTS

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Although we're a long way from winter by anyone's definitions, the migrant birds that will winter in central Florida began arriving in October, and have pretty much replaced the transient migrant species by now.    The abundance of insectivorous birds that winter in Florida is a real treat, and Emeralda is packed with mixed species flocks of these species.

   Our winter resident tyrannid flycatcher is the eastern phoebe.  The last of the breeding flycatchers, the great cresteds, left in September.  A few Empidonax flycatchers are seen throughout the fall, but when the phoebes arrive in October, they soon are seen everywhere.  They forage from power lines, edges of hammock, and from isolated perches in the marshes and fields.    Phoebes have a distinctive chip note, and can sometimes be heard singing their phoe-be or phoe-blee songs in the fall.  Other small insectivores are mostly foliage gleaners, and can be found in virtually all habitats along the flow-way at one time or another.
          

House wrens have been particularly common throughout the fall, and their buzzy scolding and chattering calls are heard nearly constantly as I drive along through brushy, edge habitats.

         

Members of the family Mimidae, the mimic thrushes, include the gray catbird (above left) and the northern mockingbird (above right).  Catbirds are winter residents, and were extremely abundant for a couple of weeks in October.  Numbers have dropped a bit in the last week or two, but some birds will remain around the flow-way for the winter.  Northern mockingbirds are year-round residents here, but became more apparent along my census route during September and October.  I suspect they are setting up new winter territories, and moving into areas that were unsuitable for the breeding territories in the summer.

           
Blue-gray gnatcatchers have returned to their previous winter's status as one of the most common passerines along the wooded and brushy edges.  I love them because they are so responsive to screech owl tapes - they are often the first species to respond, and they are BOLD.  These tiny little birds often hover in front of my car window only 3-4 feet away from my face seeking the blasted owl that won't shut up.  Their tiny cousins, the ruby-crowned kinglets (below), are a bit shier, and much more active.  They never stay on one perch for more than 5 seconds. I have numerous shots of empty perches that I obtained by pressing the shutter a split-second after the kinglet departed.       
            

No group of birds has been more exciting to me, or more cooperative photographically this fall, than the warblers.  They're next.

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