Monday, October 19, 2009

to the Gulf Coast and back




Here's a bit of news from last week. I attended an avian radar class in northwestern Florida, and it was excellent. The time I had for birding while in FL was however somewhat limited. Since it gets light so late in the day now, and dark so early, and the class lasted all day, I did not have a lot of time for doing much other than focusing on the class. I did see some birds, though, since I was camping in St Andrews State Park. There were lots of people camping there including many families with children (I kept wondering why those kids were not in school?), so the best time to be out looking was right at dawn. I saw numerous terns (Caspian, Royal, and Sandwich Terns) and Brown Pelicans, but surprisingly few shorebirds on the beach there. A freshwater wetland in the park held Great Blue and Little Blue Herons, Snowy Egret, Cattle Egret, and Great Egret - along with alligators. Nearby I saw a few Loggerhead Shrikes, which are very rare here in WI and all other north-central states now. One only finds them reliably in the south and west nowadays. Mockingbirds were ubiquitous.

I had to get to class soon after that, so time for birding was very brief each day. Since I had driven to FL instead of flying, I did see a few birds en route - while making short stops in waysides and roadside parks. I had hoped to do more looking while en route home, but it rained intermittently almost all the way from Montgomery AL to n IL. Southern Alabama was most productive - again in waysides and some parks right along the highway. A Wood Stork was the highlight, there - in the flooded bald-cypress woods of Frank Jackson State Park.

I went out one evening with 5 other people to try for a look at the federally-endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker in the longleaf pine forest in that region of FL (which is a plant community almost as rare itself as the bird is, although there is restoration going on in some areas), but we were unsuccessful, except one person did have a quick glimpse of one bird. We waited until dark, but regrettably, I did not see it.

Very early one morning I went with 2 other people southeastward along the coast for a while. We did see some birds, but passerines were very sparse and hard to find - I think we were between waves of migration. I also heard some nocturnal migrants at night, but in nowhere near the density I have experienced during the last month in WI. We did manage to see some butterfly migration that morning, however, which we had been directed to look for - the very beautiful Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae ) was quite numerous there, along with Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) and a variety of others which I am still identifying as I search through references.

One of my favorite southern trees - Sweetgum - (Liquidambar styraciflua) is very lovely in autumn color. I saw many colorful ones in southern IL along roadsides, even through the rain. Fall color was evident as far south as central Tennessee.

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