This past Sunday was my first birding-specific outing of the year, and I decided to check in on my old favorite haunt, Turkey Creek Sanctuary. The weather has been pretty mild, so I was hopeful for some good bird activity.
The past couple of years have really been a let-down for the Sanctuary. Birds seem to be utilizing the park less and less, and good activity is much more sporadic. I’ve seen a couple of reports via the BRDBRAIN and FLORIDABIRDS-L e-mail lists of some decent sightings there, but my morning was more typical of my other outings there.
One major change in the Sanctuary from two or three years ago is the relative dearth of Northern Cardinals. Regular and long-time readers will note my somewhat antagonistic love-hate relationship with these birds. They are beautiful to see and hear, but they had nearly overrun the Sanctuary. It had gotten to the point that their calls and songs were drowning out those of other birds I was trying to find and observe. Oh, how I wish for the good ol’ days! I saw a total of 2 and heard perhaps half a dozen cardinals for the entire morning.
What were plentiful were the American Robins and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Right upon entering the park and nearing the boardwalk, the first of what would be at least half a dozen overflights of a 10 or 15 American Robins flew overhead. American Robins are migratory; birds from the southern USA make their way to Florida and Mexico for the winter, while birds from further north move into the southern USA. The end result is a north-south shift of the the robins’ range, out of Canada, with a large section of the country having robins all year, though probably not the same robins. I never saw any robins in the park, just flying high over my head, en route to whatever winter roost they will use until they leave in the Spring.
I caught up to a small flock of gnatcatchers on the boardwalk and enjoyed watching them hop and flit about the tree-tops, singing out their wheezy little calls. I was also watching the group closely because often other small birds will associate with the gnatcatchers. Sure enough, a small group of Blue-headed Vireos was there in the same tree. Both the gnatcatchers and the vireos are quite active, but I managed to snap some photographs, clearly showing the Blue-headed Vireos’ diagnostic fieldmarks: white spectacles on a gray head, with yellow flanks and an olive-greenish tail.
A breeze picked up by mid-morning, sending leaves and other debris swirling around the more open areas. By this time of year at the Turkey Creek Sanctuary the deciduous trees have dropped most of their leaves and the canopy is much more open, which makes observing any overflying birds (like the American Robins) easier. On this day I noted White Ibises, Black and Turkey vultures, a Double-crested Cormorant, and even a high-soaring Anhinga. A pair of Ospreys also went by, calling to each other as the wind swiftly carried them out of sight.
Some typical winter residents were also present, though in very low densities. I saw a single Yellow-throated Warbler, one Downy Woodpecker and two Ruby Crowned Kinglets. My very first visit to this park in 2002 coincided with a mass visitation of kinglets. There were literally hundreds of them throughout the park, hopping on the boardwalk railings and filling the adjacent trees with chittering notes.
I took the opportunity this trip to walk the Scrub Trail. I tend to neglect this trail, mainly due to low bird activity, but it’s a nice loop off the trail leading to the jogging and exercise paths.
As I returned back along the western and northern edge of the park toward to exit, I caught the song of a Yellow-throated Vireo over the fence-line. It sound like it came closer a few times, but I never did catch sight of it. I hung around for a while (getting a fire-ant bite on my finger for my troubles) before moving along and out.
Species seen by approximate order of identification:
- Black Vulture
- Ring-billed Gull
- Rock Pigeon
- White Ibis
- American Robin
- Northern Cardinal
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Blue-headed Vireo
- Carolina Wren (♫)
- Fish Crow
- Turkey Vulture
- Yellow-throated Warbler
- Downy Woodpecker
- Gray Catbird
- Ruby-crowned Kinglet
- Palm Warbler
- Blue Jay (♫)
- Double-crested Cormorant
- Yellow-throated Vireo
- Red-bellied Woodpecker (♫)
Happy New Year everyone, and here’s to another great year of birding!