Wishing for Migrants

Spring migrant season is nearly upon us, though the eBird and mailing-list reports are still dominated by winter residents here along the Space Coast. I hadn’t been to Lori Wilson Park in a while, so I put a quick plan together with Camille to have a look there and then Jetty Park (where I have not been until now).

I wish we’d see some cool birds!

Lori Wilson Park is a small hammock near the beach along A1A in Cocoa Beach. The access road to the park and the adjacent beach is called “I Dream of Jeannie Lane,” since that’s where astronaut Captain (later Major) Nelson finds Jeannie’s bottle and rescues her, becoming her master in the 1960s TV series.

The park provides a nice little break from the tourist trap restaurants and entertainment and the well-used beaches. We came across a group of birders watching a Black-and-white Warbler at the start of the boardwalk. Phyllis Mansfield leads a birding walk there a couple of times a month, so I think that was her group. Phyllis is also fairly prolific on eBird and the FLORIDABIRD-L and BRDBRAIN listservs.

The group was about to move on, so Camille and I (in true Lonely Birder style) stayed and watched the bird forage in the dense foliage while a couple of Fish Crows hung around the small drip-pool that’s set up to attract birds. The sun angle was still fairly low and the bird was in some dense vegetation, but sometimes odd lighting makes for some interesting photographs.

“Listen to the wind blow, watch the sun rise. Run in the shadows…”

We then slowly made our way around the boardwalk, but it was very quiet. I did catch a very quick glimpse of an Ovenbird and there were Gray Catbirds in greater numbers. We also saw some Northern Cardinals, but for the most part the park had little bird activity and was eerily quiet at times. Once or twice I caught what sounded like a snippet of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher song and some American Goldfinch call notes.

This Gray Catbird was slinging dead leaves around, looking for food. It’ll need to fuel up, as this species is usually heading north around this time.

We went from the park to the nearby beach, but it was already well populated by people sunbathing, swimming, fishing, and surfing. We saw a small flock or two of Laughing Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls, but little else. We heard later on that one group reported large numbers of Black Skimmers at the beach, but I presume that was well before we got there.

This Laughing Gull has it’s summer clothes on!

We drove from Lori Wilson Park to Jetty Park, in Cape Canaveral. Jetty Park is one of the best public viewing areas for rocket launches from the Cape. It was usually overwhelmed during Space Shuttle launches, and even today, with no rocket launches it was crowded, primarily with people fishing. The rocks along the jetty were full of Brown Pelicans, Royal Terns, Ruddy Turnstones, and Sanderlings. Across the inlet we saw some Double-crested Cormorants, a Great Blue Heron and some unidentified flocks of gulls.

Royal Tern doing a rather nifty Sir Patrick Stewart impression.
An adult Brown Pelican resting on the jetty.

With so many people fishing along the jetty, it’s perhaps no surprise that the birds don’t always have a positive experience with the people. One immature pelican had a fishing lure stuck on its side. It did not appear to be causing the bird any major issues. It could still fly and swim without any obvious hindrance, but without a way to remove the hook, what may happen in the coming days is worrisome. I hope the poor bird can safely dislodge the lure. I’m hopeful the incident that caused this was not intentional, but either way it can be sad to see the price exacted by our species on others.

“What the heck is this thing?”

Coming back from the jetty, there as a Northern Mockingbird loudly singing from a concrete post in the parking lot. Mockingbirds are ubiquitous in Florida (as they are in many places), a testament to their adaptability and tolerance for disturbance. While many, if not most, bird species have been negatively impacted by human activity, some birds are well adapted to take advantage of human landscapes.

“But I don’t want any of that — I’d rather — I’d rather…just…sing!”

There’s a small section of hammock vegetation near the park with a walkway through it. There, we heard and saw more Gray Catbirds and a Palm Warbler or two. We were surprised by a flash of yellow and a bobbing tail, which at first I thought was a yellow “Eastern” Palm Warbler. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a Prairie Warbler (a FOY for me, and a lifer for Camille). It didn’t stick around long, soon getting lost in the thick tangles of branches.

Prairie Warbler taking a quick pause to look for bugs before moving on.

We drove from Jetty Park to the Canaveral Locks to see what was happening there. Aside from a young Herring Gull and several dozen Double-crested Cormorants on the opposite side of the locks, not much was going on bird-wise. We watched the locks open to let some small boats through. That caused a sea turtle and a manatee to come to the surface briefly and then we decided to call it a day.

Lonely Herring Gull is lonely.

The species list for the day for all three locations:

  • Fish Crow
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Mourning Dove
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Gray Catbird
  • Ovenbird
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Palm Warbler
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Laughing Gull
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • American Goldfinch (♫)
  • Brown Pelican
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Sanderling
  • Royal Tern
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Prairie Warbler
  • Herring Gull
  • Snowy Egret
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Osprey

Despite the warm weather (it was well into the 80s) it seems that the winter birds are still hanging on and we’ve not quite seen any large numbers of migrants. I’ve seen some NEXRAD (weather radar) images showing that mass movements of birds are starting, so it’s only a matter of time.

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