2018 Spring FOS Meeting: Day 1 at Tall Timbers

May 3, 2018

Last weekend was the Spring meeting of the Florida Ornithological Society. The was our first “light” meeting; previously, we had two large meetings per year, each with scientific paper presentations, keynote speakers – the works. Starting this year, we decided to have one large meeting in the Fall and a smaller Board and buisiness oriented meeting in the Spring. We met at Tall Timbers research station, just north of Tallahassee [map].

Tall Timbers is a center for the study of fire ecology – essential to the health of many southeast US ecosystems, including pine flatwoods and scrub communities – and forestry. With several plots or tracts under management, Tall Timbers is a key resource for conservation and environmentally sound land use practices.

tall-timbers1
Some of the plots at Tall Timbers are burned annually. The result is a healthy, evenly spaced pine forest with an understory of wiregrass and other ground cover. Whether due to this or the comparatively northern latitude, there are almost no palmettos or other palms. The real Florida.

The lodge grounds, where the meeting was held, has a good diversity of bird life, including Purple Martin families, many singing Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks in the adjacent forests, House Finches and Brown Thrashers that hunt on the broad, open lawn between buildings. I’ve never seen thrashers so exposed. Dave Goodwin jokes and calls them “Lawn Thrashers”.

tall-timber.jpg
Tall Timber.

The woods were full of birdsong, with numerous Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Eastern Wood-pewees, Brown-headed Nuthatches, Pine Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Bachman’s Sparrows, and more.

bachmans-sparrow
I’m thankful to have developed a good ability to bird by ear, as sometimes this is the best look you get at a bird. This male Bachman’s Sparrow was singing, so I knew where to look for him, and together with what field marks I could see, I was able to identify him.

I was surprised by two things on this trip. One, there were no almost no migrant species on this trip. Late April is near the tail-end of migration, but I expected at least some warblers to be making their way through the forest. I don’t know if it was a combination of the lateness of the season and the weather, or if these woodlands don’t support the kinds of food migrants would be looking for, but almost all the birds we saw on both days were residents.

blurry-pewee
Taking photos from a moving trailer is always challenging, but here’s a nice look at one of many Eastern Wood-pewees we encountered over the weekend.

The other surprise was the paucity of raptors. We saw no falcons or accipiters, and only a few glimpses of any buteos (one Red-shouldered Hawk that I did not see, and a Red-tailed Hawk that made a brief appearance). We also had a distant look at a lone Mississippi Kite.

red-tailed-hawk
Red-tailed Hawks prefer to hunt in open country, so it wasn’t surprising to see only one.

The highlight of the field trip was watching Jim Cox band some Brown-headed Nuthatch chicks. Bird banding helps scientists keep track of population trends and the health of individual birds and has a long history in ornithology.

baby-nuthatches
Bundles of fluffy cuteness, these Brown-headed Nuthatch chicks are about to do their part for science!

The day wound down with some good looks at White-breasted Nuthatches – a Florida first bird for me – and a few Carolina Chickadees in the mix. Then it was time to head back to the lodge for our dinner and to get rest for the morning field trip to an old growth forest just over the Florida-Georgia line.

Here are the eBird lists for Tall Timbers Research Station.

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45034722
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S45043114

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