You’ll Never Walk Alone

I was a not-so-lonely birder today (Sunday) at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. After walking part of the boardwalk then McKinnon’s Way en route to the weir and canal, I first briefly bumped into Roy Book, and then Shirley Hills. Roy was on his way opposite myself and Shirley, so we waved “good luck” to Roy, and then Shirley and I headed back toward the boardwalk together.

Shirley has so much knowledge about the sanctuary and a keen eye for bird movement that birding with her is always exciting and fascinating. We hooked up with Juanita Baker, who runs the Florida Bird Photo-of-the-Month at Pelican Island Audubon. The three of us stuck together and did a few laps and back-and-forths along the side of the park near McKinnon’s Way. Although Shirley said it was much quieter compared to the previous few days, we did pretty well in terms of variety, if not numbers, of migrants.

Prior to running into my companions for the morning, I did have some luck along McKinnon’s Way. I had a very clear look at a Red-eyed Vireo, a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and an extensive hide-and-seek game with a mystery warbler.

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Fall warblers can indeed be quite confusing. This little girl had me preplexed all day.

I speculated with Shirley that maybe this was either a Tennessee Warbler or an Orange-crowned Warbler. Shirley doubted the latter, due to timing, but as she has seen some Tennessee Warblers at her house, she thought that was a possibility. Keen-eyed readers will see, from the photographic evidence that it was a female Black-throated Blue Warbler. I was finally able to satisfy myself as to the ID of this bird thanks in part to The Warbler Guide, which provides a variety of diagnostic, partial views of all the warbler species. There was a decent sprinkling of Black-throated Blues in the sanctuary, and it was still a nice observing session, but I haven’t seen a Tennessee or an Orange-crowned yet this year.

The big hits for me were my very first (finally) Prothonotary Warbler, a small flock of Blackburnian Warblers, and the sanctuary’s first Blackpoll Warbler of the autumn.

Juanita asked me some questions about my bird photographs and my blog. She asked if my photographs were “documentary” or “nature photographs” (by which I think she meant what I call “glamor shots”). I told her that I consider them “geographic” photographs, in that they tend to show the bird in its place and habitat. The few clear photographs I took this morning are proof of that, as you can see. If you are interested in some great glamor shots, I highly recommend seeing my friend Corey Finger’s photographs over at 10,000 Birds [].

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This Prothonotary Warbler was shy at first, but saved its best views for my binoculars.

Black-and-white Warblers are back now, and they allowed us to get quite near to them. Most of the birds at Turkey Creek of late have been quite skittish, probably due to low numbers, but as the Black-and-whites are winter residents, perhaps they feel more comfortable.

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Greetings, my monochromatic friend. So we meet again.

Along the jogging path, we were able to get quite close to this Downy Woodpecker as he foraged for insects on this sapling. At first, he tried to sidle around the backside of the little tree to hide from us, but as this was clearly futile, he gave up and just went back to feeding.

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Bug flavor must really be worth the taste of tree bark!

The creek level was still quite high, but receding. There were manatees along a good section of the creek, but few turtles in evidence. I also caught a very brief glimpse of what may have been a Short-tailed Hawk (dark morph), but it ducked into the canopy amidst a flurry of Blue Jay and Northern Cardinal calls.

On our way out, as we watched a small grouping of American Redstarts (they continue to be relatively numerous in the sanctuary), we saw this Yellow-throated Warbler skulking in and around some palm fronds.

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This warbler actually followed us along the boardwalk for a bit.

Birding with Shirley and Juanita was a lot of fun, and I think we did well, considering the state of the migration through Turkey Creek in recent years. The verifiable list for the morning follows:

  • Fish Crow
  • White Ibis
  • Blackpoll Warbler
  • Carolina Wren
  • American Redstart
  • Northern Parula
  • Red-eyed Vireo
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  • Blue Jay
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Snowy Egret
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Green Heron
  • Great Blue Heron
  • American Coot
  • Black-throated Blue Warbler
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • Blackburnian Warbler
  • Prothonotary Warbler (*)
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Black-and-white Warbler
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Pileated Woodpecker (♫)
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (♫)

As you can see from today’s photographs, not too much in the way of glamor shots, but by working with my camera’s limitations and capabilities, I think I capture the moments pretty well.

I had a fascinating walk and talk with Shirley Hills today at Turkey Creek Sanctuary. As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog entry, Shirley has been birding at Turkey Creek (along with her late husband, Bill) for over 20 years, and she is a great local source for birding information. We lamented the horrendously slow Fall migration this year, but were both on the lookout for winter residents. Unfortunately, they seemed as scarce as the migrants had.

When I first entered the park, I tried to get a sound recording (using my camera’s HD video capability) of the quiet, gurgling of the Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher song. There’s a bit of background hiss, despite my best attempts to remove it.

Just before Shirley and I got together, I managed to get this photo of a slightly lethargic female Indigo Bunting.

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Cute brown ball of puff.

Other than that, the two of us managed to scare up several unidentifiable warbler species throughout the morning. They were just too far away or too quick for us. Eventually we did come across a single Ovenbird, and spent a bit of time at McKinnon’s Way trying to pin down the ID of a bird that looked suspiciouls like a Black-and-white Warbler.

At one point we did breifly see a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the first of the season for both of us. We also flushed out small raptor (perhaps a Cooper’s Hawk, but I didn’t get a good enough look).

We had the most luck behind the weir, where apparently she’d never really birded at before! There, we saw a Spotted Sandpiper, a couple of Green Herons, a small group of Cattle Egrets, a Little Blue Heron, an American Kestrel, and a Common Gallinule.

It was very interesting to hear her views on invasive species and how they are taking over the hammocks in the Sanctuary.

She seems especially worried about the Silver Plume Grass that is growing in from the western side of the park. It is nearly impossible to eradicate, and it is not used by native wildlife very much.

She also told me how in past years, she, her husband and one of the Rangers/caretakers of the Sanctuary eliminated massive amouns of the invasive Brazilian Pepper Trees from one area. That areas is beautiful, pepper tree free, and normally conducive to good birding. This year, just like everything else in the Sanctuary, it was just a big flop.

We parted ways after seeing only some Grey Catbirds, Blue-grey Gnatcatchers, some Fish Crows, Mourning Doves, some vultures and Blue Jays. Shirley has some well-thought out and deliberate opinions on environmental and economic issues, and I was actually glad this morning not to be a very lonely birder.

It’s quiet… too quiet…

I’ve always wanted to say that, just not while birding, and especially during the fall migration! Turkey Creek Sanctuary was a bust today, in those terms. Oh, there were birds, but the anticipated migration season has been very poor so far. 

I bumped into Shirley Hills, who has been birding at Turkey Creek for 20 years, and she said that hands down, today was the worst day during October she remembers. The story is the same all over the Space Coast. Either the birds are finding other stop-overs, or something drastic is going on. Maybe the birds are delayed, maybe their numbers are way down, it is hard to know.

Here’s my list for today. No pics for this post this time, folks. Sorry.

  • Yellow-throated Warbler (a winter resident here, not a migrant)
  • Ovenbird
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Catbird (this one has been absent for me for a while)
  • Carolina Wren
  • Downy Woodpecker

Shirley said that typically this time of year there are at least a dozen or more warbler species moving through the Sanctuary. I can’t vouch for that personally, but my warbler ID had never been very good.

I’d like to be able to sneak off work this week to see if I catch anything, but that’s likely not realistic, so we’ll see what happens next time I get out.