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Thursday, November 17, 2016

November is for Pelandgic Birding!

November is the peak month for “Pelandgic” birding on the east coast of Florida.  What’s “Pelandgic” birding you say?  “Pelandgic” birding is a term coined by a friend of mine, Charlie Ewell.  If you are looking for pelagic (ocean going) birds from the comfort of land, you are pelandgic birding, my kind of sea birding!  

Wind and weather are important to your success.  Northeast wind is the key, particularly when there is a high pressure system sitting off the North Carolina coast.  Winds rotating clockwise around the system create a conveyor belt for migrants coming out of the tundra of Canada, and pelagic birds heading to the southern hemisphere for the upcoming Austral Summer.  When the winds swing around to the east coast of Florida, the birds pile up as they move along the coast before slipping around Cape Canaveral.   

What can you expect to see?  Northern Gannets are one of the stars of the show. They often stream by from their cliff side nesting locations in the north Atlantic to wintering “grounds” off the coast of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.  Waterfowl of nearly any kind will pass by in mixed species flocks, the likes of which you will never see on the water.  One of my most interesting memories of pelandgic birding was seeing a tiny little Green-winged Teal leading a flock of pot-bellied Black Scoters southward.  Shearwaters sometimes come close enough to be identified; Cory’s is the most common, but Audubon’s or Great are also sometimes seen.  Perhaps the most unique phenomenon we are blessed to see is the hundreds or thousands of jeagers, mainly Pomarine, passing by every year.  Identifying jeagers as they pass by, sometimes up to a mile offshore, can be a challenge. Studying up ahead is a good idea.  The Seawatching Guide by Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox is the best guide out there.  It is very comprehensive, but don’t let that scare you. It might take a couple reads and some follow up in the field to cement the ideas, but it is worth it. Another  way to learn your pelagic birds is to hire a professional bird guide, such as David Simpson. 

Although my favorite place for pelandgic birding is the Eddy Creek crossover at Playalinda Beach in Titusville, don’t feel as if you need to travel that far, you can pelandgic bird anywhere on the coast.  Even if conditions are not ideal, there is usually something moving at this time of year.  You might even see me out there trying for some county ticks!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October in Florida

October is a busy month for wildlife and wildlife enthusiasts.  Cold fronts sweep across the country, each bringing another wave of migrating birds.  Fall migrant songbirds, their winter homes in the tropics, peak early in the month.  With this peak comes the first of familiar winter visitors like House Wrens, Eastern Phoebes, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  With each successive front we see more winter visitors and less fall travelers until the symbolic end of fall migration, the arrival of the dreaded Yellow-rumped Warblers, occurs near the end of the month.

Peregrine Falcons traveling from points all over Canada and the U.S. can be seen along our beaches or wherever small to medium-sized birds, their favorite food, gather in numbers.  The Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammocks State Park is the best place in the world to observe Peregrine Falcons.  It was there, on October 10, 2015, that a new world record for number of Peregrine Falcons observed in a day was set when 1506 falcons passed by the hawk watch.

October is also a great month for festivals.  As I write this, Dee and I are between the Wings and Wildflowers Festival and the Indian River Birding Festival.  Wings and Wildflowers is one of our favorites.  We had a great time again this year seeing old friends and making new ones.  We introduced several folks to birding at Venetian Gardens Park in Leesburg.  Dee kept folks entertained with her unscientific approach to birding.  On a field trip to Ocala National Forest to find the elusive Red-cockaded Woodpecker, we were treated to a rare daytime sighting of a normally nocturnal Southern Flying-Squirrel. Thanks to all those who attended and we hope to see you back there or at other festivals in the future.   

This Friday we will kick off the Indian River Birding Festival with an Owl Prowl at the Environmental Learning Center.  The festival features many trips and talks led by local experts to Indian River County’s best birding spots.  In addition to leading an Introduction to Birding class, Dee and I will be leading trips to Fellsmere Grade Recreation Area, Jungle Trail, and others.  Visit the complete festival schedule here

Monday, September 19, 2016

September Happenings

September is one of my favorite months.  Football begins.  I get a year older.  The number of variety of fall migrants hit their peak.  Here in Florida, migration occurs throughout the year.  “Fall” may begin as early as May when the first Purple Martins, perhaps early or failed breeders, start heading south.  July 4th is not just Independence Day.  Among birders, it is known as the traditional start of shorebird migration.  Many shorebirds spend a brief but bountiful summer on the tundra.  Some populations winter as far south as the southern tip of South America, so they must be on the move as soon as possible.  Once reproduction has been achieved, the adults leave.  Youngsters are on their way a little later.  The earliest travelers may even arrive in the southern states before July.  Other migrants have a more temperate nature.  Waterfowl, loons, robins, sparrows, and goldfinches arrive later, mostly November and December.  Cedar waxwings are the tardiest of all.  Reluctant to move while food is available, the bulk of their numbers may not arrive until February.  At the same time, waterfowl start to push north, anticipating the ice melt.  Local wintering populations of Northern Parula, are augmented by oft-singing new arrivals.  The tide of migration ebbs northward.

September sets in the middle of fall migration, capturing a little of everything.  In Florida, there are more birds around than any other time of the year.  Among the southbound migrants are many new travelers, most only a few months old.  Resident bird populations swell as parents encourage their youngsters to find a place of their own.

Songbird migration peaks in late September and early October.  For many species, migration is a nocturnal affair, often riding favorable winds that follow cold fronts.  Flying in darkness helps avoid predators, but it has its difficulties.  Without the benefit of sight, flocks keep together by using flight calls.  Find a quiet place on a good flight night and you may hear dozens or even hundreds of “zeets”, “chips”, and buzzes overhead.  With some practice, and the right resources, you might be able to identify who’s who.  To learn more, check out my new Flight Calls resources page.  Don’t be discouraged, even the experts can’t recognize them all!

Shortly after dawn, migrants descend to rest and eat.  You can find them in local parks, your back yard, or anywhere there is sufficient food, shelter, and water.  For tips on where to look, check for local hotspots on eBird.   Check with clubs like the Audubon Society which often lead local birding trips.  Better yet, ask me.  I can tell you the best places near you, if you are from Florida!  Better still, book a trip with me, and I’ll show you in person and give you tips on where, when, and how to find migrants.

I hope you enjoy September as much as I do and I hope to see you out there.