“Take Two Warblers And Call Me In The Morning”
“Would it be okay if I go to the park in the morning?”
“You know you don’t have to ask. Of course it would be okay.”
“It’s just that I have this headache.”
“You? Have a headache? That’s unusual!”
“I think it’s a migration headache.”
“Oh. C’mon, let’s go to bed.”
She loves my witty repartee.
Birders know the symptoms of the seasons, though. Each spring and autumn scores of wanna-be J.J. Audubons experience aching shoulders from toting heavy optical equipment, sore eyes from squinting into the depths of branches and brush in the dim light of pre-dawn and, worst of all, the dreaded and debilitating “warbler neck” from gazing into the tippy tops of trees hoping to spot a wing bar 200 feet above the ground. Yes, “migration headache” season is upon us.
Eight minutes after walking out the front door I was pulling into a parking spot at Lake Parker Park. It’s a nicely maintained facility within the city limits of our home town of Lakeland, Florida, USA. It offers walking trails, picnic pavilions, two boat ramps, tennis and basketball courts and a soccer complex. Located on the northwest shore of Lake Parker, a 2300 acre (930 ha.) freshwater lake, the park is a great place for birding. The combination of the lake, shoreline, canal, wetlands, open areas and a fairly diverse collection of trees make the area very inviting for a wide assortment of birds.
During fall and spring migration, although not a “hot spot”, the park can produce a consistently decent list of traveling species. Occasional surprises are also possible. Last year, I found an unexpected Orchard Oriole atop a cypress tree by the boat ramp. Many migrants spend the entire winter within the park as it offers plenty of food and secure shelter, especially thanks to recent efforts to control the feral cat population.
Join me for a morning walk. You check the upper branches and I’ll scour the understory. (My neck is older.)
We’ll begin at the mulberry tree by the big pavilion near the lake, then walk along the shore. Keep an eye out for Caspian Terns and Bald Eagles over the lake. As we cross the footbridge, check in the willows for a Black-crowned Night heron. Once we turn to follow the canal, any of the big trees could hold warblers.
I wonder if the person who named the Yellow Warbler was a master of understatement? One of the most common warblers in North America, we are privileged to see them during migration.
The Northern Parula breeds in our area and numbers increase as migrants pass through on their way to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.
Slim and super-active, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers also breed in Florida. Many will remain throughout the winter as others will continue to Central America and the Caribbean to help with insect control.
Along the lake shore we find an upset Green Heron. The crest on his head is raised as a Tricolored Heron flew too close to the heron’s breakfast buffet.
Nearby, a Snowy Egret’s concentration on a frog is unbroken by the heron kerfuffle.
A branch overlooking the lake is a perfect spot to enjoy the first rays of the rising sun for this Limpkin. Too young to notice anything except their next meal, a pair of immature Limpkins almost step on my feet as they scout the area for succulent snails.
Gini says the Common Gallinule chicks look like a ball of black wool which has been exposed to static electricity. Babies. Mama thinks she’s just adorable.
Calling from within a willow thicket, a White-eyed Vireo keeps those white eyes on yours truly. I was able to retreat after one shot and he relaxed and sang a for awhile.
Sometime after their first spring, immature Little Blue Herons will molt from white into the more familiar slate blue of an adult.
While you’re craning your necks upward scanning hopefully for a glimpse of a wayward warbler, glance down once in awhile to see if a cute young alligator is waiting patiently to cross the path. I know, he’s hard to see with that green camouflage on his head.
The Tricolored Heron quit pestering the Snowy Egret and managed to find his own snack. A small minnow for such a large bird.
She may be young, but this immature Red-bellied Woodpecker has already learned the best bugs like to hide on the underside of tree limbs.
Common and numerous does not mean you can’t be beautiful, too. Exhibit “A”, the Mourning Dove.
Larger, and likewise common and numerous, Exhibit “B”, the White-winged Dove is just as attractive as its cousin.
Sporting a wingspan of nearly 30 inches (75 cm), the Pileated Woodpecker is impressive as it hammers away at tree limbs in its search for insects. This female chiseled out large chunks of wood and used her sticky tongue to lap up ants. I know they were ants because she continued to chop at the limb until it fell and I had a chance to examine it.
A bit of a surprise was finding a half-dozen Eastern Bluebirds in the park. They generally prefer a bit more open habitat.
Several Black-and-White Warblers were active in the park. And I do mean active! They hunt for bugs everywhere and will hop down the trunk of a tree head first, like a nuthatch.
After watching the big Pileated Woodpecker, a female Downy Woodpecker seems dainty by comparison.
Bright yellow with dark stripes on the flank and a unique facial pattern help identify a Prairie Warbler. They breed here so it’s hard to know if this one is a migrant or a resident.
More bright yellow! This time it’s a Yellow-throated Warbler, doing some acrobatics to search for brunch.
Time to head back to the car. Wait! Did you see that? A flycatcher swooped from its perch to grab a crane fly. Grayish-brown above, dusky light gray below, two light wing bars, faint eye ring, orangish lower mandible. An Eastern Wood-Pewee! A definite migrant.
My “migration headache” has disappeared. Its symptoms, however, will linger a few more weeks. Thank you for coming along. Gini says cinnamon buns and fresh coffee are ready, if you’re interested. Only eight minutes away.
We hope you enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!