“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!
Hi Wally! Sorry for the very late visit – Lindsay and I have been to the birding paradise that are the Isles of Scilly, or it would have been if the weather had been somewhat more cooperative. It’s also the peak time for birders there, and I found myself having to turn round and walk away from some sites due to lack of social distancing being exhibited. I’d rather be alone and safe with an ‘ordinary’ bird than at risk in a group with a rare bird.
Once again I find myself astounded by the fabulous array of spectacular birds that you can find, and show us via your excellent photography, in just one morning’s visit to a local site! I suspect that an abundance is enhanced by excellent observational and photographic skills – with maybe a little help from prevailing light conditions. Whatever the background, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this post – thank you.
Best wishes to you and Gini – – – – Richard
Once again, Richard, thank you for your very complimentary remarks! It is very much appreciated.
We look forward to seeing what delights you found while exploring the Isles of Scilly. Just breaking life’s routine for a bit was very likely a welcome result.
Our rainy season may be abating somewhat and we’ve been checking on some of our favorite locales. Yep, they are all soggy our under water! Everything will dry out pretty soon and the migrating birds appreciate the bumper crop of insects produced by all that standing water.
All is good in the Sunshine State! Gini and I hope you and Lindsay are resting from your trip and enjoying this fine weekend.
Your photos are breath-taking, but I’m also impressed by the variety of birds in your area. I’ve decided that Tropical Storm Beta temporarily reduced our bird population: or, more likely, sent some away to more congenial locales. There’s still too much water in many ponds and sloughs for the wading birds; they’re probably chasing crawfish and frogs in agricultural fields.
I went to one of the preferred birding spots on Saturday, but we’re suffering from post-Beta marauding mosquitoes just now, and I spent something close to two minutes outside the car. The only birders I saw were wearing hats with mosquito netting that fell to their waist. I’d never seen that before. I admired their dedication, but didn’t ask the name of their netting supplier.
I chuckled at the mention of ‘hordes of crazed listers.’ Even though I’m not exactly a birder, I know what that means!
Thank you so much for the nice comments!
Storms will definitely affect bird activity, especially now as migration is in full swing. Local birds will temporarily seek another area but return to their routine as water recedes.
I totally empathize with you about the bumper crop of mosquitoes! I may be crazy, but I’m not THAT crazy! We’ll find another spot or come back another day.
Here’s hoping Delta won’t pick on Texas!
Great pics today Wally. Those fall warblers sure look pretty. We are back back now from Greece and a full day of rain on Sunday. But after so much rain I too have an illness – itchy feet and a yearning to go local birding. There’s no cure as you know and Sue has so much washing to do – summery clothes like tee shirts and shorts that can then be put away until May 2021. Unless of course I can find a way to visit FL.
Your very best mate Phil and not forgetting Sue.
Welcome home! You were supposed to bring some of that Grecian sun back with you.
Hopefully, you will be able to begin treatment for “our” illness soon by heading out the door with bins and rings. Masses of birds are waiting eagerly to cooperate.
Gini wants to know why Sue is doing the washing??
Life continues to be good here. Lots of forays into nature’s playgrounds. We are happy you and Sue made the trip, albeit a bit delayed. We are equally happy you made it home safely.
How beautiful! I love the bright yellow on the warbler! Funny joke too hee hee! The little alligator seems very interested! Doves are my favourite! 🙂
Thank you for visiting with us! We appreciate your comments. Dove are so common here it’s easy to overlook them sometimes.
Your work with a camera is the envy of us all, Wally, so whatever aches, pains and winges are the price you have to pay, know that we all appreciate it. This is obviously a great place to bird and the fact of it being so close an added bonus. I am very encouraged to hear of the attempt to control the feral cat population and I hope that effort continues. I am sure that most cat lovers have no idea how many of these creatures have been released to the wild and the carnage that results, or they simply don’t want to know.
Your very kind comments are much appreciated, David!
I’ll continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous birding. It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.
Hope your having a fabulous weekend!
Nice trip Wally. Reminds me of the times I used to spend searching our coastal woods looking for rare migrants, occasionally with success! Now I rarely go, it’s so popular the actions of other ‘birders’ leave me cold, I prefer my own company anyway not the hordes of crazed ‘listers’.
Thank you, Brian.
We typically avoid the popular venues for the reasons you stated. Especially that part about enjoying each others’ company! Everything else is secondary.
We are staying well and having fun doing so! Cheers.
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I have had some of those sumptoms, warbler neck and sore eyes. Your photos are just gorgeous.
Beautiful captures of all the birds. Lake Parker was one of our favorites, we went there at least once a week for 5 months. I miss the Florida birds. Take care, enjoy your day! Have a happy weekend!
No worries, Eileen. Lake Parker and its birds will be here when you’re ready to return! (Bring crab cakes!)
Our Friday is already fabulous. We hope yours is, too.
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Well, I hope your neck feels better after everyone helped you out on this walk. As usual it was a great experience being right there with you when the baby Limpkins lost their fear of humans. I once spent almost an hour (unsuccessfully) trying to get a clear shot of them in the foliage as they accompanied their parents along the canal in Shark Valley.
Thank you Ken.
One of the negative aspects of our public access to nature is creating an unnatural bond between wild creatures and humans. That cute young alligator may one day be destroyed because he gulped down a visitor’s pet dog, or worse.
Of course, that makes me a hypocrite I guess as I certainly enjoy the photo and observation opportunities.
If only I could be perfect …
That is the sort of medication I will happily take time and time again. I am prepared to risk overdosing – but never even come close.
Thanks for sharing the joy and the magic.
You’re welcome, EC!
Regular doses are recommended.