An Uncommonly Good Evening
Header Image: Sunset
“To the orange grove, right?”
I am so predictable. At the time I signed the contract over 50 years ago, I suspected Gini could read my mind. That fact has been confirmed again and again over the past five decades. When asked if she would like to ride with me around 3:30 p.m., she instantly knew where I intended to go. Our destination is about 40 minutes away and sunset is at 5:20 p.m.
Hah! But this time, she only knew half of WHY I wanted to go! Perhaps she is not as psychic as I think. (Looking over my shoulder as I type and ducking my head reflexively.)
An astute local birder reported spotting some infrequently observed sparrows in an area of orange groves, open fields, old homesteads and lakes. This area has for years been a wintering spot for two rather uncommon Florida visitors, the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Western Kingbird. These two species reliably appear about 30 minutes prior to sunset, gather on utility lines and suddenly plunge into the citrus trees for the night.
The area consistently produces a few surprises as well as a very diverse group of birds, especially during migration. We located a couple of the “rare-ish” little brown jobs and then drove around the lake shore where dozens of Double-crested Cormorants were settling in for the night and other water birds were getting one last snack. Near one of the old homesteads we found a female Baltimore Oriole and were treated to a flyby of a Bald Eagle.
As the sun descended, the flycatchers materialized. We saw two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and 16 Western Kingbirds. Riding out of the area, we watched a flock of over 30 American Robins noisily arguing about which trees would be best for bedding down and an American Kestrel scanned a field hoping for dinner to show up.
Nature lovers, birders and especially some of us with a camera have been indoctrinated to believe the only times worth being outdoors is an hour or two around sunrise and sunset. An evening such as this one makes us almost think they are right. Almost.
Adult White-crowned Sparrows have distinctive black-and-white head patterns. This is a first year bird and shows a brown and gray head pattern. Only a few migrants make it to Florida each year.
Contrasting face pattern, finely streaked center crown stripe and pale gray collar help identify the Clay-colored Sparrow. This is another species only occasionally reported in Florida during fall/winter migration.
Not as brightly colored as the male, this female Baltimore Oriole has her very own beauty. There have also been Orchard Orioles in this spot and although similar in appearance, the females are more yellow underneath without the bit of orange showed in the Baltimore.
A late-day sortie by an adult Bald Eagle brought her overhead to check us out. Pretty spectacular raptor at any angle.
In the wetlands adjacent to the lake, many avian diners were taking advantage of the last light of the day. A trio of Sandhill Cranes may be a family unit of the Florida species, Grus canadensis pratensis, which are non-migratory and number around 5,000. Each winter, they are joined by upwards of 30,000 of their migrating cousins, G. c. tabida, which are slightly larger than the residents. (Size comparison is tough. We’ve found it easier to use our own formula: less than five birds may be locals, more than that are likely tourists.)
A group of Glossy Ibises found the selection of mud-dwelling entrees to be just fine.
We pulled to the side of the road where we have observed the flycatchers roosting and, right on schedule, they began arriving in one’s and two’s 30 minutes prior to scheduled sunset. A very pleasant way to spend a winter evening.
As we left the roosting area, the very last light of the day illuminated the back of an American Robin. He was part of more than 30 birds loudly jostling for the best roosting limbs for the night.
Within sight of the robins was an American Kestrel. We suspect she was not worried about a roosting spot but would not argue with a tasty bug or lizard before bedtime.
We like this area for all of the reasons illustrated above. Whether we find seldom-seen birds or familiar feathered friends, we always have an uncommonly good adventure!
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!