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.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Western Kingbird At Sunset

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!

36 Comments on “An Uncommonly Good Evening

  1. What a magical spot at a magical hour. My contacts in south Florida are reporting large flocks of robins. Seems like feast or famine down there– either we were lucky to find one or two all winter or they arrived in hordes.

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    • Thank you, Ken.

      It is really a nice area which supports a diverse habitat, which in turn attracts a lot of birds.

      We’re seeing the same riot of robins here in west central Florida. Had about 20 in the front yard about an hour ago.

      Like

  2. Great collection of winter visitors! So glad the Scissor-tails showed up to share their peachy sunset-colors, I think they are lovely. Do you happen to know the name of the tree with the berries where the Robin is sitting? I’ve been trying to get the name, but haven’t gotten definitive-enough images yet.

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    • Perhaps I need to experiment with double-exposure for double-crested cormorants.

      Or would it need to be quadruple-exposure if they’re wearing the vests?

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  3. The Glossy Ibis are so gorgeous! I’ll be on the lookout for those. You definitely see some birds we don’t see here. But I can still look for them, can’t I? We had wind yesterday but still saw quite a bit. I’ve never known about the birds in the citrus groves but now you really have me curious! Enjoy your week. Happy birding!

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    • Thank you, Diane.

      Look for Glossy Ibis in wetland areas, fresh and salt. They love the mud!

      Groves offer a nice shelter for a diverse number of birds. If you can find groves with adjacent open fields or a water source, it could be a productive spot.

      The week is off to a great start! Hope yours is, too.

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  4. Illegal websites have the ability to destroy your system and data because they are able to invade your privacy and gather sensitive data from your device.

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    • I’m very sorry Wally – not sure how those warning words made it into my comment. Which should say: “Your words and photos make it obvious why you like that area – you had a great adventure!”

      Maybe you can fix from the WordPress side?

      Thanks,
      Ed

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      • No worries, Ed.

        I figured out a long time ago that if bad people want to take something from me, they’ll find a way to do it. Hah! Fooled ’em. I ain’t got nothin’ they might want!

        That is a bit of a strange area. Citrus groves with a weedy 100 acre field on one side, a lake on another side and an actual “valley” with a “hill” as a backdrop on another side. The valley/hill feature is a result of years of phosphate mining in the 1960’s.

        The whole mix attracts a diverse group of birds. Which is a good thing!

        Have a great new week!

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  5. Hello Wally and Gini. Good on you, drawing attention to the opportunities provided by afternoon/evening birding. Over here we used to have a number of afternoon evening ringing sites. We had a mainly Chaffinch roost, one that also held thrushes – Blackbirds and Redwings. We also had a regular evening roost of Swallows that held up to 20,000 birds in September where catching 300 Swallows was quite normal. Discovering these roosts is not easy and made all the more difficult in recent years through the sheer drop in the numbers of all birds and the tearing out of roosting sites of evergreens to make way for “development” and the tidy but misguided minds of public servants. We used to work a Snipe roost that was also developed to make way for a zoo.

    Looking at your pictures set me wondering how bird ringers operate in Florida wetlands where so many dangers lurk? Perhaps they don’t and have to work dry and “safe” areas only?

    Enjoy your Sunday. It’s coffee time here. 10 am. Now where are those chocolate digestives.

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    • We go for the sunsets and end up looking at birds going to bed!

      I attempted to get information on ringers who ply the muck and mire but the local club president said none have yet returned from the swamp. I’ll keep researching.

      As to “development” which destroys the habitat of one species to make room for the habitat of another, I am reminded of a passage from one of Earth’s great philosophers:

      “For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

      ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

      And now, coincidentally, it is almost 10 am on this Sunday across the pond where, for the time being, dolphins are frolicking and it is most definitely coffee time.

      A new week awaits! All the best.

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  6. Thank you for your advocacy of sunset birding, Wally and showing us the wonderful rewards of your adventure. I always feel a little bit inadequate when you show us the fabulous results of your sunrise expeditions, as I don’t do sunrise – in summer it’s too early in the day (still night in my opinion, no matter what the light conditions might be) and in winter it’s too cold – but sunset I can cope with, at any time of year in these parts.

    I’m pleased to report that all is now moving along nicely here.

    Best wishes to you and Gini – – – Richard

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    • First and most importantly, Gini and I are extremely happy to hear that things seem to be improving for you and Lindsay! Let her know we shall not stop thinking about her. (Okay, and you, too.)

      My Dad was a devout fisherman and I was extremely fortunate that he passed on his passion for nature to me. He was a very successful fisherman and would often be asked: “When is the best time to go fishing?” He never missed a beat and answered: “When you have time to go fishing.”

      Birding and photography are like that. Golden and blue hours are wonderful, but whenever we have the chance to get out there, THAT is the best time!

      Coffee is ready. Take good care, Richard!

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  7. How interesting that this past weekend I came across four of these species: Robins, a Kingbird, a Kestrel, and Sandhill Cranes. Make that five species: two Scissortails, too. I love the Scissortails; I always feel as though spring is truly here when I realize they’ve gone. Like the White Pelicans and Sandhill cranes, they’re dependable markers of a season. Your photo of the Scissortail is especially nice; the light complements its colors.

    I was glad to see the photo of the Glossy Ibis, too. It took me a long time to realize that the ibis I was seeing were White-faced rather than Glossy. I’m not sure at this point that I’ve ever seen the Glossy.

    There was no mistaking the cranes I found, though. I’ve been hearing them for a month without a single sighting. Then, last weekend, I was toodling along the Bluewater Highway, looked over, and there they were: five of them. There are times when a U-turn and the use of emergency flashers is called for. I was lucky on this occasion. They weren’t close enough for really good photos, but they were close enough for those bustles and variations in their feathers’ colors to show up pretty well. Seeing them always is a thrill, since we don’t have any that are resident.

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    • We keep hoping our visit to that winter roost will find the birds perched on something other than the ubiquitous utility wires. That setting sun sure lit up the salmon color of the Scissor-tail!

      Along the Texas coast, some Glossy Ibises show up each year during the winter. It’s helpful when they stand next to a White-faced relative for comparison, but you know how cooperative birds are …..

      Our house is apparently on a daily route for some local Sandhills which feel the need to trumpet their passing at sunrise and sunset each day. We don’t mind. What a wild, wonderful sound!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Scissor-tailed flys are in my top 5 favorite birds – beautiful coloring and that tail.. well, you obviously know what a treat it is to see one. Ironically, I was going after my first clay-colored sparrow this afternoon. Not sure I managed to pick it out as there was a sparrow reunion of some sorts happening at the feeders here at Goose Island SP, TX when those brown jobbers dancing all over the place. Still haven’t been able to photograph the Glossies yet this year… fingers crossed as we start our 2nd half of our winter trip. Another nice set of shots Wally!

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    • Our first experience with the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was about a hundred years ago when we lived in San Angelo, TX. Been a love affair ever since. They show up in Florida during migration but only in small numbers. The strong color on this one was from the late-day sun hitting it at a low angle.

      Sparrows. Sigh.

      Good luck with the Glossies. And it seems you’re in south TX so have fun sorting them from the White-faced Ibises!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah, you are aware of that issue – one of the few times I don’t mind a strong sun that can pull the red eye out of the Whites…add in some luck if they call while Merlin is up, otherwise it is definitely a pain in the but. So far all white faces, hoping for glossies on our next stop.

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  9. Although not a birder, I probably would have been excited also if a couple of unusual species were in the neighborhood so understand why you chose the orange grove for your outing. That’s a great eagle shot!

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    • I’m trying to tame my exuberance for birding. So far, it’s sort of like trying to stop breathing.

      I resisted posting the other 86 images of the eagle. (The crowd lets out a sigh of relief.)

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a wonderful place to visit – at sunset or any other time. Our only sparrow is the house sparrow which was introduced. They used to be common but are now very rarely seen. Little brown job or not, I miss them.

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    • Thank you, EC.

      We have the same introduced house sparrows. Lately, the only place to find them is a fast-food restaurant drive-thru!

      All the best.

      Like

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