Our anticipation was getting piqued as we got closer to the day of Robert and Christine’s mystery birding trip. Everyone met at the designated place, and off we went to parts unknown to us. On the way, we found out we were heading north to Bay Street Park in south Sarasota. This was exciting to our group of Venice Area Birding Association birders. Most of us had never been to this park or even knew about it.
It was the usual muggy autumn morning in Florida, but our excitement was high to view a new site. Robert and Christine already had checked it out and forged all the trails ahead of time, so there was a good plan with no rivers to cross.
We were greeted at the entrance by a red-shouldered hawk perched atop a pole, looking for a very early morning breakfast. As we started hiking, I immediately noticed a fog. Scratch that — it was just the morning humidity fogging up my binoculars and camera. Soon all was clear and we were observing great blue herons and tri-colored herons in the tall grasses of the wetlands. A limpkin appeared, followed shortly by an anhinga. A flock of black-bellied whistling ducks flew by. We also spotted a double-crested cormorant and a great egret.
Andy went ahead and returned to inform us that a flock of indigo buntings were flitting through an area of wispy grasses. That’s the kind of sighting that will make your day. The buntings were still in their nonbreeding plumage, so the males were mainly brown, which almost covers the blue on the back area. The females are brown year-round.
As a few quickly flitted through the reeds, one could catch a flash of blue on the males. Southern Florida is a winter breeding area, and it won’t be too long before the males take on their unmistakable sapphire hue.
We heard many red-bellied woodpeckers throughout the day, and several were sighted along the trail. The males stood out with their bright red head gleaming in the early morning sun.
Then we spotted a pileated woodpecker flying directly overhead. They are very distinctive in flight, as the wings have a bold black-and-white pattern and their wing movements are a bit slow. These are the largest woodpeckers in the U.S. since the ivory-billeds are gone, and among the largest in the world.
Trip leader Robert has a keen eye for sighting the tiny hard-to-identify warblers that seem to hide in the treetops. Have you ever heard of warbler neck? Well, soon we all had warbler neck from searching the treetops for these beautiful little songbirds that are at the peak of their migration now.
The beautiful migrating warblers were certainly a treat to see for our Florida group. Several black-and-white warblers were spotted, which is an easy identification because of their high-contrast pattern. The grey head of the magnolia warbler was a good quick identifier.
One of the most beautiful of the warblers with contrasting colors is the male American redstart. The dramatic contrast of the black and bright orange is very striking. We also ID’d Tennessee warblers and hooded warblers. Many of us were thrilled to see this abundance of these little birds, which we see only during migration.
Another great sighting by Robert was a female rose-breasted grosbeak. There is nothing ever rosy about the female, as she looks nothing like the male. But we recognized her thick seed-eating beak, vertical striping on the breast, and brown back.
We also had some cardinals, common yellowthroats, white-eyed vireos, a house wren, a few blue-grey gnatcatchers, eastern wood peewees, several eastern phoebes, and a clowder of gray catbirds mewing in the bushes. Several of our group heard then sighted a great crested flycatcher, which led to a long discussion on the difficulty of identifying flycatcher species.
This was a great park, especially for those of us who really love the wildness and less-structured parks and refuges. Even though the humidity was uncomfortable, the amazing warbler sightings made up for the drenched clothing. Thank you, Robert Kraft, for your eagle eye and for leading this wonderful birding trip for Venice Area Birding Association. It certainly was a warbler-ific day.
Off we went to First Watch in south Sarasota for a delicious brunch and a lot of terrific conversation about the wonderful birding day. If you’d like to join us on our next adventure, email me for details. There are no dues or membership fees.
Abbie Banks is a member of the Venice Area Birding Association, a group of folks who want to enjoy the environment and nature without the cumbersome politics of an organized group. For more info on VABA or to be notified of upcoming birding trips, visit AbbiesWorld.org/references.html or email her at Amberina@aol.com.