Birders are always birding. It goes from a hobby to a habit quickly, and it’s hard to stop. We are always craning our necks, squinting our eyes and wishing we had the good binocs or the camera with us.
I have several pairs of binoculars that can stay in the car. They were inexpensive or purchased cheaply at auction. My Zeiss or Swarovski binoculars are too dear to leave in the car. The heat would be detrimental, plus I would never want them stolen. I do sometimes miss them while out and about, but I will tell you it has been a positive to have any binoculars at all with us. When we go to a doctor appointment, grocery store or any other errand, the eyes are always alert.
The other day, we were out on the road and ended up chasing a sighting into a Placida marina. We were thrilled to sight a red-tailed hawk. The common hawk in Florida is the red-shouldered hawk. The abundant red-shouldered is a smaller bird than the red-tail. The Florida variety is even smaller than its northern cousins, and also frequently quite a bit lighter in color.
The first thing I noticed about this bird was its red tail glowing in the sunshine, so there was no question of identity. As we watched, flew into a tree and began ripping at a varmint in its talons, showing great gusto for its lunch. The meal was probably a rodent, as this is the preferred meal for the red-tail — although, up north, I have seen them feeding on worms after big storms.
As we sat in the car off to the side of the road, I looked up to see a stunning magnificent frigate bird overhead. I always have been thrilled to see their beautiful dark silhouettes against the blue sky. This is a large bird about 40 inches long, with elegant curved wings and a slender forked tail. They always seem to be floating along with the wind currents and are rarely seen perched unless you are boating near the commercial shrimpers anchored in the Gulf.
The male is solid black with an orange inflatable chin pouch. During the mating season it becomes bright red. They can be seen all along the Florida coast, across the Caribbean, and over Mexico’s Pacific coastal waters. On a birding trip to San Blas in Mexico, I was anointed by one from a huge flock as we were going out on a boat trip. Luckily, we were in a small boat, so I just scooped up some water and rinsed my hair. Nothing stands in the way of birding.
Continuing along the narrow road brought us to some of our common Florida birds. After 17 years in Florida, we are still thrilled at the sight of great egrets and snowy egrets. We drove into Wildflower Preserve, but it was very quiet. We sighted several mockingbirds and heard a few red-bellied woodpeckers in the distance. We drove through the ‘hood near Wildflower and spotted a wood thrush working through someone’s grass. We also sighted several sandhill cranes and a small flock of white ibis.
We drove past some ponds on the way home, and we always slow down for ponds. We noted some black-bellied whistling ducks, an anhinga drying its wings, and several loudly calling fish crows. It was a beautiful day to combine errands with birding in the ‘hood. Seeing our Florida birds is still a treat and always will be.
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.