white pelicans

WaterLine photo by Capt. Josh Olive

American white pelicans, like these seen in Gasparilla Sound, are flocking here to escape the great frozen north.

Chilly weather has begun settling in across the northern U.S., and it’s going to be a long, cold winter. Evidence is abundant in the migratory birds, which began to appear in late September. While that migration is normally a trickle that slowly increases, in the last couple weeks it’s become a torrent.

Take a look up at the sky. If your eyes are sharp enough, there’s a good chance you’ll see vultures — maybe lots of vultures. Large kettles (the term for a group of vultures flying together) have become common sights recently. While we have vultures here all year, the winter migrants cause those numbers to triple or more, even though a lot of the local birds head even farther south to make some room.

Catbirds are mewing in my backyard in greater numbers than I’ve ever seen. We usually have a few because of the big bougainvillea hedge and lots of grapevines, which provide just the right kind of cover for these birds that like to be heard but not seen. I’m also hearing them in all the local parks and preserves that I’ve visited.

My aunt in DeSoto County told me she’s seeing painted buntings and ruby-throated hummingbirds on her property. These living jewels are expected here, but not quite this early. They’re welcome, of course, despite their slightly premature arrival.

White pelicans first showed up on the Harbor several weeks ago. That’s not really any sooner than normal, but what is a bit unusual is how many have appeared. These birds normally send an early vanguard while the rest of them straggle and slowpoke their way from the northern Great Plains. This year, a lot of them came in the initial run.

Loons are so identified with the north woods that they seem unlikely visitors to Charlotte Harbor, but they fly down every year. Sometimes they don’t arrive until almost New Year’s — but I’ve spotted several already out along the east wall in about 6 to 12 feet of water. They hardly ever call, but if you’re lucky you may hear them talking back and forth.

Ducks are coming in too. I watched a small flock of blue-winged teal making themselves at home in a Punta Gorda pasture a few days ago, splashing around a shallow pond with pied-billed grebes and egrets.

And of course, there are all the “little birds” too — the various warblers and other small, mostly brown species that I still need to learn how to identify. I may not be able to tell you exactly what they are, but I can tell you this: They weren’t here a couple weeks ago, and we have piles of them now.

The bizarre weather of this year (with Tropical Storm Eta now forecast to skirt us and hit Tampa as I write this) would be perfectly capped off with a few major winter storms reaching deep into the South. We haven’t had a hard freeze in coastal Southwest Florida since 2010, so we’re overdue.

Birds aren’t perfect weather predictors, but they are pretty good at it. I expect they’re probably right and it’s probably going to be a colder winter than we’ve seen for a few years. Bundle up.

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Speaking of snowbirds: With more of our seasonal human residents coming down, there has been an increased interest in hosting events again. As such, this week we are bringing the Outdoor News Bulletin Board back to the magazine. It hasn’t got much on it yet, but there will likely be more coming up. If you have an event you’d like to see included, email me.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.

Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@


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