When everyone met to car pool, it was a bit difficult distinguishing some of the 11 Venice Area Birding Association members because of the mufflers and hats and coats. We were off to the Felts Audubon Preserve on a chilly Florida day. This 27-acre preserve was left to the Manatee Audubon Society in 2002 by Otis and Anita Felts.

Our leader for this trip was Andy White. Andy was determined to provide us with sightings of painted buntings. I believe this was his main goal for this VABA excursion. As we exited the cars, the cold wind had everyone pulling their jackets close to keep warm. Our leader immediately led us on the path to the observation shed.

This shed was built quite a few years ago to as a blind. Observers can sit on benches watching the tree-perching birds come to the feeders without the birds being startled by humans. Several years ago, local Audubon members added a stand-up blind outside and off to the left of the shed. This structure is much better for those hoping to take good photos.

Immediately upon arrival, we all observed indigo buntings. Indigos are actually black. However, when the sun filters through the male’s feathers, they appear to be a brilliant turquoise blue. The females are brown with a buff underside. Diane was ecstatic because this sighting was a lifer (a first-time sighting) for her.

Goldfinches shared the millet with the buntings. Indigo buntings are approximately 5.5 inches. American goldfinch are about 4.5 to 5 inches. These are bright yellow birds in the summer; however, in the winter they are quite dull. They are distinguished by the white wing bars on their black wings. Birders long ago nicknamed goldfinches “flying lemons.”

Our group was quite patient waiting for the main target: The painted bunting. Our patience paid off. Andy and I were standing by the outside blind taking photos and spotted a female painted bunting. Soon after, a stunning male appeared.

The male painted bunting is one of North America’s most colorful birds. It has a bright blue head, red eye rings, a bright red underside and a green back. The female is much plainer — green with a lighter underside. I could hear the “oohs” and “ahhs” coming from the rest of the group in the shed.

Suddenly, a bright red cardinal flew in and frightened the entire feathered group away. This was OK with me, because right at that time I spotted a ruby-throated hummingbird nectaring on some lovely pink wildflowers.

After quite a bit of time with the buntings and goldfinches, we finally started a hike by the ponds. We didn’t get very far before a great crested flycatcher caught our eyes. The sun shone brightly on its golden yellow breast. In addition, we spotted a loggerhead shrike sitting majestically on a reed in the open field.

Next, we approached the two ponds. The reeds were quite overgrown and visibility was obscured. We did find some openings, but alas, there were none of the usual shorebirds or ducks. As we were looking, we heard the call of the belted kingfisher. It flew over our heads and landed in a pine tree by the pond.

We rounded the bend and everyone wanted to do a quick hike back to see the buntings, so off we went. A beautiful and very large beehouse stands near the approach to the bird blind. From afar, it looks like a stunning work of art. This bee hotel was erected exclusively for solitary bees. These bees do not live in hives, they live singly. In addition, they do not make honey and are less likely to sting. Did you know there more than 2,000 species of bees, but only about seven species make honey?

The structure contains native materials for nesting. Bamboo or cardboard tubes are also good for bee-nesting material. However, all nesting material should be replaced yearly. With the serious negative impact of the declining bee population, more and more people are building beehouses from small to large sizes. I’ve decided I’m definitely getting a beehouse. If we all erect beehouses, this would be greatly beneficial to helping our declining bee population.

We perused the bee structure and then hiked to the bird blind. We sighted more buntings, but their beautiful colors did nothing to warm us up. After several hours of being in the cold, we were definitely ready for some steaming hot cups of coffee. Off we went to a nearby restaurant for hot beverages and hearty food. Thank you to Andy White for planning a fun and interesting VABA birding venture. We’re always looking for more birders to come along, so contact me and join us.

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.

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.

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