Pine Flatwoods visit
Wow, two weeks into 2008 and I hadn't stopped to officially go birding once! I was going stir crazy. At the recent show in Atlanta a few of us were prepared to chase the rare Smith's Longspur one AM but that fell apart... :(
Limpkin, digiscoped Babck Webb WMA - Leica APO Televid scope & C-Lux 2 camera
As I was driving back from my early morning flight from ATL I passed my favorite local patch of pine flatwood habitat, Babcock Webb WMA. It wasn't a matter of should I or shouldn't I.... I absolutely HAD to stop for a breather and a bit of "avian sanity". Plus, I always love creeping through the "piney woods"! It would be a quick swing.... an hour and a half tops! I had plenty to accomplish and couldn't afford the time but I couldn't afford not to either.
As I payed my $3 entrance fee I eyed a 6' gator lounging in the sun at the edge of the small marl pond here. A couple hundred feet later I'd see my 1st Limpkin of the year. An insanely tame bird feeding in the ditch right at the culvert edge below the road (the shot above was actually at minimum zoom.... I could only fit he head and bill in the frame)!
One of the flatwood's specialty species is the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Researchers mark roost and nest trees of this endangered bird with wide white paint bands. You can see the "banded" tree in the image above. Of course, by mid-morning this is only a reminder that RCW's were likely here at first light!
RCW artificial nest cavity, Babcock Webb WMA 1/14/08
In some cases, artificial cavities are placed into the trees with protective PVC entrances. The first time I saw one of these I laughed stating, "What kind of stupid bird would use something like that!" Naturally, there were birds roosting in the artificial cavity on my next visit.... Ever notice how both Crow and Feet leave that horrible taste in your mouth?!?.... ;p
Knowing I didn't have much time, I decided to head straight for one of the areas traditionally productive for the pinewoods specialists. At this time of day the best bet is to get into these areas and find the mixed flocks of feeding birds. You will typically find most of the specialty birds this way. Within minutes I saw a waves of birds, working every level from ground to canopy moving through the pines like a dust storm.
A regular denizen of these mixed pinewoods flocks are the Eastern Bluebirds. They typically sit on a mid level perch and scan the ground for signs of insects and will swoop down to grab these, returning to their perch. Much like a flycatcher in reverse!
Before long I heard what sounded like "Rubber Duckies" in the tree canopy and swung up to see a small band of Brown-headed Nuthatches complaining as they hopped through the tree tops. Eastern Towhees "chewinked" nearby, and the high, thin "seep"s of Bachman's Sparrows were given in protest as they'd burst from cover at my feet. Common Ground Doves zipped by but none of these really joined the flock.
Yellow-rumped Warbler, digiscoped Babcock Webb WMA, FL 1/14/08
In fact the majority of the flock was made up of warblers. This group was probably one hundred birds strong. Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers combined for half of this particular flock. Typical of Eastern populations, the Yellow-rumped Warblers were all of the "Myrtle" subspecies. The other half of the flock was primarily (not surprisingly) Pine Warblers.
Pine Warblers ranged from bright yellow males to barely-marked, dull gray immatures and everywhere in between. Of course, for some reason I found all of my images were of bright males in dappled or full sunlight. I'm a sucker for that bright yellow, what can I say.
adult male Pine Warbler, digicoped w/ Leica APO Televid scope & C-Lux 2 camera 1/14/08
The warblers were fun to watch forage. Some hopped on the ground in search of food, others crept down the tree trunks, while some swept through the branches foraging. They were at all levels like a swarm of ants insuring no portion of vegetation was left unsearched. An hour and a half went by all too fast, and I didn't see the most sought after specialty the RCW. No worries though, I had a great time and since I live so close, I can guarantee success of seeing these birds by standing anywhere in this area at first light. Upon leaving the roost they will always socialize and call back and forth giving away their positions before heading off in search of food.
As a final bonus I swung past a local Bald Eagle nest that decided to nest right above a busy suburban sidewalk. To my relief, officials had taped off the sidewalks on both sides of the road, and placed no stopping or standing signs on the roadsides here. Still they were well into their nesting before folks did this and the birds proved more than tolerant.
One of the advantages of digiscoping though with a 6,000 mm lens equivalent, I was easily able to stand well back in the open parking lot across the street and still get nice images at a respectful distance. I was here only moments but could tell from the bird's behavior there were young chicks in the nest. Glad to see they are having success in this unlikely nesting area. Even if not ideal for the bird's welfare, these extremely obvious birds are doing a lot to raise interest & awareness throughout the local community. Never a bad thing!