Monday, April 26, 2010

A Day at Fort De Soto

Fort De Soto is Da Bomb! Or a bomb, depending on when you go.

It is a truth widely acknowledged among Florida birders that the single best thing a person can do during spring migration is head to Fort De Soto County Park , where warblers and tropical vagrants drip from the trees like blooming flowers, their little beaks dripping with the sweet purple juice of the plentiful mulberries that grow all over the park. Fort De Soto during migration is Da Bomb. No, not just Da Bomb. More like Hiroshima and Nagasaki and every bomb past, present, and future combined.

"OH..MY..GOD!" an acquaintance gasped orgasmically when recalling last spring's Alachua Audubon trip there. Her eyelids fluttered and her hand trembled as it passed over her rapidly beating heart. "It... was...AMAZING! ! We had TWENTY-FIVE species of warblers! And there were thrushes EVERYWHERE!"

"One year I saw THREE cuckoo species in the same tree! At the same time!" another friend recalled dreamily."

"I can't believe you didn't go last year! YOU HAVE TO GO!" exhorted another friend.

So we went. And since the trip started at 8 a.m. and Fort De Soto is about 150 miles south of us, we got up at 4 a.m., pumped ourselves up with caffeine, and set off for our super-fantabulous day of warbler-watching.

And at about 7:30, we found ourselves in a stunningly beautiful park buffeted by what felt like 30 mph wind gusts. Not good. And a St. Pete birder helping organize his Audubon chapter's field trip told us that things had been unusually quiet for the past few days.

For this we got at at 4 a.m. and drove nearly three hours??

No matter. Our hardy band of Gainesville birders assembled just before 8 and pressed on. (As did several other Audubon groups, who had all planned to be here at the height of migration.) We started at the still-quiet beach, where we got a nice inventory of shorebirds, including Piping Plovers and American Oystercatchers. The latter were strangely unafraid of people.

Just as I had feared, we ended up seeing more birders than actual birds at all the famous hotspots in the park. The vaunted mulberry trees were waving violently in the wind, with only a few unusually persistent Cedar Waxwings clinging to their branches. Near North Beach, Glenn got his life sightings of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and a Veery. An Indigo Bunting made a brief appearance, as did a female Black-throated Green Warbler. A male American Redstart lingered in the area for most of the day:

But the best bird we saw was this one:

We all agreed this guy was clearly a Black-and-white Warbler; he was feeding and moving exactly like every other Black-and-white I've ever seen. Was that strange head pattern a form of melanism? Or was he a crossbreed? Did he any idea he was a crazy-looking freak of a bird?

Our merry band of birders slogged through the wind and nearly birdless silence of the woods until around 5:00, stopping only for a brief lunch break. We chatted about birds, food, plants, and past trips to Fort De Soto that were SO, SO much better. In the company of fun people in a pretty place, the absence of interesting birds didn't really matter all that much. It was still a good time.

We'll definitely be back—after all, it can only get better!


Floridacracker said...

Sounds like a pretty good day, even if it wasn't as good as it gets!

jen said...

Beautiful pictures even if it wasn't as good as you had hoped for!

Anonymous said...

I love Fort DeSoto. Too bad it's so far away from our neck of the woods. I don't mind driving to Tampa, but that extra hour to get to the edge of St. Pete is a drag!

dAwN said...

Great warbler day..that is a very odd looking black and white must send that on to someone like Kenn Kaufman to look at.

Hilke Breder said...

The black-and-white warbler looks like it got the head of a thrush- strange bird. Agree with Dawn - have an expert look at it.

Wendy said...

It's nice to find fun, potential birding places. Some beautiful pictures!

Felicia said...

Hello all,

FC, Jen, and Wendy—it was a great time, even if not as birdy as we would have liked. We'll go back in a heartbeat! (And of course the day after I posted this, people reported seeing 15 species of warblers there. Sigh.)

g365—yes, it's WAY long for a day trip, which is why we spend the night down there after our long day--too bad it's not closer!

Dawn and Hilke—our photo of that BWWA has been posted on Birdbrains (the central site for Florida birding gossip/info/expert info) and everyone seems to think it's a melanistic Black-and-white. No one said how common that is, though.