Friday, April 29, 2011

The Unbearable Cuteness of Being

Oooh! Cute!

Spring migration has been a bust. My little corner of Florida has been blessed with calm, sunny weather for the past month, which is great for people and birds -- but not for people who want to look at birds. As one of my more knowledgeable birding pals told me, migrating birds want to get to their breeding grounds fast, and if the weather is clear, they're not going to stop. And in my area, not that many migrating birds have seen a need to stop.

Last week, Glenn and I went on Alachua Audubon's annual pilgrimage to Fort DeSoto, and scored a couple of Cape May, Black-throated Blue, and Blackpoll Warblers -- but no other migrants. Last night, a powerful thunderstorm hit Gainesville, and as I lay in bed watching the lightning flash across the sky, I wondered how many migrants might have chosen to spend the night in town rather than fly through the storm.

The answer: not many. A quick early-morning trip to Bolen Bluff revealed a single migrant warbler -- a male American Redstart -- and dozens and dozens of squirrels. Oh boy.

Still, the transition from winter to spring still shows itself in the changing inventory of birds. Local summer breeders such as Summer Tanagers and Blue Grosbeaks have started showing up, and rumor has it the Purple Gallinules have arrived on Paynes Prairie, just in time for breeding season. I haven't seen one locally yet this season, but on a trip south about a month ago, we got to see a particularly pretty one at the Orlando Wetlands, where they occur year round:

Luckily, when there's nothing else to look at during the hot season, there are always babies. Like the one above. He/she was one of four we saw peeping and sort-of walking in the underbrush at Lettuce Lake Park, in Tampa. Holy cow. Cutest. Thing. Ever. Times four.

All of us who watched the little family were enthralled. We figured the babies must be really young, given there were still so many of them (and there were a large number of hungry alligators nearby). We marvelled at how different they looked from their parents. The little puffballs made me wonder if there's some kind of universal template for all precocial chicks, and at some point in their fuzzy little lives a program goes off to turn the little things into chickens, or Mallards, or whatever.

I certainly wouldn't have been able to tell whose babies these were had the parents not been nearby: we heard them calling loudly and flying low over the lake all afternoon. One was always with the babies, never more than a foot or two away.

It still amazes me that in only a matter of months, those tiny little balls of fluff will turn into this:

Not just any old babies, but Limpkin babies -- a vulnerable Florida specialty. To see four of them being so well cared for was just as good as seeing some random migrant just passing through.