Monday, January 14, 2013

Jan 10 - Florida "West"

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Western and Cassin's Kingbirds, Swainson's Hawk, "Krider's" Red-tailed Hawk.

All of the above can be expected on a typical winter day's birding where?

You probably wouldn't have guessed south-central Florida, but that's exactly where I'm talking about.

Florida, while much too flat and humid for my liking, is a fascinating winter birding destination. Sure you have the typical resident specialties and the occasional West Indian stray, but south Florida's collection of wintering western/central birds is impressive in both quantity and diversity.

Dori and I spent most of a day birding inland Florida south of Lake Okeechobee, concentrating on agricultural fields (I had particular interest in photographing Red-tailed Hawks which will be featured in a future post). The land here is flat and open, an inviting habitat for many western species, particularly raptors and kingbirds. Any wet ditch or marsh between farms could hold such desirable waders as Wood Stork or even Limpkin. Birds that us New Englanders associate with the coast, such as Tricolored and Little Blue Herons, are common despite being over 50 miles from salt water. Crested Caracaras and Sandhill Cranes are expected sights while driving. Every soaring buteo should be checked as several species are possible, including Short-tailed Hawk.

Wood Stork

Crested Caracara

Swainson's Hawk #1

Swainson's Hawk #2

Swainson's Hawk #3

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

I left rather fascinated by the area and wanting more time to explore this underbirded region. Perhaps next time we'll be able to bird Stormwater Treatment Area 5 (AKA STA-5), a managed wetland that is only open to birders on select days, where whistling ducks and waders reportedly occur in spectacular numbers and diversity. The property was closed on this day, so we were relegated to the vast farmland surrounding it. Just as well, because I was more interested in the western flavor this habitat had to offer.

As Dori has told me repeatedly since moving part-time to Florida a few years ago, she birds inland Florida during winter more often than she birds the coast. Now it makes some sense to me.

We only had one Scissor-tail and no kingbirds on this day, probably thanks to a strong wind, but Dori passed through the area two days later to find 5 Scissor-tails, 2 Westerns, and a Cassin's.

 - Nick

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