Yesterday, My birding partner Cheryl and I drove the 3 1/2 hours over to the Tampa/St. Pete area to visit one of Florida’s premier migration hotspots, Fort Desoto. This county park is an “L” shaped island that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico and is famous for its fallout of migrating Warblers, Tanagers, Grosbeaks and other trans gulf migrants. Tuesday, while watching the weather (birders are constantly doing that during migration) I noticed that a cold front was supposed to move across the central part of the state and Cheryl had likewise seen the potential for a good birding adventure and we decided to head over and see what might have dropped in.
(Click on any picture to enlarge and sharpen it)
I picked Cheryl up at 4:30 and we arrived at the park just around 8. The drive over, while mostly in the dark, produced a number of great birds. We saw among others a couple of Crested Caracara, and a few Swallowtail Kites and Sandhill Cranes. When we left Palm Beach Gardens it was in the mid 70’s. By the time we had got to Fort Desoto the temperature had dropped to 56 and the winds were howling out of the North … the front had obviously passed through!
We started our day near the Ranger Station. This portion of the park has a number of fantastic Mulberry trees that the birds just adore. There is also a nice water feature where birds can be seen throughout the day bathing and rehydrating. Usually you can tell within the first half hour if a fallout has occurred overnight and while there were good birds around there was not the “large” quantities that we had hoped for … not to worry though!
A quick description of what a “Fallout” is. Most nights during the Spring if the winds are generally out of the South hundreds of thousands if not millions of birds will leave their Southern Winter homes in South and Central America and fly North. This occurs over the course of a couple of months and most of the time these birds will fly that Southern tailwind until they are many mile inland and they decide to stop and feed. Sometimes these large groups of birds will run into a front that has winds blowing from the opposite direction and when they encounter these they often will head for the nearest point of land.
The upper Texas coast all the way around to the Florida panhandle can experience massive “Fallout” conditions any time during migration when a cold front goes through. Timing is everything and if the front is a little to early or to late the birds may miss a particular hotspot and this seemed to be the case for us Wednesday. Fortunately Fort Desoto is such an amazing place even on non fallout days there are still gobs of great birds around and this was the case for Cheryl and I.
We saw just over 80 species of birds in the 10 or so hours of birding. No supper large number of any particular species with maybe a dozen Black-throated Green Warblers being the most conspicuous and while most others could be counted on one hand the variety was fabulous. Some of the better birds seen were … Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Summer and Scarlet Tanagers, both Buntings, Rose-breasted and Blue Grosbeaks and Red-eyed, Black-whiskered and White-eyed Vireos. Lots of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds along with 15 species of Warblers including Hooded, Prothonotary, Tennessee and Yellow.
The Yellow Warbler was a new and surprising bird for me at the Fort. They were being seen high up in the Oaks which was a surprise for me as when I see them in Ohio the are usually lower to the ground in shrubby areas. I guess you have to dine where the food is!
As the day progressed more and more birds were setting down. The variety kept picking up and we really didn’t have any dead periods throughout the day. There are lots of pictures from 10 hours of birding and I’ll share more as I process them.
Thank you so much for joining me on my adventures through the marvelous world God has given us.