Mid-October Birding

At St. Marks NWR early this morning the pale moonlight filtered down through a high fog layer as I started walking out the Double Dikes to do a 4.7-mile circuit around Stony Bayou II. I had already seen two Gray Foxes on Lighthouse Road and heard Barred Owls calling at the Double Bridges. Despite the cool morning temperatures in the upper 50s, frogs were calling from the marshes to the North. By the time I reached my listening point on the North levee of Stony Bayou II, the Eastern sky was suffused with pink.

I set my scope down and listened. There were more Barred Owls, Black Crowned Night Herons and the guttural squawk of a Great Blue heron in the night. As the night faded, I shouldered my scope and continued my walk. Wood Ducks started to fly. A Bobcat came walking down the levee toward me, but turned and fled when it figured out what I was. By sunrise I was at the far end of the Pool and I started seeing migrant birds that had dropped in overnight.

Live migration radar had shown a lot of bird traffic and as I walked the levee, I started seeing Marsh & House Wrens, Savannah, Song & Swamp Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats, Palm & Yellow Warblers and Gray Catbirds. As I turned onto the cross levee between Stony I and II, a female Vermilion Flycatcher flew by and perched in a dead shrub. Later I found a brilliant male in its usual spot where the Double Dikes join Lighthouse Road.

With my morning walk over I drove down Lighthouse Road. As I neared Mounds Pool I, I saw several hundred waders flying up from the marshes. A Bald Eagle was hovering in the air, looking for prey. Fifty or so Blue-winged Teal took off and the eagle flew away as the waders settled back down in the marshes. They were mostly Snowy Egrets and White Ibis with a few Little Blue & Tricolored Herons mixed in. I had stopped my car on the side of the road to scope out the waders and I noticed Catbirds flying by. A Merlin falcon swooped through about ten feet off the ground, circled up and came back through at a high rate of speed hoping for a Catbird breakfast.

After a few more stops I started out the Tower Pond Trail and immediately ran into migrants; Hooded & Black-throated Green Warblers, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and a Swainson’s Thrush. By the time I completed the 1.5-mile trail, I had added Wood & Gray-cheeked Thrush, Cape May, Black-throated Blue, Tennessee & Magnolia Warblers, Red-eyed & White-eyed Vireos and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Of the migrant birds that I saw today, the wrens and sparrows are probably here for the winter. Some of the Common Yellowthroats and White-eyed Vireos are local birds, but the rest are passing through. They will winter in South America or in the Caribbean. We’ll see them again next Spring. As the last of the trans-migrants pass through, we’ll start seeing our winter birds arrive over the next month; ducks, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Robins and Cedar Waxwings.

Today was an especially good day at St. Marks. There will be more to come.

Don Morrow, Tallahassee, FL