Spring Migration at the Florida Gulf Coast

May 01, 2018  •  48 Comments

Blackburnian Warbler 2Blackburnian Warbler 2

Blackburnian Warbler

A big storm front was predicted to push through the Florida Panhandle in mid-April (a couple weeks ago), followed by the wind shifting to the northwest. Based on what Crystal understood from birder friends, that sounded like prime conditions for lots of weary neotropical migratory songbirds to drop to the first land they came to after crossing the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan.  Our dear friend, Susan Cerulean (our primary birding mentor) had witnessed a "fall out" in similar conditions just the week before at St George Island and encouraged us to go for it.  So, Crystal and I, and our dog Scruff, with minimal planning, left mid-storm on Sunday, headed for the state park on St George.

Cape May Warbler 3Cape May Warbler 3

Cape May Warbler

As we arrived on the Island, the tail of the storm was breaking up, and sure enough, the brisk wind had shifted to WNW. There were so many birders there, we had trouble finding a place to park.... and we struck GOLD!

Black-throated Green WarblerBlack-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

We stayed for two days and saw 52 species in an area not much bigger than our yard.  Of those, 20 were warblers -- 12 of which we had never seen before! It was incredible and so lucky.  To a large degree, our luckiest encounter was meeting Alan Ashley who was leading a small group from Albany (GA) Audubon Society.  Other birders pointed out (and helped identify) many birds for us, but Alan was one of those teachers one dreams about. His birding experience stretched over 6 decades, his knowledge vast, and best of all, he loved sharing his enthusiasm and expertise. Alan's group had left Sunday afternoon (our first day), so we were surprised to see Alan and Peggy there Monday morning, but they'd decided to stay another day. And so all day Monday, Crystal and I were Alan's fledglings.  If you happen to see this, Alan Ashley, thanks again for your kindness, humor, patience, and sharing.

Peewee 2Peewee 2

Eastern Wood-Peewee

For many years now, I've been much more a FL landscape photographer (than wildlife). On top of that, I was recovering from surgery and had a weak left shoulder with limited range of motion - that's the arm I use to hold up my heavy telephoto lens. These birds, especially the warblers, are small (4-6"), and they seemed to move non-stop through the scrub oaks and pines.  So, I was rusty and my subjects were challenging, but I was really psyched and determined... and somehow managed to get a good assortment of well-focused portraits (out of very many duds). Just for my own record, warblers we saw but I was unable to photograph: Yellow-throated, Yellow-rumped, Black and White, Tennessee, Blue-winged, Magnolia, Prairie, Palm, female Redstart, Wilson's, and Swainson's.  

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Parula FlightParula Flight

Northern Parula

Cerulean WarblerCerulean Warbler

Cerulean Warbler

Blackburnian WarblerBlackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

Eastern TowheeEastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Brown-headed NuthatchBrown-headed Nuthatch

Brown-headed Nuthatch

Black-throated Green Warbler 2Black-throated Green Warbler 2

Black-throated Green Warbler

Blue GrosbeakBlue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Cape May Warbler FlightCape May Warbler Flight

Cape May Warbler
Scarlet TanagerScarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Later on Monday, we suddenly heard a cry of distress and looked up just after a falcon - a Merlin -  had chased down and caught a male Scarlet Tanager. We stood aghast as it landed on a snag to finish killing its prey. I made a few photos, said a prayer for the dying bird, and felt sad, particularly thinking of the treacherous and exhausting flight the tanager had just successfully completed across the Gulf. Many of these migrants perish in the sea before reaching North America.

Merlin with TanagerMerlin with Tanager

Merlin with Scarlet Tanager

Hermit ThrushHermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hooded Warbler ImmatureHooded Warbler Immature

Immature Hooded Warbler

Hooded WarblerHooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Peewee 3Peewee 3

Eastern Wood-Peewee.  The one bird who'd sit still and pose.

Redstart 2Redstart 2

American Redstart

Summer Tanager MaleSummer Tanager Male

Summer Tanager

Worm-eating WarblerWorm-eating Warbler

Worm-eating Warbler

PS- For those of you who wondered, Scruffy got a few walks during birding breaks, but mostly he was happy to nap in his car-bed. He's become a great travel dog, adaptable, ready for new adventure, and always wanting to go along. What a great dog! 

That's it for this month. Hope you enjoyed the birds.  Please leave a word or two in the comments below, and share this link with anyone who might enjoy it.  Thanks for visiting.


A birders dream....thanks for sharing and caring.
Deborah Lawson(non-registered)
Fabulous photography David. It must have been an incredible experience! Thank you
Janet Starnes(non-registered)
Absolutely beautiful,both birds and photographs.
Breath-taking! Thank you so much for sharing!
Kari Irwin(non-registered)
So beautiful... it will take time to learn the birds here, but with so many in my own back yard I better get with it :) Thank you for all your wonderful pictures and information !!
Your website now has its place on my homescreen.
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