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Migratory birds make a brief stop on islands for food, rest

By Staff | Oct 7, 2009

You may have noticed an additional assortment of sweet sounds here on Sanibel in recent weeks. That’s probably because the islands are experiencing a large “fall out” of migratory songbirds.

According to Brad Smith, Wildlife Habitat Management director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), these fall outs occur when large flocks of birds get caught by frontal systems and are forced to “fall out” on the nearest land. These events happen every spring and fall to a greater or lesser degree but they vary greatly in occurrence at any one location from year-to-year.

“This fall out is one of the biggest on Sanibel in the last 10 years, both in terms of number and diversity of birds,” said Smith. “Generally, the birds will hang around for a day or two before continuing their migration into the Caribbean where they will spend the winter.”

On Friday, Smith and Amanda Bryant, SCCF’s Biologist and Sea Turtle Coordinator, spent much of the morning visiting Periwinkle Preserve, a seven-acre parcel of conservation land which includes a half-mile nature trail, perfect for bird watching.

“After Hurricane Charley came through and took most of the Australian Pines out of here, we replanted the area to establish a hammock that would become a good bird habitat,” said Smith, who patrols a number of SCCF properties on a regular basis. “You can see a lot of the songbirds here because they are attracted to strangler figs, gumbo limbo and sea grapes.”

Smith reported seeing Black-and-White Warblers, Northern Waterthrushes, Palm Warblers, Blue-winged Warblers and Summer Tanagers the day before at the same location, but added that a large variety of birds might still be seen during this migration period.

Other birds which may be seen in this fall out include: Tennessee Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Redstart, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager and Eastern Wood Pewee.

For both amateur and experienced aviary enthusiasts, watch fig trees in particular to see some of these birds. The warblers and vireos are feeding on the bugs attracted to the fruits and the tanager, grosbeaks and thrushes are feeding on the fruits themselves.

“That fig tree was loaded with fruit yesterday,” Smith pointed out to his fellow SCCF employee. “Today, there’s not a lot of mature fruit left on it. They really did a job on it.”

Bryant, who explained that she does know quite a bit about shorebirds, tagged along with Smith on this outing because she wants to gain additional knowledge about the myriad of bird species who pass through Southwest Florida each year.

“This is something that I need to know since I work on the island and am bound to get some questions about it,” she said. “I needed to go with somebody who knows a lot about this… and he knows a lot!”

Interested in birding since his college years, Smith started watching birds with a hand-me-down pair of binoculars. He noted that the only tools needed to enjoy the hobby are a decent pair of binoculars and a copy of Peterson’s field guide for birds.

“You can get as much out of birding as you put into it,” he added. “You can be very passive and just enjoy being out in nature looking at them, or you can really get into it. Anybody can be a bird watcher.”