Although spring is in the air, the recent snow still makes birders dream of different habitats and warmer weather. Travel out of the country is becoming dearer and air travel is about as irritating as it gets. So perhaps a road trip to Florida is an option. The image that comes to mind for most folks when I mention Florida is Disney/Epcot, Miami or Cape Canaveral. There is much more to Florida than those areas and the birding is spectacular, even in Miami and Cape Canaveral.
The best tool for the bird watcher when he or she arrives in Florida is a pamphlet called the Great Florida Birding Trail. This collection of birding trails and sites were gathered by the combined efforts of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Wildlife Foundation of Florida, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Florida State Parks.
There are four guides which are divided into clusters of birding locations in different parts of the State. There is the East Section, which stretches from the Georgia border to West Palm Beach on the east coast and inland as far as Kissimmee. The Southern Section stretches across the whole State starting at Lake Okeechobee and going all the way down to Key West. The Western Section covers the Gulf coast of Florida from around Sarasota to south of Tallahassee. The Panhandle Section covers the rest of Florida to the Alabama border.
My favorite area is the East Section, as it contains the incredible River to Ocean Cluster which houses the Canaveral National Seashore and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, to name just two of the nine locations in that cluster.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has some great trails and my favorite is Black Point. No, not the one in Chilmark, but the one in Titusville, Fla. Here you can drive along a dirt road and bird from the car and see up close and personal massive numbers of waterfowl, shorebirds including large flocks of American avocets, reddish egrets dancing in the shallow water herding their prey with the shadow of their wings and roseate spoonbills in stunning pink plumage against the green of the mangroves.
There are good numbers of northern harriers that winter on Merritt Island and as they glide over the flats the masses of shorebirds take to wing. It is a sight worth seeing. On the way back to the entrance of the refuge, you might be lucky enough to see the rare Florida scrub jay on the telephone and electric lines and if not, there are scrub trails nearby where you surely can spy this perky jay.
There are platforms on the beaches of the Canaveral National Seashore from which you can view the various terns and gulls of the area. In the spring and fall, these platforms afford views of migrating raptors and shorebirds. The winter months provide views of northern gannets and scoter species. There are many more lesser black-backed gulls in this area than their bigger cousins the greater black-backed gulls that we are familiar with on the Vineyard.
So try Florida for its birding potential. The state boasts the Great Florida Birding Trail and more state parks than any other state in the Union.
Spring is in the air. Red-winged blackbirds have continued to visit local feeders. Joan Ames of West Tisbury had two at her feeder on Feb. 20 as well as both hairy and downy woodpeckers. Joan also noted that a common goldeneye was on her pond the same day getting some protection from the wind and waves of the Sound.
Bonnie George has been watching red-winged blackbirds flying around the Quansoo woods. Her report is from Feb. 23.
Happy Spongberg was thrilled to hear the rustle and then watch three northern bobwhites cross the path in front of her. At the time she was walking on Pond Road in Edgartown.
Matt Pelikan commented that in his Oak Bluff neighborhood the northern cardinals, house finches and song sparrow have started singing. It is interesting that about exactly the same day the northern cardinals starting singing here the same day. No doubt, says Matt, the amount of daylight triggered the songsters both north and south.
The most exciting news is that Gus Ben David spotted an adult golden eagle on the Elizabeth Islands on Feb. 23. Keep an eye out for this majestic raptor as it may cruise over to the Vineyard. Gus is pleased that his and the Potters’ barn owls are back. Because the population is recovering after its fall in 2005, Gus is erecting a second barn owl box at the World of Reptiles and Birds.
Jennie Greene heard a weird sound outside her Quansoo house. After researching several internet sights she determined that what she was hearing was a saw-whet owl — an interesting time of year for this diminutive owl. Please call in your sighting to 508-627-4922.
Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds II and has lead birding trips to Central and South America for three decades.