Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sanibel Lighthouse Migratory Bird Fallout - Every Birder's Dream

 I never thought it could happen to me. But it did. I was in the right place at the right time and experienced one of the thrills of my lifetime. And I got to share it with two of my most favorite people - my wonderful hubby Bill and big sister Beth. 

Baltimore Oriole
 On Monday morning we got up early, before sunrise, to go to Harns Marsh. Before we left the condo I checked STOKES BIRDING BLOG where Lillian Stokes posted that a rare phenomena was happening at Sanibel Lighthouse Park - a Migratory Bird FALLOUT. The unusual storm and heavy winds combined with the annual neotropical bird migration north caused hundreds - no, thousands of birds to fall out of the sky to land, exhausted and hungry, desperate to fill their empty stomachs with fruit and insects.

Scarlet Tanager
 Even though we missed the first day (Sunday) it was still going strong when we arrived at Sanibel's Lighthouse Park at 6:30 AM. Everywhere I looked there were beautiful birds - Warblers, Tanagers, Buntings - so many I couldn't take pictures fast enough. Bill kept pointing to one, then another and another and another. I took over 700 pictures on the first day and another 700 the next day. This is just a small group as I'm still going through them.

Black-throated Green Warbler
Many of the birds were attracted to the fruit of the Gumbo Limbo trees throughout the park. Birders could wait in a clearing near one of the trees and just watch the birds fly in. It was amazing! I didn't know which to grab first - my camera or my binoculars.

Blue Grosbeaks
Bright red, yellow, orange and blue birds were everywhere - like ornaments on a Christmas tree, confetti on the ground. Look up, look down, look left and right - they were everywhere.

Blue Grosbeak (male) on a Gumbo Limbo Tree

Blue Grosbeak (male)

Bill and Beth
My sister Beth was taking pictures as fast as I was. Many of our pictures are the same, but we both saw birds that the other missed so be sure to check her blog for more pictures.

Summer Tanager (female)
Sometimes it was difficult to know exactly what birds we were seeing as there were males, females, and juveniles - all with different plumages. Many were birds I'd never seen before - and so many varieties of warblers!

Indigo Bunting (male)
The most common bird in the fallout was the small, bright blue Indigo Bunting; dzeeet, dzeeet dzeeet could be heard everywhere.

Indigo Bunting
The female Indigo Bunting is plain, light and medium browns - but I haven't gotten to those pictures yet.

Orchard Oriole
Some of my first pictures are not very clear because it was barely light yet and I accidentally changed the setting on my camera - but my even more exciting story about camera settings comes later.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male)
There were so many Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, I heard myself saying "it's just another grosbeak."

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (female)
The female Grosbeaks look quite different than the males - but they are pretty in their own way.

Scarlet Tanager

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Can you believe this Scissor-tailed Flycatcher? I spotted him at dawn sitting by the beach all by himself. Bill and Beth were back by the Gumbo Limbo Tree - I had gone to the restroom and not another soul was in the area, so this sighting was all mine! Needless to say this is a new Life Bird for me!

Lillian and Donald Stokes, my sister Beth (on right) and me
Almost as exciting as the birds was recognizing that we were birding with Donald and Lillian Stokes, authors of "The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America" - by far the best bird book I have (and I have a ton!) They were the nicest couple you'll ever want to meet! Lillian spent time helping Beth and me with our camera settings so we could get the best possible pictures. She told us to spend time with our manuals and learn to change our settings without looking - so it can be done in the split second needed to capture a bird on the go. It was amazing. I can't thank them enough.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Before we left Ocala, I told Bill my goal for this trip was to see a Cuckoo. I'd never seen a Cuckoo - so imagine my thrill when I saw this Yellow-billed Cuckoo. They are shy birds and usually hide deep in the brush - but this one was so exhausted, he couldn't keep his eyes open. The next day I saw a Black-billed Cuckoo - but I haven't gotten to those pictures yet, so that will be in a future post.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Yellow Warbler

Sunrise at Sanibel Lighthouse Park
April 23, 2012
The day it rained birds
To be continued...

1 comment:

Salty girl said...

Gail, what a wonderful job you did documenting the Lighthouse Fallout! Sure wish I had been there, but there seem to be plenty still around, so I'm playing a little catch-up. I'm looking forward to your next entry :-)