A Rainbow of Color at Fort De Soto

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After last weekend’s fallout of migratory birds at Fort De Soto, I so wanted to take a vacation day on Monday to go birding there.  But I was good and responsible…and I went over on my next off-Friday.  Wow!  It was my first migration experience and it was just incredible.  I had a total of 9 lifers for the day.

I started out the morning with the sunrise at the East Beach turnaround, then couldn’t resist the morning light at North Beach for an hour (more on that in another post).  By 9:00 I had made my way to the East Beach woods, where most of the migrants this week have been reported.  I got out the car and immediately saw a small bird hopping around in the oak tree near my car.  That Black-and-White Warbler was the first of a bunch of fun finds.  Thrushes abounded, and within minutes I had collected two lifers: a Gray-Cheeked Thrush and a Veery.

This female Summer Tanager was in the oak tree at the start of the Privet Trail.  Her bright yellow caught my attention, and then she was such a good acrobat that I spent at least twenty minutes watching her. She didn’t seem afraid of me; she’d come sit in the braches right over my head.  When she spotted a bug, she’d fly out of the tree, swoop through the air, and grab the bug in mid-air.  Then she returned to the tree to eat it.  She repeated this show over and over.  How fun!

I walked along the Privet Trail, enjoying how migratory birds seemed to hop out of every tree.  The only frustrating part was that they seemed to see me a lot sooner than I saw them, and they hopped out of sight pretty fast.  But I got better at anticipating them, and started to spot fun birds.  I had several species of warblers, tons of Indigo Buntings, a Painted Bunting (female).  Thrushes seemed to be everywhere.

I found that the best spots were actually the oak trees in the picnic area.  I spotted a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, male and female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, and my first-ever male Baltimore Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers.

The birders were really nice.  With very few exceptions, they were happy to show me the birds they were looking at, and help me learn to identify them.  Most people were surprised that I’d never seen these migrants before!  We just don’t get that many migrants at the Circle B Bar Reserve.  One set of birders were on their way to Dry Torguga (lucky!!) but they showed me this Yellow-Throated Vireo first…

Another birder pointed out this Blackpoll Warbler.  She was hopping around low in the branches, and she obligingly posed on a branch right in front of me.  These birds winter in northern South America, then fly through the US to raise the families in Canada.

Normally I leave by mid-day since the light is so bad for photography, but I was having such a good time that I stayed for the afternoon.  I tried to use fill flash to fill in some of the harsh mid-day shadows.  After lunch, I headed to the mulberry tree area to check for more migrants.  I’ve never had much luck at the mulberry bush area.  I guess I’ve always have pretty bad luck with catching migrants at Fort De Soto before!  So I was ecstatic when this Gray Catbird posed so nicely on the mulberry tree as I entered the fountain area.  His nose was covered in mulberry juice, and he posed with his bright red underside for the camera.

I went nuts when I started to see all the Baltimore Orioles flying around.  It seemed like there was a bright orange bird in the air at least every five seconds!  There were a few female Baltimore Orioles, too, and at least one female Orchard Oriole.  They went nuts eating the oranges that were out on feeders.  I had to get a video for Mum-mum, who does sometimes see migrant orioles in her yard, but probably doesn’t get to get this close to them:

A Hooded Warbler frolicked along the ground near the ranger’s house fence.  I’ve seen Hooded Warblers at Callaway Gardens before, but never this close. At Callaway they stay high in the trees and sing their little song.  Rich and I came up with a pneumonic for their song: “told-ya, told-ya, told-ya-so!”

At one point I heard the familiar call of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, and I looked over to see two females fighting over a hummingbird feeder.  It’s so cool how Fort De Soto puts out feeders for these hungry birds.  After flying all the way across the Gulf of Mexico and losing over half my body weight in the process, I’d be hungry too!

A Wood Thrush hung around the mulberry area and a nice birder pointed him out to me.  He was what this birder called “a good bird”.  Of course, to me, they were all good birds!  One man asked me what my best bird of the day was…and seemed to laugh at me when I answered, “well, all of them!”

I had to learn the differences between the thrushes in order to identify my pictures.  The Wood Thrush is a darker brown than the Gray-Cheeked Thrush. The Swainson’s Warbler has a reddish cheek.  The Veery isn’t spotted.  By the end of the day, I’d seen all of them…

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

The photography got better as the afternoon went along and the light wasn’t quite so harsh.  I was able to get a bench facing into my shadow by the fountain, and I spent my last hour or so just sitting and watching the show around me.  This Tennessee Warbler hopped to the fountain and tried to drink next to an Indigo Bunting, but he got chased off by the bunting.  I guess bright blue wins the territory battle!

The fountain definitely attracts the migrants.  It’s nice shallow source of fresh water for them to drink and bathe in.  A lot of the birds in the area took their turns hopping over to it.  I was lucky and had the fountain area pretty much to myself by this point in the afternoon, and the birds got brave and started to pose for me.  On more crowded days, the birders flock to the fountain and scare away the birds!

All day I was hoping to see my first male tanager – Summer or Scarlet, I didn’t care, I just wanted to see a bright red bird that wasn’t a cardinal!  A Scarlet Tanager had flown in briefly in the treetop at East Beach, but he was so high in the trees that I could barely see him.  I was just getting ready to leave the mulberry bush area when this male Scarlet Tanager flew in and posed beautifully for me.  He even posed in a tree with his wife for me!  What a terrific end to an amazing day.

Bird Species Seen (61 total): American Oystercatcher, American Redstart, Bald Eagle, Baltimore Oriole, Black Skimmer, Black and White Warbler, Black-Bellied Plover, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler**, Brown Pelican, Common Grackle, Common Ground Dove, Common Yellowthroat, Double-Crested Cormorant, Dunlin, European Starling, Fish Crow, Gray Catbird, Gray-cheeked Thrush**, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Hooded Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Laughing Gull, Least Sandpiper, Least Tern, Magnificent Frigatebird**, Magnolia Warbler, Marbled Godwit, Mourning Dove, Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Parula, Orchard Oriole, Osprey, Ovenbird, Painted Bunting, Pileated Woodpecker (heard), Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Red-Eyed Vireo, Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Royal Tern, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Scarlet Tanager**, Semipalmated Plover, Snowy Egret, Summer Tanager, Swainson's Thrush**, Tennessee Warbler**, Veery**, White Ibis, Willet, Wilson's Plover, Wood Thrush**, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Yellow-Throated Vireo**, Yellow-Throated Warbler

** = Lifer!!

Want to learn more about nature photography at Fort De Soto?

Check out my Fort De Soto page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!

Planning a trip to Florida? Don't miss my Central Florida Bird Photography Locations reference guide!

2 thoughts on “A Rainbow of Color at Fort De Soto

  1. Our day was the pits compared to yours! Just 24 hours later and we didn’t see half of what you saw. They may have been there, but we just didn’t do a good job of getting to them. Next year I’m following you over there for all the action!! :-) Great post and great images!

  2. You got so many great shots! I found the mulberry area better for me than the trails. I just stood back and watched the birds fly around the fountain area. Great video of the hummer! Thanks for the swan tip yesterday. It was a fun morning.

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