Saturday, April 23, 2022

Bird watching with old and new friends on Sanibel Island

It sounds like the Catskills and Adirondacks are going to again be blanketed with six to twelve inches of wet snow which might take down some trees that have started to bud out. This won’t be good for the birds that have already moved north. Many are being hit with the bird flu and those that have died (or are dying) will be eaten by predatory hawks and owls which will in turn catch the flu and also die…not a good deal in the bird world.

This weather up north could cause some dangerous conditions in the hiking public who venture out from the flatlands where there has been no snow for nearly a month and try to tackle one of the high peaks. You may not be prepared for these conditions and should turn around and not even go into the woods. Some friends ran into these conditions the other day and turned around when rain turned to snow. It took them a while to get back out in the dark which could have ended differently, another Forest Ranger rescue, thanks for being there!

Here on Sanibel Island this morning (April 18) there is a Chuck-Wills-Widow, a “goatsucker.” (They were first called goatsuckers because of the ancient superstition that they used their wide mouths to suck milk from goats.) He was singing his heart out looking for a mate. Karen woke me up yesterday Easter morning and asked what this crazy bird is singing out front this morning and it was the Chuck-Wills-Widow, which sang as the full moon hung in the western sky. The sun was coming up over Fort Meyers and as I was photographing both out on the beach, Michale Glennon, and her mother, down from Saranac Lake came walking down the beach. We had a nice chat and took a few more pictures. We talked about the goatsuckers and other birds we had seen in the area.

Full moon over Sanibel Beach in Florida. Photo by Gary Lee.

Another friend Gisela from Long Island just got in on Saturday (April 16). She goes out for a beach walk early each morning and commented on the bird singing. She said she heard them and Whip-Poor-Wills in Germany when she was growing up. They called them “goatsuckers” there as well. On Friday morning I went to Bunch Beach for a bird walk with another friend, Julie Long from the Chicago area, who I bird with down here each year. This walk was led by Charlie Null who checks e-bird lists in this area.

This walk was to identify lots of little birds on the mud flats and bigger birds like gulls, terns and herons along the shores and sandbars further out beyond the mud flats while the tide was out. There were about twenty in the group and the no-see-ums were having a picnic while we got together in the parking area before getting out on the beach where they weren’t too bad. There were several scopes in the group which were shared when someone got on one of the birds to be identified.

Many of the shore birds were just getting their breeding colors as many of these birds head north and breed in the tundra area. There were many Semipalmated Plovers in color already. No Piping Plovers were seen here today, but I had seen them there on other visits. The Black-Bellied Plovers had a checkerboard of black on their breast which will be solid black in just a couple of weeks.

We saw Red Knots, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Semipalmated, Western, and Least Sandpipers, Short billed Dowitchers, Ruddy Turnstones and Willets. Many of these birds get so much prettier when on territory breeding. Out on the sandbars were several Laughing and Herring Gulls, a couple Oystercatchers, one Black Skimmer, Royal, Caspian and Sandwich Terns. Waders we saw Little Green Herons nest building, Reddish Egrets, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Tri-colored, Great Blue and Little Blue Herons.

It was a great birding identification morning with lots of old friends and some new birding friends. I wished many Happy Easter as I biked by them on the way to the lighthouse. I saw a couple of warblers where I park my bike in the picnic area. I met Jose’ and a friend David as I walked around then we bumped into Jeannea who had seen Nighthawks around the lighthouse. Close to there she spotted a Mangrove Cuckoo which put on quite a show for us not ten feet away. I got some of the best pictures ever of this neat bird as it preened for over ten minutes.

We steered some other birders there who had similar experiences with that bird…what an Easter treat!

The night-blooming cereus is going to put on quite a show during this week, but that’s another story. See ya.

Photo at top: Mangrove Cuckoo on Sanibel Island, Florida. Photo by Gary Lee. 

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Gary lives with his wife, Karen, at Eight Acre Wood in Inlet where he was the Forest Ranger for 35 years, working in the Moose River Wild Forest Recreation Area and West Canada Lakes Wilderness Area. Now retired, Gary works summers for the Adirondack Center for Loon Conservation, observing, catching and banding loons. The author of a column Daybreak to Twilight in local papers from 1986 to 2019, he now writes his Outdoor Adventures a weekly blog. In 2008, Gary coauthored a book with John M.C. “Mike” Peterson, "Adirondack Birding- 60 Great Places to Find Birds."

4 Responses

  1. Bill Kitchen says:

    Florida is a great place to visit with lots of interesting wildlife but it has its problems, some not far from Sanibel Island. Hope we don’t ruin it with out-of-control development. Kind of makes one appreciate some of the restrictions we have in the Adirondacks.

    • Joan Grabe says:

      Sticking to strictly local matters and Matlacha is local, we have as many citizen groups and environmental advocate organizations on teeny Sanibel as you have in that entire Adirondack Park. We know what our problem is here – contamination from leaking septic tanks and agricultural fertilizer run off in the Caloosahatchie River that is polluting San Carlos Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The Caloosahatchie carries water from that sump in the center of the state, Lake Okeechobee. So our problem is governmental -The Army Corps of Engineers and the state and local governments and their loyalty to Big Sugar and the reluctance to spend tax money on improving waste water facilities, inspecting septic tanks etc. altho there was federal money available for such improvements. A decade ago Sanibel put in a island wide sewer system, not voluntary. And we keep improving it. I suspect that many of our problems on Upper Saranac Lake are caused by antiquated and inadequate septic systems on the shore. There are no mandatory inspections, just suggestions.
      Meanwhile, the migrating and local birds are spectacular, the weather is gorgeous, the gulf is clear and warming, the sea shells are plentiful here on Sanibel. It is pretty perfect.

      • Bill Kitchen says:

        Yes, my parents have a place on the east coast and Lake O is helping to create similar problems there. A few years ago there were bulldozers on the beach in Vero pushing piles of dead smelly fish. People were told to stay away because the air was unhealthy to breathe.

        It’s a big beautiful planet with endless spectacular locations that we can either save or apparently destroy. I hope that is top of mind everyday, especially Election Day.

  2. Charlie Stehlin says:

    I like your nature observations Gary, and every time I see your name I am reminded of Moose River Recreation Area. When I was a youngster mom and dad took us kids up from Long Island to camp there for two weeks at a time in the fall, late September. I don’t ever recall meeting you but two of my brothers have and my dad had mentioned you numerous times over his years, as they all had known you through those Moose River camping days. They all knew you from back then, and I recall at least one of my brothers sharing stories about them taking hikes with you on some of those trails way back in the Plains. It’s a small world oftentimes, and O’ how the time so quickly passes by.

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