Birding doesn’t disappoint for long (or the Connecticut Warbler)

May 15th Hugh Taylor Birch State Park

After touching down on time in Miami International and getting the super cheap Sixt rental, I headed north towards Ft. Lauderdale with high hopes. A few days ago a Bahama Mockingbird had been reported at Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, a small strip of native hammock wedged between Ft. Lauderdale beach and sprawling suburbs. Some traffic, to be expected in southern Florida, slowed me down, but I arrived around one in the afternoon. Apparently the bird had not been seen for a few days, but undeterred I started searching. I first noticed a few American Redstarts, with the odd Black-throated Blue Warbler mixed in, almost all females this late in migration.

I wandered the trails, found introduced Black-hooded and Monk Parakeets, a skittish Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and more and more American Redstarts. Investigating the group campground I spotted one Florida specialty, a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk. Along a longer trail I met a local birder, who was looking for Connecticut Warbler specifically, but was able to point me in the right direction of the Bahama Mockingbird’s latest sighting, but it became apparent quickly that the bird had left. Disappointing, but with birding disappointment does not last very long.

American Redstart Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Florida Photo Stephan Lorenz

By mid-afternoon the number of birds had increased dramatically and new species continued appearing. A strong west wind brought migrants ashore by the dozens. American Redstarts fluttered like butterflies out into the trail, at one point I saw ten along the edge of the thick low forest. Black and orange males mixed in with dozens of gray-green females, up to half a dozen in one tree. A male Cape May Warbler made a short appearance and Blackpoll Warblers, Black-and-white Warbler, Northern Parulas, and Common Yellowthroats became more numerous. Yet I couldn’t tear myself away from the American Redstarts, bouncing in ever swelling numbers among the dense foliage, tails fanned, hyperactive, some as close as a foot. Estimating even conservatively I saw over four hundred.

Black-throated Blue Warbler Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, Florida Photo Stephan Lorenz

My empty stomach eventually caught up with me and I made a run to the closest convenience store, driving out and back into the park, I could see Redstarts sally out above the road. I returned to the spectacle of black, orange, and yellow. The local I had acquainted earlier was nice enough to track me down and inform me that a Connecticut Warbler had been spotted in the morning. I crossed the park again on foot and began searching a dense strip of thickets. Connecticut is a large ground dwelling Oporornis warbler, uncommon and secretive, its breeding range largely limited to boreal Canada and northern Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. The species migrates along the eastern seaboard and through the Midwest.

I hovered along a short section of the trail, keeping a close eye on the ground, while Redstarts and Parulas fluttered about at eye level. A single Magnolia Warbler dropped in, as if to say hello from the Texas coast, where there were hundreds just a week ago. A Common Yellowthroat skulking close to the ground made me looks twice. The evening sun slanted in heavy orange blotches among the darkening woods. I wandered up and down the narrow trail one last time. A bird flushed, flew across the path, and disappeared among dense undergrowth. Eventually I spotted its shape, even before I could see if fully, the unique gait revealed a Connecticut Warbler. A few seconds later the bird walked right out into the open, stopped briefly, before disappearing. Birding is rarely disappointing.

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