Tag Archives: Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

From scrub to swamp at Seabranch Preserve

We went for a walk at Seabranch Preserve State Park. Is it weird that I think this landscape is beautiful? There was a controlled burn not many years ago.

“Sand pine scrub” is the name of this now-rare habitat, found on the ridges of ancient sand dunes along Florida’s central and southern Atlantic coast and in a small stretch along the Gulf Coast.

Watch out for prickly pear cactus along the narrower trails.

The scrub is a xeric plant community, very dry, though it rains as much here as everywhere else in subtropical Florida.

The habitat generally consists of open pinelands with an understory of various oaks, shrubs, and palmetto. The sandy soil is unable to hold water so rainfall and nutrients leach down through the sand, leaving a dry, nutrient-poor substrate. There is little or no silt, clay, or organic matter in the soil which is often called “sugar sand” because of its fine texture and light color.

It was a cold day on Thursday but the sun was warm in the late afternoon. We went out on the southern loop through the park. There are 8 miles of trails in total.

A rare silver variety of saw palmetto was calling out to be photographed.

I think this flowering plant is called sandhill wireweed, also known as largeflower jointweed. It’s a Florida native.

After I gaze at the beauty of this flower and its surroundings, I go home and my neighborhood yards seem a bit cluttered and “busy” with their layers of hedges and geometric shrubs, imported tropical plants, bright colors and thousand shades of green.

I would like to walk out my front door onto a sandy pathway past stunted pines and scrub oaks and a few scruffy wildflowers.

At the southern end of the park the trail bends around, heading in the direction of the Indian River Lagoon, then descends just enough that the scrub gives way to a “baygall community” of plants at the edge of a mangrove swamp, named for the loblolly and sweetbay trees and gallberry holly that grow there.

My 6’1″ husband poses, for size.

Baygall community from The Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) is “slope or depression wetland with peat substrate; usually saturated and occasionally inundated; statewide excluding Keys; rare or no fire; closed canopy of evergreen trees; loblolly bay, sweetbay, swamp bay, titi, fetterbush.”

I think the trees are loblolly bay?

Loblolly-bay (Gordonia lasianthus), also called holly-bay, gordonia, and bay, is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree or shrub found in acid, swampy soils of pinelands and bays on the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains.

Me for size (5’5″). You can see a burned trunk of a palmetto to the right, where fire-controlled scrub gives way to a lusher place.

The trail gets narrow, a bit mucky and damp (and it’s the dry season) and I sort of wished I had a stick for poking ahead of me and warning the snakes that I was coming. (We didn’t see any.) Cool moist air flows out from the plant-shade.

Lavender tasselflower, another Florida wildflower you probably won’t find in anybody’s tidy front yard. It’s also known as Flora’s Paintbrush and Cupid’s Shaving Brush. Give me a bouquet for Valentine’s Day!

(He doesn’t look like he needs to shave.)

We saw evidence of wild hogs, where they root around and leave muddy shallow holes, but not as much as we see at the Savannas Preserve. I’ve never see one “in person.”

Finally, a bird!

When we were almost back to the trailhead, I found a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

This is a bird I know, a fairly common winter visitor here. I recognized the bird’s call before I saw it… “The nasal, wheezy, rambling song and insistent, squeaky calls are great first clues to finding them, particularly as these tiny birds can get lost in the generally taller habitats used in the eastern part of their range.”

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher‘s grayish coloring and long tail, as well as the way it mixes snippets of other birds’ repertoires into its own high, nasal songs, have earned it the nickname “Little Mockingbird.

This one is perched (for a brief moment) on a sand live oak, Quercus geminata, a common tree in Florida’s scrublands. The bird quickly resumed its hunt for tiny insects and spiders, and we went home for dinner.

Three little birds

I leaned back in a chair on the patio, looked up, and waited for a bird to come into the sunny spot overhead. Lights, camera, action… Palm Warbler.

When the sun first hits the tree tops is the best time to see and hear the variety of small songbirds arriving for the winter, or passing through on their way further south.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are familiar winter visitors – easy to hear, harder to see.

A tiny, long-tailed bird of broadleaf forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but insistent calls and its constant motion. It hops and sidles in dense outer foliage, foraging for insects and spiders. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them.

The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s grayish coloring and long tail, as well as the way it mixes snippets of other birds’ repertoires into its own high, nasal songs, have earned it the nickname “Little Mockingbird.”

The Northern Parula “hops through branches bursting with a rising buzzy trill that pinches off at the end.”

The warblers are in my yard because of the laurel oak and all the tasty insects and arachnids it hosts. The tree has a tendency to shed many little leaves, even more so at this time of year. But sweeping is a small price to pay for happy warblers and happy warbler watchers.

Listen: Three Little Birds, Bob Marley

You’re welcome to our bugs, little migrating friends!

When you are looking up at birds…

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…the bird butt is a pretty common shot.

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Also the partly obscured shot.

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I think this is a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

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Yellow-throated Warbler.

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I checked Birdcast early this morning for the Migration Forecast and it looked like last night was a big night for migration. I found a mixed flock of warblers right down the street from our house, in a big live oak tree.

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The well-named Yellow-throated Warbler shows off its bright yellow throat in the canopy of forests in the southeastern United States. It hops up branches, working its way high into the canopy probing for insects in crevices and clumps of pine needles, much like a Brown Creeper or Black-and-white Warbler. Unlike those birds, the Yellow-throated Warbler is gray above with a black triangle below its eye and a white eyebrow. It is also one of the few warblers that can be found during the winter in the U.S.

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American Redstart.

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Sweet.

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This bird was calling very loudly for such a small bird. It’s a Yellow-throated Vireo.

A bird of open deciduous forests and edges, the Yellow-throated Vireo is one of the most colorful member of its family. Not only does this bird have a bright yellow throat, it looks as if it’s wearing bright yellow spectacles. This small heavyset songbird slowly hops through the canopy picking insects off branches and twigs. Males sing a burry three eight, on repeat throughout the day. Females join the males with a harsh scolding chatter during aggressive encounters.

A morning sampler of driveway birds

From my front picture window by the couch, while sipping coffee, I could see a small flock of warblers moving through the trees so I went out in the driveway with my camera.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in the Norfolk Island pine.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler.

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Overhead, a noisy Osprey.

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Raptor-ous.

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I love that I see Ospreys in my neighborhood all the time, all year round. A day never goes by without seeing or hearing at least one.

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My town is on a peninsula between the St. Lucie River and the Indian River Lagoon. Good fishing!

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Turkey vultures too!

Not a lot bigger than a gnat

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in an orange tree, spied from along River Road in south Sewall’s Point.

First time I’ve seen one of these tiny fellows. I got ID help on the Facebook page What’s This Bird.

A tiny, long-tailed bird of broadleaf forests and scrublands, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher makes itself known by its soft but insistent calls and its constant motion. It hops and sidles in dense outer foliage, foraging for insects and spiders. As it moves, this steely blue-gray bird conspicuously flicks its white-edged tail from side to side, scaring up insects and chasing after them.

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A Black-and-white Warbler was nearby.

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And a few Yellow-rumped Warblers were in the neighborhood too.

All of these little insect-eating birds are winter residents, in town for “the season.”