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A Bullock’s Oriole and Other Migrants at Long Key

October 17, 2012

By Rafael Galvez

A Bullock’s Oriole was found today at Long Key State Park, in the Middle Keys. The male bird was located while we conducted our morning transect count along the transitional zone on the south coast of the park. The bird was perched within a strand of mangroves and buttonwoods, and partly concealed within the canopy. I was able to observe the bird for roughly 3 minutes, after which it flew towards the northeast, into thicker mangrove habitat. As the oriole flew it gave a grainy, full-bodied and relatively high peeht call. My immediate reaction after the bird flew was to do a quick field sketch. Unfortunately, the only blank surface I had was the back of a business card (left graphite drawing below).

Upon return to the lab at midday, I was set on redoing my sketch on larger paper and to add color before seeing any photographs or referring to any field guides. Unfortunately, my watercolors were 2 hours away in Homestead, so I opted for stopping at the “Qwik Stop” convenience shop in the town of Layton, hoping they might have color pencils or markers for sale. Interestingly, they only had a full line of L.A. Girl eye liner in an assortment of yellows and browns. Below (right) is the first illustration I have ever done using eyeliner as my medium.

Bob Stalnaker was with me during the transect count. I had been looking at the bird for a while  and literally yanked him into the tight mangrove nook so that he could get photos with his 400mm lens. The bird was fidgety, yet Bob managed to snap a few shots – distant but revealing – before the bird took off (below).

A full report on this sighting will soon follow, and will be submitted to the FOSRC for review. 

Migration has toned down a bit recently and we are no longer getting the “thousand” daily Bobolink flights. Palm Warblers are everywhere, and the first Yellow-rumped Warbler of the season showed up today.

There was also a Clay-colored Sparrow at Long Key today, and the first Savannah Sparrow of the season was seen last week at Curry Hammock.

The second Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the season was at Long Key today, yet the plentiful Eastern and Gray Kingbirds of a couple of weeks back are nowhere to be seen.

Other interesting recent sightings at Long Key have included a Sedge Wren and a Least Flycatcher.

One of the highlights of this period in fall migration in the Keys is watching groups of migrating Great Blue Herons. Several dozen may be seen during a single day flying southward from Long Key and Curry Hammock. The birds are often squawking in a distinctive manner while in flight. This photo was taken at Curry Hammock by Kevan Sunderland.


Long Key Morning Flight and Transect Counts

During the fall of 2012 season, in addition to the traditional monitoring of raptor migration from Curry Hammock State Park, the FKH project has also been conducting morning surveys at Long Key for migratory birds.

The flights of migratory birds over Long Key are monitored for 1.5 hours before sunrise. The birds are tallied by listening for their flight calls before daybreak, and by observations of flying birds at first light from an elevated deck at the Keys Marine Laboratory in the town of Layton, overlooking Florida Bay and 36.25 km SSW from Flamingo.

Starting from roughly 7:30am, a transect count for migratory birds is conducted at Long Key State Park. The park offers some of the most diverse adjoining stopover habitat in the Middle Keys. The transect takes us through a mangrove community, a transitional coastal zone, a xeric coastal berm, and a rockland hammock.

Many interesting observations and calls have been seen and heard. We’ve witnessed a number of notable migration events over this area. A future full report after season’s end will go into detail about what we’ve documented. Below is a small sample to illustrate the role that some of the Middle Keys play during fall migration.

On September 21, 2012, between 6:20 and 8:20 am, a conservative estimate of 1500 migratory passerines were tallied from Long Key. Although nearly half of these were Bobolinks, almost all the rest were warblers, many of which were making land fall into the thin mangrove edges adjacent to our observation deck.

With strong winds up to 15 km/h blowing out of the SE, it was interesting to see such large numbers of song birds arriving to land from the northwest. It could be assumed these were birds compensating for wind drift and deciding to “backtrack” into the wind at day break, not wanting to be caught over open water as the sun rose. These could have been birds that had flown over Cape Sable, but considering the strength and direction of the winds, they could have drifted from much further east. From greatest to least, in terms of numbers observed that morning, the species included American Redstart, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Prairie Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Eastern Kingbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-throated Warbler and Blackburnian Warbler.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Michelle Davis permalink
    October 18, 2012 2:34 pm

    Great sketches of a beautiful bird! Not a whole lot of doubt as to his identity…

  2. JoSanz1217 permalink
    October 18, 2012 8:32 pm

    Wow! You certainly captured the bird very well. You were lucky to find the right colors, although being a woman, I can’t imagine wearing yellow eyeliner….L.A. Girl says it all, though. As a painter, I’ve never used eyeliner as a medium either, but it may be worth trying. 🙂

  3. November 8, 2012 5:38 am

    The weekend had an impressive 19 species of warblers in all, a good count for this late in the season. But it was the raptors that we had come to see and see them we did with more than 2,000 of 13 different species. The group saw a total of 90 species, with most of the group seeing close to 80. I have been to Cape May and Kiptopeke in October for Hawk migration and I can tell you I have never seen the number of raptors or a kettle of 400 birds of one species so close. It was overwhelming as you watched in amazement of the grandeur of nature. We certainly cannot recreate a hurricane for next year, but if this year is any indication, there are always wonderful things to see in the Keys. Don’t miss it next year.

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