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Gnatcatcher Fallout!

September 20, 2013

By Rafael Galvez

GNATX Gnatcatchers fallout

GNAT X Gnatcatchers fallout 2At around 8:20 am, September 18, 2013, loose flights of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers with dozens and dozens of individuals became apparent over Long Key State Park. Soon, there were hundreds of gnatcatchers heading SSW at various altitudes. By 9:10 am, I had tallied an estimated 650 gnatcatchers in flight. All were detected as I paced no more than 50 yards while keeping tally and attempting to photograph the event.

GNATX Gnatcatchers fallout 3This morning, Rachel Smith, Kerry Ross and I conducted one of our daily morning transect counts at Long Key State Park. There was a nice diversity of birds in the park, with a number of warbler species dominated by Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat and American Redstart. This day, we also saw our first-of-the-season Tennessee Warblers and Palm Warblers. Highlights included several Chuck-wills Widows, and a small sparrow flock with Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows. Clay-colored Sparrow (photo below) has been seen for the second consecutive fall count at Long Key, yet was missing from the park’s official list of vertebrates before our surveys last year.

Clay-colored Sparrow L1010444

amre L1010376

While I have birded South Florida during migration many times and thought I’d encountered plenty of gnatcatchers, I had never experienced anything like the flights described above. Although the photos do a great job in capturing some of the birds coming through, it was very challenging to document the experience. Many of the birds were vocalizing, darting all over the sky in spurts that at times included more than 50 simultaneously detectable birds. I am certain that my estimate of 650 is conservative. While there were suddenly many gnatcatchers in the surrounding coastal trees and shrubs, it was apparent most were flying beyond the key. All photos were taken with a LEICA V-LUX 5. Below, a Hammock Skipper, a Moonflower, a Southern Black Racer, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.

hammock skiper L1010560

racer gnatcat

GNATX L1020237 GNATCATCHER4Composite of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers in flight.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Robin Diaz permalink
    September 20, 2013 6:39 am

    Absolutely stunning photos! The gnatcatcher fallout photos are incredible. We had a return Blue-gray Gnatcatcher from 9/2/12 yesterday at CFBS. These little birds are amazing.

    • September 21, 2013 6:36 pm

      They sure are amazing. I am amazed sometimes at how high up the seem to be traveling. I know they get a dubious rep by being relatively common, but they sure have inspired this migration season for me!

      • September 30, 2013 7:36 am

        That is the problem; birds should not be down played just because they are common. In reality they are just as special as the rarest of birds. It is only a psychological attitude–being fascinated with what is rare versus the common. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s are cool !!!

      • October 4, 2013 8:09 pm

        I agree Jeanette. Migration allows us to realize just how incredible these birds are – even the common species such as Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. There is nothing more rewarding – in my opinion – than observing a large group of tiny songbirds making landfall after great flights over water, and seeing how full of life they are. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Rangel Diaz permalink
    September 20, 2013 9:47 am

    Awesome start to the season. If only those BGGN were GWWA haha!

    • September 21, 2013 6:34 pm

      Thanks! I know what you mean! I actually started taking pictures like crazy because I thought that if anything I could zoom in and analyze the photos – and maybe find some “diamonds” in the midst. But everywhere I looked all seemed to be – and sounded like – gnatcatchers! Crazy! The photos support this. Not one was but a gnatcatcher.

  3. September 20, 2013 8:56 pm

    The photos of the clouds of BGGN’s is too cool! Clay-colored is nice, too. We still have OVEN, WEWA, NOWA, with first Swainson’s thrush and Veery today. Starting to see Cooper’s hawks but not sure if local birds.

    • September 21, 2013 6:31 pm

      Thanks. Can’t wait to see thrushes. We think we might be hearing them some mornings, but the skies still seem thick with Bobolinks. Soon enough. REVIs never seem terribly numerous in the Keys during the fall, which is quite interesting. WEWAs seem to have been less numerous down here than some, but maybe it is a matter of time. There sure are plenty of NOWA and OVEN around though!

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