A Late Winter Nature Walk in SW Florida

A male goldfinch I spotted drinking from our backyard water drip expresses very well the winter to spring transition this time of year. It is a “half and half” yellow bird which is re-growing its iconic yellow feathers in preparation for its journey back north. Many plants are flowering here in Florida such as the tropical Tabebuia with its canopy of amazing pink flowers. The sea hibiscus is in full bloom; the flowers are yellow when they first come out and change to pinkish red during a day or so. This could be a signal that the flower is old and thus unattractive to pollinators. Or it might signal the opposite, as being open for business but to a different group of insects more attracted to reddish flowers.

Two wintering sandpipers seen close together on the Palm Island beach were the least and western sandpipers, differing mainly by the color of their legs. Both will soon be leaving to breed in the Arctic but do not yet show any breeding coloration. They may not be too anxious to arrive on the frigid breeding grounds before the weather is suitable.

Among a group of royal terns nearby. some show increases in the amount of black feathers on the cap, but are not yet fully changed into breeding condition. They breed nearby along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. An adjacent Forster’s tern is still in non-breeding plumage; they breed both along the coast and inland, mostly south of Canada.

A spotted sandpiper on the same beach is barely showing the development of the distinct spots which will distinguish breeding birds.

Thus although some birds are migrating northwards, many have yet to either migrate or to develop their full breeding coloration. But there are reports of tree swallows and some other migrants moving north to VA, so some migration is underway. Bird song is picking up although we are yet to see any substantial number of spring migrants passing through SW FL from Central and South America. But the time is very close for that most exciting time of year- spring migration of our N American breeding birds that winter in southern latitudes.

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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