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March 24, 2011 / stephanie

Spring Break!

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary


Being jobless and out of school at the moment, the whole month of March has actually been somewhat of a spring break for me. But the weather here in Wisconsin is still hovering around freezing, so I think all of us get a little anxious for spring. Luckily, I was able to escape the wind and snow for a warmer climate in Fort Myers, Florida. Famous for its spring break beach parties, Fort Myers also happens to be nearby some very well-known wildlife preserves! Those who know me well wouldn’t be surprised that I wasn’t there for the beach parties.

I was visiting my parents who were renting out a condo at a golf course. They informed me that there weren’t very many birds there, but I knew there would be many more in Florida than there were in Wisconsin. Turned out I was right, I cranked out about 74 species for the week-long hiatus including 2 new additions for my life list. Many migratory bird species are only in Florida for the winter, so March is an excellent time to see them before they head north to their breeding territories.

On my first bird walk I already noticed little flocks of warblers in the trees. The most common species were Palm and Yellow-rumped Warblers. These are also the first warbler species that you will see in Wisconsin during spring migration since they don’t migrate as far south as other species. I was pretty excited to see a Palm Warbler in a habitat with actual Palm trees. However, I didn’t actually see the Palm Warbler in a Palm, so I guess I’m not really positive where the name came from. All the warblers were flocking to Live Oak, which were blooming at the time. The caterpillars were busy eating the flowers and the warblers were busy eating the caterpillars. The more birding I do, the more I realize I can be kind of a warbler fiend. You see, there are many types of birders, some love shorebirds and others are crazy about pelagic seabirds that you can only see if you’re in the middle of the ocean. I definitely like to see a variety of different birds, but since I was 8 years old I have loved to go after the tiny colorful birds at the top of trees that you have to break your neck to see. I guess it all comes down to the fact that I’m a sucker for “ooh pretty colors” and the cuteness factor, and that’s how I got hooked on warblers.

Little did I know that I was able to walk into a warbler-birder’s paradise at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. My main goal in going to Corkscrew Swamp was that I knew that there Painted Buntings there and my mom had never seen one. My mom isn’t necessarily a birder, but she is when she’s with me. (She is also the main audience for my blog so it seems kind of silly to be referring to her in the third person. Hi mom!) Anyway, if anything, a Painted Bunting can be a fabulous goal for any non-birder. So, we had barely walked onto the boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp and I got my mom her first view of a Painted Bunting (actually 3, two males and a female) and her first Pileated Woodpecker. Not too shabby!

Pileated Woodpecker


But of course my favorite part of Corkscrew swamp was the warblers. Near the end of our little 2 mile walk, I stumbled upon a flock of maybe 2 dozen birds or more, Northern Parula, Palm, Black-and-white, Pine and Yellow-throated Warbler. Mixed in with that were Blue-headed Vireos and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Fabulous! We also got to see a Red-shouldered hawk nest and baby alligators at Corkscrew swamp. An excellent mix of Florida’s breeding wildlife and migratory species. It is a pretty nice place to visit, with lots of helpful guides, ready and willing to help visitors get a closer look at the surrounding wildlife.

Male Anhinga at Corkscrew Swamp

I didn’t get any pictures of the warblers at Corkscrew, but I wanted to share a few pictures I got where the warblers were a little closer to the ground. These were taken at the Manatee Park in Ft Myers:

Prairie Warbler


Palm Warbler (western subspecies)

It’s funny, the Manatee Park isn’t any wildlife-enthusiast’s idea of a real well-preserved oasis for animals, it’s more of a coincidence that species tend to flock there. The adjacent power plant pushes warm waste water into the waterway that goes through the park. During the colder months of the year, manatees are attracted to the warmer water. And the sprawling live oak trees attract flocks of warblers, as seen above. It may not be ideal habitat, but it makes for an interesting case to see how animals are adapting to our ever-urbanizing world.

Anyway, my trip to Southwestern Florida also necessitated a trip to the infamous “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. The Refuge is very well known to birders as a great place to get close-up views of a variety of shorebirds. You actually are meant to drive the 5 miles through the park and stop along the way to catch glimpses of Herons, Egrets, Anhingas, Sandpipers and Ospreys. It is definitely a beautiful park, but personally I think that the crowds of people and all the vehicles tend to detract from the birding experience. I’ll repeat that, that is definitely my own view, though! I did enjoy my visit there and I did get a few nice pictures of birds and a lovely 6 or 7 foot gator.

Green Heron at Ding Darling


Shorebirds, cormorants, pelicans, and gulls! oh my!

Great Blue Heron

Common Buckeye

White Ibis


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