Sunday, October 23, 2011

Phenomenal Frenchman's Forest

Nick and I were recently referred to a nice little hidden gem of a birding spot in North Palm Beach County - Frenchman's Forest Nature Preserve. We've hit up this spot a couple of times before and had some nice variety of birds, but nothing was as awesome as this past weekend. As we have come to find out, it was fabulous birding all over South Florida. I guess it was as close to a fallout that we've had in years! And we didn't even get even close to what some other folks had in other areas, but we still had fabulous birding, nonetheless. 

Florida Box Turtle

Florida Box Turtle closing up his flap

We got to Frenchman's Forest around 7:30am on Saturday, and right away we were having some great luck in the parking lot with some nice warbler species, including a much better look at a Magnolia Warbler than we've had before. The first and only one we saw before was very tattered and worn and not a great specimen, visually. We also had our first of several sightings of the tiny, adorable Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Female American Redstart

Our luck continued as we walked along the trail, seeing a total of 9 warbler species. The most numerous were American Redstarts (mostly female), Northern Parula, and Black-throated Blue (again, mostly female). The female Redstarts dominated our day. It seemed like 90% of the time we saw a small bird, it was a female Am. Redstart. They seemed to almost tease us with their little fanned tails flitting about. Another nice sighting were a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos. We flushed one out right away as we walked by the low tree where they were perched. And the other one stuck around just a little while before flying away with it's hard-sounding flap. 

Male Pileated Woodpecker climbing a tree

Male Pileated Woodpecker in a diagonal pose

Pileated Woodpecker silhouette

Male Pileated Woodpecker in a horizontal pose

As we made our way around the trail to a small boardwalk, we found ourselves in birding heaven! Warblers and vireos (Red-eyed and White-eyed) were flying back and forth across the boardwalk. A gorgeous Pileated Woodpecker showed off his beautiful red crest as he clung to the trees with its great claws and gave us some wonderful up-close looks. 

Pileated Woodpecker with his tongue sticking out

My best Pileated Woodpecker pic yet!

Pileated Woodpecker taking off

And to our surprise, we also found two female-type Rose-breasted Grosbeaks - a LIFER! We didn't know what they were right away since this was our first look, but my main descriptor for them was that mighty, mighty bill. And just as we were trying to re-locate the grosbeaks that had flown back in the mangrove trees along the boardwalk, I spotted another lifer - a Swainson's Thrush! Nick and I had thought we spotted a couple of them the week before at Frenchman's Forest, but we couldn't get a clear ID. But there was no doubt with this look. It was a time of redemption! 

Female Rose-breated Grosbeak

We had such an amazing day, and we were just wrapping up our walk, when we saw a larger bird in our peripheral view fly into a nearby tree and land on a large branch. If we hadn't seen it fly, I'm almost certain we would not have seen this bird. It appeared to be a juvenile Common Nighthawk (the bold white markings missing). It was perfectly still and blended perfectly with the mottled color of the bark. We took our time to get good looks, and I got some nice shots before we flushed it out as we continued on our path. 

Juv. Common Nighthalk

Juv. Common Nighthawk getting sleepy

And just as we thought we were ending our already great day, we stopped at a pair of tall live oaks that were teaming with life. Amongst the little bodies was THE roundest Cape May Warbler we've ever seen. He was definitely fattened up for winter. He looked like a golfball with a beak! And to clinch the great day we already had, we found yet another lifer - a Yellow-throated Vireo! We could not believe our luck and we had to practically tear ourselves away.

Great look at how the Nighthawk's colors blend so well with the bark

Juv. Common Nighthawk

But we didn't stay away long. We had such an amazing day at Frenchman's Forest that we decided to help ourselves to seconds the next day. And what a day that was as well. We had a quick look of the majestic Peregrine Falcon as it flew overhead. And we had some nice looks at both Painted and Indigo Buntings. 

We also added five more species of warblers to our weekend, including TWO, count them, TWO lifers! Ahhh! It was amazing! We hit this one area of the trail that was just swarming with warblers. A fully fruiting strangler fig tree was host to an all you can eat buffet for these little guys. We must have spent a full hour in just this one spot looking at this one tree and sometimes at the two trees directly on either side. Nick got a glimpse of what he thought was a Golden-winged Warbler, and my initial thought was this couldn't be, but I trusted him and we waited and waited for it to reappear. And then like a bolt of lightening, here comes a gorgeous, perfect specimen of a male Golden-winged Warbler! We got a great look at him for about a minute before he was gone and not to appear again that day. But he was amazing. And as we later found out from a South Florida birding pro, this was one of several sightings in Palm Beach county, and the last time they were spotted in the county was in 2003! We have no pictures to show for it, but we have the wonderful memory of this gorgeous warbler forever in our minds. 

Ovenbird - One of many warblers we saw

Another look at the secretive Ovenbird

And another day of epic birding at Frenchman's Forest ended with another redemption bird, the Scarlet Tanager as you have read in Nick's previous post. What a great migration in South Florida we've had so far! Heavy clouds and rain kept all of these amazing warblers and migrants grounded for days, and most of them took off later in the week when a shift in the winds moved them out by Thursday, Oct. 20. Just looking forward to more migrants and wintering birds to come.

Osprey with a fish

Osprey tearing the flesh of his fish breakfast

Below is a list of most of the species for that weekend (not including the regulars) with SIX Lifers: 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo    
Common Nighthawk 
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker
White-eyed Vireo
Yellow-throated Vireo (LIFER)
Red-eyed Vireo
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Swainson's Thrush (LIFER)
Gray Catbird
Black-and-White Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
American Redstart
Cape May Warbler
Northern Parula
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Palm Warbler
Pine Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler (LIFER)
Tennessee Warbler (LIFER)
Yellow-throated Warbler
Prairie Warbler
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (LIFER)
Painted Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Peregrine Falcon
Eastern Phoebe
Scarlet Tanager (LIFER)


  1. Wow! What a trip you two had!! Enjoyed the photos. :)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Angie! We're glad you're enjoying our posts.