Florida Kayak Birding: Prothonotary Warbler

My field season has slowed down a little bit, so I have had some time lately to kayak some of the local lakes. Kayaking is a great way to beat the Florida heat, and birds are often concentrated around lakes, rivers, and wetlands to do the same. It’s been so hot that I almost want to jump in the lakes….almost…but my irrational fear of alligators keeps me out!

Last week, while kayaking on Lake Charles near my house, I found a pair of Short-tailed Hawks, and this week I wanted to go back and photograph them.  Unfortunately the pair wasn’t there, but having my camera on board gave me a good opportunity to get up close to a male Prothonotary Warbler. Prothonotary Warblers nest in north central Florida and the panhandle. They are cavity nesters, and they rely on other bird species to excavate nest sites for them.  Check out this amazing count of breeding Prothonotaries submitted from an ebirder last summer around this time on the Silver River!

As I was following the shoreline of Lake Charles, I heard a male Prothonotary Warbler singing among the Northern Parulas and Yellow-throated Warblers that dominated the lake edge, in about the same area as he was last week.  As I got closer, the singing stopped. I was sure my giant pink kayak scared him off. But within seconds, what appeared to be a bright yellow marshmallow peep with black beady little eyes dropped from mid-canopy level and started bounding around the reeds and cypress knees.

Prothonotary Warbler - male; investigating pink kayak situation

Prothonotary Warbler – male; investigating pink kayak situation

I jammed my kayak paddle into a cypress knee to keep from blowing away while the Prothonotary Warbler watched me from a lily patch. He then rocketed himself up into the cypress tree, started singing again, and proceeded to pick bugs out of the tendrils of Spanish moss hanging around. I was busy flailing about trying to safely remove my camera from my bag without tipping, but he didn’t go far.

Prothonotary Warbler - male; stalking insects in Spanish moss

Stalking insects in Spanish moss

By the time I got the camera out, he was more interested in feeding anyways, although a Tufted Titmouse became curious about my pink boat and its scolding calls prompted the Prothonotary to sing again.

Eyeballing his next meal?

Prothonotary Warbler - male; Lake Charles, Marion County, Florida

Prothonotary Warbler – male; Lake Charles, Marion County, Florida

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Prothonotary Warbler – male; Lake Charles, Marion County, Florida

Kayaks are an amazing way to get close to wildlife in a very unobtrusive way. You simply need to have your camera accessible and float by at a distance which does not disturb your subject. Different bird species react differently, and over time you will learn the minimum distance particular species are comfortable with. You’ll want to keep paddling and general flailing about at a minimum to blend in better, and surprisingly even a brightly colored kayak can float by some birds without disturbing them. This is the first time I have had a kayak in Florida so I hope to use it to my advantage to keep birding throughout the hot Florida summer.  I just hope my kayak is bigger than most of the alligators I encounter. More kayak birding to come!