Thursday, June 30, 2005

White Crown Pigeon's Guide Migrating Tarpon?

White Crown Pigeon (Columbia Leucocephala)

Why does a old Key West Tarpon guide get excited about a Pigeon?

Let me explain who this bird is, a striking fellow, asphalt in color with a very distinct white skull
They frequent the Bahamas, Cental America, Mexico, Cuba and the Florida Key's also the Everglade's but, no further north.

The White Crown Pigeon is known to cross large bodies of water and are fruit and seed eaters,
they also prefer to roost in the smaller Mangrove islands, staying in remote areas and avoiding
human company.

White Crowns arrive the last week of April, first of May, breeding begins in July in the Florida Keys after a few months of gorging themselves on Poison Wood Berries, Sea Grapes and other wild fruit.

The chicks feed non stop and in less than 40 days are airborne and more or less on their own.

I first became aware of White Crown's 20+ years ago when, I noticed at dawn headed west of Key West in my flats boat, these black, white crested birds darting low, passing a few feet over head and sometimes change course to purposely fly over my skiff as I headed west and they headed east toward Key West to find food and water.

At times on my way home from west to east and the White Crowns flying in the same direction
at about the same 25mph, they would match my speed and cock their heads watching
and darting across just over head in a somewhat playful manner.

This gave me time to study and after a little local research I found that they were hunted by the
Conch boys from their skiff's in the old days and would end up in the rice for dinner.

So why does a Key West flats fisherman care about the big fat pigeons?

We believe that the migrating Tarpon that show up in the Florida Keys come from Central America, Mexico, Cuba, Maybe. Some recent research suggests this.

The migrating spawning Tarpon schools show in the Key West oceanside flats beginning the last few days in April or first few days of May.

An old guide pal of mine one early May, asked me if I had seen anything of the Ocean Tarpon schools and my answer was "won't look for them until I see the White Crowns flying over the skiff!''

He said, as you would imagine, " the what?"

Ofcourse, I went on to tell him that the White Crown Pigeon's bring the Tarpon to the Keys every spring.

Now every April he askes, "any White Crown's yet!?"

I can tell you that every year, the first day I look for the ocean flats Tarpon, I have seen the White Crowns for the first time that morning.

Consider this!

I recently found the April 1832 Audubon drawing of a male and female White Crown Pigeon.
The notes Audubon wrote, as he did on most of this drawing said,

" we went into the thick mangrove of the Florida Keys to shoot White Crown's as they
arrived recently from Cuba"

Removing tung from cheek and going to bed....