South Florida, January 29-31, 2015
This is a bit of a long report as I have a lot to say, some of it may be helpful and some thought provoking. So bear with me.
I really didn’t need to go on this trip, but I was feeling a little left out. Rare birds were being reported and I wasn’t seeing any of them. The Ivory Gull flew before I could chase it. To top it out, I really didn’t have the chance to see anything noteworthy on my scheduled Texas chase a few weeks ago, despite lots of birds and good birds, too and I don’t know, I needed to go. Sometimes I have this need to run, always have, just got to go, and I had this so for no other reason than they had two birds and cheaper airfares than California, so I ran to Florida….well to catch a plane.
I put the itinerary together in a day and bolted south at 5am from Fargo, on Thursday, landing in Miami at noon, by 1, I was up off of Alligator alley exit 49 on some road called Snake Road…and I was looking for the Smooth-billed Ani. You got to love the names of the roads. This was not the abandoned road I had anticipated, it was loaded with traffic, trucks, buses, cars, Bentleys, BMWs, the works. Three Bentleys drove past us and at least 5 other cars worth over $100K. I found two other birders at the “sign.” This bird had been documented here for about a week.
The woman had maybe heard it, he hadn’t and there were also conflicting reports from earlier in the day on the internet, I suspect one of them didn’t actually hear the bird, as such the distances were impossible for that bird to move…but it did get hear. We looked, we stalked out the area, we canvased, we waited, we were joined by another couple. One hour went by, then two, and the second couple left frustrated. Finally, tiring of stirring up the white eyed vireos with their song, I moved a half mile south and actually gaged it exactly, where one of the questionable hearings came from. I got stopped by a cop for driving oddly during my half mile drive. Yea…windows down, head out at 5 MPH, I was driving oddly. He shook his head after I answered his recent question of why he kept seeing people in the road by the sign. “You know, sir, I didn’t think that isn’t that noteworthy of a sign. Birders…!???” Yea, we are an odd bunch. He drove off and I was left to my devices. I parked at a cattle gate since I could get off the road. The woman from the couple was hoofing it my way so I parked to look at a cattle egret standing on the back of a cow. I never got around to snapping a picture as then I heard it. It was still south and then I waived at the woman now 100 yards from me to hurry on and I walked toward it and I accidentally flushed it across the road.
This bird had not been seen well in days by anyone and at now almost five pm, it sat out and the sun popped out to light him up. It seemed to bask in all the attention from us taking pictures. My luck was back!
#685 Smooth-billed Ani
This is a code 3 bird and a member of the cuckoo family that actually broods its own nests. It used to be quite common in south Florida but in the last two decades it has all but disappeared except for stragglers from the Bahamas. Habitat loss? They like open country and there is still quite a bit of that in south Florida but maybe not where they used to be. IDK.
Having acquired my secondary target I drove out of Broward County down into the Keys to preposition for the big draw, my primary target, attempt number two on the elusive Key West Quail Dove. I ate at a sad excuse for an Irish pub, Dillon’s….Gordon Ramsey would have went ballistic, bad beer, bad food, bad serve, bad lighting, bad decor……it was all bad. Can you really screw up Newcastle Beer? You don’t serve it ICE COLD! Howard care to comment? I argued down the price of the food and left the difference …two bucks as a tip, because I never had the same waitress twice. I should have left nothing. I’m TOO nice.
I awoke early and visited the birders best friend in the northern Keys. The Dunkin’ Donuts in Tavernas. It has everything a birder needs. Open 24 hours, free internet-wi-fi, coffee and food served all day. They even take credit cards. The woman at the window was concerned about my bagel choice and so after making me a second and better sandwich I got on my way. I don’t know, the Tomato basil wasn’t that bad…
Now, here is some important info on this bird, the Key West Quail-dove. I arrived to Long Key State Park at 7:20, (gate opens at 8) I was third in line for the gate. By 8 there was 7 cars. However, later I learned that the campers had ran in the trail, birded the trail, and sent a springer spaniel through the trail (non-birders). Someone I read reported flushing the bird at 0710, from the parking lot across the road wrong way. When we arrived, we ran into two of these people, not sure if they were involved in any of the stories but they denied anyone had even seen the bird. Guilt maybe? Misdirection?
Luckily we made an agreement as a group to go down the trail together first but as the trail was disturbed, it didn’t matter. No quail-dove. Typically the first guy through the gate, jumps out of car and may be the only person to see the bird that day. Nine of us went down the trail and each patrolled it slowly, this included a guy with a really big flash. He didn’t see the bird though but DON’T USE FLASHES IN HERE! IT SPOOKS THE BRIDS. Two guys stumbled on the bird walking at 0915 at the second curve in the trail, quick look. four of us were fifty feet away and nothing, unfortunately I wasn’t one of those. A half hour later, I staked out a spot where I was hearing things earlier but where I had a ‘feeling.’ I have learned to trust the feeling but the sound turned out to be ovenbirds walking. then patiently I finally found the ovenbird and low and behold I saw something move behind it, yes it was the quail dove. OMG, time stood still for a moment as I watched it silently walking bobbing its butt, sort of walking in a circle. It was twenty five feet in, and it was think in there. I got to see it but it was quick, then I lost it, then saw it again, then lost it and finally one last look. I could not look away to put my camera (set for almost total darkness on it) or I’d lose it. No photo. The guy who was on his 8th trip in to see it came a minute later and I couldn’t pick it out again. Man would that suck! 8 dips, poor guy. He did see one in 1985 he said.
#686 Key West Quail Dove
9 came, and 6 left feeing empty and to be honest, this bird is like eating pasta. It doesn’t really fill you up and it leaves you wanting more but at least today, I got a bite. This KWQD sure leaves one wanting. This is the skulkiest bird and wow, is it tough to see. Pretty bird, but one tough mother to get a really satisfying look at it.
Here is the best I could do with a nearly stationary ovenbird, almost half the distance as the KWQD, taken with no flash, lying on my stomach and I still couldn’t get a clear photo….at least you can tell it is an ovenbird. I think trying to photo this bird is a fool’s errand.
I was better at looking for this bird this time, there is a method that I didn’t understand the first time. I’d like to give advice to anyone visiting to get this code 4 bird. My advice is to camp. Walking in works, as long as you are first or second in line and the campers aren’t self centered jerks. Have your stuff ready to go and be on that trail, the second you are out of the car. I would also suggest if camping just isn’t your thing. Park back in Layton, and walk up to park and then walk in like you belong, maybe 0630, make sure you have a season park pass so if you are caught you’ve already paid, they can’t argue with that. I wouldn’t do it after 0630-645 as park rangers are around and it would be easier if they didn’t see you. Camp out about 50 feet in trail and just sit down and watch. When there is light sneak silently around the trail. Get out of trail by 8 so you aren’t seen by the birding hoard. Then go back in with them if needed.
200 years ago, this bird nested on the keys, be it from rats, habitat loss, a bad hurricane, IDK…they haven’t nested for a long time. But unlike the ani, the bird is trying a comeback IMO. Maybe they never left Long Key although doubtful but this bird is sedentary and close relatives are even more sedentary, so who knows. Most likely this bird is now nesting in this hammock, they have seen three? Maybe have been for 4 years since first documented here. I expect the bird to be downgraded to a code 3 and possibly if this is the only nesting habitat in the US, some restrictions will be imposed on viewing it and that trail may be closed. So go see this bird now! While you can.
I went to Flamingo in the Everglades to Baywatch for Flamingoes. I didn’t see any. I watched two guys catch some nice black drum. They even were a bit of a tourist attraction as al the good looking ladies wanted to have a picture taken holding one of their fish. One lady in an exceptionally revealing outfit even caught the scorn from their wives sitting watching from the amphitheater.
I’m not sure the attraction of a man’s fish is but I see odd things but today..no flamingoes. I went to the visitor center to scope the sandbar and I overheard a woman scoping next to me misidentify terns, again I opened my mouth and just said nothing. Caspian, Elegant, Royal, Arctic, what does it matter. For the record, Caspian and Royal terns were present. As were black skimmer.
I saw more wood storks than usual, these are always impressive birds….if not impressively ugly
I overnighted in Florida City, then decided I’d just do the Kendall Baptist Hospital thing in morning and try to get some missing photos of species I needed.
I arrived at first light, and all in all was a bit disappointed and also saddened at the situation. They have destroyed the east side of the parking lot and trees for a cancer center they were doing that in October. Loosing a roost, the Mitred parakeets, have resorted to roosting on the side of the building and windows.
This bird may be added to the list …but it isn’t a countable bird as of today.
Then I saw the saddest thing I have seen birding before. The night before a man with the last name of Peacock reported both Egyptian geese here at 1630. I photoed the pair nesting here in April last year…..
Now as first man on the walkway, today I see the dead female goose, it had been netted and its breast stolen by poachers.
The Gander stood over his mate. It was near their nest so I hope they weren’t nesting yet but they may have been. The male sniffed at its mate, and squawked as I actually cried and then surprisingly ran into the middle of the street and refused to budge. One car backed up and went in the other lane.
Cars had to drive around it. I think it was attempting suicide, I really do.
Later, he just flew away north, and never returned. Then I found out why. Workers came and started excavating after a person quickly came to hide the evidence. Someone official came and pronounced the area apparently wildlife safe and a backhoe parked right over where the female had been murdered.
I couldn’t tell if they were adding trees or digging up trees and filling in the pond…IDK. I was too sick to stay and watch. Asshole Hospital Administrator start expansion and ground change. Here are the likely guilty culprits.
But I suspect the guilty man is the man with the million dollar salary the CEO! F’ This hospital……… I have never cried before in the field, maybe it was my cat having cancer surgery this week..IDK, but despite it being an exotic, it was tough seeing this bird murdered. I had to leave.
I drove up to my secret Bulbul spot and spotted that, then spent 3 minutes to see 15 purple swamphens at Dolphin Mall, the easiest place to get a tick ever. Anyone want the lowdown on this spot, let me know, it is like a machine, in, stamp, out. Like the Egyptian goose, these birds are all introduced but countable exotics
Muscovy Duck chicks
all of these have always live in Florida
Black and white Warbler
It was a short 48 hour trip, I saw 76 species increased my year total to 185, and added two lifers, one really tough one, so all in all except for seeing a murder of an innocent goose it was a worthwhile chase.
With these birds, I should be able to break 700 by mid-May as I start to clean off the rest of the low hanging fruit on my life bird checklist, I should be in the 7-teens by the end of the year. Yea, 800 is the new 700, so I am not bragging, just another rung, but that number will come, sooner than one may think. I should be happy, I drank my celebratory beer, but it seemed more like a funeral than a celebration. Yes, maybe it was just a goose but it was such a waste, and as geese mate for life, it is a waste of two lives, some good habitat and for what? Maybe another building? Greed is good, or least it has been said and I guess greed got me to pay for this trip but I don’t know, I’m getting soft after all these years, maybe too soft.
If any of you who live in Florida can do or say anything about this the geese will appreciate you.
A lot of people gave me intel on this hurried trip so thanks, even Thor reminding me to look for the “pink” birds on flamingo advice was useful, in a silly unhelpful sort of way. So to all of you…thanks.
Two weeks and I’m off to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat or maybe it is white, IDK….pelagics………sigh, gasp, frown. Hopefully I can bring my luck to Hatteras, Thor is hoping so.