One of my favorite things to do in the birding community is lead walks. It’s a fun way to meet new people while catching up with old friends and of course the more eyes the easier it is to spot a rarity! Saturday January 19th I helped my old boss and good friend Jim King lead the Tropical Audubon Society walk at Crandon Park. Jim is recently retired but spent a lot of time birding the county and has a keen eye for finding good stuff. It was a very wet morning but a brave group of souls came out and joined the field trip. Once the clouds passed the day actually turned out to be pretty interesting. The walk started from behind the Crandon Park Visitor and Biscayne Nature Center as we checked the butterfly garden for anything interesting. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were the only thing in attendance as the Bear Cut Preserve was slowly drying off. We went north on the Osprey Trail until the first dune crossing and only really had Common Ground-Doves, Northern Cardinals and Mockingbirds. Once we hit the beach it was my time to shine! I have been monitoring the shorebird population all winter and in particular keeping close tabs on the Piping Plover flock. This year Key Biscayne has matched the previous record of 45 birds! Most of the birds look the same but a special few have color coded bands around their legs making it easy to identify individual birds. 9 different plovers have been seen since July – one of the earliest records of Piping Plover making it to the beach. Most are from the endangered Great Lakes Population in Michigan but there is a bird from Virginia, Nebraska and one from North Dakota that continued on its migration early in the season. A walk south on the beach yielded all the usual coastal suspects as we made our way to the Crandon Gardens. This is the location of the old Crandon Zoo but has now been turned into a botanical garden. Several vagrants have been found here including Western Spindalis and a one-day wonder mystery Greater Ani! On this day we had a very cooperative Eastern Palm Warbler mixed in with a flock of Western Palm Warblers along with a single Purple Gallinule that has been hanging around all year. It was a pretty good trip ending with 50 native species and 2 ABA countable exotics – European Starling and Eurasian Collared-Dove.
|One of the first birds seen on the walk|
While co-leading Saturdays walk I received a phone call from Roberto “Toe” Torres about a flyover Snow Goose he had at Dump Marsh while trying to find something good for the Bird-A-Day competition going on. That made my plans for Sunday real easy to figure out! I arrived before dawn only to have a very overcasty day. The ponds were alive with birds giving me hope the goose would come by again. I scanned through the water fowl in the two main ponds but did not notice anything out of this world. As I walked back to try and check the hidden pond I came across Bill Boeringer and Raul “Rock Jetty” Urguelles. We all decided to team up and try to relocate the goose together. We checked the first hidden pond just east of the pump house but didn’t find any Snow Geese or Gadwall hanging out. We did have great show put on by a couple American Wigeon as they flew around calling a lone American Crocodile basking in the middle of the pond.
|Always awesome to see this endangered species|
There was one more pond that may have been holding the goose and we went straight for it after dipping with the first two spots. This last pond was well hidden and bit more work to access. The road was either flooded or mucky where ever we stepped and trekking through it was not easy. After a bit we found an overgrown trail taking us right to the shore and we scanned over and over but the bird was a no show. Bill and I started hiking back getting ready to check the other ponds again when Rock called saying he had a drake REDHEAD! We ran back and sure enough in the extreme north western corner we saw the bird. It was too far for a quality photo but I did manage to get one for identification purposes. From Dump Marsh I had to go to work and assist with a birthday party where I ended my day.
|Definitely need to go back for a better shot...|
I had been waiting all week for MLK Day since last Monday was a complete fail. I was determined to go out on a pelagic trip if it was the last thing I did! My brother Michael and I had everything together as we got to the Miami Beach Marina and boarded the Reward Fishing Fleet. Our last trip was very productive and we had high hopes as we got ready to depart. I spoke with Captain Ryan who coincidentally was our captain in December too and he told me he hadn’t noticed any Razorbills since the last time he took us out. This made me a little nervous but I was still hopeful and figured we would at least see Northern Gannets. When we got out a couple miles offshore I noticed the water looked like glass. Not a single shred of wind blowing at all. That’s when we got our first Common Loon of the trip. Finally things were starting to shape up… or so we thought.
|This bird flew 15 ft from the boat!|
We began fishing wrecks off of Key Biscayne trying for Kingfish but nobody was getting a bite. After relocating a few times someone finally hooked something and it was BIG! The fight went on for a little when all of a sudden it just stopped. Everyone thought he popped the line but when he reeled in his line the bait was still there just half eaten. As we stood puzzled an Atlantic Bottlenosed Dolphin breached and we knew exactly what happened. They were chasing the Kingfish we were trying for and if any of them got brave and hit our bait those sneaky mammals would pick them right off! We tried to relocate again but they seemed to follow us and kept anyone from catching anything! The day seemed like it would be a bust when finally something interesting flew in. It was smaller than the Laughing Gulls that were following us giving a fragile appearance. That’s when it hit me Bonaparte’s Gull! I pulled out the camera and immediately started snapping away. There were two birds that stuck around for a while before heading off and we went back to dock. If nothing else at least I got a new tick for the year and an attractive one at that.
|One of my favorite gulls|