Thursday, January 31, 2013

Putting in Overtime

  On Tuesday I decided to go all in and spend the whole day out in the Everglades National Park (ENP) area. I had some target species I wanted to pick up while hoping to come across something unexpected. I reached SR9336 (the main road that leads into ENP) at 6 am and began cruising slowly looking and listening for any owls or nighthawks. I went all the way to the Ernest Coe Visitor Center where Josh Friers had reported a Lesser Nighthawk a few mornings prior. I hung out for a bit and heard Eastern Whip-poor-wills in the area but didn't see any other nighthawks. I went back out and made my way to The Annex. As I was cruising down Aero Jet Road I found two Barn Owls perched on the telephone wires! Unfortunately it was way too dark for any photos and they would not hang around very long before taking off. As I passed the yellow gates that lead into The Annex I pulled over and crossed to the west side of the canal. A Virginia Rail had been heard throughout December in this area and I was hoping to atleast hear it call. The sun finally started poking out over the horizon and even though I didn't hear any Virginia Rails I did hear the call of a Sora! I had only heard a Sora once before in Miami-Dade County and already this year I had come across two. I kept hiking through the area and sure enough I found something unexpected... well I heard it first, then I saw it. It was a distinct sharp WHIT. I had heard it before but not in some time. I started looking through the trees and sure enough a Least Flycatcher turned up. It was a continuing bird that I have had a hard time relocating but looks like today would be my day! I kept working the area which was all relatively new to me and if wasn't for Angel and Mariel Abreu I would have no idea it existed. I went to the Louisiana Waterthrush spot hoping to redeem my photo and sitting in the open was an American Bittern. The second I reached for the camera it flew off into the reeds never to be seen again. The picture probably wouldn't have come out too nice anyway since the lighting was AWFUL throughout the morning. Not getting discouraged I went over to an area full of bee boxes and started looking for sparrows. Sure enough I found several male Indigo Buntings along with Savannah, Lincoln's, Swamp and even my lifer Clay-colored Sparrow! I began making my way back to my car so I can head to the next spot and hopefully keep the ball rolling on what had started off as a great morning.

One of the few birds to cooperate with me

  My next destination was the Old Ingraham Highway trail. It is located at the same turnoff as Anhinga Trail but you must make a right as if going to the Daniel Beard Research Station. The same day Josh had the nighthawks he also had a Nelson's Sparrow on the trail. This is a major bird for Miami-Dade and would be a county tick for a lot of people! I began working the trail at 9 am and slowly made my way over to the mound. On the way I flushed two more American Bitterns, had a fly-over Blue-winged Teal and noticed a Swainson's Hawk perched off in the distance but no Nelson's. When I hit the mound I started birding very thoroughly hoping it would be hiding up in the reeds. I didn't come across it but did have a nice feeding flock down below and that's when I noticed the group of Roseate Spoonbills! Another tick for the year and beautiful one at that. As I watched they flew up and right over me on their way to the other side of the mound to feed in another pond. What an amazing sight to keep the day moving along!

On the way to the next pond

  I worked my way back to the car and saw some more neat birds like Woodstorks and Ring-necked Ducks but that's when I noticed something in the middle of the trail. At first I thought it was a stick and just ignored it as I tried to ID a sparrow that kept flushing ahead of me. It would wait for me to get real close before flying 20 yards and hiding in the grasses right off the side of the trail. That's when I noticed the stick moving... it wasn't a stick but a SNAKE! Originally starting my career with Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces working with reptiles I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check this out. Different possibilities ran through my mind but when I got close I knew exactly what it was. A very healthy looking Water Moccasin had decided to cross from one pond to the other and was not happy to see me in the slightest. It immediately cocked it's head back and displayed that white mouth in a threatening fashion demonstrating why the species also goes by the common name of Cottonmouth.

Say cheese!

  Since I was in the area I made my way over to Ahinga Trail hoping to find a Purple Gallinule and Limpkin but there was a large school group there on a field trip and I had a real hard time finding anything that wasn't an Anhinga, Double-crested Cormorant or American Alligator. From Anhinga Trail I made my way out of the park and had lunch at Rosita's in Florida City. A million thanks to Robin Diaz for introducing me to this spot after we completed the Long Pine Key Christmas Bird Count in December! I headed back towards the park stopping at a couple locations on the way like Navy Wells Pineland Preserve and C-111e but nothing new was yielded and all I really saw were Gray Catbirds. At C-111 I did manage to relocate the continuing male Vermillion Flycatcher and over 100 Brown-headed Cowbirds. Unfortunately none were Shiny Cowbirds... AW SHUCKS! By this time it was getting close to sunset so I parked my car on SR9336 just across the street from Lucky Hammock and waited til sunset. I was staking the fields out for Lesser Nighthawk and Short-eared Owl. As I sat there I was able to see the Tropical and Western Kingbird hawking insects off the telephone wires and even had a Barn Owl fly overhead right before dusk. I waited til 7:00 but alas nothing ever showed up. I had officially been birding for over 13 hours and was definitely ready to get home and enjoy some quality time with my better half Ashley Nicely :)

From far I thought this was a Short-eared Owl and almost had a heart attack...

  Wednesday January 30th I woke up feeling a bit tired but I had read on the Tropical Audubon Bird Board ( a report from Bill Boeringer of a White-crowned Sparrow and Dickcissel at the C-357 Sparrow Fields. After getting my lifer Clay-colored the day before I felt I should keep the sparrow binge going and head over there. I made sure to arrive half an hour before dawn to scan the fields hoping to see a Short-eared Owl but again I dipped on the species. As the dawn chorus kicked off I began seeing tons of Savannah Sparrows flying back and forth with a Grasshopper, or Swamp Sparrows mixed in. I continued walking the berm and out of nowhere a pair of White-tailed Kites appeared! This is usually a pretty reliable location for them and they had been seen hanging out in the field a couple days before by Bill too. I was able to get some quality photos as they kited over looking for small rodents to feed on. They are such graceful flyers and one of my favorite birds of prey down here in South Florida - it also helps that they are a specialty bird for us! After a couple hours of searching I finally gave up and headed to work without getting my target birds for the day.

Coming in for a graceful landing

  I began today (the last day in January) by birding Bill Sadowski Park. I was recently transferred over from Crandon Park and I'm still getting myself used to the usual birds to expect in the park. While hiking the hammock trail behind the nature center I found the continuing Hermit Thrush that I had seen when I first moved to this park. I kept working the trail and found several Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. The trail ends at the canal and I continued birding the edge of the hammock along the canal west towards the residential area of Palmetto Bay. On the west end of the park there is usually a nice feeding flock of warblers that hang out between the pineland and a house with several fruiting Gumbo Limbo trees. I managed to pick out Northern Parula, Palm, Yellow-throated, Pine, Yellow-rumped, Prairie and Black-and-White Warbler while hearing the scold calls of a White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireo. As I finished my rounds I decided to bird the last chunk of canal I had originally missed. I was standing at the canoe launch trying to photograph a group of Blue Jays cracking nuts when an odd bird flew out of the Live Oak. When I put my binoculars on it I realized it was not the Eastern Phoebe I typically see working the area but a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak. This is definitely a rare find this time of year since most of these birds are wintering in Central and South America! I managed to get a photo as it perched in a large tree in the park's neighbor's yard before it ducked down into the middle of the canopy and disappeared from sight. New year bird at my new park all before 9 am - not too shabby for a Thursday. This brings my year total to 158 species all before the end of January!

Hope this bird sticks around for others to see

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