Monday, January 21, 2013

Picking Up the Pace

  After a rough Monday I decided to try a spot I haven't been to in a while. I was hoping to turn my luck around by birding the Chekika road and the C-357 Sparrow Fields. Chekika is a little known spot that can be very productive. It is part of Everglades National Park but is only open seasonally due to extreme flooding during the wet season. I arrived at 6:00 am and began idling down the main road listening for any rails that may be in the area. Right away I began hearing King Rails giving their unmistakable KEK calls! This was a great start. I kept rolling hoping to catch a glimpse of a Short-eared Owl crossing the road but it wasn't meant to be. I did have multiple Yellow-crowned Night-Herons which was a year bird so it all worked out at the end of the day. After an hour I made my way over to the sparrow fields for dawn. Once again I got caught in a dense fog that made everything damp and not very enjoyable. After getting my socks soaked I started pishing for birds. Right away Savannah Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats started popping up. With all the tall grasses in the area the sparrows can be ANYWHERE. The metallic buzzy calls they give makes it easy to track them but unless they perch on the top of the grasses it can be almost impossible to actually see one. I continued walking on the elevated berm when I flushed an interesting looking bird. I pished and it came out... Swamp Sparrow! I was starting to feel lucky now. Maybe I would get a Northern Bobwhite... or a Clay-colored Sparrow... then it happened.... a House Wren! Yep... just a House Wren. I hiked the whole compound and tallied a couple birds for the day list but nothing new for the year.

My first sparrow photo!

  After hearing all the Kings I decided to spend Wednesday morning chasing Clapper Rails for the year. This is another bird I felt would be on the "Heard Only" list but at least it would be on a list. I had gotten tips from several people all recommending I head to the Homestead Bayfront Park area to search for them. I got there pre-dawn and started walking around. I wasn't hearing anything so I drove into the park and checked around the lagoon. Still nothing... I went back out and cruised down the main road... still nothing. As the sun started rising I figured I'd pull over and walk the road a bit listening for anything. WHAT A MISTAKE. I was swarmed by the biggest cloud of Noseeums (biting midges) I had ever seen. This was a swarm of biblical proportions. Now I am well versed in the subject of giving blood to these awful insects. During sea turtle season they can be pretty bad when you're digging in the sand verifying the nest location but this was ridiculous and to add insult to injury I left my car windows down. This is like beating a dead horse or peeing into the wind! I jumped in the car and left as fast as possible. Luckily I picked up Northern Flicker for year bird #126! 

This young male is perfectly posed for a photo
  As I was wrapping up my morning at Homestead Bayfront I received a phone call from Josh Friers about a couple owl sightings. I needed Barn Owl and he told me he would also be able to get me Burrowing Owl. Two owls in one morning?! Count me in! I drove over to the Homestead Air Reserve Base where I met with Josh across the street. After passing a couple guard with large weapons we finally made it to an abandoned plane hanger. The second we walked in it was obvious owls had been spending time in there.The floor had a carpet of fur, skulls, and droppings. After making our way through several rooms we finally managed to find the Barn Owl! Unfortunately it flushed right passed us and out the door!. With this bird in the bag we began trying to track down the resident Burrowing Owls. As soon as we pulled up to the spot two birds were out in the open giving great views and modeling for the camera. Soon after we spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk that has been wintering on the base to bring the total to 3 year birds in one spot! Special thanks goes out to Josh Friers for helping me with my goal.

Grabbing some early morning sun rays

   By the time I left the base I felt like I was on a roll. I wanted to keep my streak going and I wanted to make the next bird a difficult one. What would I be able to go look for in the early afternoon? Well I decided my best bet was to stay down south and hit the national park for American Bittern on Anhinga Trail. I worked the trail up and down with no luck. I scanned every inch of grass but alas it wasn't happening. I packed up the car and left the park but decided to give The Annex a try for the bittern. Carlos Sanchez had come across one while doing his Big Day this January 1, 2013! I went up and down the road in The Annex but once again I dipped on the bird. One the way out I was barely paying attention to what was happening around me and noticed something  on the barbwire fence. It was hawking insects and I almost crashed through the fence when I realized what I was looking at. ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER! What a great surprise. The bird perched and allowed me to get pretty close for photos before flushing into the hammock and vanishing from sight.

Great views of this once nemesis bird for me

  I ended the day at Zoo Miami. Long time friend and mentor Ezequiel Bugallo had called that he had some good birds for the year. I headed over and we started riding around the zoo grounds. He had a couple spots that were only accessible to employees and typically housed some nice birds.Our first stop was the Giraffe enclosure to try for some photographs since I missed out on a photo earlier in the morning. After crawling through a little rat hole into the roost we discovered they had picked a different location for the day.  We moved on and picked up Lesser Scaup for the year. There was a pair in one of the extremely large ponds that we were able to drive right up to. After ticking off #130 for the year we tried to keep the streak alive by searching for any sparrows that may be around the grounds but that didn't work. As sunset approached I helped Ezequiel collect bowls and close up his section when we heard an odd call. After a few seconds I realized it was a tanager and ran over to try and locate it. Luckily it was getting ready to roost for the night and allowed me to get some photographs before it was too dark and I had to leave to for the day. 

Always a great bird to see!

  On Thursday January 17th I made arrangements to meet Josh once again. This time it would be at the South Dade Landfill. This is a great location for wintering raptors and can be a guaranteed spot for Bald Eagle. I arrived at sunrise and we started scanning the air. Thousands upon thousands of vultures filled the sky when we finally picked out a juvenile eagle carrying an American Coot! It was struggling with the bird and eventually just dropped it and kept on it's way. Right after we noticed a Northern Harrier in the area followed by a Broad-winged Hawk. As we continued patrolling we spotted a Peregrine Falcon working the area searching for an easy meal before spotting the Florida race of Red-shouldered Hawk. 5 raptors in under an hour! This was a great way to wrap up the week. The grand total was now 132 total birds not including 5 ABA countable exotics - Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared-Dove, European Starling, House Sparrow and Common Myna. Almost half way there!

Sunrise eagle action

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