Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Early Bird Gets the Worm... Most of the Time

  Friday February 8th was supposed to be an EPIC adventure onto the under birded barrier island Boca Chita. Ezequiel and Mike got their gear prepared as we had made plans to head over from Biscayne National Park to the key using the ferry provided by the privately contracted company Biscayne National Underwater Park. Unfortunately when we got there we found out there is a minimum amount of people needed for the boat to actually go out and 3 was not the magic number... We were advised our best bet would be to come back on the weekend when the park is more busy and our odds higher to go on the morning ride across the bay. Even though we were disappointed we decided to make the best of the situation and bird the area around the visitor center. As we made it to the tip of convoy point we noticed a large tern hanging out in the distance with a group of Royals.With the Leica Apo-Televid 82 scope I was able to pick out a single Caspian Tern! At least I got a bird for the year. We also tried for the "Golden" race of Yellow Warbler but again no luck. Afterwards we went over to Cutler Wetlands to see if any gulls were hanging around but like the rest of the day NO LUCK! The 3 Gadwalls present all winter gave us a nice show before we called it a day and went home.

Even with horrible light the Leica digiscoping setup takes amazing photographs!

  Saturday I had the opportunity to lead Deering Estate at Cutler's monthly bird walk. It is on the second Saturday of every month and is free with the purchase of admission onto the property. Deering is a 444-acre piece of prime habitat. It lies right on Biscayne Bay so has Mangrove Forests, Maritime Hammock and Pine Rockland! During this walk there was a heavy fog that made scoping over the bay for Common Loon and Horned Grebe impossible, so we just made our way down to the hammock. We came across several fruiting Gumbo Limbos that were packed with Yellow-rumped Warblers and things were beginning to seem pretty birdy. As we walked north along with estate we found a White-crowned Pigeon perched on the top of a snag! What a neat time to get a year bird. Every one got great views before it took off to the east. Yearbird #180! We wrapped up our walk and I went over to meet with Josh Friers. He escorted me onto the Homestead Air Reserve Base (HARB) to look for Scissor-tailed Flycatchers. We had seen them during the HARB walk late in 2012 so it was just a matter of time before I had the chance to tick them off for the year. Within a couple minutes we found 4 perched in a Strangler Fig and along a barbwire fence. SUCCESS! Finally something was working out for me this weekend...

My first Coral Snake
  After a busy weekend I was planning on taking Monday easy and taking advantage of the down time to handle errands - like cleaning the house... NOT WHEN EZEQUIEL STRIKES AGAIN! I got a phone call about a male Western Tanager at... you guessed it... Zoo Miami! I dropped everything I was doing and flew over. Ezik took me right to the spot and sure enough after a couple minutes the bird appeared out of a fruiting Strangler Fig and perched right on top of us in a Live Oak. What an amazing bird! I have chased this species over 15 different times in the county in 5 different locations and always dipped. I even managed to get a shot before it flew off into another tree and we lost it. It's always a great feeling to get a year bird but when it is a lifer too the feeling is multiplied 100 times over! With the new lifer fresh in my mind I decided to bird a spot I had never been too. R. Hardy Matheson is a little chunk of land that had been locked up for years, but recently the gate have been opened. I took advantage and walked right in hoping to find a rarity hidden in the thickets. I started birding an area with a lot of brushy low lying cover. It was a skulkers dream! I pished throughout the whole area and had a lot of the usual suspects - Common Yellowthroats and House Wrens but that's when it popped up... Yellow-breasted Chat! I had only seen this species once before and it was so deep under the brush I could not fully appreciate it. Here it had hopped up and was fully exposed for what seemed a lifetime. Of course in reality it wasn't any longer than a few seconds. Not even enough time to pull up the camera for the a picture. I guess there's always next time!

One of my top birds for the year!

  Since I still had all the great Leica optics I made my way over to Crandon Park in Key Biscayne on February 13th to do a shorebird survey. There is massive habitat loss due to urbanization and many of my favorite coastal birds have been forced to find alternative wintering and nesting sites. By keeping tabs on the numbers of species and individuals I can help asses what needs to be done to protect them and keep them coming back. While driving south looking for any Piping Plovers in the Bear Cut Preserve, I saw two birds flying together towards Miami Beach. The long pointed wings and odd head shape lead to a very interesting silhouette that was incredibly easy to identify. Black Skimmer! One of the coolest seabirds to see anywhere as they skim the surface of the water for prey with their completely uneven bills. I wrapped up my survey with another year tick and headed to the Crandon Gardens in search of another. All last year I had been following a Least Bittern around the remains of the old Crandon Park Zoo. The large ponds with tall grasses were perfect for this little cryptic hunter. I had originally seen it in April but not again until late in the year when it would be seen 3-5 a week! The bird would even be seen wandering completely in the open along the banks of the pond. As I sat there staking out the area I heard the unmistakable call from the grasses just to my left. The bird called once more but never came out to show itself. At the end of Thursday February 13th my total for the year is 185 species. Just 15 more until I hit my goal of 200 by the end of February! 

Not a bad way to start the day

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