Thursday, February 28, 2013

So Close Yet So Far!

  With 15 birds left to find in 15 days I figured it wouldv'e been easy as pie... well I was wrong! The next five days were incredibly slow. I think my mistake was spending too much time in the same areas instead of spreading out. I continued to frequent the sparrow fields hoping for the illusive White-crowned Sparrow and Dickcissel but had absolutely no luck. Another bird I continued striking out on was the Reddish Egret that I would see just about everyday in 2012 and now seems to only be around when I'm not. On Monday, February 18th I decided to change things up and head into the southern portion of Everglades National Park and work my way north. I was particularly hoping for ducks that may have made their way north into West Lake from Mrazek Pond but my streak of dipping was too strong. Over 200 American Coots and double digit singing Prairie Warblers welcomed me at dawn when I arrived but nothing out of the ordinary to start the day. I started making my way through the park stopping periodically to investigate but it wasn't until I reached Paroutis Pond that things started turning around. There was a lots of activity all over the place! Woodstorks were constantly flying back and forth looking for appropriate nesting materials as American Alligators basked on the banks and rails - YES RAILS worked the edges of the tall grasses. American Coot, Purple and Common Gallinule were seen easily but then a Sora poked out. This was a bird I had on the "Heard Only" list but now I was able to scratch it off! Of course right after a Clapper Rail called. One off the heard list and now one on. At least it was a year bird! I stayed in the park for a total of 13 hours working all the trails but only had 1 bird to show for it. MANNN THIS IS GETTING ROUGH!

Showing off why they get the name Red-bellied

  Again things got slow for a couple days until the 21st where I got a Western Willet hanging out during low tide at the Crandon Park Marina. I went over to Crandon Beach in hopes of finding the Reddish Egret but missed out. Not giving up hope I went over to Virginia Key and walked all along with Atlantic side from Bear Cut to pretty much the northern most end of the island. Again the bird eluded me! If anyone sees this bird please hold it down and call me immediately!!!

My first cooperative Black-and-White

  With only a week left to find 13 species I was starting to get a little worried. Things were not going as smoothly as I hoped but then I got an email from Roberto "Toe" Torres about going on a pelagic trip. Toe's the man when it comes to offshore birding and these are some of the most important birds for my year - not to mention I absolutely love pelagics. Could this be the spark I needed?! We set up the date for Saturday February 23rd. The winds were blowing at about 20 knots from the southeast and the seas were pretty choppy with 5-8 foot waves but that didn't stop Alex Harper, Bill Boeringer, Toe or myself. We left out of Watson Island and worked the bay for a bit checking for any rarities. We picked up Red-breasted Merganser easily and once we hit the open ocean we began seeing Common Loons galore making their way south. We thought we hit the mother load. We waited around a bit about a mile offshore looking at Laughing Gull after Laughing Gull after Laughing Gull when finally two barrel shaped birds with pointed wings zipped past and began harassing the gulls. Pomerane Jaegers! This was not only a year bird but a county tick in general for me. I had only seen them while down in the Florida Keys and it was for a split second as the Yankee Freedom flew past them on the way to the Dry Tortugas. With these birds under our belts we made our way to the Gulf Stream but as we drifted along we did not see much of anything besides a pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins that followed us for a bit. We came back inland and had a shearwater go by but there was no way we would be able to catch it and it stayed an unidentified species for the day. We spent 5 hours on the water and on the way back in we picked up a Northern Gannet sitting on the water! Year bird #189... just 11 more!

Can't wait for the next trip

  I decided to give the White-crowned Sparrow another try since things were looking up a bit. I arrived at the C-357 sparrow fields at dawn on February 25th and began working the berm overlooking the tall grasses. This was one of the first times I had ever been here and the winds were not howling and blowing birds all over the place. Immediately Painted and Indigo Buntings were visible feeding on the ground along side Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows. Today was going to be my day! I kept moving and tallied more sparrows than ever before. Even the Lincoln Sparrows were giving good looks! As I was trying to get a photograph of a singing Eastern Meadowlark a group of birds caught my eye. They were working the grasses different... didn't have any streaking on the breast... tan and brownish head stripes... HOLY COW WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW!!! They gave great looks for a while before moving back in the grasses. While still feeling lucky I drove over to Tropical Park where the Nashville Warbler originally seen by Alex Harper in late December 2012 was relocated a few days prior - which was in the same area Larry Manfredi found the MacGillivray's Warbler! I arrived at 11 am which is usually an awkward time for birding. Depending on the weather things can go completely silent until dusk starts to roll around. I went in and began looking for a feeding flock the bird might be associating with. As I worked the little hammock I began hearing a couple Blue-gray Gnatcatchers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. As I began pishing some Pine Warblers joined in and then a small warbler caught my eye. It was just bouncing all over the place and made putting my binoculars on it a bit of a challenge but once I had it in focus I knew what I had. NASHVILLE WARBLER! What a day! The bird gave great looks but not a single photo opportunity. As quickly as the bird appeared it completely vanished. I stuck around for another hour working this tiny hammock trying to relocate the bird but nothing. Not a peep or any movement to suggest the bird was even in the same area. By this point it was noon and everything had died down. Unfortunately as of February 28 I missed my goal of 200 by nine birds. This means March is going to be a long hard month making up for easy birds that should have been found!

Very common sparrow throughout the day


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