Thursday, May 23, 2013

250 down... 50 to go!!

   Boy oh boy it's been a while since I've posted! Over the last six weeks I have not done much besides bird. Eating, sleeping and even showering (YES SHOWERING) have taken a back seat to the relentless pursuit of ticking off birds for my year list. The last time I blogged my total was 210 birds at the end of March and since then I have taken the advice of Dennis Atherton to make my next goal 250 birds by June. That would mean I needed to pick up 40 birds over the course of two months. I figured this would be easier said than done but took on the challenge anyway!

One of my top favorite Florida terns

  I hit the ground running in April. Right off the bat I picked up Northern Bobwhite, Least Tern, Chimney Swift and Eastern Kingbird during the first week and kept the ball moving with killer finds during the second week - Whimbrel and Razorbill on the same day!! Six species in eight days was a great confidence boost but things would slow down for a week. We were in a Spring migration rut and I figured this was the best time to go out of town... how foolish of me! The day after making it to Orlando I receive a text from Larry Manfredi that a BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD had popped up at Bill Bagg's State Park. I have had a bittersweet history with this bird. I have dipped on everyone in the state the last couple years and when I finally found my lifer in the Bahamas it only gave fleeting views and now one pops up in my home county during my county big year and I was 5 hours away! Everyday I texted or called or posted inquiries hoping it would be dependable until the day I got home. Well that day finally came and I asked high school friend Nory Falcon to let me in a little early so I can make sure to get my fifth vagrant of the year. It was 7:45 am and I was slowing pacing up and down the road when I see Robin Diaz pull up and call me over to say, "It's singing right there!!". The bird never popped up but in the true fashion of the relationship I have with this species it would  be alright with me. I'd much rather just hear the whisper song than dip on the bird completely and let it get the best of me. The rest of the week was also productive with my first Common Nighthawk of the year and my county lifer Wood Duck flying over as I stacked canoes at Deering Estate. The last 10 days in April is when the more interesting birds started appearing in South Florida. Species like Blackpoll Warbler, Bobolink, Yellow-billed and Mangrove Cuckoo.

Best cuckoo angle ever!

  May had begun and I was beginning to think our Spring migration was going to be completely non existent but then the unbelievable happened... ANOTHER VAGRANT! I couldn't believe my eyes as I read a Black-faced Grassquit had appeared but not surprising was where it turned up. That's right, you guessed it, Bill Bagg's State Park. Key Biscayne and Virginia Key have been on fire this year producing all 6 vagrants in the county. I rushed over there the second I read the post and bumped into the group of European birders who had seen the bird the day before. They were staking out the road hoping the Thick-billed Vireo to show itself and instead found the grassquit! This road is also where the Bahama Mocker was and during the fall banding season last year I had a Smooth-billed Ani in the exact same area. After a couple hours it appeared! At first thought to be a female but after closer inspection it was actually a young male and he was feeding on Willow Bustick right along the road for everyone to appreciate!

A very handsome young male

  Right after getting my sixth Caribbean bird I received a phone call from Ezequiel Bugallo and not only did he find a reliable spot for me to get my year Brown Thrasher he actually found the nest! There was no way I would miss this bird now. I went right over to the zoo the following day and within a couple minutes had the bird perched right in front of me as it was bringing food back to the nest. If only it was always that easy! As if it couldn't get any better I ended the week with a real deal pelagic with Roberto "Toe" Torres - better known as a Toelagic. He is the man when it comes to tracking down pelagics and identifying them in less than optimal conditions. Lucky for us this trip was much calmer than the first we ran back in February. We ended with six pelagic species including his 357th county bird, Roseate Tern and my lifer Red-necked Phalarope! The icing on the cake were four Mahis caught as we trolled from one location to the next.

Northern Gannets and Brown Boobies were definitely in attendance

  With all the momentum I had built up I couldn't slow down now! I kept trucking through the second week in May and picked up six more year birds including my lifer Connecticut Warbler!! This elusive bird was a must if I wanted to even have a chance of getting close to 300 birds by the end of the year. They are a late migrant and there is a small 10-day window when they come through the southern portion of the state on their way north. At this point I am just four birds away from my goal and we are only half way done with May. I knew of a few birds I would be able to get easily but was really hoping for another rarity to really push me through the 250 mark and end with more than my original goal. With this in mind I started target birding hoping that if I kept going to certain spots frequent enough I would see something I really needed. First on my list was Red Knot at Black Point Marina. I got to the park at dawn and hiked the jetty all the way to the end and as I walked up two birds flushed off and never returned... they looked an awful lot like Red Knots... I immediately started cussing up a storm thinking I missed my one chance until Fall to see this bird and then something happened. Something incredible. Something so unbelievable I thought I yelled until I passed out and was hallucinating. Not one but TWO AMERICAN FLAMINGOS flew right over me!!!!! I didn't know what to do with myself. I got photos and began texting and posting wherever I could. I would be back the next day and again after but no sign of Red Knot or those flamingos again. It was a once in a lifetime sighting and I'm just happy I was able to get the crummy photos of #247!

Hands down coolest find so far this year

  With just three ticks left I focused my attention on a few birds that are available year round but I just hadn't gotten around to chasing. First on the list was Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and without any trouble I picked  it up on my way to work near the Homestead Speedway. Next would be Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch and the super elusive Wild Turkey. These three birds are Everglades National Park specialties and are pretty much confined to the Pine Rockland habitat between the Ernest Coe Visitor Center and the Pay-hay-okee Overlook Trail. They were part of a reintroduction program and seem to be doing well with the exception of the turkeys. While planning out my strategy to hit the trifecta I noticed a crazy post on the Tropical Audubon Society's Birdboard ( While out doing a nightjar survey Brian Rapoza found an Antillean Nighthawk on SR 9336 and sw 217th avenue on May 18th!! I went out the very next evening and sure enough the bird was actively feeding with the Common Nighthawks in the area and more importantly was continuously calling. I managed to record the call on my cell phone - even though a peacock in the area completely ruined the taping.  At this point I just need one more bird and the national park specialties are pretty much all I have left. My brother Mike and I decided to team up and head over to give it a go. A couple hours into the search we hit #250 - Brown-headed Nuthatch! These birds were so vocal and active it was hard to get away from them. It seemed that no matter where we were they were near by. As we made our way through the campground Eastern Towhees were singing and while admiring them an Eastern Bluebird popped up for #251!! We kept working and searching but unfortunately the Wild Turkey would elude us for the day. Luckily June is pretty slow so I have a whole month to try and track this bird down and keep the EPIC in the BIG YEAR!

  As of May 22nd I am at a grand total of 251 birds. The surpasses my original goal and gives me an opportunity to be ahead of schedule for fall migration. Now is when things are really going to start getting tricky!

#251 - Eastern Bluebird

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