31 May 2013

Shorb chasing

Let's be honest, the decision to drive from Florida to Indiana for the SPOTTED REDSHANK wasn't all that hard to make.  Shorebirds have long interested me more than others and with a chance to see this Eurasian visitor, it was impossible for me to ignore this sighting.

Five states later, I made it to Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area and immediately found the long line of cars parked along the side of the road.  The main question was whether the bird was going to be easy (and be in the field along the road) or hard (in the flooded field a mile out along the levee).  From the grumpy-looking people milling about with their caffeine-induced consciousness slowly draining from their faces, I figured it was going to be hard.  It was worse.  Nobody had seen the bird in more than 4-5 hours.  Of course, you don't let news like that go to your head.  I mean, I wouldn't miss this bird by mere hours after driving all the way from Florida, right?  Riiighttt?  Hmm...

I joined the throngs of people scanning the fields.  There was a real depression hanging in the air.  Or maybe that was my breath (it was REALLY cold!).  I traded phone numbers with a few birders in case they caught wind of it being seen elsewhere.  Hours went by.  Then a rumor started to trickle in from somewhere that somebody had the bird.  Really?  Where?  It was posted on the Indiana listserve... and I'm sitting there and was clueless to the fact.  Who the crap posted it?!  Why wasn't anyone rushing to the spot?  WHERE IS IT?  We all gathered by the distant pond, apparently somebody was "pretty sure" they had it somewhere out there.  We all scanned the pond thoroughly, no bird.  Then a bunch of the yellowlegs got up and flew out of the pond altogether.  The group disbanded and everybody sluggishly went following the birds to who-knows-where.  I decided I'd rather stay and keep scanning where we had been for the last hour.  All the people probably thought I was nuts.

It wasn't more than 10 minutes later when my scope passed this:

Woaha!  Yep, that's my bird!  I made a phone call to one of the other birders and the whole herd rushed back to the spot.  Although the sun was getting low in the sky, we all were able to study the bird.  I took some more pictures too:

Whew, that was kind of a close call.  At least that's what I thought.  Turns out, it REALLY WAS a close call.  After I left the bird that evening, no one saw the bird again!  Ok, well, nobody saw it again for another month or so (then somebody DID find it again).  My drive to Indiana was not wasted.

The plan for after Indiana was to chase a different shorebird, this one was a long-staying rarity in Virginia.  The BLACK-TAILED GODWIT was the last godwit in the world I needed and I had been eyeing this specific rarity for months.

So after a couple of days of driving from Indiana, through Kentucky and West Virginia, I finally arrived at Chincoteague Island, Virginia.  This rarity didn't take quite as long; maybe 2 hours went by before somebody spotted it.  Success looked like this (Marbled Godwit on the left, Black-tailed Godwit on the right):

So I was in Virginia and two lifers richer.  Where to next?  My job in Georgia didn't start until 15 April, ten days from then.  It was high-time to go back to Florida, visit with family, and take it easy until my job began.

Starting south that day, the hundreds of NORTHERN GANNETS and a single PURPLE SANDPIPER along the Chesapeake Bay bridge/tunnel made things interesting:

On to Florida.  More later from the Sunshine State....

24 May 2013

Nanday Pintail?

Let’s be honest, one of the only reasons I was even in Florida was to chase these things called “life birds”.  No, I don’t expect any sane person to really understand the draw of the chase but different people have different interests, right?  Ok, so, I spent most of March 30 targeting two life birds.  First was a drive up to Pelican Island NWR to look for the continuing WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL.  

Now, to be clear, this species is often kept in captivity and in fact, very few records of this species make it through the records committees.  HOWEVER, because this species IS on the official ABA Checklist (see ABA checklist here), it is up to the birder whether or not he/she wants to count it on their ABA list.  The word on the street was that a lot of people felt quite good about this particular one; it was shy (like a wild bird would be), it was foraging with Blue-winged Teal (as opposed to taking bread from the hand of Auntie Thelma in the city park), and there were no obvious signs of captivity.  The short side of the story was that I should actually look for this thing, whether or not they accept it.

I arrived at the refuge and found a few birders walking back to their cars.  “Did you see the bird?” I asked and they all nodded their heads and gleefully said “Sure, it flew off that way.”   Well, great.  I had no other option but to stick it out and see if it would come back.  Sure enough, it wasn’t 5 minutes before I spotted it tucked away in a different corner of the pond.  Here are a few pictures of it associating with a Blue-winged Teal flock:

Although I hate to say it, I should get used to seeing more MOTTLED DUCKS because I’ll end up being around them a lot in Georgia.  Here are two:

There were some other birds flying around like this WOOD STORK:

I also snapped picture of this GREAT SOUTHERN WHITE since it was flying around in front of me.  It wasn’t a new species but it’s still an attractive and native butterfly.

 So, now the dilemma.  I needed to see NANDAY PARAKEETS (formerly called “Black-hooded Parakeets”) in their “official” range over by Tampa and St. Petersburg.  Easy drive.  I made the jaunt to other coast of Florida and before I could even arrive at Lassing Park in St. Petersburg, I noticed these things flying all over the place.  Ahh, easy!  I got out of the car at the park and in the first palm I looked at, these two were looking back at me:

Success, two new birds today.  However, my mind instantly did a full reboot at some news coming out of Indiana.  A code-4 SPOTTED REDSHANK was being seen.  And I was in Florida.  I did some calculations and made a plan.  Easy, I was driving to Indiana.

22 May 2013

Mainland birding - March 29

After I was finished birding in the keys, I had a couple of days to bird farther north in Florida.  I had a couple of targets in mind so I figured I'd slowly work my way around to those.

First things first, I woke up in the Everglades, packed my junk, and headed out.  Shortly after leaving the part (as in, 1/4 mile), I noticed a kingbird perched up high along the side of the road.  This was no Eastern Kingbird.  I turned around and alas, it turned out to be a TROPICAL KINGBIRD (although I initially thought Western):

That was a surprise for me, I hadn't expected THAT species here in Florida.  While I was reveling in the moment, I noticed a second flycatcher in the same tree.  You can see it here in the lower right part of the photo:

And yes, this was no Great Crested Flycatcher either!  It was an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER; another new state bird.  What a haven for rare flycatchers, apparently.

This RED-SHOULDERED HAWK didn't want to be left out of the action though.  In fact, both the kingbird and the flycatcher persisted in harassing this lizard-eating fiend:

After that stop, I headed for the Pembroke Pine area.  Once I arrived, I actually noticed more butterflies than birds (it's been known to happen).  Here's the showy ZEBRA HELICONIAN:


Another southeastern species, there were several OCOLA SKIPPERS around with their obviously long and narrow wings:

This BAND-WINGED DRAGONLET was a new species for me as well:

Although they can sometimes be elusive, the last several trips I've made to Florida have yielded gobs and gobs of LIMPKINS.  This trip was no exception.  Here's a relatively tame one:

However, my target today was a life bird, the newly ABA-countable PURPLE SWAMPHEN.  If you know where to go, they are extremely easy to see.  I was fortunate and spotted this bird no less than 1 minute out of my car.  Here's a picture of the oversized and giant, purple gallinule-type thing:

The next day I really needed to find NANDAY PARAKEETS.  Stay tuned....

16 May 2013

The Keys

It was March 28 and I had just finished a successful chase of the Thick-billed Vireo in Miami and Shiny Cowbirds in the Everglades.  Next up was a trip down to the Key West area for another target lifer, the female WESTERN SPINDALIS that had been present at the Key West Botanical Gardens for several months.

I arrived arrived at the botanical gardens to high winds and warm temps.  I knew it was going to be a challenge to find such a drab bird, especially one that didn't move around a whole lot.  I started my search and nothing.  Kept looking... nothing.  I was honestly getting very concerned.  But just then a van-full of birders from Ohio unloaded; they too wanted the Western Spindalis.  I felt better, surely 20 people looking would be better than just me!

And that's exactly what happened.  Fifteen minutes passed and then word traveled through the place like rapid-fire, someone had spotted it.  We all rushed over and got splendid looks:

Top prize for whoever spotted it; this bird didn't move from that spot for probably 20 minutes.  It was nearly invisible if you didn't know exactly where to look.

After that close call, I started to look around the gardens at other things like this GIANT SWALLOWTAIL:

... this CASSIUS BLUE:

... and LONG-TAILED SKIPPER (without the long tails):

I had never seen such a tame PALM WARBLER as this guy:

After the botanical gardens, I went down to Fort Zachary Taylor at the tip of Key West to look around. The birdlife was very dead, however.  One of the only species I had was this flyover MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD:

The water looked inviting though, I won't lie:

Some movement caught my eye in one of the low mangroves, it was an iguana, probably 5-6 feet long:

I started my drive back up the Keys.  In the back of my mind I was keeping an eye out for COMMON MYNAS.  The only reason I was interested in this species was that I hadn't ever snapped a picture of one.  Somewhere down the road, I saw some on the shoulder!  Perfect.  I yanked the car over, jumped out with my big lens, and took some distant photos back up the highway.  I'm sure all the motorists were rather freaked out by a sketchy dude pointing some machinery down the highway at them but hey, what can you do?  The picture is nothing great but I'm not in it for great photos.

15 May 2013

Still with me?

Once again, it looks like I've fallen behind in updating this blog.  If you're still with me, I left off back on March 26, when I failed to hear/see the THICK-BILLED VIREO that had been seen at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Miami.

I returned first thing the next morning (yes, I was waiting in front of the gate when it opened!).  Another couple of birders and I slowed as we approached that section of road and sure enough, the vireo was singing loudly!  Now came the tricky part, seeing it.  However, luck was with us and it popped out in plain view.  What luck.  I snapped a few photos:

I was pretty pleased that I not only got to hear it, but also see it AND get photos of it for my ABA photo list.  After the excitement waned, I decided it was time for me to head to the Everglades to see if I could find a long-standing nemesis bird, the SHINY COWBIRD.

Once in the Everglades National Park, I made a beeline for Flamingo where the cowbirds will often forage on the grass.  After a few minutes, I finally located the flock near one of the visitor centers.  What was with them?  Well, not one but two SHINY COWBIRDS.  Here's a photo showing both males in the same view, can you pick out which ones they are?

It didn't take long to realize that they were all quite tame as well!  I moved in for better shots:

I was focusing more on birds but this WHITE PEACOCK grabbed my attention for a couple of seconds:

Overhead in the Everglades is a great place to look for and see SWALLOW-TAILED KITES:

Here is a HALLOWEEN PENNANT, one of the most abundant dragonflies during my visit:

While I was camping in the Everglades, I read in my butterfly book that there are some species that have very limited distributions, sometimes only in the Everglades and the keys.  I looked at one in the book and it said they preferred rocky/grassy areas near pines.  I looked up from my book at the campground... rocks and grass under pines.  I took a walk.

A short distance down the trail, success!  This is the rare and limited BARTRAM'S SCRUB-HAIRSTREAK:

The next day though I had another bird target in mind.  It was time to drive to Key West....