Wednesday, July 1, 2015

MId Year 2015 Update

Usually around July 1st each year I do a short update on what is going on with respect to big year efforts of which I am aware.  But first I want to congratulate Neil Hayward on his becoming the sole ABA area big year record holder now that the ABA has added the rufous-necked wood-rail to its official list of bird species.  In July of 2013 the first ever ABA area documented rufous-necked wood-rail was discovered at Bosque del Apache NWR.  I blogged about my trip to see it on July 10th of 2013.  Neil went to see it as part of his big year in 2013, and its addition pushed his big year total to 749, breaking a tie with Sandy Komito.  This was the only bird left on his list that he was waiting to be confirmed.

The rufous-necked wood-rail is a bird whose range begins in southern Mexico and extends into Central and South America.  No one had this bird on their list of possible new visitors to the ABA area.  It spent about 10 days at Bosque del Apache before it disappeared which allowed many birders to go to see it (click on any photo to enlarge).

Turning to the topic of big years in 2015, I still do not have any definitive information on anyone doing an ABA area big year.  Looking at the ebird data, it appears that there may be several birders that could be doing a big year, but none of them has a blog, so I have no way to know for sure.  The top ABA area listers for the year are Mike and Wendy Schackwitz who as of 6/28 had seen a total of 594 species.  From the birds that ebird recorded, it is apparent that they have recently spent time in Alaska, and are now back birding in the lower 48 states.  If they are doing an ABA area big year, some mid year reference totals for the top 3 ABA area big year efforts would be Neil Hayward at 653 (year end total 749), John Vanderpoel at 654 (2011--year end total 744), and Sandy Komito at an amazing 692 (1998--year end total 748)).

The one proclaimed big year that I know about is being undertaken by Noah Strycker who is doing a world big year.  You can read about his year by visiting the Audubon website.  As of June 30th, Noah has seen 3,331 species.  His goal is to see at least 5,000 bird species by year end which is roughly 1/2 of all the known bird species.  As a reference, the current record for a world big year is 4,431 which was set in 2008 by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller.  They broke the previous record of 3,662 set back in 1989 by Jim Clements.

Finally, Neil told me that he knows a birder, Olaf Danielson, who has already said on his blog ( that he will be undertaking an ABA area big year in 2016.  Here's to all the birders out there currently doing or planning various kinds of big years.  As for me, my next big birding adventure will be a return trip to the Pribilof islands in September with some birding friends.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Magee Marsh: Spring Migration 2015

I left Chapel Hill on Wednesday May 6th to begin my drive up to Magee Marsh for my annual spring migration visit there.  I spent the night in Beckley, West Virginia, so that on Thursday morning I could check out a birding spot just outside of Charleston, which was another hour drive north.  The place, Coonskin Park, proved to be not very birdy the next morning, so I was on my way to Magee Marsh fairly quickly.  I received an email from Bert Filemyr that he and Mike Rosengarten had left as planned that morning.  I emailed back that I was going to stop at Pipe Creek wildlife area near Sandusky and would arrive about 2 PM.

I pulled into the parking area at Pipe Creek to find Bert and Mike climbing out of their SUV.  We spent the next hour or so checking out the area in hopes of finding a Connecticut warbler.  We did notice a cooper's hawk perched which then flew up, circled a couple of times and took off.  We also located a blue-headed vireo (both photos taken by Bert--click on any photo to enlarge), as well as a few random warblers.

Next stop was Magee Marsh to see how things were on the boardwalk.  It was fairly slow for Magee, but there were some warblers like the black-throated green below still feeding before starting their flight across Lake Erie.

After leaving the boardwalk, we stopped in at Metzger Marsh as well.  On the entrance road we spied 2 doves that at first glance looked like European collared doves.  When we looked closer, they did not match our experience in seeing this species.  Bert said he thought they must be escaped cage doves, but I said where would they have come from.  By the next day we all agreed that they were either escaped birds, or released at a wedding ceremony.  The cage bird theory seemed more likely since you could almost walk up and touch them without their flinching.  They were in the same bush almost everyday for the rest of our stay. 

We went on into the marsh and were able to see a very distant marbled godwit that had been reported.  There was also a large flock of American golden plovers. It was getting pretty late, so we headed to our hotel to check in for our multi-day stay in the area. 

The next morning we were out early and retraced our steps.  The boardwalk was much more active with both people and birds.  One of our few sightings of an ovenbird for the week contributed to a plus 20 day for warbler species.  I also found a new "birders" plate for my photo collection.

My friends Dan and Doreene arrived late morning having driven up from Columbus, OH that morning.  We birded together the rest of the day which became unseasonably warm for the area.  There were plenty of birds to see including early arriving black-billed cuckoos (photo taken by Bert).  Friday proved to be the high warbler count day of the trip for me at 26 species. We wrapped up our day with dinner at the Cinco de Mayo restaurant in Oregon where we all were staying.

Saturday was pretty much a replay of Friday with many of the same species and numbers, and still too warm (80's) for early May. 

Laura Keene, my friend who over the years has so graciously shared her excellent photos with me to use on this blog, was supposed to be with our group on the Sunday morning bus tour into Cedar point--a closed part of the Ottawa NWR complex.  Instead, a friend of Dan and Doreene's, Leslie Sours, came along with us.  Our group of 6 were on the bus at 7 AM joined by 8 other birders, a driver and the Ottawa NWR manager.  On this tour last year we were fortunate to find a female Kirtland's warbler that was also seen the next day by another bus tour.

We were not very far into the refuge when we came upon a pair of sandhill cranes which provided plenty of photo ops.  Further in we birded some of the tree lined sections of the dike where we turned up some warblers like the bay-breasted below (photo taken by Bert).

After finishing the bus tour, we checked out how things were on the boardwalk at Magee to find it was again pretty much like on Saturday--good numbers of birds, lots of people and still way too warm for my liking.  A female yellow-headed blackbird was reported on the Ottawa NWR self-driving tour, so mid-afternoon we all went to see if we could find it.  Sure enough she was feeding along the road (photo taken by Leslie).  Dan and Doreene, who are once again doing a big year for Ohio, were very glad to find this hard to locate species in Ohio.

Monday was the 4th day in a row of 80+ degree weather, with southerly winds which meant a few new species arriving, and many birds continuing their trip into Canada.  Laura Keene joined us as well.

The best bird for the day was a female cerulean warbler which when I studied the warbler handbook later in the day looked like a possible first year male to me. We kept getting reports of yellow-bellied flycatchers, but we never could relocate the bird at the position that it was first reported.   The same was true for olive-sided flycatchers.  We did see some rose-breasted grosbeaks.

There were still good numbers of warblers like the Wilson's just below.

I also saw a wood thrush which proved to be a rare bird this year as did Swainson's thrushes.  The one thrush species that we saw quite a few of was the gray-cheeked which is normally the rarest of the thrushes at Magee.  We finished our day eating dinner together to celebrate Dan's birthday.

Tuesday dawned with a high chance for rain and much cooler temps.  We heard about a common nighthawk on a roost on the Ottawa NWR self-driving tour, so we went to check it out.

We also got a report of a hudsonian godwit at Metzger Marsh.  Arriving at the marsh we found it was no longer there, but another was reported close by at the Meinke Marina.  We had just enough time to rush over to the marina before the start of our afternoon bus tour of the Darby unit of the Ottawa NWR.  The godwit was too far out to get a good photo, but there were also a good number of American golden plovers (photos just above and below taken by Bert).  In hindsight, I think the hudsonian godwit was the bird of the trip given how rare they are in the spring in Ohio.  Dan said in all his years of birding in Ohio, this was the first year he had seen both marbled and hudsonian godwits in the spring.

The bus tour of the Darby unit proved to be probably the slowest birding time of the entire week.  It was very windy, so there just were not many birds around other than swallows and kingbirds that were migrating along the lake edge.  Heavy rains greeted us later in the afternoon.

Wednesday brought similar weather conditions as Tuesday.  I stopped at a spot we had visited several times to try once again for hooded mergansers, and was finally successful.  We all birded the boardwalk early to find pretty much the same species we had been seeing for a few days.  About 10 AM Bert and Mike decided to start their drive back to Philadelphia.  Right after they left we got a report of upland sandpipers in a field nearby, so we headed over to check them out.

While looking at the uppies, a report came in that a female Kirtland's warbler had been found at Oak Openings which is on the west side of Toledo. Since I also needed to leave by noon to begin my drive to Boston, I chose not to drive an hour west before starting my long drive east.  Dan and Doreene did go, and I heard later that they were able to see the Kirtland's--another hard to see species for their big year.

I returned to the boardwalk for one last walk there before leaving for Boston.  Surprisingly, there was a bobwhite quail in the parking area near the West entrance of the boardwalk.  This is a released bird for northern Ohio, but it was the first I had seen at Magee.  I was on the road as planned at noon.

This is the 7th year in a row that I have visited Magee Marsh for  spring migration.  I continue to enjoy the birding, and seeing old friends while there.  Once again I saw most of the species that you expect to find, with a final tally of 159 this year.  For the first time in years I did miss seeing golden-winged and Kirtland's warblers.  I do not know what the summer will bring birding wise--maybe another chase for a rarity.  I do know that I am returning to the Pribiloff Islands in the Bering sea this coming September.  Dan and Doreene will be joining me as will John Vanderpoel, and possibly Neil Hayward.

As for any news of ABA or lower 48 big years in 2015, Dan Gesualdo from Ohio who I know, seems to have slowed down dramatically after a very fast start during the 1st 3+ months of the year.  He has been passed on the ebird top 100 by several other birders.  Mike and Wendy Schackwitz, who I do not know but presume are a couple, are leading the top 100 at 551 species seen so far.  I can not find any definite info as to whether they are undertaking a big year, but their travels and number of species seem to suggest that they are.  If I begin seeing bird species from Alaska later this month on their ebird list, then it would appear very likely that they are doing an ABA area big year.

Addendum 5/24:  Laura Keene sent me a photo of the upland sandpiper so here it is.

She also sent me a photo of the cerulean warbler which now that I have a photo definitely looks like a female. My view in the field was not as good as Laura's photo.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bahia Honda SP--Double Red Letter Day!

On Sunday 2/22 a bananaquit (code 4) was reported on on the Silver Palm Nature Trail at Bahia Honda SP located in the Keys in Florida.  In mid January of 2013 a bananaquit, and a western spindalis were reported in the Key Biscayne area outside of Miami.  I missed both birds on that trip, but did get to see a western spindalis in Florida in April of that year.  When on Monday afternoon the bananaquit, plus a black-faced grassquit (code 4) were reported on Narba at Bahia Honda SP, I quickly checked for flight availability to Miami.  I found there were reasonably affordable seats on the 6:20 PM flight, so I bought a ticket and rushed off to the airport. 

I arrived in Miami about 8:15, and made the short drive down to Florida City to be in position to drive early Tuesday morning the additional 90 miles to Bahia Honda SP.  I would have driven further down into the Keys Monday night, but being the height of tourist season, motel rates were ridiculously expensive--even Florida City was more than twice what I paid in December when Neil, Gerri and I went after the Key West quail-dove.  I was on the road by 5:30 AM, and pulled up to the closed gate at Bahia Honda at 7:35.  There was already a car in front of me from Pennsylvania.  A man soon got out of his car, and we began chatting.  His name was Joe, he lives in Bethlehem, PA, and spends a few weeks each winter in Florida.

Soon another car drove up, and, so typical of rarity birding, Mike and Corinne get out who are also from Bethlehem, PA.  We had met in the fall of 2013 on St. Paul Island in the Pribiloffs in Alaska.  They had come down to Florida for a week, and were on their way home when they heard about the black-faced grassquit.  Once the gate opened, we all headed first to the Buttonwood campground bathhouse to look for the grassquit.  After about 30 minutes with no grassquit in evidence,  Joe and I decided to check out the bananaquit location which was about a 5 minute ride away.  On the way over I found out he had been to Attu in the western Aleutian Islands in 1994 and also 2000.

We found the Silver Palm Nature Trail, and located an area about 150 yards down the trail that looked promising.  We also met a couple from Minnesota who were spending some time in the Keys, and had heard about both birds being spotted.  Soon a 5th birder, Claire from Mississippi, joined us and confirmed from her ebird report that we were in the right spot for the bananaquit.

About 9:10 I saw the bananaquit fly over my head and into a 10 foot high clump of vegetation.  Before I could get anyone else on it, it buried itself.  For the next 20 minutes or so, we all kept scanning the area in hopes it would reappear (in the photo above you can see Claire with her camera intently looking for the bird--click on any photo to enlarge).  About 9:30 the bananaquit flew up out of the dense vegetation and into a large sea grape which you can see behind Clair.  By then a family of 4, plus another couple had all arrived, and everyone was able to get very good looks at the bird (photo below taken by Claire--bananaquit in center of image facing right).

We called Mike and Corinne, and suggested that we switch places with them if they also wanted to see the bananaquit (they had seen the one I missed back in 2013).  We did the swap, and took up our vigil at the bathhouse.  The grassquit was initially found eating fruit on the ground that had fallen off of a large ficus tree.  There were at least 10 gray catbirds there feeding along with an ovenbird.  While we kept waiting for the grassquit to show up, we all got to know each other a bit better.  A few white ibis came in to feed--1 adult and 2 immatures.  A great-crested flycatcher also would occasionally stop in.   Mike and Corinne returned fairly quickly after seeing the bananaquit.

About noon, Mike noticed the grassquit down on the ground at the corner of the boardwalk.  We all slowly approached it, and were able to watch it for 3-4 minutes before it flew out of view (photo below taken by Claire).  This bird is either a female or a first year male which might be sorted out if it stays around long enough for other birders to study it.

When it did not return right away, Mike, Corinne, Joe, Claire and I discussed driving 30 miles up to Long Key to look again for the Key West quail-dove.  I was the only one of the group who had seen it, so everyone else was game to try again.  We all were there for about an hour when Joe decided to move on.  Mike and Corinne left about an hour later because they had a long drive ahead of them to Pennsylvania.  Claire and I hung in until 6 PM, but no quail-dove was found.  The best we could do late in the afternoon was a probable fly-over white-crowned pigeon.

I would liked to have gone home that evening, but by mid afternoon the airfare had almost tripled, so I opted to spend another night in the Miami area, and flew home the next afternoon.  When I checked Narba Tuesday evening I saw that another birder I know, Liz Southworth, had arrived at Bahia Honda around 3 PM, and was able to see the bananaquit.  Early on Wednesday morning she had also picked up the black-faced grassquit.  I flew home thinking that I was not likely to see 2 life birds again in one day in the ABA area.

Addendum on 3/4:  Mike and Corinne sent me some photos this morning 2 of which I am adding below--first the bananaquit followed by the black-faced grassquit.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Talking Rustic Bunting and Common Scoter!

On Thursday night I finally decided to make a spur of the moment trip to northern California to try to see a rustic bunting (code 3) and a common scoter--the first ever recorded in the ABA area.  The bunting has been hanging out in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for over 3 weeks.  Neil Hayward flew out on Thursday, and was able to photograph it that afternoon (the 4 photos of the 2 birds were all taken by Neil--click on any photo to enlarge).  I had delayed making the decision to go out because northern California is experiencing a pineapple express after having recorded the driest January in its history.

I arrived in SF at 1:40 on Friday, and was at the park at 3 PM.  It was pretty windy, with rain often flying sideways.  I found 2 birders from the Philadelphia area.  One of them recognized me from when we first met on a Debi Shearwater pelagic trip during my lower 48 big year in 2010.  Soon 3 birders from the Boston area showed up.  Neil had told me to look for them.  Two of them were Steve Moore and Barbara Volkle who I had also met in 2010 when they helped me join a Christmas bird count on the north shore of Boston in hopes of adding a thick-billed murre to my year total.  

The Philly birders first located the rustic bunting feeding with a group of juncos under some redwoods.  We only were able to watch it for a couple of minutes before it flew up into the trees.  With the weather getting worse, soon everyone else decided to call it a day.  I waited a bit for Neil to return from seeing the common scoter.  We went to have an early dinner at Hunan--a chinese restaurant that I have been returning to for 35 years.  After a nice meal, Neil headed down to the airport to check into his motel to be ready to fly to Texas at 6 AM on Saturday to try to see a gray-crowned yellowthroat and a white-throated thrush at Estero Llano Grande SP.  I pointed my car north to begin a 5 hour drive to Eureka.  It was one of the worst night drives in wind and rain that I have ever made, but I was checked in to my motel by 11:30 PM.

I was back in my car at 6:15 AM Saturday to cover the last 80 miles of the trip.  When I arrived at Crescent City, the wind was blowing quite hard, but the rain was just intermittent.  The common scoter was in the marina in the water right below the small shelter.

Within 15 minutes there were 25-30 birders spread around looking at the scoter.  The 2 Philly birders were there.  I met a young birder from Orange County, CA who recognized me from my blog.  I mentioned him to Neil who said he thought he was the guy who set the Orange County big year record last year.  It was no surprise that so many birders had come from near and far to see a potential new addition to the ABA area bird list.

After an hour of enjoying this very sleek and elegant scoter, I decided I needed some breakfast which proved to be a bit of work since the storm had knocked power out for much of Crescent City.  I stopped for another look at the scoter before I began my drive back towards San Francisco.  Even though Rob Fowler, a top birder in the Eureka/Arcata area, had responded to my email to say for over 2 weeks no one had seen the brambling that was first found in January,  I stopped in Arcata to look for it.  By noon the sun was out, and the temp was 66 degrees.  While I was staking out the feeders at 1740 Buttermilk Lane, a birder from Florida stopped by as well.  She was also on her way back from seeing the scoter.  After over an hour of seeing only many juncos, pine siskins, house sparrows and finches, and a couple of stellar jays, we both decided to move on.

I was up this morning early again to stop for a second time at Golden Gate Park.  When I arrived the rain was coming down, but the wind was much less than on Friday.  I met a birder from the Bay area who had seen the rustic bunting just before I got there.  It was with juncos and a few sparrows. A young couple arrived next, but with them also came heavier rain.  They told me they were on their way to Washington state from Arizona, and stopped in to try for the rustic bunting.  Next up for them would be the common scoter. 

About 8 AM a woman who I had met on Friday afternoon stopped in again to spread more bird seed.  Apparently when the bunting was first found, she decided to keep putting out bird seed for it, which may be why it has stayed around for so long making so many birders very happy.  About 9:30 we began to see a few juncos feeding along the edge of the shrubbery.  We changed positions, and were able to find the bunting further back in.  We got some nice views, some as close as 10-15 feet away.  When the bunting flew up into the taller trees, and with the wind picking up along with the rainfall, we all headed back to our cars.  I will be flying back to North Carolina tomorrow morning, and feeling very pleased with finding both these rarities. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eurasian Kestrel in Nova Scotia

There continue to be several very good rarities that were found late last year, and have continued to be seen into 2015.  One of these is a Eurasian kestrel (code 4) that was first reported in December from Eastern Passage near Halifax, NS.  Later it was discovered that someone had taken photos of it as early as November 21st.  3 weeks ago Neil Hayward asked me if I wanted to fly up to Boston, and then drive to Halifax with him to try for the bird.  I could not get away at that time, so he and Gerri made the trip instead.  They left at 10 PM, and drove though the night.  It is 725 miles from Boston to the golf course in Eastern Passage--a small town on the edge of Halifax.  They arrived between 9 and 10 AM, and did find the kestrel (all the photos of the Eurasian kestrel in today's post were taken by Neil--click on any photo to enlarge).  They were back in Boston before midnight.

Since the kestrel continued to be reported, I decided to make a trip this past week to Boston, as well as Connecticut and New Hampshire, to see some friends.  When the kestrel was seen again last Tuesday, I decided also to make the long drive up to try for the kestrel.  I flew to Boston, was on the road by noon on Wednesday, and made it to my motel in Halifax by midnight Atlantic time.

I was up at 6 AM Thursday, and at the bird's "territory" by 7 even though it was still quite dark (sunrise was at 7:45).  As it became lighter under a very overcast sky, I kept scanning the area looking for the kestrel.  I flushed a snowy owl, and also found a large fox looking for its breakfast.  At 7:40 I first saw the kestrel hovering over the grassy area between the road and the water.  I had barely found it when it dove down to catch something, and then it flew off into the center of the golf course where it perched briefly on a tree before disappearing.

I kept scanning the area hoping for it to return for better looks.  During the next hour I was visited by a murder of crows, and found a small mixed flock of common and hoary redpolls which were difficult to photograph as the wind blew them around while feeding (sorry for the not totally clear photo below).  There was also a female northern harrier who was cruising the area in search of food.

About 8:30 I saw the kestrel hovering very far out over the golf course for about 5 minutes before it flew away again.  At 9 the kestrel returned to the shoreline area, and began hovering in search of more food.  With better light, I was finally able to study the bird.  It is larger than the American kestrel (photo below taken in FL last month), has only 1 whisker on its face, and has no gray in the wings.  This particular Eurasian kestrel is very light in general.

At one point the kestrel flew off behind a small building near the road, and when I relocated it, it was stooping at the snowy owl I had found earlier.  The owl was unperturbed by the kestrel, and was very cooperative in letting me get close enough to take a picture with my small camera.

I was able to watch the kestrel continue to work the area around the road for another 10 minutes before it decided to disappear again.  It was now about 9:30.  As I was leaving a rough-legged hawk flew across the road in front of me to give me a nice send off.  I was not really looking forward to another 11-12 hour drive back to Boston, but it proved uneventful.  I even had the pleasure of finding a place in Maine that had a 2 chicken lobster special so I stopped for dinner.  I was at my friends in Lincoln, MA by 9 PM.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there have been some very nice rarities around to start 2015.  The Key West quail-dove continues to be seen in FL as is a smooth-billed ani.  Barnacle and pink-footed geese are still being reported in the northeast.  2 common cranes are intermittently being seen in NM and TX.  The tundra bean goose is still in OR, as are the falcated duck, brambling and rustic bunting in CA.  Arizona has a rufous-backed robin and a sinaloa wren. A Eurasian siskin is wintering over in Unalaska, AK.  And just yesterday a blue bunting, and a gray-crowned yellowthroat were found in south TX.

Yesterday I was sent the link to a new big year blog (  I had heard that a birder I know from Ohio, Dan Gesualdo, was possibly doing a big year.  I had seen his ebird list leading the way on the top 100.  From his blog I read that he so far has birded in TX, OH, CA and OR.  His total for the year is already over 300 birds, and it is not even the end of January.  An awesome start!  He says he is doing a lower 48 big year, which is the first I have known about since mine back in 2010.  Dan, I wish you the best of fun as you pursue birds this year.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Year End Review

Another year of birding is in the books, so I am doing my year end review.  In 2014 I did not bird as heavily in the ABA area as I did in 2013--no trip to the boonies of Alaska for example.  But I did make my annual spring trip to Magee Marsh to bird with friends like Dan and Doreene (check my May entries for details).  I also did a few successful chases of rarities that showed up in the lower 48 states during the 2nd half of the year.  Those also were all added to the blog at the time of the chase.  The last was my trip to the Florida Keys with Neil and Gerri to see the Key West quail-dove. 

Since we made the trip to the Long Key SP,  other birders discovered 2 quail-dove sitting together on a branch in the same area.  And on the 28th of December a 3rd quail-dove was found on the Deering Estate in Cutler just south of Miami.  My friend Bob Wallace had spent 3 days at Long Key SP without seeing the bird, and when he was called, he rushed up to the Deering Estate where he managed no better than the record shot just above--good luck picking out the bird.  Clues:  a) the bird is facing to the right, and b) look for the shiny eye and a white horizontal stripe just below the eye (click on any photo to enlarge).

Addendum 5/24/15:  Laura Keene was able to get a photo of the Key West quail-dove this spring.

Turning to big year efforts in 2014, I only know of one blog done by Dorian Anderson chronicling his self-powered big year.  He road his bicycle down the east coast to Florida; across the gulf coast into Texas and onto Arizona; up through the Rocky Mountains to Washington; down the Pacific coast to southern California; back through Arizona and down to the Rio Grande Valley; and finally ending up in Dallas.  He averaged almost 49 miles of riding per day, covering almost 18,000 miles.  He saw 617 different bird species plus a possible ABA area first record of a red-legged honeycreeper.  He also raised over $45,000 for bird conservation, and had 575,000 pageviews on his blog.

There have been a few other "green" big birding years, but none on the scale that Dorian just finished.  He has established the template for a cycling big birding year.  I know how tiring a big year can be--a 365 day marathon which in my case involved 82,000 miles of flying and 66,000 miles of driving.  To do it riding a bicycle almost every day is a truly amazing feat and level of commitment.

Like most big year birders, he developed a plan that would optimize his goal of birding and cycling.  Unlike most big years though, he could not really chase rarities, so the quality of his plan and assistance from other birders in the areas he visited was even more crucial to his success.  Every big year birder to some degree studies prior big year efforts in order to develop a plan for his/her year.  The wild card to reaching a very big total number of birds seen is how many rarities show up, and does the big year birder choose to chase and successfully find them.

As I have written before, to set a record, a big year birder must be willing to chase.  Sandy Komito has talked about this often.  Neil Hayward tying Sandy's full ABA area big year mark of 748 is even more amazing since Neil did not fully commit to doing a big year until April of 2013 which meant he did not chase a few rarities early in the year.  As a result he is still hoping the rufous-necked wood-rail found in New Mexico last year will be accepted as a first ABA record which would push his total to 749.

I did check ebird, and found that Brandon Reo saw 667 different species in 2014 in the full ABA area, and 641 in the lower 48 states--both of which are outstanding results.  Also from ebird, Leo Miller saw 610 in the full ABA area.  Every year since 2003, Leo has seen over 500 different species of birds in the full ABA area, and 3 of those years he broke 600.  Finally from ebird, Doug Gochfeld, a professional bird guide I met last year in Alaska, saw 609 species in the full ABA area.  I also want to give a shout out to Dan Sanders who just completed his 20th consecutive Ohio big year.  He and his partner Doreene finished 2014 with 318 species, which just fell short of their record of 320.

Returning to my own birding year in 2014, I added 8 more birds to my full ABA area (788) and lower 48 states (749) lists.  The new entries include collared plover (code 5), whiskered tern (code 5), tundra bean goose (code 3), Egyptian goose (code 2), and Key West quail-dove (code 4)--all birds that I saw during the year.  And due to changes in the ABA listing rules I was able to now count aplomado falcon (2010, 2012) and California condor (2006).  Finally, the ABA added Ridgway's rail (code 2) as a split from clapper rail.  I recently reviewed my 2010 big year records, and confirmed that I saw Ridgway's rails below San Diego in October of that year.

It is time to wrap up this blog post so that I can begin my annual New Year's day tradition of drinking port and eating blue cheese while watching college football bowl games.  Happy New Year!

Addendum on 1/5:  my friend Marty pointed out this AM that I did not mention the 3 week birding trip in Morocco last March.  I was thinking about my birding year in ABA area only when I wrote the initial year wrap up post.  So a belated addition about what was fully reported here on the blog earlier, and definitely fond memories of the birding and everything else that trip gave our group.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Key West Quail Dove--YESSSSS!

Neil Hayward called me early last week to ask me if I wanted to join him and his partner, Gerri, to try for the Key West quail-dove.  The plan was to fly to Florida Thursday afternoon, and have 2 full days on Friday and Saturday to try to see it.  Since the bird had been seen again on 11/28, 12/2, 12/5, 12/6 and 12/8, I said I would join them hoping for success after failing before Thanksgiving.  We flew into the Ft. Lauderdale airport at dark, and stopped at Kendall Lakes to see if we could find the Egyptian goose for Neil.  There were plenty of muscovy ducks, but apparently the geese go to a roost at night.

Neil and I were at Long Key SP at first light Friday morning.  Soon after we ran into Allison Fox who had seen the bird the morning before (all photos are mine unless indicated otherwise--click on any photo to enlarge).  We split up to cover more of the trail.  5 minutes later she came running up to us to say the quail-dove had walked across the trail about 100 yards from where Neil and I were.  We rushed back, and fortunately were able to relocate it about 100 feet off the trail feeding on the ground.  We both were able to get identifiable looks at the bird before it vanished from sight.

Within the next 30 minutes another 1/2 dozen birders joined the hunt.  One of them was Barrett Pierce who I had run into at Cape May chasing the whiskered tern in September.  I met Barrett back in 2010 during my lower 48 big year, and then next saw him in August of 2011 at Coney Island when we both missed seeing the gray-hooded gull by one day.

All of us kept patrolling the trail in hopes that the quail-dove would walk out again.  We also were listening very closely to try to hear the bird shuffling thru the dry leaves on the ground.  At one point 2 of the park rangers came through, and did not seem very happy that over the weeks of birders looking for the quail-dove a couple of side trails had been used.  As a result, they took downed wood and blocked the side trails.  Then they put up new paper signs at the beginning of the Golden Orb nature trail.

At one point mid-morning we went to check the edge of the parking area when a large group of turkey vultures rose up off their roost.  About 11:30, Neil was walking the trail where it changes from hardwood hammock to mangroves when the quail-dove appeared right by the trail.  It flushed back about 20 feet.  By the time the rest of us got to his location, it had once again walked out of sight.  At 12:45, another birder found it about 100 feet from the prior sighting near some gumbo-limbo trees.  Before any other birders could join him, the quail-dove once again disappeared.

After 3 sightings which totaled less than 1 minute of viewing, only 4 birders had gotten identifiable looks at the bird, and no photos had been taken.  Gerri had not seen the quail-dove, so we continued to look for it until 2:30 when we decided to head back towards Miami.  As we left the park I got a record shot of Neil and Gerri.

Neil had made a dinner date for us all to have sushi at a restaurant in Coral Terrace recommended by Carlos Sanchez--a young professional bird guide who lives in Miami.  On the way to dinner, we stopped at Kendall Lakes just as it got dark, but there were no Egyptian geese still at the lake.  We met Carlos at 6:30, and talked birding over some very good sushi.

The next morning we decided to start at Kendall Lakes, and this time Neil (his photo) was able to finally add Egyptian goose to his ABA life list.  We then stopped at a new location that Carlos had told us about where he has found several red-whiskered bulbuls.  As soon as we got out of the car we heard them calling, and ended up seeing 7 in all (Neil's photo).

Our main destination for the morning was to bird Matheson Hammock Park.  Since it was Saturday morning, there were many people in the picnic area including a wedding party.  The birding was pretty slow (palm, black and white, prairie, Nashville and parula warblers; blue-gray gnatcatchers; 1 blue-headed vireo; and 2 fly-over dark morph short-tailed hawks) until we were graced by the presence of a loud and so very striking blue and yellow macaw (Neil's photo).

We then checked out the mangrove section of the park where we had mostly shorebirds (killdeer, ruddy turnstones, and spotted sandpipers), an eastern phoebe and a great crested flycatcher.  Next we went to the west section of the park which is usually good for parrots and parakeets.  We found a juvenile broad-winged hawk and a kestrel (Neil's photos), and met some other birders, one of whom had gone to Long Key SP 6 times before finally seeing the quail-dove.  While we were walking, we heard a group of parrots flying by, but they did not land.

After a short lunch, coffee and tea stop at Starbucks, we went to check out one more location in hopes of seeing cave swallows and white-crowned pigeons. We were too early for the swallows to have returned to their roost, and there were no pigeons either.  We did see several iguanas (Neil's photo), and found 2 or 3 manatees feeding in the canal.  It was now 3 PM, and there was not much chance of finding other interesting birds.  Neil and Gerri had plans to meet friends up in West Palm Beach, so they dropped me at the Miami airport where I read a good book until my flight back to Chapel Hill.


Sitting at the airport also gave me some time to reflect on just how frustrating it had been trying to see the Key West quail-dove.  In birding I have learned that there are satisfactory looks (meaning you are able to ID the bird), and then there are the much better satisfying looks where you get to spend long quality viewing time with a bird.  I concluded that my 10 second ID look had to be the least satisfying tick of a life bird that I have ever had in my 40+ years of birding.   That said, I am still very happy to have at least been able to see the quail-dove well enough to ID it.  I also heard since I got back home that Barrett did finally see the bird on Sunday, but was not able to get a photo either.  And yesterday, 3 other birders I know, Liz Southworth, Dave Nelson and Matthew Matthiessen were able to see it well including getting photos.  My next post will be my wrap up on birding in 2014.