Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Can You Say Mangrove cuckoo?

A very early start today at 5:30 AM to make the 2.5 hour drive down to Sugarloaf Key--a primary site for mangrove cuckoo. When we got there we found many other birders, including a large VENT birding tour group. There were lots of different thrushes (wood, swainsons and veery). We listened and finally heard the very short call/gurgle of a cuckoo, but we were never able to find it in the mangroves. We did see a bank swallow fly over--a new year bird. After a couple of hours on a beautiful, bug free morning we decided to drive the short distance into Key West. On the way we saw and photographed the gray kingbird--a keys specialty--in the top picture.

In Key West we drove straight to Fort Zachary Taylor Park, and saw a birder from Arizona that I had first met there in February, then saw briefly yesterday, and again at Sugarloaf. We were talking when a small group of cuckoos flew into the trees. We began to follow them as they moved through the trees, and found mixed in with the yellow-billed cuckoos one mangrove--both cuckoos were new year birds. A mangrove cuckoo had been reported at the fort a week ago, and again today we tracked one down. We hung around for awhile to see what else might drop in, and were rewarded with a small number of bobolinks.

It was getting quite warm, so our next stop was our motel. After a short respite, we went for an early dinner. We chose a place called the Grand Cafe in downtown Key West. Since it was only 5:30, we were almost the only people eating. It was cool and low enough humidity to eat outside. Our waiter told us he had been living in Key West for 18 years. We enjoyed talking with him off and on during our meal. My friend went for pork tenderloin with slaw and polenta. I had blue fin tuna lightly grilled with sesame rice noodles and citrus slices. The food was pretty good but not world class. Our bottle of 2006 Sanford Santa Rita Hills pinot noir was probably the best part of the meal.

After dinner we headed over to the Key West airport to listen/see an antillean nighthawk, another specialty bird of the keys. At dusk there were 2 other tour bird groups, plus a foursome and the 2 of us. On cue we watched over a 10 minute period a few single nighthawks fly over us, but none were calling. This is no good because the antillean looks all but identical to the common nighthawk, so their call is how you tell them apart. We stayed around listening, and finally heard in the distance the call of the antillean. We will go back tomorrow evening for another attempt to match a flying bird with its call.

Today ended with 17 more birds for this week including 3 new birds for the year bringing the YTD number to 510. There is an updated travel map also today. Tomorrow we take the boat out to the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson. Stay tuned!


  1. What is VENT? Glad you've got Pam keeping you company this week!

  2. What do you think about Pam's bird call software? She seems to be having a great time. Hope you have fun in the Tortugas today.

  3. Chris,

    I've been lurking on your blog and having lots of fun reading. Just this past week, I reread The Big Year about Komito, Levantin and Miller's frantic chase. I really like your approach as being something more real and realistic for the rest of us.

    I was at Key West on a family vacation over New Year's and missed the WEstern Spindalis that showed up after we left.

    Was at the Tortugas in May 1983; fascinating place.

    Good luck and keep having fun!