Sunday, January 13, 2013

Spur of the Moment Chase Trip to Miami

I have been checking NARBA regularly to see what rarities might be tantalizing this year's big year birders.  There are so many possibilities with the citrine wagtail and bramblings in British Columbia; the northern lapwings, and pink-footed and barnacle geese in New England; the bananaquit and western spindalis in Florida; and the Nutting's flycatcher and rufous capped warber in AZ.  So far I have not come across any new big year blogs to know which of these birds are being pursued, but seeing that both a western spindalis and a bananaquit were very near each other in the Miami area, I decided to fly down to Florida last Wednesday morning.

I arrived about 9 AM, picked up my rental car and immediately drove to Bill Baggs SP on Key Biscayne to try for the bananaquit.  When I got to the site I found several other birders, and was told that I had missed the bird by about 20 minutes.  It had called and then had flown across the nature trail and disappeared providing at best very poor looks at it.  I spent the next 2 hours hanging out with the other birders in hopes it would reappear.  One of the birders was Roberto Torres, known as Toe locally.  We had first met in 2010 when I came to see the Cuban pewee in the Everglades.

About noon I decided to join Dick and Gaylee, who had come over from Marco Island to look for the bananaquit, to go to the nearby site on Virginia Key where a female western spindalis had been seen off and on for a month.  Gaylee had seen it earlier in the morning, so we were hopeful about finding it again.  We looked from noon to 2 PM without success.

I decided to return to the bananaquit spot, where I worked the area until dark without success.  Mariel, a park ranger, and her husband, Angel, came around about 5 PM in hopes of finding the bananaquit, but as dusk approached we had neither heard nor seen the bird.

Thursday morning I was back at the spindalis location by 7 AM where I met Dick and Gaylee to hunt for the bird again.  We ran into Ron and Dollyanne, a birding couple from Knoxville who I realized were part of a small birding trip to E. Africa that had inspired Bob Wallace to set up the trip I took there last July.  We shared some of our memories of our respective trips while we wandered around on the mountain bike paths listening for the spindalis which we did not find again.

I left about 8:45 to make the 20 minute drive over to the bananaquit site.  I arrived to find Toe already there, only to be told that the bird had once again made a quick fly by 15 minutes before I had arrived.  I spent the next 3 hours searching for it.  About 10:30 a group of birders from Minnesota joined in the search.  They had just seen the La Sagra's flycatcher, another rarity, close to the spindalis site, and now were keen on finding the bananaquit.  The group was led by a well known Minnesota birder, Kim Eckert, who wrote the best field guide for the area around and north of Duluth.  I had met him back in 2005 when I visited Minnesota during the great gray owl irruption.

At mid day I left to go down to Kendall to look for other Miami exotics like red whiskered bulbul, and monk parakeet.  I found one of the latter (click on any photo to enlarge).  Mid afternoon I returned to my motel to regroup.  While looking for the bananaquit, I was given the number of Alex Harper, a local birder, who was familiar with good spots to look for white-winged parakeets.  I called him to find he was up in Tallahassee looking for a Costa's hummer.  He gave me directions to a good roost site in Miami for the white-winged, so I drove there arriving about 4:30 PM.  Over the next hour small groups of white-winged parakeets would fly over.  Then about 5:45, a very large group circled and landed in a palm tree to roost.  I apologize for the not great picture, but the light was not very good by the time they settled in for the night.

I decided to try one more time for both the spindalis and the bananaquit.  I arrived at Virginia Key about 6:30 AM Friday, and joined 2 other birders to hunt for the spindalis.  When we had not located it by 8:15, I decided to go back to Bill Baggs for one more try at the bananaquit.  When I arrived there was only one other birder there.  As the morning wore on a few more birders began to arrive.  One of them was Pat, who lives in the summer on Kelly's Island in Lake Erie near Magee Marsh, and winters in Boca Raton.  I had met him in January of 2010 when he and his friends were checking out a red-footed booby that had been rehabbed in Miami and then released.  After seeing the booby, we had all gone up to Ft. Lauderdale near the airport to look for smooth-billed ani's.  I did not find one that day, but was successful in February. 

I gave up my search about 1 PM to make the drive back to the airport to fly home.  While I did not find either of my target birds, both of which would have been life birds for me, I did enjoy being in Florida, and chatting with several birders.  As a consolation prize for my readers, I have included a photo of a bald eagle that I found last week perched at the entrance to our property in NC.  This is only the 3rd bald eagle that I have seen on our property.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the post. I was playing with the idea of flying down for some of these birds, but sounds like it is a bit tough and a lot of luck is required!