Monday, April 15, 2013

White-cheeked Pintail and Purple Swamphen

I was on the road at 6 AM sharp on Monday 4/8.  I had to drive 650 miles to Orlando, FL to pick up my birding friends, Dan and Doreene, who were flying there from Columbus, OH.  The week before a spotted redshank was found in Indiana.  They were able to get over to see it, but it left before I could make the drive to try to find it.  Since I missed it, I had called Dan and Doreene to see if they had any interest in birding in Florida to try to pick up 3 rare vagrants there as well as 2 exotics--Nanday parakeet and purple swamphen--that recently have been added to the ABA bird list.  They said yes, thus my meeting them in Orlando.

I arrived at 3:30 PM and we immediately drove another 100 miles to Pelican Island NWR which was established in 1903 as the very first national wildlife refuge.  We visited it because for several weeks a white-cheeked pintail had been feeding in the Centennial Trail pond.  I had seen a white-cheeked pintail in North Carolina during my big year in October of 2010, but the NC bird review committee had not accepted it as being a wild bird.  This one in Florida was my next chance to add it to my ABA life list. 

We arrived about 5:30 to find David Crockett, a birder from Estes Park, CO who also lives in Florida in the winter, patiently waiting to see the pintail.  He had been there all day, but the duck had not made an appearance.  Without success, we all stuck it out until dusk when the refuge was closing.

The next morning we all returned after spending the night in Vero Beach.  Dan, Doreene and I some how survived without any after affects a very bad chinese buffet meal the night before.  It was a fine sunny morning with some clouds to keep us cool.  The local volunteer crew of seniors was working on the butterfly garden while we kept scanning the pond.  About 10 AM I noticed a group of blue-winged teal had appeared near a small island.  I mentioned it, and immediately Dan found the pintail feeding in with them.  We all got to watch it for at most 10 minutes before it disappeared behind the island.  It was too far out for my camera, but my friend Bob Wallace was able to send me a shot of it he took earlier this year (click on photo to enlarge).

Since the pintail was out of sight, and we had spent a total of almost 5 hours over 2 days waiting for it to appear, we decided it was time to seek out another one of the 5 target birds we hoped to find while in Florida.  We headed south towards Lake Okeechobee to search for purple swamphens.  This was another bird that I saw in March of 2010, and now that it had been added to the ABA list, we all needed to see it again.

We tried a couple of spots based on e bird reports--the electronic system used by many birders to provide sightings that can be accessed by other birders.  We were unsuccessful, so we drove another hour to STA 5 which stands for storm water treatment area #5.  I had seen the swamphen here in 2010.  There were lots of common moorhens, and 1 purple gallinule, but no swamphens.  We also did not find any snail kites which I also had seen there during my big year.  In general it seemed that bird numbers were down from my visit to STA 5 in 2010.

We climbed back into my car about 5:30, and had just enough time to drive to the Pembroke Pines area where the purple swamphen first was introduced in Florida.  We visited the Chapel Trail Nature Preserve.  As we entered we found 2 other birders leaving who said a swamphen was right by the boardwalk.  We rushed out to find that a pair was close by (photo above taken by Dan Sanders).  We found a 2nd pair as well.

With dusk upon us, we decided to make the drive down to Miami to spend the night to be in position to visit Bill Baggs SP early on Wednesday morning.  Our target bird was the thick-billed vireo.  Stay tuned!

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