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.