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.

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