Thursday, December 26, 2013

So Close, Yet So Far...

  It sure has been a long time... the blog fizzled out but the year did not! My last post in July had me at 264 ticks and I was slowly creeping along. As of the end of December I am currently at 298 birds and going crazy hunting down the last two species to hit my goal of 300. Since that fateful day at Barnes with the Carolina Chickadee I have managed to come across some great migrants and MEGA rarities while also missing some key birds for the year. My worst miss has to be Mississippi Kite. I have tried everything possible for years to see one and it never works. When I say everything, I  mean EVERYTHING! Sitting for hours at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch only to hear that I missed one right before I arrived or right after I left; hawkwatching from every location in Miami-Dade that birders had previously seen them; even in North Carolina where one had been reported the day before I went looking! I figured it was a tricky bird but I would make up for it by coming across  Philadelphia Vireo and Wood Thrush which usually show up in small numbers every fall migration. Unfortunately this would not be a good year for either of them and I ended up missing both! Luckily some unexpected rarities showed up that gave me a boost of confidence to keep my head up and continue stomping through Miami-Dade in a relentless search for year birds.

One of these things is not like the others...

  One of the top rarities this year has to be the Red-footed Booby found on Pacific Reef Light on November 1st while out on a pelagic aka Toelagic. As Roberto "Toe" Torres pulled up the lighthouse we saw a large number of Brown Boobies perched and off the bat started sifting through them hoping to get lucky and that's exactly what happened! After about 20 seconds Larry "The Man" Manfredi yells out "GOT ONE!!!" and the rest is history. All the other boobies flushed off but the Red-footed stayed in place and let us get great photographs before we moved on. Of course with my luck the boat broke down about 15 miles offshore and it took over 3 hrs to get towed back in to Black Point Marina. Needless to say we were all sun burnt and exhausted but who cares, WE GOT A GREAT YEAR BIRD!

All that wishful thinking paid off!

  Another great year bird is still under review at this point and time. Depending on whether it is accepted by the Florida Ornithological Society Review Committee I can keep it on my list or I'm losing an important tick. The bird was found in an extremely delicate location so reporting it was out of the question. The only reason I saw it was because I am a county employee and allowed in the sewage treatment plant where it was hanging out for a couple days. Unfortunately since September 11th security around the area has been increased exponentially and if someone so much as even stops and looks in they will escorted WAY out of the area. It's a shame because before it was common to have people with their scopes looking for rarities but now everyone is considered a threat.

A gorgeous duck feeding in a sewage plant... how ironic

  This White-cheeked Pintail enjoyed the sludge drying ponds enough to stick around for a couple days while associating with Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teals and Mottled Ducks. Even though most pintails are automatically considered escapees this one in particular has a real good argument to suggest vagrancy! Hopefully the FOSRC feels the way...

My second La Sagra's Flycatcher this year

  Even though I got La Sagra's Flycatcher earlier this year, not too many people can say they saw TWO in one year. This is the 11th Caribbean vagrant I have seen in 2013 along with 2 Monroe County specialties. It sure has been a break out year for birds crossing the Atlantic but I wouldn't mind trading this flycatcher in for an American Pipit. With less than a week left I am going to really to have to work as hard as ever to find the two last birds needed to reach my original goal of 300. I guess I can always sleep in 2014!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Happy Independence Day!

  With June over I only have a month left of free birding before having to buckle down again and start looking for fall migrants. Basically this means I am running out of time to find a Wild Turkey and Hairy Woodpecker. These are two birds that are known to occur in the county but are extremely difficult to come across. Having given turkey a few tries I decided to grab the Leica V-LUX 4 and head west on Tamiami Trail to check for Hairy Woodpecker at the Dade-Collier line on the 1st of July.

My first photogenic Fox Squirrel!

  US-41 (AKA SW 8 street AKA Tamiami Trail) has several seasonal specialties along with county specialties that are a must during the year. In the summer months this is a great spot to find nesting Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, White-eyed Vireos, Common Yellowthroats, Prothonotary Warblers, Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Carolina Wrens. Of course that's not including the county specialties like Wood Duck, Tufted Titmouse and Hairy Woodpecker! This was my third time out west this year and so far I hadn't had much luck with the woodpecker. They are not very common anywhere this far south and it would have to be by complete luck that I were to find one down the trail. I started at the county line and slowly worked my way back east. I not only came across the before mentioned nesters but also found several singing Northern Parulas and a family group of Eastern Kingbirds. After having a great day and coming across some neat summer birds I still managed to dip the woodpecker. 

This fledgling was a pleasant surprise

  Missing Nanday Parakeet on the 23rd of June was definitely a blow to the ABA Exotic Big Day and was eating away at me. Finally on the 2nd I had enough time to get to the roost before dawn and wait for them to wake up. It was a gloomy morning at 6:45 am when I arrived and not a single bird was out. Slowly the morning chorus began - Blue Jays, Northern Mockingbirds and Cardinals were singing away but no parakeets. I knew I wasn't too late and I just had to  be patient... unfortunately that's not one of my virtues but finally out of the cavity I saw a little dark head poke out! The first bird checked the area and made sure the coast was clear before coming out and perching on the power line. Then it was followed by a second and a third! By the time they all left the roost there were 5 birds total hanging out squawking and preening on the power lines before finally taking off and flying to the north. With all the Mango trees in fruit around the area they can literally be anywhere and tracking them during the day is pretty much a lost cause. Thanks to Leica Store Miami I still had the Leica V-LUX 4 handy and started shooting this great video of them before they left for the day. The great thing about the camera is the ability to lighten the picture with just a few turns of a wheel on the body of the camera. The overcast morning made taking pictures difficult and for the most part not even worth it. Luckily Bill Boeringer had to told me about this spot and helped me get year bird #263!

  The mornings of the 3rd and 4th were spent doing a little beach birding while running the morning sea turtle survey. This is actually how I found the Roseate Tern last year for the June Challenge! It was nice and windy so I was hoping to get an interesting tern on the beach but just like all of June there was nothing but Least and Royals gathered between the life guard towers. After finishing up I headed home for the day and that's when I received a very interesting text message from Jack Crittenden. He had a CAROLINA CHICKADEE at A.D. Barnes Park!!! I couldn't believe it... I got my  brother and flew out there at fast as possible. Earlier in the year Larry Manfredi found one in Matheson Hammock but in the 20 minutes it took me to arrive it had completely disappeared.  Well not this time! We got there to find Jack standing underneath the bird who was in full song! Even if he wasn't around to point it out, we would have been able to find the bird from just how loud it was singing. The chickadee continued to be vocal as he flew from one Live Oak to the next until about 10:15 am. After following him around all this time the bird completely stopped singing and just disappeared - just like what happened to Larry! Never in a million years would I think a chickadee would appear in the middle of summer but I'm definitely not complaining! 

For as vocal as this little guy was he never gave me an opportunity for a decent shot

  With just 36 birds left to go it's crunch time! With storm season in full effect I'll hopefully be able to go one a couple more pelagics and come across that Red-footed Booby... now that's wishful thinking!!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Summer Birding

  I love summertime. Everything about it is great; the extreme humidity, high temperatures and South Florida specialties... I just can't get enough! The vacation to North Carolina was great but the dry heat just killed me. Honestly, I can blame it on genetics. My parents are from the Caribbean (Cuba and Puerto Rico) so I am just not designed to withstand temperatures under 70 degrees Fahrenheit or  humidity under 80%. Some people think it's a curse but I consider it a blessing. My only true complaint about summer are the Deer Flies. I HATE DEER FLIES. I have tried to give them a chance and accept them for the horrible insects they are but it just isn't happening. Either way I have to deal with them - especially with the June Challenge going on.

My favorite of the South Florida specialties

  For those new to the concept of the June Challenge it's actually really awesome. The sixth month of the year is not exactly know for its diversity of birds here in Florida. So to keep people active and birding, the concept of a state wide competition came into play. We all know birders love competition... hence big years!   Unfortunately I would not be able to be as active as I was last year since I had my priorities set on picking up year birds and keeping up the pace. Last year Miami-Dade won with an impressive 166 ABA countable birds! Even though topping that number would be difficult we were still trying for a repeat of last years success. 

My top bird of last year's challenge

  I had decided June would be ABA exotics month. I had left ticking most of them off until now. The more common birds like Rock Pigeon and Monk Parakeet were added long ago but Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Nanday and White-winged Parakeet were all put aside for now. I knew they would be actively singing and covering their territory so it made tracking them down real easy. At first I tried to get them all in one day - an ABA Exotics Big Day! As I sat planning out the day the only bird that would be tricky would be House Finch. They are native to the SW United States but due to an assisted expansion to their range they can now be seen all across the US even though they were not historically found east of The Great Plains. In winter they are semi reliable at local feeders but in the summer it is very difficult to track one down. Luckily Thursday June 20th one popped up at the Bill Sadowski Park feeder as I was leading a group of kids to the trail! With this in mind I set out to try and get them all in one day on Sunday the 23rd.

  With the V-Lux 4 in hand courtesy of Leica Store Miami, I went out at dawn and started the day at the White-winged Parakeet spot. They usually can be found at the Ocean Bank building on LeJeune (42nd avenue) and NW 7th street but when I pulled up there wasn't one to be found. I turned the car off and started listening for them and sure enough I noticed squawking coming from the neighborhood just east of where I was. I slowly started driving the area and eventually found 20+ parakeets in a Mango tree preening and feeding! I was definitely a little nervous when they were not at their usual roost but was relieved when they turned up just a block over! 

  Next on my list would be the male Spot-breasted Oriole that is a resident of the University of Miami campus off US1 and Riviera Drive. This guy had been seen regularly singing all year around the library. As I pulled up and parked it was very quiet. A little too quiet... I hiked around hoping to hear the bird when finally a streak of orange flew over me coming from the NE. I chased him down and finally caught up as he was foraging from tree to tree. Off the bat I was 2 for 2 and wanted to keep the streak going. I jumped in my car and headed over to the Baptist Hospital area to get Red-whiskered Bulbul for the day. I had been getting lots of eBird Year Alerts so I knew they had to be around. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. As I pulled into the neighborhood I slowly drove until finally one popped up and perched at the top of a palm tree! THREE FOR THREE and it wasn't even 9 am yet!

  With the way things were going I was hoping that I could spend the rest of the day at the Sadowski feeder (since I had to be at work anyway) and wait for the House Finch to make an appearance. Well I sat and sat... and sat... and sat some more but finally after 5 hours the bird was a no show. I figured I would take a break and try to get Nanday Parakeet on my lunch break but again I missed out. My streak had been broken! Of course I also knocked out Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, House Sparrow, Common Myna, European Starling and Monk Parakeet throughout the day but without the other two it was a bust. I was not going to let that discourage me though! I still had a week left to go out and get more year birds before July would start and my second half of the year would begin.

This youngin' hung around for a while waiting for more free baitfish

 Luckily for me Roberto "Toe" Torres managed to find someone who would take us out for a last minute pelagic - better known as a Toelagic! We all met at a little marina on the Miami River at 4:30 am and set out on what we were hoping would be an epic trip out to sea. We started by cast netting for live Sardines and Pilchards around Virginia Key which yielded West Indian Manatees and Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins before the sun was even up. It would be a sign of good to come! We finally started heading offshore and right away had a PARASITIC JAEGER fly right infront of us. Not only was that a year bird but also a lifer!! Shortly after we found a nice weedline about 7 miles offshore. Toe began chumming the water with the live bait and poured Menhaden Oil to attract the terns and tubenoses. After a bit of waiting we started to get some activity - first the Bridled Terns came in... then a couple Sooty Terns showed up... couple seconds later a Wilson's Storm-Petrel popped up BUT THEN we noticed a bird coming right for us. It was a tern but not like the others we had seen so far. As it got closer everyone shouted, "BROWN NODDY!"

Can't get enough of tropical terns

  As the day continued we also tallied Band-rumped Storm-Petrel and my lifer Cory's Shearwater! This brought the June Challenge count to 155 and my year list to 262 birds!! With June coming to an end we had officially won our second June Challenge in a row and I have less than 40 birds to find in the next 6 months. Now is when things get real!

Monday, June 3, 2013

North Carolina Vacation

  For the last five days I have been relaxing in beautiful Greenville, NC. This is only my second time in the state and first adventure near the coast. The inaugural voyage had Ashley and myself in the mountains and we worked our way eventually to Greenville. It was love at first sight... or step or breath or whatever you wanna call it! I was able to get lifers like Ruffed Grouse, Golden-crowned Kinglet,Winter Wren and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Even though I have to admit I was terrified - you know with that fear of heights and all BUT it was still a great experience and I wouldn't trade the nerve wrecking drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway for anything. 

On top of the world!

  This time we were hosted by Ashley's amazing aunt Lynn and her gracious husband Craig. They have a gorgeous house in Pitt County with 4 seed and 2 suet feeders just a dozen yards away from the back porch and three hummingbird feeders hung right on the deck. In just an hour and a half I saw 22 species while enjoying my drink. Now that's the life! Everything from Carolina Chickadees to Carolina Wrens were making appearances and they didn't even care I saw sitting right under them. All this and it was just my first morning. I couldn't wait for the next day when we planned for some exploring.

In mid song

    Day two was spent driving all the way to Cape Hatteras in Dare County. On the way we stopped at beautiful Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Columbia county and took a brief stroll on the boardwalk before checking out the visitor center. It's an extremely well put together exhibit with amazing displays! Once we got to Hatteras Point we walked the beach for a bit and did some seawatching. I had originally wanted to get out for at least one Patteson pelagic but unfortunately the logistics were just not working out. This just gives me a reason to come back again next year! Either way I did get to enjoy the great weather while watching terns fish right offshore and having Barn Swallows zip overhead on the beach.

Whattah hard bird to photograph

  After Hatteras I had one last day to try and track down a couple lifers. So far I had already added Eastern Box Turtle to the Herp List but not a single bird. I really wanted Mississippi Kite and saw a few eBird reports of them near by. I have tried for this bird at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch in Curry Hammock State Park several times but always miss out. I just seem to be at the wrong place at the wrong time but there has always been one seen the day I try. This is a great spot to witness migration but the bird of prey movement is incredible! This past year they broke the world record with 3,836 Peregrine Falcons. That's more than any other hawkwatch in the world! You can read more about them in this blog written by Rafael Galvez: Florida Keys Hawkwatch.

Lifer butterfly - thanks Roy for the ID help

  My park of choice for my last attempt was River Park North. It was only ten minutes away and there was a kite reported just a few days earlier. I arrived at 6:45 am and started my trek. I was going to be met up in a couple hours by Ashley and her family so I figured I needed to cover as much as possible in case we wouldn't be able to as a group. The park was pretty birdy and had great variety. In five hours I found 46 species and caught my lifer Eastern Painted Turtle but no Mississippi Kite. Once again I seem to be at the wrong place at the wrong time! I did find two Prothonotary Warbler nests and great views of parents coming back with grubs to feed the babies. Definitely makes up for dipping on my one target bird!

Good ol' momma

  I finished with 58 species in a couple days and had a great time. I may not have come across any lifers but I have the rest of the year for that! Now that I am home my attention is back on getting through summer and helping Dade win the June Challenge for a second year in a row. Also, it would be really nice to get that Wild Turkey!

Can't wait to get back!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Gone Birdin'

  Just because I was ahead of schedule doesn't mean I get to relax. Right after hitting #251 I was already making plans with Roberto "Toe" Torres to get in another pelagic trip before June. We had decided on an overnight fishing/birding trip that would leave from Black Point Marina Friday May 24th and return Saturday May 25th. He had just returned from the Ponce Inlet pelagic trip with Michael Brothers which got terrific birds like White-tailed Tropicbird and was hoping to find another rarity for Miami-Dade County. Thanks to Leica Store Miami, I was able to bring along the Leica V-Lux 4 hoping that I or my brother Mike would be able to get some video... and that we did!

  Our first stop was Pacific Reef Light. It's a lighthouse a little over 10 miles offshore and is the only roosting spot in the area. As soon as we pulled up we could tell the Brown Boobys were out in force. They lined up around the structure and let us get close enough for Mike to get amazing video before flushing off and circling around. We tried hard to turn one into a Red-footed Bobby but unfortunately it wasn't happening. Our plan was to continue birding offshore while doing some trolling until nightfall. Unfortunately the Mahi were not biting but we did get great views of a pair of Green Sea Turtles copulating! This is only the second time I've ever seen this and both times were with Toe this year. He just seems to put animals in the mood...

Good luck charm

  As the day went on I finally got my first year bird of the trip - Audubon's Shearwater! Not only was this a year bird but it was also a lifer. They were feeding on the surface as several Sooty Terns dipped down to pick off leftovers. It was awesome to see them together feeding wing-by-wing. Again we tried for Mahi but we just couldn't get them to bite. 

Sooty Tern up high and Audubon's Shearwaters down low

  Throughout the afternoon we kept coming across feeding flocks of birds but it was not until the early evening that we had our first storm-petrel. My lifer Wilson's Storm-Petrel that is! Watching it fly by with it's little feet dangling behind the body just made me think about how tough they really are. It is such a difficult life out in the open ocean. There is not much of anything except for sun. Lots and lots of sun. By dusk we had seen several storm-petrels and one even danced along the water's surface feeding right along the side of the boat. Now is when the fishing got good. All day we had just been feeding the Triggerfish below but once they went to bed the guys starting hooking fish regularly. As for myself, I hit the hay like the Triggerfish and dreamed about Fea's Petrels until 4 am Saturday morning.

The only one that stopped and the photo is still lousy!

  The next morning started with my lifer BAND-RUMPED STORM-PETREL! Of course with my luck we were in Monroe County still at the snapper spot - DOH!! After that fail we spent hours trolling around and looking for another Band-rumped but nada. We did find the biggest feeding flock of the weekend and the biggest Toe had ever seen. It literally must've had 200+ Audubon's Shearwaters feeding alongside of Brown Boobys, Bridled and Sooty Terns. It was incredible! The video clip does not even do it justice.

  The trip was a huge success bringing in 8 Yellow-tailed Snappers, 1 Red Grouper, 1 Black Grouper, 4 Mutton Snappers, 1 Triggerfish (we had to show em a lesson for taking all of our bait), 2 years birds and 3 lifers. At this point I thought I was done for May and was already mentally preparing for my vacation to North Carolina but all that would have to wait. The day after getting back Bill Boeringer found a Red Knot at a quarry lake between Black Point Marina and Biscayne National Park. I ran out the second I got the text message but missed the bird. I tried at Cutler Wetlands (another local hotspot that has had them in past years) but again dipped. There was no way I was gonna wait until fall so I went back to Cutler the very next morning and sure enough the bird was there feeding by its gorgeous self. I have only seen Red Knot in the fall when they are in drab gray plumage but the rusty red was definitely impressive and a worthy way to end May and start my "Vacation Mode" mentality. At this point not only did I hit my goal of 250 but surpassed it and finished at 254 birds with three days left before June!

A productive weekend!

  This is going to be a Memorial Weekend that will go down as one of the best I've ever had and it couldn't have been documented this well without the help of Leica Store Miami ( and the great products they provide. Hopefully the rest of June will be as rewarding with more pelagics and that sneaky Wild Turkey!!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

250 down... 50 to go!!

   Boy oh boy it's been a while since I've posted! Over the last six weeks I have not done much besides bird. Eating, sleeping and even showering (YES SHOWERING) have taken a back seat to the relentless pursuit of ticking off birds for my year list. The last time I blogged my total was 210 birds at the end of March and since then I have taken the advice of Dennis Atherton to make my next goal 250 birds by June. That would mean I needed to pick up 40 birds over the course of two months. I figured this would be easier said than done but took on the challenge anyway!

One of my top favorite Florida terns

  I hit the ground running in April. Right off the bat I picked up Northern Bobwhite, Least Tern, Chimney Swift and Eastern Kingbird during the first week and kept the ball moving with killer finds during the second week - Whimbrel and Razorbill on the same day!! Six species in eight days was a great confidence boost but things would slow down for a week. We were in a Spring migration rut and I figured this was the best time to go out of town... how foolish of me! The day after making it to Orlando I receive a text from Larry Manfredi that a BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD had popped up at Bill Bagg's State Park. I have had a bittersweet history with this bird. I have dipped on everyone in the state the last couple years and when I finally found my lifer in the Bahamas it only gave fleeting views and now one pops up in my home county during my county big year and I was 5 hours away! Everyday I texted or called or posted inquiries hoping it would be dependable until the day I got home. Well that day finally came and I asked high school friend Nory Falcon to let me in a little early so I can make sure to get my fifth vagrant of the year. It was 7:45 am and I was slowing pacing up and down the road when I see Robin Diaz pull up and call me over to say, "It's singing right there!!". The bird never popped up but in the true fashion of the relationship I have with this species it would  be alright with me. I'd much rather just hear the whisper song than dip on the bird completely and let it get the best of me. The rest of the week was also productive with my first Common Nighthawk of the year and my county lifer Wood Duck flying over as I stacked canoes at Deering Estate. The last 10 days in April is when the more interesting birds started appearing in South Florida. Species like Blackpoll Warbler, Bobolink, Yellow-billed and Mangrove Cuckoo.

Best cuckoo angle ever!

  May had begun and I was beginning to think our Spring migration was going to be completely non existent but then the unbelievable happened... ANOTHER VAGRANT! I couldn't believe my eyes as I read a Black-faced Grassquit had appeared but not surprising was where it turned up. That's right, you guessed it, Bill Bagg's State Park. Key Biscayne and Virginia Key have been on fire this year producing all 6 vagrants in the county. I rushed over there the second I read the post and bumped into the group of European birders who had seen the bird the day before. They were staking out the road hoping the Thick-billed Vireo to show itself and instead found the grassquit! This road is also where the Bahama Mocker was and during the fall banding season last year I had a Smooth-billed Ani in the exact same area. After a couple hours it appeared! At first thought to be a female but after closer inspection it was actually a young male and he was feeding on Willow Bustick right along the road for everyone to appreciate!

A very handsome young male

  Right after getting my sixth Caribbean bird I received a phone call from Ezequiel Bugallo and not only did he find a reliable spot for me to get my year Brown Thrasher he actually found the nest! There was no way I would miss this bird now. I went right over to the zoo the following day and within a couple minutes had the bird perched right in front of me as it was bringing food back to the nest. If only it was always that easy! As if it couldn't get any better I ended the week with a real deal pelagic with Roberto "Toe" Torres - better known as a Toelagic. He is the man when it comes to tracking down pelagics and identifying them in less than optimal conditions. Lucky for us this trip was much calmer than the first we ran back in February. We ended with six pelagic species including his 357th county bird, Roseate Tern and my lifer Red-necked Phalarope! The icing on the cake were four Mahis caught as we trolled from one location to the next.

Northern Gannets and Brown Boobies were definitely in attendance

  With all the momentum I had built up I couldn't slow down now! I kept trucking through the second week in May and picked up six more year birds including my lifer Connecticut Warbler!! This elusive bird was a must if I wanted to even have a chance of getting close to 300 birds by the end of the year. They are a late migrant and there is a small 10-day window when they come through the southern portion of the state on their way north. At this point I am just four birds away from my goal and we are only half way done with May. I knew of a few birds I would be able to get easily but was really hoping for another rarity to really push me through the 250 mark and end with more than my original goal. With this in mind I started target birding hoping that if I kept going to certain spots frequent enough I would see something I really needed. First on my list was Red Knot at Black Point Marina. I got to the park at dawn and hiked the jetty all the way to the end and as I walked up two birds flushed off and never returned... they looked an awful lot like Red Knots... I immediately started cussing up a storm thinking I missed my one chance until Fall to see this bird and then something happened. Something incredible. Something so unbelievable I thought I yelled until I passed out and was hallucinating. Not one but TWO AMERICAN FLAMINGOS flew right over me!!!!! I didn't know what to do with myself. I got photos and began texting and posting wherever I could. I would be back the next day and again after but no sign of Red Knot or those flamingos again. It was a once in a lifetime sighting and I'm just happy I was able to get the crummy photos of #247!

Hands down coolest find so far this year

  With just three ticks left I focused my attention on a few birds that are available year round but I just hadn't gotten around to chasing. First on the list was Black-bellied Whistling-Duck and without any trouble I picked  it up on my way to work near the Homestead Speedway. Next would be Eastern Bluebird, Brown-headed Nuthatch and the super elusive Wild Turkey. These three birds are Everglades National Park specialties and are pretty much confined to the Pine Rockland habitat between the Ernest Coe Visitor Center and the Pay-hay-okee Overlook Trail. They were part of a reintroduction program and seem to be doing well with the exception of the turkeys. While planning out my strategy to hit the trifecta I noticed a crazy post on the Tropical Audubon Society's Birdboard ( While out doing a nightjar survey Brian Rapoza found an Antillean Nighthawk on SR 9336 and sw 217th avenue on May 18th!! I went out the very next evening and sure enough the bird was actively feeding with the Common Nighthawks in the area and more importantly was continuously calling. I managed to record the call on my cell phone - even though a peacock in the area completely ruined the taping.  At this point I just need one more bird and the national park specialties are pretty much all I have left. My brother Mike and I decided to team up and head over to give it a go. A couple hours into the search we hit #250 - Brown-headed Nuthatch! These birds were so vocal and active it was hard to get away from them. It seemed that no matter where we were they were near by. As we made our way through the campground Eastern Towhees were singing and while admiring them an Eastern Bluebird popped up for #251!! We kept working and searching but unfortunately the Wild Turkey would elude us for the day. Luckily June is pretty slow so I have a whole month to try and track this bird down and keep the EPIC in the BIG YEAR!

  As of May 22nd I am at a grand total of 251 birds. The surpasses my original goal and gives me an opportunity to be ahead of schedule for fall migration. Now is when things are really going to start getting tricky!

#251 - Eastern Bluebird

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spring Forward

  Whattah month! I have been trying to keep at it and get as many birds as possible as quickly as possible. Early spring migrants have started making their way back to breeding grounds in North America and I have to make sure to be in the right place at the right time. After a fun Thursday spent birding for Ezequiel's birthday I decided I had to take a chance for some new birds. I contacted Biscayne National Park's contracted ferry company (Biscayne National Underwater Park) and booked a trip to Boca Chita. This little island has been known to get some killer Caribbean Vagrants in the past and due to the fact that it's under birded a lot can be going on with little to no one realizing it. Unfortunately the boat has a minimum amount of people needed for to go out, so morning trips are few and far between. I hopped aboard the afternoon expedition that goes from 1pm - 4 pm. Twenty minutes into the boat ride I began noticing Common Loons and Red-breasted Mergansers feeding directly in the middle of Biscayne Bay! They were so far out scopes would not even help with viewing these awesome birds. After a 45 minute ride we arrived at the island and I hopped out and began scouring the area right away. There is a historical tour that goes into a lighthouse but ain't nobody got time for that! The island was not exactly dripping birds but showed a lot of potential. As I was hiking the nature trail I looked up and noticed a graceful bird just gliding north against the winds. I didn't have to even think twice about it... Swallow-tailed Kite! This was my first of the year and it was way off the mainland without a care in the world. It continued north and eventually I was unable to see it anymore. What a great way to end the trip! The next day I received a call from Roberto "Toe" Torres about a Stilt Sandpiper. Now when we spoke I understood the bird was at Cutler Wetlands and immediately went and staked the area out. I scoped over the water multiple times but couldn't pick up the bird. Confused I called him back and asked where he saw it... that's when I realized he said Baypoint Wetlands NOT Cutler... OOPS! At least I found my year Black-necked Stilt. Well it was not just one but a large flock of 15 stilts hanging out together in the open. From here I zipped over to Baypoint where I thought I had the bird but the angle was off. I had a decision to make... find a better vantage point which meant jumping the fence of the school or dealing with the awful views. After 0.2 seconds I was over the fence confirming 100% the bird was a Stilt Sandpiper and gaining another tick for the year - while avoiding a trespassing charge!

Happy Birthday Ezik!

  The next few days would be pretty quiet but finally on March 20th my luck began to turn. I started the day off with Jared Guerra at Lucky Hammock. We scoped out the area before making our way over to The Annex. We opted to walk Aero Jet Road the whole way down and it paid off big time. Right when we crossed the yellow gates we heard a familiar sound. One not heard at all this year but in past years you couldn't get away from it. That ZEEEEE, ZEEEEEEEEET, ZEEEEEE sound that a flock of Cedar Waxwings make! What a complete surprise. I had not seen one this year and was expecting to completely miss them for 2013. They flew directly over us coming from Everglades National Park and continued making their way east without stopping. We continued birding The Annex but nothing new turned up. From there we tried a couple different spots including Castellow Hammock for the Rufuous Hummingbird but dipped on the bird again... I really hope it makes its annual appearance again in November! We ended the day at Crandon Park where we flushed a male Chuck-wills Widow while hiking the Tequesta Trail for my second year bird of the day but ONCE AGAIN THE REDDISH EGRET WAS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN. I was tired of dipping on this bird. The very next day I went back during an outgoing tide and drove up and down the beach until finally I got it! The bird was doing it's usual-very-unusual feeding dance and gave great views as it usually does. I was ecstatic to finally get this nemesis for the year and get the monkey off my back!

It was about time

  After another couple quiet days I saw an amazing post on the Tropical Audubon's Bird Board ( by Steve Tennis. He had a first ever Miami-Dade record of Lazuli Bunting coming to his feeder on the 24th! I had contacted him earlier this year when he had a suspicious warbler hanging around that was very close in resembling a Canada Warbler. I missed the warbler but I was not going to miss this bunting. I gave him a ring and he graciously invited me over to check it out. He hadn't posted a photo yet but he had one ready for me when I got there. Sure enough it was a Lazuli Bunting and a male to boot! I sat in front of the feeder for an hour when finally the bird made an appearance! It was accompanied by several Indigo and Painted Buntings before a Red-winged Blackbird scared them all off. I got terrible photos since it was in a cage feeder and a good distance away from me but I was too excited about the trifecta I just saw to even care. I thanked him a million times and went on my way. Since then many people have seen the bird and gotten incredible photos... except me of course! The next day I was hoping to keep up the year bird streak. I started on Crandon's Beach but had no luck with year birds there so I went over to Bill Baggs State Park and hiked the nature trail north before taking the bike path back north to the lighthouse parking area. While on the nature trail I came across a Swainson's Warbler flying across the path. Another year bird! I kept on hiking and decided I would go back to Crandon and check the park again. While on the Tequesta Trail I came across another Swainson's Warbler! I figured with the way things were going I should hit the beach again and see if my luck would continue... and it did! While scanning through the birds feeding and bathing on the sandbars I found several Sandwich Terns! Now just to keep this pace going...

Gotta love terns

  Once again I hit a dry patch and didn't get any new years birds for a couple days. That's until I saw fellow Tropical Audubon member and trip leader Brian Rapoza had found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Kendall Indian Hammock Park. I had never birded this park and the only reason I had ever even set foot in the park was to take canoe and kayak trailers in for repair. I gave it a try after work on March 27th but apparently was in the complete wrong place - AGAIN. After emailing Brian I got the correct location and went right back the next day. I arrived at sunrise and after a little pishing had the bird calling back but never sitting still enough for a photo. Since I started my day off with a year bird I figured I'd go to Deering Estate and really work the natural areas for anything interesting that may be hiding in the 444-acre property. The Pine Rocklands were pretty quiet the the Tropical Hardwood Hammock was the place to be. Prairie Warblers were everywhere along with Northern Parulas and even a male Wilson's Wabler made it to the party. As I kept pishing a Black-whiskered Vireo appeared! What a great bird! This South Florida specialty only makes its way up during the summer months and definitely made my day. I kept hiking through the trails and all of a sudden a Red-eyed Vireo turned up! Two year vireos within half an hour! After almost six hours I was comfortable with my efforts in covering the whole park and called it a day. The vireos would be my last year birds in March giving me a grand total of 216 as we start April and migration really gets interesting! I am also looking forward to leading my first of several walks for the Leica Store Miami in Coral Gables. April 7th will be spent shorebirding for the endangered plovers of Crandon Park while getting a great digi-scoping workshop by none other than Leica Sport Optics expert Jeff Bouton. All the walks will be FREE FREE FREE but spaces are limited to please rsvp through them to make sure you have a seat for the inagural field trip here -

Come on migration!!