Friday, 27 April 2012

Of Fallouts, Spring Migration and Chasing Flycatchers

If I have been quiet on the blog, its only because for the last 3 days I have been either driving, sleeping or  Birding, with very little time in between to catch my breath.  Of course, there was the first day of the Fallout in Fort DeSoto, which I have previously documented, but that was only the beginning of a great few days in Florida.

I had a few hours on Tuesday morning before I had to go to work, so I headed back to St. Pete and the old fort to see if any of the birds were still there.  In fact, they were all there, not to mention a huge migration of Birders from all around Florida and the US and Canada,(me, of course).  I wasn't sure if there were more folks with Cameras and binoculars than there were little flying creatures with wings and beaks.  In fact, it was even more fun than the previous night and it was all I could do not to play hooky from work and stay there all day.

My main goal was to see either of the Cuckoos, Black or Yellow-billed, and though one had been spotted briefly, I'd have to wait for South Florida to get my Cuckoo on, so to speak.  Everywhere I looked there were birds, in trees, on the ground, flying to and fro.  And everywhere I looked there were Birders looking for the birds.  Somehow there were more people than the evening before.

The great thing about Birding with so many people around, is that no matter what bird is being sighted there are plenty of people around to help with the positive identification.  Some were easy, like Magnolia Warbler, Orchard Oriole,(I saw two males, but only got to photograph the female) and American Redstart.  Others were a little tougher like Wood Thrush and Veery.

My favourite bird of the day, though I wasn't able to get a good photo, was the Worm Eating Warbler.  I had missed it the previous day and had made sure I knew it's field marks so I wouldn't miss it again.  The fun of this group birding is that every few minutes you here a call,(not a bird call, a Birder Call), in this case, "Worm Eating!"  I rushed over and was able to get my binoculars on the bird near the ground but partially obscured by a bush.  Their bright yellow face, split by a black eye ring is unmistakable.  I wish more birds were that easy to identify.

By the time I had to head to work around mid morning, I had added 7 birds to the 12 I had seen the previous day, giving me 19 new species in about 7 hours of Birding at Fort DeSoto.

That evening I was off to South Florida, and my quest for the LaSagra's Flycatcher and Great Cormorant.  But along the way, I made a pitstop at Circle B Bar Reserve just to see what was there.  It was worth the stop, as I was able to see how much the Sandhill Crane babies had grown since my first visit early in March.  The bonus was hearing, finding and identifying a Marsh Wren, along the Rabbit Run Trail, with the help of another Birder, Carol from Lakeland, who had also heard the call.

I drove all night to get down to Miami Beach, so I'd be rested and ready for Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park and my search for the La Sagra's Flycarcher.  There I ran into another experienced bird guy, Jeff from Indiana, and together we walked the hot, arid nature trail hoping to hear the call of the Flycatcher, but instead were treated to dozens and dozens of Blackpoll Warblers.  The park was ripe with Blackpolls.  Along the way, though, we did find a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and had a quick, but good look at a Bobolink down by the lighthouse as we waited for the Great Cormorant to return to it's favourite rock at the end of the Light House Jetty.  It didn't come back, at least not then.

My new friend headed south to Key West while I headed north to a couple of Wetland Parks, hoping to find a Least Bittern.  The first park, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, only gave me a brief glimpse of the Bittern as it "crow hopped" from one marshy grass area to another, but there was also a Rookery with plenty of baby birds to enjoy.  On the way out I spotted some parakeets flying around the exit road and followed them out to the road, where there was a post with nesting Monk Parakeets.

It wasn't until I got to Green CayWetlands Park where I did get really nice look at the Least Bittern.  I had to scan a lot of tall reeds and grass in the marsh just to find the bird.  Bitterns are amongst the toughest birds to see as they are very secretive and hide in the grass.  They are the birds that, if asked, the neighbouring birds, the Coots and Common Gallinule's would say, "Yeah, I new him.  Kind of a loner, kept to himself, nice guy, but didn't see him much."  I watched the bird in the tall grass for about 15 minutes, so I could study it until I could make a positive ID.

I went back to Bill Baggs for one more try at the La Sagra's and Great Cormorant but by late evening neither had showed up.  I did, however, find a Northern Waterthrush along the grass near the parking lot, so it was worth the extra trip.

The next morning neither the La Sagra's or the Great Cormorant were there.  I ran into a nice lady that does bird counts for the park biologist and was told that it was likely the La Sagra's was gone, as the previous two years it had headed back to the Bahamas between late March and early May.  She had not seen it since the 22nd of April.  Still, when you're out looking for one bird, there's always a chance for another, and in this case it was a Black-throated Blue Warbler.

But more than the birds, I met so many nice people from all over the United States that make this south Florida pilgrimage, nearly every year, usually on their way down to Key West, and perhaps, on to The Dry Tortugas.  I had a grand time and though I didn't get the La Sarga's I wasn't going to leave without a Great Cormorant.

Finally, just after 10 in the morning, out at the old light house jetty, the big juvenile Great Cormorant, a northern bird who just loves basking in the laid back Miami lifestyle, was sunning itself on a rock at the end of the Jetty.  Yippee!  I watched it and photographed it form a couple of angles for about 10 minutes and by then had to head to the airport.  But not before one last walk down the nature trail.  No La Sagra's, no other birds, but lots of other birders who had also made the trip for the flycatcher.  Perhaps it is still there, but it was not to be for me.  Still, I added 7 more birds to the list and left Florida with a count of 337.  The Great Cormorant was also my 100th bird of April, making it just a little more special.

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