Saturday, 29 December 2012

From Maryland to Key West in a Day, with Nowhere to Stay

I am sitting in a McDonald's where my considerable luck has finally run out.  I had been lucky to get the Allen's Hummingbird with relative ease yesterday morning, after having survived some white knuckle driving down there the previous evening.  I even got a great dinner for under ten dollars at a roadside dinner.

My luck continued as I drove from Pipersville to Kent Narrows and I was scoping the cove behind the Holiday Inn Express by 12:45 yesterday afternoon.  The weather was nice and the sun kept popping out, and within an hour I had finally caught the Tufted Duck in my scope.  Trouble was it wouldn't sit still.  For the 20 or so minutes that I was observing it, it kept diving, never staying in my scope for more than 10 seconds at a time.  I had been told that it was doing exactly that earlier in the morning, when another birder had come to view it.  When I arrived, the clerk behind the desk took one look at me and said, "You must be here to see our celebrity female Tufted Duck."  

By about 2pm most of the birds, mostly Scaup and Ruddy Ducks, had moved off to parts unknown and I was unable to relocate the Tufted Duck.  Though it was not too cold, nearly 3 hours standing in 32 F was beginning to get me shivering on the inside.  My hands were warm from hand-warmers in my pocket and I had good warm boots, but it was the chill in my chest that sent me into the hotel to book a room for the night.  But it was worth the chill, as in addition to the Tufted Duck, I was treated at times throughout the afternoon, to flyovers by a Northern Harrier, fly-bys from a Belted Kingfisher and a "swim-by" courtesy of a cute little Muskrat.

I had to be out the door at 4:30 this morning to catch a 6:55am flight to Charlotte, where I was scheduled to wait until 6:20pm for a connecting flight to Miami.  Well, I wasn't going to sit around the airport for 8 hours, so I inquired about a stand-by flight that was to leave at 9:55am.  Once again, O, Lucky Me.  A couple didn't show up for the flight so there were two seats available, in First Class.  Myself and another stand-by gentleman snagged them and I was in Miami by noon.  Trouble was, I wasn't able to reserve a rental car on line the night before.  No worries.  When I got to the Enterprise counter they were able to give me a compact car and I was off and running to Key West for the Western Spindalis.

And that is where my luck ran out.  Though I got to the Botanical Gardens after they closed, Mary, one of the women who works there, allowed me in to search for the bird, from about 5:15 to 6pm.  Alas, she was not informed as to where the bird was.  John and Beverley Hargrove had actually been there that morning, seen the bird and left directions to it at the Visitor's Center.  I looked until it started getting dark, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, only resulted in male and female Key West Chickens and an orange cat.

And of course, I have no where to stay tonight.  Homeless again.  However, I know now,exactly where to find the Western Spindalis in the morning, and while waiting for the Botanical Gardens to open tomorrow, will search around Key West for White-crowned Pigeons in and around Fort Zachary Taylor.

By 11am I should be heading back north and if my preparation pays off, have a good chance of finding a Nanday Parakeet, and a slimmer chance of Red-whiskered Bulbul and White-winged Parakeet.  So I sit now, at 593 for the year.  If I get very lucky on Sunday and see all 5 target birds, I will head north with 598.  The Dovekie in New Jersey would be 599.  That leaves one Wild Card Bird to show up between Key West and sundown on the 31st, where ever I might be then, to reach 600 ABA species for the year.

It could happen...

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