I take an annual ABA bird-finding trip each spring. In 2012 it was southeast Arizona. Then California, though I guess I didn't do a post on it, before Alaska in 2014 and the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas last year.
This spring I went with a buddy Jake to the mosquito-soaked, sun-pelted, Bud-Light-Lime-a-rita-caked shore of South Florida. In the same way I did for Texas last year, here are some top fives.
Favorite Non-lifer Birds from Loxahatchee NWR
5. both flavors of Little Blue Heron
3. Common Gallinule
2. Limpkin - with 6 chicks!
1. Swallow-tailed Kites. The best bird on earth.
5. all the McDonald's runs we made in the early morning and/or using free Monopoly tickets from prior McDonald's runs
4. Mahi sandwich at Cracked Conch on Marathon
3. the burrito I had at Señor Frijoles on Key Largo
2. Cuban food at Juice Paradise on Marathon
1. Ropa Vieja at El Siboney on Key West
I wasn't really looking for butterflies that hard, though there are a lot of rare ones down there and I should have been on my game a bit more. Still, I saw some cool stuff:
5. Eastern Pygmy-Blues at No Name Key
4. Mallow Scrub-Hairstreak on the Dry Tortugas
3. Hammock Skipper at John U. Lloyd SP
2. Mangrove Skipper at Fort Zachary Taylor SP
1. Atala at John U. Lloyd SP
5. Gators at a bunch of places
4. Northern Curly-tailed Lizard, Long Key SP
3. Florida Redbelly Turtle, Blue Hole
2. Tons of iguanas everywhere
1. The American Crocodile at Dry Tortugas NP
5. Everyone on the highway
4. Everyone in-town Miami
3. Literally everyone
2. The lady who tried to just drive between two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic and smashed into like 4 cars right next to us.
1. Whoever it was that crashed into the Little League outfield.
4. Uh...nothing really. Short-tailed Hawk maybe? Other crazy rarities from Cuba or the Bahamas?
3. Black Noddy, Dry Tortugas NP. Ugh. Seen the day before and the day after we were there. It was there, just none of the birders on the island could pick it out that day. It's a tough ID, and there are so many Brown Noddys flying around all the time it's easy to lose track or miss something. It was very frustrating to know it was there but not see it, and to realize that at some point we'd need to shell out the cash to get back there.
2. Thick-billed Vireo. We spent a total of 6 hours at John U Lloyed SP, waiting for this little punk to show up. It didn't show, though it was seen the day after we first tried, on the 22nd.
1. The dang Zenaida Dove. We spent a total of 10 hours stalking the trails of Long Key SP, hoping against hope that some Mourning Doves would fly in and that their long-staying buddy would be with them. No dice. Word on the street is that the bird had been seen mounted by a MODO, and might be sitting quietly on a nest, likely just out of view from the trail. It had been last seen 5 days before we arrived, but might be seen again once it has mutant hybrid babies. Oh well.
Obliging Warblers (Doesn't Mean I Got Good Photos)
5. Northern Parula.
4. Black-and-white Warbler. Lots and lots. This is on the Tortugas.
3. Prairie Warbler. Everywhere.
2. Worm-eating Warbler. Damn it was too dark to get the shutter fast enough for this photo. I've always wanted a good WEWA shot.
1. Cape May Warblers. I think the most numerous warbler of the trip. They were absolutely everywhere the first two days, and they were the most numerous birds at Fort Zachary Taylor.
9. Gray Kingbird. Hella numerous out there on the Keys.
8. Antillean Nighthawk. No photos, but great looks at the Marathon Airport.
7. White-winged Parakeet at some Bank in Miami. Cool little birds, and, thankfully, were easy to find.
6. Black-whiskered Vireo. I didn't realize how numerous they'd be down there. It was by far the most common vireo. I don't even think we had a single Red-eyed the whole time.
5. Shiny Cowbird. This was cool because we found our first bird, it hadn't been reported. We drove by a school on Sugarloaf Key and thought we saw some shorebirds on the ballfields, and stopped to take a look. Turns out they were Bobolinks, not shorebirds, but they had a Shiny Cowbird with them. We ended up seeing a bunch more, actually, including one on the Tortugas and another in the Everglades. We got a Bronzed on the last day and a bunch of Brown-headeds to complete the trip Cowbird Sweep!
4. Smooth-billed Ani. Awesome. I dipped on these guys in Florida last year, and Jake and I spent a brutally hot couple hours at Loxahatchee NWR looking for them without success the morning we got there. It sucked. But we knew they were around (there's a pair nesting), so we took a break and came back later to find the male giving a good show.
3. Mangrove Cuckoo. Oh baby. I've dipped on this bird at this location before (Saddlebunch Key), and so we went in with low expectations. But it had just rained, and we think that helped reactivate these guys in the afternoon. There were three birds calling as soon as we arrived, and they were about as obliging as any damn cuckoo I've ever known.
2. Black Rail. No photos, because obviously. But this is a bird that we really didn't expect to get. There had been some reports along the road to Everglades in Flamingo, and we didn't have much on our plates at the end of the trip so decided to give it a shot. Jake had experience with the birds from banding them in Mississippi, but he knew how hard they were to locate. Plus, the bird(s) hadn't been reported for 10 days or so. PLUS, the plotting on eBird was all over the place, so we just had a vague idea of where to stop to listen. But despite all that, the second spot we stopped the car after the road to Mahogany Hammock had the Black Rail singing right there by the roadside. It was nuts, and we were goddamn thrilled.
1. Cuban Vireo. What can I say? It's an ABA first record! A tough-to-see but loudly-singing bird seen by lots of folks on the morning of the 22nd. A real nice treat, and allowed us multiple looks as we returned to the spot a couple times throughout the day. Glad a lot of birders got a chance to see it while it was showing.
3. White-winged Parakeet
2. Black-whiskered Vireo
1. Cuban Vireo