Thursday, February 25, 2016

Code 5 Alert: Zenaida Dove

It is rare when chasing rarities that the chase will result in a quick find and an easy picture.  Really, if that were always the case, chasing rare birds would wouldn't be as fun or satisfying.  Such was the case in Long Key State Park, last night and this morning.  Of course, plans never seem to go as planned and the thought that I would get down to Long Pine SP in the Florida Keys with plenty of daylight left and get to stay in the lodging of my choice, after quickly finding the Zenaida Dove, was just Key Lime Pie in the Sky optimism.

It did seem, at 5:55 that there was a lot of light left in the day, but the folks at the entrance gate at the state park, were closing up shop for the day at 6:15 and that meant if I paid $4.50 to get in and didn't get to the gate by 6:15 I could be locked in for the night.  Of course, if you know me, you know that I am no stranger to sleeping in my car, whether on the side of the road or in a camp ground.  Also the bugs were really biting and I did not have the required repellent.  So I called up Parmer's Resort, down near Marathon to get a room in one of their lovely cottages and eat at the local watering hole with the 15% discount and was told the only room they had available was north of $500 for the night.  Woe is me, right?  I instead chose a regular hotel about 30 minutes north of the state park and along the way ate dinner at a lovely establishment, called oo-tray:

Though I did not imbibe the whisky, the gastronomy was first class, served Tapas style and the dessert was made from scratch after I ordered it.  I shall be returning to the keys and oo-tray again sometime.

After a good night's sleep I headed back to Long Pine, arriving 10 minutes prior to their 8am opening, only to find five cars already ahead of me, each and every one full of birders anxious not to miss the Zenaida Dove, a bird that has only been seen nine times in the ABA area, and only twice since 2002.  Though widespread as our pigeons in the Caribbean, it is rated as a Code 5 here in North America, thus the onslaught of birders from wide and far coming to the park over the past 6 days.  

By 8:10 about 6 of us were out on the Golden Orb Nature Trail,(there was neither gold nor orbs to be seen anywhere), searching the ground, bushes and trees for a bird that was sure to be a Lifer for most present.  We were also on the lookout for Key West Quail-dove, but by 9:30 all most of us had were 2 Gray Catbirds.  As the morning wore on, more birders appeared, including Larry Manfredi, who in 2012  was of great help finding the Fork-tailed Flycatcer and letting me sit in his backyard to see Shiny Cowbirds after I failed to see them down at Flamingo in Everglads NP.  He also threw in a Gray Kingbird for good measure.

Along for the search was Big Big Year Birder Jay Lehman, who in 2013,(obviously inspired by my 2012 Big Year), joined the 700 club and took 4th Place in the over all Big Year Standings with 734 species.  However, he had not seen a Zenaida Dove, so this was a big deal for him too.  We all split up and some of us exchanged phone numbers and continued to look.  As it was getting close to 10am I needed to use the restroom and get a drink of water from the fountain, so headed back to the trailhead, hoping that nature's call didn't result in a missed bird.

As I headed back to the search area, I spotted a dove on the ground, and two birders taking a close look at it.  I came to a complete stop, held my breath and looked as well.

It was a Comon Ground-dove.  Rats.  Still it was a good sign.  Took over an hour to find this one, so maybe dove Karma was on our side.  You know, Zen and the Art of Birding to get a Zenaida Dove?  Well, maybe not.  I met up with Larry again and together we decided to walk the entire loop, and maybe get two doves for the price of one.  He did point out many places he had in the past seen Key West Quail-doves, but none were cooperating today.  We walked the entire loop, came back to the boardwalk, grabbed a quick and refreshing drink of water and headed back to the trail.  

As we were about to walk past a couple of hikers, there was a dove on the ground.  But this was no ground dove.  Larry asked the two hikers to stop and explained that there was a very rare bird on the ground in front of them.  They stopped, we all looked.  The white tips on the ends of the wings differentiated it from the more common Mourning Dove.  We had our Code 5 and may have missed it had we not walked the entire loop.  However by the time I could try to take a photo, the bird was back in the tangles off the path.  I texted one of the couples I met earlier that morning and Larry called someone and within five minutes 20 people had converged on the area and within minutes it had been spotted again.  Too far for a photo, but with all those eyes spread along a small section of path it wasn't long before it showed again.  This time peaking its head above a log.

Okay, that was a start.  Over the course of the next twenty minutes or so it became more and more cooperative.

Just a little more...

Oops!  Too much, but this time we could see the little white patch on the wings.

And then, finally...

Jay, who I accidentally called John, got his photos, as did Larry and most of the others present. 

Not sure what number it was for some of the others present, but for me, in the ABA Area, it was 644 and my 4th Code 5, to go along with the Nutting's Flycatcher, Sinaola Wren and Whiskered Tern.  A great morning for all present.  There were other birds around as well, and will share photos in the next installment.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Getting Back on the Kingfisher Highway

This Week in Big Year History:

A year ago this week, I was back in Ontario birding, after a short trip to Florida.  I had 210 species on my list, the most recent of which was a male Harlequin Duck.  That week I also saw my first Northern Saw-whet and Eastern Screech-owls.

Back to the present.  This will be my second trip to Florida this year and I'll be there until the end of March. I was supposed to fly into Tampa today and thanks to bad weather brewing up north, flights were delayed and I missed my connecting flight out of New Jersey.  Sometimes travel plans go awry and you miss opportunities.  In this case, a weather delay created a great opportunity to take an earlier flight into Fort Lauderdale.  You see, as it turned out, NARBA had been reporting a Code 5 Zenaida Dove down in Long Key State Park in the Florida Keys, and I thought that I could to try for the bird.  I figured I could there with a couple of hours of daylight to search.  So, I'm not complaining.  Not only would the Zenaida Dove be a great bird for the year list, it would also be my first ABA Lifer of the year.

So, in a few hours I will be heading down Highway 1 from Homestead to Long Key State Park in Florida.  I've driven it dozens of times since becoming a birder and often see a dozen or more Belted Kingfishers on the wires as I drive.  I'm always happy to be birding, but a personal goal to bird every day this year in over 20 cities scattered all around North America, from Key West to Seattle and Montreal to San Francisco, with stops in the Midwest and Colorado, this is going to make all the travel a bit more fun this year.  I'm also doing this with 4 years of knowledge I did not posses back in 2012.  I had never birded before.  Now I am finding myself going back to the blogs I wrote back then and have a chance to learn from my mistakes. 

So, as I get ready to board yet another flight to Florida, here are a few photos from my earlier trip.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Local Birding... for now...

You just never know what you might see when you're birding.  Sure it's always nice to find a rare one, or do a big e-Bird list for the day.  And then there are times when you see something quite out of the ordinary.  I'm heading to Florida soon, so am getting as much local birding as I can before I go.  Went out to the Burlington Skyway on Sunday and yesterday I explored the Toronto Waterfront from Humber Bay East to Col. Sam Smith Park.  Out at Humber Bay I found lots of Redheads, Long-tailed Ducks, Scaup, Goldeneye, Iceland Gulls and a continuing Harlequin Duck at Humber Bay West:

Which brings me to Col. Sam and one of the unusual bird photographs I think I have ever taken.  Here, have a gander:

Looks like some crazy albino turkey.  But no.

Here are a few of the other more identifiable birds I've seen over the last few days:

Peregrine Falcon high above the Lift Bridge:

Surf Scoter in the canal below:

 Not sure what his problem is:

So, as I get ready to travel south, I have a still modest 137 species and have submitted submitted 120 e-Bird lists in the first 54 days of 2016.  Not your typical start to a Big Year, but this is not your traditional Big Year, even by my standards.  Every day of travel is on a set schedule.  That being said, I have miles to go and it's not even March.  Oh, and I think I must start a new Rodent-y Things list for 2016, as I had done as a lark, in 2012:

  Oh, I do so love when I use a word that also refers to birds, such as "gander" above and "lark" just now.

And finally, what was that crazy turkey looking thing?

Naturally, it was a Snowy Owl just before it made a big poop!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Birding With The Blue Jays


A Different Kind of Big Year

I'm Ba-ack!

Just over four years ago I did something that no one else, as far as I know, had ever done before.  I became a birder while doing a North American Big Year.  Prior to 2012 I had not even gone birding.  I had always enjoyed nature photography, and hiking,  but the prospect of traveling to see more birds than I even knew existed during the 366 days of the 2012 Leap Year, released the Obsessive Compulsive, all or nothing birder in me.  I ended up with 601 species, 596 of which were eligible to be counted under ABA rules for Big Year Listers.  Since then I have built my ABA Life List to 643 species and my World Life List to 922, with trips to Costa Rica and,  most recently, Panama.

Now, in 2016, I have an opportunity to do a different kind of Big Year.  This year I will be traveling all over North America for work.  My goal is simply to put my free time to good use and bird in every city I visit, and see what kind of diverse list I can build up, as I'll be criss-crossing most of the Lower 48 over the next 8 months.  And I have given myself a criteria for ABA countable birds.  What good is a contest without rules?  I can only bird in the cities and States or Provinces I visit for work in during 2016.  That means I can bird in New York State but not in New Jersey.  California is acceptable but not Nevada or New Mexico.  And since I will be in Montreal, I can count birds in La Belle Provence.  I will have only nine full days off outside Ontario, where I am free to explore further afield than just the cities I will be staying in.  I will have full birding days in and around Arlington Texas,  New York, New York,  Boston Massachusetts, Chicago Illinois, San Francisco California, Phoenix Arizona and to top it all off, Cleveland Ohio!  I also have over a month in Florida from late February to early April, with a few free days, and evenings to bird.  And, of course, every day in Toronto, and other parts of Ontario, before and after work.

Naturally, as I did in 2012, I will share my stories and (mis)adventures in this Blog.

So, to get you up to speed on who I am and my 2012 Big Year, check out: 
or click here:

So, where to begin?  Well so far, not including a brief sojourn into Panama,(where I recorded 227 species and 115 Lifers), Ontario and Florida are the only ABA area places I have birded in 2016.  According to my eBird records I have seen a modest 130 species.  I have also submitted at least one eBird list per day since January 1 and plan to submit at least one for all 366 days of the 2016 Leap Year.  Perhaps I might make it a tradition to do some sort of Big Year every Leap Year.  Or not.  Anyway, here is a list of the cities I will be traveling to over the course of the next 7-8 months:

Aside from Ontario and Florida, I will get to go birding in and around Montreal, 3 trips to Boston, New York and Baltimore, twice to San Francisco, and one trip each to Dallas, Minneapolis, Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, Houston, Kansas City, Cleveland, Anaheim and Seattle.  I think that covers a good portion of the ABA area.

My first love has always been photography, ever since I got my first SLR for my grade 10 photography class.  I've gone through a lot of cameras and lenses over the last few decades and now have and love my Cannon 70D with a Sigma 150-600 zoom lens.  I also have a new scope and digiscoping adaptor, which came in handy this past weekend, helping to capture photos of an American Flamingo in the shallow waters about 300 feet from the fishing pier in Fort Myers, Florida.

So, without further ado, let the adventures begin:

Here are photos of some of my first 130 species of 2016, beginning with the above mentioned Flamingo:

This Flamingo was so much easier to see than back in 2012 when I had to walk the Snake Bight Trail in the Everglades, where I was nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes:

Peregrine Falcons, at the Burlington Lift Bridge

Long-eared Owl in Colonel Sam Smith Park in Toronto

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker at Sebastian Reserve State Park

Florida Scrub Jay, Merritt Island Scrub Jay Trail

Parasitic Jaeger harassing a gull at the Canaveral National Sea Shore:

Painted Bunting at the Merritt Island Visitor's Centre

Harlequin Duck at Humber Bay West, Toronto:

Sandhill Cranes St Johns National Wildlife Refuge:

Roseate Spoonbill at Ding Darling NWR: