Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Florida Rarities Highlight Florida Trip
February 04, 17
By Steve Grinley

     A couple of weeks ago, Margo and I were fortunate enough to escape for a week to Florida. Once there, we were captured again by relatives, and by the walls surrounding The Villages. But we were able to escape our new captures for a few days and manage some time to go birding. A couple of day trips to the Lake Apopka area where we saw some southern birds that we see less often, if at all, in New England.

     The eleven-mile long Wildlife Drive along the dikes of the Apopka marsh reclamation area gave us close views (within 10 to 20 yards of the car) of common gallinules, American coots, anhinga, black-bellied whistling ducks, and several species of egrets and herons. The gallinules were probably the most numerous birds there, seen and heard constantly along the drive. Pied-billed grebes were also plentiful, including one raft of fifty to sixty grebes, maybe more than we have ever seen together at once.

     We also managed to a two-day road trip to the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area in search of two life birds for Margo and an ABA area bird for me. On Saturday, we drove more than two hundred miles to Richardson Historic Park and Nature Preserve, just north of Fort Lauderdale. That is where a Bananaquit, a Caribbean specialty, had been hanging out for the past few weeks. We found the park, but the parking lot was closed due to a “special function” in the park that day –just our luck! The sign said parking was available at the town hall, which we found and walked back to the park.

     We asked one of the attendants at the park if we could go in to view a reported rare bird. He pointed to a man inside the gated park and said that the bird had been seen near where the birder was looking. The birder was actually walking out and we asked him if he had seen the bird. “Not for the four hours that I have been here.” he said. But he also said that he could show us another place where the bird had been seen on previous days before he had to leave. 

     We walked around the block to an apartment complex and found a fence lined with vegetation, including firebush, a plant that the bananaquit particularly likes. The vegetation line stretched all the way back to the park, so the bird could be anywhere along it. This other birder only carried a camera (no binoculars) so Margo and I started scanning the vegetation with our binoculars. He, like us, had traveled far from north of Orlando to see this bird. He announced that his long vigil was over and that he had to return home. As he turned to leave, Margo saw some movement in the leaves of the firebush. She put her bins up and said, “Stop! The bird is here!” Sure enough, it was the bananquit!

     The warbler like bird was dark gray above, strong white eyeline, white and yellow below with a long curved bill. A cute little bird that kept disappearing among the leave in the thick vegetation. The other birder finally saw the bird and got photos through his long-lens camera.

     We then had enough time to head to Key Biscayne for our second target bird, a western spindalas, another Caribbean vagrant.. The male spindalas is a striking bird, which I saw many years ago in Key West. This bird on Key Biscayne, which had been seen for several weeks, was a female – quite drab in comparison. Still, it would be a life bird for Margo and well worth the trip.

     When we arrived at the Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, we recognized the area as one we had visited about eight years ago to see our first Muscovey Ducks and Egyptian Geese, which we saw this trip shortly after we arrived. Reports were that the spindalas was seen early in the day, traveling and feeding in the trees with a mixed flock of warblers. We did encounter a few palm warblers, but after much searching in fading sunlight, we decided to call it a day and find a hotel to stay overnight. We were hoping that we would have better luck in the morning.

     The next morning, we searched the same trees in the same area where the spindalas was seen the previous morning. We did find a flock of warblers that included several palm warblers and a stunning yellow-throated warbler, but didn’t see the western spindalas. There were a few other also searching for the birds. 

     After about an hour, one birder alerted us that he had found the bird. As the birds were constantly moving form tree to tree, it took some patience for us to finally get some good looks at the female spindalas moving about and feeding with the other birds in the trees. It was certainly drab – a glorified female house sparrow I thought. But its markings clearly indicated spindalas.

     Our 500 mile round trip weekend paid off with two life birds for Margo and a new ABA area bird for me!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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