From LA, there wasn’t really any question which interloping rarity to aim for. From almost every perspective – certainly from a cost and effort consideration, the next stop on the winter vagrant spree would be the White-throated Thrush that turned up in beautiful Madera Canyon, south of Tucson, a couple of days earlier. Hoping for a continuation of my good fortunes in twitching rare thrushes (Fieldfare in BC, Clay-coloured Thrush in Lower Rio Grande Valley, and Rufous-backed Robin west of San Antonio), I arrived at the Proctor Road portion of the Madera Canyon hiking trail at 8AM Saturday, with the simple task of finding the big crowd of excited Arizona birders. It was that simple. Upon my arrival, some thirty or forty sets of binoculars, scopes and cameras were pointed at Arizona’s first-ever documented White-throated Thrush in a twiggy tree no more than 20 metres from the walkway. Easy-peasy. It was a great moment, and I hung around to look at the bird, and talk to the kindreds. After that however, things got harder. I searched basically, for the rest of the day in vain, first for Black-capped Gnatcatchers that are ‘regular’ in the Proctor Rd area with California/Minnesota birder Russell Cheney, then at Lower Florida Canyon for the long-serving Rufous-capped Warblers – and Black-capped Gnatcatchers – well established there. The sunset beat me, so I put in another five hours today (Sunday), in unusual drizzly conditions, still without seeing the warblers, and only glimpsing a pair of gnatcatchers hunting through dense prickly-pear cactus growth that I suspect weren’t Black-capped – no really obvious marks on face, and if anything, smallish, rather than longish bills. Not enough time to capture them w camera, before losing them. I loved my time in Arizona – didn’t break any records for birding results, but so what. Had to split at 1PM so as to make my flight to Tallahasee, Florida, arriving at my destination airport, as usual, around midnight, this time to see about about scoring my ‘favorite’ bird species. Exciting times!
Yes, the well-established American Flamingo was there to greet me at the St Marks National Wildlife Reserve south of Tallahassee Florida this morning, resplendent in all of its considerable poise and glory. A little bleary eyed and travel weary, the flamingo – undoubtedly the most flamboyant species on the ABA birding list, really put the bounce back into my step. The view was distant, but you get that. This bird has been the go-to flamingo this year, and may well hang around through the winter – but chances greater that it won’t. Flamingo opportunities through the any year are never a gimme – hence the. Conditions during my visit, which requires a two-hour roundtrip hike, were cool, cloudy and breezy. Seeing as I needed some catch-up sleep, I didn’t linger in the beautiful wildlife refuge in order to pump up my year-list. Still, it was hard to miss a range of FOV (first of year) birds, especially waterfowl. The place seems to be predominated by plague of Palm Warblers.
Right on the M-ani!
Whew. I was too late (10AM) in my arrival at the Eagle Lakes Golf Club near Naples, on the west side of Florida to connect with the resident Smooth-billed Ani. Birder Pierre (he’s Canadian, obviously) told me the bird was resplendent in the early morning sun. I figured best to come back in the late afternoon, always the next best thing to morning, and spend the day birding at Tigertail Beach, as suggested by big-year-birding-pals Gaylee and Dick Dean. True to their promise, ‘all five’ plovers were findable, as were a whole bunch of great shorebirds. What will surely be a highlight of my year on the road, I nearly had to duck when a Bald Eagle swooped by on the way to a plunge in estuary just in from the beach, first standing on, then flying back in my direction with, a dirty-big catfish. Wow. Along with a handful of other sunburnt punters, I watched the eagle devour, while fending off its enthusiastic well-developed fledgling, saving only a small portion for the hungry teenager. Incredible.
From the Eagle vs Eagle vs fish spectacle, I made my way back to the golf club, where the Ani eventually made an appearance, where after it foraged in dense waist-high grass, hopping into view now and again, if only for a few seconds at a time. Tick! Got to share the experiences with my Mum and Dad, on this, the occasion of Dad’s 90thbirthday. 90 going on 60 – still the smartest and most generous guy in any room, and a recognised role-model for multiple generations of training surgeons. Replace Dad with a mere mortal, and a lot fewer Urology patients would be alive today. My sisters and I couldn’t be prouder of how he and mum built their lives on the foundations of good ole Kansas principals, with the central focus always on helping others. Happy birthday Dad, and many happy returns.
Next day (today – 16th) I had some time before my flight out of Fort Myers, so I visited the ‘Ten Thousand Islands’ nature reserve, and had incredible views of the usual suite of Florida waders, and a few ‘gators as well. Life is good.
PS: Its now Thursday the 17th, and I’ve just crossed the Texas to Louisiana boundary to score the recently reported Fork-tailed Flycatcher. Nice people down here. Strange place down here.
I’m getting ready to load up my species list to the blog soon – watch this space.