Getting caught up: Part 1 of 3

“Shoulda been here yesterday…”

I had a conference call with the guys back home, and our partner organisation Global Wildlife Conservation in Texas re the advancing plans for the next stages of the Aussie Ark mission. These are exciting times, and I’m so glad to be a part of developing a model to contributing to reversing Australia’s mammal extinction crisis. But tellingly, Board member and captive population management expert Paul Andrew’s first question on the phone hookup to me was “When are you going to get the blog up to date?” And that was well over a week ago. Hopefully, once these early-in-the-year rarity-chasing days are displaced by lengthier and single-region general birding missions, my time availability for writing will improve, and single-topic material should become more coherent. In the meantime, I’ll try to leap frog into the present with a diary-style summary of the past few weeks. I’ll try to insert photos with relevant captions.That’s a hint – you don’t have to read all the painful outline stuff below, just won’t miss much if you just look at the pretty pictures and read the irreverent captions.

14 FebBirded LAX after flight from Sydney on same day. Subject of previous post, and I still don’t want to talk about it.

‘Straight outta Compton’ and straight into local extinction – last stand of the mainland US population of Spotted Dove in Watts District of Los Angeles. Seems the more I tried, the less I saw of the remaining few Spotted Doves. But like a gambler who just can’t leave the table – I keep returning to my least-favourite type of birding, because surely, if I just keep playing, I’ll break even, Right?

15 – 16 FebMost of day getting to Norfolk Virginia then 3hr drive to gateway to the Gulf Stream – Hatteras, North Carolina – just past the Kitty Hawk sand dunes that softened Wilbur Wright’s, and mankind’s landings. But last minute weather forecasts dictated that the scheduled Saturday pelagic birding trip trip was to be postponed for a day. I used the time to test my endurance against cold windy suffering while scoping from Outer Banks piers unrealistically hoping for Dovekie. I suspect that some of the pier-based and land-based sightings of Dovekies down there have been misidentified Razorbills. Just sayin.


Rough seas dictated the postponement of Hatteras pelagic trip. This didn’t stop efforts at sea watching for Dovekies from piers – but the cold winds should have.


The closest I got to sighting a Dovekie off the freezing cold Outer Banks piers during the pelagic day of postponement was close cousin, but much bigger, Razorbills. This photo was actually taken at sea – the views fro the piers were distant, and made through shaking scope that reflected my miserable shivering. At great distances, the size difference between the two species is less obvious, and I couldn’t help but wonder, while freezing my arse off,  if recent Dovekie sightings from the piers were misidentified Razorbills.

17 Feb (Sunday) The postponed pelagic trip with Brian, Kate and team went ahead, and mercifully/fortunately we score the targeted ‘signature bird’ of the Hatteras winter pelagics early in the day: Great Skua. No Dovekies, but nobody was surprised, since there were relatively few Razorbills around (similar but larger Acids, and usually in good numbers when Dovekies are encountered) and rough water would have made sightings of the tiny floaters unlikely anyway. Due to postponement of Saturday’s trip to Sunday, the proper ‘Sunday’ trip was similarly postponed a day to Monday the 18th. However, while tracking back to shore Sunday afternoon, ever connected to the rarities hotlines, I discovered that two juicy rarities from the Caribbean had been reported from Crandon Park, Key Biscayne – off Miami – a Thick-billed Vireo and a Western Spindalis. Before docking I’d decided to scrub Monday’s sea gig (the possibility for Dovekie seemed remote, and prospects of the two Florida vagrants was too compelling.

The Big Kahuna: Great Skua. Suhwheeet.


The best finder of Big Kahunas – Kate Sutherland, seasoned seabirder and super-nice deckhand and ‘spotter’. Kate is currently working on a graduate degree in seabird ecology.

18 Feb Although the overnight race from North Carolina to Miami did pay off – both of the Florida rare birds proved ‘stayers’, and at time of writing are still easily sighted daily. The Monday trip I dropped out of in order to beeline it to Florida did, afterall, produce a Dovekie. Worst ‘looking back’ news was that birders who did attend the Monday sea-gig also lucked out on the discovery of a coded Tufted Duck – a real rarity in the Lower 48.

Spectacular and cheeky Thick-billed Vireo that to date, has been entertaining birders for nearly three weeks (as at 9 March), with its fearless antics at eye-level along the edges of brush-lined sidewalk in Crandon Park, Key Biscayne.


Nice bird, shame about the name. I initially didn’t get a chance to photograph this individual female Western Spindalis, but on return visit to Crandon Park off Miami some days later with Robyn, the bird was much more cooperative, between episodes of feeding from some sort of berry-laden tree.

South Florida produced the goods for me (although there wasn’t a need for the race to Miami – the two birds have been seen daily ever since). Things didn’t go entirely to plan, and I still cannot figure out what happened, but I somehow lost the twin keys to an expensive car that I’d been reluctantly upgraded to (OK, it was a BMW…) The two fancy looking FOBs were cable-tied together as is the norm with rentals. I know that I was in a mad keen hurry to get out of the car, use the kiosk thingie to pay for a parking ticket receipt to put on dashboard, and to get into the Park where I could see birders pointing optical devices upwards. When I joined them, the Thick-billed Vireo was doing what it had been doing for a couple of days, and continues to do – periodically breaking into song, and buzzing around hassling birders, mostly too close for easy focusing of long lenses. Amazing sight. The Western Spindalis, a female, was much more aloof, and although I had a brief look before birders crashed through the bushes and sent it my way – and tree-hopping in that direction until gone, and I didn’t capture it in my magic black Nikon box. Getting out of the mess created by the loss of the keys was worthy of an entire blog entry, but is too painful, and remains an expensive work in progress, since I saved the five bucks a day on ‘roadside, tyre and key replacement’ add on insurance option. Shut up Glen – there have been fewer ‘incidences’ this year, so far, compared to the norm.