Getting caught up: Part 2 of 3

Continuing with the skip-jump effort to get the blot up to date. One more near-ready post after this one:

19 Feb Robyn arrived at Miami airport from Sydney then LAX, on the morning of the 19th, and she fought off the jet-lag as we birded unsuccessfully for ferals (Spot-breasted Oriole and Red-whiskered Bulbuls) along busy residential streets in challenging high winds. That night we heard of the ‘rediscovery’ of a Roadside Hawk, from Central America and Mexico, at the Bentsen Rio Grande Reserve in south Texas. It had been intermittently findable in the same area during most of December.

20 Feb We continued to miss Urban Gorillas (a term for stupid, stubborn street birds coined by Gaylee Dean) in the Miami area until our 6PM flight to McAllen Texas. We made the decision at midday, after a second report of the bird was posted on eBird in same place at same time as the previous day’s report. But this time, later in the day (which I didn’t learn about until much later), in fact after we boarded our flight, the second-day-sighting birder added photos of – a Red-shouldered Hawk. I honestly wouldn’t have made the trip if he/she had posted the images at the time of his/her report.

21 Feb Robyn and I joined a throng of birders, including Sth Texas birding superstar Mary Gustafson in the morning hoping for a return visit from the Roadside Hawk reported at 9-ish on the two previous mornings in the same area that ‘it’ had been seen repeatedly in December. It was nice to finally run into Richard and Gaylee Dean – doing their third big year in a row, and we all learned together that the Roadside Hawk report of the previous morning had been discredited. Maybe the initial report from the previous morning was OK, but with no photos, I worry. It’s becoming increasingly less common for new reports of rare birds (that are eventually verified) to not have supporting photographs. Lesson learnt.  In any event, we didn’, and there were no subsequent reports of the bird. For me, that lost day in Texas, which put us a day late in our intended travel plans translated into a day-too-late series of dips. Not that it started out that way – we did find our targeted Smith’s Longspur the next day (22nd) – a very tough ‘common’ species that caused me enormous grief in 2016. It took an entire day of stomping around open fields while Robyn patiently waited in the car, probably hoping I wouldn’t be arrested, to finally photographically nail a flushed bird. Having a hell of a time gaining focus on small birds in flight, but as per the Sprague’s Pipit a few weeks ago in Texas, by about the fifth flushed bird and frustrating heart-sinking failure while the focus ‘hunts’, back and forth for the bird in the viewfinder, I eventually manage to pull it off. Experimenting with manual focus now.

The consolation prize in Sth Texas was another shot at photographing a Golden-crowned Warbler, a normally super-shy Mexican rarity. This one broke the mould however, and although hyperactive, gave an audience of admirers plenty of good looks.

23 Feb Flew Oklahoma City to Duluth Minnesota and drove to Sax Zim Bog. Here’s where the day-too-late story kicks in. We had reasonable results the afternoon of our first visit to the bog, scoring a well-established Snowy Owl, and the Northern Hawk Owl that had given me such a trial on my earlier, much colder visit. BUT, the predicted change in weather was kicking in early, with increasing winds and yucky conditions, the trio of Great Grey Owls that had been hanging out were not in play.


Whew! The ‘usually there’ Individual Norther Hawk Owl that has spent sequential winters in ‘the bog’ was on sentry duty, right where it hadn’t been, during my previous visit. This time the temperature was low – maybe 28 degrees, but during my earlier visit, in the brace of some sort of freak event Arctic air invasion was colder – by 60 degrees. I’ve learned to look into weather forecasts before booking flights.


Hoot!! Snowy Owl, right where it wasn’t a week earlier, but had been for several weeks earlier. Sweet tick, of one of the world’s most spectacular vertebrate species. Really awesome.

One of the ‘candidates’ of Redpolls (probably all Common Redpolls) that I’m trying my best to turn into Hoary Redpolls – but need more time to look at the images, and send to someone who may actually know what they’re looking at.

24 FebHorrendous weather, the ‘sure-bet’ road for early morning Spruce Grouse was covered in deep snow. This is the place, an hour east of the bog, where ‘everyone’ gets Spruce Grouse.  The birds are ‘easy’ before the first vehicles traverse the miracle mile, while picking up tiny gravel particles each morning to assist in digestion of conifer needles (really) through the cold winter. No mystery as to why we struck out: the roads were covered in four inches of new snow, which was still falling – sideways, at daybreak. No gravel, no grouse; clearly day late and a dollar short. I spent three hours walking along the road listening for calling males or wing-fluttering females, with no joy. We headed over to the bog to strike out again at the Great Gray Owl, and to spend lots of time in the warm car at bird feeding stations trying to convert light-coloured Common Redpolls to Hoary Redpolls. Still debating with myself over photos of some clearly borderline birds.

Real ‘shoulda been here yesterday’ bullcrap, and so frustrating. This stretch of highway, out the back of nowhere, Minnesota is the ‘go to’ place in the lower 48 States for Spruce Grouse, as they are ‘always’ present on the bitumen road at first light, loading up on fine gravel to assist in digesting the needles of the trees they otherwise hide in. There were daily eBird reports, most with close up photos, right up til the morning of our search, which was preceded, by maybe four hours, by a heavy snow dump that made gravel ingestion a non-event.

25 Feb With reports of two ‘new’ rare birds in Florida – a La Sagra’s Flycatcher and Bananaquit, we had no choice but to head back to the Cuban city of Miami. We were in our rental driving out of Miami airport at 3:30 in the avo, racing to get ahead of traffic to the public park where a La Sagras flycatcher had been reported. Once again, windy conditions followed me to Miami, which made our search for the flycatcher harder than it should have been. It took an hour or so, before Robyn said, in classic understatement tone, John, is that it? Tick. We had just enough time to get to Crandon Park and scout out the precise Bottle Brush Tree where the Bananaquit had been periodically visiting for a couple of days – but not that day.

Rare that a La Sagra’s Flycatcher allows this sort of access!

26 FebWe put in a minimum effort at the Crandon Park Bananaquit site, before tossing it in and having a shot at photographing the Western Spindalis that I’d only had fleeting looks at the week before. Also, to have another look for those damned rental car keys. Got the photos, not the keys. It was fun running into my good friend Larry Manfredi at the Bananaquit site, and later, Angel Abrieu at the Spindalis haunt.


Robyn and I got to the famed Bottle-brush Tree at the ‘old zoo’ site in Crandon Park, Key Biscayne Florida fairly late in the afternoon. We knew that the bird hadn’t been reported that day on eBird. Before I could even look at the foliage with binocs, the couple in the photo below rode their bikes to us, excitedly, and the gentleman – from Chile (the girl, and they were obviously very much in the early enthusiastic stages of love) urgently said “Have you seen it?!’ No! I didn’t think it was still here. “There! Its right there!” Where?! on the left? On the right? high in the bush? “No, not high in the bush THERE!”. Eventually, by search led me to the ground between the two ‘bushes’. ‘It’ was a female American Crocodile, apparently a hanger on from the old zoo days. We all had a good laugh, but I cried a little inside. If you look closely, you can see the croc/rock.


Lucky, happy young and spectacular couple at the apex of life, who still don’t believe there’s such a thing as a Bananaquit. They loved my stories of previous life as a ‘gator wrestler.

27 FebAnother day of ‘urban guerrilla’ birding (term from Gaylee Dean) for introduced Florida feral species, then evening flight from Miami to Chicago due to recent reports of a nearby Barnacle Goose.

28 Feb Missed the goose due to being stupid and lazy. I don’t want to talk about it. I am so disgusted with my decision for us to sleep in after our wee-hours arrival at Chicago hotel, which led to us missing the goose by about a half hour, that I’m not going to glorify the effort with any photographs of the place or excuses. Score so far: Barnacle Goose 2, John -2.


PS: I’m about a day away from launching the part three of this series of catch-up posts – trust me!