Who does Florida in JULY?!


What a great opportunity to mix with top birders, including big year power couples Dick and Gaylee Dean (left), and David and Tammy McQuade (right) along with Amanda from Arizona, who travels as far and wide as any of us, with the unfair advantage of cheap travel due to her Husband’s airline employment in the centre. We had great fun exploring the Channel Islands off Ventura California, with best bird undoubtedly Townsend’s Storm-petrel.

I had nearly a week  back home in Australia (explanation later below) after my southern California pelagic birding trip on 14 July, and am now a few days into a long overdue sweep of Florida for relatively easy Code 1 and Code 2 species. As luck had it, the super-hot Code 5 Antillean Palm-swift – the second ever for the ABA area, remained in play throughout my absence way out on Grassy Key, and a Code 4 Black-faced Grassquit was found at Big Pine Key, another half hour or so further out towards Key West. At least two Code 3 Yellow-green Vireos, the very bird/birds (one is reputedly in heavy tail most, the other is not) that Murray and I ‘may’ have seen a few weeks ago at Key Largo, also cooperated by hanging around during my absence. After a Saturday night arrival in Miami, just under 24 hours after leaving Sydney, I began the next morning, a bit worst for wear, at the Dagny Johnson State Park on Key Largo, which was mercifully less intensely laden with mosquitos and deer flies than had been the case a few weeks earlier. The Hammock forest habitat is quite productive, and perhaps due to the proliferation of biting insects, seems to support a surprising density of Black-whiskered and White-eyed Vireos. It was Larry Manfredi and his son Phillip who, about a month ago, noticed a singing Yellow-green Vireo amongst the more common species. With the heavy tail-moult of one individual, and persistence of at least one individual with an intact tail (which I located and photographed), I can’t help but wonder if the species is more established on the island than previously known.

While in the Hammock forest I had an interaction with a Mangrove Cuckoo, and heard what I thought/hoped was a Barred Owl – a species I need. I tried to locate the owl, but with subsequent brief bouts of calling, it revealed its true identity as a Great-horned Owl – a fantastic bird, but a species I’d already seen and photographed several times this year.


Yellow-green Vireo


A faceless, up-the-skirt image of Black-faced Grassquit was the best I could do. But what a thrill to be just a half hour’s drive from this mega when news of its existence broke during my stakeout of the Antillean Palm-swift.


Tri-coloured Heron in early morning sunlight of Grassy Key, while numerous birders waited patiently for appearance of Antillean Palm-swift.


Antillean Palm-swift. Note the narrow wings and slightly decurved bill that characterises the species.


Well, I may not have managed to photograph the Palm-swift, but then, none of the other birders who watched it zinging past our heads at 7:30 AM. The only concession was killer views and easy photo-op of the ‘other’ Antillean – Antillean Nighthawk.


Monk Parakeet eating mud.


White-chevroned Parakeet eating whatever it likes.


Fish Crow protesting, as best as possible, new city ordinances concerning fishing.


Snail Kite uses its unusual bill to extract large snails from their shells. The species is vulnerable in Florida – note identifying leg band on this one.


My fourth trip to Australia this year due to family matters, allowed me to share some time with my co-workers and co-conspirators. The emerging scenario for Aussie Ark is increasingly exciting. Watch this space.


Incredible co-directors of the Australian Reptile Park, and the true blood and guts of the ambitious and rapidly escalating projects of Aussie Ark and Devil Ark, Tim Faulkner and Liz Vella have both received prestigious business awards; Tim was the 2017 Australian Conservationist of the Year. I am so in awe of these two, and count myself so lucky to be a part of team Reptile Park, along with my wife Robyn, who is financial whiz and Stone of Gibraltar bedrock of the organisation.


After a courageous and tough three-month battle with out-of-the-blue cancer, my much-loved sister-in-law Barbara passed away a bit less than two weeks ago. Barbara was a spectacular example of how one can live a life of generosity, and make a big difference to others lucky enough to count her has friend, family, or teacher. She was intellectually curious about everything, especially nature, and served reliably on the Devil Ark and Aussie Ark boards of management. She is already sorely missed by many.

Miss you already Barb.