Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The 50/500 Club

South Florida

Big Year Days 80-82

If I had one goal in this big year was to get to 500 birds by my fiftieth birthday and as I left south on March 20th after celebrating birthday's for my grandmother Lucille (91) and me in advance in Wisconsin.  I was 8 birds short and only had a day and a half to do it.  The first day of Spring was coming on the 21st and with it a half century of age...

I landed in Miami and rented a pickup was half the price of a small car, spring break at its finest, everything overpriced but things no college student would touch, a extended cab pickup.  I decided to clean up my three missing exotics.  Ocean Bank, the white-winged parakeet hangout is very close to the airport so that was my first stop.  They are nesting here so even mid-day they are easy gets.  My lens kept fogging up due to the condensation but these are passable ID photos

White-winged parakeet

The Bulbul can be a tricky bird and i'm not sure how many of them are around. I tried a new neighborhood near Kendall Hospital (and note there are multiple Kendall Medical Centers now and Siri gets confused.)  but couldn't figure how to access the areas and then finally I was near the entrance off 82nd where I have gotten in them previous.  I drove in, and above the honest to God first house, was one on a powerline.  I took the photo out the car window and since I have good photos before in here just before the woman called the police on me, I didn't need better ones....but today it was a good, quick, and easy bird and without needing any explaining to the cops....

Red-whiskered bulbul

One left...and what should be the easiest, the common myna.  The area near the Ramada or Burger King is Lousy with Myna in Florida City, how I didn't get one was comical or shows how pathetic I really am in this hobby.  I parked the car in Cracker Barrel and couldn't see any and then they were everywhere.  I then saw then every time I drove through the area.

Common Myna

Bad photos all but exotics of Florida are now finished!  495.

I searched the glades but the rain came in, and it screwed everything up, dejected and short of my goal, Chris Feeney called and subtly gave me the business about giving up on the goatsuckers so at 11pm I went out to bird in the dark and yes, I called up an eastern whip-poor-will and near Royal Palm got a good response of chuck-wills-widows, including one maybe 25 feet away with the odd quank call.  They sound just like herons.  The bugs bit but I had got to 497....maybe 500 was doable on my birthday?
How hard could 3 be?  But it was my birthday and birthdays...

I woke up at 3, couldn't sleep....I was 50, life was now definitely down hill to the end.  Generally my birthdays are miserable affairs, fights, plane cancellations, getting lost in a desert, some have been cautiously okay but generally, I don't like to be home when I have them as I'd hide in bed all day....I just had a feeling this one was going to be a bad one.  I didn't take a shower in the I'd slip, so I juts headed to the Keys...I was going to open a bottle of Dom Perignon on the beach at sunrise, 0728 local time.  I got to Anne's beach way early, and just savored the moment, the smell of rotting vegetation, the rain, the wind...and first light, popped the bottle and promptly spilled 3/4 of it over the car and the driver's seat....yea, it is my birthday, only on my birthday....but I was by myself and so I didn't need much.

Birthdays for me end up generally just private affairs, alone and so I drank what was left of a 300$ bottle of champagne out of a used Burger King cup... by myself..for myself...nothing says happy 50th more than that!  I toasted the birding Gods and me...and hoped nothing too terrible would go wrong son was traveling, I was birding, and my other son was in class, daughter and wife at home.  Picture of first light is above.  I made some resolutions, one was to get the dang grassquit and come hell or highwater, get #500, others were more personal...

The gang drove in behind me as I waited for the 0800 opening at Long Key State park 6 miles down the road.

I tried a new strategy at Long Key State Park in the Campground.  Non-camping Birders have been kicked out and as it is nearly impossible to get a campsite. First opening is in May for a single day... Generally, they have been giving us 15 minutes and then if a ranger finds you, they ask you to leave.

I decided to lower my profile.  No huge camera, no exposed bins, no birding hat and well, I also feigned injury.  I was just the invalid with a severe limp who was heading to the handicapped bathroom.  They wouldn't boot out a injured camper-birder would they?  We also spread out as even though we were five people birding, we didn't want to jumble up and be conspicuous.  As I limped along, I had to walk really slow as walking was oh so much of a chore, that was the first positive and also, many of the campers were talkative to me as due to the struggle, I needed to get my breath, especially near campsites 17-18, and in the 30s so I struck up conversations including people in #20 from New Hampshire who offered me coffee and we talked politics, my football "injury," and the future of this campground.  All the while I kept an eagle eye out for a little gray bird.

Here is the barefooted "camper" bins under my jacket...yup, just fat under that coat and it was a cool morning so the coat looked normal.  I wish I would have had a walker.  I was thinking of going to get my towel and wash my hair to look like the morning people heading to the showers and back.  I made the rangers wait for me to come out of the handicapped bathroom before they locked up the bathroom at 35 area to clean it, all the while with them waiting impatiently for me to stumble down the ramp and chain it off, they weren't kicking out the other birders.  Here I am picking up my shoes heading to the bathroom at the 14 area (right after that) since they didn't allow me to go before they cleaned other one.  They clean bathrooms at 0930 and that other one at 11.

No birder here, just a limping camper trying to hobble across the road before the garbage truck can get by.  The whole process extended the 15 minutes to become and hour and then 2...then 3!  I picked up a year bird, 498, an American redstart lurking and peering into campsites...I was generally taking lurking to a whole new level.  The couple at 20 packed up, loaded their car on a trailer and went home and as they were using the dump station, I went and said goodbye on my way to the other bathroom as the ranger patrol drove by, but didn't pay me notice.  I watched them go and then went behind the bathroom and looked in the weeds...I flushed a little gray bird, it flew just like the grassquits I have seen so many times in St Martin, up and then it disappeared across from 20-21.  It wasn't a good enough sighting for me to call it so I called in help.  We refined our search but it wasn't easy or quick.  A couple of other more conspicuous birders came, that looked like birders and I knew it was only a matter of time....and out we'd have to go.

I knew 19/20 was the key, I could feel it, then as it just wasn't turning up, one of the other birders, a man doing a big year in baseball cities (states) Toronto plays in.  He spotted it on the beach side of 19.  We were 25 feet away, he motioned.  Chris, Theresa, and I got behind him and bingo, perched on the railing.  female grassquit.  He took some photos, I, the incognito birder, had no camera but it was as Chris said, a short but plain and a satisfying look.  We weren't so careful after that and a few minutes later were asked to leave.  Then the deputy sheriff drove through, but I (we) had the bird...wait..where was Rangel Diaz?   He had wandered off, crap, he missed it but had the bird for Florida before.... just not Monroe county so we didn't feel too bad.

the grassquit search detail  summarily expelled from the campground

Chris Feeney, Theresa Schwinghammer, and Rangel Diaz, and me.  Rangel has his hands up because when the bird was found, where was Rangel?  Four weeks ago when the Zenaida dove was found, where again was Rangel?  That time he came a running from far away and got it, this time....alas no....But...Rangel got the Cuban Pewee last Monday and I ask, where was Olaf?  Yea, I was in Texas when I should have been here.

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to me...if it flies like a grassquit, and it looks like one too...
..a birthday present for me
and many more.........!

It was a good birthday present and I had hoped it would be a fitting bird #500 but I was one bird short...we looked for a rumored worm-eating warbler near the Zenaida dove spot on the other side of the park but alas nothing.  It would have to fail at this goal....that pink-footed goose...I should have been down here 10 days ago.

I searched and searched all over South Florida for a bird, any bird I could call 500, eventually getting near the glades nearing 3pm, time was short.  We were going to meet for my birthday in Florida City and for birders, these guys eat early and I was probably going to be late.  Driving past Lucky Hammock, I spotted an odd dove on a fence before it flew down disappearing into the grass.  I would have liked to see that bird again, I swear it was a female ruddy quail-dove, I don't know what else it could be?  But alas after a one hour stakeout, it didn't reappear..I almost got it on camera...but in this game, to call that bird and I wasn't sure it was that bird, I needed more than a quick look and a guess, I needed was just another UFO sighting of birding.  Was that my birthday bad thing?  Tormented by a not provable code 4 rarity one bird short of a goal?  It was so typical for my birthday of bad and unsettling things.

I was down past where Aerojet road is blocked off and walked to near some abandoned installation that included flood lights, razor wire and a pretty bad vibe.  I was getting a really bad vibe..."what is this place?"  I said to myself.  I could even sense death.  Yuck!  I saw some odd vultures circling way off.......wait they weren't vultures....

It was a kettle of Swallow-tailed kites!  Eventually one flew my way for a photo op...

bird 500!!!!!!!!!!!  yes!  and on my birthday!  I could thankfully leave this scary place.

Then I got a call from my business partner...Troy.  It was really bad news....They had taken my secretary off in a helicopter to Sioux Falls...brain bleed........shit (I'll just say it, sorry, I said worse than that).  Margaret is like the best woman and the best employee...just about ready to retire, her husband just did and this?  The elation....became....dejection....another birthday disaster. Damn birthdays.

The party was a bit somber, despite the big 5-0 and the bigger 5-0-0, I drank my lifer beer, Monk in the Truck, or something like that, lifer 735, I guess, it just didn't matter...and thought of my poor Margaret.  I had been a long day...a very long day and I was tired of it, the anticipation and the waiting for what bad that was going to happen....sleep is the ultimate cure of bad birthdays, I have learned, so sleep I did.

Morning came and I turned on TV, in the shower, I heard explosions at European airport...crap I ran out naked and son had just landed in a European airport....Brussels...I heard it, again.  Brussels....whew, not Dusseldorf or London...I took a breath..not that I'm glad for them, I'm not... but it didn't involve my son and in cases like this, I'm selfish, sorry....I had a bad feeling about my son flying on my birthday and I had booked the tickets....It is sort of like playing with fate, doing things like that on March 21...I just can't do them.

So I went to Matheson Hammock at dawn to see hopefully short-tailed hawks.  I better focus on this bird.  It is a beautiful park actually, but hawks....I was, though, like a zoo there......parakeets and parrots of different stripes, red-headed, some with yellow on their faces, or maybe those were parrots IDK, and these

Blue and Yellow macaws...really?  There was just bat-sh&5t crazy stuff there, I couldn't figure out what some of it was, but all of it was nothing I could officially count, so I didn't even photograph a couple of species of parakeet I've never seen.

I ran into a birder.  He ignored my parakeet call as some really exotic flock cruised by but when I mentioned I'd only seen a pair of mynas as the only countable bird he replied..."where?"  I pointed and he literally ran.  Mynas...?  Hadn't he been to Florida City or a McDonald's?  Whatever.  The Opossum wandered by again and wandered is the correct term, and then the birder came back and had missed the mynas and wanted to know how to get across the road. How does the birder cross the road. I had on my monogrammed shirt and looked official...for Smoothrock camp, Ontario.  I had no clue where anything was.

I walked around a bit, and the mynas were still on the same dead tree....I looked back at the birder across the lake and then I went and found the trail across the road like the map go across the road...did he not look?  I finally gave up and started to head to the Lucky Hammock area near the glades.  I wanted to look for that dove.

There are five warblers that I consider chase warblers.  All will be buggers for me to get.  Living in South Dakota and being generally from extreme NW Wisconsin, I have not birded the southeast and as such SE warblers dominate this "big" five.  People all worry about Connecticut warblers, heck, they nest in my grandmother's and, I guess now, my swamp, so I just got to wait until they show up in May.  These are the tough ones, and my history with them...Hooded (seen 2 both Florida keys), Kentucky (once Oklahoma), Swainson's (once Florida), Hermit (once Oregon and not very well), and Cerulean (2 times MN and Dry Tortugas FL).  I have to chase prothonatory warblers to La Crosse...about 250 miles one way but I know exactly where to go and it is on the way to my red-headed woodpecker spot and not far from my Henslow's sparrow spot, so now I have deleted that bord from my toughie list.  The Kentucky is really bad as I don't even have a plan for that bird, I just hoped to run into one in south Texas.

Then I get a text...Kentucky Warbler...Bahia Hondo...from Theresa....crud, why did I go to Matheson Hammock?  Then another...Hooded warbler....I texted her back..."you are stabbing me in the gut and twisting the knife"  Then she asked if I had the hawk yet..."NO!"  I responded.

I went back through Florida City and checked out the spot of the odd dove but it wasn't there.  I looked for hawks, none, not even the red-shouldered, I searched for even the western kingbird seen here, which is a backyard bird and then frustrated I said why am I wasting my time on that?  I got some lunch and headed for the keys.

I had noticed that Dagny Johnson Park was closed tight on the 21st which is a good spot for yellow-billed cuckoos, not sure why it is closed, I hope not for good.  I always think driving the Card Sound road is good potentially for birds but it never is ...and it just costs me a buck and typically I get frustrated by the gobs of unexplainable traffic coming from the eastern end of Old 1, usually jamming up the toll road at the booth.  I was near the Crocodile Lake NWR buildings which aren't open to the public when on the south side of the road I spotted a hawk about ten feet up in the tree, it was precariously perched on a small cut branch and had a wing out, and even made me think it had been hit. It was a dark phase...juve short-tailed hawk!  Crap, it matched a picture I had stopped on my phone during a picture search at Matheson when I was sitting on a picnic table wasting time, hoping for a fly-over. Sh%t!  I said as I slammed on the brakes and being no real shoulder of the road and with the truck I needed something to turn into, so I drove ahead 100 feet and then let a car pass me before I swung around.  Unfortunately, thoughts of injury were made it out of there quite easily.  I looked up and drove back to the where I could see if it flew east a little, but I never spotted anything, dang, no picture.

I drove with the traffic jam to Bahia west of Marathon.  Bahia is basically a beach park, it is small, narrow, tight on parking, and sometimes like today the access gate is too close to Hwy 1 and a bit dangerous to turn into.  It can be a bugger finding parking there, and there really isn't much to bird IMHO.  The park owes its existence to Florida moving the highway north and abandoning in 1972 one of the coolest and probably unsafest bridges on the Overseas Highway, the over-under former railway trestle over the Spanish channel.

One of the many things from the 60s I missed out on is driving on this.  I think old bridges are cool and some of these made getting to Key West a miracle in its own right.  Driving a 1962 Galaxie like my old one, pulling a Rol-lite Travel trailer like those made in Grantsburg WI would have been an adventure.

There is some terrain here, on the sides of the old road bed as it goes up to the old bridge it has sea grapes and that was where they saw the warblers on the leeward side.  But alas I could only find a couple of butterbutts...and two common ground doves and a rather suspicious sneering college co-ed group....I almost was ready to say, hey girls...I may be old, and ugly but heck, I can take a year off to go birding on the they rolled their eyes and walked on.  I got the same looks when I was 21.

Where did the warblers go?  I looked the beach side and then about to give up, I saw a butterbutt (yellow rumped) in a tree, then I looked closer, then closer and there was a female painted bunting under the bush, and so soon was I on my knees, peering, lurking in a bush, one of those beach guys mothers warm children about.  Now I think I have exceeded my tolerance on lurking.  Here I am, in the middle of a tree, with a camera and on the beach side of the tree maybe 25 feet away are those girls and in not much with more girlfriends and here am I.  A mother with her 7 year old walked by and the kid stopped and the mother saw him stop and looked at me and made that "Oh my God!" face and pushed her son back towards the trail.  The bugs ate me from every direction and now even on unexposed flesh.  The ranger drove by not once but four times but didn't give me grief, and it took that long to get the birds and the shots.

hooded warbler

Kentucky  warbler

Wow...2 of the big 5!

The birding gang was back at Long Key so I decided it was prudent to go, so I did, maybe I'd see another warbler...

I ran into them in the parking lot, Liz from Massachusetts had come in and had gotten the dove and they were out to find the grassquit although that never happened.

at the turn off on the boardwalk I stopped.  I could sense something or heard it, IDK.  I had learned to look down on the ground at Bahia and so I did again and there it was a Swainson's plain as day and then it turned and walked away slowly.  I grabbed for the camera and just like the golden crowned at Refugio, I lost was like it vanished.  This bird never said anything, was on the ground, I could appreciate if this the way they act why they are so hard to see.  That was a fist bump moment...another tough one down.  504!

The Zenaida dove was back at it's usual confines on the Golden Orb trail near the beach access, I saw it both days I was here.
A code five and it is just an incidental bird...LOL
Zenaida dove (again)

I heard that the prayer warrior Margaret was improving quickly, the bleed 3  cm and she was talking, talking about work!  The best employee ever....everyone was now praying for her and it was helping...I felt better.  We ate at Mrs. Macs and then I went to my room

I had expected that due to the Brussels attacks and all the hype on extra security on the Miami news that I better get to the airport earlier than usual for my 745 flight out of Miami.  There were also two road closures I had to contend with, one without a detour, but there was no traffic at all, and when I got to security, not only was there no extra security, no armed people like they said on TV, but the person on the Xray screening was so asleep apparently they let through a full waterbottle I had forgotten to empty....go figure...It gave me two extra hours in the Delta lounge to write this.

The Delta Sky Club is next to Victoria's Secret...waiting for 5 am opening I watched the Victoria's video display in it's entirety, some of those frilly things just don't look too practical, generally, I think less to nothing is better....I also concluded that it isn't the underwear us men want, it is the women in the underwear, we want.  But like most fantasies, those are women we will never have just like those, 20 year old somethings at Bahia giving me the stink eye.  Those were women I couldn't get even when I WAS 20.

At least when I dream about grouse, grassquits, and hooded warblers, those are attainable goals, and maybe now over 50, and AARP eligible, I need to be happy with what I can get.  With that in mind, I guess, I'll go and get some grouse in Colorado.....

81 days to get 500, but if this was a baseball season, I would have just completed the exhibition part, exhibition sets you up but in reality doesn't mean much but can ruin it all.  I didn't do anything to screw up the year but the real season of birding was now upon me and with it I needed every bird...every single one.  I would be a long hard three months until I could take a break and then wait if I had positioned myself for Alaska. and the playoffs...I had done nothing yet....but at least now I am 50...


Big Year Total:  504
Coded birds:  36
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal, gray whale, California sea lion, pronghorn, porcupine, sea otters, Island gray fox, ringtailed cat, opossum

Miles driven.  16,300
Flight Miles 57,300
flight segments: 56   Different Airports: 27
Hours at sea: 25
Miles walked 88
Miles biked 2
states/ prov. birded:19

493. white-winged parakeet
494.  Red-whiskered bulbul

Florida City
495. Common myna

Lucky Hammock/ Frog Pond SNA
496.  Eastern whip-poor-will
497.  Chucks-will-widow

Long Key SP
498.  American Redstart
499.  Black-faced Grassquit (4)

Lucky Hammock/ Frog Pond SNA

***500.***  Swallow-tailed Kite


Key Largo

501.  short-tailed hawk

Bahia Hondo SP

502.  Hooded  Warbler
503.  Kentucky warbler

Long Key SP

504.  Swainson's warbler

thanks all



  1. Time to do a world tour of women after this big year. I am sure if you pay enough you can start checking them off the life list. ;)

    1. i can't figure out the one i have, no one else is going to put up with me, and when she throws me out i will be broke destitute lonely and probably sleeping under a bush in the keys somewhere, looking mournfully for a cuban pewee

    2. i will be mumbling, why Rangel, why? if id only gone to ...woman of the world...yea, right....that ain't going to ever happen

  2. I am not going near the most recent comments!!
    Congrats on the grassquit, and happy b day.
    I am sure you won't have to worry about or look forward to your 800th ABA bird matching the birthday with the same first two numbers!!

  3. That 65 birds away I may never want to bird again after this year. Yea. All that soul searching and we want to talk about chasing women and bratty spoiled girls in a bmw

  4. Looks like you won't need to come down to the scenic Mississippi Palisades for Hooded and Kentucky; congrats!

    1. just happy to get the KY warbler off the board, I really didnt have a plan for that bird

  5. Nice milestone. Likely the fastest birder to 500 in a Big Year. A great WI spot for Cerulean (and Kentucky) Warblers is Wyalusing State Park south of Prairie Du Chien. This park is a favorite among Wisconsin birders. Great for the above mentioned species along with Prothonotary Warblers, cuckoos, Acadian Flycatcher and other southern birds that just reach the northern part of their range. If you do a LaCrosse trip it's not too far beyond if you still need the Cerulean. Good birding. Thanks for sharing. -Mark Korducki

    1. Goose Island in LAX is my prothonotary Spot, in fact the only spot in ABAdom, I've ever seen that bird, but multiple times, and seen Acadians there too so not too far south, yea, my Red headed woody spots are in Cedar rapids OR Neceedah NWR, Henslow's spot is in Cottage Grove MN so i start there, warbler hunt the river to LAX, then either over to Neceedah or south to Cedar Rapids depends on next spots, by assume will go east to get kirtland's so PDC might be a good place to think about, thx......I grew up in the shadow of Crex up north and went to college in Ripon so Horicon and Berlin meadows are old standbys but never birded SW WI much even when lived in Iowa

    2. For some reason, saw red-headed woodpeckers every day or nearly so as a kid in NW Wisconsin but I went to college and have never seen one north of Eau Claire since.....

    3. A few other suggestions, depending on where your travels take you:

      Prothonotary Warblers are reliable (and easy to find) nesters at the campground of Chichaqua Bottoms, northeast of Des Moines, IA

      I have NEVER dipped on Henslow's Sparrow at Goose Lake Prairie State Park in Morris, IL, just SW of Chicago. If you end up driving to get the Kirtland's, this would be an easy stop as you swing around Lake Michigan.

  6. If, for some reason, you're in Chicago, we can get you Henslow's a lot closer than Goose Lake (which is a great spot, of course, Frederick is right). And Red-headed close by, too, but I'll bet you get both without a problem at your spots. However, if you end up with a layover at O'Hare and Midway we could make productive use of the time. Near southwest suburbs (our Palos area) for both; easily within an hour of either airport.

    1. thanks Joe, Thx Frederick...will but it in the contingency plans, I have been avoiding Midway and Southwest since the near calamity at the airport some weeks back and haven't done ORD yet. One doesn't know the future.... red-headed doesn't worry me, Neceedah is lousy with them although don't need Whoopers. There is a sleeper Yellow rail spot just east of there in Green lake County WI and not sure if I want to try or not......skulky birds like Henslow's are always a worry

  7. If you want a closer Prothonotary, I've found them quite regularly on the Mississippi River in Brooklyn Park, MN, just below the Coon Rapids Dam, the last two years. I found one pair's nest last June.

    That's just about ten miles upstream from downtown Minneapolis.

    1. Another 20 miles north of there and Red-headed Woodpeckers are thick at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Reserve in East Bethel, MN. Most of the site is closed, but there's a public path right by tons of nests along the south shore of Fish Lake. Good in June.

  8. Florida Break is over. Back to real work. More birds, cold, snow, grouse, Rosy finches, more snow, more cold, more work.


Merry Christmas 2022

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