Sunday, December 6, 2020

RVing in the time of COVID 10: Side trips to the Conch Republic.

We made it to our next parking location, a campsite we are buying near Lutz, Florida.  I had barely gotten set up before packing the car and heading south for needed birds.  For weeks, two birds I needed had been reported in and near Key West.  I thought it would be a fortuitous event, to not only get one bird but two, unfortunately, in a period of three days, I would be making two 450 mile one-way trips to the southern point of the continental US.

As it would turn out the ABA (American Birding Association) would be making their listing criteria, consistent.  Ever since they added Hawaii to the listing area, there have been inconsistencies.  Many birds in Hawaii are exotics and when they added Hawaii, they added these species.  Well, some of these birds have established themselves on the mainland, too, but are not on the "Continental" list, so this summer the ABA came out with a list showing which birds that are in HI have established populations.  One of these I wrote about before, the Key West Chicken, or Red Junglefowl is the USA's longest established exotic population of birds, and had been ignored to be on the list, well, now it is on the list, as is Rose-ringed parakeet (California and Naples), red-vented bulbul (Houston), and Indian peafowl (California and Florida).  Your list is your list, you can add these HI exotics in other US established populations or not, but for me, I like being consistent so I can compare myself to others, so now each of these birds can be added to my list, (I have seen all of them in HI already).

So I met up with Larry Manfredi as I told him, misery loves company, and birding together is more fun than by yourself.  I drove down to Florida City and slept in the first motel I had during the whole pandemic, I had to Clorox the place, but I slept a little before meeting Larry at dawn.  One bird, the red-legged thrush, a Cuban subspecies of the species (it may eventually be split from the Bahamas resident subspecies seen in Florida too) which had been seen at the Key West Botanical Gardens, a place that only opens at 10AM, so at 10:01 I paid the $20 for two admissions and we went in to the stakeout.  We waited, and waited, and we waited.

So, standing there I got distracted by other things:

The Florida duskywing, is a species of spread-winged skipper that is limited entirely to habitat within the Keys.  This female has purplish wings.  This butterfly has declining numbers and a limited range.  It was nice to see them.

Lifer butterfly nabbed I then got my Key West Chicken, bird #808.

So....we waited, waited, ....waited...waited some more...waited....I saw a year bird, a worm-eating warbler, playing peek-a-boo, and then we waited....

Some other butterflies:
Cassius blue

Mangrove skipper

three-spotted skipper

So after six hours, we bailed on the thrush and drove up to Big Pine Key and the "Blue Hole" to look for another potential lifer bird, which as soon as we arrived was pointed out to us, and in seconds, I was taking pictures of the Cuban Pewee.  

Lifer bird #809, Cuban Pewee

I had seen one of Little San Salvador Is. in the Bahamas in 2019, so it wasn't my world lifer, but it was a good bird and fun to watch for a while.  Larry and I then toured the neighborhood,  Hurricane Irma central, the island is coming back pretty nice.  I understand the ravishes of Irma as it was the same storm that nit our homes on St. Martin.  The endangered Key deer are still lounging around.

The nicest Key Deer buck, I've ever seen.

Then we saw our goal, free-ranging, self-supporting, Indian peafowl, peacocks, hanging around, acting just like the Key deer, relaxed, also hurricane survivors.  Chickens, peacocks, and...pewees, a strange listing day, but worthwhile, so we headed back.

Indian peafowl, lifer #810

I was back in Tampa at midnight, and zonked out.  As luck would have it, the thrush was found again on December 3rd, and the 4th, irritating me, and then at 3PM on the 4th, an even better bird--A ruddy quail-dove.

So a few hours later I was driving south all night to be at Ft Zachary Taylor at 8am opening.  I have experience with chasing quail-dove species.  I learned some things.
1) they are hard to find
2) if you don't find them when a park first opens, the skulky devils will either flush or just sit tight and it is only dumb luck when seeing them.  a park like Ft Taylor is busy so if not looking at 8:05 you will miss your chance.
3) everyone will be there.  I could feel people flying south already from any point you could get to Miami by midnight (the last flight)
4) COVID be damned, no one will care about that 
5) they are creatures of habit so focus on where it was

So I arrived at 7:48, and here is the line waiting for "Reveille" at the nearby military base, then the gate opened.
There were 20 cars behind me, people on bicycles, and a car tried to sneak in from the wrong lane, it was crazy, the check in lady was overwhelmed and was trying to give everyone a map, everyone knew exactly where they were going and she was just slowing us down...but a moment later, the hammock was full.  I was on stakeout just above where the bird had been "put to bed," Other birders were there barefoot, birders with dogs, babies, on flip flops, some hardly dressed, some over dressed, and some well, ....I digress.  I was recognized by many birders, one wanted to talk too loudly but I was trying to stay alert, seeing this bird is NOT easy and a bird chaser only talks after the bird is seen, some times to the annoyance of late comers trying to see the bird for the first time.  We walked in and looked in the leaf litter and well, we all saw least the rain stayed away.   Birders had driven from Tennessee all night, flown in from Texas, and Northeast....and all of these guys had seem the other birds on the Keys still hanging around.

The quail dove was never seen all day.  A rumor was going around that it was found by someone using heat signature technology and then spotted by looking.  I don't know if that is true but if so, was both fascinating and scary, scary that I may have to buy that equipment.  At 10 AM I braved a surprisingly crowded Duval Street and town and went to the thrush stakeout rained...and rained.  Then after two hours everyone there disappeared but the rain had stopped, I smelled something.  The old "skua birder" in me made me walk out and see what was up, then I got a text, a text from someone on the dove stakeout six miles away, that they had found...the THRUSH,  I laughed to myself as I ran to the entrance where I saw everyone.

"OOPS!"  A man from Alaska said who I had met birding in Alaska years before,  "We forgot Olaf."  

But then a birder I has chased a LaSagra flycatcher with before in Miami showed me the bird and all was well.  I got photos and bird #811, Red-legged thrush a rather handsome avian specimen, the subspecies from Cuba or Puerto Rico

Birders from the dove stakeout filtered over and after a while I began the 7 hour drive home, or at least back to my RV.  This was world lifer bird #1504, #864 for the expanded ABA list , the numbers just keep growing 

So it was good I had a backup bird...
four days, four lifer listed birds and a lot of miles....COVID, the Keys were getting busy.....everyone down here looks to be saying screw it, too bad, and glad I didn't have any one outside of the birders I had contact with.

Despite everyone here, stay safe, wear a mask, and mavbe stay home, but I didn't stay home so saying that would make me a hypocrite 



  1. good read, Olaf. Check your #805. Crescent-chested Warbler

  2. Thx, fixed, spelling is such an underrated skill


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