What adventure this weekend was!  Kurt and Cindy Radamaker and I set off to
bird the keys and Tortugas to get a jump on the Caribbean strays.  We headed
south Saturday morning, starting our birding at John D. McArthur State Park.
There were a few birds there, but not much going on.  Indigo bunting (heard
only) in the parking lot was probably our best bird.  We decided to head
straight to the keys and start birding in the upper keys.  We skipped over
the Key Largo Botanical Site, D'oh!  Stay tuned to the RBA to see what I
mean.  In Upper Matecumbe, we birded around a neighborhood with much the
same results as earlier in the day.  We did see a Scissor-tailed flycatcher
on top of a tree and a dark-morph Short-tailed hawk flying over.  We tried
several sites mentioned in the Pranty guide and the Keys birding guide.  Not
much doing.  Late in the day, we saw a few Broad-winged hawks in Marathon.

Once in Marathon, things got interesting.  It seems our room was sold out
from under us and there were no more to be had, holiday weekend.  To make a
long story short, no Tortugas trip, no more keys birding.  We ended up back
in Homestead that night.

We birded the Everglades NP the next day.  We had a perfect day.  We missed
everything.  We tried for the Flamingos at Snake Bight and were greeted by
the lowest tide I've ever seen.  There were many Dunlin,Western,Least
sandpipers in close and some avocets at the limits of visibility.  One of
the Lesser black-backeds was also at the limits of my vision.  Way off to
the west were several bright pink blobs.  A close scrutiny showed that they
were the wrong kind of pink bird (spoonbills.)  Great-white herons
outnumbered Great-blues by about 5:1.  There was an interesting creature
nearby,  At first I noticed something different about it, but then blew it
off as a Great blue heron.  Cindy saw it was different and asked what it
was.  I just kind of glanced over at it and then noticed it wasn't so
normal.  It appeared to be a backcross of a Wurdeman's and Great blue heron.
  It had a white face and white plumes coming off the head.  The legs were a
strange light color.  The rest of the body was basically like a Great blue
heron.  Our next attempt was the Bell's vireo at Eco Pond.  We tried and
tried, but to no avail.  The T/C kingbird at Mahogany Hammock was a no show.
The Royal Palm nature center had more people than Anhingas.  Outside the
park we checked a few roads around outside the park and saw a Western
kingbird on a wire.  We walked along the C111 canal and checked the habitat
for future reference.  Finally, we headed on up to Pompano Beach to miss the
Glaucous gull.  I did get my bimonthly Paul Bithorn sighting.  I'm starting
to wonder about this guy, I think he is following me.  It was here that I
found out about the McGillivray's warbler.  I decided to head back on my own
the next day.

Don't get me wrong, we did get to see some good birds over the two days.
Besides those mentioned, we got two Louisiana waterthrushes on Snake Bight,
eight Scissor-tailed flycatchers flying along the main park road at ENP and
my second dark morph Red-tailed hawk also over the park road.  One of the
dangers of doing a Big Year is that you get jaded.  Only birds that are new
for your list are good and everything else is just a trash bird.  It was a
good weekend and we had a lot of fun even without an influx of year birds.

Monday, on my own, I found out that I hadn't quite hit bottom.  I headed out
for Fern Forest and timed it perfectly to be there when it opened.
Perfectly if it had been near Atlantic Ave, instead of Atlantic Blvd.  Once
I figured out my mistake, managed to overshoot Atlantic Blvd to the south.
Eventually I made it to the park.  That was when things turned around.  I
literally walked down the road and got the bird.  It was calling on along
the road as I walked up.  I did not recognize the call at first and didn't
see the bird very well, so I was not sure.  There were many other folks
present and no one had seen or heard the bird yet.  After several minutes of
searching I decided to head down a little path near where I heard the bird
and sat down to listen.  Within a few minutes, it began calling again and
this time I did recognize it.  It flew up to the main road and I came out
and got a quick look at its head.  The bold white eye arcs were incredibly
obvious on the gray head.  Finally, a year bird.  And what a bird!  Two
years in a row I have gotten this species.  We tried for several minutes to
locate the bird and heard it several times.  It was very difficult to view.
Buoyed by my success I headed out for the Glaucous gull.  The pond north of
the landfill had hundreds of Herring gulls along with a few Lesser
black-backed and Great black-backed gulls.  The Glaucous gull was among them
as well.  It was pretty far out, and I would not venture a guess as to its
age.  I scanned for California or Thayer's gulls but to no avail.

Later, I decided to head up to Palm Beach County to try to scare up some
rare birds of my own.  I scouted the areas along US27 south of South Bay and
headed up to Belle Glade.  Just outside of town I had an interesting hawk
that I thought (hoped) was a Swainson's.  When it finally gave me a look at
its wing shape, it was just a Red-tailed.  I went to the Belle Glade
campground at the end of Canal Street (see Pranty Guide) to poke around see
what was there.  I made my way out to the lake and saw a Snail kite way out.
There were several birds (coots and ducks) out on the lake, but the heat
made it impossible to ID anything.  I headed back down to the county line
and went west to the Holey Land.  Wildlife Management area that is.  The
cane field where my mystery Francolin/pheasant/peacock/Limpkin/Purple
people-eater thing was had been was slashed and burned.  Ah, if only I could
have been there to see what ran out.  I went to the canal on the west side
of the Holey Land WMA and birded my way north along the road.  One of these
days I am going to hit it in the AM.  There are lots of birds to see.  There
was a female Painted buntings and about two dozen Indigo buntings.  There
were a few Grasshopper sparrows and Great-crested flycatchers.  I got
several species of warblers including Pine, parula, American redstart.
There are probably lots more birds out there.  Further up the road in the
cane fields there was a Peregrine falcon.  I stopped at a cane field that
was full of Great blue herons and harriers to look for a Short-eared owl at
dusk.  None to be seen.  Heading back to US 27, after dark, I saw an owl
flying along side me that turned out to be a barn owl.

Overall, it was a fun weekend, and a at least a couple of great birds.

David Simpson
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Sebastian, FL