Frustrated update – 15 February (and continuing to 22 Feb)

Written on 15th ish:

The East Coast winter pelagic trips out of Hatteras are largely about seeing a Great Skua. Brian Patteson’s trips to Gulf Stream are famous for lots of tube-noses in Spring to late Summer, and I’ll be on as many of those as I can I’m currently signed up for six. Also ten west coast trips. I wanted to make the late Summer early Fall trips off California with Debbi Shearwater, but for some reason  she has delayed her trip dates for more than three months since I first approached her, and I can’t wait any longer to make bookings with the opposition. So I’ve done that now.

So how did I go on my first American pelagic? Well, I didn’t get sick – that’s always a plus. But of course my preventative measures didn’t help my mental acuity in any way. We started out looking good – there were Razor-bills and a couple of Dovkies. Eventually we saw one, then another Northern Fulmars. There was no swearing this time.

It was very very cold, and I’ll admit to hanging out in the enclosed cabin with the masses from time to time. The last time was when we were just 6 miles from dock, late in the afternoon. Brian Patteson, the captain and bird expert called out on intercom from his elevated ‘bridge’ “Great Skua – everybody get on deck!”. All of us, got onto the deck in the right place looking the right direction. I saw nothing. There were no exclamations of ‘there it is!’, and Brian declared that it must have landed.

I’m currently on a flight from Norfolk Virginia, after the three-hour drive that it takes to get from or to Hatteras launching site, to Miami. I’m going to put tomorrow into trying for the Black-faced Grassquit on Long Key, then pick up Robyn from Miami Airport when she arrives in early evening. She and I will then do a couple of days cleaning up southern Florida winter birds, the off to Duluth for two days of guided owl-search. After that we go to Newfoundland for a few days, then all the way back across the continent to Vancouver Island for the Skylark and various northern birds, including owls. Hopefully we’ll then have a couple of days near San Francisco to try for the Ruff that’s been there for a couple of weeks.

Here’s current update Friday avo 19th Feb on flight from Miami to Duluth Minnesota

I put in a big day looking for the Grassquit on Long Key. The two reports of the bird were both very sketchy – as is the norm for rarity reports here. One of the unfortunate differences between Australian and US birding is that because there are (at least) 20 times as many birders here, there isn’t any centralised, inclusive online community. So, for example, if I want to find a Boreal Chickadee (a cold country bird that should be easier in the winter), where do I start looking? Basically there isn’t a starting point. Can’t find most recently reported individuals, unless I go state to state through the discussion groups, do a search, and get lucky. So far I ain’t getting too lucky that way. So, its not really a whinge, but I must say, the enormity of the hobby over here has its advantages and disadvantages for twitchers. Well, maybe we should call it a whinge. The paucity of info for the Grassquit was very frustrating! Compare that (two tiny statements more or less “Black-faced Grassquit at Long Key State Park”) to the stuff on Aussie discussion groups re, say, Oriental Honey-buzzard.

OK, after that wasted 8 hours of walking in search of a bird that I don’t think was there, I picked up Robyn at Miami International, and we got to bed just short of midnight. Wednesday morning we began my second day of guided birding for the year – again with likeable Larry Manfreddi, who as expected has nice little special spots for key Florida species. We chased four or five of these, and did find: White-winged Parrot (and untickable close relative Yellow-chevroned Parrot), Nanday Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bul-bul (noticeably different ssp than the birds in my front yard in Ourimbah), and Mangrove Cuckoo (suwwweeeete!). Also saw new birds for my list in Egyptian Goose. A good night’s sleep, with Robyn surprisingly adapting to time-zone changes seemingly instantaneously, and we set out to settle score with a bird I’d missed back in early January, and the day before with Larry – Spot-breasted Oriole. SBOR is an introduced species from nearby Bahamas, and looks very similar to native Orioles. We got to ‘the’ place for the species – Markham Park, not far out of Miami, where most people saw it when chasing the vagrant Western Spindalis that I saw in early January. The Spindalis, also from Bahamas – but a natural vagrant was twitched by a kazillion US birders from about Christmas until it disappeared a few weeks ago. The park is very popular with punters, and seems to be a contstant buzz of activity. Robyn and I were on the job at 7:30ish, and before too long I heard a SBOR in a dense stretch of foliage along the busy access road. Immediately after that a seemingly continuous series of loud maintenance vehicles passed by, while a trainee helicopter pilot buzzed around overhead. I lost the bird. I hung around for maybe ten minutes, but no more singing. Robyn agreed to wait and see/hear what happened, while I went off for a hike/wade through recently inundated well vegetated area nearby where the birds have been seen in the past. When I returned empty handed about 20 minutes later, Robyn was in a lather, waving me over. A pair of the ‘feral’ Orioles had popped up onto a bare branch minutes after I’d split, and had been there, seemingly waiting my return ever since. As soon as I saw the birds they jumped and flew over to the flooded orchard-like area I’d just left. Fortunately the stopped for a brief period along the way, one posing nicely for distant snaps. Whew!

Next day (today, Friday), we got to a neighbourhood south of Miami that sometimes yields White-crowned Pigeons. We got into position well before sunrise, after 45 minutes of surprisingly early, but typical Miami (and anywhere/everywhere-USA!) bumper to bumper.  We never connected with our pigeon, and in fact didn’t see anything of interest. So off to airport and now on four-hour first leg of our trip to Duluth, Minnesota. Excited about our prospects tomorrow for a bunch of boreal and cold COLD country birds. Watch this space.