24 January (Sunday): Well, I was on the job for the Green-breasted Mango (hummingbird) at 7:15 this morning, but hearing a few doubters in the crowd, and also beginning to suspect that it was a Buff-bellied Hummingbird, and that the GB Mango never existed. Buggah. I continued at the stakeout til noon, but after hearing that the Blue Bunting in Sth Texas was seen yesterday - a second sighting, I made the decision to book a flight to Brownsville and get there fast. So three hour drive to Ft Meyers, then a connecting flight to Houston for a two hour layover, before boarding for final leg to Brownsville. The plan is to score the Aplomado Falcon for sure, and to take a gamble that the Blue Bunting actually exists, and that I can find it. Since I’m sort of running out of January rarities to chase, I figured it wasn’t a totally whacky plan.
In the mean time sad news concerning the sensational Ivory Gull that I finally saw a few days ago had come in. Despite getting fed by keen local birders, it’s reportedly in a weakened state, unable to stand long, and drooping a wing. It is expected to die tonight. Very sad ending for a brave little bird. And a metaphor for what’s happening to this endangered arctic species that depends on pack-ice scenarios that are rapidly disappearing. This seems to be the pattern playing out throughout bird-world. Most of the birding ‘hot-spots’ I’ve visited in the US so far are tiny vestiges of what existed in previous centuries, and tiny islands of life in a surrounding sea of bland biological sameness. Sth Texas and Sth Florida are basket-cases, but for those tiny bits of remaining natural environment. An exception is Arizona, which seems to have been less exploited/exploitable. Of course we Australian birders know about shrinking islands of healthy habitat - its apparently universal. My Australian birding big years were bittersweet experiences, traveling hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometers through overgrazed, over burnt and over feline-f@#ed expanses for vestiges of relatively healthy environments. As Robyn used to say when she joined me on some of the big inland and northern drives “There’s smoke ahead - we must be coming up to a National Park."
25 January (Monday) Got to Laguna Atascosa at the late time of 8:30 and began looking for the Blue Bunting around the visitor centre. That’s after getting lost trying to find the place, and nearly loosing it when I got to a ‘You have arrived at your destination’ in the middle of nowheresville, after the road to hell. The half hour drive from Brownsville hotel took an hour and a half. No early sign of the bunting, so when the volunteer guides at the reserve told me they were going to the Aplomado ‘staging area’, where I’d hoped to go for best chance of seeing one of the dozen or so Aplomado Falcons on the reserve, I jumped at it. And though we were forbidden from getting near the artificial nesting setup, I had descent scope views of three birds that are second or third generation representatives of the reintroduced prairie-hunting falcon. Back on the job for the bunting for the rest of the day, but no luck. Back again the next morning (26th), and though my year-list of common birds ticked along nicely, by 10AM I was restless, so checked the Internet rarities sightings sites. Boom! Shining Cowbird, a Caribbean vagrant at someone’s feeder in Florida City - not 5 miles from the Green-breasted Mango site. Damn! So I raced back to Brownsville for a 7PM flight back to Florida. The important thing that popped up on the web was a report of a Smooth-billed Ani from north of Miami.
Following three images, in order, are Aplomado Falcons at the Laguna Atascosa Texas reintroduction station; Shiny Cowbird - a Caribbean species, also in human context, at Larry Manfredi’s bird feeder in Florida City, Florida (also in picture, bigger birds - Red-winged Blackbird and Common Grackle; and one of the best birds for me so far, Smooth-billed Ani, technically a cuckoo species, and reputedly always in a state of disheveled appearance, near Boynton Beach, Florida.
ALSO, Finally got a photo (at Miami Airport) with one of my childhood hero - Bill Haast of the Miami Serpentarium, compliments of a punter.
Rarities to date:
1 Streak-backed Oriole Yuma, Arizona 1 January
2 Rufous-backed Robin Phoenix Arizona 1 January
3 Tufted Duck Long Island New York 3 January
4 Black-headed Gull Brooklyn, New York 3 January
5 Pink-footed Goose Hartford, Connecticut 3 January
6 Western Spindalis Miami, Florida 5 January
7 Northern Jacana Santa Ana Reserve, Texas 7 January
8 Clay Colored Robin Weslaco, Texas 7 January
9 Crimson Collared Grosbeak Weslaco, Texas 8 January
10 Tropical Parula Weslaco, Texas 8 January
11 Siberian Accentor Vancouver, British Columbia 12 January
12 Redwing, Vancouver Island, British Columbia 13 January
13 Common Pochard Kodiak, Alaska 14 January
14 Steller’s Eider Kodiak, Alaska 14 January
15 Black-tailed Gull Carlyle, Illinois 16 January
16 Golden-crowned Warbler Refugio, Texas 17January
17 Flame-coloured Tanager Refugio, Texas 17January
18 Black-capped Gnat-catcher Florida Canyon, Arizona 18 January
19 Rufous-crowned Warbler Florida Canyon, Arizona 19 January
20 Ruddy Ground-dove Yuma, Arizona 20 January
21 Ivory Gull Duluth, Minnesota 21 January
22 Brambling ?? Ohio 22 January
23 Flamingo Bunche Beach, Florida 23 January
24 Aplomado Falcon, Laguna Atascosa Reserve, Texas 25 January
25 Shiny Cowbird Florida City, Florida 27 January
26 Smooth-billed Ani Muccisuki (spell) reserve, Florida 27 January
Barnacle Goose, a sweet victory after failing in both NY and Connecticut in early days - a prime reason why I was so down.