My friend Shel Severinghaus sadly passed away last week after a difficult bout with cancer. The Severinghaus Family was instrumental in developing my interest in birds, starting in the late 1960’s with trips to southern Florida. Well lucky me, the Temple Owls qualified for a football bowl game to be played in Boca Raton this evening, so I “had” to join Nina down there. Even better, the elusive Western Spindalis (aka stripe-headed tanager), a bird I frustratingly missed in Key West two years ago, was being seen daily in a Ft. Lauderdale area park since Thanksgiving.
The rare bird alerts made it seem like this bird would be easy to locate. However, the alerts didn’t mention that the park was a dog park, a really popular dog park. The combination of playful pups, overhead jets and I-595 traffic made it nearly impossible to listen for or to locate the family of Spot-breasted Orioles with whom the smaller, shy Spindalis tended to associate. After two hours searching a ten acre area by myself with no other birders in sight, I was beginning to feel the pressure of my promise to be “back by lunch”. Fortunately, a birder from Minnesota and another fellow from Tampa showed up. We quickly divided up the territory and within minutes the orioles were spotted.
I had not seen a Spot-breasted Oriole since the one that nested in Shel’s father’s Coconut Grove, Fla yard…..in 1969! And just as promised, the Orioles were a true harbinger for North American life bird #707. A beautiful male Western Spindalis peeked out of the foliage for a moment and I shot off a barrage of digital ammo. A Spindalis in honor of Severinghaus….truly fitting.