The spring break plan was always centered around seeing our Miami-based Sarah…the person who originally suggested this birding blog. A trip to the Everglades was sandwiched between South Beach exquisite dinners, retail therapy and even Bikram yoga. Chasing rare birds was honestly not on the agenda but Sarah’s business trip and Nina’s encouragement presented me with an opportunity to race down to the Florida Keys this morning…4am departure to be exact. Two mega-rarities had been consistently seen since mid-February in the same state park that produced lifer #704 (Key West Quail-Dove) last March.
Both of these species are primarily West Indies natives; the Zenaida Dove is a code 5 (seen a few times EVER in North America) and the other mini sparrow-like Black-faced Grassquit is a code 4. Seeing both on the same day is like a baseball player turning an unassisted triple play AND hitting a game-winning home run in the same game.
With directional assistance from a man who had driven 12 hours from Charlotte to guide his two Sacramento friends, we hastily walked a few hundred yards along the Golden Orb path and stopped at the previously marked pink streamer “spot” in the mangroves. We waited less than a minute and gasped expletives as the dove emerged from the jungle into the sandy path and fed at our feet. The white patch distinguishes this bird from any other dove.
The Grassquit was going to be more of a challenge. Besides being only 4 inches, drab in color, and quiet (it was a female), it had not been seen in three days…..and that was in a private RV area. Add the uncooperative park ranger who did not appreciate us in his campground full of “paying customers”, we had a recipe for disappointment. Three hours elapsed, our group grew to more than twenty as folks from Michigan, Texas, and NYC joined the hunt, but there was no hint of the target bird.
I wasn’t going to quit on the Grassquit but I did separate from the group to grab my sunblock from the car. As I applied the lotion I could interpret the body language of excited birders 400 yards away. A short jog at a moderate pace brought me to the spot thirty seconds after the bird was flushed into a tangle of who knows what. Turning away in disappointment, I saw a little olive-gray thing sitting on a water hose contraption next to a RV. Before I could raise my binoculars, the Californians raised their voices and I fired away with the digital zoom and prayed this was our bird. It was a home-run…the score now stands at 709 North American lifetime species.