An ABA Area first-ever (Cuban sub-species) code 5 Red-Legged Thrush had been sporadically seen in the Tropical Forest & Botanical Garden in Key West, Florida since October, 2020. Because of Covid, I really had not thought about traveling to try to see this bird. Besides, it wasn’t going to stick around this densely forested 15 acre preserve for very long anyway. Wrong! I was surprised to discover on EBird that this strikingly beautiful thrush was still present as late as March 26th.
Thanks to Southwest Airlines, I was able to leave 40F Omaha and the land of the cranes in the morning and search for the thrush in 85F that same evening. No luck though. The fact it barely vocalizes makes it very difficult to locate this member of the Turdidae Family. It’s a relative of our American Robin.
Six hours in the Tropical Forest the following day, accompanied by birders from California, New Hampshire and Ohio yielded some interesting iguana and migrant warbler sightings but no thrush for us.
Earlier that day, Cornell’s Chris Wood…..as in the creator of EBird….had briefly seen and photographed our bird so we knew it was still present. Oh well, at least I was able to have dinner with my Miami-based daughter, Sarah.
A quick change in travel plans allowed me to spend an extra day looking for this 11”, secretive native of the Caribbean. Miami isn’t exactly next door to Key West but adrenaline from Chris’s EBird post fueled me. One of the California guys, a fellow with the third largest life-list in America, saw the fruit-eater associating with catbirds for a split second near the Butterfly Garden. Then it was gone. Three more hours elapsed and my new birding acquaintances all departed for various reasons.
It was after noon and I wondered how I was going to locate this silent bird on my own before the 4pm closing time. I decided to stay around the Butterfly Garden. A pair of cardinals caught my eye and as I raised my binoculars to check for a nest, I saw a dark shape move high in the tree behind them. I moved my eyepiece to the dark shape and a white throat jumped out at me. Unmistakeable it was the RED-LEGGED THRUSH!
I was able to make it back to Miami in time to have another dinner with Sarah. This has been an incredibly satisfying fun-filled Spring break. And it’s only Wednesday!