This past Saturday, I traveled south to Jonathan Dickinson State Park (map) with Camille to have a look at the Smooth-billed Ani that had been reported there over the past several weeks. In fact, earlier this year a Smooth-billed Ani was reported at the nearby Loxahatchee area, so this may have been the same bird. The park is also near Jupiter and Hobe Sound, and this was my first visit to the area.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park comprises a large area of ancient sand dunes covered in mixed scrub vegetation. Some of the dunes are relatively high. In fact, the highest elevation south of Lake Okeechobee (well, its nothern limit anyway) is Hobe “Mountain”, at 26 meters (86 feet) above sea level.
It isn’t evident in my photos, but the park is fighting several invasive plant species. The most visible is Love Vine, which covers large areas of the scrub. It’s a bright orange vine that looks like spaghetti has been draped over the other plants. The only thing that slows its growth is prescribed fire. There was evidence of at least 2 large fires in both the state park and the Hobe Sound NWR. The native plants are fire tolerant. In fact, many rely on fire for their life-cycles.
Much of the morning was spent staking out an area in front of a pond feature where the bird was most frequently seen. We met with Edna, from New Jersey, who had made the trip specifically to see the bird (later on her husband and son also arrived). She had a sound recording of the calls it was making a day or so prior, and had some tips for where else to look.
The weather was mostly overcast and quite breezy. I know from this past winter that the Groove-billed Anis that were at Lake Apopka were very keen to stay out of sight during the very brisk field trip I attended during the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival.
A short while later, I did catch sight of a large-ish black bird low in the dormant vegetation along the pond. It was the right size and shape for an Ani, but the glimpse was so brief that it was not possible to tell what it was.
Paul Huber came by, too and we saw him a few times near the gazebo by the road near the pond. It’s nice to see familiar faces when you’re out, especially in new places.
Camille also caught a very brief glimpse of a bird in there, but as there were several Gray Catbirds in the same area, it was not conclusive. The breeze kicked up more as the day wore on, likely pinning the Ani down in the dense brush.
We walked part of a Mountain Bike loop, both tp get a feel for the park and to perhaps get a better angle where the bird may have been. In the course of that walk, we did see some birds, including Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Palm Warblers, a Northern Flicker, some Red-bellied Woodpeckers and a Florida Scrub-Jay.
The ani had also been seen in the nearby campground, so we walked over and had some tantalizing glimpses of some warbler species and what I am sure was a Scarlet Tanager. I had one good look at the bird in profile: dull yellow with black wings, no wing bars, and a stout bill. It was the right size and shape for a tanager, but mid-November would be VERY late for this species in that area.
We broke for lunch at the Time To Eat Diner restaurant in Tequesta, FL (a very comprehensive menu!) and visited the neighboring Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge. They have a nice nature center there that purportedly has a Red-tailed Hawk and a Barred Owl on display; however, they were having a “day off” when we were there. We hiked one of the loop trails among the dunes there and saw an American White Pelican, more gnatcatchers and a Pine Warbler, among a few others.
We took the walk up to Hobe Mountain and had a look around at the expanse that is Jonathan Dickinson State Park and the adjacent Loxahatchee River and Cyprus Creek Natural Areas.
We checked back with Edna and her husband and son by the pond, but the Ani still had not shown itself. We spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for the bird to show, but there was no evidence it was anywhere nearby.
While there, we did see an American Kestrel, a Merlin, a Bald Eagle and several more woodpeckers. An Eastern Phoebe was working the pond edge along with several more Palm Warblers.
Eventually we had to call it a day. Here are links to the eBird lists and a comprehensive list of all the birds we saw on Saturday.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park:
Hobe Sound NWR:
- Little Blue Heron
- Green Heron
- Double-crested Cormorant
- American White Pelican
- Turkey Vulture
- Northern Harrier
- Bald Eagle
- Spotted Sandpiper
- Common Ground-Dove
- Mourning Dove
- Belted Kingfisher
- Red-bellied Woodpecker
- Northern Flicker
- Pileated Woodpecker
- American Kestrel
- Eastern Phoebe
- Florida Scrub-Jay
- Fish Crow
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Gray Catbird
- Northern Mockingbird
- Palm Warbler
- Pine Warbler
- Scarlet Tanager
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Common Grackle
That’s the way it works sometimes. It was a good reminder that the birds are not there primarily for our enjoyment or edification. They are living out their lives and we should feel privileged to have the opportunity to observe and record them. Whenever I feel the urge to crash through the brush or run through a thicket in pursuit of a bird (especially a rarity or a life-bird), I try to check myself. We should never let our zeal for any bird cause us to scare, stress or damage wildlife. It can be hard sometimes, I know.