Clandestine Birding!

June 19, 2017

I had the opportunity to bird some parts of south Florida on two different days this past week. Mrs. Lonely birder booked some travel to Cuba and since she didn’t want her family to worry (especially given the upcoming travel announcement from the executive office), asked me not to let anyone know she was out of the country until her return. I had some fun playing Cloak-and-dagger, hiding my eBird lists and not letting anyone else know where I was, either (I’m easily amused).

My first stop was the Yamato Scrub Natural Area on Tuesday morning to see the Least Grebe that had been reported this month. It took a lot of patience (thanks for that advice, Dave Goodwin), I had success! This species has only been recorded in Florida a few times.

It took a while, but eventually this Least Grebe (and they are small) swam out of the reeds.
The bird was out and visible for about 5 minutes before vanishing into the reeds again.

Here’s my full eBird list for the visit:
Another rare bird had been seen not too far away and I took the opportunity to locate it as well. Reports of a Tropical Mockingbird started coming into the Brdbrain e-mail list, and later confirmations started coming in via eBird a couple of weeks ago. This is a pretty big deal, as there have been no official state records of this bird until now.

The bird was associating with (and reportedly engaging in nest-building activities!) a Northern Mockingbird at some beach parking in Lake Worth. Sure enough, that’s what I found.

This bird was grabbing either berries or insects from the trees and harassing Fish Crows.
Tropical Mockingbirds lack wingbars and have white tail markings restricted to the lower part of the tail.
Like all birds, this one is functionally illiterate, so knows it is always where it belongs.

The bird diversity was a lot lower here, and even the beach seemed devoid of much in the way of wildlife (there’s a large pier with a restaurant on it). The most numerous species were European Starlings and Rock Pigeons, but here’s the eBird list:

When it came time to drive to Ft. Lauderdale to pick up my wife on Saturday, I stopped at Wakodahatchee Wetlands to find a rare but regular visitor there: a Neotropic Cormorant. I was ultimately unsuccessful in locating that bird, but it was fun to see all the chicks and fledglings on the various small island rookeries. There were many Wood Stork chicks, as well as various egrets and herons tending young of all ages.

Many of the Wood Stork youngsters were about ready to fledge.
I think these are Great Egret chicks, given their size and bill color.

There were cormorants around, including several on nests. One nest had at least one small chick, which would poke its head out every once in awhile as a parent protected it from both the sun and the rain (there was a large thunderstorm nearby that held off for the duration of my visit).

Yes, that orange blob just below and left of center is a Double-crested Cormorant chick.
I still get almost mesmerized by the turquoise eyes of cormorants.

I walked the boardwalk twice, hoping the Neotropic Cormorant would come in to roost or feed, but it was not to be. I did have a couple of nice encounters, though. First, an adult Purple Gallinule walked out from under the boardwalk where I was standing, letting me watch it forage for a couple of minutes.

Purple Gallinules are less common than their “Common” cousins, and may be getting displaced by the Grey-headed (or Purple) Swamphen – a recently established feral/escapee species.

Then some quick movements caught my eye a bit further down the boardwalk, and I saw a small, black shape darting among the water plants. A single Purple Gallinule chick was running around. I don’t know if the adult I had just seen was a parent or not, but this is the first time I’ve seen a Purple Gallinule chick at this young of an age.

Gallinule chicks are born precocious, meaning they are alert and mobile within hours of hatching.

As I was photographing the gallinule chick, I heard a Red-wing Blackbird call from nearby. I turned around to see this guy right behind me on the boardwalk railing. He was missing a leg. Sometimes birds (especially shorebirds) will tuck a leg up and keep it concealed, even when hopping about, but this bird was actually missing his leg (when he flew off I saw the remaining stub). But he seemed otherwise quite healthy and was unperturbed by my presence.

This male Red-winged Blackbird was singing and displaying right next to me. He was missing a leg, evident as he flew away a short time later.

I circled around the rest of the boardwalk, and looked one more time for the Neotropic Cormorant, but to no success. The sky darkened some more and rather than risk getting caught in the open during a Florida thunderstorm, I headed for the exit.

Here’s the complete list for Wakodahatchee Wetlands:

Overall, it was a nice couple of days worth of birding in south Florida. It’s always fun documenting rare or new species for an area, as well as seeing familiar faces in different places. Once my wife was home safe and sound I unhid my eBird lists (a dubious endeavor, as it turns out), mission complete!

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