Oh, Noooes! Not Again!

November 29th:

We spent three full days in the Miami area looking for new birds for our list and nothing showed up on the rare bird alerts. Then, the day after we left, a Western Spindalis popped up! Why do the birding gods hate us so?

We left our dog with our son in Gainesville early in the year and we were on our way to pick her up, and then head north to visit Renee’s brother’s family in Virginia, when we saw the report of the spindalis on NARBA. Were it not for our nearly depleted budget we could have turned around and driven the 225 miles back down to Miami, but we decided to just grit our teeth, mutter unkind words under our breath, and soldier on to the north.

There is nothing of note on our way, but we are still hopeful that something, ANYthing, will show up where we happen to be, sooner or later. There is an unconfirmed report of a Ruff in Maryland, and if that pans out, we will have something to chase after our visit to VA.

Farther north, we are seeing fairly frequent, but widely scattered, reports of redpolls, Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings (which we missed at Merritt Island NWR), Bohemian Waxwings, and even a Northern Shrike or two. A Northern Lapwing continues in Massachusetts, but we doubt it will wait for us to get that far, and a Pink-footed Goose is still “Down East” in Maine, but we probably won’t drive that far this time around. We’ll have two weeks in New Jersey,New York, and New Hampshire to look for those cold-weather specialties. Let us know if you have any of them near you.

We are still thinking that we can reach 650 ABA-countable birds for our year list. We just need a little luck and some more offerings of cat fur, or something, to the birding gods!

November 30th UPDATE: The Ruff is now confirmed so we drove all day to get to Salisbury, MD tonight. We’ll try for the Ruff in the morning on Saturday before heading back over to VA for our family visit.

Exotics Update

Today’s rush-hour traffic and uninspired landscapes reminded us of why we dislike urban birding. Our exotic chase is at its end.

Since our last post we have added no new species to our total, despite spending another full day and a half diligently searching for our two countable targets and any other non-ABA exotics we could think of. We tried half a dozen suburban parks around Miami for orioles and parakeets and visited the Wakodahatchee Wetlands in Palm Beach County in search of the Purple Swamphen … all to no avail.

Finally, enough was enough and we called it quits. Tomorrow we’ll be going back to “real” birding along the coast in search of an improbable Snow Bunting in the sand dunes of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Here is a pantheon of our exotic finds:

 

 

 

 

We don’t have a photo of the Red-whiskered Bulbul and we chose not to show the common exotics; House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, or Eurasian Collared-Dove. This is just a small selection of the number of exotic birds found in Florida.

Urban Exotics … After All

We have made ourselves plain about our lack of fondness for urban birding to seek non-native species, and yet, it has turned out quite well. Our chase of the Nanday Parakeets near Tampa/St. Pete turned out so well that we decided to brave the South Florida exotic scene too.

We still abhor the traffic and congestion of most big city birding, so we did some careful research on eBird and other sites and chose one main location and a few alternates that should alleviate most of those concerns. Mainly, we decided just to stay out of Miami as much as possible and concentrate on some of the suburbs and ex-urbs that are close to where we are staying in Everglades National Park.

Our main birding site is Baptist Hospital in Kendall, FL. This suburban location has lots of open lawns and large shade trees and palms on the hospital grounds and plenty of well-treed landscaping in the surrounding neighborhood. The area has none of the warnings that we saw for some other urban birding spots: “Don’t let anyone see your expensive binoculars.” “Be aware of your surroundings and where you park.” Best of all, every one of our target species has been seen near the hospital in the past few months.

Our first visit, on Sunday, was very successful. Even before we had parked the car we heard some parrots calling in a line of fruiting palm trees at the south edge of the parking lot. Right away, we recognized that the pitch and quality of the calls were different from the Nanday Parakeets we had recently seen, and sure enough, these birds turned out to be a flock of about 50 Mitred Parakeets. The species is not on the ABA official list but it was nice to see these birds anyway.

After chatting with another birder for a few minutes we started looking for our targets: Spot-breasted Oriole, White-winged Parakeet, and Red-whiskered Bulbul. At first we were not successful and Michael started taking pictures of the Mitred Parakeets. While he was doing that Renee started calling frantically (and in vain) to get his attention. She had just spotted a bulbul feeding on some palm fruit high in a tree! Almost immediately, the other birder came over to tell us he had just seen an unknown oriole nearby. Things were definitely looking up.

We spent the next hour trying to get Michael a look at the bulbul and trying to refind the suspect oriole. Finally, Michael spotted a bulbul in a large oak tree about 50 yards from the palm tree where Renee had seen her bird. It turns out that they were two different birds. Renee had seen an adult and Michael had seen a juvenal-plumaged bird. Unfortunately, neither of us were able to get a picture of our sighting.

We continued searching for our other targets in the neighborhood across 88th Street from the hospital. We saw small groups of Mitred Parakeets and lots of doves, shrikes, starlings, warblers and a Western Kingbird, but no oriole or White-winged Parakeet. We did find one other exotic bird. A Hill Myna was sitting on a wire near some starlings. We had seen the Common Myna in Florida but this was our first Hill Myna. It is not on the ABA list, however.

We looked in Homestead for our target birds in the morning on Monday. We did not see anything new but the exotic parade continued with lots of Common Mynas and some Monk Parakeets. Later, we went back to the Baptist Hospital area and added a pair of Egyptian Geese to the non-native/non-ABA list.

All in all, we have had a very successful exotic search. We’ll continue to seek our remaining countable targets for another day or two before heading north.

Photos will follow.

Parrots in Paradise?

Maybe not, but Black-hooded Parrots (Nanday Parakeets) on the Gulf Coast of Florida is pretty close.

These birds are not on our “official” ABA list but they should be and most likely will be very soon. (Local Audubon Society websites in Florida list the birds as “countable” and it’s just a matter of time before they make the ABA list.) They go on our list as non-ABA but they are in the bank for future additions.

We saw 35 or more of these beautiful birds at Fort DeSoto County Park, near Clearwater/St. Petersburg. They are striking to see, noisy to hear, and fun to watch!

We arrived in Florida after three 500-mile days of driving that were uneventful. We had tried for a couple of birds along the way; nothing new for our list, but trying to fill in a few gaps. Renee had not seen the Greater Pewee in Arizona during the summer so we tried to find the bird at Bear Creek Park in Houston and we tried to see Bachman’s Sparrow, a bird we have on our list from songs heard in the springtime. Unfortunately, we whiffed on both of those efforts. There was nothing else reported, so the driving was all we had to do.

With 1500 miles of fuel costs, our budget shrank to below $500. It would have gone even lower, but we managed to find two nights of no-fee camping to save lodging costs.

We’ll be spending the next few days with family for Thanksgiving and should resume our birding on Sunday or Monday. Stay tuned.

Getting Ready for Our Last Trip of the Year!

We are disappointed that there have been almost no rarities to chase while we have been home so we want to make our last trip as productive as we can.

Our plans include a few days in Florida, some time along the Atlantic coast, and a couple of weeks in the colder climates of New York and New England. (We might even make a quick run up to Oklahoma to look for longspurs before heading east.) Our main targets are the wintering birds we missed last January on our first trip. This winter is shaping up to be very different from the last and we are already seeing reports of many of the target birds we seek. Plus, there are several good rarities hanging around in the northeast US. Whether or not they stick around is a big question, but the fact that they are there now gives us some hope that we will be able to reach our ultimate goal of 650 species for the year.

We are also much better prepared for our last trip than we were for the first. Looking back, we realize that we made many mistakes on that initial effort and we hope not to repeat any of them this time. Let’s hope that “practice makes perfect.”

One issue will be that we have very little money left from our starting budget. Even with the addition from our cash-back bonus awards during the year, we still will start out with only about $600. (We have spent very little during our stay in the RGV; just one tank of gas for the last few weeks. At least our lack of birds has not cost us much money.) We will be staying with relatives for almost all of this last trip, so our costs will be lower than usual, but we will still run out of money before we run out of time. We plan to keep birding, if there is anything left to see, even after the money runs out and our final tally will not be done until midnight on the 31st. We’ll show any extra money spent as being in the red on our Big Year budget.

Having laid the foundation, what exactly are we looking for? Our target list follows. We may not make an effort for each and every bird on this list. That depends on the individual circumstances of where they show up compared to where we are. But these are the birds we still have a good shot to see. You’ll notice that we have left out most of the Atlantic pelagic species. We thought we might try to take a winter pelagic from New Jersey on December 1st, but we decided not to spend our last bit of money on that.

So, here’s the list. If you are in the area and know where to find these birds, please let us know!

  1. Pink-footed Goose (one in Maine right now)
  2. Manx Shearwater (often visible from shore)
  3. Purple Swamphen (not an ABA bird but may be soon)
  4. Northern Lapwing (five (!) in the northeast US right now)
  5. Bar-tailed Godwit (one was on the coast recently)
  6. White-winged/Canary-winged Parakeet (if we decide to chase urban exotics)
  7. Smooth-billed Ani
  8. Northern Shrike
  9. Red-whiskered Bulbul (if we decide to chase urban exotics)
  10. Northern Wheatear (several were in the region but it may be too late)
  11. Bohemian Waxwing
  12. Lapland Longspur
  13. Smith’s Longspur (probably won’t be in its range but we’ll see)
  14. Snow Bunting
  15. Spot-breasted Oriole (if we decide to chase urban exotics)
  16. Common Redpoll
  17. Hoary Redpoll

As you can see, we have plenty of chances to get to 650. We just have to put in the final effort and finish the year strong!

Birds a-poppin’!

The Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival is underway and, as expected, the many eyes of top-notch birders are finding lots of birds.

Except for the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (which we decided not to chase in the interest of saving the $85 per person fee) nothing new for our year has shown up yet, but there have been several rarities and near-rarities (including the owl): Rose-throated Becard, Hook-billed Kite, White-collared Seedeater, Pine Siskin, Ferruginous Hawk, Prairie Falcon ( The last three are rare for the RGV.) and several others.

To follow the bird finds of the festival, visit http://rgvbirds.blogspot.com/ or the BirdFest site: http://www.rgvbf.org/.

The Lazy Birder

After more than 200 days of birding this year we have become a little lazy when it comes to adding new species to our list.

One of the most important lessons of birding is that the more eyes there are searching for birds the more birds are likely to be seen. What that has meant to us lately is that we have been spending less time in the field searching for the rare birds we need to add to our list and more time on the internet looking for reports of those same rarities. We have been a little lazy about finding the birds on our own and have been hoping to see reports by others of birds we still need to chase.

One example was the report of Northern Jacana at Santa Ana NWR. We knew that jacana was a possibility for us home in the RGV but we were not scouring the wetlands every day looking for it. Instead, we hoped it would show up on eBird or NARBA and we could chase it. That’s exactly what happened. Visiting birders from Canada found and photographed an immature jacana at Santa Ana and we heard about it through a local contact, Mary Gustafson, and NARBA. At dawn the next day we were at the site hoping to add it to our list. Unfortunately, so far, the bird has turned out to be a one-day wonder and has not been seen again.

We are hoping for better results from our lazy birding during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival later this week. Thousands of fresh pairs of eyes will be scouring the Valley for birds during the festival and they are bound to turn up something rare. It might even be one of the handful of possibilities we still need.

We will still keep birding on our own a couple of days each week but our lazy way is OK too.

Fudging the Numbers a Little Bit

We have added some funds to our available balance and here’s why:

Throughout 2012 we have been getting cash-back bonuses and other similar promotions on our credit card purchases. These have amounted to anywhere from 1% to 5% of the total amount spent, depending on the credit card used and the category of the purchase.

Overall, our cash-back bonuses on all of our credit cards have exceeded $500 so far. It is difficult to say exactly how much of this is due to expenditures for the Big Year but we estimate that we have at least an extra couple of hundred dollars to spend on our birding this year.

So, we added $200 to our budget to reflect these bonus savings.