Friday, 4 January 2008

New Year, and the Honor System

I woke up in Florida on the first day of 2008. Our birding for the day was close to West Palm Beach in the form of a visit to neighbors Wakodahatchee and Green Cay Wetlands. My only lifer target of the trip, Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, which were raising chicks at Greem Cay in late December, had mysteriously all vanished just before I arrived. My third instance of overconfidance in the state: one year ago I tried for an "overwintering" Masked Duck, which hadn't been reported three days before I arrived... and was never seen since. Then I heard about a nesting site for Smooth-billed Anis in April, so naturally I tried and found nothing.

But Green Cay did have some new residents: Roseate Spoonbills, and when I went I had looks at Black-crowned Night-Herons, a Bald Eagle and Lesser Yellowlegs, new birds for me at the site. Also nice was a Sora, spotted on my second visit to the site.

On the second day of the year I went local, and stopped at Okeeheelee Park by Palm Beach Int'l Airport. This is a great site for Painted Bunting, and four did appear, along with four friendly Sandhill Cranes. We also scanned the sea from Palm Beach, and turned up Brown Pelican, Northern Gannet, Royal Tern, and Great Black-backed Gull for the year, all before Herring Gull!

Then on the third of January, we went back south for a revisit to Green Cay (above), as well as Loxahatchee NWR and Boynton Inlet. Strong onshore winds brought a few juvie gannets almost within arm's reach, and the only tame flock of Ruddy Turnstones in the world was sheltering there too. Loxahatchee had wintering flocks of passerines, mostly YR and Palm Warblers and some gnatcatchers, but also with a Blue-headed Vireo and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Another eagle, a few kestrels and a Red-shouldered Hawk that was carrying a snake around made some shorebirds jittery, including Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs and a snipe.

But the best bird of the day was found thanks to the Honor System, but not the bird reporting honor system. You see, at Loxahatchee when you enter there is an unamanned booth where one is supposed to deposit $5 for parking there that day. Just as my Dad and I pulled over to pay, I spotted a dark bird sitting in a tree by the booth. My immediate reaction was hawk, but what were the chances of a darm-morph hawk? Crow also passed through my mind as I considered my possiblities, but a binocular look showed it was a hawk! It was the notorious Short-tailed Hawk, sitting in plain view for me! Photos will be uploaded to my Flickr soon ( Enjoy them, and the new year!

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