South Florida – 8/11/11

It’s 3:00 PM and I’m doing a load of laundry at the Best Western in Florida City.  Hmmm, “déjà vu all over again” you might ask? (see April 15 “The Fork-tailed Flycatcher” post).  No nothing exciting, just laundry.  That’s because all the excitement occured this morning.  I may look back on this big year at the end and say that my decision to travel to South Miami last night was my best decision of the year.

The Thick-billed Vireo was easy. Larry Manfredi and his son Phillip arrived at 6:30 AM with coffee and breakfast for me.  We drove to Matheson Key and were on the trail by 7:00 AM.  By 7:15 AM we had the Thick-billed Vireo responding to the scold tape (along with six other species). We heard it twice before Larry located it. It flitted from shrub to shrub in an agitated state. I only saw the bird in my bins for five seconds or so but could clearly see the dark eye, large bill, diffuse yellow lore and the drab yellowish underparts and undertail coverts.  After 30 seconds the whole flock retreated into the forest. We decided to not try and call it in again. No sense desensitizing the bird to tapes. This is after all a category  five bird and many other birders will likely try for it.  It was year-bird #694 for me, as well as an ABA lifer,  and a validation of the impulsive decision made last night to try for the vireo in the first place.

Thick-billed Vireo at Matheson Hammock Park (Photo by Larry Manfredi)

After this victory, we set out to find a Smooth-billed Ani.  This is not an easy task these days in the United States. Some of you old timers may remember the days when groups of eight or more could be found at the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park.  It was the occasional Groove-billed Ani that drew the attention back then.  Well, things have changed.  Except for the cooperative lone Ft. Lauderdale Airport bird that was seen regularly by many birders seeking their ABA lifer, they are few and far between.  And the Ft. Lauderdale bird had vanished, not seen at all this year.  Larry was dubious it was around and I had resigned myself to missing it this year.  But still we tried. There had been a report two weeks ago of one near the Doubletree Hotel near the Miami airport. The three of us thoroughly searched some excellent habitat for an hour or more with no luck.  We then tried other areas with little luck.  I didn’t want to give up and remembered what “The Hitman” said on our North Carolina pelagic trips.  He felt that the Ft. Lauderdale Airport bird was still around.  And he was right.  Larry found a place to park off Old Griffith Rd., we headed to a vacant field near the canal and I quickly saw a Smooth-billed Ani perched up for us.

                           Smooth-billed Ani                                                (Photo by Larry Manfredi)

My God, I love success. Tomorrow we try for the Flamingo.  Thanks to Larry, Phillip, and Chris “The Hitman” Hitt.

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