Thank heaven for business trips. When I wrote about the Bird-A-Day Challenge last week, things were getting really tough. Day by day, I was checking through the bird species I could easily find in the New York metropolitan region, which was getting hammered with front after front of snow and ice. And gradually, as the ponds, reservoirs, and Hudson River froze over, I was running out of birds.
Then I got a call on Monday that changed the game completely. A business trip to Florida: a few days in the Keys to report on a story about the plight of roseate spoonbills nesting in the red mangroves of the ailing Florida Bay (see the story in Audubon’s upcoming May/June issue). The bonus: a chance to see four new birds that I wouldn’t be able to find in the snowy Northeast at least until spring, perhaps never.
Come Tuesday I was driving south on the Florida Turnpike, searching the roadsides for a meandering cattle egret and the telephone wires for a perched white-winged dove. With the moon rising over Miami, I still hadn’t seen anything very interesting. But then I noticed the blackbirds flying overhead. Boat-tailed grackles. Excellent.
Day 40, Wedenesday—I knew this would be a good day. The plan: join Audubon’s biologists to motor out in the bay until we were within a short enough distance to the spoonbill nests to ever so quietly kayak closer for a brief monitoring survey. The chance to see these iconic pink birds once painted by Audubon himself was pretty much a guarantee. And we did. We saw roseate spoonbills, adults and chicks, and much, much more—nesting reddish egrets, pelicans, cormorants, royal terns, and even a Forester’s tern, to name a few. But I could only count one, so roseate spoonbill it was.
Thursday started off too easy. A great white heron flew by at breakfast. Done. (However, If I had realized then that the great white heron was simply a southern color variant of the great blue—abundant and quite common throughout the Northeast—I probably wouldn’t have listed it that day. But I thought it was itself a unique species, as older field guides sometimes say, so I counted it.)
On Friday I saw tons of good birds on my drive toward Fort Lauderdale—a bald eagle on electric pole, cattle egrets, snowy egrets, and on and on. Then, I stopped briefly at a park in Miami to reconnect with a primatologist friend. There I saw a white-winged dove. Day 42, check.
And that brings me to Saturday, Day 43, back in New York—still snowy but slightly warmer than when I left. Today’s bird…a northern cardinal, is common but so extraordinarily vibrant against this stark white landscape. And I’m hoping its song—birdie, birdie, birdie—whistling in the chilly breeze is a harbinger of an early spring.
Thanks again for all of the wonderful messages you have been sharing. I hope you will keep posting your birds and comments here on The Perch as well as on Audubon Magazine’s Facebook page.
My B-A-D list so far:
Day 1, January 1 2011: Common Redpoll? on a feeder in Rochester, NY
Day 2: Red-tailed Hawk at the roadside while driving home from Rochester
Day 3: Downy Woodpecker?on my feeder
Day 4: Pigeon, a flock flying outside my NYC office window
5: Greater Scaup, Rye Playland, NY
6: Snow Goose, from the train station parking lot in Ossining, NY
7: Carolina Wren at my feeder
8: Red-bellied Woodpecker?on my feeder
9: Canvasback, Croton Point, NY
10: Junco at my feeder
11: Great Black-backed Gull, from a Metro North train running along the Hudson River
12: American Crow, Ossining train station
13: Bald Eagle, Ossining train station
14: Tundra Swan, Croton Point, NY
15: Purple Sandpiper, Rye Playland, NY
16: Red-throated Loon, Greenwich Point, CT
17: Common Merganzer, Croton Point, NY
18: White-throated Sparrow, Croton Point, NY
19: Common Goldeneye, from a commuter train traveling along the Hudson River
20: Double-crested Cormorant, Croton Point, NY
Day 21: Red-breasted Merganzer, Croton Point, NY
Day 22: Long-tailed Duck, Greenwich Point, CT
Day 23:Great Cormorant winging down the Hudson River, Georges Island, NY
Day 24: Tufted Titmouse on the feeder, with Arctic winds blowing
Day 25: American Robin in a snow-covered NYC park
Day 26: Peregrine Falcon in a snowstorm along the Hudson River, seen from a Metro North train
Day 27: Hairy Woodpecker on the feeder
Day 28: American Black Duck from the train station parking lot in Ossining, NY
Day 29: Ring-neck Duck floating on an inlet of NY's mighty but ice-shrouded Hudson River.
Day 30: Turkey Vulture over a NY highway
Day 31: Winter Wren at the feeder
Day 32: Herring Gull along the Hudson River
Day 33: American Goldfinch at the feeder
Day 34: Northern Shoveler on the Hudson
Day 35: Red-winged Blackbird at dusk along the Hudson
Day 36: Blue Jay on the feeder
Day 37: Horned Grebe along Connecticut’s coast
Day 38: Common Raven near a NY landfill
Day 39: Boat-tailed Grackle along the Florida Turnpike
Day 40: Roseate Spoonbill near Key Largo
Day 41: Great White Heron (the all-white form of a Great Blue Heron) bayside, Key Largo
Day 42: White-winged Dove, Homestead, FL
Day 43: Northern Cardinal, suburban Westchester, NY