Highlights of Travis in the Florida Keys

By Rafael Galvez.

We are still riding the buzz from Travis’s visit to the Florida Keys during late September. Little did the Traveling Trinovid know that it would be taken under the wing of a team of enthusiastic birders that worked hard to get the bins as many new birds as possible. By the end of the South Florida visit, 11 new species had been added to its big year list!

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Video of a White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala) – the Traveling Trinovid’s first lifer in the Florida Keys. Leica V-Lux 4. Select HD 1080 p for optimal viewing.

The traveling bins participated in the Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammock State Park, morning flight walks and transect counts at Long Key State Park, multiple runs up and down the Keys for regional specialties, and a wide range of ID workshops for shorebirds and raptors as part of the Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival.

The first new encounter for Travis was the weary White-crowned Pigeon, an elegant inhabitant of Caribbean hammocks whose distribution is limited to the Greater Antilles, eastern Yucatan and northern Panama; the northernmost part of its range is limited to South Florida. I was able to secure this bird of the deep woods while conducting an early morning transect count at Long Key with Kerry Ross and Rachel Smith, and in good time too since a week later we would be seeing many less White-crowns; most having recently left the Keys for Cuba, the Everglades or the Bahamas.

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Video of a young “white” Short-tailed Hawk (Buteo brachyurus) taken with a Leica V-Lux 4 at the Florida Keys Hawkwatch. Select HD 1080 p for optimal viewing.

Next came the graceful Short-tailed Hawk, another Florida specialty. It seemed like this might have been a taller order, since the Short-tails typically are rather scarce until mid-October. But as I drove from Long Key to Curry Hammock in preparation for the raptor ID workshop, a beautiful young bird flew directly over me, circling with its characteristic upturned primary tips.

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Video of a Mississippi Kite (Ictina mississippiensis) during the Florida Keys Hawkwatch 2013. Select HD 1080 p for optimal viewing.

Mississippi Kites are not ubiquitous in the Keys. It is difficult to predict when they will be coming through, and they tend to do so early in the season. It isn’t unusual for visitors to arrive at the hawkwatch with the primary mission of seeing this beautiful raptor. Travis was fortunate when he joined the FKH team during the Florida Keys Birding & Wildlife Festival’s Raptor ID workshop, because not long into the event, a low flying MIKI flew directly over, giving visitors stellar views.

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Above, visitors gather around the hawkwatch count site during the festival’s Raptor ID Workshop. Top left, Rachel Smith shows “Sweety,” the sparverioides American Kestrel from the Marathon Wildbird Center (originally from Cuba) to participants. Top right, Bob Showler from Everglades National Park was among visitors hoping for close encounters with migratory raptors. At bottom left, David Simpson (fourth from left) explains migratory concepts to participants.

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A Chuck-will’s-widow (Caprimulgus carolinensis) blends against a Poinsonwood trunk;  found at Long Key State Park during FKH morning transect counts while Travis paid us a visit. The Middle Keys are excellent for “Chucks” during fall migration (photo R. Galvez / Leica V-Lux 4). After duties at the hawkwatch, I spent the afternoon at Fat Deer Key in search for a Swainson’s Warbler in the Thatch Pam Hammocks with Mark Hedden, but we were not lucky. We then took our search to lesser habitats, looking for Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) in the parking lots of shopping centers in Marathon. The bird below was photographed in the Winn Dixie lot.

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Travis’s Keys experience would not have been possible without the help of the Florida Keys Hawkwatch team and friends. David Simpson came down to help with the festival, and took the Traveling Trinovid for a very successful spin, up the southernmost mainland. Along the way, he managed to pick up Snail Kite (Rostrhamus sociabilis) in the “white zone” just north of the Keys, and Bronzed Cowbird (Molothrus aeneus) and Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) in South Dade. Later that week, an Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens) was observed by many from the hawkwatch deck, adding to Travis’s list.

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As always, it was great to have Jeff Bouton (the Traveling Trinovid’s “parental unit”) join the FKH team during festival field trips and workshops. Once festivities were over, he took the bins back to Leica-land. Along the way, he made a stop in Miami and picked up #12: Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio). Above are two photos digibinned by Jeff; Snail Kite to the right and Purple Swamphen at left. The Swamphen was the first photo taken through Travis!