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My Life’s Birds: #398-399

June 16, 2010
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October 13, 2006 – Florida Keys, Fl – Occasionally, opportunities for birding in well- established hotspots come along somewhat serendipitously.  For instance, when a good friend of your spouse has one of those trendy “destination” weddings that just so happens to be in Key West, Florida, a unique and out of the way spot that just so happens to offer some dynamite birding as well, you encourage her desire to make the trip.  After all, some friends are just worth it right?  So Danielle and I flew into the Miami airport, heretofore known as the “Worst Airport in the United States”, rented a sweet PT Cruiser, a car who’s visual appeal is matched only by its pathetic performance, to make the drive through scenic South Florida (strip-mall city) all the way along US 1 to the tippy tip of the little chain of islands drizzling off the tip of the peninsula.

We had hoped it would be a drive full of ocean vistas and tropical breezes, but it’s actually a two lane highway where your momentum is often arrested by trucks in front of you and angry drivers behind you.  In fact, you might be right to label Highway 1 the tailgatingest highway in the world, which is probably made worse by a driver in yours truly paying as much attention to the birds on the wires as the road, an idiosyncrasy that annoys my wife to no end to this very day.  But what one does discover is that the Florida Keys are a highway for migrating raptors and while the dominant species of bird remained the wintering Belted Kingfishers lining the powerlines, it didn’t take much to note the migrating Merlins and Harriers and, during a bathroom stop at a non-descript gas station on Islamorada Island, a kettle of Turkey Vultures and Peregrine Falcons.  How I got to nearly 400 species without a Peregrine being one of them I’ll never know.  But that was quickly remedied, and how.

I had a hope, perhaps naive, that I’d be able to easily pick up those tropical species with ease.  It turns out even the so-called specialties are not necessarily easy to come by.  I didn’t have time for them anyway, we had a rehearsal dinner in Key West itself to hit as soon as the luggage was unpacked from the trunk.  The dinner was great and the bar was open, held in an open courtyard with a big tree in the center.  I kept an eye on the top, even through conversation (another idiosyncrasy my wife doesn’t endorse) and was rewarded when I spotted a White-crowned Pigeon in the top branches for a few seconds before it split into the Caribbean evening.  The booze had nothing to do with it.

There were no other new birds to pick up, even though I specifically went out birding the next morning.  While none of the Florida Keys specialties showed themselves, though I did have some fine pre-dawn looks at the minuscule Florida Key Deer subspecies of White-tailed Deer.  They are, for the record, impossibly small, but Mangrove Cuckoo would have to wait, and still waits until next time.  I guess I need to go to more destination weddings.

PERFAL from mikebaird via flickr (CC BY-2.0)
WHCRPI from jvverde via flickr (CC BY-NC-2.0)

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