Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why do I do it?

I was recently asked a few questions about my experience in birding and what I find so interesting about it.

- What is the most memorable moment in your 25 years of birding and guiding?

So many moments over the years.  I suppose the most memorable moment occurred during my second Florida Big Year in 2001.  It was in the afternoon one October day, during a long day of searching for year birds.  I walked down the Oak Hammock Trail at Merritt Island NWR.  Prior to federal ownership, there was a homestead in the area.  Just off the trail is an artificial pond, where annually, an Alligator raises it's young.  I had walked to this pond many, many times while birding the hammock and on my own and during Christmas Bird Counts.  Never did I find anything of interest, but it always seemed a good spot.  This time, I arrived and, as always, there was nothing of particular note.  I looked up at a Golden Orb Spider on it's web and it disappeared, consumed by a Sulphur-bellied flycatcher.  The pic on the link does not do justice to this remarkably beautiful and extremely rare (in Florida) bird.  I was stunned by the bird's sudden appearance, but recovered in time to check under the chin for the complete, dark strap connecting the stripes that edged the throat.  I was just a little disappointed to see this as the lack of this feature would have opened the possibility of Streaked flycatcher, a new bird for the U.S. rather than a mere county bird (I saw one on my first Big Year the year before in Miami.)   Still, this was one of those unforgettable experiences in birding and one of the real reasons why I do this.

- Is there a region or event that draws your attention most during the (Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife) Festival?

Picking favorites is a difficulty for me.  The favorite varies with the time and my mood.  The lower keys, the only tropical region of the continental U.S., has always been a favorite part of the keys for me.    One park, located in the middle keys, has always intrigued me.  Long Key State Park, a thin strip of land between US 1 and the Atlantic, has a remarkable array of habitats and birds.  Here you can walk the narrow sandy beach in search of shorebirds, stand atop a shaky wooden tower and survey the top of the mangrove forest, walk the nature trail with it's mangrove swamps, tropical hammock and open barrens where swallows and hawks often pass low overhead, or even rent a canoe and explore the tidal creek and surrounding waters.  Many a rare bird has shown up here with reports of Key West Quail-dove, Western spindalis, and others over the years.  It is a good spot for Mangrove cuckoo and Black-whiskered vireo in the spring and summer.  I have been here many times, but always feel as if there is more to be seen.  During the Florida Keys Hawkwatch last year, the hawk watchers conducted early morning surveys of the nature trail before heading to the hawk watch.  We ran a couple of tours with the Florida Keys Birding and Wildlife Festival after the hawk watchers surveyed and we got very different results.  Migrant songbirds move mostly at night, but they often continue to move on their trajectory after making landfall, thus the birds that are there in the early morning are not necessarily going to be the ones you see later when the park opens at 8.

- Is there a bird in this region you favor more than others?

Same problem of picking favorites.  I suppose the Antillean nighthawk is my favorite in the region.  Their only breeding grounds in the U.S. are in the Florida Keys, although a few might venture up to the mainland at times.  Common nighthawks, a species with which they were once "lumped", breed on the mainland and into the upper keys, but the lower keys are the domain of the Antillean nighthawk.

- What continues to draw yo to birding and sharing your knowledge with others?

Because it's fun?  I don't really know.  I am very interested in Florida's ecology, especially the birds, but really everything about it.  I enjoy sharing that passion and my knowledge with anyone who will listen, which is why I like to lead trips for festivals and guide people about the state.  I try to do more than just show people the birds, but tell them a bit about the birds and the land and how it all fits together.

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