Lifers indicated in bold
I started off 2018 in the same way as I had the past two years: by walking down to the ponds near my grandparents' house in Florida to find the first few birds of the year. The first bird (or more accurately, first three birds) was a Snowy Egret followed by an Egyptian Goose and a Limpkin. Unlike the last two years, I wasn't going to bird locally on the first day, nor was I headed back home (so glad I don't have to deal with short high school breaks anymore); I was chasing a mega rarity. On December 29th, 2017, Eva Matthews and Andy Lantz found a LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, a species with only five previously recorded observations of this species in the ABA Area according to the Florida Ornithological society and a code 5 on the ABA checklist. A code 5 in the same state I was currently in and less than 2 hours away meant I had to get this bird while I'm in the area. After a whole day of bargaining with my parents (plus some encouragement from my friends), I got my dad on board to chase the kingbird. After an hour and a half driving down to Key Biscayne, my dad realized something: I had no idea where to look for the bird once in the park. Luckily I was able to get us back on track (in other words, follow the other birders) and on the path of the kingbird. It wasn't long before I saw more birders congregating on one part of the trail, they were also after what I had come for. The Loggerhead Kingbird was perched on a small tree a few feet from the trail. The mob of birders who were also looking for it followed it several times as it moved to new perches before disappearing into the forest.
Other birds I managed to list in the same area as the kingbird were Black-and-white and Prairie Warblers, White-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Northern Parula, and Summer Tanager. Now on to see what else I could find, mostly Caribbean birds I won't see elsewhere this year, but anything is good this time of year. Shortly up the trail, I alerted my father to a White-crowned Pigeon, which disappeared before he could get a photo. I also managed to add Northern Mockingbird, Common Ground-Dove, a flyover Anhinga, and the "Golden" race of Yellow Warbler (I think ssp. gundlachi). Other than that, I missed only two targets, but fortunately one I would eventually see that day.
Crandon Park was a smaller but equally good spot for birding, where I added Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls, Brown Pelican, Double-crested Cormorants, Sanderlings, Royal Terns, and Magnificent Frigatebirds to my 2018 list. Unfortunately, the Wilson's Plovers, Short-tailed Hawks, and Common Mynas I was hoping for were not present.
Making our way back to Lake Worth, we stopped at a site where a Bananaquit wintered last year, but no reports of this species from December. As far as year birds go, there were just several Yellow-rumped Warblers, a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, and a Northern Cardinal (the first of thousands I will probably see).
Later my mom and I went birding again at Wakodahatchee wetlands. There were numerous birds I could add here, but the challenge was not that I couldn't spot them, it's that my mom kept staying behind to take pictures. Wako is home to a locally rare Neotropic Cormorant, so I needed pictures to get confirmation.
"I think we should still go" was my first reaction to how hard it was raining when I woke up. My thoughts were that the rain would keep birds at lower levels in the forest at Spanish River Park making them easier to spot. I was s o o o o o wrong. The bird garden that I had seen Spot-breasted Oriole and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at a few days earlier was empty: no woodpeckers, no Painted Bunting, and especially no oriole. The fact that I saw any new birds on the barrier island was a miracle: a lone Ovenbird. Pushing our way up the coast, the conditions got worse. Not only did the driving winds at Boynton Beach Inlet make holding an umbrella difficult, the parking lot was flooded in some areas. Fortunately, my binoculars are waterproof so I was still able to pick out Bonaparte's Gulls, Ruddy Turnstones, a lone Herring Gull, Forster's Terns, Northern Gannets, and my main target, Sandwich Tern. Then we tried birding at Snook Islands, which were also pretty much dead with the exception of two new birds: American Oystercatcher and Black-bellied Plover.
While on coffee break (gotta power myself somehow while birding, plus I caught several Pokemon there), I decided to go to Peaceful Waters Sanctuary in Wellington. This was a much better idea, as I picked up several more species there in between rain showers. I also found a whole flock of Roseate Spoonbills (after missing them the day before at Wakodahatchee) along with Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teals, and three birds for my state list: Green-winged Teal and Least and Spotted Sandpipers. Peaceful Waters boosted my yearlist to 97 species, but there were still more I needed to get to 100 for the year. Despite the heavy rain, I powered on by going to Green Cay (this time with my mom), where the rain made birds harder to see. I still managed to see a Caspian Tern and a Pileated Woodpecker. Just as we were about to give up, I spotted a female Painted Bunting at a feeder on the way back to the car. This was followed by several adult males at the feeders near the visitor center. I had recorded 100 species in just the first two days of my Young Birder Odyssey! Having achieved such high numbers in two days, I decided to put my bins away for the night. Let's hope I know what I'm getting myself into
To be continued...
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