Everglades: Unusual Birds

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) - Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

It’s always fun when you find an unusual or out of place bird when birding.  I had the pleasure to do just that twice over last weekend.  Now when I am talking about unusual birds, I’m not talking about the birds themselves being weird or strange, I’m saying that their mere presence is unusual.  So this past weekend I had two pretty cool and unusual species show up in Everglades National Park.

The first species I found on my own at Eco Pond in Flamingo on Thursday afternoon.  This location used to be one of my favorite haunts when I lived nearby in 2005, but today Hurricane Wilma has radically changed it.  More on that in an upcoming post.  On Thursday, I was mostly wandering around seeing if I could find any songbirds when a small brown sparrow dashed across the trail.  After about 10 minutes, I managed some great views of the bird only to quickly realize it wasn’t one of the species I see regularly and can identify by sight.  I made a mental list of all the field marks and back to the car I went, only a couple hundred yards.  With a field guide in hand, I quickly and easily identified the bird as a Clay-colored Sparrow.  This is a very irregular visitor to South Florida, judging by the range map, and listed as rare on the park checklist.

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) - Eco Pond, Everglades National Park, Florida

Since I hadn’t seen the bird before (ends up it is on my lifelist but with no date/location notation), I decided to head back with the camera and get some photos that could support my identification.  I spent a while chasing down this active sparrow and managed a few photos that clearly show all of the field marks and confirm the identity of this little beauty, but nothing that would be classified as marketable or saleable.  What you see on this blog are very significant crops of the original frames.

The second bird came Saturday evening at Anhinga Trail.  This bird could be called unusual in itself as it has a giant beak and is a little odd.  The Smooth-billed Ani apparently has been seen for about the last month, but it only showed up on the state wide bird lists in the last couple days.  This bird I did not find on my own, in fact I saw the bird with at least 50 other birders as one person spotted it and we then followed the “ani parade” to his location.  Like before, I was able to get confirmation and documentation type photos, not my usual high quality images.  Regardless, it is always fun to see an ani.

Smooth-billed Ani (Crotophaga ani) - Anhinga Trail, Everglades National Park, Florida

Smooth-billed Anis are resident here in South Florida but their numbers have crashed over the years and I’m not sure why.  I don’t think they were ever all that common, but they are seen on a regular basis.  Today, I only hear about specific birds a couple times a year.  There used to be a family group on the backside of the Ft. Lauderdale Airport that was very reliable, but I have no idea of that group is still there.  My first ani was as a very young kid at Eco Pond and it was a big deal then, though there weren’t 50 or more birders staking it out.

Finding rare and unusual birds is a lot of fun and if you choose to give it a shot there are a couple ways to approach it.  First, you can chase a bird someone else has found and posted to your state or regional Rare Bird Alert or email group.  This is easiest as there are often very specific directions and you know what you are looking for.  Or you can simply go find one on your own.  It takes a lot of patience and attention to detail, as you may need to double-check every common bird to ensure it isn’t something rare.  While chasing someone else’s rare bird is fun, finding one on your own can be even more rewarding!

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