At the Mic: Rick Simpson
Rick Simpson of Newport Pagnell, UK, is a bird guide, illustrator, author of Confessions of a Bird Guide, and a Birdlife Species Champion.
North America has some of the most interesting waders and our quest would not be complete without at least one visit there. We touched down in Miami, Florida late at night with 55 on our Wader Quest list having added Red Phalarope and Green Sandpiper in the UK and a lucky Eurasian Woodcock over the car on the way to the airport. After a bit of stressful searching we managed to find somewhere to rest our weary heads for what remained of the night and hit the sack.
In the morning we awoke to the dreaded sound of torrential rain beating down on our motel roof, undaunted (well, to be honest a little daunted) we headed out and across town to Key Biscayne. We had an appointment with Rangel Diaz, ranger at Crandon Park so loafing in bed was not an option, however appealing it may have seemed.
We were early, the gates were shut and a strong wind was coming in off the Atlantic, but at least it had stopped raining by the time we got there. Soon enough the gates were opened and after pottering around enjoying the early morning birds (this was Elis’ first trip to Florida), we went and met our host Rangel. With him we found Jim King, erstwhile Crandon Park manager, who had come down especially to meet us and together we all jumped in the buggy and set off for the beach.
The wind was still whistling in from the sea when we alighted from our vehicle, we were finding it hard to stand, bracing ourselves against this natural force. Yet somehow, the large gathering of lightweight waders a little further along the beach from where we were, seemed to be standing, each on one leg, with little difficulty. Scanning through them it was apparent that the bulk were Black-bellied Plovers with a smaller number of Short-billed Dowitchers.
We edged closer and saw some smaller birds, Calidrids, mainly Dunlins and Sanderlings, then we noticed the plovers. A small group of them were sheltering behind a lifeguard hut. This hut made a good vantage point for us to check them out. It was immediately obvious that we had a mixed flock of Semipalmated and Piping Plovers in about equal numbers.
Piping Plover was one of our big targets for the trip and we were pleased to see them so early in the day. In among the plovers a few peeps started to get noticed, both Least and Western were also Wader Quest ticks. Turning my attention again to the plovers one bird caught my eye, it looked bigger and heavier in the bill, surely this was another of our targets, Wilson’s Plover, and happily, so it proved, one of two, another being found nearby.
As we watched the birds we were joined by Daphne Rodriguez another ranger at the park, Robin Diaz a local bander who told us a delightful story about one of the colour-ringed Piping Plovers called Rocky (read Rocky’s story here) and Charlotte Miller from the local newspaper who was covering our visit. There we stayed, sheltering from the wind, enjoying the close proximity of some of our favourite birds and chatting at length about birds and waders in particular.
After a short dash to tick off a Western Spindalis nearby (couldn’t resist it), and a further chat at the centre, we said our goodbyes, thanked Rangel and the gang for their hospitality then we were off, heading for The Everglades National Park.
Our brief visit to the Everglades was not altogether successful, arriving as we did with little time to spare and at high tide, therefore no waders. We quickly left and headed back towards Miami. After an overnight in a hotel we headed west along the Everglades Parkway heading for Bunche Beach near Fort Meyers. Guess what? When we arrived it was high tide and what was visible of Bunche Beach was about three foot across! We saw one or two waders such as a Western Willet that was a new species for us and then headed for the Ding Darling Sanctuary where we added Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer and Greater Yellowlegs.
In the morning we headed back to Bunche Beach which was much more visible this time, the tide being out and all, timing is everything with intertidal birding. We wandered around the sand and mud and enjoyed close encounters with some more Piping Plovers, noting their colour rings so that we could find out more about them later (results here) and many assorted peeps and larger waders. The only new addition to the list however was a distant view of a couple of Marbled Godwits but there was no sign of the hoped for Long-billed Curlew. As we were leaving the beach we had a close encounter with Bald Eagle, these birds are impressive and always a joy to see, but this bird flew so close we could see its thoughts reflected in its eyes.
This pretty much concluded our stay in Florida, after an overnight in Miami we took a flight to Los Angeles and just had time to bird the LA River adding a much anticipated American Avocet there before the next morning heading north to Seattle, Washington.