Saturday 1 December 2012

Wilson's and Piping Plovers, Western Sandpiper and more besides.

We had a brilliant morning at Crandon Park, Biscayne Key, Florida where we had been invited by one to the scientists working there Rangel Diaz.
Miami skyline from the bridge to Key Biscayne
We met him and his former boss and mentor Jim King and set off in a buggy for the beach where we met local bander (ringer to us Brits.) Robin Diaz (no relation to Rangel). We were also met there by another of the scientists at the park Daphne Rodriguez and local reporter Charlotte Miller.
Our hosts, Jim King, Dapne Rodriguez, Rangel Diaz & Robin Diaz.

When they said all terrain vehicle...
One of the things that Elis and I noticed straight away was how approachable the birds were on the beach. In the UK and other places we have been we are used to them zooming off along the beach ahead of us at some distance only to eventually wheel around and land again behind us.

Elis photographing the plover flock
In the mixed flock we came across and studied well, there were ten species: Grey Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover, Wilson's Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper and Dunlin. An impressive 6 of these were new to Wader Quest with only Grey Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling and Dunlin having been seen before.

Grey Plover

Mixed flock of Semipalmated and Piping Plovers
More Piping Plovers than we've ever seen in one place together before.
Wilson's Plover
Short-billed Dowitchers
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper

I (Rick) saw a Killdeer as we were on the move, but as Elis didn't see it we have not counted it, we decided early on that we both had to see the bird.

A number of the birds were colour ringed and we will do a blog on them when we get back and have more time, but one of them stood out. This was a male Piping Plover that has been named 'Rocky', we will be receiving the full story on why this bird is called Rocky from Robin and when we do we'll tell you the tale, we think you'll like it, we did!
Rocky and a Western Sandpiper
We had the opportunity to talk at length to Charlotte and tell her all about our project both the logistics of what we are doing and also why we are doing it. We talked at length about flyways and conservation at all points of a waders life, not just on the breeding and non-breeding grounds and we talked in particular about the spoonies and the work being carried out to save them.

Obviously the interview was a serious business

I mentioned during the discussions we were having that all along both coasts of the USA there were many projects and conservation units, many run by volunteers and how impressive that is. They told me that there was a bit of a gap in these projects and that was along the south-east coast of Florida. They thought that this was largely due to the culture of the local population, being majority Hispanic. Also like the UK the average age of birders is going up all the time, there just doesn't seem to be the inflow of young people who will take on the conservation projects in the future, and this is worrying. So it is then that Cranford Park is bucking the trend with Rangel and Daphne and we understand the other scientists on the team, they are all young Hispanics and as such are tremendous ambassadors, and it can only be hoped that these young, vibrant and attractive people will make birding and conservation sexy among their peers.

In the nature centre discussing culture and birder demography. 
Jim King is the elder statesman at the park and has recently retired, he put the park on the map and developed it over more than 30 years, the young people look up to his example as well they might and it is great to see that Jim is still involved and welcomed back by the present staff. It was a great pleasure to meet them all.

In addition to all this wonderful wader watching (we stayed a very long time admiring these birds enjoying their close proximity), we were also tempted away to chase a rarity, just couldn't resist it, it went by the exotic name of Western Spindalis, which to me is better known as a Stripe-headed Tanager. Now I would fall foul of local customs and have to pay a forfeit if I were to say that unfortunately this bird it was just a female, so I should point out that we were very lucky indeed that it was a magnificent female. Full story on the Rick Simpson Birding blog.
We were thrilled and humbled to receive from Robin and a couple called Bill and Nancy, that we met at the spindalis, cash donations for the spoonie project. This money will be added as an off-line donation.
Bill and Nancy
The afternoon was not so successful. Knowing what time low tide was at Cranford we headed for Flamingo at the end of the Everglades National Park road, expecting a swathe of intertidal mud jam-packed with waders to look at, sadly the tides there bear no relation to those at Cranford and the sea was lapping up against the jetties leaving us looking rather silly and more than just a little disappointed. Ahh well you can't win them all.
Once again the Florida Keys will have to wait for another visit.
Wader Quest list 61

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