I got a late start for two reasons. The garden does not open until 10:00 am, and I was behind on my blog. So I stayed in my motel and up-dated my blog before getting breakfast and heading south about 40 miles to Key West. Motel rooms were more available in Marathon than in Key West, another reason for the choice of where to stay.
I arrived at the botanical gardens at about 11:30 am. The information at the desk was that the bird was seen near the butterfly garden just after opening time. It flew west toward an area on the Boardwalk Tour. I met Bill Boyle and his wife from California who had been there since opening, but they had missed the bird by about 10 minutes. It seems like that is a common theme in birding. You should have been here about ten minutes ago! I checked with the volunteer at the desk to get instructions on how to identify the trees. Some are marked with signs, but not all. Unfortunately, the nice lady at the desk did not know, but was helpful and showed me a brochure that helped somewhat. Bill Boyle told me that the area around Desbiens Pond was very birdy, so I went there. They had found a Northern Waterthrush and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, both new birds for the year for me. I found the Northern Waterthrush, new bird for the year, at the edge of the pond by standing in the pavilion at the north end and watching and waiting. There were two Common Moorhens in the pond, and there were quite a few warblers in the trees and bushes around the pond. I found American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Magnolia Warbler.
Between 12:30 and 1:00 pm, I saw an unusual looking hawk at first soaring low over the trees, hovering and holding in the wind with up-turned wingtips. The under-parts were white, and the under-wing coverts were white. The wing tips were distinctly black due to black outer primary tips and the ends of the inner primary and secondary wing feathers were barred with fine black lines. I thought that this bird was a Short-tailed Hawk, but asked the question of other birders there, "What is this hawk?" Some did not know. Others thought it was a Broad-winged Hawk by size and shape. Others thought red-tailed hawk, because the tail was a light reddish brown accentuated by the bright sunshine shining through the tail. I reserved final judgment on the identification awaiting a better look, but still thought it was a Short-tailed hawk, particularly by behavior. I saw the bird plunge down to the tree-tops from hovering, a common behavior of Short-tailed Hawk as is the raised wing-tips while soaring. However, the bird soared very high and the bright sunshine and back-lighting made it difficult to see all the details well enough to verify the identification.
Don Wilkinson's birding group was in the park. One of the participants, photographed every bird he saw, and he photographed the female Western Spindalis from behind showing only the back wings and tail and back of the head. I showed the group the photographs of the female Western Spindalis on the website for the Botanical Gardens, one of which is a photo from showing the back, wings and tail from behind, which seems to confirm that he had seen the Spindalis. This set off a more active search in the specific area near Desbiens Pond, but to no avail. It was starting to get late, and it was not looking promising that I would see the Western Spindalis.
While searching for the female Western Spindalis, I found this gorgeous Giant Swallowtail. See photo. There were a lot of these amazing butterflies in the garden.
www.nemisisbird.com by Alex Lamoreux. No one found the female Western Spindalis. At closing time, the lady who closed the park was very knowledgeable about the trees and pointed out the fig tree near the gate and the Florida Holly with red berries right by the gate where my friends had seen the Spindalis about a week ago.
I stayed outside the gate after closing again looking and watching for the Spindalis to show up, but it never did, or if it did show up, I never saw it. At 6:00 pm, I left to drive north for another stay in Marathon at the same motel. Tomorrow will be my last try for this bird. I need to move on to get other species in Florida and to get to other areas around the country.
Northern Waterthrush and Short-tailed Hawk make the total 377.