Early in the morning before leaving on the Yankee Freedom, I made reservations in a motel in Marathon for Saturday night, because I planned to try for the Antillean Nighthawk at the Marathon Airport where they have been reported. Before heading for Marathon, I stopped at the entry gate for the Key West Tropical and Botanical Gardens to look for the female Western Spindalis. This bird had been seen near the gate by birding friends, Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell, from Ohio and Chris Hitt from North Carolina. They heard the bird calling as the gate was being closed at closing time, 4:00 pm, and saw the female Western Spindalis feeding on a Florida Holly right by the gate. Another birder has recently reported seeing the female Western Spindalis in the fig tree northeast of the boats near the gate. When I first arrived in Key West on Friday evening, I also stopped by the gate to look for the spindalis, but had no luck. I also had no luck on Saturday evening. Both times it was difficult to know exactly where to look, because I was not able to determine from outside the gate, which bush was the Florida Holly and which tree was the fig tree. However, I checked all trees and bushes anyway repeatedly until it was time to get dinner on Friday night and go to my bed and breakfast room. Same thing on Saturday night--checked all trees and bushes from outside the gate but no luck. On Saturday night while I was there, a volunteer showed up after 6:30 pm to open the gate for a lecture. He was willing to let me in to look for the bird, but really didn't want to open the gate too early. Eventually, he agreed to not open the gate for me on Saturday night, because I was planning to return in the morning to try for the Western Spindalis. I headed north toward Marathon in enough time that I could check in at my motel in Marathon, pick up something to eat to go and head for the north end of the airport.
I got to the airport in enough time. The Gray Kingbirds were very active still as well as other birds. I first stopped at the main airport building and the rental car return to try to find the northern end of the airport. The end of the airport was further north than the rental car return, and a sign on the internal road along the airport fence said that the road north from the rental car return was one way south. I returned toward the main building and found the "French connection," four birders, Roger, Roger, Ron and Gilles, from new Brunswick, CA, who were also on the Yankee Freedom to Fort Jefferson. They were looking for the Antillean Nighthawk, but had the same instructions that I had, "the north end of the airport." I mentioned that the north end was further north. However, we decided to split up, because they had walky-talkies. One of the four and I walked back north to the rental car facility and looked and listened, hoping to see the birds or hear them calling from a distance . Soon, a call came in on the walky-talkie indicating that the other three thought that they heard the bird south of the main building, but needed confirmation of the call. We walked rapidly back to our cars, and the man from CA found his electronic device with calls, and we drove rapidly south to a small pull off/picnic area where the other three were located.
We confirmed the call, and there were three Antillean Nighthawks calling and flying low to the ground and sometimes landing on the ground. It was starting to get quite dark, and I never could pick up on the birds flying very close to us, but the French connection could see them. My eyes were slow in adjusting to the lower lighting. However, the call of the Antillean Nighthawk is quite distinctive, a somewhat nasal pity-pit-pit. The call is the best way to identify this bird. In good light, it is possible to see the difference between Common Nighthawk and Antillean Nighthawk. Antillean Nighthawk has more reddish color on the wing linings and the under-parts than the larger and longer winged Common Nighthawk. However, fields guides indicate that it is very difficult to distinguish the two visually. In the past when I have seen this bird in early evening light, I believe that I saw the difference on two different occasions, but only after ensuring that it was really an Antillean Nighthawk by the call.
The four French connection and I congratulated each other on our success and thanked one of the Rogers for actually finding the birds. We exchanged contact information, and they gave me a good tip on the location for Black Whiskered Bulbul. I thanked then for their help. They said that they would be following my blog. The French connection were headed north to a motel in Homestead to try for the Mangrove Cuckoo at Black Point Park in the morning, and then to Miami to try for the White-winged Parakeet and the Spot-breasted Oriole, before getting a flight to head home. I headed to my motel in Marathon to eat my now cold take out dinner and get some rest.
Antillean Nighthawk makes the total 375, but more importantly adds a key Florida specialty to my list. Tomorrow, I will try for the Western Spindalis.