I arrived at about 11:00 am and met a man, who was visiting family and his grand kids with his wife, and was looking for the female Western Spindalis during his visit. He was focusing his effort near the gate, where a woman had seen the bird early before opening time. He mentioned that he had seen a Short-tailed Hawk in the area, and I shared my experience with him about yesterday and the Short-tailed Hawk. We decided to separate to increase coverage, agreeing to let each other know if we saw the Spindalis. I checked out the fig tree near the Yoga Pavilion and a nearby gumbo limbo tree with berries, but could not find the Spindalis. I walked toward the bridge over the pond and the butterfly garden. There I met Jim Gessaman from Tuscon, AZ, originally from Dayton , OH, and Wilson Baker from Tallahassee. They had met Carl Goodrich, the expert Key West birder, at Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West, who told them that he had seen the Spindalis about 22 times at the butterfly garden in the gumbo limbo tree just before the bridge toward the visitor center. Both Jim and Wilson had graduated form Richmond College in Indiana, not far from Cincinnati. Bill Buskirk has been a professor there and has given programs about birds to the Cincinnati Bird Club. It is a small world.
I saw a bunting sized bird with olive colored upper-parts fly through the garden and enter a near-by tree. We looked the tree over carefully but could only find a Gray Kingbird. That bird was a good possibility, and I suspect that it was the Spindalis, but it disappeared. Then a few warblers, a vireo and another non-descript bird flew into the gumbo limbo tree. Either Jim or Wilson said, "I think that bird is the Spindalis." We all got on it, and it was indeed the female Western Spindalis. Depending upon the lighting, the eye-line and the whitish throat was not very obvious. It really is a non-descript bird, unlike the male Western Spindalis, which I have seen twice before. However, the wing bars and whitish feather edgings were quite apparent. The Western Spindalis stayed in the lower hanging branch of the gumbo limbo tree for a few minutes. I tried to get a photograph, but could not find the bird in my lens. The Spindalis flew south east to a tree along the pond with a red berry in its beak and promptly disappeared or kept flying through toward an area north of the Yoga Pavilion. Soon after the Spindalis sighting, I walked back toward the parking lot to try to find the other birder but could not find him. Jim and Wilson shared information about finding the White-tailed Kite near the Chekika unit of Everglades NP. We parted ways.
Later, I found the man Florida birder (sorry seem to have misplaced the card with his name) who was with a lady birder, Ann, and passed along the information that we saw the Spindalis at 12:45 -12:50 pm in the gumbo limbo tree near the bridge at the butterfly garden. I also wrote that information on the map at the desk in the visitor center. Soon it began to rain heavily, a real gulley washer. We went to the visitor center to wait out the rain. When the rain slowed, I got my umbrella out of the car, and joked that the orange and white color might attract the Spindalis. It soon began to rain harder, so we returned to the visitor center. Eventually, the man and Ann left. I stayed to try for a photo of the Spindalis and found a Black-whiskered Vireo singing its repetitive "chir-ip chir-ip." I was not able to find the Western Spindalis again and left the park at closing time to head north. I decided to stop a Sugar Loaf Key-Saddlebunch Key Area to try for the Mangrove Cuckoo.
I decided to cautiously use the recorded Mangrove Cuckoo call, which includes two songs in the longer version of the recording found on the Florida Ornithological site. I usually do not use recordings, preferring to find birds without electronic recordings, by listening and looking. I have found that to be quite successful. I am not really comfortable with using the recording for the Mangrove Cuckoo, because it eventually causes the birds to not respond. I played the recording twice at widely spaced intervals as I walked along the road from the bridge entering Saddlebunch Key to the end. I moved my car and walked in both directions from the car and back, not playing the recording on my return to the car. I got no response on the Mangrove Cuckoo, not too surprising given the popularity of this spot and the heavy use of electronic songs and calls. However, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo seemed to respond and called. I found two more Black-whiskered Vireos singing on Saddlebunch Key. As I was walking along the road, two local man and wife Florida birders stopped. They mentioned that they had never found Mangrove Cuckoo at Saddlebunch, live nearby and are frequently on this road. Despite its fame, Saddlebunch Key did not produce a Mangrove Cuckoo. They told me of another nearby spot accessible by turning right at Mangrove Mammas, going beyond the KOA campground and walking the road to the right. I tried this and walked about 0.5 to 1.0 miles along this road, but the habitat did not seem right. It was dry in this area and not wet with mangroves. I found a lot of White-crowned Pigeons on this road.
I left and headed north to Homestead to stay the night. My plan was to be at Black Point Park close to sunrise to try one last time for Mangrove Cuckoo.
Western Spindalis, Black-whiskered Vireo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo make the total 380.