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2019 Chase Blogs and Photographs

Antillian Palm-Swift - Florida
Written November 5, 2019

Les and I both have had the thrill of flying on commercial airline flight on which Ed was the First Officer. Quite a thrill. Now that he has upgraded to Captain, we wanted to fly on a flight on which he was the Captain. While he is actively flying, the opportunities have been limited due to the fact that he is a reserve Captain and does not have a real schedule yet. That will come as he gains seniority.
He recently picked up a set of flights (“a line”) that included two flights on Sunday. One from Philadelphia to St Louis and then quick return to Philadelphia. This would be perfect for Les and I enjoy flying with him. When we started to plan it became apparent that while there were plenty of seats going to St Louis but there were no standby seats coming back on his flight. We could have made it back after a couple of hour layover in St. Louis but we would not be returning with Ed.
So that plan was put on hold for another time.

But I got to thinking……...
I could fly the PHL to St Louis leg with Ed and then chase something. I have been on the shelf for several weeks. The obvious bird was the Antillean Palm-Swift that has been some what consistent in Marathon FL. Chris Hitt and I chased it in July and we dipped on it. It has been a burr under my saddle knowing that it is still around and while not a lock, it has been somewhat reliable. Neil Hayward had it the other day.
So on Sunday I went to the Philadelphia airport when I joined up with Ed. It was a smooth flight to St Louis as you would expect with Ed at the controls.
Once in St Louis the plane turned around in 30 minutes and Ed and a full passenger load headed back to PHL.

I was on my way to Miami and the Florida Keys. Flying non-revenue standby can be a challenge and puzzle. I had the choice of waiting in St Louis for a direct flight to Miami late in the evening or flying up to Chicago and getting a flight from there to Miami. That second option would get me to Miami about 90 minutes earlier but those flights had less available seats than the late flight out of St. Louis. I rolled the dice and went to Chicago. At the last minute the flight from Chicago to Miami got some last minute fare paying passengers. That put the squeeze on the standbys and I was pretty far down the list. But the travel gods smiled on me and I got the last seat. Off to Miami.
In Miami I picked up a rental car and drove through an unexpected thunderstorm to Homestead and a motel. Got there about 11:45 pm

By 6:15 am was on the road to Marathon and the location. Neil gave me perfect local knowledge and at 8:10 I was scanning, and scanning, and scanning. After about 45 minutes when discouragement usually sets in, I got on the swift. Distinctive shape, wingbeat and colors. Tick. I stayed on it with my bins to lock it in mentally and then I tried for pictures. As soon as I put my bins down I realized it was not a naked eye bird. I put my bins back up and got back on it and watched it become quite distant. Never a chance for photos. I hung around until 11 am and I never resighted the bird. Another birder showed up about 10 am and he stayed after I left. Several locals stopped by a couple asked what we were looking for and a few knew about the bird and asked if we had seen it.

I then worked my way north and did the traditional stop for a celebratory milkshake at “Robert is Here”
Now I am in the Admirals Club in Miami waiting for a flight back home. If all goes well I should be home about midnight.

The hip is holding up. Obviously standing around for a couple of hours made it sore and I had some long walks through airports. But all is good.

So that is the story of the last two days. A memorable flight with Ed and a life bird!


Mexican Violetear - Texas
Written August 1, 2019

A Mexican Violetear (formerly known as Green Violetear) is a semi annual vagrant north of the Mexican border. They have a habit of being in a location for a short period of time and then moving on. I chased one unsuccessfully in northern NJ a couple of years ago.

One had been coming to a feeder about 70 miles SW of San Antonio Texas for a couple of days. I had a window of opportunity so off I went. I flew down on Monday and drove to Laura and Dave Keene’s house outside of San Antonio. Doreene Linzell was visiting them and it was great to see her.
On Tuesday morning we drove to the location. This is a restricted access home and Laura was able to get us access. We got there and the homeowner showed us the bush it had been in every day and the feeder it was frequenting.
We sat watching from about 10 am to 2 pm. No luck.
We took a break from the heat for a couple of hours and were back about 4:30. The homeowner was watching for us and he did not see it in our absence.
We watched again until almost 7 pm. No luck
This bird had been feeding regularly the past couple of days and it seemed to have finally taken off.
On the ride back to San Antonio we drove a dirt road near Laura’s house and were treated to two Eastern Black-tailed Rattlesnakes in the road.

I had to get back home and I was up and out of the house at 3:30 am. Got back to Philadelphia midafternoon on Wednesday.
And when I got to Philadelphia I got a text from Laura that the hummingbird reappeared. I assume Laura and Doreene went back and saw it but I do not have confirmation of that.

I am now 0-2 chasing this hummingbird. But that is part of chasing birds. And if it was easy it would not be so much fun.

Here are some pictures from this adventure


Antillian Palm-Swift and Black-faced Grassquit - Florida
Written July 24, 2019

An interesting two days. (Monday and Tuesday) An Antillean Palm-Swift appeared in the Florida Keys late last week. If accepted this will be the second North American record of this species.
Chris Hitt and I looked at our schedules and on Sunday we came up with a plan. We would chase on Monday the 22nd. And as a bonus for me, a Black-faced Grassquit was found on Sunday only 35 minutes south of the swift location. Both would be lifers for me and the swift would be a lifer for Chris.

So off we went early on Monday morning. We arrived on separate flights in Miami and after Chris picked up the rental car, we were headed south by about 10 am. By slightly after noon we were at the stakeout location on Grassy Key. There had been a brief sighting earlier that morning.
We scanned and waited with a group of other serious chasers. It was hot and there was not much shade. It was a classic stakeout. We knew some of the other stakeout participants (Ken W and Nicole K in particular) and made friends with all the others. There was the usual birding stakeout chit chat as we stood in the sun and heat and scanned. Bill Pranty showed up in the middle of the afternoon and it was good to see him.
And it was sunny and hot. That cannot be repeated to often.
As the afternoon rolled on some people left to find the Grassquit, some went for food and water, and some stayed.
Then about 5:30 pm in the midst of a group of barn swallows we saw the bird. It was a very quick flyby and photos were not possible. Lots of smiling faces!!!!!!
(Make sure you read the bottom part of this message)
Right after the sighting Chris and I bolted for the Grassquit but when we got there it was late in the day and the bird that had been singing all day was either not there or was quiet.

So back up to the swift spot where we heard that the swift made another appearance. It was getting near dusk and we were shown a roosting Antillean Nighthawk and saw three of them in the air. It was still hot.
The sun went down and Chris and I went and found a room at a motel in Marathon. We had two requirements for dinner. Air conditioning and beer. Fulfilling those two requirements took longer than expected but with some local knowledge we came up with a solution.

Tuesday morning found us back at the swift site hoping that I could get a photo. The bird had been reliable in the morning and we planned to give it to 8:30 am. There was a group of about 10 dedicated birders and on site and in spite of all our efforts by 8:30 there was no sighting. So Chris and I bolted for the Grassquit site where we heard the bird singing as we opened the car doors. We quickly located it on a wire and stood there as the bird put on a show. Great views of a great bird.
Back in the car and we started to work our way north and home. We stopped at the swift site shortly after 10 and there still had not been a sighting.
In Florida City Chris had a great little Mexican restaurant where we had breakfast/lunch. Then to “Robert is Here” for milkshakes.
We dropped off the rental car and checked in for our flights. Chris was flying out about 3:30 and I was flying out standby at 4 pm.

It did not look good for getting on my flight but two seats opened up a the very, very last minute and I was the last one down the jet way.
I settled in just in time for the captain to announce that there was lightning in the area and the airport was on a ground hold.
We sat for 2.4 hours before we pushed back and started our flight to Philadelphia.
I used part of that down time to look at pictures and videos that other people took of the swift earlier in the week.

When we landed in Philadelphia I saw that I had a voice mail from Chris. Even before I listened to it I knew what he was calling about.
Like me he had looked at pictures and a video of the swift. He had also spoken to Laura who had seen the bird a couple of days earlier.
On the drive back home from the airport, I spoke to Chris on the phone.
We are both in agreement. We cannot be 100 percent sure that we saw the swift. Replaying in our minds, the bird each of us saw might have been an immature Purple Martin.
It may have been the swift but the ethical decision is to err on the side of caution. Neither Chris and I are counting that bird.

As the late, great Pete Bacinski said on many occasions, “sometimes it is not the bird you want it to be.”

Here are a few pictures from this adventure



Buff-collared Nightjar and Common Crane - Arizona
Written June 16, 2019

Back from a three night visit to Arizona. There was one major target bird – Buff-collared Nightjar and a possibility of another target bird – Common Crane. Both ABA lifers
We were successful on both of those birds!
And of course, being the magical area of southeast Arizona we saw a couple of other species!!
Laura Keene came in from Texas and it was good, as always, to bird with her.

Here are some pictures from this adventure.


Thick-billed Vireo and Western Spindalis - Florida
Written March 12, 2019

Out of the house about 2:30 am on Monday morning. Flew to LaGuardia and then got on a plane to Miami. It was the best routing for me.
Picked up a rental at the airport (upgraded to a SUV) and headed to Crandon Park about 12 miles away.
The target was a long staying and cooperating Thick-billed Vireo.
Pulled up in the front of the Nature Center, grabbed my camera and bins and headed to the area where it was being seen. It was at the entrance right off the parking lot.
Within 15 minutes I got good pictures and looks at this bird. Lifer!
I then looked at possible return flights and realized that getting home was going to be a challenge. I never look at return flights until I am ready to head home. Less stress.
My best routing was through Charlotte leaving Miami at about 7:30 pm. Stand by seating was going to be tight but I thought I could get on the flights.
I hung around at the park for several more hours hoping a female Western Spindalis which was often seen there would show up. This was not a lifer for me but I wanted to get some photos of it.
It was hot and I was not really dressed for the heat but I hung in there until it showed up at about 2:30. Got views and pictures.
By now it was after 3 pm and I decided to head to the coolness of the airport terminal.
I got in the rental vehicle and headed back over the causeway. I noticed extra road noise and realized the back passenger side window would not go up. Not a problem. Not my vehicle.
When I stopped at a red light near the airport I heard glass shifting around on the backseat floor. I turned and looked and realized the window was gone. It had been smashed.
And I saw that my two pieces of luggage were gone.
I had been robbed at the park. A roll aboard with some clothes in case I had to stay overnight was gone. And my backpack with my laptop, my tablet and all my chase gear was gone.
I pulled in to the rental return and filed a report.
The next couple of hours were a succession of phone calls to the park (they did not care), the police (they took a report), my auto insurance company (covering the glass damage with a deductible), my homeowners insurance company (covering the luggage with a deductible).
Once I got over the initial shock and anger, I realized it was just stuff that can be replaced. The information on the electronics was backed up
I was OK and …….I got the bird.
I made the flights home but Les had to bring a car key down to the airport because my key was in the backpack and it was gone.
Home by 1 am. Brought an old laptop up from the basement and that has me back on line temporarily.
I am getting a new laptop and will process photos when that happens.

Life is nothing if not interesting.

Here are some pictures from this adventure


Yellow Grosbeak and Crimson-collared Grosbeak
February 20, 2019

Here are some photographs from this adventure


Dark-billed Cuckoo - Florida
Written February 9, 2019

It became clear yesterday (Friday) that a Dark-billed Cuckoo was being seen at a regional park north of Miami Florida. If accepted this might be the first record of this species in the ABA area. I need to do research on that. One way or another it is probably a once in a life time bird for the American Birding Association area
I was in communication with Chris during the day. He was planning on heading to Florida that evening. Neil was planning the same. After checking with Les who gave here blessing for the chase I worked on trying to figure out how to make the chase work. Unfortunately getting to Florida on a Friday night in the winter from Philadelphia is not an original idea. I even explored routing through Denver or Las Vegas but even that creative idea would not work.
So at 6 am this morning I was on a flight from Philadelphia to Florida using frequent flyer miles. If I flew standby I probably would not have gotten to Florida today. I arrived at the Miami airport at 9 am and was soon greeted by a text from Chris that birders were seeing the bird. And Neil was the first to locate it this morning!
It is about a 1 hour drive to the location from the airport. After I had been on the road about 15 minutes Chris called to let me know that it was raining, the bird had gone missing, and “all” the birders left. A bit of a gut wrencher. And Neil had to leave to get back north so I would miss seeing him.
But in about 15 more minutes Chris called me to tell me the bird had been relocated. That was a good call to get.

I got to the location, popped out of the rental car just as the bird put on a nice little show in from of me and other birders. Then it went back into the foliage and vines. For about the next half hour we played hide and seek with it. Most views were through heavy vines. And then it decided to really hide. When I left it had not been relocated for about 90 minutes. I assume that at some point it was relocated after I left but I cannot confirm that one way or the other.

Chris headed to the airport, and I headed to the winter house of some great friends from up home. My showing up was certainly a surprise. The beer really tasted good, and Susan put together a nice lunch for me, her, Ted, and Bob Cohen.
Now I am back at the Miami airport hoping to get a standby seat on a flight home in about an hour and a half. If I do not get on that flight there is a later one that looks pretty “open”

So a quick day trip to Florida for a mega rarity. Certainly a nice unexpected day of birding.

Here are some pictures from this adventure


White-throated Thrush - Arizona
Written January 28, 2019

I had a window of opportunity to do a chase for the White-throated Thrush in Arizona and I went for it.
I flew on Thursday and at sunrise on Friday I was up in Madera Canyon, south of Tucson, looking for this rarity. It was pretty quiet for several hours but about 11:30 am the bird flew in and everyone there was happy! I spent the rest of the day doing some general birding in this great birding location.

On Saturday around noon Laura Keene flew into Tucson and we set off for the location of the thrush. Unfortunately we sent the rest of that day watching and hoping with no success. It had not been seen at all that day.
On Sunday morning we were there just after first light and the bird was there to meet us and some other birders. Lots of smiles all around.
Then it was off to do some more general birding until midafternoon when we headed to Phoenix for flights.
Laura flew out on that night and I had to wait until today (Monday) to get home.

Nice little chase. It was good to see the target bird and get the opportunity to do some birding in that special area. I have visited it several times and I have never been disappointed.
Now to sort through the 1600 pictures I took.

Here are some pictures from this adventure


Red-flanked Bluetail - California
January 13, 2019

Here are some pictures from this adventure