Yesterday I got off work after a long 8 hour shift, at 3:30pm. I wasn't scheduled to work dinner, and had two days off, so it was my "weekend". As I turned my phone's airplane mode function off, I received multiple alerts and a Facebook message that a Code 5* bird, a Zenaida Dove (pronounced Zen-EYE-da) was seen in Florida, on Long Key. Native to the Bahamas, this was a super-rare bird to be found in the U.S. I quickly searched the driving time: 8.5 hours. You could practically hear the whir as the wheels began to turn in my head. With 48 hours off, chasing this bird was feasible...
*Code 5 has been seen 5 or fewer times in North America in the last 30 years, according to the ABA Checklist Code
Fast forward to 11pm last night. I rolled into Miami International Airport, and picked up Olaf Danielson from his flight in from Texas. Olaf is also doing a Big Year this year, and has set a fantastic pace. I had never birded with him, and wanted to meet him and go birding- so I seized this chance to get a rare bird, and meet a fellow birder. After the luggage was loaded into the back of my silver 'HAWKOWL' (the license plate of my Subaru Outback) we flew south to the Florida Keys. We really did fly... and I was pulled over as soon as we crossed into the Keys. The officer patiently explained Florida's "move over" law, and after receiving the proper documents, sent us on our way with a respectful salute. This was the first time I'd ever been pulled over, so I'll add that to my list of new experiences for the year!
After sleeping in the car with the warm sea breeze wafting through the windows, I awoke at first light, eager to find the Zenaida Dove. We arrived at Long Key Sate Park, paid our entrance fee, and soon were on the trail looking for the bird, along with several others.
We were not disappointed!
Superficially, the Zenaida looks like a larger, stocky Mourning Dove. It's slightly darker, has a square tail, and a white patch on the wing (visible in some of my photos)
There's always more to a good story, and the rest of my day with Olaf was an adventure. Definitely hilarious, spontaneous, and (as expected) full of good birds. We searched for other rarities in the Keys (unsuccessfully) and ended the day by hearing Black Rails in the Everglades. What a great day!
Dropping off my new friend back at the airport tomorrow, and driving up to Georgia again. We'll see what adventures are next!