It was interesting to watch the individual criteria each expert uses for identifying birds and see how they reach the same or different conclusions. Sibley and Jaramillo are specific and scientific in their identifications, whereas Dunne is more emotional in interpretations. For instance, instead of giving us specific field marks to identify a reddish egret, Pete Dunne likens the way they move to "linebackers who dropped a tab of crystal meth". Now that is an image I won't soon forget and the next day, when I saw my lifer reddish egret, I couldn't have agreed more. He also compared a red-shouldered hawk's hunched appearance to Winston Churchill.
Winston Churchill (or maybe Alfred Hitchcock) on a pole at Viera Wetlands
Garnering an even bigger audience laugh, Pete Dunne tried to explain the difference between short and long-billed dowitchers. Short-bills have blunter and heavier bills and smudgier markings than the long-billed. He described the long-billed as "gentrified" and the short-billed as "shabby". "You wouldn't mind if your son or daughter was going out with a long-billed, but if they brought home a short-billed, you might have to pull them aside for a bit of a talk." Kevin Karlson asked the experts about their favorite birds and remarked that since the peregrine falcon was the symbol of the Cape May Bird Observatory, it must be Dunne's favorite. Dunne replied, "Yes. If I hadn't married Linda...". He does make me giggle.
Cooperative blue wing teal at Viera Wetlands
After the seminar ended I took a solo trip to the Rich Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera, a series of connected ponds at a wastewater treatment facility in Central Brevard county, about an hour south of where I was staying. Besides, everyone at the festival was excited about the rare masked duck that had been at the wetlands for the past three weeks and I wanted to tick this one off on my life list.
Driving further down the roads, I scanned the pond-edging reeds hoping for green heron (one of my favorite waterbirds) and perhaps a lifer bittern. I knew I was pushing my luck with a bittern - this secretive species is known for blending in with the vegetation and standing stock still making it difficult to spot movement that would alert a birder to it's presence. But a girl can hope, right?
I saw sparrows, green herons (yay!), egrets, little blue herons and turtles in the reeds. Then I saw what looked like some white feathers caught on a reed. I backed the car up at a painfully slow crawl and there he was - clinging to the reeds - a Least Bittern! Wow. Idid the Life Bird Wiggle from my seat and snapped one picture before he disappeared back into the reeds. Could this day get any better?
My lifer least bittern
A flyover pileated woodpecker capped off the day and I drove back to New Smyrna Beach, sated with lifers, but still missing a reddish egret, one of my target birds for the trip.
On Tuesday, my Aunt Maggie drove me to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge where I wanted to get that darn reddish egret before I went back to Pennsylvania. It poured rain for the first two hours of our trip, but we soldiered on and got hooded merganser (lifer!), American avocet (lifer!) - an elegant and beautiful bird - and finally, my lifer reddish egret. Harriers, skimmers, herons, egrets, spoonbills, terns, sandpipers, shovelers, teals, grebes, shrike, limpkin, tree swallows, vultures, hawks, pelicans, osprey, kestrels (by the dozens!), kingfisher, moorhens, coots, phoebe and an alligator rounded out the day. Wow. 3 more lifers with just a short trip to Merritt Island. And while in the gift shop, we got great looks at a male painted bunting, at the feeder, in the pouring rain. Not a lifer, but a nice trip-bird.