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Happening NOW: Have You Checked In With Florida Lately?

But, really… Have you? If you’ve been following any of the many Facebook rarity groups, the weekly RBA on this blog, or eBird rarity alerts, you’ve likely noted that for several months now, Florida has been dominating the rarity scene. From the Black-tailed Gull and the just-found Key West Quail-Dove in Volusia County to fascinating, if controversial, Great White Pelican returning to Lee County to the almost overwhelming cluster of vagrants around Miami and Fort Lauderdale, more and more birding news has been pouring out of Florida.

Florida is prone to this type of “event.” Rare birds often appear in waves there, perhaps in part because the inevitable increase in birder traffic, perhaps in part because of conditions causing dispersal. What is interesting about this particular wave, is that it encompasses enough different species with enough different patterns of vagrancy, that they are likely not being funneled into Florida by the same forces. In other words, a Black-tailed Gull arriving at Daytona Beach from East Asia did not take the same route or move for the same reasons as a La Sagra’s Flycatcher ending up in Miami from points just to the south and east.

Many of these species have well-known and established patterns of vagrancy that are least somewhat understood. Western Spindalis, the aforementioned flycatcher, and Thick-billed Vireo, for example, are all species we somewhat expect to see as vagrants. None of them is distributed too far from south Florida and all have proven to be at least somewhat prone to drifting north and west on occasion. And while Black tailed Gull would probably not have been high on anyone’s list of “next Florida rarity,” it is a species that has turned up far and wide in numerous less-than-expected locations (Iowa, Texas, and Bermuda being just a few of the more unusual). If we assume it was a misdirected or misoriented bird coming across the continent, Florida isn’t that far-fetched a destination for one to reach.

Then there are the oddballs; personally, these are my favorites. The Dark-billed Cuckoo has to fall into this category, given the paucity of out-of-range records. Still, it is a migratory species, so maybe we’re just overthinking that one a bit. The Key West Quail-Dove is also refreshingly unusual in that prior records have centered on south Florida—areas that are, more-or-less adjacent to the species’ natural and normal range. Coming from Volusia County, this record does not hold to that pattern and adds just enough novelty to make that record fun and different.

Since rare birds are still popping up down there, perhaps we can assume that the Florida show is not yet over. So keep your eyes trained on all of those rarity alert systems and keep tracking where all the rarities are coming from. Maybe, with a bit more time, we can start to unravel why this particular wave has been rolling for so long. Perhaps more likely it will remain a mystery, if an extremely entertaining and exciting one. If you make the trek down, let us know! Tell us which species you encountered that had you most excited or which record you find most evocative. Until next time, good birding!

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Mike Hudson

Mike Hudson

Editor, North American Birds at American Birding Association
Mike Hudson is Editor of North American Birds. He grew up within sight of Baltimore, Maryland. Living in the city, he developed an interest in urban birds, and the differences in distribution he observed between rural and urban areas. He is also fascinated by the forces that drive changes in bird distribution, from climate and weather to competing species. Mike works at the Chester River Field Research Station where he assists with the seasonal bird banding operations there. He has also been an educator at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, where he taught about ecology and conservation and he has been staff at multiple ABA young birder camps and events.