Saturday, July 28, 2012

Finding Nemesis Birds and Vagrants

Vermilion Flycatcher
Like many birders and bird photographers, one of my favorite aspects of birding is finding and photographing new species. In my quest to find what I haven't seen before, I have frequently been aided by a local email listserve. By joining this listerve, I not only had the opportunity to learn from birders with many years of experience with Florida birding, but I've also been able to read reports from other birders. This has allowed me find many different kinds of birds.

Vagrant Species
A vagrant is a species of bird that simply doesn't belong in your area--it's a bird that has been found well outside it's expected range for breeding, wintering or migrating. Some birds become forced from their normal migration paths by storms, and they land far outside their normal range. Others wander from their normal ranges due to youth or other factors. It's always enjoyable to find these birds, and checking a listerve is a great way to find vagrants in your area. The Vermilion Flycatcher pictured above is normally found in the southwestern U.S. and southward, and it would be unusual much east of Texas. But in February 2012, two males were found at Orlando Wetlands Park just east of Orlando.
Fork-tailed Flycatcher
Fork-tailed Flycatchers are normally found in Mexico and southward, but some wander widely from their normal range, and they can be found in the eastern U.S. One was found in the Cockroach Bay area of Florida in January and February. Another was seen in Lake Apopka earlier this month.
Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrows are not usually found along the gulf coast, but can be found in western and midwestern states. But this Lark Sparrow was found at Ft. De Soto along the gulf coast of Florida.

Nemesis Birds
Sometimes it seems like there's a bird that's just avoiding us, as if the entire species had a meeting to conspire together and avoid being seen by one individual. When this happens to you, you need a counter-strategy, and a listerve can be just the strategy to outsmart these nemesis birds.
Gray Kingbird
I went to Viera Wetlands in March, and I must have been lax in reading the listserve, because I didn't know that my then nemesis bird, the Gray Kingbird, had just been seen there. But, as I approached the wetlands in my car, I noticed several people (who had been reading) gathered just outside the wetlands staring at the bushes. I pulled over to see what they had found, and there was my nemesis bird.
Prothonotary Warbler
My next nemesis bird has been the Prothonotary Warbler. These birds have been so successful in their conspiracy to avoid my detection that I had to leave the state to find one. I went up to Northern Virginia to visit family this past week, and I got wind that one had been seen at Occoquan Bay NWR. So I walked the "easy trail" to the river, and there it was waiting for me. He must not have been part of the conspiracy meeting.

Rare/Threatened Birds
While I think we should be careful about broadcasting the location of truly rare and endangered birds, some species are threatened due to habitat loss, but their habitats may be visited without disturbing bird populations.
Bachman's Sparrow
Recently a friend posted the location of some Bachman's Sparrows.

Florida Scrub Jay
And when I first moved to Florida, one of my first sightings of a threatened species was a Florida Scrub Jay. Of course, with threatened and endangered species, we must be even more diligent to avoid disturbing the birds or disrupting their habitat. But good and responsible communication between birders can enhance the experience for all of us.

Scott Simmons
Learn Outdoor Photography


  1. Buenas capturas sobre todo el Atrapamoscas que es precioso.Saludos

  2. Nice photos and great post Scott.

  3. Interesting post and great photos, Scott. There's a nice essay by Ted Eubanks about hunting for rarities and being a jerk:
    I am shamefaced to admit I've been there too :-(

    1. That's a great essay. We all can learn from it.

  4. Nice break-down Scott, and lovely photos. There is an added thrill in chasing the vagrant or rare bird. As you say, it must be done carefully, but the rewards are very great.

  5. Nice post. I think that some birds can tell when I am looking for them - and they morph into leaves or something!

    Great pictures

    Stewart N

  6. I really enjoyed reading this wonderful post, Scott! Outstanding photographs, as always! It's always fun to catch sight of a vagrant bird. I will be heading down to Florida soon and hope to spot a Florida Scrub Jay.