On December 3rd an out-of-state birder photographed and reported a Smooth-billed Ani near the first (northermost) parking lot at Little Talbot Island State Park. I was out of town for work and unable to go look for it, but Dave Foster managed to make it out there and relocate the bird. After Dave’s re-confirmation, the Hordes showed up over the next several days, leading to widespread reports of people walking through the dunes, disturbing shrubs and vegetation, and using extensive playback to call the bird up.
Anyone who knows anything about birding should know that a species like an Ani is a) very much out of range here, b) could consequently be a little disoriented, and c) is a social, gregarious, inquisitive species that is likely to be eager to re-join a family group. Despite that, people constantly used recordings to get the bird to respond…presumably adding to the bird’s stress and anxiety.
I was finally able to go look for the bird on Saturday, December 8th, and spent 8 hours walking around the area it had been observed. I covered 20,000 “Fitbit steps” during that 8 hour period canvassing a relatively small area between those 2 parking lots, and never saw or heard a hint of the bird. There were many others there searching also, so I feel like we had excellent coverage…the only reasonable explanation to me is that the bird was present but was perhaps resting after several days of being harassed.
I went back out Sunday morning following a torrential rain storm and found the bird in the exact same patch it had been seen for days. I obviously didn’t use agitation techniques to engage the bird. A quiet and patient approach can often pay dividends. While I’m not a “lister”, I do naturally take interest in my home county totals, and this species is #310 in Duval County.
In terms of historical context, this is actually the third report of the species in Duval County. If I might quote myself from my Species account section of this website (look under Cuckoos): “Sam Grimes reported three birds “studied at close range at Jacksonville Beach” on 29 October 1966, and two (presumably the same birds) were noted again on 5 November 1966 (Stevenson, 1967, p. 24).” So, it is certainly a significant observation and record for Northeast Florida.