Every July around the 4th I begin looking for our earliest fall migrant, the Louisiana Waterthrush. The easiest and best place to find them is on Fort George Island along the long dirt road leading to Kingsley Plantation. Mornings are best (early), but evenings will work also – but it’s best to wait until a seasonal thunderstorm passes through the area leaving a few puddles in the road. This year I began the quest around July 3rd and made a number of visits there on weekend mornings or after work in the evenings. I didn’t turn up a single Waterthrush the first couple of weeks. On Saturday the 23rd, we decided to leave Jacksonville at 2AM and head down to the Everglades National Park to chase the super rare Black-faced Grassquit. We got there at 8AM, quickly got the Grassquit, saw the male Western Spindalis, and started heading back north.
Along the way we stopped at Wakodohatchee Wetlands in Palm Beach County to get Gray-headed Swamphen on the year list and nab some great photos with the 500mm lens. Lake Worth Beach Park wasn’t too far out of the way, so we also decided to go see the Tropical Mockingbird. Although it hasn’t been accepted (yet) by the records committee, it’s possible that could be overturned one day as there’s no question as to the ID, but rather questionable provenance. Nonetheless, it’s a cool bird to see “in the wild”.
We arrived back home exhausted after an eighteen hour round trip, but it had obviously rained alot while we were gone…meaning puddles on Fort George Island. I set the alarm for 6AM and the next morning was at the dirt road at first light. I saw the first Louisiana Waterthrush within the first half mile, and on the way back down the road I saw a second and managed some decent photographs…at least decent enough to see all the relevant field marks separating this from a Northern (which would be rare this time of year anyway).
This was the first verifiable report of the species in Northeast Florida this entire year, and so far is the only one reported this summer (fall migration). I know many local birders don’t get out in the heat very much and that’s probably a main reason for these birds going largely unreported. For me, it gives me something to look forward to in early July before fall shorebirds start arriving, and the window on them is relatively tight. Birders waiting until “fall migration” in late August/September will most likely never see this species here.