The beginning of a new year offers opportunities not only to look ahead but also to reflect back on the year just past. The year 2020 was without a doubt unlike any in recent memory. For the local birding community, the year began as most do, with the last Christmas Bird Counts of the season, followed by opportunities to kick-start a new year list by participating in TAS field trips. Our sold-out Western Cuba birding tour in early February was a resounding success; we tallied 120 species during the one-week tour, including twenty Cuban endemics and nineteen Caribbean endemics. For details, see the trip report (http://s3.amazonaws.com/tas-website/comfy/cms/files/396/original_Western_Cuba_Birding_Trip_Report.pdf). At the historic Doc Thomas House and Steinberg Nature Center, our events during January and February, including guided DTH tours, eco-restoration days, conservation concerts and our annual Bird Day, proceeded as scheduled. We also launched our Bird Board on Facebook in February; by year’s end, the Facebook group had swelled to over 700 members, mostly locals but also many from outside Florida and a few from other countries!
In mid-March, everything came to a crashing halt as Covid-19 quickly spread around the globe. A stay-at-home order, along with the closure of all county, state and national parks forced us to eventually cancel or postpone all upcoming events and field trips, including birding tours to Spain, Arizona and Mexico. Parks eventually reopened, but pandemic-related restrictions on group activities prevented us from scheduling any new field trips. To provide a desperately needed outlet for birders stuck at home, we began to promote backyard and neighborhood birding, as well participation in events such as eBird’s Global Big Day. Our Bird Board on Facebook was quickly flooded with backyard bird reports from birders far and wide. Later in the year, we scheduled webinars focusing on bird migration and south Florida’s introduced birds. Both webinars were very well attended.
The birds, thankfully, continued to live their lives in spite of the pandemic, and plenty of rare birds were found in south Florida during 2020. An amazing array of Caribbean species visited the area over the course of the year, including White-cheeked Pintail, American Flamingo, Ruddy Quail-Dove, Smooth-billed Ani, Neotropic Cormorant, Antillean Short-eared Owl, Cuban Pewee, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Thick-billed Vireo, Bahama Swallow, Red-legged Thrush, Bahama Mockingbird, Western Spindalis and Black-faced Grassquit. Several species from western or far-northern North America also wandered into our area during the year, including Common Eider, Rufous Hummingbird, Pacific Golden-Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Purple and Baird’s Sandpiper, Long-tailed Jaeger, Heermann’s and Franklin’s Gull, Olive-sided, Hammond’s and Ash-throated Flycatcher, Bell’s and Warbling Vireo, Bicknell’s Thrush, Lark Sparrow, Pine Siskin, Yellow-headed and Rusty Blackbird, Bullock’s Oriole, Lazuli Bunting, Western Tanager, Mourning Warbler and Florida’s first Hermit Warbler. We even had a couple of European species show up: Ruff and Black-headed Gull, plus a few species of predominately Mexican or Central American origin: Groove-billed Ani, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Tropical Kingbird and most unexpectedly, Piratic Flycatcher.
Though Covid vaccines became available just before Christmas, it will still be many months before some sense of normalcy finally returns. At some point in 2021, group activity restrictions will be lifted and TAS will once again be able to schedule birding field trips, as well as events at Doc Thomas House. Until then, we should continue to bird on our own, wear masks and practice social distancing. We must also continue to support bird conservation to ensure that birds will continue to be there for us, even if for the moment we may only be able to search for them in our backyards and local parks. Goodbye 2020 and Happy New Year, south Florida birding community! Here’s to better days ahead.