I arrived at Sabine Woods at around 8:15am. It was very quiet, and over the course of the 1.5 hours that I spent birding, nothing suggested that the birding would heat up at any point in the morning. At 9:45 I made the decision to take a ride down to Sea Rim State Park. I figured if nothing else I would see some shorebirds and give the birds a bit of time to turn over at Sabine Woods in my absence. On my way out of the woods, I reached the 300-species plateau when I found a single Black-throated green warbler. This was a nice milestone, and it gave me added motivation to ride the 6 miles down the road to Sea Rim. About 5 miles into an otherwise quiet ride, I spotted a small, dark bird in a bush along the roadside. Something did not seem right about it, so I stopped to have a quick look. To my absolute shock, it turned out to be a Black-throated blue warbler (#301). I grabbed the camera and cracked off a few shots before the bird flew down the road a bit. Finding this bird was the single best moment of my year. I was so excited I was yelling "YES, YES, YES!!!" in the middle of the street (it is VERY lightly trafficked). There was also copious fist pumping. I will explain why this bird meant so much to me today.
To understand the significance of today's Black-throated blue warbler, we need to go back in time for a few minutes. In fact, we need to go back to March 6 (Day 64), the amazing day of Miami birding I referenced above. My first birding stop on that day was Matheson Hammock Park south of Miami. I was looking for the wintering La Sagra's flycatcher that had spent the previous 5 months in the park. While I was looking for the flycatcher, I heard a bird that I am 99% sure was a Black-throated blue warbler. On the map above, you can see that some of these birds do winter in extreme Southern Florida. However, not 5 seconds after I heard the warbler, I heard the flycatcher. I figured the warbler could wait as I would certainly see lots of these during migration. I spent the next 30 minutes successfully searching for the flycatcher in a grove of trees that was a few hundred feet from where I heard the warbler. I was so excited after tallying the flycatcher that I completely forgot about the warbler. I thought nothing more about the warbler for about 2 weeks when I finally realized what a devastating and stupid mistake I had made.
Black-throated blue warblers winter in the Caribbean and southern part of Central America. Both their spring and fall migrations are generally confined to the East Coast. They, and birds like Cape May warbler, are generally referred to as Eastern Gulf Migrants since they migrate mainly through Florida; They are only very rarely observed in the Western Gulf states of Louisiana and Texas. Checking eBird, there were ~10 Black-throated blue warbler records for the entire Texas coast from March to June of 2013. The chances that I would find this bird in Texas during migration after walking away from the wintering bird at Matheson Hammock were essentially zero. Finding this bird today was a huge thrill for me since I now realize how hard it is to find this bird in Texas. However, finding this bird also took me off the hook from the stupid, mental mistake I made in literally walking away from this bird in Miami. This is why I was so excited today.
As an aside, I did not want to retroactively count the putative Black-throated blue warbler I heard in Miami once I realized my mistake 2 weeks later. I only heard the bird sing once, and I did not take the extra two minutes to confirm what I heard that day. I decided that this bird would be the price that I would pay for not doing my homework on this species when I was in South Florida. Today felt great; I was vindicated of my own mistake!
Soon after I found the bird, a few carloads of birders past me on the road. I flagged them down and put them onto the bird. After a bit of birding at Sea Rim where I added White-tailed kite (#302), I cycled back to Sabine Woods to inform folks there of my find. Many people went sprinting to their cars as soon as I explained how to find the bird. As far as I know, everyone who went to search for it was able to relocate it. Since so many people have helped me find birds this year, it felt really good to be able to repay the bird karma!
After I spread the word about the Black-throated blue warbler, the predicted low-pressure storm system started to move through the area. Skies darkened, winds shifted from south to north, and, as was suggested by this exact forecast, birds began to drop from their high altitude migration routes into the tree right in front of my eyes. The fallout was underway. I noticed an immediate burst of common warblers (parula, redstart, palm, etc). Orioles and tanagers appeared as if from nowhere. I picked up my first Eastern wood-pewee (#303). From a very large feeding group, I extracted a single female Cerulean warbler (#304). Just after this bird, the skies opened up, the wind howled, and the few remaining birders and I took shelter under the small picnic pavilion.
When the rain cleared an hour later, Sabine Woods was filled with birds. Blue-winged warblers, Hooded warblers, Orchard orioles, Summer tanagers, Indigo buntings, Wood thrushes, Gray catbirds, and other neotropical migrants were everywhere. A fellow birder shouted "Golden-winged warbler, just below the diagonal branch", and my binoculars found there way to my face to reveal what I consider to be the most beautiful of all North American warblers (#305). This, and the Cerulean, were both high quality finds. I also found at least a 6-7 Lincoln's sparrows (#306) and a single Swainson's thrush (#307). There were several other would-be year birds reported by others, so I know tomorrow morning should be good. The winds right now are gusting from the north at 30 MPH. This means that any birds that made it into Sabine Woods before or during the storm will be spending the night. They know that trying to fly into such a stiff headwind is a waste of time and energy. These birds will instead feed voraciously tomorrow to replenish their energy levels. There should be lots of actively feeding birds for me to find tomorrow!
Golden-winged warbler - NOT MY PHOTO!
One last note: We did have a Swallow-tailed kite at Sabine Woods this afternoon. Locals tell me that this is a very good bird for this area. I managed a record photo from a great distance.