I am often asked, “What is the most important thing you have learned from all your years of birding?” One word answer: Patience. Birds come and go on their own schedule, not yours. They may develop some general patterns and routines, but just when you think you know when and where they will be, they deviate, and you are left with only one solution: wait.
On our recent trip to the west coast of Florida we had this message once again forcefully driven home to us. A rare for Florida (actually anywhere in the United States, as its range is from Mexico to Argentina) Fork-tailed Flycatcher was reported being seen frequently in a location southeast of Tampa. The directions went something like this: “Go past the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve and turn onto Lost River Trail. Follow along the west side of the lake to a cul-de-sac at the end of Fossil Point Drive. The bird hangs out in a twiggy tree in the vacant lot near the lake.”
Additional posts added the information that sometimes the bird flew across the lake, east to strawberry fields on the far side and could be seen with a strong telescope, but make sure not to trespass on the strawberry farm; and another post added that other times it flew west to the area near Gulf City Road. All pretty sketchy, but typical, rare bird alert information. The bird had been seen sporadically for more than three weeks, but had not been seen at all during the three days before we got there.
We arrived at the cul-de-sac about 2 p.m. and quickly located the “twiggy tree” which was the only significant tree on the property. No bird, so we settled down to wait and watch. For a couple of hours we scanned the lake and the strawberry farm on the other side; checked out the close shore of the lake and all the other areas mentioned in the web postings, but still no bird.
More waiting and watching. We amused ourselves by watching and photographing some of the other birds in the area, while watching for our target bird also. Suddenly, shortly after 5 p.m. we saw an unfamiliar flash of white on the far side of the twiggy tree. We maneuvered into position to get a better look and confirmed that it was the Fork-tailed Flycatcher, only to have it fly off and out of sight after only a very brief look.
Remembering that an earlier web post said it went back toward Gulf City Road, we jumped into the car and headed back that direction. Twenty minutes later we relocated the bird, fly-catching in the trees between the road and the lake just as the comment had stated. Using the car as a blind, we watched and photographed the bird for almost half an hour until it left the area.
Three days later, a Sunday, several observers saw the bird for the last time, after it’s nearly month long visit. Had we not been patient and waited for the bird to arrive on its own schedule, we would have missed it, as so many other birders did. The bird was definitely worth the wait.