It's dinntertime for this Tropical Kingbird
Lucky Hammock! Sounds like a perfect name for a Seminole Indian Casino Resort. But it is actually the name of a small birding mecca just a half mile before the Visitor’s Center of the Everglades National Park. Consisting of less than a half-acre of deciduous trees surrounded by the grass lands typical of the Everglades, the hammock attracts an amazing array of rare and unusual birds, concentrated in one spot in Florida. Check out the small rectangle of trees just to the left of the “SW” of SW 232nd Ave in the Google Earth screen-shot accompanying this article. That’s it! One of the best birding hot-spots in all of South Florida!
On a recent trip to the Everglades, Jewel and I were alerted to Vermilion Flycatchers (yes, plural), Tropical Kingbird, Western Kingbird, possible Brown-crested Flycatcher, Bell’s Vireo, Swainson’s Hawk, and a whole variety of warblers, sparrows, wrens and who knows what else, all uncommon to rare, that could be found in this tiny little corner of Florida. For a relatively complete list see http://www.tropicalaudubon.org/frogpond.html
When we arrived at the location, we were sure it could not be correct, because it was such a small patch of trees. Then we saw the Tropical Kingbird. (right) Then we saw the Western Kingbird, not one, but two. Then it began to rain. Early the next morning, armed with more specific information about the exact location of the Vermilion Flycatchers, we found and photographed both the male and female, not exactly at Lucky Hammock itself, but around the corner at the canal that is now considered to be part of the Lucky Hammock area. Not too long after that we found an Ash-throated Flycatcher (below), which no one had even mentioned as a possibility before, and which is not included on the “relatively complete list” quoted above. (Since our “find,” several other postings on internet bird sites have reported it as well.) Lucky us, no?
Why are all these species found in one small location like this? Two reasons:
1. the hammock and surrounding area contains a number of bird friendly resources that are attractive to a wide variety of species; and
2. ever since some lucky birders stumbled upon some “good birds” in the area in 2001, many more birders have continued to search the area, and lo and behold, have continued to find more and varied “good birds.” The phenomenon even has a name.
It is called the Patagonia Roadside Rest Effect. Patagonia is some 60 miles south of Tucson, AZ, and about 18 miles from the border town of Nogales, AZ, and only a few miles north of the Mexican border. In the 1960’s a couple of lucky birders stopped at the one picnic table Patagonia Roadside Rest Area to take a break from an arduous morning of birding, and discovered a pair of Rose-throated Becards, a rare Mexican species, nesting there. That discovery brought many more birders to that very small area and led to the discovery of many more rare birds ever since that first discovery; and the phenomenon continues today. On a personal note, Jewel and I saw our first Tropical Kingbird at the Kino Springs Golf Course, only a few miles west of the Patagonia Rest Stop, and then shortly thereafter, stopped at the already famous picnic table and found our life Rose-throated Becard.
Thus, luck does play a small part in the discovery of a Lucky Hammock or a Patagonia Rest Stop birding hot-spot. But the birds discovered the place first, and found it was a good place to hang out. My guess is there are a lot more such hot-spots simply waiting to be discovered. All they need is a succession of birders concentrating on the area, getting lucky. They probably don’t need a Seminole Indian Casino Resort. That takes another, different kind of luck.
For more information on Lucky Hammock, see: www.birdwatchingdaily.com/Where%20to%20go/Hotspots%20Near%20You/2010/10/102%20Lucky%20Hammock.aspx and for more on the Patagonia Rest Stop Effect see: www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/05/09/20080509greenbirdcolumn0509.html
P. S. A week later, Jewel and I, on a trip to STA-5, south of Clewiston, saw and photographed another Tropical Kingbird; making that the first two Tropical Kingbirds we have seen since that first one in Arizona.
Vermilion Flycatcher, male
Vermilion Flycatcher, female