First published December 1, 2015... Contact Hart at

This Variegated Flycatcher is a Code 5 bird from the Amazon and northern Argentina.

Code Birds

“Code Blue! Code Blue!” Jewel was sitting in the Cardiac Area Waiting Room waiting for me to return from a very routine cardiac catheterization procedure to determine the status of the triple bypass I had had some 11 years earlier. “It’ll only take 20 minutes to half an hour and you will be ready to go home immediately thereafter,” the cardiologist had assured us. With the “Code Blue!” alert over the sound system, numerous nurses and doctors came rushing from all over the hospital, through the waiting room, and into the inner sanctum of the cardiac catheterization lab in the rear. Mystified, Jewel assumed there must be some emergency, never dreaming that it might have anything to do with me. Not until a nurse came out to inform her several hours later that I was alright and a doctor would be out shortly to fill her in, did her growing anxiety, worry, and concern, now reaching levels of panic, finally begin to alleviate. The doctor later explained that the catheterization disclosed that the bypass was now clogged and no longer working and the team decided to open up the original clogged artery and insert stents. Unfortunately, during the reopening process the artery was punctured and I began to bleed profusely internally, and things got critical. Hence: “Code Blue!” That’s the standard hospital code for emergency cardiac personnel to rush to the rescue of the patient in distress.

There is also a code system for birds, maintained and regularly updated by the American Birding Association (ABA). It catalogues the relative rarity of each species that has ever appeared in North America, north of the Mexican border. Codes number from 1 to 6, with numbers 1 and 2 being “regular breeding species or visitors” found every year; number 3 applies to “rare” species that occur in very low numbers annually; number 4 lists “casual” species not recorded annually, but with six or more total records, including three or more in the past 30 years; number 5 applies to “accidental” species recorded five or fewer times ever, with less than three records in the past 30 years; and finally, number 6, those species that are “probably or actually extinct.”

Last winter’s Florida rarities, the Key West Quail Dove and Black-faced Grassquit (see: are both Code 4 birds, truly worth the effort to see them. But on October 24, a Code 5, Variegated Flycatcher (above and left), from the eastern Amazon and northern Argentina, was discovered in Evergreen Cemetery, a well-birded hot-spot in Fort Lauderdale. It stayed for eight days, delighting birders from all over the United States and beyond. Jewel and I made the trip on Saturday, October 31, Halloween. We arrived at 7:30 a.m. to find 12 to 15 birders already there but no Variegated Flycatcher. It flew into its favorite tree within 10 minutes and performed, albeit mostly pretty high in the tree, for the entire time we were there. We left about 9 a.m. to head farther south. A birder friend from Pennsylvania flew to Fort Lauderdale that very same morning, rented a car, drove to the cemetery, and saw the bird shortly after noon (note: this is fairly typical bird chaser protocol). He may have been one of the last birders to see the bird, for it was never seen again after that day. Ironically, we saw this Variegated Flycatcher on the last day it was seen, and the 1993, Toronto, Ontario, Variegated Flycatcher on the last day it was seen.

From the cemetery we drove half way down the Florida Keys to Lower Matecumbe Key, where a Northern Wheatear (right and below) had been reported daily from October 27. We arrived shortly after noon to find no birders and no Northern Wheatear. Jewel finally figured out that we were at the wrong location, a problem that can easily occur when sketchy internet reports are not as specific as they might be. A couple of miles to the north we arrived at the right location to find both birders and the bird already in view. The Northern Wheatear is an ABA Code 2 bird because it can be found annually on its breeding grounds in Alaska and far northern Canada. In Florida it probably qualifies as a Code 5 Florida state bird, as I could only find reports of six sightings in Florida between 1955 and 2014. This Northern Wheatear, unfortunately a drab female instead of the more colorful male, was last reported on Friday, November 6.

So there you have it -- two mega rarities in one day. A Code 5 North American species, and a “Code 5” Florida species. One from the far south, and one from the far north. Both undocumented immigrants, without passports, that caused unusual excitement. And yes, my Code Blue event, like these rare birds, did turn out well. While my heart did stop three times and they shocked it with paddles to restart it, and the 20-minute procedure included inserting four stents, and a three day hospital stay, I am, nevertheless, able to see birds and write these words. Of course, as any of my lawyer readers will tell you, the entire account of my Code Blue event is “hearsay testimony,” because I only know what others told me about it, for I was completely oblivious the entire time. Some of my friends will probably say, “So, what’s new?”

NOTE: I apologize for the somewhat unsatisfactory photos, as the photography conditions were less than optimal, and I regard them as bird sighting documentary photos, not art, or even portraits. For more on the ABA Code system, see, and, (Click on the November 2015 Version, and then click on the PDF version for a complete ABA Checklist, or the XLS version for an Excel list of just the birds and codes; you will then need to open the “download file.”)  For more on hospital emergency codes, see:



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