I don't really know what I was expecting the Quail-Dove chase to be like. I'm used to chasing rare ducks and shorebirds, where you basically just scope a field until you see the bird. This method usually doesn't take that long. It's pretty easy. This, however, is not how you find a Key West Quail-Dove. The preferred search technique for this bird, I learned, is to slowly wander the section of trail where the dove had been seen, in the hammock-type habitat. While ambling in dead silence, you peer into the dense tangle of foliage, hoping, by some remote stroke of luck, to spot it. I soon settled into an uncomfortably-tense, hyper-alert state. Every time the tiniest animal took a step, I heard it, and immediately whipped around to see what it was. I was finding giant hermit crabs scuffling deep within thickets. I saw more anoles than I've seen in my life. But no Quail-Dove. It was a bizarre and surreal experience. This went on for hours, until the park ranger showed up and told myself and half a dozen other birders to wrap it up because it was getting dark. No bird.
|Golden Orb Trail, prime Quail-Dove habitat.|
I read Audubon's account of the Key West Quail-Dove from 1832: "The flight of this bird is low, swift, and protracted... it is fond of going out from the thickets early in the morning, for the purpose of cleansing itself in the shelly sand that surrounds the island; but the instant it perceives danger it flies off to the woods, throws itself into the thickest part of them, alights on the ground, and runs off with rapidity until it thinks itself secure." This is almost exactly what I saw on this day - the dove was somewhere along the shoreline in the mangroves in the early morning, and flew in this exact manner as soon as it perceived human presence into the dense hammock. I could hear the bird scurrying after it landed, but could not re-find it - I guess it found a nice hiding place.
Despite my mediocre and somewhat unsatisfying view of the bird, I left the park happy. Others had pored hours and hours into trying to see that bird. I was lucky.