Sometimes great birding days are not about all the birds you see. Some are great because of just one.

I  had spent the morning on Navarre Beach, walking the pier looking for sea turtles and dolphins, then making my way down the beach. A thunderstorm threatened, casing a dark shadow across the green waters of the Gulf, but rain never fell.

The beach had a fair number of shorebirds, plus dozens of Least Terns scanning the surf for little bait fish and other prey. Nothing new or unexpected, but pleasant nonetheless.

As I hopped in my car to head home, I pondered the Florida birds I had yet to see. Some I had never even come close to, like the Reddish Egret, but others I had almost seen.

How does one almost see something? I am an odd duck sometimes, and I have strict rules for my own personal birding. I was about 90% sure I had seen a group of Gray Kingbirds at the Emerald Coast Visitor’s Center on Okaloosa Island. They were flitting around a palm tree, making calls I had never heard before.

I was pretty positive that the slate color of their backs set them apart from their close relative, the Eastern Kingbird, and I was fairly certain their calls were distinct as well. But I didn’t have a camera or binoculars, so I couldn’t be 100% sure, and for my life birds, I have to be 100% sure.

Since then, I have had fleeting glimpses of other birds that could have been Gray Kingbirds, but nothing definitive. They would migrate soon, and as I pulled out of the parking area at Navarre Beach I was musing about my chance of spotting the kingbird before winter descended.

kingbird 2 editGray Kingbird on Utility Pole

Life is funny sometimes. Less than 100 feet from the parking lot I suddenly pulled over, spying a very interesting bird on the power line. I couldn’t even believe it – there was a Gray Kingbird right there! I had my camera with me, and I quickly confirmed the field marks: overall gray color, lack of a white-tipped tail, pale belly. To underscore the ID, I took a recording of its call. It was a Gray Kingbird all right, appearing just moments after I wondered if I would ever see one.

So though I had seen many other species that Saturday morning, my day – my weekend really – was made by a Gray Kingbird on a utility line.

Written by Erika Zambello
Erika Zambello is a National Geographic Young Explorer who grew up in Maine, inspiring a deep interest in nature at an early age. She fell in love with birding after receiving a Sibley field guide for Christmas during her senior year in college, and has birded across the eastern seaboard and internationally ever since. To inspire others to protect birds and the environment, she has blogged for the Conservation Fund, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Triangle Land Conservancy, and Duke University, and is writing a birding guide to Northern New England for Wilderness Adventures Press. She has founded, and is currently living along the Emerald Coast in Florida's Panhandle. You can check out her exploration site or follow her on Instragram.