Florida Trip, 2013
I rented a car from Dollar, who were short of cars at 10pm on Monday evening and gave me a free upgrade to a small SUV. That car worked out OK, but it's worth bearing in mind that car shortages are an issue. The line at Dollar moved slowly, but perhaps this is part of a ploy to attenuate running out of cars. When I returned the car at 7:45pm the rental car lines at all the agencies in MIA were long. Worth bearing in mind if you make an evening arrival.
I stayed in two motels: the Motel 6 at Cutler Ridge where the check-in staff were especially helpful and the room was entirely fine. I've stayed there before - it's an ex Best Western (or similar) and even has a water feature. The rest of the time I spent at Travelodge in Florida City, just south of the Everglades turn-off, which while more expensive comes highly recommended and I would stay there again. Probably the best of the cheaper local chains and in excellent position for the Everglades and the Upper Keys.
Further down the road three Swallow-tailed Kites were over the road, and I turned onto Bear Lake road for the 1.7 miles each way. It's a narrow dirt road but quite drivable and traffic is minimal. The best birds on this road were Gray Catbird (new for year but otherwise quite widespread on this trip) and in particular Painted Bunting - both males and females were seen. Otherwise the species mix was the same as Snake Bight albeit one experienced from the car.
Then onto the Flamingo visitor center area where Mangrove Cuckoo had been reported in recent weeks (mostly recently a "heard-only"). At Eco Pond several Black-necked Stilts were working the shallow water and there was a fly-over Pileated Woodpecker. Red-shouldered Hawk and Osprey were numerous here (Red-shouldered Hawk was generally numerous on the trip). No sign of the cowbird flock around the boat ramp area. A flock of Cattle Egrets flew into the grass at the tent camping area and a flock of American White Pelicans were off in the distance. But of course no sign of Mangrove Cuckoo. Headed back north there were Blue-winged Teal at Mracek Pond. The rookery at Paurotis Pond was very active - with many active Wood Stork nests with chicks, and also several Roseate Spoonbills. Anhinga, Tricolored Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Green Heron, Little Blue Heron, and a single Great Blue Heron were present in lower numbers.
I scanned briefly for Seaside Sparrows around Mahogany Hammock but came up with only water birds. Since it was the middle of the day and not expected to be productive for much I stopepd at Anhinga trail for a brief visit. In winter the Everglades are drier and the birds congregate here but in the wetter months (plus breeding season) this place is much quieter. Of some surprise were residual breeding Anhingas with large chicks that were still some way from fledging. There were several alligators, and one immature Double-crested Cormorant. Returning to the car a Swallow-tailed Kite made a very low pass through the parking lot and grabbed moss from the trees there, must have been for nesting material, and then circled above the lot before heading out to wherever the nest lay (obviously not right there). The only other raptor was a predictable Red-shouldered Hawk.
Exiting the Everglades I made the inevitable stop at Robert Is Here for a Key Lime-Strawberry milk shake (predictably excellent) where there were Purple Martins at the martin house competing with House Sparrows. I checked into perfectly reasonable Travelodge and took a short break before heading into Miami.
Headed out to Bill Baggs State Park on the southern edge of Miami. Took about an hour to get there, much of that due to none-too-fast traffic on Route 1 but nevertheless I was not in a tearing rush. Arriving at Bill Baggs at 4pm I parked in the harbor lot and walked back along the road to find that three birders already present were aggressively taping the Thick-billed Vireo, the sole upside of which is that I got the bird immediately. It's extremely poor ethics to tape rarities - or for that matter any bird during breeding season. Bahama Mockingbird tapes were played afterwards. Since I wasn't on home turf and I was the one that had arrived I didn't feel I was in a position to cry foul about the taping (if they'd turned up and started, or if this was one of my own birding spots it's a different story). Two of the birders returned at 5pm and acting like complete jackasses put on an Eastern Screech-Owl call right in front of the last known vireo spot on continuous loop. At this point I started videoing the birders for record purposes since this is clearly abusive behavior, from someone that it is undoubtedly a habit for (he was discussing that he had multiple different owl calls). I saw the Vireo briefly but decided not to point it out to the taping birders. I was not table to find it subsequently although it did sing for a little while after 5pm. I hung around until 7pm mainly to avoid traffic before heading back to the hotel. Also present were ~7 Palm Warblers, territorial Prairie Warblers, three Cape May Warblers (2m, 1f), 2 Common Ground Doves, flyby Frigatebirds and Brown Pelicans.
One of the (non-taping) birders I met at Bill Baggs indicated that he had seen the Spindalis at Spanish River SP in Bonca Raton. He did not report it on the lists (it had not been re-reported since April 6th) but given my negative taping experience I decided not to advertise its presence to others.
By 9:15 I gave up on cuckoos and headed to Stock Island and the Botanical Gardens where I was a little early for the 10am opening time. I waited in the entrance parking lot before heading into the gardens. A Gray Kingbird was at the entrance and a Common Moorhen in the pond. I heard a Belted Kingfisher. Overhead I was surprised to find two dark morph Short-tailed Hawks along with more expected Magnificent Frigatebirds, Osprey, White Ibis. Along the trail around the sheltered pond a White-eyed Vireo was singing incessantly, with migrants incuding Gray Catbirds, Worm-eating Warbler, Scarlet Tanager (male), Hooded Warbler (male) but otherwise it was relatively quiet and no Spindalis despite locating the yoga platform and the fruting ficus tree. A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was another unexpected but not unprecedented find in the late morning. The drive back up the keys was predictably slow with traffic now in full swing and some of it incapable keeping up with the speed limit - this is par for the course driving up the keys on A1A and there's no way around it.
Half-way, at Marathon, I had lunch at Key Fisheries in Marathon (decent food, a little expensive and somewhat of a tourist draw), Least Terns were nearby and amusingly there were scavenging Ruddy Turnstones on the dock acting like starlings. At the Tavernier Wild Bird Center there was nothing of note (Brown Pelicans, White Ibis). A Common Myna was seen in Key Largo - a bird that I simply do not encounter in significant numbers although it's been established for many years. A quick stop at Carysfoot Circle in upper Key Largo pre-storm had only Red-shoulded Hawk and the typical mangrove species. Another quick break in the air conditioning at the Travelodge was followed by a visit to Black Point Marina at sunset. This is not a "classical" Mangrove Cuckoo location but there area reports of them from the coastal mangroves. There's a certain amount of human-generated noise from the marina and park. I heard Prairie Warbler, saw Royal Tern and Osprey and as the light levels dropped several Common Nighthawks were peenting. Naturally no sign of Mangrove Cuckoos. Back at the hotel a Common Nighthawk was heard peenting here too.
Down in Flamingo I found the cowbird flock by call, then saw 2 male and 1 female Shiny Cowbirds along with the Brown-headed Cowbird flock. These are almost certainly the same male Shinys as last year, with one male rather glossy and the other one with traces of brown in the plumage. Other stuff in the Flamingo area was typical incl immature Red-shouldered Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite over the entrance road, juvenile Ospreys already well-fledged, and one Willet at the beach.
Bear Lake trail was quieter than Tuesday, with just one female Painted Bunting and the usual mangrove species plus an immature Broad-winged Hawk that I had originally tagged as Red-shouldered until I took a closer look at the photos. I went back down to Flamingo and checked Eco Pond and listened at the coastal mangroves. Eco Pond had Painted Bunting female, Common Yellowthroat and the Black-necked Stilts were still working the pond. But at this point I was starting to feel that Mangrove Cuckoo was a unicorn species since I had failed on three successive mornings to even hear a distant one, much less see one (I don't count heard-only species).
I did another pass at Snake Bight - didn't find the Barred Owls on this pass but otherwise the situation was the same. As I was walking back to the gate the sound of a Mangrove Cuckoo was a group taping it. I didn't tell them about the Barred Owls because they were taping, even though they weren't getting a cuckoo response. There seems little sense to share sightings with people that tape because they're likely to harass the birds.
I exited the Everglades, got a Key Lime-Strawberry shake at Robert Is Here, and managed to finish it before I made it to Black Point Park/Marina. Killdeer and a rather northern Swallow-tailed Kite were along the entrance road, which skirts a landfill over which many Turkey Vultures were soaring. I headed for the canoe put-in and walked slowly up and down the path paralleling the channel. Again, the usual mangrove species, plus Least Tern and a softly singing male Northern Parula. I made a circuit along the path until it cleared the mangrove forest on the north side, then doubled back and walked back along the road to the canoe parking area. I was at my car and ready to head out when I heard calling to the east. It was a Mangrove Cuckoo - refuting my assumptions that the bird was in fact mythical. It was singing at 11:40am, no less, and it was approaching me. If my luck held I hoped to see it working the mangrove canopy along the road - instead I was caught by surprise as two Mangrove Cuckoos flew up over the road and probably clear over the channel. Happened so fast I eye-birded it, with extensive buffy undersides and contrasting with large white spots on the undertail being obvious. Quite apart from the fact that they came in from exactly the direction that the song came from, the marks are also definitive for Mangrove vs Yellow-billed vs Black-billed. I didn't get a look at the head. The location was exactly as advertized - at the wooden bridge at the canoe put-in at Black Point Marina. Better view desired, perhaps, but this has been an especially elusive target species. And snagged at the last possible moment just a minute or two before I was ready to give up on them.
Difficult to top that. Now that it was noon I decided to find a Purple Swamphen so went to Chapel Trail Preserve on the west edge of Pembroke Pines, which in the middle of the day was not all that birdy. Nevertheless from the boardwalk I had three Purple Swamphens, two Mottled Ducks, one Pied-billed Grebe, an immature Little Blue Heron and a White-winged Dove. The Swamphens were pale blue-gray on the head, contrasting with the violet blue body - from recollection the ones in NZ were more uniform and there's some suspicion that the Swamphen subspecies are ripe for splitting. Nevertheless for now, all one species.
On to Spanish River Park in Boca Raton where I found the fruiting tree along Spanish River Blvd at parking space 3008 which was loaded with Gray Catbirds and quite a lot of Cape May Warblers, with one Palm Warbler and a Blue jay but no Spindalis. After a while watching the birds under bad light conditions, I decided to head west to Loxahatchee NWR which had the most recent sighting of Nanday Parakeet, the former Black-headed Parakeet. Took me a little while to find one sitting on the roadside wires at the residence buildings, but in due course it was obvious there was a vocal pair there. A pair doesn't really constitute much of a introduced population but I'd seen them in prior years in the substantial population over in the Tampa area so this was mostly a pro-forma lifer, albeit my second exotic and fourth life bird for the trip.
Since there wasn't a great deal of point sprinting somehwere else I spent a little time repacking and returned the rental car to find out that the United flight was delayed by two hours. Nice of United not to email me or text me about that otherwise I could have held onto the rental car for longer or perhaps even gone back to look for the Spindalis (or to the nearby Wakodahatchee and Green Cay wetlands).
Noteworthy birds amongst the non-lifers included: Shiny Cowbird, Short-tailed Hawk, Barred Owl and Painted Bunting but the overall list count is relatively modest at 85 species for 3 days birding.
|Pied-billed Grebe||Podilymbus podiceps||Pembroke Pines|
|American White Pelican||Pelecanus erythrorhynchos||Everglades-Flamingo|
|Brown Pelican||Pelecanus occidentalis|
|Double-crested Cormorant||Phalacrocorax auritus|
|Magnificent Frigatebird||Fregata magnificens||Keys and Bill Baggs SP|
|Great Blue Heron||Ardea herodias||uncommon|
|Great Egret||Ardea alba|
|Snowy Egret||Egretta thula|
|Little Blue Heron||Egretta caerulea||uncommon|
|Tricolored Heron||Egretta tricolor||especially Paurotis Pond|
|Cattle Egret||Bubulcus ibis|
|Green Heron||Butorides virescens||Paurotis Pond|
|Black-crowned Night-Heron||Nycticorax nycticorax||one imm in Everglades|
|White Ibis||Eudocimus albus|
|Glossy Ibis||Plegadis falcinellus|
|Roseate Spoonbill||Platalea ajaja|
|Wood Stork||Mycteria americana||Paurotis Pond and Loxahatchee NWR|
|Black Vulture||Coragyps atratus|
|Turkey Vulture||Cathartes aura|
|Mottled Duck||Anas fulvigula||Pembroke Pines and Loxahatchee NWR|
|Blue-winged Teal||Anas discors||Everglades-Mracek Pond|
|Swallow-tailed Kite||Elanoides forficatus||Everglades and Black Point Marina|
|Red-shouldered Hawk||Buteo lineatus|
|Broad-winged Hawk||Buteo platypterus||Everglades (immature)|
|Purple Swamphen||Porphyrio porphyrio||LIFE: Pembroke Pines|
|Purple Gallinule||Porphyrio martinicus||Loxahatchee NWR|
|Common Gallinule||Gallinula galeata||Stock Island|
|Black-bellied Plover||Pluvialis squatarola||Everglades-Flamingo|
|Killdeer||Charadrius vociferus||Loxahatchee NWR and Black Point Marina|
|Black-necked Stilt||Himantopus mexicanus||Everglades-Flamingo and Loxhatchee NWR|
|Ruddy Turnstone||Arenaria interpres||Marathon|
|Royal Tern||Sterna maxima||Black Point Marina|
|Least Tern||Sterna antillarum||Marathon and Black Point Marina|
|White-crowned Pigeon||Columba leucocephala||Everglades-Flamingo and Saddlebunch Key|
|White-winged Dove||Zenaida asiatica||Pembroke Pines|
|Mourning Dove||Zenaida macroura|
|Common Ground-Dove||Columbina passerina||Bill Baggs SP|
|Nanday Parakeet||Nandayus nenday||LIFE: Loxahatchee NWR|
|Mangrove Cuckoo||Coccyzus minor||LIFE: Black Point Marina at canoe put-in|
|Barred Owl||Strix varia||Anhinga Trail|
|Common Nighthawk||Chordeiles minor||Black Point Marina|
|Eastern Whip-poor-will||Antrostomus vociferus||(heard) Florida City|
|Belted Kingfisher||Megaceryle alcyon||(heard) Stock Island|
|Red-bellied Woodpecker||Melanerpes carolinus|
|Pileated Woodpecker||Dryocopus pileatus||Everglades-Flamingo|
|Great Crested Flycatcher||Myiarchus crinitus|
|Eastern Kingbird||Tyrannus tyrannus||Everglades|
|Gray Kingbird||Tyrannus dominicensis||Stock Island|
|Scissor-tailed Flycatcher||Tyrannus forficatus||Stock Island|
|White-eyed Vireo||Vireo griseus|
|Thick-billed Vireo||Vireo crassirostris||LIFE: Bill Baggs SP|
|Black-whiskered Vireo||Vireo altiloquus||Saddlebunch Key|
|Blue Jay||Cyanocitta cristata||Miami, Boca Raton|
|American Crow||Corvus brachyrhynchos|
|Purple Martin||Progne subis||Robert Is Here fruit stand|
|Tree Swallow||Tachycineta bicolor||Loxahatchee NWR|
|Barn Swallow||Hirundo rustica||Keys|
|Carolina Wren||Thryothorus ludovicianus|
|Gray Catbird||Dumetella carolinensis|
|Northern Mockingbird||Mimus polyglottos|
|Common Myna||Acridotheres tristis||Key Largo and Florida City|
|Ovenbird||Seiurus aurocapillus||Saddlebunch Key|
|Worm-eating Warbler||Helmitheros vermivorus||Stock Island|
|Northern Waterthrush||Parkesia noveboracensis||Saddlebunch Key|
|Common Yellowthroat||Geothlypis trichas||Saddlebunch Key and Everglades-Flamingo|
|Hooded Warbler||Setophaga citrina||Stock Island|
|American Redstart||Setophaga ruticilla||Snake Bight and Saddlebunch Key|
|Cape May Warbler||Setophaga tigrina||several: Bill Baggs SP, Stock Island, Boca Raton|
|Northern Parula||Setophaga americana||Black Point Marina, Loxahatchee NWR|
|Palm Warbler||Setophaga palmarum||several locations|
|Prairie Warbler||Setophaga discolor||widespread mangrove breeders|
|Scarlet Tanager||Piranga olivacea||Stock Island and Saddlebunch Key|
|Northern Cardinal||Cardinalis cardinalis|
|Painted Bunting||Passerina ciris||Everglades-Flamingo and Saddlebunch Key|
|Red-winged Blackbird||Agelaius phoeniceus|
|Eastern Meadowlark||Sturnella magna||one at Mahogany Hammock in Everglades|
|Common Grackle||Quiscalus quiscula|
|Boat-tailed Grackle||Quiscalus major|
|Shiny Cowbird||Molothrus bonariensis||2m and 1f in Flamingo|
|Brown-headed Cowbird||Molothrus ater|