South Florida Apr 24—May 04, 2006
Posted by Kim Eckert
Birding South Florida involves idyllic and serene experiences: Barn Owls roosting by day in an isolated grove within a vast region of agricultural fields; a single day’s count of more than 30 Swallow-tailed Kites; Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills wading side by side at Corkscrew Swamp; a Barred Owl deep within the Big Cypress, obligingly flying in despite its following of harassing grackles; and flocks of Bobolinks by the dozens over the grasslands of the Everglades. These and other memories make it easy to forget about a certain cuckoo, conspicuous by its absence.
Birding South Florida at this time of year can be challenging, since most of the specialties of this region are quite possible to miss, with some of them only possible at one place on our route. But they are fun to look for and involve some interesting places, and, with one exception, we saw them all. Smooth-billed Anis were still found by Fort Lauderdale’s airport, now the only consistent site for this declining species. Our luck continued the next day in the Lake Okeechobee area with an obliging singing male Bachman’s Sparrow, three soaring Short-tailed Hawks, and a Limpkin that flew in on cue to a recording of its call.
Thank goodness for that flamingo. After a La Sagra’s Flycatcher was last seen in Miami the day our tour met in Fort Lauderdale, and a Western Spindalis disappeared from the Everglades three days before we arrived in the park, we were wondering if our itinerary would ever match up with the presence of any reported rarities. But finally, on our second-to-last birding day, we caught up with that Greater Flamingo which had been present for several days just a few miles from our hotel in Key West. (But it was a close call; as far as we know, the bird was gone the day after our observation.)
Another challenge of this tour involves those exotic birds flying around residential neighborhoods of Miami and elsewhere. For the most part, these are interesting and colorful species well worth looking for. Just finding some of them is hard enough, but you first have to plot a strategy to avoid freeway traffic, which alternates between frantic and stagnant, and simply get to where the birds are. You also have to be aware which species have established and “countable” populations, and at times you wonder how anyone determines this.
It makes sense that birders count Monk Parakeets, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, and Spot-breasted Orioles, and that most don’t include Purple Swamphens and Hill Mynas on their life lists. On the other hand, it seems odd that the widespread Common Myna is not considered countable while you can count ugly barnyard ducks along the roadsides?a.k.a. Muscovy Ducks. (And please don’t even ask what the deal is with the “Canary-winged” parakeet complex of Yellow-chevroneds, White-wingeds, and their hybrids.)
Despite relentless development around Naples on the west coast, a pine stand favored by Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Brown-headed Nuthatches was somehow still intact. From there we headed back east along the Tamiami Trail, which yielded but a single Snail Kite, and in the Everglades we had a most cooperative singing male Seaside Sparrow of the endangered Cape Sable race. Our tour concluded with a drive down the Keys, where the last of the specialties were found: Roseate Terns at the end of the Seven Mile Bridge, Antillean Nighthawk at the Key West airport, and a pair of Shiny Cowbirds at a favored Key West feeder.