South Florida Winter Weekend Dec 05—09, 2012
Posted by Brennan Mulrooney
Limpkin, Magnificent Frigatebird, and warm weather; Short-tailed Hawk, Spot-breasted Oriole, and sunny skies; Snail Kite, Spot-breasted Oriole, and key lime pie; what's not to love? Birding in South Florida in winter is an attractive idea for so many reasons.
We enjoyed nice warm weather during our entire trip (even seeing temperatures into the low 80s!), and passing showers mostly passed in the distance. The birding was great and we saw a wonderful mix of resident specialty birds and wintering migrants. Our first day started with amazing up-close looks at a variety of wetland birds at two of the fanciest wastewater treatment plants in the country, and ended by venturing out the Tamiami Trail in search of Snail Kites in the heart of the Everglades. The morning was highlighted by point-blank views of birds like American Bittern, Purple Gallinule, Sora, Tricolored Heron, Wood Stork, and Anhinga. Feeders being visited by Painted Buntings were an added bonus. Our afternoon foray into the Everglades produced Limpkin and at least 12 Snail Kites flying right over our heads on their way to roost.
Our second day was spent in and around Everglades National Park. We started in the fields just outside the entrance to the park where we encountered some excellent birding. First we were treated to a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers (rare in Florida), and then a small group of Kingbirds arrived which included a Tropical Kingbird (very rare in Florida). At one point the Tropical Kingbird and the female Vermilion Flycatcher were perched side by side, producing quite the unlikely Florida pair. Later we hit on a flock of sparrows including two Grasshopper, two Swamp, two Lincoln's, and two Clay-colored. Warblers encountered here included Ovenbird, Black-and-white, Orange-crowned, Parula, Prairie, and Black-throated Green. In the park we watched as mile upon mile of sawgrass prairie gave way to islands of pines and hardwoods, and eventually mangrove as we neared Florida Bay. At one pond we watched as Roseate Spoonbills and Wood Storks flew in and out of a mangrove patch, just getting started on their nesting efforts. In Flamingo we found two West Indian manatees and an American crocodile, two of the most iconic animals of Florida. It was here that we were treated to a real "National Geographic" moment as an adult Osprey with a mullet in its talons led a hungry juvenile in screaming circles right over our heads. Then a Bald Eagle, seeing an opportunity to grab a free meal, came swooping in and joined the chase. It was quite a show as all three birds raced back and forth, up and down, right over our heads.
The next day we started off with two pairs of Burrowing Owls, eyeing us suspiciously from the entrances to their burrows. Loggerhead Shrikes and Eastern Meadowlarks provided nice distractions as we enjoyed the owls. Later we headed for the shores of Key Biscayne off the coast of Miami. A beautiful walk on the beach produced a large mixed flock of shorebirds. We found four species of plover including several Piping Plovers and two Wilson's Plovers. We also had a wonderful close-up view of a foraging Reddish Egret. That evening we returned to Everglades and enjoyed an idyllic stroll on Anhinga Trail, with American alligators lying right beside the trail, Green Herons tucked into every nook and cranny, a Barred Owl hooting in the distance, and Anhingas peering at us from their nests. After dark we found an Eastern Screech-Owl that perched on an open branch right next to us.
Our final morning was spent in and around Miami searching primarily for the many introduced species that have made their homes there. Luck was with us as we quickly found such targets as Monk Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Spot-breasted Oriole. We also had multiple views of a large roaming flock of Mitred Parakeets. Later, out at Matheson Hammock, we found a noisy group of Hill Mynas and a Red-headed Woodpecker, which is very rare in South Florida.
Too soon, it was time to head off to the airport for farewells and flights home. The drive to the airport was filled with the sharing of favorite memories of a short but excellent tour of South Florida.