South Florida Winter Weekend Dec 11—15, 2013

Posted by Brennan Mulrooney

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Brennan Mulrooney

Brennan Mulrooney was born and raised in San Diego, California. Growing up, his heart and mind were captured by the ocean. He split his summer days between helping out behi...

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It happens every winter; brutal cold fronts and winter storms sweep across the U.S. and Canada, dropping temperatures into the single digits and dumping snow all across the land. And all the while, the inhabitants of South Florida remain blissfully unaware. Many species of birds that flee the cold winters of the North find that rather than undertaking any arduous over-water flights to tropical climates, a winter in South Florida suits them just fine. Each winter they join an already full and fascinating cast of resident birds that, along with the warm temperatures, lure birders to this destination year after year. And so again we also came to South Florida, and it was good.

Anhinga

Anhinga— Photo: Brennan Mulrooney

This year’s tour again started with a visit to the man-made marshes of Palm Beach County, Wakodahatchee, and Green Cay. Here we found an abundance of waterbirds and a rather nice assortment of landbirds as well. Highlights included gaudy Purple Gallinules and their introduced cousins the Purple Swamphen, Sora running around at our feet, Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, and Double-crested Cormorants on nests at eye level and almost arm’s-length. Along the canals nearby we found Wood Storks and Limpkins.

Along the Tamiami Trail we gazed out at the endless sawgrass prairies of the Everglades and here is where we found the most iconic denizen of this unique ecosystem, the Snail Kite. We watched several as they hunted low over the grass, occasionally dropping down on their unsuspecting gastropod prey.

One day we ventured out to Key Biscayne, an island off the coast of Miami. A walk on the white sand beach there turned up a great number of birds loafing along the shore. A large mixed gull and tern flock included several Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and an inspection of the roosting shorebird flocks turned up both Wilson’s and Piping plovers among the more numerous Semipalmated Plovers. We were able to get quite close to the flocks, allowing for great studies and learning opportunities. Scanning offshore we were able to spot several prehistoric looking Magnificent Frigatebirds gliding through the sky.

We spent an entire day in Everglades National Park, driving the full length of the main park road and venturing down a few of the lesser visited side roads. At the end of the road in Flamingo we had a flyover Roseate Spoonbill, several Great White Herons feeding on the flats, a Sandwich Tern amongst a huge flock of Black Skimmers, a spectacular close view of an amorous pair of Ospreys, and an almost too-close-for-comfort view of an American Crocodile.

Our last morning was spent scouring the suburbs of Miami in search of some of the introduced birds that now call it home. We saw Common Mynas, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, Monk Parakeets, Mitred Parakeets, and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets. A perched White-crowned Pigeon provided better views than you usually get of that secretive species, and it was that sighting that inspired me to go in search of another bird of Caribbean distribution. Just days earlier, a La Sagra’s Flycatcher had been reported, though it was being mostly uncooperative, as they often are. But since we had been doing so well, and we had some extra time, we decided to give it a try. After about an hour without any luck, it looked like we had been beaten. A search of the area where it had been seen most recently turned up nothing. We were just about to leave when at last, our luck changed. My attention was drawn to the sound of a scolding vireo, which in turn led us to a fantastic mixed flock, which just happened to be holding—a La Sagra’s Flycatcher! This was a tour first and only the second I’ve seen in the U.S. We spent the next 15 minutes watching as it darted from branch to branch, high in the trees. Then it was time to head off to the airport. What a finish!