Lifers Denoted by Bold
Over the past spring break, my family went down to spend a week in South Florida. Having been to Florida twice before, I had seen a lot of the specialty birds to be found there. However, there were still some that evaded me and my goal was to find as many of those remaining needs as possible in the course of a week.
The first part of the trip was to be spent in the Northern Keys. However, on the drive down through the peninsula, we stopped at Lantana Beach Preserve for the continuing La Sagra’s flycatcher. It was a very worthwhile stop for after about an hour of searching in the hot Florida sun, we were able to locate the flycatcher and got spectacular views of it almost diractly over the trail. Unfortunately I had forgotten to turn my camera off the last time I used it so when I pulled it out to get cracking photos of the rarity, I discovered to my horror that it was dead. However, I was able to get a brief amount of audio of the flycatcher’s distinctive call (http://www.xeno-canto.org/217720).
Arriving in Key Largo, the first bit of birding I did was to try to find monk parakeets at a colony at the Marathon Keys Middle School. I was quickly able to locate the nest (many of which located directly underneath an osprey nest) and get good views of my lifer monk parakeets.
A couple of scissor-tailed flycatchers were perched on some nearby telephone wires as well.
One of the undisputed highlights of the trip was visiting Dry Tortugas National Park. This was the one spot in Florida where I could get the most lifers and is a spot which I had been wanting to visit for a very long time. We left on the Yankee Freedom ferry early in the morning from Key West and I eagerly sat upon the deck hoping for seabirds. It was pretty quiet except for a few magnificent frigatebirds which were circling over. However, we did pass a brown booby, a lifer for me. As we got closer to the Tortugas, we began to see more birds, as a quickly got my lifers of both sooty tern and brown noddy, as well as decent looks of masked boobys at their breeding colony.
As we approached closer to the islands, a huge cloud of terns became present in the skies above it. This cloud slowly became louder and louder as we got closer and closer and the screeching of the terns would become a constant sound while we were at the park.
Disembarking the ferry, I was able to cash in on another life bird while on the islands, a migrant cave swallow. The whole time on the islands was really an amazing experience and something which probably deserves its own blog post at some point.
Back in the keys, I spent a good deal of time searching for the Key West quail-dove which had been continuing at Long Key State Park. Despite a huge amount of time investing trying to track down the bird, I was unsuccessful.
After that we headed up to the mainland and planned to spend the next couples of nights on the gulf coast. On the way across the state, I was happy to see some of the feral Muscovy ducks which are now countable.
In west Florida, I was able to do some of the greatest birding of the trip as I had the opportunity to go with a group into Stormwater Treatment Area 2 to look for the American flamingo flock which had been wintering there. We were very successful and the flamingo flock was rather cooperative, giving amazing looks at this incredible species to see in the ABA Area. We also were able to see snail kite and purple swamphen, two more birds I had missed on previous trips to Florida.
The next few days were spent with little birding but I did find a leucistic royal tern in amonst a flock of Sandwich terns as well as a Wilson’s plover, another lifer.
The next bit of birding I did was in Everglades National Park, a spot I have birded often in the past. My main target here was shiny cowbird, but I was unable to locate this specialty, a bird which would go down with the quail-dove as one of the great misses of the trip. However, I was able to see a small family of king rails as well as getting amazing looks at the other great birds which make the Everglades such a special place.
After that, my sister and mother had to head back to Pittsburgh but my father and I decided to stay for two more days of intense birding and then drive back up the east coast.
This turned out to be a brilliant decision as the next two days would hold some amazing birding. To start, we headed to Green Cay and Wakodahatchee Wetlands near Miami. Here we found Nanday parakeets, least bittern, black-bellied whistling-ducks, limpkin, as well as a host of other great birds. We also ran into ex-big year record holder Sandy Komito which was really cool as well.
After that, we headed north to Jonathon Dickinson State Park to try to find Florida scrub-jays, a species which had somehow avoided me every other trip down to Florida. However, a majour storm rolled in as we were arriving and kept the jays quiet (though this is supposedly a guaranteed spot).
The next day we focused on Miami exotics, the last group of birds I needed as lifers in Florida. We started at the Kendall Hospital where we had a few flocks of red-faced parakeets. We next moved onto some neighbourhood streets in the area where I was extremely happy to find a red-whiskered bulbul.
Heading on, we stopped at Fairchild Botanical Gardens where we were found an Egyptian goose among the plants.
This strange bird was certainly a trip highlight as it sat along the shore of a pond screaming softly before lifting off and flying away.
Our last exotic that we chased that day was spot-breasted oriole, one of the hardest to find. However, after looking at a number of spots, we eventually located two at Spanish River Park, a great way to wrap up a great run of exotics.
Another stop at Wakodahatchee yielded little new except for many more great photographic opportunities and we quickly moved on to Jonathon Dickinson SP again to try for scrub-jays.
However, as with the day before, storms moved into the area and shut down our chances with Florida’s only endemic. Unfortunately we had to move north too, needing to head back to Pitsburgh. However, not all was lost as we set it up to bird the next morning at Ocala National Forest, a legendary spot for jays.
The national forest turned out to be an amazing spot and we were able to do some great birding in a very pretty atmosphere. However, the undeniable highlight were the Florida scrub-jay flocks which we were able to see often during our time there. This is a bird that I have been wanting to see for a while and I was very relieved to FINALLY see them.
And with that, we headed back to the north, very satisfied with an extraordinarily successful trip during which I had successfully cleaned up most of my remaining Florida needed specialty birds.