Angel and I at day's end
I started the day at the R. Hardy Matheson Country Preserve a few miles north of where I am staying for these few days in Miami. I had been informed that this was a potential spot for both Mangrove cuckoo and White-crowned pigeon. I spent an hour searching the hammocks and mangroves within the preserve, but was unable to locate either of these birds. I decided to fold this hand and move onto my next spot, Matheson Hammock Park. I stopped at this location to search for the La Sagra's flycatcher yesterday afternoon without success. La Sagra's flycatcher is a Caribbean bird that normally lives in the Bahamas and Cuba. Individuals of this species sometimes wander to Florida much to the delight of Florida birders. Today was a completely different story from yesterday as this avian visitor appeared as soon as I arrived at the park. He was calling and actively feeding which made finding him very straightforward. This bird has been in this same spot for several months now. This same bird was actually #745 on Neil Hayward's big year last year! This was the first ABA Life bird that I added today and year bird #230. I also found Common hill myna and Yellow-chevroned parakeet at this same spot; However, these 2 species are not ABA countable at this time.
***As always, click for bigger images***
La Sagra's flycatcher
La Sagra's flycatcher
After the La Sagra's, I headed over to Kendall to meet Angel and Mariel. The three of us hit one of their secret hotspots for Red-whiskered bulbul. Normally native to Southeast Asia, this bird has become established in the Kendall area since the mid-20th century and is fully ABA-countable. We were not in the area for 5 minutes before several of the birds appeared. They are really beautiful birds, and I am sorry that my snapshot does not due them the justice they deserve. This was the second ABA Life bird I tallied today and year bird #231. We saw at least 6-7 different individuals during the middle part of the day.
At this point Mariel had to head off to work. Angel, however, had at my insistence procured a bicycle so that he could accompany me on a bird-finding ride through the city. We spent the better part of the next 6 hours chasing birds around the city. We initially rode through much of Kendall trying, unsuccessfully, to locate Spot-breasted oriole. This is a Central American species that has also taken hold in and around Miami. Despite the absence of orioles, the ride through the neighborhood was very pleasant. Angel also provided a steady soundtrack of interesting, avian-related commentary to pass the time as we biked. One bird that I did not expect to find in this area was Bronzed cowbird (I figured I would get that in Arizona). Angel knew a spot (actually a parking lot!) where we could find a few of these birds, so we pedaled by it mid-afternoon. The cowbirds appeared right on cue for year bird #232. At this same spot we also located common myna, another introduced species, for year bird #233. Common myna has taken hold around South Florida, particularly in strip malls and near fast food restaurants. They are the ultimate generalists!
The main target for the afternoon was another introduced species, the White-winged parakeet. This bird normally lives in South America, but has become established around Miami. Although these birds can be found all over the city, there is actually a group of them that has been nesting at the Ocean Bank on NW 7th street. It was a long, slow ride through the city to reach the bank but ultimately well-worth the effort. 8-10 of the little birds were squawking in the date palms right in front of the bank as we arrived. This was the third ABA life bird I added today and bird #234 for 2014. These little guys are really cute and they have a ton of personality. We took a much needed half-hour rest to watch the little guys as they came and went from their trees. Their white wings (i.e. their white secondary feathers) are only visible when the birds fly.
White-winged parakeet - not bad for ISO 1600!
As we were leaving the bank, we received a phone call from a friend of Angel's who said he had recently been seeing both White-crowned parrot and Spot-breasted oriole in his neighborhood in the late afternoon. We decided to try to make it to this area and bag these 2 species. This meant a long ride south into the wind that had kicked up since the morning. We had to ride in this general direction so we figure that even if we didn't make it before dark, at least we'd be nearly back to where we started. As we approached the area, Angel spotted a large pigeon in a tree along the road that we quickly identified as White-crowned (#235). I then found 4 more in a tree a block over. These birds sat still for a few photos. The light was just perfect at this late hour, and it really helped to highlight how beautiful this species is. White-crowned pigeon is a Caribbean species that reaches its northern limit in South Florida (i.e. they are NOT introduced). There are many more of them around in the summer months. This is a good find for the winter though!
After using up some of our last light on the pigeons, we were starting to wonder if we would make it to the oriole spot in time to actually bird it. We put our heads down and pushed onwards. As is often the case in birding, we never made it to the oriole spot. This is because Angel, not two minutes after we left the pigeons, heard a Spot-breasted oriole along the road on which we were riding. The bird cooperated relatively well as he bounced around the city block outlining his apparent territory that will be used during the upcoming nesting season. This is how this bird is normally found: fortuitously. You just need to put yourself in promising areas and spend lots of time listening for it. This was the fourth ABA life bird I added today and bird #236 for 2014. We cut the rest of our run short since we had found basically all the birds we were going to find. We decided dinner would be the most attractive find at this stage.
Today's oriole was a bird that we surely would have missed had we been in a car. For anyone thinking about birding Miami for introduced exotics, I would highly suggest a bike for those that are able. A bike allows you to cover much more territory than walking. You can cover a lot of ground in a car, but it is VERY difficult to listen for birds from a car. It is even more difficult to stop quickly should you spot a bird by eye. Angel really did an incredible job from the bike today. It was a really amazing day from start to finish.
As a side note, we also found a blue-and-yellow macaw on our ride!
Here is a summary of what happened today in a list form that some people might find helpful.
Birds I absolutely HAD to find in Miami or points near the city
La Sagra's flycatcher Rarity #230 - Lifer
Red-whiskered bulbul Introduced #231 - Lifer
Common myna Introduced #232
White-winged parakeet Introduced #234 - Lifer
White-crowned pigeon Native #235
Spot-breasted oriole Introduced #236 - Lifer
Birds I found in Miami but could have found elsewhere
Bronzed cowbird Native #233
Birds I found but cannot count for various reasons
Yellow-chevroned parakeet Introduced
Common hill myna Introduced
Blue-and-yellow macaw Introduced or escapee
Countable birds I still need to find in South Florida - Miami or elsewhere
Magnificent frigatebird Native
Short-tailed hawk Native
Mangrove cuckoo Native
OK, its 12:45am and I need to get up in 6 hours to go look for more birds! Good night. Wait, here's an approximate route of the 50 urban miles I rode today.