Miami Thrice: 3 Lifers and the Joy of Suburban Birding

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had a couple of bigger birding adventures this fall. Two weeks ago, in a push to try and see some south Florida exotics and specialties, Camille and I went to the Miami area for a day trip. Our main goal was to find Spot-breasted Orioles, Red-whiskered Bulbuls, White-crowned Pigeons, and Common Mynas. Parrots were also a good possibility.

Hurricane Matthew had passed offshore the week before. There was still evidence of coastal flooding and inundation here and there, but no major damage that I could see.

We stopped at A.D. Barnes Park [map] first, since there had been a report of a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher there several days before. Unfortunately, we struck out with that bird, and we dodged raindrops and tough lighting most of the morning.

Palm Warblers were really hopping about in many places, here for their winter stay.

There were a few different warbler species in the wooded sections of the park, including by the nature center, but nothing in large numbers. Some parrots would circle nearby from time to time, but the canopy kept us from identifying which species it was. There are several established parrot species now in south Florida, including the now familiar Monk Parakeets (also known as Quaker Parrots) and Blue and Gold Macaws.

This Worm-eating Warbler may not be as flashy as a parrot, but it was a nice find.

At the other end of the park, I looked in one of the trees over a pond and thought someone had lofted a pool-toy raft into the branches, but it turns out it was an iguana! This invasive species (introduced via escaped or released pets) can grow several feet long. They often lounge in the trees, I’ve been told.

A real lounge lizard?

There was also a Merlin being harassed by a flock of Blue Jays. Eventually the jays gave up and the little raptor staked out some lookout perches high above the park, but it was very wary of us and kept flying off a bit as we approached. This photo was the closest it let us get before flying off and out of sight.

Merlins arrive in October and generally stay the winter.

Our last birds in the park were some Northern Parulas, Chestnut-sided Warblers, and a pair of male Cape May Warblers, still sporting some bright yellows.

One of two Cape May Warblers, enjoying berries from ornamental plant in the park.

eBird list for A.D. Barnes Park:

After leaving the park, we headed for some neighborhoods in the Dadeland/Kendall area of Miami [map], hoping to find the exotic species I mentioned at the start of the post. These birds were somewhat hard to get good looks at, since they tend to hang out in peoples yards or behind houses.

I did get a quick look at a Spot-breasted Oriole in someone’s tree, and there were the typical mockingbirds and cardinals. We did see a White-winged Dove as well as a Loggerhead Shrike, too. At the King’s Creek Village subdivision we were surprised by a Red-whiskered Bulbul that was flycatching from a fruit tree of some sort. We had initially walked into the area behind some apartments to scout it out, and the bulbul surprised us. It stayed in plain sight until I ran back to the vehicle to get my camera. On my return to the immediate area, it of course flew off never to be seen again!

eBird lists for Kendallwood and Kings Creek Village:

After that, we cruised around a bit looking in on places where Common Mynas had been seen recently (they are scattered all around the city). At one commercial area we pulled in and noticed a large amount of blackbirds in a parking lot, many of the birds standing under vehicles. Many of the birds were Boat-tailed Grackles, but the smaller blackbirds gave me a double-take. What I at first thought were Common Grackles were in fact Bronzed Cowbirds. It turns out that this particular location is a known hangout for them. These birds are rare at the Space Coast, though, so it was pretty exciting. I love this pair of photos, because they show how different most blackbirds look in direct sunlight vs. indirect light.

You can see why Bronzed Cowbirds are so-named when they are in direct sunlight.
Bronzed Cowbirds looking “none more black” in the shade. I love the grumpy expression on the bird on the right!

We stopped for gas on NW 42nd avenue, near where some recent Common Myna sightings were listed in eBird. While filling up, sure enough, there was a myna on a used car lot sign! In fact, here’s a Google Street View of the exact sign (I know, sorry replacement for an actual photo of the bird). Zoom out of Street View to see the location on the map.

If you’re counting (and I was), that’s three lifers – the Spot-breasted Oriole, the Red-whiskered Bulbul, and a Common Myna.

We then made our way to the area around Matheson Hammock Park [map], including “the round beach”. There was still evidence of Hurricane Matthew’s presence here, which made some exploration a bit interesting, due to expanses of mud, plant debris, and coconuts.

Part of downtown Miami from the beach near Matheson Hammock.

The wind was really picking up, keeping many of the small birds down, but the more powerful aerialists were about, either kiting high up above the shore, making high-speed runs with a tail-wind, or roosting, bodies bent into the wind.

This Royal Tern is in “winter” plumage, with a white forehead and black nape feathers (I think it looks like Patrick Stewart). The buffeting wind didn’t seem to bother it much.

The sea-spray was really starting to fly, and more heavy showers were in the area, as we decided to head out. A few shorebirds were sheltering behind some sea walls or low vegetation.

An “Unspotted” Sandpiper on top of a short sea wall. Spotted Sandpipers lose their spots over the winter, but their overall shape and constant tail-bobbing makes them easy to identify.

Matheson Hammock eBird list:

Our day wasn’t quite over yet. Earlier in the day, at A.D. Barnes Park, we noticed two young, abandoned cats. I realize cats and birding are a real hot-button issue these days, and I’m not going to get into any of the politics of it here. Suffice it to say that we had it in our minds to return and get these cats out of the park and fostered or adopted. We did go back and managed to get one of the cats, but the other was much more evasive. The cat we did catch is now spayed and living inside a safe and loving home.

It was a long day, but rewarding all the same. I managed 3 life birds and got a cat off the “streets” and out of the park. I also learned my lesson to be better prepared for unexpected sighting opportunities. I’ll have to go back to Miami and get my Red-whiskered Bulbul photo, plus there are more south Florida specialties to find.

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