Parrots Plus in South Florida

October 21, 2017

Camille and I headed to Miami last Sunday to see what parrot species we could get. Using Bill Pranty’s “A Birder’s Guide to Florida”, we hoped to beef up our life lists with some “easy” to get exotic birds.

On our way, we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to visit Evergreen Cemetery in Ft. Lauderdale [map]. This cemetery is a lovely spot for migrants and the occasional vagrant or exotic. This is where many birders flocked to see the Variegated Flycatcher a couple of years ago.

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Evergreen Cemetery is a beautiful green space and a known migrant trap. As an aside, Leslie Nielsen is buried here.

The place was hopping with warblers, including American Redstarts, Black-and-White, Bay-breasted, Cape May, and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

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Black-and-White Warbler hanging out on an oak tree.

When there are small birds concentrated in an area, you can bet small raptors aren’t far away. This Cooper’s Hawk was trying to hide from mobbing Blue Jays.

 

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A young Cooper’s Hawk learned a lesson in patience and camoflage after getting chased around by angry Blue Jays.

A small Peregrine Falcon was also cruising over and around the cemetery, as well as a couple of American Kestrels.

Here’s the complete eBird list from the morning at Evergreen Cemetery:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39933959

From Ft. Lauderdale we headed to South Miami to find exotic parrot species and track down White-crowned Pigeons. These pigeons are always showing up on eBird alerts and in e-mailing list reports, but each trip either of us has made to south Florida has come up with no White-crowned Pigeons. I’ll save you the suspense: We didn’t see any on this trip either.

But we did get some parrots! At the Baptist Hospital [map], we had almost given up on seeing any birds at all, besides the numerous Muscovy Ducks.

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There were Muscovy Ducks with chicks of all ages around the ponds at the hospital. These two chicks were part of a group of 8 or so siblings and their mother (standing protectively here).

But on our second look around, a large flock of loud Mitred Parakeets flew into a tree in the parking lot. Several minutes later, another large flock flew into a second tree. These parrots are extremely loud, and at times they synchronized their calls into a raucous, rollicking cacophony.

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Mitred Parakeet on an exposed branch. Most of the birds stayed hidden (and cool) in the denser foliage.
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Mitred Parakeet watching the watchers.

On the opposite side of the larger pond some more Mitred Parakeets flew in, joining a pair of smaller parrots, which turned out to be Yellow-chevroned Parakeets.

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“Peekaboo!”
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A pair of Yellow-chevroned Parakeets.
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An acrobatic Yellow-chevroned Parakeet eating its lunch.

A few other feathered friends were around, including a small flock of Egyptian Geese. They were a bit flighty (no pun intended), but one bird was bolder and even struck some poses for us.

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Egyptian Goose, posing.
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Here’s his “good side”.

There were some domestic waterfowl, as well. I was hoping for a Greylag Goose, and this bird was the closest I could find.

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The extensive white is evidence of domestication in this bird’s lineage.

Here’s the eBird list for the Baptist Hosptial Area, including the neighborhood to its north (where we found no White-crowned Pigeons):
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39939715

From the hospital area, we went in to a few of the area neighborhoods, which are known to host warblers as well as established exotics, like Spot-breasted Orioles and Red-whiskered Bulbuls.

At the King’s Creek Village [map] townhouse development, we had some success! The last time we visited this area, we saw a Red-whiskered Bulbul, but were unable to photograph it. This time, we were ready!

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One of several Red-whiskered Bulbuls in the neighborhood.
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Bulbuls are native to south Asia, but are doing well in suburban Miami.

Among the more common Palm Warblers and Northern Parulas, we also saw Cape May and Blackburnian Warblers, and one real rarity: A Nashville Warbler.

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A rare Nashville Warbler feeding on an ornamental.
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This Nashville Warbler’s bright yellow belly really stood out in the sunlight.

The complete eBird list for King’s Creek Village is here (with more good photos from Camille):
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39942003

After King’s Creek Village, we made two more stops, hoping to get White-crowned Pigeons and more parrots. At Ocean Bank [map] (a very urban setting), there have been White-chevroned Parakeets roosting just outside the atrium. We did not see them, but we did see some Common Mynas with nesting materials in a billboard structure.

We then made our way to the Miller Drive parrot roost [map], hoping to get more parrot species as they came in for the night. Unfortunately there were not many parrots, though we were treated to a fly by of a flock Red-masked Parakeets as the sun set. While we were waiting to see what parrots would flock in, we saw more warblers and even some non-avian friends.

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Iguanas are a common introduced species in south Florida. In addition to some large specimens at Evergreen Cemetery, this one was hanging around the canal.

When it was clear there would be minimal roosting going on at this particular place, we made our way to Fuch’s Park [map], which is often an alternate roost site. But when we arrived there, it was dead quiet, with no parrots (and very few birds) present.

Here are the remaining eBird lists for the day:
Ocean Bank:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S39943542

Miller Drive:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S3994528

The sun was setting by now, and it was time to head home. Day trips to south Florida are always long, but rewarding. We never got our White-crowned Pigeon (deemed a “common” bird by some), and I joke that it’s a cryptid, like Big Foot. But I’ll be back to get it, along with the elusive Mangrove Cuckoo. There are plenty of birding adventures to be had before then!

 

Spring Fall Outs 2017

Since my last entry we’ve had one small and one larger “fall out” of migrating birds here along the Space Coast. A fall out happens when birds encounter a weather event that forces them from flight to stop and seek shelter or food – or both – for a time before resuming their paths. Flying takes a tremendous amount of energy. Over a long period of time, many birds have developed methods to save that energy in flight. Neotropical migrants, like warblers, use approaching winds and weather fronts to time their overnight flights. For much of this spring there have been unusually strong southerly winds along the entire peninsula of Florida, allowing many migrants to fly very long distances with a tail-wind, often bypassing the state altogether. That has made for another fairly quiet migration, for the most part.

At the beginning of April, a cold front did sweep across the state, and some early migrants were forced down into area hotspots. At Lori Wilson Park, that generated some excitement as a rare Black-whiskered Vireo stopped for a couple of weeks. This is likely the same bird that also stopped there last year, so it remembered the park as a safe haven and place to refuel.

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Like many recurring and rare visitors, this bird had a favorite hang-out in the park. In this case a mature Gumbo Limbo tree, producing berries that vireos seem to love.

The season’s first Red-eyed Vireos were also present, as well as familiar faces that hadn’t found their favorable winds quite yet. Prairie and Yellow-rumped Warblers were still there, as well as the park’s large contingent of Gray Catbirds.

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Catbirds generally prefer to skulk in the underbrush, but this bird had come out in the open to get some water.

A complication this spring for any migrants that do need to stop and “top-up their tanks” is the lack of rainfall since the end of winter. Many places around the state are in drought and fire hazard warnings were up for much of the first part of April. The conditions only got worse as the month has worn on. The marsh habitat of Black Point Wildlife Drive on Merritt Island caught fire last week and about 5,000 acres burned. Fire is a natural and necessary force in shaping central Florida’s natural landscape, but only in area adapted for it. The area around Black Point is a wetlands habitat, dominated by mangroves. A hot burn there stands to do damage, even to the soil. It’s early days yet to know how much damage may have been done. The fire is suspected to be human induced, though the origin might never be truly known. If you smoke, please properly extinguish whatever you’re smoking and don’t light up when in areas prone to fire (which in recent days is just about anywhere outside).

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Fire at Black Point. (Photo courtesy USFWS)
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Photo courtesy of USFWS.

After the small fall out at the start of April, conditions returned to strong, southerly winds again, even through the Spring meeting of the Florida Ornithological Society. The FOS meeting was in Ruskin this year, near Tampa. I’ll have a little to say about that coming up in another blog entry.

Finally, this weekend we had another front come through. Though not as strong as the one a couple of weeks ago, there were more birds in the sky as we’ve reached peak migration time for many species. The results were dramatic. Over at Fort De Soto park (just days after I left the area after the FOS meeting), dozens of tanagers and grosbeaks descended on the park, though the warbler numbers were low.

Closer to home, Turkey Creek Sanctuary finally saw its largest number of migrant warblers of the season. Over two days this week I went out before work to see what made pit stops there.

Tuesday morning had large numbers of Black-and white Warblers on the move. This species winters in Florida, Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America. It breed throughout much of the eastern US and Canada. There were also Black-throated Blue Warblers, American Redstarts, and Blackpoll Warblers throughout Turkey Creek Sanctuary. Small numbers of Cape May and Worm-eating Warblers were also there, and at least one Black-throated Green Warbler – a long anticipated life bird for me!

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Finally! I’ve been hoping for this bird for a while. 
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The extensive black throat feathers identify this Black-throated Green Warbler as a male.

Many of the birds were moving west, out of the sanctuary and into the adjacent neighborhood. I think this might be because of the limited food supplies in the park itself. The native and ornamental trees in the neighborhood might be irrigated, thus producing more fruit and attracting more insects.

The following morning saw much the same mix, except the predominate bird was the Blackpoll Warbler. I saw at least 3 dozen, mostly males, throughout the entire southern part of the Sanctuary (the northern area – specifically the Sand Pine and Turkey Oak trails – remain closed as trees and debris are being cleared, due to last Fall’s hurricane Matthew.

Here are three eBird lists from Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I included Monday’s list for a comparison to what happened after the fall out conditions.

Monday 4/24/2017: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36227122
Tuesday 4/25/2017: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36254038
Wednesday 4/26/2017: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36281378

Food supplies in the sanctuary are still low, but these birds are finding enough for at least a brief stopover.

I expect things will taper off again as the winds are already turning more southerly. There are still a few weeks to go for migration, so hopefully there will be more chances for birds to make stops along the Space Coast. Many of these species won’t be seen here again until October.

I know this entry is a little light in the photographs, but such is the way with small, fast moving targets. I was excited that my Black-throated Green Warbler was as accommodating as he was!

T.M. Goodwin makes a good end to 2015

I’ve just come back from my final birding adventure of 2015. I’ve been thinking a lot, these past weeks, about how much birding I have done this year. I took on a novice birder for much of the year and have seen her skills improve (as she has helped sharpen mine). I’ve read and listened with joy at her own solo adventures around Florida and in Europe.

It ended up being a big birding year for me. Now, it hasn’t exactly been a “Big Year” (like the book or film).  It ended up as more of a Medium Year. I covered most of Central Florida in one way or another, travelled to Minnesota for Superb Owl Weekend, had a spectacular trip to Churchill to see Polar Bears and so much more.

I ended the year closer to home. Camille and I went to the T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area (map). This particular area is only open to general traffic on Thursdays, so it’s been a challenge to figure out when to visit with work schedules and such. Since we were both on vacation this week, it made a lot of sense to head on in and see what was hanging around.

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Some typical habitat at T.M. Goodwin Waterfowl Management Area.

One species of interest is the Gray-headed Swamphen (a.k.a. Purple Swamphen). This bird has recently been breeding in south Florida and working its way north. There were verified reports in last week, so we were hoping to see it. Unfortunately, the swamphens did not cooperate. But we had a good day of it. I recorded my first Brevard County Fulvous Whistling Ducks and Snail Kites. There were some of both typical and pale Florida-form Red-shouldered Hawks, too.

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A pale variant of the Red-shouldered Hawk.

As with much of central Florida, the most abundant birds on the water were American Coots and Common Gallinules. We counted nearly 1000 in just a couple of areas.

At one point a very patient and cooperative Black Vulture posed for some photos.

There was a disappointingly low number of ducks, which has been the case for a lot of places so far this fall/winter. We did see several Northern Pintails, some Blue-winged Teals, and a solitary Ring-necked Duck. The diversity that had been reported last week seemed to be gone.

You can see my complete lists over on ebird:

T.M. Goodwin “Original Unit”:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26558335

T.M. Goodwin “Broadmoor Unit”:
http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S26558333

Some numbers of subjective value: I have recorded 200 bird species in Brevard County this year, and 256 for my grand total (including Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Manitoba).

A good end to a good year. Happy New Year to all of you!

No Bittern Tears of Egret

Monday was a vacation day for me, and I used it to head back to the Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands at Viera. It was overcast and a few sprinkles were falling, but I was hoping to see additional waterfowl and perhaps some more winter residents birds.

As I pulled into the parking area, I saw an immature Bald Eagle being harassed by an Osprey and some Turkey Vultures trying to get airborne. The morning was cool, so there didn’t seem to be any thermals to get them aloft.

I noticed more Pied-billed Grebes than the last time. There were also small groups of Northern Shovelers (all female) and Blue-winged Teals (both sexes). The rafts of American Coots have grown a little larger, though there were some pairs skulking closer to shore.

photo coot-couple.jpg What a coot couple!

I noticed several Black-crowned Night Herons in the reeds, some distance away. Both species of night herons here are actually crepuscular (a fancy term for being most active at dusk or dawn) rather than nocturnal. They were roosting quietly and grooming themselves a little.

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Black-crowned Night Heron.

I had something happen to me then that always fascinates me when something like it occurs. Normally one would chalk it up to a coincidence, but when it happens, the experience can seem so uncanny that we ascribe it to outside forces or fate. I was thinking to myself how great it would be to see every species of resident heron or egret in one outing. I was mulling that over and said to myself, “it would be pretty awesome if I did see an American Bittern.” Immediately, there was a squawk and flurry of wings to my left, and a chunky, brown and striped bird rose out of the reeds and flew across my line of sight. I first grabbed my binoculars and to my glee, it was indeed an American Bittern! It landed on the far side of the pond and tried to adopt the characteristic freeze posture the bird is known for, to blend in with the reeds. With the distance and low light levels, here’s the best shot I got.

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“I am a reed. Nothing to see here.”

I love it when these things happen! I was not able to conjure up a Whooping Crane or a Kirtland’s Warbler, though!

Palm Warblers were plentiful. They seemed equally at home among the wetland and upland vegetation. Palm Warblers are also getting a little more numerous near my workplace. Last year there were dozens each morning as I walked through the turnstile onto the work campus ground, each winter morning.

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Palm Warbler says, “Hey there!”

As I said above, there was a good variety of herons and egrets. At one point I heard some loud splashing and commotion behind me and saw a Great Egret wresting with a really large lunch! This bullfrog must have been at least 6 inches long (not counting the legs). It took some effort, but the egret finally got its meal down. I did feel a little bad for the frog.

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“What are you looking at? Is there something in my beak? Oh gosh, there is! How embarrassing!”

The Ospreys were not diving or flying much. I don’t know if the water surface or wind conditions were unfavorable or not, but they seemed mostly content to sit and look around. This one watched me intently the whole time I was in its vicinity.

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Osprey chillin’ out.

One can usually count on interesting non-bird encounters at the Viera Wetlands as well. I encountered some small alligators trying to get some glimpses of sun in between the sprinkles and clouds. Since it was a cool day, they were a bit sluggish and I was able to approach a bit closer than normal.

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Young gator showing us its happy face.

But most exciting was the almost run-in with a Water Moccasin in the grass. Water Moccasins are notoriously aggressive, and will often stand their ground when approached. I kept my distance, but still managed some great shots.

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Don’t let this pretty face fool you. Water Moccasins can be very aggressive. I kept a respectful distance from this beauty.

As I made my way across the far end of the wetlands, I saw a few Limpkins carefully walking along the water’s edge. I was a little surprised to find so many Limpkins present, because their preferred food, apple snails, are not plentiful at this location. One individual was trying to make a meal out of a tiny snail about a centimeter across, before it flew away, calling loudly.

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Limpkin in flight.

As I continued along the western edge of the Wetlands, I was accompanied by loose groups of Palm Warblers and Savannah Sparrows along the grassy borders and small pines and brush that parallel the driving paths. I also heard a few Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. I paused at one point to check the Palm Warblers more closely and was surprised to see a different warbler flitting among the rest. My first thought was that it might be a Common Yellowthroat, but I’ve never seen one in brushy pine edges before (but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be). On closer notation of the field marks and behavior I am left with a bit of a dilemma.

If I enumerate my notes thus:

  1. Gray head
  2. Yellowish breast and belly
  3. Greenish back, getting brighter and yellow-greenish on rump
  4. No wing-bars
  5. Flipped it’s tail (not bobbing or wagging like a Palm)

The closest match I get is a Nashville Warbler (a first for me!). However, there are problems with that identification. First, it’s not 100% certain that the bird wasn’t a slightly odd (or “aberrant”) plumage of a female or immature Common Yellowthroat. Second, the last time a Nashville Warbler was credibly reported in this area this late in the season was on November 8, 1999. Of course this doesn’t mean it is impossible, but without good photographic proof and a little more study of field marks, I cannot be 100% sure I saw a Nashville Warbler. Such is the way with birding. Sometimes not knowing for sure, but using all your skills to try to figure it out, expands your knowledge and experience and makes you a better birder. As Laura Erickson said to me, “Experiencing the bird itself is ever so much more fun than simply identifying it.”

Besides the Bald Eagle at the Wetlands’ entrance and the Ospreys lurking on the tree-tops, there were more raptors present than I’ve seen in a while. Perhaps due to the increase in small birds in the area compared to the summer, there were Northern Harriers flying around the area all morning, and several Red-tailed Hawks were present. The one in this photo was one of the darker ones I’ve seen here (compare to the lighter one I saw a few weeks ago).

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As I rounded one of the wetland cells to head back to the car, the weather turned, and the pesky on-an-off sprinkles were about to give way to steady rain. As the sky darkened, I saw this snowy egret standing on a pipe.

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A Snowy Egret hunkering down as the rain approached.

You can clearly see what Peterson and others have called “golden slippers” – the bright yellow feet. It is thought that one feeding strategy the Snowy Egrets use is to shuffle their bright feet along the bottom of ponds or marshes and scare up fish, crustaceans and other aquatic life in order to catch them to eat.

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“The feet! I told you about – I told you to – I told you – didn’t I tell him about the feet?”

The rain began falling soon after and by the time I got back to the car, I was pretty soaked.

Species list, mostly in order of first identification:

  • Bald Eagle
  • Turkey Vulture
  • American Coot
  • Common Gallinule
  • Common Grackle
  • Boat-tailed Grackle
  • Great Egret
  • Northern Harrier
  • Black-crowned Night Heron
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Blue-winged Teal
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Osprey
  • Loggerhead Shrike
  • Double-crested Cormorant
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • American Bittern
  • Snowy Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Anhinga
  • Barn Swallow
  • White Ibis
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Little Blue Heron
  • Black Vulture
  • Belted Kingfisher
  • Green Heron
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • Palm Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Limpkin
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • Gray Catbird (♫)
  • Eastern Meadowlark (♫)
  • Common Yellowthroat

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Wet Turkey Vultures coping with the weather.

Back In The Catbird Seat

I had today off from work, so I took a quick late-morning look at Turkey Creek (again) to see if anything was going on. I was too late to catch up with Shirley Hills, and the park was mostly empty. The biggest change from Sunday was the prevalence of Gray Catbird calls all through the western part of the sanctuary. There were some other sprinklings of birds too, including a loose congregation of Yellow-throated Vireos, White-eyed Vireos and Blue-grey Gnatcatchers. I’ll do a quick photoblog post later of the few other shots I got off.

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Catbirds are here!

Here’s the list from today (not in much of a particular order):

  • Gray Catbird
  • Mourning Dove
  • Common Ground Dove
  • Northern Cardinal
  • Carolina Wren
  • Yellow-throated Warbler
  • Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  • Yellow-throated Vireo
  • White-eyed Vireo
  • Downy Woodpecker
  • Northern Mockingbird
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • Blue Jay
  • Snowy Egret
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Tri-colored Heron
  • Common Gallinule
  • Anhinga
  • Fish Crow
  • Brown Thrasher
  • Cape May Warbler
  • Black Vulture
  • Turkey Vulture
  • Red-shouldered Hawk (♫)