Monday, March 14, 2016

South Florida - Lifers

This year my wife and I decided to get away from the dreary Virginia winter. While it is definitely nice to occasionally get 65-70 degree days and not deal with snow piling up all winter, we don't get the benefit of snow and the fun that comes with that. Instead, it is 35 degree rain. Not that I'm advocating for a move to Maine but it is still nice to get away somewhere where you can count on sun and warmth and eating outside is a real possibility.

After considering a couple of options we decided on a trip to the Florida keys and Everglades. The trip was really nice and the birding fantastic. This post will highlight the life birds and other amazing things we saw. The next post will talk about all of the warblers we saw. And there might be a third with other interesting birds and non-avian sightings. Plus a few misses.

What better way to start off a trip than to wake up to the squawk of a new bird. We flew into Miami on Saturday night so we stayed in southern Miami that night. First thing next morning Sharon hears this crazy sound and sees two large green birds fly past. By the time I get over there they have disappeared into a few trees. After a few minutes wait they come back again eventually settling in the rain gutter just above our room (Thanks Marriott for the upgrade to the top floor!).
Mitred Parakeet
 This is one of those "miscellaneous" birds for bird watchers. Obviously a really nice and pretty bird. But they aren't native to the area. They likely have descended from escaped, or released, pets. So they don't make the official ABA list of North American birds. But beautiful and exciting nonetheless.

 Next on our lifer list is the most amazing bird of the trip. The focus point of the trip was a visit to the Dry Tortugas National Park. We hoped to see a Magnificent Frigatebird out there. It seemed likely but we didn't want to get our hopes up too high. No problems there. From the parking garage in Key West where we were catching the boat to Dry Tortugas we saw our first frigatebird soar overhead. They are amazing birds and one of the largest birds we have on the east coast.
Magnificent Frigatebird
There were many more, like 250, when we got out to the islands of Dry Tortugas. Several would be floating on the wind right above Fort Jefferson and the main key. That is where I got most of my pictures of them.
More Frigatebirds
The male frigatebird has a large pouch of red skin that it inflates to attract females. With our spotting scope we could see a colony of frigatebirds nesting on a neighboring key and could pick out the little spots of red. Occasionally, the red skin patch could be seen as flew over.
Male Magnificent Frigatebird
A little closer than the frigatebird colony was an island full of nesting Sooty Terns and Brown Noddys. At the peak of breeding season there are apparently close to 40000 pairs of birds. We saw a few thousand and the noise was deafening.
As we were waiting for the boat to leave from the Dry Tortugas we saw a pair of Masked Boobies in the distance. They have a distinctive wing pattern so it was easy to pick out but poor views. We picked up 4 new life birds on the trip.

The next day we visited the Key West Botanical Gardens. A lovely little spot filled with bird life. In between watching warblers and a Western Kingbird, Sharon spotted a hawk overhead. It was a small buteo that was very white underneath with smart outlining on the wings: a Short-tailed Hawk. We would later see the dark morph version but the white one is stunningly beautiful.

Our next big collection of lifers came in the Everglades. We drove from Key West to the Everglades Thursday morning Our first stop was a spot just outside the park entrance called the Southern Glades Wildlife and Environmental Area. As we pull up there was a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. his is a bird of the southern plains. A small number winter at the very southern tip of Florida and the keys. The long flowing tail is easily discernible from a distance. But not to worry. On our way back out of the park that evening there were 8 birds sitting on the power lines.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
The last lifer of the trip was practically the last bird we saw; definitely the last species added to our list. Early on our last day we had stopped at Paurotis Pond on the road to Flamingo. As we headed back to the car I saw a dove-like bird fly past us and thought there was a light spot on the head. But not a good view and Sharon didn't see it. So we stopped there again on our way out in the evening. This time I definitely saw a couple fly past but they were quick and Sharon was always looking in a different direction. Finally, as we talked with a couple of other birders we had a good pass by one that everyone got a good look at: a White-crowned Dove.
I ended the trip with 9 new life birds including the parakeet and a wild Muscovy Duck.

But in additional to the life birds, we saw lots of summer birds and coastal birds that we seldom get to see in February. But you will have to wait until the next installment for some of those.

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