So it was the middle of November and I was itching to get 500 Life Birds by the end of 2009 (I started my first life list in May of 2007). I had 490 at that point and was trying to find a relativley easy (and inexpensive) way to pick of the last 10 birds. I have never been on a Pelagic trip so that was an option, but 10 new birds is a lot to ask from a single trip for offshore birds. So, with some vacation time to burn and nice weather as an added bonus, I decided to give South Florida a shot. I had been to the central/west coast in Florida in April of 2008 but never got down to the Everglades or the Miami area.
My first day out was Friday Nov 20th. I decided to drive through the Everglades to take in the natural beauty of the area and to stop off at some of the “birdier” spots. My first lifebird of the trip was a beautiful Purple Gallinule at Royal Palm on the Anhinga trail. Just feet away from floating gators this guy quickly brightened an overcast morning. I drove the rest of the way to Flamingo at the end of the Everglades and also came across a flock of White-crowned Pigeons at Mahogany Hammock. Not a bad start to the trip. On the way back to the hotel I picked up a third LB in, off all places, a McDonald’s parking lot. The Common Myna (just recently added as a countable ABA bird) apparently loves fast food like the rest of us.
Day 2 was to start by meeting up with one of Florida’s best birders Larry Manfredi (check out his website at http://southfloridabirding.com/) to track down some Miami area specialties. Larry has been birding in Florida for many years and has contributed to many of it’s birding knowledge, guides, and documentation. Larry quickly got us on some wonderful Yellow-chevroned Parakeet hanging out with a few Monk Parakeet in a tree. Although not “countable” yet, the Yellow-chevroned could some day be added to the ABA list so this one would have to remain as “one in the bank” for now. (which later became 2 when we saw a plumply perfect Purple Swamphen) Next, Larry put us on the spectacularly curious and energetic Red-whiskered Bulbuls! What great birds. I could have spent the whole day watching these guys work their way gregariously around the neighborhood. But, new birds beckoned and we soon saw two bright Spot-breasted Orioles and even got to hear one sing! Another White-crowned Pigeon posed for pictures and a flock of Mitred Parrots squawked their presence into our wonderful Miami birding morning! We next looked for Smooth-billed Ani in vain (a Spring trip for breeding birds would be more productive for birds like the Ani and Mangrove Cuckoo which I missed) but quickly rebounded with two talkative Limpkin and a great comparative look at Purple Gallinule to Purple Swamphen. A quick stop also picked up a distant Snail Kite (2 actually) but much more was to come with the Snail Kite on the next day. We wound up the day back at Larry’s feeders for Shiny Cowbird wrapping up a successful day of birding with 5 new birds for me that day bringing my trip total to 8 (498).
I decided I would do 2 things with the rest of my time in Florida. One, I would try to get a better look at Snail Kite (my most wanted bird of the trip) and two I would search for Mangrove Cuckoo. I knew I could get a Wilson’s Plover, a relativley easy to find Florida resident, as a life bird so how cool would it be to get Mangrove Cuckoo for number 500!? So the next morning I headed out to the spot that Larry and I had seen the Snail Kite. On the way there is a super busy gas station as the only one and a last stop for miles around. I stopped in for coffee and gas. As I was getting back in my car, across the street I saw a Snail Kite sitting on a stick (one of the 2X2s they tie a ribbon two and stick in the ground as a marker of some sort). Awesome. Could I get across and off to the side to get pictures? As I pulled over the Kite took to the air and I thought I had scared him away. I should have known better based on his (I am not sure if it is male or female so I am just ignorantly using “his”) location next to a busy (for Everglades FL anyways) road as instead he stopped, “Kited” and then dropped onto a Snail! How cool was this? I got to see a Snail Kite catch his name sake and got some pretty cool pictures of him sitting and eating the snail using that perfectly curved bill before discarding the shell. 1 Down 1 to go!
Along the way I had picked up the Wilson’s Plover so it was 499 with a day and a half to find the Mangrove Cuckoo. Larry had told me about a spot that had a recent sighting but 3 trips there didn’t pan out. I also tried some Everglades spots along Snake Bite trail and even a quick trip to Key Largo to look around some of their Mangrove. As birding sometimes goes I ended up not seeing a Cuckoo and headed home with 499 Life Birds. Jeanette had booked a Pelagic trip for my birthday, Dec 6th, so I knew I would get to 500 before years end. Florida was a nice trip with some great birds and a return must be had for the Cuckoo that got away.