Saturday, July 6, 2013

Summer Birding

  I love summertime. Everything about it is great; the extreme humidity, high temperatures and South Florida specialties... I just can't get enough! The vacation to North Carolina was great but the dry heat just killed me. Honestly, I can blame it on genetics. My parents are from the Caribbean (Cuba and Puerto Rico) so I am just not designed to withstand temperatures under 70 degrees Fahrenheit or  humidity under 80%. Some people think it's a curse but I consider it a blessing. My only true complaint about summer are the Deer Flies. I HATE DEER FLIES. I have tried to give them a chance and accept them for the horrible insects they are but it just isn't happening. Either way I have to deal with them - especially with the June Challenge going on.

My favorite of the South Florida specialties

  For those new to the concept of the June Challenge it's actually really awesome. The sixth month of the year is not exactly know for its diversity of birds here in Florida. So to keep people active and birding, the concept of a state wide competition came into play. We all know birders love competition... hence big years!   Unfortunately I would not be able to be as active as I was last year since I had my priorities set on picking up year birds and keeping up the pace. Last year Miami-Dade won with an impressive 166 ABA countable birds! Even though topping that number would be difficult we were still trying for a repeat of last years success. 

My top bird of last year's challenge

  I had decided June would be ABA exotics month. I had left ticking most of them off until now. The more common birds like Rock Pigeon and Monk Parakeet were added long ago but Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Nanday and White-winged Parakeet were all put aside for now. I knew they would be actively singing and covering their territory so it made tracking them down real easy. At first I tried to get them all in one day - an ABA Exotics Big Day! As I sat planning out the day the only bird that would be tricky would be House Finch. They are native to the SW United States but due to an assisted expansion to their range they can now be seen all across the US even though they were not historically found east of The Great Plains. In winter they are semi reliable at local feeders but in the summer it is very difficult to track one down. Luckily Thursday June 20th one popped up at the Bill Sadowski Park feeder as I was leading a group of kids to the trail! With this in mind I set out to try and get them all in one day on Sunday the 23rd.

  With the V-Lux 4 in hand courtesy of Leica Store Miami, I went out at dawn and started the day at the White-winged Parakeet spot. They usually can be found at the Ocean Bank building on LeJeune (42nd avenue) and NW 7th street but when I pulled up there wasn't one to be found. I turned the car off and started listening for them and sure enough I noticed squawking coming from the neighborhood just east of where I was. I slowly started driving the area and eventually found 20+ parakeets in a Mango tree preening and feeding! I was definitely a little nervous when they were not at their usual roost but was relieved when they turned up just a block over! 

  Next on my list would be the male Spot-breasted Oriole that is a resident of the University of Miami campus off US1 and Riviera Drive. This guy had been seen regularly singing all year around the library. As I pulled up and parked it was very quiet. A little too quiet... I hiked around hoping to hear the bird when finally a streak of orange flew over me coming from the NE. I chased him down and finally caught up as he was foraging from tree to tree. Off the bat I was 2 for 2 and wanted to keep the streak going. I jumped in my car and headed over to the Baptist Hospital area to get Red-whiskered Bulbul for the day. I had been getting lots of eBird Year Alerts so I knew they had to be around. It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. As I pulled into the neighborhood I slowly drove until finally one popped up and perched at the top of a palm tree! THREE FOR THREE and it wasn't even 9 am yet!

  With the way things were going I was hoping that I could spend the rest of the day at the Sadowski feeder (since I had to be at work anyway) and wait for the House Finch to make an appearance. Well I sat and sat... and sat... and sat some more but finally after 5 hours the bird was a no show. I figured I would take a break and try to get Nanday Parakeet on my lunch break but again I missed out. My streak had been broken! Of course I also knocked out Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, House Sparrow, Common Myna, European Starling and Monk Parakeet throughout the day but without the other two it was a bust. I was not going to let that discourage me though! I still had a week left to go out and get more year birds before July would start and my second half of the year would begin.

This youngin' hung around for a while waiting for more free baitfish

 Luckily for me Roberto "Toe" Torres managed to find someone who would take us out for a last minute pelagic - better known as a Toelagic! We all met at a little marina on the Miami River at 4:30 am and set out on what we were hoping would be an epic trip out to sea. We started by cast netting for live Sardines and Pilchards around Virginia Key which yielded West Indian Manatees and Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins before the sun was even up. It would be a sign of good to come! We finally started heading offshore and right away had a PARASITIC JAEGER fly right infront of us. Not only was that a year bird but also a lifer!! Shortly after we found a nice weedline about 7 miles offshore. Toe began chumming the water with the live bait and poured Menhaden Oil to attract the terns and tubenoses. After a bit of waiting we started to get some activity - first the Bridled Terns came in... then a couple Sooty Terns showed up... couple seconds later a Wilson's Storm-Petrel popped up BUT THEN we noticed a bird coming right for us. It was a tern but not like the others we had seen so far. As it got closer everyone shouted, "BROWN NODDY!"

Can't get enough of tropical terns

  As the day continued we also tallied Band-rumped Storm-Petrel and my lifer Cory's Shearwater! This brought the June Challenge count to 155 and my year list to 262 birds!! With June coming to an end we had officially won our second June Challenge in a row and I have less than 40 birds to find in the next 6 months. Now is when things get real!


  1. Rangel, would you count the scaly-headed parrots at UM for your year list? Also, is there a spot for swamphen in Miami-Dade? Good luck, you've set a great pace so far!

  2. Unfortunately the Scaly-headed Parrots are not ABA Countable but I wouldn't mind taking a couple pics of them next time I'm in the area. Are they usually found around a specific part of the campus? I do not think there is a spot for Purple Swamphen in the county... closest reliable location is in Broward but I will keep an eye out when I'm in the northern portion of Dade - you never know!

    Thanks for reading the blog and commenting!

    - Rangel

  3. I went to look for the parrots a couple weeks ago when I was visiting Miami (I'm a native but live in Pittsburgh now), and I'd read they're usually between the parking lot used for the pool and the Toppel Career Center. We found two of them just a little past the career center in some royal palms. Beautiful birds.

    I also looked for spot-breasted oriole all around campus because I wanted to show it to my girlfriend, but never found one. Wish I'd known they hang by the library. We'll get it next time. That was my sparkbird, fifteen years ago now.

  4. Five hours for a House Finch???? That's dedication.