A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Florida Birding Trip Report - Day 5 (Stormwater Treatment Area & Miami)

Day 5 -  Friday 1st April 2016

The journey down to Miami had been one of the days I had been looking forward to the most on our trip. Packed full of the promises of such charismatic species as Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Spot-breasted Orioles, Burrowing Owls and further sightings of the majestic Swallow-tailed Kites, this was most certainly a day not to be missed. With the sun shining once again against the backdrop of the brilliant powder blue sky, we were soon well on our way to our first point of call – Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6 and the surrounding roads.

Before we had even reached our destination, Alex had brought the car to a screeching halt – and for good reason – a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was perched on the wires right above us! 
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Florida
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Parking on a nearby side road and heading back, we were soon enjoying absolutely breath-taking views of this incredible species, our first bird now joined by several other chattering individuals.
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Florida
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Florida
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Florida
With their spectacular long tails and gorgeous salmon toned plumage, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was one of the main targets of the whole trip for both of us, and we were slightly concerned that the overwintering Florida population may have already moved on, with just a handful of birds remaining at Lucky Hammock Reserve and L1 Dike Road near Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6. Fortunately we struck it lucky, and these beautiful flycatchers were one of the firm highlights of the trip.
Florida
The wires along the roads in the area are renowned for Flycatchers and Kingbirds
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Florida
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Florida
Due to being transfixed on the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, it took an age for us to notice a Kingbird was congregating with them, its shorter tail and lemon yellow belly distinguishing itself from the rest of the flock and sending us in to panic mode. Tropical or Western? Either would be a new bird for us, but with Western Kingbirds also residing in California (a place we were hoping to visit on a future trip to America) Tropical was the species to get.
Western Kingbird - Florida
Western Kingbird?
Taking a series of photos to aid with identification later, our focus soon shifted back to the flycatchers – perhaps we should have taken a few more field notes! Studying the photos it wasn’t immediately obvious which species we had seen, the length of the bill was hard to determine and the breast was obscured due to the bird facing away. The tail, another key feature for identification, was also extremely tatty due to moult and wasn’t too much help to us. Studying the photos and Alex’s video (which displayed the bird in motion), we eventually came to the conclusion that it was a Western Kingbird – the bill looking much shorter than would be expected for a Tropical Kingbird and the tail displaying some white edges as also familiar in this species.
Western Kingbird - Florida
With the Scissor-tailed Flycatchers departing, we continued on to L1 Dike Road, spotting another flycatcher perching on the wires as we neared the entrance. Hoping to locate the pair of Tropical Kingbirds that had been residing in the area, we sadly drew a blank on that front, but over 15 Burrowing Owls (though extremely distant) were our next new birds of the trip while further Crested Caracaras and an unexpected American Barn Owl (now split as a separate species) were additional highlights.
Burrowing Owl - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Record shot of the Burrowing Owl!
Crested Caracara - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Juvenile Crested Caracara
Crested Caracara - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Driving around to the front entrance of Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6 also provided us with our best photo opportunities of the whole trip in terms of photographing the beautiful Swallow-tailed Kites
Swallow-tailed Kite - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Swallow-tailed Kite
Swallow-tailed Kite - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
One stunning individual patrolled up and down the side of the track, hunting for small reptiles and birds and providing prolonged up close and personal views of this gorgeous raptor. 
Swallow-tailed Kite - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Swallow-tailed Kite - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Indeed, the Kite was still there when we left an hour later, and powering after it in the car and stopping at intervals to intercept its flight path with the camera as it swooped past resulted in some particularly pleasing photos.
Swallow-tailed Kite - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Swallow-tailed Kite - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
Swallow-tailed Kite - Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6, Florida
On paper Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6 looked to be an extremely productive location, with a number of new species for us including both Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-ducks as well as Sedge Wrens. However, in reality it seemed to be devoid of any large masses of avian fauna. With the relentless heat beating down, the best we could manage were Common Gallinules and American Coots, with three Black-necked Stilts and a Roseate Spoonbill breaking the monotony. Cutting our losses and with me stupidly leaving my hat in the car, we trudged back disappointed, no Whistling-ducks in sight and the nearest pools where they could potentially be miles and miles down the track – unthinkable in this heat and without vehicle access (it brought back horrible memories of a similar Red-knobbed Coot treck in Southern Spain in 30 degree heat!)
Queen Butterfly - a highlight of Stormwater Treatment Area 5/6 (Photo by Alex Jones)
With the rest of the afternoon ahead of us, we decided to make our way down to our next port of call – Markham Park near Miami for an introduced exotic in the form of the attractive Spot-breasted Orioles. With our original location of Vista Park beach not having any records recently on e-bird and with up to three birds seen regularly near the car park at Markham, this was more likely to result in success on the Oriole front.

Whizzing down the Josie Billie Highway after leaving the Stormwater Treatment Area, I spotted a grey bird perched on the wires that looked suspiciously like a Gray Kingbird. 
Gray Kingbird - Josie Billie Highway, Florida
Gray Kingbird
This was another species we had hoped to see along L1 Dike Road but had failed to connect with, and with birds moving up in to Florida from the middle of April onwards, I had feared we may have been a touch too early to catch up with any. Making Alex turn the car around and head back, we were both astounded when it did in fact turn out to be an extremely smart looking Gray Kingbird (Alex was convinced I’d messed up and thought it would just be another Catbird or Mockingbird) and we were able to pull up alongside it and watch at leisure what turned out to be our only individual of the trip.  
Gray Kingbird - Josie Billie Highway, Florida
Gray Kingbird - Josie Billie Highway, Florida
Gray Kingbird - Josie Billie Highway, Florida
Arriving at Markham Park, I immediately clocked on to a pair of birders complete with optics heading back to the car park. Knowing a rough location for the Orioles but with no definite gen, we quickly learned the duo had been watching one 5 minutes ago just a short walk down the path at the end of the dog exercise park. Rushing over, it became apparent the oriole had disappeared, and it took a further half an hour before I finally relocated it in a tree inside the dog park enclosure. 
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
Spot-breasted Oriole
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
With a beautiful tropical orange breast complete with a jet black speckled necklace across the throat, there was no denying the Spot-breasted Oriole added a touch of the exotic to the Miami suburbs.
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
Originating from Central America, Spot-breasted Orioles are now accepted by the ABA as a countable introduced species in Miami, and it was great to see this often sought after and elusive species so well.
Spot-breasted Oriole - Markham Park, Florida
Our next stop was Brian Piccolo Sports Park – a huge outdoor sports centre renowned in the birding world for its nesting Burrowing Owls. Despite seeing them earlier on in the day, we were both keen to visit this excellent location, as the Burrowing Owls here are known to get ridiculously close! Pulling up and parking alongside the baseball fields where the Burrowing Owls nested, the burrows were immediately obvious, taped off to prevent disturbance and with some even sporting wooden perches for the owls to rest on. 
Burrowing Owl nest - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Burrowing Owl nest!
Remarkably, the first burrow we checked was occupied, a pair of smart adult birds standing guard just feet away from us while a fluffy owlet crouched amongst them!
Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Burrowing Owl 
Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Baby Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Baby Burrowing Owl!
Clearly well used to human presence, the owls were completely unconcerned as we watched on, staring up at the sky intently every time a plane passed overhead and keeping a constant watch out for predators. 
Baby Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Baby Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
It is always a fantastic experience to get such incredible views of a bird, and we were able to take in the beautiful bright yellow patterns of their striking eyes as they stared at us, the young owlet’s jet black irises equally as piercing. An unforgettable experience – so much more satisfying and memorable than the distant views we’d had earlier that morning.
Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
One tired Burrowing Owl...
Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Burrowing Owl - Brian Piccolo Sports Park, Florida
Tearing ourselves away from the owls, we made our way over to our final destination of the day - Topeekeegee Yugnee Country Park and the place where a Neotropic Cormorant had been calling home for the past couple of months. Despite scanning the large lake we failed to locate this Florida rarity, but an unexpected lifer was added nonetheless in the form of Muscovy Duck. Not realising at the time, there is an established feral population of Muscovy Ducks in Miami which, like the Spot-breasted Orioles, are accepted and fully countable by the ABA. Despite the fact that we saw many dotted around the suburbs of Florida’s capital, we both failed to get any photos of these dark coloured (and rather ugly!) ducks, including a pair with a number of adorable chicks in tow a few days later.
Common Green Iguana - Topeekeegee Yugnee Country Park, Florida
Common Green Iguana at Topeekeegee Yugnee Country Park
Staying just outside of Miami in the outskirts of Hollywood for the next two nights, we checked in to our bright and airy beachside boutique apartment before checking out the beautiful palm tree lined beach boulevard a mere 2 minute walk away – the perfect way to relax after a busy few days birding!
Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida
Miami, Florida
The beaches around Miami are world famous and for good reason - they certainly didn’t disappoint!
Brown Pelican - Florida
Brown Pelican
Watching a flock of Brown Pelicans cruise effortlessly over the waves as the last hints of orange glow from the sun disappeared below the horizon, we waited well over an hour for our dinner to arrive (and it was even the wrong order, cold and tasteless when it arrived!) but it was great to sit back and relax in preparation for the next day and a part of the trip I had been looking forward to for months –finally the time had come to pay a visit to the Smooth-billed Anis! 
Turtle number plate - Florida
Florida
The colourful walls made up for the dire service!
Miami, Florida
Sunset in Miami
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