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Category: Trip Reports

Florida, Part 2: Keys to Piney Woods

Florida, Part 2: Keys to Piney Woods

In addition to all the immigrants that I targeted, I spent a good amount of time on some of the native species of Florida as well.  My target list here was much more refined, mostly hard to record species and rare vocalizations, and so my success rate was a bit lower.  But by the time my trip was over I still managed to get a nice collection of cool recordings, with a nice smattering of rare ones thrown in:

Mottled Duck is a surprisingly rarely recorded species.  Maybe that’s because it’s just a glorified Mallard – or maybe the opposite of glorified, being less colorful.  Or maybe it’s because it can be hard to find pure birds anymore in places most people bird.  Whatever the case, it was a major goal of mine to get some recordings from them, and I did from both hybrids and apparently pure birds:

Mottled Duck, Wakodahatchee Wetlands, copyright Andrew Spencer

It wasn’t all that long ago that I didn’t even know that Bachman’s Sparrow had a flight song.  As soon as I heard about it I had to go record it!  And it took a little effort, but eventually I found a pair of birds with an older juvenile late one evening that made all sorts of cool sounds, including the “flight” song a few times (but always while perched).  I also recorded a variety of calls from them, and their beautiful primary song.

Bachman's Sparrow, Three Lakes WMA, copyright Andrew Spencer

Not surprisingly, a number of the bird I was looking for were found on the Florida Keys.  High among these were White-crowned Pigeon and Black-whiskered Vireo (especially calls of both, which are rarely recorded), but I also recorded a few other fun species such as Antillean Nighthawk and Gray Kingbird.

Not really on the target list, but still a very cool (and unique) bird, I was able to get some good cuts of Limpkin near Miami while I was looking for Swamphens.  I was most surprised to learn that they actually make a very distinct winnowing sound while flying in an apparent display flight, and was very pleased to get a recording of it.

Limpkin, Pembroke Pines, copyright Andrew Spencer

One of the major highlights of my trip was recording in the Everglades.  I’ll admit, I got very few recordings there, BUT I did get one of my most wanted – Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow.  And in addition to getting good recs I had spectacular views as well, a rarity for this endangered subspecies.

"Cape Sable" Seaside Sparrow, Everglades National Park, copyright Andrew Spencer

Florida, Part 1: Recording the Exotic

Florida, Part 1: Recording the Exotic

Purple Swamphen, Pembroke Pines, copyright Andrew Spencer

Exotics tend to have a bad rap among North American birders.  They’re either disparaged, or more often, ignored entirely.  This is a bit of a shame – they’re not “bad” birds, so to speak.  It isn’t their fault they’re introduced to places far from their home range.  But something about them makes them slightly distasteful to the majority of us.  And I’ll admit there have been times when I’ve fallen into the same boat.  I’ve even flatly refused to go up into the Ruby Mountains of Nevada to twitch Himalayan Snowcock.  But when I was offered the chance to go to Florida to get recordings of a number of target species, including exotics, I jumped at the chance.

Part of that was a chance to go to Florida, which offered the largest block of birds I haven’t recorded before.  But I’ll admit I was a bit curious to record exotics as well.  Almost nobody has spent effort on documenting their vocalizations in their introduced ranges, and it would be a challenge.

So what follows below will be the very first earbirding trip report, of my trip to Florida.

A goodly portion of my time was spent in the, ahem, noisy environs of Miami getting recordings introduced species.  Some of these will be very familiar to the ABA birder: Red-whiskered Bulbul, Budgerigar, or Common Myna, for example.  Others have received some press recently, but tend to fly more under the radar: Purple Swamphen, Mitred Parakeet, etc.  And some very few people ever even think about: Egyptian Goose, Indian Peafowl, even Red Junglefowl.

Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) have become quite common in southern Florida.  They can be surprisingly hard to hear, though – during the day they tend not to make too much noise, and they usually occur in very urban areas.  But a pre-dawn spent in a deserted parking lot in Kendall got me some good cuts of their cool songs:

Hill Mynas (Gracula religiosa) are the cooler, bigger cousins of Common Mynas.  Not only do they have looks going for them, they are probably the coolest sounding exotic in Florida.  Here are a couple of recs of a pair duetting at Matheson Hammock:

Hill Myna, Matheson Hammock, copyright Andrew Spencer

Recently getting some press for their remarkable expansion into the wetlands of South Florida are the big ugly cousins of Purple Gallinule, Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio porphyrio).  In their native range they’re known as raucous, noisy birds, but in Florida they are surprisingly quiet.  I had to work on this species for a while before I found a pair that would vocalize, but when I did I was able to get a good representation of their repertoire:

Parrots feature prominently in the introduced avifauna of Florida.  Parrots are the perfect birds to record in noisy urban environments – they tend to be gregarious, fairly easy to find, and LOUD.  That is a huge advantage when having to deal with lots of background noise.  I was able to get recordings of a number of species, established and not so established.  Some of the species below are ABA countable (like White-winged Parakeet (Brotogeris versicolurus) and Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)), but are actually fairly local and hard to find to nearly gone, while others that are not yet countable (like Mitred (Aratinga mitrata) and Nanday (Nandayus nenday) Parakeets) are much more well established:

Budgerigar, Hernando Beach, copyright Andrew Spencer

Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiaca) is a surprisingly common introduced bird that most ABA birders haven’t even heard of.  Luckily they’re quite noisy:

Egyptian Goose, Key Biscayne, copyright Andrew Spencer

Red-whiskered Bulbul (Pycnonotus jocosus) has gotten a lot of attention due to the fact that it’s ABA countable.  But despite this, it is actually quite a bit harder to find than many non-countable exotics.  It is also rather difficult to get recordings of, and the best ones I managed were of a juvenile bird.  I did also manage to get one recording of call from an adult, but no song.

Red-whiskered Bulbul juvenile, Kendall, copyright Andrew Spencer

Stay tuned for part 2 of the trip report, which will follow in a few days…