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Sunday, May 01, 2016

All the Feral Folderol

Spot-breasted Oriole 
Day two of the South Florida birding tour took us to mostly residential neighborhoods in south Florida; Miami, Osceola and Kendall. Birds sought today are mostly feral species, and all but one, are parrots.

Once upon a time the only parrots visiting south Florida were the extinct Carolina Parakeet. Nowadays the overwhelming number of parrots in Florida are former caged pets, inadvertantly - or so one hopes - introduced. Our guide Larry explained hurricanes are forever up-ending aviaries, releasing birds to fend for themselves. In such relatively welcoming Florida climate, loosed birds buddy-up, start nesting and the rest is 'living history' flying about the suburbs.

First lifer of the day was a brilliant and hungry Spot-breasted Oriole that breakfasted on fruit in suburban trees. The Oriole was quickly followed by a pair of Egyptian Geese winging past.
My lifer Egyptian Geese 
Larry pointed my third lifers of the day, a pair of Nanday Parrots, that sat on some power lines, busily undergoing their morning ablutions. The chocolate faced birds seemed rather demure in their coloration until one of them showed off that it was wearing scarlet bloomers, I mean, scarlet leggings.
Nanday Parrot showing off scarlet leggings
Our second stop of the day was a mall that was actually free public housing for some White-winged Parakeets.
Digiscoped shot of White-winged Parakeet
Our little group had to move about the massive parking area a bit before finding some cooperative parakeets. I used my iPhone to photograph one through Larry's spotting scope. I came away thinking at first I'd not gotten any usable shots - wrong again.

The little parakeets are familiar to me. I was once given a feral White-winged Parakeet that I kept in my dorm room. The bird felt protective of me and attacked anyone who entered the room, until finally no one would; I got lonely. So on quarter break I took the bird home, giving it to my mother. The bird dropped me like a bad habit, falling wildly in love with my mom. And yes, I was then the one getting my ear bitten, and my nose nipped by the little Fruther Mucker.

A bit later the group was peering at another Parakeet that frankly, looks so much like the White-winged birds, that they were once considered the same species; Chevron-winged Parakeets.
Crazy cute, Cheveron-winged Parakeet
And the Parrot parade was over yet - Larry pointed out a dead palm tree in another urban neighborhood, in which an Orange-fronted Parrot was either nesting or resting.
Colorful Orange-fronted Parrot
Next we were after another feral bird, but one that was not a parrot. Larry found a cute neighborhood park, in which locals walked their fluffy-type dogs. We hadn't gone two steps when Larry spotted yet another feral bird species, a pair of Mitered Parrots. These parrots were tucked away under the eves of a building.
Guilty looking pair as I ever saw: Mitered Parrots
There were other non-feral, native birds in the park; the usual Blue Jays and even some warblers.
Female Black-poll warbler
We followed calls and after thinking ourselves 'skunked', ergo avoided, eventually Larry located the next feral bird, a Red-whiskered Bulbul. The bird was as uncooperative photo-wise, so I only got a few bad shots. The best of the worse are shown below.

A 'cheeky' bird, & you can see its red feathered cheeks, or rather, 'whiskers' 

This unfortunate shot shows the Bulbul's red vent as it darts off to pursue birdie business
Back in the van Larry drove us to another neighborhood, where he pointed out a new palm tree also with an empty hole in its trunk. We waited for a while, but alas, nothing entered nor exited the hole. As we waited patiently, a man, approached us. I fully expected the man would confront us, asking, 'What the heck are you suspicious people doing with binoculars, staring at people's homes?'

That was not what the man was about and instead he cheerfully asked, "You are birders. Would you like to see an owl in my yard?" Soon we were in a little side yard, peering into trees until the little bird was spotted.
Sleepy eyed, Eastern Screech Owl
What a treat. Not that I haven't seen Eastern Screeches before, but seldom do I get to see them sitting in a relatively natural setting, nor have I ever seen one so low - this one was only about 10 ft up.  I'd be happy too if an owl graced any tree in my yard.

The homeowner also took us into his back yard that overlooked a bit of creek. There were several birds around, including quite a few feral peafowl, I'm talking at least a dozen of the overly-loud birds. But the shocker of the day was this large Iguana up a tree.
How'd you like finding this Jurassic-looking fellow in your back yard?
GAK! Larry said there are lots of lose feral iguanas in south Florida. It is easy to guess they were at one time just pets, whose owners turned them lose, rather than re-home them, when the scaly critters became to much of a bother care for. Or maybe the feral pythons needed companions.
Anole lizard 

Oh, and these little green and/or brown ferals are all over the place too. As a kid I got creepy Anoles at the circus. We called them chameleons, and they do change from green to brown or back at will.  Ugh! I had many, but I was always creeped out by their food - live crickets. Inevitably the lizards escaped, only to be found later, desiccated in some corner of our home. UGH!

After much admiration of the little owl, and the back yard, we meandered back to the seemingly empty palm tree - empty no more.
Chestnut-fronted freakn' Macaw 
YIKI was stunned to see the relatively HUGE Chestnut-fronted Macaw, belonging to amazonian rain forests, peering sleepily from the nesting hole. Yikes... That bird must have been released accidentally. I can't imagine anyone would buy such a pricey pet only to set it loose.

Post lunch, late afternoon we visited another suburban spot with marsh There, Tri-colored Herons fished and Common Gallinules swam about with little black fuzzy chicks in tow.
Steve, Marian and Larry, scanning an urban marsh for Swamphen
Wasn't long before Larry was able to point out yet another accidentally released species, the Gray-headed Swamphen. Native to Asia, Swamphens on-the-loose were an accidental side effect of Hurricane Andrew. The species was the target of a two year Florida Fish & Game hunt and destroy mission, but the bird's numbers remained so undented the project was abandoned. As for today, I saw three of the big, purple birds, and got a few photos of this one, on a far shore.  The birds looked to be nearly as large as turkeys, but then again, they were fairly far off. The birds have been countable as lifers* since 2012.
Gray-headed Swamphen
Blue Goose Passbook with dated stamp
with barely visible, date in red
Late afternoon we headed back on the road, and this time we were not aiming for anything feral. Larry took us to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, which I have strong and happy memories from my 1998 visit there. As soon as we arrived, I leapt out of the van to race into the refuge for a stamp in my beloved Blue Goose Passbook. Aw Jeepers H. Christmas, I can love my stamp books if I like!

Thrilled to get stamp, perturbed as visitor center control freak wouldn't hand over the stamp so I could stamp it centered with precision. *fuming in silence*

Once I'd procured 'my precious' Larry drove us over to where we sought our last Florida speciality bird of the day - the Smooth-billed Ani.

There are two species of Ani (pronounced 'AH-knee') in the States, the Grove-billed and the Smooth-billed. Their ID is fairly straight forward, you look for a crow sized, floppy tailed, noisy bird with either a bulbous grooved bill or a bulbous smooth bill. Uh... OK, relatively straight forward ID.

It was late afternoon when we headed onto a raised, white gravely berm, headed north, flanked on either side by swamp.  I was already feeling grumpy and irritable, hoping my pedal-turpitude wasn't obvious to the others.  Larry told us he thought the Smooth-billed Ani nested in the trees about a half mile down, along the berm.
Our goal was for the trees, way the %^*# in the distance along the berm
As we marched along - me bringing up the rear - I wished I had a less mileage inducing hobby, perhaps stamp collecting or scrap-booking. I mentioned the weather was prickly-heat rash generating heat and humidity?

We were not the only birder seeking the Ani, other birders, lugging spotting scope & binocs could be viewed in the distance marching along headed in the same direction we were. I grudgingly trudge along, distracting myself with other critters along the route.
Lots of birds along the way - White Ibis in full breeding suits
Little Blue Heron 
Then there was a loud, and to me, high pitched call. Then atop a tree, up popped an Ani! HOLY MOTHER OF CHIPS ON A CRACKER! What a beautiful little, strange looking little bird! Larry was I think even more thrilled than the rest of us, as he'd worried the bird wasn't going to show at all, but there it was.
Sweet Annie's Fanny, 'our' Ani up a tree!
Anis have quite the showy tail, haven't they?
The bird surveyed it's little nook of the world, then took off, further down the berm. There it landed in a larger tree and proceeded to give us even better views for several minutes. As birders do, we congratulated ourselves on our luck, i.e., Larry's skill, at having found the bird. Marian commented, and we all agreed, our long, hot, humid death march, with view of the Ani, was now just a happy little jog along a pleasant trail. The lady was right when she was right.

My lifer Smooth-billed Ani: a beautiful, exotic, native, cuckoo
What a great end to day two of the week long tour of south Florida. We headed back to our motel in Florida City for a well deserved chance to shower and get ready for a nice dinner for all of us. Every evening after dinner as a group we make a list of the species we saw for the day. I was happy to mark quite a number of birds with the special asterisk I use to mark up my cherished ABA area lifers*.
On the Ani route, Leader Larry pointed out some turtle eggs, 
perhaps ravished by a raccoon
[*Update: Birders know, but for the non birdy-crazed let me explain what the heck an 'ABA countable life species', ergo what it means when I say I got a 'lifer' (least anyone think I'm going to be doing a term of one to ten)

In the American Birding Association (ABA), a 'countable' life bird refers to a bird species
native or non-native, which is an established breeder in North America, a birder may count as one of the number of bird species seen in total in one's lifetime.]

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