Chasing the Exotic in Suburban America, Florida

I do not like birding in metropolitan areas and city settings, I would rather be out on the trail, as far away from people as possible (no surprise the Guadalupe Mountains in Texas are one of my favorite spots). Actually I would rather sort through gulls at the landfill than bird in the suburbs, but some birds will not play along and one must hit the hard city streets to see them. Think Red-crowned Parrot and Green Parakeet in the Rio Grande Valley for example. Florida’s green spaces and suburbs are full of exotic birds, about 200 species from different continents fly freely in parks and neighborhoods. Luckily I wasn’t planing on seeing all of them, just the three “countable” species. I do not want to go into a diatribe about the aesthetics or philosophy on introduced species in the ABA area, I understand many people count them happily, others just sneer at the mere idea of looking for them. I knew I was going to do it, yes just once, find them, look at them, count them, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Why voluntarily do something that is not utterly enjoyable? Well, I have done many things that at the moment where not that much fun (like climbing 1,000 feet of vertical limestone and quaking with fear), but in retrospect make great memories. Thus I found myself in Kendall, Miami, an affluent neighborhood on the south side of the city. Among birders the area is also known as the home of the Red-whiskered Bulbul, an Asian species that was introduced decades ago. I had attempted to look for the introduced bulbul and oriole several years ago, but defeated by heat, traffic, and the sheer silliness of it all I had given up in turn for the Everglades. Not today, I was going to stick with it.

800 feet up on Yankee Clipper El Portrero Chico, Mexico Photo Thorsten Lorenz

I arrived before sunrise near the tennis courts. In the past Red-whiskered Bulbuls could be found in the ample exotic plantings of the neighborhood. Workers were already scrubbing the courts, but otherwise the streets were quiet on a Sunday morning. I drove around the neighborhood, checked the wires, and trees, but saw just grackles, mockingbirds, and doves, not a very promising start. I moved on to the grounds of the Baptist Hospital and the surrounding streets. Several species of parakeets screeched above on their morning commute, the only ones I could see well where Mitred, interesting to look at, but not countable. I moved on to the third and last spot, the Elementary School. The neighborhood was utterly quiet and as I turned a corner I heard a unfamiliar whistle. I looked towards a line of trees and spotted a bird of the right size and color fly over a house, moments later a Red-whiskered Bulbul landed in the street less than twenty feet from me.

I rushed back to the car to grab the camera and took a few pictures before the bird disappeared. Without hearing them call they seemed to be easily lost in the dense exotic trees and bushes that they prefer. For not liking birding in the city I was pretty excited.

Red-whiskered Bulbul, Miami, Florida Photo Stephan Lorenz

Mid-morning and things were looking promising. I also found a group of Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, which were close, but not close enough to the related White-winged Parakeet, the only countable one of the two and my next target. Fortunately I had printed directions to a church parking lot near Miami Shores where White-winged Parakeets supposedly nested. As soon as I got out of the car after working my way through traffic for nearly an hour two parakeet hurtled from a palm across the train tracks. I followed and listened, after hearing one call I found two birds sitting quietly on a feeder in somebody’s front yard. I looked at them for ten minutes, they looked back at me quizzically before flying off, showing the distinctive white in the wing. A big thanks to whoever it was for posting directions, I don’t think I would have found them that easy, one more species to go.

I knew that the Spot-breasted Oriole wasn’t going to be easy, so I drove north to Ft. Lauderdale to check the Evergreen Cemetery thanks to some advice by a friend. The hardest part was finding a place to park, then I walked around the cemetery and neighborhood until noon. Exhausted from the 5 am start and the heat I sat down in the shade. Five minutes later I saw an orange flash between two trees, within minutes I was looking at a pair of Spot-breasted Orioles as close as ten feet. It was barely noon and I had knocked out the three introduced species. I was elated that I would never have to do this again, it was so easy in the end, and maybe I was even a little bit sad. With so much time left I played around with the idea of driving to the Gulf Coast to look for the remaining Budgerigars, but then just laughed at the mere idea.

Spot-breasted Oriole at Evergreen Cemetery, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida Photo Stephan Lorenz

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