Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Bulletin #6 - South Florida #1

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas

Bulletin #6 – South Florida – part 1

Hello friends,

I have had the opportunity to visit Florida twice in the first half of 2007.

My first visit was to Sanibel Island in February. Last month, I had a business trip to Miami for a weekend and managed to spend about 2 full days birding with a great guide Paul Bithorn (305.431.5908 or email

South Florida is another ‘must’ birding destination for several reasons. First, Florida has 1 endemic species. Secondly, it has unique habitat in the mangrove swamps along the coast. These mangroves host several species that don’t occur anywhere else. Thirdly, a number of Caribbean species occur in the Keys and South Florida. Lastly, as a tropical city, Miami has a number of escaped parrots and parakeets that are ‘wild’ in the city as well as several other established exotic birds. Los Angeles is the only other city with as many exotics. It was fun to see and hear the parrots flying around.

This bulletin will use photos from both trips.

So let’s get started. The endemic species is the Florida Scrub-Jay(FSJ) (Aphelocoma coerulescens). It is virtually identical to the Western Scrub-Jay(WSJ), and the species was split about 10 years ago. The major difference is the FSJ bird has a white forehead and the WSJ has a blue forehead. I photographed this bird south of Sarasota. Notice all the bands on the legs. These birds are listed as threatened and thus are closely monitored. This bird was a ‘lifer’ for me.


Here are photos of the face of the FSJ and WSJ to show the different forehead colors.



With the help of my guide, we found most of the mangrove resident birds.

The most important and most difficult bird to locate is the Mangrove Cuckoo (Coccyzus minor). Many birders never locate the bird. This one was found on Key Largo. The distinguishing features of this bird from the other cuckoos are the yellow lower bill and black upper bill. There is a dark mask through the eye. The breast and throat are a buffy color rather than white. Lastly, there is no rufous color in the wings. Here are a couple of photos of the same bird. This also was a ‘lifer’.

http://www.pbase.com/davidmcd/image/109468313 click 'next' once

The Black-whiskered Vireo (Vireo altiloquus) is another mangrove species that only occurs along both coasts in So. Florida. It is similar to the Red-eyed Vireo, but notice the ‘black whisker’. This was another ‘lifer’ for me.


There are 2 species of warblers that inhabit the mangroves, but they occur elsewhere in the USA as well.

The first is a subspecies of Yellow Warbler (Dendroica petechia). It is also known as the Cuban Golden Warbler as this is a Caribbean subspecies. To me, it looks identical to the Yellow Warbler that we are all familiar with. The first is the breeding male plumage and the second photo is a first year male. It is a resident of mangroves in the Florida Keys.

http://www.pbase.com/davidmcd/image/109468317 click 'next' once

The other species was the Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor). This was only the second time I had ever seen this species. Here are several photos of a breeding male.

http://www.pbase.com/davidmcd/image/109468321 click 'next' once

The last of the mangrove specialist birds is the White-crowned Pigeon (Patagioenas leucocephala). This bird is 13.5” long – a bit larger than the domestic pigeon. It has a beautiful snow white cap on top of its head. It nests in the mangroves and everglades area but flies inland to feed on fruit. We saw it at a distance on Key Largo, but found this one in a subdivision. It is a truly striking bird and another ‘lifer’ for me. Also notice the iridescent stripes on the neck.

http://www.pbase.com/davidmcd/image/109468324 clcik 'next' once

Another dove that I got a close-up picture was the Eurasian Collared- Dove (Streptopelia decaocto). I snapped this picture on Sanibel Island when the bird practically landed right above me. This photo is now on the Houston Audubon web site in their Bird Gallery. This bird was introduced into the Bahamas. From there, it spread to Florida and is now rapidly extending its range across the USA. I’m sure eventually, it will be everywhere like the domestic pigeon.


The third dove species was the Common Ground-Dove (Columbina passerina). This bird occurs in Florida as well as along the US-Mexican border. This photo was taken in Ding Darling NWR on Sanibel Is.


The Limpkin (Aramus guarauna) is a 26” tall wading bird that inhabits the tropics, and only in Florida in the USA. It is the only species in its family. It is named for its peculiar limping gait. I didn’t really notice an unusual gait, but I was looking through the camera most of the time, focusing on the bird’s head to get a good photo.


I had a close encounter with a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers (Dryocopus pileatus) in Corkscrew swamp, an Audubon sanctuary. Here is the female.


The Miami guide (Paul Bithorn) I used, was extremely knowledgeable, especially for the mangrove species and exotics. Many of the exotics occur in specific neighborhoods in the Miami area, and a casual birder would have a difficult time locating them. To contact Paul, call him at (305) 431-5908 or email him at

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated. If replying to this email, please delete the photos, as it takes a long time to download. Thanks.

Happy Birding,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2007 David McDonald

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