December 7, 2013 was the annual TAS Miami Exotics Trip. Paul "Beer Bird" Bithorn and Brian Rapoza team up each year to show folks the introduced avifauna of the Miami area, along with a few native species. This trip has become legendary and the crowds have grown every year. In past years we snaked around Miami, following Bithorn as he wound his way through the streets and alleys where he's lived his good life. The train grew over the years and after last year's caravan of 37 people and way too many people, the guys decided to make this year's trip a paid trip with just two rental vans and Paul and Brian as drivers. Space was limited to 18 which worked out perfectly. In a 15 passenger van with nine passengers and driver, everyone gets a window seat. 20 people at lunch is a little less shocking to the staff at local restaurants, and with the price of lunch included with the trip, there was only one check.
I signed up early. Good thing, since there was a waiting list by the time the day was upon us. We met at the Doc Thomas House, TAS's headquarters, and fantastic building and oasis for birds among the bustling city of Miami. I hadn't spent any time inside this building in the past. I hope to get back in the future. Once Paul and Brian arrived with the vans, we all moved onto the grounds for free and secure parking and to load up in the vans for an adventure. Folks from all over the country came down for the trip, even some from Canada, I believe.
Parrots began to fly over even before we started with heard only Yellow-chevroned parakeet and possibly some Mitred parakeets. We were pretty sure we would get more during the day. First stop was an unscheduled stop as Paul saw some Aratinga parrots on top of a building. We creatively parked and disembarked to see our first Red-masked and Mitred parakeets. Our first scheduled stop produced still more Red-masked parakeets and a sleepy Indian peafowl spotted high in an oak tree by one of our crew. More cruising and we stopped to look at some "conures" which turned out to be Chestnut-fronted macaws, the smallest and most abundant of the free-flying macaws in Florida. The birds were across the road from Brewer Park (aka the Miller Drive Roost) where I saw my only Mealy parrots in Florida and my first Bronzed cowbird for Dade County.
Next stop, Red-whiskered bulbul and Spot-breasted oriole in Kendall, piece of cake! Not so much, we spent hours checking and no dice. On the native front, we got a perched Short-tailed hawk and very cooperative, also perched, White-crowned pigeon. My first White-crowned pigeons were fly by birds, which is how you usually see these guys. Nobody sees perched Short-tailed hawk as a life bird, much less at all, but many of the folks on the trip got there life bird atop a Norfolk Island Pine.
We lunched a local barbecue spot since our favorite Cuban place went out of business. In order to avoid going to lunch on a miss, we hit the local Egyptian goose hotspot. At least 85 of these strange-looking creatures watched us curiously as they hoped it was time for their lunch. This species will crack the ABA list very soon as they have increased in number dramatically since escaping captivity in Crandon Zoo in the 1980's.
After lunch we went back for more Kendall bulbul searches. After much driving and a stroll around the neighborhood we decided to give up. As we approached the van, Brian and I heard bulbuls behind the house and next, we were watching two bulbuls on the wires!
Buoyed by our success, we headed on to A.D. Barnes Park to look for the Spot-breasted orioles that have been so reliable there in recent times. We got an oriole, but it was a Baltimore oriole. Two different Summer tanagers, a species that has been increasingly common in winter in Florida recently were hanging around as well as many warblers, but no Spot-breasted.
Time was not on our side, so we put it in high gear and headed to the Ocean Bank on LeJeune Rd. to see the White-winged parakeets that gather every evening, except when they decide to gather elsewhere. This afternoon they were around, and they eventually gave us fantastic looks in the palms.
Lastly, and not leastly, we hit Virginia Gardens and Miami Springs, the stomping grounds of our leader, Paul Bithorn. Our only Monk parakeets of the day were a pair at City Hall for Virginia Gardens. Around the springs, we found a very uncooperative group of Aratinga that contained Mitred parakeet some others that we were never able to see so well.
As light faded into darkness, we headed back to Doc Thomas House and parted ways. Fantastic trip by Paul and Brian, as always!