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Open Mic: The Great Miami Winter Bird Count 2015

At the Mic: Carlos Sanchez

Through actions or words, individuals have the power to set either a positive or a negative social dynamic within a local birding community. The consequences of a relentlessly negative and divisive dynamic can be dire at the local level, creating ripple effects with far-reaching impacts, from dissuading a younger generation from joining the hobby to even neglecting birding sites to their fate at the hands of other interest groups. A local birding community can become lackadaisical and disinterested towards the natural resource they most cherish, the birds, and lose appreciation for the individuals with whom they share such a strong common interest. Motivation and enthusiasm become dull, almost like a contagious disease.

For many birders, Miami-Dade is a destination meant only for ticking off ABA-countable exotics such as Spot-breasted Oriole and Red-whiskered Bulbul. For others, it is simply a launching point to Everglades National Park or to the Florida Keys. However, few realize that this flat, densely populated county boasts one of the highest list totals of any county east of the Mississippi. The mild winter climate beckons a wide variety of passerines, raptors, and shorebirds, inflating the species diversity to the extent that Miami-Dade can go toe-to-toe with counties in Texas and Arizona during this season. However, for the local birding community, it almost seemed like we had forgotten how blessed we are to live as birders in this part of the country.

snowy-plover-feb-2015

A regionally rare Snowy Plover continued at Crandon Beach

The Miami Birding Wave sought to open our eyes again. We believe that individuals in a local birding community can also set the opposite tone, injecting positive energy and setting the stage for birders to show their collective strength.  The Miami Birding Wave’s first ever Great Miami Winter Bird Count is a clear example of what a small group of individuals can accomplish by giving back positive energy into their local community.

The Great Miami Winter Bird Count, an event that transpired over the course of four days from February 13-16, set out to record the county’s fantastic winter diversity for the first time in an organized manner. With the easy-to-use platform offered by the Great Backyard Bird Count, thirty-four birders in Miami-Dade County tallied an impressive 186 ABA-countable species over the course of four days in an overwhelming show of community enthusiasm and support. It was truly heart-warming to see the local birding community participate together with renewed fervor and enjoyment. As it turns out, every individual provided at least one new bird to the overall effort. One highlight came from Nico Salino, an up-and-coming young birder, who found the count’s only Bonaparte’s Gull. This was a life bird for him! Inspiring and motivating birders of all levels is what the project is all about.

A Brown-crested Flycatcher at Deering Estates is an example of the incredible wintering flycatcher diversity in South Florida.

A Brown-crested Flycatcher at Deering Estates is an example of the incredible wintering flycatcher diversity in South Florida.

The birds performed well, too! Many sporadic and irruptive winter visitors from farther north made an appearance this past weekend despite forecasts to the contrary, including flocks of American Robin, American Goldfinch, American Pipit, and Cedar Waxwing. On the other hand, numbers and diversity of waterfowl were way down from earlier in the season, signaling that many are already pushing their way back north.

Shorebirds put on a good showing with a total of 18 species, despite the shrinking number and quality of sites offering adequate habitat. A Snowy Plover, a regional rarity, continued at Crandon Beach, while a Solitary Sandpiper in a lonely puddle at Lucky Hammock was a nice surprise.

It was a banner winter season for warblers in Miami-Dade, with a total of 22 species seen during the course of the event (and we missed a few!). Highlights included singles of Blue-winged, Swainson’s, and Wilson’s, although the sheer number of Northern Parula (194) was also pretty impressive. There were double-digit numbers of 14 warbler species in all, hinting that southeast Florida might be a more important wintering destination for warblers than we might realize.

A Swainson's Warbler in Miami-Dade County, one of very few winter records in the ABA Area

A Swainson’s Warbler in Miami-Dade County, one of very few winter records in the ABA Area

With the amount of enthusiasm and support for this year s inaugural count, Miami Birding Wave is already considering how to make next year’s event even better with more strategy, more involvement, and more fun. Can we hit 200 ABA-countable species in four days next year? We also hope to inspire other counties or regions to organize their own birding events, energizing and bringing together their local birding communities. In the end, a dynamic and positive birding community is good both for people as well as for the birds.

I would like to acknowledge the following people for their effort in this count:

Alvear, Elsa

Avello, Miriam

Barros, Jose Francisco

Batchelor, Dolora

Berney, Mark

Bithorn, Paul

Blithe, Jonathan

Boeringer, Bill

Bugallo, Ezequiel

Diaz, Rangel

Diaz, Robin

Doyle, Diana

Featherly, Roxanne

Feinstein, Daria

Golenja, Kreshimir

Harper, Alex

Juan, Smith

Kayser, Hans Gonzembach

King, Jim

Klumb, Jessica

Mitchell, Trey

Patterson, Judd

Paez, Alex

Paez, Stephen

Porcelli, Mario

Rapoza, Brian

Salino, Nico

Sanchez, Carlos

Schaffter, David

Shafer, Julie

Showler, Robert

Trentler, Brandon

Urgelles, Raul

Wallenstein, Walter

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A native of southern Florida, Carlos Sanchez has had a fascination with wildlife as far back as he can remember combined with an unquenchable thirst to learn — the first books he checked out of the library were Beehler’s Birds of New Guinea and Stiles and Skutch’s Birds of Costa Rica. His passion for birds has interwoven with his interest in travel, having birded extensively throughout the United States, eastern Australia, Thailand, Ecuador, Brazil, and more. Carlos now leads private day trips for South Florida specialties under his own company, EcoAvian Tours (www.ecoavian.com). He is also the USA representative for Birding Ecotours (www.birdingecotours.com) and tour leader for the Americas, Australasia, and beyond. He is one of the founders of the Miami Birding Wave (http://miamibirdingwave.com/), a project aimed at galvanizing and aiding the local birding community in Miami-Dade County.