On my recent short family vacation to Miami, I was granted a single day to get out and really bird like a madman. Of course, I contacted Carlos Sanchez, alleged south Florida birder extraordinaire, to maximize the returns on what time I could spend. And, let me tell you, we maximized the hell out of the time that I had despite Carlos’s insistence on doing things his way.
It was 6:05 AM when Carlos picked me up from where I was staying in Wynwood, a bit north of downtown. We immediately headed to an undisclosed location where Carlos had breeding Mangrove Cuckoos staked out. The reason the location is remaining undisclosed is that reliable Mangrove Cuckoos are difficult to find in the American Birding Association area and are a very sought after species. If a good spot becomes widely known the sheer volume of birders who will soon show up and play recordings would likely drive the cuckoos insane. Anyway, we arrived, spotted a Great Horned Owl in flight and waited and waited and waited. While we waited we spotted my lifer Short-tailed Hawk that took off from a roost and made itself scarce quick. Sure, it was a lifer and an unexpected one because most of the hawks have moved further north to breed by late April but Carlos did nothing to ensure that it stuck around for better looks. It was the first of many problems with Carlos’s guiding.
Anyway, after about forty minutes of occasionally being bitten by no-see-ums, a Mangrove Cuckoo started calling and then perched up in the open while continuing to call.
It was pretty cool but it was the only Mangrove Cuckoo we heard or saw. Some guide! Only one cuckoo? Please. If Carlos were as good as advertised we would have had several.
En route to our next stop we slowed down next to a park and spotted the now countable Egyptian Geese. Sure, I might have said that I had already seen those birds in California and didn’t care about getting good looks at them at all but Carlos didn’t even stop. Instead, he decided that my complaining about being hungry meant we had to head to a French bakery where I could gorge myself on unbelievably tasty croissants. Carlos didn’t even pay for them! Can you believe that a New Yorker could travel all the way to Miami and not be treated to breakfast?
After the delicious debacle that was breakfast we drove off to a tiny park with tennis courts and before I could even get out of the car Carlos was telling me to look at the next target bird, the introduced (but countable) Red-whiskered Bulbul. Come on, Carlos! Let me get out of the car before making me look at birds! At least this time we saw three of them.
From the bulbuls we went in search of another introduced species that has taken to south Florida like home. Once again, we pulled up and Carlos was telling me to look at another target bird before getting out of the car. What is it with this guy? Sure, Spot-breasted Orioles are nice but not when they are distorted by the glass in the car’s windshield. Once we got out of the car I was dismayed to see that we had to observe the orioles from across a canal! Apparently Carlos hasn’t bothered to get permission to traipse through the yard where the orioles nest.
The orioles did put on a heck of a show, chasing grackles, feeding on flowers, and being generally active the entire time we were there but it’s not as if that was Carlos’s doing. In fact, while I watched the orioles he was too busy calling out other species in the area to enjoy the orioles’ antics. One of the species he called out, Red-masked Parakeet, was present in numbers and nesting at the location. Too bad they’re not countable Carlos! Why bother with birds you can’t check off your list, right?
The parakeets might have been cooperative and confiding but come on! We needed countable species! So, Carlos decided to make me feel ungrateful by taking me to see another species of parrot, this one countable. Once again, we saw them before we even got out of the car but this time we hadn’t even parked yet! The White-winged Parakeets that nest at Ocean Bank are incredibly easy to see if you know exactly where they are so Carlos should get no credit for showing them to me, especially as I think he did it just to show off his knowledge of the local avifauna. (You can see one of the White-winged Parakeets at the top of the post.)
I think Carlos also chose to show me the birds at the bank because he knows that with my leftist tendencies and disdain for the one percent that I would be bothered by birding at a bank. He was right! What kind of bird hangs out on the grounds of a bank? Only an introduced species like White-winged Parakeet would! Well, them and another introduced species Carlos spotted while we were there, the also-countable Common Myna. Then Carlos added insult to injury by letting me know that if I needed to use the facilities that the ones in the bank were open for visiting birders to use. How convenient! Darned bankers…
Our next stop was also designed to annoy me. We went to that temple of consumerism, a shopping mall. The Dolphin Mall to be precise, where ponds in front of the mall are the best spot around to see Gray-headed Swamphens, yet another introduced species that has proliferated to the point where they are countable in Florida. At least Carlos says the ponds are the best spot around to see swamphens but I think he was once again just messing with me. We saw twenty-one swamphens but not a single Least Bittern. Some guide!
Yeah, we got great looks at the swamphens and also had Mottled Ducks, Gray Kingbird, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, baby Common Gallinules, and Black-necked Stilts but the lack of a Least Bittern was indicative of Carlos’s inability to get the truly hard birds. He did mention them as an extreme longshot of a possibility so he really should have delivered.
Carlos only pointed out the young gallinules to keep me from thinking about the Least Bitterns he failed to find. Then he pointed out a Least Tern that came in to hunt for fish on the pond as if I would be assuaged with another bird that has “Least” in its name!
Rather than continue on to our next birding spot Carlos decided that my complaining about being hungry again warranted a stop for lunch. And could we just do a quick drive through at a fast food joint? Of course not! We had to eat some wonderfully prepared Lebanese food including some outstanding hummus. There was even beer on the menu which I had to order, of course. I think Carlos was hoping that by bringing me somewhere with alcohol that I would drink a whole bunch and forget about his miserable guiding. Joke was on him though! I only had four beers!
We went to an airport for our next stop where I didn’t even get a lifer or a bird I needed in the ABA area. Sure, I might have said that I wanted to see Burrowing Owls but I figured that Carlos would manage to combine them with another bird I needed to check off my list. Sadly, he couldn’t (or wouldn’t) so I had to content myself with just Burrowing Owls, Monk Parakeets, Loggerhead Shrikes, and Cattle Egrets. We never even got out of the car! In fact, the owls were so disgusted by Carlos’s presence that one of them vomited upon seeing him. Seriously…
After this entertaining editorializing by the owls, we made our way to a Cave Swallow colony under a bridge but we only saw a couple of swallows of the West Indian form meaning that they were different from the southwestern birds we occasionally get in New York. No lifers or ABA birds once again, just a form of a species that I have already checked off. Why Carlos couldn’t have arranged for a Caribbean Martin or something is beyond my understanding. Also in the area were White-crowned Pigeons, allegedly, though Carlos made excuses about it being too early in the day for them to be perched up like they usually do in the evening so he only pointed one out that I initially thought was a grackle perched on a wire, an understandable mistake that Carlos used to mock me.
Pigeon, grackle: from a distance they can easily be confused, right? What a mean guide! Once we were done with the pigeons Carlos, realizing that he had crossed a line by mocking my misidentifications (there might also have been a Palm Warbler that I inexplicably tried to turn into a Cape May Warbler), tried to make up for his cruelty by taking me over to a farm stand where they sell key lime pies, a dessert that Daisy and Desi had wanted to try but we had forgotten to get while we were in the keys. Carlos even had a cooler in the trunk to keep the pie cool until we met up with my family! Sneakily prepared, that Carlos.
While we waited at another park for my family to arrive so I could finally escape Carlos and we could drive to Fort Lauderdale and fly back to New York, Carlos and I went looking for warblers. Though Carlos tried to make excuses like the time of day and how bad the winds had been to bring in migrant birds I wasn’t fooled. What kind of guide only finds eight species of wood-warbler, including several Cape May Warblers just to further mock my previous misidentification, in half-an-hour while the sun is high? It was disappointing, let me tell you.
In conclusion, don’t use Carlos as a guide unless you want to see all of your target birds (plus bonus birds) while being ferried from stop-to-stop perfectly and enjoying delicious food along the way. If you still foolishly want to hire him you can find out all about getting him as a guide here.
You know another annoying thing about birding southern Florida with Carlos? He will write up eBird lists of your sightings at every single location–all numbers, no Xs–and share them with you! Thus depriving one of the work of figuring out where you saw those bulbuls and parakeets and trying to decipher scribbled notes (because you’re seeing too many birds at the time to take good ones).