Blue bird bonanza

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.

A pretty interesting day

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

This was probably the best single day of spring migration in Alachua County that I can remember.

This morning Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald biked from the Duck Pond area to the La Chua Trail by way of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then walked along Sparrow Alley. They spotted a male Blackburnian Warbler at the Sweetwater Overlook – Ryan wrote, “Seen in flight only but adult male — orange throat, face pattern, white patch on wing noted” – which is only the second spring record in the county’s history; the first was in 1961. Then, along Sparrow Alley, they saw the county’s fourth-ever Cave Swallow! Ryan again: “Foraging with big flock of Chimney Swifts, Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Purple Martin. Orange rump, and pale underparts fading to buffy orange throat and reddish forehead seen, though briefly.”

Otherwise, the best birding today was at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance), where Felicia Lee, Elizabeth Martin, and John Martin (no relation) walked the Moonshine Creek Trail and saw “5 Cape May Warblers, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Scarlet Tanagers, 1 male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 2 Worm-Eating Warblers, and a Wood Thrush. All in all, 11 warbler species.”

This morning’s field trip to Powers Park and Palm Point did fairly well. At Powers we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (photo here), and 75 Common Loons flying north. At Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive we saw a very cooperative male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Cape May Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler.

Geoff Parks had seen two Cliff Swallows at La Chua on the 17th. Today’s weather was cloudy with intermittent drizzle, good weather to keep swallows down (as Ryan and Jessica found), so Mike Manetz and I walked out La Chua to see if we could match Geoff’s feat. We did find a huge congregation of swallows and swifts – we agreed that “1,000″ didn’t sound excessive – and saw two or three Cliff Swallows among them. We also saw a single male Bobolink, the spring’s first. And we were surprised and pleased to find shorebirds foraging in puddles along the flooded trail – three Solitary Sandpipers, four Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and four Spotted Sandpipers.

Late this afternoon Matt O’Sullivan found a Nashville Warbler at Loblolly Woods near the parking lot (on NW 34th Street, entrance directly east of 5th Avenue). Also present at Loblolly were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Prairie, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers.

There’s a pretty good chance that all the birds mentioned above will still be here tomorrow.

On tiny little Seahorse Key, an island two miles off Cedar Key, Andy Kratter saw 15 Tennessee Warblers and 15 Painted Buntings on the 17th, and six Lincoln’s Sparrows (“probably more”) on the 18th. Hopefully we’ll have just a fraction of his success on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip. If you’d like to join us, meet us in the Target parking lot at 6:30 a.m.

Wish you were here

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

Twenty Gainesville birders made the trip to Cedar Key on Wednesday to see what Tuesday’s front had grounded. It didn’t take John Hintermister long to declare, “This is not a major fallout,” but we were nonetheless pretty excited by the clusters of Indigo Buntings on the ground, the flocks of Orchard Orioles everywhere, and the numbers of warblers flitting from tree to tree. During the morning we hit all the usual spots – the fruiting mulberries behind Christ Episcopal Church, the cemetery, Andrews Circle, and the grounds of the state museum. Highlights included a Roseate Spoonbill and a Merlin flying over the church; a stream of 18 Orchard Orioles flying out of a small tree whose crown had appeared to be empty of birds; an walk around the museum during which we encountered a Scarlet Tanager, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in a flocklet, and six Painted Buntings; and the unexpectedly high numbers of three species that are normally rare in spring, Yellow, Tennessee, and Black-throated Green Warblers.

While we were finishing up at the museum we got a call from Pat Burns, who’d found a Nashville Warbler a couple of blocks north of downtown. We all went racing over to meet her, but the bird had disappeared. While we were all standing around waiting to see if it would come back, we got another phone call, this one from Dale Henderson, who’d found a female Cerulean Warbler behind the Episcopal Church. So we jumped back in our cars and drove there. The Cerulean was much better behaved than the Nashville and put on an excellent show for us. Everybody got to look at it as long as they liked. Unfortunately most of the Gainesville contingent had gone home by then, but most of those who remained decided to break for lunch. Matt O’Sullivan and I opted to keep birding, and went over to the trestle trail off Grove Street. Matt very soon found a Least Flycatcher, the day’s second Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a glorious male Magnolia Warbler. We called the remaining birders and clued them in, then went on to the airfield. We were dismayed to find that the woods bordering the runway had been fenced off for security purposes – I was told that the airfield was being used to practice drone flights – and so we weren’t able to poke around as we would have liked. But we did all right. We were peering into a little gap in the trees when a Swainson’s Warbler popped up and sat on a branch for several seconds. We walked a hundred yards down the road and Matt said, “A Golden-winged Warbler!” I saw a movement and focused my binoculars … on a Blue-winged Warbler. A moment later, the Golden-winged came into view behind it, so that I had both Blue-winged and Golden-winged in my field of view at once! A few minutes later we went back to check on the Swainson’s, and a Kentucky Warbler hopped up. We had already alerted the other Gainesville birders, and when they showed up most of them got to see the Swainson’s and the Golden-winged, but the Kentucky never reappeared.

By then it was getting late in the afternoon. We went back to the cemetery, and then the museum. We saw a Peregrine Falcon circling among Turkey Vultures, but buntings, orioles, tanagers, and warblers had all but vanished. Matt and I decided to head back to Gainesville, stopping to look at Whimbrels and American Avocets at the next to last bridge on the way out of town, and to move a young Florida Cottonmouth off the road before he became vulture food. Other birders stayed later, and for Bob Carroll and Becky Enneis it was worth it, because they found “a fabulous, breeding-plumage” Chestnut-sided Warbler at the airfield. That brought the day’s warbler total to 25 species.

The complete species list, compiled by all 20 birders in several parties, exceeded 100, but here are the highlights:

Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1

Least Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 2
Gray Kingbird 4

Gray-cheeked Thrush 1
Wood Thrush 1

Ovenbird 1
Worm-eating Warbler 4
Northern Waterthrush 1
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Blue-winged Warbler 3
Black-and-white Warbler 5
Prothonotary Warbler 3
Swainson’s Warbler 1
Tennessee Warbler 7
Nashville Warbler 1
Kentucky Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 5
Hooded Warbler 7
American Redstart 4
Cape May Warbler 1
Cerulean Warbler 1
Northern Parula 9
Magnolia Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 7
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 35
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-throated Warbler 1
Prairie Warbler 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 10

Lincoln’s Sparrow 2

Summer Tanager 2
Scarlet Tanager 10
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 5
Blue Grosbeak 8
Indigo Bunting 70
Painted Bunting 10

Orchard Oriole 70
Baltimore Oriole 7

There’s a little more spring to come. Not much. A little.

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Ospreys at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Just a reminder: the next three weeks will see the peak of spring migration in terms of northbound transients like Cape May, Blackpoll, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Bobolinks, Scarlet Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (among many others). And then it will pretty much be over. So get out and see them while they’re here! Don’t be like Darth Vader when he realized that he’d missed an entire spring migration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWaLxFIVX1s

Alachua Audubon’s field trip schedule is set up in July and August, and though we usually remember to schedule around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we occasionally lose track of Easter. That’s what happened this time. So we’ll be having two field trips this weekend as we usually do during spring and fall migrations, one to Palm Point with Bob Carroll on Saturday and one to Cedar Key with me on Easter Sunday. I apologize for our scheduling error, and hopefully we’ll remember not to repeat it next year. Remaining field trips here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Actually it looks as though Cedar Key *may* be better on Wednesday than on Sunday. Bob Duncan, Florida birding’s weather guru, sent out an email on Monday evening: “The very strong front has entered the NW Gulf of Mexico and is making good progress with winds NNW around 30 mph. If it has entered the southern Gulf by the time migrants take off from Yucatan (launch time = about ½ hr after sunset), migrants would not have taken off and the rest of the week would be a bust (birds have been known to turn back to Yucatan when encountering bad weather). But winds in northern Yucatan are still SSE–SE about 15 mph as of about 6 p.m. and mid-Gulf still has SE wind, so birds should take off this evening if the front does not move too fast. IF they take off, and my feeling is they will, when they encounter the front, SW then NW winds, the timing will determine where they will end up. Should they encounter it in mid-Gulf, the thrust of the movement will probably be toward the west coast of Florida (do I hear cheers coming from St. Pete?). But if they encounter it farther north, the AL – NW FL coast will be the landfall. At any rate, the arrival will be delayed by headwinds and extra miles traveled. So tomorrow a.m. should not have birds coming in, but my guess is that late tomorrow (Tuesday) would be the time to start looking at the migrant traps. And Wednesday a.m. would be my choice of birding days, as N winds nearing gale force tomorrow will make detection somewhat difficult at the traps.” This prediction is seconded by the migration-radar blog Badbirdz Reloaded: http://badbirdz2.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weather-and-birds-ii/

Phil and Sandy Laipis found a Roseate Spoonbill loafing with Wood Storks at Paynes Prairie on the 12th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13882280724/

Andy Kratter continues to do his daily loon watch from Pine Grove Cemetery. This morning between 8:04 and 9:21 he recorded 47 Common Loons, as well as 5 Laughing Gulls, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Peregrine Falcon.

Becky Enneis in Alachua and Austin Gregg in Gainesville are hosting male Painted Buntings in their yards. The buntings are bound for breeding territories on the Atlantic coastal strip, so they won’t stay long, but what a great thing to see out your window! Austin wrote, “Eight feet to the right of the birdbath, in a leafy green viburnum, I noted the reddish looking tail end of a partially hidden bird. Hmmm, I thought, must be the male house finch … ho hum, but I’ll have a look anyway. Turned around and grabbed the binocs, looked in the bush. Gone. Then I just happened to glance back over to the birdbath and there, splashing away with the female cardinal was a male painted bunting in full breeding plumage! A lifer! I enjoyed good looks at this spectacular bird for at least 10 minutes.”

If you haven’t been to the La Chua Trail lately, I have some advice for you. Take boots: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/13781455393/

Greg McDermott sent me this handy chart that makes the identification of Empidonax flycatchers a breeze (thanks to Samuel Ewing for posting it): https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13829348215/

O friends, take care that you don’t step over the line to the Dark Side Of Birding: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8569864/When-birdwatchers-go-bad-how-the-rise-of-wildlife-paparazzi-has-led-to-hide-rage.html

Oh MIKI you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

Gainesville City Naturalist Geoff Parks read the subject line of the last birding report and inquired, “Do you get your ‘springerie’ at Victorious Egret?” Geoff gets First Prize!

Phil Laipis and several other Gainesville birders visited Cedar Key on the 10th to see what was shaking. As a matter of fact, a lot was shaking. Phil wrote: “82 species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and 12 warbler species (Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler). Highs for me were the Wood Thrush, and the Louisiana Waterthrush wagging its bottom. First time I’ve seen that rotary motion and could compare it to the Northern Waterthrush’s ‘Spotted Sandpiper up-down wag’. Pat Burns spotted a male Cape May which I have no decent pictures of, and I might have seen a male Blackpoll Warbler, but did not get a long enough look to be positive. Windy, and all the birds seemed to be concentrated in town, not at the cemetery or the museum. We never looked hard for shorebirds, and Pat and I looked for the Yellow Rail reported in mid-January with, of course, no success.” Phil did manage to get a nice photo of a snake I’ve never seen, a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13766355403/

I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco Hammock this afternoon, the trails north of Millhopper Road. All the migrant warblers that Matt O’Sullivan and I found in the sandhill on the 8th were gone, and in fact I only saw one transient species, Worm-eating Warbler. But I saw five of those, including two that appeared to be engaged in a singing duel. Other good sightings: several Hooded Warblers, including a female who was putting the finishing touches on a perfect little nest; my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the spring (though they’ve been here since late March); and two female Eastern Towhees of the red-eyed (northern) race. I ran into Dalcio Dacol, who had seen an early Acadian Flycatcher along the Hammock Cutoff trail. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the trail in hopes of finding it, but I had no luck. (Of course “no luck” is relative, given that I spent several hours of a truly gorgeous day walking around San Felasco Hammock!)

Migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are showing up in residential areas, so watch your feeders. Adam Zions and Samuel Ewing saw them in their respective NW Gainesville back yards on the 10th.

While birding around his yard, Samuel also spotted the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in bird-banding code), one of my very favorite birds. This is a little early; in previous years the majority arrived during the last third of the month.

Scott Flamand saw two Canada Geese fly over Buchholz High School on the morning of the 10th. We don’t have a population of domestic or feral Canada Geese around here, at least as far as I know, but I doubt that they were wild. Wild Canada Geese are mostly a thing of the past in Florida. They used to be very common winter birds in the northern part of the state – a Fish and Game Commission waterfowl inventory tallied 47,000 of them in 1953! But now they spend the cold months farther north. I’ve been birding for 40 years and I’ve seen wild Canada Geese in Florida on only three occasions (feral birds are common in Jacksonville and Tallahassee). Anyway, if you see free-flying geese around here, please let me know.

The Alachua Audubon Society, like all Audubon Societies, avoids partisan politics, but I don’t think we’d be violating that principle if we were to congratulate our president, Helen Warren, on her victory in the City Commission election. Because of her new responsibilities, Helen will be leaving the Audubon board next month after several years. We thank you for your service, Helen, and we wish you well, but you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire….

Yes, I understand that this is the herpetological equivalent of a puppy video, and I acknowledge that my posting it is a symptom of creeping senility. And yet I cannot help myself. Be sure your audio is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds (I sent this to my son, who’s an infantry officer, and he declared, “I shall adopt his tactics for my own!”) (That’s funnier if you’ve seen the video.)

Additional springerie

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

There are two stages of life. Stage One is, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Stage Two is, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” When Samuel Ewing recently corrected my misidentification of a Cooper’s Hawk I realized that I have reached Stage Two. (Apologies to you whippersnappers who are too young to remember that advertising campaign. I’d bemoan the state of cultural literacy, if I weren’t so shocked by the realization that I consider advertising to be a part of cultural literacy….)

When that front was moving through Gainesville last night and this morning, it occurred to me that migrants might run into that weather and be forced down. I called Matt O’Sullivan to see if he was interested in going out to have a look, and he was. Our first stop was the Newberry area. I had an idea that we could check the fields around Watermelon Pond for grounded Upland Sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds. As it turned out, the road to Watermelon Pond was too mucky for my Camry, so we checked a nearby sod farm and some recently-plowed fields along SW 46th Avenue. It sure looked good, and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, three Common Ground-Doves, a White-winged Dove, and three Fox Squirrels, but no sandpipers. As the clouds broke up and the sun came out, we drove on to San Felasco Hammock (the Millhopper Road entrance, north side) to see if the rain had brought in any woodland migrants. It had. Although Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered everything else by five to one, we ended up with twelve warbler species, including five Prairie Warblers, an adult male American Redstart, an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and an adult male Cape May Warbler. There was quite a lot of bird activity there, including several newly-arrived Great Crested Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers. We figured that Palm Point should be pretty good as well, so we made the long drive across town, speculating that we’d find even more warblers, not to mention gulls and terns dropped in by the front. But Palm Point was devoid of birds, and scanning Newnans Lake we saw no gulls, no terns, nothing but cormorants and the occasional Osprey – though we did find three or four of the resident Prothonotary Warblers and a Limpkin farther down Lakeshore Drive.

Spring arrivals are increasing in number and variety. Over the past week or two, La Chua Trail has seen the arrival of (click on the hyperlinks for photos) Black-necked Stilt (over 30 have been seen at once!), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat (though the chat may have spent the winter).

Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th: “Slightly early; beautiful male, no song but gave occasional call note, which sounds like a shoe squeaking on a basketball court.”

On the morning of the 7th I went to La Chua in search of spring arrivals and found myself gawking at the season’s heaviest Common Loon migration. With about fifteen other birders I’d kicked off this year’s Loonacy at the US-441 observation platform on March 16th. We saw only four or five loons, all of them very far away, and I’m pretty sure that I discouraged everyone out there from any further loon watching. I wish they’d all been with me yesterday. I saw 57 birds, in 22 groups ranging in size from 1 to 9, and some of them were flying at surprisingly low altitudes. Here’s how it worked out, by ten-minute segments:

7:50-8:00   17 birds
8:00-8:10   5
8:10-8:20   21
8:20-8:30   1
8:30-8:40   5
8:40-8:50   0
8:50-9:00   2
9:00-9:10   5
9:10-9:20   1

Cedar Key sunrise was at 7:16 on the 7th, so the birds that I saw passed over Gainesville from 34 minutes after sunrise to nearly two hours after, suggesting a takeoff ranging from about half an hour before sunrise to an hour afterward. The flight peaked from 8:14 to 8:16, when I saw 17 birds in five groups.

Andy Kratter had an even better morning than I did: “It was giddy excitement and thrills at my loon census this morning. The loons started at 8:09 with two migrating far to the north, and in the next 95 minutes I recorded a near-constant stream of ones and twos and small groups (largest group = 18), for a total of 133 for the day, in 49 groups. Also had two White-winged Doves, a high flying migrant Belted Kingfisher, a migrant American Kestrel, and lots of the usual suspects. One of my best days ever loon watching.” And Samuel Ewing, watching from his NW Gainesville yard, tallied 33 loons between 8:32 and 9:11. Samuel got this picture of a migrating loon in flight on the 31st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13538401855/in/photostream/

The Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve has been relatively cooperative lately. Most of those who have been looking for it have found it. Walk out the Red-White Connector trail to the service road and turn left. When the trail forks, keep going straight (i.e., take the right fork) and look for the sign to the campground. Once at the campground, listen for a rapid drumming. You’ll probably have to set out from the campground and explore the woods to the north and northwest, but as I say most of those who have gone in search of this bird have found it. Here’s a nice picture by Samuel Ewing, showing the characteristic spike-like bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13648935265/in/photostream/

John Hintermister, Phil Laipis, and I motored out onto Lake Santa Fe on the 27th, hoping to relocate the two Black Scoters that Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn had found on the 20th. We found 220 Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, 32 Horned Grebes (some in breeding plumage), and 19 Common Loons – even the Pacific Loon! – but no scoters of any description. Learning that the Pacific Loon was still there, Adam went back on the 2nd to try for it again, and missed it again, but … “saw what was possibly a White-winged Scoter. The bird was so far away that I couldn’t say for sure, but it looked like a big black duck with white in the wings.”

Like all right-thinking people, I regularly check Katherine Edison’s blog. I especially like the posts that teach me the names of wildflowers: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ditch-is-back.html

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Osprey at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Cave Swallow at Hague Dairy!

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

I’m not sure when he called, but when I got home a few minutes ago I found a message from John Hintermister saying there was a Cave Swallow, “maybe two,” along NW 59th Drive, the field at the eastern edge of the Hague Dairy. This would be the third county record.

In other news, Mike Manetz had a Short-tailed Hawk fly over his NW Gainesville yard at about 5:00.

No time for further pleasantries, I’m off to the dairy! Time’s a-wasting!

The calendar, she does not lie

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn put their kayaks into Lake Santa Fe on the 20th and went looking for the Pacific Loon. They failed to find it, but they did see the county’s second-ever Black Scoters, two of them. Adam got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13319108903/

The 20th was first day of spring, and the birds have responded accordingly:

On the 20th Linda Hensley had the first Prothonotary Warbler of the spring eating grape jelly in her NW Gainesville yard.

The first Red-eyed Vireo of the spring was photographed by Matt O’Sullivan at Loblolly Woods on the 20th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/13291391555/

The season’s first Broad-winged Hawk was seen by Phil Laipis on the 21st, circling (the hawk, not Phil) over Newberry Road near the Oaks Mall.

John Hintermister saw the spring’s first Summer Tanager at his place north of Gainesville on the 21st.

Great Crested Flycatcher is sort of problematic. White-eyed Vireos can imitate their call, and may – I emphasize “may” – at times produce a single “wheep” that can be mistaken for a Great Crested. A series of “wheep” calls is perhaps more likely to be a Great Crested, but I always encourage birders who hear one before March 25th to track down the source of the call and make an attempt to see the bird and confirm its identity. Andy Kratter both heard and saw a Great Crested on the 21st while doing his loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery. (White-eyed Vireos are good mimics in general. This morning Andy wrote, “Thought I had my first-of-the-season Hooded Warbler today, but it was a White-eyed Vireo.”)

Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw the spring’s first Hooded Warbler at Loblolly Woods on the 22nd, and Dalcio Dacol saw another at San Felasco Hammock the same day.

One Least Bittern wintered near Paynes Prairie’s Cones Dike Trail, but the spring’s first arrival was one that I saw – with Lauren Day, Larry Korhnak, and biking-birding-blogger Dorian Anderson – at Kanapaha Prairie on the 22nd.

Some spring birds jumped the gun:

Tina Greenberg heard the spring’s first Chuck-will’s-widow singing outside her west Gainesville window on March 6th. I would have suspected a Whip-poor-will at that date, but she made a recording on the following night, and it was indeed a Chuck.

Prairie Warblers are a relatively early spring migrant, usually beginning their passage through the area in mid-March. Adam Zions saw two along Cones Dike on the 15th, and there have been five sightings reported to eBird since then.

Jonathan Mays saw two Chimney Swifts over the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on the 18th, tying the early record for Alachua County.

Samuel Ewing notes that Carolina Wrens fledged their first brood at his place on the 20th, and that Northern Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds have both produced eggs.

A few early migrants have been arriving at Cedar Key. Sally Chisholm photographed a Hooded Warbler at the museum on March 18th: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/QhNvKVXL8070W_WADbs9YtMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=embedwebsite  On the same day Pat Burns reported, “I saw 18 Hooded Warblers and heard the chink of others. Also noted: 7 Yellow-throated Warblers, 15 Black-and-white, 12 Northern Parula, 12 Palm, and 1 Common Yellowthroat. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were numerous. There were flocks of White-eyed Vireos, 5 Yellow-throated Vireos, and one Red-eyed Vireo. A few Barn Swallows were present. Late in the day twelve Spotted Sandpipers landed on a dock behind Nature’s Landing.” It’s not always that good, however (or maybe it’s just that we’re not Pat Burns!): Ron Robinson, Matt O’Sullivan, and I spent the day there on the 20th, but apart from a couple of Hooded Warblers (one at the cemetery, one at Black Point Swamp on the road to Shell Mound) and dozens of American Avocets we didn’t see much worth reporting.

Frank and Irina Goodwin found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on the 22nd, “in a grove of tall turkey oaks just to the south of the trail that leads to the campsite. In other words, on the north end of the preserve, if you’re walking west along the graded road (toward the campsite), it was among the turkey oaks just beyond the junction where the red-blazed trail turns sharply left and the campsite road continues west.” They also heard a Bachman’s Sparrow singing.

At least one of two Canvasbacks that have been hanging out among the Ring-necked Ducks at the end of the La Chua Trail was still present on the 22nd. John Martin got a long-distance shot: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/13337661935/

Marvin Smith and Brad Bergstrom found two White-faced Ibises at Alligator Lake in Lake City on the 19th. Marvin got a photo: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/RxXKJr153b1poJwwbf_kJ9MTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=embedwebsite

Felicia Lee told me about this eye-opening New York Times article on outdoor cats and their effects on public health not to mention wildlife: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/opinion/sunday/the-evil-of-the-outdoor-cat.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

I bird alone

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

“I bird alone. With nobody else. And you know, when I bird alone I prefer to be by myself.” — George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “I Bird Alone

I bird alone sometimes. Maybe most of the time. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m very slow. If I go out with Mike Manetz or John Hintermister or Adam Kent or Jonathan Mays, I’ll say, “Oh, look, a cardinal!” and write “Cardinal – 1″ in my notebook, and then I’ll look up and find that my companions have recorded 37 species while I was doing that. On my own I’ll see most of those 37 species … eventually … though it will take a bit of ambling and stopping and listening and peering up into the trees to find out what’s making that noise. But birding alone I can do those things. I don’t feel hurried by the fact that my companions have already processed the information and moved on to other birds. The other reason is that, birding alone, I’m led solely by my own perceptions and curiosity. If I see an unfamiliar wildflower I can stop to inspect it. If a Carolina Wren is doing something that baffles me I can pause and watch without having to catch up with my friends. I’m more thorough, and my notes are more complete, when I bird alone.

But I don’t always bird alone. The most obvious reason is that I really enjoy the company of my fellow birders. There are plenty of other reasons. If I always birded alone I’d be stagnant. Birding with my betters challenges me. Birding with beginners is a surefire mood-brightener (especially when they think I’m an expert!), since it’s enthusiasm and not proficiency that bonds birders together, and nobody is more enthusiastic than beginners. And birders at all levels are so often occupied with questions and observations that have never occurred to me, or that I haven’t successfully resolved, that I almost invariably find their company enlightening. I’d guess that about 60% of what I know about birds – and not just birds, but all of natural history – I’ve learned in the course of birding with others.

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre‘ — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a sainte-terrer‘, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. … For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels.” – Thoreau

Loonacy is upon us. The spring migration of Common Loons begins in mid-March and slows noticeably after the first half of April, though I’ve seen laggards well into late May. Loons that winter on the southern Gulf Coast of Florida seem to gather in the Cedar Key area and then fly northeast across the peninsula, passing directly over Gainesville. They usually take off at about sunrise, and if you’ve got a clear view of the sky you can often see them pass overhead about an hour later. I don’t think they fly in bad weather – or maybe it’s just that I don’t watch for them in bad weather – but if Sunday morning is fair, meet me at 8 a.m. on the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie and we’ll kick off this year’s Loonacy with a loon watch.

Speaking of which, Scott Flamand saw the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 9th, “still hanging out with the Common Loons.”

Sidney Wade sent a photo of a Whooping Crane she found at La Chua on the morning of the 13th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13148896925/

An adult male Orchard Oriole visited Tom Hoctor’s NW Gainesville yard on the 11th, one of the earliest spring arrivals ever reported in Alachua County and the first documented by a photo (which can be viewed on the Alachua County Birders’ Facebook page).

Dean and Samuel Ewing saw the spring’s first Black-necked Stilt at the US-441 observation platform on the 12th. Maybe it will put in an appearance on Sunday.

Karl Miller at FWC is looking for people to run Breeding Bird Survey routes: “There are currently 14 vacant routes this year. If you know of any skilled birders who may be interested in volunteering, please encourage them to contact me for more information on how to get started. An interactive map of the vacant routes can be found at the USGS BBS website: https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/RouteMap/Map.cfm

Adam Zions told me about this very neat Gopher Tortoise smartphone app: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/florida-gopher-tortoise-app/

Any of you folks knit? I knit not, but if I knat, I’d knit to help an oil-damaged penguin: http://time.com/13575/knit-for-oil-damaged-penguins/  [Update: Evidently not needed. See http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/penguins.asp]

See you Sunday morning at 8 for the loon watch, if the weather is nice.

Local birding update, February 13-20: Whooping Crane, Royal Tern, and massive Limpkinitude

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
To: Alachua County birding report

On the afternoon of the 13th, Paynes Prairie biologist Andi Christman saw a Whooping Crane at Paynes Prairie. She noted, “Flew over Hwy. 441 from the area of the boardwalk wildfire (between the boardwalk and Bolen Bluff) toward the Interstate. Very clear view, but could not observe bands.”

On the 19th Samuel Ewing wrote, “This morning Dad and I did some birding before school as is normal for us on Wednesday. We started at the observation deck on the Prairie. Nothing too unusual there. Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Mottled Duck, Glossy Ibis, 75 Tree Swallows, and more. Most noteworthy was probably 800 White Ibis, flying off the Prairie throughout the time we were there. We then headed to Bivens Arm Lake. No ducks there, surprisingly, but we did see lots of Anhingas, numerous cormorants, several Ring-billed Gulls, a singleton Bonaparte’s Gull, and a pair of Ospreys (probably coming in to breed there). I also heard a Yellow-throated Warbler singing. Most noteworthy though was quite unexpected: a flyover Royal Tern!  It flew right over us, not stopping at the lake, and continued S/SE.”

On the 20th John Hintermister and I made a boat trip all the way around Newnans Lake, starting at the Windsor boat ramp and going counter-clockwise, a trip of about 13 miles. We didn’t find anything really unusual, but we were impressed by some of the numbers we recorded. For instance, we saw or heard 39 individual Limpkins, by far the highest count ever recorded in Alachua County! This is undoubtedly due to the growing population of Island Apple Snails. The snails’ egg masses were first noted at the Windsor boat ramp in September 2007. Their population growth was slow and steady at first, but has really exploded in the past year or two. Not coincidentally, so have the Limpkins. I’m curious to see how many Limpkins will be at Newnans after this year’s breeding season, and what the county’s population will look like after the snails spread to Paynes Prairie (if they haven’t already). We don’t know yet whether this snail explosion is good or bad. Even more abundant than the Limpkins were the Bald Eagles: we counted 51, though it’s possible that some of those were tallied more than once as they flew back and forth across the lake. As to ducks, there was some evidence that they’ve mostly migrated north; we saw only 2 Redheads, 4 Ring-necked Ducks, 5 Lesser Scaup, and 50 Ruddy Ducks. We carried bread for the gulls, but had a hard time finding any to throw it at; we saw 3 Ring-billeds and 8 Bonaparte’s. And we were very surprised, along 13 miles of shoreline, to see no Belted Kingfishers at all! Like Samuel Ewing, we heard Yellow-throated Warblers singing, five of them, but did not hear a single Northern Parula. Right now the water on the lake is higher than I’ve seen it since the hurricanes of September 2004, and in many places Newnans is starting to look as it did in the 1990s, when there was nothing between the cypresses on one shore and those on the other but a smooth sheet of water, unbroken by any emergent vegetation.

Bob Carroll is birding in Oregon this week. His latest blog post features photos of Lewis’s and Acorn Woodpeckers seen on the same day! http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

In the last birding report I passed along an open invitation to celebrate the addition of the Water and Land Legacy Amendment to this November’s ballot, but I neglected to mention the day and time! So it’s this Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Prairie Creek Lodge, and I’ll repeat the invitation in case you’re as forgetful as I am: “The Water and Land Legacy Campaign, together with the Alachua Audubon Society and the Alachua Conservation Trust, invites all North Central Florida volunteers and donors who contributed to the successful petition drive to please join us as we celebrate the colossal accomplishment of collecting enough signatures and funding to meet the rigorous requirements of being added to the November 2014 ballot! Please join us to celebrate this enormous accomplishment. It is a potluck menu so please bring a dish of your choice. Drinks will be provided by Alachua Audubon. Prairie Creek Lodge is one mile south of the intersection of County Roads 2082 and 234, and six miles north of Micanopy. For more comprehensive directions, please visit Prairie Creek Lodge. We look forward to enjoying fine friends and their partners for an evening of celebrating a job well done! Please be sure to RSVP today! or reply to campaign@floridawaterlandlegacy.org and tell us how many will attend. If you have questions, please call Tom Kay with ACT at (352) 373-1078.”

In the last birding report I also passed along an invitation to Howard Adams’s retirement party on March 2nd. The cost is $10 per person, and if you’re reluctant to pre-pay via PayPal, you can send a check for $10 to:
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Attn: Amber Roux
100 Savannah Blvd
Micanopy, FL 32667