Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe!

From: Rex Rowan <>
To: Alachua County birding report

Something to put on your calendar: At the next Alachua Audubon program meeting Brenda Springfield and her husband John Sivinski will give a presentation on “Humming and other Birds in the Highlands of Ecuador,” describing and sharing photos of the beautiful hummingbirds, tanagers, barbets, Potoo, Cock-of-the-rock, and other birds they encountered in the cloud forest of the Andean foothills. Join us at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12th, in the meeting room of the Millhopper Branch Library at 3145 NW 43rd Street.

It had occurred to me a couple of months ago that regular boat surveys of our larger lakes – Newnans, Orange, Lochloosa, and Santa Fe – might yield some interesting results, and when I mentioned this to John Hintermister (who, unlike me, actually has a boat), he liked the idea a lot. We made our first attempt on January 29th, when John, Mike Manetz, and I headed out onto Newnans Lake in hopes of seeing two Red Phalaropes that Caleb Gordon had reported on the 27th. We’d made it to the middle of the lake when the motor died, and as the wind was pushing us farther and farther south we had to start paddling back immediately and didn’t get to do any birding. John got the motor repaired, and this morning we decided to check out Lake Santa Fe. We saw Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks and Horned Grebes, and lured Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gulls right up to the boat with bread. As we were doing this, a little flotilla of Common Loons approached, perhaps curious to know if the gulls had been attracted by a school of tasty fish. As they swam and dove around the boat, barking like puppies, we noticed that one of the loons looked a little different – smaller, with a thinner bill. We were intrigued by the possibility that it might be a Pacific Loon, and we wanted to follow it. But … the motor died. John almost wore himself out pulling the cord to get it started again, and went so far as to call Bob Wallace, in hopes that a county life bird would draw him and his boat out to the lake, and he could tow us back in, but he was in South Carolina. Meanwhile the loons had moved off to the north and we were coming to grips with the notion that a first county record was slipping away from us. I had picked up an oar to start the long trip back, when the motor – due, no doubt, to sheer verbal intimidation from John – started up again. “Do we want to chance it?” John asked, and receiving a unanimous and emphatic YES in response, we took off after the birds. Once we found them along the north shore, we concentrated on getting photos of the odd one, and documenting the thin bill, rounded crown, smooth line of demarcation between black and white on the neck, and dark necklace, of Alachua County’s first-ever Pacific Loon. We posted four photos; the first one is here, with the others following. I’m afraid this is an impossible bird to see if you don’t have a boat. Even with a boat, we had to get pretty close to see its field marks. Maybe some generous birder who owns a boat could take interested persons out to see the loon this weekend. If you are that generous birder, contact me and I’ll publicize it in a birding report.

As of two months ago the official Alachua County bird list stood at 353 species. If you’d asked me, I’d have assured you that additions to the list would come very slowly indeed. But on December 16th we added #354, Black Scoter; on January 6th we added #355, Bell’s Vireo; and one month later, to the day, we added #356, Pacific Loon. It’s a little mind-boggling.

A flock of 40-50 Rusty Blackbirds were seen “at fairly close range” at the SE corner of the Levy Lake trail by Chris Burney and several others attending the Barr Hammock opening on the 2nd. Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, and I went looking for them on the 6th, without success. But we kept walking along the dike trail for about two and a half miles, and our hard work had its reward when Jonathan spotted a Least Flycatcher about 1.75 miles out. As Mike said, it was the only place along the trail where you might be able to make a Y-turn with your car, a grassy little inlet on the marsh side of the trail surrounded by weeds and saplings. The bird was very active and vocal. Jonathan tried to get some photos, which he’ll hopefully post at his Flickr site (which is worth looking at even if he doesn’t post the Least Flycatcher photos).

By the way, the Rusty Blackbirds at Barr Hammock aren’t the only ones around. On the 4th Geoff Parks saw two at Possum Creek Park, which is on NW 53rd Avenue just east of NW 43rd Street.

And speaking of the Barr Hammock opening, if you weren’t there you should watch this video from WUFT, not because it gives a good idea of what the place looks like – it doesn’t – but because it stars one of Alachua County’s best birders, Lloyd Davis:

The Groove-billed Ani is still being seen along the fenceline trail at La Chua, as are the Yellow-breasted Chats. Both birds were observed by a Duval Audubon field trip on the 3rd, and Steven Shaddix was able to get a photo of the chat:

Isn’t it appalling, the way spring is so predictable? The same springy thing, every year. Caleb Gordon saw the first Purple Martins of the season, two of them, flying over his NW Gainesville home on January 26th, and Carmine Lanciani saw another near I-75 and 39th Avenue on the 31st. Several Ospreys are back at their nests and paired up. Gina Kent heard a Yellow-throated Warbler singing at her SE Gainesville home on January 30th, and Geoff Parks heard a Northern Parula singing at San Felasco Park on February 5th. Both birds normally start singing during the last week of February, but before we start drawing any conclusions about spring being unusually far advanced we’d have to hear more of them singing in the next two weeks – so let me know if you do.

Another sign of spring is the arrival of the first Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida, usually during the second week of February. The company that Gina Kent works for, the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, has been doing research on Swallow-taileds for fifteen years, and during that time they’ve fitted out several birds with satellite-tracking harnesses. I was under the impression that most Swallow-taileds migrated into Florida via Cuba and SW Florida, but Gina tells me that all of the birds they’re tracking fly from Yucatan directly north to the Mobile area and then east to Florida. But then all the birds they’re tracking are still in Brazil, so maybe they’re just a bunch of slackers.

A request: if you know of anyone in Alachua County who keeps captive waterfowl, please let me know.

Some mornings when we go birding, Mike Manetz pulls up to the curb, and I walk out and open the door of his truck and suddenly I hear this weird bird call. I stop short, and look up in the trees, and then remember: Mike is playing a Costa Rican bird song tape, in preparation for another tour. Mike has been on birding trips to Costa Rica eight times, the last two as a tour leader. He’s leading his third trip this June. He writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.

See you at the Audubon program meeting on the 12th!