First Swallow-tailed Kites, and other spring arrivals

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

(Those of you who asked for shorter birding reports – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) you were in the minority – will be deeply disheartened at the length of this one. I’ll try to mix it up a little more in the future, but there have been a lot of birds in the last ten days.)

Although the earliest Swallow-tailed Kite ever reported from Alachua County was seen on February 6, 1954, I think only one other February sighting has been recorded since then; mostly they show up in March. This year is different: they’ve been early all over the state, Alachua County included. Ron Robinson saw one over his place at the west end of Gainesville on the 21st, Dave Beatty saw one over Jonesville on the 24th, and Samuel, Caleb, and Dean Ewing saw two north of Watermelon Pond on the 26th. Samuel got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8513760414/in/photostream

Sharon Fronk of Old Town (Dixie County) had the area’s first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring visit her feeder on the 25th. There have so far been no spring arrivals here in Alachua County, though at least a couple of Ruby-throateds spent the winter.

Barn Swallows are customarily early arrivals; in most years, someone makes the initial sighting during the first week of March. But this year they were even earlier: Stephen McCullers saw three at Chapmans Pond on the 28th, and on the same day Dean Ewing spotted two flying with Tree Swallows at Watermelon Pond.

Swallow-tailed Kites, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and Barn Swallows all nest locally, but on the 28th Stephen McCullers reported the spring’s first transient, a bird that’s just passing through on its way north: a Solitary Sandpiper in one of the ponds behind the Harn Museum. This ties the early-arrival date for the species in Alachua County, set fifteen years ago by Mike Manetz. Solitaries winter here on rare occasions, but these ponds have been visited frequently through the winter by birders seeking a Common Goldeneye present there from December 1st to February 24th (but not since), and no one reported a Solitary.

Since there have been so many early birds, let me mention a possible source of confusion. White-eyed Vireos are perfectly capable of mimicking the wheep of a Great Crested Flycatcher and the picky-tucky-tuck of a Summer Tanager, so if you hear one of those species calling before the last week of March, check it out and try to get visual confirmation.

Despite all the spring arrivals, it’s still winter, so let’s run down the more interesting winter birds that are still being reported.

John Hintermister and Adam Zions located the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 22nd, and Adam got a photo. Coincidentally, another was reported off the fishing pier at Cedar Key, first by Darcy Love of Spring Hill on the 18th and then by our own Steven Goodman on the 24th. I talked to Hernando County birder Murray Gardler this week, and he said the bird was present in the same location last winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around. In the past three weeks, Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing saw one near Archer on the 24th (and Samuel got a photo), Adam Zions found one along the Hatchet Creek Tract on the 17th (photo) and Mike Manetz relocated it on the 22nd, Felicia Lee saw one at her SW Gainesville home on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted one along the perimeter trail at Morningside Nature Center on the 8th.

Mike Manetz and John Killian saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher along the Cones Dike Trail on the 27th.

The Fox Sparrow behind Pine Grove Cemetery was seen on the 19th by visiting birders from the Tampa Bay area and on the 20th by Andy Kratter. Last winter it wasn’t seen after March 7th, or after March 4th the year before, so if you want to get a look at it you’d better hurry.

As usually happens in late February, the American Goldfinches have grown weary of their inane flirtation with wild foods and have returned, chastened, to the feeders. Ron Robinson writes, “The last five days have been jam packed with Goldfinches. I have at least one hundred, and the feed is flying out of the feeders.”

Keep your eyes open, because sometimes Pine Siskins will join flocks of goldfinches. Chuck Curry noticed two on his NW Gainesville feeder on the 23rd.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are normally seen here in spring and fall migrations, but there are a small number of winter records, including two this winter: Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello found one at Loblolly Woods on January 20th, and on the 18th of this month Shirley Lasseter photographed one at her feeder. Another migrant for which winter sightings have been recorded – an increasing number in this case, so that it’s become an annual winter visitor in small numbers – is Northern Waterthrush. The Christmas Count team assigned to the Cones Dike Trail found six on December 16th. More recently, a pair of visiting ornithologists found two along Sweetwater Dike (off the La Chua Trail) on the 24th.

Speaking of wintering warblers, Frank and Irina Goodwin saw an American Redstart along the Levy Lake loop trail on the 22nd. This is the second redstart of the winter: a group from Citrus County saw one near the La Chua parking lot on the 11th.

The Groove-billed Ani is still around. Gerald White and Lloyd Davis saw it on the 27th, and visiting birder Alex Lamoreaux saw it (and one of the two Yellow-breasted Chats that’s been hanging around the same field) on the 1st.

On the 19th the ani was the trigger for some embarrassing behavior on my part. An out of town birder who’d come to see the ani posted this message on a statewide listserver: “There is a man currently bushhogging the field where the Ani has been seen. It was not seen today prior to his mowing.” Interpreting this to mean that the entire field was being mowed – it wasn’t – I immediately sent an irate message to Prairie biologist Andi Christman, asking who the heck was managing this stuff. I don’t think I used the term “you people,” but it was implied. Andi wrote back: “I suppose you could say that I ‘manage this stuff’. We have the opportunity to conduct a prescribed burn in the area near where the ani has been and in order to do so, need to establish containment lines. That is the mowing that was being conducted. As I’m sure you know, in the absence of flood, fire is the next most appropriate tool to manage hardwood encroachment into the basin marsh. Unfortunately, this may sometimes affect the opportunites for park visitors to view specific wildlife in certain areas, but in the long term, it is the best way to ensure quality habitat for the majority of species. As a rule, the Florida Park Service is not a single species management agency, but rather focuses on habitat management for the broad range of species associated with a natural community. I hope for the sake of the interested birders that the ani stays in the area, but our window of opportunity for conducting prescribed burns in the prairie basin is a short one, and we have to take advantage of the opportunitites that present themselves if we are to manage the natural communities in the most sound way possible. Thank you for your interest and commitment. I appreciate it.” A more civil answer than I merited. I actually *want* habitat management at the Prairie, but the second they start managing it, I start screaming bloody murder. Anyway, I apologized.

The Florida Ornithological Society has announced the details for its spring meeting: http://fosbirds.org/sites/default/files/Meetings/FOSSpring2013MeetingAnnouncement-4.pdf

Last of all, here’s a thoughtful take on the 2011 movie, “The Big Year,” by one of the very best American birders, Ned Brinkley, author of the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America and the editor of North American Birds magazine. Here’s a quote from the review (and you should know that “antivenin” is the correct name for “anti-venom”): “The chief elements that fuel American mass-cultural products are mostly absent in birding. Indeed, birding—as I see people doing it, all over the world—may be an antivenin to the sex/violence/capital nexus that seems to be at the heart of so much popular culture. To a culture enslaved to such a golden calf, how can it not seem ridiculous, even pathetic, for a person to shed a tear at the first Chestnut-sided Warbler of spring? What is profitable, hedonistic, transgressive, ironic, or cool in that, or for that matter in our many fascinations—habitats, identifications, distributions, behaviors, not to mention butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, and more?  American pop culture urges consumption and physical pleasure; our lives are defined differently, by growing knowledge, study, connection, fascination.” Read the whole thing: http://blog.aba.org/2011/11/yet-another-big-year-review.html

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