First fall migrants

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

Well dang, it’s fall already. Seems like it was just summer the other day. But we’ve lost nine minutes of daylight since the solstice – the sun rose eight minutes later this morning than it did on June 21st, and sunset will be a minute earlier. And more importantly, local birders have already recorded five fall migrant species (six if you count the two Belted Kingfishers seen during The June Challenge). The first was a Prairie Warbler spotted by Jonathan Mays at Paynes Prairie on July 9th. The second, third, and fourth came during a walk that Mike Manetz and I took with Dean and Samuel Ewing at Watermelon Pond on the 12th: a southbound Black Tern passed overhead; a Greater Yellowlegs flew by, calling; and a Least Sandpiper landed on the shore of a small pond we were exploring and spent a few minutes foraging before winging off to the west. The other migrants were found by John Hintermister at Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive on the 12th: another Prairie Warbler and the fall’s first Black-and-white Warbler.

Let me say a few more words about Watermelon Pond. I’ve been out there many times before, but haven’t wandered quite so far back onto the property. I’ve got to tell you, it’s one of the most beautiful places in Alachua County. There were times when I looked out at the vista of rolling, wildflower-dotted uplands pocked with pothole ponds and marshes and isolated oak groves and felt that I’d strayed into some landscape painting by one of the 19th-century English masters. Afterward, Mike and I agreed that a Watermelon Pond walk would have to be part of Alachua Audubon’s 2013-14 field trip schedule. Not the least exciting part of the day to me was sighting a frog I’d never seen before. On the west side of the property we passed a couple of Gopher Tortoise burrows. I glimpsed something inside one of them, and, hopeful of a tortoise or snake, I peered in with my binoculars. It was a root that had caught my eye – but there on the floor of the burrow sat a Gopher Frog, a species that depends on tortoise burrows for its survival. Samuel got a photo. If you want to see Watermelon Pond for yourself, drive to the traffic light in Newberry, go south on US-41 to SW 46th Avenue, turn right on 46th and go to SW 250th Street, and then turn left and go four miles to the county park. Walk down to the (mainly dry) marsh, bearing right, and follow the path across to the oak grove. A few more steps and you’re through the oaks, and from there you should just go where your curiosity and exhilaration lead you.

Hey, is it still popularly believed that Green Anoles change color to blend in with their backgrounds? When I was a schoolboy in Jacksonville in the 1960s it was an article of faith that chameleons – as they were called – turned green on green backgrounds and brown on brown backgrounds, and there was a joke that you could drive them crazy by placing them on plaid. I was thinking about them this morning as I drove home from the grocery store, and was surprised to realize that I still don’t know, in 2013, what causes them to change color. Well, lo and behold, no one else knows either. In 2013 it’s still a mystery. There are theories, such as thermoregulation, but the latest study suggests that adult males turn green more often than immatures or females, and that green color may play a role in signaling to other anoles. A blog summary is here. Some of you newcomers to Florida may not realize that Gainesville has two species of anoles: the Green Anole, which is native, and which changes color; and the permanently-brown Brown Anole, a non-native of Caribbean origin which was still getting a foothold here when I arrived in the 1980s. The Brown Anole now greatly outnumbers the Green Anole in urban and residential environments, and they’re working their way into wilder terrain as well; I saw one at Palm Point on the 11th.

Paynes Prairie and Florida Park Service staff will conduct a public meeting and presentation on the Prairie’s updated management plan at 7:00 p.m. this Monday, July 15th, at the Doyle Conner Building, 1911 SW 34th Street. This is your sole chance to ask questions and express your opinions face to face with the Park Service staff. The plan is here and the agenda is here.

To be sure that the State of Florida continues to fund the purchase of conservation lands, an organization called Florida’s Land and Water Legacy has been trying to collect enough petitions to put the matter up for a statewide referendum. Nearly 700,000 signed petitions are needed. If you’re a registered Florida voter, and you haven’t submitted one yet, please print it out using the following link and mail it in (a pen-and-ink signature is required for the petition to count). For that matter, you can print a bunch of them out and make them available for people to sign at your place of business: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pages/171/audubon-florida-partners-with-the-legacy-campaign/

Those of you who use Facebook might be interested in this “Save Loblolly Woods” Facebook page, put together by a group that’s opposed to the city cashing in on its conservation land holdings by selling off five acres to a local developer: https://www.facebook.com/saveloblolly?fref=ts

Raptor biologist Gina Kent writes with a request: “We are looking for Mississippi Kite nests, and areas where kites are seen, especially with fledglings. ‘Tis the season for orphan kite chicks that need a surrogate nest.” If you know of a nest, send me an email and I’ll pass it along to Gina.

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