Alder Flycatchers at Levy Lake!

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

John Hintermister had read that Alder and Willow Flycatchers were being seen near the Everglades, and on the 21st he sent out an email to several local birders: “If they are getting these birds at Lucky Hammock I would think we should have them on Cones Dike. Want to go one day this week?” The field trip was arranged for Saturday the 24th. John, Mike Manetz, Ron Robinson, Phil Laipis, and Jonathan Mays went along. It was not a great success. Mike was “90% sure” that he heard two Alders calling, but none of the party could get a look at the birds.

A little bit frustrated, Mike suggested another trip on the following day, this one to Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake, since it provided similar habitat: a partly wooded dike trail adjoining a marsh. Adam Zions and I joined him for this one. Pulling into the parking lot at 7 a.m., we found the right (north) fork of the trail blocked by a sign that said, “Trail closed for maintenance.” Our thinking was: Since public monies are being expended on this so-called maintenance, citizen oversight is certainly called for. We looked around but didn’t see anyone else out there, so that heavy responsibility fell on our shoulders. Reluctantly we acquiesced to our civic duty and walked past the sign and down the trail. (The maintenance involved cutting back the willows along the western portion of the trail, reducing the waterthrush habitat and leaving the dike’s edges looking rather chewed up.)

Anyway, about a mile out, we found an Empidonax flycatcher working the edges of the willows. It was grayish-brownish-olive on the back, off-white below, with a pale yellow wash on the belly, and white wing-bars and tertial edges. The tail was rather broad. Suspecting that it was either an Alder or a Willow, we examined it through the scope, and it cooperated nicely by staying in sight. But with Empidonax flycatchers you really have to hear them vocalize if you want to identify them, and that’s exactly what this one did, several times producing a pip! call that’s diagnostic for Alder Flycatcher.

Continuing along the trail – there was a lot of continuing, it’s six miles long – we found numerous Indigo Buntings and Prairie and Yellow Warblers, plus a Northern Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler, and the fall’s first Blue-winged Warbler. We’d progressed around to the south side of Levy Lake by about 11:30 when we came to the place where Jonathan Mays had found a Least Flycatcher last winter. It’s an easy place to find: about a mile and a half down the left (south) fork from the parking area, it’s the first place you’ll come to where a car could make a three-point turn. Mike thought this would be a good place to play an Alder Flycatcher tape. I thought to myself, “Really, Mike. Just because Jonathan Mays found a Least Flycatcher here last winter, that’s no reason to believe that we’ll find…” but I didn’t get to finish the thought, because an Empidonax flycatcher flew in to the tape. This one had buffy wing bars, which suggested that it could have been a different species, or perhaps just a different age. And it wasn’t the only one there. As we watched it, Mike pointed out a second one a few yards farther out, calling pip! … pip! So we had at least two Alders for the day, and one unidentified Empidonax.

One more note about our Levy Lake walk. White-eyed Vireos can mimic the calls of other birds. It’s not unusual for the introductory note of their typical song to sound like a Great Crested Flycatcher, an Eastern Towhee, or a Summer Tanager (sometimes the introductory note is the only sound they make, which can be confusing!). Today we heard White-eyed Vireos beginning their typical songs with notes that mimicked (1.) a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and (2.) a Least/Willow Flycatcher’s whit! call. Both were firsts for Mike, Adam, and me.

The La Chua Trail was the place to be on Saturday. Glenn Israel saw a Short-tailed Hawk: “Saw dark morph over horse barn. Circled up higher, then flew toward the southeast. Seen about 11:10 am. Had a good look; identical to photos of hawk seen at Hague dairy earlier this summer.” And Lloyd Davis saw a male Painted Bunting “along Sweetwater Dike where the trail starts to bend north near the lone cypress tree. I was watching a pair of Yellow Warblers in a willow on the west side of the trail, a couple Blue Grosbeaks flew out of the Willow and the Painted Bunting landed and preened above a Northern Cardinal for a couple of minutes or less.”

Becky Enneis read about The Warbler Guide in the last birding report: “I watched Scott Whittle’s videos, and then ordered a copy of the book from Amazon and it arrived today. I will start by studying the section on bird songs, flight and chip calls, and sonograms, all about which I know nothing. There are so many other things in it I haven’t seen in any other guide – the tail patterns, the color impressions, the tree icons showing preferred habitat, the migration time span bar, and the 45 degree and under views….We might not need any more ordinary bird books, but we need this bird book.” Bubba Scales tells me that Wild Birds Unlimited is sold out already, but I’m sure they’ve ordered more.

Perhaps your morale is sagging – weekend trickling away, grindstone awaiting your nose. Here’s something to buck you up, a tale of an Osprey nest site preserved at Cedar Key: http://pureflorida.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-ospreys-power-companies.html

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