A whole new year of birds

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

The biggest Florida birding news of the winter was the discovery – by a former member of the Romanian parliament! – of Florida’s third-ever Snowy Owl at the south end of Little Talbot Island in Jacksonville on the 27th. It was seen by many on the 28th and many more on the 29th. It eluded birders on the 30th but was rediscovered – by another out-of-state birder – on the morning of the 31st, and has been seen every day since. You can look at a few pictures here.

What may have been Alachua County’s third Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the season was reported to eBird by Indiana birder John Skene on December 28th. He was driving north on I-75 across Paynes Prairie when he saw it: “Perched on telephone wire. Body size, shape, and color like mockingbird except for very long tail.”

Mike Manetz has not been able to find the Wilson’s Warbler at Lake Alice despite several attempts, but on the 29th he stumbled across another, “along Sparrow Alley, in a cluster of oaks before the first dip in the trail as you are headed west.”

On the 16th Lloyd Davis took a walk on La Chua with his camera: “My battery was almost dead, so I was trying to run it down completely before I went home.” He came across a White-crowned Sparrow, and took pictures until he ran out of power. Back home he posted the photos on Facebook as he normally does, and that’s where Matt Hafner saw them. Matt identified the sparrow as the northwestern (“Gambel’s”) race of White-crowned. According to Cornell’s online resource Birds of North America, Gambel’s “breeds across northern tier from Alaska to Hudson Bay; winters south through cen. Mexico, generally rarer eastward.” Stevenson and Anderson’s The Birdlife of Florida (1994) asserts that only three specimens of Gambel’s have been collected in Florida over the years, and only one has been photographed. So this makes five that have been documented in the state. Gambel’s has a gray lore (area between the eye and the bill) rather than a black one, and its bill is orangeish rather than pinkish. One of Lloyd’s photos is here.

Signs of spring: Tom Webber once observed to me that cardinals start singing right after the winter solstice. I usually don’t hear them til January, but this year two were singing in my neighborhood on the morning of the 23rd. I’ve heard them almost daily since then. (Samuel Ewing mentioned that he’d heard them singing sporadically during the fall as well. Did anyone else notice this?) I also heard a Carolina Chickadee singing on the 21st, at least a month earlier than usual, but didn’t hear it thereafter. A handful of American Robins have been perching in my oaks the last two days, scouts for the impending invasion. Some early flowers are in bloom, like Black Medick and Virginia Peppergrass. And we’ve gained three minutes of daylight since the solstice!

Samuel Ewing took a photo of two geese at the UF Beef Teaching Unit on the 21st. One of them shows a somewhat shorter bill and a higher, more rounded crown than the other, but both exhibit the characteristically distinct “grin patch” of a Snow Goose. Samuel wonders if anyone can account for the difference between these birds – if they might be Greater and Lesser Snow Geese, or a Lesser and a Ross’s-Snow hybrid – or if they’re both within the range of standard variation of Snow Goose. His photo is here.

It’s always fun for listers to look back, at the end of the year, and see who amassed the largest list of birds seen in the county or in the state. It’s sort of like end-of-season sports statistics – but not quite, since list size does not correlate very well with ability (or so I like to tell myself). Based on eBird’s “Top 100 eBirders” in Florida and Alachua County for 2013, and double-checked with most of the birders involved, here are the top ten county listers and, among birders living in Alachua County, the top ten state listers. I’ll single out a few of these performances. Steven Goodman and Samuel Ewing are both in their early teens, yet Steven saw 304 species in Florida last year, and Samuel saw 207 species in Alachua County; the first time I saw 200 species in a single year in Alachua County I was 37, and the first time I saw 300 species in a single year in Florida I was 40. These two guys are going to be very, very good; in fact, they already are very, very good. And speaking of very, very good, Mike Manetz saw 242 species during a thoroughly average year in Alachua County. There were no droughts and no hurricanes, nothing to bring in unusual birds at all, and yet he bested his 2000 total of 241, when a drought dried up Newnans Lake and brought 30 shorebird species to its shores. Congratulations, Mike! Congratulations, Steven and Samuel, and all the rest of you.

ALACHUA COUNTY
Mike Manetz  242
Jonathan Mays  239
Adam Zions  231
John Hintermister  227
Rex Rowan  218
Samuel Ewing  207
Adam Kent  203
John Martin  198
Steven Goodman  197
Benjamin Ewing  196
Dean Ewing  195

FLORIDA
Adam Zions  325
John Hintermister  323
Dotty Robbins  313
Steven Goodman  304
Jonathan Mays  301
Mike Manetz  284
Adam Kent  272
Rex Rowan  264
Gina Kent  262
Barbara Shea  251

(There’s already an eBird “Top 100 Birders” list for 2014, and as of the 1st Samuel Ewing is leading the pack with 67 species. If he does that well every day, he’ll have 24,455 species on his list at the end of the year! Go, Samuel, go!)

Bob Wallace didn’t keep year lists for the state or the county, but he did keep one for his farm south of Alachua. He saw 140 species there, more than the total number I’ve recorded in 21 years at my house.

Steve Collins made a map of his 2013 sightings using eBird, with do-it-yourself instructions below the map.

Listing by itself is neither good nor bad. On the one hand it can motivate you to go out the door and spend a beautiful day in the woods and fields, but on the other hand it can become little more than an obsessive numbers game in which keeping your place in the rankings is the only thing that matters. For an example of “dark side” listing, check out this report on British “twitchers” from The Guardian. And if you ever want to cure yourself of any interest in birds whatsoever, watch this documentary, featuring many of the same characters as the article, most especially the most notorious man in British birding, Lee G.R. Evans.

On the lighter side, John Hintermister sent me this Russian video of a Hooded Crow repeatedly tobogganing down a roof.

Remember the first Alachua Audubon field trip of 2014, at the La Chua Trail this Saturday, January 4th, beginning at 8 a.m.

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