Alachua Audubon Society

A chapter of the National Audubon Society

The June Challenge, and the June Challenge kickoff field trip

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

The Eleventh Annual June Challenge begins on Sunday. The June Challenge, for those of you new to Alachua County birding, is a friendly competition in which individual contestants try to see as many species of birds in Alachua County as possible from June 1st to June 30th. Participation has grown considerably since the first Challenge in 2004 – last year 48 Alachua County birders submitted lists! But it hasn’t *just* grown locally: 100 other birders from 54 other counties, mainly in Florida but including counties in California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas, plus Norfolk, England, participated last year.

The ultimate purpose of the Challenge is to inspire birders to keep going through the heat of June – to have fun, to get out in the fresh air and sunshine and to see some beautiful birds – but there are other reasons to do it. In addition to the 100 or so breeding birds we expect here, very late spring migrants and very early fall migrants have been found in June, as have coastal strays like Sandwich Tern and Willet and unexpected wanderers like Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Reddish Egret, and Snail Kite. So there are discoveries to make – and not all of them are birds; June mornings can be beautiful and lively, full of butterflies and wildflowers, and much milder in temperature than you’d expect.

As with all contests, there are rules:

  1. All birds must be seen within the boundaries of Alachua County between June 1st and June 30th. (You non-Alachua birders are challenged to participate within your own counties.)
  2. Each bird on your list must have been seen, not merely heard.
  3. The question of whether this bird or that bird is “countable” toward your total has created some confusion. Here’s what I sent out to the statewide listserv: “Any free-flying bird is countable for the purposes of the Challenge, but keep track of how many ABA-countable (“ABA” is American Birding Association) and non-countable species are on your list. Report them in this format: ‘Total number seen (number that are ABA countable / number that are not),’ e.g., 115 (112 / 3). If your local population of an exotic species is recognized as established by the ABA, then any member of that population is an ABA-countable bird. Otherwise put it on your non-countable list. For instance, a bird belonging to an established population of Monk Parakeets would be ABA-countable. An escaped Monk Parakeet, or a Mute Swan in a city park, would not be.” This applies to only a tiny percentage of the birds out there, but if you have any questions about a specific bird, ask me.
  4. You’re competing with other Alachua County birders to see who can amass the longest individual list – BUT send me an email if you find something good so that I can alert the other contestants and they can go out and look for it. It is, after all, a *friendly* competition.
  5. EMAIL YOUR LIST TO ME BY MIDNIGHT ON MONDAY, JUNE 30TH. There will be a June Challenge party at TJC creator Becky Enneis’s house in Alachua on July 1st, at which a handsome trophy and prizes will be given out.

You can do the Challenge on your own, of course, but Bob Carroll will be at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to jump start it, and you’re welcome to join him, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder. From Longleaf you’ll go to Newnans Lake and then La Chua ($2 admission for La Chua). You should be home by lunchtime with 40-50 species on that checklist! Bring rubber boots if you have them, or wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet. (Directions to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve: From Gainesville, take State Road 20 (Hawthorne Road) east. After 4.4 miles you’ll pass Powers Park, and shortly thereafter you’ll cross the bridge over Prairie Creek. Three and a half miles after that, turn right onto County Road 325 and proceed 2.3 miles to the Longleaf parking lot.)

(I was at Longleaf this morning. I found Common Nighthawks and Brown-headed Nuthatches, as expected, but my best bird of the morning was a big reddish-brown bird with long sharp wings that flushed off the trail in front of me. The flapping of its wings caused a small brown leaf to move a few inches. I recognized the Chuck-will’s-widow the instant it took off, but only after another few seconds did it dawn on me that the “small brown leaf” was a downy chick, and then I saw a second one just a couple of feet away. I’ve only seen Chuck chicks a few times in my life, but I rapidly moved on down the trail so that the parent bird could return to its offspring as soon as possible. It’s a hard world for little things.)

Anyway, if you win, you get The June Challenge trophy, two and a half feet tall and lovingly crafted from the finest wood-like material. Your name and your accomplishment will be engraved in the purest imitation gold and affixed to the trophy, a memorial that will last throughout all eternity, or until someone drops it onto a hard surface. You keep the trophy at your house for a year, contemplating the evidence of your great superiority to all other birders, and then the following June you either win again or you sadly pass the trophy on to the next June Challenge champion and sink back into the common mass of birderdom.

Hints for new Challengers: Bird as much as you can during the first and last weeks of the month, to get late spring and early fall migrants. Check the big lakes repeatedly (especially Newnans and Lochloosa) for coastal strays like gulls, terns, and pelicans. Check your email inbox to learn what other people are seeing and for tips on where to go. I apologize in advance for the many birding reports you’ll get in early June…

Please join us for The Tenth Annual June Challenge. Good luck to all!

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