June Challenge finale; and some goosing

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

REMEMBER, June Challengers: (1.) I need your totals, divided into ABA-countable and non-countable birds, by MIDNIGHT ON JUNE 30TH and (2.) please email me if you’re attending the June Challenge party at Becky Enneis’s house on Tuesday, July 1st at 6 p.m.

“ABA-countable” essentially means that native North American birds (and a few naturalized ones like House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Muscovy Duck) are countable, while Black Swan, Swan Goose, Greylag Goose, Indian Peafowl, and other non-established exotics are not. If two birders end up with the same number of ABA-countable birds, then we’ll use the non-countable birds as tie-breakers. Right now I have 96 species on my list, all of them ABA-countable, so my total is 96/0. If I were to drive over to the Duck Pond and add Black Swan, Greylag Goose, and Swan Goose to my list, I would report 96/3 as my June Challenge total – 96 countable birds and 3 non-countable. Incidentally, for more on Swan Goose and Greylag Goose, which may be so genetically jumbled that we shouldn’t be calling them by those names, please see the final six paragraphs of this email.

Samuel Ewing got photos of the NE Gainesville robins on the 25th. Here’s one of them: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14526392513/

Peter Polshek writes, “There is a Broad-winged Hawk frequenting the tall trees in my yard at NW 17th Street and 8th Avenue (SW corner property). Just park in my driveway and listen for the calling bird.”

I ran into Linda Hensley at Publix this evening, and she told me that she, Howard Adams, and Barbara Mollison found a Roseate Spoonbill and six Glossy Ibises in a flooded field at the Hague Dairy today. So if you need either of those…

On Wednesday I drove to Gum Root Swamp in hopes of seeing a Louisiana Waterthrush. I was surprised to find the big metal entrance gate shut and locked. The informational kiosk, the wooden fence enclosing the parking area, and the walk-through gate were all gone. When I got home I called the Water Management District and asked what had happened. I was informed that the parking area had become a center of “lewd and lascivious behavior,” just like Bivens Arm Nature Park and the Bolen Bluff Trail used to be (and maybe still are?). Hidden cameras had been set up, license plates had been recorded, police had made regular visits, but the lewd and lascivious crowd was not discouraged. Since Gum Root Swamp is a group camping area, the District made the decision just to close the parking area down. You can still park on the culvert across the road, or on the outside of the entrance gate, and groups wanting to use the camping area can make arrangements with the District. Supposedly I will hear from the land manager about future plans. For what it’s worth, I didn’t find the waterthrush. Little Hatchet Creek is back within its banks, and there’s not much standing water left in the surrounding woods, although rubber boots are still a necessity, and unless you’re wearing hip waders you can’t get out to the lakeshore without getting wet.

I always figure that I need to go looking for Louisiana Waterthrush, but in some cases the waterthrushes find you instead. Greg Hart had one at his nursery in Alachua on the 26th.

Ron Robinson located a family of Pied-billed Grebes in a retention pond at NE 4th Street and NE 35th Avenue. Despite the fact that the address indicates northeast, it’s a block west of Main Street.

If you’re still looking for Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Andy Kratter writes, “3 Rough-winged Swallows still present at the Depot Road ponds, south of SE 10th Street and the bike trail on high voltage lines that run north-south.”

Two appeals from Florida Wildlife Care:

1. If anyone’s got a chimney containing Chimney Swifts, let me know. FWC has four nestlings that need homes.

2. If anyone’s driving to Jacksonville this weekend, and would be willing to transport an immature Cooper’s Hawk and release it there, please call Leslie Straub at 352-318-8443.

Barbara Woodmansee had an interesting and slightly hair-raising experience on Paynes Prairie yesterday evening, which should serve as a reminder to look down occasionally, as well as up: “While standing in front of the huge cypress tree near the gate where you’re supposed to stop and turn around on Sweetwater Dike, I was looking under the limbs of the cypress tree for that damned Limpkin and happened to glance down at the ground. I noticed that I was STANDING on a young Cottonmouth’s tail. Seriously. It was very annoyed, white mouth wide open, but it never struck at me. I promptly airlifted myself to a safe distance, and then apologized to the little guy. I think this is my first experience of actually standing on a venomous snake. Don’t tell my mother or she won’t let me go out there anymore!” This non-aggressive behavior of Cottonmouths is not particularly unusual, and was the subject of a 2002 paper (skip to “Results” on page 2 if you don’t want to read the whole thing): http://www.bio.davidson.edu/dorcas/research/Reprints/Gibbons%20and%20Dorcas%20-%202002%20-%20Defensive%20behavior%20in%20cottonmouths%20-%20Copiea.pdf

Everything after this is about domestic waterfowl, so jump off now if you’re not interested. And remember to email me if you’re going to the June Challenge party!

Now, as to the domestic Swan Goose and the domestic Greylag Goose. The question was prompted by this photo by Samuel Ewing: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14343488436/ The bird on the left looks like a domestic Greylag Goose while that on the right has the big knob on the base of the bill that’s characteristic of a Swan Goose. I sent the photo to Renne Leatto of Orange County, who was a prize-winning waterfowl breeder before she became a birder. She told me that these names were inappropriate for the two birds and gave me a primer on domestic geese:

“Unless one is in a wild area within the range of the wild Greylag Goose, you will not see one. In many parts of the world, geese have been domesticated even longer than ducks, and any Greylag-type goose we see in North America, certainly in the U.S., and definitely in the southern U.S., is going to be strictly domestic in origin.

“Here’s the deal with geese … there’s no such thing as a domestic Greylag (although you will see many references to them). It’s like calling a Chihuahua – or even a Husky – a domestic wolf. There are a number of domestic breeds of geese that originally come from the wild Greylag, but they haven’t been wild for 3,000 to 10,000 years. Greylag is to those breeds what Mallard is to most domestic ducks. What messes birders up (more with geese, even than ducks) is that many goose breeds look close to the wild Greylag, or at least they look a lot closer to the wild ancestor than crazy-fancy duck breeds look like a Mallard. To complicate matters, while all breeds of domestic duck (except for Muscovy) come from the wild Mallard, domestic geese come from a combination of two wild species: Anser anser and Anser cygnoides, the wild Swan Goose. Some people refer to derivatives of the latter as domestic Swan Geese, but again, there is no such thing. They have many breed names but none are Swan Goose.

“Now we make things even more complicated … unlike the situation with Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds and domesticated Muscovies – which CAN (but seldom do) crossbreed, and then have only sterile offspring — domestic goose breeds descended from Anser anser and Anser cygnoides can (and very often DO) crossbreed, and their offspring are always fertile. So the results are that we see too many variations of domestic goose crossbreeds to know with any certainty which ancestral species line dominates.

“I used to have a gander that was primarily the ‘African’ breed, a heavier version of the Chinese breed, both developed thousands of years ago from Anser cygnoides. His partner was a goose which had no sign of having any genes except that of the Embden breed, a pure white variety developed from the Greylag but which looks nothing like it anymore (it looks more like a wild Snow Goose but is not related genetically). Their broods of goslings came out in all shapes and feather colors, all bill and foot colors; some had bill/head bumps (knobs), some didn’t; some had extra-long slender necks, some didn’t; and some were light-bodied while others were medium or heavy bodied. Seeing any one of them as a lone individual in a park or wetland somewhere, even I would only be able to guess at their varied parentage. But one thing I can always say for sure – they are NOT Greylag or Swan Geese. They are many thousands of domestically-bred generations removed from both.”

What does this mean for the June Challenge? Well, this year you can count both species if you’ve seen them – the Swan Goose (the one with the knob) and the Greylag (the one without) – but next year we may just lump them together as “domestic goose.” I’ve submitted Samuel’s picture and Renne’s analysis to eBird’s resident taxonomist, Marshall Iliff, for an official eBird ruling on how these domestic strains should be recorded, but he hasn’t responded yet. When he does – maybe I should say IF he does – I’ll let you know what he says.

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