Alachua Audubon Society

A chapter of the National Audubon Society

A surprise at Tuscawilla Prairie

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

On the 6th I took a visiting English entomologist in search of a few birds he wanted to see. We started with the Whooping Crane at the Beef Teaching Unit, which obliged with close views. We drove on to the Ocala National Forest, where we found a cooperative group of four Florida Scrub-Jays on County Road 316 not far west of the Oklawaha River and a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the beautiful Riverside Island sandhills north of Lake Delancey. He also wanted to see a Marsh Wren, so we stopped at the Tuscawilla Prairie on our way to the Ocala National Forest and then again on our way back, but struck out both times. We finally got great looks at one from the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie.

Oh, wait! Almost forgot! Our first stop at the Tuscawilla Prairie was at about eight in the morning. We followed the trail out to where the trees end and we turned right, because turning left would have put the sun in our eyes. We walked along the soggy, grassy water’s edge, trying unsuccessfully to spish up Marsh Wrens. But as we approached three saltbush trees, something did pop up into the grass at the base of one of the trees, a small bird with an orange face, gray auriculars, and a faint necklace of fine streaks across its orange breast: a Le Conte’s Sparrow. Unlike most Le Conte’s, this one didn’t seem especially shy, but hopped around in the open for a while, allowing us to enjoy it from every angle. The entomologist admired its good looks, but he had no idea that this little bird was worth everything else we saw this morning. This is the second Le Conte’s I’ve seen at the north end of the Tuscawilla Prairie.

On the 1st Becky Enneis had a rare visitor in her back yard in Alachua: “a Purple Finch feeding on the ground with several Chipping Sparrows underneath my oak tree cage feeder. I always scan the flocks of yard Chipping Sparrows in hopes of another sparrow joining them, but never see anything different. But this time I looked out at them and saw a larger stockier bird, with a striking white supercilium. I thought, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak?? Then no, a female Purple Finch! I ran to get my camera, but when I got back to the window the bird was gone.”

A handful of birders went looking for the Purple Finches and Pine Siskins that Mike Manetz and I found at O’Leno on the 3rd. Though John Hintermister and Phil Laipis did see one siskin later on the 3rd, they couldn’t relocate the Purple Finches; however their consolation prize was an astoundingly early (or wintering) Louisiana Waterthrush. Phil got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16459434221/ On the 4th Bob Carroll tried for the finches and siskins but though he “stood in the rain for over two hours” he was not rewarded. However he went back the very next day – see? that’s what makes a birder! heroic persistence! – and found the siskins right where Mike and I had seen them. He got a photo of one: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16274956649/

Though the morning of the 4th was overcast and glum, I heard my first Brown Thrasher singing as I took the garbage bin to the curb, and my first Northern Mockingbird singing as I let the dogs into the back yard.

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