(For one month only, I’m reviving the Alachua County birding reports. “Why? Oh God, why?” you ask, burying your face in your hands. For The 15th Annual June Challenge, that’s why. News and updates pertaining to next year’s Challenge and any future Challenges will be posted on the Alachua Audubon Society Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/AlachuaAudubon/ But this will be a transitional year, in which news and updates will appear both on Facebook and in your inbox. So consider this fair warning: no birding reports next year, just Facebook. Go there instead. No, I don’t like it either. Sorry.)
So anyway, the Challenge begins on Friday, June 1st. As always I’ll be at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve at 6:15 a.m. to jump start it with Common Nighthawk and (hopefully) Bachman’s Sparrow, and you’re welcome to join me, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder. From Longleaf we’ll go to Newnans Lake and then to Sweetwater Wetlands Park ($5 admission for Sweetwater). You should be home by lunchtime with 40-50 species on your checklist. Directions to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve: From Gainesville, take State Road 20 (Hawthorne Road) east. Measuring from Waldo Road, at 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 on the right.
If you’re otherwise occupied on the 1st and can’t join me, I’ll be in exactly the same place at 6:15 a.m. on Saturday the 2nd, and we’ll do it all over again.
On the 3rd we’ll make our annual visit to the Burrowing Owls at Watermelon Pond, courtesy of Alachua County’s Parks and Conservation Lands Department and county biologists Andi Christman and Michael Drummond. We’ll meet at the gate to the Burrowing Owl field at 7:30 a.m. To get there, go west on State Road 26 (Newberry Road) to the town of Newberry. When you come to the stop light where 26 intersects US-41, turn left onto 41 and proceed 2.9 miles to SW 46th Avenue. Turn right onto 46th and go 1.2 mile to SW 250th Street, which is a dirt road. Turn left onto 250th and go 3.0 miles to the gate. Park as best you can on the roadside. We’ll then walk half a mile to the viewing area. The preceding mileages are right for my car but should probably be considered approximate for yours. I’ve made a map if you’re confused about any of this, which allows you to zoom in for detail or zoom out for perspective: https://drive.google.com/open?id=170-j_s4JUwiLEg3b100Cq_S1yUw&usp=sharing
You probably remember, but here are the rules. There’s been one change:
- All birds must be seen within the boundaries of Alachua County between June 1st and June 30th. (Non-Alachua birders are challenged to participate within your own counties.)
- Each bird on your list must have been SEEN. Heard-only birds do not count; you’ve got to actually see those Chuck-will’s-widows and Eastern Screech-Owls. Consequently, don’t trust eBird with your June Challenge list, since it lists heard birds the same as seen ones.
- You are free to put Muscovy Ducks, retention-pond Mallards, and Whooping Cranes on your list, but no other exotic or domestic birds this year.
- 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. If you got a photo, send that as well so that I can share it with everybody else.
- EMAIL YOUR LIST TO ME BY MIDNIGHT ON SATURDAY, JUNE 30TH. There will then be a June Challenge party at TJC creator Becky Enneis’s house in Alachua, probably on July 1st.
To help you keep track of your sightings, I’ve attached an automatic Excel checklist that Phil Laipis created several years ago. Type in the date you saw each species in the row headed “First Seen,” using the format “6/1” for June 1st, “6/2” for June 2nd, etc., and the checklist will automatically add everything up for you (you can also use “1” or “x”). If you don’t have Excel, or you prefer keeping track on a paper copy, we’ve got some trifold checklists that you can use. Just send me your mailing address and I’ll drop one in the mailbox for you.
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 few days and last few days of the month, to get late spring and early fall migrants; eight migrant warblers and twelve migrant shorebirds have been recorded here in June, mostly at the beginning of the month. Check the big lakes repeatedly (especially Newnans and Lochloosa) for coastal strays like gulls, terns, and pelicans. Check your email inbox or the AAS Facebook page 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 15th Annual June Challenge. Good luck to all!