Alachua Audubon Society

A chapter of the National Audubon Society

Snail Kite nest confirmed! and the Burrowing Owl trip

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The presence of at least four Snail Kites at Paynes Prairie and Sweetwater Wetlands Park since early April has prompted speculation as to whether they’re nesting here. Today Paynes Prairie biologist Keith Morin sent out this announcement: “Brian Jeffery, wildlife biologist from the University of Florida, inquired about surveying the Prairie and obtained a Florida Park Service permit. The City of Gainesville Nature Operations Division facilitated airboat launch at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. On Friday, I assisted Brian and MS student Alexis Cardas on a Snail Kite survey covering about 2500 acres of the flooded prairie basin. We saw at least 8 individual birds (unbanded) and finally found one nest! The nest had three young that were approximately 19-21 days old. It was determined that these nestlings were old enough to band; this is the first nest and first banded birds originating from our park and well north of the species’ normal range. We will return in a week to ten days to check back on these fledglings. We are very excited!” A banded adult male has also been photographed on the Prairie, though no one has yet been able to read the alphanumeric code on the band, so that makes 9 individual adults plus the three chicks. This is only the second nesting record in Alachua County history – the first was 99 years ago!

Sunday morning’s Burrowing Owl field trip attracted about 60 participants. I had expected more, given the heavy publicity, but maybe some people stayed home due to the weather forecast. Luckily, the rain held off. Less luckily, the owls spent the first part of the morning barely peering out of their burrows, so that we often couldn’t tell if we were looking at the top of an owl’s head or a cow patty. A large percentage of the crowd left after half an hour or so, which was unfortunate, because later in the morning the owls emerged from their burrows and stood out where we could see them. One of them even flew. We counted ten owls in the field, both adults and young, and county biologist Andi Christman, the land manager for this tract, told me that she was aware of nine active nest burrows scattered across the property, including other fields than this one. (Photos below by Jerry Pruitt.)

Mike Manetz and I had driven out to Watermelon Pond together, and after seeing the owls we stuck around like almost everyone else and birded along SW 250th Street. There was a Common Nighthawk perched in a pine, Eastern Bluebirds on the wires, Red-headed Woodpeckers in the snags, Eastern Meadowlarks in the fields, and a pair of Orchard Orioles in the oaks along the road. Our last stop was the boat ramp at the south end of 250th, but it was birdless, so we headed back. We’d only gotten a hundred yards or so when we encountered a three-foot Florida Pine Snake crossing the road. We jumped out of the car, Mike grabbed his camera, I grabbed the snake, and we got a few photos before sending it on its way. This was only the third Florida Pine Snake I’d seen in the wild during my 61 years. Two of the three have come from Watermelon Pond.

On the way back into town Mike and I stopped at the Home Depot Pond to see the Ring-billed Gull and the Pied-billed Grebe. Alas, the gull was lying dead in the grass. Bob Simons had tossed it there earlier in the morning after finding it on the road, a traffic casualty. The grebe was still alive, though. Mike spotted it swimming out from a willow tree on the back side of the pond toward the right, and we watched as it gave an extended call. The call, the plumage, and the posture (including expanded throat) were just as you see them in the first ten seconds of this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVPAXlH7vHw

On their way home from Watermelon Pond, Debbie Segal, John Hintermister, and Barbara Shea stopped at the Canterbury Equestrian Center on the eastern edge of Newberry: “We were doing a drive-through to look for White-winged Doves or Eurasian Collared-Doves when we spotted a soaring raptor that was on the north side of the showgrounds. When it banked, I saw a wide white tail band. It was a Broad-winged Hawk. It then tucked its wings and streamed southward, right over us. We could clearly see the white underwings with a dark trailing edge to the wings and the broad white tail band.” This is less than two miles northeast of where Jason O’Connor reported two Broad-wingeds on April 11th.

Saturday morning’s June Challenge field trip followed the same route as Friday’s – Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, the Windsor boat ramp, Sweetwater Wetlands Park – but the birds were quieter and less cooperative. We saw about the same species as Friday’s trip, though we missed a few. Two nice surprises, though: a Spotted Sandpiper at the far end of Sweetwater Wetlands Park (thanks to Brad Hall and Howard Adams for the tip), and a Common Loon first seen in flight over Newnans Lake, which then landed on the water so that we could get a distant but identifiable look through our spotting scopes.

A Gray Catbird has been singing at the north end of Tumblin’ Creek Park, just as it did last year and the year before. Tumblin’ Creek Park is located on SW 6th Street at Depot Road, just south of the retention pond. Remember that the parking area is a one-way drive, with the entrance at the south and the exit at the north.

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