by Andy Kratter
The 61st running of the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count took place on a fine Sunday, December 16th, 2018. At the compilation dinner, Debbie Segal and Barbara Shea honored long-time compiler and Alachua Audubon stalwart John Hintermister. John took a small, loosely-run count, and turned it into one of the most organized and productive Christmas Bird Counts in the country. The 15-mile diameter count circle was broken into eleven sectors, each with a team captain to organize the troops of birders. Over the years, the number of participants has steadily increased, and we now have well over 100 birders scattered across the landscape, participating by chumming gulls from a boat on Newnans Lake, skimming across the flooded prairies in airboats, tromping through prickly fields to flush up sparrows, patiently watching backyard birdfeeders, or endlessly playing screech-owl tapes to lure in wintering passerines in the woods. With increased participation, the number of species recorded has steadily increased, and now Gainesville regularly lands near the top of all counts in Florida. Not only does the count excel in overall diversity, the army of observers rack up huge individual counts of many species. In 2017, Gainesville set high counts in the United States for ten species, including all-time high counts of two species (Limpkin and Black-and-white Warbler). The day’s birding ends with a festive compilation where we have some cold drinks, enjoy hot pizza, and methodically tally the results.
On the 16th, the hard-core owlers woke up to a rather balmy, cloudy night, with a waxing moon that set just after midnight. Some clouds hung around most of the morning, but by noon the skies had mostly cleared and temperatures rose into the 70s. Winds picked up somewhat in the afternoon, decreasing the detection and response of land birds. Many of the birders start well before dawn and great effort is expended in trying to count every bird. We arrived at the compilation around 6 PM, tired, bleary-eyed, and eager to see how we did as a group.
The compilation consists of two parts: the first section is the regularly occurring species seen during most of the past ten years, and totals 152 possible species. We sailed through these, only missing two species (Snow Goose and Wilson’s Warbler). We set all-time high counts for the Gainesville CBC for 17 species: Ring-necked Duck (3,431), Bufflehead (48), Common Gallinule (1,318), Limpkin (544! smashing the all-time high count for the US of 235, set by us in 2017), Spotted Sandpiper (9), Snowy Egret (475), Green Heron (48), Red-shouldered Hawk (253), Belted Kingfisher (100), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (115), Tufted Titmouse (450), Carolina Wren (521), American Goldfinch (967), Yellow-throated Warbler (65), Yellow-breasted Chat (3), Chipping Sparrow (1,193), and Grasshopper Sparrow (20).
The real action begins in the second part of the compilation, when each team reads the unusual species found during the count. With 150 species under our belt, a good showing of rarities could push us towards the all-time record of 166 species, set in 2016. First to go was Team 1, which included the uber-bird-rich Prairie basin east of 441, including Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Stellar finds there were Indigo Bunting, 2 Clay-colored Sparrows, Purple Finch, 2 Pine Siskins (5 more seen by Team 8), 7 Purple Gallinules, 10 Least Bitterns (plus one by Team 6), Peregrine Falcon, an Empidonax species (analyses of the recorded call would later show it to be the expected Least Flycatcher), and an astonishing 29 Snail Kites, the first time this species has ever been recorded on the Gainesville CBC. The total was now 159 species. Next was Team 2, which included east Gainesville south of Hawthorne Road, and uplands of the east part of Paynes Prairie. They added a staked-out Bachman’s Sparrow, 2 Ash-throated Flycatchers, and a trio of backyard feeder visitors: Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and Red-breasted Nuthatch; the total now reached 164 species. The 165th species was a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Team 5, in the southwestern portion of the circle that includes Tuscawilla Prairie. Whooping Cranes were seen by both Teams 5 and 7, but they do not add to the species list because they are not considered established. A Tennessee Warbler in the Team 6 territory, which incorporates the part of Paynes Prairie west of US 441, tied the all-time record of 166 species. With five more teams to go, a new record looked inevitable and Team 7 gave us the record breakers. This area, including the section of the circle south of Archer Road, west of 441, and north of Paynes Prairie, added 2 White-winged Doves, and the first-ever Egyptian Goose on the Gainesville CBC. But we were not done. Team 8, sandwiched between Newberry and Archer Roads, added a Canvasback and 5 Vaux’s Swifts. In suburban northwest Gainesville, Team 9 added a Summer Tanager. Finally, Team 11, surrounding and including Newnans Lake, added a Chuck-will’s-widow, another new species for the count. The old record was smashed. The new record, 172 species, is going to be hard to beat. Post-script: A flock of shorebirds photographed on Kanapaha Prairie (Team 7) during count day showed two additional rare species – 10 Dunlin and 3 Long-billed Dowitchers, to push the total to 174 species! What a day! A Horned Lark at Sweetwater Wetlands on the day after the count, just the second ever found in Alachua County, doesn’t add to the total, but is included in the “count week.”
Bob Carroll and Andy Kratter are the co-compilers for the count. We thank Griselda Forbes for provisioning the counters at the compilation, Ashley Escalante from Life South Community Blood Center for providing facilities for our compilation, John Martin for his endlessly humorous and innovative computer work for tallying up the day’s birds, Alachua Audubon for sponsoring the event, and all the great birders who participated. Mark your calendars now: next year’s Gainesville Christmas Bird Count will be on Sunday, December 15th, 2019, and we will see what records we can break.
Species list. The species setting or tying all-time counts are shown with bold-faced numbers below. The unexpected species are shown in bold-face.
Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 1340, Egyptian Goose 1, Muscovy Duck 228, Wood Duck 654, Gadwall 17, American Wigeon 7, Mallard 6, Mottled Duck 165, Blue-winged Teal 613, Northern Shoveler 14, Northern Pintail 24, Green-winged Teal 596, Redhead 2, Ring-necked Duck 3431, Lesser Scaup 16, Canvasback 1, Bufflehead 48, Common Goldeneye 2, Hooded Merganser 100, Ruddy Duck 113, Northern Bobwhite 1, Wild Turkey 34, Pied-billed Grebe 128, Horned Grebe 2, Rock Pigeon 23, Eurasian Collared-Dove 2, Common Ground-Dove 3, Mourning Dove 224, White-winged Dove 2, Eastern Whip-poor-will 4, Chuck-will’s-Widow 1, Vaux’s Swift 5, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 1, King Rail 7, Virginia Rail 6, Sora 34, Common Gallinule 1318, Purple Gallinule 10, American Coot 3499, Limpkin 544, Whooping Crane 2, Sandhill Crane 3281, Killdeer 255, Least Sandpiper 23, Wilson’s Snipe 277, American Woodcock 2, Spotted Sandpiper 9, Greater Yellowlegs 23, Lesser Yellowlegs 4, Bonaparte’s Gull 26, Laughing Gull 5, Ring-billed Gull 316, Herring Gull 2, Forster’s Tern 2, Common Loon 4, Wood Stork 120, Double-crested Cormorant 857, Anhinga 592, American White Pelican 62, American Bittern 17, Least Bittern 11, Great Blue Heron 244, Great Egret 309, Snowy Egret 475, Little Blue Heron 493, Tricolored Heron 129, Cattle Egret 245, Green Heron 48, Black-crowned Night-Heron 142, White Ibis 2587, Glossy Ibis 405, Black Vulture 546, Turkey Vulture 781, Osprey 8, Snail Kite 29, Bald Eagle (adult) 63, Bald Eagle (immature) 30, Bald Eagle (unknown) 7, Northern Harrier 38, Sharp-shinned Hawk 8, Cooper’s Hawk 17, Accipiter, sp. 2, Red-shouldered Hawk 253, Red-tailed Hawk 71, Barn Owl 2, Eastern Screech-Owl 18, Great Horned Owl 31, Barred Owl 50, Belted Kingfisher 100, Red-headed Woodpecker 24, Red-bellied Woodpecker 408, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 115, Downy Woodpecker 151, Northern Flicker 56, Pileated Woodpecker 130, American Kestrel 52, Merlin 4, Peregrine Falcon 1, Eastern Phoebe 548, Vermilion Flycatcher 1, Empidonax sp. Flycatcher 1, Ash-throated Flycatcher 2, Loggerhead Shrike 23, White-eyed Vireo 100, Blue-headed Vireo 128, Blue Jay 264, American Crow 630, Fish Crow 158, crow, sp. 42, Tree Swallow 1294, Carolina Chickadee 353, Tufted Titmouse 452, Red-breasted Nuthatch 1, Brown-headed Nuthatch 12, House Wren 233, Sedge Wren 34, Marsh Wren 45, Carolina Wren 521, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 723, Golden-crowned Kinglet 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 525, Eastern Bluebird 224, Hermit Thrush 42, American Robin 2396, Gray Catbird 256, Brown Thrasher 14, Northern Mockingbird 122, European Starling 30, Cedar Waxwing 285, House Sparrow 30, American Pipit 81, House Finch 40, Purple Finch 1, American Goldfinch 967, Pine Siskin 7, Ovenbird 6, Northern Waterthrush 7, Black-and-white Warbler 121, Orange-crowned Warbler 96, Tennessee Warbler 1, Common Yellowthroat 259, American Redstart 3, Northern Parula 5, Palm Warbler 1097, Pine Warbler 230, Yellow-rumped Warbler 1810, Black-thoated Green Warbler 1, Yellow-throated Warbler 65, Prairie Warbler 6, Yellow-breasted Chat 3, Eastern Towhee 66, Bachman’s Sparrow 1, Field Sparrow 4, Chipping Sparrow 1193, Clay-colored sparrow 2, Vesper Sparrow 31, Savannah Sparrow 138, Grasshopper Sparrow 20, Henslow’s Sparrow 4, Fox Sparrow 2, Song Sparrow 64, Lincoln’s Sparrow 1, Swamp Sparrow 266, White-throated Sparrow 21, White-crowned Sparrow 6, Northern Cardinal 743, Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1, Painted Bunting 15, Indigo Bunting 2, Summer Tanager 3, Red-winged Blackbird 7266, Eastern Meadowlark 155, Rusty Blackbird 5, Common Grackle 677, Boat-tailed Grackle 2177, Brown-headed Cowbird 759, Baltimore Oriole 24.