Spring migration underway, plus continuing rarities

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

Over the past couple of years Mike Manetz has been dividing his time between Alachua County and Charlotte County on the southwest coast. Down in Charlotte he managed to infect some of the local birders with county-listing fever. Three of them in particular – Jeff Bouton, Dennis Peacock, and Brant Julius – have joined Mike in exploring the nooks and crannies of Charlotte County and in vying to see the most species in one year. Due to their high-spirited competitiveness Jeff has bestowed the title of “The Beasts of Birdin'” on the quartet. On March 1st I had the opportunity to go birding with three-quarters of The Beasts: Dennis and Brant drove up to Alachua County so Mike could show them some birds they don’t get to see in Charlotte, and I was invited along.

We started the day at Tuscawilla Prairie, where we hoped to find the Le Conte’s Sparrow discovered there on February 6th. We spent about an hour walking back and forth along the edge of the marsh before Dennis shouted that he’d seen a sparrow in the wet grass at the base of a small tree. He’d played a Henslow’s song, which it ignored, and then a Le Conte’s song, to which it seemed to respond. We all gathered around the tree and the bird flew up into a low branch – and it was a Henslow’s. It was not a bird we’d expected to see (though they’ve occurred there in the past), and it was a lifer for Brant. After a round of high fives we continued birding along the edge – getting a look at a Virginia Rail creeping along in an inch of water – and had all but given up when a sparrow flushed from the short dry grass halfway between the marsh and the live oaks. I could see its orange head as it fluttered up, and sure enough it was the Le Conte’s. It landed in a small oak, and stayed put for twenty or thirty seconds before dropping to the ground again. Another lifer for Brant, and the first time in my 40 years of birding that I’ve seen both Henslow’s and Le Conte’s in a single day.

From there we drove on to the Goodmans’ in NW Gainesville to see the male Bullock’s Oriole present for its third winter in a row. We walked around the block and eventually located a flock of six or eight Baltimore Orioles across the street from the Goodmans’ house that contained the Bullock’s. Lifer #3 for Brant.

We went on to Magnolia Parke, where a flock of about 35 Rusty Blackbirds was feeding in a parking lot just south of the big lawn. Lifer #4 for Brant.

From there it was on to the Hague Dairy. Mike signed us in while we parked Dennis’s truck, and as he came walking back to join us he spied the Lark Sparrow singing at the top of an oak tree. The Greater White-fronted Goose was equally cooperative, and we ran into Matt O’Sullivan, who pointed out an American Redstart that has wintered in the swampy area behind the parking lot.

So it was an absurdly good day. We found every bird we’d hoped to find, and still had a little time left over, so we went to a NW Gainesville neighborhood where Sam Ewing had recently reported Golden-crowned Kinglets. Here, at last, we failed to find our quarry, though Dennis thought he heard one calling. We were done by 1:00, and The Beasts of Birdin’ went home with a truck full of lifers, state birds, and Alachua County birds.

(Golden-crowned Kinglets haven’t left yet. Jonathan Mays saw two of them at San Felasco Hammock on the 1st: “Located north of Millhopper Road along the ‘Hammock Cutoff’ trail just east of its intersection with the yellow-blazed trail. First heard giving their high ‘seet, seet, seet’ calls, one on each side of trail. Was able to pish both in to confirm ID … small-sized, striped faces, one showed orangeish crown well.”)

Speaking of The Beasts of Birdin’, the one who didn’t join us yesterday, Jeff Bouton, used to be the official hawk counter at the Cape May Hawk Watch. He has just posted a very helpful and well-illustrated post on telling the difference between Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks that includes a few bits of information not mentioned in field guides: http://blog.leica-birding.com/advanced-id-tip-sharp-shinned-or-coopers/

And speaking of hawks, the county’s first Swallow-tailed Kites of the spring, four of them, arrived on March 1st, but I’m going to send out the details, as well as an interesting correspondence with kite biologist Ken Meyer, in another birding report.

On the 28th the Audubon field trip had a Northern Parula at the Windsor boat ramp and Andy Kratter had another in his SE Gainesville yard, but both were silent. However on the 1st there were *six separate reports* submitted to eBird, including two that specified singing birds (Debbie Segal at Barr Hammock and Jonathan Mays at San Felasco Hammock). So I think the Northern Parulas have arrived. There were a few sightings during the winter, as is usually the case, but the ones sighted this weekend were spring migrants.

I took an Oxford zoologist out to Paynes Prairie on the 27th and, after an hour’s wait at the edge of the sheet flow site, was able to show him his life Limpkin. While we were out there we saw some extraordinarily early Barn Swallows and on the walk back we saw a couple of extraordinarily late Purple Martins.

Time for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to start showing up. A few of them spent the winter at local feeders, but the first migrant males should be arriving any day now. Yellow-throated Vireos and Northern Rough-winged Swallows should also be here soon.

In late winter Yellow-rumped Warblers generally leave the treetops and start feeding on the ground. We noticed flocks of them foraging in the grass at both the Windsor boat ramp and Powers Park during the Audubon field trip on the 28th.

Bill Pranty and Tony Leukering have posted a well-illustrated paper on identifying Mottled Duck x Mallard hybrids. The paper starts off with a quiz – how many of these are pure Mottleds and how many are hybrids? – and goes on from there. Not a bad idea, to quiz yourself and find out how much you already know. And the paper will help you to distinguish Mottled x Mallard hybrids (“Muddled Ducks”) from pure Mottled Ducks in case that becomes a major problem here, as it is farther south: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/wp-content/uploads/sites/55/eBird_Muddled_Ducks.pdf

If you see our local Whooping Crane – or any other, for that matter – report it here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm Don’t assume that any Whooping Crane that you see is the same one that has wintered at the Beef Teaching Unit. Be sure to note which color bands are on which legs. By the way, the Beef Teaching Unit bird seems to be on the move. On the 28th its tracking devices showed it at Watermelon Pond in the county’s SW corner.

Greater White-fronted Goose at Hague Dairy

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

Lloyd Davis called at noon to tell me that he’d just seen a Greater White-fronted Goose at the Hague Dairy lagoon: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zUwrxikNCmjA.kX16X2s1_C-E

He later emailed a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16026260673/

If you chase it, keep your eyes open – Lloyd saw the Lark Sparrow today as well.

Lingering rarities! Time-limited offer! Get ‘em before they’re gone!

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

I think we’re spoiled around here. Any one of these birds would have been big news when I was a-comin’ up (the days when binoculars were gasoline powered, and we had to start them by turning a crank in the front), and here we’ve got at least half a dozen first-class rarities around town. I don’t know what we’re going to do if things ever go back to normal. We’ll have to start birding in other counties! Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. Anyway….

The Lark Sparrow at the Hague Dairy was sighted on the 15th by Bryan Tarbox. Jonathan Mays got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/16290832548/

The Bullock’s Oriole at the Goodmans’ house was most recently reported (by Steve Goodman) on the 12th. Out-of-towner Nathan Langwald got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/soniknate/15862400884/

The Rusty Blackbirds of Magnolia Parke are still there as well. Brook Rohman saw 30 on the 14th, and Trina Anderson got a photo on the 6th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/15838917233/

I saw four high-flying flocks of Sandhill Cranes totalling around 250 birds going north over my NE Gainesville home early on the afternoon of the 16th. Jonathan Mays saw about 50 at the UF Beef Teaching Unit at lunchtime on the same day, and the Whooping Crane was among them.

Lloyd Davis photographed the Le Conte’s Sparrow at Tuscawilla Prairie on the 9th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16553233945/ It’s been a cooperative bird, showing itself almost daily; at least a dozen birders have seen it so far. From the parking area, cross the street to the informational kiosk and then bear left, following the trail down to where the live oaks give out. But then leave the trail and walk straight out into the grass until the ground gets soggy. Turn right and walk along that soggy edge, keeping your eyes open, until off to your right, at the woods’ edge, you see “two cabbage palms with extensive trunkage, the one on the left adorned with vines, and the one on the right without” (thanks, Adam Zions!). The bird has been seen consistently along the soggy edge opposite those palms. It’s been showing well, as the Brits put it, so there’s need to stomp around in the grass and ruin its habitat in order to get a look at it.

Good birds continue to be seen at the sheetflow restoration site, generally by those with special access for one reason or another or those who sneak in the back way on Sunday, when no one is working there. Debbie Segal photographed two White-faced Ibises there on the 10th, while on the 8th Matt O’Sullivan documented a Red-breasted Merganser, rarely seen in Alachua County, and two Long-billed Dowitchers, which have been tough to find during the last two winters. (On the 5th the City Commission took actions that will probably delay opening the sheetflow restoration site until October at the earliest. Debbie Segal is trying to arrange monthly field trips through GRU until it opens permanently.)

Lloyd Davis saw three Snow Geese flying over the La Chua Trail on the 14th.

Harry Jones saw a wintering Summer Tanager along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on the 9th: “It was perched in a large fruiting tree in someone’s backyard on the left side of the trail (if heading towards Paynes Prairie). I believe it is the last house before the Paynes Prairie gate and the turnoff for the Sweetwater Overlook. The bird was perched at the top of the tree (something plum if I remember correctly) with a large flock of robins and yellow-rumps. I saw it fly over the trail towards Paynes Prairie.”

Spring is already here for some birds. Deena Mickelson got this photo of a Mourning Dove sitting on eggs on the UF campus on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121307268@N08/16235049360/

The Third Thursday Retirees’ Birding Club (informally known as the Ha! Take That, You Working Stiffs! Club) is going out of town this week: “Our Third Thursday field trip for February will be to Circle B Bar Ranch in Lakeland. We will leave from the Target parking lot on Archer Road at 6:00 AM on Thursday, February 19. The drive down should take a little over two hours. Circle B Bar Reserve was jointly acquired by the Polk County Environmental Lands Program and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to protect the floodplain of Lake Hancock and to restore the Banana Creek marsh system. Oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and the lakeshore are among the unique characteristics of this property. It is home to an abundant and diverse bird population. After the trip some of us are planning on having lunch at Palace Pizza in downtown Lakeland. If you’re planning on joining us for lunch, please let me know.”

If you’d like to see live owls close up, and especially if you’ve got kids who’d like to see live owls close up, you might be interested in this Saturday’s doings at Wild Birds Unlimited: “Licensed wildlife rehabilitators Nan Soistman and Dr. Dawn Miller, DVM, will host an education program on the owls of Florida at Wild Birds Unlimited on Saturday, February 21 from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Ms. Soistman and Dr. Miller will bring four of Florida’s five species of breeding owls: a Great Horned Owl, a Barred Owl, a Barn Owl, and an Eastern Screech-Owl. Each bird was rescued from some sort of life-threatening injury but deemed not to be releasable to the wild after having been given care. Alachua Audubon Society and the UF/IFAS Alachua County Master Gardeners will also have information tables at the event. All first-time, new National Audubon Society memberships will be free during the event and all new and renewing members will also receive a $5 “BirdBucks” coupon to be used in the store on the day of the event. Audubon representatives will also be present to discuss birding opportunities and environmental advocacy efforts around Gainesville. The Master Gardeners will have a rain barrel display and representative will be present to discuss water conservation efforts and other Florida-friendly gardening practices. Please see http://www.wbu.com/gainesville for details on Wild Birds Unlimited’s own website.”

A surprise at Tuscawilla Prairie

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.

Purple Finches at O’Leno

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

eBird users! Have you wondered why you’re asked for additional details about certain sightings, and what exactly those additional details should be? Are you curious about how your reports are evaluated once you send those details in (or don’t)? If so, follow the links at the top of this page, especially the first one, and, when you get to the bottom, view and/or download the official eBird reviewers’ “Review Tool and Filter Instructions,” now visible to the public for the first time. Understanding the review process will help you make your submissions more valuable. (Also, you can learn about the dreaded “Blacklist” on page 15!)

This morning Mike Manetz and I went out in search of a Winter Wren. Our first stop, at the Santa Fe River, produced nothing. We had no more success at our next stop, O’Leno State Park. However, we spotted a couple of American Goldfinches in a sweetgum tree and when we looked more carefully we found a handful of Pine Siskins among them. Retracing our steps along the trail, we found an elm tree in which goldfinches were feeding on the samaras. I noted that there were some siskins among them, and Mike said, “I’m looking at a bird with a white supercilium.” It was a female Purple Finch, only the second that Mike had ever seen in Alachua County. While he notified John Hintermister by phone, I found a second female Purple Finch. The siskins moved on, but the finches continued feeding on the samaras. Mike and I moved on too, to River Rise, for one more shot at Winter Wren. We struck out here as well, but along the river we lucked into a feeding flock that contained two Golden-crowned Kinglets. So it was a pretty good morning. If you’re interested in looking for the siskins and finches, go to O’Leno, cross the hanging bridge, and then follow the trail to the right. Watch the treetops for flocks of goldfinches, and if you find one pick through it to see if the goldfinches have any friends with them.

Sandhill Crane migration seems to have started early this year. A little after nine in the morning on the 25th Glenn Israel saw 90 over Magnolia Parke going northwest, and about two hours later Chip Deutsch saw 75 going over in two flocks. On the 1st I saw a flock of 78 northbound at high altitude over NE Gainesville while Sam Ewing, about three miles to my west, noted, “There are a lot more cranes moving north today. I’ve been hearing them throughout the day, and have seen a couple flocks.” It seems to me that the earliest migration I’d previously witnessed began on January 29th, and this tops that by four days.

Carmine Lanciani saw the spring’s first Purple Martin on the 1st, “at 11:15 a.m., flying over a nest-box area. This location is just west of NW 98th Street near its intersection with NW 39th Avenue.”

Ospreys are arriving as well. While doing a hawk watch from his NW Gainesville yard on the 29th, Sam Ewing saw one fly over, and on the 31st Steve Hofstetter saw one near the nest platform at NW 6th Street and 8th Avenue.

Barbara Shea found this interesting page that explains how to tell Rusty Blackbirds from other blackbird species like Common Grackles, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds: http://rustyblackbird.org/wp-content/uploads/Rusty-Blackbird-Identification-Guide.pdf

The National Audubon Society has a new web site that includes an online field guide illustrated by excellent photos, David Sibley illustrations, and Kenn Kaufman text. You can read about the new site here: http://www.audubon.org/news/welcome-new-audubonorg

On Thursday the 5th the Gainesville City Commission will decide whether to open the sheetflow restoration site to the public seven days a week or just on weekends once it’s completed in May. This has the potential to become one of the best birding sites in Alachua County, if not THE best. If a lot of people show up to support opening the site seven days a week, and if a good percentage of those people are willing to volunteer at the site on a regular basis so the city won’t have to pay staff, our chances are much better. The meeting begins at 3:00. If you can’t attend, please email the commissioners who haven’t yet made up their minds:
Lauren Poe poelb@cityofgainesville.org
Yvonne Hinson-Rawls rawlsyh@cityofgainesville.org
Todd Chase chasetn@cityofgainesville.org
Randy Wells WellsRM@cityofgainesville.org

The birds abide

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

Don’t forget that you can arrange carpooling for Alachua Audubon field trips, using the “Leave a Reply” function on the individual field trip pages on the web site. Here are the pages for the next three field trips:
Tall Timbers / Wade Tract, January 31 and February 1: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/tall-timbers-research-station-sparrow-banding-and-the-wade-tract/?instance_id=375
La Chua, February 7: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/la-chua-trail-9/?instance_id=376
Northeast Florida Coast, February 15: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/northeast-florida-coast-3/?instance_id=377

Spring is creeping up on us. Though sunrise is actually one minute later than it was on the solstice, sunset is a whole half an hour later. Red maples have been blooming since mid-December, but now I’m seeing redbuds and wild plums covered with flowers, elms with drooping samaras, and early-blooming wildflowers like lyre-leafed sage and yellow jessamine. Purple Martins should be here by now, but I’ve driven past the martin houses at George’s Hardware four times in the past week or so and have yet to see one; there have been no local reports in eBird, either, though there have been plenty throughout the southern half of the state. Ospreys should also show up in the next week. A small number winter in Alachua County, but breeding birds normally arrive at their nests about the beginning of February.

The Lark Sparrow is still at the Hague Dairy. Sam Ewing saw it on the 28th: “He was singing in an oak tree when we stepped out of the car, and then flew to the ground to feed with Chipping Sparrows.” He also got a nice photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16390142895/

The Rusty Blackbirds are still being seen at Magnolia Parke. Lloyd Davis counted 66 on the 24th, and Melissa James and Dave Gagne saw two on the 28th. One of Melissa’s photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/melissa_vet/16204251218/in/photostream/

The Whooping Crane is still at the UF Beef Teaching Unit at the corner of Williston Road and SW 23rd Street. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t delay, because all the cranes will be leaving us before much longer.

Here’s a really remarkable set of photos that I found on Google: a leucistic Red-winged Blackbird from Wisconsin, nearly all white except for a few black feathers and bright red epaulets: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/205262591.html

Speaking of really remarkable photos … You know how hard it is to find a Henslow’s Sparrow. They conceal themselves under matted grasses, usually in open fields like the one at Gum Root Park. It’s even harder to see a Henslow’s Sparrow. They flush just in front of you, fly a few yards, land in the grass, and then, out of sight, run away so that you can’t relocate them. All of this being the case, just imagine how hard it is to actually photograph a Henslow’s. And as to photographing one in flight, it’s pretty much impossible. Yet Rob Norton managed the impossible on the 17th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/73960438@N04/16114809538

On the 19th Bob Simons wrote, “I think I saw three black ducks flying at Paynes Prairie today. We were near the end of the La Chua Trail. The ducks were flying around, seemingly looking for a good place to land, and were NW of me, giving me good light to see them. They were very dark – nearly black, with much lighter heads and necks, white under the wing, and red-orange legs and feet. They ended up landing out of sight to the NW.” American Black Duck is a rare bird in Alachua County these days, so keep an eye out.

A researcher at UF has discovered that Lone Star Ticks at San Felasco Hammock, O’Leno, and Manatee Springs carry the incurable hemorrhagic fever virus: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20150126/ARTICLES/150129717?tc=cr I wonder how long that virus has been out there. I’ve been plucking Lone Star Ticks off myself for a couple of decades and haven’t had anything more serious than a suspected case of STARI. According to a table in the scientific paper itself – http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0115769#pone-0115769-t002 – two sites at Manatee Springs had populations in which, respectively, 25% and 10% of the ticks carried the virus. So you’d think the human population of northern Florida would have been decimated by hemorrhagic fever by now. And yet there have been no cases anywhere in four decades. I don’t get it.

Wildlife professor Katie Sieving has a request for those of you who live in the central part of Gainesville: “I have an undergrad, Jason Lacson, who is testing a playback attractant for raptors consisting of a platform with a 15 hour playback of titmouse or jay distress calls (from an MP3 player under the platform) and a fake cardinal model with a birdcam. The setup consists of two poles next to each other sunk in the dirt about 5 feet high, one with the cardinal and speaker and one with a bird cam to obtain photos/detections of owls and other raptors that choose to attack the cardinal model. Can you ask around for any folks willing to let Jason place a setup in their yards for a two-week period? He can run 4 at a time until late March. What he needs is the names, addresses and phone numbers of folks willing to participate, who have secure backyards that are within scooter distance of campus (so approximately 43rd Street to 6th Street and from Bivens Arm to 23rd or 39th Avenue).” If you live in the area described, and are willing to help, send me your email address and I’ll put you in touch with Katie and Jason.

Lark Sparrow still there

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

The Lark Sparrow found by Rob Norton on Friday the 9th – https://www.flickr.com/photos/73960438@N04/16241183915/ – was not found later that afternoon or on the day following. However at 11:30 on Sunday the 11th Lloyd Davis relocated it in the same area where Rob had discovered it, first perched atop the tree in front of the white building across from the grassy parking area, and later in the dry vegetation in the ditch at the back of the parking area. The ditch runs behind some service buildings, and Lloyd found the bird near some banana trees, in the company of Chipping Sparrows. Lloyd posted pictures on his Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/lloyd.davis.399?fref=ts ), in a photo album called “Rare bird at Hague Dairy.”

Bob Carroll will be leading a Retiree Birders’ field trip to the Sweetwater Sheetflow Restoration Site on Thursday the 15th. Since construction crews will be working there at the time, four restrictions have been imposed on us: (1.) Only 25 people will be allowed, and so ONLY the first 25 who sign up can go. To sign up, email Bob at gatorbob23@yahoo.com (2.) Participants have to sign a liability release form, which Bob will forward to you. No release form, no field trip. (3.) Participants MUST wear long pants, closed-toe shoes, and a safety vest. He will try to supply vests for everyone, but that may not be possible. So if you have one, bring it. You can buy one for $10 at Lowe’s, or if you have Amazon Prime you can get a cheap one like this shipped to you before the field trip: http://www.amazon.com/41113-Industrial-Safety-Reflective-Strips/dp/B000IDSZ1U/ref=sr_1_5?s=industrial&ie=UTF8&qid=1420861703&sr=1-5&keywords=orange+vest  (That’s what I did. However it’s a little small for my 6’3″ frame; it looks as though I stole it from a ten-year-old boy.) But be sure you’re on the list before you order the vest! (4.) The group MUST enter together, stay with the trip leader, and leave together. GRU could be liable for a substantial fine if anyone wanders away from the trip leader, so we MUST stay in a group. Meeting place will be the parking lot of Bivens Arm Nature Park on South Main Street just before the intersection with Williston Road. Meeting time is 8:00 a.m. Bob adds, “Some of us are lunching at Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant after the trip. If you want to join us, let me know before Thursday.” Again, Bob’s at gatorbob23@yahoo.com

Rusty Blackbirds are being seen in large numbers at the Magnolia Parke wetlands. Lloyd Davis and Howard Adams reported 70 on the 4th, while at 9:35 this morning (the 11th) Adam Kent counted 82, “at first in tall oak on southeast corner of 39th Place and 50th Street. After about 10 minutes they flew north and disappeared into the swamp but later came back to the lawn area.” Adam posted a photo here: https://plus.google.com/photos/112734561717468647204/albums/6101004404063784193/6103154944918383458?banner=pwa&authkey=CJKJ7ay2oOCmCw&pid=6103154944918383458&oid=112734561717468647204

American Robins and (to a lesser extent) Cedar Waxwings have moved into the area. On the 3rd Matt O’Sullivan and I saw big flocks of both in the cypress swamps at San Felasco City Park, and on the 4th Mike Manetz and I found American Robins abundant at O’Leno State Park. I’ve seen flocks of robins passing overhead almost every day since.

Sidney Wade heard an unusually early Northern Cardinal singing on December 16th, which may be the earliest I’ve ever heard about. Right now, however, I’m hearing them most mornings. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology posted an informative YouTube video about the cardinal’s songs and singing mechanics (though they don’t seem to understand that a video implies moving pictures): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9LNexIoCW0

We’ve got two apparently-wintering American Redstarts in the area. Michael Drummond saw one in his NE Gainesville yard on the 7th. Bob Carroll and I spotted another at the Hague Dairy on the 9th when we went looking for the Lark Sparrow, and it was seen by several other birders on the 10th and 11th.

Lark Sparrow at Hague Dairy

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

Robert Norton found a beautiful adult Lark Sparrow at the Hague Dairy between 1:20 and 1:30 today.

He sent me a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16214071556/

And also sent a map showing where it was seen (the area where we usually park): https://www.google.com/maps/place/29%C2%B046%2745.0%22N+82%C2%B025%2702.0%22W/@29.779153,-82.417227,238m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0x0

Go see it if you can! Hopefully it will stick around at least through the weekend.

New birds for a new year, and a backward glance

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

Hummingbird bander Fred Bassett will be visiting the Gainesville area next weekend. If you’ve got hummingbirds visiting your yard right now, if you’d like them banded, and if they’re coming regularly to a feeder, email me your name, your street address, and the number of hummers you’re seeing, and I’ll forward the information to Fred. Here’s a video of Fred’s mentor, the late Bob Sargent, describing his amazement at what he’s learned from hummingbird banding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfHtBTUZatI And here’s Fred (from 1:00 to 2:33) and Bob banding hummers in Mississippi in 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v36GcpHsbw

On January 3rd Matt O’Sullivan and I took a stroll down NW 65th Avenue (east of 71st Street, off Millhopper Road) in hopes of seeing a Dark-eyed Junco reported by Jim Cox. No sign of the junco, or of the Chipping Sparrows that Jim found it associating with. But Matt and I did flush a Fox Sparrow – appropriately enough, from property owned by the Fox family: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/15566106073/ Mike Manetz and I attempted to see both birds this morning, but ended up finding neither.

The adult male Bullock’s Oriole that spent the last two winters in Ted, Danusia, and Steven Goodman’s NW Gainesville neighborhood is back again, and Sam Ewing photographed it on the 3rd: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16000040167/

Alachua Audubon sponsored a field trip to the Sweetwater Sheetflow Restoration Area on New Year’s Day. Lots of birds were seen by lots of birders. Highlights included a Great White Heron visiting from South Florida, two or three Roseate Spoonbills ditto (John Martin photo here), two White-faced Ibises, Limpkins, a Merlin, and ten species of waterfowl, notably a Canvasback (John Martin photo here) and a large number of Gadwalls.

Rusty Blackbirds are wintering in the wetland at Magnolia Parke again, and Kathy Malone was able to photograph one on December 30th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kmalone98/15965214167/

Roy Herrera set up a bonfire at his place north of LaCrosse on New Year’s Eve, and spotted an uninvited but very welcome guest, an Eastern Screech-Owl, in a tree overhead. He got a beautiful picture of this fairly common but seldom-seen bird: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16174980815/

A quick look back at 2014 before we push on into the New Year:

Adam Zions produced his annual list of candidates for Alachua County’s Bird of the Year, shown here in taxonomic order:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Ross’s Goose
Black Scoter
Pacific Loon
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Alder Flycatcher
Gray Kingbird
Cave Swallow
Bullock’s Oriole

He asked me which of these, in my opinion, had been the most interesting bird of 2014. I thought it was probably a tie between the Calliope Hummingbird at Jack and Mary Lynch’s High Springs home from January 3rd to March 4th and the Bullock’s Oriole at the Goodmans’ house from January 4th to March 19th, with the oriole having a slight edge since it was the first documented sighting in the county. Both attracted scads of out-of-town birders. Adam pretty much agreed, writing, “I would have no qualms with a tie between those two. I think the Black-chinned and Buff-breasted would come in at 3 and 4 (no particular order), and then move on from there. How awesome were the rarities/aberrants this year, that Pacific Loon and Black Scoter get pushed down a few pegs? With no drought creating favorable conditions for shorebirds and no tropical storms/hurricanes pushing pelagics inland, I think the county had a damn fine showing this past year.”

The task of compiling and ranking individual county and state year-lists for 2014 has been rendered ridiculously easy by eBird. Whether you’re intentionally competing or not, your totals are tallied and ranked at national, state, and county levels. Here are the largest Alachua County lists – birds seen in Alachua County – amassed by Alachua County eBirders :

Rex Rowan 238
Mike Manetz 231 (Mike also ended up with a third-place 244 species in Charlotte County, where he spent much of the year on family business)
Matt O’Sullivan 231
Lloyd Davis 226
Adam Zions 225
John Hintermister 219
Sam Ewing 215
Adam Kent 210
Barbara Shea 210
Benjamin Ewing 205
Dean Ewing 199
Andrew Kratter 198
Jonathan Mays 196
Debbie Segal 196
John Martin 192
Felicia Lee 192

And here are the largest Florida year-lists – including birds seen anywhere in Florida – compiled by Alachua County’s birders:

Adam Zions 306
Lloyd Davis 300
John Hintermister 294
Mike Manetz 282
Jonathan Mays 279
Adam Kent 278
Debbie Segal 278
Rex Rowan 276
Matt O’Sullivan 269
Barbara Shea 267
Andy Kratter 257
Gina Kent 255
Sam Ewing 249
Chris Burney 244
Benjamin Ewing 241

So much for 2014. And now a new year’s birding is underway. It’s fun to watch everyone dash out of the starting gate on January 1st, trying to see, as quickly as possible, the birds that may not stick around. Get that Canvasback! It could leave any day! And there’s no guarantee of another Canvasback before the end of the year! As of the 3rd, Adam Zions is leading the pack with 107 species, followed by Andy Kratter with 91 and Howard Adams with 87. Good luck to one and all. But don’t fret about the numbers, or the competitive aspect. Just have fun. Remember Kenn Kaufman’s words of wisdom: “Birding is something that we do for enjoyment, so if you enjoy it, you are already a good birder. If you enjoy it a lot, you’re a great birder.” Here’s hoping that a lot of good birders turn into great birders in 2015!

Remember to let me know if you’ve got any hummingbirds coming to your feeders.

Last birds of 2014

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

Merry Christmas, birdwatchers!

Roy Herrera has noticed that the Whooping Crane – still at the Beef Teaching Unit on the 24th – is observing the season by wearing Christmas-colored bands, as seen in this Chuck Littlewood photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h6F81287#h6f81287

The Bullock’s Oriole has returned to Ted, Danusia, and Steven Goodman’s NW Gainesville home for the third winter in a row. Ted got photos of the bird shortly after he first noticed it on the 21st (see photos here and here). Visitors are welcome to the Goodmans’ house at 6437 NW 37th Drive to look for the bird. Park on the street, walk down the right side of the house to the back corner, where you’ll have a view of the feeders in the back yard, and wait. Ted writes, “Same rules as last year. Come any time, don’t disturb the neighbors to the north who have feeders in their yard, but OK to view theirs from the street.”

Jennifer Donskey was looking for Rusty Blackbirds at Magnolia Parke on the 3rd and discovered that a beaver had taken up residence in the swamp there. I knew that beavers are present in the Santa Fe River and a small family group is (or was) resident at Mill Creek Preserve, but I was surprised to learn of one so close to town. Lloyd Davis went looking for it on the 20th and found both the beaver and the Rusty Blackbird that Jennifer had been looking for in the first place.

We’ve had a few recent reports of northern species that can be hard to find in Alachua County. Three Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Winter Wren were seen along the Santa Fe River during the Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno CBC on the 16th. Pine Siskins are being reported almost daily; on the 19th Samuel Ewing saw and heard a flock of 14 flying over his NW Gainesville home. And on the 21st, visiting South Florida birder Carlos Valenzuela reported a Purple Finch at Bolen Bluff: “Female with bold white eyebrow and heavy dark triangular bill. The bird flew in and was feeding on a sweetgum tree leading out to the prairie, just bordering the forest.”

Also at Bolen Bluff was an American Redstart seen by Harrison Jones on the 17th. I tend to think of these December birds as dawdling fall migrants rather than wintering birds; only a small percentage are ever seen after January 1st.

Here’s an amazing story. Golden-winged Warblers, newly-arrived on their nesting grounds in Tennessee, turned around and flew all the way back down to the Gulf Coast to avoid oncoming tornadoes, then returned to Tennessee once the tornadoes had passed. Thanks to Ching-tzu Huang for the link: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30531060

Audubon Florida posted this on the possible misuse of Amendment 1 conservation funds: http://fl.audubonaction.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=61979&em_id=50121.0&pgwrap=n