Things to do, birds to see

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

Harrison Jones, a grad student who’s studying winter feeding flocks, sends out this invitation to anyone who likes birds and/or beer: “The graduate student organization in the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation is organizing an outreach event with First Magnitude Brewing. We will have around twenty students presenting their research in a poster-presentation style format, but without the jargon and the statistics of a formal scientific presentation. I realize that it is late notice, but we would be delighted if Alachua Audubon could join us this Wednesday, November 18th, from 6-8:30 PM at First Magnitude Brewing Company for the event. I know that there will be several bird-related presentations, including one from yours truly, if that might sway some members to attend. More broadly, there will be an interesting sampling of research projects on a range of topics both local and abroad.” See you there!

Bob Carroll writes that The Third Thursday Birding Society will be Rubbing The Nose Of The Working Man In It one day late this week: “Due to the expected rain we’re meeting on FRIDAY (not Thursday) at 8:30 AM in the parking lot at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. The address is 325 SW Williston Rd. in Gainesville. If you use Google Maps, you can search for “Sweetwater Wetlands Park, SW Williston Rd” and it will give you the exact location. Lunch will be at La Pasadita on NW 6th Street in Gainesville. Please let me know if you plan to join us.” You can RSVP to Bob at gatorbob23@yahoo.com

One of the earliest Golden-crowned Kinglets ever recorded in the county was seen at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on the 31st. Debbie Segal wrote, “I found a single Golden-crowned Kinglet at Longleaf Flatwoods this morning. We parked at a gate that is about 1/4 mile north of the main entrance of Longleaf Flatwoods on the west side of CR 325 (the same side of the road as LL Flatwoods). We walked through the gap next to the gate, and immediately inside the property on the north (right) side of the mowed dirt road, we heard a lot of bird sounds coming from the brush. I thought I recognized one of the calls as a GCKI so I played its call. One emerged from the brush immediately. I quickly turned off the tape and waited for Felicia Lee to arrive. The kinglet continued to call during that time. When Felicia arrived, I played the tape again, and the kinglet emerged from the brush again and stayed in the open for a few minutes. Dave Peppar took the attached photo of the bird.” Here’s Dave’s excellent photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/22455309963/in/dateposted-public/

Like most birds, Red-winged Blackbirds grow a new set of feathers in the fall, to replace those worn out by the exertions of nesting season. In males, this fresh plumage is especially beautiful. Jet-black feathers are tipped with reddish-brown, and you get a bird that looks something like this: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-gRr-4-_gIpE/UPnFPc8acwI/AAAAAAAAEdg/LH-v2jc8UoU/s1600/IMG_7985.JPG I saw several Red-wings in that plumage at Magnolia Parke this morning while searching unsuccessfully for early Rusty Blackbirds.

I saw several American Robins there too. My first robins of the fall flew over during the Hague Dairy field trip on November 7th, but on the morning of the 14th someone opened the floodgates. Flights of robins went over all morning, most appearing to move east. The day before, Bob Duncan had written from Pensacola, “This morning until about 9:30 a.m. there was a huge movement of Red-winged BBs, Robins, Yellow-rumps, Goldfinches, Waxwings and other assorted winter visitors over Gulf Breeze. Thousands of birds passed over from about 7 a.m. to about 9:30 a.m. Everywhere you put your binos on the sky, from near treetop level to birds only visible in binos, there were large flocks of birds. Truly one of the heaviest movements in a long time. Few put down to feed, most continued back to the mainland, having apparently overshot during the night.”

More winter birds: Ben Ewing saw the season’s first Hooded Mergansers, four of them, on the UF campus on the 10th. The main arrival of American Goldfinches began on the 11th (four observers, three locations) and they’re now being seen all over the county in small numbers, mainly as flyovers.

I was finally able, after two weeks without internet, to put up a blog post about the Chimney Swifts at the Seagle Building on October 27th. It’s worth your time, if only for the amazing videos of thousands of swifts: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/631/a-sky-full-of-birds/ At Gina Kent’s suggestion, I sent these videos to Paul and Georgeanne Kyle at the Chimney Swift Conservation Society, who replied, “This is spectacular. We are unaware of any other roosts of this size so far south and so late in the season. We forwarded this to all of the participants of a major Chimney Swift forum in North Carolina a few weeks ago. Thanks so much for sharing!” Since the blog post went up, Sam Ewing has reported even more Chimney Swifts – three on the 15th, the latest free-flying swifts ever recorded in the county.

Bubba Scales reports that he saw a flock of 15 Sandhill Cranes flying south over NW Gainesville at midday on the 16th. This is a little early for migratory cranes to arrive, but only a little.

Remember First Magnitude on Wednesday, and Third “Thursday” on Friday!

Surprises await

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

(After nearly two weeks without home internet access, AT&T got us back online yesterday afternoon. So … Hi! I’ve missed you!)

We’re in the midst of a large southward movement of Franklin’s Gulls along the Atlantic Coast. Most of those sighted in Florida have been on the beaches, but a few have been photographed in the St. Johns River as far south as Green Cove Springs. On the morning of the 15th Andy Kratter saw three gulls over Newnans Lake, but the morning glare was too strong for identification. Several of us convened at Palm Point that afternoon in hopes of relocating these birds, but we had no luck. We saw up to 25 Ring-billed Gulls, but none of them could have been mistaken for a Franklin’s Gull. Today around lunchtime Peter Polshek and I were back, but we had no better luck: a few Ring-billed Gulls, a few Forster’s Terns, some scaup and Buffleheads, one Dunlin, and one breeding-plumage Common Loon. Over the years we’ve had six occurrences of Franklin’s Gull in Alachua County, all of them at Newnans Lake. Three have been in May-June (here’s one), the others in late November and December (29 Nov 1998, 18-19 Nov 2000, and 17-19 Dec 2006), so keep an eye out when you’re birding around one of the big lakes during the next month. You can read more about this season’s “Franklin’s Gull Fallout” here: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/frgu2015/

There have been two good birds at the Hague Dairy for a couple of weeks. Alachua Audubon looked through the few cowbirds present during its field trip there on the 7th, but missed the Bronzed Cowbird found on the 30th by Steven Goodman and still present on the 13th, when Steven relocated it and also found a Western Kingbird! Both birds are still present today. Three of Lloyd Davis’s photos of the Western Kingbird, taken this morning, are here. A photo of the Bronzed Cowbird taken on the 14th by Matt O’Sullivan is here, while one taken on the same date by John Martin is here (look just left of the starling).

There are still a few Summer Tanagers hanging around, though at this stage it’s anybody’s guess whether they’re late migrants or wintering birds. Sam Ewing heard one calling in his NW Gainesville neighborhood on the 12th and 13th but not since then, so it may have been a late migrant. Adam and Gina Kent, who hosted four Summer Tanagers a couple of winters ago, have had at least one visiting their place in SE Gainesville since the 1st, and this morning they saw three, which are likely to be wintering birds.

It’s an interesting time of year. There’s a Mountain Bluebird at Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida. If a bird like that can turn up in Florida, almost anything can. There are all kinds of strays, vagrants, and wanderers out there, many, many more than we know about. Get out there and see what you find.

Field trip news, late birds and early birds

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

If you’re going on the Cones Dike trip this Sunday, remember that you have to register by calling Wild Birds Unlimited at 352-381-1997: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/camps-canal-cones-dike-trail/?instance_id=433

Adam Kent was startled to see a Magnificent Frigatebird fly over his office on the morning of the 28th. This is the latest – by over a month! – of the 15 occurrences in the county’s history. There have been numerous sightings all along the Gulf Coast during the past few days.

Tom Neal happened across a Lawrence’s Warbler (Blue-winged x Golden-winged hybrid) in his NW Gainesville neighborhood on the 24th. It’s only the sixth in the county’s history, and by far the latest, all the others having occurred between August 31st and September 29th.

But not all our birds are setting late records. A rather early Winter Wren was discovered at O’Leno State Park on the 21st by John Hintermister and Phil Laipis. Cross the hanging bridge over the Santa Fe River, turn right, and follow the trail to some fallen timber near a wet cypressy area. Try to minimize your disturbance of both the bird and the area. Here’s Phil’s photo of the bird: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/22547816062/in/dateposted-public/

I think of November as the month when the sparrows arrive in Gainesville, and I think that’s generally true, but this year most of our normal wintering species have already been reported. Here’s the list, in chronological order: Savannah Sparrow at Sweetwater Wetlands Park on the 2nd (Geoff Parks), Swamp at La Chua on the 10th (Lloyd Davis), Lincoln’s at Cones Dike on the 11th (Frank Goodwin), Chipping at Ron Robinson’s on the 15th (Ron, of course), White-crowned at Cones Dike on the 17th (Matt Bruce), Vesper at the Hague Dairy on the 21st (Dean and Sam Ewing; Sam posted a photo in his eBird checklist), Song at Sweetwater Wetlands Park on the 23rd (Danny Rohan), Grasshopper Sparrow at Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area on the 23rd (me). Still to come: Field, White-throated, Henslow’s, Le Conte’s, Fox, and maybe Dark-eyed Junco.

Likewise the ducks are arriving early. I don’t know if it has something to do with the weather or if it’s just easier to find them now that Sweetwater Wetlands Park is open – certainly SWP is where they’ve all been seen. Jonathan Mays saw 3 Ruddy Ducks, a Green-winged Teal, and a Ring-necked Duck there on the 20th, and Pete Hosner saw an early Northern Pintail there on the 24th.

Speaking of Sweetwater Wetlands Park, next week the Alachua Audubon Society and City of Gainesville will begin weekly walks around the park. Show up any Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. and you’ll find a field trip waiting for you.

It looks like there’s a new attack on Florida’s State Parks. Senator Charlie Dean has filed Senate Bill 2016570, proposing “a state park entrance fee holiday” during the entirety of 2016, which means free admission. Retired State Parks chief Jim Stevenson explains, “Senate bill 570 will prohibit the Florida Park Service from charging an entrance fee at state parks so as to increase visitation. It ignores the fact that some parks are at their ecological carrying capacity in addition to parking lots and septic tanks at capacity. The DEP secretary wants logging, cattle grazing and hunting to enable state parks to be self-sufficient. Yet Senator Dean wants to eliminate 36% of the state parks revenue through this legislation. Perhaps the strategy is to reduce revenue, and overuse the parks to justify timbering, grazing and hunting to replace the lost revenue. This will also justify privatizing the run-down parks.” You can read the bill here and contact Charlie Dean at the previous link.

Migrants! Finally! Plus, Great White Heron, probable Philadelphia Vireo and Least Flycatcher

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

Our fall migration seems to have materialized at long last. On the 14th Ron Robinson wrote, “Wow! I finally have some birds over here. This morning is the best I’ve seen here in some time. Veeries, Catbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Bay-breasted Warblers (2), Chestnut-sided, Redstarts, Parulas, Black-and-whites. Plus the regulars were moving. It was like a mini fallout.” Debbie Segal reported something similar at her place north of Gainesville.

Matt O’Sullivan had found a Bay-breasted Warbler at Bolen Bluff on the 13th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/21529623303/ He went back on the 15th and found something that’s even less common in fall, a Blackpoll Warbler: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/21583374233/

The Third Thursday birding group walked the Lake Trail on the 15th, starting at the Lake Wauberg parking lot, following the Lake Trail to the paved driveway, and then walking back along the driveway. Our best birds were a Bay-breasted, pointed out by Rob Norton, and a Black-throated Green, found by Ron Robinson; the two birds were within twenty feet of each other. We also saw Magnolia, Tennessee, Blackburnian, and Chestnut-sided Warblers (a dozen warbler species overall), Wood Thrush, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, and Scarlet Tanager. Becky Enneis and Linda Holt got there late, so just birded around Lake Wauberg, and they saw “three or four” Brown Pelicans, which had departed by the time the rest of us got back to the parking lot.

John Killian reported a probable Philadelphia Vireo on the 16th: “I was on Sparrow Alley off of La Chua Trail this morning and I found a vireo. It was most definitely not a White-eyed Vireo. I started thinking it might be a Red-eyed Vireo. However, it had a fairly bright yellow throat and/or upper breast and a faint yellow wash on its flanks. I did not get a look at the vent. The facial pattern seemed close to a Red-eyed Vireo. No picture. Chance of a Philadelphia Vireo?” I’d say so. In fact I’m going to drive over there and look for it.

On the 14th City of Gainesville park ranger Danny Rohan found a Great White Heron at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Lloyd Davis got a photo on the 15th (the bird was still there on the 16th): https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/22037949859/in/dateposted-public/

I went to Northeast Park at lunchtime on the 16th to look at the trees behind the tennis courts and found what appeared to be a Least Flycatcher. It never vocalized, but it was a short-winged Empidonax flycatching in open areas within a few feet of the ground. Lots of Pine Warblers were feeding on the ground in the same general vicinity.

Remember we’ve got field trips this weekend, San Felasco Hammock (Progress Center entrance) with Adam Kent on Saturday, and O’Leno State Park with me on Sunday. And don’t forget Bob Wallace’s photo presentation on the Birds of Oaxaca, Mexico, on Wednesday evening.

Vermilion Flycatcher, Bay-breasted Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow

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

The Vermilion Flycatcher was still at Chapmans Pond on the 13th. Howard Adams saw it perched “on barbwire above gate at pond entrance.” Trina Anderson got a photo of it on the 12th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/21489551364/

Also at Chapmans Pond was a female Painted Bunting, seen among 60 Indigo Buntings by Adam Zions on the 12th. A few other Painteds were reported in the past week: on the 7th Lloyd Davis and Danny Rohan saw a female at the La Chua boardwalk while Stefan Rayer had a male visit his NW Gainesville back yard, and on the 10th Adam and Gina Kent saw a female in their SE Gainesville yard.

Otherwise our fall migration is limping along, and at this point I don’t know if it’s going to get better. Yellow-billed Cuckoos continue to be uncommon, as do Magnolia Warblers. The fall’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak wasn’t seen until the 3rd, when Debbie Segal spotted one at La Chua, and there have been only about seven sightings since then, all involving single birds except for a trio reported by Gina Kent in SE Gainesville on the 12th. Only one Black-throated Green has been sighted, by Mike Manetz at Bolen Bluff on the 8th, and only one Bay-breasted Warbler, by Mike and John Hintermister at Bolen Bluff on the 13th. On the other hand two Cape May Warblers have turned up, a bird we don’t normally see in fall: Sam Ewing saw one at the Loblolly boardwalk on the 10th and Andy Kratter saw one near Evergreen Cemetery on the 13th.

The winter’s second sparrow species has checked in (after the Savannah on October 2nd). Frank and Irina Goodwin discovered a very early Lincoln’s Sparrow along the Cones Dike Trail on the 11th, approximately a mile out from the gate near the Paynes Prairie visitor center: “It was foraging along both sides of the trail and fence line where the first extensive grove of willows begins on the west side.” Frank got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/22127123226/in/dateposted-public/

Steve Hofstetter saw a Peregrine Falcon flying over Glen Springs Elementary on the 10th. Probably not coincidentally, that was the very day that the Florida Keys Hawk Watch at Curry Hammock State Park recorded the largest one-day Peregrine Falcon count in history. Video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2FLCiabIZ8&feature=youtu.be

The Center for Biological Diversity offers free endangered species ring tones for your phone: http://www.rareearthtones.org/ringtones/preview.html

It’s time for Third Thursday Birding, and Bob Carroll extends the following invitation: “On Thursday morning, October 15th, at 8:30 we will be birding the Lake Trail at Paynes Prairie State Preserve. From Gainesville drive south on US 441, passing the Prairie and Bolen Bluff. When you see the big lake on your left, start looking for the park entrance, also on the left. Follow the entrance road (stopping at the ranger station to show your pass or pay the fee) until you come to a large sign that points to the headquarters (straight) and boat ramp (left). Take the left turn, go to the end of the road and park in the lot to the right of the boat ramp. The lunch vote was overwhelmingly in favor of Blue Highway, so that’s where we are going. Bring your appetite!” Remember also that this weekend the Alachua Audubon Society will sponsor field trips to San Felasco Hammock (Progress Center entrance) on Saturday and O’Leno State Park on Sunday. Field trip schedule, with details, is here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Mark your calendar: the Audubon program next week is “Oaxaca: Land of Bird Diversity,” presented by Bob Wallace. Come and enjoy Bob’s experiences in Mexico and see his great photography! That’s next Wednesday, October 21st, in the meeting room of the Millhopper Branch Library. The half-hour Social Hour begins at 6:30, the program at 7:00.

Another flycatcher from Out West

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

Adam Zions found a female Vermilion Flycatcher at the Chapmans Pond parking lot on the morning of the 9th, “observed in close proximity for at least 10-15 minutes as it was actively hawking and sallying after insects.” This is the earliest Vermilion ever recorded in Alachua County.

The Western Kingbird discovered at the soccer field in front of Norman Hall by Ben Ewing on the 5th is present for its fifth day in a row. On the morning of the 9th Bob Simons wrote, “I found the Western Kingbird this morning on a light pole at Norman Hall field and got a few bad photos.” You can check out Bob’s “bad” photo here, as well as Matt O’Sullivan’s photo of the same bird, taken on the 8th, here. A late Eastern Kingbird was keeping the Western company through at least the 8th.

The American Redstart migration is pretty heavy right now. On the morning of the 8th Mike Manetz counted 14 at Bolen Bluff while I had 12 at Palm Point, and on the 9th Andy Kratter counted 21 (“probably an undercount”) at Bolen Bluff. Other migrant species are being seen in smaller numbers, but diversity has improved at least a little bit. On his aforementioned walk Mike had 13 warbler species, including a Black-throated Green, a Blue-winged, a Blackburnian, a Magnolia, a Chestnut-sided, and a Worm-eating, as well as a Swainson’s Thrush; while Andy had only eight species, Magnolia being the only notable migrant. At Chapmans Pond this morning Adam Zions recorded ten warbler species, a Tennessee being the best, as well as a female Painted Bunting and a rather late Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Birders have been hearing plenty of thrushes flying over in the pre-dawn hours – Sam Ewing counted 350 Swainson’s and 46 Gray-cheeked between 5:40 and 7:00 on the morning of the 8th – but in the woods they’re being seen only in ones and twos.

Yellow-billed Cuckoos were few and far between during the last part of September. Though five were tallied on the September 19th migration count, only two were seen during the subsequent week, and none at all in the week after that. However it seems likely that bad weather in the mid-Atlantic states simply held up their migration for a little while, because beginning on October 4th reports once more began to show up on eBird. Usually cuckoos – including Black-billed, which is rare in Florida – pass through in their highest numbers during mid-October. We’ll have to see if that holds true this year.

Winter arrivals so far: Lloyd Davis saw the winter’s first Wilson’s Snipe at Sweetwater Wetlands Park on September 5th, the winter’s first Northern Harrier at La Chua on September 16th, and the winter’s first Marsh Wren at Sweetwater Wetlands Park on September 27th. The first Ruby-crowned Kinglet of the season was seen by Andy Kratter at his SE Gainesville home on October 1st; Geoff Parks saw the first Savannah Sparrow at Sweetwater on the 2nd, tying the early record for the county; the first Eastern Phoebe was seen by Mike Manetz on the 3rd at the Hague Dairy; Chip Deutsch saw two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, the season’s first, at Palm Point on the 4th; and John Hintermister saw the winter’s first Blue-headed Vireo at San Felasco on the 8th.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has just posted this map of bear sightings. Interesting how many are in the northeast quadrant of the peninsula: http://ocean.floridamarine.org/WildlifeSightings/BlackBear/

In case you didn’t see it, here’s video of a hummingbird snoring: https://www.facebook.com/BBCOne/videos/899631583390594/?fref=nf

Field trips this weekend: Peregrine Falcon watch at Guana River on Saturday, Bolen Bluff on Sunday (click on the hyperlinks for meeting times and places and other details).

Western Kingbird on UF campus

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

Yesterday afternoon Ben Ewing was walking across the grounds of Norman Hall when he spotted a Western Kingbird perched on the fence at the north boundary of the soccer field (SW 13th Street and 8th Avenue). Using his smartphone he submitted the observation to eBird, and shortly thereafter Mike Manetz got an alert (more on eBird alerts here). He gave me a call, and a few minutes later he picked me up in his wife’s very small car, since his pickup truck had a flat tire. The small car was a bit of luck, since it allowed us to parallel park in the only vacant space at the north end of the Norman Hall grounds. We were parked illegally, of course – no decal – but we hoped that the bird would be easy to find and that we’d be long gone by the time the roam-towing truck found us. But the bird did not oblige. It wasn’t evident to our initial scans of the fence, treetops, and light poles. We decided to give it a few minutes and see if it flew out into view. Ben stopped by and showed us a blurry photo he’d been able to take with his smartphone, and Andy Kratter showed up, having gotten an eBird alert at the museum and biked over. We watched and scanned for twenty minutes, casting nervous glances back at Mike’s car. Every once in a while we’d see a bird fly out into the field from the surrounding oaks, but it always turned out to be an Eastern Bluebird. Mike occasionally tried playing a Western Kingbird call on his smartphone, but nothing responded – though, bizarrely, we spotted a very late Eastern Kingbird at the top of a light pole across the field. I was getting progressively more nervous about the towtruck, and had given up on our mission – it would have shown itself by now, right? – when the kingbird came flying along the trees on the far side of the field and landed out of sight in a live oak. Crossing our fingers in regards to Mike’s car, we hurried across the field to the oak and spooked it across SW 8th Avenue into the top of a magnolia tree, where we had great looks at it, dark mask, yellow belly, white on the outer tail feathers, the whole thing. After high fives, we headed back to the car, which had not, surprisingly, been towed. And in case you were wondering, the kingbird is still at Norman Hall this morning. Andy Kratter saw it at nine, noting in his eBird checklist, “Continuing from yesterday, being chased about the trees on the south side of the field by crows and Red-bellied Woodpecker. As well as the worn /molting feathers on the head, the wing coverts are also very worn, and the pale covert edges give two grayish wingbars.”

After this past weekend I think I’m going to ignore all further weather predictions in regards to birding, and maybe in regards to everything else. I don’t think that I personally have ever seen a birding-related weather forecast or radar forecast (“Radar shows tons and tons of birds in the air! Tomorrow is the day!”) that didn’t turn out to be wrong. However the rain over the Carolinas and Tennessee has cleared now, and it’s likely that birds will start showing up in a day or two. They’re not here yet, though; Mike Manetz went out to Bolen Bluff this morning but found it “still painfully slow. Four American Redstarts, then onesies of Northern Parula, Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Ovenbird, and Hooded Warbler. No thrushes or tanagers.” There were, however, a few Indigo Buntings in my backyard ragweed this morning, and hopefully they’ll be joined by many friends in the days to come. October is the month for Indigo Bunting migration, and sometimes Painteds will show up among them.

Speaking of which, at least three Painted Buntings are already here, around the boardwalk at the La Chua Trail. On the 3rd Dalcio Dacol posted this extremely good writeup on eBird: “One adult male and two females. First saw them when they flushed from the side of the trail and I could clearly see the red chest and belly of the adult male as it flew away. I tracked the birds by sight and they landed not too far away in the thickets of a round area near the (southern) end of the boardwalk. I played Painted Bunting calls and one of the females came to investigate. I continued playing calls and had no more responses. Shortly after two other birders approached the area and I told them about the buntings and one of the birders played a Painted Bunting song. Three PBs came to investigate and the adult male perched low at about 15 ft from us and showed itself very well. The two females were yellowish green with very little extra green on wings and crown, darker on the back than on the throat, chest and belly. The adult male was unmistakable in its ‘paint by the numbers’ color scheme with blue head, very red underparts starting with the throat, green back and dark green wings with almost black primary tips.”

Michael Meisenburg emailed that Tony Davanzo had a Black-billed Cuckoo “along Hatchett Creek the other day.” I’ve asked him to get details from Tony as to exactly where and when.

A western stray and an early winter arrival

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

Tom Kent photographed a male Yellow-headed Blackbird at a pond near the west end of Millhopper Road on October 2nd. This is the second-earliest ever recorded here. The only earlier one was found in a blackbird trap in “Alachua County” (the record shows no more specific location) on September 17, 1965; it recently celebrated fifty years lying on its back in a museum drawer. Perhaps celebrated is not the word. Anyway, here’s Tom Kent’s photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/21710650909/in/dateposted-public/

Geoff Parks saw an amazingly early Savannah Sparrow at Sweetwater Wetlands Park this afternoon. That ties the early record set two years ago by Sam and Dean Ewing at the US-441 observation platform.

Andy Kratter reported the winter’s first Ruby-crowned Kinglet in Evergreen Cemetery on the 1st.

I walked the upland loop of the Bolen Bluff Trail this morning with Vicki Evans and Jennifer Donsky. The results were not what we’d hoped for; it wasn’t so much Bolen Bluff as Boring Bluff. No thrushes, tanagers, buntings, grosbeaks, or cuckoos. Didn’t even see a Red-eyed Vireo. Only eleven individual warblers of seven species: 3 American Redstarts, 2 Black-and-whites, 2 Common Yellowthroats, 1 Hooded, 1 Northern Waterthrush, 1 Yellow, 1 Yellow-throated. It’s supposed to clear this evening, at least temporarily, so we may have some new birds tomorrow morning in time for the San Felasco Hammock walk that begins at 8 a.m. at the Millhopper Road entrance. But Pat Burns, writing from the mountains, has a less optimistic forecast than Bob Duncan’s (which I quoted in the last birding report): “Birds have been trapped in the my area of North Carolina and Tennessee since Sept 24. We had 82 of hours of rain before there were brief breaks. Yesterday we had some sun before the rain began again. I watched the weather forecast this morning. My prediction of birds migrating after Oct 3. needs to be revised to after Oct. 6. I will mucking out the Ark until then.”

Well, fall migration peaks during the first two weeks of October. So it’s worthwhile to keep going out, enduring the inevitable dry spells as patiently as you can, because after October 15th (more or less) the number of warblers, thrushes, tanagers, etc., will decline steeply. You only get one Peak Of Fall Migration every year, and the next two weeks are it.

Those of you with smartphones can download the Audubon Bird Guide App for free: http://www.audubon.org/apps

Lake County started its fourth annual “Wings and Wildflowers Festival” today. It will run through Sunday, though the pelagic trip shown on the web site’s front page has been cancelled due to the hurricane. The web page is here – http://www.wingsandwildflowers.com/ – and the brochure listing the programs and field trips is here – http://www.wingsandwildflowers.com/Content/pdfs/2015_WingsWildflowers_Program.pdf

You may have read in this morning’s paper about the Lake City meeting in which 30 people addressed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in opposition to the Sabal Trail natural gas pipeline. There will be another such meeting from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 8th, at the Bell High School auditorium at 930 South Main Street in the small community of Bell (northern Gilchrist County, between Branford and Trenton). More information: http://oursantaferiver.org/wp/last-chance-to-confront-ferc-your-presence-needed/ (If you can’t attend the meeting, see the comments at the bottom of the web page.)

Time to go birding

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

Bob Duncan of Gulf Breeze, the weather guru of Florida birding, is optimistic about conditions at the end of this week. On the 29th he wrote: “We’ve been blanketed under clouds for the past couple of days and not much has happened. That’s about to change if the forecast holds. I have found that in recent years the National Weather Service forecasts have become very accurate, accurate to the point that I would not have believed it years ago. Four times a day the GFS (Global Forecasting System) computers crank out forecasts based on world-wide input. What comes out is a quantum leap ahead of what we got years ago. It’s not always right but most of the time it’s extremely accurate. At any rate, the wet low pressure area over us is moving northeast and is going to drench a good part of the eastern US, shutting migration down. However, tomorrow night a cool, dry air mass is going to start moving in to the coast. Whether birds will be moving behind it will depend on how soon the wet weather clears to our north and northeast. At any rate, it will clear eventually and I think Thursday or Friday should be some of the best birding of this fall season – whether Thursday or Friday will depend on when the wet weather to our north clears. Continued dry weather with north winds are forecast through the weekend, so birding prospects look great for the immediate future.”

In my last birding report I listed the 128 species reported on the September 19th fall-migration count. One bird, buried in the list, might have been the prize of the day. Late in the afternoon Mike Manetz and his team were walking the trail at Poe Springs. As they approached a swampy area Mike spied an Empidonax flycatcher perched in a small tree. His team had already seen several Acadians and silent empids, and so he didn’t look too hard at this one, especially since someone had just discovered a very late Louisiana Waterthrush. As he hurried past the flycatcher it gave a little rising whistle. Mike came to a screeching halt, turned around, and brought up his binoculars – only to see the empty branch the bird had just vacated. He activated the sound recorder on his smartphone and whistled an imitation of the call he’d heard, and that evening he browsed in xeno-canto for a match. He only found one species of empid that produced a call like that: a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, a bird he’d never seen in Florida. So he emailed me an invitation to join him the next morning in a search for the bird (since the only one I ever saw was in Nova Scotia). Long story short – actually it may be too late for that – we spent about an hour and a half at the site, playing the song of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, playing its calls, feeding the extraordinarily numerous and hungry mosquitoes, just trying to give the bird enough time to wander back to where Mike had seen it the previous day. But it never showed up. So it’s there on the list, as one of several “Empidonax, sp.,” but it was likely something much more exciting.

And speaking of Empidonax flycatchers, the Alder Flycatcher at Sparrow Alley was photographed on the 25th by Alex Wang and on the 30th by Trina Anderson. This ties the late record for Alder in Alachua County. Another extremely late flycatcher was this Great Crested found by Trina at Sparrow Alley on the 30th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/21221609264/

Sam Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon over Westside Park today: “Low flying bird, heading directly south.”

Becky Enneis has a huge live oak in her back yard, with branches that droop to the ground. A puddle has formed under one of these branches, and it seems to be very popular with thrushes this year. As mentioned in the last birding report, five Veeries showed up at once on the 20th, and five days later she looked out the window and saw a Swainson’s Thrush freshening up: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/21839681622/in/dateposted-public/

I saw in the paper that Hilda Bellot died on September 4th. Hilda was known to many of us as the owner of a yard where the county’s one-and-only Buff-bellied Hummingbird spent the winter of 2004-05 and where a Black-chinned Hummingbird was present in January and February 2014. She also had a good population of wintering orioles, and possessed the only yard in Gainesville (that I knew about, anyway) with a resident population of House Sparrows.

The winter finch forecast is out. Doesn’t sound like an irruption year: http://www.jeaniron.ca/2015/forecast15.htm

As of tomorrow, October 1st, Sweetwater Wetlands Park will be open seven days a week. Annual passes are on sale. According to a press release, “The annual pass costs $75, and is valid from Oct. 1, 2015 to Sept. 30, 2016. Passes allow a vehicle to enter the park with any number of persons in the car. Passes are available for purchase in person at the Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs administrative office, which is located on the third floor of the Thomas Center, Building B, 306 NE Sixth Ave., and is open Monday-Thursday from 7 a.m.-6 p.m.”

If you haven’t been checking my Gainesville Sun blog, recent posts have included one called “Behold the Lowly Roly-Poly,” one on my favorite wildflower, Blue Curls, and one called “A Walk on Sparrow Alley.”

Fall: a good time for fall migration…

… and hey, it’s fall! The season’s first Palm Warbler anticipated the season by eight days: it was seen by Howard Adams along the La Chua Trail on the 15th and there have been three sightings since then. Likewise the first House Wren sneaked in before the equinox, showing up in Geoff Parks’s NE Gainesville back yard on the 20th.

The 21st annual fall migration count was held on Saturday the 19th. We fielded 87 observers in 30 parties and covered 13 territories across the county, finding 128 species and 11,296 individual birds. Best sightings included a Short-tailed Hawk and 2 Alder Flycatchers, a Least Flycatcher, one Tree and one Bank Swallow, and a Golden-winged Warbler. We saw 918 warblers of 23 species, the most common of which were Common Yellowthroat (159), Northern Parula (144), and Ovenbird (141). Loggerhead Shrikes continue their decline; we found only six, compared to an average of 17 during 1995-99, and four of them were in one location, the Horse Retirement Farm near Alachua. Likewise Northern Flickers, down to 2 from a 1995-99 average of 8. Big misses included White-winged Dove and Brown-headed Nuthatch. The totals for the count are appended to the end of the email. You can compare this year’s performance with the first five years of the fall count, 1995-99: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/local-birding-info/bird-counts/fall/

At least one Alder Flycatcher is still at La Chua, as of the morning of the 23rd. Dean and Sam Ewing saw it – “Heard calling near the beginning of Sparrow Alley. Finally saw it on our way out, while standing along the sidewalk after coming through the horse barns” – and Trina Anderson got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/21467866149/in/dateposted/ It’s not likely to stick around much longer, so see it soon.

Becky Enneis of Alachua noticed one Veery at the drip pool in her back yard, then two, and finally five at once on the 20th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/21421169400/in/dateposted-public/

Our kites are all gone. The last Swallow-tailed of the year was seen northwest of Gainesville by Adam Zions on September 5th. The last Mississippi was seen flying north over Sparrow Alley with a dragonfly in its bill on the 14th, and Frank Goodwin got a photo of it: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/21608830906/in/dateposted-public/

Zach Neece has composed a five-minute orchestral piece called “La Florida for Strings: an homage to natural Florida” that’s amazingly beautiful and serene. I was reminded of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and some of the pastoral pieces of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The music, performed by the University of Florida Symphony Orchestra, plays over a series of nature photographs taken in the Gainesville area by Katherine Edison and Larry Reimer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zf6SxoCQJFY

The next Alachua Audubon program meeting is “Harpy Eagles and Chocolate: Conserving Migrant and Resident Birds in Belize.” It will be held on Wednesday, September 30th, in the meeting room of the Millhopper Branch Library (3145 NW 43rd Street), and is open to members and non-members alike. The social hour (well, half hour) begins at 6:30, the program at 7:00. The program will be presented by Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of BFREE (Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education), who writes, “The discovery of the first wild Harpy Eagle population in Belize is changing the attitudes of local people about the value of protecting tropical forests. This, coupled with an innovative program to support local farmers to transition from traditional agricultural practices to shade grown organic bird friendly cacao farming, bodes well for the future of migrant and resident birds in Belize.”

Two field trips this weekend, Levy Lake Loop with Matt Bruce on Saturday and Barr Hammock (the forested part) with Michael Drummond on Sunday. On the latter trip we’ll be looking at trees, wildflowers, insects, and everything else, not just birds. Field trip schedule, with meeting times and places, is here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Alachua Audubon sponsors a Beginning Birding class through Santa Fe College’s Community Education program. The next class will run on four Saturday mornings between October 17th and November 21st, beginning at the tail end of the warbler migration and taking in the arrival of winter birds. If you’re interested, you can sign up by calling (352) 395-5193 or visiting http://epublic.sfcollege.edu (just enter “bird” in the search field).

Vanderbilt University is doing a study on birding ability and needs participants at all levels of skill for a simple online survey. Here’s their pitch: “We are currently conducting a research project testing birding experts funded by the National Science Foundation. We are trying to recruit birders of all experience levels, from beginners to experts. I am writing to ask for your permission to contact members of the Alachua Audubon Society to see if they might be interested in participating in our research. Could you help us to send a brief invitation to your group, either directly by email, forwarded by email on our behalf, or posted in a newsletter or web site? Our experiments are all online. Birders can simply register and participate by copying and pasting this link into their browser: http://expertise.psy.vanderbilt.edu/ If you or your members wish to know more about us, visit our ‘This is Your Brain on Birds’ Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/This-is-Your-Brain-on-Birds/158030504237705?sk=info&tab=page_info or visit our website at http://catlab.psy.vanderbilt.edu/ ” I participated – it took just a few minutes to answer the questions and do the followup bird quiz – and I enjoyed it.

Results of the migration count:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 115
Muscovy Duck 50
Wood Duck 27
Mottled Duck 14
Mallard (domestic) 1
Blue-winged Teal 40
duck, sp. 25
Pied-billed Grebe 29
Wood Stork 15
Double-crested Cormorant 23
Anhinga 94
American Bittern 3
Least Bittern 1
Great Blue Heron 47
Great Egret 75
Snowy Egret 29
Little Blue Heron 121
Tricolored Heron 31
Cattle Egret 873
Green Heron 24
Black-crowned Night-Heron 4
White Ibis 267
Glossy Ibis 15
Black Vulture 126
Turkey Vulture 209
Osprey 7
Bald Eagle 19
Northern Harrier 1
Cooper’s Hawk 9
Red-shouldered Hawk 112
Short-tailed Hawk 1
Red-tailed Hawk 10
King Rail 5
Sora 10
Purple Gallinule 21
Commmon Gallinule 272
American Coot 11
Limpkin 19
Sandhill Crane 13
Killdeer 2
Spotted Sandpiper 6
Rock Pigeon 67
Eurasian Collared-Dove 3
Common Ground-Dove 1
Mourning Dove 67
Yellow-billed Cuckoo 8
Eastern Screech-Owl 2
Great Horned Owl 9
Barred Owl 23
Common Nighthawk 3
Chuck-will’s-widow 1
Eastern Whip-poor-will 3
Chimney Swift 26
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 5
Belted Kingfisher 19
Red-headed Woodpecker 18
Red-bellied Woodpecker 250
Downy Woodpecker 181
Northern Flicker 2
Pileated Woodpecker 105
American Kestrel 4
Merlin 2
Eastern Wood-Pewee 20
Acadian Flycatcher 66
Alder Flycatcher 2
Alder/Willow Flycatcher 1
Least Flycatcher 1
Empidonax, sp. 11
Great Crested Flycatcher 3
Eastern Kingbird 2
Loggerhead Shrike 7
White-eyed Vireo 660
Yellow-throated Vireo 23
Red-eyed Vireo 403
Blue Jay 305
American Crow 362
Fish Crow 34
crow, sp. 15
Tree Swallow 1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Bank Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 88
swallow, sp. 7
Carolina Chickadee 221
Tufted Titmouse 411
Carolina Wren 555
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 344
Eastern Bluebird 101
Veery 115
Swainson’s Thrush 4
Wood Thrush 1
Gray Catbird 3
Brown Thrasher 34
Northern Mockingbird 114
European Starling 10
Ovenbird 141
Worm-eating Warbler 16
Louisiana Waterthrush 2
Northern Waterthrush 61
waterthrush, sp. 2
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Blue-winged Warbler 3
Black-and-white Warbler 32
Prothonotary Warbler 10
Tennessee Warbler 9
Kentucky Warbler 4
Common Yellowthroat 159
Hooded Warbler 38
American Redstart 73
Northern Parula 144
Magnolia Warbler 1
Blackburnian Warbler 4
Yellow Warbler 36
Chestnut-sided Warbler 8
Black-throated Blue Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 1
Pine Warbler 66
Yellow-throated Warbler 68
Prairie Warbler 38
Eastern Towhee 42
Summer Tanager 54
Scarlet Tanager 4
Northern Cardinal 664
Blue Grosbeak 4
Indigo Bunting 3
Bobolink 1
Red-winged Blackbird 1,236
Eastern Meadowlark 4
Common Grackle 425
Boat-tailed Grackle 291
Brown-headed Cowbird 53
Baltimore Oriole 6
House Finch 34
House Sparrow 2