Alachua Audubon Society

A chapter of the National Audubon Society

June 11, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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Burrowing Owls on Saturday, and another owl trip for Monday night

Sixty-two people showed up for Saturday morning’s field trip to see the Burrowing Owls at Watermelon Pond.

 

Luckily some Burrowing Owls showed up too. I counted 12, including an adult standing at the mouth of a burrow with three sets of fiercely-staring yellow eyes visible below her (see Robert Emond’s digiscoped photo below).

 

County biologist Michael Drummond saw at least one more chick in that burrow, and thought that the total count in the field was somewhere between 13 and 17 owls. You can see six of them in this photo by Keith Collingwood.

 

Several other birds of interest to June Challengers were seen on the trip, and on a subsequent walk in the nearby Watermelon Pond Wildlife and Environmental Area, including Common Nighthawk, American Kestrel, Red-headed Woodpecker (photo below by Keith Collingwood), Eastern Kingbird, Purple Martin, Eastern Meadowlark, and Orchard Oriole. Barbara Shea arrived before sunrise and saw a Chuck-will’s-widow and a Barred Owl as well.

 

Loggerhead Shrikes were nowhere to be found at Watermelon Pond, but today Anne Barkdoll found three of them “next to a large retention pond at 3744-3756 SW 24th Avenue, which is somewhere near/in the new Butler wasteland. It is open and grassy next to the retention pond between two apartment complexes. Never expected to see a shrike here. Had to stop and back up. Fortunately little traffic.” Drive carefully, Anne!

Roseate Spoonbills were reported today by Karl Miller at the Deerhaven Generating Station and by Felicia Lee at Sweetwater Wetlands Park.

On Sunday morning ten of us gathered at San Felasco Hammock and walked about three miles of trails north of Millhopper Road in search of June Challenge birds. We had fair to good looks at three of our five targets – Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos and Acadian Flycatchers – and a fantastic point-blank look at a singing Eastern Wood-Pewee at the junction of the Yellow Trail and the Hammock Cutoff. But we didn’t see or hear a single Hooded Warbler. As we neared the parking lot, Danny Shehee heard an odd call from the woods, so he and Austin Gregg and I went looking for it while the rest of the crowd kept walking. We eventually discovered that we were hearing the begging calls of a fledgling Swallow-tailed Kite perched high in a pine tree, being fed by its parent. Afterward, Austin and I crossed the street and walked down the Moonshine Creek Trail until we found a Hooded Warbler. Going down the left fork, there’s a pond off to the right just before you get to the first bridge. One bird was singing on the back side of the pond, and Austin and I both got a look at it. Glenn Israel and his daughter Larissa had gone ahead of us, and they found a second bird singing on the far side of that first bridge, on the left. So now you know where to look.

Barbara Woodmansee asks, “Do you ever go out to Burnt Island? I got lots of fun stuff out there last weekend – Northern Bobwhite, 3 Chuck-wills-widows in the road at dusk, a Bald Eagle, a Brown Thrasher, Eastern Towhees, Great Crested Flycatcher, and probably a Prothonotary Warbler, but I couldn’t count it because I could only hear it.” Burnt Island is #4 on this map: http://www.sjrwmd.com/trailguides/pdfs/lochloosadrivetrail.pdf (Driving along Fish Camp Road – #2 and #3 on the map – can also be good for Chucks.)

One last field trip offer: If you’d like to try for Great Horned Owl and Barn Owl at La Chua, get to the La Chua parking area by 7:45 on Monday evening (they’ll close the gate not long after that). We’ll wait on the boardwalk for the owls to show up. When Mike Manetz and I were out there, the Barn Owls didn’t show till 8:50, but Danny Shehee has seen them closer to 8:30 twice this week. Great Horned Owls are also possible.

June 9, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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June is such a boring month in Alachua County. Because there’s nothing to see, right?

Burrowing Owls 7:30 a.m. tomorrow. San Felasco on Millhopper Road 7:30 a.m. Sunday. Okay? Okay.

This morning at Palm Point I ran into Howard Adams, Brad Hall, and Linda Hensley, who told me that one of the culverts along the La Chua Trail had washed out. It’s the one just before Gator Point, the last big bend in the trail before the observation platform, so you can no longer reach the platform. “It would be about an eight-foot jump,” Brad said.

(I was at Palm Point attempting to see the Short-tailed Hawk that Mike spotted on the 6th. Mike had seen the bird at 9:30 in the morning, so I watched the treeline from 8:45 till 9:45 and then gave up. Karl Miller arrived just at 9:45 and got the Short-tailed within half an hour. It figures. Karl described its location as “actually closer to Powers Park than to Palm Point.”)

Anyway, with the La Chua observation platform inaccessible, your best bet for Whooping Crane may be the observation tower near the Paynes Prairie visitor center. Tom Wronski saw it there this morning: “I had a shift at the Paynes Prairie Visitor Center (VC) this morning, and saw the Whooping Crane from the back of the VC about 10 a.m. It was in the distance hanging out with 2 Sandhill Cranes, but I got a good look at it with the spotting scope in the VC. When I looked for it again about 10:30 a.m., I couldn’t relocate it. I checked periodically, and it was not visible again for the rest of my shift (I left about 1 p.m.).”

Mike Manetz and I ran around southern Alachua County on the morning of the 8th, starting at Barr Hammock’s Levy Loop, where, with Brad Hall, we relocated the drake Ring-necked Duck that Chris Cattau had discovered on the previous evening a mile out the north fork of the trail (Chris’s photo below). We searched unsuccessfully for a Whooping Crane at the Tuscawilla Prairie and in Evinston, found Prothonotary Warbler at River Styx, failed to raise a Northern Bobwhite across the street from the Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve parking lot (though Mike did find one there this morning), and then … and then, gentle reader, we found the Hairy Woodpeckers at Longleaf. First we spent about an hour walking around in the usual spot near the campground, but never saw or heard a thing. On the way out, Mike’s sharp ears picked up a call note from the cypress dome where Deena Mickelson had reported one on May 25th. We’d assumed that Deena’s bird was straying from the campground area, but when Mike heard the call of a second bird it dawned on us that the Hairies might be nesting in the cypress dome. We spent the next twenty minutes trying to see them, and finally succeeded in seeing the male on a tree on the eastern side of the cypress dome. And while I was standing there, peering into the dome in hopes of seeing where the birds might be nesting, a bland little warbler with a yellow patch just below the shoulder and yellow flash markings on either side of its tail flew up into a small tree – a female American Redstart! By two days the latest ever recorded in the county! We spent another twenty minutes trying to raise it again, but without success. Anyway, the location of the Hairy Woodpeckers. Walk out the White-Red Connector toward the service road. Just before you get to the service road look to your left and there’s a stand of cypress trees. The Hairies were both in there. Now Hairies are rare in peninsular Florida, so we want to minimize the disturbance as much as possible. Just stand and watch. It’s quite possible you’ll see them foraging on the edge of the cypress dome. If you see any youngsters, please let me know. It’s been a long time since anyone located an active nest in Alachua County.

 

Trying to find Roseate Spoonbills is kind of like playing Whack-a-Mole. They come and they go, and you never know where they’ll turn up next. Orit Schechtman and Beckie Dale found one in the Townsend neighborhood on the 3rd and 4th, but it wasn’t seen thereafter. I found one at Post Office Pond on the 6th, but it was gone within half an hour. At mid-morning on the 8th Tina Greenberg found one at Powers Park, but by lunchtime it was history. Early this afternoon Danny Rohan found one at Sweetwater Wetlands Park and posted a photo on Facebook, allowing at least a couple of June Challengers to race down to the park and add it to their lists.

Lloyd Davis, Frank Goodwin, and Mike Manetz found a King Rail at Sweetwater this morning, along the south distribution channel. Cross the red metal bridge, turn right, and stay on the trail till it makes a turn to the left. Continue down to the covered pavilion. That’s where the rail was seen, on the far side of the channel with a single chick.

See you Saturday, and maybe Sunday!

June 7, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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Ring-necked Duck at Levy Loop, Northern Flicker at Northeast Park

So of course Saturday is the Burrowing Owl day.

But for those who are interested, we’ll have a field trip on Sunday too. We’ll walk out the trail at San Felasco Hammock in search of Eastern Wood-Pewee, Hooded Warbler, and Acadian Flycatcher (plus Summer Tanager, Yellow-throated and Red-eyed Vireos … and hopefully American Crows, which I still haven’t seen!). Meet at the parking lot on Millhopper Road at 7:30 a.m.

This evening Chris Cattau, who found us three nice birds last June, spotted a Ring-necked Duck at Levy Loop. “If you go right coming out of the trailhead it is in an open body of water off the right side of the dike (i.e., not the prairie side). Right now [he wrote at 6:17 p.m.] it’s preening in some vegetation on the western edge of that body of water. Not sure how far it is from the trailhead because I started out going to the left and I’m on the way back now.” However he sent me a latlong marker on a map, which is here. To get to Levy Loop, take 441 south to the vicinity of Lake Wauberg. Turn right onto Wacahoota Road. Shortly – less than a mile – you’ll cross over I-75. Take the first left after that, and follow it all the way down to the parking corral.

Jennifer Donsky found a Northern Flicker at Northeast Park in the late morning of the 7th. It was at the south end of the park, near the playground, and it was later seen by Mike Manetz (who’d previously visited the park five times in an unsuccessful search for it) and Anne Kendall (who’d been there four times previously).

Also on the 7th, Ranger Kim Chaney of Sweetwater Wetlands Park “spotted 4 Limpkin chicks on Cell 3 just south of the immersion overlook (the low overlook opposite the overflow channel on the east side of the park). These are the first ones we’ve seen this season.”

Geoff Parks has been keeping an eye out for American Robins in his NE Gainesville neighborhood, where they apparently nested the past two (three?) summers. He writes that he heard one “once or twice” since May 4th, but not in June. Last year they were seen mainly along NE 7th Street between 16th Avenue and 23rd Avenue.

June 6, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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Directions for Burrowing Owl field trip; plus additional owlage; plus a spoonbill

The Burrowing Owl field trip to Watermelon Pond will take place this Saturday, June 10th. We’ll meet at the gate at 7:30 a.m. To get there, go west on State Road 26 (Newberry Road) to the town of Newberry. When you come to the stop light where 26 intersects US-41, turn left onto 41 and proceed 2.9 miles to SW 46th Avenue. Turn right onto 46th and go 1.2 mile to SW 250th Street. Turn left onto 250th, a dirt road, and go 3.0 miles to the gate. Park as best you can on the roadside. We’ll then walk half a mile to the viewing area. I’ve made a map if you’re confused about any of this, which allows you to zoom in for detail or zoom out for perspective: https://drive.google.com/open?id=170-j_s4JUwiLEg3b100Cq_S1yUw&usp=sharing

Yesterday evening Mike Manetz and I walked out to the La Chua observation platform in hope of seeing the Whooping Crane that was photographed on the 31st roosting in the little patch of open water there. By 8 p.m. we had counted 8 Sandhill Cranes and about 60 Mottled Ducks (including one obvious hybrid with a Mallard-like white ring around its neck), but no Whooping Crane. So we headed back to the boardwalk to shelter from the rain (seen approaching in the photo below) and, once the rain stopped, to watch for owls. Great Horned Owls were the first to arrive, giving raspy little shrieks and flying around from treetop to treetop. At about 8:45 we heard night-herons squawking out toward the Sweetwater Dike. “Those are Yellow-crowneds!” Mike exclaimed. They flew right over us, and we could see the feet and a little bit of leg trailing behind the tail, rather than just the tips of the toes as would be the case with Black-crowned. Five minutes later we heard a weird series of loud mechanical notes from the direction of Little Alachua Sink. It sounded like a frog of some sort, but not one I’d ever heard before. Then two Barn Owls flew out over the treetops and away over Alachua Sink, and as they flew the strange sound went with them and we realized that it was being made by the owls. Later we found it in the collection of online bird calls associated with the Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds; of the two calls labeled “Chitter,” it’s the one on the left, with the little open-book symbol: https://academy.allaboutbirds.org/peterson-field-guide-to-bird-sounds/?species=Barn+Owl+-+Tyto+alba&speciesCode=brnowl

Anne Casella and Jennifer Donsky saw a Short-tailed Hawk over Palm Point yesterday evening, one of those raggedy-looking birds that’s missing some tail feathers and secondaries. It was the first sighting in the county since April 30th. Mike Manetz went out there this morning in hopes of seeing it, and he succeeded: standing at the Point, looking back towards the south, he spotted it at about 9:40, “soaring over the treeline about half way between Palm Point and Powers Park.”

On the 3rd and 4th Orit Schechtman and Beckie Dale noticed a Roseate Spoonbill in a retention pond in the Townsend neighborhood (NW 23rd Terrace north of 23rd Avenue). Their friend Madeline Davidson notified me of the sighting, and on the 5th I visited the pond three times but didn’t see the spoonbill. So at lunchtime today, since I couldn’t go birding in the rain, I made a driving tour of some local ponds – the Townsend retention pond, the retention ponds behind the Royal Park Plaza, Clear Lake, the retention pond behind Dick’s Sporting Goods in Butlerzilla, and, finally, Post Office Pond, where I found a spoonbill at 12:30. Mike Manetz got there at a little after one, but it had already gone. (There was nothing else of note in any of the other ponds, by the way, only a few White Ibises, Snowy Egrets, Little Blue Herons, and Tricolored Herons.)

I mentioned in the previous email that an Orchard Oriole was seen in the grove of trees in the corner of Cell 2 near the red metal bridge. On the morning of the 5th several birders saw a first-year male and a female delivering insects and dropping fecal sacs, obviously caring for a brood of nestlings. Linda Hensley got a photo of the male, and wrote, “We watched this bird fly back and forth with insects/caterpillars almost non-stop.”

June 4, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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Finding summer rarities

Danny Shehee found a drake Blue-winged Teal while exploring near the old Sweetwater Dike on the 3rd. I went out this morning, intending to follow in Danny’s footsteps, but it wasn’t necessary: the teal was right there in the marsh, well before the cypress tree that serves as a landmark. I also saw 19 Glossy Ibises and a pair of Common Ground-Doves, both of which I needed for my June Challenge list. If you’d like to try for it yourself, walk out La Chua to the water control structure – the culvert where there’s often a little waterfall these days – and then turn right, following the narrow wildlife trail for about a quarter of a mile. Then cut left along the edge of the marsh, looking off to your right. Oh heck, here’s a map.

Felicia Lee emailed this morning at 8:30 to report a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and an Orchard Oriole at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Both are very tough birds to see here. Felicia wrote that the Yellow-crowned “circled over Cell 1, landed briefly, then circled over Cell 2.” The oriole might be easier to relocate. If you’re walking from Cell 1 to Cell 2 on the metal bridge, the first thing you see once you’re across is a grove of trees on your right. Saturday’s field trip heard an Orchard Oriole sing there, just once, but we never saw it. Felicia saw a female in the same grove this morning.

Saturday’s second June Challenge kickoff – the one for working stiffs – followed the same itinerary as Thursday’s. We started a little earlier at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, hoping to see both Chuck-will’s-widows and Common Nighthawks, but thanks to the fog we saw neither. We did, however, find Bachman’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Red-headed Woodpecker. At Windsor we saw two Bald Eagles and got a decent look at a Red-eyed Vireo; we missed Spotted Sandpiper and Laughing Gull. La Chua produced Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat … and a surprising appearance by a White-winged Dove, which flew up and landed in a tree a few yards away. And at Sweetwater Wetlands Park we saw Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, American Coot, Common Yellowthroat, Limpkin, Black-crowned Night-Heron, and Sandhill Crane. We ended up with just over 50 species for the morning.

Pied-billed Grebes can be hard to find in June. On Saturday Danny Rohan showed us one that’s been easy to see in Cell 2 at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Cross the aforementioned metal bridge, keep going straight, turn right on the trail between Cells 2 and 3, and look to your right as you walk along. Just where the open water stops and the vegetation starts, that’s where it’s been hanging out. There’s also at least one in the retention pond where it’s nested in the past, at the corner of NE 35th Avenue and 4th Street (despite the address, this is two blocks WEST of Main Street). Tina Greenberg saw it on the 3rd.

If you’re still looking for White-winged Dove, Alicia Johansen stands ready to help you out. She writes, “White-winged Doves frequent my feeders daily. I’m looking at one right now. If any one wants to add it to their list you can give them my address: 8215 NW 4th Place.” That’s off Newberry Road a little west of I-75.

On the 3rd Lloyd Davis found a locally-rare Northern Flicker at Northeast Park (on NE 16th Avenue a little east of Main Street).

Anne Casella told me that she saw a Loggerhead Shrike the same day I failed to find them along Cellon Creek Boulevard. And the next day Becky Enneis and Linda Holt saw four! I need to tell my doctor that I’m suffering from shrike-blindness. It could be serious.

June 2, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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Thrills! Chills! Spills! The second day of The June Challenge!

In case you missed it: On Saturday morning – tomorrow – we’ll do another June Challenge field trip for those who had to work on the 1st. Meet at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve at 6 a.m. in hopes of seeing Chuck-will’s-widow and Common Nighthawk. Then we’ll follow pretty much the same itinerary as on the 1st, but we’ll try to get through it more rapidly. Directions to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve: From Gainesville, take State Road 20 (Hawthorne Road) east. Measuring from Waldo Road, at 4.4 miles you’ll pass Powers Park, and shortly thereafter you’ll cross the bridge over Prairie Creek. Three and a half miles after that, turn right onto County Road 325 and proceed 2.3 miles to the Longleaf parking lot on the right.

Last year Mike Manetz wrote, “Whoever said ‘no news is good news’ has never done The June Challenge.”

So, as Paul Harvey used to say, Stand by for news!

This morning I spent an hour and a half at Cellon Creek Boulevard (pronounced SEE-lun, by the way). I go there every year during The June Challenge, because it’s fairly easy to find several uncommon breeding birds along this half-mile of paved road: Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Meadowlark, American Kestrel, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and European Starling. In the past it’s been reliable for Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-Dove, and Loggerhead Shrike as well, but none of those were present this morning. I’d seen Loggerhead Shrikes there as recently as March 25th, but they seem to be vanishing from all their old haunts. Other birds today included Red-tailed Hawk, Eastern Bluebird, Common Grackle, and Brown Thrasher. To get there, take US-441 from Gainesville toward Alachua. Four and a half miles beyond the intersection of 441 and NW 43rd Street, turn left onto Cellon Creek Boulevard and park at the end of the road, near the power station. Here’s a map.

La Chua’s semi-resident Whooping Crane, last eBirded on April 14th, reappeared off the observation tower on May 31st and was photographed by Tyler Carney. His photograph, taken about 8 p.m., also showed a drake Mallard in the background. Mike Manetz walked out La Chua on the morning of the 2nd, but the crane wasn’t there. Mike thinks it may be likelier in the evening.

Mike also checked out Paynes Prairie’s US-441 observation boardwalk this morning in hope of seeing a King Rail, but he had no luck. I stopped by this afternoon and was likewise disappointed. My consolation prize was an excellent view of a Round-tailed Muskrat that has a dome-shaped nest on the south side of the boardwalk less than twenty feet from the wall. It was halfway out of the nest entrance, gorging itself on pennywort and primrosewillow.

On the 1st Linda Hensley saw two White-winged Doves on the wires in front of the Econo Lodge on Tower Road near Newberry Road. That’s a good area for Eurasian Collared-Dove and Barn Swallow as well.

The American White Pelican and Roseate Spoonbills at Newnans Lake were last eBirded on the 27th. Mike Manetz and I went looking for them on the 1st and I went back on the 2nd, but they seem to be gone. Some birds are just like that, contrary and uncooperative. Last year a Snail Kite visited Sweetwater Wetlands Park for a few days at the end of May. It was still there on the 31st, but when hopeful June Challengers showed up on the next day it was gone. Bad attitude, is what that was.

June 1, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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First day of The June Challenge; also, the Burrowing Owl field trip

Mark your calendar: We’ve arranged a field trip to see Alachua County’s only (known) Burrowing Owls on Saturday, June 10th. We’ll meet at 7:30 a.m. at the gate to the property, where we’ll be admitted by Alachua County Environmental Protection Department personnel. More details will be forthcoming next week, but for now just put it on your calendar: 7:30 a.m., Saturday, June 10th.

A quick run-down of the first day of The June Challenge:

Early arrivals at the Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve parking corral this morning got a nice treat: not only did they see Common Nighthawks – which those of us who arrived at 6:15 missed altogether – but they saw one or two Chuck-will’s-widows hunting over the mowed area south of the corral.

Otherwise Longleaf provided a slow start to the day. We spent an hour and a half there, wa-a-a-ay too long, most of it trying to track down a Bachman’s Sparrow. As generally happens, when we finally located one, it was less than a hundred yards from the parking corral, a fledgling giving a strange call that no one in our group had ever heard before. We also managed to find a little flock of Brown-headed Nuthatches where the White Loop meets the White-Red Connector.

Our next stop was Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor, where Mike Manetz – the first one to the lakefront – pointed out a Spotted Sandpiper on the muddy edge of the boat channel. A Laughing Gull was briefly seen by a few birders, and Brad Hall, scanning with his spotting scope, picked out a Bald Eagle perched in a snag on the far side of the lake.

It was pretty late by the time we got to La Chua, so we restricted ourselves to Sparrow Alley, where we heard two Yellow-breasted Chats singing, and saw one of them way down where the Alley makes a big bend to the right.

At Sweetwater Wetlands Park we found two American Coots and a small flock of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.

Afterward, most of the crowd went home, but Danny Shehee and Bob Carroll and I went over to Tumblin’ Creek Park, where Lloyd Davis had heard a Gray Catbird singing earlier that morning. We found it still singing there, in the jungly wetland at the north end of the park.

That was it for this morning, but this evening Mike Manetz and I walked north from Palm Point and found a Gadwall that’s missing the flight feathers on its left wing. It’s been there for about a month and a half. Matt Bruce first noted it on April 14th. It’s apparently a drake, though its plumage is presently female type, so I’m guessing its in eclipse – but it still has flight feathers on the right wing, so I think it lost the feathers on the left wing traumatically rather than through molt. We also saw another Spotted Sandpiper, a Black-necked Stilt, and a few Black-crowned Night-Herons.

I ended up with 58 species on my June Challenge list.

If you missed this morning’s field trip, come out and join us on Saturday. We’ll do exactly the same thing, hopefully with more success. Meet at 6 a.m. (in hopes of seeing the Chuck-will’s-widow!) at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve.

And now for something completely different: Here’s Nathan Pieplow, author of the newly-published Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America, talking about his book: http://www.wicn.org/podcasts/audio/nathan-pieplow-peterson-field-guide-bird-sounds

May 30, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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A correction, some late migrants, and a bear!

CORRECTION: One paragraph of yesterday’s email said I’d be at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on Wednesday to lead a June Challenge field trip. That’s wrong – obviously I meant Thursday, June 1st, at 6:15 a.m. See you then.

I did some scouting this morning, starting at 6:07 a.m. at Longleaf. The nighthawks were cooperative, but the Bachman’s Sparrows were not. I made a stop at Powers Park to scope the lake from the fishing pier, but didn’t see anything unusual – no shorebirds, no spoonbills – so I think we’ll skip that on the 1st and just go straight from Windsor to La Chua. I found a singing Yellow-breasted Chat where Sparrow Alley bends right just past the “ani field,” and a very surprising congregation of 19 Purple Martins on the power lines. Anyone know where they came from?

Beth Senn, who lives south of the Kanapaha Prairie, photographed a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at her feeder on May 19th, by one week a new late record for Alachua County: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/34538599320/in/datetaken-public/

Barbara Woodmansee, who lives in the same general area as Beth, spotted an American Redstart at her birdbath on the evening of the 26th. Redstarts often dawdle on their way north; there are eight or ten June records from Alachua County.

Here’s something for you county listers. I’m always curious to know what other birders have seen in Alachua County that I haven’t, and vice-versa. For instance. Mike Manetz has seen four species I haven’t: Red Knot, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Warbling Vireo. I’ve seen five species Mike hasn’t: American Oystercatcher, Pomarine Jaeger, Philadelphia Vireo, Connecticut Warbler, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. If you want to compare your Alachua County list with those of other birders, go to this page, type your name into the cell in Row 1, and then start putting 1’s next to every species you’ve seen in the county. The checklist will automatically tally them for you. Here’s the link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1sVSSm0cEbsRkpGOMGvSlKMrvQp2KJ78iXJeU5kidyY4/edit?usp=sharing

A bear! Adam Zions wrote on the 26th, “Thought you’d be interested in this observation I had last night (well technically early this morning) while Gina and I were coming back from a concert in Orlando. At 1:12 a.m. we were driving towards home along Archer Road and were coming up right by Kanapaha Botanical Gardens (KBG) and lo and behold an adult black bear ran across Archer and north up the easternmost road of the mobile home park which is directly adjacent to KBG. Gina didn’t see it run across Archer and didn’t believe me, so I pulled back around and onto the mobile home park road I’d seen it run up, and sure enough we saw it a couple hundred feet ahead as it climbed the short chain link fence and over into the KBG property.” I’ve heard that the population center for Black Bears in Alachua County is the swampland north of Lake Alto, so this was probably from somewhere else – Goethe State Forest, maybe? They’re usually pretty harmless, and will flee at the sight of a human being. But not always: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PsCqmotxyME

Did anyone lose a pair of prescription glasses at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve? Deena Mickelson found them along the Red Loop on the 25th. Let me know if you lost them and I’ll pass your contact information along to her. She also found a Hairy Woodpecker along the Red Loop on the 25th – “in the woods on the southern side of the service road, just before the red trail divides in two directions” – but it will be much, much easier to recover your glasses than to see the woodpecker. Deena took a camp chair along with her, set it up, and just waited the bird out. Not a bad strategy. Something to keep in mind for … The June Challenge! (Did I mention that it begins on the 1st? Maybe I did.)

May 29, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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Don’t put those binoculars away! The June Challenge starts Thursday!

The 14th Annual June Challenge begins on Thursday. The June Challenge, for those new to Alachua County birding, is a friendly competition in which individual contestants try to see as many species of birds in Alachua County as they can from June 1st to June 30th. It has expanded a bit since 2004, when Becky Enneis came up with the idea. That first year fewer than ten birders participated. Last year 42 Alachua County birders submitted lists, there were 64 additional submissions from 23 other Florida counties, and out-of-state birders sent three more, one each from Maine, Kansas, and Kentucky.

The ultimate purpose of the Challenge is to inspire birders to keep going through the heat of June – to have fun, to get out in the fresh air and sunshine and to see some beautiful birds – but there are other reasons to do it. In addition to the 100 or so breeding birds we expect here, very late spring migrants and very early fall migrants have been found in June, as have coastal strays like Sandwich Tern and Willet, and unexpected wanderers like Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Reddish Egret, and Snail Kite. So there are discoveries to make – and not all of them are birds; June mornings can be beautiful and lively, full of butterflies and wildflowers, and much milder in temperature than you’d expect.

As with all contests, there are rules:

  1. All birds must be seen within the boundaries of Alachua County between June 1st and June 30th. (You non-Alachua birders are challenged to participate within your own counties.)
  2. Each bird on your list must have been SEEN. Heard-only birds do not count; you’ve got to actually see those Chuck-will’s-widows and Eastern Screech-Owls. Consequently, don’t trust eBird with your June Challenge list, since it lists heard birds the same as seen ones.
  3. The question of whether this bird or that bird is “countable” toward your total has created some confusion. Any free-flying bird is countable for the purposes of the Challenge, but keep track of how many ABA-countable and non-countable species are on your list (“ABA” is American Birding Association). Report them in this format: Total number of species seen, followed by parentheses containing (number that are ABA countable / number that are not), e.g., 115 (112 / 3). The Black Swans and domestic Graylag-type geese at the Duck Pond, for instance, would be on the “uncountable” part of your list, while wild-plumaged Mallards and Muscovy Ducks at Red Lobster and Home Depot Ponds would be on the countable part. If you have any questions about a specific bird, ask me.
  4. You’re competing with other Alachua County birders to see who can amass the longest individual list – BUT send me an email if you find something good so that I can alert the other contestants and they can go out and look for it. It is, after all, a friendly competition.
  5. EMAIL YOUR LIST TO ME BY MIDNIGHT ON FRIDAY, JUNE 30TH. There will then be a June Challenge party at TJC creator Becky Enneis’s house in Alachua, probably on July 8th, at which a remarkably handsome trophy and other prizes will be given out.

To help you keep track of your sightings, I’ve attached an automatic checklist that Phil Laipis created several years ago. Type in the date you saw each species in the row headed “First Seen,” using the format “6/1” for June 1st, “6/2” for June 2nd, etc., and the checklist will automatically add everything up for you (you can also use “1” or “x”). If you don’t have Excel, or you prefer keeping track on a paper copy, we’ve got some card-stock trifold checklists that you can use. Just send me your mailing address and I’ll drop one in the mailbox for you.

Trey Mitchell of Miami has created another option for keeping track of your totals. He’s put together a web site for the Challenge on which you can enter everything you see and compare yourself to others doing the Challenge across the state and across the country: http://junechallenge.com/

You can do the Challenge on your own, of course, but I’ll be at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve at 6:15 a.m. on Thursday to jump start it with Common Nighthawk and (hopefully) Bachman’s Sparrow, and you’re welcome to join me, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder. From Longleaf we’ll go to Newnans Lake and then either La Chua or Sweetwater Wetlands Park ($4 admission for La Chua, $5 for Sweetwater). You should be home by lunchtime with 40-50 species on that checklist! Directions to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve: From Gainesville, take State Road 20 (Hawthorne Road) east. Measuring from Waldo Road, at 4.4 miles you’ll pass Powers Park, and shortly thereafter you’ll cross the bridge over Prairie Creek. Three and a half miles after that, turn right onto County Road 325 and proceed 2.3 miles to the Longleaf parking lot on the right. (If you want an idea of what such a morning would be like, I described 2015’s “jump start” in a Gainesville Sun blog here: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/347/the-june-challenge/ )

Anyway, if you win, you get The June Challenge trophy, two and a half feet tall and lovingly crafted from the finest wood-like material. Your name and your accomplishment will be engraved in the purest imitation gold and affixed to the trophy, a memorial that will last throughout all eternity, or until someone drops it onto a hard surface. You keep the trophy at your house for a year, contemplating the evidence of your great superiority to all other birders, and then the following June you either win again or you sadly pass the trophy on to the next June Challenge champion and sink back into the common mass of birderdom.

Hints for new Challengers: Bird as much as you can during the first few days and last few days of the month, to get late spring and early fall migrants; eight migrant warblers and twelve migrant shorebirds have been recorded here in June, mostly at the beginning of the month. Check the big lakes repeatedly (especially Newnans and Lochloosa) for coastal strays like gulls, terns, and pelicans. Check your email inbox to learn what other people are seeing and for tips on where to go. I apologize in advance for the many birding reports you’ll get in early June…

Please join us for The 14th Annual June Challenge. Good luck to all!

May 24, 2017
by Rex Rowan
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Least Tern at Chapmans Pond

Matt Bruce saw a Least Tern at Chapmans Pond on the 23rd. They’re probably annual here in late spring and early summer, but on the rare occasions when someone spots one it’s usually on the big lakes rather than small bodies of water like Chapmans.

A visiting birder named Jeffrey Bailey photographed a late Yellow-rumped Warbler at Sweetwater Wetlands Park on May 16th. See his checklist (with the photo) here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36909374 There’s only one later record for the county.

I went out to Powers Park and Gum Root Swamp this evening to see if the rain had changed things at Newnans Lake. The mud flats all appear to be underwater, but there’s still a wide grassy shore – though it may be too soggy to walk on. At Gum Root Swamp I went down to the first bridge to see if Hatchet Creek had risen significantly – if so, the water level in the lake could be expected to rise a lot more – but it was merely a trickle. That may change after today’s rains. Lloyd Davis was out there at first light this morning, walking east from Powers Park toward Prairie Creek and beyond, and at that point there was still enough shoreline to accommodate 8 White-rumped Sandpipers, 46 Semipalmated Sandpipers, a Semipalmated Plover, and a Spotted Sandpiper.

The June Challenge begins next Thursday. I’ll send out another reminder before then, but let me repeat one point: Don’t keep your June Challenge list in eBird! You definitely DO want to include heard birds in your eBird checklists, but you CAN’T count heard birds in The June Challenge. We’ve got some paper checklists if you want one, and there’s a nice computerized checklist that Phil Laipis created in Excel, which I’ll attach to my next email.

Short-tailed Hawks haven’t been reported lately. The season’s first was seen near Prairie Creek on March 31st, there were several sightings during the second half of April, and three were extensively studied and photographed over Powers Park on April 30th. Since then, however, eBird doesn’t show a single sighting.

Also among the missing:

Cedar Waxwings, usually the last wintering birds to leave us, seem to be gone. There were only seven local reports during the first week in May, and three since. They were last reported on the 15th, when Alicia Johansen saw a flock of 12 at Sweetwater Wetlands Park and Darrell Hartman saw another flock at a blueberry farm near Lake Alto. This was not a big winter for waxwings; that’s two winters in a row with low numbers.

I haven’t seen a Bobolink report in a few days. There was a small flock hanging around the eastern shore of Newnans Lake in the middle of the month – we counted 48 on the 12th and 23 on the 15th – but Lloyd Davis reported only 1 on the 20th, and there’s been nothing since then.

Our Paynes Prairie Whooping Crane stayed with us for almost exactly a year. First noted near Bolen Bluff on April 21, 2016, she was last seen near the Visitor Center on April 14th by Sarasota birder Keith Pochy. I expect she’ll be back, though. She’s visited the Prairie almost annually since 2009.