Alachua Audubon Society

A chapter of the National Audubon Society

November 9, 2018
by Trina Anderson
0 comments

DUCK TALES

by Rex Rowan, posted to Facebook November 1, 2018

At about lunchtime on October 30th, Rob Norton discovered a drake Eurasian Wigeon at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. He passed the word, and several local birders got to see it before the day was out – including Tom Tompkins, who took the photos below. It hasn’t positively been seen since, though a bird showing one of the field marks was briefly glimpsed the next morning, flying towards Paynes Prairie.

As the name implies, Eurasian Wigeons are native to Europe and Asia. Those that stray to eastern North America – a small number every year – are presumed to originate from a breeding population in Iceland. This was only the third in Alachua County’s history. There are stories connected with the other two.

The county’s first ever was shot by Dr. A.L. Strange at Orange Lake on December 26, 1931 and mounted by a taxidermist. Robert McClanahan, a UF undergraduate compiling an official bird list for the county, tracked down the mount in 1934 – it had lost its head by then – and secured it for the museum. Unfortunately the specimen was discarded in 1962.

The county’s second, a female, was discovered by Phil Laipis at the Hague Dairy on December 22, 2004. Puzzled – the female is nondescript – he found another birder at the dairy that morning, Pat Burns, and showed it to her. Pat suspected that it might be a Eurasian Wigeon, and she notified John Hintermister, Gainesville’s most knowledgeable and experienced birder. John drove over, examined the bird, and pronounced it either an American Wigeon or an American-Eurasian hybrid. Hearing that it was either an American Wigeon, which is common, or a hybrid, which is not countable, the local birding community stayed home in droves. Except for Steve Collins, who took several photos and circulated them among British birders. They were unanimous: it was a Eurasian Wigeon, the county’s first in 73 years! But by the time the Brits notified Steve of their conclusion, the bird had flown, so no one else got to see it. John is cheerfully unrepentant of his part in this fiasco, and when reminded of it he laughs uproariously and says, “Serves you right for not going to look at it!”

Eurasian Wigeon, courtesy of Tom Tompkins

November 1, 2018
by Trina Anderson
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Battling Birds

Come watch feeder birds battle it out in one of the latest Zooniverse project, Battling Birds.

Battling Birds is a part of a larger project that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is co-developing with viewers called the Birds Cams Lab in which scientists and viewers work together to create scientific investigations.

The main goal of Battling Birds is to better understand birds and their behavior at feeders. It’s known that birds interact with each other, but there are still questions left unanswered about what may influence these interactions.

We have thousands of clips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s FeederWatch Cam ready for you to watch and tag. But don’t just classify the data! Join us on the forums to ask questions, discuss what you are seeing, and be a part of the community.

To get started, head over to www.zooniverse.org/projects/canagica/battling-birds and either start classifying clips or join in the discussion on the forums.

See you there!

Grant & the Zooniverse Team

September 12, 2018
by Trina Anderson
0 comments

UF killed 150 birds, records show

Read the August 18, 2018 article from the Gainesville Sun here

then continue reading below for the  two follow-up letters to the Editor.

 

Letters to the editor for Aug. 26, 2018

Outrageous practice

Thanks to The Sun’s investigative reporting Aug. 19 concerning lethal bird control at the University of Florida’s Citra Research Facility. Killing an iconic, threatened bird species such as the Florida sandhill crane to protect peanut research is outrageous. Instead of defending the practice, Jack Payne, director of IFAS, should apologize that his organization condoned the slaughter of at least 47 cranes and 105 ring-billed gulls.

Not included in The Sun article are the additional facts that 1) IFAS was illegally killing cranes without a state permit from the Fish and Wildlife Commission (they only had a federal permit); 2) the Florida sandhill is a state-listed threatened species whose population is declining; and 3) when originally contacted about this issue in early 2018, IFAS researchers indicated that “only a few” cranes were shot.

It is imperative that any state or federal permits be revised to eliminate any lethal take of threatened or endangered bird species at any research facility.

John Hintermister, Gainesville

 

Letters to the editor for Aug. 28, 2018

Non-lethal methods

Six months ago, Alachua Audubon learned that IFAS was authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill up to 20 sandhill cranes annually to prevent damage to their research plots. Alachua Audubon contacted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and discovered that FWC was unaware of the Wildlife Service’s permit, even though state regulations require an FWC depredation permit to lethally take a sandhill.

Following this notification, the Fish and Wildlife Commission met with IFAS and advised them on alternative non-lethal, deterrent techniques. Alachua Audubon also requested assistance from Audubon Florida, which resulted in the issue being taken to the highest level in IFAS.

Thanks to the involvement of Fish and Wildlife Commission and Audubon Florida, IFAS has committed to implementing alternative non-lethal methods to deter sandhill cranes. Now it is up to the Fish and Wildlife Service to revise IFAS’ existing depredation permit to only allow non-lethal methods of deterrence.

Debbie Segal, president, the Alachua Audubon Society

July 21, 2018
by Trina Anderson
2 Comments

FIRST EGYPTIAN GOOSE FOR ALACHUA COUNTY!

by Rex Rowan

Leigh Larson found an Egyptian Goose at Sweetwater Wetlands Park this morning. It’s Alachua County’s first-ever sighting of this introduced species, which originally established itself as a resident breeding bird in South Florida and has slowly been expanding its range north. Locally, it was first observed in southern Marion County in 2012 and didn’t move from that area – Summerfield and The Villages – until this May, when four turned up at Tuscawilla Park in northern Ocala. Get out there to Sweetwater if you can and have a look. It’s mainly been in the long channel on the distant side of Cells 1 and 2. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the Caspian Tern, present for its second day now.

June 30, 2018
by Rex Rowan
2 Comments

A problem I have; plus, Louisiana Waterthrush

I’ve been trying to pin something down, but I lack the information to do it. There’s a clutch of Snail Kite eggs in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History that was supposedly collected in Micanopy by H.H. Simpson on December 4, 1919. There are a lot of these old egg sets out there; in the days before binoculars, egg-collecting was one of the forms that “birding” took. This particular egg set would constitute the only other breeding record for Snail Kite in Alachua County, and – if it’s a valid record – it would suggest that this year’s nesting may be a temporary extension of the nesting range, rare but normal, rather than an indicator of long-range environmental changes.

But is it a valid record? That’s what I’m trying to pin down. Snail Kites normally begin nesting in March in Central Florida, and in 1919 they would presumably have nested in March or April here – not in December. So that’s one doubtful thing about it. Another is that a lot of these late 19th- and early 20th-century egg collectors, rather than listing the nest location on the specimen cards that accompanied the egg sets in their collections, listed their own hometowns instead. So how can I confirm Micanopy as the actual site of the nest from which the eggs were taken? The specimen tag in the Carnegie Museum wasn’t any help. So I contacted Paul Sykes, the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who did a historical survey of kite nesting in Florida, and asked what he could tell me about the Micanopy record. He referred me to H.K. Swann’s “Rostrhamus sociabilis plumbeus Ridgway, Northern Everglade Kite” in volume 12 of “A monograph of the birds of prey,” published in 1934. It turns out to be an elusive book. The UF science library had one in its catalog, but now describes it as “missing.” And even if the library tracks it down, maybe it won’t tell me anything new. I’m looking for something along the lines of, “H.H. Simpson’s notes read, ‘Nest located in a willow tree at the center of the Tuscawilla Prairie, eggs collected on Dec. 4th.'” But I’m unlikely to find anything that helpful.

I rarely do find anything that helpful, in looking at old records. This is at least partly excusable, since early birders probably couldn’t imagine all the scrutiny their sightings would undergo in the decades to come. Robert McClanahan saw a Kirtland’s Warbler in 1934, or at least he said that he did: “Rare migrant. One record, a bird observed at Bivens Arm, April 26, 1934.” He didn’t try to convince us. He made no allowance for skeptics in the future. He just asserted it: “I saw this.” Yeah, maybe you did and maybe you didn’t.

Anyway, the frustration provoked by such unconfirmed and forever-unconfirmable reports has made me more thoughtful about my own birding records. When I go out now, I imagine the future sort of looking over my shoulder. “What would you want to know about this?” I ask. “What information will you wish I had recorded?”

I took a walk on Camps Canal early this morning in hopes of seeing Yellow-crowned Night-Heron and an early-migrant Louisiana Waterthrush. No luck with the night-heron. But I found the waterthrush – though putting it that way gives me too much credit. I walked right past it, but after I’d gone about a hundred feet it started calling, that hard, clinky, recognizably-waterthrushy chip note, so I turned back. It was in the slough, the shallow body of water that’s on your left as you near the Prairie. It flew up into view, slowly bobbed its tail a couple of times while I noted the long white supercilium and tea-stained flanks, moved to another branch a few yards away, and then flew across the trail and out of sight, down to the canal. I followed, and spished, and it appeared at the base of a cypress tree on the near bank. I focused on its throat, which was immaculate (Northerns have a streaked throat, though it’s too early for Northerns anyway), and then, almost immediately, it flew away. A nervous bird. I put two dead branches in the middle of the trail at that point, in the form of an X, and if you get out there today you might be able to relocate it.

Another exciting find, non-bird-related: as I was scaling the slope toward the canal, I saw a huge insect that I first took for a crane fly. But then it landed on a tree trunk and I realized that it was one of the giant ichneumon wasps of the genus Megarhyssa, the first I’ve ever seen in the wild and a real beauty. It looked something like this: https://bugguide.net/node/view/761160 Bugs otherwise were not bad. A few mosquitoes, barely noticeable. Camps Canal can be miserable with mosquitoes in the late summer, but right now it’s fine.

As I was driving home, I passed a family of Wild Turkeys grazing in a grassy lot along County Road 234. They were new for my June list too, and I think they were the last new birds I’ll get for the Challenge. They put me at 103. That should be easy to beat! Send me your totals by midnight tonight. And please list any unusual birds that you saw during the Challenge. I like to make a complete list of all the birds recorded during June.

The June Challenge party will be held at Becky Enneis’s place, 14806 NW 147th Avenue in Alachua, on Sunday, July 8th, beginning at 6:00 p.m. Bring something to rest your sit-upon upon. Bring some food to share. Soft drinks and water will be provided, but if you want beer or wine, bring your own. For a map that shows Becky’s place, click here. Becky’s is marked with the inverted red teardrop; click on the teardrop for driving directions. You can zoom the map in or out as needed.

June 29, 2018
by Rex Rowan
0 comments

Winter is coming

The days are getting shorter again. We’ve already lost a minute and three seconds of daylight! I can feel the Seasonal Affective Disorder starting to take hold. Sigh.

Gina Kent of Gainesville’s own Avian Research and Conservation Institute has a request: “In the past you’ve helped locate Mississippi Kite nests for orphan chicks. Do you know of any active territories this year? Whether you’ve located the actual nest or not, it’s super helpful to know where birds are being seen regularly. Some chicks may be flighted and able to release with/near foraging adults and recent fledglings. Thanks for any help you can give. Folks can email me at ginakent222@hotmail.com with info.”

This may be the last email before the June Challenge ends on Saturday at midnight. So remember to send me your totals by then. We’re not counting Black Swan, Swan Goose, Greylag Goose, Indian Peafowl (peacock), or Helmeted Guineafowl this year (but Whooping Crane, Mallard of any description, and Muscovy Duck are all okay). So no need to worry about separating ABA countables from uncountables. We’ll be having our June Challenge party on Sunday the 8th. Details later.

Bob Carroll hiked out Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve yesterday morning and found the ever-elusive Hairy Woodpecker “about half way along the Red Trail on the western edge of the property, maybe about opposite the entrance.” I think Bob’s the only Alachua County birder who’s found one this June. Here’s a trail map for reference (with the Red Trail marked R): https://www.sjrwmd.com/static/lands/trailguides/longleafflatwoodstrail.pdf

There have been a few sightings of Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Sweetwater Wetlands Park lately. Cindy Boyd saw it most recently, at 8:15 on the evening of the 25th, from the roofed shelter on the back side of Cell 2, looking at the opening in the trees where Sweetwater Canal used to be. Adam Zions had seen one at Sweetwater on the previoius evening.

Cindy also sighted a Broad-winged Hawk at San Felasco’s Millhopper Road parking lot on the 27th, and sent this great email: “Just as I was almost off the trail, about 50 yards east of the kiosk on the yellow trail, I heard the Broad-winged calling. I looked up and couldn’t see it. It sounded just a little north of me. So I whipped out my phone and played the call a couple of times. Within 30 seconds it was soaring right overhead. I’m so glad I fell in love with birds!”

June 25, 2018
by Rex Rowan
0 comments

Two Kings (-fisher and rail), plus an exciting new AOU Check-List Supplement! I mean AOS, sorry, I guess I just live in the past.

Less than a week to go!

Chris Cattau saw a Belted Kingfisher from the La Chua Trail at about 8 p.m. on the 22nd. It flew from the direction of the old horse barn, traveled around Alachua Sink, then continued flying out La Chua in the direction of the observation platform: “I guess it was probably going to have to roost somewhere fairly soon after I saw it so maybe there’s hope for a resight?” This may be the same individual that Tom Wronski photographed at Sweetwater Wetlands Park on the 7th.

Barbara Woodmansee reports that the Canada Geese were still on County Road 346A half a mile from Williston Road as of the 24th. She first saw them on the 10th. She writes, “They are always in the exact same place. I only see them in the late PM, never in the morning – and I’ve been looking hard every morning for them. I think there may be 4 or 5 of them. They sit down low in the tall grass, so only their heads/necks are showing. They’re usually under the same tree just south of the ‘lake’ (flooded pasture), almost directly across from the Misty Oaks sign.” I’d forgotten this, but Jerry Pruitt found two in that very spot in July 2016.

Colleen Cowdery, leading the busy life of a medical student, showed the value of patience and persistence in an email on the 24th: “Today was actually the first day in all of June that I was able to get outside and go birding, horror of horrors. Since I had no hope of catching up with the rest of the pack, I decided to go for quality over quantity and get myself a life bird today. I spent three hours trying to get a good look at a King Rail at Watermelon Pond. About two hours in, I had more or less given up and was heading back to the car when an incoming boat startled the bird into calling. I knew where it was, so I just sat and waited, having a nice conversation with it via recorded birdcall – recording, rail, recording, rail, back and forth. Finally, it came flying out and landed on the grass by the boat ramp. Success!” Success, too, in obtaining the only sharp photo of a King Rail that I’ve seen this month!

On the morning of the 22nd Geoff Parks spotted “a roost of a dozen or so Swallow-tailed kites in a tall dead pine on the south side of NW 8th Avenue” in the mile east of NW 34th Street. There’s a fairly good chance that it’s a regular overnight roost for these birds. Geoff saw them while driving, so they should be a cinch to see from the road or sidewalk.

Those mischievous fellers at the American Ornithological Society (formerly the AOU) released their annual Check-List Supplement last week. They changed a couple of English names, neither of which affected birds we see in Alachua County: Gray Jay went back to being Canada Jay; and White-collared Seedeater was split into Morelet’s Seedeater (found from South Texas to Panama, the one most of us have on our life lists) and Cinnamon-rumped Seedeater (found in western Mexico).

They did make some interesting taxonomic changes, however:

  • They reorganized the sparrows of the genus Ammodramus – Grasshopper, Henslow’s, LeConte’s, Baird’s, Nelson’s, Saltmarsh, and Seaside – by spreading them out over three genera as follows: Grasshopper remains in Ammodramus, Henslow’s and Baird’s go into Centronyx, and LeConte’s, Saltmarsh, Nelson’s, and Seaside go into Ammospiza. (Editorial note: I don’t like this one, just as a practical matter. Until now, if you were walking through a grassy field and a sparrow popped up a couple of inches from the toe of your boot, flew weakly for a few yards, and dived back into the grass, you could call out, “Hey, I’ve got an Ammodramus over here!” Now you’ll have to say, “I’ve got an Ammodramus! … or a Centronyx! … or possibly even an Ammospiza!”)
  • They moved most of the woodpeckers of the genus Picoides – Downy, Hairy, Red-cockaded, Nuttall’s, Strickland’s, Ladder-backed, Arizona, and White-headed – into the genus Dryobates, leaving only American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers in Picoides.
  • Finally, the kites were split up into three subfamilies. For the past few years the family Accipitridae has included the eagles, the hawks, the harriers, and the kites – one big happy family with no subdivisions among them. But now DNA analysis has shown that the kites are not that closely related to each other, so the Accipitridae has been split into three subfamilies to accommodate these newly-understood relationships: the White-tailed Kite and Pearl Kite have the subfamily Elaninae to themselves; the Swallow-tailed Kite, the Hook-billed Kite, and the Gray-headed Kite are given their own subfamily, Gypaetinae; while the Mississippi Kite and the Snail Kite, along with all the other hawks, eagles, and harriers, will be in the subfamily Accipitrinae (families have the -dae suffix, subfamilies the -nae). Interesting to think that the Mississippi Kite is more closely related to the Bald Eagle than to the Swallow-tailed Kite. (Speaking of kites, did you know that the paper kite that we fly on a string is named after the bird, and not the other way around? The bird was well-known to 8th-century Anglo-Saxons, who called it the cyta, while the paper kite didn’t arrive in Europe till the 13th century and the first reference to it in English dates from the 17th century.)

Anyway, you can see the whole supplement here. And you can see the updated Alachua County checklist here.

During some years we see fall migrants during the final days of The June Challenge. We’ve had Louisiana Waterthrushes several times (three years since 2013), Black-and-white Warblers on a couple of occasions, and a handful of shorebirds. These last few days of June can make a difference, so don’t waste them.

Not Alachua County, but pretty interesting nonetheless. J.W. Callis of Tallahassee recently photographed this pre-migratory congregation of Purple Martins at Cedar Key.

June 22, 2018
by Rex Rowan
0 comments

Raillery, goosery, and duckery

This is the last full weekend of The June Challenge. Next weekend you’ve got only Saturday, because Sunday is July 1st and the June Challenge will be over!

Barbara Woodmansee advises that there have been “several” Canada Geese in a temporary pond on County Road 346A off Williston Road. CR-346A is 5.75 miles south of I-75, and the pond is about half a mile from Williston Road on the left. The origin of these geese is unknown, but they haven’t been there long, so we’ll assume they’re free-flying and countable for The June Challenge.

Barbara Shea photographed two King Rails at the Watermelon Pond boat ramp on Wednesday morning, and then, driving back north on SW 250th Street (the access road to Watermelon Pond), she spotted two Northern Bobwhites crossing over. Why did the gallinaceous bird cross the street? To get on Barbara Shea’s June Challenge list!

(I’ve now posted two King Rail photos, and both have been as blurry as pictures of Bigfoot. As far as my June Challenge list is concerned, both are equally mythical.)

(Plus, what’s with the Barbaras? Barbara Woodmansee, Barbara Shea, both of them seeing good birds. It’s something cosmic, I’m certain of it. If your name is Barbara, get out there now and take advantage of it!)

On the 21st Jennifer “Barbara” Donsky wrote, “The Broad-winged Hawk came up and down quickly at around 11 a.m. a little above pine tree to the NW, north side of San Felasco Hammock near interstate as seen from parking lot. It was hanging with 3 Swallow-tailed Kites and 2 Mississippi Kites which were going back and forth over Millhopper Road.”

Speaking of kites, Eric Anderson wrote on Friday afternoon, “In the freshly hayed field on the west side of County Road 241 where Millhopper Road dead-ends was an enormous soaring congregation of around 20+ Mississippi Kites and a few Swallow-tailed Kites. The Mississippi Kites were actually landing and flying off with freshly mowed clumps of hay! Perhaps there was some sort of prey item in the hay. This was happening today June 22, 2018 at 1:30pm. The field was being mowed at the time.”

John Martin photographed a drake Blue-winged Teal off the boardwalk at La Chua on the 17th, a different individual from the one at Sweetwater. The Sweetwater bird apparently has a broken wing; Danny Rohan tried to capture it and take it to a wildlife rehab agency, but it refused to cooperate.

Chuck Littlewood shared this bird cartoon with me: https://www.gocomics.com/rubes/2018/06/21