No rest for the weary

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

Another rare bird? This is getting so tedious!

News of the Calliope Hummingbird in High Springs rapidly found its way out to the Florida birding community, and on January 16th Homosassa birder Kevin Brabble made the drive up to see it. He saw the Calliope, and he saw the other hummingbird, generally assumed to be a Rufous. There was also a flock of at least ten Baltimore Orioles, and because he was sitting there with a pair of binoculars waiting for the hummers to show up, Kevin started looking at them – and noticed that one of them wasn’t an oriole. It was a Western Tanager. He got a photo. This phenomenon – birders flocking to see one rarity, and then finding another in addition to it – is so often repeated that it has a name. It’s called the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect, and you can read about it by clicking here.

The Western Tanager habitually travels with the oriole flock, so wait for the flock to arrive and start picking through the orange birds for a greenish one.

Both the Calliope and the Rufous have been very cooperative. Photographs have been arriving in my inbox regularly, more than I can share, but let me show you three of them. John Mangold got a good photo of the Calliope’s magenta gorget (click here), and Jonathan Mays got an Olan Mills portrait (click here). John Killian got a wonderful shot of the presumed Rufous in midflight (click here). Jack and Mary Lynch continue to welcome birders to their home at 415 NW 9th Street in High Springs, but they ask that you maintain a decent distance from the birds. Good luck if you go for them!

Long-time Gainesville birders will be saddened to hear that Judy Bryan has died. Dotty Robbins kindly forwarded a January 12th email from Judy’s brother Dana Bryan of Tallahassee, who wrote, “I wanted to let you know that Judy passed away Thursday night after three and a half years battling her cancer. She put up a valiant fight and birded to the end! I posted a memorial photo album on Facebook if you want to ‘friend me’ long enough to see it.” Do a Facebook search for “Dana Bryan Tallahassee” to find Dana’s page.

Calliope Hummingbird at High Springs!

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

It was one of those instances of birding serendipity that often begin a lucky day. Mike Manetz and I had hoped to look for the Fox Sparrow at Prairie Creek’s Lodge Trail with Chris Burney this morning, but Chris was called away to check an easement for Alachua Conservation Trust. He hadn’t returned by mid-morning, so we decided to visit the Hague Dairy instead. We stopped at the Deerhaven pond just before the dairy turnoff to see what might be there and found at least two Redheads, maybe three, among the Ring-necked Ducks and American Coots. Then we went on to the dairy, where we saw a Merlin harrying the cowbirds, a Common Ground-Dove, and a Marsh Wren. I was trying to get a better look at a warbler in a swampy area – as yellow below as a Prairie Warbler, what looked to be a gray hood – when the cell phone rang.

It was Bubba Scales. “Are you in Gainesville?” he asked.

I told him I was at the Hague dairy.

“Even better,” he said. Customers in High Springs had emailed him pictures of what they believed to be a Calliope Hummingbird at their feeder, and he thought it was worth checking out. “The throat looks plum-colored,” he said.

When Bubba said goodbye, I told Mike the news. “We’re wasting time here,” he said. He called the customers, Jack and Mary Lynch, and asked if we could come see the bird. Since we were already at Hague, it was only a fifteen minute drive to High Springs. Just before town, we cut left onto US-27 (1st Avenue), followed it across Main Street to NW 9th Street, then turned right and continued to the Lynches’ house (415 NW 9th Street, on the right). Mr. Lynch met us and showed us the feeder. Mike and I waited around for about twenty minutes before the bird flew in and perched on a stick tied to the feeder pole. Based on Bubba’s description, I’d thought this might be a young male, a bird that might require some puzzling out, but no. The throat was a mass of magenta stripes, narrowing to a point on each side like a forked beard. An adult male! We’ve had one or two Calliopes in Alachua County before, but they were unremarkable in appearance, reminiscent of almost every other female or juvenile hummingbird in North America. There was no doubt about this one! Mike managed to get a photo by aiming his cell phone’s camera through his telescope: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/11936434044/

A second hummingbird is present in the same yard, and habitually clashes with the Calliope. It looks like a female or juvenile male Selasphorus, probably a female Rufous. At one point it sat on the uppermost twig of a leafless cherry tree for about half an hour, incessantly looking back and forth, back and forth, waiting for the Calliope to show up, and when it did the Selasphorus zoomed down and commandeered the feeder. According to Mary Lynch, both birds have been present since the 3rd.

The Lynches are happy to entertain guests. Park in the driveway or on the street. No need to knock. Just walk around to the right side of the house, open the gate, sit down in one of the folding chairs, and watch the nearest feeder. The Lynches say that late afternoon is usually the busiest time.

White-faced Ibis on La Chua

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

Mike and Diana Manetz came across a White-faced Ibis feeding with Glossy Ibises just past the water control structure at La Chua on the 10th. Diana got a picture. I came along about an hour later, but I couldn’t find it. You’ll just have to check all the dark ibises you see for a red eye, a pink face, and pink legs.

The Bullock’s Oriole (and Ted and Steven Goodman, and Scott Flamand) made the TV 20 news on the 10th. Here’s the video: http://www.wcjb.com/local-news-state-news/2014/01/bird-native-western-us-spotted-alachua-county

The Bullock’s was still being seen on the 11th, by the way.

Remember the two Alachua Audubon events that are coming up: the Kids’ Christmas Bird Count on January 18th, and the Backyard Birding Tour on February 8th.

Bullock’s Oriole, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Fox Sparrow

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

In case you haven’t heard, Florida’s first documented Violet-green Swallow was photographed in a flock of Tree Swallows at Flamingo in Everglades National Park this morning – by out of state birders. Why is it always out of state birders who find the best birds? Come on, Florida, show a little pride!

Closer to home, the Bullock’s Oriole was seen again on the 8th and the 9th, in both the morning and the afternoon. Dotty Robbins told me that she went north from the Goodmans’ and around the corner, and from the street was able to see the bird in a tree in the back yard of the yellow house at 3736 NW 65th Place. If you go looking, please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house, as the wife works at night; however the homeowner seems to be a genial fellow (though described by one birder as “eccentric”) and if he sees you he may well invite you to walk up and take a closer look.

Chuck Currey has pointed out that this Bullock’s Oriole was present last winter as well. He lives right around the corner from the Goodmans, and in December 2012 he emailed me about an oriole that looked to him like a Bullock’s. His description perfectly fits this bird: “It has a yellow-orange supercilium, black midline chin stripe, and prominent white patch on its wings (greater and median coverts).” Unfortunately I was in Jacksonville taking care of my sick father at the time and I wasn’t able to properly follow up on Chuck’s sighting.

And by the way, Bullock’s Oriole is a Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee “review species,” so if you see it, please take a few minutes and fill out an online rare bird form: http://fosbirds.org/content/fos-bird-records-species-documentation

The Red-breasted Nuthatch that was seen on the Christmas Bird Count is still there and was seen on the morning of the 10th by Mike Manetz. It’s just west of Westside Park. About the best thing you can do is stand at the corner of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue and wait for the feeding flock to come through. Then watch the tops of the pine trees. Mike writes, “The pine tree closest to the street has a short, broken off stump of a branch, and it eventually perched there, which is where we saw it the day after the Christmas Count.”

Mike also says the mystery rail – a Black Rail? no one has seen it well enough to say – is still in exactly the same spot across from the 441 observation platform, as of the 10th.

Chris Burney found the winter’s second Fox Sparrow behind Prairie Creek Lodge on the 9th: “I was looking for the Henslow’s Sparrows (in fields NW of the lodge past the horse pastures) after lunch since Mike was interested in chasing them – didn’t kick them up, may need more birders. Past the first field you hit open woodland with several downed trees – Fox Sparrow was mixed in with flock of White-throated.” Andy Kratter found one along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on December 12th, but it hasn’t been seen since.

On the afternoon of the 8th the female Common Goldeneye was at her usual spot in the retention pond behind the Harn Museum.

I can’t imagine how I neglected to post these earlier, unless it was just senility, but here are the results of the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count, held on December 15th:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 312
Snow Goose 1
Muscovy Duck 207
Wood Duck 346
Gadwall 22
American Wigeon 1
Mallard 17
Mottled Duck 121
Blue-winged Teal 757
Northern Shoveler 20
Northern Pintail 7
Green-winged Teal 97
Redhead 2
Ring-necked Duck 602
Greater Scaup 1
Lesser Scaup 15
Bufflehead 8
Common Goldeneye 3
Hooded Merganser 75
Ruddy Duck 96
Northern Bobwhite 16
Wild Turkey 52
Pied-billed Grebe 78
Horned Grebe 8
Wood Stork 54
Double-crested Cormorant 618
Anhinga 220
American White Pelican 22
American Bittern 26
Great Blue Heron 115
Great Egret 402
Snowy Egret 216
Little Blue Heron 206
Tricolored Heron 40
Cattle Egret 260
Green Heron 28
Black-crowned Night-Heron 45
White Ibis 2,010
Glossy Ibis 516
White-faced Ibis 1
Black Vulture 481
Turkey Vulture 1,160
Osprey 9
Northern Harrier 38
Sharp-shinned Hawk 6
Cooper’s Hawk 8
Bald Eagle 65
Red-shouldered Hawk 141
Red-tailed Hawk 27
King Rail 9
Virginia Rail 8
Sora 97
Common Gallinule 127
American Coot 465
Limpkin 17
Sandhill Crane 2,984
Killdeer 346
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 18
Lesser Yellowlegs 2
Least Sandpiper 60
Wilson’s Snipe 242
American Woodcock 15
Bonaparte’s Gull 8
Ring-billed Gull 699
Herring Gull 3
Forster’s Tern 28
Rock Pigeon 13
Eurasian Collared-Dove 75
White-winged Dove 4
Mourning Dove 585
Common Ground-Dove 7
Barn Owl 1
Eastern Screech-Owl 4
Great Horned Owl 19
Barred Owl 45
Eastern Whip-poor-will 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3
Rufous Hummingbird 2
Belted Kingfisher 43
Red-headed Woodpecker 12
Red-bellied Woodpecker 222
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 63
Downy Woodpecker 105
Northern Flicker 64
Pileated Woodpecker 83
American Kestrel 39
Merlin 5
Peregrine Falcon 2
Least Flycatcher 2
Empidonax sp. 1
Eastern Phoebe 408
Vermilion Flycatcher 1
Ash-throated Flycatcher 1
Loggerhead Shrike 38
White-eyed Vireo 110
Blue-headed Vireo 70
Blue Jay 277
American Crow 492
Fish Crow 229
crow, sp. 40
Tree Swallow 12
Carolina Chickadee 242
Tufted Titmouse 290
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Brown-headed Nuthatch 4
House Wren 146
Sedge Wren 27
Marsh Wren 52
Carolina Wren 396
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 419
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 422
Eastern Bluebird 251
Hermit Thrush 34
American Robin 654
Gray Catbird 104
Brown Thrasher 29
Northern Mockingbird 220
European Starling 87
American Pipit 13
Cedar Waxwing 134
Ovenbird 9
Northern Waterthrush 2
Black-and-white Warbler 95
Orange-crowned Warbler 98
Common Yellowthroat 175
Northern Parula 4
Palm Warbler 1,259
Pine Warbler 190
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2,365
Yellow-throated Warbler 40
Prairie Warbler 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 2
Wilson’s Warbler 1
Eastern Towhee 136
Chipping Sparrow 952
Field Sparrow 27
Vesper Sparrow 62
Savannah Sparrow 294
Grasshopper Sparrow 8
Henslow’s Sparrow 7
Song Sparrow 54
Lincoln’s Sparrow 4
Swamp Sparrow 581
White-throated Sparrow 55
White-crowned Sparrow 22
Summer Tanager 1
Northern Cardinal 784
Painted Bunting 4
Red-winged Blackbird 3,307
Eastern Meadowlark 143
Rusty Blackbird 5
Common Grackle 325
Boat-tailed Grackle 750
Brown-headed Cowbird 137
Baltimore Oriole 19
House Finch 120
American Goldfinch 257
House Sparrow 40

The Wall Street Journal published an article on the 2nd discussing the increasing use of song playback in birding: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304244904579276551350667062

Last of all, remember the two Alachua Audubon events that are coming up: the Kids’ Christmas Bird Count on January 18th, and the Backyard Birding Tour on February 8th.

A Bullock’s Oriole! Did you hear me? A BULLOCK’S ORIOLE!

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

The Bullock’s Oriole continues to visit the Goodmans’ back yard. I arrived at 8:15 on Sunday morning, and was surprised when Leigh Larsen was the only other person to show up. The Bullock’s took its sweet time arriving – I waited an hour and forty minutes – but when it got there at 9:55 it stuck around for nearly half an hour, mostly investigating withered leaves in the big sweetgum tree in the back yard just south of the Goodmans’. On Tuesday morning several birders went to see it – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, Will Sexton, Bob Carroll, Becky Enneis, and Jonathan Mays – and the oriole obliged again, at the feeder at 9:00 and 10:00, and then again close to noon in an oak tree down the street. Mike got a photo, and Jonathan got two.

Now listen to me, brothers and sisters. Bullock’s Oriole is native to the American West. On those rare occasions when one strays to Florida, it’s usually a female, which can be extremely difficult to distinguish from a pale female Baltimore. An adult male, especially one this beautiful, is a rare thing. How rare? I’ve compiled all the published records, and adult males have been seen only three times in Alachua County: in 1963, in 1979, and right now. Look at those pictures again. How long has it been since you saw a bird that beautiful? So get yourselves over to the Goodmans’ house in Mile Run, brothers and sisters. Park at the curb and take one of the chairs they’ve set up on the right (south) side of the house. And hope it shows up. This is a great bird.

Speaking of great birds, what were the best Alachua County birds of 2013? Adam Zions came up with a top ten (“in no particular order”) and ten more that he thought worthy of mention:

Ross’s Goose
Pacific Loon
White-faced Ibis
Swainson’s Hawk
Groove-billed Ani
Alder Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Bell’s Vireo
Kirtland’s Warbler
Nelson’s Sparrow

Honorable Mentions perhaps:

Dunlin
Wilson’s Phalarope
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Swainson’s Warbler
Canada Warbler
Western Tanager
Dickcissel
Bronzed Cowbird

Adam concludes, “I think it just goes to show how great a year we experienced last year in Alachua (how does the Vermilion not crack this Top 10???). Even with water levels around the county finally getting closer to normal, we still had a wealth of avifauna arrive on our doorstep. I know my top 3 would be the Kirtland’s Warbler, Pacific Loon, and Bell’s Vireo. I could switch the loon and vireo positions, but I just don’t think any species could oust the Kirtland’s from the #1 position. Sadly I really wanted to add in the Swainson’s Hawk as a possible tie for 3rd place as it only seems appropriate.”

So what do y’all think? Send me your top ten, and I’ll compile the votes.

Rarity update: Has anyone looked for the three Brown Pelicans at Bivens Arm? The Rusty Blackbirds were still at Magnolia Parke late this afternoon. On the afternoon of the 5th, while scoping off Palm Point, I saw 5 Horned Grebes and 3 juvenile Herring Gulls.

Someone posted a photo of a Snowy Owl on the Alachua County Birders Facebook page today, claiming that he’d taken it at Morningside Nature Center. Geoff Parks showed it to his wife, who suggested that he do a Google image search on “Snowy Owl” and see if that photo came up. Oddly enough, it did, in the blog of a Minnesota birder (fourth picture down): http://ecobirder.blogspot.com/2007/11/snowy-owl-at-tamarack-nature-center.html  It’s actually a pretty good practical joke, but birders don’t have a sense of humor about things like this!

Alachua Audubon will be sponsoring a Kids’ Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, January 18th. Details here.

Bullock’s Oriole in northwest Gainesville!

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

On Saturday morning an adult male Bullock’s Oriole visited Ted and Steven Goodman’s feeding station in the Mile Run development. Ted got a photo – a bit overexposed, so that the bird looks yellow instead of orange, but the dark line through the eye and the throat stripe are clearly visible: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/11760659335/

The bird was not seen again in the afternoon, but Ted says there’s a flock of Baltimore Orioles that roams the neighborhood and the Bullock’s was associating with them. He says that anyone hoping to see the bird is welcome to drop by the house at 6437 NW 37th Drive (you can use Google Maps to find it; but it’s just west of NW 37th Street, north of NW 53rd Avenue). Sunday morning would be ideal, since he and the family will be leaving early in hopes of seeing the Bar-tailed Godwit in the Tampa Bay area. The bird was last seen today a little before noon. There have been three to six previous sightings of this species in Alachua County, depending on the reliability of the observers.

And that’s not the only good bird here: today Mary Landsman alerted me to the presence of three immature Brown Pelicans on Bivens Arm. They had gone to roost in some lakeside trees by late afternoon, and should still be there tomorrow.

This morning’s Alachua Audubon field trip to La Chua went pretty well. We found a Wilson’s Warbler at the little dip in Sparrow Alley, right where Mike Manetz found it on the 29th, and saw two King Rails, several Soras, the semi-resident female Vermilion Flycatcher, and an immature Purple Gallinule. Ducks were hard to see because of all the vegetation, but we did spot Blue-winged Teal (numerous), Green-winged Teal, Mottled Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, and a couple of Northern Shovelers. Those who stayed late added two Grasshopper Sparrows and a Barn Owl to the list – 68 species overall, by my count.

A whole new year of birds

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

The biggest Florida birding news of the winter was the discovery – by a former member of the Romanian parliament! – of Florida’s third-ever Snowy Owl at the south end of Little Talbot Island in Jacksonville on the 27th. It was seen by many on the 28th and many more on the 29th. It eluded birders on the 30th but was rediscovered – by another out-of-state birder – on the morning of the 31st, and has been seen every day since. You can look at a few pictures here.

What may have been Alachua County’s third Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the season was reported to eBird by Indiana birder John Skene on December 28th. He was driving north on I-75 across Paynes Prairie when he saw it: “Perched on telephone wire. Body size, shape, and color like mockingbird except for very long tail.”

Mike Manetz has not been able to find the Wilson’s Warbler at Lake Alice despite several attempts, but on the 29th he stumbled across another, “along Sparrow Alley, in a cluster of oaks before the first dip in the trail as you are headed west.”

On the 16th Lloyd Davis took a walk on La Chua with his camera: “My battery was almost dead, so I was trying to run it down completely before I went home.” He came across a White-crowned Sparrow, and took pictures until he ran out of power. Back home he posted the photos on Facebook as he normally does, and that’s where Matt Hafner saw them. Matt identified the sparrow as the northwestern (“Gambel’s”) race of White-crowned. According to Cornell’s online resource Birds of North America, Gambel’s “breeds across northern tier from Alaska to Hudson Bay; winters south through cen. Mexico, generally rarer eastward.” Stevenson and Anderson’s The Birdlife of Florida (1994) asserts that only three specimens of Gambel’s have been collected in Florida over the years, and only one has been photographed. So this makes five that have been documented in the state. Gambel’s has a gray lore (area between the eye and the bill) rather than a black one, and its bill is orangeish rather than pinkish. One of Lloyd’s photos is here.

Signs of spring: Tom Webber once observed to me that cardinals start singing right after the winter solstice. I usually don’t hear them til January, but this year two were singing in my neighborhood on the morning of the 23rd. I’ve heard them almost daily since then. (Samuel Ewing mentioned that he’d heard them singing sporadically during the fall as well. Did anyone else notice this?) I also heard a Carolina Chickadee singing on the 21st, at least a month earlier than usual, but didn’t hear it thereafter. A handful of American Robins have been perching in my oaks the last two days, scouts for the impending invasion. Some early flowers are in bloom, like Black Medick and Virginia Peppergrass. And we’ve gained three minutes of daylight since the solstice!

Samuel Ewing took a photo of two geese at the UF Beef Teaching Unit on the 21st. One of them shows a somewhat shorter bill and a higher, more rounded crown than the other, but both exhibit the characteristically distinct “grin patch” of a Snow Goose. Samuel wonders if anyone can account for the difference between these birds – if they might be Greater and Lesser Snow Geese, or a Lesser and a Ross’s-Snow hybrid – or if they’re both within the range of standard variation of Snow Goose. His photo is here.

It’s always fun for listers to look back, at the end of the year, and see who amassed the largest list of birds seen in the county or in the state. It’s sort of like end-of-season sports statistics – but not quite, since list size does not correlate very well with ability (or so I like to tell myself). Based on eBird’s “Top 100 eBirders” in Florida and Alachua County for 2013, and double-checked with most of the birders involved, here are the top ten county listers and, among birders living in Alachua County, the top ten state listers. I’ll single out a few of these performances. Steven Goodman and Samuel Ewing are both in their early teens, yet Steven saw 304 species in Florida last year, and Samuel saw 207 species in Alachua County; the first time I saw 200 species in a single year in Alachua County I was 37, and the first time I saw 300 species in a single year in Florida I was 40. These two guys are going to be very, very good; in fact, they already are very, very good. And speaking of very, very good, Mike Manetz saw 242 species during a thoroughly average year in Alachua County. There were no droughts and no hurricanes, nothing to bring in unusual birds at all, and yet he bested his 2000 total of 241, when a drought dried up Newnans Lake and brought 30 shorebird species to its shores. Congratulations, Mike! Congratulations, Steven and Samuel, and all the rest of you.

ALACHUA COUNTY
Mike Manetz  242
Jonathan Mays  239
Adam Zions  231
John Hintermister  227
Rex Rowan  218
Samuel Ewing  207
Adam Kent  203
John Martin  198
Steven Goodman  197
Benjamin Ewing  196
Dean Ewing  195

FLORIDA
Adam Zions  325
John Hintermister  323
Dotty Robbins  313
Steven Goodman  304
Jonathan Mays  301
Mike Manetz  284
Adam Kent  272
Rex Rowan  264
Gina Kent  262
Barbara Shea  251

(There’s already an eBird “Top 100 Birders” list for 2014, and as of the 1st Samuel Ewing is leading the pack with 67 species. If he does that well every day, he’ll have 24,455 species on his list at the end of the year! Go, Samuel, go!)

Bob Wallace didn’t keep year lists for the state or the county, but he did keep one for his farm south of Alachua. He saw 140 species there, more than the total number I’ve recorded in 21 years at my house.

Steve Collins made a map of his 2013 sightings using eBird, with do-it-yourself instructions below the map.

Listing by itself is neither good nor bad. On the one hand it can motivate you to go out the door and spend a beautiful day in the woods and fields, but on the other hand it can become little more than an obsessive numbers game in which keeping your place in the rankings is the only thing that matters. For an example of “dark side” listing, check out this report on British “twitchers” from The Guardian. And if you ever want to cure yourself of any interest in birds whatsoever, watch this documentary, featuring many of the same characters as the article, most especially the most notorious man in British birding, Lee G.R. Evans.

On the lighter side, John Hintermister sent me this Russian video of a Hooded Crow repeatedly tobogganing down a roof.

Remember the first Alachua Audubon field trip of 2014, at the La Chua Trail this Saturday, January 4th, beginning at 8 a.m.

Swainson’s Hawk still there!

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

Josh Watson saw the Swainson’s Hawk at SW 95th Avenue at 7:45 this morning (the 23rd): “Saw him this morning perched above the barn structure. Saw the light belly with the dark patches in the higher part of the chest. It was just to the left of the barn structure, posted up in the crown of the tree. I did have two cars drive past, one of which paused awkwardly long at the intersection back on to 41. Awkwardly long….” Remember to follow Adam Zions’s example: smile and wave ingratiatingly. You don’t want to end up here in the Christmas Day edition of the Sun.

In other western Alachua County birding news, my daughter and I went out to SW 250th Street north of Watermelon Pond on the 21st and relocated the Western Kingbird that Lloyd Davis had found earlier in the day. It was on a telephone line.

If I don’t send out another birding report until after the 1st, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

Last call for the Christmas Count

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

Adam Kent was invited to compete in Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge this month as part of a three-man team sponsored by Surbound Expeditions. There were six teams, and Surbound tied for second place, amassing 455 species in six days, about as many as I have on my entire life list. So, children, if you’re good, and you eat your vegetables, and you study your bird vocalizations, especially the Furnariidae, the Tyrannidae, and the Thamnophilidae, you can grow up big and strong and one day maybe you’ll be invited to join Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge!

On the 6th Benjamin Ewing found two female Common Goldeneyes in the pond behind the Harn Museum (note that there are two ponds behind the museum, one near the intersection of 34th and Hull and one nearer the building; the birds are in the latter). Both were still present on the 12th, when Matt Bruce got this picture.

Andy Kratter has a Fox Sparrow in his SE Gainesville neighborhood for the fifth year in a row: “Park at Boulware Springs Park off SE 15th Street, walk north on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, pass the entrance to Sweetwater Preserve (on your left), and about 100 yards further on the right (east) is a dirt track. Go down about 75 yards and see the beer can (Natty Lite tall boy) on a stick. Look here. There were a few towhees, White-throated and Chipping Sparrows as well. I scattered some seed there later this morning. There is a lot of habitat in this area, and the bird will probably be hard to find.”

Maralee Joos told me that she found a Wilson’s Warbler at Lake Alice on the 4th, on the wooden platform at the end of the boardwalk leading from the University Gardens to the platform overlooking the lake.

The Rusty Blackbirds are still being seen in the wetland behind Magnolia Parke, most recently on the 12th. On the 8th Graham Williams got an excellent photo and a video.

And the Snow Goose was seen again on the 12th at the UF Beef Teaching Unit fields on SW 23rd Street. Unfortunately the Ross’s Goose hasn’t been seen since the 3rd.

Gainesville’s 56th Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday and the twelve teams are pretty much ready to go. However there are two smaller Counts coming up in the next week, so contact the compilers if you can lend them your (no doubt considerable) talents:

Tuesday, December 17th – Ichetucknee / O’Leno / Santa Fe – compiler Ginger Morgan ginger.morgan@dep.state.fl.us

Thursday, December 19th – Melrose – compiler Jim Swarr jhschwarr@gmail.com

Speaking of the Christmas Bird Count, are any of you who live in Gainesville or immediately to the south hosting any good birds in your yards right now? Any hummingbirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, Painted Buntings, Pine Siskins, flocks of Baltimore Orioles, that sort of thing? Let me know and we’ll send a team to check it out on Sunday.