Zone-tailed Hawk returns to Cedar Key area

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

I got this email from the FWC’s Tiffany Black this afternoon:

“The Zone-tailed Hawk was seen again by both my boyfriend Scott and I yesterday morning (5/25/2014) for about 5-8 minutes, calling (a scream – definitely different than anything else around here), pretty high up over our back yard. Had a birder come over who works with the USFWS at the Lower Suwannee NWR and unfortunately he didn’t see it. Sadly, we still weren’t able to get any photos. Though it’s frustrating on the picture front, this is exciting, as I feel now it might be hanging around. I was sure it had left for good. Feel free to email or call for details, directions, etc. If anyone wants to come look either from my home or the adjacent scrub property, they are welcome.”

I get the impression that most birders didn’t take this sighting very seriously, or perhaps they were just waiting for someone else to verify it first. I’m not presently able to do that, but it would certainly be worth the trouble of an extended sky watch if the state’s first chaseable Zone-tailed Hawk were the reward.

Ms. Black writes, “I live at 7850 SW 126th Terrace, Cedar Key, FL, 32625. I am OK with people parking in the yard and looking around. They can come on the porch if they want. I don’t mind; I am a birder so I know the drill. Scott is my boyfriend and should be here. Now, to clarify, we did NOT see it yesterday, and the views from the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve might afford better views.”

You can use an internet mapping program to find her address. The section of the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve that she refers to is on State Road 24 about three and a half miles west of the junction with County Road 345. Here’s a map of the Reserve: http://www.floridastateparks.org/cedarkeyscrub/doc/additionalinformation/cks-cks_trail_map.pdf

Ms. Black’s email is tiffany.black@myfwc.com

The June Challenge, and the June Challenge kickoff field trip

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

The Eleventh Annual June Challenge begins on Sunday. The June Challenge, for those of you 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 possible from June 1st to June 30th. Participation has grown considerably since the first Challenge in 2004 – last year 48 Alachua County birders submitted lists! But it hasn’t *just* grown locally: 100 other birders from 54 other counties, mainly in Florida but including counties in California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas, plus Norfolk, England, participated last year.

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, not merely heard.
  3. The question of whether this bird or that bird is “countable” toward your total has created some confusion. Here’s what I sent out to the statewide listserv: “Any free-flying bird is countable for the purposes of the Challenge, but keep track of how many ABA-countable (“ABA” is American Birding Association) and non-countable species are on your list. Report them in this format: ‘Total number seen (number that are ABA countable / number that are not),’ e.g., 115 (112 / 3). If your local population of an exotic species is recognized as established by the ABA, then any member of that population is an ABA-countable bird. Otherwise put it on your non-countable list. For instance, a bird belonging to an established population of Monk Parakeets would be ABA-countable. An escaped Monk Parakeet, or a Mute Swan in a city park, would not be.” This applies to only a tiny percentage of the birds out there, but 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 MONDAY, JUNE 30TH. There will be a June Challenge party at TJC creator Becky Enneis’s house in Alachua on July 1st, at which a handsome trophy and prizes will be given out.

You can do the Challenge on your own, of course, but Bob Carroll will be at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday to jump start it, and you’re welcome to join him, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced birder. From Longleaf you’ll go to Newnans Lake and then La Chua ($2 admission for La Chua). You should be home by lunchtime with 40-50 species on that checklist! Bring rubber boots if you have them, or wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet. (Directions to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve: From Gainesville, take State Road 20 (Hawthorne Road) east. After 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.)

(I was at Longleaf this morning. I found Common Nighthawks and Brown-headed Nuthatches, as expected, but my best bird of the morning was a big reddish-brown bird with long sharp wings that flushed off the trail in front of me. The flapping of its wings caused a small brown leaf to move a few inches. I recognized the Chuck-will’s-widow the instant it took off, but only after another few seconds did it dawn on me that the “small brown leaf” was a downy chick, and then I saw a second one just a couple of feet away. I’ve only seen Chuck chicks a few times in my life, but I rapidly moved on down the trail so that the parent bird could return to its offspring as soon as possible. It’s a hard world for little things.)

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 and last weeks of the month, to get late spring and early fall migrants. 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 Tenth Annual June Challenge. Good luck to all!

Urgent bluebird situation! plus a couple of rare hawks

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

Florida Wildlife Care is caring for a solitary Eastern Bluebird chick described as “five minutes to fledging.” Do any of you know of a Gainesville-area bluebird box with young nearly ready to fledge, into which this chick can be placed? Please let me know as soon as possible.

People have been seeing a Monk Parakeet in the general vicinity of NW 43rd Street and NW 53rd Avenue. He escaped from captivity last June and his former owners either couldn’t recapture him or didn’t make the effort. His name is Rio. Keep an eye out for him if you’re in the vicinity of Hunter’s Crossing. Alas, as an escaped cage bird he is uncountable. Alachua County is still waiting for its first countable Monk Parakeets. The closest we came was in March-May 2005, when a pair of Monks built a nest on the tower at Waldo Road and NE 31st Avenue and then abandoned it and disappeared.

An FWC biologist named Tiffany Black has reported a Zone-tailed Hawk about five miles inland from Cedar Key. She saw it on the 12th and 13th but not since then. She describes herself as an experienced birder who has seen Zone-tailed Hawks in Texas, has worked with the Hawk Migration Association of North America, and has seen several Short-tailed Hawks (the obvious species with which Zone-tailed might be confused in Florida) in the area without mistaking them for Zone-tailed Hawks. She describes the bird in question as dark bodied with long two-toned wings and a two-inch white stripe across its tail. She writes, “I live at 7850 SW 126th Terrace, Cedar Key, FL, 32625. I am OK with people parking in the yard and looking around. They can come on the porch if they want. I don’t mind; I am a birder so I know the drill. :) Scott is my boyfriend and should be here. Now, to clarify, we did NOT see it [on the 14th], and the views from the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve might afford better views.” She means the section of the Reserve that is along State Road 24, about three and a half miles after the junction with County Road 345.

However, speaking of Short-tailed Hawks, Ignacio Rodriguez and Cristobal Pizarro found one at La Chua on the 6th, and John Hintermister and Felicia Lee saw the same bird (presumably) on the 11th and had it in view for several minutes as it soared over Alachua Sink. John wrote, “This was a dark morph bird. I saw a dark morph in the same spot last spring on 05/08/2013. The body,head and neck and the underwing coverts were black. The flight feathers and the tail were light gray. The tail had a dark terminal band. The secondaries and inner primaries were dark tipped and the outer primaries were dark.”

A couple of interesting bird-related stories from the New York Times: the clash of tradition with new technology in the World Series of Birding here, and a brief note about the discovery that radio signals can throw migrating birds off track, here.

Two weeks from this Sunday is June 1st. Seems to me that something happens then, but I can’t quite call it to mind….

Remember that bluebird!

Time’s a-wastin’!

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

Lovett Williams, Jr., who worked for Florida’s Game and Fish Commission for many years beginning in the 1960s, died on April 30th at the age of 78. He was a well-known wildlife biologist and naturalist, a world authority on the Wild Turkey, and an enormously enthusiastic turkey hunter. Here’s a nice remembrance: http://www.deeranddeerhunting.com/article-index/memorium-turkey-biologist-lovett-williams And a two-hour video interview with Lovett, presumably shot at his Cedar Key home, can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/60200527 Lovett reported a Common Merganser in Alachua County on December 21, 1966. Since it was the only report in the county’s history, I emailed him a few years ago and introduced myself and asked for additional details, for instance where he’d seen it. He replied, “I am sorry to have to report that I have not kept records of the bird sightings you mentioned. I believe the birds were correctly identified but since I don’t have any notes I cannot confirm the locale or dates or any other details that may have been reported to you nor any information in addition to what was reported.” This was, I suspect, his way of saying, “Don’t pester me, junior.” So I didn’t – though someone advised me that he’d be much more talkative if I showed up at his door with a six-pack of beer! Unfortunately I never did that. He would have been a treasure trove of information on the birds and landscape of Alachua County fifty years ago. He saw the first American Avocet recorded in Alachua County, on November 23, 1967. He was also one of very few people to see Rough-legged Hawk here; he and Dale Crider saw a wintering bird several times between December 28, 1965 and March 15, 1966. And he contributed to a paper on Budgerigars in North Florida, stating that flocks of 30 or more used to be seen in Gainesville. Now long gone.

Remember that Alachua Audubon is organizing a Cedar Key boat trip for early Saturday afternoon. There’s still space on the boat, but you’ve got to make a reservation; call Wild Birds Unlimited (352-381-1997) to do that. The cost of the boat trip is $25. The remainder of this year’s field trip and program schedule can be seen here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ (When the site comes up, click the little button at the top of the list that says, “Expand all.”)

You know, it’s Connecticut Warbler time. Connecticut is a rarely-seen migrant that comes through Florida after most of the other migrants have already gone north. There are eight spring records from Alachua County, ranging from May 6th to May 28th, five of the eight in the first half of the month. They show a preference for deciduous woodlands and are usually seen walking on the ground, like this. So go find one! Good luck. And remember, it was while he was looking for a Connecticut Warbler last year that Mike Manetz found the county’s second-ever Kirtland’s Warbler!

Bob and Erika Simons have discovered that the best birding on Paynes Prairie right now is along Sweetwater Dike. When you’re walking out La Chua, you come off the boardwalk at Alachua Sink, and about a hundred yards farther on you come to the water control structure, marked by several culverts. A canal, and accompanying dike trail, leads off to the right. That’s Sweetwater Dike. Along that short walk – there’s a gate after half a mile, and you should turn back there – you’ve got a good chance of seeing Purple Gallinule, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Least Bittern, King Rail, Orchard Oriole, and migratory Bobolinks, as well as the abundant Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles. Bob got a fine photo of a Bobolink eating giant cutgrass (southern wild rice) out there on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13957955519/

Yellow-breasted Chats are also relatively easy to see along the first part of La Chua right now. Up to five have been reported on a single walk. Bob Simons wrote about encountering two in the extensive thicket west of the barn: “This morning I had a nice visit with a Yellow-breasted Chat at Paynes Prairie. Erika and I walked a little trail that goes south from Sparrow Alley past the big loblolly pine out in front of the old horse barn and then curves west. We took a small trail that branches off on the left side of that trail that also ends up going west and eventually intersects the trail along the power line. Anyway, we both got photos of a chat about 50 yards south of the loblolly pine. I had heard it calling while we were passing the pine tree. As we walked west on our little trail, I heard another chat, and went off trail in my snake-proof sandals to try to find it. I ended up standing in one spot, with the chat sitting up singing and calling from one perch after another, gradually circling me and getting closer. It flew in an exaggerated display kind of flight that reminds me of a butterfly, nearly putting its wings together above its back with each set of wing beats while calling or singing (I never can tell with chats).” Here’s one of Bob’s pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14141293391/

One of the best photos I’ve seen recently is a photo of a birder, not a bird. Here’s Samuel Ewing going all out to get a shot of a Spotted Sandpiper at the Home Depot Pond: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14059003566/

Alachua County birder emeritus Steve Collins – we still claim him, though he left us eight years ago – participated in a pretty exciting Big Day in Texas’s Big Bend a few days ago. One of his fellow participants wrote it up in a nice blog post: http://paintedbunny.blogspot.com/#!/2014/05/the-colima-death-experiment-big-day.html I had NO idea you could see some of those birds in the Big Bend. And I can’t remember ever hearing the term “facilitree” either. That’s what you call an outdoor restroom, a facilitree.

There’s not much spring migration left. Some late migrants like Blackpoll Warblers, Bobolinks, and several species of shorebirds are still moving through, but in diminishing numbers. This weekend may be your last chance. That Cedar Key boat trip might be a good opportunity to see shorebirds in their spring finery. The Black-bellied Plover, which usually looks like this, now looks like this. And the dingy Dunlin, which looks like this all winter, now looks like this (they were formerly called “Red-backed Sandpiper” and that’s why). And if you can’t get away, at least look out the window; just birding around his NW Gainesville yard, Samuel Ewing saw a Magnolia Warbler on the 3rd and a Peregrine Falcon flying northward on the 1st!

Spring ain’t over. In case you were thinking it was.

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

At some point you should get around to looking at this: http://standbyourplan.org/

Remember that spring migration is still underway, and there are plenty of surprises out there. Dean and Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at the Hague Dairy this morning. Samuel wrote, “Speedy flyby, swooped real low right over the lagoon. It then headed off to the north. Large falcon with a gray back and pointed wings. Extremely fast flyer.”

The Swainson’s Warbler discovered at Bolen Bluff by Adam and Gina Kent on the morning of the 26th was not an easy bird to relocate. I arrived in the early afternoon to find a few birders already searching. Adam Zions, who had glimpsed it, was trying to hunt it down again to get a better look. Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan were combing the woods to the north, since it had last been seen moving in that direction. Bill and Nell Pennewill showed up not long after I did. We moved slowly back and forth along the trails and among the trees, watching the ground for a little brown bird that would be methodically turning over leaves. We had no luck. After half an hour Adam went home. Another two hours and Mike and Matt left. Bill and Nell and I were the only ones left, and Nell was getting tired. She set up a folding chair beside the trail and said she was going to sit down and rest her back. Bill went one way down the trail, I went the other. Still nothing. It was coming up on three and a half hours that I’d been there and I was on my way to tell Bill and Nell that I was heading home when Bill appeared on the trail, gesturing for me to hurry. While seated in her folding chair Nell had seen a brown bird with a reddish crown at the edge of a thicket. Bill and I crept into the woods adjoining the thicket and peered into the deep shade – and there it was, perfectly silent but quite active, walking on the forest floor, turning over leaves with its bill, and regularly displaying what Dunn and Garrett’s Field Guide to Warblers terms “a quivering movement of the rear parts.” A very neat little bird! Only the second I’ve seen in Alachua County.

Speaking of rare warblers, we’ve had three Cerulean Warblers in the county this spring. That’s a little surprising, since in the forty springs prior to this one there had been a grand total of four! Two of this year’s sightings came on April 20th, fifteen miles apart: Jonathan Mays saw an adult male in his SE Gainesville yard and Bob Hargrave saw another adult male on his farm near Monteocha. Then, on the 24th, Andy Kratter saw a female along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail near Pine Grove Cemetery. Here’s a video of a male Cerulean going about his daily business (his song resembles that of a common local species, Northern Parula): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUU7-qsmS0c

Something else that’s different this spring. Gainesville rarely sees thrushes in spring migration, but this year all the migrant species have been recorded, not just once but several times. Samuel Ewing photographed Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Veery in one walk on the 23rd, on the Loblolly Woods boardwalk north of 8th Avenue, and he also saw or heard three Wood Thrushes. You can see his photos on his eBird checklist here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18041319

Steve Zoellner writes that the grosbeaks and buntings are still at Hogtown Creek near Mildred’s: “The ‘blue bonanza’ is still active. I went by late Sunday afternoon (after the Gators swept Missouri) and saw male Blue Grosbeaks and female Indigo Buntings.” Michael Meisenburg adds that the vegetation attracting the birds to Hogtown Creek “is the same grass that’s on Lake Alice: giant cutgrass (or southern wild rice). Lake Alice could really be hopping now, as there are acres of that species out there.” Bobolinks are also fond of giant cutgrass, and they’re passing through the area in numbers. I ran into photographer Tommy Tompkins at La Chua on the 26th and he estimated that he’d seen 500 Bobolinks that morning. So it’s a good time to visit Lake Alice or that stretch of Hogtown Creek, because in addition to Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings you might see the very scene that Steve Collins photographed nine years ago: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14025723226/

Two of our wintering wrens, the Sedge Wren and the Marsh Wren, often persist into late April and even early May. Like most wrens, they’re big on personality, but they’re so secretive that they don’t get their fair share of admiration. They’re lovely little birds, though, so I thought I’d share two pictures that talented local photographers got this weekend. Tommy Tompkins photographed this Sedge Wren along the La Chua Trail on the 26th, and John Martin photographed this Marsh Wren at the Hague Dairy on the following day.

And I can’t resist passing along this photo of a baby Killdeer that John discovered near Alachua on the 27th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/14035257545/

Mark your calendar: On Saturday, May 10th, join Ron Robinson on a visit to a very large Purple Martin colony near Bronson, where you can see and experience the joys of being a Purple Martin landlord. There are over 100 pairs of martins at the site and the owner will lower parts of one of his towers so the guests can see the inside of an active martin nesting gourd. The sound of that many martins singing as they fly around the structures is not to be missed (Lynn Badger once said, “It’s impossible to hear Purple Martins and NOT be happy”). If you like birds and birding, you will love the sight and sound of this large colony. Meet Ron at the Target store parking lot at I-75 and Archer Road at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 10th. You will not be disappointed.

(Assuming that birdwatching produces individuals who can be plausibly described as “great,”) Paul Lehman is one of birding’s greats. In a recent issue of Birding magazine he published an interesting and helpful article on the importance of knowing birds’ “S&D” (status and distribution). It’s well worth your time: http://aba.org/birding/2014-MAR-APR/Lehman.pdf

Blue bird bonanza

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

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.

A pretty interesting day

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

This was probably the best single day of spring migration in Alachua County that I can remember.

This morning Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald biked from the Duck Pond area to the La Chua Trail by way of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then walked along Sparrow Alley. They spotted a male Blackburnian Warbler at the Sweetwater Overlook – Ryan wrote, “Seen in flight only but adult male — orange throat, face pattern, white patch on wing noted” – which is only the second spring record in the county’s history; the first was in 1961. Then, along Sparrow Alley, they saw the county’s fourth-ever Cave Swallow! Ryan again: “Foraging with big flock of Chimney Swifts, Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Purple Martin. Orange rump, and pale underparts fading to buffy orange throat and reddish forehead seen, though briefly.”

Otherwise, the best birding today was at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance), where Felicia Lee, Elizabeth Martin, and John Martin (no relation) walked the Moonshine Creek Trail and saw “5 Cape May Warblers, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Scarlet Tanagers, 1 male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 2 Worm-Eating Warblers, and a Wood Thrush. All in all, 11 warbler species.”

This morning’s field trip to Powers Park and Palm Point did fairly well. At Powers we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (photo here), and 75 Common Loons flying north. At Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive we saw a very cooperative male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Cape May Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler.

Geoff Parks had seen two Cliff Swallows at La Chua on the 17th. Today’s weather was cloudy with intermittent drizzle, good weather to keep swallows down (as Ryan and Jessica found), so Mike Manetz and I walked out La Chua to see if we could match Geoff’s feat. We did find a huge congregation of swallows and swifts – we agreed that “1,000″ didn’t sound excessive – and saw two or three Cliff Swallows among them. We also saw a single male Bobolink, the spring’s first. And we were surprised and pleased to find shorebirds foraging in puddles along the flooded trail – three Solitary Sandpipers, four Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and four Spotted Sandpipers.

Late this afternoon Matt O’Sullivan found a Nashville Warbler at Loblolly Woods near the parking lot (on NW 34th Street, entrance directly east of 5th Avenue). Also present at Loblolly were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Prairie, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers.

There’s a pretty good chance that all the birds mentioned above will still be here tomorrow.

On tiny little Seahorse Key, an island two miles off Cedar Key, Andy Kratter saw 15 Tennessee Warblers and 15 Painted Buntings on the 17th, and six Lincoln’s Sparrows (“probably more”) on the 18th. Hopefully we’ll have just a fraction of his success on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip. If you’d like to join us, meet us in the Target parking lot at 6:30 a.m.

Wish you were here

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

Twenty Gainesville birders made the trip to Cedar Key on Wednesday to see what Tuesday’s front had grounded. It didn’t take John Hintermister long to declare, “This is not a major fallout,” but we were nonetheless pretty excited by the clusters of Indigo Buntings on the ground, the flocks of Orchard Orioles everywhere, and the numbers of warblers flitting from tree to tree. During the morning we hit all the usual spots – the fruiting mulberries behind Christ Episcopal Church, the cemetery, Andrews Circle, and the grounds of the state museum. Highlights included a Roseate Spoonbill and a Merlin flying over the church; a stream of 18 Orchard Orioles flying out of a small tree whose crown had appeared to be empty of birds; an walk around the museum during which we encountered a Scarlet Tanager, a Lincoln’s Sparrow, four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in a flocklet, and six Painted Buntings; and the unexpectedly high numbers of three species that are normally rare in spring, Yellow, Tennessee, and Black-throated Green Warblers.

While we were finishing up at the museum we got a call from Pat Burns, who’d found a Nashville Warbler a couple of blocks north of downtown. We all went racing over to meet her, but the bird had disappeared. While we were all standing around waiting to see if it would come back, we got another phone call, this one from Dale Henderson, who’d found a female Cerulean Warbler behind the Episcopal Church. So we jumped back in our cars and drove there. The Cerulean was much better behaved than the Nashville and put on an excellent show for us. Everybody got to look at it as long as they liked. Unfortunately most of the Gainesville contingent had gone home by then, but most of those who remained decided to break for lunch. Matt O’Sullivan and I opted to keep birding, and went over to the trestle trail off Grove Street. Matt very soon found a Least Flycatcher, the day’s second Lincoln’s Sparrow, and a glorious male Magnolia Warbler. We called the remaining birders and clued them in, then went on to the airfield. We were dismayed to find that the woods bordering the runway had been fenced off for security purposes – I was told that the airfield was being used to practice drone flights – and so we weren’t able to poke around as we would have liked. But we did all right. We were peering into a little gap in the trees when a Swainson’s Warbler popped up and sat on a branch for several seconds. We walked a hundred yards down the road and Matt said, “A Golden-winged Warbler!” I saw a movement and focused my binoculars … on a Blue-winged Warbler. A moment later, the Golden-winged came into view behind it, so that I had both Blue-winged and Golden-winged in my field of view at once! A few minutes later we went back to check on the Swainson’s, and a Kentucky Warbler hopped up. We had already alerted the other Gainesville birders, and when they showed up most of them got to see the Swainson’s and the Golden-winged, but the Kentucky never reappeared.

By then it was getting late in the afternoon. We went back to the cemetery, and then the museum. We saw a Peregrine Falcon circling among Turkey Vultures, but buntings, orioles, tanagers, and warblers had all but vanished. Matt and I decided to head back to Gainesville, stopping to look at Whimbrels and American Avocets at the next to last bridge on the way out of town, and to move a young Florida Cottonmouth off the road before he became vulture food. Other birders stayed later, and for Bob Carroll and Becky Enneis it was worth it, because they found “a fabulous, breeding-plumage” Chestnut-sided Warbler at the airfield. That brought the day’s warbler total to 25 species.

The complete species list, compiled by all 20 birders in several parties, exceeded 100, but here are the highlights:

Merlin 1
Peregrine Falcon 1

Least Flycatcher 1
Eastern Kingbird 2
Gray Kingbird 4

Gray-cheeked Thrush 1
Wood Thrush 1

Ovenbird 1
Worm-eating Warbler 4
Northern Waterthrush 1
Golden-winged Warbler 1
Blue-winged Warbler 3
Black-and-white Warbler 5
Prothonotary Warbler 3
Swainson’s Warbler 1
Tennessee Warbler 7
Nashville Warbler 1
Kentucky Warbler 1
Common Yellowthroat 5
Hooded Warbler 7
American Redstart 4
Cape May Warbler 1
Cerulean Warbler 1
Northern Parula 9
Magnolia Warbler 1
Yellow Warbler 7
Chestnut-sided Warbler 1
Palm Warbler 35
Pine Warbler 1
Yellow-throated Warbler 1
Prairie Warbler 3
Black-throated Green Warbler 10

Lincoln’s Sparrow 2

Summer Tanager 2
Scarlet Tanager 10
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 5
Blue Grosbeak 8
Indigo Bunting 70
Painted Bunting 10

Orchard Oriole 70
Baltimore Oriole 7

There’s a little more spring to come. Not much. A little.

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

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Ospreys at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Just a reminder: the next three weeks will see the peak of spring migration in terms of northbound transients like Cape May, Blackpoll, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Bobolinks, Scarlet Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (among many others). And then it will pretty much be over. So get out and see them while they’re here! Don’t be like Darth Vader when he realized that he’d missed an entire spring migration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWaLxFIVX1s

Alachua Audubon’s field trip schedule is set up in July and August, and though we usually remember to schedule around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we occasionally lose track of Easter. That’s what happened this time. So we’ll be having two field trips this weekend as we usually do during spring and fall migrations, one to Palm Point with Bob Carroll on Saturday and one to Cedar Key with me on Easter Sunday. I apologize for our scheduling error, and hopefully we’ll remember not to repeat it next year. Remaining field trips here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Actually it looks as though Cedar Key *may* be better on Wednesday than on Sunday. Bob Duncan, Florida birding’s weather guru, sent out an email on Monday evening: “The very strong front has entered the NW Gulf of Mexico and is making good progress with winds NNW around 30 mph. If it has entered the southern Gulf by the time migrants take off from Yucatan (launch time = about ½ hr after sunset), migrants would not have taken off and the rest of the week would be a bust (birds have been known to turn back to Yucatan when encountering bad weather). But winds in northern Yucatan are still SSE–SE about 15 mph as of about 6 p.m. and mid-Gulf still has SE wind, so birds should take off this evening if the front does not move too fast. IF they take off, and my feeling is they will, when they encounter the front, SW then NW winds, the timing will determine where they will end up. Should they encounter it in mid-Gulf, the thrust of the movement will probably be toward the west coast of Florida (do I hear cheers coming from St. Pete?). But if they encounter it farther north, the AL – NW FL coast will be the landfall. At any rate, the arrival will be delayed by headwinds and extra miles traveled. So tomorrow a.m. should not have birds coming in, but my guess is that late tomorrow (Tuesday) would be the time to start looking at the migrant traps. And Wednesday a.m. would be my choice of birding days, as N winds nearing gale force tomorrow will make detection somewhat difficult at the traps.” This prediction is seconded by the migration-radar blog Badbirdz Reloaded: http://badbirdz2.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weather-and-birds-ii/

Phil and Sandy Laipis found a Roseate Spoonbill loafing with Wood Storks at Paynes Prairie on the 12th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13882280724/

Andy Kratter continues to do his daily loon watch from Pine Grove Cemetery. This morning between 8:04 and 9:21 he recorded 47 Common Loons, as well as 5 Laughing Gulls, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Peregrine Falcon.

Becky Enneis in Alachua and Austin Gregg in Gainesville are hosting male Painted Buntings in their yards. The buntings are bound for breeding territories on the Atlantic coastal strip, so they won’t stay long, but what a great thing to see out your window! Austin wrote, “Eight feet to the right of the birdbath, in a leafy green viburnum, I noted the reddish looking tail end of a partially hidden bird. Hmmm, I thought, must be the male house finch … ho hum, but I’ll have a look anyway. Turned around and grabbed the binocs, looked in the bush. Gone. Then I just happened to glance back over to the birdbath and there, splashing away with the female cardinal was a male painted bunting in full breeding plumage! A lifer! I enjoyed good looks at this spectacular bird for at least 10 minutes.”

If you haven’t been to the La Chua Trail lately, I have some advice for you. Take boots: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/13781455393/

Greg McDermott sent me this handy chart that makes the identification of Empidonax flycatchers a breeze (thanks to Samuel Ewing for posting it): https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13829348215/

O friends, take care that you don’t step over the line to the Dark Side Of Birding: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8569864/When-birdwatchers-go-bad-how-the-rise-of-wildlife-paparazzi-has-led-to-hide-rage.html