June Challenge finale; and some goosing

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

REMEMBER, June Challengers: (1.) I need your totals, divided into ABA-countable and non-countable birds, by MIDNIGHT ON JUNE 30TH and (2.) please email me if you’re attending the June Challenge party at Becky Enneis’s house on Tuesday, July 1st at 6 p.m.

“ABA-countable” essentially means that native North American birds (and a few naturalized ones like House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Muscovy Duck) are countable, while Black Swan, Swan Goose, Greylag Goose, Indian Peafowl, and other non-established exotics are not. If two birders end up with the same number of ABA-countable birds, then we’ll use the non-countable birds as tie-breakers. Right now I have 96 species on my list, all of them ABA-countable, so my total is 96/0. If I were to drive over to the Duck Pond and add Black Swan, Greylag Goose, and Swan Goose to my list, I would report 96/3 as my June Challenge total – 96 countable birds and 3 non-countable. Incidentally, for more on Swan Goose and Greylag Goose, which may be so genetically jumbled that we shouldn’t be calling them by those names, please see the final six paragraphs of this email.

Samuel Ewing got photos of the NE Gainesville robins on the 25th. Here’s one of them: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14526392513/

Peter Polshek writes, “There is a Broad-winged Hawk frequenting the tall trees in my yard at NW 17th Street and 8th Avenue (SW corner property). Just park in my driveway and listen for the calling bird.”

I ran into Linda Hensley at Publix this evening, and she told me that she, Howard Adams, and Barbara Mollison found a Roseate Spoonbill and six Glossy Ibises in a flooded field at the Hague Dairy today. So if you need either of those…

On Wednesday I drove to Gum Root Swamp in hopes of seeing a Louisiana Waterthrush. I was surprised to find the big metal entrance gate shut and locked. The informational kiosk, the wooden fence enclosing the parking area, and the walk-through gate were all gone. When I got home I called the Water Management District and asked what had happened. I was informed that the parking area had become a center of “lewd and lascivious behavior,” just like Bivens Arm Nature Park and the Bolen Bluff Trail used to be (and maybe still are?). Hidden cameras had been set up, license plates had been recorded, police had made regular visits, but the lewd and lascivious crowd was not discouraged. Since Gum Root Swamp is a group camping area, the District made the decision just to close the parking area down. You can still park on the culvert across the road, or on the outside of the entrance gate, and groups wanting to use the camping area can make arrangements with the District. Supposedly I will hear from the land manager about future plans. For what it’s worth, I didn’t find the waterthrush. Little Hatchet Creek is back within its banks, and there’s not much standing water left in the surrounding woods, although rubber boots are still a necessity, and unless you’re wearing hip waders you can’t get out to the lakeshore without getting wet.

I always figure that I need to go looking for Louisiana Waterthrush, but in some cases the waterthrushes find you instead. Greg Hart had one at his nursery in Alachua on the 26th.

Ron Robinson located a family of Pied-billed Grebes in a retention pond at NE 4th Street and NE 35th Avenue. Despite the fact that the address indicates northeast, it’s a block west of Main Street.

If you’re still looking for Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Andy Kratter writes, “3 Rough-winged Swallows still present at the Depot Road ponds, south of SE 10th Street and the bike trail on high voltage lines that run north-south.”

Two appeals from Florida Wildlife Care:

1. If anyone’s got a chimney containing Chimney Swifts, let me know. FWC has four nestlings that need homes.

2. If anyone’s driving to Jacksonville this weekend, and would be willing to transport an immature Cooper’s Hawk and release it there, please call Leslie Straub at 352-318-8443.

Barbara Woodmansee had an interesting and slightly hair-raising experience on Paynes Prairie yesterday evening, which should serve as a reminder to look down occasionally, as well as up: “While standing in front of the huge cypress tree near the gate where you’re supposed to stop and turn around on Sweetwater Dike, I was looking under the limbs of the cypress tree for that damned Limpkin and happened to glance down at the ground. I noticed that I was STANDING on a young Cottonmouth’s tail. Seriously. It was very annoyed, white mouth wide open, but it never struck at me. I promptly airlifted myself to a safe distance, and then apologized to the little guy. I think this is my first experience of actually standing on a venomous snake. Don’t tell my mother or she won’t let me go out there anymore!” This non-aggressive behavior of Cottonmouths is not particularly unusual, and was the subject of a 2002 paper (skip to “Results” on page 2 if you don’t want to read the whole thing): http://www.bio.davidson.edu/dorcas/research/Reprints/Gibbons%20and%20Dorcas%20-%202002%20-%20Defensive%20behavior%20in%20cottonmouths%20-%20Copiea.pdf

Everything after this is about domestic waterfowl, so jump off now if you’re not interested. And remember to email me if you’re going to the June Challenge party!

Now, as to the domestic Swan Goose and the domestic Greylag Goose. The question was prompted by this photo by Samuel Ewing: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14343488436/ The bird on the left looks like a domestic Greylag Goose while that on the right has the big knob on the base of the bill that’s characteristic of a Swan Goose. I sent the photo to Renne Leatto of Orange County, who was a prize-winning waterfowl breeder before she became a birder. She told me that these names were inappropriate for the two birds and gave me a primer on domestic geese:

“Unless one is in a wild area within the range of the wild Greylag Goose, you will not see one. In many parts of the world, geese have been domesticated even longer than ducks, and any Greylag-type goose we see in North America, certainly in the U.S., and definitely in the southern U.S., is going to be strictly domestic in origin.

“Here’s the deal with geese … there’s no such thing as a domestic Greylag (although you will see many references to them). It’s like calling a Chihuahua – or even a Husky – a domestic wolf. There are a number of domestic breeds of geese that originally come from the wild Greylag, but they haven’t been wild for 3,000 to 10,000 years. Greylag is to those breeds what Mallard is to most domestic ducks. What messes birders up (more with geese, even than ducks) is that many goose breeds look close to the wild Greylag, or at least they look a lot closer to the wild ancestor than crazy-fancy duck breeds look like a Mallard. To complicate matters, while all breeds of domestic duck (except for Muscovy) come from the wild Mallard, domestic geese come from a combination of two wild species: Anser anser and Anser cygnoides, the wild Swan Goose. Some people refer to derivatives of the latter as domestic Swan Geese, but again, there is no such thing. They have many breed names but none are Swan Goose.

“Now we make things even more complicated … unlike the situation with Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds and domesticated Muscovies – which CAN (but seldom do) crossbreed, and then have only sterile offspring — domestic goose breeds descended from Anser anser and Anser cygnoides can (and very often DO) crossbreed, and their offspring are always fertile. So the results are that we see too many variations of domestic goose crossbreeds to know with any certainty which ancestral species line dominates.

“I used to have a gander that was primarily the ‘African’ breed, a heavier version of the Chinese breed, both developed thousands of years ago from Anser cygnoides. His partner was a goose which had no sign of having any genes except that of the Embden breed, a pure white variety developed from the Greylag but which looks nothing like it anymore (it looks more like a wild Snow Goose but is not related genetically). Their broods of goslings came out in all shapes and feather colors, all bill and foot colors; some had bill/head bumps (knobs), some didn’t; some had extra-long slender necks, some didn’t; and some were light-bodied while others were medium or heavy bodied. Seeing any one of them as a lone individual in a park or wetland somewhere, even I would only be able to guess at their varied parentage. But one thing I can always say for sure – they are NOT Greylag or Swan Geese. They are many thousands of domestically-bred generations removed from both.”

What does this mean for the June Challenge? Well, this year you can count both species if you’ve seen them – the Swan Goose (the one with the knob) and the Greylag (the one without) – but next year we may just lump them together as “domestic goose.” I’ve submitted Samuel’s picture and Renne’s analysis to eBird’s resident taxonomist, Marshall Iliff, for an official eBird ruling on how these domestic strains should be recorded, but he hasn’t responded yet. When he does – maybe I should say IF he does – I’ll let you know what he says.

Adventures in Challenging! and exciting breeding news!

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

June Challenge party details! Becky Enneis writes, “The June Challenge Party is coming up soon, on Tuesday, July 1, at 6 p.m. Please attend and bring a covered dish (preferably with food already in it!). I’ll have sodas, wine, and beer on hand. Also, please bring a lawn chair. I have just a few available.” If you plan to join us at Becky’s, please RSVP to me so we can prepare. And also remember to send me your total by midnight on June 30th.

Bob and Erika Simons invited me to go canoeing on Newnans Lake with them this morning. All three of us needed Limpkin for our June Challenge lists, and Erika also needed Prothonotary Warbler. In addition we were hoping for Laughing Gulls, maybe a tern, and a Ruddy Duck that Chris Burney had seen out there early in the month. We launched the canoe from Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor and paddled along the shore to the northern end of the lake (beyond the Hatchet Creek outlet but not as far as Little Hatchet Creek and Gum Root Swamp) before heading back on a beeline due to developing storm clouds. We found our Limpkins easily enough – 14 of them, including three downy chicks – and Erika got her Prothonotaries – we had 7 total. Other sightings included an adult Purple Gallinule with its full-grown chick and at least one adult Bald Eagle. No gulls or terns, however. And most frustrating, I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush, tying the early record for the county – but I never saw it, so I can’t put it on my June Challenge list. But you can bet I’ll be looking for a Louisiana elsewhere during the week that remains in the Challenge.

Geoff Parks reports that at least one pair of American Robins appears to be nesting in his NE Gainesville neighborhood. If confirmed, this would be the first instance of breeding ever recorded in Alachua County. Geoff writes that June Challengers are welcome to visit, with some caveats: “The birds are spending most of their time on NE 6th Terrace about midway between the northernmost speed bump and NE 23rd Ave., especially around the white house on the west side of the road with the chain-link fence. The people who live there are friendly and had noticed the robins too. They aren’t against people coming to see the birds but they don’t want anyone knocking on the door or trespassing. It’s okay for people to park in my driveway (2024 NE 6th Terrace – yellow house near the speed bump) and walk up the street to see the birds, provided that they: 1) don’t knock on my door, since my wife works from home, and 2) don’t block in my Camry if it’s there. Alternatively, people could park and get something to eat at The Jones or David’s BBQ (at NE 23rd Avenue and 2nd Street) and then walk down, since it’s not far. Often, with some luck, a slow drive-by is all that is needed, since there’s often at least one bird foraging in a front yard or perched on the fence near the street. There may actually be more than just the pair in the neighborhood: the neighbors said they’d seen ’3 or 4′ birds. I’m really hoping these birds will successfully fledge some young, which they seem to be very hard at work trying to do, so I hope folks will not distract them from their work by harassing them with endless playback – it’s hardly necessary in any event, since the birds are generally quite vocal and conspicuous.” I went over at lunchtime today, pulled up in front of the white house described by Geoff, and in slightly less than half an hour saw the male bird gathering food in the back yard and then flying off with it.

Belted Kingfisher is a hard bird to find during the summer months, but Craig Parenteau saw one on the 23rd, “along the main canal beside La Chua (where there is open water above the water control structure). Its plumage looked very fresh and dapper. Hope your June Challenge folks get to see it. There were also many King Rails, Purple Gallinules, and Least Bitterns – a real bonanza. Wish I could get confirmation of Least Bittern offspring, though.”

On the morning of the 23rd Mike Manetz had a second sighting of a Broad-winged Hawk in the same location as the first: “As I came south on County Road 235A and turned right on Peggy Road I could see a raptor perched very uncomfortably on the wires about where the third guard rail on the left would be. As I got a little closer I could see it was a Broad-winged. I pulled over to the right to get a photo but it flew across the street into the woods, where I think it’s probably nesting. If you post this please include that folks should stay off the Dollar General side of the road.”

Also on the morning of the 23rd, Bob and Erika Simons and I went looking for June Challenge birds at the southeastern end of the county. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we found a Bachman’s Sparrow singing near the parking corral, and a Common Yellowthroat and a trio of Brown-headed Nuthatches on the back side of the White Loop. We couldn’t locate an Eastern Wood-Pewee. We drove on to Lake Lochloosa and scanned unsuccessfully for Bald Eagles and Laughing Gulls from the covered pier at the boat launch. Bob suggested that we drive to the metal fishing pier at the Lochloosa Conservation Area, and there we found an adult Bald Eagle perched on a tree overlooking the lakeshore.

Barbara Woodmansee and her husband walked out La Chua on the 22nd: “We were able to make it all the way out to the tower at the end of La Chua, where a real live adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was waiting for me (yay) under the tower. We did have thick mud up to the edges of our boot tops, but it was worth it. I counted 20 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, which we saw fly into the bare trees across the lake near the pavilion to roost. It was so pretty out there with a nice breeze and a purple sky from a storm that never came in.”

Barbara and I spotted an interesting Blue Grosbeak at the beginning of Sweetwater Dike on the 21st. The patches of blue and brown made me think that it was a year-old male, but it appeared to be delivering nesting material to a brushy area on the edge of the dike where an adult male Blue Grosbeak was already perched. Why would the adult not chase the young male off? Why would the young male be carrying nesting material? I wonder whether Blue Grosbeaks ever practice cooperative breeding: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14492738644/

I was at La Chua on two evenings last week, and both times saw a flying bird that resembled (to my eye) a Bobolink. Dalcio Dacol may have seen it too, as part of what sounds like a productive morning’s birding on the 20th: “This morning, around 8:50 AM at La Chua Trail, I was walking along the boardwalk and just before I got to the shelter on the smaller sink I caught a glimpse of a bird taking off to my left. I turned around and was able to get a view as the bird was flying away from me. I did not see the head, the bird was straw colored, close to the size of a Red-winged Blackbird but of slimmer built and flew with the bobbing almost finch-like pattern typical of Bobolinks. If it were April I wouldn’t have hesitated in calling it a female Bobolink. I had the impression that the bird was on that scrub along the boardwalk. It didn’t fly too high but it continued flying in along the trail and eventually crossed over the water channel that brings water to the large sink. I rushed to the channel bank across from the area where the bird landed but was unable to locate the bird. Other than that I had 6 Glossy Ibis at the observation platform and two Yellow-crowned Night Herons, one adult and one immature plus the usual birds. I have never seen so many King Rails, Least Bitterns and Purple Gallinules in a single spring season as I have seen this year.”

I’ve mentioned organized birding tours a couple of times but only a few people have shown interest. I’m going to try again, with a more exotic locale. Former FWC herpetologist and long-time Alachua Audubon membership chair Paul Moler recently sent me an email: “As you know, for the last 7 years I’ve been participating in annual biodiversity surveys in various parts of southern Vietnam. One of the participants in 2012 and again this year was a gentleman who leads birding tours, both through tour agencies and independently. He is both very knowledgeable and a very pleasant fellow. Over the course of this year’s outing we had some discussions about tour costs. Total costs and area coverage would, of course, depend upon duration of the tour, but a 10-day tour would cost something less than $2000 (likely closer to $1500), food, local transportation, and lodging inclusive. Air fare currently would be roughly $1800 from Gainesville, $1500 from Jacksonville, and $1300 from Orlando. Travel would take a couple of days each way, so a 10-day tour would take about 14-15 days total travel time.” Paul emphasizes that he has no financial interest in this company. Let me know if you’d like more information about a guided birding trip to this part of the world.

How recently have you driven across Paynes Prairie on US-441? Right now the pickerelweed is in bloom, creating huge swaths of vivid purple, highlighted here and there by the bright yellow of an American lotus. The light seems to be ideal – the purple especially intense – at about 11 a.m.

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the county closed the Levy Lake Loop for maintenance the day after I told you about Chris Cattau’s sighting of a probable American Bittern out there.

Broad-winged Hawk, possible American Bittern

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

Mike Manetz writes, “While doing my Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua this morning I got a good look at a Broad-winged Hawk. It was along Peggy Road about 50 yards west of 325A, in the picnic area for Dollar General employees. Only about 10 minutes later a security guard asked me to leave the property. So the best way to see it is to wait at the intersection and watch for it soaring overhead.”

Chris Cattau had an even more unusual sighting today: “I’m 95% sure I saw an American Bittern fly across the right (north) fork of the Levy Prairie around 8:30 AM (right at a big turn to the north, not too far before the 2 mi marker). Larger and longer billed than immature night herons, legs extending well beyond tail, neck was outstretched and distinctly longer (okay, 99% sure). I was biking and it was steamy out by that time and my glasses fogged up when I stopped to put up binos. It was a short flight, flushing not far from one side of the trail and landing not too far on the other side, but never revealed itself again.” There’s only one previous June record for American Bittern in Alachua County.

Having missed the first ten days of June, I’m playing catch-up in the June Challenge competition. I’ve seen 79 species so far, but I understand that Maralee Joos is up to 109. I’m not sure I can make up a 30-species deficit in the twelve days I’ve got left, and there may be someone who’s ahead of Maralee that I don’t know about! Anyway, I was out at La Chua this evening, trying to find some new things for June. I saw an American Coot along Sweetwater Dike, between the first and second 90-degree turns, off to the left. Also two Least Bitterns, three Orchard Orioles, and a pair of Purple Gallinules. I heard two King Rails but didn’t see any.

I’ve been out at La Chua toward dusk on two of the last three evenings, and both times I saw a bird that looked like a female Bobolink flying in the direction of the observation platform. If it wasn’t a Bobolink I have no idea what it was, but that’s a species that’s never been recorded here in June.

John Sloane has been active with the Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua County (Melrose area) and and has extended his surveys to Bradford, Clay, and Putnam Counties. He’s discovered some previously unsuspected riches in eastern Alachua County between Earleton and Hawthorne, including numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites, which I’d normally expect in the eastern county, but also numbers of Missisissippi Kites, which I would not, and a surprising variety of other birds: “Today Janet and I went out to to the intersection of County Road 219A and County Road 1474 east of Campville to check on the kites. We surveyed within a half mile of the intersection and found most of them within the NW quadrant. Of course it was difficult for us to get an accurate total count, so I will report the minimum count, which would be the maximum number we saw at any one location at the same time. We believe this count to be conservative. Minimum number of Swalllow-tailed Kites was 12 including a number of juveniles, Mississippi Kites was 6 including several juveniles. Two Red-tailed Hawks were with them. This area is mostly hay fields with scattered trees and a few ponds. Also noted in the same area were nesting Eastern Kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Common Grackles, along with Northern Bobwhite, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Bluebird, and so on. A nice productive area.”

While driving around, I’m seeing a lot of Osprey nests that have either fledged chicks already – or else they’ve been abandoned. Has anyone else noticed this? The one along 441 where it starts south across Paynes Prairie, and the one near the Gainesville Police Department building – did they fledge any young this year? I’ve noticed a couple other empty nests as well, and I’ve been wondering how widespread this is.

Remember Ernesto Reyes Mourino’s photographic presentation on the birds of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp on Thursday night at ACT.

And remember to let me know if you want to go see Alachua County’s only Burrowing Owls on the 28th.

Late-record spring migrant, and a few pretty pictures

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

As Matt O’Sullivan and I were driving home from the Burrowing Owl excursion on Saturday, I asked Matt if he’d like to come along to Paynes Prairie on Sunday morning. He said he would, in hopes of seeing some late migrants. I told him that we’d never had a spring migrant of any sort in the county after June 6th. Perhaps that’s why he chose to stay home. So naturally we stumbled onto a NEW late-record spring migrant, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, which was nicely photographed by Chris Janus: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14456769123/ A couple of other birders mentioned that they’d seen it there recently, so it may be summering locally.

Michael Drummond, a biologist with the county’s Environmental Protection Department and a really outstanding photographer, got a nice picture of one of the Watermelon Pond owls in February: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14250049178/

By the way, county biologist Susie Hetrick was so pleased with the way things went on Saturday morning, that she now says she’s open to the possibility of a second Burrowing Owl field trip in the near future. If you’re interested in going, whether you went on the first trip or not, send me an email, and I’ll put you on the list.

On the 16th Bob Carroll reported, “Walked Sparrow Alley and Sweetwater Dike with Becky Enneis to help her with her June Challenge list. Highlights were two very cooperative Yellow-breasted Chats and a family of King Rails with two or three chicks. That was very cool! We saw all of the other expected species including young Common and Purple Gallinules and young Pied-billed Grebes. It seems the waterfowl world is thriving out there this year. Fun morning.”

As Bob noted, the King Rails on the Prairie have hatched out their chicks in the past couple of weeks, and I’ve seen some nice photos of family groups, none better than this by Wade Kincaid: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sefferdog/14242197539/

The first of a series of County Commission meetings on Plum Creek will be Tuesday the 24th, and you should familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of the controversy before then. Be sure to visit http://standbyourplan.org/ Especially read the “Plum Creek Myths,” which casts a skeptical eye on the contention that the development will benefit East Gainesville, pointing out that East Gainesville is closer to I-75 than it is to the *nearest* edge of the Plum Creek property, “and most of it is further away than the Town of Tioga development in Jonesville. If all the growth along the I-75 corridor and everything in between hasn’t helped East Gainesville, then how would Plum Creek’s city in the swamp, with its own schools and grocery stores on the other side of Newnans Lake?”

Several people have sent me this interesting link, showing how Barn Swallows that were nesting inside a closed building had learned to trigger an electric eye to open its front door: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs6n4XKApqc

If you’ve ever wondered how airports deal with wildlife, read this (found by David Wahl): http://www.faa.gov/airports/southern/airports_resources/past_conferences/media/2011_wildlife_lessons_learned_mco.pdf

Short-tailed Hawk at Possum Creek Park

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

After seeing three Burrowing Owls at Watermelon Pond this morning (with 50 of my closest friends), Matt O’Sullivan and I drove up to the Newberry cemetery in hopes of seeing Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and White-winged Dove. The doves were cooperative, but no one had seen a pewee there recently. The flickers had been seen in the past few days, so we stuck around for about an hour, hoping they’d show up, but eventually we decided to leave. We passed Bob Carroll standing by the cemetery fence – he’d just added Common Ground-Dove to his June Challenge list and gave us a thumbs-up – and headed toward home. At about that time, Bob heard a flicker call, so he played a tape and four flickers (!) flew into trees right above his head. He could still see my car, and he waved at us, but we didn’t see him. All that’s necessary for a good bird to show up is for me to leave.

Or for me not to be there in the first place. Bob just called about five minutes ago to tell me that a Short-tailed Hawk was soaring over Possum Creek Park on the corner of NW 43rd Street and NW 53rd Avenue. Someone – Maralee Joos? – mentioned that they’d seen an all-dark hawk on the ground near the corner of 53rd and NW 34th Street in the past week. Maybe they’re nesting around there. Anyway, if you need Short-tailed for your June Challenge list – and most of us do – that’s the place to hang out.

Unusual day: June Challenge update

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

This morning Lloyd Davis reported the county’s second June record of Ring-billed Gull, “flying low over Post Office Pond.”

Right next door to Post Office Pond, John Martin photographed something I’ve never seen in 26 years of birding around Gainesville: Laughing Gulls hanging out in a parking lot: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14226827908/

(John also got a photo of a King Rail chick at Paynes Prairie on the 7th. The picture’s a little fuzzy, but then so is the chick: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/14344885786/ )

The third unusual thing that happened this morning – and it will probably seem unusual to only one or two dozen people – is that, while surveying for the Breeding Bird Atlas this morning, I found a male Hooded Warbler singing near the western shore of Lake Alto. Lake Alto is in Waldo, among the pine flatwoods. All the other Hooded Warbler nesting areas that I know about are in deciduous woods up in the rolling, limestone landscape of the northwestern part of the county, at San Felasco Hammock, O’Leno State Park, and Mill Creek Preserve. I have a faint memory of finding them during nesting season around Gum Root Swamp in the 1990s, but I’m not sure about that.

Anyway, that’s three out-of-the-ordinary observations in one day. You June Challengers may want to check Post Office Pond and the Publix next door to it for those gulls.

Field trip to see Alachua County’s Burrowing Owls!

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

Well, I’m back. Did you miss me? Well, not me exactly, the birding report. What’s that you say? WHAT birding report? Sigh. I type my fingers to the bone and this is what I get.

Do you have an active bluebird box that could accept two 10-day-old bluebird chicks? Larissa at Florida Wildlife Care writes that they’re in “great shape. Their mother and 3 siblings were killed by ‘invasive’ birds. Dad fed them once and left. I need a foster family.” If you can help, please let me know.

Anyway, I was in Maine and Maritime Canada from the 27th through the 10th, and that’s why I haven’t been annoying you. I got eight life birds – Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Black Guillemot, Arctic Tern, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee – and saw several other species that I rarely see, like Canada and Nashville Warblers, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak, and Common Raven. But it was a family vacation, not a birding trip, so I missed many more birds than I saw. I’ve posted 22 photos of my trip to Machias Seal Island for close-range looks at puffins, murres, and razorbills, and you can see them starting here (click the > symbol to the right of the photo to progress to the next one): https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14303781884/in/set-72157644943663673

I was on Prince Edward Island on the 1st, so Bob Carroll generously stood in for me and kicked off The June Challenge with a field trip to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, Powers Park, and the La Chua Trail. I was going to summarize the group’s discoveries, but Bob wrote it all up very nicely for us in a well-illustrated blog entry (assist from photographer Stuart Kaye): http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/06/june-challenge-kickoff.html

One of the June Challenge’s best discoveries so far was a really late Sora photographed by Erika Simons on the 3rd: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14395078861/ There’s only one later report, from the Summer Bird Count of June 5, 1971. That bird and this one are the only two June sightings of Sora in the county’s history; the latest otherwise was a bird that I saw at Lake Alice on May 11, 2000.

Another interesting June sighting was a bird that sounds very much like a Wurdemann’s Heron (Great Blue Heron x Great White Heron) that Felicia Lee reported from the Cones Dike Trail near the Paynes Prairie Visitor Center on the 1st. She writes, “Its back/wings were a normal shade of blue-gray, but its head, breast, and neck were entirely white, except for the black head plume.” There’s one previous report of a Wurdemann’s Heron in Alachua County, a bird seen by Steve Nesbitt at the Kanapaha Prairie on 19 June 1988.

If you need Northern Flicker for the June Challenge – it can be tough to get – Frank Goodwin saw two males at Morningside Nature Center on the 7th, along “the trail that winds through the woods between the parking lot and University Avenue, near the ‘Butterfly Loop’ that runs alongside the paved entrance road, just before it turns east toward the parking lot. Both birds then flew west, toward the birding blind, which is precisely the spot I last saw them (back in early April).”

This Saturday morning you’ll have an opportunity to see Alachua County’s only known Burrowing Owls (and add them to your June Challenge lists!). At 6:30 a.m. we’ll meet at the Watermelon Pond County Park (Note: NOT the Wildlife and Environmental Area) and Susie Hetrick of the Environmental Protection Department will lead us to the new county property where the owls are. Susie wants to know how many are coming, to be sure that she can accommodate everyone, so let me know if you’ll be there and I’ll pass it along to her. To get to the county park, drive south 2.9 miles from the traffic light in Newberry (on US-41/27). Turn right (west) on SW 46th Avenue and go 1.2 mile to SW 250th Street. Turn left (south) on 250th, a bumpy dirt road, and follow it 3.7 miles to the one-acre county park at the end. At that hour we should see some Common Nighthawks as well.

The final event of Alachua Audubon’s 2013-14 year will take place next Wednesday evening at the Millhopper Branch Library. Gina Kent of Avian Research and Conservation will describe different methods of tracking wild birds, including satellite telemetry, and the unexpected details that these methods have revealed about the travels of birds.

FWC is asking birders to report sightings of American Kestrel, Painted Bunting, and Burrowing Owl. For more information, or to report a sighting, click here.

“The Birdlife and Natural History of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp” will be the subject of a presentation by wildlife photographer Ernesto Reyes Mourino at Alachua Conservation Trust next Thursday, June 19th.

Remember those bluebirds. Ten days old. They need a home. Let me know if you can help them out.

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!