The beginning of the end; plus, final migration count results

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

We’ve got only two or three more weeks of neotropical birds like warblers, tanagers, cuckoos, thrushes, and buntings. Then, beginning around October 15th or 20th – about the time the first Yellow-rumped Warbler shows up – the transients will disappear and we’ll start looking for winter arrivals like sparrows, ducks, and the occasional western stray like Yellow-headed Blackbird and Dickcissel.

We’re already seeing changes of a more subtle kind. Veeries predominated in September, but now they’ll begin to give way to other thrushes: on the 29th Michael Drummond heard “many, many Swainson’s calling in the predawn hours this morning.” Early fall warblers like Cerulean, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky and Prothonotary Warblers are well south of us now, or soon will be, but Magnolia and Tennessee will become more abundant, and we’ll start to see Black-throated Greens and Bay-breasteds. A few Scarlet Tanagers have already been reported, and Keith Collingwood saw the season’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his Melrose yard on the 29th. Anyway, we’ve got about two weeks of the fall migration left, three if we’re lucky.

A few winter birds are already here: on the 28th Bryan Tarbox saw one Marsh Wren at Bolen Bluff while John Anderson saw another at the US-441 observation deck; Adam Kent, Craig Faulhaber, and Ryan Butryn found the season’s first Eastern Phoebe at San Felasco Hammock (Progress Center entrance) on the 29th, as well as a Cliff Swallow and a female Painted Bunting; and on the 2nd Samuel Ewing photographed the fall’s first sparrow, a Savannah, by four days a new early record for Alachua County.

A few miscellaneous reports from the past week:

On the 25th Dean and Samuel Ewing birded Ring Park, and Samuel got a nice video of a female Black-throated Blue Warbler eating beautyberries.

On the 26th Mike Manetz and Jonathan Mays (who are to normal ears what the Hubble Space Telescope is to binoculars) walked the Cones Dike Trail in search of flycatchers and were rewarded with one calling Alder, two Empidonax that were either Alders or Willows but would not identify themselves by vocalizing, and one Least, which was photographed by Jonathan. They also tallied a dozen warbler species, including an amazing 55 Common Yellowthroats.

On the 29th Geoff Parks noticed that both Indigo Buntings and Painted Buntings were feeding on the coral bristlegrass in his NE Gainesville back yard. Does that give you any ideas? It should.

On the 30th Matt and Erin Kalinowski spotted a Merlin along the La Chua Trail.

On the 2nd Mike Manetz walked the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock and saw 6 Swainson’s Thrushes, 5 Veeries, 5 Wood Thrushes, and 3 Gray-cheeked Thrushes. He saw only six warbler species, but that included 22 Ovenbirds.

According to the annual “winter finch forecast” published by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, we won’t be seeing many irruptive birds this year – no Pine Siskins, no Purple Finches, no Red-breasted Nuthatches – because they’ve got plenty of chow up north: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1314/

North Carolina biologists put a tracking device on an American Oystercatcher that had nested in the Cape Fear region, and over the course of five days in mid-September it migrated to Florida, crossing the northern peninsula from Amelia Island to Cedar Key (passing right over High Springs along the way). An American Oystercatcher appeared at Newnans Lake on September 18, 2000, the morning after Hurricane Gordon blew ashore at Cedar Key. We always assumed that the bird had been blown inland from the Gulf Coast, but the linked story suggests that it might well have been a migrating bird forced down by the storm.

Two or three people shared this video with me, which shows the bizarrely complicated structure of a hummingbird’s tongue: http://player.vimeo.com/video/68897592

Brush up on your fall wildflowers.

Remember that we’ve scheduled double field trips each of the next three weekends so you can take advantage of fall migration. This weekend we’ll be birding Powers Park and Palm Point/Lakeshore Drive with Barbara Shea on Saturday, then heading over to St. Augustine with John Hintermister on Sunday to look for Peregrine Falcons. Field trip schedule here.

Earlier this week Mike Manetz and I compiled the final results of Alachua County’s fall migration count held on September 21st. I think our birders set a new county record for numbers of individual warblers. I compared the numbers from our first fall migration count (1995) with those from this year. We had more warbler species that first year, 26, against 24 this year, but the count of individual warblers was higher this year by about 300. Two or three species always make up the bulk of what’s recorded: in 1995, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula accounted for 41% of all the warblers seen, while this year the same two species plus Ovenbird accounted for 51%. This year Common Yellowthroats alone made up 22% of our total. I put the 1995 vs. 2013 comparison in a table here. And the complete results:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  22
Wood Duck  42
Mottled Duck  13
Blue-winged Teal  8
Northern Bobwhite  7
Wild Turkey  12
Pied-billed Grebe  30
Wood Stork  11
Double-crested Cormorant  60
Anhinga  65
American Bittern  3
Great Blue Heron  40
Great Egret  95
Snowy Egret  35
Little Blue Heron  100
Tricolored Heron  22
Cattle Egret  501
Green Heron  23
White Ibis  164
Glossy Ibis  104
Black Vulture  225
Turkey Vulture  260
Osprey  6
Bald Eagle  30
Northern Harrier  3
Cooper’s Hawk  6
Red-shouldered Hawk  89
Broad-winged Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  7
King Rail  2
Sora  5
Common Gallinule  40
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  25
Killdeer  9
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Least Sandpiper  12
Pectoral Sandpiper  15
Rock Pigeon  19
Eurasian Collared-Dove  7
White-winged Dove  8
Mourning Dove  204
Common Ground-Dove  14
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  10
Black-billed Cuckoo  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  3
Great Horned Owl  8
Barred Owl  28
Whip-poor-will  3
Chimney Swift  79
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  12
Belted Kingfisher  17
Red-headed Woodpecker  29
Red-bellied Woodpecker  251
Downy Woodpecker  172
Northern Flicker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  109
Merlin  3
American Kestrel  10
Eastern Wood-Pewee  12
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  1
Acadian Flycatcher  74
Alder Flycatcher  2
Empidonax, sp.  19
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Loggerhead Shrike  9
White-eyed Vireo  741
Yellow-throated Vireo  16
Red-eyed Vireo  297
Blue Jay  293
American Crow  310
Fish Crow  81
crow, sp.  7
Purple Martin  10
Tree Swallow  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  187
Carolina Chickadee  193
Tufted Titmouse  350
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren  466
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  360
Eastern Bluebird  49
Veery  63
Swainson’s Thrush  4
Gray Catbird  19
Brown Thrasher  49
Northern Mockingbird  103
European Starling  34
Ovenbird  137
Worm-eating Warbler  12
Louisiana Waterthrush  1
Northern Waterthrush  54
Golden-winged Warbler  2
Blue-winged Warbler  5
Black-and-white Warbler  29
Prothonotary Warbler  2
Tennessee Warbler  2
Kentucky Warbler  3
Common Yellowthroat  238
Hooded Warbler  27
American Redstart  86
Northern Parula  175
Magnolia Warbler  6
Blackburnian Warbler  3
Yellow Warbler  59
Chestnut-sided Warbler  13
Black-throated Blue Warbler  2
Palm Warbler  27
Pine Warbler  61
Yellow-throated Warbler  77
Prairie Warbler  61
Yellow-breasted Chat  1
Eastern Towhee  80
Bachman’s Sparrow  1
Summer Tanager  45
Scarlet Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  698
Blue Grosbeak  38
Indigo Bunting  41
Painted Bunting  1
Bobolink  2
Red-winged Blackbird  370
Eastern Meadowlark  3
Common Grackle  144
Boat-tailed Grackle  315
Brown-headed Cowbird  135
Baltimore Oriole  2
House Finch  26
House Sparrow  34

Preliminary results of the fall migration count

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

First day of fall! Now the nights start getting longer and the days start getting shorter and the birds start getting more abundant!

I haven’t received all the results from Saturday’s fall migration count, but I can tell you that every single White-eyed Vireo presently in existence showed up in Alachua County to be tallied. My team got 60; the NW County team reported 116. The two best birds of the day were a Black-billed Cuckoo seen by the Levy Lake team, and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher seen by the Bolen Bluff team. The cuckoo was about three miles out, beyond the point where the right (north) fork of the loop trail turns south. The flycatcher was not quite so far away: taking the left fork of the Bolen Bluff Trail, walk until you’re about 75 yards shy of the open grassy area where the two forks come together. The bird was there, on the wooded slope below the trail. Several of us went looking for it this morning, but although we found four calling Acadian Flycatchers in the general area, plus two other silent Empidonax flycatchers, none of them matched Andy Kratter’s description of the bird (“yellow underparts, brightest on the throat, shortish tailed, big headed, relatively short primary extension, quite different from the elongate slender cresty look of the other Acadian we saw today”). Other highlights of the count included two Merlins at O’Leno State Park and one at Paynes Prairie, two Alder Flycatchers, a Broad-winged Hawk, and a Yellow-breasted Chat at La Chua, American Bitterns at Newnans Lake and La Chua, Golden-winged Warblers at Gum Root Swamp and San Felasco Progress Center, a Tree Swallow and a Bachman’s Sparrow on the south side of the Prairie, and a Bobolink and a first-of-the-season House Wren in the rural northwestern part of the county. At least 24 species of warblers were found. Once I’ve compiled the reports, I’ll post the final results.

Mike Manetz and I birded the nature trail at Poe Springs Park on Friday. We saw no tanagers or cuckoos, and found only eight warbler species, but they included one Kentucky, one “Brewster’s” (a Blue-winged x Golden-winged hybrid, so not really a species), and a nice male Canada. All three were within a few yards of each other along the first part of the trail, where it overlooks a dry cypress swamp.  However I didn’t see any of them listed on Mike’s migration-count results.

Thanks to all of you who helped me keep track of the kites’ departure this year. The last Mississippi Kites of the season were three seen over the La Chua Trail on September 2nd by Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing, and the last Swallow-tailed was one seen over US-301 near Island Grove on September 1st by Travis Blunden. Both species will spend the winter in Brazil and return to the area next March (Swallow-tailed) and April (Mississippi).

Adam Zions reminds us that birds aren’t the only things you can see in trees. He was birding Bolen Bluff on the 20th and came across this bobcat loafing in a live oak.

On the other hand, Jonathan Mays reminds us that we should occasionally look down.

Adam Kent asked me to post the following announcement on behalf of the Florida Ornithological Society:
For the first time ever, expert sea-watchers reveal how to identify waterbirds at a distance! To hear more about this fascinating challenge, come to the Florida Ornithological Society (FOS) meeting this October 12th hear author Cameron Cox talk about his groundbreaking Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight. While hawk watching has been popular for years, similar bird ID techniques are also useful to identify waterbirds, sometimes at very long distances. Not just for people who bird on the coast, this presentation will help you identify waterbirds in any context, even flying over your own backyard!
What: FOS Fall meeting
When: October 11-13, 2013
Where: Hilton St. Petersburg – Carillon Park
Click here for more info about the meeting.

Students at the University of Florida are helping Alachua Audubon with its next backyard-birding tour by designing and distributing a survey about the yard tour (which they call a “birding event”) and social media. It would help Alachua Audubon if you were to take the survey, which is only twelve questions long and should take only one or two minutes. The designers of the survey write, “We are working on increasing the involvement and participation of the Alachua County Audubon Society. We have constructed this survey to gather your feedback on specific concerns we have that will aid us in our final recommendation. All of your information will be kept confidential and this survey is taken anonymously. We appreciate your feedback. Please take two minutes out of your day and complete this survey to help us better serve you”: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WWNFTVV

The Alder Flycatcher abides; plus Short-tailed Hawk and a plethora of other sightings (that’s right, a plethora).

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

The Crane gave the wrong dates for the Florida Native Plant Sale at Morningside Nature Center. The sale covers two days, only the second of which is open to the general public: Friday, September 27th, 4:30-6:30 p.m. is exclusively for members of the Florida Native Plant Society and Friends of Nature Parks (BUT! you can join when you get there), while Saturday, September 28th, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. is open to everyone.

Today’s Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock went well, according to trip leader Steve Hofstetter: “We had a beautiful morning with 28 people coming out and enjoying the park. We did the Moonshine Creek Trail and split up into two groups around the loop. There were lots of vireos (22 White-eyed, 14 Red-eyed, 2 Yellow-throated), Veeries (8), Ovenbirds (11), and Northern Parulas (19), but other than that the diversity of species was low. My group did get a great view of a Chestnut-sided Warbler and the other group heard a Louisiana Waterthrush.” Remember that there’s a field trip to Barr Hammock tomorrow (Sunday the 15th). Michael Drummond will lead.

Jonathan Mays and I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco’s Cellon Creek Loop on the 13th. We found 60 species of birds, including 11 warbler species, but they weren’t our best finds; a pair of Cliff Swallows twice circled past us at low altitude while we were scanning Lee Pond, and as we were watching a couple of Red-tailed Hawks soaring up on a thermal, a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk dived into our field of view and made a couple passes at the Red-taileds. That’s only the second Short-tailed ever recorded at San Felasco. The first was seen by John DeLuca almost exactly six years ago, on September 15, 2007.

On the 12th Lloyd Davis relocated and photographed the Alder Flycatcher that’s been hanging around Sparrow Alley since August 27th.

Samuel Ewing found the season’s first Blackburnian Warbler in his NW Gainesville yard on the 10th. For those of you keeping score at home, I think that’s the 20th warbler species recorded in Alachua County this fall; several others have been reported in the four days since then. Samuel got another seasonal first this morning, when he found a Swainson’s Thrush in his yard: “The thrush landed in a tree and when I put my binocs up I realized it wasn’t a Veery. I’ve been seeing Veeries almost everyday and this wasn’t like one. It had larger, much darker spots on the breast. I also could clearly see the buffy lores. It flew off before I could get a picture. I got excellent looks at Veeries a few minutes later and they were much different. This wasn’t near as reddish either.” And Lloyd Davis got yet another first-of-the-fall when he found three Wilson’s Snipe along the Cones Dike Trail on the 13th.

Adam Kent pointed out four Bobolinks to me at the Levy Lake loop trail this morning. Migrating Bobolinks have been heard since the 4th by birders listening for their distinctive calls passing overhead at night, but I think these were the first to have been seen.

On the 10th I was surprised to find a Great White Heron at Watermelon Pond not far south of the county park.

Also on the 10th, Dave Steadman, Curator of Birds at the museum, wrote, “This morning I saw a female Selasphorus in my yard at close range (10 ft). The bird was gone by the time I grabbed my binocs, but I’m confident to call it a female ‘Rufous/Allen’s.’  If anyone is interested, birders are welcome to stop by [send me an email if you want his address]. The fire bushes in the front yard have been getting lots of attention from a male and female Ruby-throated for many weeks, but today is the only time that I’ve seen a Selasphorus.”

If you’re lucky enough to have a sugarberry tree in your yard, watch for the signs of Asian woolly hackberry aphid. Warblers love them. Ron Robinson has an infested tree in his back yard, and over the last week he’s seen several warbler species feasting on the aphids, including Prairie, Chestnut-sided, and Blackburnian.

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-graders and their “Song of the Whooping Crane” dance merited an article in the Gainesville Sun on September 10th. The dance was created as an entry for the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest. They need your vote in order to win the contest, however. You can vote here.

If you’ve always wanted to spend your days at Archbold Biological Station, living the romantic life of a research assistant and working with Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Florida Grasshopper Sparrows – and who are you kidding, of course you have – here’s your chance.

A lively migration; plus, a new Facebook page for Alachua County birders!

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

I’ve been emailing these birding reports out for something like fifteen years. But email is giving way to more rapid (and concise!) methods of communication like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. It’s possible now to post a brief message or photo to one of these sites while you’re standing in the woods looking at a bird, so that the communication of your discovery follows instantly on the discovery itself. Bob Wallace has been asking me for years to ditch the birding report and set up a listserv. His concern was that a birder would find a rare bird and email me about it, but that I’d be out on Paynes Prairie and wouldn’t see the email until I got home; and thanks to the delay in reporting, the bird would fly away before Bob got to add it to his life list. He was right, of course. It could happen. But, I thought, not often enough to worry about it. Plus I enjoyed writing the birding reports, and I also felt that it was helpful (especially for beginners) to have someone filtering and interpreting all the information: this is rare, this is early, this is an unusually high number.

On Saturday morning Bob wrote again, this time urging me to start a Facebook page for Alachua County birders: “Since virtually everyone now has a FB presence, and since it is almost instantaneous since everyone has it on their phone, it sure would better for rapid dissemination of sightings and information to have everyone post their sightings to FB. Sure there would be some junk, and bad IDs, but like the Florida Birding FB page, the rarities show up there now long before they make it to the email lists.” True enough. But as someone whose favorite book title is Neil Postman’s Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, I’m not the one to do it. Bob threatened to set up the Facebook page if I didn’t. I didn’t, and he did. Here it is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/561382673923139/

You have to join the group, if you want to read the posts, and of course you have to be on Facebook to begin with.

Since I’m not on Facebook, I won’t see what’s posted there. So please continue to notify me of any interesting sightings – as well as posting them to Facebook, of course. If that turns out to be too onerous for the majority of birders, and my supply of birding news dries up, then the Alachua County birding report will ride gracefully into the sunset, not the first project to be rendered obsolete by new technology and not the last.

At this late date it occurs to me that the birding report may actually have inhibited the development of a local birding community. Perhaps direct exchange with other local birders – instead of communicating through me – will create a greater camaraderie. It’ll be interesting to see if it works out that way. Anyway, good luck to Bob and the Alachua County Birding Facebook page.

Now where were we?

Mornings have been beautiful lately, and people have been reporting good numbers of birds. This may turn out to be a great fall migration. On the 3rd Mike Manetz walked the Bolen Bluff Trail and found eleven warbler species, including a Golden-winged Warbler, two Kentucky Warblers, and 34 (!) Yellow Warblers. That number was bested by Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions on the 7th: they had 41 (!!!) Yellow Warblers and eleven additional warbler species, including one Kentucky.

I hadn’t heard of anyone seeing an Alder Flycatcher since the 3rd, and had actually discouraged a birder from driving up from Orlando because I thought he’d be wasting his time, but today Lloyd Davis relocated one of the birds lingering at Sparrow Alley. He also checked Sweetwater Dike to see if the male Painted Bunting was still at the bend in the trail just before the lone cypress, and it was.

Before sunrise on the morning of the 4th, Mike Manetz walked out the door of his NW Gainesville home and listened for the calls of passing migrants: “Heard several Bobolinks going over. Also one Veery. At first light 5 Common Nighthawks went streaming by. Multiple warblers were chipping in the yard.” Later that morning Bob Wallace walked his property in Alachua and found evidence of the same migratory movement: a Veery, 20 Red-eyed Vireos, and six warbler species including two Worm-eating Warblers. Likewise on the morning of the 6th Samuel Ewing got up early and conducted a pre-dawn migrant count at his NW Gainesville home. He heard at least two Bobolinks and 15+ Veeries. A little later that morning Jerry Krummrich saw evidence of the same flight at Alligator Lake in Lake City: “The trails in the woods were full of Veeries this morning as well as many Red-eyed Vireos, sometimes as many as 7-8 per tree.” On the same morning John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, and Jim Brady walked three miles at San Felasco Hammock (north side of Millhopper Road) and saw similar numbers of Red-eyed Vireos – their final count was 126 (“may be the largest number of Red-eyed Vireos I have ever seen in one place in one day,” noted John) – as well as four Veeries and eight warbler species, including two Blue-wingeds.

The migration of Common Nighthawks peaks in early September. On the 7th, writes Scott Bishop, “I took an out of town guest to see the bat house at Lake Alice. About fifteen minutes before sunset a flock of about a dozen Common Nighthawks appeared in a feeding frenzy over the bat house field. They continued all through the bat exodus.”

You’d expect Europeans to spend all their time sitting around in cafes being sophisticated and urbane and making jokes about Americans, but instead a huge number of them seem to prefer snuffing birds, including lots of little ones like buntings, flycatchers, and redstarts. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter is fighting the good fight by dismantling traps, taking down perching sticks that have been daubed with glue, and exposing illegal hunters, but they face a lot of resistance. If you’ve got a strong stomach, here’s their web site: http://www.komitee.de/en/homepage

The entire Alachua Audubon 2013-14 field trip schedule is now online in printable form: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/AAS-Yearbook-2013-2014.pdf

You know how you’re always wishing there was a seed and suet sale going on somewhere? Hey, you’re in luck! Wild Birds Unlimited is having one right now: http://gainesville.wbu.com/

More birds than you can shake a stick at, if you were inclined to shake a stick at birds

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

I’m in the process of posting the new Alachua Audubon field trip schedule on line. It’s rather slow going, because I have to create an individual page for each trip, but I like the new web site’s format. If you look at the Classes & Field Trips page, you’ll see the next ten events listed – http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ – with the date, destination (or program location), and meeting time. If you click on the “+” sign associated with a given field trip, you’ll get a description of the trip; and if you then click on “Read more,” you’ll see a map of the meeting location as well as contact information for the trip leader in case you have a question.

However, this is an instance of the reality not quite living up to the ideal, because the map doesn’t invariably agree with the coordinates I enter for it. For instance, the coordinates to the Levy Lake Loop parking area, as provided by Google Earth, take you to a Marion County prison when entered into the web site. Or at least they did before I got a different set of coordinates. And sometimes WordPress (the web site software) simply won’t accept the address. The meeting place for our Barr Hammock field trip is the Valero gas station at 101 NW Highway 441, Micanopy, FL 32667, but no matter how many times I try to enter it, WordPress deletes the street address and reduces it to “U.S. 441, Micanopy, 32667, USA,” and places the marker about a mile and a half south of the Valero station. WordPress gets it right more often than wrong, but … please use the written directions to the meeting place. Here’s an example of what it looks like when everything works properly: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/ai1ec_event/road-to-nowhere-hagens-cove/?instance_id=127 (Well, everything works right on our site. The link to Hagens Cove misspells Steinhatchee twice.)

If you’ve got Labor Day off, you might want to spend part of it birding. The migrants are moving through in big numbers, and San Felasco Hammock sounds like the place to be. More on that presently.

On the 27th, responding to Mike Manetz’s report of two Alder Flycatchers at the La Chua Trail, Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions visited La Chua and found three Alder Flycatchers. Two were where Mike had seen them, along Sparrow Alley near the barn, and the third was along Sweetwater Dike. Adam made a short video in which a hidden Alder can be heard calling repeatedly. Dalcio Dacol relocated the Sweetwater Dike bird on the 30th, just where La Chua meets Sweetwater, and on the 1st John Martin relocated and photographed the two birds at Sparrow Alley. At least these are presumed to be the same birds discovered on the 27th; neither Dalcio nor John heard them calling.

On the 28th, Bob Simons, Dotty Robbins, and Jim Swarr went looking for the Alders along Sparrow Alley and saw a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk, no doubt the same one spotted there by Glenn Israel on the 24th.

(If you decide to look for the Alders and/or the Short-tailed, and then to walk the rest of the way out La Chua, be aware that the approach to the observation tower is under a few inches of water. Thanks to Jonathan Mays for the photo.)

On the 29th Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg found the fall’s first Golden-winged Warbler along Lakeshore Drive near Palm Point.

There was a big influx of migrants on the 31st. Jonathan and Ellen Mays found the season’s first Chestnut-sided Warbler along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, then went home and found an extraordinarily early Scarlet Tanager. Mike Manetz went to San Felasco’s Progress Park entrance (off US-441 near Alachua) and tallied twelve warbler species – the best of which were 5 Ovenbirds, a Blue-winged, and a Kentucky – and then picked a Bank Swallow out of a flock of Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts.

The next day, Jonathan and Ellen Mays and Adam Zions walked San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails (i.e., the whole system south of Millhopper Road), and they also tallied twelve warbler species, including 12 Ovenbirds, 3 Worm-eating Warblers, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Chestnut-sided, a Kentucky, and not one but two Golden-wingeds, a male and a female.

I looked at the 12 warbler species seen by Mike and the 12 seen by Jonathan, Ellen, and Adam, and it looks like there are a total of seventeen species of warblers fluttering around out there. So grab your binoculars! Go get ‘em! Besides, it’s time for the first Veery to show up, and someone needs to find the first one, it might as well be you, right?

Swallow-tailed and (especially) Mississippi Kites are still being reported. Greg Stephens had one Swallow-tailed and three Mississippis circling over his Jonesville yard simultaneously on the 31st. Please keep those reports coming!

Second-grade students taught by local birder Sharon Kuchinski are finalists in the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest, and they need your votes in order to win. You can see their entry, and cast your vote, here: http://www.expressionsacademy.org/about/spotlight-items/213-sense-of-wonder-contest

The fun never ends

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

Jonathan Mays reported an Empidonax flycatcher along the La Chua Trail’s Sparrow Alley earlier today. He couldn’t stay – he had a conference to attend – but before leaving he contacted Mike Manetz to pass the word. Mike showed up with his recording equipment and was amazed to find two – count ‘em, two – Alder Flycatchers calling and even singing. He phoned me and I was there in twenty minutes. I heard both birds calling but got only a quick look at one of them. The question that’s on every long-time Alachua County birder’s mind is, “Have Alders been coming through here all along?” We had two last September, and as many as six this year, but prior to 2010 they were almost unknown in this area, with a bare handful of “Traill’s” Flycatcher (Alder or Willow, not positively identifiable as either) reports scattered through the decades. Anyway, if you want to look for these birds, they’ve been seen along the first bit of Sparrow Alley, always within a hundred yards of the barn. Listen for the pip! call.

By the way, Jonathan got out to Levy Lake on Sunday afternoon, relocated the Alder Flycatcher on the south dike, and got a photo.

Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds often spend the entire fall and winter in a single neighborhood. Ruth Palenik and Greg Hart have hosted Rufouses (Rufi?) in their respective back yards in the past, and it’s normal for them to arrive during the last week of August. Ron Robinson saw an adult male Rufous at his feeder at the west end of Gainesville on the 26th. Will it spend the entire winter? Ron has his fingers crossed so tight he’s cutting off his circulation.

Speaking of early arrivals, Tom Hoctor looked out his NW Gainesville window on the 26th and saw a Baltimore Oriole at his feeding station. That ties the early record for Alachua County.

Lloyd Davis relocated the male Painted Bunting along La Chua’s Sweetwater Dike this morning, “where the trail starts to bend north near the lone cypress tree.”

Swallow migration is peaking now, so keep your eyes open. I was doing a bird survey at the Kanapaha Prairie this morning and there were something like 70 to 100 swallows zooming around, mostly Barn Swallows but including at least 10 Bank Swallows and a Cliff Swallow.

I also saw a Mississippi Kite there, the first I’ve seen in a while. I’d be interested in any sightings over the next month, so if you see one, please let me know. Several local birders notified me of Swallow-tailed Kite sightings after I commented that none had been reported since the 11th – Matt and Erin Kalinowski saw one at Paynes Prairie on the 16th, Buck Snelson and Margaret Flagg saw one over 441 near Williston Road on the 18th, Matthew Neilson saw two over Tower Road on the 23rd and John Martin saw one near the airport on the same day – and I’m grateful for all such reports, for both Swallow-taileds and Mississippis. It’s interesting to know when they leave.

Helen Warren just emailed: “Susan Bottcher our city commissioner just announced on Facebook that in response to the public outcry, Nathan Collier has withdrawn his offer to buy the Loblolly property.”

Alder Flycatchers at Levy Lake!

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

John Hintermister had read that Alder and Willow Flycatchers were being seen near the Everglades, and on the 21st he sent out an email to several local birders: “If they are getting these birds at Lucky Hammock I would think we should have them on Cones Dike. Want to go one day this week?” The field trip was arranged for Saturday the 24th. John, Mike Manetz, Ron Robinson, Phil Laipis, and Jonathan Mays went along. It was not a great success. Mike was “90% sure” that he heard two Alders calling, but none of the party could get a look at the birds.

A little bit frustrated, Mike suggested another trip on the following day, this one to Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake, since it provided similar habitat: a partly wooded dike trail adjoining a marsh. Adam Zions and I joined him for this one. Pulling into the parking lot at 7 a.m., we found the right (north) fork of the trail blocked by a sign that said, “Trail closed for maintenance.” Our thinking was: Since public monies are being expended on this so-called maintenance, citizen oversight is certainly called for. We looked around but didn’t see anyone else out there, so that heavy responsibility fell on our shoulders. Reluctantly we acquiesced to our civic duty and walked past the sign and down the trail. (The maintenance involved cutting back the willows along the western portion of the trail, reducing the waterthrush habitat and leaving the dike’s edges looking rather chewed up.)

Anyway, about a mile out, we found an Empidonax flycatcher working the edges of the willows. It was grayish-brownish-olive on the back, off-white below, with a pale yellow wash on the belly, and white wing-bars and tertial edges. The tail was rather broad. Suspecting that it was either an Alder or a Willow, we examined it through the scope, and it cooperated nicely by staying in sight. But with Empidonax flycatchers you really have to hear them vocalize if you want to identify them, and that’s exactly what this one did, several times producing a pip! call that’s diagnostic for Alder Flycatcher.

Continuing along the trail – there was a lot of continuing, it’s six miles long – we found numerous Indigo Buntings and Prairie and Yellow Warblers, plus a Northern Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler, and the fall’s first Blue-winged Warbler. We’d progressed around to the south side of Levy Lake by about 11:30 when we came to the place where Jonathan Mays had found a Least Flycatcher last winter. It’s an easy place to find: about a mile and a half down the left (south) fork from the parking area, it’s the first place you’ll come to where a car could make a three-point turn. Mike thought this would be a good place to play an Alder Flycatcher tape. I thought to myself, “Really, Mike. Just because Jonathan Mays found a Least Flycatcher here last winter, that’s no reason to believe that we’ll find…” but I didn’t get to finish the thought, because an Empidonax flycatcher flew in to the tape. This one had buffy wing bars, which suggested that it could have been a different species, or perhaps just a different age. And it wasn’t the only one there. As we watched it, Mike pointed out a second one a few yards farther out, calling pip! … pip! So we had at least two Alders for the day, and one unidentified Empidonax.

One more note about our Levy Lake walk. White-eyed Vireos can mimic the calls of other birds. It’s not unusual for the introductory note of their typical song to sound like a Great Crested Flycatcher, an Eastern Towhee, or a Summer Tanager (sometimes the introductory note is the only sound they make, which can be confusing!). Today we heard White-eyed Vireos beginning their typical songs with notes that mimicked (1.) a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and (2.) a Least/Willow Flycatcher’s whit! call. Both were firsts for Mike, Adam, and me.

The La Chua Trail was the place to be on Saturday. Glenn Israel saw a Short-tailed Hawk: “Saw dark morph over horse barn. Circled up higher, then flew toward the southeast. Seen about 11:10 am. Had a good look; identical to photos of hawk seen at Hague dairy earlier this summer.” And Lloyd Davis saw a male Painted Bunting “along Sweetwater Dike where the trail starts to bend north near the lone cypress tree. I was watching a pair of Yellow Warblers in a willow on the west side of the trail, a couple Blue Grosbeaks flew out of the Willow and the Painted Bunting landed and preened above a Northern Cardinal for a couple of minutes or less.”

Becky Enneis read about The Warbler Guide in the last birding report: “I watched Scott Whittle’s videos, and then ordered a copy of the book from Amazon and it arrived today. I will start by studying the section on bird songs, flight and chip calls, and sonograms, all about which I know nothing. There are so many other things in it I haven’t seen in any other guide – the tail patterns, the color impressions, the tree icons showing preferred habitat, the migration time span bar, and the 45 degree and under views….We might not need any more ordinary bird books, but we need this bird book.” Bubba Scales tells me that Wild Birds Unlimited is sold out already, but I’m sure they’ve ordered more.

Perhaps your morale is sagging – weekend trickling away, grindstone awaiting your nose. Here’s something to buck you up, a tale of an Osprey nest site preserved at Cedar Key: http://pureflorida.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-ospreys-power-companies.html

Bird of the Year 2012

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

You wouldn’t have known it today, but it’s been a warm winter. Wild plum and redbud are blooming, though this isn’t early for them, but azaleas are starting to flower as well, and I think they normally peak in March. Standing around Sparrow Alley NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I’ve noticed several species of butterflies, including two swallowtails, which according to local butterfly enthusiast Kathy Malone would normally be out in late February. While NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I also noticed honeybees, paper wasps, and this little gem, a braconid wasp that John Killian photographed as it laid an egg on some insect inside a weed stem: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392631462/in/photostream  (I consulted David Wahl for the identification. He told me there are 50,000 to 150,000 species of braconids. When I passed that tidbit along to John, he replied, “Thanks for narrowing that down. I feel so much better. Now if only there were that many birds to chase.”)

The birds think it’s spring too. Northern Cardinal are singing, which I expect in January, but so are Northern Mockingbirds, White-eyed Vireos, and Eastern Towhees, all of which usually get underway in February. I was so impressed by the springiness of everything that I checked out the martin house at the dentist’s office just west of George’s Hardware on the 17th, but no Purple Martins were evident. Any day now…

Did I mention that I have NOT seen the Bell’s Vireo yet? Though on the 17th I got a quick glance at what desperate birders like to call a “candidate” in the spot where the vireo (which I have NOT seen) was originally discovered. I spent a total of seven hours at or near the Bell’s site on the 16th and 17th, and although I did NOT see the vireo, I did see the Groove-billed Ani and at least one, maybe two, Yellow-breasted Chats on both days, all in the field below Sweetwater Overlook. John Killian got a photo of the ani on the 16th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392629326/in/photostream/

Ruth Palinek writes, “I lost my hat (from REI) on a birding trip on La Chua. It’s not so much the hat but it had two bird pins, one from Gus’s aunt and another antique one from a friend.” If you’ve found the hat, contact Ruth at palenik2@ufl.edu

I have (finally!) received several Bird of the Year nominations:

Samuel Ewing: “There were many great birds seen and discovered in 2012 but since the Black Scoters were the only new county bird I would call them the best birds of 2012.”

Frank Goodwin: “My vote goes to that lovely little Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua observation platform, partly for sappy sentimental reasons. The way she has put up for months with constant La Chua traffic and Phoebe bullying without moving on, I think she deserves special recognition. It’s as if she appreciates all the ocular attention and wants to give as many locals as possible an opportunity to see her.”

John Hintermister: “My vote goes for one I did not see – Black Scoter.”

Sharon Kuchinski: “I nominate the Black Scoter. Not because I was on the team who sighted it. Just because. Well maybe because I was on the team who sighted it….”

Greg McDermott: “I think the Black Scoters have a strong argument, though it would enhance their claim if they were not one-day wonders. Alder Flycatcher runs a strong second. Personally, I think the influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches is third. Groove-billed Ani would be in the running if there hadn’t been the very cooperative individual only two years ago. Vermilion Flycatcher doesn’t rate – they’ve been too common the past 15 years or so.”

Ron Robinson: “I nominate the Green-tailed Towhee due to the fact it stayed so long and was in an easily-reached location. I believe that despite the best efforts of many, I was the only birder who didn’t see it.”

Ignacio Rodriguez: “Favorite bird Vermilion Flycatcher. But I wish to nominate also the King Rail.”

Bob Simons: “My favorite would be the female Wilson’s Phalarope I saw from Palm Point in the spring. It was glorious and was a surprise and I was able to share it with my wife Erika and her brother and his wife from Germany. My second favorite would be the Red-breasted Nuthatch at John Killian’s house. I got great looks at both of these birds.”

Adam Zions: “Geez Rex, way to make this a difficult list. I’m not even sure how this works out to pick just a few favorites. My top 10 list for Alachua County in 2012 in no particular order:
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Sooty Tern
Magnificent Frigatebird
Black-bellied Plover
Reddish Egret
Black Scoter
Wilson’s Phalarope
Whimbrel
Franklin’s Gull
Alder Flycatcher
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Groove-billed Ani, Short-tailed Hawk, white morph Great Blue Heron, Western Tanager, Gull-billed Tern, Short-eared Owl, Black-billed Cuckoo, Black Skimmer. Alder Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Connecticut Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Lark Sparrow. And I suppose we can include these two, but they were really more of 2011 birds I suppose: Sprague’s Pipit and Green-tailed Towhee. We may need a Top 25 list, like the AP/Harris/USA Today polls for college football.”

Steve Zoellner: “I reported a Wilson’s Warbler several months ago. It never reappeared in our backyard but I saw that two were seen during the Christmas Bird Count. That is my nomination for best bird of the year (even though only my wife saw it).”

If we tally up the votes, Black Scoter wins the title, with Vermilion Flycatcher coming in second, and Red-breasted Nuthatch third. If we were to decide it on the basis of rarity, The Bird of the Year 2012 standings would look something like this:
1. Black Scoter: First County Record
2. Green-tailed Towhee: First County Record (but originally discovered in 2011)
3. Townsend’s Solitaire: First County Record (seen by only one birder, not accepted by Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee)
4. Alder Flycatcher: Second County Record
5. Sprague’s Pipit: Second County Record (but originally discovered in 2011) and Third County Record (when they returned in November 2012)
6. (tie) Whimbrel: Third County Record
6. (tie) Reddish Egret: Third County Record
8. Red-throated Loon: Fourth County Record
9. Franklin’s Gull: Fifth and Sixth County Records
10. Ruddy Turnstone: Fifth County Record

Bird of the Year 2013 is off to a good start with Chris Burney’s discovery of the county’s first-ever Bell’s Vireo (which I have NOT seen).

For all you Citrus, Hernando, and SW Marion County folks on the mailing list: Keith Morin, park biologist at Crystal River Preserve is looking for volunteers: “We are going to be planting a total of 12,000 longleaf pine seedlings on January 19, and 3000 trees each day on February 7, 16, and 21, and will need a lot of help from volunteers, new Americorps members, and staff. If you can help or send help, please let me know so I can write you down for that day. We have in the past planted 3000 trees in one day with an 11-person crew, but we are looking for 12-15 people each day.” Keith can be reached at Keith.Morin@dep.state.fl.us

Debbie Segal writes, “The county’s Environmental Protection Department has developed a Hunting Business Plan that would allow hunting on Alachua County public lands. It will be presented to the County Commission on Tuesday, January 22nd, at the County Administration Building, 2nd floor. The meeting will begin at 5 pm, though it is uncertain exactly when the Hunting Business Plan will be discussed. The Plan addresses the appropriateness of allowing hunting on each tract of land owned and managed by the county, including Levy Prairie, Mill Creek, Little Hatchet Creek, Phifer Flatwoods, Prairie Creek, Watermelon Pond, and others. Hunters have asked the county to open more lands to hunting, including duck hunting at Levy Prairie, which supports nesting Sandhill Cranes. Certainly some types of hunting are appropriate on public lands, such as removal of feral hogs, but if you are concerned that many of our public lands may become off limits for bird watching, hiking, photography, and other passive types of recreation during hunting season, then plan to attend the Commission meeting and consider voicing your concern. A large and vocal group will help send the message to the Commission that we want to keep our county public lands open for the large majority of people who use these lands for passive recreation. A link to the Plan is provided here.”

Major birdage

The last week has produced a few really remarkable days of birding.

You may remember that Dalcio Dacol saw a possible Ash-throated Flycatcher near the La Chua observation platform on the 29th. No one was able to relocate it, but on December 2nd Jonathan Mays photographed a definite Ash-throated at the end of the Bolen Bluff Trail. One might assume that it was the same bird as Dalcio’s – simply because, after all, how many Ash-throated Flycatchers could we possibly have on the Prairie at once? They’re a rare bird, right? So anyway, on December 4th John Hintermister, Howard Adams, Mike Manetz, and Jonathan Mays did a little Christmas Count scouting. They started at Persimmon Point, where they found … an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Then they went on to Cones Dike, and in the very spot frequented by two Alder Flycatchers in September, they found three … count ‘em, three … Ash-throateds IN THE SAME TREE. And not just in the same tree, IN THE SAME BINOCULAR FIELD. So that’s four separate sightings, and five or six separate Ash-throateds, between November 29th and December 4th. (Other good birds seen on the same day included a Lincoln’s Sparrow at Persimmon Point and a Yellow-breasted Chat on Cones Dike. Normally these would be the stars of the show, but not on a Four Ash-throated Flycatcher Day).

A party consisting of Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, Adam Kent, Frank Goodwin, and Julia Willmott returned to Cones Dike on the 7th, and Jonathan was able to get a picture of two Ash-throateds perched in the same tree. The group also found a Least Flycatcher, a Virginia Rail, and a Fox Sparrow. (All three Ash-throateds were still present on Cones Dike on the 8th, according to Adam Zions and Sidney Wade.)

Frank Goodwin must be wearing American Birding Association aftershave laced with sparrow pheromones, because he’s been finding sparrows like no one’s business. On the 2nd he photographed a Henslow’s Sparrow in the big field at Gum Root Park, a traditional place to look for them. On the 8th he and his wife Irina had a ten-sparrow day along the fenceline trail near the beginning of La Chua, including three relative rarities: two Lincoln’s Sparrows, a Clay-colored, and a Fox. Irina also saw a female Painted Bunting at the beginning of the trail. All of this in about a quarter of a mile. Frank remarks that the fenceline trail is “fast becoming my very favorite winter birding walk in all of Alachua County (if not the entire U.S.).”

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around, as witnessed by three birds on successive days this week: I saw one at San Felasco Hammock on the 3rd, Geoff Parks heard one near Blues Creek on the 4th, and one visited Pat Lanzillotti’s NW Gainesville feeder on the 5th.

On the 6th Andy Kratter saw a Limpkin at Lake Alice. One was seen there multiple times early this year, but no one could find it after April. It may have been in the vicinity, keeping to the extensive swamp east of the main lake. Anyway, John Hintermister visited Lake Alice on the 8th and got a picture of it.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher is still being seen at La Chua, most recently by Jason Fidorra on the 7th. Greg Stephens photographed it on the 5th.

The goldeneye behind the Butterfly Rainforest exhibit appeared to have a yellow bill in the original photo that I received. Barrow’s Goldeneye has a yellow bill. But later photos showed that it had a dark bill, typical for a Common Goldeneye.

I remember Tom Webber saying that he expects to hear Northern Cardinals singing right about the time of the winter solstice. I always thought they started later than that, maybe a week or so after New Year’s Day. But I’ve heard them singing in my back yard each morning since December 1st. What with this and the early arrival of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins, it’s a strangely advanced winter in some ways.

According to the American Birding Association, Nanday Parakeet AKA Black-hooded Parakeet is now countable in Florida (be sure to read the comments): http://blog.aba.org/2012/12/52-bird-species-added-to-aba-checklist.html

John Winn has a cousin who runs a bird rehab facility in Maine, and every December she compiles her favorite photos from the preceding year. You should look at these if only to see the downy American Woodcock chicks: http://www.avianhaven.org/avianhavenslides2012.pdf

Shirley Lasseter made me aware that the Duck Pond, where Muscovy Ducks formerly reigned supreme, is now the domain of Black Swans. They’ve been there about three weeks and haven’t killed anyone yet, and I understand that’s pretty good for Black Swans.

There are three local Christmas Bird Counts coming up after the Gainesville Count. All could use your help:
Tuesday, December 18: Ichetucknee  / O’Leno. Contact Ginger Morgan  Ginger.Morgan@dep.state.fl.us
Thursday, December 20: Hamilton County. Contact Jacqui Sulek  jsulek@audubon.org
Thursday, December 27: Lake City. Contact Valerie Thomas  v.thomas57@gmail.com