Winter is coming

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

We’re going to try something new for field trips: carpooling via the Audubon web site. First go to the field trip schedule: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ Click on a field trip, and the information bar will expand. Click on the button that says, “Read more.” Try it on the O’Leno trip; you’ll end up here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/oleno-state-park-3/?instance_id=349 Scroll down the page a bit, and you’ll see a gray box that says, “Leave a reply.” If you need a ride, or you’re willing to provide a ride, use the “Leave a reply” box to say so. Don’t wait till the last minute. I know how you can be.

What may turn out to be Alachua County’s sixth-ever Black-headed Grosbeak had a fatal collision with a window at UF’s Bartram Hall on the 9th (photo here). It was an immature bird, and Black-headed Grosbeaks of that age can be difficult to distinguish from Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Andy Kratter will be prepping the specimen in the next week or so, and should be able to determine its identity then. Meanwhile, watch your feeders!

The arrival of Bay-breasted Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers during the second week of October normally signals the last wave of neotropical migrants. This year the first Bay-breasted was extraordinarily early: Barbara Shea saw one at Sparrow Alley on September 21st, by thirteen days a new record. From the description it was in breeding plumage – they normally molt into winter plumage on the nesting grounds, before heading south – but that may be connected with its early arrival here. Jonathan Mays saw another relatively early Bay-breasted in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th, and on the more typical date of October 9th Matt O’Sullivan saw one at Bolen Bluff and Dean and Samuel Ewing saw one in their NW Gainesville yard. Chris Burney spotted the only Black-throated Green that’s been reported this fall, on the 4th at Prairie Creek Preserve.

Jerry Krummrich had a nice day on Bellamy Road on the 3rd: “Was drawn to my favorite trail today and it was kinda birdy. Trail was wet but walkable and always interesting habitat changes from flooded woods to wildflowers in sandhills in a 50 yard stretch. Best bird was a Swainson’s Warbler along the trail with flooded woods in background. He was repeating call notes I was unfamiliar with – unlike Ovenbird, clearer and less frequent, less agitated attitude. He was cooperative and hopped up on limbs about 10 feet away/5 feet off ground. Had 11 warblers total including Blue-winged and Golden-winged in same tree, a dozen Ovenbirds, 1 Redstart and a Magnolia. Had a Merlin and a Cooper’s over scrub open woods. Several Empidonax and Veerys.” I asked Jerry where along Bellamy Road he was, and he replied, “I was referring to the Interpretive Trailhead, a portion of O’Leno SP located/accessed off 441 just south of main entrance road to O’Leno. You turn on Bellamy here (is a sign on highway), drive east and enter parking area trailhead. Trail connects to Sweetwater Branch Trail. I enjoy birding here because of habitat diversity – sandhill, scrub, and floodplain – it’s the area on top of the underground Santa Fe River which turns into a meandering slough during rainy periods – lots of tree species. Trail also connects to marked horse trails – lots of edges. Yes – sorry – it’s in Columbia County.” So now you’ve got a new birding spot to check out, or just a pretty place to take a walk.

Mike Manetz and I spent a couple of hours birding at the Powers Park fishing pier on the 9th. We saw no Ospreys, which is normal for October, but no Limpkins either, which was very surprising given their abundance at Newnans over the past couple of years. We did, however, see a Peregrine Falcon come cruising along the southern shore of the lake at treetop level, veer out into the open at the mouth of the boat channel to give us a nice close-range look, and then head in the direction of Paynes Prairie. Samuel Ewing didn’t have to go to Powers Park to see a Peregrine; he photographed one flying over his yard on the 11th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15322086547/in/photostream/

The Alachua Audubon field trip to O’Leno on the 11th had only middling success. Warblers were sparse, and overall we didn’t see many birds of any sort. However we came across two fruiting tupelo trees that attracted thrushes of three species (Wood, Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked) and tanagers of two species (Scarlet, Summer). The day was beautiful, the trail was beautiful, and the mosquitoes were few. On the way home Mike and I spent a few minutes at the Hague Dairy because it’s getting to be time for Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They often travel with big flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds, but today cowbird flocks appeared to be nonexistent.

Ron Robinson photographed the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at his backyard bird bath on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15287033897/

As the migration of neotropical species draws to a close, the winter birds are starting to show up. The first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, two of them, were seen by Matt Bruce at Palm Point on the 4th. The first Blue-headed Vireo was seen by John Hintermister at Bolen Bluff on the 5th. The first American Goldfinch – a very early bird – was seen by Andy Kratter in his SE Gainesville yard on the 6th, and it was Andy who saw the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Bolen Bluff on the 7th. The first Yellow-rumped Warbler (!), another early bird, was seen by Mike Manetz at Palm Point on the 9th. And I saw the winter’s first sparrow, a Savannah, at the Hague Dairy on the 11th.

Speaking of winter, Ron Pittaway’s annual Winter Finch Forecast has been posted on the eBird web site: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1415/

When we visit the Cedar Key cemetery, we always park in the shady grove of sand pines at the north end. Until this week there was a thick border of palmettos and scrubby vegetation growing along the driveway. Now it looks like this. Migratory birds have one less bit of shelter on this island, which has become too popular for its own good. If you’d like to protest this action, and say a few words on behalf of the birds (and remind those in power that birders often visit Cedar Key, and spend money there), write the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 610, Cedar Key, FL 32625 AND Mayor Dale Register, P.O. Box 339 Cedar Key, FL 32625.

Remember: carpooling via the Alachua Audubon web site!

For the rain it raineth every day

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

The last few days’ weather has brought us some exceptional birding.

On the 3rd it rained warblers. Jonathan Mays, working on the north rim of Paynes Prairie, saw 14 species, some in relatively large numbers. His best were a Chestnut-sided Warbler, only the second or third spring record for the county, and a Tennessee, almost as rare at this season. The others included 24 (!) American Redstarts, 12 Blackpoll Warblers, 2 Black-throated Greens, 3 Cape Mays, and 3 Black-throated Blues. Mike Manetz, birding nearer the La Chua trailhead, saw ten warbler species, including three singing Yellow-breasted Chats. And Andy Kratter, splitting his time between Pine Grove Cemetery and Palm Point, saw twelve warbler species (plus a Cliff Swallow at Palm Point). All together, Jonathan, Mike, and Andy totaled 18 warbler species on the 3rd. And the warblerpalooza continued through the 4th, when Adam Zions and Jonathan Mays found a Black-throated Green along Bellamy Road, and Adam later counted thirteen Black-throated Blues at Ring Park.

Surprisingly, Jonathan’s Tennessee wasn’t the only one this spring. Andy Kratter saw three (!) at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 1st, and one of them stuck around till the next day.

On the 4th Mike Manetz wrote, “I ran into John Hintermister and Debbie Segal and we decided to try the Hague Dairy. It rained the entire time there, but we got 2 Semipalmated Plovers and 2 Least Sandpipers at the dirt field just east of Silo Pond. At the Lagoon we had 31 Least Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also present were 6 Solitary Sandpipers and 3 Spotteds. The Bronzed Cowbird is still there!! We saw it in one of the barns with a few Brown-headeds. White-rumped Sandpipers should be there any day.” (White-rumpeds are already being seen in Jacksonville as well as South Florida.) A little later in the day Dean and Samuel Ewing read Mike’s report of the Bronzed on eBird and drove out to the dairy, where Samuel got a photo.

A couple of lingering falcons have been reported. Adam Zions saw a Merlin at the Hague Dairy on the 4th, while Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at Watermelon Pond on the 3rd.

Jonathan Mays photographed a Brown Pelican over Newnans Lake on the 2nd.

Barbara Knutson of Ft. White (Columbia County) had a male Western Tanager at her place from the 27th to the 30th. Unfortunately I learned about it on the 30th.

Tina Greenberg photographed a male Painted Bunting that visited her home at the western edge of Gainesville on the 2nd and 3rd.

Linda Hensley’s NW Gainesville yard, which is hosting a couple of Gray Catbirds that may be nesting, also attracted a male Purple Finch on the afternoon of the 3rd. It’s not the only winter bird lingering around town. On the 4th Caleb Gordon saw two American Goldfinches in NW Gainesville, and later the same day John Hintermister saw Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, and Bonaparte’s Gulls at Newnans Lake.

 

First Swallow-tailed Kites, and other spring arrivals

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

(Those of you who asked for shorter birding reports – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) you were in the minority – will be deeply disheartened at the length of this one. I’ll try to mix it up a little more in the future, but there have been a lot of birds in the last ten days.)

Although the earliest Swallow-tailed Kite ever reported from Alachua County was seen on February 6, 1954, I think only one other February sighting has been recorded since then; mostly they show up in March. This year is different: they’ve been early all over the state, Alachua County included. Ron Robinson saw one over his place at the west end of Gainesville on the 21st, Dave Beatty saw one over Jonesville on the 24th, and Samuel, Caleb, and Dean Ewing saw two north of Watermelon Pond on the 26th. Samuel got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8513760414/in/photostream

Sharon Fronk of Old Town (Dixie County) had the area’s first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring visit her feeder on the 25th. There have so far been no spring arrivals here in Alachua County, though at least a couple of Ruby-throateds spent the winter.

Barn Swallows are customarily early arrivals; in most years, someone makes the initial sighting during the first week of March. But this year they were even earlier: Stephen McCullers saw three at Chapmans Pond on the 28th, and on the same day Dean Ewing spotted two flying with Tree Swallows at Watermelon Pond.

Swallow-tailed Kites, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and Barn Swallows all nest locally, but on the 28th Stephen McCullers reported the spring’s first transient, a bird that’s just passing through on its way north: a Solitary Sandpiper in one of the ponds behind the Harn Museum. This ties the early-arrival date for the species in Alachua County, set fifteen years ago by Mike Manetz. Solitaries winter here on rare occasions, but these ponds have been visited frequently through the winter by birders seeking a Common Goldeneye present there from December 1st to February 24th (but not since), and no one reported a Solitary.

Since there have been so many early birds, let me mention a possible source of confusion. White-eyed Vireos are perfectly capable of mimicking the wheep of a Great Crested Flycatcher and the picky-tucky-tuck of a Summer Tanager, so if you hear one of those species calling before the last week of March, check it out and try to get visual confirmation.

Despite all the spring arrivals, it’s still winter, so let’s run down the more interesting winter birds that are still being reported.

John Hintermister and Adam Zions located the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 22nd, and Adam got a photo. Coincidentally, another was reported off the fishing pier at Cedar Key, first by Darcy Love of Spring Hill on the 18th and then by our own Steven Goodman on the 24th. I talked to Hernando County birder Murray Gardler this week, and he said the bird was present in the same location last winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around. In the past three weeks, Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing saw one near Archer on the 24th (and Samuel got a photo), Adam Zions found one along the Hatchet Creek Tract on the 17th (photo) and Mike Manetz relocated it on the 22nd, Felicia Lee saw one at her SW Gainesville home on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted one along the perimeter trail at Morningside Nature Center on the 8th.

Mike Manetz and John Killian saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher along the Cones Dike Trail on the 27th.

The Fox Sparrow behind Pine Grove Cemetery was seen on the 19th by visiting birders from the Tampa Bay area and on the 20th by Andy Kratter. Last winter it wasn’t seen after March 7th, or after March 4th the year before, so if you want to get a look at it you’d better hurry.

As usually happens in late February, the American Goldfinches have grown weary of their inane flirtation with wild foods and have returned, chastened, to the feeders. Ron Robinson writes, “The last five days have been jam packed with Goldfinches. I have at least one hundred, and the feed is flying out of the feeders.”

Keep your eyes open, because sometimes Pine Siskins will join flocks of goldfinches. Chuck Curry noticed two on his NW Gainesville feeder on the 23rd.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are normally seen here in spring and fall migrations, but there are a small number of winter records, including two this winter: Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello found one at Loblolly Woods on January 20th, and on the 18th of this month Shirley Lasseter photographed one at her feeder. Another migrant for which winter sightings have been recorded – an increasing number in this case, so that it’s become an annual winter visitor in small numbers – is Northern Waterthrush. The Christmas Count team assigned to the Cones Dike Trail found six on December 16th. More recently, a pair of visiting ornithologists found two along Sweetwater Dike (off the La Chua Trail) on the 24th.

Speaking of wintering warblers, Frank and Irina Goodwin saw an American Redstart along the Levy Lake loop trail on the 22nd. This is the second redstart of the winter: a group from Citrus County saw one near the La Chua parking lot on the 11th.

The Groove-billed Ani is still around. Gerald White and Lloyd Davis saw it on the 27th, and visiting birder Alex Lamoreaux saw it (and one of the two Yellow-breasted Chats that’s been hanging around the same field) on the 1st.

On the 19th the ani was the trigger for some embarrassing behavior on my part. An out of town birder who’d come to see the ani posted this message on a statewide listserver: “There is a man currently bushhogging the field where the Ani has been seen. It was not seen today prior to his mowing.” Interpreting this to mean that the entire field was being mowed – it wasn’t – I immediately sent an irate message to Prairie biologist Andi Christman, asking who the heck was managing this stuff. I don’t think I used the term “you people,” but it was implied. Andi wrote back: “I suppose you could say that I ‘manage this stuff’. We have the opportunity to conduct a prescribed burn in the area near where the ani has been and in order to do so, need to establish containment lines. That is the mowing that was being conducted. As I’m sure you know, in the absence of flood, fire is the next most appropriate tool to manage hardwood encroachment into the basin marsh. Unfortunately, this may sometimes affect the opportunites for park visitors to view specific wildlife in certain areas, but in the long term, it is the best way to ensure quality habitat for the majority of species. As a rule, the Florida Park Service is not a single species management agency, but rather focuses on habitat management for the broad range of species associated with a natural community. I hope for the sake of the interested birders that the ani stays in the area, but our window of opportunity for conducting prescribed burns in the prairie basin is a short one, and we have to take advantage of the opportunitites that present themselves if we are to manage the natural communities in the most sound way possible. Thank you for your interest and commitment. I appreciate it.” A more civil answer than I merited. I actually *want* habitat management at the Prairie, but the second they start managing it, I start screaming bloody murder. Anyway, I apologized.

The Florida Ornithological Society has announced the details for its spring meeting: http://fosbirds.org/sites/default/files/Meetings/FOSSpring2013MeetingAnnouncement-4.pdf

Last of all, here’s a thoughtful take on the 2011 movie, “The Big Year,” by one of the very best American birders, Ned Brinkley, author of the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America and the editor of North American Birds magazine. Here’s a quote from the review (and you should know that “antivenin” is the correct name for “anti-venom”): “The chief elements that fuel American mass-cultural products are mostly absent in birding. Indeed, birding—as I see people doing it, all over the world—may be an antivenin to the sex/violence/capital nexus that seems to be at the heart of so much popular culture. To a culture enslaved to such a golden calf, how can it not seem ridiculous, even pathetic, for a person to shed a tear at the first Chestnut-sided Warbler of spring? What is profitable, hedonistic, transgressive, ironic, or cool in that, or for that matter in our many fascinations—habitats, identifications, distributions, behaviors, not to mention butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, and more?  American pop culture urges consumption and physical pleasure; our lives are defined differently, by growing knowledge, study, connection, fascination.” Read the whole thing: http://blog.aba.org/2011/11/yet-another-big-year-review.html

Christmas Bird Count results

From: Rex Rowan [rexrowan@gmail.com]
Subject: Alachua County birding report

Hey, make a note if you’re planning to join the January 5th field trip to Alligator Lake: the driving directions on the Alachua Audubon web site are wrong. Here’s what they should say: “From I-75 take US-90 east through Lake City and turn south on Old Country Club Road (also known as SE Avalon Avenue or County Road 133). Entrance to parking area is 1.5 miles south on the right side of the road.” Thanks to Tom Camarata for pointing out the mistakes to me.

We’ve got some gifted photographers around here, and some of you may be interested in the 2013 Wildlife and Nature Photography Contest being held by Audubon of Martin County. They’ve put together a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcd38dEvbAs

Speaking of photographers, Adam Zions found and photographed some uncommon birds in the conservation lands north of Newnans Lake on the 30th. He started at Gum Root Park, where he saw two Henslow’s Sparrows in the big field, then drove a couple of miles east on State Road 26 to the Hatchet Creek Tract, where he found a Red-breasted Nuthatch (not to mention a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which is resident at Hatchet Creek but can be hard to find).

I haven’t heard of any definite sightings of the Groove-billed Ani recently, though visiting Tennessee birder David Kirschke and his daughter thought they heard it on the 27th, “about half way between the Sweetwater Overlook turn off and the next bend in the trail.” If you see it, please let me know. The last positive sightings were by Lloyd Davis and Adam Zions on the 23rd, when Adam got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/8302688762/in/photostream

Mike Manetz found a big flock of ducks off the crew team parking lot on the 18th, and Andy Kratter saw them in the same place on the 23rd: “300+ Ring-necked, 25 or so Lesser Scaup, 8 Redhead, 5 Canvasbacks, and a bunch of American Coots. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were quite far offshore, as were 2 Horned Grebes.” I found most of the same birds still present in the late afternoon of the 24th, but by the 30th they’d dispersed and their place had been taken by Ruddy Ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls, plus one hunting decoy.

Here finally are the results of the December 16th Gainesville CBC:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  207
Muscovy Duck  90
Wood Duck  821
Gadwall  34
American Wigeon  6
Mallard  29
Mottled Duck  89
Blue-winged Teal  81
Northern Shoveler  14
Northern Pintail  64
Green-winged Teal  1
Canvasback  5
Ring-necked Duck  252
Lesser Scaup  312
Black Scoter  6
Bufflehead  4
Common Goldeneye  1
Hooded Merganser  125
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  500
Northern Bobwhite  13
Wild Turkey  46
Common Loon  3
Pied-billed Grebe  74
Wood Stork  28
Double-crested Cormorant  772
Anhinga  187
American White Pelican  137
American Bittern  12
Great Blue Heron  134
Great Egret  206
Snowy Egret  177
Little Blue Heron  163
Tricolored Heron  77
Cattle Egret  211
Green Heron  17
Black-crowned Night-Heron  79
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
White Ibis  2,013
Glossy Ibis  528
Roseate Spoonbill  1
Black Vulture  343
Turkey Vulture  1,144
Osprey  8
Bald Eagle  82
Northern Harrier  42
Sharp-shinned Hawk  12
Cooper’s Hawk  12
Red-shouldered Hawk  164
Red-tailed Hawk  64
King Rail  2
Virginia Rail  5
Sora  252
Common Gallinule  82
American Coot  883
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  3,009
Killdeer  247
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  54
Lesser Yellowlegs  55
Least Sandpiper  2
Wilson’s Snipe  398
American Woodcock  7
Bonaparte’s Gull  30
Laughing Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  330
Herring Gull  2
Forster’s Tern  30
Rock Pigeon  70
Eurasian Collared-Dove  9
Mourning Dove  495
Common Ground-Dove  7
Groove-billed Ani  1
Barn Owl  5
Eastern Screech-Owl  16
Great Horned Owl  55
Barred Owl  64
Eastern Whip-poor-will  2
Selasphorus, sp. (probably Rufous Hummingbird)  1
Belted Kingfisher  38
Red-headed Woodpecker  32
Red-bellied Woodpecker  284
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  61
Downy Woodpecker  118
Northern Flicker  38
Pileated Woodpecker  129
American Kestrel  56
Merlin  3
Least Flycatcher  4
Eastern Phoebe  580
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  10
Loggerhead Shrike  38
White-eyed Vireo  203
Blue-headed Vireo  44
Blue Jay  276
American Crow  621
Fish Crow  297
crow, sp.  45
Tree Swallow  6
Carolina Chickadee  204
Tufted Titmouse  248
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
Brown-headed Nuthatch  4
House Wren  236
Winter Wren  1
Sedge Wren  52
Marsh Wren  129
Carolina Wren  420
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  387
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  405
Eastern Bluebird  173
Hermit Thrush  27
American Robin  2,583
Gray Catbird  205
Northern Mockingbird  180
Brown Thrasher  15
European Starling  43
American Pipit  124
Sprague’s Pipit  2
Cedar Waxwing  54
Ovenbird  2
Northern Waterthrush  6
Black-and-white Warbler  69
Orange-crowned Warbler  105
Common Yellowthroat  292
Northern Parula  3
Palm Warbler  830
Pine Warbler  204
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1,910
Yellow-throated Warbler  28
Prairie Warbler  8
Wilson’s Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Eastern Towhee  187
Chipping Sparrow  488
Field Sparrow  20
Vesper Sparrow  57
Savannah Sparrow  515
Grasshopper Sparrow  20
Henslow’s Sparrow  2
Le Conte’s Sparrow  6
Fox Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  74
Lincoln’s Sparrow  6
Swamp Sparrow  455
White-throated Sparrow  62
White-crowned Sparrow  35
Summer Tanager  4
Northern Cardinal  832
Indigo Bunting  2
Painted Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  9,915
Eastern Meadowlark  382
Common Grackle  585
Boat-tailed Grackle  727
Brown-headed Cowbird  12,798
Baltimore Oriole  29
House Finch  72
American Goldfinch  372
House Sparrow  11

We’ve gained two minutes of daylight since the solstice! Two minutes! Yes! And the first Purple Martins should be back within three weeks, maybe four. So it’s nearly spring. Watch your feeders for Pine Siskins and Purple Finches, which tend to show up after January 1st.

The management and staff of the Alachua County Birding Report, Inc., TM, LLC, LOL, ROTFLMAO, would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Turkey’s not the only bird in town this week

On Tuesday night, Alachua Audubon will welcome Steven Noll and David Tegeder, who will discuss their book Ditch of Dreams, the saga of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. It was fifty years ago this month that Marjorie Carr stood up in the Gainesville High School auditorium and began asking questions about the impact of this project, an act which eventually led to the formation of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, the end of construction on the canal, the establishment of the 110-mile Cross Florida Greenway, and decades of wrangling over Rodman Reservoir. Learn about the ongoing controversy and the struggle for Florida’s future. Join us at 7:00 Tuesday evening at the Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd Street.

Dalcio Dacol walked out the La Chua Trail on the morning of the 19th in search of the Vermilion Flycatcher and the Le Conte’s Sparrow. He found both, plus a Sora – all, in his words, “showing well” – and he managed to get them all on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4VebbrlTks

Also on the 19th, also at La Chua, John Killian got this nice photo of a Merlin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8200665219/in/photostream That’s a male, and on the same day Jonathan Mays got a picture of a female, so La Chua is hosting at least two right now:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201745446/

Jonathan also photographed a Great Blue Heron eating a Greater Siren, a large aquatic salamander: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201746158/in/photostream/

Rob Bowden heard two Pine Siskins in a flock of American Goldfinches on the morning of the 19th.

I mentioned that southbound Common Loons have been seen overhead recently. Some of them have been landing in local waters as well. Carol Lippincott saw one paddling around on Lake Wauberg on the 18th, and on the 17th an Alachua Conservation Trust field trip saw one on Newnans Lake (four more flying over), plus two Horned Grebes and four Buffleheads, from the Powers Park fishing pier.

Migrant Sandhill Cranes don’t usually arrive here till late November or early December – Steve Nesbitt has commented that they seem to be arriving later, and leaving earlier, every year – but birders have been reporting high-flying flocks since late October. Andy Kratter saw 25 going over his SE Gainesville yard in the wake of a big cold front on October 29th, and on the same day Jonathan Mays and Trevor Persons counted 76 (in two V flocks) going over the La Chua Trail. Adam Kent saw 56 flying over Poe Springs on November 17th. However there don’t seem to be any large congregations at Paynes Prairie yet, so these early flocks – despite their large size – may be composed of local birds. (There aren’t any flocks at the UF Beef Unit fields at Williston Road and SW 23rd Street, either, but according to Steve the cranes often spend their days foraging in marshes until after the first freeze.)

Hey, did you know that the Reader’s Digest had a hand in halting the Cross Florida Barge Canal? And that President Nixon almost reversed his order to end construction? It’s a fascinating piece of Florida history – not to mention a prime example of what citizen environmentalists are capable of – and nobody can tell the story better than Stephen Noll and David Tegeder. Please join us at the Millhopper Library at 7:00 on Tuesday night.

Vermilion Flycatcher, early waxwings, and other good birds

(Sorry for the delay on some of these reports. This week I’ve been house-sitting for a friend who doesn’t have internet access.)

John Hintermister found a female Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua Trail observation platform on the 8th. It was one of three great birds he found on his walk (59 species overall). The others were a Lincoln’s Sparrow “just southwest of the barn” and a Clay-colored Sparrow “on Sweetwater Dike just past the first turn going west and before the big cypress tree.” If you go looking for these, keep an eye out for a first-fall male Yellow-headed Blackbird seen by Irina Goodwin along Sweetwater Dike on the 4th.

John Martin found some great birds at the Hague Dairy on the 4th. He scared up a Henslow’s Sparrow near the “twin ponds” south of the main driveway, and he got an extended video of a gorgeous male Yellow-headed Blackbird among the Brown-headed Cowbirds on the roof of one of the animal buildings (click on the little gear-looking icon that says “Change quality” and choose “Original,” then select “Full screen” to see this at its best).

Neither of these birds was found during Alachua Audubon’s field trip to the dairy on the 3rd, but Mike Manetz reported, “Got good scope looks at Vesper, Savannah, and Swamp Sparrows, plus Sedge Wren. Best was Merlin perched for several minutes in scope for lots of oohs and aahs, especially from me!” (The Merlin was #251 in Alachua County this year for Mike. If you want to see how that stands compared to previous Big Years for Alachua County, go here.)

Cedar Waxwings usually start showing up in Gainesville during the second half of December. It’s rare to see them before that. But this year there have been several sightings already. Adam and Gina Kent saw the first one at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. On the 4th they visited the wetland behind the Magnolia Parke commercial complex and found a flock of 30, while Felicia Lee recorded 5 at the La Chua Trail.

Gina Kent saw a Pine Siskin at her feeder on the 7th; it could be the harbinger of an irruption, or it could be lost. American Goldfinches are starting to arrive as well. On the 5th Gina saw one her feeder, Jonathan Mays saw one at Paynes Prairie, and Bob Wallace saw one at his place south of Alachua, and there have been a handful of reports almost every day since then.

Common Loons are also starting to show up, pretty much on schedule. Dean Ewing saw the first of the fall in a retention pond near Chiefland on the 29th, Samuel Ewing saw three over Newberry on the 5th, and county biologist Susie Hetrick and I saw one (plus three Ruddy Ducks) on Lake Alto on the 9th.

Last June, Bob Carroll retired from a distinguished and successful 40-year career as an educator. Not long afterward he received an advertisement in the mail for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Since he had never been birding in Texas, it struck him that registering for the festival would make a darned good retirement gift to himself. He left early this week, and you can accompany him on his adventure through The Magical Power of the Inter-Net, because he’s described three of his adventures on his blog at http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

The field trip on the 10th goes to the Hamilton County phosphate mines, the one on the 17th goes to Cedar Key. According to Dale Henderson, Cedar Key is a veritable hotbed of Red-breasted Nuthatches this fall. She writes that she is “seeing and hearing Red-breasted Nuthatches daily. There may be a dozen or more. Near the air strip, cemetery, and down closer to my house, and also in the museum and vicinity.” In addition, Dale saw a flock of 25 Snow Geese and had a Pine Siskin at her feeder. Field trip schedule: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/calendar.htm

The Cedar Key Christmas Bird Count will be held on Thursday, January 3rd (not December 27th as “The Crane” says). If you’re interested in participating, email Ron Christen at ronrun@embarqmail.com or call him at 850-567-0490. The Gainesville CBC will be held on Sunday, December 16th, and if you want to join us you should contact John Hintermister at jhintermister@gmail.com