Weekend update

In case you haven’t heard the news, Florida’s second-ever Townsend’s Solitaire was at Honeymoon Island today. It was found around 9:00 this morning and was still being seen as late as 3:30. Watch eBird or the state listservs for updates.

The Alachua Audubon field trip to the Hague Dairy on the 2nd started out well, with two Bronzed Cowbirds directly across the driveway from the office. But then things took a turn for the worse, and we went for a good two hours, maybe three, without seeing much of interest. The dairy grounds had recently been mowed, leaving little in the way of tall grasses, weeds, or brush to shelter birds, and that probably had a lot to do with it. Anyway, at about 11:30 we started around the lagoon, and at that point our luck took a screeching turn for the better. On a floating mat of scum (more vivid words are available but not family friendly) we spotted four Killdeer, two Least Sandpipers, and a late Pectoral Sandpiper. A family group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was paddling in a scum-free zone nearby. Dan Maico spotted a Merlin sitting on top of a snag at the west end of the lagoon, and it allowed us a very close approach and extended ogling. A flock of five American Pipits flew over. As we approached the little wetland that borders the lagoon on the north, Dan spied the best bird of the day, a young male Dickcissel, one of only about twenty ever recorded in the county. It was a shy bird, and it ducked out of sight shortly after it was found. Although it came out into the open a couple more times, it didn’t stay in view for long and not everyone got a look at it. But as we stood around waiting for it, we did see a female Painted Bunting mixed in with a handful of late-migrant Indigo Buntings. It was our last good sighting of the day, though we spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to locate a Yellow-headed Blackbird that Mike Manetz had seen while we were occupied in discovering the Dickcissel.

Early November is the expected arrival time for waterfowl. Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teal have recently been reported at Paynes Prairie, joining the Blue-winged Teal that have been there since August. A different sort of waterfowl was spied by Andy Kratter on the morning of the 31st: “Just had a very early and locally very rare Red-throated Loon fly over my place in Gainesville, and strangely it was heading west to east. Good looks at thin neck, small bill held above horizontal, small feet, head held below body. Just plain weird.” I think this is only about the fifth record for the county.

Samuel Ewing saw the fall’s first American Robins flying over his NW Gainesville home on the 2nd. Although they don’t normally descend on our yards until January and February, we see the first flocks of southbound robins going high overhead in late October or early November, so these are right on time. Geoff Parks saw an even earlier one on October 13th, but he speculated that it was the same one that visited his yard on July 29th. The nearest known breeding population of robins is in Tallahassee, but we’ve had a number of midsummer sightings over the years, and I can’t help but wonder….

I haven’t heard of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sighting since Nathan Langwald photographed it on the 28th. Is it still there? Or did it just stay for a week and then move on south?

Migrants and summer birds aren’t entirely gone, though their days are numbered. At dusk on the 26th Adam and Gina Kent tallied 740 Chimney Swifts going into a chimney downtown, and got an impressive video, while Jonathan Mays saw 29 over La Chua on the 2nd. Adam and Gina saw yet another swift, as well as two Tennessee Warblers, at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. A very late Bobolink was seen by several birders at La Chua on the 1st. And the Hague Dairy field trip found one or two Northern Waterthrushes and an American Redstart.

Right before your eyes

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

Debbie Segal writes, “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) plans to herbicide approximately 1,500 acres (over two square miles) of native wetland vegetation in Orange Lake in order to improve lake access and boating safety. Alachua Audubon and Audubon of Florida are objecting to FWC’s proposed herbicide application plan due to its wide-spread destruction of wildlife habitat, its apparent disregard for wading bird rookery islands, its potential for creating an ‘oxygen demand’ that could kill invertebrates and fish, and its lack of a monitoring plan, plus the likelihood of only temporary benefits for the intended users. Due to Alachua Audubon’s and Audubon of Florida’s objections, FWC has reissued a request for comments from stakeholders, which is attached. Alachua Audubon is responding to this request for comments by sending a letter, which is also attached. If you would like to have your voice heard regarding FWC’s plan for large-scale herbiciding (to be applied by helicopter), please take a moment and send an email to FWC. This action is time-sensitive, your comments must be received by this Friday, October 18th. Email them to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com ”

Right before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen, summer is turning into winter. Here’s a little quiz to see if you’ve been paying attention:

1. When did you last hear a cardinal sing?

2. When did you last see a Great Crested Flycatcher?

3. When did you last see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird?

4. When did you last see a Mississippi Kite? A Swallow-tailed Kite?

According to my records, Northern Cardinals stopped their daily singing in mid-July. Great Crested Flycatchers have been gone since mid-September. A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may still be around, but they’re thinning out fast. And as I mentioned in a previous report, Mississippi Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites were last seen on September 2nd and September 1st, respectively.

But summer’s departure is only half of it. The other half is winter’s arrival. Eastern Phoebes, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-headed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, House Wrens, Gray Catbirds, and Palm Warblers have all checked in. Savannah Sparrows are increasing on the Prairie. A pair of Bald Eagles has taken to perching in a tall pine along the northern part of Lakeshore Drive, near a nest site. Migratory Northern Flickers are arriving, and are already far more abundant than the locally-nesting flickers. And today Samuel Ewing made it official: “This morning (Oct. 14th) I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler fly over our yard. It was calling, giving away what it was. Maybe the first of fall for Alachua County.”

The Ewing’s yard was the site of another first earlier this week. On the 11th Benjamin Ewing glanced out the window and spied a Song Sparrow. He called his father Dean, who got a picture. This was the earliest Song Sparrow ever recorded in Alachua County, exceeding by a week the previous record, a bird I saw along the La Chua Trail on 18 October 1995.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher that spent last winter around the La Chua Trail observation platform has returned. John Killian discovered her there on the 10th and got a couple of photos.

As mentioned in the last birding report, Ted and Steven Goodman found two Yellow-headed Blackbirds at the Hague Dairy on the 13th. Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing read the report and drove to the dairy, where they found and photographed both of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds – and then found a Bronzed Cowbird! This afternoon Adam Zions drove up to Hague and found only one Yellow-headed Blackbird – but two Bronzed Cowbirds.

Bob Wallace had two Philadelphia Vireos at his Alachua farm on the morning of the 13th. The Bolen Bluff field trip on the same morning went fairly well, with a dozen warbler species, but missed out on glamor birds. Trip leader Jonathan Mays wrote, “Unfortunately no Bay-breasted or Black-throated Greens, but the group had close encounters with a male Black-throated Blue and Hooded plus three cooperative Tennessee’s foraging together and two Magnolias. Also caught a neonate Ribbon Snake and had a Black Racer above our heads in a tree. Enjoyable morning and a good group.” John Hintermister and I separately birded Bolen Bluff on the 14th. We both saw lots and lots of American Redstarts, and we both saw about a dozen species, but neither of us found a Bay-breasted Warbler. John did see a single Black-throated Green.

The last two reports are especially unusual:

Ignacio Rodriguez saw two very intriguing birds at Bolen Bluff after the field trip on Sunday: “I spotted two birds that really resembled the Green-tailed Towhee. Rufous crown, light green shoulders and tail, gray above, and red eyes, but I don’t remember if I saw a white throat. They were foraging along the edge of the trail, then perched briefly, then flew again underneath the vegetation.” I asked where he saw them, and he said that you go down the slope onto the Prairie basin, walk until the tall trees on either side give way to grasses, and then walk another hundred yards. Please let me know if you see these birds, and get a picture if you can. There’s only one previous record in Alachua County, and only about a dozen ever seen anywhere in Florida.

Wanda Garfield reported seeing three light-morph Short-tailed Hawks over the course of four or five hours on Saturday morning. She saw one at the recycling station on CR-47 in Gilchrist County, the second in High Springs, and the third over I-75 near Santa Fe College. “The birds I saw were dark black on top/wing areas and very pure white on the breast area. I couldn’t see any barring, spots, etc. I have seen Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. So what do you think? Am I crazy or what?” Short-tailed Hawks do migrate at this time of year, but they’re rare this far north, and dark morphs greatly outnumber white morphs. Nothing else really fits that description, though.

Field trips this weekend: our first-ever field trip to the Levy Lake Loop with Adam Zions on Saturday at 8 a.m., and a trip to Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge with John Hintermister on Sunday, meeting at 6:30 a.m. Details here.

Again, please take the next two minutes to send a simple email to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com expressing your opinion on the herbicide plan for Orange Lake. Debbie says that twenty or thirty emails could make a world of difference.

Summer-farewell

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

Today’s subject line refers to a wildflower that I’ve seen in bloom at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, but also to the fact that the season is winding down. Yes, I know it’s still hot – I paid an air-conditioning repairman several hundred dollars earlier this week, so I know, boy do I know – but heat isn’t the only indicator of summer, and the birds are saying it’s fall.

I was at Adam Kent’s SE Gainesville house late Thursday afternoon, looking over an absurdly wonderful new warbler book with Adam, Jonathan Mays, and Andy Kratter, and Andy asked if anyone was reporting migrants. Not to me, I said. I added that I’d walked the Bolen Bluff Trail on Wednesday morning and had been impressed by how few birds of any sort I’d seen. The only migrants were one Prairie Warbler, one Yellow Warbler, and one American Redstart. “That’s discouraging,” Andy said.

But then things suddenly got very NON-discouraging. A flight of 25 Purple Martins flew over, heading south on a beeline. Then a few more martins went over, followed by one smaller, unidentified swallow. So we all stood up on Adam’s porch and watched the northern sky. A flock of seven Eastern Kingbirds went over. Then more martins and swallows, among which everyone but me noticed two Cliff Swallows. This was followed by a dry spell, so we sat down again, and we were talking when a bird flew right over our heads with a call that sounded to some of us like an Indigo Bunting and to others like a Yellow Warbler. It landed in the trees at the edge of Adam’s yard, hid itself in the leaves, then dropped down a foot and came into the open, showing a greenish back, two bold wing bars, and a white eyebrow: a Cerulean Warbler! High fives all around.And one was photographed the following day in Seminole County, so they’re obviously starting to move through. The next four to six weeks are the likeliest time to see them; they’re rarely encountered after September.

(By the way, the authors of the aforementioned absurdly wonderful new warbler book have created some helpful videos about the book, which you can watch here.)

Jonathan Mays saw the fall’s first Northern Harrier at Paynes Prairie on the 14th, by two days an early record for the county. His eBird notes: “Kettling with Turkey Vultures. White rump, long wings in dihedral, and long tail noted; brown coloration indicates likely female/immature.”

Adam Kent, Ted and Steven Goodman, and Dean, Ben, and Samuel Ewing converged on the Hague Dairy on the 15th. They found the fall’s first Bank Swallows, two of them in a flock of Barns, a few Yellow Warblers, and a good selection of shorebirds: Killdeer, Black-necked Stilts, and Solitary, Spotted, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers.

The two pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers in my neighborhood have just fledged their second broods, and they’re done for the year. I haven’t seen a Swallow-tailed Kite since July 27th, and eBird doesn’t show any sightings in the county since August 11th. Mississippi Kites will be leaving over the next two or three weeks.Two of the best things to have in your yard at this time of year are pokeweed and Virginia creeper. Red-eyed Vireos are eating them both right now. In September they’ll attract Veeries, and in October you’ll see Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Wood Thrushes and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers on them. A pokeweed right beside a window provides a lot of entertainment.
Speaking of yards: Do you have bird feeders, baths, and plantings on your property? Do you attract a variety of bird species to your home? Would you like to share your knowledge, skills, and tricks at attracting feathered visitors? If so, contact Ron Robinson at gonebirden@cox.net if you’d like your yard to be featured in the 2014 Alachua Audubon Backyard Birding Tour.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to know if you’ve seen a Florida Pine Snake, a Short-tailed Snake, or a Southern Hognose Snake. Details, with a link to identifying photos, here.

Migrant shorebirds at the Hague Dairy

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

It feels like late summer, but the season is barely a month old. The birds’ breeding activity continues, but on a smaller scale, and more quietly. Purple Martins and Northern Rough-winged Swallows appear to have gone south for the winter, and Common Grackles aren’t so common any more. A lot of the birds are molting; if you look carefully at crows and Mississippi Kites as they fly over, you’ll see notches and gaps in their wings and tails where old feathers have fallen out and new ones are growing in. And the fall migrants are starting to show up in numbers.

On the 27th Mike Manetz wrote, “I checked the dairy this morning. The field north of the lagoon is fairly well flooded. Waders were in double digits … Snowies, Little Blues, White and Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a couple of Mottleds. Also present were Four Pectoral, four Least, and two each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. This area will probably be our best shorebird viewing spot this fall. There was also a fairly large blackbird concentration for this time of year, with maybe a few hundred birds, including about 50 Brown-headed Cowbirds. House Sparrows must have had a successful breeding year, I counted 65, but there were probably more than that.” John Hintermister and I stopped in for about an hour and a half that evening and saw many of the same birds, but our count of Brown-headed Cowbirds was much higher; John estimated 400+, which is extraordinary for this time of year. Our shorebird counts were Killdeer 4, Spotted Sandpiper 3, Solitary Sandpiper 9, Semipalmated Sandpiper 1, Least Sandpiper 4, Pectoral Sandpiper 4.

On the morning of the 28th Mike visited Palm Point: “The lake is pretty high, coming within an average of ten feet from the road, closer in some places. Saw six warbler species, including a Louisiana Waterthrush, an American Redstart, and 4 Prairie Warblers.”

I walked out La Chua on the morning of the 27th with Jacksonville bird photographer Phil Graham. We had a pretty good day, given the time of year, finding 50 bird species. We saw family groups of Orchard Orioles and Blue Grosbeaks, a handful of singing Indigo Buntings, several Purple Gallinules, a Least Bittern, and a few migrants – seven or more Prairie Warblers, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a flyover Yellow Warbler, the first of the fall. The water is extremely high everywhere, though there’s no danger yet of the trail being flooded. As wet as it is, I expected to see many water birds, but the numbers were pretty low. Also few in number were the normally-abundant Boat-tailed Grackles, which for some mysterious reason have been uncommon on the Prairie all summer.

Phil and I ran into out-of-towners Marthe Fethe and Nancy Deehan on the platform at La Chua. They’d read my description of Watermelon Pond in the last birding report and told me they planned to visit that afternoon. Later I got an email from Nancy: “It is truly the beautiful, serene place you described.” See? Would I steer you wrong? Check it out yourself. Send me a picture.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, native to Texas and Mexico, are occasionally reported by puzzled Florida birders. They always turn out to be Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a pigmentary condition called xanthochroism in which red is replaced with yellow. Glenn Price recently got a terrific video of one of these oddities at his feeder, showing its golden crown and yellow belly. In a Golden-fronted Woodpecker the central tail feathers are black, and in a Red-bellied, like this bird, they’re white with black barring: http://www.raptorcaptor.com/Nature/Video/30733856_xKjqcT#!i=2656753589&k=xrKTvQX&lb=1&s=A

The State of Tennessee is considering a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes, including migrants en route to Florida. Please consider sending a brief email to register your opinion. If there’s sufficient public outcry, we may be able to prevent this from happening. Here’s a fact sheet that includes contact information for the proper officials.

In my last birding report I mentioned that Save Loblolly Woods has a Facebook page. They also have a web site, for those like me who are struggling grimly along without Facebook: http://saveloblollywoods.org/

The June Challenge – Day 5 update

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

This morning Anne Kendall found a Ring-billed Gull and five Laughing Gulls on the dock at Powers Park, putting the icing on a successful birding trip. She started at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve at 6 a.m., finding a Common Nighthawk and then spotting a Chuck-will’s-widow, always a tough bird to see. She then went on to the River Styx bridge on County Road 346, where she found a Prothonotary Warbler and a Black-crowned Night-Heron. Her next stop was the Windsor boat ramp, where she saw a Limpkin and a pair of Wood Ducks. And then on to Powers Park and the Ring-billed Gull. All of this in about two and a half hours. I think this is the county’s second June record for Ring-billed Gull. Anne sent me a few photos, and I’ve posted two.

Mike Manetz emailed this morning to ask if I wanted to go to Palm Point and find out whether Lloyd Davis’s Tree Swallow was still hanging around. I did, of course, and met him there at 7:15. No Tree Swallow, but the way you bird Palm Point is to stand there and wait for something to fly by, so that’s what we did. After about an hour we noticed a couple small whitish birds flying along the far shore, past the Windsor boat ramp. So we performed The Newnans Lake Shuffle, the little dance in which birders on the west side of the lake move to the east side, while the birds on the east side move to the west side. We never did get a decent look at them, but Mike saw them dive into the water, so they were terns, probably Forster’s Terns. We also saw a duck preening on the water which we couldn’t quite agree on, probably a Lesser Scaup. We didn’t see Anne’s Limpkin, but we did see a dozen or so Laughing Gulls, 15 American White Pelicans, three half-grown Wild Turkeys, a Least Bittern flying past the outlet of the boat channel, and an adult Bald Eagle.

Howard Adams and Barbara Mollison walked La Chua this morning. Many of the birds seen on Saturday are still around, including Roseate Spoonbills and Blue-winged Teal.

Also this morning, Barbara Shea went looking for June Challenge birds at San Felasco Hammock’s Millhopper Road entrance. Across the street from the parking lot she turned right and continued straight, and managed to find an Acadian Flycatcher. There was a Hooded Warbler in there too, but she couldn’t get it to show itself. She had a nice consolation prize, an Eastern Diamondback.

A couple people wrote to tell me that they’d checked the Red Lobster Pond on the 3rd but hadn’t found the Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. So if you’re still looking for those, Debbie Segal has seen them at the Hague Dairy, and Anne Kendall at Powers Park.

This weekend Judy Bryan found a very late Cedar Waxwing, a single bird, at the south end of Lake Lochloosa.

Ron Robinson had an American Redstart visit his west Gainesville property on the 1st and 2nd.

We had a few cameras on our June 1st field trip. We twice saw a Fish Crow, identified by call, flying with an egg in its bill, pursued by Red-winged Blackbirds. I assumed it was making repeated depredations on the same Red-wing nest. But Miguel Palaviccini’s wonderful photo shows that the egg in the crow’s bill is round and unmarked, not like a Red-wing’s egg at all, as well as being too big for a Red-wing, and reveals that the crow had found the nest of a turtle. Further down the trail, in the canal leading up to the observation platform, a young King Rail hopped out of the weeds and remained in the open long enough for everyone to get a good look. John Martin got a nice video.

Looking at John’s YouTube collection, I find this footage of a singing Yellow-breasted Chat taken at La Chua in late April, and I’m reminded that, although we missed chats on the 1st, Adam Zions found one along Sparrow Alley on the morning of the 2nd. Barbara Mollison also saw one this morning.

The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is putting out a massively comprehensive collection of North American bird sounds which they’re calling “The Master Set” and selling for $49.99. A selection of these, merely huge rather than ginormous, is called “The Essential Set” and it currently goes for $12.99. Read all about it: http://earbirding.com/blog/archives/4458

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.

 

A slight warblerization of the avifauna

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

Join Craig Faulhaber, FWC’s Florida Scrub-Jay Conservation Coordinator, for a presentation on the biology and conservation of the Florida Scrub-Jay, the only bird species unique to Florida. Come hear about its fascinating social system, its unique scrub habitat, and the challenges and opportunities for conserving this charismatic species. The presentation will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17th, at the Prairie Creek Lodge at 7204 County Road 234. For more information contact Alachua Conservation Trust by phone (352-373-1078) or email ( info@AlachuaConservationTrust.org ).

Ron Robinson will lead a field trip to Bronson on the 28th to see a “super Purple Martin colony” (over 200 nests!). We’ll have more details as we get closer to the time, but grab your calendar right this very minute and pencil it in. I should point out that there will also be an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock that day. Life is full of hard choices.

Speaking of Alachua Audubon field trips, remember that we’ll offer two field trips each of the next two weekends: Palm Point and Powers Park on the 20th, Cedar Key on the 21st, Hickory Mound Impoundment on the 27th, and the aforementioned trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Millhopper Road entrance on the 28th. Details are here. The Georgia Coast trip on May 4/5 has been canceled, but we may find something else to do that weekend, so watch this space.

Okay. Spring migration has gotten pretty interesting during the last few days:

While working in a restricted part of Paynes Prairie on the 15th, Jonathan Mays found the best bird of the season so far, a Swainson’s Warbler, one of only about twenty ever sighted in the county: “Located after hearing him sing (8:22 a.m.) but most of view obscured by vegetation (could see rust cap and unstreaked breast though); moving east along treeline edge of canal/dike; song loud and similar to Louisiana Waterthrush (3 clear intro notes) but ending not garbled … sang multiple times (ca. 6) from close range.” He also saw a Yellow Warbler (“Beautiful all yellow bird w/faint red stripes on chest – male; did not sing but gave dull chip note when it flew; seen very well in open branches of a willow”) and at least six Northern Waterthrushes.

On the 13th Michael Meisenburg led an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Progress Center, where the participants saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Cape May, 6 Prairies, 3 American Redstarts, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak, among other things.

And on the 14th, Andy Kratter found about the same variety around his SE Gainesville neighborhood: a Worm-eating, a Cape May, a Prairie, an American Redstart, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak.

Painted Buntings are showing up, as they are wont to do during Indigo Bunting migration: Stephen McCullers saw a male at Bivens Arm Nature Park on the 12th,  Tonya Becker of Gainesville has had a male and a female visiting her Gainesville yard since the 13th, while Phil Laipis had yet another male in his NW Gainesville back yard on the 15th.

John Killian walked out La Chua on the 15th and found a Great White Heron near the observation platform. Also a Whooping Crane and the season’s first Purple Gallinule. Usually Purple Gallinules are here by late March, but like several other species, including Summer Tanager and Orchard Oriole, it’s running a little late this spring.

Stephen McCullers saw the Groove-billed Ani and two Yellow-breasted Chats along Sparrow Alley on the 16th. This is a new late record for Groove-billed Ani in Alachua County, by four days.

On the 14th Keith Collingwood saw a Clay-colored Sparrow at a feeder in his Melrose yard, tying the latest spring record set in 1963.

On the morning of the 13th Andy Kratter counted 92 Common Loons flying over SE Gainesville, and 18 on the following morning.

On the 7th Samuel Ewing saw an interesting nighthawk near his family’s home in Newberry: “I was doing a ‘nighthawk watch’ and after a little while spotted one flying north. It was quite low and was swaying side to side and turning around acrobatically trying to catch insects. I could clearly see the white bars on the wing.” The flight style sounds like that of a Lesser Nighthawk, and since they do winter in South Florida they’d have to migrate through North Florida to get home – but obviously there’s no way to know which it was. On the 12th Benjamin Ewing heard a definite Common Nighthawk calling while playing ball with the family, and he and Samuel saw a second one as well.

April 1st brought amusing April Fool’s posts from two birding blogs, advertising the best binoculars ever manufactured and warning us that ABA is going to clamp down on dubious life lists:
http://www.nemesisbird.com/2013/04/the-new-eagle-optics-wild-turkey-10×50/
http://blog.aba.org/2013/03/aba-set-to-enforce-list-totals.html

There’s a new Florida Big Day record: 195 species in a single day! Read about it at http://birdingforconservation.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-big-day.html

Jackson Childs’s movie about spring bird migration, “Gulf Crossing,” is available for viewing at http://gulfcrossingmovie.com/Gulf_Crossing.html

Birds you can’t see

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

The biggest birding news this week is also the most frustrating. Since the 5th a Buff-bellied Hummingbird has been coming to a feeder south of Williston (in Levy County), but the homeowner hasn’t yet responded to requests to allow the birding public in to see it. She may refuse, or she may delay long enough that the bird leaves for its nesting grounds in Texas and Mexico. This is at least the second record for Levy County; one was in Cedar Key on 23-24 October 2000. Here’s a photo.

Pat Burns got a photo of a locally-rare Willet in the pond beside the Lowe’s in Alachua on the 5th. Willets are normally saltwater birds, and it’s pretty unusual to find one inland. Alas, when Mike Manetz went looking for it on the 6th, the bird had flown.

The Groove-billed Ani was seen again on the 6th by Larry Gridley, a birder from Albany, Georgia: “I got to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park at 0800. I found it at 0935 in the blackberry thicket were it has been reported before. I stumbled up on it as it was sunning itself in a blackberry thicket on the edge of the trail. You can see his wings flared a little and neck feathers ruffled. After about 30 minutes  warming up it flew to a small tree then to some more blackberry thickets where it was chasing bugs.” Larry posted some photos of the ani here. He also saw two Yellow-breasted Chats in the same location. The ani was seen again on the 7th by Tallahassee birder Robert Bowman.

Cedar Key has been pretty lively over the past week or so. On the 6th John Hintermister saw a Scarlet Tanager, a Cape May Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler, seven Prothonotary Warblers, six Prairies, four Hoodeds, an American Redstart, a Louisiana Waterthrush, and seven (!) Red-breasted Nuthatches. On the 1st the Ewings found a Swainson’s Warbler at the museum, and on the 6th Pat Burns found two more at an undisclosed location.

John Killian found the spring’s first Worm-eating Warbler along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco on April 2nd, by one day the earliest ever recorded in the county. Felicia Lee, Barbara Shea, and Elizabeth Martin found another along Bolen Bluff on the 7th. Prairie Warblers and American Redstarts are being reported almost daily.

The first Hooded Warblers of the spring were reported by Caleb Gordon at Loblolly Woods on the 26th and by Ryan Butryn at the FWC Wildlife Lab (near the intersection of 441 and Williston Road) on the 27th. Several have been seen since then.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows usually show up during the second week in March. This year they were late, or we noticed them late: Lloyd Davis found the first of the spring at Cellon Creek Boulevard on the 22nd. Conrad Burkholder had a lovely experience in the same spot on the 30th: “The Northern Rough-winged Swallows were numerous, with about a dozen birds flying around some large parked truck trailers, very low to the ground. I stood still while the swallows swirled in the air around me. They were flying very acrobatically and low to the ground, about 2 to 10 feet. I observed some of the swallows going in and out of the underside of one of the trailers. I also observed them picking up what appeared to be nesting material. I believe they may be nesting in the underside of the trailers.”

Laughing Gulls are mostly a warm-weather phenomenon in Alachua County. This has always mystified me. Why would they come inland during spring and summer, when they should be staying close to their nests on the coast? Anyway, the first of the spring were seen on the 1st, when Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw one flying over their neighborhood near Watermelon Pond and Andy Kratter saw three going over Pine Grove Cemetery.

There were three separate sightings of Mississippi Kites on March 29th, but there have been none reported to me (or to eBird) since then. Swallow-tailed Kites seem to be here in pretty good numbers, relatively speaking, and I’m told by a researcher that a pair is nesting within the Gainesville city limits.

There are plenty of winter birds still around. A few highlights: While doing a loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 7th, Andy Kratter saw an Eastern Phoebe, the latest ever recorded in Alachua County. Andy’s sighting broke a record that had stood since Frank Chapman saw one on April 4, 1887 – a span of 126 years! Mike Manetz heard a Whip-poor-will singing in his NW Gainesville neighborhood on the 1st. That’s not a record, but it’s pretty late nonetheless. Ryan Butryn saw a Wilson’s Warbler at the FWC Wildlife Lab on the 27th.

Birder and poet Sidney Wade invites the local birding community to join her as she reads from her sixth book of poetry, Straits & Narrows, at the downtown library on Thursday, April 11th, at 7:30 p.m. She assures me, “There will be bird poems.”

Mike Manetz writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at http://birdsandconservation.weebly.com/  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.

Weekend update, featuring Western Tanager, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Snow Goose, etc., etc., etc.

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

We’ve got two events vying for your attention on Wednesday the 20th:

Miguel Palavaccini will conduct a photography workshop on “Adobe Lightroom for Birders”: “The workshop is targeted at anyone who wants to learn how to better organize, manage, edit, and share images. I’ll be directing my workflow to birders, but it can be applied to all areas of photography. The date is March 20th and it will be about a 1.5 hr classroom workshop.” The time has yet to be announced; you should probably email Miguel at mrpalaviccini@gmail.com if you’re interested.

And Bob Wallace writes, “I will be presenting a slide presentation of my five-week birding trip to East Africa to Alachua Audubon at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, March 20th, at the Millhopper Library. We saw 840 bird species and I photographed over 750 species, but have mercifully narrowed it down to 300 pictures (no easy task).”

Decisions, decisions.

It’s been an exciting week for birding here in Alachua County. Normally mid-March is a little bit on the dull side, but if I saw nothing in 2013 but this week’s birds I’d be waiting for an interview request from the TV news.

A Western Tanager visited a back yard south of Alachua on the 17th and 18th. I don’t have permission to give out the homeowner’s name, but a photo of the bird was posted on the Wild Birds Unlimited Facebook page. A male Painted Bunting is frequenting the same yard! Obviously the homeowner is bribing somebody.

Katherine Edison photographed four Snow Geese at La Chua on the 15th. They were seen again by Glenn Israel and Lloyd Davis on the 16th.

Continuing rarities at La Chua include the White-faced Ibis photographed by Miguel Palavaccini on the 15th (if you like his picture, attend his workshop!) and seen as recently as the 17th by Jonathan Mays and John Martin; 2 Whooping Cranes seen (distantly) by Jonathan Mays on the 17th; a Peregrine Falcon photographed by Adam Zions on the 13th and seen as recently as the 17th by John Martin and Lloyd Davis; and the Groove-billed Ani that has lingered at Sparrow Alley since mid-December, photographed by Samuel Ewing on the 14th and seen as recently as the 15th by Lloyd Davis.

At the other end of the Prairie, Jonathan Mays found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th.

And at yet another end of the Prairie, the Cones Dike Trail, Caleb Gordon saw a Mottled Duck sitting on 14 eggs, plus nesting Anhingas and Great Blue Herons. He also saw 3 Le Conte’s Sparrows, “flushed from recently burned grassland, seen well on stem for 5 seconds at close range.”

Le Conte’s Sparrows were also reported from Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop, along the north side, which means you take the trail on the right when you leave the parking lot. Adam Zions photographed two, about a mile and a quarter out, on the 16th. Just a little beyond that, up to 19 Pectoral Sandpipers have been hanging out, first noted by Jonathan Mays on the 14th and photographed by Adam on the 16th. However the Least Flycatcher that Jonathan saw on the 16th, the same bird he found on February 5th, is on the south side.

Both Jonathan and Adam spotted a Northern Waterthrush along the Levy Prairie Loop. Another was seen by Frank Goodwin at Alachua Sink on the 15th. These are early for migrants, so I’d guess they wintered in the area.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still here. Barbara Shea saw one in her Jonesville yard early this month and another at Jonesville Park on the 9th, while Bubba Scales saw one along Millhopper Road west of I-75 on the 15th. They’ll probably stick around for another month or so.

Two American Redstarts were seen this week. Mike Manetz found one along Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th. Very early migrants or wintering birds?

One Solitary Sandpiper has been seen almost daily along the La Chua Trail from the 8th through the 17th, and another was seen at Barr Hammock by Jonathan Mays on the 14th.

John Killian saw the first Red-eyed Vireo of the spring on the 14th, and by the 16th they were widespread: Mike Manetz had one at San Felasco, Adam Zions had one at Barr Hammock, and Jonathan Mays had one at the Chacala Pond Trail.

Spring migration is clearly underway, but it won’t peak for another four to six weeks. One thing we always hope for in spring, especially at Cedar Key, is a fallout, a day on which the weather forces migrant birds down into the trees in huge numbers. We’ve had some excellent days at Cedar Key over the years, but … if you want to see what a REAL fallout looks like, check out the first dozen photos in this gallery from Maine’s Machias Seal Island on 24 May 2011 (keep clicking “next” in the upper right corner): http://www.pbase.com/lightrae/image/135054460

There’s been some discussion of unusually early Mississippi Kites on the eBird regional reviewers’ listserv. Brian Sullivan, one of the managers of eBird, wrote, “Plumbeous Kite is a real possibility in the US, and it would arrive much earlier in spring than Mississippi.” Could be. But you know, I think we’d notice if we saw one: http://500px.com/photo/1297069

Some biologist wants to “de-extinct” the Passenger Pigeon: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/passenger-pigeon-de-extinction/all/

Say goodbye to the next Eastern Phoebe and Song Sparrow you see. Both are usually gone by the end of March.

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