Yellow-headed Blackbird at Hague Dairy

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

Greg McDermott wrecked his car four months after he moved to Gainesville in 1992. So Mike Manetz and I used to pick him up at his apartment and take him along when we went birding. Greg moved away in 1998, but he’s stayed in touch, and has returned for every Christmas Bird Count since then. In recent years Greg has taken up the electric guitar, and (if you didn’t know) Mike played bass guitar for many years with local rock, country, and blues bands; so when Greg comes down for the CBC they have informal jam sessions in Mike’s living room. Last year I introduced them to The Cramps, a brief enthusiasm of my younger years, and they invited me to join them in a performance of “Strychnine,” singing the vocals. I did this about as well as I do most things, which is to say, not very well. In fact, the caliber of last year’s rendition prompted Mike to send me this email a couple of days ago: “Hey Rex, you know Greg is coming and we’re getting the band back together. Wondered if you could cover the vocals on this: http://spazzdhn.tumblr.com/post/91320324689

Saturday morning’s field trip to the Hague Dairy was one of the worst field trips I’ve ever been on. The birds were sheltering in the brush and weeds and would not be lured into the open. We had a few brief but clear looks at a Sedge Wren, we saw the fall’s first flock of American Robins (11 of them), and Savannah Sparrows and Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers popped up occasionally. But there was very little warbler and sparrow diversity, there were no ducks and few raptors, and there were no Indigo or Painted Buntings. Not surprisingly, most of the 24 birders who turned out for the trip went home before it ended. This satisfied the birding gods’ appetite for a sacrifice, and consequently they granted us a gift. At our final stop, as we pored through a flock of cowbirds on the roof of an animal building, Shane Runyon spotted a Yellow-headed Blackbird, and it stayed put long enough for everyone to get a decent look. That’s birding for you: three and a half hours of nothing redeemed by a single great bird!

Late this afternoon I walked out La Chua to the observation platform. My primary purpose was to see what had become of Sweetwater Branch, the drainage ditch that was filled in for the sake of the new sheetflow restoration project. Here’s what Sweetwater looked like almost exactly three years ago (ditch directly in front of you, dike trail visible to the left): https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15742957225/ And here’s what it looks like now: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15719228906/ I didn’t see too much on La Chua – I arrived late – but there were a lot of Tree and Barn Swallows, Ring-necked Ducks, an American Bittern, and a King Rail. I didn’t see the Vermilion Flycatcher that Trina Anderson photographed on the 7th – https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/15731848951/ – but it was already pretty gloomy by the time I got to the platform. There’s no open water along the first two-thirds of the trail, in Alachua Sink or in the first part of the canal, but it opens up as it nears Alachua Lake.

The fall transients are mostly gone now, but you never can tell. Austin Gregg had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak visit his back yard on Saturday: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15745549802/

The World Big Day Record was broken in Peru on October 14th, which gives me an opportunity to link to this half-hour video of the Florida Museum’s Scott Robinson describing the previous World Big Day Record that he and Ted Parker set in 1982. Scott is an articulate and entertaining speaker, and the whole talk is enjoyable – but it’s hard to beat the anecdote he tells in the first 60 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUXAEwWw-LQ

Speaking of Peru, Adam Kent will describe his participation in the Peru Birding Rally at the Alachua Audubon program meeting at the Millhopper Branch Library this Monday, November 10th. Refreshments and sparking conversation commence at 6:30, Adam will begin his talk and slide show at 7:00. Here’s another birder’s impression of the 2014 Rally, with Adam peeking into the very left edge of the first photo: http://birdernaturalist.blogspot.com/2014/05/peru-birding-rally-challenge-days-7-8.html

Possible Alder Flycatcher at Barr Hammock

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

This morning’s walk at Barr Hammock was largely birdless, but we did find what may have been an Alder Flycatcher. We’re not positive – it didn’t call – but it was not too far from where Mike Manetz, Adam Zions, and I found one a year ago tomorrow, on the north fork of the trail maybe a quarter of a mile out. Matt O’Sullivan got a picture: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/15021189862/  Alder Flycatcher had never been identified in this county prior to 2010, but if this is an Alder, we’ve had them three falls in a row now. That’s weird.

The Cerulean Warbler that Matt found at Bolen Bluff on the 21st remained until at least yesterday, but several birders spent all of this morning scouring its usual haunts without finding it. However John Martin spent this morning at San Felasco Hammock’s Moonshine Creek Trail (on the south side of Millhopper Road), and there he found another Cerulean: “Found along Moonshine Creek Trail, south leg of loop which passes through upland dominated by oak, hickory, sweetgum. Foraging with small flock containing Northern Parulas, American Redstarts, and Red-eyed Vireos.”

Geoff Parks wrote this morning with some exciting news: “This morning as I sat on my patio, I saw two robins fly into the top of a pine where there’s a mass of fruiting Virginia creeper. One was an adult; the other only perched in view briefly, but I confirmed that it had the paler, spotted breast of a juvenile. They flew away together, and were accompanied by a third that I hadn’t seen previously. Since they didn’t stay long, I wasn’t able to get a photo, but I’ll keep trying.” That’s the first confirmed breeding of American Robin in the history of Alachua County.

June Challenge finale; and some goosing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two appeals from Florida Wildlife Care:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures in Challenging! and exciting breeding news!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return of the Pacific Loon!

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

Have you contacted Jessica Burnett about that House Sparrow project yet? If you live in Gainesville, and you have a yard, you should: jburnett9@ufl.edu

The Alachua Audubon field trip to Alligator Lake on February 1st found a White-winged Scoter. Normally rare in Florida, this year they’re being seen in fairly large numbers on both coasts. But this inland sighting made me wonder what might be swimming around on Lake Santa Fe. So I called John Hintermister to see if he was as curious as I was, and what do you know, he was. On the 6th, he, Mike Manetz, and I motored out in cold, breezy weather to see what we could find. Coincidentally, that day was the one-year anniversary of our discovering the county’s first-ever Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe. Did we find a White-winged Scoter? We did not. But we found the Pacific Loon again, back for a second winter! We followed it around for a while, trying to get photographs, which isn’t easy when your quarry submerges one hundred feet to the south and, thirty seconds later, surfaces two hundred feet to the north. But Mike, sitting in the bow with the camera, persisted, and managed to get a profile shot, a picture of the dark “chinstrap” that identifies this species, and a photo of the bird with its wings spread, showing that it has molted its flight feathers – which means that it should be right there on Lake Santa Fe until they grow back in.

On the afternoon of the 7th Andy Kratter emailed me, “Just now an immature Brown Pelican soared past our (mine and Tom Webber’s) office window at the museum.” Two immature Brown Pelicans were at Bivens Arm, not that far away from the museum, on January 4th. Could this have been one of those birds?

The Clay-colored Sparrow discovered by Lloyd Davis at the Hague Dairy on the 30th has been seen several times since, most recently by Adam Zions on the 8th. Mike Manetz and I saw it on the 4th in a flock of Chipping and Savannah Sparrows, but even more interesting was a Northern Rough-winged Swallow we saw perched on a power line near the parking area. Its head, throat, and breast the same shade of dusty brown, smaller than a nearby Eastern Bluebird, it sat for several seconds and gave us a good look before a passing tractor scared it off. We didn’t see it again. This is the first February report for Alachua County, and the second or third in winter. Rough-wingeds are relatively early arrivals in spring, often showing up during the first week of March, and they do nest annually at the dairy, so keep an eye out to see if it sticks around.

You might describe this bird as a “golden-crowned” kinglet, but it’s not really. It’s a leucistic Ruby-crowned Kinglet that Barbara Shea noticed at Adam Kent’s house as we were finishing up the Backyard Birding Tour on the 8th. To me it looked cafe-au-lait in color, with white tertials creating a big white spot in the center of its back, a partly white tail, and yellow secondary edgings. But you don’t need to imagine the bird based on my description, because Adam ran inside and got a camera to document it.

I was grousing, in the February 3rd birding report, about the dearth of American Robins and Ospreys around here. Well I can grouse no more. I woke up to hundreds of American Robins pillaging the neighbors’ laurel cherries on the 7th and 8th. And the Ospreys, though just a little later than normal, showed up too. Michael Drummond told me that one had been on the old BellSouth tower downtown since the 27th. Others were seen at La Chua on the 2nd, Buchholz High School on the 4th, and the nest pole opposite the Gainesville Police Department on the 5th. Not to be shown up in the spring department by migratory upstarts, a Carolina Wren is building a nest on Michael Meisenburg’s back porch.

Friends of Courtney Tye created a memorial Facebook page to share pictures and stories: https://www.facebook.com/groups/courtneytyememorial/  Be sure to scroll down to Kate Pasch’s video of Courtney moving a hognose snake off the road to safety while pleading with it, “Don’t musk, don’t musk, don’t musk…” and Dustin Bonds’s three photos of Courtney peeling a road-killed Fox Squirrel off the highway while dressed in a strapless gown. An “expense and education fund” has been set up in her newborn son’s behalf. It’s a good way to honor her memory: http://www.youcaring.com/other/carter-wayne-tye-education-and-expense-fund/134335

A whole new year of birds

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

The biggest Florida birding news of the winter was the discovery – by a former member of the Romanian parliament! – of Florida’s third-ever Snowy Owl at the south end of Little Talbot Island in Jacksonville on the 27th. It was seen by many on the 28th and many more on the 29th. It eluded birders on the 30th but was rediscovered – by another out-of-state birder – on the morning of the 31st, and has been seen every day since. You can look at a few pictures here.

What may have been Alachua County’s third Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the season was reported to eBird by Indiana birder John Skene on December 28th. He was driving north on I-75 across Paynes Prairie when he saw it: “Perched on telephone wire. Body size, shape, and color like mockingbird except for very long tail.”

Mike Manetz has not been able to find the Wilson’s Warbler at Lake Alice despite several attempts, but on the 29th he stumbled across another, “along Sparrow Alley, in a cluster of oaks before the first dip in the trail as you are headed west.”

On the 16th Lloyd Davis took a walk on La Chua with his camera: “My battery was almost dead, so I was trying to run it down completely before I went home.” He came across a White-crowned Sparrow, and took pictures until he ran out of power. Back home he posted the photos on Facebook as he normally does, and that’s where Matt Hafner saw them. Matt identified the sparrow as the northwestern (“Gambel’s”) race of White-crowned. According to Cornell’s online resource Birds of North America, Gambel’s “breeds across northern tier from Alaska to Hudson Bay; winters south through cen. Mexico, generally rarer eastward.” Stevenson and Anderson’s The Birdlife of Florida (1994) asserts that only three specimens of Gambel’s have been collected in Florida over the years, and only one has been photographed. So this makes five that have been documented in the state. Gambel’s has a gray lore (area between the eye and the bill) rather than a black one, and its bill is orangeish rather than pinkish. One of Lloyd’s photos is here.

Signs of spring: Tom Webber once observed to me that cardinals start singing right after the winter solstice. I usually don’t hear them til January, but this year two were singing in my neighborhood on the morning of the 23rd. I’ve heard them almost daily since then. (Samuel Ewing mentioned that he’d heard them singing sporadically during the fall as well. Did anyone else notice this?) I also heard a Carolina Chickadee singing on the 21st, at least a month earlier than usual, but didn’t hear it thereafter. A handful of American Robins have been perching in my oaks the last two days, scouts for the impending invasion. Some early flowers are in bloom, like Black Medick and Virginia Peppergrass. And we’ve gained three minutes of daylight since the solstice!

Samuel Ewing took a photo of two geese at the UF Beef Teaching Unit on the 21st. One of them shows a somewhat shorter bill and a higher, more rounded crown than the other, but both exhibit the characteristically distinct “grin patch” of a Snow Goose. Samuel wonders if anyone can account for the difference between these birds – if they might be Greater and Lesser Snow Geese, or a Lesser and a Ross’s-Snow hybrid – or if they’re both within the range of standard variation of Snow Goose. His photo is here.

It’s always fun for listers to look back, at the end of the year, and see who amassed the largest list of birds seen in the county or in the state. It’s sort of like end-of-season sports statistics – but not quite, since list size does not correlate very well with ability (or so I like to tell myself). Based on eBird’s “Top 100 eBirders” in Florida and Alachua County for 2013, and double-checked with most of the birders involved, here are the top ten county listers and, among birders living in Alachua County, the top ten state listers. I’ll single out a few of these performances. Steven Goodman and Samuel Ewing are both in their early teens, yet Steven saw 304 species in Florida last year, and Samuel saw 207 species in Alachua County; the first time I saw 200 species in a single year in Alachua County I was 37, and the first time I saw 300 species in a single year in Florida I was 40. These two guys are going to be very, very good; in fact, they already are very, very good. And speaking of very, very good, Mike Manetz saw 242 species during a thoroughly average year in Alachua County. There were no droughts and no hurricanes, nothing to bring in unusual birds at all, and yet he bested his 2000 total of 241, when a drought dried up Newnans Lake and brought 30 shorebird species to its shores. Congratulations, Mike! Congratulations, Steven and Samuel, and all the rest of you.

ALACHUA COUNTY
Mike Manetz  242
Jonathan Mays  239
Adam Zions  231
John Hintermister  227
Rex Rowan  218
Samuel Ewing  207
Adam Kent  203
John Martin  198
Steven Goodman  197
Benjamin Ewing  196
Dean Ewing  195

FLORIDA
Adam Zions  325
John Hintermister  323
Dotty Robbins  313
Steven Goodman  304
Jonathan Mays  301
Mike Manetz  284
Adam Kent  272
Rex Rowan  264
Gina Kent  262
Barbara Shea  251

(There’s already an eBird “Top 100 Birders” list for 2014, and as of the 1st Samuel Ewing is leading the pack with 67 species. If he does that well every day, he’ll have 24,455 species on his list at the end of the year! Go, Samuel, go!)

Bob Wallace didn’t keep year lists for the state or the county, but he did keep one for his farm south of Alachua. He saw 140 species there, more than the total number I’ve recorded in 21 years at my house.

Steve Collins made a map of his 2013 sightings using eBird, with do-it-yourself instructions below the map.

Listing by itself is neither good nor bad. On the one hand it can motivate you to go out the door and spend a beautiful day in the woods and fields, but on the other hand it can become little more than an obsessive numbers game in which keeping your place in the rankings is the only thing that matters. For an example of “dark side” listing, check out this report on British “twitchers” from The Guardian. And if you ever want to cure yourself of any interest in birds whatsoever, watch this documentary, featuring many of the same characters as the article, most especially the most notorious man in British birding, Lee G.R. Evans.

On the lighter side, John Hintermister sent me this Russian video of a Hooded Crow repeatedly tobogganing down a roof.

Remember the first Alachua Audubon field trip of 2014, at the La Chua Trail this Saturday, January 4th, beginning at 8 a.m.

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.

An anniversary

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

We are now in what Thoreau rightly called “the royal month of August.”

Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of the greatest birder who ever lived, Ted Parker. If you want to know why he merits that title, here are Kenn Kaufman’s reminiscences of his good friend, written shortly after the plane crash that ended Parker’s life: http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/nab/v047n03/p00349-p00351.pdf  And here’s a more detailed memorial from Ornithological Monographs: http://si-pddr.si.edu/jspui/bitstream/10088/2020/1/Robbins_Remsen_Graves–Parker_memoriam–Ornithological_M.pdf  (If the link doesn’t work, just cut and paste “Robbins_Remsen_Graves–Parker_memoriam” into a search engine.)

The Short-tailed Hawk was still at the Hague Dairy on the 2nd, according to Mike Manetz: “Got it at about 9:30 this morning, soaring low with a few Turkey Vultures and a Mississippi Kite off the northwest corner of the lagoon.”

Geoff Parks saw an American Robin at his place in NE Gainesville on the 29th. There are a handful of midsummer records for Alachua County, but what they signify is anyone’s guess. It’s three months too early for migration. Could such individuals be nesting in the area? A few summers ago I saw a spot-breasted youngster at Lake Hampton, a little north of Waldo.

John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, and I took John’s boat out to Newnans Lake on the 30th and cruised all the way around, parallel to the shore, a little more than twelve miles. We’d hoped to discover Black Terns or Forster’s Terns, but we were disappointed. We couldn’t even relocate the Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and Horned Grebe that John and I had seen on June 25th. We did find a Laughing Gull, a Spotted Sandpiper, 4 Yellow Warblers, 2 Purple Gallinules (adult and juvenile together), 8 Limpkins, and 8 summering American Coots. We also recorded large counts of Anhinga (72), Osprey (44), and Snowy Egret (76).

On the 31st, Mike Manetz walked Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake loop trail: “On the northern, more willow-lined loop I got five Prairie Warblers, but except for Common Yellowthroats and a couple of Northern Parulas, no other warblers. On the more wooded south part of the loop I hit a few little feeding flocks with mostly Northern Parulas, but also one Worm-eating Warbler (my first for the year) and one Black-and-white. No Yellows, American Redstarts, or waterthrushes. Yet. The place looks killer for a little later in the fall.”

Sonia Hernandez, a professor of forestry and natural resources at the University of Georgia, is asking birders to watch out for color-banded White Ibises: “We have a radio-telemetry and banding project with urban white ibises in Palm Beach County. We banded 45 individuals and radio-tagged 12 and my grad students are continuing that work with the goal to get at least 100 birds banded and 30 radio-tagged. We currently have a website where anyone can report a sighting of a banded bird and you can reach it by going to http://www.hernandezlab.uga.edu/ibis.html The site also has some general information about the project and we will be adding more information in the near future.”

Swallows migrate through during August. They can be confusing, so here’s a partly-helpful piece on telling them apart: http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/MTYswallows01.html

The Atlantic’s website includes this description of a visit to the Powdermill Bird Banding Station in Pennsylvania: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/surveilling-the-birds/277650/

We got three and a half inches of rain on the evening of the 31st. That pushed the total July rainfall to 16.61 inches, ten inches more than average and 0.2 inch more than the old Gainesville record set in 1909.

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.

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