Black Rail and an invasion of Painted Buntings!

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

Field trip change: The Alligator Lake field trip will go as planned on February 1st. But Bob Carroll writes, “The trip is listed for 8:00 AM and the meeting place is listed as the parking lot at Alligator Lake. John Hintermister is concerned that few people will know where to go. So I volunteered to meet people at the Tag Agency at 7:00 and lead a car pool caravan up to meet Jerry Krummrich at Alligator Lake. Please publicize that option, and make it clear that people can either meet me at 7:00 at the Tag Agency or meet the rest of us at Alligator Lake at 8:00.”

On the 22nd Dick Bartlett walked out the La Chua Trail with out-of-towners Jake Scott and Don Filipiak. Just before they reached the observation platform at La Chua, Jake and Don disturbed a small bird that dashed for the marshy edge but found the vegetation impenetrable, paused, and walked around for a moment before escaping. Based on this slightly extended view they identified the bird as a Black Rail. Don’s eBird description reads, “Small (noticeably smaller than a Sora) dark gray bird running thru vegetation approx 4 ft in front of us.” Steve Mann and I ran into the trio a few minutes later, and eagerly checked the spot they pointed out to us. Needless to say, we saw nothing. A few days before, Jake had caught a glimpse of the mystery rail that Scott Flamand found on the Christmas Bird Count – near the memorial sign across US-441 from the Paynes Prairie observation deck – but it was only a glimpse, and not seen well enough to make an identification. Still, that’s two possible Black Rails reported this winter, which is two more than usual.

More Painted Buntings! At last notice we had ten in the county. On the 22nd John Hintermister found an eleventh, a female at Prairie Creek Preserve (along the Lodge Trail). And then on the 26th Felicia Lee, Glenn Price, and Elizabeth Martin found “at least five” (! – that’s Felicia’s count; Glenn and Elizabeth thought there were more) west of the lagoon at the Hague Dairy; Glenn got a photo. Even if two of those five were birds that Lloyd Davis had previously reported from the dairy, that’s at least 14 in the county at one time! Painted Buntings are a fairly common feeder bird in central and southern Florida during winter, but I’ve never heard of so many wintering in Alachua County at once.

After being absent all winter, Yellow-breasted Chats are suddenly being reported. Chris Burney saw three along Sparrow Alley on the 26th: “Two birds chasing each other and perching in full view, and another bird seen much further down along Sparrow Alley (Bells Vireo location).” Lloyd Davis saw one along the Cones Dike Trail on the 25th, along with a Northern Waterthrush, two Least Flycatchers … and a possible Green-tailed Towhee! He writes, “The bird was on the Cone’s Dike trail where the trail turns sharply to the right (2.75 miles from the Visitor Center). There is a large culvert there. I was looking south and saw a bird feeding at the water surface on the weeds and immediately thought it was a Swamp Sparrow. But when I looked through my binocs, it had a solid rusty cap. I tried to get a photo but it jumped around too much. After seeing the chat and Least Flycatchers, I came back and played its call and then Western Screech-Owl, but got nothing but Yellow-rumped Warblers.” Ignacio Rodriguez had reported two Green-tailed Towhees from the Bolen Bluff Trail on October 13th, but no one had seen any sign of them since. Maybe they just moved over to Cones Dike.

For those who haven’t seen the Bullock’s Oriole yet: Andy Kratter pointed out that my last birding report gave the address of the house you SHOULDN’T go to, but neglected to give the Goodmans’ address, where you’ll be welcome and have a chair to sit in. The Goodmans are at 6437 NW 37th Drive, in Mile Run, north of NW 53rd Avenue a little east of NW 43rd Street.

Speaking of orioles, Dave Gagne and Christian Newton counted 32 Baltimore Orioles at the Lynches’ place in High Springs while waiting for the Calliope Hummingbird on the 22nd.

Most of you are already aware that a Wilson’s Warbler has been reliably seen along Sparrow Alley since late December (Adam Zions’s photo is here). On the 26th Matt O’ Sullivan discovered another one – the first one has a black cap, this one doesn’t – further down the trail, where it intersects Sweetwater Branch just beyond the Bell’s Vireo spot.

On the 24th Phil Laipis and I spent six hours combing the Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve pinewoods where Mike Manetz had seen the Hairy Woodpecker on the 17th. We found no sign of the Hairy. Our consolation prizes were two, maybe four or five, Bachman’s Sparrows. During the nesting season we find these in the palmetto flatwoods, but all those we saw were in the longleaf pine savannah, among bare sand and wiregrass. We spent ten minutes watching one creep around with tiny steps (“like a mouse,” Phil commented) under the sprays of grass, sometimes under the fallen leaves, eating grass seeds. A really beautiful bird. Phil got a photo.

Ha ha ha! From Matt Hafner via Diane Reed.

eBirders should be aware of a change in the checklist: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/rock-pigeon/  (Shorter Version: Rock Pigeon has been re-labeled “Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)” but is still countable.)

Nelson’s Sparrow at La Chua!

Adam Zions found the county’s third-ever Nelson’s Sparrow along the La Chua Trail on the 20th. He describes the location as “about halfway between the ‘s’ curve before it straightens out for the last bit before the platform. If you go looking for it, you’ll notice the more open water on your right as you first take the bend (where they placed the extra soil), then another smaller patch of somewhat open water on your right a little further ahead. Go past this to the third, and smallest patch of somewhat open water on your right, which should be about halfway or slightly past halfway along the ‘s’ curve, and that’s where I observed it foraging on grass seeds.” Nelson’s Sparrow is a saltmarsh species in Florida and is pretty common along the Gulf Coast, but it nests in freshwater marshes on the Great Plains – Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta – and some of the birds get slightly disoriented during fall migration. Not many of them, though; inland sightings in Florida are very scarce. Adam’s eBird checklist, which includes five photos of the bird, can be seen here.

At least two Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still slumming at the Hague Dairy. I got there a little after eleven on the 20th, just as a flock of two or three thousand blackbirds swarmed up and disappeared to the west. I hung around for another hour and a half, but the birds never came back, so I went home. Just an hour after I left (naturally!) Brad Bergstrom and Margaret Harper of Valdosta State University showed up and saw “two Yellow-headed Blackbirds atop the transformer pole near the Admin. bldg. (where visitors sign in) from 2-3 pm. While I was signing in, Margaret was standing right next to the car looking at the two birds. When I walked  back out of the office, at first I thought she was joking about seeing the blackbirds. That was a years-long nemesis bird for her; it’s not supposed to be that easy!” On the 16th Jonathan Mays got a photo of THREE Yellow-headeds feeding together, but no one else has been that lucky; I think it may be the largest number ever recorded here during a single fall, and he had them all in his viewfinder at once! Two Bronzed Cowbirds were also seen at the dairy by Adam Zions on the 14th and by several observers on the 15th, but on the 16th Jonathan found only one. Both species may yet be present. By the way, Bob Carroll related his own search for the Yellow-headed in characteristically amusing style on his blog.

There’s a new sign on the door of the dairy office: “Attention all birdwatchers: Please park in the designated areas and walk. Do not block the roadways or gates. Do not cross any fences. Do not go through any gates. Do not interfere with dairy operations.” I’m not sure what occasioned this, but please observe their rules conscientiously. I think the dairy employees find us odd but harmless, and that’s how we want to keep it. The designated parking area is here. I asked one of the employees in the office about the “Do not go through the gates” rule, and he told me that this applied only to closed gates.

Sometimes the best place to go birding is your back yard. Becky Enneis has been proving that point this fall. There’s a huge sprawling live oak in her back yard, and she’s set up a water drip under one of the lowest limbs. It always gets a lot of birds, but this week has been particularly exciting, with a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the 20th, a Bay-breasted Warbler on the 18th, and on the 17th a Swamp Sparrow, one of the earliest of the fall and not exactly a typical backyard bird. And over in rural Columbia County on the 19th Jerry Krummrich enjoyed a varied and highly entertaining few minutes of backyard birding: “At the mister right outside my window in a river birch tree, in the space of 15 minutes, I had furious activity and 17 species of birds. Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white Warblers – several of some species, including a male of each species, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Cardinals (about 10), Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.”

Bachman’s Sparrows used to be resident at Morningside Nature Center, but during the past twenty or so years their occurrence at the park has been unpredictable. John Martin found one there on February 10th and got a video, but as far as I know there weren’t any additional encounters until Geoff Parks heard one singing on October 18th: “As I was going past an area we burned back in May, near the north end of Sandhill Road, I heard some sparrow-like ‘seet’ calls so I stopped for a few moments to see if anything interesting was around. To my surprise, from out of the grasses nearby I heard a Bachman’s Sparrow giving a whisper song. It did it several times over a few minutes; it sounded exactly like the normal song, just very quiet. I didn’t try to coax it into the open and never managed to see the bird, but I’m certain that’s what it was. Maybe this one will stick around until spring. Mysterious little critters!”

I got a very nice trip report from Adam Zions about Alachua Audubon’s Levy Lake field trip on Saturday the 20th: “A hearty troop of 11 intrepid explorers and one half-witted trip leader set out at 8 a.m. along the Levy Lake loop trail at Barr Hammock. Several Gainesville birders and a few out-of-towners from Chiefland, Inverness, and Cape Canaveral set out to see what the trail had to offer. An Eastern Phoebe and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk greeted everyone at the parking lot, a precursor of what would follow. Even though week-long winds from the north, combined with a lack of a front from the south, seemed to push most migrants onward to Central America and the Caribbean, the group tallied a total of 50 different species, including 9 different warbler species, The favorites being an Orange-crowned Warbler (first of the season for everyone) and a Tennessee. Strong numbers of wintering species were noted, especially Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, and Gray Catbird. Highlights of the day included close observations of 4 incredibly-obliging American Bitterns, a flock of 8, late Northern Rough-winged Swallows, an adult Bald Eagle getting chased by a Red-shouldered Hawk, a few Sandhill Cranes, sizeable numbers of Indigo Buntings, and many first-of-the-season birds for most participants (e.g., Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Northern Flicker). Non-avian highlights included a White-tailed doe, Striped Mud Turtle, a mother American Alligator and several of her offspring, and a 4′-4.5′ Cottonmouth shed. The feathered remains of a Red-shouldered Hawk were noted as well. Sunny, yet cool weather obliged for the majority of the trip, until the last mile of the trip when an unexpected storm front poured buckets and soaked everyone. Everyone stayed in good spirits, but made due haste to the parking lot. It was a very lively and engaging crew, and made for an excellent first AAS trip out to the Levy Lake portion of Barr Hammock. Group eBird checklist link: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15444710

Preliminary results of the fall migration count

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First two days of The June Challenge

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

I showed up at Morningside Nature Center on Sunday morning to make sure everyone on the butterfly field trip signed the liability form and wouldn’t be able to sue us for butterfly bites, etc. Maralee Joos pulled in right behind me. She told me that she’d just come from Palm Point, where Lloyd Davis had found and photographed a very late Tree Swallow. As soon as everyone had signed the form I rushed to Palm Point in hopes of seeing it myself, but I was too late.

That’s probably the best bird found on The June Challenge so far. The best I’ve heard about, anyway.

Saturday’s field trip in search of June Challenge birds was very well attended – I think I counted 34 or 35 people – but the birds were not eager to be seen, so we spent a lot more time searching for them, and a lot less time actually enjoying them, than I’d expected. We did eventually find most of what we were hoping for, though. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we got a quick glimpse of three Common Nighthawks and (after quite a bit of walking) got to ogle a very cooperative Bachman’s Sparrow. At Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor we saw four distant Laughing Gulls and one adult Bald Eagle, plus a bonus, two or three Limpkins drawn to the area by an abundance of exotic apple snails. Because we’d spent so much time in the first two locations, Powers Park and Palm Point were struck from the itinerary and we went directly to La Chua. There we had mixed luck: just about everyone saw the Whooping Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Great White Heron (non-countable), Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and lingering Blue-winged Teal and American Coots, but only some of us saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-Dove, and Orchard Oriole, and we never found the Yellow-breasted Chat at all. I think most of us ended the field trip with 50-55 species on our lists.

You can read Katherine Edison’s account of the morning, with photos, here.

On Saturday afternoon I drove out to Cellon Creek Boulevard, which has always been a good place to find, in a single spot, several birds that can be hard to see in summer. I discovered that a new fence had been put up near the generating station, barring access to the brushy edges at the top of the hill. Still, I saw most of what I’d come for: American Kestrel, Eastern Kingbird, Killdeer, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Purple Martin, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Bobwhites called but never showed themselves, Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites sailed over the treeline on the far side of the pasture, and, rather surprisingly, a flock of 17 Laughing Gulls flew past.

In past years I expected to find Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Common Ground-Doves there as well, but neither showed up this year. A couple of people told me later that I could see Rough-wingeds at the Hague Dairy, and on eBird I noticed that John Martin got 14 of them there on Sunday, probably two or three family groups. If the young have already fledged, they’ll be leaving soon, so get out there and add them to your June Challenge list while you can.

Carol Huang emailed earlier today to tell me that she’d found a Northern Flicker and Red-headed Woodpeckers at Northeast Park on NE 16th Avenue a little east of Main Street. Flickers are rare summer residents in Alachua County, and Northeast Park and Morningside Nature Center are about the only places where they can reliably be found.

And you can see Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at the Red Lobster Pond. Only two remained on Sunday morning.

Finally, a little business. Gmail seems to have a limit of 500 addresses to which it will send any given email, and we’re getting close. I know that a fair proportion of the 497 addresses on this mailing list go to UF students who have moved on, people who have lost interest, and others who just expected something different when they signed up. So if you’d like to continue to receive the Alachua County birding reports, please send an email to let me know that – something simple, like “Keep me on the list” or “You are the wind beneath my wings.” I’ll delete the addresses of those who don’t respond, and that should reduce the mailing list to a Gmail-friendly 300-400 addresses. Okay? Okay! I’ll repeat this request twice more, for those who miss it the first and second times.

Last birding report before The June Challenge!

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

We’ve got two field trips left in the Audubon year. After these, no more till September:

It’s not technically an Audubon field trip, but at 6:15 a.m. on June 1st you can help me kick off The Tenth Annual June Challenge at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on County Road 325 a couple miles south of Hawthorne Road. We’ll hit four or five locations during what will be (I hope) a fast-moving and productive morning.

(By the way, if you’d like to keep track of the birds you see during The June Challenge but don’t have a checklist, Phil Laipis has put together a simple printable checklist of the birds you’re most likely to see in Alachua County, with 25 extra blanks for all the exciting strays and rarities you’ll undoubtedly find. Click here.)

On the 2nd, Dr. Jaret Daniels, Assistant Director for Research at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, will lead a field trip in search of butterflies. Call Wild Birds Unlimited at 352-381-1997 for details about the meeting time and place.

It’s that time of year. Baby birds are everywhere. I was very pleased the other day when one of “my” Red-headed Woodpeckers stuck its head into a nest hole in the oak in my front yard and I heard the squealing of her chicks. A couple days later and just down the street, a full-grown Red-headed chick stuck its gray head out of a nest hole in a dead palm. More Red-headed Woodpeckers = a better world. But on the 27th, near the Kanapaha Prairie, I saw something even better: a bird walked onto the road, a second bird followed it, and as I drove closer I realized that there were a dozen tiny little things swarming across the road with them: it was a pair of Northern Bobwhites and their cotton-ball-sized chicks. They reached the shoulder just as I pulled even, and I got a close look at the female and one of the youngsters, and … if they made Red Bull out of adorable instead of chemicals, I felt like I’d drunk two cases of Red Bull.

Frank Chapman’s 100-year-old records have been dropping like flies this spring. The latest Eastern Phoebe ever recorded in Alachua County was one that Chapman saw on April 4, 1887 – until Andy Kratter saw one on April 7th this year. And the latest Bobolinks were a flock that Chapman saw on May 25, 1887 – until I flushed one at the Kanapaha Prairie on May 27th this year. I wonder if either of these new records will stand for 126 years, like the old ones did. I doubt it.

Since last summer I’ve been doing regular bird surveys at several county properties. On the 29th I spent the morning at Balu Forest, a 1576-acre tract of pine flatwoods between Gainesville and Melrose that will open to the public in the not-too-distant future. I found large numbers of Eastern Towhees and Common Yellowthroats, a couple singing Bachman’s Sparrows, a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, a Northern Bobwhite, and a Swallow-tailed Kite – but the best thing I found wasn’t a bird.

Bob Carroll, Becky Enneis, and Linda Holt are taking the birding trip of a lifetime to Alaska. Bob tells me that he’s going to post updates on his blog, so watch this space: http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

Speaking of blogs, Katherine Edison posted a lovely meditation on “A Sense of Place”: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-sense-of-place.html

They’re all still out there, waiting for you

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

The Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, begins today, Friday the 15th, and continues through Monday the 18th. The GBBC will happily accept lists of your backyard birds and/or field-trip birds on any or all of those four days. Here’s how to sign in and enter your sightings: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html

The Pacific Loon was still on Lake Santa Fe last week, seen by John Hintermister and Jonathan Mays on the 8th and by Bob Wallace on the 9th. Jonathan got a nice photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8456996268/in/photostream/  It’s probably still there, but you’ll need a boat if you want to look for it. John launched from the Bradford County ramp on Little Lake Santa Fe and then motored south to find the bird along the north shore of the main lake.

The Groove-billed Ani is still being seen at Sparrow Alley, most recently by Lloyd Davis on the 13th.

On the 11th Chuck Littlewood saw the Peregrine Falcon that’s been hanging around the La Chua Trail since January 5th. It was “in the willows directly south of the observation platform (est. 250 yards).” He got a photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h551788a8#h551788a8

Frank and Irina Goodwin saw a Myiarchus flycatcher, probably an Ash-throated, along the Cones Dike Trail on the 9th, “at roughly the 1.75 mile mark, right at the point where the fence turns 90 degrees to the east.”

Also on the 9th, Jim and Allison Healy saw the Nashville Warbler that’s been hanging around Sparrow Alley since November 23rd: “After passing through the barn, we followed the trail off to the right and not the one that goes to the overlook. About 200 feet past where it makes a turn to the north, Allison spotted the Nashville. I quickly got on the bird, and here are my observations: blue-gray head with distinct complete white eye-ring, yellow breast and undertail coverts with white around the ‘pant legs.’ Olive green wings. Throat was a pale gray color distinct from the blue-gray head and yellow breast. I watched the bird for about 15 seconds before it flew down the trail (south).”

During the winter of 2009-10, Andy Kratter found a Fox Sparrow along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail a little north of Boulware Springs, and it returned to the same spot every winter afterward. He hadn’t seen it this winter, and he assumed that it had met the fate that awaits us all (retirement to North Carolina), but on the 11th of February it was back, and he saw it again this morning. It’s right behind Pine Grove Cemetery; a map (choose the “satellite” option and zoom in) is here. Look for Andy’s feeder beside the trail.

On the 10th Andy went to Newnans Lake: “At Powers Park I had the Aythya feeding swarm about 1000 m to the east  (Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and scaup sp.). A Limpkin was wailing nearby the observation deck.” Rob Bowden was there later that same day and got a look at the Limpkin: “It ended up flying across the boat launch channel and perching briefly in a cypress right next to the dock before spooking farther to the SE side of the lake. It seemed very skittish.” All those exotic apple snails in Newnans Lake seem to be drawing the Limpkins in. I think all but one of the six Limpkins on the last Christmas Count came from there.

John Martin got a nice video of a Bachman’s Sparrow at Morningside Nature Center on the 10th: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06NZ3t0SRwM

In my last birding report I mentioned that Geoff Parks had heard a singing Northern Parula on February 5th, but I cautioned that one swallow does not make a summer, or one parula a spring in this case. Since then, however, there have been several singing Northern Parulas reported, in Gainesville and elsewhere in Florida. Gainesville Birder Emeritus Bryant Roberts saw nine, some of them singing, at Birch State Park in Ft. Lauderdale on the 9th. Two days later there were a few North Florida reports, one from Gary Davis in St. Johns County and one (two birds) from Sharon Fronk in Dixie County. Here in Gainesville, Jonathan Mays has had one singing at his SE Gainesville home since the 9th, and Andy Kratter had both a Northern Parula and a Yellow-throated Warbler singing at his SE Gainesville home this morning. So yes, I’m finally ready to concede that this is an early spring. Normally the first Northern Parulas and first migrant (as opposed to wintering) Yellow-throated Warblers start singing at some time between February 20th and March 1st, but this year they’re a week or two early.

Maybe all of the above isn’t sufficiently inspiring to you, and you’re still looking for a good place to go birding (maybe for the Great Backyard Bird Count). Try the Tuscawilla Prairie just south of Micanopy. Mike Manetz and John Killian checked it out on the 13th, and Mike was impressed: “The place is drying out quickly. I think in some places it might be possible to walk all the way across, and a lot of it is barnyard grass that looks favorable for Short-eared Owl and Le Conte’s Sparrow. Problem is that it dried out too late into winter. If it had been like it is now back in early November it might have been a bonanza like Orange Lake was last winter. There is still a little water, and a lot of waders, including about a hundred Ibis of both species. Best birds were three American Woodcocks and a fly-over American Pipit, my first of the year.” A map and driving directions are here.