A few news items, plus a Cedar Key bird report

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

Join the Alachua Audubon Society on Wednesday, April 15th at 6:00 pm for our annual pot luck dinner celebration and to help us welcome our newest board members, Marie Davis, Will Sexton, Katie Sieving, Charlene Leonard, Ted Goodman, Adam Zions, John Sivinski, and Trina Anderson. The event will be held at Dick and Patty Bartlett’s house at 3101 SW 1st Way, Gainesville, located in the Colclough Hills neighborhood between south Main Street and Williston Road – across the street from and a little south of Bubba Scales’s house, where it’s been held in the past. (Look for the Audubon signs!) Bring some food to share and your drink of choice, and enjoy visiting with Alachua Audubon members and the Board of Directors. This will be a fun gathering and an opportunity to share our more recent spring migration observations!

Matt O’Sullivan went to Cedar Key on the 11th hoping that the forecast rains would ground some migrants: “Well it was pretty quiet at Cedar Key as they never got any rain. It did get better as the day went on, and by the end of the day I had seen 11 species of warbler including a Worm-eating, a Black-throated Blue, 2 Cape May, and best of all 2 Swainson’s Warblers on the same log!!! The most common bird of the day was Prairie Warbler with about a dozen around, also had several Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrushes. Other than that the only other migrants were an Indigo Bunting and a Baltimore Oriole that I heard but missed as it flew over my head. Others on the island saw a single Black-throated Green and a Magnolia Warbler.”

During the peaks of spring and fall migrations, Alachua Audubon offers two – even three! – field trips each weekend. This year’s “twofer” season began last weekend with a wildflower trip on Saturday and a San Felasco Hammock bird hike on Sunday and will continue through May 16-17. Our field trip schedule is here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

The wildflower trip to Goldhead Branch State Park went well, thanks to a knowledgeable volunteer from the Native Plant Society. The group visited sandhill, scrub, and ravine habitats and admired some lovely and fragrant wildflowers. Bird life included Brown-headed Nuthatches, a briefly-seen Swallow-tailed Kite, a Summer Tanager, and Red-headed Woodpeckers. It was also a surprisingly good day for herps. We saw a couple of Eastern Fence Lizards, two Florida Softshell Turtles, a recently road-killed Coral Snake (gory photo here), a young Southern Black Racer, and a Florida Watersnake.

Bob Carroll reported on Sunday’s San Felasco Hammock trip: “Today’s field trip to San Felasco was quite successful. We had a hard time getting out of the parking lot, and a harder time reaching the Moonshine Creek Trail. The parking lot produced Red-headed Woodpeckers (actually across the street), Great-crested Flycatchers, and a distant view of a male Summer Tanager (also across the street). We also stopped in the area with mostly pines and an open forest floor before we reached the Moonshine Trail. We were looking at a male Summer Tanager when Alan Shapiro called out that he had something really yellow – like Prothonotary yellow. Sure enough, he had a Prothonotary Warbler that gave us really terrific looks. Then we had the unique experience of seeing the Prothonotary in the same tree as and really close to both a male and female Summer Tanager so we could study them at leisure. Once on the Moonshine Creek Trail, we had a cooperative Red-eyed Vireo dancing around us. Later we had to work very hard, but finally we got everyone a decent look at a Hooded Warbler. There were a lot of Hoodeds thoughout the forest, and it took four stops and four different males to get everyone a look, but patience paid off. The only real miss of the day were the Barred Owls that are usually very responsive on the last quarter of the trail. They were silent and invisible today.”

Speaking of Bob Carroll, he writes, “It’s Third Thursday time! This week we’re heading to Cedar Key in search of piles and piles of migrants. We’ll meet at Target and leave by 7:00, pick up Barbara Shea in Archer, then meet a few more people in Cedar Key by 8:30. Here’s a tentative itinerary: We’ll drive out to Shell Mound for shorebirds (while looking for Florida Scrub-Jays along the way). Then we’ll go into Cedar Key, stop at the Episcopal Church and check the mulberry trees. We’ll walk around the cemetery looking for warblers. We’ll check the museum grounds. We may also check the loquat bushes near the turn at Hodges Avenue and the area around Anchor Cove and Andrews Circle. We’ll drive out toward the airport and maybe check the area along SW 133rd Street. Somewhere in there we’ll stop for lunch. So far I’ve had three restaurant nominations:
Tony’s (award-winning clam chowder), Ken’s (music of the 50s and 60s, best burgers in town and looking out on the Gulf), Annie’s (variety of food with a porch overlooking Back Bayou). You can look on Yelp or Trip Advisor for reviews.
PLEASE: If you’re joining us for lunch, let me know as soon as you can AND vote for a restaurant. I’ll eliminate the one with the least votes and then make a pick. See you on Thursday!”

Bad news for photographers and early birders: Paynes Prairie’s management has discontinued a policy that allowed annual-pass holders to get onto the La Chua Trail before 8:00. Photographer Chris Janus writes, “The gate code for April is not working and the gate was disconnected, as I was told, permanently. I tried it last weekend and today and it did not work. I called the ranger station and was directed to the ‘Manager,’ who kindly returned my call and explained that during the last meeting the management expressed concerns about security (and following even longer explanation by the Manager) and safety on the trail, and they decided to disconnect the gate because there are dangerous animals on the trail, etc. etc. So goodbye to the sunrises and shots of undisturbed wildlife. We will still have a chance to take pictures of noisy runners, people feeding alligators or trying to sit on them during the normal ‘safe’ hours of trail operation. If you suspect sarcasm here, you are correct. And if you say that sarcasm is the last kind of wisdom, you are also correct. But at least it is wisdom, I’d say. Now, if you know any place one can go early on the weekend morning for a stroll and take some good pictures of wildlife and not to see too many people, please, let me know.”

I’ve put up a new blog post at the Gainesville Sun website: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/138/swamps-and-spotted-turtles/ It describes an afternoon that I spent with Jonathan Mays in a swamp, looking for Spotted Turtles. And speaking of turtles, Jonathan told me about a new non-profit organization devoted to turtle conservation, the American Turtle Observatory: http://www.americanturtles.org/

Loonacy begins! plus Western Tanager in High Springs

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

Here’s a blast from the past. If you were here seventeen years ago, this description of spring 1998 from that summer’s birding newsletter may ring a bell: “As March began, the water level at Paynes Prairie was at its highest in at least the 27 years since the state purchased it, possibly since 1948 or even 1891. The outer lanes of US-441 were closed as water crept up and flowed over the edges of the asphalt to the center line of each lane. It peaked on March 11 at 61.4 feet above sea level, only 2.6 feet below the level of Alachua Lake during the 1880s when it was navigated by steamboats. The regular weekend ranger-guided walks along the La Chua Trail were replaced by ranger-guided canoe excursions! However, March’s rainfall was normal (4.45″ – average is 4.11″), and April and May’s much less than normal (combined for both months 1.29″ – average is 7.2″), so that the newspaper began reporting the effects of the ‘drought,’ which in June included severe fires around Waldo. There was not a single major front during the month of April. What rainfall there was – a brief downpour on April 19, and more extended rains on May 18 – was localized. There was no general rainfall till May 27. Consequently the water slowly ebbed away. By June 16, it had dropped far enough to allow me to step across two feet of water onto the US-441 observation deck, the first time it had been accessible since February.”

Jack and Mary Lynch, who hosted a Calliope Hummingbird last winter, now have an adult male Western Tanager visiting their yard. They’re willing to have birders come over to see it on Saturday morning (only), beginning at 8 a.m. They’re at 415 NW 9th Street in High Springs. Look for the tanager in a flock of Baltimore Orioles. Mary writes, “He is standing out brilliantly. Yellow and black with the start of the red on his head.” Park in the front yard and just walk into the back yard; don’t bother to knock. Mary asks that you “pull pretty much off the road and not past our driveway or the neighbor’s dogs will not stop barking.”

On March 1st, while practicing for the Race 4 Birds to be held in Georgia on April 26th, Sam Ewing and Steve Goodman (along with Dean Ewing, Ted Goodman, and Adam Kent) realized that they were within striking distance of the Alachua County Big Day record of 125 species set on May 1, 1971. They pushed hard and ended up tying the record, and in the course of doing so they found a very early Black-necked Stilt at the sheetflow restoration area, which Sam photographed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16074775353/ Anyway, congratulations on tying the record, guys, and good luck in the Race 4 Birds next month.

The cross-Florida migration of Common Loons is underway. Andy Kratter started his loon watch on the 9th, about a week earlier than usual, and tallied one loon that first morning. I’ve sat out in my backyard from about 8:30-9:30 twice this week, but I haven’t seen any loons (consolation prize: a breeding-plumage Laughing Gull eastbound this morning). Andy calculates that the first migrants take off close to sunrise, which is about 7:45 right now, and begin to show up over Gainesville an hour later (though I’ve once or twice seen them earlier than that). The main migratory movement occurs from mid-March to mid-April. Andy wrote about it six years ago, and will talk about it during an Alachua Audubon program meeting on the 23rd. If you’re not stuck indoors, these beautiful spring mornings are a great time to watch the sky for loons. Choose a morning that’s not overcast, and spend an hour or so (8:30-9:30) sitting in your back yard with a cup of coffee and your binoculars, watching the sky for high-flying white-bellied birds. Most of them look like this flying overhead; Ron Robinson likens them to “bowling pins flying north.” If you want to help Andy with his project, write down the time you see them, how many you see, and, if possible, whether they’re in winter plumage, breeding plumage, or transitioning from one to the other.

I mentioned in my last email that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Yellow-throated Vireos would be arriving soon, and they didn’t make a liar out of me. On the 6th Ron Robinson saw a Ruby-throated at his place on the west end of Gainesville, and on the 8th Yellow-throated Vireos were found by Sam and Ben Ewing in their yard near Loblolly Woods, by Howard Adams at Poe Springs, and by Felicia Lee and Elizabeth Martin at San Felasco Hammock.

If you think you hear a Great Crested Flycatcher calling during mid-March, try to get a look at it, and if possible a photo. The spring’s earliest Great Cresteds don’t usually arrive in Alachua County till the last week of March, but White-eyed Vireos are quite good at mimicking their characteristic wheep! call. I heard one doing it in my back yard on the 7th.

Spring migration underway, plus continuing rarities

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

Over the past couple of years Mike Manetz has been dividing his time between Alachua County and Charlotte County on the southwest coast. Down in Charlotte he managed to infect some of the local birders with county-listing fever. Three of them in particular – Jeff Bouton, Dennis Peacock, and Brant Julius – have joined Mike in exploring the nooks and crannies of Charlotte County and in vying to see the most species in one year. Due to their high-spirited competitiveness Jeff has bestowed the title of “The Beasts of Birdin'” on the quartet. On March 1st I had the opportunity to go birding with three-quarters of The Beasts: Dennis and Brant drove up to Alachua County so Mike could show them some birds they don’t get to see in Charlotte, and I was invited along.

We started the day at Tuscawilla Prairie, where we hoped to find the Le Conte’s Sparrow discovered there on February 6th. We spent about an hour walking back and forth along the edge of the marsh before Dennis shouted that he’d seen a sparrow in the wet grass at the base of a small tree. He’d played a Henslow’s song, which it ignored, and then a Le Conte’s song, to which it seemed to respond. We all gathered around the tree and the bird flew up into a low branch – and it was a Henslow’s. It was not a bird we’d expected to see (though they’ve occurred there in the past), and it was a lifer for Brant. After a round of high fives we continued birding along the edge – getting a look at a Virginia Rail creeping along in an inch of water – and had all but given up when a sparrow flushed from the short dry grass halfway between the marsh and the live oaks. I could see its orange head as it fluttered up, and sure enough it was the Le Conte’s. It landed in a small oak, and stayed put for twenty or thirty seconds before dropping to the ground again. Another lifer for Brant, and the first time in my 40 years of birding that I’ve seen both Henslow’s and Le Conte’s in a single day.

From there we drove on to the Goodmans’ in NW Gainesville to see the male Bullock’s Oriole present for its third winter in a row. We walked around the block and eventually located a flock of six or eight Baltimore Orioles across the street from the Goodmans’ house that contained the Bullock’s. Lifer #3 for Brant.

We went on to Magnolia Parke, where a flock of about 35 Rusty Blackbirds was feeding in a parking lot just south of the big lawn. Lifer #4 for Brant.

From there it was on to the Hague Dairy. Mike signed us in while we parked Dennis’s truck, and as he came walking back to join us he spied the Lark Sparrow singing at the top of an oak tree. The Greater White-fronted Goose was equally cooperative, and we ran into Matt O’Sullivan, who pointed out an American Redstart that has wintered in the swampy area behind the parking lot.

So it was an absurdly good day. We found every bird we’d hoped to find, and still had a little time left over, so we went to a NW Gainesville neighborhood where Sam Ewing had recently reported Golden-crowned Kinglets. Here, at last, we failed to find our quarry, though Dennis thought he heard one calling. We were done by 1:00, and The Beasts of Birdin’ went home with a truck full of lifers, state birds, and Alachua County birds.

(Golden-crowned Kinglets haven’t left yet. Jonathan Mays saw two of them at San Felasco Hammock on the 1st: “Located north of Millhopper Road along the ‘Hammock Cutoff’ trail just east of its intersection with the yellow-blazed trail. First heard giving their high ‘seet, seet, seet’ calls, one on each side of trail. Was able to pish both in to confirm ID … small-sized, striped faces, one showed orangeish crown well.”)

Speaking of The Beasts of Birdin’, the one who didn’t join us yesterday, Jeff Bouton, used to be the official hawk counter at the Cape May Hawk Watch. He has just posted a very helpful and well-illustrated post on telling the difference between Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks that includes a few bits of information not mentioned in field guides: http://blog.leica-birding.com/advanced-id-tip-sharp-shinned-or-coopers/

And speaking of hawks, the county’s first Swallow-tailed Kites of the spring, four of them, arrived on March 1st, but I’m going to send out the details, as well as an interesting correspondence with kite biologist Ken Meyer, in another birding report.

On the 28th the Audubon field trip had a Northern Parula at the Windsor boat ramp and Andy Kratter had another in his SE Gainesville yard, but both were silent. However on the 1st there were *six separate reports* submitted to eBird, including two that specified singing birds (Debbie Segal at Barr Hammock and Jonathan Mays at San Felasco Hammock). So I think the Northern Parulas have arrived. There were a few sightings during the winter, as is usually the case, but the ones sighted this weekend were spring migrants.

I took an Oxford zoologist out to Paynes Prairie on the 27th and, after an hour’s wait at the edge of the sheet flow site, was able to show him his life Limpkin. While we were out there we saw some extraordinarily early Barn Swallows and on the walk back we saw a couple of extraordinarily late Purple Martins.

Time for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to start showing up. A few of them spent the winter at local feeders, but the first migrant males should be arriving any day now. Yellow-throated Vireos and Northern Rough-winged Swallows should also be here soon.

In late winter Yellow-rumped Warblers generally leave the treetops and start feeding on the ground. We noticed flocks of them foraging in the grass at both the Windsor boat ramp and Powers Park during the Audubon field trip on the 28th.

Bill Pranty and Tony Leukering have posted a well-illustrated paper on identifying Mottled Duck x Mallard hybrids. The paper starts off with a quiz – how many of these are pure Mottleds and how many are hybrids? – and goes on from there. Not a bad idea, to quiz yourself and find out how much you already know. And the paper will help you to distinguish Mottled x Mallard hybrids (“Muddled Ducks”) from pure Mottled Ducks in case that becomes a major problem here, as it is farther south: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/wp-content/uploads/sites/55/eBird_Muddled_Ducks.pdf

If you see our local Whooping Crane – or any other, for that matter – report it here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm Don’t assume that any Whooping Crane that you see is the same one that has wintered at the Beef Teaching Unit. Be sure to note which color bands are on which legs. By the way, the Beef Teaching Unit bird seems to be on the move. On the 28th its tracking devices showed it at Watermelon Pond in the county’s SW corner.

Brown Pelicans at Newnans Lake, migrating nighthawks and warblers

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

On the 7th there were six Brown Pelicans at Newnans Lake, as well as Black Terns and some mid-sized white terns, at least one of which appeared to be a Common (dusky primaries, charcoal nape), though it was too distant to say for sure. Adam Zions found one pelican still present on the 10th.

In early September, Common Nighthawks are often seen migrating in flocks, especially ahead of advancing rain clouds. Ron Robinson observed this over his west Gainesville home on the morning of the 7th: “This morning at 7:35 I saw twenty plus Common Nighthawks flying southeasterly in a very loose kettle-type formation. Some swooped very low to the ground directly above our pasture. I tried to count, got to nineteen and the kettle came around and everyone mixed together. Later, Elaine and I went on our daily walk, and we saw a single nighthawk. Cooool! I wish they were more ‘Common’ here.” That evening he saw more: “Elaine and I counted forty plus nighthawks at 7:30 PM. They were everywhere, seeming to be moving just in front of a line of heavy dark clouds moving west to east. I’m sure we only saw a small number of the group, our front pasture has a limited overhead.” Geoff Parks saw the same thing over his NE Gainesville home on the same evening, reporting a total of 78 birds. On the evening of the 8th Andy Kratter counted 184 going over his place in SE Gainesville, and on the 9th Samuel Ewing counted 103 over his yard in NW Gainesville.

John Hintermister found a Cerulean Warbler at the north end of Lakeshore Drive on the 8th, where the road curves west, away from the lake front. Three days later Becky Enneis photographed a male Cerulean in her back yard: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15033635987/ That makes four in the county so far this fall.

Glenn Israel had the fall’s first Blackburnian Warbler at Bolen Bluff on September 1st, and there have been more than half a dozen reports since. Samuel Ewing photographed one in a sugarberry tree in his yard on the 9th; if you look closely, you can see the Asian Woolly Hackberry Aphids on the leaves, small fuzzy white insects that usually attract lots of warblers: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15003669380/ If you’ve got an aphid-infested sugarberry, grab your binoculars, pour a cup of coffee, and sit yourself down in a lawn chair with a good view of the tree, because you’re going to see some birds.

Bubba Scales had the fall’s first Baltimore Oriole at his SE Gainesville home on the 26th. There have been a couple of reports since, one from the Ewing brothers, Samuel and Benjamin, and one from Adam and Gina Kent.

A change of the guard is underway around the local lakes. During the summer, Ospreys are common and Bald Eagles are scarce, while during fall and winter it’s the other way around. Right now Ospreys are migrating out and Bald Eagles are migrating in; I saw two of each from Palm Point on the 7th. Speaking of raptors, Samuel Ewing photographed a late Mississippi Kite over his yard on the 9th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15190272725/ The last Swallow-taileds I’ve heard about in the county were six moving south in a group, seen by Geoff Parks over Williston Road on August 15th.

Bob Sargent of Trussville, Alabama, has died of a post-operative infection. An electrician by trade, he became a pioneer in the field of hummingbird banding, and was one of its unforgettable characters. Here’s a video of Bob describing hummingbird nests to the crowd at one of his banding demonstrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v36GcpHsbw (At 1:00 the video switches over to Fred Bassett, switching back to Bob at 2:33.)

First field trips this weekend, Poe Springs on Saturday and San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on Sunday. Also a program on Mangrove Cuckoos next Wednesday night. All the details are here (click on the “+” button for more info): http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Let’s give the late great Bob Sargent the last word, a minute’s worth of eloquence from a bird-lover’s heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnH1XhvdGuk

Oh MIKI you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

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

Gainesville City Naturalist Geoff Parks read the subject line of the last birding report and inquired, “Do you get your ‘springerie’ at Victorious Egret?” Geoff gets First Prize!

Phil Laipis and several other Gainesville birders visited Cedar Key on the 10th to see what was shaking. As a matter of fact, a lot was shaking. Phil wrote: “82 species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and 12 warbler species (Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler). Highs for me were the Wood Thrush, and the Louisiana Waterthrush wagging its bottom. First time I’ve seen that rotary motion and could compare it to the Northern Waterthrush’s ‘Spotted Sandpiper up-down wag’. Pat Burns spotted a male Cape May which I have no decent pictures of, and I might have seen a male Blackpoll Warbler, but did not get a long enough look to be positive. Windy, and all the birds seemed to be concentrated in town, not at the cemetery or the museum. We never looked hard for shorebirds, and Pat and I looked for the Yellow Rail reported in mid-January with, of course, no success.” Phil did manage to get a nice photo of a snake I’ve never seen, a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13766355403/

I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco Hammock this afternoon, the trails north of Millhopper Road. All the migrant warblers that Matt O’Sullivan and I found in the sandhill on the 8th were gone, and in fact I only saw one transient species, Worm-eating Warbler. But I saw five of those, including two that appeared to be engaged in a singing duel. Other good sightings: several Hooded Warblers, including a female who was putting the finishing touches on a perfect little nest; my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the spring (though they’ve been here since late March); and two female Eastern Towhees of the red-eyed (northern) race. I ran into Dalcio Dacol, who had seen an early Acadian Flycatcher along the Hammock Cutoff trail. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the trail in hopes of finding it, but I had no luck. (Of course “no luck” is relative, given that I spent several hours of a truly gorgeous day walking around San Felasco Hammock!)

Migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are showing up in residential areas, so watch your feeders. Adam Zions and Samuel Ewing saw them in their respective NW Gainesville back yards on the 10th.

While birding around his yard, Samuel also spotted the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in bird-banding code), one of my very favorite birds. This is a little early; in previous years the majority arrived during the last third of the month.

Scott Flamand saw two Canada Geese fly over Buchholz High School on the morning of the 10th. We don’t have a population of domestic or feral Canada Geese around here, at least as far as I know, but I doubt that they were wild. Wild Canada Geese are mostly a thing of the past in Florida. They used to be very common winter birds in the northern part of the state – a Fish and Game Commission waterfowl inventory tallied 47,000 of them in 1953! But now they spend the cold months farther north. I’ve been birding for 40 years and I’ve seen wild Canada Geese in Florida on only three occasions (feral birds are common in Jacksonville and Tallahassee). Anyway, if you see free-flying geese around here, please let me know.

The Alachua Audubon Society, like all Audubon Societies, avoids partisan politics, but I don’t think we’d be violating that principle if we were to congratulate our president, Helen Warren, on her victory in the City Commission election. Because of her new responsibilities, Helen will be leaving the Audubon board next month after several years. We thank you for your service, Helen, and we wish you well, but you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire….

Yes, I understand that this is the herpetological equivalent of a puppy video, and I acknowledge that my posting it is a symptom of creeping senility. And yet I cannot help myself. Be sure your audio is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds (I sent this to my son, who’s an infantry officer, and he declared, “I shall adopt his tactics for my own!”) (That’s funnier if you’ve seen the video.)

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.)

No rest for the weary

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

Another rare bird? This is getting so tedious!

News of the Calliope Hummingbird in High Springs rapidly found its way out to the Florida birding community, and on January 16th Homosassa birder Kevin Brabble made the drive up to see it. He saw the Calliope, and he saw the other hummingbird, generally assumed to be a Rufous. There was also a flock of at least ten Baltimore Orioles, and because he was sitting there with a pair of binoculars waiting for the hummers to show up, Kevin started looking at them – and noticed that one of them wasn’t an oriole. It was a Western Tanager. He got a photo. This phenomenon – birders flocking to see one rarity, and then finding another in addition to it – is so often repeated that it has a name. It’s called the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect, and you can read about it by clicking here.

The Western Tanager habitually travels with the oriole flock, so wait for the flock to arrive and start picking through the orange birds for a greenish one.

Both the Calliope and the Rufous have been very cooperative. Photographs have been arriving in my inbox regularly, more than I can share, but let me show you three of them. John Mangold got a good photo of the Calliope’s magenta gorget (click here), and Jonathan Mays got an Olan Mills portrait (click here). John Killian got a wonderful shot of the presumed Rufous in midflight (click here). Jack and Mary Lynch continue to welcome birders to their home at 415 NW 9th Street in High Springs, but they ask that you maintain a decent distance from the birds. Good luck if you go for them!

Long-time Gainesville birders will be saddened to hear that Judy Bryan has died. Dotty Robbins kindly forwarded a January 12th email from Judy’s brother Dana Bryan of Tallahassee, who wrote, “I wanted to let you know that Judy passed away Thursday night after three and a half years battling her cancer. She put up a valiant fight and birded to the end! I posted a memorial photo album on Facebook if you want to ‘friend me’ long enough to see it.” Do a Facebook search for “Dana Bryan Tallahassee” to find Dana’s page.

Bullock’s Oriole in northwest Gainesville!

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

On Saturday morning an adult male Bullock’s Oriole visited Ted and Steven Goodman’s feeding station in the Mile Run development. Ted got a photo – a bit overexposed, so that the bird looks yellow instead of orange, but the dark line through the eye and the throat stripe are clearly visible: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/11760659335/

The bird was not seen again in the afternoon, but Ted says there’s a flock of Baltimore Orioles that roams the neighborhood and the Bullock’s was associating with them. He says that anyone hoping to see the bird is welcome to drop by the house at 6437 NW 37th Drive (you can use Google Maps to find it; but it’s just west of NW 37th Street, north of NW 53rd Avenue). Sunday morning would be ideal, since he and the family will be leaving early in hopes of seeing the Bar-tailed Godwit in the Tampa Bay area. The bird was last seen today a little before noon. There have been three to six previous sightings of this species in Alachua County, depending on the reliability of the observers.

And that’s not the only good bird here: today Mary Landsman alerted me to the presence of three immature Brown Pelicans on Bivens Arm. They had gone to roost in some lakeside trees by late afternoon, and should still be there tomorrow.

This morning’s Alachua Audubon field trip to La Chua went pretty well. We found a Wilson’s Warbler at the little dip in Sparrow Alley, right where Mike Manetz found it on the 29th, and saw two King Rails, several Soras, the semi-resident female Vermilion Flycatcher, and an immature Purple Gallinule. Ducks were hard to see because of all the vegetation, but we did spot Blue-winged Teal (numerous), Green-winged Teal, Mottled Ducks, Ring-necked Ducks, Ruddy Ducks, and a couple of Northern Shovelers. Those who stayed late added two Grasshopper Sparrows and a Barn Owl to the list – 68 species overall, by my count.

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

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.