First Cerulean Warbler! and Barr Hammock walk

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

Did you hear about the hipster who burned his mouth on some coffee? He drank it before it was cool.

Matt O’Sullivan found the fall’s first Cerulean Warbler at Bolen Bluff on the 21st, “about 200 feet before the fork in the trail.” I’ve seen Ceruleans in that general location two or three times over the years. I don’t know if there’s something about it that they (and other warblers) like, or if I just tend to linger there myself and consequently see more.

John Hintermister saw 2014′s only Brown Pelican so far at Newnans Lake on the 17th, flying past Palm Point.

We’re getting toward the peak of swallow migration. Mostly you’ll see Barn Swallows flying due south, but the last week of August gives you your best chance of seeing Bank and Cliff Swallows among them. Samuel Ewing has been keeping an eye to the sky at his NW Gainesville home and has already seen Cliffs on two occasions: one (previously mentioned) on the 15th, and two or three more on the 19th.

The Alachua Audubon Society has made a few changes in its field trip schedule, adding fall and spring Cedar Key boat trips (for which you have to sign up ahead of time). You can check out the in-progress events calendar, which includes both field trips and program meetings through October, here (note that the printable field trip schedule for the 2014-15 year is not available yet). If you want to see the programs only – the first one is on Mangrove Cuckoos – click here. In the near future I’ll announce a few late-summer field trips that aren’t on the schedule, for instance to the new sheetflow wetlands on Labor Day weekend. And this Sunday morning at 8:00, meet at the Barr Hammock Trail to do some birding (Mike Manetz, Adam Zions, and I saw two Alder Flycatchers out there at this time last year) and to see the section of the trail that’s being threatened with closure. To get to the trail, go south on US-441 to Wacahoota Road (across 441 from the Lake Wauberg entrance) and turn right. In a fraction of a mile you’ll cross over I-75, and as you come down from the overpass take your first left onto SE 11th Drive, a dirt road which you’ll follow to the Barr Hammock parking lot at the end. We won’t walk the entire 6.5 mile loop!

There’s an election for governor in November. One exceedingly important thing to keep in mind is that the winner of the election appoints the governing boards of the St. Johns River Water Management District and Suwannee River Water Management District, which set water policy for this area, including our springs. To get some idea of the important issues at stake, read this editorial from the Ocala Star-Banner on a couple of environmental heroes, one of whom, Karen Ahlers, has stepped into the shoes of Alachua Audubon’s legendary Marjorie Carr: http://www.ocala.com/article/20140817/OPINION/140819739/1183/OPINION?p=all&tc=pgall

Migrant warblers and shorebirds

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

Matt O’Sullivan was away in his native England for a couple of weeks, but when he got back into town he wasted no time in finding some good birds. At Bolen Bluff on the 5th he saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, 2 migrant Prothonotary Warblers, and the fall’s first Worm-eating Warbler. Returning two days later he relocated the Worm-eating and one of the Prothonotaries, but also spotted a Short-tailed Hawk (photo here). He commented, “I think the hawk wasn’t an adult. It appeared densely mottled with streaks that blended together on the underside. I don’t know if that suggests local breeding or if it’s a wandering juvenile or subadult.” Dalcio Dacol and Craig Walters walked Bolen Bluff on the 9th and found most of the warblers reported by Matt, plus a few more: Worm-eating, Prothonotary, Black-and-white, Yellow, and the fall’s first Ovenbird.

Dalcio had found the season’s second Kentucky Warbler while walking San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek Trail (south of Millhopper Road) on the 5th. Deena Mickelson saw his report and went looking for it on the 6th. She found it “exactly where Dalcio had reported it, at the beginning of the Moonshine Creek Trail, right after I’d gone downhill, but just before the first bridge was in view” (photo here). She also saw 3 Black-and-white Warblers.

Debbie Segal saw a nice mix of sandpipers at Paynes Prairie on the 7th: 3 Spotted, 5 Solitary, 2 Least, 2 Semipalmated, a Pectoral, and a Lesser Yellowlegs. She also saw a single Laughing Gull and a trio of Yellow Warblers.

Swallow migration gets underway in August. Adam Kent reported a Purple Martin and 5 Barn Swallows over his SE Gainesville home on the 9th, but small numbers of southbound Barn Swallows have been reported by several other birders over the past two weeks. Usually the largest numbers of Barn Swallows pass through during the last week of the month; that’s also your best chance of seeing Bank and Cliff Swallows.

Take a minute to watch any Swallow-tailed or Mississippi Kites you see. Their numbers are starting to dwindle as they begin their migration, and we won’t see them again until next spring.

If you’re over 50, you might as well turn in your binoculars: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140805-aging-birders-breeding-bird-survey-volunteers-science/ (“Some surveys—such as the BBS—require volunteers to record information on all the birds they can detect in a brief three-minute window, which might be challenging for some older people if they have a lot of information coming at them rapidly, Farmer said.”) Um, sorry? What? There were an awful lot of words in that sentence…

Wow, everybody’s going to Cuba! In addition to Halifax River Audubon Society, which I mentioned in the last email, Joni Ellis notified me that she’s got two slots still open on a Cuba trip: “Cost will be ~ $3,000 including airfare from Tampa, visa, health insurance, all lodging, meals and transportation. Just bring beer money!” (Itinerary and details here.) And Rob Norton, who has compiled the West Indies seasonal report for American Birds/North American Birds for thirty years or so, writes, “The Ocean Society and Holbrook Travel will be sponsoring Christmas Bird Counts (4) in Cuba this season. I have worked with local ornithologists and guides to establish these areas as an historic opportunity to participate in that country’s official CBCs. Dates are Dec 13-22, details at holbrook.travel/tofcuba.”

The calendar, she does not lie

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

Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn put their kayaks into Lake Santa Fe on the 20th and went looking for the Pacific Loon. They failed to find it, but they did see the county’s second-ever Black Scoters, two of them. Adam got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13319108903/

The 20th was first day of spring, and the birds have responded accordingly:

On the 20th Linda Hensley had the first Prothonotary Warbler of the spring eating grape jelly in her NW Gainesville yard.

The first Red-eyed Vireo of the spring was photographed by Matt O’Sullivan at Loblolly Woods on the 20th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/13291391555/

The season’s first Broad-winged Hawk was seen by Phil Laipis on the 21st, circling (the hawk, not Phil) over Newberry Road near the Oaks Mall.

John Hintermister saw the spring’s first Summer Tanager at his place north of Gainesville on the 21st.

Great Crested Flycatcher is sort of problematic. White-eyed Vireos can imitate their call, and may – I emphasize “may” – at times produce a single “wheep” that can be mistaken for a Great Crested. A series of “wheep” calls is perhaps more likely to be a Great Crested, but I always encourage birders who hear one before March 25th to track down the source of the call and make an attempt to see the bird and confirm its identity. Andy Kratter both heard and saw a Great Crested on the 21st while doing his loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery. (White-eyed Vireos are good mimics in general. This morning Andy wrote, “Thought I had my first-of-the-season Hooded Warbler today, but it was a White-eyed Vireo.”)

Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw the spring’s first Hooded Warbler at Loblolly Woods on the 22nd, and Dalcio Dacol saw another at San Felasco Hammock the same day.

One Least Bittern wintered near Paynes Prairie’s Cones Dike Trail, but the spring’s first arrival was one that I saw – with Lauren Day, Larry Korhnak, and biking-birding-blogger Dorian Anderson – at Kanapaha Prairie on the 22nd.

Some spring birds jumped the gun:

Tina Greenberg heard the spring’s first Chuck-will’s-widow singing outside her west Gainesville window on March 6th. I would have suspected a Whip-poor-will at that date, but she made a recording on the following night, and it was indeed a Chuck.

Prairie Warblers are a relatively early spring migrant, usually beginning their passage through the area in mid-March. Adam Zions saw two along Cones Dike on the 15th, and there have been five sightings reported to eBird since then.

Jonathan Mays saw two Chimney Swifts over the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on the 18th, tying the early record for Alachua County.

Samuel Ewing notes that Carolina Wrens fledged their first brood at his place on the 20th, and that Northern Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds have both produced eggs.

A few early migrants have been arriving at Cedar Key. Sally Chisholm photographed a Hooded Warbler at the museum on March 18th: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/QhNvKVXL8070W_WADbs9YtMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=embedwebsite  On the same day Pat Burns reported, “I saw 18 Hooded Warblers and heard the chink of others. Also noted: 7 Yellow-throated Warblers, 15 Black-and-white, 12 Northern Parula, 12 Palm, and 1 Common Yellowthroat. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were numerous. There were flocks of White-eyed Vireos, 5 Yellow-throated Vireos, and one Red-eyed Vireo. A few Barn Swallows were present. Late in the day twelve Spotted Sandpipers landed on a dock behind Nature’s Landing.” It’s not always that good, however (or maybe it’s just that we’re not Pat Burns!): Ron Robinson, Matt O’Sullivan, and I spent the day there on the 20th, but apart from a couple of Hooded Warblers (one at the cemetery, one at Black Point Swamp on the road to Shell Mound) and dozens of American Avocets we didn’t see much worth reporting.

Frank and Irina Goodwin found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on the 22nd, “in a grove of tall turkey oaks just to the south of the trail that leads to the campsite. In other words, on the north end of the preserve, if you’re walking west along the graded road (toward the campsite), it was among the turkey oaks just beyond the junction where the red-blazed trail turns sharply left and the campsite road continues west.” They also heard a Bachman’s Sparrow singing.

At least one of two Canvasbacks that have been hanging out among the Ring-necked Ducks at the end of the La Chua Trail was still present on the 22nd. John Martin got a long-distance shot: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/13337661935/

Marvin Smith and Brad Bergstrom found two White-faced Ibises at Alligator Lake in Lake City on the 19th. Marvin got a photo: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/RxXKJr153b1poJwwbf_kJ9MTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=embedwebsite

Felicia Lee told me about this eye-opening New York Times article on outdoor cats and their effects on public health not to mention wildlife: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/opinion/sunday/the-evil-of-the-outdoor-cat.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

Nelson’s Sparrow still there

When the sun went down this evening the Nelson’s Sparrow was still in the same spot where Adam Zions found it – forty yards before the right turn that leads up to the observation platform, as paced off by Adam Kent – and it was being fairly cooperative, feeding in the grasses right beside the trail, usually partly hidden but sometimes right out in the open. Adam and Gina Kent and I watched it for some time. Today may have been this bird’s third day on La Chua; Robert Lengacher, a Tallahassee birder, saw a bird fitting its description on Saturday but misidentified it as a Le Conte’s Sparrow (his mea culpa is here). Anyway, get out and see it tomorrow if you can, before it looks around and says to itself, “Hey! This isn’t Cedar Key!”

There were plenty of other birds along La Chua this evening. We saw as many as five American Bitterns, three Purple Gallinules, a handful of Soras (heard many more), several Savannah and Swamp Sparrows, one Field Sparrow, Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, a few Barn Swallows mixed in with a larger group of Tree Swallows, and a bunch of Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal and at least one or two Green-winged Teal; and we heard three Barred Owls, two Great Horned Owls, an Eastern Screech-Owl, and possibly a Barn Owl.

Kathy Fanning writes, “On Wednesday the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) will consider two agenda items of environmental importance. Item #15 is a resolution asking the BoCC to support the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Item #13 is a presentation from the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department on their local wetland protection program. Please email the commissioners to ask them not to weaken the local authority to protect wetlands as well as to support the Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Here is a link to the BoCC agenda where both of the items are detailed: http://meetingdocs.alachuacounty.us/documents/bocc/agendas/2013-10-22/5D2496FD-6ADF-493D-8408-9658C84EEC67Agenda.htm  And here is the email address for all of the commissioners (one email will reach them all): bocc@alachuacounty.us  Thanks for showing your support for local wetland protection and the Water and Land amendment.”

Possible Nashville Warbler at La Chua

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

Remember: Native Plant Sale at Morningside Nature Center this Friday and Saturday. Details here.

Marie Zeglen wrote this morning to tell me about a bird that she and a friend had seen along the La Chua Trail on Sunday: “There was one bird that my out of town friend thought she knew but I wasn’t sure. It was a warbler – bright white eye ring, grayish head, little more olive towards top of head, back definitely olive. Yellow throat (medium yellow not as bright as a yellow throated), yellow breast. I thought I saw a bit of a little paler yellow or even whitish look far underneath the breast, not on rump. No wingbars. My friend thought it was a Nashville but I didn’t get quite good enough a look to confirm. We saw this bird past the water pumps on the main trail – maybe 400 feet – in the small trees on the right. No picture, sorry.” It did sound to me like a Nashville Warbler, so Greg McDermott and I walked out La Chua to the area described by Marie and looked around. We found plenty of Common Yellowthroats and Yellow and Prairie Warblers, nothing that looked like a Nashville. But this weather may well keep it from migrating for the next couple of days, so it would be worth going out there and taking a look. There have been only about twenty Nashville Warbler sightings here over the years.

Greg and I also saw some swallows flying around the first part of the trail. The light rain made flying conditions less than ideal, and as we returned past the little sinkhole along the first part of the old trail (i.e., not the boardwalk) we found 26 Barn Swallows and one Bank Swallow perched on the vegetation there, as well as three Soras walking around below them (Marie had seen seven Soras there on Sunday).

Now listen. Have you taken two minutes to complete your Alachua Audubon survey yet? Don’t make me pull this car over!  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WWNFTVV

More birds than you can shake a stick at, if you were inclined to shake a stick at birds

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

I’m in the process of posting the new Alachua Audubon field trip schedule on line. It’s rather slow going, because I have to create an individual page for each trip, but I like the new web site’s format. If you look at the Classes & Field Trips page, you’ll see the next ten events listed – http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ – with the date, destination (or program location), and meeting time. If you click on the “+” sign associated with a given field trip, you’ll get a description of the trip; and if you then click on “Read more,” you’ll see a map of the meeting location as well as contact information for the trip leader in case you have a question.

However, this is an instance of the reality not quite living up to the ideal, because the map doesn’t invariably agree with the coordinates I enter for it. For instance, the coordinates to the Levy Lake Loop parking area, as provided by Google Earth, take you to a Marion County prison when entered into the web site. Or at least they did before I got a different set of coordinates. And sometimes WordPress (the web site software) simply won’t accept the address. The meeting place for our Barr Hammock field trip is the Valero gas station at 101 NW Highway 441, Micanopy, FL 32667, but no matter how many times I try to enter it, WordPress deletes the street address and reduces it to “U.S. 441, Micanopy, 32667, USA,” and places the marker about a mile and a half south of the Valero station. WordPress gets it right more often than wrong, but … please use the written directions to the meeting place. Here’s an example of what it looks like when everything works properly: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/ai1ec_event/road-to-nowhere-hagens-cove/?instance_id=127 (Well, everything works right on our site. The link to Hagens Cove misspells Steinhatchee twice.)

If you’ve got Labor Day off, you might want to spend part of it birding. The migrants are moving through in big numbers, and San Felasco Hammock sounds like the place to be. More on that presently.

On the 27th, responding to Mike Manetz’s report of two Alder Flycatchers at the La Chua Trail, Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions visited La Chua and found three Alder Flycatchers. Two were where Mike had seen them, along Sparrow Alley near the barn, and the third was along Sweetwater Dike. Adam made a short video in which a hidden Alder can be heard calling repeatedly. Dalcio Dacol relocated the Sweetwater Dike bird on the 30th, just where La Chua meets Sweetwater, and on the 1st John Martin relocated and photographed the two birds at Sparrow Alley. At least these are presumed to be the same birds discovered on the 27th; neither Dalcio nor John heard them calling.

On the 28th, Bob Simons, Dotty Robbins, and Jim Swarr went looking for the Alders along Sparrow Alley and saw a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk, no doubt the same one spotted there by Glenn Israel on the 24th.

(If you decide to look for the Alders and/or the Short-tailed, and then to walk the rest of the way out La Chua, be aware that the approach to the observation tower is under a few inches of water. Thanks to Jonathan Mays for the photo.)

On the 29th Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg found the fall’s first Golden-winged Warbler along Lakeshore Drive near Palm Point.

There was a big influx of migrants on the 31st. Jonathan and Ellen Mays found the season’s first Chestnut-sided Warbler along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, then went home and found an extraordinarily early Scarlet Tanager. Mike Manetz went to San Felasco’s Progress Park entrance (off US-441 near Alachua) and tallied twelve warbler species – the best of which were 5 Ovenbirds, a Blue-winged, and a Kentucky – and then picked a Bank Swallow out of a flock of Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts.

The next day, Jonathan and Ellen Mays and Adam Zions walked San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails (i.e., the whole system south of Millhopper Road), and they also tallied twelve warbler species, including 12 Ovenbirds, 3 Worm-eating Warblers, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Chestnut-sided, a Kentucky, and not one but two Golden-wingeds, a male and a female.

I looked at the 12 warbler species seen by Mike and the 12 seen by Jonathan, Ellen, and Adam, and it looks like there are a total of seventeen species of warblers fluttering around out there. So grab your binoculars! Go get ‘em! Besides, it’s time for the first Veery to show up, and someone needs to find the first one, it might as well be you, right?

Swallow-tailed and (especially) Mississippi Kites are still being reported. Greg Stephens had one Swallow-tailed and three Mississippis circling over his Jonesville yard simultaneously on the 31st. Please keep those reports coming!

Second-grade students taught by local birder Sharon Kuchinski are finalists in the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest, and they need your votes in order to win. You can see their entry, and cast your vote, here: http://www.expressionsacademy.org/about/spotlight-items/213-sense-of-wonder-contest

The fun never ends

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

Jonathan Mays reported an Empidonax flycatcher along the La Chua Trail’s Sparrow Alley earlier today. He couldn’t stay – he had a conference to attend – but before leaving he contacted Mike Manetz to pass the word. Mike showed up with his recording equipment and was amazed to find two – count ‘em, two – Alder Flycatchers calling and even singing. He phoned me and I was there in twenty minutes. I heard both birds calling but got only a quick look at one of them. The question that’s on every long-time Alachua County birder’s mind is, “Have Alders been coming through here all along?” We had two last September, and as many as six this year, but prior to 2010 they were almost unknown in this area, with a bare handful of “Traill’s” Flycatcher (Alder or Willow, not positively identifiable as either) reports scattered through the decades. Anyway, if you want to look for these birds, they’ve been seen along the first bit of Sparrow Alley, always within a hundred yards of the barn. Listen for the pip! call.

By the way, Jonathan got out to Levy Lake on Sunday afternoon, relocated the Alder Flycatcher on the south dike, and got a photo.

Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds often spend the entire fall and winter in a single neighborhood. Ruth Palenik and Greg Hart have hosted Rufouses (Rufi?) in their respective back yards in the past, and it’s normal for them to arrive during the last week of August. Ron Robinson saw an adult male Rufous at his feeder at the west end of Gainesville on the 26th. Will it spend the entire winter? Ron has his fingers crossed so tight he’s cutting off his circulation.

Speaking of early arrivals, Tom Hoctor looked out his NW Gainesville window on the 26th and saw a Baltimore Oriole at his feeding station. That ties the early record for Alachua County.

Lloyd Davis relocated the male Painted Bunting along La Chua’s Sweetwater Dike this morning, “where the trail starts to bend north near the lone cypress tree.”

Swallow migration is peaking now, so keep your eyes open. I was doing a bird survey at the Kanapaha Prairie this morning and there were something like 70 to 100 swallows zooming around, mostly Barn Swallows but including at least 10 Bank Swallows and a Cliff Swallow.

I also saw a Mississippi Kite there, the first I’ve seen in a while. I’d be interested in any sightings over the next month, so if you see one, please let me know. Several local birders notified me of Swallow-tailed Kite sightings after I commented that none had been reported since the 11th – Matt and Erin Kalinowski saw one at Paynes Prairie on the 16th, Buck Snelson and Margaret Flagg saw one over 441 near Williston Road on the 18th, Matthew Neilson saw two over Tower Road on the 23rd and John Martin saw one near the airport on the same day – and I’m grateful for all such reports, for both Swallow-taileds and Mississippis. It’s interesting to know when they leave.

Helen Warren just emailed: “Susan Bottcher our city commissioner just announced on Facebook that in response to the public outcry, Nathan Collier has withdrawn his offer to buy the Loblolly property.”

Summer-farewell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this is a very long birding report

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

Samuel and Caleb Ewing had the best bird of the week on the 26th. Samuel writes, “Today Caleb and I walked to an area of Watermelon Pond that’s quite close to us. We got some Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, 19 Long-billed Dowitchers, a Least Sandpiper, quite a few Tree and Barn Swallows, and one Cliff Swallow! While scanning swallows I spotted one with a squared-off tail and it soon came close enough to see the buffy rump, blue back, and white forehead. I was able to get some poor photos.” This is only the county’s second March sighting of a Cliff Swallow, and believe it or not it’s the first documented occurrence of the species in Alachua County history; no previous photo or specimen has ever been obtained. Here’s Samuel’s photo.

Speaking of photos, Greg Stephens got a great shot of a Peregrine Falcon at La Chua on the 21st. The Peregrine that’s been seen at the Prairie since early January was an immature bird, brown with a streaky breast, and this one’s an adult, so we’ve had two Peregrines at the Prairie in March.

Still speaking of photos – we’ve got an embarrassment of riches, so sue me – Kathy Malone got two spectacular pictures of a Le Conte’s Sparrow at Levy Prairie Loop on the 25th. This was her fourth attempt at photographing this bird, and the effort really paid off.

On the 25th Jonathan Mays saw two White-faced Ibis in non-breeding plumage from the La Chua observation platform. Since there’s also a breeding-plumage bird out there, it looks like we’ve got three White-faced Ibis at Paynes Prairie – at least. Jonathan also spotted three Whooping Cranes, one of whom flew in to provide a photo op.

The season’s first Chimney Swifts have arrived. Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson saw the spring’s first at La Chua Trail on the 23rd, Samuel Ewing saw four on the UF campus on the 25th, and on the following day Geoff Parks wrote, “I was downtown this morning at about 10:30 and there was a mass of what I’d estimate to be 90-100 flying around the vicinity of the Seagle building.”

The first Indigo Buntings have checked in as well, one at Keith Collingwood’s place in Melrose, and one at Ron Robinson’s at the west end of Gainesville, both on the 25th.

Ivor Kincaide reports that 50 Purple Martins showed up at the Alachua Conservation Trust’s martin house in Rochelle on the 26th.

The spring’s first major flight of Common Loons occurred on the morning of the 25th, when Andy Kratter counted 58 going over Pine Grove Cemetery between 8:11 and 8:48. Remember that March is the best time to look through migrating Commons for a Red-throated.

There have been no reports of Hooded Warblers in Alachua County yet, but they’re a March migrant, along with Prothonotary, Swainson’s, and Kentucky Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. Bob Carroll and friends saw a Hooded along the River Trail at Lower Suwannee NWR on the 21st, and Pat Burns saw three at Cedar Key on the 24th.

Want to know the names of a few common spring wildflowers? Well here you go: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/03/rain-day.html

First Swallow-tailed Kites, and other spring arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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