Just ducky

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

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 2nd, Alachua County Forever will officially open the Levy Prairie portion of the Barr Hammock Preserve to the public. Everyone is welcome.

This winter’s sunset was at its earliest (5:30) from November 26th to December 9th, and sunrise was at its latest (7:26) from January 7th to January 13th. Today’s sunrise was at 7:23 and today’s sunset will be at 6:01. We’ve gained 23 minutes of daylight since the solstice, nearly all of it in the afternoon.

I haven’t received too many birding reports lately, which sort of surprises me, given that the La Chua Trail has been overrun with rarities during the past three weeks: Whooping Crane (last reported by Bryan Tarbox on the 21st), Vermilion Flycatcher (ditto), Groove-billed Ani (ditto), Ash-throated Flycatcher (ditto), Lincoln’s Sparrow (ditto), Peregrine Falcon (me, on the 22nd), two Yellow-breasted Chats (ditto), plus the Bell’s Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and Clay-colored and Fox Sparrows seen between the 8th and the 12th. Most of those birds, if not all, are still out there. Go get ‘em!

It’s been a good winter for Fox Sparrows. One was at Cones Dike on December 7th, one at Camps Canal on December 11th, four at Persimmon Point on the Christmas Bird Count, one at Sparrow Alley on January 8, and most recently Mike Manetz found one at Mill Creek Preserve on the 23rd, a new species for Mill Creek. (Mike characterized his morning at Mill Creek as “opposite day”: “as many Fox Sparrows (1) as Cardinals (1), more Bluebirds (3) than Blue Jays (0), more Orange-crowned Warblers (5) than Titmice (4), and more Black-and-white Warblers (2) than Yellow-rumps (0). Also, no chickadees, and only five Carolina Wrens.”)

During his brief swing through north-central Florida, Fred Bassett banded three hummingbirds in the Gainesville area: a Rufous at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house in SW Gainesville, a second Rufous at Deb Werner’s place in Alachua, and a third Rufous at Greg Hart’s place in Alachua. He also banded a Rufous at Tom Green’s feeder in Ocala. Other hummingbirds were seen but could not be captured.

American birding lost one of its greats last month:
http://birdingwithkennandkim.blogspot.com/2012/12/so-long-rich.html
http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/CAwhoRS.html

The following is mainly for eBirders, but it may be of general interest as well. Renne Leatto, who lives in the Orlando area, raised waterfowl for years and is probably as knowledgeable about them as anyone in the state. Some time ago she took it on herself to correct some misconceptions about Muscovies and Mallards that were circulating on the Birdbrains listserv (and continue to circulate among eBirders and birders at large). The words in bold face are the questions and comments to which she was replying, the other words are hers.

Is it possible that we still have a few full-blooded Muscovies out there, or are they all Muscovy-Mallard hybrids?
The question ought to be: Do we really have any significant numbers of Mallard/Muscovy hybrids out there at all? The answer is NO. I know people seem to be on the lookout for them all the time, and if you keep looking you MIGHT eventually find one. But the chances are somewhere between getting 5 out of 6 numbers on lotto and spotting Bigfoot. I have seen hundreds of pics of suspected Mallard/Muscovy crosses, from the Birdbrains listserv and many other sources, and have only seen two that were really that. The others were either full-bred specimens of one of the many Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds, a cross between those breeds, or a 100% Muscovy. Yes, you can Google “Muscovy Mallard hybrid,” click “images” and get pages and pages of so-called hybrids. And I can tell you which domestic breed, or mix of domestic breeds, each one really is, and which are just 100% Muscovy. I found NO HYBRIDS in the search I did. Some people had even posted domestic geese and labeled them Muscovy hybrids, and my two favorites, a  male Ruddy Duck and a Coot! THE TRUTH – Mallards and their derivative domestic breeds RARELY cross with Muscovies. They are not the same species and prefer their own. Even confined to a barnyard together, they will almost never interbreed, even if you keep only females of one species and males of the other. And even when they DO cross, they produce only sterile “mules” (like a horse and donkey cross) which cannot reproduce themselves.

I have been watching these ducks regularly and can’t see any hybrid color to them.
Not sure what you mean by “hybrid color” but there is no such thing. Muscovies can be any color or any combination of colors and so can mixtures of domestic Mallard-derived breeds.

They even have all black feet.
This occurs in both Muscovies and some breeds of domestic duck.

Have attached photo of a Muscovy Duck that we have in Leesburg. Wanted some opinions of how close this duck is to being the true Muscovy and not a hybrid.
Keep in mind that you can’t answer your original question by the bird’s color, but only by the bird’s shape and the presence of the red facial skin.  Your bird looks like an immature male or large female 100% Muscovy, but I would only know for sure after seeing a closer shot of the face.  There are a few domestic breeds that can have a shape similar to the female Muscovy’s.

Who the heck am I and how do know all this? I am a former duck farmer. For years, I raised a dozen-plus fancy Mallard-derived duck breeds, including Domestic Mallards, Blue Swedish, Crested Ducks, Indian Runner Ducks, Buff Ducks, White Pekin, Rouen, Black Cayugas, Khaki Campbells, Blue and Black Swedish Ducks, Buff Orpington, and Call Ducks (miniature ducks). I also raised Muscovies. I sold them to people who showed them at poultry shows and fairs, 4H kids and adults. My birds won top awards at many shows, especially my Black Cayugas.

Why did I write all this? Because even on this wonderful Birdbrains listserv, which is made up of so many scientists and amateur scientists, and so careful to meticulously split hairs in order to correctly ID each wild bird, this mythology about some prevalence of Muscovy hybrids not only continues, but grows. I’m here to say, IT AIN’T TRUE. If we want to ID ducks accurately and with more ease, we need to change our paradigm of thinking about Muscovies and their phantom hybrids, because for the most part the latter DO NOT EXIST.

That’s the end of Renne’s email. As I say, it’s mostly for eBirders, in hopes of reducing the number of Mallard x Muscovy hybrids in the database. If you’re not presently an eBirder, why not give it a try? It’s easy, it’s actually sort of fun, and in keeping track of the birds you see at your feeder, or on your weekend walks, you help to build a national database that serves as a resource for both ornithologists and birders. In fact, eBird has a page that explains why it’s a good idea to start eBirding (note that it’s become a verb now: I eBird, you eBird, he, she, it eBirds, we are eBirding…): http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/why-ebird  Here’s a tutorial: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/tutorial  And here’s a Quick Start Guide: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/ebird-quick-start-guide

Bird of the Year 2012

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

You wouldn’t have known it today, but it’s been a warm winter. Wild plum and redbud are blooming, though this isn’t early for them, but azaleas are starting to flower as well, and I think they normally peak in March. Standing around Sparrow Alley NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I’ve noticed several species of butterflies, including two swallowtails, which according to local butterfly enthusiast Kathy Malone would normally be out in late February. While NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I also noticed honeybees, paper wasps, and this little gem, a braconid wasp that John Killian photographed as it laid an egg on some insect inside a weed stem: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392631462/in/photostream  (I consulted David Wahl for the identification. He told me there are 50,000 to 150,000 species of braconids. When I passed that tidbit along to John, he replied, “Thanks for narrowing that down. I feel so much better. Now if only there were that many birds to chase.”)

The birds think it’s spring too. Northern Cardinal are singing, which I expect in January, but so are Northern Mockingbirds, White-eyed Vireos, and Eastern Towhees, all of which usually get underway in February. I was so impressed by the springiness of everything that I checked out the martin house at the dentist’s office just west of George’s Hardware on the 17th, but no Purple Martins were evident. Any day now…

Did I mention that I have NOT seen the Bell’s Vireo yet? Though on the 17th I got a quick glance at what desperate birders like to call a “candidate” in the spot where the vireo (which I have NOT seen) was originally discovered. I spent a total of seven hours at or near the Bell’s site on the 16th and 17th, and although I did NOT see the vireo, I did see the Groove-billed Ani and at least one, maybe two, Yellow-breasted Chats on both days, all in the field below Sweetwater Overlook. John Killian got a photo of the ani on the 16th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392629326/in/photostream/

Ruth Palinek writes, “I lost my hat (from REI) on a birding trip on La Chua. It’s not so much the hat but it had two bird pins, one from Gus’s aunt and another antique one from a friend.” If you’ve found the hat, contact Ruth at palenik2@ufl.edu

I have (finally!) received several Bird of the Year nominations:

Samuel Ewing: “There were many great birds seen and discovered in 2012 but since the Black Scoters were the only new county bird I would call them the best birds of 2012.”

Frank Goodwin: “My vote goes to that lovely little Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua observation platform, partly for sappy sentimental reasons. The way she has put up for months with constant La Chua traffic and Phoebe bullying without moving on, I think she deserves special recognition. It’s as if she appreciates all the ocular attention and wants to give as many locals as possible an opportunity to see her.”

John Hintermister: “My vote goes for one I did not see – Black Scoter.”

Sharon Kuchinski: “I nominate the Black Scoter. Not because I was on the team who sighted it. Just because. Well maybe because I was on the team who sighted it….”

Greg McDermott: “I think the Black Scoters have a strong argument, though it would enhance their claim if they were not one-day wonders. Alder Flycatcher runs a strong second. Personally, I think the influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches is third. Groove-billed Ani would be in the running if there hadn’t been the very cooperative individual only two years ago. Vermilion Flycatcher doesn’t rate – they’ve been too common the past 15 years or so.”

Ron Robinson: “I nominate the Green-tailed Towhee due to the fact it stayed so long and was in an easily-reached location. I believe that despite the best efforts of many, I was the only birder who didn’t see it.”

Ignacio Rodriguez: “Favorite bird Vermilion Flycatcher. But I wish to nominate also the King Rail.”

Bob Simons: “My favorite would be the female Wilson’s Phalarope I saw from Palm Point in the spring. It was glorious and was a surprise and I was able to share it with my wife Erika and her brother and his wife from Germany. My second favorite would be the Red-breasted Nuthatch at John Killian’s house. I got great looks at both of these birds.”

Adam Zions: “Geez Rex, way to make this a difficult list. I’m not even sure how this works out to pick just a few favorites. My top 10 list for Alachua County in 2012 in no particular order:
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Sooty Tern
Magnificent Frigatebird
Black-bellied Plover
Reddish Egret
Black Scoter
Wilson’s Phalarope
Whimbrel
Franklin’s Gull
Alder Flycatcher
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Groove-billed Ani, Short-tailed Hawk, white morph Great Blue Heron, Western Tanager, Gull-billed Tern, Short-eared Owl, Black-billed Cuckoo, Black Skimmer. Alder Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Connecticut Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Lark Sparrow. And I suppose we can include these two, but they were really more of 2011 birds I suppose: Sprague’s Pipit and Green-tailed Towhee. We may need a Top 25 list, like the AP/Harris/USA Today polls for college football.”

Steve Zoellner: “I reported a Wilson’s Warbler several months ago. It never reappeared in our backyard but I saw that two were seen during the Christmas Bird Count. That is my nomination for best bird of the year (even though only my wife saw it).”

If we tally up the votes, Black Scoter wins the title, with Vermilion Flycatcher coming in second, and Red-breasted Nuthatch third. If we were to decide it on the basis of rarity, The Bird of the Year 2012 standings would look something like this:
1. Black Scoter: First County Record
2. Green-tailed Towhee: First County Record (but originally discovered in 2011)
3. Townsend’s Solitaire: First County Record (seen by only one birder, not accepted by Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee)
4. Alder Flycatcher: Second County Record
5. Sprague’s Pipit: Second County Record (but originally discovered in 2011) and Third County Record (when they returned in November 2012)
6. (tie) Whimbrel: Third County Record
6. (tie) Reddish Egret: Third County Record
8. Red-throated Loon: Fourth County Record
9. Franklin’s Gull: Fifth and Sixth County Records
10. Ruddy Turnstone: Fifth County Record

Bird of the Year 2013 is off to a good start with Chris Burney’s discovery of the county’s first-ever Bell’s Vireo (which I have NOT seen).

For all you Citrus, Hernando, and SW Marion County folks on the mailing list: Keith Morin, park biologist at Crystal River Preserve is looking for volunteers: “We are going to be planting a total of 12,000 longleaf pine seedlings on January 19, and 3000 trees each day on February 7, 16, and 21, and will need a lot of help from volunteers, new Americorps members, and staff. If you can help or send help, please let me know so I can write you down for that day. We have in the past planted 3000 trees in one day with an 11-person crew, but we are looking for 12-15 people each day.” Keith can be reached at Keith.Morin@dep.state.fl.us

Debbie Segal writes, “The county’s Environmental Protection Department has developed a Hunting Business Plan that would allow hunting on Alachua County public lands. It will be presented to the County Commission on Tuesday, January 22nd, at the County Administration Building, 2nd floor. The meeting will begin at 5 pm, though it is uncertain exactly when the Hunting Business Plan will be discussed. The Plan addresses the appropriateness of allowing hunting on each tract of land owned and managed by the county, including Levy Prairie, Mill Creek, Little Hatchet Creek, Phifer Flatwoods, Prairie Creek, Watermelon Pond, and others. Hunters have asked the county to open more lands to hunting, including duck hunting at Levy Prairie, which supports nesting Sandhill Cranes. Certainly some types of hunting are appropriate on public lands, such as removal of feral hogs, but if you are concerned that many of our public lands may become off limits for bird watching, hiking, photography, and other passive types of recreation during hunting season, then plan to attend the Commission meeting and consider voicing your concern. A large and vocal group will help send the message to the Commission that we want to keep our county public lands open for the large majority of people who use these lands for passive recreation. A link to the Plan is provided here.”

Some birds linger longer

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

I inquired about hummingbirds in my previous birding report and haven’t heard from a single solitary soul. Are all the hummers gone? Please, oh please tell me if you know of one in the area. The rest of this heart-rending plea for information should be illustrated by a flow chart: Is it in your yard, yes or no? If yes, is it coming to a feeder, yes or no? If yes, would you like Fred Bassett to stop by your place and band it, yes or no? I’ll wait patiently beside my computer for your response.

The other question I asked in the previous birding report elicited only a couple of responses: What was the Bird of the Year 2012? One person nominated the flock of Black Scoters at Lake Wauberg, another nominated the Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been hanging around the La Chua observation platform. What about the cooperative Alder Flycatchers at Cones Dike, the Green-tailed Towhee at Paynes Prairie along US-441, the Sprague’s Pipits on the Kanapaha Prairie? There must be some I’m forgetting. Nominate, you black-hearted scoundrels, nominate!

My third and last question for the day: does anyone know where there’s an active Bald Eagle nest? An out-of-town photographer is looking for one to … um, photograph.

The Bell’s Vireo was last reported on the 12th. John Martin send me a map showing where he found it, “about 500 feet” south of the usual spot:
https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=217764550819642906685.0004d31d92e0e1b6f57af&msa=0&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=20&vpsrc=1

As to other local rarities, the Groove-billed Ani was seen this morning (the 15th) in the usual spot by Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, and special guest star Paul Lehman, former editor of Birding magazine. (Hint: Follow the link to one of birding’s best time-wasting websites.) And here’s Jonathan’s picture of the ani: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8383632533/in/photostream/  On the 13th Howard Adams saw a Whooping Crane from the La Chua observation platform. On the 12th Chris Hooker, visiting from St. Augustine, found the Vermilion Flycatcher at the La Chua observation platform and a Yellow-breasted Chat along the fenceline trail. And on the 11th I saw a Peregrine Falcon perched on the powerline supports near the fenceline trail.

The fenceline trail is called Sparrow Alley by Frank Goodwin, and it’s been living up to its name. On the 7th Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello saw a Clay-colored Sparrow. On the 8th Adam Kent, Chris Burney, and several others saw a Fox. On the 12th Chris Hooker saw a Lincoln’s and John Martin saw four Grasshoppers in a tree at one time and got a picture of two of them: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/8375463546/in/photostream/

On the 13th Andy Kratter found that the ducks had returned to the crew team parking lot, where East University Avenue dead-ends at Newnans Lake. He reported “7 Canvasbacks, 9 Redheads, 10 Ring-necked Ducks, 25 scaup sp. (some of these look like Greater but they didn’t flap wings for me), 5 Lesser Scaup, heaps of Ruddy Ducks far offshore (>300), 180 American White Pelicans, and 200 Bonaparte’s Gulls.”

Remember! Hummingbirds! Bird of the Year 2012! Eagle nest!

Bell’s Vireo still there, plus a smorgasbord of other rare birds

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

Friends! Are you bothered by wintering hummingbirds? Are these tiny little garden pests drinking all of your nectar? Well then tell me about it! Especially if you’d like Fred Bassett of Hummingbird Research, Inc., to capture, identify, and band the little rascals. Fred will be coming through Gainesville on January 19th while working his way south, and then returning on the 21st or 22nd. He’d love to band your hummers and document their presence here in Florida. For an interesting video on hummingbird banding (featuring Fred from 1:00 to 2:32) click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v36GcpHsbw

Helen Warren reminds me, “If you are going on the Alachua Audubon field trip to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge this weekend, there is a nice hotel in Crawfordville, the Inn at Wildwood Resort, that has Audubon rates of $69/night. Its phone number is 800-878-1546. If you already have reservations they will give this rate when you check in.” Remember there are Razorbills being seen at St. Marks! (Though I think this is one of those trips that allows only a certain number of participants. You can always call Wild Birds Unlimited at 352-381-1997 and find out.)

The big birding news of the week has been the discovery of Alachua County’s first-ever Bell’s Vireo by Chris Burney along the fenceline trail (AKA Sparrow Alley) near La Chua. I sent out a map of the location earlier, but here it is again. Study that map. Note that the bird is being seen near a sandy spot in the trail. There’s also a large X of pink flagging tape on the left side of the trail right about where the bird was discovered in a shrubby stand of blackberry and winged sumac. Jonathan Mays got a photo of the bird on the morning of the 7th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8358224185/in/photostream It’s a very shy bird, so plan on spending a little time out there if you want to get a look at it. I’ve been out there twice and I still haven’t seen it.

We knew that a Groove-billed Ani, a Peregrine Falcon, and two Ash-throated Flycatchers were present along the fenceline trail, but as an increasing number of birders come seeking the Bell’s Vireo, the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” is kicking in. The PPTE gets its name from a roadside rest area in Patagonia, Arizona, where the first Black-capped Gnatcatcher found in the U.S. was discovered in 1971. The many birders who searched the rest stop over the following days and weeks found not only the gnatcatcher, but other rarities as well. And that’s what’s happening here. Birders looking for the Bell’s Vireo this morning (the 8th) found it, but also found a wintering Yellow-breasted Chat, a Fox Sparrow, and a Nashville Warbler first seen by Dalcio Dacol in late November.

Incidentally, if you go out there, wear boots or old shoes. Some big trucks are using the service road to go to and from the construction site of the new Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Project, and you’ll be walking in deep muddy ruts part of the way.

Should you be watching your feeders? Like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, you should. A Dark-eyed Junco visited Linda Hensley’s NW Gainesville yard on the 1st, and Bubba Scales of Wild Birds Unlimited writes, “Customers are apparently reporting Pine Siskins fairly regularly. It sounds as though there are fairly good numbers of small flocks out there and they’re hitting feeders.” Start looking out for Purple Finches, too. Here’s a fairly good web site on differentiating House and Purple Finches: http://sdakotabirds.com/diffids/house_purple.htm

Ron Smith’s PinellasBirds web site asked local birders, “What was the best bird of 2012 in Pinellas County?” Here’s their choice, with runners-up. What about Alachua County? What was the best bird of 2012 around here? Please submit your nominee to rexrowan@gmail.com. (Speaking of Pinellas County, Don Margeson noted Florida’s first Purple Martins in St. Pete on the 6th.)

Are you a professional biologist with an interest in shorebirds? If you don’t mind moving to the Panama City area, this may be for you: https://careers-audubon.icims.com/jobs/search?ss=1&searchKeyword=&searchLocation=12781-12793-&searchCategory

Remember, if you’ve got hummingbirds wintering in your yard, let me know about them. Even if you don’t want them banded, please tell me so that I can include them in the seasonal report I’ll submit to Florida Field Naturalist and North American Birds.

 

Bell’s Vireo at La Chua!

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

I’m up in Jacksonville, checking my email before I head back to Gainesville for 24 hours, and I see that Chris Burney has just this morning (11:50) reported Alachua County’s first-ever Bell’s Vireo along the fenceline trail at Paynes Prairie where the Groove-billed Ani has been seen. Here’s a map showing the location he sent me:

https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=203358630947857947932.0004d2a29bf63f70e2274&msa=0&ll=29.613808,-82.310759&spn=0.001245,0.001725

Good luck if you go for it!