Looks like a fall migration to me

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

Rufous Hummingbirds have already returned to two local feeders. Both are adult males. One that’s been visiting Mike Manetz’s yard since the 11th is wearing a little silver bracelet, so it’s probably the same bird that Fred Bassett banded there in January; Mike got a photo. Just across the Gilchrist County line, one has been coming to Jim Allison’s feeder since the 12th. Both of these beat the county’s previous early arrival date by about two weeks; that was an adult male that Greg Hart saw at his place in Alachua on August 25, 2003.

Mike Manetz, Bob Carroll, and I checked for shorebirds at Hague Dairy on July 17th. There was plenty of water, but the vegetation was too high for shorebirds; they prefer the unobstructed view provided by mud flats and other vegetation-free landscapes. In the four weeks since then, all the vegetation has been mowed down, and when the Ewings (father Dean, sons Caleb, Benjamin, and Samuel) visited on the 14th they found seven shorebird species: “5 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 9 Least Sandpipers, 5 Pectorals, 3 Solitaries, 1 Spotted, and best of all 6 Stilt Sandpipers!” Samuel got a photo of all six Stilts: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14730385127/ All were in the same spot as last year, the northwest corner of the lagoon. A Laughing Gull was out there as well. Remember that a Short-billed Dowitcher and a Wilson’s Phalarope were recorded there last August, so it would be worthwhile to check back frequently.

Samuel has been watching the sky from his NW Gainesville neighborhood, and it paid off on the 15th with a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and a Cliff Swallow, our first fall migrants of both species.

Mike Manetz and I found nine warbler species at San Felasco Hammock on the 14th as we walked the Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails, including one Worm-eating, single Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes, 3 Black-and-whites, 2 Prothonotaries, 2 Kentuckies, 7 Hoodeds, 3 American Redstarts, and 10 Northern Parulas.

John Killian sneaked out to the sheet flow restoration area on the 12th in hopes of seeing the Buff-breasted Sandpiper that Matt O’Sullivan and I found on the 10th, but it had moved on. He writes, “I did see a Roseate Spoonbill, half a dozen each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, 3 Pectoral Sandpipers, 9 Black Terns, and a Laughing Gull. There must be about 100 Black-bellied Whistling ducks out there as well.”

Speaking of Black Terns, I saw a flock of 14 at Newnans Lake during the stormy weather on the evening of the 14th.

Bob Carroll went to Arizona in late July. He’s telling the story on his blog. In order:

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/birding-in-arizona-and-new-mexico.html

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/part-2-silver-city-nm-and-road-to-portal.html

I expect another installment any day now.

Don’t forget to keep up the pressure on the County Commission in regards to Barr Hammock. Email the Commission at bocc@alachuacounty.us and urge them to keep the loop open.

There’s an election coming up on the 26th. I don’t know whether Lee Pinkoson or Harvey Ward is the better candidate overall, but I can tell you that Ward has declared himself to be against both the Plum Creek project and the Barr Hammock trail closure, while Pinkoson has not.

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.”

Migration? What migration?

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

September 1st will mark one hundred years since Martha, the last of all the Passenger Pigeons on earth, died in the Cincinnati Zoo.

When I was in high school my favorite author was the late Allen Eckert, who wrote several realistic novels about wild creatures. Wild Season was one of his best, a dramatic and beautifully-plotted depiction of the natural world that was sympathetic without being too sentimental. Eckert also wrote novels about the extinction of two North American bird species, one about the Great Auk called The Great Auk (now sold as The Last Great Auk) and one about the Passenger Pigeon called The Silent Sky. Both were painfully affecting, and I see from Amazon’s customer reviews of The Silent Sky that my experience was not unique: “Some books test your humanity, rip you apart and put you back together in a new way, and this is one….This book was compelling to read and impossible to forget….Rarely have I openly wept while reading a book; this is one such book. My God, what did they do….”

In my late twenties I wrote Eckert a fan letter, and one of the highlights of my life was the day this titanic figure of my youth telephoned to thank me for it.

Anyways, I think I may have linked to this before: http://www.lostbirdfilm.org/

It’s not, alas, available from Netflix, but this one is: http://www.abirdersguidetoeverything.com/ (Watch for Kenn Kaufman’s cameo at the end.)

The reason I’m telling you about these books and movies is that everyone seems to be staying inside, so you might as well do something bird-related if you’re staying inside. The reason I think everyone is staying inside is that NOBODY’S REPORTING ANY BIRDS TO ME!

Maybe the migration is just really slow. The number of migrant warblers being reported (to me, or to eBird) is much smaller than normal for late July. John Hintermister saw the county’s first American Redstart of the fall at his place north of Gainesville on the 29th. Deena Mickelson saw the fall’s first Prairie Warbler at Ficke Gardens (immediately south of the Baughman Center at Lake Alice) on the 27th. Though there have been seven Black-and-white Warblers reported, there hasn’t been a single Yellow. On the 28th I walked a mile out the north fork of the Levy Lake Loop – the section the neighbors want to close – in search of Yellow Warblers, but had no luck.

Speaking of Levy Lake, it looks as though the County Commission will delay their decision on the trail until October, after the election and after budget talks. Hopefully they will not turn our 6.5-mile loop into a twelve-mile out-and-back death march, but they will require frequent reminding: bocc@alachuacounty.us I’ll probably schedule a couple field trips out there so that you can see what’s at stake.

Al Lippman got this video of 100+ Swallow-tailed Kites over a melon field west of The Villages on July 18th: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9-OEWdejiY&feature=youtu.be

There’s a new Facebook page for young (under 26) birders: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Jocotocowanderings/

Last but not least, the American Ornithologists’ Union just published its 55th Supplement to the Check-list of North American Birds. Changes to Florida birds are nil. Clapper Rail and King Rail have been split, the former into Clapper and Ridgway’s Rails, the latter into King and Aztec Rails; however Florida birders will not be affected unless they’ve seen Clapper Rail in the southwestern U.S. (now Ridgway’s) or King Rail in Mexico (now Aztec). A couple of the parrots have been shifted from one genus into another, Nanday Parakeet from Nandayus into Aratinga, and Mitred Parakeet from Aratinga into Psittacara. Nutmeg Mannakin has been renamed Scaly-breasted Mannakin. You can see the Supplement here: http://aoucospubs.org/doi/pdf/10.1642/AUK-14-124.1

First migrant shorebirds

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

This morning Mike Manetz and I walked about three and a half miles at Paynes Prairie, going out Sparrow Alley and coming back along the soon-to-be-bulldozed Sweetwater Dike. We noticed a few signs of the season – Orchard Orioles and Prothonotary Warblers seemed to have departed Sweetwater and gone south, and we neither heard nor saw a Yellow-breasted Chat anywhere along our route. But we did see a couple of fall migrants – two Least Sandpipers and one Spotted Sandpiper, southward bound from their northern nesting grounds.

Mike and Bob Carroll and I checked out the Hague Dairy after a field trip committee meeting on the 17th. We were hoping for a repeat of last year, when heavy rains flooded a stubble field just north of the lagoon, attracting shorebirds of several species, including Wilson’s Phalarope and Short-billed Dowitcher. However upon reaching the field in question we discovered that it was still overgrown with vegetation three feet high, not exactly prime habitat for the birds we were hoping to see.

Ron Robinson and I birded the western shore of Newnans Lake on the morning of the 13th, visiting Powers Park, Palm Point/Lakeshore Drive, and Gum Root Swamp. No interesting terns, no Laughing Gulls, no Louisiana Waterthrushes, and no Prothonotary Warblers, but we did find the county’s first Black-and-white Warbler of the fall at Palm Point and another at Gum Root. Another Black-and-white was in my back yard on the 17th, along with a Yellow-throated Warbler (which doesn’t live in my neighborhood, so it must have been a migrant as well).

On July 10th between 7:30 and 8:00, Geoff Parks saw “about 16″ Swallow-tailed Kites roosting in a dead pine directly across NW 39th Avenue from the Magnolia Parke entrance. At 7:45 on the morning of the 14th he passed by the tree again and noted 10-15 kites.

I mentioned a nest of Blue Grosbeak eggs at La Chua in the last birding report. The three eggs hatched on the 8th, and the young seemed to be doing well. But on the 15th Deena Mickelson, who’d been keeping an eye on the nest, wrote, “I went by this morning, after the thunderstorm had rolled out, only to find the entire nest gone. At first I only saw the male nearby, but on my return the female was there as well. Both were in the shrubs on each side of the one that had contained the nest. When a Fish Crow landed on the weather station across the trail the male and female grosbeak both got really agitated for a while. After the crow left they quieted down again, but stayed in the area. I confess I clambered up on the bottom rung of the fence trying to see if the nest was visible anywhere, but I couldn’t see it anywhere; I suspect it went in the water underneath and that’s that, as they say.”

On a more cheerful note, here’s a picture of a “parliament” of Burrowing Owls from Steve Collins in Texas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/odephoto/14687813742/ (“Parliament” is considered the proper collective noun for a group of owls, but Chaucer wrote a poem called the “Parliament of Fowls” that involved more birds than just owls; the Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of parliament in this instance as a “consultative assembly,” and specifically refers to Chaucer’s “parlement of briddes.” It doesn’t mention parliament as a collective noun for owls, so that must be a fairly recent invention.)

Have you been sending daily emails to the County Commissioners, asking them not to close access to the north part of the trail at Barr Hammock? The Gainesville Sun published an editorial against closing the trail on the 13th: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20140713/OPINION01/140719946/1076/opinion01?Title=Editorial-Homes-and-hikers You can tell the Commissioners your opinion at bocc@alachuacounty.us They’re eager to know your opinion and they can’t hear from you too often!

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.)

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 at La Chua!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Migrant shorebirds at the Hague Dairy

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

It feels like late summer, but the season is barely a month old. The birds’ breeding activity continues, but on a smaller scale, and more quietly. Purple Martins and Northern Rough-winged Swallows appear to have gone south for the winter, and Common Grackles aren’t so common any more. A lot of the birds are molting; if you look carefully at crows and Mississippi Kites as they fly over, you’ll see notches and gaps in their wings and tails where old feathers have fallen out and new ones are growing in. And the fall migrants are starting to show up in numbers.

On the 27th Mike Manetz wrote, “I checked the dairy this morning. The field north of the lagoon is fairly well flooded. Waders were in double digits … Snowies, Little Blues, White and Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a couple of Mottleds. Also present were Four Pectoral, four Least, and two each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. This area will probably be our best shorebird viewing spot this fall. There was also a fairly large blackbird concentration for this time of year, with maybe a few hundred birds, including about 50 Brown-headed Cowbirds. House Sparrows must have had a successful breeding year, I counted 65, but there were probably more than that.” John Hintermister and I stopped in for about an hour and a half that evening and saw many of the same birds, but our count of Brown-headed Cowbirds was much higher; John estimated 400+, which is extraordinary for this time of year. Our shorebird counts were Killdeer 4, Spotted Sandpiper 3, Solitary Sandpiper 9, Semipalmated Sandpiper 1, Least Sandpiper 4, Pectoral Sandpiper 4.

On the morning of the 28th Mike visited Palm Point: “The lake is pretty high, coming within an average of ten feet from the road, closer in some places. Saw six warbler species, including a Louisiana Waterthrush, an American Redstart, and 4 Prairie Warblers.”

I walked out La Chua on the morning of the 27th with Jacksonville bird photographer Phil Graham. We had a pretty good day, given the time of year, finding 50 bird species. We saw family groups of Orchard Orioles and Blue Grosbeaks, a handful of singing Indigo Buntings, several Purple Gallinules, a Least Bittern, and a few migrants – seven or more Prairie Warblers, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a flyover Yellow Warbler, the first of the fall. The water is extremely high everywhere, though there’s no danger yet of the trail being flooded. As wet as it is, I expected to see many water birds, but the numbers were pretty low. Also few in number were the normally-abundant Boat-tailed Grackles, which for some mysterious reason have been uncommon on the Prairie all summer.

Phil and I ran into out-of-towners Marthe Fethe and Nancy Deehan on the platform at La Chua. They’d read my description of Watermelon Pond in the last birding report and told me they planned to visit that afternoon. Later I got an email from Nancy: “It is truly the beautiful, serene place you described.” See? Would I steer you wrong? Check it out yourself. Send me a picture.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, native to Texas and Mexico, are occasionally reported by puzzled Florida birders. They always turn out to be Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a pigmentary condition called xanthochroism in which red is replaced with yellow. Glenn Price recently got a terrific video of one of these oddities at his feeder, showing its golden crown and yellow belly. In a Golden-fronted Woodpecker the central tail feathers are black, and in a Red-bellied, like this bird, they’re white with black barring: http://www.raptorcaptor.com/Nature/Video/30733856_xKjqcT#!i=2656753589&k=xrKTvQX&lb=1&s=A

The State of Tennessee is considering a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes, including migrants en route to Florida. Please consider sending a brief email to register your opinion. If there’s sufficient public outcry, we may be able to prevent this from happening. Here’s a fact sheet that includes contact information for the proper officials.

In my last birding report I mentioned that Save Loblolly Woods has a Facebook page. They also have a web site, for those like me who are struggling grimly along without Facebook: http://saveloblollywoods.org/

First fall migrants

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

Well dang, it’s fall already. Seems like it was just summer the other day. But we’ve lost nine minutes of daylight since the solstice – the sun rose eight minutes later this morning than it did on June 21st, and sunset will be a minute earlier. And more importantly, local birders have already recorded five fall migrant species (six if you count the two Belted Kingfishers seen during The June Challenge). The first was a Prairie Warbler spotted by Jonathan Mays at Paynes Prairie on July 9th. The second, third, and fourth came during a walk that Mike Manetz and I took with Dean and Samuel Ewing at Watermelon Pond on the 12th: a southbound Black Tern passed overhead; a Greater Yellowlegs flew by, calling; and a Least Sandpiper landed on the shore of a small pond we were exploring and spent a few minutes foraging before winging off to the west. The other migrants were found by John Hintermister at Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive on the 12th: another Prairie Warbler and the fall’s first Black-and-white Warbler.

Let me say a few more words about Watermelon Pond. I’ve been out there many times before, but haven’t wandered quite so far back onto the property. I’ve got to tell you, it’s one of the most beautiful places in Alachua County. There were times when I looked out at the vista of rolling, wildflower-dotted uplands pocked with pothole ponds and marshes and isolated oak groves and felt that I’d strayed into some landscape painting by one of the 19th-century English masters. Afterward, Mike and I agreed that a Watermelon Pond walk would have to be part of Alachua Audubon’s 2013-14 field trip schedule. Not the least exciting part of the day to me was sighting a frog I’d never seen before. On the west side of the property we passed a couple of Gopher Tortoise burrows. I glimpsed something inside one of them, and, hopeful of a tortoise or snake, I peered in with my binoculars. It was a root that had caught my eye – but there on the floor of the burrow sat a Gopher Frog, a species that depends on tortoise burrows for its survival. Samuel got a photo. If you want to see Watermelon Pond for yourself, drive to the traffic light in Newberry, go south on US-41 to SW 46th Avenue, turn right on 46th and go to SW 250th Street, and then turn left and go four miles to the county park. Walk down to the (mainly dry) marsh, bearing right, and follow the path across to the oak grove. A few more steps and you’re through the oaks, and from there you should just go where your curiosity and exhilaration lead you.

Hey, is it still popularly believed that Green Anoles change color to blend in with their backgrounds? When I was a schoolboy in Jacksonville in the 1960s it was an article of faith that chameleons – as they were called – turned green on green backgrounds and brown on brown backgrounds, and there was a joke that you could drive them crazy by placing them on plaid. I was thinking about them this morning as I drove home from the grocery store, and was surprised to realize that I still don’t know, in 2013, what causes them to change color. Well, lo and behold, no one else knows either. In 2013 it’s still a mystery. There are theories, such as thermoregulation, but the latest study suggests that adult males turn green more often than immatures or females, and that green color may play a role in signaling to other anoles. A blog summary is here. Some of you newcomers to Florida may not realize that Gainesville has two species of anoles: the Green Anole, which is native, and which changes color; and the permanently-brown Brown Anole, a non-native of Caribbean origin which was still getting a foothold here when I arrived in the 1980s. The Brown Anole now greatly outnumbers the Green Anole in urban and residential environments, and they’re working their way into wilder terrain as well; I saw one at Palm Point on the 11th.

Paynes Prairie and Florida Park Service staff will conduct a public meeting and presentation on the Prairie’s updated management plan at 7:00 p.m. this Monday, July 15th, at the Doyle Conner Building, 1911 SW 34th Street. This is your sole chance to ask questions and express your opinions face to face with the Park Service staff. The plan is here and the agenda is here.

To be sure that the State of Florida continues to fund the purchase of conservation lands, an organization called Florida’s Land and Water Legacy has been trying to collect enough petitions to put the matter up for a statewide referendum. Nearly 700,000 signed petitions are needed. If you’re a registered Florida voter, and you haven’t submitted one yet, please print it out using the following link and mail it in (a pen-and-ink signature is required for the petition to count). For that matter, you can print a bunch of them out and make them available for people to sign at your place of business: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pages/171/audubon-florida-partners-with-the-legacy-campaign/

Those of you who use Facebook might be interested in this “Save Loblolly Woods” Facebook page, put together by a group that’s opposed to the city cashing in on its conservation land holdings by selling off five acres to a local developer: https://www.facebook.com/saveloblolly?fref=ts

Raptor biologist Gina Kent writes with a request: “We are looking for Mississippi Kite nests, and areas where kites are seen, especially with fledglings. ‘Tis the season for orphan kite chicks that need a surrogate nest.” If you know of a nest, send me an email and I’ll pass it along to Gina.

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