I bird alone

“I bird alone. With nobody else. And you know, when I bird alone I prefer to be by myself.” — George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “I Bird Alone

I bird alone sometimes. Maybe most of the time. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m very slow. If I go out with Mike Manetz or John Hintermister or Adam Kent or Jonathan Mays, I’ll say, “Oh, look, a cardinal!” and write “Cardinal – 1″ in my notebook, and then I’ll look up and find that my companions have recorded 37 species while I was doing that. On my own I’ll see most of those 37 species … eventually … though it will take a bit of ambling and stopping and listening and peering up into the trees to find out what’s making that noise. But birding alone I can do those things. I don’t feel hurried by the fact that my companions have already processed the information and moved on to other birds. The other reason is that, birding alone, I’m led solely by my own perceptions and curiosity. If I see an unfamiliar wildflower I can stop to inspect it. If a Carolina Wren is doing something that baffles me I can pause and watch without having to catch up with my friends. I’m more thorough, and my notes are more complete, when I bird alone.

But I don’t always bird alone. The most obvious reason is that I really enjoy the company of my fellow birders. There are plenty of other reasons. If I always birded alone I’d be stagnant. Birding with my betters challenges me. Birding with beginners is a surefire mood-brightener (especially when they think I’m an expert!), since it’s enthusiasm and not proficiency that bonds birders together, and nobody is more enthusiastic than beginners. And birders at all levels are so often occupied with questions and observations that have never occurred to me, or that I haven’t successfully resolved, that I almost invariably find their company enlightening. I’d guess that about 60% of what I know about birds – and not just birds, but all of natural history – I’ve learned in the course of birding with others.

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre‘ — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a sainte-terrer‘, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. … For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels.” – Thoreau

Loonacy is upon us. The spring migration of Common Loons begins in mid-March and slows noticeably after the first half of April, though I’ve seen laggards well into late May. Loons that winter on the southern Gulf Coast of Florida seem to gather in the Cedar Key area and then fly northeast across the peninsula, passing directly over Gainesville. They usually take off at about sunrise, and if you’ve got a clear view of the sky you can often see them pass overhead about an hour later. I don’t think they fly in bad weather – or maybe it’s just that I don’t watch for them in bad weather – but if Sunday morning is fair, meet me at 8 a.m. on the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie and we’ll kick off this year’s Loonacy with a loon watch.

Speaking of which, Scott Flamand saw the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 9th, “still hanging out with the Common Loons.”

Sidney Wade sent a photo of a Whooping Crane she found at La Chua on the morning of the 13th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13148896925/

An adult male Orchard Oriole visited Tom Hoctor’s NW Gainesville yard on the 11th, one of the earliest spring arrivals ever reported in Alachua County and the first documented by a photo (which can be viewed on the Alachua County Birders’ Facebook page).

Dean and Samuel Ewing saw the spring’s first Black-necked Stilt at the US-441 observation platform on the 12th. Maybe it will put in an appearance on Sunday.

Karl Miller at FWC is looking for people to run Breeding Bird Survey routes: “There are currently 14 vacant routes this year. If you know of any skilled birders who may be interested in volunteering, please encourage them to contact me for more information on how to get started. An interactive map of the vacant routes can be found at the USGS BBS website: https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/RouteMap/Map.cfm

Adam Zions told me about this very neat Gopher Tortoise smartphone app: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/florida-gopher-tortoise-app/

Any of you folks knit? I knit not, but if I knat, I’d knit to help an oil-damaged penguin: http://time.com/13575/knit-for-oil-damaged-penguins/  [Update: Evidently not needed. See http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/penguins.asp]

See you Sunday morning at 8 for the loon watch, if the weather is nice.

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.

No, birds just can’t get enough of the beautiful La Chua Trail!

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

Hey, all you eBirders, it’s time for the eBird tip of the week! Here it is: Don’t be like me! Read the instructions! I’ve been entering sightings into eBird for years, but only yesterday did I learn that if you walk out the La Chua Trail – about a mile and a half – and then walk back – another mile and a half – you DON’T record your distance as 3 miles. Any time you retrace your steps, record only the one-way distance. So here are the aforementioned instructions (read them!). And browse through the links on the right side of the page for more useful stuff: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/how-to-make-your-checklists-more-meaningful

Lots of good birds have been reported from La Chua as recently as yesterday – White-faced Ibis, Groove-billed Ani, Peregrine Falcon, and Whooping Crane. The White-faced Ibis, seen yesterday by Matt Kalinowski, Jane Sender, and John Killian, seen today by Mike Manetz, and photographed by Jonathan Mays on the 9th, is hanging around the observation platform. So are the Peregrine (“watched it perched, then as it dove and killed and ate duck,” commented visiting Massachusetts birder Jane Sender) and the Whooping Crane (“far off east of observation platform,” wrote Matt Kalinoswki). Along Sparrow Alley, John Killian saw the Yellow-breasted Chat yesterday (also photographed on the 9th by Jonathan Mays), while Kim Stringer got this nice shot of the Groove-billed Ani.

Mike Manetz walked out La Chua this afternoon and wrote, “During my after-lunch nap I dreamed I saw a male Cinnamon Teal from the platform at La Chua, so I jumped out of bed and ran down there. No Cinnamon, but plenty of ducks still there, including a couple dozen Gadwall and onesies of Wigeon, Mallard, and Shoveler. Most important, the White-faced Ibis is still there in the same spot. He must have poked a million holes in a three square yard area. Also nine Forster’s Terns and Black-necked Stilt [first of the spring!] at the sink, and over 100 Snowy Egrets.”

More spring arrivals: Debbie Segal found a dead Chuck-will’s-widow along Sweetwater Dike on the 8th (“recently killed; in the process of being plucked”). More happily, Dean Ewing heard one singing in the early morning of March 11 near Watermelon Pond. Yellow-throated Vireos are checking in: Charlene Leonard found one at La Chua on the 5th, while Mike Manetz saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 10th. John Hintermister saw two Pectoral Sandpipers at the Tuscawilla Prairie on the 11th; he “walked out to the western edge of the prairie where there is a small patch of open water.” They’re always very early for migrant shorebirds; I think our early-arrival record is late February. Northern Rough-winged Swallows haven’t been reported yet, but they should be here already, and Red-eyed Vireos should be arriving any day now. Summer Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers should get here in about two weeks.

Speaking of spring migration, Loonacy begins on Friday! For those of you who are relatively new to this mailing list, one of our most interesting spring phenomena is the almost-daily flight of Common Loons over Gainesville. They’re bound from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, thence due north to their nesting grounds. Departing the Cedar Key area around daybreak, they appear over Gainesville about an hour later, flying northeast singly or in widely-spaced flocks ranging in size from 2-4 (usually) to 40+. They’re white below, with trailing legs, and often with black heads, like this; Ron Robinson says they look like flying bowling pins. Occasionally, especially during March, you might see a Red-throated Loon mixed in with the Commons. You can watch for them at any location with a wide view of the western sky. I like the US-441 observation platform. Andy Kratter, who’s been keeping track of these flights from March 15th through April 10th for several years, says the peak of the migration is usually from March 27th to April 4th. Andy – more formally known as Dr. Andrew W. Kratter of the Florida Museum of Natural History – would be interested in hearing about any loon sightings you make this spring: “Please note for each group of loons observed,  the date, your exact location, the time of observation, the number of birds, and the directions of travel.” Email him at kratter@flmnh.ufl.edu

Mike Manetz and Ron Robinson experienced what Mike called “instant gratification” on the 5th: “Ron and I installed the new martin house at the old George’s Hardware spot, now Sunflower. As I stood on the roof of the building tightening the bolts that hold the house to the pole a pair of Purple Martins appeared out of nowhere and started circling around my head at arm’s length, trying to land on the house and chirping happily the whole time. It was wonderful. There are still martins just across the creek at the dentist office house too. In all we saw four males and two females, and Ron thinks that most martins haven’t shown up yet.”

Kathy Malone of the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) reminds us that there’s a meeting tonight (March 12th): “Cindy and Kirby Pringle from Illinois will be showing a special film they produced, ‘The Plight of the Monarch.’ Really hope you can join us for a 6:15 p.m. potluck, and the program at 7 p.m. (You may come to the program only.) We meet on the second floor of the Florida Museum of Natural History in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity conference room. Enter in the lobby of the museum.” You can see all the local NABA chapter’s planned activities here: http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabancf/Events.htm

The Hague Dairy will hold Family Day on Saturday, March 16th: “See how milk is produced locally, and learn how University of Florida research supports more efficient, affordable and sustainable milk production. Take a leisurely tour and enjoy butter making, a hay ride, calf petting, a milking machine, visiting the cows in their barn, see the health care area, the milking parlor and lots more! The event is free, and there is plenty of parking for everyone. It’s sure to be a fun and informative day for all.” Take your binoculars and look at a few birds while you’re there!