Bronzed Cowbird, Philadelphia Vireo, and other fall rarities

From: Rex Rowan <>
To: Alachua County birding report

In only three days the County Commission will vote on whether to close one end of Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake Loop, turning it into an unwalkable ten-mile in-and-out trail, and more seriously, putting a handful of private citizens in control of your public property. The Sun editorialized about it yesterday:

Speaking of publicly inaccessible trails, La Chua will remain closed beyond the boardwalk through the end of the month. The boardwalk and Sparrow Alley are accessible, but the remainder of the trail won’t reopen until November 1st.

A Bronzed Cowbird was found by Adam Kent and Dean and Samuel Ewing at the Hague Dairy on the 15th. It was still there on the 23rd, when Matt O’Sullivan photographed it:

Also on the 15th, an Oak Hall School field trip that numbered local birders Michael Martinez and John Dickinson among its participants discovered a Roseate Spoonbill and two Black Skimmers at the sheetflow restoration site. This was the 19th occurrence of Black Skimmers in Alachua County; the first one was discovered at Newnans Lake 73 years ago this month.

The county’s only Philadelphia Vireo of the fall was spotted by Samuel Ewing in his NW Gainesville yard on the 18th. Samuel photographed another bird that’s rarely seen in Alachua County during the fall, a Cape May Warbler that visited his yard on the 24th and 25th:

I was late for the Bolen Bluff field trip on the 12th, and consequently missed the Bay-breasted Warbler and two Barred Owls, one of which was photographed by Alan Shapiro:

Sparrows are arriving: the first Savannah was spotted on the 11th, and now they’re plentiful enough that Matt Bruce found 12 along the Levy Lake Loop on the 22nd; Adam Kent and Dean and Samuel Ewing found the season’s first Swamp Sparrow at the Hague Dairy on the 15th and counted 15 of them along La Chua just a week later; Jonathan Mays found the fall’s first Grasshopper Sparrow at La Chua on the 19th; and Matt O’Sullivan photographed the first Vesper Sparrow, a rather early one, at the Hague Dairy on the 23rd:

A week from tomorrow, on Sunday, November 2nd, Avian Research and Conservation – the Gainesville-based organization that does satellite tracking on Swallow-tailed Kites and other birds – will have a fund-raiser at the First Magnitude Brewing Company just off South Main Street. Try one of their locally-brewed beers or their cider (“all ages welcome and we are kid-friendly”), chat with your fellow birders, and help ARCINST continue its valuable research:

Hey, it’s time to put Christmas Bird Counts on your calendar:
• Andy Kratter writes, “The Gainesville Christmas Count has new compilers! After years of dedicated and strong leadership, Howard Adams and John Hintermister are retiring. Bob Carroll and I are taking over. We will run the count pretty much identical to the way it has been run for the last 20 years, and keep the current geographical and personnel structure, including the team captains. The Gainesville CBC this year is on 14 December. Mark you calendars!” If you’re interested in doing the Count, email Andy at
• Cedar Key’s Count will be Tuesday, December 30th. Contact Dale Henderson ( or 352-543-5166) or Ron Christen ( or 850-567-0490) if you’d like to participate.
Other local Counts:
• Tuesday, December 16 – Ichetucknee/Santa Fe/O’Leno: Contact Ginger Morgan at 386-208-4313 or Volunteers are needed.
• Thursday, December 18 – Melrose: Contact Joyce King ( 352-475-1999) or Laura Berkelman (, 352-475-2023) Volunteers are needed.
• Tuesday, December 30 (same day as Cedar Key) – Lake City: Contact Valerie Thomas at 386-466-2193 or Volunteers are needed.

Remember that the Barr Hammock question comes before the County Commission on Tuesday. Make plans to attend. The more of us there are, the more they’ll realize what “the public” means.

Bird of the Year 2012

From: Rex Rowan <>
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:  (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:

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

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
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

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.”