Winter is coming

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

We’re going to try something new for field trips: carpooling via the Audubon web site. First go to the field trip schedule: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ Click on a field trip, and the information bar will expand. Click on the button that says, “Read more.” Try it on the O’Leno trip; you’ll end up here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/oleno-state-park-3/?instance_id=349 Scroll down the page a bit, and you’ll see a gray box that says, “Leave a reply.” If you need a ride, or you’re willing to provide a ride, use the “Leave a reply” box to say so. Don’t wait till the last minute. I know how you can be.

What may turn out to be Alachua County’s sixth-ever Black-headed Grosbeak had a fatal collision with a window at UF’s Bartram Hall on the 9th (photo here). It was an immature bird, and Black-headed Grosbeaks of that age can be difficult to distinguish from Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Andy Kratter will be prepping the specimen in the next week or so, and should be able to determine its identity then. Meanwhile, watch your feeders!

The arrival of Bay-breasted Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers during the second week of October normally signals the last wave of neotropical migrants. This year the first Bay-breasted was extraordinarily early: Barbara Shea saw one at Sparrow Alley on September 21st, by thirteen days a new record. From the description it was in breeding plumage – they normally molt into winter plumage on the nesting grounds, before heading south – but that may be connected with its early arrival here. Jonathan Mays saw another relatively early Bay-breasted in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th, and on the more typical date of October 9th Matt O’Sullivan saw one at Bolen Bluff and Dean and Samuel Ewing saw one in their NW Gainesville yard. Chris Burney spotted the only Black-throated Green that’s been reported this fall, on the 4th at Prairie Creek Preserve.

Jerry Krummrich had a nice day on Bellamy Road on the 3rd: “Was drawn to my favorite trail today and it was kinda birdy. Trail was wet but walkable and always interesting habitat changes from flooded woods to wildflowers in sandhills in a 50 yard stretch. Best bird was a Swainson’s Warbler along the trail with flooded woods in background. He was repeating call notes I was unfamiliar with – unlike Ovenbird, clearer and less frequent, less agitated attitude. He was cooperative and hopped up on limbs about 10 feet away/5 feet off ground. Had 11 warblers total including Blue-winged and Golden-winged in same tree, a dozen Ovenbirds, 1 Redstart and a Magnolia. Had a Merlin and a Cooper’s over scrub open woods. Several Empidonax and Veerys.” I asked Jerry where along Bellamy Road he was, and he replied, “I was referring to the Interpretive Trailhead, a portion of O’Leno SP located/accessed off 441 just south of main entrance road to O’Leno. You turn on Bellamy here (is a sign on highway), drive east and enter parking area trailhead. Trail connects to Sweetwater Branch Trail. I enjoy birding here because of habitat diversity – sandhill, scrub, and floodplain – it’s the area on top of the underground Santa Fe River which turns into a meandering slough during rainy periods – lots of tree species. Trail also connects to marked horse trails – lots of edges. Yes – sorry – it’s in Columbia County.” So now you’ve got a new birding spot to check out, or just a pretty place to take a walk.

Mike Manetz and I spent a couple of hours birding at the Powers Park fishing pier on the 9th. We saw no Ospreys, which is normal for October, but no Limpkins either, which was very surprising given their abundance at Newnans over the past couple of years. We did, however, see a Peregrine Falcon come cruising along the southern shore of the lake at treetop level, veer out into the open at the mouth of the boat channel to give us a nice close-range look, and then head in the direction of Paynes Prairie. Samuel Ewing didn’t have to go to Powers Park to see a Peregrine; he photographed one flying over his yard on the 11th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15322086547/in/photostream/

The Alachua Audubon field trip to O’Leno on the 11th had only middling success. Warblers were sparse, and overall we didn’t see many birds of any sort. However we came across two fruiting tupelo trees that attracted thrushes of three species (Wood, Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked) and tanagers of two species (Scarlet, Summer). The day was beautiful, the trail was beautiful, and the mosquitoes were few. On the way home Mike and I spent a few minutes at the Hague Dairy because it’s getting to be time for Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They often travel with big flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds, but today cowbird flocks appeared to be nonexistent.

Ron Robinson photographed the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at his backyard bird bath on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15287033897/

As the migration of neotropical species draws to a close, the winter birds are starting to show up. The first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, two of them, were seen by Matt Bruce at Palm Point on the 4th. The first Blue-headed Vireo was seen by John Hintermister at Bolen Bluff on the 5th. The first American Goldfinch – a very early bird – was seen by Andy Kratter in his SE Gainesville yard on the 6th, and it was Andy who saw the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Bolen Bluff on the 7th. The first Yellow-rumped Warbler (!), another early bird, was seen by Mike Manetz at Palm Point on the 9th. And I saw the winter’s first sparrow, a Savannah, at the Hague Dairy on the 11th.

Speaking of winter, Ron Pittaway’s annual Winter Finch Forecast has been posted on the eBird web site: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1415/

When we visit the Cedar Key cemetery, we always park in the shady grove of sand pines at the north end. Until this week there was a thick border of palmettos and scrubby vegetation growing along the driveway. Now it looks like this. Migratory birds have one less bit of shelter on this island, which has become too popular for its own good. If you’d like to protest this action, and say a few words on behalf of the birds (and remind those in power that birders often visit Cedar Key, and spend money there), write the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 610, Cedar Key, FL 32625 AND Mayor Dale Register, P.O. Box 339 Cedar Key, FL 32625.

Remember: carpooling via the Alachua Audubon web site!

Blue bird bonanza

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

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.

A pretty interesting day

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

This was probably the best single day of spring migration in Alachua County that I can remember.

This morning Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald biked from the Duck Pond area to the La Chua Trail by way of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then walked along Sparrow Alley. They spotted a male Blackburnian Warbler at the Sweetwater Overlook – Ryan wrote, “Seen in flight only but adult male — orange throat, face pattern, white patch on wing noted” – which is only the second spring record in the county’s history; the first was in 1961. Then, along Sparrow Alley, they saw the county’s fourth-ever Cave Swallow! Ryan again: “Foraging with big flock of Chimney Swifts, Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Purple Martin. Orange rump, and pale underparts fading to buffy orange throat and reddish forehead seen, though briefly.”

Otherwise, the best birding today was at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance), where Felicia Lee, Elizabeth Martin, and John Martin (no relation) walked the Moonshine Creek Trail and saw “5 Cape May Warblers, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Scarlet Tanagers, 1 male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 2 Worm-Eating Warblers, and a Wood Thrush. All in all, 11 warbler species.”

This morning’s field trip to Powers Park and Palm Point did fairly well. At Powers we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (photo here), and 75 Common Loons flying north. At Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive we saw a very cooperative male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Cape May Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler.

Geoff Parks had seen two Cliff Swallows at La Chua on the 17th. Today’s weather was cloudy with intermittent drizzle, good weather to keep swallows down (as Ryan and Jessica found), so Mike Manetz and I walked out La Chua to see if we could match Geoff’s feat. We did find a huge congregation of swallows and swifts – we agreed that “1,000” didn’t sound excessive – and saw two or three Cliff Swallows among them. We also saw a single male Bobolink, the spring’s first. And we were surprised and pleased to find shorebirds foraging in puddles along the flooded trail – three Solitary Sandpipers, four Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and four Spotted Sandpipers.

Late this afternoon Matt O’Sullivan found a Nashville Warbler at Loblolly Woods near the parking lot (on NW 34th Street, entrance directly east of 5th Avenue). Also present at Loblolly were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Prairie, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers.

There’s a pretty good chance that all the birds mentioned above will still be here tomorrow.

On tiny little Seahorse Key, an island two miles off Cedar Key, Andy Kratter saw 15 Tennessee Warblers and 15 Painted Buntings on the 17th, and six Lincoln’s Sparrows (“probably more”) on the 18th. Hopefully we’ll have just a fraction of his success on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip. If you’d like to join us, meet us in the Target parking lot at 6:30 a.m.

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

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

Right before your eyes

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

Debbie Segal writes, “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) plans to herbicide approximately 1,500 acres (over two square miles) of native wetland vegetation in Orange Lake in order to improve lake access and boating safety. Alachua Audubon and Audubon of Florida are objecting to FWC’s proposed herbicide application plan due to its wide-spread destruction of wildlife habitat, its apparent disregard for wading bird rookery islands, its potential for creating an ‘oxygen demand’ that could kill invertebrates and fish, and its lack of a monitoring plan, plus the likelihood of only temporary benefits for the intended users. Due to Alachua Audubon’s and Audubon of Florida’s objections, FWC has reissued a request for comments from stakeholders, which is attached. Alachua Audubon is responding to this request for comments by sending a letter, which is also attached. If you would like to have your voice heard regarding FWC’s plan for large-scale herbiciding (to be applied by helicopter), please take a moment and send an email to FWC. This action is time-sensitive, your comments must be received by this Friday, October 18th. Email them to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com ”

Right before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen, summer is turning into winter. Here’s a little quiz to see if you’ve been paying attention:

1. When did you last hear a cardinal sing?

2. When did you last see a Great Crested Flycatcher?

3. When did you last see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird?

4. When did you last see a Mississippi Kite? A Swallow-tailed Kite?

According to my records, Northern Cardinals stopped their daily singing in mid-July. Great Crested Flycatchers have been gone since mid-September. A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may still be around, but they’re thinning out fast. And as I mentioned in a previous report, Mississippi Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites were last seen on September 2nd and September 1st, respectively.

But summer’s departure is only half of it. The other half is winter’s arrival. Eastern Phoebes, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-headed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, House Wrens, Gray Catbirds, and Palm Warblers have all checked in. Savannah Sparrows are increasing on the Prairie. A pair of Bald Eagles has taken to perching in a tall pine along the northern part of Lakeshore Drive, near a nest site. Migratory Northern Flickers are arriving, and are already far more abundant than the locally-nesting flickers. And today Samuel Ewing made it official: “This morning (Oct. 14th) I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler fly over our yard. It was calling, giving away what it was. Maybe the first of fall for Alachua County.”

The Ewing’s yard was the site of another first earlier this week. On the 11th Benjamin Ewing glanced out the window and spied a Song Sparrow. He called his father Dean, who got a picture. This was the earliest Song Sparrow ever recorded in Alachua County, exceeding by a week the previous record, a bird I saw along the La Chua Trail on 18 October 1995.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher that spent last winter around the La Chua Trail observation platform has returned. John Killian discovered her there on the 10th and got a couple of photos.

As mentioned in the last birding report, Ted and Steven Goodman found two Yellow-headed Blackbirds at the Hague Dairy on the 13th. Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing read the report and drove to the dairy, where they found and photographed both of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds – and then found a Bronzed Cowbird! This afternoon Adam Zions drove up to Hague and found only one Yellow-headed Blackbird – but two Bronzed Cowbirds.

Bob Wallace had two Philadelphia Vireos at his Alachua farm on the morning of the 13th. The Bolen Bluff field trip on the same morning went fairly well, with a dozen warbler species, but missed out on glamor birds. Trip leader Jonathan Mays wrote, “Unfortunately no Bay-breasted or Black-throated Greens, but the group had close encounters with a male Black-throated Blue and Hooded plus three cooperative Tennessee’s foraging together and two Magnolias. Also caught a neonate Ribbon Snake and had a Black Racer above our heads in a tree. Enjoyable morning and a good group.” John Hintermister and I separately birded Bolen Bluff on the 14th. We both saw lots and lots of American Redstarts, and we both saw about a dozen species, but neither of us found a Bay-breasted Warbler. John did see a single Black-throated Green.

The last two reports are especially unusual:

Ignacio Rodriguez saw two very intriguing birds at Bolen Bluff after the field trip on Sunday: “I spotted two birds that really resembled the Green-tailed Towhee. Rufous crown, light green shoulders and tail, gray above, and red eyes, but I don’t remember if I saw a white throat. They were foraging along the edge of the trail, then perched briefly, then flew again underneath the vegetation.” I asked where he saw them, and he said that you go down the slope onto the Prairie basin, walk until the tall trees on either side give way to grasses, and then walk another hundred yards. Please let me know if you see these birds, and get a picture if you can. There’s only one previous record in Alachua County, and only about a dozen ever seen anywhere in Florida.

Wanda Garfield reported seeing three light-morph Short-tailed Hawks over the course of four or five hours on Saturday morning. She saw one at the recycling station on CR-47 in Gilchrist County, the second in High Springs, and the third over I-75 near Santa Fe College. “The birds I saw were dark black on top/wing areas and very pure white on the breast area. I couldn’t see any barring, spots, etc. I have seen Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. So what do you think? Am I crazy or what?” Short-tailed Hawks do migrate at this time of year, but they’re rare this far north, and dark morphs greatly outnumber white morphs. Nothing else really fits that description, though.

Field trips this weekend: our first-ever field trip to the Levy Lake Loop with Adam Zions on Saturday at 8 a.m., and a trip to Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge with John Hintermister on Sunday, meeting at 6:30 a.m. Details here.

Again, please take the next two minutes to send a simple email to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com expressing your opinion on the herbicide plan for Orange Lake. Debbie says that twenty or thirty emails could make a world of difference.

For the rain it raineth every day

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

The last few days’ weather has brought us some exceptional birding.

On the 3rd it rained warblers. Jonathan Mays, working on the north rim of Paynes Prairie, saw 14 species, some in relatively large numbers. His best were a Chestnut-sided Warbler, only the second or third spring record for the county, and a Tennessee, almost as rare at this season. The others included 24 (!) American Redstarts, 12 Blackpoll Warblers, 2 Black-throated Greens, 3 Cape Mays, and 3 Black-throated Blues. Mike Manetz, birding nearer the La Chua trailhead, saw ten warbler species, including three singing Yellow-breasted Chats. And Andy Kratter, splitting his time between Pine Grove Cemetery and Palm Point, saw twelve warbler species (plus a Cliff Swallow at Palm Point). All together, Jonathan, Mike, and Andy totaled 18 warbler species on the 3rd. And the warblerpalooza continued through the 4th, when Adam Zions and Jonathan Mays found a Black-throated Green along Bellamy Road, and Adam later counted thirteen Black-throated Blues at Ring Park.

Surprisingly, Jonathan’s Tennessee wasn’t the only one this spring. Andy Kratter saw three (!) at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 1st, and one of them stuck around till the next day.

On the 4th Mike Manetz wrote, “I ran into John Hintermister and Debbie Segal and we decided to try the Hague Dairy. It rained the entire time there, but we got 2 Semipalmated Plovers and 2 Least Sandpipers at the dirt field just east of Silo Pond. At the Lagoon we had 31 Least Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also present were 6 Solitary Sandpipers and 3 Spotteds. The Bronzed Cowbird is still there!! We saw it in one of the barns with a few Brown-headeds. White-rumped Sandpipers should be there any day.” (White-rumpeds are already being seen in Jacksonville as well as South Florida.) A little later in the day Dean and Samuel Ewing read Mike’s report of the Bronzed on eBird and drove out to the dairy, where Samuel got a photo.

A couple of lingering falcons have been reported. Adam Zions saw a Merlin at the Hague Dairy on the 4th, while Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at Watermelon Pond on the 3rd.

Jonathan Mays photographed a Brown Pelican over Newnans Lake on the 2nd.

Barbara Knutson of Ft. White (Columbia County) had a male Western Tanager at her place from the 27th to the 30th. Unfortunately I learned about it on the 30th.

Tina Greenberg photographed a male Painted Bunting that visited her home at the western edge of Gainesville on the 2nd and 3rd.

Linda Hensley’s NW Gainesville yard, which is hosting a couple of Gray Catbirds that may be nesting, also attracted a male Purple Finch on the afternoon of the 3rd. It’s not the only winter bird lingering around town. On the 4th Caleb Gordon saw two American Goldfinches in NW Gainesville, and later the same day John Hintermister saw Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, and Bonaparte’s Gulls at Newnans Lake.

 

We go birding with the migration we have

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

There is still a window of opportunity to join Alachua Audubon in Costa Rica this June. In particular, a congenial female participant is looking for an equally congenial female participant to share double occupancy. Please email Mike Manetz at mmanetz@yahoo.com

Also, remember that Ron Robinson will lead a field trip to Bronson on Sunday the 28th to see a “super Purple Martin colony” (over 200 nests!). Meet Ron in the parking lot of the Jonesville Publix at the corner of Newberry Road (State Road 26) and County Road 241 at 8:00 a.m. Lynn Badger once said to me, “You can’t hear Purple Martins and NOT be happy.” Was she right? Here’s your chance to find out.

Some of you may already know this, but thrushes are not expected spring migrants in Alachua County. How unusual are they? Swainson’s Thrush has been seen three times previously (1988, 1995, 2012). Gray-cheeked Thrush has been seen six times (1887, 1971, 1972, 2000, 2003, 2008). And Veery has been seen about fifteen times. In short, it’s rare for even one of these birds to show up in Alachua County in spring. So I’ve been surprised, over the past week, to learn that local birders have recorded all three species. That’s got to be some kind of first. Caleb Gordon saw a Gray-cheeked in the swamp along NW 8th Avenue on the 20th, and Adam Zions saw one right next door at Loblolly Woods on the 23rd (same bird?). Samuel Ewing saw a Swainson’s at the University Gardens adjoining Lake Alice on the 22nd. Adam Zions photographed a Veery at Ring Park on the 24th, while Geoff Parks heard one or two singing (!) at Bivens Arm Nature Park on the 26th.

Other migrants are beginning to pass through. Cape May and Blackpoll Warblers are now widespread in small numbers; if you’ve got big oaks in your yard, that’s as good a place to look as any. Stephen McCullers saw the county’s earliest-ever Bobolink on the 15th, and since the 20th they’ve been seen almost daily at La Chua. In case you were wondering, almost no migrants showed up for last weekend’s Cedar Key field trip. Late in the day we did find a Tennessee Warbler and a stunning male Black-throated Green Warbler, but no tanagers, no grosbeaks, no swarms of warblers. This was explained by Angel and Mariel Abreu of Badbirdz Reloaded: “Looks like NE winds reached the southern take off points for migrants. The Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, Honduras and Cuba all experienced northerly winds and clouded skies, this effectively shut down nocturnal migration.” So the migrants didn’t even leave Central America the previous night. They just stayed put.

Samuel Ewing had his camera handy on the 24th when some saltwater birds flew over his home near Watermelon Pond: a couple of Brown Pelicans and a flock of Laughing Gulls.

Mississippi Kites are finally here. There were three sightings on March 29th, then nothing for two weeks. Felicia Lee saw one on the 13th, Linda Holt on the 14th, but they didn’t really check in till the 21st, when they were seen in four separate locations. There have been multiple sightings every day since.

I was impressed when Keith Collingwood saw a Clay-colored Sparrow at his place near Melrose on the 14th, because it tied the late record for the county. But then John Hintermister saw one at La Chua on the 17th (near the barn), and Dalcio Dacol got a photo of one at Barr Hammock’s Levy Loop Trail on the 23rd.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around too. Samuel and Benjamin Ewing had one in a residential area out Archer Road on the 21st, and I had one in my NE Gainesville back yard on the 22nd. I saw a Black-and-white Warbler going round and round a branch way up in an oak tree and I almost didn’t bother to look at it, but when I did – “Hey, that’s not a Black-and-white Warbler!”

Katherine Edison celebrated Earth Day by getting up close and personal with a Whooping Crane at La Chua: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/04/whooping-cranes-happy-earth-day.html

Remember Adena Springs Ranch? The Marion County ranch that wants to use as much water as the entire city of Ocala, even if they have to dry up Silver Springs to do it? Here’s their application, which is receiving serious consideration by the St. Johns River Water Management District: http://www.sjrwmd.com/facts/AdenaSpringsRanchCUP.html  Remember that this is the same agency that urges you to “use less water in your home or business.”  Do they expect us to care more about water conservation than they do? Apparently so. Submit your opinion here: https://permitting.sjrwmd.com/epermitting/jsp/supportAction.do?command=sb2080&prmtNo=2-083-129419-1&projNm=Adena+Springs+Ranch&ntc_sent=false