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.

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