Louisiana Waterthrush, bad Barr Hammock news

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

I don’t know if you like this sort of miscellaneous post or not. If you’ve got the time to browse some links, maybe you do. If you’re in a hurry and just want to know the latest birding news, maybe you don’t. I’ll put the (meager) birding news at the top today, and then when I start posting links you can click the little X in the upper right hand corner and get back to whatever else you were doing. (But jump down to the last paragraph before you do that. It’s important.)

Louisiana Waterthrushes are starting to show up. I’d heard one at the north end of Newnans Lake while canoeing with Bob and Erika Simons on June 24th, but we never got a look at it, and two subsequent June trips to Gum Root Swamp failed to find one. The first actual sighting of the summer was made by Lloyd Davis at La Chua on the 5th. He got a photo, which he posted on his Facebook page. I saw the summer’s second this morning, along Camps Canal.

I’ve checked eBird to see if anyone has reported other early-fall migrants, like Black-and-white Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Least Sandpiper, or Lesser Yellowlegs, but not yet; Louisiana Waterthrush is the extent of our fall migration so far.

Remember this Blue Grosbeak that Barbara Woodmansee and I saw on June 21st? The consensus was that it was a one-year-old male in the process of attaining full adult plumage. Females just don’t show that much blue, after all. On the other hand, according to Birds of North America Online, “Apparently incubation is by female only.” If that’s the case, why is this “one-year-old male” sitting on a nest? It’s not just goofing around, either, because it laid at least two eggs, at least one of which hatched on the 8th. The reasonable conclusion seems to be that this is an atypical female with extra blue … well, I was going to say pigment, but as I understand it, blue coloration in birds isn’t based on pigment but on feather structure, so … this is starting to get too scientific for me. Andy Kratter said something about submitting a note on this odd bird to one of the ornithological journals, so maybe he can explain it.

A bird that puzzles a lot of people is the Red-winged Blackbird. Even experienced birders who have no trouble identifying them as Red-wingeds don’t always know why certain females have rosy faces and why some males are still streaked below. This well-illustrated blog entry is chiefly aimed at distinguishing Red-winged Blackbird from Tricolored Blackbird, an ID problem that we don’t face in Florida, but a lot of the captions provide valuable information along the way, for instance, “The strong peachy-buff wash on the face and throat, along with the bright rusty scapulars indicate that the female is an after-second-year bird.”

Ted Floyd is the editor of Birding magazine. I don’t like him. I tell you this because, while I would normally discourage you from reading anything he writes, I thought this piece from 2012 was quite good and worth your attention (despite the whiff of tiresome contrarianism that arises from everything he writes): http://blog.aba.org/2012/07/most-wonderful.html

The Barr Hammock meeting did not go well, and in three months the majority of the Commission will vote 3-2 (Baird, Chestnut, and Pinkoson vs. Hutchinson and Byerly) to close the loop trail unless they are convinced otherwise. I’ll send more information later, but this is something that’s going to depend on the public EXPRESSING outrage, not merely BEING outraged. And I think ultimately that will involve showing up at a BOCC meeting, not just sending an email. Meanwhile emails should not cease, because it’s simply intolerable that a private citizen should be able to control the public’s access to public property: bocc@alachuacounty.us

Adventures in Challenging! and exciting breeding news!

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

June Challenge party details! Becky Enneis writes, “The June Challenge Party is coming up soon, on Tuesday, July 1, at 6 p.m. Please attend and bring a covered dish (preferably with food already in it!). I’ll have sodas, wine, and beer on hand. Also, please bring a lawn chair. I have just a few available.” If you plan to join us at Becky’s, please RSVP to me so we can prepare. And also remember to send me your total by midnight on June 30th.

Bob and Erika Simons invited me to go canoeing on Newnans Lake with them this morning. All three of us needed Limpkin for our June Challenge lists, and Erika also needed Prothonotary Warbler. In addition we were hoping for Laughing Gulls, maybe a tern, and a Ruddy Duck that Chris Burney had seen out there early in the month. We launched the canoe from Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor and paddled along the shore to the northern end of the lake (beyond the Hatchet Creek outlet but not as far as Little Hatchet Creek and Gum Root Swamp) before heading back on a beeline due to developing storm clouds. We found our Limpkins easily enough – 14 of them, including three downy chicks – and Erika got her Prothonotaries – we had 7 total. Other sightings included an adult Purple Gallinule with its full-grown chick and at least one adult Bald Eagle. No gulls or terns, however. And most frustrating, I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush, tying the early record for the county – but I never saw it, so I can’t put it on my June Challenge list. But you can bet I’ll be looking for a Louisiana elsewhere during the week that remains in the Challenge.

Geoff Parks reports that at least one pair of American Robins appears to be nesting in his NE Gainesville neighborhood. If confirmed, this would be the first instance of breeding ever recorded in Alachua County. Geoff writes that June Challengers are welcome to visit, with some caveats: “The birds are spending most of their time on NE 6th Terrace about midway between the northernmost speed bump and NE 23rd Ave., especially around the white house on the west side of the road with the chain-link fence. The people who live there are friendly and had noticed the robins too. They aren’t against people coming to see the birds but they don’t want anyone knocking on the door or trespassing. It’s okay for people to park in my driveway (2024 NE 6th Terrace – yellow house near the speed bump) and walk up the street to see the birds, provided that they: 1) don’t knock on my door, since my wife works from home, and 2) don’t block in my Camry if it’s there. Alternatively, people could park and get something to eat at The Jones or David’s BBQ (at NE 23rd Avenue and 2nd Street) and then walk down, since it’s not far. Often, with some luck, a slow drive-by is all that is needed, since there’s often at least one bird foraging in a front yard or perched on the fence near the street. There may actually be more than just the pair in the neighborhood: the neighbors said they’d seen ’3 or 4′ birds. I’m really hoping these birds will successfully fledge some young, which they seem to be very hard at work trying to do, so I hope folks will not distract them from their work by harassing them with endless playback – it’s hardly necessary in any event, since the birds are generally quite vocal and conspicuous.” I went over at lunchtime today, pulled up in front of the white house described by Geoff, and in slightly less than half an hour saw the male bird gathering food in the back yard and then flying off with it.

Belted Kingfisher is a hard bird to find during the summer months, but Craig Parenteau saw one on the 23rd, “along the main canal beside La Chua (where there is open water above the water control structure). Its plumage looked very fresh and dapper. Hope your June Challenge folks get to see it. There were also many King Rails, Purple Gallinules, and Least Bitterns – a real bonanza. Wish I could get confirmation of Least Bittern offspring, though.”

On the morning of the 23rd Mike Manetz had a second sighting of a Broad-winged Hawk in the same location as the first: “As I came south on County Road 235A and turned right on Peggy Road I could see a raptor perched very uncomfortably on the wires about where the third guard rail on the left would be. As I got a little closer I could see it was a Broad-winged. I pulled over to the right to get a photo but it flew across the street into the woods, where I think it’s probably nesting. If you post this please include that folks should stay off the Dollar General side of the road.”

Also on the morning of the 23rd, Bob and Erika Simons and I went looking for June Challenge birds at the southeastern end of the county. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we found a Bachman’s Sparrow singing near the parking corral, and a Common Yellowthroat and a trio of Brown-headed Nuthatches on the back side of the White Loop. We couldn’t locate an Eastern Wood-Pewee. We drove on to Lake Lochloosa and scanned unsuccessfully for Bald Eagles and Laughing Gulls from the covered pier at the boat launch. Bob suggested that we drive to the metal fishing pier at the Lochloosa Conservation Area, and there we found an adult Bald Eagle perched on a tree overlooking the lakeshore.

Barbara Woodmansee and her husband walked out La Chua on the 22nd: “We were able to make it all the way out to the tower at the end of La Chua, where a real live adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was waiting for me (yay) under the tower. We did have thick mud up to the edges of our boot tops, but it was worth it. I counted 20 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, which we saw fly into the bare trees across the lake near the pavilion to roost. It was so pretty out there with a nice breeze and a purple sky from a storm that never came in.”

Barbara and I spotted an interesting Blue Grosbeak at the beginning of Sweetwater Dike on the 21st. The patches of blue and brown made me think that it was a year-old male, but it appeared to be delivering nesting material to a brushy area on the edge of the dike where an adult male Blue Grosbeak was already perched. Why would the adult not chase the young male off? Why would the young male be carrying nesting material? I wonder whether Blue Grosbeaks ever practice cooperative breeding: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14492738644/

I was at La Chua on two evenings last week, and both times saw a flying bird that resembled (to my eye) a Bobolink. Dalcio Dacol may have seen it too, as part of what sounds like a productive morning’s birding on the 20th: “This morning, around 8:50 AM at La Chua Trail, I was walking along the boardwalk and just before I got to the shelter on the smaller sink I caught a glimpse of a bird taking off to my left. I turned around and was able to get a view as the bird was flying away from me. I did not see the head, the bird was straw colored, close to the size of a Red-winged Blackbird but of slimmer built and flew with the bobbing almost finch-like pattern typical of Bobolinks. If it were April I wouldn’t have hesitated in calling it a female Bobolink. I had the impression that the bird was on that scrub along the boardwalk. It didn’t fly too high but it continued flying in along the trail and eventually crossed over the water channel that brings water to the large sink. I rushed to the channel bank across from the area where the bird landed but was unable to locate the bird. Other than that I had 6 Glossy Ibis at the observation platform and two Yellow-crowned Night Herons, one adult and one immature plus the usual birds. I have never seen so many King Rails, Least Bitterns and Purple Gallinules in a single spring season as I have seen this year.”

I’ve mentioned organized birding tours a couple of times but only a few people have shown interest. I’m going to try again, with a more exotic locale. Former FWC herpetologist and long-time Alachua Audubon membership chair Paul Moler recently sent me an email: “As you know, for the last 7 years I’ve been participating in annual biodiversity surveys in various parts of southern Vietnam. One of the participants in 2012 and again this year was a gentleman who leads birding tours, both through tour agencies and independently. He is both very knowledgeable and a very pleasant fellow. Over the course of this year’s outing we had some discussions about tour costs. Total costs and area coverage would, of course, depend upon duration of the tour, but a 10-day tour would cost something less than $2000 (likely closer to $1500), food, local transportation, and lodging inclusive. Air fare currently would be roughly $1800 from Gainesville, $1500 from Jacksonville, and $1300 from Orlando. Travel would take a couple of days each way, so a 10-day tour would take about 14-15 days total travel time.” Paul emphasizes that he has no financial interest in this company. Let me know if you’d like more information about a guided birding trip to this part of the world.

How recently have you driven across Paynes Prairie on US-441? Right now the pickerelweed is in bloom, creating huge swaths of vivid purple, highlighted here and there by the bright yellow of an American lotus. The light seems to be ideal – the purple especially intense – at about 11 a.m.

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the county closed the Levy Lake Loop for maintenance the day after I told you about Chris Cattau’s sighting of a probable American Bittern out there.

Broad-winged Hawk, possible American Bittern

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

Mike Manetz writes, “While doing my Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua this morning I got a good look at a Broad-winged Hawk. It was along Peggy Road about 50 yards west of 325A, in the picnic area for Dollar General employees. Only about 10 minutes later a security guard asked me to leave the property. So the best way to see it is to wait at the intersection and watch for it soaring overhead.”

Chris Cattau had an even more unusual sighting today: “I’m 95% sure I saw an American Bittern fly across the right (north) fork of the Levy Prairie around 8:30 AM (right at a big turn to the north, not too far before the 2 mi marker). Larger and longer billed than immature night herons, legs extending well beyond tail, neck was outstretched and distinctly longer (okay, 99% sure). I was biking and it was steamy out by that time and my glasses fogged up when I stopped to put up binos. It was a short flight, flushing not far from one side of the trail and landing not too far on the other side, but never revealed itself again.” There’s only one previous June record for American Bittern in Alachua County.

Having missed the first ten days of June, I’m playing catch-up in the June Challenge competition. I’ve seen 79 species so far, but I understand that Maralee Joos is up to 109. I’m not sure I can make up a 30-species deficit in the twelve days I’ve got left, and there may be someone who’s ahead of Maralee that I don’t know about! Anyway, I was out at La Chua this evening, trying to find some new things for June. I saw an American Coot along Sweetwater Dike, between the first and second 90-degree turns, off to the left. Also two Least Bitterns, three Orchard Orioles, and a pair of Purple Gallinules. I heard two King Rails but didn’t see any.

I’ve been out at La Chua toward dusk on two of the last three evenings, and both times I saw a bird that looked like a female Bobolink flying in the direction of the observation platform. If it wasn’t a Bobolink I have no idea what it was, but that’s a species that’s never been recorded here in June.

John Sloane has been active with the Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua County (Melrose area) and and has extended his surveys to Bradford, Clay, and Putnam Counties. He’s discovered some previously unsuspected riches in eastern Alachua County between Earleton and Hawthorne, including numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites, which I’d normally expect in the eastern county, but also numbers of Missisissippi Kites, which I would not, and a surprising variety of other birds: “Today Janet and I went out to to the intersection of County Road 219A and County Road 1474 east of Campville to check on the kites. We surveyed within a half mile of the intersection and found most of them within the NW quadrant. Of course it was difficult for us to get an accurate total count, so I will report the minimum count, which would be the maximum number we saw at any one location at the same time. We believe this count to be conservative. Minimum number of Swalllow-tailed Kites was 12 including a number of juveniles, Mississippi Kites was 6 including several juveniles. Two Red-tailed Hawks were with them. This area is mostly hay fields with scattered trees and a few ponds. Also noted in the same area were nesting Eastern Kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Common Grackles, along with Northern Bobwhite, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Bluebird, and so on. A nice productive area.”

While driving around, I’m seeing a lot of Osprey nests that have either fledged chicks already – or else they’ve been abandoned. Has anyone else noticed this? The one along 441 where it starts south across Paynes Prairie, and the one near the Gainesville Police Department building – did they fledge any young this year? I’ve noticed a couple other empty nests as well, and I’ve been wondering how widespread this is.

Remember Ernesto Reyes Mourino’s photographic presentation on the birds of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp on Thursday night at ACT.

And remember to let me know if you want to go see Alachua County’s only Burrowing Owls on the 28th.

Time’s a-wastin’!

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

Lovett Williams, Jr., who worked for Florida’s Game and Fish Commission for many years beginning in the 1960s, died on April 30th at the age of 78. He was a well-known wildlife biologist and naturalist, a world authority on the Wild Turkey, and an enormously enthusiastic turkey hunter. Here’s a nice remembrance: http://www.deeranddeerhunting.com/article-index/memorium-turkey-biologist-lovett-williams And a two-hour video interview with Lovett, presumably shot at his Cedar Key home, can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/60200527 Lovett reported a Common Merganser in Alachua County on December 21, 1966. Since it was the only report in the county’s history, I emailed him a few years ago and introduced myself and asked for additional details, for instance where he’d seen it. He replied, “I am sorry to have to report that I have not kept records of the bird sightings you mentioned. I believe the birds were correctly identified but since I don’t have any notes I cannot confirm the locale or dates or any other details that may have been reported to you nor any information in addition to what was reported.” This was, I suspect, his way of saying, “Don’t pester me, junior.” So I didn’t – though someone advised me that he’d be much more talkative if I showed up at his door with a six-pack of beer! Unfortunately I never did that. He would have been a treasure trove of information on the birds and landscape of Alachua County fifty years ago. He saw the first American Avocet recorded in Alachua County, on November 23, 1967. He was also one of very few people to see Rough-legged Hawk here; he and Dale Crider saw a wintering bird several times between December 28, 1965 and March 15, 1966. And he contributed to a paper on Budgerigars in North Florida, stating that flocks of 30 or more used to be seen in Gainesville. Now long gone.

Remember that Alachua Audubon is organizing a Cedar Key boat trip for early Saturday afternoon. There’s still space on the boat, but you’ve got to make a reservation; call Wild Birds Unlimited (352-381-1997) to do that. The cost of the boat trip is $25. The remainder of this year’s field trip and program schedule can be seen here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ (When the site comes up, click the little button at the top of the list that says, “Expand all.”)

You know, it’s Connecticut Warbler time. Connecticut is a rarely-seen migrant that comes through Florida after most of the other migrants have already gone north. There are eight spring records from Alachua County, ranging from May 6th to May 28th, five of the eight in the first half of the month. They show a preference for deciduous woodlands and are usually seen walking on the ground, like this. So go find one! Good luck. And remember, it was while he was looking for a Connecticut Warbler last year that Mike Manetz found the county’s second-ever Kirtland’s Warbler!

Bob and Erika Simons have discovered that the best birding on Paynes Prairie right now is along Sweetwater Dike. When you’re walking out La Chua, you come off the boardwalk at Alachua Sink, and about a hundred yards farther on you come to the water control structure, marked by several culverts. A canal, and accompanying dike trail, leads off to the right. That’s Sweetwater Dike. Along that short walk – there’s a gate after half a mile, and you should turn back there – you’ve got a good chance of seeing Purple Gallinule, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Least Bittern, King Rail, Orchard Oriole, and migratory Bobolinks, as well as the abundant Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles. Bob got a fine photo of a Bobolink eating giant cutgrass (southern wild rice) out there on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13957955519/

Yellow-breasted Chats are also relatively easy to see along the first part of La Chua right now. Up to five have been reported on a single walk. Bob Simons wrote about encountering two in the extensive thicket west of the barn: “This morning I had a nice visit with a Yellow-breasted Chat at Paynes Prairie. Erika and I walked a little trail that goes south from Sparrow Alley past the big loblolly pine out in front of the old horse barn and then curves west. We took a small trail that branches off on the left side of that trail that also ends up going west and eventually intersects the trail along the power line. Anyway, we both got photos of a chat about 50 yards south of the loblolly pine. I had heard it calling while we were passing the pine tree. As we walked west on our little trail, I heard another chat, and went off trail in my snake-proof sandals to try to find it. I ended up standing in one spot, with the chat sitting up singing and calling from one perch after another, gradually circling me and getting closer. It flew in an exaggerated display kind of flight that reminds me of a butterfly, nearly putting its wings together above its back with each set of wing beats while calling or singing (I never can tell with chats).” Here’s one of Bob’s pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14141293391/

One of the best photos I’ve seen recently is a photo of a birder, not a bird. Here’s Samuel Ewing going all out to get a shot of a Spotted Sandpiper at the Home Depot Pond: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14059003566/

Alachua County birder emeritus Steve Collins – we still claim him, though he left us eight years ago – participated in a pretty exciting Big Day in Texas’s Big Bend a few days ago. One of his fellow participants wrote it up in a nice blog post: http://paintedbunny.blogspot.com/#!/2014/05/the-colima-death-experiment-big-day.html I had NO idea you could see some of those birds in the Big Bend. And I can’t remember ever hearing the term “facilitree” either. That’s what you call an outdoor restroom, a facilitree.

There’s not much spring migration left. Some late migrants like Blackpoll Warblers, Bobolinks, and several species of shorebirds are still moving through, but in diminishing numbers. This weekend may be your last chance. That Cedar Key boat trip might be a good opportunity to see shorebirds in their spring finery. The Black-bellied Plover, which usually looks like this, now looks like this. And the dingy Dunlin, which looks like this all winter, now looks like this (they were formerly called “Red-backed Sandpiper” and that’s why). And if you can’t get away, at least look out the window; just birding around his NW Gainesville yard, Samuel Ewing saw a Magnolia Warbler on the 3rd and a Peregrine Falcon flying northward on the 1st!

Spring ain’t over. In case you were thinking it was.

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

At some point you should get around to looking at this: http://standbyourplan.org/

Remember that spring migration is still underway, and there are plenty of surprises out there. Dean and Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at the Hague Dairy this morning. Samuel wrote, “Speedy flyby, swooped real low right over the lagoon. It then headed off to the north. Large falcon with a gray back and pointed wings. Extremely fast flyer.”

The Swainson’s Warbler discovered at Bolen Bluff by Adam and Gina Kent on the morning of the 26th was not an easy bird to relocate. I arrived in the early afternoon to find a few birders already searching. Adam Zions, who had glimpsed it, was trying to hunt it down again to get a better look. Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan were combing the woods to the north, since it had last been seen moving in that direction. Bill and Nell Pennewill showed up not long after I did. We moved slowly back and forth along the trails and among the trees, watching the ground for a little brown bird that would be methodically turning over leaves. We had no luck. After half an hour Adam went home. Another two hours and Mike and Matt left. Bill and Nell and I were the only ones left, and Nell was getting tired. She set up a folding chair beside the trail and said she was going to sit down and rest her back. Bill went one way down the trail, I went the other. Still nothing. It was coming up on three and a half hours that I’d been there and I was on my way to tell Bill and Nell that I was heading home when Bill appeared on the trail, gesturing for me to hurry. While seated in her folding chair Nell had seen a brown bird with a reddish crown at the edge of a thicket. Bill and I crept into the woods adjoining the thicket and peered into the deep shade – and there it was, perfectly silent but quite active, walking on the forest floor, turning over leaves with its bill, and regularly displaying what Dunn and Garrett’s Field Guide to Warblers terms “a quivering movement of the rear parts.” A very neat little bird! Only the second I’ve seen in Alachua County.

Speaking of rare warblers, we’ve had three Cerulean Warblers in the county this spring. That’s a little surprising, since in the forty springs prior to this one there had been a grand total of four! Two of this year’s sightings came on April 20th, fifteen miles apart: Jonathan Mays saw an adult male in his SE Gainesville yard and Bob Hargrave saw another adult male on his farm near Monteocha. Then, on the 24th, Andy Kratter saw a female along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail near Pine Grove Cemetery. Here’s a video of a male Cerulean going about his daily business (his song resembles that of a common local species, Northern Parula): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUU7-qsmS0c

Something else that’s different this spring. Gainesville rarely sees thrushes in spring migration, but this year all the migrant species have been recorded, not just once but several times. Samuel Ewing photographed Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Veery in one walk on the 23rd, on the Loblolly Woods boardwalk north of 8th Avenue, and he also saw or heard three Wood Thrushes. You can see his photos on his eBird checklist here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18041319

Steve Zoellner writes that the grosbeaks and buntings are still at Hogtown Creek near Mildred’s: “The ‘blue bonanza’ is still active. I went by late Sunday afternoon (after the Gators swept Missouri) and saw male Blue Grosbeaks and female Indigo Buntings.” Michael Meisenburg adds that the vegetation attracting the birds to Hogtown Creek “is the same grass that’s on Lake Alice: giant cutgrass (or southern wild rice). Lake Alice could really be hopping now, as there are acres of that species out there.” Bobolinks are also fond of giant cutgrass, and they’re passing through the area in numbers. I ran into photographer Tommy Tompkins at La Chua on the 26th and he estimated that he’d seen 500 Bobolinks that morning. So it’s a good time to visit Lake Alice or that stretch of Hogtown Creek, because in addition to Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings you might see the very scene that Steve Collins photographed nine years ago: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14025723226/

Two of our wintering wrens, the Sedge Wren and the Marsh Wren, often persist into late April and even early May. Like most wrens, they’re big on personality, but they’re so secretive that they don’t get their fair share of admiration. They’re lovely little birds, though, so I thought I’d share two pictures that talented local photographers got this weekend. Tommy Tompkins photographed this Sedge Wren along the La Chua Trail on the 26th, and John Martin photographed this Marsh Wren at the Hague Dairy on the following day.

And I can’t resist passing along this photo of a baby Killdeer that John discovered near Alachua on the 27th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/14035257545/

Mark your calendar: On Saturday, May 10th, join Ron Robinson on a visit to a very large Purple Martin colony near Bronson, where you can see and experience the joys of being a Purple Martin landlord. There are over 100 pairs of martins at the site and the owner will lower parts of one of his towers so the guests can see the inside of an active martin nesting gourd. The sound of that many martins singing as they fly around the structures is not to be missed (Lynn Badger once said, “It’s impossible to hear Purple Martins and NOT be happy”). If you like birds and birding, you will love the sight and sound of this large colony. Meet Ron at the Target store parking lot at I-75 and Archer Road at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 10th. You will not be disappointed.

(Assuming that birdwatching produces individuals who can be plausibly described as “great,”) Paul Lehman is one of birding’s greats. In a recent issue of Birding magazine he published an interesting and helpful article on the importance of knowing birds’ “S&D” (status and distribution). It’s well worth your time: http://aba.org/birding/2014-MAR-APR/Lehman.pdf

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.

Additional springerie

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

There are two stages of life. Stage One is, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Stage Two is, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” When Samuel Ewing recently corrected my misidentification of a Cooper’s Hawk I realized that I have reached Stage Two. (Apologies to you whippersnappers who are too young to remember that advertising campaign. I’d bemoan the state of cultural literacy, if I weren’t so shocked by the realization that I consider advertising to be a part of cultural literacy….)

When that front was moving through Gainesville last night and this morning, it occurred to me that migrants might run into that weather and be forced down. I called Matt O’Sullivan to see if he was interested in going out to have a look, and he was. Our first stop was the Newberry area. I had an idea that we could check the fields around Watermelon Pond for grounded Upland Sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds. As it turned out, the road to Watermelon Pond was too mucky for my Camry, so we checked a nearby sod farm and some recently-plowed fields along SW 46th Avenue. It sure looked good, and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, three Common Ground-Doves, a White-winged Dove, and three Fox Squirrels, but no sandpipers. As the clouds broke up and the sun came out, we drove on to San Felasco Hammock (the Millhopper Road entrance, north side) to see if the rain had brought in any woodland migrants. It had. Although Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered everything else by five to one, we ended up with twelve warbler species, including five Prairie Warblers, an adult male American Redstart, an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and an adult male Cape May Warbler. There was quite a lot of bird activity there, including several newly-arrived Great Crested Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers. We figured that Palm Point should be pretty good as well, so we made the long drive across town, speculating that we’d find even more warblers, not to mention gulls and terns dropped in by the front. But Palm Point was devoid of birds, and scanning Newnans Lake we saw no gulls, no terns, nothing but cormorants and the occasional Osprey – though we did find three or four of the resident Prothonotary Warblers and a Limpkin farther down Lakeshore Drive.

Spring arrivals are increasing in number and variety. Over the past week or two, La Chua Trail has seen the arrival of (click on the hyperlinks for photos) Black-necked Stilt (over 30 have been seen at once!), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat (though the chat may have spent the winter).

Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th: “Slightly early; beautiful male, no song but gave occasional call note, which sounds like a shoe squeaking on a basketball court.”

On the morning of the 7th I went to La Chua in search of spring arrivals and found myself gawking at the season’s heaviest Common Loon migration. With about fifteen other birders I’d kicked off this year’s Loonacy at the US-441 observation platform on March 16th. We saw only four or five loons, all of them very far away, and I’m pretty sure that I discouraged everyone out there from any further loon watching. I wish they’d all been with me yesterday. I saw 57 birds, in 22 groups ranging in size from 1 to 9, and some of them were flying at surprisingly low altitudes. Here’s how it worked out, by ten-minute segments:

7:50-8:00   17 birds
8:00-8:10   5
8:10-8:20   21
8:20-8:30   1
8:30-8:40   5
8:40-8:50   0
8:50-9:00   2
9:00-9:10   5
9:10-9:20   1

Cedar Key sunrise was at 7:16 on the 7th, so the birds that I saw passed over Gainesville from 34 minutes after sunrise to nearly two hours after, suggesting a takeoff ranging from about half an hour before sunrise to an hour afterward. The flight peaked from 8:14 to 8:16, when I saw 17 birds in five groups.

Andy Kratter had an even better morning than I did: “It was giddy excitement and thrills at my loon census this morning. The loons started at 8:09 with two migrating far to the north, and in the next 95 minutes I recorded a near-constant stream of ones and twos and small groups (largest group = 18), for a total of 133 for the day, in 49 groups. Also had two White-winged Doves, a high flying migrant Belted Kingfisher, a migrant American Kestrel, and lots of the usual suspects. One of my best days ever loon watching.” And Samuel Ewing, watching from his NW Gainesville yard, tallied 33 loons between 8:32 and 9:11. Samuel got this picture of a migrating loon in flight on the 31st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13538401855/in/photostream/

The Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve has been relatively cooperative lately. Most of those who have been looking for it have found it. Walk out the Red-White Connector trail to the service road and turn left. When the trail forks, keep going straight (i.e., take the right fork) and look for the sign to the campground. Once at the campground, listen for a rapid drumming. You’ll probably have to set out from the campground and explore the woods to the north and northwest, but as I say most of those who have gone in search of this bird have found it. Here’s a nice picture by Samuel Ewing, showing the characteristic spike-like bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13648935265/in/photostream/

John Hintermister, Phil Laipis, and I motored out onto Lake Santa Fe on the 27th, hoping to relocate the two Black Scoters that Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn had found on the 20th. We found 220 Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, 32 Horned Grebes (some in breeding plumage), and 19 Common Loons – even the Pacific Loon! – but no scoters of any description. Learning that the Pacific Loon was still there, Adam went back on the 2nd to try for it again, and missed it again, but … “saw what was possibly a White-winged Scoter. The bird was so far away that I couldn’t say for sure, but it looked like a big black duck with white in the wings.”

Like all right-thinking people, I regularly check Katherine Edison’s blog. I especially like the posts that teach me the names of wildflowers: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ditch-is-back.html

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Osprey at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Some kind of record

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

If you haven’t seen the Bullock’s Oriole and you plan to, let me ever-so-gently remind you of something I wrote in an earlier post: “Dotty Robbins told me that she went north from the Goodmans’ and around the corner, and from the street was able to see the bird in a tree in the back yard of the yellow house at 3736 NW 65th Place. If you go looking, please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house, as the wife works at night.” Evidently some birders read those sentences and took in the address, but not the part where I wrote, “please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house,” because they did, in fact, disturb the residents of the house, who were consequently upset. So don’t do that.

Fred Bassett’s visit on the 18th and 19th revealed that things around here are even crazier than we thought. While capturing and banding 14 hummingbirds, Fred discovered that, in addition to the Calliope in High Springs, in addition to the expected Rufouses (Fred banded 8) and Ruby-throateds (3) scattered here and there, that there’s a SECOND Calliope in town, at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house, and that Hilda Bellot is hosting a Black-chinned! That’s (consults fingers) four hummingbird species at once!

Glenn Price captured a nice video of the Calliope, which you can watch here. Calliope is a Florida Ornithological Society “review species,” so if you get to see it, please complete the rare bird form at the FOS web site: http://fosbirds.org/content/fos-bird-records-species-documentation

Hilda Bellot has given permission for birders to peer into her yard to see the Black-chinned Hummingbird. She lives near the big hill on NW 8th Avenue. From 8th turn south onto NW 21st Street. Go almost two blocks and pull to the right, onto the shoulder, just before you reach NW 7th Lane. Ms. Bellot’s house will be on your left (corner of 21st and 7th Lane), and right there, in the side yard, probably in view before you even get out of your car, is an arbor with two hummingbird feeders dangling from it. The Black-chinned has been coming to these feeders. Please stand in the street to wait for the bird; there’s not much traffic. If you want to see the purple gorget feathers you might try to visit in the afternoon to get the sun in your favor, but Fred dabbed a spot of bright pink dye on its crown, so you’re not likely to mistake it for the Rufous Hummingbird that’s also visiting the yard.

On the morning of the 17th Mike Manetz found a Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve. It’s frequenting the longleaf pine / turkey oak sandhill at the western end of the “red blaze trail,” marked R on the map here.

Okay, let’s review. These birds are all present in Alachua County right now:

1.   Bullock’s Oriole (please re-read the first paragraph of this report)
2.   Western Tanager (and maybe a second in Alachua!)
3.   Calliope Hummingbird (2 of them)
4.   Black-chinned Hummingbird
5.   Red-breasted Nuthatch
6.   Fox Sparrow (2)
7.   Snow Goose (3)
8.   White-faced Ibis
9.   Vermilion Flycatcher
10. Wilson’s Warbler
11. Painted Bunting (10!)
12. Common Goldeneye (2?)
13. Pine Siskin
14. Least Flycatcher
15. Rusty Blackbird (flock)
16. Hairy Woodpecker

There have been other remarkable sightings. A Summer Tanager is spending the winter at Adam and Gina Kent’s for the second or third year in a row. Frank and Irina Goodwin found a Blue Grosbeak along the Levy Lake Loop on the 12th. On the 17th Lloyd Davis found two Painted Buntings, a male and a female, in the weedy canal behind the parking area at the Hague dairy, and I know of at least eight others coming to local feeders. And on the 19th Adam Kent’s team found four Northern Waterthrushes along Cones Dike on the kids’ CBC. In case you are not inferring what I’m implying, it’s a really good winter to be a birdwatcher in Alachua County, maybe The Best Ever! Why are you sitting indoors at your computer, reading this?

On the 18th Adam Zions had one of the best days I’ve ever heard of at Cedar Key: “It was low tide as I arrived, and I figured the area should be popping with shore and wading birds. So I began at Bridge No. 4, as it’s always a good place to begin. A few groups of Bufflehead (everywhere in Cedar Key – I don’t think there was one spot I went to which didn’t at least have 2) were great to see. I was walking back along the north side of the bridge trying for either Clapper Rail or Nelson’s or Seaside Sparrows, but to no avail. Since it was peak low tide, I decided to go off the bridge and walk around some of the saltmarsh cordgrass and into the marsh not too far from where the bridge begins. After scaring up a Sedge Wren, I continued on and flushed a Yellow Rail!!! I almost stepped on the damn thing, as it flew up and nearly gave me a heart attack. There was no mistaking it. Short, stubby yellow bill, white wing patches, a smidge smaller than a Sora, and a mix of beige/dark brown scaled/barred plumage. It flew and landed only a few feet away, so I headed over to the spot quickly to see if I could relocate it and possible get a photo of it. Apparently the rail had other plans and I couldn’t flush it again. I tried playing some call recordings, but it didn’t want to respond to it. So the day was already off to a banging start. I pretty much checked most of the areas out to see what was there. Other highlights included a trifecta of scoters at the pier (Black, White-winged, and 7 Surf), 2 Nelson’s Sparrows (one at the airport and the other at Shell Mound), 7 Roseate Spoonbills, and 25+ American Avocets at Shell Mound.”

Fred Bassett is coming back through town on the 22nd. If you’ve got a hummingbird visiting your feeder regularly and you’d like him to band it, let me know and I’ll pass your request along to Fred.

Have you got your tickets to the Backyard Birding Tour yet? Well dang, what’s the matter with you? http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

Nelson’s Sparrow still there

When the sun went down this evening the Nelson’s Sparrow was still in the same spot where Adam Zions found it – forty yards before the right turn that leads up to the observation platform, as paced off by Adam Kent – and it was being fairly cooperative, feeding in the grasses right beside the trail, usually partly hidden but sometimes right out in the open. Adam and Gina Kent and I watched it for some time. Today may have been this bird’s third day on La Chua; Robert Lengacher, a Tallahassee birder, saw a bird fitting its description on Saturday but misidentified it as a Le Conte’s Sparrow (his mea culpa is here). Anyway, get out and see it tomorrow if you can, before it looks around and says to itself, “Hey! This isn’t Cedar Key!”

There were plenty of other birds along La Chua this evening. We saw as many as five American Bitterns, three Purple Gallinules, a handful of Soras (heard many more), several Savannah and Swamp Sparrows, one Field Sparrow, Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, a few Barn Swallows mixed in with a larger group of Tree Swallows, and a bunch of Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal and at least one or two Green-winged Teal; and we heard three Barred Owls, two Great Horned Owls, an Eastern Screech-Owl, and possibly a Barn Owl.

Kathy Fanning writes, “On Wednesday the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) will consider two agenda items of environmental importance. Item #15 is a resolution asking the BoCC to support the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Item #13 is a presentation from the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department on their local wetland protection program. Please email the commissioners to ask them not to weaken the local authority to protect wetlands as well as to support the Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Here is a link to the BoCC agenda where both of the items are detailed: http://meetingdocs.alachuacounty.us/documents/bocc/agendas/2013-10-22/5D2496FD-6ADF-493D-8408-9658C84EEC67Agenda.htm  And here is the email address for all of the commissioners (one email will reach them all): bocc@alachuacounty.us  Thanks for showing your support for local wetland protection and the Water and Land amendment.”

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/