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.

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

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.

Weekend update

In case you haven’t heard the news, Florida’s second-ever Townsend’s Solitaire was at Honeymoon Island today. It was found around 9:00 this morning and was still being seen as late as 3:30. Watch eBird or the state listservs for updates.

The Alachua Audubon field trip to the Hague Dairy on the 2nd started out well, with two Bronzed Cowbirds directly across the driveway from the office. But then things took a turn for the worse, and we went for a good two hours, maybe three, without seeing much of interest. The dairy grounds had recently been mowed, leaving little in the way of tall grasses, weeds, or brush to shelter birds, and that probably had a lot to do with it. Anyway, at about 11:30 we started around the lagoon, and at that point our luck took a screeching turn for the better. On a floating mat of scum (more vivid words are available but not family friendly) we spotted four Killdeer, two Least Sandpipers, and a late Pectoral Sandpiper. A family group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was paddling in a scum-free zone nearby. Dan Maico spotted a Merlin sitting on top of a snag at the west end of the lagoon, and it allowed us a very close approach and extended ogling. A flock of five American Pipits flew over. As we approached the little wetland that borders the lagoon on the north, Dan spied the best bird of the day, a young male Dickcissel, one of only about twenty ever recorded in the county. It was a shy bird, and it ducked out of sight shortly after it was found. Although it came out into the open a couple more times, it didn’t stay in view for long and not everyone got a look at it. But as we stood around waiting for it, we did see a female Painted Bunting mixed in with a handful of late-migrant Indigo Buntings. It was our last good sighting of the day, though we spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to locate a Yellow-headed Blackbird that Mike Manetz had seen while we were occupied in discovering the Dickcissel.

Early November is the expected arrival time for waterfowl. Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teal have recently been reported at Paynes Prairie, joining the Blue-winged Teal that have been there since August. A different sort of waterfowl was spied by Andy Kratter on the morning of the 31st: “Just had a very early and locally very rare Red-throated Loon fly over my place in Gainesville, and strangely it was heading west to east. Good looks at thin neck, small bill held above horizontal, small feet, head held below body. Just plain weird.” I think this is only about the fifth record for the county.

Samuel Ewing saw the fall’s first American Robins flying over his NW Gainesville home on the 2nd. Although they don’t normally descend on our yards until January and February, we see the first flocks of southbound robins going high overhead in late October or early November, so these are right on time. Geoff Parks saw an even earlier one on October 13th, but he speculated that it was the same one that visited his yard on July 29th. The nearest known breeding population of robins is in Tallahassee, but we’ve had a number of midsummer sightings over the years, and I can’t help but wonder….

I haven’t heard of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sighting since Nathan Langwald photographed it on the 28th. Is it still there? Or did it just stay for a week and then move on south?

Migrants and summer birds aren’t entirely gone, though their days are numbered. At dusk on the 26th Adam and Gina Kent tallied 740 Chimney Swifts going into a chimney downtown, and got an impressive video, while Jonathan Mays saw 29 over La Chua on the 2nd. Adam and Gina saw yet another swift, as well as two Tennessee Warblers, at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. A very late Bobolink was seen by several birders at La Chua on the 1st. And the Hague Dairy field trip found one or two Northern Waterthrushes and an American Redstart.

Preliminary results of the fall migration count

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

First day of fall! Now the nights start getting longer and the days start getting shorter and the birds start getting more abundant!

I haven’t received all the results from Saturday’s fall migration count, but I can tell you that every single White-eyed Vireo presently in existence showed up in Alachua County to be tallied. My team got 60; the NW County team reported 116. The two best birds of the day were a Black-billed Cuckoo seen by the Levy Lake team, and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher seen by the Bolen Bluff team. The cuckoo was about three miles out, beyond the point where the right (north) fork of the loop trail turns south. The flycatcher was not quite so far away: taking the left fork of the Bolen Bluff Trail, walk until you’re about 75 yards shy of the open grassy area where the two forks come together. The bird was there, on the wooded slope below the trail. Several of us went looking for it this morning, but although we found four calling Acadian Flycatchers in the general area, plus two other silent Empidonax flycatchers, none of them matched Andy Kratter’s description of the bird (“yellow underparts, brightest on the throat, shortish tailed, big headed, relatively short primary extension, quite different from the elongate slender cresty look of the other Acadian we saw today”). Other highlights of the count included two Merlins at O’Leno State Park and one at Paynes Prairie, two Alder Flycatchers, a Broad-winged Hawk, and a Yellow-breasted Chat at La Chua, American Bitterns at Newnans Lake and La Chua, Golden-winged Warblers at Gum Root Swamp and San Felasco Progress Center, a Tree Swallow and a Bachman’s Sparrow on the south side of the Prairie, and a Bobolink and a first-of-the-season House Wren in the rural northwestern part of the county. At least 24 species of warblers were found. Once I’ve compiled the reports, I’ll post the final results.

Mike Manetz and I birded the nature trail at Poe Springs Park on Friday. We saw no tanagers or cuckoos, and found only eight warbler species, but they included one Kentucky, one “Brewster’s” (a Blue-winged x Golden-winged hybrid, so not really a species), and a nice male Canada. All three were within a few yards of each other along the first part of the trail, where it overlooks a dry cypress swamp.  However I didn’t see any of them listed on Mike’s migration-count results.

Thanks to all of you who helped me keep track of the kites’ departure this year. The last Mississippi Kites of the season were three seen over the La Chua Trail on September 2nd by Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing, and the last Swallow-tailed was one seen over US-301 near Island Grove on September 1st by Travis Blunden. Both species will spend the winter in Brazil and return to the area next March (Swallow-tailed) and April (Mississippi).

Adam Zions reminds us that birds aren’t the only things you can see in trees. He was birding Bolen Bluff on the 20th and came across this bobcat loafing in a live oak.

On the other hand, Jonathan Mays reminds us that we should occasionally look down.

Adam Kent asked me to post the following announcement on behalf of the Florida Ornithological Society:
For the first time ever, expert sea-watchers reveal how to identify waterbirds at a distance! To hear more about this fascinating challenge, come to the Florida Ornithological Society (FOS) meeting this October 12th hear author Cameron Cox talk about his groundbreaking Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight. While hawk watching has been popular for years, similar bird ID techniques are also useful to identify waterbirds, sometimes at very long distances. Not just for people who bird on the coast, this presentation will help you identify waterbirds in any context, even flying over your own backyard!
What: FOS Fall meeting
When: October 11-13, 2013
Where: Hilton St. Petersburg – Carillon Park
Click here for more info about the meeting.

Students at the University of Florida are helping Alachua Audubon with its next backyard-birding tour by designing and distributing a survey about the yard tour (which they call a “birding event”) and social media. It would help Alachua Audubon if you were to take the survey, which is only twelve questions long and should take only one or two minutes. The designers of the survey write, “We are working on increasing the involvement and participation of the Alachua County Audubon Society. We have constructed this survey to gather your feedback on specific concerns we have that will aid us in our final recommendation. All of your information will be kept confidential and this survey is taken anonymously. We appreciate your feedback. Please take two minutes out of your day and complete this survey to help us better serve you”: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WWNFTVV

The Alder Flycatcher abides; plus Short-tailed Hawk and a plethora of other sightings (that’s right, a plethora).

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

The Crane gave the wrong dates for the Florida Native Plant Sale at Morningside Nature Center. The sale covers two days, only the second of which is open to the general public: Friday, September 27th, 4:30-6:30 p.m. is exclusively for members of the Florida Native Plant Society and Friends of Nature Parks (BUT! you can join when you get there), while Saturday, September 28th, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. is open to everyone.

Today’s Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock went well, according to trip leader Steve Hofstetter: “We had a beautiful morning with 28 people coming out and enjoying the park. We did the Moonshine Creek Trail and split up into two groups around the loop. There were lots of vireos (22 White-eyed, 14 Red-eyed, 2 Yellow-throated), Veeries (8), Ovenbirds (11), and Northern Parulas (19), but other than that the diversity of species was low. My group did get a great view of a Chestnut-sided Warbler and the other group heard a Louisiana Waterthrush.” Remember that there’s a field trip to Barr Hammock tomorrow (Sunday the 15th). Michael Drummond will lead.

Jonathan Mays and I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco’s Cellon Creek Loop on the 13th. We found 60 species of birds, including 11 warbler species, but they weren’t our best finds; a pair of Cliff Swallows twice circled past us at low altitude while we were scanning Lee Pond, and as we were watching a couple of Red-tailed Hawks soaring up on a thermal, a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk dived into our field of view and made a couple passes at the Red-taileds. That’s only the second Short-tailed ever recorded at San Felasco. The first was seen by John DeLuca almost exactly six years ago, on September 15, 2007.

On the 12th Lloyd Davis relocated and photographed the Alder Flycatcher that’s been hanging around Sparrow Alley since August 27th.

Samuel Ewing found the season’s first Blackburnian Warbler in his NW Gainesville yard on the 10th. For those of you keeping score at home, I think that’s the 20th warbler species recorded in Alachua County this fall; several others have been reported in the four days since then. Samuel got another seasonal first this morning, when he found a Swainson’s Thrush in his yard: “The thrush landed in a tree and when I put my binocs up I realized it wasn’t a Veery. I’ve been seeing Veeries almost everyday and this wasn’t like one. It had larger, much darker spots on the breast. I also could clearly see the buffy lores. It flew off before I could get a picture. I got excellent looks at Veeries a few minutes later and they were much different. This wasn’t near as reddish either.” And Lloyd Davis got yet another first-of-the-fall when he found three Wilson’s Snipe along the Cones Dike Trail on the 13th.

Adam Kent pointed out four Bobolinks to me at the Levy Lake loop trail this morning. Migrating Bobolinks have been heard since the 4th by birders listening for their distinctive calls passing overhead at night, but I think these were the first to have been seen.

On the 10th I was surprised to find a Great White Heron at Watermelon Pond not far south of the county park.

Also on the 10th, Dave Steadman, Curator of Birds at the museum, wrote, “This morning I saw a female Selasphorus in my yard at close range (10 ft). The bird was gone by the time I grabbed my binocs, but I’m confident to call it a female ‘Rufous/Allen’s.’  If anyone is interested, birders are welcome to stop by [send me an email if you want his address]. The fire bushes in the front yard have been getting lots of attention from a male and female Ruby-throated for many weeks, but today is the only time that I’ve seen a Selasphorus.”

If you’re lucky enough to have a sugarberry tree in your yard, watch for the signs of Asian woolly hackberry aphid. Warblers love them. Ron Robinson has an infested tree in his back yard, and over the last week he’s seen several warbler species feasting on the aphids, including Prairie, Chestnut-sided, and Blackburnian.

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-graders and their “Song of the Whooping Crane” dance merited an article in the Gainesville Sun on September 10th. The dance was created as an entry for the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest. They need your vote in order to win the contest, however. You can vote here.

If you’ve always wanted to spend your days at Archbold Biological Station, living the romantic life of a research assistant and working with Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Florida Grasshopper Sparrows – and who are you kidding, of course you have – here’s your chance.

A lively migration; plus, a new Facebook page for Alachua County birders!

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

I’ve been emailing these birding reports out for something like fifteen years. But email is giving way to more rapid (and concise!) methods of communication like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. It’s possible now to post a brief message or photo to one of these sites while you’re standing in the woods looking at a bird, so that the communication of your discovery follows instantly on the discovery itself. Bob Wallace has been asking me for years to ditch the birding report and set up a listserv. His concern was that a birder would find a rare bird and email me about it, but that I’d be out on Paynes Prairie and wouldn’t see the email until I got home; and thanks to the delay in reporting, the bird would fly away before Bob got to add it to his life list. He was right, of course. It could happen. But, I thought, not often enough to worry about it. Plus I enjoyed writing the birding reports, and I also felt that it was helpful (especially for beginners) to have someone filtering and interpreting all the information: this is rare, this is early, this is an unusually high number.

On Saturday morning Bob wrote again, this time urging me to start a Facebook page for Alachua County birders: “Since virtually everyone now has a FB presence, and since it is almost instantaneous since everyone has it on their phone, it sure would better for rapid dissemination of sightings and information to have everyone post their sightings to FB. Sure there would be some junk, and bad IDs, but like the Florida Birding FB page, the rarities show up there now long before they make it to the email lists.” True enough. But as someone whose favorite book title is Neil Postman’s Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, I’m not the one to do it. Bob threatened to set up the Facebook page if I didn’t. I didn’t, and he did. Here it is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/561382673923139/

You have to join the group, if you want to read the posts, and of course you have to be on Facebook to begin with.

Since I’m not on Facebook, I won’t see what’s posted there. So please continue to notify me of any interesting sightings – as well as posting them to Facebook, of course. If that turns out to be too onerous for the majority of birders, and my supply of birding news dries up, then the Alachua County birding report will ride gracefully into the sunset, not the first project to be rendered obsolete by new technology and not the last.

At this late date it occurs to me that the birding report may actually have inhibited the development of a local birding community. Perhaps direct exchange with other local birders – instead of communicating through me – will create a greater camaraderie. It’ll be interesting to see if it works out that way. Anyway, good luck to Bob and the Alachua County Birding Facebook page.

Now where were we?

Mornings have been beautiful lately, and people have been reporting good numbers of birds. This may turn out to be a great fall migration. On the 3rd Mike Manetz walked the Bolen Bluff Trail and found eleven warbler species, including a Golden-winged Warbler, two Kentucky Warblers, and 34 (!) Yellow Warblers. That number was bested by Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions on the 7th: they had 41 (!!!) Yellow Warblers and eleven additional warbler species, including one Kentucky.

I hadn’t heard of anyone seeing an Alder Flycatcher since the 3rd, and had actually discouraged a birder from driving up from Orlando because I thought he’d be wasting his time, but today Lloyd Davis relocated one of the birds lingering at Sparrow Alley. He also checked Sweetwater Dike to see if the male Painted Bunting was still at the bend in the trail just before the lone cypress, and it was.

Before sunrise on the morning of the 4th, Mike Manetz walked out the door of his NW Gainesville home and listened for the calls of passing migrants: “Heard several Bobolinks going over. Also one Veery. At first light 5 Common Nighthawks went streaming by. Multiple warblers were chipping in the yard.” Later that morning Bob Wallace walked his property in Alachua and found evidence of the same migratory movement: a Veery, 20 Red-eyed Vireos, and six warbler species including two Worm-eating Warblers. Likewise on the morning of the 6th Samuel Ewing got up early and conducted a pre-dawn migrant count at his NW Gainesville home. He heard at least two Bobolinks and 15+ Veeries. A little later that morning Jerry Krummrich saw evidence of the same flight at Alligator Lake in Lake City: “The trails in the woods were full of Veeries this morning as well as many Red-eyed Vireos, sometimes as many as 7-8 per tree.” On the same morning John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, and Jim Brady walked three miles at San Felasco Hammock (north side of Millhopper Road) and saw similar numbers of Red-eyed Vireos – their final count was 126 (“may be the largest number of Red-eyed Vireos I have ever seen in one place in one day,” noted John) – as well as four Veeries and eight warbler species, including two Blue-wingeds.

The migration of Common Nighthawks peaks in early September. On the 7th, writes Scott Bishop, “I took an out of town guest to see the bat house at Lake Alice. About fifteen minutes before sunset a flock of about a dozen Common Nighthawks appeared in a feeding frenzy over the bat house field. They continued all through the bat exodus.”

You’d expect Europeans to spend all their time sitting around in cafes being sophisticated and urbane and making jokes about Americans, but instead a huge number of them seem to prefer snuffing birds, including lots of little ones like buntings, flycatchers, and redstarts. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter is fighting the good fight by dismantling traps, taking down perching sticks that have been daubed with glue, and exposing illegal hunters, but they face a lot of resistance. If you’ve got a strong stomach, here’s their web site: http://www.komitee.de/en/homepage

The entire Alachua Audubon 2013-14 field trip schedule is now online in printable form: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/AAS-Yearbook-2013-2014.pdf

You know how you’re always wishing there was a seed and suet sale going on somewhere? Hey, you’re in luck! Wild Birds Unlimited is having one right now: http://gainesville.wbu.com/

Last birding report before The June Challenge!

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

We’ve got two field trips left in the Audubon year. After these, no more till September:

It’s not technically an Audubon field trip, but at 6:15 a.m. on June 1st you can help me kick off The Tenth Annual June Challenge at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on County Road 325 a couple miles south of Hawthorne Road. We’ll hit four or five locations during what will be (I hope) a fast-moving and productive morning.

(By the way, if you’d like to keep track of the birds you see during The June Challenge but don’t have a checklist, Phil Laipis has put together a simple printable checklist of the birds you’re most likely to see in Alachua County, with 25 extra blanks for all the exciting strays and rarities you’ll undoubtedly find. Click here.)

On the 2nd, Dr. Jaret Daniels, Assistant Director for Research at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, will lead a field trip in search of butterflies. Call Wild Birds Unlimited at 352-381-1997 for details about the meeting time and place.

It’s that time of year. Baby birds are everywhere. I was very pleased the other day when one of “my” Red-headed Woodpeckers stuck its head into a nest hole in the oak in my front yard and I heard the squealing of her chicks. A couple days later and just down the street, a full-grown Red-headed chick stuck its gray head out of a nest hole in a dead palm. More Red-headed Woodpeckers = a better world. But on the 27th, near the Kanapaha Prairie, I saw something even better: a bird walked onto the road, a second bird followed it, and as I drove closer I realized that there were a dozen tiny little things swarming across the road with them: it was a pair of Northern Bobwhites and their cotton-ball-sized chicks. They reached the shoulder just as I pulled even, and I got a close look at the female and one of the youngsters, and … if they made Red Bull out of adorable instead of chemicals, I felt like I’d drunk two cases of Red Bull.

Frank Chapman’s 100-year-old records have been dropping like flies this spring. The latest Eastern Phoebe ever recorded in Alachua County was one that Chapman saw on April 4, 1887 – until Andy Kratter saw one on April 7th this year. And the latest Bobolinks were a flock that Chapman saw on May 25, 1887 – until I flushed one at the Kanapaha Prairie on May 27th this year. I wonder if either of these new records will stand for 126 years, like the old ones did. I doubt it.

Since last summer I’ve been doing regular bird surveys at several county properties. On the 29th I spent the morning at Balu Forest, a 1576-acre tract of pine flatwoods between Gainesville and Melrose that will open to the public in the not-too-distant future. I found large numbers of Eastern Towhees and Common Yellowthroats, a couple singing Bachman’s Sparrows, a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, a Northern Bobwhite, and a Swallow-tailed Kite – but the best thing I found wasn’t a bird.

Bob Carroll, Becky Enneis, and Linda Holt are taking the birding trip of a lifetime to Alaska. Bob tells me that he’s going to post updates on his blog, so watch this space: http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

Speaking of blogs, Katherine Edison posted a lovely meditation on “A Sense of Place”: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-sense-of-place.html

Late spring update

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

At 7:00 on Tuesday evening, May 14th, Adam and Gina Kent will share photographs and descriptions of their recent trip to Cuba where they saw a wide variety of endemics and migrants and met with conservation professionals who manage some of the world’s richest environments. Please join us at the Millhopper Library, 3145 NW 43rd Street.

Two of the links in the last birding report went bad between the time I wrote it and the time you received it. The correct link for the film “Birders: The Central Park Effect” playing at The Hipp on the 21st is http://thehipp.org/birder.html

  And the correct link for the story on the eBird team’s North American Record Big Day, complete with map and photos, is http://ebird.org/content/ebird/?p=654

Conrad Burkholder took a really lovely photo of the area around Alachua Sink during the Alachua Audubon field trip on Saturday the 11th. The field trip found a Great White Heron, two Whooping Cranes, three Roseate Spoonbills, two Purple Gallinules, three Yellow-breasted Chats, eight Blue Grosbeaks, a dozen Indigo Buntings, two Orchard Orioles, and 100 Bobolinks, among other things.

On the 10th Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s only White-rumped Sandpipers so far: “White-rumped Sandpipers are in – had a flock of 8 peeps buzz by me this morning at the La Chua observation platform. Some were giving the little mouse squeak flight calls of White-rumps but I was only able to confirm actual white rumps on three of the birds.”

Dale Henderson notified me on the 7th that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was hanging around the Cedar Key airfield. It was still there on the 11th. That’s pretty late for a Scissor-tailed, but last year I saw one there in June.

There are still a few Cedar Waxwings hanging around. I saw four at the Main Street Publix on the 12th and heard (but didn’t see) a few in my NE Gainesville neighborhood on the 13th.

Not really meaning to rub your noses in it, but in case you’re interested here are two photos of birders looking at last weekend’s Kirtland’s Warbler.

Jonathan Mays got a photo of a Canebrake Rattlesnake (formerly a distinct subspecies, now simply considered a Timber Rattlesnake) in northern Alachua County on the 5th.

The Tenth Annual June Challenge begins in about two weeks.

Remember Adam and Gina Kent’s presentation on birding in Cuba at 7:00 on Tuesday evening!