Barr Hammock in trouble

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

A small group of landowners whose property adjoins Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake Loop has complained that the presence of pedestrians on the trail “negatively impact [their] privacy and quiet enjoyment of [their] property.” They would like to close the section of the trail that runs behind their land. If they were to succeed in doing this, there would be no loop trail – you’d have to walk five miles in, then turn around and walk five miles out. The Environmental Protection Department is fully aware that this is not a good idea, and has said so to the County Commission. However there will be a public hearing on the matter on Tuesday, July 1st. I can’t see how the county could rationally decide in the landowners’ favor – the landowners are, after all, asserting private-property rights over public property – but if you’re willing to speak on behalf of keeping the trail open, the meeting will take place at 5 p.m. in the Grace Knight Conference Room, located on the second floor of the Alachua County Administration building (12 SE 1st Street, downtown Gainesville). Otherwise, especially if you’ve enjoyed the trail at Levy Lake, you can send an email to the entire Board of County Commissioners, asking them to maintain the trail as it is, at

Twenty-one people showed up to see the Burrowing Owls at Watermelon Pond on Saturday morning. As we gathered in the county park I heard a bird singing from a willow beside the boat ramp. One random phrase followed another without repetition (almost like one of my birding reports!). It sounded to me like a Gray Catbird, but they’re not supposed to be here, so I asked Mike Manetz, who was just getting out of his car, what he thought. “Gray Catbird!” Mike said. We were able to get the bird in the telescope and everyone got to watch it as it sang. Samuel Ewing managed a photo in the low light: Gray Catbirds normally nest north of us, but every few years we’ll find one singing during the summertime, and from 2000-05 we had several that summered here and even nested. Still, it’s a surprise to see one at this time of year.

The three Burrowing Owls were cooperative enough, but the grass had grown longer since the first field trip two weeks ago and they were frustratingly hard to see. However the group contained several June Challenge participants, and they were happy to add another bird to their list, good views or not. (And Katherine Edison got a very nice shot of a Sherman’s Fox Squirrel as she was heading home afterward: )

Afterward, several of us went to Peter Polshek’s house on NW 8th Avenue in hope of seeing the Broad-winged Hawk he’d seen and heard repeatedly in the trees on his property. We didn’t have a lot of time, and it hadn’t shown up by the time we left. But Samuel and Benjamin Ewing dropped by in the early afternoon and spotted it. Samuel was able to get a photo: Inspired, I went over to Peter’s early this afternoon. I found Bob Simons and Maralee Joos there. We stood around for a while, watching the sky. Maralee left. Bob and I watched the sky for a while longer, and then Bob left. I kept watching the sky. Then Dalcio Dacol showed up, then Danny Shehee. We continued to watch the sky. We saw birds – Swallow-tailed Kites, Mississippi Kites, a Cooper’s Hawk – but not the one we wanted. After I’d been standing there for two and a half hours, Matt O’Sullivan joined us. We watched the sky. Five minutes later he said, “What’s that?” It was the Broad-winged Hawk. Matt was probably thinking, “I don’t know why these geezers made such a fuss about the bird. That was easy!”

There were some good sightings at La Chua this morning: Adam and Gina Kent saw a Tree Swallow, one of only a few June records in the county’s history, and Bob and Erika Simons saw a Lesser Scaup off the observation platform. You’ve still got a day to try for them.

Remember to send me your final totals on Monday night. And to let me know if you’re attending the June Challenge party on Tuesday night.

And remember to send a quick email in support of Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake Loop to the County Commission. It’ll take less than a minute:

Late-record spring migrant, and a few pretty pictures

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

As Matt O’Sullivan and I were driving home from the Burrowing Owl excursion on Saturday, I asked Matt if he’d like to come along to Paynes Prairie on Sunday morning. He said he would, in hopes of seeing some late migrants. I told him that we’d never had a spring migrant of any sort in the county after June 6th. Perhaps that’s why he chose to stay home. So naturally we stumbled onto a NEW late-record spring migrant, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, which was nicely photographed by Chris Janus: A couple of other birders mentioned that they’d seen it there recently, so it may be summering locally.

Michael Drummond, a biologist with the county’s Environmental Protection Department and a really outstanding photographer, got a nice picture of one of the Watermelon Pond owls in February:

By the way, county biologist Susie Hetrick was so pleased with the way things went on Saturday morning, that she now says she’s open to the possibility of a second Burrowing Owl field trip in the near future. If you’re interested in going, whether you went on the first trip or not, send me an email, and I’ll put you on the list.

On the 16th Bob Carroll reported, “Walked Sparrow Alley and Sweetwater Dike with Becky Enneis to help her with her June Challenge list. Highlights were two very cooperative Yellow-breasted Chats and a family of King Rails with two or three chicks. That was very cool! We saw all of the other expected species including young Common and Purple Gallinules and young Pied-billed Grebes. It seems the waterfowl world is thriving out there this year. Fun morning.”

As Bob noted, the King Rails on the Prairie have hatched out their chicks in the past couple of weeks, and I’ve seen some nice photos of family groups, none better than this by Wade Kincaid:

The first of a series of County Commission meetings on Plum Creek will be Tuesday the 24th, and you should familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of the controversy before then. Be sure to visit Especially read the “Plum Creek Myths,” which casts a skeptical eye on the contention that the development will benefit East Gainesville, pointing out that East Gainesville is closer to I-75 than it is to the *nearest* edge of the Plum Creek property, “and most of it is further away than the Town of Tioga development in Jonesville. If all the growth along the I-75 corridor and everything in between hasn’t helped East Gainesville, then how would Plum Creek’s city in the swamp, with its own schools and grocery stores on the other side of Newnans Lake?”

Several people have sent me this interesting link, showing how Barn Swallows that were nesting inside a closed building had learned to trigger an electric eye to open its front door:

If you’ve ever wondered how airports deal with wildlife, read this (found by David Wahl):

Short-tailed Hawk at Possum Creek Park

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

After seeing three Burrowing Owls at Watermelon Pond this morning (with 50 of my closest friends), Matt O’Sullivan and I drove up to the Newberry cemetery in hopes of seeing Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and White-winged Dove. The doves were cooperative, but no one had seen a pewee there recently. The flickers had been seen in the past few days, so we stuck around for about an hour, hoping they’d show up, but eventually we decided to leave. We passed Bob Carroll standing by the cemetery fence – he’d just added Common Ground-Dove to his June Challenge list and gave us a thumbs-up – and headed toward home. At about that time, Bob heard a flicker call, so he played a tape and four flickers (!) flew into trees right above his head. He could still see my car, and he waved at us, but we didn’t see him. All that’s necessary for a good bird to show up is for me to leave.

Or for me not to be there in the first place. Bob just called about five minutes ago to tell me that a Short-tailed Hawk was soaring over Possum Creek Park on the corner of NW 43rd Street and NW 53rd Avenue. Someone – Maralee Joos? – mentioned that they’d seen an all-dark hawk on the ground near the corner of 53rd and NW 34th Street in the past week. Maybe they’re nesting around there. Anyway, if you need Short-tailed for your June Challenge list – and most of us do – that’s the place to hang out.

Field trip to see Alachua County’s Burrowing Owls!

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

Well, I’m back. Did you miss me? Well, not me exactly, the birding report. What’s that you say? WHAT birding report? Sigh. I type my fingers to the bone and this is what I get.

Do you have an active bluebird box that could accept two 10-day-old bluebird chicks? Larissa at Florida Wildlife Care writes that they’re in “great shape. Their mother and 3 siblings were killed by ‘invasive’ birds. Dad fed them once and left. I need a foster family.” If you can help, please let me know.

Anyway, I was in Maine and Maritime Canada from the 27th through the 10th, and that’s why I haven’t been annoying you. I got eight life birds – Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Black Guillemot, Arctic Tern, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee – and saw several other species that I rarely see, like Canada and Nashville Warblers, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak, and Common Raven. But it was a family vacation, not a birding trip, so I missed many more birds than I saw. I’ve posted 22 photos of my trip to Machias Seal Island for close-range looks at puffins, murres, and razorbills, and you can see them starting here (click the > symbol to the right of the photo to progress to the next one):

I was on Prince Edward Island on the 1st, so Bob Carroll generously stood in for me and kicked off The June Challenge with a field trip to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, Powers Park, and the La Chua Trail. I was going to summarize the group’s discoveries, but Bob wrote it all up very nicely for us in a well-illustrated blog entry (assist from photographer Stuart Kaye):

One of the June Challenge’s best discoveries so far was a really late Sora photographed by Erika Simons on the 3rd: There’s only one later report, from the Summer Bird Count of June 5, 1971. That bird and this one are the only two June sightings of Sora in the county’s history; the latest otherwise was a bird that I saw at Lake Alice on May 11, 2000.

Another interesting June sighting was a bird that sounds very much like a Wurdemann’s Heron (Great Blue Heron x Great White Heron) that Felicia Lee reported from the Cones Dike Trail near the Paynes Prairie Visitor Center on the 1st. She writes, “Its back/wings were a normal shade of blue-gray, but its head, breast, and neck were entirely white, except for the black head plume.” There’s one previous report of a Wurdemann’s Heron in Alachua County, a bird seen by Steve Nesbitt at the Kanapaha Prairie on 19 June 1988.

If you need Northern Flicker for the June Challenge – it can be tough to get – Frank Goodwin saw two males at Morningside Nature Center on the 7th, along “the trail that winds through the woods between the parking lot and University Avenue, near the ‘Butterfly Loop’ that runs alongside the paved entrance road, just before it turns east toward the parking lot. Both birds then flew west, toward the birding blind, which is precisely the spot I last saw them (back in early April).”

This Saturday morning you’ll have an opportunity to see Alachua County’s only known Burrowing Owls (and add them to your June Challenge lists!). At 6:30 a.m. we’ll meet at the Watermelon Pond County Park (Note: NOT the Wildlife and Environmental Area) and Susie Hetrick of the Environmental Protection Department will lead us to the new county property where the owls are. Susie wants to know how many are coming, to be sure that she can accommodate everyone, so let me know if you’ll be there and I’ll pass it along to her. To get to the county park, drive south 2.9 miles from the traffic light in Newberry (on US-41/27). Turn right (west) on SW 46th Avenue and go 1.2 mile to SW 250th Street. Turn left (south) on 250th, a bumpy dirt road, and follow it 3.7 miles to the one-acre county park at the end. At that hour we should see some Common Nighthawks as well.

The final event of Alachua Audubon’s 2013-14 year will take place next Wednesday evening at the Millhopper Branch Library. Gina Kent of Avian Research and Conservation will describe different methods of tracking wild birds, including satellite telemetry, and the unexpected details that these methods have revealed about the travels of birds.

FWC is asking birders to report sightings of American Kestrel, Painted Bunting, and Burrowing Owl. For more information, or to report a sighting, click here.

“The Birdlife and Natural History of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp” will be the subject of a presentation by wildlife photographer Ernesto Reyes Mourino at Alachua Conservation Trust next Thursday, June 19th.

Remember those bluebirds. Ten days old. They need a home. Let me know if you can help them out.