Miscellaneous, including local birding update

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

I’m a sort of village idiot, fascinated by simple things. I always figured, for instance, that the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, would by definition have the latest sunrise and the earliest sunset. But no! The sun continues to rise later and later after the December 21st solstice, reaching its latest (7:26) from January 8th to January 12th. And the earliest sunset (5:30) occurs well before the solstice, from November 25th to December 8th. Although we’ve gained 50 minutes of daylight since the solstice, it’s all been at one end of the day; sunrise is only 9 minutes earlier, while sunset is 41 minutes later. Why does everything have to be so complicated?

With nesting season approaching, and already underway for a few species, Audubon Florida (formerly Florida Audubon Society, Audubon of Florida, etc.) has produced a short video called Tips for Successful Wildlife Photography.

Speaking of videos, Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge, in which our own Adam Kent participated this past December, is the subject of a Birding Adventures TV episode. Dan Lane, an LSU ornithologist of some reputation, is one of the other contestants. If you want to see Adam, he shows up at 1:11, 13:41, 18:47, and 20:32: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDnbyiI4x98&sns=em

The Sandhill Cranes are departing in big numbers. On the 10th Mercedes Panqueva saw migrating flocks over San Felasco’s Progress Center: “Tallied 1,613 by Lee Pond. Observation was between 1:04 and 4:04 PM. Most were large flocks (50-180) flying high but still catching thermals. At 2:43, as part of, but on the very edge of a flock of 184, one white crane that can only be a Whooping.” On the 11th John Erickson reported “at least 8,000″ flying north over the US-441 observation platform. Mike Manetz saw 1500 in a pasture a mile north of the platform this morning: “They may disperse in the area but given the weather I think we will have a lot of cranes grounded here for the next couple of days.”

The Rusty Blackbirds are still present at Magnolia Park: Matt O’Sullivan saw 11 on the 10th, and Samuel Ewing saw two and photographed one on the 12th. The Calliope Hummingbird was still present in High Springs on the 9th. The Bullock’s Oriole was still at the Goodmans’ place on the same day. Also on the 9th, Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan found two Lincoln’s Sparrows at La Chua (one beside the big pine near the entrance to Sparrow Alley, one at the end of the boardwalk at Alachua Sink), and Glenn Israel relocated the Northern Rough-winged Swallow and saw four Painted Buntings at the Hague Dairy. Hilda Bellot told me that she saw the Black-chinned Hummingbird at her NW Gainesville home on the morning of the 9th, but no one has reported it since; Matt O’Sullivan has gone looking for it twice without success.

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

No rest for the weary

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

Another rare bird? This is getting so tedious!

News of the Calliope Hummingbird in High Springs rapidly found its way out to the Florida birding community, and on January 16th Homosassa birder Kevin Brabble made the drive up to see it. He saw the Calliope, and he saw the other hummingbird, generally assumed to be a Rufous. There was also a flock of at least ten Baltimore Orioles, and because he was sitting there with a pair of binoculars waiting for the hummers to show up, Kevin started looking at them – and noticed that one of them wasn’t an oriole. It was a Western Tanager. He got a photo. This phenomenon – birders flocking to see one rarity, and then finding another in addition to it – is so often repeated that it has a name. It’s called the Patagonia Picnic Table Effect, and you can read about it by clicking here.

The Western Tanager habitually travels with the oriole flock, so wait for the flock to arrive and start picking through the orange birds for a greenish one.

Both the Calliope and the Rufous have been very cooperative. Photographs have been arriving in my inbox regularly, more than I can share, but let me show you three of them. John Mangold got a good photo of the Calliope’s magenta gorget (click here), and Jonathan Mays got an Olan Mills portrait (click here). John Killian got a wonderful shot of the presumed Rufous in midflight (click here). Jack and Mary Lynch continue to welcome birders to their home at 415 NW 9th Street in High Springs, but they ask that you maintain a decent distance from the birds. Good luck if you go for them!

Long-time Gainesville birders will be saddened to hear that Judy Bryan has died. Dotty Robbins kindly forwarded a January 12th email from Judy’s brother Dana Bryan of Tallahassee, who wrote, “I wanted to let you know that Judy passed away Thursday night after three and a half years battling her cancer. She put up a valiant fight and birded to the end! I posted a memorial photo album on Facebook if you want to ‘friend me’ long enough to see it.” Do a Facebook search for “Dana Bryan Tallahassee” to find Dana’s page.

Calliope Hummingbird at High Springs!

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

It was one of those instances of birding serendipity that often begin a lucky day. Mike Manetz and I had hoped to look for the Fox Sparrow at Prairie Creek’s Lodge Trail with Chris Burney this morning, but Chris was called away to check an easement for Alachua Conservation Trust. He hadn’t returned by mid-morning, so we decided to visit the Hague Dairy instead. We stopped at the Deerhaven pond just before the dairy turnoff to see what might be there and found at least two Redheads, maybe three, among the Ring-necked Ducks and American Coots. Then we went on to the dairy, where we saw a Merlin harrying the cowbirds, a Common Ground-Dove, and a Marsh Wren. I was trying to get a better look at a warbler in a swampy area – as yellow below as a Prairie Warbler, what looked to be a gray hood – when the cell phone rang.

It was Bubba Scales. “Are you in Gainesville?” he asked.

I told him I was at the Hague dairy.

“Even better,” he said. Customers in High Springs had emailed him pictures of what they believed to be a Calliope Hummingbird at their feeder, and he thought it was worth checking out. “The throat looks plum-colored,” he said.

When Bubba said goodbye, I told Mike the news. “We’re wasting time here,” he said. He called the customers, Jack and Mary Lynch, and asked if we could come see the bird. Since we were already at Hague, it was only a fifteen minute drive to High Springs. Just before town, we cut left onto US-27 (1st Avenue), followed it across Main Street to NW 9th Street, then turned right and continued to the Lynches’ house (415 NW 9th Street, on the right). Mr. Lynch met us and showed us the feeder. Mike and I waited around for about twenty minutes before the bird flew in and perched on a stick tied to the feeder pole. Based on Bubba’s description, I’d thought this might be a young male, a bird that might require some puzzling out, but no. The throat was a mass of magenta stripes, narrowing to a point on each side like a forked beard. An adult male! We’ve had one or two Calliopes in Alachua County before, but they were unremarkable in appearance, reminiscent of almost every other female or juvenile hummingbird in North America. There was no doubt about this one! Mike managed to get a photo by aiming his cell phone’s camera through his telescope: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/11936434044/

A second hummingbird is present in the same yard, and habitually clashes with the Calliope. It looks like a female or juvenile male Selasphorus, probably a female Rufous. At one point it sat on the uppermost twig of a leafless cherry tree for about half an hour, incessantly looking back and forth, back and forth, waiting for the Calliope to show up, and when it did the Selasphorus zoomed down and commandeered the feeder. According to Mary Lynch, both birds have been present since the 3rd.

The Lynches are happy to entertain guests. Park in the driveway or on the street. No need to knock. Just walk around to the right side of the house, open the gate, sit down in one of the folding chairs, and watch the nearest feeder. The Lynches say that late afternoon is usually the busiest time.