Nelson’s Sparrow at La Chua!

Adam Zions found the county’s third-ever Nelson’s Sparrow along the La Chua Trail on the 20th. He describes the location as “about halfway between the ‘s’ curve before it straightens out for the last bit before the platform. If you go looking for it, you’ll notice the more open water on your right as you first take the bend (where they placed the extra soil), then another smaller patch of somewhat open water on your right a little further ahead. Go past this to the third, and smallest patch of somewhat open water on your right, which should be about halfway or slightly past halfway along the ‘s’ curve, and that’s where I observed it foraging on grass seeds.” Nelson’s Sparrow is a saltmarsh species in Florida and is pretty common along the Gulf Coast, but it nests in freshwater marshes on the Great Plains – Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta – and some of the birds get slightly disoriented during fall migration. Not many of them, though; inland sightings in Florida are very scarce. Adam’s eBird checklist, which includes five photos of the bird, can be seen here.

At least two Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still slumming at the Hague Dairy. I got there a little after eleven on the 20th, just as a flock of two or three thousand blackbirds swarmed up and disappeared to the west. I hung around for another hour and a half, but the birds never came back, so I went home. Just an hour after I left (naturally!) Brad Bergstrom and Margaret Harper of Valdosta State University showed up and saw “two Yellow-headed Blackbirds atop the transformer pole near the Admin. bldg. (where visitors sign in) from 2-3 pm. While I was signing in, Margaret was standing right next to the car looking at the two birds. When I walked  back out of the office, at first I thought she was joking about seeing the blackbirds. That was a years-long nemesis bird for her; it’s not supposed to be that easy!” On the 16th Jonathan Mays got a photo of THREE Yellow-headeds feeding together, but no one else has been that lucky; I think it may be the largest number ever recorded here during a single fall, and he had them all in his viewfinder at once! Two Bronzed Cowbirds were also seen at the dairy by Adam Zions on the 14th and by several observers on the 15th, but on the 16th Jonathan found only one. Both species may yet be present. By the way, Bob Carroll related his own search for the Yellow-headed in characteristically amusing style on his blog.

There’s a new sign on the door of the dairy office: “Attention all birdwatchers: Please park in the designated areas and walk. Do not block the roadways or gates. Do not cross any fences. Do not go through any gates. Do not interfere with dairy operations.” I’m not sure what occasioned this, but please observe their rules conscientiously. I think the dairy employees find us odd but harmless, and that’s how we want to keep it. The designated parking area is here. I asked one of the employees in the office about the “Do not go through the gates” rule, and he told me that this applied only to closed gates.

Sometimes the best place to go birding is your back yard. Becky Enneis has been proving that point this fall. There’s a huge sprawling live oak in her back yard, and she’s set up a water drip under one of the lowest limbs. It always gets a lot of birds, but this week has been particularly exciting, with a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the 20th, a Bay-breasted Warbler on the 18th, and on the 17th a Swamp Sparrow, one of the earliest of the fall and not exactly a typical backyard bird. And over in rural Columbia County on the 19th Jerry Krummrich enjoyed a varied and highly entertaining few minutes of backyard birding: “At the mister right outside my window in a river birch tree, in the space of 15 minutes, I had furious activity and 17 species of birds. Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white Warblers – several of some species, including a male of each species, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Cardinals (about 10), Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.”

Bachman’s Sparrows used to be resident at Morningside Nature Center, but during the past twenty or so years their occurrence at the park has been unpredictable. John Martin found one there on February 10th and got a video, but as far as I know there weren’t any additional encounters until Geoff Parks heard one singing on October 18th: “As I was going past an area we burned back in May, near the north end of Sandhill Road, I heard some sparrow-like ‘seet’ calls so I stopped for a few moments to see if anything interesting was around. To my surprise, from out of the grasses nearby I heard a Bachman’s Sparrow giving a whisper song. It did it several times over a few minutes; it sounded exactly like the normal song, just very quiet. I didn’t try to coax it into the open and never managed to see the bird, but I’m certain that’s what it was. Maybe this one will stick around until spring. Mysterious little critters!”

I got a very nice trip report from Adam Zions about Alachua Audubon’s Levy Lake field trip on Saturday the 20th: “A hearty troop of 11 intrepid explorers and one half-witted trip leader set out at 8 a.m. along the Levy Lake loop trail at Barr Hammock. Several Gainesville birders and a few out-of-towners from Chiefland, Inverness, and Cape Canaveral set out to see what the trail had to offer. An Eastern Phoebe and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk greeted everyone at the parking lot, a precursor of what would follow. Even though week-long winds from the north, combined with a lack of a front from the south, seemed to push most migrants onward to Central America and the Caribbean, the group tallied a total of 50 different species, including 9 different warbler species, The favorites being an Orange-crowned Warbler (first of the season for everyone) and a Tennessee. Strong numbers of wintering species were noted, especially Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, and Gray Catbird. Highlights of the day included close observations of 4 incredibly-obliging American Bitterns, a flock of 8, late Northern Rough-winged Swallows, an adult Bald Eagle getting chased by a Red-shouldered Hawk, a few Sandhill Cranes, sizeable numbers of Indigo Buntings, and many first-of-the-season birds for most participants (e.g., Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Northern Flicker). Non-avian highlights included a White-tailed doe, Striped Mud Turtle, a mother American Alligator and several of her offspring, and a 4′-4.5′ Cottonmouth shed. The feathered remains of a Red-shouldered Hawk were noted as well. Sunny, yet cool weather obliged for the majority of the trip, until the last mile of the trip when an unexpected storm front poured buckets and soaked everyone. Everyone stayed in good spirits, but made due haste to the parking lot. It was a very lively and engaging crew, and made for an excellent first AAS trip out to the Levy Lake portion of Barr Hammock. Group eBird checklist link: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15444710

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.

More birds than you can shake a stick at, if you were inclined to shake a stick at birds

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

I’m in the process of posting the new Alachua Audubon field trip schedule on line. It’s rather slow going, because I have to create an individual page for each trip, but I like the new web site’s format. If you look at the Classes & Field Trips page, you’ll see the next ten events listed – http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ – with the date, destination (or program location), and meeting time. If you click on the “+” sign associated with a given field trip, you’ll get a description of the trip; and if you then click on “Read more,” you’ll see a map of the meeting location as well as contact information for the trip leader in case you have a question.

However, this is an instance of the reality not quite living up to the ideal, because the map doesn’t invariably agree with the coordinates I enter for it. For instance, the coordinates to the Levy Lake Loop parking area, as provided by Google Earth, take you to a Marion County prison when entered into the web site. Or at least they did before I got a different set of coordinates. And sometimes WordPress (the web site software) simply won’t accept the address. The meeting place for our Barr Hammock field trip is the Valero gas station at 101 NW Highway 441, Micanopy, FL 32667, but no matter how many times I try to enter it, WordPress deletes the street address and reduces it to “U.S. 441, Micanopy, 32667, USA,” and places the marker about a mile and a half south of the Valero station. WordPress gets it right more often than wrong, but … please use the written directions to the meeting place. Here’s an example of what it looks like when everything works properly: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/ai1ec_event/road-to-nowhere-hagens-cove/?instance_id=127 (Well, everything works right on our site. The link to Hagens Cove misspells Steinhatchee twice.)

If you’ve got Labor Day off, you might want to spend part of it birding. The migrants are moving through in big numbers, and San Felasco Hammock sounds like the place to be. More on that presently.

On the 27th, responding to Mike Manetz’s report of two Alder Flycatchers at the La Chua Trail, Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions visited La Chua and found three Alder Flycatchers. Two were where Mike had seen them, along Sparrow Alley near the barn, and the third was along Sweetwater Dike. Adam made a short video in which a hidden Alder can be heard calling repeatedly. Dalcio Dacol relocated the Sweetwater Dike bird on the 30th, just where La Chua meets Sweetwater, and on the 1st John Martin relocated and photographed the two birds at Sparrow Alley. At least these are presumed to be the same birds discovered on the 27th; neither Dalcio nor John heard them calling.

On the 28th, Bob Simons, Dotty Robbins, and Jim Swarr went looking for the Alders along Sparrow Alley and saw a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk, no doubt the same one spotted there by Glenn Israel on the 24th.

(If you decide to look for the Alders and/or the Short-tailed, and then to walk the rest of the way out La Chua, be aware that the approach to the observation tower is under a few inches of water. Thanks to Jonathan Mays for the photo.)

On the 29th Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg found the fall’s first Golden-winged Warbler along Lakeshore Drive near Palm Point.

There was a big influx of migrants on the 31st. Jonathan and Ellen Mays found the season’s first Chestnut-sided Warbler along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, then went home and found an extraordinarily early Scarlet Tanager. Mike Manetz went to San Felasco’s Progress Park entrance (off US-441 near Alachua) and tallied twelve warbler species – the best of which were 5 Ovenbirds, a Blue-winged, and a Kentucky – and then picked a Bank Swallow out of a flock of Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts.

The next day, Jonathan and Ellen Mays and Adam Zions walked San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails (i.e., the whole system south of Millhopper Road), and they also tallied twelve warbler species, including 12 Ovenbirds, 3 Worm-eating Warblers, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Chestnut-sided, a Kentucky, and not one but two Golden-wingeds, a male and a female.

I looked at the 12 warbler species seen by Mike and the 12 seen by Jonathan, Ellen, and Adam, and it looks like there are a total of seventeen species of warblers fluttering around out there. So grab your binoculars! Go get ‘em! Besides, it’s time for the first Veery to show up, and someone needs to find the first one, it might as well be you, right?

Swallow-tailed and (especially) Mississippi Kites are still being reported. Greg Stephens had one Swallow-tailed and three Mississippis circling over his Jonesville yard simultaneously on the 31st. Please keep those reports coming!

Second-grade students taught by local birder Sharon Kuchinski are finalists in the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest, and they need your votes in order to win. You can see their entry, and cast your vote, here: http://www.expressionsacademy.org/about/spotlight-items/213-sense-of-wonder-contest

For the rain it raineth every day

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

The last few days’ weather has brought us some exceptional birding.

On the 3rd it rained warblers. Jonathan Mays, working on the north rim of Paynes Prairie, saw 14 species, some in relatively large numbers. His best were a Chestnut-sided Warbler, only the second or third spring record for the county, and a Tennessee, almost as rare at this season. The others included 24 (!) American Redstarts, 12 Blackpoll Warblers, 2 Black-throated Greens, 3 Cape Mays, and 3 Black-throated Blues. Mike Manetz, birding nearer the La Chua trailhead, saw ten warbler species, including three singing Yellow-breasted Chats. And Andy Kratter, splitting his time between Pine Grove Cemetery and Palm Point, saw twelve warbler species (plus a Cliff Swallow at Palm Point). All together, Jonathan, Mike, and Andy totaled 18 warbler species on the 3rd. And the warblerpalooza continued through the 4th, when Adam Zions and Jonathan Mays found a Black-throated Green along Bellamy Road, and Adam later counted thirteen Black-throated Blues at Ring Park.

Surprisingly, Jonathan’s Tennessee wasn’t the only one this spring. Andy Kratter saw three (!) at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 1st, and one of them stuck around till the next day.

On the 4th Mike Manetz wrote, “I ran into John Hintermister and Debbie Segal and we decided to try the Hague Dairy. It rained the entire time there, but we got 2 Semipalmated Plovers and 2 Least Sandpipers at the dirt field just east of Silo Pond. At the Lagoon we had 31 Least Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also present were 6 Solitary Sandpipers and 3 Spotteds. The Bronzed Cowbird is still there!! We saw it in one of the barns with a few Brown-headeds. White-rumped Sandpipers should be there any day.” (White-rumpeds are already being seen in Jacksonville as well as South Florida.) A little later in the day Dean and Samuel Ewing read Mike’s report of the Bronzed on eBird and drove out to the dairy, where Samuel got a photo.

A couple of lingering falcons have been reported. Adam Zions saw a Merlin at the Hague Dairy on the 4th, while Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at Watermelon Pond on the 3rd.

Jonathan Mays photographed a Brown Pelican over Newnans Lake on the 2nd.

Barbara Knutson of Ft. White (Columbia County) had a male Western Tanager at her place from the 27th to the 30th. Unfortunately I learned about it on the 30th.

Tina Greenberg photographed a male Painted Bunting that visited her home at the western edge of Gainesville on the 2nd and 3rd.

Linda Hensley’s NW Gainesville yard, which is hosting a couple of Gray Catbirds that may be nesting, also attracted a male Purple Finch on the afternoon of the 3rd. It’s not the only winter bird lingering around town. On the 4th Caleb Gordon saw two American Goldfinches in NW Gainesville, and later the same day John Hintermister saw Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, and Bonaparte’s Gulls at Newnans Lake.