Return of the Pacific Loon!

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

Have you contacted Jessica Burnett about that House Sparrow project yet? If you live in Gainesville, and you have a yard, you should: jburnett9@ufl.edu

The Alachua Audubon field trip to Alligator Lake on February 1st found a White-winged Scoter. Normally rare in Florida, this year they’re being seen in fairly large numbers on both coasts. But this inland sighting made me wonder what might be swimming around on Lake Santa Fe. So I called John Hintermister to see if he was as curious as I was, and what do you know, he was. On the 6th, he, Mike Manetz, and I motored out in cold, breezy weather to see what we could find. Coincidentally, that day was the one-year anniversary of our discovering the county’s first-ever Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe. Did we find a White-winged Scoter? We did not. But we found the Pacific Loon again, back for a second winter! We followed it around for a while, trying to get photographs, which isn’t easy when your quarry submerges one hundred feet to the south and, thirty seconds later, surfaces two hundred feet to the north. But Mike, sitting in the bow with the camera, persisted, and managed to get a profile shot, a picture of the dark “chinstrap” that identifies this species, and a photo of the bird with its wings spread, showing that it has molted its flight feathers – which means that it should be right there on Lake Santa Fe until they grow back in.

On the afternoon of the 7th Andy Kratter emailed me, “Just now an immature Brown Pelican soared past our (mine and Tom Webber’s) office window at the museum.” Two immature Brown Pelicans were at Bivens Arm, not that far away from the museum, on January 4th. Could this have been one of those birds?

The Clay-colored Sparrow discovered by Lloyd Davis at the Hague Dairy on the 30th has been seen several times since, most recently by Adam Zions on the 8th. Mike Manetz and I saw it on the 4th in a flock of Chipping and Savannah Sparrows, but even more interesting was a Northern Rough-winged Swallow we saw perched on a power line near the parking area. Its head, throat, and breast the same shade of dusty brown, smaller than a nearby Eastern Bluebird, it sat for several seconds and gave us a good look before a passing tractor scared it off. We didn’t see it again. This is the first February report for Alachua County, and the second or third in winter. Rough-wingeds are relatively early arrivals in spring, often showing up during the first week of March, and they do nest annually at the dairy, so keep an eye out to see if it sticks around.

You might describe this bird as a “golden-crowned” kinglet, but it’s not really. It’s a leucistic Ruby-crowned Kinglet that Barbara Shea noticed at Adam Kent’s house as we were finishing up the Backyard Birding Tour on the 8th. To me it looked cafe-au-lait in color, with white tertials creating a big white spot in the center of its back, a partly white tail, and yellow secondary edgings. But you don’t need to imagine the bird based on my description, because Adam ran inside and got a camera to document it.

I was grousing, in the February 3rd birding report, about the dearth of American Robins and Ospreys around here. Well I can grouse no more. I woke up to hundreds of American Robins pillaging the neighbors’ laurel cherries on the 7th and 8th. And the Ospreys, though just a little later than normal, showed up too. Michael Drummond told me that one had been on the old BellSouth tower downtown since the 27th. Others were seen at La Chua on the 2nd, Buchholz High School on the 4th, and the nest pole opposite the Gainesville Police Department on the 5th. Not to be shown up in the spring department by migratory upstarts, a Carolina Wren is building a nest on Michael Meisenburg’s back porch.

Friends of Courtney Tye created a memorial Facebook page to share pictures and stories: https://www.facebook.com/groups/courtneytyememorial/  Be sure to scroll down to Kate Pasch’s video of Courtney moving a hognose snake off the road to safety while pleading with it, “Don’t musk, don’t musk, don’t musk…” and Dustin Bonds’s three photos of Courtney peeling a road-killed Fox Squirrel off the highway while dressed in a strapless gown. An “expense and education fund” has been set up in her newborn son’s behalf. It’s a good way to honor her memory: http://www.youcaring.com/other/carter-wayne-tye-education-and-expense-fund/134335

Bye bye, birdie. Bye bye.

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

Let me clarify something from the last birding report. Jessica Burnett’s House Sparrow project does NOT require you to have House Sparrows in your yard. In fact, I’m aware of only one yard in Gainesville that DOES have House Sparrows. Jessica is trying to document their ABSENCE from (most) residential areas. So if you DON’T have House Sparrows at your place, if you just have the usual run of feeder birds, then YES, your yard is ideal for the House Sparrow study. Of course it’s also ideal if you DO have House Sparrows. Please contact Jessica either way, at jburnett9@ufl.edu

(MY, BUT THAT’S A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS! I ALMOST FEEL AS IF I SHOULD BE COMMENTING ON A YOUTUBE VIDEO! AND USING LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!)

Spring has been slow in arriving this year. Since mid-January I’ve been cruising past the martin houses at the old George’s Hardware at 34th and University, just knowing I’d see the spring’s first male perched outside a nest hole, but no. And no Ospreys yet, either, on the three nests I pass regularly. And I’ve seen no big flocks of robins flying over in the afternoons, bound for their roosts in the flatwoods. But I was working in the yard this morning, and I had just thought to myself, “It’s a beautiful spring day after a spell of cold weather, and there’s a south wind…” and right on cue I heard the Sandhill Cranes. Between eleven and noon I counted over 700 birds heading north, and heard others I couldn’t see. So they’re leaving us. There was also a flight of over 30 Tree Swallows headed north, a trio of Red-shouldered Hawks circling overhead screaming at each other, and a handful of Yellow-rumped Warblers flycatching from the oaks, zooming out, flaring their white-spotted tails as they snapped up their prey, and flying back.

But even though I haven’t seen Purple Martins, others have been luckier. The first of the spring were three birds reported by Marianne McDowell on January 24th, and there have been three reports since.

Lloyd Davis found a Clay-colored Sparrow while “walking around the abandoned shack just south of the sewage lagoon” at the Hague Dairy on the 30th. He also saw 5 female Painted Buntings and (a surprisingly big number) 12 Common Ground-Doves.

Matt O’Sullivan and I walked the Cones Dike Trail on the 31st and had a great morning. The largest number of unusual birds were near the big bend in the trail (about two and a half miles from the visitor center, where it changes from north-south to east-west), and included a Prairie Warbler, a Least Flycatcher that eluded us on the way out but put on a show for us as we were walking back, 3 or 4 Northern Waterthrushes, and, most surprising of all, a Least Bittern, one of only a dozen winter reports in the county’s history. We saw 60 species overall.

Dave Byrd notifies us of a spectacle at Lake Alice: “Two Red-tailed Hawks feeding heavily on bats at the Bat Tower. Be there at 5:50 to insure catching  the action around sunset. Pretty awesome sight.”

Mike Manetz pointed out to me that fourteen eBirders saw over 100 species in Alachua County during the month of January. Either we live in a really great place, or we’ve got some really good birders, or both.

Do you have your ticket for this weekend’s Backyard Birding Tour? Time’s a wasting! http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

I’ve got to end with some extremely sad news. Courtney Tye, a member of this mailing list for several years, died in childbirth this weekend. She’s survived by her husband Barry and newborn son Carter. Courtney had been working with private landowners on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I ran into her at the post office one day, and chatted with her for twenty minutes, and I can believe she was very good at that job. She was an intelligent and charming person, and it’s a great sorrow that her son will never know her. Rest in peace.

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

We go birding with the migration we have

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

There is still a window of opportunity to join Alachua Audubon in Costa Rica this June. In particular, a congenial female participant is looking for an equally congenial female participant to share double occupancy. Please email Mike Manetz at mmanetz@yahoo.com

Also, remember that Ron Robinson will lead a field trip to Bronson on Sunday the 28th to see a “super Purple Martin colony” (over 200 nests!). Meet Ron in the parking lot of the Jonesville Publix at the corner of Newberry Road (State Road 26) and County Road 241 at 8:00 a.m. Lynn Badger once said to me, “You can’t hear Purple Martins and NOT be happy.” Was she right? Here’s your chance to find out.

Some of you may already know this, but thrushes are not expected spring migrants in Alachua County. How unusual are they? Swainson’s Thrush has been seen three times previously (1988, 1995, 2012). Gray-cheeked Thrush has been seen six times (1887, 1971, 1972, 2000, 2003, 2008). And Veery has been seen about fifteen times. In short, it’s rare for even one of these birds to show up in Alachua County in spring. So I’ve been surprised, over the past week, to learn that local birders have recorded all three species. That’s got to be some kind of first. Caleb Gordon saw a Gray-cheeked in the swamp along NW 8th Avenue on the 20th, and Adam Zions saw one right next door at Loblolly Woods on the 23rd (same bird?). Samuel Ewing saw a Swainson’s at the University Gardens adjoining Lake Alice on the 22nd. Adam Zions photographed a Veery at Ring Park on the 24th, while Geoff Parks heard one or two singing (!) at Bivens Arm Nature Park on the 26th.

Other migrants are beginning to pass through. Cape May and Blackpoll Warblers are now widespread in small numbers; if you’ve got big oaks in your yard, that’s as good a place to look as any. Stephen McCullers saw the county’s earliest-ever Bobolink on the 15th, and since the 20th they’ve been seen almost daily at La Chua. In case you were wondering, almost no migrants showed up for last weekend’s Cedar Key field trip. Late in the day we did find a Tennessee Warbler and a stunning male Black-throated Green Warbler, but no tanagers, no grosbeaks, no swarms of warblers. This was explained by Angel and Mariel Abreu of Badbirdz Reloaded: “Looks like NE winds reached the southern take off points for migrants. The Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, Honduras and Cuba all experienced northerly winds and clouded skies, this effectively shut down nocturnal migration.” So the migrants didn’t even leave Central America the previous night. They just stayed put.

Samuel Ewing had his camera handy on the 24th when some saltwater birds flew over his home near Watermelon Pond: a couple of Brown Pelicans and a flock of Laughing Gulls.

Mississippi Kites are finally here. There were three sightings on March 29th, then nothing for two weeks. Felicia Lee saw one on the 13th, Linda Holt on the 14th, but they didn’t really check in till the 21st, when they were seen in four separate locations. There have been multiple sightings every day since.

I was impressed when Keith Collingwood saw a Clay-colored Sparrow at his place near Melrose on the 14th, because it tied the late record for the county. But then John Hintermister saw one at La Chua on the 17th (near the barn), and Dalcio Dacol got a photo of one at Barr Hammock’s Levy Loop Trail on the 23rd.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around too. Samuel and Benjamin Ewing had one in a residential area out Archer Road on the 21st, and I had one in my NE Gainesville back yard on the 22nd. I saw a Black-and-white Warbler going round and round a branch way up in an oak tree and I almost didn’t bother to look at it, but when I did – “Hey, that’s not a Black-and-white Warbler!”

Katherine Edison celebrated Earth Day by getting up close and personal with a Whooping Crane at La Chua: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/04/whooping-cranes-happy-earth-day.html

Remember Adena Springs Ranch? The Marion County ranch that wants to use as much water as the entire city of Ocala, even if they have to dry up Silver Springs to do it? Here’s their application, which is receiving serious consideration by the St. Johns River Water Management District: http://www.sjrwmd.com/facts/AdenaSpringsRanchCUP.html  Remember that this is the same agency that urges you to “use less water in your home or business.”  Do they expect us to care more about water conservation than they do? Apparently so. Submit your opinion here: https://permitting.sjrwmd.com/epermitting/jsp/supportAction.do?command=sb2080&prmtNo=2-083-129419-1&projNm=Adena+Springs+Ranch&ntc_sent=false

A slight warblerization of the avifauna

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

Join Craig Faulhaber, FWC’s Florida Scrub-Jay Conservation Coordinator, for a presentation on the biology and conservation of the Florida Scrub-Jay, the only bird species unique to Florida. Come hear about its fascinating social system, its unique scrub habitat, and the challenges and opportunities for conserving this charismatic species. The presentation will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17th, at the Prairie Creek Lodge at 7204 County Road 234. For more information contact Alachua Conservation Trust by phone (352-373-1078) or email ( info@AlachuaConservationTrust.org ).

Ron Robinson will lead a field trip to Bronson on the 28th to see a “super Purple Martin colony” (over 200 nests!). We’ll have more details as we get closer to the time, but grab your calendar right this very minute and pencil it in. I should point out that there will also be an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock that day. Life is full of hard choices.

Speaking of Alachua Audubon field trips, remember that we’ll offer two field trips each of the next two weekends: Palm Point and Powers Park on the 20th, Cedar Key on the 21st, Hickory Mound Impoundment on the 27th, and the aforementioned trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Millhopper Road entrance on the 28th. Details are here. The Georgia Coast trip on May 4/5 has been canceled, but we may find something else to do that weekend, so watch this space.

Okay. Spring migration has gotten pretty interesting during the last few days:

While working in a restricted part of Paynes Prairie on the 15th, Jonathan Mays found the best bird of the season so far, a Swainson’s Warbler, one of only about twenty ever sighted in the county: “Located after hearing him sing (8:22 a.m.) but most of view obscured by vegetation (could see rust cap and unstreaked breast though); moving east along treeline edge of canal/dike; song loud and similar to Louisiana Waterthrush (3 clear intro notes) but ending not garbled … sang multiple times (ca. 6) from close range.” He also saw a Yellow Warbler (“Beautiful all yellow bird w/faint red stripes on chest – male; did not sing but gave dull chip note when it flew; seen very well in open branches of a willow”) and at least six Northern Waterthrushes.

On the 13th Michael Meisenburg led an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Progress Center, where the participants saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Cape May, 6 Prairies, 3 American Redstarts, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak, among other things.

And on the 14th, Andy Kratter found about the same variety around his SE Gainesville neighborhood: a Worm-eating, a Cape May, a Prairie, an American Redstart, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak.

Painted Buntings are showing up, as they are wont to do during Indigo Bunting migration: Stephen McCullers saw a male at Bivens Arm Nature Park on the 12th,  Tonya Becker of Gainesville has had a male and a female visiting her Gainesville yard since the 13th, while Phil Laipis had yet another male in his NW Gainesville back yard on the 15th.

John Killian walked out La Chua on the 15th and found a Great White Heron near the observation platform. Also a Whooping Crane and the season’s first Purple Gallinule. Usually Purple Gallinules are here by late March, but like several other species, including Summer Tanager and Orchard Oriole, it’s running a little late this spring.

Stephen McCullers saw the Groove-billed Ani and two Yellow-breasted Chats along Sparrow Alley on the 16th. This is a new late record for Groove-billed Ani in Alachua County, by four days.

On the 14th Keith Collingwood saw a Clay-colored Sparrow at a feeder in his Melrose yard, tying the latest spring record set in 1963.

On the morning of the 13th Andy Kratter counted 92 Common Loons flying over SE Gainesville, and 18 on the following morning.

On the 7th Samuel Ewing saw an interesting nighthawk near his family’s home in Newberry: “I was doing a ‘nighthawk watch’ and after a little while spotted one flying north. It was quite low and was swaying side to side and turning around acrobatically trying to catch insects. I could clearly see the white bars on the wing.” The flight style sounds like that of a Lesser Nighthawk, and since they do winter in South Florida they’d have to migrate through North Florida to get home – but obviously there’s no way to know which it was. On the 12th Benjamin Ewing heard a definite Common Nighthawk calling while playing ball with the family, and he and Samuel saw a second one as well.

April 1st brought amusing April Fool’s posts from two birding blogs, advertising the best binoculars ever manufactured and warning us that ABA is going to clamp down on dubious life lists:
http://www.nemesisbird.com/2013/04/the-new-eagle-optics-wild-turkey-10×50/
http://blog.aba.org/2013/03/aba-set-to-enforce-list-totals.html

There’s a new Florida Big Day record: 195 species in a single day! Read about it at http://birdingforconservation.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-big-day.html

Jackson Childs’s movie about spring bird migration, “Gulf Crossing,” is available for viewing at http://gulfcrossingmovie.com/Gulf_Crossing.html

Just ducky

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

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 2nd, Alachua County Forever will officially open the Levy Prairie portion of the Barr Hammock Preserve to the public. Everyone is welcome.

This winter’s sunset was at its earliest (5:30) from November 26th to December 9th, and sunrise was at its latest (7:26) from January 7th to January 13th. Today’s sunrise was at 7:23 and today’s sunset will be at 6:01. We’ve gained 23 minutes of daylight since the solstice, nearly all of it in the afternoon.

I haven’t received too many birding reports lately, which sort of surprises me, given that the La Chua Trail has been overrun with rarities during the past three weeks: Whooping Crane (last reported by Bryan Tarbox on the 21st), Vermilion Flycatcher (ditto), Groove-billed Ani (ditto), Ash-throated Flycatcher (ditto), Lincoln’s Sparrow (ditto), Peregrine Falcon (me, on the 22nd), two Yellow-breasted Chats (ditto), plus the Bell’s Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and Clay-colored and Fox Sparrows seen between the 8th and the 12th. Most of those birds, if not all, are still out there. Go get ‘em!

It’s been a good winter for Fox Sparrows. One was at Cones Dike on December 7th, one at Camps Canal on December 11th, four at Persimmon Point on the Christmas Bird Count, one at Sparrow Alley on January 8, and most recently Mike Manetz found one at Mill Creek Preserve on the 23rd, a new species for Mill Creek. (Mike characterized his morning at Mill Creek as “opposite day”: “as many Fox Sparrows (1) as Cardinals (1), more Bluebirds (3) than Blue Jays (0), more Orange-crowned Warblers (5) than Titmice (4), and more Black-and-white Warblers (2) than Yellow-rumps (0). Also, no chickadees, and only five Carolina Wrens.”)

During his brief swing through north-central Florida, Fred Bassett banded three hummingbirds in the Gainesville area: a Rufous at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house in SW Gainesville, a second Rufous at Deb Werner’s place in Alachua, and a third Rufous at Greg Hart’s place in Alachua. He also banded a Rufous at Tom Green’s feeder in Ocala. Other hummingbirds were seen but could not be captured.

American birding lost one of its greats last month:
http://birdingwithkennandkim.blogspot.com/2012/12/so-long-rich.html
http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/CAwhoRS.html

The following is mainly for eBirders, but it may be of general interest as well. Renne Leatto, who lives in the Orlando area, raised waterfowl for years and is probably as knowledgeable about them as anyone in the state. Some time ago she took it on herself to correct some misconceptions about Muscovies and Mallards that were circulating on the Birdbrains listserv (and continue to circulate among eBirders and birders at large). The words in bold face are the questions and comments to which she was replying, the other words are hers.

Is it possible that we still have a few full-blooded Muscovies out there, or are they all Muscovy-Mallard hybrids?
The question ought to be: Do we really have any significant numbers of Mallard/Muscovy hybrids out there at all? The answer is NO. I know people seem to be on the lookout for them all the time, and if you keep looking you MIGHT eventually find one. But the chances are somewhere between getting 5 out of 6 numbers on lotto and spotting Bigfoot. I have seen hundreds of pics of suspected Mallard/Muscovy crosses, from the Birdbrains listserv and many other sources, and have only seen two that were really that. The others were either full-bred specimens of one of the many Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds, a cross between those breeds, or a 100% Muscovy. Yes, you can Google “Muscovy Mallard hybrid,” click “images” and get pages and pages of so-called hybrids. And I can tell you which domestic breed, or mix of domestic breeds, each one really is, and which are just 100% Muscovy. I found NO HYBRIDS in the search I did. Some people had even posted domestic geese and labeled them Muscovy hybrids, and my two favorites, a  male Ruddy Duck and a Coot! THE TRUTH – Mallards and their derivative domestic breeds RARELY cross with Muscovies. They are not the same species and prefer their own. Even confined to a barnyard together, they will almost never interbreed, even if you keep only females of one species and males of the other. And even when they DO cross, they produce only sterile “mules” (like a horse and donkey cross) which cannot reproduce themselves.

I have been watching these ducks regularly and can’t see any hybrid color to them.
Not sure what you mean by “hybrid color” but there is no such thing. Muscovies can be any color or any combination of colors and so can mixtures of domestic Mallard-derived breeds.

They even have all black feet.
This occurs in both Muscovies and some breeds of domestic duck.

Have attached photo of a Muscovy Duck that we have in Leesburg. Wanted some opinions of how close this duck is to being the true Muscovy and not a hybrid.
Keep in mind that you can’t answer your original question by the bird’s color, but only by the bird’s shape and the presence of the red facial skin.  Your bird looks like an immature male or large female 100% Muscovy, but I would only know for sure after seeing a closer shot of the face.  There are a few domestic breeds that can have a shape similar to the female Muscovy’s.

Who the heck am I and how do know all this? I am a former duck farmer. For years, I raised a dozen-plus fancy Mallard-derived duck breeds, including Domestic Mallards, Blue Swedish, Crested Ducks, Indian Runner Ducks, Buff Ducks, White Pekin, Rouen, Black Cayugas, Khaki Campbells, Blue and Black Swedish Ducks, Buff Orpington, and Call Ducks (miniature ducks). I also raised Muscovies. I sold them to people who showed them at poultry shows and fairs, 4H kids and adults. My birds won top awards at many shows, especially my Black Cayugas.

Why did I write all this? Because even on this wonderful Birdbrains listserv, which is made up of so many scientists and amateur scientists, and so careful to meticulously split hairs in order to correctly ID each wild bird, this mythology about some prevalence of Muscovy hybrids not only continues, but grows. I’m here to say, IT AIN’T TRUE. If we want to ID ducks accurately and with more ease, we need to change our paradigm of thinking about Muscovies and their phantom hybrids, because for the most part the latter DO NOT EXIST.

That’s the end of Renne’s email. As I say, it’s mostly for eBirders, in hopes of reducing the number of Mallard x Muscovy hybrids in the database. If you’re not presently an eBirder, why not give it a try? It’s easy, it’s actually sort of fun, and in keeping track of the birds you see at your feeder, or on your weekend walks, you help to build a national database that serves as a resource for both ornithologists and birders. In fact, eBird has a page that explains why it’s a good idea to start eBirding (note that it’s become a verb now: I eBird, you eBird, he, she, it eBirds, we are eBirding…): http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/why-ebird  Here’s a tutorial: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/tutorial  And here’s a Quick Start Guide: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/ebird-quick-start-guide

Some birds linger longer

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

I inquired about hummingbirds in my previous birding report and haven’t heard from a single solitary soul. Are all the hummers gone? Please, oh please tell me if you know of one in the area. The rest of this heart-rending plea for information should be illustrated by a flow chart: Is it in your yard, yes or no? If yes, is it coming to a feeder, yes or no? If yes, would you like Fred Bassett to stop by your place and band it, yes or no? I’ll wait patiently beside my computer for your response.

The other question I asked in the previous birding report elicited only a couple of responses: What was the Bird of the Year 2012? One person nominated the flock of Black Scoters at Lake Wauberg, another nominated the Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been hanging around the La Chua observation platform. What about the cooperative Alder Flycatchers at Cones Dike, the Green-tailed Towhee at Paynes Prairie along US-441, the Sprague’s Pipits on the Kanapaha Prairie? There must be some I’m forgetting. Nominate, you black-hearted scoundrels, nominate!

My third and last question for the day: does anyone know where there’s an active Bald Eagle nest? An out-of-town photographer is looking for one to … um, photograph.

The Bell’s Vireo was last reported on the 12th. John Martin send me a map showing where he found it, “about 500 feet” south of the usual spot:
https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=217764550819642906685.0004d31d92e0e1b6f57af&msa=0&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=20&vpsrc=1

As to other local rarities, the Groove-billed Ani was seen this morning (the 15th) in the usual spot by Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, and special guest star Paul Lehman, former editor of Birding magazine. (Hint: Follow the link to one of birding’s best time-wasting websites.) And here’s Jonathan’s picture of the ani: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8383632533/in/photostream/  On the 13th Howard Adams saw a Whooping Crane from the La Chua observation platform. On the 12th Chris Hooker, visiting from St. Augustine, found the Vermilion Flycatcher at the La Chua observation platform and a Yellow-breasted Chat along the fenceline trail. And on the 11th I saw a Peregrine Falcon perched on the powerline supports near the fenceline trail.

The fenceline trail is called Sparrow Alley by Frank Goodwin, and it’s been living up to its name. On the 7th Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello saw a Clay-colored Sparrow. On the 8th Adam Kent, Chris Burney, and several others saw a Fox. On the 12th Chris Hooker saw a Lincoln’s and John Martin saw four Grasshoppers in a tree at one time and got a picture of two of them: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/8375463546/in/photostream/

On the 13th Andy Kratter found that the ducks had returned to the crew team parking lot, where East University Avenue dead-ends at Newnans Lake. He reported “7 Canvasbacks, 9 Redheads, 10 Ring-necked Ducks, 25 scaup sp. (some of these look like Greater but they didn’t flap wings for me), 5 Lesser Scaup, heaps of Ruddy Ducks far offshore (>300), 180 American White Pelicans, and 200 Bonaparte’s Gulls.”

Remember! Hummingbirds! Bird of the Year 2012! Eagle nest!

Major birdage

The last week has produced a few really remarkable days of birding.

You may remember that Dalcio Dacol saw a possible Ash-throated Flycatcher near the La Chua observation platform on the 29th. No one was able to relocate it, but on December 2nd Jonathan Mays photographed a definite Ash-throated at the end of the Bolen Bluff Trail. One might assume that it was the same bird as Dalcio’s – simply because, after all, how many Ash-throated Flycatchers could we possibly have on the Prairie at once? They’re a rare bird, right? So anyway, on December 4th John Hintermister, Howard Adams, Mike Manetz, and Jonathan Mays did a little Christmas Count scouting. They started at Persimmon Point, where they found … an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Then they went on to Cones Dike, and in the very spot frequented by two Alder Flycatchers in September, they found three … count ‘em, three … Ash-throateds IN THE SAME TREE. And not just in the same tree, IN THE SAME BINOCULAR FIELD. So that’s four separate sightings, and five or six separate Ash-throateds, between November 29th and December 4th. (Other good birds seen on the same day included a Lincoln’s Sparrow at Persimmon Point and a Yellow-breasted Chat on Cones Dike. Normally these would be the stars of the show, but not on a Four Ash-throated Flycatcher Day).

A party consisting of Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, Adam Kent, Frank Goodwin, and Julia Willmott returned to Cones Dike on the 7th, and Jonathan was able to get a picture of two Ash-throateds perched in the same tree. The group also found a Least Flycatcher, a Virginia Rail, and a Fox Sparrow. (All three Ash-throateds were still present on Cones Dike on the 8th, according to Adam Zions and Sidney Wade.)

Frank Goodwin must be wearing American Birding Association aftershave laced with sparrow pheromones, because he’s been finding sparrows like no one’s business. On the 2nd he photographed a Henslow’s Sparrow in the big field at Gum Root Park, a traditional place to look for them. On the 8th he and his wife Irina had a ten-sparrow day along the fenceline trail near the beginning of La Chua, including three relative rarities: two Lincoln’s Sparrows, a Clay-colored, and a Fox. Irina also saw a female Painted Bunting at the beginning of the trail. All of this in about a quarter of a mile. Frank remarks that the fenceline trail is “fast becoming my very favorite winter birding walk in all of Alachua County (if not the entire U.S.).”

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around, as witnessed by three birds on successive days this week: I saw one at San Felasco Hammock on the 3rd, Geoff Parks heard one near Blues Creek on the 4th, and one visited Pat Lanzillotti’s NW Gainesville feeder on the 5th.

On the 6th Andy Kratter saw a Limpkin at Lake Alice. One was seen there multiple times early this year, but no one could find it after April. It may have been in the vicinity, keeping to the extensive swamp east of the main lake. Anyway, John Hintermister visited Lake Alice on the 8th and got a picture of it.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher is still being seen at La Chua, most recently by Jason Fidorra on the 7th. Greg Stephens photographed it on the 5th.

The goldeneye behind the Butterfly Rainforest exhibit appeared to have a yellow bill in the original photo that I received. Barrow’s Goldeneye has a yellow bill. But later photos showed that it had a dark bill, typical for a Common Goldeneye.

I remember Tom Webber saying that he expects to hear Northern Cardinals singing right about the time of the winter solstice. I always thought they started later than that, maybe a week or so after New Year’s Day. But I’ve heard them singing in my back yard each morning since December 1st. What with this and the early arrival of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins, it’s a strangely advanced winter in some ways.

According to the American Birding Association, Nanday Parakeet AKA Black-hooded Parakeet is now countable in Florida (be sure to read the comments): http://blog.aba.org/2012/12/52-bird-species-added-to-aba-checklist.html

John Winn has a cousin who runs a bird rehab facility in Maine, and every December she compiles her favorite photos from the preceding year. You should look at these if only to see the downy American Woodcock chicks: http://www.avianhaven.org/avianhavenslides2012.pdf

Shirley Lasseter made me aware that the Duck Pond, where Muscovy Ducks formerly reigned supreme, is now the domain of Black Swans. They’ve been there about three weeks and haven’t killed anyone yet, and I understand that’s pretty good for Black Swans.

There are three local Christmas Bird Counts coming up after the Gainesville Count. All could use your help:
Tuesday, December 18: Ichetucknee  / O’Leno. Contact Ginger Morgan  Ginger.Morgan@dep.state.fl.us
Thursday, December 20: Hamilton County. Contact Jacqui Sulek  jsulek@audubon.org
Thursday, December 27: Lake City. Contact Valerie Thomas  v.thomas57@gmail.com

Vermilion Flycatcher and Le Conte’s Sparrow at La Chua Trail

The Vermilion Flycatcher that John Hintermister first found on the 8th was still at the La Chua observation platform on Friday morning, when Frank Goodwin managed to get a photo of it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8197165695/in/photostream

It was still there on the 18th, too, and seen by Frank, Mike Manetz, and Charlene Leonard. As they approached the observation platform – “in the largest patch of barnyard grass, about half way between Gator Point and the platform” – they saw a Le Conte’s Sparrow, and Charlene managed to get a photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8197165399/in/photostream  (By the way, “barnyard grass” is the fluffy blonde stuff in which all the Savannah and Le Conte’s Sparrows were hiding at Orange Lake last winter.)

Saturday’s Cedar Key field trip, led by Caleb Gordon, was hugely successful. In addition to five Red-breasted Nuthatches at the museum, there was a White-winged Scoter “incredibly close and cooperative” off the downtown fishing pier (still present and “extremely viewable just off the beach on the road to the airstrip” on Sunday, along with a Surf Scoter, according to Dale Henderson), a Peregrine Falcon seen by all, and a Short-tailed Hawk seen by a few on the road to Shell Mound. On the way back to Gainesville, three of the cars made a detour to a birding spot south of Bronson, where they found an Ash-throated Flycatcher and a Clay-colored Sparrow.

Vismig Common Loons – if you haven’t been keeping up with your British birding slang, “vismig” means “visibly migrating” – continue to pass overhead on their way to the Gulf. On the morning of the 17th Adam Kent saw 15 going over his SE Gainesville home and I saw 5 going over J.J. Finley Elementary School.

Barbara Woodmansee visited the Hague Dairy today, looking for birds, but found herself distracted by the great variety of butterflies: “Had 4 White M Hairstreaks, every sulphur species there is except Dogface, including 8-10 Orange Sulphurs! I watched one laying eggs in the clover. Long-tailed Skipper and Dorantes Longtail, Zebra Heliconians, Gulf and Variegated Fritillary, Carolina Satyrs, Fiery Skippers, Clouded Skippers, and Whirlabouts, both Painted and American Ladies – lots of them, including late instar American Lady caterpillar. Lots of White Peacocks and Common Buckeyes, a Monarch, Phaon Crescents, lots of Checkered Whites and checkered-skippers (I think I saw both Tropical and Common). No swallowtails of any kind – sort of surprising. We had 24 species in about 2 hours – not bad for late November!”

Vermilion Flycatcher, early waxwings, and other good birds

(Sorry for the delay on some of these reports. This week I’ve been house-sitting for a friend who doesn’t have internet access.)

John Hintermister found a female Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua Trail observation platform on the 8th. It was one of three great birds he found on his walk (59 species overall). The others were a Lincoln’s Sparrow “just southwest of the barn” and a Clay-colored Sparrow “on Sweetwater Dike just past the first turn going west and before the big cypress tree.” If you go looking for these, keep an eye out for a first-fall male Yellow-headed Blackbird seen by Irina Goodwin along Sweetwater Dike on the 4th.

John Martin found some great birds at the Hague Dairy on the 4th. He scared up a Henslow’s Sparrow near the “twin ponds” south of the main driveway, and he got an extended video of a gorgeous male Yellow-headed Blackbird among the Brown-headed Cowbirds on the roof of one of the animal buildings (click on the little gear-looking icon that says “Change quality” and choose “Original,” then select “Full screen” to see this at its best).

Neither of these birds was found during Alachua Audubon’s field trip to the dairy on the 3rd, but Mike Manetz reported, “Got good scope looks at Vesper, Savannah, and Swamp Sparrows, plus Sedge Wren. Best was Merlin perched for several minutes in scope for lots of oohs and aahs, especially from me!” (The Merlin was #251 in Alachua County this year for Mike. If you want to see how that stands compared to previous Big Years for Alachua County, go here.)

Cedar Waxwings usually start showing up in Gainesville during the second half of December. It’s rare to see them before that. But this year there have been several sightings already. Adam and Gina Kent saw the first one at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. On the 4th they visited the wetland behind the Magnolia Parke commercial complex and found a flock of 30, while Felicia Lee recorded 5 at the La Chua Trail.

Gina Kent saw a Pine Siskin at her feeder on the 7th; it could be the harbinger of an irruption, or it could be lost. American Goldfinches are starting to arrive as well. On the 5th Gina saw one her feeder, Jonathan Mays saw one at Paynes Prairie, and Bob Wallace saw one at his place south of Alachua, and there have been a handful of reports almost every day since then.

Common Loons are also starting to show up, pretty much on schedule. Dean Ewing saw the first of the fall in a retention pond near Chiefland on the 29th, Samuel Ewing saw three over Newberry on the 5th, and county biologist Susie Hetrick and I saw one (plus three Ruddy Ducks) on Lake Alto on the 9th.

Last June, Bob Carroll retired from a distinguished and successful 40-year career as an educator. Not long afterward he received an advertisement in the mail for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Since he had never been birding in Texas, it struck him that registering for the festival would make a darned good retirement gift to himself. He left early this week, and you can accompany him on his adventure through The Magical Power of the Inter-Net, because he’s described three of his adventures on his blog at http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

The field trip on the 10th goes to the Hamilton County phosphate mines, the one on the 17th goes to Cedar Key. According to Dale Henderson, Cedar Key is a veritable hotbed of Red-breasted Nuthatches this fall. She writes that she is “seeing and hearing Red-breasted Nuthatches daily. There may be a dozen or more. Near the air strip, cemetery, and down closer to my house, and also in the museum and vicinity.” In addition, Dale saw a flock of 25 Snow Geese and had a Pine Siskin at her feeder. Field trip schedule: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/calendar.htm

The Cedar Key Christmas Bird Count will be held on Thursday, January 3rd (not December 27th as “The Crane” says). If you’re interested in participating, email Ron Christen at ronrun@embarqmail.com or call him at 850-567-0490. The Gainesville CBC will be held on Sunday, December 16th, and if you want to join us you should contact John Hintermister at jhintermister@gmail.com