More spring migrants

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

Sorry about two posts in one day, but I wanted to get the Cave Swallow news out. There are lots of birders in Gainesville who don’t have Cave Swallow on their Alachua County life lists – though there are fewer of them today than there were yesterday.

This morning’s Ocala National Forest field trip was fairly successful. The sky was clear, the temperature warmed up nicely, and the landscape was beautiful, open, rolling pine savannah. We had close, but mostly brief, looks at Florida Scrub-Jays in two locations, extended close looks at Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, and scope views of a singing Bachman’s Sparrow. Otherwise I’m not sure we saw even ten species of birds. Pine woods are weird like that.

Lloyd Davis photographed a Caspian Tern at Alachua Lake on the 25th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16946186766/in/photostream/  There have been about 30 sightings in Alachua County history, none before 1975.

On the 26th, also at Alachua Lake, Lloyd spotted a flock of 20 American Wigeons – likely migrants on their way north – and photographed four of them: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16970808982/

Lots of resident species have checked in during the last couple of weeks. I’ll give the details of the first report, but in most cases there have been several subsequent sightings: Christine Zamora saw an Indigo Bunting at Paynes Prairie on the 14th; Samuel Ewing saw a Red-eyed Vireo in NW Gainesville on the 20th; Pat Burns found a Hooded Warbler at San Felasco on the 22nd; Dalcio Dacol saw the first Mississippi Kites, two of them, in NW Gainesville on the 22nd; Cindy Boyd saw ten Chimney Swifts at Creekside Mall just after sunset on the 25th at about the same time that Sam Ewing was watching 19 passing over NW Gainesville; Ron Robinson and Chip Deutsch saw an Eastern Kingbird over Jonesville Park on the 28th; and Ron saw a Broad-winged Hawk over his place west of Gainesville on the 29th.

As to transients, the first Louisiana Waterthrush was seen by John Martin at San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek Trail on the 14th and there have been at least five reported since; Matt Bruce saw a Prairie Warbler at La Chua on the 15th and at least ten have been reported since; and Lloyd Davis found one Solitary Sandpiper at San Felasco’s Progress Center on the 25th and another at La Chua on the 27th.

Are you doing loon watches in the morning? If not, you’re missing out. Emily Schwartz counted 78 going over NW Gainesville between 9:10 and 9:37 on the 24th. The rain kept the birds down on Thursday and Friday, but after the front passed it was all systems go. On Saturday morning I saw 103 going over my yard in NE Gainesville (including a single flock of 35!) while Andy counted 88 going over his place in SE Gainesville and Ron Robinson and Chip Deutsch counted 29 going over Jonesville Park.

My blogging career at the Gainesville Sun – did I mention that? I’m sure I did: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/ – is not setting the world on fire. Last week I wrote a short appreciation of a common lawn weed called Florida Hedgenettle or Florida Betony, ending with this: “We don’t usually look at little things, but when we do, we’re often startled to find them beautiful. Nature does some of its best work in miniature.” A few days later I got my very first email in response to a blog post! I was so excited! Probably someone writing to thank me for my graceful prose, or at least to share their enthusiasm about nature! I opened the email: “Mr. Rowen, How can you kill Florida Hedgenettle when it is growing among shrubs or plants? Thanks for any advice.”

Did you hear about this? This was great: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/man-saves-black-bear-from-drowning/

Increasingly, I need one of these when I go out birding: http://www.wired.com/2015/03/exoskeleton-acts-like-wearable-chair/

Looniness, a profusion of siskins, and more spring arrivals

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

I can tell it’s spring because I found three ticks crawling on me after a “Sneaky Sunday” visit to the sheetflow restoration area this morning. I mentioned this to Mike Manetz as we were leaving. “You’re a tick magnet,” he said.

Mike and I discovered that most of the ducks at the sheetflow restoration area have gone north. When I was last there, in January, I counted 18 species of ducks. This morning we saw only two, Blue-winged Teal and Black-bellied Whistling Duck. However there were a few spring arrivals: two Black-necked Stilts, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and, running a little early, the spring’s first Least Bitterns, three of them. The most interesting sightings otherwise included half a dozen Limpkins, 19 Long-billed Dowitchers, and a White-faced Ibis.

Pine Siskins began to show up at feeders all over Alachua County about the middle of the month. If you’ve got American Goldfinches at your place, look for a streaky bird among them with an extra-pointy bill and yellow in the wings, like this one that Sam Ewing photographed in his NW Gainesville yard on the 13th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16617935550/ Ron Robinson tells me that he presently has 10 to 15 siskins visiting his feeders. They can be very common some winters. Jack Connor wrote in The Crane for February 1978, “So far, 1978 has been The Year of the Pine Siskin. The little finch, which hadn’t been seen in the county since the winter of 1974-75, has been building in numbers all winter. On the Christmas Count there were eleven; by New Year’s every goldfinch flock seemed to have at least one or two siskins in its midst; by mid-January many mixed flocks were mostly siskins and groups of 20, 30, and even 50 siskins were being counted. Some kind of climax may have been reached the other day when a local birder received a call from a woman who wanted to know how to get rid of Pine Siskins – they were taking over her feeder.” That year the siskins remained well into spring, with the last being seen on May 10th. The county’s late record is June 8th.

Great Crested Flycatchers seem to be at least ten days earlier than usual this spring. Andy Kratter heard one on the 17th and Bryan Tarbox another on the 18th, and Austin Gregg saw one on the 20th, all on the UF campus. Mike Manetz had one in his yard on the 21st.

The loon migration finally got underway on the 18th. Andy Kratter had seen one loon flying over on the 9th, but nothing in the days that followed. On the 18th, however, he saw a single at 9:10, another at 9:15, and then a flock of 15 at 9:30. This is a great instance of what the Brits call “vismig,” the visible migration of birds. Did I write about this on my Gainesville Sun blog? Why yes, yes I did. Remember that Andy will give an informative talk on loon migration at 6:30 in the evening of Monday the 23rd at the Millhopper Branch Library. He’s been watching the cross-Florida loon migration for twelve years now, so it ought to be a particularly interesting program.

Speaking of loons, if you read my *other* blog post (ahem), you know that Mike Manetz and I went looking for the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe, but found no evidence that it had returned for a third winter.

Jacqui Sulek of Audubon of Florida writes, “Scrub-Jay Watch training will take place on May 30th down in Marion County … just 30 (or so) minutes away from you all. We have had other volunteers from Gainesville but surprisingly little participation from Alachua Audubon. Training is half a day and takes place in the field. Surveys take place approximately June 15-July 15 for those who want to participate. Folks who want to participate should contact me at jsulek@audubon.org

If you’re interested in going to Cuba this September and participating in a photo contest, have I got the link for you! https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4E7iNkfaDyUVElibkUxcDJqVWNXR3FiMjVPbVdEZ20xLXdz/view?usp=sharing

I blog, therefore I am

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

Early this month Darrell Hartman, who works part time for the Gainesville Sun, phoned to ask if I might be interested in doing a birding- and nature-related blog for the Sun’s online edition.

“I might be,” I replied, rubbing my hands together greedily. “How much does it pay?”

“Not one red cent,” Darrell said.

“Ha haaaaa!” I exulted. “My ship has come in! … Wait, what?”

So of course I said yes, and here it is: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/

Okay, on to the birding news:

The Western Tanager at Jack and Mary Lynch’s place in High Springs showed up on Saturday. Fifteen or sixteen people visited throughout the day, and about two-thirds of them got at least a fair look at the bird. Matt O’Sullivan got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/16196345793/

On March 15th Kathy Malone, trying to photograph as many of Alachua County’s birds and butterflies as possible before she moves away to Tennessee, got a lovely video of a Bachman’s Sparrow singing very quietly at O’Leno State Park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e2SPuh8rmcY&feature=youtu.be  She also got a really great picture of a bird that’s not easy to photograph, a Yellow-throated Vireo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kmalone98/16641313269/

New spring arrivals: Ron Robinson heard a Chuck-will’s-widow singing in his yard on the 13th, and on the 14th Matt O’Sullivan and I saw a Northern Rough-winged Swallow at the end of Cellon Creek Boulevard, where they nest. Nobody has yet reported a Red-eyed Vireo from Alachua County, but during the past three days there have been multiple sightings in Central Florida and a few in North Florida, so they should be here soon if they’re not already.

The loon migration has been rather quiet. As I mentioned before, Andy Kratter saw one on March 9th, the first day of his annual loon watch, but he hasn’t seen one since, and I haven’t seen any during the two days I’ve watched from my back yard. However it’s still early in the season.

Not bird related, but very interesting. I remember hearing someone say that bat houses never attract any bats, that they’re mainly to get people interested, to raise awareness. Evidently the bats around Ron Robinson’s place weren’t aware of that. On March 13th Ron wrote, “I sat out this evening and counted the bats exiting my bat house. I counted 59 before the mosquitoes began to arrive.”

Coming up in the next week:

This Thursday (March 19th), Third Thursday Retirees’ Birding Group to Suwannee River State Park. Meet at Hitchcock’s at 7:30 a.m. to carpool. Lunch at All Decked Out in Live Oak, which has received very good reviews. If you’re going to lunch with the group, contact Bob Carroll at gatorbob23@yahoo.com ASAP so that he can reserve the space: “The restaurant is small, but the owner promised to work with me to sit us together as long as I give him some numbers in advance. So it’s important that you get back to me!”

This Saturday (March 21st), field trip to Watermelon Pond, led by Sam Ewing: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/watermelon-pond/?instance_id=397

Next Monday (March 23rd), program meeting on loon migration by Andy Kratter: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/program-meeting-the-cross-florida-migration-of-common-loons/?instance_id=395

(Finally, I realize that the announcement, “I’ve started a blog!” strikes some people in just the same way, “I’m selling Amway!” would. To those people I say, “Dude, subscribe to my blog!”)

Loonacy begins! plus Western Tanager in High Springs

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

Here’s a blast from the past. If you were here seventeen years ago, this description of spring 1998 from that summer’s birding newsletter may ring a bell: “As March began, the water level at Paynes Prairie was at its highest in at least the 27 years since the state purchased it, possibly since 1948 or even 1891. The outer lanes of US-441 were closed as water crept up and flowed over the edges of the asphalt to the center line of each lane. It peaked on March 11 at 61.4 feet above sea level, only 2.6 feet below the level of Alachua Lake during the 1880s when it was navigated by steamboats. The regular weekend ranger-guided walks along the La Chua Trail were replaced by ranger-guided canoe excursions! However, March’s rainfall was normal (4.45″ – average is 4.11″), and April and May’s much less than normal (combined for both months 1.29″ – average is 7.2″), so that the newspaper began reporting the effects of the ‘drought,’ which in June included severe fires around Waldo. There was not a single major front during the month of April. What rainfall there was – a brief downpour on April 19, and more extended rains on May 18 – was localized. There was no general rainfall till May 27. Consequently the water slowly ebbed away. By June 16, it had dropped far enough to allow me to step across two feet of water onto the US-441 observation deck, the first time it had been accessible since February.”

Jack and Mary Lynch, who hosted a Calliope Hummingbird last winter, now have an adult male Western Tanager visiting their yard. They’re willing to have birders come over to see it on Saturday morning (only), beginning at 8 a.m. They’re at 415 NW 9th Street in High Springs. Look for the tanager in a flock of Baltimore Orioles. Mary writes, “He is standing out brilliantly. Yellow and black with the start of the red on his head.” Park in the front yard and just walk into the back yard; don’t bother to knock. Mary asks that you “pull pretty much off the road and not past our driveway or the neighbor’s dogs will not stop barking.”

On March 1st, while practicing for the Race 4 Birds to be held in Georgia on April 26th, Sam Ewing and Steve Goodman (along with Dean Ewing, Ted Goodman, and Adam Kent) realized that they were within striking distance of the Alachua County Big Day record of 125 species set on May 1, 1971. They pushed hard and ended up tying the record, and in the course of doing so they found a very early Black-necked Stilt at the sheetflow restoration area, which Sam photographed: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16074775353/ Anyway, congratulations on tying the record, guys, and good luck in the Race 4 Birds next month.

The cross-Florida migration of Common Loons is underway. Andy Kratter started his loon watch on the 9th, about a week earlier than usual, and tallied one loon that first morning. I’ve sat out in my backyard from about 8:30-9:30 twice this week, but I haven’t seen any loons (consolation prize: a breeding-plumage Laughing Gull eastbound this morning). Andy calculates that the first migrants take off close to sunrise, which is about 7:45 right now, and begin to show up over Gainesville an hour later (though I’ve once or twice seen them earlier than that). The main migratory movement occurs from mid-March to mid-April. Andy wrote about it six years ago, and will talk about it during an Alachua Audubon program meeting on the 23rd. If you’re not stuck indoors, these beautiful spring mornings are a great time to watch the sky for loons. Choose a morning that’s not overcast, and spend an hour or so (8:30-9:30) sitting in your back yard with a cup of coffee and your binoculars, watching the sky for high-flying white-bellied birds. Most of them look like this flying overhead; Ron Robinson likens them to “bowling pins flying north.” If you want to help Andy with his project, write down the time you see them, how many you see, and, if possible, whether they’re in winter plumage, breeding plumage, or transitioning from one to the other.

I mentioned in my last email that Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and Yellow-throated Vireos would be arriving soon, and they didn’t make a liar out of me. On the 6th Ron Robinson saw a Ruby-throated at his place on the west end of Gainesville, and on the 8th Yellow-throated Vireos were found by Sam and Ben Ewing in their yard near Loblolly Woods, by Howard Adams at Poe Springs, and by Felicia Lee and Elizabeth Martin at San Felasco Hammock.

If you think you hear a Great Crested Flycatcher calling during mid-March, try to get a look at it, and if possible a photo. The spring’s earliest Great Cresteds don’t usually arrive in Alachua County till the last week of March, but White-eyed Vireos are quite good at mimicking their characteristic wheep! call. I heard one doing it in my back yard on the 7th.

Major birdage at Newnans Lake!

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

The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect was operating at Newnans Lake today. After hearing about Andy Kratter’s sighting of a Red-throated Loon from the Windsor boat ramp yesterday, several birders descended on the lake (some at Windsor, some at Palm Point), including Lloyd Davis, John Hintermister, and Bryan Tarbox. I hope they will excuse me if I just give a cumulative list of their best finds:

Greater White-fronted Goose 3
Snow Goose 1
Ring-necked Duck 60
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Ruddy Duck 10
Common Loon 21
Horned Grebe 3

Husband-and-wife team Bob Knight and Debbie Segal had the wrong lake, but the right idea, when they took their boat out today. They did pretty well, though. Debbie writes, “Bob and I boated around Lake Lochloosa and Orange Lake today. Orange Lake wasn’t particularly birdy, or at least we didn’t find the birds there, but Lochloosa Lake was impressive. Most exciting was finding a huge flock of Ruddy Ducks, well over 400, at the north central end of the lake. However, the slight chop and boat rocking made it difficult to estimate the number, but the flock extended out into the lake in multiple directions. There were a few Bufflehead and Horned Grebes with the Ruddys. Also a tight group of Common Loons floating together near the group of Ruddies. At the southern end of the lake in amongst the floating hydrilla was a large group of American Coots, over 600. Mixed in with the coots were Pied-billed Grebes, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, and Ring-necked Ducks.”

A pretty interesting day

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

This was probably the best single day of spring migration in Alachua County that I can remember.

This morning Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald biked from the Duck Pond area to the La Chua Trail by way of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then walked along Sparrow Alley. They spotted a male Blackburnian Warbler at the Sweetwater Overlook – Ryan wrote, “Seen in flight only but adult male — orange throat, face pattern, white patch on wing noted” – which is only the second spring record in the county’s history; the first was in 1961. Then, along Sparrow Alley, they saw the county’s fourth-ever Cave Swallow! Ryan again: “Foraging with big flock of Chimney Swifts, Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Purple Martin. Orange rump, and pale underparts fading to buffy orange throat and reddish forehead seen, though briefly.”

Otherwise, the best birding today was at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance), where Felicia Lee, Elizabeth Martin, and John Martin (no relation) walked the Moonshine Creek Trail and saw “5 Cape May Warblers, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Scarlet Tanagers, 1 male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 2 Worm-Eating Warblers, and a Wood Thrush. All in all, 11 warbler species.”

This morning’s field trip to Powers Park and Palm Point did fairly well. At Powers we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (photo here), and 75 Common Loons flying north. At Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive we saw a very cooperative male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Cape May Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler.

Geoff Parks had seen two Cliff Swallows at La Chua on the 17th. Today’s weather was cloudy with intermittent drizzle, good weather to keep swallows down (as Ryan and Jessica found), so Mike Manetz and I walked out La Chua to see if we could match Geoff’s feat. We did find a huge congregation of swallows and swifts – we agreed that “1,000” didn’t sound excessive – and saw two or three Cliff Swallows among them. We also saw a single male Bobolink, the spring’s first. And we were surprised and pleased to find shorebirds foraging in puddles along the flooded trail – three Solitary Sandpipers, four Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and four Spotted Sandpipers.

Late this afternoon Matt O’Sullivan found a Nashville Warbler at Loblolly Woods near the parking lot (on NW 34th Street, entrance directly east of 5th Avenue). Also present at Loblolly were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Prairie, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers.

There’s a pretty good chance that all the birds mentioned above will still be here tomorrow.

On tiny little Seahorse Key, an island two miles off Cedar Key, Andy Kratter saw 15 Tennessee Warblers and 15 Painted Buntings on the 17th, and six Lincoln’s Sparrows (“probably more”) on the 18th. Hopefully we’ll have just a fraction of his success on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip. If you’d like to join us, meet us in the Target parking lot at 6:30 a.m.

There’s a little more spring to come. Not much. A little.

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

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Ospreys at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Just a reminder: the next three weeks will see the peak of spring migration in terms of northbound transients like Cape May, Blackpoll, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Bobolinks, Scarlet Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (among many others). And then it will pretty much be over. So get out and see them while they’re here! Don’t be like Darth Vader when he realized that he’d missed an entire spring migration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWaLxFIVX1s

Alachua Audubon’s field trip schedule is set up in July and August, and though we usually remember to schedule around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we occasionally lose track of Easter. That’s what happened this time. So we’ll be having two field trips this weekend as we usually do during spring and fall migrations, one to Palm Point with Bob Carroll on Saturday and one to Cedar Key with me on Easter Sunday. I apologize for our scheduling error, and hopefully we’ll remember not to repeat it next year. Remaining field trips here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Actually it looks as though Cedar Key *may* be better on Wednesday than on Sunday. Bob Duncan, Florida birding’s weather guru, sent out an email on Monday evening: “The very strong front has entered the NW Gulf of Mexico and is making good progress with winds NNW around 30 mph. If it has entered the southern Gulf by the time migrants take off from Yucatan (launch time = about ½ hr after sunset), migrants would not have taken off and the rest of the week would be a bust (birds have been known to turn back to Yucatan when encountering bad weather). But winds in northern Yucatan are still SSE–SE about 15 mph as of about 6 p.m. and mid-Gulf still has SE wind, so birds should take off this evening if the front does not move too fast. IF they take off, and my feeling is they will, when they encounter the front, SW then NW winds, the timing will determine where they will end up. Should they encounter it in mid-Gulf, the thrust of the movement will probably be toward the west coast of Florida (do I hear cheers coming from St. Pete?). But if they encounter it farther north, the AL – NW FL coast will be the landfall. At any rate, the arrival will be delayed by headwinds and extra miles traveled. So tomorrow a.m. should not have birds coming in, but my guess is that late tomorrow (Tuesday) would be the time to start looking at the migrant traps. And Wednesday a.m. would be my choice of birding days, as N winds nearing gale force tomorrow will make detection somewhat difficult at the traps.” This prediction is seconded by the migration-radar blog Badbirdz Reloaded: http://badbirdz2.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weather-and-birds-ii/

Phil and Sandy Laipis found a Roseate Spoonbill loafing with Wood Storks at Paynes Prairie on the 12th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13882280724/

Andy Kratter continues to do his daily loon watch from Pine Grove Cemetery. This morning between 8:04 and 9:21 he recorded 47 Common Loons, as well as 5 Laughing Gulls, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Peregrine Falcon.

Becky Enneis in Alachua and Austin Gregg in Gainesville are hosting male Painted Buntings in their yards. The buntings are bound for breeding territories on the Atlantic coastal strip, so they won’t stay long, but what a great thing to see out your window! Austin wrote, “Eight feet to the right of the birdbath, in a leafy green viburnum, I noted the reddish looking tail end of a partially hidden bird. Hmmm, I thought, must be the male house finch … ho hum, but I’ll have a look anyway. Turned around and grabbed the binocs, looked in the bush. Gone. Then I just happened to glance back over to the birdbath and there, splashing away with the female cardinal was a male painted bunting in full breeding plumage! A lifer! I enjoyed good looks at this spectacular bird for at least 10 minutes.”

If you haven’t been to the La Chua Trail lately, I have some advice for you. Take boots: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/13781455393/

Greg McDermott sent me this handy chart that makes the identification of Empidonax flycatchers a breeze (thanks to Samuel Ewing for posting it): https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13829348215/

O friends, take care that you don’t step over the line to the Dark Side Of Birding: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8569864/When-birdwatchers-go-bad-how-the-rise-of-wildlife-paparazzi-has-led-to-hide-rage.html

Additional springerie

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

There are two stages of life. Stage One is, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Stage Two is, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” When Samuel Ewing recently corrected my misidentification of a Cooper’s Hawk I realized that I have reached Stage Two. (Apologies to you whippersnappers who are too young to remember that advertising campaign. I’d bemoan the state of cultural literacy, if I weren’t so shocked by the realization that I consider advertising to be a part of cultural literacy….)

When that front was moving through Gainesville last night and this morning, it occurred to me that migrants might run into that weather and be forced down. I called Matt O’Sullivan to see if he was interested in going out to have a look, and he was. Our first stop was the Newberry area. I had an idea that we could check the fields around Watermelon Pond for grounded Upland Sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds. As it turned out, the road to Watermelon Pond was too mucky for my Camry, so we checked a nearby sod farm and some recently-plowed fields along SW 46th Avenue. It sure looked good, and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, three Common Ground-Doves, a White-winged Dove, and three Fox Squirrels, but no sandpipers. As the clouds broke up and the sun came out, we drove on to San Felasco Hammock (the Millhopper Road entrance, north side) to see if the rain had brought in any woodland migrants. It had. Although Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered everything else by five to one, we ended up with twelve warbler species, including five Prairie Warblers, an adult male American Redstart, an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and an adult male Cape May Warbler. There was quite a lot of bird activity there, including several newly-arrived Great Crested Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers. We figured that Palm Point should be pretty good as well, so we made the long drive across town, speculating that we’d find even more warblers, not to mention gulls and terns dropped in by the front. But Palm Point was devoid of birds, and scanning Newnans Lake we saw no gulls, no terns, nothing but cormorants and the occasional Osprey – though we did find three or four of the resident Prothonotary Warblers and a Limpkin farther down Lakeshore Drive.

Spring arrivals are increasing in number and variety. Over the past week or two, La Chua Trail has seen the arrival of (click on the hyperlinks for photos) Black-necked Stilt (over 30 have been seen at once!), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat (though the chat may have spent the winter).

Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th: “Slightly early; beautiful male, no song but gave occasional call note, which sounds like a shoe squeaking on a basketball court.”

On the morning of the 7th I went to La Chua in search of spring arrivals and found myself gawking at the season’s heaviest Common Loon migration. With about fifteen other birders I’d kicked off this year’s Loonacy at the US-441 observation platform on March 16th. We saw only four or five loons, all of them very far away, and I’m pretty sure that I discouraged everyone out there from any further loon watching. I wish they’d all been with me yesterday. I saw 57 birds, in 22 groups ranging in size from 1 to 9, and some of them were flying at surprisingly low altitudes. Here’s how it worked out, by ten-minute segments:

7:50-8:00   17 birds
8:00-8:10   5
8:10-8:20   21
8:20-8:30   1
8:30-8:40   5
8:40-8:50   0
8:50-9:00   2
9:00-9:10   5
9:10-9:20   1

Cedar Key sunrise was at 7:16 on the 7th, so the birds that I saw passed over Gainesville from 34 minutes after sunrise to nearly two hours after, suggesting a takeoff ranging from about half an hour before sunrise to an hour afterward. The flight peaked from 8:14 to 8:16, when I saw 17 birds in five groups.

Andy Kratter had an even better morning than I did: “It was giddy excitement and thrills at my loon census this morning. The loons started at 8:09 with two migrating far to the north, and in the next 95 minutes I recorded a near-constant stream of ones and twos and small groups (largest group = 18), for a total of 133 for the day, in 49 groups. Also had two White-winged Doves, a high flying migrant Belted Kingfisher, a migrant American Kestrel, and lots of the usual suspects. One of my best days ever loon watching.” And Samuel Ewing, watching from his NW Gainesville yard, tallied 33 loons between 8:32 and 9:11. Samuel got this picture of a migrating loon in flight on the 31st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13538401855/in/photostream/

The Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve has been relatively cooperative lately. Most of those who have been looking for it have found it. Walk out the Red-White Connector trail to the service road and turn left. When the trail forks, keep going straight (i.e., take the right fork) and look for the sign to the campground. Once at the campground, listen for a rapid drumming. You’ll probably have to set out from the campground and explore the woods to the north and northwest, but as I say most of those who have gone in search of this bird have found it. Here’s a nice picture by Samuel Ewing, showing the characteristic spike-like bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13648935265/in/photostream/

John Hintermister, Phil Laipis, and I motored out onto Lake Santa Fe on the 27th, hoping to relocate the two Black Scoters that Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn had found on the 20th. We found 220 Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, 32 Horned Grebes (some in breeding plumage), and 19 Common Loons – even the Pacific Loon! – but no scoters of any description. Learning that the Pacific Loon was still there, Adam went back on the 2nd to try for it again, and missed it again, but … “saw what was possibly a White-winged Scoter. The bird was so far away that I couldn’t say for sure, but it looked like a big black duck with white in the wings.”

Like all right-thinking people, I regularly check Katherine Edison’s blog. I especially like the posts that teach me the names of wildflowers: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ditch-is-back.html

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Osprey at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

I bird alone

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

“I bird alone. With nobody else. And you know, when I bird alone I prefer to be by myself.” — George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “I Bird Alone

I bird alone sometimes. Maybe most of the time. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m very slow. If I go out with Mike Manetz or John Hintermister or Adam Kent or Jonathan Mays, I’ll say, “Oh, look, a cardinal!” and write “Cardinal – 1″ in my notebook, and then I’ll look up and find that my companions have recorded 37 species while I was doing that. On my own I’ll see most of those 37 species … eventually … though it will take a bit of ambling and stopping and listening and peering up into the trees to find out what’s making that noise. But birding alone I can do those things. I don’t feel hurried by the fact that my companions have already processed the information and moved on to other birds. The other reason is that, birding alone, I’m led solely by my own perceptions and curiosity. If I see an unfamiliar wildflower I can stop to inspect it. If a Carolina Wren is doing something that baffles me I can pause and watch without having to catch up with my friends. I’m more thorough, and my notes are more complete, when I bird alone.

But I don’t always bird alone. The most obvious reason is that I really enjoy the company of my fellow birders. There are plenty of other reasons. If I always birded alone I’d be stagnant. Birding with my betters challenges me. Birding with beginners is a surefire mood-brightener (especially when they think I’m an expert!), since it’s enthusiasm and not proficiency that bonds birders together, and nobody is more enthusiastic than beginners. And birders at all levels are so often occupied with questions and observations that have never occurred to me, or that I haven’t successfully resolved, that I almost invariably find their company enlightening. I’d guess that about 60% of what I know about birds – and not just birds, but all of natural history – I’ve learned in the course of birding with others.

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre‘ — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a sainte-terrer‘, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. … For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels.” – Thoreau

Loonacy is upon us. The spring migration of Common Loons begins in mid-March and slows noticeably after the first half of April, though I’ve seen laggards well into late May. Loons that winter on the southern Gulf Coast of Florida seem to gather in the Cedar Key area and then fly northeast across the peninsula, passing directly over Gainesville. They usually take off at about sunrise, and if you’ve got a clear view of the sky you can often see them pass overhead about an hour later. I don’t think they fly in bad weather – or maybe it’s just that I don’t watch for them in bad weather – but if Sunday morning is fair, meet me at 8 a.m. on the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie and we’ll kick off this year’s Loonacy with a loon watch.

Speaking of which, Scott Flamand saw the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 9th, “still hanging out with the Common Loons.”

Sidney Wade sent a photo of a Whooping Crane she found at La Chua on the morning of the 13th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13148896925/

An adult male Orchard Oriole visited Tom Hoctor’s NW Gainesville yard on the 11th, one of the earliest spring arrivals ever reported in Alachua County and the first documented by a photo (which can be viewed on the Alachua County Birders’ Facebook page).

Dean and Samuel Ewing saw the spring’s first Black-necked Stilt at the US-441 observation platform on the 12th. Maybe it will put in an appearance on Sunday.

Karl Miller at FWC is looking for people to run Breeding Bird Survey routes: “There are currently 14 vacant routes this year. If you know of any skilled birders who may be interested in volunteering, please encourage them to contact me for more information on how to get started. An interactive map of the vacant routes can be found at the USGS BBS website: https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/RouteMap/Map.cfm

Adam Zions told me about this very neat Gopher Tortoise smartphone app: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/florida-gopher-tortoise-app/

Any of you folks knit? I knit not, but if I knat, I’d knit to help an oil-damaged penguin: http://time.com/13575/knit-for-oil-damaged-penguins/  [Update: Evidently not needed. See http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/penguins.asp]

See you Sunday morning at 8 for the loon watch, if the weather is nice.

Got wasps?

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

I need your help. (No, this isn’t a Nigerian email scam, and no, you are not the last surviving relative of a millionaire for whom I’ve been holding a really big check.) For the last two years I’ve been working with the American Entomological Institute to catalog the paper wasps of Alachua County and north Florida generally. I thought the project would be about my speed – eight or nine species, pretty easily distinguishable, just about right for an amateur with a butterfly net and a stupid grin on his face. But an actual entomologist got involved, and it turns out that three of the “species” are actually complexes, each of which contains two to four different species. At least this seems to be the case based on markings and structural differences; it can be confirmed only by DNA analysis. That’s where you come in. Can you direct me to any active paper wasp nests in Alachua County? It’s late in the season, which means that many of the nests have been abandoned. But a lot of the remaining wasps are males, which are more common in the fall (and can’t sting!). Since all the wasps on a nest are related, finding a nest tells us what males and females of a given species look like and helps us to document the range of variation. However you should be aware that we would need to collect both the nest and the wasps on it for the DNA analysis, so if you’re attached to your wasps, or just want them to stay alive, please move on to the next paragraph. And just to be clear, I’m NOT talking about this kind of nest, which is the work of the Bald-face Hornet; I’m talking about something that looks like this or this or this, generally hanging from under a sheltering horizontal surface like eaves or a kiosk, or from a branch or main stem of a shrub or robust weed like dog fennel. If you know of a nest in Alachua County, and there are still wasps on it, and you don’t mind my taking it, please send me an email (a photo of the nest would be a plus, but isn’t necessary).

On the morning of the 20th John Hintermister and Mike Manetz attempted to relocate the Western Kingbird found at La Chua by Chris Hooker on the 19th. They didn’t see it, but otherwise they had a pretty good day, recording 61 bird species, including 2 Gadwalls and 14 Northern Pintails (nine duck species overall), a flyover Common Loon, 4 American Bitterns, 3 King Rails and 10 Soras, seven sparrow species (including a Field, 2 Grasshopper, and 14 White-crowned), as well as a lingering Indigo Bunting and the female Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been there since October 5th.

On the 12th Barbara Shea saw the fall’s first Redhead at Jonesville Soccer Park (or the adjoining subdivision, she didn’t specify). Not a common bird around here.

Alachua County birding can boast another blog, this one by Adam Zions. I enjoyed this post in particular: http://alachuaavifauna.blogspot.com/2013/10/winter-descends.html

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-grade class won first place in the national Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest! Congratulations, Sharon, and thanks to those who voted for her.

If you haven’t added your name to the “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy” petition, to fund the state’s Land Acquisition Trust, here’s a link to the form. Please mail it within the next week: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pdf/598941flwllonline.pdf

Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens, co-authors of the new Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, will be discussing the book during an online chat at 2 p.m. EST today (the 21st): http://shindig.com/event/crossley-id-guide

And please don’t forget those paper wasp nests!