Winter is coming

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

We’re going to try something new for field trips: carpooling via the Audubon web site. First go to the field trip schedule: Click on a field trip, and the information bar will expand. Click on the button that says, “Read more.” Try it on the O’Leno trip; you’ll end up here: Scroll down the page a bit, and you’ll see a gray box that says, “Leave a reply.” If you need a ride, or you’re willing to provide a ride, use the “Leave a reply” box to say so. Don’t wait till the last minute. I know how you can be.

What may turn out to be Alachua County’s sixth-ever Black-headed Grosbeak had a fatal collision with a window at UF’s Bartram Hall on the 9th (photo here). It was an immature bird, and Black-headed Grosbeaks of that age can be difficult to distinguish from Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Andy Kratter will be prepping the specimen in the next week or so, and should be able to determine its identity then. Meanwhile, watch your feeders!

The arrival of Bay-breasted Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers during the second week of October normally signals the last wave of neotropical migrants. This year the first Bay-breasted was extraordinarily early: Barbara Shea saw one at Sparrow Alley on September 21st, by thirteen days a new record. From the description it was in breeding plumage – they normally molt into winter plumage on the nesting grounds, before heading south – but that may be connected with its early arrival here. Jonathan Mays saw another relatively early Bay-breasted in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th, and on the more typical date of October 9th Matt O’Sullivan saw one at Bolen Bluff and Dean and Samuel Ewing saw one in their NW Gainesville yard. Chris Burney spotted the only Black-throated Green that’s been reported this fall, on the 4th at Prairie Creek Preserve.

Jerry Krummrich had a nice day on Bellamy Road on the 3rd: “Was drawn to my favorite trail today and it was kinda birdy. Trail was wet but walkable and always interesting habitat changes from flooded woods to wildflowers in sandhills in a 50 yard stretch. Best bird was a Swainson’s Warbler along the trail with flooded woods in background. He was repeating call notes I was unfamiliar with – unlike Ovenbird, clearer and less frequent, less agitated attitude. He was cooperative and hopped up on limbs about 10 feet away/5 feet off ground. Had 11 warblers total including Blue-winged and Golden-winged in same tree, a dozen Ovenbirds, 1 Redstart and a Magnolia. Had a Merlin and a Cooper’s over scrub open woods. Several Empidonax and Veerys.” I asked Jerry where along Bellamy Road he was, and he replied, “I was referring to the Interpretive Trailhead, a portion of O’Leno SP located/accessed off 441 just south of main entrance road to O’Leno. You turn on Bellamy here (is a sign on highway), drive east and enter parking area trailhead. Trail connects to Sweetwater Branch Trail. I enjoy birding here because of habitat diversity – sandhill, scrub, and floodplain – it’s the area on top of the underground Santa Fe River which turns into a meandering slough during rainy periods – lots of tree species. Trail also connects to marked horse trails – lots of edges. Yes – sorry – it’s in Columbia County.” So now you’ve got a new birding spot to check out, or just a pretty place to take a walk.

Mike Manetz and I spent a couple of hours birding at the Powers Park fishing pier on the 9th. We saw no Ospreys, which is normal for October, but no Limpkins either, which was very surprising given their abundance at Newnans over the past couple of years. We did, however, see a Peregrine Falcon come cruising along the southern shore of the lake at treetop level, veer out into the open at the mouth of the boat channel to give us a nice close-range look, and then head in the direction of Paynes Prairie. Samuel Ewing didn’t have to go to Powers Park to see a Peregrine; he photographed one flying over his yard on the 11th:

The Alachua Audubon field trip to O’Leno on the 11th had only middling success. Warblers were sparse, and overall we didn’t see many birds of any sort. However we came across two fruiting tupelo trees that attracted thrushes of three species (Wood, Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked) and tanagers of two species (Scarlet, Summer). The day was beautiful, the trail was beautiful, and the mosquitoes were few. On the way home Mike and I spent a few minutes at the Hague Dairy because it’s getting to be time for Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They often travel with big flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds, but today cowbird flocks appeared to be nonexistent.

Ron Robinson photographed the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at his backyard bird bath on the 7th:

As the migration of neotropical species draws to a close, the winter birds are starting to show up. The first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, two of them, were seen by Matt Bruce at Palm Point on the 4th. The first Blue-headed Vireo was seen by John Hintermister at Bolen Bluff on the 5th. The first American Goldfinch – a very early bird – was seen by Andy Kratter in his SE Gainesville yard on the 6th, and it was Andy who saw the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Bolen Bluff on the 7th. The first Yellow-rumped Warbler (!), another early bird, was seen by Mike Manetz at Palm Point on the 9th. And I saw the winter’s first sparrow, a Savannah, at the Hague Dairy on the 11th.

Speaking of winter, Ron Pittaway’s annual Winter Finch Forecast has been posted on the eBird web site:

When we visit the Cedar Key cemetery, we always park in the shady grove of sand pines at the north end. Until this week there was a thick border of palmettos and scrubby vegetation growing along the driveway. Now it looks like this. Migratory birds have one less bit of shelter on this island, which has become too popular for its own good. If you’d like to protest this action, and say a few words on behalf of the birds (and remind those in power that birders often visit Cedar Key, and spend money there), write the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 610, Cedar Key, FL 32625 AND Mayor Dale Register, P.O. Box 339 Cedar Key, FL 32625.

Remember: carpooling via the Alachua Audubon web site!

Barr Hammock in trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional springerie

From: Rex Rowan <>
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:

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:

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:

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 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!”

Christmas Bird Count results

From: Rex Rowan []
Subject: Alachua County birding report

Hey, make a note if you’re planning to join the January 5th field trip to Alligator Lake: the driving directions on the Alachua Audubon web site are wrong. Here’s what they should say: “From I-75 take US-90 east through Lake City and turn south on Old Country Club Road (also known as SE Avalon Avenue or County Road 133). Entrance to parking area is 1.5 miles south on the right side of the road.” Thanks to Tom Camarata for pointing out the mistakes to me.

We’ve got some gifted photographers around here, and some of you may be interested in the 2013 Wildlife and Nature Photography Contest being held by Audubon of Martin County. They’ve put together a video:

Speaking of photographers, Adam Zions found and photographed some uncommon birds in the conservation lands north of Newnans Lake on the 30th. He started at Gum Root Park, where he saw two Henslow’s Sparrows in the big field, then drove a couple of miles east on State Road 26 to the Hatchet Creek Tract, where he found a Red-breasted Nuthatch (not to mention a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which is resident at Hatchet Creek but can be hard to find).

I haven’t heard of any definite sightings of the Groove-billed Ani recently, though visiting Tennessee birder David Kirschke and his daughter thought they heard it on the 27th, “about half way between the Sweetwater Overlook turn off and the next bend in the trail.” If you see it, please let me know. The last positive sightings were by Lloyd Davis and Adam Zions on the 23rd, when Adam got a picture:

Mike Manetz found a big flock of ducks off the crew team parking lot on the 18th, and Andy Kratter saw them in the same place on the 23rd: “300+ Ring-necked, 25 or so Lesser Scaup, 8 Redhead, 5 Canvasbacks, and a bunch of American Coots. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were quite far offshore, as were 2 Horned Grebes.” I found most of the same birds still present in the late afternoon of the 24th, but by the 30th they’d dispersed and their place had been taken by Ruddy Ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls, plus one hunting decoy.

Here finally are the results of the December 16th Gainesville CBC:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  207
Muscovy Duck  90
Wood Duck  821
Gadwall  34
American Wigeon  6
Mallard  29
Mottled Duck  89
Blue-winged Teal  81
Northern Shoveler  14
Northern Pintail  64
Green-winged Teal  1
Canvasback  5
Ring-necked Duck  252
Lesser Scaup  312
Black Scoter  6
Bufflehead  4
Common Goldeneye  1
Hooded Merganser  125
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  500
Northern Bobwhite  13
Wild Turkey  46
Common Loon  3
Pied-billed Grebe  74
Wood Stork  28
Double-crested Cormorant  772
Anhinga  187
American White Pelican  137
American Bittern  12
Great Blue Heron  134
Great Egret  206
Snowy Egret  177
Little Blue Heron  163
Tricolored Heron  77
Cattle Egret  211
Green Heron  17
Black-crowned Night-Heron  79
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
White Ibis  2,013
Glossy Ibis  528
Roseate Spoonbill  1
Black Vulture  343
Turkey Vulture  1,144
Osprey  8
Bald Eagle  82
Northern Harrier  42
Sharp-shinned Hawk  12
Cooper’s Hawk  12
Red-shouldered Hawk  164
Red-tailed Hawk  64
King Rail  2
Virginia Rail  5
Sora  252
Common Gallinule  82
American Coot  883
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  3,009
Killdeer  247
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  54
Lesser Yellowlegs  55
Least Sandpiper  2
Wilson’s Snipe  398
American Woodcock  7
Bonaparte’s Gull  30
Laughing Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  330
Herring Gull  2
Forster’s Tern  30
Rock Pigeon  70
Eurasian Collared-Dove  9
Mourning Dove  495
Common Ground-Dove  7
Groove-billed Ani  1
Barn Owl  5
Eastern Screech-Owl  16
Great Horned Owl  55
Barred Owl  64
Eastern Whip-poor-will  2
Selasphorus, sp. (probably Rufous Hummingbird)  1
Belted Kingfisher  38
Red-headed Woodpecker  32
Red-bellied Woodpecker  284
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  61
Downy Woodpecker  118
Northern Flicker  38
Pileated Woodpecker  129
American Kestrel  56
Merlin  3
Least Flycatcher  4
Eastern Phoebe  580
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  10
Loggerhead Shrike  38
White-eyed Vireo  203
Blue-headed Vireo  44
Blue Jay  276
American Crow  621
Fish Crow  297
crow, sp.  45
Tree Swallow  6
Carolina Chickadee  204
Tufted Titmouse  248
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
Brown-headed Nuthatch  4
House Wren  236
Winter Wren  1
Sedge Wren  52
Marsh Wren  129
Carolina Wren  420
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  387
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  405
Eastern Bluebird  173
Hermit Thrush  27
American Robin  2,583
Gray Catbird  205
Northern Mockingbird  180
Brown Thrasher  15
European Starling  43
American Pipit  124
Sprague’s Pipit  2
Cedar Waxwing  54
Ovenbird  2
Northern Waterthrush  6
Black-and-white Warbler  69
Orange-crowned Warbler  105
Common Yellowthroat  292
Northern Parula  3
Palm Warbler  830
Pine Warbler  204
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1,910
Yellow-throated Warbler  28
Prairie Warbler  8
Wilson’s Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Eastern Towhee  187
Chipping Sparrow  488
Field Sparrow  20
Vesper Sparrow  57
Savannah Sparrow  515
Grasshopper Sparrow  20
Henslow’s Sparrow  2
Le Conte’s Sparrow  6
Fox Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  74
Lincoln’s Sparrow  6
Swamp Sparrow  455
White-throated Sparrow  62
White-crowned Sparrow  35
Summer Tanager  4
Northern Cardinal  832
Indigo Bunting  2
Painted Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  9,915
Eastern Meadowlark  382
Common Grackle  585
Boat-tailed Grackle  727
Brown-headed Cowbird  12,798
Baltimore Oriole  29
House Finch  72
American Goldfinch  372
House Sparrow  11

We’ve gained two minutes of daylight since the solstice! Two minutes! Yes! And the first Purple Martins should be back within three weeks, maybe four. So it’s nearly spring. Watch your feeders for Pine Siskins and Purple Finches, which tend to show up after January 1st.

The management and staff of the Alachua County Birding Report, Inc., TM, LLC, LOL, ROTFLMAO, would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Happy New Year.