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!”

Summer-farewell

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

Today’s subject line refers to a wildflower that I’ve seen in bloom at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, but also to the fact that the season is winding down. Yes, I know it’s still hot – I paid an air-conditioning repairman several hundred dollars earlier this week, so I know, boy do I know – but heat isn’t the only indicator of summer, and the birds are saying it’s fall.

I was at Adam Kent’s SE Gainesville house late Thursday afternoon, looking over an absurdly wonderful new warbler book with Adam, Jonathan Mays, and Andy Kratter, and Andy asked if anyone was reporting migrants. Not to me, I said. I added that I’d walked the Bolen Bluff Trail on Wednesday morning and had been impressed by how few birds of any sort I’d seen. The only migrants were one Prairie Warbler, one Yellow Warbler, and one American Redstart. “That’s discouraging,” Andy said.

But then things suddenly got very NON-discouraging. A flight of 25 Purple Martins flew over, heading south on a beeline. Then a few more martins went over, followed by one smaller, unidentified swallow. So we all stood up on Adam’s porch and watched the northern sky. A flock of seven Eastern Kingbirds went over. Then more martins and swallows, among which everyone but me noticed two Cliff Swallows. This was followed by a dry spell, so we sat down again, and we were talking when a bird flew right over our heads with a call that sounded to some of us like an Indigo Bunting and to others like a Yellow Warbler. It landed in the trees at the edge of Adam’s yard, hid itself in the leaves, then dropped down a foot and came into the open, showing a greenish back, two bold wing bars, and a white eyebrow: a Cerulean Warbler! High fives all around.And one was photographed the following day in Seminole County, so they’re obviously starting to move through. The next four to six weeks are the likeliest time to see them; they’re rarely encountered after September.

(By the way, the authors of the aforementioned absurdly wonderful new warbler book have created some helpful videos about the book, which you can watch here.)

Jonathan Mays saw the fall’s first Northern Harrier at Paynes Prairie on the 14th, by two days an early record for the county. His eBird notes: “Kettling with Turkey Vultures. White rump, long wings in dihedral, and long tail noted; brown coloration indicates likely female/immature.”

Adam Kent, Ted and Steven Goodman, and Dean, Ben, and Samuel Ewing converged on the Hague Dairy on the 15th. They found the fall’s first Bank Swallows, two of them in a flock of Barns, a few Yellow Warblers, and a good selection of shorebirds: Killdeer, Black-necked Stilts, and Solitary, Spotted, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers.

The two pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers in my neighborhood have just fledged their second broods, and they’re done for the year. I haven’t seen a Swallow-tailed Kite since July 27th, and eBird doesn’t show any sightings in the county since August 11th. Mississippi Kites will be leaving over the next two or three weeks.Two of the best things to have in your yard at this time of year are pokeweed and Virginia creeper. Red-eyed Vireos are eating them both right now. In September they’ll attract Veeries, and in October you’ll see Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Wood Thrushes and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers on them. A pokeweed right beside a window provides a lot of entertainment.
Speaking of yards: Do you have bird feeders, baths, and plantings on your property? Do you attract a variety of bird species to your home? Would you like to share your knowledge, skills, and tricks at attracting feathered visitors? If so, contact Ron Robinson at gonebirden@cox.net if you’d like your yard to be featured in the 2014 Alachua Audubon Backyard Birding Tour.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to know if you’ve seen a Florida Pine Snake, a Short-tailed Snake, or a Southern Hognose Snake. Details, with a link to identifying photos, here.

First two days of The June Challenge

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

I showed up at Morningside Nature Center on Sunday morning to make sure everyone on the butterfly field trip signed the liability form and wouldn’t be able to sue us for butterfly bites, etc. Maralee Joos pulled in right behind me. She told me that she’d just come from Palm Point, where Lloyd Davis had found and photographed a very late Tree Swallow. As soon as everyone had signed the form I rushed to Palm Point in hopes of seeing it myself, but I was too late.

That’s probably the best bird found on The June Challenge so far. The best I’ve heard about, anyway.

Saturday’s field trip in search of June Challenge birds was very well attended – I think I counted 34 or 35 people – but the birds were not eager to be seen, so we spent a lot more time searching for them, and a lot less time actually enjoying them, than I’d expected. We did eventually find most of what we were hoping for, though. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we got a quick glimpse of three Common Nighthawks and (after quite a bit of walking) got to ogle a very cooperative Bachman’s Sparrow. At Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor we saw four distant Laughing Gulls and one adult Bald Eagle, plus a bonus, two or three Limpkins drawn to the area by an abundance of exotic apple snails. Because we’d spent so much time in the first two locations, Powers Park and Palm Point were struck from the itinerary and we went directly to La Chua. There we had mixed luck: just about everyone saw the Whooping Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Great White Heron (non-countable), Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and lingering Blue-winged Teal and American Coots, but only some of us saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-Dove, and Orchard Oriole, and we never found the Yellow-breasted Chat at all. I think most of us ended the field trip with 50-55 species on our lists.

You can read Katherine Edison’s account of the morning, with photos, here.

On Saturday afternoon I drove out to Cellon Creek Boulevard, which has always been a good place to find, in a single spot, several birds that can be hard to see in summer. I discovered that a new fence had been put up near the generating station, barring access to the brushy edges at the top of the hill. Still, I saw most of what I’d come for: American Kestrel, Eastern Kingbird, Killdeer, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Purple Martin, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Bobwhites called but never showed themselves, Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites sailed over the treeline on the far side of the pasture, and, rather surprisingly, a flock of 17 Laughing Gulls flew past.

In past years I expected to find Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Common Ground-Doves there as well, but neither showed up this year. A couple of people told me later that I could see Rough-wingeds at the Hague Dairy, and on eBird I noticed that John Martin got 14 of them there on Sunday, probably two or three family groups. If the young have already fledged, they’ll be leaving soon, so get out there and add them to your June Challenge list while you can.

Carol Huang emailed earlier today to tell me that she’d found a Northern Flicker and Red-headed Woodpeckers at Northeast Park on NE 16th Avenue a little east of Main Street. Flickers are rare summer residents in Alachua County, and Northeast Park and Morningside Nature Center are about the only places where they can reliably be found.

And you can see Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at the Red Lobster Pond. Only two remained on Sunday morning.

Finally, a little business. Gmail seems to have a limit of 500 addresses to which it will send any given email, and we’re getting close. I know that a fair proportion of the 497 addresses on this mailing list go to UF students who have moved on, people who have lost interest, and others who just expected something different when they signed up. So if you’d like to continue to receive the Alachua County birding reports, please send an email to let me know that – something simple, like “Keep me on the list” or “You are the wind beneath my wings.” I’ll delete the addresses of those who don’t respond, and that should reduce the mailing list to a Gmail-friendly 300-400 addresses. Okay? Okay! I’ll repeat this request twice more, for those who miss it the first and second times.

A few rare birds, a few spring arrivals, and a few birding blogs

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

It’s a rainy Saturday, a good time for this particular birding report.

The winter-plumage White-faced Ibis at the end of the La Chua Trail has been joined by a second, a bird in full breeding plumage found by Adam Zions on the 22nd.

The Western Tanager south of Alachua was seen as recently as the 21st, when John Hintermister got a photo.

Mike Manetz found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on the 7th, “at the far end of the Red Loop. It was foraging actively and calling in a nice stretch of longleaf pine / turkey-and-other oak with undulating terrain and open understory.” When he and John Hintermister went looking for it on the 20th they found a mated pair. John Martin went to see the birds on the 22nd and got a couple of photos.

Kathy Malone found one of the Le Conte’s Sparrows at Levy Prairie Loop on the 20th. Conrad Burkholder saw the Groove-billed Ani on Sparrow Alley on the 22nd.

Great Crested Flycatchers are here: Michael Meisenburg came across one in SE Gainesville on the 18th, Mike Manetz had one in his NW Gainesville yard on the 19th, and three arrived with the spring on the 20th – Jonathan Mays found one in SE Gainesville, and there were separate sightings by Caleb Gordon and Benjamin Ewing in NW Gainesville. Mornings will be noisier.

Visiting New York birder Andy Mason had the spring’s first Prothonotary Warbler at O’Leno State Park on the 20th.

Eastern Kingbirds arrived en masse on the 22nd: Lloyd Davis found one at Cellon Creek Boulevard, Bob Knight saw two near the Hague Dairy, and Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw one near Watermelon Pond (and Samuel got a photo).

Gary Appelson told me how the committee vote on the feral cat bill turned out: “In case you are wondering: The feral cat bill passed unanimously despite impassioned statements from Audubon, some Gainesville folks, and several folks who have to endure living or working next to cat colonies. The bill was introduced by a freshman legislator, and there is a strong institutional tradition of catering to a first bill by a freshman legislator by passing it. The bill will likely not make it through all its required committees since we are already 20 days into the session, that is the good news. But the down side is once it passes its first committee it can be amended to other bills – so now Audubon’s lobby team and others need to be on their toes and watch for a wacko amendment.

I’ve added a new category to the Links page on the Alachua Audubon web site: Birding and Local Nature-related Blogs. I chose three big-time birding blogs – David Sibley’s, Kenn (and wife Kimberly) Kaufman’s, and the American Birding Association’s – and four local ones, and just to introduce you, I’ve selected posts from each that I particularly like:

Earth Teach Me: Katherine Edison is a writer and photographer with a keen eye for the magic of day-to-day nature. The link (i.e., click on “Earth Teach Me”) goes to a post on a lovely little weed-slash-wildflower that most of us have in our yards but never knew the name of.

Bob’s Gone Birding: Most of us know Bob Carroll, the proprietor of the Florida County Listing web site and one of the nicest guys in Gainesville birding. The link goes to a post about his favorite activity, county listing – in this case, exploring the southern half of Levy County, which most of us merely drive through on the way to Cedar Key.

Florida Nature Adventures: Buford Pruitt is a freelance wildlife biologist and clearly a man born a century too late. In the linked post he explores the Sanchez Prairie, the big ravine that separates the southern half of San Felasco Hammock from the northern half. There’s one short geological paragraph that assumes a little too much knowledge on our part, but clearly the age of adventure and exploration lives on in Buford Pruitt! Plus, my vocabulary was increased by three words, reading this post.

Pure Florida: Raymond Powers teaches high school biology at Cedar Key and lives in the Gulf Hammock. He’s clearly living The Good Life, and his enjoyment of eating, growing things, fishing, and his three Labrador retrievers occupies as many blog posts as does his interest in nature. He’s curious, and he’s handy at making things, and the linked post demonstrates one reason I like him: how many of us would think to submerge a video camera (in waterproof housing) into a stream to see what’s swimming around down there? There’s not much to look at, as it turns out, but I like that spirit!

Sibley Guides: David Sibley authored one of the best guides to North American birds, and his blog contains lots of identification information that supplements what’s in the guide. In the linked post he figures out that you can tell male from female juncos just by posture. Not highly useful here in Gainesville, but it shows how a first-class birder’s mind works.

Birding with Kenn and Kimberly: Until David Sibley came along, Kenn Kaufman was the heir apparent to Roger Tory Peterson, and that reputation was not undeserved. He updates his blog less frequently than he should, but it’s always worth reading. The link goes to a post on what to do, and what to avoid, if you want to interest someone in birds and birding.

ABA Blog: The American Birding Association has a blog on its web site, with different posts authored by different contributors. There are rarity alerts, posts on books and optics, and posts on science. This link goes to a post by filmmaker Jeffrey Kimball, who describes the aims of his documentary “Birding: The Central Park Effect” (which, by the way, just became available on Netflix and Amazon).