Last call for the Christmas Count

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

Adam Kent was invited to compete in Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge this month as part of a three-man team sponsored by Surbound Expeditions. There were six teams, and Surbound tied for second place, amassing 455 species in six days, about as many as I have on my entire life list. So, children, if you’re good, and you eat your vegetables, and you study your bird vocalizations, especially the Furnariidae, the Tyrannidae, and the Thamnophilidae, you can grow up big and strong and one day maybe you’ll be invited to join Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge!

On the 6th Benjamin Ewing found two female Common Goldeneyes in the pond behind the Harn Museum (note that there are two ponds behind the museum, one near the intersection of 34th and Hull and one nearer the building; the birds are in the latter). Both were still present on the 12th, when Matt Bruce got this picture.

Andy Kratter has a Fox Sparrow in his SE Gainesville neighborhood for the fifth year in a row: “Park at Boulware Springs Park off SE 15th Street, walk north on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, pass the entrance to Sweetwater Preserve (on your left), and about 100 yards further on the right (east) is a dirt track. Go down about 75 yards and see the beer can (Natty Lite tall boy) on a stick. Look here. There were a few towhees, White-throated and Chipping Sparrows as well. I scattered some seed there later this morning. There is a lot of habitat in this area, and the bird will probably be hard to find.”

Maralee Joos told me that she found a Wilson’s Warbler at Lake Alice on the 4th, on the wooden platform at the end of the boardwalk leading from the University Gardens to the platform overlooking the lake.

The Rusty Blackbirds are still being seen in the wetland behind Magnolia Parke, most recently on the 12th. On the 8th Graham Williams got an excellent photo and a video.

And the Snow Goose was seen again on the 12th at the UF Beef Teaching Unit fields on SW 23rd Street. Unfortunately the Ross’s Goose hasn’t been seen since the 3rd.

Gainesville’s 56th Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday and the twelve teams are pretty much ready to go. However there are two smaller Counts coming up in the next week, so contact the compilers if you can lend them your (no doubt considerable) talents:

Tuesday, December 17th – Ichetucknee / O’Leno / Santa Fe – compiler Ginger Morgan ginger.morgan@dep.state.fl.us

Thursday, December 19th – Melrose – compiler Jim Swarr jhschwarr@gmail.com

Speaking of the Christmas Bird Count, are any of you who live in Gainesville or immediately to the south hosting any good birds in your yards right now? Any hummingbirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, Painted Buntings, Pine Siskins, flocks of Baltimore Orioles, that sort of thing? Let me know and we’ll send a team to check it out on Sunday.

Last birding report before The June Challenge!

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

We’ve got two field trips left in the Audubon year. After these, no more till September:

It’s not technically an Audubon field trip, but at 6:15 a.m. on June 1st you can help me kick off The Tenth Annual June Challenge at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on County Road 325 a couple miles south of Hawthorne Road. We’ll hit four or five locations during what will be (I hope) a fast-moving and productive morning.

(By the way, if you’d like to keep track of the birds you see during The June Challenge but don’t have a checklist, Phil Laipis has put together a simple printable checklist of the birds you’re most likely to see in Alachua County, with 25 extra blanks for all the exciting strays and rarities you’ll undoubtedly find. Click here.)

On the 2nd, Dr. Jaret Daniels, Assistant Director for Research at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, will lead a field trip in search of butterflies. Call Wild Birds Unlimited at 352-381-1997 for details about the meeting time and place.

It’s that time of year. Baby birds are everywhere. I was very pleased the other day when one of “my” Red-headed Woodpeckers stuck its head into a nest hole in the oak in my front yard and I heard the squealing of her chicks. A couple days later and just down the street, a full-grown Red-headed chick stuck its gray head out of a nest hole in a dead palm. More Red-headed Woodpeckers = a better world. But on the 27th, near the Kanapaha Prairie, I saw something even better: a bird walked onto the road, a second bird followed it, and as I drove closer I realized that there were a dozen tiny little things swarming across the road with them: it was a pair of Northern Bobwhites and their cotton-ball-sized chicks. They reached the shoulder just as I pulled even, and I got a close look at the female and one of the youngsters, and … if they made Red Bull out of adorable instead of chemicals, I felt like I’d drunk two cases of Red Bull.

Frank Chapman’s 100-year-old records have been dropping like flies this spring. The latest Eastern Phoebe ever recorded in Alachua County was one that Chapman saw on April 4, 1887 – until Andy Kratter saw one on April 7th this year. And the latest Bobolinks were a flock that Chapman saw on May 25, 1887 – until I flushed one at the Kanapaha Prairie on May 27th this year. I wonder if either of these new records will stand for 126 years, like the old ones did. I doubt it.

Since last summer I’ve been doing regular bird surveys at several county properties. On the 29th I spent the morning at Balu Forest, a 1576-acre tract of pine flatwoods between Gainesville and Melrose that will open to the public in the not-too-distant future. I found large numbers of Eastern Towhees and Common Yellowthroats, a couple singing Bachman’s Sparrows, a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, a Northern Bobwhite, and a Swallow-tailed Kite – but the best thing I found wasn’t a bird.

Bob Carroll, Becky Enneis, and Linda Holt are taking the birding trip of a lifetime to Alaska. Bob tells me that he’s going to post updates on his blog, so watch this space: http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

Speaking of blogs, Katherine Edison posted a lovely meditation on “A Sense of Place”: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-sense-of-place.html

Bird of the Year 2012

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

You wouldn’t have known it today, but it’s been a warm winter. Wild plum and redbud are blooming, though this isn’t early for them, but azaleas are starting to flower as well, and I think they normally peak in March. Standing around Sparrow Alley NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I’ve noticed several species of butterflies, including two swallowtails, which according to local butterfly enthusiast Kathy Malone would normally be out in late February. While NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I also noticed honeybees, paper wasps, and this little gem, a braconid wasp that John Killian photographed as it laid an egg on some insect inside a weed stem: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392631462/in/photostream  (I consulted David Wahl for the identification. He told me there are 50,000 to 150,000 species of braconids. When I passed that tidbit along to John, he replied, “Thanks for narrowing that down. I feel so much better. Now if only there were that many birds to chase.”)

The birds think it’s spring too. Northern Cardinal are singing, which I expect in January, but so are Northern Mockingbirds, White-eyed Vireos, and Eastern Towhees, all of which usually get underway in February. I was so impressed by the springiness of everything that I checked out the martin house at the dentist’s office just west of George’s Hardware on the 17th, but no Purple Martins were evident. Any day now…

Did I mention that I have NOT seen the Bell’s Vireo yet? Though on the 17th I got a quick glance at what desperate birders like to call a “candidate” in the spot where the vireo (which I have NOT seen) was originally discovered. I spent a total of seven hours at or near the Bell’s site on the 16th and 17th, and although I did NOT see the vireo, I did see the Groove-billed Ani and at least one, maybe two, Yellow-breasted Chats on both days, all in the field below Sweetwater Overlook. John Killian got a photo of the ani on the 16th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392629326/in/photostream/

Ruth Palinek writes, “I lost my hat (from REI) on a birding trip on La Chua. It’s not so much the hat but it had two bird pins, one from Gus’s aunt and another antique one from a friend.” If you’ve found the hat, contact Ruth at palenik2@ufl.edu

I have (finally!) received several Bird of the Year nominations:

Samuel Ewing: “There were many great birds seen and discovered in 2012 but since the Black Scoters were the only new county bird I would call them the best birds of 2012.”

Frank Goodwin: “My vote goes to that lovely little Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua observation platform, partly for sappy sentimental reasons. The way she has put up for months with constant La Chua traffic and Phoebe bullying without moving on, I think she deserves special recognition. It’s as if she appreciates all the ocular attention and wants to give as many locals as possible an opportunity to see her.”

John Hintermister: “My vote goes for one I did not see – Black Scoter.”

Sharon Kuchinski: “I nominate the Black Scoter. Not because I was on the team who sighted it. Just because. Well maybe because I was on the team who sighted it….”

Greg McDermott: “I think the Black Scoters have a strong argument, though it would enhance their claim if they were not one-day wonders. Alder Flycatcher runs a strong second. Personally, I think the influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches is third. Groove-billed Ani would be in the running if there hadn’t been the very cooperative individual only two years ago. Vermilion Flycatcher doesn’t rate – they’ve been too common the past 15 years or so.”

Ron Robinson: “I nominate the Green-tailed Towhee due to the fact it stayed so long and was in an easily-reached location. I believe that despite the best efforts of many, I was the only birder who didn’t see it.”

Ignacio Rodriguez: “Favorite bird Vermilion Flycatcher. But I wish to nominate also the King Rail.”

Bob Simons: “My favorite would be the female Wilson’s Phalarope I saw from Palm Point in the spring. It was glorious and was a surprise and I was able to share it with my wife Erika and her brother and his wife from Germany. My second favorite would be the Red-breasted Nuthatch at John Killian’s house. I got great looks at both of these birds.”

Adam Zions: “Geez Rex, way to make this a difficult list. I’m not even sure how this works out to pick just a few favorites. My top 10 list for Alachua County in 2012 in no particular order:
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Sooty Tern
Magnificent Frigatebird
Black-bellied Plover
Reddish Egret
Black Scoter
Wilson’s Phalarope
Whimbrel
Franklin’s Gull
Alder Flycatcher
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Groove-billed Ani, Short-tailed Hawk, white morph Great Blue Heron, Western Tanager, Gull-billed Tern, Short-eared Owl, Black-billed Cuckoo, Black Skimmer. Alder Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Connecticut Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Lark Sparrow. And I suppose we can include these two, but they were really more of 2011 birds I suppose: Sprague’s Pipit and Green-tailed Towhee. We may need a Top 25 list, like the AP/Harris/USA Today polls for college football.”

Steve Zoellner: “I reported a Wilson’s Warbler several months ago. It never reappeared in our backyard but I saw that two were seen during the Christmas Bird Count. That is my nomination for best bird of the year (even though only my wife saw it).”

If we tally up the votes, Black Scoter wins the title, with Vermilion Flycatcher coming in second, and Red-breasted Nuthatch third. If we were to decide it on the basis of rarity, The Bird of the Year 2012 standings would look something like this:
1. Black Scoter: First County Record
2. Green-tailed Towhee: First County Record (but originally discovered in 2011)
3. Townsend’s Solitaire: First County Record (seen by only one birder, not accepted by Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee)
4. Alder Flycatcher: Second County Record
5. Sprague’s Pipit: Second County Record (but originally discovered in 2011) and Third County Record (when they returned in November 2012)
6. (tie) Whimbrel: Third County Record
6. (tie) Reddish Egret: Third County Record
8. Red-throated Loon: Fourth County Record
9. Franklin’s Gull: Fifth and Sixth County Records
10. Ruddy Turnstone: Fifth County Record

Bird of the Year 2013 is off to a good start with Chris Burney’s discovery of the county’s first-ever Bell’s Vireo (which I have NOT seen).

For all you Citrus, Hernando, and SW Marion County folks on the mailing list: Keith Morin, park biologist at Crystal River Preserve is looking for volunteers: “We are going to be planting a total of 12,000 longleaf pine seedlings on January 19, and 3000 trees each day on February 7, 16, and 21, and will need a lot of help from volunteers, new Americorps members, and staff. If you can help or send help, please let me know so I can write you down for that day. We have in the past planted 3000 trees in one day with an 11-person crew, but we are looking for 12-15 people each day.” Keith can be reached at Keith.Morin@dep.state.fl.us

Debbie Segal writes, “The county’s Environmental Protection Department has developed a Hunting Business Plan that would allow hunting on Alachua County public lands. It will be presented to the County Commission on Tuesday, January 22nd, at the County Administration Building, 2nd floor. The meeting will begin at 5 pm, though it is uncertain exactly when the Hunting Business Plan will be discussed. The Plan addresses the appropriateness of allowing hunting on each tract of land owned and managed by the county, including Levy Prairie, Mill Creek, Little Hatchet Creek, Phifer Flatwoods, Prairie Creek, Watermelon Pond, and others. Hunters have asked the county to open more lands to hunting, including duck hunting at Levy Prairie, which supports nesting Sandhill Cranes. Certainly some types of hunting are appropriate on public lands, such as removal of feral hogs, but if you are concerned that many of our public lands may become off limits for bird watching, hiking, photography, and other passive types of recreation during hunting season, then plan to attend the Commission meeting and consider voicing your concern. A large and vocal group will help send the message to the Commission that we want to keep our county public lands open for the large majority of people who use these lands for passive recreation. A link to the Plan is provided here.”

Christmas Bird Count results

From: Rex Rowan [rexrowan@gmail.com]
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcd38dEvbAs

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/8302688762/in/photostream

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.

Audubon Holiday Social, and thrilling seasonal rarities!

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

Alachua Audubon will hold its annual Holiday Social this coming Friday, December 7th, from 6:30 to 9:00. Please join us for refreshments, a silent auction to benefit Alachua Audubon, and of course the customarily brilliant and high-toned conversation of your fellow bird enthusiasts. This year Audubon board member Lynn Rollins is opening her home for our festivities. Lynn lives in Colony Park, a little west of Gainesville High School. Here’s a map, with Lynn’s house marked by an inverted blue teardrop: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=203358630947857947932.0004cfcb2b711575242b3&msa=0&ll=29.668534,-82.342122&spn=0.007104,0.009645  We hope to see you there. In fact, if you don’t show up, we may come looking for you…

Myiarchus is a genus of flycatchers with five members in North America, all of which look pretty much alike: Great Crested, Ash-throated, Brown-crested, Dusky-capped, and LaSagra’s. The first three of these have been recorded in Alachua County. Great Cresteds are of course common from late March through mid-September. Ash-throateds have been recorded 15-20 times over the past twenty years. Brown-cresteds have been recorded twice, Dusky-cappeds and LaSagra’s not at all. On the 29th Dalcio Dacol wrote, “A bit before noon today I saw from the observation platform and on the same row of bushes that the Vermilion Flycatcher has been frequenting on the west side of the trail, a Myiarchus flycatcher which I think is an Ash-throated Flycatcher. I saw it from the platform with 10x binoculars, it had that washed-out gray tone with prominent and bright rufous patch on the wing edge and on the upper tail, it also didn’t look as robust as a Great Crested Flycatcher. I had a good, but short, view of the back and of the right side of the bird but did not see the underparts. It didn’t fly away but dove down into the thick vegetation cover. I waited around the area for about half an hour but didn’t see it again.” He went back on the following day and spent two hours, playing vocalizations of the four Myiarchus species, but he didn’t see the bird again.

On the 30th Frank Goodwin saw a Snow Goose from the La Chua observation platform. Mike Manetz walked out on the 1st and got a look at it, his 253rd species for Alachua County in 2012.

This morning’s Alachua Audubon field trip to the La Chua Trail didn’t find either the Snow Goose or the Myiarchus flycatcher, but did amass a list of 80 species, including the resident female Vermilion Flycatcher, a Merlin, and 10 species of sparrows (11 if you include Eastern Towhee, which – and you’d know this if you’d looked over the Alachua County checklist - is just as much a sparrow as the others), the best of which were 5 Vespers, a Field, a Grasshopper, and a Lincoln’s. The Whooping Crane seen on the 27th and 28th has not been spotted since then.

Doug Richard reported a female Yellow-headed Blackbird at the Hague Dairy on the 29th.

On the 1st Matt and Erin Kalinowski found and photographed a female Common Goldeneye on the UF campus: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8235771567/in/photostream  At least I think it’s a Common. The all-yellow bill is a field mark of Barrow’s Goldeneye, but of western Barrow’s rather than eastern; the National Geographic Society field guide notes that female Commons’ bills are “rarely all-yellow.”

Yellow-breasted Chats are normally very reclusive birds, and it’s tough to get a picture of one even when it’s singing. On the 21st Greg Stephens got an outstanding shot of a chat that may well be wintering on Burnt Island at the south end of Lake Lochloosa: http://www.photographybygregstephens.com/p622066799/h4d9ddb42#h4d9ddb42