A few news items, plus a Cedar Key bird report

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

Join the Alachua Audubon Society on Wednesday, April 15th at 6:00 pm for our annual pot luck dinner celebration and to help us welcome our newest board members, Marie Davis, Will Sexton, Katie Sieving, Charlene Leonard, Ted Goodman, Adam Zions, John Sivinski, and Trina Anderson. The event will be held at Dick and Patty Bartlett’s house at 3101 SW 1st Way, Gainesville, located in the Colclough Hills neighborhood between south Main Street and Williston Road – across the street from and a little south of Bubba Scales’s house, where it’s been held in the past. (Look for the Audubon signs!) Bring some food to share and your drink of choice, and enjoy visiting with Alachua Audubon members and the Board of Directors. This will be a fun gathering and an opportunity to share our more recent spring migration observations!

Matt O’Sullivan went to Cedar Key on the 11th hoping that the forecast rains would ground some migrants: “Well it was pretty quiet at Cedar Key as they never got any rain. It did get better as the day went on, and by the end of the day I had seen 11 species of warbler including a Worm-eating, a Black-throated Blue, 2 Cape May, and best of all 2 Swainson’s Warblers on the same log!!! The most common bird of the day was Prairie Warbler with about a dozen around, also had several Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrushes. Other than that the only other migrants were an Indigo Bunting and a Baltimore Oriole that I heard but missed as it flew over my head. Others on the island saw a single Black-throated Green and a Magnolia Warbler.”

During the peaks of spring and fall migrations, Alachua Audubon offers two – even three! – field trips each weekend. This year’s “twofer” season began last weekend with a wildflower trip on Saturday and a San Felasco Hammock bird hike on Sunday and will continue through May 16-17. Our field trip schedule is here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

The wildflower trip to Goldhead Branch State Park went well, thanks to a knowledgeable volunteer from the Native Plant Society. The group visited sandhill, scrub, and ravine habitats and admired some lovely and fragrant wildflowers. Bird life included Brown-headed Nuthatches, a briefly-seen Swallow-tailed Kite, a Summer Tanager, and Red-headed Woodpeckers. It was also a surprisingly good day for herps. We saw a couple of Eastern Fence Lizards, two Florida Softshell Turtles, a recently road-killed Coral Snake (gory photo here), a young Southern Black Racer, and a Florida Watersnake.

Bob Carroll reported on Sunday’s San Felasco Hammock trip: “Today’s field trip to San Felasco was quite successful. We had a hard time getting out of the parking lot, and a harder time reaching the Moonshine Creek Trail. The parking lot produced Red-headed Woodpeckers (actually across the street), Great-crested Flycatchers, and a distant view of a male Summer Tanager (also across the street). We also stopped in the area with mostly pines and an open forest floor before we reached the Moonshine Trail. We were looking at a male Summer Tanager when Alan Shapiro called out that he had something really yellow – like Prothonotary yellow. Sure enough, he had a Prothonotary Warbler that gave us really terrific looks. Then we had the unique experience of seeing the Prothonotary in the same tree as and really close to both a male and female Summer Tanager so we could study them at leisure. Once on the Moonshine Creek Trail, we had a cooperative Red-eyed Vireo dancing around us. Later we had to work very hard, but finally we got everyone a decent look at a Hooded Warbler. There were a lot of Hoodeds thoughout the forest, and it took four stops and four different males to get everyone a look, but patience paid off. The only real miss of the day were the Barred Owls that are usually very responsive on the last quarter of the trail. They were silent and invisible today.”

Speaking of Bob Carroll, he writes, “It’s Third Thursday time! This week we’re heading to Cedar Key in search of piles and piles of migrants. We’ll meet at Target and leave by 7:00, pick up Barbara Shea in Archer, then meet a few more people in Cedar Key by 8:30. Here’s a tentative itinerary: We’ll drive out to Shell Mound for shorebirds (while looking for Florida Scrub-Jays along the way). Then we’ll go into Cedar Key, stop at the Episcopal Church and check the mulberry trees. We’ll walk around the cemetery looking for warblers. We’ll check the museum grounds. We may also check the loquat bushes near the turn at Hodges Avenue and the area around Anchor Cove and Andrews Circle. We’ll drive out toward the airport and maybe check the area along SW 133rd Street. Somewhere in there we’ll stop for lunch. So far I’ve had three restaurant nominations:
Tony’s (award-winning clam chowder), Ken’s (music of the 50s and 60s, best burgers in town and looking out on the Gulf), Annie’s (variety of food with a porch overlooking Back Bayou). You can look on Yelp or Trip Advisor for reviews.
PLEASE: If you’re joining us for lunch, let me know as soon as you can AND vote for a restaurant. I’ll eliminate the one with the least votes and then make a pick. See you on Thursday!”

Bad news for photographers and early birders: Paynes Prairie’s management has discontinued a policy that allowed annual-pass holders to get onto the La Chua Trail before 8:00. Photographer Chris Janus writes, “The gate code for April is not working and the gate was disconnected, as I was told, permanently. I tried it last weekend and today and it did not work. I called the ranger station and was directed to the ‘Manager,’ who kindly returned my call and explained that during the last meeting the management expressed concerns about security (and following even longer explanation by the Manager) and safety on the trail, and they decided to disconnect the gate because there are dangerous animals on the trail, etc. etc. So goodbye to the sunrises and shots of undisturbed wildlife. We will still have a chance to take pictures of noisy runners, people feeding alligators or trying to sit on them during the normal ‘safe’ hours of trail operation. If you suspect sarcasm here, you are correct. And if you say that sarcasm is the last kind of wisdom, you are also correct. But at least it is wisdom, I’d say. Now, if you know any place one can go early on the weekend morning for a stroll and take some good pictures of wildlife and not to see too many people, please, let me know.”

I’ve put up a new blog post at the Gainesville Sun website: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/138/swamps-and-spotted-turtles/ It describes an afternoon that I spent with Jonathan Mays in a swamp, looking for Spotted Turtles. And speaking of turtles, Jonathan told me about a new non-profit organization devoted to turtle conservation, the American Turtle Observatory: http://www.americanturtles.org/

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

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.

Oh. THAT migration.

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

Thoreau called it “the royal month of August,” and he was right. The stupendous clouds, the heat, the lushness of the greenery – and of course the birds. June and July begin migration with a trickle, but August opens up the floodgates. Shorebirds peak this month, and warblers, swallows, flycatchers, and other passerines will be on the move.

Speaking of warblers, Frank and Irina Goodwin saw two Yellow Warblers at La Chua on the 30th, the very day I sent out the last birding report – in which I complained that no one had seen any Yellow Warblers. On the 31st, John Hintermister found a very early Kentucky Warbler along the nature trail at Poe Springs Park, while Samuel Ewing had a Louisiana Waterthrush at Loblolly. And today Barbara Woodmansee hosted an American Redstart in the backyard water feature that she and her husband had just finished building; that’s only the second of the fall. Four days, four migrant warblers. That’s more like it.

On June 21st, the summer solstice, we enjoyed 14 hours and 3 minutes of daylight. Today we’ll have 30 minutes less. Birds are still singing, but only occasionally. I still hear Northern Cardinals every day, but Great Crested Flycatchers, Brown Thrashers, and Carolina Chickadees, though still around, aren’t singing much.

I watched a very enjoyable online documentary this morning called “Counting on Birds,” in which the host goes along on Christmas Bird Counts in New Hampshire, Maine, and Ecuador, as well as the “Cuba Bird Survey.” I most enjoyed the the first twenty minutes, which take place in New Hampshire. The host does get the history of the Christmas Bird Count a little bit wrong. It didn’t “start out as a killing game.” The “side hunts” that Frank Chapman cited when he proposed the Christmas census in Bird-Lore magazine had mostly faded into the past by 1900, so there was no need for him to put an end to them, as the host declares he did. You can read Chapman’s original CBC proposal – its brevity so out of proportion to its significance – here. And you can watch “Counting on Birds” here: http://video.nhptv.org/video/2365128454/

Speaking of the Cuba Bird Survey, Daytona Beach’s Halifax River Audubon Society will be participating this year, from December 1-12. The trip will cost about $5,000 with air fare. For more details click here (download it for better graphics).

The Ewing family just returned from a sixteen-state summer vacation during which, Samuel informs me, he got 48 life birds. He posted a very nice gallery of photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/

We’re beginning to fill in the field trip schedule on the Alachua Audubon web site. We’re up to early November at this point, so feel free to take a look and start putting anything that interests you on your calendar: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Blue bird bonanza

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

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.

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!”

The calendar, she does not lie

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

Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn put their kayaks into Lake Santa Fe on the 20th and went looking for the Pacific Loon. They failed to find it, but they did see the county’s second-ever Black Scoters, two of them. Adam got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13319108903/

The 20th was first day of spring, and the birds have responded accordingly:

On the 20th Linda Hensley had the first Prothonotary Warbler of the spring eating grape jelly in her NW Gainesville yard.

The first Red-eyed Vireo of the spring was photographed by Matt O’Sullivan at Loblolly Woods on the 20th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/13291391555/

The season’s first Broad-winged Hawk was seen by Phil Laipis on the 21st, circling (the hawk, not Phil) over Newberry Road near the Oaks Mall.

John Hintermister saw the spring’s first Summer Tanager at his place north of Gainesville on the 21st.

Great Crested Flycatcher is sort of problematic. White-eyed Vireos can imitate their call, and may – I emphasize “may” – at times produce a single “wheep” that can be mistaken for a Great Crested. A series of “wheep” calls is perhaps more likely to be a Great Crested, but I always encourage birders who hear one before March 25th to track down the source of the call and make an attempt to see the bird and confirm its identity. Andy Kratter both heard and saw a Great Crested on the 21st while doing his loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery. (White-eyed Vireos are good mimics in general. This morning Andy wrote, “Thought I had my first-of-the-season Hooded Warbler today, but it was a White-eyed Vireo.”)

Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw the spring’s first Hooded Warbler at Loblolly Woods on the 22nd, and Dalcio Dacol saw another at San Felasco Hammock the same day.

One Least Bittern wintered near Paynes Prairie’s Cones Dike Trail, but the spring’s first arrival was one that I saw – with Lauren Day, Larry Korhnak, and biking-birding-blogger Dorian Anderson – at Kanapaha Prairie on the 22nd.

Some spring birds jumped the gun:

Tina Greenberg heard the spring’s first Chuck-will’s-widow singing outside her west Gainesville window on March 6th. I would have suspected a Whip-poor-will at that date, but she made a recording on the following night, and it was indeed a Chuck.

Prairie Warblers are a relatively early spring migrant, usually beginning their passage through the area in mid-March. Adam Zions saw two along Cones Dike on the 15th, and there have been five sightings reported to eBird since then.

Jonathan Mays saw two Chimney Swifts over the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on the 18th, tying the early record for Alachua County.

Samuel Ewing notes that Carolina Wrens fledged their first brood at his place on the 20th, and that Northern Cardinals and Eastern Bluebirds have both produced eggs.

A few early migrants have been arriving at Cedar Key. Sally Chisholm photographed a Hooded Warbler at the museum on March 18th: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/QhNvKVXL8070W_WADbs9YtMTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=embedwebsite  On the same day Pat Burns reported, “I saw 18 Hooded Warblers and heard the chink of others. Also noted: 7 Yellow-throated Warblers, 15 Black-and-white, 12 Northern Parula, 12 Palm, and 1 Common Yellowthroat. Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were numerous. There were flocks of White-eyed Vireos, 5 Yellow-throated Vireos, and one Red-eyed Vireo. A few Barn Swallows were present. Late in the day twelve Spotted Sandpipers landed on a dock behind Nature’s Landing.” It’s not always that good, however (or maybe it’s just that we’re not Pat Burns!): Ron Robinson, Matt O’Sullivan, and I spent the day there on the 20th, but apart from a couple of Hooded Warblers (one at the cemetery, one at Black Point Swamp on the road to Shell Mound) and dozens of American Avocets we didn’t see much worth reporting.

Frank and Irina Goodwin found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on the 22nd, “in a grove of tall turkey oaks just to the south of the trail that leads to the campsite. In other words, on the north end of the preserve, if you’re walking west along the graded road (toward the campsite), it was among the turkey oaks just beyond the junction where the red-blazed trail turns sharply left and the campsite road continues west.” They also heard a Bachman’s Sparrow singing.

At least one of two Canvasbacks that have been hanging out among the Ring-necked Ducks at the end of the La Chua Trail was still present on the 22nd. John Martin got a long-distance shot: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/13337661935/

Marvin Smith and Brad Bergstrom found two White-faced Ibises at Alligator Lake in Lake City on the 19th. Marvin got a photo: https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/RxXKJr153b1poJwwbf_kJ9MTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=embedwebsite

Felicia Lee told me about this eye-opening New York Times article on outdoor cats and their effects on public health not to mention wildlife: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/opinion/sunday/the-evil-of-the-outdoor-cat.html?emc=eta1&_r=0

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).