First fall migrants

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

Well dang, it’s fall already. Seems like it was just summer the other day. But we’ve lost nine minutes of daylight since the solstice – the sun rose eight minutes later this morning than it did on June 21st, and sunset will be a minute earlier. And more importantly, local birders have already recorded five fall migrant species (six if you count the two Belted Kingfishers seen during The June Challenge). The first was a Prairie Warbler spotted by Jonathan Mays at Paynes Prairie on July 9th. The second, third, and fourth came during a walk that Mike Manetz and I took with Dean and Samuel Ewing at Watermelon Pond on the 12th: a southbound Black Tern passed overhead; a Greater Yellowlegs flew by, calling; and a Least Sandpiper landed on the shore of a small pond we were exploring and spent a few minutes foraging before winging off to the west. The other migrants were found by John Hintermister at Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive on the 12th: another Prairie Warbler and the fall’s first Black-and-white Warbler.

Let me say a few more words about Watermelon Pond. I’ve been out there many times before, but haven’t wandered quite so far back onto the property. I’ve got to tell you, it’s one of the most beautiful places in Alachua County. There were times when I looked out at the vista of rolling, wildflower-dotted uplands pocked with pothole ponds and marshes and isolated oak groves and felt that I’d strayed into some landscape painting by one of the 19th-century English masters. Afterward, Mike and I agreed that a Watermelon Pond walk would have to be part of Alachua Audubon’s 2013-14 field trip schedule. Not the least exciting part of the day to me was sighting a frog I’d never seen before. On the west side of the property we passed a couple of Gopher Tortoise burrows. I glimpsed something inside one of them, and, hopeful of a tortoise or snake, I peered in with my binoculars. It was a root that had caught my eye – but there on the floor of the burrow sat a Gopher Frog, a species that depends on tortoise burrows for its survival. Samuel got a photo. If you want to see Watermelon Pond for yourself, drive to the traffic light in Newberry, go south on US-41 to SW 46th Avenue, turn right on 46th and go to SW 250th Street, and then turn left and go four miles to the county park. Walk down to the (mainly dry) marsh, bearing right, and follow the path across to the oak grove. A few more steps and you’re through the oaks, and from there you should just go where your curiosity and exhilaration lead you.

Hey, is it still popularly believed that Green Anoles change color to blend in with their backgrounds? When I was a schoolboy in Jacksonville in the 1960s it was an article of faith that chameleons – as they were called – turned green on green backgrounds and brown on brown backgrounds, and there was a joke that you could drive them crazy by placing them on plaid. I was thinking about them this morning as I drove home from the grocery store, and was surprised to realize that I still don’t know, in 2013, what causes them to change color. Well, lo and behold, no one else knows either. In 2013 it’s still a mystery. There are theories, such as thermoregulation, but the latest study suggests that adult males turn green more often than immatures or females, and that green color may play a role in signaling to other anoles. A blog summary is here. Some of you newcomers to Florida may not realize that Gainesville has two species of anoles: the Green Anole, which is native, and which changes color; and the permanently-brown Brown Anole, a non-native of Caribbean origin which was still getting a foothold here when I arrived in the 1980s. The Brown Anole now greatly outnumbers the Green Anole in urban and residential environments, and they’re working their way into wilder terrain as well; I saw one at Palm Point on the 11th.

Paynes Prairie and Florida Park Service staff will conduct a public meeting and presentation on the Prairie’s updated management plan at 7:00 p.m. this Monday, July 15th, at the Doyle Conner Building, 1911 SW 34th Street. This is your sole chance to ask questions and express your opinions face to face with the Park Service staff. The plan is here and the agenda is here.

To be sure that the State of Florida continues to fund the purchase of conservation lands, an organization called Florida’s Land and Water Legacy has been trying to collect enough petitions to put the matter up for a statewide referendum. Nearly 700,000 signed petitions are needed. If you’re a registered Florida voter, and you haven’t submitted one yet, please print it out using the following link and mail it in (a pen-and-ink signature is required for the petition to count). For that matter, you can print a bunch of them out and make them available for people to sign at your place of business: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pages/171/audubon-florida-partners-with-the-legacy-campaign/

Those of you who use Facebook might be interested in this “Save Loblolly Woods” Facebook page, put together by a group that’s opposed to the city cashing in on its conservation land holdings by selling off five acres to a local developer: https://www.facebook.com/saveloblolly?fref=ts

Raptor biologist Gina Kent writes with a request: “We are looking for Mississippi Kite nests, and areas where kites are seen, especially with fledglings. ‘Tis the season for orphan kite chicks that need a surrogate nest.” If you know of a nest, send me an email and I’ll pass it along to Gina.

Your weekend: places to go, birds to see

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

Anne Kendall got a hot tip a couple of days ago: “I ran into Howard Adams and Barbara Mollison on the La Chua Trail on Wednesday and they told me they had found Eastern Wood-Pewee, Northern Flicker, and White-winged Dove in the Newberry Cemetery, so I went out there this morning and easily got all three – I’ve been to Northeast Park five times looking for the flicker with no luck, so was happy to get it in Newberry.” All three can be tough to get in June, so this is very helpful information. To get to the cemetery, take Newberry Road west to, you guessed it, Newberry, turn left onto US-41/27, go 0.5 mile to SW 15th Avenue, turn right, and go 0.6 mile to the T, where you turn left into the cemetery.

Samuel Ewing found a Greater Yellowlegs at Powers Park today. I think that’s only the third June record for the county. Here’s a link to Samuel’s eBird checklist, which is illustrated with a few nice photos: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S14418030

Mike Manetz told me on Wednesday that he was going to try for the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Possum Creek Park, and asked if I was interested. I picked him up and we headed to the park, which is on NW 53rd Avenue just east of NW 43rd Street – opposite Trinity United Methodist Church. We parked at the west end of the property, near the skate park, and then walked southeast across the open field to the gate at the back corner, where a trail leads down a wooded slope to Possum Creek and a little pond grown with buttonbush, home to a heron rookery (mostly Little Blue Herons, with one or two pairs of Green Herons and Snowy Egrets). Adam Zions was there ahead of us, and we spent two hours standing around, waiting for the Yellow-crowned to show itself. Glenn Israel arrived at 8:10, but his wife was waiting for him in the parking lot, so he left at about 8:15 – approximately sixty seconds before the Yellow-crowned flew in from the north and landed in the buttonbush thicket. A minute later it emerged, flew across the pond, and landed in a dead tree just a few yards to our right. Be sure not to mention this to Glenn.

I still haven’t seen a Black-crowned Night-Heron in June, but Anne Kendall tells me she saw one at River Styx, along with a Prothonotary Warbler.

Mike Manetz saw a Broad-winged Hawk in the neighborhood of Ring Park on the 11th.

Conrad Burkholder birded La Chua on the 13th and found a couple of lingering rarities: a pair of Blue-winged Teal and one or maybe two Great White Herons. However he saw no Roseate Spoonbills or Whooping Cranes.

If you’re still looking for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Jonathan Colburn found a pair in town, at the Shands UF helicopter pad.

One last little bit of June Challenge business. Phil Laipis has used Excel to create a self-counting June Challenge checklist. Just enter the date you saw it – enter anything, really, the numeral “1″ will suffice – and the checklist will tally your birds for you. There are also spaces to record where you saw it first, and whether you’ve seen it again.

It’s Friday afternoon, a good time for a virtual vacation to Maine courtesy of Jonathan Mays, who just returned from leading field trips for the Acadia Birding Festival:

Yikes: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/10/killer-gulls

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.

Yellow-headed Blackbird, possible White-faced Ibis

Cole Fredericks, visiting from Polk County, found a possible White-faced Ibis on the 28th: “On the way out of town I noticed Post Office Pond was drawn way down and there were ibis and yellowlegs feeding. I stopped and scoped through the Glossies and found a bird that stood out to me. I am not 100% confident because of the lighting and wind. I took a horrible pic that seems to show a red eye and no facial markings. I noticed the bird because of its overall more olive sheen and the color of its head and neck. Next I noticed the very blank looking face and then while scoping I noticed some red in the legs and got a subtle red from the eyes. I can’t say the facial skin in front of the eye was pink though.” I checked PO Pond after I got the message this evening, but all the Glossies were gone. I’ll check again on Monday.

As Cole noted, Post Office Pond is almost dry. Nonetheless Helen Warren spotted a family of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, including a dozen recently-hatched chicks, paddling around in the shallows on the 27th and 28th. Black-bellieds nest in late summer and early fall, but late October is surprising even for them. Shorebirds are congregating on the mud at PO Pond as well: dowitchers (probably Long-billed), Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and on the 28th one late Pectoral Sandpiper.

On the 24th John Hintermister met Mike Manetz at the Hague Dairy to look for the Bronzed Cowbird that Mike found there on the 22nd. By the time Mike had gone into the office, signed in, and returned, John had TWO Bronzed Cowbirds in view. Jonathan Mays went by later in the day and got them both in one frame: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8120126651/in/photostream  At least one was still there on the 28th, according to Cole Fredericks.

John Martin also visited the dairy on the 28th. He missed the Bronzed Cowbird, but his consolation prize was a life bird, a female Yellow-headed Blackbird. He saw a trio of American Avocets as well, and was able to get a video as they repeatedly circled the lagoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM-aG-sZdGA 

Clay-colored Sparrows seem to be ridiculously common this fall. At least four have been recorded in Alachua County: one at Mary Lou Schubert’s feeder in NW Gainesville on August 28th, one in Geoff Parks’s NE Gainesville back yard on October 13th, one that John Hintermister and Mike Manetz found at the “twin ponds” south of the dairy driveway on October 24th, and one that’s been hanging out near the La Chua observation platform since October 12th and which was still there on the 27th. Jonathan Mays got a nice shot of it on the 26th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8126148194/in/photostream/

Hurricane Sandy was evidently too far away to bring us any good birds. Several of us showed up at Palm Point on the morning of the 27th to look for storm-blown coastal strays, but we saw nothing more unusual than a mixed flock of Barn and Tree Swallows (with a late-record Northern Rough-winged thrown in for good measure). We saw no gulls or terns. However John Martin arrived not long after we left, and in the two hours he spent there he saw a trio of Herring Gulls, two Redheads, and 30 scaup. Tom Camarata, Howard Kochman, and I saw eight Ring-necked Ducks, the season’s first, from Powers Park on the 28th, and on the same day John Killian saw the fall’s first Ruddy Duck along the La Chua Trail.

John hasn’t seen the Red-breasted Nuthatches that were visiting his feeder since the 26th. Red-breasteds are still being seen around the northern half of the state, though, so keep your eyes open.

This morning’s field trip to Camps Canal and Cones Dike was entirely uneventful (unless you have a keen interest in Palm Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers), but next weekend we’re going to the Hague Dairy, and you’ve just gotten finished reading about all the excitement going on there. It may be a good one. Field trip calendar: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/calendar.htm

Have you bought your Alachua Audubon Christmas tree yet? Well for goodness’ sake why not? Do you think the stork brings them or something? See page 4 of the newsletter: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/crane.pdf