A slight warblerization of the avifauna

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

Join Craig Faulhaber, FWC’s Florida Scrub-Jay Conservation Coordinator, for a presentation on the biology and conservation of the Florida Scrub-Jay, the only bird species unique to Florida. Come hear about its fascinating social system, its unique scrub habitat, and the challenges and opportunities for conserving this charismatic species. The presentation will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17th, at the Prairie Creek Lodge at 7204 County Road 234. For more information contact Alachua Conservation Trust by phone (352-373-1078) or email ( info@AlachuaConservationTrust.org ).

Ron Robinson will lead a field trip to Bronson on the 28th to see a “super Purple Martin colony” (over 200 nests!). We’ll have more details as we get closer to the time, but grab your calendar right this very minute and pencil it in. I should point out that there will also be an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock that day. Life is full of hard choices.

Speaking of Alachua Audubon field trips, remember that we’ll offer two field trips each of the next two weekends: Palm Point and Powers Park on the 20th, Cedar Key on the 21st, Hickory Mound Impoundment on the 27th, and the aforementioned trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Millhopper Road entrance on the 28th. Details are here. The Georgia Coast trip on May 4/5 has been canceled, but we may find something else to do that weekend, so watch this space.

Okay. Spring migration has gotten pretty interesting during the last few days:

While working in a restricted part of Paynes Prairie on the 15th, Jonathan Mays found the best bird of the season so far, a Swainson’s Warbler, one of only about twenty ever sighted in the county: “Located after hearing him sing (8:22 a.m.) but most of view obscured by vegetation (could see rust cap and unstreaked breast though); moving east along treeline edge of canal/dike; song loud and similar to Louisiana Waterthrush (3 clear intro notes) but ending not garbled … sang multiple times (ca. 6) from close range.” He also saw a Yellow Warbler (“Beautiful all yellow bird w/faint red stripes on chest – male; did not sing but gave dull chip note when it flew; seen very well in open branches of a willow”) and at least six Northern Waterthrushes.

On the 13th Michael Meisenburg led an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Progress Center, where the participants saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Cape May, 6 Prairies, 3 American Redstarts, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak, among other things.

And on the 14th, Andy Kratter found about the same variety around his SE Gainesville neighborhood: a Worm-eating, a Cape May, a Prairie, an American Redstart, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak.

Painted Buntings are showing up, as they are wont to do during Indigo Bunting migration: Stephen McCullers saw a male at Bivens Arm Nature Park on the 12th,  Tonya Becker of Gainesville has had a male and a female visiting her Gainesville yard since the 13th, while Phil Laipis had yet another male in his NW Gainesville back yard on the 15th.

John Killian walked out La Chua on the 15th and found a Great White Heron near the observation platform. Also a Whooping Crane and the season’s first Purple Gallinule. Usually Purple Gallinules are here by late March, but like several other species, including Summer Tanager and Orchard Oriole, it’s running a little late this spring.

Stephen McCullers saw the Groove-billed Ani and two Yellow-breasted Chats along Sparrow Alley on the 16th. This is a new late record for Groove-billed Ani in Alachua County, by four days.

On the 14th Keith Collingwood saw a Clay-colored Sparrow at a feeder in his Melrose yard, tying the latest spring record set in 1963.

On the morning of the 13th Andy Kratter counted 92 Common Loons flying over SE Gainesville, and 18 on the following morning.

On the 7th Samuel Ewing saw an interesting nighthawk near his family’s home in Newberry: “I was doing a ‘nighthawk watch’ and after a little while spotted one flying north. It was quite low and was swaying side to side and turning around acrobatically trying to catch insects. I could clearly see the white bars on the wing.” The flight style sounds like that of a Lesser Nighthawk, and since they do winter in South Florida they’d have to migrate through North Florida to get home – but obviously there’s no way to know which it was. On the 12th Benjamin Ewing heard a definite Common Nighthawk calling while playing ball with the family, and he and Samuel saw a second one as well.

April 1st brought amusing April Fool’s posts from two birding blogs, advertising the best binoculars ever manufactured and warning us that ABA is going to clamp down on dubious life lists:
http://www.nemesisbird.com/2013/04/the-new-eagle-optics-wild-turkey-10×50/
http://blog.aba.org/2013/03/aba-set-to-enforce-list-totals.html

There’s a new Florida Big Day record: 195 species in a single day! Read about it at http://birdingforconservation.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-big-day.html

Jackson Childs’s movie about spring bird migration, “Gulf Crossing,” is available for viewing at http://gulfcrossingmovie.com/Gulf_Crossing.html

Birds you can’t see

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

The biggest birding news this week is also the most frustrating. Since the 5th a Buff-bellied Hummingbird has been coming to a feeder south of Williston (in Levy County), but the homeowner hasn’t yet responded to requests to allow the birding public in to see it. She may refuse, or she may delay long enough that the bird leaves for its nesting grounds in Texas and Mexico. This is at least the second record for Levy County; one was in Cedar Key on 23-24 October 2000. Here’s a photo.

Pat Burns got a photo of a locally-rare Willet in the pond beside the Lowe’s in Alachua on the 5th. Willets are normally saltwater birds, and it’s pretty unusual to find one inland. Alas, when Mike Manetz went looking for it on the 6th, the bird had flown.

The Groove-billed Ani was seen again on the 6th by Larry Gridley, a birder from Albany, Georgia: “I got to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park at 0800. I found it at 0935 in the blackberry thicket were it has been reported before. I stumbled up on it as it was sunning itself in a blackberry thicket on the edge of the trail. You can see his wings flared a little and neck feathers ruffled. After about 30 minutes  warming up it flew to a small tree then to some more blackberry thickets where it was chasing bugs.” Larry posted some photos of the ani here. He also saw two Yellow-breasted Chats in the same location. The ani was seen again on the 7th by Tallahassee birder Robert Bowman.

Cedar Key has been pretty lively over the past week or so. On the 6th John Hintermister saw a Scarlet Tanager, a Cape May Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler, seven Prothonotary Warblers, six Prairies, four Hoodeds, an American Redstart, a Louisiana Waterthrush, and seven (!) Red-breasted Nuthatches. On the 1st the Ewings found a Swainson’s Warbler at the museum, and on the 6th Pat Burns found two more at an undisclosed location.

John Killian found the spring’s first Worm-eating Warbler along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco on April 2nd, by one day the earliest ever recorded in the county. Felicia Lee, Barbara Shea, and Elizabeth Martin found another along Bolen Bluff on the 7th. Prairie Warblers and American Redstarts are being reported almost daily.

The first Hooded Warblers of the spring were reported by Caleb Gordon at Loblolly Woods on the 26th and by Ryan Butryn at the FWC Wildlife Lab (near the intersection of 441 and Williston Road) on the 27th. Several have been seen since then.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows usually show up during the second week in March. This year they were late, or we noticed them late: Lloyd Davis found the first of the spring at Cellon Creek Boulevard on the 22nd. Conrad Burkholder had a lovely experience in the same spot on the 30th: “The Northern Rough-winged Swallows were numerous, with about a dozen birds flying around some large parked truck trailers, very low to the ground. I stood still while the swallows swirled in the air around me. They were flying very acrobatically and low to the ground, about 2 to 10 feet. I observed some of the swallows going in and out of the underside of one of the trailers. I also observed them picking up what appeared to be nesting material. I believe they may be nesting in the underside of the trailers.”

Laughing Gulls are mostly a warm-weather phenomenon in Alachua County. This has always mystified me. Why would they come inland during spring and summer, when they should be staying close to their nests on the coast? Anyway, the first of the spring were seen on the 1st, when Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw one flying over their neighborhood near Watermelon Pond and Andy Kratter saw three going over Pine Grove Cemetery.

There were three separate sightings of Mississippi Kites on March 29th, but there have been none reported to me (or to eBird) since then. Swallow-tailed Kites seem to be here in pretty good numbers, relatively speaking, and I’m told by a researcher that a pair is nesting within the Gainesville city limits.

There are plenty of winter birds still around. A few highlights: While doing a loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 7th, Andy Kratter saw an Eastern Phoebe, the latest ever recorded in Alachua County. Andy’s sighting broke a record that had stood since Frank Chapman saw one on April 4, 1887 – a span of 126 years! Mike Manetz heard a Whip-poor-will singing in his NW Gainesville neighborhood on the 1st. That’s not a record, but it’s pretty late nonetheless. Ryan Butryn saw a Wilson’s Warbler at the FWC Wildlife Lab on the 27th.

Birder and poet Sidney Wade invites the local birding community to join her as she reads from her sixth book of poetry, Straits & Narrows, at the downtown library on Thursday, April 11th, at 7:30 p.m. She assures me, “There will be bird poems.”

Mike Manetz writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at http://birdsandconservation.weebly.com/  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.

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).

Weekend update, featuring Western Tanager, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Snow Goose, etc., etc., etc.

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

We’ve got two events vying for your attention on Wednesday the 20th:

Miguel Palavaccini will conduct a photography workshop on “Adobe Lightroom for Birders”: “The workshop is targeted at anyone who wants to learn how to better organize, manage, edit, and share images. I’ll be directing my workflow to birders, but it can be applied to all areas of photography. The date is March 20th and it will be about a 1.5 hr classroom workshop.” The time has yet to be announced; you should probably email Miguel at mrpalaviccini@gmail.com if you’re interested.

And Bob Wallace writes, “I will be presenting a slide presentation of my five-week birding trip to East Africa to Alachua Audubon at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, March 20th, at the Millhopper Library. We saw 840 bird species and I photographed over 750 species, but have mercifully narrowed it down to 300 pictures (no easy task).”

Decisions, decisions.

It’s been an exciting week for birding here in Alachua County. Normally mid-March is a little bit on the dull side, but if I saw nothing in 2013 but this week’s birds I’d be waiting for an interview request from the TV news.

A Western Tanager visited a back yard south of Alachua on the 17th and 18th. I don’t have permission to give out the homeowner’s name, but a photo of the bird was posted on the Wild Birds Unlimited Facebook page. A male Painted Bunting is frequenting the same yard! Obviously the homeowner is bribing somebody.

Katherine Edison photographed four Snow Geese at La Chua on the 15th. They were seen again by Glenn Israel and Lloyd Davis on the 16th.

Continuing rarities at La Chua include the White-faced Ibis photographed by Miguel Palavaccini on the 15th (if you like his picture, attend his workshop!) and seen as recently as the 17th by Jonathan Mays and John Martin; 2 Whooping Cranes seen (distantly) by Jonathan Mays on the 17th; a Peregrine Falcon photographed by Adam Zions on the 13th and seen as recently as the 17th by John Martin and Lloyd Davis; and the Groove-billed Ani that has lingered at Sparrow Alley since mid-December, photographed by Samuel Ewing on the 14th and seen as recently as the 15th by Lloyd Davis.

At the other end of the Prairie, Jonathan Mays found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th.

And at yet another end of the Prairie, the Cones Dike Trail, Caleb Gordon saw a Mottled Duck sitting on 14 eggs, plus nesting Anhingas and Great Blue Herons. He also saw 3 Le Conte’s Sparrows, “flushed from recently burned grassland, seen well on stem for 5 seconds at close range.”

Le Conte’s Sparrows were also reported from Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop, along the north side, which means you take the trail on the right when you leave the parking lot. Adam Zions photographed two, about a mile and a quarter out, on the 16th. Just a little beyond that, up to 19 Pectoral Sandpipers have been hanging out, first noted by Jonathan Mays on the 14th and photographed by Adam on the 16th. However the Least Flycatcher that Jonathan saw on the 16th, the same bird he found on February 5th, is on the south side.

Both Jonathan and Adam spotted a Northern Waterthrush along the Levy Prairie Loop. Another was seen by Frank Goodwin at Alachua Sink on the 15th. These are early for migrants, so I’d guess they wintered in the area.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still here. Barbara Shea saw one in her Jonesville yard early this month and another at Jonesville Park on the 9th, while Bubba Scales saw one along Millhopper Road west of I-75 on the 15th. They’ll probably stick around for another month or so.

Two American Redstarts were seen this week. Mike Manetz found one along Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th. Very early migrants or wintering birds?

One Solitary Sandpiper has been seen almost daily along the La Chua Trail from the 8th through the 17th, and another was seen at Barr Hammock by Jonathan Mays on the 14th.

John Killian saw the first Red-eyed Vireo of the spring on the 14th, and by the 16th they were widespread: Mike Manetz had one at San Felasco, Adam Zions had one at Barr Hammock, and Jonathan Mays had one at the Chacala Pond Trail.

Spring migration is clearly underway, but it won’t peak for another four to six weeks. One thing we always hope for in spring, especially at Cedar Key, is a fallout, a day on which the weather forces migrant birds down into the trees in huge numbers. We’ve had some excellent days at Cedar Key over the years, but … if you want to see what a REAL fallout looks like, check out the first dozen photos in this gallery from Maine’s Machias Seal Island on 24 May 2011 (keep clicking “next” in the upper right corner): http://www.pbase.com/lightrae/image/135054460

There’s been some discussion of unusually early Mississippi Kites on the eBird regional reviewers’ listserv. Brian Sullivan, one of the managers of eBird, wrote, “Plumbeous Kite is a real possibility in the US, and it would arrive much earlier in spring than Mississippi.” Could be. But you know, I think we’d notice if we saw one: http://500px.com/photo/1297069

Some biologist wants to “de-extinct” the Passenger Pigeon: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/passenger-pigeon-de-extinction/all/

Say goodbye to the next Eastern Phoebe and Song Sparrow you see. Both are usually gone by the end of March.

No, birds just can’t get enough of the beautiful La Chua Trail!

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

Hey, all you eBirders, it’s time for the eBird tip of the week! Here it is: Don’t be like me! Read the instructions! I’ve been entering sightings into eBird for years, but only yesterday did I learn that if you walk out the La Chua Trail – about a mile and a half – and then walk back – another mile and a half – you DON’T record your distance as 3 miles. Any time you retrace your steps, record only the one-way distance. So here are the aforementioned instructions (read them!). And browse through the links on the right side of the page for more useful stuff: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/how-to-make-your-checklists-more-meaningful

Lots of good birds have been reported from La Chua as recently as yesterday – White-faced Ibis, Groove-billed Ani, Peregrine Falcon, and Whooping Crane. The White-faced Ibis, seen yesterday by Matt Kalinowski, Jane Sender, and John Killian, seen today by Mike Manetz, and photographed by Jonathan Mays on the 9th, is hanging around the observation platform. So are the Peregrine (“watched it perched, then as it dove and killed and ate duck,” commented visiting Massachusetts birder Jane Sender) and the Whooping Crane (“far off east of observation platform,” wrote Matt Kalinoswki). Along Sparrow Alley, John Killian saw the Yellow-breasted Chat yesterday (also photographed on the 9th by Jonathan Mays), while Kim Stringer got this nice shot of the Groove-billed Ani.

Mike Manetz walked out La Chua this afternoon and wrote, “During my after-lunch nap I dreamed I saw a male Cinnamon Teal from the platform at La Chua, so I jumped out of bed and ran down there. No Cinnamon, but plenty of ducks still there, including a couple dozen Gadwall and onesies of Wigeon, Mallard, and Shoveler. Most important, the White-faced Ibis is still there in the same spot. He must have poked a million holes in a three square yard area. Also nine Forster’s Terns and Black-necked Stilt [first of the spring!] at the sink, and over 100 Snowy Egrets.”

More spring arrivals: Debbie Segal found a dead Chuck-will’s-widow along Sweetwater Dike on the 8th (“recently killed; in the process of being plucked”). More happily, Dean Ewing heard one singing in the early morning of March 11 near Watermelon Pond. Yellow-throated Vireos are checking in: Charlene Leonard found one at La Chua on the 5th, while Mike Manetz saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 10th. John Hintermister saw two Pectoral Sandpipers at the Tuscawilla Prairie on the 11th; he “walked out to the western edge of the prairie where there is a small patch of open water.” They’re always very early for migrant shorebirds; I think our early-arrival record is late February. Northern Rough-winged Swallows haven’t been reported yet, but they should be here already, and Red-eyed Vireos should be arriving any day now. Summer Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers should get here in about two weeks.

Speaking of spring migration, Loonacy begins on Friday! For those of you who are relatively new to this mailing list, one of our most interesting spring phenomena is the almost-daily flight of Common Loons over Gainesville. They’re bound from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, thence due north to their nesting grounds. Departing the Cedar Key area around daybreak, they appear over Gainesville about an hour later, flying northeast singly or in widely-spaced flocks ranging in size from 2-4 (usually) to 40+. They’re white below, with trailing legs, and often with black heads, like this; Ron Robinson says they look like flying bowling pins. Occasionally, especially during March, you might see a Red-throated Loon mixed in with the Commons. You can watch for them at any location with a wide view of the western sky. I like the US-441 observation platform. Andy Kratter, who’s been keeping track of these flights from March 15th through April 10th for several years, says the peak of the migration is usually from March 27th to April 4th. Andy – more formally known as Dr. Andrew W. Kratter of the Florida Museum of Natural History – would be interested in hearing about any loon sightings you make this spring: “Please note for each group of loons observed,  the date, your exact location, the time of observation, the number of birds, and the directions of travel.” Email him at kratter@flmnh.ufl.edu

Mike Manetz and Ron Robinson experienced what Mike called “instant gratification” on the 5th: “Ron and I installed the new martin house at the old George’s Hardware spot, now Sunflower. As I stood on the roof of the building tightening the bolts that hold the house to the pole a pair of Purple Martins appeared out of nowhere and started circling around my head at arm’s length, trying to land on the house and chirping happily the whole time. It was wonderful. There are still martins just across the creek at the dentist office house too. In all we saw four males and two females, and Ron thinks that most martins haven’t shown up yet.”

Kathy Malone of the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) reminds us that there’s a meeting tonight (March 12th): “Cindy and Kirby Pringle from Illinois will be showing a special film they produced, ‘The Plight of the Monarch.’ Really hope you can join us for a 6:15 p.m. potluck, and the program at 7 p.m. (You may come to the program only.) We meet on the second floor of the Florida Museum of Natural History in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity conference room. Enter in the lobby of the museum.” You can see all the local NABA chapter’s planned activities here: http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabancf/Events.htm

The Hague Dairy will hold Family Day on Saturday, March 16th: “See how milk is produced locally, and learn how University of Florida research supports more efficient, affordable and sustainable milk production. Take a leisurely tour and enjoy butter making, a hay ride, calf petting, a milking machine, visiting the cows in their barn, see the health care area, the milking parlor and lots more! The event is free, and there is plenty of parking for everyone. It’s sure to be a fun and informative day for all.” Take your binoculars and look at a few birds while you’re there!

First Swallow-tailed Kites, and other spring arrivals

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

(Those of you who asked for shorter birding reports – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) you were in the minority – will be deeply disheartened at the length of this one. I’ll try to mix it up a little more in the future, but there have been a lot of birds in the last ten days.)

Although the earliest Swallow-tailed Kite ever reported from Alachua County was seen on February 6, 1954, I think only one other February sighting has been recorded since then; mostly they show up in March. This year is different: they’ve been early all over the state, Alachua County included. Ron Robinson saw one over his place at the west end of Gainesville on the 21st, Dave Beatty saw one over Jonesville on the 24th, and Samuel, Caleb, and Dean Ewing saw two north of Watermelon Pond on the 26th. Samuel got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8513760414/in/photostream

Sharon Fronk of Old Town (Dixie County) had the area’s first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring visit her feeder on the 25th. There have so far been no spring arrivals here in Alachua County, though at least a couple of Ruby-throateds spent the winter.

Barn Swallows are customarily early arrivals; in most years, someone makes the initial sighting during the first week of March. But this year they were even earlier: Stephen McCullers saw three at Chapmans Pond on the 28th, and on the same day Dean Ewing spotted two flying with Tree Swallows at Watermelon Pond.

Swallow-tailed Kites, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and Barn Swallows all nest locally, but on the 28th Stephen McCullers reported the spring’s first transient, a bird that’s just passing through on its way north: a Solitary Sandpiper in one of the ponds behind the Harn Museum. This ties the early-arrival date for the species in Alachua County, set fifteen years ago by Mike Manetz. Solitaries winter here on rare occasions, but these ponds have been visited frequently through the winter by birders seeking a Common Goldeneye present there from December 1st to February 24th (but not since), and no one reported a Solitary.

Since there have been so many early birds, let me mention a possible source of confusion. White-eyed Vireos are perfectly capable of mimicking the wheep of a Great Crested Flycatcher and the picky-tucky-tuck of a Summer Tanager, so if you hear one of those species calling before the last week of March, check it out and try to get visual confirmation.

Despite all the spring arrivals, it’s still winter, so let’s run down the more interesting winter birds that are still being reported.

John Hintermister and Adam Zions located the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 22nd, and Adam got a photo. Coincidentally, another was reported off the fishing pier at Cedar Key, first by Darcy Love of Spring Hill on the 18th and then by our own Steven Goodman on the 24th. I talked to Hernando County birder Murray Gardler this week, and he said the bird was present in the same location last winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around. In the past three weeks, Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing saw one near Archer on the 24th (and Samuel got a photo), Adam Zions found one along the Hatchet Creek Tract on the 17th (photo) and Mike Manetz relocated it on the 22nd, Felicia Lee saw one at her SW Gainesville home on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted one along the perimeter trail at Morningside Nature Center on the 8th.

Mike Manetz and John Killian saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher along the Cones Dike Trail on the 27th.

The Fox Sparrow behind Pine Grove Cemetery was seen on the 19th by visiting birders from the Tampa Bay area and on the 20th by Andy Kratter. Last winter it wasn’t seen after March 7th, or after March 4th the year before, so if you want to get a look at it you’d better hurry.

As usually happens in late February, the American Goldfinches have grown weary of their inane flirtation with wild foods and have returned, chastened, to the feeders. Ron Robinson writes, “The last five days have been jam packed with Goldfinches. I have at least one hundred, and the feed is flying out of the feeders.”

Keep your eyes open, because sometimes Pine Siskins will join flocks of goldfinches. Chuck Curry noticed two on his NW Gainesville feeder on the 23rd.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are normally seen here in spring and fall migrations, but there are a small number of winter records, including two this winter: Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello found one at Loblolly Woods on January 20th, and on the 18th of this month Shirley Lasseter photographed one at her feeder. Another migrant for which winter sightings have been recorded – an increasing number in this case, so that it’s become an annual winter visitor in small numbers – is Northern Waterthrush. The Christmas Count team assigned to the Cones Dike Trail found six on December 16th. More recently, a pair of visiting ornithologists found two along Sweetwater Dike (off the La Chua Trail) on the 24th.

Speaking of wintering warblers, Frank and Irina Goodwin saw an American Redstart along the Levy Lake loop trail on the 22nd. This is the second redstart of the winter: a group from Citrus County saw one near the La Chua parking lot on the 11th.

The Groove-billed Ani is still around. Gerald White and Lloyd Davis saw it on the 27th, and visiting birder Alex Lamoreaux saw it (and one of the two Yellow-breasted Chats that’s been hanging around the same field) on the 1st.

On the 19th the ani was the trigger for some embarrassing behavior on my part. An out of town birder who’d come to see the ani posted this message on a statewide listserver: “There is a man currently bushhogging the field where the Ani has been seen. It was not seen today prior to his mowing.” Interpreting this to mean that the entire field was being mowed – it wasn’t – I immediately sent an irate message to Prairie biologist Andi Christman, asking who the heck was managing this stuff. I don’t think I used the term “you people,” but it was implied. Andi wrote back: “I suppose you could say that I ‘manage this stuff’. We have the opportunity to conduct a prescribed burn in the area near where the ani has been and in order to do so, need to establish containment lines. That is the mowing that was being conducted. As I’m sure you know, in the absence of flood, fire is the next most appropriate tool to manage hardwood encroachment into the basin marsh. Unfortunately, this may sometimes affect the opportunites for park visitors to view specific wildlife in certain areas, but in the long term, it is the best way to ensure quality habitat for the majority of species. As a rule, the Florida Park Service is not a single species management agency, but rather focuses on habitat management for the broad range of species associated with a natural community. I hope for the sake of the interested birders that the ani stays in the area, but our window of opportunity for conducting prescribed burns in the prairie basin is a short one, and we have to take advantage of the opportunitites that present themselves if we are to manage the natural communities in the most sound way possible. Thank you for your interest and commitment. I appreciate it.” A more civil answer than I merited. I actually *want* habitat management at the Prairie, but the second they start managing it, I start screaming bloody murder. Anyway, I apologized.

The Florida Ornithological Society has announced the details for its spring meeting: http://fosbirds.org/sites/default/files/Meetings/FOSSpring2013MeetingAnnouncement-4.pdf

Last of all, here’s a thoughtful take on the 2011 movie, “The Big Year,” by one of the very best American birders, Ned Brinkley, author of the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America and the editor of North American Birds magazine. Here’s a quote from the review (and you should know that “antivenin” is the correct name for “anti-venom”): “The chief elements that fuel American mass-cultural products are mostly absent in birding. Indeed, birding—as I see people doing it, all over the world—may be an antivenin to the sex/violence/capital nexus that seems to be at the heart of so much popular culture. To a culture enslaved to such a golden calf, how can it not seem ridiculous, even pathetic, for a person to shed a tear at the first Chestnut-sided Warbler of spring? What is profitable, hedonistic, transgressive, ironic, or cool in that, or for that matter in our many fascinations—habitats, identifications, distributions, behaviors, not to mention butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, and more?  American pop culture urges consumption and physical pleasure; our lives are defined differently, by growing knowledge, study, connection, fascination.” Read the whole thing: http://blog.aba.org/2011/11/yet-another-big-year-review.html

They’re all still out there, waiting for you

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

The Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, begins today, Friday the 15th, and continues through Monday the 18th. The GBBC will happily accept lists of your backyard birds and/or field-trip birds on any or all of those four days. Here’s how to sign in and enter your sightings: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html

The Pacific Loon was still on Lake Santa Fe last week, seen by John Hintermister and Jonathan Mays on the 8th and by Bob Wallace on the 9th. Jonathan got a nice photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8456996268/in/photostream/  It’s probably still there, but you’ll need a boat if you want to look for it. John launched from the Bradford County ramp on Little Lake Santa Fe and then motored south to find the bird along the north shore of the main lake.

The Groove-billed Ani is still being seen at Sparrow Alley, most recently by Lloyd Davis on the 13th.

On the 11th Chuck Littlewood saw the Peregrine Falcon that’s been hanging around the La Chua Trail since January 5th. It was “in the willows directly south of the observation platform (est. 250 yards).” He got a photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h551788a8#h551788a8

Frank and Irina Goodwin saw a Myiarchus flycatcher, probably an Ash-throated, along the Cones Dike Trail on the 9th, “at roughly the 1.75 mile mark, right at the point where the fence turns 90 degrees to the east.”

Also on the 9th, Jim and Allison Healy saw the Nashville Warbler that’s been hanging around Sparrow Alley since November 23rd: “After passing through the barn, we followed the trail off to the right and not the one that goes to the overlook. About 200 feet past where it makes a turn to the north, Allison spotted the Nashville. I quickly got on the bird, and here are my observations: blue-gray head with distinct complete white eye-ring, yellow breast and undertail coverts with white around the ‘pant legs.’ Olive green wings. Throat was a pale gray color distinct from the blue-gray head and yellow breast. I watched the bird for about 15 seconds before it flew down the trail (south).”

During the winter of 2009-10, Andy Kratter found a Fox Sparrow along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail a little north of Boulware Springs, and it returned to the same spot every winter afterward. He hadn’t seen it this winter, and he assumed that it had met the fate that awaits us all (retirement to North Carolina), but on the 11th of February it was back, and he saw it again this morning. It’s right behind Pine Grove Cemetery; a map (choose the “satellite” option and zoom in) is here. Look for Andy’s feeder beside the trail.

On the 10th Andy went to Newnans Lake: “At Powers Park I had the Aythya feeding swarm about 1000 m to the east  (Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and scaup sp.). A Limpkin was wailing nearby the observation deck.” Rob Bowden was there later that same day and got a look at the Limpkin: “It ended up flying across the boat launch channel and perching briefly in a cypress right next to the dock before spooking farther to the SE side of the lake. It seemed very skittish.” All those exotic apple snails in Newnans Lake seem to be drawing the Limpkins in. I think all but one of the six Limpkins on the last Christmas Count came from there.

John Martin got a nice video of a Bachman’s Sparrow at Morningside Nature Center on the 10th: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06NZ3t0SRwM

In my last birding report I mentioned that Geoff Parks had heard a singing Northern Parula on February 5th, but I cautioned that one swallow does not make a summer, or one parula a spring in this case. Since then, however, there have been several singing Northern Parulas reported, in Gainesville and elsewhere in Florida. Gainesville Birder Emeritus Bryant Roberts saw nine, some of them singing, at Birch State Park in Ft. Lauderdale on the 9th. Two days later there were a few North Florida reports, one from Gary Davis in St. Johns County and one (two birds) from Sharon Fronk in Dixie County. Here in Gainesville, Jonathan Mays has had one singing at his SE Gainesville home since the 9th, and Andy Kratter had both a Northern Parula and a Yellow-throated Warbler singing at his SE Gainesville home this morning. So yes, I’m finally ready to concede that this is an early spring. Normally the first Northern Parulas and first migrant (as opposed to wintering) Yellow-throated Warblers start singing at some time between February 20th and March 1st, but this year they’re a week or two early.

Maybe all of the above isn’t sufficiently inspiring to you, and you’re still looking for a good place to go birding (maybe for the Great Backyard Bird Count). Try the Tuscawilla Prairie just south of Micanopy. Mike Manetz and John Killian checked it out on the 13th, and Mike was impressed: “The place is drying out quickly. I think in some places it might be possible to walk all the way across, and a lot of it is barnyard grass that looks favorable for Short-eared Owl and Le Conte’s Sparrow. Problem is that it dried out too late into winter. If it had been like it is now back in early November it might have been a bonanza like Orange Lake was last winter. There is still a little water, and a lot of waders, including about a hundred Ibis of both species. Best birds were three American Woodcocks and a fly-over American Pipit, my first of the year.” A map and driving directions are here.

Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe!

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

Something to put on your calendar: At the next Alachua Audubon program meeting Brenda Springfield and her husband John Sivinski will give a presentation on “Humming and other Birds in the Highlands of Ecuador,” describing and sharing photos of the beautiful hummingbirds, tanagers, barbets, Potoo, Cock-of-the-rock, and other birds they encountered in the cloud forest of the Andean foothills. Join us at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12th, in the meeting room of the Millhopper Branch Library at 3145 NW 43rd Street.

It had occurred to me a couple of months ago that regular boat surveys of our larger lakes – Newnans, Orange, Lochloosa, and Santa Fe – might yield some interesting results, and when I mentioned this to John Hintermister (who, unlike me, actually has a boat), he liked the idea a lot. We made our first attempt on January 29th, when John, Mike Manetz, and I headed out onto Newnans Lake in hopes of seeing two Red Phalaropes that Caleb Gordon had reported on the 27th. We’d made it to the middle of the lake when the motor died, and as the wind was pushing us farther and farther south we had to start paddling back immediately and didn’t get to do any birding. John got the motor repaired, and this morning we decided to check out Lake Santa Fe. We saw Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks and Horned Grebes, and lured Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gulls right up to the boat with bread. As we were doing this, a little flotilla of Common Loons approached, perhaps curious to know if the gulls had been attracted by a school of tasty fish. As they swam and dove around the boat, barking like puppies, we noticed that one of the loons looked a little different – smaller, with a thinner bill. We were intrigued by the possibility that it might be a Pacific Loon, and we wanted to follow it. But … the motor died. John almost wore himself out pulling the cord to get it started again, and went so far as to call Bob Wallace, in hopes that a county life bird would draw him and his boat out to the lake, and he could tow us back in, but he was in South Carolina. Meanwhile the loons had moved off to the north and we were coming to grips with the notion that a first county record was slipping away from us. I had picked up an oar to start the long trip back, when the motor – due, no doubt, to sheer verbal intimidation from John – started up again. “Do we want to chance it?” John asked, and receiving a unanimous and emphatic YES in response, we took off after the birds. Once we found them along the north shore, we concentrated on getting photos of the odd one, and documenting the thin bill, rounded crown, smooth line of demarcation between black and white on the neck, and dark necklace, of Alachua County’s first-ever Pacific Loon. We posted four photos; the first one is here, with the others following. I’m afraid this is an impossible bird to see if you don’t have a boat. Even with a boat, we had to get pretty close to see its field marks. Maybe some generous birder who owns a boat could take interested persons out to see the loon this weekend. If you are that generous birder, contact me and I’ll publicize it in a birding report.

As of two months ago the official Alachua County bird list stood at 353 species. If you’d asked me, I’d have assured you that additions to the list would come very slowly indeed. But on December 16th we added #354, Black Scoter; on January 6th we added #355, Bell’s Vireo; and one month later, to the day, we added #356, Pacific Loon. It’s a little mind-boggling.

A flock of 40-50 Rusty Blackbirds were seen “at fairly close range” at the SE corner of the Levy Lake trail by Chris Burney and several others attending the Barr Hammock opening on the 2nd. Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, and I went looking for them on the 6th, without success. But we kept walking along the dike trail for about two and a half miles, and our hard work had its reward when Jonathan spotted a Least Flycatcher about 1.75 miles out. As Mike said, it was the only place along the trail where you might be able to make a Y-turn with your car, a grassy little inlet on the marsh side of the trail surrounded by weeds and saplings. The bird was very active and vocal. Jonathan tried to get some photos, which he’ll hopefully post at his Flickr site (which is worth looking at even if he doesn’t post the Least Flycatcher photos).

By the way, the Rusty Blackbirds at Barr Hammock aren’t the only ones around. On the 4th Geoff Parks saw two at Possum Creek Park, which is on NW 53rd Avenue just east of NW 43rd Street.

And speaking of the Barr Hammock opening, if you weren’t there you should watch this video from WUFT, not because it gives a good idea of what the place looks like – it doesn’t – but because it stars one of Alachua County’s best birders, Lloyd Davis: http://www.wuft.org/news/2013/02/05/alachua-county-preserve-hosts-grand-opening/

The Groove-billed Ani is still being seen along the fenceline trail at La Chua, as are the Yellow-breasted Chats. Both birds were observed by a Duval Audubon field trip on the 3rd, and Steven Shaddix was able to get a photo of the chat: http://www.flickr.com/photos/78982646@N04/8444713420/in/photostream/

Isn’t it appalling, the way spring is so predictable? The same springy thing, every year. Caleb Gordon saw the first Purple Martins of the season, two of them, flying over his NW Gainesville home on January 26th, and Carmine Lanciani saw another near I-75 and 39th Avenue on the 31st. Several Ospreys are back at their nests and paired up. Gina Kent heard a Yellow-throated Warbler singing at her SE Gainesville home on January 30th, and Geoff Parks heard a Northern Parula singing at San Felasco Park on February 5th. Both birds normally start singing during the last week of February, but before we start drawing any conclusions about spring being unusually far advanced we’d have to hear more of them singing in the next two weeks – so let me know if you do.

Another sign of spring is the arrival of the first Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida, usually during the second week of February. The company that Gina Kent works for, the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, has been doing research on Swallow-taileds for fifteen years, and during that time they’ve fitted out several birds with satellite-tracking harnesses. I was under the impression that most Swallow-taileds migrated into Florida via Cuba and SW Florida, but Gina tells me that all of the birds they’re tracking fly from Yucatan directly north to the Mobile area and then east to Florida. But then all the birds they’re tracking are still in Brazil, so maybe they’re just a bunch of slackers.

A request: if you know of anyone in Alachua County who keeps captive waterfowl, please let me know.

Some mornings when we go birding, Mike Manetz pulls up to the curb, and I walk out and open the door of his truck and suddenly I hear this weird bird call. I stop short, and look up in the trees, and then remember: Mike is playing a Costa Rican bird song tape, in preparation for another tour. Mike has been on birding trips to Costa Rica eight times, the last two as a tour leader. He’s leading his third trip this June. He writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at http://birdsandconservation.weebly.com/  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.

See you at the Audubon program meeting on the 12th!

Just ducky

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

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 2nd, Alachua County Forever will officially open the Levy Prairie portion of the Barr Hammock Preserve to the public. Everyone is welcome.

This winter’s sunset was at its earliest (5:30) from November 26th to December 9th, and sunrise was at its latest (7:26) from January 7th to January 13th. Today’s sunrise was at 7:23 and today’s sunset will be at 6:01. We’ve gained 23 minutes of daylight since the solstice, nearly all of it in the afternoon.

I haven’t received too many birding reports lately, which sort of surprises me, given that the La Chua Trail has been overrun with rarities during the past three weeks: Whooping Crane (last reported by Bryan Tarbox on the 21st), Vermilion Flycatcher (ditto), Groove-billed Ani (ditto), Ash-throated Flycatcher (ditto), Lincoln’s Sparrow (ditto), Peregrine Falcon (me, on the 22nd), two Yellow-breasted Chats (ditto), plus the Bell’s Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and Clay-colored and Fox Sparrows seen between the 8th and the 12th. Most of those birds, if not all, are still out there. Go get ‘em!

It’s been a good winter for Fox Sparrows. One was at Cones Dike on December 7th, one at Camps Canal on December 11th, four at Persimmon Point on the Christmas Bird Count, one at Sparrow Alley on January 8, and most recently Mike Manetz found one at Mill Creek Preserve on the 23rd, a new species for Mill Creek. (Mike characterized his morning at Mill Creek as “opposite day”: “as many Fox Sparrows (1) as Cardinals (1), more Bluebirds (3) than Blue Jays (0), more Orange-crowned Warblers (5) than Titmice (4), and more Black-and-white Warblers (2) than Yellow-rumps (0). Also, no chickadees, and only five Carolina Wrens.”)

During his brief swing through north-central Florida, Fred Bassett banded three hummingbirds in the Gainesville area: a Rufous at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house in SW Gainesville, a second Rufous at Deb Werner’s place in Alachua, and a third Rufous at Greg Hart’s place in Alachua. He also banded a Rufous at Tom Green’s feeder in Ocala. Other hummingbirds were seen but could not be captured.

American birding lost one of its greats last month:
http://birdingwithkennandkim.blogspot.com/2012/12/so-long-rich.html
http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/CAwhoRS.html

The following is mainly for eBirders, but it may be of general interest as well. Renne Leatto, who lives in the Orlando area, raised waterfowl for years and is probably as knowledgeable about them as anyone in the state. Some time ago she took it on herself to correct some misconceptions about Muscovies and Mallards that were circulating on the Birdbrains listserv (and continue to circulate among eBirders and birders at large). The words in bold face are the questions and comments to which she was replying, the other words are hers.

Is it possible that we still have a few full-blooded Muscovies out there, or are they all Muscovy-Mallard hybrids?
The question ought to be: Do we really have any significant numbers of Mallard/Muscovy hybrids out there at all? The answer is NO. I know people seem to be on the lookout for them all the time, and if you keep looking you MIGHT eventually find one. But the chances are somewhere between getting 5 out of 6 numbers on lotto and spotting Bigfoot. I have seen hundreds of pics of suspected Mallard/Muscovy crosses, from the Birdbrains listserv and many other sources, and have only seen two that were really that. The others were either full-bred specimens of one of the many Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds, a cross between those breeds, or a 100% Muscovy. Yes, you can Google “Muscovy Mallard hybrid,” click “images” and get pages and pages of so-called hybrids. And I can tell you which domestic breed, or mix of domestic breeds, each one really is, and which are just 100% Muscovy. I found NO HYBRIDS in the search I did. Some people had even posted domestic geese and labeled them Muscovy hybrids, and my two favorites, a  male Ruddy Duck and a Coot! THE TRUTH – Mallards and their derivative domestic breeds RARELY cross with Muscovies. They are not the same species and prefer their own. Even confined to a barnyard together, they will almost never interbreed, even if you keep only females of one species and males of the other. And even when they DO cross, they produce only sterile “mules” (like a horse and donkey cross) which cannot reproduce themselves.

I have been watching these ducks regularly and can’t see any hybrid color to them.
Not sure what you mean by “hybrid color” but there is no such thing. Muscovies can be any color or any combination of colors and so can mixtures of domestic Mallard-derived breeds.

They even have all black feet.
This occurs in both Muscovies and some breeds of domestic duck.

Have attached photo of a Muscovy Duck that we have in Leesburg. Wanted some opinions of how close this duck is to being the true Muscovy and not a hybrid.
Keep in mind that you can’t answer your original question by the bird’s color, but only by the bird’s shape and the presence of the red facial skin.  Your bird looks like an immature male or large female 100% Muscovy, but I would only know for sure after seeing a closer shot of the face.  There are a few domestic breeds that can have a shape similar to the female Muscovy’s.

Who the heck am I and how do know all this? I am a former duck farmer. For years, I raised a dozen-plus fancy Mallard-derived duck breeds, including Domestic Mallards, Blue Swedish, Crested Ducks, Indian Runner Ducks, Buff Ducks, White Pekin, Rouen, Black Cayugas, Khaki Campbells, Blue and Black Swedish Ducks, Buff Orpington, and Call Ducks (miniature ducks). I also raised Muscovies. I sold them to people who showed them at poultry shows and fairs, 4H kids and adults. My birds won top awards at many shows, especially my Black Cayugas.

Why did I write all this? Because even on this wonderful Birdbrains listserv, which is made up of so many scientists and amateur scientists, and so careful to meticulously split hairs in order to correctly ID each wild bird, this mythology about some prevalence of Muscovy hybrids not only continues, but grows. I’m here to say, IT AIN’T TRUE. If we want to ID ducks accurately and with more ease, we need to change our paradigm of thinking about Muscovies and their phantom hybrids, because for the most part the latter DO NOT EXIST.

That’s the end of Renne’s email. As I say, it’s mostly for eBirders, in hopes of reducing the number of Mallard x Muscovy hybrids in the database. If you’re not presently an eBirder, why not give it a try? It’s easy, it’s actually sort of fun, and in keeping track of the birds you see at your feeder, or on your weekend walks, you help to build a national database that serves as a resource for both ornithologists and birders. In fact, eBird has a page that explains why it’s a good idea to start eBirding (note that it’s become a verb now: I eBird, you eBird, he, she, it eBirds, we are eBirding…): http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/why-ebird  Here’s a tutorial: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/tutorial  And here’s a Quick Start Guide: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/ebird-quick-start-guide

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.”