A Bullock’s Oriole! Did you hear me? A BULLOCK’S ORIOLE!

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

The Bullock’s Oriole continues to visit the Goodmans’ back yard. I arrived at 8:15 on Sunday morning, and was surprised when Leigh Larsen was the only other person to show up. The Bullock’s took its sweet time arriving – I waited an hour and forty minutes – but when it got there at 9:55 it stuck around for nearly half an hour, mostly investigating withered leaves in the big sweetgum tree in the back yard just south of the Goodmans’. On Tuesday morning several birders went to see it – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, Will Sexton, Bob Carroll, Becky Enneis, and Jonathan Mays – and the oriole obliged again, at the feeder at 9:00 and 10:00, and then again close to noon in an oak tree down the street. Mike got a photo, and Jonathan got two.

Now listen to me, brothers and sisters. Bullock’s Oriole is native to the American West. On those rare occasions when one strays to Florida, it’s usually a female, which can be extremely difficult to distinguish from a pale female Baltimore. An adult male, especially one this beautiful, is a rare thing. How rare? I’ve compiled all the published records, and adult males have been seen only three times in Alachua County: in 1963, in 1979, and right now. Look at those pictures again. How long has it been since you saw a bird that beautiful? So get yourselves over to the Goodmans’ house in Mile Run, brothers and sisters. Park at the curb and take one of the chairs they’ve set up on the right (south) side of the house. And hope it shows up. This is a great bird.

Speaking of great birds, what were the best Alachua County birds of 2013? Adam Zions came up with a top ten (“in no particular order”) and ten more that he thought worthy of mention:

Ross’s Goose
Pacific Loon
White-faced Ibis
Swainson’s Hawk
Groove-billed Ani
Alder Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Bell’s Vireo
Kirtland’s Warbler
Nelson’s Sparrow

Honorable Mentions perhaps:

Dunlin
Wilson’s Phalarope
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Swainson’s Warbler
Canada Warbler
Western Tanager
Dickcissel
Bronzed Cowbird

Adam concludes, “I think it just goes to show how great a year we experienced last year in Alachua (how does the Vermilion not crack this Top 10???). Even with water levels around the county finally getting closer to normal, we still had a wealth of avifauna arrive on our doorstep. I know my top 3 would be the Kirtland’s Warbler, Pacific Loon, and Bell’s Vireo. I could switch the loon and vireo positions, but I just don’t think any species could oust the Kirtland’s from the #1 position. Sadly I really wanted to add in the Swainson’s Hawk as a possible tie for 3rd place as it only seems appropriate.”

So what do y’all think? Send me your top ten, and I’ll compile the votes.

Rarity update: Has anyone looked for the three Brown Pelicans at Bivens Arm? The Rusty Blackbirds were still at Magnolia Parke late this afternoon. On the afternoon of the 5th, while scoping off Palm Point, I saw 5 Horned Grebes and 3 juvenile Herring Gulls.

Someone posted a photo of a Snowy Owl on the Alachua County Birders Facebook page today, claiming that he’d taken it at Morningside Nature Center. Geoff Parks showed it to his wife, who suggested that he do a Google image search on “Snowy Owl” and see if that photo came up. Oddly enough, it did, in the blog of a Minnesota birder (fourth picture down): http://ecobirder.blogspot.com/2007/11/snowy-owl-at-tamarack-nature-center.html  It’s actually a pretty good practical joke, but birders don’t have a sense of humor about things like this!

Alachua Audubon will be sponsoring a Kids’ Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, January 18th. Details here.

Second Annual June Challenge Party!

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

Remember, please please remember: If I don’t get your June Challenge total by midnight on the 30th, you can’t win. The list should be in this form: “(ABA-countable birds including Mallard and Whooping Crane) + (non-ABA-countable birds like Graylag Goose, Black Swan, and the Yellow-fronted Amazon at Scott Flamand’s house) = Total.” In other words, if I saw 75 native species plus the Black Swan and Graylag Goose at the Duck Pond, my total would be 75 + 2 = 77. Any questions? Email me.

We’ll be announcing the June Challenge winners and giving the prizes during The June Challenge Party at Becky Enneis’s house at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 1st. Bring a potluck dish (Becky will provide drinks), and a lawn chair if you have one. IF YOU’RE GOING TO THE PARTY – and if you did The June Challenge, you should – RSVP TO ME. Like, right now. Directions to Becky’s: From Gainesville take US-441 north to Alachua. Turn left at the first traffic light (County Road 235/241, also known as NW 140th Street) and come down to NW 147th Avenue (Ayurveda Health Retreat on the corner). Turn right, go about six blocks, and just after NW 148th Place, turn right into Becky’s driveway. Map is here, with Becky’s house marked with a blue inverted teardrop, but you’ll have to zoom in for details.

This could be a close contest. The winner will be the person who has gone out of his or her way to get night birds and taken advantage of tips for uncommon species like Blue-winged Teal and American Coot, and maybe lucked into something unexpected like a Tree Swallow or a Caspian Tern or a Greater Yellowlegs. If there’s a tie, we’ll see who has the most ABA-non-countable birds, so don’t disdain Graylag Goose, Black Swan, and that Yellow-fronted Amazon. Remember also that Louisiana Waterthrush has been recorded as early as June 24th, Black-and-white Warbler as early as June 25th, and Lesser Yellowlegs as early as June 28th. The month ain’t over.

John Hintermister and I had a great time circumnavigating Newnans Lake on the 25th, leaving from the Windsor boat ramp at 8:45, going counter-clockwise around the lake, and getting back to Windsor four hours later. We did NOT see a single American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, gull, or tern. However we did see a Belted Kingfisher, a pair of Ruddy Ducks, two drake Lesser Scaup, and a breeding-plumage Horned Grebe, the county’s first record for June! I doubt you could find the Ruddies or the grebe without a boat, but the scaup were just south of the Windsor boat ramp and the kingfisher was at Palm Point.

Miscellaneous birds you can look for, if you’ve got the time and the inclination:

Howard Adams saw 3 Roseate Spoonbills and a Whooping Crane from the La Chua observation platform on the 22nd, and heard two King Rails in the vicinity, “one by the platform the other near the last bench on La Chua.”

On the 23rd Frank Goodwin found an Eastern Wood-Pewee at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve.

The Barn Owls and Black-crowned Night-Herons are still being seen from the US-441 observation platform. Matt and Erin Kalinowski saw one owl on the 25th (Linda Hensley saw 2 on the 22nd, the night of the full moon), and John Hintermister saw 3 Black-crowned Night-Herons on the 24th.

Hairy Woodpeckers seem to be resident at LEAFS south of Waldo. Adam Zions saw a pair on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted a female on the 23rd.

For any UF students doing the Challenge, Austin Gregg says that a pair of Northern Flickers are seen regularly at the Diamond Village playground.

John Hintermister told me that he added Broad-winged Hawk to his June Challenge list by driving down Poe Springs Road (County Road 340) just south of High Springs. The bird flew over the road at the eastern border of Poe Springs Park.

Ron Robinson, Ria Leonard, and I went looking for owls on the evening of the 24th. Standing near the Watermelon Pond boat ramp we spotted a Great Horned Owl perched out in the open, and although we had to give up on the Newberry Cemetery because of the rain, we dropped by Linda Holt’s house, where we lured an Eastern Screech-Owl into the open and had a brief conversation with it. Adam Zions saw a Great Horned being harassed by Brown-headed Nuthatches at Morningside on the 23rd and got a picture of the owl.

Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn found a pair of American Kestrels and a Loggerhead Shrike at the Gainesville Raceway on County Road 225 on the 23rd.

Good luck! Remember to get your totals to me by midnight on the 30th!

I’m late in learning about the online “Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Florida,” which is already a year and a half old. It features nice photos of all of Florida’s reptiles and amphibians with detailed distributional maps: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/atlas/FinalReportKryskoEngeMolerAtlasofAmphibiansandReptilesinFlorida08013.pdf

Fun Fact: The Wimbledon tennis tournament employs a Harris’s Hawk: http://news.yahoo.com/rufus-hawk-clears-wimbledon-record-crowds-queue-104323564.html Thanks to Carol Huang for the link!

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!

Turkey’s not the only bird in town this week

On Tuesday night, Alachua Audubon will welcome Steven Noll and David Tegeder, who will discuss their book Ditch of Dreams, the saga of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. It was fifty years ago this month that Marjorie Carr stood up in the Gainesville High School auditorium and began asking questions about the impact of this project, an act which eventually led to the formation of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, the end of construction on the canal, the establishment of the 110-mile Cross Florida Greenway, and decades of wrangling over Rodman Reservoir. Learn about the ongoing controversy and the struggle for Florida’s future. Join us at 7:00 Tuesday evening at the Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd Street.

Dalcio Dacol walked out the La Chua Trail on the morning of the 19th in search of the Vermilion Flycatcher and the Le Conte’s Sparrow. He found both, plus a Sora – all, in his words, “showing well” – and he managed to get them all on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4VebbrlTks

Also on the 19th, also at La Chua, John Killian got this nice photo of a Merlin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8200665219/in/photostream That’s a male, and on the same day Jonathan Mays got a picture of a female, so La Chua is hosting at least two right now:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201745446/

Jonathan also photographed a Great Blue Heron eating a Greater Siren, a large aquatic salamander: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201746158/in/photostream/

Rob Bowden heard two Pine Siskins in a flock of American Goldfinches on the morning of the 19th.

I mentioned that southbound Common Loons have been seen overhead recently. Some of them have been landing in local waters as well. Carol Lippincott saw one paddling around on Lake Wauberg on the 18th, and on the 17th an Alachua Conservation Trust field trip saw one on Newnans Lake (four more flying over), plus two Horned Grebes and four Buffleheads, from the Powers Park fishing pier.

Migrant Sandhill Cranes don’t usually arrive here till late November or early December – Steve Nesbitt has commented that they seem to be arriving later, and leaving earlier, every year – but birders have been reporting high-flying flocks since late October. Andy Kratter saw 25 going over his SE Gainesville yard in the wake of a big cold front on October 29th, and on the same day Jonathan Mays and Trevor Persons counted 76 (in two V flocks) going over the La Chua Trail. Adam Kent saw 56 flying over Poe Springs on November 17th. However there don’t seem to be any large congregations at Paynes Prairie yet, so these early flocks – despite their large size – may be composed of local birds. (There aren’t any flocks at the UF Beef Unit fields at Williston Road and SW 23rd Street, either, but according to Steve the cranes often spend their days foraging in marshes until after the first freeze.)

Hey, did you know that the Reader’s Digest had a hand in halting the Cross Florida Barge Canal? And that President Nixon almost reversed his order to end construction? It’s a fascinating piece of Florida history – not to mention a prime example of what citizen environmentalists are capable of – and nobody can tell the story better than Stephen Noll and David Tegeder. Please join us at the Millhopper Library at 7:00 on Tuesday night.