Broad-winged Hawk, possible American Bittern

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

Mike Manetz writes, “While doing my Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua this morning I got a good look at a Broad-winged Hawk. It was along Peggy Road about 50 yards west of 325A, in the picnic area for Dollar General employees. Only about 10 minutes later a security guard asked me to leave the property. So the best way to see it is to wait at the intersection and watch for it soaring overhead.”

Chris Cattau had an even more unusual sighting today: “I’m 95% sure I saw an American Bittern fly across the right (north) fork of the Levy Prairie around 8:30 AM (right at a big turn to the north, not too far before the 2 mi marker). Larger and longer billed than immature night herons, legs extending well beyond tail, neck was outstretched and distinctly longer (okay, 99% sure). I was biking and it was steamy out by that time and my glasses fogged up when I stopped to put up binos. It was a short flight, flushing not far from one side of the trail and landing not too far on the other side, but never revealed itself again.” There’s only one previous June record for American Bittern in Alachua County.

Having missed the first ten days of June, I’m playing catch-up in the June Challenge competition. I’ve seen 79 species so far, but I understand that Maralee Joos is up to 109. I’m not sure I can make up a 30-species deficit in the twelve days I’ve got left, and there may be someone who’s ahead of Maralee that I don’t know about! Anyway, I was out at La Chua this evening, trying to find some new things for June. I saw an American Coot along Sweetwater Dike, between the first and second 90-degree turns, off to the left. Also two Least Bitterns, three Orchard Orioles, and a pair of Purple Gallinules. I heard two King Rails but didn’t see any.

I’ve been out at La Chua toward dusk on two of the last three evenings, and both times I saw a bird that looked like a female Bobolink flying in the direction of the observation platform. If it wasn’t a Bobolink I have no idea what it was, but that’s a species that’s never been recorded here in June.

John Sloane has been active with the Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua County (Melrose area) and and has extended his surveys to Bradford, Clay, and Putnam Counties. He’s discovered some previously unsuspected riches in eastern Alachua County between Earleton and Hawthorne, including numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites, which I’d normally expect in the eastern county, but also numbers of Missisissippi Kites, which I would not, and a surprising variety of other birds: “Today Janet and I went out to to the intersection of County Road 219A and County Road 1474 east of Campville to check on the kites. We surveyed within a half mile of the intersection and found most of them within the NW quadrant. Of course it was difficult for us to get an accurate total count, so I will report the minimum count, which would be the maximum number we saw at any one location at the same time. We believe this count to be conservative. Minimum number of Swalllow-tailed Kites was 12 including a number of juveniles, Mississippi Kites was 6 including several juveniles. Two Red-tailed Hawks were with them. This area is mostly hay fields with scattered trees and a few ponds. Also noted in the same area were nesting Eastern Kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Common Grackles, along with Northern Bobwhite, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Bluebird, and so on. A nice productive area.”

While driving around, I’m seeing a lot of Osprey nests that have either fledged chicks already – or else they’ve been abandoned. Has anyone else noticed this? The one along 441 where it starts south across Paynes Prairie, and the one near the Gainesville Police Department building – did they fledge any young this year? I’ve noticed a couple other empty nests as well, and I’ve been wondering how widespread this is.

Remember Ernesto Reyes Mourino’s photographic presentation on the birds of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp on Thursday night at ACT.

And remember to let me know if you want to go see Alachua County’s only Burrowing Owls on the 28th.

Time’s a-wastin’!

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

Lovett Williams, Jr., who worked for Florida’s Game and Fish Commission for many years beginning in the 1960s, died on April 30th at the age of 78. He was a well-known wildlife biologist and naturalist, a world authority on the Wild Turkey, and an enormously enthusiastic turkey hunter. Here’s a nice remembrance: http://www.deeranddeerhunting.com/article-index/memorium-turkey-biologist-lovett-williams And a two-hour video interview with Lovett, presumably shot at his Cedar Key home, can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/60200527 Lovett reported a Common Merganser in Alachua County on December 21, 1966. Since it was the only report in the county’s history, I emailed him a few years ago and introduced myself and asked for additional details, for instance where he’d seen it. He replied, “I am sorry to have to report that I have not kept records of the bird sightings you mentioned. I believe the birds were correctly identified but since I don’t have any notes I cannot confirm the locale or dates or any other details that may have been reported to you nor any information in addition to what was reported.” This was, I suspect, his way of saying, “Don’t pester me, junior.” So I didn’t – though someone advised me that he’d be much more talkative if I showed up at his door with a six-pack of beer! Unfortunately I never did that. He would have been a treasure trove of information on the birds and landscape of Alachua County fifty years ago. He saw the first American Avocet recorded in Alachua County, on November 23, 1967. He was also one of very few people to see Rough-legged Hawk here; he and Dale Crider saw a wintering bird several times between December 28, 1965 and March 15, 1966. And he contributed to a paper on Budgerigars in North Florida, stating that flocks of 30 or more used to be seen in Gainesville. Now long gone.

Remember that Alachua Audubon is organizing a Cedar Key boat trip for early Saturday afternoon. There’s still space on the boat, but you’ve got to make a reservation; call Wild Birds Unlimited (352-381-1997) to do that. The cost of the boat trip is $25. The remainder of this year’s field trip and program schedule can be seen here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ (When the site comes up, click the little button at the top of the list that says, “Expand all.”)

You know, it’s Connecticut Warbler time. Connecticut is a rarely-seen migrant that comes through Florida after most of the other migrants have already gone north. There are eight spring records from Alachua County, ranging from May 6th to May 28th, five of the eight in the first half of the month. They show a preference for deciduous woodlands and are usually seen walking on the ground, like this. So go find one! Good luck. And remember, it was while he was looking for a Connecticut Warbler last year that Mike Manetz found the county’s second-ever Kirtland’s Warbler!

Bob and Erika Simons have discovered that the best birding on Paynes Prairie right now is along Sweetwater Dike. When you’re walking out La Chua, you come off the boardwalk at Alachua Sink, and about a hundred yards farther on you come to the water control structure, marked by several culverts. A canal, and accompanying dike trail, leads off to the right. That’s Sweetwater Dike. Along that short walk – there’s a gate after half a mile, and you should turn back there – you’ve got a good chance of seeing Purple Gallinule, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Least Bittern, King Rail, Orchard Oriole, and migratory Bobolinks, as well as the abundant Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles. Bob got a fine photo of a Bobolink eating giant cutgrass (southern wild rice) out there on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13957955519/

Yellow-breasted Chats are also relatively easy to see along the first part of La Chua right now. Up to five have been reported on a single walk. Bob Simons wrote about encountering two in the extensive thicket west of the barn: “This morning I had a nice visit with a Yellow-breasted Chat at Paynes Prairie. Erika and I walked a little trail that goes south from Sparrow Alley past the big loblolly pine out in front of the old horse barn and then curves west. We took a small trail that branches off on the left side of that trail that also ends up going west and eventually intersects the trail along the power line. Anyway, we both got photos of a chat about 50 yards south of the loblolly pine. I had heard it calling while we were passing the pine tree. As we walked west on our little trail, I heard another chat, and went off trail in my snake-proof sandals to try to find it. I ended up standing in one spot, with the chat sitting up singing and calling from one perch after another, gradually circling me and getting closer. It flew in an exaggerated display kind of flight that reminds me of a butterfly, nearly putting its wings together above its back with each set of wing beats while calling or singing (I never can tell with chats).” Here’s one of Bob’s pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14141293391/

One of the best photos I’ve seen recently is a photo of a birder, not a bird. Here’s Samuel Ewing going all out to get a shot of a Spotted Sandpiper at the Home Depot Pond: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14059003566/

Alachua County birder emeritus Steve Collins – we still claim him, though he left us eight years ago – participated in a pretty exciting Big Day in Texas’s Big Bend a few days ago. One of his fellow participants wrote it up in a nice blog post: http://paintedbunny.blogspot.com/#!/2014/05/the-colima-death-experiment-big-day.html I had NO idea you could see some of those birds in the Big Bend. And I can’t remember ever hearing the term “facilitree” either. That’s what you call an outdoor restroom, a facilitree.

There’s not much spring migration left. Some late migrants like Blackpoll Warblers, Bobolinks, and several species of shorebirds are still moving through, but in diminishing numbers. This weekend may be your last chance. That Cedar Key boat trip might be a good opportunity to see shorebirds in their spring finery. The Black-bellied Plover, which usually looks like this, now looks like this. And the dingy Dunlin, which looks like this all winter, now looks like this (they were formerly called “Red-backed Sandpiper” and that’s why). And if you can’t get away, at least look out the window; just birding around his NW Gainesville yard, Samuel Ewing saw a Magnolia Warbler on the 3rd and a Peregrine Falcon flying northward on the 1st!

Spring ain’t over. In case you were thinking it was.

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

At some point you should get around to looking at this: http://standbyourplan.org/

Remember that spring migration is still underway, and there are plenty of surprises out there. Dean and Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at the Hague Dairy this morning. Samuel wrote, “Speedy flyby, swooped real low right over the lagoon. It then headed off to the north. Large falcon with a gray back and pointed wings. Extremely fast flyer.”

The Swainson’s Warbler discovered at Bolen Bluff by Adam and Gina Kent on the morning of the 26th was not an easy bird to relocate. I arrived in the early afternoon to find a few birders already searching. Adam Zions, who had glimpsed it, was trying to hunt it down again to get a better look. Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan were combing the woods to the north, since it had last been seen moving in that direction. Bill and Nell Pennewill showed up not long after I did. We moved slowly back and forth along the trails and among the trees, watching the ground for a little brown bird that would be methodically turning over leaves. We had no luck. After half an hour Adam went home. Another two hours and Mike and Matt left. Bill and Nell and I were the only ones left, and Nell was getting tired. She set up a folding chair beside the trail and said she was going to sit down and rest her back. Bill went one way down the trail, I went the other. Still nothing. It was coming up on three and a half hours that I’d been there and I was on my way to tell Bill and Nell that I was heading home when Bill appeared on the trail, gesturing for me to hurry. While seated in her folding chair Nell had seen a brown bird with a reddish crown at the edge of a thicket. Bill and I crept into the woods adjoining the thicket and peered into the deep shade – and there it was, perfectly silent but quite active, walking on the forest floor, turning over leaves with its bill, and regularly displaying what Dunn and Garrett’s Field Guide to Warblers terms “a quivering movement of the rear parts.” A very neat little bird! Only the second I’ve seen in Alachua County.

Speaking of rare warblers, we’ve had three Cerulean Warblers in the county this spring. That’s a little surprising, since in the forty springs prior to this one there had been a grand total of four! Two of this year’s sightings came on April 20th, fifteen miles apart: Jonathan Mays saw an adult male in his SE Gainesville yard and Bob Hargrave saw another adult male on his farm near Monteocha. Then, on the 24th, Andy Kratter saw a female along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail near Pine Grove Cemetery. Here’s a video of a male Cerulean going about his daily business (his song resembles that of a common local species, Northern Parula): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUU7-qsmS0c

Something else that’s different this spring. Gainesville rarely sees thrushes in spring migration, but this year all the migrant species have been recorded, not just once but several times. Samuel Ewing photographed Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Veery in one walk on the 23rd, on the Loblolly Woods boardwalk north of 8th Avenue, and he also saw or heard three Wood Thrushes. You can see his photos on his eBird checklist here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18041319

Steve Zoellner writes that the grosbeaks and buntings are still at Hogtown Creek near Mildred’s: “The ‘blue bonanza’ is still active. I went by late Sunday afternoon (after the Gators swept Missouri) and saw male Blue Grosbeaks and female Indigo Buntings.” Michael Meisenburg adds that the vegetation attracting the birds to Hogtown Creek “is the same grass that’s on Lake Alice: giant cutgrass (or southern wild rice). Lake Alice could really be hopping now, as there are acres of that species out there.” Bobolinks are also fond of giant cutgrass, and they’re passing through the area in numbers. I ran into photographer Tommy Tompkins at La Chua on the 26th and he estimated that he’d seen 500 Bobolinks that morning. So it’s a good time to visit Lake Alice or that stretch of Hogtown Creek, because in addition to Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings you might see the very scene that Steve Collins photographed nine years ago: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14025723226/

Two of our wintering wrens, the Sedge Wren and the Marsh Wren, often persist into late April and even early May. Like most wrens, they’re big on personality, but they’re so secretive that they don’t get their fair share of admiration. They’re lovely little birds, though, so I thought I’d share two pictures that talented local photographers got this weekend. Tommy Tompkins photographed this Sedge Wren along the La Chua Trail on the 26th, and John Martin photographed this Marsh Wren at the Hague Dairy on the following day.

And I can’t resist passing along this photo of a baby Killdeer that John discovered near Alachua on the 27th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/14035257545/

Mark your calendar: On Saturday, May 10th, join Ron Robinson on a visit to a very large Purple Martin colony near Bronson, where you can see and experience the joys of being a Purple Martin landlord. There are over 100 pairs of martins at the site and the owner will lower parts of one of his towers so the guests can see the inside of an active martin nesting gourd. The sound of that many martins singing as they fly around the structures is not to be missed (Lynn Badger once said, “It’s impossible to hear Purple Martins and NOT be happy”). If you like birds and birding, you will love the sight and sound of this large colony. Meet Ron at the Target store parking lot at I-75 and Archer Road at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 10th. You will not be disappointed.

(Assuming that birdwatching produces individuals who can be plausibly described as “great,”) Paul Lehman is one of birding’s greats. In a recent issue of Birding magazine he published an interesting and helpful article on the importance of knowing birds’ “S&D” (status and distribution). It’s well worth your time: http://aba.org/birding/2014-MAR-APR/Lehman.pdf

Blue bird bonanza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh MIKI you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

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

Gainesville City Naturalist Geoff Parks read the subject line of the last birding report and inquired, “Do you get your ‘springerie’ at Victorious Egret?” Geoff gets First Prize!

Phil Laipis and several other Gainesville birders visited Cedar Key on the 10th to see what was shaking. As a matter of fact, a lot was shaking. Phil wrote: “82 species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and 12 warbler species (Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler). Highs for me were the Wood Thrush, and the Louisiana Waterthrush wagging its bottom. First time I’ve seen that rotary motion and could compare it to the Northern Waterthrush’s ‘Spotted Sandpiper up-down wag’. Pat Burns spotted a male Cape May which I have no decent pictures of, and I might have seen a male Blackpoll Warbler, but did not get a long enough look to be positive. Windy, and all the birds seemed to be concentrated in town, not at the cemetery or the museum. We never looked hard for shorebirds, and Pat and I looked for the Yellow Rail reported in mid-January with, of course, no success.” Phil did manage to get a nice photo of a snake I’ve never seen, a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13766355403/

I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco Hammock this afternoon, the trails north of Millhopper Road. All the migrant warblers that Matt O’Sullivan and I found in the sandhill on the 8th were gone, and in fact I only saw one transient species, Worm-eating Warbler. But I saw five of those, including two that appeared to be engaged in a singing duel. Other good sightings: several Hooded Warblers, including a female who was putting the finishing touches on a perfect little nest; my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the spring (though they’ve been here since late March); and two female Eastern Towhees of the red-eyed (northern) race. I ran into Dalcio Dacol, who had seen an early Acadian Flycatcher along the Hammock Cutoff trail. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the trail in hopes of finding it, but I had no luck. (Of course “no luck” is relative, given that I spent several hours of a truly gorgeous day walking around San Felasco Hammock!)

Migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are showing up in residential areas, so watch your feeders. Adam Zions and Samuel Ewing saw them in their respective NW Gainesville back yards on the 10th.

While birding around his yard, Samuel also spotted the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in bird-banding code), one of my very favorite birds. This is a little early; in previous years the majority arrived during the last third of the month.

Scott Flamand saw two Canada Geese fly over Buchholz High School on the morning of the 10th. We don’t have a population of domestic or feral Canada Geese around here, at least as far as I know, but I doubt that they were wild. Wild Canada Geese are mostly a thing of the past in Florida. They used to be very common winter birds in the northern part of the state – a Fish and Game Commission waterfowl inventory tallied 47,000 of them in 1953! But now they spend the cold months farther north. I’ve been birding for 40 years and I’ve seen wild Canada Geese in Florida on only three occasions (feral birds are common in Jacksonville and Tallahassee). Anyway, if you see free-flying geese around here, please let me know.

The Alachua Audubon Society, like all Audubon Societies, avoids partisan politics, but I don’t think we’d be violating that principle if we were to congratulate our president, Helen Warren, on her victory in the City Commission election. Because of her new responsibilities, Helen will be leaving the Audubon board next month after several years. We thank you for your service, Helen, and we wish you well, but you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire….

Yes, I understand that this is the herpetological equivalent of a puppy video, and I acknowledge that my posting it is a symptom of creeping senility. And yet I cannot help myself. Be sure your audio is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds (I sent this to my son, who’s an infantry officer, and he declared, “I shall adopt his tactics for my own!”) (That’s funnier if you’ve seen the video.)

Additional springerie

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

There are two stages of life. Stage One is, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Stage Two is, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” When Samuel Ewing recently corrected my misidentification of a Cooper’s Hawk I realized that I have reached Stage Two. (Apologies to you whippersnappers who are too young to remember that advertising campaign. I’d bemoan the state of cultural literacy, if I weren’t so shocked by the realization that I consider advertising to be a part of cultural literacy….)

When that front was moving through Gainesville last night and this morning, it occurred to me that migrants might run into that weather and be forced down. I called Matt O’Sullivan to see if he was interested in going out to have a look, and he was. Our first stop was the Newberry area. I had an idea that we could check the fields around Watermelon Pond for grounded Upland Sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds. As it turned out, the road to Watermelon Pond was too mucky for my Camry, so we checked a nearby sod farm and some recently-plowed fields along SW 46th Avenue. It sure looked good, and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, three Common Ground-Doves, a White-winged Dove, and three Fox Squirrels, but no sandpipers. As the clouds broke up and the sun came out, we drove on to San Felasco Hammock (the Millhopper Road entrance, north side) to see if the rain had brought in any woodland migrants. It had. Although Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered everything else by five to one, we ended up with twelve warbler species, including five Prairie Warblers, an adult male American Redstart, an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and an adult male Cape May Warbler. There was quite a lot of bird activity there, including several newly-arrived Great Crested Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers. We figured that Palm Point should be pretty good as well, so we made the long drive across town, speculating that we’d find even more warblers, not to mention gulls and terns dropped in by the front. But Palm Point was devoid of birds, and scanning Newnans Lake we saw no gulls, no terns, nothing but cormorants and the occasional Osprey – though we did find three or four of the resident Prothonotary Warblers and a Limpkin farther down Lakeshore Drive.

Spring arrivals are increasing in number and variety. Over the past week or two, La Chua Trail has seen the arrival of (click on the hyperlinks for photos) Black-necked Stilt (over 30 have been seen at once!), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat (though the chat may have spent the winter).

Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th: “Slightly early; beautiful male, no song but gave occasional call note, which sounds like a shoe squeaking on a basketball court.”

On the morning of the 7th I went to La Chua in search of spring arrivals and found myself gawking at the season’s heaviest Common Loon migration. With about fifteen other birders I’d kicked off this year’s Loonacy at the US-441 observation platform on March 16th. We saw only four or five loons, all of them very far away, and I’m pretty sure that I discouraged everyone out there from any further loon watching. I wish they’d all been with me yesterday. I saw 57 birds, in 22 groups ranging in size from 1 to 9, and some of them were flying at surprisingly low altitudes. Here’s how it worked out, by ten-minute segments:

7:50-8:00   17 birds
8:00-8:10   5
8:10-8:20   21
8:20-8:30   1
8:30-8:40   5
8:40-8:50   0
8:50-9:00   2
9:00-9:10   5
9:10-9:20   1

Cedar Key sunrise was at 7:16 on the 7th, so the birds that I saw passed over Gainesville from 34 minutes after sunrise to nearly two hours after, suggesting a takeoff ranging from about half an hour before sunrise to an hour afterward. The flight peaked from 8:14 to 8:16, when I saw 17 birds in five groups.

Andy Kratter had an even better morning than I did: “It was giddy excitement and thrills at my loon census this morning. The loons started at 8:09 with two migrating far to the north, and in the next 95 minutes I recorded a near-constant stream of ones and twos and small groups (largest group = 18), for a total of 133 for the day, in 49 groups. Also had two White-winged Doves, a high flying migrant Belted Kingfisher, a migrant American Kestrel, and lots of the usual suspects. One of my best days ever loon watching.” And Samuel Ewing, watching from his NW Gainesville yard, tallied 33 loons between 8:32 and 9:11. Samuel got this picture of a migrating loon in flight on the 31st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13538401855/in/photostream/

The Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve has been relatively cooperative lately. Most of those who have been looking for it have found it. Walk out the Red-White Connector trail to the service road and turn left. When the trail forks, keep going straight (i.e., take the right fork) and look for the sign to the campground. Once at the campground, listen for a rapid drumming. You’ll probably have to set out from the campground and explore the woods to the north and northwest, but as I say most of those who have gone in search of this bird have found it. Here’s a nice picture by Samuel Ewing, showing the characteristic spike-like bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13648935265/in/photostream/

John Hintermister, Phil Laipis, and I motored out onto Lake Santa Fe on the 27th, hoping to relocate the two Black Scoters that Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn had found on the 20th. We found 220 Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, 32 Horned Grebes (some in breeding plumage), and 19 Common Loons – even the Pacific Loon! – but no scoters of any description. Learning that the Pacific Loon was still there, Adam went back on the 2nd to try for it again, and missed it again, but … “saw what was possibly a White-winged Scoter. The bird was so far away that I couldn’t say for sure, but it looked like a big black duck with white in the wings.”

Like all right-thinking people, I regularly check Katherine Edison’s blog. I especially like the posts that teach me the names of wildflowers: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ditch-is-back.html

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Osprey at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Got wasps?

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

I need your help. (No, this isn’t a Nigerian email scam, and no, you are not the last surviving relative of a millionaire for whom I’ve been holding a really big check.) For the last two years I’ve been working with the American Entomological Institute to catalog the paper wasps of Alachua County and north Florida generally. I thought the project would be about my speed – eight or nine species, pretty easily distinguishable, just about right for an amateur with a butterfly net and a stupid grin on his face. But an actual entomologist got involved, and it turns out that three of the “species” are actually complexes, each of which contains two to four different species. At least this seems to be the case based on markings and structural differences; it can be confirmed only by DNA analysis. That’s where you come in. Can you direct me to any active paper wasp nests in Alachua County? It’s late in the season, which means that many of the nests have been abandoned. But a lot of the remaining wasps are males, which are more common in the fall (and can’t sting!). Since all the wasps on a nest are related, finding a nest tells us what males and females of a given species look like and helps us to document the range of variation. However you should be aware that we would need to collect both the nest and the wasps on it for the DNA analysis, so if you’re attached to your wasps, or just want them to stay alive, please move on to the next paragraph. And just to be clear, I’m NOT talking about this kind of nest, which is the work of the Bald-face Hornet; I’m talking about something that looks like this or this or this, generally hanging from under a sheltering horizontal surface like eaves or a kiosk, or from a branch or main stem of a shrub or robust weed like dog fennel. If you know of a nest in Alachua County, and there are still wasps on it, and you don’t mind my taking it, please send me an email (a photo of the nest would be a plus, but isn’t necessary).

On the morning of the 20th John Hintermister and Mike Manetz attempted to relocate the Western Kingbird found at La Chua by Chris Hooker on the 19th. They didn’t see it, but otherwise they had a pretty good day, recording 61 bird species, including 2 Gadwalls and 14 Northern Pintails (nine duck species overall), a flyover Common Loon, 4 American Bitterns, 3 King Rails and 10 Soras, seven sparrow species (including a Field, 2 Grasshopper, and 14 White-crowned), as well as a lingering Indigo Bunting and the female Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been there since October 5th.

On the 12th Barbara Shea saw the fall’s first Redhead at Jonesville Soccer Park (or the adjoining subdivision, she didn’t specify). Not a common bird around here.

Alachua County birding can boast another blog, this one by Adam Zions. I enjoyed this post in particular: http://alachuaavifauna.blogspot.com/2013/10/winter-descends.html

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-grade class won first place in the national Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest! Congratulations, Sharon, and thanks to those who voted for her.

If you haven’t added your name to the “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy” petition, to fund the state’s Land Acquisition Trust, here’s a link to the form. Please mail it within the next week: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pdf/598941flwllonline.pdf

Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens, co-authors of the new Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, will be discussing the book during an online chat at 2 p.m. EST today (the 21st): http://shindig.com/event/crossley-id-guide

And please don’t forget those paper wasp nests!

Weekend update

In case you haven’t heard the news, Florida’s second-ever Townsend’s Solitaire was at Honeymoon Island today. It was found around 9:00 this morning and was still being seen as late as 3:30. Watch eBird or the state listservs for updates.

The Alachua Audubon field trip to the Hague Dairy on the 2nd started out well, with two Bronzed Cowbirds directly across the driveway from the office. But then things took a turn for the worse, and we went for a good two hours, maybe three, without seeing much of interest. The dairy grounds had recently been mowed, leaving little in the way of tall grasses, weeds, or brush to shelter birds, and that probably had a lot to do with it. Anyway, at about 11:30 we started around the lagoon, and at that point our luck took a screeching turn for the better. On a floating mat of scum (more vivid words are available but not family friendly) we spotted four Killdeer, two Least Sandpipers, and a late Pectoral Sandpiper. A family group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was paddling in a scum-free zone nearby. Dan Maico spotted a Merlin sitting on top of a snag at the west end of the lagoon, and it allowed us a very close approach and extended ogling. A flock of five American Pipits flew over. As we approached the little wetland that borders the lagoon on the north, Dan spied the best bird of the day, a young male Dickcissel, one of only about twenty ever recorded in the county. It was a shy bird, and it ducked out of sight shortly after it was found. Although it came out into the open a couple more times, it didn’t stay in view for long and not everyone got a look at it. But as we stood around waiting for it, we did see a female Painted Bunting mixed in with a handful of late-migrant Indigo Buntings. It was our last good sighting of the day, though we spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to locate a Yellow-headed Blackbird that Mike Manetz had seen while we were occupied in discovering the Dickcissel.

Early November is the expected arrival time for waterfowl. Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teal have recently been reported at Paynes Prairie, joining the Blue-winged Teal that have been there since August. A different sort of waterfowl was spied by Andy Kratter on the morning of the 31st: “Just had a very early and locally very rare Red-throated Loon fly over my place in Gainesville, and strangely it was heading west to east. Good looks at thin neck, small bill held above horizontal, small feet, head held below body. Just plain weird.” I think this is only about the fifth record for the county.

Samuel Ewing saw the fall’s first American Robins flying over his NW Gainesville home on the 2nd. Although they don’t normally descend on our yards until January and February, we see the first flocks of southbound robins going high overhead in late October or early November, so these are right on time. Geoff Parks saw an even earlier one on October 13th, but he speculated that it was the same one that visited his yard on July 29th. The nearest known breeding population of robins is in Tallahassee, but we’ve had a number of midsummer sightings over the years, and I can’t help but wonder….

I haven’t heard of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sighting since Nathan Langwald photographed it on the 28th. Is it still there? Or did it just stay for a week and then move on south?

Migrants and summer birds aren’t entirely gone, though their days are numbered. At dusk on the 26th Adam and Gina Kent tallied 740 Chimney Swifts going into a chimney downtown, and got an impressive video, while Jonathan Mays saw 29 over La Chua on the 2nd. Adam and Gina saw yet another swift, as well as two Tennessee Warblers, at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. A very late Bobolink was seen by several birders at La Chua on the 1st. And the Hague Dairy field trip found one or two Northern Waterthrushes and an American Redstart.

Nelson’s Sparrow still there

When the sun went down this evening the Nelson’s Sparrow was still in the same spot where Adam Zions found it – forty yards before the right turn that leads up to the observation platform, as paced off by Adam Kent – and it was being fairly cooperative, feeding in the grasses right beside the trail, usually partly hidden but sometimes right out in the open. Adam and Gina Kent and I watched it for some time. Today may have been this bird’s third day on La Chua; Robert Lengacher, a Tallahassee birder, saw a bird fitting its description on Saturday but misidentified it as a Le Conte’s Sparrow (his mea culpa is here). Anyway, get out and see it tomorrow if you can, before it looks around and says to itself, “Hey! This isn’t Cedar Key!”

There were plenty of other birds along La Chua this evening. We saw as many as five American Bitterns, three Purple Gallinules, a handful of Soras (heard many more), several Savannah and Swamp Sparrows, one Field Sparrow, Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, a few Barn Swallows mixed in with a larger group of Tree Swallows, and a bunch of Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal and at least one or two Green-winged Teal; and we heard three Barred Owls, two Great Horned Owls, an Eastern Screech-Owl, and possibly a Barn Owl.

Kathy Fanning writes, “On Wednesday the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) will consider two agenda items of environmental importance. Item #15 is a resolution asking the BoCC to support the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Item #13 is a presentation from the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department on their local wetland protection program. Please email the commissioners to ask them not to weaken the local authority to protect wetlands as well as to support the Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Here is a link to the BoCC agenda where both of the items are detailed: http://meetingdocs.alachuacounty.us/documents/bocc/agendas/2013-10-22/5D2496FD-6ADF-493D-8408-9658C84EEC67Agenda.htm  And here is the email address for all of the commissioners (one email will reach them all): bocc@alachuacounty.us  Thanks for showing your support for local wetland protection and the Water and Land amendment.”

Nelson’s Sparrow at La Chua!

Adam Zions found the county’s third-ever Nelson’s Sparrow along the La Chua Trail on the 20th. He describes the location as “about halfway between the ‘s’ curve before it straightens out for the last bit before the platform. If you go looking for it, you’ll notice the more open water on your right as you first take the bend (where they placed the extra soil), then another smaller patch of somewhat open water on your right a little further ahead. Go past this to the third, and smallest patch of somewhat open water on your right, which should be about halfway or slightly past halfway along the ‘s’ curve, and that’s where I observed it foraging on grass seeds.” Nelson’s Sparrow is a saltmarsh species in Florida and is pretty common along the Gulf Coast, but it nests in freshwater marshes on the Great Plains – Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta – and some of the birds get slightly disoriented during fall migration. Not many of them, though; inland sightings in Florida are very scarce. Adam’s eBird checklist, which includes five photos of the bird, can be seen here.

At least two Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still slumming at the Hague Dairy. I got there a little after eleven on the 20th, just as a flock of two or three thousand blackbirds swarmed up and disappeared to the west. I hung around for another hour and a half, but the birds never came back, so I went home. Just an hour after I left (naturally!) Brad Bergstrom and Margaret Harper of Valdosta State University showed up and saw “two Yellow-headed Blackbirds atop the transformer pole near the Admin. bldg. (where visitors sign in) from 2-3 pm. While I was signing in, Margaret was standing right next to the car looking at the two birds. When I walked  back out of the office, at first I thought she was joking about seeing the blackbirds. That was a years-long nemesis bird for her; it’s not supposed to be that easy!” On the 16th Jonathan Mays got a photo of THREE Yellow-headeds feeding together, but no one else has been that lucky; I think it may be the largest number ever recorded here during a single fall, and he had them all in his viewfinder at once! Two Bronzed Cowbirds were also seen at the dairy by Adam Zions on the 14th and by several observers on the 15th, but on the 16th Jonathan found only one. Both species may yet be present. By the way, Bob Carroll related his own search for the Yellow-headed in characteristically amusing style on his blog.

There’s a new sign on the door of the dairy office: “Attention all birdwatchers: Please park in the designated areas and walk. Do not block the roadways or gates. Do not cross any fences. Do not go through any gates. Do not interfere with dairy operations.” I’m not sure what occasioned this, but please observe their rules conscientiously. I think the dairy employees find us odd but harmless, and that’s how we want to keep it. The designated parking area is here. I asked one of the employees in the office about the “Do not go through the gates” rule, and he told me that this applied only to closed gates.

Sometimes the best place to go birding is your back yard. Becky Enneis has been proving that point this fall. There’s a huge sprawling live oak in her back yard, and she’s set up a water drip under one of the lowest limbs. It always gets a lot of birds, but this week has been particularly exciting, with a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the 20th, a Bay-breasted Warbler on the 18th, and on the 17th a Swamp Sparrow, one of the earliest of the fall and not exactly a typical backyard bird. And over in rural Columbia County on the 19th Jerry Krummrich enjoyed a varied and highly entertaining few minutes of backyard birding: “At the mister right outside my window in a river birch tree, in the space of 15 minutes, I had furious activity and 17 species of birds. Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white Warblers – several of some species, including a male of each species, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Cardinals (about 10), Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.”

Bachman’s Sparrows used to be resident at Morningside Nature Center, but during the past twenty or so years their occurrence at the park has been unpredictable. John Martin found one there on February 10th and got a video, but as far as I know there weren’t any additional encounters until Geoff Parks heard one singing on October 18th: “As I was going past an area we burned back in May, near the north end of Sandhill Road, I heard some sparrow-like ‘seet’ calls so I stopped for a few moments to see if anything interesting was around. To my surprise, from out of the grasses nearby I heard a Bachman’s Sparrow giving a whisper song. It did it several times over a few minutes; it sounded exactly like the normal song, just very quiet. I didn’t try to coax it into the open and never managed to see the bird, but I’m certain that’s what it was. Maybe this one will stick around until spring. Mysterious little critters!”

I got a very nice trip report from Adam Zions about Alachua Audubon’s Levy Lake field trip on Saturday the 20th: “A hearty troop of 11 intrepid explorers and one half-witted trip leader set out at 8 a.m. along the Levy Lake loop trail at Barr Hammock. Several Gainesville birders and a few out-of-towners from Chiefland, Inverness, and Cape Canaveral set out to see what the trail had to offer. An Eastern Phoebe and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk greeted everyone at the parking lot, a precursor of what would follow. Even though week-long winds from the north, combined with a lack of a front from the south, seemed to push most migrants onward to Central America and the Caribbean, the group tallied a total of 50 different species, including 9 different warbler species, The favorites being an Orange-crowned Warbler (first of the season for everyone) and a Tennessee. Strong numbers of wintering species were noted, especially Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, and Gray Catbird. Highlights of the day included close observations of 4 incredibly-obliging American Bitterns, a flock of 8, late Northern Rough-winged Swallows, an adult Bald Eagle getting chased by a Red-shouldered Hawk, a few Sandhill Cranes, sizeable numbers of Indigo Buntings, and many first-of-the-season birds for most participants (e.g., Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Northern Flicker). Non-avian highlights included a White-tailed doe, Striped Mud Turtle, a mother American Alligator and several of her offspring, and a 4′-4.5′ Cottonmouth shed. The feathered remains of a Red-shouldered Hawk were noted as well. Sunny, yet cool weather obliged for the majority of the trip, until the last mile of the trip when an unexpected storm front poured buckets and soaked everyone. Everyone stayed in good spirits, but made due haste to the parking lot. It was a very lively and engaging crew, and made for an excellent first AAS trip out to the Levy Lake portion of Barr Hammock. Group eBird checklist link: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15444710