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

The beginning of the end; plus, final migration count results

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

We’ve got only two or three more weeks of neotropical birds like warblers, tanagers, cuckoos, thrushes, and buntings. Then, beginning around October 15th or 20th – about the time the first Yellow-rumped Warbler shows up – the transients will disappear and we’ll start looking for winter arrivals like sparrows, ducks, and the occasional western stray like Yellow-headed Blackbird and Dickcissel.

We’re already seeing changes of a more subtle kind. Veeries predominated in September, but now they’ll begin to give way to other thrushes: on the 29th Michael Drummond heard “many, many Swainson’s calling in the predawn hours this morning.” Early fall warblers like Cerulean, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky and Prothonotary Warblers are well south of us now, or soon will be, but Magnolia and Tennessee will become more abundant, and we’ll start to see Black-throated Greens and Bay-breasteds. A few Scarlet Tanagers have already been reported, and Keith Collingwood saw the season’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his Melrose yard on the 29th. Anyway, we’ve got about two weeks of the fall migration left, three if we’re lucky.

A few winter birds are already here: on the 28th Bryan Tarbox saw one Marsh Wren at Bolen Bluff while John Anderson saw another at the US-441 observation deck; Adam Kent, Craig Faulhaber, and Ryan Butryn found the season’s first Eastern Phoebe at San Felasco Hammock (Progress Center entrance) on the 29th, as well as a Cliff Swallow and a female Painted Bunting; and on the 2nd Samuel Ewing photographed the fall’s first sparrow, a Savannah, by four days a new early record for Alachua County.

A few miscellaneous reports from the past week:

On the 25th Dean and Samuel Ewing birded Ring Park, and Samuel got a nice video of a female Black-throated Blue Warbler eating beautyberries.

On the 26th Mike Manetz and Jonathan Mays (who are to normal ears what the Hubble Space Telescope is to binoculars) walked the Cones Dike Trail in search of flycatchers and were rewarded with one calling Alder, two Empidonax that were either Alders or Willows but would not identify themselves by vocalizing, and one Least, which was photographed by Jonathan. They also tallied a dozen warbler species, including an amazing 55 Common Yellowthroats.

On the 29th Geoff Parks noticed that both Indigo Buntings and Painted Buntings were feeding on the coral bristlegrass in his NE Gainesville back yard. Does that give you any ideas? It should.

On the 30th Matt and Erin Kalinowski spotted a Merlin along the La Chua Trail.

On the 2nd Mike Manetz walked the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock and saw 6 Swainson’s Thrushes, 5 Veeries, 5 Wood Thrushes, and 3 Gray-cheeked Thrushes. He saw only six warbler species, but that included 22 Ovenbirds.

According to the annual “winter finch forecast” published by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, we won’t be seeing many irruptive birds this year – no Pine Siskins, no Purple Finches, no Red-breasted Nuthatches – because they’ve got plenty of chow up north: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1314/

North Carolina biologists put a tracking device on an American Oystercatcher that had nested in the Cape Fear region, and over the course of five days in mid-September it migrated to Florida, crossing the northern peninsula from Amelia Island to Cedar Key (passing right over High Springs along the way). An American Oystercatcher appeared at Newnans Lake on September 18, 2000, the morning after Hurricane Gordon blew ashore at Cedar Key. We always assumed that the bird had been blown inland from the Gulf Coast, but the linked story suggests that it might well have been a migrating bird forced down by the storm.

Two or three people shared this video with me, which shows the bizarrely complicated structure of a hummingbird’s tongue: http://player.vimeo.com/video/68897592

Brush up on your fall wildflowers.

Remember that we’ve scheduled double field trips each of the next three weekends so you can take advantage of fall migration. This weekend we’ll be birding Powers Park and Palm Point/Lakeshore Drive with Barbara Shea on Saturday, then heading over to St. Augustine with John Hintermister on Sunday to look for Peregrine Falcons. Field trip schedule here.

Earlier this week Mike Manetz and I compiled the final results of Alachua County’s fall migration count held on September 21st. I think our birders set a new county record for numbers of individual warblers. I compared the numbers from our first fall migration count (1995) with those from this year. We had more warbler species that first year, 26, against 24 this year, but the count of individual warblers was higher this year by about 300. Two or three species always make up the bulk of what’s recorded: in 1995, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula accounted for 41% of all the warblers seen, while this year the same two species plus Ovenbird accounted for 51%. This year Common Yellowthroats alone made up 22% of our total. I put the 1995 vs. 2013 comparison in a table here. And the complete results:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  22
Wood Duck  42
Mottled Duck  13
Blue-winged Teal  8
Northern Bobwhite  7
Wild Turkey  12
Pied-billed Grebe  30
Wood Stork  11
Double-crested Cormorant  60
Anhinga  65
American Bittern  3
Great Blue Heron  40
Great Egret  95
Snowy Egret  35
Little Blue Heron  100
Tricolored Heron  22
Cattle Egret  501
Green Heron  23
White Ibis  164
Glossy Ibis  104
Black Vulture  225
Turkey Vulture  260
Osprey  6
Bald Eagle  30
Northern Harrier  3
Cooper’s Hawk  6
Red-shouldered Hawk  89
Broad-winged Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  7
King Rail  2
Sora  5
Common Gallinule  40
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  25
Killdeer  9
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Least Sandpiper  12
Pectoral Sandpiper  15
Rock Pigeon  19
Eurasian Collared-Dove  7
White-winged Dove  8
Mourning Dove  204
Common Ground-Dove  14
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  10
Black-billed Cuckoo  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  3
Great Horned Owl  8
Barred Owl  28
Whip-poor-will  3
Chimney Swift  79
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  12
Belted Kingfisher  17
Red-headed Woodpecker  29
Red-bellied Woodpecker  251
Downy Woodpecker  172
Northern Flicker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  109
Merlin  3
American Kestrel  10
Eastern Wood-Pewee  12
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  1
Acadian Flycatcher  74
Alder Flycatcher  2
Empidonax, sp.  19
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Loggerhead Shrike  9
White-eyed Vireo  741
Yellow-throated Vireo  16
Red-eyed Vireo  297
Blue Jay  293
American Crow  310
Fish Crow  81
crow, sp.  7
Purple Martin  10
Tree Swallow  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  187
Carolina Chickadee  193
Tufted Titmouse  350
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren  466
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  360
Eastern Bluebird  49
Veery  63
Swainson’s Thrush  4
Gray Catbird  19
Brown Thrasher  49
Northern Mockingbird  103
European Starling  34
Ovenbird  137
Worm-eating Warbler  12
Louisiana Waterthrush  1
Northern Waterthrush  54
Golden-winged Warbler  2
Blue-winged Warbler  5
Black-and-white Warbler  29
Prothonotary Warbler  2
Tennessee Warbler  2
Kentucky Warbler  3
Common Yellowthroat  238
Hooded Warbler  27
American Redstart  86
Northern Parula  175
Magnolia Warbler  6
Blackburnian Warbler  3
Yellow Warbler  59
Chestnut-sided Warbler  13
Black-throated Blue Warbler  2
Palm Warbler  27
Pine Warbler  61
Yellow-throated Warbler  77
Prairie Warbler  61
Yellow-breasted Chat  1
Eastern Towhee  80
Bachman’s Sparrow  1
Summer Tanager  45
Scarlet Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  698
Blue Grosbeak  38
Indigo Bunting  41
Painted Bunting  1
Bobolink  2
Red-winged Blackbird  370
Eastern Meadowlark  3
Common Grackle  144
Boat-tailed Grackle  315
Brown-headed Cowbird  135
Baltimore Oriole  2
House Finch  26
House Sparrow  34

Alder Flycatchers at Levy Lake!

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

John Hintermister had read that Alder and Willow Flycatchers were being seen near the Everglades, and on the 21st he sent out an email to several local birders: “If they are getting these birds at Lucky Hammock I would think we should have them on Cones Dike. Want to go one day this week?” The field trip was arranged for Saturday the 24th. John, Mike Manetz, Ron Robinson, Phil Laipis, and Jonathan Mays went along. It was not a great success. Mike was “90% sure” that he heard two Alders calling, but none of the party could get a look at the birds.

A little bit frustrated, Mike suggested another trip on the following day, this one to Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake, since it provided similar habitat: a partly wooded dike trail adjoining a marsh. Adam Zions and I joined him for this one. Pulling into the parking lot at 7 a.m., we found the right (north) fork of the trail blocked by a sign that said, “Trail closed for maintenance.” Our thinking was: Since public monies are being expended on this so-called maintenance, citizen oversight is certainly called for. We looked around but didn’t see anyone else out there, so that heavy responsibility fell on our shoulders. Reluctantly we acquiesced to our civic duty and walked past the sign and down the trail. (The maintenance involved cutting back the willows along the western portion of the trail, reducing the waterthrush habitat and leaving the dike’s edges looking rather chewed up.)

Anyway, about a mile out, we found an Empidonax flycatcher working the edges of the willows. It was grayish-brownish-olive on the back, off-white below, with a pale yellow wash on the belly, and white wing-bars and tertial edges. The tail was rather broad. Suspecting that it was either an Alder or a Willow, we examined it through the scope, and it cooperated nicely by staying in sight. But with Empidonax flycatchers you really have to hear them vocalize if you want to identify them, and that’s exactly what this one did, several times producing a pip! call that’s diagnostic for Alder Flycatcher.

Continuing along the trail – there was a lot of continuing, it’s six miles long – we found numerous Indigo Buntings and Prairie and Yellow Warblers, plus a Northern Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler, and the fall’s first Blue-winged Warbler. We’d progressed around to the south side of Levy Lake by about 11:30 when we came to the place where Jonathan Mays had found a Least Flycatcher last winter. It’s an easy place to find: about a mile and a half down the left (south) fork from the parking area, it’s the first place you’ll come to where a car could make a three-point turn. Mike thought this would be a good place to play an Alder Flycatcher tape. I thought to myself, “Really, Mike. Just because Jonathan Mays found a Least Flycatcher here last winter, that’s no reason to believe that we’ll find…” but I didn’t get to finish the thought, because an Empidonax flycatcher flew in to the tape. This one had buffy wing bars, which suggested that it could have been a different species, or perhaps just a different age. And it wasn’t the only one there. As we watched it, Mike pointed out a second one a few yards farther out, calling pip! … pip! So we had at least two Alders for the day, and one unidentified Empidonax.

One more note about our Levy Lake walk. White-eyed Vireos can mimic the calls of other birds. It’s not unusual for the introductory note of their typical song to sound like a Great Crested Flycatcher, an Eastern Towhee, or a Summer Tanager (sometimes the introductory note is the only sound they make, which can be confusing!). Today we heard White-eyed Vireos beginning their typical songs with notes that mimicked (1.) a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and (2.) a Least/Willow Flycatcher’s whit! call. Both were firsts for Mike, Adam, and me.

The La Chua Trail was the place to be on Saturday. Glenn Israel saw a Short-tailed Hawk: “Saw dark morph over horse barn. Circled up higher, then flew toward the southeast. Seen about 11:10 am. Had a good look; identical to photos of hawk seen at Hague dairy earlier this summer.” And Lloyd Davis saw a male Painted Bunting “along Sweetwater Dike where the trail starts to bend north near the lone cypress tree. I was watching a pair of Yellow Warblers in a willow on the west side of the trail, a couple Blue Grosbeaks flew out of the Willow and the Painted Bunting landed and preened above a Northern Cardinal for a couple of minutes or less.”

Becky Enneis read about The Warbler Guide in the last birding report: “I watched Scott Whittle’s videos, and then ordered a copy of the book from Amazon and it arrived today. I will start by studying the section on bird songs, flight and chip calls, and sonograms, all about which I know nothing. There are so many other things in it I haven’t seen in any other guide – the tail patterns, the color impressions, the tree icons showing preferred habitat, the migration time span bar, and the 45 degree and under views….We might not need any more ordinary bird books, but we need this bird book.” Bubba Scales tells me that Wild Birds Unlimited is sold out already, but I’m sure they’ve ordered more.

Perhaps your morale is sagging – weekend trickling away, grindstone awaiting your nose. Here’s something to buck you up, a tale of an Osprey nest site preserved at Cedar Key: http://pureflorida.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-ospreys-power-companies.html

Migrant shorebirds at the Hague Dairy

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

It feels like late summer, but the season is barely a month old. The birds’ breeding activity continues, but on a smaller scale, and more quietly. Purple Martins and Northern Rough-winged Swallows appear to have gone south for the winter, and Common Grackles aren’t so common any more. A lot of the birds are molting; if you look carefully at crows and Mississippi Kites as they fly over, you’ll see notches and gaps in their wings and tails where old feathers have fallen out and new ones are growing in. And the fall migrants are starting to show up in numbers.

On the 27th Mike Manetz wrote, “I checked the dairy this morning. The field north of the lagoon is fairly well flooded. Waders were in double digits … Snowies, Little Blues, White and Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a couple of Mottleds. Also present were Four Pectoral, four Least, and two each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. This area will probably be our best shorebird viewing spot this fall. There was also a fairly large blackbird concentration for this time of year, with maybe a few hundred birds, including about 50 Brown-headed Cowbirds. House Sparrows must have had a successful breeding year, I counted 65, but there were probably more than that.” John Hintermister and I stopped in for about an hour and a half that evening and saw many of the same birds, but our count of Brown-headed Cowbirds was much higher; John estimated 400+, which is extraordinary for this time of year. Our shorebird counts were Killdeer 4, Spotted Sandpiper 3, Solitary Sandpiper 9, Semipalmated Sandpiper 1, Least Sandpiper 4, Pectoral Sandpiper 4.

On the morning of the 28th Mike visited Palm Point: “The lake is pretty high, coming within an average of ten feet from the road, closer in some places. Saw six warbler species, including a Louisiana Waterthrush, an American Redstart, and 4 Prairie Warblers.”

I walked out La Chua on the morning of the 27th with Jacksonville bird photographer Phil Graham. We had a pretty good day, given the time of year, finding 50 bird species. We saw family groups of Orchard Orioles and Blue Grosbeaks, a handful of singing Indigo Buntings, several Purple Gallinules, a Least Bittern, and a few migrants – seven or more Prairie Warblers, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a flyover Yellow Warbler, the first of the fall. The water is extremely high everywhere, though there’s no danger yet of the trail being flooded. As wet as it is, I expected to see many water birds, but the numbers were pretty low. Also few in number were the normally-abundant Boat-tailed Grackles, which for some mysterious reason have been uncommon on the Prairie all summer.

Phil and I ran into out-of-towners Marthe Fethe and Nancy Deehan on the platform at La Chua. They’d read my description of Watermelon Pond in the last birding report and told me they planned to visit that afternoon. Later I got an email from Nancy: “It is truly the beautiful, serene place you described.” See? Would I steer you wrong? Check it out yourself. Send me a picture.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, native to Texas and Mexico, are occasionally reported by puzzled Florida birders. They always turn out to be Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a pigmentary condition called xanthochroism in which red is replaced with yellow. Glenn Price recently got a terrific video of one of these oddities at his feeder, showing its golden crown and yellow belly. In a Golden-fronted Woodpecker the central tail feathers are black, and in a Red-bellied, like this bird, they’re white with black barring: http://www.raptorcaptor.com/Nature/Video/30733856_xKjqcT#!i=2656753589&k=xrKTvQX&lb=1&s=A

The State of Tennessee is considering a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes, including migrants en route to Florida. Please consider sending a brief email to register your opinion. If there’s sufficient public outcry, we may be able to prevent this from happening. Here’s a fact sheet that includes contact information for the proper officials.

In my last birding report I mentioned that Save Loblolly Woods has a Facebook page. They also have a web site, for those like me who are struggling grimly along without Facebook: http://saveloblollywoods.org/