Spring migration underway, plus continuing rarities

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

Over the past couple of years Mike Manetz has been dividing his time between Alachua County and Charlotte County on the southwest coast. Down in Charlotte he managed to infect some of the local birders with county-listing fever. Three of them in particular – Jeff Bouton, Dennis Peacock, and Brant Julius – have joined Mike in exploring the nooks and crannies of Charlotte County and in vying to see the most species in one year. Due to their high-spirited competitiveness Jeff has bestowed the title of “The Beasts of Birdin'” on the quartet. On March 1st I had the opportunity to go birding with three-quarters of The Beasts: Dennis and Brant drove up to Alachua County so Mike could show them some birds they don’t get to see in Charlotte, and I was invited along.

We started the day at Tuscawilla Prairie, where we hoped to find the Le Conte’s Sparrow discovered there on February 6th. We spent about an hour walking back and forth along the edge of the marsh before Dennis shouted that he’d seen a sparrow in the wet grass at the base of a small tree. He’d played a Henslow’s song, which it ignored, and then a Le Conte’s song, to which it seemed to respond. We all gathered around the tree and the bird flew up into a low branch – and it was a Henslow’s. It was not a bird we’d expected to see (though they’ve occurred there in the past), and it was a lifer for Brant. After a round of high fives we continued birding along the edge – getting a look at a Virginia Rail creeping along in an inch of water – and had all but given up when a sparrow flushed from the short dry grass halfway between the marsh and the live oaks. I could see its orange head as it fluttered up, and sure enough it was the Le Conte’s. It landed in a small oak, and stayed put for twenty or thirty seconds before dropping to the ground again. Another lifer for Brant, and the first time in my 40 years of birding that I’ve seen both Henslow’s and Le Conte’s in a single day.

From there we drove on to the Goodmans’ in NW Gainesville to see the male Bullock’s Oriole present for its third winter in a row. We walked around the block and eventually located a flock of six or eight Baltimore Orioles across the street from the Goodmans’ house that contained the Bullock’s. Lifer #3 for Brant.

We went on to Magnolia Parke, where a flock of about 35 Rusty Blackbirds was feeding in a parking lot just south of the big lawn. Lifer #4 for Brant.

From there it was on to the Hague Dairy. Mike signed us in while we parked Dennis’s truck, and as he came walking back to join us he spied the Lark Sparrow singing at the top of an oak tree. The Greater White-fronted Goose was equally cooperative, and we ran into Matt O’Sullivan, who pointed out an American Redstart that has wintered in the swampy area behind the parking lot.

So it was an absurdly good day. We found every bird we’d hoped to find, and still had a little time left over, so we went to a NW Gainesville neighborhood where Sam Ewing had recently reported Golden-crowned Kinglets. Here, at last, we failed to find our quarry, though Dennis thought he heard one calling. We were done by 1:00, and The Beasts of Birdin’ went home with a truck full of lifers, state birds, and Alachua County birds.

(Golden-crowned Kinglets haven’t left yet. Jonathan Mays saw two of them at San Felasco Hammock on the 1st: “Located north of Millhopper Road along the ‘Hammock Cutoff’ trail just east of its intersection with the yellow-blazed trail. First heard giving their high ‘seet, seet, seet’ calls, one on each side of trail. Was able to pish both in to confirm ID … small-sized, striped faces, one showed orangeish crown well.”)

Speaking of The Beasts of Birdin’, the one who didn’t join us yesterday, Jeff Bouton, used to be the official hawk counter at the Cape May Hawk Watch. He has just posted a very helpful and well-illustrated post on telling the difference between Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks that includes a few bits of information not mentioned in field guides: http://blog.leica-birding.com/advanced-id-tip-sharp-shinned-or-coopers/

And speaking of hawks, the county’s first Swallow-tailed Kites of the spring, four of them, arrived on March 1st, but I’m going to send out the details, as well as an interesting correspondence with kite biologist Ken Meyer, in another birding report.

On the 28th the Audubon field trip had a Northern Parula at the Windsor boat ramp and Andy Kratter had another in his SE Gainesville yard, but both were silent. However on the 1st there were *six separate reports* submitted to eBird, including two that specified singing birds (Debbie Segal at Barr Hammock and Jonathan Mays at San Felasco Hammock). So I think the Northern Parulas have arrived. There were a few sightings during the winter, as is usually the case, but the ones sighted this weekend were spring migrants.

I took an Oxford zoologist out to Paynes Prairie on the 27th and, after an hour’s wait at the edge of the sheet flow site, was able to show him his life Limpkin. While we were out there we saw some extraordinarily early Barn Swallows and on the walk back we saw a couple of extraordinarily late Purple Martins.

Time for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to start showing up. A few of them spent the winter at local feeders, but the first migrant males should be arriving any day now. Yellow-throated Vireos and Northern Rough-winged Swallows should also be here soon.

In late winter Yellow-rumped Warblers generally leave the treetops and start feeding on the ground. We noticed flocks of them foraging in the grass at both the Windsor boat ramp and Powers Park during the Audubon field trip on the 28th.

Bill Pranty and Tony Leukering have posted a well-illustrated paper on identifying Mottled Duck x Mallard hybrids. The paper starts off with a quiz – how many of these are pure Mottleds and how many are hybrids? – and goes on from there. Not a bad idea, to quiz yourself and find out how much you already know. And the paper will help you to distinguish Mottled x Mallard hybrids (“Muddled Ducks”) from pure Mottled Ducks in case that becomes a major problem here, as it is farther south: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/wp-content/uploads/sites/55/eBird_Muddled_Ducks.pdf

If you see our local Whooping Crane – or any other, for that matter – report it here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm Don’t assume that any Whooping Crane that you see is the same one that has wintered at the Beef Teaching Unit. Be sure to note which color bands are on which legs. By the way, the Beef Teaching Unit bird seems to be on the move. On the 28th its tracking devices showed it at Watermelon Pond in the county’s SW corner.

Lingering rarities! Time-limited offer! Get ‘em before they’re gone!

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

I think we’re spoiled around here. Any one of these birds would have been big news when I was a-comin’ up (the days when binoculars were gasoline powered, and we had to start them by turning a crank in the front), and here we’ve got at least half a dozen first-class rarities around town. I don’t know what we’re going to do if things ever go back to normal. We’ll have to start birding in other counties! Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. Anyway….

The Lark Sparrow at the Hague Dairy was sighted on the 15th by Bryan Tarbox. Jonathan Mays got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/16290832548/

The Bullock’s Oriole at the Goodmans’ house was most recently reported (by Steve Goodman) on the 12th. Out-of-towner Nathan Langwald got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/soniknate/15862400884/

The Rusty Blackbirds of Magnolia Parke are still there as well. Brook Rohman saw 30 on the 14th, and Trina Anderson got a photo on the 6th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/15838917233/

I saw four high-flying flocks of Sandhill Cranes totalling around 250 birds going north over my NE Gainesville home early on the afternoon of the 16th. Jonathan Mays saw about 50 at the UF Beef Teaching Unit at lunchtime on the same day, and the Whooping Crane was among them.

Lloyd Davis photographed the Le Conte’s Sparrow at Tuscawilla Prairie on the 9th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16553233945/ It’s been a cooperative bird, showing itself almost daily; at least a dozen birders have seen it so far. From the parking area, cross the street to the informational kiosk and then bear left, following the trail down to where the live oaks give out. But then leave the trail and walk straight out into the grass until the ground gets soggy. Turn right and walk along that soggy edge, keeping your eyes open, until off to your right, at the woods’ edge, you see “two cabbage palms with extensive trunkage, the one on the left adorned with vines, and the one on the right without” (thanks, Adam Zions!). The bird has been seen consistently along the soggy edge opposite those palms. It’s been showing well, as the Brits put it, so there’s need to stomp around in the grass and ruin its habitat in order to get a look at it.

Good birds continue to be seen at the sheetflow restoration site, generally by those with special access for one reason or another or those who sneak in the back way on Sunday, when no one is working there. Debbie Segal photographed two White-faced Ibises there on the 10th, while on the 8th Matt O’Sullivan documented a Red-breasted Merganser, rarely seen in Alachua County, and two Long-billed Dowitchers, which have been tough to find during the last two winters. (On the 5th the City Commission took actions that will probably delay opening the sheetflow restoration site until October at the earliest. Debbie Segal is trying to arrange monthly field trips through GRU until it opens permanently.)

Lloyd Davis saw three Snow Geese flying over the La Chua Trail on the 14th.

Harry Jones saw a wintering Summer Tanager along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on the 9th: “It was perched in a large fruiting tree in someone’s backyard on the left side of the trail (if heading towards Paynes Prairie). I believe it is the last house before the Paynes Prairie gate and the turnoff for the Sweetwater Overlook. The bird was perched at the top of the tree (something plum if I remember correctly) with a large flock of robins and yellow-rumps. I saw it fly over the trail towards Paynes Prairie.”

Spring is already here for some birds. Deena Mickelson got this photo of a Mourning Dove sitting on eggs on the UF campus on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121307268@N08/16235049360/

The Third Thursday Retirees’ Birding Club (informally known as the Ha! Take That, You Working Stiffs! Club) is going out of town this week: “Our Third Thursday field trip for February will be to Circle B Bar Ranch in Lakeland. We will leave from the Target parking lot on Archer Road at 6:00 AM on Thursday, February 19. The drive down should take a little over two hours. Circle B Bar Reserve was jointly acquired by the Polk County Environmental Lands Program and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to protect the floodplain of Lake Hancock and to restore the Banana Creek marsh system. Oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and the lakeshore are among the unique characteristics of this property. It is home to an abundant and diverse bird population. After the trip some of us are planning on having lunch at Palace Pizza in downtown Lakeland. If you’re planning on joining us for lunch, please let me know.”

If you’d like to see live owls close up, and especially if you’ve got kids who’d like to see live owls close up, you might be interested in this Saturday’s doings at Wild Birds Unlimited: “Licensed wildlife rehabilitators Nan Soistman and Dr. Dawn Miller, DVM, will host an education program on the owls of Florida at Wild Birds Unlimited on Saturday, February 21 from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Ms. Soistman and Dr. Miller will bring four of Florida’s five species of breeding owls: a Great Horned Owl, a Barred Owl, a Barn Owl, and an Eastern Screech-Owl. Each bird was rescued from some sort of life-threatening injury but deemed not to be releasable to the wild after having been given care. Alachua Audubon Society and the UF/IFAS Alachua County Master Gardeners will also have information tables at the event. All first-time, new National Audubon Society memberships will be free during the event and all new and renewing members will also receive a $5 “BirdBucks” coupon to be used in the store on the day of the event. Audubon representatives will also be present to discuss birding opportunities and environmental advocacy efforts around Gainesville. The Master Gardeners will have a rain barrel display and representative will be present to discuss water conservation efforts and other Florida-friendly gardening practices. Please see http://www.wbu.com/gainesville for details on Wild Birds Unlimited’s own website.”

A surprise at Tuscawilla Prairie

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

On the 6th I took a visiting English entomologist in search of a few birds he wanted to see. We started with the Whooping Crane at the Beef Teaching Unit, which obliged with close views. We drove on to the Ocala National Forest, where we found a cooperative group of four Florida Scrub-Jays on County Road 316 not far west of the Oklawaha River and a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the beautiful Riverside Island sandhills north of Lake Delancey. He also wanted to see a Marsh Wren, so we stopped at the Tuscawilla Prairie on our way to the Ocala National Forest and then again on our way back, but struck out both times. We finally got great looks at one from the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie.

Oh, wait! Almost forgot! Our first stop at the Tuscawilla Prairie was at about eight in the morning. We followed the trail out to where the trees end and we turned right, because turning left would have put the sun in our eyes. We walked along the soggy, grassy water’s edge, trying unsuccessfully to spish up Marsh Wrens. But as we approached three saltbush trees, something did pop up into the grass at the base of one of the trees, a small bird with an orange face, gray auriculars, and a faint necklace of fine streaks across its orange breast: a Le Conte’s Sparrow. Unlike most Le Conte’s, this one didn’t seem especially shy, but hopped around in the open for a while, allowing us to enjoy it from every angle. The entomologist admired its good looks, but he had no idea that this little bird was worth everything else we saw this morning. This is the second Le Conte’s I’ve seen at the north end of the Tuscawilla Prairie.

On the 1st Becky Enneis had a rare visitor in her back yard in Alachua: “a Purple Finch feeding on the ground with several Chipping Sparrows underneath my oak tree cage feeder. I always scan the flocks of yard Chipping Sparrows in hopes of another sparrow joining them, but never see anything different. But this time I looked out at them and saw a larger stockier bird, with a striking white supercilium. I thought, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak?? Then no, a female Purple Finch! I ran to get my camera, but when I got back to the window the bird was gone.”

A handful of birders went looking for the Purple Finches and Pine Siskins that Mike Manetz and I found at O’Leno on the 3rd. Though John Hintermister and Phil Laipis did see one siskin later on the 3rd, they couldn’t relocate the Purple Finches; however their consolation prize was an astoundingly early (or wintering) Louisiana Waterthrush. Phil got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16459434221/ On the 4th Bob Carroll tried for the finches and siskins but though he “stood in the rain for over two hours” he was not rewarded. However he went back the very next day – see? that’s what makes a birder! heroic persistence! – and found the siskins right where Mike and I had seen them. He got a photo of one: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16274956649/

Though the morning of the 4th was overcast and glum, I heard my first Brown Thrasher singing as I took the garbage bin to the curb, and my first Northern Mockingbird singing as I let the dogs into the back yard.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this is a very long birding report

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

Samuel and Caleb Ewing had the best bird of the week on the 26th. Samuel writes, “Today Caleb and I walked to an area of Watermelon Pond that’s quite close to us. We got some Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, 19 Long-billed Dowitchers, a Least Sandpiper, quite a few Tree and Barn Swallows, and one Cliff Swallow! While scanning swallows I spotted one with a squared-off tail and it soon came close enough to see the buffy rump, blue back, and white forehead. I was able to get some poor photos.” This is only the county’s second March sighting of a Cliff Swallow, and believe it or not it’s the first documented occurrence of the species in Alachua County history; no previous photo or specimen has ever been obtained. Here’s Samuel’s photo.

Speaking of photos, Greg Stephens got a great shot of a Peregrine Falcon at La Chua on the 21st. The Peregrine that’s been seen at the Prairie since early January was an immature bird, brown with a streaky breast, and this one’s an adult, so we’ve had two Peregrines at the Prairie in March.

Still speaking of photos – we’ve got an embarrassment of riches, so sue me – Kathy Malone got two spectacular pictures of a Le Conte’s Sparrow at Levy Prairie Loop on the 25th. This was her fourth attempt at photographing this bird, and the effort really paid off.

On the 25th Jonathan Mays saw two White-faced Ibis in non-breeding plumage from the La Chua observation platform. Since there’s also a breeding-plumage bird out there, it looks like we’ve got three White-faced Ibis at Paynes Prairie – at least. Jonathan also spotted three Whooping Cranes, one of whom flew in to provide a photo op.

The season’s first Chimney Swifts have arrived. Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson saw the spring’s first at La Chua Trail on the 23rd, Samuel Ewing saw four on the UF campus on the 25th, and on the following day Geoff Parks wrote, “I was downtown this morning at about 10:30 and there was a mass of what I’d estimate to be 90-100 flying around the vicinity of the Seagle building.”

The first Indigo Buntings have checked in as well, one at Keith Collingwood’s place in Melrose, and one at Ron Robinson’s at the west end of Gainesville, both on the 25th.

Ivor Kincaide reports that 50 Purple Martins showed up at the Alachua Conservation Trust’s martin house in Rochelle on the 26th.

The spring’s first major flight of Common Loons occurred on the morning of the 25th, when Andy Kratter counted 58 going over Pine Grove Cemetery between 8:11 and 8:48. Remember that March is the best time to look through migrating Commons for a Red-throated.

There have been no reports of Hooded Warblers in Alachua County yet, but they’re a March migrant, along with Prothonotary, Swainson’s, and Kentucky Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. Bob Carroll and friends saw a Hooded along the River Trail at Lower Suwannee NWR on the 21st, and Pat Burns saw three at Cedar Key on the 24th.

Want to know the names of a few common spring wildflowers? Well here you go: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/03/rain-day.html

A few rare birds, a few spring arrivals, and a few birding blogs

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

It’s a rainy Saturday, a good time for this particular birding report.

The winter-plumage White-faced Ibis at the end of the La Chua Trail has been joined by a second, a bird in full breeding plumage found by Adam Zions on the 22nd.

The Western Tanager south of Alachua was seen as recently as the 21st, when John Hintermister got a photo.

Mike Manetz found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on the 7th, “at the far end of the Red Loop. It was foraging actively and calling in a nice stretch of longleaf pine / turkey-and-other oak with undulating terrain and open understory.” When he and John Hintermister went looking for it on the 20th they found a mated pair. John Martin went to see the birds on the 22nd and got a couple of photos.

Kathy Malone found one of the Le Conte’s Sparrows at Levy Prairie Loop on the 20th. Conrad Burkholder saw the Groove-billed Ani on Sparrow Alley on the 22nd.

Great Crested Flycatchers are here: Michael Meisenburg came across one in SE Gainesville on the 18th, Mike Manetz had one in his NW Gainesville yard on the 19th, and three arrived with the spring on the 20th – Jonathan Mays found one in SE Gainesville, and there were separate sightings by Caleb Gordon and Benjamin Ewing in NW Gainesville. Mornings will be noisier.

Visiting New York birder Andy Mason had the spring’s first Prothonotary Warbler at O’Leno State Park on the 20th.

Eastern Kingbirds arrived en masse on the 22nd: Lloyd Davis found one at Cellon Creek Boulevard, Bob Knight saw two near the Hague Dairy, and Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw one near Watermelon Pond (and Samuel got a photo).

Gary Appelson told me how the committee vote on the feral cat bill turned out: “In case you are wondering: The feral cat bill passed unanimously despite impassioned statements from Audubon, some Gainesville folks, and several folks who have to endure living or working next to cat colonies. The bill was introduced by a freshman legislator, and there is a strong institutional tradition of catering to a first bill by a freshman legislator by passing it. The bill will likely not make it through all its required committees since we are already 20 days into the session, that is the good news. But the down side is once it passes its first committee it can be amended to other bills – so now Audubon’s lobby team and others need to be on their toes and watch for a wacko amendment.

I’ve added a new category to the Links page on the Alachua Audubon web site: Birding and Local Nature-related Blogs. I chose three big-time birding blogs – David Sibley’s, Kenn (and wife Kimberly) Kaufman’s, and the American Birding Association’s – and four local ones, and just to introduce you, I’ve selected posts from each that I particularly like:

Earth Teach Me: Katherine Edison is a writer and photographer with a keen eye for the magic of day-to-day nature. The link (i.e., click on “Earth Teach Me”) goes to a post on a lovely little weed-slash-wildflower that most of us have in our yards but never knew the name of.

Bob’s Gone Birding: Most of us know Bob Carroll, the proprietor of the Florida County Listing web site and one of the nicest guys in Gainesville birding. The link goes to a post about his favorite activity, county listing – in this case, exploring the southern half of Levy County, which most of us merely drive through on the way to Cedar Key.

Florida Nature Adventures: Buford Pruitt is a freelance wildlife biologist and clearly a man born a century too late. In the linked post he explores the Sanchez Prairie, the big ravine that separates the southern half of San Felasco Hammock from the northern half. There’s one short geological paragraph that assumes a little too much knowledge on our part, but clearly the age of adventure and exploration lives on in Buford Pruitt! Plus, my vocabulary was increased by three words, reading this post.

Pure Florida: Raymond Powers teaches high school biology at Cedar Key and lives in the Gulf Hammock. He’s clearly living The Good Life, and his enjoyment of eating, growing things, fishing, and his three Labrador retrievers occupies as many blog posts as does his interest in nature. He’s curious, and he’s handy at making things, and the linked post demonstrates one reason I like him: how many of us would think to submerge a video camera (in waterproof housing) into a stream to see what’s swimming around down there? There’s not much to look at, as it turns out, but I like that spirit!

Sibley Guides: David Sibley authored one of the best guides to North American birds, and his blog contains lots of identification information that supplements what’s in the guide. In the linked post he figures out that you can tell male from female juncos just by posture. Not highly useful here in Gainesville, but it shows how a first-class birder’s mind works.

Birding with Kenn and Kimberly: Until David Sibley came along, Kenn Kaufman was the heir apparent to Roger Tory Peterson, and that reputation was not undeserved. He updates his blog less frequently than he should, but it’s always worth reading. The link goes to a post on what to do, and what to avoid, if you want to interest someone in birds and birding.

ABA Blog: The American Birding Association has a blog on its web site, with different posts authored by different contributors. There are rarity alerts, posts on books and optics, and posts on science. This link goes to a post by filmmaker Jeffrey Kimball, who describes the aims of his documentary “Birding: The Central Park Effect” (which, by the way, just became available on Netflix and Amazon).

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

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

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

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

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

Decisions, decisions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Bird Count results

From: Rex Rowan [rexrowan@gmail.com]
Subject: Alachua County birding report

Hey, make a note if you’re planning to join the January 5th field trip to Alligator Lake: the driving directions on the Alachua Audubon web site are wrong. Here’s what they should say: “From I-75 take US-90 east through Lake City and turn south on Old Country Club Road (also known as SE Avalon Avenue or County Road 133). Entrance to parking area is 1.5 miles south on the right side of the road.” Thanks to Tom Camarata for pointing out the mistakes to me.

We’ve got some gifted photographers around here, and some of you may be interested in the 2013 Wildlife and Nature Photography Contest being held by Audubon of Martin County. They’ve put together a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcd38dEvbAs

Speaking of photographers, Adam Zions found and photographed some uncommon birds in the conservation lands north of Newnans Lake on the 30th. He started at Gum Root Park, where he saw two Henslow’s Sparrows in the big field, then drove a couple of miles east on State Road 26 to the Hatchet Creek Tract, where he found a Red-breasted Nuthatch (not to mention a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which is resident at Hatchet Creek but can be hard to find).

I haven’t heard of any definite sightings of the Groove-billed Ani recently, though visiting Tennessee birder David Kirschke and his daughter thought they heard it on the 27th, “about half way between the Sweetwater Overlook turn off and the next bend in the trail.” If you see it, please let me know. The last positive sightings were by Lloyd Davis and Adam Zions on the 23rd, when Adam got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/8302688762/in/photostream

Mike Manetz found a big flock of ducks off the crew team parking lot on the 18th, and Andy Kratter saw them in the same place on the 23rd: “300+ Ring-necked, 25 or so Lesser Scaup, 8 Redhead, 5 Canvasbacks, and a bunch of American Coots. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were quite far offshore, as were 2 Horned Grebes.” I found most of the same birds still present in the late afternoon of the 24th, but by the 30th they’d dispersed and their place had been taken by Ruddy Ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls, plus one hunting decoy.

Here finally are the results of the December 16th Gainesville CBC:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  207
Muscovy Duck  90
Wood Duck  821
Gadwall  34
American Wigeon  6
Mallard  29
Mottled Duck  89
Blue-winged Teal  81
Northern Shoveler  14
Northern Pintail  64
Green-winged Teal  1
Canvasback  5
Ring-necked Duck  252
Lesser Scaup  312
Black Scoter  6
Bufflehead  4
Common Goldeneye  1
Hooded Merganser  125
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  500
Northern Bobwhite  13
Wild Turkey  46
Common Loon  3
Pied-billed Grebe  74
Wood Stork  28
Double-crested Cormorant  772
Anhinga  187
American White Pelican  137
American Bittern  12
Great Blue Heron  134
Great Egret  206
Snowy Egret  177
Little Blue Heron  163
Tricolored Heron  77
Cattle Egret  211
Green Heron  17
Black-crowned Night-Heron  79
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
White Ibis  2,013
Glossy Ibis  528
Roseate Spoonbill  1
Black Vulture  343
Turkey Vulture  1,144
Osprey  8
Bald Eagle  82
Northern Harrier  42
Sharp-shinned Hawk  12
Cooper’s Hawk  12
Red-shouldered Hawk  164
Red-tailed Hawk  64
King Rail  2
Virginia Rail  5
Sora  252
Common Gallinule  82
American Coot  883
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  3,009
Killdeer  247
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  54
Lesser Yellowlegs  55
Least Sandpiper  2
Wilson’s Snipe  398
American Woodcock  7
Bonaparte’s Gull  30
Laughing Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  330
Herring Gull  2
Forster’s Tern  30
Rock Pigeon  70
Eurasian Collared-Dove  9
Mourning Dove  495
Common Ground-Dove  7
Groove-billed Ani  1
Barn Owl  5
Eastern Screech-Owl  16
Great Horned Owl  55
Barred Owl  64
Eastern Whip-poor-will  2
Selasphorus, sp. (probably Rufous Hummingbird)  1
Belted Kingfisher  38
Red-headed Woodpecker  32
Red-bellied Woodpecker  284
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  61
Downy Woodpecker  118
Northern Flicker  38
Pileated Woodpecker  129
American Kestrel  56
Merlin  3
Least Flycatcher  4
Eastern Phoebe  580
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  10
Loggerhead Shrike  38
White-eyed Vireo  203
Blue-headed Vireo  44
Blue Jay  276
American Crow  621
Fish Crow  297
crow, sp.  45
Tree Swallow  6
Carolina Chickadee  204
Tufted Titmouse  248
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
Brown-headed Nuthatch  4
House Wren  236
Winter Wren  1
Sedge Wren  52
Marsh Wren  129
Carolina Wren  420
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  387
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  405
Eastern Bluebird  173
Hermit Thrush  27
American Robin  2,583
Gray Catbird  205
Northern Mockingbird  180
Brown Thrasher  15
European Starling  43
American Pipit  124
Sprague’s Pipit  2
Cedar Waxwing  54
Ovenbird  2
Northern Waterthrush  6
Black-and-white Warbler  69
Orange-crowned Warbler  105
Common Yellowthroat  292
Northern Parula  3
Palm Warbler  830
Pine Warbler  204
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1,910
Yellow-throated Warbler  28
Prairie Warbler  8
Wilson’s Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Eastern Towhee  187
Chipping Sparrow  488
Field Sparrow  20
Vesper Sparrow  57
Savannah Sparrow  515
Grasshopper Sparrow  20
Henslow’s Sparrow  2
Le Conte’s Sparrow  6
Fox Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  74
Lincoln’s Sparrow  6
Swamp Sparrow  455
White-throated Sparrow  62
White-crowned Sparrow  35
Summer Tanager  4
Northern Cardinal  832
Indigo Bunting  2
Painted Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  9,915
Eastern Meadowlark  382
Common Grackle  585
Boat-tailed Grackle  727
Brown-headed Cowbird  12,798
Baltimore Oriole  29
House Finch  72
American Goldfinch  372
House Sparrow  11

We’ve gained two minutes of daylight since the solstice! Two minutes! Yes! And the first Purple Martins should be back within three weeks, maybe four. So it’s nearly spring. Watch your feeders for Pine Siskins and Purple Finches, which tend to show up after January 1st.

The management and staff of the Alachua County Birding Report, Inc., TM, LLC, LOL, ROTFLMAO, would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Christmas Count highlights

I’m not sure, but I think the 161 or 162 species seen on today’s CBC is a record for the Count. Highlights in brief:

BLACK SCOTER: First county record. Six on Lake Wauberg. Be there first thing Monday morning!

Groove-billed Ani: One along the fenceline trail that cuts back toward the powerlines after you’ve walked through the barn at the beginning of the La Chua Trail. The bird was where the powerline cut intersects the fenceline trail.

Sprague’s Pipit: Two on Kanapaha Prairie, exactly where they were on the last CBC.

Ash-throated Flycatcher: TEN on Paynes Prairie, scattered among four territories. (TEN!)

Least Flycatcher: Four on Paynes Prairie.

Red-breasted Nuthatch: One in Micanopy, three in one tree (!) near the Kanapaha Prairie.

Canvasback: Five on Newnans Lake.

The rest in taxonomic order: Red-breasted Merganser 4, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron 1, Roseate Spoonbill 1, Limpkin 5, Spotted Sandpiper 1, Laughing Gull 1, Winter Wren 1, Northern Parula 1, Wilson’s Warbler 1, Yellow-breasted Chat 2, Le Conte’s Sparrow 6, Lincoln’s Sparrow 6, Summer Tanager 4, Indigo Bunting 2, Painted Bunting 1.

Turkey’s not the only bird in town this week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vermilion Flycatcher and Le Conte’s Sparrow at La Chua Trail

The Vermilion Flycatcher that John Hintermister first found on the 8th was still at the La Chua observation platform on Friday morning, when Frank Goodwin managed to get a photo of it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8197165695/in/photostream

It was still there on the 18th, too, and seen by Frank, Mike Manetz, and Charlene Leonard. As they approached the observation platform – “in the largest patch of barnyard grass, about half way between Gator Point and the platform” – they saw a Le Conte’s Sparrow, and Charlene managed to get a photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8197165399/in/photostream  (By the way, “barnyard grass” is the fluffy blonde stuff in which all the Savannah and Le Conte’s Sparrows were hiding at Orange Lake last winter.)

Saturday’s Cedar Key field trip, led by Caleb Gordon, was hugely successful. In addition to five Red-breasted Nuthatches at the museum, there was a White-winged Scoter “incredibly close and cooperative” off the downtown fishing pier (still present and “extremely viewable just off the beach on the road to the airstrip” on Sunday, along with a Surf Scoter, according to Dale Henderson), a Peregrine Falcon seen by all, and a Short-tailed Hawk seen by a few on the road to Shell Mound. On the way back to Gainesville, three of the cars made a detour to a birding spot south of Bronson, where they found an Ash-throated Flycatcher and a Clay-colored Sparrow.

Vismig Common Loons – if you haven’t been keeping up with your British birding slang, “vismig” means “visibly migrating” – continue to pass overhead on their way to the Gulf. On the morning of the 17th Adam Kent saw 15 going over his SE Gainesville home and I saw 5 going over J.J. Finley Elementary School.

Barbara Woodmansee visited the Hague Dairy today, looking for birds, but found herself distracted by the great variety of butterflies: “Had 4 White M Hairstreaks, every sulphur species there is except Dogface, including 8-10 Orange Sulphurs! I watched one laying eggs in the clover. Long-tailed Skipper and Dorantes Longtail, Zebra Heliconians, Gulf and Variegated Fritillary, Carolina Satyrs, Fiery Skippers, Clouded Skippers, and Whirlabouts, both Painted and American Ladies – lots of them, including late instar American Lady caterpillar. Lots of White Peacocks and Common Buckeyes, a Monarch, Phaon Crescents, lots of Checkered Whites and checkered-skippers (I think I saw both Tropical and Common). No swallowtails of any kind – sort of surprising. We had 24 species in about 2 hours – not bad for late November!”