Goose, goose, ducks.

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

Debbie Segal spied a Snow Goose at the Hague Dairy at 2:45 this afternoon. Go north on NW 59th Drive (the road running along the eastern border of the dairy) about half a mile beyond the dairy entrance and look left into the field with the big rolling sprinklers in it.

In other goose-related news, the Ross’s Goose was relocated early on Saturday afternoon in the field where it was originally observed. Some people have found it and some haven’t, though it stands out like a cue ball on a billiard table; it seems to move around the field and is sometimes out of sight behind a rise.

Saturday’s field trip to the Sweetwater Restoration Wetland found the three impoundments of the treatment wetland full of birds. Among other things, we saw 13 species of waterfowl, including American Wigeon, Buffleheads, one Canvasback, and lots of Gadwalls. Soras and a couple of King Rails were calling from the marshes, we spooked a couple of American Bitterns, two Roseate Spoonbills were feeding in the shallows, and more than a dozen Limpkins were seen in Cell Three. After everyone else had left, Adam Zions and Debbie Segal took a last turn around the dikes and found a White-faced Ibis associating with three Glossy Ibis.

Samuel Ewing reported a Pine Siskin calling as it flew over his NW Gainesville home on the 22nd, by one day the earliest ever recorded in the county.

I’ve seen Pied-billed Grebes eating fish, crayfish, even a Black Swamp Snake, but I’d never seen one eating a frog until I stumbled across this Tom Tompkins photo of a particularly ambitious grebe, taken along La Chua on the 20th: http://ttompkinsphoto.smugmug.com/Paynes-Prairie-Gainesville-FL/i-CCS47bG/A

For some reason, most birders don’t trouble themselves with the scientific (Latin) names of birds, though there’s a fair bit of insight to be gained by knowing at least which genus a bird belongs to (order and family are helpful too). Some birders may be put off by the unpronounceability of the scientific name, which is why I posted a pronunciation guide online. A few nights ago I found something similar that had been worked into a photographic field guide on the BirdFellow website. For instance, go to the page on White-faced Ibis. Right next to the bird’s name is a little triangle in a circle: a “play media” symbol. Click on this, and you’ll hear a voice: “White-faced Ibis. Plih-GAY-dis CHEE-hee.” I was a little nonplussed to learn that their pronunciations don’t always agree with the ones I posted, but more than one biologist has told me that there’s no right way to pronounce a scientific name (I don’t care about the right way; I’d just like them to be standardized). Anyway, while you’re on the White-faced Ibis page, click on “Identification Photos” and look over their (enlargeable) photo gallery. They have one of those for nearly all species in the BirdFellow field guide. It’s a pretty nice resource. You should bookmark it. Evidently BirdFellow was set up by Oregon’s Dave Irons to be a place where birders could post their sightings and photos, like eBird. However, unlike eBird, it would also be a place to network with other birders, compare notes, and ask ID questions. That aspect of the website does not seem to have taken off, unfortunately, but the online field guide is still quite good.

Adventures in Challenging! and exciting breeding news!

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

June Challenge party details! Becky Enneis writes, “The June Challenge Party is coming up soon, on Tuesday, July 1, at 6 p.m. Please attend and bring a covered dish (preferably with food already in it!). I’ll have sodas, wine, and beer on hand. Also, please bring a lawn chair. I have just a few available.” If you plan to join us at Becky’s, please RSVP to me so we can prepare. And also remember to send me your total by midnight on June 30th.

Bob and Erika Simons invited me to go canoeing on Newnans Lake with them this morning. All three of us needed Limpkin for our June Challenge lists, and Erika also needed Prothonotary Warbler. In addition we were hoping for Laughing Gulls, maybe a tern, and a Ruddy Duck that Chris Burney had seen out there early in the month. We launched the canoe from Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor and paddled along the shore to the northern end of the lake (beyond the Hatchet Creek outlet but not as far as Little Hatchet Creek and Gum Root Swamp) before heading back on a beeline due to developing storm clouds. We found our Limpkins easily enough – 14 of them, including three downy chicks – and Erika got her Prothonotaries – we had 7 total. Other sightings included an adult Purple Gallinule with its full-grown chick and at least one adult Bald Eagle. No gulls or terns, however. And most frustrating, I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush, tying the early record for the county – but I never saw it, so I can’t put it on my June Challenge list. But you can bet I’ll be looking for a Louisiana elsewhere during the week that remains in the Challenge.

Geoff Parks reports that at least one pair of American Robins appears to be nesting in his NE Gainesville neighborhood. If confirmed, this would be the first instance of breeding ever recorded in Alachua County. Geoff writes that June Challengers are welcome to visit, with some caveats: “The birds are spending most of their time on NE 6th Terrace about midway between the northernmost speed bump and NE 23rd Ave., especially around the white house on the west side of the road with the chain-link fence. The people who live there are friendly and had noticed the robins too. They aren’t against people coming to see the birds but they don’t want anyone knocking on the door or trespassing. It’s okay for people to park in my driveway (2024 NE 6th Terrace – yellow house near the speed bump) and walk up the street to see the birds, provided that they: 1) don’t knock on my door, since my wife works from home, and 2) don’t block in my Camry if it’s there. Alternatively, people could park and get something to eat at The Jones or David’s BBQ (at NE 23rd Avenue and 2nd Street) and then walk down, since it’s not far. Often, with some luck, a slow drive-by is all that is needed, since there’s often at least one bird foraging in a front yard or perched on the fence near the street. There may actually be more than just the pair in the neighborhood: the neighbors said they’d seen ‘3 or 4′ birds. I’m really hoping these birds will successfully fledge some young, which they seem to be very hard at work trying to do, so I hope folks will not distract them from their work by harassing them with endless playback – it’s hardly necessary in any event, since the birds are generally quite vocal and conspicuous.” I went over at lunchtime today, pulled up in front of the white house described by Geoff, and in slightly less than half an hour saw the male bird gathering food in the back yard and then flying off with it.

Belted Kingfisher is a hard bird to find during the summer months, but Craig Parenteau saw one on the 23rd, “along the main canal beside La Chua (where there is open water above the water control structure). Its plumage looked very fresh and dapper. Hope your June Challenge folks get to see it. There were also many King Rails, Purple Gallinules, and Least Bitterns – a real bonanza. Wish I could get confirmation of Least Bittern offspring, though.”

On the morning of the 23rd Mike Manetz had a second sighting of a Broad-winged Hawk in the same location as the first: “As I came south on County Road 235A and turned right on Peggy Road I could see a raptor perched very uncomfortably on the wires about where the third guard rail on the left would be. As I got a little closer I could see it was a Broad-winged. I pulled over to the right to get a photo but it flew across the street into the woods, where I think it’s probably nesting. If you post this please include that folks should stay off the Dollar General side of the road.”

Also on the morning of the 23rd, Bob and Erika Simons and I went looking for June Challenge birds at the southeastern end of the county. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we found a Bachman’s Sparrow singing near the parking corral, and a Common Yellowthroat and a trio of Brown-headed Nuthatches on the back side of the White Loop. We couldn’t locate an Eastern Wood-Pewee. We drove on to Lake Lochloosa and scanned unsuccessfully for Bald Eagles and Laughing Gulls from the covered pier at the boat launch. Bob suggested that we drive to the metal fishing pier at the Lochloosa Conservation Area, and there we found an adult Bald Eagle perched on a tree overlooking the lakeshore.

Barbara Woodmansee and her husband walked out La Chua on the 22nd: “We were able to make it all the way out to the tower at the end of La Chua, where a real live adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was waiting for me (yay) under the tower. We did have thick mud up to the edges of our boot tops, but it was worth it. I counted 20 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, which we saw fly into the bare trees across the lake near the pavilion to roost. It was so pretty out there with a nice breeze and a purple sky from a storm that never came in.”

Barbara and I spotted an interesting Blue Grosbeak at the beginning of Sweetwater Dike on the 21st. The patches of blue and brown made me think that it was a year-old male, but it appeared to be delivering nesting material to a brushy area on the edge of the dike where an adult male Blue Grosbeak was already perched. Why would the adult not chase the young male off? Why would the young male be carrying nesting material? I wonder whether Blue Grosbeaks ever practice cooperative breeding: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14492738644/

I was at La Chua on two evenings last week, and both times saw a flying bird that resembled (to my eye) a Bobolink. Dalcio Dacol may have seen it too, as part of what sounds like a productive morning’s birding on the 20th: “This morning, around 8:50 AM at La Chua Trail, I was walking along the boardwalk and just before I got to the shelter on the smaller sink I caught a glimpse of a bird taking off to my left. I turned around and was able to get a view as the bird was flying away from me. I did not see the head, the bird was straw colored, close to the size of a Red-winged Blackbird but of slimmer built and flew with the bobbing almost finch-like pattern typical of Bobolinks. If it were April I wouldn’t have hesitated in calling it a female Bobolink. I had the impression that the bird was on that scrub along the boardwalk. It didn’t fly too high but it continued flying in along the trail and eventually crossed over the water channel that brings water to the large sink. I rushed to the channel bank across from the area where the bird landed but was unable to locate the bird. Other than that I had 6 Glossy Ibis at the observation platform and two Yellow-crowned Night Herons, one adult and one immature plus the usual birds. I have never seen so many King Rails, Least Bitterns and Purple Gallinules in a single spring season as I have seen this year.”

I’ve mentioned organized birding tours a couple of times but only a few people have shown interest. I’m going to try again, with a more exotic locale. Former FWC herpetologist and long-time Alachua Audubon membership chair Paul Moler recently sent me an email: “As you know, for the last 7 years I’ve been participating in annual biodiversity surveys in various parts of southern Vietnam. One of the participants in 2012 and again this year was a gentleman who leads birding tours, both through tour agencies and independently. He is both very knowledgeable and a very pleasant fellow. Over the course of this year’s outing we had some discussions about tour costs. Total costs and area coverage would, of course, depend upon duration of the tour, but a 10-day tour would cost something less than $2000 (likely closer to $1500), food, local transportation, and lodging inclusive. Air fare currently would be roughly $1800 from Gainesville, $1500 from Jacksonville, and $1300 from Orlando. Travel would take a couple of days each way, so a 10-day tour would take about 14-15 days total travel time.” Paul emphasizes that he has no financial interest in this company. Let me know if you’d like more information about a guided birding trip to this part of the world.

How recently have you driven across Paynes Prairie on US-441? Right now the pickerelweed is in bloom, creating huge swaths of vivid purple, highlighted here and there by the bright yellow of an American lotus. The light seems to be ideal – the purple especially intense – at about 11 a.m.

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the county closed the Levy Lake Loop for maintenance the day after I told you about Chris Cattau’s sighting of a probable American Bittern out there.

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.

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!”

Local birding update, February 13-20: Whooping Crane, Royal Tern, and massive Limpkinitude

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

On the afternoon of the 13th, Paynes Prairie biologist Andi Christman saw a Whooping Crane at Paynes Prairie. She noted, “Flew over Hwy. 441 from the area of the boardwalk wildfire (between the boardwalk and Bolen Bluff) toward the Interstate. Very clear view, but could not observe bands.”

On the 19th Samuel Ewing wrote, “This morning Dad and I did some birding before school as is normal for us on Wednesday. We started at the observation deck on the Prairie. Nothing too unusual there. Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Mottled Duck, Glossy Ibis, 75 Tree Swallows, and more. Most noteworthy was probably 800 White Ibis, flying off the Prairie throughout the time we were there. We then headed to Bivens Arm Lake. No ducks there, surprisingly, but we did see lots of Anhingas, numerous cormorants, several Ring-billed Gulls, a singleton Bonaparte’s Gull, and a pair of Ospreys (probably coming in to breed there). I also heard a Yellow-throated Warbler singing. Most noteworthy though was quite unexpected: a flyover Royal Tern!  It flew right over us, not stopping at the lake, and continued S/SE.”

On the 20th John Hintermister and I made a boat trip all the way around Newnans Lake, starting at the Windsor boat ramp and going counter-clockwise, a trip of about 13 miles. We didn’t find anything really unusual, but we were impressed by some of the numbers we recorded. For instance, we saw or heard 39 individual Limpkins, by far the highest count ever recorded in Alachua County! This is undoubtedly due to the growing population of Island Apple Snails. The snails’ egg masses were first noted at the Windsor boat ramp in September 2007. Their population growth was slow and steady at first, but has really exploded in the past year or two. Not coincidentally, so have the Limpkins. I’m curious to see how many Limpkins will be at Newnans after this year’s breeding season, and what the county’s population will look like after the snails spread to Paynes Prairie (if they haven’t already). We don’t know yet whether this snail explosion is good or bad. Even more abundant than the Limpkins were the Bald Eagles: we counted 51, though it’s possible that some of those were tallied more than once as they flew back and forth across the lake. As to ducks, there was some evidence that they’ve mostly migrated north; we saw only 2 Redheads, 4 Ring-necked Ducks, 5 Lesser Scaup, and 50 Ruddy Ducks. We carried bread for the gulls, but had a hard time finding any to throw it at; we saw 3 Ring-billeds and 8 Bonaparte’s. And we were very surprised, along 13 miles of shoreline, to see no Belted Kingfishers at all! Like Samuel Ewing, we heard Yellow-throated Warblers singing, five of them, but did not hear a single Northern Parula. Right now the water on the lake is higher than I’ve seen it since the hurricanes of September 2004, and in many places Newnans is starting to look as it did in the 1990s, when there was nothing between the cypresses on one shore and those on the other but a smooth sheet of water, unbroken by any emergent vegetation.

Bob Carroll is birding in Oregon this week. His latest blog post features photos of Lewis’s and Acorn Woodpeckers seen on the same day! http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

In the last birding report I passed along an open invitation to celebrate the addition of the Water and Land Legacy Amendment to this November’s ballot, but I neglected to mention the day and time! So it’s this Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Prairie Creek Lodge, and I’ll repeat the invitation in case you’re as forgetful as I am: “The Water and Land Legacy Campaign, together with the Alachua Audubon Society and the Alachua Conservation Trust, invites all North Central Florida volunteers and donors who contributed to the successful petition drive to please join us as we celebrate the colossal accomplishment of collecting enough signatures and funding to meet the rigorous requirements of being added to the November 2014 ballot! Please join us to celebrate this enormous accomplishment. It is a potluck menu so please bring a dish of your choice. Drinks will be provided by Alachua Audubon. Prairie Creek Lodge is one mile south of the intersection of County Roads 2082 and 234, and six miles north of Micanopy. For more comprehensive directions, please visit Prairie Creek Lodge. We look forward to enjoying fine friends and their partners for an evening of celebrating a job well done! Please be sure to RSVP today! or reply to campaign@floridawaterlandlegacy.org and tell us how many will attend. If you have questions, please call Tom Kay with ACT at (352) 373-1078.”

In the last birding report I also passed along an invitation to Howard Adams’s retirement party on March 2nd. The cost is $10 per person, and if you’re reluctant to pre-pay via PayPal, you can send a check for $10 to:
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Attn: Amber Roux
100 Savannah Blvd
Micanopy, FL 32667

ANOTHER Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!

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

At noon today John Killian found a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on County Road 241 about 1.5 miles north of the point where Millhopper Road (County Road 232) dead-ends. He got four really nice pictures, of which this is the fourth:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnhusbdadfrndteach/10996795465/

Mike Manetz and I visited several spots in southern Alachua County this morning – Tuscawilla Prairie, Orange Lake at three locations (Sportsmans Cove, Heagy-Burry, and Sampsons Point), the back side of George’s Pond, and Powers Park – but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. I heard a lot of Sandhill Cranes calling to the south of Heagy-Burry, which makes me think that some migrants have finally arrived. We saw only a few ducks, all of them at Newnans Lake, but among those few were a pair of Northern Pintails that flew past the Powers Park pier. And we were disappointed to find that water levels in Orange Lake had risen to the point that hip boots would be needed to walk out from Sportsmans Cove, so we have nothing to report from there. The best part of the morning was helping a pair of birders from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to see their life Limpkin at Powers Park.

Birds, angry and otherwise

Join us at the Millhopper Branch Library at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20th, when Dr. Karl Miller of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will describe the ecology, distribution, and population status of the Southeastern American Kestrel. Karl will share the results of nearly a decade’s worth of research and monitoring. The Southeastern American Kestrel is a non-migratory subspecies of North America’s smallest falcon and one of Florida’s most imperiled birds. It used to be common in Alachua County – according to Charles E. Doe, a pair nested “on top of a copper gutter in a corner of the P.K. Yonge Bldg.” in July 1939, when the P.K. Yonge School was in Norman Hall – but is now restricted mainly to the county’s western uplands, around High Springs, Newberry, and Archer. Karl will give us the latest updates on FWC’s kestrel nest-box monitoring partnership and a statewide management plan for kestrels. Everyone is welcome.

I’ve got a little catching up to do, so in chronological order:

On the 4th, just a few days after Andy Kratter saw one Red-throated Loon flying east, Adam and Gina Kent saw two flying southwest. This is a very rare bird in Alachua County, but you wouldn’t know it based on these sightings.

Also on the 4th, Mike Manetz found a locally-rare Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper at temporary pond right beside 441 at the north end of Prairie. It was gone the next day, but when Mike and Adam Kent visited the dairy four days later they found … a Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper. Even weirder, it was a different Dunlin; the first bird was in full winter plumage, while the second retained a few juvenile feathers.

On the 6th Pat Burns saw a Vermilion Flycatcher and a White-faced Ibis along the Old Canal Trail at Alligator Lake Public Recreation Area in Lake City. I asked Pat if the Vermilion was a dude or a lady, and she said a lady.

I saw my first Ring-billed Gull of the winter flying over the Hague Dairy on the 2nd, and a flock of six flying over La Chua on the 9th, but I haven’t seen any in parking lots yet, and no big numbers anywhere. But on the 13th Dean and Samuel Ewing visited Newnans Lake, where they saw 75 Ring-billed Gulls and 9 Bonaparte’s Gulls, as well as 2 Forster’s Terns, 2 Limpkins, and a Common Loon.

Alachua Audubon’s November field trips have enjoyed a fair bit of success. Jerry Krummrich and John Hintermister led the Hamilton County field trip on the 9th. In addition to eight duck species, the field trip participants saw 18 American Avocets, a Peregrine Falcon, an Eared Grebe, two Franklin’s Gulls (always a rarity inland, and a first record for Hamilton County, I think), and huge number of some species, including 600 American White Pelicans and 1,510 Great Egrets. I led the field trip to Cedar Key on the 16th. It was as beautiful a day as I’ve ever experienced out there, and the birds were quite cooperative – at first, anyway. At our initial stop, overlooking the saltmarsh at the landward end of Bridge Four, we had at least four Marsh Wrens, four Nelson’s Sparrows, and two Seaside Sparrows vying to see who could give us the best looks. At Shell Mound we found American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, American Oystercatchers, and active mixed flocks of shorebirds whose sweeping flights over the tidal flats were exhilarating to watch. Once we moved into Cedar Key itself, things got less interesting; the airfield has now been fenced off, and there was a funeral under way at the cemetery, so we contented ourselves with a walk around the museum grounds – which at least netted us a Common Loon and a Northern Harrier – and then went home.

On the 16th Benjamin Ewing posted a photo of one of the Duck Pond’s Black Swans sitting on a nest. This may not be a good thing. In 1972 a single family group of Black Swans toppled the government of Luxembourg and wreaked havoc on the human populace and the poultry markets until removed by a NATO military strike. Gainesville is smaller than Luxembourg (slightly), so we’d better keep an eye on these birds. Sure, you can shrug it off as a joke, just don’t come running to me when you’re flat on the ground with a webbed foot on your neck, because I warned you.

Debbie Segal writes, “Good news regarding Orange Lake. FWC has decided to not herbicide over 1,500 acres at Orange Lake this fall. Ryan Hamm said they cancelled the fall spraying because they missed their window of opportunity for spraying before the plants started into dormancy. And they missed their window because of the strong opposition regarding ecological concerns. Thank you to all who expressed opposition to FWC.”

Mark your calendars: the Alachua Audubon Christmas Social will be held in the clubhouse of the Mill Pond neighborhood near Gainesville Health and Fitness on December 6th at 6:30 p.m. Map is here. As with all Alachua Audubon functions, everyone is welcome, members and non-members alike.

Only four months till the new edition of the Sibley guide comes out: http://www.amazon.com/Sibley-Guide-Birds-Second-Edition/dp/030795790X

See you at the Millhopper Branch Library on Wednesday night!

Various comings and goings; plus a new owl!

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

Early sparrows seem to be the rule this fall. I previously reported Samuel Ewing’s October 2nd Savannah Sparrow, an early record. On September 28th Matthew Bruce reported a Chipping Sparrow in juvenile plumage from Chapmans Pond. That’s extremely early, but there are five earlier reports (!), the earliest another juvenile bird that Andy Kratter saw on August 31, 2003. As Andy wrote on one of the listservs at the time, “Like many sparrows, juvenile Spizella sparrows have a protracted molt of their underparts, retaining the streaking past their fall migration.” A third sparrow species checked in on the morning of the 6th: Mike Manetz showed me a White-crowned Sparrow foraging under the plum trees near the La Chua trailhead.

Samuel Ewing reported the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at Bolen Bluff on the 5th, “in the patch of sweetgums right where the trail leads into the prairie.”

Jennifer Donsky found a male Painted Bunting at Lake Alice on the 6th, on the southeast side of the boat ramp.

Mike Manetz and I walked La Chua’s Sparrow Alley on the morning of the 6th, looking for the Alder Flycatchers that had been present there since August 27th. We played a taped call in several spots, which had previously been effective in drawing the birds out, but we got no response. The last time an Alder was reported there was September 21st, and the last time one was reported anywhere was September 26th (at Cones Dike). So they’ve continued their migration and are probably in South America by now. Other Empidonax flycatchers are still being seen. Ted and Steven Goodman found two possible Yellow-bellied Flycatchers at San Felasco Hammock’s Creek Sink Trail on the 5th, at the first sinkhole after you leave the Moonshine Creek Trail near the bridge. However the birds were silent, and as Jonathan Mays puts it, “A silent empid is a worthless empid.” One fall day back in the 1990s there were two Empidonax flycatchers with yellow bellies at Bolen Bluff, in the open area where the two trails come together on the Prairie rim. Several of us spent at least half an hour staring at them – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, Barbara Muschlitz, me, a couple other experienced birders – and we agreed that they were powerfully yellow on the underparts and that consequently we were going to add Yellow-bellied Flycatcher to our respective life lists. As we packed up our telescopes one of the birds finally called … and it was an Acadian. Kenn Kaufman points out that fall Acadians “can have a conspicuous yellow wash on the underparts, including the throat” (Field Guide to Advanced Birding). Which is one reason why the flycatcher that Bob Carroll and I saw in Becky Enneis’s back yard this weekend, dull yellow from the throat to the undertail coverts, with an olive wash on the sides of the breast – but absolutely silent – was just an Empidonax flycatcher.

Barbara Shea led Saturday’s field trip, and sent this report: “We had 21 people sign up this morning at the Powers Park meeting place. At Powers we were tripping over the ‘rare and secretive’ Limpkin, sighting four of them. One stood on the railing and watched us watching him from about 10 feet away. At Palm Point, highlights were a late Prothonotary Warbler, at least one person saw a Worm-eating, 7 warblers total. There was  a hard to see but eventually ID’d Scarlet Tanager, seen as we lingered over a intermittently cooperative Yellow Warbler that everybody got to see for once. There was a mystery Accipiter, but the circling Peregine Falcon, just over the tree tops at times, made up for that – and was a good ending bird and a hopeful segue to tomorrow’s trip to the east coast.” But according to trip leader Adam Kent, the trip to the Guana River area was “a little slow migrant-wise but my wife Gina did manage to pick out 2 Peregrines a mile away or more and we saw a bunch of cooperative Black-throated Blue Warblers. Although it was overall slow it’s always a fun place to go birding.”

Two worthwhile talks this week: Mike Manetz will describe “Birding Highlights in Costa Rica” on Thursday evening at the Tower Road Library; and Paul Moler will discuss “Frogs of Florida” on Tuesday evening at Alachua Conservation Trust HQ. But you already knew about these events, didn’t you, because you have your finger on the pulse of Gainesville!

Field trips this weekend: San Felasco on Saturday, Bolen Bluff on Sunday. These could be very good. Details here.

If any of you womenfolk use Lush cosmetics, you may be interested to know that the company’s founder, Mark Constantine, is a major figure in European birding: http://soundapproach.co.uk/news/bath-bombs-birdsong  (From The Sound Approach’s web site: “Since 2000, Mark Constantine, Magnus Robb and Arnoud van den Berg have been building a major new collection of bird sound recordings. Our collection now exceeds 50,000 recordings of more than 1,000 species, with a particular focus on the Western Palaearctic Region, making this one of the largest privately-owned archives of bird sound recordings in the world. The Sound Approach aim to popularise birdsong and raise standards in the use of sounds in bird identification. Subjects of particular interest include ageing and sexing birds by their sounds, and recognising hidden biodiversity, ‘new species’, through bird sounds. Besides those of the three main recordists, The Sound Approach collection has also received major contributions from Dick Forsman and Killian Mullarney.”) Earlier this year one of the recordists from The Sound Approach discovered a new species of owl in Oman: http://soundapproach.co.uk/news/sound-approach-team-discover-new-species-owl-science

An anniversary

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

We are now in what Thoreau rightly called “the royal month of August.”

Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of the greatest birder who ever lived, Ted Parker. If you want to know why he merits that title, here are Kenn Kaufman’s reminiscences of his good friend, written shortly after the plane crash that ended Parker’s life: http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/nab/v047n03/p00349-p00351.pdf  And here’s a more detailed memorial from Ornithological Monographs: http://si-pddr.si.edu/jspui/bitstream/10088/2020/1/Robbins_Remsen_Graves–Parker_memoriam–Ornithological_M.pdf  (If the link doesn’t work, just cut and paste “Robbins_Remsen_Graves–Parker_memoriam” into a search engine.)

The Short-tailed Hawk was still at the Hague Dairy on the 2nd, according to Mike Manetz: “Got it at about 9:30 this morning, soaring low with a few Turkey Vultures and a Mississippi Kite off the northwest corner of the lagoon.”

Geoff Parks saw an American Robin at his place in NE Gainesville on the 29th. There are a handful of midsummer records for Alachua County, but what they signify is anyone’s guess. It’s three months too early for migration. Could such individuals be nesting in the area? A few summers ago I saw a spot-breasted youngster at Lake Hampton, a little north of Waldo.

John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, and I took John’s boat out to Newnans Lake on the 30th and cruised all the way around, parallel to the shore, a little more than twelve miles. We’d hoped to discover Black Terns or Forster’s Terns, but we were disappointed. We couldn’t even relocate the Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and Horned Grebe that John and I had seen on June 25th. We did find a Laughing Gull, a Spotted Sandpiper, 4 Yellow Warblers, 2 Purple Gallinules (adult and juvenile together), 8 Limpkins, and 8 summering American Coots. We also recorded large counts of Anhinga (72), Osprey (44), and Snowy Egret (76).

On the 31st, Mike Manetz walked Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake loop trail: “On the northern, more willow-lined loop I got five Prairie Warblers, but except for Common Yellowthroats and a couple of Northern Parulas, no other warblers. On the more wooded south part of the loop I hit a few little feeding flocks with mostly Northern Parulas, but also one Worm-eating Warbler (my first for the year) and one Black-and-white. No Yellows, American Redstarts, or waterthrushes. Yet. The place looks killer for a little later in the fall.”

Sonia Hernandez, a professor of forestry and natural resources at the University of Georgia, is asking birders to watch out for color-banded White Ibises: “We have a radio-telemetry and banding project with urban white ibises in Palm Beach County. We banded 45 individuals and radio-tagged 12 and my grad students are continuing that work with the goal to get at least 100 birds banded and 30 radio-tagged. We currently have a website where anyone can report a sighting of a banded bird and you can reach it by going to http://www.hernandezlab.uga.edu/ibis.html The site also has some general information about the project and we will be adding more information in the near future.”

Swallows migrate through during August. They can be confusing, so here’s a partly-helpful piece on telling them apart: http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/MTYswallows01.html

The Atlantic’s website includes this description of a visit to the Powdermill Bird Banding Station in Pennsylvania: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/surveilling-the-birds/277650/

We got three and a half inches of rain on the evening of the 31st. That pushed the total July rainfall to 16.61 inches, ten inches more than average and 0.2 inch more than the old Gainesville record set in 1909.

Barn Owl? We got yer Barn Owl right here

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

I hadn’t heard of anyone staking out the US-441 observation platform for Barn Owls this month, so at 7:30 Wednesday evening Ron Robinson and I met there to see what would fly by as the sun went down. There wasn’t much to look at – a couple of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, half a dozen Sandhill Cranes (including a couple of full-grown juveniles), a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a bunch of Red-winged Blackbirds – and as it got darker and darker I was afraid we were going to be skunked. But at 8:50 we spotted a Barn Owl flying around, and at 8:55 a Black-crowned Night-Heron popped up from the willows south of the platform. Both were new June Challenge birds for us.

Ron and Greg Hart and I visited a bunch of birding spots on Tuesday morning. We started at the Newberry cemetery, which I’d never visited before. The Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing as we opened the car door, and within thirty seconds we had it in view. Northern Flicker and White-winged Dove were almost as easy to find. Then we headed east to north Gainesville, where Ron had found a family of Pied-billed Grebes on Monday. He was driving past a retention pond at the intersection of NE 35th Avenue and NE 4th Street (which, despite the “NE,” is actually a block west of Main Street) when he spotted the birds in the water, an adult and eight almost-grown chicks. From there we went all the way to the southeastern end of the county, to see if anything unusual was at River Styx or Lake Lochloosa. We got a Prothonotary Warbler at River Styx and a Bald Eagle at Lochloosa, but nothing else of note. Then it was back to Gainesville, to check Lake Alice for a Belted Kingfisher that Frank and Irina Goodwin had seen there on Sunday. We waited for fifteen minutes, and though we saw a Swallow-tailed Kite we never saw the kingfisher (which doesn’t mean it’s not there). Our last stop was Possum Creek Park, where we found a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in a shady recess of a buttonbush thicket.

Frank Goodwin and I splashed into Gum Root Swamp on Monday morning in search of Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Barred Owl. The vireos, a pair of them, were right there in the parking lot. The Barred Owl was perched over the creek just beyond the first bridge. But to get to the warbler we had to get our feet wet – all the way up to mid-thigh. It turned out to be a really lovely experience. The mosquitoes had been bothering us in the uplands, but when we entered the water we left them behind. The air was cool. And our surroundings were green and beautiful. When we got out to the edge of the lake we found our Prothonotary, who sang unceasingly and came close enough for Frank to get a picture. And there were a couple of surprises. We discovered the hot-pink egg clusters of the exotic Island Apple Snail in Hatchet Creek for the first time ever and, not coincidentally, discovered their chief predator shortly thereafter – a bird that’s becoming fairly common at Newnans Lake because of the snails’ exploding population. And when I idly kicked at a knot on a rotten cypress tree lying on the ground, I uncovered the one and only Rough Earthsnake I’ve seen in my life. Sure, it’s small and nondescript, but it was the most exciting moment of the day for me. I submitted Frank’s photo to the museum’s herpetology department as an “image voucher,” because – and this will give you some idea how uncommonly they’re found – they have only one specimen collected since 1970.

On Tuesday, Becky Enneis found Black-bellied Whisting-Ducks and an American Coot at Home Depot Pond, off Tower Road just south of Newberry Road. And as long as you’re in that neighborhood, don’t forget the Graylag Geese at Red Lobster Pond. And once you’ve seen them, head over to the Duck Pond for the Black Swans. The geese and swans aren’t really countable, but they belong on your June Challenge list. Why? Because, just because. I’ll tell you when you’re older.

Danny Shehee writes, “I was birding around the wetland area at Magnolia Park just beyond the open field. I met a young woman looking for her Quaker Parrot [Monk Parakeet] named Rio, he`s a small parrot. She said he would come if he heard his name called. Her name is Lilia and her number is 352-870-2711. I thought the birding community might just happen to see him.”