Looniness, a profusion of siskins, and more spring arrivals

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

I can tell it’s spring because I found three ticks crawling on me after a “Sneaky Sunday” visit to the sheetflow restoration area this morning. I mentioned this to Mike Manetz as we were leaving. “You’re a tick magnet,” he said.

Mike and I discovered that most of the ducks at the sheetflow restoration area have gone north. When I was last there, in January, I counted 18 species of ducks. This morning we saw only two, Blue-winged Teal and Black-bellied Whistling Duck. However there were a few spring arrivals: two Black-necked Stilts, a Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and, running a little early, the spring’s first Least Bitterns, three of them. The most interesting sightings otherwise included half a dozen Limpkins, 19 Long-billed Dowitchers, and a White-faced Ibis.

Pine Siskins began to show up at feeders all over Alachua County about the middle of the month. If you’ve got American Goldfinches at your place, look for a streaky bird among them with an extra-pointy bill and yellow in the wings, like this one that Sam Ewing photographed in his NW Gainesville yard on the 13th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16617935550/ Ron Robinson tells me that he presently has 10 to 15 siskins visiting his feeders. They can be very common some winters. Jack Connor wrote in The Crane for February 1978, “So far, 1978 has been The Year of the Pine Siskin. The little finch, which hadn’t been seen in the county since the winter of 1974-75, has been building in numbers all winter. On the Christmas Count there were eleven; by New Year’s every goldfinch flock seemed to have at least one or two siskins in its midst; by mid-January many mixed flocks were mostly siskins and groups of 20, 30, and even 50 siskins were being counted. Some kind of climax may have been reached the other day when a local birder received a call from a woman who wanted to know how to get rid of Pine Siskins – they were taking over her feeder.” That year the siskins remained well into spring, with the last being seen on May 10th. The county’s late record is June 8th.

Great Crested Flycatchers seem to be at least ten days earlier than usual this spring. Andy Kratter heard one on the 17th and Bryan Tarbox another on the 18th, and Austin Gregg saw one on the 20th, all on the UF campus. Mike Manetz had one in his yard on the 21st.

The loon migration finally got underway on the 18th. Andy Kratter had seen one loon flying over on the 9th, but nothing in the days that followed. On the 18th, however, he saw a single at 9:10, another at 9:15, and then a flock of 15 at 9:30. This is a great instance of what the Brits call “vismig,” the visible migration of birds. Did I write about this on my Gainesville Sun blog? Why yes, yes I did. Remember that Andy will give an informative talk on loon migration at 6:30 in the evening of Monday the 23rd at the Millhopper Branch Library. He’s been watching the cross-Florida loon migration for twelve years now, so it ought to be a particularly interesting program.

Speaking of loons, if you read my *other* blog post (ahem), you know that Mike Manetz and I went looking for the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe, but found no evidence that it had returned for a third winter.

Jacqui Sulek of Audubon of Florida writes, “Scrub-Jay Watch training will take place on May 30th down in Marion County … just 30 (or so) minutes away from you all. We have had other volunteers from Gainesville but surprisingly little participation from Alachua Audubon. Training is half a day and takes place in the field. Surveys take place approximately June 15-July 15 for those who want to participate. Folks who want to participate should contact me at jsulek@audubon.org

If you’re interested in going to Cuba this September and participating in a photo contest, have I got the link for you! https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4E7iNkfaDyUVElibkUxcDJqVWNXR3FiMjVPbVdEZ20xLXdz/view?usp=sharing

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.

New birds for a new year, and a backward glance

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

Hummingbird bander Fred Bassett will be visiting the Gainesville area next weekend. If you’ve got hummingbirds visiting your yard right now, if you’d like them banded, and if they’re coming regularly to a feeder, email me your name, your street address, and the number of hummers you’re seeing, and I’ll forward the information to Fred. Here’s a video of Fred’s mentor, the late Bob Sargent, describing his amazement at what he’s learned from hummingbird banding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfHtBTUZatI And here’s Fred (from 1:00 to 2:33) and Bob banding hummers in Mississippi in 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v36GcpHsbw

On January 3rd Matt O’Sullivan and I took a stroll down NW 65th Avenue (east of 71st Street, off Millhopper Road) in hopes of seeing a Dark-eyed Junco reported by Jim Cox. No sign of the junco, or of the Chipping Sparrows that Jim found it associating with. But Matt and I did flush a Fox Sparrow – appropriately enough, from property owned by the Fox family: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/15566106073/ Mike Manetz and I attempted to see both birds this morning, but ended up finding neither.

The adult male Bullock’s Oriole that spent the last two winters in Ted, Danusia, and Steven Goodman’s NW Gainesville neighborhood is back again, and Sam Ewing photographed it on the 3rd: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16000040167/

Alachua Audubon sponsored a field trip to the Sweetwater Sheetflow Restoration Area on New Year’s Day. Lots of birds were seen by lots of birders. Highlights included a Great White Heron visiting from South Florida, two or three Roseate Spoonbills ditto (John Martin photo here), two White-faced Ibises, Limpkins, a Merlin, and ten species of waterfowl, notably a Canvasback (John Martin photo here) and a large number of Gadwalls.

Rusty Blackbirds are wintering in the wetland at Magnolia Parke again, and Kathy Malone was able to photograph one on December 30th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kmalone98/15965214167/

Roy Herrera set up a bonfire at his place north of LaCrosse on New Year’s Eve, and spotted an uninvited but very welcome guest, an Eastern Screech-Owl, in a tree overhead. He got a beautiful picture of this fairly common but seldom-seen bird: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16174980815/

A quick look back at 2014 before we push on into the New Year:

Adam Zions produced his annual list of candidates for Alachua County’s Bird of the Year, shown here in taxonomic order:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Ross’s Goose
Black Scoter
Pacific Loon
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Alder Flycatcher
Gray Kingbird
Cave Swallow
Bullock’s Oriole

He asked me which of these, in my opinion, had been the most interesting bird of 2014. I thought it was probably a tie between the Calliope Hummingbird at Jack and Mary Lynch’s High Springs home from January 3rd to March 4th and the Bullock’s Oriole at the Goodmans’ house from January 4th to March 19th, with the oriole having a slight edge since it was the first documented sighting in the county. Both attracted scads of out-of-town birders. Adam pretty much agreed, writing, “I would have no qualms with a tie between those two. I think the Black-chinned and Buff-breasted would come in at 3 and 4 (no particular order), and then move on from there. How awesome were the rarities/aberrants this year, that Pacific Loon and Black Scoter get pushed down a few pegs? With no drought creating favorable conditions for shorebirds and no tropical storms/hurricanes pushing pelagics inland, I think the county had a damn fine showing this past year.”

The task of compiling and ranking individual county and state year-lists for 2014 has been rendered ridiculously easy by eBird. Whether you’re intentionally competing or not, your totals are tallied and ranked at national, state, and county levels. Here are the largest Alachua County lists – birds seen in Alachua County – amassed by Alachua County eBirders :

Rex Rowan 238
Mike Manetz 231 (Mike also ended up with a third-place 244 species in Charlotte County, where he spent much of the year on family business)
Matt O’Sullivan 231
Lloyd Davis 226
Adam Zions 225
John Hintermister 219
Sam Ewing 215
Adam Kent 210
Barbara Shea 210
Benjamin Ewing 205
Dean Ewing 199
Andrew Kratter 198
Jonathan Mays 196
Debbie Segal 196
John Martin 192
Felicia Lee 192

And here are the largest Florida year-lists – including birds seen anywhere in Florida – compiled by Alachua County’s birders:

Adam Zions 306
Lloyd Davis 300
John Hintermister 294
Mike Manetz 282
Jonathan Mays 279
Adam Kent 278
Debbie Segal 278
Rex Rowan 276
Matt O’Sullivan 269
Barbara Shea 267
Andy Kratter 257
Gina Kent 255
Sam Ewing 249
Chris Burney 244
Benjamin Ewing 241

So much for 2014. And now a new year’s birding is underway. It’s fun to watch everyone dash out of the starting gate on January 1st, trying to see, as quickly as possible, the birds that may not stick around. Get that Canvasback! It could leave any day! And there’s no guarantee of another Canvasback before the end of the year! As of the 3rd, Adam Zions is leading the pack with 107 species, followed by Andy Kratter with 91 and Howard Adams with 87. Good luck to one and all. But don’t fret about the numbers, or the competitive aspect. Just have fun. Remember Kenn Kaufman’s words of wisdom: “Birding is something that we do for enjoyment, so if you enjoy it, you are already a good birder. If you enjoy it a lot, you’re a great birder.” Here’s hoping that a lot of good birders turn into great birders in 2015!

Remember to let me know if you’ve got any hummingbirds coming to your feeders.

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:


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!