Field trip update, still more migrants

From: Rex Rowan <>
To: Alachua County birding report

Saturday’s wildflower field trip will be proceeding without its long-time leader, Dana Griffin. Dana has developed some back problems that are going to keep him off his feet for a while. He has our heartfelt wishes for a full recovery, and hopefully he’ll be back with us in the future. Meanwhile we’ll meet in the Winn-Dixie parking lot at the intersection of SW 34th Street and SW 20th Avenue at 8 a.m. and proceed to Goldhead Branch State Park (entrance fee $5 per vehicle, $4 single-passenger vehicle) on SR-21 north of Keystone Heights, where we’ll look at the native plants and wildflowers of several habitats, including sandhill, scrub, slope forest, lake edge, and seepage slope. Reportedly the state-champion longleaf pine is in the park, and if we can find it we’ll make a point of standing around and admiring it. Please join us on Saturday morning.

Nearly all the locally-nesting neotropical migrants are here now. The first Prothonotary Warbler of the spring was sighted by Sam and Ben Ewing at the Hogtown Creek Greenway on March 28th, the first Orchard Oriole of the spring by Lloyd Davis and Howard Adams at La Chua on April 2nd, the first Yellow-billed Cuckoo at San Felasco Hammock by Sidney Wade, Howard Adams, and Brad Hall on the 5th, and the first Blue Grosbeak by Howard at Chapmans Pond on the 6th (Howard is out there kicking some birdie butt!). The only spring arrivals that haven’t yet been reported are Eastern Wood-Pewee, which can go undetected because of its rarity in Alachua County, and Acadian Flycatcher.

So now it’s time to start watching for the transients, the birds that are just passing through on their way north. Some have been seen already, of course. Prairie Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes have been moving through since mid-March, and in fact the Louisiana Waterthrush migration seems to be over, with no observations since March 28th. Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg saw a very early Cape May Warbler at Palm Point on April 2nd – they’re most likely during the last week of April – and I saw an American Redstart at the south edge of the Tuscawilla Prairie on the 4th. We have Indigo Buntings that nest here, of course, but northbound birds may show up at feeders this month, often in fairly respectable numbers. Watch for Painted Buntings among them.

Transient shorebirds are visiting as well. On the afternoon of the 5th I made a brief Sneaky Sunday visit to the sheetflow restoration area. My scope is in the shop, which made shorebirding a little more of a challenge,  but I saw 2 Pectoral Sandpipers, at least 1 Stilt Sandpiper (up to 5 have been seen there), 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 6 or 8 Black-necked Stilts, and several dowitchers, presumably all Long-billed, many of them molting into rich reddish-brown breeding plumage.

Also on the 5th, and also at the sheetflow restoration area, Adam Zions got a photo of a White-faced Ibis, which also seems to be molting into breeding plumage:

Lloyd Davis points out that a much more accessible shorebirding area is developing at San Felasco’s Progress Center, where Lee Pond is drying up (as it regularly does). On the 6th he found a Stilt Sandpiper there:

Lloyd also got a couple of interesting photos in his own back yard. He’s had a Tufted Titmouse visiting his feeder all winter that has some white wing feathers, patches of white on its head and body, and a bill that’s pink instead of black. Two of Lloyd’s pictures of the bird are here and here.

Last weekend, while traveling up to Georgia in the course of his Spotted Turtle research, Jonathan Mays stopped to investigate a cypress floodplain and found a young Eastern Mud Snake. This extraordinary photo shows just how un-mud-like a Mud Snake can be:

Jessica Burnett writes, “Neighborhood Nestwatch is a citizen science program founded by the Smithsonian Institution. The main goals of the program are to determine how backyard bird populations are affected by urbanization and to educate the public about wildlife and the scientific process. We are seeking participants in the Gainesville area (no more than 60 miles from downtown) who are interested in learning first-hand about the common birds found in their backyard and contributing to a multi-city study on the effects of urbanization on resident birds. On an annual basis, scientists will conduct a backyard bird-banding visit with the help of participants. Participants and their families/children will report sightings of banded birds to the Smithsonian, will monitor nests on their property, and will assist researchers during the site visit with mist-netting and nest searching. If you would like to participate, please email our team at All levels of bird watchers and enthusiasts are welcome. We will be available any day of the week beginning in late April, until July 4th. Email us now to secure a spot!”

Cave Swallow, shorebirds at Sheetflow Restoration Area

From: Rex Rowan <>
To: Alachua County birding report

There’s still a lot of daylight left, so it might be worth your while to run over to the sheetflow restoration area while it’s still Sneaky Sunday.

Mike Manetz had five species of swallows there this morning – Purple Martin, Tree Swallow (15), Barn Swallow (100), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (8), Cliff Swallow (2), and his county-life Cave Swallow (1)! He documented the latter two with photos:


Cave (in the back, a little blurry but the contrast of the Cave’s orange-buff throat with the brick-red throat of the Cliff Swallow in the foreground is easy to see):

Mike also reported nine shorebird species, including 15 Long-billed Dowitchers, 8 Black-necked Stilts, a Spotted Sandpiper, 4 Stilt Sandpipers, and 4 Pectoral Sandpipers.

Looniness, a profusion of siskins, and more spring arrivals

From: Rex Rowan <>
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: 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

If you’re interested in going to Cuba this September and participating in a photo contest, have I got the link for you!

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

From: Rex Rowan <>
To: Alachua County birding report

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

The Lark Sparrow at the Hague Dairy was sighted on the 15th by Bryan Tarbox. Jonathan Mays got a photo on the 7th:

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

The Rusty Blackbirds of Magnolia Parke are still there as well. Brook Rohman saw 30 on the 14th, and Trina Anderson got a photo on the 6th:

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

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

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

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

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

Spring is already here for some birds. Deena Mickelson got this photo of a Mourning Dove sitting on eggs on the UF campus on the 1st:

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

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

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

From: Rex Rowan <>
To: Alachua County birding report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to know the names of a few common spring wildflowers? Well here you go:

Yellow-headed Blackbird, possible White-faced Ibis

Cole Fredericks, visiting from Polk County, found a possible White-faced Ibis on the 28th: “On the way out of town I noticed Post Office Pond was drawn way down and there were ibis and yellowlegs feeding. I stopped and scoped through the Glossies and found a bird that stood out to me. I am not 100% confident because of the lighting and wind. I took a horrible pic that seems to show a red eye and no facial markings. I noticed the bird because of its overall more olive sheen and the color of its head and neck. Next I noticed the very blank looking face and then while scoping I noticed some red in the legs and got a subtle red from the eyes. I can’t say the facial skin in front of the eye was pink though.” I checked PO Pond after I got the message this evening, but all the Glossies were gone. I’ll check again on Monday.

As Cole noted, Post Office Pond is almost dry. Nonetheless Helen Warren spotted a family of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, including a dozen recently-hatched chicks, paddling around in the shallows on the 27th and 28th. Black-bellieds nest in late summer and early fall, but late October is surprising even for them. Shorebirds are congregating on the mud at PO Pond as well: dowitchers (probably Long-billed), Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and on the 28th one late Pectoral Sandpiper.

On the 24th John Hintermister met Mike Manetz at the Hague Dairy to look for the Bronzed Cowbird that Mike found there on the 22nd. By the time Mike had gone into the office, signed in, and returned, John had TWO Bronzed Cowbirds in view. Jonathan Mays went by later in the day and got them both in one frame:  At least one was still there on the 28th, according to Cole Fredericks.

John Martin also visited the dairy on the 28th. He missed the Bronzed Cowbird, but his consolation prize was a life bird, a female Yellow-headed Blackbird. He saw a trio of American Avocets as well, and was able to get a video as they repeatedly circled the lagoon: 

Clay-colored Sparrows seem to be ridiculously common this fall. At least four have been recorded in Alachua County: one at Mary Lou Schubert’s feeder in NW Gainesville on August 28th, one in Geoff Parks’s NE Gainesville back yard on October 13th, one that John Hintermister and Mike Manetz found at the “twin ponds” south of the dairy driveway on October 24th, and one that’s been hanging out near the La Chua observation platform since October 12th and which was still there on the 27th. Jonathan Mays got a nice shot of it on the 26th:

Hurricane Sandy was evidently too far away to bring us any good birds. Several of us showed up at Palm Point on the morning of the 27th to look for storm-blown coastal strays, but we saw nothing more unusual than a mixed flock of Barn and Tree Swallows (with a late-record Northern Rough-winged thrown in for good measure). We saw no gulls or terns. However John Martin arrived not long after we left, and in the two hours he spent there he saw a trio of Herring Gulls, two Redheads, and 30 scaup. Tom Camarata, Howard Kochman, and I saw eight Ring-necked Ducks, the season’s first, from Powers Park on the 28th, and on the same day John Killian saw the fall’s first Ruddy Duck along the La Chua Trail.

John hasn’t seen the Red-breasted Nuthatches that were visiting his feeder since the 26th. Red-breasteds are still being seen around the northern half of the state, though, so keep your eyes open.

This morning’s field trip to Camps Canal and Cones Dike was entirely uneventful (unless you have a keen interest in Palm Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers), but next weekend we’re going to the Hague Dairy, and you’ve just gotten finished reading about all the excitement going on there. It may be a good one. Field trip calendar:

Have you bought your Alachua Audubon Christmas tree yet? Well for goodness’ sake why not? Do you think the stork brings them or something? See page 4 of the newsletter: