Ash-throated Flycatcher at Sparrow Alley

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

On the 14th an Ash-throated Flycatcher was discovered near La Chua. Dalcio Dacol writes, “John Starkey and I saw a Myiarchus sp. this morning at Sparrow Alley (in the pasture just after the powerline where people go around to avoid the large puddle covering the jeep track. Most of the back of the bird was grayish rather than brownish, it had strong rufous edgings to the folded wings, just a light tinge of lemon yelow to the lower parts. The bird had a strong response when I played Ash-throated Flycatcher calls, coming very close to us but remaining silent. There was a lot of bird activity, with about 500 or so flyover Sandhill Cranes, Common Yellowthroats singing, etc. We didn’t see any of the other interesting birds that had been reported (Yellow-breasted Chat, Wilson’s Warbler). There were a few sparrow around but not a whole lot. Among those we found two Song Sparrows.” Dalcio got several photos of the bird, including one that shows the diagnostic undertail pattern: https://www.flickr.com/photos/100282778@N02/sets/72157640984497103

Andy Kratter recorded the season’s first Louisiana Waterthrush on the 14th: “This afternoon on my bike ride home I heard a waterthrush chinking on the bridge on the Gainesville-Hawthorne bike path over Sweetwater Branch just east of SE 4th street, north of Williston Road. It was more liquid and less metallic than typical for Northern. I pished and the bird came in from upstream (north). It had  clear white underparts streaked dark with a unmarked throat. The supercilium was bright white, clearly widening behind the eye. It chinked and pumped its tail, while I tried to record its call notes (audible on my iPhone but pretty distant). It then must have disappeared back upstream.” That’s a new early record by almost two weeks.

Steve Zoellner reports that the Red-breasted Nuthatch is still visiting his place west of Westside Park. If you’d like to see it, let me know and I’ll give you his address.

Mike Manetz saw American Woodcocks flying out over the Tuscawilla Prairie on the evening of the 11th: “I got out there at 6:15. The first Woodcock appeared at 6:42, followed immediately by probably a second, though I never got my bins on in. A third flew out at 6:45. I saw all three flew out going south but then veered a little east before they set down. One veered east and continued well past me as I stood facing south watching it from my right to left.” On the morning of the 14th I checked out the American Woodcock situation at Gum Root Park, where they were reliably found a few winters ago, but though I got to the big field by 6:10 and waited until it was light, I never saw or heard any sign of one. The din from County Road 222 was really appalling, especially at that hour of the morning.

The Alder Flycatcher abides; plus Short-tailed Hawk and a plethora of other sightings (that’s right, a plethora).

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

The Crane gave the wrong dates for the Florida Native Plant Sale at Morningside Nature Center. The sale covers two days, only the second of which is open to the general public: Friday, September 27th, 4:30-6:30 p.m. is exclusively for members of the Florida Native Plant Society and Friends of Nature Parks (BUT! you can join when you get there), while Saturday, September 28th, 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. is open to everyone.

Today’s Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock went well, according to trip leader Steve Hofstetter: “We had a beautiful morning with 28 people coming out and enjoying the park. We did the Moonshine Creek Trail and split up into two groups around the loop. There were lots of vireos (22 White-eyed, 14 Red-eyed, 2 Yellow-throated), Veeries (8), Ovenbirds (11), and Northern Parulas (19), but other than that the diversity of species was low. My group did get a great view of a Chestnut-sided Warbler and the other group heard a Louisiana Waterthrush.” Remember that there’s a field trip to Barr Hammock tomorrow (Sunday the 15th). Michael Drummond will lead.

Jonathan Mays and I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco’s Cellon Creek Loop on the 13th. We found 60 species of birds, including 11 warbler species, but they weren’t our best finds; a pair of Cliff Swallows twice circled past us at low altitude while we were scanning Lee Pond, and as we were watching a couple of Red-tailed Hawks soaring up on a thermal, a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk dived into our field of view and made a couple passes at the Red-taileds. That’s only the second Short-tailed ever recorded at San Felasco. The first was seen by John DeLuca almost exactly six years ago, on September 15, 2007.

On the 12th Lloyd Davis relocated and photographed the Alder Flycatcher that’s been hanging around Sparrow Alley since August 27th.

Samuel Ewing found the season’s first Blackburnian Warbler in his NW Gainesville yard on the 10th. For those of you keeping score at home, I think that’s the 20th warbler species recorded in Alachua County this fall; several others have been reported in the four days since then. Samuel got another seasonal first this morning, when he found a Swainson’s Thrush in his yard: “The thrush landed in a tree and when I put my binocs up I realized it wasn’t a Veery. I’ve been seeing Veeries almost everyday and this wasn’t like one. It had larger, much darker spots on the breast. I also could clearly see the buffy lores. It flew off before I could get a picture. I got excellent looks at Veeries a few minutes later and they were much different. This wasn’t near as reddish either.” And Lloyd Davis got yet another first-of-the-fall when he found three Wilson’s Snipe along the Cones Dike Trail on the 13th.

Adam Kent pointed out four Bobolinks to me at the Levy Lake loop trail this morning. Migrating Bobolinks have been heard since the 4th by birders listening for their distinctive calls passing overhead at night, but I think these were the first to have been seen.

On the 10th I was surprised to find a Great White Heron at Watermelon Pond not far south of the county park.

Also on the 10th, Dave Steadman, Curator of Birds at the museum, wrote, “This morning I saw a female Selasphorus in my yard at close range (10 ft). The bird was gone by the time I grabbed my binocs, but I’m confident to call it a female ‘Rufous/Allen’s.’  If anyone is interested, birders are welcome to stop by [send me an email if you want his address]. The fire bushes in the front yard have been getting lots of attention from a male and female Ruby-throated for many weeks, but today is the only time that I’ve seen a Selasphorus.”

If you’re lucky enough to have a sugarberry tree in your yard, watch for the signs of Asian woolly hackberry aphid. Warblers love them. Ron Robinson has an infested tree in his back yard, and over the last week he’s seen several warbler species feasting on the aphids, including Prairie, Chestnut-sided, and Blackburnian.

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-graders and their “Song of the Whooping Crane” dance merited an article in the Gainesville Sun on September 10th. The dance was created as an entry for the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest. They need your vote in order to win the contest, however. You can vote here.

If you’ve always wanted to spend your days at Archbold Biological Station, living the romantic life of a research assistant and working with Red-cockaded Woodpeckers and Florida Grasshopper Sparrows – and who are you kidding, of course you have – here’s your chance.

More birds than you can shake a stick at, if you were inclined to shake a stick at birds

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

I’m in the process of posting the new Alachua Audubon field trip schedule on line. It’s rather slow going, because I have to create an individual page for each trip, but I like the new web site’s format. If you look at the Classes & Field Trips page, you’ll see the next ten events listed – http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ – with the date, destination (or program location), and meeting time. If you click on the “+” sign associated with a given field trip, you’ll get a description of the trip; and if you then click on “Read more,” you’ll see a map of the meeting location as well as contact information for the trip leader in case you have a question.

However, this is an instance of the reality not quite living up to the ideal, because the map doesn’t invariably agree with the coordinates I enter for it. For instance, the coordinates to the Levy Lake Loop parking area, as provided by Google Earth, take you to a Marion County prison when entered into the web site. Or at least they did before I got a different set of coordinates. And sometimes WordPress (the web site software) simply won’t accept the address. The meeting place for our Barr Hammock field trip is the Valero gas station at 101 NW Highway 441, Micanopy, FL 32667, but no matter how many times I try to enter it, WordPress deletes the street address and reduces it to “U.S. 441, Micanopy, 32667, USA,” and places the marker about a mile and a half south of the Valero station. WordPress gets it right more often than wrong, but … please use the written directions to the meeting place. Here’s an example of what it looks like when everything works properly: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/ai1ec_event/road-to-nowhere-hagens-cove/?instance_id=127 (Well, everything works right on our site. The link to Hagens Cove misspells Steinhatchee twice.)

If you’ve got Labor Day off, you might want to spend part of it birding. The migrants are moving through in big numbers, and San Felasco Hammock sounds like the place to be. More on that presently.

On the 27th, responding to Mike Manetz’s report of two Alder Flycatchers at the La Chua Trail, Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions visited La Chua and found three Alder Flycatchers. Two were where Mike had seen them, along Sparrow Alley near the barn, and the third was along Sweetwater Dike. Adam made a short video in which a hidden Alder can be heard calling repeatedly. Dalcio Dacol relocated the Sweetwater Dike bird on the 30th, just where La Chua meets Sweetwater, and on the 1st John Martin relocated and photographed the two birds at Sparrow Alley. At least these are presumed to be the same birds discovered on the 27th; neither Dalcio nor John heard them calling.

On the 28th, Bob Simons, Dotty Robbins, and Jim Swarr went looking for the Alders along Sparrow Alley and saw a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk, no doubt the same one spotted there by Glenn Israel on the 24th.

(If you decide to look for the Alders and/or the Short-tailed, and then to walk the rest of the way out La Chua, be aware that the approach to the observation tower is under a few inches of water. Thanks to Jonathan Mays for the photo.)

On the 29th Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg found the fall’s first Golden-winged Warbler along Lakeshore Drive near Palm Point.

There was a big influx of migrants on the 31st. Jonathan and Ellen Mays found the season’s first Chestnut-sided Warbler along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, then went home and found an extraordinarily early Scarlet Tanager. Mike Manetz went to San Felasco’s Progress Park entrance (off US-441 near Alachua) and tallied twelve warbler species – the best of which were 5 Ovenbirds, a Blue-winged, and a Kentucky – and then picked a Bank Swallow out of a flock of Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts.

The next day, Jonathan and Ellen Mays and Adam Zions walked San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails (i.e., the whole system south of Millhopper Road), and they also tallied twelve warbler species, including 12 Ovenbirds, 3 Worm-eating Warblers, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Chestnut-sided, a Kentucky, and not one but two Golden-wingeds, a male and a female.

I looked at the 12 warbler species seen by Mike and the 12 seen by Jonathan, Ellen, and Adam, and it looks like there are a total of seventeen species of warblers fluttering around out there. So grab your binoculars! Go get ‘em! Besides, it’s time for the first Veery to show up, and someone needs to find the first one, it might as well be you, right?

Swallow-tailed and (especially) Mississippi Kites are still being reported. Greg Stephens had one Swallow-tailed and three Mississippis circling over his Jonesville yard simultaneously on the 31st. Please keep those reports coming!

Second-grade students taught by local birder Sharon Kuchinski are finalists in the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest, and they need your votes in order to win. You can see their entry, and cast your vote, here: http://www.expressionsacademy.org/about/spotlight-items/213-sense-of-wonder-contest

Migrant shorebirds at the Hague Dairy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birds you can’t see

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

The biggest birding news this week is also the most frustrating. Since the 5th a Buff-bellied Hummingbird has been coming to a feeder south of Williston (in Levy County), but the homeowner hasn’t yet responded to requests to allow the birding public in to see it. She may refuse, or she may delay long enough that the bird leaves for its nesting grounds in Texas and Mexico. This is at least the second record for Levy County; one was in Cedar Key on 23-24 October 2000. Here’s a photo.

Pat Burns got a photo of a locally-rare Willet in the pond beside the Lowe’s in Alachua on the 5th. Willets are normally saltwater birds, and it’s pretty unusual to find one inland. Alas, when Mike Manetz went looking for it on the 6th, the bird had flown.

The Groove-billed Ani was seen again on the 6th by Larry Gridley, a birder from Albany, Georgia: “I got to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park at 0800. I found it at 0935 in the blackberry thicket were it has been reported before. I stumbled up on it as it was sunning itself in a blackberry thicket on the edge of the trail. You can see his wings flared a little and neck feathers ruffled. After about 30 minutes  warming up it flew to a small tree then to some more blackberry thickets where it was chasing bugs.” Larry posted some photos of the ani here. He also saw two Yellow-breasted Chats in the same location. The ani was seen again on the 7th by Tallahassee birder Robert Bowman.

Cedar Key has been pretty lively over the past week or so. On the 6th John Hintermister saw a Scarlet Tanager, a Cape May Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler, seven Prothonotary Warblers, six Prairies, four Hoodeds, an American Redstart, a Louisiana Waterthrush, and seven (!) Red-breasted Nuthatches. On the 1st the Ewings found a Swainson’s Warbler at the museum, and on the 6th Pat Burns found two more at an undisclosed location.

John Killian found the spring’s first Worm-eating Warbler along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco on April 2nd, by one day the earliest ever recorded in the county. Felicia Lee, Barbara Shea, and Elizabeth Martin found another along Bolen Bluff on the 7th. Prairie Warblers and American Redstarts are being reported almost daily.

The first Hooded Warblers of the spring were reported by Caleb Gordon at Loblolly Woods on the 26th and by Ryan Butryn at the FWC Wildlife Lab (near the intersection of 441 and Williston Road) on the 27th. Several have been seen since then.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows usually show up during the second week in March. This year they were late, or we noticed them late: Lloyd Davis found the first of the spring at Cellon Creek Boulevard on the 22nd. Conrad Burkholder had a lovely experience in the same spot on the 30th: “The Northern Rough-winged Swallows were numerous, with about a dozen birds flying around some large parked truck trailers, very low to the ground. I stood still while the swallows swirled in the air around me. They were flying very acrobatically and low to the ground, about 2 to 10 feet. I observed some of the swallows going in and out of the underside of one of the trailers. I also observed them picking up what appeared to be nesting material. I believe they may be nesting in the underside of the trailers.”

Laughing Gulls are mostly a warm-weather phenomenon in Alachua County. This has always mystified me. Why would they come inland during spring and summer, when they should be staying close to their nests on the coast? Anyway, the first of the spring were seen on the 1st, when Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw one flying over their neighborhood near Watermelon Pond and Andy Kratter saw three going over Pine Grove Cemetery.

There were three separate sightings of Mississippi Kites on March 29th, but there have been none reported to me (or to eBird) since then. Swallow-tailed Kites seem to be here in pretty good numbers, relatively speaking, and I’m told by a researcher that a pair is nesting within the Gainesville city limits.

There are plenty of winter birds still around. A few highlights: While doing a loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 7th, Andy Kratter saw an Eastern Phoebe, the latest ever recorded in Alachua County. Andy’s sighting broke a record that had stood since Frank Chapman saw one on April 4, 1887 – a span of 126 years! Mike Manetz heard a Whip-poor-will singing in his NW Gainesville neighborhood on the 1st. That’s not a record, but it’s pretty late nonetheless. Ryan Butryn saw a Wilson’s Warbler at the FWC Wildlife Lab on the 27th.

Birder and poet Sidney Wade invites the local birding community to join her as she reads from her sixth book of poetry, Straits & Narrows, at the downtown library on Thursday, April 11th, at 7:30 p.m. She assures me, “There will be bird poems.”

Mike Manetz writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at http://birdsandconservation.weebly.com/  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.