Field trip update, still more migrants

From: Rex Rowan <rexrowan@gmail.com>
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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/17050072765/

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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16892280789/

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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/16891449969/

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 gainesvillenestwatch@gmail.com. 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!”

More spring migrants

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

Sorry about two posts in one day, but I wanted to get the Cave Swallow news out. There are lots of birders in Gainesville who don’t have Cave Swallow on their Alachua County life lists – though there are fewer of them today than there were yesterday.

This morning’s Ocala National Forest field trip was fairly successful. The sky was clear, the temperature warmed up nicely, and the landscape was beautiful, open, rolling pine savannah. We had close, but mostly brief, looks at Florida Scrub-Jays in two locations, extended close looks at Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, and scope views of a singing Bachman’s Sparrow. Otherwise I’m not sure we saw even ten species of birds. Pine woods are weird like that.

Lloyd Davis photographed a Caspian Tern at Alachua Lake on the 25th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16946186766/in/photostream/  There have been about 30 sightings in Alachua County history, none before 1975.

On the 26th, also at Alachua Lake, Lloyd spotted a flock of 20 American Wigeons – likely migrants on their way north – and photographed four of them: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16970808982/

Lots of resident species have checked in during the last couple of weeks. I’ll give the details of the first report, but in most cases there have been several subsequent sightings: Christine Zamora saw an Indigo Bunting at Paynes Prairie on the 14th; Samuel Ewing saw a Red-eyed Vireo in NW Gainesville on the 20th; Pat Burns found a Hooded Warbler at San Felasco on the 22nd; Dalcio Dacol saw the first Mississippi Kites, two of them, in NW Gainesville on the 22nd; Cindy Boyd saw ten Chimney Swifts at Creekside Mall just after sunset on the 25th at about the same time that Sam Ewing was watching 19 passing over NW Gainesville; Ron Robinson and Chip Deutsch saw an Eastern Kingbird over Jonesville Park on the 28th; and Ron saw a Broad-winged Hawk over his place west of Gainesville on the 29th.

As to transients, the first Louisiana Waterthrush was seen by John Martin at San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek Trail on the 14th and there have been at least five reported since; Matt Bruce saw a Prairie Warbler at La Chua on the 15th and at least ten have been reported since; and Lloyd Davis found one Solitary Sandpiper at San Felasco’s Progress Center on the 25th and another at La Chua on the 27th.

Are you doing loon watches in the morning? If not, you’re missing out. Emily Schwartz counted 78 going over NW Gainesville between 9:10 and 9:37 on the 24th. The rain kept the birds down on Thursday and Friday, but after the front passed it was all systems go. On Saturday morning I saw 103 going over my yard in NE Gainesville (including a single flock of 35!) while Andy counted 88 going over his place in SE Gainesville and Ron Robinson and Chip Deutsch counted 29 going over Jonesville Park.

My blogging career at the Gainesville Sun – did I mention that? I’m sure I did: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/ – is not setting the world on fire. Last week I wrote a short appreciation of a common lawn weed called Florida Hedgenettle or Florida Betony, ending with this: “We don’t usually look at little things, but when we do, we’re often startled to find them beautiful. Nature does some of its best work in miniature.” A few days later I got my very first email in response to a blog post! I was so excited! Probably someone writing to thank me for my graceful prose, or at least to share their enthusiasm about nature! I opened the email: “Mr. Rowen, How can you kill Florida Hedgenettle when it is growing among shrubs or plants? Thanks for any advice.”

Did you hear about this? This was great: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/man-saves-black-bear-from-drowning/

Increasingly, I need one of these when I go out birding: http://www.wired.com/2015/03/exoskeleton-acts-like-wearable-chair/

A surprise at Tuscawilla Prairie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looks like a fall migration to me

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

Rufous Hummingbirds have already returned to two local feeders. Both are adult males. One that’s been visiting Mike Manetz’s yard since the 11th is wearing a little silver bracelet, so it’s probably the same bird that Fred Bassett banded there in January; Mike got a photo. Just across the Gilchrist County line, one has been coming to Jim Allison’s feeder since the 12th. Both of these beat the county’s previous early arrival date by about two weeks; that was an adult male that Greg Hart saw at his place in Alachua on August 25, 2003.

Mike Manetz, Bob Carroll, and I checked for shorebirds at Hague Dairy on July 17th. There was plenty of water, but the vegetation was too high for shorebirds; they prefer the unobstructed view provided by mud flats and other vegetation-free landscapes. In the four weeks since then, all the vegetation has been mowed down, and when the Ewings (father Dean, sons Caleb, Benjamin, and Samuel) visited on the 14th they found seven shorebird species: “5 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 9 Least Sandpipers, 5 Pectorals, 3 Solitaries, 1 Spotted, and best of all 6 Stilt Sandpipers!” Samuel got a photo of all six Stilts: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14730385127/ All were in the same spot as last year, the northwest corner of the lagoon. A Laughing Gull was out there as well. Remember that a Short-billed Dowitcher and a Wilson’s Phalarope were recorded there last August, so it would be worthwhile to check back frequently.

Samuel has been watching the sky from his NW Gainesville neighborhood, and it paid off on the 15th with a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and a Cliff Swallow, our first fall migrants of both species.

Mike Manetz and I found nine warbler species at San Felasco Hammock on the 14th as we walked the Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails, including one Worm-eating, single Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes, 3 Black-and-whites, 2 Prothonotaries, 2 Kentuckies, 7 Hoodeds, 3 American Redstarts, and 10 Northern Parulas.

John Killian sneaked out to the sheet flow restoration area on the 12th in hopes of seeing the Buff-breasted Sandpiper that Matt O’Sullivan and I found on the 10th, but it had moved on. He writes, “I did see a Roseate Spoonbill, half a dozen each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, 3 Pectoral Sandpipers, 9 Black Terns, and a Laughing Gull. There must be about 100 Black-bellied Whistling ducks out there as well.”

Speaking of Black Terns, I saw a flock of 14 at Newnans Lake during the stormy weather on the evening of the 14th.

Bob Carroll went to Arizona in late July. He’s telling the story on his blog. In order:

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/birding-in-arizona-and-new-mexico.html

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/part-2-silver-city-nm-and-road-to-portal.html

I expect another installment any day now.

Don’t forget to keep up the pressure on the County Commission in regards to Barr Hammock. Email the Commission at bocc@alachuacounty.us and urge them to keep the loop open.

There’s an election coming up on the 26th. I don’t know whether Lee Pinkoson or Harvey Ward is the better candidate overall, but I can tell you that Ward has declared himself to be against both the Plum Creek project and the Barr Hammock trail closure, while Pinkoson has not.

Migrant warblers and shorebirds

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

Matt O’Sullivan was away in his native England for a couple of weeks, but when he got back into town he wasted no time in finding some good birds. At Bolen Bluff on the 5th he saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, 2 migrant Prothonotary Warblers, and the fall’s first Worm-eating Warbler. Returning two days later he relocated the Worm-eating and one of the Prothonotaries, but also spotted a Short-tailed Hawk (photo here). He commented, “I think the hawk wasn’t an adult. It appeared densely mottled with streaks that blended together on the underside. I don’t know if that suggests local breeding or if it’s a wandering juvenile or subadult.” Dalcio Dacol and Craig Walters walked Bolen Bluff on the 9th and found most of the warblers reported by Matt, plus a few more: Worm-eating, Prothonotary, Black-and-white, Yellow, and the fall’s first Ovenbird.

Dalcio had found the season’s second Kentucky Warbler while walking San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek Trail (south of Millhopper Road) on the 5th. Deena Mickelson saw his report and went looking for it on the 6th. She found it “exactly where Dalcio had reported it, at the beginning of the Moonshine Creek Trail, right after I’d gone downhill, but just before the first bridge was in view” (photo here). She also saw 3 Black-and-white Warblers.

Debbie Segal saw a nice mix of sandpipers at Paynes Prairie on the 7th: 3 Spotted, 5 Solitary, 2 Least, 2 Semipalmated, a Pectoral, and a Lesser Yellowlegs. She also saw a single Laughing Gull and a trio of Yellow Warblers.

Swallow migration gets underway in August. Adam Kent reported a Purple Martin and 5 Barn Swallows over his SE Gainesville home on the 9th, but small numbers of southbound Barn Swallows have been reported by several other birders over the past two weeks. Usually the largest numbers of Barn Swallows pass through during the last week of the month; that’s also your best chance of seeing Bank and Cliff Swallows.

Take a minute to watch any Swallow-tailed or Mississippi Kites you see. Their numbers are starting to dwindle as they begin their migration, and we won’t see them again until next spring.

If you’re over 50, you might as well turn in your binoculars: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140805-aging-birders-breeding-bird-survey-volunteers-science/ (“Some surveys—such as the BBS—require volunteers to record information on all the birds they can detect in a brief three-minute window, which might be challenging for some older people if they have a lot of information coming at them rapidly, Farmer said.”) Um, sorry? What? There were an awful lot of words in that sentence…

Wow, everybody’s going to Cuba! In addition to Halifax River Audubon Society, which I mentioned in the last email, Joni Ellis notified me that she’s got two slots still open on a Cuba trip: “Cost will be ~ $3,000 including airfare from Tampa, visa, health insurance, all lodging, meals and transportation. Just bring beer money!” (Itinerary and details here.) And Rob Norton, who has compiled the West Indies seasonal report for American Birds/North American Birds for thirty years or so, writes, “The Ocean Society and Holbrook Travel will be sponsoring Christmas Bird Counts (4) in Cuba this season. I have worked with local ornithologists and guides to establish these areas as an historic opportunity to participate in that country’s official CBCs. Dates are Dec 13-22, details at holbrook.travel/tofcuba.”

Oh. THAT migration.

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

Thoreau called it “the royal month of August,” and he was right. The stupendous clouds, the heat, the lushness of the greenery – and of course the birds. June and July begin migration with a trickle, but August opens up the floodgates. Shorebirds peak this month, and warblers, swallows, flycatchers, and other passerines will be on the move.

Speaking of warblers, Frank and Irina Goodwin saw two Yellow Warblers at La Chua on the 30th, the very day I sent out the last birding report – in which I complained that no one had seen any Yellow Warblers. On the 31st, John Hintermister found a very early Kentucky Warbler along the nature trail at Poe Springs Park, while Samuel Ewing had a Louisiana Waterthrush at Loblolly. And today Barbara Woodmansee hosted an American Redstart in the backyard water feature that she and her husband had just finished building; that’s only the second of the fall. Four days, four migrant warblers. That’s more like it.

On June 21st, the summer solstice, we enjoyed 14 hours and 3 minutes of daylight. Today we’ll have 30 minutes less. Birds are still singing, but only occasionally. I still hear Northern Cardinals every day, but Great Crested Flycatchers, Brown Thrashers, and Carolina Chickadees, though still around, aren’t singing much.

I watched a very enjoyable online documentary this morning called “Counting on Birds,” in which the host goes along on Christmas Bird Counts in New Hampshire, Maine, and Ecuador, as well as the “Cuba Bird Survey.” I most enjoyed the the first twenty minutes, which take place in New Hampshire. The host does get the history of the Christmas Bird Count a little bit wrong. It didn’t “start out as a killing game.” The “side hunts” that Frank Chapman cited when he proposed the Christmas census in Bird-Lore magazine had mostly faded into the past by 1900, so there was no need for him to put an end to them, as the host declares he did. You can read Chapman’s original CBC proposal – its brevity so out of proportion to its significance – here. And you can watch “Counting on Birds” here: http://video.nhptv.org/video/2365128454/

Speaking of the Cuba Bird Survey, Daytona Beach’s Halifax River Audubon Society will be participating this year, from December 1-12. The trip will cost about $5,000 with air fare. For more details click here (download it for better graphics).

The Ewing family just returned from a sixteen-state summer vacation during which, Samuel informs me, he got 48 life birds. He posted a very nice gallery of photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/

We’re beginning to fill in the field trip schedule on the Alachua Audubon web site. We’re up to early November at this point, so feel free to take a look and start putting anything that interests you on your calendar: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Louisiana Waterthrush, bad Barr Hammock news

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

I don’t know if you like this sort of miscellaneous post or not. If you’ve got the time to browse some links, maybe you do. If you’re in a hurry and just want to know the latest birding news, maybe you don’t. I’ll put the (meager) birding news at the top today, and then when I start posting links you can click the little X in the upper right hand corner and get back to whatever else you were doing. (But jump down to the last paragraph before you do that. It’s important.)

Louisiana Waterthrushes are starting to show up. I’d heard one at the north end of Newnans Lake while canoeing with Bob and Erika Simons on June 24th, but we never got a look at it, and two subsequent June trips to Gum Root Swamp failed to find one. The first actual sighting of the summer was made by Lloyd Davis at La Chua on the 5th. He got a photo, which he posted on his Facebook page. I saw the summer’s second this morning, along Camps Canal.

I’ve checked eBird to see if anyone has reported other early-fall migrants, like Black-and-white Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Least Sandpiper, or Lesser Yellowlegs, but not yet; Louisiana Waterthrush is the extent of our fall migration so far.

Remember this Blue Grosbeak that Barbara Woodmansee and I saw on June 21st? The consensus was that it was a one-year-old male in the process of attaining full adult plumage. Females just don’t show that much blue, after all. On the other hand, according to Birds of North America Online, “Apparently incubation is by female only.” If that’s the case, why is this “one-year-old male” sitting on a nest? It’s not just goofing around, either, because it laid at least two eggs, at least one of which hatched on the 8th. The reasonable conclusion seems to be that this is an atypical female with extra blue … well, I was going to say pigment, but as I understand it, blue coloration in birds isn’t based on pigment but on feather structure, so … this is starting to get too scientific for me. Andy Kratter said something about submitting a note on this odd bird to one of the ornithological journals, so maybe he can explain it.

A bird that puzzles a lot of people is the Red-winged Blackbird. Even experienced birders who have no trouble identifying them as Red-wingeds don’t always know why certain females have rosy faces and why some males are still streaked below. This well-illustrated blog entry is chiefly aimed at distinguishing Red-winged Blackbird from Tricolored Blackbird, an ID problem that we don’t face in Florida, but a lot of the captions provide valuable information along the way, for instance, “The strong peachy-buff wash on the face and throat, along with the bright rusty scapulars indicate that the female is an after-second-year bird.”

Ted Floyd is the editor of Birding magazine. I don’t like him. I tell you this because, while I would normally discourage you from reading anything he writes, I thought this piece from 2012 was quite good and worth your attention (despite the whiff of tiresome contrarianism that arises from everything he writes): http://blog.aba.org/2012/07/most-wonderful.html

The Barr Hammock meeting did not go well, and in three months the majority of the Commission will vote 3-2 (Baird, Chestnut, and Pinkoson vs. Hutchinson and Byerly) to close the loop trail unless they are convinced otherwise. I’ll send more information later, but this is something that’s going to depend on the public EXPRESSING outrage, not merely BEING outraged. And I think ultimately that will involve showing up at a BOCC meeting, not just sending an email. Meanwhile emails should not cease, because it’s simply intolerable that a private citizen should be able to control the public’s access to public property: bocc@alachuacounty.us

June Challenge finale; and some goosing

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

REMEMBER, June Challengers: (1.) I need your totals, divided into ABA-countable and non-countable birds, by MIDNIGHT ON JUNE 30TH and (2.) please email me if you’re attending the June Challenge party at Becky Enneis’s house on Tuesday, July 1st at 6 p.m.

“ABA-countable” essentially means that native North American birds (and a few naturalized ones like House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Muscovy Duck) are countable, while Black Swan, Swan Goose, Greylag Goose, Indian Peafowl, and other non-established exotics are not. If two birders end up with the same number of ABA-countable birds, then we’ll use the non-countable birds as tie-breakers. Right now I have 96 species on my list, all of them ABA-countable, so my total is 96/0. If I were to drive over to the Duck Pond and add Black Swan, Greylag Goose, and Swan Goose to my list, I would report 96/3 as my June Challenge total – 96 countable birds and 3 non-countable. Incidentally, for more on Swan Goose and Greylag Goose, which may be so genetically jumbled that we shouldn’t be calling them by those names, please see the final six paragraphs of this email.

Samuel Ewing got photos of the NE Gainesville robins on the 25th. Here’s one of them: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14526392513/

Peter Polshek writes, “There is a Broad-winged Hawk frequenting the tall trees in my yard at NW 17th Street and 8th Avenue (SW corner property). Just park in my driveway and listen for the calling bird.”

I ran into Linda Hensley at Publix this evening, and she told me that she, Howard Adams, and Barbara Mollison found a Roseate Spoonbill and six Glossy Ibises in a flooded field at the Hague Dairy today. So if you need either of those…

On Wednesday I drove to Gum Root Swamp in hopes of seeing a Louisiana Waterthrush. I was surprised to find the big metal entrance gate shut and locked. The informational kiosk, the wooden fence enclosing the parking area, and the walk-through gate were all gone. When I got home I called the Water Management District and asked what had happened. I was informed that the parking area had become a center of “lewd and lascivious behavior,” just like Bivens Arm Nature Park and the Bolen Bluff Trail used to be (and maybe still are?). Hidden cameras had been set up, license plates had been recorded, police had made regular visits, but the lewd and lascivious crowd was not discouraged. Since Gum Root Swamp is a group camping area, the District made the decision just to close the parking area down. You can still park on the culvert across the road, or on the outside of the entrance gate, and groups wanting to use the camping area can make arrangements with the District. Supposedly I will hear from the land manager about future plans. For what it’s worth, I didn’t find the waterthrush. Little Hatchet Creek is back within its banks, and there’s not much standing water left in the surrounding woods, although rubber boots are still a necessity, and unless you’re wearing hip waders you can’t get out to the lakeshore without getting wet.

I always figure that I need to go looking for Louisiana Waterthrush, but in some cases the waterthrushes find you instead. Greg Hart had one at his nursery in Alachua on the 26th.

Ron Robinson located a family of Pied-billed Grebes in a retention pond at NE 4th Street and NE 35th Avenue. Despite the fact that the address indicates northeast, it’s a block west of Main Street.

If you’re still looking for Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Andy Kratter writes, “3 Rough-winged Swallows still present at the Depot Road ponds, south of SE 10th Street and the bike trail on high voltage lines that run north-south.”

Two appeals from Florida Wildlife Care:

1. If anyone’s got a chimney containing Chimney Swifts, let me know. FWC has four nestlings that need homes.

2. If anyone’s driving to Jacksonville this weekend, and would be willing to transport an immature Cooper’s Hawk and release it there, please call Leslie Straub at 352-318-8443.

Barbara Woodmansee had an interesting and slightly hair-raising experience on Paynes Prairie yesterday evening, which should serve as a reminder to look down occasionally, as well as up: “While standing in front of the huge cypress tree near the gate where you’re supposed to stop and turn around on Sweetwater Dike, I was looking under the limbs of the cypress tree for that damned Limpkin and happened to glance down at the ground. I noticed that I was STANDING on a young Cottonmouth’s tail. Seriously. It was very annoyed, white mouth wide open, but it never struck at me. I promptly airlifted myself to a safe distance, and then apologized to the little guy. I think this is my first experience of actually standing on a venomous snake. Don’t tell my mother or she won’t let me go out there anymore!” This non-aggressive behavior of Cottonmouths is not particularly unusual, and was the subject of a 2002 paper (skip to “Results” on page 2 if you don’t want to read the whole thing): http://www.bio.davidson.edu/dorcas/research/Reprints/Gibbons%20and%20Dorcas%20-%202002%20-%20Defensive%20behavior%20in%20cottonmouths%20-%20Copiea.pdf

Everything after this is about domestic waterfowl, so jump off now if you’re not interested. And remember to email me if you’re going to the June Challenge party!

Now, as to the domestic Swan Goose and the domestic Greylag Goose. The question was prompted by this photo by Samuel Ewing: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14343488436/ The bird on the left looks like a domestic Greylag Goose while that on the right has the big knob on the base of the bill that’s characteristic of a Swan Goose. I sent the photo to Renne Leatto of Orange County, who was a prize-winning waterfowl breeder before she became a birder. She told me that these names were inappropriate for the two birds and gave me a primer on domestic geese:

“Unless one is in a wild area within the range of the wild Greylag Goose, you will not see one. In many parts of the world, geese have been domesticated even longer than ducks, and any Greylag-type goose we see in North America, certainly in the U.S., and definitely in the southern U.S., is going to be strictly domestic in origin.

“Here’s the deal with geese … there’s no such thing as a domestic Greylag (although you will see many references to them). It’s like calling a Chihuahua – or even a Husky – a domestic wolf. There are a number of domestic breeds of geese that originally come from the wild Greylag, but they haven’t been wild for 3,000 to 10,000 years. Greylag is to those breeds what Mallard is to most domestic ducks. What messes birders up (more with geese, even than ducks) is that many goose breeds look close to the wild Greylag, or at least they look a lot closer to the wild ancestor than crazy-fancy duck breeds look like a Mallard. To complicate matters, while all breeds of domestic duck (except for Muscovy) come from the wild Mallard, domestic geese come from a combination of two wild species: Anser anser and Anser cygnoides, the wild Swan Goose. Some people refer to derivatives of the latter as domestic Swan Geese, but again, there is no such thing. They have many breed names but none are Swan Goose.

“Now we make things even more complicated … unlike the situation with Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds and domesticated Muscovies – which CAN (but seldom do) crossbreed, and then have only sterile offspring — domestic goose breeds descended from Anser anser and Anser cygnoides can (and very often DO) crossbreed, and their offspring are always fertile. So the results are that we see too many variations of domestic goose crossbreeds to know with any certainty which ancestral species line dominates.

“I used to have a gander that was primarily the ‘African’ breed, a heavier version of the Chinese breed, both developed thousands of years ago from Anser cygnoides. His partner was a goose which had no sign of having any genes except that of the Embden breed, a pure white variety developed from the Greylag but which looks nothing like it anymore (it looks more like a wild Snow Goose but is not related genetically). Their broods of goslings came out in all shapes and feather colors, all bill and foot colors; some had bill/head bumps (knobs), some didn’t; some had extra-long slender necks, some didn’t; and some were light-bodied while others were medium or heavy bodied. Seeing any one of them as a lone individual in a park or wetland somewhere, even I would only be able to guess at their varied parentage. But one thing I can always say for sure – they are NOT Greylag or Swan Geese. They are many thousands of domestically-bred generations removed from both.”

What does this mean for the June Challenge? Well, this year you can count both species if you’ve seen them – the Swan Goose (the one with the knob) and the Greylag (the one without) – but next year we may just lump them together as “domestic goose.” I’ve submitted Samuel’s picture and Renne’s analysis to eBird’s resident taxonomist, Marshall Iliff, for an official eBird ruling on how these domestic strains should be recorded, but he hasn’t responded yet. When he does – maybe I should say IF he does – I’ll let you know what he says.

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.

Oh MIKI you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

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

Gainesville City Naturalist Geoff Parks read the subject line of the last birding report and inquired, “Do you get your ‘springerie’ at Victorious Egret?” Geoff gets First Prize!

Phil Laipis and several other Gainesville birders visited Cedar Key on the 10th to see what was shaking. As a matter of fact, a lot was shaking. Phil wrote: “82 species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and 12 warbler species (Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler). Highs for me were the Wood Thrush, and the Louisiana Waterthrush wagging its bottom. First time I’ve seen that rotary motion and could compare it to the Northern Waterthrush’s ‘Spotted Sandpiper up-down wag’. Pat Burns spotted a male Cape May which I have no decent pictures of, and I might have seen a male Blackpoll Warbler, but did not get a long enough look to be positive. Windy, and all the birds seemed to be concentrated in town, not at the cemetery or the museum. We never looked hard for shorebirds, and Pat and I looked for the Yellow Rail reported in mid-January with, of course, no success.” Phil did manage to get a nice photo of a snake I’ve never seen, a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13766355403/

I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco Hammock this afternoon, the trails north of Millhopper Road. All the migrant warblers that Matt O’Sullivan and I found in the sandhill on the 8th were gone, and in fact I only saw one transient species, Worm-eating Warbler. But I saw five of those, including two that appeared to be engaged in a singing duel. Other good sightings: several Hooded Warblers, including a female who was putting the finishing touches on a perfect little nest; my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the spring (though they’ve been here since late March); and two female Eastern Towhees of the red-eyed (northern) race. I ran into Dalcio Dacol, who had seen an early Acadian Flycatcher along the Hammock Cutoff trail. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the trail in hopes of finding it, but I had no luck. (Of course “no luck” is relative, given that I spent several hours of a truly gorgeous day walking around San Felasco Hammock!)

Migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are showing up in residential areas, so watch your feeders. Adam Zions and Samuel Ewing saw them in their respective NW Gainesville back yards on the 10th.

While birding around his yard, Samuel also spotted the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in bird-banding code), one of my very favorite birds. This is a little early; in previous years the majority arrived during the last third of the month.

Scott Flamand saw two Canada Geese fly over Buchholz High School on the morning of the 10th. We don’t have a population of domestic or feral Canada Geese around here, at least as far as I know, but I doubt that they were wild. Wild Canada Geese are mostly a thing of the past in Florida. They used to be very common winter birds in the northern part of the state – a Fish and Game Commission waterfowl inventory tallied 47,000 of them in 1953! But now they spend the cold months farther north. I’ve been birding for 40 years and I’ve seen wild Canada Geese in Florida on only three occasions (feral birds are common in Jacksonville and Tallahassee). Anyway, if you see free-flying geese around here, please let me know.

The Alachua Audubon Society, like all Audubon Societies, avoids partisan politics, but I don’t think we’d be violating that principle if we were to congratulate our president, Helen Warren, on her victory in the City Commission election. Because of her new responsibilities, Helen will be leaving the Audubon board next month after several years. We thank you for your service, Helen, and we wish you well, but you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire….

Yes, I understand that this is the herpetological equivalent of a puppy video, and I acknowledge that my posting it is a symptom of creeping senility. And yet I cannot help myself. Be sure your audio is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds (I sent this to my son, who’s an infantry officer, and he declared, “I shall adopt his tactics for my own!”) (That’s funnier if you’ve seen the video.)