Winter is coming

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

We’re going to try something new for field trips: carpooling via the Audubon web site. First go to the field trip schedule: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ Click on a field trip, and the information bar will expand. Click on the button that says, “Read more.” Try it on the O’Leno trip; you’ll end up here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/oleno-state-park-3/?instance_id=349 Scroll down the page a bit, and you’ll see a gray box that says, “Leave a reply.” If you need a ride, or you’re willing to provide a ride, use the “Leave a reply” box to say so. Don’t wait till the last minute. I know how you can be.

What may turn out to be Alachua County’s sixth-ever Black-headed Grosbeak had a fatal collision with a window at UF’s Bartram Hall on the 9th (photo here). It was an immature bird, and Black-headed Grosbeaks of that age can be difficult to distinguish from Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Andy Kratter will be prepping the specimen in the next week or so, and should be able to determine its identity then. Meanwhile, watch your feeders!

The arrival of Bay-breasted Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers during the second week of October normally signals the last wave of neotropical migrants. This year the first Bay-breasted was extraordinarily early: Barbara Shea saw one at Sparrow Alley on September 21st, by thirteen days a new record. From the description it was in breeding plumage – they normally molt into winter plumage on the nesting grounds, before heading south – but that may be connected with its early arrival here. Jonathan Mays saw another relatively early Bay-breasted in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th, and on the more typical date of October 9th Matt O’Sullivan saw one at Bolen Bluff and Dean and Samuel Ewing saw one in their NW Gainesville yard. Chris Burney spotted the only Black-throated Green that’s been reported this fall, on the 4th at Prairie Creek Preserve.

Jerry Krummrich had a nice day on Bellamy Road on the 3rd: “Was drawn to my favorite trail today and it was kinda birdy. Trail was wet but walkable and always interesting habitat changes from flooded woods to wildflowers in sandhills in a 50 yard stretch. Best bird was a Swainson’s Warbler along the trail with flooded woods in background. He was repeating call notes I was unfamiliar with – unlike Ovenbird, clearer and less frequent, less agitated attitude. He was cooperative and hopped up on limbs about 10 feet away/5 feet off ground. Had 11 warblers total including Blue-winged and Golden-winged in same tree, a dozen Ovenbirds, 1 Redstart and a Magnolia. Had a Merlin and a Cooper’s over scrub open woods. Several Empidonax and Veerys.” I asked Jerry where along Bellamy Road he was, and he replied, “I was referring to the Interpretive Trailhead, a portion of O’Leno SP located/accessed off 441 just south of main entrance road to O’Leno. You turn on Bellamy here (is a sign on highway), drive east and enter parking area trailhead. Trail connects to Sweetwater Branch Trail. I enjoy birding here because of habitat diversity – sandhill, scrub, and floodplain – it’s the area on top of the underground Santa Fe River which turns into a meandering slough during rainy periods – lots of tree species. Trail also connects to marked horse trails – lots of edges. Yes – sorry – it’s in Columbia County.” So now you’ve got a new birding spot to check out, or just a pretty place to take a walk.

Mike Manetz and I spent a couple of hours birding at the Powers Park fishing pier on the 9th. We saw no Ospreys, which is normal for October, but no Limpkins either, which was very surprising given their abundance at Newnans over the past couple of years. We did, however, see a Peregrine Falcon come cruising along the southern shore of the lake at treetop level, veer out into the open at the mouth of the boat channel to give us a nice close-range look, and then head in the direction of Paynes Prairie. Samuel Ewing didn’t have to go to Powers Park to see a Peregrine; he photographed one flying over his yard on the 11th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15322086547/in/photostream/

The Alachua Audubon field trip to O’Leno on the 11th had only middling success. Warblers were sparse, and overall we didn’t see many birds of any sort. However we came across two fruiting tupelo trees that attracted thrushes of three species (Wood, Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked) and tanagers of two species (Scarlet, Summer). The day was beautiful, the trail was beautiful, and the mosquitoes were few. On the way home Mike and I spent a few minutes at the Hague Dairy because it’s getting to be time for Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They often travel with big flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds, but today cowbird flocks appeared to be nonexistent.

Ron Robinson photographed the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at his backyard bird bath on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15287033897/

As the migration of neotropical species draws to a close, the winter birds are starting to show up. The first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, two of them, were seen by Matt Bruce at Palm Point on the 4th. The first Blue-headed Vireo was seen by John Hintermister at Bolen Bluff on the 5th. The first American Goldfinch – a very early bird – was seen by Andy Kratter in his SE Gainesville yard on the 6th, and it was Andy who saw the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Bolen Bluff on the 7th. The first Yellow-rumped Warbler (!), another early bird, was seen by Mike Manetz at Palm Point on the 9th. And I saw the winter’s first sparrow, a Savannah, at the Hague Dairy on the 11th.

Speaking of winter, Ron Pittaway’s annual Winter Finch Forecast has been posted on the eBird web site: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1415/

When we visit the Cedar Key cemetery, we always park in the shady grove of sand pines at the north end. Until this week there was a thick border of palmettos and scrubby vegetation growing along the driveway. Now it looks like this. Migratory birds have one less bit of shelter on this island, which has become too popular for its own good. If you’d like to protest this action, and say a few words on behalf of the birds (and remind those in power that birders often visit Cedar Key, and spend money there), write the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 610, Cedar Key, FL 32625 AND Mayor Dale Register, P.O. Box 339 Cedar Key, FL 32625.

Remember: carpooling via the Alachua Audubon web site!

Time’s a-wastin’!

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

Lovett Williams, Jr., who worked for Florida’s Game and Fish Commission for many years beginning in the 1960s, died on April 30th at the age of 78. He was a well-known wildlife biologist and naturalist, a world authority on the Wild Turkey, and an enormously enthusiastic turkey hunter. Here’s a nice remembrance: http://www.deeranddeerhunting.com/article-index/memorium-turkey-biologist-lovett-williams And a two-hour video interview with Lovett, presumably shot at his Cedar Key home, can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/60200527 Lovett reported a Common Merganser in Alachua County on December 21, 1966. Since it was the only report in the county’s history, I emailed him a few years ago and introduced myself and asked for additional details, for instance where he’d seen it. He replied, “I am sorry to have to report that I have not kept records of the bird sightings you mentioned. I believe the birds were correctly identified but since I don’t have any notes I cannot confirm the locale or dates or any other details that may have been reported to you nor any information in addition to what was reported.” This was, I suspect, his way of saying, “Don’t pester me, junior.” So I didn’t – though someone advised me that he’d be much more talkative if I showed up at his door with a six-pack of beer! Unfortunately I never did that. He would have been a treasure trove of information on the birds and landscape of Alachua County fifty years ago. He saw the first American Avocet recorded in Alachua County, on November 23, 1967. He was also one of very few people to see Rough-legged Hawk here; he and Dale Crider saw a wintering bird several times between December 28, 1965 and March 15, 1966. And he contributed to a paper on Budgerigars in North Florida, stating that flocks of 30 or more used to be seen in Gainesville. Now long gone.

Remember that Alachua Audubon is organizing a Cedar Key boat trip for early Saturday afternoon. There’s still space on the boat, but you’ve got to make a reservation; call Wild Birds Unlimited (352-381-1997) to do that. The cost of the boat trip is $25. The remainder of this year’s field trip and program schedule can be seen here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ (When the site comes up, click the little button at the top of the list that says, “Expand all.”)

You know, it’s Connecticut Warbler time. Connecticut is a rarely-seen migrant that comes through Florida after most of the other migrants have already gone north. There are eight spring records from Alachua County, ranging from May 6th to May 28th, five of the eight in the first half of the month. They show a preference for deciduous woodlands and are usually seen walking on the ground, like this. So go find one! Good luck. And remember, it was while he was looking for a Connecticut Warbler last year that Mike Manetz found the county’s second-ever Kirtland’s Warbler!

Bob and Erika Simons have discovered that the best birding on Paynes Prairie right now is along Sweetwater Dike. When you’re walking out La Chua, you come off the boardwalk at Alachua Sink, and about a hundred yards farther on you come to the water control structure, marked by several culverts. A canal, and accompanying dike trail, leads off to the right. That’s Sweetwater Dike. Along that short walk – there’s a gate after half a mile, and you should turn back there – you’ve got a good chance of seeing Purple Gallinule, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Least Bittern, King Rail, Orchard Oriole, and migratory Bobolinks, as well as the abundant Red-winged Blackbirds and Boat-tailed Grackles. Bob got a fine photo of a Bobolink eating giant cutgrass (southern wild rice) out there on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13957955519/

Yellow-breasted Chats are also relatively easy to see along the first part of La Chua right now. Up to five have been reported on a single walk. Bob Simons wrote about encountering two in the extensive thicket west of the barn: “This morning I had a nice visit with a Yellow-breasted Chat at Paynes Prairie. Erika and I walked a little trail that goes south from Sparrow Alley past the big loblolly pine out in front of the old horse barn and then curves west. We took a small trail that branches off on the left side of that trail that also ends up going west and eventually intersects the trail along the power line. Anyway, we both got photos of a chat about 50 yards south of the loblolly pine. I had heard it calling while we were passing the pine tree. As we walked west on our little trail, I heard another chat, and went off trail in my snake-proof sandals to try to find it. I ended up standing in one spot, with the chat sitting up singing and calling from one perch after another, gradually circling me and getting closer. It flew in an exaggerated display kind of flight that reminds me of a butterfly, nearly putting its wings together above its back with each set of wing beats while calling or singing (I never can tell with chats).” Here’s one of Bob’s pictures: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14141293391/

One of the best photos I’ve seen recently is a photo of a birder, not a bird. Here’s Samuel Ewing going all out to get a shot of a Spotted Sandpiper at the Home Depot Pond: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14059003566/

Alachua County birder emeritus Steve Collins – we still claim him, though he left us eight years ago – participated in a pretty exciting Big Day in Texas’s Big Bend a few days ago. One of his fellow participants wrote it up in a nice blog post: http://paintedbunny.blogspot.com/#!/2014/05/the-colima-death-experiment-big-day.html I had NO idea you could see some of those birds in the Big Bend. And I can’t remember ever hearing the term “facilitree” either. That’s what you call an outdoor restroom, a facilitree.

There’s not much spring migration left. Some late migrants like Blackpoll Warblers, Bobolinks, and several species of shorebirds are still moving through, but in diminishing numbers. This weekend may be your last chance. That Cedar Key boat trip might be a good opportunity to see shorebirds in their spring finery. The Black-bellied Plover, which usually looks like this, now looks like this. And the dingy Dunlin, which looks like this all winter, now looks like this (they were formerly called “Red-backed Sandpiper” and that’s why). And if you can’t get away, at least look out the window; just birding around his NW Gainesville yard, Samuel Ewing saw a Magnolia Warbler on the 3rd and a Peregrine Falcon flying northward on the 1st!

Right before your eyes

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

Debbie Segal writes, “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) plans to herbicide approximately 1,500 acres (over two square miles) of native wetland vegetation in Orange Lake in order to improve lake access and boating safety. Alachua Audubon and Audubon of Florida are objecting to FWC’s proposed herbicide application plan due to its wide-spread destruction of wildlife habitat, its apparent disregard for wading bird rookery islands, its potential for creating an ‘oxygen demand’ that could kill invertebrates and fish, and its lack of a monitoring plan, plus the likelihood of only temporary benefits for the intended users. Due to Alachua Audubon’s and Audubon of Florida’s objections, FWC has reissued a request for comments from stakeholders, which is attached. Alachua Audubon is responding to this request for comments by sending a letter, which is also attached. If you would like to have your voice heard regarding FWC’s plan for large-scale herbiciding (to be applied by helicopter), please take a moment and send an email to FWC. This action is time-sensitive, your comments must be received by this Friday, October 18th. Email them to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com ”

Right before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen, summer is turning into winter. Here’s a little quiz to see if you’ve been paying attention:

1. When did you last hear a cardinal sing?

2. When did you last see a Great Crested Flycatcher?

3. When did you last see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird?

4. When did you last see a Mississippi Kite? A Swallow-tailed Kite?

According to my records, Northern Cardinals stopped their daily singing in mid-July. Great Crested Flycatchers have been gone since mid-September. A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may still be around, but they’re thinning out fast. And as I mentioned in a previous report, Mississippi Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites were last seen on September 2nd and September 1st, respectively.

But summer’s departure is only half of it. The other half is winter’s arrival. Eastern Phoebes, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-headed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, House Wrens, Gray Catbirds, and Palm Warblers have all checked in. Savannah Sparrows are increasing on the Prairie. A pair of Bald Eagles has taken to perching in a tall pine along the northern part of Lakeshore Drive, near a nest site. Migratory Northern Flickers are arriving, and are already far more abundant than the locally-nesting flickers. And today Samuel Ewing made it official: “This morning (Oct. 14th) I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler fly over our yard. It was calling, giving away what it was. Maybe the first of fall for Alachua County.”

The Ewing’s yard was the site of another first earlier this week. On the 11th Benjamin Ewing glanced out the window and spied a Song Sparrow. He called his father Dean, who got a picture. This was the earliest Song Sparrow ever recorded in Alachua County, exceeding by a week the previous record, a bird I saw along the La Chua Trail on 18 October 1995.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher that spent last winter around the La Chua Trail observation platform has returned. John Killian discovered her there on the 10th and got a couple of photos.

As mentioned in the last birding report, Ted and Steven Goodman found two Yellow-headed Blackbirds at the Hague Dairy on the 13th. Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing read the report and drove to the dairy, where they found and photographed both of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds – and then found a Bronzed Cowbird! This afternoon Adam Zions drove up to Hague and found only one Yellow-headed Blackbird – but two Bronzed Cowbirds.

Bob Wallace had two Philadelphia Vireos at his Alachua farm on the morning of the 13th. The Bolen Bluff field trip on the same morning went fairly well, with a dozen warbler species, but missed out on glamor birds. Trip leader Jonathan Mays wrote, “Unfortunately no Bay-breasted or Black-throated Greens, but the group had close encounters with a male Black-throated Blue and Hooded plus three cooperative Tennessee’s foraging together and two Magnolias. Also caught a neonate Ribbon Snake and had a Black Racer above our heads in a tree. Enjoyable morning and a good group.” John Hintermister and I separately birded Bolen Bluff on the 14th. We both saw lots and lots of American Redstarts, and we both saw about a dozen species, but neither of us found a Bay-breasted Warbler. John did see a single Black-throated Green.

The last two reports are especially unusual:

Ignacio Rodriguez saw two very intriguing birds at Bolen Bluff after the field trip on Sunday: “I spotted two birds that really resembled the Green-tailed Towhee. Rufous crown, light green shoulders and tail, gray above, and red eyes, but I don’t remember if I saw a white throat. They were foraging along the edge of the trail, then perched briefly, then flew again underneath the vegetation.” I asked where he saw them, and he said that you go down the slope onto the Prairie basin, walk until the tall trees on either side give way to grasses, and then walk another hundred yards. Please let me know if you see these birds, and get a picture if you can. There’s only one previous record in Alachua County, and only about a dozen ever seen anywhere in Florida.

Wanda Garfield reported seeing three light-morph Short-tailed Hawks over the course of four or five hours on Saturday morning. She saw one at the recycling station on CR-47 in Gilchrist County, the second in High Springs, and the third over I-75 near Santa Fe College. “The birds I saw were dark black on top/wing areas and very pure white on the breast area. I couldn’t see any barring, spots, etc. I have seen Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. So what do you think? Am I crazy or what?” Short-tailed Hawks do migrate at this time of year, but they’re rare this far north, and dark morphs greatly outnumber white morphs. Nothing else really fits that description, though.

Field trips this weekend: our first-ever field trip to the Levy Lake Loop with Adam Zions on Saturday at 8 a.m., and a trip to Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge with John Hintermister on Sunday, meeting at 6:30 a.m. Details here.

Again, please take the next two minutes to send a simple email to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com expressing your opinion on the herbicide plan for Orange Lake. Debbie says that twenty or thirty emails could make a world of difference.