Nelson’s Sparrow at La Chua!

Adam Zions found the county’s third-ever Nelson’s Sparrow along the La Chua Trail on the 20th. He describes the location as “about halfway between the ‘s’ curve before it straightens out for the last bit before the platform. If you go looking for it, you’ll notice the more open water on your right as you first take the bend (where they placed the extra soil), then another smaller patch of somewhat open water on your right a little further ahead. Go past this to the third, and smallest patch of somewhat open water on your right, which should be about halfway or slightly past halfway along the ‘s’ curve, and that’s where I observed it foraging on grass seeds.” Nelson’s Sparrow is a saltmarsh species in Florida and is pretty common along the Gulf Coast, but it nests in freshwater marshes on the Great Plains – Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta – and some of the birds get slightly disoriented during fall migration. Not many of them, though; inland sightings in Florida are very scarce. Adam’s eBird checklist, which includes five photos of the bird, can be seen here.

At least two Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still slumming at the Hague Dairy. I got there a little after eleven on the 20th, just as a flock of two or three thousand blackbirds swarmed up and disappeared to the west. I hung around for another hour and a half, but the birds never came back, so I went home. Just an hour after I left (naturally!) Brad Bergstrom and Margaret Harper of Valdosta State University showed up and saw “two Yellow-headed Blackbirds atop the transformer pole near the Admin. bldg. (where visitors sign in) from 2-3 pm. While I was signing in, Margaret was standing right next to the car looking at the two birds. When I walked  back out of the office, at first I thought she was joking about seeing the blackbirds. That was a years-long nemesis bird for her; it’s not supposed to be that easy!” On the 16th Jonathan Mays got a photo of THREE Yellow-headeds feeding together, but no one else has been that lucky; I think it may be the largest number ever recorded here during a single fall, and he had them all in his viewfinder at once! Two Bronzed Cowbirds were also seen at the dairy by Adam Zions on the 14th and by several observers on the 15th, but on the 16th Jonathan found only one. Both species may yet be present. By the way, Bob Carroll related his own search for the Yellow-headed in characteristically amusing style on his blog.

There’s a new sign on the door of the dairy office: “Attention all birdwatchers: Please park in the designated areas and walk. Do not block the roadways or gates. Do not cross any fences. Do not go through any gates. Do not interfere with dairy operations.” I’m not sure what occasioned this, but please observe their rules conscientiously. I think the dairy employees find us odd but harmless, and that’s how we want to keep it. The designated parking area is here. I asked one of the employees in the office about the “Do not go through the gates” rule, and he told me that this applied only to closed gates.

Sometimes the best place to go birding is your back yard. Becky Enneis has been proving that point this fall. There’s a huge sprawling live oak in her back yard, and she’s set up a water drip under one of the lowest limbs. It always gets a lot of birds, but this week has been particularly exciting, with a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the 20th, a Bay-breasted Warbler on the 18th, and on the 17th a Swamp Sparrow, one of the earliest of the fall and not exactly a typical backyard bird. And over in rural Columbia County on the 19th Jerry Krummrich enjoyed a varied and highly entertaining few minutes of backyard birding: “At the mister right outside my window in a river birch tree, in the space of 15 minutes, I had furious activity and 17 species of birds. Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white Warblers – several of some species, including a male of each species, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Cardinals (about 10), Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.”

Bachman’s Sparrows used to be resident at Morningside Nature Center, but during the past twenty or so years their occurrence at the park has been unpredictable. John Martin found one there on February 10th and got a video, but as far as I know there weren’t any additional encounters until Geoff Parks heard one singing on October 18th: “As I was going past an area we burned back in May, near the north end of Sandhill Road, I heard some sparrow-like ‘seet’ calls so I stopped for a few moments to see if anything interesting was around. To my surprise, from out of the grasses nearby I heard a Bachman’s Sparrow giving a whisper song. It did it several times over a few minutes; it sounded exactly like the normal song, just very quiet. I didn’t try to coax it into the open and never managed to see the bird, but I’m certain that’s what it was. Maybe this one will stick around until spring. Mysterious little critters!”

I got a very nice trip report from Adam Zions about Alachua Audubon’s Levy Lake field trip on Saturday the 20th: “A hearty troop of 11 intrepid explorers and one half-witted trip leader set out at 8 a.m. along the Levy Lake loop trail at Barr Hammock. Several Gainesville birders and a few out-of-towners from Chiefland, Inverness, and Cape Canaveral set out to see what the trail had to offer. An Eastern Phoebe and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk greeted everyone at the parking lot, a precursor of what would follow. Even though week-long winds from the north, combined with a lack of a front from the south, seemed to push most migrants onward to Central America and the Caribbean, the group tallied a total of 50 different species, including 9 different warbler species, The favorites being an Orange-crowned Warbler (first of the season for everyone) and a Tennessee. Strong numbers of wintering species were noted, especially Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, and Gray Catbird. Highlights of the day included close observations of 4 incredibly-obliging American Bitterns, a flock of 8, late Northern Rough-winged Swallows, an adult Bald Eagle getting chased by a Red-shouldered Hawk, a few Sandhill Cranes, sizeable numbers of Indigo Buntings, and many first-of-the-season birds for most participants (e.g., Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Northern Flicker). Non-avian highlights included a White-tailed doe, Striped Mud Turtle, a mother American Alligator and several of her offspring, and a 4′-4.5′ Cottonmouth shed. The feathered remains of a Red-shouldered Hawk were noted as well. Sunny, yet cool weather obliged for the majority of the trip, until the last mile of the trip when an unexpected storm front poured buckets and soaked everyone. Everyone stayed in good spirits, but made due haste to the parking lot. It was a very lively and engaging crew, and made for an excellent first AAS trip out to the Levy Lake portion of Barr Hammock. Group eBird checklist link: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15444710

Just ducky

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

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 2nd, Alachua County Forever will officially open the Levy Prairie portion of the Barr Hammock Preserve to the public. Everyone is welcome.

This winter’s sunset was at its earliest (5:30) from November 26th to December 9th, and sunrise was at its latest (7:26) from January 7th to January 13th. Today’s sunrise was at 7:23 and today’s sunset will be at 6:01. We’ve gained 23 minutes of daylight since the solstice, nearly all of it in the afternoon.

I haven’t received too many birding reports lately, which sort of surprises me, given that the La Chua Trail has been overrun with rarities during the past three weeks: Whooping Crane (last reported by Bryan Tarbox on the 21st), Vermilion Flycatcher (ditto), Groove-billed Ani (ditto), Ash-throated Flycatcher (ditto), Lincoln’s Sparrow (ditto), Peregrine Falcon (me, on the 22nd), two Yellow-breasted Chats (ditto), plus the Bell’s Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and Clay-colored and Fox Sparrows seen between the 8th and the 12th. Most of those birds, if not all, are still out there. Go get ‘em!

It’s been a good winter for Fox Sparrows. One was at Cones Dike on December 7th, one at Camps Canal on December 11th, four at Persimmon Point on the Christmas Bird Count, one at Sparrow Alley on January 8, and most recently Mike Manetz found one at Mill Creek Preserve on the 23rd, a new species for Mill Creek. (Mike characterized his morning at Mill Creek as “opposite day”: “as many Fox Sparrows (1) as Cardinals (1), more Bluebirds (3) than Blue Jays (0), more Orange-crowned Warblers (5) than Titmice (4), and more Black-and-white Warblers (2) than Yellow-rumps (0). Also, no chickadees, and only five Carolina Wrens.”)

During his brief swing through north-central Florida, Fred Bassett banded three hummingbirds in the Gainesville area: a Rufous at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house in SW Gainesville, a second Rufous at Deb Werner’s place in Alachua, and a third Rufous at Greg Hart’s place in Alachua. He also banded a Rufous at Tom Green’s feeder in Ocala. Other hummingbirds were seen but could not be captured.

American birding lost one of its greats last month:
http://birdingwithkennandkim.blogspot.com/2012/12/so-long-rich.html
http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/CAwhoRS.html

The following is mainly for eBirders, but it may be of general interest as well. Renne Leatto, who lives in the Orlando area, raised waterfowl for years and is probably as knowledgeable about them as anyone in the state. Some time ago she took it on herself to correct some misconceptions about Muscovies and Mallards that were circulating on the Birdbrains listserv (and continue to circulate among eBirders and birders at large). The words in bold face are the questions and comments to which she was replying, the other words are hers.

Is it possible that we still have a few full-blooded Muscovies out there, or are they all Muscovy-Mallard hybrids?
The question ought to be: Do we really have any significant numbers of Mallard/Muscovy hybrids out there at all? The answer is NO. I know people seem to be on the lookout for them all the time, and if you keep looking you MIGHT eventually find one. But the chances are somewhere between getting 5 out of 6 numbers on lotto and spotting Bigfoot. I have seen hundreds of pics of suspected Mallard/Muscovy crosses, from the Birdbrains listserv and many other sources, and have only seen two that were really that. The others were either full-bred specimens of one of the many Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds, a cross between those breeds, or a 100% Muscovy. Yes, you can Google “Muscovy Mallard hybrid,” click “images” and get pages and pages of so-called hybrids. And I can tell you which domestic breed, or mix of domestic breeds, each one really is, and which are just 100% Muscovy. I found NO HYBRIDS in the search I did. Some people had even posted domestic geese and labeled them Muscovy hybrids, and my two favorites, a  male Ruddy Duck and a Coot! THE TRUTH – Mallards and their derivative domestic breeds RARELY cross with Muscovies. They are not the same species and prefer their own. Even confined to a barnyard together, they will almost never interbreed, even if you keep only females of one species and males of the other. And even when they DO cross, they produce only sterile “mules” (like a horse and donkey cross) which cannot reproduce themselves.

I have been watching these ducks regularly and can’t see any hybrid color to them.
Not sure what you mean by “hybrid color” but there is no such thing. Muscovies can be any color or any combination of colors and so can mixtures of domestic Mallard-derived breeds.

They even have all black feet.
This occurs in both Muscovies and some breeds of domestic duck.

Have attached photo of a Muscovy Duck that we have in Leesburg. Wanted some opinions of how close this duck is to being the true Muscovy and not a hybrid.
Keep in mind that you can’t answer your original question by the bird’s color, but only by the bird’s shape and the presence of the red facial skin.  Your bird looks like an immature male or large female 100% Muscovy, but I would only know for sure after seeing a closer shot of the face.  There are a few domestic breeds that can have a shape similar to the female Muscovy’s.

Who the heck am I and how do know all this? I am a former duck farmer. For years, I raised a dozen-plus fancy Mallard-derived duck breeds, including Domestic Mallards, Blue Swedish, Crested Ducks, Indian Runner Ducks, Buff Ducks, White Pekin, Rouen, Black Cayugas, Khaki Campbells, Blue and Black Swedish Ducks, Buff Orpington, and Call Ducks (miniature ducks). I also raised Muscovies. I sold them to people who showed them at poultry shows and fairs, 4H kids and adults. My birds won top awards at many shows, especially my Black Cayugas.

Why did I write all this? Because even on this wonderful Birdbrains listserv, which is made up of so many scientists and amateur scientists, and so careful to meticulously split hairs in order to correctly ID each wild bird, this mythology about some prevalence of Muscovy hybrids not only continues, but grows. I’m here to say, IT AIN’T TRUE. If we want to ID ducks accurately and with more ease, we need to change our paradigm of thinking about Muscovies and their phantom hybrids, because for the most part the latter DO NOT EXIST.

That’s the end of Renne’s email. As I say, it’s mostly for eBirders, in hopes of reducing the number of Mallard x Muscovy hybrids in the database. If you’re not presently an eBirder, why not give it a try? It’s easy, it’s actually sort of fun, and in keeping track of the birds you see at your feeder, or on your weekend walks, you help to build a national database that serves as a resource for both ornithologists and birders. In fact, eBird has a page that explains why it’s a good idea to start eBirding (note that it’s become a verb now: I eBird, you eBird, he, she, it eBirds, we are eBirding…): http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/why-ebird  Here’s a tutorial: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/tutorial  And here’s a Quick Start Guide: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/ebird-quick-start-guide

Christmas Bird Count results

From: Rex Rowan [rexrowan@gmail.com]
Subject: Alachua County birding report

Hey, make a note if you’re planning to join the January 5th field trip to Alligator Lake: the driving directions on the Alachua Audubon web site are wrong. Here’s what they should say: “From I-75 take US-90 east through Lake City and turn south on Old Country Club Road (also known as SE Avalon Avenue or County Road 133). Entrance to parking area is 1.5 miles south on the right side of the road.” Thanks to Tom Camarata for pointing out the mistakes to me.

We’ve got some gifted photographers around here, and some of you may be interested in the 2013 Wildlife and Nature Photography Contest being held by Audubon of Martin County. They’ve put together a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcd38dEvbAs

Speaking of photographers, Adam Zions found and photographed some uncommon birds in the conservation lands north of Newnans Lake on the 30th. He started at Gum Root Park, where he saw two Henslow’s Sparrows in the big field, then drove a couple of miles east on State Road 26 to the Hatchet Creek Tract, where he found a Red-breasted Nuthatch (not to mention a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which is resident at Hatchet Creek but can be hard to find).

I haven’t heard of any definite sightings of the Groove-billed Ani recently, though visiting Tennessee birder David Kirschke and his daughter thought they heard it on the 27th, “about half way between the Sweetwater Overlook turn off and the next bend in the trail.” If you see it, please let me know. The last positive sightings were by Lloyd Davis and Adam Zions on the 23rd, when Adam got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/8302688762/in/photostream

Mike Manetz found a big flock of ducks off the crew team parking lot on the 18th, and Andy Kratter saw them in the same place on the 23rd: “300+ Ring-necked, 25 or so Lesser Scaup, 8 Redhead, 5 Canvasbacks, and a bunch of American Coots. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were quite far offshore, as were 2 Horned Grebes.” I found most of the same birds still present in the late afternoon of the 24th, but by the 30th they’d dispersed and their place had been taken by Ruddy Ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls, plus one hunting decoy.

Here finally are the results of the December 16th Gainesville CBC:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  207
Muscovy Duck  90
Wood Duck  821
Gadwall  34
American Wigeon  6
Mallard  29
Mottled Duck  89
Blue-winged Teal  81
Northern Shoveler  14
Northern Pintail  64
Green-winged Teal  1
Canvasback  5
Ring-necked Duck  252
Lesser Scaup  312
Black Scoter  6
Bufflehead  4
Common Goldeneye  1
Hooded Merganser  125
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  500
Northern Bobwhite  13
Wild Turkey  46
Common Loon  3
Pied-billed Grebe  74
Wood Stork  28
Double-crested Cormorant  772
Anhinga  187
American White Pelican  137
American Bittern  12
Great Blue Heron  134
Great Egret  206
Snowy Egret  177
Little Blue Heron  163
Tricolored Heron  77
Cattle Egret  211
Green Heron  17
Black-crowned Night-Heron  79
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
White Ibis  2,013
Glossy Ibis  528
Roseate Spoonbill  1
Black Vulture  343
Turkey Vulture  1,144
Osprey  8
Bald Eagle  82
Northern Harrier  42
Sharp-shinned Hawk  12
Cooper’s Hawk  12
Red-shouldered Hawk  164
Red-tailed Hawk  64
King Rail  2
Virginia Rail  5
Sora  252
Common Gallinule  82
American Coot  883
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  3,009
Killdeer  247
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  54
Lesser Yellowlegs  55
Least Sandpiper  2
Wilson’s Snipe  398
American Woodcock  7
Bonaparte’s Gull  30
Laughing Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  330
Herring Gull  2
Forster’s Tern  30
Rock Pigeon  70
Eurasian Collared-Dove  9
Mourning Dove  495
Common Ground-Dove  7
Groove-billed Ani  1
Barn Owl  5
Eastern Screech-Owl  16
Great Horned Owl  55
Barred Owl  64
Eastern Whip-poor-will  2
Selasphorus, sp. (probably Rufous Hummingbird)  1
Belted Kingfisher  38
Red-headed Woodpecker  32
Red-bellied Woodpecker  284
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  61
Downy Woodpecker  118
Northern Flicker  38
Pileated Woodpecker  129
American Kestrel  56
Merlin  3
Least Flycatcher  4
Eastern Phoebe  580
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  10
Loggerhead Shrike  38
White-eyed Vireo  203
Blue-headed Vireo  44
Blue Jay  276
American Crow  621
Fish Crow  297
crow, sp.  45
Tree Swallow  6
Carolina Chickadee  204
Tufted Titmouse  248
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
Brown-headed Nuthatch  4
House Wren  236
Winter Wren  1
Sedge Wren  52
Marsh Wren  129
Carolina Wren  420
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  387
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  405
Eastern Bluebird  173
Hermit Thrush  27
American Robin  2,583
Gray Catbird  205
Northern Mockingbird  180
Brown Thrasher  15
European Starling  43
American Pipit  124
Sprague’s Pipit  2
Cedar Waxwing  54
Ovenbird  2
Northern Waterthrush  6
Black-and-white Warbler  69
Orange-crowned Warbler  105
Common Yellowthroat  292
Northern Parula  3
Palm Warbler  830
Pine Warbler  204
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1,910
Yellow-throated Warbler  28
Prairie Warbler  8
Wilson’s Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Eastern Towhee  187
Chipping Sparrow  488
Field Sparrow  20
Vesper Sparrow  57
Savannah Sparrow  515
Grasshopper Sparrow  20
Henslow’s Sparrow  2
Le Conte’s Sparrow  6
Fox Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  74
Lincoln’s Sparrow  6
Swamp Sparrow  455
White-throated Sparrow  62
White-crowned Sparrow  35
Summer Tanager  4
Northern Cardinal  832
Indigo Bunting  2
Painted Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  9,915
Eastern Meadowlark  382
Common Grackle  585
Boat-tailed Grackle  727
Brown-headed Cowbird  12,798
Baltimore Oriole  29
House Finch  72
American Goldfinch  372
House Sparrow  11

We’ve gained two minutes of daylight since the solstice! Two minutes! Yes! And the first Purple Martins should be back within three weeks, maybe four. So it’s nearly spring. Watch your feeders for Pine Siskins and Purple Finches, which tend to show up after January 1st.

The management and staff of the Alachua County Birding Report, Inc., TM, LLC, LOL, ROTFLMAO, would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Bronzed Cowbird at Hague Dairy, Red-breasted Nuthatches persisting

When I go birding with Mike Manetz and Jonathan Mays, I feel like a not-too-smart seven year old who just can’t keep up – who can’t see anything they’re looking at, can’t hear anything they’re hearing, and who needs to have each bird pointed out to him. The words most often out of my mouth on these trips are, “Um … where are you seeing this? Could you point, please?”

That’s the way it was this morning, at the Tuscawilla Prairie. We arrived at 6:30 and stood under a starry sky as mosquitoes feasted on us, waiting for the first dim light that would send the American Woodcocks flying off the Prairie, back to the woodland thickets where they’d spend the daylight hours. At 7:00 Jonathan called Mike’s attention to a woodcock flying over – Mike’s 250th bird in Alachua County in 2012. Another one flew over five minutes later, which only Jonathan saw. I missed them both.

But it was a great morning. The mosquitoes dispersed after the sun came up, and we were left with blue skies and temperatures in the high 60s. We splashed around the trails in our rubber boots and saw 54 species of birds. A few migrant and summer species were still around – an American Redstart, a Blue Grosbeak, a Summer Tanager, a couple of dozen Indigo Buntings, fifteen or twenty Barn Swallows – but the winter birds had taken possession of the place: House, Marsh, and Sedge Wrens, Swamp, Savannah, and Song Sparrows, Palm and Orange-crowned Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, and our first American Robin of the fall (though Anne Kendall had one in her NW Gainesville yard on the 19th). There was one nice surprise. Jonathan heard a soft chuck-chuck sound that he recognized as a Yellow-breasted Chat, and we coaxed the bird into view for a few seconds. I think that’s the first chat I’ve ever seen outside of nesting season.

Here’s a picture from this morning’s trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8117478536/in/photostream

Mike found a good bird at the Hague Dairy on the 22nd: “There were about 450 cowbirds at the dairy this morning, and among them a Bronzed. I spent three hours squinting into the sun and chasing this flock back and forth between barns, behind the barns, and around to the driveway and back again. When they all flew and landed on a roof in horrible light I was about to give up. I turned around and saw about 20 cowbirds on a wire behind me in good light and there he was … larger than the other cowbirds around him, all black, including head, with much larger bill than the Brown-headeds. The eye showed dirty reddish. I watched it for about three minutes before it flew off to join the larger flock.” John Hintermister couldn’t find it this morning, but it may still be around.

Greg Hart of Alachua had a Red-breasted Nuthatch in his yard on the 21st, and the two in John Killian’s yard have been present now for four days.

Another irruptive species, Pine Siskin, may be headed this way too. New York birder Shaibal Mitra did a count of siskins flying over Long Island on the 20th and tallied 20,275 of them in five and a half hours. (Thanks to Pat Burns for forwarding that report.)

An adult male Rufous Hummingbird visited Bob Wallace’s farm south of Alachua on the 21st.

I was late in learning about the deaths of two distinguished members of Gainesville’s birding community. Dr. John William “Bill” Hardy was the Curator of Birds at the Florida Museum of Natural History from 1973 to 1995. He was also the founder of ARA Records, which produced the first collection of Florida bird vocalizations, “Sounds of Florida’s Birds.” That’s how I learned bird songs in the late 1980s, by popping the cassette version into the tape player whenever I had a sink full of dishes to wash. Here’s Hardy’s obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/gainesville/obituary.aspx?n=john-william-hardy&pid=160278607&fhid=6683#fbLoggedOut

Dr. Frank Mead was a founding member of the Alachua Audubon Society, and was the organization’s official photographer for many years. In March 1955, five years before Alachua Audubon came into existence, he photographed the county’s first-ever Black-headed Grosbeak, which showed up a few blocks east of the UF campus. Here’s Frank’s obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/gainesville/obituary.aspx?n=frank-waldreth-mead&pid=160454312&fhid=6683#fbLoggedOut