I bird alone

“I bird alone. With nobody else. And you know, when I bird alone I prefer to be by myself.” — George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “I Bird Alone

I bird alone sometimes. Maybe most of the time. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m very slow. If I go out with Mike Manetz or John Hintermister or Adam Kent or Jonathan Mays, I’ll say, “Oh, look, a cardinal!” and write “Cardinal – 1″ in my notebook, and then I’ll look up and find that my companions have recorded 37 species while I was doing that. On my own I’ll see most of those 37 species … eventually … though it will take a bit of ambling and stopping and listening and peering up into the trees to find out what’s making that noise. But birding alone I can do those things. I don’t feel hurried by the fact that my companions have already processed the information and moved on to other birds. The other reason is that, birding alone, I’m led solely by my own perceptions and curiosity. If I see an unfamiliar wildflower I can stop to inspect it. If a Carolina Wren is doing something that baffles me I can pause and watch without having to catch up with my friends. I’m more thorough, and my notes are more complete, when I bird alone.

But I don’t always bird alone. The most obvious reason is that I really enjoy the company of my fellow birders. There are plenty of other reasons. If I always birded alone I’d be stagnant. Birding with my betters challenges me. Birding with beginners is a surefire mood-brightener (especially when they think I’m an expert!), since it’s enthusiasm and not proficiency that bonds birders together, and nobody is more enthusiastic than beginners. And birders at all levels are so often occupied with questions and observations that have never occurred to me, or that I haven’t successfully resolved, that I almost invariably find their company enlightening. I’d guess that about 60% of what I know about birds – and not just birds, but all of natural history – I’ve learned in the course of birding with others.

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre‘ — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a sainte-terrer‘, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. … For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels.” – Thoreau

Loonacy is upon us. The spring migration of Common Loons begins in mid-March and slows noticeably after the first half of April, though I’ve seen laggards well into late May. Loons that winter on the southern Gulf Coast of Florida seem to gather in the Cedar Key area and then fly northeast across the peninsula, passing directly over Gainesville. They usually take off at about sunrise, and if you’ve got a clear view of the sky you can often see them pass overhead about an hour later. I don’t think they fly in bad weather – or maybe it’s just that I don’t watch for them in bad weather – but if Sunday morning is fair, meet me at 8 a.m. on the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie and we’ll kick off this year’s Loonacy with a loon watch.

Speaking of which, Scott Flamand saw the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 9th, “still hanging out with the Common Loons.”

Sidney Wade sent a photo of a Whooping Crane she found at La Chua on the morning of the 13th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13148896925/

An adult male Orchard Oriole visited Tom Hoctor’s NW Gainesville yard on the 11th, one of the earliest spring arrivals ever reported in Alachua County and the first documented by a photo (which can be viewed on the Alachua County Birders’ Facebook page).

Dean and Samuel Ewing saw the spring’s first Black-necked Stilt at the US-441 observation platform on the 12th. Maybe it will put in an appearance on Sunday.

Karl Miller at FWC is looking for people to run Breeding Bird Survey routes: “There are currently 14 vacant routes this year. If you know of any skilled birders who may be interested in volunteering, please encourage them to contact me for more information on how to get started. An interactive map of the vacant routes can be found at the USGS BBS website: https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/RouteMap/Map.cfm

Adam Zions told me about this very neat Gopher Tortoise smartphone app: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/florida-gopher-tortoise-app/

Any of you folks knit? I knit not, but if I knat, I’d knit to help an oil-damaged penguin: http://time.com/13575/knit-for-oil-damaged-penguins/  [Update: Evidently not needed. See http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/penguins.asp]

See you Sunday morning at 8 for the loon watch, if the weather is nice.

Migrant shorebirds at the Hague Dairy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First two days of The June Challenge

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

I showed up at Morningside Nature Center on Sunday morning to make sure everyone on the butterfly field trip signed the liability form and wouldn’t be able to sue us for butterfly bites, etc. Maralee Joos pulled in right behind me. She told me that she’d just come from Palm Point, where Lloyd Davis had found and photographed a very late Tree Swallow. As soon as everyone had signed the form I rushed to Palm Point in hopes of seeing it myself, but I was too late.

That’s probably the best bird found on The June Challenge so far. The best I’ve heard about, anyway.

Saturday’s field trip in search of June Challenge birds was very well attended – I think I counted 34 or 35 people – but the birds were not eager to be seen, so we spent a lot more time searching for them, and a lot less time actually enjoying them, than I’d expected. We did eventually find most of what we were hoping for, though. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we got a quick glimpse of three Common Nighthawks and (after quite a bit of walking) got to ogle a very cooperative Bachman’s Sparrow. At Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor we saw four distant Laughing Gulls and one adult Bald Eagle, plus a bonus, two or three Limpkins drawn to the area by an abundance of exotic apple snails. Because we’d spent so much time in the first two locations, Powers Park and Palm Point were struck from the itinerary and we went directly to La Chua. There we had mixed luck: just about everyone saw the Whooping Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Great White Heron (non-countable), Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and lingering Blue-winged Teal and American Coots, but only some of us saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-Dove, and Orchard Oriole, and we never found the Yellow-breasted Chat at all. I think most of us ended the field trip with 50-55 species on our lists.

You can read Katherine Edison’s account of the morning, with photos, here.

On Saturday afternoon I drove out to Cellon Creek Boulevard, which has always been a good place to find, in a single spot, several birds that can be hard to see in summer. I discovered that a new fence had been put up near the generating station, barring access to the brushy edges at the top of the hill. Still, I saw most of what I’d come for: American Kestrel, Eastern Kingbird, Killdeer, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Purple Martin, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Bobwhites called but never showed themselves, Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites sailed over the treeline on the far side of the pasture, and, rather surprisingly, a flock of 17 Laughing Gulls flew past.

In past years I expected to find Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Common Ground-Doves there as well, but neither showed up this year. A couple of people told me later that I could see Rough-wingeds at the Hague Dairy, and on eBird I noticed that John Martin got 14 of them there on Sunday, probably two or three family groups. If the young have already fledged, they’ll be leaving soon, so get out there and add them to your June Challenge list while you can.

Carol Huang emailed earlier today to tell me that she’d found a Northern Flicker and Red-headed Woodpeckers at Northeast Park on NE 16th Avenue a little east of Main Street. Flickers are rare summer residents in Alachua County, and Northeast Park and Morningside Nature Center are about the only places where they can reliably be found.

And you can see Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at the Red Lobster Pond. Only two remained on Sunday morning.

Finally, a little business. Gmail seems to have a limit of 500 addresses to which it will send any given email, and we’re getting close. I know that a fair proportion of the 497 addresses on this mailing list go to UF students who have moved on, people who have lost interest, and others who just expected something different when they signed up. So if you’d like to continue to receive the Alachua County birding reports, please send an email to let me know that – something simple, like “Keep me on the list” or “You are the wind beneath my wings.” I’ll delete the addresses of those who don’t respond, and that should reduce the mailing list to a Gmail-friendly 300-400 addresses. Okay? Okay! I’ll repeat this request twice more, for those who miss it the first and second times.

Late spring update

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

At 7:00 on Tuesday evening, May 14th, Adam and Gina Kent will share photographs and descriptions of their recent trip to Cuba where they saw a wide variety of endemics and migrants and met with conservation professionals who manage some of the world’s richest environments. Please join us at the Millhopper Library, 3145 NW 43rd Street.

Two of the links in the last birding report went bad between the time I wrote it and the time you received it. The correct link for the film “Birders: The Central Park Effect” playing at The Hipp on the 21st is http://thehipp.org/birder.html

  And the correct link for the story on the eBird team’s North American Record Big Day, complete with map and photos, is http://ebird.org/content/ebird/?p=654

Conrad Burkholder took a really lovely photo of the area around Alachua Sink during the Alachua Audubon field trip on Saturday the 11th. The field trip found a Great White Heron, two Whooping Cranes, three Roseate Spoonbills, two Purple Gallinules, three Yellow-breasted Chats, eight Blue Grosbeaks, a dozen Indigo Buntings, two Orchard Orioles, and 100 Bobolinks, among other things.

On the 10th Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s only White-rumped Sandpipers so far: “White-rumped Sandpipers are in – had a flock of 8 peeps buzz by me this morning at the La Chua observation platform. Some were giving the little mouse squeak flight calls of White-rumps but I was only able to confirm actual white rumps on three of the birds.”

Dale Henderson notified me on the 7th that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was hanging around the Cedar Key airfield. It was still there on the 11th. That’s pretty late for a Scissor-tailed, but last year I saw one there in June.

There are still a few Cedar Waxwings hanging around. I saw four at the Main Street Publix on the 12th and heard (but didn’t see) a few in my NE Gainesville neighborhood on the 13th.

Not really meaning to rub your noses in it, but in case you’re interested here are two photos of birders looking at last weekend’s Kirtland’s Warbler.

Jonathan Mays got a photo of a Canebrake Rattlesnake (formerly a distinct subspecies, now simply considered a Timber Rattlesnake) in northern Alachua County on the 5th.

The Tenth Annual June Challenge begins in about two weeks.

Remember Adam and Gina Kent’s presentation on birding in Cuba at 7:00 on Tuesday evening!

Invasion of the Red-breasted Nuthatches!

I like being right about things – admittedly it doesn’t happen very often – so I’m going to remind you of my prediction that “this could work out to be an interesting winter, with Red-breasted Nuthatches outnumbering goldfinches at your feeder.” On the 20th John Killian had a Red-breasted Nuthatch at his NW Gainesville feeder, and on the morning of the 21st he had two! That’s right, two Red-breasted Nuthatches, zero American Goldfinches! Nostradamus, that’s me!

John got a nice picture of the first nuthatch on the 20th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8108732680/in/photostream

And that’s not all! Geoff Parks had two in his NE Gainesville yard this morning! And that’s still not all! Bob Wallace had one at his Alachua farm this morning! And that’s still not all! Andy Kratter saw three Red-breasted Nuthatches at the Cedar Key cemetery on the 20th! While he was there he ran into Dale Henderson, who’d seen two others, one in her yard and one at the Cedar Key State Museum! In case you’re arithmetically challenged, that’s five Red-breasted Nuthatches at Cedar Key! (Excuse me while I run to Office Depot for more exclamation points.) Hopefully they were seen today by the Alachua Audubon field trip and will stick around till the next Cedar Key field trip on November 17th.

Speaking of which, Audubon’s Programs and Field Trips schedule has finally been updated, thanks to Phil Laipis:http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/calendar.htm

Geoff Parks has had a run of great birds in his NE Gainesville yard during the past week. In addition to this morning’s Red-breasted Nuthatches, and the Clay-colored Sparrow that visited him on the 13th, he had a female Painted Bunting on the 14th, and the fall’s second Nashville Warbler dropped in for a few minutes on the 20th: “I observed it at close range (~10 feet) and in good light for a minute or so, but I went to get a camera and it was gone when I came back. It had a complete narrow white eye ring, completely gray head that contrasted with the olive of the rest of the upperparts, and bright, lemon yellow underparts with only a small white area around the legs, with the brightest yellow on the upper breast and the undertail coverts. The throat was yellow, and the flanks were definitely yellow and not dingy brownish as in a female Common Yellowthroat. At least part of the time I was observing it, it pumped its tail frequently, although not particularly rhythmically. I did see the top of the head, and did not observe any color other than gray. Although I haven’t seen one of these birds in quite a while, I’ve seen them numerous times in Connecticut, Maine, and Missouri, and I have no doubt that this was what it was.”

Mike Manetz found a Least Flycatcher along the Cones Dike Trail near the 3-mile marker. He heard it calling and was able to get a recording of its vocalizations. He also found an extraordinarily late Orchard Oriole. Hopefully both birds will stick around for next weekend’s field trip.

Frank Goodwin ran across a Clay-colored Sparrow at La Chua on the 18th:http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8108724963/in/photostream  This could be the same bird that Mike Manetz found nearer the observation tower on the 12th.

Steve Hofstetter had a male Painted Bunting in his NW Gainesville back yard on the 19th. A few Painteds have shown up lately – they often do, mixed in with the Indigo Buntings whose migration peaks in October – but all except for Steve’s have been plain green females: Adam Zions saw one at San Felasco on the 19th, one visited Mike Manetz’s NW Gainesville yard from the 15th through the 17th, one visited Geoff Parks (as mentioned above) on the 14th, and John Hintermister saw one at Bolen Bluff on the 8th.

The Yellow-headed Blackbird that Mike Manetz found on the 11th remained at the dairy till at least the 15th, when John Hintermister and Mike both saw it, but it hasn’t been seen since then. Mike couldn’t find it on the 20th: “I did a quick check of the dairy and found fewer blackbirds than ever. Eight Brown-headed Cowbirds sitting dejectedly in a dying pine tree, only a handful of Boat-tailed Grackles, and about thirty Red-winged Blackbirds in the back fields. Nothing on or in the barns but about twenty Rock Pigeons. I drove up to 156th Ave and back down 59th. Nothing there either. Guess I’d better stay in my yard and wait for the Nuthatches.”