Broad-winged Hawk, possible American Bittern

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

Mike Manetz writes, “While doing my Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua this morning I got a good look at a Broad-winged Hawk. It was along Peggy Road about 50 yards west of 325A, in the picnic area for Dollar General employees. Only about 10 minutes later a security guard asked me to leave the property. So the best way to see it is to wait at the intersection and watch for it soaring overhead.”

Chris Cattau had an even more unusual sighting today: “I’m 95% sure I saw an American Bittern fly across the right (north) fork of the Levy Prairie around 8:30 AM (right at a big turn to the north, not too far before the 2 mi marker). Larger and longer billed than immature night herons, legs extending well beyond tail, neck was outstretched and distinctly longer (okay, 99% sure). I was biking and it was steamy out by that time and my glasses fogged up when I stopped to put up binos. It was a short flight, flushing not far from one side of the trail and landing not too far on the other side, but never revealed itself again.” There’s only one previous June record for American Bittern in Alachua County.

Having missed the first ten days of June, I’m playing catch-up in the June Challenge competition. I’ve seen 79 species so far, but I understand that Maralee Joos is up to 109. I’m not sure I can make up a 30-species deficit in the twelve days I’ve got left, and there may be someone who’s ahead of Maralee that I don’t know about! Anyway, I was out at La Chua this evening, trying to find some new things for June. I saw an American Coot along Sweetwater Dike, between the first and second 90-degree turns, off to the left. Also two Least Bitterns, three Orchard Orioles, and a pair of Purple Gallinules. I heard two King Rails but didn’t see any.

I’ve been out at La Chua toward dusk on two of the last three evenings, and both times I saw a bird that looked like a female Bobolink flying in the direction of the observation platform. If it wasn’t a Bobolink I have no idea what it was, but that’s a species that’s never been recorded here in June.

John Sloane has been active with the Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua County (Melrose area) and and has extended his surveys to Bradford, Clay, and Putnam Counties. He’s discovered some previously unsuspected riches in eastern Alachua County between Earleton and Hawthorne, including numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites, which I’d normally expect in the eastern county, but also numbers of Missisissippi Kites, which I would not, and a surprising variety of other birds: “Today Janet and I went out to to the intersection of County Road 219A and County Road 1474 east of Campville to check on the kites. We surveyed within a half mile of the intersection and found most of them within the NW quadrant. Of course it was difficult for us to get an accurate total count, so I will report the minimum count, which would be the maximum number we saw at any one location at the same time. We believe this count to be conservative. Minimum number of Swalllow-tailed Kites was 12 including a number of juveniles, Mississippi Kites was 6 including several juveniles. Two Red-tailed Hawks were with them. This area is mostly hay fields with scattered trees and a few ponds. Also noted in the same area were nesting Eastern Kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Common Grackles, along with Northern Bobwhite, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Bluebird, and so on. A nice productive area.”

While driving around, I’m seeing a lot of Osprey nests that have either fledged chicks already – or else they’ve been abandoned. Has anyone else noticed this? The one along 441 where it starts south across Paynes Prairie, and the one near the Gainesville Police Department building – did they fledge any young this year? I’ve noticed a couple other empty nests as well, and I’ve been wondering how widespread this is.

Remember Ernesto Reyes Mourino’s photographic presentation on the birds of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp on Thursday night at ACT.

And remember to let me know if you want to go see Alachua County’s only Burrowing Owls on the 28th.

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!

Blue bird bonanza

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

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.

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.)

Additional springerie

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

There are two stages of life. Stage One is, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Stage Two is, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” When Samuel Ewing recently corrected my misidentification of a Cooper’s Hawk I realized that I have reached Stage Two. (Apologies to you whippersnappers who are too young to remember that advertising campaign. I’d bemoan the state of cultural literacy, if I weren’t so shocked by the realization that I consider advertising to be a part of cultural literacy….)

When that front was moving through Gainesville last night and this morning, it occurred to me that migrants might run into that weather and be forced down. I called Matt O’Sullivan to see if he was interested in going out to have a look, and he was. Our first stop was the Newberry area. I had an idea that we could check the fields around Watermelon Pond for grounded Upland Sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds. As it turned out, the road to Watermelon Pond was too mucky for my Camry, so we checked a nearby sod farm and some recently-plowed fields along SW 46th Avenue. It sure looked good, and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, three Common Ground-Doves, a White-winged Dove, and three Fox Squirrels, but no sandpipers. As the clouds broke up and the sun came out, we drove on to San Felasco Hammock (the Millhopper Road entrance, north side) to see if the rain had brought in any woodland migrants. It had. Although Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered everything else by five to one, we ended up with twelve warbler species, including five Prairie Warblers, an adult male American Redstart, an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and an adult male Cape May Warbler. There was quite a lot of bird activity there, including several newly-arrived Great Crested Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers. We figured that Palm Point should be pretty good as well, so we made the long drive across town, speculating that we’d find even more warblers, not to mention gulls and terns dropped in by the front. But Palm Point was devoid of birds, and scanning Newnans Lake we saw no gulls, no terns, nothing but cormorants and the occasional Osprey – though we did find three or four of the resident Prothonotary Warblers and a Limpkin farther down Lakeshore Drive.

Spring arrivals are increasing in number and variety. Over the past week or two, La Chua Trail has seen the arrival of (click on the hyperlinks for photos) Black-necked Stilt (over 30 have been seen at once!), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat (though the chat may have spent the winter).

Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th: “Slightly early; beautiful male, no song but gave occasional call note, which sounds like a shoe squeaking on a basketball court.”

On the morning of the 7th I went to La Chua in search of spring arrivals and found myself gawking at the season’s heaviest Common Loon migration. With about fifteen other birders I’d kicked off this year’s Loonacy at the US-441 observation platform on March 16th. We saw only four or five loons, all of them very far away, and I’m pretty sure that I discouraged everyone out there from any further loon watching. I wish they’d all been with me yesterday. I saw 57 birds, in 22 groups ranging in size from 1 to 9, and some of them were flying at surprisingly low altitudes. Here’s how it worked out, by ten-minute segments:

7:50-8:00   17 birds
8:00-8:10   5
8:10-8:20   21
8:20-8:30   1
8:30-8:40   5
8:40-8:50   0
8:50-9:00   2
9:00-9:10   5
9:10-9:20   1

Cedar Key sunrise was at 7:16 on the 7th, so the birds that I saw passed over Gainesville from 34 minutes after sunrise to nearly two hours after, suggesting a takeoff ranging from about half an hour before sunrise to an hour afterward. The flight peaked from 8:14 to 8:16, when I saw 17 birds in five groups.

Andy Kratter had an even better morning than I did: “It was giddy excitement and thrills at my loon census this morning. The loons started at 8:09 with two migrating far to the north, and in the next 95 minutes I recorded a near-constant stream of ones and twos and small groups (largest group = 18), for a total of 133 for the day, in 49 groups. Also had two White-winged Doves, a high flying migrant Belted Kingfisher, a migrant American Kestrel, and lots of the usual suspects. One of my best days ever loon watching.” And Samuel Ewing, watching from his NW Gainesville yard, tallied 33 loons between 8:32 and 9:11. Samuel got this picture of a migrating loon in flight on the 31st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13538401855/in/photostream/

The Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve has been relatively cooperative lately. Most of those who have been looking for it have found it. Walk out the Red-White Connector trail to the service road and turn left. When the trail forks, keep going straight (i.e., take the right fork) and look for the sign to the campground. Once at the campground, listen for a rapid drumming. You’ll probably have to set out from the campground and explore the woods to the north and northwest, but as I say most of those who have gone in search of this bird have found it. Here’s a nice picture by Samuel Ewing, showing the characteristic spike-like bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13648935265/in/photostream/

John Hintermister, Phil Laipis, and I motored out onto Lake Santa Fe on the 27th, hoping to relocate the two Black Scoters that Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn had found on the 20th. We found 220 Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, 32 Horned Grebes (some in breeding plumage), and 19 Common Loons – even the Pacific Loon! – but no scoters of any description. Learning that the Pacific Loon was still there, Adam went back on the 2nd to try for it again, and missed it again, but … “saw what was possibly a White-winged Scoter. The bird was so far away that I couldn’t say for sure, but it looked like a big black duck with white in the wings.”

Like all right-thinking people, I regularly check Katherine Edison’s blog. I especially like the posts that teach me the names of wildflowers: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ditch-is-back.html

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Osprey at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

I bird alone

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

“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.”