A pretty interesting day

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

This was probably the best single day of spring migration in Alachua County that I can remember.

This morning Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald biked from the Duck Pond area to the La Chua Trail by way of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then walked along Sparrow Alley. They spotted a male Blackburnian Warbler at the Sweetwater Overlook – Ryan wrote, “Seen in flight only but adult male — orange throat, face pattern, white patch on wing noted” – which is only the second spring record in the county’s history; the first was in 1961. Then, along Sparrow Alley, they saw the county’s fourth-ever Cave Swallow! Ryan again: “Foraging with big flock of Chimney Swifts, Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Purple Martin. Orange rump, and pale underparts fading to buffy orange throat and reddish forehead seen, though briefly.”

Otherwise, the best birding today was at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance), where Felicia Lee, Elizabeth Martin, and John Martin (no relation) walked the Moonshine Creek Trail and saw “5 Cape May Warblers, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Scarlet Tanagers, 1 male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 2 Worm-Eating Warblers, and a Wood Thrush. All in all, 11 warbler species.”

This morning’s field trip to Powers Park and Palm Point did fairly well. At Powers we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (photo here), and 75 Common Loons flying north. At Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive we saw a very cooperative male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Cape May Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler.

Geoff Parks had seen two Cliff Swallows at La Chua on the 17th. Today’s weather was cloudy with intermittent drizzle, good weather to keep swallows down (as Ryan and Jessica found), so Mike Manetz and I walked out La Chua to see if we could match Geoff’s feat. We did find a huge congregation of swallows and swifts – we agreed that “1,000” didn’t sound excessive – and saw two or three Cliff Swallows among them. We also saw a single male Bobolink, the spring’s first. And we were surprised and pleased to find shorebirds foraging in puddles along the flooded trail – three Solitary Sandpipers, four Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and four Spotted Sandpipers.

Late this afternoon Matt O’Sullivan found a Nashville Warbler at Loblolly Woods near the parking lot (on NW 34th Street, entrance directly east of 5th Avenue). Also present at Loblolly were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Prairie, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers.

There’s a pretty good chance that all the birds mentioned above will still be here tomorrow.

On tiny little Seahorse Key, an island two miles off Cedar Key, Andy Kratter saw 15 Tennessee Warblers and 15 Painted Buntings on the 17th, and six Lincoln’s Sparrows (“probably more”) on the 18th. Hopefully we’ll have just a fraction of his success on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip. If you’d like to join us, meet us in the Target parking lot at 6:30 a.m.

There’s a little more spring to come. Not much. A little.

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

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Ospreys 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!”

Just a reminder: the next three weeks will see the peak of spring migration in terms of northbound transients like Cape May, Blackpoll, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Bobolinks, Scarlet Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (among many others). And then it will pretty much be over. So get out and see them while they’re here! Don’t be like Darth Vader when he realized that he’d missed an entire spring migration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWaLxFIVX1s

Alachua Audubon’s field trip schedule is set up in July and August, and though we usually remember to schedule around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we occasionally lose track of Easter. That’s what happened this time. So we’ll be having two field trips this weekend as we usually do during spring and fall migrations, one to Palm Point with Bob Carroll on Saturday and one to Cedar Key with me on Easter Sunday. I apologize for our scheduling error, and hopefully we’ll remember not to repeat it next year. Remaining field trips here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Actually it looks as though Cedar Key *may* be better on Wednesday than on Sunday. Bob Duncan, Florida birding’s weather guru, sent out an email on Monday evening: “The very strong front has entered the NW Gulf of Mexico and is making good progress with winds NNW around 30 mph. If it has entered the southern Gulf by the time migrants take off from Yucatan (launch time = about ½ hr after sunset), migrants would not have taken off and the rest of the week would be a bust (birds have been known to turn back to Yucatan when encountering bad weather). But winds in northern Yucatan are still SSE–SE about 15 mph as of about 6 p.m. and mid-Gulf still has SE wind, so birds should take off this evening if the front does not move too fast. IF they take off, and my feeling is they will, when they encounter the front, SW then NW winds, the timing will determine where they will end up. Should they encounter it in mid-Gulf, the thrust of the movement will probably be toward the west coast of Florida (do I hear cheers coming from St. Pete?). But if they encounter it farther north, the AL – NW FL coast will be the landfall. At any rate, the arrival will be delayed by headwinds and extra miles traveled. So tomorrow a.m. should not have birds coming in, but my guess is that late tomorrow (Tuesday) would be the time to start looking at the migrant traps. And Wednesday a.m. would be my choice of birding days, as N winds nearing gale force tomorrow will make detection somewhat difficult at the traps.” This prediction is seconded by the migration-radar blog Badbirdz Reloaded: http://badbirdz2.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weather-and-birds-ii/

Phil and Sandy Laipis found a Roseate Spoonbill loafing with Wood Storks at Paynes Prairie on the 12th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13882280724/

Andy Kratter continues to do his daily loon watch from Pine Grove Cemetery. This morning between 8:04 and 9:21 he recorded 47 Common Loons, as well as 5 Laughing Gulls, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Peregrine Falcon.

Becky Enneis in Alachua and Austin Gregg in Gainesville are hosting male Painted Buntings in their yards. The buntings are bound for breeding territories on the Atlantic coastal strip, so they won’t stay long, but what a great thing to see out your window! Austin wrote, “Eight feet to the right of the birdbath, in a leafy green viburnum, I noted the reddish looking tail end of a partially hidden bird. Hmmm, I thought, must be the male house finch … ho hum, but I’ll have a look anyway. Turned around and grabbed the binocs, looked in the bush. Gone. Then I just happened to glance back over to the birdbath and there, splashing away with the female cardinal was a male painted bunting in full breeding plumage! A lifer! I enjoyed good looks at this spectacular bird for at least 10 minutes.”

If you haven’t been to the La Chua Trail lately, I have some advice for you. Take boots: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/13781455393/

Greg McDermott sent me this handy chart that makes the identification of Empidonax flycatchers a breeze (thanks to Samuel Ewing for posting it): https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13829348215/

O friends, take care that you don’t step over the line to the Dark Side Of Birding: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8569864/When-birdwatchers-go-bad-how-the-rise-of-wildlife-paparazzi-has-led-to-hide-rage.html

Miscellaneous, including local birding update

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

I’m a sort of village idiot, fascinated by simple things. I always figured, for instance, that the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, would by definition have the latest sunrise and the earliest sunset. But no! The sun continues to rise later and later after the December 21st solstice, reaching its latest (7:26) from January 8th to January 12th. And the earliest sunset (5:30) occurs well before the solstice, from November 25th to December 8th. Although we’ve gained 50 minutes of daylight since the solstice, it’s all been at one end of the day; sunrise is only 9 minutes earlier, while sunset is 41 minutes later. Why does everything have to be so complicated?

With nesting season approaching, and already underway for a few species, Audubon Florida (formerly Florida Audubon Society, Audubon of Florida, etc.) has produced a short video called Tips for Successful Wildlife Photography.

Speaking of videos, Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge, in which our own Adam Kent participated this past December, is the subject of a Birding Adventures TV episode. Dan Lane, an LSU ornithologist of some reputation, is one of the other contestants. If you want to see Adam, he shows up at 1:11, 13:41, 18:47, and 20:32: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDnbyiI4x98&sns=em

The Sandhill Cranes are departing in big numbers. On the 10th Mercedes Panqueva saw migrating flocks over San Felasco’s Progress Center: “Tallied 1,613 by Lee Pond. Observation was between 1:04 and 4:04 PM. Most were large flocks (50-180) flying high but still catching thermals. At 2:43, as part of, but on the very edge of a flock of 184, one white crane that can only be a Whooping.” On the 11th John Erickson reported “at least 8,000″ flying north over the US-441 observation platform. Mike Manetz saw 1500 in a pasture a mile north of the platform this morning: “They may disperse in the area but given the weather I think we will have a lot of cranes grounded here for the next couple of days.”

The Rusty Blackbirds are still present at Magnolia Park: Matt O’Sullivan saw 11 on the 10th, and Samuel Ewing saw two and photographed one on the 12th. The Calliope Hummingbird was still present in High Springs on the 9th. The Bullock’s Oriole was still at the Goodmans’ place on the same day. Also on the 9th, Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan found two Lincoln’s Sparrows at La Chua (one beside the big pine near the entrance to Sparrow Alley, one at the end of the boardwalk at Alachua Sink), and Glenn Israel relocated the Northern Rough-winged Swallow and saw four Painted Buntings at the Hague Dairy. Hilda Bellot told me that she saw the Black-chinned Hummingbird at her NW Gainesville home on the morning of the 9th, but no one has reported it since; Matt O’Sullivan has gone looking for it twice without success.

Bye bye, birdie. Bye bye.

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

Let me clarify something from the last birding report. Jessica Burnett’s House Sparrow project does NOT require you to have House Sparrows in your yard. In fact, I’m aware of only one yard in Gainesville that DOES have House Sparrows. Jessica is trying to document their ABSENCE from (most) residential areas. So if you DON’T have House Sparrows at your place, if you just have the usual run of feeder birds, then YES, your yard is ideal for the House Sparrow study. Of course it’s also ideal if you DO have House Sparrows. Please contact Jessica either way, at jburnett9@ufl.edu

(MY, BUT THAT’S A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS! I ALMOST FEEL AS IF I SHOULD BE COMMENTING ON A YOUTUBE VIDEO! AND USING LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!)

Spring has been slow in arriving this year. Since mid-January I’ve been cruising past the martin houses at the old George’s Hardware at 34th and University, just knowing I’d see the spring’s first male perched outside a nest hole, but no. And no Ospreys yet, either, on the three nests I pass regularly. And I’ve seen no big flocks of robins flying over in the afternoons, bound for their roosts in the flatwoods. But I was working in the yard this morning, and I had just thought to myself, “It’s a beautiful spring day after a spell of cold weather, and there’s a south wind…” and right on cue I heard the Sandhill Cranes. Between eleven and noon I counted over 700 birds heading north, and heard others I couldn’t see. So they’re leaving us. There was also a flight of over 30 Tree Swallows headed north, a trio of Red-shouldered Hawks circling overhead screaming at each other, and a handful of Yellow-rumped Warblers flycatching from the oaks, zooming out, flaring their white-spotted tails as they snapped up their prey, and flying back.

But even though I haven’t seen Purple Martins, others have been luckier. The first of the spring were three birds reported by Marianne McDowell on January 24th, and there have been three reports since.

Lloyd Davis found a Clay-colored Sparrow while “walking around the abandoned shack just south of the sewage lagoon” at the Hague Dairy on the 30th. He also saw 5 female Painted Buntings and (a surprisingly big number) 12 Common Ground-Doves.

Matt O’Sullivan and I walked the Cones Dike Trail on the 31st and had a great morning. The largest number of unusual birds were near the big bend in the trail (about two and a half miles from the visitor center, where it changes from north-south to east-west), and included a Prairie Warbler, a Least Flycatcher that eluded us on the way out but put on a show for us as we were walking back, 3 or 4 Northern Waterthrushes, and, most surprising of all, a Least Bittern, one of only a dozen winter reports in the county’s history. We saw 60 species overall.

Dave Byrd notifies us of a spectacle at Lake Alice: “Two Red-tailed Hawks feeding heavily on bats at the Bat Tower. Be there at 5:50 to insure catching  the action around sunset. Pretty awesome sight.”

Mike Manetz pointed out to me that fourteen eBirders saw over 100 species in Alachua County during the month of January. Either we live in a really great place, or we’ve got some really good birders, or both.

Do you have your ticket for this weekend’s Backyard Birding Tour? Time’s a wasting! http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

I’ve got to end with some extremely sad news. Courtney Tye, a member of this mailing list for several years, died in childbirth this weekend. She’s survived by her husband Barry and newborn son Carter. Courtney had been working with private landowners on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I ran into her at the post office one day, and chatted with her for twenty minutes, and I can believe she was very good at that job. She was an intelligent and charming person, and it’s a great sorrow that her son will never know her. Rest in peace.

Black Rail and an invasion of Painted Buntings!

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

Field trip change: The Alligator Lake field trip will go as planned on February 1st. But Bob Carroll writes, “The trip is listed for 8:00 AM and the meeting place is listed as the parking lot at Alligator Lake. John Hintermister is concerned that few people will know where to go. So I volunteered to meet people at the Tag Agency at 7:00 and lead a car pool caravan up to meet Jerry Krummrich at Alligator Lake. Please publicize that option, and make it clear that people can either meet me at 7:00 at the Tag Agency or meet the rest of us at Alligator Lake at 8:00.”

On the 22nd Dick Bartlett walked out the La Chua Trail with out-of-towners Jake Scott and Don Filipiak. Just before they reached the observation platform at La Chua, Jake and Don disturbed a small bird that dashed for the marshy edge but found the vegetation impenetrable, paused, and walked around for a moment before escaping. Based on this slightly extended view they identified the bird as a Black Rail. Don’s eBird description reads, “Small (noticeably smaller than a Sora) dark gray bird running thru vegetation approx 4 ft in front of us.” Steve Mann and I ran into the trio a few minutes later, and eagerly checked the spot they pointed out to us. Needless to say, we saw nothing. A few days before, Jake had caught a glimpse of the mystery rail that Scott Flamand found on the Christmas Bird Count – near the memorial sign across US-441 from the Paynes Prairie observation deck – but it was only a glimpse, and not seen well enough to make an identification. Still, that’s two possible Black Rails reported this winter, which is two more than usual.

More Painted Buntings! At last notice we had ten in the county. On the 22nd John Hintermister found an eleventh, a female at Prairie Creek Preserve (along the Lodge Trail). And then on the 26th Felicia Lee, Glenn Price, and Elizabeth Martin found “at least five” (! – that’s Felicia’s count; Glenn and Elizabeth thought there were more) west of the lagoon at the Hague Dairy; Glenn got a photo. Even if two of those five were birds that Lloyd Davis had previously reported from the dairy, that’s at least 14 in the county at one time! Painted Buntings are a fairly common feeder bird in central and southern Florida during winter, but I’ve never heard of so many wintering in Alachua County at once.

After being absent all winter, Yellow-breasted Chats are suddenly being reported. Chris Burney saw three along Sparrow Alley on the 26th: “Two birds chasing each other and perching in full view, and another bird seen much further down along Sparrow Alley (Bells Vireo location).” Lloyd Davis saw one along the Cones Dike Trail on the 25th, along with a Northern Waterthrush, two Least Flycatchers … and a possible Green-tailed Towhee! He writes, “The bird was on the Cone’s Dike trail where the trail turns sharply to the right (2.75 miles from the Visitor Center). There is a large culvert there. I was looking south and saw a bird feeding at the water surface on the weeds and immediately thought it was a Swamp Sparrow. But when I looked through my binocs, it had a solid rusty cap. I tried to get a photo but it jumped around too much. After seeing the chat and Least Flycatchers, I came back and played its call and then Western Screech-Owl, but got nothing but Yellow-rumped Warblers.” Ignacio Rodriguez had reported two Green-tailed Towhees from the Bolen Bluff Trail on October 13th, but no one had seen any sign of them since. Maybe they just moved over to Cones Dike.

For those who haven’t seen the Bullock’s Oriole yet: Andy Kratter pointed out that my last birding report gave the address of the house you SHOULDN’T go to, but neglected to give the Goodmans’ address, where you’ll be welcome and have a chair to sit in. The Goodmans are at 6437 NW 37th Drive, in Mile Run, north of NW 53rd Avenue a little east of NW 43rd Street.

Speaking of orioles, Dave Gagne and Christian Newton counted 32 Baltimore Orioles at the Lynches’ place in High Springs while waiting for the Calliope Hummingbird on the 22nd.

Most of you are already aware that a Wilson’s Warbler has been reliably seen along Sparrow Alley since late December (Adam Zions’s photo is here). On the 26th Matt O’ Sullivan discovered another one – the first one has a black cap, this one doesn’t – further down the trail, where it intersects Sweetwater Branch just beyond the Bell’s Vireo spot.

On the 24th Phil Laipis and I spent six hours combing the Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve pinewoods where Mike Manetz had seen the Hairy Woodpecker on the 17th. We found no sign of the Hairy. Our consolation prizes were two, maybe four or five, Bachman’s Sparrows. During the nesting season we find these in the palmetto flatwoods, but all those we saw were in the longleaf pine savannah, among bare sand and wiregrass. We spent ten minutes watching one creep around with tiny steps (“like a mouse,” Phil commented) under the sprays of grass, sometimes under the fallen leaves, eating grass seeds. A really beautiful bird. Phil got a photo.

Ha ha ha! From Matt Hafner via Diane Reed.

eBirders should be aware of a change in the checklist: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/rock-pigeon/  (Shorter Version: Rock Pigeon has been re-labeled “Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)” but is still countable.)

Some kind of record

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

If you haven’t seen the Bullock’s Oriole and you plan to, let me ever-so-gently remind you of something I wrote in an earlier post: “Dotty Robbins told me that she went north from the Goodmans’ and around the corner, and from the street was able to see the bird in a tree in the back yard of the yellow house at 3736 NW 65th Place. If you go looking, please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house, as the wife works at night.” Evidently some birders read those sentences and took in the address, but not the part where I wrote, “please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house,” because they did, in fact, disturb the residents of the house, who were consequently upset. So don’t do that.

Fred Bassett’s visit on the 18th and 19th revealed that things around here are even crazier than we thought. While capturing and banding 14 hummingbirds, Fred discovered that, in addition to the Calliope in High Springs, in addition to the expected Rufouses (Fred banded 8) and Ruby-throateds (3) scattered here and there, that there’s a SECOND Calliope in town, at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house, and that Hilda Bellot is hosting a Black-chinned! That’s (consults fingers) four hummingbird species at once!

Glenn Price captured a nice video of the Calliope, which you can watch here. Calliope is a Florida Ornithological Society “review species,” so if you get to see it, please complete the rare bird form at the FOS web site: http://fosbirds.org/content/fos-bird-records-species-documentation

Hilda Bellot has given permission for birders to peer into her yard to see the Black-chinned Hummingbird. She lives near the big hill on NW 8th Avenue. From 8th turn south onto NW 21st Street. Go almost two blocks and pull to the right, onto the shoulder, just before you reach NW 7th Lane. Ms. Bellot’s house will be on your left (corner of 21st and 7th Lane), and right there, in the side yard, probably in view before you even get out of your car, is an arbor with two hummingbird feeders dangling from it. The Black-chinned has been coming to these feeders. Please stand in the street to wait for the bird; there’s not much traffic. If you want to see the purple gorget feathers you might try to visit in the afternoon to get the sun in your favor, but Fred dabbed a spot of bright pink dye on its crown, so you’re not likely to mistake it for the Rufous Hummingbird that’s also visiting the yard.

On the morning of the 17th Mike Manetz found a Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve. It’s frequenting the longleaf pine / turkey oak sandhill at the western end of the “red blaze trail,” marked R on the map here.

Okay, let’s review. These birds are all present in Alachua County right now:

1.   Bullock’s Oriole (please re-read the first paragraph of this report)
2.   Western Tanager (and maybe a second in Alachua!)
3.   Calliope Hummingbird (2 of them)
4.   Black-chinned Hummingbird
5.   Red-breasted Nuthatch
6.   Fox Sparrow (2)
7.   Snow Goose (3)
8.   White-faced Ibis
9.   Vermilion Flycatcher
10. Wilson’s Warbler
11. Painted Bunting (10!)
12. Common Goldeneye (2?)
13. Pine Siskin
14. Least Flycatcher
15. Rusty Blackbird (flock)
16. Hairy Woodpecker

There have been other remarkable sightings. A Summer Tanager is spending the winter at Adam and Gina Kent’s for the second or third year in a row. Frank and Irina Goodwin found a Blue Grosbeak along the Levy Lake Loop on the 12th. On the 17th Lloyd Davis found two Painted Buntings, a male and a female, in the weedy canal behind the parking area at the Hague dairy, and I know of at least eight others coming to local feeders. And on the 19th Adam Kent’s team found four Northern Waterthrushes along Cones Dike on the kids’ CBC. In case you are not inferring what I’m implying, it’s a really good winter to be a birdwatcher in Alachua County, maybe The Best Ever! Why are you sitting indoors at your computer, reading this?

On the 18th Adam Zions had one of the best days I’ve ever heard of at Cedar Key: “It was low tide as I arrived, and I figured the area should be popping with shore and wading birds. So I began at Bridge No. 4, as it’s always a good place to begin. A few groups of Bufflehead (everywhere in Cedar Key – I don’t think there was one spot I went to which didn’t at least have 2) were great to see. I was walking back along the north side of the bridge trying for either Clapper Rail or Nelson’s or Seaside Sparrows, but to no avail. Since it was peak low tide, I decided to go off the bridge and walk around some of the saltmarsh cordgrass and into the marsh not too far from where the bridge begins. After scaring up a Sedge Wren, I continued on and flushed a Yellow Rail!!! I almost stepped on the damn thing, as it flew up and nearly gave me a heart attack. There was no mistaking it. Short, stubby yellow bill, white wing patches, a smidge smaller than a Sora, and a mix of beige/dark brown scaled/barred plumage. It flew and landed only a few feet away, so I headed over to the spot quickly to see if I could relocate it and possible get a photo of it. Apparently the rail had other plans and I couldn’t flush it again. I tried playing some call recordings, but it didn’t want to respond to it. So the day was already off to a banging start. I pretty much checked most of the areas out to see what was there. Other highlights included a trifecta of scoters at the pier (Black, White-winged, and 7 Surf), 2 Nelson’s Sparrows (one at the airport and the other at Shell Mound), 7 Roseate Spoonbills, and 25+ American Avocets at Shell Mound.”

Fred Bassett is coming back through town on the 22nd. If you’ve got a hummingbird visiting your feeder regularly and you’d like him to band it, let me know and I’ll pass your request along to Fred.

Have you got your tickets to the Backyard Birding Tour yet? Well dang, what’s the matter with you? http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

Weekend update

In case you haven’t heard the news, Florida’s second-ever Townsend’s Solitaire was at Honeymoon Island today. It was found around 9:00 this morning and was still being seen as late as 3:30. Watch eBird or the state listservs for updates.

The Alachua Audubon field trip to the Hague Dairy on the 2nd started out well, with two Bronzed Cowbirds directly across the driveway from the office. But then things took a turn for the worse, and we went for a good two hours, maybe three, without seeing much of interest. The dairy grounds had recently been mowed, leaving little in the way of tall grasses, weeds, or brush to shelter birds, and that probably had a lot to do with it. Anyway, at about 11:30 we started around the lagoon, and at that point our luck took a screeching turn for the better. On a floating mat of scum (more vivid words are available but not family friendly) we spotted four Killdeer, two Least Sandpipers, and a late Pectoral Sandpiper. A family group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was paddling in a scum-free zone nearby. Dan Maico spotted a Merlin sitting on top of a snag at the west end of the lagoon, and it allowed us a very close approach and extended ogling. A flock of five American Pipits flew over. As we approached the little wetland that borders the lagoon on the north, Dan spied the best bird of the day, a young male Dickcissel, one of only about twenty ever recorded in the county. It was a shy bird, and it ducked out of sight shortly after it was found. Although it came out into the open a couple more times, it didn’t stay in view for long and not everyone got a look at it. But as we stood around waiting for it, we did see a female Painted Bunting mixed in with a handful of late-migrant Indigo Buntings. It was our last good sighting of the day, though we spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to locate a Yellow-headed Blackbird that Mike Manetz had seen while we were occupied in discovering the Dickcissel.

Early November is the expected arrival time for waterfowl. Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teal have recently been reported at Paynes Prairie, joining the Blue-winged Teal that have been there since August. A different sort of waterfowl was spied by Andy Kratter on the morning of the 31st: “Just had a very early and locally very rare Red-throated Loon fly over my place in Gainesville, and strangely it was heading west to east. Good looks at thin neck, small bill held above horizontal, small feet, head held below body. Just plain weird.” I think this is only about the fifth record for the county.

Samuel Ewing saw the fall’s first American Robins flying over his NW Gainesville home on the 2nd. Although they don’t normally descend on our yards until January and February, we see the first flocks of southbound robins going high overhead in late October or early November, so these are right on time. Geoff Parks saw an even earlier one on October 13th, but he speculated that it was the same one that visited his yard on July 29th. The nearest known breeding population of robins is in Tallahassee, but we’ve had a number of midsummer sightings over the years, and I can’t help but wonder….

I haven’t heard of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sighting since Nathan Langwald photographed it on the 28th. Is it still there? Or did it just stay for a week and then move on south?

Migrants and summer birds aren’t entirely gone, though their days are numbered. At dusk on the 26th Adam and Gina Kent tallied 740 Chimney Swifts going into a chimney downtown, and got an impressive video, while Jonathan Mays saw 29 over La Chua on the 2nd. Adam and Gina saw yet another swift, as well as two Tennessee Warblers, at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. A very late Bobolink was seen by several birders at La Chua on the 1st. And the Hague Dairy field trip found one or two Northern Waterthrushes and an American Redstart.

Various comings and goings; plus a new owl!

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

Early sparrows seem to be the rule this fall. I previously reported Samuel Ewing’s October 2nd Savannah Sparrow, an early record. On September 28th Matthew Bruce reported a Chipping Sparrow in juvenile plumage from Chapmans Pond. That’s extremely early, but there are five earlier reports (!), the earliest another juvenile bird that Andy Kratter saw on August 31, 2003. As Andy wrote on one of the listservs at the time, “Like many sparrows, juvenile Spizella sparrows have a protracted molt of their underparts, retaining the streaking past their fall migration.” A third sparrow species checked in on the morning of the 6th: Mike Manetz showed me a White-crowned Sparrow foraging under the plum trees near the La Chua trailhead.

Samuel Ewing reported the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at Bolen Bluff on the 5th, “in the patch of sweetgums right where the trail leads into the prairie.”

Jennifer Donsky found a male Painted Bunting at Lake Alice on the 6th, on the southeast side of the boat ramp.

Mike Manetz and I walked La Chua’s Sparrow Alley on the morning of the 6th, looking for the Alder Flycatchers that had been present there since August 27th. We played a taped call in several spots, which had previously been effective in drawing the birds out, but we got no response. The last time an Alder was reported there was September 21st, and the last time one was reported anywhere was September 26th (at Cones Dike). So they’ve continued their migration and are probably in South America by now. Other Empidonax flycatchers are still being seen. Ted and Steven Goodman found two possible Yellow-bellied Flycatchers at San Felasco Hammock’s Creek Sink Trail on the 5th, at the first sinkhole after you leave the Moonshine Creek Trail near the bridge. However the birds were silent, and as Jonathan Mays puts it, “A silent empid is a worthless empid.” One fall day back in the 1990s there were two Empidonax flycatchers with yellow bellies at Bolen Bluff, in the open area where the two trails come together on the Prairie rim. Several of us spent at least half an hour staring at them – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, Barbara Muschlitz, me, a couple other experienced birders – and we agreed that they were powerfully yellow on the underparts and that consequently we were going to add Yellow-bellied Flycatcher to our respective life lists. As we packed up our telescopes one of the birds finally called … and it was an Acadian. Kenn Kaufman points out that fall Acadians “can have a conspicuous yellow wash on the underparts, including the throat” (Field Guide to Advanced Birding). Which is one reason why the flycatcher that Bob Carroll and I saw in Becky Enneis’s back yard this weekend, dull yellow from the throat to the undertail coverts, with an olive wash on the sides of the breast – but absolutely silent – was just an Empidonax flycatcher.

Barbara Shea led Saturday’s field trip, and sent this report: “We had 21 people sign up this morning at the Powers Park meeting place. At Powers we were tripping over the ‘rare and secretive’ Limpkin, sighting four of them. One stood on the railing and watched us watching him from about 10 feet away. At Palm Point, highlights were a late Prothonotary Warbler, at least one person saw a Worm-eating, 7 warblers total. There was  a hard to see but eventually ID’d Scarlet Tanager, seen as we lingered over a intermittently cooperative Yellow Warbler that everybody got to see for once. There was a mystery Accipiter, but the circling Peregine Falcon, just over the tree tops at times, made up for that – and was a good ending bird and a hopeful segue to tomorrow’s trip to the east coast.” But according to trip leader Adam Kent, the trip to the Guana River area was “a little slow migrant-wise but my wife Gina did manage to pick out 2 Peregrines a mile away or more and we saw a bunch of cooperative Black-throated Blue Warblers. Although it was overall slow it’s always a fun place to go birding.”

Two worthwhile talks this week: Mike Manetz will describe “Birding Highlights in Costa Rica” on Thursday evening at the Tower Road Library; and Paul Moler will discuss “Frogs of Florida” on Tuesday evening at Alachua Conservation Trust HQ. But you already knew about these events, didn’t you, because you have your finger on the pulse of Gainesville!

Field trips this weekend: San Felasco on Saturday, Bolen Bluff on Sunday. These could be very good. Details here.

If any of you womenfolk use Lush cosmetics, you may be interested to know that the company’s founder, Mark Constantine, is a major figure in European birding: http://soundapproach.co.uk/news/bath-bombs-birdsong  (From The Sound Approach’s web site: “Since 2000, Mark Constantine, Magnus Robb and Arnoud van den Berg have been building a major new collection of bird sound recordings. Our collection now exceeds 50,000 recordings of more than 1,000 species, with a particular focus on the Western Palaearctic Region, making this one of the largest privately-owned archives of bird sound recordings in the world. The Sound Approach aim to popularise birdsong and raise standards in the use of sounds in bird identification. Subjects of particular interest include ageing and sexing birds by their sounds, and recognising hidden biodiversity, ‘new species’, through bird sounds. Besides those of the three main recordists, The Sound Approach collection has also received major contributions from Dick Forsman and Killian Mullarney.”) Earlier this year one of the recordists from The Sound Approach discovered a new species of owl in Oman: http://soundapproach.co.uk/news/sound-approach-team-discover-new-species-owl-science

The beginning of the end; plus, final migration count results

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

We’ve got only two or three more weeks of neotropical birds like warblers, tanagers, cuckoos, thrushes, and buntings. Then, beginning around October 15th or 20th – about the time the first Yellow-rumped Warbler shows up – the transients will disappear and we’ll start looking for winter arrivals like sparrows, ducks, and the occasional western stray like Yellow-headed Blackbird and Dickcissel.

We’re already seeing changes of a more subtle kind. Veeries predominated in September, but now they’ll begin to give way to other thrushes: on the 29th Michael Drummond heard “many, many Swainson’s calling in the predawn hours this morning.” Early fall warblers like Cerulean, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky and Prothonotary Warblers are well south of us now, or soon will be, but Magnolia and Tennessee will become more abundant, and we’ll start to see Black-throated Greens and Bay-breasteds. A few Scarlet Tanagers have already been reported, and Keith Collingwood saw the season’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his Melrose yard on the 29th. Anyway, we’ve got about two weeks of the fall migration left, three if we’re lucky.

A few winter birds are already here: on the 28th Bryan Tarbox saw one Marsh Wren at Bolen Bluff while John Anderson saw another at the US-441 observation deck; Adam Kent, Craig Faulhaber, and Ryan Butryn found the season’s first Eastern Phoebe at San Felasco Hammock (Progress Center entrance) on the 29th, as well as a Cliff Swallow and a female Painted Bunting; and on the 2nd Samuel Ewing photographed the fall’s first sparrow, a Savannah, by four days a new early record for Alachua County.

A few miscellaneous reports from the past week:

On the 25th Dean and Samuel Ewing birded Ring Park, and Samuel got a nice video of a female Black-throated Blue Warbler eating beautyberries.

On the 26th Mike Manetz and Jonathan Mays (who are to normal ears what the Hubble Space Telescope is to binoculars) walked the Cones Dike Trail in search of flycatchers and were rewarded with one calling Alder, two Empidonax that were either Alders or Willows but would not identify themselves by vocalizing, and one Least, which was photographed by Jonathan. They also tallied a dozen warbler species, including an amazing 55 Common Yellowthroats.

On the 29th Geoff Parks noticed that both Indigo Buntings and Painted Buntings were feeding on the coral bristlegrass in his NE Gainesville back yard. Does that give you any ideas? It should.

On the 30th Matt and Erin Kalinowski spotted a Merlin along the La Chua Trail.

On the 2nd Mike Manetz walked the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock and saw 6 Swainson’s Thrushes, 5 Veeries, 5 Wood Thrushes, and 3 Gray-cheeked Thrushes. He saw only six warbler species, but that included 22 Ovenbirds.

According to the annual “winter finch forecast” published by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, we won’t be seeing many irruptive birds this year – no Pine Siskins, no Purple Finches, no Red-breasted Nuthatches – because they’ve got plenty of chow up north: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1314/

North Carolina biologists put a tracking device on an American Oystercatcher that had nested in the Cape Fear region, and over the course of five days in mid-September it migrated to Florida, crossing the northern peninsula from Amelia Island to Cedar Key (passing right over High Springs along the way). An American Oystercatcher appeared at Newnans Lake on September 18, 2000, the morning after Hurricane Gordon blew ashore at Cedar Key. We always assumed that the bird had been blown inland from the Gulf Coast, but the linked story suggests that it might well have been a migrating bird forced down by the storm.

Two or three people shared this video with me, which shows the bizarrely complicated structure of a hummingbird’s tongue: http://player.vimeo.com/video/68897592

Brush up on your fall wildflowers.

Remember that we’ve scheduled double field trips each of the next three weekends so you can take advantage of fall migration. This weekend we’ll be birding Powers Park and Palm Point/Lakeshore Drive with Barbara Shea on Saturday, then heading over to St. Augustine with John Hintermister on Sunday to look for Peregrine Falcons. Field trip schedule here.

Earlier this week Mike Manetz and I compiled the final results of Alachua County’s fall migration count held on September 21st. I think our birders set a new county record for numbers of individual warblers. I compared the numbers from our first fall migration count (1995) with those from this year. We had more warbler species that first year, 26, against 24 this year, but the count of individual warblers was higher this year by about 300. Two or three species always make up the bulk of what’s recorded: in 1995, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula accounted for 41% of all the warblers seen, while this year the same two species plus Ovenbird accounted for 51%. This year Common Yellowthroats alone made up 22% of our total. I put the 1995 vs. 2013 comparison in a table here. And the complete results:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  22
Wood Duck  42
Mottled Duck  13
Blue-winged Teal  8
Northern Bobwhite  7
Wild Turkey  12
Pied-billed Grebe  30
Wood Stork  11
Double-crested Cormorant  60
Anhinga  65
American Bittern  3
Great Blue Heron  40
Great Egret  95
Snowy Egret  35
Little Blue Heron  100
Tricolored Heron  22
Cattle Egret  501
Green Heron  23
White Ibis  164
Glossy Ibis  104
Black Vulture  225
Turkey Vulture  260
Osprey  6
Bald Eagle  30
Northern Harrier  3
Cooper’s Hawk  6
Red-shouldered Hawk  89
Broad-winged Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  7
King Rail  2
Sora  5
Common Gallinule  40
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  25
Killdeer  9
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Least Sandpiper  12
Pectoral Sandpiper  15
Rock Pigeon  19
Eurasian Collared-Dove  7
White-winged Dove  8
Mourning Dove  204
Common Ground-Dove  14
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  10
Black-billed Cuckoo  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  3
Great Horned Owl  8
Barred Owl  28
Whip-poor-will  3
Chimney Swift  79
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  12
Belted Kingfisher  17
Red-headed Woodpecker  29
Red-bellied Woodpecker  251
Downy Woodpecker  172
Northern Flicker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  109
Merlin  3
American Kestrel  10
Eastern Wood-Pewee  12
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  1
Acadian Flycatcher  74
Alder Flycatcher  2
Empidonax, sp.  19
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Loggerhead Shrike  9
White-eyed Vireo  741
Yellow-throated Vireo  16
Red-eyed Vireo  297
Blue Jay  293
American Crow  310
Fish Crow  81
crow, sp.  7
Purple Martin  10
Tree Swallow  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  187
Carolina Chickadee  193
Tufted Titmouse  350
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren  466
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  360
Eastern Bluebird  49
Veery  63
Swainson’s Thrush  4
Gray Catbird  19
Brown Thrasher  49
Northern Mockingbird  103
European Starling  34
Ovenbird  137
Worm-eating Warbler  12
Louisiana Waterthrush  1
Northern Waterthrush  54
Golden-winged Warbler  2
Blue-winged Warbler  5
Black-and-white Warbler  29
Prothonotary Warbler  2
Tennessee Warbler  2
Kentucky Warbler  3
Common Yellowthroat  238
Hooded Warbler  27
American Redstart  86
Northern Parula  175
Magnolia Warbler  6
Blackburnian Warbler  3
Yellow Warbler  59
Chestnut-sided Warbler  13
Black-throated Blue Warbler  2
Palm Warbler  27
Pine Warbler  61
Yellow-throated Warbler  77
Prairie Warbler  61
Yellow-breasted Chat  1
Eastern Towhee  80
Bachman’s Sparrow  1
Summer Tanager  45
Scarlet Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  698
Blue Grosbeak  38
Indigo Bunting  41
Painted Bunting  1
Bobolink  2
Red-winged Blackbird  370
Eastern Meadowlark  3
Common Grackle  144
Boat-tailed Grackle  315
Brown-headed Cowbird  135
Baltimore Oriole  2
House Finch  26
House Sparrow  34