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

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.

Birds, angry and otherwise

Join us at the Millhopper Branch Library at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20th, when Dr. Karl Miller of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will describe the ecology, distribution, and population status of the Southeastern American Kestrel. Karl will share the results of nearly a decade’s worth of research and monitoring. The Southeastern American Kestrel is a non-migratory subspecies of North America’s smallest falcon and one of Florida’s most imperiled birds. It used to be common in Alachua County – according to Charles E. Doe, a pair nested “on top of a copper gutter in a corner of the P.K. Yonge Bldg.” in July 1939, when the P.K. Yonge School was in Norman Hall – but is now restricted mainly to the county’s western uplands, around High Springs, Newberry, and Archer. Karl will give us the latest updates on FWC’s kestrel nest-box monitoring partnership and a statewide management plan for kestrels. Everyone is welcome.

I’ve got a little catching up to do, so in chronological order:

On the 4th, just a few days after Andy Kratter saw one Red-throated Loon flying east, Adam and Gina Kent saw two flying southwest. This is a very rare bird in Alachua County, but you wouldn’t know it based on these sightings.

Also on the 4th, Mike Manetz found a locally-rare Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper at temporary pond right beside 441 at the north end of Prairie. It was gone the next day, but when Mike and Adam Kent visited the dairy four days later they found … a Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper. Even weirder, it was a different Dunlin; the first bird was in full winter plumage, while the second retained a few juvenile feathers.

On the 6th Pat Burns saw a Vermilion Flycatcher and a White-faced Ibis along the Old Canal Trail at Alligator Lake Public Recreation Area in Lake City. I asked Pat if the Vermilion was a dude or a lady, and she said a lady.

I saw my first Ring-billed Gull of the winter flying over the Hague Dairy on the 2nd, and a flock of six flying over La Chua on the 9th, but I haven’t seen any in parking lots yet, and no big numbers anywhere. But on the 13th Dean and Samuel Ewing visited Newnans Lake, where they saw 75 Ring-billed Gulls and 9 Bonaparte’s Gulls, as well as 2 Forster’s Terns, 2 Limpkins, and a Common Loon.

Alachua Audubon’s November field trips have enjoyed a fair bit of success. Jerry Krummrich and John Hintermister led the Hamilton County field trip on the 9th. In addition to eight duck species, the field trip participants saw 18 American Avocets, a Peregrine Falcon, an Eared Grebe, two Franklin’s Gulls (always a rarity inland, and a first record for Hamilton County, I think), and huge number of some species, including 600 American White Pelicans and 1,510 Great Egrets. I led the field trip to Cedar Key on the 16th. It was as beautiful a day as I’ve ever experienced out there, and the birds were quite cooperative – at first, anyway. At our initial stop, overlooking the saltmarsh at the landward end of Bridge Four, we had at least four Marsh Wrens, four Nelson’s Sparrows, and two Seaside Sparrows vying to see who could give us the best looks. At Shell Mound we found American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, American Oystercatchers, and active mixed flocks of shorebirds whose sweeping flights over the tidal flats were exhilarating to watch. Once we moved into Cedar Key itself, things got less interesting; the airfield has now been fenced off, and there was a funeral under way at the cemetery, so we contented ourselves with a walk around the museum grounds – which at least netted us a Common Loon and a Northern Harrier – and then went home.

On the 16th Benjamin Ewing posted a photo of one of the Duck Pond’s Black Swans sitting on a nest. This may not be a good thing. In 1972 a single family group of Black Swans toppled the government of Luxembourg and wreaked havoc on the human populace and the poultry markets until removed by a NATO military strike. Gainesville is smaller than Luxembourg (slightly), so we’d better keep an eye on these birds. Sure, you can shrug it off as a joke, just don’t come running to me when you’re flat on the ground with a webbed foot on your neck, because I warned you.

Debbie Segal writes, “Good news regarding Orange Lake. FWC has decided to not herbicide over 1,500 acres at Orange Lake this fall. Ryan Hamm said they cancelled the fall spraying because they missed their window of opportunity for spraying before the plants started into dormancy. And they missed their window because of the strong opposition regarding ecological concerns. Thank you to all who expressed opposition to FWC.”

Mark your calendars: the Alachua Audubon Christmas Social will be held in the clubhouse of the Mill Pond neighborhood near Gainesville Health and Fitness on December 6th at 6:30 p.m. Map is here. As with all Alachua Audubon functions, everyone is welcome, members and non-members alike.

Only four months till the new edition of the Sibley guide comes out: http://www.amazon.com/Sibley-Guide-Birds-Second-Edition/dp/030795790X

See you at the Millhopper Branch Library on Wednesday night!

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

For the rain it raineth every day

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

The last few days’ weather has brought us some exceptional birding.

On the 3rd it rained warblers. Jonathan Mays, working on the north rim of Paynes Prairie, saw 14 species, some in relatively large numbers. His best were a Chestnut-sided Warbler, only the second or third spring record for the county, and a Tennessee, almost as rare at this season. The others included 24 (!) American Redstarts, 12 Blackpoll Warblers, 2 Black-throated Greens, 3 Cape Mays, and 3 Black-throated Blues. Mike Manetz, birding nearer the La Chua trailhead, saw ten warbler species, including three singing Yellow-breasted Chats. And Andy Kratter, splitting his time between Pine Grove Cemetery and Palm Point, saw twelve warbler species (plus a Cliff Swallow at Palm Point). All together, Jonathan, Mike, and Andy totaled 18 warbler species on the 3rd. And the warblerpalooza continued through the 4th, when Adam Zions and Jonathan Mays found a Black-throated Green along Bellamy Road, and Adam later counted thirteen Black-throated Blues at Ring Park.

Surprisingly, Jonathan’s Tennessee wasn’t the only one this spring. Andy Kratter saw three (!) at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 1st, and one of them stuck around till the next day.

On the 4th Mike Manetz wrote, “I ran into John Hintermister and Debbie Segal and we decided to try the Hague Dairy. It rained the entire time there, but we got 2 Semipalmated Plovers and 2 Least Sandpipers at the dirt field just east of Silo Pond. At the Lagoon we had 31 Least Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also present were 6 Solitary Sandpipers and 3 Spotteds. The Bronzed Cowbird is still there!! We saw it in one of the barns with a few Brown-headeds. White-rumped Sandpipers should be there any day.” (White-rumpeds are already being seen in Jacksonville as well as South Florida.) A little later in the day Dean and Samuel Ewing read Mike’s report of the Bronzed on eBird and drove out to the dairy, where Samuel got a photo.

A couple of lingering falcons have been reported. Adam Zions saw a Merlin at the Hague Dairy on the 4th, while Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at Watermelon Pond on the 3rd.

Jonathan Mays photographed a Brown Pelican over Newnans Lake on the 2nd.

Barbara Knutson of Ft. White (Columbia County) had a male Western Tanager at her place from the 27th to the 30th. Unfortunately I learned about it on the 30th.

Tina Greenberg photographed a male Painted Bunting that visited her home at the western edge of Gainesville on the 2nd and 3rd.

Linda Hensley’s NW Gainesville yard, which is hosting a couple of Gray Catbirds that may be nesting, also attracted a male Purple Finch on the afternoon of the 3rd. It’s not the only winter bird lingering around town. On the 4th Caleb Gordon saw two American Goldfinches in NW Gainesville, and later the same day John Hintermister saw Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, and Bonaparte’s Gulls at Newnans Lake.

 

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this is a very long birding report

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

Samuel and Caleb Ewing had the best bird of the week on the 26th. Samuel writes, “Today Caleb and I walked to an area of Watermelon Pond that’s quite close to us. We got some Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, 19 Long-billed Dowitchers, a Least Sandpiper, quite a few Tree and Barn Swallows, and one Cliff Swallow! While scanning swallows I spotted one with a squared-off tail and it soon came close enough to see the buffy rump, blue back, and white forehead. I was able to get some poor photos.” This is only the county’s second March sighting of a Cliff Swallow, and believe it or not it’s the first documented occurrence of the species in Alachua County history; no previous photo or specimen has ever been obtained. Here’s Samuel’s photo.

Speaking of photos, Greg Stephens got a great shot of a Peregrine Falcon at La Chua on the 21st. The Peregrine that’s been seen at the Prairie since early January was an immature bird, brown with a streaky breast, and this one’s an adult, so we’ve had two Peregrines at the Prairie in March.

Still speaking of photos – we’ve got an embarrassment of riches, so sue me – Kathy Malone got two spectacular pictures of a Le Conte’s Sparrow at Levy Prairie Loop on the 25th. This was her fourth attempt at photographing this bird, and the effort really paid off.

On the 25th Jonathan Mays saw two White-faced Ibis in non-breeding plumage from the La Chua observation platform. Since there’s also a breeding-plumage bird out there, it looks like we’ve got three White-faced Ibis at Paynes Prairie – at least. Jonathan also spotted three Whooping Cranes, one of whom flew in to provide a photo op.

The season’s first Chimney Swifts have arrived. Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson saw the spring’s first at La Chua Trail on the 23rd, Samuel Ewing saw four on the UF campus on the 25th, and on the following day Geoff Parks wrote, “I was downtown this morning at about 10:30 and there was a mass of what I’d estimate to be 90-100 flying around the vicinity of the Seagle building.”

The first Indigo Buntings have checked in as well, one at Keith Collingwood’s place in Melrose, and one at Ron Robinson’s at the west end of Gainesville, both on the 25th.

Ivor Kincaide reports that 50 Purple Martins showed up at the Alachua Conservation Trust’s martin house in Rochelle on the 26th.

The spring’s first major flight of Common Loons occurred on the morning of the 25th, when Andy Kratter counted 58 going over Pine Grove Cemetery between 8:11 and 8:48. Remember that March is the best time to look through migrating Commons for a Red-throated.

There have been no reports of Hooded Warblers in Alachua County yet, but they’re a March migrant, along with Prothonotary, Swainson’s, and Kentucky Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. Bob Carroll and friends saw a Hooded along the River Trail at Lower Suwannee NWR on the 21st, and Pat Burns saw three at Cedar Key on the 24th.

Want to know the names of a few common spring wildflowers? Well here you go: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/03/rain-day.html

Weekend update, featuring Western Tanager, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Snow Goose, etc., etc., etc.

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

We’ve got two events vying for your attention on Wednesday the 20th:

Miguel Palavaccini will conduct a photography workshop on “Adobe Lightroom for Birders”: “The workshop is targeted at anyone who wants to learn how to better organize, manage, edit, and share images. I’ll be directing my workflow to birders, but it can be applied to all areas of photography. The date is March 20th and it will be about a 1.5 hr classroom workshop.” The time has yet to be announced; you should probably email Miguel at mrpalaviccini@gmail.com if you’re interested.

And Bob Wallace writes, “I will be presenting a slide presentation of my five-week birding trip to East Africa to Alachua Audubon at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, March 20th, at the Millhopper Library. We saw 840 bird species and I photographed over 750 species, but have mercifully narrowed it down to 300 pictures (no easy task).”

Decisions, decisions.

It’s been an exciting week for birding here in Alachua County. Normally mid-March is a little bit on the dull side, but if I saw nothing in 2013 but this week’s birds I’d be waiting for an interview request from the TV news.

A Western Tanager visited a back yard south of Alachua on the 17th and 18th. I don’t have permission to give out the homeowner’s name, but a photo of the bird was posted on the Wild Birds Unlimited Facebook page. A male Painted Bunting is frequenting the same yard! Obviously the homeowner is bribing somebody.

Katherine Edison photographed four Snow Geese at La Chua on the 15th. They were seen again by Glenn Israel and Lloyd Davis on the 16th.

Continuing rarities at La Chua include the White-faced Ibis photographed by Miguel Palavaccini on the 15th (if you like his picture, attend his workshop!) and seen as recently as the 17th by Jonathan Mays and John Martin; 2 Whooping Cranes seen (distantly) by Jonathan Mays on the 17th; a Peregrine Falcon photographed by Adam Zions on the 13th and seen as recently as the 17th by John Martin and Lloyd Davis; and the Groove-billed Ani that has lingered at Sparrow Alley since mid-December, photographed by Samuel Ewing on the 14th and seen as recently as the 15th by Lloyd Davis.

At the other end of the Prairie, Jonathan Mays found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th.

And at yet another end of the Prairie, the Cones Dike Trail, Caleb Gordon saw a Mottled Duck sitting on 14 eggs, plus nesting Anhingas and Great Blue Herons. He also saw 3 Le Conte’s Sparrows, “flushed from recently burned grassland, seen well on stem for 5 seconds at close range.”

Le Conte’s Sparrows were also reported from Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop, along the north side, which means you take the trail on the right when you leave the parking lot. Adam Zions photographed two, about a mile and a quarter out, on the 16th. Just a little beyond that, up to 19 Pectoral Sandpipers have been hanging out, first noted by Jonathan Mays on the 14th and photographed by Adam on the 16th. However the Least Flycatcher that Jonathan saw on the 16th, the same bird he found on February 5th, is on the south side.

Both Jonathan and Adam spotted a Northern Waterthrush along the Levy Prairie Loop. Another was seen by Frank Goodwin at Alachua Sink on the 15th. These are early for migrants, so I’d guess they wintered in the area.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still here. Barbara Shea saw one in her Jonesville yard early this month and another at Jonesville Park on the 9th, while Bubba Scales saw one along Millhopper Road west of I-75 on the 15th. They’ll probably stick around for another month or so.

Two American Redstarts were seen this week. Mike Manetz found one along Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th. Very early migrants or wintering birds?

One Solitary Sandpiper has been seen almost daily along the La Chua Trail from the 8th through the 17th, and another was seen at Barr Hammock by Jonathan Mays on the 14th.

John Killian saw the first Red-eyed Vireo of the spring on the 14th, and by the 16th they were widespread: Mike Manetz had one at San Felasco, Adam Zions had one at Barr Hammock, and Jonathan Mays had one at the Chacala Pond Trail.

Spring migration is clearly underway, but it won’t peak for another four to six weeks. One thing we always hope for in spring, especially at Cedar Key, is a fallout, a day on which the weather forces migrant birds down into the trees in huge numbers. We’ve had some excellent days at Cedar Key over the years, but … if you want to see what a REAL fallout looks like, check out the first dozen photos in this gallery from Maine’s Machias Seal Island on 24 May 2011 (keep clicking “next” in the upper right corner): http://www.pbase.com/lightrae/image/135054460

There’s been some discussion of unusually early Mississippi Kites on the eBird regional reviewers’ listserv. Brian Sullivan, one of the managers of eBird, wrote, “Plumbeous Kite is a real possibility in the US, and it would arrive much earlier in spring than Mississippi.” Could be. But you know, I think we’d notice if we saw one: http://500px.com/photo/1297069

Some biologist wants to “de-extinct” the Passenger Pigeon: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/passenger-pigeon-de-extinction/all/

Say goodbye to the next Eastern Phoebe and Song Sparrow you see. Both are usually gone by the end of March.

No, birds just can’t get enough of the beautiful La Chua Trail!

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

Hey, all you eBirders, it’s time for the eBird tip of the week! Here it is: Don’t be like me! Read the instructions! I’ve been entering sightings into eBird for years, but only yesterday did I learn that if you walk out the La Chua Trail – about a mile and a half – and then walk back – another mile and a half – you DON’T record your distance as 3 miles. Any time you retrace your steps, record only the one-way distance. So here are the aforementioned instructions (read them!). And browse through the links on the right side of the page for more useful stuff: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/how-to-make-your-checklists-more-meaningful

Lots of good birds have been reported from La Chua as recently as yesterday – White-faced Ibis, Groove-billed Ani, Peregrine Falcon, and Whooping Crane. The White-faced Ibis, seen yesterday by Matt Kalinowski, Jane Sender, and John Killian, seen today by Mike Manetz, and photographed by Jonathan Mays on the 9th, is hanging around the observation platform. So are the Peregrine (“watched it perched, then as it dove and killed and ate duck,” commented visiting Massachusetts birder Jane Sender) and the Whooping Crane (“far off east of observation platform,” wrote Matt Kalinoswki). Along Sparrow Alley, John Killian saw the Yellow-breasted Chat yesterday (also photographed on the 9th by Jonathan Mays), while Kim Stringer got this nice shot of the Groove-billed Ani.

Mike Manetz walked out La Chua this afternoon and wrote, “During my after-lunch nap I dreamed I saw a male Cinnamon Teal from the platform at La Chua, so I jumped out of bed and ran down there. No Cinnamon, but plenty of ducks still there, including a couple dozen Gadwall and onesies of Wigeon, Mallard, and Shoveler. Most important, the White-faced Ibis is still there in the same spot. He must have poked a million holes in a three square yard area. Also nine Forster’s Terns and Black-necked Stilt [first of the spring!] at the sink, and over 100 Snowy Egrets.”

More spring arrivals: Debbie Segal found a dead Chuck-will’s-widow along Sweetwater Dike on the 8th (“recently killed; in the process of being plucked”). More happily, Dean Ewing heard one singing in the early morning of March 11 near Watermelon Pond. Yellow-throated Vireos are checking in: Charlene Leonard found one at La Chua on the 5th, while Mike Manetz saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 10th. John Hintermister saw two Pectoral Sandpipers at the Tuscawilla Prairie on the 11th; he “walked out to the western edge of the prairie where there is a small patch of open water.” They’re always very early for migrant shorebirds; I think our early-arrival record is late February. Northern Rough-winged Swallows haven’t been reported yet, but they should be here already, and Red-eyed Vireos should be arriving any day now. Summer Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers should get here in about two weeks.

Speaking of spring migration, Loonacy begins on Friday! For those of you who are relatively new to this mailing list, one of our most interesting spring phenomena is the almost-daily flight of Common Loons over Gainesville. They’re bound from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, thence due north to their nesting grounds. Departing the Cedar Key area around daybreak, they appear over Gainesville about an hour later, flying northeast singly or in widely-spaced flocks ranging in size from 2-4 (usually) to 40+. They’re white below, with trailing legs, and often with black heads, like this; Ron Robinson says they look like flying bowling pins. Occasionally, especially during March, you might see a Red-throated Loon mixed in with the Commons. You can watch for them at any location with a wide view of the western sky. I like the US-441 observation platform. Andy Kratter, who’s been keeping track of these flights from March 15th through April 10th for several years, says the peak of the migration is usually from March 27th to April 4th. Andy – more formally known as Dr. Andrew W. Kratter of the Florida Museum of Natural History – would be interested in hearing about any loon sightings you make this spring: “Please note for each group of loons observed,  the date, your exact location, the time of observation, the number of birds, and the directions of travel.” Email him at kratter@flmnh.ufl.edu

Mike Manetz and Ron Robinson experienced what Mike called “instant gratification” on the 5th: “Ron and I installed the new martin house at the old George’s Hardware spot, now Sunflower. As I stood on the roof of the building tightening the bolts that hold the house to the pole a pair of Purple Martins appeared out of nowhere and started circling around my head at arm’s length, trying to land on the house and chirping happily the whole time. It was wonderful. There are still martins just across the creek at the dentist office house too. In all we saw four males and two females, and Ron thinks that most martins haven’t shown up yet.”

Kathy Malone of the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) reminds us that there’s a meeting tonight (March 12th): “Cindy and Kirby Pringle from Illinois will be showing a special film they produced, ‘The Plight of the Monarch.’ Really hope you can join us for a 6:15 p.m. potluck, and the program at 7 p.m. (You may come to the program only.) We meet on the second floor of the Florida Museum of Natural History in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity conference room. Enter in the lobby of the museum.” You can see all the local NABA chapter’s planned activities here: http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabancf/Events.htm

The Hague Dairy will hold Family Day on Saturday, March 16th: “See how milk is produced locally, and learn how University of Florida research supports more efficient, affordable and sustainable milk production. Take a leisurely tour and enjoy butter making, a hay ride, calf petting, a milking machine, visiting the cows in their barn, see the health care area, the milking parlor and lots more! The event is free, and there is plenty of parking for everyone. It’s sure to be a fun and informative day for all.” Take your binoculars and look at a few birds while you’re there!

They’re all still out there, waiting for you

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

The Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, begins today, Friday the 15th, and continues through Monday the 18th. The GBBC will happily accept lists of your backyard birds and/or field-trip birds on any or all of those four days. Here’s how to sign in and enter your sightings: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html

The Pacific Loon was still on Lake Santa Fe last week, seen by John Hintermister and Jonathan Mays on the 8th and by Bob Wallace on the 9th. Jonathan got a nice photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8456996268/in/photostream/  It’s probably still there, but you’ll need a boat if you want to look for it. John launched from the Bradford County ramp on Little Lake Santa Fe and then motored south to find the bird along the north shore of the main lake.

The Groove-billed Ani is still being seen at Sparrow Alley, most recently by Lloyd Davis on the 13th.

On the 11th Chuck Littlewood saw the Peregrine Falcon that’s been hanging around the La Chua Trail since January 5th. It was “in the willows directly south of the observation platform (est. 250 yards).” He got a photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h551788a8#h551788a8

Frank and Irina Goodwin saw a Myiarchus flycatcher, probably an Ash-throated, along the Cones Dike Trail on the 9th, “at roughly the 1.75 mile mark, right at the point where the fence turns 90 degrees to the east.”

Also on the 9th, Jim and Allison Healy saw the Nashville Warbler that’s been hanging around Sparrow Alley since November 23rd: “After passing through the barn, we followed the trail off to the right and not the one that goes to the overlook. About 200 feet past where it makes a turn to the north, Allison spotted the Nashville. I quickly got on the bird, and here are my observations: blue-gray head with distinct complete white eye-ring, yellow breast and undertail coverts with white around the ‘pant legs.’ Olive green wings. Throat was a pale gray color distinct from the blue-gray head and yellow breast. I watched the bird for about 15 seconds before it flew down the trail (south).”

During the winter of 2009-10, Andy Kratter found a Fox Sparrow along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail a little north of Boulware Springs, and it returned to the same spot every winter afterward. He hadn’t seen it this winter, and he assumed that it had met the fate that awaits us all (retirement to North Carolina), but on the 11th of February it was back, and he saw it again this morning. It’s right behind Pine Grove Cemetery; a map (choose the “satellite” option and zoom in) is here. Look for Andy’s feeder beside the trail.

On the 10th Andy went to Newnans Lake: “At Powers Park I had the Aythya feeding swarm about 1000 m to the east  (Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and scaup sp.). A Limpkin was wailing nearby the observation deck.” Rob Bowden was there later that same day and got a look at the Limpkin: “It ended up flying across the boat launch channel and perching briefly in a cypress right next to the dock before spooking farther to the SE side of the lake. It seemed very skittish.” All those exotic apple snails in Newnans Lake seem to be drawing the Limpkins in. I think all but one of the six Limpkins on the last Christmas Count came from there.

John Martin got a nice video of a Bachman’s Sparrow at Morningside Nature Center on the 10th: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06NZ3t0SRwM

In my last birding report I mentioned that Geoff Parks had heard a singing Northern Parula on February 5th, but I cautioned that one swallow does not make a summer, or one parula a spring in this case. Since then, however, there have been several singing Northern Parulas reported, in Gainesville and elsewhere in Florida. Gainesville Birder Emeritus Bryant Roberts saw nine, some of them singing, at Birch State Park in Ft. Lauderdale on the 9th. Two days later there were a few North Florida reports, one from Gary Davis in St. Johns County and one (two birds) from Sharon Fronk in Dixie County. Here in Gainesville, Jonathan Mays has had one singing at his SE Gainesville home since the 9th, and Andy Kratter had both a Northern Parula and a Yellow-throated Warbler singing at his SE Gainesville home this morning. So yes, I’m finally ready to concede that this is an early spring. Normally the first Northern Parulas and first migrant (as opposed to wintering) Yellow-throated Warblers start singing at some time between February 20th and March 1st, but this year they’re a week or two early.

Maybe all of the above isn’t sufficiently inspiring to you, and you’re still looking for a good place to go birding (maybe for the Great Backyard Bird Count). Try the Tuscawilla Prairie just south of Micanopy. Mike Manetz and John Killian checked it out on the 13th, and Mike was impressed: “The place is drying out quickly. I think in some places it might be possible to walk all the way across, and a lot of it is barnyard grass that looks favorable for Short-eared Owl and Le Conte’s Sparrow. Problem is that it dried out too late into winter. If it had been like it is now back in early November it might have been a bonanza like Orange Lake was last winter. There is still a little water, and a lot of waders, including about a hundred Ibis of both species. Best birds were three American Woodcocks and a fly-over American Pipit, my first of the year.” A map and driving directions are here.

Just ducky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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