June Challenge finale; and some goosing

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

REMEMBER, June Challengers: (1.) I need your totals, divided into ABA-countable and non-countable birds, by MIDNIGHT ON JUNE 30TH and (2.) please email me if you’re attending the June Challenge party at Becky Enneis’s house on Tuesday, July 1st at 6 p.m.

“ABA-countable” essentially means that native North American birds (and a few naturalized ones like House Sparrow, European Starling, Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, and Muscovy Duck) are countable, while Black Swan, Swan Goose, Greylag Goose, Indian Peafowl, and other non-established exotics are not. If two birders end up with the same number of ABA-countable birds, then we’ll use the non-countable birds as tie-breakers. Right now I have 96 species on my list, all of them ABA-countable, so my total is 96/0. If I were to drive over to the Duck Pond and add Black Swan, Greylag Goose, and Swan Goose to my list, I would report 96/3 as my June Challenge total – 96 countable birds and 3 non-countable. Incidentally, for more on Swan Goose and Greylag Goose, which may be so genetically jumbled that we shouldn’t be calling them by those names, please see the final six paragraphs of this email.

Samuel Ewing got photos of the NE Gainesville robins on the 25th. Here’s one of them: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14526392513/

Peter Polshek writes, “There is a Broad-winged Hawk frequenting the tall trees in my yard at NW 17th Street and 8th Avenue (SW corner property). Just park in my driveway and listen for the calling bird.”

I ran into Linda Hensley at Publix this evening, and she told me that she, Howard Adams, and Barbara Mollison found a Roseate Spoonbill and six Glossy Ibises in a flooded field at the Hague Dairy today. So if you need either of those…

On Wednesday I drove to Gum Root Swamp in hopes of seeing a Louisiana Waterthrush. I was surprised to find the big metal entrance gate shut and locked. The informational kiosk, the wooden fence enclosing the parking area, and the walk-through gate were all gone. When I got home I called the Water Management District and asked what had happened. I was informed that the parking area had become a center of “lewd and lascivious behavior,” just like Bivens Arm Nature Park and the Bolen Bluff Trail used to be (and maybe still are?). Hidden cameras had been set up, license plates had been recorded, police had made regular visits, but the lewd and lascivious crowd was not discouraged. Since Gum Root Swamp is a group camping area, the District made the decision just to close the parking area down. You can still park on the culvert across the road, or on the outside of the entrance gate, and groups wanting to use the camping area can make arrangements with the District. Supposedly I will hear from the land manager about future plans. For what it’s worth, I didn’t find the waterthrush. Little Hatchet Creek is back within its banks, and there’s not much standing water left in the surrounding woods, although rubber boots are still a necessity, and unless you’re wearing hip waders you can’t get out to the lakeshore without getting wet.

I always figure that I need to go looking for Louisiana Waterthrush, but in some cases the waterthrushes find you instead. Greg Hart had one at his nursery in Alachua on the 26th.

Ron Robinson located a family of Pied-billed Grebes in a retention pond at NE 4th Street and NE 35th Avenue. Despite the fact that the address indicates northeast, it’s a block west of Main Street.

If you’re still looking for Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Andy Kratter writes, “3 Rough-winged Swallows still present at the Depot Road ponds, south of SE 10th Street and the bike trail on high voltage lines that run north-south.”

Two appeals from Florida Wildlife Care:

1. If anyone’s got a chimney containing Chimney Swifts, let me know. FWC has four nestlings that need homes.

2. If anyone’s driving to Jacksonville this weekend, and would be willing to transport an immature Cooper’s Hawk and release it there, please call Leslie Straub at 352-318-8443.

Barbara Woodmansee had an interesting and slightly hair-raising experience on Paynes Prairie yesterday evening, which should serve as a reminder to look down occasionally, as well as up: “While standing in front of the huge cypress tree near the gate where you’re supposed to stop and turn around on Sweetwater Dike, I was looking under the limbs of the cypress tree for that damned Limpkin and happened to glance down at the ground. I noticed that I was STANDING on a young Cottonmouth’s tail. Seriously. It was very annoyed, white mouth wide open, but it never struck at me. I promptly airlifted myself to a safe distance, and then apologized to the little guy. I think this is my first experience of actually standing on a venomous snake. Don’t tell my mother or she won’t let me go out there anymore!” This non-aggressive behavior of Cottonmouths is not particularly unusual, and was the subject of a 2002 paper (skip to “Results” on page 2 if you don’t want to read the whole thing): http://www.bio.davidson.edu/dorcas/research/Reprints/Gibbons%20and%20Dorcas%20-%202002%20-%20Defensive%20behavior%20in%20cottonmouths%20-%20Copiea.pdf

Everything after this is about domestic waterfowl, so jump off now if you’re not interested. And remember to email me if you’re going to the June Challenge party!

Now, as to the domestic Swan Goose and the domestic Greylag Goose. The question was prompted by this photo by Samuel Ewing: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14343488436/ The bird on the left looks like a domestic Greylag Goose while that on the right has the big knob on the base of the bill that’s characteristic of a Swan Goose. I sent the photo to Renne Leatto of Orange County, who was a prize-winning waterfowl breeder before she became a birder. She told me that these names were inappropriate for the two birds and gave me a primer on domestic geese:

“Unless one is in a wild area within the range of the wild Greylag Goose, you will not see one. In many parts of the world, geese have been domesticated even longer than ducks, and any Greylag-type goose we see in North America, certainly in the U.S., and definitely in the southern U.S., is going to be strictly domestic in origin.

“Here’s the deal with geese … there’s no such thing as a domestic Greylag (although you will see many references to them). It’s like calling a Chihuahua – or even a Husky – a domestic wolf. There are a number of domestic breeds of geese that originally come from the wild Greylag, but they haven’t been wild for 3,000 to 10,000 years. Greylag is to those breeds what Mallard is to most domestic ducks. What messes birders up (more with geese, even than ducks) is that many goose breeds look close to the wild Greylag, or at least they look a lot closer to the wild ancestor than crazy-fancy duck breeds look like a Mallard. To complicate matters, while all breeds of domestic duck (except for Muscovy) come from the wild Mallard, domestic geese come from a combination of two wild species: Anser anser and Anser cygnoides, the wild Swan Goose. Some people refer to derivatives of the latter as domestic Swan Geese, but again, there is no such thing. They have many breed names but none are Swan Goose.

“Now we make things even more complicated … unlike the situation with Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds and domesticated Muscovies – which CAN (but seldom do) crossbreed, and then have only sterile offspring — domestic goose breeds descended from Anser anser and Anser cygnoides can (and very often DO) crossbreed, and their offspring are always fertile. So the results are that we see too many variations of domestic goose crossbreeds to know with any certainty which ancestral species line dominates.

“I used to have a gander that was primarily the ‘African’ breed, a heavier version of the Chinese breed, both developed thousands of years ago from Anser cygnoides. His partner was a goose which had no sign of having any genes except that of the Embden breed, a pure white variety developed from the Greylag but which looks nothing like it anymore (it looks more like a wild Snow Goose but is not related genetically). Their broods of goslings came out in all shapes and feather colors, all bill and foot colors; some had bill/head bumps (knobs), some didn’t; some had extra-long slender necks, some didn’t; and some were light-bodied while others were medium or heavy bodied. Seeing any one of them as a lone individual in a park or wetland somewhere, even I would only be able to guess at their varied parentage. But one thing I can always say for sure – they are NOT Greylag or Swan Geese. They are many thousands of domestically-bred generations removed from both.”

What does this mean for the June Challenge? Well, this year you can count both species if you’ve seen them – the Swan Goose (the one with the knob) and the Greylag (the one without) – but next year we may just lump them together as “domestic goose.” I’ve submitted Samuel’s picture and Renne’s analysis to eBird’s resident taxonomist, Marshall Iliff, for an official eBird ruling on how these domestic strains should be recorded, but he hasn’t responded yet. When he does – maybe I should say IF he does – I’ll let you know what he says.

Late-record spring migrant, and a few pretty pictures

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

As Matt O’Sullivan and I were driving home from the Burrowing Owl excursion on Saturday, I asked Matt if he’d like to come along to Paynes Prairie on Sunday morning. He said he would, in hopes of seeing some late migrants. I told him that we’d never had a spring migrant of any sort in the county after June 6th. Perhaps that’s why he chose to stay home. So naturally we stumbled onto a NEW late-record spring migrant, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, which was nicely photographed by Chris Janus: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14456769123/ A couple of other birders mentioned that they’d seen it there recently, so it may be summering locally.

Michael Drummond, a biologist with the county’s Environmental Protection Department and a really outstanding photographer, got a nice picture of one of the Watermelon Pond owls in February: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14250049178/

By the way, county biologist Susie Hetrick was so pleased with the way things went on Saturday morning, that she now says she’s open to the possibility of a second Burrowing Owl field trip in the near future. If you’re interested in going, whether you went on the first trip or not, send me an email, and I’ll put you on the list.

On the 16th Bob Carroll reported, “Walked Sparrow Alley and Sweetwater Dike with Becky Enneis to help her with her June Challenge list. Highlights were two very cooperative Yellow-breasted Chats and a family of King Rails with two or three chicks. That was very cool! We saw all of the other expected species including young Common and Purple Gallinules and young Pied-billed Grebes. It seems the waterfowl world is thriving out there this year. Fun morning.”

As Bob noted, the King Rails on the Prairie have hatched out their chicks in the past couple of weeks, and I’ve seen some nice photos of family groups, none better than this by Wade Kincaid: https://www.flickr.com/photos/sefferdog/14242197539/

The first of a series of County Commission meetings on Plum Creek will be Tuesday the 24th, and you should familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of the controversy before then. Be sure to visit http://standbyourplan.org/ Especially read the “Plum Creek Myths,” which casts a skeptical eye on the contention that the development will benefit East Gainesville, pointing out that East Gainesville is closer to I-75 than it is to the *nearest* edge of the Plum Creek property, “and most of it is further away than the Town of Tioga development in Jonesville. If all the growth along the I-75 corridor and everything in between hasn’t helped East Gainesville, then how would Plum Creek’s city in the swamp, with its own schools and grocery stores on the other side of Newnans Lake?”

Several people have sent me this interesting link, showing how Barn Swallows that were nesting inside a closed building had learned to trigger an electric eye to open its front door: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gs6n4XKApqc

If you’ve ever wondered how airports deal with wildlife, read this (found by David Wahl): http://www.faa.gov/airports/southern/airports_resources/past_conferences/media/2011_wildlife_lessons_learned_mco.pdf

Barn Owl? We got yer Barn Owl right here

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

I hadn’t heard of anyone staking out the US-441 observation platform for Barn Owls this month, so at 7:30 Wednesday evening Ron Robinson and I met there to see what would fly by as the sun went down. There wasn’t much to look at – a couple of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, half a dozen Sandhill Cranes (including a couple of full-grown juveniles), a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a bunch of Red-winged Blackbirds – and as it got darker and darker I was afraid we were going to be skunked. But at 8:50 we spotted a Barn Owl flying around, and at 8:55 a Black-crowned Night-Heron popped up from the willows south of the platform. Both were new June Challenge birds for us.

Ron and Greg Hart and I visited a bunch of birding spots on Tuesday morning. We started at the Newberry cemetery, which I’d never visited before. The Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing as we opened the car door, and within thirty seconds we had it in view. Northern Flicker and White-winged Dove were almost as easy to find. Then we headed east to north Gainesville, where Ron had found a family of Pied-billed Grebes on Monday. He was driving past a retention pond at the intersection of NE 35th Avenue and NE 4th Street (which, despite the “NE,” is actually a block west of Main Street) when he spotted the birds in the water, an adult and eight almost-grown chicks. From there we went all the way to the southeastern end of the county, to see if anything unusual was at River Styx or Lake Lochloosa. We got a Prothonotary Warbler at River Styx and a Bald Eagle at Lochloosa, but nothing else of note. Then it was back to Gainesville, to check Lake Alice for a Belted Kingfisher that Frank and Irina Goodwin had seen there on Sunday. We waited for fifteen minutes, and though we saw a Swallow-tailed Kite we never saw the kingfisher (which doesn’t mean it’s not there). Our last stop was Possum Creek Park, where we found a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in a shady recess of a buttonbush thicket.

Frank Goodwin and I splashed into Gum Root Swamp on Monday morning in search of Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Barred Owl. The vireos, a pair of them, were right there in the parking lot. The Barred Owl was perched over the creek just beyond the first bridge. But to get to the warbler we had to get our feet wet – all the way up to mid-thigh. It turned out to be a really lovely experience. The mosquitoes had been bothering us in the uplands, but when we entered the water we left them behind. The air was cool. And our surroundings were green and beautiful. When we got out to the edge of the lake we found our Prothonotary, who sang unceasingly and came close enough for Frank to get a picture. And there were a couple of surprises. We discovered the hot-pink egg clusters of the exotic Island Apple Snail in Hatchet Creek for the first time ever and, not coincidentally, discovered their chief predator shortly thereafter – a bird that’s becoming fairly common at Newnans Lake because of the snails’ exploding population. And when I idly kicked at a knot on a rotten cypress tree lying on the ground, I uncovered the one and only Rough Earthsnake I’ve seen in my life. Sure, it’s small and nondescript, but it was the most exciting moment of the day for me. I submitted Frank’s photo to the museum’s herpetology department as an “image voucher,” because – and this will give you some idea how uncommonly they’re found – they have only one specimen collected since 1970.

On Tuesday, Becky Enneis found Black-bellied Whisting-Ducks and an American Coot at Home Depot Pond, off Tower Road just south of Newberry Road. And as long as you’re in that neighborhood, don’t forget the Graylag Geese at Red Lobster Pond. And once you’ve seen them, head over to the Duck Pond for the Black Swans. The geese and swans aren’t really countable, but they belong on your June Challenge list. Why? Because, just because. I’ll tell you when you’re older.

Danny Shehee writes, “I was birding around the wetland area at Magnolia Park just beyond the open field. I met a young woman looking for her Quaker Parrot [Monk Parakeet] named Rio, he`s a small parrot. She said he would come if he heard his name called. Her name is Lilia and her number is 352-870-2711. I thought the birding community might just happen to see him.”

Christmas Bird Count results

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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