A surprise at Tuscawilla Prairie

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

On the 6th I took a visiting English entomologist in search of a few birds he wanted to see. We started with the Whooping Crane at the Beef Teaching Unit, which obliged with close views. We drove on to the Ocala National Forest, where we found a cooperative group of four Florida Scrub-Jays on County Road 316 not far west of the Oklawaha River and a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the beautiful Riverside Island sandhills north of Lake Delancey. He also wanted to see a Marsh Wren, so we stopped at the Tuscawilla Prairie on our way to the Ocala National Forest and then again on our way back, but struck out both times. We finally got great looks at one from the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie.

Oh, wait! Almost forgot! Our first stop at the Tuscawilla Prairie was at about eight in the morning. We followed the trail out to where the trees end and we turned right, because turning left would have put the sun in our eyes. We walked along the soggy, grassy water’s edge, trying unsuccessfully to spish up Marsh Wrens. But as we approached three saltbush trees, something did pop up into the grass at the base of one of the trees, a small bird with an orange face, gray auriculars, and a faint necklace of fine streaks across its orange breast: a Le Conte’s Sparrow. Unlike most Le Conte’s, this one didn’t seem especially shy, but hopped around in the open for a while, allowing us to enjoy it from every angle. The entomologist admired its good looks, but he had no idea that this little bird was worth everything else we saw this morning. This is the second Le Conte’s I’ve seen at the north end of the Tuscawilla Prairie.

On the 1st Becky Enneis had a rare visitor in her back yard in Alachua: “a Purple Finch feeding on the ground with several Chipping Sparrows underneath my oak tree cage feeder. I always scan the flocks of yard Chipping Sparrows in hopes of another sparrow joining them, but never see anything different. But this time I looked out at them and saw a larger stockier bird, with a striking white supercilium. I thought, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak?? Then no, a female Purple Finch! I ran to get my camera, but when I got back to the window the bird was gone.”

A handful of birders went looking for the Purple Finches and Pine Siskins that Mike Manetz and I found at O’Leno on the 3rd. Though John Hintermister and Phil Laipis did see one siskin later on the 3rd, they couldn’t relocate the Purple Finches; however their consolation prize was an astoundingly early (or wintering) Louisiana Waterthrush. Phil got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16459434221/ On the 4th Bob Carroll tried for the finches and siskins but though he “stood in the rain for over two hours” he was not rewarded. However he went back the very next day – see? that’s what makes a birder! heroic persistence! – and found the siskins right where Mike and I had seen them. He got a photo of one: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16274956649/

Though the morning of the 4th was overcast and glum, I heard my first Brown Thrasher singing as I took the garbage bin to the curb, and my first Northern Mockingbird singing as I let the dogs into the back yard.

Purple Finches at O’Leno

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

eBird users! Have you wondered why you’re asked for additional details about certain sightings, and what exactly those additional details should be? Are you curious about how your reports are evaluated once you send those details in (or don’t)? If so, follow the links at the top of this page, especially the first one, and, when you get to the bottom, view and/or download the official eBird reviewers’ “Review Tool and Filter Instructions,” now visible to the public for the first time. Understanding the review process will help you make your submissions more valuable. (Also, you can learn about the dreaded “Blacklist” on page 15!)

This morning Mike Manetz and I went out in search of a Winter Wren. Our first stop, at the Santa Fe River, produced nothing. We had no more success at our next stop, O’Leno State Park. However, we spotted a couple of American Goldfinches in a sweetgum tree and when we looked more carefully we found a handful of Pine Siskins among them. Retracing our steps along the trail, we found an elm tree in which goldfinches were feeding on the samaras. I noted that there were some siskins among them, and Mike said, “I’m looking at a bird with a white supercilium.” It was a female Purple Finch, only the second that Mike had ever seen in Alachua County. While he notified John Hintermister by phone, I found a second female Purple Finch. The siskins moved on, but the finches continued feeding on the samaras. Mike and I moved on too, to River Rise, for one more shot at Winter Wren. We struck out here as well, but along the river we lucked into a feeding flock that contained two Golden-crowned Kinglets. So it was a pretty good morning. If you’re interested in looking for the siskins and finches, go to O’Leno, cross the hanging bridge, and then follow the trail to the right. Watch the treetops for flocks of goldfinches, and if you find one pick through it to see if the goldfinches have any friends with them.

Sandhill Crane migration seems to have started early this year. A little after nine in the morning on the 25th Glenn Israel saw 90 over Magnolia Parke going northwest, and about two hours later Chip Deutsch saw 75 going over in two flocks. On the 1st I saw a flock of 78 northbound at high altitude over NE Gainesville while Sam Ewing, about three miles to my west, noted, “There are a lot more cranes moving north today. I’ve been hearing them throughout the day, and have seen a couple flocks.” It seems to me that the earliest migration I’d previously witnessed began on January 29th, and this tops that by four days.

Carmine Lanciani saw the spring’s first Purple Martin on the 1st, “at 11:15 a.m., flying over a nest-box area. This location is just west of NW 98th Street near its intersection with NW 39th Avenue.”

Ospreys are arriving as well. While doing a hawk watch from his NW Gainesville yard on the 29th, Sam Ewing saw one fly over, and on the 31st Steve Hofstetter saw one near the nest platform at NW 6th Street and 8th Avenue.

Barbara Shea found this interesting page that explains how to tell Rusty Blackbirds from other blackbird species like Common Grackles, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Brown-headed Cowbirds: http://rustyblackbird.org/wp-content/uploads/Rusty-Blackbird-Identification-Guide.pdf

The National Audubon Society has a new web site that includes an online field guide illustrated by excellent photos, David Sibley illustrations, and Kenn Kaufman text. You can read about the new site here: http://www.audubon.org/news/welcome-new-audubonorg

On Thursday the 5th the Gainesville City Commission will decide whether to open the sheetflow restoration site to the public seven days a week or just on weekends once it’s completed in May. This has the potential to become one of the best birding sites in Alachua County, if not THE best. If a lot of people show up to support opening the site seven days a week, and if a good percentage of those people are willing to volunteer at the site on a regular basis so the city won’t have to pay staff, our chances are much better. The meeting begins at 3:00. If you can’t attend, please email the commissioners who haven’t yet made up their minds:
Lauren Poe poelb@cityofgainesville.org
Yvonne Hinson-Rawls rawlsyh@cityofgainesville.org
Todd Chase chasetn@cityofgainesville.org
Randy Wells WellsRM@cityofgainesville.org

Last birds of 2014

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

Merry Christmas, birdwatchers!

Roy Herrera has noticed that the Whooping Crane – still at the Beef Teaching Unit on the 24th – is observing the season by wearing Christmas-colored bands, as seen in this Chuck Littlewood photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h6F81287#h6f81287

The Bullock’s Oriole has returned to Ted, Danusia, and Steven Goodman’s NW Gainesville home for the third winter in a row. Ted got photos of the bird shortly after he first noticed it on the 21st (see photos here and here). Visitors are welcome to the Goodmans’ house at 6437 NW 37th Drive to look for the bird. Park on the street, walk down the right side of the house to the back corner, where you’ll have a view of the feeders in the back yard, and wait. Ted writes, “Same rules as last year. Come any time, don’t disturb the neighbors to the north who have feeders in their yard, but OK to view theirs from the street.”

Jennifer Donskey was looking for Rusty Blackbirds at Magnolia Parke on the 3rd and discovered that a beaver had taken up residence in the swamp there. I knew that beavers are present in the Santa Fe River and a small family group is (or was) resident at Mill Creek Preserve, but I was surprised to learn of one so close to town. Lloyd Davis went looking for it on the 20th and found both the beaver and the Rusty Blackbird that Jennifer had been looking for in the first place.

We’ve had a few recent reports of northern species that can be hard to find in Alachua County. Three Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Winter Wren were seen along the Santa Fe River during the Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno CBC on the 16th. Pine Siskins are being reported almost daily; on the 19th Samuel Ewing saw and heard a flock of 14 flying over his NW Gainesville home. And on the 21st, visiting South Florida birder Carlos Valenzuela reported a Purple Finch at Bolen Bluff: “Female with bold white eyebrow and heavy dark triangular bill. The bird flew in and was feeding on a sweetgum tree leading out to the prairie, just bordering the forest.”

Also at Bolen Bluff was an American Redstart seen by Harrison Jones on the 17th. I tend to think of these December birds as dawdling fall migrants rather than wintering birds; only a small percentage are ever seen after January 1st.

Here’s an amazing story. Golden-winged Warblers, newly-arrived on their nesting grounds in Tennessee, turned around and flew all the way back down to the Gulf Coast to avoid oncoming tornadoes, then returned to Tennessee once the tornadoes had passed. Thanks to Ching-tzu Huang for the link: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30531060

Audubon Florida posted this on the possible misuse of Amendment 1 conservation funds: http://fl.audubonaction.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=61979&em_id=50121.0&pgwrap=n

Christmas Bird Count results

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

Sunday’s Christmas Bird Count tallied a spectacular 157 species – though it’s possible that some of the undocumented rarities will be struck off the list by the regional editor and we’ll end up with a smaller number. The complete list of species and numbers is below.

There were an unusually high number of rarities reported, including two species new to the Gainesville Count, Wood Thrush and Wilson’s Plover. Neither was documented with a photograph, but on the day after the Count Andy Kratter was able to relocate the Wood Thrush that had first been discovered by Harry Jones at Kanapaha Gardens, and it may yet be photographed. Birders attempting to relocate Felicia Lee’s Wilson’s Plover for a photograph were unable to do so. Other good birds included:

– Two Snow Geese in a flock of Sandhill Cranes at the Kanapaha Prairie. John Martin photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/15424485194/
– A Canvasback at Sweetwater Wetlands Park (AKA the Sheetflow Restoration Wetlands). Matt O’Sullivan photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/16036582521/
– A Greater Scaup at Sweetwater Wetlands Park.
– A Great White Heron at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Matt O’Sullivan picture here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/16038275472/
– A White-faced Ibis at Sweetwater Wetlands Park.
– Two Roseate Spoonbills, one at Sweetwater Wetlands Park, one flying over Bivens Arm. Matt O’Sullivan picture of the former bird here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/16038533595/
– Three Purple Gallinules wintering along the La Chua Trail. Jonathan Mays photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/15416903544/
– The Whooping Crane that’s been present every day at the UF Beef Teaching Unit.
– A Spotted Sandpiper.
– Two Laughing Gulls on Newnans Lake.
– Two White-winged Doves in a yard near the Kanapaha Prairie.
– One hummingbird in the genus Archilochus, either a Ruby-throated or a Black-chinned.
– Two Least Flycatchers.
– Five Ash-throated Flycatchers at four separate spots on Paynes Prairie (not a single one of them open to the public!). Matt O’Sullivan pictures of two different birds here and here.
– A Blue-winged Warbler along Cones Dike, only the second for the Gainesville Count. Steve Collins photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/odephoto/15848141028/
– Two Yellow-breasted Chats.
– Five Dark-eyed Juncos along the Lake Trail at Lake Wauberg. Not found on the following day, though at least two parties went looking for them.
– Five Painted Buntings in two separate places, a new high for the Gainesville Count.
– Eight Pine Siskins were reported, by four teams.

Our Sandhill Crane count was on the low side, with only 2,555.

Limpkins infested Newnans Lake during most of 2013-14 – John Hintermister and I counted 39 there on February 20th – but only three showed up there on the Count, while 15 were seen at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. I’m not sure what that signifies, but it’s interesting.

Big misses included Northern Pintail, Northern Bobwhite, Common Loon, and Long-billed Dowitcher.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno CBC took place on the 16th. John Martin photographed a Winter Wren along the Santa Fe River – https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/15859003848/ – and the county’s first Golden-crowned Kinglets of the winter were seen in the same area. A Vermilion Flycatcher and a Black-throated Green Warbler showed up in exactly the same locations where they were seen last year, the former at a rural area in Columbia County, the latter at River Rise.

The Melrose CBC is taking place as I write this, and we’re hoping to learn that the Pacific Loon has returned for its third winter.

I’m not sure you can see this link without a Dropbox account, but Wade Kincaid got a great photo of the Whooping Crane that’s been at the Beef Teaching Unit since the 7th: https://www.dropbox.com/s/oq8wybwrtkx4a7m/AP140042.jpg?dl=0 A couple of inquiring minds found a web page with background information on this individual bird (including baby pictures!): http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane/13/BandingCodes_1309.html

And here are the results:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 212
Snow Goose 2
Muscovy Duck 291
Wood Duck 149
Gadwall 108
American Wigeon 2
Mallard 7
Mottled Duck 66
Blue-winged Teal 395
Northern Shoveler 53
Green-winged Teal 232
Canvasback 1
Redhead 1
Ring-necked Duck 795
Greater Scaup 1
Lesser Scaup 50
Bufflehead 11
Hooded Merganser 198
Ruddy Duck 57
Wild Turkey 26
Pied-billed Grebe 204
Horned Grebe 1
Wood Stork 75
Double-crested Cormorant 1,022
Anhinga 202
American White Pelican 40
American Bittern 9
Great Blue Heron (including 1 Great White Heron) 149
Great Egret 176
Snowy Egret 205
Little Blue Heron 263
Tricolored Heron 45
Cattle Egret 58
Green Heron 37
Black-crowned Night-Heron 71
White Ibis 1,811
Glossy Ibis 159
White-faced Ibis 1
Roseate Spoonbill 2
Black Vulture 407
Turkey Vulture 844
Osprey 3
Northern Harrier 40
Sharp-shinned Hawk 8
Cooper’s Hawk 8
Accipiter, sp. 1
Bald Eagle 58
Red-shouldered Hawk 175
Red-tailed Hawk 41
King Rail 28
Virginia Rail 11
Sora 54
Purple Gallinule 3
Common Gallinule 280
American Coot 2,446
Limpkin 18
Sandhill Crane 2,555
Whooping Crane 1
Wilson’s Plover 1
Killdeer 459
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 29
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Least Sandpiper 25
Wilson’s Snipe 189
American Woodcock 22
Bonaparte’s Gull 21
Laughing Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 534
Herring Gull 18
Forster’s Tern 24
Rock Pigeon 58
Eurasian Collared-Dove 6
White-winged Dove 2
Mourning Dove 223
Common Ground-Dove 6
Barn Owl 1
Eastern Screech-Owl 10
Great Horned Owl 37
Barred Owl 43
Eastern Whip-poor-will 3
Archilochus, sp. 1
Belted Kingfisher 44
Red-headed Woodpecker 14
Red-bellied Woodpecker 274
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 78
Downy Woodpecker 115
Northern Flicker 43
Pileated Woodpecker 143
American Kestrel 44
Merlin 2
Least Flycatcher 2
Eastern Phoebe 410
Vermilion Flycatcher 1
Ash-throated Flycatcher 5
Loggerhead Shrike 20
White-eyed Vireo 124
Blue-headed Vireo 88
Blue Jay 399
American Crow 664
Fish Crow 109
crow, sp. 125
Tree Swallow 141
Carolina Chickadee 298
Tufted Titmouse 388
Brown-headed Nuthatch 3
House Wren 234
Sedge Wren 66
Marsh Wren 64
Carolina Wren 412
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 457
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 560
Eastern Bluebird 149
Hermit Thrush 63
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 1,121
Gray Catbird 147
Northern Mockingbird 174
Brown Thrasher 27
European Starling 57
American Pipit 3
Cedar Waxwing 7
Ovenbird 9
Northern Waterthrush 3
Blue-winged Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler 99
Orange-crowned Warbler 105
Common Yellowthroat 285
Northern Parula 5
Palm Warbler 856
Pine Warbler 130
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2,438
Yellow-throated Warbler 41
Prairie Warbler 6
Yellow-breasted Chat 2
Eastern Towhee 90
Chipping Sparrow 655
Field Sparrow 8
Vesper Sparrow 28
Savannah Sparrow 229
Grasshopper Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 45
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 596
White-throated Sparrow 40
White-crowned Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 656
Painted Bunting 5
Red-winged Blackbird 2,753
Eastern Meadowlark 396
Common Grackle 338
Boat-tailed Grackle 984
Brown-headed Cowbird 38
Baltimore Oriole 27
House Finch 56
Pine Siskin 8
American Goldfinch 351
House Sparrow 114

Goose, goose, ducks.

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

Debbie Segal spied a Snow Goose at the Hague Dairy at 2:45 this afternoon. Go north on NW 59th Drive (the road running along the eastern border of the dairy) about half a mile beyond the dairy entrance and look left into the field with the big rolling sprinklers in it.

In other goose-related news, the Ross’s Goose was relocated early on Saturday afternoon in the field where it was originally observed. Some people have found it and some haven’t, though it stands out like a cue ball on a billiard table; it seems to move around the field and is sometimes out of sight behind a rise.

Saturday’s field trip to the Sweetwater Restoration Wetland found the three impoundments of the treatment wetland full of birds. Among other things, we saw 13 species of waterfowl, including American Wigeon, Buffleheads, one Canvasback, and lots of Gadwalls. Soras and a couple of King Rails were calling from the marshes, we spooked a couple of American Bitterns, two Roseate Spoonbills were feeding in the shallows, and more than a dozen Limpkins were seen in Cell Three. After everyone else had left, Adam Zions and Debbie Segal took a last turn around the dikes and found a White-faced Ibis associating with three Glossy Ibis.

Samuel Ewing reported a Pine Siskin calling as it flew over his NW Gainesville home on the 22nd, by one day the earliest ever recorded in the county.

I’ve seen Pied-billed Grebes eating fish, crayfish, even a Black Swamp Snake, but I’d never seen one eating a frog until I stumbled across this Tom Tompkins photo of a particularly ambitious grebe, taken along La Chua on the 20th: http://ttompkinsphoto.smugmug.com/Paynes-Prairie-Gainesville-FL/i-CCS47bG/A

For some reason, most birders don’t trouble themselves with the scientific (Latin) names of birds, though there’s a fair bit of insight to be gained by knowing at least which genus a bird belongs to (order and family are helpful too). Some birders may be put off by the unpronounceability of the scientific name, which is why I posted a pronunciation guide online. A few nights ago I found something similar that had been worked into a photographic field guide on the BirdFellow website. For instance, go to the page on White-faced Ibis. Right next to the bird’s name is a little triangle in a circle: a “play media” symbol. Click on this, and you’ll hear a voice: “White-faced Ibis. Plih-GAY-dis CHEE-hee.” I was a little nonplussed to learn that their pronunciations don’t always agree with the ones I posted, but more than one biologist has told me that there’s no right way to pronounce a scientific name (I don’t care about the right way; I’d just like them to be standardized). Anyway, while you’re on the White-faced Ibis page, click on “Identification Photos” and look over their (enlargeable) photo gallery. They have one of those for nearly all species in the BirdFellow field guide. It’s a pretty nice resource. You should bookmark it. Evidently BirdFellow was set up by Oregon’s Dave Irons to be a place where birders could post their sightings and photos, like eBird. However, unlike eBird, it would also be a place to network with other birders, compare notes, and ask ID questions. That aspect of the website does not seem to have taken off, unfortunately, but the online field guide is still quite good.

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

First Swallow-tailed Kites, and other spring arrivals

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

(Those of you who asked for shorter birding reports – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) you were in the minority – will be deeply disheartened at the length of this one. I’ll try to mix it up a little more in the future, but there have been a lot of birds in the last ten days.)

Although the earliest Swallow-tailed Kite ever reported from Alachua County was seen on February 6, 1954, I think only one other February sighting has been recorded since then; mostly they show up in March. This year is different: they’ve been early all over the state, Alachua County included. Ron Robinson saw one over his place at the west end of Gainesville on the 21st, Dave Beatty saw one over Jonesville on the 24th, and Samuel, Caleb, and Dean Ewing saw two north of Watermelon Pond on the 26th. Samuel got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8513760414/in/photostream

Sharon Fronk of Old Town (Dixie County) had the area’s first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring visit her feeder on the 25th. There have so far been no spring arrivals here in Alachua County, though at least a couple of Ruby-throateds spent the winter.

Barn Swallows are customarily early arrivals; in most years, someone makes the initial sighting during the first week of March. But this year they were even earlier: Stephen McCullers saw three at Chapmans Pond on the 28th, and on the same day Dean Ewing spotted two flying with Tree Swallows at Watermelon Pond.

Swallow-tailed Kites, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and Barn Swallows all nest locally, but on the 28th Stephen McCullers reported the spring’s first transient, a bird that’s just passing through on its way north: a Solitary Sandpiper in one of the ponds behind the Harn Museum. This ties the early-arrival date for the species in Alachua County, set fifteen years ago by Mike Manetz. Solitaries winter here on rare occasions, but these ponds have been visited frequently through the winter by birders seeking a Common Goldeneye present there from December 1st to February 24th (but not since), and no one reported a Solitary.

Since there have been so many early birds, let me mention a possible source of confusion. White-eyed Vireos are perfectly capable of mimicking the wheep of a Great Crested Flycatcher and the picky-tucky-tuck of a Summer Tanager, so if you hear one of those species calling before the last week of March, check it out and try to get visual confirmation.

Despite all the spring arrivals, it’s still winter, so let’s run down the more interesting winter birds that are still being reported.

John Hintermister and Adam Zions located the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 22nd, and Adam got a photo. Coincidentally, another was reported off the fishing pier at Cedar Key, first by Darcy Love of Spring Hill on the 18th and then by our own Steven Goodman on the 24th. I talked to Hernando County birder Murray Gardler this week, and he said the bird was present in the same location last winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around. In the past three weeks, Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing saw one near Archer on the 24th (and Samuel got a photo), Adam Zions found one along the Hatchet Creek Tract on the 17th (photo) and Mike Manetz relocated it on the 22nd, Felicia Lee saw one at her SW Gainesville home on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted one along the perimeter trail at Morningside Nature Center on the 8th.

Mike Manetz and John Killian saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher along the Cones Dike Trail on the 27th.

The Fox Sparrow behind Pine Grove Cemetery was seen on the 19th by visiting birders from the Tampa Bay area and on the 20th by Andy Kratter. Last winter it wasn’t seen after March 7th, or after March 4th the year before, so if you want to get a look at it you’d better hurry.

As usually happens in late February, the American Goldfinches have grown weary of their inane flirtation with wild foods and have returned, chastened, to the feeders. Ron Robinson writes, “The last five days have been jam packed with Goldfinches. I have at least one hundred, and the feed is flying out of the feeders.”

Keep your eyes open, because sometimes Pine Siskins will join flocks of goldfinches. Chuck Curry noticed two on his NW Gainesville feeder on the 23rd.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are normally seen here in spring and fall migrations, but there are a small number of winter records, including two this winter: Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello found one at Loblolly Woods on January 20th, and on the 18th of this month Shirley Lasseter photographed one at her feeder. Another migrant for which winter sightings have been recorded – an increasing number in this case, so that it’s become an annual winter visitor in small numbers – is Northern Waterthrush. The Christmas Count team assigned to the Cones Dike Trail found six on December 16th. More recently, a pair of visiting ornithologists found two along Sweetwater Dike (off the La Chua Trail) on the 24th.

Speaking of wintering warblers, Frank and Irina Goodwin saw an American Redstart along the Levy Lake loop trail on the 22nd. This is the second redstart of the winter: a group from Citrus County saw one near the La Chua parking lot on the 11th.

The Groove-billed Ani is still around. Gerald White and Lloyd Davis saw it on the 27th, and visiting birder Alex Lamoreaux saw it (and one of the two Yellow-breasted Chats that’s been hanging around the same field) on the 1st.

On the 19th the ani was the trigger for some embarrassing behavior on my part. An out of town birder who’d come to see the ani posted this message on a statewide listserver: “There is a man currently bushhogging the field where the Ani has been seen. It was not seen today prior to his mowing.” Interpreting this to mean that the entire field was being mowed – it wasn’t – I immediately sent an irate message to Prairie biologist Andi Christman, asking who the heck was managing this stuff. I don’t think I used the term “you people,” but it was implied. Andi wrote back: “I suppose you could say that I ‘manage this stuff’. We have the opportunity to conduct a prescribed burn in the area near where the ani has been and in order to do so, need to establish containment lines. That is the mowing that was being conducted. As I’m sure you know, in the absence of flood, fire is the next most appropriate tool to manage hardwood encroachment into the basin marsh. Unfortunately, this may sometimes affect the opportunites for park visitors to view specific wildlife in certain areas, but in the long term, it is the best way to ensure quality habitat for the majority of species. As a rule, the Florida Park Service is not a single species management agency, but rather focuses on habitat management for the broad range of species associated with a natural community. I hope for the sake of the interested birders that the ani stays in the area, but our window of opportunity for conducting prescribed burns in the prairie basin is a short one, and we have to take advantage of the opportunitites that present themselves if we are to manage the natural communities in the most sound way possible. Thank you for your interest and commitment. I appreciate it.” A more civil answer than I merited. I actually *want* habitat management at the Prairie, but the second they start managing it, I start screaming bloody murder. Anyway, I apologized.

The Florida Ornithological Society has announced the details for its spring meeting: http://fosbirds.org/sites/default/files/Meetings/FOSSpring2013MeetingAnnouncement-4.pdf

Last of all, here’s a thoughtful take on the 2011 movie, “The Big Year,” by one of the very best American birders, Ned Brinkley, author of the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America and the editor of North American Birds magazine. Here’s a quote from the review (and you should know that “antivenin” is the correct name for “anti-venom”): “The chief elements that fuel American mass-cultural products are mostly absent in birding. Indeed, birding—as I see people doing it, all over the world—may be an antivenin to the sex/violence/capital nexus that seems to be at the heart of so much popular culture. To a culture enslaved to such a golden calf, how can it not seem ridiculous, even pathetic, for a person to shed a tear at the first Chestnut-sided Warbler of spring? What is profitable, hedonistic, transgressive, ironic, or cool in that, or for that matter in our many fascinations—habitats, identifications, distributions, behaviors, not to mention butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, and more?  American pop culture urges consumption and physical pleasure; our lives are defined differently, by growing knowledge, study, connection, fascination.” Read the whole thing: http://blog.aba.org/2011/11/yet-another-big-year-review.html

Bell’s Vireo still there, plus a smorgasbord of other rare birds

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

Friends! Are you bothered by wintering hummingbirds? Are these tiny little garden pests drinking all of your nectar? Well then tell me about it! Especially if you’d like Fred Bassett of Hummingbird Research, Inc., to capture, identify, and band the little rascals. Fred will be coming through Gainesville on January 19th while working his way south, and then returning on the 21st or 22nd. He’d love to band your hummers and document their presence here in Florida. For an interesting video on hummingbird banding (featuring Fred from 1:00 to 2:32) click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v36GcpHsbw

Helen Warren reminds me, “If you are going on the Alachua Audubon field trip to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge this weekend, there is a nice hotel in Crawfordville, the Inn at Wildwood Resort, that has Audubon rates of $69/night. Its phone number is 800-878-1546. If you already have reservations they will give this rate when you check in.” Remember there are Razorbills being seen at St. Marks! (Though I think this is one of those trips that allows only a certain number of participants. You can always call Wild Birds Unlimited at 352-381-1997 and find out.)

The big birding news of the week has been the discovery of Alachua County’s first-ever Bell’s Vireo by Chris Burney along the fenceline trail (AKA Sparrow Alley) near La Chua. I sent out a map of the location earlier, but here it is again. Study that map. Note that the bird is being seen near a sandy spot in the trail. There’s also a large X of pink flagging tape on the left side of the trail right about where the bird was discovered in a shrubby stand of blackberry and winged sumac. Jonathan Mays got a photo of the bird on the morning of the 7th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8358224185/in/photostream It’s a very shy bird, so plan on spending a little time out there if you want to get a look at it. I’ve been out there twice and I still haven’t seen it.

We knew that a Groove-billed Ani, a Peregrine Falcon, and two Ash-throated Flycatchers were present along the fenceline trail, but as an increasing number of birders come seeking the Bell’s Vireo, the “Patagonia Picnic Table Effect” is kicking in. The PPTE gets its name from a roadside rest area in Patagonia, Arizona, where the first Black-capped Gnatcatcher found in the U.S. was discovered in 1971. The many birders who searched the rest stop over the following days and weeks found not only the gnatcatcher, but other rarities as well. And that’s what’s happening here. Birders looking for the Bell’s Vireo this morning (the 8th) found it, but also found a wintering Yellow-breasted Chat, a Fox Sparrow, and a Nashville Warbler first seen by Dalcio Dacol in late November.

Incidentally, if you go out there, wear boots or old shoes. Some big trucks are using the service road to go to and from the construction site of the new Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Project, and you’ll be walking in deep muddy ruts part of the way.

Should you be watching your feeders? Like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, you should. A Dark-eyed Junco visited Linda Hensley’s NW Gainesville yard on the 1st, and Bubba Scales of Wild Birds Unlimited writes, “Customers are apparently reporting Pine Siskins fairly regularly. It sounds as though there are fairly good numbers of small flocks out there and they’re hitting feeders.” Start looking out for Purple Finches, too. Here’s a fairly good web site on differentiating House and Purple Finches: http://sdakotabirds.com/diffids/house_purple.htm

Ron Smith’s PinellasBirds web site asked local birders, “What was the best bird of 2012 in Pinellas County?” Here’s their choice, with runners-up. What about Alachua County? What was the best bird of 2012 around here? Please submit your nominee to rexrowan@gmail.com. (Speaking of Pinellas County, Don Margeson noted Florida’s first Purple Martins in St. Pete on the 6th.)

Are you a professional biologist with an interest in shorebirds? If you don’t mind moving to the Panama City area, this may be for you: https://careers-audubon.icims.com/jobs/search?ss=1&searchKeyword=&searchLocation=12781-12793-&searchCategory

Remember, if you’ve got hummingbirds wintering in your yard, let me know about them. Even if you don’t want them banded, please tell me so that I can include them in the seasonal report I’ll submit to Florida Field Naturalist and North American Birds.

 

Turkey’s not the only bird in town this week

On Tuesday night, Alachua Audubon will welcome Steven Noll and David Tegeder, who will discuss their book Ditch of Dreams, the saga of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. It was fifty years ago this month that Marjorie Carr stood up in the Gainesville High School auditorium and began asking questions about the impact of this project, an act which eventually led to the formation of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, the end of construction on the canal, the establishment of the 110-mile Cross Florida Greenway, and decades of wrangling over Rodman Reservoir. Learn about the ongoing controversy and the struggle for Florida’s future. Join us at 7:00 Tuesday evening at the Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd Street.

Dalcio Dacol walked out the La Chua Trail on the morning of the 19th in search of the Vermilion Flycatcher and the Le Conte’s Sparrow. He found both, plus a Sora – all, in his words, “showing well” – and he managed to get them all on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4VebbrlTks

Also on the 19th, also at La Chua, John Killian got this nice photo of a Merlin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8200665219/in/photostream That’s a male, and on the same day Jonathan Mays got a picture of a female, so La Chua is hosting at least two right now:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201745446/

Jonathan also photographed a Great Blue Heron eating a Greater Siren, a large aquatic salamander: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201746158/in/photostream/

Rob Bowden heard two Pine Siskins in a flock of American Goldfinches on the morning of the 19th.

I mentioned that southbound Common Loons have been seen overhead recently. Some of them have been landing in local waters as well. Carol Lippincott saw one paddling around on Lake Wauberg on the 18th, and on the 17th an Alachua Conservation Trust field trip saw one on Newnans Lake (four more flying over), plus two Horned Grebes and four Buffleheads, from the Powers Park fishing pier.

Migrant Sandhill Cranes don’t usually arrive here till late November or early December – Steve Nesbitt has commented that they seem to be arriving later, and leaving earlier, every year – but birders have been reporting high-flying flocks since late October. Andy Kratter saw 25 going over his SE Gainesville yard in the wake of a big cold front on October 29th, and on the same day Jonathan Mays and Trevor Persons counted 76 (in two V flocks) going over the La Chua Trail. Adam Kent saw 56 flying over Poe Springs on November 17th. However there don’t seem to be any large congregations at Paynes Prairie yet, so these early flocks – despite their large size – may be composed of local birds. (There aren’t any flocks at the UF Beef Unit fields at Williston Road and SW 23rd Street, either, but according to Steve the cranes often spend their days foraging in marshes until after the first freeze.)

Hey, did you know that the Reader’s Digest had a hand in halting the Cross Florida Barge Canal? And that President Nixon almost reversed his order to end construction? It’s a fascinating piece of Florida history – not to mention a prime example of what citizen environmentalists are capable of – and nobody can tell the story better than Stephen Noll and David Tegeder. Please join us at the Millhopper Library at 7:00 on Tuesday night.

Vermilion Flycatcher, early waxwings, and other good birds

(Sorry for the delay on some of these reports. This week I’ve been house-sitting for a friend who doesn’t have internet access.)

John Hintermister found a female Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua Trail observation platform on the 8th. It was one of three great birds he found on his walk (59 species overall). The others were a Lincoln’s Sparrow “just southwest of the barn” and a Clay-colored Sparrow “on Sweetwater Dike just past the first turn going west and before the big cypress tree.” If you go looking for these, keep an eye out for a first-fall male Yellow-headed Blackbird seen by Irina Goodwin along Sweetwater Dike on the 4th.

John Martin found some great birds at the Hague Dairy on the 4th. He scared up a Henslow’s Sparrow near the “twin ponds” south of the main driveway, and he got an extended video of a gorgeous male Yellow-headed Blackbird among the Brown-headed Cowbirds on the roof of one of the animal buildings (click on the little gear-looking icon that says “Change quality” and choose “Original,” then select “Full screen” to see this at its best).

Neither of these birds was found during Alachua Audubon’s field trip to the dairy on the 3rd, but Mike Manetz reported, “Got good scope looks at Vesper, Savannah, and Swamp Sparrows, plus Sedge Wren. Best was Merlin perched for several minutes in scope for lots of oohs and aahs, especially from me!” (The Merlin was #251 in Alachua County this year for Mike. If you want to see how that stands compared to previous Big Years for Alachua County, go here.)

Cedar Waxwings usually start showing up in Gainesville during the second half of December. It’s rare to see them before that. But this year there have been several sightings already. Adam and Gina Kent saw the first one at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. On the 4th they visited the wetland behind the Magnolia Parke commercial complex and found a flock of 30, while Felicia Lee recorded 5 at the La Chua Trail.

Gina Kent saw a Pine Siskin at her feeder on the 7th; it could be the harbinger of an irruption, or it could be lost. American Goldfinches are starting to arrive as well. On the 5th Gina saw one her feeder, Jonathan Mays saw one at Paynes Prairie, and Bob Wallace saw one at his place south of Alachua, and there have been a handful of reports almost every day since then.

Common Loons are also starting to show up, pretty much on schedule. Dean Ewing saw the first of the fall in a retention pond near Chiefland on the 29th, Samuel Ewing saw three over Newberry on the 5th, and county biologist Susie Hetrick and I saw one (plus three Ruddy Ducks) on Lake Alto on the 9th.

Last June, Bob Carroll retired from a distinguished and successful 40-year career as an educator. Not long afterward he received an advertisement in the mail for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Since he had never been birding in Texas, it struck him that registering for the festival would make a darned good retirement gift to himself. He left early this week, and you can accompany him on his adventure through The Magical Power of the Inter-Net, because he’s described three of his adventures on his blog at http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

The field trip on the 10th goes to the Hamilton County phosphate mines, the one on the 17th goes to Cedar Key. According to Dale Henderson, Cedar Key is a veritable hotbed of Red-breasted Nuthatches this fall. She writes that she is “seeing and hearing Red-breasted Nuthatches daily. There may be a dozen or more. Near the air strip, cemetery, and down closer to my house, and also in the museum and vicinity.” In addition, Dale saw a flock of 25 Snow Geese and had a Pine Siskin at her feeder. Field trip schedule: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/calendar.htm

The Cedar Key Christmas Bird Count will be held on Thursday, January 3rd (not December 27th as “The Crane” says). If you’re interested in participating, email Ron Christen at ronrun@embarqmail.com or call him at 850-567-0490. The Gainesville CBC will be held on Sunday, December 16th, and if you want to join us you should contact John Hintermister at jhintermister@gmail.com