A few news items, plus a Cedar Key bird report

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

Join the Alachua Audubon Society on Wednesday, April 15th at 6:00 pm for our annual pot luck dinner celebration and to help us welcome our newest board members, Marie Davis, Will Sexton, Katie Sieving, Charlene Leonard, Ted Goodman, Adam Zions, John Sivinski, and Trina Anderson. The event will be held at Dick and Patty Bartlett’s house at 3101 SW 1st Way, Gainesville, located in the Colclough Hills neighborhood between south Main Street and Williston Road – across the street from and a little south of Bubba Scales’s house, where it’s been held in the past. (Look for the Audubon signs!) Bring some food to share and your drink of choice, and enjoy visiting with Alachua Audubon members and the Board of Directors. This will be a fun gathering and an opportunity to share our more recent spring migration observations!

Matt O’Sullivan went to Cedar Key on the 11th hoping that the forecast rains would ground some migrants: “Well it was pretty quiet at Cedar Key as they never got any rain. It did get better as the day went on, and by the end of the day I had seen 11 species of warbler including a Worm-eating, a Black-throated Blue, 2 Cape May, and best of all 2 Swainson’s Warblers on the same log!!! The most common bird of the day was Prairie Warbler with about a dozen around, also had several Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrushes. Other than that the only other migrants were an Indigo Bunting and a Baltimore Oriole that I heard but missed as it flew over my head. Others on the island saw a single Black-throated Green and a Magnolia Warbler.”

During the peaks of spring and fall migrations, Alachua Audubon offers two – even three! – field trips each weekend. This year’s “twofer” season began last weekend with a wildflower trip on Saturday and a San Felasco Hammock bird hike on Sunday and will continue through May 16-17. Our field trip schedule is here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

The wildflower trip to Goldhead Branch State Park went well, thanks to a knowledgeable volunteer from the Native Plant Society. The group visited sandhill, scrub, and ravine habitats and admired some lovely and fragrant wildflowers. Bird life included Brown-headed Nuthatches, a briefly-seen Swallow-tailed Kite, a Summer Tanager, and Red-headed Woodpeckers. It was also a surprisingly good day for herps. We saw a couple of Eastern Fence Lizards, two Florida Softshell Turtles, a recently road-killed Coral Snake (gory photo here), a young Southern Black Racer, and a Florida Watersnake.

Bob Carroll reported on Sunday’s San Felasco Hammock trip: “Today’s field trip to San Felasco was quite successful. We had a hard time getting out of the parking lot, and a harder time reaching the Moonshine Creek Trail. The parking lot produced Red-headed Woodpeckers (actually across the street), Great-crested Flycatchers, and a distant view of a male Summer Tanager (also across the street). We also stopped in the area with mostly pines and an open forest floor before we reached the Moonshine Trail. We were looking at a male Summer Tanager when Alan Shapiro called out that he had something really yellow – like Prothonotary yellow. Sure enough, he had a Prothonotary Warbler that gave us really terrific looks. Then we had the unique experience of seeing the Prothonotary in the same tree as and really close to both a male and female Summer Tanager so we could study them at leisure. Once on the Moonshine Creek Trail, we had a cooperative Red-eyed Vireo dancing around us. Later we had to work very hard, but finally we got everyone a decent look at a Hooded Warbler. There were a lot of Hoodeds thoughout the forest, and it took four stops and four different males to get everyone a look, but patience paid off. The only real miss of the day were the Barred Owls that are usually very responsive on the last quarter of the trail. They were silent and invisible today.”

Speaking of Bob Carroll, he writes, “It’s Third Thursday time! This week we’re heading to Cedar Key in search of piles and piles of migrants. We’ll meet at Target and leave by 7:00, pick up Barbara Shea in Archer, then meet a few more people in Cedar Key by 8:30. Here’s a tentative itinerary: We’ll drive out to Shell Mound for shorebirds (while looking for Florida Scrub-Jays along the way). Then we’ll go into Cedar Key, stop at the Episcopal Church and check the mulberry trees. We’ll walk around the cemetery looking for warblers. We’ll check the museum grounds. We may also check the loquat bushes near the turn at Hodges Avenue and the area around Anchor Cove and Andrews Circle. We’ll drive out toward the airport and maybe check the area along SW 133rd Street. Somewhere in there we’ll stop for lunch. So far I’ve had three restaurant nominations:
Tony’s (award-winning clam chowder), Ken’s (music of the 50s and 60s, best burgers in town and looking out on the Gulf), Annie’s (variety of food with a porch overlooking Back Bayou). You can look on Yelp or Trip Advisor for reviews.
PLEASE: If you’re joining us for lunch, let me know as soon as you can AND vote for a restaurant. I’ll eliminate the one with the least votes and then make a pick. See you on Thursday!”

Bad news for photographers and early birders: Paynes Prairie’s management has discontinued a policy that allowed annual-pass holders to get onto the La Chua Trail before 8:00. Photographer Chris Janus writes, “The gate code for April is not working and the gate was disconnected, as I was told, permanently. I tried it last weekend and today and it did not work. I called the ranger station and was directed to the ‘Manager,’ who kindly returned my call and explained that during the last meeting the management expressed concerns about security (and following even longer explanation by the Manager) and safety on the trail, and they decided to disconnect the gate because there are dangerous animals on the trail, etc. etc. So goodbye to the sunrises and shots of undisturbed wildlife. We will still have a chance to take pictures of noisy runners, people feeding alligators or trying to sit on them during the normal ‘safe’ hours of trail operation. If you suspect sarcasm here, you are correct. And if you say that sarcasm is the last kind of wisdom, you are also correct. But at least it is wisdom, I’d say. Now, if you know any place one can go early on the weekend morning for a stroll and take some good pictures of wildlife and not to see too many people, please, let me know.”

I’ve put up a new blog post at the Gainesville Sun website: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/138/swamps-and-spotted-turtles/ It describes an afternoon that I spent with Jonathan Mays in a swamp, looking for Spotted Turtles. And speaking of turtles, Jonathan told me about a new non-profit organization devoted to turtle conservation, the American Turtle Observatory: http://www.americanturtles.org/

Field trip update, still more migrants

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

Saturday’s wildflower field trip will be proceeding without its long-time leader, Dana Griffin. Dana has developed some back problems that are going to keep him off his feet for a while. He has our heartfelt wishes for a full recovery, and hopefully he’ll be back with us in the future. Meanwhile we’ll meet in the Winn-Dixie parking lot at the intersection of SW 34th Street and SW 20th Avenue at 8 a.m. and proceed to Goldhead Branch State Park (entrance fee $5 per vehicle, $4 single-passenger vehicle) on SR-21 north of Keystone Heights, where we’ll look at the native plants and wildflowers of several habitats, including sandhill, scrub, slope forest, lake edge, and seepage slope. Reportedly the state-champion longleaf pine is in the park, and if we can find it we’ll make a point of standing around and admiring it. Please join us on Saturday morning.

Nearly all the locally-nesting neotropical migrants are here now. The first Prothonotary Warbler of the spring was sighted by Sam and Ben Ewing at the Hogtown Creek Greenway on March 28th, the first Orchard Oriole of the spring by Lloyd Davis and Howard Adams at La Chua on April 2nd, the first Yellow-billed Cuckoo at San Felasco Hammock by Sidney Wade, Howard Adams, and Brad Hall on the 5th, and the first Blue Grosbeak by Howard at Chapmans Pond on the 6th (Howard is out there kicking some birdie butt!). The only spring arrivals that haven’t yet been reported are Eastern Wood-Pewee, which can go undetected because of its rarity in Alachua County, and Acadian Flycatcher.

So now it’s time to start watching for the transients, the birds that are just passing through on their way north. Some have been seen already, of course. Prairie Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrushes have been moving through since mid-March, and in fact the Louisiana Waterthrush migration seems to be over, with no observations since March 28th. Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg saw a very early Cape May Warbler at Palm Point on April 2nd – they’re most likely during the last week of April – and I saw an American Redstart at the south edge of the Tuscawilla Prairie on the 4th. We have Indigo Buntings that nest here, of course, but northbound birds may show up at feeders this month, often in fairly respectable numbers. Watch for Painted Buntings among them.

Transient shorebirds are visiting as well. On the afternoon of the 5th I made a brief Sneaky Sunday visit to the sheetflow restoration area. My scope is in the shop, which made shorebirding a little more of a challenge,  but I saw 2 Pectoral Sandpipers, at least 1 Stilt Sandpiper (up to 5 have been seen there), 1 Spotted Sandpiper, 6 or 8 Black-necked Stilts, and several dowitchers, presumably all Long-billed, many of them molting into rich reddish-brown breeding plumage.

Also on the 5th, and also at the sheetflow restoration area, Adam Zions got a photo of a White-faced Ibis, which also seems to be molting into breeding plumage: https://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/17050072765/

Lloyd Davis points out that a much more accessible shorebirding area is developing at San Felasco’s Progress Center, where Lee Pond is drying up (as it regularly does). On the 6th he found a Stilt Sandpiper there: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16892280789/

Lloyd also got a couple of interesting photos in his own back yard. He’s had a Tufted Titmouse visiting his feeder all winter that has some white wing feathers, patches of white on its head and body, and a bill that’s pink instead of black. Two of Lloyd’s pictures of the bird are here and here.

Last weekend, while traveling up to Georgia in the course of his Spotted Turtle research, Jonathan Mays stopped to investigate a cypress floodplain and found a young Eastern Mud Snake. This extraordinary photo shows just how un-mud-like a Mud Snake can be: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/16891449969/

Jessica Burnett writes, “Neighborhood Nestwatch is a citizen science program founded by the Smithsonian Institution. The main goals of the program are to determine how backyard bird populations are affected by urbanization and to educate the public about wildlife and the scientific process. We are seeking participants in the Gainesville area (no more than 60 miles from downtown) who are interested in learning first-hand about the common birds found in their backyard and contributing to a multi-city study on the effects of urbanization on resident birds. On an annual basis, scientists will conduct a backyard bird-banding visit with the help of participants. Participants and their families/children will report sightings of banded birds to the Smithsonian, will monitor nests on their property, and will assist researchers during the site visit with mist-netting and nest searching. If you would like to participate, please email our team at gainesvillenestwatch@gmail.com. All levels of bird watchers and enthusiasts are welcome. We will be available any day of the week beginning in late April, until July 4th. Email us now to secure a spot!”

Looks like a fall migration to me

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

Rufous Hummingbirds have already returned to two local feeders. Both are adult males. One that’s been visiting Mike Manetz’s yard since the 11th is wearing a little silver bracelet, so it’s probably the same bird that Fred Bassett banded there in January; Mike got a photo. Just across the Gilchrist County line, one has been coming to Jim Allison’s feeder since the 12th. Both of these beat the county’s previous early arrival date by about two weeks; that was an adult male that Greg Hart saw at his place in Alachua on August 25, 2003.

Mike Manetz, Bob Carroll, and I checked for shorebirds at Hague Dairy on July 17th. There was plenty of water, but the vegetation was too high for shorebirds; they prefer the unobstructed view provided by mud flats and other vegetation-free landscapes. In the four weeks since then, all the vegetation has been mowed down, and when the Ewings (father Dean, sons Caleb, Benjamin, and Samuel) visited on the 14th they found seven shorebird species: “5 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 9 Least Sandpipers, 5 Pectorals, 3 Solitaries, 1 Spotted, and best of all 6 Stilt Sandpipers!” Samuel got a photo of all six Stilts: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14730385127/ All were in the same spot as last year, the northwest corner of the lagoon. A Laughing Gull was out there as well. Remember that a Short-billed Dowitcher and a Wilson’s Phalarope were recorded there last August, so it would be worthwhile to check back frequently.

Samuel has been watching the sky from his NW Gainesville neighborhood, and it paid off on the 15th with a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and a Cliff Swallow, our first fall migrants of both species.

Mike Manetz and I found nine warbler species at San Felasco Hammock on the 14th as we walked the Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails, including one Worm-eating, single Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes, 3 Black-and-whites, 2 Prothonotaries, 2 Kentuckies, 7 Hoodeds, 3 American Redstarts, and 10 Northern Parulas.

John Killian sneaked out to the sheet flow restoration area on the 12th in hopes of seeing the Buff-breasted Sandpiper that Matt O’Sullivan and I found on the 10th, but it had moved on. He writes, “I did see a Roseate Spoonbill, half a dozen each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, 3 Pectoral Sandpipers, 9 Black Terns, and a Laughing Gull. There must be about 100 Black-bellied Whistling ducks out there as well.”

Speaking of Black Terns, I saw a flock of 14 at Newnans Lake during the stormy weather on the evening of the 14th.

Bob Carroll went to Arizona in late July. He’s telling the story on his blog. In order:

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/birding-in-arizona-and-new-mexico.html

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/part-2-silver-city-nm-and-road-to-portal.html

I expect another installment any day now.

Don’t forget to keep up the pressure on the County Commission in regards to Barr Hammock. Email the Commission at bocc@alachuacounty.us and urge them to keep the loop open.

There’s an election coming up on the 26th. I don’t know whether Lee Pinkoson or Harvey Ward is the better candidate overall, but I can tell you that Ward has declared himself to be against both the Plum Creek project and the Barr Hammock trail closure, while Pinkoson has not.

Migrant warblers and shorebirds

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

Matt O’Sullivan was away in his native England for a couple of weeks, but when he got back into town he wasted no time in finding some good birds. At Bolen Bluff on the 5th he saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, 2 migrant Prothonotary Warblers, and the fall’s first Worm-eating Warbler. Returning two days later he relocated the Worm-eating and one of the Prothonotaries, but also spotted a Short-tailed Hawk (photo here). He commented, “I think the hawk wasn’t an adult. It appeared densely mottled with streaks that blended together on the underside. I don’t know if that suggests local breeding or if it’s a wandering juvenile or subadult.” Dalcio Dacol and Craig Walters walked Bolen Bluff on the 9th and found most of the warblers reported by Matt, plus a few more: Worm-eating, Prothonotary, Black-and-white, Yellow, and the fall’s first Ovenbird.

Dalcio had found the season’s second Kentucky Warbler while walking San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek Trail (south of Millhopper Road) on the 5th. Deena Mickelson saw his report and went looking for it on the 6th. She found it “exactly where Dalcio had reported it, at the beginning of the Moonshine Creek Trail, right after I’d gone downhill, but just before the first bridge was in view” (photo here). She also saw 3 Black-and-white Warblers.

Debbie Segal saw a nice mix of sandpipers at Paynes Prairie on the 7th: 3 Spotted, 5 Solitary, 2 Least, 2 Semipalmated, a Pectoral, and a Lesser Yellowlegs. She also saw a single Laughing Gull and a trio of Yellow Warblers.

Swallow migration gets underway in August. Adam Kent reported a Purple Martin and 5 Barn Swallows over his SE Gainesville home on the 9th, but small numbers of southbound Barn Swallows have been reported by several other birders over the past two weeks. Usually the largest numbers of Barn Swallows pass through during the last week of the month; that’s also your best chance of seeing Bank and Cliff Swallows.

Take a minute to watch any Swallow-tailed or Mississippi Kites you see. Their numbers are starting to dwindle as they begin their migration, and we won’t see them again until next spring.

If you’re over 50, you might as well turn in your binoculars: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140805-aging-birders-breeding-bird-survey-volunteers-science/ (“Some surveys—such as the BBS—require volunteers to record information on all the birds they can detect in a brief three-minute window, which might be challenging for some older people if they have a lot of information coming at them rapidly, Farmer said.”) Um, sorry? What? There were an awful lot of words in that sentence…

Wow, everybody’s going to Cuba! In addition to Halifax River Audubon Society, which I mentioned in the last email, Joni Ellis notified me that she’s got two slots still open on a Cuba trip: “Cost will be ~ $3,000 including airfare from Tampa, visa, health insurance, all lodging, meals and transportation. Just bring beer money!” (Itinerary and details here.) And Rob Norton, who has compiled the West Indies seasonal report for American Birds/North American Birds for thirty years or so, writes, “The Ocean Society and Holbrook Travel will be sponsoring Christmas Bird Counts (4) in Cuba this season. I have worked with local ornithologists and guides to establish these areas as an historic opportunity to participate in that country’s official CBCs. Dates are Dec 13-22, details at holbrook.travel/tofcuba.”

First migrant shorebirds

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

This morning Mike Manetz and I walked about three and a half miles at Paynes Prairie, going out Sparrow Alley and coming back along the soon-to-be-bulldozed Sweetwater Dike. We noticed a few signs of the season – Orchard Orioles and Prothonotary Warblers seemed to have departed Sweetwater and gone south, and we neither heard nor saw a Yellow-breasted Chat anywhere along our route. But we did see a couple of fall migrants – two Least Sandpipers and one Spotted Sandpiper, southward bound from their northern nesting grounds.

Mike and Bob Carroll and I checked out the Hague Dairy after a field trip committee meeting on the 17th. We were hoping for a repeat of last year, when heavy rains flooded a stubble field just north of the lagoon, attracting shorebirds of several species, including Wilson’s Phalarope and Short-billed Dowitcher. However upon reaching the field in question we discovered that it was still overgrown with vegetation three feet high, not exactly prime habitat for the birds we were hoping to see.

Ron Robinson and I birded the western shore of Newnans Lake on the morning of the 13th, visiting Powers Park, Palm Point/Lakeshore Drive, and Gum Root Swamp. No interesting terns, no Laughing Gulls, no Louisiana Waterthrushes, and no Prothonotary Warblers, but we did find the county’s first Black-and-white Warbler of the fall at Palm Point and another at Gum Root. Another Black-and-white was in my back yard on the 17th, along with a Yellow-throated Warbler (which doesn’t live in my neighborhood, so it must have been a migrant as well).

On July 10th between 7:30 and 8:00, Geoff Parks saw “about 16″ Swallow-tailed Kites roosting in a dead pine directly across NW 39th Avenue from the Magnolia Parke entrance. At 7:45 on the morning of the 14th he passed by the tree again and noted 10-15 kites.

I mentioned a nest of Blue Grosbeak eggs at La Chua in the last birding report. The three eggs hatched on the 8th, and the young seemed to be doing well. But on the 15th Deena Mickelson, who’d been keeping an eye on the nest, wrote, “I went by this morning, after the thunderstorm had rolled out, only to find the entire nest gone. At first I only saw the male nearby, but on my return the female was there as well. Both were in the shrubs on each side of the one that had contained the nest. When a Fish Crow landed on the weather station across the trail the male and female grosbeak both got really agitated for a while. After the crow left they quieted down again, but stayed in the area. I confess I clambered up on the bottom rung of the fence trying to see if the nest was visible anywhere, but I couldn’t see it anywhere; I suspect it went in the water underneath and that’s that, as they say.”

On a more cheerful note, here’s a picture of a “parliament” of Burrowing Owls from Steve Collins in Texas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/odephoto/14687813742/ (“Parliament” is considered the proper collective noun for a group of owls, but Chaucer wrote a poem called the “Parliament of Fowls” that involved more birds than just owls; the Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of parliament in this instance as a “consultative assembly,” and specifically refers to Chaucer’s “parlement of briddes.” It doesn’t mention parliament as a collective noun for owls, so that must be a fairly recent invention.)

Have you been sending daily emails to the County Commissioners, asking them not to close access to the north part of the trail at Barr Hammock? The Gainesville Sun published an editorial against closing the trail on the 13th: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20140713/OPINION01/140719946/1076/opinion01?Title=Editorial-Homes-and-hikers You can tell the Commissioners your opinion at bocc@alachuacounty.us They’re eager to know your opinion and they can’t hear from you too often!

Adventures in Challenging! and exciting breeding news!

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

June Challenge party details! Becky Enneis writes, “The June Challenge Party is coming up soon, on Tuesday, July 1, at 6 p.m. Please attend and bring a covered dish (preferably with food already in it!). I’ll have sodas, wine, and beer on hand. Also, please bring a lawn chair. I have just a few available.” If you plan to join us at Becky’s, please RSVP to me so we can prepare. And also remember to send me your total by midnight on June 30th.

Bob and Erika Simons invited me to go canoeing on Newnans Lake with them this morning. All three of us needed Limpkin for our June Challenge lists, and Erika also needed Prothonotary Warbler. In addition we were hoping for Laughing Gulls, maybe a tern, and a Ruddy Duck that Chris Burney had seen out there early in the month. We launched the canoe from Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor and paddled along the shore to the northern end of the lake (beyond the Hatchet Creek outlet but not as far as Little Hatchet Creek and Gum Root Swamp) before heading back on a beeline due to developing storm clouds. We found our Limpkins easily enough – 14 of them, including three downy chicks – and Erika got her Prothonotaries – we had 7 total. Other sightings included an adult Purple Gallinule with its full-grown chick and at least one adult Bald Eagle. No gulls or terns, however. And most frustrating, I heard a Louisiana Waterthrush, tying the early record for the county – but I never saw it, so I can’t put it on my June Challenge list. But you can bet I’ll be looking for a Louisiana elsewhere during the week that remains in the Challenge.

Geoff Parks reports that at least one pair of American Robins appears to be nesting in his NE Gainesville neighborhood. If confirmed, this would be the first instance of breeding ever recorded in Alachua County. Geoff writes that June Challengers are welcome to visit, with some caveats: “The birds are spending most of their time on NE 6th Terrace about midway between the northernmost speed bump and NE 23rd Ave., especially around the white house on the west side of the road with the chain-link fence. The people who live there are friendly and had noticed the robins too. They aren’t against people coming to see the birds but they don’t want anyone knocking on the door or trespassing. It’s okay for people to park in my driveway (2024 NE 6th Terrace – yellow house near the speed bump) and walk up the street to see the birds, provided that they: 1) don’t knock on my door, since my wife works from home, and 2) don’t block in my Camry if it’s there. Alternatively, people could park and get something to eat at The Jones or David’s BBQ (at NE 23rd Avenue and 2nd Street) and then walk down, since it’s not far. Often, with some luck, a slow drive-by is all that is needed, since there’s often at least one bird foraging in a front yard or perched on the fence near the street. There may actually be more than just the pair in the neighborhood: the neighbors said they’d seen ‘3 or 4′ birds. I’m really hoping these birds will successfully fledge some young, which they seem to be very hard at work trying to do, so I hope folks will not distract them from their work by harassing them with endless playback – it’s hardly necessary in any event, since the birds are generally quite vocal and conspicuous.” I went over at lunchtime today, pulled up in front of the white house described by Geoff, and in slightly less than half an hour saw the male bird gathering food in the back yard and then flying off with it.

Belted Kingfisher is a hard bird to find during the summer months, but Craig Parenteau saw one on the 23rd, “along the main canal beside La Chua (where there is open water above the water control structure). Its plumage looked very fresh and dapper. Hope your June Challenge folks get to see it. There were also many King Rails, Purple Gallinules, and Least Bitterns – a real bonanza. Wish I could get confirmation of Least Bittern offspring, though.”

On the morning of the 23rd Mike Manetz had a second sighting of a Broad-winged Hawk in the same location as the first: “As I came south on County Road 235A and turned right on Peggy Road I could see a raptor perched very uncomfortably on the wires about where the third guard rail on the left would be. As I got a little closer I could see it was a Broad-winged. I pulled over to the right to get a photo but it flew across the street into the woods, where I think it’s probably nesting. If you post this please include that folks should stay off the Dollar General side of the road.”

Also on the morning of the 23rd, Bob and Erika Simons and I went looking for June Challenge birds at the southeastern end of the county. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we found a Bachman’s Sparrow singing near the parking corral, and a Common Yellowthroat and a trio of Brown-headed Nuthatches on the back side of the White Loop. We couldn’t locate an Eastern Wood-Pewee. We drove on to Lake Lochloosa and scanned unsuccessfully for Bald Eagles and Laughing Gulls from the covered pier at the boat launch. Bob suggested that we drive to the metal fishing pier at the Lochloosa Conservation Area, and there we found an adult Bald Eagle perched on a tree overlooking the lakeshore.

Barbara Woodmansee and her husband walked out La Chua on the 22nd: “We were able to make it all the way out to the tower at the end of La Chua, where a real live adult Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was waiting for me (yay) under the tower. We did have thick mud up to the edges of our boot tops, but it was worth it. I counted 20 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, which we saw fly into the bare trees across the lake near the pavilion to roost. It was so pretty out there with a nice breeze and a purple sky from a storm that never came in.”

Barbara and I spotted an interesting Blue Grosbeak at the beginning of Sweetwater Dike on the 21st. The patches of blue and brown made me think that it was a year-old male, but it appeared to be delivering nesting material to a brushy area on the edge of the dike where an adult male Blue Grosbeak was already perched. Why would the adult not chase the young male off? Why would the young male be carrying nesting material? I wonder whether Blue Grosbeaks ever practice cooperative breeding: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14492738644/

I was at La Chua on two evenings last week, and both times saw a flying bird that resembled (to my eye) a Bobolink. Dalcio Dacol may have seen it too, as part of what sounds like a productive morning’s birding on the 20th: “This morning, around 8:50 AM at La Chua Trail, I was walking along the boardwalk and just before I got to the shelter on the smaller sink I caught a glimpse of a bird taking off to my left. I turned around and was able to get a view as the bird was flying away from me. I did not see the head, the bird was straw colored, close to the size of a Red-winged Blackbird but of slimmer built and flew with the bobbing almost finch-like pattern typical of Bobolinks. If it were April I wouldn’t have hesitated in calling it a female Bobolink. I had the impression that the bird was on that scrub along the boardwalk. It didn’t fly too high but it continued flying in along the trail and eventually crossed over the water channel that brings water to the large sink. I rushed to the channel bank across from the area where the bird landed but was unable to locate the bird. Other than that I had 6 Glossy Ibis at the observation platform and two Yellow-crowned Night Herons, one adult and one immature plus the usual birds. I have never seen so many King Rails, Least Bitterns and Purple Gallinules in a single spring season as I have seen this year.”

I’ve mentioned organized birding tours a couple of times but only a few people have shown interest. I’m going to try again, with a more exotic locale. Former FWC herpetologist and long-time Alachua Audubon membership chair Paul Moler recently sent me an email: “As you know, for the last 7 years I’ve been participating in annual biodiversity surveys in various parts of southern Vietnam. One of the participants in 2012 and again this year was a gentleman who leads birding tours, both through tour agencies and independently. He is both very knowledgeable and a very pleasant fellow. Over the course of this year’s outing we had some discussions about tour costs. Total costs and area coverage would, of course, depend upon duration of the tour, but a 10-day tour would cost something less than $2000 (likely closer to $1500), food, local transportation, and lodging inclusive. Air fare currently would be roughly $1800 from Gainesville, $1500 from Jacksonville, and $1300 from Orlando. Travel would take a couple of days each way, so a 10-day tour would take about 14-15 days total travel time.” Paul emphasizes that he has no financial interest in this company. Let me know if you’d like more information about a guided birding trip to this part of the world.

How recently have you driven across Paynes Prairie on US-441? Right now the pickerelweed is in bloom, creating huge swaths of vivid purple, highlighted here and there by the bright yellow of an American lotus. The light seems to be ideal – the purple especially intense – at about 11 a.m.

I don’t know if anyone noticed, but the county closed the Levy Lake Loop for maintenance the day after I told you about Chris Cattau’s sighting of a probable American Bittern out there.

Blue bird bonanza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A pretty interesting day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh MIKI you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

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

Gainesville City Naturalist Geoff Parks read the subject line of the last birding report and inquired, “Do you get your ‘springerie’ at Victorious Egret?” Geoff gets First Prize!

Phil Laipis and several other Gainesville birders visited Cedar Key on the 10th to see what was shaking. As a matter of fact, a lot was shaking. Phil wrote: “82 species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and 12 warbler species (Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler). Highs for me were the Wood Thrush, and the Louisiana Waterthrush wagging its bottom. First time I’ve seen that rotary motion and could compare it to the Northern Waterthrush’s ‘Spotted Sandpiper up-down wag’. Pat Burns spotted a male Cape May which I have no decent pictures of, and I might have seen a male Blackpoll Warbler, but did not get a long enough look to be positive. Windy, and all the birds seemed to be concentrated in town, not at the cemetery or the museum. We never looked hard for shorebirds, and Pat and I looked for the Yellow Rail reported in mid-January with, of course, no success.” Phil did manage to get a nice photo of a snake I’ve never seen, a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13766355403/

I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco Hammock this afternoon, the trails north of Millhopper Road. All the migrant warblers that Matt O’Sullivan and I found in the sandhill on the 8th were gone, and in fact I only saw one transient species, Worm-eating Warbler. But I saw five of those, including two that appeared to be engaged in a singing duel. Other good sightings: several Hooded Warblers, including a female who was putting the finishing touches on a perfect little nest; my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the spring (though they’ve been here since late March); and two female Eastern Towhees of the red-eyed (northern) race. I ran into Dalcio Dacol, who had seen an early Acadian Flycatcher along the Hammock Cutoff trail. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the trail in hopes of finding it, but I had no luck. (Of course “no luck” is relative, given that I spent several hours of a truly gorgeous day walking around San Felasco Hammock!)

Migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are showing up in residential areas, so watch your feeders. Adam Zions and Samuel Ewing saw them in their respective NW Gainesville back yards on the 10th.

While birding around his yard, Samuel also spotted the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in bird-banding code), one of my very favorite birds. This is a little early; in previous years the majority arrived during the last third of the month.

Scott Flamand saw two Canada Geese fly over Buchholz High School on the morning of the 10th. We don’t have a population of domestic or feral Canada Geese around here, at least as far as I know, but I doubt that they were wild. Wild Canada Geese are mostly a thing of the past in Florida. They used to be very common winter birds in the northern part of the state – a Fish and Game Commission waterfowl inventory tallied 47,000 of them in 1953! But now they spend the cold months farther north. I’ve been birding for 40 years and I’ve seen wild Canada Geese in Florida on only three occasions (feral birds are common in Jacksonville and Tallahassee). Anyway, if you see free-flying geese around here, please let me know.

The Alachua Audubon Society, like all Audubon Societies, avoids partisan politics, but I don’t think we’d be violating that principle if we were to congratulate our president, Helen Warren, on her victory in the City Commission election. Because of her new responsibilities, Helen will be leaving the Audubon board next month after several years. We thank you for your service, Helen, and we wish you well, but you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire….

Yes, I understand that this is the herpetological equivalent of a puppy video, and I acknowledge that my posting it is a symptom of creeping senility. And yet I cannot help myself. Be sure your audio is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds (I sent this to my son, who’s an infantry officer, and he declared, “I shall adopt his tactics for my own!”) (That’s funnier if you’ve seen the video.)

Additional springerie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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