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

For the rain it raineth every day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.



For the first time since spring of 2011 there’s a Whooping Crane at Paynes Prairie. On the 27th John Killian and Andy Kratter each reported seeing it from the La Chua observation platform, and on the 28th John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, Mike Manetz, and Jonathan Mays saw it again.

John Killian also saw the resident female Vermilion Flycatcher and “maybe 600-800 Sandhill Cranes flying from the northwest,” while Hintermister and friends recorded 20 Mallards (rare around here), 100 Soras, and a Merlin.

On the 27th Mike Manetz found a Western Kingbird at Palm Point, “in the largest deciduous tree on the left (with forked trunk, yellowing leaves, looks like some kind of elm?) before you get to the point.” To me Palm Point seems like an odd place for a kingbird, but this isn’t the first one seen there: John Hintermister found a Western there on 13 December 1996, and Gray Kingbirds were there on 29-30 September 1994 and 5 September 2001.

Felicia Lee and Glenn Price reported two Red-breasted Nuthatches at their feeder on the 27th.

Loons are still migrating. Michael Drummond and I saw a flock of 20 going southwest over Balu Forest on the 28th.

On the 21st a Gainesville birder who wishes to remain anonymous heard what sounded to him like a Red Crossbill’s flight call. It’s not impossible; the museum has specimens collected near Cedar Key in 1908. Other birds to watch out for this fall and winter: Purple Finch, Dark-eyed Junco (one has already appeared at a feeder in town), and Brewer’s Blackbird (three were in Apalachicola last weekend).

The online Alachua County checklist was compiled in 1997. It lists 315 species of birds. As of November 2012, that number should be 355. Obviously an update is long overdue. Revision of the various early and late dates will take me a while, since they’re scattered through old emails on my computer. So last weekend I compiled a simple taxonomic list, in current AOU order, of all the birds recorded in Alachua County up to the present day, including those that no longer exist (Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet), those that still exist elsewhere though local populations have disappeared (Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Florida Scrub-Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch), and a few that were probably escapes (Southern Lapwing, Blue-crowned Parakeet, etc.). Some of you may want to print it out, others will want to bookmark it, several will want to ignore it entirely. I’d suggest beginning and intermediate birders at least give it a once-over. Taxonomic relationships can be enlightening. Some birders don’t realize that Blue Jays are crows, that swifts are the nearest relatives of hummingbirds, or that rails are first cousins of coots and gallinules and second cousins of Limpkins and cranes. Anyways, take a gander (bird pun!). Please notify me if I’ve left anything out:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wy7QYUrwRDc2zo0m15fjP0RwMC2FPoqgLYYkrlEAN8s/edit (Documentary photos of many of the rarer birds on the list can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/sets/72157594281975202/ )