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.

 

Whoops!

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/ )