Spring migration underway, plus continuing rarities

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

Over the past couple of years Mike Manetz has been dividing his time between Alachua County and Charlotte County on the southwest coast. Down in Charlotte he managed to infect some of the local birders with county-listing fever. Three of them in particular – Jeff Bouton, Dennis Peacock, and Brant Julius – have joined Mike in exploring the nooks and crannies of Charlotte County and in vying to see the most species in one year. Due to their high-spirited competitiveness Jeff has bestowed the title of “The Beasts of Birdin'” on the quartet. On March 1st I had the opportunity to go birding with three-quarters of The Beasts: Dennis and Brant drove up to Alachua County so Mike could show them some birds they don’t get to see in Charlotte, and I was invited along.

We started the day at Tuscawilla Prairie, where we hoped to find the Le Conte’s Sparrow discovered there on February 6th. We spent about an hour walking back and forth along the edge of the marsh before Dennis shouted that he’d seen a sparrow in the wet grass at the base of a small tree. He’d played a Henslow’s song, which it ignored, and then a Le Conte’s song, to which it seemed to respond. We all gathered around the tree and the bird flew up into a low branch – and it was a Henslow’s. It was not a bird we’d expected to see (though they’ve occurred there in the past), and it was a lifer for Brant. After a round of high fives we continued birding along the edge – getting a look at a Virginia Rail creeping along in an inch of water – and had all but given up when a sparrow flushed from the short dry grass halfway between the marsh and the live oaks. I could see its orange head as it fluttered up, and sure enough it was the Le Conte’s. It landed in a small oak, and stayed put for twenty or thirty seconds before dropping to the ground again. Another lifer for Brant, and the first time in my 40 years of birding that I’ve seen both Henslow’s and Le Conte’s in a single day.

From there we drove on to the Goodmans’ in NW Gainesville to see the male Bullock’s Oriole present for its third winter in a row. We walked around the block and eventually located a flock of six or eight Baltimore Orioles across the street from the Goodmans’ house that contained the Bullock’s. Lifer #3 for Brant.

We went on to Magnolia Parke, where a flock of about 35 Rusty Blackbirds was feeding in a parking lot just south of the big lawn. Lifer #4 for Brant.

From there it was on to the Hague Dairy. Mike signed us in while we parked Dennis’s truck, and as he came walking back to join us he spied the Lark Sparrow singing at the top of an oak tree. The Greater White-fronted Goose was equally cooperative, and we ran into Matt O’Sullivan, who pointed out an American Redstart that has wintered in the swampy area behind the parking lot.

So it was an absurdly good day. We found every bird we’d hoped to find, and still had a little time left over, so we went to a NW Gainesville neighborhood where Sam Ewing had recently reported Golden-crowned Kinglets. Here, at last, we failed to find our quarry, though Dennis thought he heard one calling. We were done by 1:00, and The Beasts of Birdin’ went home with a truck full of lifers, state birds, and Alachua County birds.

(Golden-crowned Kinglets haven’t left yet. Jonathan Mays saw two of them at San Felasco Hammock on the 1st: “Located north of Millhopper Road along the ‘Hammock Cutoff’ trail just east of its intersection with the yellow-blazed trail. First heard giving their high ‘seet, seet, seet’ calls, one on each side of trail. Was able to pish both in to confirm ID … small-sized, striped faces, one showed orangeish crown well.”)

Speaking of The Beasts of Birdin’, the one who didn’t join us yesterday, Jeff Bouton, used to be the official hawk counter at the Cape May Hawk Watch. He has just posted a very helpful and well-illustrated post on telling the difference between Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks that includes a few bits of information not mentioned in field guides: http://blog.leica-birding.com/advanced-id-tip-sharp-shinned-or-coopers/

And speaking of hawks, the county’s first Swallow-tailed Kites of the spring, four of them, arrived on March 1st, but I’m going to send out the details, as well as an interesting correspondence with kite biologist Ken Meyer, in another birding report.

On the 28th the Audubon field trip had a Northern Parula at the Windsor boat ramp and Andy Kratter had another in his SE Gainesville yard, but both were silent. However on the 1st there were *six separate reports* submitted to eBird, including two that specified singing birds (Debbie Segal at Barr Hammock and Jonathan Mays at San Felasco Hammock). So I think the Northern Parulas have arrived. There were a few sightings during the winter, as is usually the case, but the ones sighted this weekend were spring migrants.

I took an Oxford zoologist out to Paynes Prairie on the 27th and, after an hour’s wait at the edge of the sheet flow site, was able to show him his life Limpkin. While we were out there we saw some extraordinarily early Barn Swallows and on the walk back we saw a couple of extraordinarily late Purple Martins.

Time for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to start showing up. A few of them spent the winter at local feeders, but the first migrant males should be arriving any day now. Yellow-throated Vireos and Northern Rough-winged Swallows should also be here soon.

In late winter Yellow-rumped Warblers generally leave the treetops and start feeding on the ground. We noticed flocks of them foraging in the grass at both the Windsor boat ramp and Powers Park during the Audubon field trip on the 28th.

Bill Pranty and Tony Leukering have posted a well-illustrated paper on identifying Mottled Duck x Mallard hybrids. The paper starts off with a quiz – how many of these are pure Mottleds and how many are hybrids? – and goes on from there. Not a bad idea, to quiz yourself and find out how much you already know. And the paper will help you to distinguish Mottled x Mallard hybrids (“Muddled Ducks”) from pure Mottled Ducks in case that becomes a major problem here, as it is farther south: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/wp-content/uploads/sites/55/eBird_Muddled_Ducks.pdf

If you see our local Whooping Crane – or any other, for that matter – report it here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm Don’t assume that any Whooping Crane that you see is the same one that has wintered at the Beef Teaching Unit. Be sure to note which color bands are on which legs. By the way, the Beef Teaching Unit bird seems to be on the move. On the 28th its tracking devices showed it at Watermelon Pond in the county’s SW corner.

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

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.”

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.

Bye bye, birdie. Bye bye.

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

Let me clarify something from the last birding report. Jessica Burnett’s House Sparrow project does NOT require you to have House Sparrows in your yard. In fact, I’m aware of only one yard in Gainesville that DOES have House Sparrows. Jessica is trying to document their ABSENCE from (most) residential areas. So if you DON’T have House Sparrows at your place, if you just have the usual run of feeder birds, then YES, your yard is ideal for the House Sparrow study. Of course it’s also ideal if you DO have House Sparrows. Please contact Jessica either way, at jburnett9@ufl.edu

(MY, BUT THAT’S A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS! I ALMOST FEEL AS IF I SHOULD BE COMMENTING ON A YOUTUBE VIDEO! AND USING LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!)

Spring has been slow in arriving this year. Since mid-January I’ve been cruising past the martin houses at the old George’s Hardware at 34th and University, just knowing I’d see the spring’s first male perched outside a nest hole, but no. And no Ospreys yet, either, on the three nests I pass regularly. And I’ve seen no big flocks of robins flying over in the afternoons, bound for their roosts in the flatwoods. But I was working in the yard this morning, and I had just thought to myself, “It’s a beautiful spring day after a spell of cold weather, and there’s a south wind…” and right on cue I heard the Sandhill Cranes. Between eleven and noon I counted over 700 birds heading north, and heard others I couldn’t see. So they’re leaving us. There was also a flight of over 30 Tree Swallows headed north, a trio of Red-shouldered Hawks circling overhead screaming at each other, and a handful of Yellow-rumped Warblers flycatching from the oaks, zooming out, flaring their white-spotted tails as they snapped up their prey, and flying back.

But even though I haven’t seen Purple Martins, others have been luckier. The first of the spring were three birds reported by Marianne McDowell on January 24th, and there have been three reports since.

Lloyd Davis found a Clay-colored Sparrow while “walking around the abandoned shack just south of the sewage lagoon” at the Hague Dairy on the 30th. He also saw 5 female Painted Buntings and (a surprisingly big number) 12 Common Ground-Doves.

Matt O’Sullivan and I walked the Cones Dike Trail on the 31st and had a great morning. The largest number of unusual birds were near the big bend in the trail (about two and a half miles from the visitor center, where it changes from north-south to east-west), and included a Prairie Warbler, a Least Flycatcher that eluded us on the way out but put on a show for us as we were walking back, 3 or 4 Northern Waterthrushes, and, most surprising of all, a Least Bittern, one of only a dozen winter reports in the county’s history. We saw 60 species overall.

Dave Byrd notifies us of a spectacle at Lake Alice: “Two Red-tailed Hawks feeding heavily on bats at the Bat Tower. Be there at 5:50 to insure catching  the action around sunset. Pretty awesome sight.”

Mike Manetz pointed out to me that fourteen eBirders saw over 100 species in Alachua County during the month of January. Either we live in a really great place, or we’ve got some really good birders, or both.

Do you have your ticket for this weekend’s Backyard Birding Tour? Time’s a wasting! http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

I’ve got to end with some extremely sad news. Courtney Tye, a member of this mailing list for several years, died in childbirth this weekend. She’s survived by her husband Barry and newborn son Carter. Courtney had been working with private landowners on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I ran into her at the post office one day, and chatted with her for twenty minutes, and I can believe she was very good at that job. She was an intelligent and charming person, and it’s a great sorrow that her son will never know her. Rest in peace.

Summer-farewell

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

Today’s subject line refers to a wildflower that I’ve seen in bloom at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, but also to the fact that the season is winding down. Yes, I know it’s still hot – I paid an air-conditioning repairman several hundred dollars earlier this week, so I know, boy do I know – but heat isn’t the only indicator of summer, and the birds are saying it’s fall.

I was at Adam Kent’s SE Gainesville house late Thursday afternoon, looking over an absurdly wonderful new warbler book with Adam, Jonathan Mays, and Andy Kratter, and Andy asked if anyone was reporting migrants. Not to me, I said. I added that I’d walked the Bolen Bluff Trail on Wednesday morning and had been impressed by how few birds of any sort I’d seen. The only migrants were one Prairie Warbler, one Yellow Warbler, and one American Redstart. “That’s discouraging,” Andy said.

But then things suddenly got very NON-discouraging. A flight of 25 Purple Martins flew over, heading south on a beeline. Then a few more martins went over, followed by one smaller, unidentified swallow. So we all stood up on Adam’s porch and watched the northern sky. A flock of seven Eastern Kingbirds went over. Then more martins and swallows, among which everyone but me noticed two Cliff Swallows. This was followed by a dry spell, so we sat down again, and we were talking when a bird flew right over our heads with a call that sounded to some of us like an Indigo Bunting and to others like a Yellow Warbler. It landed in the trees at the edge of Adam’s yard, hid itself in the leaves, then dropped down a foot and came into the open, showing a greenish back, two bold wing bars, and a white eyebrow: a Cerulean Warbler! High fives all around.And one was photographed the following day in Seminole County, so they’re obviously starting to move through. The next four to six weeks are the likeliest time to see them; they’re rarely encountered after September.

(By the way, the authors of the aforementioned absurdly wonderful new warbler book have created some helpful videos about the book, which you can watch here.)

Jonathan Mays saw the fall’s first Northern Harrier at Paynes Prairie on the 14th, by two days an early record for the county. His eBird notes: “Kettling with Turkey Vultures. White rump, long wings in dihedral, and long tail noted; brown coloration indicates likely female/immature.”

Adam Kent, Ted and Steven Goodman, and Dean, Ben, and Samuel Ewing converged on the Hague Dairy on the 15th. They found the fall’s first Bank Swallows, two of them in a flock of Barns, a few Yellow Warblers, and a good selection of shorebirds: Killdeer, Black-necked Stilts, and Solitary, Spotted, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers.

The two pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers in my neighborhood have just fledged their second broods, and they’re done for the year. I haven’t seen a Swallow-tailed Kite since July 27th, and eBird doesn’t show any sightings in the county since August 11th. Mississippi Kites will be leaving over the next two or three weeks.Two of the best things to have in your yard at this time of year are pokeweed and Virginia creeper. Red-eyed Vireos are eating them both right now. In September they’ll attract Veeries, and in October you’ll see Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Wood Thrushes and Scarlet and Summer Tanagers on them. A pokeweed right beside a window provides a lot of entertainment.
Speaking of yards: Do you have bird feeders, baths, and plantings on your property? Do you attract a variety of bird species to your home? Would you like to share your knowledge, skills, and tricks at attracting feathered visitors? If so, contact Ron Robinson at gonebirden@cox.net if you’d like your yard to be featured in the 2014 Alachua Audubon Backyard Birding Tour.

The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to know if you’ve seen a Florida Pine Snake, a Short-tailed Snake, or a Southern Hognose Snake. Details, with a link to identifying photos, here.

Migrant shorebirds at the Hague Dairy

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

It feels like late summer, but the season is barely a month old. The birds’ breeding activity continues, but on a smaller scale, and more quietly. Purple Martins and Northern Rough-winged Swallows appear to have gone south for the winter, and Common Grackles aren’t so common any more. A lot of the birds are molting; if you look carefully at crows and Mississippi Kites as they fly over, you’ll see notches and gaps in their wings and tails where old feathers have fallen out and new ones are growing in. And the fall migrants are starting to show up in numbers.

On the 27th Mike Manetz wrote, “I checked the dairy this morning. The field north of the lagoon is fairly well flooded. Waders were in double digits … Snowies, Little Blues, White and Glossy Ibis, over a dozen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and a couple of Mottleds. Also present were Four Pectoral, four Least, and two each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers. This area will probably be our best shorebird viewing spot this fall. There was also a fairly large blackbird concentration for this time of year, with maybe a few hundred birds, including about 50 Brown-headed Cowbirds. House Sparrows must have had a successful breeding year, I counted 65, but there were probably more than that.” John Hintermister and I stopped in for about an hour and a half that evening and saw many of the same birds, but our count of Brown-headed Cowbirds was much higher; John estimated 400+, which is extraordinary for this time of year. Our shorebird counts were Killdeer 4, Spotted Sandpiper 3, Solitary Sandpiper 9, Semipalmated Sandpiper 1, Least Sandpiper 4, Pectoral Sandpiper 4.

On the morning of the 28th Mike visited Palm Point: “The lake is pretty high, coming within an average of ten feet from the road, closer in some places. Saw six warbler species, including a Louisiana Waterthrush, an American Redstart, and 4 Prairie Warblers.”

I walked out La Chua on the morning of the 27th with Jacksonville bird photographer Phil Graham. We had a pretty good day, given the time of year, finding 50 bird species. We saw family groups of Orchard Orioles and Blue Grosbeaks, a handful of singing Indigo Buntings, several Purple Gallinules, a Least Bittern, and a few migrants – seven or more Prairie Warblers, a Black-and-white Warbler, and a flyover Yellow Warbler, the first of the fall. The water is extremely high everywhere, though there’s no danger yet of the trail being flooded. As wet as it is, I expected to see many water birds, but the numbers were pretty low. Also few in number were the normally-abundant Boat-tailed Grackles, which for some mysterious reason have been uncommon on the Prairie all summer.

Phil and I ran into out-of-towners Marthe Fethe and Nancy Deehan on the platform at La Chua. They’d read my description of Watermelon Pond in the last birding report and told me they planned to visit that afternoon. Later I got an email from Nancy: “It is truly the beautiful, serene place you described.” See? Would I steer you wrong? Check it out yourself. Send me a picture.

Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, native to Texas and Mexico, are occasionally reported by puzzled Florida birders. They always turn out to be Red-bellied Woodpeckers with a pigmentary condition called xanthochroism in which red is replaced with yellow. Glenn Price recently got a terrific video of one of these oddities at his feeder, showing its golden crown and yellow belly. In a Golden-fronted Woodpecker the central tail feathers are black, and in a Red-bellied, like this bird, they’re white with black barring: http://www.raptorcaptor.com/Nature/Video/30733856_xKjqcT#!i=2656753589&k=xrKTvQX&lb=1&s=A

The State of Tennessee is considering a hunting season on Sandhill Cranes, including migrants en route to Florida. Please consider sending a brief email to register your opinion. If there’s sufficient public outcry, we may be able to prevent this from happening. Here’s a fact sheet that includes contact information for the proper officials.

In my last birding report I mentioned that Save Loblolly Woods has a Facebook page. They also have a web site, for those like me who are struggling grimly along without Facebook: http://saveloblollywoods.org/

First two days of The June Challenge

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

I showed up at Morningside Nature Center on Sunday morning to make sure everyone on the butterfly field trip signed the liability form and wouldn’t be able to sue us for butterfly bites, etc. Maralee Joos pulled in right behind me. She told me that she’d just come from Palm Point, where Lloyd Davis had found and photographed a very late Tree Swallow. As soon as everyone had signed the form I rushed to Palm Point in hopes of seeing it myself, but I was too late.

That’s probably the best bird found on The June Challenge so far. The best I’ve heard about, anyway.

Saturday’s field trip in search of June Challenge birds was very well attended – I think I counted 34 or 35 people – but the birds were not eager to be seen, so we spent a lot more time searching for them, and a lot less time actually enjoying them, than I’d expected. We did eventually find most of what we were hoping for, though. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we got a quick glimpse of three Common Nighthawks and (after quite a bit of walking) got to ogle a very cooperative Bachman’s Sparrow. At Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor we saw four distant Laughing Gulls and one adult Bald Eagle, plus a bonus, two or three Limpkins drawn to the area by an abundance of exotic apple snails. Because we’d spent so much time in the first two locations, Powers Park and Palm Point were struck from the itinerary and we went directly to La Chua. There we had mixed luck: just about everyone saw the Whooping Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Great White Heron (non-countable), Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and lingering Blue-winged Teal and American Coots, but only some of us saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-Dove, and Orchard Oriole, and we never found the Yellow-breasted Chat at all. I think most of us ended the field trip with 50-55 species on our lists.

You can read Katherine Edison’s account of the morning, with photos, here.

On Saturday afternoon I drove out to Cellon Creek Boulevard, which has always been a good place to find, in a single spot, several birds that can be hard to see in summer. I discovered that a new fence had been put up near the generating station, barring access to the brushy edges at the top of the hill. Still, I saw most of what I’d come for: American Kestrel, Eastern Kingbird, Killdeer, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Purple Martin, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Bobwhites called but never showed themselves, Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites sailed over the treeline on the far side of the pasture, and, rather surprisingly, a flock of 17 Laughing Gulls flew past.

In past years I expected to find Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Common Ground-Doves there as well, but neither showed up this year. A couple of people told me later that I could see Rough-wingeds at the Hague Dairy, and on eBird I noticed that John Martin got 14 of them there on Sunday, probably two or three family groups. If the young have already fledged, they’ll be leaving soon, so get out there and add them to your June Challenge list while you can.

Carol Huang emailed earlier today to tell me that she’d found a Northern Flicker and Red-headed Woodpeckers at Northeast Park on NE 16th Avenue a little east of Main Street. Flickers are rare summer residents in Alachua County, and Northeast Park and Morningside Nature Center are about the only places where they can reliably be found.

And you can see Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at the Red Lobster Pond. Only two remained on Sunday morning.

Finally, a little business. Gmail seems to have a limit of 500 addresses to which it will send any given email, and we’re getting close. I know that a fair proportion of the 497 addresses on this mailing list go to UF students who have moved on, people who have lost interest, and others who just expected something different when they signed up. So if you’d like to continue to receive the Alachua County birding reports, please send an email to let me know that – something simple, like “Keep me on the list” or “You are the wind beneath my wings.” I’ll delete the addresses of those who don’t respond, and that should reduce the mailing list to a Gmail-friendly 300-400 addresses. Okay? Okay! I’ll repeat this request twice more, for those who miss it the first and second times.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this is a very long birding report

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

Samuel and Caleb Ewing had the best bird of the week on the 26th. Samuel writes, “Today Caleb and I walked to an area of Watermelon Pond that’s quite close to us. We got some Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, 19 Long-billed Dowitchers, a Least Sandpiper, quite a few Tree and Barn Swallows, and one Cliff Swallow! While scanning swallows I spotted one with a squared-off tail and it soon came close enough to see the buffy rump, blue back, and white forehead. I was able to get some poor photos.” This is only the county’s second March sighting of a Cliff Swallow, and believe it or not it’s the first documented occurrence of the species in Alachua County history; no previous photo or specimen has ever been obtained. Here’s Samuel’s photo.

Speaking of photos, Greg Stephens got a great shot of a Peregrine Falcon at La Chua on the 21st. The Peregrine that’s been seen at the Prairie since early January was an immature bird, brown with a streaky breast, and this one’s an adult, so we’ve had two Peregrines at the Prairie in March.

Still speaking of photos – we’ve got an embarrassment of riches, so sue me – Kathy Malone got two spectacular pictures of a Le Conte’s Sparrow at Levy Prairie Loop on the 25th. This was her fourth attempt at photographing this bird, and the effort really paid off.

On the 25th Jonathan Mays saw two White-faced Ibis in non-breeding plumage from the La Chua observation platform. Since there’s also a breeding-plumage bird out there, it looks like we’ve got three White-faced Ibis at Paynes Prairie – at least. Jonathan also spotted three Whooping Cranes, one of whom flew in to provide a photo op.

The season’s first Chimney Swifts have arrived. Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson saw the spring’s first at La Chua Trail on the 23rd, Samuel Ewing saw four on the UF campus on the 25th, and on the following day Geoff Parks wrote, “I was downtown this morning at about 10:30 and there was a mass of what I’d estimate to be 90-100 flying around the vicinity of the Seagle building.”

The first Indigo Buntings have checked in as well, one at Keith Collingwood’s place in Melrose, and one at Ron Robinson’s at the west end of Gainesville, both on the 25th.

Ivor Kincaide reports that 50 Purple Martins showed up at the Alachua Conservation Trust’s martin house in Rochelle on the 26th.

The spring’s first major flight of Common Loons occurred on the morning of the 25th, when Andy Kratter counted 58 going over Pine Grove Cemetery between 8:11 and 8:48. Remember that March is the best time to look through migrating Commons for a Red-throated.

There have been no reports of Hooded Warblers in Alachua County yet, but they’re a March migrant, along with Prothonotary, Swainson’s, and Kentucky Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. Bob Carroll and friends saw a Hooded along the River Trail at Lower Suwannee NWR on the 21st, and Pat Burns saw three at Cedar Key on the 24th.

Want to know the names of a few common spring wildflowers? Well here you go: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/03/rain-day.html

No, birds just can’t get enough of the beautiful La Chua Trail!

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

Hey, all you eBirders, it’s time for the eBird tip of the week! Here it is: Don’t be like me! Read the instructions! I’ve been entering sightings into eBird for years, but only yesterday did I learn that if you walk out the La Chua Trail – about a mile and a half – and then walk back – another mile and a half – you DON’T record your distance as 3 miles. Any time you retrace your steps, record only the one-way distance. So here are the aforementioned instructions (read them!). And browse through the links on the right side of the page for more useful stuff: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/how-to-make-your-checklists-more-meaningful

Lots of good birds have been reported from La Chua as recently as yesterday – White-faced Ibis, Groove-billed Ani, Peregrine Falcon, and Whooping Crane. The White-faced Ibis, seen yesterday by Matt Kalinowski, Jane Sender, and John Killian, seen today by Mike Manetz, and photographed by Jonathan Mays on the 9th, is hanging around the observation platform. So are the Peregrine (“watched it perched, then as it dove and killed and ate duck,” commented visiting Massachusetts birder Jane Sender) and the Whooping Crane (“far off east of observation platform,” wrote Matt Kalinoswki). Along Sparrow Alley, John Killian saw the Yellow-breasted Chat yesterday (also photographed on the 9th by Jonathan Mays), while Kim Stringer got this nice shot of the Groove-billed Ani.

Mike Manetz walked out La Chua this afternoon and wrote, “During my after-lunch nap I dreamed I saw a male Cinnamon Teal from the platform at La Chua, so I jumped out of bed and ran down there. No Cinnamon, but plenty of ducks still there, including a couple dozen Gadwall and onesies of Wigeon, Mallard, and Shoveler. Most important, the White-faced Ibis is still there in the same spot. He must have poked a million holes in a three square yard area. Also nine Forster’s Terns and Black-necked Stilt [first of the spring!] at the sink, and over 100 Snowy Egrets.”

More spring arrivals: Debbie Segal found a dead Chuck-will’s-widow along Sweetwater Dike on the 8th (“recently killed; in the process of being plucked”). More happily, Dean Ewing heard one singing in the early morning of March 11 near Watermelon Pond. Yellow-throated Vireos are checking in: Charlene Leonard found one at La Chua on the 5th, while Mike Manetz saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 10th. John Hintermister saw two Pectoral Sandpipers at the Tuscawilla Prairie on the 11th; he “walked out to the western edge of the prairie where there is a small patch of open water.” They’re always very early for migrant shorebirds; I think our early-arrival record is late February. Northern Rough-winged Swallows haven’t been reported yet, but they should be here already, and Red-eyed Vireos should be arriving any day now. Summer Tanagers and Great Crested Flycatchers should get here in about two weeks.

Speaking of spring migration, Loonacy begins on Friday! For those of you who are relatively new to this mailing list, one of our most interesting spring phenomena is the almost-daily flight of Common Loons over Gainesville. They’re bound from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, thence due north to their nesting grounds. Departing the Cedar Key area around daybreak, they appear over Gainesville about an hour later, flying northeast singly or in widely-spaced flocks ranging in size from 2-4 (usually) to 40+. They’re white below, with trailing legs, and often with black heads, like this; Ron Robinson says they look like flying bowling pins. Occasionally, especially during March, you might see a Red-throated Loon mixed in with the Commons. You can watch for them at any location with a wide view of the western sky. I like the US-441 observation platform. Andy Kratter, who’s been keeping track of these flights from March 15th through April 10th for several years, says the peak of the migration is usually from March 27th to April 4th. Andy – more formally known as Dr. Andrew W. Kratter of the Florida Museum of Natural History – would be interested in hearing about any loon sightings you make this spring: “Please note for each group of loons observed,  the date, your exact location, the time of observation, the number of birds, and the directions of travel.” Email him at kratter@flmnh.ufl.edu

Mike Manetz and Ron Robinson experienced what Mike called “instant gratification” on the 5th: “Ron and I installed the new martin house at the old George’s Hardware spot, now Sunflower. As I stood on the roof of the building tightening the bolts that hold the house to the pole a pair of Purple Martins appeared out of nowhere and started circling around my head at arm’s length, trying to land on the house and chirping happily the whole time. It was wonderful. There are still martins just across the creek at the dentist office house too. In all we saw four males and two females, and Ron thinks that most martins haven’t shown up yet.”

Kathy Malone of the local chapter of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) reminds us that there’s a meeting tonight (March 12th): “Cindy and Kirby Pringle from Illinois will be showing a special film they produced, ‘The Plight of the Monarch.’ Really hope you can join us for a 6:15 p.m. potluck, and the program at 7 p.m. (You may come to the program only.) We meet on the second floor of the Florida Museum of Natural History in the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity conference room. Enter in the lobby of the museum.” You can see all the local NABA chapter’s planned activities here: http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabancf/Events.htm

The Hague Dairy will hold Family Day on Saturday, March 16th: “See how milk is produced locally, and learn how University of Florida research supports more efficient, affordable and sustainable milk production. Take a leisurely tour and enjoy butter making, a hay ride, calf petting, a milking machine, visiting the cows in their barn, see the health care area, the milking parlor and lots more! The event is free, and there is plenty of parking for everyone. It’s sure to be a fun and informative day for all.” Take your binoculars and look at a few birds while you’re there!