Birds, angry and otherwise

Join us at the Millhopper Branch Library at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20th, when Dr. Karl Miller of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will describe the ecology, distribution, and population status of the Southeastern American Kestrel. Karl will share the results of nearly a decade’s worth of research and monitoring. The Southeastern American Kestrel is a non-migratory subspecies of North America’s smallest falcon and one of Florida’s most imperiled birds. It used to be common in Alachua County – according to Charles E. Doe, a pair nested “on top of a copper gutter in a corner of the P.K. Yonge Bldg.” in July 1939, when the P.K. Yonge School was in Norman Hall – but is now restricted mainly to the county’s western uplands, around High Springs, Newberry, and Archer. Karl will give us the latest updates on FWC’s kestrel nest-box monitoring partnership and a statewide management plan for kestrels. Everyone is welcome.

I’ve got a little catching up to do, so in chronological order:

On the 4th, just a few days after Andy Kratter saw one Red-throated Loon flying east, Adam and Gina Kent saw two flying southwest. This is a very rare bird in Alachua County, but you wouldn’t know it based on these sightings.

Also on the 4th, Mike Manetz found a locally-rare Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper at temporary pond right beside 441 at the north end of Prairie. It was gone the next day, but when Mike and Adam Kent visited the dairy four days later they found … a Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper. Even weirder, it was a different Dunlin; the first bird was in full winter plumage, while the second retained a few juvenile feathers.

On the 6th Pat Burns saw a Vermilion Flycatcher and a White-faced Ibis along the Old Canal Trail at Alligator Lake Public Recreation Area in Lake City. I asked Pat if the Vermilion was a dude or a lady, and she said a lady.

I saw my first Ring-billed Gull of the winter flying over the Hague Dairy on the 2nd, and a flock of six flying over La Chua on the 9th, but I haven’t seen any in parking lots yet, and no big numbers anywhere. But on the 13th Dean and Samuel Ewing visited Newnans Lake, where they saw 75 Ring-billed Gulls and 9 Bonaparte’s Gulls, as well as 2 Forster’s Terns, 2 Limpkins, and a Common Loon.

Alachua Audubon’s November field trips have enjoyed a fair bit of success. Jerry Krummrich and John Hintermister led the Hamilton County field trip on the 9th. In addition to eight duck species, the field trip participants saw 18 American Avocets, a Peregrine Falcon, an Eared Grebe, two Franklin’s Gulls (always a rarity inland, and a first record for Hamilton County, I think), and huge number of some species, including 600 American White Pelicans and 1,510 Great Egrets. I led the field trip to Cedar Key on the 16th. It was as beautiful a day as I’ve ever experienced out there, and the birds were quite cooperative – at first, anyway. At our initial stop, overlooking the saltmarsh at the landward end of Bridge Four, we had at least four Marsh Wrens, four Nelson’s Sparrows, and two Seaside Sparrows vying to see who could give us the best looks. At Shell Mound we found American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, American Oystercatchers, and active mixed flocks of shorebirds whose sweeping flights over the tidal flats were exhilarating to watch. Once we moved into Cedar Key itself, things got less interesting; the airfield has now been fenced off, and there was a funeral under way at the cemetery, so we contented ourselves with a walk around the museum grounds – which at least netted us a Common Loon and a Northern Harrier – and then went home.

On the 16th Benjamin Ewing posted a photo of one of the Duck Pond’s Black Swans sitting on a nest. This may not be a good thing. In 1972 a single family group of Black Swans toppled the government of Luxembourg and wreaked havoc on the human populace and the poultry markets until removed by a NATO military strike. Gainesville is smaller than Luxembourg (slightly), so we’d better keep an eye on these birds. Sure, you can shrug it off as a joke, just don’t come running to me when you’re flat on the ground with a webbed foot on your neck, because I warned you.

Debbie Segal writes, “Good news regarding Orange Lake. FWC has decided to not herbicide over 1,500 acres at Orange Lake this fall. Ryan Hamm said they cancelled the fall spraying because they missed their window of opportunity for spraying before the plants started into dormancy. And they missed their window because of the strong opposition regarding ecological concerns. Thank you to all who expressed opposition to FWC.”

Mark your calendars: the Alachua Audubon Christmas Social will be held in the clubhouse of the Mill Pond neighborhood near Gainesville Health and Fitness on December 6th at 6:30 p.m. Map is here. As with all Alachua Audubon functions, everyone is welcome, members and non-members alike.

Only four months till the new edition of the Sibley guide comes out: http://www.amazon.com/Sibley-Guide-Birds-Second-Edition/dp/030795790X

See you at the Millhopper Branch Library on Wednesday night!

Weekend update

In case you haven’t heard the news, Florida’s second-ever Townsend’s Solitaire was at Honeymoon Island today. It was found around 9:00 this morning and was still being seen as late as 3:30. Watch eBird or the state listservs for updates.

The Alachua Audubon field trip to the Hague Dairy on the 2nd started out well, with two Bronzed Cowbirds directly across the driveway from the office. But then things took a turn for the worse, and we went for a good two hours, maybe three, without seeing much of interest. The dairy grounds had recently been mowed, leaving little in the way of tall grasses, weeds, or brush to shelter birds, and that probably had a lot to do with it. Anyway, at about 11:30 we started around the lagoon, and at that point our luck took a screeching turn for the better. On a floating mat of scum (more vivid words are available but not family friendly) we spotted four Killdeer, two Least Sandpipers, and a late Pectoral Sandpiper. A family group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks was paddling in a scum-free zone nearby. Dan Maico spotted a Merlin sitting on top of a snag at the west end of the lagoon, and it allowed us a very close approach and extended ogling. A flock of five American Pipits flew over. As we approached the little wetland that borders the lagoon on the north, Dan spied the best bird of the day, a young male Dickcissel, one of only about twenty ever recorded in the county. It was a shy bird, and it ducked out of sight shortly after it was found. Although it came out into the open a couple more times, it didn’t stay in view for long and not everyone got a look at it. But as we stood around waiting for it, we did see a female Painted Bunting mixed in with a handful of late-migrant Indigo Buntings. It was our last good sighting of the day, though we spent a few minutes trying unsuccessfully to locate a Yellow-headed Blackbird that Mike Manetz had seen while we were occupied in discovering the Dickcissel.

Early November is the expected arrival time for waterfowl. Northern Pintail, Gadwall, Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teal have recently been reported at Paynes Prairie, joining the Blue-winged Teal that have been there since August. A different sort of waterfowl was spied by Andy Kratter on the morning of the 31st: “Just had a very early and locally very rare Red-throated Loon fly over my place in Gainesville, and strangely it was heading west to east. Good looks at thin neck, small bill held above horizontal, small feet, head held below body. Just plain weird.” I think this is only about the fifth record for the county.

Samuel Ewing saw the fall’s first American Robins flying over his NW Gainesville home on the 2nd. Although they don’t normally descend on our yards until January and February, we see the first flocks of southbound robins going high overhead in late October or early November, so these are right on time. Geoff Parks saw an even earlier one on October 13th, but he speculated that it was the same one that visited his yard on July 29th. The nearest known breeding population of robins is in Tallahassee, but we’ve had a number of midsummer sightings over the years, and I can’t help but wonder….

I haven’t heard of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher sighting since Nathan Langwald photographed it on the 28th. Is it still there? Or did it just stay for a week and then move on south?

Migrants and summer birds aren’t entirely gone, though their days are numbered. At dusk on the 26th Adam and Gina Kent tallied 740 Chimney Swifts going into a chimney downtown, and got an impressive video, while Jonathan Mays saw 29 over La Chua on the 2nd. Adam and Gina saw yet another swift, as well as two Tennessee Warblers, at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. A very late Bobolink was seen by several birders at La Chua on the 1st. And the Hague Dairy field trip found one or two Northern Waterthrushes and an American Redstart.

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

Bird of the Year 2012

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

You wouldn’t have known it today, but it’s been a warm winter. Wild plum and redbud are blooming, though this isn’t early for them, but azaleas are starting to flower as well, and I think they normally peak in March. Standing around Sparrow Alley NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I’ve noticed several species of butterflies, including two swallowtails, which according to local butterfly enthusiast Kathy Malone would normally be out in late February. While NOT seeing the Bell’s Vireo, I also noticed honeybees, paper wasps, and this little gem, a braconid wasp that John Killian photographed as it laid an egg on some insect inside a weed stem: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392631462/in/photostream  (I consulted David Wahl for the identification. He told me there are 50,000 to 150,000 species of braconids. When I passed that tidbit along to John, he replied, “Thanks for narrowing that down. I feel so much better. Now if only there were that many birds to chase.”)

The birds think it’s spring too. Northern Cardinal are singing, which I expect in January, but so are Northern Mockingbirds, White-eyed Vireos, and Eastern Towhees, all of which usually get underway in February. I was so impressed by the springiness of everything that I checked out the martin house at the dentist’s office just west of George’s Hardware on the 17th, but no Purple Martins were evident. Any day now…

Did I mention that I have NOT seen the Bell’s Vireo yet? Though on the 17th I got a quick glance at what desperate birders like to call a “candidate” in the spot where the vireo (which I have NOT seen) was originally discovered. I spent a total of seven hours at or near the Bell’s site on the 16th and 17th, and although I did NOT see the vireo, I did see the Groove-billed Ani and at least one, maybe two, Yellow-breasted Chats on both days, all in the field below Sweetwater Overlook. John Killian got a photo of the ani on the 16th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8392629326/in/photostream/

Ruth Palinek writes, “I lost my hat (from REI) on a birding trip on La Chua. It’s not so much the hat but it had two bird pins, one from Gus’s aunt and another antique one from a friend.” If you’ve found the hat, contact Ruth at palenik2@ufl.edu

I have (finally!) received several Bird of the Year nominations:

Samuel Ewing: “There were many great birds seen and discovered in 2012 but since the Black Scoters were the only new county bird I would call them the best birds of 2012.”

Frank Goodwin: “My vote goes to that lovely little Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua observation platform, partly for sappy sentimental reasons. The way she has put up for months with constant La Chua traffic and Phoebe bullying without moving on, I think she deserves special recognition. It’s as if she appreciates all the ocular attention and wants to give as many locals as possible an opportunity to see her.”

John Hintermister: “My vote goes for one I did not see – Black Scoter.”

Sharon Kuchinski: “I nominate the Black Scoter. Not because I was on the team who sighted it. Just because. Well maybe because I was on the team who sighted it….”

Greg McDermott: “I think the Black Scoters have a strong argument, though it would enhance their claim if they were not one-day wonders. Alder Flycatcher runs a strong second. Personally, I think the influx of Red-breasted Nuthatches is third. Groove-billed Ani would be in the running if there hadn’t been the very cooperative individual only two years ago. Vermilion Flycatcher doesn’t rate – they’ve been too common the past 15 years or so.”

Ron Robinson: “I nominate the Green-tailed Towhee due to the fact it stayed so long and was in an easily-reached location. I believe that despite the best efforts of many, I was the only birder who didn’t see it.”

Ignacio Rodriguez: “Favorite bird Vermilion Flycatcher. But I wish to nominate also the King Rail.”

Bob Simons: “My favorite would be the female Wilson’s Phalarope I saw from Palm Point in the spring. It was glorious and was a surprise and I was able to share it with my wife Erika and her brother and his wife from Germany. My second favorite would be the Red-breasted Nuthatch at John Killian’s house. I got great looks at both of these birds.”

Adam Zions: “Geez Rex, way to make this a difficult list. I’m not even sure how this works out to pick just a few favorites. My top 10 list for Alachua County in 2012 in no particular order:
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Sooty Tern
Magnificent Frigatebird
Black-bellied Plover
Reddish Egret
Black Scoter
Wilson’s Phalarope
Whimbrel
Franklin’s Gull
Alder Flycatcher
But I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Groove-billed Ani, Short-tailed Hawk, white morph Great Blue Heron, Western Tanager, Gull-billed Tern, Short-eared Owl, Black-billed Cuckoo, Black Skimmer. Alder Flycatcher, Vermilion Flycatcher, Connecticut Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Lark Sparrow. And I suppose we can include these two, but they were really more of 2011 birds I suppose: Sprague’s Pipit and Green-tailed Towhee. We may need a Top 25 list, like the AP/Harris/USA Today polls for college football.”

Steve Zoellner: “I reported a Wilson’s Warbler several months ago. It never reappeared in our backyard but I saw that two were seen during the Christmas Bird Count. That is my nomination for best bird of the year (even though only my wife saw it).”

If we tally up the votes, Black Scoter wins the title, with Vermilion Flycatcher coming in second, and Red-breasted Nuthatch third. If we were to decide it on the basis of rarity, The Bird of the Year 2012 standings would look something like this:
1. Black Scoter: First County Record
2. Green-tailed Towhee: First County Record (but originally discovered in 2011)
3. Townsend’s Solitaire: First County Record (seen by only one birder, not accepted by Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee)
4. Alder Flycatcher: Second County Record
5. Sprague’s Pipit: Second County Record (but originally discovered in 2011) and Third County Record (when they returned in November 2012)
6. (tie) Whimbrel: Third County Record
6. (tie) Reddish Egret: Third County Record
8. Red-throated Loon: Fourth County Record
9. Franklin’s Gull: Fifth and Sixth County Records
10. Ruddy Turnstone: Fifth County Record

Bird of the Year 2013 is off to a good start with Chris Burney’s discovery of the county’s first-ever Bell’s Vireo (which I have NOT seen).

For all you Citrus, Hernando, and SW Marion County folks on the mailing list: Keith Morin, park biologist at Crystal River Preserve is looking for volunteers: “We are going to be planting a total of 12,000 longleaf pine seedlings on January 19, and 3000 trees each day on February 7, 16, and 21, and will need a lot of help from volunteers, new Americorps members, and staff. If you can help or send help, please let me know so I can write you down for that day. We have in the past planted 3000 trees in one day with an 11-person crew, but we are looking for 12-15 people each day.” Keith can be reached at Keith.Morin@dep.state.fl.us

Debbie Segal writes, “The county’s Environmental Protection Department has developed a Hunting Business Plan that would allow hunting on Alachua County public lands. It will be presented to the County Commission on Tuesday, January 22nd, at the County Administration Building, 2nd floor. The meeting will begin at 5 pm, though it is uncertain exactly when the Hunting Business Plan will be discussed. The Plan addresses the appropriateness of allowing hunting on each tract of land owned and managed by the county, including Levy Prairie, Mill Creek, Little Hatchet Creek, Phifer Flatwoods, Prairie Creek, Watermelon Pond, and others. Hunters have asked the county to open more lands to hunting, including duck hunting at Levy Prairie, which supports nesting Sandhill Cranes. Certainly some types of hunting are appropriate on public lands, such as removal of feral hogs, but if you are concerned that many of our public lands may become off limits for bird watching, hiking, photography, and other passive types of recreation during hunting season, then plan to attend the Commission meeting and consider voicing your concern. A large and vocal group will help send the message to the Commission that we want to keep our county public lands open for the large majority of people who use these lands for passive recreation. A link to the Plan is provided here.”