Vermilion Flycatcher, Horned Grebe, plus La Chua Trail open again

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

Debbie Segal found the season’s first Vermilion Flycatcher, a female, at the Sheetflow Restoration project on the 30th.

On the 1st the La Chua Trail opened up again. Paynes Prairie’s park biologist Andi Christman and Tom Fox walked out to the observation platform that morning and found a Horned Grebe there, by two days the earliest ever recorded in the county: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15066791904/

I’ve read about Franklin’s Gulls being seen up and down the Atlantic Coast over the past few days, so on the 31st and again on the 1st I spent some time at Palm Point scoping the lake in hopes of seeing one. I was disappointed, though I did see 17 distant gulls flying north to south on the 31st. Some looked like Laughing Gulls, some looked like Ring-billed Gulls, all of them could have been something else, but none were Franklin’s. On the 1st I saw no gulls at all, but I did see a flock of ducks that included a few drake Redheads, and there was also a mixed flock of swallows just off the Point, mostly Tree Swallows but half a dozen Barn Swallows and an extremely late Bank Swallow as well (previous late record, October 6th).

On the 31st Mike Manetz wrote, “Just got back from my 5th trip to the Hague Dairy in 6 days. Still no Yellow-headed Blackbirds. In fact, the Brown-headed Cowbirds have even gotten fickle. First two days I was there I found over 1,000 of them, but they were mostly hiding in the rafters and feeding in the darkest reaches of the barn. Was lucky to get the Bronzed Cowbird on Saturday. Last few days there have been few cowbirds around. John Hintermister and I found about 300 at the calf operation north of the dairy. Today there were about 150, mostly feeding in the lot along the main drive west of the entrance buildings. If you happen to post anything about the dairy, you might want to mention that it has been very busy out there, at least in the mornings. In addition to the usual feed trucks going back and forth, there is a lot of earth moving going on – front end loaders, etc. – so folks should be extra careful to stay out of the way.” The dairy has posted a list of rules for birders on the office window: please read and heed.

Don’t forget the Avian Research and Conservation Institute benefit at First Magnitude Brewery a block east of South Main Street from 4:00 to 6:00 on Sunday afternoon. Details, and a map, here: http://arcinst.org/events ARCINST does some of the most important bird-conservation research in North America, and it’s based right here in Gainesville. Come out to learn about their work with Swallow-tailed Kites, Short-tailed Hawks, and Magnificent Frigatebirds, among other species, and to chat with your fellow Alachua County birders while sipping one of FM’s tasty beers (I recommend Drift English Mild) or a glass of cider.

Local birding update, February 13-20: Whooping Crane, Royal Tern, and massive Limpkinitude

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

On the afternoon of the 13th, Paynes Prairie biologist Andi Christman saw a Whooping Crane at Paynes Prairie. She noted, “Flew over Hwy. 441 from the area of the boardwalk wildfire (between the boardwalk and Bolen Bluff) toward the Interstate. Very clear view, but could not observe bands.”

On the 19th Samuel Ewing wrote, “This morning Dad and I did some birding before school as is normal for us on Wednesday. We started at the observation deck on the Prairie. Nothing too unusual there. Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Mottled Duck, Glossy Ibis, 75 Tree Swallows, and more. Most noteworthy was probably 800 White Ibis, flying off the Prairie throughout the time we were there. We then headed to Bivens Arm Lake. No ducks there, surprisingly, but we did see lots of Anhingas, numerous cormorants, several Ring-billed Gulls, a singleton Bonaparte’s Gull, and a pair of Ospreys (probably coming in to breed there). I also heard a Yellow-throated Warbler singing. Most noteworthy though was quite unexpected: a flyover Royal Tern!  It flew right over us, not stopping at the lake, and continued S/SE.”

On the 20th John Hintermister and I made a boat trip all the way around Newnans Lake, starting at the Windsor boat ramp and going counter-clockwise, a trip of about 13 miles. We didn’t find anything really unusual, but we were impressed by some of the numbers we recorded. For instance, we saw or heard 39 individual Limpkins, by far the highest count ever recorded in Alachua County! This is undoubtedly due to the growing population of Island Apple Snails. The snails’ egg masses were first noted at the Windsor boat ramp in September 2007. Their population growth was slow and steady at first, but has really exploded in the past year or two. Not coincidentally, so have the Limpkins. I’m curious to see how many Limpkins will be at Newnans after this year’s breeding season, and what the county’s population will look like after the snails spread to Paynes Prairie (if they haven’t already). We don’t know yet whether this snail explosion is good or bad. Even more abundant than the Limpkins were the Bald Eagles: we counted 51, though it’s possible that some of those were tallied more than once as they flew back and forth across the lake. As to ducks, there was some evidence that they’ve mostly migrated north; we saw only 2 Redheads, 4 Ring-necked Ducks, 5 Lesser Scaup, and 50 Ruddy Ducks. We carried bread for the gulls, but had a hard time finding any to throw it at; we saw 3 Ring-billeds and 8 Bonaparte’s. And we were very surprised, along 13 miles of shoreline, to see no Belted Kingfishers at all! Like Samuel Ewing, we heard Yellow-throated Warblers singing, five of them, but did not hear a single Northern Parula. Right now the water on the lake is higher than I’ve seen it since the hurricanes of September 2004, and in many places Newnans is starting to look as it did in the 1990s, when there was nothing between the cypresses on one shore and those on the other but a smooth sheet of water, unbroken by any emergent vegetation.

Bob Carroll is birding in Oregon this week. His latest blog post features photos of Lewis’s and Acorn Woodpeckers seen on the same day! http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

In the last birding report I passed along an open invitation to celebrate the addition of the Water and Land Legacy Amendment to this November’s ballot, but I neglected to mention the day and time! So it’s this Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Prairie Creek Lodge, and I’ll repeat the invitation in case you’re as forgetful as I am: “The Water and Land Legacy Campaign, together with the Alachua Audubon Society and the Alachua Conservation Trust, invites all North Central Florida volunteers and donors who contributed to the successful petition drive to please join us as we celebrate the colossal accomplishment of collecting enough signatures and funding to meet the rigorous requirements of being added to the November 2014 ballot! Please join us to celebrate this enormous accomplishment. It is a potluck menu so please bring a dish of your choice. Drinks will be provided by Alachua Audubon. Prairie Creek Lodge is one mile south of the intersection of County Roads 2082 and 234, and six miles north of Micanopy. For more comprehensive directions, please visit Prairie Creek Lodge. We look forward to enjoying fine friends and their partners for an evening of celebrating a job well done! Please be sure to RSVP today! or reply to campaign@floridawaterlandlegacy.org and tell us how many will attend. If you have questions, please call Tom Kay with ACT at (352) 373-1078.”

In the last birding report I also passed along an invitation to Howard Adams’s retirement party on March 2nd. The cost is $10 per person, and if you’re reluctant to pre-pay via PayPal, you can send a check for $10 to:
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Attn: Amber Roux
100 Savannah Blvd
Micanopy, FL 32667

Calliope Hummingbird at High Springs!

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

It was one of those instances of birding serendipity that often begin a lucky day. Mike Manetz and I had hoped to look for the Fox Sparrow at Prairie Creek’s Lodge Trail with Chris Burney this morning, but Chris was called away to check an easement for Alachua Conservation Trust. He hadn’t returned by mid-morning, so we decided to visit the Hague Dairy instead. We stopped at the Deerhaven pond just before the dairy turnoff to see what might be there and found at least two Redheads, maybe three, among the Ring-necked Ducks and American Coots. Then we went on to the dairy, where we saw a Merlin harrying the cowbirds, a Common Ground-Dove, and a Marsh Wren. I was trying to get a better look at a warbler in a swampy area – as yellow below as a Prairie Warbler, what looked to be a gray hood – when the cell phone rang.

It was Bubba Scales. “Are you in Gainesville?” he asked.

I told him I was at the Hague dairy.

“Even better,” he said. Customers in High Springs had emailed him pictures of what they believed to be a Calliope Hummingbird at their feeder, and he thought it was worth checking out. “The throat looks plum-colored,” he said.

When Bubba said goodbye, I told Mike the news. “We’re wasting time here,” he said. He called the customers, Jack and Mary Lynch, and asked if we could come see the bird. Since we were already at Hague, it was only a fifteen minute drive to High Springs. Just before town, we cut left onto US-27 (1st Avenue), followed it across Main Street to NW 9th Street, then turned right and continued to the Lynches’ house (415 NW 9th Street, on the right). Mr. Lynch met us and showed us the feeder. Mike and I waited around for about twenty minutes before the bird flew in and perched on a stick tied to the feeder pole. Based on Bubba’s description, I’d thought this might be a young male, a bird that might require some puzzling out, but no. The throat was a mass of magenta stripes, narrowing to a point on each side like a forked beard. An adult male! We’ve had one or two Calliopes in Alachua County before, but they were unremarkable in appearance, reminiscent of almost every other female or juvenile hummingbird in North America. There was no doubt about this one! Mike managed to get a photo by aiming his cell phone’s camera through his telescope: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/11936434044/

A second hummingbird is present in the same yard, and habitually clashes with the Calliope. It looks like a female or juvenile male Selasphorus, probably a female Rufous. At one point it sat on the uppermost twig of a leafless cherry tree for about half an hour, incessantly looking back and forth, back and forth, waiting for the Calliope to show up, and when it did the Selasphorus zoomed down and commandeered the feeder. According to Mary Lynch, both birds have been present since the 3rd.

The Lynches are happy to entertain guests. Park in the driveway or on the street. No need to knock. Just walk around to the right side of the house, open the gate, sit down in one of the folding chairs, and watch the nearest feeder. The Lynches say that late afternoon is usually the busiest time.

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

Got wasps?

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

I need your help. (No, this isn’t a Nigerian email scam, and no, you are not the last surviving relative of a millionaire for whom I’ve been holding a really big check.) For the last two years I’ve been working with the American Entomological Institute to catalog the paper wasps of Alachua County and north Florida generally. I thought the project would be about my speed – eight or nine species, pretty easily distinguishable, just about right for an amateur with a butterfly net and a stupid grin on his face. But an actual entomologist got involved, and it turns out that three of the “species” are actually complexes, each of which contains two to four different species. At least this seems to be the case based on markings and structural differences; it can be confirmed only by DNA analysis. That’s where you come in. Can you direct me to any active paper wasp nests in Alachua County? It’s late in the season, which means that many of the nests have been abandoned. But a lot of the remaining wasps are males, which are more common in the fall (and can’t sting!). Since all the wasps on a nest are related, finding a nest tells us what males and females of a given species look like and helps us to document the range of variation. However you should be aware that we would need to collect both the nest and the wasps on it for the DNA analysis, so if you’re attached to your wasps, or just want them to stay alive, please move on to the next paragraph. And just to be clear, I’m NOT talking about this kind of nest, which is the work of the Bald-face Hornet; I’m talking about something that looks like this or this or this, generally hanging from under a sheltering horizontal surface like eaves or a kiosk, or from a branch or main stem of a shrub or robust weed like dog fennel. If you know of a nest in Alachua County, and there are still wasps on it, and you don’t mind my taking it, please send me an email (a photo of the nest would be a plus, but isn’t necessary).

On the morning of the 20th John Hintermister and Mike Manetz attempted to relocate the Western Kingbird found at La Chua by Chris Hooker on the 19th. They didn’t see it, but otherwise they had a pretty good day, recording 61 bird species, including 2 Gadwalls and 14 Northern Pintails (nine duck species overall), a flyover Common Loon, 4 American Bitterns, 3 King Rails and 10 Soras, seven sparrow species (including a Field, 2 Grasshopper, and 14 White-crowned), as well as a lingering Indigo Bunting and the female Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been there since October 5th.

On the 12th Barbara Shea saw the fall’s first Redhead at Jonesville Soccer Park (or the adjoining subdivision, she didn’t specify). Not a common bird around here.

Alachua County birding can boast another blog, this one by Adam Zions. I enjoyed this post in particular: http://alachuaavifauna.blogspot.com/2013/10/winter-descends.html

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-grade class won first place in the national Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest! Congratulations, Sharon, and thanks to those who voted for her.

If you haven’t added your name to the “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy” petition, to fund the state’s Land Acquisition Trust, here’s a link to the form. Please mail it within the next week: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pdf/598941flwllonline.pdf

Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens, co-authors of the new Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, will be discussing the book during an online chat at 2 p.m. EST today (the 21st): http://shindig.com/event/crossley-id-guide

And please don’t forget those paper wasp nests!

They’re all still out there, waiting for you

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

The Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, begins today, Friday the 15th, and continues through Monday the 18th. The GBBC will happily accept lists of your backyard birds and/or field-trip birds on any or all of those four days. Here’s how to sign in and enter your sightings: http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html

The Pacific Loon was still on Lake Santa Fe last week, seen by John Hintermister and Jonathan Mays on the 8th and by Bob Wallace on the 9th. Jonathan got a nice photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8456996268/in/photostream/  It’s probably still there, but you’ll need a boat if you want to look for it. John launched from the Bradford County ramp on Little Lake Santa Fe and then motored south to find the bird along the north shore of the main lake.

The Groove-billed Ani is still being seen at Sparrow Alley, most recently by Lloyd Davis on the 13th.

On the 11th Chuck Littlewood saw the Peregrine Falcon that’s been hanging around the La Chua Trail since January 5th. It was “in the willows directly south of the observation platform (est. 250 yards).” He got a photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h551788a8#h551788a8

Frank and Irina Goodwin saw a Myiarchus flycatcher, probably an Ash-throated, along the Cones Dike Trail on the 9th, “at roughly the 1.75 mile mark, right at the point where the fence turns 90 degrees to the east.”

Also on the 9th, Jim and Allison Healy saw the Nashville Warbler that’s been hanging around Sparrow Alley since November 23rd: “After passing through the barn, we followed the trail off to the right and not the one that goes to the overlook. About 200 feet past where it makes a turn to the north, Allison spotted the Nashville. I quickly got on the bird, and here are my observations: blue-gray head with distinct complete white eye-ring, yellow breast and undertail coverts with white around the ‘pant legs.’ Olive green wings. Throat was a pale gray color distinct from the blue-gray head and yellow breast. I watched the bird for about 15 seconds before it flew down the trail (south).”

During the winter of 2009-10, Andy Kratter found a Fox Sparrow along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail a little north of Boulware Springs, and it returned to the same spot every winter afterward. He hadn’t seen it this winter, and he assumed that it had met the fate that awaits us all (retirement to North Carolina), but on the 11th of February it was back, and he saw it again this morning. It’s right behind Pine Grove Cemetery; a map (choose the “satellite” option and zoom in) is here. Look for Andy’s feeder beside the trail.

On the 10th Andy went to Newnans Lake: “At Powers Park I had the Aythya feeding swarm about 1000 m to the east  (Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, and scaup sp.). A Limpkin was wailing nearby the observation deck.” Rob Bowden was there later that same day and got a look at the Limpkin: “It ended up flying across the boat launch channel and perching briefly in a cypress right next to the dock before spooking farther to the SE side of the lake. It seemed very skittish.” All those exotic apple snails in Newnans Lake seem to be drawing the Limpkins in. I think all but one of the six Limpkins on the last Christmas Count came from there.

John Martin got a nice video of a Bachman’s Sparrow at Morningside Nature Center on the 10th: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06NZ3t0SRwM

In my last birding report I mentioned that Geoff Parks had heard a singing Northern Parula on February 5th, but I cautioned that one swallow does not make a summer, or one parula a spring in this case. Since then, however, there have been several singing Northern Parulas reported, in Gainesville and elsewhere in Florida. Gainesville Birder Emeritus Bryant Roberts saw nine, some of them singing, at Birch State Park in Ft. Lauderdale on the 9th. Two days later there were a few North Florida reports, one from Gary Davis in St. Johns County and one (two birds) from Sharon Fronk in Dixie County. Here in Gainesville, Jonathan Mays has had one singing at his SE Gainesville home since the 9th, and Andy Kratter had both a Northern Parula and a Yellow-throated Warbler singing at his SE Gainesville home this morning. So yes, I’m finally ready to concede that this is an early spring. Normally the first Northern Parulas and first migrant (as opposed to wintering) Yellow-throated Warblers start singing at some time between February 20th and March 1st, but this year they’re a week or two early.

Maybe all of the above isn’t sufficiently inspiring to you, and you’re still looking for a good place to go birding (maybe for the Great Backyard Bird Count). Try the Tuscawilla Prairie just south of Micanopy. Mike Manetz and John Killian checked it out on the 13th, and Mike was impressed: “The place is drying out quickly. I think in some places it might be possible to walk all the way across, and a lot of it is barnyard grass that looks favorable for Short-eared Owl and Le Conte’s Sparrow. Problem is that it dried out too late into winter. If it had been like it is now back in early November it might have been a bonanza like Orange Lake was last winter. There is still a little water, and a lot of waders, including about a hundred Ibis of both species. Best birds were three American Woodcocks and a fly-over American Pipit, my first of the year.” A map and driving directions are here.

Some birds linger longer

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

I inquired about hummingbirds in my previous birding report and haven’t heard from a single solitary soul. Are all the hummers gone? Please, oh please tell me if you know of one in the area. The rest of this heart-rending plea for information should be illustrated by a flow chart: Is it in your yard, yes or no? If yes, is it coming to a feeder, yes or no? If yes, would you like Fred Bassett to stop by your place and band it, yes or no? I’ll wait patiently beside my computer for your response.

The other question I asked in the previous birding report elicited only a couple of responses: What was the Bird of the Year 2012? One person nominated the flock of Black Scoters at Lake Wauberg, another nominated the Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been hanging around the La Chua observation platform. What about the cooperative Alder Flycatchers at Cones Dike, the Green-tailed Towhee at Paynes Prairie along US-441, the Sprague’s Pipits on the Kanapaha Prairie? There must be some I’m forgetting. Nominate, you black-hearted scoundrels, nominate!

My third and last question for the day: does anyone know where there’s an active Bald Eagle nest? An out-of-town photographer is looking for one to … um, photograph.

The Bell’s Vireo was last reported on the 12th. John Martin send me a map showing where he found it, “about 500 feet” south of the usual spot:
https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=217764550819642906685.0004d31d92e0e1b6f57af&msa=0&ie=UTF8&t=h&z=20&vpsrc=1

As to other local rarities, the Groove-billed Ani was seen this morning (the 15th) in the usual spot by Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, and special guest star Paul Lehman, former editor of Birding magazine. (Hint: Follow the link to one of birding’s best time-wasting websites.) And here’s Jonathan’s picture of the ani: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8383632533/in/photostream/  On the 13th Howard Adams saw a Whooping Crane from the La Chua observation platform. On the 12th Chris Hooker, visiting from St. Augustine, found the Vermilion Flycatcher at the La Chua observation platform and a Yellow-breasted Chat along the fenceline trail. And on the 11th I saw a Peregrine Falcon perched on the powerline supports near the fenceline trail.

The fenceline trail is called Sparrow Alley by Frank Goodwin, and it’s been living up to its name. On the 7th Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello saw a Clay-colored Sparrow. On the 8th Adam Kent, Chris Burney, and several others saw a Fox. On the 12th Chris Hooker saw a Lincoln’s and John Martin saw four Grasshoppers in a tree at one time and got a picture of two of them: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/8375463546/in/photostream/

On the 13th Andy Kratter found that the ducks had returned to the crew team parking lot, where East University Avenue dead-ends at Newnans Lake. He reported “7 Canvasbacks, 9 Redheads, 10 Ring-necked Ducks, 25 scaup sp. (some of these look like Greater but they didn’t flap wings for me), 5 Lesser Scaup, heaps of Ruddy Ducks far offshore (>300), 180 American White Pelicans, and 200 Bonaparte’s Gulls.”

Remember! Hummingbirds! Bird of the Year 2012! Eagle nest!

Christmas Bird Count results

From: Rex Rowan [rexrowan@gmail.com]
Subject: Alachua County birding report

Hey, make a note if you’re planning to join the January 5th field trip to Alligator Lake: the driving directions on the Alachua Audubon web site are wrong. Here’s what they should say: “From I-75 take US-90 east through Lake City and turn south on Old Country Club Road (also known as SE Avalon Avenue or County Road 133). Entrance to parking area is 1.5 miles south on the right side of the road.” Thanks to Tom Camarata for pointing out the mistakes to me.

We’ve got some gifted photographers around here, and some of you may be interested in the 2013 Wildlife and Nature Photography Contest being held by Audubon of Martin County. They’ve put together a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcd38dEvbAs

Speaking of photographers, Adam Zions found and photographed some uncommon birds in the conservation lands north of Newnans Lake on the 30th. He started at Gum Root Park, where he saw two Henslow’s Sparrows in the big field, then drove a couple of miles east on State Road 26 to the Hatchet Creek Tract, where he found a Red-breasted Nuthatch (not to mention a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which is resident at Hatchet Creek but can be hard to find).

I haven’t heard of any definite sightings of the Groove-billed Ani recently, though visiting Tennessee birder David Kirschke and his daughter thought they heard it on the 27th, “about half way between the Sweetwater Overlook turn off and the next bend in the trail.” If you see it, please let me know. The last positive sightings were by Lloyd Davis and Adam Zions on the 23rd, when Adam got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/8302688762/in/photostream

Mike Manetz found a big flock of ducks off the crew team parking lot on the 18th, and Andy Kratter saw them in the same place on the 23rd: “300+ Ring-necked, 25 or so Lesser Scaup, 8 Redhead, 5 Canvasbacks, and a bunch of American Coots. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were quite far offshore, as were 2 Horned Grebes.” I found most of the same birds still present in the late afternoon of the 24th, but by the 30th they’d dispersed and their place had been taken by Ruddy Ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls, plus one hunting decoy.

Here finally are the results of the December 16th Gainesville CBC:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  207
Muscovy Duck  90
Wood Duck  821
Gadwall  34
American Wigeon  6
Mallard  29
Mottled Duck  89
Blue-winged Teal  81
Northern Shoveler  14
Northern Pintail  64
Green-winged Teal  1
Canvasback  5
Ring-necked Duck  252
Lesser Scaup  312
Black Scoter  6
Bufflehead  4
Common Goldeneye  1
Hooded Merganser  125
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  500
Northern Bobwhite  13
Wild Turkey  46
Common Loon  3
Pied-billed Grebe  74
Wood Stork  28
Double-crested Cormorant  772
Anhinga  187
American White Pelican  137
American Bittern  12
Great Blue Heron  134
Great Egret  206
Snowy Egret  177
Little Blue Heron  163
Tricolored Heron  77
Cattle Egret  211
Green Heron  17
Black-crowned Night-Heron  79
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
White Ibis  2,013
Glossy Ibis  528
Roseate Spoonbill  1
Black Vulture  343
Turkey Vulture  1,144
Osprey  8
Bald Eagle  82
Northern Harrier  42
Sharp-shinned Hawk  12
Cooper’s Hawk  12
Red-shouldered Hawk  164
Red-tailed Hawk  64
King Rail  2
Virginia Rail  5
Sora  252
Common Gallinule  82
American Coot  883
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  3,009
Killdeer  247
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  54
Lesser Yellowlegs  55
Least Sandpiper  2
Wilson’s Snipe  398
American Woodcock  7
Bonaparte’s Gull  30
Laughing Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  330
Herring Gull  2
Forster’s Tern  30
Rock Pigeon  70
Eurasian Collared-Dove  9
Mourning Dove  495
Common Ground-Dove  7
Groove-billed Ani  1
Barn Owl  5
Eastern Screech-Owl  16
Great Horned Owl  55
Barred Owl  64
Eastern Whip-poor-will  2
Selasphorus, sp. (probably Rufous Hummingbird)  1
Belted Kingfisher  38
Red-headed Woodpecker  32
Red-bellied Woodpecker  284
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  61
Downy Woodpecker  118
Northern Flicker  38
Pileated Woodpecker  129
American Kestrel  56
Merlin  3
Least Flycatcher  4
Eastern Phoebe  580
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  10
Loggerhead Shrike  38
White-eyed Vireo  203
Blue-headed Vireo  44
Blue Jay  276
American Crow  621
Fish Crow  297
crow, sp.  45
Tree Swallow  6
Carolina Chickadee  204
Tufted Titmouse  248
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
Brown-headed Nuthatch  4
House Wren  236
Winter Wren  1
Sedge Wren  52
Marsh Wren  129
Carolina Wren  420
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  387
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  405
Eastern Bluebird  173
Hermit Thrush  27
American Robin  2,583
Gray Catbird  205
Northern Mockingbird  180
Brown Thrasher  15
European Starling  43
American Pipit  124
Sprague’s Pipit  2
Cedar Waxwing  54
Ovenbird  2
Northern Waterthrush  6
Black-and-white Warbler  69
Orange-crowned Warbler  105
Common Yellowthroat  292
Northern Parula  3
Palm Warbler  830
Pine Warbler  204
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1,910
Yellow-throated Warbler  28
Prairie Warbler  8
Wilson’s Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Eastern Towhee  187
Chipping Sparrow  488
Field Sparrow  20
Vesper Sparrow  57
Savannah Sparrow  515
Grasshopper Sparrow  20
Henslow’s Sparrow  2
Le Conte’s Sparrow  6
Fox Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  74
Lincoln’s Sparrow  6
Swamp Sparrow  455
White-throated Sparrow  62
White-crowned Sparrow  35
Summer Tanager  4
Northern Cardinal  832
Indigo Bunting  2
Painted Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  9,915
Eastern Meadowlark  382
Common Grackle  585
Boat-tailed Grackle  727
Brown-headed Cowbird  12,798
Baltimore Oriole  29
House Finch  72
American Goldfinch  372
House Sparrow  11

We’ve gained two minutes of daylight since the solstice! Two minutes! Yes! And the first Purple Martins should be back within three weeks, maybe four. So it’s nearly spring. Watch your feeders for Pine Siskins and Purple Finches, which tend to show up after January 1st.

The management and staff of the Alachua County Birding Report, Inc., TM, LLC, LOL, ROTFLMAO, would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Scoters no, ani yes

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

Several of us were at Lake Wauberg shortly after the park opened on Monday morning, but the Black Scoters had already left. You can at least enjoy Greg McDermott’s photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8285468295/in/photostream

Having failed at Lake Wauberg, we went on to the La Chua Trail to look for the Groove-billed Ani, but missed it too. However the bird was simply feeling antisocial on Monday and was relocated on Tuesday morning. Mike Manetz wrote: “I went to check for the Ani again today and had no luck until I ran into Lloyd Davis, who had seen it earlier this morning. He showed me the spot and we got it to respond vocally to a recording, and finally it popped up briefly. It seemed very shy. Going west on Pasture Trail (aka Sparrow Alley, aka Service Road), it was in the first large blackberry patch on the right after passing Sweetwater Overlook.” The fenceline trail / Pasture Trail / Sparrow Alley is at the beginning of La Chua. Right after you exit the old barn and go through the gate, cut back in front of the barn and walk along the fence toward the powerlines. You’ll have the fenceline on your right and wild plums and weeds and grass on your left. Oh the heck with it, here’s a map: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=203358630947857947932.0004d12c9cb58d35a96dd&msa=0&ll=29.609264,-82.305901&spn=0.009962,0.013797

Jonathan Mays, who first found the ani, posted photos of it – as well as some other birds he saw during the Christmas Count, such as LeConte’s Sparrow, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Vermilion Flycatcher – on his Flickr page here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/sets/72157632269055398/

I’d add that, if you go looking for the ani, keep an eye out for a Nashville Warbler first seen by Dalcio Dacol in the shrubby habitat along the fenceline trail below Sweetwater Overlook on November 23rd. I think I glimpsed it while trying to find the ani on Monday morning, but it was a very quick look and I couldn’t coax it into view again.

Searching for the Canvasback found on the Count, Mike Manetz had scoped Newnans Lake from Palm Point and Powers Park without luck. On his way home, he pulled into the crew team parking lot, where East University Avenue dead-ends at Newnans Lake, and found “a huge raft of ducks within viewing range. Mostly Ring-necked Ducks and Lesser Scaup, there were also four or five Redheads, a hen Northern Shoveler, and sticking out like a sore thumb, a drake Canvasback.” It was Mike’s 255th Alachua County bird in 2012. This may be like Barry Bonds’s 73-home-run season, a record never to be broken. But it raises the question – has Mike been using steroids? I think a congressional inquiry into the use of steroids in birding has long been overdue.

You may have heard that there’s been a huge invasion of Razorbills on both coasts of Florida, mainly the Atlantic side but recently a few places on the Gulf as well. To see a Razorbill you’d normally have to travel to Maine and take a boat to one of the rocky islands where they nest. The few previous Florida records involved beached birds that were dying or already dead. That’s certainly not the case this year. A large percentage of the Razorbills being seen in Florida right now are flying – often in flocks! – and feeding actively, such as the bird in this remarkable video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEthm_8SPuM  Someone on the video comments that it resembles a penguin as it flies around underwater. It’s an apt comparison; the word “penguin” was first applied (in the 16th century) to the Razorbill’s larger cousin, the now-extinct Great Auk, and was adopted for the Antarctic birds because of their resemblance to auks.

St. Johns River Water Management District made its recommendations on the disposal of its properties (or sections thereof), which in Alachua County included Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, Lochloosa Conservation Area, and the Hatchet Creek Tract of the Newnans Lake Conservation Area. You can see links to maps here: http://floridaswater.com/landassessment/Alachua/

Yellow-headed Blackbird, possible White-faced Ibis

Cole Fredericks, visiting from Polk County, found a possible White-faced Ibis on the 28th: “On the way out of town I noticed Post Office Pond was drawn way down and there were ibis and yellowlegs feeding. I stopped and scoped through the Glossies and found a bird that stood out to me. I am not 100% confident because of the lighting and wind. I took a horrible pic that seems to show a red eye and no facial markings. I noticed the bird because of its overall more olive sheen and the color of its head and neck. Next I noticed the very blank looking face and then while scoping I noticed some red in the legs and got a subtle red from the eyes. I can’t say the facial skin in front of the eye was pink though.” I checked PO Pond after I got the message this evening, but all the Glossies were gone. I’ll check again on Monday.

As Cole noted, Post Office Pond is almost dry. Nonetheless Helen Warren spotted a family of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, including a dozen recently-hatched chicks, paddling around in the shallows on the 27th and 28th. Black-bellieds nest in late summer and early fall, but late October is surprising even for them. Shorebirds are congregating on the mud at PO Pond as well: dowitchers (probably Long-billed), Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and on the 28th one late Pectoral Sandpiper.

On the 24th John Hintermister met Mike Manetz at the Hague Dairy to look for the Bronzed Cowbird that Mike found there on the 22nd. By the time Mike had gone into the office, signed in, and returned, John had TWO Bronzed Cowbirds in view. Jonathan Mays went by later in the day and got them both in one frame: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8120126651/in/photostream  At least one was still there on the 28th, according to Cole Fredericks.

John Martin also visited the dairy on the 28th. He missed the Bronzed Cowbird, but his consolation prize was a life bird, a female Yellow-headed Blackbird. He saw a trio of American Avocets as well, and was able to get a video as they repeatedly circled the lagoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM-aG-sZdGA 

Clay-colored Sparrows seem to be ridiculously common this fall. At least four have been recorded in Alachua County: one at Mary Lou Schubert’s feeder in NW Gainesville on August 28th, one in Geoff Parks’s NE Gainesville back yard on October 13th, one that John Hintermister and Mike Manetz found at the “twin ponds” south of the dairy driveway on October 24th, and one that’s been hanging out near the La Chua observation platform since October 12th and which was still there on the 27th. Jonathan Mays got a nice shot of it on the 26th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8126148194/in/photostream/

Hurricane Sandy was evidently too far away to bring us any good birds. Several of us showed up at Palm Point on the morning of the 27th to look for storm-blown coastal strays, but we saw nothing more unusual than a mixed flock of Barn and Tree Swallows (with a late-record Northern Rough-winged thrown in for good measure). We saw no gulls or terns. However John Martin arrived not long after we left, and in the two hours he spent there he saw a trio of Herring Gulls, two Redheads, and 30 scaup. Tom Camarata, Howard Kochman, and I saw eight Ring-necked Ducks, the season’s first, from Powers Park on the 28th, and on the same day John Killian saw the fall’s first Ruddy Duck along the La Chua Trail.

John hasn’t seen the Red-breasted Nuthatches that were visiting his feeder since the 26th. Red-breasteds are still being seen around the northern half of the state, though, so keep your eyes open.

This morning’s field trip to Camps Canal and Cones Dike was entirely uneventful (unless you have a keen interest in Palm Warblers and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers), but next weekend we’re going to the Hague Dairy, and you’ve just gotten finished reading about all the excitement going on there. It may be a good one. Field trip calendar: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/calendar.htm

Have you bought your Alachua Audubon Christmas tree yet? Well for goodness’ sake why not? Do you think the stork brings them or something? See page 4 of the newsletter: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/crane.pdf