Nelson’s Sparrow at La Chua!

Adam Zions found the county’s third-ever Nelson’s Sparrow along the La Chua Trail on the 20th. He describes the location as “about halfway between the ‘s’ curve before it straightens out for the last bit before the platform. If you go looking for it, you’ll notice the more open water on your right as you first take the bend (where they placed the extra soil), then another smaller patch of somewhat open water on your right a little further ahead. Go past this to the third, and smallest patch of somewhat open water on your right, which should be about halfway or slightly past halfway along the ‘s’ curve, and that’s where I observed it foraging on grass seeds.” Nelson’s Sparrow is a saltmarsh species in Florida and is pretty common along the Gulf Coast, but it nests in freshwater marshes on the Great Plains – Minnesota, North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta – and some of the birds get slightly disoriented during fall migration. Not many of them, though; inland sightings in Florida are very scarce. Adam’s eBird checklist, which includes five photos of the bird, can be seen here.

At least two Yellow-headed Blackbirds are still slumming at the Hague Dairy. I got there a little after eleven on the 20th, just as a flock of two or three thousand blackbirds swarmed up and disappeared to the west. I hung around for another hour and a half, but the birds never came back, so I went home. Just an hour after I left (naturally!) Brad Bergstrom and Margaret Harper of Valdosta State University showed up and saw “two Yellow-headed Blackbirds atop the transformer pole near the Admin. bldg. (where visitors sign in) from 2-3 pm. While I was signing in, Margaret was standing right next to the car looking at the two birds. When I walked  back out of the office, at first I thought she was joking about seeing the blackbirds. That was a years-long nemesis bird for her; it’s not supposed to be that easy!” On the 16th Jonathan Mays got a photo of THREE Yellow-headeds feeding together, but no one else has been that lucky; I think it may be the largest number ever recorded here during a single fall, and he had them all in his viewfinder at once! Two Bronzed Cowbirds were also seen at the dairy by Adam Zions on the 14th and by several observers on the 15th, but on the 16th Jonathan found only one. Both species may yet be present. By the way, Bob Carroll related his own search for the Yellow-headed in characteristically amusing style on his blog.

There’s a new sign on the door of the dairy office: “Attention all birdwatchers: Please park in the designated areas and walk. Do not block the roadways or gates. Do not cross any fences. Do not go through any gates. Do not interfere with dairy operations.” I’m not sure what occasioned this, but please observe their rules conscientiously. I think the dairy employees find us odd but harmless, and that’s how we want to keep it. The designated parking area is here. I asked one of the employees in the office about the “Do not go through the gates” rule, and he told me that this applied only to closed gates.

Sometimes the best place to go birding is your back yard. Becky Enneis has been proving that point this fall. There’s a huge sprawling live oak in her back yard, and she’s set up a water drip under one of the lowest limbs. It always gets a lot of birds, but this week has been particularly exciting, with a Chestnut-sided Warbler on the 20th, a Bay-breasted Warbler on the 18th, and on the 17th a Swamp Sparrow, one of the earliest of the fall and not exactly a typical backyard bird. And over in rural Columbia County on the 19th Jerry Krummrich enjoyed a varied and highly entertaining few minutes of backyard birding: “At the mister right outside my window in a river birch tree, in the space of 15 minutes, I had furious activity and 17 species of birds. Pine, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, and Black-and-white Warblers – several of some species, including a male of each species, Red-eyed and White-eyed Vireos, Scarlet Tanager, immature male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Northern Cardinals (about 10), Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Northern Flicker, Mourning Dove, Brown Thrasher, and Northern Mockingbird.”

Bachman’s Sparrows used to be resident at Morningside Nature Center, but during the past twenty or so years their occurrence at the park has been unpredictable. John Martin found one there on February 10th and got a video, but as far as I know there weren’t any additional encounters until Geoff Parks heard one singing on October 18th: “As I was going past an area we burned back in May, near the north end of Sandhill Road, I heard some sparrow-like ‘seet’ calls so I stopped for a few moments to see if anything interesting was around. To my surprise, from out of the grasses nearby I heard a Bachman’s Sparrow giving a whisper song. It did it several times over a few minutes; it sounded exactly like the normal song, just very quiet. I didn’t try to coax it into the open and never managed to see the bird, but I’m certain that’s what it was. Maybe this one will stick around until spring. Mysterious little critters!”

I got a very nice trip report from Adam Zions about Alachua Audubon’s Levy Lake field trip on Saturday the 20th: “A hearty troop of 11 intrepid explorers and one half-witted trip leader set out at 8 a.m. along the Levy Lake loop trail at Barr Hammock. Several Gainesville birders and a few out-of-towners from Chiefland, Inverness, and Cape Canaveral set out to see what the trail had to offer. An Eastern Phoebe and an adult Red-shouldered Hawk greeted everyone at the parking lot, a precursor of what would follow. Even though week-long winds from the north, combined with a lack of a front from the south, seemed to push most migrants onward to Central America and the Caribbean, the group tallied a total of 50 different species, including 9 different warbler species, The favorites being an Orange-crowned Warbler (first of the season for everyone) and a Tennessee. Strong numbers of wintering species were noted, especially Eastern Phoebe, Palm Warbler, and Gray Catbird. Highlights of the day included close observations of 4 incredibly-obliging American Bitterns, a flock of 8, late Northern Rough-winged Swallows, an adult Bald Eagle getting chased by a Red-shouldered Hawk, a few Sandhill Cranes, sizeable numbers of Indigo Buntings, and many first-of-the-season birds for most participants (e.g., Savannah Sparrow, Marsh Wren, and Northern Flicker). Non-avian highlights included a White-tailed doe, Striped Mud Turtle, a mother American Alligator and several of her offspring, and a 4′-4.5′ Cottonmouth shed. The feathered remains of a Red-shouldered Hawk were noted as well. Sunny, yet cool weather obliged for the majority of the trip, until the last mile of the trip when an unexpected storm front poured buckets and soaked everyone. Everyone stayed in good spirits, but made due haste to the parking lot. It was a very lively and engaging crew, and made for an excellent first AAS trip out to the Levy Lake portion of Barr Hammock. Group eBird checklist link: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S15444710

The beginning of the end; plus, final migration count results

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

We’ve got only two or three more weeks of neotropical birds like warblers, tanagers, cuckoos, thrushes, and buntings. Then, beginning around October 15th or 20th – about the time the first Yellow-rumped Warbler shows up – the transients will disappear and we’ll start looking for winter arrivals like sparrows, ducks, and the occasional western stray like Yellow-headed Blackbird and Dickcissel.

We’re already seeing changes of a more subtle kind. Veeries predominated in September, but now they’ll begin to give way to other thrushes: on the 29th Michael Drummond heard “many, many Swainson’s calling in the predawn hours this morning.” Early fall warblers like Cerulean, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky and Prothonotary Warblers are well south of us now, or soon will be, but Magnolia and Tennessee will become more abundant, and we’ll start to see Black-throated Greens and Bay-breasteds. A few Scarlet Tanagers have already been reported, and Keith Collingwood saw the season’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his Melrose yard on the 29th. Anyway, we’ve got about two weeks of the fall migration left, three if we’re lucky.

A few winter birds are already here: on the 28th Bryan Tarbox saw one Marsh Wren at Bolen Bluff while John Anderson saw another at the US-441 observation deck; Adam Kent, Craig Faulhaber, and Ryan Butryn found the season’s first Eastern Phoebe at San Felasco Hammock (Progress Center entrance) on the 29th, as well as a Cliff Swallow and a female Painted Bunting; and on the 2nd Samuel Ewing photographed the fall’s first sparrow, a Savannah, by four days a new early record for Alachua County.

A few miscellaneous reports from the past week:

On the 25th Dean and Samuel Ewing birded Ring Park, and Samuel got a nice video of a female Black-throated Blue Warbler eating beautyberries.

On the 26th Mike Manetz and Jonathan Mays (who are to normal ears what the Hubble Space Telescope is to binoculars) walked the Cones Dike Trail in search of flycatchers and were rewarded with one calling Alder, two Empidonax that were either Alders or Willows but would not identify themselves by vocalizing, and one Least, which was photographed by Jonathan. They also tallied a dozen warbler species, including an amazing 55 Common Yellowthroats.

On the 29th Geoff Parks noticed that both Indigo Buntings and Painted Buntings were feeding on the coral bristlegrass in his NE Gainesville back yard. Does that give you any ideas? It should.

On the 30th Matt and Erin Kalinowski spotted a Merlin along the La Chua Trail.

On the 2nd Mike Manetz walked the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock and saw 6 Swainson’s Thrushes, 5 Veeries, 5 Wood Thrushes, and 3 Gray-cheeked Thrushes. He saw only six warbler species, but that included 22 Ovenbirds.

According to the annual “winter finch forecast” published by Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists, we won’t be seeing many irruptive birds this year – no Pine Siskins, no Purple Finches, no Red-breasted Nuthatches – because they’ve got plenty of chow up north: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1314/

North Carolina biologists put a tracking device on an American Oystercatcher that had nested in the Cape Fear region, and over the course of five days in mid-September it migrated to Florida, crossing the northern peninsula from Amelia Island to Cedar Key (passing right over High Springs along the way). An American Oystercatcher appeared at Newnans Lake on September 18, 2000, the morning after Hurricane Gordon blew ashore at Cedar Key. We always assumed that the bird had been blown inland from the Gulf Coast, but the linked story suggests that it might well have been a migrating bird forced down by the storm.

Two or three people shared this video with me, which shows the bizarrely complicated structure of a hummingbird’s tongue: http://player.vimeo.com/video/68897592

Brush up on your fall wildflowers.

Remember that we’ve scheduled double field trips each of the next three weekends so you can take advantage of fall migration. This weekend we’ll be birding Powers Park and Palm Point/Lakeshore Drive with Barbara Shea on Saturday, then heading over to St. Augustine with John Hintermister on Sunday to look for Peregrine Falcons. Field trip schedule here.

Earlier this week Mike Manetz and I compiled the final results of Alachua County’s fall migration count held on September 21st. I think our birders set a new county record for numbers of individual warblers. I compared the numbers from our first fall migration count (1995) with those from this year. We had more warbler species that first year, 26, against 24 this year, but the count of individual warblers was higher this year by about 300. Two or three species always make up the bulk of what’s recorded: in 1995, Common Yellowthroat and Northern Parula accounted for 41% of all the warblers seen, while this year the same two species plus Ovenbird accounted for 51%. This year Common Yellowthroats alone made up 22% of our total. I put the 1995 vs. 2013 comparison in a table here. And the complete results:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  22
Wood Duck  42
Mottled Duck  13
Blue-winged Teal  8
Northern Bobwhite  7
Wild Turkey  12
Pied-billed Grebe  30
Wood Stork  11
Double-crested Cormorant  60
Anhinga  65
American Bittern  3
Great Blue Heron  40
Great Egret  95
Snowy Egret  35
Little Blue Heron  100
Tricolored Heron  22
Cattle Egret  501
Green Heron  23
White Ibis  164
Glossy Ibis  104
Black Vulture  225
Turkey Vulture  260
Osprey  6
Bald Eagle  30
Northern Harrier  3
Cooper’s Hawk  6
Red-shouldered Hawk  89
Broad-winged Hawk  1
Red-tailed Hawk  7
King Rail  2
Sora  5
Common Gallinule  40
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  25
Killdeer  9
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Lesser Yellowlegs  2
Least Sandpiper  12
Pectoral Sandpiper  15
Rock Pigeon  19
Eurasian Collared-Dove  7
White-winged Dove  8
Mourning Dove  204
Common Ground-Dove  14
Yellow-billed Cuckoo  10
Black-billed Cuckoo  1
Eastern Screech-Owl  3
Great Horned Owl  8
Barred Owl  28
Whip-poor-will  3
Chimney Swift  79
Ruby-throated Hummingbird  12
Belted Kingfisher  17
Red-headed Woodpecker  29
Red-bellied Woodpecker  251
Downy Woodpecker  172
Northern Flicker  1
Pileated Woodpecker  109
Merlin  3
American Kestrel  10
Eastern Wood-Pewee  12
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher  1
Acadian Flycatcher  74
Alder Flycatcher  2
Empidonax, sp.  19
Great Crested Flycatcher  1
Loggerhead Shrike  9
White-eyed Vireo  741
Yellow-throated Vireo  16
Red-eyed Vireo  297
Blue Jay  293
American Crow  310
Fish Crow  81
crow, sp.  7
Purple Martin  10
Tree Swallow  1
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  187
Carolina Chickadee  193
Tufted Titmouse  350
House Wren  1
Carolina Wren  466
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  360
Eastern Bluebird  49
Veery  63
Swainson’s Thrush  4
Gray Catbird  19
Brown Thrasher  49
Northern Mockingbird  103
European Starling  34
Ovenbird  137
Worm-eating Warbler  12
Louisiana Waterthrush  1
Northern Waterthrush  54
Golden-winged Warbler  2
Blue-winged Warbler  5
Black-and-white Warbler  29
Prothonotary Warbler  2
Tennessee Warbler  2
Kentucky Warbler  3
Common Yellowthroat  238
Hooded Warbler  27
American Redstart  86
Northern Parula  175
Magnolia Warbler  6
Blackburnian Warbler  3
Yellow Warbler  59
Chestnut-sided Warbler  13
Black-throated Blue Warbler  2
Palm Warbler  27
Pine Warbler  61
Yellow-throated Warbler  77
Prairie Warbler  61
Yellow-breasted Chat  1
Eastern Towhee  80
Bachman’s Sparrow  1
Summer Tanager  45
Scarlet Tanager  1
Northern Cardinal  698
Blue Grosbeak  38
Indigo Bunting  41
Painted Bunting  1
Bobolink  2
Red-winged Blackbird  370
Eastern Meadowlark  3
Common Grackle  144
Boat-tailed Grackle  315
Brown-headed Cowbird  135
Baltimore Oriole  2
House Finch  26
House Sparrow  34

Oh MIKI you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

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

It’s Friday, and we’ve got a beautiful Easter weekend ahead of us.

Those redoubtable Ewings (Benjamin, Caleb, Samuel, and father Dean) saw the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in banding terminology) at Watermelon Pond on the 29th and Samuel got a photo.

On the 27th Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald found a bird we rarely see in spring, a Blue-winged Warbler, at the little creek between Boulware Springs and the Sweetwater Overlook on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail.

The number of lingering rarities at La Chua is dwindling: Keith Collingwood and John Killian both reported two White-faced Ibises there on the 29th. John got a great picture of a Whooping Crane on the same walk, while Matt and Erin Kalinowski saw two on the previous day – which reminds me that a pair nested on the Prairie two or three years ago.

On the other hand, nobody has reported the Groove-billed Ani since the 25th; has it gone home, or are we just tired of looking for it? No one has seen a Peregrine Falcon since the 21st or a Yellow-breasted Chat since the 13th. The last time anyone reported the Western Tanager in Alachua was the 23rd, when Becky Enneis got this nice photo.

John Hintermister and Barbara Shea got a brief glimpse of one of the pair of Hairy Woodpeckers along the Red Loop at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on the 27th.

Shirley Lasseter reports that a wintering Rose-breasted Grosbeak is still coming to her NW Gainesville feeder. It’s been there for a month and a half. And Felicia Lee is still hosting a Red-breasted Nuthatch at her place in SW Gainesville.

Felicia’s husband Glenn Price recently went home to South Africa for a family celebration, and while he was there he got some great bird photos. I especially like the Blacksmith Lapwing (just click on the link and let the Recent Photos play through): http://www.raptorcaptor.com/gallery/2473574_QWPGc Remember that Glenn offers these pictures for sale.

A House committee approved the House’s feral cat bill, but now a Senate committee is going to look at a similar Senate bill. Please go to the link and register your opinion: http://fl.audubonaction.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=27641.0&printer_friendly=1

First Swallow-tailed Kites, and other spring arrivals

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

(Those of you who asked for shorter birding reports – and surprisingly (to me, anyway) you were in the minority – will be deeply disheartened at the length of this one. I’ll try to mix it up a little more in the future, but there have been a lot of birds in the last ten days.)

Although the earliest Swallow-tailed Kite ever reported from Alachua County was seen on February 6, 1954, I think only one other February sighting has been recorded since then; mostly they show up in March. This year is different: they’ve been early all over the state, Alachua County included. Ron Robinson saw one over his place at the west end of Gainesville on the 21st, Dave Beatty saw one over Jonesville on the 24th, and Samuel, Caleb, and Dean Ewing saw two north of Watermelon Pond on the 26th. Samuel got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8513760414/in/photostream

Sharon Fronk of Old Town (Dixie County) had the area’s first Ruby-throated Hummingbird of the spring visit her feeder on the 25th. There have so far been no spring arrivals here in Alachua County, though at least a couple of Ruby-throateds spent the winter.

Barn Swallows are customarily early arrivals; in most years, someone makes the initial sighting during the first week of March. But this year they were even earlier: Stephen McCullers saw three at Chapmans Pond on the 28th, and on the same day Dean Ewing spotted two flying with Tree Swallows at Watermelon Pond.

Swallow-tailed Kites, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and Barn Swallows all nest locally, but on the 28th Stephen McCullers reported the spring’s first transient, a bird that’s just passing through on its way north: a Solitary Sandpiper in one of the ponds behind the Harn Museum. This ties the early-arrival date for the species in Alachua County, set fifteen years ago by Mike Manetz. Solitaries winter here on rare occasions, but these ponds have been visited frequently through the winter by birders seeking a Common Goldeneye present there from December 1st to February 24th (but not since), and no one reported a Solitary.

Since there have been so many early birds, let me mention a possible source of confusion. White-eyed Vireos are perfectly capable of mimicking the wheep of a Great Crested Flycatcher and the picky-tucky-tuck of a Summer Tanager, so if you hear one of those species calling before the last week of March, check it out and try to get visual confirmation.

Despite all the spring arrivals, it’s still winter, so let’s run down the more interesting winter birds that are still being reported.

John Hintermister and Adam Zions located the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 22nd, and Adam got a photo. Coincidentally, another was reported off the fishing pier at Cedar Key, first by Darcy Love of Spring Hill on the 18th and then by our own Steven Goodman on the 24th. I talked to Hernando County birder Murray Gardler this week, and he said the bird was present in the same location last winter.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still around. In the past three weeks, Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing saw one near Archer on the 24th (and Samuel got a photo), Adam Zions found one along the Hatchet Creek Tract on the 17th (photo) and Mike Manetz relocated it on the 22nd, Felicia Lee saw one at her SW Gainesville home on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted one along the perimeter trail at Morningside Nature Center on the 8th.

Mike Manetz and John Killian saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher along the Cones Dike Trail on the 27th.

The Fox Sparrow behind Pine Grove Cemetery was seen on the 19th by visiting birders from the Tampa Bay area and on the 20th by Andy Kratter. Last winter it wasn’t seen after March 7th, or after March 4th the year before, so if you want to get a look at it you’d better hurry.

As usually happens in late February, the American Goldfinches have grown weary of their inane flirtation with wild foods and have returned, chastened, to the feeders. Ron Robinson writes, “The last five days have been jam packed with Goldfinches. I have at least one hundred, and the feed is flying out of the feeders.”

Keep your eyes open, because sometimes Pine Siskins will join flocks of goldfinches. Chuck Curry noticed two on his NW Gainesville feeder on the 23rd.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are normally seen here in spring and fall migrations, but there are a small number of winter records, including two this winter: Caleb Gordon and Allison Costello found one at Loblolly Woods on January 20th, and on the 18th of this month Shirley Lasseter photographed one at her feeder. Another migrant for which winter sightings have been recorded – an increasing number in this case, so that it’s become an annual winter visitor in small numbers – is Northern Waterthrush. The Christmas Count team assigned to the Cones Dike Trail found six on December 16th. More recently, a pair of visiting ornithologists found two along Sweetwater Dike (off the La Chua Trail) on the 24th.

Speaking of wintering warblers, Frank and Irina Goodwin saw an American Redstart along the Levy Lake loop trail on the 22nd. This is the second redstart of the winter: a group from Citrus County saw one near the La Chua parking lot on the 11th.

The Groove-billed Ani is still around. Gerald White and Lloyd Davis saw it on the 27th, and visiting birder Alex Lamoreaux saw it (and one of the two Yellow-breasted Chats that’s been hanging around the same field) on the 1st.

On the 19th the ani was the trigger for some embarrassing behavior on my part. An out of town birder who’d come to see the ani posted this message on a statewide listserver: “There is a man currently bushhogging the field where the Ani has been seen. It was not seen today prior to his mowing.” Interpreting this to mean that the entire field was being mowed – it wasn’t – I immediately sent an irate message to Prairie biologist Andi Christman, asking who the heck was managing this stuff. I don’t think I used the term “you people,” but it was implied. Andi wrote back: “I suppose you could say that I ‘manage this stuff’. We have the opportunity to conduct a prescribed burn in the area near where the ani has been and in order to do so, need to establish containment lines. That is the mowing that was being conducted. As I’m sure you know, in the absence of flood, fire is the next most appropriate tool to manage hardwood encroachment into the basin marsh. Unfortunately, this may sometimes affect the opportunites for park visitors to view specific wildlife in certain areas, but in the long term, it is the best way to ensure quality habitat for the majority of species. As a rule, the Florida Park Service is not a single species management agency, but rather focuses on habitat management for the broad range of species associated with a natural community. I hope for the sake of the interested birders that the ani stays in the area, but our window of opportunity for conducting prescribed burns in the prairie basin is a short one, and we have to take advantage of the opportunitites that present themselves if we are to manage the natural communities in the most sound way possible. Thank you for your interest and commitment. I appreciate it.” A more civil answer than I merited. I actually *want* habitat management at the Prairie, but the second they start managing it, I start screaming bloody murder. Anyway, I apologized.

The Florida Ornithological Society has announced the details for its spring meeting: http://fosbirds.org/sites/default/files/Meetings/FOSSpring2013MeetingAnnouncement-4.pdf

Last of all, here’s a thoughtful take on the 2011 movie, “The Big Year,” by one of the very best American birders, Ned Brinkley, author of the National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America and the editor of North American Birds magazine. Here’s a quote from the review (and you should know that “antivenin” is the correct name for “anti-venom”): “The chief elements that fuel American mass-cultural products are mostly absent in birding. Indeed, birding—as I see people doing it, all over the world—may be an antivenin to the sex/violence/capital nexus that seems to be at the heart of so much popular culture. To a culture enslaved to such a golden calf, how can it not seem ridiculous, even pathetic, for a person to shed a tear at the first Chestnut-sided Warbler of spring? What is profitable, hedonistic, transgressive, ironic, or cool in that, or for that matter in our many fascinations—habitats, identifications, distributions, behaviors, not to mention butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, and more?  American pop culture urges consumption and physical pleasure; our lives are defined differently, by growing knowledge, study, connection, fascination.” Read the whole thing: http://blog.aba.org/2011/11/yet-another-big-year-review.html