Blue bird bonanza

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

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.

A pretty interesting day

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

This was probably the best single day of spring migration in Alachua County that I can remember.

This morning Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald biked from the Duck Pond area to the La Chua Trail by way of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then walked along Sparrow Alley. They spotted a male Blackburnian Warbler at the Sweetwater Overlook – Ryan wrote, “Seen in flight only but adult male — orange throat, face pattern, white patch on wing noted” – which is only the second spring record in the county’s history; the first was in 1961. Then, along Sparrow Alley, they saw the county’s fourth-ever Cave Swallow! Ryan again: “Foraging with big flock of Chimney Swifts, Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Purple Martin. Orange rump, and pale underparts fading to buffy orange throat and reddish forehead seen, though briefly.”

Otherwise, the best birding today was at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance), where Felicia Lee, Elizabeth Martin, and John Martin (no relation) walked the Moonshine Creek Trail and saw “5 Cape May Warblers, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Scarlet Tanagers, 1 male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 2 Worm-Eating Warblers, and a Wood Thrush. All in all, 11 warbler species.”

This morning’s field trip to Powers Park and Palm Point did fairly well. At Powers we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (photo here), and 75 Common Loons flying north. At Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive we saw a very cooperative male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Cape May Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler.

Geoff Parks had seen two Cliff Swallows at La Chua on the 17th. Today’s weather was cloudy with intermittent drizzle, good weather to keep swallows down (as Ryan and Jessica found), so Mike Manetz and I walked out La Chua to see if we could match Geoff’s feat. We did find a huge congregation of swallows and swifts – we agreed that “1,000” didn’t sound excessive – and saw two or three Cliff Swallows among them. We also saw a single male Bobolink, the spring’s first. And we were surprised and pleased to find shorebirds foraging in puddles along the flooded trail – three Solitary Sandpipers, four Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and four Spotted Sandpipers.

Late this afternoon Matt O’Sullivan found a Nashville Warbler at Loblolly Woods near the parking lot (on NW 34th Street, entrance directly east of 5th Avenue). Also present at Loblolly were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Prairie, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers.

There’s a pretty good chance that all the birds mentioned above will still be here tomorrow.

On tiny little Seahorse Key, an island two miles off Cedar Key, Andy Kratter saw 15 Tennessee Warblers and 15 Painted Buntings on the 17th, and six Lincoln’s Sparrows (“probably more”) on the 18th. Hopefully we’ll have just a fraction of his success on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip. If you’d like to join us, meet us in the Target parking lot at 6:30 a.m.

There’s a little more spring to come. Not much. A little.

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

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Ospreys at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Just a reminder: the next three weeks will see the peak of spring migration in terms of northbound transients like Cape May, Blackpoll, and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Bobolinks, Scarlet Tanagers, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (among many others). And then it will pretty much be over. So get out and see them while they’re here! Don’t be like Darth Vader when he realized that he’d missed an entire spring migration: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWaLxFIVX1s

Alachua Audubon’s field trip schedule is set up in July and August, and though we usually remember to schedule around Thanksgiving and Christmas, we occasionally lose track of Easter. That’s what happened this time. So we’ll be having two field trips this weekend as we usually do during spring and fall migrations, one to Palm Point with Bob Carroll on Saturday and one to Cedar Key with me on Easter Sunday. I apologize for our scheduling error, and hopefully we’ll remember not to repeat it next year. Remaining field trips here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Actually it looks as though Cedar Key *may* be better on Wednesday than on Sunday. Bob Duncan, Florida birding’s weather guru, sent out an email on Monday evening: “The very strong front has entered the NW Gulf of Mexico and is making good progress with winds NNW around 30 mph. If it has entered the southern Gulf by the time migrants take off from Yucatan (launch time = about ½ hr after sunset), migrants would not have taken off and the rest of the week would be a bust (birds have been known to turn back to Yucatan when encountering bad weather). But winds in northern Yucatan are still SSE–SE about 15 mph as of about 6 p.m. and mid-Gulf still has SE wind, so birds should take off this evening if the front does not move too fast. IF they take off, and my feeling is they will, when they encounter the front, SW then NW winds, the timing will determine where they will end up. Should they encounter it in mid-Gulf, the thrust of the movement will probably be toward the west coast of Florida (do I hear cheers coming from St. Pete?). But if they encounter it farther north, the AL – NW FL coast will be the landfall. At any rate, the arrival will be delayed by headwinds and extra miles traveled. So tomorrow a.m. should not have birds coming in, but my guess is that late tomorrow (Tuesday) would be the time to start looking at the migrant traps. And Wednesday a.m. would be my choice of birding days, as N winds nearing gale force tomorrow will make detection somewhat difficult at the traps.” This prediction is seconded by the migration-radar blog Badbirdz Reloaded: http://badbirdz2.wordpress.com/2014/04/14/weather-and-birds-ii/

Phil and Sandy Laipis found a Roseate Spoonbill loafing with Wood Storks at Paynes Prairie on the 12th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13882280724/

Andy Kratter continues to do his daily loon watch from Pine Grove Cemetery. This morning between 8:04 and 9:21 he recorded 47 Common Loons, as well as 5 Laughing Gulls, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Peregrine Falcon.

Becky Enneis in Alachua and Austin Gregg in Gainesville are hosting male Painted Buntings in their yards. The buntings are bound for breeding territories on the Atlantic coastal strip, so they won’t stay long, but what a great thing to see out your window! Austin wrote, “Eight feet to the right of the birdbath, in a leafy green viburnum, I noted the reddish looking tail end of a partially hidden bird. Hmmm, I thought, must be the male house finch … ho hum, but I’ll have a look anyway. Turned around and grabbed the binocs, looked in the bush. Gone. Then I just happened to glance back over to the birdbath and there, splashing away with the female cardinal was a male painted bunting in full breeding plumage! A lifer! I enjoyed good looks at this spectacular bird for at least 10 minutes.”

If you haven’t been to the La Chua Trail lately, I have some advice for you. Take boots: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/13781455393/

Greg McDermott sent me this handy chart that makes the identification of Empidonax flycatchers a breeze (thanks to Samuel Ewing for posting it): https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13829348215/

O friends, take care that you don’t step over the line to the Dark Side Of Birding: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/8569864/When-birdwatchers-go-bad-how-the-rise-of-wildlife-paparazzi-has-led-to-hide-rage.html

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

Gainesville City Naturalist Geoff Parks read the subject line of the last birding report and inquired, “Do you get your ‘springerie’ at Victorious Egret?” Geoff gets First Prize!

Phil Laipis and several other Gainesville birders visited Cedar Key on the 10th to see what was shaking. As a matter of fact, a lot was shaking. Phil wrote: “82 species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and 12 warbler species (Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler). Highs for me were the Wood Thrush, and the Louisiana Waterthrush wagging its bottom. First time I’ve seen that rotary motion and could compare it to the Northern Waterthrush’s ‘Spotted Sandpiper up-down wag’. Pat Burns spotted a male Cape May which I have no decent pictures of, and I might have seen a male Blackpoll Warbler, but did not get a long enough look to be positive. Windy, and all the birds seemed to be concentrated in town, not at the cemetery or the museum. We never looked hard for shorebirds, and Pat and I looked for the Yellow Rail reported in mid-January with, of course, no success.” Phil did manage to get a nice photo of a snake I’ve never seen, a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13766355403/

I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco Hammock this afternoon, the trails north of Millhopper Road. All the migrant warblers that Matt O’Sullivan and I found in the sandhill on the 8th were gone, and in fact I only saw one transient species, Worm-eating Warbler. But I saw five of those, including two that appeared to be engaged in a singing duel. Other good sightings: several Hooded Warblers, including a female who was putting the finishing touches on a perfect little nest; my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the spring (though they’ve been here since late March); and two female Eastern Towhees of the red-eyed (northern) race. I ran into Dalcio Dacol, who had seen an early Acadian Flycatcher along the Hammock Cutoff trail. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the trail in hopes of finding it, but I had no luck. (Of course “no luck” is relative, given that I spent several hours of a truly gorgeous day walking around San Felasco Hammock!)

Migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are showing up in residential areas, so watch your feeders. Adam Zions and Samuel Ewing saw them in their respective NW Gainesville back yards on the 10th.

While birding around his yard, Samuel also spotted the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in bird-banding code), one of my very favorite birds. This is a little early; in previous years the majority arrived during the last third of the month.

Scott Flamand saw two Canada Geese fly over Buchholz High School on the morning of the 10th. We don’t have a population of domestic or feral Canada Geese around here, at least as far as I know, but I doubt that they were wild. Wild Canada Geese are mostly a thing of the past in Florida. They used to be very common winter birds in the northern part of the state – a Fish and Game Commission waterfowl inventory tallied 47,000 of them in 1953! But now they spend the cold months farther north. I’ve been birding for 40 years and I’ve seen wild Canada Geese in Florida on only three occasions (feral birds are common in Jacksonville and Tallahassee). Anyway, if you see free-flying geese around here, please let me know.

The Alachua Audubon Society, like all Audubon Societies, avoids partisan politics, but I don’t think we’d be violating that principle if we were to congratulate our president, Helen Warren, on her victory in the City Commission election. Because of her new responsibilities, Helen will be leaving the Audubon board next month after several years. We thank you for your service, Helen, and we wish you well, but you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire….

Yes, I understand that this is the herpetological equivalent of a puppy video, and I acknowledge that my posting it is a symptom of creeping senility. And yet I cannot help myself. Be sure your audio is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds (I sent this to my son, who’s an infantry officer, and he declared, “I shall adopt his tactics for my own!”) (That’s funnier if you’ve seen the video.)

Additional springerie

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

There are two stages of life. Stage One is, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Stage Two is, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” When Samuel Ewing recently corrected my misidentification of a Cooper’s Hawk I realized that I have reached Stage Two. (Apologies to you whippersnappers who are too young to remember that advertising campaign. I’d bemoan the state of cultural literacy, if I weren’t so shocked by the realization that I consider advertising to be a part of cultural literacy….)

When that front was moving through Gainesville last night and this morning, it occurred to me that migrants might run into that weather and be forced down. I called Matt O’Sullivan to see if he was interested in going out to have a look, and he was. Our first stop was the Newberry area. I had an idea that we could check the fields around Watermelon Pond for grounded Upland Sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds. As it turned out, the road to Watermelon Pond was too mucky for my Camry, so we checked a nearby sod farm and some recently-plowed fields along SW 46th Avenue. It sure looked good, and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, three Common Ground-Doves, a White-winged Dove, and three Fox Squirrels, but no sandpipers. As the clouds broke up and the sun came out, we drove on to San Felasco Hammock (the Millhopper Road entrance, north side) to see if the rain had brought in any woodland migrants. It had. Although Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered everything else by five to one, we ended up with twelve warbler species, including five Prairie Warblers, an adult male American Redstart, an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and an adult male Cape May Warbler. There was quite a lot of bird activity there, including several newly-arrived Great Crested Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers. We figured that Palm Point should be pretty good as well, so we made the long drive across town, speculating that we’d find even more warblers, not to mention gulls and terns dropped in by the front. But Palm Point was devoid of birds, and scanning Newnans Lake we saw no gulls, no terns, nothing but cormorants and the occasional Osprey – though we did find three or four of the resident Prothonotary Warblers and a Limpkin farther down Lakeshore Drive.

Spring arrivals are increasing in number and variety. Over the past week or two, La Chua Trail has seen the arrival of (click on the hyperlinks for photos) Black-necked Stilt (over 30 have been seen at once!), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat (though the chat may have spent the winter).

Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th: “Slightly early; beautiful male, no song but gave occasional call note, which sounds like a shoe squeaking on a basketball court.”

On the morning of the 7th I went to La Chua in search of spring arrivals and found myself gawking at the season’s heaviest Common Loon migration. With about fifteen other birders I’d kicked off this year’s Loonacy at the US-441 observation platform on March 16th. We saw only four or five loons, all of them very far away, and I’m pretty sure that I discouraged everyone out there from any further loon watching. I wish they’d all been with me yesterday. I saw 57 birds, in 22 groups ranging in size from 1 to 9, and some of them were flying at surprisingly low altitudes. Here’s how it worked out, by ten-minute segments:

7:50-8:00   17 birds
8:00-8:10   5
8:10-8:20   21
8:20-8:30   1
8:30-8:40   5
8:40-8:50   0
8:50-9:00   2
9:00-9:10   5
9:10-9:20   1

Cedar Key sunrise was at 7:16 on the 7th, so the birds that I saw passed over Gainesville from 34 minutes after sunrise to nearly two hours after, suggesting a takeoff ranging from about half an hour before sunrise to an hour afterward. The flight peaked from 8:14 to 8:16, when I saw 17 birds in five groups.

Andy Kratter had an even better morning than I did: “It was giddy excitement and thrills at my loon census this morning. The loons started at 8:09 with two migrating far to the north, and in the next 95 minutes I recorded a near-constant stream of ones and twos and small groups (largest group = 18), for a total of 133 for the day, in 49 groups. Also had two White-winged Doves, a high flying migrant Belted Kingfisher, a migrant American Kestrel, and lots of the usual suspects. One of my best days ever loon watching.” And Samuel Ewing, watching from his NW Gainesville yard, tallied 33 loons between 8:32 and 9:11. Samuel got this picture of a migrating loon in flight on the 31st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13538401855/in/photostream/

The Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve has been relatively cooperative lately. Most of those who have been looking for it have found it. Walk out the Red-White Connector trail to the service road and turn left. When the trail forks, keep going straight (i.e., take the right fork) and look for the sign to the campground. Once at the campground, listen for a rapid drumming. You’ll probably have to set out from the campground and explore the woods to the north and northwest, but as I say most of those who have gone in search of this bird have found it. Here’s a nice picture by Samuel Ewing, showing the characteristic spike-like bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13648935265/in/photostream/

John Hintermister, Phil Laipis, and I motored out onto Lake Santa Fe on the 27th, hoping to relocate the two Black Scoters that Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn had found on the 20th. We found 220 Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, 32 Horned Grebes (some in breeding plumage), and 19 Common Loons – even the Pacific Loon! – but no scoters of any description. Learning that the Pacific Loon was still there, Adam went back on the 2nd to try for it again, and missed it again, but … “saw what was possibly a White-winged Scoter. The bird was so far away that I couldn’t say for sure, but it looked like a big black duck with white in the wings.”

Like all right-thinking people, I regularly check Katherine Edison’s blog. I especially like the posts that teach me the names of wildflowers: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ditch-is-back.html

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Osprey at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

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