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

Weekend update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Annual June Challenge Party!

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

Remember, please please remember: If I don’t get your June Challenge total by midnight on the 30th, you can’t win. The list should be in this form: “(ABA-countable birds including Mallard and Whooping Crane) + (non-ABA-countable birds like Graylag Goose, Black Swan, and the Yellow-fronted Amazon at Scott Flamand’s house) = Total.” In other words, if I saw 75 native species plus the Black Swan and Graylag Goose at the Duck Pond, my total would be 75 + 2 = 77. Any questions? Email me.

We’ll be announcing the June Challenge winners and giving the prizes during The June Challenge Party at Becky Enneis’s house at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 1st. Bring a potluck dish (Becky will provide drinks), and a lawn chair if you have one. IF YOU’RE GOING TO THE PARTY – and if you did The June Challenge, you should – RSVP TO ME. Like, right now. Directions to Becky’s: From Gainesville take US-441 north to Alachua. Turn left at the first traffic light (County Road 235/241, also known as NW 140th Street) and come down to NW 147th Avenue (Ayurveda Health Retreat on the corner). Turn right, go about six blocks, and just after NW 148th Place, turn right into Becky’s driveway. Map is here, with Becky’s house marked with a blue inverted teardrop, but you’ll have to zoom in for details.

This could be a close contest. The winner will be the person who has gone out of his or her way to get night birds and taken advantage of tips for uncommon species like Blue-winged Teal and American Coot, and maybe lucked into something unexpected like a Tree Swallow or a Caspian Tern or a Greater Yellowlegs. If there’s a tie, we’ll see who has the most ABA-non-countable birds, so don’t disdain Graylag Goose, Black Swan, and that Yellow-fronted Amazon. Remember also that Louisiana Waterthrush has been recorded as early as June 24th, Black-and-white Warbler as early as June 25th, and Lesser Yellowlegs as early as June 28th. The month ain’t over.

John Hintermister and I had a great time circumnavigating Newnans Lake on the 25th, leaving from the Windsor boat ramp at 8:45, going counter-clockwise around the lake, and getting back to Windsor four hours later. We did NOT see a single American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, gull, or tern. However we did see a Belted Kingfisher, a pair of Ruddy Ducks, two drake Lesser Scaup, and a breeding-plumage Horned Grebe, the county’s first record for June! I doubt you could find the Ruddies or the grebe without a boat, but the scaup were just south of the Windsor boat ramp and the kingfisher was at Palm Point.

Miscellaneous birds you can look for, if you’ve got the time and the inclination:

Howard Adams saw 3 Roseate Spoonbills and a Whooping Crane from the La Chua observation platform on the 22nd, and heard two King Rails in the vicinity, “one by the platform the other near the last bench on La Chua.”

On the 23rd Frank Goodwin found an Eastern Wood-Pewee at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve.

The Barn Owls and Black-crowned Night-Herons are still being seen from the US-441 observation platform. Matt and Erin Kalinowski saw one owl on the 25th (Linda Hensley saw 2 on the 22nd, the night of the full moon), and John Hintermister saw 3 Black-crowned Night-Herons on the 24th.

Hairy Woodpeckers seem to be resident at LEAFS south of Waldo. Adam Zions saw a pair on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted a female on the 23rd.

For any UF students doing the Challenge, Austin Gregg says that a pair of Northern Flickers are seen regularly at the Diamond Village playground.

John Hintermister told me that he added Broad-winged Hawk to his June Challenge list by driving down Poe Springs Road (County Road 340) just south of High Springs. The bird flew over the road at the eastern border of Poe Springs Park.

Ron Robinson, Ria Leonard, and I went looking for owls on the evening of the 24th. Standing near the Watermelon Pond boat ramp we spotted a Great Horned Owl perched out in the open, and although we had to give up on the Newberry Cemetery because of the rain, we dropped by Linda Holt’s house, where we lured an Eastern Screech-Owl into the open and had a brief conversation with it. Adam Zions saw a Great Horned being harassed by Brown-headed Nuthatches at Morningside on the 23rd and got a picture of the owl.

Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn found a pair of American Kestrels and a Loggerhead Shrike at the Gainesville Raceway on County Road 225 on the 23rd.

Good luck! Remember to get your totals to me by midnight on the 30th!

I’m late in learning about the online “Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Florida,” which is already a year and a half old. It features nice photos of all of Florida’s reptiles and amphibians with detailed distributional maps: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/atlas/FinalReportKryskoEngeMolerAtlasofAmphibiansandReptilesinFlorida08013.pdf

Fun Fact: The Wimbledon tennis tournament employs a Harris’s Hawk: http://news.yahoo.com/rufus-hawk-clears-wimbledon-record-crowds-queue-104323564.html Thanks to Carol Huang for the link!

For the rain it raineth every day

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

The last few days’ weather has brought us some exceptional birding.

On the 3rd it rained warblers. Jonathan Mays, working on the north rim of Paynes Prairie, saw 14 species, some in relatively large numbers. His best were a Chestnut-sided Warbler, only the second or third spring record for the county, and a Tennessee, almost as rare at this season. The others included 24 (!) American Redstarts, 12 Blackpoll Warblers, 2 Black-throated Greens, 3 Cape Mays, and 3 Black-throated Blues. Mike Manetz, birding nearer the La Chua trailhead, saw ten warbler species, including three singing Yellow-breasted Chats. And Andy Kratter, splitting his time between Pine Grove Cemetery and Palm Point, saw twelve warbler species (plus a Cliff Swallow at Palm Point). All together, Jonathan, Mike, and Andy totaled 18 warbler species on the 3rd. And the warblerpalooza continued through the 4th, when Adam Zions and Jonathan Mays found a Black-throated Green along Bellamy Road, and Adam later counted thirteen Black-throated Blues at Ring Park.

Surprisingly, Jonathan’s Tennessee wasn’t the only one this spring. Andy Kratter saw three (!) at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 1st, and one of them stuck around till the next day.

On the 4th Mike Manetz wrote, “I ran into John Hintermister and Debbie Segal and we decided to try the Hague Dairy. It rained the entire time there, but we got 2 Semipalmated Plovers and 2 Least Sandpipers at the dirt field just east of Silo Pond. At the Lagoon we had 31 Least Sandpipers and 2 Semipalmated Sandpipers. Also present were 6 Solitary Sandpipers and 3 Spotteds. The Bronzed Cowbird is still there!! We saw it in one of the barns with a few Brown-headeds. White-rumped Sandpipers should be there any day.” (White-rumpeds are already being seen in Jacksonville as well as South Florida.) A little later in the day Dean and Samuel Ewing read Mike’s report of the Bronzed on eBird and drove out to the dairy, where Samuel got a photo.

A couple of lingering falcons have been reported. Adam Zions saw a Merlin at the Hague Dairy on the 4th, while Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at Watermelon Pond on the 3rd.

Jonathan Mays photographed a Brown Pelican over Newnans Lake on the 2nd.

Barbara Knutson of Ft. White (Columbia County) had a male Western Tanager at her place from the 27th to the 30th. Unfortunately I learned about it on the 30th.

Tina Greenberg photographed a male Painted Bunting that visited her home at the western edge of Gainesville on the 2nd and 3rd.

Linda Hensley’s NW Gainesville yard, which is hosting a couple of Gray Catbirds that may be nesting, also attracted a male Purple Finch on the afternoon of the 3rd. It’s not the only winter bird lingering around town. On the 4th Caleb Gordon saw two American Goldfinches in NW Gainesville, and later the same day John Hintermister saw Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, and Bonaparte’s Gulls at Newnans Lake.

 

Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe!

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

Something to put on your calendar: At the next Alachua Audubon program meeting Brenda Springfield and her husband John Sivinski will give a presentation on “Humming and other Birds in the Highlands of Ecuador,” describing and sharing photos of the beautiful hummingbirds, tanagers, barbets, Potoo, Cock-of-the-rock, and other birds they encountered in the cloud forest of the Andean foothills. Join us at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12th, in the meeting room of the Millhopper Branch Library at 3145 NW 43rd Street.

It had occurred to me a couple of months ago that regular boat surveys of our larger lakes – Newnans, Orange, Lochloosa, and Santa Fe – might yield some interesting results, and when I mentioned this to John Hintermister (who, unlike me, actually has a boat), he liked the idea a lot. We made our first attempt on January 29th, when John, Mike Manetz, and I headed out onto Newnans Lake in hopes of seeing two Red Phalaropes that Caleb Gordon had reported on the 27th. We’d made it to the middle of the lake when the motor died, and as the wind was pushing us farther and farther south we had to start paddling back immediately and didn’t get to do any birding. John got the motor repaired, and this morning we decided to check out Lake Santa Fe. We saw Buffleheads and Ruddy Ducks and Horned Grebes, and lured Bonaparte’s and Ring-billed Gulls right up to the boat with bread. As we were doing this, a little flotilla of Common Loons approached, perhaps curious to know if the gulls had been attracted by a school of tasty fish. As they swam and dove around the boat, barking like puppies, we noticed that one of the loons looked a little different – smaller, with a thinner bill. We were intrigued by the possibility that it might be a Pacific Loon, and we wanted to follow it. But … the motor died. John almost wore himself out pulling the cord to get it started again, and went so far as to call Bob Wallace, in hopes that a county life bird would draw him and his boat out to the lake, and he could tow us back in, but he was in South Carolina. Meanwhile the loons had moved off to the north and we were coming to grips with the notion that a first county record was slipping away from us. I had picked up an oar to start the long trip back, when the motor – due, no doubt, to sheer verbal intimidation from John – started up again. “Do we want to chance it?” John asked, and receiving a unanimous and emphatic YES in response, we took off after the birds. Once we found them along the north shore, we concentrated on getting photos of the odd one, and documenting the thin bill, rounded crown, smooth line of demarcation between black and white on the neck, and dark necklace, of Alachua County’s first-ever Pacific Loon. We posted four photos; the first one is here, with the others following. I’m afraid this is an impossible bird to see if you don’t have a boat. Even with a boat, we had to get pretty close to see its field marks. Maybe some generous birder who owns a boat could take interested persons out to see the loon this weekend. If you are that generous birder, contact me and I’ll publicize it in a birding report.

As of two months ago the official Alachua County bird list stood at 353 species. If you’d asked me, I’d have assured you that additions to the list would come very slowly indeed. But on December 16th we added #354, Black Scoter; on January 6th we added #355, Bell’s Vireo; and one month later, to the day, we added #356, Pacific Loon. It’s a little mind-boggling.

A flock of 40-50 Rusty Blackbirds were seen “at fairly close range” at the SE corner of the Levy Lake trail by Chris Burney and several others attending the Barr Hammock opening on the 2nd. Mike Manetz, Jonathan Mays, and I went looking for them on the 6th, without success. But we kept walking along the dike trail for about two and a half miles, and our hard work had its reward when Jonathan spotted a Least Flycatcher about 1.75 miles out. As Mike said, it was the only place along the trail where you might be able to make a Y-turn with your car, a grassy little inlet on the marsh side of the trail surrounded by weeds and saplings. The bird was very active and vocal. Jonathan tried to get some photos, which he’ll hopefully post at his Flickr site (which is worth looking at even if he doesn’t post the Least Flycatcher photos).

By the way, the Rusty Blackbirds at Barr Hammock aren’t the only ones around. On the 4th Geoff Parks saw two at Possum Creek Park, which is on NW 53rd Avenue just east of NW 43rd Street.

And speaking of the Barr Hammock opening, if you weren’t there you should watch this video from WUFT, not because it gives a good idea of what the place looks like – it doesn’t – but because it stars one of Alachua County’s best birders, Lloyd Davis: http://www.wuft.org/news/2013/02/05/alachua-county-preserve-hosts-grand-opening/

The Groove-billed Ani is still being seen along the fenceline trail at La Chua, as are the Yellow-breasted Chats. Both birds were observed by a Duval Audubon field trip on the 3rd, and Steven Shaddix was able to get a photo of the chat: http://www.flickr.com/photos/78982646@N04/8444713420/in/photostream/

Isn’t it appalling, the way spring is so predictable? The same springy thing, every year. Caleb Gordon saw the first Purple Martins of the season, two of them, flying over his NW Gainesville home on January 26th, and Carmine Lanciani saw another near I-75 and 39th Avenue on the 31st. Several Ospreys are back at their nests and paired up. Gina Kent heard a Yellow-throated Warbler singing at her SE Gainesville home on January 30th, and Geoff Parks heard a Northern Parula singing at San Felasco Park on February 5th. Both birds normally start singing during the last week of February, but before we start drawing any conclusions about spring being unusually far advanced we’d have to hear more of them singing in the next two weeks – so let me know if you do.

Another sign of spring is the arrival of the first Swallow-tailed Kites in Florida, usually during the second week of February. The company that Gina Kent works for, the Avian Research and Conservation Institute, has been doing research on Swallow-taileds for fifteen years, and during that time they’ve fitted out several birds with satellite-tracking harnesses. I was under the impression that most Swallow-taileds migrated into Florida via Cuba and SW Florida, but Gina tells me that all of the birds they’re tracking fly from Yucatan directly north to the Mobile area and then east to Florida. But then all the birds they’re tracking are still in Brazil, so maybe they’re just a bunch of slackers.

A request: if you know of anyone in Alachua County who keeps captive waterfowl, please let me know.

Some mornings when we go birding, Mike Manetz pulls up to the curb, and I walk out and open the door of his truck and suddenly I hear this weird bird call. I stop short, and look up in the trees, and then remember: Mike is playing a Costa Rican bird song tape, in preparation for another tour. Mike has been on birding trips to Costa Rica eight times, the last two as a tour leader. He’s leading his third trip this June. He writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at http://birdsandconservation.weebly.com/  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.

See you at the Audubon program meeting on the 12th!

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.

Vermilion Flycatcher, early waxwings, and other good birds

(Sorry for the delay on some of these reports. This week I’ve been house-sitting for a friend who doesn’t have internet access.)

John Hintermister found a female Vermilion Flycatcher near the La Chua Trail observation platform on the 8th. It was one of three great birds he found on his walk (59 species overall). The others were a Lincoln’s Sparrow “just southwest of the barn” and a Clay-colored Sparrow “on Sweetwater Dike just past the first turn going west and before the big cypress tree.” If you go looking for these, keep an eye out for a first-fall male Yellow-headed Blackbird seen by Irina Goodwin along Sweetwater Dike on the 4th.

John Martin found some great birds at the Hague Dairy on the 4th. He scared up a Henslow’s Sparrow near the “twin ponds” south of the main driveway, and he got an extended video of a gorgeous male Yellow-headed Blackbird among the Brown-headed Cowbirds on the roof of one of the animal buildings (click on the little gear-looking icon that says “Change quality” and choose “Original,” then select “Full screen” to see this at its best).

Neither of these birds was found during Alachua Audubon’s field trip to the dairy on the 3rd, but Mike Manetz reported, “Got good scope looks at Vesper, Savannah, and Swamp Sparrows, plus Sedge Wren. Best was Merlin perched for several minutes in scope for lots of oohs and aahs, especially from me!” (The Merlin was #251 in Alachua County this year for Mike. If you want to see how that stands compared to previous Big Years for Alachua County, go here.)

Cedar Waxwings usually start showing up in Gainesville during the second half of December. It’s rare to see them before that. But this year there have been several sightings already. Adam and Gina Kent saw the first one at their SE Gainesville home on the 3rd. On the 4th they visited the wetland behind the Magnolia Parke commercial complex and found a flock of 30, while Felicia Lee recorded 5 at the La Chua Trail.

Gina Kent saw a Pine Siskin at her feeder on the 7th; it could be the harbinger of an irruption, or it could be lost. American Goldfinches are starting to arrive as well. On the 5th Gina saw one her feeder, Jonathan Mays saw one at Paynes Prairie, and Bob Wallace saw one at his place south of Alachua, and there have been a handful of reports almost every day since then.

Common Loons are also starting to show up, pretty much on schedule. Dean Ewing saw the first of the fall in a retention pond near Chiefland on the 29th, Samuel Ewing saw three over Newberry on the 5th, and county biologist Susie Hetrick and I saw one (plus three Ruddy Ducks) on Lake Alto on the 9th.

Last June, Bob Carroll retired from a distinguished and successful 40-year career as an educator. Not long afterward he received an advertisement in the mail for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. Since he had never been birding in Texas, it struck him that registering for the festival would make a darned good retirement gift to himself. He left early this week, and you can accompany him on his adventure through The Magical Power of the Inter-Net, because he’s described three of his adventures on his blog at http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

The field trip on the 10th goes to the Hamilton County phosphate mines, the one on the 17th goes to Cedar Key. According to Dale Henderson, Cedar Key is a veritable hotbed of Red-breasted Nuthatches this fall. She writes that she is “seeing and hearing Red-breasted Nuthatches daily. There may be a dozen or more. Near the air strip, cemetery, and down closer to my house, and also in the museum and vicinity.” In addition, Dale saw a flock of 25 Snow Geese and had a Pine Siskin at her feeder. Field trip schedule: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/aud/calendar.htm

The Cedar Key Christmas Bird Count will be held on Thursday, January 3rd (not December 27th as “The Crane” says). If you’re interested in participating, email Ron Christen at ronrun@embarqmail.com or call him at 850-567-0490. The Gainesville CBC will be held on Sunday, December 16th, and if you want to join us you should contact John Hintermister at jhintermister@gmail.com

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