Miscellaneous, including local birding update

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

I’m a sort of village idiot, fascinated by simple things. I always figured, for instance, that the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, would by definition have the latest sunrise and the earliest sunset. But no! The sun continues to rise later and later after the December 21st solstice, reaching its latest (7:26) from January 8th to January 12th. And the earliest sunset (5:30) occurs well before the solstice, from November 25th to December 8th. Although we’ve gained 50 minutes of daylight since the solstice, it’s all been at one end of the day; sunrise is only 9 minutes earlier, while sunset is 41 minutes later. Why does everything have to be so complicated?

With nesting season approaching, and already underway for a few species, Audubon Florida (formerly Florida Audubon Society, Audubon of Florida, etc.) has produced a short video called Tips for Successful Wildlife Photography.

Speaking of videos, Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge, in which our own Adam Kent participated this past December, is the subject of a Birding Adventures TV episode. Dan Lane, an LSU ornithologist of some reputation, is one of the other contestants. If you want to see Adam, he shows up at 1:11, 13:41, 18:47, and 20:32: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDnbyiI4x98&sns=em

The Sandhill Cranes are departing in big numbers. On the 10th Mercedes Panqueva saw migrating flocks over San Felasco’s Progress Center: “Tallied 1,613 by Lee Pond. Observation was between 1:04 and 4:04 PM. Most were large flocks (50-180) flying high but still catching thermals. At 2:43, as part of, but on the very edge of a flock of 184, one white crane that can only be a Whooping.” On the 11th John Erickson reported “at least 8,000″ flying north over the US-441 observation platform. Mike Manetz saw 1500 in a pasture a mile north of the platform this morning: “They may disperse in the area but given the weather I think we will have a lot of cranes grounded here for the next couple of days.”

The Rusty Blackbirds are still present at Magnolia Park: Matt O’Sullivan saw 11 on the 10th, and Samuel Ewing saw two and photographed one on the 12th. The Calliope Hummingbird was still present in High Springs on the 9th. The Bullock’s Oriole was still at the Goodmans’ place on the same day. Also on the 9th, Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan found two Lincoln’s Sparrows at La Chua (one beside the big pine near the entrance to Sparrow Alley, one at the end of the boardwalk at Alachua Sink), and Glenn Israel relocated the Northern Rough-winged Swallow and saw four Painted Buntings at the Hague Dairy. Hilda Bellot told me that she saw the Black-chinned Hummingbird at her NW Gainesville home on the morning of the 9th, but no one has reported it since; Matt O’Sullivan has gone looking for it twice without success.

Some kind of record

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

If you haven’t seen the Bullock’s Oriole and you plan to, let me ever-so-gently remind you of something I wrote in an earlier post: “Dotty Robbins told me that she went north from the Goodmans’ and around the corner, and from the street was able to see the bird in a tree in the back yard of the yellow house at 3736 NW 65th Place. If you go looking, please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house, as the wife works at night.” Evidently some birders read those sentences and took in the address, but not the part where I wrote, “please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house,” because they did, in fact, disturb the residents of the house, who were consequently upset. So don’t do that.

Fred Bassett’s visit on the 18th and 19th revealed that things around here are even crazier than we thought. While capturing and banding 14 hummingbirds, Fred discovered that, in addition to the Calliope in High Springs, in addition to the expected Rufouses (Fred banded 8) and Ruby-throateds (3) scattered here and there, that there’s a SECOND Calliope in town, at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house, and that Hilda Bellot is hosting a Black-chinned! That’s (consults fingers) four hummingbird species at once!

Glenn Price captured a nice video of the Calliope, which you can watch here. Calliope is a Florida Ornithological Society “review species,” so if you get to see it, please complete the rare bird form at the FOS web site: http://fosbirds.org/content/fos-bird-records-species-documentation

Hilda Bellot has given permission for birders to peer into her yard to see the Black-chinned Hummingbird. She lives near the big hill on NW 8th Avenue. From 8th turn south onto NW 21st Street. Go almost two blocks and pull to the right, onto the shoulder, just before you reach NW 7th Lane. Ms. Bellot’s house will be on your left (corner of 21st and 7th Lane), and right there, in the side yard, probably in view before you even get out of your car, is an arbor with two hummingbird feeders dangling from it. The Black-chinned has been coming to these feeders. Please stand in the street to wait for the bird; there’s not much traffic. If you want to see the purple gorget feathers you might try to visit in the afternoon to get the sun in your favor, but Fred dabbed a spot of bright pink dye on its crown, so you’re not likely to mistake it for the Rufous Hummingbird that’s also visiting the yard.

On the morning of the 17th Mike Manetz found a Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve. It’s frequenting the longleaf pine / turkey oak sandhill at the western end of the “red blaze trail,” marked R on the map here.

Okay, let’s review. These birds are all present in Alachua County right now:

1.   Bullock’s Oriole (please re-read the first paragraph of this report)
2.   Western Tanager (and maybe a second in Alachua!)
3.   Calliope Hummingbird (2 of them)
4.   Black-chinned Hummingbird
5.   Red-breasted Nuthatch
6.   Fox Sparrow (2)
7.   Snow Goose (3)
8.   White-faced Ibis
9.   Vermilion Flycatcher
10. Wilson’s Warbler
11. Painted Bunting (10!)
12. Common Goldeneye (2?)
13. Pine Siskin
14. Least Flycatcher
15. Rusty Blackbird (flock)
16. Hairy Woodpecker

There have been other remarkable sightings. A Summer Tanager is spending the winter at Adam and Gina Kent’s for the second or third year in a row. Frank and Irina Goodwin found a Blue Grosbeak along the Levy Lake Loop on the 12th. On the 17th Lloyd Davis found two Painted Buntings, a male and a female, in the weedy canal behind the parking area at the Hague dairy, and I know of at least eight others coming to local feeders. And on the 19th Adam Kent’s team found four Northern Waterthrushes along Cones Dike on the kids’ CBC. In case you are not inferring what I’m implying, it’s a really good winter to be a birdwatcher in Alachua County, maybe The Best Ever! Why are you sitting indoors at your computer, reading this?

On the 18th Adam Zions had one of the best days I’ve ever heard of at Cedar Key: “It was low tide as I arrived, and I figured the area should be popping with shore and wading birds. So I began at Bridge No. 4, as it’s always a good place to begin. A few groups of Bufflehead (everywhere in Cedar Key – I don’t think there was one spot I went to which didn’t at least have 2) were great to see. I was walking back along the north side of the bridge trying for either Clapper Rail or Nelson’s or Seaside Sparrows, but to no avail. Since it was peak low tide, I decided to go off the bridge and walk around some of the saltmarsh cordgrass and into the marsh not too far from where the bridge begins. After scaring up a Sedge Wren, I continued on and flushed a Yellow Rail!!! I almost stepped on the damn thing, as it flew up and nearly gave me a heart attack. There was no mistaking it. Short, stubby yellow bill, white wing patches, a smidge smaller than a Sora, and a mix of beige/dark brown scaled/barred plumage. It flew and landed only a few feet away, so I headed over to the spot quickly to see if I could relocate it and possible get a photo of it. Apparently the rail had other plans and I couldn’t flush it again. I tried playing some call recordings, but it didn’t want to respond to it. So the day was already off to a banging start. I pretty much checked most of the areas out to see what was there. Other highlights included a trifecta of scoters at the pier (Black, White-winged, and 7 Surf), 2 Nelson’s Sparrows (one at the airport and the other at Shell Mound), 7 Roseate Spoonbills, and 25+ American Avocets at Shell Mound.”

Fred Bassett is coming back through town on the 22nd. If you’ve got a hummingbird visiting your feeder regularly and you’d like him to band it, let me know and I’ll pass your request along to Fred.

Have you got your tickets to the Backyard Birding Tour yet? Well dang, what’s the matter with you? http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

A Bullock’s Oriole! Did you hear me? A BULLOCK’S ORIOLE!

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

The Bullock’s Oriole continues to visit the Goodmans’ back yard. I arrived at 8:15 on Sunday morning, and was surprised when Leigh Larsen was the only other person to show up. The Bullock’s took its sweet time arriving – I waited an hour and forty minutes – but when it got there at 9:55 it stuck around for nearly half an hour, mostly investigating withered leaves in the big sweetgum tree in the back yard just south of the Goodmans’. On Tuesday morning several birders went to see it – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, Will Sexton, Bob Carroll, Becky Enneis, and Jonathan Mays – and the oriole obliged again, at the feeder at 9:00 and 10:00, and then again close to noon in an oak tree down the street. Mike got a photo, and Jonathan got two.

Now listen to me, brothers and sisters. Bullock’s Oriole is native to the American West. On those rare occasions when one strays to Florida, it’s usually a female, which can be extremely difficult to distinguish from a pale female Baltimore. An adult male, especially one this beautiful, is a rare thing. How rare? I’ve compiled all the published records, and adult males have been seen only three times in Alachua County: in 1963, in 1979, and right now. Look at those pictures again. How long has it been since you saw a bird that beautiful? So get yourselves over to the Goodmans’ house in Mile Run, brothers and sisters. Park at the curb and take one of the chairs they’ve set up on the right (south) side of the house. And hope it shows up. This is a great bird.

Speaking of great birds, what were the best Alachua County birds of 2013? Adam Zions came up with a top ten (“in no particular order”) and ten more that he thought worthy of mention:

Ross’s Goose
Pacific Loon
White-faced Ibis
Swainson’s Hawk
Groove-billed Ani
Alder Flycatcher
Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
Bell’s Vireo
Kirtland’s Warbler
Nelson’s Sparrow

Honorable Mentions perhaps:

Dunlin
Wilson’s Phalarope
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Swainson’s Warbler
Canada Warbler
Western Tanager
Dickcissel
Bronzed Cowbird

Adam concludes, “I think it just goes to show how great a year we experienced last year in Alachua (how does the Vermilion not crack this Top 10???). Even with water levels around the county finally getting closer to normal, we still had a wealth of avifauna arrive on our doorstep. I know my top 3 would be the Kirtland’s Warbler, Pacific Loon, and Bell’s Vireo. I could switch the loon and vireo positions, but I just don’t think any species could oust the Kirtland’s from the #1 position. Sadly I really wanted to add in the Swainson’s Hawk as a possible tie for 3rd place as it only seems appropriate.”

So what do y’all think? Send me your top ten, and I’ll compile the votes.

Rarity update: Has anyone looked for the three Brown Pelicans at Bivens Arm? The Rusty Blackbirds were still at Magnolia Parke late this afternoon. On the afternoon of the 5th, while scoping off Palm Point, I saw 5 Horned Grebes and 3 juvenile Herring Gulls.

Someone posted a photo of a Snowy Owl on the Alachua County Birders Facebook page today, claiming that he’d taken it at Morningside Nature Center. Geoff Parks showed it to his wife, who suggested that he do a Google image search on “Snowy Owl” and see if that photo came up. Oddly enough, it did, in the blog of a Minnesota birder (fourth picture down): http://ecobirder.blogspot.com/2007/11/snowy-owl-at-tamarack-nature-center.html  It’s actually a pretty good practical joke, but birders don’t have a sense of humor about things like this!

Alachua Audubon will be sponsoring a Kids’ Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, January 18th. Details here.

Last call for the Christmas Count

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

Adam Kent was invited to compete in Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge this month as part of a three-man team sponsored by Surbound Expeditions. There were six teams, and Surbound tied for second place, amassing 455 species in six days, about as many as I have on my entire life list. So, children, if you’re good, and you eat your vegetables, and you study your bird vocalizations, especially the Furnariidae, the Tyrannidae, and the Thamnophilidae, you can grow up big and strong and one day maybe you’ll be invited to join Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge!

On the 6th Benjamin Ewing found two female Common Goldeneyes in the pond behind the Harn Museum (note that there are two ponds behind the museum, one near the intersection of 34th and Hull and one nearer the building; the birds are in the latter). Both were still present on the 12th, when Matt Bruce got this picture.

Andy Kratter has a Fox Sparrow in his SE Gainesville neighborhood for the fifth year in a row: “Park at Boulware Springs Park off SE 15th Street, walk north on the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, pass the entrance to Sweetwater Preserve (on your left), and about 100 yards further on the right (east) is a dirt track. Go down about 75 yards and see the beer can (Natty Lite tall boy) on a stick. Look here. There were a few towhees, White-throated and Chipping Sparrows as well. I scattered some seed there later this morning. There is a lot of habitat in this area, and the bird will probably be hard to find.”

Maralee Joos told me that she found a Wilson’s Warbler at Lake Alice on the 4th, on the wooden platform at the end of the boardwalk leading from the University Gardens to the platform overlooking the lake.

The Rusty Blackbirds are still being seen in the wetland behind Magnolia Parke, most recently on the 12th. On the 8th Graham Williams got an excellent photo and a video.

And the Snow Goose was seen again on the 12th at the UF Beef Teaching Unit fields on SW 23rd Street. Unfortunately the Ross’s Goose hasn’t been seen since the 3rd.

Gainesville’s 56th Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday and the twelve teams are pretty much ready to go. However there are two smaller Counts coming up in the next week, so contact the compilers if you can lend them your (no doubt considerable) talents:

Tuesday, December 17th – Ichetucknee / O’Leno / Santa Fe – compiler Ginger Morgan ginger.morgan@dep.state.fl.us

Thursday, December 19th – Melrose – compiler Jim Swarr jhschwarr@gmail.com

Speaking of the Christmas Bird Count, are any of you who live in Gainesville or immediately to the south hosting any good birds in your yards right now? Any hummingbirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, Painted Buntings, Pine Siskins, flocks of Baltimore Orioles, that sort of thing? Let me know and we’ll send a team to check it out on Sunday.

Ross’s Goose AND Snow Goose! Plus, Rusty Blackbirds!

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

Remember that Alachua Audubon’s Holiday Social and Silent Auction will be held this Friday evening, beginning at 6:30: “Celebrate conservation, birds, and the holidays with the Alachua Audubon Society! This festive event will include hors d’oeuvres, beverages, and a silent auction—one of our important annual fund raising events. This year our holiday party will be held at the Mill Pond Clubhouse. Directions: From Newberry Road, turn south on NW 48th Blvd (across from Gainesville Health and Fitness Center) and go about 2 blocks. Look for tennis courts on the right. The Clubhouse is next to the tennis courts. Look for the Alachua Audubon signs.” Map, with the clubhouse marked, here.

And there will be two field trips this weekend, a La Chua Trail walk on Saturday and a trip to Circle B Bar Ranch in Polk County on Sunday. Details here.

A Snow Goose has joined the Ross’s Goose at the UF Beef Unit. Barbara Shea was the first to mention it to me, on the morning of December 1st, and later that day Jonathan Mays got this photo. Danny Shehee saw both birds on the morning of the 3rd, but they were gone by the time I visited early in the afternoon. I expect they’ll be back … but your takeaway lesson here is: Go in the morning if you want to see them.

Mike Manetz spotted a single Rusty Blackbird at Magnolia Parke on the 1st: “Just got back from San Felasco Park. Tons of Ruby-crowned Kinglets but no Golden-crowned Kinglets or Brown Creepers. Before that I hit Magnolia Parke and scored a Rusty Blackbird. There may be more, hard to tell. This one was sitting on a snag singing (if you can call it a song), visible from the back of the parking lot where you and I and Adam Zions got several last year. A big flock of Red-wings flew in and it ducked down into the swamp.” Mike was correct that there were more; Adam Zions looked in the next day and found a dozen. On the 3rd Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing saw nine, and Samuel got a photo.

John Hintermister found a lingering Yellow Warbler on 1 December at La Chua and snapped a picture. We’ve had them as late as the end of December in the past, but never in January or February, so I assume they’ve been late migrants rather than wintering birds.

Speaking of photos, we have a lot of greatly gifted photographers around here. I didn’t know Wade Kincaid until he contacted me last week, but he’s obviously one of the best. Check out his picture of the female Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been hanging out at the end of the La Chua Trail for about two months now: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sefferdog/11121073443/  And then look at this and this and this (yes, I enjoy odd perspectives, why do you ask?) and this.

Any of you Alachua County birders have any hummingbirds coming to feeders? Not plants, feeders? And if so, would you like them banded? Let me know.

I look forward to seeing you at Alachua Audubon’s Holiday Social and Silent Auction on Friday. We’re only inviting the cool kids, so don’t mention it to anybody else!

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!