Spring migration underway, plus continuing rarities

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

Over the past couple of years Mike Manetz has been dividing his time between Alachua County and Charlotte County on the southwest coast. Down in Charlotte he managed to infect some of the local birders with county-listing fever. Three of them in particular – Jeff Bouton, Dennis Peacock, and Brant Julius – have joined Mike in exploring the nooks and crannies of Charlotte County and in vying to see the most species in one year. Due to their high-spirited competitiveness Jeff has bestowed the title of “The Beasts of Birdin'” on the quartet. On March 1st I had the opportunity to go birding with three-quarters of The Beasts: Dennis and Brant drove up to Alachua County so Mike could show them some birds they don’t get to see in Charlotte, and I was invited along.

We started the day at Tuscawilla Prairie, where we hoped to find the Le Conte’s Sparrow discovered there on February 6th. We spent about an hour walking back and forth along the edge of the marsh before Dennis shouted that he’d seen a sparrow in the wet grass at the base of a small tree. He’d played a Henslow’s song, which it ignored, and then a Le Conte’s song, to which it seemed to respond. We all gathered around the tree and the bird flew up into a low branch – and it was a Henslow’s. It was not a bird we’d expected to see (though they’ve occurred there in the past), and it was a lifer for Brant. After a round of high fives we continued birding along the edge – getting a look at a Virginia Rail creeping along in an inch of water – and had all but given up when a sparrow flushed from the short dry grass halfway between the marsh and the live oaks. I could see its orange head as it fluttered up, and sure enough it was the Le Conte’s. It landed in a small oak, and stayed put for twenty or thirty seconds before dropping to the ground again. Another lifer for Brant, and the first time in my 40 years of birding that I’ve seen both Henslow’s and Le Conte’s in a single day.

From there we drove on to the Goodmans’ in NW Gainesville to see the male Bullock’s Oriole present for its third winter in a row. We walked around the block and eventually located a flock of six or eight Baltimore Orioles across the street from the Goodmans’ house that contained the Bullock’s. Lifer #3 for Brant.

We went on to Magnolia Parke, where a flock of about 35 Rusty Blackbirds was feeding in a parking lot just south of the big lawn. Lifer #4 for Brant.

From there it was on to the Hague Dairy. Mike signed us in while we parked Dennis’s truck, and as he came walking back to join us he spied the Lark Sparrow singing at the top of an oak tree. The Greater White-fronted Goose was equally cooperative, and we ran into Matt O’Sullivan, who pointed out an American Redstart that has wintered in the swampy area behind the parking lot.

So it was an absurdly good day. We found every bird we’d hoped to find, and still had a little time left over, so we went to a NW Gainesville neighborhood where Sam Ewing had recently reported Golden-crowned Kinglets. Here, at last, we failed to find our quarry, though Dennis thought he heard one calling. We were done by 1:00, and The Beasts of Birdin’ went home with a truck full of lifers, state birds, and Alachua County birds.

(Golden-crowned Kinglets haven’t left yet. Jonathan Mays saw two of them at San Felasco Hammock on the 1st: “Located north of Millhopper Road along the ‘Hammock Cutoff’ trail just east of its intersection with the yellow-blazed trail. First heard giving their high ‘seet, seet, seet’ calls, one on each side of trail. Was able to pish both in to confirm ID … small-sized, striped faces, one showed orangeish crown well.”)

Speaking of The Beasts of Birdin’, the one who didn’t join us yesterday, Jeff Bouton, used to be the official hawk counter at the Cape May Hawk Watch. He has just posted a very helpful and well-illustrated post on telling the difference between Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks that includes a few bits of information not mentioned in field guides: http://blog.leica-birding.com/advanced-id-tip-sharp-shinned-or-coopers/

And speaking of hawks, the county’s first Swallow-tailed Kites of the spring, four of them, arrived on March 1st, but I’m going to send out the details, as well as an interesting correspondence with kite biologist Ken Meyer, in another birding report.

On the 28th the Audubon field trip had a Northern Parula at the Windsor boat ramp and Andy Kratter had another in his SE Gainesville yard, but both were silent. However on the 1st there were *six separate reports* submitted to eBird, including two that specified singing birds (Debbie Segal at Barr Hammock and Jonathan Mays at San Felasco Hammock). So I think the Northern Parulas have arrived. There were a few sightings during the winter, as is usually the case, but the ones sighted this weekend were spring migrants.

I took an Oxford zoologist out to Paynes Prairie on the 27th and, after an hour’s wait at the edge of the sheet flow site, was able to show him his life Limpkin. While we were out there we saw some extraordinarily early Barn Swallows and on the walk back we saw a couple of extraordinarily late Purple Martins.

Time for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to start showing up. A few of them spent the winter at local feeders, but the first migrant males should be arriving any day now. Yellow-throated Vireos and Northern Rough-winged Swallows should also be here soon.

In late winter Yellow-rumped Warblers generally leave the treetops and start feeding on the ground. We noticed flocks of them foraging in the grass at both the Windsor boat ramp and Powers Park during the Audubon field trip on the 28th.

Bill Pranty and Tony Leukering have posted a well-illustrated paper on identifying Mottled Duck x Mallard hybrids. The paper starts off with a quiz – how many of these are pure Mottleds and how many are hybrids? – and goes on from there. Not a bad idea, to quiz yourself and find out how much you already know. And the paper will help you to distinguish Mottled x Mallard hybrids (“Muddled Ducks”) from pure Mottled Ducks in case that becomes a major problem here, as it is farther south: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/wp-content/uploads/sites/55/eBird_Muddled_Ducks.pdf

If you see our local Whooping Crane – or any other, for that matter – report it here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm Don’t assume that any Whooping Crane that you see is the same one that has wintered at the Beef Teaching Unit. Be sure to note which color bands are on which legs. By the way, the Beef Teaching Unit bird seems to be on the move. On the 28th its tracking devices showed it at Watermelon Pond in the county’s SW corner.

Lingering rarities! Time-limited offer! Get ’em before they’re gone!

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

I think we’re spoiled around here. Any one of these birds would have been big news when I was a-comin’ up (the days when binoculars were gasoline powered, and we had to start them by turning a crank in the front), and here we’ve got at least half a dozen first-class rarities around town. I don’t know what we’re going to do if things ever go back to normal. We’ll have to start birding in other counties! Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. Anyway….

The Lark Sparrow at the Hague Dairy was sighted on the 15th by Bryan Tarbox. Jonathan Mays got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/16290832548/

The Bullock’s Oriole at the Goodmans’ house was most recently reported (by Steve Goodman) on the 12th. Out-of-towner Nathan Langwald got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/soniknate/15862400884/

The Rusty Blackbirds of Magnolia Parke are still there as well. Brook Rohman saw 30 on the 14th, and Trina Anderson got a photo on the 6th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/15838917233/

I saw four high-flying flocks of Sandhill Cranes totalling around 250 birds going north over my NE Gainesville home early on the afternoon of the 16th. Jonathan Mays saw about 50 at the UF Beef Teaching Unit at lunchtime on the same day, and the Whooping Crane was among them.

Lloyd Davis photographed the Le Conte’s Sparrow at Tuscawilla Prairie on the 9th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16553233945/ It’s been a cooperative bird, showing itself almost daily; at least a dozen birders have seen it so far. From the parking area, cross the street to the informational kiosk and then bear left, following the trail down to where the live oaks give out. But then leave the trail and walk straight out into the grass until the ground gets soggy. Turn right and walk along that soggy edge, keeping your eyes open, until off to your right, at the woods’ edge, you see “two cabbage palms with extensive trunkage, the one on the left adorned with vines, and the one on the right without” (thanks, Adam Zions!). The bird has been seen consistently along the soggy edge opposite those palms. It’s been showing well, as the Brits put it, so there’s need to stomp around in the grass and ruin its habitat in order to get a look at it.

Good birds continue to be seen at the sheetflow restoration site, generally by those with special access for one reason or another or those who sneak in the back way on Sunday, when no one is working there. Debbie Segal photographed two White-faced Ibises there on the 10th, while on the 8th Matt O’Sullivan documented a Red-breasted Merganser, rarely seen in Alachua County, and two Long-billed Dowitchers, which have been tough to find during the last two winters. (On the 5th the City Commission took actions that will probably delay opening the sheetflow restoration site until October at the earliest. Debbie Segal is trying to arrange monthly field trips through GRU until it opens permanently.)

Lloyd Davis saw three Snow Geese flying over the La Chua Trail on the 14th.

Harry Jones saw a wintering Summer Tanager along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on the 9th: “It was perched in a large fruiting tree in someone’s backyard on the left side of the trail (if heading towards Paynes Prairie). I believe it is the last house before the Paynes Prairie gate and the turnoff for the Sweetwater Overlook. The bird was perched at the top of the tree (something plum if I remember correctly) with a large flock of robins and yellow-rumps. I saw it fly over the trail towards Paynes Prairie.”

Spring is already here for some birds. Deena Mickelson got this photo of a Mourning Dove sitting on eggs on the UF campus on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121307268@N08/16235049360/

The Third Thursday Retirees’ Birding Club (informally known as the Ha! Take That, You Working Stiffs! Club) is going out of town this week: “Our Third Thursday field trip for February will be to Circle B Bar Ranch in Lakeland. We will leave from the Target parking lot on Archer Road at 6:00 AM on Thursday, February 19. The drive down should take a little over two hours. Circle B Bar Reserve was jointly acquired by the Polk County Environmental Lands Program and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to protect the floodplain of Lake Hancock and to restore the Banana Creek marsh system. Oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and the lakeshore are among the unique characteristics of this property. It is home to an abundant and diverse bird population. After the trip some of us are planning on having lunch at Palace Pizza in downtown Lakeland. If you’re planning on joining us for lunch, please let me know.”

If you’d like to see live owls close up, and especially if you’ve got kids who’d like to see live owls close up, you might be interested in this Saturday’s doings at Wild Birds Unlimited: “Licensed wildlife rehabilitators Nan Soistman and Dr. Dawn Miller, DVM, will host an education program on the owls of Florida at Wild Birds Unlimited on Saturday, February 21 from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Ms. Soistman and Dr. Miller will bring four of Florida’s five species of breeding owls: a Great Horned Owl, a Barred Owl, a Barn Owl, and an Eastern Screech-Owl. Each bird was rescued from some sort of life-threatening injury but deemed not to be releasable to the wild after having been given care. Alachua Audubon Society and the UF/IFAS Alachua County Master Gardeners will also have information tables at the event. All first-time, new National Audubon Society memberships will be free during the event and all new and renewing members will also receive a $5 “BirdBucks” coupon to be used in the store on the day of the event. Audubon representatives will also be present to discuss birding opportunities and environmental advocacy efforts around Gainesville. The Master Gardeners will have a rain barrel display and representative will be present to discuss water conservation efforts and other Florida-friendly gardening practices. Please see http://www.wbu.com/gainesville for details on Wild Birds Unlimited’s own website.”

The birds abide

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

Don’t forget that you can arrange carpooling for Alachua Audubon field trips, using the “Leave a Reply” function on the individual field trip pages on the web site. Here are the pages for the next three field trips:
Tall Timbers / Wade Tract, January 31 and February 1: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/tall-timbers-research-station-sparrow-banding-and-the-wade-tract/?instance_id=375
La Chua, February 7: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/la-chua-trail-9/?instance_id=376
Northeast Florida Coast, February 15: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/northeast-florida-coast-3/?instance_id=377

Spring is creeping up on us. Though sunrise is actually one minute later than it was on the solstice, sunset is a whole half an hour later. Red maples have been blooming since mid-December, but now I’m seeing redbuds and wild plums covered with flowers, elms with drooping samaras, and early-blooming wildflowers like lyre-leafed sage and yellow jessamine. Purple Martins should be here by now, but I’ve driven past the martin houses at George’s Hardware four times in the past week or so and have yet to see one; there have been no local reports in eBird, either, though there have been plenty throughout the southern half of the state. Ospreys should also show up in the next week. A small number winter in Alachua County, but breeding birds normally arrive at their nests about the beginning of February.

The Lark Sparrow is still at the Hague Dairy. Sam Ewing saw it on the 28th: “He was singing in an oak tree when we stepped out of the car, and then flew to the ground to feed with Chipping Sparrows.” He also got a nice photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16390142895/

The Rusty Blackbirds are still being seen at Magnolia Parke. Lloyd Davis counted 66 on the 24th, and Melissa James and Dave Gagne saw two on the 28th. One of Melissa’s photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/melissa_vet/16204251218/in/photostream/

The Whooping Crane is still at the UF Beef Teaching Unit at the corner of Williston Road and SW 23rd Street. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t delay, because all the cranes will be leaving us before much longer.

Here’s a really remarkable set of photos that I found on Google: a leucistic Red-winged Blackbird from Wisconsin, nearly all white except for a few black feathers and bright red epaulets: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/205262591.html

Speaking of really remarkable photos … You know how hard it is to find a Henslow’s Sparrow. They conceal themselves under matted grasses, usually in open fields like the one at Gum Root Park. It’s even harder to see a Henslow’s Sparrow. They flush just in front of you, fly a few yards, land in the grass, and then, out of sight, run away so that you can’t relocate them. All of this being the case, just imagine how hard it is to actually photograph a Henslow’s. And as to photographing one in flight, it’s pretty much impossible. Yet Rob Norton managed the impossible on the 17th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/73960438@N04/16114809538

On the 19th Bob Simons wrote, “I think I saw three black ducks flying at Paynes Prairie today. We were near the end of the La Chua Trail. The ducks were flying around, seemingly looking for a good place to land, and were NW of me, giving me good light to see them. They were very dark – nearly black, with much lighter heads and necks, white under the wing, and red-orange legs and feet. They ended up landing out of sight to the NW.” American Black Duck is a rare bird in Alachua County these days, so keep an eye out.

A researcher at UF has discovered that Lone Star Ticks at San Felasco Hammock, O’Leno, and Manatee Springs carry the incurable hemorrhagic fever virus: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20150126/ARTICLES/150129717?tc=cr I wonder how long that virus has been out there. I’ve been plucking Lone Star Ticks off myself for a couple of decades and haven’t had anything more serious than a suspected case of STARI. According to a table in the scientific paper itself – http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0115769#pone-0115769-t002 – two sites at Manatee Springs had populations in which, respectively, 25% and 10% of the ticks carried the virus. So you’d think the human population of northern Florida would have been decimated by hemorrhagic fever by now. And yet there have been no cases anywhere in four decades. I don’t get it.

Wildlife professor Katie Sieving has a request for those of you who live in the central part of Gainesville: “I have an undergrad, Jason Lacson, who is testing a playback attractant for raptors consisting of a platform with a 15 hour playback of titmouse or jay distress calls (from an MP3 player under the platform) and a fake cardinal model with a birdcam. The setup consists of two poles next to each other sunk in the dirt about 5 feet high, one with the cardinal and speaker and one with a bird cam to obtain photos/detections of owls and other raptors that choose to attack the cardinal model. Can you ask around for any folks willing to let Jason place a setup in their yards for a two-week period? He can run 4 at a time until late March. What he needs is the names, addresses and phone numbers of folks willing to participate, who have secure backyards that are within scooter distance of campus (so approximately 43rd Street to 6th Street and from Bivens Arm to 23rd or 39th Avenue).” If you live in the area described, and are willing to help, send me your email address and I’ll put you in touch with Katie and Jason.

Lark Sparrow still there

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

The Lark Sparrow found by Rob Norton on Friday the 9th – https://www.flickr.com/photos/73960438@N04/16241183915/ – was not found later that afternoon or on the day following. However at 11:30 on Sunday the 11th Lloyd Davis relocated it in the same area where Rob had discovered it, first perched atop the tree in front of the white building across from the grassy parking area, and later in the dry vegetation in the ditch at the back of the parking area. The ditch runs behind some service buildings, and Lloyd found the bird near some banana trees, in the company of Chipping Sparrows. Lloyd posted pictures on his Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/lloyd.davis.399?fref=ts ), in a photo album called “Rare bird at Hague Dairy.”

Bob Carroll will be leading a Retiree Birders’ field trip to the Sweetwater Sheetflow Restoration Site on Thursday the 15th. Since construction crews will be working there at the time, four restrictions have been imposed on us: (1.) Only 25 people will be allowed, and so ONLY the first 25 who sign up can go. To sign up, email Bob at gatorbob23@yahoo.com (2.) Participants have to sign a liability release form, which Bob will forward to you. No release form, no field trip. (3.) Participants MUST wear long pants, closed-toe shoes, and a safety vest. He will try to supply vests for everyone, but that may not be possible. So if you have one, bring it. You can buy one for $10 at Lowe’s, or if you have Amazon Prime you can get a cheap one like this shipped to you before the field trip: http://www.amazon.com/41113-Industrial-Safety-Reflective-Strips/dp/B000IDSZ1U/ref=sr_1_5?s=industrial&ie=UTF8&qid=1420861703&sr=1-5&keywords=orange+vest  (That’s what I did. However it’s a little small for my 6’3″ frame; it looks as though I stole it from a ten-year-old boy.) But be sure you’re on the list before you order the vest! (4.) The group MUST enter together, stay with the trip leader, and leave together. GRU could be liable for a substantial fine if anyone wanders away from the trip leader, so we MUST stay in a group. Meeting place will be the parking lot of Bivens Arm Nature Park on South Main Street just before the intersection with Williston Road. Meeting time is 8:00 a.m. Bob adds, “Some of us are lunching at Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant after the trip. If you want to join us, let me know before Thursday.” Again, Bob’s at gatorbob23@yahoo.com

Rusty Blackbirds are being seen in large numbers at the Magnolia Parke wetlands. Lloyd Davis and Howard Adams reported 70 on the 4th, while at 9:35 this morning (the 11th) Adam Kent counted 82, “at first in tall oak on southeast corner of 39th Place and 50th Street. After about 10 minutes they flew north and disappeared into the swamp but later came back to the lawn area.” Adam posted a photo here: https://plus.google.com/photos/112734561717468647204/albums/6101004404063784193/6103154944918383458?banner=pwa&authkey=CJKJ7ay2oOCmCw&pid=6103154944918383458&oid=112734561717468647204

American Robins and (to a lesser extent) Cedar Waxwings have moved into the area. On the 3rd Matt O’Sullivan and I saw big flocks of both in the cypress swamps at San Felasco City Park, and on the 4th Mike Manetz and I found American Robins abundant at O’Leno State Park. I’ve seen flocks of robins passing overhead almost every day since.

Sidney Wade heard an unusually early Northern Cardinal singing on December 16th, which may be the earliest I’ve ever heard about. Right now, however, I’m hearing them most mornings. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology posted an informative YouTube video about the cardinal’s songs and singing mechanics (though they don’t seem to understand that a video implies moving pictures): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9LNexIoCW0

We’ve got two apparently-wintering American Redstarts in the area. Michael Drummond saw one in his NE Gainesville yard on the 7th. Bob Carroll and I spotted another at the Hague Dairy on the 9th when we went looking for the Lark Sparrow, and it was seen by several other birders on the 10th and 11th.

New birds for a new year, and a backward glance

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

Hummingbird bander Fred Bassett will be visiting the Gainesville area next weekend. If you’ve got hummingbirds visiting your yard right now, if you’d like them banded, and if they’re coming regularly to a feeder, email me your name, your street address, and the number of hummers you’re seeing, and I’ll forward the information to Fred. Here’s a video of Fred’s mentor, the late Bob Sargent, describing his amazement at what he’s learned from hummingbird banding: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfHtBTUZatI And here’s Fred (from 1:00 to 2:33) and Bob banding hummers in Mississippi in 2009: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v36GcpHsbw

On January 3rd Matt O’Sullivan and I took a stroll down NW 65th Avenue (east of 71st Street, off Millhopper Road) in hopes of seeing a Dark-eyed Junco reported by Jim Cox. No sign of the junco, or of the Chipping Sparrows that Jim found it associating with. But Matt and I did flush a Fox Sparrow – appropriately enough, from property owned by the Fox family: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/15566106073/ Mike Manetz and I attempted to see both birds this morning, but ended up finding neither.

The adult male Bullock’s Oriole that spent the last two winters in Ted, Danusia, and Steven Goodman’s NW Gainesville neighborhood is back again, and Sam Ewing photographed it on the 3rd: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16000040167/

Alachua Audubon sponsored a field trip to the Sweetwater Sheetflow Restoration Area on New Year’s Day. Lots of birds were seen by lots of birders. Highlights included a Great White Heron visiting from South Florida, two or three Roseate Spoonbills ditto (John Martin photo here), two White-faced Ibises, Limpkins, a Merlin, and ten species of waterfowl, notably a Canvasback (John Martin photo here) and a large number of Gadwalls.

Rusty Blackbirds are wintering in the wetland at Magnolia Parke again, and Kathy Malone was able to photograph one on December 30th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kmalone98/15965214167/

Roy Herrera set up a bonfire at his place north of LaCrosse on New Year’s Eve, and spotted an uninvited but very welcome guest, an Eastern Screech-Owl, in a tree overhead. He got a beautiful picture of this fairly common but seldom-seen bird: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16174980815/

A quick look back at 2014 before we push on into the New Year:

Adam Zions produced his annual list of candidates for Alachua County’s Bird of the Year, shown here in taxonomic order:

Greater White-fronted Goose
Ross’s Goose
Black Scoter
Pacific Loon
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Alder Flycatcher
Gray Kingbird
Cave Swallow
Bullock’s Oriole

He asked me which of these, in my opinion, had been the most interesting bird of 2014. I thought it was probably a tie between the Calliope Hummingbird at Jack and Mary Lynch’s High Springs home from January 3rd to March 4th and the Bullock’s Oriole at the Goodmans’ house from January 4th to March 19th, with the oriole having a slight edge since it was the first documented sighting in the county. Both attracted scads of out-of-town birders. Adam pretty much agreed, writing, “I would have no qualms with a tie between those two. I think the Black-chinned and Buff-breasted would come in at 3 and 4 (no particular order), and then move on from there. How awesome were the rarities/aberrants this year, that Pacific Loon and Black Scoter get pushed down a few pegs? With no drought creating favorable conditions for shorebirds and no tropical storms/hurricanes pushing pelagics inland, I think the county had a damn fine showing this past year.”

The task of compiling and ranking individual county and state year-lists for 2014 has been rendered ridiculously easy by eBird. Whether you’re intentionally competing or not, your totals are tallied and ranked at national, state, and county levels. Here are the largest Alachua County lists – birds seen in Alachua County – amassed by Alachua County eBirders :

Rex Rowan 238
Mike Manetz 231 (Mike also ended up with a third-place 244 species in Charlotte County, where he spent much of the year on family business)
Matt O’Sullivan 231
Lloyd Davis 226
Adam Zions 225
John Hintermister 219
Sam Ewing 215
Adam Kent 210
Barbara Shea 210
Benjamin Ewing 205
Dean Ewing 199
Andrew Kratter 198
Jonathan Mays 196
Debbie Segal 196
John Martin 192
Felicia Lee 192

And here are the largest Florida year-lists – including birds seen anywhere in Florida – compiled by Alachua County’s birders:

Adam Zions 306
Lloyd Davis 300
John Hintermister 294
Mike Manetz 282
Jonathan Mays 279
Adam Kent 278
Debbie Segal 278
Rex Rowan 276
Matt O’Sullivan 269
Barbara Shea 267
Andy Kratter 257
Gina Kent 255
Sam Ewing 249
Chris Burney 244
Benjamin Ewing 241

So much for 2014. And now a new year’s birding is underway. It’s fun to watch everyone dash out of the starting gate on January 1st, trying to see, as quickly as possible, the birds that may not stick around. Get that Canvasback! It could leave any day! And there’s no guarantee of another Canvasback before the end of the year! As of the 3rd, Adam Zions is leading the pack with 107 species, followed by Andy Kratter with 91 and Howard Adams with 87. Good luck to one and all. But don’t fret about the numbers, or the competitive aspect. Just have fun. Remember Kenn Kaufman’s words of wisdom: “Birding is something that we do for enjoyment, so if you enjoy it, you are already a good birder. If you enjoy it a lot, you’re a great birder.” Here’s hoping that a lot of good birders turn into great birders in 2015!

Remember to let me know if you’ve got any hummingbirds coming to your feeders.

Last birds of 2014

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

Merry Christmas, birdwatchers!

Roy Herrera has noticed that the Whooping Crane – still at the Beef Teaching Unit on the 24th – is observing the season by wearing Christmas-colored bands, as seen in this Chuck Littlewood photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h6F81287#h6f81287

The Bullock’s Oriole has returned to Ted, Danusia, and Steven Goodman’s NW Gainesville home for the third winter in a row. Ted got photos of the bird shortly after he first noticed it on the 21st (see photos here and here). Visitors are welcome to the Goodmans’ house at 6437 NW 37th Drive to look for the bird. Park on the street, walk down the right side of the house to the back corner, where you’ll have a view of the feeders in the back yard, and wait. Ted writes, “Same rules as last year. Come any time, don’t disturb the neighbors to the north who have feeders in their yard, but OK to view theirs from the street.”

Jennifer Donskey was looking for Rusty Blackbirds at Magnolia Parke on the 3rd and discovered that a beaver had taken up residence in the swamp there. I knew that beavers are present in the Santa Fe River and a small family group is (or was) resident at Mill Creek Preserve, but I was surprised to learn of one so close to town. Lloyd Davis went looking for it on the 20th and found both the beaver and the Rusty Blackbird that Jennifer had been looking for in the first place.

We’ve had a few recent reports of northern species that can be hard to find in Alachua County. Three Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Winter Wren were seen along the Santa Fe River during the Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno CBC on the 16th. Pine Siskins are being reported almost daily; on the 19th Samuel Ewing saw and heard a flock of 14 flying over his NW Gainesville home. And on the 21st, visiting South Florida birder Carlos Valenzuela reported a Purple Finch at Bolen Bluff: “Female with bold white eyebrow and heavy dark triangular bill. The bird flew in and was feeding on a sweetgum tree leading out to the prairie, just bordering the forest.”

Also at Bolen Bluff was an American Redstart seen by Harrison Jones on the 17th. I tend to think of these December birds as dawdling fall migrants rather than wintering birds; only a small percentage are ever seen after January 1st.

Here’s an amazing story. Golden-winged Warblers, newly-arrived on their nesting grounds in Tennessee, turned around and flew all the way back down to the Gulf Coast to avoid oncoming tornadoes, then returned to Tennessee once the tornadoes had passed. Thanks to Ching-tzu Huang for the link: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30531060

Audubon Florida posted this on the possible misuse of Amendment 1 conservation funds: http://fl.audubonaction.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=61979&em_id=50121.0&pgwrap=n

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.