A whole new year of birds

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

The biggest Florida birding news of the winter was the discovery – by a former member of the Romanian parliament! – of Florida’s third-ever Snowy Owl at the south end of Little Talbot Island in Jacksonville on the 27th. It was seen by many on the 28th and many more on the 29th. It eluded birders on the 30th but was rediscovered – by another out-of-state birder – on the morning of the 31st, and has been seen every day since. You can look at a few pictures here.

What may have been Alachua County’s third Scissor-tailed Flycatcher of the season was reported to eBird by Indiana birder John Skene on December 28th. He was driving north on I-75 across Paynes Prairie when he saw it: “Perched on telephone wire. Body size, shape, and color like mockingbird except for very long tail.”

Mike Manetz has not been able to find the Wilson’s Warbler at Lake Alice despite several attempts, but on the 29th he stumbled across another, “along Sparrow Alley, in a cluster of oaks before the first dip in the trail as you are headed west.”

On the 16th Lloyd Davis took a walk on La Chua with his camera: “My battery was almost dead, so I was trying to run it down completely before I went home.” He came across a White-crowned Sparrow, and took pictures until he ran out of power. Back home he posted the photos on Facebook as he normally does, and that’s where Matt Hafner saw them. Matt identified the sparrow as the northwestern (“Gambel’s”) race of White-crowned. According to Cornell’s online resource Birds of North America, Gambel’s “breeds across northern tier from Alaska to Hudson Bay; winters south through cen. Mexico, generally rarer eastward.” Stevenson and Anderson’s The Birdlife of Florida (1994) asserts that only three specimens of Gambel’s have been collected in Florida over the years, and only one has been photographed. So this makes five that have been documented in the state. Gambel’s has a gray lore (area between the eye and the bill) rather than a black one, and its bill is orangeish rather than pinkish. One of Lloyd’s photos is here.

Signs of spring: Tom Webber once observed to me that cardinals start singing right after the winter solstice. I usually don’t hear them til January, but this year two were singing in my neighborhood on the morning of the 23rd. I’ve heard them almost daily since then. (Samuel Ewing mentioned that he’d heard them singing sporadically during the fall as well. Did anyone else notice this?) I also heard a Carolina Chickadee singing on the 21st, at least a month earlier than usual, but didn’t hear it thereafter. A handful of American Robins have been perching in my oaks the last two days, scouts for the impending invasion. Some early flowers are in bloom, like Black Medick and Virginia Peppergrass. And we’ve gained three minutes of daylight since the solstice!

Samuel Ewing took a photo of two geese at the UF Beef Teaching Unit on the 21st. One of them shows a somewhat shorter bill and a higher, more rounded crown than the other, but both exhibit the characteristically distinct “grin patch” of a Snow Goose. Samuel wonders if anyone can account for the difference between these birds – if they might be Greater and Lesser Snow Geese, or a Lesser and a Ross’s-Snow hybrid – or if they’re both within the range of standard variation of Snow Goose. His photo is here.

It’s always fun for listers to look back, at the end of the year, and see who amassed the largest list of birds seen in the county or in the state. It’s sort of like end-of-season sports statistics – but not quite, since list size does not correlate very well with ability (or so I like to tell myself). Based on eBird’s “Top 100 eBirders” in Florida and Alachua County for 2013, and double-checked with most of the birders involved, here are the top ten county listers and, among birders living in Alachua County, the top ten state listers. I’ll single out a few of these performances. Steven Goodman and Samuel Ewing are both in their early teens, yet Steven saw 304 species in Florida last year, and Samuel saw 207 species in Alachua County; the first time I saw 200 species in a single year in Alachua County I was 37, and the first time I saw 300 species in a single year in Florida I was 40. These two guys are going to be very, very good; in fact, they already are very, very good. And speaking of very, very good, Mike Manetz saw 242 species during a thoroughly average year in Alachua County. There were no droughts and no hurricanes, nothing to bring in unusual birds at all, and yet he bested his 2000 total of 241, when a drought dried up Newnans Lake and brought 30 shorebird species to its shores. Congratulations, Mike! Congratulations, Steven and Samuel, and all the rest of you.

ALACHUA COUNTY
Mike Manetz  242
Jonathan Mays  239
Adam Zions  231
John Hintermister  227
Rex Rowan  218
Samuel Ewing  207
Adam Kent  203
John Martin  198
Steven Goodman  197
Benjamin Ewing  196
Dean Ewing  195

FLORIDA
Adam Zions  325
John Hintermister  323
Dotty Robbins  313
Steven Goodman  304
Jonathan Mays  301
Mike Manetz  284
Adam Kent  272
Rex Rowan  264
Gina Kent  262
Barbara Shea  251

(There’s already an eBird “Top 100 Birders” list for 2014, and as of the 1st Samuel Ewing is leading the pack with 67 species. If he does that well every day, he’ll have 24,455 species on his list at the end of the year! Go, Samuel, go!)

Bob Wallace didn’t keep year lists for the state or the county, but he did keep one for his farm south of Alachua. He saw 140 species there, more than the total number I’ve recorded in 21 years at my house.

Steve Collins made a map of his 2013 sightings using eBird, with do-it-yourself instructions below the map.

Listing by itself is neither good nor bad. On the one hand it can motivate you to go out the door and spend a beautiful day in the woods and fields, but on the other hand it can become little more than an obsessive numbers game in which keeping your place in the rankings is the only thing that matters. For an example of “dark side” listing, check out this report on British “twitchers” from The Guardian. And if you ever want to cure yourself of any interest in birds whatsoever, watch this documentary, featuring many of the same characters as the article, most especially the most notorious man in British birding, Lee G.R. Evans.

On the lighter side, John Hintermister sent me this Russian video of a Hooded Crow repeatedly tobogganing down a roof.

Remember the first Alachua Audubon field trip of 2014, at the La Chua Trail this Saturday, January 4th, beginning at 8 a.m.

You are what you eat

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

People are always asking me, “What’s your favorite bird?” This is the one day in the year when I can answer that question without a moment’s hesitation: my favorite bird is the one in the oven.

The UF Beef Unit goose found on the 27th and identified by Samuel Ewing as a Ross’s Goose appears to be … just what Samuel said it was, a Ross’s Goose. John Hintermister went to look at it on the 27th and Rob Norton saw it on the 28th (this morning), and both agree that it’s a Ross’s and that it shows no signs of being a hybrid. John Martin got a nice video of the bird on the 27th.

Speaking of waterfowl, Adam Zions counted 177 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at the Red Lobster Pond on the 23rd. They seem to congregate there in big numbers during the cold months – more than 500 a couple of years ago!

Mike Manetz had a Selasphorus hummingbird in his NW Gainesville yard on the 23rd. Several Ruby-throateds are still hanging around as well; Ron Robinson has two of them at his place in west Gainesville. He’s been in touch with Fred Dietrich, a hummingbird bander in Tallahassee, so if you’ve got a hummingbird in your yard and you’d like it identified and banded, let me know and I’ll pass the information along.

Upon hearing that John Killian had found a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the 22nd, Kathy Malone grabbed her camera and ran right out to see it and take a few pictures, and it’s good that she did – when she returned on the following day it was gone. But one of her pictures was a definite keeper.

Pat Burns has had some good luck at Cedar Key lately. On the 27th she wrote to one of the listservs, “A Western Kingbird has been present since 11/17/13 in the vicinity of a cell tower on the right side of CR-347 approximately 4.2 miles north of SR- 24. I saw 8 Red Knots, 87 Marbled Godwits,7 Black Scoters plus hundreds of shorebirds, gulls & terns from the beach, Sanspit Park & the pier in downtown Cedar Key.”

I’ve linked to this video a couple of times before. It’s primitive and perhaps a bit juvenile, but I think it communicates the fun and cameraderie of birding very well in its two minutes. I especially enjoy the bit, from 0:31 to 0:36, in which a birder fails to produce a promised rarity for his friends and pays the price: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4u-IONrDmUY

Hope that never happens to you. Happy Thanksgiving from the Alachua County birding report!

ANOTHER Scissor-tailed Flycatcher!

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

At noon today John Killian found a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on County Road 241 about 1.5 miles north of the point where Millhopper Road (County Road 232) dead-ends. He got four really nice pictures, of which this is the fourth:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnhusbdadfrndteach/10996795465/

Mike Manetz and I visited several spots in southern Alachua County this morning – Tuscawilla Prairie, Orange Lake at three locations (Sportsmans Cove, Heagy-Burry, and Sampsons Point), the back side of George’s Pond, and Powers Park – but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. I heard a lot of Sandhill Cranes calling to the south of Heagy-Burry, which makes me think that some migrants have finally arrived. We saw only a few ducks, all of them at Newnans Lake, but among those few were a pair of Northern Pintails that flew past the Powers Park pier. And we were disappointed to find that water levels in Orange Lake had risen to the point that hip boots would be needed to walk out from Sportsmans Cove, so we have nothing to report from there. The best part of the morning was helping a pair of birders from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to see their life Limpkin at Powers Park.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher still there!

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher first reported by Lisa Smith on the 22nd was still present today, seen by me at 11:30, Adam Kent at 3:50, and Jessica Burnett at 4:45. This is the tenth Scissor-tail in Alachua County birding history, and it’s now been present for four days; all previous Scissor-tails have stayed for only a single day except the county’s first ever, which stayed for two, May 13 and 14, 1971, as observed by Robert McFarlane and by a Mrs. Emerson of Greenville Farms, who was credited with the discovery. Directions: Go out Archer Road a little over six miles beyond the interstate to Parker Road (SW 122nd Street). Turn left at the traffic light and go 0.3 mile to SW 99th Avenue. Then turn left again and go 0.3 mile. You’ll see some open acreage on your left with a house set way back. The address is 11616. The bird has been hanging around this property, sitting on fences, sometimes near the road, sometimes way in the back. Occasionally it’s absent for an hour or so. A spotting scope is helpful. Jonathan Mays got some nice pictures (start with this one, and click the arrow on the right to see the others): http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/10468499584/

Other local rarities: Keith Collingwood saw the Vermilion Flycatcher at La Chua today and two Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a Bronzed Cowbird at the Hague Dairy yesterday.

No one has reported the Nelson’s Sparrow since the 22nd, when several birders got to see it and Jonathan Mays took this exquisite photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/10430622153/in/photostream/

Has anyone gone looking for the Green-tailed Towhees reported on Bolen Bluff?

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on Archer Road

A visiting Indiana birder named Lisa Smith reported a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher to eBird at noon today. John Hintermister saw the report and drove out this afternoon to investigate. He left a message on my answering machine at about 4:30, confirming the report and saying that the bird was near the intersection of Archer Road (SR-24) and Parker Road (SW 122nd Street). The exact location was SW 99th Avenue 0.3 mile east of Parker Road. Good luck if you try for it!

Late spring update

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

At 7:00 on Tuesday evening, May 14th, Adam and Gina Kent will share photographs and descriptions of their recent trip to Cuba where they saw a wide variety of endemics and migrants and met with conservation professionals who manage some of the world’s richest environments. Please join us at the Millhopper Library, 3145 NW 43rd Street.

Two of the links in the last birding report went bad between the time I wrote it and the time you received it. The correct link for the film “Birders: The Central Park Effect” playing at The Hipp on the 21st is http://thehipp.org/birder.html

  And the correct link for the story on the eBird team’s North American Record Big Day, complete with map and photos, is http://ebird.org/content/ebird/?p=654

Conrad Burkholder took a really lovely photo of the area around Alachua Sink during the Alachua Audubon field trip on Saturday the 11th. The field trip found a Great White Heron, two Whooping Cranes, three Roseate Spoonbills, two Purple Gallinules, three Yellow-breasted Chats, eight Blue Grosbeaks, a dozen Indigo Buntings, two Orchard Orioles, and 100 Bobolinks, among other things.

On the 10th Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s only White-rumped Sandpipers so far: “White-rumped Sandpipers are in – had a flock of 8 peeps buzz by me this morning at the La Chua observation platform. Some were giving the little mouse squeak flight calls of White-rumps but I was only able to confirm actual white rumps on three of the birds.”

Dale Henderson notified me on the 7th that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was hanging around the Cedar Key airfield. It was still there on the 11th. That’s pretty late for a Scissor-tailed, but last year I saw one there in June.

There are still a few Cedar Waxwings hanging around. I saw four at the Main Street Publix on the 12th and heard (but didn’t see) a few in my NE Gainesville neighborhood on the 13th.

Not really meaning to rub your noses in it, but in case you’re interested here are two photos of birders looking at last weekend’s Kirtland’s Warbler.

Jonathan Mays got a photo of a Canebrake Rattlesnake (formerly a distinct subspecies, now simply considered a Timber Rattlesnake) in northern Alachua County on the 5th.

The Tenth Annual June Challenge begins in about two weeks.

Remember Adam and Gina Kent’s presentation on birding in Cuba at 7:00 on Tuesday evening!