Major birdage at Newnans Lake!

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

The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect was operating at Newnans Lake today. After hearing about Andy Kratter’s sighting of a Red-throated Loon from the Windsor boat ramp yesterday, several birders descended on the lake (some at Windsor, some at Palm Point), including Lloyd Davis, John Hintermister, and Bryan Tarbox. I hope they will excuse me if I just give a cumulative list of their best finds:

Greater White-fronted Goose 3
Snow Goose 1
Ring-necked Duck 60
Red-breasted Merganser 3
Ruddy Duck 10
Common Loon 21
Horned Grebe 3

Husband-and-wife team Bob Knight and Debbie Segal had the wrong lake, but the right idea, when they took their boat out today. They did pretty well, though. Debbie writes, “Bob and I boated around Lake Lochloosa and Orange Lake today. Orange Lake wasn’t particularly birdy, or at least we didn’t find the birds there, but Lochloosa Lake was impressive. Most exciting was finding a huge flock of Ruddy Ducks, well over 400, at the north central end of the lake. However, the slight chop and boat rocking made it difficult to estimate the number, but the flock extended out into the lake in multiple directions. There were a few Bufflehead and Horned Grebes with the Ruddys. Also a tight group of Common Loons floating together near the group of Ruddies. At the southern end of the lake in amongst the floating hydrilla was a large group of American Coots, over 600. Mixed in with the coots were Pied-billed Grebes, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, and Ring-necked Ducks.”

Red-throated Loon at Newnans Lake

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

On the morning of Saturday the 15th Andy Kratter was scanning Newnans Lake from the Windsor boat ramp when he spied a Red-throated Loon. He wrote, “Watched for 40 min. Thin bill pointed above horizontal entire time. Whiter face and thinner neck than Common Loon. Nape paler than back. Indistinct contrast between nape and white throat.”

More waterfowl are showing up: Buck Snelson saw a hen Canvasback at the sheetflow restoration area on the 7th, by eleven days a new early record; and Geoff Parks saw the fall’s first Snow Goose along the La Chua Trail on the 9th. On the 14th Barbara Shea and Steve Nesbitt saw an American Wigeon and a flock of Northern Pintails along the La Chua Trail.

More sparrows are showing up too. Adam Kent reported three Henslow’s Sparrows “in the far field” at Gum Root Park on the 12th.

And Gainesville’s favorite migrants, the Sandhill Cranes, are beginning to arrive as well. Barbara Shea and Steve Nesbitt saw “obviously migrating” Sandhills over La Chua on the 14th, and at about 8:30 that same evening Austin Gregg heard a “large flock” flying over his Duck Pond neighborhood.

Matt O’Sulllivan found some excellent birds during a walk along the Cones Dike Trail on the 12th: a Clay-colored Sparrow, a Nashville Warbler, a Least Flycatcher, and a lingering migrant Swainson’s Thrush. He photographed all of them, and you can see the pictures on his Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/

Some nice birds have visited Cedar Key during the last week and a half. John Hintermister and Debbie Segal found one Scissor-tailed Flycatcher at the airfield on the 4th, and Pat Burns found a second near downtown on the 9th. Geoff Parks found a Bronzed Cowbird at the park adjoining the beach on the 11th. However I led a Clearwater Audubon field trip to Cedar Key on the 15th and we found none of these birds, though we did see a Reddish Egret roosting in a mangrove near the airfield.

If you’d like to visit the sheetflow restoration area, you’ll be interested in this invitation from Debbie Segal: “GRU has given Alachua Audubon special permission to conduct a birding field trip at the Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Wetland on Saturday, Nov. 22nd at 8 a.m. The Sheetflow Wetland is still undergoing final construction activities and is expected to open on a limited basis sometime in January. Because the area is an active construction site, we are required to adhere to the following: visitors have to stay in a group and cannot venture around on their own, and all visitors are required to sign in and sign a liability release. The field trip attendance will be limited to 40 people. We will divide into three smaller groups and have three field trip leaders. If you are interested in attending this field trip, please confirm with Debbie Segal (debbie.segal@gmail.com) so she can sign you up and send you the liability release and directions to the meeting location. The field trip is estimated to last approximately three hours. Since the gate will be locked while we are on the field trip, it will be difficult to accommodate those who arrive late or need to leave early.

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 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.

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

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!

Weekend update, featuring Western Tanager, Le Conte’s Sparrow, Snow Goose, etc., etc., etc.

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

We’ve got two events vying for your attention on Wednesday the 20th:

Miguel Palavaccini will conduct a photography workshop on “Adobe Lightroom for Birders”: “The workshop is targeted at anyone who wants to learn how to better organize, manage, edit, and share images. I’ll be directing my workflow to birders, but it can be applied to all areas of photography. The date is March 20th and it will be about a 1.5 hr classroom workshop.” The time has yet to be announced; you should probably email Miguel at mrpalaviccini@gmail.com if you’re interested.

And Bob Wallace writes, “I will be presenting a slide presentation of my five-week birding trip to East Africa to Alachua Audubon at 7 p.m. next Wednesday, March 20th, at the Millhopper Library. We saw 840 bird species and I photographed over 750 species, but have mercifully narrowed it down to 300 pictures (no easy task).”

Decisions, decisions.

It’s been an exciting week for birding here in Alachua County. Normally mid-March is a little bit on the dull side, but if I saw nothing in 2013 but this week’s birds I’d be waiting for an interview request from the TV news.

A Western Tanager visited a back yard south of Alachua on the 17th and 18th. I don’t have permission to give out the homeowner’s name, but a photo of the bird was posted on the Wild Birds Unlimited Facebook page. A male Painted Bunting is frequenting the same yard! Obviously the homeowner is bribing somebody.

Katherine Edison photographed four Snow Geese at La Chua on the 15th. They were seen again by Glenn Israel and Lloyd Davis on the 16th.

Continuing rarities at La Chua include the White-faced Ibis photographed by Miguel Palavaccini on the 15th (if you like his picture, attend his workshop!) and seen as recently as the 17th by Jonathan Mays and John Martin; 2 Whooping Cranes seen (distantly) by Jonathan Mays on the 17th; a Peregrine Falcon photographed by Adam Zions on the 13th and seen as recently as the 17th by John Martin and Lloyd Davis; and the Groove-billed Ani that has lingered at Sparrow Alley since mid-December, photographed by Samuel Ewing on the 14th and seen as recently as the 15th by Lloyd Davis.

At the other end of the Prairie, Jonathan Mays found a locally-rare Hairy Woodpecker along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th.

And at yet another end of the Prairie, the Cones Dike Trail, Caleb Gordon saw a Mottled Duck sitting on 14 eggs, plus nesting Anhingas and Great Blue Herons. He also saw 3 Le Conte’s Sparrows, “flushed from recently burned grassland, seen well on stem for 5 seconds at close range.”

Le Conte’s Sparrows were also reported from Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop, along the north side, which means you take the trail on the right when you leave the parking lot. Adam Zions photographed two, about a mile and a quarter out, on the 16th. Just a little beyond that, up to 19 Pectoral Sandpipers have been hanging out, first noted by Jonathan Mays on the 14th and photographed by Adam on the 16th. However the Least Flycatcher that Jonathan saw on the 16th, the same bird he found on February 5th, is on the south side.

Both Jonathan and Adam spotted a Northern Waterthrush along the Levy Prairie Loop. Another was seen by Frank Goodwin at Alachua Sink on the 15th. These are early for migrants, so I’d guess they wintered in the area.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are still here. Barbara Shea saw one in her Jonesville yard early this month and another at Jonesville Park on the 9th, while Bubba Scales saw one along Millhopper Road west of I-75 on the 15th. They’ll probably stick around for another month or so.

Two American Redstarts were seen this week. Mike Manetz found one along Barr Hammock’s Levy Prairie Loop on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays saw another along the Chacala Pond Trail on the 16th. Very early migrants or wintering birds?

One Solitary Sandpiper has been seen almost daily along the La Chua Trail from the 8th through the 17th, and another was seen at Barr Hammock by Jonathan Mays on the 14th.

John Killian saw the first Red-eyed Vireo of the spring on the 14th, and by the 16th they were widespread: Mike Manetz had one at San Felasco, Adam Zions had one at Barr Hammock, and Jonathan Mays had one at the Chacala Pond Trail.

Spring migration is clearly underway, but it won’t peak for another four to six weeks. One thing we always hope for in spring, especially at Cedar Key, is a fallout, a day on which the weather forces migrant birds down into the trees in huge numbers. We’ve had some excellent days at Cedar Key over the years, but … if you want to see what a REAL fallout looks like, check out the first dozen photos in this gallery from Maine’s Machias Seal Island on 24 May 2011 (keep clicking “next” in the upper right corner): http://www.pbase.com/lightrae/image/135054460

There’s been some discussion of unusually early Mississippi Kites on the eBird regional reviewers’ listserv. Brian Sullivan, one of the managers of eBird, wrote, “Plumbeous Kite is a real possibility in the US, and it would arrive much earlier in spring than Mississippi.” Could be. But you know, I think we’d notice if we saw one: http://500px.com/photo/1297069

Some biologist wants to “de-extinct” the Passenger Pigeon: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/03/passenger-pigeon-de-extinction/all/

Say goodbye to the next Eastern Phoebe and Song Sparrow you see. Both are usually gone by the end of March.

Audubon Holiday Social, and thrilling seasonal rarities!

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

Alachua Audubon will hold its annual Holiday Social this coming Friday, December 7th, from 6:30 to 9:00. Please join us for refreshments, a silent auction to benefit Alachua Audubon, and of course the customarily brilliant and high-toned conversation of your fellow bird enthusiasts. This year Audubon board member Lynn Rollins is opening her home for our festivities. Lynn lives in Colony Park, a little west of Gainesville High School. Here’s a map, with Lynn’s house marked by an inverted blue teardrop: https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=203358630947857947932.0004cfcb2b711575242b3&msa=0&ll=29.668534,-82.342122&spn=0.007104,0.009645  We hope to see you there. In fact, if you don’t show up, we may come looking for you…

Myiarchus is a genus of flycatchers with five members in North America, all of which look pretty much alike: Great Crested, Ash-throated, Brown-crested, Dusky-capped, and LaSagra’s. The first three of these have been recorded in Alachua County. Great Cresteds are of course common from late March through mid-September. Ash-throateds have been recorded 15-20 times over the past twenty years. Brown-cresteds have been recorded twice, Dusky-cappeds and LaSagra’s not at all. On the 29th Dalcio Dacol wrote, “A bit before noon today I saw from the observation platform and on the same row of bushes that the Vermilion Flycatcher has been frequenting on the west side of the trail, a Myiarchus flycatcher which I think is an Ash-throated Flycatcher. I saw it from the platform with 10x binoculars, it had that washed-out gray tone with prominent and bright rufous patch on the wing edge and on the upper tail, it also didn’t look as robust as a Great Crested Flycatcher. I had a good, but short, view of the back and of the right side of the bird but did not see the underparts. It didn’t fly away but dove down into the thick vegetation cover. I waited around the area for about half an hour but didn’t see it again.” He went back on the following day and spent two hours, playing vocalizations of the four Myiarchus species, but he didn’t see the bird again.

On the 30th Frank Goodwin saw a Snow Goose from the La Chua observation platform. Mike Manetz walked out on the 1st and got a look at it, his 253rd species for Alachua County in 2012.

This morning’s Alachua Audubon field trip to the La Chua Trail didn’t find either the Snow Goose or the Myiarchus flycatcher, but did amass a list of 80 species, including the resident female Vermilion Flycatcher, a Merlin, and 10 species of sparrows (11 if you include Eastern Towhee, which – and you’d know this if you’d looked over the Alachua County checklist – is just as much a sparrow as the others), the best of which were 5 Vespers, a Field, a Grasshopper, and a Lincoln’s. The Whooping Crane seen on the 27th and 28th has not been spotted since then.

Doug Richard reported a female Yellow-headed Blackbird at the Hague Dairy on the 29th.

On the 1st Matt and Erin Kalinowski found and photographed a female Common Goldeneye on the UF campus: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/8235771567/in/photostream  At least I think it’s a Common. The all-yellow bill is a field mark of Barrow’s Goldeneye, but of western Barrow’s rather than eastern; the National Geographic Society field guide notes that female Commons’ bills are “rarely all-yellow.”

Yellow-breasted Chats are normally very reclusive birds, and it’s tough to get a picture of one even when it’s singing. On the 21st Greg Stephens got an outstanding shot of a chat that may well be wintering on Burnt Island at the south end of Lake Lochloosa: http://www.photographybygregstephens.com/p622066799/h4d9ddb42#h4d9ddb42