Field trip to see Alachua County’s Burrowing Owls!

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

Well, I’m back. Did you miss me? Well, not me exactly, the birding report. What’s that you say? WHAT birding report? Sigh. I type my fingers to the bone and this is what I get.

Do you have an active bluebird box that could accept two 10-day-old bluebird chicks? Larissa at Florida Wildlife Care writes that they’re in “great shape. Their mother and 3 siblings were killed by ‘invasive’ birds. Dad fed them once and left. I need a foster family.” If you can help, please let me know.

Anyway, I was in Maine and Maritime Canada from the 27th through the 10th, and that’s why I haven’t been annoying you. I got eight life birds – Atlantic Puffin, Common Murre, Black Guillemot, Arctic Tern, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Black-backed Woodpecker, and Boreal Chickadee – and saw several other species that I rarely see, like Canada and Nashville Warblers, Purple Finch, Evening Grosbeak, and Common Raven. But it was a family vacation, not a birding trip, so I missed many more birds than I saw. I’ve posted 22 photos of my trip to Machias Seal Island for close-range looks at puffins, murres, and razorbills, and you can see them starting here (click the > symbol to the right of the photo to progress to the next one): https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14303781884/in/set-72157644943663673

I was on Prince Edward Island on the 1st, so Bob Carroll generously stood in for me and kicked off The June Challenge with a field trip to Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve, Powers Park, and the La Chua Trail. I was going to summarize the group’s discoveries, but Bob wrote it all up very nicely for us in a well-illustrated blog entry (assist from photographer Stuart Kaye): http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/06/june-challenge-kickoff.html

One of the June Challenge’s best discoveries so far was a really late Sora photographed by Erika Simons on the 3rd: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14395078861/ There’s only one later report, from the Summer Bird Count of June 5, 1971. That bird and this one are the only two June sightings of Sora in the county’s history; the latest otherwise was a bird that I saw at Lake Alice on May 11, 2000.

Another interesting June sighting was a bird that sounds very much like a Wurdemann’s Heron (Great Blue Heron x Great White Heron) that Felicia Lee reported from the Cones Dike Trail near the Paynes Prairie Visitor Center on the 1st. She writes, “Its back/wings were a normal shade of blue-gray, but its head, breast, and neck were entirely white, except for the black head plume.” There’s one previous report of a Wurdemann’s Heron in Alachua County, a bird seen by Steve Nesbitt at the Kanapaha Prairie on 19 June 1988.

If you need Northern Flicker for the June Challenge – it can be tough to get – Frank Goodwin saw two males at Morningside Nature Center on the 7th, along “the trail that winds through the woods between the parking lot and University Avenue, near the ‘Butterfly Loop’ that runs alongside the paved entrance road, just before it turns east toward the parking lot. Both birds then flew west, toward the birding blind, which is precisely the spot I last saw them (back in early April).”

This Saturday morning you’ll have an opportunity to see Alachua County’s only known Burrowing Owls (and add them to your June Challenge lists!). At 6:30 a.m. we’ll meet at the Watermelon Pond County Park (Note: NOT the Wildlife and Environmental Area) and Susie Hetrick of the Environmental Protection Department will lead us to the new county property where the owls are. Susie wants to know how many are coming, to be sure that she can accommodate everyone, so let me know if you’ll be there and I’ll pass it along to her. To get to the county park, drive south 2.9 miles from the traffic light in Newberry (on US-41/27). Turn right (west) on SW 46th Avenue and go 1.2 mile to SW 250th Street. Turn left (south) on 250th, a bumpy dirt road, and follow it 3.7 miles to the one-acre county park at the end. At that hour we should see some Common Nighthawks as well.

The final event of Alachua Audubon’s 2013-14 year will take place next Wednesday evening at the Millhopper Branch Library. Gina Kent of Avian Research and Conservation will describe different methods of tracking wild birds, including satellite telemetry, and the unexpected details that these methods have revealed about the travels of birds.

FWC is asking birders to report sightings of American Kestrel, Painted Bunting, and Burrowing Owl. For more information, or to report a sighting, click here.

“The Birdlife and Natural History of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp” will be the subject of a presentation by wildlife photographer Ernesto Reyes Mourino at Alachua Conservation Trust next Thursday, June 19th.

Remember those bluebirds. Ten days old. They need a home. Let me know if you can help them out.

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.

Got wasps?

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

I need your help. (No, this isn’t a Nigerian email scam, and no, you are not the last surviving relative of a millionaire for whom I’ve been holding a really big check.) For the last two years I’ve been working with the American Entomological Institute to catalog the paper wasps of Alachua County and north Florida generally. I thought the project would be about my speed – eight or nine species, pretty easily distinguishable, just about right for an amateur with a butterfly net and a stupid grin on his face. But an actual entomologist got involved, and it turns out that three of the “species” are actually complexes, each of which contains two to four different species. At least this seems to be the case based on markings and structural differences; it can be confirmed only by DNA analysis. That’s where you come in. Can you direct me to any active paper wasp nests in Alachua County? It’s late in the season, which means that many of the nests have been abandoned. But a lot of the remaining wasps are males, which are more common in the fall (and can’t sting!). Since all the wasps on a nest are related, finding a nest tells us what males and females of a given species look like and helps us to document the range of variation. However you should be aware that we would need to collect both the nest and the wasps on it for the DNA analysis, so if you’re attached to your wasps, or just want them to stay alive, please move on to the next paragraph. And just to be clear, I’m NOT talking about this kind of nest, which is the work of the Bald-face Hornet; I’m talking about something that looks like this or this or this, generally hanging from under a sheltering horizontal surface like eaves or a kiosk, or from a branch or main stem of a shrub or robust weed like dog fennel. If you know of a nest in Alachua County, and there are still wasps on it, and you don’t mind my taking it, please send me an email (a photo of the nest would be a plus, but isn’t necessary).

On the morning of the 20th John Hintermister and Mike Manetz attempted to relocate the Western Kingbird found at La Chua by Chris Hooker on the 19th. They didn’t see it, but otherwise they had a pretty good day, recording 61 bird species, including 2 Gadwalls and 14 Northern Pintails (nine duck species overall), a flyover Common Loon, 4 American Bitterns, 3 King Rails and 10 Soras, seven sparrow species (including a Field, 2 Grasshopper, and 14 White-crowned), as well as a lingering Indigo Bunting and the female Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been there since October 5th.

On the 12th Barbara Shea saw the fall’s first Redhead at Jonesville Soccer Park (or the adjoining subdivision, she didn’t specify). Not a common bird around here.

Alachua County birding can boast another blog, this one by Adam Zions. I enjoyed this post in particular: http://alachuaavifauna.blogspot.com/2013/10/winter-descends.html

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-grade class won first place in the national Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest! Congratulations, Sharon, and thanks to those who voted for her.

If you haven’t added your name to the “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy” petition, to fund the state’s Land Acquisition Trust, here’s a link to the form. Please mail it within the next week: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pdf/598941flwllonline.pdf

Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens, co-authors of the new Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, will be discussing the book during an online chat at 2 p.m. EST today (the 21st): http://shindig.com/event/crossley-id-guide

And please don’t forget those paper wasp nests!

Nelson’s Sparrow still there

When the sun went down this evening the Nelson’s Sparrow was still in the same spot where Adam Zions found it – forty yards before the right turn that leads up to the observation platform, as paced off by Adam Kent – and it was being fairly cooperative, feeding in the grasses right beside the trail, usually partly hidden but sometimes right out in the open. Adam and Gina Kent and I watched it for some time. Today may have been this bird’s third day on La Chua; Robert Lengacher, a Tallahassee birder, saw a bird fitting its description on Saturday but misidentified it as a Le Conte’s Sparrow (his mea culpa is here). Anyway, get out and see it tomorrow if you can, before it looks around and says to itself, “Hey! This isn’t Cedar Key!”

There were plenty of other birds along La Chua this evening. We saw as many as five American Bitterns, three Purple Gallinules, a handful of Soras (heard many more), several Savannah and Swamp Sparrows, one Field Sparrow, Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings, Marsh and Sedge Wrens, a few Barn Swallows mixed in with a larger group of Tree Swallows, and a bunch of Wood Ducks and Blue-winged Teal and at least one or two Green-winged Teal; and we heard three Barred Owls, two Great Horned Owls, an Eastern Screech-Owl, and possibly a Barn Owl.

Kathy Fanning writes, “On Wednesday the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) will consider two agenda items of environmental importance. Item #15 is a resolution asking the BoCC to support the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Item #13 is a presentation from the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department on their local wetland protection program. Please email the commissioners to ask them not to weaken the local authority to protect wetlands as well as to support the Water and Land Conservation Amendment. Here is a link to the BoCC agenda where both of the items are detailed: http://meetingdocs.alachuacounty.us/documents/bocc/agendas/2013-10-22/5D2496FD-6ADF-493D-8408-9658C84EEC67Agenda.htm  And here is the email address for all of the commissioners (one email will reach them all): bocc@alachuacounty.us  Thanks for showing your support for local wetland protection and the Water and Land amendment.”

Possible Nashville Warbler at La Chua

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

Remember: Native Plant Sale at Morningside Nature Center this Friday and Saturday. Details here.

Marie Zeglen wrote this morning to tell me about a bird that she and a friend had seen along the La Chua Trail on Sunday: “There was one bird that my out of town friend thought she knew but I wasn’t sure. It was a warbler – bright white eye ring, grayish head, little more olive towards top of head, back definitely olive. Yellow throat (medium yellow not as bright as a yellow throated), yellow breast. I thought I saw a bit of a little paler yellow or even whitish look far underneath the breast, not on rump. No wingbars. My friend thought it was a Nashville but I didn’t get quite good enough a look to confirm. We saw this bird past the water pumps on the main trail – maybe 400 feet – in the small trees on the right. No picture, sorry.” It did sound to me like a Nashville Warbler, so Greg McDermott and I walked out La Chua to the area described by Marie and looked around. We found plenty of Common Yellowthroats and Yellow and Prairie Warblers, nothing that looked like a Nashville. But this weather may well keep it from migrating for the next couple of days, so it would be worth going out there and taking a look. There have been only about twenty Nashville Warbler sightings here over the years.

Greg and I also saw some swallows flying around the first part of the trail. The light rain made flying conditions less than ideal, and as we returned past the little sinkhole along the first part of the old trail (i.e., not the boardwalk) we found 26 Barn Swallows and one Bank Swallow perched on the vegetation there, as well as three Soras walking around below them (Marie had seen seven Soras there on Sunday).

Now listen. Have you taken two minutes to complete your Alachua Audubon survey yet? Don’t make me pull this car over!  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WWNFTVV

Christmas Bird Count results

From: Rex Rowan [rexrowan@gmail.com]
Subject: Alachua County birding report

Hey, make a note if you’re planning to join the January 5th field trip to Alligator Lake: the driving directions on the Alachua Audubon web site are wrong. Here’s what they should say: “From I-75 take US-90 east through Lake City and turn south on Old Country Club Road (also known as SE Avalon Avenue or County Road 133). Entrance to parking area is 1.5 miles south on the right side of the road.” Thanks to Tom Camarata for pointing out the mistakes to me.

We’ve got some gifted photographers around here, and some of you may be interested in the 2013 Wildlife and Nature Photography Contest being held by Audubon of Martin County. They’ve put together a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zcd38dEvbAs

Speaking of photographers, Adam Zions found and photographed some uncommon birds in the conservation lands north of Newnans Lake on the 30th. He started at Gum Root Park, where he saw two Henslow’s Sparrows in the big field, then drove a couple of miles east on State Road 26 to the Hatchet Creek Tract, where he found a Red-breasted Nuthatch (not to mention a Brown-headed Nuthatch, which is resident at Hatchet Creek but can be hard to find).

I haven’t heard of any definite sightings of the Groove-billed Ani recently, though visiting Tennessee birder David Kirschke and his daughter thought they heard it on the 27th, “about half way between the Sweetwater Overlook turn off and the next bend in the trail.” If you see it, please let me know. The last positive sightings were by Lloyd Davis and Adam Zions on the 23rd, when Adam got a picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/76166204@N08/8302688762/in/photostream

Mike Manetz found a big flock of ducks off the crew team parking lot on the 18th, and Andy Kratter saw them in the same place on the 23rd: “300+ Ring-necked, 25 or so Lesser Scaup, 8 Redhead, 5 Canvasbacks, and a bunch of American Coots. Four Red-breasted Mergansers were quite far offshore, as were 2 Horned Grebes.” I found most of the same birds still present in the late afternoon of the 24th, but by the 30th they’d dispersed and their place had been taken by Ruddy Ducks and Bonaparte’s Gulls, plus one hunting decoy.

Here finally are the results of the December 16th Gainesville CBC:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  207
Muscovy Duck  90
Wood Duck  821
Gadwall  34
American Wigeon  6
Mallard  29
Mottled Duck  89
Blue-winged Teal  81
Northern Shoveler  14
Northern Pintail  64
Green-winged Teal  1
Canvasback  5
Ring-necked Duck  252
Lesser Scaup  312
Black Scoter  6
Bufflehead  4
Common Goldeneye  1
Hooded Merganser  125
Red-breasted Merganser  4
Ruddy Duck  500
Northern Bobwhite  13
Wild Turkey  46
Common Loon  3
Pied-billed Grebe  74
Wood Stork  28
Double-crested Cormorant  772
Anhinga  187
American White Pelican  137
American Bittern  12
Great Blue Heron  134
Great Egret  206
Snowy Egret  177
Little Blue Heron  163
Tricolored Heron  77
Cattle Egret  211
Green Heron  17
Black-crowned Night-Heron  79
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron  1
White Ibis  2,013
Glossy Ibis  528
Roseate Spoonbill  1
Black Vulture  343
Turkey Vulture  1,144
Osprey  8
Bald Eagle  82
Northern Harrier  42
Sharp-shinned Hawk  12
Cooper’s Hawk  12
Red-shouldered Hawk  164
Red-tailed Hawk  64
King Rail  2
Virginia Rail  5
Sora  252
Common Gallinule  82
American Coot  883
Limpkin  6
Sandhill Crane  3,009
Killdeer  247
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Greater Yellowlegs  54
Lesser Yellowlegs  55
Least Sandpiper  2
Wilson’s Snipe  398
American Woodcock  7
Bonaparte’s Gull  30
Laughing Gull  1
Ring-billed Gull  330
Herring Gull  2
Forster’s Tern  30
Rock Pigeon  70
Eurasian Collared-Dove  9
Mourning Dove  495
Common Ground-Dove  7
Groove-billed Ani  1
Barn Owl  5
Eastern Screech-Owl  16
Great Horned Owl  55
Barred Owl  64
Eastern Whip-poor-will  2
Selasphorus, sp. (probably Rufous Hummingbird)  1
Belted Kingfisher  38
Red-headed Woodpecker  32
Red-bellied Woodpecker  284
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  61
Downy Woodpecker  118
Northern Flicker  38
Pileated Woodpecker  129
American Kestrel  56
Merlin  3
Least Flycatcher  4
Eastern Phoebe  580
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  10
Loggerhead Shrike  38
White-eyed Vireo  203
Blue-headed Vireo  44
Blue Jay  276
American Crow  621
Fish Crow  297
crow, sp.  45
Tree Swallow  6
Carolina Chickadee  204
Tufted Titmouse  248
Red-breasted Nuthatch  4
Brown-headed Nuthatch  4
House Wren  236
Winter Wren  1
Sedge Wren  52
Marsh Wren  129
Carolina Wren  420
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  387
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  405
Eastern Bluebird  173
Hermit Thrush  27
American Robin  2,583
Gray Catbird  205
Northern Mockingbird  180
Brown Thrasher  15
European Starling  43
American Pipit  124
Sprague’s Pipit  2
Cedar Waxwing  54
Ovenbird  2
Northern Waterthrush  6
Black-and-white Warbler  69
Orange-crowned Warbler  105
Common Yellowthroat  292
Northern Parula  3
Palm Warbler  830
Pine Warbler  204
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1,910
Yellow-throated Warbler  28
Prairie Warbler  8
Wilson’s Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Eastern Towhee  187
Chipping Sparrow  488
Field Sparrow  20
Vesper Sparrow  57
Savannah Sparrow  515
Grasshopper Sparrow  20
Henslow’s Sparrow  2
Le Conte’s Sparrow  6
Fox Sparrow  4
Song Sparrow  74
Lincoln’s Sparrow  6
Swamp Sparrow  455
White-throated Sparrow  62
White-crowned Sparrow  35
Summer Tanager  4
Northern Cardinal  832
Indigo Bunting  2
Painted Bunting  1
Red-winged Blackbird  9,915
Eastern Meadowlark  382
Common Grackle  585
Boat-tailed Grackle  727
Brown-headed Cowbird  12,798
Baltimore Oriole  29
House Finch  72
American Goldfinch  372
House Sparrow  11

We’ve gained two minutes of daylight since the solstice! Two minutes! Yes! And the first Purple Martins should be back within three weeks, maybe four. So it’s nearly spring. Watch your feeders for Pine Siskins and Purple Finches, which tend to show up after January 1st.

The management and staff of the Alachua County Birding Report, Inc., TM, LLC, LOL, ROTFLMAO, would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Whoops!

For the first time since spring of 2011 there’s a Whooping Crane at Paynes Prairie. On the 27th John Killian and Andy Kratter each reported seeing it from the La Chua observation platform, and on the 28th John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, Mike Manetz, and Jonathan Mays saw it again.

John Killian also saw the resident female Vermilion Flycatcher and “maybe 600-800 Sandhill Cranes flying from the northwest,” while Hintermister and friends recorded 20 Mallards (rare around here), 100 Soras, and a Merlin.

On the 27th Mike Manetz found a Western Kingbird at Palm Point, “in the largest deciduous tree on the left (with forked trunk, yellowing leaves, looks like some kind of elm?) before you get to the point.” To me Palm Point seems like an odd place for a kingbird, but this isn’t the first one seen there: John Hintermister found a Western there on 13 December 1996, and Gray Kingbirds were there on 29-30 September 1994 and 5 September 2001.

Felicia Lee and Glenn Price reported two Red-breasted Nuthatches at their feeder on the 27th.

Loons are still migrating. Michael Drummond and I saw a flock of 20 going southwest over Balu Forest on the 28th.

On the 21st a Gainesville birder who wishes to remain anonymous heard what sounded to him like a Red Crossbill’s flight call. It’s not impossible; the museum has specimens collected near Cedar Key in 1908. Other birds to watch out for this fall and winter: Purple Finch, Dark-eyed Junco (one has already appeared at a feeder in town), and Brewer’s Blackbird (three were in Apalachicola last weekend).

The online Alachua County checklist was compiled in 1997. It lists 315 species of birds. As of November 2012, that number should be 355. Obviously an update is long overdue. Revision of the various early and late dates will take me a while, since they’re scattered through old emails on my computer. So last weekend I compiled a simple taxonomic list, in current AOU order, of all the birds recorded in Alachua County up to the present day, including those that no longer exist (Passenger Pigeon, Carolina Parakeet), those that still exist elsewhere though local populations have disappeared (Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Florida Scrub-Jay, White-breasted Nuthatch), and a few that were probably escapes (Southern Lapwing, Blue-crowned Parakeet, etc.). Some of you may want to print it out, others will want to bookmark it, several will want to ignore it entirely. I’d suggest beginning and intermediate birders at least give it a once-over. Taxonomic relationships can be enlightening. Some birders don’t realize that Blue Jays are crows, that swifts are the nearest relatives of hummingbirds, or that rails are first cousins of coots and gallinules and second cousins of Limpkins and cranes. Anyways, take a gander (bird pun!). Please notify me if I’ve left anything out:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/1wy7QYUrwRDc2zo0m15fjP0RwMC2FPoqgLYYkrlEAN8s/edit (Documentary photos of many of the rarer birds on the list can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/sets/72157594281975202/ )

Turkey’s not the only bird in town this week

On Tuesday night, Alachua Audubon will welcome Steven Noll and David Tegeder, who will discuss their book Ditch of Dreams, the saga of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. It was fifty years ago this month that Marjorie Carr stood up in the Gainesville High School auditorium and began asking questions about the impact of this project, an act which eventually led to the formation of the Florida Defenders of the Environment, the end of construction on the canal, the establishment of the 110-mile Cross Florida Greenway, and decades of wrangling over Rodman Reservoir. Learn about the ongoing controversy and the struggle for Florida’s future. Join us at 7:00 Tuesday evening at the Millhopper Branch Library, 3145 NW 43rd Street.

Dalcio Dacol walked out the La Chua Trail on the morning of the 19th in search of the Vermilion Flycatcher and the Le Conte’s Sparrow. He found both, plus a Sora – all, in his words, “showing well” – and he managed to get them all on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4VebbrlTks

Also on the 19th, also at La Chua, John Killian got this nice photo of a Merlin: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8200665219/in/photostream That’s a male, and on the same day Jonathan Mays got a picture of a female, so La Chua is hosting at least two right now:http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201745446/

Jonathan also photographed a Great Blue Heron eating a Greater Siren, a large aquatic salamander: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/8201746158/in/photostream/

Rob Bowden heard two Pine Siskins in a flock of American Goldfinches on the morning of the 19th.

I mentioned that southbound Common Loons have been seen overhead recently. Some of them have been landing in local waters as well. Carol Lippincott saw one paddling around on Lake Wauberg on the 18th, and on the 17th an Alachua Conservation Trust field trip saw one on Newnans Lake (four more flying over), plus two Horned Grebes and four Buffleheads, from the Powers Park fishing pier.

Migrant Sandhill Cranes don’t usually arrive here till late November or early December – Steve Nesbitt has commented that they seem to be arriving later, and leaving earlier, every year – but birders have been reporting high-flying flocks since late October. Andy Kratter saw 25 going over his SE Gainesville yard in the wake of a big cold front on October 29th, and on the same day Jonathan Mays and Trevor Persons counted 76 (in two V flocks) going over the La Chua Trail. Adam Kent saw 56 flying over Poe Springs on November 17th. However there don’t seem to be any large congregations at Paynes Prairie yet, so these early flocks – despite their large size – may be composed of local birds. (There aren’t any flocks at the UF Beef Unit fields at Williston Road and SW 23rd Street, either, but according to Steve the cranes often spend their days foraging in marshes until after the first freeze.)

Hey, did you know that the Reader’s Digest had a hand in halting the Cross Florida Barge Canal? And that President Nixon almost reversed his order to end construction? It’s a fascinating piece of Florida history – not to mention a prime example of what citizen environmentalists are capable of – and nobody can tell the story better than Stephen Noll and David Tegeder. Please join us at the Millhopper Library at 7:00 on Tuesday night.

Clay-colored Sparrows, more cold fronts, and a good book

In 1989 two British birders published a 39-page booklet. This booklet was not a field guide, and not a natural history. It was a brief (39 pages) informal manual that explained *how* to look at a bird. It was entitled The New Approach to Identification and its authors, Peter Grant and Killian Mullarney, were among the best birders in the world. Grant, who died a year after The New Approach came out, was responsible for starting the gull craze in 1982 with his Gulls: A Guide to Identification, and Mullarney went on to become the senior author and illustrator of the Collins guide to the birds of Europe, considered to be the premier field guide in the world.

The New Approach went out of print years ago, but I bought myself a copy while it was still available. I’ve studied it many times, and I still regard it as an invaluable book, the best explanation of what you’re supposed to be looking for when you encounter a bird in the field. If you give it a serious perusal (only 39 pages!), I think you’ll be pleased at how much more you begin to see through your binoculars. As the authors put it, the New Approach “adds a great deal of extra interest to the identification of birds.” Phil Laipis was kind enough to make me a pdf of the booklet – with Killian Mullarney’s blessing – and you can find it here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/83186272/New%20Approach/The%20New%20Approachv3.pdf

Phil made a second pdf in printable format and took it to Renaissance Printing. They printed it out, trimmed the pages, and put a spiral binding and transparent plastic covers on it, all for about ten dollars. The photos in the printed copy were nearly as sharp as those in the pdf. If you want to print yourself a copy, let me know, and I’ll send you a link to the printable file.

More sparrows are starting to show up. On the 11th, Frank Goodwin found and photographed the fall’s first Grasshopper Sparrow at La Chua Trail, probably the second-earliest in the county’s history: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8088775324/in/photostream  On the 12th Frank was back at La Chua with Mike Manetz, and near the observation tower they found a Clay-colored Sparrow, a western species that’s a rare fall visitor here. The Clay-colored was still present on the 13th, and was seen by Jonathan Mays and by John Hintermister – and on the same day Geoff Parks saw a little bird feeding in a patch of Coral Foxtail grass in his NE Gainesville backyard that turned out to be another Clay-colored! Geoff managed to get a picture of the bird eating the seeds of the Coral Foxtail: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8088774385/in/photostream  (“Everybody ought to be growing this stuff,” he comments.) Were there any other sparrows? Why yes, now that you mention it, there were! Mike and Frank saw the fall’s first Swamp Sparrow in addition to the Grasshopper and the Clay-colored on the 12th, and on the 13th John found a very early White-crowned, a sighting duplicated on the Bolen Bluff Trail on the same day by sharp-eyed Samuel Ewing – again, the fall’s first.

Other sightings worth your notice: Several people have mentioned to me that the La Chua Trail is overrun with Soras right now. John Hintermister estimated 125 along the trail on the 13th, so if you’d like to see one of these secretive little birds, you know where to go. On the 12th, Mike Manetz heard an American Pipit fly over the La Chua observation platform, by 19 days the earliest ever recorded in the county. And on the 13th Jonathan Mays saw a rather late Cliff Swallow at … let’s all say it together … La Chua.

I don’t think fall migration is over, but you couldn’t prove it by this weekend’s field trips. Saturday’s Bolen Bluff walk produced 51 species of birds, including 11 warbler species, but it was like pulling teeth to get them, and only a handful of the 30 original participants remained when we finally stumbled across a feeding flock. Sunday’s Powers Park / Palm Point field trip was somewhat livelier, but again the migrants just weren’t there in any numbers.

So it’s good news to hear that more cold fronts, followed by more birds, are headed this way. Bob Duncan of Pensacola writes, “Looking good for birding this week. Two cold fronts are forecast to pass through the northern Gulf Coast. Monday winds are shifting to NW 8-13 knots and to N Monday night 13-18 knots. So I think Tuesday should be good at the migrant traps. Another front is due Thursday night, winds Thursday SW 11-15 knots shifting to NW 15-20 knots Thursday night, so Friday looks promising. Some late Neotropical migrants should still be coming down and winter visitors, sparrows, etc., should really be on the move. This is a good time for drought-driven vagrants from the west to appear. Already a Say’s Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Groove-billed Ani have been found in the Pensacola area.” Two years ago a Groove-billed Ani showed up at Paynes Prairie on October 16th.