Alder Flycatchers, Lawrence’s Warbler at Sparrow Alley

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

Mike Manetz walked Sparrow Alley this morning after Jennifer Donsky told him that she’d found an Alder Flycatcher there. Mike relocated Jennifer’s bird and saw a second one as well. The first was south of the trail near the watery dip beyond the powerlines, and the second was in a small grove of persimmons just a couple hundred feet in from the trail’s beginning, where an Alder lingered for nearly a month at this time last year. Both were identified by their “pip!” call notes. If last weekend’s Barr Hammock bird was also an Alder, that makes three in the county at once. It’s bizarre: we never had an Alder Flycatcher here until 2010, and now they’re so abundant that the county will soon commence spraying empidonacide to control them….(No, not really.) Mike also saw two Blue-winged Warblers on his walk, and even more surprising than the Alders, a Lawrence’s Warbler, a hybrid of Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warbler that has been recorded in Alachua County only three times before, most recently in 1990. Here’s what a Lawrence’s looks like: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7419/9124553719_b120308131_z.jpg

Debbie Segal made arrangements with GRU to offer a special Sheet Flow Restoration Project field trip for Alachua Audubon volunteers on the 30th. It was a very productive morning, and the group saw some nice things: a flock of four Roseate Spoonbills, a Great White Heron wandering from the Florida Keys, a mixed flock of Barn and Bank Swallows swarming over one of the cells, and eleven species of shorebirds, including some uncommon species – Pectoral and Stilt Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plover – and some that are locally quite rare – Western Sandpiper and Short-billed Dowitcher. Hopefully the Sheet Flow Restoration Project will continue to attract birds once the vegetation has stabilized in all three cells.

One hundred years ago tomorrow, September 1, 1914, the last Passenger Pigeon in the world, a 29-year-old female named Martha, tumbled from her perch in the Cincinnati Zoo, and the most abundant bird in the history of Planet Earth went extinct. John Fitzpatrick of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology has written about the event, and what it means to us today, in a New York Times editorial. But the closest we’ll ever come to seeing a live Passenger Pigeon is reading John James Audubon’s 1831 description of a flock settling in to feed: “As soon as the Pigeons discover a sufficiency of food to entice them to alight, they fly round in circles, reviewing the country below. During their evolutions, on such occasions, the dense mass which they form exhibits a beautiful appearance, as it changes its direction, now displaying a glistening sheet of azure, when the backs of the birds come simultaneously into view, and anon, suddenly presenting a mass of rich deep purple. Then they pass lower, over the woods, and for a moment are lost among the foliage, but again emerge, and are seen gliding aloft. They now alight, but the next moment, as if suddenly alarmed, they take to wing, producing by the flappings of their wings a noise like the roar of distant thunder, and sweep through the forests to see if danger is near. Hunger, however, soon brings them to the ground. When alighted, they are seen industriously throwing up the withered leaves in quest of the fallen mast. The rear ranks are continually rising, passing over the main-body, and alighting in front, in such rapid succession, that the whole flock seems still on wing.”

Looks like a fall migration to me

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

Rufous Hummingbirds have already returned to two local feeders. Both are adult males. One that’s been visiting Mike Manetz’s yard since the 11th is wearing a little silver bracelet, so it’s probably the same bird that Fred Bassett banded there in January; Mike got a photo. Just across the Gilchrist County line, one has been coming to Jim Allison’s feeder since the 12th. Both of these beat the county’s previous early arrival date by about two weeks; that was an adult male that Greg Hart saw at his place in Alachua on August 25, 2003.

Mike Manetz, Bob Carroll, and I checked for shorebirds at Hague Dairy on July 17th. There was plenty of water, but the vegetation was too high for shorebirds; they prefer the unobstructed view provided by mud flats and other vegetation-free landscapes. In the four weeks since then, all the vegetation has been mowed down, and when the Ewings (father Dean, sons Caleb, Benjamin, and Samuel) visited on the 14th they found seven shorebird species: “5 Lesser Yellowlegs, 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 9 Least Sandpipers, 5 Pectorals, 3 Solitaries, 1 Spotted, and best of all 6 Stilt Sandpipers!” Samuel got a photo of all six Stilts: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14730385127/ All were in the same spot as last year, the northwest corner of the lagoon. A Laughing Gull was out there as well. Remember that a Short-billed Dowitcher and a Wilson’s Phalarope were recorded there last August, so it would be worthwhile to check back frequently.

Samuel has been watching the sky from his NW Gainesville neighborhood, and it paid off on the 15th with a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and a Cliff Swallow, our first fall migrants of both species.

Mike Manetz and I found nine warbler species at San Felasco Hammock on the 14th as we walked the Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails, including one Worm-eating, single Louisiana and Northern Waterthrushes, 3 Black-and-whites, 2 Prothonotaries, 2 Kentuckies, 7 Hoodeds, 3 American Redstarts, and 10 Northern Parulas.

John Killian sneaked out to the sheet flow restoration area on the 12th in hopes of seeing the Buff-breasted Sandpiper that Matt O’Sullivan and I found on the 10th, but it had moved on. He writes, “I did see a Roseate Spoonbill, half a dozen each of Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers, 3 Pectoral Sandpipers, 9 Black Terns, and a Laughing Gull. There must be about 100 Black-bellied Whistling ducks out there as well.”

Speaking of Black Terns, I saw a flock of 14 at Newnans Lake during the stormy weather on the evening of the 14th.

Bob Carroll went to Arizona in late July. He’s telling the story on his blog. In order:

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/birding-in-arizona-and-new-mexico.html

http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/2014/08/part-2-silver-city-nm-and-road-to-portal.html

I expect another installment any day now.

Don’t forget to keep up the pressure on the County Commission in regards to Barr Hammock. Email the Commission at bocc@alachuacounty.us and urge them to keep the loop open.

There’s an election coming up on the 26th. I don’t know whether Lee Pinkoson or Harvey Ward is the better candidate overall, but I can tell you that Ward has declared himself to be against both the Plum Creek project and the Barr Hammock trail closure, while Pinkoson has not.

Blue bird bonanza

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

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.