Winter is coming

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

We’re going to try something new for field trips: carpooling via the Audubon web site. First go to the field trip schedule: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ Click on a field trip, and the information bar will expand. Click on the button that says, “Read more.” Try it on the O’Leno trip; you’ll end up here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/oleno-state-park-3/?instance_id=349 Scroll down the page a bit, and you’ll see a gray box that says, “Leave a reply.” If you need a ride, or you’re willing to provide a ride, use the “Leave a reply” box to say so. Don’t wait till the last minute. I know how you can be.

What may turn out to be Alachua County’s sixth-ever Black-headed Grosbeak had a fatal collision with a window at UF’s Bartram Hall on the 9th (photo here). It was an immature bird, and Black-headed Grosbeaks of that age can be difficult to distinguish from Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Andy Kratter will be prepping the specimen in the next week or so, and should be able to determine its identity then. Meanwhile, watch your feeders!

The arrival of Bay-breasted Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers during the second week of October normally signals the last wave of neotropical migrants. This year the first Bay-breasted was extraordinarily early: Barbara Shea saw one at Sparrow Alley on September 21st, by thirteen days a new record. From the description it was in breeding plumage – they normally molt into winter plumage on the nesting grounds, before heading south – but that may be connected with its early arrival here. Jonathan Mays saw another relatively early Bay-breasted in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th, and on the more typical date of October 9th Matt O’Sullivan saw one at Bolen Bluff and Dean and Samuel Ewing saw one in their NW Gainesville yard. Chris Burney spotted the only Black-throated Green that’s been reported this fall, on the 4th at Prairie Creek Preserve.

Jerry Krummrich had a nice day on Bellamy Road on the 3rd: “Was drawn to my favorite trail today and it was kinda birdy. Trail was wet but walkable and always interesting habitat changes from flooded woods to wildflowers in sandhills in a 50 yard stretch. Best bird was a Swainson’s Warbler along the trail with flooded woods in background. He was repeating call notes I was unfamiliar with – unlike Ovenbird, clearer and less frequent, less agitated attitude. He was cooperative and hopped up on limbs about 10 feet away/5 feet off ground. Had 11 warblers total including Blue-winged and Golden-winged in same tree, a dozen Ovenbirds, 1 Redstart and a Magnolia. Had a Merlin and a Cooper’s over scrub open woods. Several Empidonax and Veerys.” I asked Jerry where along Bellamy Road he was, and he replied, “I was referring to the Interpretive Trailhead, a portion of O’Leno SP located/accessed off 441 just south of main entrance road to O’Leno. You turn on Bellamy here (is a sign on highway), drive east and enter parking area trailhead. Trail connects to Sweetwater Branch Trail. I enjoy birding here because of habitat diversity – sandhill, scrub, and floodplain – it’s the area on top of the underground Santa Fe River which turns into a meandering slough during rainy periods – lots of tree species. Trail also connects to marked horse trails – lots of edges. Yes – sorry – it’s in Columbia County.” So now you’ve got a new birding spot to check out, or just a pretty place to take a walk.

Mike Manetz and I spent a couple of hours birding at the Powers Park fishing pier on the 9th. We saw no Ospreys, which is normal for October, but no Limpkins either, which was very surprising given their abundance at Newnans over the past couple of years. We did, however, see a Peregrine Falcon come cruising along the southern shore of the lake at treetop level, veer out into the open at the mouth of the boat channel to give us a nice close-range look, and then head in the direction of Paynes Prairie. Samuel Ewing didn’t have to go to Powers Park to see a Peregrine; he photographed one flying over his yard on the 11th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15322086547/in/photostream/

The Alachua Audubon field trip to O’Leno on the 11th had only middling success. Warblers were sparse, and overall we didn’t see many birds of any sort. However we came across two fruiting tupelo trees that attracted thrushes of three species (Wood, Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked) and tanagers of two species (Scarlet, Summer). The day was beautiful, the trail was beautiful, and the mosquitoes were few. On the way home Mike and I spent a few minutes at the Hague Dairy because it’s getting to be time for Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They often travel with big flocks of Brown-headed Cowbirds, but today cowbird flocks appeared to be nonexistent.

Ron Robinson photographed the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at his backyard bird bath on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15287033897/

As the migration of neotropical species draws to a close, the winter birds are starting to show up. The first Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, two of them, were seen by Matt Bruce at Palm Point on the 4th. The first Blue-headed Vireo was seen by John Hintermister at Bolen Bluff on the 5th. The first American Goldfinch – a very early bird – was seen by Andy Kratter in his SE Gainesville yard on the 6th, and it was Andy who saw the first Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Bolen Bluff on the 7th. The first Yellow-rumped Warbler (!), another early bird, was seen by Mike Manetz at Palm Point on the 9th. And I saw the winter’s first sparrow, a Savannah, at the Hague Dairy on the 11th.

Speaking of winter, Ron Pittaway’s annual Winter Finch Forecast has been posted on the eBird web site: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/news/wf1415/

When we visit the Cedar Key cemetery, we always park in the shady grove of sand pines at the north end. Until this week there was a thick border of palmettos and scrubby vegetation growing along the driveway. Now it looks like this. Migratory birds have one less bit of shelter on this island, which has become too popular for its own good. If you’d like to protest this action, and say a few words on behalf of the birds (and remind those in power that birders often visit Cedar Key, and spend money there), write the Cedar Key Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 610, Cedar Key, FL 32625 AND Mayor Dale Register, P.O. Box 339 Cedar Key, FL 32625.

Remember: carpooling via the Alachua Audubon web site!

Spring ain’t over. In case you were thinking it was.

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

At some point you should get around to looking at this: http://standbyourplan.org/

Remember that spring migration is still underway, and there are plenty of surprises out there. Dean and Samuel Ewing saw a Peregrine Falcon at the Hague Dairy this morning. Samuel wrote, “Speedy flyby, swooped real low right over the lagoon. It then headed off to the north. Large falcon with a gray back and pointed wings. Extremely fast flyer.”

The Swainson’s Warbler discovered at Bolen Bluff by Adam and Gina Kent on the morning of the 26th was not an easy bird to relocate. I arrived in the early afternoon to find a few birders already searching. Adam Zions, who had glimpsed it, was trying to hunt it down again to get a better look. Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan were combing the woods to the north, since it had last been seen moving in that direction. Bill and Nell Pennewill showed up not long after I did. We moved slowly back and forth along the trails and among the trees, watching the ground for a little brown bird that would be methodically turning over leaves. We had no luck. After half an hour Adam went home. Another two hours and Mike and Matt left. Bill and Nell and I were the only ones left, and Nell was getting tired. She set up a folding chair beside the trail and said she was going to sit down and rest her back. Bill went one way down the trail, I went the other. Still nothing. It was coming up on three and a half hours that I’d been there and I was on my way to tell Bill and Nell that I was heading home when Bill appeared on the trail, gesturing for me to hurry. While seated in her folding chair Nell had seen a brown bird with a reddish crown at the edge of a thicket. Bill and I crept into the woods adjoining the thicket and peered into the deep shade – and there it was, perfectly silent but quite active, walking on the forest floor, turning over leaves with its bill, and regularly displaying what Dunn and Garrett’s Field Guide to Warblers terms “a quivering movement of the rear parts.” A very neat little bird! Only the second I’ve seen in Alachua County.

Speaking of rare warblers, we’ve had three Cerulean Warblers in the county this spring. That’s a little surprising, since in the forty springs prior to this one there had been a grand total of four! Two of this year’s sightings came on April 20th, fifteen miles apart: Jonathan Mays saw an adult male in his SE Gainesville yard and Bob Hargrave saw another adult male on his farm near Monteocha. Then, on the 24th, Andy Kratter saw a female along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail near Pine Grove Cemetery. Here’s a video of a male Cerulean going about his daily business (his song resembles that of a common local species, Northern Parula): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUU7-qsmS0c

Something else that’s different this spring. Gainesville rarely sees thrushes in spring migration, but this year all the migrant species have been recorded, not just once but several times. Samuel Ewing photographed Swainson’s, Gray-cheeked, and Veery in one walk on the 23rd, on the Loblolly Woods boardwalk north of 8th Avenue, and he also saw or heard three Wood Thrushes. You can see his photos on his eBird checklist here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S18041319

Steve Zoellner writes that the grosbeaks and buntings are still at Hogtown Creek near Mildred’s: “The ‘blue bonanza’ is still active. I went by late Sunday afternoon (after the Gators swept Missouri) and saw male Blue Grosbeaks and female Indigo Buntings.” Michael Meisenburg adds that the vegetation attracting the birds to Hogtown Creek “is the same grass that’s on Lake Alice: giant cutgrass (or southern wild rice). Lake Alice could really be hopping now, as there are acres of that species out there.” Bobolinks are also fond of giant cutgrass, and they’re passing through the area in numbers. I ran into photographer Tommy Tompkins at La Chua on the 26th and he estimated that he’d seen 500 Bobolinks that morning. So it’s a good time to visit Lake Alice or that stretch of Hogtown Creek, because in addition to Blue Grosbeaks and Indigo Buntings you might see the very scene that Steve Collins photographed nine years ago: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/14025723226/

Two of our wintering wrens, the Sedge Wren and the Marsh Wren, often persist into late April and even early May. Like most wrens, they’re big on personality, but they’re so secretive that they don’t get their fair share of admiration. They’re lovely little birds, though, so I thought I’d share two pictures that talented local photographers got this weekend. Tommy Tompkins photographed this Sedge Wren along the La Chua Trail on the 26th, and John Martin photographed this Marsh Wren at the Hague Dairy on the following day.

And I can’t resist passing along this photo of a baby Killdeer that John discovered near Alachua on the 27th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/14035257545/

Mark your calendar: On Saturday, May 10th, join Ron Robinson on a visit to a very large Purple Martin colony near Bronson, where you can see and experience the joys of being a Purple Martin landlord. There are over 100 pairs of martins at the site and the owner will lower parts of one of his towers so the guests can see the inside of an active martin nesting gourd. The sound of that many martins singing as they fly around the structures is not to be missed (Lynn Badger once said, “It’s impossible to hear Purple Martins and NOT be happy”). If you like birds and birding, you will love the sight and sound of this large colony. Meet Ron at the Target store parking lot at I-75 and Archer Road at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 10th. You will not be disappointed.

(Assuming that birdwatching produces individuals who can be plausibly described as “great,”) Paul Lehman is one of birding’s greats. In a recent issue of Birding magazine he published an interesting and helpful article on the importance of knowing birds’ “S&D” (status and distribution). It’s well worth your time: http://aba.org/birding/2014-MAR-APR/Lehman.pdf

A slight warblerization of the avifauna

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

Join Craig Faulhaber, FWC’s Florida Scrub-Jay Conservation Coordinator, for a presentation on the biology and conservation of the Florida Scrub-Jay, the only bird species unique to Florida. Come hear about its fascinating social system, its unique scrub habitat, and the challenges and opportunities for conserving this charismatic species. The presentation will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17th, at the Prairie Creek Lodge at 7204 County Road 234. For more information contact Alachua Conservation Trust by phone (352-373-1078) or email ( info@AlachuaConservationTrust.org ).

Ron Robinson will lead a field trip to Bronson on the 28th to see a “super Purple Martin colony” (over 200 nests!). We’ll have more details as we get closer to the time, but grab your calendar right this very minute and pencil it in. I should point out that there will also be an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock that day. Life is full of hard choices.

Speaking of Alachua Audubon field trips, remember that we’ll offer two field trips each of the next two weekends: Palm Point and Powers Park on the 20th, Cedar Key on the 21st, Hickory Mound Impoundment on the 27th, and the aforementioned trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Millhopper Road entrance on the 28th. Details are here. The Georgia Coast trip on May 4/5 has been canceled, but we may find something else to do that weekend, so watch this space.

Okay. Spring migration has gotten pretty interesting during the last few days:

While working in a restricted part of Paynes Prairie on the 15th, Jonathan Mays found the best bird of the season so far, a Swainson’s Warbler, one of only about twenty ever sighted in the county: “Located after hearing him sing (8:22 a.m.) but most of view obscured by vegetation (could see rust cap and unstreaked breast though); moving east along treeline edge of canal/dike; song loud and similar to Louisiana Waterthrush (3 clear intro notes) but ending not garbled … sang multiple times (ca. 6) from close range.” He also saw a Yellow Warbler (“Beautiful all yellow bird w/faint red stripes on chest – male; did not sing but gave dull chip note when it flew; seen very well in open branches of a willow”) and at least six Northern Waterthrushes.

On the 13th Michael Meisenburg led an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Progress Center, where the participants saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Cape May, 6 Prairies, 3 American Redstarts, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak, among other things.

And on the 14th, Andy Kratter found about the same variety around his SE Gainesville neighborhood: a Worm-eating, a Cape May, a Prairie, an American Redstart, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak.

Painted Buntings are showing up, as they are wont to do during Indigo Bunting migration: Stephen McCullers saw a male at Bivens Arm Nature Park on the 12th,  Tonya Becker of Gainesville has had a male and a female visiting her Gainesville yard since the 13th, while Phil Laipis had yet another male in his NW Gainesville back yard on the 15th.

John Killian walked out La Chua on the 15th and found a Great White Heron near the observation platform. Also a Whooping Crane and the season’s first Purple Gallinule. Usually Purple Gallinules are here by late March, but like several other species, including Summer Tanager and Orchard Oriole, it’s running a little late this spring.

Stephen McCullers saw the Groove-billed Ani and two Yellow-breasted Chats along Sparrow Alley on the 16th. This is a new late record for Groove-billed Ani in Alachua County, by four days.

On the 14th Keith Collingwood saw a Clay-colored Sparrow at a feeder in his Melrose yard, tying the latest spring record set in 1963.

On the morning of the 13th Andy Kratter counted 92 Common Loons flying over SE Gainesville, and 18 on the following morning.

On the 7th Samuel Ewing saw an interesting nighthawk near his family’s home in Newberry: “I was doing a ‘nighthawk watch’ and after a little while spotted one flying north. It was quite low and was swaying side to side and turning around acrobatically trying to catch insects. I could clearly see the white bars on the wing.” The flight style sounds like that of a Lesser Nighthawk, and since they do winter in South Florida they’d have to migrate through North Florida to get home – but obviously there’s no way to know which it was. On the 12th Benjamin Ewing heard a definite Common Nighthawk calling while playing ball with the family, and he and Samuel saw a second one as well.

April 1st brought amusing April Fool’s posts from two birding blogs, advertising the best binoculars ever manufactured and warning us that ABA is going to clamp down on dubious life lists:
http://www.nemesisbird.com/2013/04/the-new-eagle-optics-wild-turkey-10×50/
http://blog.aba.org/2013/03/aba-set-to-enforce-list-totals.html

There’s a new Florida Big Day record: 195 species in a single day! Read about it at http://birdingforconservation.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-big-day.html

Jackson Childs’s movie about spring bird migration, “Gulf Crossing,” is available for viewing at http://gulfcrossingmovie.com/Gulf_Crossing.html

Birds you can’t see

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

The biggest birding news this week is also the most frustrating. Since the 5th a Buff-bellied Hummingbird has been coming to a feeder south of Williston (in Levy County), but the homeowner hasn’t yet responded to requests to allow the birding public in to see it. She may refuse, or she may delay long enough that the bird leaves for its nesting grounds in Texas and Mexico. This is at least the second record for Levy County; one was in Cedar Key on 23-24 October 2000. Here’s a photo.

Pat Burns got a photo of a locally-rare Willet in the pond beside the Lowe’s in Alachua on the 5th. Willets are normally saltwater birds, and it’s pretty unusual to find one inland. Alas, when Mike Manetz went looking for it on the 6th, the bird had flown.

The Groove-billed Ani was seen again on the 6th by Larry Gridley, a birder from Albany, Georgia: “I got to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park at 0800. I found it at 0935 in the blackberry thicket were it has been reported before. I stumbled up on it as it was sunning itself in a blackberry thicket on the edge of the trail. You can see his wings flared a little and neck feathers ruffled. After about 30 minutes  warming up it flew to a small tree then to some more blackberry thickets where it was chasing bugs.” Larry posted some photos of the ani here. He also saw two Yellow-breasted Chats in the same location. The ani was seen again on the 7th by Tallahassee birder Robert Bowman.

Cedar Key has been pretty lively over the past week or so. On the 6th John Hintermister saw a Scarlet Tanager, a Cape May Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler, seven Prothonotary Warblers, six Prairies, four Hoodeds, an American Redstart, a Louisiana Waterthrush, and seven (!) Red-breasted Nuthatches. On the 1st the Ewings found a Swainson’s Warbler at the museum, and on the 6th Pat Burns found two more at an undisclosed location.

John Killian found the spring’s first Worm-eating Warbler along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco on April 2nd, by one day the earliest ever recorded in the county. Felicia Lee, Barbara Shea, and Elizabeth Martin found another along Bolen Bluff on the 7th. Prairie Warblers and American Redstarts are being reported almost daily.

The first Hooded Warblers of the spring were reported by Caleb Gordon at Loblolly Woods on the 26th and by Ryan Butryn at the FWC Wildlife Lab (near the intersection of 441 and Williston Road) on the 27th. Several have been seen since then.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows usually show up during the second week in March. This year they were late, or we noticed them late: Lloyd Davis found the first of the spring at Cellon Creek Boulevard on the 22nd. Conrad Burkholder had a lovely experience in the same spot on the 30th: “The Northern Rough-winged Swallows were numerous, with about a dozen birds flying around some large parked truck trailers, very low to the ground. I stood still while the swallows swirled in the air around me. They were flying very acrobatically and low to the ground, about 2 to 10 feet. I observed some of the swallows going in and out of the underside of one of the trailers. I also observed them picking up what appeared to be nesting material. I believe they may be nesting in the underside of the trailers.”

Laughing Gulls are mostly a warm-weather phenomenon in Alachua County. This has always mystified me. Why would they come inland during spring and summer, when they should be staying close to their nests on the coast? Anyway, the first of the spring were seen on the 1st, when Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw one flying over their neighborhood near Watermelon Pond and Andy Kratter saw three going over Pine Grove Cemetery.

There were three separate sightings of Mississippi Kites on March 29th, but there have been none reported to me (or to eBird) since then. Swallow-tailed Kites seem to be here in pretty good numbers, relatively speaking, and I’m told by a researcher that a pair is nesting within the Gainesville city limits.

There are plenty of winter birds still around. A few highlights: While doing a loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 7th, Andy Kratter saw an Eastern Phoebe, the latest ever recorded in Alachua County. Andy’s sighting broke a record that had stood since Frank Chapman saw one on April 4, 1887 – a span of 126 years! Mike Manetz heard a Whip-poor-will singing in his NW Gainesville neighborhood on the 1st. That’s not a record, but it’s pretty late nonetheless. Ryan Butryn saw a Wilson’s Warbler at the FWC Wildlife Lab on the 27th.

Birder and poet Sidney Wade invites the local birding community to join her as she reads from her sixth book of poetry, Straits & Narrows, at the downtown library on Thursday, April 11th, at 7:30 p.m. She assures me, “There will be bird poems.”

Mike Manetz writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at http://birdsandconservation.weebly.com/  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.