First migrant shorebirds

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

This morning Mike Manetz and I walked about three and a half miles at Paynes Prairie, going out Sparrow Alley and coming back along the soon-to-be-bulldozed Sweetwater Dike. We noticed a few signs of the season – Orchard Orioles and Prothonotary Warblers seemed to have departed Sweetwater and gone south, and we neither heard nor saw a Yellow-breasted Chat anywhere along our route. But we did see a couple of fall migrants – two Least Sandpipers and one Spotted Sandpiper, southward bound from their northern nesting grounds.

Mike and Bob Carroll and I checked out the Hague Dairy after a field trip committee meeting on the 17th. We were hoping for a repeat of last year, when heavy rains flooded a stubble field just north of the lagoon, attracting shorebirds of several species, including Wilson’s Phalarope and Short-billed Dowitcher. However upon reaching the field in question we discovered that it was still overgrown with vegetation three feet high, not exactly prime habitat for the birds we were hoping to see.

Ron Robinson and I birded the western shore of Newnans Lake on the morning of the 13th, visiting Powers Park, Palm Point/Lakeshore Drive, and Gum Root Swamp. No interesting terns, no Laughing Gulls, no Louisiana Waterthrushes, and no Prothonotary Warblers, but we did find the county’s first Black-and-white Warbler of the fall at Palm Point and another at Gum Root. Another Black-and-white was in my back yard on the 17th, along with a Yellow-throated Warbler (which doesn’t live in my neighborhood, so it must have been a migrant as well).

On July 10th between 7:30 and 8:00, Geoff Parks saw “about 16″ Swallow-tailed Kites roosting in a dead pine directly across NW 39th Avenue from the Magnolia Parke entrance. At 7:45 on the morning of the 14th he passed by the tree again and noted 10-15 kites.

I mentioned a nest of Blue Grosbeak eggs at La Chua in the last birding report. The three eggs hatched on the 8th, and the young seemed to be doing well. But on the 15th Deena Mickelson, who’d been keeping an eye on the nest, wrote, “I went by this morning, after the thunderstorm had rolled out, only to find the entire nest gone. At first I only saw the male nearby, but on my return the female was there as well. Both were in the shrubs on each side of the one that had contained the nest. When a Fish Crow landed on the weather station across the trail the male and female grosbeak both got really agitated for a while. After the crow left they quieted down again, but stayed in the area. I confess I clambered up on the bottom rung of the fence trying to see if the nest was visible anywhere, but I couldn’t see it anywhere; I suspect it went in the water underneath and that’s that, as they say.”

On a more cheerful note, here’s a picture of a “parliament” of Burrowing Owls from Steve Collins in Texas: https://www.flickr.com/photos/odephoto/14687813742/ (“Parliament” is considered the proper collective noun for a group of owls, but Chaucer wrote a poem called the “Parliament of Fowls” that involved more birds than just owls; the Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning of parliament in this instance as a “consultative assembly,” and specifically refers to Chaucer’s “parlement of briddes.” It doesn’t mention parliament as a collective noun for owls, so that must be a fairly recent invention.)

Have you been sending daily emails to the County Commissioners, asking them not to close access to the north part of the trail at Barr Hammock? The Gainesville Sun published an editorial against closing the trail on the 13th: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20140713/OPINION01/140719946/1076/opinion01?Title=Editorial-Homes-and-hikers You can tell the Commissioners your opinion at bocc@alachuacounty.us They’re eager to know your opinion and they can’t hear from you too often!

Barr Hammock in trouble

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

A small group of landowners whose property adjoins Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake Loop has complained that the presence of pedestrians on the trail “negatively impact [their] privacy and quiet enjoyment of [their] property.” They would like to close the section of the trail that runs behind their land. If they were to succeed in doing this, there would be no loop trail – you’d have to walk five miles in, then turn around and walk five miles out. The Environmental Protection Department is fully aware that this is not a good idea, and has said so to the County Commission. However there will be a public hearing on the matter on Tuesday, July 1st. I can’t see how the county could rationally decide in the landowners’ favor – the landowners are, after all, asserting private-property rights over public property – but if you’re willing to speak on behalf of keeping the trail open, the meeting will take place at 5 p.m. in the Grace Knight Conference Room, located on the second floor of the Alachua County Administration building (12 SE 1st Street, downtown Gainesville). Otherwise, especially if you’ve enjoyed the trail at Levy Lake, you can send an email to the entire Board of County Commissioners, asking them to maintain the trail as it is, at bocc@alachuacounty.us

Twenty-one people showed up to see the Burrowing Owls at Watermelon Pond on Saturday morning. As we gathered in the county park I heard a bird singing from a willow beside the boat ramp. One random phrase followed another without repetition (almost like one of my birding reports!). It sounded to me like a Gray Catbird, but they’re not supposed to be here, so I asked Mike Manetz, who was just getting out of his car, what he thought. “Gray Catbird!” Mike said. We were able to get the bird in the telescope and everyone got to watch it as it sang. Samuel Ewing managed a photo in the low light: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14503575746/ Gray Catbirds normally nest north of us, but every few years we’ll find one singing during the summertime, and from 2000-05 we had several that summered here and even nested. Still, it’s a surprise to see one at this time of year.

The three Burrowing Owls were cooperative enough, but the grass had grown longer since the first field trip two weeks ago and they were frustratingly hard to see. However the group contained several June Challenge participants, and they were happy to add another bird to their list, good views or not. (And Katherine Edison got a very nice shot of a Sherman’s Fox Squirrel as she was heading home afterward: http://kvedisonnaturephotos.smugmug.com/Animals/Mammals/i-pf6RvX7/A )

Afterward, several of us went to Peter Polshek’s house on NW 8th Avenue in hope of seeing the Broad-winged Hawk he’d seen and heard repeatedly in the trees on his property. We didn’t have a lot of time, and it hadn’t shown up by the time we left. But Samuel and Benjamin Ewing dropped by in the early afternoon and spotted it. Samuel was able to get a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/14524708241/ Inspired, I went over to Peter’s early this afternoon. I found Bob Simons and Maralee Joos there. We stood around for a while, watching the sky. Maralee left. Bob and I watched the sky for a while longer, and then Bob left. I kept watching the sky. Then Dalcio Dacol showed up, then Danny Shehee. We continued to watch the sky. We saw birds – Swallow-tailed Kites, Mississippi Kites, a Cooper’s Hawk – but not the one we wanted. After I’d been standing there for two and a half hours, Matt O’Sullivan joined us. We watched the sky. Five minutes later he said, “What’s that?” It was the Broad-winged Hawk. Matt was probably thinking, “I don’t know why these geezers made such a fuss about the bird. That was easy!”

There were some good sightings at La Chua this morning: Adam and Gina Kent saw a Tree Swallow, one of only a few June records in the county’s history, and Bob and Erika Simons saw a Lesser Scaup off the observation platform. You’ve still got a day to try for them.

Remember to send me your final totals on Monday night. And to let me know if you’re attending the June Challenge party on Tuesday night.

And remember to send a quick email in support of Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake Loop to the County Commission. It’ll take less than a minute: bocc@alachuacounty.us

Broad-winged Hawk, possible American Bittern

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

Mike Manetz writes, “While doing my Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua this morning I got a good look at a Broad-winged Hawk. It was along Peggy Road about 50 yards west of 325A, in the picnic area for Dollar General employees. Only about 10 minutes later a security guard asked me to leave the property. So the best way to see it is to wait at the intersection and watch for it soaring overhead.”

Chris Cattau had an even more unusual sighting today: “I’m 95% sure I saw an American Bittern fly across the right (north) fork of the Levy Prairie around 8:30 AM (right at a big turn to the north, not too far before the 2 mi marker). Larger and longer billed than immature night herons, legs extending well beyond tail, neck was outstretched and distinctly longer (okay, 99% sure). I was biking and it was steamy out by that time and my glasses fogged up when I stopped to put up binos. It was a short flight, flushing not far from one side of the trail and landing not too far on the other side, but never revealed itself again.” There’s only one previous June record for American Bittern in Alachua County.

Having missed the first ten days of June, I’m playing catch-up in the June Challenge competition. I’ve seen 79 species so far, but I understand that Maralee Joos is up to 109. I’m not sure I can make up a 30-species deficit in the twelve days I’ve got left, and there may be someone who’s ahead of Maralee that I don’t know about! Anyway, I was out at La Chua this evening, trying to find some new things for June. I saw an American Coot along Sweetwater Dike, between the first and second 90-degree turns, off to the left. Also two Least Bitterns, three Orchard Orioles, and a pair of Purple Gallinules. I heard two King Rails but didn’t see any.

I’ve been out at La Chua toward dusk on two of the last three evenings, and both times I saw a bird that looked like a female Bobolink flying in the direction of the observation platform. If it wasn’t a Bobolink I have no idea what it was, but that’s a species that’s never been recorded here in June.

John Sloane has been active with the Breeding Bird Atlas in Alachua County (Melrose area) and and has extended his surveys to Bradford, Clay, and Putnam Counties. He’s discovered some previously unsuspected riches in eastern Alachua County between Earleton and Hawthorne, including numbers of Swallow-tailed Kites, which I’d normally expect in the eastern county, but also numbers of Missisissippi Kites, which I would not, and a surprising variety of other birds: “Today Janet and I went out to to the intersection of County Road 219A and County Road 1474 east of Campville to check on the kites. We surveyed within a half mile of the intersection and found most of them within the NW quadrant. Of course it was difficult for us to get an accurate total count, so I will report the minimum count, which would be the maximum number we saw at any one location at the same time. We believe this count to be conservative. Minimum number of Swalllow-tailed Kites was 12 including a number of juveniles, Mississippi Kites was 6 including several juveniles. Two Red-tailed Hawks were with them. This area is mostly hay fields with scattered trees and a few ponds. Also noted in the same area were nesting Eastern Kingbirds, Loggerhead Shrikes, Eastern Meadowlarks, and Common Grackles, along with Northern Bobwhite, Orchard Oriole, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak, Eastern Bluebird, and so on. A nice productive area.”

While driving around, I’m seeing a lot of Osprey nests that have either fledged chicks already – or else they’ve been abandoned. Has anyone else noticed this? The one along 441 where it starts south across Paynes Prairie, and the one near the Gainesville Police Department building – did they fledge any young this year? I’ve noticed a couple other empty nests as well, and I’ve been wondering how widespread this is.

Remember Ernesto Reyes Mourino’s photographic presentation on the birds of Cuba’s Zapata Swamp on Thursday night at ACT.

And remember to let me know if you want to go see Alachua County’s only Burrowing Owls on the 28th.

First Swallow-tailed Kite!

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

Craig Faulhaber saw the first Swallow-tailed Kite of the spring flying over Hawthorne Road at Prairie Creek on the 15th. This was the second-earliest in the county’s history; the earliest was seen on February 6, 1954.

Jonathan Mays saw a Winter Wren while running along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail just west of Prairie Creek on the evening of the 16th. It’s late for a Winter Wren in Alachua County, and the bird may have been on its way north; at any rate, no one was able to relocate it on the following day.

Likewise, the Ash-throated Flycatcher found by Dalcio Dacol on the 14th has not been relocated.

On the other hand, the Red-breasted Nuthatch continues to visit Steve Zoellner’s yard a few blocks from Westside Park. Matt O’Sullivan got a nice picture of it on the 18th. He wrote, “I first heard it about 2:25-2:30 and it arrived in the yard at about 2:40, it came to the feeder about 5 times but it spent most of the time foraging in the big oak in the above the feeders. It hung around for about an hour until right before I left. It was NOT SHY and even came to feed when I was only a yard or so away from the feeder. Fantastic little bird!”

The second edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds is due out in about three weeks: http://www.sibleyguides.com/2014/01/the-second-edition-is-in-hand/

Speaking of David Sibley, those of you who saw the Snowy Owl in Jacksonville may be particularly interested in this offer he’s making: http://www.sibleyguides.com/2014/01/snowy-owl-print-to-benefit-project-snowstorm/

Debbie Segal forwarded an open invitation from the Water and Land Legacy Campaign: “The Water and Land Legacy Campaign, together with the Alachua Audubon Society and the Alachua Conservation Trust, invites all North Central Florida volunteers and donors who contributed to the successful petition drive to please join us as we celebrate the colossal accomplishment of collecting enough signatures and funding to meet the rigorous requirements of being added to the November 2014 ballot! Please join us to celebrate this enormous accomplishment. It is a potluck menu so please bring a dish of your choice. Drinks will be provided by Alachua Audubon. Prairie Creek Lodge is one mile south of the intersection of County Roads 2082 and 234, and six miles north of Micanopy. For more comprehensive directions, please visit Prairie Creek Lodge. We look forward to enjoying fine friends and their partners for an evening of celebrating a job well done! Please be sure to RSVP today! or reply to campaign@floridawaterlandlegacy.org and tell us how many will attend. If you have questions, please call Tom Kay with ACT at (352) 373-1078.”

Ranger Howard Adams, a Paynes Prairie institution, is retiring from the Park Service at the end of this month after 36 years. How anyone can survive a third of a century of state employment without heart and soul turning to dust and blowing away on the first light breeze is beyond my ability to comprehend, but I hope you’ll send him your best wishes at howardadams2011@gmail.com and attend his retirement party at Prairie Creek Lodge on March 2nd: http://www.prairiefriends.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1684451&eventId=851291&EventViewMode=EventDetails  Howard will also be leading a farewell walk on the 22nd, for which you can register here: http://www.prairiefriends.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1684451&eventId=850754&EventViewMode=EventDetails

Preliminary results of the fall migration count

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

First day of fall! Now the nights start getting longer and the days start getting shorter and the birds start getting more abundant!

I haven’t received all the results from Saturday’s fall migration count, but I can tell you that every single White-eyed Vireo presently in existence showed up in Alachua County to be tallied. My team got 60; the NW County team reported 116. The two best birds of the day were a Black-billed Cuckoo seen by the Levy Lake team, and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher seen by the Bolen Bluff team. The cuckoo was about three miles out, beyond the point where the right (north) fork of the loop trail turns south. The flycatcher was not quite so far away: taking the left fork of the Bolen Bluff Trail, walk until you’re about 75 yards shy of the open grassy area where the two forks come together. The bird was there, on the wooded slope below the trail. Several of us went looking for it this morning, but although we found four calling Acadian Flycatchers in the general area, plus two other silent Empidonax flycatchers, none of them matched Andy Kratter’s description of the bird (“yellow underparts, brightest on the throat, shortish tailed, big headed, relatively short primary extension, quite different from the elongate slender cresty look of the other Acadian we saw today”). Other highlights of the count included two Merlins at O’Leno State Park and one at Paynes Prairie, two Alder Flycatchers, a Broad-winged Hawk, and a Yellow-breasted Chat at La Chua, American Bitterns at Newnans Lake and La Chua, Golden-winged Warblers at Gum Root Swamp and San Felasco Progress Center, a Tree Swallow and a Bachman’s Sparrow on the south side of the Prairie, and a Bobolink and a first-of-the-season House Wren in the rural northwestern part of the county. At least 24 species of warblers were found. Once I’ve compiled the reports, I’ll post the final results.

Mike Manetz and I birded the nature trail at Poe Springs Park on Friday. We saw no tanagers or cuckoos, and found only eight warbler species, but they included one Kentucky, one “Brewster’s” (a Blue-winged x Golden-winged hybrid, so not really a species), and a nice male Canada. All three were within a few yards of each other along the first part of the trail, where it overlooks a dry cypress swamp.  However I didn’t see any of them listed on Mike’s migration-count results.

Thanks to all of you who helped me keep track of the kites’ departure this year. The last Mississippi Kites of the season were three seen over the La Chua Trail on September 2nd by Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing, and the last Swallow-tailed was one seen over US-301 near Island Grove on September 1st by Travis Blunden. Both species will spend the winter in Brazil and return to the area next March (Swallow-tailed) and April (Mississippi).

Adam Zions reminds us that birds aren’t the only things you can see in trees. He was birding Bolen Bluff on the 20th and came across this bobcat loafing in a live oak.

On the other hand, Jonathan Mays reminds us that we should occasionally look down.

Adam Kent asked me to post the following announcement on behalf of the Florida Ornithological Society:
For the first time ever, expert sea-watchers reveal how to identify waterbirds at a distance! To hear more about this fascinating challenge, come to the Florida Ornithological Society (FOS) meeting this October 12th hear author Cameron Cox talk about his groundbreaking Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight. While hawk watching has been popular for years, similar bird ID techniques are also useful to identify waterbirds, sometimes at very long distances. Not just for people who bird on the coast, this presentation will help you identify waterbirds in any context, even flying over your own backyard!
What: FOS Fall meeting
When: October 11-13, 2013
Where: Hilton St. Petersburg – Carillon Park
Click here for more info about the meeting.

Students at the University of Florida are helping Alachua Audubon with its next backyard-birding tour by designing and distributing a survey about the yard tour (which they call a “birding event”) and social media. It would help Alachua Audubon if you were to take the survey, which is only twelve questions long and should take only one or two minutes. The designers of the survey write, “We are working on increasing the involvement and participation of the Alachua County Audubon Society. We have constructed this survey to gather your feedback on specific concerns we have that will aid us in our final recommendation. All of your information will be kept confidential and this survey is taken anonymously. We appreciate your feedback. Please take two minutes out of your day and complete this survey to help us better serve you”: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/WWNFTVV

More birds than you can shake a stick at, if you were inclined to shake a stick at birds

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

I’m in the process of posting the new Alachua Audubon field trip schedule on line. It’s rather slow going, because I have to create an individual page for each trip, but I like the new web site’s format. If you look at the Classes & Field Trips page, you’ll see the next ten events listed – http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ – with the date, destination (or program location), and meeting time. If you click on the “+” sign associated with a given field trip, you’ll get a description of the trip; and if you then click on “Read more,” you’ll see a map of the meeting location as well as contact information for the trip leader in case you have a question.

However, this is an instance of the reality not quite living up to the ideal, because the map doesn’t invariably agree with the coordinates I enter for it. For instance, the coordinates to the Levy Lake Loop parking area, as provided by Google Earth, take you to a Marion County prison when entered into the web site. Or at least they did before I got a different set of coordinates. And sometimes WordPress (the web site software) simply won’t accept the address. The meeting place for our Barr Hammock field trip is the Valero gas station at 101 NW Highway 441, Micanopy, FL 32667, but no matter how many times I try to enter it, WordPress deletes the street address and reduces it to “U.S. 441, Micanopy, 32667, USA,” and places the marker about a mile and a half south of the Valero station. WordPress gets it right more often than wrong, but … please use the written directions to the meeting place. Here’s an example of what it looks like when everything works properly: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/ai1ec_event/road-to-nowhere-hagens-cove/?instance_id=127 (Well, everything works right on our site. The link to Hagens Cove misspells Steinhatchee twice.)

If you’ve got Labor Day off, you might want to spend part of it birding. The migrants are moving through in big numbers, and San Felasco Hammock sounds like the place to be. More on that presently.

On the 27th, responding to Mike Manetz’s report of two Alder Flycatchers at the La Chua Trail, Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions visited La Chua and found three Alder Flycatchers. Two were where Mike had seen them, along Sparrow Alley near the barn, and the third was along Sweetwater Dike. Adam made a short video in which a hidden Alder can be heard calling repeatedly. Dalcio Dacol relocated the Sweetwater Dike bird on the 30th, just where La Chua meets Sweetwater, and on the 1st John Martin relocated and photographed the two birds at Sparrow Alley. At least these are presumed to be the same birds discovered on the 27th; neither Dalcio nor John heard them calling.

On the 28th, Bob Simons, Dotty Robbins, and Jim Swarr went looking for the Alders along Sparrow Alley and saw a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk, no doubt the same one spotted there by Glenn Israel on the 24th.

(If you decide to look for the Alders and/or the Short-tailed, and then to walk the rest of the way out La Chua, be aware that the approach to the observation tower is under a few inches of water. Thanks to Jonathan Mays for the photo.)

On the 29th Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg found the fall’s first Golden-winged Warbler along Lakeshore Drive near Palm Point.

There was a big influx of migrants on the 31st. Jonathan and Ellen Mays found the season’s first Chestnut-sided Warbler along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, then went home and found an extraordinarily early Scarlet Tanager. Mike Manetz went to San Felasco’s Progress Park entrance (off US-441 near Alachua) and tallied twelve warbler species – the best of which were 5 Ovenbirds, a Blue-winged, and a Kentucky – and then picked a Bank Swallow out of a flock of Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts.

The next day, Jonathan and Ellen Mays and Adam Zions walked San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails (i.e., the whole system south of Millhopper Road), and they also tallied twelve warbler species, including 12 Ovenbirds, 3 Worm-eating Warblers, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Chestnut-sided, a Kentucky, and not one but two Golden-wingeds, a male and a female.

I looked at the 12 warbler species seen by Mike and the 12 seen by Jonathan, Ellen, and Adam, and it looks like there are a total of seventeen species of warblers fluttering around out there. So grab your binoculars! Go get ‘em! Besides, it’s time for the first Veery to show up, and someone needs to find the first one, it might as well be you, right?

Swallow-tailed and (especially) Mississippi Kites are still being reported. Greg Stephens had one Swallow-tailed and three Mississippis circling over his Jonesville yard simultaneously on the 31st. Please keep those reports coming!

Second-grade students taught by local birder Sharon Kuchinski are finalists in the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest, and they need your votes in order to win. You can see their entry, and cast your vote, here: http://www.expressionsacademy.org/about/spotlight-items/213-sense-of-wonder-contest

The fun never ends

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

Jonathan Mays reported an Empidonax flycatcher along the La Chua Trail’s Sparrow Alley earlier today. He couldn’t stay – he had a conference to attend – but before leaving he contacted Mike Manetz to pass the word. Mike showed up with his recording equipment and was amazed to find two – count ‘em, two – Alder Flycatchers calling and even singing. He phoned me and I was there in twenty minutes. I heard both birds calling but got only a quick look at one of them. The question that’s on every long-time Alachua County birder’s mind is, “Have Alders been coming through here all along?” We had two last September, and as many as six this year, but prior to 2010 they were almost unknown in this area, with a bare handful of “Traill’s” Flycatcher (Alder or Willow, not positively identifiable as either) reports scattered through the decades. Anyway, if you want to look for these birds, they’ve been seen along the first bit of Sparrow Alley, always within a hundred yards of the barn. Listen for the pip! call.

By the way, Jonathan got out to Levy Lake on Sunday afternoon, relocated the Alder Flycatcher on the south dike, and got a photo.

Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds often spend the entire fall and winter in a single neighborhood. Ruth Palenik and Greg Hart have hosted Rufouses (Rufi?) in their respective back yards in the past, and it’s normal for them to arrive during the last week of August. Ron Robinson saw an adult male Rufous at his feeder at the west end of Gainesville on the 26th. Will it spend the entire winter? Ron has his fingers crossed so tight he’s cutting off his circulation.

Speaking of early arrivals, Tom Hoctor looked out his NW Gainesville window on the 26th and saw a Baltimore Oriole at his feeding station. That ties the early record for Alachua County.

Lloyd Davis relocated the male Painted Bunting along La Chua’s Sweetwater Dike this morning, “where the trail starts to bend north near the lone cypress tree.”

Swallow migration is peaking now, so keep your eyes open. I was doing a bird survey at the Kanapaha Prairie this morning and there were something like 70 to 100 swallows zooming around, mostly Barn Swallows but including at least 10 Bank Swallows and a Cliff Swallow.

I also saw a Mississippi Kite there, the first I’ve seen in a while. I’d be interested in any sightings over the next month, so if you see one, please let me know. Several local birders notified me of Swallow-tailed Kite sightings after I commented that none had been reported since the 11th – Matt and Erin Kalinowski saw one at Paynes Prairie on the 16th, Buck Snelson and Margaret Flagg saw one over 441 near Williston Road on the 18th, Matthew Neilson saw two over Tower Road on the 23rd and John Martin saw one near the airport on the same day – and I’m grateful for all such reports, for both Swallow-taileds and Mississippis. It’s interesting to know when they leave.

Helen Warren just emailed: “Susan Bottcher our city commissioner just announced on Facebook that in response to the public outcry, Nathan Collier has withdrawn his offer to buy the Loblolly property.”

Barn Owl? We got yer Barn Owl right here

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

I hadn’t heard of anyone staking out the US-441 observation platform for Barn Owls this month, so at 7:30 Wednesday evening Ron Robinson and I met there to see what would fly by as the sun went down. There wasn’t much to look at – a couple of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, half a dozen Sandhill Cranes (including a couple of full-grown juveniles), a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a bunch of Red-winged Blackbirds – and as it got darker and darker I was afraid we were going to be skunked. But at 8:50 we spotted a Barn Owl flying around, and at 8:55 a Black-crowned Night-Heron popped up from the willows south of the platform. Both were new June Challenge birds for us.

Ron and Greg Hart and I visited a bunch of birding spots on Tuesday morning. We started at the Newberry cemetery, which I’d never visited before. The Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing as we opened the car door, and within thirty seconds we had it in view. Northern Flicker and White-winged Dove were almost as easy to find. Then we headed east to north Gainesville, where Ron had found a family of Pied-billed Grebes on Monday. He was driving past a retention pond at the intersection of NE 35th Avenue and NE 4th Street (which, despite the “NE,” is actually a block west of Main Street) when he spotted the birds in the water, an adult and eight almost-grown chicks. From there we went all the way to the southeastern end of the county, to see if anything unusual was at River Styx or Lake Lochloosa. We got a Prothonotary Warbler at River Styx and a Bald Eagle at Lochloosa, but nothing else of note. Then it was back to Gainesville, to check Lake Alice for a Belted Kingfisher that Frank and Irina Goodwin had seen there on Sunday. We waited for fifteen minutes, and though we saw a Swallow-tailed Kite we never saw the kingfisher (which doesn’t mean it’s not there). Our last stop was Possum Creek Park, where we found a juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron in a shady recess of a buttonbush thicket.

Frank Goodwin and I splashed into Gum Root Swamp on Monday morning in search of Prothonotary Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Barred Owl. The vireos, a pair of them, were right there in the parking lot. The Barred Owl was perched over the creek just beyond the first bridge. But to get to the warbler we had to get our feet wet – all the way up to mid-thigh. It turned out to be a really lovely experience. The mosquitoes had been bothering us in the uplands, but when we entered the water we left them behind. The air was cool. And our surroundings were green and beautiful. When we got out to the edge of the lake we found our Prothonotary, who sang unceasingly and came close enough for Frank to get a picture. And there were a couple of surprises. We discovered the hot-pink egg clusters of the exotic Island Apple Snail in Hatchet Creek for the first time ever and, not coincidentally, discovered their chief predator shortly thereafter – a bird that’s becoming fairly common at Newnans Lake because of the snails’ exploding population. And when I idly kicked at a knot on a rotten cypress tree lying on the ground, I uncovered the one and only Rough Earthsnake I’ve seen in my life. Sure, it’s small and nondescript, but it was the most exciting moment of the day for me. I submitted Frank’s photo to the museum’s herpetology department as an “image voucher,” because – and this will give you some idea how uncommonly they’re found – they have only one specimen collected since 1970.

On Tuesday, Becky Enneis found Black-bellied Whisting-Ducks and an American Coot at Home Depot Pond, off Tower Road just south of Newberry Road. And as long as you’re in that neighborhood, don’t forget the Graylag Geese at Red Lobster Pond. And once you’ve seen them, head over to the Duck Pond for the Black Swans. The geese and swans aren’t really countable, but they belong on your June Challenge list. Why? Because, just because. I’ll tell you when you’re older.

Danny Shehee writes, “I was birding around the wetland area at Magnolia Park just beyond the open field. I met a young woman looking for her Quaker Parrot [Monk Parakeet] named Rio, he`s a small parrot. She said he would come if he heard his name called. Her name is Lilia and her number is 352-870-2711. I thought the birding community might just happen to see him.”

First two days of The June Challenge

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

I showed up at Morningside Nature Center on Sunday morning to make sure everyone on the butterfly field trip signed the liability form and wouldn’t be able to sue us for butterfly bites, etc. Maralee Joos pulled in right behind me. She told me that she’d just come from Palm Point, where Lloyd Davis had found and photographed a very late Tree Swallow. As soon as everyone had signed the form I rushed to Palm Point in hopes of seeing it myself, but I was too late.

That’s probably the best bird found on The June Challenge so far. The best I’ve heard about, anyway.

Saturday’s field trip in search of June Challenge birds was very well attended – I think I counted 34 or 35 people – but the birds were not eager to be seen, so we spent a lot more time searching for them, and a lot less time actually enjoying them, than I’d expected. We did eventually find most of what we were hoping for, though. At Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve we got a quick glimpse of three Common Nighthawks and (after quite a bit of walking) got to ogle a very cooperative Bachman’s Sparrow. At Owens-Illinois Park in Windsor we saw four distant Laughing Gulls and one adult Bald Eagle, plus a bonus, two or three Limpkins drawn to the area by an abundance of exotic apple snails. Because we’d spent so much time in the first two locations, Powers Park and Palm Point were struck from the itinerary and we went directly to La Chua. There we had mixed luck: just about everyone saw the Whooping Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Great White Heron (non-countable), Least Bitterns, Purple Gallinules, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and lingering Blue-winged Teal and American Coots, but only some of us saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Northern Bobwhite, Common Ground-Dove, and Orchard Oriole, and we never found the Yellow-breasted Chat at all. I think most of us ended the field trip with 50-55 species on our lists.

You can read Katherine Edison’s account of the morning, with photos, here.

On Saturday afternoon I drove out to Cellon Creek Boulevard, which has always been a good place to find, in a single spot, several birds that can be hard to see in summer. I discovered that a new fence had been put up near the generating station, barring access to the brushy edges at the top of the hill. Still, I saw most of what I’d come for: American Kestrel, Eastern Kingbird, Killdeer, Red-headed Woodpecker, Eastern Bluebird, Brown Thrasher, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Purple Martin, Eastern Meadowlark, and Loggerhead Shrike. Northern Bobwhites called but never showed themselves, Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites sailed over the treeline on the far side of the pasture, and, rather surprisingly, a flock of 17 Laughing Gulls flew past.

In past years I expected to find Northern Rough-winged Swallows and Common Ground-Doves there as well, but neither showed up this year. A couple of people told me later that I could see Rough-wingeds at the Hague Dairy, and on eBird I noticed that John Martin got 14 of them there on Sunday, probably two or three family groups. If the young have already fledged, they’ll be leaving soon, so get out there and add them to your June Challenge list while you can.

Carol Huang emailed earlier today to tell me that she’d found a Northern Flicker and Red-headed Woodpeckers at Northeast Park on NE 16th Avenue a little east of Main Street. Flickers are rare summer residents in Alachua County, and Northeast Park and Morningside Nature Center are about the only places where they can reliably be found.

And you can see Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at the Red Lobster Pond. Only two remained on Sunday morning.

Finally, a little business. Gmail seems to have a limit of 500 addresses to which it will send any given email, and we’re getting close. I know that a fair proportion of the 497 addresses on this mailing list go to UF students who have moved on, people who have lost interest, and others who just expected something different when they signed up. So if you’d like to continue to receive the Alachua County birding reports, please send an email to let me know that – something simple, like “Keep me on the list” or “You are the wind beneath my wings.” I’ll delete the addresses of those who don’t respond, and that should reduce the mailing list to a Gmail-friendly 300-400 addresses. Okay? Okay! I’ll repeat this request twice more, for those who miss it the first and second times.

Last birding report before The June Challenge!

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

We’ve got two field trips left in the Audubon year. After these, no more till September:

It’s not technically an Audubon field trip, but at 6:15 a.m. on June 1st you can help me kick off The Tenth Annual June Challenge at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve on County Road 325 a couple miles south of Hawthorne Road. We’ll hit four or five locations during what will be (I hope) a fast-moving and productive morning.

(By the way, if you’d like to keep track of the birds you see during The June Challenge but don’t have a checklist, Phil Laipis has put together a simple printable checklist of the birds you’re most likely to see in Alachua County, with 25 extra blanks for all the exciting strays and rarities you’ll undoubtedly find. Click here.)

On the 2nd, Dr. Jaret Daniels, Assistant Director for Research at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, will lead a field trip in search of butterflies. Call Wild Birds Unlimited at 352-381-1997 for details about the meeting time and place.

It’s that time of year. Baby birds are everywhere. I was very pleased the other day when one of “my” Red-headed Woodpeckers stuck its head into a nest hole in the oak in my front yard and I heard the squealing of her chicks. A couple days later and just down the street, a full-grown Red-headed chick stuck its gray head out of a nest hole in a dead palm. More Red-headed Woodpeckers = a better world. But on the 27th, near the Kanapaha Prairie, I saw something even better: a bird walked onto the road, a second bird followed it, and as I drove closer I realized that there were a dozen tiny little things swarming across the road with them: it was a pair of Northern Bobwhites and their cotton-ball-sized chicks. They reached the shoulder just as I pulled even, and I got a close look at the female and one of the youngsters, and … if they made Red Bull out of adorable instead of chemicals, I felt like I’d drunk two cases of Red Bull.

Frank Chapman’s 100-year-old records have been dropping like flies this spring. The latest Eastern Phoebe ever recorded in Alachua County was one that Chapman saw on April 4, 1887 – until Andy Kratter saw one on April 7th this year. And the latest Bobolinks were a flock that Chapman saw on May 25, 1887 – until I flushed one at the Kanapaha Prairie on May 27th this year. I wonder if either of these new records will stand for 126 years, like the old ones did. I doubt it.

Since last summer I’ve been doing regular bird surveys at several county properties. On the 29th I spent the morning at Balu Forest, a 1576-acre tract of pine flatwoods between Gainesville and Melrose that will open to the public in the not-too-distant future. I found large numbers of Eastern Towhees and Common Yellowthroats, a couple singing Bachman’s Sparrows, a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, a Northern Bobwhite, and a Swallow-tailed Kite – but the best thing I found wasn’t a bird.

Bob Carroll, Becky Enneis, and Linda Holt are taking the birding trip of a lifetime to Alaska. Bob tells me that he’s going to post updates on his blog, so watch this space: http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

Speaking of blogs, Katherine Edison posted a lovely meditation on “A Sense of Place”: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/05/a-sense-of-place.html