A few news items, plus a Cedar Key bird report

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

Join the Alachua Audubon Society on Wednesday, April 15th at 6:00 pm for our annual pot luck dinner celebration and to help us welcome our newest board members, Marie Davis, Will Sexton, Katie Sieving, Charlene Leonard, Ted Goodman, Adam Zions, John Sivinski, and Trina Anderson. The event will be held at Dick and Patty Bartlett’s house at 3101 SW 1st Way, Gainesville, located in the Colclough Hills neighborhood between south Main Street and Williston Road – across the street from and a little south of Bubba Scales’s house, where it’s been held in the past. (Look for the Audubon signs!) Bring some food to share and your drink of choice, and enjoy visiting with Alachua Audubon members and the Board of Directors. This will be a fun gathering and an opportunity to share our more recent spring migration observations!

Matt O’Sullivan went to Cedar Key on the 11th hoping that the forecast rains would ground some migrants: “Well it was pretty quiet at Cedar Key as they never got any rain. It did get better as the day went on, and by the end of the day I had seen 11 species of warbler including a Worm-eating, a Black-throated Blue, 2 Cape May, and best of all 2 Swainson’s Warblers on the same log!!! The most common bird of the day was Prairie Warbler with about a dozen around, also had several Ovenbirds and Northern Waterthrushes. Other than that the only other migrants were an Indigo Bunting and a Baltimore Oriole that I heard but missed as it flew over my head. Others on the island saw a single Black-throated Green and a Magnolia Warbler.”

During the peaks of spring and fall migrations, Alachua Audubon offers two – even three! – field trips each weekend. This year’s “twofer” season began last weekend with a wildflower trip on Saturday and a San Felasco Hammock bird hike on Sunday and will continue through May 16-17. Our field trip schedule is here: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

The wildflower trip to Goldhead Branch State Park went well, thanks to a knowledgeable volunteer from the Native Plant Society. The group visited sandhill, scrub, and ravine habitats and admired some lovely and fragrant wildflowers. Bird life included Brown-headed Nuthatches, a briefly-seen Swallow-tailed Kite, a Summer Tanager, and Red-headed Woodpeckers. It was also a surprisingly good day for herps. We saw a couple of Eastern Fence Lizards, two Florida Softshell Turtles, a recently road-killed Coral Snake (gory photo here), a young Southern Black Racer, and a Florida Watersnake.

Bob Carroll reported on Sunday’s San Felasco Hammock trip: “Today’s field trip to San Felasco was quite successful. We had a hard time getting out of the parking lot, and a harder time reaching the Moonshine Creek Trail. The parking lot produced Red-headed Woodpeckers (actually across the street), Great-crested Flycatchers, and a distant view of a male Summer Tanager (also across the street). We also stopped in the area with mostly pines and an open forest floor before we reached the Moonshine Trail. We were looking at a male Summer Tanager when Alan Shapiro called out that he had something really yellow – like Prothonotary yellow. Sure enough, he had a Prothonotary Warbler that gave us really terrific looks. Then we had the unique experience of seeing the Prothonotary in the same tree as and really close to both a male and female Summer Tanager so we could study them at leisure. Once on the Moonshine Creek Trail, we had a cooperative Red-eyed Vireo dancing around us. Later we had to work very hard, but finally we got everyone a decent look at a Hooded Warbler. There were a lot of Hoodeds thoughout the forest, and it took four stops and four different males to get everyone a look, but patience paid off. The only real miss of the day were the Barred Owls that are usually very responsive on the last quarter of the trail. They were silent and invisible today.”

Speaking of Bob Carroll, he writes, “It’s Third Thursday time! This week we’re heading to Cedar Key in search of piles and piles of migrants. We’ll meet at Target and leave by 7:00, pick up Barbara Shea in Archer, then meet a few more people in Cedar Key by 8:30. Here’s a tentative itinerary: We’ll drive out to Shell Mound for shorebirds (while looking for Florida Scrub-Jays along the way). Then we’ll go into Cedar Key, stop at the Episcopal Church and check the mulberry trees. We’ll walk around the cemetery looking for warblers. We’ll check the museum grounds. We may also check the loquat bushes near the turn at Hodges Avenue and the area around Anchor Cove and Andrews Circle. We’ll drive out toward the airport and maybe check the area along SW 133rd Street. Somewhere in there we’ll stop for lunch. So far I’ve had three restaurant nominations:
Tony’s (award-winning clam chowder), Ken’s (music of the 50s and 60s, best burgers in town and looking out on the Gulf), Annie’s (variety of food with a porch overlooking Back Bayou). You can look on Yelp or Trip Advisor for reviews.
PLEASE: If you’re joining us for lunch, let me know as soon as you can AND vote for a restaurant. I’ll eliminate the one with the least votes and then make a pick. See you on Thursday!”

Bad news for photographers and early birders: Paynes Prairie’s management has discontinued a policy that allowed annual-pass holders to get onto the La Chua Trail before 8:00. Photographer Chris Janus writes, “The gate code for April is not working and the gate was disconnected, as I was told, permanently. I tried it last weekend and today and it did not work. I called the ranger station and was directed to the ‘Manager,’ who kindly returned my call and explained that during the last meeting the management expressed concerns about security (and following even longer explanation by the Manager) and safety on the trail, and they decided to disconnect the gate because there are dangerous animals on the trail, etc. etc. So goodbye to the sunrises and shots of undisturbed wildlife. We will still have a chance to take pictures of noisy runners, people feeding alligators or trying to sit on them during the normal ‘safe’ hours of trail operation. If you suspect sarcasm here, you are correct. And if you say that sarcasm is the last kind of wisdom, you are also correct. But at least it is wisdom, I’d say. Now, if you know any place one can go early on the weekend morning for a stroll and take some good pictures of wildlife and not to see too many people, please, let me know.”

I’ve put up a new blog post at the Gainesville Sun website: http://fieldguide.blogs.gainesville.com/138/swamps-and-spotted-turtles/ It describes an afternoon that I spent with Jonathan Mays in a swamp, looking for Spotted Turtles. And speaking of turtles, Jonathan told me about a new non-profit organization devoted to turtle conservation, the American Turtle Observatory: http://www.americanturtles.org/

Swallow-tailed Kite spring migration

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

As I mentioned in a previous email, the county’s first Swallow-tailed Kites of the spring showed up on the 1st: David O’Keefe saw one over Watson Prairie in the Lochloosa Conservation Area and Fay Baird saw three over Barr Hammock. These are pretty early; more typically we saw the spring’s first in mid-March. The county’s earliest-ever was reported over Paynes Prairie by a fellow named Thomas W. Hicks on 6 February 1954. The next-earliest was one that FWC biologist Craig Faulhaber saw over Prairie Creek on 15 Feb 2014. Sunday’s observations tie the record for the county’s third-earliest sighting.

Anyway, Swallow-tailed Kite biologist Ken Meyer of the Avian Research and Conservation Institute was yet again enlisted to explain the kites’ spring migration route to me.

He wrote, “Our satellite-tracked birds returning to nests in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina will arrive anywhere on the Gulf Coast, from Florida’s southern shores all the way to northern Mexico and Texas. But once onshore, they immediately turn toward their previous year’s nest sites and travel there as directly as possible over land. The birds seen in the last 5 days in central and northern Florida may include some birds that have nested in these places in the past. If so, they are returning early. But some (what proportion? who knows?) undoubtedly are birds that made landfall north of their South Florida nesting sites and we are seeing them on their way back south to those previously-used nest areas. If a kite leaves the NE Yucatan on strong southerly winds and those winds persist for a couple of days, that bird will fly directly downwind to the earliest landfall, regardless of the direction. They will not peel off early to the east and fly crosswind to, for example, South Florida unless they are passing very close and within sight of South Florida.”

He sent along a map that shows the routes taken by five Swallow-tailed Kites flying north during spring 2014, each represented by a line of a different color: “All 5 colored lines end where their respective birds had nested the previous year. You can see how they make landfall where they can, depending on the best winds, then fly quite directly to last year’s nest site. Seems their best strategy is to get to land as soon as possible, even if this entails an overall longer trip back to the nest area. This means that, to varying degrees, most have to fly with some south in their course to get back down to last year’s site. Most pronounced is the Miami-nesting kite (MIA, in yellow), who is consistently the earliest arrival of our tagged STKIs. Three kites I saw last week near Dade City, Tampa, and Sanibel could have been doing exactly the same thing MIA did in 2014. This is just one small sample of a few of many birds over many spring-times. It’s very representative, though, and makes the key points about STKI’s northbound migration strategy. Another part of the story is that many individuals don’t survive the northbound flight because good tail-winds turn to head-winds part way across the Gulf. Four days is the max any have survived over water. Often they reach that limit relatively close to shore, yet can’t finish.”

I’d been under the impression that kites flew from Yucatan to Cuba and then to SW Florida. Not so much in spring, as it turns out: “Very few over-fly or land on Cuba to any degree going northbound. More do going southbound in the ‘fall’. But even then they don’t necessarily land. Best source of more info on this is our website, www.arcinst.org. We put up news and blogs during both north and south migrations every year, including details on individual birds and links to current maps. There already are 3 blogs on our site for this spring. We start them as soon as the first bird starts north in Brazil.”

Ken adds, “Those interested also will see opportunities to help us keep learning and telling this story. The satellite tracking costs $100/month per bird, and the grants that paid for the transmitters never include more than 1 or 2 years of tracking costs (the kites in the map are starting their fifth year). We have a pledge program called ‘Keep on Trackin” to help us pay some of these bills (we have a ways to go). The alternative is to stop paying and end the data stream (these transmitters are solar-powered and produce 6-8 years of data). We’ve not yet done this, but we’ve reached a point where we have no choice.”

If you want to help this research go forward, it won’t cost you much. You can arrange for an automatic monthly withdrawaI of $10, $20, $30, or more  from your bank account to keep the data coming. It’s painless and it’s important. I signed up for an automatic monthly donation of $20: http://arcinst.org/keep-on-trackin

Spring migration underway, plus continuing rarities

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

Over the past couple of years Mike Manetz has been dividing his time between Alachua County and Charlotte County on the southwest coast. Down in Charlotte he managed to infect some of the local birders with county-listing fever. Three of them in particular – Jeff Bouton, Dennis Peacock, and Brant Julius – have joined Mike in exploring the nooks and crannies of Charlotte County and in vying to see the most species in one year. Due to their high-spirited competitiveness Jeff has bestowed the title of “The Beasts of Birdin'” on the quartet. On March 1st I had the opportunity to go birding with three-quarters of The Beasts: Dennis and Brant drove up to Alachua County so Mike could show them some birds they don’t get to see in Charlotte, and I was invited along.

We started the day at Tuscawilla Prairie, where we hoped to find the Le Conte’s Sparrow discovered there on February 6th. We spent about an hour walking back and forth along the edge of the marsh before Dennis shouted that he’d seen a sparrow in the wet grass at the base of a small tree. He’d played a Henslow’s song, which it ignored, and then a Le Conte’s song, to which it seemed to respond. We all gathered around the tree and the bird flew up into a low branch – and it was a Henslow’s. It was not a bird we’d expected to see (though they’ve occurred there in the past), and it was a lifer for Brant. After a round of high fives we continued birding along the edge – getting a look at a Virginia Rail creeping along in an inch of water – and had all but given up when a sparrow flushed from the short dry grass halfway between the marsh and the live oaks. I could see its orange head as it fluttered up, and sure enough it was the Le Conte’s. It landed in a small oak, and stayed put for twenty or thirty seconds before dropping to the ground again. Another lifer for Brant, and the first time in my 40 years of birding that I’ve seen both Henslow’s and Le Conte’s in a single day.

From there we drove on to the Goodmans’ in NW Gainesville to see the male Bullock’s Oriole present for its third winter in a row. We walked around the block and eventually located a flock of six or eight Baltimore Orioles across the street from the Goodmans’ house that contained the Bullock’s. Lifer #3 for Brant.

We went on to Magnolia Parke, where a flock of about 35 Rusty Blackbirds was feeding in a parking lot just south of the big lawn. Lifer #4 for Brant.

From there it was on to the Hague Dairy. Mike signed us in while we parked Dennis’s truck, and as he came walking back to join us he spied the Lark Sparrow singing at the top of an oak tree. The Greater White-fronted Goose was equally cooperative, and we ran into Matt O’Sullivan, who pointed out an American Redstart that has wintered in the swampy area behind the parking lot.

So it was an absurdly good day. We found every bird we’d hoped to find, and still had a little time left over, so we went to a NW Gainesville neighborhood where Sam Ewing had recently reported Golden-crowned Kinglets. Here, at last, we failed to find our quarry, though Dennis thought he heard one calling. We were done by 1:00, and The Beasts of Birdin’ went home with a truck full of lifers, state birds, and Alachua County birds.

(Golden-crowned Kinglets haven’t left yet. Jonathan Mays saw two of them at San Felasco Hammock on the 1st: “Located north of Millhopper Road along the ‘Hammock Cutoff’ trail just east of its intersection with the yellow-blazed trail. First heard giving their high ‘seet, seet, seet’ calls, one on each side of trail. Was able to pish both in to confirm ID … small-sized, striped faces, one showed orangeish crown well.”)

Speaking of The Beasts of Birdin’, the one who didn’t join us yesterday, Jeff Bouton, used to be the official hawk counter at the Cape May Hawk Watch. He has just posted a very helpful and well-illustrated post on telling the difference between Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks that includes a few bits of information not mentioned in field guides: http://blog.leica-birding.com/advanced-id-tip-sharp-shinned-or-coopers/

And speaking of hawks, the county’s first Swallow-tailed Kites of the spring, four of them, arrived on March 1st, but I’m going to send out the details, as well as an interesting correspondence with kite biologist Ken Meyer, in another birding report.

On the 28th the Audubon field trip had a Northern Parula at the Windsor boat ramp and Andy Kratter had another in his SE Gainesville yard, but both were silent. However on the 1st there were *six separate reports* submitted to eBird, including two that specified singing birds (Debbie Segal at Barr Hammock and Jonathan Mays at San Felasco Hammock). So I think the Northern Parulas have arrived. There were a few sightings during the winter, as is usually the case, but the ones sighted this weekend were spring migrants.

I took an Oxford zoologist out to Paynes Prairie on the 27th and, after an hour’s wait at the edge of the sheet flow site, was able to show him his life Limpkin. While we were out there we saw some extraordinarily early Barn Swallows and on the walk back we saw a couple of extraordinarily late Purple Martins.

Time for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to start showing up. A few of them spent the winter at local feeders, but the first migrant males should be arriving any day now. Yellow-throated Vireos and Northern Rough-winged Swallows should also be here soon.

In late winter Yellow-rumped Warblers generally leave the treetops and start feeding on the ground. We noticed flocks of them foraging in the grass at both the Windsor boat ramp and Powers Park during the Audubon field trip on the 28th.

Bill Pranty and Tony Leukering have posted a well-illustrated paper on identifying Mottled Duck x Mallard hybrids. The paper starts off with a quiz – how many of these are pure Mottleds and how many are hybrids? – and goes on from there. Not a bad idea, to quiz yourself and find out how much you already know. And the paper will help you to distinguish Mottled x Mallard hybrids (“Muddled Ducks”) from pure Mottled Ducks in case that becomes a major problem here, as it is farther south: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/wp-content/uploads/sites/55/eBird_Muddled_Ducks.pdf

If you see our local Whooping Crane – or any other, for that matter – report it here: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/whoopingcrane/sightings/sightingform.cfm Don’t assume that any Whooping Crane that you see is the same one that has wintered at the Beef Teaching Unit. Be sure to note which color bands are on which legs. By the way, the Beef Teaching Unit bird seems to be on the move. On the 28th its tracking devices showed it at Watermelon Pond in the county’s SW corner.

Brown Pelicans at Newnans Lake, migrating nighthawks and warblers

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

On the 7th there were six Brown Pelicans at Newnans Lake, as well as Black Terns and some mid-sized white terns, at least one of which appeared to be a Common (dusky primaries, charcoal nape), though it was too distant to say for sure. Adam Zions found one pelican still present on the 10th.

In early September, Common Nighthawks are often seen migrating in flocks, especially ahead of advancing rain clouds. Ron Robinson observed this over his west Gainesville home on the morning of the 7th: “This morning at 7:35 I saw twenty plus Common Nighthawks flying southeasterly in a very loose kettle-type formation. Some swooped very low to the ground directly above our pasture. I tried to count, got to nineteen and the kettle came around and everyone mixed together. Later, Elaine and I went on our daily walk, and we saw a single nighthawk. Cooool! I wish they were more ‘Common’ here.” That evening he saw more: “Elaine and I counted forty plus nighthawks at 7:30 PM. They were everywhere, seeming to be moving just in front of a line of heavy dark clouds moving west to east. I’m sure we only saw a small number of the group, our front pasture has a limited overhead.” Geoff Parks saw the same thing over his NE Gainesville home on the same evening, reporting a total of 78 birds. On the evening of the 8th Andy Kratter counted 184 going over his place in SE Gainesville, and on the 9th Samuel Ewing counted 103 over his yard in NW Gainesville.

John Hintermister found a Cerulean Warbler at the north end of Lakeshore Drive on the 8th, where the road curves west, away from the lake front. Three days later Becky Enneis photographed a male Cerulean in her back yard: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15033635987/ That makes four in the county so far this fall.

Glenn Israel had the fall’s first Blackburnian Warbler at Bolen Bluff on September 1st, and there have been more than half a dozen reports since. Samuel Ewing photographed one in a sugarberry tree in his yard on the 9th; if you look closely, you can see the Asian Woolly Hackberry Aphids on the leaves, small fuzzy white insects that usually attract lots of warblers: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15003669380/ If you’ve got an aphid-infested sugarberry, grab your binoculars, pour a cup of coffee, and sit yourself down in a lawn chair with a good view of the tree, because you’re going to see some birds.

Bubba Scales had the fall’s first Baltimore Oriole at his SE Gainesville home on the 26th. There have been a couple of reports since, one from the Ewing brothers, Samuel and Benjamin, and one from Adam and Gina Kent.

A change of the guard is underway around the local lakes. During the summer, Ospreys are common and Bald Eagles are scarce, while during fall and winter it’s the other way around. Right now Ospreys are migrating out and Bald Eagles are migrating in; I saw two of each from Palm Point on the 7th. Speaking of raptors, Samuel Ewing photographed a late Mississippi Kite over his yard on the 9th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/15190272725/ The last Swallow-taileds I’ve heard about in the county were six moving south in a group, seen by Geoff Parks over Williston Road on August 15th.

Bob Sargent of Trussville, Alabama, has died of a post-operative infection. An electrician by trade, he became a pioneer in the field of hummingbird banding, and was one of its unforgettable characters. Here’s a video of Bob describing hummingbird nests to the crowd at one of his banding demonstrations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v36GcpHsbw (At 1:00 the video switches over to Fred Bassett, switching back to Bob at 2:33.)

First field trips this weekend, Poe Springs on Saturday and San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on Sunday. Also a program on Mangrove Cuckoos next Wednesday night. All the details are here (click on the “+” button for more info): http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/

Let’s give the late great Bob Sargent the last word, a minute’s worth of eloquence from a bird-lover’s heart: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnH1XhvdGuk

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