Yellow-headed Blackbird at Hague Dairy

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

Greg McDermott wrecked his car four months after he moved to Gainesville in 1992. So Mike Manetz and I used to pick him up at his apartment and take him along when we went birding. Greg moved away in 1998, but he’s stayed in touch, and has returned for every Christmas Bird Count since then. In recent years Greg has taken up the electric guitar, and (if you didn’t know) Mike played bass guitar for many years with local rock, country, and blues bands; so when Greg comes down for the CBC they have informal jam sessions in Mike’s living room. Last year I introduced them to The Cramps, a brief enthusiasm of my younger years, and they invited me to join them in a performance of “Strychnine,” singing the vocals. I did this about as well as I do most things, which is to say, not very well. In fact, the caliber of last year’s rendition prompted Mike to send me this email a couple of days ago: “Hey Rex, you know Greg is coming and we’re getting the band back together. Wondered if you could cover the vocals on this: http://spazzdhn.tumblr.com/post/91320324689

Saturday morning’s field trip to the Hague Dairy was one of the worst field trips I’ve ever been on. The birds were sheltering in the brush and weeds and would not be lured into the open. We had a few brief but clear looks at a Sedge Wren, we saw the fall’s first flock of American Robins (11 of them), and Savannah Sparrows and Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers popped up occasionally. But there was very little warbler and sparrow diversity, there were no ducks and few raptors, and there were no Indigo or Painted Buntings. Not surprisingly, most of the 24 birders who turned out for the trip went home before it ended. This satisfied the birding gods’ appetite for a sacrifice, and consequently they granted us a gift. At our final stop, as we pored through a flock of cowbirds on the roof of an animal building, Shane Runyon spotted a Yellow-headed Blackbird, and it stayed put long enough for everyone to get a decent look. That’s birding for you: three and a half hours of nothing redeemed by a single great bird!

Late this afternoon I walked out La Chua to the observation platform. My primary purpose was to see what had become of Sweetwater Branch, the drainage ditch that was filled in for the sake of the new sheetflow restoration project. Here’s what Sweetwater looked like almost exactly three years ago (ditch directly in front of you, dike trail visible to the left): https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15742957225/ And here’s what it looks like now: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15719228906/ I didn’t see too much on La Chua – I arrived late – but there were a lot of Tree and Barn Swallows, Ring-necked Ducks, an American Bittern, and a King Rail. I didn’t see the Vermilion Flycatcher that Trina Anderson photographed on the 7th – https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/15731848951/ – but it was already pretty gloomy by the time I got to the platform. There’s no open water along the first two-thirds of the trail, in Alachua Sink or in the first part of the canal, but it opens up as it nears Alachua Lake.

The fall transients are mostly gone now, but you never can tell. Austin Gregg had a Rose-breasted Grosbeak visit his back yard on Saturday: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15745549802/

The World Big Day Record was broken in Peru on October 14th, which gives me an opportunity to link to this half-hour video of the Florida Museum’s Scott Robinson describing the previous World Big Day Record that he and Ted Parker set in 1982. Scott is an articulate and entertaining speaker, and the whole talk is enjoyable – but it’s hard to beat the anecdote he tells in the first 60 seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUXAEwWw-LQ

Speaking of Peru, Adam Kent will describe his participation in the Peru Birding Rally at the Alachua Audubon program meeting at the Millhopper Branch Library this Monday, November 10th. Refreshments and sparking conversation commence at 6:30, Adam will begin his talk and slide show at 7:00. Here’s another birder’s impression of the 2014 Rally, with Adam peeking into the very left edge of the first photo: http://birdernaturalist.blogspot.com/2014/05/peru-birding-rally-challenge-days-7-8.html

Vermilion Flycatcher, Horned Grebe, plus La Chua Trail open again

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

Debbie Segal found the season’s first Vermilion Flycatcher, a female, at the Sheetflow Restoration project on the 30th.

On the 1st the La Chua Trail opened up again. Paynes Prairie’s park biologist Andi Christman and Tom Fox walked out to the observation platform that morning and found a Horned Grebe there, by two days the earliest ever recorded in the county: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/15066791904/

I’ve read about Franklin’s Gulls being seen up and down the Atlantic Coast over the past few days, so on the 31st and again on the 1st I spent some time at Palm Point scoping the lake in hopes of seeing one. I was disappointed, though I did see 17 distant gulls flying north to south on the 31st. Some looked like Laughing Gulls, some looked like Ring-billed Gulls, all of them could have been something else, but none were Franklin’s. On the 1st I saw no gulls at all, but I did see a flock of ducks that included a few drake Redheads, and there was also a mixed flock of swallows just off the Point, mostly Tree Swallows but half a dozen Barn Swallows and an extremely late Bank Swallow as well (previous late record, October 6th).

On the 31st Mike Manetz wrote, “Just got back from my 5th trip to the Hague Dairy in 6 days. Still no Yellow-headed Blackbirds. In fact, the Brown-headed Cowbirds have even gotten fickle. First two days I was there I found over 1,000 of them, but they were mostly hiding in the rafters and feeding in the darkest reaches of the barn. Was lucky to get the Bronzed Cowbird on Saturday. Last few days there have been few cowbirds around. John Hintermister and I found about 300 at the calf operation north of the dairy. Today there were about 150, mostly feeding in the lot along the main drive west of the entrance buildings. If you happen to post anything about the dairy, you might want to mention that it has been very busy out there, at least in the mornings. In addition to the usual feed trucks going back and forth, there is a lot of earth moving going on – front end loaders, etc. – so folks should be extra careful to stay out of the way.” The dairy has posted a list of rules for birders on the office window: please read and heed.

Don’t forget the Avian Research and Conservation Institute benefit at First Magnitude Brewery a block east of South Main Street from 4:00 to 6:00 on Sunday afternoon. Details, and a map, here: http://arcinst.org/events ARCINST does some of the most important bird-conservation research in North America, and it’s based right here in Gainesville. Come out to learn about their work with Swallow-tailed Kites, Short-tailed Hawks, and Magnificent Frigatebirds, among other species, and to chat with your fellow Alachua County birders while sipping one of FM’s tasty beers (I recommend Drift English Mild) or a glass of cider.

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

A pretty interesting day

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

This was probably the best single day of spring migration in Alachua County that I can remember.

This morning Ryan Terrill and Jessica Oswald biked from the Duck Pond area to the La Chua Trail by way of the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and then walked along Sparrow Alley. They spotted a male Blackburnian Warbler at the Sweetwater Overlook – Ryan wrote, “Seen in flight only but adult male — orange throat, face pattern, white patch on wing noted” – which is only the second spring record in the county’s history; the first was in 1961. Then, along Sparrow Alley, they saw the county’s fourth-ever Cave Swallow! Ryan again: “Foraging with big flock of Chimney Swifts, Tree Swallows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, and a Purple Martin. Orange rump, and pale underparts fading to buffy orange throat and reddish forehead seen, though briefly.”

Otherwise, the best birding today was at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance), where Felicia Lee, Elizabeth Martin, and John Martin (no relation) walked the Moonshine Creek Trail and saw “5 Cape May Warblers, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Scarlet Tanagers, 1 male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, 1 Blackpoll Warbler, 2 Worm-Eating Warblers, and a Wood Thrush. All in all, 11 warbler species.”

This morning’s field trip to Powers Park and Palm Point did fairly well. At Powers we saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull (photo here), and 75 Common Loons flying north. At Palm Point and Lakeshore Drive we saw a very cooperative male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Cape May Warbler, and a Prothonotary Warbler.

Geoff Parks had seen two Cliff Swallows at La Chua on the 17th. Today’s weather was cloudy with intermittent drizzle, good weather to keep swallows down (as Ryan and Jessica found), so Mike Manetz and I walked out La Chua to see if we could match Geoff’s feat. We did find a huge congregation of swallows and swifts – we agreed that “1,000” didn’t sound excessive – and saw two or three Cliff Swallows among them. We also saw a single male Bobolink, the spring’s first. And we were surprised and pleased to find shorebirds foraging in puddles along the flooded trail – three Solitary Sandpipers, four Least Sandpipers, a Lesser Yellowlegs, and four Spotted Sandpipers.

Late this afternoon Matt O’Sullivan found a Nashville Warbler at Loblolly Woods near the parking lot (on NW 34th Street, entrance directly east of 5th Avenue). Also present at Loblolly were Black-throated Green, Black-throated Blue, Cape May, Prairie, Hooded, and Worm-eating Warblers.

There’s a pretty good chance that all the birds mentioned above will still be here tomorrow.

On tiny little Seahorse Key, an island two miles off Cedar Key, Andy Kratter saw 15 Tennessee Warblers and 15 Painted Buntings on the 17th, and six Lincoln’s Sparrows (“probably more”) on the 18th. Hopefully we’ll have just a fraction of his success on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip. If you’d like to join us, meet us in the Target parking lot at 6:30 a.m.

Local birding update, February 13-20: Whooping Crane, Royal Tern, and massive Limpkinitude

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

On the afternoon of the 13th, Paynes Prairie biologist Andi Christman saw a Whooping Crane at Paynes Prairie. She noted, “Flew over Hwy. 441 from the area of the boardwalk wildfire (between the boardwalk and Bolen Bluff) toward the Interstate. Very clear view, but could not observe bands.”

On the 19th Samuel Ewing wrote, “This morning Dad and I did some birding before school as is normal for us on Wednesday. We started at the observation deck on the Prairie. Nothing too unusual there. Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Mottled Duck, Glossy Ibis, 75 Tree Swallows, and more. Most noteworthy was probably 800 White Ibis, flying off the Prairie throughout the time we were there. We then headed to Bivens Arm Lake. No ducks there, surprisingly, but we did see lots of Anhingas, numerous cormorants, several Ring-billed Gulls, a singleton Bonaparte’s Gull, and a pair of Ospreys (probably coming in to breed there). I also heard a Yellow-throated Warbler singing. Most noteworthy though was quite unexpected: a flyover Royal Tern!  It flew right over us, not stopping at the lake, and continued S/SE.”

On the 20th John Hintermister and I made a boat trip all the way around Newnans Lake, starting at the Windsor boat ramp and going counter-clockwise, a trip of about 13 miles. We didn’t find anything really unusual, but we were impressed by some of the numbers we recorded. For instance, we saw or heard 39 individual Limpkins, by far the highest count ever recorded in Alachua County! This is undoubtedly due to the growing population of Island Apple Snails. The snails’ egg masses were first noted at the Windsor boat ramp in September 2007. Their population growth was slow and steady at first, but has really exploded in the past year or two. Not coincidentally, so have the Limpkins. I’m curious to see how many Limpkins will be at Newnans after this year’s breeding season, and what the county’s population will look like after the snails spread to Paynes Prairie (if they haven’t already). We don’t know yet whether this snail explosion is good or bad. Even more abundant than the Limpkins were the Bald Eagles: we counted 51, though it’s possible that some of those were tallied more than once as they flew back and forth across the lake. As to ducks, there was some evidence that they’ve mostly migrated north; we saw only 2 Redheads, 4 Ring-necked Ducks, 5 Lesser Scaup, and 50 Ruddy Ducks. We carried bread for the gulls, but had a hard time finding any to throw it at; we saw 3 Ring-billeds and 8 Bonaparte’s. And we were very surprised, along 13 miles of shoreline, to see no Belted Kingfishers at all! Like Samuel Ewing, we heard Yellow-throated Warblers singing, five of them, but did not hear a single Northern Parula. Right now the water on the lake is higher than I’ve seen it since the hurricanes of September 2004, and in many places Newnans is starting to look as it did in the 1990s, when there was nothing between the cypresses on one shore and those on the other but a smooth sheet of water, unbroken by any emergent vegetation.

Bob Carroll is birding in Oregon this week. His latest blog post features photos of Lewis’s and Acorn Woodpeckers seen on the same day! http://bobsgonebirding.blogspot.com/

In the last birding report I passed along an open invitation to celebrate the addition of the Water and Land Legacy Amendment to this November’s ballot, but I neglected to mention the day and time! So it’s this Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. at Prairie Creek Lodge, and I’ll repeat the invitation in case you’re as forgetful as I am: “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.”

In the last birding report I also passed along an invitation to Howard Adams’s retirement party on March 2nd. The cost is $10 per person, and if you’re reluctant to pre-pay via PayPal, you can send a check for $10 to:
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Attn: Amber Roux
100 Savannah Blvd
Micanopy, FL 32667

Bye bye, birdie. Bye bye.

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

Let me clarify something from the last birding report. Jessica Burnett’s House Sparrow project does NOT require you to have House Sparrows in your yard. In fact, I’m aware of only one yard in Gainesville that DOES have House Sparrows. Jessica is trying to document their ABSENCE from (most) residential areas. So if you DON’T have House Sparrows at your place, if you just have the usual run of feeder birds, then YES, your yard is ideal for the House Sparrow study. Of course it’s also ideal if you DO have House Sparrows. Please contact Jessica either way, at jburnett9@ufl.edu

(MY, BUT THAT’S A LOT OF CAPITAL LETTERS! I ALMOST FEEL AS IF I SHOULD BE COMMENTING ON A YOUTUBE VIDEO! AND USING LOTS OF EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!)

Spring has been slow in arriving this year. Since mid-January I’ve been cruising past the martin houses at the old George’s Hardware at 34th and University, just knowing I’d see the spring’s first male perched outside a nest hole, but no. And no Ospreys yet, either, on the three nests I pass regularly. And I’ve seen no big flocks of robins flying over in the afternoons, bound for their roosts in the flatwoods. But I was working in the yard this morning, and I had just thought to myself, “It’s a beautiful spring day after a spell of cold weather, and there’s a south wind…” and right on cue I heard the Sandhill Cranes. Between eleven and noon I counted over 700 birds heading north, and heard others I couldn’t see. So they’re leaving us. There was also a flight of over 30 Tree Swallows headed north, a trio of Red-shouldered Hawks circling overhead screaming at each other, and a handful of Yellow-rumped Warblers flycatching from the oaks, zooming out, flaring their white-spotted tails as they snapped up their prey, and flying back.

But even though I haven’t seen Purple Martins, others have been luckier. The first of the spring were three birds reported by Marianne McDowell on January 24th, and there have been three reports since.

Lloyd Davis found a Clay-colored Sparrow while “walking around the abandoned shack just south of the sewage lagoon” at the Hague Dairy on the 30th. He also saw 5 female Painted Buntings and (a surprisingly big number) 12 Common Ground-Doves.

Matt O’Sullivan and I walked the Cones Dike Trail on the 31st and had a great morning. The largest number of unusual birds were near the big bend in the trail (about two and a half miles from the visitor center, where it changes from north-south to east-west), and included a Prairie Warbler, a Least Flycatcher that eluded us on the way out but put on a show for us as we were walking back, 3 or 4 Northern Waterthrushes, and, most surprising of all, a Least Bittern, one of only a dozen winter reports in the county’s history. We saw 60 species overall.

Dave Byrd notifies us of a spectacle at Lake Alice: “Two Red-tailed Hawks feeding heavily on bats at the Bat Tower. Be there at 5:50 to insure catching  the action around sunset. Pretty awesome sight.”

Mike Manetz pointed out to me that fourteen eBirders saw over 100 species in Alachua County during the month of January. Either we live in a really great place, or we’ve got some really good birders, or both.

Do you have your ticket for this weekend’s Backyard Birding Tour? Time’s a wasting! http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

I’ve got to end with some extremely sad news. Courtney Tye, a member of this mailing list for several years, died in childbirth this weekend. She’s survived by her husband Barry and newborn son Carter. Courtney had been working with private landowners on behalf of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I ran into her at the post office one day, and chatted with her for twenty minutes, and I can believe she was very good at that job. She was an intelligent and charming person, and it’s a great sorrow that her son will never know her. Rest in peace.

Nelson’s Sparrow still there

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

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

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

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

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.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, this is a very long birding report

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

Samuel and Caleb Ewing had the best bird of the week on the 26th. Samuel writes, “Today Caleb and I walked to an area of Watermelon Pond that’s quite close to us. We got some Blue-winged and Green-winged Teal, 19 Long-billed Dowitchers, a Least Sandpiper, quite a few Tree and Barn Swallows, and one Cliff Swallow! While scanning swallows I spotted one with a squared-off tail and it soon came close enough to see the buffy rump, blue back, and white forehead. I was able to get some poor photos.” This is only the county’s second March sighting of a Cliff Swallow, and believe it or not it’s the first documented occurrence of the species in Alachua County history; no previous photo or specimen has ever been obtained. Here’s Samuel’s photo.

Speaking of photos, Greg Stephens got a great shot of a Peregrine Falcon at La Chua on the 21st. The Peregrine that’s been seen at the Prairie since early January was an immature bird, brown with a streaky breast, and this one’s an adult, so we’ve had two Peregrines at the Prairie in March.

Still speaking of photos – we’ve got an embarrassment of riches, so sue me – Kathy Malone got two spectacular pictures of a Le Conte’s Sparrow at Levy Prairie Loop on the 25th. This was her fourth attempt at photographing this bird, and the effort really paid off.

On the 25th Jonathan Mays saw two White-faced Ibis in non-breeding plumage from the La Chua observation platform. Since there’s also a breeding-plumage bird out there, it looks like we’ve got three White-faced Ibis at Paynes Prairie – at least. Jonathan also spotted three Whooping Cranes, one of whom flew in to provide a photo op.

The season’s first Chimney Swifts have arrived. Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson saw the spring’s first at La Chua Trail on the 23rd, Samuel Ewing saw four on the UF campus on the 25th, and on the following day Geoff Parks wrote, “I was downtown this morning at about 10:30 and there was a mass of what I’d estimate to be 90-100 flying around the vicinity of the Seagle building.”

The first Indigo Buntings have checked in as well, one at Keith Collingwood’s place in Melrose, and one at Ron Robinson’s at the west end of Gainesville, both on the 25th.

Ivor Kincaide reports that 50 Purple Martins showed up at the Alachua Conservation Trust’s martin house in Rochelle on the 26th.

The spring’s first major flight of Common Loons occurred on the morning of the 25th, when Andy Kratter counted 58 going over Pine Grove Cemetery between 8:11 and 8:48. Remember that March is the best time to look through migrating Commons for a Red-throated.

There have been no reports of Hooded Warblers in Alachua County yet, but they’re a March migrant, along with Prothonotary, Swainson’s, and Kentucky Warblers and Louisiana Waterthrush. Bob Carroll and friends saw a Hooded along the River Trail at Lower Suwannee NWR on the 21st, and Pat Burns saw three at Cedar Key on the 24th.

Want to know the names of a few common spring wildflowers? Well here you go: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2013/03/rain-day.html