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.

Some kind of record

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

If you haven’t seen the Bullock’s Oriole and you plan to, let me ever-so-gently remind you of something I wrote in an earlier post: “Dotty Robbins told me that she went north from the Goodmans’ and around the corner, and from the street was able to see the bird in a tree in the back yard of the yellow house at 3736 NW 65th Place. If you go looking, please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house, as the wife works at night.” Evidently some birders read those sentences and took in the address, but not the part where I wrote, “please stay on the street and don’t disturb the residents of the house,” because they did, in fact, disturb the residents of the house, who were consequently upset. So don’t do that.

Fred Bassett’s visit on the 18th and 19th revealed that things around here are even crazier than we thought. While capturing and banding 14 hummingbirds, Fred discovered that, in addition to the Calliope in High Springs, in addition to the expected Rufouses (Fred banded 8) and Ruby-throateds (3) scattered here and there, that there’s a SECOND Calliope in town, at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house, and that Hilda Bellot is hosting a Black-chinned! That’s (consults fingers) four hummingbird species at once!

Glenn Price captured a nice video of the Calliope, which you can watch here. Calliope is a Florida Ornithological Society “review species,” so if you get to see it, please complete the rare bird form at the FOS web site: http://fosbirds.org/content/fos-bird-records-species-documentation

Hilda Bellot has given permission for birders to peer into her yard to see the Black-chinned Hummingbird. She lives near the big hill on NW 8th Avenue. From 8th turn south onto NW 21st Street. Go almost two blocks and pull to the right, onto the shoulder, just before you reach NW 7th Lane. Ms. Bellot’s house will be on your left (corner of 21st and 7th Lane), and right there, in the side yard, probably in view before you even get out of your car, is an arbor with two hummingbird feeders dangling from it. The Black-chinned has been coming to these feeders. Please stand in the street to wait for the bird; there’s not much traffic. If you want to see the purple gorget feathers you might try to visit in the afternoon to get the sun in your favor, but Fred dabbed a spot of bright pink dye on its crown, so you’re not likely to mistake it for the Rufous Hummingbird that’s also visiting the yard.

On the morning of the 17th Mike Manetz found a Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve. It’s frequenting the longleaf pine / turkey oak sandhill at the western end of the “red blaze trail,” marked R on the map here.

Okay, let’s review. These birds are all present in Alachua County right now:

1.   Bullock’s Oriole (please re-read the first paragraph of this report)
2.   Western Tanager (and maybe a second in Alachua!)
3.   Calliope Hummingbird (2 of them)
4.   Black-chinned Hummingbird
5.   Red-breasted Nuthatch
6.   Fox Sparrow (2)
7.   Snow Goose (3)
8.   White-faced Ibis
9.   Vermilion Flycatcher
10. Wilson’s Warbler
11. Painted Bunting (10!)
12. Common Goldeneye (2?)
13. Pine Siskin
14. Least Flycatcher
15. Rusty Blackbird (flock)
16. Hairy Woodpecker

There have been other remarkable sightings. A Summer Tanager is spending the winter at Adam and Gina Kent’s for the second or third year in a row. Frank and Irina Goodwin found a Blue Grosbeak along the Levy Lake Loop on the 12th. On the 17th Lloyd Davis found two Painted Buntings, a male and a female, in the weedy canal behind the parking area at the Hague dairy, and I know of at least eight others coming to local feeders. And on the 19th Adam Kent’s team found four Northern Waterthrushes along Cones Dike on the kids’ CBC. In case you are not inferring what I’m implying, it’s a really good winter to be a birdwatcher in Alachua County, maybe The Best Ever! Why are you sitting indoors at your computer, reading this?

On the 18th Adam Zions had one of the best days I’ve ever heard of at Cedar Key: “It was low tide as I arrived, and I figured the area should be popping with shore and wading birds. So I began at Bridge No. 4, as it’s always a good place to begin. A few groups of Bufflehead (everywhere in Cedar Key – I don’t think there was one spot I went to which didn’t at least have 2) were great to see. I was walking back along the north side of the bridge trying for either Clapper Rail or Nelson’s or Seaside Sparrows, but to no avail. Since it was peak low tide, I decided to go off the bridge and walk around some of the saltmarsh cordgrass and into the marsh not too far from where the bridge begins. After scaring up a Sedge Wren, I continued on and flushed a Yellow Rail!!! I almost stepped on the damn thing, as it flew up and nearly gave me a heart attack. There was no mistaking it. Short, stubby yellow bill, white wing patches, a smidge smaller than a Sora, and a mix of beige/dark brown scaled/barred plumage. It flew and landed only a few feet away, so I headed over to the spot quickly to see if I could relocate it and possible get a photo of it. Apparently the rail had other plans and I couldn’t flush it again. I tried playing some call recordings, but it didn’t want to respond to it. So the day was already off to a banging start. I pretty much checked most of the areas out to see what was there. Other highlights included a trifecta of scoters at the pier (Black, White-winged, and 7 Surf), 2 Nelson’s Sparrows (one at the airport and the other at Shell Mound), 7 Roseate Spoonbills, and 25+ American Avocets at Shell Mound.”

Fred Bassett is coming back through town on the 22nd. If you’ve got a hummingbird visiting your feeder regularly and you’d like him to band it, let me know and I’ll pass your request along to Fred.

Have you got your tickets to the Backyard Birding Tour yet? Well dang, what’s the matter with you? http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Backyard-Bird-Tour-Flyer-2014.pdf

Swainson’s Hawk in Archer; plus, the rail that dare not speak its name

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

The big news of the past week is Alachua County’s fourth-ever Swainson’s Hawk, which has been visiting a hayfield near Archer since December 8th. The initial report, documented with a photo of the bird perched on a round bale, was first posted on Facebook. No location was given, apart from “Alachua County,” but access to the property was said to be impossible. However, the reporter was urged by fellow Facebookers to submit the sighting to eBird, and when he did so on the 14th – the day before the Gainesville Christmas Bird Count – he gave us the exact location on a map: a field along the west side of US-41 two and a half miles north of Archer. Go north on 41, turn left onto SW 95th Avenue, and the field is on your right. But here the whole thing turns a little bit illegal, because the road is posted – on both sides – with big signs that say, “Private Road – Private Property – No Trespassing – Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted.”

Those signs have been there for at least 25 years, and they were originally put up by Ron Davis, the property owner. Davis, who died a few years ago, owned 7000 acres in Alachua County, including a lot of land around Archer and Watermelon Pond. He was – how shall I put this? – not a conservationist. He’s gone now, along with his individual animosity toward trespassers. But the signs remain, and should be taken seriously.

Former Gainesvillians Greg McDermott (now in Virginia) and Steve Collins (now in Texas) come home for the Christmas Bird Count every year, and I usually spend the day after the Count with one or both of them, trying to find some of the good birds turned up on the previous day. On Monday we continued this custom, but we added the Swainson’s Hawk to the list, even though it hadn’t been reported since the 8th. I thought it would be a waste of time, because the bird had certainly moved on during the intervening week, continuing its migration to South Florida wintering grounds. But everyone else – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, and Phil Laipis joined the expedition – thought it would be worthwhile to take a look. I had additional misgivings when we arrived on SW 95th Avenue and I saw the “No Trespassing” signs, but I was overruled by bolder men than I, and we pulled onto the grassy shoulder a hundred yards or so beyond the signs. We scanned the field but saw nothing. “Good,” I thought. “We’ll leave immediately and won’t spend the night in jail.” But John thought we should wait until the vultures started soaring up on the thermals, and see if we could find the hawk among them. So we waited for an hour or more. Several cars went by. Most ignored us. One stopped, but it was driven by a friendly fellow with an even friendlier boxer dog riding shotgun. The driver was merely curious what we were looking for, and seemed to have no objection to our being there. My fear that our photos would be in the Gainesville Sun’s police mugshot gallery the next morning eased somewhat. But there was still no sign of the bird. We killed time by looking at big flocks of Killdeer, and mixed flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, Palm Warblers, and Pine Warblers. Eventually the vultures dispersed. It was approaching noon, and I thought it was well past time to go. But right about then, a hawk came gliding in from the east, parallel to the road. Its long, slender, almost falcon-like wings were held crimped like an Osprey’s, and the upperwings were two-toned, dark brown and nearly black. “That’s it!” shouted John. We watched the bird continue away from us on a beeline. It didn’t gain altitude and begin to soar around until it was a long distance away, when detail was hard to see, but we did note the distinctive white uppertail coverts. There was celebration all around, as it was a county life bird for everyone present (#325 for John). Steve took some photos, but he hasn’t yet posted them on his Flickr site.

On the following day (the 17th), Adam Zions went looking for it, prompted by eBird alerts: “I was able to see it fairly early on my stakeout, perched on a hay bale west of the pole barn, and then watched it take off. I saw it about 10:15. Thermals must’ve been picking up at that time because the Turkey Vultures were starting to show up. The way it was perched on the hay bale made it appear somewhat lanky, if that makes sense. The streaking on the chest was somewhat dark from what I could tell, and when it took off, I could make out features such as the brown upperside, tail coloration, and underwing coloration. I was hoping it would stick around or at least make another appearance, but once it took off, it never came back. I even tried to go up 41 and peek in from some of the ‘windows’ to the rest of the field, but could not re-locate it. Photos did not turn out to be useful, even for ID purposes. No one gave me a hard time. Quite a few different vehicles passed me by and never stopped. If it’s a private road, it gets more traffic than I had anticipated. Of course, I waved courteously at everyone driving by, so perhaps they figured I meant no harm. However, one guy did stop briefly and said I would have better luck if I had a firearm. Sigh. You know those types, thinking binocs means I want to shoot a bird.”

I’m not sure where this bird is spending all its time, but there’s about 2000 acres of sprayfields (partially visible from Archer Road) a mile to the south of the Davis property and another 1300 acres two and a half miles to the west, adjoining Watermelon Pond and partially visible from SW 250th Street. Good luck to those who go in search of it.

But … as Ron Popiel used to say … That’s Not All! There’s a possible Black Rail, and I do emphasize “possible,” being seen along US-441 across from the Paynes Prairie boardwalk. There’s a white sign a little to the north, a memorial for someone who was killed in a traffic accident, and Scott Flamand first saw it about ten feet to the south of that sign during the Christmas Count. However this another case in which you’ll have to violate the American Birding Association Code of Ethics, because you must climb the fence to see into the ditch. Scott got a quick glimpse of the bird during the Count, and spent the next hour playing tapes, trying unsuccessfully to lure it back out or induce it to respond with an identifying call. On the day after the Count, six of us had a similar experience. We succeeded in spooking a small bird which gave us about a quarter of a second’s look before fluttering into some marshy vegetation. Steve Collins described the sighting: “dark gray rail in bright sun with no warm tones and no white.” We brought out the iPods and smart phones and played several Black Rail vocalizations and Sora vocalizations without getting a response. Mike Manetz went back on the morning of the 17th: “I walked the edge as yesterday, and right as I got even with the memorial a rail jumped up from the wet grass and flew into the bush exactly like yesterday, except I got even less of a look. I played various rail tapes including the Black Rail growl, and got no response other than a few distant Soras.” So do with that information what you will, but don’t call me to pay your bail when you get picked up for being on the wrong side of the fence.

Monday’s birding expedition also hunted down a Red-breasted Nuthatch that Christmas Counters had seen a few blocks from Westside Park, finding it in a big feeding flock of Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, Pine, Palm, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and Baltimore Orioles at the intersection of NW 36th Terrace and NW 12th Avenue. Look for it high in the pines. Our last stop of the day was Lake Alice, where Scott Robinson had found a Wilson’s Warbler on the Count, but we couldn’t duplicate his success.

Other notable birds recorded on Sunday’s Count were a White-faced Ibis in a restricted area of Paynes Prairie, 4 Painted Buntings in a single yard just north of Paynes Prairie, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers at Newnans Lake (one at Powers Park, one at Windsor), a Greater Scaup at Paynes Prairie, the Snow Goose at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (now accompanied by a second Snow Goose), a couple of Peregrine Falcons, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, and a couple of Least Flycatchers. The total tally was 155 species, one of our best ever.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno Christmas Bird Count was held on the 17th. It was an unusually slow day, and highlights were few: a Black-throated Green Warbler found by Dan Pearson, Christine Housel, and me in River Rise, and a Clay-colored Sparrow, a male Vermilion Flycatcher, a Canvasback, and a Redhead that Jerry Krummrich discovered in rural parts of central Columbia County.

The Melrose Christmas Bird Count will be conducted tomorrow, Thursday the 19th. Hurry up and contact Jim Swarr at jhschwarr@gmail.com if you’d like to participate.

Ross’s Goose AND Snow Goose! Plus, Rusty Blackbirds!

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

Remember that Alachua Audubon’s Holiday Social and Silent Auction will be held this Friday evening, beginning at 6:30: “Celebrate conservation, birds, and the holidays with the Alachua Audubon Society! This festive event will include hors d’oeuvres, beverages, and a silent auction—one of our important annual fund raising events. This year our holiday party will be held at the Mill Pond Clubhouse. Directions: From Newberry Road, turn south on NW 48th Blvd (across from Gainesville Health and Fitness Center) and go about 2 blocks. Look for tennis courts on the right. The Clubhouse is next to the tennis courts. Look for the Alachua Audubon signs.” Map, with the clubhouse marked, here.

And there will be two field trips this weekend, a La Chua Trail walk on Saturday and a trip to Circle B Bar Ranch in Polk County on Sunday. Details here.

A Snow Goose has joined the Ross’s Goose at the UF Beef Unit. Barbara Shea was the first to mention it to me, on the morning of December 1st, and later that day Jonathan Mays got this photo. Danny Shehee saw both birds on the morning of the 3rd, but they were gone by the time I visited early in the afternoon. I expect they’ll be back … but your takeaway lesson here is: Go in the morning if you want to see them.

Mike Manetz spotted a single Rusty Blackbird at Magnolia Parke on the 1st: “Just got back from San Felasco Park. Tons of Ruby-crowned Kinglets but no Golden-crowned Kinglets or Brown Creepers. Before that I hit Magnolia Parke and scored a Rusty Blackbird. There may be more, hard to tell. This one was sitting on a snag singing (if you can call it a song), visible from the back of the parking lot where you and I and Adam Zions got several last year. A big flock of Red-wings flew in and it ducked down into the swamp.” Mike was correct that there were more; Adam Zions looked in the next day and found a dozen. On the 3rd Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing saw nine, and Samuel got a photo.

John Hintermister found a lingering Yellow Warbler on 1 December at La Chua and snapped a picture. We’ve had them as late as the end of December in the past, but never in January or February, so I assume they’ve been late migrants rather than wintering birds.

Speaking of photos, we have a lot of greatly gifted photographers around here. I didn’t know Wade Kincaid until he contacted me last week, but he’s obviously one of the best. Check out his picture of the female Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been hanging out at the end of the La Chua Trail for about two months now: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sefferdog/11121073443/  And then look at this and this and this (yes, I enjoy odd perspectives, why do you ask?) and this.

Any of you Alachua County birders have any hummingbirds coming to feeders? Not plants, feeders? And if so, would you like them banded? Let me know.

I look forward to seeing you at Alachua Audubon’s Holiday Social and Silent Auction on Friday. We’re only inviting the cool kids, so don’t mention it to anybody else!

Got wasps?

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

I need your help. (No, this isn’t a Nigerian email scam, and no, you are not the last surviving relative of a millionaire for whom I’ve been holding a really big check.) For the last two years I’ve been working with the American Entomological Institute to catalog the paper wasps of Alachua County and north Florida generally. I thought the project would be about my speed – eight or nine species, pretty easily distinguishable, just about right for an amateur with a butterfly net and a stupid grin on his face. But an actual entomologist got involved, and it turns out that three of the “species” are actually complexes, each of which contains two to four different species. At least this seems to be the case based on markings and structural differences; it can be confirmed only by DNA analysis. That’s where you come in. Can you direct me to any active paper wasp nests in Alachua County? It’s late in the season, which means that many of the nests have been abandoned. But a lot of the remaining wasps are males, which are more common in the fall (and can’t sting!). Since all the wasps on a nest are related, finding a nest tells us what males and females of a given species look like and helps us to document the range of variation. However you should be aware that we would need to collect both the nest and the wasps on it for the DNA analysis, so if you’re attached to your wasps, or just want them to stay alive, please move on to the next paragraph. And just to be clear, I’m NOT talking about this kind of nest, which is the work of the Bald-face Hornet; I’m talking about something that looks like this or this or this, generally hanging from under a sheltering horizontal surface like eaves or a kiosk, or from a branch or main stem of a shrub or robust weed like dog fennel. If you know of a nest in Alachua County, and there are still wasps on it, and you don’t mind my taking it, please send me an email (a photo of the nest would be a plus, but isn’t necessary).

On the morning of the 20th John Hintermister and Mike Manetz attempted to relocate the Western Kingbird found at La Chua by Chris Hooker on the 19th. They didn’t see it, but otherwise they had a pretty good day, recording 61 bird species, including 2 Gadwalls and 14 Northern Pintails (nine duck species overall), a flyover Common Loon, 4 American Bitterns, 3 King Rails and 10 Soras, seven sparrow species (including a Field, 2 Grasshopper, and 14 White-crowned), as well as a lingering Indigo Bunting and the female Vermilion Flycatcher that’s been there since October 5th.

On the 12th Barbara Shea saw the fall’s first Redhead at Jonesville Soccer Park (or the adjoining subdivision, she didn’t specify). Not a common bird around here.

Alachua County birding can boast another blog, this one by Adam Zions. I enjoyed this post in particular: http://alachuaavifauna.blogspot.com/2013/10/winter-descends.html

Sharon Kuchinski’s second-grade class won first place in the national Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest! Congratulations, Sharon, and thanks to those who voted for her.

If you haven’t added your name to the “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy” petition, to fund the state’s Land Acquisition Trust, here’s a link to the form. Please mail it within the next week: http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/pdf/598941flwllonline.pdf

Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens, co-authors of the new Crossley Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland, will be discussing the book during an online chat at 2 p.m. EST today (the 21st): http://shindig.com/event/crossley-id-guide

And please don’t forget those paper wasp nests!

Birds, angry and otherwise

Join us at the Millhopper Branch Library at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 20th, when Dr. Karl Miller of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will describe the ecology, distribution, and population status of the Southeastern American Kestrel. Karl will share the results of nearly a decade’s worth of research and monitoring. The Southeastern American Kestrel is a non-migratory subspecies of North America’s smallest falcon and one of Florida’s most imperiled birds. It used to be common in Alachua County – according to Charles E. Doe, a pair nested “on top of a copper gutter in a corner of the P.K. Yonge Bldg.” in July 1939, when the P.K. Yonge School was in Norman Hall – but is now restricted mainly to the county’s western uplands, around High Springs, Newberry, and Archer. Karl will give us the latest updates on FWC’s kestrel nest-box monitoring partnership and a statewide management plan for kestrels. Everyone is welcome.

I’ve got a little catching up to do, so in chronological order:

On the 4th, just a few days after Andy Kratter saw one Red-throated Loon flying east, Adam and Gina Kent saw two flying southwest. This is a very rare bird in Alachua County, but you wouldn’t know it based on these sightings.

Also on the 4th, Mike Manetz found a locally-rare Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper at temporary pond right beside 441 at the north end of Prairie. It was gone the next day, but when Mike and Adam Kent visited the dairy four days later they found … a Dunlin and a Pectoral Sandpiper. Even weirder, it was a different Dunlin; the first bird was in full winter plumage, while the second retained a few juvenile feathers.

On the 6th Pat Burns saw a Vermilion Flycatcher and a White-faced Ibis along the Old Canal Trail at Alligator Lake Public Recreation Area in Lake City. I asked Pat if the Vermilion was a dude or a lady, and she said a lady.

I saw my first Ring-billed Gull of the winter flying over the Hague Dairy on the 2nd, and a flock of six flying over La Chua on the 9th, but I haven’t seen any in parking lots yet, and no big numbers anywhere. But on the 13th Dean and Samuel Ewing visited Newnans Lake, where they saw 75 Ring-billed Gulls and 9 Bonaparte’s Gulls, as well as 2 Forster’s Terns, 2 Limpkins, and a Common Loon.

Alachua Audubon’s November field trips have enjoyed a fair bit of success. Jerry Krummrich and John Hintermister led the Hamilton County field trip on the 9th. In addition to eight duck species, the field trip participants saw 18 American Avocets, a Peregrine Falcon, an Eared Grebe, two Franklin’s Gulls (always a rarity inland, and a first record for Hamilton County, I think), and huge number of some species, including 600 American White Pelicans and 1,510 Great Egrets. I led the field trip to Cedar Key on the 16th. It was as beautiful a day as I’ve ever experienced out there, and the birds were quite cooperative – at first, anyway. At our initial stop, overlooking the saltmarsh at the landward end of Bridge Four, we had at least four Marsh Wrens, four Nelson’s Sparrows, and two Seaside Sparrows vying to see who could give us the best looks. At Shell Mound we found American Avocets, Marbled Godwits, American Oystercatchers, and active mixed flocks of shorebirds whose sweeping flights over the tidal flats were exhilarating to watch. Once we moved into Cedar Key itself, things got less interesting; the airfield has now been fenced off, and there was a funeral under way at the cemetery, so we contented ourselves with a walk around the museum grounds – which at least netted us a Common Loon and a Northern Harrier – and then went home.

On the 16th Benjamin Ewing posted a photo of one of the Duck Pond’s Black Swans sitting on a nest. This may not be a good thing. In 1972 a single family group of Black Swans toppled the government of Luxembourg and wreaked havoc on the human populace and the poultry markets until removed by a NATO military strike. Gainesville is smaller than Luxembourg (slightly), so we’d better keep an eye on these birds. Sure, you can shrug it off as a joke, just don’t come running to me when you’re flat on the ground with a webbed foot on your neck, because I warned you.

Debbie Segal writes, “Good news regarding Orange Lake. FWC has decided to not herbicide over 1,500 acres at Orange Lake this fall. Ryan Hamm said they cancelled the fall spraying because they missed their window of opportunity for spraying before the plants started into dormancy. And they missed their window because of the strong opposition regarding ecological concerns. Thank you to all who expressed opposition to FWC.”

Mark your calendars: the Alachua Audubon Christmas Social will be held in the clubhouse of the Mill Pond neighborhood near Gainesville Health and Fitness on December 6th at 6:30 p.m. Map is here. As with all Alachua Audubon functions, everyone is welcome, members and non-members alike.

Only four months till the new edition of the Sibley guide comes out: http://www.amazon.com/Sibley-Guide-Birds-Second-Edition/dp/030795790X

See you at the Millhopper Branch Library on Wednesday night!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher still there!

The Scissor-tailed Flycatcher first reported by Lisa Smith on the 22nd was still present today, seen by me at 11:30, Adam Kent at 3:50, and Jessica Burnett at 4:45. This is the tenth Scissor-tail in Alachua County birding history, and it’s now been present for four days; all previous Scissor-tails have stayed for only a single day except the county’s first ever, which stayed for two, May 13 and 14, 1971, as observed by Robert McFarlane and by a Mrs. Emerson of Greenville Farms, who was credited with the discovery. Directions: Go out Archer Road a little over six miles beyond the interstate to Parker Road (SW 122nd Street). Turn left at the traffic light and go 0.3 mile to SW 99th Avenue. Then turn left again and go 0.3 mile. You’ll see some open acreage on your left with a house set way back. The address is 11616. The bird has been hanging around this property, sitting on fences, sometimes near the road, sometimes way in the back. Occasionally it’s absent for an hour or so. A spotting scope is helpful. Jonathan Mays got some nice pictures (start with this one, and click the arrow on the right to see the others): http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/10468499584/

Other local rarities: Keith Collingwood saw the Vermilion Flycatcher at La Chua today and two Yellow-headed Blackbirds and a Bronzed Cowbird at the Hague Dairy yesterday.

No one has reported the Nelson’s Sparrow since the 22nd, when several birders got to see it and Jonathan Mays took this exquisite photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/10430622153/in/photostream/

Has anyone gone looking for the Green-tailed Towhees reported on Bolen Bluff?

Right before your eyes

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

Debbie Segal writes, “The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) plans to herbicide approximately 1,500 acres (over two square miles) of native wetland vegetation in Orange Lake in order to improve lake access and boating safety. Alachua Audubon and Audubon of Florida are objecting to FWC’s proposed herbicide application plan due to its wide-spread destruction of wildlife habitat, its apparent disregard for wading bird rookery islands, its potential for creating an ‘oxygen demand’ that could kill invertebrates and fish, and its lack of a monitoring plan, plus the likelihood of only temporary benefits for the intended users. Due to Alachua Audubon’s and Audubon of Florida’s objections, FWC has reissued a request for comments from stakeholders, which is attached. Alachua Audubon is responding to this request for comments by sending a letter, which is also attached. If you would like to have your voice heard regarding FWC’s plan for large-scale herbiciding (to be applied by helicopter), please take a moment and send an email to FWC. This action is time-sensitive, your comments must be received by this Friday, October 18th. Email them to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com ”

Right before your very eyes, ladies and gentlemen, summer is turning into winter. Here’s a little quiz to see if you’ve been paying attention:

1. When did you last hear a cardinal sing?

2. When did you last see a Great Crested Flycatcher?

3. When did you last see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird?

4. When did you last see a Mississippi Kite? A Swallow-tailed Kite?

According to my records, Northern Cardinals stopped their daily singing in mid-July. Great Crested Flycatchers have been gone since mid-September. A few Ruby-throated Hummingbirds may still be around, but they’re thinning out fast. And as I mentioned in a previous report, Mississippi Kites and Swallow-tailed Kites were last seen on September 2nd and September 1st, respectively.

But summer’s departure is only half of it. The other half is winter’s arrival. Eastern Phoebes, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Blue-headed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, House Wrens, Gray Catbirds, and Palm Warblers have all checked in. Savannah Sparrows are increasing on the Prairie. A pair of Bald Eagles has taken to perching in a tall pine along the northern part of Lakeshore Drive, near a nest site. Migratory Northern Flickers are arriving, and are already far more abundant than the locally-nesting flickers. And today Samuel Ewing made it official: “This morning (Oct. 14th) I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler fly over our yard. It was calling, giving away what it was. Maybe the first of fall for Alachua County.”

The Ewing’s yard was the site of another first earlier this week. On the 11th Benjamin Ewing glanced out the window and spied a Song Sparrow. He called his father Dean, who got a picture. This was the earliest Song Sparrow ever recorded in Alachua County, exceeding by a week the previous record, a bird I saw along the La Chua Trail on 18 October 1995.

The female Vermilion Flycatcher that spent last winter around the La Chua Trail observation platform has returned. John Killian discovered her there on the 10th and got a couple of photos.

As mentioned in the last birding report, Ted and Steven Goodman found two Yellow-headed Blackbirds at the Hague Dairy on the 13th. Dean, Benjamin, and Samuel Ewing read the report and drove to the dairy, where they found and photographed both of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds – and then found a Bronzed Cowbird! This afternoon Adam Zions drove up to Hague and found only one Yellow-headed Blackbird – but two Bronzed Cowbirds.

Bob Wallace had two Philadelphia Vireos at his Alachua farm on the morning of the 13th. The Bolen Bluff field trip on the same morning went fairly well, with a dozen warbler species, but missed out on glamor birds. Trip leader Jonathan Mays wrote, “Unfortunately no Bay-breasted or Black-throated Greens, but the group had close encounters with a male Black-throated Blue and Hooded plus three cooperative Tennessee’s foraging together and two Magnolias. Also caught a neonate Ribbon Snake and had a Black Racer above our heads in a tree. Enjoyable morning and a good group.” John Hintermister and I separately birded Bolen Bluff on the 14th. We both saw lots and lots of American Redstarts, and we both saw about a dozen species, but neither of us found a Bay-breasted Warbler. John did see a single Black-throated Green.

The last two reports are especially unusual:

Ignacio Rodriguez saw two very intriguing birds at Bolen Bluff after the field trip on Sunday: “I spotted two birds that really resembled the Green-tailed Towhee. Rufous crown, light green shoulders and tail, gray above, and red eyes, but I don’t remember if I saw a white throat. They were foraging along the edge of the trail, then perched briefly, then flew again underneath the vegetation.” I asked where he saw them, and he said that you go down the slope onto the Prairie basin, walk until the tall trees on either side give way to grasses, and then walk another hundred yards. Please let me know if you see these birds, and get a picture if you can. There’s only one previous record in Alachua County, and only about a dozen ever seen anywhere in Florida.

Wanda Garfield reported seeing three light-morph Short-tailed Hawks over the course of four or five hours on Saturday morning. She saw one at the recycling station on CR-47 in Gilchrist County, the second in High Springs, and the third over I-75 near Santa Fe College. “The birds I saw were dark black on top/wing areas and very pure white on the breast area. I couldn’t see any barring, spots, etc. I have seen Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. So what do you think? Am I crazy or what?” Short-tailed Hawks do migrate at this time of year, but they’re rare this far north, and dark morphs greatly outnumber white morphs. Nothing else really fits that description, though.

Field trips this weekend: our first-ever field trip to the Levy Lake Loop with Adam Zions on Saturday at 8 a.m., and a trip to Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge with John Hintermister on Sunday, meeting at 6:30 a.m. Details here.

Again, please take the next two minutes to send a simple email to Ryan.Hamm@myfwc.com expressing your opinion on the herbicide plan for Orange Lake. Debbie says that twenty or thirty emails could make a world of difference.

Just ducky

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

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, February 2nd, Alachua County Forever will officially open the Levy Prairie portion of the Barr Hammock Preserve to the public. Everyone is welcome.

This winter’s sunset was at its earliest (5:30) from November 26th to December 9th, and sunrise was at its latest (7:26) from January 7th to January 13th. Today’s sunrise was at 7:23 and today’s sunset will be at 6:01. We’ve gained 23 minutes of daylight since the solstice, nearly all of it in the afternoon.

I haven’t received too many birding reports lately, which sort of surprises me, given that the La Chua Trail has been overrun with rarities during the past three weeks: Whooping Crane (last reported by Bryan Tarbox on the 21st), Vermilion Flycatcher (ditto), Groove-billed Ani (ditto), Ash-throated Flycatcher (ditto), Lincoln’s Sparrow (ditto), Peregrine Falcon (me, on the 22nd), two Yellow-breasted Chats (ditto), plus the Bell’s Vireo, Nashville Warbler, and Clay-colored and Fox Sparrows seen between the 8th and the 12th. Most of those birds, if not all, are still out there. Go get ‘em!

It’s been a good winter for Fox Sparrows. One was at Cones Dike on December 7th, one at Camps Canal on December 11th, four at Persimmon Point on the Christmas Bird Count, one at Sparrow Alley on January 8, and most recently Mike Manetz found one at Mill Creek Preserve on the 23rd, a new species for Mill Creek. (Mike characterized his morning at Mill Creek as “opposite day”: “as many Fox Sparrows (1) as Cardinals (1), more Bluebirds (3) than Blue Jays (0), more Orange-crowned Warblers (5) than Titmice (4), and more Black-and-white Warblers (2) than Yellow-rumps (0). Also, no chickadees, and only five Carolina Wrens.”)

During his brief swing through north-central Florida, Fred Bassett banded three hummingbirds in the Gainesville area: a Rufous at Alan and Ellen Shapiro’s house in SW Gainesville, a second Rufous at Deb Werner’s place in Alachua, and a third Rufous at Greg Hart’s place in Alachua. He also banded a Rufous at Tom Green’s feeder in Ocala. Other hummingbirds were seen but could not be captured.

American birding lost one of its greats last month:
http://birdingwithkennandkim.blogspot.com/2012/12/so-long-rich.html
http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/CAwhoRS.html

The following is mainly for eBirders, but it may be of general interest as well. Renne Leatto, who lives in the Orlando area, raised waterfowl for years and is probably as knowledgeable about them as anyone in the state. Some time ago she took it on herself to correct some misconceptions about Muscovies and Mallards that were circulating on the Birdbrains listserv (and continue to circulate among eBirders and birders at large). The words in bold face are the questions and comments to which she was replying, the other words are hers.

Is it possible that we still have a few full-blooded Muscovies out there, or are they all Muscovy-Mallard hybrids?
The question ought to be: Do we really have any significant numbers of Mallard/Muscovy hybrids out there at all? The answer is NO. I know people seem to be on the lookout for them all the time, and if you keep looking you MIGHT eventually find one. But the chances are somewhere between getting 5 out of 6 numbers on lotto and spotting Bigfoot. I have seen hundreds of pics of suspected Mallard/Muscovy crosses, from the Birdbrains listserv and many other sources, and have only seen two that were really that. The others were either full-bred specimens of one of the many Mallard-derived domestic duck breeds, a cross between those breeds, or a 100% Muscovy. Yes, you can Google “Muscovy Mallard hybrid,” click “images” and get pages and pages of so-called hybrids. And I can tell you which domestic breed, or mix of domestic breeds, each one really is, and which are just 100% Muscovy. I found NO HYBRIDS in the search I did. Some people had even posted domestic geese and labeled them Muscovy hybrids, and my two favorites, a  male Ruddy Duck and a Coot! THE TRUTH – Mallards and their derivative domestic breeds RARELY cross with Muscovies. They are not the same species and prefer their own. Even confined to a barnyard together, they will almost never interbreed, even if you keep only females of one species and males of the other. And even when they DO cross, they produce only sterile “mules” (like a horse and donkey cross) which cannot reproduce themselves.

I have been watching these ducks regularly and can’t see any hybrid color to them.
Not sure what you mean by “hybrid color” but there is no such thing. Muscovies can be any color or any combination of colors and so can mixtures of domestic Mallard-derived breeds.

They even have all black feet.
This occurs in both Muscovies and some breeds of domestic duck.

Have attached photo of a Muscovy Duck that we have in Leesburg. Wanted some opinions of how close this duck is to being the true Muscovy and not a hybrid.
Keep in mind that you can’t answer your original question by the bird’s color, but only by the bird’s shape and the presence of the red facial skin.  Your bird looks like an immature male or large female 100% Muscovy, but I would only know for sure after seeing a closer shot of the face.  There are a few domestic breeds that can have a shape similar to the female Muscovy’s.

Who the heck am I and how do know all this? I am a former duck farmer. For years, I raised a dozen-plus fancy Mallard-derived duck breeds, including Domestic Mallards, Blue Swedish, Crested Ducks, Indian Runner Ducks, Buff Ducks, White Pekin, Rouen, Black Cayugas, Khaki Campbells, Blue and Black Swedish Ducks, Buff Orpington, and Call Ducks (miniature ducks). I also raised Muscovies. I sold them to people who showed them at poultry shows and fairs, 4H kids and adults. My birds won top awards at many shows, especially my Black Cayugas.

Why did I write all this? Because even on this wonderful Birdbrains listserv, which is made up of so many scientists and amateur scientists, and so careful to meticulously split hairs in order to correctly ID each wild bird, this mythology about some prevalence of Muscovy hybrids not only continues, but grows. I’m here to say, IT AIN’T TRUE. If we want to ID ducks accurately and with more ease, we need to change our paradigm of thinking about Muscovies and their phantom hybrids, because for the most part the latter DO NOT EXIST.

That’s the end of Renne’s email. As I say, it’s mostly for eBirders, in hopes of reducing the number of Mallard x Muscovy hybrids in the database. If you’re not presently an eBirder, why not give it a try? It’s easy, it’s actually sort of fun, and in keeping track of the birds you see at your feeder, or on your weekend walks, you help to build a national database that serves as a resource for both ornithologists and birders. In fact, eBird has a page that explains why it’s a good idea to start eBirding (note that it’s become a verb now: I eBird, you eBird, he, she, it eBirds, we are eBirding…): http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/why-ebird  Here’s a tutorial: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/tutorial  And here’s a Quick Start Guide: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/about/ebird-quick-start-guide