Short-tailed Hawk at Possum Creek Park

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

After seeing three Burrowing Owls at Watermelon Pond this morning (with 50 of my closest friends), Matt O’Sullivan and I drove up to the Newberry cemetery in hopes of seeing Northern Flicker, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and White-winged Dove. The doves were cooperative, but no one had seen a pewee there recently. The flickers had been seen in the past few days, so we stuck around for about an hour, hoping they’d show up, but eventually we decided to leave. We passed Bob Carroll standing by the cemetery fence – he’d just added Common Ground-Dove to his June Challenge list and gave us a thumbs-up – and headed toward home. At about that time, Bob heard a flicker call, so he played a tape and four flickers (!) flew into trees right above his head. He could still see my car, and he waved at us, but we didn’t see him. All that’s necessary for a good bird to show up is for me to leave.

Or for me not to be there in the first place. Bob just called about five minutes ago to tell me that a Short-tailed Hawk was soaring over Possum Creek Park on the corner of NW 43rd Street and NW 53rd Avenue. Someone – Maralee Joos? – mentioned that they’d seen an all-dark hawk on the ground near the corner of 53rd and NW 34th Street in the past week. Maybe they’re nesting around there. Anyway, if you need Short-tailed for your June Challenge list – and most of us do – that’s the place to hang out.

Additional springerie

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

There are two stages of life. Stage One is, “You’re not getting older, you’re getting better.” Stage Two is, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” When Samuel Ewing recently corrected my misidentification of a Cooper’s Hawk I realized that I have reached Stage Two. (Apologies to you whippersnappers who are too young to remember that advertising campaign. I’d bemoan the state of cultural literacy, if I weren’t so shocked by the realization that I consider advertising to be a part of cultural literacy….)

When that front was moving through Gainesville last night and this morning, it occurred to me that migrants might run into that weather and be forced down. I called Matt O’Sullivan to see if he was interested in going out to have a look, and he was. Our first stop was the Newberry area. I had an idea that we could check the fields around Watermelon Pond for grounded Upland Sandpipers and other migrant shorebirds. As it turned out, the road to Watermelon Pond was too mucky for my Camry, so we checked a nearby sod farm and some recently-plowed fields along SW 46th Avenue. It sure looked good, and we saw an Eastern Kingbird, three Common Ground-Doves, a White-winged Dove, and three Fox Squirrels, but no sandpipers. As the clouds broke up and the sun came out, we drove on to San Felasco Hammock (the Millhopper Road entrance, north side) to see if the rain had brought in any woodland migrants. It had. Although Yellow-rumped Warblers outnumbered everything else by five to one, we ended up with twelve warbler species, including five Prairie Warblers, an adult male American Redstart, an adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and an adult male Cape May Warbler. There was quite a lot of bird activity there, including several newly-arrived Great Crested Flycatchers and Summer Tanagers. We figured that Palm Point should be pretty good as well, so we made the long drive across town, speculating that we’d find even more warblers, not to mention gulls and terns dropped in by the front. But Palm Point was devoid of birds, and scanning Newnans Lake we saw no gulls, no terns, nothing but cormorants and the occasional Osprey – though we did find three or four of the resident Prothonotary Warblers and a Limpkin farther down Lakeshore Drive.

Spring arrivals are increasing in number and variety. Over the past week or two, La Chua Trail has seen the arrival of (click on the hyperlinks for photos) Black-necked Stilt (over 30 have been seen at once!), Blue Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Orchard Oriole, Purple Gallinule, Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Yellow-breasted Chat (though the chat may have spent the winter).

Jonathan Mays saw the spring’s first Rose-breasted Grosbeak in his SE Gainesville yard on the 5th: “Slightly early; beautiful male, no song but gave occasional call note, which sounds like a shoe squeaking on a basketball court.”

On the morning of the 7th I went to La Chua in search of spring arrivals and found myself gawking at the season’s heaviest Common Loon migration. With about fifteen other birders I’d kicked off this year’s Loonacy at the US-441 observation platform on March 16th. We saw only four or five loons, all of them very far away, and I’m pretty sure that I discouraged everyone out there from any further loon watching. I wish they’d all been with me yesterday. I saw 57 birds, in 22 groups ranging in size from 1 to 9, and some of them were flying at surprisingly low altitudes. Here’s how it worked out, by ten-minute segments:

7:50-8:00   17 birds
8:00-8:10   5
8:10-8:20   21
8:20-8:30   1
8:30-8:40   5
8:40-8:50   0
8:50-9:00   2
9:00-9:10   5
9:10-9:20   1

Cedar Key sunrise was at 7:16 on the 7th, so the birds that I saw passed over Gainesville from 34 minutes after sunrise to nearly two hours after, suggesting a takeoff ranging from about half an hour before sunrise to an hour afterward. The flight peaked from 8:14 to 8:16, when I saw 17 birds in five groups.

Andy Kratter had an even better morning than I did: “It was giddy excitement and thrills at my loon census this morning. The loons started at 8:09 with two migrating far to the north, and in the next 95 minutes I recorded a near-constant stream of ones and twos and small groups (largest group = 18), for a total of 133 for the day, in 49 groups. Also had two White-winged Doves, a high flying migrant Belted Kingfisher, a migrant American Kestrel, and lots of the usual suspects. One of my best days ever loon watching.” And Samuel Ewing, watching from his NW Gainesville yard, tallied 33 loons between 8:32 and 9:11. Samuel got this picture of a migrating loon in flight on the 31st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13538401855/in/photostream/

The Hairy Woodpecker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve has been relatively cooperative lately. Most of those who have been looking for it have found it. Walk out the Red-White Connector trail to the service road and turn left. When the trail forks, keep going straight (i.e., take the right fork) and look for the sign to the campground. Once at the campground, listen for a rapid drumming. You’ll probably have to set out from the campground and explore the woods to the north and northwest, but as I say most of those who have gone in search of this bird have found it. Here’s a nice picture by Samuel Ewing, showing the characteristic spike-like bill: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13648935265/in/photostream/

John Hintermister, Phil Laipis, and I motored out onto Lake Santa Fe on the 27th, hoping to relocate the two Black Scoters that Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn had found on the 20th. We found 220 Ruddy Ducks, a Lesser Scaup, 32 Horned Grebes (some in breeding plumage), and 19 Common Loons – even the Pacific Loon! – but no scoters of any description. Learning that the Pacific Loon was still there, Adam went back on the 2nd to try for it again, and missed it again, but … “saw what was possibly a White-winged Scoter. The bird was so far away that I couldn’t say for sure, but it looked like a big black duck with white in the wings.”

Like all right-thinking people, I regularly check Katherine Edison’s blog. I especially like the posts that teach me the names of wildflowers: http://earthteachme.blogspot.com/2014/03/the-ditch-is-back.html

FWC ornithologist Karl Miller writes, “FWC is conducting a genetic analysis of Osprey at various locations in peninsular Florida to clarify the taxonomic status and conservation significance of birds in southern Florida. We need to identify Osprey nests which can be accessed by tree climbing or with the aid of bucket trucks in order to conduct genetic sampling of young nestlings. Lower nests in urban/suburban/exurban environments are often easily accessible. Alachua County will serve as a reference site in the northern peninsula. Please contact Karl Miller at karl.miller@myfwc.com or 352-334-4215 with the locations of active Osprey nests in and around Gainesville. GPS locations and/or maps and/or photos are appreciated!”

Barn Owl? We got yer Barn Owl right here

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your weekend: places to go, birds to see

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

Anne Kendall got a hot tip a couple of days ago: “I ran into Howard Adams and Barbara Mollison on the La Chua Trail on Wednesday and they told me they had found Eastern Wood-Pewee, Northern Flicker, and White-winged Dove in the Newberry Cemetery, so I went out there this morning and easily got all three – I’ve been to Northeast Park five times looking for the flicker with no luck, so was happy to get it in Newberry.” All three can be tough to get in June, so this is very helpful information. To get to the cemetery, take Newberry Road west to, you guessed it, Newberry, turn left onto US-41/27, go 0.5 mile to SW 15th Avenue, turn right, and go 0.6 mile to the T, where you turn left into the cemetery.

Samuel Ewing found a Greater Yellowlegs at Powers Park today. I think that’s only the third June record for the county. Here’s a link to Samuel’s eBird checklist, which is illustrated with a few nice photos: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S14418030

Mike Manetz told me on Wednesday that he was going to try for the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron at Possum Creek Park, and asked if I was interested. I picked him up and we headed to the park, which is on NW 53rd Avenue just east of NW 43rd Street – opposite Trinity United Methodist Church. We parked at the west end of the property, near the skate park, and then walked southeast across the open field to the gate at the back corner, where a trail leads down a wooded slope to Possum Creek and a little pond grown with buttonbush, home to a heron rookery (mostly Little Blue Herons, with one or two pairs of Green Herons and Snowy Egrets). Adam Zions was there ahead of us, and we spent two hours standing around, waiting for the Yellow-crowned to show itself. Glenn Israel arrived at 8:10, but his wife was waiting for him in the parking lot, so he left at about 8:15 – approximately sixty seconds before the Yellow-crowned flew in from the north and landed in the buttonbush thicket. A minute later it emerged, flew across the pond, and landed in a dead tree just a few yards to our right. Be sure not to mention this to Glenn.

I still haven’t seen a Black-crowned Night-Heron in June, but Anne Kendall tells me she saw one at River Styx, along with a Prothonotary Warbler.

Mike Manetz saw a Broad-winged Hawk in the neighborhood of Ring Park on the 11th.

Conrad Burkholder birded La Chua on the 13th and found a couple of lingering rarities: a pair of Blue-winged Teal and one or maybe two Great White Herons. However he saw no Roseate Spoonbills or Whooping Cranes.

If you’re still looking for Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, Jonathan Colburn found a pair in town, at the Shands UF helicopter pad.

One last little bit of June Challenge business. Phil Laipis has used Excel to create a self-counting June Challenge checklist. Just enter the date you saw it – enter anything, really, the numeral “1” will suffice – and the checklist will tally your birds for you. There are also spaces to record where you saw it first, and whether you’ve seen it again.

It’s Friday afternoon, a good time for a virtual vacation to Maine courtesy of Jonathan Mays, who just returned from leading field trips for the Acadia Birding Festival:

Yikes: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/05/10/killer-gulls