Return of the Pacific Loon!

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

Have you contacted Jessica Burnett about that House Sparrow project yet? If you live in Gainesville, and you have a yard, you should: jburnett9@ufl.edu

The Alachua Audubon field trip to Alligator Lake on February 1st found a White-winged Scoter. Normally rare in Florida, this year they’re being seen in fairly large numbers on both coasts. But this inland sighting made me wonder what might be swimming around on Lake Santa Fe. So I called John Hintermister to see if he was as curious as I was, and what do you know, he was. On the 6th, he, Mike Manetz, and I motored out in cold, breezy weather to see what we could find. Coincidentally, that day was the one-year anniversary of our discovering the county’s first-ever Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe. Did we find a White-winged Scoter? We did not. But we found the Pacific Loon again, back for a second winter! We followed it around for a while, trying to get photographs, which isn’t easy when your quarry submerges one hundred feet to the south and, thirty seconds later, surfaces two hundred feet to the north. But Mike, sitting in the bow with the camera, persisted, and managed to get a profile shot, a picture of the dark “chinstrap” that identifies this species, and a photo of the bird with its wings spread, showing that it has molted its flight feathers – which means that it should be right there on Lake Santa Fe until they grow back in.

On the afternoon of the 7th Andy Kratter emailed me, “Just now an immature Brown Pelican soared past our (mine and Tom Webber’s) office window at the museum.” Two immature Brown Pelicans were at Bivens Arm, not that far away from the museum, on January 4th. Could this have been one of those birds?

The Clay-colored Sparrow discovered by Lloyd Davis at the Hague Dairy on the 30th has been seen several times since, most recently by Adam Zions on the 8th. Mike Manetz and I saw it on the 4th in a flock of Chipping and Savannah Sparrows, but even more interesting was a Northern Rough-winged Swallow we saw perched on a power line near the parking area. Its head, throat, and breast the same shade of dusty brown, smaller than a nearby Eastern Bluebird, it sat for several seconds and gave us a good look before a passing tractor scared it off. We didn’t see it again. This is the first February report for Alachua County, and the second or third in winter. Rough-wingeds are relatively early arrivals in spring, often showing up during the first week of March, and they do nest annually at the dairy, so keep an eye out to see if it sticks around.

You might describe this bird as a “golden-crowned” kinglet, but it’s not really. It’s a leucistic Ruby-crowned Kinglet that Barbara Shea noticed at Adam Kent’s house as we were finishing up the Backyard Birding Tour on the 8th. To me it looked cafe-au-lait in color, with white tertials creating a big white spot in the center of its back, a partly white tail, and yellow secondary edgings. But you don’t need to imagine the bird based on my description, because Adam ran inside and got a camera to document it.

I was grousing, in the February 3rd birding report, about the dearth of American Robins and Ospreys around here. Well I can grouse no more. I woke up to hundreds of American Robins pillaging the neighbors’ laurel cherries on the 7th and 8th. And the Ospreys, though just a little later than normal, showed up too. Michael Drummond told me that one had been on the old BellSouth tower downtown since the 27th. Others were seen at La Chua on the 2nd, Buchholz High School on the 4th, and the nest pole opposite the Gainesville Police Department on the 5th. Not to be shown up in the spring department by migratory upstarts, a Carolina Wren is building a nest on Michael Meisenburg’s back porch.

Friends of Courtney Tye created a memorial Facebook page to share pictures and stories: https://www.facebook.com/groups/courtneytyememorial/  Be sure to scroll down to Kate Pasch’s video of Courtney moving a hognose snake off the road to safety while pleading with it, “Don’t musk, don’t musk, don’t musk…” and Dustin Bonds’s three photos of Courtney peeling a road-killed Fox Squirrel off the highway while dressed in a strapless gown. An “expense and education fund” has been set up in her newborn son’s behalf. It’s a good way to honor her memory: http://www.youcaring.com/other/carter-wayne-tye-education-and-expense-fund/134335

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

Vermilion Flycatcher and Le Conte’s Sparrow at La Chua Trail

The Vermilion Flycatcher that John Hintermister first found on the 8th was still at the La Chua observation platform on Friday morning, when Frank Goodwin managed to get a photo of it: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8197165695/in/photostream

It was still there on the 18th, too, and seen by Frank, Mike Manetz, and Charlene Leonard. As they approached the observation platform – “in the largest patch of barnyard grass, about half way between Gator Point and the platform” – they saw a Le Conte’s Sparrow, and Charlene managed to get a photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8197165399/in/photostream  (By the way, “barnyard grass” is the fluffy blonde stuff in which all the Savannah and Le Conte’s Sparrows were hiding at Orange Lake last winter.)

Saturday’s Cedar Key field trip, led by Caleb Gordon, was hugely successful. In addition to five Red-breasted Nuthatches at the museum, there was a White-winged Scoter “incredibly close and cooperative” off the downtown fishing pier (still present and “extremely viewable just off the beach on the road to the airstrip” on Sunday, along with a Surf Scoter, according to Dale Henderson), a Peregrine Falcon seen by all, and a Short-tailed Hawk seen by a few on the road to Shell Mound. On the way back to Gainesville, three of the cars made a detour to a birding spot south of Bronson, where they found an Ash-throated Flycatcher and a Clay-colored Sparrow.

Vismig Common Loons – if you haven’t been keeping up with your British birding slang, “vismig” means “visibly migrating” – continue to pass overhead on their way to the Gulf. On the morning of the 17th Adam Kent saw 15 going over his SE Gainesville home and I saw 5 going over J.J. Finley Elementary School.

Barbara Woodmansee visited the Hague Dairy today, looking for birds, but found herself distracted by the great variety of butterflies: “Had 4 White M Hairstreaks, every sulphur species there is except Dogface, including 8-10 Orange Sulphurs! I watched one laying eggs in the clover. Long-tailed Skipper and Dorantes Longtail, Zebra Heliconians, Gulf and Variegated Fritillary, Carolina Satyrs, Fiery Skippers, Clouded Skippers, and Whirlabouts, both Painted and American Ladies – lots of them, including late instar American Lady caterpillar. Lots of White Peacocks and Common Buckeyes, a Monarch, Phaon Crescents, lots of Checkered Whites and checkered-skippers (I think I saw both Tropical and Common). No swallowtails of any kind – sort of surprising. We had 24 species in about 2 hours – not bad for late November!”