Lingering rarities! Time-limited offer! Get ’em before they’re gone!

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

I think we’re spoiled around here. Any one of these birds would have been big news when I was a-comin’ up (the days when binoculars were gasoline powered, and we had to start them by turning a crank in the front), and here we’ve got at least half a dozen first-class rarities around town. I don’t know what we’re going to do if things ever go back to normal. We’ll have to start birding in other counties! Makes my skin crawl just thinking about it. Anyway….

The Lark Sparrow at the Hague Dairy was sighted on the 15th by Bryan Tarbox. Jonathan Mays got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/16290832548/

The Bullock’s Oriole at the Goodmans’ house was most recently reported (by Steve Goodman) on the 12th. Out-of-towner Nathan Langwald got a photo on the 7th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/soniknate/15862400884/

The Rusty Blackbirds of Magnolia Parke are still there as well. Brook Rohman saw 30 on the 14th, and Trina Anderson got a photo on the 6th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/46902575@N06/15838917233/

I saw four high-flying flocks of Sandhill Cranes totalling around 250 birds going north over my NE Gainesville home early on the afternoon of the 16th. Jonathan Mays saw about 50 at the UF Beef Teaching Unit at lunchtime on the same day, and the Whooping Crane was among them.

Lloyd Davis photographed the Le Conte’s Sparrow at Tuscawilla Prairie on the 9th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16553233945/ It’s been a cooperative bird, showing itself almost daily; at least a dozen birders have seen it so far. From the parking area, cross the street to the informational kiosk and then bear left, following the trail down to where the live oaks give out. But then leave the trail and walk straight out into the grass until the ground gets soggy. Turn right and walk along that soggy edge, keeping your eyes open, until off to your right, at the woods’ edge, you see “two cabbage palms with extensive trunkage, the one on the left adorned with vines, and the one on the right without” (thanks, Adam Zions!). The bird has been seen consistently along the soggy edge opposite those palms. It’s been showing well, as the Brits put it, so there’s need to stomp around in the grass and ruin its habitat in order to get a look at it.

Good birds continue to be seen at the sheetflow restoration site, generally by those with special access for one reason or another or those who sneak in the back way on Sunday, when no one is working there. Debbie Segal photographed two White-faced Ibises there on the 10th, while on the 8th Matt O’Sullivan documented a Red-breasted Merganser, rarely seen in Alachua County, and two Long-billed Dowitchers, which have been tough to find during the last two winters. (On the 5th the City Commission took actions that will probably delay opening the sheetflow restoration site until October at the earliest. Debbie Segal is trying to arrange monthly field trips through GRU until it opens permanently.)

Lloyd Davis saw three Snow Geese flying over the La Chua Trail on the 14th.

Harry Jones saw a wintering Summer Tanager along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail on the 9th: “It was perched in a large fruiting tree in someone’s backyard on the left side of the trail (if heading towards Paynes Prairie). I believe it is the last house before the Paynes Prairie gate and the turnoff for the Sweetwater Overlook. The bird was perched at the top of the tree (something plum if I remember correctly) with a large flock of robins and yellow-rumps. I saw it fly over the trail towards Paynes Prairie.”

Spring is already here for some birds. Deena Mickelson got this photo of a Mourning Dove sitting on eggs on the UF campus on the 1st: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121307268@N08/16235049360/

The Third Thursday Retirees’ Birding Club (informally known as the Ha! Take That, You Working Stiffs! Club) is going out of town this week: “Our Third Thursday field trip for February will be to Circle B Bar Ranch in Lakeland. We will leave from the Target parking lot on Archer Road at 6:00 AM on Thursday, February 19. The drive down should take a little over two hours. Circle B Bar Reserve was jointly acquired by the Polk County Environmental Lands Program and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to protect the floodplain of Lake Hancock and to restore the Banana Creek marsh system. Oak hammock, freshwater marsh, hardwood swamp and the lakeshore are among the unique characteristics of this property. It is home to an abundant and diverse bird population. After the trip some of us are planning on having lunch at Palace Pizza in downtown Lakeland. If you’re planning on joining us for lunch, please let me know.”

If you’d like to see live owls close up, and especially if you’ve got kids who’d like to see live owls close up, you might be interested in this Saturday’s doings at Wild Birds Unlimited: “Licensed wildlife rehabilitators Nan Soistman and Dr. Dawn Miller, DVM, will host an education program on the owls of Florida at Wild Birds Unlimited on Saturday, February 21 from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm. The event is free and open to the public. Ms. Soistman and Dr. Miller will bring four of Florida’s five species of breeding owls: a Great Horned Owl, a Barred Owl, a Barn Owl, and an Eastern Screech-Owl. Each bird was rescued from some sort of life-threatening injury but deemed not to be releasable to the wild after having been given care. Alachua Audubon Society and the UF/IFAS Alachua County Master Gardeners will also have information tables at the event. All first-time, new National Audubon Society memberships will be free during the event and all new and renewing members will also receive a $5 “BirdBucks” coupon to be used in the store on the day of the event. Audubon representatives will also be present to discuss birding opportunities and environmental advocacy efforts around Gainesville. The Master Gardeners will have a rain barrel display and representative will be present to discuss water conservation efforts and other Florida-friendly gardening practices. Please see http://www.wbu.com/gainesville for details on Wild Birds Unlimited’s own website.”

A surprise at Tuscawilla Prairie

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

On the 6th I took a visiting English entomologist in search of a few birds he wanted to see. We started with the Whooping Crane at the Beef Teaching Unit, which obliged with close views. We drove on to the Ocala National Forest, where we found a cooperative group of four Florida Scrub-Jays on County Road 316 not far west of the Oklawaha River and a pair of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the beautiful Riverside Island sandhills north of Lake Delancey. He also wanted to see a Marsh Wren, so we stopped at the Tuscawilla Prairie on our way to the Ocala National Forest and then again on our way back, but struck out both times. We finally got great looks at one from the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie.

Oh, wait! Almost forgot! Our first stop at the Tuscawilla Prairie was at about eight in the morning. We followed the trail out to where the trees end and we turned right, because turning left would have put the sun in our eyes. We walked along the soggy, grassy water’s edge, trying unsuccessfully to spish up Marsh Wrens. But as we approached three saltbush trees, something did pop up into the grass at the base of one of the trees, a small bird with an orange face, gray auriculars, and a faint necklace of fine streaks across its orange breast: a Le Conte’s Sparrow. Unlike most Le Conte’s, this one didn’t seem especially shy, but hopped around in the open for a while, allowing us to enjoy it from every angle. The entomologist admired its good looks, but he had no idea that this little bird was worth everything else we saw this morning. This is the second Le Conte’s I’ve seen at the north end of the Tuscawilla Prairie.

On the 1st Becky Enneis had a rare visitor in her back yard in Alachua: “a Purple Finch feeding on the ground with several Chipping Sparrows underneath my oak tree cage feeder. I always scan the flocks of yard Chipping Sparrows in hopes of another sparrow joining them, but never see anything different. But this time I looked out at them and saw a larger stockier bird, with a striking white supercilium. I thought, a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak?? Then no, a female Purple Finch! I ran to get my camera, but when I got back to the window the bird was gone.”

A handful of birders went looking for the Purple Finches and Pine Siskins that Mike Manetz and I found at O’Leno on the 3rd. Though John Hintermister and Phil Laipis did see one siskin later on the 3rd, they couldn’t relocate the Purple Finches; however their consolation prize was an astoundingly early (or wintering) Louisiana Waterthrush. Phil got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16459434221/ On the 4th Bob Carroll tried for the finches and siskins but though he “stood in the rain for over two hours” he was not rewarded. However he went back the very next day – see? that’s what makes a birder! heroic persistence! – and found the siskins right where Mike and I had seen them. He got a photo of one: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/16274956649/

Though the morning of the 4th was overcast and glum, I heard my first Brown Thrasher singing as I took the garbage bin to the curb, and my first Northern Mockingbird singing as I let the dogs into the back yard.

The birds abide

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

Don’t forget that you can arrange carpooling for Alachua Audubon field trips, using the “Leave a Reply” function on the individual field trip pages on the web site. Here are the pages for the next three field trips:
Tall Timbers / Wade Tract, January 31 and February 1: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/tall-timbers-research-station-sparrow-banding-and-the-wade-tract/?instance_id=375
La Chua, February 7: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/la-chua-trail-9/?instance_id=376
Northeast Florida Coast, February 15: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/event/northeast-florida-coast-3/?instance_id=377

Spring is creeping up on us. Though sunrise is actually one minute later than it was on the solstice, sunset is a whole half an hour later. Red maples have been blooming since mid-December, but now I’m seeing redbuds and wild plums covered with flowers, elms with drooping samaras, and early-blooming wildflowers like lyre-leafed sage and yellow jessamine. Purple Martins should be here by now, but I’ve driven past the martin houses at George’s Hardware four times in the past week or so and have yet to see one; there have been no local reports in eBird, either, though there have been plenty throughout the southern half of the state. Ospreys should also show up in the next week. A small number winter in Alachua County, but breeding birds normally arrive at their nests about the beginning of February.

The Lark Sparrow is still at the Hague Dairy. Sam Ewing saw it on the 28th: “He was singing in an oak tree when we stepped out of the car, and then flew to the ground to feed with Chipping Sparrows.” He also got a nice photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/16390142895/

The Rusty Blackbirds are still being seen at Magnolia Parke. Lloyd Davis counted 66 on the 24th, and Melissa James and Dave Gagne saw two on the 28th. One of Melissa’s photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/melissa_vet/16204251218/in/photostream/

The Whooping Crane is still at the UF Beef Teaching Unit at the corner of Williston Road and SW 23rd Street. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t delay, because all the cranes will be leaving us before much longer.

Here’s a really remarkable set of photos that I found on Google: a leucistic Red-winged Blackbird from Wisconsin, nearly all white except for a few black feathers and bright red epaulets: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/sports/205262591.html

Speaking of really remarkable photos … You know how hard it is to find a Henslow’s Sparrow. They conceal themselves under matted grasses, usually in open fields like the one at Gum Root Park. It’s even harder to see a Henslow’s Sparrow. They flush just in front of you, fly a few yards, land in the grass, and then, out of sight, run away so that you can’t relocate them. All of this being the case, just imagine how hard it is to actually photograph a Henslow’s. And as to photographing one in flight, it’s pretty much impossible. Yet Rob Norton managed the impossible on the 17th: https://www.flickr.com/photos/73960438@N04/16114809538

On the 19th Bob Simons wrote, “I think I saw three black ducks flying at Paynes Prairie today. We were near the end of the La Chua Trail. The ducks were flying around, seemingly looking for a good place to land, and were NW of me, giving me good light to see them. They were very dark – nearly black, with much lighter heads and necks, white under the wing, and red-orange legs and feet. They ended up landing out of sight to the NW.” American Black Duck is a rare bird in Alachua County these days, so keep an eye out.

A researcher at UF has discovered that Lone Star Ticks at San Felasco Hammock, O’Leno, and Manatee Springs carry the incurable hemorrhagic fever virus: http://www.gainesville.com/article/20150126/ARTICLES/150129717?tc=cr I wonder how long that virus has been out there. I’ve been plucking Lone Star Ticks off myself for a couple of decades and haven’t had anything more serious than a suspected case of STARI. According to a table in the scientific paper itself – http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0115769#pone-0115769-t002 – two sites at Manatee Springs had populations in which, respectively, 25% and 10% of the ticks carried the virus. So you’d think the human population of northern Florida would have been decimated by hemorrhagic fever by now. And yet there have been no cases anywhere in four decades. I don’t get it.

Wildlife professor Katie Sieving has a request for those of you who live in the central part of Gainesville: “I have an undergrad, Jason Lacson, who is testing a playback attractant for raptors consisting of a platform with a 15 hour playback of titmouse or jay distress calls (from an MP3 player under the platform) and a fake cardinal model with a birdcam. The setup consists of two poles next to each other sunk in the dirt about 5 feet high, one with the cardinal and speaker and one with a bird cam to obtain photos/detections of owls and other raptors that choose to attack the cardinal model. Can you ask around for any folks willing to let Jason place a setup in their yards for a two-week period? He can run 4 at a time until late March. What he needs is the names, addresses and phone numbers of folks willing to participate, who have secure backyards that are within scooter distance of campus (so approximately 43rd Street to 6th Street and from Bivens Arm to 23rd or 39th Avenue).” If you live in the area described, and are willing to help, send me your email address and I’ll put you in touch with Katie and Jason.

Last birds of 2014

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

Merry Christmas, birdwatchers!

Roy Herrera has noticed that the Whooping Crane – still at the Beef Teaching Unit on the 24th – is observing the season by wearing Christmas-colored bands, as seen in this Chuck Littlewood photo: http://www.charleslittlewood.com/recent_additions/h6F81287#h6f81287

The Bullock’s Oriole has returned to Ted, Danusia, and Steven Goodman’s NW Gainesville home for the third winter in a row. Ted got photos of the bird shortly after he first noticed it on the 21st (see photos here and here). Visitors are welcome to the Goodmans’ house at 6437 NW 37th Drive to look for the bird. Park on the street, walk down the right side of the house to the back corner, where you’ll have a view of the feeders in the back yard, and wait. Ted writes, “Same rules as last year. Come any time, don’t disturb the neighbors to the north who have feeders in their yard, but OK to view theirs from the street.”

Jennifer Donskey was looking for Rusty Blackbirds at Magnolia Parke on the 3rd and discovered that a beaver had taken up residence in the swamp there. I knew that beavers are present in the Santa Fe River and a small family group is (or was) resident at Mill Creek Preserve, but I was surprised to learn of one so close to town. Lloyd Davis went looking for it on the 20th and found both the beaver and the Rusty Blackbird that Jennifer had been looking for in the first place.

We’ve had a few recent reports of northern species that can be hard to find in Alachua County. Three Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Winter Wren were seen along the Santa Fe River during the Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno CBC on the 16th. Pine Siskins are being reported almost daily; on the 19th Samuel Ewing saw and heard a flock of 14 flying over his NW Gainesville home. And on the 21st, visiting South Florida birder Carlos Valenzuela reported a Purple Finch at Bolen Bluff: “Female with bold white eyebrow and heavy dark triangular bill. The bird flew in and was feeding on a sweetgum tree leading out to the prairie, just bordering the forest.”

Also at Bolen Bluff was an American Redstart seen by Harrison Jones on the 17th. I tend to think of these December birds as dawdling fall migrants rather than wintering birds; only a small percentage are ever seen after January 1st.

Here’s an amazing story. Golden-winged Warblers, newly-arrived on their nesting grounds in Tennessee, turned around and flew all the way back down to the Gulf Coast to avoid oncoming tornadoes, then returned to Tennessee once the tornadoes had passed. Thanks to Ching-tzu Huang for the link: http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30531060

Audubon Florida posted this on the possible misuse of Amendment 1 conservation funds: http://fl.audubonaction.org/site/MessageViewer?dlv_id=61979&em_id=50121.0&pgwrap=n

Christmas Bird Count results

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

Sunday’s Christmas Bird Count tallied a spectacular 157 species – though it’s possible that some of the undocumented rarities will be struck off the list by the regional editor and we’ll end up with a smaller number. The complete list of species and numbers is below.

There were an unusually high number of rarities reported, including two species new to the Gainesville Count, Wood Thrush and Wilson’s Plover. Neither was documented with a photograph, but on the day after the Count Andy Kratter was able to relocate the Wood Thrush that had first been discovered by Harry Jones at Kanapaha Gardens, and it may yet be photographed. Birders attempting to relocate Felicia Lee’s Wilson’s Plover for a photograph were unable to do so. Other good birds included:

– Two Snow Geese in a flock of Sandhill Cranes at the Kanapaha Prairie. John Martin photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/15424485194/
– A Canvasback at Sweetwater Wetlands Park (AKA the Sheetflow Restoration Wetlands). Matt O’Sullivan photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/16036582521/
– A Greater Scaup at Sweetwater Wetlands Park.
– A Great White Heron at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. Matt O’Sullivan picture here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/16038275472/
– A White-faced Ibis at Sweetwater Wetlands Park.
– Two Roseate Spoonbills, one at Sweetwater Wetlands Park, one flying over Bivens Arm. Matt O’Sullivan picture of the former bird here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/118053703@N02/16038533595/
– Three Purple Gallinules wintering along the La Chua Trail. Jonathan Mays photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/15416903544/
– The Whooping Crane that’s been present every day at the UF Beef Teaching Unit.
– A Spotted Sandpiper.
– Two Laughing Gulls on Newnans Lake.
– Two White-winged Doves in a yard near the Kanapaha Prairie.
– One hummingbird in the genus Archilochus, either a Ruby-throated or a Black-chinned.
– Two Least Flycatchers.
– Five Ash-throated Flycatchers at four separate spots on Paynes Prairie (not a single one of them open to the public!). Matt O’Sullivan pictures of two different birds here and here.
– A Blue-winged Warbler along Cones Dike, only the second for the Gainesville Count. Steve Collins photo here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/odephoto/15848141028/
– Two Yellow-breasted Chats.
– Five Dark-eyed Juncos along the Lake Trail at Lake Wauberg. Not found on the following day, though at least two parties went looking for them.
– Five Painted Buntings in two separate places, a new high for the Gainesville Count.
– Eight Pine Siskins were reported, by four teams.

Our Sandhill Crane count was on the low side, with only 2,555.

Limpkins infested Newnans Lake during most of 2013-14 – John Hintermister and I counted 39 there on February 20th – but only three showed up there on the Count, while 15 were seen at Sweetwater Wetlands Park. I’m not sure what that signifies, but it’s interesting.

Big misses included Northern Pintail, Northern Bobwhite, Common Loon, and Long-billed Dowitcher.

The Ichetucknee-Santa Fe-O’Leno CBC took place on the 16th. John Martin photographed a Winter Wren along the Santa Fe River – https://www.flickr.com/photos/thermalin/15859003848/ – and the county’s first Golden-crowned Kinglets of the winter were seen in the same area. A Vermilion Flycatcher and a Black-throated Green Warbler showed up in exactly the same locations where they were seen last year, the former at a rural area in Columbia County, the latter at River Rise.

The Melrose CBC is taking place as I write this, and we’re hoping to learn that the Pacific Loon has returned for its third winter.

I’m not sure you can see this link without a Dropbox account, but Wade Kincaid got a great photo of the Whooping Crane that’s been at the Beef Teaching Unit since the 7th: https://www.dropbox.com/s/oq8wybwrtkx4a7m/AP140042.jpg?dl=0 A couple of inquiring minds found a web page with background information on this individual bird (including baby pictures!): http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/crane/13/BandingCodes_1309.html

And here are the results:

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck 212
Snow Goose 2
Muscovy Duck 291
Wood Duck 149
Gadwall 108
American Wigeon 2
Mallard 7
Mottled Duck 66
Blue-winged Teal 395
Northern Shoveler 53
Green-winged Teal 232
Canvasback 1
Redhead 1
Ring-necked Duck 795
Greater Scaup 1
Lesser Scaup 50
Bufflehead 11
Hooded Merganser 198
Ruddy Duck 57
Wild Turkey 26
Pied-billed Grebe 204
Horned Grebe 1
Wood Stork 75
Double-crested Cormorant 1,022
Anhinga 202
American White Pelican 40
American Bittern 9
Great Blue Heron (including 1 Great White Heron) 149
Great Egret 176
Snowy Egret 205
Little Blue Heron 263
Tricolored Heron 45
Cattle Egret 58
Green Heron 37
Black-crowned Night-Heron 71
White Ibis 1,811
Glossy Ibis 159
White-faced Ibis 1
Roseate Spoonbill 2
Black Vulture 407
Turkey Vulture 844
Osprey 3
Northern Harrier 40
Sharp-shinned Hawk 8
Cooper’s Hawk 8
Accipiter, sp. 1
Bald Eagle 58
Red-shouldered Hawk 175
Red-tailed Hawk 41
King Rail 28
Virginia Rail 11
Sora 54
Purple Gallinule 3
Common Gallinule 280
American Coot 2,446
Limpkin 18
Sandhill Crane 2,555
Whooping Crane 1
Wilson’s Plover 1
Killdeer 459
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 29
Lesser Yellowlegs 1
Least Sandpiper 25
Wilson’s Snipe 189
American Woodcock 22
Bonaparte’s Gull 21
Laughing Gull 2
Ring-billed Gull 534
Herring Gull 18
Forster’s Tern 24
Rock Pigeon 58
Eurasian Collared-Dove 6
White-winged Dove 2
Mourning Dove 223
Common Ground-Dove 6
Barn Owl 1
Eastern Screech-Owl 10
Great Horned Owl 37
Barred Owl 43
Eastern Whip-poor-will 3
Archilochus, sp. 1
Belted Kingfisher 44
Red-headed Woodpecker 14
Red-bellied Woodpecker 274
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 78
Downy Woodpecker 115
Northern Flicker 43
Pileated Woodpecker 143
American Kestrel 44
Merlin 2
Least Flycatcher 2
Eastern Phoebe 410
Vermilion Flycatcher 1
Ash-throated Flycatcher 5
Loggerhead Shrike 20
White-eyed Vireo 124
Blue-headed Vireo 88
Blue Jay 399
American Crow 664
Fish Crow 109
crow, sp. 125
Tree Swallow 141
Carolina Chickadee 298
Tufted Titmouse 388
Brown-headed Nuthatch 3
House Wren 234
Sedge Wren 66
Marsh Wren 64
Carolina Wren 412
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher 457
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 560
Eastern Bluebird 149
Hermit Thrush 63
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 1,121
Gray Catbird 147
Northern Mockingbird 174
Brown Thrasher 27
European Starling 57
American Pipit 3
Cedar Waxwing 7
Ovenbird 9
Northern Waterthrush 3
Blue-winged Warbler 1
Black-and-white Warbler 99
Orange-crowned Warbler 105
Common Yellowthroat 285
Northern Parula 5
Palm Warbler 856
Pine Warbler 130
Yellow-rumped Warbler 2,438
Yellow-throated Warbler 41
Prairie Warbler 6
Yellow-breasted Chat 2
Eastern Towhee 90
Chipping Sparrow 655
Field Sparrow 8
Vesper Sparrow 28
Savannah Sparrow 229
Grasshopper Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 45
Lincoln’s Sparrow 2
Swamp Sparrow 596
White-throated Sparrow 40
White-crowned Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Northern Cardinal 656
Painted Bunting 5
Red-winged Blackbird 2,753
Eastern Meadowlark 396
Common Grackle 338
Boat-tailed Grackle 984
Brown-headed Cowbird 38
Baltimore Oriole 27
House Finch 56
Pine Siskin 8
American Goldfinch 351
House Sparrow 114

Whooping Crane at Beef Teaching Unit

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

This morning there’s a Whooping Crane at the UF Beef Teaching Unit (AKA Sandhill Station), north of Williston Road along SW 23rd Street: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=zUwrxikNCmjA.kI7vr13r19T4

Darrell Hartman thought he saw one there on Sunday, but it was way in the back and he wasn’t sure. Today he has no doubt.

This is one of about 550 Whooping Cranes on earth, and here’s a chance to see it at pretty close range. Go if you can.

I bird alone

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

“I bird alone. With nobody else. And you know, when I bird alone I prefer to be by myself.” — George Thorogood and the Destroyers, “I Bird Alone

I bird alone sometimes. Maybe most of the time. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I’m very slow. If I go out with Mike Manetz or John Hintermister or Adam Kent or Jonathan Mays, I’ll say, “Oh, look, a cardinal!” and write “Cardinal – 1” in my notebook, and then I’ll look up and find that my companions have recorded 37 species while I was doing that. On my own I’ll see most of those 37 species … eventually … though it will take a bit of ambling and stopping and listening and peering up into the trees to find out what’s making that noise. But birding alone I can do those things. I don’t feel hurried by the fact that my companions have already processed the information and moved on to other birds. The other reason is that, birding alone, I’m led solely by my own perceptions and curiosity. If I see an unfamiliar wildflower I can stop to inspect it. If a Carolina Wren is doing something that baffles me I can pause and watch without having to catch up with my friends. I’m more thorough, and my notes are more complete, when I bird alone.

But I don’t always bird alone. The most obvious reason is that I really enjoy the company of my fellow birders. There are plenty of other reasons. If I always birded alone I’d be stagnant. Birding with my betters challenges me. Birding with beginners is a surefire mood-brightener (especially when they think I’m an expert!), since it’s enthusiasm and not proficiency that bonds birders together, and nobody is more enthusiastic than beginners. And birders at all levels are so often occupied with questions and observations that have never occurred to me, or that I haven’t successfully resolved, that I almost invariably find their company enlightening. I’d guess that about 60% of what I know about birds – and not just birds, but all of natural history – I’ve learned in the course of birding with others.

“I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering; which word is beautifully derived ‘from idle people who roved about the country, in the middle ages, and asked charity, under pretence of going à la sainte terre‘ — to the holy land, till the children exclaimed, ‘There goes a sainte-terrer‘, a saunterer — a holy-lander. They who never go to the holy land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds, but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. … For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this holy land from the hands of the Infidels.” – Thoreau

Loonacy is upon us. The spring migration of Common Loons begins in mid-March and slows noticeably after the first half of April, though I’ve seen laggards well into late May. Loons that winter on the southern Gulf Coast of Florida seem to gather in the Cedar Key area and then fly northeast across the peninsula, passing directly over Gainesville. They usually take off at about sunrise, and if you’ve got a clear view of the sky you can often see them pass overhead about an hour later. I don’t think they fly in bad weather – or maybe it’s just that I don’t watch for them in bad weather – but if Sunday morning is fair, meet me at 8 a.m. on the US-441 observation platform at Paynes Prairie and we’ll kick off this year’s Loonacy with a loon watch.

Speaking of which, Scott Flamand saw the Pacific Loon on Lake Santa Fe on the 9th, “still hanging out with the Common Loons.”

Sidney Wade sent a photo of a Whooping Crane she found at La Chua on the morning of the 13th: http://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13148896925/

An adult male Orchard Oriole visited Tom Hoctor’s NW Gainesville yard on the 11th, one of the earliest spring arrivals ever reported in Alachua County and the first documented by a photo (which can be viewed on the Alachua County Birders’ Facebook page).

Dean and Samuel Ewing saw the spring’s first Black-necked Stilt at the US-441 observation platform on the 12th. Maybe it will put in an appearance on Sunday.

Karl Miller at FWC is looking for people to run Breeding Bird Survey routes: “There are currently 14 vacant routes this year. If you know of any skilled birders who may be interested in volunteering, please encourage them to contact me for more information on how to get started. An interactive map of the vacant routes can be found at the USGS BBS website: https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/RouteMap/Map.cfm

Adam Zions told me about this very neat Gopher Tortoise smartphone app: http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/florida-gopher-tortoise-app/

Any of you folks knit? I knit not, but if I knat, I’d knit to help an oil-damaged penguin: http://time.com/13575/knit-for-oil-damaged-penguins/  [Update: Evidently not needed. See http://www.snopes.com/critters/crusader/penguins.asp]

See you Sunday morning at 8 for the loon watch, if the weather is nice.

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

Miscellaneous, including local birding update

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

I’m a sort of village idiot, fascinated by simple things. I always figured, for instance, that the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, would by definition have the latest sunrise and the earliest sunset. But no! The sun continues to rise later and later after the December 21st solstice, reaching its latest (7:26) from January 8th to January 12th. And the earliest sunset (5:30) occurs well before the solstice, from November 25th to December 8th. Although we’ve gained 50 minutes of daylight since the solstice, it’s all been at one end of the day; sunrise is only 9 minutes earlier, while sunset is 41 minutes later. Why does everything have to be so complicated?

With nesting season approaching, and already underway for a few species, Audubon Florida (formerly Florida Audubon Society, Audubon of Florida, etc.) has produced a short video called Tips for Successful Wildlife Photography.

Speaking of videos, Peru’s Birding Rally Challenge, in which our own Adam Kent participated this past December, is the subject of a Birding Adventures TV episode. Dan Lane, an LSU ornithologist of some reputation, is one of the other contestants. If you want to see Adam, he shows up at 1:11, 13:41, 18:47, and 20:32: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDnbyiI4x98&sns=em

The Sandhill Cranes are departing in big numbers. On the 10th Mercedes Panqueva saw migrating flocks over San Felasco’s Progress Center: “Tallied 1,613 by Lee Pond. Observation was between 1:04 and 4:04 PM. Most were large flocks (50-180) flying high but still catching thermals. At 2:43, as part of, but on the very edge of a flock of 184, one white crane that can only be a Whooping.” On the 11th John Erickson reported “at least 8,000” flying north over the US-441 observation platform. Mike Manetz saw 1500 in a pasture a mile north of the platform this morning: “They may disperse in the area but given the weather I think we will have a lot of cranes grounded here for the next couple of days.”

The Rusty Blackbirds are still present at Magnolia Park: Matt O’Sullivan saw 11 on the 10th, and Samuel Ewing saw two and photographed one on the 12th. The Calliope Hummingbird was still present in High Springs on the 9th. The Bullock’s Oriole was still at the Goodmans’ place on the same day. Also on the 9th, Mike Manetz and Matt O’Sullivan found two Lincoln’s Sparrows at La Chua (one beside the big pine near the entrance to Sparrow Alley, one at the end of the boardwalk at Alachua Sink), and Glenn Israel relocated the Northern Rough-winged Swallow and saw four Painted Buntings at the Hague Dairy. Hilda Bellot told me that she saw the Black-chinned Hummingbird at her NW Gainesville home on the morning of the 9th, but no one has reported it since; Matt O’Sullivan has gone looking for it twice without success.

Second Annual June Challenge Party!

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

Remember, please please remember: If I don’t get your June Challenge total by midnight on the 30th, you can’t win. The list should be in this form: “(ABA-countable birds including Mallard and Whooping Crane) + (non-ABA-countable birds like Graylag Goose, Black Swan, and the Yellow-fronted Amazon at Scott Flamand’s house) = Total.” In other words, if I saw 75 native species plus the Black Swan and Graylag Goose at the Duck Pond, my total would be 75 + 2 = 77. Any questions? Email me.

We’ll be announcing the June Challenge winners and giving the prizes during The June Challenge Party at Becky Enneis’s house at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 1st. Bring a potluck dish (Becky will provide drinks), and a lawn chair if you have one. IF YOU’RE GOING TO THE PARTY – and if you did The June Challenge, you should – RSVP TO ME. Like, right now. Directions to Becky’s: From Gainesville take US-441 north to Alachua. Turn left at the first traffic light (County Road 235/241, also known as NW 140th Street) and come down to NW 147th Avenue (Ayurveda Health Retreat on the corner). Turn right, go about six blocks, and just after NW 148th Place, turn right into Becky’s driveway. Map is here, with Becky’s house marked with a blue inverted teardrop, but you’ll have to zoom in for details.

This could be a close contest. The winner will be the person who has gone out of his or her way to get night birds and taken advantage of tips for uncommon species like Blue-winged Teal and American Coot, and maybe lucked into something unexpected like a Tree Swallow or a Caspian Tern or a Greater Yellowlegs. If there’s a tie, we’ll see who has the most ABA-non-countable birds, so don’t disdain Graylag Goose, Black Swan, and that Yellow-fronted Amazon. Remember also that Louisiana Waterthrush has been recorded as early as June 24th, Black-and-white Warbler as early as June 25th, and Lesser Yellowlegs as early as June 28th. The month ain’t over.

John Hintermister and I had a great time circumnavigating Newnans Lake on the 25th, leaving from the Windsor boat ramp at 8:45, going counter-clockwise around the lake, and getting back to Windsor four hours later. We did NOT see a single American White Pelican, Bald Eagle, gull, or tern. However we did see a Belted Kingfisher, a pair of Ruddy Ducks, two drake Lesser Scaup, and a breeding-plumage Horned Grebe, the county’s first record for June! I doubt you could find the Ruddies or the grebe without a boat, but the scaup were just south of the Windsor boat ramp and the kingfisher was at Palm Point.

Miscellaneous birds you can look for, if you’ve got the time and the inclination:

Howard Adams saw 3 Roseate Spoonbills and a Whooping Crane from the La Chua observation platform on the 22nd, and heard two King Rails in the vicinity, “one by the platform the other near the last bench on La Chua.”

On the 23rd Frank Goodwin found an Eastern Wood-Pewee at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve.

The Barn Owls and Black-crowned Night-Herons are still being seen from the US-441 observation platform. Matt and Erin Kalinowski saw one owl on the 25th (Linda Hensley saw 2 on the 22nd, the night of the full moon), and John Hintermister saw 3 Black-crowned Night-Herons on the 24th.

Hairy Woodpeckers seem to be resident at LEAFS south of Waldo. Adam Zions saw a pair on the 15th, and Jonathan Mays spotted a female on the 23rd.

For any UF students doing the Challenge, Austin Gregg says that a pair of Northern Flickers are seen regularly at the Diamond Village playground.

John Hintermister told me that he added Broad-winged Hawk to his June Challenge list by driving down Poe Springs Road (County Road 340) just south of High Springs. The bird flew over the road at the eastern border of Poe Springs Park.

Ron Robinson, Ria Leonard, and I went looking for owls on the evening of the 24th. Standing near the Watermelon Pond boat ramp we spotted a Great Horned Owl perched out in the open, and although we had to give up on the Newberry Cemetery because of the rain, we dropped by Linda Holt’s house, where we lured an Eastern Screech-Owl into the open and had a brief conversation with it. Adam Zions saw a Great Horned being harassed by Brown-headed Nuthatches at Morningside on the 23rd and got a picture of the owl.

Adam Kent and Ryan Butryn found a pair of American Kestrels and a Loggerhead Shrike at the Gainesville Raceway on County Road 225 on the 23rd.

Good luck! Remember to get your totals to me by midnight on the 30th!

I’m late in learning about the online “Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Florida,” which is already a year and a half old. It features nice photos of all of Florida’s reptiles and amphibians with detailed distributional maps: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/herpetology/atlas/FinalReportKryskoEngeMolerAtlasofAmphibiansandReptilesinFlorida08013.pdf

Fun Fact: The Wimbledon tennis tournament employs a Harris’s Hawk: http://news.yahoo.com/rufus-hawk-clears-wimbledon-record-crowds-queue-104323564.html Thanks to Carol Huang for the link!