Blue bird bonanza

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

On the 21st Dean Ewing wrote, “If people want to see a blue bonanza, just go over to Mildred’s Big City Food (south of University Avenue, just west of 34th Street) and walk over to Hogtown Creek. I saw lots of Indigo Buntings and Blue Grosbeaks there this morning while riding my bike. Samuel, Benjamin, and I just returned from there and counted at least a dozen Blue Grosbeaks and 50 Indigo Buntings feeding on the long grasses along the creek. Amazing sight.” Samuel got a photo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/121511542@N02/13961686364/ (By the way, that may be worth checking for Bobolink flocks in the near future.)

It’s that time of the year: I’m starting to hear baby birds calling around my neighborhood. A pair of cardinals are feeding at least one fledgling, and I can hear the whining of a young mockingbird begging for food across the street. Yesterday at San Felasco Hammock I checked on a Hooded Warbler nest that I found on the 10th. When I’d first discovered it, the female had been putting the finishing touches on a perfect little cup about five feet high in a sapling laurel oak. When I looked in yesterday, it appeared to have been abandoned – until I approached, flushing the female off the nest. I took a peek inside – four eggs, none of them cowbird eggs – and made a rapid retreat so she could get back to hatching them.

Speaking of nests, the intrepid husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Mays and Ellen Robertson found Limpkin and Turkey Vulture nests while kayaking Prairie Creek on the 20th. I thought that Limpkins nested on the ground in marsh vegetation, but they can also nest in trees, and that’s what Jonathan found: “a nice stick-built nest six feet or so above the water in the crook of an overhanging hardwood.” He posted a photo here. And then Ellen spotted a vulture nest in an atypical situation. Jonathan writes, “I’ve only seen them nest in cave entrances and rock shelters before, but this one was about 25 feet up in a bald cypress. I think the nest itself was an old Osprey nest. Stick built but the sticks were old and the bowl of the nest was mostly gone so that it resembled more of a platform. My first thought was the vulture was eating an old egg of another bird but I raised my glasses and there were at least two white downy vultures in view. And let me tell you, baby vultures are cute!”

If you haven’t looked at Jonathan’s photos lately, you’re missing some great stuff, especially if you have an interest in reptiles and amphibians as well as birds: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmays/

And speaking of photos, Glenn Price got some gorgeous pictures of the birds we saw on Sunday’s Cedar Key field trip: http://raptorcaptor.smugmug.com/Nature/Recent/ (In order: Gray-cheeked Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Great Crested Flycatcher, Merlin, Summer Tanager, another Scarlet Tanager, Cape May Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Blackpoll Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler.)

The field trip went pretty well. Our first stop was the trestle trail, and as soon as we got out of our cars around the corner from the trailhead we were deluged with birds. It was simultaneously exhilarating and frustrating, because there were too many to keep track of, flying here, flying there, one amazing bird distracting us from another – Yellow Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blue-winged Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, little flocks of Indigo Buntings down in the grass of someone’s front yard, Blue Grosbeaks and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks around a feeder in somebody else’s back yard. I thought that I was about to have the best Cedar Key experience of my life. But the trestle trail itself was almost birdless, and when we left the neighborhood of the trestle trail for other hotspots like the cemetery and the museum, we found conditions more subdued. Which is not to say there weren’t any birds around. We saw plenty, some of them at very close range, especially at the loquat trees near the museum (as you may have noticed from Glenn’s photos). The variety of warblers didn’t approach the 25 we saw on Wednesday, but it was somewhere north of 15, and late in the day (after I left, of course) John Hintermister found a Bay-breasted, a rare bird in spring migration.

(By the way, in a previous report I passed along the information that the Cedar Key airfield had been fenced due to drone flights. That’s not true. Dale Henderson wrote, “I asked the police chief about the drones at the airstrip. As I thought, there is no truth to that story. When the county sought reauthorization for the strip, they had to secure the strip with the fence. Without it there would have been no government funds! That’s usually at the bottom of these weird changes. The original fence was to be much higher, but they agreed to the shorter one. There may be silver linings for the birds – less access means less disturbance – but not for the birders. I think it’s also been problematic for the alligator that comes and goes from the cattail swamp. He made a passageway under the fence. We could try that!”)

Locally, this year’s spring migration has been unusually good, but if it follows the normal pattern it will drop off pretty quickly after April 30th. So get out if you can and enjoy it while it lasts. Where to go? La Chua was overrun with Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, Prairie Warblers, and swallows of several species on the 21st, and at least three Yellow-breasted Chats were singing along Sparrow Alley this morning. I recorded twelve species of warblers (including six Black-throated Blues, four Worm-eatings, Black-throated Green, and Blackpoll), plus Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco Hammock (Millhopper Road entrance) on the afternoon of the 21st. So those might be your best bets, though any patch of woodland (Loblolly Woods, Bolen Bluff, and Lake Alice come to mind) could hold some interesting birds. Wear boots if you go to La Chua, because it’s pretty wet out there. Frank Goodwin wrote that he and his wife Irina “dog-paddled” out to the observation platform on the 21st, but they had their reward: a Stilt Sandpiper fueling up at Alachua Lake during its long flight to the Arctic: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13968214152/

Get out there, enjoy this beautiful spring, and tell me what you see.

A pretty interesting day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh MIKI you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind

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

Gainesville City Naturalist Geoff Parks read the subject line of the last birding report and inquired, “Do you get your ‘springerie’ at Victorious Egret?” Geoff gets First Prize!

Phil Laipis and several other Gainesville birders visited Cedar Key on the 10th to see what was shaking. As a matter of fact, a lot was shaking. Phil wrote: “82 species, including Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Wood and Hermit Thrushes, Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and 12 warbler species (Ovenbird, Louisiana Waterthrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Hooded Warbler, American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler). Highs for me were the Wood Thrush, and the Louisiana Waterthrush wagging its bottom. First time I’ve seen that rotary motion and could compare it to the Northern Waterthrush’s ‘Spotted Sandpiper up-down wag’. Pat Burns spotted a male Cape May which I have no decent pictures of, and I might have seen a male Blackpoll Warbler, but did not get a long enough look to be positive. Windy, and all the birds seemed to be concentrated in town, not at the cemetery or the museum. We never looked hard for shorebirds, and Pat and I looked for the Yellow Rail reported in mid-January with, of course, no success.” Phil did manage to get a nice photo of a snake I’ve never seen, a Gulf Hammock Rat Snake: https://www.flickr.com/photos/74215662@N04/13766355403/

I took a leisurely walk around San Felasco Hammock this afternoon, the trails north of Millhopper Road. All the migrant warblers that Matt O’Sullivan and I found in the sandhill on the 8th were gone, and in fact I only saw one transient species, Worm-eating Warbler. But I saw five of those, including two that appeared to be engaged in a singing duel. Other good sightings: several Hooded Warblers, including a female who was putting the finishing touches on a perfect little nest; my first Yellow-billed Cuckoo of the spring (though they’ve been here since late March); and two female Eastern Towhees of the red-eyed (northern) race. I ran into Dalcio Dacol, who had seen an early Acadian Flycatcher along the Hammock Cutoff trail. I walked about a quarter of a mile down the trail in hopes of finding it, but I had no luck. (Of course “no luck” is relative, given that I spent several hours of a truly gorgeous day walking around San Felasco Hammock!)

Migrant Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are showing up in residential areas, so watch your feeders. Adam Zions and Samuel Ewing saw them in their respective NW Gainesville back yards on the 10th.

While birding around his yard, Samuel also spotted the season’s first Mississippi Kite (MIKI in bird-banding code), one of my very favorite birds. This is a little early; in previous years the majority arrived during the last third of the month.

Scott Flamand saw two Canada Geese fly over Buchholz High School on the morning of the 10th. We don’t have a population of domestic or feral Canada Geese around here, at least as far as I know, but I doubt that they were wild. Wild Canada Geese are mostly a thing of the past in Florida. They used to be very common winter birds in the northern part of the state – a Fish and Game Commission waterfowl inventory tallied 47,000 of them in 1953! But now they spend the cold months farther north. I’ve been birding for 40 years and I’ve seen wild Canada Geese in Florida on only three occasions (feral birds are common in Jacksonville and Tallahassee). Anyway, if you see free-flying geese around here, please let me know.

The Alachua Audubon Society, like all Audubon Societies, avoids partisan politics, but I don’t think we’d be violating that principle if we were to congratulate our president, Helen Warren, on her victory in the City Commission election. Because of her new responsibilities, Helen will be leaving the Audubon board next month after several years. We thank you for your service, Helen, and we wish you well, but you have jumped from the frying pan into the fire….

Yes, I understand that this is the herpetological equivalent of a puppy video, and I acknowledge that my posting it is a symptom of creeping senility. And yet I cannot help myself. Be sure your audio is on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBkWhkAZ9ds (I sent this to my son, who’s an infantry officer, and he declared, “I shall adopt his tactics for my own!”) (That’s funnier if you’ve seen the video.)

Various comings and goings; plus a new owl!

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

Early sparrows seem to be the rule this fall. I previously reported Samuel Ewing’s October 2nd Savannah Sparrow, an early record. On September 28th Matthew Bruce reported a Chipping Sparrow in juvenile plumage from Chapmans Pond. That’s extremely early, but there are five earlier reports (!), the earliest another juvenile bird that Andy Kratter saw on August 31, 2003. As Andy wrote on one of the listservs at the time, “Like many sparrows, juvenile Spizella sparrows have a protracted molt of their underparts, retaining the streaking past their fall migration.” A third sparrow species checked in on the morning of the 6th: Mike Manetz showed me a White-crowned Sparrow foraging under the plum trees near the La Chua trailhead.

Samuel Ewing reported the fall’s first Wilson’s Warbler at Bolen Bluff on the 5th, “in the patch of sweetgums right where the trail leads into the prairie.”

Jennifer Donsky found a male Painted Bunting at Lake Alice on the 6th, on the southeast side of the boat ramp.

Mike Manetz and I walked La Chua’s Sparrow Alley on the morning of the 6th, looking for the Alder Flycatchers that had been present there since August 27th. We played a taped call in several spots, which had previously been effective in drawing the birds out, but we got no response. The last time an Alder was reported there was September 21st, and the last time one was reported anywhere was September 26th (at Cones Dike). So they’ve continued their migration and are probably in South America by now. Other Empidonax flycatchers are still being seen. Ted and Steven Goodman found two possible Yellow-bellied Flycatchers at San Felasco Hammock’s Creek Sink Trail on the 5th, at the first sinkhole after you leave the Moonshine Creek Trail near the bridge. However the birds were silent, and as Jonathan Mays puts it, “A silent empid is a worthless empid.” One fall day back in the 1990s there were two Empidonax flycatchers with yellow bellies at Bolen Bluff, in the open area where the two trails come together on the Prairie rim. Several of us spent at least half an hour staring at them – John Hintermister, Mike Manetz, Barbara Muschlitz, me, a couple other experienced birders – and we agreed that they were powerfully yellow on the underparts and that consequently we were going to add Yellow-bellied Flycatcher to our respective life lists. As we packed up our telescopes one of the birds finally called … and it was an Acadian. Kenn Kaufman points out that fall Acadians “can have a conspicuous yellow wash on the underparts, including the throat” (Field Guide to Advanced Birding). Which is one reason why the flycatcher that Bob Carroll and I saw in Becky Enneis’s back yard this weekend, dull yellow from the throat to the undertail coverts, with an olive wash on the sides of the breast – but absolutely silent – was just an Empidonax flycatcher.

Barbara Shea led Saturday’s field trip, and sent this report: “We had 21 people sign up this morning at the Powers Park meeting place. At Powers we were tripping over the ‘rare and secretive’ Limpkin, sighting four of them. One stood on the railing and watched us watching him from about 10 feet away. At Palm Point, highlights were a late Prothonotary Warbler, at least one person saw a Worm-eating, 7 warblers total. There was  a hard to see but eventually ID’d Scarlet Tanager, seen as we lingered over a intermittently cooperative Yellow Warbler that everybody got to see for once. There was a mystery Accipiter, but the circling Peregine Falcon, just over the tree tops at times, made up for that – and was a good ending bird and a hopeful segue to tomorrow’s trip to the east coast.” But according to trip leader Adam Kent, the trip to the Guana River area was “a little slow migrant-wise but my wife Gina did manage to pick out 2 Peregrines a mile away or more and we saw a bunch of cooperative Black-throated Blue Warblers. Although it was overall slow it’s always a fun place to go birding.”

Two worthwhile talks this week: Mike Manetz will describe “Birding Highlights in Costa Rica” on Thursday evening at the Tower Road Library; and Paul Moler will discuss “Frogs of Florida” on Tuesday evening at Alachua Conservation Trust HQ. But you already knew about these events, didn’t you, because you have your finger on the pulse of Gainesville!

Field trips this weekend: San Felasco on Saturday, Bolen Bluff on Sunday. These could be very good. Details here.

If any of you womenfolk use Lush cosmetics, you may be interested to know that the company’s founder, Mark Constantine, is a major figure in European birding: http://soundapproach.co.uk/news/bath-bombs-birdsong  (From The Sound Approach’s web site: “Since 2000, Mark Constantine, Magnus Robb and Arnoud van den Berg have been building a major new collection of bird sound recordings. Our collection now exceeds 50,000 recordings of more than 1,000 species, with a particular focus on the Western Palaearctic Region, making this one of the largest privately-owned archives of bird sound recordings in the world. The Sound Approach aim to popularise birdsong and raise standards in the use of sounds in bird identification. Subjects of particular interest include ageing and sexing birds by their sounds, and recognising hidden biodiversity, ‘new species’, through bird sounds. Besides those of the three main recordists, The Sound Approach collection has also received major contributions from Dick Forsman and Killian Mullarney.”) Earlier this year one of the recordists from The Sound Approach discovered a new species of owl in Oman: http://soundapproach.co.uk/news/sound-approach-team-discover-new-species-owl-science

A lively migration; plus, a new Facebook page for Alachua County birders!

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

I’ve been emailing these birding reports out for something like fifteen years. But email is giving way to more rapid (and concise!) methods of communication like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. It’s possible now to post a brief message or photo to one of these sites while you’re standing in the woods looking at a bird, so that the communication of your discovery follows instantly on the discovery itself. Bob Wallace has been asking me for years to ditch the birding report and set up a listserv. His concern was that a birder would find a rare bird and email me about it, but that I’d be out on Paynes Prairie and wouldn’t see the email until I got home; and thanks to the delay in reporting, the bird would fly away before Bob got to add it to his life list. He was right, of course. It could happen. But, I thought, not often enough to worry about it. Plus I enjoyed writing the birding reports, and I also felt that it was helpful (especially for beginners) to have someone filtering and interpreting all the information: this is rare, this is early, this is an unusually high number.

On Saturday morning Bob wrote again, this time urging me to start a Facebook page for Alachua County birders: “Since virtually everyone now has a FB presence, and since it is almost instantaneous since everyone has it on their phone, it sure would better for rapid dissemination of sightings and information to have everyone post their sightings to FB. Sure there would be some junk, and bad IDs, but like the Florida Birding FB page, the rarities show up there now long before they make it to the email lists.” True enough. But as someone whose favorite book title is Neil Postman’s Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, I’m not the one to do it. Bob threatened to set up the Facebook page if I didn’t. I didn’t, and he did. Here it is: https://www.facebook.com/groups/561382673923139/

You have to join the group, if you want to read the posts, and of course you have to be on Facebook to begin with.

Since I’m not on Facebook, I won’t see what’s posted there. So please continue to notify me of any interesting sightings – as well as posting them to Facebook, of course. If that turns out to be too onerous for the majority of birders, and my supply of birding news dries up, then the Alachua County birding report will ride gracefully into the sunset, not the first project to be rendered obsolete by new technology and not the last.

At this late date it occurs to me that the birding report may actually have inhibited the development of a local birding community. Perhaps direct exchange with other local birders – instead of communicating through me – will create a greater camaraderie. It’ll be interesting to see if it works out that way. Anyway, good luck to Bob and the Alachua County Birding Facebook page.

Now where were we?

Mornings have been beautiful lately, and people have been reporting good numbers of birds. This may turn out to be a great fall migration. On the 3rd Mike Manetz walked the Bolen Bluff Trail and found eleven warbler species, including a Golden-winged Warbler, two Kentucky Warblers, and 34 (!) Yellow Warblers. That number was bested by Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions on the 7th: they had 41 (!!!) Yellow Warblers and eleven additional warbler species, including one Kentucky.

I hadn’t heard of anyone seeing an Alder Flycatcher since the 3rd, and had actually discouraged a birder from driving up from Orlando because I thought he’d be wasting his time, but today Lloyd Davis relocated one of the birds lingering at Sparrow Alley. He also checked Sweetwater Dike to see if the male Painted Bunting was still at the bend in the trail just before the lone cypress, and it was.

Before sunrise on the morning of the 4th, Mike Manetz walked out the door of his NW Gainesville home and listened for the calls of passing migrants: “Heard several Bobolinks going over. Also one Veery. At first light 5 Common Nighthawks went streaming by. Multiple warblers were chipping in the yard.” Later that morning Bob Wallace walked his property in Alachua and found evidence of the same migratory movement: a Veery, 20 Red-eyed Vireos, and six warbler species including two Worm-eating Warblers. Likewise on the morning of the 6th Samuel Ewing got up early and conducted a pre-dawn migrant count at his NW Gainesville home. He heard at least two Bobolinks and 15+ Veeries. A little later that morning Jerry Krummrich saw evidence of the same flight at Alligator Lake in Lake City: “The trails in the woods were full of Veeries this morning as well as many Red-eyed Vireos, sometimes as many as 7-8 per tree.” On the same morning John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, and Jim Brady walked three miles at San Felasco Hammock (north side of Millhopper Road) and saw similar numbers of Red-eyed Vireos – their final count was 126 (“may be the largest number of Red-eyed Vireos I have ever seen in one place in one day,” noted John) – as well as four Veeries and eight warbler species, including two Blue-wingeds.

The migration of Common Nighthawks peaks in early September. On the 7th, writes Scott Bishop, “I took an out of town guest to see the bat house at Lake Alice. About fifteen minutes before sunset a flock of about a dozen Common Nighthawks appeared in a feeding frenzy over the bat house field. They continued all through the bat exodus.”

You’d expect Europeans to spend all their time sitting around in cafes being sophisticated and urbane and making jokes about Americans, but instead a huge number of them seem to prefer snuffing birds, including lots of little ones like buntings, flycatchers, and redstarts. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter is fighting the good fight by dismantling traps, taking down perching sticks that have been daubed with glue, and exposing illegal hunters, but they face a lot of resistance. If you’ve got a strong stomach, here’s their web site: http://www.komitee.de/en/homepage

The entire Alachua Audubon 2013-14 field trip schedule is now online in printable form: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/AAS-Yearbook-2013-2014.pdf

You know how you’re always wishing there was a seed and suet sale going on somewhere? Hey, you’re in luck! Wild Birds Unlimited is having one right now: http://gainesville.wbu.com/

More birds than you can shake a stick at, if you were inclined to shake a stick at birds

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

I’m in the process of posting the new Alachua Audubon field trip schedule on line. It’s rather slow going, because I have to create an individual page for each trip, but I like the new web site’s format. If you look at the Classes & Field Trips page, you’ll see the next ten events listed – http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/classes-field-trips/ – with the date, destination (or program location), and meeting time. If you click on the “+” sign associated with a given field trip, you’ll get a description of the trip; and if you then click on “Read more,” you’ll see a map of the meeting location as well as contact information for the trip leader in case you have a question.

However, this is an instance of the reality not quite living up to the ideal, because the map doesn’t invariably agree with the coordinates I enter for it. For instance, the coordinates to the Levy Lake Loop parking area, as provided by Google Earth, take you to a Marion County prison when entered into the web site. Or at least they did before I got a different set of coordinates. And sometimes WordPress (the web site software) simply won’t accept the address. The meeting place for our Barr Hammock field trip is the Valero gas station at 101 NW Highway 441, Micanopy, FL 32667, but no matter how many times I try to enter it, WordPress deletes the street address and reduces it to “U.S. 441, Micanopy, 32667, USA,” and places the marker about a mile and a half south of the Valero station. WordPress gets it right more often than wrong, but … please use the written directions to the meeting place. Here’s an example of what it looks like when everything works properly: http://www.alachuaaudubon.org/ai1ec_event/road-to-nowhere-hagens-cove/?instance_id=127 (Well, everything works right on our site. The link to Hagens Cove misspells Steinhatchee twice.)

If you’ve got Labor Day off, you might want to spend part of it birding. The migrants are moving through in big numbers, and San Felasco Hammock sounds like the place to be. More on that presently.

On the 27th, responding to Mike Manetz’s report of two Alder Flycatchers at the La Chua Trail, Jonathan Mays and Adam Zions visited La Chua and found three Alder Flycatchers. Two were where Mike had seen them, along Sparrow Alley near the barn, and the third was along Sweetwater Dike. Adam made a short video in which a hidden Alder can be heard calling repeatedly. Dalcio Dacol relocated the Sweetwater Dike bird on the 30th, just where La Chua meets Sweetwater, and on the 1st John Martin relocated and photographed the two birds at Sparrow Alley. At least these are presumed to be the same birds discovered on the 27th; neither Dalcio nor John heard them calling.

On the 28th, Bob Simons, Dotty Robbins, and Jim Swarr went looking for the Alders along Sparrow Alley and saw a dark-morph Short-tailed Hawk, no doubt the same one spotted there by Glenn Israel on the 24th.

(If you decide to look for the Alders and/or the Short-tailed, and then to walk the rest of the way out La Chua, be aware that the approach to the observation tower is under a few inches of water. Thanks to Jonathan Mays for the photo.)

On the 29th Mike Manetz and Tina Greenberg found the fall’s first Golden-winged Warbler along Lakeshore Drive near Palm Point.

There was a big influx of migrants on the 31st. Jonathan and Ellen Mays found the season’s first Chestnut-sided Warbler along the Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail, then went home and found an extraordinarily early Scarlet Tanager. Mike Manetz went to San Felasco’s Progress Park entrance (off US-441 near Alachua) and tallied twelve warbler species – the best of which were 5 Ovenbirds, a Blue-winged, and a Kentucky – and then picked a Bank Swallow out of a flock of Barn Swallows and Chimney Swifts.

The next day, Jonathan and Ellen Mays and Adam Zions walked San Felasco’s Moonshine Creek and Creek Sink Trails (i.e., the whole system south of Millhopper Road), and they also tallied twelve warbler species, including 12 Ovenbirds, 3 Worm-eating Warblers, a Louisiana Waterthrush, a Chestnut-sided, a Kentucky, and not one but two Golden-wingeds, a male and a female.

I looked at the 12 warbler species seen by Mike and the 12 seen by Jonathan, Ellen, and Adam, and it looks like there are a total of seventeen species of warblers fluttering around out there. So grab your binoculars! Go get ‘em! Besides, it’s time for the first Veery to show up, and someone needs to find the first one, it might as well be you, right?

Swallow-tailed and (especially) Mississippi Kites are still being reported. Greg Stephens had one Swallow-tailed and three Mississippis circling over his Jonesville yard simultaneously on the 31st. Please keep those reports coming!

Second-grade students taught by local birder Sharon Kuchinski are finalists in the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder Contest, and they need your votes in order to win. You can see their entry, and cast your vote, here: http://www.expressionsacademy.org/about/spotlight-items/213-sense-of-wonder-contest

Alder Flycatchers at Levy Lake!

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

John Hintermister had read that Alder and Willow Flycatchers were being seen near the Everglades, and on the 21st he sent out an email to several local birders: “If they are getting these birds at Lucky Hammock I would think we should have them on Cones Dike. Want to go one day this week?” The field trip was arranged for Saturday the 24th. John, Mike Manetz, Ron Robinson, Phil Laipis, and Jonathan Mays went along. It was not a great success. Mike was “90% sure” that he heard two Alders calling, but none of the party could get a look at the birds.

A little bit frustrated, Mike suggested another trip on the following day, this one to Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake, since it provided similar habitat: a partly wooded dike trail adjoining a marsh. Adam Zions and I joined him for this one. Pulling into the parking lot at 7 a.m., we found the right (north) fork of the trail blocked by a sign that said, “Trail closed for maintenance.” Our thinking was: Since public monies are being expended on this so-called maintenance, citizen oversight is certainly called for. We looked around but didn’t see anyone else out there, so that heavy responsibility fell on our shoulders. Reluctantly we acquiesced to our civic duty and walked past the sign and down the trail. (The maintenance involved cutting back the willows along the western portion of the trail, reducing the waterthrush habitat and leaving the dike’s edges looking rather chewed up.)

Anyway, about a mile out, we found an Empidonax flycatcher working the edges of the willows. It was grayish-brownish-olive on the back, off-white below, with a pale yellow wash on the belly, and white wing-bars and tertial edges. The tail was rather broad. Suspecting that it was either an Alder or a Willow, we examined it through the scope, and it cooperated nicely by staying in sight. But with Empidonax flycatchers you really have to hear them vocalize if you want to identify them, and that’s exactly what this one did, several times producing a pip! call that’s diagnostic for Alder Flycatcher.

Continuing along the trail – there was a lot of continuing, it’s six miles long – we found numerous Indigo Buntings and Prairie and Yellow Warblers, plus a Northern Waterthrush, a Worm-eating Warbler, and the fall’s first Blue-winged Warbler. We’d progressed around to the south side of Levy Lake by about 11:30 when we came to the place where Jonathan Mays had found a Least Flycatcher last winter. It’s an easy place to find: about a mile and a half down the left (south) fork from the parking area, it’s the first place you’ll come to where a car could make a three-point turn. Mike thought this would be a good place to play an Alder Flycatcher tape. I thought to myself, “Really, Mike. Just because Jonathan Mays found a Least Flycatcher here last winter, that’s no reason to believe that we’ll find…” but I didn’t get to finish the thought, because an Empidonax flycatcher flew in to the tape. This one had buffy wing bars, which suggested that it could have been a different species, or perhaps just a different age. And it wasn’t the only one there. As we watched it, Mike pointed out a second one a few yards farther out, calling pip! … pip! So we had at least two Alders for the day, and one unidentified Empidonax.

One more note about our Levy Lake walk. White-eyed Vireos can mimic the calls of other birds. It’s not unusual for the introductory note of their typical song to sound like a Great Crested Flycatcher, an Eastern Towhee, or a Summer Tanager (sometimes the introductory note is the only sound they make, which can be confusing!). Today we heard White-eyed Vireos beginning their typical songs with notes that mimicked (1.) a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and (2.) a Least/Willow Flycatcher’s whit! call. Both were firsts for Mike, Adam, and me.

The La Chua Trail was the place to be on Saturday. Glenn Israel saw a Short-tailed Hawk: “Saw dark morph over horse barn. Circled up higher, then flew toward the southeast. Seen about 11:10 am. Had a good look; identical to photos of hawk seen at Hague dairy earlier this summer.” And Lloyd Davis saw a male Painted Bunting “along Sweetwater Dike where the trail starts to bend north near the lone cypress tree. I was watching a pair of Yellow Warblers in a willow on the west side of the trail, a couple Blue Grosbeaks flew out of the Willow and the Painted Bunting landed and preened above a Northern Cardinal for a couple of minutes or less.”

Becky Enneis read about The Warbler Guide in the last birding report: “I watched Scott Whittle’s videos, and then ordered a copy of the book from Amazon and it arrived today. I will start by studying the section on bird songs, flight and chip calls, and sonograms, all about which I know nothing. There are so many other things in it I haven’t seen in any other guide – the tail patterns, the color impressions, the tree icons showing preferred habitat, the migration time span bar, and the 45 degree and under views….We might not need any more ordinary bird books, but we need this bird book.” Bubba Scales tells me that Wild Birds Unlimited is sold out already, but I’m sure they’ve ordered more.

Perhaps your morale is sagging – weekend trickling away, grindstone awaiting your nose. Here’s something to buck you up, a tale of an Osprey nest site preserved at Cedar Key: http://pureflorida.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-ospreys-power-companies.html

An anniversary

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

We are now in what Thoreau rightly called “the royal month of August.”

Today is the 20th anniversary of the death of the greatest birder who ever lived, Ted Parker. If you want to know why he merits that title, here are Kenn Kaufman’s reminiscences of his good friend, written shortly after the plane crash that ended Parker’s life: http://sora.unm.edu/sites/default/files/journals/nab/v047n03/p00349-p00351.pdf  And here’s a more detailed memorial from Ornithological Monographs: http://si-pddr.si.edu/jspui/bitstream/10088/2020/1/Robbins_Remsen_Graves–Parker_memoriam–Ornithological_M.pdf  (If the link doesn’t work, just cut and paste “Robbins_Remsen_Graves–Parker_memoriam” into a search engine.)

The Short-tailed Hawk was still at the Hague Dairy on the 2nd, according to Mike Manetz: “Got it at about 9:30 this morning, soaring low with a few Turkey Vultures and a Mississippi Kite off the northwest corner of the lagoon.”

Geoff Parks saw an American Robin at his place in NE Gainesville on the 29th. There are a handful of midsummer records for Alachua County, but what they signify is anyone’s guess. It’s three months too early for migration. Could such individuals be nesting in the area? A few summers ago I saw a spot-breasted youngster at Lake Hampton, a little north of Waldo.

John Hintermister, Steve Nesbitt, and I took John’s boat out to Newnans Lake on the 30th and cruised all the way around, parallel to the shore, a little more than twelve miles. We’d hoped to discover Black Terns or Forster’s Terns, but we were disappointed. We couldn’t even relocate the Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and Horned Grebe that John and I had seen on June 25th. We did find a Laughing Gull, a Spotted Sandpiper, 4 Yellow Warblers, 2 Purple Gallinules (adult and juvenile together), 8 Limpkins, and 8 summering American Coots. We also recorded large counts of Anhinga (72), Osprey (44), and Snowy Egret (76).

On the 31st, Mike Manetz walked Barr Hammock’s Levy Lake loop trail: “On the northern, more willow-lined loop I got five Prairie Warblers, but except for Common Yellowthroats and a couple of Northern Parulas, no other warblers. On the more wooded south part of the loop I hit a few little feeding flocks with mostly Northern Parulas, but also one Worm-eating Warbler (my first for the year) and one Black-and-white. No Yellows, American Redstarts, or waterthrushes. Yet. The place looks killer for a little later in the fall.”

Sonia Hernandez, a professor of forestry and natural resources at the University of Georgia, is asking birders to watch out for color-banded White Ibises: “We have a radio-telemetry and banding project with urban white ibises in Palm Beach County. We banded 45 individuals and radio-tagged 12 and my grad students are continuing that work with the goal to get at least 100 birds banded and 30 radio-tagged. We currently have a website where anyone can report a sighting of a banded bird and you can reach it by going to http://www.hernandezlab.uga.edu/ibis.html The site also has some general information about the project and we will be adding more information in the near future.”

Swallows migrate through during August. They can be confusing, so here’s a partly-helpful piece on telling them apart: http://creagrus.home.montereybay.com/MTYswallows01.html

The Atlantic’s website includes this description of a visit to the Powdermill Bird Banding Station in Pennsylvania: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/surveilling-the-birds/277650/

We got three and a half inches of rain on the evening of the 31st. That pushed the total July rainfall to 16.61 inches, ten inches more than average and 0.2 inch more than the old Gainesville record set in 1909.

A slight warblerization of the avifauna

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

Join Craig Faulhaber, FWC’s Florida Scrub-Jay Conservation Coordinator, for a presentation on the biology and conservation of the Florida Scrub-Jay, the only bird species unique to Florida. Come hear about its fascinating social system, its unique scrub habitat, and the challenges and opportunities for conserving this charismatic species. The presentation will be held at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, April 17th, at the Prairie Creek Lodge at 7204 County Road 234. For more information contact Alachua Conservation Trust by phone (352-373-1078) or email ( info@AlachuaConservationTrust.org ).

Ron Robinson will lead a field trip to Bronson on the 28th to see a “super Purple Martin colony” (over 200 nests!). We’ll have more details as we get closer to the time, but grab your calendar right this very minute and pencil it in. I should point out that there will also be an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock that day. Life is full of hard choices.

Speaking of Alachua Audubon field trips, remember that we’ll offer two field trips each of the next two weekends: Palm Point and Powers Park on the 20th, Cedar Key on the 21st, Hickory Mound Impoundment on the 27th, and the aforementioned trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Millhopper Road entrance on the 28th. Details are here. The Georgia Coast trip on May 4/5 has been canceled, but we may find something else to do that weekend, so watch this space.

Okay. Spring migration has gotten pretty interesting during the last few days:

While working in a restricted part of Paynes Prairie on the 15th, Jonathan Mays found the best bird of the season so far, a Swainson’s Warbler, one of only about twenty ever sighted in the county: “Located after hearing him sing (8:22 a.m.) but most of view obscured by vegetation (could see rust cap and unstreaked breast though); moving east along treeline edge of canal/dike; song loud and similar to Louisiana Waterthrush (3 clear intro notes) but ending not garbled … sang multiple times (ca. 6) from close range.” He also saw a Yellow Warbler (“Beautiful all yellow bird w/faint red stripes on chest – male; did not sing but gave dull chip note when it flew; seen very well in open branches of a willow”) and at least six Northern Waterthrushes.

On the 13th Michael Meisenburg led an Alachua Audubon field trip to San Felasco Hammock’s Progress Center, where the participants saw a Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Cape May, 6 Prairies, 3 American Redstarts, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak, among other things.

And on the 14th, Andy Kratter found about the same variety around his SE Gainesville neighborhood: a Worm-eating, a Cape May, a Prairie, an American Redstart, a Summer Tanager, and a Blue Grosbeak.

Painted Buntings are showing up, as they are wont to do during Indigo Bunting migration: Stephen McCullers saw a male at Bivens Arm Nature Park on the 12th,  Tonya Becker of Gainesville has had a male and a female visiting her Gainesville yard since the 13th, while Phil Laipis had yet another male in his NW Gainesville back yard on the 15th.

John Killian walked out La Chua on the 15th and found a Great White Heron near the observation platform. Also a Whooping Crane and the season’s first Purple Gallinule. Usually Purple Gallinules are here by late March, but like several other species, including Summer Tanager and Orchard Oriole, it’s running a little late this spring.

Stephen McCullers saw the Groove-billed Ani and two Yellow-breasted Chats along Sparrow Alley on the 16th. This is a new late record for Groove-billed Ani in Alachua County, by four days.

On the 14th Keith Collingwood saw a Clay-colored Sparrow at a feeder in his Melrose yard, tying the latest spring record set in 1963.

On the morning of the 13th Andy Kratter counted 92 Common Loons flying over SE Gainesville, and 18 on the following morning.

On the 7th Samuel Ewing saw an interesting nighthawk near his family’s home in Newberry: “I was doing a ‘nighthawk watch’ and after a little while spotted one flying north. It was quite low and was swaying side to side and turning around acrobatically trying to catch insects. I could clearly see the white bars on the wing.” The flight style sounds like that of a Lesser Nighthawk, and since they do winter in South Florida they’d have to migrate through North Florida to get home – but obviously there’s no way to know which it was. On the 12th Benjamin Ewing heard a definite Common Nighthawk calling while playing ball with the family, and he and Samuel saw a second one as well.

April 1st brought amusing April Fool’s posts from two birding blogs, advertising the best binoculars ever manufactured and warning us that ABA is going to clamp down on dubious life lists:
http://www.nemesisbird.com/2013/04/the-new-eagle-optics-wild-turkey-10×50/
http://blog.aba.org/2013/03/aba-set-to-enforce-list-totals.html

There’s a new Florida Big Day record: 195 species in a single day! Read about it at http://birdingforconservation.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-big-day.html

Jackson Childs’s movie about spring bird migration, “Gulf Crossing,” is available for viewing at http://gulfcrossingmovie.com/Gulf_Crossing.html

Birds you can’t see

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

The biggest birding news this week is also the most frustrating. Since the 5th a Buff-bellied Hummingbird has been coming to a feeder south of Williston (in Levy County), but the homeowner hasn’t yet responded to requests to allow the birding public in to see it. She may refuse, or she may delay long enough that the bird leaves for its nesting grounds in Texas and Mexico. This is at least the second record for Levy County; one was in Cedar Key on 23-24 October 2000. Here’s a photo.

Pat Burns got a photo of a locally-rare Willet in the pond beside the Lowe’s in Alachua on the 5th. Willets are normally saltwater birds, and it’s pretty unusual to find one inland. Alas, when Mike Manetz went looking for it on the 6th, the bird had flown.

The Groove-billed Ani was seen again on the 6th by Larry Gridley, a birder from Albany, Georgia: “I got to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park at 0800. I found it at 0935 in the blackberry thicket were it has been reported before. I stumbled up on it as it was sunning itself in a blackberry thicket on the edge of the trail. You can see his wings flared a little and neck feathers ruffled. After about 30 minutes  warming up it flew to a small tree then to some more blackberry thickets where it was chasing bugs.” Larry posted some photos of the ani here. He also saw two Yellow-breasted Chats in the same location. The ani was seen again on the 7th by Tallahassee birder Robert Bowman.

Cedar Key has been pretty lively over the past week or so. On the 6th John Hintermister saw a Scarlet Tanager, a Cape May Warbler, a Tennessee Warbler, seven Prothonotary Warblers, six Prairies, four Hoodeds, an American Redstart, a Louisiana Waterthrush, and seven (!) Red-breasted Nuthatches. On the 1st the Ewings found a Swainson’s Warbler at the museum, and on the 6th Pat Burns found two more at an undisclosed location.

John Killian found the spring’s first Worm-eating Warbler along the Moonshine Creek Trail at San Felasco on April 2nd, by one day the earliest ever recorded in the county. Felicia Lee, Barbara Shea, and Elizabeth Martin found another along Bolen Bluff on the 7th. Prairie Warblers and American Redstarts are being reported almost daily.

The first Hooded Warblers of the spring were reported by Caleb Gordon at Loblolly Woods on the 26th and by Ryan Butryn at the FWC Wildlife Lab (near the intersection of 441 and Williston Road) on the 27th. Several have been seen since then.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows usually show up during the second week in March. This year they were late, or we noticed them late: Lloyd Davis found the first of the spring at Cellon Creek Boulevard on the 22nd. Conrad Burkholder had a lovely experience in the same spot on the 30th: “The Northern Rough-winged Swallows were numerous, with about a dozen birds flying around some large parked truck trailers, very low to the ground. I stood still while the swallows swirled in the air around me. They were flying very acrobatically and low to the ground, about 2 to 10 feet. I observed some of the swallows going in and out of the underside of one of the trailers. I also observed them picking up what appeared to be nesting material. I believe they may be nesting in the underside of the trailers.”

Laughing Gulls are mostly a warm-weather phenomenon in Alachua County. This has always mystified me. Why would they come inland during spring and summer, when they should be staying close to their nests on the coast? Anyway, the first of the spring were seen on the 1st, when Samuel and Benjamin Ewing saw one flying over their neighborhood near Watermelon Pond and Andy Kratter saw three going over Pine Grove Cemetery.

There were three separate sightings of Mississippi Kites on March 29th, but there have been none reported to me (or to eBird) since then. Swallow-tailed Kites seem to be here in pretty good numbers, relatively speaking, and I’m told by a researcher that a pair is nesting within the Gainesville city limits.

There are plenty of winter birds still around. A few highlights: While doing a loon watch at Pine Grove Cemetery on the 7th, Andy Kratter saw an Eastern Phoebe, the latest ever recorded in Alachua County. Andy’s sighting broke a record that had stood since Frank Chapman saw one on April 4, 1887 – a span of 126 years! Mike Manetz heard a Whip-poor-will singing in his NW Gainesville neighborhood on the 1st. That’s not a record, but it’s pretty late nonetheless. Ryan Butryn saw a Wilson’s Warbler at the FWC Wildlife Lab on the 27th.

Birder and poet Sidney Wade invites the local birding community to join her as she reads from her sixth book of poetry, Straits & Narrows, at the downtown library on Thursday, April 11th, at 7:30 p.m. She assures me, “There will be bird poems.”

Mike Manetz writes, “Last year’s Alachua Audubon trip to Costa Rica was so much fun we decided to do it again! Thirty species of hummingbirds, twenty species of flycatchers, dozens of wrens and tanagers, plus toucans, antwrens, antvireos, woodcreepers, and all the rainforest flora and fauna you can absorb. If you have not experienced the excitement of birding in the tropics this is a great place to start! Please join us for a balanced look at some wonderful tropical birds and inspiring efforts to conserve the habitats the birds depend on. A portion of the proceeds of this trip will go to Alachua Audubon.” Thirty species of hummingbirds?! You can look over the itinerary, and some of the mind-boggling birds and scenery you can expect to see, at http://birdsandconservation.weebly.com/  Check it out, if only to see that classic photo at the bottom of the main page of Mike lounging in a hammock.