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CATCH-UP ON SOME OCTOBER BIRD RECORDS PLUS SOME ACCOUNTS ON NON-AVAIN ENCOUNTERS


I have never particularly bonded with springtime floral growth in the Big Bend, with such exceptions as the Flowering Dogwood and Wild Plum trees (especially on a night of the full moon) and the impressive greenery during the month of May. As summer approaches, however, there occurs locally a succession of multi-colored flowers which bedeck my birding routes which at times add a welcomed dimension and diversion and make my outings especially worthwhile.

I recall some musings by Howard Horne, an ardent biology student at Florida State University, to the effect that, when the birding becomes uneventful, one can always scrutinize the ground for some interesting plant growth and so bide one’s time until an interesting bird "turns up." Appropriately, HH was to late highlight defense of his master’s degree with a thesis on a certain plant concerning which he gave a much enjoyed presentation at FSU’s Conradi Hall prior to his return to his home state of Alabama.

KEEP LOOKING UP – KEEP LOOKING DOWN: Often, as I have walked the close-cropped grassy stretches of the Springhill Road Sewage Treatment Facility (SRSTF), I have noticed the attractive inches-high cerulean bluish Day Flower (genus Commelina) which I at one time considered a "runtish" variant of the Spiderwort (g. Tradescantia) until advised otherwise by naturalist Larry Thompson. LT later ascribed the yellow eye-catching bloom as a favored harbinger of spring; indeed flowers can be year round ephemerals as well as "seasonals" which portend arrival of various migrating birds.

The pale tri-colored hues (lavender, yellow, or white) of the Wild Radish (g. Rephanus) become conspicuous as spring succeeds winter at the riparian Robert White Williams Birding Trail (RWW) where the hearty orangish Trumpet Vine combines there, as well as eslewhere with that diminutive Red Morning Glory (Ipomoea hederafolia) to attract migrating hummingbirds during springtime and especially during July – October.

Speaking of the color lavender, there grows across the street from my residence a viny growth of the Passion Flower (g. Passiflora), the fruit of which (Maypops) are purportedly an autumnal food source for not only birds but also for us humans.

One of my favorite flowerings is that of the Sesban (g. Sesbania) wiich begins to display a brilliant red-orange during spring and becomes a notable contrast to the whitish swamp mallow (g. Hybiscus). The latter also shows attractive mint-colored foliage, which can linger well into fall, so remindful of many like-colored leaves of various plants out west.

And then there are more YELLOWS, i.e. that of the many varieties of the genus Coreopsis and inclusively in the bipartite white and yellow of Spanish Needles (g. Bidens), also that of Ludwigia (as in Beethoven) at the approach to Lake Jackson’s Faulk Drive Landing with its contrasting pure green foliage.

THE FROST ASTER (A. pilosus): Its name truly heralds the winter season locally with its attractive "inflorescence" at 10 paces, a beautiful little flower with its constant play of iridescent white, then lavender, then pink. According to my field guide Weeds (Golden Press), "Aster seeds are an important fall and winger food for songbirds" which is good to know.

Perhaps someone should write a Birdwatcher’s Guide to Flora?

SOME BIRD RECORDS, LEON COUNTY:

On 15 Oct a Tri-colored Heron greeted me at RWW, first known October record for the site.

On 16 Oct a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew over Lake Ester at San Luis Mission Park.

On 18 Oct a second year Laughing Gull was at the Tram Road Water Treatment Facility (TRWTF), the first I’ve seen locally since a beautiful adult bird foraged over the WalMart on West Tennessee Street some time in July. Has anyone seen said species at Southwood in more recent months? I recall that Jim Cavenaugh and I saw an immature individual at Lake Ella on 29 Nov 1980, then considered "rare inland" (H.M. Stevenson), let alone during November.

Surprisingly, the above record is the only one I have for said month county-wise and found only one other in the literature – an immature individual recorded by H.M. Stevenson at SRSTF on 22 Nov 1985, more than TWENTY YEARS AGO. There are more records for December, however, including a total of 149 birds tallied on several Tallahassee Xmas Counts, 1989 – 2000 and a guestimated 200 individuals by yours truly at the city landfill in east Leon County of 27 Dec 2000. The Laughing Gull was first recorded in Leon County for certain on 3 April 1960 by H.M . Stevenson (ca. 20 individuals).

On 19 Oct I "umbrellad" left of Lake Jackson’s Crowder Landing (CrLg) and recorded my first-of-fall American Bittern, just in the nick of time before being chased back to my car by a drenching rain.

On 21 Oct I walked the sedgy growth left of Faulk Drive Landing (good last winter for Le Conte’s Sparrows) and listed two more autumnal arrivals, a Grasshopper Sparrow and 4 Sedge Wrens, also countless Savannah Sparrows which seemed in bright sunlight to lack any yellowish colored "eyebrows."

On 22 Oct my next-to- last transient neotropical warblers were a Magnolia and a Tennessee midst Ambrosia trifida (Giant Ragweed) at RWW, and I reflected on meeting Noel Wamer one fall day some years ago at nearby Black Swamp who advised me of an approaching cold front with probable attendant southbound migrants. I had by then associated magnolia warblers with said ambrosia and sere enough, there they were next day on my return to said stalk weedy growth.

On 25 Oct I recorded two pairs of Redheads, a female ring-necked Duck, 2 male-1 female Lesser Scaup, 200+ American Coots, 20-or-so Long-billed Dowitchers, a lingering Chimney Swift and, while trolling through the Day Flowers and equally small yellow primrose-likeblooms, 25+ late migrating Barn Swallows accompanied by a Mexican Cave Swallow, the latter a first known October occurrence for Leon County. Later, I found an elusive Western Palm Warbler near the plant buildings. Dendroica palmarum is the only warbler species that has a revised status in the Big Bend in recent decades. Formerly 9c-5a+, its arrival status was changed to 9b after I recorded individuals on 14 Sep 1976 and 13 Sep 1981 in Leon County , and HMS 2 individuals at St. George Island on 14 Sep 1978.

A notable find near Lack Jackson’s Crowder Landing was a flight of 8 glossy Ibis I recorded on 26 Oct. Previous known highest number for Leon County was that of 7 individuals I tallied there on 18 Oct 2002.

I squeezed in two October birds on 30 and 31 Oct without even leaving my pad on Peach Tree Drive – an Orange-crowned Warbler (saw that elbow mark, Fran Rutkowsky) and and a Red-tailed Hermit Thrush), both foraging near my office window in a growth of Red Oak Hydrangea, the latter a transplanted gift from H.M. Stevenson some years ago (nostalgia!)

OTHER FAUNA: Tallahassee remains for this nimrod a non-avian paradise as well as for birds. A black-footed Red Fox remained at RWW this year, I see White-tailed deer not infrequently, saw a Glass Snake (actually a legless lizard) in my yard not long ago, have also added a skink species to my reptilian yard list and a pair of beavers continue to construct dams across the street as fast as the dredgers tear them down. Mac the White Squirrel greets me at times as I drive past MacArthur Street, but the real puzzler is a male Sand Fiddler Crab (saw its Stradivarious) at Lake Elberta Park (Church’s Chicken) on 15 Oct. Had assumed this crab to be a marine rather than an inland critter. Need help on this one, fellow nimrods. How did a Fiddler Crab end up at good old Church’s’ Chicken?

Gods Speed,

(Mr.) Gail E. Menk







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