Cranes making an appearance

Greater sandhill cranes among 152 species spotted in area


Greater sandhill cranes wander the University of Florida Beef Teaching Unit at Williston Road and SW 23rd Street on Thursday.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 2, 2005 at 12:27 a.m.
Alachua County's annual gray-feathered visitors turned their beaks up at Paynes Prairie this winter.
Too much water. The greater sandhill crane with its signature red forehead blotch is getting a seedy breakfast elsewhere.
A larger-than-usual flock of 900 or so were spotted at dawn just before Christmas on Kanapaha Prairie west of Gainesville by members of the Alachua Audubon Society conducting the organization's annual bird count.
A record-high 152 species of birds were identified by the 60 people participating in the event, and the count included nearly 2,700 individual greater sandhill cranes, far more than the 1,760 recorded a year ago. The total is shy of a high of 5,000 recorded in 2000.
While the Florida sandhill crane lives in the state year round, thousands of greater sandhill cranes - the largest of six subspecies - fly in each year around mid-November from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Canada for a three-month respite from cold weather and nonstop breakfast buffet of grains.
From now until mid-February, many can be seen each morning in open areas and cow fields across the county, particularly at the University of Florida's animal science fields at SW 23rd Street and Williston Road, along County Road 225 in Evinston and on Kanapaha Prairie, southwest of Gainesville between Archer Road and Williston Road.
"The fact that Paynes Prairie - their usual roosting place - is under water, they are finding other places," said Rex Rowan, a longtime birder and vice president of the Alachua Audubon Society.
Unlike many human snow birds, greater sandhill cranes haven't always vacationed in the Sunshine State.
It wasn't until 1958 that birdwatchers observed large flocks of the gray birds flying into the area, which remains "the single-most important wintering area for sandhill cranes in the eastern United States," Rowan said.
Experts are unsure what prompted the new migration route to Florida, although a burgeoning population with nowhere to go could be a contributing factor, he said.
"It's a bit of a puzzle," Rowan said. "Where they were going prior to that is not known."
The annual bird count - the 47th organized in the Gainesville area - revealed some new visitors wintering in Alachua County.
Five new species showed up for the first time, said John Hintermister, who helped organize the annual bird count.
The black-necked stilt, a large black and white shore bird with bright pink legs, was seen at Paynes Prairie. The white-faced ibis, the Nashville warbler and the willet were three others identified amid windy conditions on the day of the count.
A buff-bellied hummingbird, a Western species more typically seen in the Panhandle, was spotted in a northwest Gainesville back yard.
Several warblers - blue-winged, northern parulas and black-throated blue - hung around in spite of regularly wintering in warmer places like Mexico, he said.
Another recent newcomer, the black-bellied whistling duck, continues to show up in increasing numbers. It was first spotted in these parts during the winter months in 1998, Hintermister said. More than 70 were counted Dec. 19.
"It's now starting to be one of the most common water fowl we have," he said.
The count in the Gainesville area is one of 62 counts around Florida this year as part of an early-winter survey of bird populations across the continent, which has been ongoing since 1900.
Information from the counts is used to spot changes in bird populations, leading to investigations into the reasons for those changes.
"There is very little value that we saw a buff-bellied hummingbird," Hintermister said. "The real value is the long-term trend. You have to look at multiple counts."
For its count, the Alachua Audubon group crept out in the pre-dawn hours to listen for owls and rails, and then kept eyes peeled for whatever flew by. The number of birds in large flocks had to be estimated.
"We probably did not get the exact number of coots on the prairie," said Hintermister, who was positioned at Paynes Prairie, "It's hard to do from a rocking canoe."
Jim Weimer, a biologist at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, said birdwatchers shouldn't fret that they don't see as many sandhill cranes as they have in the past at Payne's Prairie because of the water.
The lack of roosting birds there doesn't mean the birds have been threatened or diminished in some way.
"This is not a problem for them. It's nothing terrible," Weimer said. "They just moved their life somewhere else. If next year the prairie is perfect for them they will be back."
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

Greater sandhill cranes among 152 species spotted in area

Alachua County's annual gray-feathered visitors turned their beaks up at Paynes Prairie this winter.
Too much water. The greater sandhill crane with its signature red forehead blotch is getting a seedy breakfast elsewhere.
A larger-than-usual flock of 900 or so were spotted at dawn just before Christmas on Kanapaha Prairie west of Gainesville by members of the Alachua Audubon Society conducting the organization's annual bird count.
A record-high 152 species of birds were identified by the 60 people participating in the event, and the count included nearly 2,700 individual greater sandhill cranes, far more than the 1,760 recorded a year ago. The total is shy of a high of 5,000 recorded in 2000.
While the Florida sandhill crane lives in the state year round, thousands of greater sandhill cranes - the largest of six subspecies - fly in each year around mid-November from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Canada for a three-month respite from cold weather and nonstop breakfast buffet of grains.
From now until mid-February, many can be seen each morning in open areas and cow fields across the county, particularly at the University of Florida's animal science fields at SW 23rd Street and Williston Road, along County Road 225 in Evinston and on Kanapaha Prairie, southwest of Gainesville between Archer Road and Williston Road.
"The fact that Paynes Prairie - their usual roosting place - is under water, they are finding other places," said Rex Rowan, a longtime birder and vice president of the Alachua Audubon Society.
Unlike many human snow birds, greater sandhill cranes haven't always vacationed in the Sunshine State.
It wasn't until 1958 that birdwatchers observed large flocks of the gray birds flying into the area, which remains "the single-most important wintering area for sandhill cranes in the eastern United States," Rowan said.
Experts are unsure what prompted the new migration route to Florida, although a burgeoning population with nowhere to go could be a contributing factor, he said.
"It's a bit of a puzzle," Rowan said. "Where they were going prior to that is not known."
The annual bird count - the 47th organized in the Gainesville area - revealed some new visitors wintering in Alachua County.
Five new species showed up for the first time, said John Hintermister, who helped organize the annual bird count.
The black-necked stilt, a large black and white shore bird with bright pink legs, was seen at Paynes Prairie. The white-faced ibis, the Nashville warbler and the willet were three others identified amid windy conditions on the day of the count.
A buff-bellied hummingbird, a Western species more typically seen in the Panhandle, was spotted in a northwest Gainesville back yard.
Several warblers - blue-winged, northern parulas and black-throated blue - hung around in spite of regularly wintering in warmer places like Mexico, he said.
Another recent newcomer, the black-bellied whistling duck, continues to show up in increasing numbers. It was first spotted in these parts during the winter months in 1998, Hintermister said. More than 70 were counted Dec. 19.
"It's now starting to be one of the most common water fowl we have," he said.
The count in the Gainesville area is one of 62 counts around Florida this year as part of an early-winter survey of bird populations across the continent, which has been ongoing since 1900.
Information from the counts is used to spot changes in bird populations, leading to investigations into the reasons for those changes.
"There is very little value that we saw a buff-bellied hummingbird," Hintermister said. "The real value is the long-term trend. You have to look at multiple counts."
For its count, the Alachua Audubon group crept out in the pre-dawn hours to listen for owls and rails, and then kept eyes peeled for whatever flew by. The number of birds in large flocks had to be estimated.
"We probably did not get the exact number of coots on the prairie," said Hintermister, who was positioned at Paynes Prairie, "It's hard to do from a rocking canoe."
Jim Weimer, a biologist at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, said birdwatchers shouldn't fret that they don't see as many sandhill cranes as they have in the past at Payne's Prairie because of the water.
The lack of roosting birds there doesn't mean the birds have been threatened or diminished in some way.
"This is not a problem for them. It's nothing terrible," Weimer said. "They just moved their life somewhere else. If next year the prairie is perfect for them they will be back."
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

BIRDS on Page 5B

Continued from 1B

BIRDS:

First observed in the area in 1958

FYI: Where to go

Between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day each year, thousands of sandhill cranes from the upper Midwest winter in Alachua County. The best time to see sandhill cranes is in the morning. Here are some of the best crane-watching venues locally:
  • University of Florida animal science fields at SW 23rd Street and Williston Road.
  • Evinston along County Road 225, southeast of Micanopy.
    FYI: Counting birds The annual Christmas bird count revealed a record-high 152 species for members of the Alachua Audubon Society who scanned the skies Dec. 19 at various sites around the county. Here's a sample of what they found:
  • 2,693 greater sandhill cranes
  • 67 bald eagles
  • 73 black-bellied whistling ducks
  • Two blue-winged warblers
  • Two northern parulas
  • One black-throated blue warbler Five birds turned up on the winter count for the first time:
  • Black-necked stilt
  • White-faced ibis
  • Buff-bellied hummingbird
  • Nashville warbler n Willet
  • Copy here heregg here
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