Friday, 29 June 2012

More Photos from Texas

Here are some more of my favourites form Texas.  The Least Bittern was in full view.  Back in Florida I had to spend 15 minutes studying it in the grass before I was able to make the ID as it slowly fed in secret.  Here it was easy.  It just came out and posed.  Not long after the King Rail made an appearance, and later that morning, a Clapper Rail, which actually comes out when you clap.

The Reclusive Least Bittern Shows Itself

The King Rail Shows us Why IT is the King of Rails

 Huck Hutchen clapped, and out came The Clapper Rail!

Some of my other favourites:

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Texas: 40, Big Year: 438

Frankly, I didn't  began 2012 with even a hope of seeing 400 species in a single year, having never birded other than the occasional walk in the winter to see ducks with Sue,(I complained that it was too cold for man or duck), or while in Belize, where I saw my first Great Kiskadee,(okay, that I enjoyed).  This was the first bird since a Baltimore Oriole in late April that wasn't a lifer for me.  The Roadside Hawk and Dusky Grouse the only remaining birds I have not seen this year that I have seen previously.

In Texas I added 40 new birds for my year list and 43 since I left Toronto on June 20.  Overall I saw 107 species in three days.  Not a bad road trip.  After travels through Florida, British Columbia and Virginia, I arrived in San Antonio with a long wish List.  I had been in contact with Huck Hutchen from Estrado Llano Grande State Park and he handicapped my wish list.  If I ever go to the races with him, I will let Huck handicap the horses too, as I got every bird he gave a higher than 50% chance of finding.  

Highlights were the Aplomado Falcon, Rose-throated Becard, Masked Duck, Clay-colored Thrush and the Muscovy Duck not far from the fabled  Falcon Dam.  I arrived there just before 7am and just as I had finished setting up my scope to search for Red-billed Pigeons, the Muscovy Duck flew right by me from right to left, at eye level.  As it passed I got to watch it closely through my binoculars, but I assumed there would be at least one more and failed to take a photo.  It's always a debate with me, do I get a good look at the bird then take the photo, or get the record of the bird and examine it later?  In this case I am glad I just watched it.

As you already know, I did not see any Red-billed Pigeons and on the last day, while heading for the airport, the Rock Pigeons openly mocked me at North Central Park in Larado Texas.  I was at my third location trying to find a White-collard Seed Eater, a bird I couldn't find the previous evening or that morning at a place called: The White-collard Seed Eater Sanctuary.  You'd think a place with WCSE in the title would at least have the birds there.  No such luck.  The last place I had time to search was down by the pond at North Central Park.  Interesting how the real Central Park is north of North Central Park, which is almost as far south as you can go without running into Mexico.

After an hour of searching for the seedeater in 107 F temperatures, where it was so hot, I could feel the sweat dripping down my legs, I saw a large purplish pigeon in a group with 3 other regular looking pigeons.  Of course, it didn't have any red on the bill, but it strutted around openly showing me how not red its bill was.  Of course, the White-winged Doves had a good laugh at my expense too.

All said and done, I only missed adding Red-billed Pigeon, White-tailed Kite and White-collard Seed Eater to my year list.  I didn't count White-eyed Vireo as I only heard it and wasn't 100% sure of the call and try as I might, I just couldn't get eyes on the bird!  I did see other good birds, such as Black-throated Sparrow and White-faced Ibis, and I loved seeing the baby Chachalacas scurry around with mom and dad Chachalaca.

I am now home from a 10 day road trip, that was plagued with travel delays.  My flight to San Antonio was delayed by 3 hours and my trip home was unusual, to say the least.  At the San Antonio Airport, the flight was scheduled for 2:15 to New Jersey, where I had a connecting flight to Toronto.  It was announced as delayed until 3:45.  No worries, I went and sat down to dinner.  Except, before I was done, there was an announcement that the flight would be leaving on time and I had to clean up my dinner and rush back to the gate.  Boarding went smoothly and I settled into my seat in the back row of the plane with Sandy Komito's book, I  Came, I Saw, I Counted.

Before I could finish the first sentence the pilot came on the intercom and said, he was sorry, but the flight would be going at 3:45 as "rescheduled," and we'd have to get off the plane.  Being at the back, it took about 10 minutes until I could get off.  Just as I was about to leave the plane the pilot came back on the intercom and suggested we just stay on the plane as he talked somebody into letting us have an on time departure.  Great.  I went back to my seat, settled in and pulled out my book.

Not a minute later, the pilot came back on the intercom and announced that because most of the passengers had left the plane they would have to check everyone in again.  So, off the plane I went.  This time I left behind my belongings, hoping that they wouldn't announce that the plane was broken, or some such thing, as had happened on my way down, as there had been a problem with the window defrosters on that flight.

Finally, we all returned to our seats, settled in for the 3 hour plus flight and the Head Flight Attendant came on the intercom and said, "Folks, I'm afraid I have some bad news...  We're going to New Jersey."  I had to laugh.  Though that didn't last long, as the flight to Toronto from Jersey was delayed nearly 3 hours and I didn't get home until 1:30am and had to be up at 5am for work.  Luckily I have been used to getting to bed late and up early for the birds, so this was nothing new.  I was still getting up for birds, in this case, The Blue Jays.

It should be quiet for the next week or so, as I have to work the next 8 days straight leading up to our Newfoundland trip, and more pelagic birds.  Perhaps there will be a good bird or two here, before the end of the month.  Wait and hope, I guess...

Here is the first batch of photos:

Cassin's Sparrow

Common Paraque (can you see him?)

Fulvous Whistling Ducks

Great Kiskadee,(their name is their calling card)

Green Jay

Least Grebe

Long-billed Thrasher

Masked Duck,(with Common Gallinule)

Olive Sparrow,(my new favourite Sparrow)

 Female Rose-throated Becard,(as opposed to a Male Bald-headed Picard)

Plain Chachalaca

Plain Chachalacas and family,(Why did the Chachalacas cross the road?)

(To get away from the crazed birder with the camera)

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Texas Update

Yesterday I added such birds as Clapper and King Rail, a White-tailed Hawk, Wilson's Plover, Fulvous Whistling Duck and the last swallow on my list, Cave.  Today I got the Muscovy Duck and and finally, after chasing it through three states on my Acme Dynamite Powered Roller Skates, an American Roadrunner.  To even things out, I missed out on Red-billed Pigeon.  It wasn't my fault.  I believe there was an Invasion of the Bird Snatchers.  I believe aliens knew I wanted this bird, and replaced each and every one with a White-winged Dove.  My evidence for this is as follows:

1: I spent an entire month in Florida searching for just one White-winged Dove for my year list, mistakenly believing they were a hard bird to get.
2: Since then I have been to Arizona and Nevada where White-winged Doves are ubiquitous. 
3: The Red-billed Pigeon was supposed to be an easy bird here in Texas.
4: The aliens don't want me to have easy birds, and thus I was treated to hundreds of White-winged Doves today.

Of course, how would that explain the fact that within 5 minutes of arriving at the river where the Muscovy Duck comes through, Muscovy Duck came and flew right in front of me?  

Never mind.  I'm going to bed.

Here is a continuation of the Texas List:

421 Cave Swallow
422 Fulvous Whistling Duck
423 Lesser Nighthawk
424 Gull-billed Tern
425 Cassin's Sparrow
426 Clapper Rail
427 Wilson's Plover
428 White-tailed Hawk
429 Northern Bobwhite
430 Altamira Oriole
431 Green Parakeet
432 Tropical Kingbird
433 Harris's Hawk
434 King Rail
435 Aplomado Falcon
436 Muscovy Duck
437 Ringed Kingfisher
438 Greater Roadrunner

Here are some photos, and I shall have a Texas Photo Day when I return to Toronto.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Texas IS for the Birds

I am too tired to type.  Really, Siri is doing the typing, I am only dictating.  So I am having to go back and repeat myself so this will be short and to the point.

I LOVE TEXAS!  The heat, the birds and the birders I was with today.  It was great.  But unlike Arizona, it wasn't a dry heat.  It was a sweaty, wet heat.  But who cares, I saw over 50 species on a too hot for the birds day and 19 of them were new for the year.  And for a change they weren't all life birds.  I had actually seen a Great Kiskadee years ago in Belize.

Of course, I was excited about hitting 400 and did that the night I arrived with a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on the way to Estero.  399 was a Crested Caracara and 401 was a Common Nighthawk, which is a very common bird around here every evening.  I should have stayed out late tonight for the Lesser Nighthawk, which is seen even less.  Ah well.  I did stay out late enough to finish with a Green Kingfisher, but the birds of the day was were a female Rose-throated Becard and a Masked Duck.

But I am tired of telling Siri what to type and she is tired of listening to me blather on and I need to rest for a big day of birding tomorrow.

Tomorrow night I shall try to get into a hotel up near Falcon Dam a little earlier and perhaps be a little wordier, if not birdier.

More photos too.  Better ones.  Promise

Oh, and here is last night's and today's new year bird list.  A big improvement on yesterday's Airport list.

I have taken over from Siri in the typing department, by the way.

399  Crested Caracara
400  Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
401  Common Nighthawk
402  Rose-throated Becard
403 White-tipped Dove
404  Groove-billed Ani
405  Common Pauraque
406  Buff-bellied Hummingbird
407  Golden-fronted Woodpecker
408  Brown-crested Flycatcher
409  Great Kiskadee
410  Couch's Kingbird
411  Green Jay
412  Clay-colored Thrush (used to be Robin)
413  Long-billed Thrasher
414  Plain Chacahalaca
415  Bronzed Cowbird
416  Black-crested Titmouse
417  Olive Sparrow
418  Masked Duck
419  Least Grebe
420  Green Kingfisher

Good night all.
Good night, Siri.

Siri wants to type again...  Good for her.  I will let her finish.

Good nighthawk - ha ha

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Getting to Texas is Half the Fun

If you can call delay after delay fun.  Probably the only people who get anything out of it are those, like me, who get to write about it afterwards, or in this case during.  The original flight to San Antonio was at 9:55am.  That meant I had to leave my hotel in Middleofnowhere,(Bluefield), WV at 5:30 am, meaning I was awake at 4:30am and hadn't gotten to sleep until close to midnight because the ball game I was at the previous night ran late due to a rain delay and extra innings.  So, as Alan Luden might have said, "The Password is: DELAY."

The plane was in for maintenance and we were told that the flight would be taking off at 10am, 10:30am, 11:00am, 11:15am and finally we were boarding at 11:30 for a 45 minute "drive" out and back from the runway, as a caution light had gone off in the cockpit and apparently maintenance had somehow missed it when they were checking over the plane earlier.  Another 15 or 20 minutes of awaiting the arrival of a jet-way to let us off the plane further aggravated those around me.  I had my iPad out and was watching a movie.

Now it seems we are getting a new plane and it was scheduled to take off at 1:50pm but that birds has sung, so to speak. I've tried to spend the time productively Birding out the terminal windows. Here is my list:

1. House Sparrow

We are now boarding. With the hour time change I should have my luggage and be on the road and birding the highway down to the Texas/Mexico boarder by 4pm. With 5 hours driving time and perhaps two hours of birding along the way, I should still have a place to stay lined up by 10pm

See ya on the other side!

Friday, 22 June 2012

That West Coast Vibe

Bird'n and Chill'n in Vancouver.  That's all I could really do.  Call it Zen Birding: Don't worry about the birds, just enjoy what there is to see and hear.  I had a day to bird around Vancouver, but only had a vague idea of where to find some good birds, based on a web search.   But it's summer and either too late or too early for a lot of birds that regularly appear in southwest British Columbia.  I decided to try half a dozen locations within easy driving distance of the airport so I wouldn't be late for my flight to my next Minor League baseball destination, Bluefield WV. Bluefield, by the way is somewhere east of Nowhere and very far north of Wheretheheckisthat.   It's one of those places you can't get there from here.

But I digress.  Back to Vancouver and up at the crack of dawn to see if I could crack the 400 species mark by the end of the day, having begun with 395.  I started in typical fashion, being stopped by the local constabulary,(that's the Police for those of you from Generation Twitter).  I was driving for the first time in Stanley Park, looking for a good spot to start my day.  I pulled into a vacant parking spot, they were all vacant at 5:30am, and walked over the pay station,(it's $3 per hour to park), to insert my credit card in the money eating machine, only to find out they require your license plate number to play. It's a rental car, I didn't know the plate number, so I walked the 100 yards back to the car - seeing the first 3 of the many crows I would see today, and decided to just drive back to park right next the the pay station.  I drive up a little, pull a perfect 5-point turn, and drive back, only to see the flashing Police lights approaching me.  I pulled quickly into a sport and the officer eyed me suspiciously.  He asked for my drives license.   Thanks to my fancy new Scotevest and its magic pockets I quickly located it, handed it over and explained my situation.  He explained that it's a one way street.  I wanted to suggest I was only going one way.  I held my tongue.  Luckily, it was all sorted out in my favor and I paid for 3 hours and added 6 more crows to my day list.

The birds were loud but not very active.  The foliage at this time of year is very dense and the birds were well hidden.  I really need to be a better birder-by-ear.  But I was birding in a new city, on my own and there were no locals to help me with the northwestern dialects I was hearing.   I combed the woods an found Wood Ducks and even the friendliest Red-winged Blackbirds ever, as unbidden they landed on my hand and one felt so comfortable with me, he left me a little present,(see below).

My first year bird came a little later in the woods, high in a tree, after a long search for other unseen calling birds.   I didn't have to hear a call to know I had a Red-bellied Sapsucker.  A cool woodpecker with a red head and a Howard Walawitz type red "dickie.".  It was dark and hard to focus, so I don't have a great photos.  I also added half a dozen more crows for the day.

When my 3 hours of parking was up I headed to Pacific Spirit Regional Park where the birds were plentiful and I do believe I heard a Hutton's Vireo, but was unable to get my eyes on it so will not count it as a life bird.  Oddly, no crows.

I spent the rest of the day adding local day birds but no new birds for the year until late in the day at my last stop before heading to the airport.  I headed across the Lion's Gate Bridge, which you could easily mistake for the Golden Gate, complete with spectacular view, to Lighthouse Park, hoping to add the Hutton's or maybe a Sooty Grouse.  What I got were not only at least 3 more crows, but a Common Raven that sent chills down my spine and scared me, just a little, with his bone numbing "CAW!"   And as a bonus I got the bird I had wanted in Alaska and kept missing, the Western Wood-pewee.  This bird is a perfect example of being able to bird by ear.  Without knowing the call of this bird, which I listened to the recording of incessantly in Alaska, and had memorized, I'd have never have found it.

I may be crazy, but my mnemonic to remember it was that is sounds very much like the first 7 notes to the opening of that hilarious 1960's sitcom, Green Acres.  I was nearing the end of the loop path through the woods, thinking I was heading out of town with just one new bird for the year, when I heard the call.  At first I didn't know what I was hearing, but knew it was something good.  I listened for about 5 minutes before I figured it out.  I played the appropriate call from my iPhone, iBird app and knew I had the bird.  Now I had to find it to count it.   For about 10 minutes it called and I scanned the trees above.  I tried to move closer crunching through the soft underbrush, perhaps I'd get a two for one deal and flush a grouse. All day I had been climbing over logs, and getting snagged on branches.  It was kinda an Indiana Jones like feeling, wearing my hat, cargo pants, hiking boots and new vest, with my camera slung around my waist on a holster like Indy's revolver and my binoculars in place of his trusty whip.

I finally got my binoculars on a clear spot on the correct tree and there he was, singing away.  I was so excited I could have whooped with joy.  Instead I pumped my fist and congratulated myself on some good birding.  Alas my photo, once again lacking the light for a good exposure and focus, was just good for a record of my find.

On my way to the airport I made a quick stop at Queen Elizabeth Park and got a dozen more crows and  a Black-chinned Hummingbird giving me more than 30 birds seen and heard for the day.

My two new birds were 397 and 398.  Now I have the Yellow and Red-bellied Sapsuckers and the Eastern and Western Wood-pewees.  And with a trip to Texas looming on Saturday I should hit 400 not long after my arrival in San Antonio on Saturday morning.  A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher or the Black-tailed Godwit being reported in Brazoria, Texas would be a nice 399 and 400.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Where am I this Time?

I was leaving the airport heading to the shuttle for the rental car and I suddenly didn't know where I was.  I mean, I knew I was in an airport but it took me a minute to remember I was once again in Vancouver, British Columbia.   I had passed through here only a couple of weeks ago on my way to Alaska.

I have been so many places in so little time that I am having trouble keeping track sometimes.  I am here in Vancouver training a minor league video assistant for the Vancouver Canadians baseball team, but have time tomorrow before my flight to Roanoke WV to bird in and around Vancouver.  The weather looks to be great and I found a website that lists all the local hotspots with target birds in each area.

I will be out at the crack of dawn tomorrow and bird until I have to drop off the rental car.  With luck I will be able to add some Western species. The good thing is there is no real overlap with the birds I will be chasing in South Texas next week. I hope to get close to or hit 400 tomorrow and look forward to sharing the urban adventures tomorrow night.

For now, Play Ball:

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Father's Day Update

Happy Father's Day to my dad and all those dads who made an impact on their son's lives.  I have an amazing job with the Toronto Blue Jays.  I work for them because my dad took me to the first Blue Jays game back on April 7, 1977 and I fell in love with baseball.  He convinced me to get a job with the team when I was entering university, as a summer job.  I started on the ground crew and because I was studying Film and Television I was in the right place at the right time to do the video for the team back in 1981.  Now I am able to travel around the country for the team and that has allowed me the flexibility this year, to do a Big Year.

So thanks dad.

On the birding front, it has been quiet here.  I've gone out and chased and found a Stilt Sandpiper at Reesors Pond and a Dickcissel on a wire in Strathroy.  I also added a a bird to my Alaska list, as I had forgotten to officially record the Northern Fulmar I saw early on during the pelagic out of Seward.  I had told Sue about it and shown her a photo but neglected to add it to my list until she reminded me yesterday.

So heading out on the road, I will be going to Vancouver BC and Southeast Texas with 396.  I hope to add a lot of birds over the next week and hope to end June with 450 species.  July and early August will be exciting too, as I will be traveling to Newfoundland for a week, returning to Nevada and finally making it to the Midwest.  A return trip to Arizona would be nice too.

The Stilt is in the very centre of the shot:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Chronicles of Alaska: Not Just for the Birds

This is the final chapter of my Alaska Chronicles.  I've been back for a few days and have already added two birds here in Ontario, including a Stilt Sandpiper seen at Ressor Pond in Markham,(394), on Tuesday morning.

But, I have to admit, a tad reluctantly, that I really did enjoy the scenery and wildlife.  All things being equal, I'd have rather seen more birds, but seeing bears up close and whales and otters and more little rodent-y things for my Rodent-y Things list was fun too,(its up to 10 now).

Here are some photos from Alaska, including one bird, a Varied Thrush.  I had a so-so look at one in California early in the year, but had never heard it call.  It sounds like the whistle at a hockey game to stop play.  I finally found one calling from high in a tree and got a photo.