Friday, 30 November 2012

The Lost Birds

I have had to happily update my list.  I had left out a couple of birds.  Between all the travel and working full time it is bound to happen.  I was going through some pictures with Sue yesterday and she asked when I had seen the Common Myna.  I had seen Hill Mynas,(Non ABA), in Miami, but forgot the Common Myna I had seen further south, on my way to find the Fork-tailed Flycatcher.  It was dumpster diving in a McDonald's Parking lot.  Glad Sue caught the oversight.  Fact was, I was only in that parking lot for the free wireless internet.  Thank you, Ronald!

I also saw and chased, for the second time, a Lapland Longspur on Gull Island at Presqu'ile Provincial Park.  I had also forgotten to add that back when I saw it for the first time in early November. 

And finally, from the uncountable bird list, an Egyptian Goose and Mitred Parakeet I had photographed but forgotten about in Miami.

What does that do to my number?  572, baby!  Plus 4 Non ABA birds, including Common Peafowl, my total Life List, including non ABA birds is now 578, still a long way from Sue's 646, as she is happy to point out.

I doubt I will add one more bird here in Ontario before I head to Nashville on Sunday evening, though it would be nice to hit 573 here in Ontario.  There won't be any birding in Nashville as it is a work trip, but I am heading directly to San Antonio on December 6 for some Texas birding.  After that I shall play it by ear.  Probably go to New Brunswick, Northern Ontario and perhaps one more trip south if any good rarities, such as LaSagra's Flycatcher show up in Florida before the end of 2012.   

Just as this blog was going to press, or air or whatever it does when you hit "publish" word of a Nutting's Flycatcher in Arizona, possibly the same one from last year, has come out from NARBA.  I believe a side trip from Texas might be in order, if it is confirmed and stays a while, as it did last year.  I want that bird!

Common Myna in Molt

Non ABA Egyptian Goose

Non ABA Mitred Parakeet

Muscovy Duck - Some said to be countable in south Florida, where I saw this one.  My first sighting in Texas below Falcon Dam was my official sighting, but I failed to get a photo.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Pelagic Pictures

I had forgotten about the pelagic photos I had taken back in Delaware.  I am still not comfortable taking photos on boats, especially when I am sea sick, but here is a selection of the best from the Paulagics trip. 

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Ducks and Geese Abound

It must be the winter birding season because I am seeing more ducks and geese now than I have since last February.  And it's a good thing.  The Pink-footed Goose in Pennsylvania, Snow Geese everywhere I go, a Greater-white Fronted Goose in Connecticut and Black Scoters all around too.  And then, on my drive back from Philadelphia, after an all night flight from Tucson, I hear of a Barnacle Goose in a pond outside Hartford.  It was only a 4 hour drive and was mostly on my way home anyway.

I arrived at Broad Mill Brook Pond with hopes that it would be an easy bird to spot.  I wish I had saved my needle in a haystack reference for this bird.  I hear the goose honking before I even see the nearly 1000 Canada Geese in the pond.  It was such a spectacle that everyone from the neighborhood, birders or not, was coming to take photos.   The pond extended about 200 yards back and unless the goose was close, it wasn't going to be that easy at all.

Very quickly I found a Greater-white Fronted Goose.  Shortly thereafter, a Snow Goose.  Birds I had already seen this year were easy.  The Barnacle Goose was not.  I spent most of the next two hours scanning every single goose in that pond for a white face.  I kept seeing the Greater-white Fronted and Snow Goose.  Was that a Black Scoter?  Common Merganser?  Cackling goose? Yup.  I saw them all, over and over.  It was getting late.  The sun was sinking below the horizon and perhaps on my chance to find the Barnacle Goose.

Then, as though it has been there all along,  the setting sun shone bright on a white face, as it emerged from the cacophony of Canada Geese.  I got to watch it swimming amongst the throng, loosing it and then finding it again.  I tried to take photos, but it was too far away and moving to much to digiscope.  I noticed another birder setting up a scope down the way, and motioned him over, saying I had the goose.  He was thrilled as he had come on three previous days and not found it.  I was able to point out the correct location to look and he quickly found it too.  His name was Jamie and he does Connecticut county lists, and birds every day, somewhere in the state.  It was fun, after getting the Longspur and Trogon on my own the other day, to have someone to share the bird sighting with.  No high-fives though.  He didn't seem the high-five type.

I spent the night in Albany and then drove home yesterday, but with one stop in Presqui'ile Provincial Park, since Fred Helieiner had reported a Barrow's Goldeneye down by the lighthouse the previous morning.  This seems to be a returning, wintering bird, and since it was on my way, I went straight there.  My timing was perfect as Fred was down by the lighthouse and scoped it for me very quickly.  The lake was very choppy and the birds kept going under.  There were lots of Buffleheads and Common Goldeneyes, which I hadn't seen in 6 months, and one male Barrow's Goldeneye, which, when it was above water, was easily picked out through the scope.  Since I am planning on returning to Presqu'ile sometime later, hopefully the water will be calm enough and the bird close enough that I can get a good picture.

I did get 19 birds on that trip and now sit at a nice round 570.  It's Saturday.  I slept in until 9am.  It's sunny, nice out, but I am enjoying a quiet morning at home for a change.  Been months since I did that.  But I am sure, before long, I will be restless and want to get out and continue the chase.  I still have one more trip to Texas and will be going to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia and Northern Ontario before it's all said and done.  Is 600 possible?  Time and birds will tell.

Pond O' a Thousand Geese:

Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Target Birding Code by Matt Brown

With the DaVinci like precision of a master architect, Matt Brown my birding friend from Patagonia, Arizona,  designed Tuesday bird outing to maximize every bird in every location from the San Rafael Valley to Florida Canyon and Madera Canyon to the Tubac Bridge in Santa Cruz, and a rest stop or two at the Santa Rita Lodge.  Matt's influence didn't end there, as stops today at Patagonia Lake State Park and a return to San Rafael Valley and the Tubac Bridge just added to the wonderfulness of the past 3 days in south eastern Arizona.

Monday was a great day of birding.  We saw some great birds.  But when it comes to specific targeted species, the last two days were amazing.  We went up at the crack of dawn, O-Dark-30, in military parlance.  We needed to be up in the canyon, which sounds odd to me, at first light in order to see the Baird's Sparrow.  The bird is secretive and sometimes difficult to find unless you hear it sing, and is usually found on its breeding grounds in North Dakota.  It Winters in Mexico but can also be found in south east Arizona late in the year, saving many birders the time and expense of hunting it in the summer.  That includes me.
But the bird loves to stay low in the grass and only comes out at first light to sit on fences and warm up.  That only takes an hour or so, so the window of opportunity is quite narrow.  The only way to get this bird, as Greg Miller once suggested, is to really want it.  I really wanted it.  So I was up at 4:30 Wednesday morning and on the road by 5am to drive down to meet Matt at the Patagonia Post Office.  We headed up a long series of gravel roads, in the morning gloom, hoping to catch a Montezuma Quail in the headlights, but it was not to be, either on the way up or down.  When we arrived at San Rafael the only birds to be seen were Eastern Meadowlarks and some Savannah Sparrows.

Perhaps we were a little early.  Funny how the bird guides insist in these early starts and then are always surprised when there are no birds around.  However in this case it was better to be a little early and wait for the Baird's rather than come late and not see them at all.  And see them we did.  It didn't take long for one, then another Baird's to jump up on the barbed wire fences to warm themselves after a chilly night.  We saw our first through the scope, then had two side by side.  I was finally able to walk up close enough to photograph one right next to a Savannah.  Not even 8am and we had our first bird.

We were next going to try for the Chestnut-collared Longspurs.  They usually fly in flocks and land near a body of water for a drink and quickly fly out again, only to return a few minutes later.  But not today.  Sure Matt was hearing a couple overhead, and I could kind of make out their song, but nothing was coming within even binocular range.  We had a tight schedule and were only able to give them about a half hour to show.  Which they didn't.  Longspurs would have to wait.

Our next stop was Florida Canyon and don't be caught calling it Florida as in the state of Florida.  Bad form here in Arizona.  A few days ago I was in Pennsylvania and said I'd be searching for the Rufous-capped Warbler on Wednesday in Florida,(as in the state), Canyon and was quickly chastised for not using the Spanish pronunciation.  Well, excuse me.  It is correctly spoken, phonetically, as "Flor-E-da Canyon."  They pronoucne canyon the American way, so lucky I didn't call it, "Flor-E-da Can-E-on."  Oh the egg on my face had I done that.

It was a long hike up the canyon,(yes I know, it's all backwards), past a man sitting on a rock looking at nothing and perhaps contemplating everything, to the Warbler's habitat.  It actually didn't take more than 5 minutes to spot the bird.  Actually two birds.  Matt was pointing toward the ground, trying to get me to look where he was looking at one bird, but I already had this beautiful Warbler in my sights.  No messing up this identification.  The Rufous-capped Warbler has a distinctive look.  Full breeding plumage, even in the winter.

That done we headed back down the canyon in search of Black-chinned Sparrows.  A gentleman birder passing by said he had seen quite a few not too long ago, so we stayed in one spot, played a tape of the Black-chinned song and what do ya know, the Sparrow showed up as though he had been invited to the symphony.  We watch the bird for a while but we were late for an important date with a Crissal Thrasher.  No rest for the weary birder.  We were on a mission, and it was timed with military precision, so off we went to Madera Canyon.

On the way in we stopped at a bridge and played Crissal Thrasher song and in short order were hearing one.  We headed to the sound and soon found it high in a tree.  I could see it okay through my binoculars, but Matt ran back to the car to get the scope and told me to keep my eye on it.  I did for about half a minute, until it flew and hid.  These guys don't like to be seen.  Rather flighty and secretive.  Just not sure how he know I was even looking at  him from that distance.  Alas, yet another thrasher that was camera shy.  The only one I have a photo of is a Curve-billed Thrasher and the Crissal has an even curvier bill than the Curve-billed.  Who names these birds anyway?

Thrasher ticked off the list, we were now in search of Arizona Woodpecker and a couple of Flycatchers.  And because birding is a community sport. a nice couple, who had just seen a male Arizona up in the woods and a female at the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge, where we stopped for snacks, gave us directions to where the bird was last seen.  The key being last seen.  We walked for about an hour without once seeing one, though we did hear a couple.  Well, Matt did.  We just couldn't chase it down.

We still wanted to find Flycatchers, but needed to head back toward Patagonia, if we were going to get a chance to see Lawrence's Goldfinches.  I suggested taking an extra few minutes down at Santa Rita Lodge, and hope that the Arizona Woodpecker would come for a visit.  I sat on the bench overlooking the feeders while Matt went down to the road to look for Flycatchers.  Nothing was happing.  I needed an Arizona Woodpecker and wasn't going to leave without one.  There just wasn't time for luck.  So, I used the Force.  What could it hurt?  It certainly wasn't something to pray over, and I am not wont to pray anyway.  I was sitting there and a little voice said, "Use the Force."  So I focused all my energy on an Arizona Woodpecker showing up at the feeder.

I closed my eyes.  Willed it.  Opened my eyes.  Nothing.  Well, what did I expect.  Then, while I was looking to the left, an Arizona Woodpecker flew into the suit feeder from the right.  Brown back, no mistaking it.  And then I got a look at the red on the head.  A male.  I got photos.  I watched it.  Waved Matt up to see what I had brought,(I didn't admit using the Force).  We stayed until the Woodpccker retreated to the woods and it was back in the car and a long drive to the Tupac Bridge and Lawrence's Goldfinch.  I had chased this bird on a bridge in California with no success.  I knew Matt's good karma would help this time.  After all, we were having a pretty good day and we had found 5 owls together on previous visits.

We walked the bridge, played Goldfinch calls and waited and waited.  And waited.  Lesser Goldfinches showed.  And we waited.  We were losing light.  It was time for the Force again.  And, wouldn't you know it.  Nothing.  Matt took his bird calls down below the bridge and played some more.  I saw a bird with Goldfinch flight characteristics fly into a nearby tree.  I heard what I thought was a Lawrence's but Matt was also playing the call.  Though I didn't think it was his.  As it turned out, I was right.  It was a Lawrence's Goldfinch in the tree above.  Matt quickly found it in his binoculars but it took me quite a while to spot it.  It was tucked behind a branch.  But once I saw it, no doubt, I had my Lawrence's.  Matt grabbed his scope and we got a great close up look at the bird.  I just couldn't get any kind of photo of the bird.

That didn't matter.  We had seen six great birds.  We had hiked many miles, drove hundreds more and had a enviable list for one day: Baird's Sparrow, Rufous-capped Warbler, Black-chinned Sparrow, Crissal Thrasher, Arizona Woodpecker and Lawrence's Goldfinch.

I deserved a celebratory dinner and adult drink.  So I took myself out to Chilli's and had a spiked lemonade with dinner and it was yummy.  Needless to say, I was too tired to write anything.  I had trouble getting to sleep.  A lot had happened that day, so I let myself sleep in until 5:30 this morning.  I didn't have to be up in San Rafael Valley quite as early to see the Longspurs, and in fact, a little later might have been better.  I drove slowly up to the valley, hoping for a Montezuma Quail and thought I had something, but it turned out to be a phantom, quail shaped stick I was stalking.

However, when I did arrive up at the little ponds, it wasn't long before I was hearing the Chestnut-collard Longspurs and very quickly thereafter was treated to a Longspur Show.  A flock would swoop in, 25-30 birds, dip down to the water, get a drink and then fly off.  Occasionally they would land, mostly in the grass, but were nearly invisible even when Landing on the edge of the water.  Brown birds against brown dirt.  I was able scope them for moments at a time but photos were near impossible.  I will have to go through them all later to see if there are any good ones.  However, there was no doubt that I had seen a typical flocking behaviour of the Chestnut-collard Longspur.  Great start to the morning.

I new Matt was being treated to breakfast by a rich, retired super-elete birder, down in Patagonia, so I headed back for coffee and a chat.  I got to meet this birder who knew as much about The Toronto Blue Jays as he did about all the real birds he had seen in his life.  And he has seen a lot.  I never got his name but very few people have seen more birds than he.  In fact, he has seen more than half of all the birds there are to see in the world, over 5000.  Yet he was impressed, not only by the recent moves the Toronto Blue Jays have made, but by the fact I had seen 567 birds so far this year, having just started birding with this Big Year.

As cool as that was, the news was going to get even better.  Matt knew that an Elegant had been coming to Patagonia Lake State Park the past few years to overwinter.  i had searched for this bird on two occasions along the Carrie Nation Trail in Madera Canyon with no success.  And just in the nick of time, as I had to leave for the airport at 7pm, the Trogon was being seen as of at least yesterday along the Bird Trail in Patagonia, just 20 minutes away.  I wanted this bird.  Matt warned me it wasn't going to be a "slam dunk," as there were lots of trees in which the Trogon could hide, but if I did find it, it would probably sit up for a photo or two.  I was psyched.

After exchanging a few more pleasantries and talking a little more baseball with Matt's friend, I headed off to Patagonia with directions to the probable location of the bird.  Drive into the park, make a right turn at the T-intersection, drive to the end of the trailer camp grounds.  There are 4 parking spots.   Park and hike the Bird Trail Past the lake.  Walk along the creek and you will see a bridge made of logs.  Further down there is a second log bridge.  The Trogon has been seen somewhere between the two bridges not far from the creek and on either side.

Mat was right on.  It was no slam dunk,  It wasn't a long walk to the creek, and it wasn't particularly hot, and the birds along the way were nice to look at.  But there were no other birders around looking for the bird.  I was alone in on the trails, tiptoeing past the cow pies, walking along the creek, crossing from one side to the other.  I was texting Matt for some advice and he told me to keep an eye out for branches no higher than 10-15 feet off the ground.  I looked and walked and looked.  It wasn't looking promising.  It was like looking for a needle-bird in a bird-stack.

I had been walking for nearly 2 hours.  I still had an hour or so before I had to think of getting out of there when I just glanced to my left and there, not 15 feet away, at eye level on a horizontal branch was the most colorful bird I have ever seen.  It was like a camera flash going off in my face.  I was momentarily a birder caught in the headlights.  Then I started quietly shouting, "Don't move, don't move, DON'T MOVE!"  I didn't even have to get my binocular up.  I grabbed the camera from my holster, and started clicking away.  The Beautiful, colorful and elegant in every way, Trongon stayed and eyed be curiously for about 2 minutes, and then flew off.  Luckily into another close by tree.  I got a few more looks and then he was gone nearly as quickly as he appeared.  

There was no one to High Five.  That was my thirteenth new bird in 3 days.  Species number 568 for the year.  It was a great day of birding.  I just had a few loose ends to wrap up before heading to the airport.  I needed a photo of the Lawrence's Goldfinch at Tubac Bridge and had to check as spot to see if a Rufous-backed Robin had shown up for winter yet.  No on the Robin, but a big yes on the Goldfinch photos.  In fact a flock of six landed on a dead tree at the bridge.  They were kind of far away, so the photo is not great.  Before I left I met another birder who said a Lewis's Woodpecker had been seen at a nearby golf course.  I headed over and search for an hour until it got dark, but no luck.

So here I sit in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, on Thanksgiving, getting ready to drive to Connecticut for a Thanksgiving Goose.  Barnacle Goose, that is.

Happy Turkey Day

Smart Turkeys know where to go to avoid being served for dinner.
(A new big Year Blog will be up shortly,)

Monday, 19 November 2012

Oh, It's a Jolly Birding Day with Melody

No Wonder that it's Melody's birds we love!

And birds we did see.  Melody Kehl got me out the door at 5am this morning, meaning I had to be awake at 4am, which meant I got less than 4 hours sleep last night.  But it was worth it for the birds we saw.   We saw only 39 species in total, but I added 16 new Arizona species to my state list, giving me 127 seen here this year.  I even saw another Snow Goose.  But that was only the icing on the cake.

It was the new birds we saw today that made the day grand.  We had a long drive out to Gila Bend, where we were on the hunt for two birds of note, a Sage Sparrow and a Le Conte's Thrasher.  But before we even got to the designated area, Melody slammed on the breaks and made a sharp u-turn that would have made any stunt driver proud,(our lunch and beverages were scattered across the back seat-but survived).  We had stopped for a Ferruginous Hawk.  It was sitting atop a pole, as I got my first look, then flew across the street and alighted on another pole in much better light.  I got a few more photos before it flew off into the morning sky.

From there we drove to the Thrasher location and walked into a habitat that seemed more suited for the Roadrunner and Coyote, than to look for the birds,(then again, that's what the Coyote was up to, so I stand corrected).  First up, was the Sage Sparrow and it didn't take long to show.  I got a decent first look and then we found more and I was able to get some nice photos of a sparrow that turned out to be a LGJ: Little Grey Job.  Nice bird, easy identification as far as sparrows go.

Next it was on to the Le Conte's Thrasher.  This location at the corner of Baseline Road and Salome Highway is known for Le Conte's and it wasn't long before Melody heard one and we were chasing it into the scrub.  It alighted on a bushy tree and we both got great looks at it through Melody's scope.  Before we could get close enough for a photo op, it was gone, not to be seen again the rest of morning. We spent about another half hour trying to find it again for a photo, but considered ourselves lucky to have seen it at all.  Time to move on.

We had an hour drive ahead of us and the lack of sleep was catching up to me, so I covered my head with my hat and slept like a sack of potatoes the entire drive to the small town of Eloy, which is not in the middle of nowhere, it's well past nowhere.  It's pure desert emptiness and a popular spot for illegal aliens to camp after they sneak into America.  Funny how the Border Patrol Officers never patrol way out this way.  If they want to find the illegals, all they have to do is ask the birders.

Here we were looking for Bendire's Thrasher.  We had barely begun our hunt when something flew overhead.  Melody saw the shadow pass and I already had my binoculars on the bird when she shouted, "Prairie Falcon!"  Bonus.  I got a good look then quickly grabbed my camera and got some photos before it sailed off into the sun and parts unknown.

Back to the pesky Bendire's Thrasher.  We were hearing it singing in the trees and stealthily crept our way around to find it, when a Thrasher appeared in a tree and the singing stopped.  We got eyes on the bird and it was a Curve-billed Thrasher.  But it wasn't singing and we were both convinced it was not the bird we had heard, though they are good mimics.  However, shortly after we got to see the Curve-billed, we heard the Bendire's song again.  It was clearly a Bendire's and not a Curve-billed song, said Melody,and played both for us to compare.

Now we saw two birds head into a tree and knew something was up.  As we were looking, we saw an Ash-throated Flycatcher and Yellow-rumped Warbler, but no Bendire's.  We got even closer to the tree where we had heard it and then, from under the tree and into another thicket, ran the Bendire's Thrasher.  Shorter beak than the Curve-billed, and running with an upright gate, similar to a Roadrunner.  Melody saw it in the scrub, but only from behind.  We had our bird, and it sure did take coordination and team work.  How many birders does it take to get a Bendire's Thrasher?  Two.  One for the head, and one for the tail.  And both to hear it's call.

Speaking of Roadrunners, I did get my first Arizona American Roadrunner sighting today.  I also saw Yellow-headed Blackbirds up close and personal and even better, added two Rodent-y things to my Rodent-y things list: Black-tailed Jackrabbit and as seen below, Round-tailed Ground Squirrel.  That gives me 18 Rodent-y things for the year.  Of course, the Rodent-y list has a long way to catch up to my Big Year Bird List, of 560, with the addition of 5 new birds today.  We missed out on two, the Crissal Thrasher and Mountain Plover, though I may have a shot at the Crissal with Matt Brown tomorrow.

Tonight I can rest, get a good dinner, get to bed early and sleep in until 5am.  Woo hoo!

By the way, anyone get the Mary Poppins reference?

Ferruginous Hawk 

Sage Sparrow

 Prairie Falcon

Curve-billed Thrasher (at least I got one thrasher photograph)

Round-tailed Ground Squirrel

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Goosed into Action

What a difference a day makes.  Yesterday I awoke at 4am and spent 12 hours on a boat being sick and being sick of being sick, and sick of boats that made me sick.

Just before tucking myself into bed at the Anchorage Motel, and after a wonderful hot bath, I was talking to Sue, who had a much better day than me.   She was telling me about her day at Amherst Island, where she got to see a Long-eared Owl, Barred Owl and just to make me jealous, as I haven't seen one yet this year, a Rough-legged Hawk.  I was planning on sleeping in a bit, going to the beach to look for Purple Sandpipers, then take the Ferry back to New Jersey and head up to Philadelphia by way of Brigantine, when my e-mail dinged with a notice from NARBA.


Not only was it only about 3 hours drive from Lewes, it was less than an hour from the Philadelphia airport.  I GPS'd it, set my alarm and fell asleep with images if pink-webbed feet, dancing in my head.

This is what A Big Year is all about.  The Chase.

It was the prospect, and dare I say, expectation, of seeing a Pink-footed Goose, ahead of all other birds, that has kept me chasing for nearly 11 months now.   Seeing this bird was one if the reasons I had to do a Big Year.   And I was in nearly the right place at exactly the right time to chase this little pink footed wonder, who had wandered off course from Greenland, and plopped himself into Peace Valley Park, Pennsylvania.

When I arrived at the park I started scoping each and every one of the hundreds of Canada Geese floating peacefully in the lake, when I caught sight of a couple of other birders on the other side, scoping birds too far away for me to see.  If you can't find the bird, find the birders.  This kind of hunt requires team work, and as it turned out, it was a well coordinated team.  I drove over to where the other birders were and we were joined by more goose hunters who were in both phone and e-mail communication with still more birders who were spread about the park.  As we planned to head east to another set of geese, to scope, having found nothing pink footed on this end if the park, yet another hunter of pink feet had just heard from someone who had seen it just 20 minutes earlier at the north east corner of the park.   And as we were trying to figure out where the north east corner of the park was,(two of us had compasses out), another birder with a scope, Shannon Thompson, who had driven from New Jersey early this morning for the goose, had just heard from a friend that he was, at that moment, looking at the goose near the Nature Center.   The chase was on and we formed a 4 car convoy over to the reported location.

Whew, I'm out if breath, after that run-on paragraph.

We parked our cars, grabbed our scopes, binoculars and cameras and raced down the road, along the path to a spot where a scope was already set up and after 4 hours of driving, looking and more driving and hiking, the hunt was over in 30 seconds.  I didn't have to do anything other than look into the scope of the already present birder to get the bird.  Too easy.  But I deserved it after yesterday's ordeal.   It just occurs to me that Sandy Komito got his Pink-footed Goose in nearly the exact same way, in Pennsylvania, back in 1998,(the book is my bible, what can I say).  There was also a lot of talk of "The Big Year" movie and the Pink-footed Goose Jack Black chased.

We stayed nearly an hour as birders came and went.   Took lots of scope looks and lots of photos. Shannon even let me get an iPhone photo through her scope, as I had forgot my digi-scoping adaptor at home.  She's pretty good at it, a kind of digi-scoping savant.   I got lots of photos with my SLR and then headed back to Sailor's Point where I had seen a pair of Snow Geese I wanted to photograph. Along the way I ran into more birders who were looking for the Pinky, and guided them to the right spot.  I believe it was a lifer for everyone I encountered today.

It was for me, not just a lifer, but year bird number 555.

The Snow Geese were very cooperative and I got some nice photos.  Back in Louisiana they were very far away, and I could only see them through another birders scope and didn't get any good photos. They have pink feet too.

I am, once again, typing from 30,000 feet, and oh so tired.  On the drive to the airport, though I was still high with the excitement of a Code 4 bird, there came a point where I hit the proverbial wall.   I just wanted to pull over and close my eyes for an hour or three.   But I was on a highway with a flight to catch and had to keep going.  Now that I am on a plane, flying 4 hours to Phoenix, as I head to Tucson, I doubt I will be able to sleep.  I need some rest, as I am up at 4 am birding tomorrow morning.  But I am not complaining.   I have no right to complain.  If I did, I am sure Sue would sentence me to a year of litter box cleaning and we have six cats.  As it is, I owe her a year of chores to make up for all the time away this year.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

12 Hours of Misery for Less Than 12 Seconds of a Lifer

Not sure how much I feel like telling you tonight, as in many ways it would be a repeat of other reports of boat trips where the sea sickness got the best of me.  This time was a little different, in that I was well  rested, well fed and well medicated.  What I didn't count on was the change from west coast chumming to east coast chumming.  Out west they are a little more laid back and popcorn is the choice of Debi Shearwater.  Here in the manly man east, they chum with fish guts.  Though I have nearly no sense of smell, I think the fish guts turned my stomach sour and no amount of Ginger Ale and dramamine was gong to save me.

There were lots of birds, all but one of which I had seen this year.  My targets for this trip, besides any rarities, were Black-headed Gull, Manx Shearwater and the very unlikely Great Skua.  Only two Manx Shearwaters were seen all day and the first, who was around long enough for everyone else on the boat to see, appeared while I was asleep inside the cabin, having taken two too many dramamine pills.

Once I was upright, I wasn't going to leave the deck, no matter now many times my body rebelled on me and sent the contents of me stomach into the water with the fish guts.  Happy chumming.  It might have paid off, as not one hour later, but perhaps two hours later, one of the leaders shouted, "Manx Shearwater off the aft, heading left, away from the boat."  I was able to see it for a short time before it headed into a flock of gulls.  We all scanned it, the boat stopped and circled around hoping to get us close enough to get better looks and photos.  No luck.  Another Manx never appeared again.  I stayed out on the deck for another hour or so, but eventually had to go inside and rest.  I slept almost all the way to the dock, 12 hours after leaving at 6:30 this morning.

It was a rough day, but in the end, worth it for bird number 554

I need dinner now.  I need to sleep more.  Later I shall see if I got any good photos of the birds that did follow the boat for more than 12 seconds.

Friday, 16 November 2012


In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, even two weeks later, my decision to drive into the heart of New York City was, to put it mildly, ill conceived and to state it more bluntly, awesomely stupid. And if you've been following me all year, you know two things about me:

Thing 1: I don't bandy about the word awesome lightly , if ever.

Thing 2: I have made my share if mistakes and tactical errors during my Big Year.

And at 8:28am on Friday morning I was still stuck smack dab in the middle of my biggest driving boo boo of the year. So no Barnacle Goose, let alone a Northern Lapwing this day I figured. I attempted to make a hasty retreat at the next exit and make my way to Delaware, and look for birds along the coast until It was times to board the boat tomorrow morning.

I had just heard, via 1010 WINS News out of New York, that it was a truck accident and not post Sandy traffic that has caused this delay. It's also the first day trucks are allowed into NY City.

Glad I had a full tank of gas.

Trouble was, there was no exit prior to the exit for the park I was driving to in Manhattan to get off at, and I was only six moves and it turned out about an hour away. But I did eventually get out of the Mother Of All Traffic Jams, and make my way to Inwood Hill Park and the Canada Geese.

In fact I found them all congregating in one area between the baseball fields and the pond, and could get close enough to examine each and every one for a white face, signifying a Barnacle Goose. I was close enough and they were tame enough that I could have taken DNA samples in case the Barnacle was in disguise as a Canada Goose.

But alas, this detour into Manhattan only resulted in a lovely morning walk, and great views, including the new, nearly completed Freedom Tower as I made my way out of Lower. manhattan.

Snow Day

I was on my way to Delaware yesterday morning and since I was passing through Brighton, decided to spend a little time in Presquile Provincial Park looking for Snow Buntings, Black Scoters and Purple Sandpipers. A colorful list, it seems, of black, white and purple. Had I realized that 3 minutes ago, I might have given this posting a different and slightly more clever title. Of course, I could have changed it and not even told you, such is my high level of honesty.

I walked Gull Island and before spotting any of the target birds, saw and scooped the first of two Snowy Owls. Though I have seen Snowy Owls on previous occasions this year, this was a fantastic look at these lovely birds. I met a couple of birders along the way, one of which had seen Snow Buntings a little earlier, but they had flown into the high grass. I walked through the high grass trying to flush one or two, but none came out. When I returned to the beach, riot there, feeding in the sand were 4 Snow Buntings, I followed them along the beach, but they would move about 5 feet away for every 5 feet I drew closer. I got some good looks and then moved along, searching for the Purple Sandpipers and perhaps a Black Scoter or raptor of some sort.

As I was getting close to the land bridge back to the mainland, which is really a sand bar at low tide, I saw a large flock of birds. Each and every one, Snow Buntings - at this point I was hoping for Purple Sandpipers, but you can't have everything. I did the same dance of move 5 feet, and watch the flock fly or run 5 feet. They all took off at one point and were joined by another flock. There were dozens of them, a veritable blizzard of Snow Buntings. I got some okay pictures and headed back, only to be stopped along the way for a group of black duck-like birds at scoping distance in the bay. Turned out toe be Scoters. All three, Surf, White-winged and, Black.

So in one beautiful, warm, windless and sun drenched morning I was able to add two birds to my year list, 552 and 553 on a side trio on my way to east coast America. Pretty cool.

I am just outside New York, eating Breakfast, and heading to a park in the Bronx in hopes of seeing a Barnacle Goose. Then it is off to Lewes, Delaware and a pelagic tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Bohemian Rhapsody

A couple of days after chasing and not finding the Northern Hawk Owl, or any Bohemian Waxwing after a 5 hour drive - each way - to Ottawa, Ontario, I heard that Bohemian Waxwings had been seen a little closer to home, on Toronto Island.  The Bohemian Waxwings are such lovely singers.   I heard them singing before I saw them and as there were only Bohemians present I was serenaded with their lovely trilling songs, rather than the irritating high pitch whine of the Cedar Waxwings.

I was on the Toronto Island this morning after reading Norm Murr's posting on OntBirds yesterday. He had seen the Bohemian's along with Cedar Waxwings and a Red-headed Woodpecker. I have chased these darker cousins of the Cedar Waxwings from Anchorage, Alaska to Ottawa, Ontario and thought I'd never be in the right place at the time for these guys.

Norm e-mailed me exact directions to the field where they had been flocking and the birds appeared on cue for me. Well, almost. When I arrived, there were no birds of any kind. I did hear some distant calls, so I pulled out my iPhone and played the Bohemian Waxwing call, to listen to see if what I was hearing were the Bohemians. Within 30 seconds of playing the calls, not only was I hearing the Bohemian Waxwings, I was seeing a flock of about 10 of them flying into a tree behind me. I got my binoculars on them and was thrilled to have a great look at a lovely pair of these darkly beautiful birds.

And within a few minutes I was hearing the gentle trilling of half a dozen or more of the Bohemian Birdies. I stood in the clearing for about 20 minutes being serenaded. The birds kept coming to a berry bush and grabbing a snack, then flying back into the bare trees to eat. A beautiful, sunny November morning, down by the lake, enjoying a Bohemian Rhapsody, to the tune of Big Year Bird number 551.

Tomorrow I embark on a week long adventure. I will be driving to Lewes, Delaware for a pelagic and then flying down to Arizona for some winter desert birds. Lots of driving, boating, flying and walking. All in a Year's work, I guess.