Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Friday, December 31, 2010

Decision Not To Go To Texas

On Wednesday afternoon another White-throated Thrush was found in Texas, this time at Estero Llande Grande State Park in Westlaco.  I'm certain this is not the bird that was seen in Pharr a few days earlier.  When I heard the news, I got on the computer to see if I could get a flight to the valley the following day.  After some monkeying around, my only option was a very expensive round trip. In addition I would only have the last day of the year to look for the bird.  The resulting quandary was typical of those that arose all through the Big Year.  The decision didn't come easily.  However, later on Wednesday night I decided to let the thrush go.  It was too much buck for the bang!  There had already been a precedent.  I had decided a month ago not to go for McKay's Buntings at a feeder in Nome even though it was an almost guaranteed bird.  That decision was made primarily on financial grounds, but in Alaska the travel conditions are always a little iffy and add an additional constraint.  This time the thrush was not a guarantee, but probably would show up sooner or later at the water feature as the Rufous-backed Thrush did at Laguna Atascosa NWR last week.  That proved to be the case.  A late afternoon sighting yesterday showed the White-throated Thrush to be still around.  Whether it shows today or not will have no effect on my Big Year.  As I learned, very few choices are clear-cut.  I'm pleased that so many of mine went the right way.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Nice Day in the Rio Grande Valley

I spent last night in South Padre Island, the closest motel to Laguna Atascosa NWR.  The Motel 6 was a notch above the rest.  This morning I got going after sunrise since the outside temperature was only 39F and I needed it to warm up a bit.  Although I was heading to a Denny's for breakfast, I discovered that it no longer existed, the space being converted into a retail store.  Instead I found a small breakfast spot near the causeway bridge that offered an inexpensive breakfast and lots of people watching.  I was intrigued by how few tourists there were during this holiday time.  I would have thought that South Padre Island would be a location where families might go for a holiday fest, although it was cold as hell today.  Still a walk on the beach and eating out are favorites most any time of year.  After breakfast, I drove to Laguna Atascosa and ran into Jeff Lemons whom Joyce and I had met at Pea Island NWR in NC when we went to see the White-cheeked Pintail.  He and his family were visiting the valley and they were having a ball.  He was picking up lifebirds at a rapid rate since this was his first trip to the valley.  I wandered around the area and finally encountered the Rufous-backed Thrush at one of the water sources.  It didn't hang around long enough for anybody else to get there.  I told Jeff about the sighting and then left to drive all the way to Bentsen State Park to spend the last hours of the day there.  I spent a lovely three hours walking around in an area that was just re-opened yesterday.  I didn't see anything rare, but it was nice to get great views of many of the valley specialties.  I left after sunset and got a motel in McAllen.  I walked to a nearby restaurant and then retired and watched TV from the bed.  Since I don't watch much TV, it was a bit entertaining, although I'm depressed with how small the content/advertising ratio has become.  I didn't measure it, but I would guess that there's no more than 35 minutes of real content per hour of TV time.  Tomorrow I'll try to fly home.  I hope my planes are flying and reasonably on-time.  Even if they are on time, I won't get home until midnight.  Then, only four days left in the year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day in the Rio Grande Valley

Christmas eve was pretty much a travel day, but it did go well.  My flight schedule didn't get me to Harlingen early enough to get any birding done.  I checked into my Motel 6 in Mission, positioned well for my trip to Bentsen State Park first thing in the morning.  This morning I was awake and up early, very antsy to get going and looking for the Black-vented Oriole.  I checked out of the motel and went to a nearby Denny's for breakfast.  I still arrived at Bentsen SP before it was light enough to see.  Other birders began to arrive.  Clearly the oriole had brought 'em out, even on Christmas.  There were more than a dozen by the time the visitor's center opened at 8:00.  Admission was free since the floods earlier in the year had closed much of the park to visitation and what little was open was free.  After I had been there half an hour, I got a call from Carolyn Stenberg, a volunteer at Santa Ana NWR whom I met when she volunteered at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR and helped me on the Fisherman Island surveys.  She had gotten my message that I was coming to the valley to look for the oriole and she was on her way to look for it with me.  She arrived and we kept circulating in the area where the oriole had been seen during the past two days.  After two and a half hours, we decided to walk into the park proper since they were re-opening a section today.  When we approached the first feeding station and tram stop, a couple were waving their hands excitedly.  We hurried ahead and there was the oriole (web photo) bathing, then preening, and then climbing up into the twigs and into clear view.  But it continued on up and out of sight.  Cellphone calls to those still back at the visitor center area didn't help.  By the time they arrived, the bird had disappeared.  As far as I know it didn't re-appear for the rest of the morning and maybe for the rest of the day.  I called Joyce to tell her and was told that I had gotten an email from Susan who manages NARBA that since she knew I was in the valley I should try to check out a report of a White-throated Thrush in Pharr TX.  I called the person reporting the bird and made arrangements to meet him in 45 minutes so he could show me the area where he had seen the bird yesterday afternoon.  I said my goodbyes to Carolyn and the others who wished me well on my Big Year and raced off to Pharr.  I met Don at the entrance to the gated RV park and golf course and he took me to the tree where he had seen the bird.  The wind was terrible and there weren't any berry bushes or trees around.  So after two circuits of the only semi-acceptable habitat around the golf course, I left, asking Don to call me if the bird turns up again.  Another phone call from Carolyn invited me to share Christmas dinner with her, her husband, and a group of refuge volunteers.  I accepted and it was a very nice get-together.  Mid-afteernoon I left and drove to Laguna Atascosa NWR to look for the Rufous-backed Thrush that's being seen there.  I had no luck, so decided to try again tomorrow.  I drove to South Padre Island, the location of the nearest motel, got a room and some dinner.  In light of the snow storm which will blanket Norfolk on Sunday, I decided not to move up my return by a day, but instead to come home on Monday.  So I'll have a day and a half more in the valley.  I'll do some slow birding instead of chasing, except I will look for the thrush again tomorrow morning.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Oriole Is Back

The Black-vented Oriole which was found at Bentsen State Park in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas ten days ago and then promptly disappeared for the next ten days, was seen again today and photographed in pretty much the same area where it was found.  I've booked a flight to the valley for tomorrow, but I won't get to look for the bird until Christmas Day providing the park will allow access that day.  Meanwhile, I've enjoyed several nice days with my granddaughters and my twin grandsons, so those visits were nicely wedged into the lull in the Big Year birding.  My try for the oriole probably squashes my chance to participate in the CBBT CBC on Sunday, a day I thoroughly enjoy spending with Ned and Bob.  Sorry guys.  We'll see whether my sacrifice pays off, won't we.  Good luck at any rate.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Not in California

The Common Crane mentioned earlier turned out to be an old acquaintance, an escape that's been visiting NJ with a Sandhill Crane consort raising hybrid cranes for years.  The TX oriole has made no further appearance and the same with the Western Spindalis in FL that was a 30-second wonder.  But on Friday  news of a Little Stint at Point Reyes CA came in.  I sat down and figured out how to get there yet still put in an appearance at home when our holiday visitors are there.  I settled my Southwest Airline flight schedule through a combination of using a free ticket and traveling into and out of San Jose instead of Sacramento, San Francisco, or Oakland.  With all that finalized, I enjoyed time with Joyces' daughter Jana, her husband Dan, and their twins.  After their arrival on Saturday, they went ice skating. Then we all went to see the Lion King at Chrysler Hall in Norfolk.  Several years ago Joyce and I had taken Bethany's family to see it.  It was a hit again this year.  The puppetry, choreography, and choral work were outstanding.  The entrance march of the animals is still magical and the story still resonates.  When we got home, I checked the rare bird ticker, found the stint had not been seen on Saturday and the weather was expected to deteriorate, so I cancelled my carefully made flights, and went to bed.  Today we're enjoying a fine morning at home with the kids.  The robins have arrived in the holly and the Red-breasted and Brown-headed Nuthatches are successfully competing with the squirrel for sunflower seed.  Later today Joyce and I will attend a seventieth birthday party for Rosemary Julian.  It should be a blast.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Came Home

     During the night before last I woke up, got up, and made the decision to go home.  It was 1:30am and I was in my Spokane motel.  I checked on the computer for any last minute good news on the Black-vented Oriole in Texas.  Finding none, I took the plunge.  I changed my airline reservations for Wednesday.  I was going home.  With those changes in place I went back to bed for a few hours and got up in time to shower and catch the shuttle to the airport.  I checked in at Southwest but I because my layover in Denver was longer than four hours, I would have to pick up my bag and wait three hours to re-check it.  The route from Spokane to Denver flew over much of the length of the Rockies.  Snow, snow, snow.  It was gorgeous to behold.  I'm sure the ski resorts are loving it.  In Denver I waited, read, had lunch, and finally checked in including another security ritual.  I'm still awaiting my first groping.  Another three hours of waiting, but during that time I watched a Rough-legged Hawk and a Ferruginous Hawk hunting over the airport grasslands.  Really nice!  Then I was on my way to Chicago Midway.  The plane was a bit late and my connection was tight, so I didn't get the meal I had planned.  Of course when I got to the gate which was all the way around on the other side of Chicago Midway, my flight was delayed and there wasn't food to be had.  I enjoyed a couple of granola bars, boarded the plane, and flew to Norfolk where Joyce picked me up.  Got to bed about 1:00am.
     Today I'm watching our bird feeders while it's snowing at home and I'm enjoying it immensely.  The TX oriole hasn't been seen again.  There's no follow-up on the Common Crane sighting in NJ, but I'm checking into it.  So I'll have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a cup of coffee, and wait for something cool to drop in at our feeder.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Last Chicken

Those of you who have tried to show other birdwatchers any of the chicken-like birds - quail, grouse, and their kin - know that it's not easy to predict whether you'll actually see them even though you go to places where you have seen them before.  They seem to have a mind of their own.  Those like the prairie chickens use a lek which makes the process of seeing them easier.  But for the others it can be kind of a crap shoot.  The reason Gray Partridge is the last of the regular ABA species for me this year is that I just haven't been in any of their prime habitat.  In fact if you examine where I've been and where I haven't been, you'll see that those places where I've spent no time outline almost exactly the range of this partridge.  That was a consequence of my plan of getting the midwest breeders on their wintering grounds since I wanted to spend a big chunck of their breeding season in Alaska.  I knew that the winter is a fine time to see Gray Partridge; snow makes the process easier plus they tend to be in coveys then.  So I came to Spokane out of California because the partridge is there and because Southwest Airlines flies there.  I had gotten some helpful information from Allan McCoy and Jon Isakoff as to where I might find the birds in the Spokane area.  Jon, in fact, had outlined a route I was to follow.  After arising to a downpour, I had breakfast at my motel, a Ramada right across from the airport.  The skies were very dark as I headed west, but at least the rain had stopped.  The wind was whipping the car around a bit, but I found the first set of roads I had been advised to try.  I completed that loop with no partridges, but the Horned Larks were abundant along the snow-packed roads.  A few ravens, magpies, and red-tails were checking out the roads as well.  I turned south out of Davenport WA and started the second, longer loop.  There was more snow here.  I checked the bushes along a creek where three pheasants were drinking, but not in the company of partridges.  After a series of right-angle turns, I was stopped dead in my tire tracks.  In front of me on the road was a covey of ten Gray Partridges.  They were between me and the sun, so my first photos were a little too backlit.  However, the covey took off, flew over the car, and landed on the road behind me.  I turned the car around and got the upper photo (photo).  They didn't stay there long, choosing instead to fly up the hill, alighting on the snow (photo) where they picked at the ground and acted as if they were feeding.  I gave myself a high five and headed back to town where I checked out the flights out of Spokane.  A Black-vented Oriole was seen yesterday in the Rio Grande Valley, so I made reservations to go there tomorrow.  I had no sooner completed those changes when NARBA posted a report that a group of twenty or so birders had not been able to re-find the oriole this morning.  Before I make any other changes, I'll wait and see what the rest of the day brings.  It's been a good day.  Will Gray Partridge be the last bird of the year?

Monday, December 13, 2010


I want to again ask those of you who enjoy reading this blog to consider making a donation to CVWO, the research and education organization that operates the Kiptopeke bird banding station on Virginia's Eastern Shore and sponsors other projects involving birds, butterflies, and conservation.  It's the end of the year and a good time to consider charitable donations.  CVWO is a 501c3 organization with a good track record.  It hires quality paid staff to carry out their mission and produce the results which have made them the premier Mid-Atlantic songbird banding station for several decades.  Just click on the CVWO button in the upper left of my blog and you will be taken to their website which guides you through the online donation process.  Your contribution will help maintain the high quality work from this outstanding organization.  Thanks.

Brown Shrike

After a night of very little sleep and much driving, I reached the Clam Beach area of Humboldt County where we searched for the Brown Shrike ten days ago.  I had stayed in a Motel 6 in Ukiah for four hours and rose to find a good luck message at reception from Bill Mauck, a fall Gambell colleague.  In McKinleyville I met up with my birding partner, John Spahr, at his motel.  He had seen the shrike yesterday as had Chris Hitt and Wes Fritz.  But he wanted to show it to me today.  We walked down the hill to the spot where it had been seen yesterday.  There were three birders there already.  It was at that point that I realized I hadn't brought my binos down the hill.  So, I walked back up the hill to get them and walked back down only to meet one of the birders coming back with the story that John had found the bird three minutes after I left.  They all yelled after me and John tried to call me on my cellphone, but it never rang.  I wasn't worried; I had two days for the bird and I knew it would pop up for me.  And it did! (web photo)  Not long after John left to go look for a Tufted Duck which had been reported, the shrike appeared in a bush not far from where it had been seen earlier.  It put on quite a show, hopping around and flying short distances.  Then it took off to somewhere and couldn't be re-found.  Our group left and drove up to where John had just seen an Arctic Loon and called to tell us (now the cellphone works!).  We found the loon and scoped it, a yearbird for Chris.  Then I left to go to a wireless hotspot to move my airline reservations up a day to tomorrow.  While I was doing that, John got his Tufted Duck.  So Chris is now at 699 and John is at 701, the shrike being bird #700.  John and I had lunch together, after which he went to the Arcata airport for his flight and I drove back to San Francisco to a motel.  Tomorrow I fly to Spokane to look for Gray Partridges.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In California - For the Last Time This Year?

     Let me fill you in on yesterday.  I woke up in St. John's at 4:11am; the alarm had been set for  Yeah, I know!  Everyone's done that, but I didn't have much time to think about it since I had a 6:00am flight to make.  I put on my clothes, dragged my stuff down to the car, and drove to the airport in the falling snow.  A road-closed detour slowed me down a bit, but I found the rental car return place at the airport, parked, and slipped the keys into the hole in the desk for that purpose, since it was a little before they opened the desk.  At the Air Canada desk the agent checked my bag but could only give me one boarding pass.  I was to get the other two passes at my next stop.  I went through Canadian security and had enough time to get a muffin and a cup of coffee.  Wandering around in the boarding area was this fidgety 300 pounder.  I pegged him as my seat mate.  I was right.  He just couldn't get settled the entire way to Halifax.  Our flight was delayed an hour getting out of St. John's  while they cranked up the de-icer.  Once we got to Halifax I asked where I should go since I was an hour late, and was directed to the American security area where they, of course, asked for my boarding pass.  I didn't have one and was redirected to the United Airlines counter where the agent printed them out.  Back to security.  I got the full treatment - the full body scan plus every section of my backpack swabbed and searched.  I finally made it through and to the gate in time to make the flight to Chicago.  In Chicago the flight to Norfolk was late so I got into home port an hour late, but my bag was there and I got to spend the rest of the day with Joyce.  We had a lovely trout dinner and I got through the chores I needed to so I could leave today.
     My flight today left at noon so it wasn't a problem to get things together in plenty of time.  Of course I left something behind.  You'd think I could get out of town flawlessly by this time, wouldn't you?  So now I'm in San Diego waiting for my flight to San Francisco where I'll get my rental car and drive to Ukiah and a Motel 6.  Tomorrow I'll finish the drive to McKinleyville where the Brown Shrike has been seen this past week.  There was an unconfirmed ebird report of the bird for today, but I haven't heard from John Spahr, Chris Hitt, or Wes Fritz yet as to whether they saw it today.  May tomorrow be ShrikeDay.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Last Full Day in Newfoundland

What is it they say?  Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.  It was indeed a red sky this morning as I headed out for my last full day here in Newfoundland (photo).  At breakfast I tried oatmeal rather than my usual bacon and eggs; I liked it.  With coffee, of course.  First stop was the sewage outfall, the location where the Black-tailed Gull had been first seen in St. John's.  After about an hour, Jared Clarke arrived.  We chatted and checked out the gulls for a bit, then he left.  Not too much later I left too to go to Pleasantville, the other major place where the gulls have been hanging out.  Today they were on a grassy terrace and not on the metal roof of the large building as they have been the past two mornings.  I scanned carefully, but no black-tail.  Jared drove up, scanned, and moved on.  I went back to the sewage outlet with mostly the same results except that the Common Gull showed up.  Then back to the grassy area where it was clear more gulls were present.  But still no black-tail.  Up to this point I had seen eleven species of gull in St. John's; black-tail would make twelve.  You can't come to Canada without visiting a Tim Hortons.  Now was my time to do it.  I got some pastries to go with a large coffee and then found out they didn't take Visa or American cash.  Fortunately I had just enough Loonies to make the purchase.  Back to the car and gull watching.  I finished the snack, took a few more great gull close-ups, and was debating lunch when the phone rang.  It was Jared.  He had the gull, right at the spot where I had been half an hour earlier.  Fortunately I knew the way since I had driven it so often.  It still took longer than I could bear.  But the gull stayed and I got to see it well.  It was sitting near Great Black-backed Gulls out in the open so I'm quite sure it wasn't there on my last visit.  I thanked Jared.  He had also called Bruce Mactavish who drove up at that point.  We both took quite a few pictures (photo).  It's a small gull, being only slightly larger than a Ring-billed Gull.  The bird's bill is long and narrow and has a unique red and black tip.  The mantle color is similar to that of a Lesser Black-backed Gull.  You can see the black tail band in the photo.  So thanks to the enormous help of Bruce Mactavish, Dave Shepherd, Dave Brown, and Jared Clarke I have bagged the three target birds for which I came to Newfoundland.  I'll get a great night's sleep tonight.  I have to; I need to catch a 6:00am flight home tomorrow.  On Saturday I fly to Calfiornia for another try at the Brown Shrike.      Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yellow-legged Gull

This morning Dave Brown helped me find and study a Yellow-legged Gull.   Sighting of this bird raised my year's list to 727 placing me second all-time on the list of ABA Big Year's Lists.  I was able to get some photos of the gull which considering the distance and the gull's location on a metal roof, turned out okay.  The top photo is taken with my 500mm mirror lens, cropped, and blown up.  In the photo you can see the bird's mantle is slightly darker than that of the nearby Herring Gulls.  You can also see the short-legged look not described in fieldguides.  As the winter progresses heads of Yellow-legged Gulls get whiter and whiter.  This bird still has a few dark flecks, but was definitely the lightest headed gull around except for the Great Black-backed Gulls, of course.  The second photo is a not-so-great digiscope attempt that, however, does show the sharp demarcation of the black wing tip from the rest of the wing as well as the slightly darker mantle color and bright yellow legs.  Lesser Black-backed Gulls show a more shaded transition to the black wing tips and usually don't have legs that are this bright yellow in winter.  After a brief celebration, Dave went off to a job interview, and I spent the rest of the day doing the circuit of the various gull spots trying to discover what my other target, the Black-tailed Gull, does with his day.  I never got a nibble on that one.  So tomorrow I will spend my last day in Newfoundland making that same circuit over and over until I find the bird or it gets too dark or rainy to see.  I will also be looking for the Slaty-backed Gull that's been seen here just to relieve the tedium.  I've handed out quite a few of my calling cards to local birders.  If I don't find it, maybe someone else will and my cellphone will ring.  By the way - Dave got the job.
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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

First Day Birding in Newfoundland

After a nice breakfast at the hotel, I was picked up by Bruce Mactavish who showed me the gull hot spots of St. John's.  After he dropped me off back at the hotel and headed to work, I drove a couple more iterations of the circuit and ended up with nine species of gulls including the Common (Mew) Gull shown in the photo.  I returned to the hotel and was figuring out the rest of the day when I got a call from Bruce saying that the Northern Lapwing had been seen at 10am (now 11:15am) and he recommended that I go for it which I did...sans lunch.  The drive really wasn't too bad.  As a note of interest SE Newfoundland is having a heat wave, in my honor no doubt.  There was indeed fog to deal with, but my major driving problem was keeping my speed down since I knew there was a yearbird waiting for me if I could just get there.  It took two hours.  I had called a contact, Dave Shephard, in the town with the lapwing, Portugal Cove South.  Dave was away from his phone.  I found out later he and a friend were doing Tai Chi in a neighboring town.  He called me back when he returned and we arranged to meet in his village.  On the phone he told me the lapwing was there when he passed it a couple of minutes ago.  I was now only one hour away.  A very long hour!  I met Dave at the designated spot and we drove to where the lapwing had been seen.  It wasn't there or anywhere around there.  We drove the roads looking at all the likely grassy spots similar to the one where it has been seen the last couple of days.  Still nothing.  Another viewing of the original spot.  Nothing!  A second round of driving.  Nothing!  As we approached the original spot for the third time, Dave said, "I think it's there; yes, it's there."  And sure enough posing at the grassy edge of the hill was the Northern Lapwing (photo).  We maneuvered several times to get better views and better angles for photos.  I was really hungry, so I asked Dave if there was a place in town that had any food and he took me to a little convenience store that had some sandwiches.  Unfortunately they didn't take either American money or Visa.  But, not only did Dave help me find the bird, he bought me my lunch.  I certainly owe him big time.  The drive back to St. John's was uneventful, thankfully, since the fog was by now very thick.  A big bull moose would not have been a fun thing to run into.  Tomorrow it will be back to gull hunting.

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm in Newfoundland

After a long day of travel, I have arrived in St. John's Newfoundland where I will spend three full days birding.  I learned that US airlines don't have a monopoly on delays.  We spent two extra hours in Halifax NS because there was a mechanical problem that required attention.  The good news is they got it fixed and we got to St. John's where I picked up my bag and rental car, drove to the Battery Hotel where I checked in and had some supper.  It is raining hard since a very deep low is passing out of Maine and heading NE.  I'm meeting Bruce Mactavish tomorrow morning for an introductory birding run.  Dave Brown had something come up which will keep him home, so I'll have to manage by myself after Bruce excuses himself to go off and earn a living.  I should be able to handle that.  Sunrise here is 7:30am and sunset is around 4:30pm, so there aren't many daylight hours.  I'll make the most of them, probably checking out the gull locations which I understand can be accomplished from the dryness of my rental car.  Let's hope so.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Dreaded La Sagra's, at last!

Every day seems to begin at a Motel 6 and a Denny's.  Today was no exception, but today I'm in south Florida.  From the time I got up, everything was on schedule with an arrival at Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne a few minutes before 8:00am when the gates open.  The attendant drove up, raised the state and national flags, and opened the gate.  I paid my entrance fee and zipped to the parking lot where I've parked several rental cars already this year.  Before I hiked to where the bird was seen, I spent a few moments making sure I had my binos and camera.  Commonly I race toward the bird only to discover I'm missing some key component or have nothing to eat in case it's a long wait.  I even took my sweatshirt off;  after all this IS Florida.  As I walked down the Naure Trail my heart was thumping.  Would this visit finally turn the trick?  I was hearing no birds at all until a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher called.  When I arrived at the White Gate, I paused and looked around at what has become a familiar location.  Then it called, and again, and again.  It was 8:13.  I rushed headlong down the path to get into postion before it stopped calling.  I was amazed at how far the call carried since I didn't come abreast of the bird until I had gone about 100 yds.  I figured out where it was in a tree; I could see the shape.  It jumped up a little and I got a couple of manual focus shots through the twigs.  It was active, so it didn't take long before it popped out into the open where I got a better picture (photo).  I followed the bird's activity for about twenty minutes.  There was no one around to share the experience until Teodor, formerly from CT but now from around Miami, showed up.  I told him where I had last seen the bird and he asked if I had seen a Fork-tailed Flycatcher this year.  I thanked him and told him I had.
     I saw my first La Sagra's Flycatcher in 1982 after it had been discoverd by Wes Biggs in 1982.  I came to Florida with Paul Dumont and Doug Cook, both of whom are no longer alive.  After seeing the flycatcher on an island in Key Biscayne NP, we drove to the Everglades where we hired a boat and went into Florida Bay and got some Flamingos.  As we left the Flamingo area a Short-tailed Hawk flew over.  One of those three birds was my 700th for ABA.
      I left Bill Baggs SP and drove back to Fort Lauderdale hoping I might get an earlier flight to Norfolk and get home early.  Since arriving at the airport and checking in, I don't think that's going to be possible.  It's a zoo here, with 13 cruise ships having discharged their passengers.  Everyone wants to get home!  So I'm prepared to enjoy a big part of today in the airport.  Tomorrow I fly to Newfoundland, a place I've never been, to look for some gulls and a lapwing.  For those keeping score the Baikal Teal yesterday put me in sole possession of third place all-time on the ABA Big Year list.  I need two more to move into second.  Wish me luck.
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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Back For the Baikal

It just had to be.  When I came out of the Motel 6 in Mesa this morning on my way to the nearby Denny's for breakfast, I noticed that the license plate on my rental car was simply meant for me.  Later I got a passerby to take my picture with the car.  He turned out to be Matt VanWallene, the birder who found the Tufted Flycatcher at Big Bend NP in TX.  It becomes a very small world when a very rare bird pulls 'em in from everywhere.  I arrived at the Gilbert Water Reserve, parked the car, and began to look for the crowd of birders I expected to be staring at the teal.  I ran into Tom and Sean from last June's Gambell AK trip.  But after wandering around the various ponds and not seeing any of the birders I expected to see, I went back to the original spot and started over.  However, at that point one of Tom's friends came by and told us the bird was in Pond Six, a new location for it.  So we charged over there and sure enough, there was the crowd and there was the bird (photo).  It was in with Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, and a few Mallards.  We watched it for a hour, taking photos and chatting with friends as we watched.  It was nice to see so many birders having a good time.  Finally I went back to the car, drove it back to the airport, checked it in, and went to the terminal.  However about that time news came in that a La Sagra's Flycatcher had appeared at Bill Baggs Park in Miami FL. guessed it!  I changed my flight home and instead took a flight to Fort Lauderdale.  I'm in my Motel 6 (I got the last room) where I'll get set for a successful go at the dreaded LaSagra's tomorrow.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Home then Back to the Chase

I did indeed fly back to Norfolk arriving late Thursday night.  I got a great night's sleep in my own bed.  Got up this morning, made coffee, filled the bird feeders, and started the day's backyard list.  Joyce had an event at ODU which she was overseeing.  She stayed through another of my cups of coffee, then left.  Last night I had heard about the Baikal Teal near Phoenix, but I thought I would be going for the Northern Lapwing (net photo) in MA on my way to Newfoundland.  However, this morning Chris Hitt called telling me he had changed course last night and gone to Phoenix for the bird, and was in fact looking at it as we spoke.  That coupled with the fact that the lapwing had flown the coop, got me thinking about a change of plans.  What else have I done the last two weeks besides CHANGE PLANS.  But I had come home for a doctor's appointment that I had made from San Francisco, and I had to see what the doc would say.  He said I had at least another month to live, so I changed my Southwest flight from Manchester NH to Phoenix AZ departing at 4:30pm today.  I did a little rushing around, but I made the flight and I'm on my way to Phoenix.  Hopefully tomorrow I too will be looking at the Baikal Teal.  As always such waterfowl raise the question of from whence it came.  This bird sounds pretty good (no bands, no nail clipping, arrived at the same time of year as previouly accepted vagrants).  I saw my first Baikal Teal in China three years ago and it was a stunner.  Oh I almost forgot to tell you.  I booked a flight for a Monday departure to Newfoundland where a Northern Lapwing arrived today!!!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No Shrike in the Rain

Today was pretty much a repeat of yesterday, just with more rain.  We spent the morning watching, waiting, wiping optics, and hoping for an appearance by the Brown Shrike.  But none of the dozen birders saw any hint of a shrike.  There were some songbirds (shrike food) moving around like the Sooty Fox Sparrow (web photo), but they didn't seem to attract the attention of our wished-for bird.  Around noon we reconvened at the McDonalds to use their facitlities, get some food, and log-in to their wifi.  There wasn't any further good news about a rarity anywhere, so I continue to be on track to go home tomorrow.  However, a Black-tailed Gull was found in Newfoundland, increasing my resolve to go since there's almost always a Yellow-legged Gull there during December.  Chris on the other hand has nothing to go for, so he's planning to stay in California near an airport (San Francisco) in case a rarity is discovered somewhere requiring a flight.  He'll wait a few days until the weather in northern CA is predicted to improve and then he and Wes will try for the shrike again.
     I should have mentioned the other day that John Spahr has returned from his trip to Chile and is interested in finishing the year with some more year birds.  He presently has 694 for the year after adding Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Pink-footed Goose yesterday.  His goal is to get to 700.  Chris Hitt is also at 694, and he now has the top Lower 48 BigYear List and is working to get to 700 before the year's end.  Today is Chris's birthday.  Amazing that we have back-to-back birthdates!  To celebrate the three of us went to one of Chris's favorite Chinese restaurants in San Francisco where we had the expected wonderful meal. Wes dropped us off at our motel near the San Francisco airport and headed on home.  At the motel I've been working on the travel plans for Newfoundland.  It's not going to be cheap to get there and the weather isn't your ideal resort weather.  But you know...a year bird or two is hard to ignore.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my 72nd birthday.  It started last night when Wes picked up Chris and me at the San Francisco airport and we drove north to Ukiah CA where we checked into a motel at 1:00am, got four hours of sleep, and resumed driving, arriving in Eureka CA, the vicinity of the target bird, around 9:00am.  Eventually, there were about a dozen birders looking for the Brown Shrike, an Asian vagrant which was found a couple of weeks ago and since then has been playing peek-a-boo with those trying to see it.   When the bird has been seen, it was in bushes around a coastal pond.  We spent three plus hours searching until it began to spit rain.  We hadn't seen the bird and it was getting hungry, so we went into town to a wifi restaurant where we checked out the weather forcast and the rare bird reports and then had lunch.  After lunch, we went to the north rock jetty west of town and had a great bird show including Black Turnstones, a Wandering Tattler, Surfbirds, and a couple of Rock Sandpipers (web photo), the latter being a year bird for Chris and a state bird for me.  We also had Black and Surf Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, two Pomarine Jaegers harrassing a Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murres, Pacific Loons, Western Grebes, and Herring, California, Western, Ring-billed, and Glaucous-winged Gulls.  After the rock jetty, we decided to get motel rooms and try to catch up on some rest.
     I have decided as a birthday present to me to take the two splits which ABA has sanctified this year.  As most of you already know those are Pacific Wren (from Winter Wren) and Mexican Whip-poor-will (from Whip-poor-will).  I have gotten both of those birds earlier in the year and ABA Big Year rules allow splits during a year to be counted.  I was going to wait until the end of the year to add them, but my birthday seems an appropriate time to bring them in.  That's the reason my total has jumped two birds without my getting any new ones today.  With that addition I am now tied with Lynn Barber for the third highest all-time Big Year list total.  I need four more to reach second.  First is totally out of the question.
     The weather is questionable for tomorrow, so we'll just have to see what it looks like in the morning.  If it's not raining, we'll probably go look for the Brown Shrike again.  If it is, we'll head south and get positioned for another attempt at flying home.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Streaked-backed Oriole

After a motel breakfast, Chris and I headed out of Phoenix toward Yuma.  It took a bit less than three hours to get to Tacna AZ, turning north and then west to reach the grove of trees surrounding a pair of houses associated with the large agricultural fields in the area.  When we stepped out of the car, we knew immediately what we were up against.  The wind was blowing about 15-20 mph.  You couldn't hear anything and the birds were hunkered down.  We spent about three hours walking up and down the road checking out the trees, bushes, and thickets alongside.  We did see several of the birds characteristic of southern AZ like Crissal and Curve-billed Thrashers, Abert's Towhee, Gambel Quail, Vermilion Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker, Verdin, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  But nothing like an oriole appeared.  So we hopped into the car and drove back to the interstate which brought us closer to food and to an internet connection.  We cancelled our previously reserved trip to San Francisco so we could spend the afternoon looking for the bird without the worry of getting back to Phoenix for a flight.  After lunch, we went back to the ranch where Ericka Wilson and two friends were looking for the oriole.  So we all looked together while I caught up on Erika's news.  An hour and a half didn't produce the oriole, so Erika's group left intending to return tomorrow.  Shortly after they left, the owner of the house invited us into her yard.  We started carefully worked the southern edge.  In a non-windy interlude we heard an oriole-like chatter which froze us on the spot.  Directly in front of us was a pomegranite bush with fruit.  The call had come from there.  We inched up and took up positions on opposite sides of the bush.  I squeaked and out popped the oriole.  "I've got it!"  Chris raced over and after some initial frustration got to see the bird.  I managed a couple of pics (photo).  We called Erika to tell her the oriole had shown up.  I called Paul Lehman to thank him for finding the bird and for calling me.  Erika and friends returned and we showed them where the bird was, but it had become a supreme skulker and was staying hidden in the interior of the bush.  We left them to get the bird and drove back to Phoenix.  Along the way I made new airline reservations to fly home tomorrow.  But at a stop at McDonald's for coffee and wifi, we discovered that the Northern Lapwing had gone missing for the day, but the Brown Shrike had been seen.   Chris and I discussed what to do and finally decided to rebook a flight to San Francisco for tonight where Wes Fritz would pick us up and we would go for the Brown Shrike tomorrow.  We made it back to the airport in time to turn in the car and get checked in for our flight.  Tomorrow, we'll be in Northern California trying to get the shrike before the weather gets foul.
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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tufted Flycatcher at Big Bend TX

The hotel shuttle bus took me to the Baltimore airport at noon Saturday, and I sat around watching families head home.  Although flights were delayed, mine to Albuquerque NM and then to Midland TX were right on time.  In Midland I met Chris Hitt at baggage claim.  He had been waiting for hours, had watched several football games, and had already gotten the rental car. So we loaded up and took off about 10pm.  About twenty miles down the road, it was apparent the car had a flat tire.  We stopped, I changed it (in the dark!), and we took the car back to the airport for a replacement.  Back on the road, we grabbed a McDonald's snack and drove the two hours to Fort Stockton where we spent a few, too few, hours asleep in a motel.  At 5:40am we arose, showered, grabbed some breakfast in the motel lobby, and began the drive to Big Bend NP.  We had almost arrived at the flycatcheer spot when we were stopped by the park police for speeding.  Trying to explain how our excitement had pushed the pedal a bit too much really didn't sell.  But, when we finally were able to check yesterday's flycatcher location, we found Jay Hand in place trying to photograph the bird.  We were ecstatic.  I took plenty of pictures, two of which are posted here (photos).  The bird was calling and doing sorties from a variety of perches, finally settling for a large cottonwood with plenty of little twigs upon which to perch and be photographed.  We birded around the area and then headed back to Midland where we booked a flight to Phoenix to look for the Streak-backed Oriole near Wellton AZ tomorrow.  The internet told us the oriole was seen today, so we're hopeful of seeing it tomorrow.  In addition the Brown Shrike in Northern California was re-seen and a Northern Lapwing was discovered near Storrs CT.  There doesn't seem to be a shortage of birds to chase at present.  Ah, the challenging life of a Big Year birder.
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Friday, November 26, 2010

She's a Beautiful Lady

It took two hours but she finally put in an appearance.  If you've followed this blog, you know that I've looked for a White-winged Crossbill in Colorado, Alaska (three times), New Brunswick, and New Hampshire with no success.  Over a week ago this female appeared at a Juniata County PA bird feeder and I got wind of it through the state listserve.  She then flew into a window and developed a bump on her head and a bum wing.  However, being the resilient soul she is, she righted herself and hung on for over a week just so we (Joyce and I) could see her, and she seems to be doing very well at present.  She was visiting feeders at the Lost Creek Shoe Shop in Oakland Hills PA.  It's a store run by an Amish family.  They also do shoe repairs including putting new Vibram souls on hiking boots.  We waited an hour in the store watching their feeders through the windows with no luck.  Then better news!  The wife and mom of the operation returned from their house across the street to tell us that the bird was feeding at the feeders at the house.  We went there only to miss the crossbill by a minute.  So we sat and chatted with Aden Trayer, the former store owner, recently "retired," who is quite a birder and has traveled to Churchill.   We traded Churchill stories while we waited for the bird's arrival.  After almost exactly another hour had passed, she came in to her favorite feeder.  I got a reasonable picture (photo) although she stayed on the shady side of the feeder.  After chalking up yearbird #719, we went back to the store and bought some bird related items to take with us.  Aden also sells optics, as in Swarovski, Leica, Zeiss, etc.  He showed me some of his wares, and I priced a new scope.  But I also found out it he takes in trades including scopes.  I told him I'd get back to him when I was ready to buy my replacement scope.  Joyce and I then took his lunch recommendation and went to the Bread of Life in McAlisterville.  During lunch I checked emails, NARBA, and listserves on my netbook, and found that the Tufted Flycatcher at Big Bend NP had been seen well this morning.  Using the netbook, I got an airline ticket to Midland TX for tomorrow to give the flycatcher a try.  I also made reservations for a BWI airport motel so Joyce and I could spend another evening together before parting ways again.  And another chase is on.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Long Beach Redux

I spent a day and a half in the area of Long Beach where the Black-tailed Gull had been seen most of the day on Sunday.  We did see a nice variety of water birds around the cove like the Western Grebe (photo) and Heerman's Gull (photo), but not the gull we were seeking.  Outlying areas were also checked by astute observers with the same negative result.  Nobody knows where the gull goes when it's not in the cove.  About noon on the second day I left to drive back to LAX where I boarded a plane and headed for home.  I got back to Norfolk about midnight and retrieved my duffel which had come to Norfolk on Sunday without me while I went to CA.  During the day there had been no news from Northern California about refinding the Brown Shrike, but when I arrived in Chicago, word came in that a Tufted Flycatcher had been found in Big Bend NP TX.  As you probably know Big Bend is one of the more difficult places to get to, so I want to be somewhat certain the bird is still there before flying in to Midland and driving to the park.  I'll keep my ear to the ground and follow the news.  Meanwhile I'll let Thanksgiving happen at Joyce's daughter's house in MD.
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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Going Home, but not Directly

I was heading home to spend some time with Joyce.  At least that's what I thought when I got up this morning.  But when I read my email and found out that the Black-tailed Gull had been seen again in Long Beach, I wasn't so sure.  It did give me something to think about during the drive with Denny to the airport in Manchester NH.  The checkin for my flight to Norfolk was very quick and easy.  During my wait for the plane to board, there was a call for volunteers to give up their seats since the flight was overbooked.  I volunteered, but when the boarding process began, the agent told me that there were some no-shows and my seat wouldn't be needed.  So I boarded when my time came.  I was two-thirds the way down the ramp to the plane when I heard my name called.  A couple of late-comers needed my seat if I still wanted to give it up.  I did, and took the bump for which I picked up $457 to be used to pay for future flights.  My new flight to Norfolk left only forty minutes later, going through Chicago instead of Baltimore.  On that flight I sat next to a freshman at St. Paul School in Concord who introduced herself to me as Hannah.  She was lovely.  I told her I had been born about fifty years too early.  She giggled.  When I got to Chicago, I changed my mind about going home and booked a flight from there to Los Angeles to go for the gull.  When I got to Denver, an intermediate stop, a phone message told me that a Brown Shrike had been found in Humboldt County CA.  Another bird on the radar.  As the plane touched down in LA, it was clear there wouldn't be enough light to see the gull today, so I slowed down a little.  I picked up my rental car just as I got a call from Chris Hitt saying that the shrike had disappeared.  So take a bird off the radar for the moment.  Once inside my rental car I set the GPS for the Long Beach gull location and queried it for the location of a nearby motel.  Guess what!  There was a Motel 6 only 1.5 miles from the gull site.  Sounds like it was meant to be.  I drove there, checked in, and walked across the street to a nice Thai restaurant where I had a spicy scallop dish.  Now, will the Black-tailed Gull give me an audience tomorrow or the cold shoulder?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

White-winged Crossbills - Not

Denny's neighbor called at 8:25am.  The crossbills were at her feeders.  We got over there in less than three minutes, but there were no crossbills.  We waited for an hour for them to return, but they didn't.  We adjourned for breakfast and returned to sit in the car in their driveway where we had an excellent view of the feeders.  Still no crossbills.  We walked the neighborhood streets, listening and looking, but no luck there either.  One more hour in their kitchen watching the feeders, again with no luck.  Denny and I began to think that something wasn't quite right.  Our feeling is that after the initial verification last Saturday, the reports from the nieghbor were not necessarily of crossbills, but perhaps goldfinches with their strong wingbars.  So something that seemed like such a slam-dunk turned out not to be.  Ah, that's birding.  In the evening Denny, his wife Terry, and I went to a nice restaurant, The Barn, in York ME to celebrate Terry's birthday.  It was a delightful meal.  When I got back to Denny's, I packed up my stuff for the flight home tomorrow.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fork-tailed Flycatcher

Up at 4am in San Antonio and off to the airport for my check-in with Southwest Airlines.  I swore the whole way there at having to be there at such an early hour, but later when I learned that security had become hopelessly clogged and bogged down to the point that our plane had to wait a half hour for our last passenger to board, I was relieved.  It was much better to be sitting on the plane, working a crossword puzzle and nodding off, than swearing my way through the TSA lines.  On to Chicago and thence on to Hartford where Denny Abbott and Davis Finch were waiting to tell me they had already seen the Fork-tailed Flycatcher earlier today.  I followed them to their car, and we all motored to Stamford CT and Cove Island Park where the flycatcher was still amazing birdwatchers.  We watched it and photographed it at a distance (photo) for about an hour and then headed back to NH in a vain effort to get ahead of the commuter traffic.  Alas, we were instead in the thick of it.  Pausing only momentarily to gas up, we soldiered on until hunger pangs forced us off the road at the same Cracker Barrel at which Denny and I had mourned the loss of my scope last month.  A nice, if unexciting meal was had by all.  Then onward, dropping Davis off at his house and driving on to Denny's home where I cancelled my flight to FL for tomorrow awaiting better news on the Thick-billed Vireo.  But wait!..... there are crossbills just across the street.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Crimson-collared Grosbeak

It was really difficult to contain my excitement this morning.  I had made arrangements to visit Allen Williams at his home in Pharr.  He had reported a Crimson-collared Grosbeak a couple of days ago, and since the other grosbeak which had been reported at Valley Nature Center wasn't seen yesterday, I decided to look for the bird with Allen at his place.  After a mistake with his address and a follow-up call to Allen, I finally parked the car and walked into his yard.  His wife popped out of the house and the three of us chatted for a bit about how putting in native plants on their property had blossomed (?) into a full-time business in the Valley.  He took me on a tour of the property, a little over three acres.  All the while the two of us were listening for the up-down call note of the grosbeak.  We saw a Clay-colored Thrush (lower photo) which used to be a very rare bird, but has now become a regular breeder in the Valley.  A Curve-billed Thrasher hopped into the birdbath.  A Kiskadee called.  After our walk during which he put fresh fruit out on tree snags, we separated, he going toward the front yard while I stayed in the back.  Finally Allen called, I heard the call note, and the bird flew into a tree next to me where I was able to get a recognizable image (photo, manual focus) for the record.  In the photo the bird is chewing on a leaf.  Yum!  I hung around in the hopes I might get a better one.  But aside from another brief good look at the bird, another photo-op didn't materialize.  I left Allen to get on with his work and drove to Denny's where I had a nice breakfast, and used their wifi to catch up on the day's bird happenings.  Which were - the Fork-tailed Flycatcher in CT was seen today and the Thick-billed Vireo in FL was seen again and verified.  The chase is still on.
I had much of the day left to bird so I drove to NABA's Butterfly Park near Bentsen SP where a Rufous-backed Thrush had been found.  Although it was seen today by a staff member, it didn't come to the birdbath as hoped while I was there.  I did see some nice birds and the mix sort of reminded me of a good Christmas Bird Count up north on steroids.  Lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Orange-crowned Warblers, many Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos, House Wrens.  You get the picture.  There were, of course, some Valley specialties such as Olive Sparrow, Long-billed Thrasher, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Great Kiskadee, Black-crested Titmouse, and Green Jays.  And, oh yes, the butterflies!  They were unbelievable, colorful, varied, and plentiful.  I got a lifer with the appearance of a Tropical Leafwing.  I also ID'ed one a Comma only to find that Comma's don't occur in the Valley.  Ah me!
So now I'm in the Harlingen airport waiting for my flight to San Antonio which is already an hour late.  When I get to San Antonio, I'll try to get a good night's sleep before my early departure tomorrow to meet up with the intrepid Mr. Abbott in CT.  May the Fork-tailed Flycatcher be there tomorrow afternoon.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Change of Plans

Normally not much happens on a travel day.  And for the first half of today that was true.  But when I arrived in San Antonio from San Diego, I had three phone messages which told me that there was a Fork-tailed Flycatcher in CT and a possible Thick-billed Vireo in FL.  At that point I was on my way to the Rio Grande Valley to try for the Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and I decided to continue on that path.  But I changed my return flight from Harlingen TX to Hartford CT instead of Norfolk VA, so I can try for the flycatcher on Friday afternoon.  I'm holding on plans for the vireo until it is confirmed and it's relocatable (yes, that's a word!).  In Hartford my New England companion Denny Abbott will meet me and we'll go to Stamford where the flycatcher was discovered.  Denny is going to try for that bird tomorrow.  After a hit or miss on the flycatcher, I'll return with Denny to NH where I hope to see the White-winged Crossbills which have been coming to his neighbor's feeder ever since the day after we returned from our Maritime trip.  But let's not get too distracted from the current main course.  Tomorrow is grosbeak day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Salton Sea

I was in place this morning way too early; I didn't want to miss seeing the goose fly in.  But I wasn't the first to be there.  Another car with a single occupant was already parked there with its brake lights on because the driver's foot was on the brake pedal.  I waited awhile then got out and listened to the sounds of the morning - the coyotes, all the geese quietly murmuring, a few Sandhill Cranes calling.  And all the while it was getting lighter and Venus was fading away.  Another car drove up and thedriver of the first car, Richard Messenger, a self-proclaimed nomad who had broken away from the r/v park in Arizona where  he hosts, got out and introduced himself.  The recent arrival was Kim Kuska from San Mateo.  We all enjoyed the dawning together.  A few geese were getting up and flying around, but not the one we were inteerested in.  At about 6:22am Kim saw a single large dark goose flying toward us above the Snows and Ross's Geese that were beginning to move from a pond to fields to feed.  The bird got closer, and then turned to the east (photo) and landed in a field where he was the only goose.  Those with scopes trained them on the bird and confirmed that it was indeed the Taiga Bean-Goose.  The long sloping bill with its characteristic pale band was easily seen as was the long thin neck, brown back, and orange feet.  The head and neck profile is very swan-like.  There were high-fives all around.  A new year bird and an ABA bird.  A group of three Greater White-fronted Geese joined the bean-goose.  After we enjoyed several minutes watching the bird, it began to disappear into the grasses among which it was feeding.  About that time a carload of four young birders arrived from Phoenix.  It took a little patience but they all finally got to see it.  It provided some espcially great looks after a harrier flew over the field and the goose walked up onto a little mound.  In addition to the geese mentioned, we saw Brant, Cackling Geese, and the blue phase Ross's Goose which had been reported.  The other photo is of a Loggehead Shrike that took to posing on a sign post which someone had used to display a glove somebody had lost.
About 9:00am I headed toward  Long Beach to look for the Black-tailed Gull which was found last week, but which had not been regularly seen for several days.  I had a little trouble finding the location, but when I did, it turned out to be a pretty neat place.  I did see gulls (Western, Ring-billed, California, and Heerman's), but not the sought-after Black-tailed.  There were also Marbled Godwits, Willets, Black-bellied Plovers, a Sanderling, Eared and Western Grebes.  After a couple of hours of wandering around the area and convincing myself the gull wasn't there, I drove back to San Diego and got things together to fly tomorrow to Texas, where I hope to find one of the Crimson-collared Grosbeaks that have been reported recently.  Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Florida Pelagic

 I was home from Canada for less than a day.  I had arranged to go on a pelagic trip out of New Smyrna Beach FL in the chance that maybe I could snag a tropicbird.  Odds were not good, but there was at least a possibility.  Go, and you have a chance; don't go and you definitely don't.  Yesterday I flew into Orlando, the gateway to Disney World and the capitol of airline travel for youngsters.  My rental car was a Ford Fusion, fully loaded, classed as a compact.  It's a nice car.  My motel was a mom-and-pop operation, my room was fine, and it was cheap.  I ate at a family restaurant nearby and hit the hay to get a good night's sleep.
The pelagic trip left at 6:00am aboard a 100ft aluminum boat.  It took a little while to get out of the inlet, but the weather was great and the winds were down.  The swells were as high as 12 feet, but the interval was longish so it wasn't bad  The forecast a week ago would have forced a cancellation.  Highlights included a great Pomarine Jaeger show; Cory's, Great (photo), and Manx Shearwaters; Bridled, Sooty, Sandwich, Royal and Common Terns; frigatebirds (photo); Black-capped Petrels.  But no tropicbirds.  Tomorrow I fly to San Diego and drive to the Salton Sea to look for the Tiaga Bean-Goose.Posted by Picasa

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Day on Prince Edward Island

Denny and I spent the entire day with Dwaine Oakley, the premier birder on PEI.  He tried his darndest to get us the crossbill and partridge, but it was not to be.  We did, however, witness my first Dovekie crash, a total of ten birds in over land, or on small bodies of water, or trying to evade the swooping pursuit by a Common Raven.  We did have some Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins, and a flock of well over a hundred Bohemian Waxwings (photo).  We had a fine day with Dwaine and did pass Green Gables, the literary location for which the island is famous.  We drove west reaching Calais ME before stopping for the night.  These posts are late because I'm waiting to reach the US where my wireless connection yields cheaper data transfer rates.
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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Better Photos of the Pink-footed Goose

Denny and I returned to the field with the Pink-footed Goose and I was able to get better photos.  The lower one shows his namesakes and the upper shows, through the riffled feathers, the extent of the wind.  Please do not underestimate the strength of this storm; it was a monster.  We were indeed pleased to get these two rare geese, although it is probable that the storm helped keep them in position.  After the photo session , we drove onto Prince Edward Island, a Canadian province I had never visited.  We tried a couple of areas which had been suggested but we had no luck with either the crossbill or the partridge.  We spent the night in Souris.
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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Two Geese Are Better Than One

It was fine weather for ducks or rather geese, but awful for the rest of us.  It wasn't too bad as we headed east from Calais ME and into Canada.  But as we got to eastern New Brunswick the wind was howling from the northeast and the rain was pounding down.  It took about three hours of tough driving to get to the area where the Pink-footed Goose had been seen.  The goose was found a couple of weeks ago by Stu Tingley who since then has kept track of its whereabouts.  A phone call from Stu recommended that since he hadn't found the Pinkfoot yet, we should go for the Graylag Goose.  We followed his suggestion and were half-way to  Truro NS when he called again to say that he had re-found the goose.  We elected to keep going to Nova Scotia and return to New Brunswick after we had tried for the graylag.  I called Eric Mills who had found the graylag originally and who had also been with John and me on Gambell this fall.  He related that two birders were currently looking at that goose and gave me the new location and also the phone number of Ian MacLaren, one of the birders at the goose spot.  I called Ian who updated the directions, but said he would not be able to stay until we arrived.  We got there a little over an hour later and found the flock of geese.  Shortly thereafter I spotted the Graylag Goose and was able to get a photo (lower) even though the conditions were terrible.  After thanking the homeowner who had graciously allowed us to view the geese from his yard, we headed back to New Brunswick.  I thanked Eric and Ian by phone for their help with seeing the graylag.  After a couple more hours of driving in intensely bad weather we reached the area of the pinkfoot and called Stu who told us where he had last seen the goose.  When we arrived at the spot, we found the goose, but the photographic conditions were even worse than they had been for the graylag.  However, I have posted an image (upper photo) and tomorrow we will return and try to get a better picture.  After that, if the weather is reasonable, we will probably go to Prince Edward Island to look for crossbills and partridges.  The two geese bring the year's list total to 715.
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