Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Connecticut Warbler

The alarm went off at 5:00am right on schedule.  It took a little effort, but we all made it up and out in relattively little time.  We returned to the area where yesterday we cruised listening for Connecticut Warbler with no luck.  We hoped that today would be differennt.  For the first hour or so it was the same - no warbler.  However, we revisited our first place of the morning and this time the warbler sang.  We actually got to see it pretty well (web photo).  Buoyed by this success we visited a boggy spot which supposedly holds Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, but we couldn't find one.  After breakfast we tried a couple of other spots with similar success.  At Seney NWR we walked the nature trail and checked with the staff about sightings of the flycatcher and the Yellow Rail.  We checked into a nearby motel, snoozed a bit, and got ready for dinner.  The restaurant was one-third of a building, the other parts being a bank and the post office.  It took awhile, but we didn't have anywhere to go really.  After dinner, we drove some roads but the sun was in our eyes most of the way so we gave it up and went to Seney where we drove the wildlife loop again, clicking rocks for the Yellow Rail.  No rail responded, so we went back to the motel and crashed.  Tomorrow we look for the Spruce Grouse.

A Good Day in Michigan

It was an early start, about 5:00am to be inexact.  The four of us (Dave, Calvin, John, and I) assembled at the car ready for Calvin to show us the birds we needed in the Grayling area.  We made a quick stop for coffee and rolls.  The first target was the Kirtland's Warbler (web photo) which we found near Stephan Bridge Rd, the location where I saw my lifer over forty years ago.  Today we heard as many as 8 of these splendid birds in a christmas tree-like forest of jack pine.  We got excellent looks at a couple of the birds including one that teed up in a dead snag.  Then it was on to the Fletcher grassland where we had no more than stepped out of the car when we heard both Upland Sandpiper and Clay-colored Sparrow.  We had a nice walk around the grassland with many Vesper Sparrows and Field Sparrows singing.  As we were leaving the area traveling down a wooded two-track, Dave saw a young grouse scamper across the road.  We all piled out and I managed to flush the mama grouse, giving me a catchup bird as a bonus.  I celebrated by buying a round of coffee at McDonalds from where we headed back to Calvin's house.  Since Calvin remembered several thngs he had to do, he decided to stay behind while the three of us went on to the Upper Peninsula.  On to the north and over the Mackinack Bridge we entered the UP.  We reconnoitered the sites we would hit first thing tomorrow morning and headed to Paradise where we booked into Curly's Motel.  We cleaned up and went to dinner at Brown's Fish House where we all had the whitefish which was excellent.  Energized, we drove west to Seney NWR where we drove he wildlife loop twice, the second time in earnest as darkness fell in hopes of hearing Yellow Rail.  With the wind blowing a little too much, we didn't hear the rail  We'll have to try again tomorrow night.  We left the refuge at 11pm, drove back to Paradise, and hit the hay around 12:15am, having set the alarm for 5:00am to get an early start tomorrow.  The four new birds raised the total to 647.

Monday, June 28, 2010

We're in Michigan

More air travel.  Remember when flying used to be exciting and fun?  Maybe not, huh.  My two flights on Delta were a little tight.  Flying to Atlanta to fly to Detroit doesn't make sense except to the airline.  On both flights I was near the back of the plane.  Slept a bit.  Starved some.  Did one puzzle.  Finally arrived and called John's cellphone since he arrived earlier than I did.  After a couple more phone calls, we got together outside the terminal and I called Dave Johnson who had agreed to pick us up at the airport and haul us around for the week we would be in Michigan.  We headed straight away for Waterloo SRA where I had been given a location for Henslow's Sparrow by Allen Chartier.  When we drove up to the parking lot near the church, the wind was blowing.  Out of the car I thought I heard the call, but we needed to get a bit closer.  We waded into the mixed grass and the call became more distinct.  John played the call and the bird came zipping right in.  Once again I had left the camera in the car in my haste to get to the bird, so the image is a web photo.  From there we went to a couple of sites for Blue-winged Warbler, but they had grown up and we got no action.  At the last place Dave suggested we move down the road which looked a little more open.  We did and after a few minutes, a beautiful male Blue-winged Warbler came in.  To celebrate we went to McDonalds where I got a large coffee.  Fully satisfied we headed north to Grayliing where we will be staying with Calvin and Charlene Brennan tonight.  Tomorrow we go to look for the Kirtland's Warbler and a few other new birds.  Today's two new birds brought the total to 643.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Home, Briefly

Yes, I did get home! From Dallas at about 12:15pm today. Joyce picked me up at the airport, after buying a new patio furniture set, and we went back to the house where I haven’t been for exactly a month. I spent the day reorganizing for the trip to Michigan tomorrow, made a few arrangements for the Arizona trip to follow, and tried to keep track of the Cardinals game (they lost badly!). Joyce fixed a lovely fish dinner and we took a walk around the yard. It was still quite warm at 7:30pm. I tried to work the NY Times crossword, but my eyelids wouldn’t stay open. Even with Sunday night baseball on TV I couldn’t stay awake. I faded at about 9pm after setting the alarm for 4:30am so I could get to the airport and catch my early flight to Detroit.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

I Didn't Get Home today

I'm writing this posting from Dallas.  That's as close to home as I could get.  And how did that happen, you ask?  Well, pull up a chair and I'll tell you.  As you'll recall John left for the airport to catch an early flight home.  When I arose, I showered, packed, grabbed a cup of coffee, and checked out of our motel.  I found out the way to get to the car rental return.  I needed to get the car back to Budget at the time I had said I would.  Remember, they threatened to penalize me if I returned the car early.  Specifics of the penalty weren't available, however.  I dropped it off right on time.  I hauled my stuff up to the airtrain and took it around to the American Airlines terminal where I found that American had cancelled a 9:30 flight and a couple hundred people were trying to rebook.  When I snaked my way to the check-in kiosk, I discovered that my flight had been moved up an hour and a half!!!  And my seat had already been given away.  As far as I'm aware, I never got any notification of this huge time change from either American or Travelocity.  BTW our motel reservation for last night was made through Travelocity.  The motel had no record of the reservation.  The motel staff worked hard to make certain there wouldn't be a double credit card charge. Anyway after learning the not-so-good news, I was directed to that other line with all the people rebooking.  Eventually I made it up to the counter and was told that I wouldn't get home tonight and I'd have to go standby which is what I did.  To do so I had to check my bag which would make the next flight even if I didn't, which is exactly what happened.  So American bumped me up to the next Dallas flight as a standby.  I waited two hours until the next flight boarded and thankfully I made that flight as a standby.  Nice flight to Dallas where I picked up my bag that beat me to Dallas by two hours and hauled it to a ticket counter nearby.  I was placed on the first Norfolk flight tomorrow (as the first standby) and received a sort-of boarding pass with no seat assignment.  But I had to wait until tomorrow to check my bag.  The agent then offered to arrange a Super 8 motel room for me at a low rate and she called their courtesy van to come get me.  I thanked them, but I had to wait more than half and hour for the van, but then I found out why - it took about that time to return to the motel.  The Cards won today and the USA soccer team didn't.  No new birds.  I hope I write the next blog from Norfolk.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Offshore from Monterey

Monterey is a well-known Calfiornia location to many people.  Certainly golf tournaments at Pebble Beach is one such reason.  But to birdwatchers it is the chance to go offshore on one of Debi Shearwater's many birdwatching pelagic trips.  Today John and I were on such a trip.  Greg Miller, one of the big year trio from a few years back, was also on board.  I had a nice chat with him about our hits and misses.  He was very encouraging about our chances of ending up with a good year's list.  Our current pace is ahead of his during his big year.  The boat ended up about 30 miles offshore where we reached the 1500 fathom line and some warmer water.  At the start of the trip in the harbor we had many Brandt's Cormorants (some on nests), Heerman's Gulls, plenty of Western Gulls, and Pigeon Guillemots.  A few of those cute Sea Otters, too.  Along the way out we saw several Black-footed Albatrosses (photo), Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Northern Fulmars, Cassin's and Rhonoceros Auklets, Xantu's Murrelets. and couple Common Murres.  We also saw Fin and Humpback Whales, Northern Right-whales, Risso's, and Pacific Whitesided Dolphins, and Doll's Porpoise.  But the highlight for us occurred when a succession of three South Polar Skuas arrived at the boat, all of whom had missing primaries (photo).  At times all three were in view at once.  The boat ride back to port brought more auklets and a nice string of Sooty Shearwaters working the submarine canyon at the mouth of Monterey Bay.  Once on shore we found our car and pointed it toward San Francisco airport where our motel for the night was located.  Dinner was at an IHOP next door.  Tomorrow John and fly home but at different times.  The skua brought the list total to 641.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bears Can Move

We drove from Fresno up into Sequoia NP to see the giant redwoods.  There are two redwoods: the coastal redwood (sequoia sempervirens) which we saw during our visit to the north coast of California  - one is the tallest tree on earth; and the giant redwoods (sequoia gigantea) which are bulkier although also quite tall.  There are several groves of these giants in the park and we saw many good examples.  We also walked a trail in the are near the General Sherman tree.  During that walk we spotted a Black Bear (really cinnamon colored) munching on aquatic vegetation in a meadow (photo).  We kept walking along the trail above the meadow until we were quite near to the bear.  I took some pictures.  Finally the bear noticed us and raced out of the water and up the slope ahead of us.  At that point he wasn't sure what we were, and since we were downwind from him, he couldn't smell us.  So he came closer for a better smell (photo).  And closer.  And closer.  At that point we slowly backed away until we were out of his sight.  He didn't follow any closer and we were relieved.  We visited the Sherman tree along with a large number of other people.  Finally it was time to leave the mountains without so much as a sniffle from any grouse.  However, construction again slowed our progress and it took a long time to get out of the park.  We set the gps for Monterey since we are scheduled to go on a pelagic trip there tomorrow.  We checked in to the motel I had reserved on line only to find that a Motel 6 was right down the street, a veritable motel row.  We drove to the waterfront and checked out the location of the parking lot and boat area for tomorrow.  We found a grocery for supplies.  Then it was time for a wonderful meal on Fisherman's Wharf.  No new birds today.  Off to bed for a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Yosemite National Park

John and I spent most of the day in Yosemite NP, one of the places in this world that I consider among the most beautiful.  John had never been there, so I took it upon myself to give him the whirlwind tour.  We did spend the morning on the Tioga Road looking for and listening for Sooty Grouse.  Alas, again in vain.  But we did see plenty of gorgeous scenery.  As we turned off the Tioga Road and passed Crane Flat there was a bear jam with everyone trying to get out of their car to see the bear.  We gave the bear a pass and instead did a loop of the Valley stopping at Curry Village for lunch and later a stop for viewing the Yosemite Falls.  I tried to find a Black Swift, but I failed.  We then drove up to Glacier Point where we viewed the Valley from above.  So far things had worked out well with respect to accommodating the notorius summer crowds in the Valley.  However, in trying to leave the park via the Wawona exit, we ran into a mess of construction, slowing us way down.  We eventually got to Fresno and found the Motel 6, cleaned up and went to an Olive Garden for dinner.  On the baseball scene the Cards won on a Carpenter shutout and the Phils won on a walkoff homer by Jimmy Rollins.  Tomorrow we'll try one last time for the Sooty Grouse in Sequoia NP.  Ned Brinkley pointed out that I hadn't listed White Wagtail as seen in the spreadsheet.  However, I had already taken it into account in the overall accounting.  So the total stays the same at 640.  Thanks anyway Ned.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

East of the Sierras in California

After a breakfast at the only eatery in Big Pine that opened early, we drove up Big Pine Creek to a grove of Jefferies Pines, those pines whose bark smells like vanilla.  This is the location where Gene Cardiff showed me my life Blue Grouse, now the Sooty Grouse.  After a brief period of re-orienting, we headed up a trail that led to a nice grove of pines.  We did some serious scanning of limbs, but no grouse was seen or heard.  We came back to town, packed up, and checked out of our motel.  We grabbed the pieces of a picnic lunch and drove east up the road to Westgard Pass.  We passed our intended stop and had to turn around and go back down the hill to Tollhouse Spring.  There was an amateur herpetolist, Gary Nafis, there who has a fine California herp website.  Gary told us he'd heard Chukars not too long before we arrived.  We told him that's why we stopped and that's what we were interested in seeing.  Very soon after, they called and it wasn't long before we had about nine birds up on the rocky hillside, calling and jumping around.  It was a welcome sight (web photo).  We then drove on up the road to the Bristlecone Pine grove and a fine view of the Sierras across the Owens Valley while we finished our picnic lunch.  Then it was on to Lee Vining, the gateway to Yosemite NP, where our early arrival there helped us secure a room for the night in this tourist spot.  After some computer work and a shower, we had dinner in one of three places to eat.  Lee Vining is also on Mono Lake, a large basin fed by fresh water, but which is losing depth through evaporation and because Los Angeles is withdrawing water at a faster pace than the replenishment rate.  We went down to the lake which is a major breeding site for California Gulls, Wilson's Phalaropes, and some Eared Grebes.  It is a major fall stopover location for over a million Eared Grebes.  Quite a spectacle!  After the sun went down, we went looking for Poorwills again.  But this time we succeeded in hearing several and seeing a couple on the road (web photo).  We headed back to the motel much happier than last night.  Tomorrow we cross through Yosemite NP looking for Sooty Grouse starting from the Tioga Pass entrance.  The two new birds today brought the total to 640.

Monday, June 21, 2010

No Snowcock and No Petrol

We were up at 3:00am and on the road to the trailhead by 3:15am.  The reason for the early start is that you need to be up at Island Lake by dawn.  We got started with the hike by 4:20am and had reached the lake by 5:30 just a bit after sunrise.  We staked a claim to a mound with good visibility and started scanning.  We had brought a scope which we used when we saw something that seemed like a possible snowcock.  John did some sorties around looking for likely feeding areas.  We ate the food we had brought.  At about 9:00 am we packed it in and headed downhill.  After reorganizing our gear, we headed back to Elko where we treated ourselves to a Starbucks and a scone.  Then it was the highway west and south toward Tonopah.  Unfortunately for us they don't put enough gas stations along Nevada highways and we ran out.  But just as fortunately a guy named Bob in a Jeep stopped to help and eventually ran John into Austin NV, got some gas, and returned to get us back on our way.  Meanwhile I watched the car and the very few vehicles that passed it.  I also watched Sage Sparrows, a Sage Thrasher, a few Western Meadowlarks, and some Horned Larks.  In Austin we filled the tank and went on to Tonopah where the recession has hit very hard.  Only one casino remains open, and that only on one leg.  There is only one open restaurant (in the casino).  But there is a McDonald's and some motels.  On to California where we made it to Big Pine, got a motel, and went out driving for Poorwill.  Alas, Poor Will was not at home.  No new birds for the day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Nevada Birding

This morning we followed the sporting goods store manager's suggestion and went to Harrison Pass, a spot he felt was good for Chukar with a chance for Gray Partridge nearby.  We made a stop on a sagebrush-lined side road and watched and listened to Brewer's Sparrows, a year bird (web photo).  The song of the Brewer's Sparrow is like that of a canary with a lot of trills and buzzes, and it can go on for a long time.  Along the way to the pass we scanned some irrugated fields that held Bobolinks which we found unusual.  Indeed the range map shows there is a population in northern Nevada.  At the pass which had no conifers we had great looks at Lewis's Woodpeckers, winnowing snipe, Green-tailed Towhee, and more Brewer's Sparrows, but no Chukars or partridge.  We ventured down the east side of the pass toward Ruby Lake NWR, but then decided to go to Lamoille Canyon again and do a trial run up to Island Lake to see what the conditions were like for getting to the place to look for snowcock.  We reversed direction and when we got to the trail head, we fixed a couple of light packs and started up.  The trail was pretty easy although the altitude was about 6000'.  We met a family coming down the trail, so we inquired about the trail's condition.  We were told it was not bad and there was little snow on the trail until the lake.  So we pocketed those words, turned around, saving our energy for the morning's hike.  Back in Elko we had Chinese food and hit the hay.  Tomorrow would start early.  The one new bird today raised the total to 638.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

No Black Rail (again); On to Nevada

When the alarm went off, I got up and went with John to try again for the Black Rail.  It was about an hour drive to get there and about a half-hour to convince us that the rail would again not call for us.  Another hour later we were back in Auburn and ready for a Denny's breakfast.  Auburn is right on I-80.  So after checking out of the motel we headed east into Nevada setting the gps for Elko, the nearest town to the Ruby Mountains, home of the transplanted Himalayan Snockcocks.  I was going to go for the snowcocks in August, but since target birds have been falling at a faster-than-expected pace, we have some time to try for it now.  Crossing Nevada is an education in habitat.  What makes it unique is it's part of the Great Basin, a section of our country from which no water drains.  That's right!  It's a basin with no drain.  There are rivers, but they all end up in salt pans or dry lakes.  For example, the Humboldt River across northern Nevada flows west into the Humboldt Sink.  The snow melt from the mountains provides the water and some of the rivers flow all year.  The sinks, while they have water, are nesting places for avocets (web photo) and stilts and other water-related birds.  When we arrived in Elko, we went to a local outdoors store to get some information.  We were told that finding Chukars and Gray Partridges was easy, but the late snows had made it impossible to get to the snowcock habitat.  We were excited about the two species and not totally disheartened by the news about the snowcocks.  Next we tried to find a motel room, but a motorcycle rodeo was in progress and no motel rooms were available.  When we checked at the Motel 6, we were told that they would be releasing all non-guaranteed reservations at 6:00 (what other time would it be for a Motel 6!) and the desk clerk volunteered to take our name and call us if a room opened up.  So we went off birding in Lamoille (pronounced lam-oil by the locals) Canyon where the trail head for the hike to Island Lake, where most people see the snowcocks, is located.  The snow conditions didn't look too bad, so we decided to bird for the Chukar and partridge tomorrow and save the snowcock climb until Monday.  It was about then that the motel clerk called saying we had a room.  We got situated in our room, and went to dinner at a casino, of which there are several in Elko.  It was reasonable food, but the casino didn't seem very busy.  Maybe bikers aren't big gamblers.  The absence of gamblers may explain why Nevada currently has the highest unemployment rate in the nation.  No new birds for our big travel day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Down from Yuba Pass and up Mosquito Ridge

The return to Yuba Pass netted pretty much the same birds as last night....unfortunately, meaning that no Sooty Grouse was heard or seen.  We did run into a squad of Purple Finches feeding on some seed that a photographer, who was camping at the pass, had scattered to lure subjects for his images.  The Purple Finches were in addition to the Cassin's Finches, giving us a great chance to compare their bubbly songs.  I know you'll all recall that Purple Finch sounds like Warbling Vireo and visa versa.  The Cassin's seems to have a few harsh tags that it adds...but not always.  After the nice birdwalk at the pass, we dropped down the mountain to Bassetts where we had noticed a number of hummingbird feeders at a hotel.  Three of the feeders were occupied by Calliope Hummingbirds, two males and a female.  Caching!!  Another year bird.  On down the mountain to our motel where we had breakfast and checked out.  We headed toward Auburn where there is a nearby site for Black Rail, which John still needs.  Although it was the middle of the day, we thought we'd give it a try.  At least we'd check it out for a run tomorrow morning.  It turned out to be a beaver-impounded wet spot, but the rail didn't call for us.  Our motel for the night was in Auburn and we used the time from our early check-in to finalize some future plans.  For dinner we picked up some sandwiches and headed up to Mosquito Ridge where we picnicked on sandwiches and the mosquitoes fed on us.  Yes, Mosquito Ridge was true to its name.  Our target was Flammulated Owl and as soon as it got dark enough, we played the call and got an answer.  We lured it in closer and closer, but couldn't get a light on it.  John couldn't count it for a lifer, but it did count for the yearlist.  We got back to the motel after 11pm.  I thought I might let John go back for the Black Rail alone.  But I decided to defer the decision until the morning.  The two new birds brought the year's list to 637.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lassen National Park to Yuba Pass

I had never been to Lassen National Park, so I chose to go there for some of the higher elevation western breeding birds.  By the time we got there, we had in fact seen most of those we needed, but a key one left was the Black-backed Woodpecker. Until Mt. St. Helens blew her lid, Lassen Peak was the last volcanic activity in the continental USA.  We got to the park early on a beautiful day only to find that the road through the park was closed at the higher altitudes.  But the first ten miles were open so we started out.  We hadn't gone very far before we found the empidonax that we needed, the Dusky Flycatcher.  It's quite similar to the Hammond's Flycatcher we tallied yesterday.  So we spent time looking at a few and listening to their songs and calls and added it to the list.  I actually think it's easier to tell apart by sight than by using their songs.  The call notes, howwever, are easier to distinguish.  And yes, we did see and hear several Mountain Quail!  On down the road we worked our way through and around the campground at Crags.  The campgound was closed and there were very few people in the park at all, so we felt we had the place to ourselves.  We meandered over to an adjacent burn area where several woodpeckers were calling.  Suddenly a woodpecker flew into the burnt tree directly in front of me and the chase was over (web photo).  Moments later a female joined him and it was a grand sight.  We went onward and upward to the highest place we could visit where we encountered American Dippers and Clark's Nutcrackers.  Then we high-tailed it east nearly to the Nevada border before turning toward Yuba Pass.  At 6701 feet it's not the highest, but it is an interesting place.  The Golden Gate Audubon Society was there on a field trip and they told us what they had seen.  A couple of their people had heard Sooty Grouse, a key bird for us.  So we decided to overnight in Sierra City and return early tomorrow morning to give the grouse a try.  The two new birds brought the total to 635.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Leaving Coastal Northern California

The murrelets were flying.  We were in place at Prairie Creek SP three-quarters of an hour before sunrise and they were already overhead.  At that hour they were impossible to see, but they vocalize a lot and that was a neat experience.  Clearly they come in, circle a bit, and then head off into the interior.  The parade stopped before dawn.  We went back to the motel, had breakfast, and checked out.  We headed south where we checked the harbor at Trinidad where we saw a dozen Pigeon Guillemots in their finery (including bright red feet) (web photo) along with cormorants, Western Gulls, and a couple of Caspian Terns.  With the morning still young we went up into the Trinity Alps where we drove along a nearly deserted road, stopping periodically to check out the birds.  Doing this we found Luzuli Buntings, MacGillivray's, Nashville, Hermit, and Audubon's Warblers, Warbling and Cassin's Vireos, a flock of Red Crossbills, and a couple of Hammond's Flycatchers.  We stopped for lunch in a local deli in a tiny town on the road over the mountains.  Then it was on to Redding and across to Burney Falls SP where we expected to see Black Swifts at the falls.  After much waiting, we did see a single bird that fortunately kept circling overhead which allowed a good look.  I'm guessing had we waited until sunset, we would have seen a larger group of swifts.  Anyway, one is all we need.  We're overnighting in Burney and we plan to bird Lassen Peak NP tomorrow.  The four new birds raises the total to 633.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

In the Land of the Coastal Redwoods

Last night after John's flight arrived, we collected his luggage and went to the car rental facility via the elevated train.  Although the Budget agent tried to sell us every extra he could, we managed to leave with the car we wanted in the first place.  It happened to be a Ford Focus with a trunk which seems to get about 35mpg.  We drove to Petaluma, about an hour north of San Francisco where we bedded down at a Motel 6.  This morning we breakfasted at the Denny's next door and headed north.  After an hour and a half, we stopped at a rest area, used the facilities, and then recognized a song resembling a Black-throated Green.  It was that of a Hermit Warbler although moments later we were looking at a Black-throated Gray Warbler as well, another warbler with a buzzy song similar to that of our Black-throated Green.  Onward to the north where at Arcata we turned east to Blue Lake and a walkabout which netted a Lazuli Bunting and Vaux's Swift.  There were also lots of nice western birds like Western Tanager, Bullock's Oriole, Violet-green Swallow, Cassin's Vireo, and Black-headed Grosbeak.  We went back to Arcata and north to Prairie Creek SP where we walked the trail and got a Pacific-slope Flycatcher among the huge and beautiful coastal redwoods (web photo).  Earlier on our drive north we passed through several terrific groves of these impressive trees.  Tonight we're in Orick CA and tomorrow we shall return to Prairie Creek before dawn to watch the Marbled Murrelets fly in from the sea.  The five new birds raised the total to 629.

Monday, June 14, 2010

A Full Day of Travel - to California

I left the Puffin Inn (web photo) for the last time this morning at 5:30am.  The shuttle took me to the airport where I checked my bag.  I had checked in online last night and told them I had one bag, so all I had to do at the airport was have them put the baggage tag on my bag at a special counter for just that purpose.  It was smooth.  In addition the boarding pass which I had printed out at the motel was two passes in one.  It looked sort of like an itinerary with that wiggly bar code on the edge.  Sure enough.  It worked to get me on the leg to Portland and then the continuing flight on a different plane to San Francisco.  The only bird I had for the whole day was a singing Yellow Warbler that I heard in Portand when I walked to board the plane.  Now I'm in the SFO airport waiting for John to arrive and then we'll pick up the rental car and head north to look for the remaining western breeders we still need.  Stay tuned.  Total still 624.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

No Boat Ride

We birded the bluff above Homer, Alaska, and heard and saw some good birds including Boreal Chickadee, Townsend's Warbler, and our only Alaskan Belted Kingfisher.  We didn't get any crossbills, though.  We picked up Joyce back at the motel and drove to Homer Spit (web photo) where the boat we were to take is moored.  The boat is also used as a water taxi, so it wasn't there when we arrived.  A few minutes later it chugged in and the captain informed us that it was too rough out in Kachemak Bay and the wind was rising, so the trip is cancelled.  What a big disappointment.  We had only this one day to look for murrelets and now there would be none.  We'll try to compensate at a later date.  We did a little birding in the area and left for the drive back to Anchorage.  In Anchorage Joyce and I had dinner at a local place recommended to her by her seatmate, a VP for Alaska Airlines, on the flight out to Anchorage.  It certainly was THE place to be with a truly eclectic mixture of people.  Now I'm back at the Puffin Inn and reorganizing for the California part of this trip.  I fly to San Francisco tomorrow morning and John follows a few hours later.  So stay tuned for the CA segment.  No new birds today so the total remains at 624

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Drive to Homer, Alaska

Up early, John and I took a walk along the spruce-lined gravel road leading from the lodge to the main road.  Our target, of course, was Spruce Grouse.  Again, no grouse, but we did hear the distinctive call of the Olive-sided Flycatcher, a new bird for the year.  We also heard many Alder Flycatchers and saw Boreal Chickadees and Gray Jays.  After our breakfast, we hit the road, the Glenn Highway, along which the scenery was gorgeous (photo).  In Anchorage we dropped off Nancy at the Puffin Inn and turned the car further south.  We drove around the Turnagan Arm, a spur off Cook Inlet, and onto the Kenai Peninsula.  After about four and a half hours we reached Homer, our destination.  We checked into the motel where workmen were replacing the roofing directly over our room.  We got another room.  John ate at the restaurant next door, giving Joyce and me an evening out together.  We went to the Homer spit and picked out a good restaurant where we split a  halibut meal, added an extra salad, and topped the meal off with some cheese cake.  We took a walk after dinner and watched the Black-legged Kittiwakes building nests under the pier on the girders, treating the structure just like a cliff site.  The flycatcher brought the year's list to 624.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Joyce Finds a Hawk-Owl

John and I started the day by driving the first 20 miles of the Denali Highway and back again looking primarily for Spruce Grouse which we didn’t find. We ate our breakfasts in our rooms including coffee from the coffee maker. We packed the car and set off down the Denali Highway for good. It was a beautiful drive with lots of small ponds with waterfowl including Barrow’s Goldeneye, Greater Scaup, Common Merganser, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Long-tailed Duck, Mallard, and White-winged Scoter. Warblers included Wilson’s, Orange-crowned, Yellow, Myrtle, Northern Waterthrush, and a cluster of Arctic Warblers that came in aggressively after a brief playing of their song (photo). Before we left the Denali Highway we had lunch at Maclaren Lodge where a young lady from West Virginia took care of our lunch order. At Paxson we headed south on the Richardson Highway toward Glenallen. We continued to search the tops of spruce trees for the elusive Northern Hark- Owl with no success. With similar lack of luck we scanned the airport at Glenallen for Upland Sandpipers. But we did find a small group of Bohemian Waxwings, new for the year. More good news when we stopped by the Tolsona Wilderness Campground and saw a Great Gray Owl on a nest with a growing chick (photo). From there we drove to Lake Louise (no not that Lake Louise) where our night’s lodging was located. Along the entrance road Joyce spotted a bird fly into the top of a spruce and….yes….it was a Northern Hawk-Owl (photo). I’m so proud of Joyce for finding this bird which was beginning to drive us a little nuts with the extended spruce watch. This was my first breeding season hawk-owl, all of the others being winter stake-outs in northern tier states. We checked into the lodge at the lake and went to dinner at a table with a fine lake view. We again split orders and had a nice meal. From time to time we were nuzzled by Sophie, the amiable mixed breed dog of the owners. The mosquitoes kept us from sitting on the porch and watching the boats on the lake. However, the three new birds for the year brought us joy and our total to 623 .
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Denali NP via the Green Bus

  I got up a little early and took a walk around the grounds of our motel in Cantwell, Alaska, finding mostly the usual suspects plus Swainson’s Thrush and Gray Jays. At 7:30 we all set off for the breakfast place just up the road, but it turned out not to be open as we had been informed it would be. Joyce and Nancy remembered a breakfast place a few miles up the road and we went there and indeed had a fine eggs and reindeer sausage breakfast. We also had them fix us a box lunch for our bus trip. On to Denali NP where after parking at the wrong place I finally got us to the right place to get on our bus. We got started right on time and it wasn’t long before we saw our first moose, then another (photo), plus some grizzlies (photo), and some Dall Sheep (photo). I got not-so-good pictures of most of them since we stayed on the bus and shot pics through the windows. We also got views of a Gyrfalcon on a cliff probably near a nest (photo). We rode all the way to Toklat where we wandered around for awhile and returned to the bus for the trip back. At Igloo Creek we got off and walked about four miles to the next campground where we hailed a green bus, got on, and rode back to our car. On our hike we got a Boreal Chickadee, which was new for the year. When we got to our car, we went a little way north on the Parks Highway to a commercial section where we found an open-air restaurant. Since the weather was fantastic, we sat outside and each of us split an entrĂ©e. In addition I got a chocolaty dessert and four forks. On our way back to the motel we stopped at the “229” and got some food for breakfast. After reaching the motel we took a walk along a trail on the motel property to a picnic table overlooking a stream. It was a nice little walk. I didn’t last very long when we got back to the room. The new bird brought the year’s total to 620.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

North to Denali National Park

We took our time getting going in the morning. First we had breakfast at the “Russian Tea Room” across the street. Even though the Puffin Inn offers a small breakfast, we chose to splurge at a place where fruit and yogurt were available. Then came the major step of reorganizing our stuff for the five days on the road, leaving the remainder in storage until our return to Anchorage. Finally we hit the road with John at the wheel of our rental, a boxy Ford pseudo-station wagon, heading north on the Parks Highway toward Denali NP. We made a couple of scenic stops, that included sightings of Bonaparte’s Gull, an arctic tree nester, (web photo) and Greater Yellowlegs, and a few pit stops, but we got to the park in plenty of time to arrange our bus trip for the following day. On the way back to Cantwell where our motel is located we decided to stop and have our dinner at the “229” a very fine dining experience. All of the food we were served was excellent and we topped off dinner with a fruit tart. Back at the motel we checked in and crashed. It had been a long day with no new birds.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Nome - IV

It was a bit later start today, but we were underway by 7:00. We headed west along the Teller Road. We were looking for Rock Ptarmigan which we had missed yesterday. We saw over 30 Willow Ptarmigan at the edges of the road before it began to fog up, making seeing anything at a distance difficult. But finally during a period of clearing, Sean spotted a Rock Ptarmigan sitting on a rock (what else!). We crept up on the bird taking a series of closer and closer photos (photo), finally flushing the bird off his rock. But he returned a short time after we left. Generally the male Rock Ptarmigan retains his white feathers longer than does a male Willow Ptarmigan, and the bill is smaller, something you can see rather easily. With the major target bird out of the way we enjoyed a fine day on the tundra walking on rocky hillsides where Surfbirds, Red Knots, and Wandering Tattlers nest. At the end of the road is the village of Teller where the fog parted enough to let us scan the harbor where we saw all three scoters. On the way back to Nome, we stopped at a location where Black-bellied Plovers nest. This is very near the southernmost breeding location in North America, the more characteristic locations being on the tundra of the north slope. Nearby were nesting Ruddy Turnstones. Back in Nome we repacked our stuff and drove to the airport where we checked our baggage and went to dinner where many people had halibut tempura , while some had kimchi, and others had sushi rolls. The flight to Anchorage was on time. After we arrived, John picked up the rental car and we went to the Puffin Inn to catch up on our sleep. I used the opportunity to update the blog. But it's now 1:40am and I'm going to bed. Tomorrow we drive to Denali NP. The Rock Ptarmigan brought the year's list total to 619.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 7, 2010

Nome - III

We left the house in Nome at 5:00am, our earliest start since we trekked for Dovekies at Gambell. Since Joyce and Nancy were going on a journey of their own, our smaller group fit nicely into the larger van. Our route was north up the Kougarok Road and our destination was Curlew Hill where we hoped to witness the courtship flights of Bristle-thighed Curlews. Along the way we were looking for Rock Ptarmigans. Although we saw over 20 male Willow Ptarmigans, we saw no Rocks. However, we did see some Musk Ox (photo).  We arrived at the hill at 7:20am and met the WINGS group with whom we coordinated the climb up the hill. Jon Dunn was the WINGS leader and he had seven people with him. The climb is through tussocks which are difficult to walk on. So it’s better to walk through/around them taking care not to be tripped up by them. The climb is neither particularly steep nor particularly long, about half a mile. But the tussocks make it tricky and somewhat exhausting. However, we had barely walked for five minutes when the characteristic call of the curlew was heard. Since that indicated that the birds were indeed there, it made the remainder of the climb a bit easier. Once we were all near the top we had great displays from at least one pair of curlews. I thought there was a second pair that remained over the crest of the hill. The key field marks include the peachy-colored rump, the large, golden flecks on the wings, and the buffy tone of the breast. We saw all these marks well. The curlew was my second lifer of the year.
After we slowly made our way back down the hill, we headed south with plenty of stops along the way. We stopped near several bridges where we birded and saw new trip birds like Black-capped Chickadee, Myrtle Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, red Fox Sparrow, Common Merganser, Rusty Blackbird (a catch-up bird for John, who doesn’t have many left to catch up). Aaron suggested a stop for Varied Thrush. I didn’t believe him, but sure enough! One of his stops produced a calling Varied Thrush which was a year bird for us. We turned off on the road to Pyramid Hot Springs and drove up onto a ridge where Northern Wheatears breed. We saw a couple of them, but not near the road. We did a last-of-the-day run past the dump, but there were only Glaucous, Mew, and a Herring Gull plus the Common Ravens, but not the Slaty-backed Gull that had been there earlier in the week. Back at the house I took a shower and got ready for dinner while waiting for Joyce to return from her excursion. Dinner was at the Airport Pizza. Don’t be misled by the name. In addition to serving pizza, they also did sandwiches, salads, steaks, pasta, and other dishes. I tried to order something that wasn’t too much food. I succeeded, but Joyce didn’t. Back at the house I found the StL Cardinals losing badly to Los Angeles. Tomorrow we’ll drive out the road to Teller, looking for Rock Ptarmigan. The two new birds today brought the total for the year to 618.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Nome - II

The morning came earlier than I wanted it to. The birds singing outside our window just wasn’t enough to offset the lack of sleep. We had a cereal, muffin, bread type breakfast with plenty of coffee. We went in two vehicles east out the same road we had traveled yesterday afternoon. We enjoyed a good assortment of ducks, geese, and shorebirds. Good birds included Surfbird, forty-plus Bar-tailed Godwits, a few Pacific Golden-Plovers, a couple of the large race of Cackling Goose, a Red Knot, and several Long-tailed Jaegers (photo). A single Emperor Goose was new as was a male Willow Ptarmigan alongside the road (photo). A group of Sabine’s Gulls was much closer than those of the previous evening and the small group of Bank Swallows was a catch-up bird for John. We saw the remnants of a failed railroad project initiated during the height of the gold rush. Further out the Council Road we were shown a Gyrfalcon nest with one adult brooding a fluffy white chick. On the way back to Nome we passed a couple of birding groups who had seen the Arctic Warbler an hour or so earlier. This was a bird that our guide had found on a scouting trip and that we would see tomorrow. But since it had been just seen, we decided to try for it now. When we got there, it was singing, so we piled out of the van and searched for it at the tops of the willows. While searching, a Bluethroat male displayed in front of us (web photo). We did find the warbler and eventually everyone got to see it through the scopes. We came back directly to dinner at a multi-national restaurant where our group ordered baked halibut, eggplant parmesan, shrimp tempura, and pizza. Stops at the gas station, where gas was $4.50/gal, and the grocery preceded our return to the B&B. The reading of the list was very rewarding since we had such a good day. The five new birds bring the year’s list to 616.
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gambell - V, and Back to Nome

Most of us started the morning with a sea watch which went off nicely with all four eiders seen well in flight directly in front of us as well as a close-up Horned Puffin (photo). Since this was moving day, we pulled together our belongings and Bob moved things around inside the house so the owners from whom he had rented it could have it back. We ate leftovers for lunch. During lunch I had made the statement that we’d all be energized when we got the word that a Common Rosefinch had been found. And the the two-way radio squawked and indeed a Common Rosefinch had been found. Fortunately it was nearby and we all got there in a jiffy. Paul had the bird in view and pointed it out to us. We all drank it in, although to be honest it was a bit of a drab bird. We did a little more sea watching, and then it was time to go. We walked to the airstrip where we piled all of our luggage which was then loaded onto the two Bering Air planes that had arrived almost simultaneously. The forty minute flight brought us to Nome where we re-met our guides for the Nome portion of the trip, Aaron and David. All of our stuff was loaded into the van and went to the house of George where we got our assigned rooms. Then it was off to dinner at a local restaurant. Following dinner we did some birding along the Council Road. We scored with Aleutian Tern and John got a catch-up Sabine’s Gull. We returned to the guesthouse, did the list, and hit the sack. The two new birds brought the year’s list to 611.Posted by Picasa

Friday, June 4, 2010

Gambell - IV

With an early morning arising we set off for the bird cliffs to look for Dovekies. It was indeed a slog, but we met with success with six of the little guys seen well on the snow. Sean found a Golden-crowned Sparrow, but we couldn’t re-find it. We crossed the far bone yard and met up with the WINGS group but we didn’t sandwich any birds in between our two groups. We then tried the near bone yard with similar success, so we adjourned to the house for a hot cup of coffee. After lunch, several subgroups headed off in different directions. Tom and I went south along the runway and around the south end of the lake. We saw a White Wagtail (photo), the pair of Common Ringed Plovers, a Long-billed Dowitcher (photo), some Dunlin, a Peregrine Falcon, a Tundra Swan, and an octet of Sandhill Cranes. But no new birds for the year. After dinner of spaghetti and cole slaw, we were roused from our lethargy by a report of Orcas attacking a Grey Whale. So we dressed for the out-of-doors and went out to see. Indeed there was a large group of Orcas with a Grey Whale in the middle (photo). After a while, things settled down and the Orcas swam away and nothing was seen of the Grey Whale. However, three Grey Whales swam past close to the shore apparently avoiding that part of the sea where the Orcas were. No new birds. Total is still 609.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gambell - III

This morning was to have begun with a walk to the bird cliffs to look for Dovekie. However, as we were getting ready to leave after our breakfast, the word came in that there was a Red-necked Stint in the near bone yard. We hoofed it down there and although there was no one there to give us any information, quick-eyed Sean spotted a shorebird which turned out to be the bird. We all had great looks (photo). That made our start to the east a little late, but we did get there. However, we didn’t get to see any Dovekies. We did the far bone yard and got a couple of Gray-cheeked Thrushes before heading south on the mountainside road. We walked the whole way to the sewage lagoon, through the marshes, with nothing new. Just as we were heading back word came in that there was a Brambling in town. We got a little confused about where the bird was, but Bob got it arranged that Gloria would bring her wagon out and take us in to town. Sean and I walked one way while John walked the other. When Gloria arrived we got everyone into the cart and went in to town where Paul and Jon had the bird and showed it to us. It moved around a bit, and we got some pictures (photo). John and I went back to the house for a cup of coffee and the call came in that a Stonechat had been found along the mountainside road. Bob called for a taxi and John and I rode to the site where all the birders on the island were gathered. The bird was in view but a bit distant (photo). Good scope views were had and we hired Gloria again for a ride back home. Dinner was a great stew with bread and salad. We did a little sea watch for an hour or so and then went to bed. The three great birds today brought the year’s list to 609.

Posted by Picasa