Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Finally a Migrant

This morning was everything I had hoped it would be.  The temperature was 54F with no wind and a clear sky.  I had chosen Railroad Ditch for my foray into the Dismal Swamp.  I hadn't walked it in a while, so it seemed just right.  At the beginning there were the Pine Warblers and a few sparrows.  Then a Yellow-throated Warbler followed by an Ovenbird (web photo) which was to be my new year bird for the day.  The Rusty Blackbirds were around, but not many in view.  Several Louisiana Waterthrushes sang and there were quite a few Common Yellowthroats along the way.  Before I reached the marsh at the corner of Railroad and West Ditches, Nick Flanders came by in his truck having been to Lake Drummond.  He said he had just heard an American Bittern calling at the corner marsh.  Sure enough when I got there, the bittern was still doing his oonk-a-loonk call.  It's good there was no wind, because later when I came back, the wind had started blowing and it was nearly impossible to hear the bittern.  Although I looked from many different angles, I couldn't spot the calling bird.  On down the road I tallied five White-eyed Vireos, but no new warblers.  So six warblers was the final total.  Still I had broken through the no-migrant barrier.  And I recorded seven butterfly species on the walk back.  Driving home I passed a field with two dozen Turkey Vultures working on a deer carcass that had not been there when I drove by in the early morning.  It reminded me of the scene at an African kill.  I half expected a hyena to send the vultures flying.  The year total is now 429.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Preparing for Colorado and Hoping for Migrants Here at Home

I'm trying to get the Colorado trip set up so it flows smoothly, no glitches, and we get all the birds.  You know the dream.  The main thrust of the trip wraps around the various chickenbirds that can be gotten there.  In fact many of the commercial bird tour groups have put together trips to do just that.  We'll do a swing that takes us in a big loop around the state for those grouse, prairie-chickens, and their kin.  But we'll also be looking for mountain species including Boreal Owl and some finches like Pine Grosbeak, as well as spending some time in the grasslands for our last longspur (web photo).
Tomorrow I'm going to go to the Dismal Swamp and hope that a migrant or two will have arrived.  It's been a week since the last year bird, for gosh sakes alive anyhow.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday with the Twins

This afternoon Joyce's daughter, Jana, arrived with Jonah and Seth, our twin grandsons (photo).  I had already figured out what we were going to do while Jana and Joyce went to book club tonight.  The weather broke, but the boys decided to play quietly while Jana finished the book for tonight's discussion.  Late in the afternoon the boys and I got rolling and headed to the Mall where we had a pizza snack and the boys shopped for a new DS game.  They didn't find one to suit them.  But we did get tickets to the 3D version of How to Train Your Dragon.  It was the first 3D movie I'd seen in forty years and I thought this one was particularly well done.  A film for all age audiences, it maintained a good balance without getting too syrupy or violent or frenetic. I recommend it although it probably would have been just as effective without the 3D effect.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday with Taxes

With a little fun around the edges Joyce and I managed to get through the main struggles with our taxes for 2009.  The weather was certainly better than had been forecast, making it a bit more difficult to stay on task.  But we did.  I celebrated with the Sunday NYTimes crossword and watching Duke get into the Final Four.  Tonight and tomorrow are supposed to bring heavy rain.  The twins are arriving with their mom in the afternoon.  They like to go on hikes, but we'll have to check with the weather.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Great Dismal Swamp with Renee

I met Renee at the gate to Washington Ditch at 7:00am but the gate wasn't open and didn't open until 7:22.  Daylight savings time change consequence, I presume.  Although there was no ice on the puddles, the outside temperature registered 32F.  We got started down the road a short time later and got the first of five Louisiana Waterthrushes (web photo) before we got to Lynn Ditch.  The large flock of Rusty Blackbirds I had seen more than a week ago was still in roughly the same area squeaking away as they flipped the leaf litter looking for breakfast.  Several Common Yellowthroats sang from near the path.  Their numbers have increased significantly in the last week.  Also got songs from several wintering species like Winter Wren, Hermit Thrush, Blue-headed Vireo, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  But alas there were no new spring birds for the list.  I'll try again next week and see what has changed.
From the swamp I drove west to Wakefield and took a driving tour of some back roads.  Heard and saw an amazing 40+ Pine Warblers and one Yellow-throated Warbler, but again nothing new for me for the year.  On the way back to Norfolk I stopped for lunch in the Wakefield Diner and had their ham biscuits and Brunswick stew.  It was great.  And the waitress kept my coffee cup full.
Tomorrow I HAVE to do the taxes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

At home in Norfolk

Not much of a birding day.  I did keep track of the birds I saw and heard in the yard.  I made plans to go to the Great Dismal Swamp with Renee tomorrow.  That's something to look forward to.  We have a male towhee (web photo) that likes to peck at his reflection in our bedroom window.  Last year he kept it up for way more than we thought he should.  He's back at it again this year and we need to figure a way to politely discourage him especially since he prefers the window in the guest bedroom.  No new birds today.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tufted Duck in Maryland

True to his word Andrew arrived via his wife at the house at 6:am to begin our journey to Kent Island in Maryland.  I decided to go up the Eastern Shore of Virginia although the difference between going that way and via I64 was not great.  Once I entered the location in the gps, Amy (my gps voice) told me the ETA was 11:15am.  I knew that she always overestimates how long it takes to drive, so I made a quick calculation of my own and figured it would be more likely a bit after 10am, which is about when we did arrive.  Upon arrival there were three people looking through scopes so I hoped it was the duck they were viewing.  Sure enough it was although the angle we all had was directly into the sun.  In fact with the ducks in frantic diving mode, it was difficult to tell whether they were the Tufted Duck or just scaup.  So Andrew and I hiked around to the south side to get a better angle.  That was a good move, because the light was soooo much better.  I got a few pics, one of which shows the field mark which gives the bird its name.  Following the celebratory high fives, we adjourned guessed it...a coffee and bakery shop where I had a great blueberry turnover and a fine cup of bold coffee.  On our way back south, we decided to go to Chincoteague NWR to see if anything was around.  Once there we drove the beach road and saw some shorebirds including Dunlin, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willets, Marbled Godwits, and several hundred ducks which were mostly Northern Shovelers.  At 3:00pm we took a spin around the wildlife drive, but didn't find anything very exciting.  So we headed home.  A brief stop on the CBBT yielded little except a balled-up Horned Grebe which gave us a bit of excitement for a time.  After I dropped Andrew off at his house, I headed home to fix supper to be ready when Joyce came home from her graduate class she teaches on Thursday.  After supper, I plan to fall asleep "watching" some of the NCAA basketball tonight.  Wonder how long I'll last?  Year list is now at 428.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Day in Norfolk

Yes, it was one of those days.  Not very exciting for you readers of this blog and really not very exciting to the writer either.  Did some chores.  Checked out my Prius which seems to be working fine.  Did some planning for the Colorado trip; planning always gets me excited.  Also read about the hot birds that have dropped into Florida.  Talked to Audrey about them.  She's going to the Keys tomorrow to try for the Loggerhead Kingbird and the Thick-billed Vireo.  I'll just have to hope that some of them stay put until John and I get there next month.  So for tomorrow I have decided to try for the Tufted Duck in Maryland.  I called Bill Williams and Andrew Baldelli to see if either wanted to go.  Bill was out of town, but Andrew agreed to show up at my house at 6:00am tomorrow for the drive north.  We'll see how it comes out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Golden-cheeks in View

As promised I was back at the Austen city park (Emma Long Metropolitan Park is its full name) after a hot breakfast and plenty of coffee. Outside it wasn't very warm and there was no burst of song as I got out of the car. But there were no cars and there were no dogs so I took a nice walk along the roadway and listened. It didn't take long for a Golden-cheeked Warbler to begin singing. I took the time to run it down and get a good look as it foraged. I saw several more and I got a pic of one with my point-and-shoot (photo). After the session with the warblers, I drove west and then south to a pocket park near San Antonio where I saw another Golden-cheek and heard several others. By the way there are some interesting looking titmice in this area. I presume it's a hybrid zone where you can count whichever one you're missing.
I reorganized my luggage (all carryons), gassed up and returned the rental car, and I'm now in the San Antonio airport waiting for my flight to board. Tomorrow I'll be back in Virginia looking for those spring migrants. Bring 'em on!
Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Strange Day in Texas

Today was kind of a strange day.  But then most of mine are.  So how was this day strange?  Partly because it started in the Rio Grande Valley as planned and ended up in Austin TX which was not planned.  I got up early so as to be at the Rio Grande River well before sunrise.  The amazing owner of the motel and sundries store was already in place.  In fact he had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me when I walked in to say hello and tell him I'd be back before noon to drop off the key.  He's the kind of guy you feel you've known a long time.  We actually did meet him in January when we came this way our first time.  Nothing seems to rattle him and he seems to love being at work and chatting up all the customers.  Fishermen are apparently his most numerous patrons.  The impounded lake behind Falcon Dam is covered with boats particularly during a fishing tournament.
As I drove down to the river in Salineno, I noticed a car coming up behind me.  I figured it was the Border Patrol.  When I reached the river there was a car parked there with a sleeping driver.  I parked, got out, listened to the weird Eastern Screech-Owls they have in the RGV, plus a pair of Great Horned Owls.  I noticed that the car that had followed me to the river disgorged a bearded guy sporting a pair of binoculars.  The sleeping driver emerged also wearing a pair of binos.  You might imagine a trio of druggies coming together in the dark on the banks of the Rio Grande River, but just as logical would be a triad of birders, unified by a common goal of seeing rare birds.  One was a young college biology prof from Oregon, here on his spring break which had been extended somewhat since his college forced a week of furlough on him and his colleagues to save money.  The other birder was a Dane who was spending an extended time in the American southwest.  We all watched with some anxiety the heavy mist hanging over the river.  Unless a breeze came along to get rid of the mist, there wasn't much of a chance to see the Red-billed Pigeons or my Muscovy Ducks.  The mist did lift, but there were no pigeons.  The Oregonian left and after a while the Dane and I tried the trail along the river following some directions provided by Terry Jenkins.  The final destination looked great for the ducks, but alas there were none to be seen.  We'll make our final duck assault when we return to Texas in May.
The Dane needed Audubon's Oriole for a lifer.  I heard one singing, found it, put it in the scope and he had a lifebird.  He then mentioned that he needed Cassin's Sparrow.  Since I had heard a bunch on the Salineno shortcut, I took him there where I again found about half a dozen singing sparrows (web photo).  This time one of them tried a couple of songs while in flight.  When they get going, that song on the wing is a true spectacle.  They should all be doing it when we return in May.
I took the room key back to my buddy at his store after changing out of my long johns.  I'm glad I thought to put them on.  It had been 37F this morning at the river.  I set a course for Beeville TX where a Northern Wheatear has been hanging out on an Amish farm since the first of the year.  John and I stopped by in January for a brief try and missed it on what must have been one of the very few times it wasn't available.  Today however it was extremely cooperative and it became the first year bird of the day.  We'll see this bird in Alaska.  So why did I go for it today?  One reason is the Mt Everest reason: Because it's there.  A second reason: Because we missed it in January.  A third reason: It's a great bird for my Texas list (2nd record).  A fourth reason: Because I needed a bird for the list and I didn't want to post another no new bird day!!
From there I headed to Austin where I would look for those recently arrived Golden-cheeked Warblers in their city park.  I was given this location by Barbara Zaslow, the birder from Austin I met at the King Rail spot last week.  However, in one of those twists of fate, or bad planning  (I'll let you choose which) I got to Austin at rush hour.  It was late by the time I got to the park.  Grabbing my binos, I hopped out of the car and what do you think happened?  A Golden-cheeked sang!  But horror of horrors I couldn't locate the bird.  I started along the nearby trail.  Another Golden-cheeked sang.  I couldn't find that one either.  I pished, squeaked, gave my best Screech-Owl whistle.  Nothing moved.  So I got back in the car, embraced half a victory, and drove to a motel.  I'll do battle with the warblers again tomorrow.  It's too beautiful a bird to miss seeing it.  Tomorrow afternoon I fly home out of San Antonio so there's plenty of time.  The two new birds bring the list to 427 for the year.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hook-billed Kites, Again

I returned to Santa Ana NWR for a morning of hawkwatching.  Mostly Turkey Vultures but a few Swainson's Hawks were moving.  Saw the Hook-billed Kites again.  They appeared and disappeared three times during the morning (web photo).  Managed a nice list of birds just standing there on the levee with maybe fifteen other birders.  It was fun, although nothing new for the year's list.  Drove to Salineno to take another crack at the Muscovy Ducks.  Got a room at the convenience store at Falcon Heights and went to nearby Falcon State Park where I chatted with Wendy, the volunteer bird person at the park.  I had met her in January when she showed us a few birds coming to her feeder operation behind her Winnebago.  Today she threw out some fresh seed and brought me and a couple from Kentucky up to date on what was around.  As far as new birds went not much was around.  So I headed to Salineno as did the couple from Kentucky.  Unfortunately, some noisy Salinenians did too.  After a couple hours of no ducks and much noise, I bagged it and went back to Falcon SP to look and listen for night birds.  Pauraques were sounding off and I showed one to two guys from Arizona.  It was singing from a cement post a foot off the ground, its eyeshine prominently showing.  When it flew, the eyes continued to shine and looked like giant fireflies as the bird moved around catching insects.  Went back to the room which had only one working light bulb.  The bed was comfortable though.  Peanut and jelly sandwich for supper.  Tomorrow I'll try for the ducks again and then figure out what to do.  No new birds today (sigh).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Santa Ana NWR was Great

It was a great morning at Santa Ana NWR where I walked the trails with Carolyn Stenberg, a friend who is also a volunteer at the refuge.  Although the weather seemed threatening, there was no wind at that time.  So we were able to hear birds very well.  My main target was the diminutive Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  We hadn't gone more than a hundred yards before we heard our first one (web photo).  We would get two others before the morning was over.  We walked over to Willow Lake where we saw the first Fulvous Whistling Duck of the season.  We spent some time on the tower which doubles as a hawkwatch platform.  The weather was socking in rapidly and no hawks were flying, but I did manage first of the year Purple Martin and Chimney Swift.  After the rain started, I went back to the car to get my rain jacket.  That, of course, made the rain stop, so we headed back out to Pintail Lake to check some shorebirds.  We did find the shorebirds, but none of them was new for the year.  However, in the trees around the edge of the lake we found a Yellow-throated Vireo which was new.  It was at that point that I looked up to see a beautiful female Hook-billed Kite with two more flying above her.  The hawkwatchers at Santa Ana think that species may be reliable there now.  Later when the ceiling lifted and the raptors began to fly we saw a few Swainson's Hawks and Broad-winged Hawks among the large number of Turkey Vultures.  Then the wind came up.  I left the refuge and went to a sod farm where I saw the American Golden Plovers that had been reported from that location.  At that point, I have to confess, I decided to find a TV and watch the ODU basketball game.  ODU lost but did a good job coming from behind at the beginning of the second half.  They took the lead but couldn't quite hold it at the end.  I'm proud of their fine performance.  So with the six new birds today the year's list now stands at 425.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Laguna Atascosa NWR

I hadn't been to Laguna Atascosa NWR for many years.  It hasn't changed much and neither has the bumpy road you take to get there.  The real story, however, was the wind which was howling as I inquired about the status of the previously reported Blue Bunting.  It had been seen not too long ago, but the wind took away any possibility I would have an easy time.  After making the effort in the area of the recent sightings, I took a walk down a trail to see a huge, I mean HUGE, alligator.  This is Texas after all, and this gator put anything I've seen in Florida to shame.  I ran into the young birder from Galveston whom I had met a couple of days ago at Bentsen SP.  This was his last day on spring break and he was also trying to score the bunting.  While walking back to the car, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew over.  What's not to like about a Scissortail?  Pink.  Long tail.  Delicate in flight.  It also added a year bird to the list.  Laguna has a great wildlife drive loop.  It's one of those one-way drives that once you get on it, you have to stick with it until the end.  Howe ver, today the drive fit the bill.  Dicky birds were out of the question and the drive's strength lies in its views of the water.  At one point there was a nice group of terns including Caspian, Forster's, and Gull-billed, the latter being the second year bird of the day.  After the wildlife drive, I visited the bunting site again with the same windy outcome.  So I did what any sane person would do: I drove to the nearest Starbucks and got a cup of bold (and a scone!).  I contacted Carolyn Stenberg who is a volunteer at Santa Ana NWR about getting together tomorrow for a birdwalk at that refuge.  She was out doing a survey, but she called back to say she'd love to.  She and her husband have served as volunteers at Eastern Shore of Virginia NWR where she accompanied me on several of my Fisherman Island surveys in the fall.  It will be great to see her on her stomping grounds.  The two new year birds bring the total to 419.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thrashing About in the Rio Grande Valley

Quinta Mazatlan, a former private classic house and estate in McAllen TX, is one of the beads in the necklace that has become the World Center of Birding, a series of good birding locations in the Rio Grande Valley. QM is actually a city park and part of the money for the establishment of this unit came from the state of Texas and some more from the city of McAllen. I, of course, think it was money well spent. The units together attract many snow birds during the winter months. Outside that period I'm not sure that the total numbers of people visiting each unit is high. Certainly into the hot summer months, attendance must lag. Nevertheless, during the popular winter months they bring a focus and continuity to South Texas birding. I'm sure the increase in rarity reports is in no small part due to the establishment of the WCB and the proportional increase in action. This morning I birded QM in a vain attempt to find the previously reported Crimson-collared Grosbeak. It hadn't been seen in over a week and before that not for another week. So once in the last two weeks was not an optimistic forcast. It's usual modus operandi while being seen was to visit feeders. QM has an outstanding group of feeders and water sources. So when a bird chooses to abandon that sort of feeding station, it's probably on its way back home to Mexico. After spending the morning at QM, I headed to another of the beads, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco TX. This unit is a state park and has some water that it gets from the nearby Llano Grande. So ducks, waders, and shorebirds are the show pieces. I was fortunate to chance onto two women who were doing a little birding after a business meeting finished. They were looking at a rail they felt was a King Rail, but needed a little help confirming the ID, a task I gladly performed. Not a year bird, but it was my first King Rail in TX. After circuiting the impoundments, I headed toward Brownsville using US 281 hoping for some sort of exciting wire bird. Nothing too exciting and I reached Brownsville at rush hour. Investigated the location where one is supposed to look for Tamaulipas Crow. The site didn't look like much. I then got a motel which will allow me to get an early start toward Laguna Atascosa NWR where I'll check into a slightly stale report of a Blue Bunting. No new year birds today. By the way both photos were taken at QM not more than one hundred yards apart.
Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Day at Bentsen State Park

I haven't gotten used to daylight savings time yet at least as far as birding is concerned.  Here the sun doesn't rise until 7:45am, so the birding day starts late.  On the other hand the sun doesn't set until 7:45pm.  So if you stay late to listen to and look for night birds, you get to eat rather late.  So be it.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  Especially if it turns out as well as it did today.  I had a very nice day birding at Bentsen SP with only a break for lunch and a side trip to see the new National Butterfly Park which is next door to Bentsen.  I spent a bit of time on the hawk platform and saw a couple of Swainson's and a Broadwing, but it was a slow hawk day.  I got to see again most of the Texas endemics that John and I saw in January.  However, all those Orange-crowned Warblers had disappeared as well as the ducks.   But the class of the day was at sunset.  Tonight the serenade began with Great-Horned Owls duetting.  Then some early Eastern Screech-Owls chimed in.  Then the one I was there for; the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl gave a series of eight hoots prior to knocking it off for the day (web photo).  Several Elf Owls the last of the owls to make their presence known, started off with the simple call and progressed to the laughing call.  Got to see a couple of them when they moved perches.  Not to be outdone the Pauraques filled the airwaves with many puurr-wheeers.  I walked out of the park and back to my car in the dark with owls calling on both sides of the road.  A Pauraque nearly took my head off.  Magnificent.   The new birds bring the year list total to 417.

Back in Texas

The flight was early but relatively uneventful.  There was a half-hour delay for mechanical reasons prior to my seccond flight, but it all worked out.  Got my rental car in San Antonio and headed south toward Laredo and beyond to San Ignacio where I set up shop in the car opposite the feeder where a Brown Jay has been coming.  After an hour I caught sight of a brown shape flying into the tree above the feeder.  After a brief interlude, I got out of the car because I couldn't see the area of the tree where I thought the bird had landed.  Couldn't find the bird in the tree, so I returned to where I could see the feeder, and...there was the jay.  Great looks, but no pic (web photo).  So I headed south toward Zapata to look for Red-billed Pigeon.  After I arrived at the spot, I got out of the car and walked a bit.  My phone rang.  It was Joyce telling me she had arrived in Louisville for her meeting and everything was fine.  At that moment a pigeon flew past and out of sight.  I changed position, raised my binos, and there was the Red-billed, posing nicely (web photo).  I will say that all the earlier sightings of Red-billed Pigeons in the trees near Las Palmas road didn't have to search through trees with lots of green foliage.  Ah but it just makes it all the sweeter.  Drove to Salineno to look for Muscovy Ducks.  There was a German birder there with his family who had all come from his sister's wedding somewhere in Texas.  We all watched the sun go down, but didn't see any big black ducks with white wing patches.  Headed east but went much further than I had initially planned ending up in Mission.  Guess that means I'll go to Bentsen SP tomorrow.  The two new birds today brings the year's total to 414.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Prius Returns

I had to wait all day for it, but the Prius was finally released from its repair prison late this afternoon (photo from last fall).  Seven weeks they had the car!  Still it wasn't easy, even those last few steps.  I had to call the collision repair facility twice before they told me it was ready.  Then I had to wait for Dennis Hustead to arrive and give me a ride out there, arriving two minutes before they closed.  And to top it all, after I got the car home, I discovered that my luggage cover had not been replaced.  Who knows where it is?  So the Prius is not yet up to full strength.  And during the day of waiting, of course Andrew Baldelli calls to say he's looking at the California Gull at First Landing State Park.  Recall that it would be a state bird for me.  No car.  No way to get there.  All part of the great adventure, eh.
Tomorrow I fly to Texas to search the Rio Grande Valley for a series of specialty birds that have been seen recently.  Not all are still being seen, but I'll look for them anyway.  Maybe something new and good will show up while I'm there.  I'll be back in a week.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Great Dismal Swamp after all

When I got up this morning, it looked too good to pass up.  So I got my act together and drove to the Great Dismal Swamp and parked the car at the Washington Ditch parking lot.  Rain had been promised, but so far it had looked much better than forecast.  I had the trail to myself and my main target was Rusty Blackbird.  I didn't have to go very far before I heard  some murmuring from some Rustys and finally saw about 40 of them (web photo).  There were probably more than a hundred working along the ground, mostly out of sight.  All that I saw were black; none was rusty.  I had a nice walk, seeing many of the wintering birds of the swamp and hearing singing from Winter Wren, Common Yellowthroat, and a half-hearted Song Sparrow.  I also flushed a Louisiana Waterthrush as I returned down the path.  Both the Rusty and the waterthrush were new year birds.  It also turns out I picked up another year bird because I hadn't recorded the Clapper Rail that John and I had at Lynnhaven Inlet our very first day.
When I left the swamp, I got a call from Andrew Baldelli who told me he had found a California Gull at First Landing State Park.  The gull wouldn't be a year bird, but it would be a state bird, one of my bugaboo birds I've missed year in and year out.  I decided to try to see it and headed to the park.  Unfortunately it flew west and wasn't seen again today.  Ah well.
So tomorrow I'll hope to get the Prius back.  And oh yes.  I decided to use some of the time until our trip to Colorado in April, while John is leading a birding trip to Cuba, to fly to Texas Tuesday for a week and go for some of the goodies that are in the Rio Grande Valley.  The year's species total now stands at 412.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

At Home

Not very exciting doing chores at home.  But I get to watch the feeders.  Speaking of the feeders, I cleaned them up, refilled them, picked up some of the usual yard trash, and kicked the geese out of the yard....twice.  I did get the income tax started.  Brought up the Cards baseball game in the background.  But all in all a slow bird day.  I made plans to go to the Dismal Swamp tomorrow, but scrapped them when the weather forecast looked terrible.  I'll check it when I get up tomorrow.

Friday, March 12, 2010

And Still No Prius

Joyce left this morning for a weekend at the North Carolina Outer Banks and I settled in to work on those paper shuffling chores you inherit once you've returned from an extended trip.  You know the ones.  I also called the car place to check on the Prius.  They said it had been sent over to the other garage to get the recall work done.  I'm sure there's no one out there who doesn't know that several model years of Prius have been recalled for a couple of different maladies.  My Prius, a 2010, suffers from a brake problem.  The proposed fix apparently removes the danger.  So with hope in my heart I went to lunch at Azar's with a friend, Dennis Hustead, and let them finish up the recall work.  However, by late afternoon it was apparent that today was also not going to be the day.  A call revealed as much.  My reunion with my lean blue machine will have to wait until Monday.  In Joyce's absence I have her Honda, so I'm not without wheels.
I turned my attention to another of my obsessions.  Baseball.  Since the St. Louis Cardinals were playing the Boston Red Sox in a spring training game, I decided to get some cables and hook up my computer (I subscribe to to our new television so I could watch the game on a bigger screen than the one on the computer.  Would you believe after three electronic stores, I still couldn't find the right cables?  So I ordered them on the web rather than drive around further without success.  They'll be here next week.  The game was rained out in Florida anyway.
I didn't do any real birdwatching today in part because it was raining, and it seems to want to continue doing so right on through tomorrow.  Doesn't leave much of an excuse not to start the taxes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

From LAX to ORF

A full day of flying.  Actually as flying goes it was minimally invasive.  Our motel in Los Angeles was near LAX and our car drop-off location was less than a mile away.  The motel provided a shuttle service to the airport.  Our early flight meant that traffic was at a minimum.  We had checked in on-line, so all we had to do was check the bags once we got to the airport.  For those who don't know, and I didn't, it simply requires a check-in at a baggage-only kiosk.  The savings in time is not at the kiosk, but is being in a much shorter line to begin with.  I think it's worth doing.  The motel had a lobby computer that allowed you to print your boarding pass.  That was a nice feature.  But then it was an AIRPORT motel, so it's logical that it should have that service.
John and I flew home two days earlier than originally scheduled.  It made sense given John's duties with his Cuba trip and my schedule at home.  We had done well with the needed birds and the southern California mountains were very snowy.  The time from takeoff in Los Angeles to landing in Norfolk was less than seven hours.  There were no delays and no long layover at Dulles.  I was home before John left Dulles.  Now that I'm home I'll have to get a few of those chores the income tax!  But there's time.  The big event will be the return of the Prius.  The car repair place says it should be ready tomorrow.  And they did the recall repair too.  We'll see about all of that tomorrow.
Our next actual junket is to Colorado in early April, so there's an extended time based in Norfolk.  Spring migration is on the way.  Then there are those goody birds sitting somewhere asking to be seen.  What shall I do?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Yellow-billed Loon

Slept in.  Had a nice breakfast at a pancake house.  Coffee not so good.  However, felt really good when we got the rental Prius on the road and heading along good old Route 101 toward LA.  Except we were not headed directly to the airport motel.  We were on our way to Castaic Lake where a Yellow-billed Loon had been recently discovered.  It took a little more than a couple of hours to get there.  Then it was a bit of a chore to find the best place to go to scope the lake.  The first total scan of the lake produced no loons.  I moved to another location while John tried another scan.  He heard a loon call and called me back.  Together we discovered two loons swimming together.  One was a Common Loon, but the other was bigger, paler, had a larger paler bill, and a much paler more patterned face.  That one was the Yellow-billed Loon (web photo).  We moved around the lake so that I might be able to get a picture.  But we lost the loons.  Some time later they reappeared, but were again so far away that a picture was out of the question.  A large group of swallows was beginning to gather over the lake including Tree, Northern Rough-winged, Violet-Green, Barn, and Cliff, the latter two being new for the year.  In addition there were five species of grebe (Western, Clark's, Pied-billed, Eared, and Horned).  Also a Spotted Sandpiper.  It's clear that spring migration is underway.  In the parking lot we reorganized our luggage and I made a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  After picking up some coffee, we headed south toward LA and our motel.  We checked in and John ran the car over to the rental car return which was only ten blocks away.  Tomorrow will be a full day of travel beginning with our 6:00am shuttle to the airport followed by the flights home to Norfolk.  The species total is now 409.

Two Owls and a Pussycat

At the suggestion of Paul Lehman we got in touch with Wes Fritz in Solvang CA.  He is the local authority on the owls of the Santa Barbara area, the best area in southern California for owls.  We arranged to meet Wes at our motel this morning and he was there at the appointed time.  After breakfast we went in his four-wheel drive Isuzu up into the mountains that separate the Santa Inez valley from the Pacific Ocean.  The wind was howling at over 20 mph, but we gave it the old try for Northern Pygmy-Owl (lower web photo).  At the third stop we got a reply, but the owl didn't come out where we could see it.  It was a triumph, particularly given the conditions.  We didn't do any more owling during the day, but instead tried for a couple of woodsy birds in the hills around the valley.  It was difficult birding.  As the sun went down we returned to the area we had worked in the morning and successfully hooted up a Western Screech-Owl which we were able to get in the spotlight (upper web photo).  Efforts to get a Northern Saw-whet to answer our calls were not met with success.  We did however hear a Great Horned Owl and see a Barn Owl on our way back to town, making it a four owl day.  The pussycat in the title was a gorgeous bobcat seen during the morning calmly walking up the hill on the other side of the stream.  And yes, I did have some of the Danish pastry in Solvang.  The two owls raise the species total to 404.  We'll try for the Yellow-billed Loon tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Day with Gene

Gene Cardiff, on the right in the picture, is an 80 year old horse. He can run the legs off many younger birders and frequently does. I met Gene in 1968 and he taught me the art and craft of birding.  Today Gene met John and me in Banning CA where he jumped in our car and we headed off to Joshua Tree National Park and adjacent areas. Most of the time was spent catching up on happenings since our last time together.  But we did squeeze in some birding too.  We were working a dry wash when Gene signaled that he had found a Sage Thrasher, a migrant.  We converged on the area where the bird had been last seen and enjoyed great looks when it hopped to the top of a low bush.  Our efforts to see Brewer's Sparrow were not nearly as successful, but we had a fine day tromping around in the high desert.  We also visited Morongo Canyon and Covington Park where the goodie bird was a White-throated Sparrow, not especially exciting to eastern birders.  We did add White-throated Swift so the species total now stands at 404.
After saying goodbye to Gene, we drove across Los Angeles to Solvang from whence we'll try for a recently found Yellow-billed Loon and some owls.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Mt. San Jacinto

Today over most of southern California it was raining, or snowing, or sleeting.  For us it was all of the above.  We left San Diego and drove northeast to climb the west side of Mt San Jacinto.  The purpose of this drive was to reach the Hurkey Creek area where it is possible to run into a roving flock of Pinyon Jays (web photo).  We reached the area and struggled through the weather, seeing some nice birds.  But the jays didn't put in an appearance.  Perhaps they're nesting now and have moved away from this area.  We came down from over 6000 feet elevation to 2000 feet mostly in the fog.  That would be slowly.  Tonight we're shacked up in Banning.  Tomorrow we'll spend the day birding with Gene Cardiff, my birding mentor.  I met Gene in 1968 while I was a post-doc.  His inspiration has made me the birder I have become.  No new birds for the list today.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Trip into Mexico

As part of the San Diego Bird Festival we had reserved space aboard the Grande for a full day excursion out and into Mexican waters.  We had barely gotten going when a pair of Elegant Terns flew by (web photo).  Thyese were the first of the season for the San Diego area.  It was a year bird for us as well.  During most of the day we traveled through the same waters we had on Thursday.  The difference was that about noon we headed away from the Nine-Mile Bank to the Los Coronados islands in Mexico where we saw a colony of Brown Boobies that has grown to about 35 birds in about ten years.  In addition we saw several bird species in Mexican waters which increased my Mexican list.  Since I don't have that list with me, I don't know exactly how many additions there were.  We also saw Humpback Whales, Risso's Dolphins, and Common Dolphins.  The albatross from Thursday did not put in a repeat appearance.  On the way out we did see a Long-tailed Duck, an uncommon bird this far south.  Tomorrow we head northeast toward Mt San Jacinto leaving behind the generous hospitality of Paul Lehman and his wife, Barbara.  Thanks are given for all their help.  The species total for the year is now 402.

Friday, March 5, 2010

An Owl is Bird Number 400

It was an early start. But, as it turns out, it was worth it. When we reached Kitchen Creek on the east side of the Laguna Mountains and started up the road, we stopped frequently to look and listen. At about the third stop we heard the call of Mountain Quail, but it was far away. Not to be put off, John got out his scope and scanned the ridge line. "I've got it," he said. Sure enough! There was a male with topknot sticking straight up. We heard a couple more before we left the valley.
At Jacumba we visited a postage stamp sized cattail marsh adjacent to the library where a colony of Tri-colored Blackbirds holds forth with their squeaky calls (photo). There were also a few Red-winged Blackbirds and a Marsh Wren there. At that point we took a break and had breakfast at a great local place. The placemat gave a history of the town from being a pony express stop, to railroad stop, to its current status as a border town. The big fence south of town is courtesy of the US government.
Driving north to Anza-Borrego State Park, we stopped at the campground. As we walked in, we met several birders who had seen a Long-eared Owl roosting in the tamarisk trees. They pointed us in the right direction and had good daytime looks at a beautiful owl (photo). So it was a little like the Masked Duck was in Florida: find the birders looking at the bird and you find the bird.
On to Borrego where we searched a grove of date palms for Scott's Oriole without success. We abandoned our search for Brewer's Sparrow because of the time of day and the fact that the group from the San Diego Festival, whom we met when we arrived, didn't find any at a much earlier time during the day. By the way the festival group had to wait three hours while their bus was extricated from the soft sand where it had gotten stuck turning around. No! I didn't park anywhere near the soft sand, but thanks for worrying about the possibility I might again get stuck.
On our way back to San Diego we cruised a road along which several Lewis's Woodpeckers have been seen. On the second pass we spotted one atop a telephone pole. It flew off to the next pole with its crow-like wing beat. The third photo is of one of the many ground squirrels we've seen the past several days. So today we added five more to the year list bringing the total to 401. The Long-eared Owl was number 400. Tomorrow we take a full day pelagic trip on the same boat we went out on Thursday.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Pelagic Trip with an Albatross

Another pelagic today.  As you'll recall we did some pelagic birding on the trip from Ventura over to Santa Cruz Island last Sunday.  But today's boat trip was exclusively for the birders on board which helps.  There were about 50 birders on the boat and we departed from the dock pretty close to 7:30am.  It took some time to get out of the harbor and into the open ocean where we found the conditions a bit rough.  A couple people fell.  But eventually we got out to the Nine-Mile Bank where the boat turned and the seas got better.  We got great looks at three species of shearwater (Black-vented, Pink-footed, and Sooty), three alcids (Cassin's and Rhinoceros Auklets and Xantu's Murrelet), two jaegers (Pomarine and Parasitic), Red Phalarope, and the surprise for the day was Black-footed Albatross (web photo).  We also had a fin whale close in as well as California Sea Lions.
After we got back to shore, John and I went to Imperial Beach to see if any Elegant Terns had arrived.  They hadn't.  We walked the area near the refuge and got a great many large shorebirds like Marbled Godwit, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, and Whimbrel.  A Belding's Savannah Sparrow was viewed running mouse-like from one seaweed patch to another.We also nearly stumbled on some Snowy Plovers scrunched down in the sand.  Our dinner tonight was Thai and I enjoyed it even though I've got a cold.  Tomorrow we plan to bird east of San Diego.  The species total is now 396.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Wandering Tattler and California Gnatcatcher

Birding city parks for birds hasn't been our strong point, but today we tried for a couple of birds in two locations that couldn't by any stretch be called natural habitat.  The first was Veteran's Park in Sylmar where a male Williamson Sapsucker had been seen near lightpost #20.  When we first arrived and found #19, we heard a sapsucker-like call which I think was from a Cooper's Hawk that was in the area.  Anyway I got excited and from somewhere there appeared this Frenchman who asked, "Do you have zee Sap Suck AIR?"  He followed us around until we found #20 and eventually the bird.  I went to get my camera, the bird flew to points unknown, and I learned again that when you leave your camera behind you risk missing the shot.  The second park Salt Lake Park in Huntington Park was little more than a ballfield.  But it had been reported that some Spotted Doves were there.  In years past this introduced species used to be excedingly common, but recently has become very hard to find.  We did find two.  On to Corona del Mar where we scanned the rocks for our missing Tattler.  There were plenty of Black Turnstones and a Surfbird and a couple of Black Oystercatchers down the shore.  And finally there it was...our Wandering Tattler.  At that point Ian, a teenager from Massachusetts who had been birding in Orange County for a week and had 200 species, came up with his scope.  It turns out he did the World Series of Birding on a youth team and racked up 211 species.  Pretty nifty.  So he starts talking about California Gnatcatchers at a state park nearby.  It was too much to resist, so we packed up and headed there.  We walked through the scrubby habitat and after a bit spotted a pair of the dark gray long-tailed birds (web photo).  To celebrate we had stirfry and sushi at a restaurant in Carlsbad and went on to Paul Lehman's in San Diego.  Tomorrow we go on a half-day pelagic as part of the San Diego Bird Festival.  Paul and his wife Barbara will be leading one of the trips but not ours.  Today's birds brings the year list to 390.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Snowy Plover

After a great night's sleep and a Denny's breakfast, we headed south a bit to Oceana Dunes, a combined facilty, nature center, campground with trails. As we arrived so did Joanna Iwanicha, an environmental scientist with the state's Dept of Parks and Recreation, who answered some logistic questions about parking. I told her about our big year and she said the Snowy Plovers were her responsibility and she had seen over 80 birds on the beach yesterday. At that point it began to rain so out came the raingear. We started our little walk around the willowy water edge, but hadn't gone far when we ran into a small group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees, our quarry for the walk (web photo). We also had a couple of singing Purple Finches, a bird that hasn't been easy this winter back in Virginia. At that point we decided to go to the beach and look for the plovers. It couldn't have been easier. Right where they were supposed to be were 28 Snowy Plovers (web photo). Although not the flock of 80, we were certainly satisfied. We also studied a gull that appeared to be an adult Thayer's Gull, but the underwings weren't quite right and the bill seemed too big. I hadn't brought the camera since it was raining or I'd post its picture for all of you to study.
From there we went up to the cliffs above Shell Beach where we looked for rockpipers. It was high tide, meaning that the waves were crashing against the rock and completely covering the usual feeding areas so the birds would be roosting, waiting for the tide to go out. However, with careful searching we found several Black Turnstones, Black Oystercatchers, and a few Surfbirds. No Wandering Tattlers, so we'll have to keep looking for them. Lots of nice looks at Brandt's, Pelagic, and Double-crested Cormorants, all in breeding plumage. Well above the hills to the North were two Red-tailed Hawks mating in mid-hover. Never seen that before. In the water were many Sea Otters, including one pup resting on its mother. A Harbor Seal also put in an appearance.
We turned south to pick up the Cuyama River Valley that crosses the Sierra Madre Mts. Along the way we stopped at a wet patch where Cinnamon Teal and American Coots were joined by a bunch of Wilson Snipes. Three swallow species (Tree, Northern Rough-winged, and Violet-Green) were flying around over the water. The road dropped us at the south end of the Carizzo Plains where a Ferruginous Hawk (photo) flew in and landed in a tree at the edge of the road. From there we turned onto the road up to Mt. Pinos, where in 1985 my California trip group watched the last of the wild California Condors fly by. No condor today. In fact it was a bit of a struggle since winter has not left the mountains here yet. We did see White-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadees, Steller's Jays, and another White-headed Woodpecker.  As we tried to ascend the mountain, snow began to fall.  It turned to sleet during the descent, so we got a motel at I-5, had a Mexican meal, and relaxed.  Tomorrow we will try for a couple of birds in LA on our way to San Diego.  My total for the year is now 386 species.

Another California Endemic

California is the only state with more than one endemic bird species. Yesterday we saw the first one - Island Scrub-Jay. Today we saw the other - Yellow-billed Magpie - in the upper Santa Inez River valley (photo). We also another scrub-jay, the Western Scrub-Jay (photo). This species is also ripe for a split since authorities seem to agree that the coastal version, the one we're seeing now, is distinct from the interior form that we will see in West Texas and other places. So now I've seen all of the current species of scrub-jay for the year.
The morning started off well with a good breakfast, but went downhill quickly. Two places I had chosen to look for birds were either crowded with people or had been trashed. In addition we encountered Southern California morning rush hour traffic. But when we headed out of Santa Barbara up over San Marcos Pass, things got much better. In fact we equalled yesterday's tally of new year birds (14). In the oaks we saw Oak Titmouse. We also added three new woodpeckers (Nuttall's, White-headed, and Red-breasted Sapsucker), a flycatcher (Cassin's Kingbird), Band-tailed Pigeon, Golden Eagle, Wrentit, two Californias (Thrasher and Towhee), Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler. That's what happens when you go to an entirely new area to bird.
In the afternoon we went to the mouth of the Santa Inez River and looked through the gulls, ducks, grebes, and shorebirds. It was a spectacular place. However, we had hoped to see Snowy Plover. But the area had been closed just today to allow the birds to nest without disturbance. We went to an alternate accessible location on the beach nearby, but didn't have any luck. The fellow watching over the area told us the plovers had been there that morning. We've all hear that before. When it got too dark to see, we drove north to Pismo Beach where we'll be positioned for a look at some cliffs tomorrow morning. This location is the furthest north we'll venture on this trip. My species total now stands at 381 for the year.
Posted by Picasa