Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dry Tortugas

Last night we boarded the Tiburon, the ship that will take us to the Dry Tortugas. After some safety instructions and introductory remarks, we went to bed. All the participants had a shared cabin with bunk beds. The plan was to defer our departure until 6:00am rather than starting immediately since the weather was a bit iffy. I got a great night’s sleep and got up in time to see our boat depart the harbor. The weather was less than good, so we set a course that would take us through Florida Bay instead of via the Gulf Stream. That meant we were not likely to see pelagic birds, but the ride would be a whole lot smoother. We did see a lot of Northern Gannets and Magnificent Frigatebirds, and eventually some Brown Boobies (web photo) and a Bridled Tern. When we got near Fort Jefferson, we finally got to see Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns. We passed close to Hospital Key where at least 50 Masked Boobies were attempting to nest. After anchoring the Tiburon, we took an inflatable that we had towed from Key West to the Fort. Over the next few hours we combed all the trees and bushes for migrants finding about a dozen warblers one of which, Chestnut-sided, was new for the year. The Fort was hopping with other birds as well including over a dozen Yellow-billed Cuckoos. We scoped out the coal piers for Black Noddy without success. We returned to the boat, did the checklist, and had a great dinner. The hoped-for green flash didn’t appear. Tomorrow we go to Loggerhead Key. The species total for the year is now 512.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Few More New Ones and off to the Dry Tortugas

I'm writing this posting while sitting under an awning on the streets of Key West, Florida.  John's wife Nancy has arrived and in a few short hours the three of us will depart this southernmost US city and head west to the Dry Tortugas.  While we're in the Tortugas, I won't be able to post any blogs because of the lack of connectivity.  We'll be back in civilization Sunday night and I'll get the missing blogs posted then.  So hang in there.  Bobsbirds will return.
Today we started at the Naval yard watching Roseate Terns (web photo).  These are probably the most beautiful of the Sterna terns, being white with a striking black bill and a pink blush to their breast.  Apparently they nest on the roofs of buildings, but we didn't see any interest by them in doing so today.  They were in love and you know how that goes.  We also birded Fort Zachary and picked up some migrants including Tennessee Warbler, our first.  A couple other migrant traps produced Northern and Orchard Orioles.  Those four new birds brings the total thus far to 506.  So long for a while.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I've Reached Five Hundred Before the End of April

With six new species today I have reached 502 species for the year, and it's not yet May.  Okay, so it's going to get tougher to add new ones with each new day.  But so far we haven't missed anything that was around except that &*$%# La Sagra's Flycatcher (which has my number!) and the Budgerigar (which is nearly extinct as an ABA bird).  So what were the six new species.  We got a couple of thrushes (Swainson's and Gray-cheeked) and a Black-billed Cuckoo at the Dagny Johnson Botanical SP on Key Largo.  It's a fabulous place with the best collection of tropical hardwoods in the US.  We also had a Veery and later in the day a Wood Thrush for a four-thrush day.  But we didn't get the Mangrove Cuckoo we sought.  A red Eastern Screech-Owl did stick his head out of a cavity in a dead palm tree in response to my whistling.  At a stop in Marathon to look for Roseate Terns, which nest along with Least Terns on the roof of a municipal building, we heard then saw a Northern Waterthrush (web photo), a warbler that had strangely eluded us.  On Sugarloaf Key we drove to the Mangrove Cuckoo spot where I got my lifer over forty years ago.  We had just arrived and were enjoying a couple of thrushes, when a group from Kansas drove up in three vans with the same objective.  The leader played the tape a bit long, but one of the party saw a cuckoo come in and then quickly leave.  No one else saw it.  After the group left, John and I walked back along the road and lo and behold from behind us came the machine gun call of the cuckoo.  It didn't show itself, but we had gotten the bird.  We drove on to Key West and checked into our motel that we had reserved earlier over the phone while enjoying a Starbucks coffee.  We ate at a nearby seafood restaurant and then drove to an area near the Key West airport where we ran into the group from Kansas who were also there to see and hear the Antillean Nighthawk.  John and I walked down the road a distance and heard the bird.  We're now back in the motel and looking forward to birding around Key West tomorrow for migrants.  Tomorrow night we board the boat for the Dry Tortugas.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Very Good Florida Day

One of the many lessons of this Big Year is that you're not going to get each bird that very first time you try. It's going to require going back and making a second or a third try. That was the case today with the introduced Spot-breasted Oriole. We had gone to the recommended location (entrance to the University of Miami) and had no success. Today we returned to that site first thing in the morning which is always a good strategy. Unfortunately you can't be everywhere first thing in the morning. But today we parked in the metered parking area, put coins in the meter, and wandered around until we ran into a group of migrants that included Blackpoll and Cape May Warblers and a Scarlet Tanager. Shortly thereafter the Spot-breasted Oriole flew in and there was much joy. From there we went to Bill Baggs Park where we tallied eleven species of warbler including Worm-eating, a new bird for the year. We did make an effort to listen and watch for the La Sagra's Flycatcher, but nothing was heard or seen. We checked on the Red-footed Booby again, but he wasn't at home. For the afternoon we drove to the Everglades NP where we checked a couple of places for migrants. We also stopped at a pond or two to ogle the pretty water birds like Roseate Spoonbills. We walked the trail to Snake Bight but didn't find anything new on Florida Bay. On the way back we flushed a couple of White-crowned Pigeons that flew around and landed above us. Nice. At Flamingo we looked for and found a flock of cowbirds which contained a couple of Shiny Cowbirds (photo). From there we put the Prius on cruise control and went straight to Key Largo where we got a motel right on the beach where we were told in no uncertain terms that we would see the best sunset anywhere around. And we did. Had a nice seafood dinner, but I didn't have room for the key lime pie. Maybe tomorrow night. With all the birds today the list has climbed to 496.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Tamiami Double Tick

It was back to the residential area near the Baptist Hospital for the Red-whiskered Bulbul first thing this morning.  Unlike yesterday, however, we found the bird plus I heard a Bobolink overhead.  From there we drove to Bill Baggs Park on Key Biscayne where we looked and listened for the La Sagra's Flycatcher which had been seen and heard yesterday.  For and hour we gave it our best, but didn't score, but we did get a nice male Black-throated Blue Warbler which was new for the list.  Then came the rain, buckets and buckets of it.  We went for the car and drove to a nearby Starbucks to wait out the storm.  That deluge took over an hour.  We drove north and checked the marine rehab facility for the Red-footed Booby with no luck.  At that point we decided to drive out of the rain and head west.  We got on US41 and drove to Miccosuki's Restaurant looking on the way for Snail Kites.  We did in fact drive out of the rain and into the sunshine.  At the restaurant a Limpkin flew out of one marsh, across the road, and into another marsh where it was greeted by a second Limpkin (web photo).  We moved to the other side of the restaurant complex and there we found a great pair of Snail Kites apparently conducting some courtship.  Heading back to the city, we detoured down toward Homestead, but the venture didn't produce anything new.
We stopped by to see my good friend, Becky White, who lives in Cutler Ridge.  Her daughter Debbie joined us a bit later.  We had a wonderful time chatting about birds, blossoms, and mutual friends.  For the third night in a row we booked into the Motel 6 in Cutler Bay.  The five new birds today brought the year's list to 488.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Miami Area

We tried for the Red-whiskered Bulbul in the traditional area, but failed to find any. However, we did find a pair of White-winged Parakeets feeding on the flowers of a silky flowering tree. We drove to where the rehabilitated Red-footed Booby had been returning to roost, but a worker told us that the bird had not been seen today.  We then ran into Adrian Binns, with whom we will go to the Dry Tortugas in a few days.  He told us about the Baptist Hospital site for the bulbuls and the University of Miami site for Spot-breasted Oriole.  We went to those two places to reconnoiter them for tomorrow.  We also tried Fairchild Botanical Gardens for exotics, but since the temperature was in the high 80's, we didn't have any luck.  After our tour of the area we headed to the Everglades where we spent the rest of the afternoon at Anhinga Trail where we did see Anhingas.  But more importantly after being patient we got to see the Smooth-billed Ani that has been appearing there from time to time (photo).  I looked for this bird in January in an industrial area near the Ft. Lauderdale airport which was an ugly place to bird.  I'm glad we found it today in a more natural area.  On the way back from the Everglades John mentioned that we should be looking for Common Nighthawks.  I glanced out of the car window and there indeed was a nighthawk on the wire (photo).  Seeing nighthawks like this is fairly common in Florida during their migration.  The total is now 483.

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Florida West Coast

Our motel last night didn't give us the best night's sleep.  At 2am there was a repeated loud banging at the door by someone wanting Lucy.  Finally Lucy opened the door next to ours and all was quiet for a bit longer.  At 5am a car alarm went off followed by an auto-key beeping open, beeping closed, then open, then closed.  You get the picture.  At 6am the alarm in my cellphone went off.  We reassembled ourselves and headed out the door to find I hadn't checked on the time of sunrise, and it was dark.  We took advantage of the situation to get a nice breakfast and head on to Fort De Soto Park.  The wind was picking up as we arrived and got much worse as the morning wore on.  However, we managed to see our first of the year Sandwich Terns, Least Terns, and Wilson's Plover, and heard our first Veery from a mangrove thicket.  We also studied some white and dark Reddish Egrets.  Nice!
We drove back into St. Petersburg and went to an electric substation where some Monk Parakeets hang out.  It took only seconds to hear their screeching, but it took me a few minutes more to find them.  I did so when one of the birds flew within five feet of my head.  Southward we went to Oscar Scherer State Park near Osprey, FL.  Herer we walked a trail that took us through the territories of several clans of Florida Scrub-Jay.  It was way after noon and it was hot.  I didn't expect much, when all of a sudden out popped a trio of the jays.  Three more came in and one decided to use me as a perch (photo).  All of these birds are banded so I presume they are also habituated to people.  It was a fun happening.  After enjoying the jays, we had our lunch in the picnic area, packed up, and headed further south.  We tried the mangrove areas on Marco Island looking for Mangrove Cuckoo and Black-whiskered Vireo neither of which we saw.  We did find several Prairie Warblers of the paludicola race (the Florida Prairie Warbler).  On across the Tamiami Trail we looked for Snail Kites and Limpkins.  A deputy sheriff stopped me for going to slow.  I promised him I'd go no slower than 50mph from that point on and he happily let me go.  We ate dinner outdoors at Mikasoukee's restaurant where I had a sampler that included alligator, froglegs, hush puppies, and fry bread, definitely filling my grease quota for a week.  We're in Cutler Ridge now ready to go after those Miami exotics.  My total is now 480.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Northern Florida with Tom Neal

John and I along with our host Tom Neal got up at 5:00am, had a light breakfast with coffee, and headed south to Goethe State Forest.  It took about an hour to get there where we checked in and paid for a day pass.  While checking in, a Chuck-wills-widow called loudly nearby.  We drove the Gas Line Road where the trees used by Red-cockaded Woodpeckers have been marked with a white ring.  It took a few stops, but finally two woodpeckers flew in calling as they came.  We saw two others during the drive.  We were also looking and listening for Bachmann's Sparrow, but we didn't have any luck.  A forest ranger came up behind us and asked if we had paid our fee.  When we said "yes", he was surprised and pleased.  He didn't know anything about sparrows, but suggested we could ask in the office back at the head of the road which we did.  After being passed around through several employees, we were finally introduced to a biologist who took us to a map and showed us an area that had been fairly recently burned.  She suggested we might find the sparrows there.  We thanked her and drove north to her designated spot.  We parked, got out of the car, and three sparrows were singing.  Nice when it works that way.
We headed to Lower Suwannee NWR where Tom had learned there was a pair of Short-tailed Hawks.  I had seen a pair in January when I visited Florida, but John still needed that bird.  On our way there we passed two Gray Kingbirds on wires.  We drove the refuge road stopping several times and scanning the sky.  We reached the end of the road where there is native American shell mound of impressive proportions.  We turned around and headed back along the same road.  I spotted a raptor that seemed about right, so we stopped and piled out of the car.  But the bird had disappeared behind the tree line.  However, it popped back out and indeed it was a dark-phase Short-tailed Hawk with a couple of missing primaries.
We then tried a track in the Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve for Florida Scrub Jay, another catchup bird for John, but we dipped.  We then made tracks back toward Gainesville to drop off Tom.  We hadn't gone very many miles before we had two Swallow-tailed Kites over the car.
Tom had to break into his house since he didn't have a house key.  After our goodbyes, John and I drove south on I-75 to an area where some of the last remaining countable Budgerigars are found.  But not by us.  We tried another spot with similiar luck but at least we enjoyed dinner while watching the wires where they were supposed to land.  John did see a Green Heron which was new for him.
We drove on to St. Petersburg where we got a motel for the night.  Tomorrow we'll visit Fort De Soto Park.  The year's total is now 475.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We checked a map of South Carolina and picked out Colleton State Park as a place to stop for a little birding on our way south.  When we drove into the park, a Red-eyed Vireo greeted us followed by Summer Tanagers and a Wood Thrush in addition to several other birds that were not new for the year.  We spent about an hour there and headed further south to Savannah River NWR where we took the auto tour.  There were some nice water birds including dozens of Common Moorhens, but nothing new for the year.  After crossing the Savannah River and entering Georgia, I saw the sign for Harris Neck NWR, a place I had visited a few years ago.  So I suggested we give it a try.  Besides there is a local restaurant, the Old School Diner, on the road to the refuge where we could eat.  However, the restaurant was closed.  It has weird hours, but someday I'll be there when it's open.
The refuge was dyamite.  The colonial bird nesting area had hundreds of Wood Storks, Great and Snowy Egrets, and smaller numbers of Tri-colored Herons, Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons, and some immature White Ibis.  The woods areas of the wildlife drive had several warblers including Hooded, Yellow-throated, Pine, but no Ovenbirds.  In the open areas we had Eastern Kingbird, Blue Grosbeak, Prairie Warbler, and Painted Bunting, while back in the woods we observed a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and an Eastern Wood-Pewee.
Back on the road we spotted a hawk flying along with the car that turned out to be a Mississippi Kite (web photo).  About then we crossed the state line into Florida and we concentrated on getting to Gainesville where we will be overnighting with John's friend Tom.  When we arrived, we got a tour of the garden that Tom has carefully nurtured over the years.  Tom also keeps a bug light on and collects specimens which he mounts and stores in a special bug house he built in the backyard.
With the new birds we saw today the cumulatve year list total is now 470.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On the Road to Florida via Staunton

I managed to get my act together, pack up the stuff, load up my Prius, and leave town by 10:00am.  I headed to John's place in Staunton where I left my Prius, transferred my stuff to his Prius, and left town heading south on I-81.  Mostly we drove, but there was a bit of watching the sky for birds.  We stopped for dinner and followed that with an excursion along rural roads listening for Chuck-wills-widows (web photo).  We were run out of a logging area and decided to look for a motel.  We made it to Orangeburg SC where we got a good night's sleep.  BTW the Cards won in the ninth, taking their fifth series since the start of the season.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Day in Norfolk

As you gathered from the last blog posting, I didn't arrive home in Norfolk until midmorning today.  From then on it was sort of a rat race to get ready for the next trip to Florida and Texas.  That involved doing the wash, running some errands, and laying out my stuff to be packed tomorrow.  During that process I heard our summer resident Clapper Rail sounding off from our marsh (web photo).  It's nice to have him back for another year.  After her workshop was finished, Joyce came home and we spent the evening together.  The day ended with the Cards losing an ugly baseball game.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Last Day in Colorado

John and I spent our last day in Colorado in the vicinity of Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. We spent the morning with Scott Rashid, a local artist, bander, rehabber, and all-round naturalist. He took us to an area where he has been following the activities of Northern Pygmy-Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls for several years. The pair of Pygmy-Owls (photos, female top) are in the process of selecting a nesting cavity. Scott has placed a nest box in the area and is hopeful of having the first box-nest for this species. He does have a pair of Saw-whets using a box (photo), but it is apparently not trivial to entice them to use one. There were also Mountain Bluebirds using boxes he had put out. Red Crossbills were "kipping" joyously in the pines above us, a new yearbird for me, John having gotten them in the mountains of Virginia a while back. We took Scott to breakfast and chatted about all of his various projects including his artwork. We both purchased a copy of his book, "Small Mountain Owls," the proceeds of which go directly to the birds. After dropping Scott off at his house, we headed into Rocky Mountain NP to try to get as high as we could. The Golden Age Pass let us in. If you're 62 or over and don't have one, it's a no-brainer. They're good for life and let you into sooo many great places. The scenery was beautiful and the spruce didn't seem to be in as bad shape as trees in many other parts of Colorado we've seen. We drove up Trail Ridge Road, a truly unforgettable experience any time of year, and were able to get as far as Rainbow Curve at about 10,500'. While we were there, we were approached by two Gray Jays and two Clark's Nutcrackers, the last species we were to add to the cumulative list before we left Colorado (photo). Although these corvids become downright nuisances during the late summer by begging from tourists and campers, during the breeding season, which is now, they can be very secretive and quiet. These individuals may have been non-breeders, teenagers looking for a free meal and some excitement. Know any of those?
The drive to the airport and car rental return were uneventful. John and I did the final day's checklist while relaxing over a drink. Then we went our separate ways. I trust John got home in a timely fashion, because I did not. For the first leg of my flight I sat on the plane while mechanics made two attempts to fix a "black box." After a dely of about two hours, we left for my intermediate stop, Pittsburgh. However, when we arrived, it was much too late for me to make my connection. So it was the rebooking, shuttling to a motel, little sleep, shuttling back to the airport, breakfast on vouchers series for me. I finally arrived back in Norfolk with my baggage about 8:30am on Tuesday morning. Now I have to get ready for our Florida-Texas combo run with fewer hours in which to do so. Oh well! It's all part of the great adventure. The three last Colorado birds brings the cumulative list for me to 462.
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tale of a Ptarmigan

I had contacted my friend Karl Stecher, a Denver neurosurgeon, who agreed to join us this morning for our ptarmigan run.  We're staying with John's sister, Irene, and her husband in Arvada.  So Karl drove over here to go with us since we were nearer I-70, the road west.  At 7:30am we were underway and by 9:00 we had reached Loveland Pass.  It was a gorgeous morning with a very bright sky.  Nevertheless we donned our warm clothing since there was a wind blowing.  We began by scanning with binoculars and scopes all the willows and spruce we could see from the parking lot at the pass.  We then moved around a little mound and scanned to the west.  Another scan to the east and Sue Riffe a middle school band director from Lyons arrived.  She shared her techniques for hunting ptarmigans and we got ready to move to the next parking area downhill.  At that point a group from Minnesota, including a person from Northern Virginia, arrived in a van.  The leader whose name a failed to get said they had just left a ptarmigan at the edge of the second parking area downhill.  In my haste I barely thanked the message bearers for which I apologize.  We hopped into the car and roared down hill missing the designated parking area and forcing us to go to the next one, an agonizingly long way past the second.  But we got back there and after looking much too far, spotted the bird at the very edge of the plowed parking area.  Many photos were taken.  The bird was nibbling on the willow buds, moving very slowly on its feathery snowshoes.  It was smaller than expected and would be virtually impossible to see in the white-on-white environment.  We were glad that this bird had come to the willows near the road  to feed.  We spent the next few hours driving around the mountains looking and listening for crossbills before returning to Arvada.  The ptarmigan brought the year list total to 459.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pawnee Grasslands

We took our time getting started this morning.  After a nice full breakfast, we made a run to a local cemetery here in Fort Collins where a pair of White-winged Crossbills had made an attempt at nesting.  The nest had been raided by a predator, but the adults had hung around and we were hoping to see them.  We got to the area but didn't see the crossbills.  So we headed east to the Pawnee Grasslands.  Along the way we passed the Weld landfill where there were some gulls haggling over the refuse.  Among them were a couple dozen Franklin's Gulls with their bright pink breasts along with a few hundred California Gulls and a small number of Ring-billed Gulls.  We drove onto the Murphy's Pasture section of the grasslands and almost immediately had a lovely male McCown's Longspur in the roadway in front of us (photo).  This was our last longspur for the list.  We left the grasslands and drove to several area ponds and wet spots looking for shorebirds, but there were very few.  We did see our first Ring-necked Pheasant of the year, though.  There were lots of ducks, grebes, and the like, but virtually no shorebirds except for several Wilson's Snipe that were winnowing high above us.  It was interesting to compare that call with that of the Boreal Owl we heard last night.  From there we stopped for lunch at a truck stop and then drove to Lyons where we took a nice walk along a stream hoping for dipper.  We ran into some dog walkers who told us they had seen dippers recently at a put-in spot for kayaks across from the Black Bear restaurant.  Of course we went there.  John hopped out of the car to take a look while I stayed in the car to listen to the Cards game (Did I tell you the rental car has satellite radio?)   John called to say the American Dipper was right in front of us.  I got out and took a look and a photo.  That was our fourth new bird of the day bringing the total to 458.  Tomorrow we go to Loveland Pass to look for White-tailed Ptarmigan.  By the way they had fresh snow this afternoon at the high altitudes.  Nothing like looking for an all white bird in fresh snow.
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From Agony to Ecstasy

Today started with an early run to 80-Road for the Greater Sage Grouse.  The temperature when we got there was 32F raising questions as to whether we could negotiate the muddy hill.  We walked a ways down it and decided to go for it.   However when we arrived at the lek area we couldn't roust out any grouse.  After agonizing over a missed bird, we headed east to Steamboat Springs where we had breakfast.  On to Rabbit Ears Pass on US40 where sharp-eyed John spotted a red bird along the roadside.  A quick turnaround brought us right next to two Pine Grosbeaks (photos).  Shortyly after leaving the pass we turned off for North Park a high bowl with drainage to the North Platte River.  On the way sharp-eyed Bob spotted a Northern Shrike which disappeared when we got out of the car, but soon popped back up on his hunting perch.  We next drove roads in a Greater Sage-Grouse area, talked to a resident about the grouse, and moved on to check out the birds at the Walden Reservoir.  There were many ducks there plus American White Pelicans, California Gulls, and Double-crested Cormorants that all looked like they were there on an island in the lake to breed.  Since there were no Barrow's Goldeneyes and since there was plenty of time we decided to drive an hour plus south to Windy Gap Reservoir where Barrow's Goldeneyes had been reported.  On the way there I spotted a Gray Jay atop one of the many dying spruce.  When we got to the reservoir, we scoped the ducks and sure enough the Barrow's were there.  While there we also ran into a group of birders that we had seen a couple of times earlier.  They told us that they had spent time at a Greater Sage-Grouse lek near Walden, and in fact had a couple of males fly into the lek yesterday afternoon.  That was enough for us.  Back to Walden where we drove to the lek and spent about four hours sitting in the car.  Finally John spotted a distant sage grouse and I decided to set up the scope.  As I got out of the car I told John I'd better be slow and quiet in case there was a grouse right behind our car.   And there he was!  Behind our car...displaying! So he got his photo taken many times, a couple of which I've posted for you (photos).  High fives all around.  We gassed up the car in Walden and got our "dinner" at the mini-mart and headed up to Cameron Pass.  The sun had not yet set, so we birded a little while waiting for owl time.  Finally we started seriously owling.  We would listen for a few minutes, play a sequence of Boreal Owl calls, listen for another few mintues, and move on.  We did this for ten stops over a two plus hour period.  Finally right at the pass we scored with a response.  The temperature was below freezing and the wind was blowing, but we had our bird.  It took about two more hours to get down the mountain to Fort Collins where we grabbed a motel and plopped into bed.  That's why this blog is a little tardy.  Today proved to be our longest day birding, but with six new ones and good ones at that, we didn't mind.....too much.  Total now stands at 454.  Bird number 450 was the Northern Shrike.
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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sharp-tailed Grouse

Made coffee in the room before heading out to the 20-mile Road Sharp-tailed Grouse lek.  Recall that we had scouted this area yesterday and felt certain we would nail the grouse as soon as we could see anything.  As it got lighter and lighter and we didn't see any movement, we began to think we were not in the right place.  So we moved down the road a bit and tried again, also without luck.  Eventually we turned around and headed back north to the original location.  When we got close, we could see a truck parked beside the road with a guy looking through a scope out the driver's window.  We pulled off the road and I went over and tapped on the passenger window which he buzzed down.  I asked if he was looking at grouse and he said he was doing his morning survey for the state wildlife department.  I asked if he could point them out and he did.  They were indeed there, just not in the direction we had been looking.  I thanked him and we enjoyed the grouse for a bit (web photo).  They were doing their dance which it is said is the model for many of the dances performed by native Americans.
We drove over to the 80-Road lek to see if any Greater Sage Grouse were still doing their thing.  You may remember that this was the road that yesterday we deemed too messy to try.  Today the temperature was 24F.  So instead of walking in, we decided with everything frozen we would drive in.  Our rental car has all-wheel drive so it wasn't that risky a decision.  We got down the hill and to the area we think is nearest to the grouse lek, but there were no grouse booming.  I turned the car around on the icy snow with John watching to make sure I didn't go off the edge.  We made it all the way back including the steep snowy hill at the very end.  We'll do this all over again the dark.
At our late breakfast I called Jim Haskins of the Colorado Game Department.  His wife answered the phone and gave me the phone number of Steve Zee who it turns out is the fellow we met on the 20-Road this morning.  I called him and asked him about any other Greater Sage Grouse leks in the area and he said that the one on 80-Road was really the only one nearby.  So that confirmed our decision to try it again tomorrow.
We spent the rest of the day in the area north of Steamboat Springs, the massivie ski resort on US40 east of Hayden.  We saw more of the same birds we've seen over the past few days at the higher altitudes, but nothing new.  We're back in Craig again for another night, but tomorrow we'll move on east after our early morning grouse encounter.  The Sharp-tailed Grouse brought the year list total to 448.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dusky Grouse

We left our stuff in the motel room and returned to Black Canyon of the Gunnison this morning before sunrise . At 6:15am we had a male and female Dusky Grouse (photos) right along the road in almost exactly the same location where Dave Johnson and I had one four years ago. In the second photo the male was calling. You can see his puffed out upper breast. We didn't even have to leave the warmth of the car. Back to the motel to pick up our stuff.
From Montrose we headed northwest toward Grand Junction and the Colorado River.  We bypassed the town and climbed the steep escarpment which is the rim of Colorado National Monument, a place I had passed several times but never gotten off the highway to visit.  When we topped the rim, we drove to the campground which had a relatively level piece of pinon/juniper habitat.  We hadn't birded long before we heard the call of a Pinyon Jay, one of the birds we were after.  We chased it down, and I took its picture (photo).  We also saw several Juniper Titmice, one of two species recently formed by the split of Plain Titmouse.  We took the drive along the rim with Peregrine Falcon being the best bird.  There were lots of White-throated Swifts dueting and chittering and examining possible nesting crevices in the cliffs.  The view from the rim is spectacular.  At one point we moved away from the rim onto the top of the mesa where we looked amid the sage for Brewer's Sparrows.  It was clear they have not yet arrived.
After a coffee and a scone in Grand Junction, we jumped onto I-70 and followed the Colorado River east.  We encountered workmen conducting what was referred in the signage as "scaling," a process we weren't familiar with.  Apparently it involves removing stone from the cliff face that the workers felt might soon fall on the highway.  Interesting.  Along the way we saw an Osprey on a nest and a Golden Eagle.
At Rifle we left the interstate and headed north to a reservoir that had a Common Loon and a bunch of Western Grebes.  The nearby state park had a neat triple waterfall but not the hoped-for American Dipper.  We drove further north through Craig and east to Hayden where we scouted the area of a sage-grouse lek.  Unfortunately the snow had made the road impassable, so we had to walk in.  I think we have it ready for an earlier try tomorrow.  We then went to an area that supposedly has a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek.  There were no grouse there, but we'll give it the early morning look tomorrow.  There were no motels in Hayden, so we went back to Craig where we had dinner and got a motel with an interesting second floor room above the office.  Another early morning tomorrow.  But today we added three year birds giving me 447 for the year.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Gunnison Sage Grouse

The alarm went off at 4:45am.  Those lekking chickens require you to be in place well before sunrise, hence the early start.  We drove to the lek where all but one of the parking slots were full and we took that one.  One more vehicle came and squeezed into half a space.  We were required to stay in our cars and be quiet.  It was a long wait before we could see anything.  But then at quite a distance were a bunch of male Gunnison Sage Grouse inflating their breast pouches and strutting around throwing their famous pompadour over their backs in the process.  In the area were females who all looked like they could care less.  This process went on for about two hours.  At its peak I counted 19 males and 14 females.  As the females drifted or flew away the male activity declined and one by one each of them flew off.  However, there was one female who hung around and kept a male doing his thing for at least a half-hour longer than the others.  When she left, it was over. 
We drove back to the motel, had breakfast, packed up and headed for Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  There we searched for Dusky Grouse without success.  It got very cold, snowed a bit, and then the wind came up.  But we did find a Townsend's Solitaire which was a new bird for the year.  We drove to Montrose and had lunch.  The less said about lunch, the better.  After lunch, since I had never seen Ouray, we spent the afternoon driving there and up to Red Mountain Pass at 11,018 feet.  Nothing new except the sightseeing.  Snowy mountains all around.  Beautiful.  We did see one large flock of Vesper Sparrows indicating they are definitely on the move.
Back to Montrose where we got a motel, cleaned up, went to a Nepalese/Indian restaurant which was satifactory.  With the two new birds today the total is now 444.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Last Rosy-Finch

When it got light outside, we changed the flat tire in the motel parkign lot and were able to get the flat tire fixed quickly. In fact we were on the road before 8am. Pretty amazing. And the repair place only charged us $8 and that included re-installing the tire and putting the spare back under the car. Between Lamar and Pueblo CO are a series of ponds and reservoirs, a consequence of being in the Arkansas River drainage. We investigated two of them: Adobe Creek Reservoir and Cheraw Lake. There were plenty of ducks at the first plus some American White Pelicans and a couple of Clark's Grebes. At the second I counted 14 Snowy Plovers and there were Americna Avocets and Black-necked Stilts. But it was the Pectoral Sandpiper that was new for the year.
After a chili relleno combo plate for lunch, we headed toward the mountains with a stop on the way to visit the Royal Gorge Bridge (photo), something I've always wanted to see and always driven past. It was a make-work project constructed at the beginning of the Great Depression, but it never was included in any real transportation system. It was and still is a tourist attraction. Royal Gorge itself is spectacular and passenger trains travel the tracks at the bottom. There were many White-throated Swifts flying around above and a Peregrine Falcon looking for a dinner. From Royal Gorge it was westward and upward over Monarch Pass at 11,319 feet. On the way to Gunnison we stopped to see if any Gunnison Sage-Grouse were on the lek. None were, so we motored on to Crested Butte where four years ago I had seen hundreds of rosy-finches eating scattered birdseed on the snow. This year, however, the lady who had fed them in the past didn't do it. So John and I cruised the town looking for other feeders. We found a couple and above one of them in a set of aspens were a Black Rosy-Finch and six Brown-capped Rosy-Finches, thus completing the trio for the year list (web photo).
Tomorrow we go to the Gunnison Sage-Grouse lek an hour before dawn to await the dancing performance. The two new year birds today bring the list to 442.
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Rosy-Finches and Prairie-Chickens (more or Lesser)

We got to Beverly's house in La Veta, Colorado about 6:30am having picked up breakfast at the truck stop next to our motel, it being the only available food source in Walsenburg that was open early on a Sunday morning. After we were invited in to her viewing room, she graciously fixed me a fresh cup of coffee while we waited. We didn't have to wait long for the birds to start arriving. Two Grey-crowned and a Black Rosy-Finch came to a feeder just below her window (photos). The bunch of Evening Grosbeaks that followed was a treat for us Virginians who haven't seen the likes of such abundance in decades. A pair of Cassin's Finches rounded out the new year birds. Other birds appearing included magpies, redwings, Brown-headed Cowbirds, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinches. We went with Beverly to look at the feeders of her friends where Pinyon Jays had been coming. But the nephew who was supposed to keep the feeders stocked in their absence had been shirking his duties. There were no birds. We dropped Beverly off at her house with a big thank you and set off up the road to Cuchara Pass. There were many Northern (red-shafted) Flickers, Red-naped Sapsuckers drumming, Mountain Chickadees, American Robins, some Mountain Bluebirds and several flavors of juncos. We stopped for lunch in Valdez where we had a couple of sandwiches and shared a dish of real French fries. On through Trinidad and out onto the eastern plains where we took gravel roads to reach Cottonwood Canyon state wildlife area. In transit we spotted a nest of a Great Horned Owl with three young and a Swainson's Hawk. At the wildlife area we had Canyon and Bewick's Wren, Spotted Towhee, Eastern Phoebes, and a Lewis's Woodpecker, a nice mix of East and West. Then more gravel roads with large numbers of Horned Larks and smaller numbers of Western Meadowlarks and Vesper Sparrows. We finally reached our destination, Elkhart KS, but decided to go check out the prairie-chicken lek during daylight. The website directions made finding the site relatively easy. At the lek we got out of the car to check out the blind which we would use tomorrow. John heard a call and then saw a couple of Lesser Prairie-Chickens. We went into the blind, but something soon spooked them and they flew off. I counted 28 birds. We had sufficiently good looks that we decided to drive back toward our next destination rather than overnight in Elkhart. So I drove to Lamar CO where we got a motel for the night. While getting our stuff out of the back of the car, John noticed that one of the tires was low. We'll have to get it fixed tomorrow. At least it won't be Sunday then. The five new birds brings the year list total to 440.
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Sunday, April 11, 2010

We're in Colorado

The flight really wasn't too bad. The airline did change my flight so I had to leave two hours earlier but still arrived in Denver at the same time. In Atlanta I did get my cup of Starbucks and a scone. Arrived in Denver half and hour ahead of John and went to the car rental place and signed out the car only to realize that I needed to have John sign on as an extra driver which he did when he arrived later. We then hit the road, immediately adding Black-billed Magpie to the year's list, and headed south turning off on the road to Sedalia. Above that town is an area which is infested with bark beetles which killed the trees leaving a ton of excellent feeding grounds for American Three-Toed Woodpeckers. After a small hill climb we found a female working diligently on several trees (photo). She was completely oblivious to our presence. There were also some American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos (gray-headed), and Northern Flickers (red-shafted). Steller's Jays and Mountain Chickadees were scolding us. Returning to the interestate we ended up in a five-mile long backup because of an accident. Eventually we got past it and when we got to Colorado Springs and the Air Force Academy, we found a Chinese restaurant and ate dinner there before continuing on to Walsenburg where we got a motel room. Tomorrow we head to La Veta which is not far away to see if the rosy-finches and friends are still visiting a feeder there. The year list total is now 435.
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Friday, April 9, 2010


I was going to be in the Great Dismal Swamp today, but I really didn't get enough done for the impending trip.  So I stayed home and it paid off.  I'm in good shape now for my early morning flight to Denver.  In fact I'm soooo prepared that I'm going to dinner and a movie tonight with Joyce.  My original flight was to have left Norfolk about 9am, a quite reasonable time.  Now I leave at 7am with no net gain in getting to Denver.  I just have a longer layover in Atlanta.  With my WiFi, though, I can check out the web and emails as I wait.  I've already checked in for the flight online and told them I'll be bringing a bag.  When I get to the airport, I just go to the baggage line, scan an ID card, get my baggage claim check and head to the gate.  It's a bit easier, but the security line is now the bottleneck. I suspect there will be time for me to stop by Starbucks for an early cup of coffee.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Ran a few errands today, trying to get ready for the trip to Colorado.  Bought a new rechargeable Q-beam spotlight to replace my old one that just can't seem to keep its charge.  Also got a replacement set of mini-speakers for my iPod.  I'm not sure where my previous set was lost, but that it was.  I won't say that losing things on a big year is inevitable, but it seems to be that way in my case.  That's why they have Radio Shacks.  I also stoked up on granola bars, a mainstay for my trips over the past decade.  They tide me over between food stops.  I also eat them on airplanes instead of paying for a less than adequate meal service.  After the errand run, I did watch the Cards lose 2-1 to the Reds on a walk off homer in the bottom of the ninth.  The good news is that Brad Penny pitched well in his first start for the Cards.  It's a long way to October.
   In checking out the latest news from the Colorado RBAs I find that I'll probably change my intended itinerary a bit.  But that's all part of the game.  In fact I won't know which of two initial sites I'll head for until I get to Denver and call to find out whether the Rosy-Finches came in that morning.  Yes, it's getting exciting.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Swainson's Warbler

I was really hopeful as I got out of the Prius having reached the Washington Ditch Parking lot with David Hughes right behind me.  I was pleased that his plans had changed and he was able to join this morning's walk.  Also there were Terry Jenkins, Renee Hudgins, John Young, and three sisters who came together from Chesapeake, Amherst County, and Michigan for this walk.  It was not long after starting out that we got our first warbler, a Pine.  From there we added American Redstart, Common Yellowthroat, lots of Ovenbirds, a Hooded Warbler, a Northern Parula, several Prothonotaries, Louisiana Waterthrushes, a Black-throated Green Warbler, a few Myrtle Warblers, and a Yellow-throated Warbler.  The last of our dozen warblers is the creme de la creme of the Dismal Swamp.  As we sauntered along we heard off to our north about 3/4 of the way to the Lynn Ditch intersection the sweet song of a Swainson's Warbler (photo).  Although there are a few places north of here that Swainson Warblers breed, the Great Dismal Swamp is certainly its best known stronghold and the place that all who live north of here visit in order to claim the prize for their day's, year's, or life list.  In my experience the density of Swainson's Warblers has increased over the last decade.  I now feel they are not too difficult to find and in fact, to see if one has the patience, a trait I have been slow to acquire.  Just find a singing bird, wait for it to come near the road, and look for its singing perch which he will use for perhaps ten minutes at a sitting.  The perch is usually about 18 feet above the ground and is found by scanning intently ALL the horizontal twigs in the area of the song.  I sounds like that's what you would do anyway.  Right?  But most people do not have the patience to follow those simple steps.  It has worked well for me the last several years.  Don't knock it, 'til you've tried it.
    Four of those warblers (Prothonotary, Hooded, Black-throated Green, and Swainson's) were year birds bringing my total to 433.  And I've still got a chance for a few more before John and I head off to Colorado on Saturday.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Back Bay NWR Survey

   Today I assisted David Hughes and Geralyn Mireles with their impoundment survey at Back Bay NWR.  In the beginning we could see lots of lightning flashes to our north, but the thunderstorms all stayed away from us.  As a note to those who might be interested in visiting Back Bay, the west dike is now open for bikes and walking from the headquarters all the way to False Cape State Park.
    As everywhere the waterfowl have pretty much left.  There were quite a few Blue-winged Teal, however, and a lingering duo of Ring-necked Ducks, and few Gadwall, Mallards, and American Black Ducks  Raptors included Northern Harriers, Ospreys, and Bald Eagles.  A flock of ten Cattle Egrets flew in and the numbers of Snowy Egrets have increased to 45.  There were a few Little Blue Herons and a Tri-colored Heron to go with the usual Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons.  Singles of Glossy and White Ibis were seen and an American Bittern was heard giving his pumping call in the marsh at the north end of False Cape.  Along with a couple of American Coots was a Common Moorhen (web photo).  A few King Rails, Marsh Wrens and fewer Sedge Wrens were calling and singing.  Four Greater Yellowlegs, a Wilson's Snipe, and some Killdeer were the only shorebirds seen.
   On the way home I again checked for Prothonotary Warblers at Stumpy Lake and found none.  There were three Yellow-crowned Night-Herons feeding in the marsh on the south side of our house when I got home.  Tomorrow it's back to the Dismal Swamp with a hope in my heart for migrants.