Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Monday, May 31, 2010

At Last an Asian Vagrant

 Today was our last day on St. Paul so we vowed to make the best of it.  We started at a cliff where the views of Red-faced Cormorants are very good (photo).  But there were also nearby Crested Auklets (photo, with a Parakeet Auklet looking on).  A Northern Fulmar sailed by and I captured it (photo).  We took a break from the birds to visit the Russian Orthodox church in the town as well as the museum with interesting artifacts.  After lunch we repacked our stuff and vacated our rooms.  Since there would be a couple of hours before our plane arrived, we went out again with Brian and Stefan to see some Steller's Sea Lions which had just arrived today.  While we were there we decided to look for the Yellow Wagtail which we had briefly encountered on our first day.  We were in an area which would be closed to entry starting tomorrow because of the presence of the Northern Fur Seals.  We had combed the area well when a shout went up that they had the bird.  John and I raced over, but to our surprise it wasn't the wagtail, it was an Eye-browed Thrush (photo), our first Asian vagrant since we had been on St. Paul.  The strong easterly winds had kept any Asian birds from easily reaching the island.  But here it was.  The last bird of the Pribiloffs.  It certainly made our flight back to Anchorage easier to take.  By the way on the plane which arrived to take us away was our old friend Kurt Gaskill, who was doing a little birding while attending a conference in Anchorage.  The thrush raised the list total to 595.  Tomorrow we head to Gambell to try for more Asian strays.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alcids at St. Paul

 This morning it was Zapadini Point with Stefan and Claudia. We took the vehicle as far as we could and stopped where hundreds of Least Auklets (photo) were assembled on the low rocks along the coast. As they billowed up in flight as we came by, they reminded me of a flock of Starlings. We hiked up the slope to put ourselves on top of the nesting cliffs. Visiting the cliffs first thing in the morning is apparently the chosen time, since later in the day the activity wanes. Part way up the slope I stubbed my foot and fell face down on a rock, brutalizing my glasses as well as my face, but protecting my scope and camera. After the judicious application of a couple of Band-aids that David fortunately carried with him, the bleeding was controlled and the bird walk was again underway. I did develop quite a purple shiner and some puffiness, but what the heck. The bird cliff was indeed worth visiting as all of them have been. Each cliff has all the same species of alcids (photos), kittiwakes, fulmars, and cormorants, but still a spectacle nevertheless. I spent much of the time trying to get flight shots of fulmars with some success. It was hard not to take many, many pictures of auklets, up close and personal and cute. A couple of Winter Wrens, of a race thought possibly a separate species, sang strongly in the bitter wind roaring past their rocky singing perch. After our climb down from the cliff, we motored to the crab pot stacks where Sean had spotted a group of Hoary Redpolls. After a brief wait, they flew in where they were appreciated by us all. After lunch we went to the north side of the island where we scanned the open water finding Harlequin Ducks, alcids, eiders, cormorants, but nothing new. On the way back to dinner we went to the top of one of the volcanic cones where there are radar towers and had a fine view of St George, the brother island of St. Paul. We also saw the reindeer herd which we estimated numbered about 300. After dinner we went to a native dance performance and the showing of a video depicting the story of the people of St. Paul, a story closely linked to the harvesting of Northern Fur Seals. It was enjoyable and informative. The one new bird brought the total to 594.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Bird Cliffs of St. Paul

. Our day began about 7am. That’s about the time the sun rises. It sets about midnight, but since there is no time difference between Anchorage and St. Paul, the middle of the night ends up being about 3am. Breakfast is laid out in a common room down the hall from our bedrooms. Cereal, fruit, yogurt, breads are available and of course the required coffee. At 7:30am we headed out for the morning with Claudia who took us to Ridge Wall and Southwest Point where we scanned the bird cliffs and saw lots of birds several of which were new for the trip. On the way we passed a courting Rock Sandpiper (photo).  At the cliffs there were both Horned and Tufted Puffins, Least, Crested, and Parakeet Auklets (photo), Northern Fulmars (photo), Common and Thick-billed Murres, Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants, Red-legged and Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Glaucous-winged Gulls. At one point a Sabine’s Gull flew by, but unfortunately sailed around the headland before anyone else got to see it. We visited the crab traps looking for vagrant passerines before returning to the King Eider Hotel for our lunch. Lunch was a sumptuous affair with meatloaf sandwiches, cornbread chili, clam chowder, and the salad bar. A cup of coffee and a cupcake topped it off. After lunch I took a nap while the rest went on a walkabout town. I was roused by the information that Stefan had found an octet of Steller’s Eiders which we re-found. The rest of the afternoon was spent searching various wet spots for shorebirds, but nothing new was discovered. Dinner was a choice of beef stew, halibut and rice, spinach, and salad bar. Dessert was ice cream, but instead I had apple pie and coffee. Our after-dinner session was to the Northeast Point area where we searched for vagrants. No vagrants were found but I did finally get Snow Buntings as a catch-up bird. A few Least Sandpipers caused some excitement, but we couldn’t convince ourselves that they were anything but Leasts. A Semi-palmated Plover was new for the island. The eight new year birds raised the total to 593.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

On to St. Paul

After our waffle breakfast, we got our act together for an early morning walk through the neighborhood near our motel, the Puffin Inn. It was a gorgeous morning with a repeat of many of the birds we had seen yesterday afternoon. But pairs of Sandhill Cranes and Common Loons flying overhead were a nice addition. We didn’t have as many Tree Swallows this morning and we finally got to see Common Redpolls. There weren’t as many ducks on the take-off lake for seaplanes but there were four Red-necked Phalaropes. A Savannah Sparrow sang from a tree. We got our stuff together and went to the airport at the appointed hour only to wait for an extra hour for our plane which finally arrived and took us via Dillingham, the salmon fishery capital of the world, to St. Paul where the wind was and had been strongly out of the northeast for several days. After our introduction to the native corporation TDX and the facility we had a great dinner of halibut and trimmings. Then it was out into the field for three hours. The common land birds were the Lapland Longspurs and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. Also on land were Rock Sandpipers, the pale Pribiloff race. Another new bird was a flock of Bar-tailed Godwits (photo). From a rocky perch above the sea we scoped out Least Auklets, Red-faced Cormorants, Northern Fulmars, and Common Murres. A songful Winter Wren wouldn't quit singing on his cliff perch nearby (photo).  There were a few bull Northern Fur Seals on the rocks below. A brief flurry of activity followed a sighting of an Eastern Yellow Wagtail by Dave, but none of the rest of us could catch up with it. We did see an American Pipit. There were plenty of Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, a couple of Eurasian Wigeon, and several Long-tailed Ducks. A walk for snipe flushed a Wilson’s Snipe, but not a Common Snipe. We had great looks at a couple of Glaucous Gulls in the company of a few Glaucous-winged Gulls. Then it was back to the lodge for a cup of hot chocolate and off to bed.  The eleven new birds boosted the year's list total to 585.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010

We're in Alaska!

It was a very long day of flying, airports, waiting.  You know the drill.  The cab we had ordered yesterday arrived right on time at 5am and picked us up.  The check-in at the American counter was easy, but the security line was very long.  I assume it was all those people getting a head start on the Memorial Day weekend.  Once underway our first leg was to Dallas, second leg to Seattle, and third leg to Anchorage.  First flight left at 6:30am and our last landed at 5:30pm, so that's fifteen hours from first take-off to final arrival.  During the layover in the Seattle airport I did pick up a couple of Northwestern Crows.  In Anchorage after getting our luggage, we rang up the Puffin Inn and their courtesy van came and got us.  We checked in, dropped off our stuff, and I called John and Nancy who had already arrived in Anchorage.  We got together and took a walk around a lake that had a bunch of scaup and goldeneyes and a pair of Red-necked Grebes (web photo).  The most abundant birds around were the Tree Swallows.  A couple of Black-billed Magpies, a few White-crowned Sparrows, an Audubon's Warbler, and some Robins were pretty much the birds we saw.  John and Nancy went back to their room, and Joyce and I split a grilled salmon melt and headed back to the room to reorganize our stuff for the trip tomorrow to the Pribiloffs.  The two new birds brought the list to 574.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Getting Ready for Alaska

I did some planning for the upcoming trips beyond Alaska including some California pelagics.  After Alaska, John and I will go to California before we come back to Virginia so there were a few things to arrange there.  I had to pay some bills and pick up some things at the pharmacy.  I went through my checklist of stuff and put each item on the bed.  Once I had all those items assembled, I packed them.  It's a little bit of a challenge packing for two trips at the same time.  California is not exactly the same as Alaska.  Looked at some of the postings coming out of Alaska and got excited about going.  I do hope we get some Asian vagrants during our trip.  Tomorrow Joyce and I catch a 6:30am American Airlines flight to Anchorage arriving after 5pm.  I'm not sure about blog postings after that since we'll be on the Pribiloffs.  So I'm heading to Alaska with 572 year birds.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hatteras Pelagic - 6 NO

We met at the dock at the usual meeting time and reviewed the weather both current and impending.  The verdict was that it wasn't a good idea to venture offshore for the day.  So we thanked Brian for helping get us some new birds over the last few days and headed north.  For the first time in six days I wasn't wearing a scopolamine patch.  John followed me in his car to the Weyanoke sanctuary in Norfolk where we both looked and listened for Bicknell's Thrush with no luck.  John then headed back to Staunton and I went home where I crashed for a while and then started organizing the stuff for Alaska.  No new year birds.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hatteras Pelagic - 5

It rained for most of the early part of the day as we motored out to the warm water. We did have another fine jaeger show today but only with Pomarine Jaeger (photos). Plenty of Wilson's Storm-Petrels to keep our attention. Brian and chief mate Kate have developed a slurry of minced shark liver in water that they drip from a gallon jug at the stern. It puts out a nice slick, and it doesn't require a person to stand there and lay the slick. The slicks always had storm-petrels and it was generally to the slick that other birds were attracted with a varying success rate. We had a few more Band-rumped Storm-Petrels today and a Leach's Storm-Petrel which was a year bird for us. We had some Cory's, Audubon, Greater, and Sooty Shearwaters. A Bridled Tern came to the boat at one point as did a Sandwich Tern, and we had a good day for Arctic Terns with more than a dozen. The marine mammal show was not as good as yesterday's, but it was a good one nevertheless including Pilot Whales with a calf, Bottlenose, Risso's, and Spotted Dolphins, but no big whales.
Tomorrow's trip might be cancelled if the weather forecast and the resulting seas look too rough. No one really has a good time with really rough seas. Since we can't really know what it's going to be, we'll just have to meet at the dock and find out.
The new bird brings the year's list total to 572.
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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hatteras Pelagic - 4

It was definitely a jaeger day today.  Off and on all morning we were favored by the presence of a pair of Pomarine Jaegers (photo of one).  Then an adult Long-tailed Jaeger appeared (photo).  We also had a five shearwater day - Sooty, Greater, Manx, Audubon's and Cory's.  But the real story is that after I spent three days adding 7 birds to my year list, John rejoined the pursuit and made up that lost ground in one day.  That's right!  All seven species on one  So tomorrow and on Tuesday John and I will be adding new birds at the same time.
We had another good marine mammal show including very good looks at a cruising Sperm Whale.  Ocean sunfish seemed to be common and we got to watch a couple of them swimming below the surface.  Pretty cool.
No new ones for me today so the number stays at 571
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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hatteras Pelagic - 3

Another day at sea with light winds. We ended up about 37 miles south of Hatteras Inlet a couple of miles from where we were yesterday. The mix of birds was approximately the same, but I did get two new birds for the year: Band-rumped Storm-Petrel with its distinctive flight and a Long-tailed Jaeger. We'll see the jaeger again on its breeding grounds in Alaska, but it was important to get the storm-petrel here and now. We had a few more jaegers today including the Pomarien Jaeger pictured here. The other bird is a Black-capped Petrel. We saw about a dozen of those birds today, but none of the wanted, rarer pterodromas. The FieldGuides tour group departed yesterday, so the Stormy Petrel 2 was filled with new birders. Steve Howell joined us today, having just arrived from Madeira where he was studying Zino's Petrels. Beyond the birds we were treated to quality sightings of Sperm Whale, Pilot Whales, Spotted Dolphins, Risso's Dolphin, Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Loggerhead Sea Turtle, and a Humpback Whale that breached six times aswe gauked.

The two new birds today brings the year's list total to 571.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Hatteras Pelagic Number 2

 Today's pelagic trip was pretty much a duplicate of yesterday's trip.  I saw no new birds for the year.  However, today I took my camera and was able to get some pics of some of the birds we saw.  You can stop reading here and guess the identities of the birds shown, or just keep reading and let me tell you.  From the top we have: Cory's Shearwater, Audubon's Shearwater, and Wilson's Storm-Petrel.  I have some others that I will post tomorrow.  The day was beautiful, but the birds were few and far between.  The anomalously cool weather has kept the Gulf Stream further from shore.  To change the situation a weather system is needed.  Therein lies the rub.  If the weather is too rough, the boat won't go.  It looks as if tomorrow's winds will be shifting toward the SE, but the wind speed will remain relatively low.  By the way Ben Willis, son of Les Willis, was part of the crew on today's boat.
Tonight I ate dinner at Sonny's Restaurant across the street from my motel. The current owner is Sonny, son of the Sonny I knew when Paul DuMont and I used to run pelagic trips out of Hatteras in the 70's and 80's.  Sonny would agree to open the restaurant at 5:30am, but invariably that was the time the first staff member arrived, so the first breakfast was served by 6am, setting off a panic among the birding patrons, since the boat sailed at 6:30am.  Oh well!  It seems to have worked out somehow.  I chatted with the current Sonny and found that his father had died a few years ago.  I was aware that his father had a long painful battle with cancer, but hadn't heard about his death.  The food now being served at Sonny's is fine and you can find something on the menu that won't break the bank.  John will be arriving tomorrow night.  It will be great to have his companionship again.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Hatteras Pelagic Number 1

This trip is the first of six pelagic trips that I've signed on for.  We got underway before 6am and headed South which is the direction to get to the closest Gulf Stream (warm) water.  Brian keeps tabs on satellite photos every day so as to know how the stream is changing.  The seas were not bad.  Before long I had my first Wilson's Storm-Petrel, followed by Cory's Shearwater, Black-capped Petrel (web photo), Arctic Tern, and Red-necked Phalarope, all new for the year.  We also had a Bridled Tern and a few Audubon Shearwaters, but they weren't new.  We got back to the dock without mishap at 5pm.  Showered, then spent too much for dinner, but it was good.  Tomorrow's another pelagic day.  The five new birds brings the total to 569.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kentucky Warbler

You may recall that I tried for a Kentucky Warbler along the Blue Ridge Parkway on my way home from Staunton last week.  But it was a complete white-out and I didn't get the easy bird for which I was hoping.  Monday I had been going to search some of the nearby southside counties for a Kentucky Warbler with David Hughes, but he had a doctor's appointment that kept him from going.  So I launched out myself driving to Ivor VA on Rte 460, then turning southwest and trying country roads near the Assamoosik Swamp.  After an hour, I heard a singing Kentucky Warbler in Brunswick County (web photo).  I also heard a large number of Hooded Warblers, Ovenbirds, Red-eyed Vireos, Blue Grosbeaks, and Indigo Buntings.
I paid another visit to the Weyanoke Sanctuary without finding the Bicknell's Thrush.
At home I packed up and left for Hatteras where I will go on six of Brian Patteson's pelagic trips.  On the way down the Outer Banks, I stopped to say hello to Audrey Whitlock.  When I got to Hatteras, I re-located where Brian docks his boat, had dinner, and checked into my motel room.  The warbler brings the total to 564.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Return to Saxis

I gave our mulberry tree a good search, but no Bicknell's Thrush.  I also went to the Weyanoke Sanctuary where there are mulberry trees as well.  But no Bicknell's Thrush.  So in the afternoon I drove to Saxis marsh on Virginia's Eastern Shore.  This time I got maybe three Saltmarsh Sparrows in amongst the many Seaside Sparrows.  I got them along the main road into the town of Saxis.  However, I was a nervous wreck the whole time since the cars on that road go very fast and there are no shoulders.  After that successful pass, I drove around to the side road that goes south from the main road.  I didn't find any Saltmarsh Sparrows there, but about 6pm, long before the sun set, I heard the unmistakable call of a Black Rail (web photo).  It called four times.  I was a bit surprised since today was cooler than my previous try.  But I'm not going to argue with success.  The early time that the rail called gave me time to get back to Norfolk to watch the Cards game on TV.  The two new birds brings the total to 563.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rain at Home

Today it rained heavily in Norfolk (web photo).  I kept a yardlist, but nothing exciting showed up, like a Bicknell's Thrush.  If the rain lets up, I'll try Saxis again tomorrow afternoon.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday at Home in the Rain

I spent the day at home, doing laundry, working a bit in the yard, and doing the NYTimes Sunday crossword puzzle (web photo).  In the evening Joyce and I were guests of one of her colleages for dinner.  It was delightful.  Our hostess had spent most of the day cooking various dishes.  The food was excellent and the discussion around the dinner table was fun.  The hoped-for Bicknell's Thrush didn't appear in the backyard today, so the year's total didn't change.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Schola Cantorum

More nice birds around the yard, but nothing new for the year.  Canada Warbler was in the yard along with some Magnolia Warblers and Black-throated Blues (net photo).  In the evening Joyce and I went to hear the Schola Cantorum, an a cappella group which includes our friend, Bob Rose.  The group performed a group of motets and a newly conposed requiem by Walter Marshall, an ODU Music Department product.  The music was quite enjoyable and well done.  After the concert, a group of our friends adjourned to Bob's house where Aleene had prepared a strawberry pie and a lime pie for dessert.  Tasty, indeed!  Good conversation went right along with the food.  At home we watched a couple of British comedies that were new to us.  Tomorrow our computer guru Brian Foster will come over to see if he can repair the damage to our desktop following the lightning storm of a night ago.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Virginia Birding

So many birds in the yard.  There were thrushes, warblers including several bright male Magnolias (web photo), vireos.  It was quite a feast, but nothing new for he year.  Later in the morning I went to the Weyanoke Sanctuary in Norfolk where I had 12 species of warbler in a little over an hour.  Very good birding, but again nothing new.  In the afternoon Joyce and I took a ride up Virginia's Eastern Shore.  We stopped at a great coffee shop about 20 miles up the shore.  From there we went to Saxis marsh on the bayside west of Temperanceville.  There were lots of Seaside Sparrows singing away, but I couldn't find a Saltmarsh Sparrow.  We waited until it became dark and I listened for Black Rail.  Although I could hear Virginia Rails calling, there was no Black Rail to be heard.  I'll have to try again later.  The new bird brought the total to 561.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Highland County VA

Cheerios and coffee.  That was breakfast.  But it got me on the road with John in his Subaru for the trip up Highland County route 642.  It was raining lightly and there was fog.  Our first warbler, a Yellow Warbler, was singing in the yard.  The Subaru was a little low on gas, so we drove to Rte 220 on the Potomac River to fill the tank.  While John took care of that task, I listened at the bridge which is famous for its Warbling Vireo, present today in full song.  There was also a Northern Waterthrush, our second warbler of the day.  More importantly there were three Least Flycatchers calling.  With a full tank of gas we headed up route 642 tallying Scarlet Tanagers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Red-eyed Vireos right and left.  The Black-throated Green Warbler was a catch-up bird for John.  More warblers and thrushes.  At Straight Fork our first Magnolia Warbler sang.  But it was the Alder Flycatcher that meant more to us.  On up the road with Blackburnian Warblers calling while I struggled to hear them.  Into the rhododendrons where the Canada Warblers were singing.  Finally reaching the backbone we turned north to a clearcut that is on the west side of the road in West Virginia.  There we heard many more Least Flycatchers, a dozen Chestnut-sided Warblers, and the sought-after prize, Mourning Warbler.  We didn't add anything new on the way down, but north of Blue Grass we heard, then saw a gorgeous male Golden-winged Warbler (web photo).  After exchanging the Subaru for my Prius at John's place, we headed back to Staunton.  I made a stop at the fish hatchery and bought 5 lbs of rainbow trout.  Near Ramsey Draft we slowed down to let some cars pass and heard an Acadian Flycatcher call.  When we got to Staunton we went along Bell's Lane where we picked up a Willow Flycatcher, our fourth empidonax flycatcher.  I dropped John off at the Toyota place where he picked up his serviced Prius.  Before I left Staunton, I stopped in at Starbucks and got a tall bold and an apple fritter.  I also cashed in my promotional card that I had been getting stamped for ten weeks, now good for a pound of bold coffee.  I chose Sumatran and had it ground extra fine.  Afton Mountain was completely fogged in.  But that didn't stop me from trying for a Kentucky Warbler.  I didn't get it, but did add Cerulean, Worm-eating, and Hooded to our day's warbler list which ended up at 18.  After three plus more hours, I reached home where I unpacked and cleaned up and spent the rest of the evening with Joyce.  The seven new birds brought the year's total to 560.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Back in Virginia

There’s nothing really fun about driving 740 miles. That’s the distance between Meridien MS and Staunton VA. We accomplished the task, but getting to Staunton was a real prize. We did find a roadside Starbucks for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up which helped. In Staunton I followed John in his Prius to the Toyota dealership where he left his car for servicing. Then I took him to pick up his wife’s Prius which she had left at a friend’s house, and the two Priuses returned to John’s house. On the drive today John and I had decided to spend the night in Highland County and try for a few Virginia birds tomorrow. To that end John fixed a quicky dinner of eggs and beans and we left for Highland County. On the way we stopped at a place where John had surveyed nightjars a few years ago and although it was drizzling, we heard a Whip-poor-will (daytime web photo) which was a new bird for me for the year bringing the total to 553. Tomorrow we’ll try for some warblers and flycatchers.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Happy Anniversary

Yes, that's right.  It's our wedding anniversary today, and I'm on the road and not in Norfolk with Joyce.  But I'm not too far away.  John and I are in Meridien MS with about 700 miles to go to reach Staunton, VA.  We think that's doable tomorrow, so my ETA for Norfolk is Thursday morning sometime.  It will be nice to be home after three weeks away.  The drive from Sinton TX didn't produce any new birds for us although the rice fields and the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana were loaded with herons, egrets, ibis, and even a spoonbill.  In Mississippi it was clear we were back in the southeast with the habitat change to mixed pine-hardwoods.  John spotted a Red-headed Woodpecker in a cutover area as we whistled along.  We'll get an early start tomorrow.

Monday, May 10, 2010

You'll Never Guess What Was Species #550

It was my third trip to the Rio Grande Valley this year.  John and I started our travels with a trip to Texas in January.  Then in March while John was in Cuba I returned to try for some of the rarities and specialties that had been seen.  Now we were zooming into the valley from Laredo.  We made a stop near Zapata where I had gotten Red-billed Pigeon in March.  John looked around for the pigeon while I tended to a cellphone call.  When the call was finished, I took a look where my pigeon had perched in March and there he was, possibly the same bird.  So John got a catch-up bird.  Then it was off to Salineno where I had spent many hours in March looking for Muscovy Duck.  We drove down to the river which was very high, probably because the sluices at Falcon Dam had been opened.  And there in the high water over the boat launch ramp was a pair of Muscovy Ducks (web photo).  I was so completely unprepared for this happening that I didn't have a camera at the ready and missed the photo that should headline this posting.  Ah well.  Tis better to get the bird than its photo.  On to Bentsen SP where we found a couple of Groove-billed Anis, several Brown-crested Flycatchers, plus many of the Texas specialties that we had seen before.  We drove on to Brownsville where we visited the dump for half an hour trying to find a Tamaulipas Crow, but seeing only Chihuahua Ravens and tons of Laughing Gulls.  We tried a couple of locations nearby for Botteri's Sparrow, but the 20mph wind was a little too much for success.  We did, however, have stunning looks at a pair of uncountable Aplomado Falcons conducting some sort of courtship flight.  At that point we decided to point the Prius toward Virgnina and head home.  We're in Sinton TX tonight and should be in Staunton by Wednesday evening.  At dinner tonight we were let in on some local drama with a conversation between two tables.  There was a deadly car crash, how Abilene contributed to infidelity, a grandmother 20 years out of high school who should have re-upped and gone to England instead of marrying a mama's boy.......With the three new birds today, the year's total is now 552.  The Muscovy Ducks were bird #550.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

At Last - A Varied Bunting

Last night’s wind was even worse than the wind of the night before. Plus there was lightning and some rain. But it all ended and the wind was gone. As far as night birds went, John did hear an Elf Owl calling. When it was light enough to venture forth we snacked and walked the Window Trail where at last we found a Varied Bunting (web photo). But we couldn’t turn up a Gray Vireo although we found a Black-capped Vireo and a singing Cassin’s Vireo, a rare west Texas migrant that is really a better bird. We went to breakfast at the lodge and found out they had wifi! I could have been connected the last few days. We checked email and ball scores while we sat outside the restaurant in full view of the Chisos Mountains. Then it was back to pack up the tent. While reorganizing things in the car, I found my MiFi. So once I get it charged up, I should be back in. It wouldn’t have helped at Big Bend or in the Davis Mtns because there wasn’t any Verizon service there. But there should be more regular postings from here on out. We’re heading to the Rio Grande Valley but we made a stop on the way at Kickapoo Caverns SP to look for Gray Vireo again. It turns out the park is not yet open, but we did talk to a very nice graduate student who is working on a Master’s thesis on Black-capped and White-eyed Vireos, both of which were singing right next to us. We’ll just have to come back when the park opens. We ended up at a motel north of Laredo TX. The two new birds today gives me 549 for the year

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Chisos Mountains of Big Bend NP

Last night as we tried to sleep in our tent, the wind came up and blew very hard. Upwards of 25mph. It gave the tent a workout. Needless to say there wasn’t a chance for us to listen for night birds. It also made long stretches of sleep hard to come by with the tent being buffeted almost continuously. However, the system that brought the wind also brought very cool temperatures. Whereas it had been above 90F yesterday, we started off the day at 59F. And today was a big day which the low temperature helped. Today we climbed the trail to Laguna Meadows in our pursuit of the Colima Warbler, a bird found in the US only in these Chisos Mountains. The hike is about 3.5 miles and I chose the easier of the two routes to get to the warbler, but I’m glad we did. It worked out just right. Along the way we saw many of the birds we had seen yesterday plus a couple of new ones. A Blue-throated Hummingibrd appeared so John could catch up on that one. Then a tiny spot in the sky materialized as a Broad-tailed Hummingbird. We saw and heard several more of these upland breeders. They make a zinging sound as they fly which alerted us to their presence. In addition to the Rufous-crowned Sparrows which we had seen before, there were Black-chinned Sparrows which were new for us. And finally when we reached Laguna Meadows we were greeted by a singing male Colima Warlberr in all its finery (web photo). There were Wilson’s and Townsend’s and Audubon’s Warblers there as well. Since there was nothing new for us further up the mountain, we headed downhill which took a toll on our knees. Safely down we snacked a lunch and then headed out to do some exploring. We drove to Castolon on the Rio Grande River with a stop along the way at Sam Nail Ranch. There’s a windmill there that produces a drip which is inviting to desert birds. We watched as White-crowned and Chipping Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, and Audubon’s Warblers came to drink. At Castolon we walked the Cottonwood Campground where there were plenty of Vemilion Flycatchers and Cedar Waxwings and a couple of Summer Tanagers. But the bird we were after and found was Lucy’s Warbler. This section of Texas is the only area where it is found in the state. We drove to where we could see Santa Elena Canyon, a 1500 foot gorge cut by the Rio Grande River through rock (photo). Many rafters and river fanatics run it. Once you enter the canyon at the upper end you have to stick it out until the end. There’s no other way out. Drove back to the basin looking hard for Varied Bunting along the way, but not finding one. Dinner was at the lodge where a group was celebrating the conclusion of a Colima Warlbler census they had been conducting for the last several days. Greg Lasley was there so I said hello to him. With the five new birds the list total is now 547
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Friday, May 7, 2010

Harlequin Quail

Out of our tent before dawn at Davis Mountain SP, we took an early walk looking for quail, but didn’t find any. So we got in the car and drove around looking along the edges of the roadway. At one point John saw another high-flying quail but couldn’t tell what it was. Back at the state park we went to the office to clarify our registration. John asked about if quail were being seen and we were told about the automatic seed dispenser that “goes off” at a certain time in the morning and again in the afternoon. We raced to where it was and there beneath the feeder were two Harlequin Quail (photo) and some other birds attracted to the seed. What a great bird. We did a walk around the campground area and found a MacGillivray’s Warbler and some other migrants in the trees. After breakfast at the lodge, we broke camp packing up the tent and setting off along Limpia Creek where we hoped to see Common Black Hawk, but didn’t. We did see our first of many Bell’s Vireos. We got on the scenic loop around the Davis Mountains and stopped at a picnic area with Western Bluebirds, White-breasted Nuthatches, and our first Western Wood-Pewees. We left the loop and drove through Marfa, Alpine, and Marathon picking up lunch at Alice’s Café. From Marathon it was a straight shot to Big Bend NP. Here again I was reminded what a great bargain the Golden Age Pass is. Entry to the park was free for us and the campsite was $7 per night instead of $14. If you are 62 or over and don’t have one yet, spend the $10 and start enjoying the benefits. That’s $10 for life! We found a campsite at the Basin campgrounc and set up the tent, took a walk, and stopped for dinner at the Chisos Mountaainn Lodge where during dinner I saw a Blue-throated Hummingbird come to an Ocotillo bloom outside. A Western Tanager flew across the trail during an after-dinner walk. When we went to bed in the tent, the six new birds seen during the day raised the total to 542 for the year.

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Black-capped Vireo

The luxury of the motel rapidly evaporated as we hit the road heading to the Austen TX area. We forewent breakfast in the hope of finding a café with personality. In Lockhart TX, the county seat, we indeed did find one just off the square. It appeared to have been a retail store remade into a nice restaurant. As a bonus we had chattering Western Kingbirds on the wires when we exited the restaurant. After the eats, it was on to Balcones Canyonland NWR north of Austen where a gazebo for viewing Black-capped Vireos has been constructed. Normally these things don’t work very well, but in this case after waiting while a couple of couples took each others pictures in front of a sign, we got down to the business of looking for the vireo. A small bird popped into view and darted away. John got on it and confirmed it to be the vireo (web photo). It took a while before I got a satisfactory view, but it happened. Great little bird. It’s endangered and getting quite bit of help from local groups to save it. Next we went looking for Golden-cheeked Warblers which are also in the area. After driving around we finally located a bird singing a song very different from those I had heard last month in Emma Long park in Austen. Instead of having four buzzy notes with a rising ending, this bird had two buzzy notes followed by two sweet notes which were very similar to the two notes in the song of the Carolina Chickadee, a spcies which occurs where we were in Texas. Different locale, different dialect. It was then pedal to the medal and heading west to Fort Davis. We made good time partially because the speed limit in West Texas is 80 mph. A word of caution. I received a warning ticket from Texas’ finest for doing 82mph. They cut no slack in Texas. A brief stop at a rest stop with some trees produced a migrating group of six Bullocks Orioles. Once at Davis Mountains SP we checked in and set up the tent and went for dinner at the Indian Lodge in the park. After dinner we took a walk during which John saw some high flying quail and I saw a Lesser Nighthawk. At our campsite an Elf Owl in a hole in a stub called constantly while two bikers in the next site loaded their bikes into a trailer. After they left, the owl was quiet the rest of the night. Great night’s sleep. The four new birds raised the total to 536.