Total ABA Species Recorded During 2010 - 731

Friday, December 31, 2010

Decision Not To Go To Texas

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Nice Day in the Rio Grande Valley

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day in the Rio Grande Valley

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Oriole Is Back

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Not in California

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Came Home

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Last Chicken

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

Monday, December 13, 2010


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

Brown Shrike

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In California - For the Last Time This Year?

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

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Last Full Day in Newfoundland

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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Yellow-legged Gull

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

First Day Birding in Newfoundland

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

I'm in Newfoundland

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Dreaded La Sagra's, at last!

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

Back For the Baikal

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

Home then Back to the Chase

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No Shrike in the Rain

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