Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Tale of 2 Geese and a Quail-Dove

I was in Italy for 2 weeks at the end of October and early November.  As a result, I missed a chance to go look for the Eurasian hobby (code 4) that spent a couple of weeks during that same period in Washington state.  But then a tundra bean goose (code 3) was found at Nestucca Bay NWR, Oregon on November 10th.  Last year in November one was seen at the Salton Sea.  I happened to be in Arizona at the time, and met Neil Hayward to try to find it.  Unfortunately it was a 1 day wonder.  Another tundra bean goose showed up in Nova Scotia which Neil was able to see for his 2013 big year record total.

Another interesting rare bird this fall has been a Key West quail-dove (code 4) that was first reported on September 27th at Long Key SP in Florida--a 2 hour drive south of Miami.  It was not seen again until October 7th, and then was not reported again until November 15th. 

When the goose continued to be seen each day, I decided to make the trip to Oregon and then back home through Florida.  I left Wednesday morning the 19th.  I was up in the dark Thursday to make the 2 hour drive from Portland to Nestucca Bay NWR (click on any photo to enlarge).  I arrived about 7 AM as small groups of geese were gliding into the fields to feed.  About 7:20 the tundra bean goose flew in, and landed fairly close to the viewing platform.  Soon 2 birders from Oregon joined me. 

About 7:40 the goose flew off to the right, and joined a different group of Canada and cackling geese which were much closer to the entrance road.  This allowed me to get a decent photo of the tundra bean goose (front center with orange foot up).  When the rain began in earnest, I decided to head back to Portland to catch a train up to Seattle where I stayed for 2 nights.  I was able on Friday to have lunch with John Puschock of Zugunruhe bird tours. We first met in 2010 during my lower 48 big year.  It was good to catch up.

I arrived in Miami on Saturday evening, so I stayed near the airport.  I was out at first light to look for Egyptian geese, which is an exotic that has established its presence in the Miami area so the ABA added it to the list this year.  My first stop was a very well-known birding spot in the Miami area--the Kendall Baptist hospital.  I found several muscovy ducks, lots of white ibis and a flock of monk parakeets.  Across the pond I spotted what appeared to be a single Egyptian goose, but by the time I worked my way over to that side, the early morning speed walkers had flushed it. 

So I visited next the Grace Church which is only 5 minutes away.  I went there because my friend Doreene Linzell had seen 3 geese there last week.  I once again found plenty of muscovy ducks, and had a flock of white-winged parakeets fly over, but no Egyptian geese on the canal or lawn.  As I was leaving the church, I saw 3 Egyptian geese pass overhead.  I still wanted photos, so my next target location was 10 minutes away at Kendall Lakes.  I turned in at the sign, and immediately found many muscovy ducks, and upwards of 20 Egyptian geese.

With the Egyptian goose photographed, I was off to Long Key SP.  I arrived by 9:30 AM, and immediately made my way to a poisonwood tree that is the key landmark for beginning a search for the Key West quail-dove.  This bird got its name when it was first seen in the early 1800's at Key West.  The species has not bred in the U.S. for decades, and now is an extremely rare visitor from the Bahamas to the Keys usually in the summer.  The last fall record of one was in 1991.

I don't like birding in Florida especially when it is hot and humid, so of course that is what I got on Sunday--85 degrees and 80% humidity.  I spent all day slowly walking back and forth on about 150 yards of trail covering the area in which the bird had been reported.  Not only was there no sign or sound of the quail-dove, but the place was almost devoid of bird life.  I counted a total of 9 birds in 8 hours.  I did enjoy seeing the occasional Caribbean tree crab.

I finally gave up the hunt at dusk, and spent the night at Marathon which was another 15 miles further south.  I was back at 8 AM when the park opened yesterday morning.  I kept patrolling the trail until 11 AM when I needed to leave to make the drive back to Miami to catch my flight home to Chapel Hill, NC.  Again there was almost no bird activity--black and white warbler, prairie warbler, blue-headed vireo, gray catbird and 2 cardinals kept me company along with many lizards.

I am back home now getting ready for Thanksgiving.  While I struck out on the Key West quail-dove, at least I was able to add the Egyptian goose to my ABA life list along with the tundra bean goose.  Unless I go after another rarity that shows up before the end of the year, I won't do another post until I do my year end review.  Check back.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Whiskered Tern!!

For the second month in a row, a very rare code 5 bird was found in the lower 48 states.  Last Friday Louise Zemaitis discovered a whiskered tern feeding over Bunker Pond at Cape May Point State Park.  The platform at the pond is a well known hawk watch counting spot in the fall.  This is only the 3rd documented whiskered tern in the ABA area with the last visitor being recorded in 1998.  The whiskered tern breeds in parts of Europe and winters in Africa.  All of the documented sightings in the U.S. have occurred in the summer/early fall at Cape May with the 1993 bird apparently moving over to Delaware for a period of time before disappearing.

As soon as I saw the NARBA report on the the tern, I wanted to make the drive from Chapel Hill to Cape May, but knew I could not leave before Sunday afternoon because of house guests.  Dan and Doreene called me on Friday to see if I was going to try for the tern.  They left Columbus, OH Saturday morning with Laura Keene (the first 3 photos in today's blog were taken by her; click on any photo to enlarge), and Jay Lehman.  They made it to Cape May in time to see the tern late that afternoon, and then went back the next morning to see it again.

Neil Hayward drove down Saturday morning from Boston, and was looking at the tern by mid afternoon.  He left to drive back home before the Ohio contingent arrived.  In the photo above the whiskered tern is standing by itself in the very center of the frame facing to the left, and in the photo below it is in the center flying to the left over the pond.

 I was able to get on the road Sunday by 1:30 PM, and made it to Vineland, NJ by 9 where I spent the night.  I was up at 5 AM and reached the park by 6:30.  There were already a 1/2 dozen birders scoping the pond.  One of them was Paul Hurtado who I had met last May at Magee Marsh in Ohio.  Another birder I know, Barrett Pierce, was also there.  Paul, Barrett and I walked out to the beach to check to see if the whiskered tern was roosting there with the other terns. 

We had not been scanning the flock for even 5 minutes when Paul and I saw the whiskered tern fly in and land.  We phoned the birders back on the platform.  While we waited for them to arrive, the flock was spooked, but returned fairly quickly.  Pretty soon we had 15-20 of us lined up (my photo), but we now needed to relocate the tern, which we did after a couple of minutes.  Some of the group were having a hard time picking it out of the larger flock, but eventually everyone got on it.  After about 15 minutes, the flock flushed again, and when they returned, the whiskered tern was not refound.  Since I had a long drive back home, I decided to leave.  I saw reports from later in the day that it was seen off and on at the beach, and over the pond throughout the day, and it was reported on the beach again this AM.  Almost a 1000 miles of driving proved to be most worthwhile!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Collared Plover!!

Once again the Rio Grande Valley in Texas has been the most recent birding hotspot in the ABA area.  You may remember that last November the second ever recorded visit from Mexico of an amazon kingfisher delighted birders for many days (click on any photo to enlarge).  I was able to make the trip down to see the kingfisher as did many of my birding friends from around the country.

Last Saturday, a collared plover--an equally rare code 5 bird from south of the border--was found at a small playa near Hargill, TX.  And like last fall, its discovery brought in birders from all over the U.S. since the only other time it had been found in the ABA area was in May of 1992, and was seen by very few birders over a 4 day period .

As soon as I received the NARBA email alert I began to check on flights to McAllen Texas which is about 30 miles from Hargill.  The airfares were all too high, and all the economy frequent flyer seats were already booked.  Also, I could not leave until Tuesday because of commitments at home.

John Vanderpoel, who I first met when he was doing a full ABA area big year in 2011, called me on Monday to see if I was going to try for the bird.  He was driving home from Michigan to Colorado, and the earliest he could get to Texas was Wednesday.  I found out that Neil Hayward (MA), who completed his record setting full area ABA big year in 2013, was already in Texas that day.  I talked with him that evening while he was still viewing the plover.  He told me that the 3 top ABA area life listers (Macklin Smith (MI--893), Paul Sykes (GA--889) and Larry Peavler (IN--885)) had already come to see it.  Another birding friend and avid chaser, Liz Southworth (MA), was there with Neil while we talked.

I also got an email from Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell (OH) asking if I was thinking of going.  The earliest they could go was on Wednesday, and they also were having a hard time finding an inexpensive airfare. I checked other Texas cities, and was able to get an economy frequent flyer seat into San Antonio that left at 7:15 AM on Tuesday morning.  While enroute I found out that Liz reported seeing the plover again early that morning.  She also said that a farmer who had a cotton field adjacent to the playa had warned birders that he would be spraying his field that day, and no one could be near it for 48 hours.

My connecting flight out of Chicago was delayed, but I still made it to San Antonio in time to make the 225 mile drive down to the Hargill before sunset.  I arrived about 6:30, and was surprised to see no birders at the prime viewing location.  I concluded it must be because of the spraying issue.  There were a few birders parked on the other 2 roads that bordered the playa.  I set up my scope and began to look for the bird.  I called Neil who was already back home to get some more pointers from him about the bird's habits when he had seen it.

Soon after I began scanning the playa, a second birder joined me--Carol Thompson from Stephenville, TX.  She said that the farmer had gotten very upset with the birders mid day.  Because of his demands that the birders move, and the 100 degree heat, most people had left.  A bit later another birder joined us, and we all spent the next hour scanning the area for the plover.  The sun set at 8 PM, and it looked like we were going to need to return the next morning to try again when I saw a small bird walk out from behind a small clump of vegetation.  We all got our scopes on it to find that it was the collared plover (the 3 photos of the collared plover were taken by Neil).  We were able to watch it feeding on the sand over the next 10 minutes before dusk finally had us packing up our gear.

I returned on Wednesday morning, arriving at 6:50 AM in hopes of seeing the plover again.  There were 2 snowy plovers with 2 chicks running around on the sand, but no sign of the collared plover (photo above taken on Monday by Neil shows a snowy plover in front of the collared plover).  About 7:30 Carol joined me.  We kept looking without success for the plover.  I drove over to the other side of the playa to check a small water area in which it also had been seen, but only found a perched common nighthawk.

I returned to the north shore of the playa, and soon after the other birder from yesterday evening also arrived.  A 4th birder then joined us who had been there also yesterday, but had left before I had reached the site.  While we kept looking we enjoyed many other birds that were visiting the playa.  At 9 the farmer drove up in his truck, and read us the riot act.  I asked him why we had to leave since he had finished spraying the day before.  He told us that there was a federal law about spraying which could cause him to be fined if we did not leave.  We asked him when birders could return, and he told us Thursday morning.  We packed up and departed.  I began the drive back to San Antonio about 9:15.  I called John Vanderpoel who was enroute to Texas to warn him about the farmer.  I made it home Wednesday before midnight.

John tried to see the bird Wednesday evening, along with some others.  The farmer did not come by, but the plover also was not seen at all on Wednesday.  John met Mary Gustafson and Dan Jones (who had found the bird initially) on Thursday morning, and they relocated the plover.  When Dan and Doreene heard that it was seen again, they and another friend, Jay Lehman from Ohio who just completed a full ABA area big year in 2013, bought tickets, and flew to Texas on Friday morning.  All 3 of them were able to see the plover yesterday as did Monte Taylor (CA) who is at the top of the ABA life list for photos (840).

John Vanderpoel called me this morning to say that he, Dan and Doreene were on their way to another area close by to look for a yellow-green vireo that had been found yesterday--it would be a life bird for Doreene.  Like here this morning in North Carolina, it is raining in south Texas.  I have no new birding trips planned at this time, but who knows when another rarity might show up that I will want to try to see.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

700+ Club Reunion: Trip to Hatteras, NC

On Wednesday May 28th, Neil Hayward flew from Boston, MA and Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell drove from Columbus, OH to Chapel Hill, NC to spend the night with me before we all headed out to Hatteras, NC for a reunion of the 700+ club.  The first ever gathering of those birders who had seen 700+ bird species in a calendar year in the ABA area happened back in December of 2012 in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.  The catalyst for that first meeting was to welcome John Vanderpoel to the group.  With Neil Hayward and Jay Lehman both passing the 700 mark in 2013, we decided to have a reunion of the group, and to invite Neil and Jay to honor their big years.

Neil, Dan, Doreene, and I made a couple of stops on our way out to Hatteras on Thursday.  First we visited Howell Woods in hopes of finding Swainson's warblers.  The roads at Howell Woods have had a very tough winter, so unfortunately we could not drive all the way into the preserve.  We had a nice 3 hours walking the roads and trails with many sightings of prairie warblers (all photos in today's post were taken by Neil Hayward unless indicated otherwise.  Click on any photo to enlarge), but no Swainson's.  We also had only fleeting glimpses of a Kentucky warbler.

Our next stop was a place just north of route 64 on the way out to Manteo.  Dan and Doreene knew about Persimmon preserve from earlier trips out to Hatteras.  It is the furthest north location to see red-cockaded woodpeckers.  While waiting for the woodpecker to make an appearance, we did see prothonotary and yellow-throated warblers.

We also found a couple of brown-headed nuthatches with food for their young.

Finally, a red-cockaded woopecker flew into one of the nest trees.

We stopped in Nag's Head for dinner at Basnight's Lone Cedar Cafe where we all had the spring specialty--soft-shelled crabs.  Neil and Dan had never had them before, and found them "odd".  The huge pile of onion straws, and the key lime pie were definitely well received by all.   We drove the last hour down to Hatteras, stopping to get some provisions for the next 2 days of pelagic trips with Brian Patteson.  We ran into John Vanderpoel and a good friend, Doug Koch, who John and I first met at Hatteras during John's big year.

Friday morning we were all at the boat, Stormy Petrel II, at 5:15.  Other 700+ club members included Sandy Komito, Al Levantin (both were in the book The Big Year which chronicled their and Greg Miller's efforts in 1998), John Vanderpoel, Bob Ake, Dan, Jay, Neil and myself.  The rest of the birders on the boat were mostly veterans of pelagic trips, Kate Sutherland (Brian's long time "mate"), and some of the great spotters who join Brian for these trips (Todd McGrath, Dave Pereksta, Tom Johnson, and Bob Fogg). 

It generally takes about 2-2.5 hours to reach the gulf stream where the warmer water temps, and deeper waters attract the seabirds that bring hard core birders out for 12 hours of boat time to try to find a relatively small number of bird species.  Once we reached the gulf stream, Kate started chumming to attract the birds to follow the boat.  We saw a few band-rumped storm petrels, many Wilson's storm petrels, but none of the very rare European storm petrels on Friday.  We also had a couple of Leach's storm petrels come by the boat.

The one petrel species on Friday that was with us most of the day was the black-capped.

We also were visited regularly by a pomerine jaeger.  The day before Jay Lehman had seen his life white-tailed tropicbird which he had been trying to see for 40 years!  We were not blessed with any of the rarer birds, but did see 1 distant bridled tern, many Cory's and Audubon's shearwaters, and a few sooty shearwaters,

After returning to shore, the 700+ group went to Dinky's for dinner.  Left to right (Sandy Komito:  1987 (722) and 1998 (748); Bob Ake:  2010 (731); Al Levantin:  1998 (711); Jay Lehman:  2013 (733 + 2 provisonals); Neil Hayward:  2013 (747 + 3 provisionals);  Chris Hitt:  2010 (704, lower 48 states only); Dan Sanders:  2005 (715); and John Vanderpoel:  2011 (743 + 1 provisional) (photo taken by Doreene on my cell phone).  Missing from the group this year were:  Lynn Barber:  2008 (723); Greg Miller:  1998 (715); Bill Rydell:  1992 (714) ; Benton Basham:  1983 (711); Steve Perry:  1987 (711); and John Spahr:  2010 (704).

Saturday had us powering out of the dock about 5:30.  The day was similar weatherwise and windwise to Friday.  We saw pretty much the same bird species with black-capped petrels still all around us during the day. 

Late morning brought us the rarest bird of the day--a herald or trindade petrel that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, flying up the slick and by the boat.  We maybe had 30 seconds to enjoy it before it flew away--an all to common pelagic birding encounter!  This was a life bird for John Vanderpoel.

We returned to the dock with some rough water for the 1st hour of our ride home.  Dan, Doreene and I said our goodbyes to the group, and then drove back to Chapel Hill, stopping for one more dinner at Basnight's.  Key lime pie capped the meal again.

It was really nice for some of the 700+ group to get together a second time, and once again share the unique experience of doing an all out big year in the ABA area.  Who knows when another birder will cross the 700 species threshold in 1 calendar year.  What I know for now is that I began doing this blog in late 2009 in order to record my lower 48 states big year in 2010.  I have kept adding to it over the past 3+ years--either sharing my own birding trips, or talking about big year efforts.  I have enjoyed doing it, and hope that my readers over the years have also had a good time following what I have had to share.  While I will continue to bird, I have decided that it is time to at least take a break from doing Slowbirding.  There might be new posts at some point, but I do not know when, so instead of closing with "stay tuned", I will only say that you might occasionally check to see if there is anything new from me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Magee Marsh and Environs, and West Virginia

It seemed like Monday morning came all too quickly because I went to sleep at midnight having had a most enjoyable visit with Greg Miller, and Neil and Gerri after Neil's big year talk.  I first met Greg on a pelagic trip out of Hatteras back in 2002.  He is one of the 14 people who have seen over 700 bird species in the ABA area in a calendar year.  He is somewhat famous because he, Al Levantin and Sandy Komito all saw more than 700 species in 1998 which led to Mark Obmascik writing the book, The Big Year, that was made into a movie of the same name.  Partly as a result, Greg is often a featured participant at many bird festivals around the country.

I had breakfast as usual at 6 AM with Dan and Doreene, and Bert and Mike.  We went our separate ways to bird.  The winds were still favorable, so Dan, Doreene and I spent the day again birding Magee and Metzger marshes, and Ottawa NWR.  Doreene noticed a new vanity plate which she coveted since the great gray owl is her favorite bird (my photo).

The warbler show continued being the main theme on the boardwalk with many black-throated blues and black-throated greens putting smiles on birders faces (all photos in today's post are Laura's unless indicated otherwise. Click on any photo to enlarge).

A new bird for the trip was a yellow-billed cuckoo that typically kept itself well hidden thus making it very difficult to obtain good photos.  A distant olive-sided flycatcher kept the crowd busy for awhile in order to make a solid ID.  I also saw my first blue-headed vireo and cedar waxwing of the trip.  Overall the volume of birds was down a bit compared to the previous 4 days, but there was still good variety.  By the end of the day my warbler species count was at 24, and I saw my first orange-crowned warbler of the trip.

One of the special opportunities provided only during the biggest week in birding is taking a bus ride into Cedar Point wildlife area which sits to the west of Ottawa NWR.  Doreene had gotten reservations for the Tuesday morning tour that left at 7 AM.  We had done this tour a couple of years ago, and wanted to try it again.  As we were driving up to the entrance all 15 of us cheered the male turkeys competing with each other (my photo).

Once we were on the 1-way road that takes 3-4 hours to traverse with stops, we immediately began to see and hear birds. There were plenty of warblers but also birds not seen normally at Magee like tufted titmouse.  We heard another least bittern calling in the reeds next to the road.

At our third stop along the way, I walked a bit ahead of the group which meant I missed seeing some white pelicans fly over because I did not hear anyone point them out.  That was okay because as I was carefully scanning the bushes along the road I discovered a Kirtland's warbler--the rarest warbler in the ABA area.  I quickly got Dan, Doreene and their friend Jeff to join me since they were closer than the rest of the group.  We all quickly checked for the key field marks--overall large size, long tail that was flicked regularly while eating, broken eye-ring, large bill size, no yellow in the rump, gray back with some streaking, yellow throat and breast with some streaking, etc.--and concluded it was a female Kirtland's.  And then the bird disappeared (photo above added on 5/22; taken by Keith Lott the next day on the bus tour).

We signaled the rest of the group to join us, and as they arrived, fortunately the Kirtland's popped up again.  We were able to spend at least 10 minutes studying it as it fed which also meant lots of photos were obtained (photos above and below were taken by Jim Long). We were all pretty excited since the only other Kirtland's warbler seen so far in the area was yesterday at Kelly's Island on another bus tour. There were only about 400 Kirtland's left 40 years ago because of loss of habitat, and cowbird predation on the breeding grounds.  Through the trapping of the cowbirds, and the expansion of the jack pine habitat in Michigan necessary for them to breed, today there are estimated to be 4000.  As a result, since 2010 at least one Kirtland's has been found at or near Magee Marsh each year.

We finished our tour about 11:30, and headed back over to Magee in hopes of seeing a Henslow's sparrow that had been found earlier in the day.  unlike the Kirtkand's warbler, Henslow's sparrows are not uncommon, but finding one on the boardwalk is totally surprising.  It had been seen only briefly before it flew off, but by mid afternoon it was relocated feeding very close to the boardwalk.  I have seen this species many times, but never at such a close range.  It is one of our prettier sparrows.

As if a Henslow's and a Kirtland's was not enough, we finished our day at Pearson Park watching a full plumage female red-necked phalarope.  Dan and Doreene said they thought this was only the 2nd red-necked phalarope that they had seen in the spring in over 20 years of birding in Ohio. My warbler count for the day was only 21 species, but the Kirtland's raised my warbler trip total to 31 in 6 days of birding which tied my personal best from last year.  The day proved to be probably the best of the trip and a total of 99 bird species for the day, but the winds were beginning to shift to the north which was not a good sign.

Because the weather was not supposed to be so good on Wednesday, we got a bit later start than normal.  We had not yet been over to Oak Openings, which is on the west side of Toledo.  Dan, Doreene, their friend Bill, and I decided to spend the morning birding there.  As we drove up we ran into a small group being led by Greg Miller.  We immediately found grasshopper sparrow, and with a bit of work, blue-winged warbler which meant a new personal record for me of 32 for the trip.  An hour later I was able to push the record up to 33 when we found a pair of pine warblers.  About 11:30 the rain began to fall, so we drove back to have lunch in Oregon--a suburb of Toledo where we were staying.  

With the rain subsiding, we headed back to Magee, stopping on the way to look at a large group of ruddy turnstones and black-bellied plovers most of which were in breeding plumage.  Back at the boardwalk in only an hour's time we found lots of warblers including blackburnian and magnolia.

Next up was another run through Ottawa NWR on the auto tour.  We were still looking for yellow-headed blackbirds, and black terns plus a reported king rail.  We found none of them, but there was a pretty close pair of trumpeter swans (my photo), and a group of short-billed dowitchers in full breeding colors. We decided to head in for the day since the weather continued to be crummy. With the winds predicted to be coming out of the north for the next several days, I decided to start back home on tomorrow instead of staying until Sunday as I had planned. 

I awoke to light rain that turned into heavier rain fairly quickly.  Dan and Doreene decided to drive about 90 miles south to try to see a Wilson's phalarope as part of their 20th consecutive big year in Ohio.

I drove over to the boardwalk in hopes that the rain would let up, and maybe the bird I still most wanted to see--Connecticut warbler--would stop flying north because of the weather.  I read for a bit until the rain stopped.  I put on my rain gear and began to cruise the boardwalk.  It was chilly, windy and there were almost no birders, but there were still birds to be seen including American redstarts and Tennessee warblers.  Alas, no Connecticut warbler showed up.

I did see a Philadephia vireo, a few eastern wood pewees, and a young rose-breasted grosbeak (my photo).  Dan and Doreene got back in time from their successful chase of the Wilson's phalarope for me to say good-bye to them as well as Jay, and to say hello to their friend Joe.  I then made the 6 hour drive back to Beckley, W. VA. to be in position to bird some there on Friday.

I was on the road by 6 AM to make the short drive to Twin Falls SP--a place that I had read about, but never birded.  It was cool and partly cloudy.  I found a few birds--blue-headed and red-eyed vireos, white-breasted nuthatch, red-shouldered hawk, black-throated green warbler, and an ovenbird (my photo), but not my target bird--cerulean warbler.  One had been reported when I was at Magee, but I heard about it too late to see it.

I decided to try another spot called Crump Bottoms that also was supposed to be good for ceruleans.  It took me about 90 minutes to drive there.  I arrived by 11 AM which gave me hope that the birds would still be singing.  I made it down the somewhat rough gravel road including a stream crossing before finally reaching the bottom.  I almost immediately heard a cerulean calling.  With some patience and perseverance I finally saw it singing in a nearby tree.  This is one of my favorite warblers and was a perfect last bird for the trip.  It was the 34th warbler species of the trip, and having seen prairie and Swainson's warblers, and Louisiana waterthrush earlier this spring, it meant the only eastern warbler that I missed for the year was Connecticut which I consider the hardest warbler to find.

I needed to get on the road again in order to arrive in time to make dinner for my wife, so about 12:30 I began the 4 hour drive home.  In reviewing my trip list, I ended up with 176 bird species seen over 8 full days of birding, and there were another 14 reported that I missed seeing.  So I ended my now annual Magee Marsh trip with new personal bests for warbler species seen, and also total bird species seen.  I would say that while no day at Magee this year was a "10" birdwise, it was the most consecutive days of high quality birding that I have experienced in my visits there.  Also, as always I want to thank those birders who have shared their photos with me, especially Laura, so that this blog can be more colorful and entertaining.  I will be heading out to Hatteras, NC next week to do a couple of pelagic trips with Brian Patteson.  Stay tuned!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Magee Marsh and Environs

I had planned to leave on Friday morning the 9th very early to make the 10 hour drive from Chapel Hill to Magee Marsh which is about 20 miles east of Toledo on Lake Erie.  I had been checking Kenn Kaufman's Crane Creek Birding blog site to see what the migration predictions were looking like.  No surprise, when the winds are out of the south the birds tend to move north.  When they come out of the north they stay where they are waiting for better migration conditions.  Kenn was predicting on Tuesday that the winds were going to be favorable beginning on Wednesday and continuing into the weekend for a good flow of migrants.  As a result, I decided to leave Wed. afternoon to drive to Beckley, W.VA. which would put me in position to reach Magee by mid day on Thursday.

I was on the road by 6 AM Thursday to drive the 400 miles to reach Magee Marsh. I was getting emails from my friends Laura and Doreene that the boardwalk was hopping with new arrivals--birds and humans.  As I was getting close to the turn into Magee Marsh, I found about 100 American golden plovers feeding in a field.  I called Dan and Doreene who were over at Pipe Creek natural area to let them know to look for them on their way to Magee.

When I drove up I also found that the boardwalk had received new signs on both the east and west ends (my photo).  Much more colorful than the old ones, but somehow they failed to say on the new signs that one was at the west end and the other at the east end.  I guess they are part of the buffing up of Magee that has resulted from promoting the biggest week in birding over the past few years. There is also a campaign to raise $300,000 to rebuild the boardwalk which is beginning to show a lot of wear and tear.

I immediately heard that there was a very cooperative mourning warbler being seen at number 16 on the boardwalk.  I went straight out there, and found Laura Keene and Larry Peavler were both there photographing the very hungry bird (all photos in today's post were taken by Laura unless otherwise indicated.  Click on any photo to enlarge).

I spent the afternoon seeing what the boardwalk had to offer and found several warbler species including blackpoll (above) and chestnut-sided. 

When Dan and Doreene arrived I went out to the parking lot to meet them, and saw where a woodcock nest had been taped off to protect the bird (my photo).

By the end of the day I had seen 24 species of warbler, and there were 4 other warbler species reported that I missed.  My decision to arrive a day early had been rewarded.   I had also seen some of the other migration week regulars like Bert and Mike from the Philly area.

On Friday, we spent most of the day on the boardwalk.  There were more thrushes arriving including gray-cheeked.  We also saw wood and Swainson's thrushes, and veeries, but missed hermit which often has already passed through the area by now.  We also spent some time at nearby Metzger Marsh to see if we could locate the white-faced ibises that had been reported, but came away empty handed.  By the end of the day I had seen 23 warbler species including a rare for the boardwalk yellow-throated warbler.  5 other warblers species were reported that I missed.

Friday evening a group of us went into Toledo to Rockwell's Steakhouse to celebrate Neil Hayward and Jay Lehman's big years that they had just competed in 2013.  Dan and Doreene, Laura and her friend Cathy, Neil and his girlfriend Gerri, Jay, and I all thoroughly enjoyed the fine food.

Saturday morning began at Metzger Marsh where we had some luck finding warblers in the small stand of trees that sits between the marsh and Lake Erie.  We then headed over to Magee where I was able to see a worm-eating warbler which was new for the trip.  Black and whites seemed to be everywhere.  We also got pretty good looks at a black-billed cuckoo. With so many birders and photographers on the boardwalk, we opted for the auto tour at Ottawa NWR which produced a few shore birds like dunlin, and greater and lesser yellow-legs.  We saw a bird hiding in the grass which turned out to be a snipe that we hoped at first would be a king rail which had been reported. We headed back to the boardwalk, and stopped at the Sportsmen's center on the way into Magee and found barn swallows nesting at the entrance to the building (my photo).

When we arrived at the boardwalk, I heard about a female golden-winged being seen in the same area out by the beach where the worm-eating had been feeding, so I went over and joined the crowd which was enjoying seeing this fairly rare warbler at Magee.

A Kentucky warbler had been seen briefly in the morning on the boardwalk, but then disappeared for a few hours.  It was relocated about 100 yards from where it was first seen around mid afternoon.  This time it was pretty cooperative for the photographers.  About an hour later it had returned to the spot where it was first seen.

Then we heard that 3 white-faced ibis had flown into Metzger Marsh, so we went to see these lovely birds which had great light from the sun setting on them.  Because I saw and/or heard every warbler reported at Magee Marsh, my warbler species count for the day was 28--a new single day personal record for me at Magee.  And my warbler total for the first 3 days was up to 29. 

With no reports of anything rare in the area on Sunday morning, we returned to Magee.  The south winds had continued, so the number and variety of species continued to be good.  There were a few Canada warblers that had come in.

There were also a few Wilson's warblers around.

While eating lunch we got a report of 10 black-bellied whistling ducks that had been found near Pipe Creek, a natural area in Sandusky which is about 45 minutes to the east.  This was only the second time this species had been found in Ohio, so we jumped into our cars, and headed over to check them out.  When we arrived they were still resting near a MacDonald's from the long flight from maybe Texas.  We also checked to see if the first ever recorded neotropic cormorant was roosting nearby, but it was not.

After long looks, we walked into Pipe Creek to see what was around.  We heard a least bittern calling, and tried to get it to show itself.  It kept "talking" to us, but after 15 minutes we gave up trying to coax it out into the open.  We saw some gulls and terns, and may have seen the neotropic cormorant fly by with 2 double-cresteds.

We started back towards Toledo to have an early dinner in order to be at Neil Hayward's accidental big year talk that he was giving at 7 PM.  Neil did an outstanding job, and covered the topic in less than 90 minutes.  After the talk was over, Gabriel Mapel, who I met at Magee when he did a junior big year in 2011, came up to me to introduce his mother.  This was a nice ending to the first 4 days of my trip, and there were still several days of birding left, and the winds were still helping.  Stay tuned!