Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Variegated Flycatcher!!!

The sixth ever recorded variegated flycatcher in the ABA area was discovered at Evergreen Cemetery in Ft. Lauderdale, FL this past Saturday.  This is a species that breeds in northern and central South America, so its appearance in the ABA area suggests a post wintering reverse migration pattern. Neil Hayward emailed me asking if I was interested in chasing it.  I said I would think about going if it was reported the next day.

On Sunday morning it was reported again on the Tropical Audubon Society site, and then on Narba. I called my friend Bob Wallace who lives in Gainesville, FL to find that he was already on his way there with his brothers and his friend Dex.  He and I had spent over a month together in East Africa birding in the summer of 2012, and stay in touch.  I had met Dex and Bob originally in 2006 at Gambell, AK, and then reconnected in 2010 during my big year.  By mid afternoon his group had seen the bird, and were already driving back north (photo below taken by Bob.  Unless attributed to someone else, all photos were taken by me.  Click on any photo to enlarge).

Neil and I decided to come down on Monday morning.  He flew into Miami from Boston, arriving 2 minutes after my flight from Raleigh/Durham.  We got our rental car, and headed up to the cemetery, passing thru a brief shower.  As we drove in about 10 AM we passed a nice group of white ibis.  We immediately headed over to where all the birders were staring up into a large tree. 

With some friendly assistance we were able to locate the variegated flycatcher, but it took a few minutes because there were so many birds feeding in the tree including many warblers (photo taken by Neil).

As is common when a rarity is found, other birders from around the country had come to see it.  Susan Clark came up to us to say hi.  We had birded with her in September at the Pribs in Alaska.  Then Neil saw that Brandon Reo was also there with a friend.  They chatted briefly about Brandon's very successful year of birding (692 birds so far recorded on his 2015 ABA area ebird list).

After about 20 minutes the flycatcher flew back over to a strangler fig that has been its preferred feeding location, so we walked over to watch it some more.  Neil proceeded to take a huge number of photos, and shared the one above with me.  While watching the bird, Lucie Bruce and Nick Cooney walked up having flown in from Texas.  I had last seen them also in Pribs back in the fall of 2013.  While visiting, some other birders told us that there was a spot-breasted oriole feeding over by the canal that runs along the edge of the cemetery.

We walked over to try to find it, and ran into Monte Taylor who was in from California.  He is at the top of the ABA area list for photographed birds.  The variegated flycatcher raises his total to 851.  We did not locate the oriole, but a huge lizard was hanging out in the tree where it had been seen.

We kept moving back and forth between the oriole site and the flycatcher site, and finally we were able to see the oriole (photo taken by Neil).  The spot-breasted oriole is a Miami area specialty, so it was nice to be able to find one.

As it got closer to our time to head back to the airport, local bird guides Angel and Mariel Abreu arrived.  I had met them back in 2013 at Bill Baggs SP which is located on Key Biscayne.  I had come down that time to try to see a bananaquit and a western spindalis.  Unlike this trip, I missed both of those birds.  Jeff Bouton also showed up at about the same time.  Another birder took a group shot of us (Neil, Mariel, Jeff, me and Angel).  It was a nice way to end our short but very birdy visit.  In the 3+ hours that we were in the cemetery, we were constantly seeing birds, and totaled over 10 warbler species alone plus we ran into so many other birders we know from around the country.

One last note for this post.  On 10/26, Noah Strycker saw a flame-crowned flowerpecker in the Philippines for his 5000th new bird for 2015.  He still has 2 months of birding, so who knows how high his new world big year record will be.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Big Year 3/4 Pole Update

It is October 1st so I am doing a short post on this year's big year efforts as the birders turn onto the home stretch of their birding adventure.  As I have said in earlier posts, I do not know anyone that is definitely doing a full ABA area big year in 2015.  However, in checking the ebird top 100, it seems that Mike and Wendy Schackwitz (663 different species year to date), and Brandon Reo (653) are doing big years based on their high totals and constant birding activity.  In the lower 48 category, Dan Gesualdo (636), a birder from Ohio that I know who I have mentioned in an earlier post, is also still doing a big year.

I do know of one world big year that is being done by Noah Strycker.  I have mentioned him earlier this year saying that you can follow his efforts on his blog which can be found on the Audubon site.  On September 16th Noah passed the old record (4341) set back in 2008 by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller.  With his goal of seeing at least 5000 bird species in 2015, he is continuing to bird in Asia, and then will finish up in Australia and New Zealand.  As of 9/30 his world total for 2015 is at 4565 species with the most recent ebird post being Pallas's fish-eagle.  I have never seen a fish-eagle, but the photo above is of a Verreaux's eagle-owl that I took when I birded in East Africa in 2012 (the entire trip was recorded in earlier posts back in 2012).  He should have no trouble passing 5000 birds for the year.

I was also sent a photo taken by Cory Gregory (click on any photo to enlarge), one of our guides on the Pribs, of all of us except Neil Hayward taken in the upper cut of the quarry on the day that the Pallas's rosefinch was first found.  As I wrote in my last post, it is a great day for any birder when they get to participate in recording the first ever sighting of a bird in the ABA area.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pribilof Islands--9/11-23/2015

In the spring I decided that I wanted to return this fall to bird at St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs which is located in the Bering Sea.   It is north of the Aleutian Island chain, and south of Russia.  The plane flight from Anchorage takes about 3 hours.  I had visited here for 20 days back in September and October of 2013. You can read my blog posts from that trip by checking the entries for those months of that year.

I talked with some other birding friends about joining me.  Three committed early on to also come--John Vanderpoel, Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell.  Dan and Doreene had been with me for part of my visit in 2013, and John had most recently come to the island in 2011 during his big year. Once we arrived on Friday afternoon the 11th, we were joined by 2 more birders (Barbara Carlson and Sue Drown), and then mid trip Neil Hayward surprised us when he arrived on Friday the 18th.  The photo below was taken by one of our guides at Hutchinson Cut near the end of our stay (from left to right:  Neil, Dan, Doreene, John, me, Barbara, and Sue.  Click on any photo to enlarge.  All photos were taken by me unless attributed to someone else).

Given how remote and small St. Paul Island is, this is a place only visited by very committed birders.  The fall weather is generally mixed rain, clouds and some sun with temps in September during the day in the mid 40's to low 50's, and upper 30's at night.  It is usually windy (10-20 mph) to very windy with gusts well over 40 mph during big storms.  At the beginning of our stay the sun rose around 8:45 AM and set around 9:45 PM, and with each passing day we lost about 5 minutes of daylight.  It is definitely challenging birding involving walking between 5 and 10 miles a day, including thru dense patches of wild celery, and riding in a van or bus to reach the different best birding spots.

The daily routine involved 3 birding segments.  The morning period was from 9 to 11:30, and generally began by driving slowly along one of the 3 main roads in hopes of finding an Asian passerine. The after lunch segment began by 12:30 and finished between 5 and 5:30.  The evening session would begin between 6 and 6:30, and finish up anywhere from 8-9:30.  A few days after the first 6 of us arrived, other birders also came onto the island, and they formed a second group to provide even more thorough coverage each day of the island's birding hotspots.

The bird guiding/transportation is provided by St. Paul Island Tours which is led by Scott Schuette.  He was assisted by Cory Gregory and Alison Vilag.  Each day one of the 3 would be our guide for the day. 

Birders visit St. Paul Island from mid May through early October, with most of them coming either from late May to mid June, and again from mid August into early October.  The attraction is the breeding seabird colonies on the island which include puffins, auklets, murres and cormorants plus the slim possibility to see lost/rare Asian shorebirds, ducks and passerines.

On our first day we visited a cliff that during the summer is covered with breeding seabirds like the horned puffin (photos above and below taken by Neil Hayward), and even in September has a few still roosting there.  We also saw a pacific wren which we did not see back in 2013 because the previous severe winter had been very hard on the wrens.

Friday the 11th and Saturday the 12th proved fairly uneventful with our best bird being a brambling (ABA code 3) that we saw briefly in the upper cut of the quarry.  There were also a very rare for the island Barrow's goldeneye with some injury that kept it from flying, and a solitary sandpiper .  We looked for the wood sandpipers that had been around, but they had left.  Instead we did see many sharp-tailed and pectoral sandpipers. We did see most days when we drove the road out to Southwest Point a group of young foxes that were living in a culvert that ran under the road.

Sunday brought our first significant storm with winds out of the west that drove the rain sideways.  It was so bad that we did not bird the afternoon segment that day.  It did give us hope that some Asian vagrants would be brought in with the storm.

The island is also home to 1/2 million northern fur seals.  As you drive the roads you encounter signs telling you which of the rookeries you are near.  There are viewing blinds at a couple where you can get nice photos of the seals.  The seals return to the island each May, and generally return to their life at sea by October.  The baby seals are taken care of by their mothers on land until they get old enough to move into the water and learn to swim (photo by Neil Hayward).  Once they leave in October they will not return to land until the following May. Because of the huge number of seals, there are also orcas that are seen regularly.

The six of us birded together each day, working hard with our guide for the day to try to locate new birds that were at least new for our trip, even better if new for the island for any of us, and best if a new ABA life bird.

On Monday the 14th, we were checking out Webster Lake.  Everyone but me was scanning the lake for birds.  I happened to see a swift shaped bird with a dark body and wings cross my vision.  It was flying very fast because of the high winds.  As it flew by me at eye height at a distance of about 150 feet, I realized it was a pacific swift (code 4) when I saw its bright white rump.  By the time I shouted out to the group, it had disappeared from sight.  We all walked over to the small gazebo it had flown by to try to relocate it, but it was gone with the wind.  I was very frustrated about not getting anyone else on it because in 2013 we also had a pacific swift fly by at Webster Lake that only some of our group saw well.

One of the spots checked daily is the large line of stacked metal crab pots (more like big cages) that are used during the winter months to catch dungeness crab.  Since there are no trees on the island, they serve as a surrogate forest for birds.  In 2013 I walked these pots every day, but never turned up any rarities.  Finally on Wednesday afternoon the 16th we had a really high number of birds in the pots including a brambling.  We took this as an omen that the next day might be really good.

Thursday did not let us down.  We started out driving the road to Southwest Point where we found a first year horned puffin walking on the road.  Scott had said he had never seen one doing that before, so we thought it might be in trouble.  We caught it, and I held it during the 5 minute ride to the Antone seawall.  It was covered with a towel and seemed to be pretty calm.  That was not the case when Scott took it to release it back to the sea.

After dropping off the puffin, we visited Southwest Point and did some seawatching.  We also found our first emperor goose for the trip.  It was sitting on cormorant rock with lots of cormorants and gulls.

Next up after lunch we flushed our first common snipe (code 3) for the trip at Dump Pond.  This was also a life bird for Sue who had never been to the Pribs, and was already up to about 10 new ABA area life birds.  We saw a rare for the island yellow-shafted northern flicker between Big Lake and Webster Lake. Later in the afternoon we flushed a sky lark (code 3), which was not seen by all, and we could not relocate it.

We then got word that Alison, and Doug Gochfeld (a former guide for St. Paul Island Tours who had come out on Wednesday the 16th along with Tom Johnson) had flushed an ovenbird--a first ever sighting for the island.  Scott wanted to try to see it to add to his island life list (240+).  We stomped thru some pretty dense celery, but could not relocate it either.  Then as we were heading back for dinner, Scott gets a message that Alison and Doug had found a siberian rubythroat, but it was over an hour of very difficult walking each way to get to the spot.  Also, only Doug got to see and photograph the bird before it disappeared.  This would have been a life bird for me, but there was not enough daylight after dinner to chase it, so we did not.

Instead, after dinner Doug calls to say a sky lark was near the town cliffs above old town.  We all trooped up and got pretty good views of it (photo taken by Cory Gregory).  This was the second sky lark I had seen with the first being at Gambell on St. Lawrence Island back in 2006.

By now we were all feeling quite good having had such a bountiful day when the call came in that a jack snipe had just been flushed at Pumphouse Lake.  All the birders converged about 8 PM to attempt to flush the snipe again.  When we were all lined up, the guides flushed the bird.  With the sun shining on it as it circled around our group, cheers went up all around (photo taken by Cory Gregory).  The jack snipe is an ABA code 4 bird that is rarely encountered even on St. Paul Island.  It was the number one bird on my wish list for this trip.

On Friday our group was checking the lower cut at Polovina Hill when Scott Schuette drove up to drop Neil off.  I had talked many times with Neil about coming on this trip, but he is getting married in October and did not think he could get away.  It was a very nice surprise when he arrived.  He was not able to see the jack snipe later that afternoon, but it was found on Saturday evening the 19th, so he got to see it as did the rest of us one more time.

Saturday afternoon we all had a chance to see again one of at least 2 sky larks that had come to the island.  This one was the one we assume we saw 2 days earlier in the same spot near the town cliffs. The sky lark site provided good views of the Russian orthodox church, and the new town across the harbor.

Saturday the 19th was pretty uneventful other than all of us getting to see the jack snipe again.  Sunday however would prove to be the most significant day of our trip.  It began with Doug picking us up to be our "guest" guide for the day.

We drove out to Southwest point after a quick drive to Reef Point.  Seawatch gave us our first relatively close looks of least auklets.  Unlike the puffins and murres, all the different breeding auklets leave the breeding cliffs before September.  We also had a couple of fly over bramblings.

After checking the crab pots without anything exciting there, we got a call that Cory had found want might have been a common rosefinch in the upper cut of the quarry.  Back in 2013 we had seen a female common rosefinch on Black Diamond Hill.  We drove over to join Cory's birding group to make an attempt to relocate the mystery finch.  We all climbed up to the ridge line as soon as Alison said she was looking at the bird.  Unfortunately, before we could all reach her, the bird moved.

We were able to spread out to search for it again.  Doug and I were looking down the boulder strewn slope when it suddenly flew across below us and landed back over where most of the others were standing.  Then it flew up over their heads and back down into the upper cut.  As it flew by me, I could see the very red rump, streaking in the back with red tones there as well.  Neil was able to get a decent photo.

When Cory first saw the bird, he heard its call which did not match that of a common rosefinch.  As it flew by Doug and myself, the bird called again, and Doug said the same thing.  We all climbed back down into the cut, but the bird could not be relocated.

We next visited for the second time on this trip the Zapadni Ravine where we found an arctic warbler--a bird I had seen in 2013 at the Pribs, and earlier near Nome in 2006.  

After dinner we drove the road that goes to the northeast of the island.  On our way up to Hutchinson Cut, we almost ran over a red phalarope.  On the way back we decided to pick it up because it seemed so tired.  It rode in a boot for 5 minutes until we could release it at Webster Lake.  Opposite Webster Lake, we spent some time sea watching and found a king eider on the shore.  We stopped at Barabaras and flushed either a wilson or common snipe.

That evening we were able to study the photos taken of the finch, and it appeared to be a Pallas's rosefinch which the call heard by the guides corroborated.  If that was the case, it would be a first record of the Pallas's rosefinch in the ABA area. So on Monday the 21st, one of our goals was to try to relocate the mystery finch in an effort to get even better photos. In the morning we birded elsewhere, and also right after lunch.  We then got word that Alison's group had located in the upper cut of the quarry what they believed was a taiga flycatcher--another possible life bird for most of us.

We drove down to the quarry, and once again climbed up on the ridge to look for the tiaga as well as the finch that had also been seen and photographed well.  Those new photos were even better and supported the belief that the mystery bird was in fact a Pallas's rosefinch.  We did not succeed in finding either bird.

The rest of our day of birding was uneventful, but knowing that the Pallas's rosefinch had a very good chance of being accepted now because of even better photos made all of us very jubilant.  Neil now had seen one confirmed ABA first in 2013 during his big year when he saw a common redstart on the island, and now a possible 2nd first with the Pallas's rosefinch.

We awoke on Tuesday the 22nd to read on Narba that a red-flanked bluetail had also been seen on the island.  At breakfast we found out that the evening before the guides had studied Alison's photos of the taiga flycatcher, and had changed the ID to a bluetail.  This review was only possible because of the age of digital cameras.  And the good documentation for the review by the Alaska, and ABA bird review committees for the Pallas's rosefinch is also because of the magic of digital photography.

The rest of Tuesday the 22nd and our partial day of birding before flying out on Wednesday gave us no new life birds, but we did add some new trip birds like pine siskin, hermit thrush and a mallard.  We visited most of the places we had been to so many times already on this trip.  We saw our last of many rainbows generated by a rain squall during our 13 days of birding.  My trip list for the full group ended up at 81 species of birds, and I added 14 new birds to my St. Paul Island life list bringing the total seen there to 106 species.  I was very pleased to add the jack snipe and potentially the Pallas's rosefinch to my ABA area life list, and of course was disappointed in missing out on the siberian rubythroat (code 3) and the red-flanked bluetail (code 4)--but you just can't get them all!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mid Year 2015 Update

Usually around July 1st each year I do a short update on what is going on with respect to big year efforts of which I am aware.  But first I want to congratulate Neil Hayward on his becoming the sole ABA area big year record holder now that the ABA has added the rufous-necked wood-rail to its official list of bird species.  In July of 2013 the first ever ABA area documented rufous-necked wood-rail was discovered at Bosque del Apache NWR.  I blogged about my trip to see it on July 10th of 2013.  Neil went to see it as part of his big year in 2013, and its addition pushed his big year total to 749, breaking a tie with Sandy Komito.  This was the only bird left on his list that he was waiting to be confirmed.

The rufous-necked wood-rail is a bird whose range begins in southern Mexico and extends into Central and South America.  No one had this bird on their list of possible new visitors to the ABA area.  It spent about 10 days at Bosque del Apache before it disappeared which allowed many birders to go to see it (click on any photo to enlarge).

Turning to the topic of big years in 2015, I still do not have any definitive information on anyone doing an ABA area big year.  Looking at the ebird data, it appears that there may be several birders that could be doing a big year, but none of them has a blog, so I have no way to know for sure.  The top ABA area listers for the year are Mike and Wendy Schackwitz who as of 6/28 had seen a total of 594 species.  From the birds that ebird recorded, it is apparent that they have recently spent time in Alaska, and are now back birding in the lower 48 states.  If they are doing an ABA area big year, some mid year reference totals for the top 3 ABA area big year efforts would be Neil Hayward at 653 (year end total 749), John Vanderpoel at 654 (2011--year end total 744), and Sandy Komito at an amazing 692 (1998--year end total 748)).

The one proclaimed big year that I know about is being undertaken by Noah Strycker who is doing a world big year.  You can read about his year by visiting the Audubon website.  As of June 30th, Noah has seen 3,331 species.  His goal is to see at least 5,000 bird species by year end which is roughly 1/2 of all the known bird species.  As a reference, the current record for a world big year is 4,341 which was set in 2008 by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller.  They broke the previous record of 3,662 set back in 1989 by Jim Clements.

Finally, Neil told me that he knows a birder, Olaf Danielson, who has already said on his blog ( that he will be undertaking an ABA area big year in 2016.  Here's to all the birders out there currently doing or planning various kinds of big years.  As for me, my next big birding adventure will be a return trip to the Pribilof islands in September with some birding friends.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Magee Marsh: Spring Migration 2015

I left Chapel Hill on Wednesday May 6th to begin my drive up to Magee Marsh for my annual spring migration visit there.  I spent the night in Beckley, West Virginia, so that on Thursday morning I could check out a birding spot just outside of Charleston, which was another hour drive north.  The place, Coonskin Park, proved to be not very birdy the next morning, so I was on my way to Magee Marsh fairly quickly.  I received an email from Bert Filemyr that he and Mike Rosengarten had left as planned that morning.  I emailed back that I was going to stop at Pipe Creek wildlife area near Sandusky and would arrive about 2 PM.

I pulled into the parking area at Pipe Creek to find Bert and Mike climbing out of their SUV.  We spent the next hour or so checking out the area in hopes of finding a Connecticut warbler.  We did notice a cooper's hawk perched which then flew up, circled a couple of times and took off.  We also located a blue-headed vireo (both photos taken by Bert--click on any photo to enlarge), as well as a few random warblers.

Next stop was Magee Marsh to see how things were on the boardwalk.  It was fairly slow for Magee, but there were some warblers like the black-throated green below still feeding before starting their flight across Lake Erie.

After leaving the boardwalk, we stopped in at Metzger Marsh as well.  On the entrance road we spied 2 doves that at first glance looked like European collared doves.  When we looked closer, they did not match our experience in seeing this species.  Bert said he thought they must be escaped cage doves, but I said where would they have come from.  By the next day we all agreed that they were either escaped birds, or released at a wedding ceremony.  The cage bird theory seemed more likely since you could almost walk up and touch them without their flinching.  They were in the same bush almost everyday for the rest of our stay. 

We went on into the marsh and were able to see a very distant marbled godwit that had been reported.  There was also a large flock of American golden plovers. It was getting pretty late, so we headed to our hotel to check in for our multi-day stay in the area. 

The next morning we were out early and retraced our steps.  The boardwalk was much more active with both people and birds.  One of our few sightings of an ovenbird for the week contributed to a plus 20 day for warbler species.  I also found a new "birders" plate for my photo collection.

My friends Dan and Doreene arrived late morning having driven up from Columbus, OH that morning.  We birded together the rest of the day which became unseasonably warm for the area.  There were plenty of birds to see including early arriving black-billed cuckoos (photo taken by Bert).  Friday proved to be the high warbler count day of the trip for me at 26 species. We wrapped up our day with dinner at the Cinco de Mayo restaurant in Oregon where we all were staying.

Saturday was pretty much a replay of Friday with many of the same species and numbers, and still too warm (80's) for early May. 

Laura Keene, my friend who over the years has so graciously shared her excellent photos with me to use on this blog, was supposed to be with our group on the Sunday morning bus tour into Cedar point--a closed part of the Ottawa NWR complex.  Instead, a friend of Dan and Doreene's, Leslie Sours, came along with us.  Our group of 6 were on the bus at 7 AM joined by 8 other birders, a driver and the Ottawa NWR manager.  On this tour last year we were fortunate to find a female Kirtland's warbler that was also seen the next day by another bus tour.

We were not very far into the refuge when we came upon a pair of sandhill cranes which provided plenty of photo ops.  Further in we birded some of the tree lined sections of the dike where we turned up some warblers like the bay-breasted below (photo taken by Bert).

After finishing the bus tour, we checked out how things were on the boardwalk at Magee to find it was again pretty much like on Saturday--good numbers of birds, lots of people and still way too warm for my liking.  A female yellow-headed blackbird was reported on the Ottawa NWR self-driving tour, so mid-afternoon we all went to see if we could find it.  Sure enough she was feeding along the road (photo taken by Leslie).  Dan and Doreene, who are once again doing a big year for Ohio, were very glad to find this hard to locate species in Ohio.

Monday was the 4th day in a row of 80+ degree weather, with southerly winds which meant a few new species arriving, and many birds continuing their trip into Canada.  Laura Keene joined us as well.

The best bird for the day was a female cerulean warbler which when I studied the warbler handbook later in the day looked like a possible first year male to me. We kept getting reports of yellow-bellied flycatchers, but we never could relocate the bird at the position that it was first reported.   The same was true for olive-sided flycatchers.  We did see some rose-breasted grosbeaks.

There were still good numbers of warblers like the Wilson's just below.

I also saw a wood thrush which proved to be a rare bird this year as did Swainson's thrushes.  The one thrush species that we saw quite a few of was the gray-cheeked which is normally the rarest of the thrushes at Magee.  We finished our day eating dinner together to celebrate Dan's birthday.

Tuesday dawned with a high chance for rain and much cooler temps.  We heard about a common nighthawk on a roost on the Ottawa NWR self-driving tour, so we went to check it out.

We also got a report of a hudsonian godwit at Metzger Marsh.  Arriving at the marsh we found it was no longer there, but another was reported close by at the Meinke Marina.  We had just enough time to rush over to the marina before the start of our afternoon bus tour of the Darby unit of the Ottawa NWR.  The godwit was too far out to get a good photo, but there were also a good number of American golden plovers (photos just above and below taken by Bert).  In hindsight, I think the hudsonian godwit was the bird of the trip given how rare they are in the spring in Ohio.  Dan said in all his years of birding in Ohio, this was the first year he had seen both marbled and hudsonian godwits in the spring.

The bus tour of the Darby unit proved to be probably the slowest birding time of the entire week.  It was very windy, so there just were not many birds around other than swallows and kingbirds that were migrating along the lake edge.  Heavy rains greeted us later in the afternoon.

Wednesday brought similar weather conditions as Tuesday.  I stopped at a spot we had visited several times to try once again for hooded mergansers, and was finally successful.  We all birded the boardwalk early to find pretty much the same species we had been seeing for a few days.  About 10 AM Bert and Mike decided to start their drive back to Philadelphia.  Right after they left we got a report of upland sandpipers in a field nearby, so we headed over to check them out.

While looking at the uppies, a report came in that a female Kirtland's warbler had been found at Oak Openings which is on the west side of Toledo. Since I also needed to leave by noon to begin my drive to Boston, I chose not to drive an hour west before starting my long drive east.  Dan and Doreene did go, and I heard later that they were able to see the Kirtland's--another hard to see species for their big year.

I returned to the boardwalk for one last walk there before leaving for Boston.  Surprisingly, there was a bobwhite quail in the parking area near the West entrance of the boardwalk.  This is a released bird for northern Ohio, but it was the first I had seen at Magee.  I was on the road as planned at noon.

This is the 7th year in a row that I have visited Magee Marsh for  spring migration.  I continue to enjoy the birding, and seeing old friends while there.  Once again I saw most of the species that you expect to find, with a final tally of 159 this year.  For the first time in years I did miss seeing golden-winged and Kirtland's warblers.  I do not know what the summer will bring birding wise--maybe another chase for a rarity.  I do know that I am returning to the Pribiloff Islands in the Bering sea this coming September.  Dan and Doreene will be joining me as will John Vanderpoel, and possibly Neil Hayward.

As for any news of ABA or lower 48 big years in 2015, Dan Gesualdo from Ohio who I know, seems to have slowed down dramatically after a very fast start during the 1st 3+ months of the year.  He has been passed on the ebird top 100 by several other birders.  Mike and Wendy Schackwitz, who I do not know but presume are a couple, are leading the top 100 at 551 species seen so far.  I can not find any definite info as to whether they are undertaking a big year, but their travels and number of species seem to suggest that they are.  If I begin seeing bird species from Alaska later this month on their ebird list, then it would appear very likely that they are doing an ABA area big year.

Addendum 5/24:  Laura Keene sent me a photo of the upland sandpiper so here it is.

She also sent me a photo of the cerulean warbler which now that I have a photo definitely looks like a female. My view in the field was not as good as Laura's photo.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bahia Honda SP--Double Red Letter Day!

On Sunday 2/22 a bananaquit (code 4) was reported on on the Silver Palm Nature Trail at Bahia Honda SP located in the Keys in Florida.  In mid January of 2013 a bananaquit, and a western spindalis were reported in the Key Biscayne area outside of Miami.  I missed both birds on that trip, but did get to see a western spindalis in Florida in April of that year.  When on Monday afternoon the bananaquit, plus a black-faced grassquit (code 4) were reported on Narba at Bahia Honda SP, I quickly checked for flight availability to Miami.  I found there were reasonably affordable seats on the 6:20 PM flight, so I bought a ticket and rushed off to the airport. 

I arrived in Miami about 8:15, and made the short drive down to Florida City to be in position to drive early Tuesday morning the additional 90 miles to Bahia Honda SP.  I would have driven further down into the Keys Monday night, but being the height of tourist season, motel rates were ridiculously expensive--even Florida City was more than twice what I paid in December when Neil, Gerri and I went after the Key West quail-dove.  I was on the road by 5:30 AM, and pulled up to the closed gate at Bahia Honda at 7:35.  There was already a car in front of me from Pennsylvania.  A man soon got out of his car, and we began chatting.  His name was Joe, he lives in Bethlehem, PA, and spends a few weeks each winter in Florida.

Soon another car drove up, and, so typical of rarity birding, Mike and Corinne get out who are also from Bethlehem, PA.  We had met in the fall of 2013 on St. Paul Island in the Pribiloffs in Alaska.  They had come down to Florida for a week, and were on their way home when they heard about the black-faced grassquit.  Once the gate opened, we all headed first to the Buttonwood campground bathhouse to look for the grassquit.  After about 30 minutes with no grassquit in evidence,  Joe and I decided to check out the bananaquit location which was about a 5 minute ride away.  On the way over I found out he had been to Attu in the western Aleutian Islands in 1994 and also 2000.

We found the Silver Palm Nature Trail, and located an area about 150 yards down the trail that looked promising.  We also met a couple from Minnesota who were spending some time in the Keys, and had heard about both birds being spotted.  Soon a 5th birder, Claire from Mississippi, joined us and confirmed from her ebird report that we were in the right spot for the bananaquit.

About 9:10 I saw the bananaquit fly over my head and into a 10 foot high clump of vegetation.  Before I could get anyone else on it, it buried itself.  For the next 20 minutes or so, we all kept scanning the area in hopes it would reappear (in the photo above you can see Claire with her camera intently looking for the bird--click on any photo to enlarge).  About 9:30 the bananaquit flew up out of the dense vegetation and into a large sea grape which you can see behind Clair.  By then a family of 4, plus another couple had all arrived, and everyone was able to get very good looks at the bird (photo below taken by Claire--bananaquit in center of image facing right).

We called Mike and Corinne, and suggested that we switch places with them if they also wanted to see the bananaquit (they had seen the one I missed back in 2013).  We did the swap, and took up our vigil at the bathhouse.  The grassquit was initially found eating fruit on the ground that had fallen off of a large ficus tree.  There were at least 10 gray catbirds there feeding along with an ovenbird.  While we kept waiting for the grassquit to show up, we all got to know each other a bit better.  A few white ibis came in to feed--1 adult and 2 immatures.  A great-crested flycatcher also would occasionally stop in.   Mike and Corinne returned fairly quickly after seeing the bananaquit.

About noon, Mike noticed the grassquit down on the ground at the corner of the boardwalk.  We all slowly approached it, and were able to watch it for 3-4 minutes before it flew out of view (photo below taken by Claire).  This bird is either a female or a first year male which might be sorted out if it stays around long enough for other birders to study it.

When it did not return right away, Mike, Corinne, Joe, Claire and I discussed driving 30 miles up to Long Key to look again for the Key West quail-dove.  I was the only one of the group who had seen it, so everyone else was game to try again.  We all were there for about an hour when Joe decided to move on.  Mike and Corinne left about an hour later because they had a long drive ahead of them to Pennsylvania.  Claire and I hung in until 6 PM, but no quail-dove was found.  The best we could do late in the afternoon was a probable fly-over white-crowned pigeon.

I would liked to have gone home that evening, but by mid afternoon the airfare had almost tripled, so I opted to spend another night in the Miami area, and flew home the next afternoon.  When I checked Narba Tuesday evening I saw that another birder I know, Liz Southworth, had arrived at Bahia Honda around 3 PM, and was able to see the bananaquit.  Early on Wednesday morning she had also picked up the black-faced grassquit.  I flew home thinking that I was not likely to see 2 life birds again in one day in the ABA area.

Addendum on 3/4:  Mike and Corinne sent me some photos this morning 2 of which I am adding below--first the bananaquit followed by the black-faced grassquit.