Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eurasian Kestrel in Nova Scotia

There continue to be several very good rarities that were found late last year, and have continued to be seen into 2015.  One of these is a Eurasian kestrel (code 4) that was first reported in December from Eastern Passage near Halifax, NS.  Later it was discovered that someone had taken photos of it as early as November 21st.  3 weeks ago Neil Hayward asked me if I wanted to fly up to Boston, and then drive to Halifax with him to try for the bird.  I could not get away at that time, so he and Gerri made the trip instead.  They left at 10 PM, and drove though the night.  It is 725 miles from Boston to the golf course in Eastern Passage--a small town on the edge of Halifax.  They arrived between 9 and 10 AM, and did find the kestrel (all the photos of the Eurasian kestrel in today's post were taken by Neil--click on any photo to enlarge).  They were back in Boston before midnight.

Since the kestrel continued to be reported, I decided to make a trip this past week to Boston, as well as Connecticut and New Hampshire, to see some friends.  When the kestrel was seen again last Tuesday, I decided also to make the long drive up to try for the kestrel.  I flew to Boston, was on the road by noon on Wednesday, and made it to my motel in Halifax by midnight Atlantic time.

I was up at 6 AM Thursday, and at the bird's "territory" by 7 even though it was still quite dark (sunrise was at 7:45).  As it became lighter under a very overcast sky, I kept scanning the area looking for the kestrel.  I flushed a snowy owl, and also found a large fox looking for its breakfast.  At 7:40 I first saw the kestrel hovering over the grassy area between the road and the water.  I had barely found it when it dove down to catch something, and then it flew off into the center of the golf course where it perched briefly on a tree before disappearing.

I kept scanning the area hoping for it to return for better looks.  During the next hour I was visited by a murder of crows, and found a small flock of common redpolls which were difficult to photograph as the wind blew them around while feeding (sorry for the not totally clear photo below).  There was also a female northern harrier who was cruising the area in search of food.

About 8:30 I saw the kestrel hovering very far out over the golf course for about 5 minutes before it flew away again.  At 9 the kestrel returned to the shoreline area, and began hovering in search of more food.  With better light, I was finally able to study the bird.  It is larger than the American kestrel (photo below taken in FL last month), has only 1 whisker on its face, and has no gray in the wings.  This particular Eurasian kestrel is very light in general.

At one point the kestrel flew off behind a small building near the road, and when I relocated it, it was stooping at the snowy owl I had found earlier.  The owl was unperturbed by the kestrel, and was very cooperative in letting me get close enough to take a picture with my small camera.

I was able to watch the kestrel continue to work the area around the road for another 10 minutes before it decided to disappear again.  It was now about 9:30.  As I was leaving a rough-legged hawk flew across the road in front of me to give me a nice send off.  I was not really looking forward to another 11-12 hour drive back to Boston, but it proved uneventful.  I even had the pleasure of finding a place in Maine that had a 2 chicken lobster special so I stopped for dinner.  I was at my friends in Lincoln. MA by 9 PM.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there have been some very nice rarities around to start 2015.  The Key West quail-dove continues to be seen in FL as is a smooth-billed ani.  Barnacle and pink-footed geese are still being reported in the northeast.  2 common cranes are intermittently being seen in NM and TX.  The tundra bean goose is still in OR, as are the falcated duck, brambling and rustic bunting in CA.  Arizona has a rufous-backed robin and a sinaloa wren. A Eurasian siskin is wintering over in Unalaska, AK.  And just yesterday a blue bunting, and a gray-crowned yellowthroat were found in south TX.

Yesterday I was sent the link to a new big year blog (  I had heard that a birder I know from Ohio, Dan Gesualdo, was possibly doing a big year.  I had seen his ebird list leading the way on the top 100.  From his blog I read that he so far has birded in TX, OH, CA and OR.  His total for the year is already over 300 birds, and it is not even the end of January.  An awesome start!  He says he is doing a lower 48 big year, which is the first I have known about since mine back in 2010.  Dan, I wish you the best of fun as you pursue birds this year.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Year End Review

Another year of birding is in the books, so I am doing my year end review.  In 2014 I did not bird as heavily in the ABA area as I did in 2013--no trip to the boonies of Alaska for example.  But I did make my annual spring trip to Magee Marsh to bird with friends like Dan and Doreene (check my May entries for details).  I also did a few successful chases of rarities that showed up in the lower 48 states during the 2nd half of the year.  Those also were all added to the blog at the time of the chase.  The last was my trip to the Florida Keys with Neil and Gerri to see the Key West quail-dove. 

Since we made the trip to the Long Key SP,  other birders discovered 2 quail-dove sitting together on a branch in the same area.  And on the 28th of December a 3rd quail-dove was found on the Deering Estate in Cutler just south of Miami.  My friend Bob Wallace had spent 3 days at Long Key SP without seeing the bird, and when he was called, he rushed up to the Deering Estate where he managed no better than the record shot just above--good luck picking out the bird.  Clues:  a) the bird is facing to the right, and b) look for the shiny eye and a white horizontal stripe just below the eye (click on any photo to enlarge).

Turning to big year efforts in 2014, I only know of one blog done by Dorian Anderson chronicling his self-powered big year.  He road his bicycle down the east coast to Florida; across the gulf coast into Texas and onto Arizona; up through the Rocky Mountains to Washington; down the Pacific coast to southern California; back through Arizona and down to the Rio Grande Valley; and finally ending up in Dallas.  He averaged almost 49 miles of riding per day, covering almost 18,000 miles.  He saw 617 different bird species plus a possible ABA area first record of a red-legged honeycreeper.  He also raised over $45,000 for bird conservation, and had 575,000 pageviews on his blog.

There have been a few other "green" big birding years, but none on the scale that Dorian just finished.  He has established the template for a cycling big birding year.  I know how tiring a big year can be--a 365 day marathon which in my case involved 82,000 miles of flying and 66,000 miles of driving.  To do it riding a bicycle almost every day is a truly amazing feat and level of commitment.

Like most big year birders, he developed a plan that would optimize his goal of birding and cycling.  Unlike most big years though, he could not really chase rarities, so the quality of his plan and assistance from other birders in the areas he visited was even more crucial to his success.  Every big year birder to some degree studies prior big year efforts in order to develop a plan for his/her year.  The wild card to reaching a very big total number of birds seen is how many rarities show up, and does the big year birder choose to chase after them.

As I have written before, to set a record, a big year birder must be willing to chase.  Sandy Komito has talked about this often.  Neil Hayward tying Sandy's full ABA area big year mark of 748 is even more amazing since Neil did not fully commit to doing a big year until April of 2013 which meant he did not chase a few rarities early in the year.  As a result he is still hoping the rufous-necked wood-rail found in New Mexico last year will be accepted as a first ABA record which would push his total to 749.

I did check ebird, and found that Brandon Reo saw 667 different species in 2014 in the full ABA area, and 641 in the lower 48 states--both of which are outstanding results.  Also from ebird, Leo Miller saw 610 in the full ABA area.  Every year since 2003, Leo has seen over 500 different species of birds in the full ABA area, and 3 of those years he broke 600.  Finally from ebird, Doug Gochfeld, a professional bird guide I met last year in Alaska, saw 609 species in the full ABA area.  I also want to give a shout out to Dan Sanders who just completed his 20th consecutive Ohio big year.  He and his partner Doreene finished 2014 with 318 species, which just fell short of their record of 320.

Returning to my own birding year in 2014, I added 8 more birds to my full ABA area (788) and lower 48 states (749) lists.  The new entries include collared plover (code 5), whiskered tern (code 5), tundra bean goose (code 3), Egyptian goose (code 2), and Key West quail-dove (code 4)--all birds that I saw during the year.  And due to changes in the ABA listing rules I was able to now count aplomado falcon (2010, 2012) and California condor (2006).  Finally, the ABA added Ridgway's rail (code 2) as a split from clapper rail.  I recently reviewed my 2010 big year records, and confirmed that I saw Ridgway's rails below San Diego in October of that year.

It is time to wrap up this blog post so that I can begin my annual New Year's day tradition of drinking port and eating blue cheese while watching college football bowl games.  Happy New Year!

Addendum on 1/5:  my friend Marty pointed out this AM that I did not mention the 3 week birding trip in Morocco last March.  I was thinking about my birding year in ABA area only when I wrote the initial year wrap up post.  So a belated addition about what was fully reported here on the blog earlier, and definitely fond memories of the birding and everything else that trip gave our group.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Key West Quail Dove--YESSSSS!

Neil Hayward called me early last week to ask me if I wanted to join him and his partner, Gerri, to try for the Key West quail-dove.  The plan was to fly to Florida Thursday afternoon, and have 2 full days on Friday and Saturday to try to see it.  Since the bird had been seen again on 11/28, 12/2, 12/5, 12/6 and 12/8, I said I would join them hoping for success after failing before Thanksgiving.  We flew into the Ft. Lauderdale airport at dark, and stopped at Kendall Lakes to see if we could find the Egyptian goose for Neil.  There were plenty of muscovy ducks, but apparently the geese go to a roost at night.

Neil and I were at Long Key SP at first light Friday morning.  Soon after we ran into Allison Fox who had seen the bird the morning before (all photos are mine unless indicated otherwise--click on any photo to enlarge).  We split up to cover more of the trail.  5 minutes later she came running up to us to say the quail-dove had walked across the trail about 100 yards from where Neil and I were.  We rushed back, and fortunately were able to relocate it about 100 feet off the trail feeding on the ground.  We both were able to get identifiable looks at the bird before it vanished from sight.

Within the next 30 minutes another 1/2 dozen birders joined the hunt.  One of them was Barrett Pierce who I had run into at Cape May chasing the whiskered tern in September.  I met Barrett back in 2010 during my lower 48 big year, and then next saw him in August of 2011 at Coney Island when we both missed seeing the gray-hooded gull by one day.

All of us kept patrolling the trail in hopes that the quail-dove would walk out again.  We also were listening very closely to try to hear the bird shuffling thru the dry leaves on the ground.  At one point 2 of the park rangers came through, and did not seem very happy that over the weeks of birders looking for the quail-dove a couple of side trails had been used.  As a result, they took downed wood and blocked the side trails.  Then they put up new paper signs at the beginning of the Golden Orb nature trail.

At one point mid-morning we went to check the edge of the parking area when a large group of turkey vultures rose up off their roost.  About 11:30, Neil was walking the trail where it changes from hardwood hammock to mangroves when the quail-dove appeared right by the trail.  It flushed back about 20 feet.  By the time the rest of us got to his location, it had once again walked out of sight.  At 12:45, another birder found it about 100 feet from the prior sighting near some gumbo-limbo trees.  Before any other birders could join him, the quail-dove once again disappeared.

After 3 sightings which totaled less than 1 minute of viewing, only 4 birders had gotten identifiable looks at the bird, and no photos had been taken.  Gerri had not seen the quail-dove, so we continued to look for it until 2:30 when we decided to head back towards Miami.  As we left the park I got a record shot of Neil and Gerri.

Neil had made a dinner date for us all to have sushi at a restaurant in Coral Terrace recommended by Carlos Sanchez--a young professional bird guide who lives in Miami.  On the way to dinner, we stopped at Kendall Lakes just as it got dark, but there were no Egyptian geese still at the lake.  We met Carlos at 6:30, and talked birding over some very good sushi.

The next morning we decided to start at Kendall Lakes, and this time Neil (his photo) was able to finally add Egyptian goose to his ABA life list.  We then stopped at a new location that Carlos had told us about where he has found several red-whiskered bulbuls.  As soon as we got out of the car we heard them calling, and ended up seeing 7 in all (Neil's photo).

Our main destination for the morning was to bird Matheson Hammock Park.  Since it was Saturday morning, there were many people in the picnic area including a wedding party.  The birding was pretty slow (palm, black and white, prairie, Nashville and parula warblers; blue-gray gnatcatchers; 1 blue-headed vireo; and 2 fly-over dark morph short-tailed hawks) until we were graced by the presence of a loud and so very striking blue and yellow macaw (Neil's photo).

We then checked out the mangrove section of the park where we had mostly shorebirds (killdeer, ruddy turnstones, and spotted sandpipers), an eastern phoebe and a great crested flycatcher.  Next we went to the west section of the park which is usually good for parrots and parakeets.  We found a juvenile broad-winged hawk and a kestrel (Neil's photos), and met some other birders, one of whom had gone to Long Key SP 6 times before finally seeing the quail-dove.  While we were walking, we heard a group of parrots flying by, but they did not land.

After a short lunch, coffee and tea stop at Starbucks, we went to check out one more location in hopes of seeing cave swallows and white-crowned pigeons. We were too early for the swallows to have returned to their roost, and there were no pigeons either.  We did see several iguanas (Neil's photo), and found 2 or 3 manatees feeding in the canal.  It was now 3 PM, and there was not much chance of finding other interesting birds.  Neil and Gerri had plans to meet friends up in West Palm Beach, so they dropped me at the Miami airport where I read a good book until my flight back to Chapel Hill.


Sitting at the airport also gave me some time to reflect on just how frustrating it had been trying to see the Key West quail-dove.  In birding I have learned that there are satisfactory looks (meaning you are able to ID the bird), and then there are the much better satisfying looks where you get to spend long quality viewing time with a bird.  I concluded that my 10 second ID look had to be the least satisfying tick of a life bird that I have ever had in my 40+ years of birding.   That said, I am still very happy to have at least been able to see the quail-dove well enough to ID it.  I also heard since I got back home that Barrett did finally see the bird on Sunday, but was not able to get a photo either.  And yesterday, 3 other birders I know, Liz Southworth, Dave Nelson and Matthew Matthiessen were able to see it well including getting photos.  My next post will be my wrap up on birding in 2014.

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.