Monday, May 31, 2010

Another Red Letter Day

Today was day 3 of my 4 days going out on pelagic trips from Hatteras, NC. Yesterday the weather was bright sunshine, 80's with some wind and easy seas. About an hour and a half out of the dock, we found a manx shearwater--a new year bird. I had not seen one back in February when I did my 2 days of pelagics from Hatteras. It is often easier to see the manx then, so I was very pleased to have one show up yesterday.

Unlike day 1, yesterday was not as birdy overall. We did, however, have several long looks at the band-rumped storm-petrel. They were easily the longest, closest views of this bird that I have had over the years. Mostly we saw the common wilson's storm-petrel (top photo above--remember to click on photo to enlarge it). These little guys love to come to the fish oil slick to eat. The photo shows them bouncing around, or pattering as the birders call it, as they feed. The band-rumped is a bit bigger but otherwise has similar markings.

Today was sunny again all day with even less wind and flatter seas. About 8 AM we had the good fortune of having a white-tailed tropicbird fly over the top of the boat. This was not only a new year bird, but also my 17th life bird of the year, thus the red letter day designation. I have gone out of Hatteras, and Manteo, NC close to 15 times in the spring and summer, but never saw a white-tailed before today.

But the tropicbird was not the highlight of the day for most of the birders on the boat. That came around 11 AM when a european storm-petrel was found feeding in with the wilson's. This bird was 1st documented off of Hatteras about 5 years ago, and now I believe that every year about this time at least 1 has been seen on these trips. This was a life bird for almost all of the birders, but not for me since I saw my first one 2 years ago.

The bird stayed around for over 30 minutes which gave all the photogs lots of good shots. I did not even try to get one because my camera is very poor at singling out a small bird on a rocking boat, and while the bird was around a long time, it never was close enough to the boat for my camera. The bird looks even more like the Wilson's than the band-rumped does, but once you get some time studying it you pick up on the differences (slightly smaller size, wing shape and beat, flight speed, and coloration).

The not so good news for today was that other than the 2 very rare birds, and the wilson's, we saw very few other birds. Sometimes pelagic birding is like that. But unlike land birding where you can decide to pack it in for the day, you are at least 2 hours from the dock here at Hatteras, so you keep putting out fish oil in hopes of attracting some more birds to look at. The long 2+ hours ride back into the dock is usually not very birdy either, but we did see a small hump-backed whale near shore.

The bottom photo above is of Steve Howell, one of America's premier birders, especially when it comes to seabirds, catching a few winks on the way in today. He is often the main spotter for Brian, and goes out every day for the duration of the late May to early June cycle that Brian offers each spring. After a long day of birding on the ocean in the wind and hot sun many birders will be snoozing while sitting up on the bench seats.

I have seen 11 of the 13 birds that I had a good probability of finding this week, and 2 of the 6 much rarer birds. The week total is now up to 79 birds, and the YTD number is at 605. Today is also the last day of month #5. 85 new year birds were added during May. I have one day more to find some more east coast spring pelagic birds. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Day 1 of Pelagics from Hatteras

Yesterday I drove out to Hatteras, NC to begin 4 consecutive days of pelagic birdwatching trips. Pelagic birds are seabirds that only come to land when they breed, otherwise they spend all their life out over the ocean.

We left this morning at 5:45 AM on the Stormy Petrel II which is owned and captained by Brian Patteson. As I wrote back in February, Brian is the man when it comes to east coast pelagic trips. The weatherman said we were supposed to get some rain today, but instead it was overcast until it got sunny mid-afternoon. The seas were not too rough, and the winds were not too strong. A good thing since we spend 11 hours out there birding.

Just after clearing the inlet, we saw our first good bird of the day, a sooty shearwater. Not long after we found the group of shearwaters in the photo above (remember to click on photo to enlarge it). The group was mostly cory's shearwaters, with 2-3 sooty plus 1 greater shearwater (dark capped bird with a black bill at the edge of the group in the lower center of the photo). We also were beginning to see some wilson's storm-petrels. All 4 birds are new birds for the year. This boded well for the coming day of birding.

We then found what was first called a red-necked phalarope in non-breeding plumage. By the end of the day after photos were studied of the bird, it was concluded that it was in fact a red phalarope. The latter I had already seen on my pelagic trip in March out of Oregon, so I was disappointed that it was not a red-necked. What is significant about all this is that even some of the best birders in the country sometimes make a miscall. But with the age of digital photography, a review can be made to confirm initial impressions. Once in Alaska a small shorebird that had been initially called a red-necked stint was later determined after looking at photos taken of it that it was in fact a little stint. As a result, about 30 birders trekked out at midnite to find the bird again so that everyone could add it to their life list.

In general today was pretty busy mostly with lots of wilson's storm-petrels, and a few leach's and band-rumped storm-petrels (both new year birds) mixed in. The fish slick that trails behind the boat is where the wilson's hang out. It also attracts other birds like jeagers (both pomarine and parasitic made an appearance today), and petrels like the black-capped (another new year bird), and the shearwaters. Probably the most common shearwater seen today was the audubon's (another new year bird). At one point a south polar skua (new year bird) showed up briefly to harass the shearwaters.

The last new year bird for the day, an arctic tern, made a late afternoon appearance which brought my YTD total up to 602 birds. The week's list of birds after 2 days is at 72.

A comment made after my last post asked what comes next once I reach 600 birds seen for the year. As I posted a few weeks ago, I am a bit surprised to have reached 600 birds already. It means that the rest of the year will be much less intense on a day to day basis, but I still plan to continue to look for more birds. My best estimate is that there are another 60-70 birds that I should be able to see over the next few months. If some more rarities show up, and I am able to visit where they are found, then I could hit a bit higher number.

As for this week, I came to Hatteras knowing that there were 13 pelagic birds that I should see over 4 days, and on day 1 I already saw 10 of them. There are also 6 other much rarer pelagic birds that can be seen here, and if I am fortunate I will see some of them too. So tomorrow I will be out there again all day enjoying the birding, and hoping to add to the YTD total. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Talking Northern Saw-whet Owl

After a day of regrouping at home on Tuesday, including hearing more than seeing my resident birds, I headed off to Roan Mountain yesterday afternoon to be there by dusk. The photo above says it all.

In May of 2007 my sis and I did a bird trip that included a stop at Roan Mountain, which is in Tennessee, to see if we could locate a northern saw-whet owl. It was about 10 days earlier in the month and pretty chilly at dusk. I listened, but did not hear anything calling. Then we played the call of the owl, and soon we had one calling nearby. We were not able to draw it out to get a look, but at least we knew one was on the mountain.

Last nite I arrived in time to watch the sunset and get the photo before slowly walking up the closed to cars road. It took about 15 minutes of intermittent playing of the owl call before I heard one approach the road. I wanted to see it this time, so I played the call a couple of more times when I saw a bird flash across the road. I shined my light on the trees where it was now calling, but it was still too deep.

I played the call one more time, watching the road to see if it would fly out when suddenly it flew straight at me, literally bouncing of the top off my head. I have had whiskered screech owls in Arizona, and great skuas in the highlands of Scotland dive bomb me, but this was the first time a bird actually struck me.

After the near knockdown, I heard the bird calling again, and finally was able to shine my light on it sitting on a limb out in the open. It did not hang around for long, nor did I since I had a 200 mile drive to get back home so that I could sleep in my own bed.

Today is the end of week #21. The week's bird count reached 111, and with the northern saw-whet the YTD number is now at 592. There is an updated travel map posted at the top. I will be going out to Hatteras, NC tomorrow to do 4 consecutive days of pelagic birding. 600 birds before June 1 is definitely a possibility. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Home Ever So Briefly

The photos above are of a vermilion flycatcher (top) and a western tanager (bottom), both commonly seen birds in SE Arizona. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

I arrived back in Chapel Hill yesterday about midnite. The birding yesterday morning in the Tucson area was particularly enjoyable at Sabino Canyon. I have never visited this location, so did not know what to expect. I went in search of a gilded flicker. I arrived at 5:30 AM on a deliciously cool 50 degree sunny morning. As you quickly learn, Arizonans get up with sun to enjoy the cooler part of the day, so there were a fair number of others out there with me. I seemed to be the only birder--the rest were walking or riding bikes. You can not drive in the canyon.

The canyon runs east/west, and is on the east side of the city. It has a stream running thru it which this year has a fair amount of flowing water because of the abnormally wet spring. As you walk into the canyon the walls begin to close in some, and seem to get a bit higher overall. The rocks, the stream, and mainly the 1000's of saguaro cacti make for an especially beautiful natural place. I walked 6 miles up and back, looking diligently for the flicker, but to no avail. I did see instead a new year bird--white-throated swift. They followed me up the canyon as the temp rose.

I was glad to have the walk in such a stunning setting because I have not had enough of them in general this year, and because I wanted to walk off some of my dinner from the nite before. For those who have been following this blog closely, in Tucson I generally eat at a restaurant called Wildflower. We also ask for the same waiter who has worked there for 7 years, and literally works everyday when he is in town.

Last time I was there in February we drank a lovely bottle of '07 pinot noir from Baileyana. We liked it so much that I bought a 2nd bottle that they put aside for me. So my Tucson friend and I drank that with our meal. She had a grilled ahi tuna dish over oriental rice. I had the herb crusted rack of lamb that surprisingly was a full rack of 8 ribs. It came with creamy mashed potatoes and wilted greens. The desserts were a key lime tart with fresh berries, and a caramel pot de creme with a chocolate brownie and ice cream. Smiles were abundant.

While talking to our waiter, we discovered that he was leaving in 2 weeks to spend the summer waiting at a restaurant in Jackson Hole, WY. Since my birding schedule has me going to the Grand Tetons NP, I expect to be able to eat at his "summer" restaurant as well.

After hiking at Sabino Canyon, I then went to a nearby county park called Agua Caliente. I also have never been there, so I was surprised as I drove in to see huge numbers of palm trees. It has a spring, and a good sized pond that is surrounded by the palms. I spoke with some local birders who said that usually there are gilded flickers around, but they had not seen any lately. Nor were they hearing any northern beardless tyrannulets (smallest bird with longest name), another SE AZ target bird for me. I found out they were right, and after 90 minutes I headed to the airport.

My last 1/2 day in Arizona ended with only 7 more new birds for the week. The swift brought the YTD total up to 591. Overall, I picked up 50 new year birds while I was in the state. I will be heading up to the mountains here in NC tomorrow to look for a northern saw-whet owl. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Fine Day of Birding in Arizona

I began today at 5 AM driving down to Florida canyon for my 3rd try this week, and 5th time this year, to locate the rufous-capped warbler. I stopped enroute to look for some rufous-winged sparrows and found them singing away. I had barely started walking up the trail into Florida canyon when I ran into 2 other birders--a local woman, and a guy who lives near Cape May, NJ. So we hiked up together.

There is a small dam that you have to climb around in order to get up to the area where the warbler nested last year. The woman had seen the bird before, so she waited at the dam. I led the NJ birder up, and as we approached the nesting zone we distinctly heard the bird calling. As we rounded the bend there it was sitting on a prickly pear cactus. Imagine my exhiliration after so many tries.

I walked back down to tell the woman. We chatted a few minutes when the NJ birder came down to say that several varied buntings had also shown up. The local woman wanted to see them, as did I, so we all hiked back up. Not only did we see the varied buntings, but also 2 indigo buntings, and had more views of the warbler. Both birds are new year birds. Also, it was very good for my overall big year scheduling process to find them now rather than having to look for them later in the summer.

About 8 AM we all hiked back down to our vehicles and drove on up to Madera canyon to see what was around. We heard the buff-breasted flycatcher calling. We looked and listened for the black-capped gnatcatcher. While I am not as familiar with this bird as some others, I thought I heard one calling, and flushed a bird that could have been one. I ran into a group of birders I had met in Miller canyon, and we all looked in the area where I thought the black-capped might be, but came up empty. Since I was not fully satisfied with the look of the bird I flushed, or absolutely certain that it was a black-capped calling, I am not adding it to the year list.

The 2 photos above I chose for today because they are common birds in the summer here in SE Arizona. The top photo is of the black-headed grosbeak, and the bottom one is of a western kingbird. The cassin's kingbird also is in SE AZ, and at first glance it looks very similar to the western kingbird. One of the key marks to look for is that the tail of the western has light outer tail feathers (check photo). A cassin's has a light band at the end of the tail. Tropical kingbirds which also are here have uniformly brown tail feathers. They all have gray heads, brown backs and wings, and yellow bellies. Of course their calls are all different.

On my way back into Tucson I drove thru the Saguaro NP trying to see a gilded flicker, but only found gila woodpeckers. So today I am thru birding earlier than normal. The weekly count is now up to 84 birds with 2 new year birds making the YTD number 590. Tomorrow I will bird in the morning before catching my flight back to North Carolina. Stay tuned!

Good Birding Days in SE Arizona

The 2 photos above are the last of the hummers taken at the Beatty Guest Ranch. The top photo is of an anna's, and the bottom is of a magnificent. Check out the red gorgette of the anna's, and the stunning green and purple on the head of the magnificent (double click on photo for full close-up).

The past 2 days have generally been very good birding days here in SE Arizona. Yesterday morning I was out of my motel in Willcox at 5:15 AM heading for the south fork of Cave Creek canyon in the Chiracahua mountains. I had heard on Thursday that a northern pygmy owl was seen there a couple of days earlier. After striking out early Wed. morning in the Catalinas, I was hoping for a better result. I began walking a section of the gravel road in the south fork about 7, and after 15 minutes I heard the distinct hoots of the owl. I located the area it was in, but then it moved further down the road. I homed in on its new location when suddenly it flew across the road with a group of small birds chasing after it.

Feeling good about the start of the day since the owl is a new year bird, I stopped at the Portal cafe for some breakfast before starting the drive up to the mountain top. I stopped in for a chat with a woman I met thru Melody. She owns the historic George Walker House in Paradise, and caters mostly to birders.

I then headed up the mountain on the twisting, somewhat rutted in places gravel road. Near a place named onion saddle I heard the song of a virginia warbler. I spent 15 minutes trying to locate this new year bird, but it finally moved far enough off the road that I could not find it.

I made it to Rustler Park about noon and began my search for the mexican chickadee. This bird is similar to the colima warbler in the Chisos Mountains at Big Bend NP in that it only breeds in the Chiracahuas within the U.S. So like the colima in Big Bend, you have to come here to find it. It is nesting season already, so there are not many of them moving about. I spent the entire afternoon looking and listening, mostly near the only water source in Rustler park--a nice flowing spring--because a bird guide I met there said that is where she had been seeing the chickadee over the past few days. I, however, did not.

At dusk I checked another nearby location to see if a northern saw-whet owl might be calling, but found none. I then went down the mountain a short distance to try again for the flammulated owl in hopes of a sighting, not just hearing one as happened on Tuesday nite. It was very windy, so no luck there either. At the Pinery campground where I spent the nite, I also did not hear any whiskered screech owls which almost always are found calling there. Earlier in the afternoon I had stopped in at the campground looking for the chickadee, and instead found a brown creeper--another new year bird.

This morning I awoke just before 5 AM and made the short drive back up to Rustler to try again. The spring area was very quiet, so I walked up to the meadow area of the park. As I was scanning the early morning sky for white-throated swifts I heard the chickadee behind me in the campground. It was very high up in what seemed like 80 foot tall pines. It took me almost 15 minutes of wandering around following its call before I finally got a good look at the bird feeding.

Finding the mexican chickadee was a critical logistical matter for my big year planning. Since I had already missed seeing the buff-collared nightjar earlier in the week, I knew I would need to return to Arizona to try for it again. But I did not want to have to also look for the chickadee since the 2 birds do not breed near each other. Now I can confine my next visit to a much smaller area.

After scoring the chickadee, I headed back down to the Portal cafe for breakfast before starting back towards Sierra Vista. I stopped again at San Pedro for an hour to check out the river area, and then since it was now mid-day and getting pretty warm, I took a break to watch Iron Man 2--my first big screen movie of the year. It was not as good or as funny as the first.

After the movie I went for a hike in Scheelite Canyon which is famous in the birding world because of its spotted owls. The canyon is in a section of the Huachuca mountains right behind Ft. Huachuca. Robert T. Smith known as "Smitty" spent the last 20 years of his life helping people see this rare owl. There is a boulder with a plaque on it to honor his memory. Even though I had seen my spotted owls earlier this week in Miller canyon, as part of my big year, I wanted to hike up this canyon because of its place in birding lore.

The canyon is a beautiful, narrow canyon, with no running water unless it has rained recently. The trail is steep most of the way, but is especially well laid out. It was late in the day, so the bird life was thin. I did not even look for the owls since I just wanted to enjoy the place for itself.

After a quick mexican carne asada burrito, I went to the Sierra Vista wastewater ponds to look for lesser nighthawks. I had seen a nighthawk earlier in the week at Santa Rita lodge in Madera canyon, but it did not call, so given the altitude of the lodge, I was concerned that it might have actually been a common nighthawk that is much rarer here in SE AZ. Just as the sun dropped below the horizon, the sky above the sewage lagoons, which had been filled with barn swallows, was now filled with lots and lots of lesser nighthhawks.

I pointed my rental car towards Tucson to return to my friend's place for the nite. I had to go thru a border patrol checkpoint. As I approached the checkpoint, I saw easily as many lesser nighthawks catching bugs attracted by the kleig lights. Once thru the checkpoint, I pulled over and watched the aerial skills of the birds. At one point 2 birds going for the same moth almost collided. I had never thought about a border patrol checkpoint as being a good place to look for nighthawks. Live and learn.

Week #21, which began on May 21, is off to a good start with a total of 71 birds. 4 new year birds were found bringing the YTD number up to 588. The virginia warbler will be listed as heard only, but I expect to be able to see one over the next 2 months. I am back to Florida canyon early tomorrow to look once again for the rufous-capped warbler. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 21, 2010

The End of Week #20

As promised yesterday, the photos above are of the very common black-chinned (top pic) and the rare white-eared (bottom) hummers. These were taken at the Beatty guest ranch. Remember to click on the photo to enlarge it.

I began the last day of Week #20 at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area located just to the east of Sierra Vista. A nice stroll beginning about 7 AM on a sunny 65 degree morning generated no new birds for the year but it did provide some good viewing and exercise.

I next visited the Slaughter Ranch which is located 15 miles east of Douglas. The ranch used to be a 100,000 acres in size. When the border with Mexico was established, the ranch was partly in both countries. It now accepts visitors for a small fee Wed-Sun. There is a large pond and lots of big cottonwood trees. I had never visited before, and I stopped in specifically to look for a ruddy ground dove that had been seen there recently. After over an hour of searching, I was only able to find common ground doves. I did enjoy all the other birds attracted by the trees and water.

Next I visited the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge, a place that I stopped at back in Feb. What a difference 3 months make. The water levels were down dramatically, and all of the waterfowl, including the sandhill cranes, had departed. I did get to see the great horned owl that generally roosts in a large covered area.

I then wound my way over to Turkey Creek canyon located on the west side of the Chiracahua mountains. Enroute I found today's only new bird for the year--an olive-sided flycatcher. I hiked up a trail at the top of the road in Turkey Creek in hopes of seeing a mexican chickadee. I had found some there on another visit, but today I came up dry. I did find a few other birds including western wood pewee, and buff-breasted and cordilleran flycatchers.

My last stop was at the large body of water just outside of Willcox that generally has some interesting waterfowl and shorebirds. Today was no exception. I saw black-necked stilts, american avocets, a wilson's phalarope, a white-rumped sandpiper, ruddy and mexican ducks, and a franklin's gull--all new birds for the week.

Week #20 is in the books, and what a week it turned out to be. When you can bird part of the week in Ohio, catching the eastern spring migration, and then finish out in a place like SE AZ, you are going to have a great opportunity to see lots of birds. With 13 more new birds for the week, the weekly total climbed to 218. This is the most species of birds I have ever seen in a 7 day period. And the YTD number is now at 584. Tomorrow I will be in the Chiracahuas, and expect to find some more new year birds. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Red Letter Day and a Half

After posting yesterday mid-day, I went back out to bird some more. I hit several spots north and east of Nogales. One is called the Patagonia reststop, and it has become famous over the years because of the rare birds that have been found there. Part of the reason the birds were found was because birders kept checking it out after the 1st rarity showed up. More visits, more eyes, more unusual birds found. One of the less common birds that now nests there each year is the thick-billed kingbird. I drove up and sure enough there was one sitting on a dead branch.

I then drove the short distance to an even more famous birding spot--a home that for years has opened its yard to birders. It is known to all birders as the Paton's. Many southeastern AZ birders frequent the yard, but its major claim to fame is that the rare violet-crowned hummingbird has been visiting the feeders there for several years. Similar to the flame-colored tanager at Kubo Lodge, until it became a regular, it was very hard to find. So I was very happy to see it there yesterday afternoon along with 2 other new year birds--green-tailed towhee and bullock's oriole.

I then drove into Tucson to have dinner with a long time friend at Zona 78--an Italian restaurant that has particularly good pizzas. My friend ordered Zona 78's version of a margarita--instead of tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, a spring of basil and olive oil, they use no tomato sauce, and substitute fresh sliced tomatoes. I opted for the rustic tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and a really flavorful local sausage. The pizzas are 12", and have a very nice chewy, but relatively thin crust. We drank a bottle of '09 Voss sauvignon blanc, a California sauv blanc that is good year in and year out. At the end of the meal there was no pizza left on either plate, and of course the wine bottle was empty.

After dinner I met up with Melody again, and 2 of the birders from yesterday afternoon, and we drove up into the Catalina mountains to find the flammulated owl. This is one of the smallest owls, and many birders have only heard it because it can be very difficult to locate even when calling. We stopped on the way up to try to find common poorwills, but none were calling.

We arrived about 9:30 at the campground where the flam had been reported. The owl calling right in the parking area was a whiskered screech owl. Down the draw were a few whip-poor-wills making a racket. And behind all that we could also hear the flam. We walked back down the hill, and the calling got louder, but the bird was still on the otherside of the draw, and far up the hill. Since we could not see the flam, we did see the whip-poor-wills before calling it a nite.

My Tuesday afternoon and evening of birding added 4 new seen year birds for the year. And since I only heard the flammulated owl, and the nite before I only heard the common poorwills, I am adding both to my year count as heard birds. Hopefully I will still be able to see them at some point, but for now they will be listed as heard only.

I spent the nite at the campground where we heard the flam so that I could be up at 4:30 AM to try to find another owl--the northern pygmy. It was a chilly but beautiful sunny start to the day which was already partially light when I awoke. I did not find any calling pygmy owls, but I did find 4 new year birds up in the Catalinas--cordilleran flycatcher, violet-green swallow, and grace's and olive warblers.

I drove down the mountain, and stopped at In-N-Out burger for my customary double cheeseburger with fresh cut fries and a strawberry milkshake. This fortified me for the hour drive down to Sierra Vista which sits at the foot of the Huachuca mountains, another SE AZ hotspot for birders. I checked into my motel, and headed over to Miller canyon. My 1st stop was to check out the hummingbird feeders at the Beatty guest ranch. This place has become the best place in SE AZ to find a wide range of hummers, including some of the rarest. The top photo above is of the berylline hummer--one of the rarest hummers seen in SE AZ (remember to click on photo to enlarge it). Over the next couple of days I will post some of those other hummers like the equally rare white-eared. In all, I saw 7 different hummingbird species while sitting at the feeding station.

I then walked about a half mile up Miller canyon to see another SE AZ specialty (see bottom photo above)--the spotted owl. You can't easily tell from this photo, but these a large owls measuring 18 inches in height with a wingspan of 40 inches. Even non-birders may remember that the spotted owl was the primary reason that old growth logging of redwoods and douglas fir in the pacific northwest was significantly reduced in order to protect the owl's habitat. Ironically, most birders see more spotted owls in SE AZ than in the pacific northwest. The 2 shown above are probably viewed and photographed almost daily, but they don't seem to mind as long as you stay at a "safe" distance. Last year I did walk right under the limb they were standing on without even seeing them at first. The dead limb was maybe 12 feet above the trail.

I then drove the short distance to a small B&B that for several years has "hosted" the rare lucifer hummingbird. Until this bird and its offspring began regularly returning each spring to the B&B, it was not easy to find this hummer. Today I arrived to find about 10 other birders, 4 of whom had major camera equipment for capturing the lucifer on their digital cards. The woman who owns the B&B also walks around with 2 parrots--1 on each shoulder. She rescued one last year, and then recently got the 2nd to be a companion to the first. Many other birds come to her feeders including the Arizona woodpecker. Both the lucifer and the woodpecker were new year birds. I wrapped up my viewing day at the B&B about 6:30 PM.

I am adding the past day and 1/2 to my other red letter days because: a) the number of rare or hard to find birds (5); b) the total number of new year birds--19--which brings the YTD total to 583; c) the weekly total, after only 6 days of birding, is now at 205 which blows away the best weekly total of 181 set back in April; and d) my friend who I was birding with last week in Ohio emailed me that he got to Florida in time to see the rare bahama mockingbird--his 800th life bird for the ABA area. I have a few target birds for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Madera and Florida Canyons, and California Gulch

Yesterday and this morning I have have been very busy birding, putting in very long hours yesterday. I began at 5:30 AM in Florida Wash looking for sparrows. I found about a half dozen botteri's sparrows singing (a new year bird). This normally only happens in August and Sept after the summer rains, but his year southeastern AZ had some winter and spring rains, so this sparrow is nesting early.

Then I made my 4th trip this year up into Florida Canyon to look for the rufous-capped warbler, but was again unsuccessful, so after 2 hours I headed back down the hill to my rental car, and pointed it towards Madera Canyon. I hiked up into the Hopkins fork of the canyon and snapped a photo (top one above) of the dusky-capped flycatcher--another new year bird that is common to this kind of canyon, but only is found here in southeastern AZ.

Further up the canyon I was told by 2 other birders that they had heard the other star bird of Madera Canyon, the elegant trogon. This is the only trogon species that is now regular in the U.S. All the others reside south of our border with Mexico. I hiked further up the canyon and heard the trogon calling, and then saw it sitting in a tree. Soon it flew out to catch an insect, and then moved further up the canyon. It is always a treat to see a trogon because they are so colorful--green, red, white and gray. I also saw a sulphur-bellied flycatcher in the same area as the trogon. Both birds were new year birds.

Other new year birds seen in the canyon were the painted redstart and the red-faced warbler, and greater and western pewees.

I went back to my motel about mid-day to have lunch (ok mexican food), and to rest up for the afternoon and evening of birding in California Gulch. I joined up with Melody Kehl and 3 other birders for our trip into the gulch. Melody is one of SE AZ's best birders, and also is a guide. I met her several years ago, and it seems like whenever I am in AZ birding I run into her. One of her specialties is to take people into the gulch to see the very rare 5 striped sparrow, and buff-collared nightjar. The drive into the gulch while a bit better than when I 1st went in several years ago, is still the worst dirt/gravel road I have ever been on. It is not a place for rental cars in my opinion, so I like going in with Melody.

After some difficulty, we located a 5 striped sparrow (bottom photo above) taking a late afternoon bath (another new year bird). The lighting made it difficult to get a really clear picture, but the one above does give you a good sense of the sparrow. On our way back to the cars, we found a common black hawk flying overhead.

We returned part way back up the gulch to position our group to see/hear the nightjar. After a quick meal provided to us by Melody, we settled into our camp chairs to see if the nightjar would show up. It has been seen as early as late April, but some years it is not found until late May. We heard common poorwills calling in the distance, but no buff-collared. Melody then began walking around in the dark shining a large light on the trees to see if she could get any reflection on the nightjar's eyes. After 20-30 minutes we came up empty. But our consolation prize was finding 2 western screech owls (new year bird).

We made the long drive back to Green Valley, and then went on up into Madera Canyon to look for whiskered screen owl, and whip-poor-wills. We found 3 of the owls, but none of the whips. The whiskered screech was also a new year bird, so the day ended with 11 new birds bringing the YTD number to 560. There were 23 more new birds for the week, raising that number to 159.

After going to bed at 1:30 AM, I was up again this morning at 5:30 to go back to Madera. I found a total of 4 new year birds. I first saw the buff-breasted flycatcher that showed up in the canyon a couple of weeks ago. This bird does not normally reside in Madera, and is unique to SE AZ. I also saw a rufous-winged sparrow near the area in which the flycatcher was singing away. Further up the canyon I found a black-throated gray warbler. On my way down the hill I found several lucy's warblers singing in Florida Wash.

I am now back in my motel finishing up this posting before checking out. With this morning's birds, the weekly total is now ap to 166, and the YTD number is at 564. After birding some more this afternoon, I will be joining Melody tonite to go up into the Catalina Mountains just above Tucson to look for a flammulated owl that has been calling at a campground for the past couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Madera Canyon, Arizona

I was in the air just after 8 AM winging my way to Tucson via Chicago. I arrived about noon, and immediately drove the short 35 miles to Madera Canyon. Since it was now 1 PM, and the temp was hovering around 90 degrees even in the canyon, the birding was a bit slow. So I decided to go find the star bird of Madera, the flame-colored tanager (top photo above). This is the 8th consecutive year that this bird has returned to Kubo Lodge (bottom photo above). Remember you can enlarge any photo by clicking on it.

The flame-colored is a code 5 bird in the ABA (American Birding Assoc.) rating system which means it is extremely rare in the U.S. Prior to this particular bird returning each year to Kubo Lodge, finding a flame-colored tanager was very iffy since you never knew where it might show up. So this bird has made many a birder very happy since now you just need to visit the lodge, and wait for the flame-colored to come in to eat some jelly put out by the lodge. And while you are waiting you can watch alot of other birds that come in to the various feeders. Hummingbirds are easy to see here. Today I saw broad-billed, magnificent and black-chinned hummers. I also saw western and hepatic tanagers, and several black-headed grosbeaks.

After checking into my motel, I went back out to try again to locate the rare rufous-capped warbler that has been residing for several months in Florida Canyon, which is adjacent to Madera. As back in February, I came up empty, so I will try again early tomorrow morning.

At dusk I went to the Santa Rita Lodge to find there were 10+ other birders waiting to see the resident elf owl come out of its hole in a telephone pole. He and his mate popped out to everyone's delight. A lesser nighthawk flew over while we were waiting to see the owl. I then listened for, and tracked down a whip-poor-will. I was not successful, however, in finding or hearing either a common poor-will or a whiskered screech-owl. At 9 PM I decided it was time to head back to my motel since for me it was midnite east coast time.

36 more new birds were added for the week, 8 of which were also new for the year bringing the YTD total up to 549. Besides birding in Florida and Madera canyons again tomorrow morning, I will be going into California Gulch tomorrow afternoon to search for more Arizona rarities like buff-collared nightjar and five-striped sparrow. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Last Day at Magee Marsh

As you can see from the top photo above, I have been one happy birder over the past 6 days at Magee Marsh. We arrived there again this AM around 8:30 (my wife wanted a bit more sleep). The bottom photo above is of a common nighthawk that was found roosting almost directly above our truck. Yesterday's star bird--the kirtland's warbler--was not found again by anyone today, but be sure to check my prior posting where I was able to add a very nice picture of the kirtland's taken by Adrian Binns.

We once again birded with our friends from Columbus, OH and Carson City, NV. The overall number of birds was down from yesterday, but the day itself was just as beautiful--sunny blue skies, light wind and temps in the 60's. Early on we had very good looks at a fully breeding plumaged male golden-winged warbler. While watching it, one member of our group saw a yellow-bellied flycatcher right after I saw only the back of a small flycatcher that had a greenish hue. This was one of our target birds for today, so we knew that some early arrivals were around.

After wandering thru almost all of the boardwalk, we finally all saw a different yellow-bellied, which became the 541st new bird for the year. The rest of our day was spent simply enjoying the birds, mostly warblers, that we encountered. The day ended for us about 3 PM so that my wife and I could drive up to Ann Arbor, MI to eat an early dinner at Zingerman's Roadhouse. We know Ari Zingerman, and wanted to eat at the Roadhouse.

We started our meal with 3 different kinds of east coast oysters. The beausoleils from New Brunswick, Canada were labeled as the chef's favorites, and were also the most expensive. In the end, after comparing these tiny but very delicious oysters to 2 others from Cape Cod , MA, we were in agreement with the chef's personal evaluation.

The main course included a smoked chicken and green chili mac and cheese for my wife, and the Amish buttermilk battered fried chicken with sauteed spinach for myself. I also had a side of pimento and pepper bacon mac and cheese, and my wife had a small house salad. We shared a glass of '07 St. Clement sauvignon blanc with the oysters. That was followed by a glass of '08 semillon from L'ecole 41, and a glass of '06 merlot from St. Francis. Dessert was a very fine example of key lime pie. We left most happy about our visit there.

The current week bird count is now at 100 birds, and the 6 days at Magee ended with a total of 127 different species seen. Also, the travel map has been updated.

I am now sitting in my motel room next to the Detroit airport while my wife is driving towards Minnesota in our truck. She will arrive there tomorrow afternoon to drop it off with our daughter for her use during the summer. I will be hopping a plane early tomorrow for 8 days of birding in southeastern Arizona. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Red Letter Day at Magee Marsh

Kirtland's warbler (copyright) Adrian Binns

Today is the first day of week #20, and we were at Magee Marsh all day long. Yesterday I was there all day also, but without my wife since the weather forecast was for rain all day. When I first arrived about 8 AM heavy rain was falling, but then it stopped, so I ventured out onto the boardwalk. But within 15 minutes a thunderstorm rolled in and before I could get back to the truck I was pretty well soaked. Fortunately, that was the end of the rain for the day.

Birding friends from Columbus arrived late morning, and we proceeded to bird together for the rest of the day along the boardwalk and at other nearby birding spots . As the day went on a warm front shoved into the area, changing the day from damp and chilly to muggy with temps above 80 degrees in the afternoon. There were a good variety of birds, and by the end of the day I had seen 24 different warbler species for the day. No new year birds were added, but 14 more new birds for the week were found, bringing the week #19 closing total up to 147--a very respectable number. We fell asleep listening to common nighthawks calling outside our window.

This morning dawned clear with temps in the 60's, and we packed up all our stuff expecting to bird at Magee until mid-day when we would start driving up to Grayling, MI to attend the kirtland's warbler festival on Saturday. We got to Magee a little before 8 AM, and already were having a very good day on the boardwalk when one of our birding buddies received a tweet that the rare Kirtland's warbler had been found along the beach that abuts the marsh. We raced to the location to see the bird, and found that one of the country's pre-eminent birders, Kenn Kaufman, had found the bird and was still there ready to help others see it.

We literally were the first group to arrive, but in this day of electronic communication, the word quickly spread about the kirtland's find. Since my only clear picture of the kirtland's was of its back, the top picture above showing the kirtland's from the front was taken by Adrian Binns. The middle picture tries to capture the stream of birders walking down the beach to see the bird. The bottom picture above is of 4 killdeer eggs we found on the beach that all these birders traipsed by on their way to see the kirtland's.

For the non-birders out there, the kirtland's is America's rarest warbler. It breeds in a very limited habitat of young jack pines in a relatively small northern section of the lower peninsula of Michigan. They first started tracking the numbers of kirtland's in the early 1970's. Up thru the early 1990's they estimated that there were fewer than 500 individual birds annually breeding. The 2 main causes--loss of habitat, and cowbird parasitism of the Kirtland's nests-- meant very few birds were being successfully fledged. Through concerted efforts to trap the cowbirds in the nesting area (an average of 4000 per year), and better management of the jack pines, today there are over 2000 Kirtland's. They have even found some birds nesting in Wisconsin.

There were probably over 2000 birders today at Magee, and at least half of them by the end of the afternoon had gone out to the beach to see and hear (it regularly was singing) this rarest of warblers. Because we saw it today, we cancelled our drive up to Michigan and were able to bird at Magee the rest of the day. It was one of the best birding days I have ever experienced at Magee, or anywhere. Our total count just for today came to 89 birds, of which 25 were warblers--the highest number of different warbler species that I have seen in a single day. And overall this week we have seen 27 different warblers which for me is a record for Magee.

Other good birds seen today included a black-billed cuckoo that showed off for several minutes as it fly-catched its dinner. There was also the very rare brewster's warbler--a hybrid between the blue-winged and golden-winged warblers--that made an appearance today. As we were driving in this morning a willow flycatcher was calling along the road. We quickly located it in low shrubs. 5 different vireo species were seen today. 3 upland sandpipers, several black-bellied plovers, a marbled godwit, and a group of 20-25 american pipits were all found in a nearby field.

With the kirtland's sighting, the finding of the brewster's, breaking my personal best record for total warbler species seen in a day, and the overall quality of the birding and the weather, this was definitely a red letter day. The willow flycatcher and the kirtland's were both new year birds, so the YTD number has now climbed to 540. We will be at Magee tomorrow again. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Good Day at Magee Marsh

The day began with a light mist but by 8 AM when we arrived at the marsh, the mist had subsided. Gray clouds stayed with us throughout the day but thankfully no rain fell, so it was just chilly for us. Five minutes after hitting the boardwalk we ran into a small group of birders looking at a black-billed cuckoo, a target bird for me today to add to the year list. The bird stayed around for maybe 3 minutes before flying off, so pretty good views were had by all.

A bit later we watched a small flycatcher flitting about, waiting for it to call to confirm our suspicion that it was a least. It finally called, confirming that it was a least flycatcher, another new bird for the year.

The rest of the morning we kept walking the boardwalk in search for whatever was about. The gray-cheeked thrush in the photo above was one of our finds. Unlike Monday and yesterday, most of the birds were feeding high up in the trees instead of down lower near the ground. This is the kind of birding that creates the condition known as warbler neck--too much looking high up, straining your neck in an effort to figure out what bird is in your binoculars. It is so much easier and more fun when the warblers are at eye level, and you feel like you could almost reach out and grab the bird. Best of all, you don't really need your binocs to identify the bird in view.

At one point we happened upon a couple that I had birded with in Nome, AK back in 2006. They were living in Alaska at the time, but have since moved to Nederland, a small mountain town near Boulder, CO. They were making their 1st trip to Magee, and were already converts, saying they thought it was better than High Island in Texas.

Since no canada warbler was making an appearance at Magee, we decided to drive the short distance over to Metzger marsh to see if its migrant trap was working today. For non-birders, a migrant trap refers to an area that is very attractive to migrating birds who need to stop to feed. Driving in we saw trumpeter swans--another new year bird. At the migrant trap we ran into other birders I knew. Everyone seemed to be looking for the canada warbler that had been seen a couple of hours earlier. One group saw it, but then it disappeared. About 25 minutes later it was relocated, and I had the chance to see it also, making it the 4th new year bird for the day. It was now 6 PM, and my wife was definitely ready to pack it in for the day, so we drove back to our motel.

13 more new birds were seen for this week, and the 4 new year birds brings the YTD total to 538. Tomorrow is supposed to be another very rainy day, so we may not be able to bird much, but who knows. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Wet Day at Magee

The weather forecast for today said it would be very wet, and this time the weatherman was right. We awakened to rain which let up about noon. I decided to see if maybe the afternoon would stay relatively dry, so I went over to Magee, leaving my wife back at the motel since she did not share my optimism for better weather. She proved to be correct. Soon after I had walked down the boardwalk it began to rain, and continued long enough that I retreated to the truck to dry off and warm up.

I did talk with one of the volunteer bird guides who said canada warblers and a black-billed cuckoo had been reported during the morning. This news got me back out on the boardwalk when the rain stopped. I had about an hour of pretty good birding when the skies opened up, so I once again hightailed it back to the truck.

Around 5:30 PM after that round of rain subsided I hit the boardwalk, and was able to bird until about 7 when the wind picked up. Throughout the day there were still warblers feeding in the trees, including a few prothonotaries (see photo above taken yesterday). I never did find a canada or a cuckoo, but I am hoping that tomorrow morning they will make an appearance.

I stopped at a bar not far from Magee, and had a beer and bowl of chili. While eating I watched the news about a small tornado that had briefly touched down an hour earlier not 30 miles away. Undaunted, I went back to the Black Swamp Bird Observatory at Magee to look for woodcocks that have been displaying there at dusk. About 8:30 PM one almost flew into me. Soon after a 2nd one came in. I then watched both of them for awhile, calling while standing in the gravel path, and occasionally flying up into the air. Damp and chilled, I packed it in at 9 PM, and drove back to Port Clinton to take a hot shower.

Even with the rain challenge today, 7 more new birds were seen for the week, and the woodcock was also a new year bird bringing the YTD number to 534. Tomorrow will find us again at Magee. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Magee Marsh--Hooray!

Today is Monday and we got to spend the afternoon birding on a beautifully sunny day at Magee Marsh near Toledo, Ohio. But first, let's talk about yesterday and getting to Ohio. We were back at Heislerville at 7 AM to make one last stab at the curlew sandpiper. It was sunny but still quite windy, and very chilly. There were loads of shorebirds in the impoundment, plus 2 immature and 1 adult bald eagle standing around on logs. The shore birds would regularly fly up in great gyrating masses without any clear reason except for the time a male peregrine falcon strafed them. The top photo is of a group of peeps with a semipalmated plover mixed in. There were 5,000 to 10,000 shorebirds either feeding or crowding together to stay warm in the harsh wind. After an hour I once again did not find a curlew, so we packed up and headed over to Brigantine.

It was windy there, but not as bad as on Saturday. We enjoyed our drive around the 8 mile loop, but found nothing particularly special. We then stopped at Shea Cafe which is right at the entrance road to the refuge only to wait for 2 hours because it was Mother's Day, and the whole world showed up for breakfast. My wife's omelette, and my egg's benedict with asparagus and lump crab were almost worth the lengthy wait. We were back on the road at 1 PM with the truck pointed toward Ohio. We stopped about 8 PM in Clarion, PA.

This morning we were out before 7 AM for the short drive to the Piney Tract IBA--a grassy reclaimed coal strip mine. As we arrived with the sun shining brightly and the temp just above freezing, we met a hunter and his 3 weimaraners. He was checking out the area for turkey hunting, and sure enough we could hear one gobbling away in the distance. We had come here to look for henslow's sparrows, a bird that particularly likes reclaimed strip mine grasslands. We were pleased to hear several calling, and studied 3 or 4 perched on various small bushes. We also had skylarking bobolinks, and savannah and grasshopper sparrows.

We left there feeling very good about the prospects for the day, and with the henslow's being a new year bird, the week-long drought for new year birds came to an end.

We were checked in to our motel before noon, had a quick lunch and drove over to Magee Marsh. This is one of my top 5 places to bird in the U.S., and today was a perfect example of why. The 8 foot wide boardwalk was full of happy birders, and the birds were making the photographers quite happy too. The bottom picture above is of a black-throated green warbler. In just 6 hours of birding, I saw 22 different warbler species, and 61 total species. 5 more new year birds were seen--golden-winged, bay-breasted, mourning and wilson's warblers, and a warbling vireo.

Overall, 40 more new birds were seen for the week, and with 6 new year birds, the YTD total is now at 533. Rain is in the forecast for tonite and tomorrow, so we will see what effect that has on the birds at Magee. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

On The Road Again

Today is Saturday, the 2nd day of Week 19. I was traveling on Thursday, the last day of Week 18, so no active birding happened, but as we were leaving our house we had a female rose-breasted grosbeak visit our feeders--a usual occurrence in early May. We stopped in Fairfax, VA, just outside of Washington, DC, to spend the night with my wife's sister and husband. A cousin and his partner were also in DC on business, so all of us got together for dinner at my in-laws' home.

We brought some wine--an '08 chenin blanc from Mulderbosch, an '07 albarino from Do Ferriero, and an '06 pinot noir from Rivers-Marie--to accompany the food. A yummy guacamole and chips, and 2 cheeses from our neighboring dairy got us all started. The delicious main course was grilled marinated chicken breasts, zucchini squash, salad, risotto and bread. Dessert was fresh strawberries, poundcake and vanilla ice cream. Everyone pushed back from the table with a smile on their face.

Friday my wife and I were on the road before 7 AM heading for Delaware first to see what birds might be about. Port Mahon, a coastal site, was a bit slow--no red knots yet. There were loads of ruddy turnstones, dunlins and laughing gulls. Bombay Hook, a short way down the road, was also just so-so. The picture above is of purple martins nesting at Bombay Hook.

Our main birding goal for the day was over in New Jersey at Heislerville where we were hoping for a curlew sandpiper (for the non-birders out there, this is a very rare vagrant to the U.S.). This has become a hot spot in the spring for shorebirds in migration, and last year 3 curlews had visited for about a week in early May.

On our way to New Jersey we stopped for a Jake's hamburger in Delaware. The place and burger reminded me of a successful chain on the east coast called Five Guys. Solid burger, good onion rings, but nothing to rave about overall. After our lunch stop we drove straight to Heislerville, arriving about 3 PM.

There was a bird banding station set up along the fresh water impoundment, and several people seemed to be manning the nets. We asked if the curlew sandpiper that had been seen earlier in the week was still around only to hear that it had not been seen since Monday. Not to be deterred by the negative report or the chilly wind that was beginning to blow, we spent the next 3 hours scanning the thousands of shorebirds that were in the impoundment. There were lots of short-billed dowitchers, with a few long-billed mixed in; probably a couple of thousand dunlins; plenty of semipalmated plovers and sandpipers; a good number of least sandpipers; and a smattering of black-bellied plovers, and greater and lesser yellowlegs. There were also laughing gulls, herring gulls, least and forster's terns, and black skimmers. But no matter how hard we looked, no curlew sandpiper could be found.

At 6 PM we had to give it up in order to make the hour+ drive up to Philly where we were staying for the nite. Last year we had stopped in Philly on our way to New England, and had a wonderful meal at a place called Osteria. We wanted to eat there again, so Philly was our nite spot. And once again Osteria did not disappoint. We started the meal by sharing a wood fired pizza lightly covered with chopped cherrystone clams in a bechamel sauce, charred scallions, parsley and mozzarella. 5 cockles in their shells were resting on top. It was a very nice opening course.

For her main course, my wife had wild halibut cooked in parchment with olives, roasted potatoes and oregano. She also had a side dish of fresh asparagus and lemon. I had been salivating all day thinking about a dish they serve called "robiola francobolli" which I had on our last visit, and loved so much that I ordered a second round of it. This dish is a tiny, paper-thin ravioli the size of a postage stamp (francobolli in Italian) filled with robiola cheese (only cow's milk in this case instead of the more normal cow and goat milk type). The sauce was very thinly sliced trumpet mushrooms and thyme in olive oil. This oh so delicate pasta once again all but brought me to tears. It has to be the best ravioli I have ever eaten.

An '08 falanghina from Feudi di San Gregorio accompanied all the food, and as is often my wife's wish, her dessert was a glass of '03 Taylor late bottle vintage port. I simply kept savoring the afterglow of the ravioli as I sipped the last bit of the falanghina.

We made the drive back down to Heislerville in just over an hour this morning to once again look for a curlew. The wind was howling, and the shorebirds were not too happy looking. No curlew had come in during the nite, but 2 white-rumped sandpipers had. After about an hour every shorebird in the impoundment flew up and disappeared. So we headed down to Cape May to see if there were any land birds stopping in today.

At Higbee Beach WMA things were quite slow except for the scissor-tailed flycatcher that had arrived yesterday and was still making birders happy. This bird is normally only seen in Texas and the neighboring states, so it was way out of its range. A week ago the even rarer fork-tailed flycatcher made a brief appearance at Higbee, so this has been quite a spring so far.

We then drove up to the Brigantine Division of the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR near Atlantic City. I usually love birding here, but today with the wind roaring it was not very pleasant, and the water levels were quite low. Returning to Heislerville, we found that the high winds had pushed the impoundment water to one side, leaving much larger mud flats. There were still some shorebirds, but after 10 minutes we called it a day.

For this new week, we have seen 73 species of birds, but no new birds for the year. There is an updated map at the top. Tomorrow we will try one more time for the curlew, and then will begin driving to Ohio. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Home Sweet Home

It sure is good to be able to sleep in my own bed with my wife next to me. It is also nice to bird some places that I know well, like my own property. I walked some of our trails yesterday morning which was on the cool side compared to Florida. I saw 22 new birds for the week including 2 new year birds--acadian flycatcher and yellow-breasted chat.

Last nite we had 2 of our neighbor friends and chefs over to share some food and wine. They brought hot out of their oven a small appetizer pizza topped with cheese, arugula and speck--yummy! We drank an '08 arneis from Giacosa with the pizza, and then followed it with an '00 pur sang (sauvignon blanc) from Didier Dagueneau while we finished cooking the main course.

I grilled some deboned and pounded flat chicken/thigh meat seasoned with herbs de provence, salt, pepper and Tuscan olive oil. Alongside the chicken I also grilled some asparagus from both our garden, and my sister's. My wife made a risotto with leaks from our garden, raw milk asiago cheese made at the dairy that is part of our shared property, and my sis's husband's shitake mushrooms grown by him on oak logs. We imbibed a '90 Beaucastel chateauneuf du pape, and a '90 barolo from Aldo Conterno. These were in honor of our daughter's birth year and month. The food and wine combined was one of the best meals of my big year so far, and reinforces that the food made in your own kitchen can qualify for the big night part of this big year.

There was still room for dark chocolate cake, strawberries picked from our garden and vanilla ice cream. Unfortunately, we tried a 1986 white riesling dessert wine from Navarro which had slid way down the hill from its glory days. You can't win them all when drinking older wine!

This morning I was up at 6 AM to pick up my Chapel Hill friend who had just birded in Florida with me to drive 90 minutes to a place called Howell Woods. It is one of my very favorite birding spots in the spring. I always find swainson's warbler here, which I still needed for this big year, and today was no exception. We saw one soon after starting the loop drive, and had another near the end of the loop. In between we found the barred owl shown at the top, and also a group of bird banders. Each spring people volunteer to train with a woman who currently lives in New Jersey. There is a beginner's group one week, and then an advanced group the next. The second photo above is of a northern waterthrush that was caught in a mist net (remember you can click on the photos to make them larger).

The banding group also learns how to identify the age of the bird by studying it briefly before releasing it. While we were with them--about 20 minutes--they banded a white-throated sparrow, veery, carolina wren, cowbird, white-eyed vireo, indigo bunting, and the waterthrush. It was a very informative 20 minutes and made our birding day so much better.

We also saw a red-headed woodpecker (new year bird), mississippi kite, several warblers (kentucky, black-throated green, prairie, american redstart, prothonotary, pine and common yellowthroat), blue grosbeak, loggerhead shrike, summer tanager, and many others birds adding up to 64 different species in about 3 hours.

Back in Chapel Hill we found a mother wood duck (new year bird) and 5 ducklings. After dropping off my friend, I took a walk along our creeks and found one of our resident louisiana waterthrushs--also a new year bird.

So 5 days into this week the overall bird count is at 122, and 6 new year birds in the past 2 days brings the YTD number to 527. I will bird our land again tomorrow before leaving early Thursday for Washington DC and beyond. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Home for a Bit

I arrived back in Chapel Hill this morning before noon, having driven over 1100 miles since yesterday morning to get home from south Florida. I am here until Thursday when my wife joins me to go up to Delaware and New Jersey, and then over to Ohio to bird together at some of my favorite places.

Yesterday my friend from NC and I stopped at Merritt Island NWR to search for white-rumped sandpipers. 2 had been reported being seen there a few days ago, and 3 others had been seen down near Florida City, so we were hopeful in finding some. We checked the spot along West Gator road where 2 had been seen, but all we found were a couple of hundred black skimmers resting on the mud flat. The next mudflat we found had black-bellied plovers, black-necked stilts, least and semipalmated sandpipers, but no white-rumps.

We then went over to Biolab road which runs along the edge of the ocean, and found again more least and semipalmated sandpipers plus semipalmated plovers. Also some little blue and tri-colored herons, and a few reddish egrets. We ran across an english birder who said that earlier in the morning he had seen 2 white-rumps on West Gator rd. and also one on the Black Point Wildlife drive.

So we returned to W. Gator and checked both mud flats again only to find the same birds there. Then we headed over to Black Point and began the 6+ mile loop drive. We kept finding deep water pools, but not the shallower pools favored by sandpipers. Then we came upon a shallower pool area and saw a few sandpipers feeding in the water instead of in the mud. We got out the scope and began to study this group. Our excitement kept building as the key markers for white-rumped sandpipers became obvious--longer wings that extended beyond the tail; streaking on the sides below the wings; size, head markings and coloration overall that matched this peep; and finally occasional views of the white rump.

We packed up the scope and drove to a restaurant called Dixie Crossroads in Titusville to celebrate our find. We went there because a birder I know from Orlando suggested that we would enjoy the place. We shared the shrimp platter special--broiled white, brown, red and rock shrimp. They were totally fresh and so delicious! They also were quite rich--I don't know how a single person could have eaten the 42 total shrimp on our platter. We also had a chance to say hi to the owner who is one of the key people behind the annual bird festival at Merrit Island NWR.

I had a really good time birding this past week with my friend from Chapel Hill, and I am so very happy to be home for the first time since Feb. 17th. The scarlet tanager shown above is one of the breeding birds here on our land. The week's bird count has grown to 75, and with the white-rumped sandpiper, the YTD number is now 521. I will be doing some birding locally before heading out again. Stay tuned!