Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Brown Shrike--no; Rock Sandpiper--yes!

We arrived into San Fran just before 11 PM last nite, and Wes was at the curb to pick us up. We drove a couple of hours up to Ukiah, CA where we checked into a motel to get a bit of sleep--like 4 hours. On the road again at 5:30 AM, we made it to the brown shrike site by 9. It was overcast, a bit windy, but no rain. We walked the 1/2 mile out into the dunes area along with about 10 other birders. We all fanned out, and spent the rest of the morning in vain looking for the brown shrike.

We headed back into town to get a bite to eat, and to get on line to see what travel options we might have. We also checked the bird hotlines only to find that no new or recently missing rarities had been seen. We had met a couple of local birders at the shrike stake-out who told us where to go to see a rock sandpiper. As I have said recently, this is one of the birds that I missed earlier in the year, but still expected to find.

It began to rain as we approached the north jetty in Eureka, but we jumped out to walk it anyway. Out towards the end we found quite a few shorebirds--black turnstones, surfbirds, 1 wandering tattler, and 2 rock sandpipers. In the photo above you can see a rock sandpiper in the front with 2 surfbirds and a black turnstone behind it.

The rain stopped, so we stayed out on the jetty for awhile taking in the diversity of seabirds such as 2 pomarine jaegers harassing a black-legged kittiwake; harlequin ducks; black and surf scoters; red-throated and common loons; western grebes; common murres; pelagic and brandt's cormorants; and 2 brown pelicans. We finished the day with 38 new birds for the week, and the rock sandpiper raises the YTD up to 697.

We were hoping big time for the brown shrike because it is Bob Ake's birthday. It would have brought his big year total up to 724 which would be the 3rd highest total for an ABA area big year. He is tied for 3rd with Lynn Barber from Texas, and will undoubtedly move higher before the year is over. Double congrats to Bob for his big year total and his birthday!

We have now checked into our motel for the nite to get some much needed rest/sleep after the crazy travel of the past 3 days. It is supposed to rain tonite and tomorrow, but we are hoping that the front will stay more to the north allowing us to try again in the morning for the shrike. Stay tuned!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Streak-backed Oriole

Bob Ake and I were on the road at 6:30 AM to make the 160 mile drive from Phoenix to look for the streak-backed oriole near Wellton, AZ. We arrived about 9:15 to find a sunny, chilly but very windy morning. We checked in with a couple of birders who gave us the most recent info about the bird. Chris Taylor had some very good pictures that he had put on the web (bottom photo), and the consensus this morning was that this oriole was definitely a streak-backed oriole--not a hybrid as had been speculated yesterday.

We spent the morning checking all the birds, most of which were hunkered down because of the wind. The top photo is of a group of mockingbirds that kept returning to this low dead shrub. About noon we decided to take a break and get some lunch which we found at a small cafe. Breakfast was the best choice on the short menu, so we chowed down on eggs, etc.

Back at the oriole site we found 3 more birders, including a woman Bob knew, who had driven in from Sierra Vista, AZ to try to find the bird. After about an hour they left, and right after the owner of the property told us she did not mind our walking in her yard to try to locate the oriole. Within 10 minutes we heard an oriole like chatter, and realized it must be in a very dense pomegranate tree. Sure enough we soon got some brief glimpses of it, and then with some "squeaking" it came out enough that Bob got a pretty good photo (middle).

As soon as we saw the bird we called the cell of the 3 birders who had just left, and they returned to try to see the bird. It stayed hidden for the next 20 minutes, so Bob and I decided to head back to Phoenix. We had talked with Wes Fritz in the morning and decided not to go to CA to try for the brown shrike because it had not been seen today, and the weather was going to get very rainy starting tomorrow afternoon. But on our way up to Phoenix we heard that the shrike had been seen this morning, and we quickly decided to head to San Francisco after all. So we are sitting at the airport waiting to board our plane.

We saw 23 more new birds for the week, and the streak-backed oriole brings the YTD up to 696. We are hoping for a trifecta tomorrow with the brown shrike. Stay tuned!

Tufted Flycatcher Instead of a Brown Shrike

The brown shrike in northern CA went missing again, but the tufted flycatcher at Big Bend NP was refound, so yesterday morning I flew to Midland-Odessa, TX to be in position to drive 250 miles down to the park. I arrived about 1:30 PM and waited until 9:15 when Bob Ake--the birder from VA doing a full ABA big year--finally was able to get there. I watched several college football games that were not very exciting except for the LSU/Arkansas tussle.

We took off in our rental car only to have a flat 20 miles down the road. Bob managed in the dark to get the tire changed, and we returned to the airport to get a new vehicle. All of this meant we did not get to sleep at Fort Stockton until 1 AM. 5:40 came all too quickly, but we wanted to make sure we arrived at Big Bend plenty early. Unfortunately, in my haste to get to the site, I was pulled over just as I arrived by 2 very serious park police who pointed out that as I had passed them a few 100 hundreds back I was doing 54 in a 30 zone. My explanation that we were anxious to see the flycatcher did not make a bit of difference. They were "by the book" guys including insisting that we stay seated in our car.

As soon as they finished giving me a ticket, we jumped out and saw a birder--Jay Hand from Tucson, AZ--with his camera taking pics of the tufted flycatcher. It was a cool but sunny morning, and we joined in the photo parade. The bird is small, and mostly stayed 20 feet up in a large cottonwood doing his very animated flycatching routine. As a result my 2 photos above are not quite as good as I would have liked, but definitely show you what a tufted flycatcher looks like (click on the photos to enlarge). This is only the 5th record of this bird in the US, but is the 2nd one that I have seen.

We ran into a woman birder who had been on a pelagic trip with us back in the summer. She and another birder, and Bob and I took a stroll around the grassy area with a variety of trees checking out what other birds were around. It was a flycatcher morning--vermillion, ash-throated, and black and say's phoebes were feeding along with the tufted. We saw 29 birds today, and the tufted flycatcher raises the YTD to 695.

About 10 AM we decided to start back toward Midland-Odessa to make sure we got back in plenty of time to catch our flight to Phoenix. A streak-backed oriole was found near Yuma, AZ yesterday by Paul Lehman, so we are in Phoenix tonite and will drive early tomorrow morning to try to see the oriole. As we drove this morning we also heard that the brown shrike was found again, and a lapwing was found yesterday in Storrs, CT. Our plan is to fly to San Francisco tomorrow evening where Wes Fritz will pick us up for the 5 hour drive up to Arcata, CA to look for the shrike. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Early Thanksgiving Morning

It is early Thanksgiving morning, and since it is going to be a very full day, I wanted to get a posting out before all hell breaks loose. For starters, I want to talk a bit more about our recent trip to Italy. Having lived there for a year back in 2003-04, we have made some friends one of whom is Giulia. After we returned to NC in the summer of '04, Giulia and her friend Claudia came to the states and spent Thanksgiving with us. Since these 2 women had taken such good care of us at our favorite wine bar--Fuori Porta--it was a real treat for us to show them what an American Thanksgiving was all about. After visiting with us they then went to Austin, TX to see our friends Craig and Renee.

Because of these visits, Giulia's parents wanted to have us to their house the next time we visited Italy. So CKay and I went with Giulia to have a meal with her folks. It seemed like Thanksgiving all over again in that there was so much food that her mother had made--crostini fiorentini, pasta bolognese, pork, goat, potatoes, etc. Lots of wine was consumed along with her father's homemade grappa. And all the talk had to be mostly translated thru Giulia because her parents speak very little english.

On our most recent trip we went again and this time Craig and Renee joined us. Giulia made a great pureed squash and chick pea soup to start. Her father made the classic salt cod dish called baccala. The top photo is of Craig and partially of CKay with the huge skillet of baccala sitting in front of them. Like the first visit, we all had a fine time getting to know our friend Giulia's family a bit more, and sharing simple Tuscan food together.

Also when we lived in Florence, we spent a lot of time trying various pizza places. Most pizza in Florence is the very thin crust pies, but there are a few places that make the Napoli style pizza which has a crust more like what we are used to here in the states. Our favorite Napoli pizza joint was a 5 minute walk from our apartment. We would get a couple of margarita pizzas made with fresh mozzarella to take home where we would add our own extra toppings like arugula or prosciutto.

The bottom photo above is of Vicenzo, il pizzaiuolo (the pizza maker), and the margarita pizzas he made for us on our last trip. He makes pizzas 6 days a week from 7:30 PM until midnite, usually 4 at a time. When my daughter Jess would come with me to pick up the pizzas, he would make one in a heart shape for her. When Vicenzo goes on vacation, the pizza place is closed.

Changing the subject back to birding, today is the end of week #47. There are only 5 weeks left in this big year, but the flurry of rarities has continued. A tufted flycatcher was seen last Sunday at Big Bend NP, but not reported until Tuesday. Yesterday's search by local birders came up empty, but they are going to try again today. And the brown shrike was relocated in northern CA yesterday. So while I am very much looking forward to sharing a Thanksgiving meal with my family later today, I also am thinking about how to get to CA to try to see the shrike. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is 700 Species Possible in the Lower 48 States?

It is Tuesday afternoon and I did not go to California yesterday morning. The brown shrike that was found early on Sunday disappeared by the end of the day, and has not yet been relocated. I knew this before I boarded my plane home on Sunday evening. While I would love to add a brown shrike to this big year, I have been quite happy being home the past 2 days, getting some needed rest. Plus, Thanksgiving is almost here.

I did go birding with my local birding buddy, Pam (top photo), this AM. It was unseasonably warm--over 70 degrees--and a bit windy because of the weather front that came in this afternoon. In the past week the leaves have mostly fallen, but as you can see in the pic, there is still some good fall color here in NC. We really did not see many birds, but did get a nice photo of the cedar waxwing (bottom photo). We also had a bald eagle fly over.

After my last post, Ned, a friend of Bob Ake's, commented that he was wondering if it was possible to see 700 species in just the lower 48 states in a calendar year. As I have said a few times in this now almost 11 month long blog, I originally did not think it was possible to see 700 different birds because of several factors.

The 1st is that when you study the probable birds you could find in the lower 48, the number is around 650. Second, each of the next 50 birds become increasingly more rare in their incidence in the lower 48. Third, when they are found, they often do not stay around long enough to travel any distance to their location before they have moved on.

Fourth, if any birder had seen more than 700 birds in the lower 48 states when doing a big year, I figured I would have read about it. Fifth, so far only 9 birders have seen over 700 birds in 1 year in the full ABA area. Finally, my goal was to use birding as a focalizer of a grand travel adventure for the year, and not necessarily to try to set a record.

As a result, I never even bothered to check until about 2 months ago to see what the record for the lower 48 states was. That is when I discovered the info I have shared recently. First, the ABA "official" record is 685 set in 2005 by my friend Dan Sanders. Second, Sandy Komito emailed me that when he set the full ABA area record back in 1998 of 745 birds, he saw 692 of those in the lower 48 states, but did not submit that number to the ABA.

With the good fortune of the past few days when I saw the fork-tailed flycatcher, the Ross' gull and the pink-footed goose, I am now at 694 birds for the year which means I am now the record holder (official and unofficial) for the lower 48 states. I also know, barring just horrendously bad luck, that I will see common redpoll and rock sandpiper before the end of the year.

I also said recently before seeing the last 3 rarities that I felt 695 was probable by year's end. Which finally gets me back to Ned's musing about 700 for the year. Over a month ago I suggested the chances were "slim and none at all, and slim had just left town". Now I have to say that slim has returned to the edge of town. Will 4 more rarities appear in the next 5 weeks, and will I be able to reach them--maybe.

What I do know because of the number of rarities that have already shown up this year, that seeing 700 bird species in the lower 48 states is doable. In fact, if I somehow had been able to see all of the following rarities that did come to the lower 48 already this year, then I would be over 700.

For starters, I did not decide to chase after rarities until July. As a result, in the winter I missed the amazon kingfisher, tamaulipas crow, and roadside hawk in TX, and the ivory gull in both MA and GA. I missed the western spindalis in April, and the bahama mockingbird in May in FL. I chose not to chase a red-necked stint in MA in July, and a lesser sand plover in WA in September because I doubted they would stay around long enough.

Some 1 day wonders this year included an aztec thrush in March, black-vented oriole in April, and a green violetear in September in TX; a common ringed plover in MA in September; and an arctic loon and horned puffin in WA in October. The recent thick-billed vireo in FL was seen and photographed, but not reported for 4 more days, and by the time it was confirmed, it also disappeared. And I missed the most recent ivory gull in CA by 6 hours.

Some pelagic birds seen this year on other trips than the ones I took included great-winged, herald and white-chinned petrels; wedge-tailed, black-bellied and white-faced storm-petrels; and short-tailed albatross.

Hindsight shows that I could have reached in time the amazon kingfisher, the bahama mockingbird, the roadside hawk, the winter ivory gulls, and the red-necked stint. Therefore, at a minimum I would have 5 more year birds as of today, and at a maximum there are a total of 19 rare birds that came to the lower 48 states that I was not able to see. If I had, then my YTD number would be at 713 which means hypothetically, Ned, it would have been possible this year to see 700 birds in the lower 48. And with 5 weeks to go I will still be trying to do just that! Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Even I Don't believe What I Did the Past 48 Hrs

It is Sunday afternoon about 6 PM and I am back in the Boston area getting ready to fly home again. But you say, "I thought he was in Denver". I was there for all of 7 hours yesterday. I was on my flight to Denver yesterday morning at 6:20, landed at 11, and was watching the bird (top 2 photos) at noon with a group of local birders (bottom photo). The bird was not close, so I could not get my own pics and instead have downloaded the small photos above taken by Glenn Walbek, the birder who found the gull. It was great to see this bird because the only other Ross' gull I ever saw was back in 1975 in Newburyport, MA. I was told by the local birders that it was only the 3rd Ross' gull for Colorado.

While I was enjoying seeing the 693rd bird for the year I received a call telling me that the pink-footed goose I missed outside of Boston was relocated. I called American and booked myself to fly back to Boston rather than Raleigh. I arrived in Boston this morning at 1:30 and was picked up by my friend Richard who took me to his house to get some sleep.

I was out at the new site for the pink-footed (only the 3rd one ever seen in MA) about 8 AM and before 9 several other birders had arrived when the goose was found mixed in with a large group of canada geese. Unfortunately, we were only getting very frustrating 1-2 second looks of its head as it would raise it ever so briefly while feeding. After about 20 minutes the goose made a very short flight to another spot that we could not even see from the edge of the field it was in, and we could not try to get closer because of the "do not trespass" signs.

I decided to not waste any more time hoping it would reappear and instead drove an hour over to Plum Island to see if I could find a gyrfalcon that was reported from there on Saturday. On my way in I stopped at the local seafood cafe and ate some pretty good fried clams.

It was a beautiful, chilly day with lots of birds around including about 20 hooded mergansers, a rough-legged hawk and a eurasian wigeon. I spent 4 hours thoroughly enjoying the late fall day and all the birds at the refuge. As the sun was getting low in the sky I decided to head back to my friend's house, stopping at the cafe again to pick up a lobster roll for the road.

23 more birds were seen over the past 2 days for the week, and the gull and goose bring the YTD up to 694. I will be flying home in a couple of hours, but I just heard that a brown shrike--a rarity from the asia--was found today in northern CA. I may be on another flight early tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fork-tailed Flycatcher!

About 11:45 Wednesday morning I found out that a fork-tailed flycatcher was seen that morning at a small park in Stamford, CT. I checked the airline schedule and found I could catch a 2 PM flight to NYC. I was supposed to arrive at 3:25 which meant I could make the 40 mile drive up to Stamford just in time to see the bird before dark. The plane pulled away from the gate at 2 PM and immediately its engines were turned off because of high winds in NYC had caused a delay.
We finally took off at 3 PM, arriving in NYC about 4:20, but by the time I got my rental car, and made the drive with fortunately little traffic, it was totally dark at the park. So I grabbed a motel room hoping that on Thursday morning the bird would still be there.

I pulled into the parking lot at 6:30 AM to find about 10 other birders with scopes and cameras in the adjacent natural area waiting to spy the fork-tailed. It was sunny but quite chilly. About 7 AM one of the birders found it perched in a tree. We all moved closer, but it was still too far away for my camera. I asked one of the photographers to email me a pic, but he did not do it. (In 2011 I met Doug Koch who had seen the same fork-tailed flycatcher, and he sent me the photo above that I was able to add to this post).

Also on Wed. afternoon I received a report of a pink-footed goose near Boston, MA and a possible thick-billed vireo in Miami, FL. Having spent 30 minutes enjoying the flycatcher, I decided to make the 3 hour drive up to Boston in hopes of quickly finding the goose so that I could drive back to NYC yesterday afternoon to be able to fly to Miami. On my way up I received confirmation that a thick-billed vireo was in Miami.

About 10:30 AM as I was getting close to the pink-footed site I saw a bunch of cars, and people with scopes scanning a field full of geese. It was not where the pink-footed had been seen, but I pulled in to find it was the location of a barnacle goose that had been in the area for a few weeks. Another couple arrived at the same time. I had met the husband at the hawk tower at Bentsen Rio Grande SP back in March. They were on their way from upstate NY to FL but had detoured thru MA to see the 2 geese, and then planned to stop in to see the fork-tailed in CT. The 2nd photo shows the barnacle goose with some canada geese around it (center facing left--smaller, white face and dark throat, neck and upper chest with a gray/black back). This is a bird I saw way back in January in NJ (click on photo to enlarge).

I then went to the pink-footed site, but yesterday there were no geese there, just a large group of turkeys. Since the pink-footed goose has only been recorded twice before in MA, there were lots of local birders out checking the surrounding fields. Because the farmer who owned the field said that the geese came in every afternoon, I decided to "stake-out" the field as did several other birders. I was the last to depart at dusk without a single goose landing in the field--just a few flyovers.

After staying with good friends in Lincoln, I was back on goose patrol this morning at 6:30, checking several possible fields, plus a large reservoir. I found plenty of canada geese on the reservoir, but very few geese in the fields, and none again landed at the primary pink-footed goose site. I had made a reservation this morning to fly to Miami this evening, so at 11 I started driving back to NYC to drop off my rental car. Enroute I spoke with the Miami birder who had confirmed the vireo yesterday. He said this morning 10 birders searched for the vireo but did not relocate it. So instead I flew home to NC late this afternoon.

Today is the beginning of week #47. A total of 22 birds were seen. The fork-tailed flycatcher is a life bird and raises the YTD to 692. As I was driving home from the airport this evening I got a call from Bob Ake telling me that an adult ross' gull was found at a reservoir near Denver, CO. I have a plane reservation for 6:20 AM tomorrow to chase this latest rarity. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Home Waiting for the Next Rarity

It is Tuesday evening and I just finished watching with my wife the 6th Harry Potter movie in preparation for the 7th one that will be released this Friday. My daughter will be home next week for Thanksgiving and as with the previous 6 movies we will be seeing it together. I also just reread the 7th book to be ready for the new movie. Obviously if I have time to be doing all this it means that I am still in NC patiently waiting for another rare bird to show up that I have not yet seen this year.

The photos above are more of the food we ate while visiting Florence, Italy recently. The top is a plate of grilled vegies with a very special cheese called buratta. It is hard to describe but essentially it is similar to a fresh mozzarella on the outside and cottage cheese like on the inside. My wife eats this plate almost every lunch at our favorite wine bar, Fuori Porta. The middle photo is of fresh taglierini with baby artichokes, a dish we ate at our favorite Florentine restaurant, Buca' dell Orafo. The bottom photo is what was left of a dozen grilled fresh porcini mushroom caps that we all shared at Buca. One reason we like being in Italy in the fall is to be able to eat fresh porcini. I also had as good a risotto as I have ever had made with a different wild mushroom called finferle that is somewhat like a chanterelle.

After my last posting I was asked if I knew Sandy Komito and whether he was still actively birding. I have never crossed his path as far as I know, but have obviously communicated with him recently to get the info about his lower 48 number from 1998. Sandy is now in his late 70's, but still does get out to bird from what I have been told. For example, he was on one of Debi Shearwater's pelagic trips this past summer.

Since I have no new big year bird sightings of my own to report, I suggest you check out Bob Ake's doings on the link to his blog on my blogsite. He just saw the taiga bean-goose today, and is on his way to TX next to try to see a crimson-collared grosbeak--a bird I saw back in February. While I am glad to have a bit of time at home, I am hoping for a rarity to show up soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Holding Pattern in NC

It is Sunday morning and I have just returned with my wife from a fine autumn walk here on our property. It is not clear why, but fall has come "late" here as far as the leaves and color. It is the 14th, but usually by now our leaves are mostly on the ground and the glorious reds, oranges and yellows of our maples, hickories, dogwoods and oaks are a fading memory. Not alot of birds about this morning, but we did flush a woodcock.

My bird photo for today is a gufo as they are called in Italian. One of our favorite museums to visit in Florence is the Bargello which has castings of several different birds including the owl at the top. The gleeful little guy in leather chaps below the owl is eros--one of my most cherished bronzes also in the Bargello. The Uffizi and the Accademia are the better known museums in Florence, but we generally prefer the Bargello and the Museo dell Duomo.

The 3rd pic from the top is of a typical deli at the San Lorenzo market in Florence. It is always enjoyable to stroll thru this large market to see the various vendors--deli's, meat and poultry, seafood, wine and lots of produce on the second floor. The bottom photo is of a place called Nerbone that has been open since 1872. It serves simple pasta lunches for the working folks.

It is best known by foodies for its bollito panino--a sandwich of brisket that has been cooked in its own juices until totally tender, and then sliced very thinly (by the guy in the photo) and piled on a kaiser roll. Toppings are salt and pepper, and a green and red sauce. I was introduced to this delightful simple sandwich (the closest thing to BBQ in Italy) by our friends Ben and Karen when they stayed with us during the year we lived in Florence. I used to arrive about 11:15 in the morning so I could sit eating my panino while listening to a group of older Italian men trash talking each other. Now when I visit for a week I try to have 2 or 3 panini, often as a light breakfast by getting a piccolo version.

Yesterday I went on "bird alert" for a few hours when a possible slaty-backed gull was reported near Corvallis, OR, but by the evening it was concluded by local birders that the gull was an odd western. So I am still in a holding pattern, waiting for a rarity to show up while contacting key people around the country asking them to inform me ASAP about any rarity that they know about.

I was asked after my last posting if I now have the record for the lower 48 states. The answer seems to be yes and no. Yes in that the "official" record according to ABA info is 685 different species seen by my friend Dan Sanders back in 2005. But as I wrote prior to leaving for Italy, I learned from Sandy Komito that his computer records indicate he saw 692 birds in 1998 in the lower 48 states when he set the all-time ABA record of 745. He did not submit that number to the ABA, so according to my ABA birding friends, it is not an "official" number.

Back on September 30th I stated that my new goal for the year was to see at least 690 different species. With 691 seen, and the rock sandpiper and common redpoll expected, by year's end I should reach at least 693. With 6+ more weeks to go, I also expect some more rarities to make an appearance. As a result, I now think 695 birds is probable with the holy grail of 700 still out there but getting more possible. And with at least 693 birds I would also pass Sandy's 1998 lower 48 number. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rusty Blackbird in NC

I got home yesterday evening from California. My wife picked me up at the airport and we hit one of our good local restaurants--Vin Rouge--for a quick meal featuring perfectly prepared steamed mussels in white wine and cream with french fries for me, and trout with pureed potatoes for my wife. It felt good to sleep in my own bed after the whirlwind of the past 5 days.

This morning my local birding buddy, Pam, and I headed out about 8:30 to check the usual rusty blackbird spots. The rusties have started to be seen in central NC, so I was optimistic, but after checking 3 good spots and finding none, I was thinking maybe today was not our day. At our 4th stop, which had the best rusty habitat of the day, we heard 1 calling. After about 10 minutes we saw it fly across the wetland and land in the top of a tree. It then flew further out beyond where we could see it. We plan to go out again in the next few days in hopes of finding a larger group, and maybe some photos.

Since I have no pertinent bird photos to post today, the photos above are from our recent time in Italy. Last year when we visited Florence in the fall we and our friends, Craig and Renee, made a day trip up to Bologna to eat at the Godot Wine Bar which my wife and I had discovered back in 2004. We spent about 4 hours thoroughly enjoying the food and wine that day. Craig thought it was one of his all time favorite meals, so we decided to go again this past week.

We went on Monday which was All Saints Day. We took our good friend Giulia who works at Fuori Porta in Florence. We arrived at Godot to find that the ownership had changed in April. We were bummed because we discovered last year that 1 of the owners was a huge american football fan, especially of the TX longhorns. Craig, who lives in Austin, had brought him a TX football jersey. The best we could do was talk with him on the phone, and tell him to come by to pick up a gift we had brought for him.

We proceeded to have a very good lunch. The top photo is coddled eggs with shaved white truffles that was quite nice. The middle pic is of our friend Renee with a bowl of the classic pasta bolognese. The 3rd photo down is a rabbit cacciatore with wedges of white polenta. Other starter dishes included tagliatelle with leeks and cream, and steak tartare. Other main dishes included a small roasted poussin, and chitarra pasta with truffles.

For wines we began with an '08 Vie di Romans sauvignon blanc followed by an '06 riserva verdicchio from a producer that I did not know. Both wines were fine examples of their grapes and regions. Our red wines were an '08 etna rosso from Terre Nere, and an '07 carignano Terre Brune from Santadi. Each also were handsome representatives of their grapes and regions.

Pam and I saw 30 birds on the first day of week #46, and the rusty blackbird raises the YTD up to 691. There is an updated travel map. I am now in a holding pattern waiting to see what rarity might show up next. In the mean time I will bird some locally, and continue to share more about our trip to Italy. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ivory Gull--No; Taiga Bean Goose--Yesssssss

Yesterday morning Wes and I were out by 6:30 to make the "rounds" of Santa Maria and Pismo Beach in search of the ivory gull and possible other rarities that might be around. It was sunny, but very windy which made the birding not as enjoyable as it had been on Monday. We saw lots of good birds (49 total new ones for the week), but by mid-afternoon we had not found the ivory gull. We did find that one of the dead seal carcasses that it had been feeding on had been scooped up by the beach cleaning crew, thereby further reducing the chances of the bird coming back to eat.

I called a friend in Montecito about having dinner about 5 before making the drive down to LA to catch a plane home this morning. As we were driving back to Wes' house we got a call alerting us to the discovery of a taiga bean goose at the Salton Sea--a 6 hour drive from where we were. As on Monday, there were no second thoughts about going after this bird which has been seen in the lower 48 states only 3 other times. Even in Alaska it is quite rare since it does not breed in North America. I called my friend and canceled the dinner date.

We hit the road at 6:30 PM and made it to Palm Springs by 11 where we checked into a motel. We were back on the road before 5 AM and arrived at Unit 1 of the Sonny Bono NWR at 6:20 to find 25 cars and trucks already there. Between 40 and 50 birders were lined up with their scopes and cameras on tripods looking at and photographing the bean goose. It was about 3-400 yards out in a field eating with 3 white-fronted geese and 100's of snow and ross' geese.

The top photo taken by Todd McGrath shows the taiga bean goose--the 1 that is not white--at the edge of lots of snow and ross' geese. Generally it was hanging near the 3 white-fronteds. The bean goose looks alot like the white-fronted goose. It is almost the same size with very similar coloration on its back and wings, but its bill is dark with no white at the base, it has a unmarked breast and belly, and the streaking on the sides and back of its neck seem a bit heavier than the white-fronted.

As on Monday in Long Beach when we saw the black-tailed gull (3rd and 4th photos above also taken by Todd McGrath--click on the photo to enlarge), a who's who of top CA birders were there thrilled to see such a rare bird. The large flock of geese flew up a couple of times so the bean goose was also observed in flight (2nd photo from top taken by Chris Taylor), always flying next to the 3 white-fronteds. After about an hour of watching and chatting, since the geese were not moving any closer we headed off to bird other sites at the south end of the Salton Sea.

We saw 20 more new birds for the week with the best being an albino least sandpiper which was the first I have ever seen. We also saw the large-billed form of the savannah sparrow. About 2 we went back over to check on the bean goose when we got a call that it was much closer to the viewing area. Unfortunately we arrived about 10 minutes too late as it had moved far out into the field again, so after checking it out thru our scopes for a bit we pointed our car back towards LA where I had left my car on the way down yesterday.

The bean goose raises the YTD up to 690 and is another life bird for me. The whirlwind nature of the past few days has been both exciting and tiring, and I am still absorbing the good fortune of seeing 2 such rare birds back to back. There was a rumor mid-day that the ivory gull had been relocated, but by the end of the afternoon there was no confirmation so I am planning to fly home tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ivory Gull--No; Black-tailed Gull--Yes

Wes picked me up at 6:30 AM and we bombed down the road to Pismo Beach in hopes of seeing the ivory gull. Unlike yesterday afternoon and most of the night when it rained, this morning dawned clear and sunny. We hit the prime ivory gull site to find at least 10 birders with many scopes already in position waiting for a sighting. Finding out that the gull had not been seen yet, we then drove 6 miles south down the beach looking for it, but to no avail. We then headed north about 1/2 mile to the other key site, but again found nothing.

The next move was to work our way further north in an effort to find a dead seal or sea lion carcass that it might have moved to feed on. We spent the rest of the morning looking and ended up 50 miles north at San Simeon. The best we could do for all our effort was the zebra in the top photo. Just after we found the zebra Wes got a call from Todd McGrath alerting us to the discovery of a black-tailed gull down in Long Beach just south of LA. Like the ivory gull, the black-tailed is very rare in CA having been seen only twice before. It is also extremely rare anywhere in North America.

It was about 11:45 when we got the news, and we were about 275 miles from where the gull was found. Without a second thought we put the car into overdrive and ripped our way down to Long Beach. All the way down Wes was calling other CA birders to alert them to the find, and in turn we were getting calls from birders already watching the gull. Fortunately we hit no major traffic and arrived in Long Beach at 4:15 to find at least 30 birders lined up with cameras and scopes checking out the black-tailed gull.

We were able to watch the bird up close and personal for about 30 minutes before it and the mob of other gulls it was hanging with took to the air. The middle photo above is of the black-tailed gull (left bird) standing next to a California gull. Note the black-tailed is darker gray, and has red and black on the tip of its bill, a bit brighter white arcs above and below the eye, a more prominent/dark hindcollar, and of course a black tail (remember to click on photo to enlarge). The bottom photo is of some of the birders on the scene including Wes (hawaiian shirt) and Todd (to the right of Wes in blue jeans wearing a ball cap).

For the week 51 birds have been seen of which 11 today were sea gull species, and the black-tailed brings the YTD to 689. The gull is also a life bird for me and Wes. We are now back at Wes' house in Solvang. Tomorrow we will try one more time for the ivory plus be looking for some other possible rarities. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Am I Really In Santa Maria, CA?

It is Sunday nite the 7th of November, and I am already in southern California in hopes of seeing the ivory gull that was found here this past Thursday. I left Venice, Italy very early yesterday morning, and after about 24 hours of travel including 3 different plane flights, I arrived home at 10:30 PM to find that an ivory gull was feeding on dead seal carcasses in San Luis Obispo. This is only the 2nd record of an ivory gull in southern CA which is no surprise since this gull generally lives high in the arctic.

I had missed a couple of ivory gulls on the east coast very early in the year, so I was on a plane this morning at 8 to get to LA by mid-day. I drove 3 hours up to Santa Maria where I met Wes Fritz and his friend Howard who I had seen on my pelagic trip out of San Diego in October.
It began to rain just about the time we hit the beach at 4:30, finding roughly 10 birders who had spent all day waiting for the gull to come back. Wes and Howard had seen it in the morning before going off to do other birding. We tried all 3 locations where the gull had been seen over the past 4 days, but did not locate it, so we will be back out there early tomorrow to try again.

As promised in my post of 10/27, over the next few days I will share some photos taken with my cell phone, and describe some of the food and wine my wife and I, and our friends, Craig and Renee, enjoyed while visiting Florence and Venice. The top photo above was taken in the hills on the south edge of Florence, and features the Duomo and the Palazzo Vecchio in the center of the city. The middle photo is of my wife, CKay, on our first full day in Florence sitting outside our favorite wine bar, Fuori Porta. We have been eating here now for 14 years, and have come to know the owner and the staff quite well.

The bottom photo was taken at our favorite restaurant, Buca dell'Orafo, also on our 1st full day. On the right and center plates are fried baby artichokes with pieces of fried rabbit and chicken. This is a regular fall dish at Buca, as is the ravioli in cream sauce with black pepper that you can see tucked in behind the red wine glasses. The first couple of days I had to keep reminding myself to take food pictures because when a dish would arrive at the table, I often was so intent on eating it that only afterwards would I remember that I needed photos for the blog. As a result, some of our favorite dishes of the week were consumed before photos were taken.

Tomorrow I hope to have good news on the ivory gull, and no matter what happens with the gull, I will share more photos and stories about our food and wine in Florence. Stay tuned!