Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve 2010

It is the afternoon of New Year's eve and almost the end of my big birding year. I have been home since Christmas eve, thoroughly enjoying spending time with my family. I did go birding this morning with my local birding buddy Pam. We hit 3 spots that we have visited of late to see what was about, always hoping to get better looks at rusty blackbirds which are around Chapel Hill in the winter, but are not found in great numbers.

At our first stop we counted probably 3-400 common grackles that flew over. There were also a few red-winged blackbirds. Moving onto our second spot, which is only about a mile away from the first site, we also saw lots of grackles but this time they were out in the marsh feeding. We kept scanning the grackles that were up in the trees and located a couple of female red-winged BB. Then we found a group of 7 female rusties which we watched for a bit until they flew high over our heads.

The rest of the morning was spent at our 3rd spot where I was able to get the photo above of a hermit thrush which winter in our area (click on it to enlarge). The morning also gave us red-bellied, downy, pileated and red-headed woodpeckers plus a yellow-bellied sapsucker. Some other birds seen included golden-crowned kinglet, carolina chickadee and wren, tufted titmouse, eastern bluebird and phoebe, brown thrasher, white-throated sparrow, american goldfinch and crow, turkey vulture, hooded merganser, mallard and canada goose--all local birds for us during the winter.

So week #52 + 1 day is nearly over with 47 birds seen or heard. My year to date total remains at 704 birds seen. Bob Ake has ended his full ABA area year at 731 birds, and his friend John Spahr saw 704 birds for his full ABA area year. This is the 2nd time 3 birders have seen 700+ birds in the same calendar year in the ABA area. At the bottom of the right hand column I have added a new section listing the birds I saw this year but were not ABA countable. I will be doing a few more blog entries over the next few days to offer some reflections and musings on this past year of birding, eating and travel. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Only 3 Days Left in My Big Year

It is Wednesday morning and I am still in Chapel Hill. Not only was the white-throated thrush not relocated, but Sunday morning was the last time anyone reported the black-vented oriole. The Monday post said over 30 birders searched until 5 PM but no one saw the oriole. There was no report at all about looking for or seeing the oriole on Tuesday. So I am still home, and at this point the chances of chasing another bird before the 31st look very slim.

The top photo above is of 7 beanie babies that my 20 year old daughter found in her long neglected collection. Each was gift wrapped for me for Christmas morning, and the 7 represent seeing 700 birds this year. The bottom photo is my 29 year old artist son's rendition of a slaty-backed gull that he made in honor of my 700th bird seen. If you check my list to the right side of the blog you will see that the gyrfalcon is listed as #700, but when my son checked the list the slaty-backed was recorded as the 700th bird seen. So an explanation is in order.

Since I entered the first 247 birds back in early February in the order that they appear in the ABA trip list, I continued throughout the year to follow that method for each new posting. I did the same initially when I entered gyrfalcon, slaty-backed gull and brown shrike on December 11. Also, remember that at that time I had not yet discovered that I had seen 3 more birds earlier in the year, so I thought these 3 were birds #696, #697 and #698 for the year. After I completed the review of my list they moved up 3 spots. Finally, even though I had been following the entry order as described all year long, I later decided that I would list these 3 birds in the exact order in which I saw them. As a result the order was changed because the gyrfalcon was the 700th species seen by me this year. I am hoping that my son will also make me a piece of art of a gyrfalcon.

We still have snow on the ground so our feeders have continued to host lots of birds. As a result, I found a female cooper's hawk sitting on my feeders yesterday which of course meant not another bird was in sight. I have seen 7 more birds for the week, and am planning to do some birding today since it is going to be so nice out--sunny and near 50. The travel map has been updated, and it might be the final one barring a last minute rarity. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

CBC in Chapel Hill

It is the day known as boxing day in England. It began snowing here in Chapel Hill about 8 PM on Christmas, and this morning we awoke to a lovely winter wonderland (photo above of the front door of our house). My friends Pam and Perry who live across the creek from us have been doing the CBC for 25 years in this local area which includes the 230 acres that we live on. I joined them this morning for 2 hours.

Because of the snow most of the birds seen were at my feeders. The highlight was 4 female and 2 male purple finches. When I started this big year on January 1st, I had a single female purple finch which at that time was a new bird for our property. Having 6 in all this morning was a real treat, and seemed a fitting find near the end of my birding adventure.

We walked several of our trails, looking and listening for other birds, but with the fresh snow it seemed that most birds were probably hunkering down trying to stay warm. The snow was still falling lightly this morning as we walked, but with no wind it was a delightful and magical stroll. With the snow starting last nite, this is the first time since 1947 that snow has fallen on Christmas day here in Chapel Hill.

We saw 24 bird species this morning. This evening I checked Narba to find that the black-vented oriole was seen for the 5th day in a row at Bentsen, but the white-throated thrush found 2 days ago in the valley was not relocated. As a result, I am going to stay in a holding pattern about going down to south Texas to see if the thrush is refound. If it is, then I will probably decide to fly down there. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve--Back Home

Today is the beginning of the 52nd week of my big year. I have just returned from a quick visit to Columbia, MO where we surprised my brother Jon for his 60th birthday. My son and daughter are home for Christmas, so I will not be traveling after any birds for the next few days. I plan on Sunday to participate in our local CBC with our friends Pam and Perry.

The black-vented oriole that was seen last week at Bentsen RGV state park showed up again on Wed. and has been seen now 3 days in a row. Bob Ake is flying down today in hopes of seeing it tomorrow. I will be waiting to see if it stays around into next week, and then will decide whether to make a try to see it. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Surprise for Brother Jon's 60th Birthday

It is early on Wednesday morning and I am in Columbia, MO where I spent my early years. My brother Jon who is a year younger is turning 60 tomorrow. My sister Maria and Jon's wife Candy decided back in September that we should surprise him by all showing up here this week. So my sis and her partner David, and my other brother Alex and his wife Betsy took 2 days to drive to Columbia from North Carolina. I was up at 3:45 yesterday morning to catch my 6 AM flight from Boston to St. Louis. Last nite we walked into a solstice party that he was attending, and completely surprised him. He was actually shaking when I gave him a big hug.

But I am a bit ahead of myself. Monday morning I got up hoping to find some rarity had been reported in the Boston, or New England area, but none were. The weather was overcast, and winds were out of the NW rather than the NE, so I went to look for the pink-footed goose again because I had not seen it very well a couple of weeks ago. It took me about 45 minutes of scanning 2 large groups of canada geese to find it hunkered down on the ground. It then got up and fed a bit. It was too far away to photograph, but the views were quite good.

Next up for the day was to visit a middle eastern bakery and cafe named Sofra in Cambridge. My friend Lex had told me about it, so my friend Marcy and I had lunch there. The top photo is of a flatbread sandwich filled with sausage, hot peppers, green olives and spices. It was very tasty. Marcy had the mezze plate--5 different small servings of vegetarian goodies like smoked eggplant, lentils, and brussel sprouts all seasoned in different ways.

We then caught the 1 PM showing of the Fighter which is based on a true story about a local boxer from Lowell, MA. When we came out of the movie to head home it was beginning to snow. By 6:30 it had not accumulated that much, so we drove into downtown Boston to eat at Picco. Cobb, a friend of Lex's, had told me the week before that I really needed to try the pizza at Picco. We first had a piece of balsamic glazed pork belly with arugula that was the dish of the nite (middle photo--sorry for the dark, grainy phone photo). Marcy and I shared it, but it was so good that we had to order another one.

Next on our menu was the evening pasta special--pumpkin ravioli in a sage butter sauce (bottom photo). This was oh so good. The pasta was paper thin, the pumpkin was slightly sweet which went perfectly with the sage and butter.

Last we tried 3 different pizzas (no photos because they were too dark and grainy). I had the basic margarita which is always a good test of a pizza place. Marcy had what turned out to be a fine combo of sausage with broccoli rabe. Richard, her husband, had a vegie topped pie. We all thought the crust was quite good as was the fresh mozzarella, but the pizza maker could have done a better job forming the pizza. There was too large an edge. If the pie had been pulled out a bit further, then the edge would have been right, and the ingredients on top would have been spread thinner which is also a key to a great pie.

I have been checking the web to see if any rarities are around, but the last few days has been very slow. A little stint was found at Point Reyes in CA but was seen only that day. A western spindalis was seen for all of 30 seconds down in the Miami area. I saw this morning that a thick-billed murre was seen from the Monhegan ferry in Maine on the 17th, but not reported until mid day on the 20th!

I will be hanging out with my family today to celebrate Jon's birthday. Depending on the weather, I may do some birding around Columbia tomorrow before driving back into St. Louis in the evening in order to be ready to fly home early on Friday. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

CBC at Cape Ann, MA

I flew up to Boston yesterday morning so that I could participate in the Christmas Bird Count on Cape Ann, MA. I chose this CBC because my contacts in MA told me my best shot at finding a thick-billed murre would be to do a sea watch at Point Andrews on Cape Ann. I met the bird counting group at 7 AM at Friendly's for the organizing session, and was out at the sea watch spot by 7:45. I spent the next seven very cold hours with Brian and Tim scoping the sea.

The day began with overcast skies and the occasional snow flurry. By noon the sun finally broke thru for about an hour before the skies started to cloud up again. By the time we packed it in at 3:15 it was very cloudy and decidedly colder. The views out to the ocean were very clear, and the seas were relatively calm (top photo) which was good since most of the birds we saw were flying by rather than sitting on the water. We saw many birds with the highlights being about 40 dovekies, roughly 200 razorbills including 1 that sat on the water very near our viewing spot, a pacific loon (rare in the east), a first year king eider, and a small flock of cedar waxwings with one bohemian waxwing mixed in.

The most common close in birds of the day were the harlequin ducks (bottom photo above taken by me earlier this year of harlequins in WA--click on it to enlarge). We also saw lots of black, surf and white-winged scoters; many common eiders; and a few long-tailed ducks, common loons, red-necked grebes, great cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, and red-breasted mergansers. After 7+ hours of active scanning, only 1 bird might have been a thick-billed murre, but I did not see it well enough to make the call.

I am now trying to warm up at my friends in Lincoln, watching football and waiting for the Patriots game to begin this evening. For this week I have seen 39 birds. I will be checking the internet to see if any of the other CBC's in this area found a rarity that I can go look for tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Feeling a Bit Sheepish But Elated

When I found out yesterday that I had a double entry for scissor-tailed flycatcher, I was very concerned that there might be other entry errors. So I first checked the list on the blog and found 3 more dupes--american redstart, semipalmated plover, and california gull. Then I decided to review all my weekly checklists. I have been using the ABA trip list--a blue covered booklet that has space for 10 days of birding. I have started a new one each week so I have only used 7 of the slots. My weeks start on Friday because 2010 began on a Friday.

I also have a master list derived from the weekly trip lists. I went thru it 4 times to check for errors and found none there. But what I did find from my paper master list is that in fact I have seen 704 species this year--not the 701 that I thought was my total as of yesterday. Once I discovered that I knew I had made other entry errors on the blog. The main problem was a result of not adding the monthly chronology of birds seen until the beginning of February when I listed well over 200 birds. I found that I had not entered 4 birds from that 4+ week period--northern harrier, blue-headed vireo, forster's tern and hermit thrush.

Of these 4, only forster's tern had been logged later in February. Also, I found a dupe of california gull in February, but I had not entered summer tanager so it made up for the CA gull dupe. I found 2 entries for american redstart, but the second entry should have been northern waterthrush. Similarly, the second entry for scissor-tailed flycatcher should have been golden-cheeked warbler, and a 2nd entry for semipalmated plover should have been semipalmated sandpiper.

I have now corrected the chronology on the right side of my blog page. I also have gone back into the blog, and corrected/modified the YTD info to match what actually happened as far as the birds seen. I want to thank the 2 readers who have pointed out the errors since it caused me to thoroughly review my check lists to be able to correct the errors. There are still some days left to bird. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bird Poop on My Face!

I just received an email saying that somehow I have scissor-tailed flycatcher on my list twice. There is also a comment on my last entry pointing this out (see comment #7). Therefore, my YTD may not be 701 (after review and correcting, 704), but 700 (703). I am going to go over the list very carefully, plus check my field notes, to make sure that there are no other errors. But I first have to go out to dinner. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hoary and Common Redpolls!

I flew to Minneapolis yesterday and then drove part way to Valley City, ND where I was hoping to see hoary and common redpolls this morning. I was up at 5:30 AM to cover the last 115 miles. It was still dark when I arrived in Valley City so I stopped at the Broken Spoke Cafe to have your basic eggs over-easy breakfast with bacon, hash browns and an english muffin.

I then called Jean Legge, the birder and woman who has the feeders, to get directions to her house. When I arrived about 8:15 she told me that the redpolls would come in about 9. While we waited, we watched her feeders thru her kitchen window (a great benefit since it was about 10 degrees outside, and the birds could not easily see us), and enjoyed a large group of american goldfinches, quite a few black-capped chickadees, 2 white-breasted nuthatches, 2 pine siskins, a couple of house sparrows, a hairy and a downy woodpecker, and 1 troublesome blue jay. Once he had his fill and flew off, the redpolls began to come in. There were only 2 at first, but as I was leaving a total of 5 appeared.

The top 2 photos were taken by Jean who has a better camera than mine. In the 1st you have a single hoary, and the next one has 3 commons feeding. The 3rd photo down is also of a common redpoll that I took while it snapped up seeds on the snow. The hoary mostly stayed away from the feeders, but I was able to study it and saw its very white back and rump, and its mostly white breast.

A little after 10 I hit the road to make it back to Minneapolis in time to fly to Texas in case the black-vented oriole that was seen there yesterday was relocated. As I arrived into Minneapolis I saw on Narba that after several hours of searching by at least 20 birders this morning the oriole was not found. So I decided to visit Matt's Bar (bottom photo of the grill man at work) to have my 3rd juicy lucy hamburger of this big year. It was as good as the first 2.

9 more new birds were seen for the week, and the hoary and common redpolls raise the YTD to 704. When asked last month about reaching 700 birds for the year, I said that the chances were "slim and none at all, and slim had just left town." Today not only is "slim back in town" he is sitting in the mayor's office with his feet up on the desk drinking a fine single malt scotch. I have added an updated travel map. It looks like I will be heading home early tomorrow morning. Stay tuned!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Icing on the Northern CA cake--Arctic Loon

Today was supposed to be much better weatherwise, but at 8 AM it was misty and overcast. Fortunately, it did begin to lighten up, and as the day went on we even saw a bit of sunshine. Wes and I had a big breakfast at Denny's, and then went back to the brown shrike spot to get better views, and maybe a photo.

When we arrived Bob and John were at the favored viewing site along with a few other birders. The bird had already been found near to where we had seen it yesterday. About 10 minutes later I said to Wes, look at that brown bush where it had been seen. Sure enough he found the shrike in his scope. For the next 15 minutes we were able to get short views of it as it would move about.

Wes then walked down to the general area in which it was feeding, but as was the case on previous days, when a person got too close, the shrike would stop moving about. After about 30 minutes of no success in getting a picture, we were going to drive down to the north jetty outside of Eureka when John Spahr called to say that he thought he had an arctic loon at Stone Lagoon. He had gone up there to look for a tufted duck that has been there, but instead saw the loon.

We all raced up the road for 20 miles to the lagoon. We got out and scoped the water, and there it was--an arctic loon in winter plumage. It was quite far out on the lagoon, so we moved around to another location, but could not relocate the bird. Wes did find the tufted duck before John had to leave to catch his plane to San Fran, and then onto Calgary where he will be looking for snowy owl, gray partridge and white-winged crossbill.

Wes and I then turned back south and stopped briefly to photograph the bull elks (top pic). From there we did go out to the north jetty to check on the seabirds. As we were walking out an ancient murrelet was feeding right next to the jetty (middle photo--click on it to enlarge). Out at the end of the jetty we saw many birds including the brown pelican, and double-crested and pelagic cormorants (bottom photo).

We pulled ourselves away to give us some time to stop one more time at the Loleta bottoms to look again for the gyrfalcon and the slaty-backed gull. We found neither, but we ran into several local birders that Wes knew who were out looking for the same 2 birds. We told them about the loon, and they told us an arctic loon had been on that lagoon the past 2 winters.

About 3:30 we started the long drive back to San Francisco. Bob Ake was ahead of us in his own car, and was already at our motel when I arrived about 9. He is flying up to Spokane, WA tomorrow to look for a gray partridge. 15 new birds were seen for the week, and the arctic loon was the 702nd new bird for the year.

I spoke with the woman in North Dakota who has the common and hoary redpolls coming to her feeder, She told me she had seen the birds again today, so tomorrow I will be catching a 6:30 AM flight to Chicago, and then onto Minneapolis. I will drive to Fargo for the nite, and will hopefully be looking at the redpolls early on Tuesday morning. Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Double Red Letter Day Plus!!!

What a day we had today. After spending 7 hours yesterday in which over half the time it was raining, we only had a near miss on seeing the brown shrike up here just north of Arcata, CA. I had flown into San Fran 2 days ago and Wes picked me up for our 6 hour drive up to Arcata. We were at the brown shrike site about 9 AM where we found Martin Meyers, a very good birder from Nevada that I had met earlier this year.

The rain started soon after we began our stake-out. Over the next 6 hours we saw 1 fly-by that could have been the shrike, and heard what we thought was the shrike call twice, but we could not find the bird. We did see lots of sparrows including swamp, song, lincoln's and white-crowned.

At 3 we saw 2 birders on the other side of the north pond high fiving. We made the error of moving towards their position instead of looping around the other direction in order to get across the wet area to be in the right place to try for the bird. They moved to where we should have been and found the bird again, but by the time we got there it had disappeared. Now it was 3:30 and we decided to call it a day.

This morning we were out birding first in the Loleta bottoms hoping to see a gyrfalcon that had been spotted there 3 days ago. John Spahr had joined us. He is the birder who has birded often with Bob Ake this year, and as a result he arrived in Arcata with 699 birds for his full ABA area big year. We found no gyrfalcon this morning, but saw lots of shorebirds including 20 pacific golden plovers, an equal number of black-bellied plovers, many killdeer, wilson's snipe and dunlins.

We finally made it to the shrike site about 10 under overcast but dry skies. Wes set up his scope at the spot that the birders from yesterday afternoon had 1st seen the bird. John, Martin and I fanned out looking for the bird toward the south pond. We talked to a woman birder from Phoenix, AZ that I had met on some pelagic trips back in late May out of Hatteras, NC. She had heard the shrike, and another birder had seen it briefly about 8:30. The photo above of the brown shrike was taken by Sean McAllister a couple of weeks ago.

At 11:20 Wes calls me on my cell and says to come to him that they were looking at the shrike in his scope. I was probably 300 yards away, and by the time I got to him the shrike had disappeared. Fortunately 15 minutes later it reappeared and I was able to get a brief look at it sitting about 1 foot off the ground in a bush. John, however, did not find it. Soon it began to lightly rain, so we went into town to regroup and have some lunch. After eating John decided to go back to look for the shrike.

Wes and I headed back down to the Loleta bottoms to look some more for the gyrfalcon. Martin met us there. Just as we turned onto Cannibal Island rd. we saw a huge number of blackbirds and starlings flying across the road. Right behind them we saw a gyrfalcon chasing after them. It circled back around and we proceeded to chase it down the road. We briefly lost sight of it, so we stopped to scan the area. We looked up on the wires to find it sitting only about 100 feet from us. When we got out of the car it flew off, and we lost it again as it flew towards a large red dairy barn.

We drove the length of Cannibal Island rd scanning for it, but did not relocate it. On the way back we checked out the shorebirds again. Then Wes and I saw a large group of gulls feeding in a dairy pasture. We drove down to see what all was there. We found lots of mew gulls, and glaucous-winged gulls, a few herring and thayer's gulls, 2 or 3 western gulls, a glaucous gull, and a slaty-backed gull. I had been hoping to see a slaty-backed this month because there have been a few found in recent years on the west coast. The only 1 confirmed this year in the lower 48 states was up in Wisconsin about 3 weeks ago.

When we got back to our motel we heard from John that he did get to see the shrike this afternoon, so he is now the 12th person to see at least 700 birds in the full ABA area in a calendar year. And on Thursday in Newfoundland Bob Ake saw a black-tailed gull which raised his total to 728. He is now all alone in 2nd place for a full ABA area big year. He will be here tomorrow to look again for the shrike.

For the first 2 days of week #50 we saw 51 birds. The brown shrike and gyrfalcon are both life birds (for Wes too) as well as new year birds. The slaty-backed gull is also a new year bird. So this post is justifiably titled A Double Red Letter Day Plus. The YTD is now at 701 which makes me the first birder to see 700 or more birds in a calendar year in just the lower 48 states.

Tomorrow Wes and I will bird in this area some more, including trying in the morning to get some photos of the shrike. I will be back in San Francisco tomorrow nite so that I can fly to Minneapolis on Monday. I will then drive to Valley City, ND to look for both common and hoary redpolls that have been visiting a feeder at a home there. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

California Bound

I actually got to go birding today--not chasing but birding. I woke up to a temp of 17 degrees but had planned to bird this morning with my friend Pam. I picked her up at 8:30 and we headed over to a local spot to see what was there. As soon as we got out of the car we had lots of birds hungrily looking for food--song sparrow, brown creeper, brown-headed nuthatch, and yellow-rumped warbler. Next we found a group of eastern bluebirds (top photo). Soon after we spied 2 river otters climb out of an ice hole and then scamper down the frozen-over New Hope Creek. I don't think I had ever seen river otters out of the water for that long of a period. Usually they duck under as soon as they see you.

We walked the area and by the time we started back out we had seen several red-headed woodpeckers plus northern flicker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy, red-bellied, and pileated woodpeckers. At one point a group of about 20 blackbirds flew into the top of a sweetgum tree. We were hoping they were rusties, but after glassing them it was apparent that they were all female red winged. A great blue heron was perched up on a dead tree preening in the sun.

We then went to a 2nd close by spot, and also had lots of bird activity with pretty much the same birds. Our 3rd stop was not as active but we did have a hairy woodpecker raising our woodpecker, et. al. species total to 7 which is the most I have seen in 1 day. Our final stop was back at Mason Farm where we had some new birds including winter wren, pine siskin, ruby crowned kinglet, brown thrasher, eastern towhee, fox sparrow and several white-throated sparrows (middle photo--remember to click on pic to enlarge it). On our way back to the car we flushed a cooper's hawk.

When I got back home I found a possum digging around under my feeders (bottom photo). It climbed up into a tree when I approached. It was quite colorful with its pink feet, nose and ends of its ears. After today's birding the week count of birds is at 67. It is now Wednesday evening and I am getting packed for an early flight tomorrow to CA to try for the shrike again. Stay tuned!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Snow Covered Morning in Chapel Hill

It is Sunday morning and as the picture above shows we had a nice little bit of snow starting yesterday afternoon here in Chapel Hill. I have been coming to or living in Chapel Hill since the mid 70's and my experience of winter over that 35 year period is one of my personal reference points about global warming. This part of NC rarely sees significant, if any, snow now.

It has been nice to be home since Friday evening, getting some rest and quality time with my wife. This last phase of a big year is really not to my liking since I much prefer to just go birding rather than constantly being ready to "chase" the next rarity. I have rarely done "chasing or twitching" in the past. Most of my rare birds have happened because I was already birding somewhere when one showed up, or because I made a point of birding in a place like Gambell, on St Lawrence Island, AK.

I want to thank some of the followers of this blog for their suggestions/assistance lately about reaching my now final goal of seeing 700 different birds before the end of this year. I listed recently some of the more likely rarities that might be seen, and have received in the comments some ideas about finding these birds. The really rare code 4 or 5 birds I will find out about immediately on Narba. For timely info on gyrfalcons, redpolls and thick-billed murres I will need to constantly scan the internet bird sites or hear from my birding contacts, or readers of this blog.

Other than the common redpoll and the thick-billed murre, which I plan to search for the week before Xmas up in New England, most of the other rarities are much more iffy in where they could show up. For example, slaty-backed gulls could be on the west coast or the upper midwest. Gyrfalcons could appear in WA, the plains states, the upper midwest or New England. So I have to be ready to hop a plane as soon as one is found. As a result, I am currently waiting a few days before returning to the west coast to try for the brown shrike again in hopes of some other rarities also being seen out there. In the mean time maybe a western spindalis or a loggerhead kingbird will show up in FL. Stay tuned!

Friday, December 3, 2010

I Thought I Was Going to Boston, But Ended Up in AZ

When I woke up yesterday morning I had decided since the sun was supposed to be shining in northern CA that I would drive back up to try for the brown shrike again today. At about 9 AM I got word that a lapwing had been seen in the past hour at Plum Island outside of Boston. I also still need to go to New England to look for the common redpoll and thick-billed murre, so I made a reservation to fly to Boston on American. Bob Ake decided to go back to VA first flying on Southwest, and then was going to come up to Boston.

When I arrived in Dallas about 7 PM I got a call that a baikal teal--a rarity from Asia--had been found that afternoon just outside of Phoenix. I did not get back on my plane to Boston. Instead I bought a new ticket for the 10 PM flight to Phoenix, and was asleep a little after 1 AM in my motel room. I was up at 6 this morning and arrived at the Gilbert Water Ranch about 7. When I walked up to the spot where the teal had been seen yesterday there were already 15 birders there enjoying good views of the teal. The top photo was taken by Brendon Grice. Gary Nunn who had found the teal was also there--a transplanted brit--who was having a bad work day yesterday so he went birding!

The challenge with a baikal teal is that sometimes they are kept as pets, so there is always some question about whether any given bird is in fact wild, or just an escapee. The good news about this particular bird is that it appears to be a 1st year male with no bands on its legs or clipping of its feet/toes based on the many photos taken. It has appeared in a place and at a time that fits previous accepted vagrant sightings. Finally, this year is generating so many "northern" and Asian birds that it is not surprising that a baikal teal would make an appearance.

That said, like the white-cheeked pintail that I saw a month ago in NC and will be reviewed by the NC bird committee, the AZ bird committee will study the"evidence" and determine if this bird is deemed to be wild. Unlike the white-cheeked, this teal has a much higher probability of being accepted as a wild bird. Therefore, while I have put the white-cheeked on a provisional status for my big year, today I am going to count the teal.

I also was able to bird around the Gilbert Water Ranch some and took a photo (bottom) of 3 rosy-faced lovebirds that have been expanding there numbers in the Phoenix area for over 20 years. As a result, I was told by Gary Nunn that the AZ bird committee will be considering this year whether to add them to the state bird list as an established exotic. As I left to go back to the airport, there were still 20 birders looking at the teal as it was flushed probably by a cooper's hawk, and more birders were pouring in from the parking lot. Bob is flying as I type to AZ.

Today is the beginning of week #49 and 29 new birds were seen. The baikal teal is a life bird and raises the YTD up to 698. I am writing this blog entry at home, having arrived here this evening. While sitting in the airport in Chicago, I heard as I had suspected would happen that the brown shrike was seen again today. I may be heading back to CA very soon. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still Shrikeless

Today is December 1st, my birthday, so I had my fingers crossed that we would see the brown shrike today. After 9 hours of sleep last nite, we were out in the heavy mist by 9 AM, prowling thru the sand dunes and wetlands listening and looking for the shrike. Like yesterday, there were about 10 other birders out there with us. Alas, after all the other birders had left, we called it a day about 1 PM without finding our elusive quarry. We saw 5 more new birds for the week. Because it was raining today, I again did not take any new pics, so I have put a photo of an eastern screech owl that I took down in south Texas earlier in the year (click on it to enlarge).

We grabbed a quick lunch, and checked the web to see if any new rarities had been found today. None were in the lower 48 states, so after sorting thru my options with Bob and Wes, I have decided to stay here in San Fran for now to see what develops with the shrike, or some other bird. Bob is heading home so that he can then go up to Newfoundland to try to see both black-tailed, and a yellow-legged gulls. I did get an email this evening from John Puschock telling me that 2 gyrfalcons have been seen near Moscow, ID recently. This is one of the birds that I am hoping to see before the end of the year, so I need to get some more info about this possibility.

On the way to our motel for the nite, we stopped in San Fran for a quick dinner at my favorite SF chinese restaurant--Hunan. I talked about this place earlier in the year when I ate there with my son Caleb. Since I was not home to eat a celebratory meal with my wife, it was great to share a birthday dinner with Bob and Wes at a place that I have been eating at for over 30 years. They let me pick the dishes and they seemed quite happy with the results.

There are only 30 more days in this big year. I said a few weeks ago after I had seen 688 birds that I was raising my year end target to 695 birds. With 697 now seen, and the common redpoll an all but certainty, I am now within reach of the amazing level of 700 species seen in the lower 48 states. If rarities keep showing up at the rate they have in the past 3 weeks, then getting to 700 is looking much more probable. "Slim" is now back in the "town limits", but there is still some work and luck required for me to get to 700.

Based on sightings over the past few years, some rare birds I have not yet seen that have a greater probability of making a showing before the end of 2010 include the following:

gyrfalcon, slaty-backed gull, thick-billed murre, hoary redpoll, roadside hawk, emperor goose, ivory gull, eared quetzal, loggerhead kingbird, and white wagtail.

Given the large number of northern birds that have pushed down into the lower 48 states in recent weeks, other rarities such as the brown shrike might also be found. The travel map has been updated. Stay tuned!