Friday, February 3, 2012

Rock Sandpiper Yes! Al the Laysan Albatross No!

We were back out before 8 AM at MacKerricher SP, but at a different location to look again for a rock sandpiper. As we looked down from the bluff we could see lots of shorebirds bouncing around on the rocks looking for breakfast as the waves rolled in. I walked down onto the beach to get closer to one rock that seemed very active. To everyone's delight there was a rock sandpiper (photo above--click on any photo to enlarge) feeding along with surf birds, sanderlings, black turnstones and black oystercatchers. On a nearby rock we found a glaucous winged gull trying to swallow a starfish (photo just below).

Having found the rock sandpiper which was a life bird for 2 of the group, we decided to start driving to see if Al, the laysan albatross that has wintered for 19 years at Pt. Arenas, was in the harbor. Enroute we stopped at Van Damme SP for about 20 minutes to see what was around. As soon as we got out of the truck we heard several pacific wrens singing, and Laura got a photo of one (just below).

We also found several varied thrushes mixed in with the robins. One male was particularly striking (photo just below).

Our next stop was at the Pt. Arenas harbor to check on Al. The harbor master told us that he had not come in yet that day, and had not been seen for a few days. As we waited to see if he might make an appearance, we enjoyed seeing other birds including a fly over of a ferruginous hawk (photo just below).

At one point a boat came in loaded with sea urchins. We watched the harbor master unload over a 1000 pounds of them into large plastic lugs. Laura captured a 1st year western gull checking out the mound of sea urchins in the photo above. We took a lunch break, and checked out another location to see if maybe Al was over by the lighthouse. When we returned to the harbor the sea urchins had been taken off to Ft. Bragg to be processed for use by sushi restaurants.

About 3 PM we concluded that Al was not in the area, and knowing we still had a 3-4 hour ride back into San Francisco, we decided to call it a day. Laura and I were dropped off at our motel near the airport at 7 PM, and Dan, Doreene and Joe headed over to Oakland to spend the night close to Merritt Lake to be in position early on Tuesday to try for a tufted duck. As Laura and I were heading to the airport Tuesday morning she received a cell phone picture taken by Doreene of the tufted duck.

After 3 days of birding we had seen about 125 species. The Nutting's (ABA code 5) was a life bird for all of us but Joe who had already seen it a few weeks ago, and the falcated duck (code 4) was a life bird for all of us but Dan. Laura told me that she ended up with a total of 8 life birds on the trip, and Joe may have had almost that many. I do not know when I will be birding again, but you never know, so stay tuned!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Talking Falcated Duck and More

After a good night's rest, we were up early, and made the short drive over to the Colusa NWR near the town of Willams. CA. It was chilly but sunny as we walked up to the viewing platform. Several other birders already were scoping the impoundment which was covered with 1000's of birds. Fortunately the falcated duck (photo above, center bird facing left with the "shiny, rusty face" and white throat) was sitting not too far out on the water. We were able to enjoy good views of it over the next 45 minutes.

While scanning the water, Joe also quickly located 3 European wigeons which are relatively rare in the U.S. Even more rare than the wigeons was the Eurasian teal, which is a sub-species of the green-winged teal, that Joe located at the far back of the impoundment. While not countable as a species, this was the first Eurasian teal that he or I had ever seen in the U.S. Many ducks were feeding quite close to the platform including the cinnamon teal (just above) and the northern pintail (just below--click on any photo to enlarge).

After thoroughly soaking up the multitude of birds on the impoundment, and the amazement of seeing 3 very rare ducks at one spot, we felt blessed to be birding that morning. On our way back to the truck we found a western scrub jay (just below) and some white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows feeding in a grassy area.

We decided to do the short auto tour thru the refuge, and then drove around the outside of the refuge as well where we watched a huge group of mostly snow geese lift off out of a field (just below).

By late morning we headed back to check out of our motel, and to grab a bite of lunch at Roberta's--a taqueria that I remembered eating at in 2010 during my big year. We then pointed the truck west towards the coast. Our destination was Ft. Bragg for the night where we wanted to look for some more target birds. We arrived in time to go to MacKerricher SP--a most scenic spot with lots of rocks for shorebirds to feed on and seals to sleep on. After 90 minutes, we had seen many birds, including a small raft of ancient murrelets which was one of the target birds of our group. The other target bird, a rock sandpiper, was not to be found that afternoon.

We checked into a motel for the night, and then went down to the wharf for dinner. We had dungeness crab cakes, steamed manila clams, and clam chowder, and toasted the overall success so far of the trip with a bottle of Roederer Estate champagne--produced very close by in Anderson Valley. On Monday Laura and I needed to be back in San Francisco by the evening to be in position to catch our flights home on Tuesday morning, but we still had all day Monday to do some more birding. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Talking Nutting's Flycatcher

I caught a 6:15 AM flight last Friday out of Raleigh/Durham to a connecting flight in Dallas that got me to Phoenix about 11 AM. My friends from Ohio, Dan and Doreene, and Laura, and Joe, a birding friend of theirs who lives in Rio Rico, AZ were already there waiting for me. We loaded up Joe's Toyota Forerunner, and headed towards the Bill Williams NWR with the goal of arriving in time to look for the Nutting's flycatcher before dark. We arrived about 3:45 on a windy afternoon and spread out along the road listening for the Nutting's. There were very few birds about, but we did see a couple of verdins chasing each other around, one of which Laura got a photo of just above (click on any photo to enlarge; all photos in this post and the next 2 to follow were taken by Laura Keene).

Joe finally heard the Nutting's distinctive call 1 time around 4:45, but we could not find the bird, and it did not call for us again. With the sun setting, the wind rising and no bird life to speak of, we headed up to Lake Havasu City to spend the night, stopping at the lake to scope what was around--common goldeneyes, clark's grebes and greater scaup being the main birds on the water.

We woke up to find it still windy in Lake Havasu City which worried us a bit. We arrived back to the Nutting's spot at 7:45, and once again spread out to listen for its call. Fortunately it was not windy, and about 7:55 I located the bird quietly feeding just off the road. We had great looks at it for the next 10 minutes. The photo above shows clearly the tail which has only dark on the outside edges, but not across the very bottom--a key marker to separate the Nutting's from the very similar ash-throated flycatcher. While it never called, I did get to see the orange color inside its mouth--another distinguishing marker for the Nutting's. In the photo below, there is a faint yellow tint to the secondaries, a third marker for this bird.

We continued to bird the area for another hour in hopes that the Nutting's would return or call again, but it did not. We did hear and see at least 2 canyon wrens, and Laura got the photo below of one of them.

We had a long drive ahead of us so we left about 9 AM, stopping again at the lake to check out the bird life there. We found a pair of Barrow's goldeneyes mixed in with lots of other ducks, but soon jumped back into the truck to make the 10+ hour drive up to Williams, CA which is an hour north of Sacramento. Our goal for Sunday morning was to see the falcated duck. Stay tuned!