Saturday, April 28, 2012

On the Road for Spring Migration

I left my house just after 6 AM on Thursday to begin my drive to Columbia, MO.  I planned to stop and bird on the Blue Ridge Parkway outside of Asheville, NC but as I approached there the skies opened, pouring down rain along with some rolling thunder. So I drove on thru Asheville heading towards Tennessee.  My next target area to bird was a road called Max Patch that is about 25 miles west of Asheville.  As I neared the exit the rain let up, so I decided to give it a try.  Over the next 3 hours I wound my way thru the mountains, stopping first to look for golden-winged warblers that breed along Max Patch.  I found 2 playing tag with each other, and a third calling further up the road.  I also saw hooded, chestnut-sided and yellow warblers plus American redstarts and several least flycatchers.

Further up the road I found black-throated blue and black throated green warblers, indigo buntings, brown thrashers, American goldfinches, gray catbirds, red-eyed vireos, and downy and pileated woodpeckers.  At my last stop I was able to find a beautiful male Canada warbler singing away.  I gave it up when the rain returned along with some small hail.  I still had 5+ hours of driving ahead of me to make it to Oak Grove, KY where I spent the nite.

I was up at 5:30 AM yesterday to make the 2+ hour drive over to Big Oak Tree SP which is located near the bootheel of MO and the Mississippi river.  I had stopped in there a few years ago for the first time, and found the birding to be quite good.  I spent 3 hours birding and had the place all to myself.  There were not nearly the numbers of birds that I saw before, but I had a pretty good variety.  I began with a blue-winged warbler and also saw golden-winged, Nashville, black and white, prothonotary, blackburnian and yellow-throated warblers.  It was pretty dry this time, so I only saw 1 swainson's thrush and a fly-by veery.  There were lots of blue-gray gnatcatchers, a few red-headed woodpeckers, a single pileated and a single yellow-bellied sapsucker.

On my way out of the park I found a dickcissel singing away (click on any photo to enlarge).  I saw 2 more as I drove north along with lots of horned larks, several loggerhead shrikes, and a flock of savannah sparrows.  I made it to Columbia by 5 PM to be welcomed by my friends' canada geese and a pair of nesting killdeer.

This morning Marty and I drove about 5 miles to an experimental farm where much to our surprise we found an immature bald eagle, and also a northern harrier and a pair of dickcissels.  There was not much else of note, so we drove about 15 miles to check out a pretty gravel road that is criss-crossed by a stream.  We found prairie and blue-winged warblers singing at the head of the road along with a a field sparrow.  Once we got down to the stream area we located a very cooperative worm-eating warbler singing at length.  Then we tracked down a Kentucky warbler plus a northern parula, a few ovenbirds, a blackburnian female, eastern phoebe, gray catbird, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers, and a fly over red-shouldered hawk.

Since I am in MO, and have not said anything about trying for the tropical mockingbird I mentioned in my last post that is at Sabine Woods in Texas, you have assumed correctly that I decided not to drive an extra 1000 miles to try to see that bird.  There is also a rarely seen bahama mockingbird in Florida as I write.  Instead of chasing either, tomorrow Marty, Nola and I will be heading into Kansas for 4 days of birding.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Bird Chase in Chicago for an Elaenia

This past week 2 teenage birder brothers found either a white crested or small billed elaenia at Douglas Park just outside of Chicago.  The former species has been documented only once in the ABA area in south Texas in 2008, and the latter has never been recorded here.  Both species are residents of South America. So on Friday nite when I found out that several birding friends from Ohio were planning to drive to Chicago Sat. to try for the bird,  I called Dan and Doreene who agreed to pick me up at O'Hare airport.

I got a frequent flyer ticket that had me into Chicago by 9:30 yesterday morning.  Dan and Doreene were on the curb waiting for me, and we hauled down to the park where there were already at least 50 birders including the 2 brothers, Aaron and Ethan Gyllenhaal.  Very quickly we joined a few of them who were tracking the elaenia's movements.  The photo above gives you a sense of how many birders were looking at and/or photographing the bird (click on any photo to enlarge).  The photo below of the bird, like the one above, was taken by my friend Laura Keene--you may remember that she took so many great photos earlier this year when we birded together in AZ and CA.  Elaenia's are similar looking to the small flycatchers we see here in the U.S.

We spent 2 hours following the bird around the park, seeking better views and photos.  Some trees as in the photo above already had lots of thick leaves, but others were still just budding out.  As you can imagine, the sparsely leaved trees provided much better viewing of the elaenia.  Besides several birding acquaintances from Ohio, there were many other birders from around the country that had made a special trip to see the bird.  Now we are all waiting to see if the photographs will provide sufficient information to make a call on which of these 2 very similar species this bird actually is.  Another key piece of info is that the bird seemed to respond to the call of the white crested, but not to the call of the small billed.

While at the park word began to circulate that a first ever sighting of a tropical mockingbird in the ABA area occurred at Sabine Woods in Texas.  That bird was also seen again this morning.  I am leaving later this week to go to Kansas to take in the spring migration there.  I just might have to drive thru Texas on my way to try for the mockingbird.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Morning

On Easter morning my sister Maria and I took a walk on our property to see how the spring was coming along. Since last Sunday the leaves on the trees have almost all come out, and the dogwoods are beginning to fade away. The wisteria are starting to come on strong. The temps have fallen back into the normal range for April, and we have had some rain. Not surprisingly we saw and heard several Louisianna waterthrushes along the creeks either already paired up, or competing for mates. We heard our first hooded warbler of the season (photo above was actually taken 2 years ago in TX during spring migration there-click on photo to enlarge).

As we were looking for the hooded warbler, which never came close enough to see, we also heard a great horned owl calling which seemed a bit odd since it was 11 AM. We found our first of the year blue-gray gnatcatchers. Year round residents out and about included cardinals, Carolina chickadees, tufted tits, bluejays, red-shouldered hawks, downy, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers, and carolina wrens. Northern parulas were calling all around. At one spot we heard a call that puzzled us, and then I clicked in and realized it was our first of the season white-eyed vireo (photo just above). Our final new bird of the day was a wood duck that we flushed off our pond.

This coming week is supposed to be in the normal temp range for April again. I will continue to check on how the early spring migration is proceeding. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Such an Early Spring

I do not remember having spring arrive so early here in North Carolina, but before getting into it in some detail I am first going to talk about some meals I had last week in New York City. I visited my son, Caleb, and his girlfriend, Jackie, for a couple of days. They live in Brooklyn which gives me a chance to eat some great food in NYC. I arrived last Tuesday evening in time for us to go to one of our favorite pizza places--Franny's. We have discovered that in order to avoid waiting for a table, the key is to get there after 10 PM. In the center of the photo above are 2 of the pizzas Caleb and I shared--a sausage with bufala mozzarella, and a white pizza with ricotta and spicy peppers. At the edge of the photo is Jackie's margarita pizza. I have eaten here several times and am always satisfied with their wood fired pizzas--great ingredients and a nicely chewy crust.

On Thursday Jackie was able to take a long lunch, so we went to Del Posto to partake of their ridiculously inexpensive 3 course prix fixe Italian food offerings. Last summer we discovered this lunch special which was only $29, but has now crept up to $39. You select from 6 appetizers, and then pick from either 6 pasta dishes or 6 second courses plus one dessert from another 6 choices. The key is for the table to try as many different dishes as possible. Above is the home made orrechiette with carrots, toasted sage and lamb ragu. Below is the chocolate ricotta tortino with toasted Sicilian pistachios and extra virgin olive oil gelato. Other dishes that we savored included vitello tonnato; tortello puzzone with taleggio dolce and black truffle oil; Sardinian lamb with Roman artichokes, bruised mint and saffron potatoes; and spezzata di castagne--crushed chestnuts, red wine plums and yogurt gelato.

The meal also comes with 3 different homemade breads plus the kitchen sends out some surprise starter "tastes", and even though you have a dessert course, the table also receives some delightful petit fours to complete your meal. Even though the wine list is over 60 pages long, unless you are on an expense account and don't care, it takes some careful sleuthing to find a bottle of wine under $100. We did find a lovely $60 pinot noir from Grosjean, a producer in the Val d'Aosta region of Italy.

Even though we had a quite filling lunch, we decided Thursday evening to try a new burger joint--Mooburger--which had opened recently on Court St. near where Caleb lives. It proved to be a big winner. In fact, it was as good a hamburger as I have had in a very long time. A perfect last meal before I headed back to NC very early on Friday morning. As I drove south, the trees had more and more leaves, and by the time I reached DC, the dogwoods were in full bloom, as they are here in North Carolina.

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful spring day here in Chapel Hill. I awoke to the Louisiana waterthrush calling on territory along the creek below our house. I took a long walk to see how this very early spring was advancing. The wild azaleas had already peaked. The carp were trying to swim up the main creek to spawn. The redbuds are aleady done, and the dogwoods are in all their glory. I heard and saw upwards of 10 waterthrushes, heard several northern parulas, plus not 1 but 2 ovenbirds (photo above, click on it to enlarge) were already on territory. I can not remember ovenbirds being here so early in April. As I scan the bird listservs, it appears that everyone is remarking on how early the start of the migration is this year. I am planning to bird Kansas at the end of April, and then go to Magee Marsh on Lake Erie in early May for the warbler migration. I hope that the early spring does not mean I will have missed the main passage of birds. Stay tuned!