Friday, May 17, 2013

Magee Marsh Magic

There is a 6 foot wide boardwalk that meanders thru the marsh/woodland.  There are 2 entrances, one on the east end and one on the west end.  Most birders park and enter on the west end, but others prefer starting on the east end because there invariably are fewer birders at that end which makes it easier to move around on busy days during spring migration. 

Monday thru Wednesday continued the parade of migrants stopping in to eat before flying further north to their breeding grounds.  One of the harder birds to see because of its skulking habits, and its relative rarity on the boardwalk is the mourning warbler (photo below taken by Greg Miller; click on any photo to enlarge).

Another crowd pleaser is the blackburnian whose throat appears to be on fire when the sun is shining on it.  It seemed like there were more of them stopping in at once than any other time I have visited here.

Cut oranges are hung on trees to attract the baltimore orioles.

On Monday we found a Louisiana waterthrush (just above) which is a quite rare visitor to the boardwalk even though they breed in central Michigan.  I see this species on my land in NC regularly because it arrives in late March to breed.  The ovenbird is as common on the boardwalk as it is on my land in NC.  The streaking on the chest, and the fact that it walks around on the ground a lot makes beginning birders think it is a small thrush. 

Red-eyed (just below), warbling, Philadelphia and yellow-throated vireos can all be found on the boardwalk in May.

The prothonotary warbler arrives in early May to breed at Magee.  Its sweet-sweet-sweet call is loud and its bright yellow color makes it easy to find.  The photogs really like snapping its picture.

The 2 most sought after warblers on the boardwalk are the Connecticut and the Kirtland's because of their relative rarity.  The former is the latest of the migrating warblers, but a few stop in generally from the 20th to the 30th of May.  Sometimes an early arrival occurs, but no matter when they come they are very hard to see as they skulk around on the ground in the green vegetation.  On Wednesday as I was about to leave to drive home, a possible CT was reported which drew a crowd to see if it would pop up out of the vegetation.  Unfortunately it did not.

Tuesday morning began very strong with so many birds moving thru the trees that it was hard to keep up.  My friend Jan spotted a yellow-throated warbler that only stayed around for about 15 minutes before it disappeared.  This warbler breeds in southern Ohio, but is not seen much on the boardwalk.  There were also several hooded warblers which are also not often found at Magee.  The big news was the tweet of a female Kirtland's on the east beach (photo above taken by Adrian Binns, a bird guide and friend of mine) which began a parade of birders hiking out to see it throughout the day.  With the recovery from 500 breeding pairs to over 2000, Kirtland's are seen almost every year now at Magee on their way to Michigan. On Wednesday a male, probably a first year, was found on the west beach (photo below also by Adrian of a male taken back in 2010 during my big year visit to Magee).

Overall, the 8 days of birding this spring at Magee once again was magical.  On Tuesday I set my personal day record of 26 warbler species, and had a chance at 28 but could not locate a blackpoll or orange-crowned that were being reported.  For the visit I saw 31 warbler species, also a new personal best for a visit to Magee, and I missed finding CT and prairie warblers that were reported.  The total bird count was 156 species and could have been as high as 170 if I had seen some of the other reported birds.  As always it was great to see birders that I have come to expect being at Magee Marsh each spring.

I am not sure what my next bird trip may be but I will be commenting before long on how the known full ABA area big year birders seem to be doing so far.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Spotted Redshank--Argh!!!; Magee Marsh Salve

It has taken me a few days to finally be ready to relate my spotted redshank saga.  The redshank had been seen again on Sunday the 5th, and I knew that I was going to be driving to Ohio later in the week to spend some time enjoying the spring bird migration at Magee Marsh on the edge of Lake Erie.  I thought about getting up at 5 AM Monday the 6th in order to reach Goose Pond wildlife refuge near Linton, IN before dark.  In the end I decided to wait to see if the bird was reported again.  When it was posted about 11 AM on Monday on NARBA as being seen, I left at 12:30 PM to make the 10 hour drive to Linton.  I stopped in Jasper, IN about 10:30 PM to spend the night.  I checked NARBA again to find that the redshank had spent all afternoon until dusk in the same Field E it had mostly been found in. 

I was at Field E by 7 AM to find several other birders already present.  I met Lee Sterrenberg who is a volunteer at Goose Pond, and has seen the redshank the most between it first being found in late March, and then refound in late April.  Kevin, a birder from Johnston, PA was also a distant visitor like myself who was back for a second try for the bird. There were also several Indiana birders plus a Michigan based birder.  It was a cool but sunny morning.  As the day wore on without the bird coming into Field E to feed, a few birders departed, but others arrived including a couple from FL, and Larry Peavler and a friend of his from Indianapolis.

Lee kept returning to check on whether the redshank had finally come in only to find that it had not.  About 6 PM Dottie, a woman from FL, arrived after driving 800 miles for a second time to try to see the redshank.  About 8 PM I finally gave up the vigil, leaving Dottie and Kevin to watch the sunset, and checked into the local motel.

I was back at Field E at 7 AM on Wednesday with some hope that just maybe the redshank would still be around.  Kevin and Dottie were also back, and Lee stopped in to say hi.  While waiting around, I did walk along the road and enjoyed seeing some other birds including a Bell's vireo, several orchard orioles and a dickcissel. At 10:30 I finally threw in the towel, and began the 5 hour drive up to Magee Marsh.

I was looking forward to my luck changing once I got to Magee, but when I started walking the boardwalk about 4:30 I found that the wave of birds that had arrived a few days earlier had taken wing, and the prevailing winds had kept new birds from coming in to replace them.  The result was absolutely the fewest number of birds I have ever seen at Magee Marsh during spring migration.  On a normal day in early to mid May here you will see 15-25 warbler species, but on Wednesday I saw only 3!

I called my friend Dan who had already been in the area for a few days, and was doing the Ottawa NWR auto tour with our friend Laura because there were no birds on the boardwalk.  We met up, said our good byes to Laura who had to return home, and went to our motel.  As I was sitting in the lobby, Bert Filemyr walked in the door.  I had met Bert during my big year in 2010, and then saw him last spring at Magee.  He was back with his friend Mike, having driven over from the Philadelphia area in his van with a siskin license plate.

Thursday morning Dan and I were up and out by 7:30 and visited a Toledo area metropark called Oak Openings.  We ran into Bert and Mike there, and birded together for awhile.  We found some nice birds to start the day including grasshopper and lark sparrow, and blue-winged warbler.  We looked for hooded warbler and blue grosbeak, but came up empty.  We then drove back to Oregon where our motel is, stopping at Pearson Park to see if we could find the cerulean warbler that had been reported being seen there earlier in the day.  We did find a late female purple finch but not the cerulean.  More importantly we ran into Greg Miller, a birder we know who is now somewhat famous after the movie the Big Year came out chronicling his and 2 other birders (Sandy Komito, and Al Levantan) efforts in 1998 to set a new big year record.

Next stop was the boardwalk at Magee Marsh where there were definitely more birds than on Wednesday, but still it was very slow compared to a normal May day.  I did finish the afternoon with 16 warblers including the black-throated green just below (click on any photo to enlarge).

Friday morning Dan and I were out again by 7:30, and went to the boardwalk first thing to see if more birds had arrived.  It was definitely more birdy with the highlight being a few black-billed cuckoos.  Doreene, Dan's partner arrived about 3 PM.  We spent a bit of time walking the estuary trail after showing Doreene the clay-colored sparrow that had been a marquee bird along the beach.  We found an early arriving yellow-bellied flycatcher, and then decided to drive over to a place near Cedar Point called Pipe Creek to look for 3 Connecticut warblers that a birder we know had found earlier in the day.  CT warbler is one of the very rarest of the warblers that you can see at Magee during migration, so we figured we should try to find these.  We did see a good number of warblers that seemed to have come down when an afternoon storm blew thru just before we got to Pipe Creek, but no Connecticut's graced us with their presence.

Saturday morning found all three of us on the boardwalk early in hopes of a build up of new birds.  It was definitely much better than it had been, but about 9:30 we heard from a birding friend that a CT warbler had been heard calling again at Pipe Creek.  Dan and Doreene do a big year in Ohio every year, and it is important to see rare birds like the CT warbler.  So we made the drive over to Pipe Creek again, and found 4 cattle egrets which was another new bird for their Ohio big year.

At Pipe Creek we saw lots of warblers but again came up short on the CT.  We also could not locate a prairie warbler that had been heard there on Sat. We did see lots of swallows feeding over the marsh including northern roughwing, bank, cliff, tree and barn.

After a lunch break we returned to Magee, and drove the auto tour at Ottawa NWR which abuts Magee.  Nothing special showed up, so we continued onto Metzger Marsh which abuts Ottawa in hopes of seeing a black tern that had been reported from there by Greg Miller.  Black terns migrate thru the area in the spring with usually a few being seen in the general area.  No black tern was visible when we arrived, so we decided to call it a day and head back to have a birthday dinner for Dan before calling it a night.

This morning we knew it was going to be quite chilly because the winds were shifting from the south to the northwest overnight.  As a result, we did not even leave our motel until 8 AM.  When we arrived under sunny skies there were lots of birders scanning the trees at the west end of the boardwalk.  The trees were full of warblers.  As we worked our way along the boardwalk, we found that the cold weather (high of 54 for the day) had the warblers that were there already, or may have stopped after flying north the day before, very hungry and largely oblivious of the all the birders and photographers.  The day proved to be one of the best ever because there were so many beautiful warblers at eye height or even lower working hard to find food.  Above is a chestnut-sided and below is a Wilson's.

A very hungry woodcock was also feeding near the boardwalk.

Early in the afternoon we heard that 9 black terns had been seen along the auto tour route, so we jumped in my car to see if they were still around.  As we came up to the part of the marsh where they had been seen, we realized that there were many more than 9.  We counted them to find more than 30 were flying over the marsh looking for food to eat.  This was the most at one time that Dan and Doreene had ever seen in Ohio.

We returned to the boardwalk for another hour of birding before driving the auto route a second time to look for a Wilson's phalarope only to come up short.  By then the black terns also were no where to be found.  Often successful birding is very much tied to good timing as my miss of the spotted redshank painfully demonstrated, and the joy of 30+ black terns did as well.  I will be birding at Magee Marsh for at least one more day, and possibly up to 3 depending on the prevailing winds.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kern County and Gallileo Hill, CA

On Monday the 29th I made the 4 hour drive from Santa Barbara to Kernville with a stop in Bakersfield to look for rose-ringed parakeets.  I have never seen this introduced exotic that has successfully established itself in the Bakersfield area.  Maybe one day it will also be added to the ABA list of accepted birds.

It was mid afternoon and pretty toasty, but I had no problem locating a few of the parakeets (photos above and below--click on any photo to enlarge) as well as spotted doves at Beale Park.

I then finished driving to Kernville where I stayed for the next 3 nights.  I have wanted for awhile to bird Kern County in the spring because of both its resident and migratory birds.  On Tuesday morning I was up at 5 AM to make the short drive to Audubon's Kern River Preserve.  It was barely light when I first started walking part of the area.  I was treated to a small group of Lawrence's goldfinches which was one reason I had come to Kern County.  Back in 2010 during my big year I had spent many hours trying to track down this peripatetic bird.  I did not find but 2 one day in August on a country road east of San Francisco.

There were quite a few other species around including western kingbird; Bewick's and house wrens; California quail; pacific-slope and brown-capped flycatchers; tree swallow; lark and white-crowned sparrows; lesser goldfinch; Costa's, Anna's and black-chinned hummers; Bullock's oriole; summer and western tanagers; blue and black-headed grosbeaks; oak titmouse; yellow and yellow-rumped warblers; western bluebird; great-tailed and common grackles; mallards and wood ducks (photo just above); Brewer's, red-winged and tri-colored blackbirds of which the latter is in the photo just below.

I next drove up into the Chimney Peak Wilderness area to look for chukar and mountain quail, but found none.  I did see gray-throated warbler, plumbeous vireo, and chipping and rufous-crowned sparrows.

I stopped back in at my B&B to take a shower before heading up to Greenhorn summit to look for a sooty grouse that my friend Wes Fritz had told me about.  It did not make an appearance for me, nor even call.  At dusk I tried to do some owling, but it was too windy to hear well, so I headed back to the B&B for a good night's rest.

I was up again at 5 AM on Wednesday to try the Chimney Peak road a second time in hopes of coming across either a chukar or some mountain quail.  It was pretty windy still, and after 90 minutes of listening closely as I drove up and then back down the mountain, I once again came up with neither bird.  I did see black-throated sparrows and a cactus wren.  I also drove down Fay Ranch Rd. and found a prairie falcon eating its breakfast.

After I had a late breakfast back in Kernville, I went back up into the Greenhorn Mountain area and checked the same grouse spot for about an hour without any success.  So I made the slow 7 mile drive down another dirt forest road to get to Sunday Peak which is known to be the most consistent and most southerly location for sooty grouse.  I walked almost to the top of the 1.5 mile trail when I finally heard a sooty calling.  I walked in the direction of the calling to have the good luck of having the bird fly over my head.  On my way back down I saw mountain chickadees, ruby and golden-crowned kinglets, and a red-breasted sapsucker.  I decided to call it a day.

On Thursday morning I was once again up at 5 AM to drive 45 miles to Butterbredt Spring which is famous for having some days in the spring when very large numbers of migratory birds pass over the spring on their way north.  I had visited the spring a couple of other times, but never at the end of April.  I was pretty pumped on my way there, but was let down once I arrived because there was not a large movement of birds on Thursday.  I had the place to myself for 90 minutes, and then 3 birders from the San Fernando Valley arrived.  We birded together for another 45 minutes.  Some of the highlights were Cassin's vireo; lazuli bunting; green-tailed towhee; sage, Brewer's, white-crowned, golden-crowned and Lincoln sparrows; Wilson's, yellow-rumped, orange-crowned and MacGillivray's warblers; and Cooper's hawk.

We drove the 12 miles out to the main road, and then onto the Silver Saddle resort at Gallileo Hill.  I had read about this place but never had visited it.  It is like an oasis in the desert with lots of small ponds and trees.  We spent 2+ hours birding the grounds and found lots of birds.  We spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the many empidonax flycatchers that were feeding hungrily.  In the end we concluded we had seen Hammond's, pacific-slope and dusky plus we also had 3 olive-sided flycatchers and several western wood pewees.  Some other birds we saw included black and Say's phoebes; ash-throated flycatcher; black-chinned and calliope hummers; Wilson's, yellow-rumped, orange-crowned and MacGillivray's warblers; hermit thrush; Townsend's solitaire; Wilson's snipe; red-breasted nuthatch; lark and white-crowned sparrows; and Bullock's oriole.

About 1:30 we all headed back towards LA.  I spent the night near the airport to be ready to catch an early plane back home. With just 2 days at home, I am now in Jasper, Indiana after driving 10+ hours today from Chapel Hill. NC.  I am here in hopes of seeing a spotted redshank near here tomorrow morning.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pelagic Trip from Ventura, CA

I flew out to Los Angeles on Thursday the 25th, and drove up to Santa Barbara to stay with a long time friend.  Originally the pelagic trip was to have gone out of Santa Barbara, but the boat for that trip was put out of commission by a fire.  The trip was rescheduled to go out of Ventura on an Island Packers boat.  Most birders know Island Packers as the company that they have used to go out to Santa Cruz Island to see the scrub jay that resides only there.

My friend Wes Fritz who lives in Santa Maria to the north of Santa Barbara, picked me up at 5:15 Saturday morning on his way down to Ventura.  He was providing all the chumming material--popcorn, fish oil, and beef livers and hearts.  Todd McGrath was one of the leaders of the trip.

We left the dock at 7 sharp, and headed up the channel as it is called between the mainland and the channel islands.  We had a few birds to look at as we made our way thru the channel such as sooty shearwater, red-necked phalarope, cassin's auklet and scrippsi murrelet.  The seas were not bad until we made the turn to head out to the Rodriguez seamount.  For the next 2 hours it was rough going which caused several of the people on board to get seasick.  The protocol is to go to the rail to empty your stomach's contents.  Unfortunately, 2 or 3 people threw up on the table in the cabin where they were seated.  One of the crew was very helpful in cleaning up the mess.

Once we got out to the seamount and turned in a new direction the rough ride subsided, and we were able to watch the seabirds.  One of the better birds of the trip were a few northern fulmars (photo above--click on any photo to enlarge).  We also had a few black-footed albatross, and one very nice laysan albatross (photo below).

My target bird for the trip was a Murphy's petrel which can be seen in the spring on this trip.  A couple of weeks earlier several had been observed on a cruise ship that was being repositioned from San Diego to Washington state, so I was hopeful of our crossing paths with one.  By the end of our 12 hour day we did not have the good fortune of doing so, but the trip was generally a good one except for those who got seasick.  Wes dropped me back in Santa Barbara.  I spent another day with my friend, and then headed up to Kern County, CA to do some spring migration birding.  Stay tuned!