Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rosy Finches and More

Today began with a great visit to feeders in the backyard of a house in La Veta, CO. A lovely lady who owns the home begins feeding in December and continues into April. She puts out 50 pounds of seed each week, and the result is stunning. In mid winter with snow on the ground she says she can have as many as 500 rosy finches at her feeders. This morning there were close to 100. The top picture above gives you a feel for the # and type of finches she has (remember you can click on a photo to enlarge it, and click again to make it even bigger; hit the back arrow to go back to normal size).

The second photo has dead center the hepburn form of the gray-crowned rosy and a black rosy. The bottom photo gives you a good look at the evening grosbeaks that also visit her yard. Her most common rosy finch is the brown-capped of which there are several in the top photo. In over 30 minutes of viewing time I also saw house finch, eurasian collared dove, black-billed magpie, red-winged blackbird, mountain chickadee, american goldfinch, pine siskin, and 5 forms of dark-eyed junco. The birds come in, feed and fly off regularly because of a raptor flying over, or her 100 lb kuvasz, which is like a great pyrenees, roaming around the yard.

After many pictures and some numb fingers from the early morning chill, I headed down the road into New Mexico to visit with 2 old friends who moved to Villanueva after hurricane Katrina destroyed their home in Mississippi, and almost drowned one of them. After 6 tough months in Baton Rouge they decided New Mexico was where they wanted to relocate. Finally last year they received enough money from the Katrina disaster funds to be able to buy and build a small adobe home. They work in Santa Fe, but love living in the Pecos River valley in the small group of villages along the river.

Tonite I am laying over in Clovis, NM before driving all day tomorrow back to Austin, TX. Today marks the end of March, and tomorrow will be the end of week #13 of this grand travel adventure. After today, the brown-capped rosy-finch makes year bird #421. There were 9 new birds for the week which brings that total to 66. I had a personal goal of hitting 400 different species by the end of March, so I feel good about being at 421. And this coming week is the beginning of the spring migration cycle. I will be birding the Texas coast next. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Driving in Circles

Since Sunday evening it feels a bit like I have been driving in circles--something that happens on occasion when hunting birds. For starters, I headed out of Ft. Collins about 8 PM Sunday nite in hopes of finding both northern pygmy and boreal owls. I drove up the Cache le Poudre canyon listening at first for the pygmy owl but heard none. Then as I got higher up, the wind picked up to the point that even though I had driven 50 miles and was 15 miles from the boreal owl zone, I turned around and went home. High winds are no good for night owling.

Monday I was up early so that I could drive to Denver before rush hour set in. I headed west from Denver stopping first at Genesee Mountain Park to see if I might find a williamson's sapsucker that had been seen there recently. It was a windy and chilly, but sunny morning when I arrived at the park at 7:30 AM I encountered no sapsuckers but did get a year bird when I found a few red crossbills.

From there I drove up to Loveland Pass again in hopes of locating the elusive white-tailed ptarmigan. After 2 hours of scouring the most promising areas to the point I could probably draw a picture of each tree and shrub, I threw in the towel and decided to drive west on I-70 out to the Grand Junction area. On the way I found a small group of pinyon jays feeding along I-70 near Eagle. This is another new year bird.

About 3 PM I arrived at Cameo--the exit for an energy company plant and the access to a wild mustang area. It is also a place that supposedly you can find chukars--a game bird that has been brought to America from Europe. I met a man there who said he had seen some earlier that afternoon up a road that was closed to cars. So I decided to check his info out.

A few years ago I was able to drive up this road in July, which I did once late in the day and twice early in the AM since mid day the temps at that time were over 100. None of my searches back then found this bird. Yesterday it was a very nice 60's kind of day, so I began walking up the road. After about 2 miles I reached the location the man had described but once again no chukars were to be found. So I power walked back to my truck, and drove to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP to see if either northern pygmy owls or dusky grouse were going to make an appearance at dusk.

Half the roads in the park were closed because of snow, but that still left some to check out. I met 3 other birders just before dusk who were also seeking the same 2 birds. One guy was from Colorado and created the Colorado Birding Society website. The other 2 were from Pennsylvania and were being guided by the local guy. It was a beautiful windless evening with a full moon to light our walk. After a 2-3 mile stroll, listening for the booming of the grouse or the hoot of the owl, we saw no birds, and only heard 1 grouse far off. Getting back in the Tacoma just before 9 PM, I still had an hour drive to Gunnison where I was staying for the night.

This morning I was up before 5 AM in order to be at the gunnison sage grouse lek by 5:45. You may remember that my sis and I were at the lek last Friday morning, but the snow apparently kept the grouse from doing their dance. The viewing location last week had stanchions for signs about the lek, but they had been removed. This morning when I arrived the signs had been returned, and a trailer was positioned to be used as a blind. There were what I assume to be a couple of Colorado Dept of Wildlife staffers in the blind, plus the guys from last nite were like me sitting in their car waiting for enough daylight to see the grouse.

Even with the full moon setting behind us, it was still pretty dark out in the huge meadow that serves as the lek. As I peered out thru my binoculars, I began to see small dark blobs moving about. As it gradually got lighter, you could see 25-30 grouse, mostly males doing their strut. Unlike the greater sage grouse that my sis and I saw last week, the visually similar but much smaller gunnison sage grouse was much more active. The males not only puffed out their chests, but also chased the females and their competitor males. It felt more like what we saw with the sharp-tailed grouse and the greater prairie chickens.

About 7 AM I decided that there were more birds to find today, so I headed back to Loveland Pass, a 3 hour drive, to look one more time for the ptarmigans. The local Colorado birder and his clients had seen the ptarmigan on Sunday where I had looked yesterday, so I figured I might be luckier today. I arrived at the pass about 10 AM and spent 2 more hours there but once again came up short. So I returned to Genesee to look again for sapsuckers but at 1 pm things were very quiet. So I back tracked some as part of my route to get to Alamosa for the nite. If you look at a map of Colorado, you will see why I say it felt like I was driving in circles the past 2 days. I did see some wonderfully beautiful scenery including lots of colorful willow-like bushes.

On my way down here to Alamosa I saw another new year bird--the clark's nutcracker. So over the past 2 days only 6 new birds were added to the week list, but 4 of them were new year birds bringing the YTD total to 420, and the gunnison sage grouse is also a life bird. Tomorrow I am making a stop to check out some bird feeders in a woman's yard in La Veta, CO to see rosy finches that have been there for a few weeks. Then I am heading back to Texas. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Greater Prairie Chicken Heaven

Today is Sunday 3/28 and it began with a ride on a school bus with a group of birders mostly from Colorado. But I am ahead of myself, so let's go back a day. My sis and I were up later than normal, not hitting the road until 8 AM. Our morning target was some feeders at the Fawnbrook Inn in the little town of Allen's Park, about 45 minutes from Boulder. We were making one more attempt at finding more rosy finches. The feeders were full and there were quite a few birds, but no rosies. Instead we had good looks at many cassin's finches, and a nice group of 8 evening grosbeaks--a new year bird.

We then pointed the tacoma east for a 3+ hour drive out to Wray, CO where we were joining other birders to visit a greater prairie chicken lek. Enroute we stopped at a couple of places to look for short-eared owls, but had no success. We arrived in Wray at 3:30 and checked into the Butte Motel. It was a "small town motel" and had an extensive list of don'ts on the inside door of each room such as no burning of towels. Even though it is an old timey motel, it did have wifi.

At 4:30 we all gathered at the Wray Museum to register for the "event". We (25 guests plus 2 media people from Channel 4 in Denver who were doing a news story on the doings) then got on a school bus for a tour of the town. Wray is a town of 2200 and we were driven by the fish hatchery, the high school, the rec center, the hospital, the not yet functional wind turbine, and flirtation point. We then drove 6 miles to the neighboring town of Laird to have a steak dinner at the community center.

Before eating a local woman gave a talk with many props about the plains indians. It ran a bit long so our medium rare steaks no longer were, but the meat still tasted quite good, as did the baked potato, green beans and green salad. For dessert we had a choice of apple, cherry, coconut cream, or lemon meringue pie, or angel food cake. You might want to check out my sister's blog (morgan creek chronicles) for even more "color" on this event.

After our meal the local Colorado Dept of Wildlife officer educated us about greater prairie chickens. We learned that the dust bowl radically affected the chickens, and by the early 70's there were only 600 greater PC's remaining in Colorado. The state put the bird on its endangered list, and began a program working with ranchers and farmers to bring the bird back. Today they estimate there are 15,000 birds in Colorado. He then told us the do's and don'ts for this morning when we get to the blind which was a trailer with 2 rows of bench seats that even had cushions to sit on.

We left from the museum at 5:20 AM, watched an almost full moon set, and were settled into our seats by 6 AM, just as some early light was tinting the sky. The chickens began what is called booming as they walked in from the sage brush. The so-called booming is the noise the males make as they strut around, blowing out the orange air sacs in their necks, sticking the tail feathers up in the air along with feathers on their neck called pinnae which look like ears when elevated (see top 2 photos--if you click on any photo in this blog, it will be enlarged; double click makes it even bigger; hit the back arrow to return to the blog).

The photos above can only give you a partial feel for these birds mating dance. Try to imagine an open, grassy area that is 200 yards square and has 22 males trying to get the attention of 6 females. The 3rd photo shows 2 males dancing around a single female, and the 4th shows 3 males in competition for the female over on the left side of the picture. The bottom most photo shows 2 males facing off with each other over the piece of ground they are stomping their feet on.

The show goes on until the females tire of being chased around by the males. We, however, departed about 7:30 when the 1st couple of females left the lek, and when our feet and hands were numb from sitting in 35 degree early spring weather. We felt lucky since the group the day before had experienced high winds and 25 degree temps.

We drove about 10 minutes to the Fitzmiller Grazing Association ranch house to have a pancake, scrambled eggs and bacon breakfast. The lek is on the Fitzmiller land, and for the past 16 years they have worked with Wray to offer 8 tours each spring for birders and non-birders to see the truly amazing mating dance of the greater prairie chicken. I have to say that being able to see these beautiful birds in a blind is a gift that everyone whether they are a birder or not would appreciate. Thank you Wray and the Fitzmiller Grazing Assoc.

We bussed back into Wray and were back on the road before 11 AM. I dropped my sis off at the Denver Int'l airport at 2 PM for her flight back to NC. I am now back in Ft. Collins writing this post while watching the Duke Blue Devils battle (and beat) the Baylor Bears to move onto the NCAA final four basketball games next weekend. The greater PC was another new year bird raising that YTD number to 416. The total new birds for this week is now at 51. The travel map at the top has also been updated today. This evening I am going out to look for a boreal owl. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Start of Week 13

We were up early again this morning so that we would be at the gunnison sage grouse lek by dawn. Unfortunately it was snowing which made for poor visibililty. We spent an hour and a half scanning the lek area but found no grouse. So we pointed the tacoma back towards Denver. We traveled thru a beautiful canyon along the South Platte River, seeing an american dipper (photo above--click on it to enlarge) on our way towards the small mountain town of Sedalia. Our goal was to locate an american three-toed woodpecker. We parked near a burn area and listened for the quiet tapping of this woodpecker. We tracked down a female within 10 minutes, and had very good close up looks at it.

We stopped in Sedalia at Bud's Bar to try their cheese burger. It arrived at our table on a bun that was steamed in the final cook process. On the side were white onion and pickle, and a bag of Lay's chips. We added salt, pepper and mustard, and enjoyed this simple burger which was cooked medium rare. We then drove to a neighboring town and found a second woodpecker for the day--a Lewis's. The Lewis's and 3 toed are 2 of the more challenging woodpeckers to locate, so this made for a much better day after having missed the gunnison sage grouse earlier.

We stopped next in a suburb of Denver to look for a barrow's goldeneye that had been reported from a lake in a greenbelt. We strolled thru the greenbelt, getting very close looks at several waterfowl including a pair of barrow's, and several common goldeneyes. We also searched for a rusty blackbird that had been reported from the same place but struck out on it.

We then drove on up to Boulder to stay with friends. We went to eat at a restaurant named 4580. The dishes included an appetizer of fried gnocchi with greens; asparagus caesar salad with a quail egg, crispy lemon, and shaved pecorino cheese; mussels in a smoked tomato, fennel and lobster broth; tortellini with a bolognese sauce made from bison, lamb and chorizo; and duck 3 ways--confit, sausage and breast--with white bean ragu and sauted greens. Dessert was a flourless chocolate torte, and a polenta tart with strawberries and whipped cream. We drank a bottle of Brancott '07 pinot grigio and a '06 Hitching Post pinot noir. Everyone greatly enjoyed their food, and the company.

So the new week begins with 35 birds seen of which 3 were new birds for the year, bringing the YTD total to 414. Tomorrow we will bird our way out to Wray, CO where on Sunday we will be visiting a blind set up at a greater prairie chicken lek. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Talking Greater Sage Grouse

Our day began at 5 AM again so that we could make a one hour drive over to a greater sage grouse lek before dawn. We had 2 similar but different sets of directions to a lek area south of Walden, CO. We tried the 1st one but saw nothing and after 20 minutes decided to try a site close by. We saw easily 200 antelopes and then 4 greater sage grouse flew by heading back over to where we had been earlier. So we went back to the 1st spot, and scanned the area. To our delight we found more than 30 grouse on their lek.

We watched many males like the one in the top photo doing their routine which is very different than the sharp-tailed grouse I wrote about yesterday. Today's grouse stays upright, spreads its tail and puffs out its feathered throat collar revealing yellow sacs in the front. When 1 male starts to do his thing, any male close by will start also to make sure the females don't automatically "fall" for the other guy. We thoroughly enjoyed watching these grouse for about 45 minutes before heading on down the road.

We stopped in Kremmling about 10 AM to have breakfast at the Moose Cafe. The sign on the door said that if you were in a hurry that you might prefer to go to the deli down the street. We had a nice leisurely meal. Mine was biscuits with gravy, 2 eggs over easy, bacon and hash browns. All were very tasty. Yesterday morning we had eaten at Johnny B Good's in Steamboat Springs where I had passed on biscuits and gravy to have eggs benedict, so I was happy to have biscuits and gravy this morning. Our meal at Johnny's was equally good, and the space was a classic diner/soda fountain.

After breakfast we drove around town looking for some finches. Two women eating in the Moose Cafe said we could go by their house, and sure enough we found a small group of gray-crowned rosy-finches that had 1 black rosy-finch mixed in with them. After that we headed down to Loveland Pass to look for white-tailed ptarmigans. Alas our run of good luck came to an end. We scanned the key areas for over an hour, but no white-taileds were found.

We then slid down the road to look for more finches in Georgetown which is known for having finches at local feeders in the winter. We did not find any. So we pointed the tacoma for Gunnison, climbing over 2 passes on the way, and snapped the other photo above of the sawtooth mountains. We checked out the gunnison sage grouse site on our way into Gunnison to be ready for tomorrow morning.

Dinner tonite was at Sugah's Cafe, a southern bistro. We started with the crab francois. The nite's special was a mediterranean sea bass flown in today. It came with a mixed greens salad with dried cherries, goat cheese and pecans. The fish came out perfectly cooked with mango/tomato chutney and rice. We washed all this very nice food down with a 2007 chardonnay from Frog's Leap winery.

The day ended with just 2 new birds for the week (greater sage grouse and black rosy-finch) which also were new birds for the year bringing the YTD total to 411. Tomorrow we have many target birds to look for starting with the gunnison sage grouse. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sharp-tailed Grouse, Oh My!

This morning began at 5 AM since we had about an hour drive to reach our 1st grouse location north of Hayden, CO. The snow predicted for overnight never materialized which we figured was a good thing for finding grouse. But there was plenty of snow around as evidenced by the photo above. We have never been to any of the leks (mating sites selected by the grouse to do their dance routine) we were trying to see, so we were not sure of what to expect. Our first target area was supposed to have both dusky and greater sage grouse leks. We headed up a forest road in the semi-dark which was covered with snow. We bumped up a long hill without much effort in the 4 wheel mode of the tacoma.

At the top we questioned the wisdom of driving on a snowy road that we knew nothing about, but the grouse were calling to us, so we proceeded. After another mile we started up another less steep hill when the truck began to bog down. We looked at each other and said, uh oh! We tried to back down out of this deeper snow but got stuck. After 30 minutes of digging away snow and trying to jam cardboard under the 1 spinning wheel, my sis said, "time to call AAA." We got them on the phone 1st in North Carolina, and then they called us back from Steamboat Springs. They were not sure about how to get us out, or when they might be able to do so.

The sun was now up at 7:30 and I was thinking this was one of the more stupid things I had done during this birding adventure. And getting stuck in the middle of nowhere in Colorado no matter how beautiful was not my idea of an adventure. I remembered that my father-in-law had loaned me a throw rug for use in the sleeping area in the back of the truck. I grabbed the rug and stuffed it under the 1 spinning tire hoping that once it had traction, the other 3 tires would kick in.

My sis was behind the wheel, and sure enough the rug did its job. The truck was unstuck, but we still had to get it turned around and back up a steep hill. After carefully turning it around (7 mini k turns later), we started up the hill only to bog down again. Our elation quickly evaporated thinking that we might still be out there for some time, but we were able to back down to a flatter point. We carefully studied the road up the hill and opted for a new route. My sis took off by herself and when the truck began to labor she floored it, shooting her past the bad point and up to the top. I trudged up the hill remembering that I was at 7000 ft.

We negotiated the road back to the bottom, and once off the snow, phoned the tow truck driver to tell him he was no longer needed. It was only 8:30, so we decided, ever the intrepid birders, to drive over to a different lek site on what we found to be a busy paved road. We figured there was no way with all the snow the sharp-tailed grouse would be dancing, but lo and behold there they were right where they were supposed to be. Nine sharp-tails were on the lek not far off the road.

We got out the scope, and joyously spent the next 30 minutes studying the mating ritual of this bird. It is not easy to explain their routine but I will try. A single bird will suddenly lean way over, almost touching its breast on the ground. Its tail is straight up in the air, and its wings are spread like it is about to fly. It will then scurry forward making a call while puffing out the light purple air sacs on each side of its neck. This grouse also has 2 orange stripes on its head. Another bird will then come after it and they will face off, crouched low, heads almost touching, chattering at each other. This face-off may last for even a couple of minutes before one will rush the other, forcing it to fly up in the air.

We watched this routine many times, but slowly the birds began to disappear over the hill. The experience of seeing this mating dance right after the frustration and depression of getting the truck stuck was the veritable climb from the pits of despair to the mountain top of elation. It will stick with me for a very long time, if not forever.

The rest of our birding day was a bit anti-climatic in comparison. We also did not see all that many birds overall. We did find a pair of cassin's finches at a feeder in Hayden, which with the grouse raised the YTD total to 409. The week total moved up only 6 notches to 93. Tomorrow we will be up at 5 AM again to try for greater sage grouse at a different lek. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Snowing in the Colorado Mountains

Last nite my sis and I decided to try an Indian restaurant in Ft. Collins. We were not impressed with the buffet, so we opted to order off the menu. A local wheat beer on draft was very tasty. The mixed tandoori grill (chicken, shrimp and lamb tikka) was ample and enjoyable. The naan, saag paneer, and tarkadal were all above the norm. We left feeling quite satisfied.

The forecast was for some serious snow in the Colorado mountains today and tonite, so we were on the road at daylight to make the 160 mile drive from Ft. Collins to Steamboat Springs. It rained at first and then as we climbed in altitude the snow flurries began. Fortunately, that was all we encountered as we worked our way to Steamboat.

The route from Ft. Collins takes you along Hwy 14 thru the Cache la Poudre River canyon. We heard a canyon wren soon after entering the canyon, but could not find where it was calling from. We stopped several times to listen for northern pygmy owls that supposedly like hanging out along the river in winter, but heard none. There were not many birds about in the canyon, probably because of the weather conditions. A townsend's solitaire was the best bird we ran across. We also had to drive around a herd of 15 big-horned sheep that were partially blocking the road.

On the other side of Cameron Pass, we stopped at the moose viewing center on Hwy 14 in Colorado State Forest State Park, and I snapped the picture above of a pair of male and female pine grosbeaks at one of the feeders. I also saw a new year and life bird there--the gray-crowned rosy-finch. Why I had not yet seen this relatively common bird is one of those oddities of birding. I had seen its "cousins" the black rosy-finch and the brown-capped rosy-finch long ago. I hope to see some more this week, including its cousins.

We wound our way thru the streets of Walden looking for more finches but had no luck. Outside of town we did see 200 horned larks, 3 mountain bluebirds, and a large herd of antelopes (picture above). We did see a fine golden eagle on our way into Steamboat. We also located an american dipper feeding in a stream north of Steamboat--another new bird for the year.

So the day gave us 11 more new birds for the week which included the bald eagle we saw yesterday but I forgot to mark down. The YTD total is now at 407, and the new life birds for the year is at 14. Tomorrow we will be up before dawn in hopes of seeing some grouse on their leks over near Hayden, CO. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 81--Sandhill Cranes

This morning my sis and I were up before dawn to see what was happening with the local sandhill cranes. The cranes come to the Platte River in Nebraska each spring to feed in the corn fields adjacent to the river. The feeding area spans the river from Sutherland on the west to Grand Island on the east, a distance of 165 miles. We were staying in North Platte, so we were on the west side which is not the primary staging/feeding area. Nevertheless, this morning we spent over an hour at sunrise watching at least 10,000 sandhills greeting the day with their constant calling and dancing with each other. It was quite amazing to behold, and impossible to really capture on film as the 2 photos above don't begin to do justice to what we were seeing.

We finally broke away to begin our trek over to Colorado seeing black-billed magpie and the dark morph of the red-tailed hawk on the way. We spent most of the afternoon in the Pawnee Grasslands which is comprised of both short and long grass prairie. There was not a lot of diversity in the birdlife this early in the spring, but we did see plenty of horned larks and northern harriers plus a rough-legged hawk and a few early migrating McCown's longspurs. New year birds included great horned owl and prairie falcon to go along with the magpie. We finished the day with 12 more new birds for the week and the YTD total rising to 405.

Tomorrow the weather is supposed to be messy--snow, sleet, rain with temps in the 30's. We will be heading into the mountains anyway. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Oh Yea--Another Red Letter Day

Yesterday I picked up my sis in Dallas at 8:30 AM and we hustled up the road 200 miles into southwestern Oklahoma to a place called Hackberry Flats. I visited here for the 1st time in late February, and really liked it, so I wanted to check it out again. It was very windy, and the snow was blowing horizontally, but we were birding from my truck so we were ok. We spent 3 hours driving the refuge roads and having a great time seeing things like American and sprague's* pipits, snowy* and American golden* plover, vesper and savannah sparrows, baird's* and least sandpipers, lapland longspur*, and lots of northern harriers. The 5 birds with asterisks were all new YTD birds. I was particularly happy to track down the lapland longspur since I had missed it back in Feb. The day ended with us seeing 44 new birds for this week.

We then drove 2 hours to have dinner at a place outside of Elk City, OK called Simon's Catch. It specializes in all you can eat fried catfish, and steak from Oklahoma. We had some of both and left very pleased. I had found this place last March when I came thru Oklahoma on my way to Alamos in Sonora, Mexico. It has no sign on the building, but the locals know where it is so it is generally full.

We spent the night at the 14,000 acre Selman Ranch near Buffalo, OK so this morning we would be near a lesser prairie chicken lek on the ranch. Sue, the ranch owner and 3rd generation of the family, led us out to the lek site just at dawn. It was quite chilly, and a bit windy, but 4 male LPC's were doing their dance, hoping to attract some females. We moved a bit too close and flushed them, but they returned 10 minutes later. We got very good looks at them, but they seemed quite nervous, and with no females around, they flew away after 5 minutes. On our way back to the ranch house we found a flock of about 100 cedar waxwings.

After a nice home made scrambled egg, bacon, home fries and toast breakfast at Sue's, we headed north for Nebraska. It was a fine sunny day, and we saw lots of raptors including the Krider's and Harlan's forms of the red-tailed hawk. We also saw rough-legged hawks. We stopped in Hays, Kansas to have lunch at Al's chickenette (photo above). Al's as the sign says features fried chicken. Back home in NC we have a place called Mama Dip's that makes better fried chicken, but Al's was right good.

After lunch, we checked out the Kirwin NWR up near the Nebraska border, but it was pretty sleepy there today, so we drove on to North Platte, NE. We came here to see the spectacle of 500,000 sandhill cranes gathering along the Platte River to feed in the corn fields before heading further north to breed.

Last Thursday a rare common crane from Eurasia was found here with the sandhills. We went to the area where it was last reported on Friday, and after searching a few groups of sandhills we found the common crane. This was a great ending to the past 2 days of excellent birding. Today we added 20 more birds for the week, 3 of which were new birds for the year (lesser prairie chicken, ring-necked pheasant, and common crane). The crane also was a life bird for me, thus the primary reason for the red letter day designation.

The YTD total is now at 402. Also, the map at the top is now updated thru today. Tomorrow we will be up early to spend some time with the sandhills on their roost in the river, and then we head into Colorado. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Whooping Crane and Peregrine Falcon

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Texas, sunny and 70's, perfect for going on the Wharf Cat out of Rockport to see whooping cranes up close. My photos above were the best I could get with my camera, but they do provide a good sense of this 5 ft tall bird. For those who are not familiar with the whooping crane, this bird is the rarest breeding bird in N. America. In the early 40's there were only about 15 left, but thru conservation efforts there are now about 500, 1/2 of which winter at Aransas NWR in Texas. The cranes migrate each April up to Wood Buffalo NP in northern Canada. They return to Texas in November.

On the way back into the dock, we also had the good fortune to see a male peregrine falcon resting on a channel marker. Both the crane and falcon were new year birds, bringing the YTD total up to 394. The total bird count for week #11 came in at 102.

Last nite my wife, and our friends Craig and Renee had an excellent meal at a relatively new seafood restaurant in Austin named Perlas. We began with raw oysters from Prince Edward Island, Mass., RI, and Washington state. We drank a muscadet from France with them--one of the classic oyster/wine pairings. We then each had fish main courses--grouper with chanterelles and morelles, monkfish, loup de mer (sea bass from the mediterranean), and Texas crab louie with fried green tomatoes. We had sides of shoestring french fries, grilled asparagus with hollandaise sauce and grilled brussel sprouts. We drank a nice albarino from Spain with these dishes. Dessert was profiteroles with coffee ice cream, and a blueberry tart. My kudos to my NC friend Lex for telling me about Perlas, and to Renee for suggesting that we eat there.

Tonite is the beginning of week #12 and I am in Dallas for the evening to be ready to pick up my sister early tomorrow morning. I stopped at the Burger House which has been making burgers since 1951, and was recommended in Hamburger America. I tried the cheeseburger which has a house recipe secret seasoning on it. The burger was a very thin, pre-formed patty dressed with tomato, lettuce and mustard. This was the weakest burger I have tried so far this year. I would not recommend this place.

Tomorrow we are heading into a snow storm in Oklahoma as we begin a week of seeking prairie chickens and grouse in Oklahoma and Colorado. We are also going thru Nebraska on Sunday to see the annual gathering of 500,000 sandhill cranes along the Platte River. A rare common crane was reported today mixed in with the sandhills. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blue Bunting

We were up and out well before dawn to get over to Bentsen Rio Grande SP to see if we could hear/see a ferruginous pygmy owl. I already saw one in early January, but we wanted to try for another. No go on that, but lots of other birds calling early on a chilly morning. We walked over to the hawk tower and scanned the skies for 3 hours trying to catch at least a glimpse of a hook-billed kite. We saw 2 white-tailed kites but no hook bills. We also had 2 year birds--swainson's hawk and purple martin. We threw in the towel on the kite at 11 AM, and headed over to Laguna Atascosa NWR.

We stopped en route at a taqueria for a quick lunch. This was our 4th Mexican meal of this southern Texas tour. All were tasty and much better than your normal fast food. My favorite was the gorditas we had last nite for dinner.

We did not arrive at Laguna until almost 3 PM, and being well into the afternoon I was pretty skeptical about finding the blue bunting that has been seen there of late. We checked out the trail area where it was seen on Sunday, but things were very quiet. We walked back the other direction, and also found nothing at first. Then I heard a chipping and started pishing a bit to see what might pop up. Bingo, there he was, a fine looking male blue bunting. I called my wife and friends over, but by the time they came the bunting had ducked back under cover. I got 2 more quick looks at it, but then it disappeared. Since blue buntings are another very scarce bird out of Mexico, I was very happy to pick this bird up today.

We proceeded to drive the 13 mile long loop to see what else might be about. We found 2 more new year birds--gull-billed tern and northern bobwhite. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon which made for good birding. As we drove into Laguna, we saw 1 white-tailed kite and many scissor-tailed flycatchers, but on the way out there were none visible. Instead we saw 4 greater roadrunners in a mile stretch of road. On Hwy 77 heading north we saw a few white-tailed hawks. I chose the golden-fronted woodpecker to be today's photo since we have seen so many of them over the past 3 days.

The bird count for the week climbed to 87, and the YTD number is now at 392. Tomorrow we will be going out on a boat to see the whooping cranes at Aransas NWR. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Brown Jay

The morning began rainy, but I still drove alone 30 minutes before light to see if I could see a muscovy duck flying up the Rio Grande at dawn. No luck. I picked everyone else up at 8:30 and we headed back to San Ignacio to look for the brown jay that has been visiting feeders at a home there since the end of January. The rain had stopped at 9 when we arrived, but it was chilly. 5 other birders were there--2 from El Paso and 3 from Germany. We all patiently waited, and waited, and waited, and waited....This became a bird stake-out that can occur at times when you are determined to see a rare bird. Fortunately the jay finally made an appearance about 11:15, and then came in again at about 11:30. It was not close enough for me to get a picture, but it was on the key bird, hard to find list here in south Texas. In fact, brown jays have not been reported in south Texas for over 2 years, so this was a very good get.

The sun came out soon afterwards as we drove about an hour to Falcon SP to look for a roadside hawk that had been at the park regularly over the past month. It had not been seen since last Friday, and we joined the group of unsuccessful searchers. We did get to see several pyrrhuloxia, which for you non-birders looks alot like a cardinal (see top photo above).

We then went "around the corner" to a place named Salineno where during the winter months there is a feeding station at what was once an RV campground that abuts the Rio Grande. We pulled up chairs and spent a long time thoroughly enjoying the diverse birds attracted to the feeding stations. One of the best was the green jay shown above. I also spent more time scanning the river for the elusive muscovy duck, but again came up short.

Overall the day was very productive, increasing the week bird count to 59, and the YTD by 1 to 387. Tomorrow morning we will be up before dawn to spend the morning at Bentsen Rio Grande SP looking for several south Texas specialties including hopefully a hook-billed kite. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Day 74--In South Texas Again

I did not bird on Sat. or Sun. so that I could visit with some old friends in Austin, and enjoy some home cooked meals. Fresh clams on the shell with linguini in a red sauce hit the spot on Sat. nite. Sun nite we grilled deboned, pounded flat chicken legs seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil, spritzed with meyer lemon juice at the table. Oven roasted potatoes, dilled green beans and arugula salad with fresh mozzarella accompanied the lovely chicken along with some nice 2002 zinfandel from Consilience. But now it is back to road food again.

I left Austin this morning with my wife and good friends Craig and Renee to spend the next 4 days birding down in south Texas. The drive down thru San Antonio and Laredo took about 5 hours. We made a couple of birding stops in Laredo and San Ignacio to break up the drive. One of the day's birds was a great kiskadee (above photo). Tonite we ate fairly early at Hacienda El Rey in Zapata, Tx. Homemade corn and flour tortillas and very ample servings of fajitas, charro beans and rice made for a satisfying meal.

After dinner we checked out a known red-billed pigeon roost outside of Zapata and sure enough we found 7 pigeons sitting in the top of a dead tree. This bird has not been reported much this winter in south Texas, so I was very happy to locate this new for the year bird that is always somewhat tough to find. The day also provided northern rough-winged swallow and scissor-tailed flycatcher to add to the YTD list. Overall, the new week is at 37 birds with 3 very busy days ahead of us to find many more. Tomorrow our first stop is to try to see a brown jay. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Big Easy

For those foodies out there who have been not getting enough lately about the food part of this travel adventure, my wife and I had a blow out meal at Cochon here in New Orleans. My morning started at a small country restaurant near Tallahassee, Florida where I had a simple grits, biscuits and 2 eggs over easy breakfast. Sitting at the counter next to me were 2 older black men drinking coffee and talking about food. They started out discussing some friend milking his dairy cows and how they don't drink milk anymore. That led to how they ate as kids--lots of greens and not much meat. Then they moved onto venison sausage and how good it was because it was such a lean meat which brought them to how pork was bad for you, but putting vinegar on your pork reduced its impact on your health.

So what did my wife and I chow down mostly on last nite at Cochon (french for pig)--several kinds of pork dishes. Our good friends, neighbors and world class chefs, Ben and Karen, set up the reservation for us, which meant we broke the cardinal rule of over-ordering to begin with, and then the kitchen sent out more dishes to try. We started with the wood-fired oyster roast, and the fried alligator with chili garlic aioli. Both were superb. We thought about trying the fried rabbit livers, but fortunately did not order them because the kitchen sent out an order of fried boudin sausage with pickled peppers plus the warm hog head cheese with field greens. I thought the head cheese was by far the best I have ever eaten.

We ordered a cucumbers and herbs in vinegar dish that we thought might be a palate cleanser, but the vinegar and hot chili pepper dominated the cucumbers. It was quite good nevertheless. The evening's small plate special was first of the season crawfish in a gratineed kind of dish that we thought was a bit rich and did not work very well.

The pork dish of the nite was the paneed pork cheeks with cane vinegar glazed beets, kumquats (sliced razor thin and fried), onions and herbs. Wow was this amazing! I think Ben (who has pig daddy on his license plate, and loves all things pig) would have really enjoyed this dish. It might have been the best pork dish I have ever eaten.

By now we were quite full, but we still had a lovely piece of grilled redfish to eat, and a boucherie plate of various kinds of pork cold cuts produced by Cochon's butcher shop. The fish was light and went down easily. Unfortunately we did not do full justice to the boucherie offerings because we had hit our stomach limit. The pork rillettes were yummy. The different cold cuts were all unique and good, but Ben's porchetta is even better. While we left some of the boucherie on the plate, we did manage to finish up a fine bottle of '07 pinot noir from Sanford that was recommended by our very helpful waitress.

In honor of Karen (pastry chef without peer), we did try the lemon-buttermilk pie with strawberries and vanilla whipped cream. It was a bit sweet for our taste but well made. We both left the table feeling like you do sometimes after Thanksgiving when you loved all the food too much.

We are headed out the door to make the 500 mile trek to Austin to see our friends Craig and Renee. I will be getting some good home cooking there--the first in a month. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

End of 10th Week

So 10 weeks are now in the books on this grand travel/birding adventure. I have spent the past 2 days in Florida trying to pick up some more key birds here before I move on to Texas. The picture above is of a common myna (another Florida specialty) that I found scavenging food at a McDonald's where I stopped to get an egg mcmuffin. On Wed. I started early at a spot I had hit the day before to look for sparrows and short-eared owl. No owl, but I did see 3 clay-colored, and 2 grasshopper sparrows, plus a blue grosbeak--all new year birds.

I next went to a place called STA 5 which stands for storm water treatment area 5. It is about 20 miles south of Lake Okeechobee. I arrived about 10:30 AM and had the place to myself. It was a great wetland that provided another new bird for the year--fulvous whistling duck. There were also 2 snail kites gliding over the marsh, several northern harriers doing the same, ospreys, a bald eagle, lots of common moorhens and purple gallinules, huge numbers of american coots, and ibis and herons throughout. I also saw 2 purple swamphens, a so-called exotic that looks similar to a purple gallinule. This bird is not on the ABA countable list at this time, but it is expanding its population here in south Florida, so it may eventually be accepted.

At lunch time I noticed a small place called Dixie Fried Chicken that had a window sign for frog legs. I thought maybe they were locally sourced from the wetlands in the area, so I decided to try some. Unfortunately, they did not seem that fresh (the leg meat was not very moist), so I will not be recommending the frog legs at Dixie.

Last nite I spent the evening with 2 very good, long time friends who live in Avon Park. They have a 20 acre orange grove that made it thru the very cold weather that Florida had this winter. We caught up on our lives, and plan to bird together in April when I return to Florida.

This morning I drove over north of St. Petersburg to check out shore birds, and mainly to search for the few remaining budgerigars. The budgie is the small parakeet that many of us owned or a friend owned when we were kids back in the 50's and 60's. At one point there were 20,000 wild ones living in the greater St. Petersburg area. But competition for nesting sites with house sparrows and starlings has all but eliminated the budgie population. It was raining hard and windy when I was looking for the budgies, and alas I came up empty on them. I did see a couple of American oystercatchers, plus several other shorebirds.

So I ended the week with a 155 birds which beats by 2 birds the year's highest weekly total back in week #1. With 5 more new year birds, the YTD total is now 383. I am heading to New Orleans tomorrow to pick up my wife and have a fine dinner in the city. On Saturday we will drive to Austin to stay with good friends there, so no birding for the next couple of days. Next week south TX is back in play. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Day 68--Barred Owls

Quite a bit to catch up on tonite. The past 3 days combined capture the nature of birding. On Sunday I spent the day driving back down towards San Francisco, including a swing back out to the northern Cal coast to try once more for rock sandpiper and/or tufted duck. I stopped at Castle Rock to scan it for the canada geese (aleutian form) that stage there each March before migrating north. The rock is far enough out that at first you don't realize what looks like a rocky surface is in fact 1000's of geese. As for the 2 target birds, I did not find either but I did find an elegant tern at the Humboldt NWR, which was a surprise to see one this early in the year (they breed on an island nearby). So Sunday was a "miss" but still productive with a new bird for the year.

I spent the nite in Santa Rosa and was thinking I was pretty fried between the all day pelagic trip and then driving all day on Sunday. So I planned to sleep in and then go straight to the airport. But the universe sometimes works in unusual ways. I awoke at 5:30 AM because an alarm was going off in the motel room next door but no one was in that room. Since I was awake, I decided to drive over to Lake Merritt in Oakland to see if a tufted duck that was reported there several weeks earlier might just still be there.

I began to walk the long perimeter of the lake, enjoying red-necked and eared grebes, common goldeneyes, lots of scaup, and the early morning walk. About 3/4's of the way around I approached a large group of scaup and notice there were 4 canvasback ducks in with them. And then, boom, there was a duck with an all black back (scaup have a grayish back). Could it be a tufted or was it just a ring-necked duck. It was in fact a fine looking male tufted duck with a gorgeous tuft adorning its head. So I made the effort and was pleasantly surprised to find a tufted. Goal accomplished after several days of looking. On my way back to the car I also did see a single ring-necked duck.

My flight from SF back to Miami proved to be my first bad travel experience of the year. The plane had mechanical problems, so instead of leaving at noon, we finally got off at 6:30 PM. Arriving in Miami at 2:30 AM was not great but I did get to bed for awhile before getting up at 7:30. I had an address about 20 minutes away where red-whiskered bulbuls had been seen recently. I jumped out of my truck (great to be driving my own vehicle again), and walked down the street. Within minutes I noticed some monk parakeets and white-crowned pigeons--both new birds for the year. And then bingo there they were, 2 bulbuls sitting on the telephone wires.

So it was not even 9 AM and I had 3 more YTD birds, what a fantastic start to the day. I then drove about 20 minutes to a location that has had lots of wintering sparrows lately. I found none but did see some painted buntings and common ground doves. I headed on down to Everglades NP to see if I could see swallow-tailed kites. The day had turned nicely sunny, temp in the low 70's. I drove all the way down to Flamingo at the end of the park road and sure enough, 3 kites were kiting about. This bird flies like a kite does in a nice breeze. Plus it is so nicely colored--check it out at wikipedia.

I then stopped at Mahogany Hammock on my way back out of the park where I snapped the pictures above of an adult barred owl, and one of its owlets. I had just seen on my last blog post a comment from a neighbor who told me he had seen barred owls down by our creek, so Perry these pics are for you! I also saw a brown thrasher--both are YTD birds. Next stop was the Anhinga trail to see what might be lurking there. I found 2 more new birds for the year--an american bittern skulking thru the reeds plus a northern parula (a warbler for you non-birders).

I finished the day at dusk on the edge of the park looking for raptors and owls. After so much success today, I was not surprised to see the run come to an end. Plenty of raptors but no more owls. I think 1 type of owl per day may be an unstated limit. So for the week the bird count is up to 121, and the YTD count is now at 378. Tomorrow I will be trying for a few more target birds for south Florida before driving up to Avon Park to spend the nite with some very good friends. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Laysan Albatross--Yes!

Oh Yea, that's what I am talking about! Today's pelagic trip out of Newport, OR was a big success making for another red letter day, but I am a bit ahead of myself. First, if you are a regular follower of this blog, you will notice a new element at the top. I have added a map of the US showing where I have been so far. Green lines mean I drove to those places, and blue lines mean I flew there. The numbers provide the sequence of my bird hunting. I will update this going forward. Now back to the birding.

Yesterday was much more of a mixed bag. I certainly scoured every rocky coastal area, and numerous jetties in vain to locate the elusive rock sandpiper. On one jetty I rock hopped to the point of near injury on the slick rocks not to mention the serious workout that resulted--my arm and torso muscles are sore today. I did see 27 birds for this new week, one of which was a new year bird--black scoter.

This morning dawned clear and probably reached the mid 50's on land, but with the wind on the ocean, it still felt pretty dang cold. 27 birders, 4 guides and 2 crew of the The Misty left dock at 7 AM, and headed out to sea. We were ticking off birds right from the get go on our way out of the harbor, but not a rock sandpiper among them on the rock jetties. We were actively finding birds well into the early afternoon. The 2 photos above are of a black-footed albatross flying (the dark bird in that photo), and sitting on the water. This will have to substitute for a picture of the laysan since I was unable to get a good shot of it. Taking pictures on a bouncing boat is not an easy task.

We saw about 10 of the black-footeds and 2 different laysan. We also saw ancient murrelets--about 20 in all. Cassin's auklets, marbled murrelets, black-legged kittiwakes, and thayer's gulls were new birds for the year. The laysan and the ancient are also life birds for me--thus making today more like a double red letter day.

Coming back in from Perpetua Bank was surprisingly birdless according to Greg Gillson, our main guide. He and a few birding friends run The Bird Guide which specializes in doing several pelagic trips each year out of Newport. Most of the trips are in the late summer, but they run this 1 winter trip to pick up the winter specialties of the area. Most of the birders on board were from Oregon and Washington. Unfortunately, one woman spent the entire trip throwing up even though it was not a rough sea. If I ever end up spending 11 hours on a boat feeling like she did, I would probably give up pelagic birding.

So the week list is now up to 47 birds, the YTD list is at 368 and the new lifers is now at 12. I am driving down to California tomorrow to catch my plane Monday AM back to Florida. Greater flamingo has been found there while I was out here, so maybe I can see one when I return to Florida. Stay tuned!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Not Oyster Catcher

Today marks a first for this big year. I did not see a new bird for the year, nor a new bird for the week. I am pretty sure that is a first! I did have a nice 30 minutes of birding this morning in a small marsh outside of Crescent City, CA. I hit a small pocket of high bird activity. The birds were actively getting their breakfast so they did not care about a human standing in their midst. There were many ruby-crowned kinglets along with a couple of golden-crowned kinglets. A winter wren was working thru some moss on a tree trunk not more than 10 feet from me. A wrentit decided to sing for a few minutes out in the open. Some yellow-rumped warblers were flitting thru the trees. Spotted towhees were calling and a downy woodpecker was working a dead tree. The chestnut-backed chickadees were chattering away.

The rest of the day proved to be a futile effort to find rock sandpipers, wandering tattlers or black scoters. Maybe tomorrow will change that. I did see a sign for Clausen farm-raised oysters. I stopped in and picked up a couple of dozen to have for dinner in my motel room. The photo above shows some of the oysters and a bottle of Navarro pinot gris which went very well with the shellfish. If Ben and Karen are reading this, this one is for you!

I am not in Oregon this week just for the hey of it. I am going out of Newport on Saturday on an all day pelagic boat trip. Is a laysan albatross, or something even rarer in my birding future? Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 3--2 Good Days of Birding

The last 2 days of birding have been quite good. I have been in northern California working my way from San Rafael thru Ukiah to Crescent City. Tuesday began with rain, so I decided to get a slow start including a swing thru St. Helena in Napa Valley to stop at Taylor's Refresher--one of America's top hamburger joints. It has been around for a long time, and has opened 2 more outlets recently in San Francisco and the town of Napa.

I ate here for the 1st time a few years ago, but that day I tried the ahi tuna sandwich. Yesterday I went for the classic burger with cheese and bacon. Taylor's burger comes cooked to order--medium rare in my case--on an egg bun with special sauce, lettuce and tomato. I also got the beer battered fried onion rings which were quite tasty. While I prefer a toasted bun, I would rate the burger as very good--a definite encore kind of burger.

From there I drove out to Point Arena under sunny skies to try to see a laysan albatross that has come into Pt. Arena cove every winter for over 15 years. Albatross's spend almost all their time at sea. It is highly unusual for an albatross to do what this bird has done for 4-8 weeks each winter for so many years. I tried to see this bird a few years ago with no success that day, and yesterday I also came up short. I did get to see a fine sunset before driving back to Ukiah. On the way out I found a group of bushtits--a new bird for the year. I took the top picture above which is typical of the northern Cal coast. I also stopped in at the Goldeneye winery in Anderson Valley to taste the just released 2007 pinot noirs. They were good enough to ship home a 1/2 case.

This morning dawned clear. I stayed in Ukiah overnite because I wanted to check out Lake Mendocino this morning for a possible tufted duck. A few years back I found 5 mixed in with a large number of greater scaup. Today I found all of 7 scaup and no tufted ducks. There were many birds along the lakeshore. I heard what sounded like the soft tapping of a sapsucker, and with some searching I located a fine looking male red-breasted sapsucker--another new bird for the year.

I then drove 3 hours thru some magnificent scenery including many huge redwoods to the Eureka/Arcata area. Birding at several locations generated 4 more new birds for 2010--mew gull, golden-crowned kinglet, wrentit and townsend's warbler. I finished the day here in Crescent City--not much of a place that snugs up against one of the most beautiful coastlines you can imagine. The sea lions pictured above were in the harbor.

So the bird count for the week is now up to 131, and the YTD total has reached 361. Tomorrow I will continue to work my way up the coast, seeing new places and lots of birds including hopefully some new ones for the year. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Beautiful Marin County

I came up to the SF Bay area to bird and see a friend who lives in San Rafael. Unfortunately his father needed emergency surgery back in Boston, so my friend and I did not get a chance to see each other. I did get to spend some time with his long time partner--a really good woman that I always like visiting with.

Since my friend was back east, I did bird yesterday, mostly at Point Reyes Nat'l Seashore. It was a sunny day in the low 60's, and being a Sunday, it seemed like every bicycle club in the north bay was out taking advantage of the good weather. I saw 14 new birds for the week, and 1 for the year--a fine looking male sharp-shinned hawk that landed in a tree right next to me. The sharpie brought the YTD total to 353 on the last day of February. You may remember that at the end of January the YTD total was 247. So in February another 106 new birds were added. And in March the number of new birds for the year will continue to slow down. That said, I feel good about having seen 353 different species in 2 months.

Today I birded in Petaluma, Bodega Bay and Pt. Reyes. It was cooler, windier and overcast. I was mainly trying to find either a pacific golden plover or a wandering tattler. There were no plovers to be found, but I did get a picture of a marbled godwit (see top photo above). And all the wandering tattlers had wandered away from their normal haunts. I did see 18 more birds for the week, and 2 were new birds for the year. Whimbrels were found on a jetty where the tattlers should have been, and a glaucous-winged gull was flying around where I tried to locate the plover. This is how it goes with birding. You may not find the bird you want, but you find others instead.

On my way down the coast from Bodega Bay to Pt. Reyes I stopped in at the Hog Island farm raised oyster operation. It turns out that they have a picnic area right on Tomales Bay where people in the know bring wine and food to eat with the totally fresh oysters. The oysters come in 3 sizes, and you buy them by the dozen, or in even larger quantities. They give you shucking knives, lemon and hot sauce. I had no wine or food with me, but I did spring for a dozen of the freshest oysters I probably have ever eaten. A couple sitting at the next table were well into what appeared to be 4 or 5 dozen oysters. If I lived nearby, I would make this a regular stop on a sunny day!

I did enjoy driving thru Marin county. It is very green right now because rains have finally come to a drought stricken northern California. When the hills are green here they remind me of parts of Scotland which I love to visit. The other picture above was taken for that reason--it looked like the coastal highlands area of Scotland. Tomorrow I will move further north in California on my way to Oregon. I am going to bird in some places I have never birded before. Stay tuned!