Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fan-tailed Warbler Redux

The top photo above of the fan-tailed warbler was taken by Martin Meyers who I wrote about yesterday. The photo just above is of a sizeable group of birders scanning down to the creek area where the fan-tailed warbler would make brief appearances early on Friday morning. The guy in the blue shirt with the white hat on the right is Martin Meyers. Unlike yesterday, when I first arrived this morning the warbler was singing frequently which was critical to finding it foraging on the ground in the leaves and rocks across the creek. I was fortunate to see it up close one more time when it flew over to our side of the creek, and fed for about 5 minutes around 11:45 AM.

The photo just below is of one of 2 painted redstart parents who had a nest close to the fan-tailed viewing area. The parents would fly in regularly, sit in the tree in the photo, and then drop down to the slope where their nest was on the ground. Lots of photogs when not looking for the fan-tailed would set up their tripods to take pics of the redstarts. Click on any photo to enlarge it. We also had a male elegant trogon fly down close to where the fan-tailed was feeding.

The photo just above is one of the feeding stations at the Kubo B&B which is just across from where the fan-tailed warbler was most regularly seen. It was surprising to see a migrating swainson's thrush partaking of the cut oranges along side the black-headed grosbeak which are numerous in Madera Canyon.

After leaving Madera Canyon I headed down to the Patagonia roadside rest stop because another fan-tailed warbler was seen along the creek there early yesterday morning. It is probably the only time 2 fan-tailed warblers have been seen in AZ on the same day since there are only 8 records of the bird in AZ. Other birders were also down there looking for it, but no one else saw it after the first observer reported it.

Mid afternoon I headed over to the Paton's to check out the many feeders in the yard. The blue grosbeak shown below kept coming to that one feeder along with gila woodpeckers, brown-headed cowbirds, a single bronzed cowbird, and lesser goldfinches. Several birders were enjoying sitting in the shade of the canopy on a hundred degree day. We also saw violet crowned, black-chinned, broad-billed and broad-tailed hummers; yellow-breasted chat; inca, common ground, mourning and eurasian collared doves; curve-billed thrasher; lazuli bunting; gambel's quail; abert's towhee; song and white-crowned sparrows; bewick's wren; summer tanager; and heard a gray hawk.

I spent last nite with my long time friend who lives in Tucson. This morning I stopped in at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson to see a few last birds before heading to the airport. I saw a migrating olive-sided flycatcher, and studied cassin's, western and tropical kingbirds as they fed and chased each other around. After only 48 hours of birding my species count hit 91 capped off by the multiple sightings of the fan-tailed warbler. I am off to Alaska on the 10th of June. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can You Say Fan-tailed Warbler?

Last Monday a fan-tailed warbler was found in Madera Canyon located 4o miles south of Tucson, AZ. Usually this very rare visitor from Mexico when seen in the US never hangs around. Someone will find one, and few lucky close by birders may also get to view it over the next few hours before the bird disappears. Most recently two fan-tailed warblers were sighted last year in SE AZ but neither lasted for more than 4 hours. Of the 56 new world warblers recorded in the ABA area, the fan-tailed is the only one that I had left to see.

When I read that it was seen again throughout the day on Tuesday I decided to put a ticket on hold to fly down here early this morning if it was also seen yesterday. When for the 3rd day in row it was in exactly the same place, I called Melody Kehl, who is a friend and professional bird guide down here, to see what she thought about this bird. She had seen it on Monday, and felt that it had good water and plenty of food to stay happy for a bit longer. That sealed the deal for me.

I was up at 4 AM to catch my 6:15 flight thru Dallas, arriving in Tucson at 10. I was in Madera Canyon checking on the situation by 11:15. The good news was that the warbler had been seen and heard frequently from 6:30 to 8:30. The not so good news was that it had not been seen or heard since. So the stakeout began. Lots of birds were around including sulphur-bellied and dusky-capped flycatchers, a pair of painted redstarts, several black-headed grosbeaks and hummers. Unfortunately there was also a sharp-shinned hawk coming and going along the creek. This bird of prey loves eating other birds.

About 1:45 while I was watching 2 dusky-capped flycatchers chase each other around I noticed a bird fly toward me from across the creek. I located it in a small tree, and saw that it was the much sought after fan-tailed warbler. I immediately called out that it was back, and within 2-3 minutes upwards of 15 birders were all oohing and aahing as the bird foraged on the ground not more than 20 feet in front of us. We were able to watch it for 10-15 minutes before it moved out of sight. Given the light conditions, the 3 not so great photos above are the best my camera could do to capture this beautiful bird--click on any photo to enlarge.

One of the birders who walked up after I alerted others about the warbler was Martin Meyers who I met a few times during my big year. He had driven 800 miles from Truckee, CA because like me it was also the last new world warbler for him to see. It was very nice to share the moment with him. There were also 3 birders in from Rhode Island that I had met last year on a few pelagic trips out of Hatteras, NC. Given that the fan-tailed warbler is a code 4 bird (there are only 10 records of the bird over the past 50 years in AZ), it is not surprising that so many birders from far away have made the effort to come look for it. I will be birding here again tomorrow and will try to see the warbler one more time. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Days 7 and 8 at Magee Marsh

Wow!! The last 2 days have been intense birding. The local birders with the help of radar info had predicted that Thursday and Friday could be huge days for bird migration thru the Magee Marsh area, and they were dead on. Thursday we hit the boardwalk about 8 AM to find hordes of birders hoping for a fallout day, and they certainly were not disappointed. I soon saw one of the coveted warblers, a mourning, so very briefly up in a tree before it disappeared. Fortunately within an hour it was found very close by, and throughout the rest of the day it would show up off and on at the same spot allowing for good looks. I could not a get a photo of the mourning, but I did get one of the northern parula above (click on any photo to enlarge).

One of the birds that almost everyday is found on a roost at Magee is the gray phase screech owl in the photo above. Near this bird's roost is a owl nest box where at times a red phase screech will perch 1/2 way out. As you might imagine, both attract crowds. The green heron just below also was commonly seen over the past week.

After seeing the mourning well we proceeded to work the boardwalk, looking for as many other warbler species as we could find. One of my favorites is the bay breasted warbler shown just below. It is one of the later warblers to arrive at Magee. The migration here begins to pick up speed around the 1st of May, and generally by mid May it peaks in the variety of bird species, particularly warblers. By the end of the day I had seen 27 warbler species--my personal 1 day high at Magee--including the bay-breasted warbler in the photo just below.

Another indicator of the progress of the migration is the number of female warblers relative to males. The males of any warbler species usually arrive ahead of the females, so when you start seeing lots of females as well you know that the migration is reaching a peak. Yesterday I saw females from 15 warbler species whereas a week ago I saw maybe 5 or 6. 2 other peak migration arrivals were the yellow-bellied flycatcher and the gray-cheeked thrush.

As Magee's fame has grown over the past decade, more and more birders come from all over the US, and even from other countries like England and Scotland (the Brits love birding in the US). As a result it can get quite crowded at certain places along the boardwalk when a rare bird is found. This morning for example another coveted warbler, a Connecticut, appeared for the 1st time this year. This species usually does not arrive at Magee until after the 20th of May, and even then it is quite uncommon. With 2 mourning warblers also at the same location, the crush of birders at 9 AM trying to get a view of the CT and the mournings was the most intense I have ever encountered. Friday the 13th of May proved to be the opposite of what is feared on Friday the 13th's.

The only other warbler that would draw as big a crowd is the Kirtland's, which so far this year has not come to Magee, but one did spend 4 days last week singing away in Columbus, OH on its way up to its breeding grounds in MI. I am sure the birder from VA (vanity plate below) must have loved seeing the Connecticut--it was my first one at Magee, and I had as good looks at it as the ones I have seen in MN where it breeds.

Since I needed to depart for Brooklyn, NY this afternoon, I was feeling like my week's worth of birding was perfectly bookended with the garganey last Friday and then the CT warbler showing up today. I could not get a photo of it, so I have added the photo just above of a lovely chestnut-sided warbler. I ended my 9 days of birding in Ohio with an overall total of 158 species including a personal best over a week's time of 30 warbler species. While at Magee I saw at least 20 species of warblers every day as well. I also finally got to meet and chat with Matt Stenger from Harrison, OH who is doing a full ABA big year. He was awfully happy to get the mourning and Connecticut warblers. Matt--Good luck with the rest of your big year. My next major birding will be in Alaska in June. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Day 6 at Magee Marsh

We began birding this morning about 8:15 at the Magee boardwalk to see if the numbers and overall quality of birds had continued from yesterday's stellar late afternoon. We found the birding to be good but definitely down a notch. There were several rose-breasted grosbeaks (top photo above) and lots of baltimore orioles. The overall number of warblers was down but the variety was still enough that by the end of the day I had once again seen at least 20 warbler species.

Over the past few days I have seen several "vanity plates" indicating the car's owner was a birder. The middle photo above is an example of someone who could only fit screech instead of screech owl on the license plate. I saw a birder friend, Adrian Binns, taking a picture of one that read birdfrk. He told me that besides birds he also collects photos of birder vanity plates.

Two more birder friends, Rob and Ricki, joined us around 3 PM. They used to live in Ohio, and had flown in from Nevada to bird for the next few days. We worked the boardwalk with them briefly before getting a tweet that both blue-winged and golden-winged warblers were being seen next door at Ottawa NWR. We went over and found the golden-winged plus tufted titmouse and black-capped chickadee, neither of which is normally found on the boardwalk.

After returning to the boardwalk we continued to see several warbler species including a very hungry but cooperative canada (bottom photo above--click on any photo to enlarge). Finally about 6:30 we all piled into our cars to head back for dinner and then our respective motels. When I got back to my room I checked Gabriel's blog to discover that he had been able to see the garganey--way to go! The local bird cognoscenti are predicting another major wave of birds tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Days 4 and 5 at Magee Marsh

Since I did not post yesterday, there is some catching up to do tonite. To start, yesterday found us out on the boardwalk by 8 AM to discover that the number of birds was definitely lower than the past 3 days. We did meet up with Greg Miller who we birded with throughout the day. Doreene took a picture of Greg (center), Dan Sanders (right) and myself (left) in front of the Magee Marsh sign. As I mentioned recently, Greg is one of the 3 birders featured in the upcoming movie The Big Year based on the book of the same name. I met Greg and Dan back in 2001 on a pelagic trip out of Hatteras, NC. Dan did a big year in 2005, so you have in the top photo 3 of the 14 birders who have seen 700 or more bird species in the ABA area in a calendar year.

While the birding was fairly slow compared to previous days, it began to pick up in the afternoon. One of the highlights was finding a woodcock (2nd photo from the top) resting right next to the boardwalk. Needless to say the photogs were having fun snapping multiple shots. We called it a day about 6:30 looking forward to today and possibly an influx of new birds overnite.

I checked into the Comfort Inn where I had stayed during my visit here last year. I rushed off to have dinner with Dan and Doreene, and returned to discover that somehow I had ended up with a smoking room, and could not change since the motel was full. Then the reason I did not blog last nite was that the Wifi was malfunctioning. Instead my frustration level went up more as I watched the aging Celtics lose to the Heat. Finally at midnite fire alarms went off forcing us all outside for over an hour while the fire dept. sorted out what was happening. The only good news was that I heard and saw a common nighthawk flying around the outdoor lights. We were allowed back into our rooms only to have the alarm go off again at 2 AM. I finally was able to get back to sleep about 2:30.

We were supposed to meet this morning at 7:30 to drive the 20 miles from Port Clinton over to Magee. But after the nite from hell at my motel, I did not make it over to Magee until 11 AM. Once there, I found that a new wave of birds had arrived and the place was hopping with birds and birders.

About mid day I was able to find Gabriel Mapel from Virginia who is only 11 and is doing a big junior year. I knew about him and that he was at Magee because he is doing a blog which I have provided a link to now on this blog. I wanted to find him to say hi, and also to encourage him to see the garganey while he was in Ohio. On his blog he had said he was not going to see it because he did not think it would be accepted as a wild bird, but Dan and I encouraged him to make the effort because it probably was going to be accepted as a wild bird.

The birds kept coming in throughout the day, and by late afternoon with the winds coming off Lake Erie, it seemed like all the birds had moved into the woods along the boardwalk. As a result we had one of those magical birding times. We sat on the rail of the boardwalk and everywhere we looked there were birds actively feeding.

After about an hour at just that one spot we were ready to head home for the day having seen 20 species of warblers plus 5 species of vireos. Some other species also seen included swainson's thrush, American robin, white-throated and lincoln sparrow, least and great crested flycatcher, ruby crowned kinglet, scarlet tanager, red-breasted nuthatch, tree swallow, rose-breasted grosbeak, common grackle, red-winged blackbird, and blue jay. The bottom 2 photos are of a blackpoll warbler (next to bottom) and a philadelphia vireo (click on any photo to enlarge). Tomorrow could be even better. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Day 3 at Magee Marsh

It was another fine day at Magee Marsh, Ottawa NWR and Metzger Marsh. I arrived at Magee about 9 under sunny skies and temps in the high 50's. There were far fewer birds today which meant that the majority had moved out and across Lake Erie overnite. Dan and Doreene arrived about 10 and we hit the boardwalk to see what we could find. Since there were far fewer birds we spent a fair amount of time catching up as well as chatting with other birders that we knew. There were still enough warblers around that I was able to get the top photo of a blackburnian. Since the photographers put out sliced oranges to attract the baltimore orioles, it was also easy to get the middle photo above.

We checked out a young male blue grosbeak that was feeding along the beach, but since things were not exactly hopping, we took a lunch break and visited with Laura Keene, who lives near Cincinnati, and her daughter. Laura had met Dan and Doreene during a winter trip to Minnesota to look for owls. I had met her last year on a pelagic trip out of Monterey, and saw her again on Thursday afternoon when I was looking for the garganey.

After eating we decided to take the car tour of Ottawa NWR which is only available 1 day a month except during the big birding week when they open the road on both Sat. and Sun. on consecutive weekends. We did not find a lot of birds but did see yellow-headed blackbirds and a horned grebe--both new birds for the trip.

We then checked out Metzger where nothing was happening when we first walked into the small wooded area, but quickly came alive as a group of warblers dropped out of the sky to eat. On the drive back out we also saw a sora (rail), and the tri-colored heron that has been there for over a week. At a wet area nearby we found a small group of dunlins, and a greater and lesser yellowlegs.

We finished the day back on the boardwalk where we found more warblers than during the morning. I was able to get the bottom photo above of a prothonotary warbler. We heard a swainson's thrush calling--my first for the week. We called it a day about 7:30. After 2 and 1/2 days of birding at Magee I have seen at least 20 warbler species each day, and a total of 27 kinds of warblers so far. There are still a few more different warblers that could show up in the next few days. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Day 2 at Magee Marsh

I had another good day of birding at Magee Marsh which began about 8:45 under mostly sunny skies and temps in the low 6o's. This week is now promoted as the Biggest Week in Birding up here which brings in even more birders than ever before. As a result, being here on the weekend is usually not the best choice because there are so many people walking the boardwalk looking at and photographing the birds. I was originally going to arrive here next Monday, but because of the Garganey I came up early. Fortunately, while there were many birders today it was never overwhelmingly crowded.

Yesterday was particularly impressive with the sheer number and variety of birds, and today was not far behind. One bird that was not seen today is the resting whip poor will in the top photo above (click on any photo to enlarge). The whip sitting on its day roost was a real crowd pleaser throughout yesterday. Even though the whip left, several woodcocks were still in the marsh today. The new "feature" birds of the day were the many black-billed cuckoos (middle photo above), and at least one yellow-billed cuckoo that posed for the photogs throughout the afternoon.

On a really good day here at Magee, and the neighboring birding spots like Ottawa NWR and Metzger Marsh, it is common to approach or pass 100 different species seen after a full day of birding. And one reason is the huge number of warblers that stop here before flying across Lake Erie. For example, yesterday afternoon in just 5 hours I saw 24 different kinds of warblers including the black-throated green in the bottom photo above. I also saw blue-winged and golden-winged warblers yesterday, but not today. Instead I saw cerulean, canada and blackpoll warblers for the first time on this trip.

This is the 3rd year in a row and the 5th time in the last 8 years that I have visited Magee Marsh during the 1st 2 weeks of May. As a result I am beginning to recognize other birders that also make it a point to be here at this time. Most are from Ohio but there are also many who come from around the US. My friends Dan and Doreene are coming up tomorrow from Columbus to spend the week here. For several weeks I have been looking forward to birding with them again. Stay tuned!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Can You Say Garganey?

It is Friday nite and I am in Toledo, OH which is close to Magee Marsh. Followers of my big year may remember that I birded here last year at this same time because I so enjoy experiencing the spring migration here. But I am ahead of myself. First I need to explain the title of this post. Near Cincinnati a week ago a male garganey was found at Fernald Preserve. Fernald is a former uranium processing facility that was closed down in the early nineties. The 1000 acre property was "cleaned up" and turned into a wildlife preserve.

I left Chapel Hill yesterday morning at 4 AM and after 500 miles of driving I arrived at Fernald about 2 PM. I found several birders staking out the pond where the garganey has been seen the most. One of the birders I had met in 2007 down in Madera Canyon south of Tucson, AZ. He spends his winters there and his summers in Michigan. He and 2 other birders had been looking all day for the duck which normally lives in Asia and is extremely rare in the US. When it does show up it is usually on the west coast in the fall. Much less frequently it shows up in the spring in the east. This is only the second one to appear in Ohio.

The garganey had been seen Wed. morning, but not at all on Thursday. The top photo is of 2 northern rough-winged swallows (click on any photo to enlarge) which kept us company throughout the afternoon. The middle photo is of a young lady who stopped by and had the most decorative crutches I have ever seen. As the sun set the other 3 birders climbed into their cars to return to St. Louis, Florida and Michigan. A fourth birder, who I had met last spring in Arizona where we found a rufous-capped warbler together, headed off to Dayton. Since the garganey would be a life bird for me, I drove to Harrison, OH to spend the nite to be able to try again today.

I arrived at dawn, and soon after 3 other birders who had come late the day before also returned. By 9 AM we still had not seen the duck, so I went down to the visitor center to see what birds were in that area. I had the good fortune to talk with Howard who has worked for almost 20 years transforming the place. He took me back into a restricted area where we flushed the garganey and a pair of blue winged teals. They flew to the bio wetlands next to the visitor center.

I did not know this at first, so I left to have some breakfast, but was called and told that they were feeding in the bio wetlands. I came back and was able to get the bottom photo above--the garganey is the duck on the right. The birder who had gone to Dayton for the nite and lives in Millville, NJ, also returned to see and photograph the garganey. As we parted we both reckoned that our paths would cross again.

I read this evening that Matt Stenger who lives in Harrison and is doing a big year (716birds blog link on this blog) was able to see the garganey today as well. I had heard that he had been looking for it yesterday too, but he left before I arrived. I was sorry to miss him both times since it would have been nice to talk with him about his big year effort.

When I got to Magee Marsh at 3 PM today I found a major migration day was happening, plus ran into Greg Miller who I have known for several years. He along with Al Levantin and Sandy Komito will become household names this fall when the movie, The Big Year, is released. More on the spring migration up here, the movie and Greg Miller in my next few posts. Stay tuned!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1 2011

It is a beautiful sunny May 1st here in Chapel Hill. I was up in Washington, DC for 4 days visiting with a very long time friend (35+ years). As a result, I was not able to bird our land the past few days, so it was good to get back out there this morning. The top photo is of a male common yellowthroat working hard to attract a mate, and the bottom photo is of a male white-eyed vireo also making his presence known (click on photos to enlarge).

Having heard both a summer tanager and a yellow-billed cuckoo this morning, I can report that all of our summer breeding birds have now returned. It was generally a very birdy morning. At one point I was hearing simultaneously the songs/calls of the following birds--wood thrush, acadian flycatcher, hooded and black-throated blue warbler, ovenbird, blue jay, yellow-billed cuckoo, tufted titmouse, and cardinal. I saw one of our barred owls, and flushed a pair of wood ducks off our pond. I also saw and/or heard this morning pine warbler, La waterthrush, northern parula, red-eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, ruby throated hummer, red-bellied and pileated woodpeckers, mourning dove, american goldfinches, house finches, brown-headed cowbirds, Carolina wren and chickadee, eastern phoebe and hermit thrush.

What I did not have this AM was any kind of migrant fall-out such as warblers, blue-headed vireos or rose-breasted grosbeaks passing thru on their way to the mountains. There has been some big excitement here in NC this week because the state's first ever cassin's sparrow was found down near Pinehurst. The speculation is that this bird, which lives in the southwest, was blown in with all the storms that have been coming thru the south. Another western bird--a female chestnut collared longspur--also was found this past week at Fort Fisher. I am not a state lister so I have not "chased" after either of these birds.

I will be heading up to Magee Marsh in Ohio later this week to join some birding friends to take in the spring migration there. 2 days ago a very rare Asian duck--a garganey--was found near Cincinnati, OH. I am hoping that it will stay around for a few more days so that I can see it when I go to Ohio. Stay tuned!