Sunday, January 25, 2015

Eurasian Kestrel in Nova Scotia

There continue to be several very good rarities that were found late last year, and have continued to be seen into 2015.  One of these is a Eurasian kestrel (code 4) that was first reported in December from Eastern Passage near Halifax, NS.  Later it was discovered that someone had taken photos of it as early as November 21st.  3 weeks ago Neil Hayward asked me if I wanted to fly up to Boston, and then drive to Halifax with him to try for the bird.  I could not get away at that time, so he and Gerri made the trip instead.  They left at 10 PM, and drove though the night.  It is 725 miles from Boston to the golf course in Eastern Passage--a small town on the edge of Halifax.  They arrived between 9 and 10 AM, and did find the kestrel (all the photos of the Eurasian kestrel in today's post were taken by Neil--click on any photo to enlarge).  They were back in Boston before midnight.

Since the kestrel continued to be reported, I decided to make a trip this past week to Boston, as well as Connecticut and New Hampshire, to see some friends.  When the kestrel was seen again last Tuesday, I decided also to make the long drive up to try for the kestrel.  I flew to Boston, was on the road by noon on Wednesday, and made it to my motel in Halifax by midnight Atlantic time.

I was up at 6 AM Thursday, and at the bird's "territory" by 7 even though it was still quite dark (sunrise was at 7:45).  As it became lighter under a very overcast sky, I kept scanning the area looking for the kestrel.  I flushed a snowy owl, and also found a large fox looking for its breakfast.  At 7:40 I first saw the kestrel hovering over the grassy area between the road and the water.  I had barely found it when it dove down to catch something, and then it flew off into the center of the golf course where it perched briefly on a tree before disappearing.

I kept scanning the area hoping for it to return for better looks.  During the next hour I was visited by a murder of crows, and found a small mixed flock of common and hoary redpolls which were difficult to photograph as the wind blew them around while feeding (sorry for the not totally clear photo below).  There was also a female northern harrier who was cruising the area in search of food.

About 8:30 I saw the kestrel hovering very far out over the golf course for about 5 minutes before it flew away again.  At 9 the kestrel returned to the shoreline area, and began hovering in search of more food.  With better light, I was finally able to study the bird.  It is larger than the American kestrel (photo below taken in FL last month), has only 1 whisker on its face, and has no gray in the wings.  This particular Eurasian kestrel is very light in general.

At one point the kestrel flew off behind a small building near the road, and when I relocated it, it was stooping at the snowy owl I had found earlier.  The owl was unperturbed by the kestrel, and was very cooperative in letting me get close enough to take a picture with my small camera.

I was able to watch the kestrel continue to work the area around the road for another 10 minutes before it decided to disappear again.  It was now about 9:30.  As I was leaving a rough-legged hawk flew across the road in front of me to give me a nice send off.  I was not really looking forward to another 11-12 hour drive back to Boston, but it proved uneventful.  I even had the pleasure of finding a place in Maine that had a 2 chicken lobster special so I stopped for dinner.  I was at my friends in Lincoln, MA by 9 PM.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there have been some very nice rarities around to start 2015.  The Key West quail-dove continues to be seen in FL as is a smooth-billed ani.  Barnacle and pink-footed geese are still being reported in the northeast.  2 common cranes are intermittently being seen in NM and TX.  The tundra bean goose is still in OR, as are the falcated duck, brambling and rustic bunting in CA.  Arizona has a rufous-backed robin and a sinaloa wren. A Eurasian siskin is wintering over in Unalaska, AK.  And just yesterday a blue bunting, and a gray-crowned yellowthroat were found in south TX.

Yesterday I was sent the link to a new big year blog (  I had heard that a birder I know from Ohio, Dan Gesualdo, was possibly doing a big year.  I had seen his ebird list leading the way on the top 100.  From his blog I read that he so far has birded in TX, OH, CA and OR.  His total for the year is already over 300 birds, and it is not even the end of January.  An awesome start!  He says he is doing a lower 48 big year, which is the first I have known about since mine back in 2010.  Dan, I wish you the best of fun as you pursue birds this year.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Year End Review

Another year of birding is in the books, so I am doing my year end review.  In 2014 I did not bird as heavily in the ABA area as I did in 2013--no trip to the boonies of Alaska for example.  But I did make my annual spring trip to Magee Marsh to bird with friends like Dan and Doreene (check my May entries for details).  I also did a few successful chases of rarities that showed up in the lower 48 states during the 2nd half of the year.  Those also were all added to the blog at the time of the chase.  The last was my trip to the Florida Keys with Neil and Gerri to see the Key West quail-dove. 

Since we made the trip to the Long Key SP,  other birders discovered 2 quail-dove sitting together on a branch in the same area.  And on the 28th of December a 3rd quail-dove was found on the Deering Estate in Cutler just south of Miami.  My friend Bob Wallace had spent 3 days at Long Key SP without seeing the bird, and when he was called, he rushed up to the Deering Estate where he managed no better than the record shot just above--good luck picking out the bird.  Clues:  a) the bird is facing to the right, and b) look for the shiny eye and a white horizontal stripe just below the eye (click on any photo to enlarge).

Addendum 5/24/15:  Laura Keene was able to get a photo of the Key West quail-dove this spring.

Turning to big year efforts in 2014, I only know of one blog done by Dorian Anderson chronicling his self-powered big year.  He road his bicycle down the east coast to Florida; across the gulf coast into Texas and onto Arizona; up through the Rocky Mountains to Washington; down the Pacific coast to southern California; back through Arizona and down to the Rio Grande Valley; and finally ending up in Dallas.  He averaged almost 49 miles of riding per day, covering almost 18,000 miles.  He saw 617 different bird species plus a possible ABA area first record of a red-legged honeycreeper.  He also raised over $45,000 for bird conservation, and had 575,000 pageviews on his blog.

There have been a few other "green" big birding years, but none on the scale that Dorian just finished.  He has established the template for a cycling big birding year.  I know how tiring a big year can be--a 365 day marathon which in my case involved 82,000 miles of flying and 66,000 miles of driving.  To do it riding a bicycle almost every day is a truly amazing feat and level of commitment.

Like most big year birders, he developed a plan that would optimize his goal of birding and cycling.  Unlike most big years though, he could not really chase rarities, so the quality of his plan and assistance from other birders in the areas he visited was even more crucial to his success.  Every big year birder to some degree studies prior big year efforts in order to develop a plan for his/her year.  The wild card to reaching a very big total number of birds seen is how many rarities show up, and does the big year birder choose to chase and successfully find them.

As I have written before, to set a record, a big year birder must be willing to chase.  Sandy Komito has talked about this often.  Neil Hayward tying Sandy's full ABA area big year mark of 748 is even more amazing since Neil did not fully commit to doing a big year until April of 2013 which meant he did not chase a few rarities early in the year.  As a result he is still hoping the rufous-necked wood-rail found in New Mexico last year will be accepted as a first ABA record which would push his total to 749.

I did check ebird, and found that Brandon Reo saw 667 different species in 2014 in the full ABA area, and 641 in the lower 48 states--both of which are outstanding results.  Also from ebird, Leo Miller saw 610 in the full ABA area.  Every year since 2003, Leo has seen over 500 different species of birds in the full ABA area, and 3 of those years he broke 600.  Finally from ebird, Doug Gochfeld, a professional bird guide I met last year in Alaska, saw 609 species in the full ABA area.  I also want to give a shout out to Dan Sanders who just completed his 20th consecutive Ohio big year.  He and his partner Doreene finished 2014 with 318 species, which just fell short of their record of 320.

Returning to my own birding year in 2014, I added 8 more birds to my full ABA area (788) and lower 48 states (749) lists.  The new entries include collared plover (code 5), whiskered tern (code 5), tundra bean goose (code 3), Egyptian goose (code 2), and Key West quail-dove (code 4)--all birds that I saw during the year.  And due to changes in the ABA listing rules I was able to now count aplomado falcon (2010, 2012) and California condor (2006).  Finally, the ABA added Ridgway's rail (code 2) as a split from clapper rail.  I recently reviewed my 2010 big year records, and confirmed that I saw Ridgway's rails below San Diego in October of that year.

It is time to wrap up this blog post so that I can begin my annual New Year's day tradition of drinking port and eating blue cheese while watching college football bowl games.  Happy New Year!

Addendum on 1/5:  my friend Marty pointed out this AM that I did not mention the 3 week birding trip in Morocco last March.  I was thinking about my birding year in ABA area only when I wrote the initial year wrap up post.  So a belated addition about what was fully reported here on the blog earlier, and definitely fond memories of the birding and everything else that trip gave our group.