Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Time for a Road Trip

     Back to birding and blogging! Dan and I have reunited to conquer birds once again with arizona as the target. It's 2 am and we are somewhere in Georgia. I mean Florida is on the way to Arizona right?? Someone get me a map quick... Oh maybe we made a wrong turn, oops. I guess Smooth Billed Ani and Flamingo will have to do while we figure out this map issue. It's going to be an all nighter to get there so I figured I'd fill everyone in on recent happenings and birds.

     Earlier this month Jeremy and I took a trip to Portland, Maine (and New Hampshire and Vermont). A certain egret was chilling there and had been for over a month. That's right I'm talking about that little one from across the pond. 14 hours and another all nighter and there is Little Egret right in the scope. 2 plumes, dark lores, and all.
     What else does Maine have to offer since we are here? How bout some sexy Roseate Tern and a sparrow that favors these salt marshes? A quick trip to Scarborough Marsh quickly netted both of these species so we were off to New Harbor and a boat trip to see puffins!! This was a little hour and a half boat trip that circled a breeding colony of puffins. Awesome, yes. We also picked out a few Arctic Terns while out there but the real surprise came when I spotted 4 Cory's Shearwaters sitting on the water! A very unusual sighting this close to land (less than 2 miles). They then proceeded to fly around the boat giving great views to the passengers, a lifer for many. Ok, now not much left iMaine. Let's head for the hills. 

     In the white mountains of New Hampshire we started to hike up Mt. Jefferson in hopes of hearing and finding a singing Bicknell's Thrush. It wasn't long until we heard some drumming and then spotted the first lifer of the day, Black-Backed Woodpecked. Point blank in the face. Bigger bird than I thought. Ok keep hiking. Higher and higher and higher. Swainsons thrushes singing everywhere and then finally, the sweet sound of a Bicknell's Thrush! Way off the path and down the mountain. Just no way to get closer and get a visual. However during that attempt and couple Boreal Chickadees decided to come see what we were up to. 

     Next stop was moose bog in northern Vermont. Targets were Spruce Grouse and Gray Jay. We got mosquitoes instead, and lots of them. I don't think I've ever been bitten more in my life. Not only are there a million mosquitoes but there are like 5 birds and none of them are the targets. Finally after 2.5 hours I hear some gray Jay action. Then boom, 4 gray jays right in the face. Deceivingly big but by far one of the cutest birds there are. That stupid Spruce Grouse was the only real dip of the whole trip. Not too bad. 12 lifers each for the 4 day blitz. 

     I promise more blog posts to come during this new and epic 2 week road trip across the country with Dan. Birds, open road, rarities, beer, and who knows what else. Going to be the craziest 2 weeks ever! Stay tuned for more tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

UPDATE: North Carolina and ABA 400!

     Hello everyone! (If anyone is still checking my blog and waiting for updates) I apologize for my serious lack of posting in the last 2 months. I also apologize for my serious lack of birding during that time as well. Here is an update post to get everyone caught up on things and then (hopefully) I will begin to post with more regularity again. Things have been absolutely insane for me lately. I took my finals, wrapped up my honors thesis (which really cut into my birding time), graduated college, lead tours and birded at the Biggest Week in American Birding, moved back to Dayton, and then drove to North Carolina for a family vacation. I'm sorry for boring you with all this life stuff, I know what you're thinking, get to some birds already!

     Well the biggest week was absolutely loaded with birds and after pitiful months in Feb, March, and April (adding 8 year birds each month, I'm ashamed), it was exactly what I needed. In the 10 days of the festival, I led 4 tours and saw over 200 species of birds. Many new for the year and a single lifer. The infamous Kirtland's Warbler! In fact I got to see 2 beautiful females during the 10 days. One at Oak Openings in Toledo and then another on my way home a few days later in Columbus. Leading tours was a new experience for me. I started slow as I tried to figure out the best way to get 10+ people on a tiny little warbler. As the week went on I began to get much better at guiding large groups of people and it was really a lot of fun. Definitely a learning experience and I want to thank the folks at BSBO. I'm looking forward to next year already!

     That was a very brief update on spring migration. It has already come and gone. Now I am currently enjoying the sweet paradise of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. My family comes to this island every year for a week in the sand and the sun and now some birds also. Coming to NC I needed 4 more lifers to reach 400! However there weren't very many possibilities. I could only think of 4 realistic ones. Swainson's Warbler (in WV), Bachman's Sparrow, Painted Bunting and Gull-Billed Tern. Each one presenting it's own set of problems and issues. Also I had to sneak all of these birds in during family vacation time, not an easy thing to do. So I quickly got my cousin into liking birds, made him an ebird account and boom! I had a new birding partner for the week. First stop, the mountains of WV for SWWA.

     New River Gorge is where we ended up going and immediately Noah thought, "How are we gonna find this thing in all these thick woods?" Ha! We just need to listen and find Rhododendron and that is exactly what we did except nothing was singing. Hmmmm. Just keep walking. After about 30 min I finally hear one singing way out in the distance. Awesome but terrible at the same time. I want to see one of them which I understand doesn't happen very often. Then next thing I know I hear another one behind us and it is much louder. Sounds like he is singing right along the trail so we rush over there. Noah sees the little guy hanging really low in the bush before I do! Sweet! Now pictures? This guy is tucked way in there down low but I do my best to get something. Then I just watched him sing and forage on the ground as I enjoyed my lifer number 397! Next stop, the ocean!

     The beach is probably my favorite place on Earth. It has this incredible calming presence to it with the blue sky and the gentle yet beastly ocean. It also plays host to my favorite group of birds, the shorebirds. My beach house came equipped with these strange super binoculars on a tripod. Perfect for some seawatching. A chair and a beer and I'm set for hours of scanning. Seawatching has proven to be the hardest type of birding I've ever done. Understanding and identifying birds (some of which I don't see often) cruising past is quite difficult. Whoa! What was that?! Long slender wings, large bird. Can't be a shearwater this close to land, can it? No. Hmmmm maybe a gannet? Is that possible? I think so but I'm not certain if that was it. I'll have to find another one. The next day, even closer, a for sure Northern Gannet flies right past!! No pics but still awesome! Lifer 398 and an unexpected one at that. I'm so close, and the next day looks like good weather so I thought I would make a final push. Leaving the nice beach for the woods.

     The Longleaf Pine Savannahs of Croatan National Forest is a special habitat type that is one of my favorites as well. It plays host to the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker as well as my main target, Bachman's Sparrow. Noah and I get out and start walking a trail, at least we think its a trail. Only about 30 yards in, I immediately hear a Bachman's Sparrow singing. Then it flew across the path and landed high in a pine tree way far away. It disappeared too quickly for pictures. Crap! Did I just miss my only chance at a pic? We kept walking and heard several sparrows calling deep in the shrubs. Then we were greeted by a very cool family of Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers. Always a great treat to see. Next thing I know a small brown bird pops up and flies into a small shrub by the path. I know immediately that it was a Bachman's Sparrow and went straight for the camera. Click! Nailed it. Amazing views of this tremendous sparrow. 399. We continue to bird this area for a little while longer then head off in search of 400.

     There have been reports on eBird of Painted Buntings at Fort Macon State Park for several days now and it is only about 10 minutes from the beach house I'm staying at so we head straight there. I don't even know where to begin to look for this bird. I play the song in the car to learn it really quick and then we get out and just do a little birding. A DC Cormorant flew by and then we found a nice little pocket of White Ibis. Carolina Wrens were singing and then I hear it, PAINTED BUNTING. Noah lets go track it down!! We finally get eyes on it as it flies over right into the dead tree we were just at. Mission success, #400. A great feeling and I couldn't have asked for a better bird to be 400. PABU really are quite sunning. I've now let the feeling sink in for a day and really just enjoyed it but now I can't stop thinking about 401 and tracking down a Gull-Billed Tern. Maybe tomorrow!!

     Many year birds have been added and I will do my absolute best to keep this blog updated from now on!


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Black-Tails > Cottontails

     On April 3rd, a local Indiana birder photographed what he believed to be a Hudsonian Godwit. A great bird in itself, BUT it was actually a BLACK-TAILED GODWIT!! An ABA code 3 bird and very rare visitor, especially as far inland as Indiana. I got my stuff together, formed a nice carpool including a fellow Rogue Birder (Jeremy), and set off on a mega chase.

     Since it may or may not have been a new bird for the RB Life List and it involved another RB member and just cause I haven't in a while, Chris asked me to write up a blog post for the RB blog. Please check it out here. BTGD Chase    I know the suspense of success or no success is killing you. Save yourself and click the link above! And if you'd like to read on the story behind this bird and find, check this out. BTGD Story

Is there a Godwit in there? You tell me.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Oh Moma Mia, Moma Mia!

     Quoting Freddie Mercury and Queen can only mean one thing. Well I guess it could mean 3 things... 1. Some sporting team just won a championship or they are "rocking" someone. 2. Its time to party. 3. Bohemian. Waxwing..... Since this is a bird blog its safe to say that this post will be about the third option with a little bit of the second, and really a tiny bit of the first as well. I mean it is March Madness after all but I digress. Back to the action and what has me singing. My Sunday started out like most Sundays, that is until about 12:00pm when I my phone started ringing. Hmmmm Jeremy is calling, this must either be rare bird related or he crashed his car again. Luckily it was the former. The dialog went something like this:
    Jeremy, "Bro, Bohemian Waxwings!" 
    Me, "What?!?!? Where, who?!?! Its March dude!" 
    Jeremy, " Doreene told Leslie to tell to tell Alex to tell me. Its at Lake Erie Bluffs. I'm going. I'm turning around and going!"
   Me, "Doreene is spreading the word? Must be good. Do you even know where the Bluffs are?"
   Jeremy, "No idea but I'm going!"
   Me, "haha! Its faaaarrrr!! Like close to 4 hours far. Screw it come pick me up and let's roll!"

2 of the 5 very sexy Bohemian Waxwings. For face melting pics
by Chris Collins of these birds, see the link below!
Be warned, your face might melt.
     We are off by 1 pm. Only about 3 hours and 45 min before waxy goodness. We stopped in Columbus to pick up Alex  who wanted to join the party. Off again! This long drive doesn't seem nearly as long due in part to the thrill of chase but more so just catching up with these fellow Rogue Birder members. (If you don't know what the Rogue Birders are, check out the blog on the right side of this page.) Jeremy had recently returned from Florida and Alex literally just got back from the Rio Valley so they had lots of fun bird stories to tell. Next thing you know we are 20 min out and I get a text from Doreene, "We have the birds". Perfect! We roll up in the parking lot, rush out to where the 20+ people are and look through a scope set up on the birds. Bang that was easy! Less than 30 seconds later however they all flew off. So we wait for about 20 minutes and they all come flying right back. All 5 of them and their Bohemian goodness. We snap a few distant pics and watch them until they fly off again. Amazing birds!

     After the BOWA, we decided to make a pit stop in Shaker Heights to try for the Fish Crows that nest there. These would also be an Ohio lifer for me. I always feel weirded out just driving through neighborhoods really slowly, over and over, for hours looking for birds. But that's what we did until we finally come on to 3 crows. 1 for sure spoke American, the other looked big and probably also spoke American but the third, smaller bird must have been a mime cause it just would not speak! We followed these 3 crows around for over 20 minutes and never heard a peep from the little guy so we couldn't call it a FICR. Stupid crows. Oh well. 3 more hours of driving and back home by midnight! 11 hour trip for Bohemian Waxwing and it was worth every second!

     The next morning Chris made the almost 8 hour round trip up there, hid in some bushes and got the greatest BOWA photos in the history of the world. Seriously you should check them out. Face Melting BOWA pic!  It was also his 300th Ohio Life bird so a BIG Congrats to Chris on that great accomplishment!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Urban Birding in the CLE

Urban Birding - Ducks and Construction
     Sunday I decided to try my hand at a little Urban Birding and hopefully make my way out of Dip City. The whole Urban Birding concept is a good one to attempt an increase of birders in more urban, big city (not dip city) areas. It has been a great movement so far and my good friend Jen Brumfield has been a fantastic ambassador and leader for it, especially in her town of Cleveland. Unfortunately Jen is now serving the people even more by working tirelessly for the Cleveland MetroParks which means less birding for her. Chuck Slusarczyk (yes I know that name is impossible) has been following Jen's lead and been a very active member for the Urban Birding effort in the Cleveland area. His spot of choice recently has been Scranton Flats, a nice urban area full of construction along the mighty (less polluted) Cuyahoga River. He has been birding there putting in many hours of work to improve his gull skills. Not an easy task and I think he has gotten better but of course he will be the first to tell you that he still has a long way to go. I believe that hard work should be recognized from time to time, good work dude and keep working. (Jen is still the zen master of gulls though haha). Ok shout-out complete, back to birds. Ducks have been good there recently and gulls have been even better. Rare/uncommon gulls were my "targets" of the day but really the goal was to have fun and just enjoy the birds again.

We have lift-off!
     I made the 45 min trip north and met up with Chuck to bird along the river. The morning brought some clouds but the temp was WAY higher (33 degrees F, scorching!) than the previous few weeks combined! The number of Red-Breasted Mergansers along the river was quite impressive. I'd say 5,000+. There were a few other species mixed in the bunch, Canvasbacks, Redheads, the other 2 Mergs, both Scaup, and even a cute little Buddy Duck (Jen's term). Gulls seemed scattered along the river which would make things a bit difficult to find the ones we were looking for. Chuck and I walked along the river to where the action was and start sorting. The gulls started to feed and come in closer, awesome. Then 2 uhhhh, guys (word choice here should be more vulgar) arrive and jump on some paddle boards and make their way down the river. Of course this flushes everything just when it started getting good. I guess that's the risk of Urban Birding, never know what's gonna happen. It did make for an impressive sight of RBME flights and flight shot opportunities so not all was lost.

I guess Thayer's is a thing...
     Since the "guys" kinda ruined the birding at this spot along the river, Chuck and I decided to check out a few other spots and check out Almighty Erie to see if anything is going on. Not much at Jefferson Rd. except my FOY Horned Grebe. Nice. The Lake didn't show much, still pretty frozen but we did cruise by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which was cool and quite 'Urban' of us. In a last ditch effort we decided to head back to Scranton with the thought the birds would have returned by now. We were right! Back to the gull watching platform, which in reality is a construction thing of some sort but hey, urban birding yo. Andy and John were still there searching through the gulls. So far they had an Iceland, a good sign. Unfortunately Andy is running out of time and Thayer's has yet to be seen, but like any good birder he gave it the ole "5 more minutes" routine about 3 different times. Finally it pays off for him as we get on a Thayer-ish like bird. It's in the air and slowing making rounds around the water so we can get good looks and nail down the ID. Bingo! Great looks at this bird and an Iceland Gull were excellent but being outside in the sun and warmth was definitely the highlight. Things are finally looking up here in Ohio. What a great fun packed day with a good friend. Thanks again Chuck for the help! Urban Birding, get out and get you some.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Dip City

       A place nobody enjoys visiting yet we have all been there again and again and again. A place where the people are bitter and sad all the time. A place where the people who reside there are simply known as Dippers, even if they are just there for a visit. A place that leaves all who visit in great pain and anguish. So why do we continually visit this terrible place that every single person hates? Its simple, we can't help it. It's inevitable, even for the best of birders. We just tend to get lost chasing something down and wander into Dip City. Every time we find ourselves wondering, how in the world did I end up here in this god forsaken town? This wasn't on my route or GPS when I left this morning. Sometimes its our own fault, we make a poor tactical decision like waking up late or being hesitant on leaving right away. I'm sure most of us have done this a few times and found ourselves in Dip City due to our own stupid fault. Other times we arrive there because of an uncooperative bird and its their stupid fault! Whether its a MEGA or just a needed county bird, we just drive around searching until we eventually end up in Dip City. Of course after some journeys you might find yourself deeper in the city than others but no matter where you are it still flat out sucks.

     Some are more fortunate than others and have only seen the city and felt the heart ache a few times. Others visit much more frequently and I feel deeply for those lost souls. There is only one way to cure the pain after visiting, keep on driving through the city until you get out and to the promised land. There is that Holy Grail on the other side if you can make it out! Now once you get out and taste the sweetness from the grail you forget all about the pain and suffering Dip City has caused you. In fact, you sort of forget Dip City even exists so the next MEGA that shows up you don't even think about the cursed city. That is until you wake up and find yourself right in downtown Dip City! It is just a vicious cycle of pain, elation, forgetting and repeat. Spending too much time in the city can weaken even the greatest of birding warriors. If you find yourself there, do everything you can to get out as quickly as possible. Even the smallest drop from the Holy Grail's magic nectar will be enough to cure some of the pain Dip City has caused and will allow you to continue on your birding quests. It is a slippery slope so find victories in the little things after being a big dipper. Missed the state first Gyrfalcon and find yourself in Dip City? Go get that county lifer Fox Sparrow to get yourself out of that evil place.

White-Winged Crossbill Feeder with no Crossbill
      As for me, I've found myself living in Dip City for almost a week now and its about time I get out! Back to back misses on a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in my home county and a terrible tactical choice (sleeping in) led to the miss of a gorgeous male White-Winged Crossbill. These have left me here in a territory I don't like and luckily have spent relatively small amounts of time in. Even after only 6 days of being in the city, it has begun to take its toll. I write this post as a warning to all who find themselves in Dip City. Don't stay for long and whatever you do, DO NOT become a permanent resident. If you do then that'll be the day you hang up the bins for good. What a sad, sorrowful time that would be. But one must always remember, you will end up in Dip City at some point (probably on multiple occasions) but you must be prepared to get out and live to quest another day. There is always that sip from the Holy Grail on the other side to keep us going and quench our thirsts even if only for a little bit.

Friday, February 13, 2015

HOFI Streak Comes to Sad End

     Well I am sad to say that my streak of avoiding House Finches in Ohio has come to an end. :( What a real bummer. Why, oh why did I look at that stupid bird. Of course I looked, I can't not look at a bird. That's something JB taught me, check everything that moves. Never know. Anyways, that was only part of my birding for the day.

The (Pretty) Culprit
      Today started innocently, wake up, get some work done, go to classes, pack my stuff and start heading south to Dayton to spend the weekend with my family. Of course I would be passing through Columbus with a few hours of daylight left so I would be stupid not to stop and bird some. Right? So naturally I had a little idea of where I wanted to stop and what I wanted to look for. Not much is worthy of a stop in these months. 'Rare' birds in Feb are common in April and May so why go out of my way to see them? Something I learned from last year. I figured I'd make a quick run through Blendon Woods MP and see if I can spot the Turkeys that hang out there. Normally you see them just by driving around a little. This was not normal and I didn't have any luck coming in so I got out to check the feeders for a few minutes. On my way is when I spotted the culprit that ruined my streak. A little, bright red male HOFI. Bastard. Oh well at least I can get it off my needs alert now and thats all that really matters anyways. Man was that thing getting annoying being on there. The drive back out didn't produce any Turkeys either. Dang. On to the next, more important spot.

Look at ME!!
     I figured I would give the Long-Eared Owl thats been hanging around SE Columbus for a few months now a try. When I got there I couldn't remember exactly where to go to look for the owl. After wandering around in the woods, a few nice cuts from thorns, and a little help from Chris I get to where I want to be. I was a little pissed I couldn't remember how to get back into those pines on my own. Finally I get back there, look up, and boom! A cute little LEOW sleeping away. Doesn't even look at me once. He just kept his head turned and tucked a little. Awesome! A few minutes later a Barred Owl calls off in the distance, bonus! Today made 2 ABA year birds and a 3 Ohio birds putting me at 106 in Ohio now. Not too shabby. Time for a little family time this weekend!

    A quick note: I am still working on getting photos of every ABA bird I see this year (or most of them at least). I have a lot of catching up to do still and I am slowly but surely getting there. Here is a link to my flickr album containing all the pics so far.  2015 ABA Photos 180/262 Please keep in mind that some pics are terrible and likely the first pic I took of that species so keep judging to a minimum.