Monday, October 14, 2013

Recent Update: Racing Around the Country Adding New Birds

This will be only a brief update, to be embellished (hopefully) at a later date.  I am too busy birding right now to take the time.  Sorry.  I am currently in San Diego, CA.

I made it to St. Paul Island on Sunday, October 6.  The White-tailed Eagle had been seen three straight days before my arrival, and the weather was clear to partly cloudy when I arrived Sunday at about 3:00 pm, optimum conditions, according to humans, for eagle sightings, but not according to the White-tailed Eagle.  The eagle was not to be seen by me during my stay.

On Monday, October 7, while the group was doing a sea watch near Webster Lake, I stayed behind in the van to put on my wet pants and take off my wet jeans.  Yes, it was raining that day--no surprise!  While in the van, I saw some shorebirds flying around outside the van and landing in the vegetation on the right hand side of the road.  Jim Zamos from New Jersey, whom I have known for a long time (Attu, east coast pelagic trips, etc.), was outside the van patrolling the road and thought that he saw a snipe flying along the road.  I walked east toward the northeast point of the island a short distance and walked out a worn path into the vegetation that started to get soggy.  This appeared to be a likely location to find snipe based on my previous experience in the lower 48 and a short tutorial by St. Paul birding guide Doug Gochfeld.  I continued walking out the path toward a small pond and suddenly a snipe flushed giving a call that was slightly different than that of Wilson's Snipe, slightly higher in pitch and lightly more shrill, and showing the white trailing edge to the secondaries on the open wing.  It was a Common Snipe, a new bird for the year and one that I had hoped to find on St. Paul Island.

I had to good fortune to be with the group on October 8 to see the Common Redstart originally found by Scott Schuette at Diamond Hill and to get the two almost identical photos below of this first North American record, an obvious new life and year bird for me.   I got potentially a few more photos.  The bird disappeared after the first sighting.  We returned later to get everyone in the group on this great bird!

I left St. Paul on October 9, but tried the morning and early afternoon of October 9 and outside at the St. Paul Airport to see the White-tailed Eagle.  It was not to be.  The White-tailed Eagle is not a life bird for me having seen it twice on Attu, but a needed addition for my Big Year.  Within two hours of my arrival in Anchorage, I was on a red-eye flight to Los Angeles, CA with a 4.5 hour stop-over in Seattle.  I arrived in LA on October 10 at about 8:40 am and was soon on the road birding again.

First, I added, California Gnatcatcher, new bird for the year, at the Palos Verdes Peninsula on the Ocean Cliffs trail and also got better views and potential photos of an Allen's Hummingbird to supplement my report from Madera Canyon, AZ, where one was reported at the Chuparosa B&B in August and which I also saw nearby.  Allen's Hummingbirds are less common in Arizona, thus the emphasis on seeing one in prime habitat in California.

On October 11, I went to Happy Canyon Road northeast of Santa Barbara to see and photograph the Yellow-billed Magpies and then returned to Ventura to take the 12:00 pm Island Packers trip to Prisoners Harbor on Santa Cruz Island.  There was a cooperative Brown Booby on the channel marker at the end of a harbor jetty on the way out in the morning.  On the boat trip across to Santa Cruz Island, I added Black-vented Shearwater.  On the island I was surprised to see two Lewis's Woodpeckers, new bird for the year, on a snag and fly-catching.  These were very unexpected, apparent migrants and disappeared after about 20 minutes.  The Island Jays, also new for the year, showed up very quickly but gave me only fly-over views and distant views on tree-top perches.

On October 12, I took the Ventura Pelagic trip organized by SoCal Birding using Island Packers.  There was nothing new for me on this trip, but I recorded a second two booby day this year with the Brown Booby on the channel marker on the jetty on the way out and at least four (more reported for the trip) Blue-footed Boobies at the south end of Anacapa Island near the arch.  My first two booby day this year was on the Dry Tortugas near Fort Jefferson, where I saw Brown Booby and Masked Booby on the same day. 

After the Ventura pelagic trip, I hustled down to San Diego for the Point Loma pelagic trip scheduled for October 13.  This time I stayed the night in a rest area about 30 miles north of San Diego.  Neil Hayward and I reversed roles this time.  This time Neil stayed in a motel near Point Loma Sportfishing before the pelagic trip.  Usually, Neil stays in his rental car and I stay in motels.  Neil had remained on St. Paul when I left on October 9--actually, I got Neil's seat.  On St. Paul, Neil added Eye-browed Thrush, which I saw on the Attu trip, and Neil also saw White-tailed Eagle in the afternoon of October 9 and on October 10.  Too bad for me! 

The Point Loma Pelagic Trip was a great success.  I added Red-billed Tropicbird, being chased by a Parasitic Jaeger, identified later in a photo that Neil Hayward got during the chase.  For some reason my camera would not focus or operate correctly for the Red-billed Tropicbird.  Later, we got good looks at Least Storm-Petrels very close to Black Storm-Petrels showing the much smaller size, the narrow wings and very short almost visually non-existent tail relative to Black Storm-Petrels and bat-like flight style of the Least Storm-Petrels. 

Common Snipe, California Gnatcatcher, Yellow-billed Magpie, Lewis's Woodpecker, Island Jay, Red-billed Tropicbird and Least Storm-Petrel raise my year total to 680 plus 2.  The two birds not counted yet are White-faced Pintail and the Common Redstart.  However, I expect that both are or will be countable.        


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