Sunday, March 31, 2013

Saturday, March 30, Search for Ruffed Grouse

This time of year in Ohio is the time to look and listen for Ruffed Grouse drumming in southeastern Ohio, the closest area to Cincinnati.  I was really tired from the early start at 3:00 am to Friday, to be able to meet Steve, Dave and Harris at 4:25 am to go for the Spotted Redshank.  I got awake naturally at about 3:30 or 4:00 am on Saturday, and after a quick breakfast, started driving to Shawnee State Forest and arrived there at shortly after first light. 

I listened at four or five locations on Odle Creek Road but heard only Wild Turkey gobblers apparently strutting their stuff for hens.  However, this area is great for early spring birding.  First, I heard a Brown Thrasher singing, repeating each phrase twice unlike a Northern Mockingbird.  Then while driving with my windows down to listen, I heard the sweetly downward slurred song of Louisiana Waterthrush.  It is always a thrill to hear this song near the end of March, signaling that Spring really is here!  Shawnee State Forrest is one of the best places to find this bird in late March.  Then, while walking along the road and listening for grouse drumming, I heard some distinctive sharp calls of a wren, but there were too many notes unlike the two-noted calls of Winter Wren.  I thought these calls were probably from a Carolina Wren, a common species in southern Ohio.  However, soon a Winter Wren started singing the long series of melodious trills that are flute-like.  The Brown Thrasher, Louisiana Waterthrush and Winter Wren are new for the year bringing the total to 200 species.  Winter Wren is a bird I was concerned about, because I am headed west and south after this, and could miss this bird in the winter in the east, requiring a chase to their breeding grounds in June or wait until the fall migration. That was a satisfying find. 

 I continued driving and stopping on Odle Creek Road, but did not hear or see Ruffed Grouse.  Last year I saw a Ruffed Grouse on Forest Road 2 just after the intersection with Odle Creek road, but not today.

I drove to Pond Lick Road off of Rt. 125, another road that has been productive in the past for Ruffed Grouse, but without success and continued on to Forest Road 2.  I got out and walked a logging road off of Forest Road 2 for about a mile, but did not hear or see any Ruffed Grouse.  I drove Forest Road 2 to Twin Creeks Road and drove that to Rt. 125.  I did not see a Ruffed Grouse, but by that time it was getting too late in the morning. On Forest Road 2 off of Pond Lick Road, I encountered a displaying tom Wild Turkey in front of two hens.  Quite a sight, but no camera out of its bag.  They were in the middle of the road until I drove up.  Later, I heard and saw two singing Pine Warblers, one near the parking lot along Rt. 125 at the entrance to the lodge and another in the campground area.  These are nice confirmations of my heard bird yesterday at Winton Woods Park in Cincinnati.

On my way back home, I stopped at Bass Island to look for Rough-winged Swallows again, but did not find them.   At the end of this entry, the total still stands at 200.             

Friday, March 29, Spotted Redshank, YES!

During this time period at home, I need to complete reservations for Attu in May-June including trip insurance including medevac, replace the replacement tire on the back of my new Dodge Dart, and prepare for income taxes.  Yesterday, as a break from tasks, I stopped at Rowe Arboretum near my home to look for early spring migrants as well as Bass Island along the Little Miami River nearby.  At Rowe Arboretum, I found about three singing Pine Siskins, which have indicated evidence of breeding at this location in the past, as recently as during the Ohio Atlas period, during which I found evidence of collecting nesting material.  At Rowe, I was looking for an early Chipping Sparrow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet or Brown Thrasher.  I have found these birds here in past years, but not this year.  While at Rowe Arboretum, I found two different Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and got a better view of this species than when previously seen in my neighbor's yard in February 18.  At Bass Island, I was looking for Rough-winged Swallows, but did not find them.  At about 12:30 pm, I got an alert from NARBA, North American Rare for Spotted Redshank in Indiana, a Life Bird for me, a new great bird for the year and within driving distance, so I headed home.   I also got a note from Bob Ake, who has been following my progress, because he did a Big Year in 2010.  I also got a note from Steve Bobonick, birding friend from Cincinnati, asking about going for the Spotted Redshank tomorrow, Friday.  I quickly started looking for details, but found the first directions "E of Route 59 at Goose Pond" a little too vague, because I have been to Goose Pond only once before.  I thought E meant east of , but it really meant Field E.  Fortunately, Steve was on top of this and forwarded a map showing the location.  However, it was too late to get there, today, Thursday, so Steve and I made plans to meet at 4:25 am Friday morning at the Dry Fork Road exit off of I-74 in southwester  Ohio.  The rest of Thursday, I completed the registration and insurance for Attu in May-June and mailed it.

I met Steve Bobonick, Dave Helm and Harris Abramson at the Shell Station near the Dry Fork exit.  We caravanned to Goose Island arriving not long after sunrise.  There were about six birders already there, and they had the Spotted Redshank in their scopes.  A quick peak in one of the scopes and then got set up with my scope and got my camera ready.  The bird was in Field E and about 300 yards distant.  I could see the bird well in my scope at 20X and 30X, but the light was still too low for reasonable photography.  Within about an hour, the bird flew toward Field B.  I drove to the Field B location, but by the time I walked out to the dike, the bird had flown back to Field E.  At the parking area for Field B, I met Jim Edihuber, Prairie Frontier LLC, and Chris West, Swallowtail Birding Tours, birders from Wisconsin.  Jim agree to share his photos, because at that point I was not successful. 

I also met Lee Sterrenburg a local Indiana birder from Bloomington, whose posts I see on the Indiana Birds list serve.  Lee and I met for the first time on Attu in 1989.  I did not remember that until reminded, but we reminisced about seeing the then Chinese Little Bittern, now Yellow Bittern, a first North American record, and as of the Sixth Edition of the ABA Checklist (2002), the only record for North America, shortly after our arrival on Attu.  My records indicate the day was May 17, 1989.  This bird was collected by ornithologists for scientific evidence, and created the ill-will of birders arriving later.

I returned to Field E to enjoy the Spotted Redshank more and see it very well at 30X and try for photographs in the better light.  By that time, a large number of birders had arrived.  It is interesting to finally see a bird that you wondered about for many years.  I recall a trip to Brigantine (now Forsythe) NWR in New Jersey in the late 60's or early 70's looking for a reputed Spotted Redshank that was really an oiled yellowlegs.  The arguments then presented by Harold Axtell, expert birder and then recently retired ornithologist at the Buffalo Museum, were partly that the bird did not behave like a Spotted Redshank.  Well, now I know what Harold, long departed, meant.  In addition, to being a much lighter colored bird, very white underneath and lighter gray on the back in non-breeding plumage, the Spotted Redshank has a more stream-lined slender shape than a Greater Yellowlegs and feeds more actively with a "high stepping" motion that shows off the bright orange legs in non-breeding plumage.  The bill is much longer and thinner overall than either Greater or Lesser Yellowlegs with a slight droop at the end.  I believe that the bill can be flexed, because at times it looked up-turned.  It was also difficult to see the full bill length, because of the thinness at the tip and blending into the dark background of the dark earth at this location.  I could also see the red at the base of the bill and the white eye-line and the dark line in the lores between the bill and the eye.  Occasionally, the Spotted Redshank feeds like a dowitcher with a sewing machine motion with its head under water unlike either yellowlegs.  I am including two of my photos showing the bill length and shape, the white eye-line/supercillium and dark line in the lores and high stepping behavior,
one of Jim Edihuber's, which shows the comparison to Greater Yellowlegs and the red at the base of the bill and one of Steve Bobonick's (last photo) also showing the high stepping behavior.  It was difficult with the equipment that I have to get a good photo, but the bird is identifiable.  Special thanks to Bill and Steve for sharing their photos.  I think that it was challenging for them too.

The Spotted Redshank is life bird number 794 for the ABA Region.  I also added Pectoral Sandpiper and American White Pelican to bring the total for the year to 195 after Goose Pond

Jim Edihuber's photo, next to last, further cropped and adjusted, shows the red at the base of the bill



and the difference in shape and the lighter color of the Spotted redshank relative to the Greater yellowlegs.

On my way back to Cincinnati, I stopped at Winton Woods Park and added male Purple Martin at the Spotted Redshank relative to a Great Yellow legs.  Settling Basin and a singing Pine Warbler near the campground.

The total at the end of a fantastic day is 197!





Wednesday, March 27, First Sign of Spring

Yesterday, my first full day back home, I updated my blog and started preparing for a late May early June trip to Attu.  Yesterday, because I was in town, but previously could not predict that I would be, I went to a retirement celebration at the Fox and Hound, Mason, for Steve Jacobs, a friend and work colleague who just retired from P&G.  I was great to see Steve on his Big Day and to wish him well and to see a lot of people I worked with at P&G, whom I had not seen in almost five months and also other retirees that I haven't seen in a while.  It was like a reunion for me and was a bit over-whelming.  I must have had at least five different people from Product Development tell me how much they missed me and my work.  One always wonders about how things will go when one leaves/retires and also wonders if it is a delusion that the work that one does is significant.  Apparently, it is so in my case, at least for now.  I also received a similar e-mail message from Chris Frank, who manages the Stability Group in which I worked.  I also got to see, Barb Reeder from our group.  She commented how relaxed, stress free and happy I looked.  Well, yes!  I am having a ball!  I was also able to eat all the food offered at the Fox and Hound and later verified that I was finally over my bout with the noro-virus.   Good riddance! 

Today, Wednesday, on my way back from the local Kroger to pick up items for breakfast, I stopped at a location near my home and found my first Eastern Phoebe, of the year, a true sign of Spring here in Cincinnati, a culvert on Camargo Road, where they usually nest.  The temperature was 29F.   The bird was singing up the hill in the morning sun, where there were probably more active insects.  The culvert was down in the shade.  The Eastern Phoebe makes the total 192.        

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Finally Home but Birding on the Way, Monday, March 25

I continued to have some diarrhea late Sunday and early Monday morning.  I continued the same therapy that I have been using since the onset of the noro-virus attack.  A Little Gull has been reported at Dillon Lake State Park near Zanesville which is right off of I-70 on my way back to Cincinnati.  I stopped there and looked at the boat ramp and the state park but did not find the Little Gull which had been last reported on Tuesday of last week.  I called my birding friend Doreene Linzell who had seen this bird with Dan Sanders earlier to find out exactly where they had seen the bird.  She confirmed that they had seen it a the boat ramp.  I stopped there one more time.   There were 25 Ring-billed Gulls, Horned and Pied-billed Grebes and Red-breasted Mergansers and perhaps other waterfowl.  I did not find the Little Gull.  I stopped by the dam to get a different vantage point of the lake, but did not find the Little Gull.  I headed west toward home, satisfied that I had at least tried for Little Gull while I was well within range of a previous sighting.  There will be more opportunities for Little Gull this year. 

The snow cover seemed to decrease as I continued west toward Columbus and south toward Cincinnati.  However, the snow cover was enough to cover the ground and grass.  I realized as I drove south, this could be an opportunity to find birds along the roadside and at feeders due to feeding at the road edge where the ground and grass are exposed.   I exited I-71 on to State route 73 and drove to Caesar Creek State Park.  On the beach there was a narrow strip of sand exposed from the snow.  There I found two, perhaps three, American Pipits, a new bird for the year.  There were two for sure.  A third bird flew off before I could see it well.  I could see the buffy under-parts, the brownish back, wings and tail and when they landed after taking flight, I could see the white outer edges of the tail.  I could also hear the single "seeeet" calls they were making.  They were feeding like pipits creeping low along the ground and walking along the edges as they fed.  It is good to add this one to the list, although they are easy in Alaska where I am headed later in the spring.  Next I went to the visitor center in hopes of finding an early Chipping Sparrow at the feeders.  No luck there.  Plenty of Song Sparrows, American tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Sparrows, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinal and House Finches but no Chipping Sparrow.  The naturalist told me that someone had reported a Chipping Sparrow at the feeders recently but that she had not seen it.

I continued my quest to Spring Valley Wildlife, where I found the feeders bare and without food.  I walked down to the boardwalk and waked out.  A large flock of Wood Ducks and Mallards flew up from the right.  Later I counted seventeen Wood Ducks.  I continued to the end to the observation platform.  There were about five Northern Shovelers and a flock of teal flew up, containing at least three Blue-winged Teal and about 15 Green winged Teal.  Blue-winged Teal is a new bird for the year.  In total, I saw seventeen Blue-winged Teal in several small flocks.  I whistled the "ker-weeee" call of Sora.  I have found that sometimes both Soras and Virginia Rails answer, but not this time.  Probably too cold and snowy for a response, but it is not too early.  There were Rusty Blackbirds still present at Spring Valley.  I heard them giving their rusty gate calls/songs and saw a few.  

I arrived home before dark, satisfied with this trip to the east for rarities.  Now I must make plans and flight reservations for my next series of trips.  American Pipit and Blue-winged Teal make the total 191.

There are still some local birds to add for the year.  I still need Winter Wren, which should still be in the area.  Eastern Phoebe, Pine Warbler and Rough-winged Swallow should be back from the winter south and Louisiana Waterthrush should soon be returning.  I'll keep these in mind as I run quick errands and make travel plans.    

Sunday, March 24, To Home

I had a short small incident of diarrhea Saturday night or early Sunday morning.  On the internet, I read about the noro-virus.  It can continue up to 60 hours or almost three days.  However, it is recommended that one eat normally to maintain nutrition.  After packing and leaving the motel, I had fruit and maple oatmeal at McDonalds and got a sausage burrito meal to go with orange juice and a coffee with one cream on the side.   This is a typical breakfast for me when I am on the road.  I decided to try for the Crested Caracara in south Delaware in the Millville area.  Delaware is one of my favorite birding states.  I maintain a life list for Delaware.  Crested Caracara would be a new life bird for Delaware for me as well as a new bird for the year, provided that the Delaware Bird Records Committee accepts it as a wild bird.  This was not far out of the way for me to drive home.  I could afford a few hours to look for this bird.

I arrived in the Millville Area at 11:00 am and found Old Mill Road and White's Neck Road.  The Crested Caracara had been seen on a deer carcass on Old Mill Road on Saturday and sitting in a field along White's Neck road near Ellis Point on Wednesday.  It has also been seen on Irons Lane in the same area.  I drove around the area looking in the fields, scanning the trees and watching the soaring Turkey Vultures in the area looking for the caracara.  At 12:30 pm, I decided to leave and drove White's Neck Road to Old Mill Road.  When I turned the corner on to Old Mill Road, I saw two Turkey Vultures sitting in the field.  It was at the deer carcass, so I pulled off the road opposite the carcass and decided to wait a bit.  More Turkey Vultures came in but not the Crested Caracara.  At 2:00 pm, I left the area and headed toward Cincinnati.  Crested Caracara is easy to get for my year list in south Texas, an area I am headed to very soon.  It is too bad about not getting it on my Delaware state list.  I needed to head west, because snow is predicted for later on Sunday.

Just before dark as I was headed west on I-68 in Garrett County, Maryland near Frostburg, I hit snow.  It was snowing heavily, and the road surface was slushy in spots and getting snow covered.  Google maps wanted me to take an alternate route on Route 40 northwest through the mountains to Uniontown as a shorter route to I-70 west.  I rejected that route and continued on I-68 to I-79 to I-70 west, because I had driven this route many times and knew that the elevation decreased closer to Morgantown, West Virginia.  I had never driven the alternate route and can take the shorter route some other time when it is not snowing and not at night.  I arrived safely in Washington, PA and stayed the night.  The snow decreased after the highest elevations in western Maryland, which are just under 3000 feet on I-68, and stopped before I reached Washington, PA.  Google maps needs a winter time driving feature! 



     

Saturday, March 23, Chincoteague NWR

I awoke extremely early at about 2:30 am and couldn't fall asleep again.  Therefore, I worked on my blog.  Between 3:00 and 4:00 am my stomach started churning and I had a very quick and violent episode of vomiting and diarrhea.   It continued for about twenty minutes and seemed longer.  Finally, it ended.  I felt really weak, and did not get an early start.  I stopped at a local pharmacy and bought some Pepto-Bismol, a product that I worked on in my career in the pharmaceutical industry at Norwich Pharmacal, Norwich-Eaton Pharmaceuticals, P&G Pharmaceuticals and Procter & Gamble, all counted as part of my P&G work experience.  The Pepto-Bismol really helped.  I got a good return on the analytical and stability work that I did on this product over the years at P&G.  I also bought some Ginger Ale, because ginger helps to settle one's stomach.  I was very dehydrated and this seemed like a good way to get rehydrated and help to settle my stomach.

I arrived at Tom's Cove in a rather weakened state to find out that the Black-tailed Godwit had been seen close to the road on the south side, but had left with the Marbled Godwits after being spooked by a Bald Eagle.  The godwit flock had flown out on the flats to the south and were not visible from the road.  I saw a familiar face in a small car.  It was Jerry Talkington from Mentor, OH.  I have met Jerry birding at Lake Eire in Ohio many times.  He stopped and said hello.  Jerry drove down to see the Black-tailed Godwit and had succeeded, a lifer for him.  He met his son Chris from North Carolina to bird together.  I explained my problem and told him that I was going to sit in my car to preserve my energy and watch the area where the godwit had been previously seen.  Jerry and his son Chris walked out to near the location where the godwits were.  A man was raking clams out there earlier.  Jerry and Chris would return and report.  While I waited, I nibbled some pretzels, which can also be settling to an upset stomach and provide a low fat energy boost.  I started to feel better.  While I awaited Jerry's return, I found a winter plumage Forster's Tern, a new bird for the year.

Jerry and Chris returned and reported that the godwit was there.  I was feeling better and more energetic.  Jerry offered to carry his scope out there to save my energy.  When we arrived at the pony viewing area parking area, I felt strong enough to carry my scope and tripod as well as to carry my camera.  Chris mentioned that I probably encountered the noro-virus which starts rapidly and ends quickly and was wreaking havoc in North Carolina.  We were joined by a group from NJ and elsewhere.  I recognized Larry Scacchetti from NJ, whom I met in Carlisle, MA for the Fieldfare.  That's how I knew part of the group was from New Jersey.

As we approached the godwit group, part of the flock took flight and the Black-tailed Godwit was in the first group that flew over the road to the beach but then returned.  The whole flock took flight and landed in the water to the left of the road to the beach.  The Black-tailed Godwit was apparently in the group that returned, because it was also in the whole flock that flew over the road to the water.  I was at first confused, because I thought that the Black-tailed in the final flying flock was a Willet, but that was incorrect.  My energy level returned quickly.  It must be the adrenalin.  We all walked back and drove back to the spot.
The Black-tailed Godwit was easy enough to pick out from the Marbled Godwits while they were in the water feeding as Bob Ake had predicted in an e-mail to me.   The very white posterior under-parts, the lower belly and under-tail coverts, are really very visible, as well as the grayer back and black on the folded wings and on the tail make the rear of the bird look black.  In comparison, the marbled godwits are very brown.  This is particularly noticeable when the birds are probing the bottom with their long bills and have their heads under the water to reach the bottom.  See photos for comparison.  In the first and second photos, the Black-tailed Godwit is the top left bird, while the others are Marbled Godwits.   After a short while, the godwit flock took flight.  I managed two flight photos of the Black-tailed Godwit showing the key identification features of this bird--the black tail and white upper tail coverts and the broad white wing stripe on the upper wing and the white under wings/wing coverts.  The white under-wing coverts distinguish this bird from Hudsonian Godwit which has black under-wings.   The first flight photo shows the Black-tailed Godwit  with a Marbled Godwit for comparison.  The Black-tailed Godwit shows the reddish throat and upper breast, the very white lower breast belly and under-tail coverts and the white under-wing coverts.  The Marbled Godwit shows cinnamon colored under-wings characteristic of this species.   The second flight photo shows the white upper wing stripe, the white rump and upper tail coverts as well as the black tail.        
The flock of godwits circled and then headed north west to land somewhere distant.  We congratulated each other on a great bird.  The Black-tailed Godwit is not a life bird for me.  I drove to Long Island in April, 2004 to see the Black-tailed Godwit seen there. 

I spent the day birding at Chincoteague mostly from my car.  I still felt weak and was eating only pretzels and peanut butter crackers and drinking ginger ale.   I tried unsuccessfully for Pine Warbler several places including the parking lot area of the wildlife trail and for Blue-winged Teal, which had recently been reported by Bob Ake.  After 3:00 pm, I drove the Wildlife Loop, but did not find any Blue-winged Teal.  At 5:00 pm, I was very tired and worn out.

I went back to the same motel to stay the night.  I was too tired to go get dinner and went directly to bed after eating more pretzels and peanut butter crackers.

The trip to Chincoteague was a success.  The Black-tailed Godwit is a great new bird for the year!  Forster's Tern and Black-tailed Godwit make the total 189.          
 

Friday, March 22 Delaware to Chincoteague

I went to a Chrysler Dealer on Cleveland Avenue in Newark, Delaware to get the oil changed on my new Dodge Dart.  This location is only several blocks from an older brick three story house on 3 Annabelle Street in which I lived in as a graduate student and after my marriage.  After the oil change was completed to maintain my warrantee, I drove by the "old place."  It still looks similar but maybe a bit more run down than I recalled.  The neighborhood has changed.  There are new apartments at the end of Annabelle Street.  The liquor store in the corner is no longer there having been torn down leaving a empty lot.   Incidentally, Jeff Gordon, current American Birding Association President, lived with his parents as a young boy in the house at 3 Annabelle Street.  I knew Jeff and his parents when I was in graduate school at Delaware and occasionally get hand written notes from Jeff on ABA paperwork.  I have met Jeff in the field occasionally.  He's a much bigger guy now!.......  like his dad.

I headed south toward Chincoteague NWR to try for the Black-tailed Godwit.  I arrived at 5:00  pm and found a new bird for the year, Great Egret, on my way to the Tom's Cove Visitor Center at the beach.  I started looking for the flock of Marbled Godwits that the Black-tailed has been with behind the visitor center.   There were at least seven American Oystercatchers putting on a great show.  I found only a few, maybe 6 or 7 Marbled Godwits, a new bird for the year, and a very cooperative Piping Plover, also a new bird for the year.  See photos.   It is great to see Piping Plover so close and well.  Piping Plover is a very rare bird in Ohio, seen only occasionally during spring and fall migration, usually along Lake Erie in the north of Ohio, but also a few times in the southeast during spring migration.  There is a small population in Michigan along one of the lakes that contributes to the Ohio sightings during migration.  A Piping Plover in Ohio deserves a long distance chase from this birder who lives in the southwest corner of Ohio in Cincinnati.  This was really cool to see Piping Plover so close and well, because I do not get to the coast as often now that I live in the mid-west.
I also found another six Marbled Godwits in the water to the left heading toward the beach just after breaking out of the trees on the way to the beach.  I did not find the Black-tailed Godwit.  I stayed until sunset and enjoyed the beautiful sunset and scenery and continued birding, but never found the Black-tailed Godwit.  I found a reasonably priced America's Best Value motel in Chincoteague.  The owner suggested a new restaurant to try, so I did.  There was too much food and I ate too much, but the food was good and the price reasonable.  The total is now 187.
I am now home in Cincinnati as I write this blog entry.

An interesting piece of birding trivia, is that I found Wild Turkeys in the Cape Ann area on the road to Eastern Point near the same location that saw them in 2007.  This year in 2013 they were gathered under a feeder in the front yard of one of the last houses before reaching the light house at Eastern Point. 




 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fieldfare, YES! King Eider and Black Guillemot, Thursday, March 21

I arrived at Piggery Road at 6:38 am after surviving a rush hour parking lot on Route 3 south.  I was the third car present.   Steve Arena, local expert, and Skyler from New Jersey were there before me.  When I arrived, they had not found the bird.  I walked out the lane to the fields, and then other birders started arriving.  Steve Arena had found the local Northern Shrike, singing, and got close photos of the bill.  I had already seen Northern Shrike well in Ohio in January. At about 7:30 am, Steve Arena saw the Fieldfare flying with an American Robin toward the vicinity of the yellow house.  The Fieldfare was the first bird, but I got on only the second bird, the American Robin, which landed in the top of a pine tree at a distance.  Apparently, the Fieldfare kept going or ducked down into the woods.  Everyone returned to Maple Street in the vicinity of the yellow house, but no one found the bird, at least not right away.  I returned to the lane and the edge of the woods behind the yellow house.  A phone call came through to Larry Scacchetti from New Jersey that the bird was found again.  We all hustled/ran to Maple Street.  Steve Arena had found the bird in some bushes with red berries in the back yard of the gray house next to the yellow house and right beside a horse paddock.  We focused on the bushes with red berries with telescopes and binoculars, but found only American Robins.  The lady who lived in the gray house, came out to walk her dog and offered her back yard to watch the two bushes on her property.  We got behind the garage and waited.  While I was there, the Fieldfare came in three times to these bushes, there were at least two of them, to feed on the berries.  The bushes are barberry bushes, an imported ornamental shrub. Each time the Fieldfare came in to the bushes to feed, I could easily see the very white under-wings/accillaries/armpits of this stunning bird.   The first two times I could also see the silver gray on the head, crown and nape/back of neck and the white under-parts but could not easily see the streaking.  The third time I focused on getting good binocular views.  I could see the buffy color in the upper breast the reddish brown on the back and wings and the light colored eye line and the heavy streaking.  I tried but could not get any photographs, because it was distant focusing through bushes and tree limbs.  Tough to do.  The choice for a life bird was to get an identifiable look first.  I asked Larry Scacchetti if he would be willing to share his photos on his Flickr site, and he agreed.  I am including his photo downloaded from Flickr and cropped.  Thanks, Larry!  Great job in getting a tough photo!
Fieldfare is bird number 793 on my Life List for the ABA Area.  I now had time to go look for King Eider at the Elks Club in Gloucester before I headed south for the Black-tailed Godwit at Chincoteague NWR in Virginia.  I left the vigil behind the gray house on Maple Street at 10:30 am, and bid adieu to the many fine, friendly and helpful Massachusetts birders.  Many wished me good luck on my Big Year.  Connie told me she liked my blog and would be following me.

I found an adult King Eider near the Elks Club on Atlantic Avenue in Gloucester between 11:30 am and 1:00 pm.  It was very near the shore and rocks in a little cove just north of the Gloucester Inn By the Sea with an adult male Common Eider.  See photos below.  The second shows male King

and Common Eiders.  There was a flock of about   20-30 Purple Sandpipers on the rocks near the Elks Club.  Then I checked at Jodfrey Pier to see if there were any unusual birds present, but there were not.  I stopped at Niles Beach on my way to Eastern Point, and found a second adult male King Eider.   It was with Common Eiders and was near the eastern part of the beach near the private entrance road to Eastern Point.


At Eastern Point I walked out on Dog Bar Breakwater to the light.  I found three different Black Guillemots and one Razorbill.  I thought that one of the Black Guillemots was in adult plumage and sent a note to be posted on MASS Birds to that effect.  However, my photos indicate that it was not completely dark and still had some white in the body plumage.   The cloud cover reduced the light, causing the bird to appear darker than reality.  All three Black Guillemots were still in partial or full winter plumage.   The Black Guillemots conveniently showed the clear white patch on the wings without the dark bar in the white patch shown by the Pigeon Guillemot seen in British Columbia last week.  Below are photos of each Black Guillemot.  It was great to see the Razorbill close up as I approached the end of the breakwater at the  light.  Previously, I had seen only a distant 
fly-by  flock at First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod about 1.5 weeks ago.  The Razorbill came up once very close to me as it was diving close to the breakwater and then disappeared.  I found it again about 100 yards off the breakwater toward Gloucester and got a few distant photos.   See photo  below.  There was also a flock of about 50 Purple Sandpipers along the breakwater.

At 3:30 pm, I headed south toward Virginia.  I planned an overnight stay in Delaware with a stop to get the oil changed on my new Dodge Dart at 12000 miles---already!   My driving course was 128 south to I90 west to I84 to I95.  There were heavy snow showers in the Boston area.  I took the Tappan Zee Bridge to avoid New York City and then the Garden State Parkway to the NJTP.  I

encountered a 45 minute to 1 hour delay on the Parkway due to a six car crash.  I checked into a Motel 6 in New Castle Delaware at 11:56 pm.  Yesterday's blog entry was written in the morning at the Motel 6.  Today's blog entry is being written in a motel in Chincoteague, VA.  More about that later.

I found an error in the total.  After the trip to BC the total should be 180 not 184 as previously reported.  With the addition of the Fieldfare, King Eider and Black Guillemot, the total is now 183.



























Friday, March 22, 2013

Fieldfare and Black-tailed Godwit Chase, Tuesday , March 19 and Wednesday, March 20

I was planning to go for the Black-tailed Godwit at Chincoteague NWR in Virginia, but the appearance of the Fieldfare in Carlisle, Massachusetts changed that plan.  Fieldfare is a life bird.  This is only the second record for Massachusetts and maybe the sixth (not sure on this) for North America.  Since my return from British Columbia, I have spent some time planning for a trip to Attu in Alaska in May, and since the report of the Fieldfare, looking for flights to go to Boston and near Virginia.  However, I couldn't find a reasonable schedule for flights to Boston and Virginia and back and found that I could drive to Boston in about 13.5 hours, provided that the snowstorm did not delay my driving trip.  Driving allows for schedule flexibility if the Fieldfare does not show up right away.  I was originally planning to leave Monday night, but was too tired.  Therefore, I got a good night's sleep and started driving at about 9:38 am.  The shortest trip from Cincinnati is to take I71, I271 to I90.  I was hoping to beat the snow storm to Boston.  I drove through snow showers in Ohio, and heavy lake effect snow in Erie, PA and Buffalo, NY.  I caught the back end of the snow storm in eastern NY state starting near Herkimer and Little Falls, traditional snowy areas (I lived in upstate New York from November, 1977 to early 1994, so I know about snow there.).  Road conditions were variable depending upon plowing and salting.  I stopped for the night in Springfield, MA and got the last room available at a Motel 6 at 11 pm, a longer trip than planned but delayed by the snow.  I saw several cars off the road in eastern NY state.  These drivers apparently did not know enough about winter driving to slow down! 

I arrived at about 10:30 am at the end of the trail that starts near 528 and 536 Maple street, Carlisle, MA and ends near the private field to see a group of about 50 people waiting for the no show Fieldfare.  Only a few American Robins had been seen at the bitter sweet berries, which were not very plentiful at this location.  I noticed three American Robins flying over to the west, and after talking to several people, I decided to walk around the area to look in other locations were the Fieldfare had been seen.  There were too many birders concentrated in one area and most of them were looking in the same direction.  I met Skyler (spelling?) from New Jersey who was pursuing the same strategy.  In the fields to the west, there were occasional American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles flying over.  In a field near the Piggery barn,  there was a Northern Mockingbird and a Red-tailed Hawk with very white under wings and under-parts.  I returned to the original location and stayed for a while.  A small group of about six American Robins came in to feed on the bitter sweet berries up in the trees.  No Fieldfare with them.  This was apparently the same group that had visited this location several times on Wednesday.  There were occasional small groups of European Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds, small numbers of Blue Jays and a White-breasted Nuthatch.  A few Wood Ducks flew over.  I returned to my car to eat some lunch.  When I returned, Skyler just came back from the Piggery, which he entered from Maple Street rather than from the fields.  He reported that the habitat was better there with more bitter sweet berries and more bird activity in general.  There had been a report of the Fieldfare sitting in an apple tree Tuesday night at about 6:30 pm in the northwest area of the Piggery.  I decided to go there and stay until dusk.  It sounded more promising.  Dan from MA and I decided to go there.

We walked out the lane, Piggery Road, to the barn seen earlier from the fields.  There were several trees covered with bitter sweet vines and berries.  We found Rock Pigeons and Song Sparrows at the barn and later a flock of seven American Robins feeding on one of the trees with a lot of bitter sweet berries.  There was a sizable flock of Red-winged Blackbirds in the area flying around, as well as the Northern Mockingbird and Red-tailed Hawk previously seen and a small flock of House Finches.  A recently arrived group, a man and his son and a woman, decided to leave and go back to Maple Street, because there was not very much activity.  They left before we found the seven American Robins.  As we were walking out the lane to Maple Street, the man who left earlier, walked up to us and told us that the Fieldfare had just been seen on Maple Street in front of a yellow house.  He and his son had seen it.  We accelerated our pace back to Maple Street, where we found a small group of birders looking for the bird in the front yard of a yellow house that adjoined the lane, Piggery Road.  The bird had been in the front yard but had flown back behind the house and curved to the right behind some pines.  Soon a large group of birders congregated in front of the yellow house and along Maple Street.  The bird was not found, so birders spread out.  Several of us stayed on Piggery Road and looked into the woods behind the yellow house.  A second group got permission from the owner of the yellow house to walk to the back of his house.  They were playing the recorded call, which startled me until I realized that the group was playing the recording.

Later from the lane in the fields, someone saw a gray backed large thrush-like bird that was white underneath flying away from the woods behind the yellow house and along the woods perpendicular to the woods behind the yellow house.  Skyler and two others looked for the bird while the rest of us waited on the road for a wild signal of joy.  None followed.  As the sun started to set, we joined a small group of birders watching some thawed plowed snow banks near a gray house in the Piggery area.  There were 20-30 American Robins coming in to bathe in some puddles and apparently feeding in the thawed earth.  Suddenly someone yelled there it is!  Bare-eyed without binoculars, I saw a large thrush flying low, streaking from right to left towards the woods in the back where it landed.  It was gray above with some reddish brown above (wings) and white below.  After landing in a tree along the edge of the woods, it quickly flew back toward the yellow house.   I saw it in profile as it was flying against the brighter sky, but could not see any details.  Everyone in this later smaller group walked quickly back to the road and searched at several places but did not find the bird again.

At least the Fieldfare is still in the area.  I will start early tomorrow morning.  Because I drove, I have the flexibility.  If I get the Fieldfare, I will try for King Eider and then head south to Virginia to try for the Black-tailed Godwit.

On Wednesday, I met several birders that I know from the past from Delaware, where I lived for about thirteen years during and after graduate school at the University of Delaware--Frank Rohrbacher, Colin Campbell, Joe Swertinski, John Janowski and Andy Urquhart.  I met them while birding in Delaware or elsewhere around North America.  I met Andy for the first time while birding in Florida.  I met Colin for the first time while birding in California looking at a Thick-billed Kingbird.  He was with Todd McGrath.  I met Joe at Attu in 1989.  I met John and Frank while birding in Delaware within the past 10-15 years.  I thought that several people in the group looked familiar at the original spot in the morning.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Citrine Wagtail Photos

Courtesy of Viktor Davare and George Bowron from British Columbia, here are photos of the Citrine Wagtail taken on Wednesday, March 6 by Viktor during a visit with Dave Ingram and reported by Dave on Island Nature, and in December, 2012 by George.  When I saw the Citrine Wagtail on Thursday, March 14, the yellow in front of the eyes appeared brighter and a bit larger, and there is now yellow on the lower breast/flanks in comparison to George's photos from December 2012.  The wagtail on Thursday, March 14, showed the yellow much like in Viktor's photo.  The first photo is Viktor's from March 6 which I cropped and zoomed in a bit to better see the yellow.  The next three (untouched) are from George in December 2012.  Enjoy.
If this bird is a male when it changes into breeding plumage, the face throat and breast will be all yellow.  What a special treat to see that!

Thanks to Viktor Davare and George Bowron for allowing use of their great photos.  Thanks to Dave Ingram from British Columbia for connecting me to the photographers and for posting information on his blog on Island Nature.
 







Sunday, March 17, 2013

Skylarks, Ferry Birding and To Home, March 15

Friday, March 15, is my last day in British Columbia.  The sun was out with partial cloud cover.  Beautiful!  I spent the early morning in my motel updating my blog and getting information about the exact locations to find the Skylarks.  I found the information at www.birding.bc.ca in an article about the Skylarks.  However, I needed the help of the motel staff to get readable copies printed of the maps, because I did not have cell phone service to look at it on line with my Droid Razr.  They also provided a brochure that had a convenient map providing easy directions to the airport.  I drove south to Victoria and went to the Mills Road location that borders the northern edge of the Victoria Airport to a high spot with benches honoring people who loved this location.  There is a sign with the number 302 on the fence.  There was a convenient gravel pull off along this road, apparently a popular spot.  I got out of the car, took my camera and binoculars.  There is a biking and walking black topped trail that borders the airport.  As I got up the hill, I heard Eurasian Skylark singing the beautiful and extended song that is hard to describe.  I will try to do so anyway.  It's a series of buzzy trills and higher notes that goes on and on to the point of wondering where does this bird get all of this energy to sing like this.  No wonder this song is a topic on British poetry and literature, because it is so distinctive.
To a Skylark    
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
(1803-1822)


Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert-
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
.............
Eurasian Skylarks sing on the wing and high up, so I searched high but could not find the bird (s).  There were several more songs from different directions.  Finally, I realized that the hill sloped down to the airport runway area and that the birds could be sitting on the slope of the hill.  Finally, I found a Skylark fluttering in the wind, hovering, singing, dropping slowly and just before it disappeared below the berm of the hill, it spread its tail to show the white out tail feathers.  A second Skylark was also in the air and dropped below the berm of the hill.  There was a local man who stopped with his bicycle, so I told him why I was there.  He did not know about the Skylarks, and could not hear the song, because he did not have his hearing aid.  He promised he would look this up on the internet and try to see them in the future, because he biked this trail 2 to 3 times per week.  I stayed for nearly an hour thoroughly enjoying the Skylark songs and displays.  I saw several Skylarks on the flat grassy area near the runway below the hill, and saw a total of five birds and heard perhaps more.  Two local lady birders joined me for a short visit.  I told them about my Big Year and my blog address.  They confirmed that this location is the best choice recently to see and hear the Skylarks.  Guess my instincts were right about a hill being the best spot.  They also confirmed that my plan to take the nearby Swartz Bay Ferry to Tsawwassen was the best choice for my return to the mainland and Seattle.   In addition, one of them indicated that there would be enough light left on the 5:00 pm ferry to look for Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemot by going outside while on the ferry, and suggested that I leave soon, not later than 2:30 pm, for the ferry to ensure that I get on that 5:00 pm ferry.  We parted ways and I thanked them for their help.  When I arrived at the ferry terminal, I was informed that just for today, Friday, there was a 4:00 pm ferry.  Even better.  After boarding the ferry and parking, I started birding at the ferry terminal.  Immediately, I found two Pelagic Cormorants and a single Pigeon Guillemot.  The first Pelagic Cormorant photo shows the small red face patch,
partially obscured by glare.  The second Pelagic Cormorant photo shows the small head and relatively thin neck and thin bill.  The cormorant on the left may be an immature, while the bird on the right is probably an adult, because the squared off back of the head suggests a lowered crest.  See photos.  The Pigeon Guillemot photo conveniently shows the dark mark in the white wing patch, the red of the lining inside the beak and the red legs.  I scanned the rocky shoreline for Black Oystercatcher, and continued to do so as we got underway until the shoreline was too distant but without success.  There were more Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemots on the way out. The lady birder also told me to look in the straits.  As we approached this area or what I thought was the area, I saw a large flock of gulls
 
on the water.   A large percentage of this flock of approximately 300 to 500 birds were Mew Gulls, another new bird for the year.  We landed at the Tsawwassen Ferry terminal and I drove to Seattle.  I stopped at a rest area when there was still some light and checked the conifers for Chestnut-backed Chickadee, but without success.  I stayed near the airport for

convenience for rental car return.  However, by  the time I had a late dinner, and organized my stuff and packed, there was little time to update my blog, as I am now doing at home in Cincinnati.
 
The trip to British Columbia was a great success.  I found the four target birds, Red-flanked Bluetail, Citrine Wagtail, Brambling and Eurasian Skylark plus additional endemic species. Citrine Wagtail (Life Bird) is unlikely to show up again this year, because it is only the second record for North America.  Red-flanked Bluetail (Life Bird) is a possibility on Attu but is a rarity.  I would have to be extremely lucky to see the Red-flanked Bluetail again this year or even again in my lifetime.   Brambling is more likely to be seen this year.  There have been up to four reports on Vancouver Island and several in Alaska this year,  a very good year for Brambling.  I plan to be in the Pacific Northwest for birding there or on my way to Alaska; therefore, Eurasian Skylark would be possible later this year.  With Eurasian Skylark, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot and Mew Gull, the total is now 180.     


 

Citrine Wagtail, YES!, Thursday, March 14

I arrived at 9:30 am at the farm road opposite the pumping station on Comox Road in Courtenay.  Guess what?  It was raining, so I put on my wet pants, my knee high rubber boots and my hooded rain jacket.  I kept my camera in the bag to protect it from the weather.  There were a lot of swans feeding in the grassy fields along Comox opposite the treatment plant.  I identified only Trumpeter Swans, but did not look carefully for Tundra Swans, because I have seen them in the east in Ohio this year.  It is nice to see wild non-released Trumpeter Swans.  We see Trumpeters in Ohio but they are either released birds or progeny of released birds.  I do not count these.  I walked out the road until I got beyond the first hedge row to the grassy field where the Citrine Wagtail was first seen.  The two brush piles along the road have been burned.  This field had Trumpeter Swans and puddle ducks feeding.  I walked slowly along this road scanning the field and the edges looking for the wagtail and continued to and beyond the last hedge row of trees at the far edge of this grassy field.  This last hedge row includes a water filled ditch or stream that flows under the farm road.  The next field beyond this last hedge row is a corn field, and there is a brush pile just beyond the ditch close to the road.  This corn field is near the very end of the farm road at least a mile or more from Comox Road.  The most recent previous reports of the wagtail were at this location.  I scanned this corn field carefully and slowly walked to the far edge of this field on the farm road almost to a fence around a grassy meadow.  There were more swans and waterfowl feeding in this grassy field, and flying around from field to field.  There was an adult Bald Eagle in the area that was flushing the ducks and swans.  I continued scanning and listening carefully for wagtail like call notes, but without success.  Beyond the last hedge row and ditch, there is also a corn field on the right side of the farm field walking away from Comox Road, and I scanned this field also.  I turned around and walked back toward the brush pile, scanning and listening.  I carried a telescope with me but did most of my scanning by binoculars.   As I approached the brush pile near the hedge row, I thought I heard wagtail-like call notes.  Shortly a calling wagtail appeared along hedge row, flying from left to right as I was facing Comox Road.  It was a wagtail due to its long and slender shape, particularly the long tail, and its distinctive undulating flight.  As it got closer, it gave a call similar to a Yellow Wagtail, but this wagtail was gray and white and with no visible darker colors from this first perspective.  It was the Citrine Wagtail!......, and landed not more than 40 feet away between the brush pile and the hedge row but in the corn field on the east side of the farm road.  Through binoculars, I could clearly see the two white wing bars and some yellow on the face near the lores/in front of the eye and some yellow on the sides/flanks.  The under-parts were mostly white except for the yellow as described.  The face had light grayish auricular (cheek patch) markings that helped define an eye ring.  There may have been black on the folded wings that I could not distinguish from the tail, because in the brief time the bird was on the ground, I focused on the seeing the yellow and the two white wing bars and the face and head.  The gray is a light gray and not very dark.  When the Citrine Wagtail flew away I could see the darker black in the center of the tail bordered by white on the outside viewing the tail from behind and the underside.  Because it is generally very light colored bird, it should be easily visible against the darker ground.  The emphasis is on should be!  However, this bird is not necessarily easy to see, because this is a very large area, and first of all, the bird is not that easy to find.  I got my camera out and prepared to take a picture, but the Citrine Wagtail took flight and circled up and over the hedge row, and then flew over the top of the hedge row toward the Superstore visible in the distance before disappearing behind the hedge row.   I immediately checked both sides of the hedge row, but the bird had disappeared as quickly as it first appeared.  The appearance and disappearance of the wagtail occurred over a minute or less time.  I missed a photo by 1-2 seconds, but at least I got a  very good look at this very rare bird in North America.  For a life bird, it is more important to get a good look and then worry about pictures.  You can tell I'm not a photographer at heart but a birder!  Out of frustration for not having my camera ready for fast action and much later after not finding the wagtail again, I took this picture of the spot where the Citrine Wagtail landed.  A recent photo can be found at this link, http://islandnature.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/citrine_wagtail_viktor_davare.jpg.
I'm not sure where the bird was located before it flew in.  Beyond this hedge row, there is corn field on each side of the road.  The wagtail could have been feeding in the corn field to the right going out or in a grassy strip that borders this field near the hedge row.  There is a large water puddle on the right near the road and hedge row that could also be a place to find the Citrine Wagtail.  However, I had scanned the edges of this puddle but did not find the bird.  I suspect that the Citrine Wagtail flew in over the hedge row from a large almost bare earth potato field to the right heading out from Comox Road with a large distant sky pool where the waterfowl congregate.  This location  near the hedge row and brush pile is apparently a stopping point or a fly-over point on the wagtail's daily winter feeding circuit.  This area is very large with the farm fields extending several miles, so the wagtail is apparently spending time and feeding well off the road; thus, the difficulty in finding this bird.

I feel fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.  WOW!  Another great rarity on this trip.  The Citrine Wagtail is bird number 792 for my ABA area list and a great new bird for the year.  I had only the birds present in this area with which to celebrate.  I decided to stay in the area the rest of the day and try for a photograph.  It was not to be.  During the rest of the morning and afternoon, I walked out to this location and back almost to Comox Road at least four times.   That's a lot of walking.  The hedge row is 1 to 1.5 miles from Comox Road.  I spent most of the time at the location of my sighting scanning and listening.  There were interesting birds to see in the area with a lot of movement.  The waterfowl included many Trumpeter Swans, Mallards, American Wigeon and some Green-winged Teal.  The local Bald Eagles kept the waterfowl stirred up.  I saw at least three different young Bald Eagles, distinguished by the pattern of white on their bodies and under wings.  The last one I saw close to 5:00 pm, had so much white on it it looked like a very large Osprey.  There was a very dark western Red-tailed Hawk in the area, Common Ravens, and I got a brief look at a medium sized falcon, but I did not pick it up soon enough to identify it.  There were Song Sparrows that are darker than our eastern race in Ohio, and I found one Fox Sparrow.

I enjoyed the Trumpeter Swans and the car horn quality of their calls  as they were flying around.  The call distinguishes them from Tundra Swans.  I am including a photo for this new year bird.
 At about 5:20 pm, I decided to call it quits and walked back to Comox Road to my rental vehicle.  Just before I left the area, the cloud cover rose exposing the mountains with snow cover.    See photo.  This was the first real sign of clear weather since I arrived in Seattle on Tuesday, March 12, and shows the beauty of this area.  As I drove south on 19 to Nanaimo to stay the night, the weather started to clear.  I have also included one photo of the fields from Comox road for perspective on the large size of this area.

Trumpeter Swan and Citrine Wagtail makes the total 176.  Tomorrow on my last day, I will try for Eurasian Skylark in the vicinity of the Victoria Airport.  I completed this blog entry at home in Cincinnati.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Red-flanked Bluetail and Brambling, Wednesday, March 13

After an excellent and refreshing night of rest, the first in several days, I arrived at Queen's Park, New Westminster at 8:30 am, the first birder there.  I walked around the park checking all the locations where the Red-flanked Bluetail had been located, particularly near the children's playground and a large fallen log and some deciduous bushes.  There were Red-breasted Nuthatches calling in the tall conifer trees, Brown Creepers at ground level before they started their feeding up the trunks, Yellow-rumped Warbler, probably Audubon's race, singing, Black-capped Chickadees, American Robins, and the funny crows.  I decided that the funny crows were Northwestern Crows, based on smaller size than American Crows and the lower, hoarser voice.  If local birders showed up, I would ask them to verify this identification, because Northwestern Crow is somewhat of a controversial species, thought by many to be a race of American Crow and not a real species.  At 9:30 am, I had covered most of the park, and there were no other birders present.  I still had cell phone service, so I called John Puschock, who had been to this location and saw the bird, to verify that I was looking in the right places.  He verified that I was, that I should walk slowly and spend a lot of time near the children's playground.  As we were speaking on the phone, I saw two men with binoculars focusing on the spot near the children's play ground, and thanked John for his help again.  I was in the pavilion north of the children's playground.  I walked over and met Dan and Patrick Westfield, a father and son, from Victoria.  Two more sets of eyes would help.  We agreed to split up and keep in touch.  Soon after meeting Dan and Patrick, I found a Pacific Wren, first by its slightly different call notes than the eastern Winter Wren and then by the buffy face and darker back.  At least three more birders showed up as well as a dog walker, who said he saw the Bluetail last week.  At least three of these people, said the Bluetail had been also seen recently in the north part of the park north of the pavilion.   I found out that people are depositing bird seed on the ground at several locations north of the pavilion.  I also spent some time trying to get photographs of Varied Thrushes, but the light was very dim and photography was essentially impossible, at least with my set of skills and equipment.  Some time after 11:00 am, I started a slow walk north through the conifer stand on the west side of the park.  I decided a regular pattern of coverage of the park was needed.  When I reached the northern edge of the park, I crossed the walking path and started back toward the pavilion, checking around and under bushes and trees.  I found a small flock of Dark-eyed Juncos, Oregon race, which are also common in the park, working around some leafless deciduous bushes and some conifers.  Suddenly, I noticed small brownish backed thrush on the grass, and could see orange sides.  It was the Red-flanked Bluetail, a Eurasian thrush.   It was 11:30 am.  The bird flew to the right under a thick conifer that looked like a sequoia to me, with branches that came close to the ground and provided good cover.  I saw Dan Westfield, and motioned him to come quickly.  However, by the time Patrick and Dan joined me, the bird was being secretive under this thick conifer.  We caught several glimpses, but never a good clear look.  There were Varied Thrushes and juncos under this tree, but the Bluetail seemed to have disappeared at least for the moment.  We focused our attention in the area and I followed up on a lead of a bird that flew away from this area toward the pavilion.  Close to 12:30 pm, I returned to this conifer tree to find Patrick watching patiently.  He had not found the bird, but asked me to look at a bird sitting in the deciduous bush where I first found the Red-flanked Bluetail.  His binoculars were fogged, but he thought it was the Bluetail.  It was the Red-flanked Bluetail, again!  We got Dan, his dad, over and all three of us got excellent looks, including seeing the light eye ring and the bluish tail and rump.  I tried photos but without success.  Dan and Patrick were especially thrilled, because they had tried a month ago and missed the bird when everyone else saw it.  Patrick used auto settings on his camera and got two identifiable photos shown below, which Patrick sent to me and I modified somewhat in Adobe Photoshop.
Red-flanked Bluetail is a life bird for me, number 791 of the ABA area and it is a life bird for Dan and Patrick also.  Dan, Patrick and I were ecstatic as we said our goodbyes.  Patrick gave me his card, and I promised to send him an e-mail with my blog location, which I was able to do last night.  Dan and Patrick recommended that I take the Horseshoe Bay Ferry to Nanaimo to try for the Citrine Wagtail.  This would save me some driving.  But first I needed to go see the Brambling in Vancouver.  However, my lack of internet access on my phone was a problem, but only temporarily.  I had the address and location printed out from NARBA (North America Rare Bird Alert), and now needed an old-fashioned

idea, a map.  I purchased a street map at the gas station I stopped at last night and found my way slowly but surely to the feeder on 17th Street W visible from an alley behind the yard.  I found the Brambling quite easily, actually more easily than finding the location from a map.  Also at this feeder were Golden-crowned Sparrows, a new bird for the year, and Fox Sparrows.  I also heard a towhee singing, but never saw it.  I suspect Spotted Towhee, but will wait until I see one to count it, because I am not really acquainted that well with Spotted Towhee song.  I did manage a few but not good photos (See below) of the Brambling and the Golden-crowned Sparrow, but conditions were very poor and the birds hid in the blackberry bramble bush.  The black head and orange on the breast 

and throat is visible on the Brambling.  The start of the golden crown is visible on the sparrow.  I needed to find the Horseshoe Bay BC Ferry Terminal.  The ferries were not shown on  my Vancouver street map.  However, I found a laminated map of Vancouver that showed the ferry locations, and made my way to the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay (Nanaimo) Ferry.  The old fashioned way of negotiating on birding trips is the way I have done most of my birding until I got a cell phone in 2010.  To me, it is a tried and true way!  I waited for the 7:00 pm ferry, and arrived at about 8:40 pm in Nanaimo.  From literature on the ferry, I found a Best Western Motel (free Wifi and breakfast) on the north side of Nanaimo, conveniently located for the drive north to Courtenay to try for the

Citrine Wagtail tomorrow morning.  I added Northwestern Crow, Red-flanked Bluetail,

Pacific Wren, Brambling and Golden-crowned
Sparrow to make the total 174.

There is more success to report, but I need to go birding.  I'll try to report again from my hotel in Seattle while I wait for tomorrows flight.

To BC and Adventure, Tuesday, March 12

I was not sure that I would have internet access on my Droid Razr in Canada; therefore, I printed out all itineraries that I thought I would need for my trip.  My plan was to try for the Red-flanked Bluetail first and then the Brambling, both in the Vancouver area.  Then take a BC Ferry to Victoria Island to try for the Citrine Wagtail.  The Bluetail and the Brambling appeared to be more reliable, but the Citrine Wagtail was harder to see and might require more time.  If time permitted, I could try for the Skylark near Victoria.  John Puschock suggested this strategy, and I agreed to it. 

I got to the airport in Dayton and made my flight to Chicago after not sleeping on Monday night.  I slept most of the one hour American Eagle flight to Chicago, and planned to sleep on the rest of the trip to Seattle on Alaska Airlines, which was also booked under American Airlines.  As the boarding process started, I heard them mention Delta Gold members.  I remembered that I had a Delta Sky Miles card, and that Alaska Airlines and Delta have a reciprocal agreement.  I asked the attendant to see if they could give me mileage credit on my Sky Miles card and the computer system took it.  As the seating progressed, a man who looked the part of an outdoor guy took the aisle seat, looked at my USCG LORSTA ATTU hat, and asked if I worked there.   I said no, but I birded at Attu Island.  That's how I met Jeffrey Sauer, an attorney, who lives in Juneau, Alaska, but is originally from Cincinnati, OH, the west side.  Jeff and his wife have in the past led natural history tours on boat trips out the Aleutians.  Jeff is also a birder, and showed me that he had brought his Birding magazine along to read.  He was returning from a trip to Cincinnati, where his brother still lives and to visit his aging father in Mason.  I worked at the Mason business center for P&G.  It sure can be a small world.  We had a really interesting conversation about birding in general, my plans for my Big Year, and Alaskan birders that he knew and whom I met on my previous four trips to Alaska.  Finally, we shared e-mail addresses.  I gave him my blog address.  If a Steller's Sea-Eagle shows up this year in Juneau as it did in the distant past, I will be in contact with Jeff.

I picked up my rental car, and then discovered that I had neglected to bring the car charging cable from my car at the airport in Dayton.  On the way north from Seattle to Vancouver, I stopped for lunch and at a Best Buy, bought a car charging cable.  On my way north I saw Glaucous-winged Gull and saw swans in fields along the interstate.  The identification of the swans would need to wait for a better look.  My first stop was Queen's Park in New Westminster where the Red-flanked Bluetail was being seen.  But wait, welcome to Seattle and Vancouver!  It was raining since I arrived in Seattle and continued at a steady pace when I got to Queen's Park in New Westminster.  I walked around getting acquainted with the area based on the directions given for finding the Red-flanked Bluetail.  I heard a winter wren signing, probably a Pacific Wren, the relatively new species split from the eastern Winter Wren.  I will wait to count it until I actually get a look at the bird.  There were Varied Thrushes singing their slow series of trilled notes on different pitches.  I found a beautiful male at the top of a deciduous tree.   I heard Brown Creepers and saw "funny" crows that seemed smaller than the American Crows of Ohio, and the voices of these "funny" crows were more hoarse sounding and lower.  These are probably Northwestern Crows, but I will wait until tomorrow to confirm.   The weather was becoming more miserable by the minute and it was getting darker.  I decided to find a motel nearby and try for the Red-flanked Bluetail in the morning.  During a stop at a gas station to top  off the tank on my rental car, I asked about local motels.  This strategy was needed, because I had also discovered that I no longer had internet access on my Droid Razr.  A customer in the gas station overheard my conversation and suggested that I try Kingsway or 12th Street and gave me directions to get there.  I found a Best Western Motel which offered free Wifi and breakfast.  So, I stayed the night close to Queen's Park.  Glaucous-winged Gull and Varied Thrush bring the total to 169.           

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Cape Ann, MA and Homeward, March 10

After completing my blog entries, Sunday morning, March 10, I headed to Cape Ann to try for King Eider.  It was a short 30 to 40 minute drive to Gloucester.  I spent almost all of my time near the Elks Club where the King Eider had been reported this past winter and historically.  I did not find the King Eider.  I met a lady who had been looking this past winter and did not find it, and found out that it is not an adult bird but a first winter bird, and is often way out or at Salt Island.  There were other birders also looking for the King Eider but not finding it.  I followed the kind lady to Salt Island, which can only be viewed by looking through openings between houses in a residential area, where we got "skunked" again on the King Eider.  At the Salt Island location, I met a local birder who told me that there was a Thick-billed Murre and a Pacific Loon at the Jodfrey Fish Pier in Gloucester in the morning.  I looked at the time and realized that I needed to stop birding and start driving to Cincinnati.  Jodfrey Pier was on my way so I stopped there.  However, the Thick-billed Murre and the Pacific Loon were no longer visible and had moved away about twenty minutes earlier.  I had earlier checked Google maps, and found out that it was 14 hours and 30 minutes to my home in Cincinnati.  I left for home at about 3:00 pm and took a course down I95, across the Tappan Zee Bridge around New York City to I78 and Harrisburg, PA and the PA Turnpike.  Google maps wanted me to go west across I90 through MA and NY, but I avoided that due to the possibility of snow, even though current temperatures were abut 45F.  I stopped to grab some quick sleep for 3.5 hours from about 10:30 pm until 2:00 am at a Love's truck stop east of Harrisburg and again for several hours at the Somerset  Rest Area on the PA Turnpike.  I arrived home at 12:30 pm on Monday, March 11.  I picked up my awaiting renewed Passport and organized for my next trip, this one a flight to Seattle and British Columbia, CA to try for the Red-flanked Bluetail and Brambling in Vancover and Citrine Wagtail on Victoria Island.  My flight is at 6:00 am on Tuesday morning from Dayton.  It will be hectic to make this schedule. 

Before I forget, here is the photo of the fox from First Encounter Beach on Cape Cod yesterday that Dan Logan took and sent to me.  Thanks Dan!  May our paths cross again sometime this year.

PS  I am writing this entry from a motel in Nanaimo, BC on Victoria Island.  My quest so far on this trip has been successful!  More about that later!              

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Cape Cod, March 9

After seeing the Gyrfalcon yesterday, I left Gilgo Beach at 5:38 pm and drove to Providence, Rhode Island and stayed the night just over the line in Massachusetts.  I will be seeking Dovekie and Razorbill, and perhaps King Eider at Cape Anne further north if I was successful at Cape Cod.

The weather had improved further.  No more snow, but relatively strong wind.  I arrived at Macmillan Warf in Provincetown at about 10:00 am, and noticed a man with binoculars and a camera walking out from the parking lot to the docks.  I asked him if he was looking for the Dovekies, and he said yes, and offered to walk out with me.  However, I needed a port-a-potty break and said I would meet him out there.  That was how I met Dan Logan, a photographer and writer, who showed me some of the spots to look for the birds I needed on Cape Cod. 

I saw a man with a video camera standing at an inside corner of the outer dock and asked him what he was photographing.  He said he was filming the Dovekie, and just then one popped up almost under our feet.  Dan and I and two other local birders joined the fun of trying to see and photograph the Dovekie in the few seconds that it stayed on the surface.  It was a tough challenge to get a photograph, but I managed the two shown that are identifiable but not good photos.  I was too close for the second larger one, resulting in a marginal photo. 
Dan told me that he had been at First Encounter Beach earlier in the morning, where he and other birders, including Marshal Iliff, a local expert, had Razorbills flying by and also close to the shore, as well as two fly-by Thick-billed Murres that Dan did not see.  I followed Dan to Race Point, where we did not see much except several potential candidates for large acids, but the surf was very violent and it was hard to find any birds.  We checked out nearby Herring Cove and found a lot of Common Eiders and four White-winged Scoters.  I did not find a Razorbill.  Dan was headed west and would stop at First

Encounter Beach.  I joined him there, but the tide had gone out, and there were none of the birds seen earlier in the morning.  In the morning after a storm, this location has birds from the ocean that get deposited by the high winds, but they disperse later in the day.    I scanned for a while with my telescope and picked up on a small flock of seven alcids that I believe were Razorbills.  They were black above on the wings, back, crown and tail and white below, with the bull-necked appearance of alcids (no neck) and rapid wing beats.  The bills appeared to be blunt rather than pointed.  I tracked them as they headed south and appeared to veer out into the bay.  Dan tried to pick up on them and photographed a flock that turned out to be Brandt, identified by photos.  They were not the birds that I saw, because Brandt have long necks and white upper tail surface.  I am satisfied that they were Razorbills, but I would like a better view.  In my experience, it is difficult to get good views of Razorbills, even when on a pelagic boat trip in the winter to see them.  They are often too brief fly-by views. 

I decided to stay on Cape Cod.  Dan called a friend who told him that I should try Cape Cod National Seashore at the Marconi location, where there is a high bluff to scan the ocean and also try Race Point.  Just before Dan and I parted ways, I noticed a fox walking down an eroded sand ravine to the parking lot.  Dan got a photo and will send me one. 

I headed to Cape Cod National Seashore in the main area and the Marconi location and scanned the ocean, but found no further Razorbills.  I returned to Race Point and scanned the ocean again.  The waves had subsided quite a bit since earlier in the day.  I found a Black-legged Kittiwake in the outer surf line.  It was a smaller gull with more pointed wings than the Ring-billed Gulls also present and had the sharply demarcated black wing tips, as if dipped in ink.  Dan had told me that at First Encounter Beach they also had Black-legged Kittiwakes in the morning, so they had been in the area.

I left Race Point at sunset and drove north of Boston to stay the night.  Tomorrow I will try for King Eider and start driving back to Cincinnati, OH.   Dovekie, Razorbill and Black-legged Kittiwake makes the total 167. 

New York City Area in the Storm, March 8

I got a late start on Friday, because I had a telephone interview at 10:30 am with a person from Medicare to resolve some last minute issues.  Cell phones are great.  It was completed in a Walmart parking lot and everything seems to be resolved.  I will receive a letter  confirming this in a few weeks.  I can be sure then that everything is resolved when I receive the letter.

I headed to Lemon Creek Marina on Staten Island to try again for the Thick-billed Murre.  This time I missed the pothole.  It was a very large one in the middle lane of three lanes.  No wonder I damaged a tire.

It was snowing heavily with big wet flakes, but it was melting on the roads.  Only visibility was impacted.  I did not find the Thick-billed Murre.  I walked out a path along the bay to an area around the point.  Through the heavy snow I picked up a relatively large bird flying toward me along the shore--an American Oystercatcher--a new bird for the year!  This must be an early migrant or an overwintering bird that seemed out of place in a driving snow storm.  American Oystercatcher usually migrates south for the winter. 

I left Lemon Creek Marina and drove to Long Island to Gilgo Beach, where a Gyrfalcon has been reported, but not since March 5.  Working and the storm apparently kept birders from looking for the Gyrfalcon since March 5.  I arrived at about 1:00 pm and was prepared to stay until it got too dark to look.  The snow had almost stopped and the clouds appeared to be breaking up as I arrived.  However, that changed throughout my stay, during which the cloud cover was thick with dim lighting and spitting rain and a few snow flakes.  Most of the time, I scanned the Osprey nesting platforms, other posts and vertical structures, low bushes and the ground out in the marsh on the north side of Ocean Parkway from the beach parking area, but also checked at Cedar Beach Marina to the east, where the bird had been seen, and also briefly checked from the roadside by driving slowly west to West Gilgo Beach.  At about 4:00 pm, I returned from Cedar Beach Marina and noticed a large falcon on the Osprey nesting platform just east of the houses east of the beach parking area.  I pulled my car to the eastern edge of the parking lot and parked diagonally in the corner so I could rest my telescope on the open window to get a closer look.  The bird on the platform was 300 to 400 yards northeast of where I was parked.  It was indeed a large falcon that did not have the dark helmet of an adult Peregrine Falcon, but instead showed a lighter eye line (supercillium) and some indistinct darker markings on the face.  The tail was very long, which I estimated to be 6 to 8 inches longer than the tips of the folded wings.  If it was Peregrine Falcon, the folded wings would be nearly the same length as the tail.  It was the Gyrfalcon, apparently an immature bird.  I tried to obtain a few documentary photos shown below, but the bird was far away and the light was poor for photos.  Due to the poor lighting, some of the details on the face appear darker depending upon the direction that the bird was looking.  The tip of the tail is hard to see, because it is almost to the bottom of the lower edge of the darker bottom plate of the platform in the background.  A second photo shows the bird from behind for a slightly different view.

The two birds added, American Oystercatcher and Gyrfalcon, increase the total to 164.