Sunday, May 26, 2013

Thursday, May 23, Ohio

I am writing this blog entry from Anchorage, Alaska.  Today I fly out to Adak half way out the Aleutian Island chain to board the boat for this year's Attu trip with Zugunruhe Birding Tours led by John Puschock.  I will be two days in transit to and from Attu Island and we will be living on the boat and birding on Attu for 9 days.  After returning to Anchorage on June 9, I will spend 3 days birding in the Anchorage area and then will fly  to Nome to spend three days in Nome.  I will return to Anchorage on the evening of June 15 and stay overnight.  I will return to Ohio on June 16.  The Attu trip has the potential for approximately 50 new species for the year and 2 or 3 Life Birds for me, Whiskered Auklet, Short-tailed Albatross and on the return from Attu, Mottled Petrel.  Without any other new lifers on Attu, which is always possible, I have a chance of reaching 800 Life Birds in the ABA Area on this trip.  There are about 5+ new birds for the year possible in the Anchorage area and about the same in the Nome area.  I decided to bird in Anchorage for a few days first before going to Nome, because the Kougarok Road to try for Bristle-thighed Curlew, is often not open until a few days after June 10.  I am not sure if I can update my blog while on the Attu trip, so be patient.  I will eventually up data my blog.  It looks like I can do so in Anchorage and maybe also in Nome.

Since returning from Colorado on Monday, I have been busy organizing for this three week trip to Alaska, so I have not done much birding.  However, on Thursday morning I left home before 4:00 am to drive to the Waggoner Riffle Road area in Adams County to listen for Whip-poor-will.  I listened at the Eulett Center for the Nature Conservancy, down the road at the old location for the Nature Conservancy Office, at the bridge on Waggoner Riffle Road before Abner Hollow Road and at the picnic area on Waggoner-Riffle Road.  I did not hear any Whip-poor-wills calling.  It was a cold windy morning, which may have been the problem.  I should have gone a little farther east to Shawnee State Forest and will do so when I return from Alaska.  However, I did hear two Chuck-wills-widows calling at the bridge on Waggoner Riffle Road before Abner Hollow Road, but this is not a new bird for the year except for my Ohio year list.  I continued on Abner Hollow Road listening at several locations until I found a singing Acadian Flycatcher, a new bird for the year.  It was singing its compete "pee-tsup" (with emphasis on the first syllable as well as a reduced call of only the first note).  I continued to nearby Cole Road and found three different singing Henslow's Sparrows, new for the year, and also tried for Grasshopper Sparrow on Tater Ridge Road but did not find any singing birds. 

I returned to Cincinnati and continued west to Fernald where I found two White-rumped Sandpipers and at least two singing and seen Dickcissels, both new birds for the year.   The Dickcissels were on the trail behind the visitor Center, where i also listened for Grasshopper Sparrow, but di not hear any.  The White-rumped Sandpipers were mixed in with about eight Semipalmated Sandpipers, one Semipalmated Plover, two Spotted Sandpipers and a rather late Solitary Sandpiper, none of those new for the year.  After Fernald, I stopped by briefly at Miami Whitewater Wetlands area and while walking to the viewing platform from the bike path, I heard a gulping, croaking sound and saw a large bird fly up from the marsh on the left side of the trail.  I was an American Bittern, on which I saw all the details this time, the dark primaries and secondaries on the brown upper wings, the streaked breast to the throat and the dagger like yellow bill and dangling yellowish legs.  It dropped down behind the cattails in the marsh north of the observation platform.  Perhaps, American Bittern is trying to bred this year in this marsh.  Cool, if it does.

The addition of Acadian Flycatcher, Henslow's Sparrow, White-rumped Sandpiper, and Dickcissel raises the total to 456. 

 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Last Day in Colorado, near Denver, Sunday, May 19

Saturday night I got a foot long sub and meal at Subway and returned to my room in the Super 8.  After eating, I went directly to bed and slept soundly until about 5:00 am Sunday morning.  I felt much better.  Before breakfast starting at 6:30, I started updating my blog and checked on local areas that were close to my location.  After breakfast, I left for Genesee Mountain Park not far east of my location, where I could find Pygmy Nuthatch and Williamson's Sapsucker.   I needed to stay reasonably close to Denver for my flight at 8:15 am on Monday morning.  I stopped in Iowa City to visit a Safeway store to buy some cold medication.  Of course, I bought Dayquil Cough and Flu, a product I had worked on a number of times during my career at Procter and Gamble.  I also bought some Cold Eeze Tablets containing zinc, a competitor's product, which I have found helpful to fight off a cold.

I soon arrived at Genesee Mountain Park and stopped at pull offs on my way to the top.  There were juncos trilling, Chipping Sparrows, Pine Siskins and a Red Crossbill.  I stopped at a picnic area, which is actually near the top, but I did not know that at the time, and walked through the area birding, looking and listening.  I found two Pygmy Nuthatches, new bird for the year, here behind the pavilion on the right side going up (See photo).  The nuthatch is hammering on a dead branch. 
Then I continued looking for Williamson's Sapsucker as I continued to walk through the picnic area and as I slowly drove to the not too distant top.  There were more Pine Siskins in the area and I also heard more Red Crossbills.  I continued to the top and checked the outhouse for Cordilleran Flycatcher.  This is a place to check according to Birding Colorado by Hugh Kingery.  I had also checked other outhouses further down the mountain, but did not find a flycatcher.  I may be a little early due to the late winter snows that have been prevalent in Colorado this year.  I read about the call of Williamson's Sapsucker but never listened to it on a recording.  It is described as sounding like a raptor.  I checked my phone for internet access and found a call via the Laboratory of Ornithology.  I have been a member for close to 30 years.  I was doing this searching while walking the trails below the top and down toward the picnic area.  I played the recording several times to acquaint myself with this call, and heard a somewhat distant call in response.  Eventually, I found the responding caller, a female Williamson's Sapsucker, a new bird for the year.  This is a distinctly marked bird with heavy barring of brown and white above and below with a large black patch and yellow on its belly, brown on the head and a white rump above a dark tail.  I returned to my car and ate the second 6 inch half of my sub from dinner last night, which I had stored in the refrigerator at the motel.   My next stop was Barr Lake State Park to look for grebes that may be either breeding there or still present from overwintering there.  It was about an hour's drive or less to the northeast on interstate I-70 and I-76.

I went to the boat ramp not far from the dam to scan for waterfowl.  I found some distant grebes and in my telescope, hand held and rested on a gate, found a Western Grebe in a flock of larger grebes, most of which had their heads tucked.  On this bird, the dark on the crest included the eye.  I looked for but could not find a Clark's Grebe, but I found out later that Clark's Grebe become more common to the southwest in Colorado.  There were also smaller grebes present in the group with the Western Grebe.  I checked them carefully through the scope and determined that there were several Eared Grebes.  I identified them by the black neck and head and the peak on the crown which is above the eye and the small pointed bills.  They were diving like grebes and had the general shape of grebes -- relatively thin neck, small head and oval body shape.  Western and Eared Grebe are new birds for the
year.  I checked the time and mileage, and there was enough time to drive to Pawnee National Grassland to look for longspurs and other local birds.  I arrived at Pawnee National Grassland at the east entrance to the Auto Tour at road 96 at about 5:30 pm.  I found large numbers of Lark Buntings (See photo of two males and one female).  Horned Larks were abundant.  Eventually, I found a few McCown's Longspurs and then with increasing numbers as I drove north and west until I had seen up to about
twenty total (See photos).  McCown's Longspur is more common on the Auto Tour apparently due to the preferred short grass habitat.  Chestnut-collared Longspur prefers longer grass.  I looked for them in the western part of the auto tour where there was a large field of long grass, but did not find any.  I recall being told back in June of 1990 that Chestnut-collared Longspur is more common further north, and that has been my experience since then in the Dakotas.  When I first visited Pawnee National Grassland and saw my lifer Chestnut-collared Longspur on June 30, 1990, I found only one in some limited long grass based on

special instructions from an employee.  I returned to the Denver area and got a motel close to the airport.  Tomorrow morning I have  a 8:15 am flight back to Cincinnati.

Pygmy Nuthatch, Williamson's Sapsucker, Western Grebe, Eared Grebe and McCown's Longspur raises the total to 452. 

                   

Cimarron NWR and Cottonwood Canyon, Saturday, May 17

I left my motel room shortly after 5:00 am and met the school teacher birder from last night in the parking lot.  He was apparently also headed out for early morning birding.  I got some helpful updates about the directions I was using from the Cimarron NWR website.  I drove to the west lek expecting it to be the lek that I visited in 2009.   All seemed to be correct until I got close to the blind beyond a windmill and water tank for cattle.  This was apparently not the lek that I visited in 2009.  However, I was here and decided to stay a short while.  I looked and listened from outside the blind for a while and then entered the blind.  Inside the blind I found a note from refuge personnel apologizing that there were so few Lesser Prairie Chickens at this lek, but that there were a few visiting the eastern lek.  There were many displaying and singing Cassin's Sparrows, and Yellow-headed and Brewer's Blackbirds at the water tank as well as Brown-headed Cowbirds.  Of course there were many Western Meadowlarks singing.  I left the western lek as quickly as possible and drove as quickly as possible to the eastern lek and blind.  As I approached the blind, I realized that this was the blind that I visited in 2009.  I arrived shortly after 7:00 am, hoping for luck.  In 2009, I arrived later than this when a birding tour group exited the blind and some Lesser Prairie Chickens remained until about 7:30 am or after that time.  This time I stayed in my rental car and scanned the lek several times but did not see any Lesser Prairie Chickens.  I assumed that they were all gone already, so I got out of my car with camera and telescope and took a few steps toward the blind.  Two Lesser Prairie Chickens flew cackling out of the lek--one went west and then north and the second flew west.  I followed the bird to the west with binoculars until it disappeared below the vegetation and into a swale.   Whew!  That was close to a miss!  These two Lesser Prairie Chickens seemed smaller and less bulky and lighter in color, particularly on the under-parts, than the Greater Prairie Chickens that I saw in January in Illinois.  That's consistent with the field marks.  Greater Prairie Chickens are more heavily barred on the under-parts than Lesser Prairie Chickens, which are more finely barred.  I enjoyed the prairie morning as I ate my cereal and drank my orange juice outside the rental car.  It was a primal moment and felt like this is how things should be--only man and nature, except for my modern conveniences that got me there.  I left the area with an appreciation of how difficult it is to maintain a viable population of these birds, apparently related to the prolonged drought in this area.  Perhaps, there are other reasons such as disturbance or predators.  Anyway, I felt very fortunate to see these two birds.  I should have deduced from the comments of the school teacher birder that I should have gone directly to the eastern blind and lek. 

I returned to Elkhart to fill my tank with gas and maybe get something in addition for breakfast at the quick stop near the motel where I stayed.  After buying some coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I asked the attendant for help on directions to roads that go directly east to southeastern Colorado.  She pointed me in the direction of a local man at one of the tables who was having his morning coffee.  He offered to help, but then I saw the school teacher birder outside getting out of his truck, so I excused myself and went outside to talk to the birder.  I shared my success and asked for directions.  He pulled out his Kansas Delorme and showed me how to get directly to Campo by going north on SR 27 and then west on Road 51.  Road 51 turns into CR M at the intersection of US 287.  Last night I could have continued straight across US 287 to get to Elkhart, but I did not know that then.  CR M goes to Cottonwood Canyon where I was headed for at least the morning.  The second birder, the graduate student, appeared.  They shared their recent birds, but I had seen the ones they mentioned.  We said our good byes, and I headed to Carrizo Picnic Area and Cottonwood Canyon.  Road 51 is black-topped for a while and then turns into a dirt road that is well maintained.  As I drove along, there were Western Meadowlarks, a few Lark Buntings but not as many as in Baca County, CO.  I saw three different Swainson's Hawks along the road.  As I was getting close to Campo, an intermediate sized plover flew up off of the side of the road.  With my eastern mind-set, I immediately thought Killdeer.  But wait a minute!  This bird was different with very little wing strip and a tawny or tan color on the back and wings and with white at the base of the tail and a dark band at the end of the tail.  I could see a white eyebrow line and a dark line through the eye as it turned and flew away low.  The top of the head seemed darker and the under-parts were completely white or whitish.  This was not killdeer, but a Mountain Plover, which flew quickly into a long ago harvested cornfield and disappeared.  I had read that they run once they are on the ground, so this bird could be far from where I originally saw it.  The ground color was a light tan color so the bird was well camouflaged.  I quickly stopped and scanned this field several times, but was not able to find the plover.  I tried for 10-15 minutes without success.  Finally, I moved on but was satisfied that I had seen a Mountain Plover.

I crossed US 287 and headed west on CR M to Carrizo Picnic Ground and Cottonwood Canyon.  On the way, I encountered a large long-winged hawk with rather pointed wings that was the size of a Red-tailed Hawk or slightly larger.  This was a white-headed hawk with very apparent white crescents in the primaries visible on the upper side of the wing.  The under-parts were very white, and the base of the tail was white with a darker band at the tip.  As it turned and soared with a slight dihedral, I noticed the very white under-wings without barring in the flight feathers and dark tips to the primaries and secondaries viewed from below.  There was no rufous on the upper wing and I did not see any rufous on the leg feathers.  On the side of the face, I noticed a gape that extended back under the eye.  This was a Ferruginous Hawk, a young bird not in full breeding plumage, a new bird for the year.   I checked Brian Wheeler's raptors of eastern North America, since I am at home.  Ferruginous Hawk does not have a sub-adult plumage and juvenile plumage is held for most of the first year.  I continued to see many Lark Buntings on my way to Carrizo Picnic Area.

At the picnic area there was a college group from Missouri camped.  I parked and walked the short trail in to the canyon and around the water.  There I found Cliff Swallows, a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, Western Kingbird and a calling and visible Eastern Phoebe.  I continued on to Cottonwood Canyon and encountered an American Kestrel on the way.  As I entered Cottonwood Canyon I found another Cassin's Kingbird and stopped shortly into the first part of the canyon to walk and bird.  Here I found a pair of nesting Ash-throated Flycatchers, an intermediate sized myiarchus flycatcher with grayish brown upper-parts, pale gray throat and breast and a  new bird for the year.  At first I found this bird by hearing the "prrrrt" call.  I observed the two birds entering a nest site in a cottonwood and checked the tail carefully.  On the rufous colored tail,  the dark edges of the outer tail feathers wrapped around the base of the tail, a distinguishing field mark for Ash-throated Flycatcher.  Nearby, I heard a towhee singing up the hill toward the canyon walls.  It sounded like a Canyon Towhee which can be found here, but I could not find the singing bird after a thorough search from the roadside.  I am not sure enough about the song of Canyon Towhee, so I did not count it.  They are more common to the west and can be seen in Arizona quite easily.  I checked carefully for Lewis's Woodpecker but did not find any, stopping frequently to look in the cottonwoods.  I did find Ladder-backed Woodpecker as in Picture Canyon yesterday and the red-shafted subspecies of Northern Flicker here but not new birds for the year.  As I was searching for Lewis's Woodpecker I found a silent, dark vested flycatcher perched on the top snap of a cottonwood.  I studied this bird for a while and concluded that it was  probably a Western Wood Pewee and not a migrant Olive-sided Flycatcher.  The head and bill were too small for an Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Eventually, I noticed a second flycatcher fly in with the first with the same field marks and then heard the distinctive descending "peeer" call of Western Wood Pewee, another new bird for the year.  I continued driving slowly through the canyon after entering the private area and scanned the dead snags at the tops of the cottonwoods for Lewis's Woodpecker.  No luck.  It was not to be for this visit.  I found this mammal which looks like a female or immature Big Horn Sheep feeding on the canyon walls.  It is a Desert Big Horn Sheep, a subspecies of Big Horn Sheep.
I continued driving slowly through the canyon keeping my eyes peeled to the sky for Mississippi Kite, a specialty bird of Cottonwood Canyon.  After entering the private section with posted signs at the cattle guard where the canyon widens, I picked up a soaring raptor with narrow pointed wings and watched a Mississippi Kite, another new bird for the year, soar up from the tree tops in the canyon and then sail to the east.  I could easily see the distinctive shape of this kite with its longish, fanned tail and distinctive colors--white underneath, dark gray to black above.  When I got to the end of Cottonwood Canyon, where CR M turns into CR J, I saw another or the same Mississippi Kite.  I continued on CR J to the intersection with CR M, and realized that I had completed the loop through this area.  At this intersection, the field to the north east sometimes harbors Long-billed Curlew, so I stopped to scan.  An interested local in a pick-up truck stopped to ask if I had any trouble, but I said no and thanks for the offer.  My scanning for Long-billed Curlew was not successful.  I headed east toward US 287 and in a very short distance encountered a large dark raptor on a power pole along the road.  It was a Golden Eagle at close range.  The eagle saw me and was alerted.  I tried for close-up photos but the eagle flew and I got only distant flight shots (See photos) showing the golden on the head and patches on the wings as well as white at the base of the tail.   I included two photos of the Golden Eagle.  For those birders from the east, this was a special moment to see Golden Eagle at close range and on territory, something that does not happen frequently in the east and in Ohio
especially.  No visit to this area is complete without a picture of a wild animal common in this area.  Here is a photo of pronghorn antelopes that I took on my way into Picture Canyon yesterday.  They were running parallel to me on the road.  When I passed them they turned perpendicular to the road and jumped the fence.  I got the photo of them leaving me behind (See last photo). 

I continued east on CR M to leave the area and head northwest back to the Denver area.  I wanted to try for Greater Sage Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse north of Denver near Hayden.  I stopped in Lamar to buy gas and get food and drink.  It was about a 6.5 hour drive to Hayden and with an  estimated arrival of about 9:30 pm.  The roads are good and highway speeds are 65 on state roads and 75 on I-70.  I drove to I-70 on US 287.  I was on time for the scheduled arrival time when mother nature took over at about to 7:00 pm west of Denver on I-70 .  There was a heavy thunder shower that turned to heavy snow as I headed up to higher elevations.  The snow was starting to lay on the road.  The weather channel had predicted a cold front moving through the area.  I had needed to take the shorter route through the mountains, because it is more miles to drive around the mountains north to Fort Collins and then west to get to the Hayden area..  I did not believe that I had the time to take the longer route.  I was quite tired and had started to have cold symptoms due to the lack of sleep during this trip, so I decided to cancel my plans to try for Greater Sage Grouse and Sharp-tailed Grouse on Sunday morning.  I had left these two grouse for the end because in  my previous experience, these grouse can be seen early in the morning near their breeding areas without visiting the lek in the spring.  I was too tired and feeling under the weather too much to also fight a snow storm through the mountains at night.  I turned around at the Loveland Pass exit and got a motel room in Georgetown.   There are other birds to look for in the Denver area, which I had planned to do Sunday afternoon and evening after looking for grouse at sunrise.  I also needed a good night of rest and sleep.

Lesser Prairie Chicken, Mountain Plover, Ferruginous Hawk, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Western Wood Pewee, and Mississippi Kite raise the total to 447.          

           





                 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Loveland Pass, Friday, May 17

Correction to May 15 Blog Entry:  Two interested readers, birding friend Dan Sanders from Columbus, OH and Mark Korducki of New Berlin, WI, sent me notes about the Gray Vireo photographed and reported in my blog entry for May 15.  The reported Gray Vireo at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is really a Plumbeous Vireo and not a Gray Vireo.  Plumbeous Vireo has a white eye-ring and spectacles as well as bold white wing bars which are easily seen in the photo included in my blog as well as in additional photos taken.  Gray Vireo does not have the white spectacles or bold white wing bars.    Something bothered me about my Gray Vireo identification, but at the time, I got preoccupied and did not double check as I had done with the gnatcatchers.  Dan and Mark are correct.  The reported Gray Vireo is really a Plumbeous Vireo as documented in my photos.  This blog entry corrects that mistaken identification.  I'll be more careful in the future before reporting. 

Loveland Pass:  On Friday, May 16, I arrived at Loveland Pass shortly after 6:00 am.  I was the first person to the parking lot.  It was beautiful in the crisp almost cold mountain air.  I had dressed with layers including long-johns just for this occasion.  I started scanning the eastern slope but without success, so then I scanned the western slopes, which were in better light in the morning.  Then I heard a cackling call from the eastern slope, surely a White-tailed Ptarmigan, but still could not find the bird or birds.  At the base of the eastern slope near the eastern continental divide sign frame, there is a now open gravel path uphill to the north and this trail is partially open part-way as it turns right up the mountain.  I decided to hike up as high as I could go on the gravel trail to get a better perspective to view all parts of the eastern slope.  From down near the eastern sign frame, some of the low points are not visible.  I made sure my car was locked but unfortunately forgot to take my camera with me not expecting what followed.  I got no more than 100 feet up the slope, when I heard a hoot or screech-like sound followed by clucking, and saw a white grouse-like bird flying downslope toward me.  The bird landed on the snow not more than 50 feet from me and continued making the same sounds.  It was a White-tailed Ptarmigan, all white including the all white tail except for some developing dark or brownish marks on the neck and a few on the head and a dark beady eye.  I was stunned that the bird came so close.  It behaved as if it were defending territory, and it probably was.   To the right, south and slightly downslope I heard another White-tailed Ptarmigan making the same sound.  And here I was again without my camera!  I quietly returned to my rental car for my camera and returned to the same spot.  However, the White-tailed Ptarmigan display was over for the morning.   Apparently, because I left, the bird responded as if its challenge was a success.  Intruder chased off!

I waited a while and heard another White-tailed Ptarmigan calling from the south slope and saw the bird fly in at distance and land on the snow, but this time much further away, at least  several hundred yards away.

The ptarmigan and I waited each other out.  The ptarmigan won the waiting challenge, but I got some distant photos, which are identifiable (See photo). 
I got to see the bird!  At about 7:00 am, a car drove up and parked.  A hiker started up the trail.  We chatted briefly.  He was going to try for the crest of Mt. Sniktau to see if he could make it still at his age!  I told him about why I was there and what had just occurred.  He told me that he had nearly stepped on three of them some time ago.  However, with the hikers arrival, I knew that my show was over and left Loveland Pass before other hikers appeared.  It is good that I was the first person up the pass to the parking lot.

I drove to southeastern Colorado to County Road M in Baca County to look for area specialty birds and to be in position for Lesser Prairie Chickens at Cimarron NWR near Elkhart, Kansas. There were reported to be a few chickens displaying at the two leks in Cimarron.  In 2009, I had seen 12-16 Lesser Prairie Chickens at Cimarron after seeing my lifer Dusky Grouse.  However, I looked for my records and information before this Colorado trip and could not find them.  I put them in a safe place, too safe to find easily!  I wasn't sure which lek I visited with success in 2009, but would probably visit the western one.  The western lek is slightly closer to Elkhart, Kansas, where I planned to spend the night.

I drove west on County Road M south of Springfield, CO, and eventually encountered a flock of  Lark Buntings, a new bird for the year in a mixed flock of males and females.  I continued west looking for other specialty birds including Long-billed Curlew, but without success.  There were more flocks of Lark Buntings as advertised and Horned Larks were abundant.  I decided to go to Picture Canyon by turning right on CR 18 instead of continuing straight on CR M to Cottonwood Canyon.  Picture Canyon has Native American rock art but fewer birds.  Cottonwood Canyon has more birds but is a longer drive, and there was not enough time to do the longer trip.  Picture Canyon is a reported good place to see Rufous-crowned Sparrow.  As I approached the last stretch of road to the Picnic Area for Picture Canyon, I saw Lark Sparrows and a small, light colored sparrow with possibly a streaked crown.  It may have been a Brewer's Sparrow, but I could not get that definitive look at it.  I parked at the Picnic Area and took my water bottle with me.  It was hot.  I had long before discarded my long-johns and layers needed before sunrise at cold Loveland Pass.   I took the short 4 mile trail along the east side of the canyon, because Birding Colorado, by Hugh Kingery, states that this is a good area to see Rufous-crowned Sparrows.   As advertised, there were Rock Wrens in the rocky walls of the canyon.   I continued along the east walls of the canyon to a spot with trees and some water filled marshy areas.  I found a Cassin's Kingbird here.  Cassin's Kingbird is similar to Western Kingbirds, of which I saw many on CR M on my way in to Picture Canyon.  Cassin's Kingbird has a sharply demarcated white throat bordered by gray that is darker than the gray breast and throat of a Western Kingbird.  This darker shade of gray is on the head, including face, crown and nape of the Cassin's Kingbird.  Cassin's kingbird does not have the white borders to the tail that are present on Western Kingbird.  Cassin's Kingbird is a new bird for the year.  I continued into the canyon, encountering mostly Lark Sparrows, several Red-winged Blackbirds at the wet area nearby to the Cassin's Kingbird and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker and finally a Bewick's Wren.  I continued for about a mile into the canyon, hearing a few interesting chip notes but finding nothing new.   I turned back and returned to the picnic area, and drove slowly out the entry road.  Along this entry or exit road, I found more Lark Sparrows and a beautiful Blue Grosbeak.   As I approached the start of the entry road to the picnic area I again encountered the light colored sparrow, which again appeared to be a Brewer's Sparrow, but again I could not get a definitive look.  I got out of the car and pursued this bird but could not get a good enough look to be sure of Brewer's Sparrow.  I continued back on CR 18 to CR M to go to Elkhart, KS for the night.  On my way back to CR M, I found Loggerhead Shrike and Swainson's Hawk, neither are new for the year.  I looked for Long-billed Curlew but did not find any.

When I reached highway 287 on CR M, I decided to stay on the main roads to get to Elkhart, KS.  It seemed to me that there should be a direct route across eastern Colorado from CR M to Elkhart, but I didn't know it then, but found out about it on Saturday.   I drove south to Boise City and then northeast to Elkhart, Kansas.  It was main paved road, not dirt, and I was sure that I would not get lost on a back country dirt road.  However, it was abut 64 miles to Elkhart this way.  There is a more direct way, I found out later.  Google maps does not always work for me in out of the way places.

I found a room at El Rancho Motel in Elkhart, KS and ate a late dinner at the restaurant next door, Jim-N-I's.  As I was finishing my dinner, two younger guys came in and sat at a nearby table.  I overheard their conversation and it was about birds they had seen and were looking for.  As I passed to pay my bill, I stopped to ask if they were birders.  They both answered "yes".  They were working on up-dating their year lists.  I told them about doing a Big Year, and we talked about Lesser Prairie Chickens.  One of them was a high school teacher, and the other is competing Masters Degree and had just finished exams.  The high school teacher advised that further east was better for Lesser Prairie Chickens, and he could send me to some spots.  I said that I had some information about limited reports at the western lek at Cimarron.  We parted ways.  I went to a nearby quick stop to pick up some breakfast things for very early morning.  Nothing would be open when I needed to leave for the lek.

White-tailed Ptarmigan, Lark Bunting and Cassin's Kingbird with the corrected identification to Plumbeous Vireo raises the total to 441.

Dusky Grouse at Black Canyon of The Gunnnison NP, Thursday, May 16

I finished the previous entry at home in Cincinnati.  The grouse trip required being in the field before sunrise and until sunset.  There was little time for blogging. 

On Thursday, May 16, after picking up some pastries from a Shell Quick Stop, because McDonald's does not open until about 7:00 am, I arrived at the entrance at about 5:30 am and started to slowly drive the South Portal Road, looking carefully for Dusky grouse.  Within a few hundred yards or so, I found my target bird sitting by the road on the left, east side.  It was too dark for photos right away, so I stayed parked on the road and watched this great bird.  I could see the dark reddish-purple color of the sacs on the neck as the bird expanded them.  This is one field mark that distinguishes Dusky Grouse from its more western counterpart, Sooty Grouse.  Only once when the bird flew a short distance, because I moved my car to maintain favorable viewing, did the bird expand its tail and spread it briefly in display.  Eventually, after 15-20 minutes as sunrise approached, was I able to get a few very dark photos, adjusted in Adobe Photoshop (See photos). 
Eventually, the inevitable occurred.  Two guys in a pick-up truck came up behind me and stopped between me and the grouse to ask if I had trouble.  I explained that I was watching and photographing a Dusky Grouse right next to the road, so they moved on and out of the way/my view.  However, this disturbed the grouse and moved it down the berm hill of the road towards the brush.   I drove further down the East Portal road to a maintenance barn to give the grouse some space, to turn around and came back toward the entrance.  The Dusky Grouse had recovered somewhat from the disturbance but remained down the hill of the berm and was now
less visible.  The light was much better, and I risked some disturbance to the grouse by getting out of my car for some better views and additional photos.  However, by about 6:30 am, the Dusky Grouse show was over for the day, and the grouse disappeared into the brush.

I stopped at the campground to look for birds in the early morning, and walked the entry road and the A, B and C loops.  A few but not many campers were up and about.  I managed a photo of a Gray Flycatcher (See photo), and saw more Yellow Warblers, a few Warbling Vireos and at least one Gray Vireo.  There was a lot of chasing by the Gray Flycatchers and they had raised

crests as a result of the competition.  The photo of the Gray Flycatcher shows mostly the top mandible of the bill, but at close range I could see the yellowish lower mandible.  I heard several different calls by flycatchers, but was not able to pick out any different species.  Dusky Flycatcher is a summer resident here, but I could not pick one out.  Some or maybe many of these flycatchers were still migrating through this area.  The Warbling Vireos were recognizable by their song, which I am familiar with in the east, but with a western dialect .  I walked the nature trail for a short distance and found Western
Scrub Jay, another new bird for the year (See photo).  I drove the South Rim to the High Point to look for birds.  On the way, I stopped at Tomichi Point and on a somewhat distant pinnacle, I saw a distant, perched Golden Eagle, with the morning sun emphasizing the golden hackles on its head.  On my way to High Point, I saw a soaring large falcon, and stopped to ensure that it was a Peregrine Falcon and not a Prairie Falcon.  This falcon was very dark gray on the upper wings and back and looked dark on the head and without dark patches in the axillaries of the under-wings; therefore, a Peregrine falcon and not a Prairie Falcon.  Too bad!  I continued to High Point, because it seemed like a good  place to find Mountain Chickadee on the south rim drive due to the larger amount of pines and higher elevation.  There was a Wild Turkey walking and picking in the picnic area when I arrived.  I was soon joined by Evan/Evon (not sure of the name), who was looking for place to cook breakfast and his small puppy Charlie.  Evan/Evon had moved recently to Colorado from the Chicago area was enjoying the area camping.  I walked down the Warner Point nature trail from High  Point parking area and soon found several Mountain Chickadees (See photo), new for the year and a cooperative Townsend's Solitaire (See photo), not new and seen yesterday the first for the year.  The Mountain Chickadee with just visible white eyebrow was hammering on a pine nut still between its feet on the branch and is calling.  I also found a Hairy Woodpecker.

I drove back toward the Visitor Center with my windows down listening for bird song and calls.  I stopped to investigate some interesting calls, which I thought might be sparrows, but were probably just towhees.  In the process, I found a MacGillivray's Warbler, a new bird for the year.  I stopped by the Visitor Center to thank the lady who recommended the East Portal road and to report my success.  On my way out of the Visitor Center I heard a different phoebe call, investigated and found a Say's Phoebe, new bird for the year, in the bushes west of the Visitor Center.  I returned to the East Portal road to walk some of the road edge to look for new birds for the year, but did not find anything new.  In the process, I saw several flocks of finches, apparently Cassin's Finches flying northwest, possibly migrating.  I was hoping to turn them into rosy finches but could not. Sometime between 12:00 noon and 1:00 pm, I left the national park and returned to Montrose for brunch, to fill my

gas tank and to drive to Loveland Pass.  I needed to visit Loveland Pass (10660 feet) to try for White-tailed Ptarmigan during the week when there would be fewer skiers and hikers present.  I arrived at Loveland Pass at the parking area at about 4:30 or 5:00 pm.  There were general sight-seers present and increasing numbers of skiers and snowboarders.  There was one hiker who went up the slope to the first peak and then up to the left to the highest peak, Mt. Sniktau.  A second hiker went up to the nearest first peak directly up from the parking area.  It seemed like he had some difficulty, because he stopped frequently.  A skier was up the western slope and later walked up the road to the parking area.  I talked to this skier about the area.  He confirmed that the eastern continental divide sign was indeed the stone base and frame
that I had guessed was the eastern continental divide sign, now damaged.  My instructions from the Colorado Birding Society web page were to scan below this eastern sign and up to 1000 yards up-slope for White-tailed Ptarmigan.   I told him why I was there, seeking to see White-tailed Ptarmigan.  He said he has seen them there frequently but had not seen them today.  I scanned the east side and the west side of the pass area, but found no White-tailed Ptarmigan.  I stayed until about 7:30 pm as the sun was setting behind the western peaks.  The only birds seen during this late afternoon stay were a Common Raven scouring the parking area for tidbits or left over hand-outs from the general public, an American Pipit or two and several White-crowned Sparrows.  Before I left the area, the skier told me of his plans to use a kite to aid in his skiing, which he did just before I left.  I saw him disappear up the eastern slope and saw his kite in the air as I left the area.   This skier also told me of a recent tragedy of an avalanche that killed five experienced skiers with avalanche experience.  I later read on the internet that this had occurred on April 20 after a heavy snowfall.  The skier  told me that the snow conditions had seemed to have stabilized since then.  Also, the distant hiker that went to the top of Mt. Sniktau was rapidly hiking down.  I also talked to the second hiker, a younger man of Germanic descent, who drove from the state of Iowa, about eight hours according to his story, and then donned his gear and hiked up to the first summit from the parking area.  He confirmed that he was having difficulty, because the conditions were so severe with very high wind.   I planned to return early in the morning and returned to I-70 to find a motel in nearby Georgetown or Iowa City.

Dusky Grouse, Western Scrub Jay, Mountain Chickadee, MacGillivray's Warbler and Say's Phoebe yields a total of 438.               


Wednesday, May 15, Gunnison Sage Grouse

I arrived at the Waunita lek viewing area at 4:30 am.  There was no one else there.  The website had stated that the viewing area closes on May 15; therefore, I took no chances and went directly to Gunnison first after arriving in Colorado to try for the Gunnison Sage Grouse.  Recent information about the grouse at this lek was that they were leaving the lek before sun-rise.  That's why I arrived a half hour earlier than the latest recommended time of an hour before sun-rise.  It was quite dark as I started to scan with binoculars.  The cloud cover left over from yesterday's thunder showers also reduced the light.  This lek does not get direct early morning light, because there are mountains and hills to the east that keep the direct sunlight off of the lek until the sun rises above the mountains and hills.  I continued to scan with binoculars until about 5:23 am, because I thought that with the higher power telescope, even at 20X, there would not be enough light.  However, at 5:23 am, I decided to scan with my Swavroski 80HD telescope.  I started scanning from left to right and low and behold I found three Gunnison Sage Grouse.  I could see the white breast and throat and the dark/black slit of the face and head in the middle of the puffed out white breast.  As I scanned right, I found another.  When I scanned back to the left again, the original three had disappeared and the fourth one had also disappeared.  Apparently, I started scanning with a telescope just in time as the four birds apparently had left the lek.  I continued scanning and found one more grouse and tried several photos but it was too dark and could not be adjusted in Adobe Photoshop.   As I watched this bird, it started flying out of the lek toward the west and up into the sage covered hills to the west.  As it flew, I could see by telescope view the white banding in the closed tail.  Gunnison Sage Grouse has more white in the tail than Greater Sage Grouse.  In two previous visits in the past to this viewing site, the grouse left the lek in the same manner by flying west up into the sage covered hills.  All of the grouse had left the lek by 5:30 to 5:45 am at least 15 to 30 minutes before sunrise, which was 5:56 am.  However, in previous visits, the birds stayed until at least sunrise or after sunrise.  I felt very fortunate that I succeeded in seeing these birds. 

Before returning to my motel for breakfast, I drove a short distance up the dirt road toward Waunita Springs, and in rapid succession found a singing Green-tailed Towhee, a male and female Mountain Bluebird (see photo, adjusted to reduce shadows) and a Townsend's Solitaire, all new birds for the
year.  On the way back to Gunnison, I stopped and confirmed my previous distant and flying identification of Brewer's Blackbird.  There was a displaying male next to a female along the road.  A great start to this Colorado trip.  I returned to Gunnison to the Super 8 motel for breakfast.  After breakfast, I found a singing male Cassin's Finch (see photo) and a Violet-green Swallow, both new birds for the year, in the immediate vicinity of the motel.  I could see and got a photo of the brown back of the crest, a distinguishing field marks of male Cassin's versus Purple Finch.  Then I drove north on SR 135 to go to Crested Butte to look for other local birds and maybe a late rosy finch or two.  On the way, I stopped at Evelyn Lane to check the feeders.  This location is described on-line at the Colorado Birding Society website, and I had visited this site back in 2009 when I got my lifer Dusky Grouse at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  At Evelyn Lane, I first found Red-naped Sapsucker in the trees in the neighborhood, then up to four beautiful male Western
Tanagers (See photo), a Broad-tailed Hummingbird giving its metallic wing whistle as it flew and a Rock Wren singing and visible (See distant photo.) on the rocky hillside that borders Evelyn Lane.  I looked at the Red-naped Sapsucker carefully in my telescope and could see that the red on the throat penetrates the black frame, one of the key identification field marks for this species.  All of these are new birds for the year.  I also saw Yellow Warblers, the ubiquitous Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon's sub-species with a yellow throat) and Bullock's Orioles at Evelyn Lane.  On the way to Crested Butte, I stopped at the bridge near the Roaring Judy Fish Unit, where in 2009 I saw American Dipper, but dipped this time on the dipper.  I heard and saw a Fox Sparrow singing, the slate colored sub-species of the Rockies, which at some point in the future may be a separate species.  On my way to Crested Butte, I found a very dark grayish tawny hawk the size and shape of a Red-tailed Hawk but without a reddish tail.  The tail had a dark band at the end with a lighter whitish color at the base of the tail. 
This is a potential candidate for a Harlan's Hawk.  I'll have to do some research when I get home.

In Crested Butte, I checked the area around Fourth and Whiterock Streets where there are feeders in the winter time and early spring that attract rosy finches, but not today.  I had seen Brown-capped and Black Rosy Finches at this location in 2009.  It is probably too late in the season.  I did find a large flock of finches up the hill from this area and drove to this development to look for the flock.  The flock had disappeared.  I suspect that the flock was a
mixture of Cassin's and House Finches, which were common at this location.  I found a Steller's Jay, a new bird for the year, in the development up  the hill and at the Fourth and Whiterock Street location (See photo).  Also, a cooperative Green-tailed Towhee in the development (See photo).  I walked around the neighborhood and adjacent location looking for birds and found a beautiful male Lazuli Bunting, new bird for the year, at a back-yard feeder visible from an alley.  I also found a male Evening Grosbeak, a great bird but not new for the year.  In addition, I found a cooperative
Black-billed Magpie, not a new bird (See photo).  Other birds seen  in Crested Butte and not mentioned previously were house Sparrows, American Crow seen carrying a stick and disappearing into a conifer (apparent nest building) Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch and Red-tailed Hawk (this time a regular one).

I headed back to Gunnison and stopped again at the bridge at the Roaring Judy Fish Unit.  As I walked on the bridge without my camera this time, of course, an American Dipper flew out from under the bridge.  As I returned to my rental car, I heard a mellow warbling song, similar to Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the east and looked up to see a beautiful male Black-headed Grosbeak.  I stopped one more time at Evelyn Lane and found a cooperative male Bullock's Oriole, not new for the year (See photo).   After stopping for lunch, I filled my gas tank and headed to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park to try for Dusky Grouse.  There were two construction delays of about 10-15 minutes each on the way to the national park from Gunnison.  I was planning to stay the night in Montrose not far
from the national park and would try for Dusky Grouse at dusk on the western end of the South Rim drive, as stated by Richard Stevens (see Colorado Birding Society and Richard's blog (Coloradobirders.blogspot.com).

I arrived between 4:00 and 4:30 PM with plenty of time for birding until dusk.  I drove the South Rim with my windows down listening for bird song and very quickly found Spotted Towhee (See photo).  I stopped at the Visitor Center and talked to a lady who told me that the best place to see Dusky Grouse is along the early part of the South Portal road near the entrance booth.  I bought a Falcon Guide, Colorado Birding, written by Hugh Kingery for future reference for birding in Colorado.  I met Hugh by letter and in telephone conversations, never in person, when I lived in Norwich, NY.  I was the Region 4 Atlas Coordinator  for the first New York State Atlas
(1980-1986) sponsored by the then, New York State Federation of Bird Clubs.  Hugh and his wife, Urling, visited relatives in Otsego County and participated in the NYS Atlas project.  Soon after leaving the Visitor Center, I quickly started adding new species for the year.  The first was a Golden Eagle soaring quite low and visible just above the canyon rim, showing the dihedral wing position and the golden patches on the upper wings and the golden nape when it turned.  I  
heard a two part call, described in field guides as "chi-wip" and saw the source, a smallish gray flycatcher, and was able to identify this as a Gray Flycatcher, due to its call, gray color and propensity to dip its tail down slowly when perched.  I heard the twittering of White-throated Swifts.  At first they were too high to see the details, but eventually they came low enough to see the white throat and white along the sides of the rump.  Then I picked up on a small warbler that was mostly gray with a white eye-ring.  When it flew I could see the yellow under-tail coverts and caught a glimpse of the
yellow rump--a Virginia's Warbler.  Then I heard a slow vireo song and with some effort was able to find the  source, a Gray Vireo.  The song is somewhat like a Solitary Vireo is structure but the individual notes are more burry for Gray Vireo than for Solitary Vireo, for  which the notes are clearer and more melodious.  The Gray Vireo has a longer tail than most eastern vireos and is all gray (See photo).    (Note:  This will be corrected to Plumbeous Vireo.  It is not a Gray Vireo.  See future blog entry with explanation.)  I chased after and photographed two gnatcatchers, at first mistakenly thinking that they were Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, but discovered later by looking at my photos that they were only Blue-gray Gnatcatchers, not new for the year.  Blue-gray Gnatcatchers breed in the park (I got a bird list at the Visitor Center.) and the birds had the field marks of Blue-gray and not Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.  I also saw a male and female
Western Bluebird (see photo) and at the end of the South Rim road, High Point, a Clark's Nutcracker.   While waiting for sunset at high Point I managed to get a telephoto shot to the northeast toward Pike's Peak, showing some of the awesome scenery of the South Rim (See photo).  I stayed at High Point until all visitors had left and until the sun had set.  I scanned the last 200 yards of the road to the High Point parking lot looking for Dusky Grouse on the road or the sides of the road (as per Richard Steven's description).  No luck.  I had tried this technique back in 2009 and did not have any success then in finding Dusky Grouse at the western end of South Rim road.  Then I drove very slowly toward the entrance but never found a Dusky Grouse.  I drove to Montrose where I stayed the night.  It was only 15 to 20 minutes to my motel from the entrance to the national park.

Gunnison Sage Grouse, Green-tailed Towhee, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Violet-green Swallow, Cassin's Finch, Red-naped Sapsucker, Western Tanager, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Rock Wren, Steller's Jay, Lazuli Bunting, American Dipper, Black-headed Grosbeak, Spotted Towhee, Golden Eagle, Gray Flycatcher, White-throated Swift, Virginia's Warbler, Gray Vireo (actually Plumbeous Vireo), Western Bluebird, and Clark's Nutcracker make the total 433.   (The identification of the vireo will be discussed in a future blog entry.)  







Saturday, May 18, 2013

Day 1, Colorado, Grouse Trip, Tuesday, May 14

I got no sleep last night before leaving for the Dayton Airport for a 5:23 am flight.  I chose this flight because it was scheduled to arrive in Denver shortly after 9:00 am and it did.  I slept on both legs of the flight from Dayton, OH to Charlotte, NC and from Charlotte to Denver.  After arrival in Denver, I drove to Gunnison, south and west from Denver, to be in position for the dawn display of the Gunnison Sage Grouse the next morning.  I got to Gunnison at about 4:00 pm after several stops in Colorado Springs and in Pueblo to check on a book that I thought I might need about birding in Colorado.  I didn't find it. 

On the way to Gunnison, I saw several Brewer's Blackbirds, mostly flying along the highways.  Brewer's Blackbirds, new for the year, are the common blackbird in the west and in Colorado but are rare in Ohio.  I was able to identify these birds at highway speed, because they are all black, no red on the wing as in Red-winged Blackbirds, also seen along the highways.  They are smaller than Common Grackles, a few of which were also seen flying near the highways on the way to Gunnison, and longer tailed than Red-winged Blackbirds.  Later during this visit, I confirmed that my highway speed identification is correct.

I checked into a motel in Gunnison and then got some dinner to carry with me and went to the Gunnison Sage Grouse viewing site, which is about 19 miles east of Gunnison.  This would also be a trial run for early tomorrow morning.  I had been to this site at least twice before, once in the '90's and as recently as 2009.  I had passed the entry road on the way to Gunnison.  I planned to stay at the viewing location, Waunita Watchable Wildlife site, until dusk to see if the grouse show up at dusk.  Usually, dawn is better, but sometimes they show up before dark in the evening.  I did not see any Gunnison Sage Grouse come to the lek on Tuesday evening.  I was also extremely tired and dozed off several times.  However, I did hear and see Western Meadowlarks, also new for the year, in the meadow at the lek site.

I returned to Gunnison and my motel room.  I needed to be at the viewing site by 5:00 am, and hoped to be there earlier than that to sit in my rental vehicle and hope that the light will be sufficient to actually see any birds that are at the lek.

The details about this site, viewing protocol and pictures showing what is actually seen while sitting quietly in your vehicle can be found at http://www.siskadee.org/view.htm, under Gunnison Sage-grouse Viewing.

Brewer's Blackbird and Western Meadowlark increase the year's total to 411.        

Local Birding, May 10 through May 13

I am writing this overdue blog entry from Elkhart, Kansas.  I am in my fourth day of a "chicken trip" to Colorado to look for grouse and chickens, while they are still actively displaying as part of breeding.  More about that in future entries.

Every day since I got home from Florida, I checked the migrant warblers in my neighborhood in the mornings, if I did not go anywhere special to bird.  I had a number of chores to take care of while I am at home and planning things for the next phase of my big year.  For several days, I thought that I heard a singing Bay-breasted Warbler.  Each spring I need to recalibrate my hearing for certain warbler songs, and try to see the singing bird to confirm that my hearing identification is still correct.  For some reason, Bay-breasted Warbler is more problematic for me, I think because I have a recording from Canada which gives multiple songs and the variation in the songs for each warbler species.  For the singing potential Bay-breasted Warbler in this case, I was not able to find the bird high up in the leaves.  Over the past few days, I have studied the laboratory of ornithology CD to confirm the singing bird that I heard.

On Friday, May 10, John Habig, a local birding friend called and left a message about three Black Terns at Ellis Lake and sky-pool fields near Cincinnati.  For some reason, I monitored his message about three hours later.  I rushed over there, only to miss the three Black Terns, which would have been a new bird for the year. 

Today, Monday, May 13, I heard a Bay-breasted Warbler sing again and this time there was no doubt.   Therefore, Bay-breasted Warbler is a new species for the list.   John Habig called me again in the afternoon; this time about a phalarope at Ellis Lake and sky-pools.  I rushed over there to see the Wilson's Phalarope, a new bird for the year, and met Frank Fricke, another local birding friend.  He said that John and he also had a dowitcher there, so we spent time looking over the shorebirds.  I found a Stilt Sandpiper by using feeding behavior and shape to identify this distant bird in not good, too glaring, light.  In my experience, Stilt Sandpiper feeds differently from dowitchers.  Dowitchers feed with a sewing machine motion; the head and bill moving up and down in  relatively long strokes as a sewing machine needle.  However, Stilt Sandpiper puts its head and bill down and then probes rapidly with short repeated strokes before raising its head and bill again for another down stroke.  In addition, Stilt Sandpipers are more slender than dowtichers, which have a relatively rotund body shape, and the long bill of a Stilt Sandpiper is curved downward.  Later, Frank and I were able to confirm that this bird was a Stilt Sandpiper.  We saw it well later with the sun at our backs and could see the incomplete barring on the sides and partial reddish-brown face patch and some reddish brown on the crown of this bird.  This Stilt Sandpiper was in transition to breeding plumage.  Frank and I walked out in the field along a dry raised berm to scan for shorebirds.  We had seen a number of Least Sandpipers present, but Frank had seen a large flock earlier.  We found a flock of "peeps" (small sandpipers) with approximately 100 Least Sandpipers, which also included Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers as well as Semipalmated Plovers and Lesser Yellowlegs.  Frank found a peep with black legs.  We decided that it was a Semipalmated Sandpiper, a new bird for the year.

Before I arrived, John Habig left to take care of some personal business.  John told Frank that he had heard a Willow Flycatcher along the bike path, so Frank and I checked where Willow Flycatcher has bred in this area for the last five years or so.  Eventually I heard the Willow Flycatcher call its sneezy "fitz-bew" song at a distance.  I also heard it give a shorter version, sometimes described as a rising "breeet."  Willow Flycatcher is one of the confusing empidonax flycatchers which are visually very similar and often best identified by their differing songs.  Different species of empidonax flycatchers recognize each other by their songs and calls;  therefore, humans use the same technique after we learn to distinguish the different songs.  Willow Flycatcher is another new bird for my Big Year.

Bay-breasted warbler, Wilson's Phalarope, Semipalmated Sandpiper and Willow Flycatcher yields a total of 409 for the year.   Very early tomorrow morning, Tuesday, May 14, I leave for Denver, Colorado to find grouse and chickens. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Adams County, OH, Thursday, May 9


I contacted my buddy, Randy Lakes, who is still working at P&G, to ask about potential drumming Ruffed Grouse in Adams County.  Adams County is closer to my home than driving to Shawnee State Forest again to try for Ruffed Grouse.  Randy has contacts at the Edge of Appalachia Nature Conservancy in Adams County.  I met Randy at P&G and discovered our mutual interest in birds and nature.  Later, I joined Randy and the late Karl Maslowski, nationally and world famous nature and bird photographer, in the Cincinnati Bird-a-Thon, an effort to raise money for the Oxbow, an area conserved in the extreme southwest corner of Ohio.   Karl's sons, Steve and Dave are continuing the photography business that Karl started.

Randy made contact with Mark Zloba, Ecological Manager, Cincinnati Museum Center, Edge of Appalachia Preserve System.  I got good information from Mark about a spot where he had heard Ruffed Grouse drumming the day before, Wednesday.  Consequently, I headed for that spot, but arrived somewhat later than I wanted to, because I did not first check on the time of sunrise, which is now somewhat later than the first time I tried for Ruffed Grouse at Shawnee State Forest back on March 30. 

I arrived at the Picnic Shelter on Abner Hollow Road at 6:45 am and should have been there at sunrise.  As I walked up the road to the shelter, I heard a distant and faint Ruffed Grouse drumming a few times.  I did not count the previous Ruffed Grouse that I saw briefly in a drive-by, budding in a tree in Minnesota at Sax-Zim Bog in January, because at that time I did not believe that I could distinguish if from Sharp-tailed Grouse with the brief view of it out of the corner of my eye.  Now I can count it.  Thanks Mark for the information and Randy for the initial contact.  There were two male Blue-winged Warblers singing aggressively and chasing each other around at the shelter, a dispute for breeding territory.   Blue-winged Warbler is a new bird for the year.  See photos. 
The first photo shows a Blue-winged Warbler in display with its tail spread showing the white and with wings spread and looking up to locate the other male.    The second photo shows a male singing.  I also heard and saw Chestnut-sided Warbler and heard Blackburnian Warbler, both new for the year.  Two male Indigo Buntings were also in dispute of this territory.  A White-eyed Vireo, a Black and White Warbler and a Prairie Warbler were singing and very visible.   I walked the trail beyond the shelter on the uphill part of the trail and listened and looked for Ruffed Grouse.  On this trail, I had two Red-eyed Vireos, at least three Hooded Warblers and two Kentucky Warblers singing as well as two vociferous Worm-eating Warblers singing in opposition on both sides of the trail.  I drove east on Abner Hollow Road and stopped at a local old cemetery, where I heard another Blackburnian Warbler singing.  Also, in the area, I heard at least three Louisiana Waterthrushes singing as I drove slowly with my windows down as well as several Yellow-
throated Warblers, multiple Prairie Warblers and Common Yellowthroats as well as at least one Northern Parula.  None of these are new for the year.

I also checked out the area near the Nature Conservancy Eulett Center on Waggoner Riffle Road and on Cole Road near Cedar Mills to look for and listen for Henslow's Sparrows.  I found Eastern Kingbirds in the Henslow's Sparrow field near the Eulett Center and on Cole Road a calling Northern Bobwhite but no Henslow's Sparrows.  I left the area and sopped at Adams Lake State Park to listen for warblers and vireos, but found only another Eastern Wood Pewee singing and a Tennessee Warbler singing on the right side as I exited the state park.  I drove Wheat Ridge Road to Tater Ridge Road to check out a location where we have found both Grasshopper and Henslow's Sparrows on previous Bird-a-Thons, but without success.  It was almost noon; thus, it might have been too late in the morning.  I did see Eastern Bluebirds and heard Blue Grosbeaks singing along Tater Ridge Road.

Ruffed Grouse, Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler and Blackburnian Warbler raise the total to 405.                

Finally 400!, Wednesday, May 8

Prior to getting my new Dodge Dart serviced after 18,000 miles (already!) and to maintain warranty, I birded in my neighborhood for a short period.  Early at about 6:30 am I walked in my immediate neighborhood and heard a brief song of a Blackpoll Warbler and a Cape May Warbler.  In addition, I can be on my deck and check out my neighbor's large oak trees.  Warblers love the blossoms to find the larva of acorn maggots.  From my deck, I heard the "cinch" call of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and then a short song for another new bird for the year.  The "cinch" call of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak sounds like the squeaky noise that a sticking door makes when one opens or closes it from the stuck position.  Later, I walked down my street to Camargo Road and walked about a mile south on Camargo Road.  On my way to Camargo Road, I heard a Magnolia Warbler singing from the vicinity of Norway Spruce trees in my neighbors' yards across the street from my house and also heard a Yellow Warbler.  The local Yellow-throated Warbler is still singing in my neighborhood.  Along Camargo Road, I heard a Red-eyed Vireo singing, a new bird for the year and found a second one singing in the mile or so that I walked.  I heard two American Redstarts, one Nashville Warbler, one Tennessee Warbler singing and at least two Louisiana Waterthrushes.  The American Redstarts and Louisiana waterthrushes are on territory, because they breed there.  Also, I heard Great Crested Flycatcher and Wood Thrush along this stretch of road as well as Eastern Phoebe, all of which nest there.         

After completing the car service, I went to Ellis Lake, a local spot where shorebirds feed during migration in the flooded fields.  I have seen White-rumped Sandpipers and Wilson's Phalarope in this spot during spring migration, but not today.  Then I continued west to the Lost Bridge area near Elizabethtown, OH in the southwest corner of the state near the Ohio-Indiana state line to check for Cliff Swallows, which nest under the bridge over the Great Miami River south of the juncture with the Whitewater River.  I was not disappointed.  Cliff Swallow is a new bird for the year.  I got great views of the Cliff Swallows at point blank range from the bridge as they swooped up under the bridge.  It's great to have a recent comparison with Cave Swallows seen recently in Florida.  The rump patch on the Cliff Swallows is a much lighter buff color than the dark brownish-orange color of the rump patch on the Caribbean race of Cave Swallow in Florida.  In addition, the pale forehead of a Cliff Swallow is white or nearly white but that of the Cave Swallows in Florida and the Mexican race in Texas is cinnamon.  I drove Kilby Road to head to Miami Whitewater Park to try for some additional birds.  I intended to stop by a maintenance barn along Kilby Road where Grasshopper Sparrows have bred in the past.  As I was approaching this area, an American Bittern flew over the road heading southwest.  I could tell that it was an American Bittern by the size, largish, medium sized heron-type with short legs, not the long-legs like a Great Blue Heron, with a long bill not the shorter bill of a night-heron, and with the humped posture with the head lower and protruding straight out rather than with the neck kinked.  The wings were pointed and not rounded as in a night-heron.  That's a great new bird for the year, one I was worried that I might miss this spring.  There are multiple old gravel pits in this area with marshy area on the edges, so there is habitat for American Bittern in this area.  I stopped at the maintenance barn but did not find any Grasshopper Sparrows.  They should be back on territory but may be silent due to the earliness in the season or the lateness in the day.  I continued to the Bolles Woods area of Miami Whitewater Park to look for vireos, flycatchers and warblers.

I parked at several areas as I drove up the hill and walked to listen and look.  The first new bird for this area was a Red-eyed Vireo, doing its preacher bird thing, a repetition of the same short phrases, punctuated with a raised inflection at the end as if to say "You see it.  You know it.  Do you hear me?  Do you believe?"  I finally found the bird just before it flew to a new tree.  Vireos can be hard to see, because they are often in the tops of the trees in the canopy of leaves and sitting still or moving slowly.  In comparison, warblers are smaller but move more frequently, and therefore can be found by movement.  Further up the road, near the top of the hill, I heard the distinctive song,  "three-eight" repeated, of a Yellow-throated Vireo, another new bird for the year.  After a diligent search, I found the Yellow-throated Vireo sitting atop a dead snag showing off its bright yellow throat and singing.

Finally, just before leaving the area, I heard the "pee-a-wee" song of Eastern Wood Pewee, another new bird for the year.  Before leaving this area. I also heard or saw, Great Crested Flycatcher, Pileated Woodpecker, Ovenbird (about 4), first seen a few weeks ago in Florida, Kentucky Warbler and Cerulean Warbler, singing on territory and first seen in Texas this year and the Kentucky warbler also photographed there, the ubiquitous Red-bellied Woodpeckers, singing Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Summer tanager and at least three singing Scarlet Tanagers, and four singing Wood Thrushes.  These first birds are likely setting up territory to defend against later migrants of the same species.

I continued to the wetlands area to look for and listen for Willow Flycatcher, which breeds there.  The presence of Eastern Wood Pewee suggests that the Willow Flycatchers may be back, except for the fact that the Eastern Wood Pewee, usually arrives on territory a little before the Willow Flycatcher.  I was not successful in finding a Willow Flycatcher, but did see a very close Sora out in the open from the viewing platform.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Red-eyed Vireo, American Bittern, Yellow-throated Vireo, and Eastern Wood Pewee raises the total to 401.  Finally 400 + species for the year!                

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Home Again, Tuesday, May 7

My lawn looked like a hayfield with 6-8 inches of growth over the two week period that I was gone.  First I cleaned out my car of the detritus of birding in Florida as well as over the last four months.  Then, after the day warmed up, I cut my lawn.  First, I used my weed trimmer to reduce the height and then I mowed it.  I plan to get a neighbor's son to mow my lawn during my absence.  When I was a kid, I mowed lawns to earn money.  It helped me to develop a work ethic that has never gone away, so far at least.  Can't say that for sure about the rest of my retirement!  :>)  :>)

While I was outside working, I heard and saw Cape May Warbler, a beautiful breeding plumage male.  I usually see them this time of year in the local Norway Spruce trees, probably because they nest in the spruce belt in Canada.  I wonder if this was one of the many I saw at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, just last week?  Later, I heard a Nashville Warbler, first seen this year at the Convention Center on South Padre Island in Texas earlier in April.

When I finished the lawn and had a late lunch, I went birding for some local birds that I still need.  I went to Armeleder Park about 15 minutes from my house in search of Prothonotary Warbler, where they breed.  I got there just after a brief shower and the path to the river was muddy.  However, I heard at least three Prothonotary Warblers singing the emphatic "sweet sweet sweet" song and saw at least one that was making its call note, a new bird for the year.  The call note of a Prothonotary Warbler to my ear is like a mixture of the Louisiana Waterthrush and Northern Waterthrush calls.  I also heard a Nashville Warbler singing in the trees along the river at the canoe launch area.  Indigo Buntings and Warbling Vireos are back on territory and singing at Armeleder Park.  I first saw these in Texas this year.  There are a large number of Savannah Sparrows along the paths through this large grassy area, possibly going to breed there again, and a large number of White-crowned Sparrows, soon to leave for parts far north.  On my way home, I stopped at a location along Camargo Road, just around the corner from where I live, and listened for Wood Thrush.   Right on time, I heard the beautiful "ee-o-lay" song of the Wood Thrush, another new bird for the year.

Tomorrow, I will get my car serviced, finalize plans for Colorado, Texas, Arizona and pre- and post- Alaska birding.  Time is flying, as are the birds and so must this Jay.  Later this week, I will be at Magee Marsh, timing my arrival for the potential appearance of a Kirkland's Warbler.  I will be doing some local birding, and should reach 400 + before I get to Magee marsh and the boardwalk to finalize my eastern warbler list,..... hopefully.

Prothonotary Warbler and Wood Thrush makes the total 395.  No, that's not an error.  See discussion below. 

I discovered another error in the list.  I had not included Kentucky Warbler on the official list (or perhaps it got deleted somehow), seen and photographed at the Convention Center on South Padre Island in Texas on April 3, 2013.  I  will not go back and correct this error in all past postings.   I found this error when I looked at my eastern warbler list.  Details!  Details!  I thought that I left hem behind when I retired!!   :>)  :>)      

Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Gainesville, Monday, May 6

I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that Nanday Parakeet is the seventh new bird for my ABA Area list, making my total 797.  It is officially a new Life Bird, even though I saw it first in the early 2000's in Florida near Loxahatchee NWR.  Back then as Black-hooded Parakeet, it was officially still an introduced species, not officially on the list.


Paynes Prairie State Preserve is very close to my motel near Gainesville and is perhaps the most southern breeding area for Mississippi Kite in Florida.  I was not sure that the kite was back on territory, but decided to make a short visit in the morning to try for Mississippi Kite.  The most likely area, according to A Birders Guide to Florida by Bill Pranty, 1996 Edition, American Birding Association, Inc.,  was La Chua Trail on the north side.  I arrived at abut 8:30 am and started down the trail.  The first part of the trail is wooded.  As soon as I got to the edge of the trees, I found Blue Grosbeak, a new bird for the year.  I walked to the end of the boardwalk and on to the grassy trail with a lady who was a relatively new birder and newly retired from the navy.  We met while she was enjoying a Red-shouldered Hawk being harassed by Blue Jays.  There were a lot of migrating Bobolinks on the prairie, as well as Indigo Buntings, which breed there, as well as long-legged waders, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons.  There is a Great Blue Heron rookery visible from a viewing platform near the rim area.  There were fly-by White Ibis and a Wood Stork flew over near the end  of my stay.  Along the grassy dikes beyond the boardwalk, we found Common Moorhen and a Great White Heron, a sub-species of Great Blue Heron.  This is not a new species for the list, but is an interesting white morph of the Great Blue Heron, normally seen only in Florida.  I have seen this only once or twice before; thus, I mention a bird not to be counted on my Big year List.  See photos.
The first photo shows the heavy bill and raised crest feathers and dark on the upper mandible of a Great Blue Heron, a different bill than that of the similar Great Egret.  The second photo shows the yellow legs of the Great White Heron, a distinguishing field mark, because Great Egret has black legs.  When this bird flew, it called like a Great Blue Heron, another distinguishing field mark.
    
I met Mike Mannetz, a local expert birder, who has written a bird guide to the Gainesville area, on the trail.  He indicated that the Mississippi Kites should be back and that scanning the sky near the north area of the trail, the rim, would be a good strategy.  Mike also helped to solve a mystery.  He provided the name of the man I met at Key West Tropical and Botanical Garden, who was also looking for the female Western Spindalis.  The man was Lloyd Davis, who eventually got to see the Western Spindalis.  Congratulations, Lloyd,.....this just in case, you are a reader.  Mike also told me that a Kirkland's Warbler was found yesterday near Gainesville.  He took my cell phone number just in case it was still being seen.  If I did not hear from him, the Kirkland's Warbler was not present on Monday.  I never got a call, but thanks, Mike, for the thought. 

In the last hour or so, I stayed near the north end of the trail where I could view the sky above the wooded area for soaring or flying Mississippi Kite.   I did not find a
Mississippi Kite.  Later in the day is probably better for this bird.  It was quite cool, in the high 60's, and I saw no dragon flies and heard no cicadas, common prey insects for Mississippi Kites, until I got back in the wooded part of the trail, where I saw a few dragon flies and heard a cicada.

As I waked to the parking area, Brown Thrasher, Northern Parula and Yellow-billed Cuckoo were singing.  I left the La Chua Trail area at about 10:30 am. 

Blue Grosbeak makes the total, 392. 

It was a 11-12 hour drive to Cincinnati from Gainesville.  I arrived home at 11:30 pm.  The only problem encountered was a heavy rainstorm near Lexington, KY.  To keep alert during the drive, I kept track of the birds I saw in each state during daylight hours.  Only three hours of the drive were after dark.   

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fuller Park, St. Petersburg, and Hernando Beach, Sunday, May 5

I arrived at Walter Fuller Park in St. Petersburg at about 1:00 pm to look for Nanday Parakeet, previously named Black-hooded Parakeet.  I had found a message on the internet on BRDBRAIN, one of the Florida Birding list serves, from January 6, 2013 stating that Fuller Park in St, Petersburg is reliable for Nanday Parakeets behind the pool in the tall trees.   I parked in the shade along a street near the soccer fields and walked into the park to find the pool.  It was not a long walk around the lake to get to the pool.  I first found the front entry to the pool in order to verify which side was the back, and then walked behind the pool to find the tall trees.  From a distance,  I could not see any Nandays but they were up in the canopy under the leaves to be out of the sun.  Many species of parrots and parakeets do this during the hot part of the day.  There were at least eight Nandays in singles, pairs and triplets perched in one tree.   See photos. 
The second photo shows three birds in a clump with two preening each other and the third bird preening itself.  I took a break to find a toilet facility in the park.  When I returned, it sounded like a much larger group of Nanday Parakeets present, at least 20 to 25 in additional trees.  I enjoyed watching the Nanday Parakeets for about 30 minutes and then I left Fuller Park to explore Fort Desoto Park.  I had never been to Fort Desoto Park and wanted to see if there were any shorebirds present.  Unfortunately, it was a weekend and Sunday, so the park was full of beach lovers, boaters and fisherman.  I did find some shorebird habitat at East Beach with a few Dunlin, 6 to 8 Willets and one Semipalmated Plover.  A small flock of shorebirds approached the area but turned away due to all the human presence and activity.  The flock landed further down the beach and included about four Short-billed Dowitchers.  None of these are new birds for the year.  Further out in the bay, some flats were exposed, on which there were several Black-bellied Plovers and a single Marbled
Godwit.  I left Fort Desoto Park and headed toward Hernando Beach to look for the Budgerigars.  I arrived at Gulf Winds Circle at about 5:30 pm and found a single Budgerigar on a bird feeder by about 6:00 pm.  See photos below.  I stayed until about 6:30 pm, hoping that more Budgies would show up but none did.  I then headed for I-75 to start driving north toward home with a potential stop in the Gainesville area on the way to try for Mississippi Kite.  I was too tired to drive the whole way back to Cincinnati without a good night of sleep. 

The Nanday Parakeet and Budgerigar make the total 391.