Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blog Up and Running, Updated, February 22

I spent this past week figuring out how to start a blog, setting one up and completing entries for January and February.  It will be back to birding full-time now!  It has been quite an adventure setting up a blog.  It will be easier now that I put in some concentrated time this week making blog entries.  It can be tricky at times, but most problems can be overcome.  I accidentally reset all previous entries to Draft, which makes them not visible, even though published.  I had to laboriously go back through all drafts and publish them again.  Special thanks to Chris Hitt and Bob Ake, both of whom have blogs and did Big years in 2010, for their help.  I owe them big time for good advice!  Bob is an old-time birding acquaintance from back in the '70's from birding on the east coast when I was in graduate school at the University of Delaware.  I met Chris within the past 10 years or so on pelagic trips off of North Carolina with Brian Patteson.

As I was making blog entries today at my dining room table I saw a small bird fly down to the trunk of the Silver Maple tree outside of my bay window.  It was a Brown Creeper, a new bird for the year.  The list is now 143.  Now back to birding!

Slow Progress, February 18

I completed the paperwork, made copies and sent them in the mail for the pension matter.  I converted as many bill payments to automatic pay as possible.  One still remains for my bill for gas and electric power.  Unfortunately, the website for this company is not compatible with Windows 8 and Explorer 10 at this time.  When I bought my new laptop and set up to have access while mobile I bought a laptop with Windows 8.  I did not realize that this could be an issue.  In January I spent four hours trying to pay my bill and get this resolved by talking to three different technical support people.  I had to wait two days for a response to an e mail request to find out why I could no longer access my account on-line, which I had done previous to retirement.  Fortunately, I finally found a way to pay this bill through Western Union at a cost of $1.50 per transaction by the due date.  I need to renew my passport to be able to go to Canada for some rarities and soon.  I have three original passports but could not find my most recent one, which was obtained for a business trip in China in late 1998 or 1999.  It has expired, but if it is less than 15 years old, it can be used to facilitate renewal.  In the last week or so, I tore through my house looking for that "safe place."  This is part of getting chronologically more gifted.  I finally found it after a three to four day off and on search, and will now try to use one of the fast modes of renewal to give me a shot at getting to BC for the Red-flanked Bluetail, Brambling and the Citrine Wagtail.  All have been seen again recently.  The Bluetail and Wagtail are life birds for me so this is high priority.  Another high priority is to get this blog up and running and complete the previous entries.  I decided that I would not go on another longer distant chase until this blog was setup and all old entries completed.

Today, February 18, I was outside talking to two neighbors from across the street, Dianne and Kurt, who were walking their new poodle and taking a walk for exercise.  I heard a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker giving its mewing call and found it on the trunk of my next door neighbor's oak tree.  This is a new bird for me.  Encouraged by this new bird, I decided to try for some additional local birds.  I drove to western Hamilton County to look for American Pipit, which was reported at Simonson Road in January.  By the time I arrived the wind had picked up from the south;  therefore, hearing calls was difficult.  I scanned the large open field to the south and east.  In previous years, I had found Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings and American Pipits in this location in January and February.  I saw a very long distant flock flying briefly and landing over a slight rise.  However, the birds were too far to identify, and impossible to find at that distance on the ground.  I did find a cooperative pair of Horned Larks very close that were behaving like they were setting up territory.  Horned Larks start early.  I did not find a pipit.  There is still time to do so. 

The cloud cover had also increased, and the light was getting dim.  I headed to nearby Miami Whitewater Park at the wetland area off Baughman road where an early American Woodcock had been recently reported.  As I walked along the bike path to the observation platform, I met Frank Frick walking toward me.  As we chatted briefly, I heard the distinctive wing "whistle" of a American Woodcock flying over and then the distinctive "chirping" noise made when the displaying bird returns to the ground.  This bird was not "peenting" from the ground, possibly  due to the early date.  Maybe no females were in the area, and this was an early male searching.  Frank saw the bird flying the second time.  The total is now 142.

Wintering Owls, Killdeer Plains WA, February 13

Winter is the best time to see our eastern owl species and Killdeer Plains wildlife Area near Marion, OH is one of the best places.  However, revealing the exact locations is not a good idea, because too much human traffic can disturb the owls during the day when they are getting sleep.  I headed to Killdeer Plains today to give it a try.  I stopped at the eastern impoundment north of CH-68 (county highway) that is west of Washburn Road to check out the wintering waterfowl.  There were lots of Canada Geese and Mallards and Black Ducks.  In addition, there were thirteen Tundra Swans, a new bird for the year, a species that I hoped would be there.  I continued to CH-71 to the main conifer stand to look for three species of owls reported to be there--Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl and Barn Owl.  When I pulled into the parking lot, I met two Amish birders, who told me that the Saw-whet was still there and gave me general directions to where it was roosting.  I already knew where to look but this information was helpful.   I found the Northern Saw-whet Owl quite easily.  Below is a picture of the roosting sleepy head.  It is not a great picture, because I stayed away to not disturb it.
I continued to the location where the Barn Owl has been roosting since back in December.  It is hard to see at times because it stays very high up in some white pines and chooses locations that are not easily visible.  I found the location of the roost trees easily enough and it was well marked with pellets, clumps of hair and bones of the prey digested that are regurgitated, and lots of white wash at the base of the tree and on the branches.  I tried for about twenty minutes looking up from all angles from under the tree and from further away.  I could not find the bird.  I decided to try the other conifer stand location where the Long-eared Owls were roosting.  I drove to TH-108 (Township Highway) and parked along the road.  The two Amish birders I met before had tried this location and were walking out of the field on to the road as I arrived.  They did not find the Long-eared Owls and had walked all over the conifer stand.  They saw a lot of pellets and whitewash but no birds.  I walked across the field to the conifer stand wearing boots to navigate the water and ice filled ditch between the road and the conifer stand.  I walked into the conifer stand starting in the most likely location in the far back right corner where the birds had been seen previously.  I walked through the whole stand stopping frequently to scan the trees, but found no owls.  Then I decided to walk around the adjoining area of thick brush.  When I got to the north side, I noticed some whitewash on the lower branches, so I ducked under some branches and carefully and slowly walked into this brushy area.  There are only a few pines in this clump.  Suddenly as I moved forward four owls exploded into the air.  When I took a second step, a fifth owl flew out.  These birds were perched at eye level but were very well camouflaged.  All of these owls flew into the conifer stand.  I followed slowly and carefully.  I wanted at least a distant look to be sure that these were indeed the Long-eared Owls that were reported here before.  I got one good satisfying look, and then left the area.  These owls were very skittish, and had probably been spooked a number of times before.  I didn't try for photos.  However, here is a previous photo that I took from the window of my van of a Long-eared Owl at Killdeer Plains several years ago.
When I returned to my car, I scanned the waterfowl on the ice in the new marsh along the east side of TH-108.  There were at least three Greater White-fronted Geese, not a new bird for the year, but a new bird for the year in Ohio.  I returned to look for the roosting Barn Owl, and looked in additional trees, but never could find the bird.  During my search I heard an Eastern Towhee calling from the deciduous woods, another new bird for the year.  I stayed until almost 5:30 pm, but did not find the Barn Owl.  Just before I left, I checked on the Northern Saw-whet Owl.  It was still on its roosting spot, and occasionally its eyes were partially open.  I left it in peace.  I headed home to Cincinnati having found two owls that are best found in the winter.  The total is 140.               

Friday, February 22, 2013

Search for Wintering Waterfowl, February 12

I noticed some postings on Ohio Birds from Rick Asamoto about White-winged Scoters a Caesar Creek State Park on Saturday, February 9, and possible Ross's Geese at Cowan Lake State Park on February 3.  Rick is a reliable reporter, but that was several days ago or while I was till in Minnesota.  These are birds I still need and a short distance from home.  I did not find the White-winged Scoters at Furnas Boat Ramp so I also tried the Beach, the North Boat Ramp, the Campground and Ward Road.  I found a few dabbling ducks, Mallard, Black Duck and American Wigeon, as well as divers, Ruddy Duck and Lesser Scaup and some American Coot.  Nothing new for the year.  I checked nearby Spring Valley WA, but there was someone running coon hunting dogs, so I left.

I continued to Cowan Lake, where I found Horned Grebe, new for the year at the marina but far out along the far shore.  At the east end of the lake beyond the beach and picnic area I found a single Cackling Goose with Canada Geese and some Northern Shovelers, but nothing new for the year.  I checked Melvin Quarry north of Wilmington, but found only another Horned Grebe and a few Canada Geese.

The Sun was setting, but I still had enough time to check Spring Valley WA for Rusty Blackbirds.  I arrived at the parking area at the trail leading to the boardwalk.  First I checked the feeders at the blind, but found nothing new for the year.  Then I walked down to the boardwalk.  They had improved the path with drainage and stones on the path.  Last fall the path was really muddy from all the springs in the area.  I sat on a bench on the platform waiting to see if any blackbird flocks show up.  Red-winged Blackbirds roost in the cattails in the marsh.  Eventually one individual Red-winged Blackbird male posted up on top of a tree near the platform and one at the beginning of the boardwalk.  Eventually, a flock of about twenty blackbirds landed in the trees at the beginning of the boardwalk.  I walked back to get close enough to scan with binoculars.  I heard Rusties making their squeaky gate calls and found about nine of males plus females.  With Horned Grebe and Rusty blackbird, the total is 136.      

Hermit Thrush, A Breath of Fresh Air, February 11

In the mail I found more paperwork to complete.  There was a request from Medicare and another about a pension matter both would require talking to someone for clarity or filling out more forms.  None of these are fun.

 I had spent about thirty minutes on the phone to Medicare waiting for a real person to answer a question and rejecting requests to go to the website.  I got a letter that was telling me something that was inconsistent with my application.  Signing up for Medicare was a requirement for the HealthCare benefit in my retirement package from P&G, just in case anyone wondered why.  I finally got to talk to a real person who answered my question, but the answer was not in my favor.  After hanging up, I got an immediate call back stating that my interpretation was correct, but I needed to do a phone interview to resolve the confusion.  That would be on March 8 the soonest date.  Somewhat good news.  A mixed blessing, but more delays and more of my time.  I needed to estimate my income for 2013.  I was tired of dealing with this stuff. 

I noticed that there was a report of Hermit Thrush at Kelly Nature Preserve.   So I drove there.  It is about 15 minutes from my house.  Found the Hermit Thrush.  Number 134.  No questions asked.  No issues.

A Local Owl, February 7

My first day back on February 6, I focused on unpacking, organizing and washing clothes.  I also had a pile of mail to go through to sort into important and toss out.  It took me a while, because I found out I was more tired than expected.  I am having fun.  How could that be tiring?

Today, I took my car for service-oil change etc.  But first I took advantage of a free car wash coupon provided by the dealer.  My white Dart was covered with grime from the road salt, beet juice and the gravel roads at Sax Zim bog in Minnesota.  There was an update on my Dart due to a recall.  Something to do with the fuel gauge.

On my way home, I stopped at Lake Isabella, a fishing lake, part of the Hamilton County Parks.  There was a Great Horned Owl nesting on a platform created from a barrel.  The female ( I assume.) was on the nest incubating eggs.  No pictures.  I forgot to bring my camera due to the other chores/stops.  The total is now 133.

Hopefully, I can take care of a number of things quickly and get on the road again.  

Prairie Ridge, Chickens and a Tree Sparrow, February 5

I got up early enough to get gas and arrive at Prairie Ridge before first light.  Google maps focused on the preserve rather than the office complex and took me to a spot by open fields.  I negotiated the rest of the way to the office complex on my own in the dark.  That's why I left extra early!  As per instructions on the Prairie ridge website, I parked by the gate on the right side so that I did not block entry when the gate was open.  I pushed my camera, scope and tripod under the gate, climbed over the gate  and walked toward the northwest corner of the fenced in area to the designated viewing area with wooden cross-hatching.  As I waited, there was a little light in the east, but there was cloud cover.  When I arrived I could hear a Short-eared Owl (SEOW) calling/barking.  As the light increased, I saw at least two Short-eared Owls, one as close as 10-20 feet from the fence. However, it was still too dark for photography.  I saw several more SEOW hunting in the distance as well as several Northern Harriers.  With more light, I found the display area to the northwest about 300 yards distance, where there were dark figures that were apparently Greater Prairie Chickens.  I could hear them clucking.  One of the staff arrived, and came back to talk with me.  So far I had seen a maximum of 7 chickens, which he stated were only half of the current population.  He told me that these birds were young males trying to establish spots on the display area before the adult males arrived later in the season.  The current population had been reduced by a heavy hail storm two (?) years ago.  He suggested that I stop in the office before I leave.  I stayed and tried for some photos, even though the conditions were not optimum.  At first, a clearing in the clouds low to the horizon in the east increased the light on the display area as the sun rose.  However, this did not last long as the cloud cover moved.  Through the scope, I could see birds chasing each other on the ground and in the air with raised feathers behind their head and yellowish orange sacs bulging on their neck.  This would happen only occasionally, and then the birds would settle down and crouch on the ground.  A harrier  flew in, scattered the birds briefly and then landed on the ground nearby.  After the harrier arrived, there were only five Greater Prairie Chickens that remained.  Below are the best photos I obtained showing five birds as well as raised feathers and sacs.  These require extensive modification in Photoshop due to the poor conditions for photography.  I also heard a Northern Bobwhite call out over the prairie, saw and heard Eastern Meadowlark, both new for the year, and Lapland Longspurs calling as they flew over.

I saw flocks of American Tree Sparrows in the area, and large flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds flew over heading out to feed in the farm fields.  As I walked back, Starlings on the barn roof partially imitated bobwhite calls, but the one I heard out on the prairie from a different direction was the real thing.  I stopped in the office and talked to the two staff guys.  They do have Northern Bobwhite in the preserve.  We chatted about my big year.  When I mentioned that I was headed toward St Louis for Eurasian tree Sparrow, one of them suggested Horseshoe State Park as a good place and slightly closer.  After picking up a bird checklist and some information about the preserve, I headed back to Super 8 for a continental breakfast.  On the way, I found large flocks of Snow Geese with both blue and white phase, but no smaller birds to check for Ross's Goose.   After breakfast, I packed my car and headed west to Horseshoe Lake SP.  It was only about 1.5 hours west on I-70 and then north.  Google maps failed me again taking me around in a circuitous route that could have been avoided.

Horseshoe Lake State Park is small.  I drove around the park and tried areas of brush and bushy areas, looking for American Tree Sparrow flocks.  The information I had gleaned indicated that Eurasian Tree Sparrows are often found with American Tree Sparrows in winter and may be found near agricultural fields.   I found a flock of American Tree Sparrows on Walker Island but no Eurasian Tree Sparrows along the nature trail that skirted the west side of Horseshoe Lake adjacent to a harvested corn field.  I did find a flock of eight Northern Shovelers, new for the year, and a Merlin, also new, which flew by on a direct line, causing a feeding flock of Robins and Starlings to freeze, where they were feeding on the lawn near the park office.  That is how I found the Merlin, and was able to look up quickly and see the all gray back, wings and tail as it made a beeline across the lake.  Typical for Merlin.  Because I was having no luck in my search, I decided to do an internet search on my Droid Razr.  I found a previously published paper by Randy Korotev, updated 2006, which suggested Horseshoe Lake SP, and to check nearby School House Road only 0.2 miles south of the park off of Rt. 111 and Bruns Road, if the birds were not found in the state park.  I took School House Road east checking near farm buildings, etc.  At the intersection with Bruns at an airpark, I found eight Eurasian Collared Doves in a leafless deciduous tree.  At first, I almost passed them off as Mourning doves until I checked closely.  I turned south on Bruns through open fields until I came to a very thick leafless bush covered thickly with leafless vines.  As I approached, I saw a sparrow jump up into the back of the bush low to the ground.  It was a White-crowned Sparrow.  However, as I scanned the bush, I noticed other birds and found a Eurasian Tree Sparrow, which soon disappeared into the depths of the thickest part of this bush.  This bush seemed promising because it was the only one on this road accept for two houses with some landscaping up ahead.  I decided to drive south on Bruns, let the birds rest a bit, come back and try again.
On my return, I parked beyond the bush away from the nearby houses and on the right side where the bush was located.  As I scanned the bush again, a flock of at least 50 sparrows flew out of the agricultural field, winter wheat apparently, and landed in the bush.  All of the birds were Eurasian Tree Sparrows!!  Below are the best photographs I obtained, the first showing the spot on the face and brown crown and the second showing at least 17 Eurasian Tree Sparrows!  At about 5:00 - 5:30 pm, I headed back to Cincinnati.  The total is 132. 

I would need a 6000 mile oil change and anything else my new car require under warrantee.  I arrived back home at abut 10:00 pm.

Heading South from Duluth, February 4

I was on the road by 8:00 - 8:30 on my way to Effingham, IL to stay the night and then try for Greater Prairie Chickens at Prairie Ridge at dawn.  The plan is then to go west toward St. Louis to try for Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  I am visiting Prairie Ridge, because Bob Ake did so successfully when he did his Big Year in 2010.

The trip was uneventful except for a little residual snow on the road where I headed south toward Madison, WI and maybe a little west of Chicago.  In addition, I found four Wild Turkeys  in an snow covered agricultural field just north of Exit 61 on I-90/94 in Wisconsin.  My course took me through Rockland, IL and then down slightly east to I-70.  And then to Effingham.  I arrived after dark and had a late meal at the nearby Denny's.  I went immediately to sleep, because I needed an early start to get to Prairie Ridge before dawn tomorrow morning.

With Wild Turkey, the total is 124.

Search for Spruce Grouse, February 3

I tried to get up early enough to have breakfast, get gas, and get 45 miles north of Two Harbors on Rt. 2 to the vicinity of Rt. 1 to try to see Spruce Grouse close to first light.  It didn't work out that way,  and I arrived too late.  However, as I got close I found apparent grouse tracks at one place I stopped to look at a likely place.  As I got further north, the road conditions deteriorated, so it could have been treacherous driving on this road in the dark for someone who has visited this area only once before.  No luck on Spruce Grouse.  By the time I got far enough north there was a lot of traffic from snow mobile people pulling trailers looking for locations to do their thing.  I met Erik Bruhnke and his tour group while they were stopped checking out a tapping woodpecker, only a Downy.  They were also looking for Spruce Grouse, but apparently did not succeed given postings seen on the Minnesota MOU-NE.  I drove east and west of the intersection of Rt. 2 and Rt. 1 several times.  This is where I got my lifer Spruce Grouse on March 26 with photos in 2005 with Dan Sanders.

Later in the morning near noon, I headed south to Two Harbors to try for photos of a Boreal Owl.  I picked up hot chocolate at McDonalds in Two Harbors and then drove the north end of scenic !Highway 61 looking for groups of birders.  I decided to return to the alley north of 4th Avenue in Two Harbors where I saw a Boreal Owl on Friday.  I noticed a white van parked in the alley close to where I saw the Boreal Owl, so I drove there and parked behind Chris West and his Wings Tour.  They had a Boreal Owl, which was perched at ground level on a snow covered log.  I got my photographs.  The owl had a catch covered by snow, and you can see some blood on the snow.  We saw it taking a bite while we watched.

I introduced myself to Chris who works for the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University.  I joined in 1984 according to a note of thanks I received recently.  So last year that makes 28 years.  I thought it was 35!  Time sure flies when you are having fun! The Wings Tour had seven Boreal Owls today!  WOW!!  I headed back to Duluth and tried to find Canal Park where some Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were reported.  Erik Bruhnke also told me about this site.  However,  I did not go to the lake side to the east.  The west side was frozen.  Scott Meyer had told me that he also found the same thing.  I decided to head back to Sax Zim for a late day try on Cranberry Road for Sharp-tailed Grouse, but did not find any.  Then I drove through best area designated on the Sax Zim map for Black-billed Magpie, which was south on Rt 7 and then east.  No luck.  I returned one last time to Cranberry Road to wait until close to sunset to see if any grouse come up to feed late.  I also drove north on Admiral Road and Rt. 7 looking for Sharp-tailed Grouse and went to look at the Sharp-tailed lek on Sax road.  No grouse anywhere, but it was an outside chance anyway.  There were no other birds to look for.  It was getting late with decreasing light.  On my way back to Duluth at the intersection of Sax Road and Rt. 7, I found a Black-billed Magpie.  When I lowered my window to get a better look through binoculars, the bird flew north.  Scott Meyer told me that Black-billed Magpie is often found near railroad tracks, and this bird was consistent with that. The list is now 123.

I need to get back to my motel, get dinner, watch the Super Bowl if I can stay awake and get ready to head south in the morning.  I plan to stop at Prairie Ridge in southern Illinois to try for Greater Prairie Chickens and then near St. Louis for Eurasian Tree Sparrow.  Late tonight, Chris Wood posted about 8 Spruce Grouse 1.5 miles north of the Sand River yesterday.  I apparently drove by this spot.  Oh well, another time.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sax Zim Area, AWESOME Number 2!, February 2

At continental breakfast in the morning at Super 8, I meet Scott Meyer and his birding companion.  They had not found a Boreal Owl yesterday and were heading out to try again with a possible visit later to Sax Zim.  Because the person at the desk had already told someone that they could not print digital files, I asked Scott if we could try to get a paper copy of his Sax Zim map.  That was successful.  After breakfast and stopping for gas, I headed to Sax Zim.  I intended to first try for Great Gray Owl along McDavitt Road.  As I headed west on Sax Road, I saw a group of cars stopped on Cranberry Road.  I pulled up behind them to inquire what they had found.  I asked the last person in the line of cars but what I heard was little jumbled, so I decided to leave and look for Great Gray Owl.  I drove up McDavitt and checked all the likely perch locations north of the railroad track.  I continued well north of the designed area where the bird was being seen.  No luck.  I turned around and met a man from Wisconsin at a parking area on the west side of the road, who was looking for his life bird Great Gray Owl.  He had information indicating the Great Grey Owl was being seen by walking the tramped snow trail west about 15 minutes off the road.   I joined him and we walked back following the previous tramped snow trail to a large cleared area, but we were unsuccessful.  We walked back to our cars to warm up.  Another vehicle of birders arrived, and we walked back again.  One of the ladies knew a tour leader who had texted her this morning early after seeing the Great Gray Owl in the open area.  We were again unsuccessful, and she indicated that early morning and later afternoon/evenings are best.  We knew that but were hoping for the best anyway.  I had seen Great Gray Owls during the day previously at several locations around the US.  The man from Wisconsin indicated that he also stopped on Cranberry Road in the morning.  The leader had Sharp-tailed Grouse feeding on buds in the bushes at great distance,  which the man from Wisconsin was unable to identify.  The debate when I stopped was between Ruffed and Sharp-tailed Grouse, but I misheard that.  I left McDavitt Road and stopped by the Cranberry Road location on my way to Admiral Road.  No grouse were visible from Cranberry.  I went to the Admiral Road feeders where I saw Boreal Chickadee and Gray Jay.  I met the man from Wisconsin again and later Scott Meyer and his birding friend Ben showed up.  Then we all left to go to the Owl Avenue feeders where there are Pine Grosbeaks, Evening Grosbeaks and Hoary Redpolls.    

  Boreal Chickadee
At the Owl Avenue feeders there were Pine Grosbeaks, including one gorgeous pink full breeding male and at least one Hoary Redpoll.

Gray Jay
Hoary Redpoll:  Note the pushed in appearance of the face due to the steeper forehead and shorter bill as well as little to no streaking on the flanks and no streaking on the under tail coverts.

Common Redpoll: Top.  More heavily streaked and darker overall.  More sloping forehead and longer bill.

Hoary Redpoll: bottom.  More frosty overall and on the back as well as the previously noted field marks.  Note the seed in the background of the bill making it look larger than it really is. 

Pine Grosbeak

I left the Owl Avenue feeders and followed Scott Meyer and Ben driving around for a while looking for Great Gray Owls.  However, as the sun began to set, I split off from them after they stopped to look at a Ruffed Grouse in a tree along the road.  I returned to the parking area on McDavitt Road, which I considered the best shot for Great Gray Owl.  When I arrived the man from Wisconsin and another person were walking out the trail, not successful, and to warm up.  I bundled up in my very warm down lined coat with insulated hood, insulated ski pants, and warm waterproof boots with felt liners.   I was prepared to stay the course until dark.  I left the parking area between 3:45 and 4:00 pm.  I walked back to the opening and started scanning when I reached a large tramped down area in the snow near a dirt pile.   I continued to walk the path beyond the pile, stopping to scan until I reached the end of the tramped trail.  I continued to scan.  I did the same walking back toward the pile.  I reached a point where I could see the sky in the background beyond the fifth spruce tree from the visible end of the north line of spruce that bordered the open area.  I suddenly realized that there was a large bird with a huge rounded head sitting on top of the stub of a broken off spruce tree.  It was a Great Grey Owl!  The time was 4:42 pm.  I watched the bird through binoculars and attempted a few very distant photos.  The best of them is below.  I realized that I needed to contact the man from Wisconsin.  But soon enough Rory Cameron and Anne Geraghty appeared walking into the clearing.  I started waving my arms and motioning them to come.  They saw me and started walking more rapidly.  Well, Rory got his lifer!  Anne got to see it too, but not a lifer for her.  It was icing on the cake to help Rory get his lifer!  That was almost better than finding the bird for my Big Year list!  Unfortunately, this owl flew from the stub to the east and landed on top of a spruce against the sky line, apparently because another Great Gray Owl appeared in the clearing to the east.  They both flow to the north and disappeared.  Anne had called many people.  Unfortunately, none of them got to see this bird.  Only Rory, Anne and I in the late evening at this site today.  The total is now 122.

Duluth, AWESOME! February 1

Google maps took me a very round about way to get to Route 29 and took me to a dead end due to construction.  I used my eyeballs and my head to correct google's mistake.  The sub zero temperatures reduced my tire pressure to the warning level. I believe is was -11F in the morning.  I needed several tries on the way to Duluth to find a gas station with a working air hose.  The first place I bought a new tire gauge, something I had neglected to do in Cincinnati, but then their air pump did not work.  I had bought gas before this attempt.  The second place was a truck stop.  The car tire hose was frozen, but the truck one did work.

I arrived in Superior/Duluth at about 12:30 pm.  I went directly to the intersection where the Bohemian Waxwings were first reported, Riley and Eagle Lake Roads west of Jean Duluth Road.  My directions took me to Martin Road.  As I approached Riley from the west, I saw a large raptor on top of a tree near the road.   From a distance, it looked like the Northern Hawk Owl.  I pulled up beside it, stayed in my car and got a few photos.  See blow.

Then I returned to Riley and went to the intersection with Eagle Lake Road.  Didn't find any Bohemian Waxwings, not really unexpected, because they tend to move around a lot.  I drove back to Martin and saw two more vehicles by the Northern Hawk Owl.  So I stopped to talk hoping that they might be local birders with additional information.  I met Scot Meyer from the Minneapolis area and his party.  He showed me a convenient map of the Sax Zim, area, available on the web at Friends of Sax Zim.  His party decided to head for Two Harbors to try for the Boreal Owls.  Chris Wood from Cornell was in the van with another birder.  He was apparently in town to lead a Wings Tour.  I decided to figure out on Google maps how to get to an additional nearby site, 2nd Avenue, south off of Martin where the Bohemian Waxwings had been seen a few days ago by Craig Mandel.   It wasn't far west of the Hawk Owl location.  I drove south on 2nd Avenue and then east to 1rst Avenue and then turned north on 1rst.  After a few blocks, I looked up through my windshield, and there was a flock of about 400 Bohemian Waxwings flying over my car.  I could see the large size and more robust shape relative to Cedar waxwings that I see regularly and the chestnut colored under-tail coverts both distinctive for identification.   I jumped out of my car and watched them disappearing to the southwest behind the nearby treetops.  I drove around tying to find the flock again, but was unsuccessful.  The time was about 2:00 to 2:30 pm, so I drove to Two Harbors to look for Boreal Owl.  I went to the location recommended by Jim Lind the local expert.  In invasion years, the alley north of 4th Avenue in Two Harbors is the most reliable.  I follow the advice of local experts.  After a stop at McDonald's in Two Harbors for some hot chocolate, I arrived at the 45h Avenue location and after bundling up, I walked the alley from the northeast to southwest, checking out the conifers and the trees to the north for Boreal Owl.  Just beyond the southwestern portion of the alley, I stopped by a dead tree right along the alley to check some conifers in the back yards of some of the houses.  I happened to glance up at the dead snag and was eye-ball-to-eye ball with a Boreal Owl looking down hunting.  It was perched on a branch that angled in front of the trunk, so it blended in with the background.  I was so excited that I fumbled with my camera and took my eyes off of the owl.  When I glanced back, it was gone, but I heard woodpeckers giving alarm notes in the trees north of the alley.  I checked the area until about 5:00 to 5:30 pm.  I heard nuthatches and chickadees scolding in the nearby conifers, but could not find the owl.  I headed back to Duluth and stayed in the Super 8.  The total is now 117.

Door County, Disaster Escaped, January 31

The local road conditions in Green Bay were passable due to the diligence of the road crews.  This is typical in the northern parts of this country in my experience from living in upstate New York.  Where there is more snow in the winter, the road crews are more prepared and on top of their game out of necessity.  Eight inches of snow in Cincinnati, however, would have shut down the city for at least one day or several days.

Conditions improved as I headed out.  I first visited DePere Dam, about 15 minutes from my motel where a continuing Iceland Gull had been located several times over the past month or so. I wanted an additional look and this did not cost me much time.  As I walked across the bridge across the Fox River at the dam,  Peregrine Falcon flew by me and landed on a windowsill of a mill along the river.  Unfortunately, I did not carry my camera with me, due to extreme sub-zero cold and wind.  I did not find the Iceland Gull.

Then I headed toward Door County with roads improving as I went north. 

I added Rough-legged Hawk, four birds, three light phase and one dark phase, and many Common Ravens.  However the Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings were a no show, after trying several places where they were reported recently.  I headed to the Route 57/Q road location for the Northern Hawk Owl.  At first google maps took me to the wrong location, the southern most intersection, but the bird had been seen at the northernmost intersection.  I finally realized what was wrong.  The first location did not have a bakery north of the intersection.  So I looked at my new Rand McNally road atlas to figure out google's error. 

When I arrived at the location just south of the bakery and north of the intersection.  I got too far off the road and got pulled into a small but deep enough ditch.  A road maintenance truck stopped but was only allowed to shovel sand under my wheels and snow from in front of my car.  His conclusion was that I was stuck and would need a tow.  I tried pulling forward and back but did not get out.  I pulled out my new shovel and started shoveling snow away from the ditch side of my car to reduce friction and drag and started shoveling a track to follow in the front of my car.  It looked like the ditch became shallower further ahead.  Two kind vehicles stopped and turned around one pick-up truck with a tow rope, which we could not figure out how to attach.  The second vehicle had two young men who looked like Jehovah's Witnesses to me.   I backed up and with their manual push was able to get to the shallower ditch area when my car popped out of the ditch.   Disaster avoided.  I thanked both profusely and the pickup driver. 

To celebrate my good fortune, I stopped at the bakery and got an excellent turkey sandwich, fresh made with home made bread.  I talked to the young man in the bakery.  He knew about the owl and had others stop there to get food and discuss it.  I used all of the recent posts, including one abut where the owl hides when it is not visible from the road.  However, the owl was a no show.   At about 4:30 or 5:00 pm I headed back south toward Greenbay.  On the way I encountered near white out snow squalls, which convinced me to stay another night in Greenbay.      


Heavy Snow, Stranded in Geenbay, January 30

In the morning the predicted snow storm hit Green Bay.  Last night the lady at the Motel 6 desk suggested that I not try to travel today.  After breakfast I found a Advanced Auto Parts store and went there to buy shovel that  s convenient for travel, just in case I had an emergency need.  I spent the day resting in the motel and checking the internet for reports in Wisconsin and Duluth.  Conveniently, four Boreal Owls had just been reported in Two Harbors by the local expert,  Jim Lind.   More reports indicated a Northern Hawk Owl and a flock of 400 Bohemian Waxwings in Duluth.  However, the weather reports still indicated some continuing snow squalls for tomorrow. A total of 8 inches was predicted for Green Bay.  I decided to try Door County first.  If the weather was OK, I would then immediately head to Duluth. 

Milwaukee Lakefront Day Two, Janaury 29

I returned to the Ferry Dock to look for the Hoary Redpoll, but found only American Tree Sparrows.  A local Northern Harrier was keeping the birds edgy as it patrolled the grassy marshy area to the north behind the high dike.  Unfortunately, this area to the north was not visible from the ferry side of the fence.  I checked the inlet from the ferry dock parking lot and was able to identify Greater Scaup by rounded head shape and bill size.  I suspected that scaup seen yesterday included Greater but I was more interested in finding the Snowy Owl and Hoary Redpoll, which are more rare.  There will be plenty of opportunities during 2013 to see Greater Scaup.   I returned to the yacht basin to check out the birds there again, but found nothing new, but did meet a local birder, who was headed north to areas I planned to visit.  I followed him to the pier in the industrial area where the Glaucous Gull had been seen yesterday, but there was nothing new there.  Then I followed him to Lake Shore State Park.  It was easy to identify his van, because the license plate was Yahway (god), normally spelled, Yahweh.  He told me that his wife requested this license plate but was not first in line, thus the misspelling.  I thanked him for the directions and started to check out the gulls and waterfowl in the harbor area beyond the lighthouse.  I immediately found two second year/cycle Glaucous Gulls mixed in with the other gulls and waterfowl.  Then I found an interesting gull flying in close to the lighthouse.  It was a little smaller than the Herring Gulls with a somewhat smaller bill.  The   undersides of the primaries were white with dark tips confirming that I was looking at an adult winter plumage Thayer's Gull.  I went from the light house parking area to the corner of Erie Avenue to scan the gulls sitting on the ice.  I found a Lesser Black-backed Gull, not new for the year, but a good bird nonetheless.  I met a local birder who confirmed my ID of Lesser Black-backed and the adult Thayer's Gull near the lighthouse.  I went back out to the light house and found that there were now three second winter Glaucous Gulls in the harbor.  One final visit to the corner of Erie Avenue, and I found an adult Glaucous Gull on the ice, the Lesser Black-backed Gull again, and an interesting  white winged gull that was facing mostly away from me, so that I could not see the length of the primaries relatively to the tail length nor the head shape.  It looked slightly smaller than the Herring Gulls.  When it took flight, it looked like an Iceland Gull, confirming my suspicions.  Cloud cover had been increasing during the morning, and snow was predicted for tomorrow.  No pictures due to the distant and low light.  I left for Greenbay to hopefully try for the Northern Hawk Owl, Pine Grosbeaks and Bohemian Waxwings found in Door County to the northeast of Greenbay.   The list is now 111.

Milwaukee Coast Guard Inlet, January 28

I found the Coast Guard Inlet with some difficulty.  The GPS on Goggle Maps kept taking me around in circles until I asked a real person.  I found the female (dark) Snowy Owl on the dock at South Shore Park at the yacht basin.  I was looking for it when I looked to my left where I found a man looking intently at the dock.  I walked over and asked him what he was seeing and he pointed out the Snowy Owl.  It was low enough that it blended in with the posts and the jetty stones in the background and visibility depended entirely on the angle of viewing.  The picture shows the bird after it flew up onto a higher piling.

I also found Common Goldeneye.  I met a man who said that he had seen a Glaucous Gull north of this location and a very white Snowy Owl south of this location at the Texas Avenue overlook on the south end of the jetty which was snow covered.  I went to the Texas Avenue overlook but did not find the very white Snowy Owl, only a few promising snow bumps.  I checked out the few gulls for any of the rarities, but found only Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.   I went to the ferry slip to look for the reported Hoary Redpoll along the north fence line.  I met a photographer who found the dark Snowy Owl sitting on a light or sign post along the inlet.  By this time, the light was decreasing rapidly so I quite for the day, and went to a local Motel 6 near the airport.   The total is now 107.

Weekend Visit to Chicago, January 25-27

My cousins Larry and Jim and I were very close when we  were growing up in southeastern PA.  At family reunions, we always sat around and talked, and Larry and Jim told jokes while I mostly laughed.  Over the years we had promised that the three of us would get together again sometime.  When I retired last fall, we decided that it was time to do it.  This weekend seemed best, and I could visit them on my way to Duluth, MN for winter specialty birds. 

Friday, January 25 started snowy and cold in Cincinnati.  I first went to the Motor Vehicle office with my title to get my permanent license plates, because my temporary ones would expire during my trip to Duluth.  Once I had the plates, I could not figure out how to attach the front plate, so before heading home I stopped by the dealer where I bought the car.  They solved that problem.  Then I contacted Larry and his wife Alethea  to inquire about the weather in Chicago.  I also checked the Indiana and Illinois DOT sites.  The roads appeared clear though IN and IL and with no problems with lake effect snow just east of Chicago.  I left Cincinnati between 3:00 and 3:30 pm.  The trip to Larry and Alethea's house in Wheaton, IL took about 5.5 hours.  Upon my arrival, we left immediately for late dinner. 

Saturday morning after breakfast, Larry took me on a tour of Wheaton college where he taught chemistry for his whole career.  We discovered that Larry and Alethea's typical breakfast is nearly identical to mine after only occasional contact over the past 30 to 40 years!  Larry is six days older than me.  He was born on Christmas.  I was born on my grandpa Lehman's birthday, New Year's Eve.  How it was that both Larry and I became chemists with advanced degrees (PhD), the first in grandpa's lineage, is still a mystery.  I shared some digital photos of my brother Dallas and his wife Mary with their new grandchildren, Ava and Lana, daughters of son Erik and his wife Kim, and Sean, the son of daughter Amy and husband Ryan.  Then I packed up my belongings and drove Larry and me to Elgin, IL to meet Jim at a Denny's for brunch/lunch and a typical long talk session about our lives, etc.  We then went to a restaurant in Elgin for dinner, where we met up with Alethea and Peg, Jim's wife, and Joseph, Jim's nephew who is living with them.  Joseph is in high school and interested in science.  After a great meal and wonderful company, we departed and I stayed with Peg and Jim for the night.  Sunday morning I went to church with Peg and Jim, a shared service with the a local Elgin black church in which both congregations and choirs attend each others services.  After the two services, we went to Peg and Jim's house for a lunch, which was also almost identical to my typical lunch!  I spent some time with Joseph showing him the kinds of work I did in my career in the prescription and over-the counter pharmaceutical industry to give him and idea of what a career in chemistry could be.  I also showed Jim and Peg the same digital photos of parts of my family that they had not seen for a while or ever!

The weather in Chicago was snowy with freezing rain and icy conditions forecasted, so I stayed the night and left on Monday morning, thanks to Jim's and Peg's hospitality.  I decided to not go directly to Duluth, because the reports of winter rarities were still somewhat limited.  So, I went to Milwaukee first to look for Snowy Owl, two were reported at the Coast Guard inlet, white-winged gulls, Glaucous, Iceland and Thayer's, and a Hoary Redpoll had been reported in the area.             

Pickerington Ponds Metro Park, January 24

A Harris's Sparrow has been reported at the feeder at Wood Duck Pond at Pickerington Ponds Metro Park east of Columbus.  This is right off I-70 on my way home.  I stopped and within about 10 minutes saw the Harris's Sparrow come in to feed under the feeder.  I was not able to get any photos, so I headed home to Cincinnati.  I arrived in time for the appointment for my furnace inspection.  I have been lucky.  A new furnace will be required in the future but not right now.  The title for my Dodge Dart arrived in my bundle of mail.  Tomorrow I need to get my permanent license plates before leaving for Chicago.  Harris's Sparrow is 105. 

Barnegat Light and Jetty, January 23

I arrived at Barnegat Light and Jetty between 9:00 and 10:00 am after a stop  for gas and at Walmart to pick up some supplies.    Top left is a view of the Light and my new Dart Dart.  I have also included pictures of the long walk out the jetty at least a mile for the benefit of my nephew Erik's wife Kim.  She gave me a Christmas present this year of a book entitled "1,000 Places to See Before You Die."  I thought that Barnegat Light would be in that book, but it is not.  Well it should be.  This is for you Kim!  The next photo to the left is the lighthouse with my Dodge Dart in the foreground.  The next photo shows the jetty stretching into the distance.   The pipe railing is on a short concrete walkway.  The tower at the end of the jetty is the short vertical object that is aligned with the right most vertical pipe on the railing.  It is small because it is about a mile away.  The third photo shows a zoomed in view of the tower at the end of the jetty.  It was cold and very windy today.  I wore five layers of clothing including thermal underwear, a fleece sweater, a nylon windbreaker jacket with lining and a rubberized rain coat as a wind barrier with a hood, wet suit pants as a wind barrier, a warm knit hat under the hood, wore warm wool gloves and took two back-up sets of gloves with me. I saw twelve new birds:  Red-breasted Merganser, Brandt, about twenty Long-tailed Ducks, at least ten Harlequin Ducks, two Black-bellied Plovers, four Sanderlings, about ten Red-throated Loons, several Common Loons, thirty one Purple Sandpipers, six Ruddy Turnstones, at least twenty five Common Eiders, and fourteen Black Scoters.  Most of these birds were out at the end.  It was a long walk.  The bird photos are Purple Sandpiper,  Harlequin Duck, Common Eider and Long-tailed Duck.  In the early afternoon I drove south to Cape May to look for the King Eider reported there, but did not find it.   I looked at the point and on the bayside near the ferry slip.  The high wind probably kept the bird in hiding.  At about 5:00 pm I headed back toward Cincinnati and stayed the night at Exit 226, Carlisle, on the PA Turnpike.  The total is now 104 one higher than my had written list.  I discovered in writing this blog that I did not count Brant.  Tomorrow I leave for home for a furnace inspection appointment late in the afternoon.


Barnacle Goose, January 22

After eating a quick lunch on the run, I headed to Jersey City to Lincoln Park where a Barnacle Goose has been recently reported.  At first I could not find the west side near the river until I realized that the park road crossed a bridge over an intervening road to get to the wet side.  I checked out all the geese in the marshy area and on the water.  No luck.  There was a relatively large flock of Canada Geese inside a chain link fence feeding on the athletic field.  I scanned this flock but could not find the Barnacle Goose.  Perhaps it left the area.  Then I entered the dog walk area so that I could scan the geese from a different direction.  I noticed a smaller very gray-backed goose at the far edge of the flock.  I walked back out of the dog walk area and walked to the chain link fence that is close to a circle at the end of the park road.  There was the Barnacle Goose! 

All of the geese were bunched together for protection from the wind and cold and laying down on the ground, stretching out their neck to feed on the grass.  When I first looked from this spot, the Barnacle Goose may have been obscured by the larger Canada Geese.  The light was terrible, because I was looking slightly southwest in the late afternoon into the glaring sun. I decided to try for some photographs anyway.  It was not likely that I would be back this way soon.  I had to do modifications in Adobe Photoshop to correct the bad lighting in these photos.  The photos were taken with a 400 mm lens carefully through the holes between the strands of the chain link fence--not impossible but it can be done!

I also found a Double-crested Cormorant.  My total is now 91.

I returned the way I came via, NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway. It cost me about $13.50 in tolls.  However, the roads are in good shape, probably due to the tolls, I made good time and I got the bird!  My total is now 92.  I made reservations yesterday at the Howard Johnson Hotel for tonight, because I was planning to go to Barnegat Light and Jetty tomorrow.  The Jersey birder I talked to about motels recommended that I stay relatively close to Tom's River given the damage south and east due to hurricane Sandy.  There were emergency workers in the HJ Hotel at breakfast every morning.  Tomorrow I head for Barnegat Light and Jetty to look for sea ducks and shorebirds.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pink-footed Goose, January 22

I arrived at Marshall's Pond at 7:00 am.  It was very cold and had snowed about an inch or so the night before.  There was no Pink-footed Goose.  In fact there were not very many geese on the pond.  They must be out feeding.  I went to St. Joes Field, but there were no geese.  Castle Park was close by so I went there.  I saw flocks of geese flying back toward the pond at Marshall's.  I also checked the nearby golf course again, and saw more geese heading back to the pond at Marshall's.  So I returned to the pond at Marshall's.  I could not find the Pink-footed Goose at first, But eventually at about 11:00 I found the goose with its head tucked at the north end of the pond right by the shore and a small tree.  Shortly, two ladies from New Jersey came looking and asked if I had seen the goose.  I showed them where it was.  I got some photos as did one of the two ladies.  But first I called Bob Wallace and Vincent to let them know the goose was still present.   The top picture shows the bill and face from the side.

The middle picture is my best full side.  The bottom picture shows how the bird got its name showing the pink foot and leg.  This makes the total 90.

Spruce Run Again, January 21

Yesterday it got increasing colder and more windy.  No more 54F!  This morning it was colder still, in the low teens if I recall correctly.  I got to the dam outlet behind the Clinton Library just at first light.  None of the geese had flown out for  the morning feeding session.  I walked along the athletic field and chain link fence bordering the outlet waters and peered through the bushed and trees scanning the many geese.  Yesterday there was a  hybrid goose that looked like a hybrid of Snow Goose and Canada Goose.  It was large with a Canada Goose body but with a white head.  I found it again this morning.  A local photographer and birder discussed this on his blog.  As it got lighter, scanning became easier somewhat.  Eventually I found a Greater White-fronted Goose, a new bird for the year.  However, soon the geese started to get loud and small flocks started to fly out to the southeast.  By 9:00 am almost all of the geese were gone.  I packed up my scope and headed to the boat ramp again.  There I met another birder who told me that there was a large flock of Snow Geese to the northeast.  Take Rt. 31 north to Rt. 632 and go east.  I found this massive flock of Snow Geese that were circling landing and feeding in a field with corn stubble.  However, there was no place to park and scan the birds.  The field was elevated above the road level and there was only a private driveway.  So, I had to be satisfied with not scanning for Ross's Geese in this massive flock of Snow Geese.  As I drove west back to Rt. 31,  I found more flocks of Snow Geese along Rt. 632 at least one west of Rt. 31, but there was nowhere to pull off and park to scan the flocks.  Later in the morning near the northeast point of the reservoir, I found a Greater Black-backed Gull with a Herring Gull, standing on the flat near the waters edge. The Greater black-backed Gull was considerably larger than the Herring Gull as expected for this species.   The Lesser Black-backed Gulls seen yesterday are smaller than Herring Gulls.

Yesterday, at about 2:00 to 2:30 pm, a Pink-footed Goose was seen and reported in Tom's River. I stayed in the Spruce Run area for one additional try for Barnacle Goose.  At about 12:30,  I decided to drive to Tom's River to try for the Pink-footed Goose.  By the time I sopped for gas and a snack, I was carrying lunch with me, I arrived at Seacourt Pavillion Mall, and the pond near Marshall's.   However, I was about 10 to 20 minutes too late, because the geese were flying out to feed.  I did see several American Wigeon in the pond, a new bird for the year.  I met Bob Wallace from Florida and Vincent from NJ there.  I had met Bob before on a spring Searcher pelagic trip out of san Diego, CA.  He was in NJ for business and stopped by to see the Pink-footed Goose.  I exchanged telephone numbers with both and promised to call them if I saw the goose.  A New Jersey birder and his son decided to look at a nearby golf course where they had seen geese grazing.  I followed them there but we did not find the Pink-footed Goose.  I asked him about motels, and he was very helpful.   My list is now 89.  I stayed in a local Howard Johnson's about five minutes from the pond behind Marshall's.  It was comfortable and good enough for my needs and provided a nice continental breakfast in the morning.  This will give me a good early start in the morning.      

Northern Lapwings!! January 20

In the morning after getting breakfast, oatmeal and a bagel meal, at McDonalds, I heard a Fish Crow calling nearby.  I find the bird sitting on the arm of a street light.    As I drive up the road to top off my tank at Loves, I notice a small flock of crows in the trees nearby.  They fly to the Loves and land on the roof over the pumps, all the while giving Fish Crow calls.  They look smaller than the American Crows I am accustomed to seeing in Cincinnati, and their wing beats are not as deep as those for American Crow.  In 2012, I saw my first Fish Crow in Ohio near Cleveland.  Fish Crows are expanding in eastern US.
I continue on my way to 34 Brynmore Road, New Egypt, NJ.  I arrive to a row of cars looking at the lapwings.  The highly zoomed photo below shows all three birds near the water puddle in the muddy field. At the right is a mOutmber of the farmer's cattle--looks like a long horn to me.  The next photo is  of two birds flying, showing the distinctive black, gray white pattern, and the third the best close-up I obtained of a standing bird.  Outstanding in his field!  Ha!  Ha!

After I am satisfied with these birds, I talk with other local birders about where to find Pink-footed and Barnacle Geese.  There was a recent report at nearby Lake Etra but not today.  Today a Barnacle Goose was report at Spruce Run Reservoir near Clinton in NW NJ.  I decide to check out nearby Lake Etra.  By the way it is very convenient to use Google Maps on my Droid Razr.  There are essentially no waterfowl on Lake Etra, but there were two other birders there looking.  I decide to head to Spruce Run Reservoir, because it is early afternoon.  A Mew Gull was also reported recently at Spruce Run.
I arrive at Spruce Run Reservoir and figure out where the boat ramp is for the Mew Gull and where the Barnacle Goose was seen nearby in the early morning.  Several birders are leaving stating that the Mew Gull has not been found since the previous report.  They were heading for the Clinton Library and the dam outlet where the Barnacle Goose had been seen at sunset yesterday.  One birder remained, Jeff Davis, from Downingtown, PA.  I recognized his name.  He birds extensively in the east chasing rarities and photographing via digi-scoping.  I see his reports on the internet.  His wife Amy writes the Rare Bird report for Birding (magazine) and the ABA.  I add Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull standing there talking with Jeff.  I was almost going to leave to go to the library to look for Barnacle Goose when Jeff mentioned the Lesser Black-backed Gulls.  Jeff also confirmed that Fish Crows are likely where I saw them, because he sees them frequently around the Philadelphia area.  I noted that the Carlisle location is not far from the Susquehanna River and Fish Crows are expanding along the rivers in the east.  As we talked and looked at gulls, I noticed a small flock of Common Mergansers, a new year bird, flying west out from us.  Eventually, I left for the library and dam outlet to search for the Barnacle Goose.  While searching I found a Hooded Merganser.  Jeff had promised to and did join me there at sunset, but we did not find the Barnacle Goose, even though all of the geese in the outlet water flew up on the grass below the dam to feed. My total is now 85.  I stay the night in nearby Phillipsburg, NJ.  

Chase to New Jersey for MEGA-Rarities, January 19

All electronic and paper submissions made and mailed.  My car insurance cards arrived.  It's time to chase some real rarities in New Jersey--Northern Lapwing, Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose.  On Friday, January 18, just before leaving I got a call from Medicare/SS.  We got some errors in my submission corrected to my benefit.  I'm crossing my fingers as I leave town.

It is 54F as I start driving north on I71 to head to New Jersey via I70 and the PA Turnpike.  I stay the night at Exit 226, Carlisle.  On my way, I get 38.6 mpg (maximum average).  That's excellent.  I need to be back by January 24 for a furnace inspection, and to get ready to leave for the Chicago area to visit my cousins Jim and Larry. More about that later.    

Searching for Evening Grosbeaks, a Bohemian Waxwing and a Hoary Redpoll, January 17

Evening Grosbeaks can be very difficult to see in North America, particularly since the 70's in the East.  This year Evening Grosbeaks have returned to Mohican State Park near Loudenville.  The key is to get there early.  This location is one of the best locations in Ohio for Evening Grosbeaks when they appear this far south, which is infrequently in recent years.  This location is 176 miles and about 3 hours from my house.  I arrived at about 8:30 to 9:00 am, so you know I got up early and left early.  The birds were there, I saw about 25 Evening Grosbeaks as well as a number of Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls.  Below is a picture showing several colorful and gorgeous males as well as one Common Redpoll in the middle and a Pine Siskin on the feeder at left.  I met Margaret Bowman, an active Ohio birder, also retired like me now!

There was enough time to drive further north another 1-2 hours to Holden Arboretum, Kirkland, east of Cleveland to try for Hoary Redpoll as well as a Bohemian Waxwing, currently being seen and reported yesterday by birding friends Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell.  I took off. 

However, I spent the rest of the day at Holden looking at redpolls at the feeders and also looking were the Bohemiam Waxwing had been seen.  I dipped (no luck) on these birds.    I found out later that local expert Jerry Talkington did not find them either.  I did add Black-capped Chickadee.  Birds have wings and they do fly.  It happens!  The list is now 79 with one great rare bird added!

Special Grebe and Shrike, January 16

This morning I drove to Hidden Lake, IN, just over the Ohio line.  This is only about 45 minutes from home.  I got the previously reported Red-necked Grebe near the dam.  I first tired by the beach and thought I saw the bird with its head tucked at a distance near the dam.  I went to the parking area above the dam near the community center and started walked down the path.  As I neared the bottom by the dam, the Red-necked Grebe started swimming out into the middle of the lake following a Pied-billed Grebe.  The light was dim, too cloudy to try for pictures.

On my way back from hidden Lake I checked out the local camp ground lake on State Line Road for waterfowl.  There had been a scoter reported there, but the lake was empty.  I also stopped at Lost Bridge again but there were no waterfowl except Canada Geese.

I decided that I had enough time to try for Northern Shrike.  In 2011, I tried for Northern Shrike across the state of Ohio about 15 times during the period January through March, and never found one until very late in the year, November/December, near Ottawa NWR in northwest Ohio.  A Northern Shrike has been reported at Delaware WA north of Columbus about 1-2 hours away.  Time to get there with enough light.  This location has been reported as a very reliable location, perhaps the most reliable in the experience of very good birders.  I got there with plenty of light to spare and found the very cooperative Northern Shrike and enjoyed it from abut 3:30 to 4:30 pm at a reasonable distance and with telescope views.  No photos.  Not enough light.

At the end of the day, the total is 77, with two new winter rarities or potentially difficult birds to obtain.

More Winter Finches and Local Birds, January 13

I spent too much time digging out information from the past needed for pension submissions, medicare and social security, such as birth certificate, dates and documentation of a divorce decree.   I also needed copies so getting those requires time.  I had to document that I am not now married and have no dependents.  This is not fun!

On Sunday, the 13th, I needed to get outside and goo birding.  A Common Redpoll was reported near East Fork State Park.  It is quite uncommon to have Redpolls this far south in Ohio.  I went to Ginny and Rob's private feeder where I added Common Redpoll, Purple Finch (not always easy to find), as well as Red-headed Woodpecker (RHWO) and Eastern Bluebird.  This location is usually the best place to find RHWO in the Cincinnati area.  On the way to this feeder location, I stopped in Batavia and found Black Vulture and Turkey Vulture in the large vulture roost.  It also helped that it was a cloudy dreary day and everyone was home at the winter roost.

I continued to South Beach at East Fork State Park, where I added Bonaparte's Gull and a Bald Eagle (immature).  I stopped by the prairie area to look for sparrows and found Swamp Sparrow, Field Sparrow and Red-shouldered Hawk. 

At the end of the day the species list is 75.  Not bad considering only at most 3 days of birding.


Cacklers Near Home and Near Disaster, January 6

After listening to the Bengals wild-card play off game, on Saturday, January 5, later that night I heard a ruckus in my basement, and discovered that an animal had come down the chimney and was in my basement.  I checked carefully and noted the chimney cleanout cap was knocked off.     

Meanwhile, Cackling Geese and a Wood Duck were reported at Miami Meadows Park near Milford, very close to home.  On Sunday, January 6, there were 4 Cackling Geese grazing with a flock of Canada Geese on a grassy area in the park.  Cackling Geese are only seen in the winter after fall migration.  These waterfowl are using a pond with aerators that kept some of the water unfrozen.  Wood Ducks sometimes remain this far north if there is open water.   There was male and a female present.  The total is now 64.

I checked things out on Monday and noticed the nose of a raccoon peeking out of the holed.  I took a large board and slammed it flush across the hole.  Probably scared the crap out of that raccoon, but decided to wait one more night.  There was still a ruckus very late Monday night.  So, next day I took advantage of my Angie's List membership (no financial benefit) and got an exterminator to come by.  By Thursday they had caught the young male raccoon and installed a chimney cap.  I was assured that there were no others, and there have not been.  Could have been a big disaster happening this year if I did not get it resolved quickly.  

Both Crossbills, More Waterfowl, January 5

On days when I am not birding, I  am gathering information regarding a pension, medicare and social security submissions.  Not a happy task!

Today I went to Spring Grove Cemetery to try to find White-winged and Red Crossbills, which are winter specialties, and this year is an invasion year.  There are conifers, particularly hemlocks that the crossbills are feeding on.  These have been reported on, the local bird reports website.  My hearing is still quite good considering that I am chronologically more gifted, so I walked around and listened and looked in the best area where the birds were reported.   First found Red-breasted Nuthatch (RBNU).  This winter is an invasion year for this species.  I saw a bird fly down to the ground, and thought it might be finch or sparrow, but was surprised that it was a RBNU and that I could approach within at least 10 feet.  Then I heard a Pine Siskin flying around making its distinctive call.  An over-wintering immature Sharp-shinned Hawk was keeping the birds stirred up and wary as it tried for breakfast or brunch.  I met several other birders in the quest, Bill Hull and Bill Doss.  Finally, I heard the call of a Red Crossbill on the back side of a section near 51.  I found a Red Crossbill male and several White-winged Crossbills in the same hemlock.  This must be one of the small billed races of Red Crossbill due to the small size of the hemlock cones.  During this quest, I also found White-breasted Nuthatch. 

In the early afternoon I left Spring Grove Cemetery to meet another Hamilton County Volunteer In the Park (VIP) at Fernald Preserve to transfer my key to open the Sharon Woods Visitor Center for Cincinnati Bird Club meetings.  I can not guarantee that I will be available this year.  Task completed, and there was a good array of wintering waterfowl, including Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Black Duck and Northern Pintail.  In addition, there were an American Kestrel and 6 Wilson's Snipe.  Met Allan Claybon at Fernald.

I continued to Lost Bridge near Elizabethtown and found one lone Canvasback in the gravel pit.  This was the first full day of birding this year.  The total at the end of the day is 62 species.

Got My New Wheels, January 03

I picked up my new car from Kings Dodge this afternoon and promptly drove for some birding on the way home.  I visited Grand Valley near Camp Dennison, where I added waterfowl and other land birds Northern Flicker, Bufflehead, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Hairy Woodpecker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruddy Duck and Lesser Scaup.  Then I stopped by nearby Kelly Nature Preserve near Miamiville and added Belted Kingfisher and Downy Woodpecker.  There was enough daylight left to stop at Armeleder Park again where I added Common Grackle  and Yellow-rumped Warbler.  All of these locations are within about 15 minutes of my house.  For the past 5-10 years, I have been doing a January list to try to see 100 species in Ohio in January.  That's why I know what to expect at these locations.  At the end of the day to total is 45 species for maybe 5 hours of birding at most.  I have temporary plates so I need to get the title back and insurance papers before driving too far from here.  The temporary plates expire the end of January.

Order New Car, More Local Birds January 02

I added Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Pileated Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, White-throated Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, European Starling and Cedar Waxwing in my yard and around an ornamental tree with fruit in my next door neighbor's yard.  Added Mourning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Mockingbird around Cincinnati and on my way to order my car.  I order a white Dodge Dart SXT with manual 6 speed transmission, Turbo Charged, with cruise control on the highway.  This provides fuel economy (37 mph, per specs) and enough power to get up to speed when entering the interstate highways.  I have a picture to be shown later taken on a trip to New Jersey.

After putting in my order, I drove my van to Armeleder Park to try for the Lapland Longpurs reported there, which do not get this far south in Ohio every year, but where probably pushed here by the Dec. 26 storm and cold weather.  I found Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur, Red-winged Blackbird,  Great Blue Heron, White-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Killdeer, Northern Harrier, Cooper's Hawk, Canada Goose and Brown-headed Cowbird.  At the end of the day the total is 33 for about 3 hours of birding.  

Not The Start Expected on January 1

I expected to have everything resolved and ready to go come January 1.  However, I needed to buy a new car first to have more reliable ground transportation.  Yesterday, December 31, was my 70th birthday, so I celebrated by deciding on the internet which model of the new Dodge Dart I wanted.  I had decided before that the new Dodge Dart is the new car I wanted, because I have had a 1973 Dodge Dart (225,00 miles for me), 1992 Dodge Caravan (199,000 miles before it died) as well as a Plymouth Voyager with high mileage and my currently owned 2005 Dodge Caravan (237, 000 miles) still running which took me to PA and back for Thanksgiving and Christmas and a "side trip" to MA for the Northern Lapwing.  But before I spent the day choosing my car, I birded on my property and added Northern Cardinal, American Robin, Song Sparrow, House Sparrow, Carolina Wren, House Finch, Blue Jay and Red-bellied Woodpecker.  Nine species to start my Big Year.  Not great but a start. I will have a list available and linked to this site eventually.

Over the Christmas Holiday,  I put together a list of winter specialty birds and rarities already present in the ABA Region, US including Alaska, CA north of Mexico but not including Greenland and Iceland.   I came up with a list of about 50+ species to focus on for January and February and into early March.  This will be my starting strategy with obtaining any of the more common species while I am pursuing winter specialties and rarities. 

November to December 2012

After retirement on October 31 from P&G after 34 years and 50 weeks (almost 35 years!), I discovered that I was as busy as during full time work.  Multiple projects around my house, repair drive belt on dryer, cleaning out accumulated lint and replacing the vent (unexpected emergency), clean up leaves,  clean out gutters, clean off leaves twigs from roof, repair underground line from down spout to storm drain and finish grading and seeding an area where the sewer lateral was replaced late in 2010.  The grading required 9 months of settling before final repair.  Along with visit to family in southeastern PA for Thanksgiving and Christmas, these tasks left little time to develop a detailed plan for my Big Year in 2013, take care of all financial requirements for retirement and healthcare coverage and to buy a new car.  My 2005 Dodge Caravan had about 237,000 miles and is still running well but not reliable enough for any bird chases requiring driving in 2013. 

I did manage some birding in Ohio to raise my Ohio year list to 297 for 2012, the highest year list in Ohio for me to date.  After Thanksgiving, I also was able to get to Bridgewater, MA to see a new life bird, Northern Lapwing, raising my Life List for the ABA (American Birding Association) Region to 790.  I managed to get across New York state from the Boston area through on and off lake effect snow that became worse near Buffalo on my way back from seeing the Northern Lapwing.  That was not too bad since I had lived in upstate New York for about 17 years before my transfer to Cincinnati in 1994, so I am accustomed to driving in snow short of whiteout or blizzard conditions.

On Christmas night, I left my sister's house in Middletown, PA and drove across the PA Turnpike through the high snow risk area in the Somerset area, to arrive in Washington, PA before the post-Christmas snow storm hit.  However, the snow storm hit early on December 26, so it required 7 to 8 hours of very careful driving across I-70 to Columbus, twice the normal time, avoiding the crazies who insisted on driving 50-60 mph on the snow covered highway.  This also included tractor trailer trucks.  Invariably, almost all of the crazies who passed me ended in the ditch, one SUV overturned and on its roof and at least two trucks jack-knifed and in the ditch.   When I got back to Cincinnati on December 25 about 5:00 pm, I was so exhausted that it took me several days to recover.