Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Key West Tropical and Botanical Gardens, Sunday, April 28

I got a late start for two reasons.  The garden does not open until 10:00 am, and I was behind on my blog.  So I stayed in my motel and up-dated my blog before getting breakfast and heading south about 40 miles to Key West.  Motel rooms were more available in Marathon than in Key West, another reason for the choice of where to stay.

I arrived at the botanical gardens at about 11:30 am.  The information at the desk was that the bird was seen near the butterfly garden just after opening time.  It flew west toward an area on the Boardwalk Tour.  I met Bill Boyle and his wife from California who had been there since opening, but they had missed the bird by about 10 minutes.  It seems like that is a common theme in birding.  You should have been here about ten minutes ago!  I checked with the volunteer at the desk to get instructions on how to identify the trees.  Some are marked with signs, but not all.  Unfortunately, the nice lady at the desk did not know, but was helpful and showed me a brochure that helped somewhat.  Bill Boyle told me that the area around Desbiens Pond was very birdy, so I went there.  They had found a Northern Waterthrush and a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, both new birds for the year for me.  I found the Northern Waterthrush, new bird for the year, at the edge of the pond by standing in the pavilion at the north end and watching and waiting.  There were two Common Moorhens in the pond, and there were quite a few warblers in the trees and bushes around the pond.  I found American Redstart, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler and Magnolia Warbler.

Between 12:30 and 1:00 pm, I saw an unusual looking hawk at first soaring low over the trees, hovering and holding in the wind with up-turned wingtips.  The under-parts were white, and the under-wing coverts were white.  The wing tips were distinctly black due to black outer primary tips and the ends of the inner primary and secondary wing feathers were barred with fine black lines.  I thought that this bird was a Short-tailed Hawk, but asked the question of other birders there, "What is this hawk?"  Some did not know.  Others thought it was a Broad-winged Hawk by size and shape.  Others thought red-tailed hawk, because the tail was a light reddish brown accentuated by the bright sunshine shining through the tail.  I reserved final judgment on the identification awaiting a better look, but still thought it was a Short-tailed hawk, particularly by behavior.  I saw the bird plunge down to the tree-tops from hovering, a common behavior of Short-tailed Hawk as is the raised wing-tips while soaring.  However, the bird soared very high and the bright sunshine and back-lighting made it difficult to see all the details well enough to verify the identification. 

Don Wilkinson's birding group was in the park.  One of the participants, photographed every bird he saw, and he photographed the female Western Spindalis from behind showing only the back wings and tail and back of the head.  I showed the group the photographs of the female Western Spindalis on the website for the Botanical Gardens, one of which is a photo from showing the back, wings and tail from behind, which seems to confirm that he had seen the Spindalis.  This set off a more active search in the specific area near Desbiens Pond, but to no avail.  It was starting to get late, and it was not looking promising that I would see the Western Spindalis.

While searching for the female Western Spindalis, I found this gorgeous Giant Swallowtail.  See photo.  There were a lot of these amazing butterflies in the garden.

At about 3:00 pm, the hawk showed up again soaring up above the tree line but at a low altitude.  I could see the black mask on each side to the head, the immaculate white including the throat to the under-tailed coverts.  It behaved as before, soaring, hovering with up-turned wing-tips and plunging into the tree tops.  It definitely was a Short-tailed Hawk, another new bird for the year and a Florida specialty.  Another birder a man from San Francisco, CA, also saw the bird and identified it as a Short-tailed Hawk.   I got two photos of the bird showing the details--immaculate white throat breast belly and under-tail coverts, black mask on sides of face, white under-wing coverts, black tips to outer primaries, barring on inner primaries and secondaries.  There is some barring on the tail and at certain angles, the tail looks brownish.  A good internet reference on the identification of Short-tailed Hawk is Short-tailed Hawks-Determining
Age and Color Type on www.nemisisbird.com by Alex Lamoreux.  No one found the female Western Spindalis.  At closing time, the lady who closed the park was very knowledgeable about the trees and pointed out the fig tree near the gate and the Florida Holly with red berries right by the gate where my friends had seen the Spindalis about a week ago. 
I wish I had the information she provided before my visit today. 

I stayed outside the gate after closing again looking and watching for the Spindalis to show up, but it never did, or if it did show up, I never saw it.  At 6:00 pm, I left to drive north for another stay in Marathon at the same motel.  Tomorrow will be my last try for this bird.  I need to move on to get other species in Florida and to get to other areas around the country.

Northern Waterthrush and Short-tailed Hawk make the total 377.

Marathon Airport for Antillean Nighthawk, Saturday Night, April 27

Early in the morning before leaving on  the Yankee Freedom, I made reservations in a motel in Marathon for Saturday night, because I planned to try for the Antillean Nighthawk at the Marathon Airport where they have been reported.  Before heading for Marathon, I stopped at the entry gate for the Key West Tropical and Botanical Gardens to look for the female Western Spindalis.  This bird had been seen near the gate by birding friends, Dan Sanders and Doreene Linzell, from Ohio and Chris Hitt from North Carolina.  They heard the bird calling as the gate was being closed at closing time, 4:00 pm, and saw the female Western Spindalis feeding on a Florida Holly right by the gate.  Another birder has recently reported seeing the female Western Spindalis in the fig tree northeast of the boats near the gate.  When I first arrived in Key West on Friday evening, I also stopped by the gate to look for the spindalis, but had no luck.  I also had no luck on Saturday evening.  Both times it was difficult to know exactly where to look, because I was not able to determine from outside the gate, which bush was the Florida Holly and which tree was the fig tree.  However, I checked all trees and bushes anyway repeatedly until it was time to get dinner on Friday night and go to my bed and breakfast room.  Same thing on Saturday night--checked all trees and bushes from outside the gate but no luck.  On Saturday night while I was there, a volunteer showed up after 6:30 pm to open the gate for  a lecture.  He was willing to let me in to look for the bird, but really didn't want to open the gate too early.  Eventually, he agreed to not open the gate for me on Saturday night, because I was planning to return in the morning to try for the Western Spindalis.  I headed north toward Marathon in enough time that I could check in at my motel in Marathon, pick up something to eat to go and head for the north end of the airport.

I got to the airport in enough time.  The Gray Kingbirds were very active still as well as other birds.  I first stopped at the main airport building and the rental car return to try to find the northern end of the airport.  The end of the airport was further north than the rental car return, and a sign on the internal road along the airport fence said that the road north from the rental car return was one way south.  I returned toward the main building and found the "French connection," four birders, Roger, Roger, Ron and Gilles, from new Brunswick, CA, who were also on the Yankee Freedom to Fort Jefferson.  They were looking for the Antillean Nighthawk, but had the same instructions that I had, "the north end of the airport."  I mentioned that the north end was further north.  However, we decided to split up, because they had walky-talkies.  One of the four and I walked back north to the rental car facility and looked and listened, hoping to see the birds or hear them calling from a distance .  Soon, a call came in on the walky-talkie indicating that the other three thought that they heard the bird south of the main building, but needed confirmation of the call.  We walked rapidly back to our cars, and the man from CA found his electronic device with calls, and we drove rapidly south to a small pull off/picnic area where the other three were located. 

We confirmed the call, and there were three Antillean Nighthawks calling and flying low to the ground and sometimes landing on the ground.  It was starting to get quite dark, and I never could pick up on the birds flying very close to us, but the French connection could see them.  My eyes were slow in adjusting to the lower lighting.  However, the call of the Antillean Nighthawk is quite distinctive, a somewhat nasal pity-pit-pit.  The call is the best way to identify this bird.  In good light, it is possible to see the difference between Common Nighthawk and Antillean Nighthawk.  Antillean Nighthawk has more reddish color on the wing linings and the under-parts than the larger and longer winged Common Nighthawk.  However, fields guides indicate that it is very difficult to distinguish the two visually.  In the past when I have seen this bird in early evening light, I believe that I saw the difference on two different occasions, but only after ensuring that it was really an Antillean Nighthawk by the call.

The four French connection and I congratulated each other on our success and thanked one of the Rogers for actually finding the birds.  We exchanged contact information, and they gave me a good tip on the location for Black Whiskered Bulbul.  I thanked then for their help.  They said that they would be following my blog.  The French connection were headed north to a motel in Homestead to try for the Mangrove Cuckoo at Black Point Park in the morning, and then to Miami to try for the White-winged Parakeet and the Spot-breasted Oriole, before getting a flight to head home.  I headed to my motel in Marathon to eat my now cold take out dinner and get some rest.

Antillean Nighthawk makes the total 375, but more importantly adds a key Florida specialty to my list.  Tomorrow, I will try for the Western Spindalis.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas, Saturday, April 27

On Friday night before going to my bed and breakfast room in Key West at Eden House, I tried for Antillean Nighthawk behind the Key West Airport.  This is accessed from Government Road off of Flaggler Avenue.  One can view the west end of the airport runway from outside the fence.  I have seen Antillean Nighthawk from this location in past visits to key West.  A couple from California also joined me, but we did not find any nighthawks, neither Common Nighthawk nor Antillean Nighthawk.  They will also be on the Yankee Freedom ferry to Fort Jefferson on Saturday. 

The trip out to Fort Jefferson on the Yankee Freedom was uneventful except for a long distance view of a possible Brown Booby sitting on a platform type buoy.  Several other birders thought it might be a Brown Booby, but all agreed that it was too far away to identify.  We saw three Magnificent Frigatebirds on the way to the fort.  There were quite a few birders on the trip, the couple from California, a group from New Brunswick, Canada and a birding tour group led by Don Wilkinson from Boston, MA.  I recognized Don's name from the Massachusetts bird list serve.  I asked one of the mates how close we would get to Hospital Key and put in a request to get close as I was doing a Big Year and there were other birders on-board.  Later they announced that we would make a stop within a few hundred yards of Hospital Key to see the Masked Boobies.  The fort has a somewhat ethereal quality as it seems to rise out of the water as one approaches.  See photo.  
The photo shows Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, Bush Key on the left, where the Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies nest, and Loggerhead Key with the tall light house on the right.  Bush Key was separated from Garden Key in the past but now is connected by filled in sand from storms and changing currents.  When I first visited Fort Jefferson back in the early '90's, the two were separated by water. 

As we approached the fort,  I saw in the distance two apparent Masked Boobies flying toward Hospital Key.  As we got close to Hospital Key to view the Masked Booby colony (See photo.), a closer Masked Booby (See photo on left below.) flew across the bow and was soon

attacked by a Magnificent Frigatebird.  Two Brown Boobies flew across the bow fairly close.  (See photo to right of one.)  Before we made the turn to go around the fort and dock at the beach, both Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy flew by.  Masked Booby, Brown Booby, Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy are four of the target species for my visit to Fort Jefferson.  None of these are particularly good photos.  The light was not optimum and on a boat with movement, it is tough to get good photos.  However, the Masked Booby and Brown Booby photos in flight show the field marks of these birds.  We docked and everyone got off.  I went to the near coal dock to look at terns and found one adult Roseate Tern, showing the very long tail feathers, much longer than the Aftwings when folded.  There were also a few Common Terns showing the carpal bar on the folded wings.  Both of these are new birds for the year.  A passenger on the ferry, perhaps a non-birder, showed me a photo on her camera of a red and black bird.  I could not see it well due to the bright sun and angle of viewing but another birder told her that it was a Scarlet Tanager.   That's a new bird for the year so I went to look for it and eventually found it. 
Stunning in the bright sunlight.  See photo to the left.  Another bird reported by a young man who was on the island camping with his family was a Blue-winged Warbler.  That's a new bird for the year.  I searched for it but never found it.  There were a good number of warblers in the trees and bushes around the fort and inside the fort.  I saw Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler, Cape May Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Northern Parula, Palm Warbler and Black-throated Blue Warbler, none of these new for the year.  After lunch on the boat (breakfast was also provided at the dock on the boat), I saw a Baltimore Oriole, another new bird for the year, right near the boat in a sea grape and palm tree near the boat.  I went inside the fort to see what other migrants I could see.  The couple from California, Bill Boyle and his wife, reported a Swainson's Thrush, which I needed for the year.  I stayed inside for a while searching and eventually found the Swainson's Thrush, at about 1:15 pm, only about 30 minutes until we had to board the Yankee Freedom to return to Key West.  I also saw a Cave Swallow and a few Barn Swallows inside the fort.  A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was reported, but I looked for it but never saw it.  A Merlin, which I saw briefly, was keeping the migrant birds stirred up.  There was also a Peregrine Falcon on a tower on top of the fort.  Earlier I had gone to the top of the fort to scan Bush Key in the hopes of finding a Black Noddy, a tropical species, usually an immature bird, which occasionally shows up with the Brown Noddies at Fort Jefferson.  However, I did not find a Black Noddy, and found out later that other people had also looked and scanned but did not find a Black Noddy.  I heard that one of the tour leaders on the island, Adrian Binns, was going to scan later after all the day visitors had left the island.  Hope he finds it.  That might be a reason to return.  Later on the boat returning to Key West I heard a fourth hand rumor that someone saw a Black Noddy fly into the coal dock away from the docking area.  Interesting.

Just before I had to leave for the boat, a man walked up to me and introduced himself.  It was Sandy Komito, the current holder of the record for a Big Year in the ABA Area.  He had heard that I was doing a Big Year and offered his help, other than financial.  I met Sandy on Attu in 1988 and 1989 when I visited there and had met him after that on pelagic trips on the west coast.  I di not recognize him at first when he was walking toward me, because I had not seen him in years.  Thanks Sandy for your offer of help.  I may take you up on that.

Earlier, I had walked out the No Entry sign on Bush Key to try for some photos of Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy.  I got a photo of a male Magnificent Frigatebird as it was diving on terns and below
is a photo of Sooty Tern.  The Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies were flying into the colony with food and back out.  I also checked out the coal docks away from the docking area and obtained a photo of a sitting Brown Noddy, the last photo below.

At the end of the trip to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas, Masked Booby, Brown Booby, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Roseate Tern, Common Tern, Scarlet Tanager, Baltimore Oriole, and Swainson's Thrush make the total 374.  Tonight I will try for Antillean Nighthawk again but at the Marathon Airport.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Black Point Park Again and to Key West, Friday, April 26

I also got a late start in the morning and arrived at about 10:00 am.  By searching on the internet I found the right location.  One continues past the main entrance to the boat marina, cross the bridge on the main entry road, and turn right into the parking area and continue to the dead end turn around circle.  Just before the circle is a wooden bridge to the paved path that borders the boat channel.  In the vicinity of the wooden bridge and the circle is where the Mangrove Cuckoos have been seen.  However, one needs to be here at dawn and maybe later in the day.  I was not successful this day but will try again on my way back from the Keys.  On my way down through the keys, a Magnificent Frigatebird, a new bird for the year, floated over the road.

Magnificent Frigatebird makes the total 365.  Tomorrow, I will be on the Yankee Freedom heading to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas.

Note:  I found a recent error in the total.  Probably due to rushing and to get out in the field birding or just because I was tired when I was writing the entry.  The total is now four less than I recalled, but I checked my hand written notes and the Excel spreadsheet that I use and both are consistent with 365, the current total.

No Chase for Woodstar; Black Point Park and the Everglades, Thursday, April 25

I got a late start on Thursday morning, because I was checking the internet, PA Birds and NARBA, to see if the Bahama Woodstar was still being seen.  There were no further reports of the Bahama Woodstar after about 12:30 pm yesterday, Wednesday, April 24.  It was a good thing that I waited to book a flight to PA from Florida to try to see the Bahama Woodstar.  Instead of booking a flight, I went to Black Point Park to at least check out this location for Mangrove Cuckoo.  I had only general instructions to this location and the canoe launch.  I arrived at the park at about 1:00 am rather late in the morning to be able to have a good shot at Mangrove Cuckoo.  I checked out the area but never felt confident that I found the canoe launch area, but did find a sign after the entry to the parking lot to the main boat launch area.  I will check back at this site, but will need to do some searching on the internet.  I left the area at about noon and headed south to Everglades National Park to try for Shiny Cowbird at Flamingo.  I arrived in flamingo at about 3:30 pm and walked around the visitor center area looing for the flock of cowbirds.  It took me about an hour to find the cowbirds, which I found by first finding a flock of grackles.  The cowbirds joined the grackle flock.  Eventually I followed the cowbird flock to the lawn area opposite the marina, and at first found two male Shiny Cowbirds in the flock.  Both the Shiny and Brown-headed Cowbirds in this flock were feeding on the ground in tall grass with mature seeds,  but both species of cowbirds were jumping up and grabbing the grass seeds to feed.  Eventually, this flock built up to almost seventy cowbirds.  The flock got more active as it got later.  I found three male Shiny Cowbirds and at least one female. See photos.
The first photo shows the male Shiny Cowbird with the female behind the male.  The second photo shows a good comparison of male Shiny Cowbird and Brown-headed Cowbird.  Note the difference in head and bill shape of the two birds in addition to the obvious color difference.  The head and bill shape difference helps one to pick out the Shiny Cowbird in a flock that is often in the shade where the brown head of the Brown-headed Cowbird is often not visible.  I walked around the area also hoping to hear or see Black-whiskered Vireo, but did not find any.  I heard Gray Kingbird twittering and saw a Great Crested Flycatcher.  I have seen several Great Crested Flycatchers while I have been in Florida, and am satisfied that the La Sagra's Flycatcher that I identified was not a Great Crested
Flycatcher.  I found 25 Black-necked Stilts at Echo Pond and a singing Prairie Warbler.  In the camp ground near the amphitheater area, I found a flock of shorebirds including 17 Marbled Godwits, 9 Black-necked Stilts about 8 Short-billed Dowitchers and 20+ Willets.  There were about 8 Black-bellied Plovers, 2 Least Sandpipers, 2 Spotted Sandpipers and three Ruddy Turnstones on the shore.  Nothing new  for the year.  I started driving north at about 6:00 pm and checked near the road to Mahogany Hammock for Seaside Sparrows, but was not successful.  I still needed Chuck-will's-widow for the year so I timed my arrival to Pinelands and the park headquarters area to be close to or at dusk.  I heard the first Chuck-will's-widow in the parking lot at Pinelands and a second one singing loudly near the headquarters. 
Shiny Cowbird and Chuck-will's-widow make the total 364.            

Friday, April 26, 2013

All About Town and Back to Baptist Hospital, Wednesday, April 24

After picking up breakfast at a McDonalds on Stirling Road in Fort Lauderdale, I went to 2855 Stirling Road to a Walgreens Drug Store, where a Spot-breasted Oriole was reported yesterday at 3:00 pm feeding on the pink blossoms of a tab tree in the median east of the store.  I did not find the oriole at this location; therefore, I checked out the area.  There are multiple trees of this type around the shopping center with this Walgreens store.  No luck here on the oriole.  I decided to look for Monk Parakeets in the vicinity of Old Griffin Road and Griffin Road, where I had seen them several times before on birding visits to the Fort Lauderdale area.  After I turned into Old Griffin Road, the railroad crossing gate came down as a train approached.  As I was waiting, three Monk Parakeets flew northeast across the canal and headed north past the airport.  I could see the light green color and the white breast of the birds as they flew by.  One new bird for the year down and more to come.  I spent about one hour in the Old Griffin Road area looking for Smooth-billed Anis, but did not find them.  Because I was in the Fort Lauderdale area, I checked the Tropical Audubon site for locations of birds I still needed on my list.  Burrowing Owls are listed as present at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport about 20 minutes from this location.  I arrived at Commercial Boulevard and NW 21 Avenue and turned north on NW 21 Avenue, because the owls are found north of Commercial Boulevard.  Almost at the north end of NW 21 Avenue there is a pavilion with picnic tables where people watch the planes take off and land while having a snack or a picnic lunch.  The owl locations are marked by posts with or without a cross bar on top ("T").  I scanned the area several times with binoculars, until I found a spot to the northwest of a small white building which had three visible Burrowing Owls, the second new bird for the day.  At this location, the post is leaning and almost down on the ground.  One owl was flapping its wings and approaching another.  I suspect that this was a young Burrowing Owl begging for food.  After I found the owls, I got my telescope and camera out of my car as well as some food for lunch.  I got a very long distant photo of one of the owls standing up very straight.  See photo.
Just before finding the owls, I got a call on my cell phone from John Puschock, telling me that a Bahama Woodstar was reported on e-bird and PA Birds in Denver, PA.  John has been communicating rare birds to me.  He is working with ABA on the blog site and reporting of rarities.  Bahama Woodstar is a great rarity, having been reported in the US/North America last in 1981.  I will need to investigate a change in plans tonight to see if I can find a flight from Florida to either Harrisburg or Philadelphia, PA to chase this Bahama Woodstar, provided that the Bahama Woodstar remains at this location for the day.  Denver, PA is in Lancaster County, PA.  I was born and raised in Lancaster County, PA, and I have relatives who live near there.  I could not immediately start making plans to change direction; therefore, I continued with the current plan for today, Wednesday, at least.  Shortly, after the phone call from John, I got a forwarded e-mail from my friend Isaac Sanchez from Texas, who is doing a photography Big Year.  Isaac forwarded me the NARBA Rare Bird Alert to let me know about the Bahama Woodstar.  Soon after receiving the e-mail from Isaac, Bob Foppe from Cincinnati called me to let me know about the Bahama Woodstar.  Then I received the alert from NARBA.  There was a lot of excitement for me in a short period of time!  Thanks for all of the interest in my Big Year!  Later I also got an e-mail and comment informing me about the Bahama Woodstar on my blog from Ryan from PA changed from West VA) on his wife's (changed for mom's) e-mail (Cindy Lui).

I went to a few areas in Dania where I had seen Spot-breasted Oriole about ten years ago.  First, I checked the bottle brush trees in the Jai Lai Fronton parking lot.  They were blooming but did not hold a Spot-breasted Oriole.   I stopped and picked up some ice for my cooler, stopped at the McDonalds on Stirling Road to get a Cherry Berry Chiller, something cold to modify how hot I felt, and then stopped again at the Walgreens at 2855 Stirling Road to look for the Spot-breasted Oriole again.  No luck this time either for the oriole.  I checked my list of birds still needed and decided to try for White-winged Parakeet on my way back to the Baptist Hospital in Kendall.  Joe Barros, who was leading the birding tour for Eddie and Brett Casper and their mom, told me where they had almost instant success at the Le Jeune Road site after I told him that I was planning to use the sites listed on the Tropical Audubon website to find the Miami specialties.  I set my GPS on Google Maps for NW 42 Avenue (Le Jeune Road) and NW 7th Street.  This location is just south of Miami Airport; consequently, traffic was congested on the way.  I arrived at this intersection and parked briefly in the parking lot of a funeral/undertaker business.  I heard some parrots calling in the area, but decided to leave this parking lot, because it was designated only for customers.  I am not planning to be a customer soon!  I parked in the parking lot of a small strip mall and walked back toward the intersection of NW 42 Avenue and NW 7th Street.  I still heard the parrot calls, which seemed to be coming from an area near NW 9th Street.  I found a shady spot on the side walk under a tree and waited and watched.  I heard the calls again and looked up to the right to see two White-winged Parakeets flying south east.  I could see that they were relatively small parakeets with a light green color and extensive white on the upper wing on the inner primary feathers and the outer secondary feathers.  The white also showed on the undersides of the wings.  Another new bird for the year.

I decided to support local business, buy some local Hispanic food and take it with me to the Baptist Hospital in Kendall to eat while looking for the local specialties, Spot-breasted Oriole and Red-whiskered Bulbul.  I chose the Caribe CafĂ© Restaurant and asked a waitress to help me find food that would be representative of this area.  She recommended a Miami Sandwich, which has ham, lettuce, tomato and onion with mayonnaise on Cuban bread and is heated.  I also bought a Spanish orange drink with mandarin flavor.  Both were great!

I arrived at the Baptist Hospital at 6 pm.  I walked around the hospital grounds, drove through the neighborhoods to the north and south of the hospital, and also visited the nearby Kendall Elementary School.  I did not find the oriole or the bulbul.  I did find two Green Herons, a new bird for the year, at the lake in front of the hospital.  I also saw a number of small flocks of Mitred Parakeets, which I saw the first time I visited this week.  This time I also saw a Red-masked  Parakeet.  Mitred and Red-masked Parakeets are not countable and not considered established. 

I will need to try for the Spot-breasted Oriole and Black-whiskered Bulbul again, but after I either go to PA for the Bahama Woodstar or after I return from the Keys, which is my next area to visit.  I drove to Homestead to stay the night.

Monk Parakeet, Burrowing Owl, White-winged Parakeet and Green Heron make the total 362 (edited from original in error as 366).              


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Baptist Hospital, and All About, Tuesday, April 23

I wanted to get to Baptist Hospital very early in the morning, which is the reason why I stayed in Kendall.  However, the problems with my blog and the bird list that I described in my previous post kept me in my motel room until just before checkout time at noon.  I went to Baptist Hospital and the area south and across 88th Street/North Kendall Drive anyway.  I added Chimney Swift, two of which I saw south of the hospital.  Because it was the heat of the day and birding was slow, I decided to chase after needed birds that were not so dependent upon the time of day.  I decided to try for Cave Swallow, which is the Caribbean race in Miami.  Usually, when I am birding in south Florida, I try for and usually always get Cave Swallow at the bridge over the canal at 216th Street near Cutler Ridge.  This time I tried a new location at Sunset Drive (72nd Street) and 107h Avenue that was posted on the Tropical Audubon Society Bird Board and seemed closer to my then current location in the streets north of the hospital.  When I arrived at this location, there were two bridges, but the correct one was the one closest to the Miyagi Sushi Restaurant.  I found three Cave Swallows, a new species for the year, but there may have been more but were out feeding during the time I was there, which was close to 2:30 in the afternoon.  I could see the cinnamon colored foreheads of the birds and when they were in the bright sunshine, the darker cinnamon rump of these birds.  In comparison, male Cliff Swallows have a white or cream colored forehead and a yellow cream colored rump; thus, identifying these birds as Cave Swallows and not Cliff Swallows was relatively easy.  I had not yet eaten lunch for the day and stopped at a nearby Burger King and had a grilled chicken salad with the new Peach Iced Tea.  Just as I finished eating, I noticed a Common Myna walking beside the exit lane for the drive through window.  I could easily see the large size, brown color, the long yellow legs and bright yellow face patch without binoculars.  I quickly walked outside, but the myna had already disappeared.  Common Myna, accepted in 2008 for the ABA Checklist, is a new bird for the year.

Next I headed to Pembroke Pines to try for the Purple Swamphen, which was just added to the ABA Checklist, announced on the ABA Blog in February of 2013.  This is a new life bird for me, number 795.  There were two Purple Swamphens along the boardwalk just off of the parking lot.  Almost too easy to now be considered a wild bird to be added to the checklist.  Just joking, :>)  :>)!!  See photos.
After adding the Purple Swamphen, there was still enough time to return north to Loxahatchee NWR to look for Snail Kite.  I arrived at abut 6:00 pm to clear to partly cloudy skies, not like on Sunday, April 21, when there was a gathering storm and dim light.  I met a photographer in the parking lot for the Swamp Overlook, who told me that he sees Snail Kite in the most distant  areas to the south and east and had seen one at a great distance that morning.  I walked west from the parking lot and then headed south, watching for Snail Kite as well as Purple Gallinule, still missing from my list.  I was able to get photos of previously seen birds for the year, such as Roseate Spoonbill (flying) and Anhinga, sitting in the same tree where I saw it on Sunday, April 21, as well as a distant and hiding in the reeds Limpkin.  See photos below.  As the sun was  beginning to set, just above the high dike to the west, I noticed a large bird that looked like a Snail Kite.  With a binocular view, I could see broad, rounded, drooping wings, a spread tail as Snail Kites often do, and the head was down showing a downward curved bill.  This was only a profile view  against the bright sky from the setting sun.  The bird dropped down below the level of the dike.  I was right by a dike heading west to this high dike, the one with the boat ramp, and walked west to the high dike along the canal.  I started walking north along the high dike toward the boat ramp.  Suddenly from some willows along the canal, a large bird flushed.  It was the Snail Kite.  I could see the white at the base of the tail.  I got only a few very distant photos as the bird flew south.  The last photo below shows the spread tail and white at the base as the bird is flying south.  As I walked the dike north to the boat ramp, long legged waders, ibis and herons, were streaming to their roosts.  Quite a spectacle!  When I reached the boat ramp, the sun had disappeared below the horizon, but it was still light enough to walk along the road

back to my car at the Swamp Viewpoint.  I made it to my car before it got dark.  When I started west toward the high dike, I thought that I might not make it back to my car before dark, but I am in good shape from all the walking that I am doing and from my exercise program.  I drove to Fort Lauderdale to stay for the night.

Chimney Swift, Cave Swallow, Common Myna, Purple Swamphen, and Snail Kite makes the total 358. 

Tomorrow I will start in Fort Lauderdale and then work my way south looking for parrots at selected locations and then try again at the Baptist Hospital in the evening.    


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Monday, April 22

I awoke naturally at about 5:30 am, much refreshed after my first good night's sleep in more than 24 hours.  I headed south for Bill Baggs shortly after 7:00 am from Fort Lauderdale but was delayed by morning traffic and arrived shortly after 9:00 am at the parking lot at the end of No Name Road.  The first birder that I met was Ed B.  (sorry I cannot remember your last name) who looked very familiar.  Later I remembered that I had met him in Arizona in the first decade of the 2000's on a Melody Kehl trip to California Gulch for Buff-collared Nightjar.  Ed was the engineer for Attour after Al Driscoll stopped being the engineer.  Al Driscoll, also from New Jersey, was the engineer for Larry Balch's Attour trips to Attu when I was on Attu for one week in 1998 and three weeks in 1999.  Ed's travelling birding companion for this trip was Fred Virrazzi also from New Jersey.  They had been looking for the Thick-billed Vireo, and this was the third and last day of their scheduled trip.  They were still looking for a definitive look at this secretive bird.  They had heard it and seen parts of the bird but did not have a definitive look for identification and verification.  The Bahama Mockingbird may have been heard earlier, but the song of the Bahama Mockingbird became a subject of discussion later in the day.  More later about this. 

There were a lot of migratory warblers in the area, as well as Painted and Indigo Buntings.  Slowly I picked up migratory warblers.  First new bird for the year today was Ovenbird seen in and below a sea grape near the white gate that indicates Restricted Entrance, where the Thick-billed Vireo was being seen.  Then I finally found a Cape May Warbler, then Palm Warbler, and then closer to noon, a Black-throated Blue Warbler a female.  All of these were new for the year.  However, no success in the morning on either hearing or seeing Thick-billed Vireo or the Bahama Mockingbird.  Near lunch time I met a young family, Ed and Kelley Casper from Illinois with their two young sons, Eddie and Brett (hope spelling is correct).  Eddie and Brett were the obvious birders in the family being led by Joe (Jose) Barros, who is the president of Tropical Audubon, and being helped by another man whose last name is Weber, a familiar name to me.  Both Joe and Ed Casper, the father asked me why I was wearing a t-shirt with Crest on it.  I told them about my career with P&G, but I may have forgotten tell them that I worked on all Crest products from 1994 until the end of October, 2013, when I retired from P&G to do this Big Year.  Both Joe and Ed are dentists, but maybe not Crest advocates, perhaps advocates for Colgate, just an impression that I got. 

While we were gathered in the parking lot, Eddie and Brett  pointed out a Gray Kingbird on the power line a new bird for the year for me.  See  photo.
They invited me to join them for lunch, but I had food in a cooler that I needed to eat before all the ice melted.  However, I stopped by their table in the restaurant to thank Eddie and Brett for finding me a Gray Kingbird for my Big Year list and did meet them again later.  I have a fine appreciation for the job that Ed and Kelley are doing with their two sons, because I got interested in birds at the age of four, and my interest continued, with some waxing and waning in my teen-age years.  When I was the current age of Eddie and Brett, there were not the opportunities and information available for birding that there are now, and there were very few good field guides available when I was ten years old.  Later I told Kelley how cool it was that she and Ed were taking their young sons birding.  Eddie and Brett have really sharp eyes and ears and are already very good birders, even if done only with cameras.  If I recall correctly, their list for the year was 275 when I met them.
There were four or five Black-throated Blue Warblers in the trees after the first open area.  I found a male American Redstart, new for the year, with the Black-throated Blue Warblers.  I continued down the trail until an intersection with a white gate on the left with a sign saying Restricted Entrance.  I found a smaller myiarchus flycatcher with pale under-parts at this intersection that I identified as the La Sagra's Flycatcher.  See photos of the only two shots I obtained before the bird disappeared.  Unfortunately, the flycatcher was silent and was not giving its distinctive "wink," almost towhee-like call.  I know the call of La Sagra's Flycatcher having seen and photographed La Sagra's Flycatcher before in Florida on March 17, 2002 at Loxahatchee NWR.  My photograph was at one time in the archives of the photos affiliated with Florida Birds.  This bird at Bill Baggs was very white on the throat and breast and light yellow on the belly and toward the under-tail coverts.  Later, I showed the photos to Robin Diaz, who found the La Sagra's Flycatcher at Bill Baggs, and she believed that it is a La Sagra's Flycatcher.  She originally found the La Sagra's Flycatcher at the same spot where I saw it.  This La Sagra's Flycatcher behaved the way over-wintering La Sagra's flycatchers behave.  It came out in the open for a short period of time and then disappeared back into the under brush.  The intensive direct sunlight over head near noon and the shadows are affecting the colors in my photos, but most people who have seen these photos agree that it is a La Sagra's Flycatcher, perhaps showing more yellow than expected possibly due to lighting conditions..

On my way back out on the nature trail, I met Rack from Tennessee.  When we arrived in the grassy open area, a male Bobolink in breeding plumage flew up and landed in a tree.  This is also a new bird for the year.

The afternoon was spent looking for the Thick-billed Vireo.  I finally found a Prairie Warbler at the white gate, another new bird for the year.  Robin Diaz, a local expert, showed up about the middle of the afternoon.  She head the vireo singing, so all the birders present followed her, and we heard it singing at close range.  It was singing a more hoarse and burry song similar to but not exactly like a White-eyed Vireo.  It was not exactly at the white gate but more toward the entrance to No Name Road.  Earlier, before noon, I met the birder from Philadelphia, whom I met at the White-cheeked Pintail.  He played a recorded song and call of Thick-billed Vireo for me.  This singing Thick-billed Vireo sounded very similar, but was singing a lightly different version.  Birds do change their songs, and not all birds of a feather, the same species, sing exactly identical songs.  Unfortunately, this bird did not come out in the open to be seen.  I have seen Thick-billed Vireo before in the Keys in the fall of 2004.

Later, as we continued to try to see the Thick-billed Vireo, two White-crowned Pigeons flew over, new for the year.  Robin Diaz, who works in the park, also saw them and told us that a pair is in the park, perhaps trying to breed and nest in the area.  During the continuing vigil for the Thick-billed Vireo, warblers were everywhere.  Prairie, Black-throated Blue, at least two Northern Parula, Cape May and American Redstart were numerous and hawking insects in the open.  An adult male Black Poll Warbler showed up, another new species for the year.  I had already seen Common Yellowthroat and Black and White Warbler, not new for the year.

We heard a song, that was thrasher-like, that several of us thought might be the Bahama Mockingbird.  However, Robin indicated that it was the whisper song of the local Gray Catbirds, which they sing before the breeding season.  We were not convinced until we heard two different birds singing this same song.  She stated that the experts agree that it is very hard to tell the difference between this whisper Gray Catbird song and the song of a Bahama Mockingbird.  I have seen Bahama Mockingbird at least twice before, once obtaining a taped recording of a bird found by Larry Manfredi in Taylor Birch Arboretum, now State Park, on May 16, 1992.  Today at Bill Baggs, we never heard or saw a Bahama Mockingbird.

I made one late day try for another look at the La Sagra's Flycatcher, but could not find it on the Nature Trail at the intersection indicated previously.  I continued on the trail toward the light house, and found a beautiful male Painted Bunting.  I also found two male breeding plumage Indigo Buntings on the Nature Trail. 

Finally, I decided to stop birding and got some dinner at the restaurant in the park near the parking lot at No Name.  A storm with very heavy rain came in and I was trapped in the restaurant for an extra 30 minutes.   By that time, my phone's battery was almost dead, and I could not use my phone to find a motel room in Kendall for the night.  However, I got some help from a lady at a quick stop and used my Road Atlas (a book in this digital age!) to find my way.

Ovenbird, Cape May Warbler, Palm Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Gray Kingbird, American Redstart, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Bobolink, Prairie Warbler, Thick-billed Vireo, White-crowned Pigeon and Blackpoll Warbler makes the total 353.

Apology:  I am not sure why, but the link to my list disappeared from my blog.  Yesterday, when I up-dated my list, the list disappeared from my blog.  Then the link disappeared.  I spent almost two hours yesterday morning trying recover them, but finally gave up.  There is a problem between Google and Word for Windows Excel.   I will continue to try to recover the link and keep access to an up-dated list, but not at the expense of birding time.   I was able to recover the link and the list this morning in a short period of time.  Hope that it stays.  Sleep does wonders!     

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

To Florida, Saturday, April 20

I am writing this entry from a motel in Kendall a suburb of Miami.  I left driving for Florida on Saturday, April 20.  I stopped for about an hour in Knoxville, Tennessee for a sit-down meal and to fill my gas tank, and then continued driving.  I stopped frequently for bio-breaks on the way after eating, because I took a large raspberry iced tea with me and a cup of coffee.  At about 2:30 am, I stopped to snooze in a rest area in south Georgia, and awoke after a three hour snooze at about 5:30 am, and continued driving, crossing into Florida on I-75, sometime close to 7:30 am. My first new bird was a Swallow-tailed Kite at about 9:00 am on I-75 about 45 miles north of the juncture with the Florida Turnpike.  No pictures of the kite, because it was seen soaring over I-75 at about 70 mph!  I headed toward Pelican Island NWR south of Sebastian Inlet on the east coast of Florida to try to see the White-cheeked Pintail.  This will be a life bird for me, if this bird is counted as a wild bird, first by the Florida Bird Records committee and the records committee for the American Birding Association.  White-cheeked Pintail is native to the Bahamas, and a number of previous birds reported in the US, mostly in Florida, were deemed to be introduced or escapes from captivity.  I had never previously chased any of those reported White-cheeked Pintails, because I expected them to not be counted as wild birds.  However, the word through the birding grapevine, suggests that this bird has a chance of being accepted by the Florida Bird Records Committee, and thus also by the ABA Records Committee; therefore, I needed to try for this bird, because I would be in the area--Florida--relatively speaking at least. 

Near the entrance to I-95 on Florida 528, I saw a small dove with very little tail and red in the primaries fly across the road and dive into a back yard.  A Common Ground Dove, the second new bird for the trip.  A few minutes later, at the entrance ramp for I-95, I saw a Wood Stork soaring with a group of about twenty Black Vultures.  Shortly, while I was getting back up to speed on I-95 south, two very large, gray birds with outstretched necks in front and outstretched legs behind flying diagonally close to the highway.  Sandhill Cranes, the forth new bird for the year, since arriving in Florida.  This is what I expected, new birds being seen quickly and in bunches in Florida.  I arrived at Pelican Island NWR at about 12:00 noon, not the best time of day to start birding.  This time of day is usually slower than early or late in the day.

I followed the directions that I obtained off of the internet via NARBA (North American Rare Bird Alert) to the parking lot at the Centennial Trail, gathered my binoculars, telescope and camera, and my water bottle and walked out the trail.  As I approached the pavilion by the butterfly garden, a Common Ground Dove flew up off of the ground and landed behind a bush.  This close look was apparently my belated reward for my previously unrewarded patience at least two weeks ago in Texas at Falcon State park, where I awaited in vain for a Common Ground Dove to show up at the feeders.   There were scattered small flocks of Blue-winged Teal in the pond where the White-cheeked Pintail.  The information I had indicated that early morning and after 3:00 pm is better for the pintail, but I decided to stay and check things out anyway.  There were Blue-winged Teal sitting on the shore of an island in the pond.  I walked to another pavilion to sit in the shade and check out this group.  I found a larger bird roosting with its head tucked, and showing white on the sides of its face.  I waited to see if the bird would raise its head.  Eventually, another birder from Connecticut came by, I pointed out the bird and he walked a short distance along the edge of the pond.  When the bird raised its head, it was the White-cheeked Pintail, showing the white face and upper neck whence the name.  I managed several long distance photos, both of which also show the orange color at the base of the bill.
In the first photo to the left the White-cheeked Pintail is the second bird from the right surrounded by Blue-winged Teal.

Soon another birder from Philadelphia, PA came by.  I pointed out the roosting bird, and we waited for it to raise its head, which it cooperatively did again.  While I was waiting for the pintail to show its face, three Wood Storks flew over the pond and circled but never landed.  They were so cooperative that I took several photos of the birds flying.  See photos below which show how it is possible to identify this bird soaring while driving, showing the black primary and secondary feathers on the wings and white wing linings and under-parts, the long trailing legs and the dark head with downward curved bill.  I left Pelican Island NWR at about 2:30 pm and drove south, intending to stop at Spanish River Park in Boca Raton to look for a Western Spindalis, which had been reported about two weeks ago, but had not been seen again.  I arrived close to 6:00 pm.  When I drove into the park, I was informed that the entry fee was $18.00.  I decided that was too much money for such a short stay for a bird that had not been
reported again since the initial sighting almost two weeks ago.  There is another Western Spindalis, a tanager from the Bahamas, that has been present for quite a while near Key West.   I am headed that way.   I drove away from Spanish River Park and found a McDonalds to get something to eat and drink.  My energy level was fading fast, and I had been very drowsy during the 2.5 hour drive south on I-95 from Pelican Island NWR to Boca Raton.  I also needed gas, and asked a customer where a local gas station was located, because in this area, stores and businesses are well disguised with palm trees 

and landscaping without obvious signage.   There was still some daylight available and enough time to visit nearby Loxahatchee NWR.  At Loxahatchee NWR I walked the dikes from the Swamp Viewing Area and found, Gray Catbird, Anhinga, Glossy Ibis, and last but not least, Limpkin.  At first I did not find Limpkin, but as I arrived back at the parking lot, I heard a Limpkin calling, giving its weird sounding call that is used in the sound effects in movies in jungle scenes.  I usually also find Snail Kite, but I suspect it was too late, too close to dusk and with a storm approaching.  I drove to Fort Lauderdale to stay the night, and crashed immediately without further food, really beat due to the long day and drive without much sleep.

With the addition of the eight birds mentioned, and not counting the White-cheeked Pintail....yet (but holding) the total is now 341.

Tomorrow, I will try for the Thick-billed Vireo, La Sagra's Flycatcher and maybe the Bahama Mockingbird at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  More later.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Update for Today

I spent at least four hours today messing around with google and finally succeeded in providing read access to my Big Year List for 2013 for al blog readers.  There is a link above my photograph on the blog to this list, which will be updated throughout the year.  Click on that link.  When the list opens, you may need to zoom in to expand it for easier reading.  This list is based on a compatible version of Windows 8 that should work with Windows 7.  I do not know how it will work with a Mac.  Sorry, I can't cover all bases here.  I need to go birding! 

The list includes the birds seen at the top and after a space the remaining birds on the ABA list still to be seen.  I cannot guarantee that all of the new species added this past year that I have not yet seen are on the list at the bottom, such as Nanday Parakeet, Rosy-faced Love-bird, and Purple Swamphen.  I expect them to be on the list by the end of this year.  I may have some additional improvements in format in the future, but for now this list at least answers a number of requests that I have received in comments for a list of the birds already seen.  Recently, a reader suggested that the list of birds not yet seen is more important, so people can suggest where to see them.  The current format includes both the birds seen and the birds not seen on the ABA list.

Special thanks to Bob Ake, who provided an Excel list back in February and who gave me very good advice about how he managed his similar list.  I have copied his format and am using a similar version of his dual list.    

Sunday, April 14 and Monday, April 15, Cincinnati

Out of frustration about how much birding time is "wasted" taking care of everyday life stuff, I went to Spring Valley Wildlife Area (SVWA) on Sunday evening, April 14.  I checked the bike trail to see if I could find the recently reported Prothonotary Warbler, but without success.  I did find my first of the year in Ohio Yellow Warbler north of the beaver dam north of the entry path to the bike trail from the parking area by the dam for the lake at SVWA.  I met two birders from the Dayton area, Springboro, who were also looking for the Prothonotary Warbler, but also apparently without success also.  I went to the boardwalk to check for Virginia Rail and Sora.  I found 3 calling Virginia Rails, a new bird for the year.  One Virginia Rail came in close to the boardwalk and was visible near the chair on the boardwalk before the observation platform.  I also tried for American Bittern, but without success.  There are still Rusty Blackbirds coming into the marsh to roost at dusk with the flocks, now smaller, of  Red-winged Blackbirds. 

Before dawn on Monday morning, April 15, I drove to East Fork State Park to the Horseman's Parking Lot to listen for Barred Owl.  This is an almost guaranteed place to hear Barred Owl.  I heard a distant Barred Owl call once at about sunrise, while it was getting light.  A flock of American Crows was apparently harassing the Barred Owl, prompting the call.  I met a mushroom harvester when I arrived.  He is also a turkey hunter and verified that the turkey hunting season started next week.  Therefore, I walked the horseman's Trail out to the "S" curve to listen for Prairie Warbler.  Usually, I can get Prairie Warbler from the parking lot, but not this day at the parking lot or on the trail.

I also visited Armeleder Park, where Prothonotary Warbler had been reported, but did not find the bird.  I heard a Purple Finch singing near the canoe launch area, and saw the following birds:  White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Rough-winged Swallow, Tree Swallow, Eastern Meadowlark, Northern Shoveler, Blue-winged Teal and Lesser Yellowlegs and heard a Yellow Warbler at the north end of the park.  However, none of these are new for the year. 

The total is now 333.  I have not left for Florida yet, but very soon.  A lot of preparations needed for scheduled trips later this month and next and Spring chores that cannot be delayed.     

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Last Day in Texas, Salineno and Falcon State Park, April 8

I was very tired Sunday night and fell asleep without setting an alarm and awoke naturally at about 5:30 am Monday morning.  Unfortunately, I should have been on the road by 5:30 am to arrive before sunrise for the best chance for Red-billed Pigeon and Muscovy Duck fly-bys at Salineno. I arrived close to 8:30 am, delayed somewhat by the early morning go to work traffic,  to find Alex Cruz and John Yochum already there with great tales of all the Red-billed Pigeons and the Muscovy Duck that they had seen.  The Muscovy Duck flew up river toward Falcon Dam but the Red-billed Pigeons were flying both ways.  John said it had been the best morning he had ever experienced at Salineno.  Well, that success continued, because while I was there I saw between 12 to 15 Red-billed Pigeons, many on the Mexican far side of the river.  At one point, a flock of six Red-billed Pigeons flew south on the Mexican side and landed in the trees.  See photo of three of them, on which two of them the red bill and red legs and feet are visible. 
About half of the Red-billed Pigeons I saw flew close to the US shoreline or over our heads on the US side, so I can count these for my ABA area Big Year list.  I got a distant photo of a Red-billed Pigeon flying toward a tree on the US side south of the boat ramp in the vicinity of where the temporary feeders were maintained this winter.  See second photo.  The  river was quite high, much higher, John said, than on his most recent visit.  The higher water level was the result of negotiations between US and Mexico to allow more water to be released probably to relieve some of the stress of the drought on the US side, and most likely for agriculture.
We were expecting to see the Muscovy Duck fly-by south, and it happened.  Alex picked it up coming south near the US shoreline up-river in front of the island north of the boat ramp.  It nearly flew over our heads.  I was not able to get the best photos, because the Muscovy Duck was very close and moving quite fast.  See two photos below which are identifiable as Muscovy Duck if not the best photographs.   I was not able to get the whole bird in focus, and the head is not sharply in focus.  We also saw Audubon's Oriole in the tops of the trees on the Mexican side.  See photo below.  Unfortunately for my Big year list, I can not count this Audubon's Oriole for the ABA area.  I checked on Google maps about the location of the border at Salineno, specifically at the boat ramp.  The border is closer to the Mexican side than the US side, but the land is in Mexico.  We tried later in the morning in the village of Salineno, but I never saw an Audubon's Oriole there.  Alex thought he saw one but we were not able to locate it.  We continued to bird at the boat ramp, and at 10:30 am, John mentioned how unusual it was that we still had Red-billed Pigeon activity.  A cooperative Green Kingfisher gave photo opportunities.  See photo below.  I heard an unusual cowbird call and then John and I heard a definitive Bronzed Cowbird.  We found the Bronzed Cowbird sitting in a dead tree right nearby, another new bird for the year.   See photo showing the large bill and head and flat headed appearance with a red eye.  Then I heard a "whit" call and suggested that we need to find that bird, because it sounded like a Brown-crested Flycatcher.  We pursued the bird up-river on the US side.  The bird sounded like a Brown-crested Flycatcher but, as John stated, was very light colored like an Ash-throated Flycatcher.  Both birds are possible at Salineno at this time of year.  Finally we got a good look at the underside of the tail.  The dark brown along the outer edges of the closed tail did not curve around the bottom of the tail making this bird a Brown-crested Flycatcher, another new bird for the year.  Because there were reports of Audubon's Oriole in the village of Salineno, we went into town and parked near the church, where we found male and female Hooded Orioles.  I looked at a kingbird on the wire expecting the usual Couch's Kingbird but noticed the white outer edge to the tail feathers.  It was a Western Kingbird another new bird for the year.  I was pleased to hear the Western Kingbird call and sing.  I have not often
been in their breeding territory to hear them. 
See photo.  I wanted to drive the dump road from Salineno to get to Falcon State Park.  In previous visits I have found Pyrrhuloxia and Black-throated Sparrow  as well as Greater Roadrunner on this road.  John pointed out that Scaled Quail is also possible on this road as well as Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  John suggested that I lead the way since I was doing a Big Year and needed to get the birds.  We exchanged phone numbers, and they agreed to flash car lights to signal me if I missed something.

On the way out of town, I thought that I heard an oriole call, and saw a small dove that might be an Inca Dove, so I stopped.  We did find an Inca Dove this time.  Earlier by the church in Salineno, I saw two small doves fly by that looked like Inca Doves but we could not find 
them.  At this stop with Inca Doves, Alex found the oriole, which was a Bullock's Oriole.  I was able to get on the bird and see the smaller sized oriole, smaller than Hooded, with large white wing patches, but it flew away quickly.  Alex also thought that he saw an Audubon's Oriole fly into a nearby tree, but we were never able to find it.  Along dump road I found Black-throated Sparrow, stopped because I heard a call that I thought might be Pyrrhuloxia, and John confirmed that it was, found a Cactus Wren and heard a Cassin's Sparrow without being prompted by flashing headlights.  I found out later that John and Alex had a private joke about how often they would need to flash their lights at me.  They stopped for a Horned Lizard (Toad), which I saw run across the road but ignored because I was focused only on birds.  I guess that I'm on a roll in my Big
Year, because it turned out that they did not have to flash their lights. We continued to Falcon State Park to the feeders and the blind with feeders

managed by volunteers and located near the butterfly garden.  The new birds for me that the volunteers indicated are present at the feeders are Common Ground Dove and Greater Roadrunner.  John, Alex and I stayed at the feeders behind the camper of the volunteers, but these new birds did not show up.  A cooperative Pyrrhuloxia showed up.  See photo with an Inca Dove in the background.  At the feeders with a blind in the mesquite, a Black-throated Sparrow showed up.  See photo.  We left the feeder area to look for the Audubon's Oriole nest found by John from Massachusetts.  However, we were not successful.  We returned to stop at the feeder area.  I wanted to look for Greater Roadrunner and Common Ground Dove.  I did get the Greater Roadrunner at first close to but not at the feeders.  The Greater Roadrunner then moved toward the feeders and came in to the water bath.  See last photo.  It was about 3:30 pm and Alex had to leave to start back to get his flight back to Minnesota leaving from Harlingen Airport.  I had hoped to be able to get to Laredo to try for White-collared Seedeater, but given the time, I had to cancel those plans.  I had an early flight at 6:50 am on Tuesday, tomorrow, from San Antonio and was quite tired from the last two days of long-distance travel,  birding until after dark for the Elf Owl and then getting up early to get to Salineno.  The choice to get the Whooping Cranes eliminated a try for White-collared Seedeater for this trip.  It was at least two hours to Laredo and at least four hours from Laredo to San Antonio.  I said goodbye to Alex and John and stayed in the area to look for Common Ground Dove at the feeders.   When that search and wait was unsuccessful, I returned to Salineno to look for Audubon's Oriole in the US.  There was also a possibility for Common Ground Dove in Salineno and a Ringed Kingfisher fly-by down by the river, but that did not happen.  Between 4:00 and 5:00 pm, I saw two more Red-billed Pigeons fly by the boat ramp on the US side.  One flew south and then another or the same one flew north.  I did not find the Audubon's Oriole in the US, nor the Common Ground Dove or the Ringed Kingfisher.  At about 5:15 pm, I started to drive back to San Antonio.  I arrived at a motel near the San Antonio International Airport at about 
10:45 pm.  I had stopped along the way to buy gas and get something to eat. On my last day of this trip to Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, I added Red-billed Pigeon and Muscovy Duck, the two sought after specialty birds for Salineno.  In addition, I added Bronzed Cowbird, Brown-crested Flycatcher, Western Kingbird, Bullock's Oriole, Inca Dove, Pyrrhuloxia, Black-throated Sparrow and Greater Roadrunner.  The ten new birds makes the total 331 at the end of this trip.  I plan to return to Texas in about two weeks after a trip to Florida and to Colorado for grouse/chickens unless a special trip for a rarity interferes with this plan!


Whoopers from a Distance, back to the Valley, April 7

I completed my blog entry with photos for Friday, April 5, from my motel in Rockport early Sunday morning.  I talked to the clerk at the desk on Saturday night about my search for Whooping Cranes for my Big Year.  She told me that the Whooping Cranes had been seen at a park in Rockport only a few days ago.  She gave me directions, and it was not far.  After breakfast, which was included with the room for one night, I checked at the desk and got the same story from a different lady a the desk.  I headed south to a small park across from Walmart.  The boardwalk and trail were not very long.  I did not find any Whooping Cranes.  I stopped back at the office of the Econo Lodge Inn to double check on directions.  A man caretaker said that the Lamar area would be better.  After some discussion, we determined that the Lamar area is the area that I checked last night.  Because it was on the way to Aransas NWR, I drove Lamar Boulevard again, just to be sure that there were really no Whooping Cranes there.  At the end of Lamar Boulevard I turned the corner and pulled in to the parking lot at the Big Tree.  Two birders with binoculars were walking out of the parking lot along the road.  I stopped and asked them if they had any success.  That's how I met John and Alice from Northumberland, UK.  Northumberland is in the north right next to Scotland.  John and Alice had reservations for the boat trip to see Whooping Cranes, but the trip had been cancelled today, Sunday, April 7, due to lack of participants.  The boat tour company gave them a map showing the locations of Whooping Cranes in the area.  The area north of the Big Tree had a family of Whooping Cranes, but John and Alice did not find them.  I told them I would also check, as they walked along the road to check the pasture area where there was a family group of Whooping Cranes in 2010.  I was there in 2010 to see the Yellow-faced Grassquit at Goose Island State Park and saw the Whooping Cranes in that pasture.  Today there was a nice flock of Roseate Spoonbills in the pasture along the edge of a pond, but no Whooping Cranes in the pasture or visible north of the Big Tree.  John and Alice and I met at their rental vehicle in the parking lot to discuss what to do.  They said that the boat tour would have gone to Aransas NWR to see the Whooping Cranes had there been enough participants to run the trip.  Aransas NWR still had cranes according to the boat tour.  I told John and Alice that I was going to Aransas NWR, because I thought that was the best shot to see the cranes.  They agreed, and followed me there.  It was about 36 miles to Aransas NWR from Lamar.

I stopped by the Visitor Center at Aransas NWR and signed in.  When I included that I was from Cincinnati, OH, the man at the desk with an official NWR uniform, said that he was from Dayton, OH.    He asked me my name, and when I told him, he said I know you!   Then he introduced himself.   David True.  Now I understood why I had not seen him recently.  He has been a ranger at Aransas for about three years.  I first met David True at East Fork State Park when there was a Sooty Tern at East Fork State Park deposited by a remnant hurricane.   No wonder he looked familiar. If I recall correctly, I had met David birding additional times at Spring Valley WA not far from Cincinnati.  I told him about my Big Year, and he said he had seen my blog.  David informed us that there were still three Whooping Cranes visible from the Observation Tower at the end of the two way road, but they might be quite far away.  By that time, John and Alice had arrived at the desk.  John wondered why I had not stopped for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.  I had to admit that I had already seen about 50 or 75 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers since I was in Texas, and the newness had worn off for me.

I left immediately for the Observation Tower.  I carried my Swarovski telescope and tripod up on the 40 foot tower.  I was able to get an identifiable look at the three Whooping Cranes.  Even though the foot of the telescope is broken, I could hand hold the telescope on the tripod and at 30X or 40X see the red cap on the head of at least two of the cranes and the black facial markings.   Without binoculars, the three cranes were three white spots about 0.25 miles away out near San Antonio Bay.  I took several photos, just to document that I was there and saw them, but they are barely identifiable in the photos.  See photos.   The first shows how far away the three Whooping Cranes were from the Observation Tower.  The three white spots in the center of the photo beyond the wide water in the middle foreground but in front of the small narrow white line along the near edge of the land before the more distant San Antonio Bay are the three  Whooping Cranes.
The second shows the birds at maximum zoom, in which the right hand bird has its head raised enough that some of the detail of the black on the face can be seen.  Before I took these photos, all three birds had their heads raised enough that I could see the detail at 30X or 40X in my telescope on at least two of them.   When John and Alice arrived, they told me that they had photographed a Diamondback Rattlesnake crossing the road in front of them on their way to the Observation Tower.  It was difficult to share my telescope with them, due to the need for hand
holding on the tripod.  The look that they got was marginally satisfactory for a life bird, but at least they got a long distant view of the cranes.   We spent more time on the Observation Tower and visited a little.  When I mentioned that I had recently retired from P&G, Alice said that a relative, I think a sister in law, was an accounts manager at P&G in UK.  Wow!  Sure is a small world!  I helped them identify some North American birds while we were on the tower, such as the song of a White-eyed Vireo singing beneath us in the trees and fly-by Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret and Willet.  I'm sure that I would  need the same help if I was birding in UK.  We parted ways at the Visitor Center.  John and Alice had made a special side trip to make sure that they saw the Whooping Cranes before April 10 -12, by which time a colleague had advised them that the last cranes would depart for the breeding grounds.  John and Alice were headed back to the Houston area to continue their planned itinerary.  I was headed back to the Lower Rio Grande Valley to finish my last days of birding in the valley.  However, I would be back to Texas in about two weeks, and we might meet again.  I left Aransas between 1:30 and 2:00 pm, and headed back to Mission to stay the night.  I will try for Elf Owl at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park at dusk and then try to get enough sleep to go up-river to Salineno to try for early morning flights of Red-billed Pigeons and wild Muscovy Duck.

On my way south on 281, I stopped at the rest area south of Falfurrias to stretch my legs.  I needed the relief from too much driving in a short period of time.  The round trip  to and from Aransas was about 480 miles in less than one day.  As I walked in to the rest area, I found a Louisiana Waterthrush walking around the open bathroom area, where the ground was wet from watering a minimal amount of grass and washing the walkways.  This is not a new bird for the year, having heard one singing at Shawnee State Forest in southeastern Ohio about one week ago, but it was nice to actually see one and in Texas.  I do not believe that it is a new bird for my Texas list.  I also found a Chipping Sparrow, a new bird for the year.

I arrived at the Motel 6 in Mission, made reservations and retrieved from my luggage my new solar powered flashlight, given as a Christmas gift by my sister, Cynthia, to be used on my Big Year.  I also carried a small battery powered flashlight as a back-up but did no need it.  I arrived at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park before sunset and met three birders (one man and two women) carrying big lights.  (I found out later that they were from Austin, TX.)   They were not going for the Elf Owl, because at the time they were mainly interested in seeing Common Pauraques.  They had a map of Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park on which the location of the Elf Owl on Kiskadee Trail was marked.  It was about a mile walk to the location.  It was fortunate that I meet them, because the exact location is an important detail.  I paid the daily fee at the honor box, and started walking to the Kiskadee Trail near the Boat Ramp.  I got side tracked, because I needed to retrieve my water bottle left on top of the honor box.  When I caught up with the Pauraque folks at one of the feeders, they decided to join me, because it was not much further to the Elf Owl spot on the Kiskadee Trail.  The Elf Owl tree was on the second part of the Kiskadee Trail, and there were about four other birders (three women and one man with a camera) there already waiting.  The Elf Owl had looked out of the hole at least once before I arrived.  I was able to see the Elf Owl look out the hole several times.  I could see the small size (the smallest North American owl), lack of ear tufts, the white eye brow lines and the relatively dark breast up to the facial disc.  For perspective, when the owl looked out of the relatively large woodpecker hole, we could see about two thirds of the bird's length of about 5.25 inches.   The light was starting to get quite dim, so further viewing was very difficult.  The rest of the group decided to leave, but I stayed hoping to hear the Elf Owl start calling.  Just as the last of the group disappeared toward the Boat Ramp on the Kiskadee Trail, the Elf Owl called briefly.  Success!  I started walking out the Kiskadee Trail, and eventually caught up with the rest of the group.  By this time the Common Pauraques were singing/calling their distinctive cat-like "pur wheer."  It is really cool to hear them doing this song in the dark.  The group found a Common Pauraque on the ground along the road, but the bird had moved on by the time I caught up with them.   One of the ladies in the group of four was the lady who operated the feeders at Salineno, just before they were shut down this year.  I had on a previous trip visited there while she was operating the feeders.  Another lady in the group of four and the man were the volunteers who kept the temporary feeders at Salineno running until late March this year.  I showed them my solar powered flashlight, and they thought that was a neat idea.  The batteries get charged during the day when there is plenty of light for use at night.  I told them my sister,  Cynthia, found it at Bean.  Thanks Sis for a neat gift that birders appreciate.  Near the entrance to the trails, we heard an Eastern Screech Owl calling in the woods on the left before crossing the canal.

At the end of the day, Whooping Crane, Chipping Sparrow and Elf Owl make the total 321.  I returned to my motel room after picking up some late dinner, to get some rest before an early departure for Salineno. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Santa Ana NWR and To Rockport, Saturday, April 6

As I write this entry, I am at home in Cincinnati, OH, having arrived yesterday at about 1:30 pm.  I noticed that I failed to include Sora, a rail which I heard calling its descending whinny at SPI on the boardwalk several times on Thursday, April 4.  I added Sora to the list.

On Saturday, April 6, I went to Santa Ana NWR, because the information from other birders was that a Ringed Kingfisher was seen the previous day at Santa Ana NWR.  Additional information from birders in the field was that Ringed Kingfisher was more difficult to find now, because they were nesting and not at their usual winter haunts.  Very early on Saturday morning, I wrote my previous entry for April 5 and then went directly to Santa Ana NWR, arriving at about 9:30 am.  Due to the drought conditions, the water at Santa Ana NWR is somewhat limited.  I stuck to the Chachalaca Trail around Willow Lake, where there was deeper water.  There was some water in the Pintail Lakes area, but it seemed rather low.  They were pumping water into the Pintail Lakes and Willow Lakes complexes.  I spent most of the morning scanning the water and trees along the water of the Willow Lakes complex but did not find the Ringed Kingfisher.  I also checked the water areas of Pintail Lakes two times.  I met a man and wife who were originally from Minnesota and now lived in Arizona.  They told me that John from Massachusetts had seen the Ringed Kingfisher earlier in the morning, but that they had missed it.  They also reported that another birder had seen a Ringed Kingfisher at Estero Llano Grande State Park yesterday.  However, I did find three drake Cinnamon Teal with at least one female, a new bird for the year.  See photo with two of the three drakes.
Close to noon, I walked back to my rental car for some food.  I met John from Massachusetts.  He did see the Ringed Kingfisher fly over him at about 9:00 am.  It was a life bird for him!  I was 30 minutes too late!  John was leaving the valley soon and was on his way to the airport after Santa Ana NWR.  He gave me directions to an Audubon's Oriole nest that he found at Falcon State Park.  Those directions may be useful if I miss Audubon's Oriole at Salineno, which is up river on the Rio Grande.   I mentioned to John that I originally had planned to go to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park, because I could add Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet there.  John said that they are at Santa Ana NWR, which I knew, and that he thought he had heard one.  John and I said our goodbyes, and I headed back to the Chachalaca Trail to look for Ringed Kingfisher.  My plan was to stay at Santa Ana until about 2:00 pm and then drive north to the Rockport area to try for Whooping Crane before they leave for the breeding grounds in Alberta, CA.  I could wait to  see Whooping Cranes when they return to Texas in the fall, but it is better to try to get them now, and if I miss them now, I can try in the fall.  However, I needed to try for Whooping Crane on this trip, and now was the time.  All the cranes leave by about April 10-12, so this was my last chance for the winter-sping over-wintering season for Whooping Cranes in the vicinity of Aransas NWR. 

At some point during my vigil for Ringed Kingfisher at Santa Ana NWR, I met Alex Cruz from Minnesota.  He told me that he was in the electric open sided van with seats that passed me at Estero Llano Grande SP on Friday just after I arrived.  When I met him at Santa Ana NWR, he told me that before he left for home, he was going birding up the Rio Grande with his friend John Yochum, who worked at Estero Llano Grande SP.  I told Alex that I knew John Yochum, remembering him from his postings to Ohio Birds when he lived in Ohio, and that I had met him a few years ago at Estero Llano Grande State Park.  John was in that van, and I recognized him, but took no time to chat.  Alex was in Texas for a long weekend, as he described it, and told me that the Elf owl is now calling at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park after dark.  Bentsen is open until 10:00 pm.  Alex left to continue his birding tour of Santa Ana NWR.  I walked from one observation location to another at Willow Lakes to make sure that I scanned the edges and trees for Ringed Kingfisher and to change vantage points for a better chance of seeing a fly-by Ringed Kingfisher.  On one of these walks, I headed to the observation point closest to the Visitor Center, and heard the call/song of the Northern Beardless Tyrannulet, an ascending series of three thin notes "peer, peer, peer" that sometimes flip over at the top end of the song.  I heard this flip over at least twice.  As I was searching for the bird, another birder approached.  When I told him that I had heard the tyrannulet singing, he helped look for it and found it.  I seem to recall that it was a life bird for him.  As we watched, this tiny flycatcher, about the size of a kinglet, flew over the path and landed in a nearby tree and disappeared.  It then flew back across the path to the mesquite trees.  The tyrannulet repeated this activity at least two or three times.  I noticed a nest between some parasitic plant growths on a dead tree on the end of a branch that hung down.  The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet returned to this location several times.  The birder departed and I continued my vigil for the kingfisher.  Just before I was going to leave, Alex Cruz came by, and I told him about the tyrannulet.  We checked the location, and found two birds, and saw them well.  The Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet is mostly gray with a light yellow lower breast, belly and down toward the under tail coverts and with two white wing bars.  It has a light, thin eye-line/supercilium, the crest is often raised and the bill is flesh colored at the base with a dark tip.

At 2:30 pm, I left Santa Ana NWR without seeing a Ringed Kingfisher, and stopped in the office and gave directions to the location of the nest to the person at the desk in the Visitor Center.  She said that a lot of people were asking about the tyrannulet.  now she had directions to the location.  The directions were as follows: About fifty feet from the observation deck with a roof and toward the Visitor Center on Chachalaca Trail, there is a fallen tree with a sawed off branch jutting up from the trunk and pointed back toward the observation deck with the roof.   From this point, go to the first tree right along the trail on the left side going toward the Visitor Center.  The nest is in a tree opposite this tree along the left side of the trail.  The trunk of the nest tree is about ten to twelve feet back from the trail edge on the right side of Chachalaca Trail.  Look for a branch that droops down toward the trail.  The nest is at the lower tip of this drooping branch. 

On my way to Rockport, I stopped and filled my gas tank and got a sandwich, some chips and two for the price of one Orange Crush sodas.  I actually started driving to Rockport at about 3:30 pm.  It was a 3.5 hour drive, and I arrived with daylight to spare at about 7:00 pm.  I checked an area outside of Goose Island State Park on Lamar Drive, where a family group of Whooping Cranes had over-wintered two winters ago.  I stopped and asked a fisherman, who remembered the Whooping Cranes in that area in previous winters but not this past year.  He claimed to have fished the same area for at least twenty five years.  Oh well, I decided to stay the night in Rockport and drive up to Aransas NWR in the morning.

At the end of the day, Sora, which I forgot to add before, Cinnamon Teal and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet makes the total 318.