Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Back to San Antonio, on to Oakland for Half Moon Bay Pelagics

On Thursday night I was too tired to pack everything.  I paid my bill and got my receipt for the two nights stay in the lodge.  Then I went to sleep early.  When I set up this trip, I had looked at the closest airports to Big Bend NP.  There was not too much difference between El Paso and San Antonio.  I could use interstate all the way from Fort Stockton to San Antonio and the speed limit on I-10 is 80 mph on a long stretch.  I expected to leave quite early.  I awakened quite early at about 3:00 am, and started to pack everything for my flight from San Antonio to Oakland eat breakfast and download and process some photos for my blog.  Unfortunately, this trip taught me that I need to think outside of the box instead of using the traditional roundtrip approach.  There is only one place right now in at Chisos Basin with internet access.  It is outside of the gift shop and restaurant on the patio and apparently after hours, perhaps also for a limited period of time.  My birding, eating and sleeping schedule was not compatible with the internet access available; therefore, I was not able to double check on the time needed to drive from Chisos Basin to San Antonio International Airport.  I finally obtained internet access on my Droid Razr at about 8:30 am about 20 miles south of the entrance to Big Bend NP.  The time required to get to the airport in San Antonio was 6 hours and 30 minutes, and my flight was at 2:15 pm.  Not enough time to make my flight.  I'm not sure how I determined that Big Bend NP was 4.5 hours from San Antonio.  It is 38 mile from the entrance at Persimmon Gap to Chisos Basin.  The speed limit in Big Bend NP is 45 mph, but over the six miles on the entry road to the basin it is mostly only 25 mph.  The drive to the entrance/exit at Persimmon Gap from Chisos basin is at least one hour at the posted speed limits.  Because Google Maps has been unreliable at times for me, I decided to keep on driving and check occasionally.  I had a back-up option.  I could call Travelocity, which I had used for this trip, and change my flight for a fee.  I decided to keep on driving and within two or three hours of my flight make any changes required.  I still wasn't sure that I believed Google Maps. 

Back to birding and driving.  On the way from Panther Junction to Marathon, I saw seven Greater Roadrunners along the road and one that got killed because it was too bold in front of a car.  I saw one quail run from the side of the road into the brush but could not get an identification because it happened too fast.     

In Marathon, I stopped at the Shell station, the same station that I stopped at on my way into Big Bend, and filled my tank with gas.    Gas is also limited in Big Bend NP, only available at two or three locations and during normal business hours, which is not compatible with a birding schedule.  As I pulled away from the pump at the Shell station in Marathon, I stopped to check Google Maps for the time remaining.  I glanced up and saw some birds walking through the grass next to the Shell station and headed for TX 385.  Scaled Quail adult with 8 to 10 half grown chicks!  A bunch of cotton tops!  The adult made sure that all the chicks got across the road by stopping in the middle of the road to look around, as if to say, "Well, they all made it!  Time to go!"  The adult and chicks then scurried through the grass on the other side of the road into the underbrush and disappeared.  Another new bird for the year.  This event was a welcome relief from my driving and time situation.  So I relaxed and drove on.   I saw two more Greater Roadrunners and two Swainson's Hawks along TX 385 to Fort Stockton.

The 6 hours and 30 minutes to San Antonio Airport did get shorter as I drove I-10 at the speed limit of 80 mph.  However, I never gained enough time to make my scheduled flight.  At three hours before my flight, I stopped at a rest area and called Travelocity to change my flight.  When I set up this trip, I remembered that there was a later flight but that it arrived in Oakland at about 10:30 or 11:00 pm.  Originally, I did not want to arrive that late.  Travelocity verified this and the charge for the change was only $40.  While trying to check on my car rental in Oakland, I was cut off in the phone call.  However, most car rental services wait about 24 hours before they cancel the reservation.  I continued driving a bit more relaxed and made the flight to Oakland.  While in the San Antonio Airport, I made a motel reservation using my Droid Razr, something that I could have done in Big Bend NP with better internet access.  I got some sleep on the flight to Oakland.  I arrived at my motel and got to sleep at about 12:00 midnight and set my alarm for 4:00 am.  I needed the time to pick up some food and drink and to pack my backpack for the pelagic trip.  As luck would have it, there was a McDonald's next door and a convenience store gas station next to the McDonalds.  The boat was at Johnson Pier on Half Moon Bay, only about 45 minutes away or 26 miles, mostly by interstate.  I needed to be at the boat at 7:00 am.   I slipped into dream world.

Scaled Quail raises the total to 563. 


Thursday, July 25, Search for the Colima Warbler

I awoke at an extremely early hour like 3:00 am, probably due to the anticipation for the Colima Warbler search, falling asleep early on Wednesday night and sleeping soundly due to the poor quality rest I got in the rest area on Tuesday night. I got all my food and water organized to be quickly packed in my back-pack before starting the hike, and spent a few hours writing my blog entries in Word for the Texas trip. I took 1.5 gallons of water with me in my backpack as well as lots of healthy energy and breakfast bars. At about 5:30 am I checked on the light outside. It was still dark with only moonshine. There were still no owls or Common Poor-wills calling. I checked every half hour until 7:00 am, and it was still too dark to risk an encounter on the trail with a rattlesnake, bear or cougar, even though I was prepared with solar powered and battery powered flashlights as well as with extra batteries. Meanwhile I had a healthy breakfast of oat meal prepared in the microwave oven in my room. Perishables and water were stored in the small refrigerator in my room. I made myself coffee provided with the room. Even at 7:00 am, sunrise, the lower parts of the trail were still quite dark. I eventually left my room at between 7:30 and 7:45 am and was on my way up the Pinnacles Trail by about 8:00 am. I planned to keep going until I got close to the pass, where a Colima Warbler had been reported singing on July 11 within the last few switchbacks below Pinnacles Pass. I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of the hike physically, but in retrospect, I am in good shape due to being very physically active with hiking and biking on Attu, hiking in Michigan and hiking up Slide Mountain in the Catskills in New York. As I approached the pinnacles and continued to the top, I heard at least 4 or 5 Canyon Wrens, new for the year, giving their distinctive “loud silvery song, a decelerating descending series of liquid tee and tew notes” according to the National Geographic Field Guide. That’s a better description than I can give. They were also giving the sharp “jeet” calls. I have seen and heard these birds multiple times in my birding career, and am confident in the identification, supported by the habitat. Canyon Wren is found on high rocky cliffs. This habitat was not Rock Wren habitat, and the Bewick’s Wrens found lower on the trail have very different calls and songs. As I moved higher, I also heard White-throated Swifts twittering, and I have had this happen before on this trail during previous visits.  Within two or three switch-backs of the pass, I started hearing a song that sounded like Colima Warbler, but the song ended with a longer trill than any of the recordings that I studied. I listened to the songs on iBird Pro and verified that this real singing bird was singing a different song. I stayed in the area to search for the singing bird to verify that it really was a Colima Warbler. It would be at least another hour or two to get to the Colima Trail and by that time, the Colima Warblers could be done singing for the day, if indeed the Colima Warblers are singing on the Colima Trail. I spent 45 minutes to an hour searching for and trying to photograph the singing bird. When I found the Colima Warbler, it was sitting in the lower branches of the trees only about 30 feet from the trail, but on the east side of the trail in the direction of the bright sunshine. I noticed some movement first and then a grayish white belly, eventually a gray head and throat, a complete white eye-ring, a long tail and the buffy orange rump and under-tail coverts. While searching for the first Colima Warbler, I heard another one singing further up the slope, and also had a third bird giving the “psit” call note, probably a female, according to the Big Bend account in A Birders Guide to the Rio Grande Valley, ABA/Lane Birdfinding Guide, and seen briefly flying away. The light was horrible requiring that I make sure that the sun was behind a thick tree trunk, to eliminate the blinding sunlight. Photography was hopeless; therefore, I continued to hike up to Pinnacle Pass to reach Boot Springs. I felt very lucky to hear and see Colima Warbler so late in the breeding season. However, the lady at the visitor center had predicted that I would hear them singing, and she was correct. She said that it was unusual to have singing after the nesting season, but that the Colima Warblers had started up again after the initial nesting season.   I suspect a second nesting maybe related to the rains that occur in July.  Had I not stopped to search for the warbler, I could have made it to the pass in about 1.5 hours but may have missed the warbler on Colima Trail.   I took a photo, telephoto 140 mm, of the Basin just below Pinnacle Pass.  See photo below.

I started down the Boot Canyon Trail toward The Boot, but immediately found two Hutton’s Vireos, another new bird for the year. See photos below. These birds appeared to be a breeding pair. As I continued on Boot Canyon trail, I checked the blooming agaves in the trees near the pass and further down Boot Canyon. At agaves near the pass, I found a female and a male Black-chinned Hummingbird, a new bird for the year. I also heard the call, "tcheew-tcheew-twhew" of a Black-chinned Hummingbird. Nearby I heard the metallic wing whistle of a Broad-tailed Hummingbird, likely a migrant, but not new, because I saw them in the spring in Colorado. Further down the trail, I found a male Lucifer Hummingbird chasing a male Black-chinned Hummingbird from a fully blooming agave.   I saw the down-curved bill, the green back, the white breast and belly, the white along the side of the face and neck beside the gorget and the hunched over posture while perched. The gorget appeared to not be full and may be an indication of an immature Lucifer Hummingbird or a partially molted male. Lucifer Hummingbird is new for the year. As I continued on Boot Canyon trail, I found another pair of Hutton’s Vireos and several additional individual Hutton’s Vireos. This area is apparently a good breeding location for Hutton’s Vireo.   Along the relatively flat trail from the corner at The Boot to Boot Springs and Boot cabin, I photographed a beautiful California Sister butterfly getting minerals or moisture on the ground.  These butterflies are abundant in the area.  See photos below.  I found more Hutton's Vireos and two Black-headed Grosbeaks and heard but could not find some gnatcatchers.

When I arrived at the cabin at Boot Springs, it was close to 12:00 noon; therefore, I got out my lunch and water and sat at the picnic table to eat and watch and listen for birds. After eating my lunch, I walked down hill to the spring and found two Cordilleran Flycatchers, an apparent pair, new for the year.  I saw the olive greenish upper-parts, the elongated eye ring in front of the eye, crest, yellowish and olive breast and belly with two wing bars. This flycatcher seemed to have a relatively large body, a characteristic of Cordilleran Flycatcher in comparison to Pacific-Slope Flycatcher.  Initially, one bird was giving a two noted call, but eventually also gave a high pitched “seeet” call or song. One bird seemed more yellow below than the other.  This is seen in the photos, but in the photos is perhaps an artifact of one taken in the sun and the other in the shade.  The Boot Springs area is within the breeding range of Cordilleran Flycatcher and is an expected bird in the mountains in the right habitat.   A male Blue-throated Hummingbird, new for the year, came into the spring giving its high pitched “seep" call and sat on a dead branch above the spring to give me a good look at its blue throat. The Blue-throated Hummingbird may have been drinking and maybe bathing in the spring water where it drips from the rocks. I have observed hummingbirds doing this previously in Arizona. I stayed in the general area of Boots Springs and the cabin and up the trail where the Juniper Trail intersects the Boot Canyon Trail. I also had a White-breasted Nuthatch in the trees at the spring.  I looked for and listened for tanagers in the area, because this is the area where the Flame-colored Tanager was seen. Just before I left the area at about 2:30 pm, I briefly heard a Western Tanager call, but could not find the bird or attract it to me. I needed to get back down the trail in time to get a good meal, having missed one last night. Perhaps, I should have stayed but I didn’t. I had been in the same area for 2.5 hours neither saw or heard a tanager until the brief calls before I left.  I encountered more Hutton's Vireos returning on the Boot Canyon Trail toward The Boot, and encountered a gnatcatcher, but it was only a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, try as I might to turn it into a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  As I approached The Boot, which gives the canyon and spring the name, I took a photo through the trees.  See photo below.

I arrived in the Basin about three hours later, celebrating a physical victory for the old guys and my success at hearing and seeing the Colima Warbler.  I made it up to Pinnacle Pass (El 7100 ft.) from the Basin (El. 5400 ft.), an elevation change of 1700 ft., starting at 5400 ft., in a distance of about 3.5 miles and then another mile downhill to Boot Springs, returning back up to Pinnacles Pass and back down to the Basin from the Pinnacles.   Birding was great on the way to and at Boot Springs with a cool refreshing respite at the springs. 

After a good meal that I carried out from the lodge restaurant, I walked down the campground road to see if I could find a Gray Vireo. I had obtained instructions from the lady in the Visitor Center. I discovered that the walk to the sewage treatment pond was too long to complete before it got dark. I tried partway down the road, but had no success. I will need to try again and elsewhere for Gray Vireo. Tomorrow morning I need to leave and drive back to San Antonio to fly to Oakland for two pelagic trips with Deb Shearwater on Saturday, July 27 and Sunday, July 28. It is a long drive to San Antonio.
Canyon Wren, Colima Warbler, Hutton’s Vireo, Lucifer Hummingbird, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and Blue-throated Hummingbird raise the total to 562.  
Basin from just below Pinnacles Pass, Telephoto (140X) View
Hutton's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo, showing broken eye ring above eye
California Sister

California Sister
Cordilleran Flycatcher, with insect part stuck to bill
Cordilleran Flycatcher
Cordilleran Flycatcher, in sunlight showing yellow breast and belly
The Boot, coming from Boot Spring towards Pinnacles

To and At Big Bend, Wednesday, July 24

Wednesday, July 24, I awoke at about 5:30 am at the rest area, much refreshed, brushed my teeth and headed west to Fort Stockton, where I stopped at a Flying J travel plaza to get some breakfast and cleanup a bit, before heading south to Big Bend NP.   Sunrise was at about 7:00 am.  Along TX 385 south, there seemed to be quite a bit of bird activity.  I stopped to look at a bird perched close to the road that disappeared after I stopped, but was apparently a male Painted Bunting, which I found nearby singing from a high perch.

There were nighthawks flying about along the road, mostly Common Nighthawks, but I didn’t stop due to the large number of trucks on this road and the high speed limit of 70 mph.  If I found more nighthawks flying and a convenient pull off spot, I would stop and look at the nighthawks.  I still need Lesser Nighthawk.  I stopped at the first Picnic Area south of Fort Stockton on the left had side of TX 385 but not because of nighthawks but because it looked like a good birding area and had a convenient and safe pull-off.  At this location, I found a cooperative Canyon Towhee (see photo below) and a beautiful male Scott’s Oriole with a female and at least one fledged young.  Both are new birds for the year.  I also saw Black-throated Sparrow and Cliff Swallows at this Picnic Area.  On my way to Big Bend NP, I also saw Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Western Kingbird and Greater Roadrunner along the road.  I stopped a few places before Marathon to look for birds and found Ash-throated Flycatcher, many Bell’s Vireos singing, a few seen, and more singing Painted Buntings.  I topped off my gas tank in the small village of Marathon, had lunch, stopped at a grocery store to buy a sandwich and additional food, just in case I need it, and headed south the last 69 miles to the entrance of Big Bend NP.  It’s a long way to the entrance to Big Bend, about 4.5 hours from San Antonio with continuous driving, according to Google Maps, no birding along the way.  When I arrived in Big Bend at Panther Junction, I registered and got my vehicle permit tag, free for me because I have a Senior Pass for all NWR’s and NP’s.  Then I drove to Chisos Basin and obtained a room for two nights, tonight and tomorrow night, and stopped by the Visitor Center to get some information.  I wondered if I needed to register that I was hiking up to Boot Springs just for personal safety, and also asked questions about birds recently in the park.  The NP employee was a lady with a name tag of Flippo, who is a birder.   I wonder if she is related to Mark Flippo, long-time naturalist at Big Bend and recently retired.  Perhaps she is his daughter or maybe his wife.  I forgot to ask.  She was helpful, and stated that she expected the Colima Warblers to still be singing, because they had been in the last week or so.  I had seen a report of this on Tex Birds dated Monday, July 15, of a singing Colima Warbler along the final set of switch backs just below Pinnacle Pass on July 9-11.  Also, I asked about the Common Black Hawks at Rio Grande Village, but the Common Black Hawk nest at Rio Grande Village had been abandoned because the nest had blown down.  However, she had seen a non-adult Common Black Hawk near the grocery store in Rio Grande Village within the past week or so.  By the time I had taken care of all these details, there was not time to hike up the Pinnacle Trail on Tuesday evening, July 23.  Consequently, I drove to Rio Grande Village to look for Vermillion Flycatcher, still needed for the year, and to see what else I could find.  I also planned to watch the flowering agaves for resident and migrating hummingbirds on the way to Rio Grande Village and back to Chisos Basin.  Back in the 1990's, Mark Flippo had advised me of this, which enabled me to get my lifer Lucifer Hummingbird.  This technique was also verified in 2007 when I went to Big Bend NP for the Fan-tailed Warbler. 
When I arrived at Rio Grande Village, I parked in the parking lot near the store and walked west past the RV Park and the specially designated grove (signs indicate to stay out) where the Common Black Hawk has nested.  The first bird seen in the area was a Vermillion Flycatcher, perched on a power line and then in the trees, another new bird for the year.   See photo below.  There was an immature Vermillion Flycatcher following the adult male.  Verdin, Bell’s Vireo and Summer Tanager were calling.  I found a perched hummingbird high on a dead branch of a cottonwood that resembled a female or immature Black-chinned Hummingbird, but it did not stay long enough for me to study it carefully.  I thought that I heard a gnatcatcher but could not find it.   I looked carefully for the Common Black Hawk and Gray Hawk which nest in this area, but without success.  When I walked back to the parking lot, there were at least five different Yellow-breasted Chats singing—“cuuuking” and making all those weird sounds that they do as well as a singing Painted Bunting (see photo below).  Before leaving to drive back to Chisos Basin, I drove to the campground to the east of the store to see what I could find.  There was only one recently arrived RV in the park that was still driving around looking for a suitable camp site.  I stopped to use the rest room, and noticed a large dark raptor sailing to the north just at or below treetop level still in the campground.  When I got on it with my binoculars, it was an adult Common Black-Hawk (see photo), a great new bird for the year, that was being chased and harassed by a Western Kingbird.  The Common Black-Hawk kept flying west toward the store, occasionally screaming and disappeared with the kingbird in hot pursuit.  That was really cool!  I had never heard a Common Black-Hawk vocalize, having seen only one previously near Fort Davis, Texas.  There were recently fledged Vermillion Flycatchers in this campground as well as Western Kingbirds.  I drove back to Chisos Basin, stopping frequently to enjoy the Black-throated Sparrows that were feeding along the road and the desert scrub near the road.  I stopped at the parking lot at Panther Junction and found a singing Curve-billed Thrasher (see photo below), more Black-throated Sparrows and a Cactus Wren.   As I continued to drive to the basin, I stopped to watch all of the blooming agaves that I had also checked on the way to Rio Grande Village.  I found a colorful Rufous Hummingbird, a male, according to Hummingbirds of North America by Sheri Williamson and new bird for the year, that chased another hummingbird away from the yellow agave flowers and then perched on one of the flower branches to protect his feeding location.  Near the high cliffs along the entry road to the basin, I also stopped to listen for Canyon Wrens, but none were singing or scolding as they frequently do at high cliffs.  Closer to the basin as I rounded a curve to the last uphill part of the road, I found Mexican Jays in a flock sitting on the road and flying into the pines and oaks to the left of the road.  At least one bird, maybe more, was a young bird of the year, perhaps a family flock.  Mexican Jay is new for the year.  Back at the basin, I walked the nearby short (0.4 mi) Windows View trail, and found a singing Rufous-crowned Sparrow, another new bird for the year.  See photos below.  Male Black-headed Grosbeak and Scott’s Oriole were singing and putting on a fine display.  See photos below.  It was getting closer to sunset, and my stomach needed food.  However, I forgot that the basin store and the restaurant close at 7:00 pm and it was nearly 8:00 pm.  Fortunately, I still had my sandwich and other food that I bought in Marathon just for such an emergency and managed to scrape together enough food to satisfy my hunger.  When I arrived at the basin earlier in the afternoon, I had also bought food to carry with me in the morning up the Pinnacles Trail, and did not eat that for dinner.  Tomorrow would be a high energy day to hike up the pinnacles trail.  After darkness, I listened outside my room and from the balcony for Common Poor-will, but did not hear any.  Perhaps the basin is the wrong location.
Canyon Towhee, Scott’s Oriole, Vermillion Flycatcher, Common Black Hawk, Rufous Hummingbird, Mexican Jay and Rufous-crowned Sparrow raise the total to 556.

Canyon Towhee, TX 385 picnic area
Vermillion Flycatcher, Rio Grande Village

Painted Bunting, singing, Rio Grande Village

Common Black Hawk, Rio Grande Village, east campground
Curve-billed Thrasher, Panther Juncture
Black-headed Grosbeak, Windows View Trail, Chisos Basin
Rufous-crowned Sparrow, singing, Windows View Trail

Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Here's looking at you!, Windows View Trail

Scott's Oriole, male, Windows View Trail

Texas: Kerr Wildlife Management Area and Big Bend-July 23 and 24

I flew to San Antonio on Tuesday, July 23 arriving between 12:00 and 12:30 and drove to Kerrville and Kerr WMA.  Kerr WMA has both Golden-cheeked Warblers and Black-capped Vireos, an efficient place to get these birds assuming that they are still on territory.  “Warblers” by Dunn and Garret, a Peterson Field Guide, states that Golden-cheeked Warblers remain on territory until late July, stating “Most birds have departed the breeding grounds by the beginning of August.”  I have a chance to still add these birds, but they will not be singing, so they may be tough to find.  I arrived at Kerr WMA at 3:00 to 3:30 pm, and checked out the posted information on the bulletin boards.  It had been ten to twelve years since I had been to Kerr WMW to see Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler.  All the paper maps at the kiosk were depleted.  I stopped in the office and asked for a map and a bird list, both of which were provided.  There were two good areas for Black-capped Vireo.  I went to the area near a shelter up the entry road from the office in the area named Doe on the map near North Owl Meadows, where I had last seen Black-capped Vireo 10 to 12 years ago.  I had first seen Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler during my first visit to Texas in 1978.  During this visit, I was prepared to wait until later in the afternoon closer to sunset when bird activity would pick up or even stay overnight and try again in the morning.  Between 5:00 and 5:30 pm, I found my first Black-capped Vireo.  I had attracted a noisy Bewick’s Wren, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Cardinals with young, Field Sparrows with young, a Lesser Goldfinch as well as a singing Painted Bunting.  First, I heard the Black-capped Vireo call note, a series of rapid scolding notes like a mixture of titmouse, chickadee and vireo.  It flew into an opening near the Bewick’s Wren showing the bold wing-bars, the olive back, yellow flanks and the black cap with the white spectacle.  There appeared to be two birds in the area, feeding low in the underbrush.  These birds were not singing, but were calling and giving the scolding notes.  I was able to get a few poor photos in the late day bright sunshine, resulting in washout in the photo.  See photo below.  I heard one more bird in this area near the shelter but back more towards the main entrance.  I left the Doe shelter area at about 5:30 pm and drove about 0.7 miles back toward Kerrville on FM 1340 to the Spring Trap Gate where Golden-cheeked Warbler breeds at Kerr WMA.  There was a report on Tex Birds in the second week of July of Golden-cheeked Warbler being seen here.  The woods along the path were very quiet and dead with no activity at first, but then I started to hear quiet bird calls and eventually found a Golden-cheeked Warbler.  This bird was in a stand of large cedars surrounded by oaks further up the hill.  I managed a few photos, (See photo below) and saw the golden cheeks, the dark eye line and the white under-parts with no yellow or yellowish tinges.  I stayed a while walking further up the hill, hoping for luck to strike again, but eventually gave up and walked back toward the gate.  With the gate in sight, I found two more Golden-cheeked Warblers that flew into an oak and stayed in the upper canopy.  One of these birds showed the solid black back, a male.   I never saw the second bird well enough to see if it was a female or another male.  I left Spring Trap at about 6:30 pm and drove to the second entrance road beyond the main entrance road and continued up the second entrance road to a windmill.  This area is another good area for Black-capped Vireo and was full of birds, Field Sparrows with fledged young, Lark Sparrows, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Ash-throated Flycatcher.  I heard a Black-capped Vireo scold at this site, but left after a short while at about 7:30 pm, feeling very fortunate about my success in finding these birds.  In a few more weeks, it would not have been possible.  However, the vireo and warbler seemed to still be on their breeding territories, but not singing.  I drove back toward Kerrville and without my GPS (data connection lost!) found my way back to the next exit west of Kerrville on I-10.  On my way back to I-10, I was stopped by a local Sheriff for speeding.  I had not seen the first speed limit sign, because it was too close to a blind intersection turn, but slowed down immediately when saw a 35 mph speed limit sign in what appeared to be a rural area to me.  I thought I was going 40 mph, but the Sheriff said I was going 48 mph.  He asked me what I was doing in the area, and when I told him that I was visiting Kerr WMA and he saw my camera equipment still on the front passenger seat, he realized that I was a tourist to the area.  He let me off with a warning stating that he did not want to discourage tourism to the area.  How lucky can I get!

I  headed west on I-10 toward Fort Stockton on my way to Big Bend National Park to try for Colima Warbler. At about 10:30 pm, I started getting tired, and pulled into a rest area to take a nap.

Black-capped Vireo and Golden-cheeked Warbler increase the list to 549.

Black-capped Vireo, not great photo, in bright sunlight

Golden-cheeked Warbler

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Addendum to Hatteras Boat Trips

Here are photos of the Great Shearwater and Bridled Tern that stayed close to the boat on Sunday, July 21.
Great Shearwater
Great Shearwater starting to ....
Great Shearwater, take off
Great Shearwater in flight
 A few photos of Bridled Tern.
Bridled Tern
Bridled Tern
No change to the list now at 547.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Hatteras Boat Trips, July 19, 20 and 21

I reversed the order of my trips due to timing and travel arrangements.  I am in Hatteras North Carolina, taking three trips with Brian Patteson.  I flew to Richmond, VA and drove to Hatteras.  The timing was such that I left Richmond at 11:00 pm and drove through the night 4.5 hours to Hatteras to arrive just before the boat left.   I got about one hour of sleep on the two flights to get to Richmond, VA. 

Although I was quite tired the first day, Friday, July 19, I managed to see Wilson's Storm Petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Band-rumped Storm Petrel, Cory's Shearwater, Bridled Tern, Great Shearwater and Pomarine Jaeger.  See photos below of Wilson's Storm Petrel, Band-rumped Storm Petrel and comparison to Wilson's Storm Petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Cory's Shearwater and Bridled Tern.  Later in the afternoon, I was so tired that I crashed inside the cabin and slept for about 1-2 hours.   The Great Shearwater and Pomarine Jaeger showed up after my nap.   Great Shearwater is slightly smaller than Cory's Shearwater, and gray above and white below with slightly narrower wings than Cory's, which is brown above and white below.  Great Shearwater, formerly Greater Shearwater, has a slightly different flight style than Corry's Shearwater, to my eye it flies more stiff-winged than Cory's Shearwater.  I managed to see the Great Shearwater as it was flying away from the boat.  I was not able to see the black cap and white face of the Great Shearwater but saw enough to know that it was a Great Shearwater.  For Pomarine Jaeger, I saw the large body, thicker neck and larger head relative to Parasitic Jaeger, with which Pomarine Jaeger can sometimes be confused.  Like the Great Shearwater, the Pomarine  Jaeger zipped in close to the boat and then quickly moved on.  I missed several Audubon's Shearwaters, because they zipped by quickly and kept going, a consequence of the lack of sargasso weed in the gulf stream right now, according to Brian Patteson.  We also got close-up views of a Sperm Whale.  See photos of the blow and the head and dorsal fin.    After returning to the dock, I ate dinner and then crashed in my motel room, sleeping soundly for about eight hours.

Saturday, July 20 started with higher wind and rough conditions going out in the morning with lots of spray.  I stayed outside in the back and managed to stay relatively dry, and saw three Audubon's Shearwaters, two were fly-bys far out for which I saw small black and white shearwaters with a relatively long tail that helps to distinguish it from Manx Shearwater.  Just after we stopped to set up the oil drip for the oil slick and the chum, an Audubon's Shearwater flew by quite close to the boat giving me a great look but kept on going like the others.  Not too long after the chum and oil drip were set up, Black-capped Petrels appeared in the slick.  A Fea's Petrel suddenly appeared but was first identified as a Black-capped Petrel, which delayed my looking at it.  Fea's Petrel is shorter in body length but has wings that are similar in length to Black-capped Petrel.  Fea's Petrel appears to be able to maneuver more quickly than Black-capped due to this difference in size, but Fea's Petrel has dark under-wings.  I saw these field marks in direct comparison to Black-capped Petrel as the bird flew around the boat and the wake.  Fea's lacks the black cap, but I was not able to see this well. Unfortunately, the Fea's Petrel did not stick around very long, flipping around quickly from one side of the boat to the other, and then moved on.  Otherwise, the birds seen on Saturday, were similar to those seen on Friday.  There was only one brief view of a Cory's Shearwater in the morning going out, no jaegers but more Audubon's Shearwaters.  We saw several more Audubon's Shearwaters flying by in addition to the three I mentioned.  In the evening, I drove north to Pea Island NWR to look for Seaside Sparrow.  However, the wind was really whipping the marsh and no Seaside Sparrows were found.

Sunday, July 21, started with somewhat less wind than on Saturday.  On the way out to the inlet, the group looked over the sand spits for shorebirds  On Friday, a fly-by Red Knot had been seen by our spotters, but I missed it.  Yesterday on the way out and back, I looked for Red Knot but did not find one.  Sunday, I saw an interesting bird that my have been a Red Knot.  However, the speed of the boat and the lower light early in the morning, did not help.  I could not be sure of the identification so I am not counting it.   George Armistead, an experienced bird tour guide and now working for the ABA, who worked as a spotter on these also saw this potential Red Knot but was not sure enough given the distance and light, and speed of the boat.  George saw the first one on Friday morning.  There were no new birds on this trip.  However, the highlights were a Great Shearwater that came in close and landed right by the boat, the best look of the three days, and an Audubon's Shearwater that flew up from beside the slick and landed again very close to the boat for great looks.  There was another Bridled Tern that stayed around the boat for about 10 to 15 minutes time and gave great looks and photo opportunities.

After the boat trip I looked for Seaside Sparrow and Red Knot at several locations heading north to the Oregon Inlet Bridge, but had no success.  On the way to a motel near the Richmond Airport on I-64, a lunatic was driving the wrong way on the interstate.  I slowed down and drove off the interstate on to the berm of the highway to avoid this nut-cake as that vehicle passed me going the wrong way at about 80 mph.  This was after mid-night, and fortunately, I was alert enough after a long day to avoid a serious incident.  I was sleepy earlier, and I'm glad that I was alert for this encounter.  I talked to two other drivers at the next rest area who had the same experience. One of them told me that they called 911 and were told that 911 had already received about 20 calls about this nut-cake. 

Wilson's Storm Petrel, Black-capped Petrel, Band-rumped Storm Petrel, Cory's Shearwater, Bridled Tern, Great Shearwater, Pomarine Jaeger, Audubon's Shearwater, and Fea's Petrel added nine new birds for the year raising the total to 547.

The pictures below show the identification field marks of Wilson's Storm-petrels, the feet extending beyond the tail, the yellow feet, and the pitter-pattering on the water surface that gave them the name.  Band-rumped Storm-petrel is a larger and longer winged bird than the Wilson's Storm-petrels, shown in one photograph, and does a lot of shearwater-like gliding in comparison to Wilson's Storm-petrel.  If I have time, I will add an addendum with photos of the Great Shearwater and any good ones of the additional Bridled tern.
Wilson's Storm-petrel, legs extended beyond tail

Wilson's Storm-petrel, behavior and yellow feet
Band-rumped Storm-petrel
Wilson's (left) and Band-rumped (right) size comparison
Black-capped Petrel, carrying chum

Black-capped Petrel
Bridled Tern
Sperm Whale blowing
Sperm Whale head
Sperm Whale dorsal fin, diving
Cory's Shearwater with Band-rumped Storm Petrel

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Indian Lake Pull-off in Adirondaks, July 13

I had a comfortable room in Speculator Friday night, July 12, at the Village Motel with a comfortable bed, and the room and bath room were very clean.  There was a coffee maker and a refrigerator with a small freezer.  I used the refrigerator to cool the water in my bottles that I carried for drinking.  Across the street from the motel room was a pizza shop, where I bought a nice salad with ham, turkey and cheese in a carry-out container to supplement what I had already eaten.  At the beginning of the day, Friday, July 12, I bought a large sub at a Quick Check gas station and convenience store in Kingston, and ate half of it after arriving back down from Slide Mountain and then half of it when I arrived at the Indian Lake pull-off Friday evening.  I was still hungry when I arrived at the motel Friday evening; thus, the salad. 

Early Saturday morning, I made some coffee and had my one cup of coffee per day.  The residual, I put in a thermos that I carried on this trip, to be available just in case I desperately needed another cup later in the day.  Before leaving for the 12 mile trip north to the Indian Lake pull-off, I bought a freshly made breakfast sandwich, a bottle of orange juice and some blue berry and raspberry turn-overs at a shop across the street from the motel. 

When I arrived at the Indian Lake pull-off near the lake at about 8:30 am, there was more bird activity than last night.  American Redstart and Hermit Thrush were singing, and I heard the vireo again at a distance, but singing louder than last night,  It seemed closer, but still too far to see any movement in the trees.   The song sounded like a Philadelphia Vireo, with higher pitched notes that were repeated slower with each note more drawn out than in the song of Red-eyed Vireo.  However, when I tried playing the song of Philadelphia Vireo, there was no response, but the bird kept on singing and stayed away at a distance.  Once there were some vireo type scolding notes.  Was that a response to the song played?  I needed to get closer to the bird, and put on my long pants and high rubber boots and a jacket to survive the thicker bushes at the woods edge and to walk through the woods to get closer.  When I entered the woods, I discovered an abandoned road bed and a clearing to the left.  I moved to the clearing, because Philadelphia Vireo uses second growth woods and edges.

At the clearing, I got several brief but not perfect views of the vireo, and concluded that it was a Philadelphia Vireo for the following reasons:  small vireo about 90% of the size of a Red-eyed Vireo (actually 87.5% by length using lengths provided in National Geographic Field Guide), more active during feeding and moving through the trees than the larger and slower Red-eyed Vireo, and about the same length as an American Redstart, confirmed in National Geographic Field Guide, smaller bill length than Red-eyed Vireo, and at least twice I got good looks at the gray wings, tail, head and darker cap on the top of the head of this vireo, and once it showed the yellow under-parts.  There appeared to be at least three vireos present, apparently a family group.  I once saw two birds following the singing bird as it flew from one tree to another.   In my past experience on the first New York State Breeding Bird Atlas project (1980 - 1986), I observed warblers, vireos, tanagers as well as other birds singing while they were feeding recently fledged young.  This may be a strategy to keep the feeding flock together rather than a territorial defense.  If so, this may be why I got no strong response to playing the Philadelphia Vireo song.   I heard the song over and over again and got excellent aural comparisons between the recording and the actual song and good enough looks.  There was no doubt that this was a Philadelphia Vireo and very likely the bird or birds reported here earlier in June.   Showers were predicted for the day, and it soon started to rain with intermittent showers, and as a result it became difficult to keep my optics dry.  Shortly, before I decided to leave, a Broad-winged Hawk flew in and at least one or maybe two of the vireos started scolding the hawk.

Here is a link to the photos from e Bird of the Philadelphia Vireo taken at this spot on June 20, 2013.


I left the area and drove south toward the New York Thruway to head home to Cincinnati, Ohio.  I started driving west on the New York thruway at about 12:15 pm.  It was a 10.4 hour drive to Cincinnati, where I arrived at about 11:30 pm, having stopped to eat lunch and dinner and to buy gas at least once during the trip.   I got very good gas mileage on the highway driving part of this trip.  The highest average gas mileage on the trip from the UP Michigan was 41.6 mpg on the Ohio Turnpike on Wednesday evening.  The highest average on the drive to Cincinnati was 40.3 mpg on I- 271 around Cleveland, OH.  My new Dodge Dart is doing fine!

Philadelphia Vireo raises the total to 538. 

This extended trip to Michigan and New York competes the checklist of eastern warblers, vireos and flycatchers.   I was traveling and birding nine days and added thirteen species.  Now I am heading west to Texas, then to North Carolina for some pelagic birding and then back to the west again.                      

Jay - 3, Slide Mountain - 0; July 12

On Thursday, July 11, I drove from east of Cleveland, OH to the vicinity of Big Indian in the Catskills, specifically to Oliveria in New York.  From my location on Thursday east of Cleveland in Mentor OH, the distance was 447 miles requiring 7 hours and 13 minutes.  It is a distance of 850 mile requiring 13.5 hours from W Bobbygay Truck Trail near Trout Lake in Michigan, where I was Wednesday, to Oliveria, NY.  The trail head for the Slide Mountain trail is a few miles beyond Oliveria on SR 47.  The trip to the Slide Mountain trail head took me longer than expected, because I was not comfortable with the route that Google Maps laid out for me.  It was a back way that I did not know.  I had been to Slide Mountain before in 2004 to get my Life Bird Bicknell's Thrush and knew my way to the trail head for the trail to the summit of Slide Mountain on SR 47 off of SR 28, but that was on July 9, nine years ago.  I had hoped that I would arrive early enough in the afternoon on Thursday, July 11, 2013, to be able to climb to the summit to hear Bicknell's Thrush singing late in the day with enough time to return to the trail head parking lot before dark.  I was prepared to hike in the dark with two different flashlights as back-up to a head lamp that would provide light for 70 hours.  My alternative plan would be to leave early on Friday, July 12, and take with me enough water and food for the day on the summit if needed just in case I did not get to the summit of Slide Mountain early enough to hear Bicknell's thrush singing early in the morning.

Thursday evening, I approached Big Indian from the west on SR 28 from Oneonta, New York off of I-88 and turned right at SR 47, passed through the little village of Oliveria and arrived at the Slide Mountain trail head at 7:30 to 8:00 pm.  I needed to be sure that my memory of the trail head and the trail were correct.  I walked a short distance on the trail to acquaint myself with how to start the trail and follow the yellow blazes to the short trail with the red blazes to the summit.  A Swainson's Thrush was singing in the vicinity of the trail head.  There would not be enough time to get to the summit before dark.  I expected a hike of about 2.5 hours to the summit of Slide Mountain, ca. 4180 feet, estimated from the contour line on topographic maps, but could be 4,200 feet, suggested by many informal surveys, because of a lack of an official US Coast and Geodetic Survey.  This information was taken from Wikipedia up dated two months ago.  The shortest, red blaze trail to the summit is a 2.7 or 2.75 mile hike, starting at 2,400 feet at the trail head for a vertical ascent of about 1,780 feet or more.  I drove to Kingston about 30 miles to the east to stay the night, hopeful for an early start in the morning. 

Why go to Slide Mountain to see Bicknell's Thrush?  For history.  Eugene Bicknell discovered this thrush on Slide Mountain in 1881, previously thought to be a sub-species of Gray-cheeked Thrush, but recognized as a separate species in 1995.  Slide Mountain is the most southern location to find breeding Bicknell's Thrush, which has a restricted breeding range of high elevation montane forests of Balsam Fir from northern Gulf of the St. Lawrence and Nova Scotia south through the mountains of New England and New York.   The population is thought to be less than 50,000.

Why is the score, Jay - 3, Slide Mountain - 0?  First of all I made it to the top of Slide Mountain, no small feat for a person 70.5 years old, but obviously in quite good shape for the rigors of this hike.  Thus, Jay - 1, Slide Mountain - 0!  At the end of this posting are photos to document that I made it to the top.  I started at the trail head at about 8:30 am, much later than I wanted to because I overslept.  There were singing Least Flycatchers at the trail head on Friday morning, a bird that I recalled hearing on the Slide mountain Trail back in 2004.

Secondly, the score is Jay - 3, Slide Mountain - 0, because I found Bicknell's Thrush calling and one bird singing softly for a total of four Bicknell's Thrushes, as well as two Yellow-bellied Flycatchers.   Score 2 more for Jay.  Yellow-bellied Flycatchers had been reported at the summit of Slide Mountain through June and as recently as July 7, 2013, in e Bird.   I checked e Bird on Thursday night to see when Bicknell's Thrush had most recently been reported on Slide Mountain and found the additional reports of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

The trail up was tough, but I was able to do it because I have kept myself in shape with an exercise program over the years, and I did the tough hiking and mountain biking on Attu last month, conditioning for the Slide Mountain trail (?).  Not really (Smile!).  I also walked 10 miles in one day at Seney NWR in Michigan on July 9.   I made it up the yellow blaze trail without stopping to rest very much, but I needed to go slowly to pick my way up the steep very rocky parts of the trail, and was quite happy that I did not try this trail in the dark with a head lamp and flashlights.  By the time that I got to the red blaze trail, I was getting quite tired and settled on hiking about 10 minutes with 2 minutes of rest by leaning against large rocks and trees.  The first time I rested, I sat down and found it too hard to get back up with a full back-pack, even with the tree limb walking stick that I picked up from the pile left at the tail head by other hikers to be used and returned.  As I got close to the summit, the trees started to change to Balsam Fir, the primary tree at the summit.  I could tell by both sight and smell.  The trail also got less steep; therefore hiking got less strenuous.  Not long after getting into the Balsam Fir that bordered both side of the trail, I saw a thrush along the trail, but it disappeared into the shadows.  I suspect that it was a Bicknell's Thrush, because on my way back down I heard a Bicknell's Thrush calling at this location.  As I approached the peak, where the trail was flat, I heard a Bicknell's Thrush calling, giving the two syllable down slurred and burry "vee-ah."  Gray-cheeked Thrush has a similar thin high abrasive call, "preu," but its call is not as distinctly two syllabic.  I turned on my cell phone and briefly played the song of Bicknell's Thrush, which is similar to Gray-cheeked Thrush but ends on an up-turn in the last note while Gray-cheeked Thrush is a series of thin reedy notes ending on a downward inflection.   The calling Bicknell's Thrush immediately responded to the recording.   I could see the shadow of the bird as it flew in the trees above me, and sang its song softly once.  Once the bird flew right at my head and whizzed by along a few feet away, confirming the identification.  I didn't play the song most of the time.  During a resting period of song playing, the Bicknell's Thrush sat on a dead lower branch of a Balsam Fir in the sun.  I saw the very yellow bill and quite reddish tail two field marks that help to distinguish Bicknell's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, although the confirmation usually is by the song or more specific measurements on the wings and tails during banding.  As I looked closely, I saw the yellow bill was caused by an almost completely yellow lower mandible, unlike the Gray-cheeked Thrushes I saw outside of Nome in Alaska last month.  Gray-cheeked Thrush has a distinctly dark bill tip on both upper and lower mandibles.  My experience with about 100 Gray-cheeked Thrushes heard calling and singing in the willows outside of Nome (most common bird outside of Nome) helped me to immediately recognize the differences in the call and the one song I heard from the Bicknell Thrush on Slide Mountain.   I saw Bicknell's Thrush twice, not counting the first thrush I saw at the crest but could not see well enough, and heard four calling and the first well seen bird singing for a total of four Bicknell's Thrushes.

While I was watching the first Bicknell's Thrush, two empidonax flycatchers flew into a Balsam Fir above my head, chasing each other.  I could see the yellow under-parts, the throat, breast and belly, the dark blackish wings and the complete eye ring and the olive colored back, nape and crown.  These were Yellow-bellied Flycatchers, a second new bird within the first ten minutes at the summit.  See photo below.  Later, I played a recording of the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher once and the flycatcher flew in to observe, confirming the identification.

I walked a small distance to the rock ledge where there is a plaque commemorating John Burroughs, the naturalist and writer, who became famous for his writing and hikes on Slide Mountain.  See photos and one with me beside the plaque proving that I did indeed make it to the top and back down.  I ate lunch near the rock ledge and started back down the trail at about 1:00 pm.  It was easier going down the mountain, except that I had to be real careful not to aggravate old knee injuries from playing soccer.  I arrived back at the trail head at about 2:30 pm, left my borrowed walking stick for someone else to use, and checked out on the trail register indicating that I had safely made it up and down.  I added a note of pride about doing this at 70.5 years old!

On my way up to the summit of Slide Mountain, I heard quite a bit of bird song, 8 Ovenbirds, 2 Black-throated Green Warblers, 2 Blackburnian Warblers, 1 Swainson's Thrush, 1 Black-throated Blue Warbler and 1 Blue-headed Vireo, and 14 Red-eyed Vireos, and much the same on the way back down except for one more each of Black-throated Green and Black-throated Blue Warblers.

At 3:00 pm I started driving to a spot near Indian Lake in the Adirondacks about 2.5 to 3 hours away, where a Philadelphia Vireo has been reported on e Bird during June and as late as June 20.  I arrived at the pull-off along Route 30 at about 7:15 pm, but very few birds were active or singing.  The woods were in the shadows of the mountains to the west, probably causing a reduction in bird activity.  I thought I heard a distant vireo singing, but could not locate it and decided that I would try again in the morning.  I drove north to the village of Indian Lake just to look around the area, and then I drove south 12 miles from the pull-off to Speculator to stay the night.

Bicknell's Thrush and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher raise the total to 537.

View to North just before Summit
Rock Ledge with John Burroughs Plaque

Jay at John Burroughs Plaque
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Forest Road 3345 in Michigan, To New York State, July 10

I made one last try for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Michigan.  A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was reported on Forest Road 3344 near Trout Lake in Chippewa County, and this was on my way to new York state where I would try for Bicknell's Thrush on Slide Mountain.  My GPS worked the whole way to finding the driving route to Forest Road 3344, also known as W. Bobbygay Lake Truck Trail in Hiawatha National Forest, which is a snow mobile route in the winter.  I was able to find this information when I had internet access in my motel in Newberry, MI.  This road was sandy in spots and recently maintained with a road scraper.  Apparently, there was a hump in the middle of the road with vegetation growing, because while the road was leveled by the maintenance, there were clumps of vegetation scatted across the road.  It would be an adventure trying to drive this road to look for birds in a regular non-four wheel drive vehicle.  The report of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher was from e Bird on July 7, 2013.  The route for the traveling checklist was three miles, so when I arrived at the exact GPS location less than a mile from the main road, MI 123, I drove three miles on Forest Road 3344.  I did not find the reported Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  There was a lot of good habitat particularly where the road got more narrow, and there were more conifers that looked like either spruce or firs.  Birding was interesting along this road.  I found a pair of Sandhill Cranes about one mile from MI 123, and two different singing Olive-sided Flycatchers about two miles in from my starting point.  I had Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-throated Green, Pine and Nashville Warblers singing.  There were Lincoln's Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows along this road.  I did find some Least Flycatchers, which had been reported along this road by other reporters in June and July of this year.  I drove Forest Road 3344 until it met Forest Road 3145 near a railroad crossing.  Forest Road 3145 is another road where some good Michigan birds had been reported.   I stayed on Forest Road 3344 until about 1:00 pm, and then headed south for Ohio and New York state.  I lived in New York state previously, and I knew that I had a chance for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in Upstate New York, specifically at Ferd's Bog in Hamilton County, which is not too far north in the Adirondacks and only a few hours from Slide Mountain in the Catskills.  I had checked in e Bird and found that there were still recent reports in early July of Yellow-bellied Flycatcher at Ferd's Bog.  I left Michigan knowing that I still had a chance to find Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on breeding territory in upstate New York.  Below are pictures of heavily stained adult Sandhill Crane obtained yesterday at Seney NWR on the 3 mile walk along C-3 pool and of Olive-sided Flycatcher today on Forest Road 3344 singing "whip three beers."  Note the large bill and the white tuft appearing along the back of the Olive-sided Flycatcher.  It is a special year when I see three different Olive-sided Flycatchers, one in Alaska near Anchorage and two in Michigan!

No new birds for the day.  The list remains at 535.  Slide Mountain next!

Sandhill Crane
Olive-sided Flycatcher


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Seney National Wildlife Refuge Again, July 9

I returned to Seney NWR to try for Sharp-tailed Grouse and hope for a better look at the Le Conte's Sparrows.  I walked the whole three miles to the end of the C-3 pool.  I did not find a Le Conte's Sparrow, but did see a Sandhill Crane along the gravel road.  In addition, as I approached the 2 mile point (estimated), I flushed a grouse from the side of the road.  This was a Sharp-tailed Grouse, because I could see the pointed tail as it flew west cackling.  It was not a Ruffed Grouse, because when it spread its tail to land in the grass and bushes west of the pool, the tail was not banded as in Ruffed Grouse.  I suspect that this grouse was a female of young bird of the year, because it lacked the white at the base of a male Sharp-tailed Grouse.  I found some ripe low bush blueberries near the three mile point on the road, and enjoyed them before I walked back to my car.  I'm getting plenty of exercise this year with lots of hiking and walking.  On my way back to my car, I met two college students who are completing a breeding survey of Black Terns for the University of Minnesota and a graduate student working on her thesis.  By the time that I got back to my car, it was about 4:00 to 4:30 pm.  I decided to try a shorter hike to a wildfire area that the staff person told me about, where a Black-backed Woodpecker had been reported last fall.  She was right about the Le Conte's Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse.  Perhaps, I would get lucky again, because sunset is not until about 10:00 pm.  I arrived at the gate along the wildlife drive where I needed to start this hike.  Two close-by Common Loons started calling.  It was awesome!  It was an easy hike back to the burn site, only about 2 miles.  I was expecting a large burn site, but found minimal evidence of a recent burn.  Perhaps, I was in the wrong area.  On the way in, I saw an American Bittern flying, as well as a Northern Harrier.  Close to the location of the burn site, I found a calling Broad-winged Hawk. 

A quick note about American Bittern.  Usually, they are difficult to find in Ohio.  However, since I arrived in Michigan, I have seen about four American Bitterns.  I saw one flying at Tuttle Marsh, and one flying when I first arrived at Seney NWR yesterday.  I saw another American Bittern today at Seney NWR for a total of two today.   If I needed American Bittern on my year list, Michigan surely would have been the place to come to see one.

Tomorrow will be my last day in Michigan.  I will make one more try for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher in the morning and then will head south and east to New York state before heading home.  As I write this entry, I am east of Cleveland, Ohio and heading shortly to New York state to try for Bicknell's Thrush on Slide Mountain in the Catskills.

Sharp-tailed Grouse is a new bird for the year, yielding a total of 535.


Basnau Road near Hulbert Bog and then Seney NWR, July 8

I got an early start to the morning, but not quite as early as I expected.  I wanted to be on Basnau Road by 5:30 am.  The owners of Tahquamenon Hotel in Hulbert, the Dewitts, were very helpful to get me an early start.  They offered breakfast at 8:00 am, but of course, birders are out and gone by then.  They provided me a box of cereal, Cheerios, my usual at home, and a glass of milk to be stored in the refrigerator in my room, a bowl and spoon.  Also, they set up the coffee maker so that all I had to do was pour in water and fresh coffee was brewed in the morning.  I took advantage of these kind offers, but made it on Basnau Road somewhat later than desired to look for early morning grouse by about 6:30 to 7:00 am.

Shortly after I arrived to start birding, a crew of county highway workers arrived to replace an under road drain.  I moved out of their way to continue looking for Yellow-bellied Flycatcher and grouse.  I was unsuccessful for the flycatcher.  There was more bird activity in the morning than yesterday in the afternoon and evening.  I heard a distant Canada Warbler singing in the direction of the bog (at least what I thought was the bog), as well as singing Magnolia Warblers, Nashville Warblers,  Blackburnian Warblers, American Redstart, Winter Wrens and Hermit and Swainson's Thrushes.   Black-capped Chickadees and Golden-crowned Kinglets were very active.  I parked my car at intervals along the road and walked ahead and behind where my car was parked to look and listen for birds.  I briefly, looked back toward the road workers and there was a grouse sitting in the middle of the road!  My heart started beating faster--maybe a Spruce Grouse!  I walked back toward the bird as rapidly as possible without scaring the bird.  However, I saw some young grouse fly and skitter across the road following the adult as it disappeared into the thick alders and conifers on the right hand side of the road.  I walked to the spot.  There was still a chick along the left side of the road across from where the adult and chicks had disappeared into the thick alders and conifers.  This chick was an exact small replica of a Ruffed Grouse including a crest.  I could hear the adult grouse calling to the chicks.  Another Ruffed Grouse and not a desired Spruce Grouse.  Oh well, Ruffed Grouse are fun to see, especially given how rare they are in Ohio!

Clouds had moved in overnight, and it started to rain.  I continued birding from the car with open windows, but did not find the desired Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.  My next stop is Seney National Wildlife Refuge.  Maybe the rain would stop by the time I got there.  Seney NWR was about 20-25 miles west of Basnau Road.   Sure enough, the rain stopped and the weather started to clear as I approached the refuge entrance.  I stopped at the Visitor Center to see if there was a recent bird list of reports and to ask directions to the best spots for Le Conte's Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse as well as Yellow Rail.  A ranger, a young lady, showed me on a map where the best spots are for Le Conte's Sparrow and Sharp-tailed Grouse.  She said that a spring census for Yellow Rail was not successful this year, because the water levels were too high at the normal places to find Yellow Rail.  Therefore, she could not tell me where to try for this elusive species.  She marked on a map the locations for Sharp-tailed Grouse and Le-Conte's Sparrow, and they were in the same location along the C-3 pool.  There was a three mile hike to the end of the C-3 pool.  Before  going there, I first drove the Marshland Wildlife Drive.  I was surprised by the large numbers of breeding Trumpeter Swans that have been introduced to Michigan.   I did not expect to see so many.  The breeding Common Loons were great fun to watch as the adults gently offered small fish to their young.  The adult loons are very much larger than the half-grown young, and the adult loons look so powerful in comparison to the chicks.  However, the adults seem to be very gentile in dealings with the young loons.

In the late afternoon, starting at about 4:30 pm, I walked along the gravel road along the C-3 pool.  I found two small ammodramus sparrows that flushed from the grass close to the water and behaved much like Le Conte's Sparrows, by flying for a short distance and then dropping down quickly after a short flight into the grass again.  It was very difficult to get a good look at these two birds, because they stayed low on the ground and flew only when I got close.  Once one of the birds landed on a small tree, and I got a brief bare eye look at the orange face with a gray ear patch before I could get the bird in a binocular view as it dropped quickly down into the thick grasses and vegetation, behaving just like the Le Conte's Sparrows that I have seen during fall migration in Ohio.  The two birds did not sing, but gave the thin "tsip" call note of Le Conte's Sparrow.  The head shape of these birds was distinctively dainty, more rounded and with a smaller bill than the somewhat similar relative the Grasshopper Sparrow, which has a larger, flatter head and relatively large bill.  These two Le Conte's Sparrows were lighter in color overall than the close relative Nelson's Sparrow, which has darker streaks on the back and a somewhat darker gray ear patch on the face.  These views of the Le Conte's Sparrows were not life-look quality but good enough along with behavior, call notes and in the right habitat to count as a new species for the year.  Neither Grasshopper Sparrow or Nelson's Sparrow are on the official list of birds for Seney NWR.  The habitat is not correct for Grasshopper Sparrow, and Nelson's Sparrow is found further west and north of Seney NWR during breeding season.  I walked close to two miles down the gravel road along the C-3 pool and back, almost four miles to see this bird.  Then I drove back to the Marshland Wildlife Drive to check out a location where I thought that I heard Sedge Wren calls on my earlier visit, hoping that Sedge Wren will be more active and singing in the evening.  I returned to the spot on the Fishing Loop near a wooden fishing pier, and the Sedge Wren did not disappoint.  First I heard the sharp introductory notes, "tick-tick" followed by the rapid chatter.  Then I found the Sedge Wren sitting up on a very low bush, either a small alder or a blueberry bush and watched as it threw its head back singing.  The song arrived to my ears slightly delayed from seeing the bird singing.  As I continued on the Fishing Loop of the Marshland Wildlife Drive, I heard another Sedge Wren singing.

I am correcting an error made in a recent post.  The UP birder that I met was Warren Whaley not Wallace as stated.  Sorry, Warren.  If I do not write down a name immediately, sometimes I forget the name.  Thanks again to Warren for telling me about the spot for Mourning Warbler near Grayling.
Le Conte's Sparrow and Sedge Wren raise the total to 534 for the year.