Revised 2011 bird total:
437 species

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oh what a year

As the sun set the evening of this last day of 2011 my Junior Big Year was ending.  What a year it was.  436!  436!  First bird: European Starling, out my bedroom window, January 1st.  Last bird: Bell's Vireo, "The Beanery" Cape May New Jersey, December 30th.  And 434 in between.

A few of the most memorable birds:

Brown Shrike
Gyrfalcon
Horned Puffin
Black-vented Oriole
Green Jay
King Eider
Prairie Falcon
just a few of the most amazing.

Now that the Big Year is done, I'll of course continue birding.  I will continue to grow my life list and keep a year list in 2012, but it won't be that intense traveling and relentless birding.  I will still have plenty of travel in 2012: Glacier National Park in Montana, Canaan Valley West Virginia, and Chincoteague Virginia.

I would like to give my thank yous to everyone that has helped me on this amazing Junior Big Year.  There is a very long list of so much help from so many people that I couldn't begin to list everyone.  But the biggest, most important thank you to my amazing parents for their incredible support.  I literally could not have done this Junior Big Year without you.

On another note, I am happy to say that Skyler Bol of Colorado is setting out tomorrow on his own Junior Big Year, inspired by me!  I wish you best of luck and tons of fun, Skyler.  His blog is http://2012juniorbigyear.blogspot.com/

Thank you to all of my blog readers for following my progress on this amazing year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Day two of New Jersey - 4 more from the shore!


Cape May.  Cape May.  The name is fame for birders.  Hawk migration, best in the country.  Rarities abound.  Cape May is birding paradise.  And today I got to see why.

I started the birding day at Lake Lilly in Cape May where a Eurasian Wigeon has been reported for quite some time on eBird.  We arrived and the ducks were everywhere.  Gadwall, Mallard, and American Wigeon made up the bulk.  But there were others, diving ducks, cormorants, swans, geese and grebes.  There had to have been at least a few hundred waterfowl individuals.  I searched and searched and searched.  I looked through small and large groups of American Wigeons, and Gadwall.  I checked to make sure that every wigeon didn't have a red head.  Several times I thought "it's not here" but what keep getting me was that on nearly every scan I kept finding birds that I hadn't seen on previous scans.  Even very obvious birds, like the only cormorant on the lake and Mute Swans.  If I hadn't spotted them before, maybe I hadn't spotted the wigeon.  I searched and searched some more.  I really had covered basically everywhere on the lake and was losing hope fast.  But there was one last group to check out one more time - a mixed Mallard/Am. Wigeon group on the far shore.  I sifted through that group with my scope.  American, Mallard, American, Mallard, Mallard, American, EURASIAN!  Yes, Eurasian.  And it was.  The male Eurasian Wigeon showing all of his beauty.  Number 433 for my Junior Big Year.  A wonderful success.  From there we headed to the Cape May hawk platform, just to see where the famous spot was.  There we met several birders and they told us a spot that was even better for Saltmarsh Sparrow than the one I had heard about.  After the hawk watch we headed to the "beanery" where a Bell's Vireo has been reported lately.  There were 3 other birders there and the time we were there, no vireo.  We went to the new spot for Saltmarsh Sparrow that the folks at the hawk watch told us about.  We walked around and then I spotted a good looking sparrow fly into a bush.  I approached slowly, pishing and making mouth noises.  No sparrow.  No sparrow in that bush.  I didn't see it fly away, neither did my dad but it was gone.  I knew I couldn't let this sparrow go.  From what I saw I knew that there was at least a 50/50 chance that it was a Saltmarsh.  "there!" I exclaimed quietly.  Then it gave a brief but good look.  It was what we hoped it was, the more common one of the two Sharp-tailed Sparrows - Saltmarsh.  A life bird for both my dad and I and number 434 for my year.  After the sparrow score we headed back to the Avalon Sea Watch where we got the life Common Eider yesterday and where the King Eider is supposed to be.  It took some time just to find the eider/scoter flock but we did, though they were pretty far out.  We had to get to a good location for a good view but we did and I was sifting through a part of a distant part of the flock when I spotted the male King Eider.  How beautiful.  I have long-wanted to see a King Eider but little did I think it would be on December 30 in the last 48 hours of my Junior Big Year.  How amazing.  From there we headed to the spot I originally heard was good for sharp-tailed sparrows to try our luck on the other one - Nelson's.  We walked around for a good while but no luck.  Given my cold and everything we were now tired so we took a brake and rest and ate.  Things were clicking so the next obvious thing to do was to go try for the Bell's Vireo again.  When we arrived there were no other birders, and no vireo to be seen.  We walked around and sat around but the whole time we were looking.   I followed a bird around for a while, hoping it was the vireo but it turned out to be a chickadee.  While sitting I spotted it - the Bell's Vireo!  It sat around and gave a nice look to both my dad and I.  I didn't catch the wing bars, my dad didn't catch the eye marks, but we both caught the yellow on the sides, so between us we saw all the field marks.  Success! Right after I saw the vireo some other birders showed up.  We left a little while after they arrived but never saw the vireo again.  They stayed longer, I hope they re-found the vireo!

Tomorrow I drive home.  I really don't expect to get any more year birds but ending the year at 436 is amazing.   I will do one or two last posts on New Year's Eve and or New Year's Day.  What a year it's been.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day one of New Jersey trip - number 432


A couple of days ago I came down with a cold so I've been a little bit slow going.  I contemplated not going on this trip but the cold wasn't bad enough to stop me from my last Big Year trip.  Normally I would say "oh, let's just go next week" but at this point in the game there IS NO next week - I am now in the final days of my Junior Big Year.  2 more full days.  

I left home about 9:30 am this morning with my dad.  We went through the Baltimore area on our way here and since I've been there for 2 chase trips in the last 1+ month, I recognized almost every place in the area.  In fact, we drove within a mile or two of where I saw my life Le Conte's Sparrow back in late November!  

Our first stop in NJ would be the Avalon Sea Watch where a group of Common and a male King Eider are being seen.  We arrived to find several other birders there.  The Common Eiders were easy - tons of them, both male and female swimming about.  A lifer for me and number 432 for my Junior Big Year!  There were lots of other sea ducks as well - Black and Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks.  But the King Eider was not to be seen.  One of the birders there said that the King was seen about an hour before I arrived but a boat scared it off.  I will try for it again tomorrow.

Tomorrow is the day - I have 7 targets.  I will start in Cape May and try to locate both a Bell's Vireo and Eurasian Wigeon being seen in Cape May.  Then I will work my way up to Avalon again, stopping in Stone Harbor at a location where Saltmarsh and Nelson's Sparrows are often seen, according to eBird.  It's going to be a great day.

I have some photos of the sea ducks including the eiders from today that I will post on this blog later.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Cape May plan

Tomorrow I'm leaving Virginia for the last trip of my Junior Big Year - heading to Cape May and area, New Jersey.  It's going to be amazing!  In fact I have 8 targets, of course I won't get all of them but they're all possible.

The 4 main and perhaps easiest targets will be:

Common Eider - lots are in the area.  Should be very easy.
King Eider - what a bird to get in the last days of the year.  I've always wanted to see a King Eider.  A male is being seen with a Common Eider flock at the Avalon Sea Watch.
Eurasian Wigeon - a drake E. Wigeon is being seen at a lake in Cape May.
Bell's Vireo - a Bell's Vireo is being seen at a place in Cape May.

The other targets:

Nelson's Sparrow - hit or miss at a certain location.
Saltmarsh Sparrow - hit or miss at the same location as Nelson's.
Razorbill - seen occasionally from the Avalon Sea Watch.  In fact, on Dec. 22 5 were seen.
Black Guillemot - seen occasionally from the Avalon Sea Watch.

It will be awesome.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Heading to Cape May to end my Big Year

The plan for the end of my year has become obvious.  John Vanderpoel's pelagic trip out of NC has been delayed so he will not have time to come to Tennessee for the Hooded Crane after all.  This makes my choice even more clear: I'm headed to New Jersey, the state of my Snowy Owl, only in the totally other part of the state.  I'm headed to Cape May, a legendary bird watching locality.    This is a perfect place to end my Junior Big Year.  You never know what will show up there (heck, earlier this month they had a Bell's Vireo!)  If the 3 birds that are in that area now hold, the NJ trip could bring my year total to 434 and close it off with that.

Right now in Cape May there's a male Eurasian Wigeon that has been hanging around for quite some time.  About 30 minutes north of Cape May there's the Avalon Sea Watch that for the last several days has hosted Common and King Eiders.

I will be leaving Thursday for 2 nights, which will bring me home Saturday, the very last day of 2011.  I will plan to post each day - Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Update

Merry Christmas everyone!  It's Christmas eve day and it's time to announce my plan for the last week.

My hope is to still chase the Hooded Crane when (if) John Vanderpoel (bigyear2011.com) goes for it.  If he doesn't, my dad and I still may chase the Hooded Crane or any other vagrant that shows up.  I hope to do one more chase before year's end.

That's really the only news.  I'll post when I know what (if any) rarity that I plan to chase.

Merry christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The end is closer than ever

Christmas is just a couple of days from now.  That means one thing: my Big Year is closing in on the end.  What a year it's been!  431 species so far including such rarities as Black-vented Oriole, Yellow-faced Grassquit, Brown Shrike, Garganey, and Rufous-capped Warbler.

My plan now?  I'll be going as strong as she goes right up and on through December 31st.  My next (and perhaps final) ideal chase would be to go to Tennessee to chase the Hooded Crane and meet up with John Vanderpoel.  However, right now there is a Nutting's Flycatcher in Arizona, a Dusky Thrush in Anchorage, and a pelagic trip that John is scheduled to be on out of Hatteras NC on the 27th.  We'll see if it works out for us to meet John in Tennessee.  I'll be watching the listservs for any good rarity.  I'll post on Christmas day if not sooner with an update and tentative plan for the last week.  It's gonna be a great ride to the finish line.

The grosbeak chase

I got up this morning in Harrington Delaware, positioned about 23 minutes away from Denton, Maryland where the Black-headed Grosbeak immature male has been visiting a feeder.

I arrived at the feeder at 10:15 am and luck would have it - the Black-headed Grosbeak was feeding right there when I arrived!  It stayed 3-5 minutes and then flew away.  We went to the car to get the camera but the grosbeak didn't show again soon.  Given that it only shows every approx. 2 hours it wasn't worth us staying.  We got the bird.  We got a great look.  That's what matters.  Another lifer and number 431 for my Junior Big Year!

On a side note, last night we created a life list for my non-birder mama and the BH Grosbeak was her number 295!  Go work on 300 mama.

The Maryland trip was a success.  I'm happy to be sitting at 431.  Let's grab a couple more before it's over.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Black-headed Gull photo

Enjoy the photo of my number 430.

The white-headed Black-headed Gull.  Black-headed Gulls only have black heads in breeding plumage.

Mission accomplished! The white-headed Black-headed Gull

My plan for Maryland chasing was to grocery shop, etc. this morning and chase my two targets (Black-headed Gull and Black-headed Grosbeak) this afternoon and tomorrow morning.  I arrived at the Best Buy Parking Lot of Hunt Valley MD at about 12:30 this afternoon.  There were two wonderful birders (Russ Ruffing and Steve Collins) there both trying for the bird.  In fact, Russ is who first found the gull!  Steve was visiting the area from Texas and the Black-headed Gull would be both a new "Maryland bird" for him as well as a year bird.  Steve has a very impressive year list (I believe it's 487, please forgive me if I'm wrong).  1:00 came and went.  1:30 did too.  Steve had recently been at Paper Mill Flats where the BH Gull often hangs out but he decided to run over there again, just in case it was there while my mom and I kept watch at Best Buy.  Just minutes after he left I spotted a small group of Ring-bills coming in and sure enough, a much smaller gull with a black-patch on the face was traveling with them!  When it got close enough I could see the red beak and legs.  I called Steve (Russ had already left) and he came back.  Unfortunately the gull had already left when Steve returned.  Very fortunately Steve picked back up on it flying a little distance away and it came in and circled overhead for a brief moment.  A lifer for me and number 430 for my Junior Big Year!  Mission accomplished.  That white-headed Black-headed Gull was the reason we came to Maryland in the first place.

But we had more missions.  Another "Black-headed" bird, this one a grosbeak had been discovered in Maryland, only about 2 hours away in the town of Denton.  We left Best Buy headed toward Denton.  By the time we arrived in Denton, it was all too dark to search for the grosbeak so we continued on to the Super 8 of Harrington Delaware where I am now.  We'll spend the night here and are right in position to chase the grosbeak tomorrow and then drive home.

Another Black-headed chase

So I'm here in Maryland on a chase for the BLACK-HEADED Gull and I've just gotten word of a BLACK-HEADED Grosbeak about 2 hours away so we're staying an extra night in Maryland and will be chasing both black-headed birds!

I'll post tonight with what I've gotten and my plan.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

No gull yet - probably tomorrow


i spent from about 3-4 today searching for the Black-headed Gull at Hunt Valley Mall in Maryland. No luck today - just lots of Ring-bills. The Black-headed was seen earlier in the day though. It is being seen daily. We'll really search our heads off for it tomorrow.

I'm at the Mt. Washington Hotel and Resort in the out-skirts of Baltimore and am right in position for the full chase tomorrow. I will post tomorrow evening. Really hoping to get number 430 with this sucker.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Go north now!

The choice has become obvious.  John Vanderpoel is "stuck" on Adak Island, Alaska.  The clock is not only ticking on his Big Year, it is on mine too.  There's 2 birds that I really hope to chase before year's end, a Black-headed Gull to my north and a Hooded Crane to my south.  I want to meet up with John at the Hooded Crane.  But John is stuck in Alaska.  I can't wait for him to chase the crane before I chase any birds.  Heck, a Nutting's Flycatcher showed up in Arizona, John may chase that before he comes east for the crane.  I have to go get the gull.  In all likelyhood, I won't be missing John Vanderpoel because of that.

So tomorrow I'm heading to Maryland to chase the Black-headed Gull.  I can get that bird out of the way and then just focus on watching John's plans and chasing the crane when he does.  I'll post tomorrow night at my hotel in Maryland.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Bird Counting

I spent this weekend on two different Christmas Bird Counts for my 2 local counties - Augusta and Rockingham.

Yesterday (Saturday) I went out with Rockingham CBC coordinator Bill Benish and his wonderful friend Larry.  It was great to be birding with Bill again, he is a great birder and got me my life Acadian Flycatcher back in May. We had a fun, great day and saw some nice birds including a beautiful look at a Merlin eating a bird (titmouse?)

Today I went out with Augusta CBC coordinator Allen Larner, Augusta Bird Club president Penny Warren, and Penny's neighbor Mark who is also a birder .  They're all wonderful people and good birders but especially Allen, he his an amazing birder and a SPECIAL THNAKS to him for getting me many birds over the course of my Big Year.   Today was amazing.  I got up early to join them in "owling".  We didn't hear any owls but got a beautiful look of a Barn Owl in the headlights on a pole alongside the road.  Beautiful!  Probably my highlight was seeing 2 Brewer's Blackbirds, I got them as a lifer in Arizona but they hold a special place for me, they were my number 400 for the year.  Great to see them again.

I plan to chase the Hooded Crane in Tennessee next week and I'll coincide my trip with whenever Big Year birder John Vanderpoel (www.bigyear2011.com) is going so I can meet up with him at the crane.  However, at the moment John is "stuck" on Adak Island, Alaska due to a failure with an airplane-related issue.  He may not be able to leave Adak until Thursday!

Let's see how it goes.  For those wondering my count that haven't been following along, my year total is 429.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Plan

The last half month of my Junior Big Year is all shaping up.  I'm hoping to chase 2 more certain birds before the year is over.

Originally my plan was to chase the Black-headed Gull  in Maryland early next week but a Hooded Crane has showed up in Tennessee.  I would love to chase that bird too.  I have been following John Vanderpoel's blog all year long who is doing a BIG Big Year and is actually trying to beat the all-time record of 745 species, set by Sandy Komito in 1998.  John is currently at 740 species and right now is on the remote Alaskan Island: Adak.  Best of luck on Adak John!  John's wonderful blog is: bigyear2011.com  I may actually be able to cross paths with John for the first time at the crane in Tennessee.  John's planning to chase it after he's done in Alaska, if the crane stays around.  My hope is to chase the crane and meet John there before Christmas, if the crane holds and John's going to be there.  If that's what happens, I'll plan to chase the Black-headed Gull in Maryland between Christmas and the end of the year, if the gull stays around.

This coming weekend, I'll be participating in 2 different Christmas Bird Counts for the local counties.

I'm excited about the last couple of weeks!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Black-headed Gull plan

As promised, today I would post my plan for the Maryland Black-headed Gull.  I'll leave here next Tuesday, chase the bird Wednesday and come home Thursday.  I was in touch with the local birders, sharp-tailed sparrows and King Rail are going to be sort of tough and far out of our way.  Will just go for the gull.

Photos from Arizona day two.

Photos from Arizona day two.  Refer to that day's post:  http://juniorbigyear.blogspot.com/2011/12/arizona-day-two-nine-more-lifers.html
                                                                   Enjoy the photos!

My favorite lifer from Arizona.  Prairie Falcon.

A flock of Lark Buntings, a lifer.

A HORRIBLE photo of a Greater Roadrunner!

The third Vemillion Flycatcher of my life (all on Arizona days one and two) and my first adult male.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Time for a big update

So I'm back in Virginia.  All went well today with traveling from LA and what a trip it was!

My goal for the Arizona trip was to reach 400 species for year's end and I was at 378 when I went to Arizona.  I knew that in all likelyhood that I would pass 400 but never in my craziest imagination did I expect to add 51 new year birds (including 48 lifers!) and be at 429 when I returned home.  W O W!

A few "trivia" bits from the trip:

-I stopped off in Denver on my way to Arizona, hoping for an American Dipper.  Could not find a dipper but got my life Clark's Nutcracker.
-I reached 400 species on the first birding day in Arizona, with 21 new birds that day.
-a flock of Brewer's Blackbirds was bird number 400.
-the rarest bird was the Rufous-capped Warbler seen near Madera Canyon.

I'd like to give a BIG THANK YOU to everyone that helped me on this trip!  An especially huge thank you to Laurens Halsey, our guide in Madera and Florida Canyons on Saturday!  What a time and amazing birds, Laurens.  Thank you.  Thanks to everyone else: guides at Tucson park bird walks, the "Mountain Plover people" that found me Mountain Plover on Friday, and many others.

My plan now?  For the last 2.5 weeks I'll really be in "cleanup" and chase mode in the "local" states and hopefully add a few more birds.  Tomorrow my mom and I will discuss our "chase plan" for Maryland for the Black-headed Gull and other more common birds there.

I will plan to post photos from the trip over the next few days.

Surprise...Birding in C A L I F O R N I A!


Written evening of December 12 2011.

I'm sure that this title gets you all excited!  Well it was a surprise for me too.

Our itinerary home from Arizona was via Los Angeles.  We had a very tight (30 minute connection) in LA.  Heavy rain in Tucson (yes, rain in the desert!) delayed our departure by maybe 10 minutes.  Yet again, bad weather in LA delayed our arrival as we circled around before they let us fly in.  We ended up getting to our gate in LA right as the doors closed for our plane to Washington Dulles.  In fact we saw the plane that we were supposed to be on, a Boeing 777 United getting push back right after we walked into the terminal.  Obviously, we missed the flight to Dulles.  The only other flight to Dulles today was a late flight, arriving in Dulles at 11:59 pm and from Dulles we still had one more short express flight to Shenandoah Valley, and the last Dulles-Shenandoah flight leaves Dulles in the 9:00 hour.  Obviously we didn't want to get to Dulles at midnight and still find a hotel, so we decided to stay in LA.  This was GREAT news for me -- I knew that possible birds including Herrman's Gulls, Clark's Grebes, Long-billed Curlews, and Brandt's Cormorants were waiting at parks within a reasonable drive from the airport!  

Our first stop was a park, just 9 minutes away from the airport known for great birding.  I arrived, and I immediately spotted about 8 gulls (give or take a few) perched on a human-made structure.  I lifted my binoculars and I just couldn't believe it -- they were Herrman's Gulls, every single one of them!  This park was great for other birds as well and some of the waterfowl/shorebirds included: American Coots (by the dozens), Pied-billed Grebe, Mallard, Bufflehead, Marbled Godwit, and plover of unknown species (will be trying to get identification from expert "shorebirders" from my photos and will update blog with result) among others.  We also saw a selepherous hummingbird adult male, I believe it was a Rufous.  I have both North American selepherous hummingbirds so even if I made a mis-ID it doesn't effect my year list.  Other than the Heerman's Gulls my highlight here was a total of 4 grebes that were either Western and/or Clark's and I will also be getting an ID on them (got photos) and will update this post with the result.

After the "Heerman Gull park" we headed to a park that has had consistent eBird report of Brandt's Cormorants, along the Pacific Coast.  I saw lots of cormorants far out but I could not get a positive ID on Brandt's.  I realized that the reports were probably made by excellent "sea birders" (which I'm surely not!) that have 60 X Swarovski Spotting Scopes.  I wish I was one of them, but am far from it.  And my lower quality scope is in a duffel bag at LAX:)
 
So I'm at 428 (and possibly 429 or 430 with the plover and more likely grebe).

Tomorrow I'm flying from LA back home to Virginia but sometime soon will be Maryland bound chasing.

Update evening of November 13 2011: while on the plane back home to Virginia today comparing my photos to Bird ID books, I looked up the 4 grebes that I didn't know if they were Clark's or Western.  3 of the 4 were Western (which I already have) but the forth was a Clark's!  My photos showed the brighter bill and no black around the eye.  Clark's is a lifer for me and number 429 for my Junior Big Year!  I also looked up the plover, and it was a Black-bellied, which I already have of course.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Arizona day four - at 427 and 89 raptors!

Wow! Today was a great last day of Arizona birding! I got 2 more lifers today which puts my year total to 427.

I started the birding day by spending 45 minutes at one of the best spots that our guide from yesterday Laurens Halsey said that some good birds often come to, including Magnificent Hummingbird and Hepatic Tanager. At the 40 minute mark of my 45 minutes at that location in Madera Canyon this morning the MAGNIFICENT HUMMINGBIRD came on in! It stayed around for about 15 seconds giving a couple of very nice looks! Because I had to wait 40 minutes for it, a sure reminder that patience pays off.

We left Madera Canyon and our plan for this last day of birding was to hit the Sulphur Springs Valley, look for whatever year birds we could find and since raptors or both my dad and I's favorite birds, look for raptors. We traveled the roads, essentially making a big loop covering some amazing habitat in the Sulphur Springs Valley. Even before we got to the valley we pulled over to look for Lark Sparrow. There were lots of Chipping Sparrows here, loads by the dozens if not hundreds. I knew that there had to be at least a few Lark with them. Then I spotted a group of 5, longer-tailed sparrows. 4 kept flying. 1 briefly perched! With it's distinctive facial pattering, I could confirm it as a Lark Sparrow, the second lifer of the day and number 427 for my Junior Big Year!

We had a great day in the Sulphur Springs Valley searching for raptors and ended up with a total of 89 individuals, broken down by by 6 species. Counts were as follows (raptor with highest number to lowest):

Red-tailed Hawk--53
Northern Harrier--15
American Kestrel--12
Merlin--4
Cooper's Hawk--3
Harris's Hawk--2

these are the total counts for the whole day, from Madera Canyon to Tucson via the Sulphur Springs Valley. We did very little or no back-tracking so I am confident that no raptors were double-counted.

In the Sulphur Springs Valley we also went to Whitewater Draw to see the Sandhill Cranes which was amazing.

Tomorrow before I fly home to Virginia I will try for a Broad-billed Hummingbird. I checked the listservs for near home, it looks like I may be headed north once again. A Black-headed Gull has showed up in Maryland, ironically in the very same area as where I was for the Le Conte's Sparrow and Calliope Hummingbird a couple of weeks ago. I've been in touch with a great local birder there and he said that both sharp-tailed sparrows and King Rail could be possible in the same general area of Maryland. So I'll be talking my mom into a trip to Maryland sometime before Christmas...

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Arizona day three - a day at Madera Canyon with 16 new birds!


Southeast Arizona continues to blow me away.  Laurens Halsey, birding expert and professional birding guide with his guiding business Desert Harrier took us out this morning and my oh my it was amazing!  Laurens gave us much more time and covered much more area than what he normally does for this kind of trip (but he does a wide range of things from day long trips to 3 hour bird walks for Santa Rita Lodge). He was able to get me 15 new birds (including 14 lifers) and tell me what I was listening for for number 16 for the day.  THANK YOU Laurens!  He is an incredible guide and if you're coming to the Madera Canyon area and need a birding guide, no one is better than Laurens and please use him: www.desertharrier.com 

We met Laurens at 7 am at the parking lot at Santa Rita Lodge.  He told us that there had been a Lunar Eclipse and we went to look for the end of it but the moon had already set.  On a checklist provided by the Santa Rita Lodge (which Laurens helped compile!) I circled the birds I really wanted and showed that to him and from what he saw he said the first place we should go was nearby Florida Canyon where several RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLERS had even bred in previous years and 2 had been reported for the first time since 2010 a few days ago.  But we had to swing back to Santa Rita Lodge to pick up my dad's binoculars and on the way added a few common life birds for me at some easy roadside spots: Bridled Titmouse, Painted Redstart (a beautiful bird at a sapsucker sap well), and Mexican Jay (although just heard, until later when they were commonly seen).  On our way to Florida Canyon we stopped at a certain location and was able to pick up Green-tailed Towhee, one of my most wanted life birds.  A beautiful bird and I was able to learn it's distinctive, interesting call (of course, thanks to Laurens who taught it to me).  GTT was number 413 for the year.  On the walk into the Rufous-capped Warbler I added several year birds, which was terrific.  The first one was Acorn Woodpecker, which we ended up seeing by large numbers later in the day.  They were a year bird but the one today that was not a lifer, I got to see them back in 2009 in Monterey, CA.  Great to see them again.  A little bit later Laurens reported hearing Olive Warbler and I quickly picked up on the sound of this number 415.  Later several gave very nice looks.  I was concerned I wouldn't get an OW in Arizona but they were one of my most wanted birds so it was a great thrill.  Soon after Olive we heard Rufous-crowned Sparrow, a lifer of course.  Hermit Thrush was a nice "trip bird".  We met several other nice birders (which Laurens knew) and we searched for the Rufous-capped Warblers.  Someone called out possibly hearing Rufous-capped.  Laurens heard it too, and so did I.  Laurens thought it was Rufous-cap but he said that they were calling an offal lot and actively.  Then one popped up.  Yellow breast and rufous cap!  Oh yes baby!  We watched it for probably a solid 5-10 minutes.  Once complete with the warbler we headed back to bird Madera Canyon.  On our drive out of Florida Canyon Laurens spotted a bird that I didn't see and I asked him what it was.  He replied "probably just a Canyon Towhee" but Canyon Towhee was music to my ears!  I needed that as a lifer and didn't even imagine it on this trip.  Laurens said that the one bird was gone but he knew a trail where they were common.  That trail was our next stop and indeed we found several Can. Towhees as well as 3 other lifers!  We spotted a flycatcher and it was immediately ID'd as one of the empids and because of the active wing-twitching among other identifying things, Hammond's.  That was a very nice bird for me to get because every once in a while I want to kick myself for not chasing one in Texas that was there when I was, but that turned out to be okay because I got it here in Madera Canyon, 2 states to the west.  Soon after that Laurens was pleased and sort of surprised to find a Townsend's Solitare which was my number 420.  425 was really within easy reach this year, and possibly today!  They kept coming with Dusky Flycatcher as 421.  Laurens was a little bit surprised that we found Hammond's and Dusky but not the easier one, Gray.  We went back to the same sap well as we got Painted Redstart at earlier because a Red-breasted Sapsucker had been frequenting that.  And believe it or not, it was there right when we pulled up and gave awesome looks to several birders!  What a gorgeous life woodpecker!  We searched relentlessly for an Arizona Woodpecker and once we found one we found many.  My dad really liked that one as did I.  That was a good 423.  I was inching up to 425.  Laurens took us to a good spot for Yellow-eyed Junco as well as where a Williamson's Sapsucker was seen yesterday.  We didn't find the sapsucker but did the juncos.  It was about time to leave Laurens but I asked him for advice.  Some of my main targets were owls: Northern Pygmy, Whiskered and Western-Screech.  He taught me the calls and locations and said that Pygmy may call in daylight as well.  Maybe 45 minutes later I heard a Pygmy: the double-toot owl, 425! At dusk and shortly after we tried multiple locations for the screech-owls but got skunked.

I was silly enough to forget my camera this morning so I don't have many pictures but after our time with Laurens I was able to see some of the common birds again and will post a few photos from today tomorrow.  

Arizona day two - nine more lifers


Written evening of December 9 2011. 
Wow.  Today was another awesome day in Southeast Arizona!  9 more lifers today brings my year total to 409.

I started the birding day at the Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson, which is known for excellent birding.  Almost immediately I spotted a couple of Lesser Goldfinches but I noticed a Lawerence's with them.  Lawerence's Goldfinch!  That was a bird I did not expect on this trip and an exciting 401.  From there I birded my way around the wetlands but my dad went ahead.  I met some very nice birders at the wetlands and gave a few of them my blog address (hope you like it folks!)  While watching an Anna's Hummingbird (not a year bird of course, but very nice) my dad came walking down "I think I saw that red cardinal-like thing that you were telling me about"  He's not a birder, but I knew what he meant: Pyrrhuloxia.  So he took me to the spot.  First all I saw were Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Orange-crowned Warblers.  But then I spotted the cardinal.  Sure enough, there was a female Pyrrhuloxia!  Thank you papa for finding me 402:)  From there my dad and I walked around, of course looking for one thing: birds.   We spotted a woodpecker fly into a tree and my dad said "Gila, right?"  I responded "I don't think so, let's stay on this bird"  It finally gave a pretty good look showing a lot of red around it's head and I knew it was either a Red-breasted or Red-naped Sapsucker.  I went to look at my Peterson Guide to get the ID but I realized something: my Peterson Guide was GONE.  We went to ask some of the people I had seen before if they had seen it, but they hadn't.  On the bright side of things, they did have a Sibley Guide and they let me look up my sapsucker.  It was a Red-naped, a lifer for me.  Unfortunately I never found my Peterson Guide.  Oh well.  Fortunately I have several copies, although not on this trip.  I have my Sibley Guide that I'm using now that my Peterson is gone.  Happy to be at 403, we left Sweetwater and headed to the Santa Cruz Flats to drive around and do one thing: birding.  One the way to Santa Cruz I spotted a Prairie Falcon along the highway, an awesome life raptor and one of the most wanted Arizona birds. Almost immediately once in the flats I spotted a large flock of birds that I was able to identify as Lark Buntings, another life bird.  After the Lark Buntings, after getting oriented after being slightly lost we had an amazing flyby Prairie Falcon, a much better look than along the interstate.  That was wonderful!  From there we headed to a Turf Farm where Mountain Plovers and other good birds had been reported.  We were fortunate to run into some other wonderful birders.  After a little while they spotted what the man thought was Mountain Plovers so he got the scope out.  Indeed there were about 10 Mountain Plovers, a lifer and number 406 for my Junior Big Year.  Excellent!  Thanks to those wonderful people for their help.  They said that in certain habitat Sage Sparrow and Bendire's Thrasher were not out of the question.  We drove around some roads in prime habitat and spotted a Sage Sparrow!  It gave a brief but nice look.  We ended up skunking on a Bendire's.  After the Sage Sparrow getting slightly lost paid off as a Greater Roadrunner road ran across the road!  That was one of my very most wanted birds this trip, let along this year.  It was of course a lifer and number 408.  We ended up seeing one more Roadrunner later in the day and managed some poor but ID-worthy photos (which I will post and some other photos from today).  From the roadrunner we proceeded to a spot where a Rufous-backed Thrush (AKA Rufous-backed Robin) had been reported.  We ran into several birders including the Mountain Plover people.  We thought we might have had Ruddy Ground-Doves but they turned out to be Incas.  Crested Caracara was a nice "trip bird" there and my first ones since Texas.  The "Mountain Plover people" told us that Lark Sparrows can sometimes be seen at Tucson City Parks so we headed there.  We skunked on a Lark Sparrow but got a beautiful male Vermillion Flycatcher.  On our way to Madera Canyon I decided to bird some good habitat and happened upon a Gambel's Quail, which was my last new bird of the day.  A hare (rabbit) came running through and scared the quail into the brush!  That was quite an event.  

All in all, Arizona day two scored.  And tomorrow is going to be amazing.  We're getting up early to go on a morning bird walk with an amazing and professional birding guide from this area.  I've been in contact with him and he's helped out a lot!  Thanks so much, Laurens.  I will post his guiding website on my blog in tomorrow's post.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Photos from Arizona day one

Here's a few photos from today.  My focus was on observing so not many photos but these are what I got.  Enjoy!


One of many Black-throated Sparrows seen today, and this species is one of 19 lifers today.

Not a year bird, but this Golden Eagle flyover was quite a treat.

We saw many Cooper's Hawks today, as well as a few of their Sharp-shin cousins.

Gila Woodpecker was one of the lifers today.

Not a year bird of course, but this up close American Wigeon was nice.

One of a billion Phainopepelas.  Hard to believe they were a lifer this morning, because we saw SOOOO many today.

Black Phoebe.  Not a year bird but the last "trip bird" of the day, and seen right after I got number 400.  

Day one of Arizona - 4 0 0

Wow.  Wow is all I can say.  Today was birding at it's best for Big Year birding.

I'm at 400 species for the year.  Wow.

I added 21 new year birds today in Southeast Arizona.  19 of 21 were lifers.  I will summarize the birds from each location with brief descriptions (if there are descriptions).

We started the day at Agua Caliente Park with a morning bird walk in Tucson Arizona.  On the drive to the park I added 2 year birds:

Gila Woodpecker -- saw 2 on drive to Agua Caliente.  At Agua Caliente and other locations they were common.
Phainopepela -- saw several on drive to Agua Caliente, they were abundant nearly everywhere I was today.

At Agua Caliente on the morning bird walk I added 9 new year birds:

Verdin
Abert's Towhee -- single bird, very nice to see
Cactus Wren -- first heard several individuals, then one gave very nice looks.  Beautiful bird.
Rufous-winged Sparrow
Brewer's Sparrow
Western Bluebird -- a few together, one of the 2 year birds today not a lifer
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher -- pair along trail, mellow and giving very nice looks.  Excellent bird.
Black-throated Sparrow -- somebody reported seeing a few, we finally spotted one.  It took about 10 minutes, and we thought the work was necessary, but only if we knew we'd see them by the dozens at a different area later in the day.
Costa's Hummingbird -- nice to grab another hummer.

Happy to be at 390 after the Agua Caliente walk, we headed to the Tanque Verde Wash in hopes of finding Vermillion Flycatcher and sparrows.  There I added one new year bird:

Vermillion Flycatcher

There we met a very knowledgeable birder who said that he had just been on an excellent birding road that we had never even heard of.  So we changed our plans, skipped the Mount Lemmon Hwy and headed to that other road.

What a road it was!  The birds were excellent and the landscape, OMG.  Sugaro Cactus in the lower elevations and pines in the higher elevations, this was amazing.  On this road I added 7 new year birds:

White-throated Swift -- a few flying around. Beautiful birds.
Rock Wren
Black-chinned Sparrow -- 2 at different locations.  Nice bird.
Ash-throated Flycatcher -- a very welcome surprise, this was a bird I never imagined getting on this trip. I spotted it perched atop a small tree, and I immediately thought "Great Crested" since they're common in Virginia in the summer.  But there's no Great Cresteds in Arizona at all, let along them not being in the US in winter.  This bird had a lighter chest and giving field marks, and most importantly range it was clearly an Ash-throated.
Mountain Bluebird
Western Scrub-Jay -- the other bird that was a year bird but not a lifer today
Juniper Titmouse

I was now at 398, just a stone's through away from 400.  To close up the day we decided to go back to Agua Calliente Park and hope for 2 or more birds.  There were still some birds listed on their checklist as  "common" that I needed: Pyrrhuloxia, Greater Roadrunner, Gilded Flicker, and others.  And a few listed "uncommon" that I needed: Brewer's Blackbird and others.  So we were hoping.

I happened managed 2 new year birds at Agua Caliente Park in the evening, just enough to put me right at 400:

Gilded Flicker
Brewer's Blackbird -- year bird # 400!  What a milestone.  It was a flyover flock, and we later found a flock, presumably the same one along the road.

I am so thrilled to be at 400.  I can't believe this!!!!!!!!  And I have 3 more days of birding just to celebrate and add some more birds for 410 or 415.

Tonight I plan to do a photo post with a few photos from today.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Arriving in Arizona with 379 but without a dipper

As I've mentioned previously, today on my way to Tucson AZ I would leave the Denver airport for a while and go to a park (called Lair 'O The Bear Park) to try for an American Dipper.  We got to the park, looked in the places that dippers are known to be.  No dipper.  We drove up the road a little bit and searched along the creek but most of the creek was frozen (not good!)  We hiked a trail along a portion of the creek with open water.  No dipper.  We decided to try Lair 'O The Bear Park one more time.  My dad stayed back and rested but I want walking, looking for a dipper.  No dipper.  Then I saw a bird fly over my head and I saw the black in the wings and large bill, I was 80 percent that it was a Clark's Nutcracker but that would have been a good bird and as all birders know - you can't count it until you're SURE.  So of course I had to re-find the bird.  I spent the following 18 minutes trompsing around a foot of snow in sandals, freezing my feet off to look for a jay-like gray bird.  How many people would do that?  But I'm doing a Big Year, and that would be a terrific life bird and well make up for the loss of the dipper.  At the 18 minute mark (I timed it with my dad's watch) I spotted the bird fly up out of some brush.  I got another in-flight look.  Then it perched atop a tree.  B I N G O!  There was a Clark's Nutcracker perched beautifully.  Number 379 at dipper park but not a dipper.  Colorado was breathtaking with the fresh snow and the foothills of the rockies.  I saw some excellent raptors including both eagles (Bald and Golden).

Now I'm in Tucson Arizona at the Hilton Hotel and tomorrow morning we have a morning bird walk at a local park, followed by an afternoon spent birding in the Santa Catalina Mountains.  4 full days of birding in southeast Arizona..I can't wait!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In 12 hours I'll be on a plane...

 This is it.  In 12 hours my dad and I will be on a plane with an itinerary to Tucson Arizona to rap up my Big Year with one last big trip and in all hopes and likelyhood put me over the 400 bird milestone.  This is it.  I can't believe it.

My itinerary (all on United Airlines):

Shenandoah Valley Virginia-Washington Dulles
Washington Dulles-Denver Colorado
Denver Colorado-Tucson Arizona

We'll be leaving the airport for several hours in Denver, getting a rental car and going to a local park known for American Dippers and hopefully add it as my number 379.  Gosh it will fell good to land in Arizona with 379, 21 birds is easy.

I will post tomorrow night in Arizona.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The end is near

It's already 4 days into December and there's less than 4 weeks until my Big Year is over, but I plan for it to be a heck of a great 4 weeks.

In just 3 days we're southwestward, heading to Arizona where I hope (and in all likelyhood will) advance over 400.

When I'm back from Arizona I'll be in cleanup mode.  Maybe a run to the coast for both sharp-tailed sparrows and King Rail or a vagrant chase or two.  Who knows.

It's going to be an awesome four weeks!  Unless I manage to score on a rarity before I head to Arizona (which would mean one has to show up in one of the local counties, because no traveling is on the board until Arizona), my next post will be Wednesday Night.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gooseeight sure beats a gooseegg

After my dentist appointment in Fredricksburg Va I headed east on Rte. 3 today to try for a Greater White-fronted Goose being seeing off and on lately at several ponds.  I tried pond # 1.  Here there were a few Canada Geese, maybe 50-100 and some assorted ducks.  The highlight was 6 Bald Eagles.   There was also a harrier in the area.  No white-fronted goose though.  We tried pond # 2.  Here there were also 50-100 C Geese and some assorted waterfowl, but no target.  I tried the final stop.  Things looked more promising here.  There were Canada Geese.  Lots of Canada Geese, at least upwards of 300 and probably over 500.  I spent time walking along Rte. 3 and kept searching.  Then I spotted a goose without the black neck of a Canada  with an orange/pink bill and black on the belly walking among the Canadas!  Bingo!  There was my White-front.  Another lifer for me and 378 for the Junior Big Year, thus the title "gooseeight" (for three-seventy-EIGHT).

A week from today I head southwest.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snowy Owl, Calliope Hummingbird, and Waggoner's Gap photos

Here's 4 photos, one of the hummingbird and one of the Snowy Owl.  The other two are from the Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch in PA, in which we stopped by on our way home yesterday.

Calliope Hummingbird in Maryland, a rare visitor from the west.  A lifer for me.

The majestic Snowy white Owl.  What a beautiful bird for my # 377.

Me watching for hawks at the Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch

Red-tailed Hawk at the Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch

Tomorrow I try for a Greater White-fronted Goose being seen near Fredricksburg, Va.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A great northern wanderer - Snowy Owl

I left Annapolis Maryland at about 10:30 am this morning, headed for the Merrill Creek Reservoir for the Snowy Owl being consistently reported there.

We arrived at 2:30 pm and asked at the visitor center for directions to the Snowy Owl.  She said that it was a 3 mile round trip walk to the main dam where the owl was being seen.  However the gates close at 4:30 pm so we need to houf it.

We arrived at the dam but no Snowy Owl.  Then I spotted a group of about 10 people with spotting scopes way down by a stream.  We found a trail to go there but it was steep and treacherous.  We we eventually got there and there was a nice man there with a swarovski spotting scope and thanks to him I got to look through the scope at this amazing bird.  A lifer for me and number 377 for my Junior Big Year!  Thank you beautiful Snowy...

We then went for a thai dinner at a superb thai restaurant and am now at the Holiday Inn, Allentown PA.  Tomorrow we drive home.

Back at home, I plan to make a photo post from this trip with photos of the Calliope Hummingbird, Snowy Owl, and scenery along the way.

New Jersey bound

It's a Big Year, you got to try for every bird possible and one bird that I surely won't let down is one of my long-wanted life birds, Snowy Owl.

For the last long while (I'm inclined to say at least a month) there's been a Snowy Owl consistantly seen at Merrill Creek Reservoir, northwestern New Jersey.

The chase is on!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Marylandic Adventure - Le Conte's Sparrow AND Calliope Hummingbird

I asked the homeoner of the vagrant that I've mentioned several times in my blog and she said it would be okay to say the name of the species and the state as long as I don't post the location or her contact information.  Thank you.  So, I'll let 'the cat out of the bag'.  The vagrant that I first posted about several weeks ago and chased today is Calliope Hummingbird in Maryland.  I first learned about that bird on November 3rd but the next day my mom was leaving for Canada.  Right after she got home my dad would leave for the Czech Republic.  My mom and I were planning to go when I was away but then my mom and I both got sick.  I thought that there was no chance that the Calliope would hold on until after I got back from my Eastern Shore trip (the next possible time for me to chase it) but it did.  But then I couldn't go before thanksgiving.  Would it really hold on that long?  But it did.  So yesterday my mom and I headed north, for Maryland.

To sweeten everything up, yesterday I got word of a Le Conte's Sparrow in a different part of Maryland but that I could try for as well, before I tried for the Calliope in the afternoon.  But I had a commitment to be at the Calliope location at 1 pm and with hours of driving to get from the hotel, to the Le Conte's, and then to the Calliope I had a mere 20 minutes to search for the Le Conte's.  I arrived on site and someone said it hadn't been seen for 1.5 hours.  UGH!  I didn't have all day to search for the bird by any means, and maybe it was gone if it hadn't been seen for 1.5 hours.  But then someone pointed and everyone gathered around them.  Did they see it?  I ran to them.  Sure enough, the Le Conte's was there and gave great looks.  This is a major milestone, 375 for my J. Big Year!  This was my second goal (first was 350, second was 375, and now it's 400)

But we had to keep going.  We were two hours from the Calliope Hummingbird and we had about exactly 2 hours to get there.  So we programed the GPS and hit the road.  We arrived right on time (or just a minute late) but the homeoner said it hadn't been seen for a while but often feeds around 2:00 so if we waited it should show up.  And sure enough, at 2:15 it was spotted perched on a small tree.  Then it flew to the hummingbird feeder.  Fed on some plants and flew away.  Bingo!  376.  I would like to give a BIG THANK YOU to the homeowner for being so gracious in letting us come to see her visiting rarity.

I'm now in the Doubletree Hotel, Annapolis Maryland and tomorrow drive home.

I am H A P P Y to be at 376!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The chase is on, once again

I'm leaving my house once again today..this time for a 2-night out of state chase for number 375.  The vagrant that I first mentioned many weeks ago has held on.  As I stated previously, I can't give the location or species however I can say it's out-of-state and will be my number 375!

I will post tomorrow if I get the bird (which I should).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Time for an update

Now that the Eastern Shore trip is done it's time to look over my Big Year and talk about how it's going.

I added 4 new birds on the Eastern Shore trip plus Eared Grebe the day before I went to the shore.  How is this compared to what I hoped?  Right on track.  I had hoped for 375 after the trip (am at 374) however one bird is not anything to get concerned over.

My target for year's end is 400.  What are the chances?  Very likely!  Even if Arizona treats me on the low end of things I should make 400.

Is Arizona my only new supply of year birds?  basically but not totally.  The vagrant that I mentioned earlier in November is still around.  My mom and I hope to chase it this weekend.  No telling on what it is and where until later (once it's gone).  This is per the request of who discovered the bird.  I will hopefully add an additional vagrant or two as well in this area before year's end.

So that's it for now.  I will update if I get that one vagrant.  It would be number 375 which was my second goal.  Original goal was 350, I was doing great and mid-year I upped the goal to 375.  Once I got back from Alaska I was doing perfect so upped the goal to 400.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Day four of Eastern Shore trip - Hudsonian Godwit, Peregrines, hawks, Kyle Wright and Bob Ake

Ok, just by the title you get the point - a LOT happened today!  We left Chincoteague at 8 am but would slowly bird our way down the Eastern Shore.  Our first stop was near Exmore Virginia because Allen Larner (refer to day two post) said there was a chance for a Hudsonian Godwit at this location.  We arrived and I thought I had a whole darn bunch of Hudsonians but that just didn't make since, especially because there was no Marbled Godwits with them.  I got my book out.  Willet popped into my head.  Oh well, they we were Willets.  But then I spotted a more distant flock of Marbled Godwits.  And a grayer one with them with a white stripe in the wing!  Bingo!  Hudsonian!  Another lifer for me and number 374 for my Big Year.  Our next stop was Kiptopeke State Park Hawk Watch, I didn't plan to add any year birds here but I wanted to stop by since I spent a few days there last year, meet this year's counter Kyle Wright and hopefully see some birds.  And boy was I ever satisfied!  I met Kyle and right away he picked up on a Cooper's.  More coops and sharpies followed suit.  For the next 1.5 hours we witnessed non-stop action!  Several Peregrines came through and a local dive-bombed a vulture several times!  What a show.  The hawk counter at Kiptopeke caught a Cooper's Hawk and Kyle brought it up to be released on the hawk watching platform.  Thanks Kyle, it's always great to see raptors in the hand.  Bob Ake, who did an ABA Big Year last year and holds the third highest record for an ABA Big Year (hewas second until John Vanderpoel broke his 731 this year and is now at 734 and encroaching on Sandy Komito's record 745 bumped Bob into third place a little while ago) showed up at the hawk watch.

I ended the Eastern Shore trip with an impressive 112 species for the trip including 4 lifers and 11 raptor species.

All in all, what a great trip to the Eastern Shore and I'm happy to be at 374 for the year.  Arizona is just a few weeks away!

Day three of Eastern Shore trip - quieter birding day

Written evening of November 20 2011.

Today my dad and I birded Chincoteague Area and explored the area.  We got to see lots of good birds including terrific looks at a Wilson's Snipe and heard some more Clapper Rails (which was a lifer yesterday) but no new year birds.

Tomorrow we bird our way down the Eastern Shore and then drive home.  We'll try for a Hudsonian Godwit and whatever else I can find and I'm hoping for goodness's sakes that I'll at least advance to 374 (375 would be awesome but I'm not expecting that).

Day two of Eastern Shore trip - the best clap to end a great day

Written evening of November 19 2011.
Today I birded with the Augusta Bird Club at Chincoteague Virginia.  Allen Larner is leading a field trip for the ABC here at Chincoteague but it was a very small turnout.  Allen as leader, 2 others, my dad and I. Allen is a very knowledgeable birder.  He's found me several year birds of the course of the year and I'm mentioned him several times in my blog so it was so great to bird with him here.  We met the group at 8 am at the Visitor Center for Chincoteague.  We birded the whole day and found some good birds including well over 50 Red-throated Loons however no year birds until...the end.  Allen's group as well as the group from the Monticello Bird Club that we birded with yesterday met at Saxis Marsh, about a 30 minute drive from Chincoteague to listen for rails and look for Short-eared Owls.  My target was Clapper Rail as that would be a lifer!!  We arrived and one of the participants played their tape for the Clapper Rails and one responded!  Then two, and more.  It was soon a party of calling Clappers!!!  We ended up also hearing a Virginia Rail, a good bird and a year bird for Allen Larner but not a year bird for me.

Tomorrow the bird clubs go home and we'll do our own thing around here.  I don't expect to add any new birds but who knows..Sharp-tailed Sparrows of either species could happen with some luck!  On Monday on our return home we're going to make several stops and with a little good luck I'll hopefully advance to either 374 or even 375.

Right now I'm happy with 373!

Day one of Eastern Shore trip - the Purple Sandpiper, Great Cormorant, an tons of other thrills

Written evening of November 18, 2011     ***note: I didn't have computer access where I stayed so wrote each night and am posting all now

5:00 am, I admit it, I didn't want to wake up...but I knew what lay ahead and it propelled me.  Dave Hogg of the Monticello Bird Club (which I'm part of) had a trip to the Chesepeake Bay Bridge Tunnel (CBBT) Islands, and Chincoteague Virginia planned.  On the special CBBT Islands which normally are not open to  the public held 2 life birds and other birding fun.  We met Dave Hogg and 7 other birders and were escorted to the islands by the police (since the islands are closed for security reasons).  Arriving at the first stop ("Island number 2") we started looking.  Ruddy Turnstone, Laughing/Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, all great but I was focused on life birds, year birds, birds that would bring me closer to 400 species for 2011.  I found 3 shorebirds, a Sanderling, and a Dunlin but joined by a huge prize -- Purple Sandpiper, a life bird for me and number 371  for the year.  While watching the Purple Sandpiper, Brenda Tekin yelled out Great Cormorant.  I hauled fast the less than 50 yards to her; that would be another lifer for me!  Sure enough, I got distant but ID-worthy looks of this number 372.  We birded our way on 2 more of the CBBT Islands and then up the Eastern Shore.  We saw no more year birds but saw a low hunting harrier, several Bald Eagles, a Merlin, and much else.  We arrived to Chincoteague in time to see the Snow Geese put down for the night.  I ended the day with 66 species including 2 lifers and 7 raptor species!

I'm now in the Blue Heron Motel, Chincoteague VA and tomorrow will bird around here and hopefully add a couple of more list birds...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Eared Grebe, 370!

Eared Grebe in Virginia, photo by Allen Larner

My mom asked me a question this morning around 11:30 am (yes, she's not a birder) "what's an Eared Grebe?"  I responded "it's a REALLY RARE type of grebe in this area"  "is it a year bird for you?" she responded "heck yes, a lifer!" I said.  She had gotten word that one of the area's best birders Allen Larner had found an Eared Grebe only maybe 30 minutes away at Stuarts Draft.  I didn't have directions though.  So I called Allen.  He gave directions.  Next thing you knew, we were off.

I arrived at the pond where it had been seen and within seconds I spotted the grebe.  It swam around giving terrific looks!  Surprisingly the only other waterfowl there was a single American Coot.  Eared Grebe, what a great life bird and # 370 for my Big Year!

On another note, on my way to Arizona my dad and I are going to rent a car for a few hours in Denver, Colorado and go chase an American Dipper.  I've been in touch with a local birder and there's a certain park I will very likely be able to get a dipper at.

Tomorrow it's off to the Eastern Shore.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Top 10 targets

I've created a top 10 target list for the 10 birds I most want for the rest of the year, although, of course I'll take any winged creature that I have not yet seen in 2011!   Of these top 10 I have a reasonable chance at finding all of them (ok, well maybe not a "reasonable" chance at King Eider, but it's one of the birds I would so love to see and there is a chance on the Eastern Shore of Virginia this coming weekend).

Top 10 list:

King Eider
Prairie Falcon
Purple Sandpiper
American Dipper
Pyrrhuloxia
Olive Warbler
Green-tailed Towhee
Phainopepela
Costa's Hummingbird
Greater Roadrunner

The Eastern Shore trip is just around the corner now..departing in less than 33 hours, birding starts in just over 37 hours!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Update

It's time for a quick update to say how my year is going for numbers, my plan, etc.

I'm in perfect shape.  My current year total is 369 and I'm right in place for 400+ at year's end (400 is my goal).

My plan:

I have my eyes on a certain species that I hope to have be number 370.  I'm not going to let the 'cat out of the bag' on this one.  All that I can say is that it's a vagrant from the western US, it's hanging around at a certain out-of-state location, and if my mom and I are healthy and the bird sticks around we are going to chase it at the end of this week.

Next big trip is the Eastern Shore: Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Islands and Chincoteague.  Trip is leaving in 10 days and will last 3 days.  I hope to add 5 year birds here, some of my targets are Purple Sandpiper (easy), Great Cormorant (easy), Hudsonian Godwit (unlikely but possible), Nelson's Sparrow (hit or miss), Common Eider (hit or miss), King Eider (unlikely but possible), and any vagrant that might be in the area.  I hope to be at 375 after this trip.

After that I have a possible slot for a vagrant trip somewhere in the state, and then it's on to ARIZONA.  This is the trip that will put me to 400 if I will get to 400 which I very likely will.  This is my last resource for year birds, after this trip I will likely get no more year birds unless a vagrant pops up somewhere in my neck of the woods.  There are so many targets for Arizona but I'll just list a few..Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls, Phainopepla, Pyrrhuloxia and much else.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 12 2011: My mom and I have both come down with colds so we won't be chasing the vagrant that I mentioned in the first part of this post.  Well, for now anyway.  If it happens to stick around until we're back from Chincoteague we'll try to chase it then.  So unless a vagrant happens to show up right near home here the next place I'll add year birds is the Chesepeake Bay Bridge Tunnel Islands on next Friday.  This is the first part of my three-day long Eastern Shore adventure.  If I have internet connection where I'm staying I plan to post Friday Night.  

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saw-whet Owls

Yesterday (uh, today at 1 am!) I gave a very quick update saying that last night I added Northern Saw-whet Owl as year bird number 369.  Here's the story.

Clair Mellinger and Charles Ziegenfus ("Zig") run a Saw-whet Owl banding station, about 1.25 hours to my north.  We went several times last year, it is amazing.  One night we were there last year Clair caught 13 owls.  Last night Clair and Zig caught 6 owls.  It is amazing..my dad and I got to hold them and release them on the picnic tables.  So special BUT netted birds don't count for the list.  I asked Clair if I would be able to hear one or see a non-netted one.  He said likely for the first option but very unlikely for the second.  So we were hoping to hear one.  We listened and listened but no calling owl.  We released one on the picnic table and it flew up and away.  Over 10 minutes later my dad spotted a Saw-whet perched in the parking lot.  Whether this was the one we had released earlier is unknown but I say I can count that bird.  Clair said that he almost never sees that and he indeed agrees that it is countable.  Success!

So there's the story, NSWO is year bird 369.

Until later
KestrelSwan

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Saw-whets

A very quick update..

went to a Northern Saw-Whet Owl banding station this evening.  We caught 6 owls, but netted birds don't count.  Fortunately, I was able to see an un-netted bird which made for year bird number 369 (yes, I'm back at 369 after my Virginia Rail "glich")

It's 1 am and I'm tired.  Will update with info about the NSWO tomorrow (well, today technically!)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Set back to 368

While reviewing my Junior Big Year list I noticed a mistake..I have listed Virginia Rail twice.  I got the bird in New York in June on my way to Ontario, Canada but I forgot but now see from my list that I also heard it in Texas in March.  I had counted it twice.  I need to subtract it once.  This puts my number back down to 368.  Oh well.  Better that I catch it now than after the year and have to subtract from my end year number!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Another Goshawk and planning Chincoteague

No, not a new year bird, but amazing to have 2 in a weekend and it was a year bird on Saturday.  While at the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch yesterday afternoon another N. Goshawk flew by!  Perhaps I'll end up with more goshawks in VA than I would have at Waggoner's..they had none yesterday!

Also, while at the RGHW, Allen Larner was there and he's co-leading the Chincoteague field trip which I'll participate in the weekend before Thanksgiving.  I knew I could pick up Purple Sandpiper, and Great Cormorant but others I wasn't too sure about.  Allen assured me that I'd get Marbled and perhaps Hudsonian Godwit and a shot at Common Eider, and a very remote shot at King Eider.  He said there was at least a 50/50 chance at Nelson's Sparrow and since I seem to have good luck with sparrows I'm hopeful. Looking good!

Until later

KestrelSwan

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Not going to Waggoner's

Quick update:

because I got a NOGO today we won't be going to Waggoner's Gap.  Instead we will take the opportunity to go look for bears in Shenandoah National Park (unless a vagrant happens to show up somewhere within 3-4 hours that we will go chase).

The next big trip and year bird supply is going to be Chincoteague and some special birding islands the weekend before thanksgiving.  Here I should add Great Cormorant, Purple Sandpiper and hopefully a few other year birds.

Until later.

They come to me before I go to them!

I often count migrating birds in my yard.  Today I went outside from 1:15 pm-2:45 pm and had a superb time.

By 2:15 pm I had already tallied a Northern Harrier nearly at eye level, a Bald Eagle, 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, several Red-tailed Hawks among other non-raptors.  At 2:13 pm I spotted a large raptor just to my north.  It proceeded to fly nearly directly overhead low giving amazing looks.  I first thought it was a Red-tailed or Red-shouldered Hawk but I put my scope on the bird only to discover that it was an accipiter.  I started noticing the field marks.  Black by the eye, small head, OMG those tail bands are uneven, and the underside is white with gray streaking!  It was a Northern Goshawk adult, my nemesis bird up until this point in the year, a year bird for me # 369.

The odd thing about this is that tomorrow I was planning to head north to Waggoner's Gap, PA to try for a goshawk.  And last year right before I went to Duluth MN (2 days before) where one of my main targets was Northern Goshawks (where I saw several), I saw a large accipiter that I believe to have been a Northern Goshawk from my yard.  I'm just not sure on that one though, it was fairly distant and didn't give good looks as today's goshawk did.  It's like the goshawks know I'm coming for them and come to me beforehand!

Because I got a NOGO today I likely won't be going to Waggoner's Gap but I may because it's a great hawk watch and there's lots of other great raptors (although not year birds).  I will update this evening or tomorrow with my plan.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Eyes on my NOGO

Eyes turn to the NOGO, the Franklin's Gull and Brown-headed Nuthatch (and the North Carolina trip for that mater) are now history and Northern Goshawk is the next target I lay my eyes on.

It's not long now - Sunday October 30 we're northbound to Carlisle, Pa and the Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch.

I plan to leave and arrive at the Wag Gap watch for the last few hours on Sunday, spend the full day at the watch on Monday, and spend a good part of Tuesday at the watch and then come back home Tuesday afternoon.  In all willingness I will get a goshawk in this time period.  If not, that's okay, it's a wonderful hawk watch to go to with Golden Eagles common there and much else.  And if I don't get a gos, I have a few possible backup plans.

I will update from my hotel Sunday night.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day three of North Carolina trip - Eagles back home!

Today I left the wonderful Doubletree Hotel of Durham NC at around 1:00 pm Virginia bound.

It was a nice but rather uneventful trip home until we got 30 minutes out.  We stopped by the Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch and upon my arrival Rose Thomas who I know was looking at a Golden Eagle!  Not a year bird but always amazing to see and rather rare for this area.  About 5 minutes later a Bald Eagle flew over! A nice way to be welcomed home!

I won't post until more news or when I'm heading off to Pennsylvania to Waggoner's Gap for my goshawk trip, but that will be soon (probably leaving a week from today).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day two of North Carolina trip - the Vagrant chase

There wasn't much light yet when the wakeup call rang.  Is this really 7:15 am?  I checked the clock.  For goodness sakes it was 6:50 am and the wakeup call had come at the wrong time.  Better that than late though!  We were out at approx. 8:00 am and put in the intersection near the bridge where the Franklin's Gull is being seen into our GPS.  But the GPS just wouldn't get a signal it was 8:20 and we still weren't more than .5 mile from our hotel.  We didn't know what to do, where to go and our GPS wouldn't work.  We were ready to ask for directions (but after all who at a gas station 20 minutes away would know the northerly Farrington Road Bridge on Lake Jordan?)  But I had the idea, check for written directions on the GPS.  And that worked.  Before you knew it we were on I-40 west and headed for the gull.  We arrived to the lake and almost immediately spotted the flock of Ring-billed Gulls.  I got out my scope.  I was looking for a smaller, darker, dinky-billed gull with white crescents above the eyes.  That would be a Franklin's Gull, a lifer for me and year bird number 368.  I searched for it and then I spotted a smaller, darker gull!  Could it be?  I got the scope on the bird.  I studied it and was 99 percent sure but I'm not a gull expert.  Another birder pulled up and asked if it was there.  I told him I was pretty sure it was the Franklin's I was looking at.  I asked him for conformation help.  He looked and indeed it was the Franklin's Gull.  We were there only about 20 minutes and we had got it as easy as pie.  Happy as can be, we headed off to another park to do some birding.  As expected, I didn't come up with any year birds but I tallied 25 species plus a confusing fall warbler.  Highlights included many Ruby-crowned Kinglets, several Brown-headed Nuthatches which was a year bird just yesterday, a Magnolia Warbler, a Great Blue Heron, a Killdeer that flew right by me, and an Osprey in addition to White-throated, Song, and Chipping Sparrows.

What an awesome trip - the 2 target year birds and so much else fun!

Tomorrow we head home to Virginia, but not for long, by the end of the middle of the first week November we're headed north to Waggoner's Gap PA to try for a NOGO (N. Goshawk).

Until later,

KestrelSwan

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day one of North Carolina trip - Brown-headed Nuthatch and Big Year movie!

This afternoon around 1:30 pm my mom and I pulled out of New Hope Virginia, North Carolina bound with eyes on the Franklin's Gull and Brown-headed Nuthatch.  Around 6:00 pm we pulled into Chapel Hill North Carolina and arrived at the health food store.  As luck would have it I discovered a "birdy" area right around the parking lot of the food store.  House Finch, American Goldfinch, but my eyes were looking for a nuthatch.  I saw an interesting bird fly into the tree and I looked carefully at it.  Clearly a nuthatch but I didn't have binoculars so I couldn't tell what kind.  But then thank god I heard it call - Brown-headed Nuthatch!  Number 367 for my Junior Big Year.

We got everything we needed in the shop and continued on, to a movie theater to check when the Big Year was playing in case we wanted to go see it tomorrow after I search for the Franklin's Gull.  Luck would have it, I arrived at 7:02 pm and the Big Year started playing at 6:50 pm.  That means we where there in perfect time to arrive just in time but miss the previews.  We got tickets and in we went.  We still had to see some previews but fortunately didn't miss any of the Big Year.  It was a wonderful movie with some amazing bird scenes (talk about the fallout on High Island Texas!  My gosh!) I also loved the scene of the Great Gray Owl in the snow.  Just awesome!  For any birders that haven't seen it yet, I HIGHLY SUGGEST it. 

We're now in the Doubletree Hotel of Durham North Carolina, but are you sure this is a hotel?  It's as big as a house!  And are you sure this is 3 stars?   It's good enough to be a 4-5!  We got it on Hotwire for $52 per night but it's normally about $150 per night (which in itself seems low for this room!)

We're right in position to get up in the morning and go to the Farrington Road Bridge where the Franklin's Gull is being seen.  I hope to get it early so we can explore the area, bird other places, etc. tomorrow but we'll be on site all day to wait for the bird if that's what it takes.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I will likely get to 368!

More exciting news:

I asked for help on the Carolinas birding list for directions, etc. to the Franklin's Gull.  Many people have responded and BIG THANKS to all of them - now it will be easy to find the bird!

Someone told me that they read on this blog that I need Brown-headed Nuthatch.  And yes I do.  He said that if I learn the call it's easy in the pines along the lake that the Franklin's is at.  That's excellent news as it makes for a likely 2 year birds which will put me at 368 for the year, just 32 away from 400!  In Arizona I'll dash through 400.  Eyes are on the end of year number!  402?  406?  410?  January 1st, 2012 12:00:00 am will tell!:)  No, not December 31st, 2011 11:59 pm because what if I heard an unusual owl calling in the last minute of 2011?  Yes, unlikely, EXTREMELY unlikely, but you don't count your number until the year is officially over!

The chase is on!

I just got notified of a Franklin's Gull that is being seen daily from a certain bridge near Chapel Hill North Carolina.  This is a rare straggler to the east and a bird that I need for my year list.  Tomorrow, Saturday Oct. 22 my mom and I are taking off to NC!  We plan to search for the bird (and find it) on Sunday and return home Monday.

We have the hotel and everything booked, we're all set if I can get the printer working to print up the information!

I plan to post each day with updates.  Franklin's here I come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mid-October overview

It's now early/mid October and I only have 2.5 months left in my Junior Big Year.

It's been over a month since my last year bird (Red-necked Phalarope, number 366 on September 10).  Truthfully, this is not surprising super surprising.  Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Blue-winged and Connecticut Warblers (other than an odd vagrant) would be the only birds that I could possibly still pick up in my area.  Those are very tough and it's now late for them.  I won't really get any more new year birds in may home area other than possibly Northern Goshawk if I get really lucky.

I'm at 366 for the year and 400 is my goal for the year's end but if I get in the 390s somewhere I'm solidly happy.  I'm over 350, my original goal, what more can I ask?

Brown-headed Nuthatch will be the easiest year bird I still can pick up.  It is very easy on a certain trail in Chincoteague Virginia, a place I'm visiting this November.

Northern Goshawk will nearly certainly be placed on my year list one way or another.  In late October or early November I'm making a quick run up to Waggoner's Gap Hawk Watch in Pennsylvania where I should be able to get a gos.  If not I have a couple of backup options.  Goshawks do rarely migrate through this area.  The local Rockfish Gap Hawk Watch (where I've been spending most of my time lately) records one or two most years.  Arizona has a population of Goshawks and with luck I can possibly get one.

On my trip to Chincoteague Va in November I'll be stopping over at some awesome birding islands with the Monticello Bird Club.  These islands can hopefully host several easy year birds: Great Cormorant, Purple Sandpiper, one or both of the Sharp-tailed Sparrows, and possibly an oddity.  

Arizona will nearly surly get me 20-30 year birds.

I should make 400 but you never know.  What if weather scrues up Chincoteague, the Islands, or Arizona and diminishes the number of year birds I get?  There's always iffs.

On another note, I may have to subtract a bird from my year list: Northern Hawk-Owl.  The one and only individual I have this year was the injured one I rescued and found alive on the side of a road in Alaska (see August entries in my blog for more information in the post titled Day eleven of Alaska trip - Welcome to Denali I would say!).  Because the bird was found injured, unable to fly along side of the road I don't know if it's countable or not.  If any of you readers have info on this, please comment and let me know.

UPDATE OCTOBER 14 2011: last night I attended the monthly meeting of the Monticello Bird Club in which I'm on the board of directors for.  This month's speaker was Bob Ake, who did a Big Year in 2011 and ended up with the second highest record for a Big Year (731)!  I asked Bob about my Northern Hawk-Owl and he said that I can keep it on my list.  He said that since I was the one to find it on the road and stumbled upon it it counts.  If someone else had found it, taken it and then told me about it and I came to see "their" bird it wouldn't count, but this wasn't the case so fortunately I'm still at 366 not 365!  

Until 367 or more news.

KestrelSwan

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Red-necked Phalarope adventure, it's number 366!

When I was in Alaska, I went to a pond that was apparently to be full of Red-necked Phalaropes.  Despite my several tries, none.  A couple of days ago, here in Virginia where they're way off course one was reported about an hour from where I live, I went to look and no phalarope.  Did they just like to avoid me? I didn't know.  So today, the third good chance, a phalarope was reported just 30 minutes from my house.  Would I finally get it this time?  We went and looked in high hopes.  As I pulled up, among the Wood Ducks, with my naked eye, I spotted my long-eluded target, the phalarope!  The jury was still out on it's ID when I got there but it was thought to be a Red-necked.  It didn't really matter to me though as Red-necked, Red, or Wilson's would all 3 be lifers for me.  We stayed a while, several other birders were there including some of my friends.  After I left with good photos and a life bird in hand, I headed to Shenandoah National Park where I saw a Black Bear.  When I got home the email came out from one of the area's best birders, the case had been solved, it was a Red-necked Phalarope.  Lifer for me and year bird 366!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

They're coming like crazy, Summer T. new on list!

This morning I attended a bird walk at Ivy Creek Natural Area with the local Monticello Bird Club which I'm part of.  Ivy Creek is on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains than what I live on in the city of Charlottesville.  For some reason, although still uncommon Summer Tanagers are present on the Charlottesville side of the mountain but occur only extremely rarely on my side of the mountain.  Because of this I do not have it yet this year.

I really was hoping for a Summer Tanager on the Ivy Creek walk today and soon into the walk I asked leader Peter Brask what the chances were for one today.  He said basically almost no chance as he's never seen one there.  Oh well I thought.  About half way through the walk someone called out a female tanager. Obviously, I assumed a Scarlet Tanager as it's the only common tanager there.  But to my delight, Stauffer Miller one of the if not the most experienced birder on the walk said that it didn't have black wings and he heard it's call and that it was a Summer Tanager!  The female Sum.T gave several nice looks at it perched near the tops of small trees.  Lifer for me and year bird 365!

As I've said before, I'm completely happy with any number between 375 and above for total number of birds at year's end and I'm nearly 100 PERCENT that I'll get over 375 but I'd really love to get 400.  In order to get that, things have to click.  Yes, I'm going to Arizona and if all goes as planned that should be over 25  new birds.  That gets me within arm's reach of 400.  We're going to Chincoteague Virginia and area, that should bag me about 3-5 new birds.  The numbers are inching up. In addition to these 2 trips, unexpected birds are crucial.  Unless everything goes perfect with Arizona and Chincoteague (30+ new birds in Arizona, 5+ in Chincoteague) which is unlikely, I can't reach 400 on these 2 trips alone.  This is where unexpected or hard-to-get birds come into role.  I'm doing amazing with unexpected birds right now. Just since I've been back from Alaska 2 weeks ago I've added 6 new birds(which is totally unbelieveble, thus the title "they're coming like crazy!", 4 of which were unexpected (Mississippi and Swallow-tailed Kites, Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers), 1 a 50/50 chance I thought I'd get it this year (Summer Tanager), and 1 an important but near-sure bird (Pectoral Sandpiper).    If this trend continues, 400 is a piece of cake.  If few more of these birds come, I'll end up somewhere in the upper 380s or 390s which is TOTALLY AWESOME.

Until 366 or more news.

KestrelSwan