Revised 2011 bird total:
437 species

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Baird's, White-rumped!

With Hurricane Irene around several good birds including Sooty Terns, Bridled Terns, and most excitingly a BROWN-CHESTED MARTIN have been seen by good birders, especially on the Eastern Shore (5 hours from me) so I couldn't see them, but I had a great day today.  A good birder about 45 minutes away reported a Baird's Sandpiper, a rare bird here and a lifer I needed, so my dad and I went to the site.  We arrived on site but Pete (the guy who found it) was there and it turned out he had a misidentification and it was a common Least Sandpiper.  Oh well.  We went to Shenandoah National Park for a quick hike on the way home and then something happened just before we got home.  Let's back this all up a bit.  Earlier this morning I made a quick run through my neighborhood to look for birds.  I found 5 sandpipers at a local pond but I'm not good with identifying shorebirds and they remained "unknown" to me but I posted photos of them asking for ID help to a local birding listserv.  So, when on the way back from the failed search for Baird's Sandpiper I came across Allen Larner, one of the best local birders.  He gave me the exciting news that 2 of my sandpipers were lifers for me and fairly rare for the area.  One was a White-rumped Sandpiper and the other was a BAIRD'S Sandpiper, the species that was mistakenly reported by Pete that I was on my way back from looking for!  The other shorebirds at the pond of the Baird's and White-rumped were Leasts.  Allen taught me all the distinguishing features of Baird's.  Thanks so much Allen!

What a great day.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene is tracking it's way up the east coast, I hope all people, animals and birds are safe.  What's exciting though is the chance of storm-blown birds.  Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy have both been reported in South Carolina from this storm and an Arctic Tern is at Cape Charles Virginia.  I'd love to chase the noddy and sooty but a bit out of reach from Virginia..

I'm keeping my eyes on the listservs to see if anything good shows up closer to home...I'm also regularly checking a local pond for unusual birds.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Kite, kite, kite, kite, kite!

What a day.

2 Swallow-tailed Kites and 1 Mississippi Kite have been reported for over a week (Swallow-taileds) and a few days (Miss.) in Campbell County, 2 hours from where I live in Virginia.  They're both life birds I still need.

My dad and I went down today and arrived on site where other birders were including someone I know Brenda Tekin.  They told me exciting news, 2 Mississippi and 2 Swallow-tailed Kites were there.  I immediately saw the swallow-taileds - what a gorgeous bird!  It took a minute for me to find them but I soon saw the distant Mississippis.  After a little while, Broad-winged and Red-tailed Hawks were seen, and a THIRD Mississippi Kite joined the group of already-4 kites.  At one time I had 5 kites, 3 Mississippis and 2 Swallow-tails in the same binocular view!  A WOW moment!

Possible hurricane coming into the area next week.  Storm-blown vagrants??  Hopefully!

Until later


Friday, August 19, 2011

In the best shape possible

Here's an update on how I'm doing on my Junior Big Year:

P E R F E C T!  Before Alaska I would have said pretty good but not great.  I had got a few less year birds than hoped on the Ontario trip, and if Alaska and Arizona also were not great for year bird count I may not reach my goal of 375 at year's end but I thought I would.  In Alaska I got 38 year birds and my goal was 20-30 and my guess was 25.  Now I'm at 359 bird species for the year and 375 is going to be as easy as pie!  400 I would not say is my new "goal" (because if I don't get that I'm PERFECTLY HAPPY with just what I have now 359 given my original goal was 350) but it is a number that is my highest vision and that I'd work towards.  Anything between 375 and 400 is totally great with me though.

Tomorrow I make a 4 hour round trip to try and find a Swallow-tailed Kite that's been hanging around south of Lynchburg Virginia.  That would be a life raptor, super exciting bird number 360 for the year and raptors are undoubtly my favorite birds.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Denali Highway

I just got back to my home in Virginia so I can't do a detailed post but I can do a basic post and will post in more detail later.

For the last part of the great Alaska adventure, we spent a few days on the Denali Highway which is a dirt road runs 130 miles connecting 2 small towns, Cantwell and Paxson.  We stayed at Denali Highway Tours and Cabins, 42 miles from Paxson at a couple's place who are serious dog sledders.  They are building a house and I got to sit up on the hill in what will be either their living room or kitchen for hours and watch with my spotting scope moose and caribou.  It was amazing.  On the Denali Highway I added 3 life birds, Lapland Longspur, Gyrfalcon, and Glaucous Gull.  We got to spend 15 minutes watching the gyr hunt and pester other birds.  Amazing, more info to come.

South of Paxson on the way back to Anchorage not on the Denali Highway, I spotted several Swainson's Hawks, a life bird.

And I got home to exciting news - 2 Swallow-tailed Kites are hanging around just 2 hours from where I live!  Saturday I'll make the run for them.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Days twelve and and thirteen of Alaska trip - The Denali experience

We planned to take the bus into Denali National Park for three days, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Yesterday we went in 25 out of the 90 miles into the park and just got an idea of how the bus system works and get an idea on where to hike.  We were fortunate to be able to meet Alan, the park's bird expert.  I told him some of my target birds like Lapland Longspur, Rock Ptarmigan, and White-tailed Ptarmigan and he said the hike to do was Stony Dome.  For Long-tailed Jeager he said Sable Pass.  We did Sable Pass yesterday but no jeager, there was a nice Golden Eagle there though but not a year bird.

Today my dad and I hiked Stony Dome but it was too steep that we couldn't make it to the summit.  We made it about half way up and on that part of it we got terrific looks at one of my target life birds for the hike - Rock Ptarmigan.  We saw lots of awesome wildlife in Denali today - caribou with babies, grizzly bears (10), moose (bull and cow with calf), red foxes, dall sheep, and more.  This evening while hiking on this property I came across one of my most wanted life birds - the Pine Grosbeak.

Awesome day!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day eleven of Alaska trip - Welcome to Denali, I would say!

Wow - what an amazing day today has been.  Grizzly Bear and cub, 2 Moose and what amazing birds...

We planned to hike a 5 mile loop called the Byers Lake Loop Trail in Denali State Park and we did the first part of the trail (the sign said a mile but it didn't seem like a mile, it seemed like 1.5 to 2 miles!) but then there was a bridge that was WAY too dicey to cross.  The hike was well worth it though even though we couldn't do the loop as on the way to the bridge we came across a pair of Willow Ptarmigan on the trail and got to have amazing encounter with them, following them down the trail.  Life bird!  We drove another approx. 50 miles on the way to our hotel near Denali National Park and we stopped to look for bears and I found a mother grizzly with a cub.  Just down the road from there my dad and I spotted a bird struggling along side of the road and my first thought just as we drove by was "maybe Saw-whet Owl".  I thought that only because it's the only smallish northern owl I am familiar with.  We pulled over and walked back.  It was a bitter/sweet thing because what we found was a Northern Hawk-Owl (a life bird for me) but unfortunately it had been hit and was unable to fly.  Fortunately only the wing appeared to be hurt and the bird was in overall good condition.  We thought about what to do but my dad and I saw that the only way the bird would have a chance it living is if we took it and tried to find a raptor rehabber.  We threw a pillow case over top of it and put it in my lap and we headed north with it.  Fortunately just a few miles up the road was Centwall, a small town where maybe a wildlife rehabber was.  We asked around but no luck except for a vet which wasn't there and in all odds would not take an owl.  30 miles up the road was the town of Denali and the entrance to the national park.  Perhaps there'd be a rehabber there.  We asked around and we came close several times but the only rehabber we could find out about was way back down in Anchorage, 4 hours away and a place we were not able to get to.  We were ready to let it go back into the wild and let it die and let nature take it's course.  But there was one more outdoor store to try.  Maybe there'd be a rehabber contact there.  BINGO!  The worker there was ever so helpful and there was a bird expert giving a bird talk in Cantwell that could take the bird.  Thrilled, rapped in our pillowcase we left the Northern Hawk-Owl with Darrin, the guy at the outdoor store and the bird expert's friend was going to come pick it up and it would be fed and cared for for a short while by her and by week's end would be taken to the bird rehab center in Anchorage.  YEAH!!!!!!!  YEAH!!!!!!!!

Happy that our owl was in good hands, we drove 20 more miles to our cabin where we are now.  Guess what?  While birding around the cabin I saw some warblers in a tree and got terrific looks at ARCTIC WARBLERS (2)! One of my most wanted Denali life birds.

What a way to be welcomed to Denali...


Off to Denali

This morning I'm heading north form Anchorage to the Denali area for a week so I may or may not be able to blog until I'm back here in Anchorage.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Day ten of Alaska trip - 350!

Drum roll, drum roll, drum roll please!  Drum roll, drum roll!  Today I hit a major milestone for my big year - 350 species for the year!

I had heard of a Sabine's Gull hanging around near Homer so I went to look for it but the road was too rough we couldn't get to the location.  But near there I did spot an immature Northern Shrike - a year bird and a very exciting one, number 350!

Now that I've reached 350 it's time for an update on how I feel my Junior Big Year is going.  I say it couldn't be better!  I was right on track before I left for Alaska but needed things to keep clicking in order for me to get to 375, my goal at year's end as I was only at 321 species when I left for Alaska.  And boy oh boy - have things ever clicked!  My goal was 20-30 year birds for the whole trip I'm now at 29 year birds so far this trip, and I'm only half way through the trip!  Wow.  I WILL get 375 NO PROBLEM and will be pushing up on 400.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Days seven, eight, and nine of Alaska trip - bears and some year birds

On the end of day six (the amazing pelagic day) my mom and I went out to the Homer Spit, a spit of land in Homer because Karl, the pelagic birding guy said that Fork-tailed Storm Petrels sometimes can be seen from the spit.  I had already tried once but wanted to try again.  But my mom and I spent time there and no luck on storm petrels but we did see some neat birds like a Tufted Puffin and some Sea Otters and Seals but no year birds.  After that, while driving back along the spit I spotted some shorebirds and after searching - jackpot - year bird, Whimbrel!

On Friday, day seven we did an amazing thing - we flew out with Emerald Air Service to Katmai National Preserve to watch the Alaskan Brown Bear.  We did and it was totally, totally astonishingly amazing to watch them eat salmon, walk on the tundra, etc.  Wow!  On that trip I saw a Snow Bunting, a year bird.

Yesterday I spent time with friends, etc. but no year birds.

Today I birded the area and had good success.  I started out walking this property, Seaside Farm and found some nice birds but nothing new for the year.  Than my dad and I went out to the spit to take another chance for Fork-tailed Storm Petrel and other birds.  We looked around for the petrels and I was scanning and my dad said to me "I really want to find you that petrel!".  Right as he said that I said "there it is".  He said "what's there?".  "The fork-tailed petrel" I said.  I began watching it closely just to be sure it was.  My thoughts were "smallish bird, somewhat bigger than a swallow, light gray overall, very swallow-like, low flight, yup!".  Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, an awesome life bird.  I said to my dad "while the tide is good, let's go try to pick up Western Sandpiper along the other part of the spit".  We came across a group of shorebirds and I saw yellowlegs and different things but I was avoiding everything that I knew.  I was after a life bird - Western Sandpiper.  I had just looked in my Peterson guide at Western Sandpiper so I knew exactly what to look for.  There - a sandpiper caught my eye that seemed to say "Western!".  I looked ever so closely.  Could it be?  After spending time watching, while making sure it couldn't be anything else I said under my breath "yup..western" and than once I was one hundred percent sure I said it to my dad in full voice "yup - WESTERN - life bird!".  Two awesome life birds this morning.

Tomorrow I head back north and leave the pacific and Kachemak Bay and head back up to Anchorage and then it's on to Denali!

Alaska has been fantastic for birds so far - the trip is not even half done and I wanted 20-30 year birds the whole trip - and I'm already at 25 or 27 making my year count somewhere just below 350.  Amazing!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Days four, five and six of Alaska trip - I CAN SAY P E L A G I C!

I'm in Homer Alaska at the beautiful Seaside Farm that has amazing birding just here.

On day four of the trip, I headed from Cooper Landing down here to Homer and did a beautiful dirt road along the way along which I added a new life bird, Pacific Loon!  There was a pair on a pond.   Once I got here to Seaside Farm where I'm staying I walked along the beach of Kachemak Bay on the pond and while scanning out on the water for ducks and such I came across a raft of ducks..Black Scoters!  That was also a life bird.

Yesterday, day five I birded around the area but did not manage any year birds.

Today was the jackpot though - oh my gosh!!!!!!!!!!!!   I went out with Karl Stoltzfus who does birding trips from his boats on the Kachemak Bay to an amazing bird rookery, Gull Island.  Right as we left the dock I almost immediately got a life bird, as Karl pointed out nesting Black-legged Kittiwakes.  Right after he pointed those out he said something like "there goes a Horned Puffin!" and we got good looks as it flew around.  Amazing as that's not a sure bird on his trips!  Soon there after we got Common Murres, another life bird for me.  We continued on and we soon spotted one of my so long wanted life birds, Pigeon Guillemot and got great looks.  We then arrived at Gull Island and the birds were everywhere.  Black-legged Kittiwakes, kittiwakes, kittiwakes, kittiwakes, everywhere!  Mixed in were cormorants, mostly Pelagic and some Red-faced Cormorants, Red-faced being an awesome life bird.  Some Red-faceds were on nests.  Karl told me all the things distinguishing the 2 as I'm by no means a cormorant expert:)  Here for me the best bird was Tufted Puffins, and in fairly good numbers.  Just amazing birds!  I got both pacific puffin species!  Karl also does water taxi so we had to go pick up some people and Karl said that near there there was a chance for Marbled Murrelet and indeed, we got lucky and they were there, a chick and an adult breeding plumage!  It finally became time to go back but Karl said that there may be Wandering Tattlers near the dock which would be a life bird.  In almost no time, 3 flew by!  THANKS Karl for this amazing experience!

If you're ever coming to Homer Alaska and want to go on a birding trip OR go on a trip to Kachemak Bay State Park or other locations and need a water taxi, use Karl - he's awesome!  His website is:

What an amazing first pelagic trip...