Sunday, November 20, 2016

Almost A Little Too Far Afield

When it comes to rare birds, I often think that if it weren't for the wrong place, I wouldn't have much of anywhere to be.  Likewise, if it weren't for the wrong time, I would never be there.

Today was one of those days.. .We were over in Surrey, visiting with family, before heading back on the 1pm ferry.  Then, at 8:56am, I got an email update from BCVIBIRDS that a Field  Sparrow had been found pretty much in my own backyard, at Esquimalt Lagoon, by Andy and Ellen Stepniewski!  A few minutes later I missed a call from Jeremy G, no doubt reporting the same, and I resigned myself to falling behind, his 301 to my 300 in the Victoria Checklist....  Unfortunately this was not one of those wrong place/wrong time situations that could be solved simply by climbing down a mountain, taking an early lunch break, or driving like a bat out of hell for an hour or two.  There is only one thing I believe in more firmly than twitching Field Sparrows in Victoria (or, any rarity, for that matter) and that is family - namely my family and Andrea's.

On went the visit, all the while my mind racing... we catch the one, what is traffic going to be like, is the light going to hold up, is it going to rain....... not to mention having to pick up my son at 4pm sharp in Langford!  Getting to the ferry was no problem, and I even managed to pick up a Rough-legged Hawk along the way, though 5 minutes after we got into the terminal a one sailing wait hit those unfortunate enough to be slower than us!  Off the ferry on the Victoria side and I was itching for an update on the bird, as it had been last reported by Ann Nightingale at 1:45pm.... Again, Lady Luck was grinning her ass off at me, as we made it all the way from the Swartz Bay Terminal to Langford, coming off of a full boat, without having to stop once for a red light or a turn (which has NEVER happened to me)!

I took 30 seconds to grab my camera and binos and headed right back out the door, getting a report from Agnes Lynn via BCVIBIRDS that the bird was still present 20 minutes earlier at 3pm, and I was 5 minutes away.  I was encouraged, but my enthusiasm was tempered a bit by the ghosts of all of the birds that I had missed by one minute or five, or would have seen if I  hadn't stopped for coffee in Port Alberni, or or or.....

I had said earlier that the quickest way to find a bird like this was to find the birders, and as I cruised down the  lagoon reading trash can numbers I found the birders!  Quickly parking and grabbing  my gear, I rushed across the road and slowed to a crawl, not wanting to spook whatever it was that the small band of merry twitchers was photographing.  A little behind the vanguard were David and Geoffrey Newell, who responded to my raised eyebrows and nod with a "it is right at their feet!".  Turns out the dynamic Newell Duo, responsible for many a fantastic find in the last  couple  of years, had had some good, quality time with the bird.

I crept up as slowly as my excitement would allow, finally seeing movement in the brush, before the Field Sparrow hopped out into view!  This is only the second record for BC and first for the Victoria Checklist Area, and my tick (no pun intended) number 301 for the latter area!  A very  unexpected rarity, and one that neither Jeremy G or  I had thought of last  week while trying to figure out  the next!

Despite the waning light, I managed a couple of (again, charitably speaking) record shots:

The birds timing was a little off as I have just ordered a new lens, an EF400mm 5.6, which should be here in a couple of days.  I had the chance to shoot one of these for a day and change on my Texas trip last year and was impressed with the compact size, reach, and how tight and fast  the autofocus is.... it has only taken me just shy of two years to pull the trigger on a purchase to supplement my 70-300 Sigma!

Oh well, maybe the bird will stick until the lens arrives.  But in any case there was a happy ending to the story, I got to see an amazing bird and picked  my son up on time!

Until the next unforeseen and  mindblowing rarity, good birding, and see you out there!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Wow, Where Does the Time Go?

I just realized how long it has been since I have posted.... wow!  Between parenting and then half time single parenting, I haven't had much time for birding, let alone posting.... In fact, my two days of birding with the Naturalest Naturalist in the last week have been my only two days of real birding in the last year or so!

Time to catch up with Texas....

John had gotten a text of a White-throated Thrush at Estero Llano Grande and, as he said (and I fully agree), the first rule of chasing rare birds is you go!  We got to Estero and high-tailed it to where the thrush had been seen, and were greeted by a throng of  birders, and virtually no birds.  The bird in question had been travelling with thrushes, which were quite absent.  While we waited, I managed my lifer Eastern Screech-Owl and Northern Beardless Tyrranulet,  but the bird we most wanted refused to  show.... until the thrushes returned and someone called out the White-throated!  There was a mad dash of birders trying  to get a view of this amazing rarity, and a few of us, myself included, managed to spot it through a gap in the fence before it disappeared.... lifer White-throated Thrush, and my second amazing rarity at Estero in only a few days!!!  The rest of our group missed it, but picked it  up on the return trip the next day.

Our last  full day in Texas found us at Rio-Bentsen State Park, hoping for another local rarity.... while waiting we picked up a few birds, but the target of the day did not disappoint, as a pair of dark phase Hook -billed Kites flew almost right over out heads before disappearing in the distance!  From there we returned to Estero where, as I  previously mentioned, the rest of the group saw the thrush while I wandered the park, and from there we drove up to Brushline Rd.

While Brushline yielded little, our next stop at Hargill Playa delivered  my lifer Northern Bobwhite and several other goodies.  From there it was back to Resaca for a bit  of parking lot birding, then on to Oliveira Park in Brownsville for the show, which did not disappoint in the least!  We picked up Red-crowned Parrot, Lilac-crowned Parrot, Yellow-headed Parrot, Red-lored Parrot, and others!  Yes, ABA Police, most of these do not appear on  my official list.

All in all, an amazing trip, and I cannot wait to go back!  Huge thanks to John Puschock and Zugunruhe Tours for an amazing experience,  can't wait to bird with you again!  Attu next time?

So, to catch up for the last  year and a half, here are my favourite record shots from that time frame, then back on track, thanks to some encouragement from Jeremy G.  As usual they ain't all pretty, but the birds were!

Wild  Turkey, near Creston, BC, July, 2015

Black-throated Sparrow, Whiffin Spit, October, 2015

Magnificent Frigatebird, Samana, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Cattle Egret, Samana, Dominican  Republic, November, 2015

Cattle Egret, Samana, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

A bit of this and that, Haitises Nat'l Park, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Brown Pelican, Haitises Nat'l Park, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Brown Booby, Haitises Nat'l Park, Dominican Republic, November, 2015

Broad-billed Tody, Samana, Dominican Republic, April, 2016

Humpback Whale feeding, off Victoria, BC, May, 2016

Tropical Kingbird, Sooke, BC, November 12, 2016

Red Phalaropes, Jordan River, BC, November 12, 2016

Red Phalarope, Jordan  River, BC, November 12,  2016
As usual, I can't wait to see what the next adventure is.... maybe south, maybe north, maybe east, maybe west???  Heck, maybe it will be right here at home!

In the meantime, good birding!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

That's Why They Call It Birding, and Not Fishing.....

Or, Texas Part Deux....  Since it has been a while since my first post, and almost two months since the trip... time to wrap up the last three days!

We left off with the Victoria Birder being the only member of the group to miss White-collared Seedeater, but tomorrow will be better, right?

The following day found us headed for Santa Ana NWR, in search of a recently reported/relocated Blue Bunting.  We searched high and low for said rarity, but failed to turn it up.  Despite the dipping on this bird, we enjoyed 34 other, more cooperative species, including these Plain Chachalacas.

A Northern Cardinal also added colour to the mix....
After a few hours at Santa Ana we headed up to the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, where a few rarities had been reported.  Again, we dipped, but did get looks at our only Monk Parakeets and Anhingas of the trip, as well as our first Black Phoebe.  

Following the theme of chasing, our next stop was Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, where recently Brown Thrasher and Winter Wren had been reported.  We circled the area a number of times, coming up empty.  The repetitive pacing was broken up when John called out a Yellow-throated Warbler in a pine!  A great bird, and the first of a few.... next up was a Nashville Warbler, and finally John and I heard the call of a Winter Wren in a tangle.  John got a quick look at the bird, and headed off to find the rest of the group, leaving me to keep tabs on it.  Eventually we all got looks at this nice rarity, a lifer for me, and after a few more fruitless Thrasher circuits, we headed back south.

Northern Mockingbird, Edinburgh Scenic Wetlands
In the weeks prior, Moutain Plovers had been reported from a field West of McCook, and we decided to give it a go.  I have never put in a serious effort for this species, but is sure is one that interests me... a lot.  We pulled up at the field that they had been seen in, and scanned to no avail.  We moved a little further west, and still no birds.  Flock-blocked but not defeated, we started working out way back toward McCook and John and I were scanning a field when, miraculously, he picked out the 6 little shorebirds well in the distance.  Even at maximum zoom, they were little more than moving brown blobs, but darned if they weren`t Mountain Plovers!!!!

They are right... out.... there..... bout a mile or so....
A nice pair of White-tailed Hawks we encountered near McCook
There was one last stop for the day, and that was to revisit McAllen for resident flock of Green Parakeets.  The weather was more favourable on this evening, and after driving around for only a short while, we finally found them congregated around a Wells Fargo branch.  On the wires, on the building, hanging from the building, my lifer Green Parakeet was everywhere!  Though I am not the best at estimating bird numbers, I would guess we had about 225 of them around this one intersection.

Some of our Green Parakeets looked like this.....
Until a hungry Cooper`s Hawk happened to pass by.....
Our last target in the bag, time for dinner, and an early-ish night before heading to Brownsville and South Padre Island the next day!

Two days of birding left, and this found us headed back for the coast, to South Padre Island, with a rarity stop along the way.  For a few days, Resaca de la Palma State Park had been harbouring a couple of rarities, Dusky-capped Flycatcher and Tropical Parula.  Both had been around the parking area, in the vicinity of the Visitor's Centre, so our search area was narrowed nicely.  As far as rarities go, it didn't take long for John to locate a yellow bird flying toward me, which turned into a very nice Tropical Parula, which everyone got looks at!  Not just a lifer, but I always figured Northern Parula would be on my ABA list first!  A couple of hours of searching failed to turn up the flycatcher, but we did get nice looks at White-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, and Black-throated Grey Warbler.

Next stop, South Padre Island!  But, of course, there had to be a stop along the way, and this was a stretch of highway near Laguna Vista where we got stunning looks at a pair of Aplomado Falcons!  Despite the constant threat of vehicular death, we admired the birds until they flew off to the south.

Scanning from a couple of beaches failed to turn up the target Northern Gannets, so we instead headed for two boardwalk complexes, the South Padre Island Nature Centre, and the adjoining Convention Centre Boardwalk.  Our first and only Clapper Rail showed nicely, and from there it was a wader bonanza!

An angry looking Great Blue Heron never took its eyes off of us.

A couple of Little Blue Herons kept us entertained

As did this Reddish Egret

And Tricolored Heron.
Among the pictures that didn`t turn out was a Snowy Egret that was very actively feeding, dancing, and flying for us.  Of course, there were other highlights along the two boardwalks, including something non-Avian:

The best picture this Alligator would give up
And the oft heard, seldom stationary Sora.  This one fed out in the open for several minutes, giving us no end to photo op:

Always a delight to see
And what would Texas be without Common Gallinule:

As we were finishing up at the Convention Centre, John got a text that sent us running......

Yup, I said I was gonna finish it off with this post, but it is getting a bit long, so I will wrap it up in a few days....

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Even the Lists are Bigger in Texas

As with pretty much any other birder that has never been, Texas has always been one of my bucket list destinations, but I have always managed to put it off in favour of either closer or more exotic locales.  That was until John Puschock, owner of Zugunruhe Birding Tours, came out with a February trip with a price tag that could not be ignored.  I did the math a few times, and I`m pretty sure I could not have done Texas on my own for that price!

After begging for vacation days during the busiest time of the year for me, fast forward to February 1, which found the Victoria Birder waiting for a flight to Seattle, and then on to San Antonio.  A few days before the trip I had done some counting, and was looking at 4 potential milestones for this trip - 700 birds in total on my life list (689 prior to the trip), 500 birds in the ABA (467 prior), 400 birds in the United States (360 prior), and the possibility that my US list would surpass my Canadian list, which stands at 384.  A bit of a stretch maybe, but Texas was new ground.

I`m going to skip over the part about watching the Super Bowl with Seattle fans, and get right to the action.  The plan for the first full day was to make our way down to Rockport for the 1pm Whooping Crane tour, with a few birding stops along the way.  Between San Antonio and Corpus Christi I only managed to add Crested Caracara as an ABA bird, but things started picking up in a big way when we hit the coast and Mustang Island.  John`s sharp eyes spotted the first lifer of the trip, White-tailed Hawk, soaring high above the road, and pulled over so all could get good looks.  Next up was the Port Aransas Jetty, where a Little Gull  had been reported in previous days.  The gulls and terns were well out, which meant navigating a slick jetty with wind and waves coming over the top, but the birds were plentiful on the walk out.

Brown Pelican off the Port Aransas Jetty

Laughing Gulls were constantly passing close overhead
As were Royal Terns

This Snowy Egret was oblivious of fishermen while it did some hunting of its own
After 15 minutes of scanning, we finally picked up the Little Gull, my second lifer of the trip, and not a bird I thought would end up on my Texas list!  On the way back in I noticed a small head poking out of the water, but didn`t manage any good shots of my lifer Green Sea Turtle.

On our way to Rockport we picked up my lifer Mottled Duck in Fulton, then it was time for a little Crane action.  Lunch was consumed on the boat ride out to Aransas NWR, and there is no better place to get a shrimp po`boy than the gulf coast of Texas!

Small groups of shorebirds were the first highlight inside Aransas, with Dunlin, Willet, Long-billed Curlew, American Avocets, Western Sandpipers, and my lifer Piping Plover all being well-represented.  It wasn`t long before the boat stopped for distant looks at our first Whooping Cranes of the trip, and a spectacular lifer for many on the boat.

We found more and more cranes, eventually getting amazingly close looks at the prize, and pictures for all!

It doesn't get any better than this!
After sufficiently admiring up to 10% of the world's Whooping Crane population, the hits kept coming!  Reddish Egret (lifer), Tricolored Heron (ABA), Roseate Spoonbill (ABA), White Ibis (ABA), and many more species followed!

Juvie White Ibis

Roseate Spoonbills are always a treat!

The remainder of day one was fairly uneventful, with a horrible life look at Harris's Hawk along the highway in the near darkness, followed by another, and another..... finally ending with a late check in at the Alamo Inn, the birder friendly B&B in Alama, TX, where we were welcomed heartily by Keith, the owner.

The plan for day to was an early arrival to Estero Llano Grande SP, where a Grey-crowned Yellowthroat had been seen, With any rarity, one expects to wait, and many birders have had to camp out for hours in hopes of spotting this one.  As fate would have it, we happened upon its favored spot just as it was singing from the top of a small bush, too easy!!!

The picture ain't pretty, but the bird still counts!!!
Other great birds at Estero included Couch's Kingbird (lifer), Buff-bellied Hummingbird (lifer), Black-crested Titmouse (lifer), Altamira Oriole (ABA), Clay-colored Thrush (ABA), Great Kiskadee (ABA), Yellow-crowned Night-Heron (ABA), Common Pauraque (ABA), and Green Kingfisher (ABA),  In addition to being a great bird, the Yellowthroat also took down my first milestone, being US bird number 385, to surpass my Canadian list!

You could look right at this Common Pauraque and still miss it!

The Yellow-crowned Night-Herons were most cooperative
After four and a half hours birding Estero, it was time for Frontera Audubon, a gem tucked in the middle of Weslaco.

Despite the stench of being a vulture roost, many good birds were to be had, including Long-billed Thrasher (lifer), Blue-headed Vireo (lifer), White-eyed Vireo (ABA), Black-throated Green Warbler (ABA), and a surprise female Summer Tanager!

The plan for the evening was to look for parakeets in McAllen, but the weather must have kept the birds down for the evening, and we came away empty handed.  The following day was an early riser for the trip upriver to Salineno and San Ygnacio in hopes of a few specialties.

On this side, Texas.  On the other side, Mexico.

Salineno is the go-to spot on the Rio Grande for Muscovy Duck and Red-billed Pigeon, and we got there at 7:30am to begin the watch­.  While neither target was forthcoming, it didn't take too long to start getting birds, and milestones 2 and 3 both fell with the Audubon's Oriole (ABA #500, World #700) that was feeding in a bush near us.  While the rest of the group headed up to the feeders, I kept vigil at the river in hopes of a flyby pigeon, adding 28 species to my Mexican list in the meantime.  While we did strike out on both, I did add Plain Chachalaca (lifer) and, on the way back to the vehicle, Olive Sparrow for US 400!  Early on day three, and all four milestones had been taken down!

The drive up to San Ygnacio was uneventful, and we spent four hours roaming "The Seedeater Spot" in hopes of White-collared Seedeater, another specialty.  There were a lot of great birds along the river here, but the Seedeater chose not to show.... until I wandered off to check a couple of promising areas.... and became the only member of the group to miss it.  Guess I have to head back down to Texas again... darn!

Zapata Pond is another area that has had seedeaters in the past, but it was not to be, and on the way back to Alamo we only managed to add our first and only Greater Roadrunner of the trip, and my US Hooded Oriole (funny that I had 2 on Vancouver Island first!).

As this post is getting a little on the long side, I am going to leave off here, and wrap it up in a few days with part 2.... Stay Tuned!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Great Birds at Underbirded Locations

After yesterday's great birding, Jeremy G and I decided to spend the morning checking out a couple of usually underbirded locations.  Seems the last few years a number of amazing birds have shown up in places birders rarely go anymore, so we figured we would try our luck.

G wasn't deterred by this being his first real day back on the continent after putting the birders of Hawaii on notice, and we met at Macaulay Point at 7am.  I made it a priority to grab a coffee on the way, apparently he hadn't..... nevertheless, we were both keyed up and ready to hit it out of the park.

Macaulay Point is an area that I have only birded twice previously but it has a lot of potential, and birds started showing immediately.  In the marina area inshore was a Red-throated Loon, a Common Murre, and a small number of mixed ducks.  There seems to be a lot of Red-throated Loons around this year, with many close in to shore or in sheltered areas.... a far cry from many years when a single offshore is reason for celebration.

We set up our scopes to scan offshore, with Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Double-crested Cormorants very evident.  It wasn`t long before G called out that he had two phalaropes.  Being November, we both figured on which species they would be, and good observation revealed them to be Red Phalaropes, the first really good bird of the day.

The rest of the area yielded a good number of species including Northern Harrier, Bald Eagles, Harlequin Ducks, 15 Bonaparte`s Gulls, a single Thayer`s Gull, and an American Pipit overhead.  Near the end of our walk we heard a Varied Thrush leading off a chorus of ticked off songbirds, and the level of aggravation had us thinking owl in a second.  The habitat led me to think maybe a Long-eared was hiding somewhere, but we couldn`t dig anything out.

After a quick breakfast and coffee stop at the James Bay Starbucks we headed to Beacon Hill Park and Goodacre Lake, where G was hoping to catch up with the Blackburnian Warbler, last seen 6 days ago.

While I was parking G started birding, and texted me immediately with his second great find of the day.

This male Pine Grosbeak was showing very well and being very vocal near the bandstand.  Interestingly, Jeremy had commented a couple of hours earlier how this was going to be the year for low elevation Pines.  After a few minutes of enjoying this bird from every angle it flew off and we lost sight of it in the direction of St Ann`s Academy.

While we never did relocate the Blackburnian, there were enough birds to keep us busy for two and a half hours.  Among the remaining highlights was an intergrade Northern Flicker, which was being constantly harassed by a pure Red-shafted male.  Our first view of the two birds was the Red-shafted powerslamming the intergrade (which at first appeared to be a pure Yellow-shafted) from a branch 8 feet up, and we could clearly hear the thunk as the intergrade was driven into the ground.  We watched their antics for 15 minutes, but try as I might the light was against me in the picture department.

Carrying on we found good numbers of Bushtits, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.  

We walked the trail behind the maintenance yard, near where the Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher was a few years back, but only succeeded in turning up two pissed off Anna`s Hummingbirds and a Pacific Wren.  We were almost done the loop when The Naturalest Naturalist scored his hat trick with another good bird.

It is always a treat to see owls, and this roosting Barred Owl was no exception.  It was extremely cooperative, and I managed a few pictures.

Nothing else turned up, though G did stick around a little longer than I did.  I managed a Merlin on the way home, but that is about it.

Until the next time, Good Birding!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

First Class (and first record) Birding

After last week's Blackburnian Warbler (lifer for me, Victoria first record), I have been wondering if anything else mind-numbing would show up.  In light of the fantastic birds just across the water, coupled with the intense wind we have had this week, I figured Jordan River would be a great bet for one or more rarities.

I got to my usual parking spot just before 7:30am, and started with a scan of the water and ever present gull flock.  Among the 60 or so California Gulls were a late Heermann's Gull and a single Mew Gull.  Out on the water were good numbers of White-winged Scoters and Pacific Loons.

Turning my attention inland and working my way gradually from one end of the Jordan River stretch to the other and back, I failed to find anything in the realm of rare, but did get nice looks at Evening Grosbeaks, 95 Red Crossbills, 180 Pine Siskins, and many others.  While unsuccessfully attempting to photograph 4 Red-throated Loons and a Western Grebe that had made their way into the river I heard a familiar call, and up popped this little guy:

Out on the water off the far end of the beach were 7 very close Ancient Murrelets, another Western Grebe, several more Red-throated Loons, 50+ Pacific Loons, and a few other species.

With Jordan turning up nothing stellar, I headed back toward town with plans to check a few likely Cattle Egret/Emperor Goose spots.

At Journey Middle School in Sooke, a flock of 98 Greater White-fronted Geese and 10 Cackling Geese were hanging out on the field, sans Emperor.  Swanwick Rd in Metchosin, a spot I have been just waiting to turn up a Cattle Egret, were another 27 Greater White-fronts and 18 Cackling Geese.

Due to company and a quick work meeting, Swanwick marked the end of my days birding.  Or so I thought.

Just before 3pm I saw a message pop up on BCVIBirds about an Acorn Woodpecker at Cedar Hill Golf Course.  I was chomping at the bit to get out and get this bird, but when our company left I figured I wouldn't have enough light left to get any kind of look.

A last minute decision to go sent me scrambling through traffic, and I reached the parking area at King's Pond around 4:15pm, light fading fast.  I was encouraged by a followup report on BCVI, as well as a text from Jeremy G saying "showing well",  My legs were burning a bit by the time I reached a group of casual looking birders, and was greeted by Hawaii's newest celebrity birder, the Naturalest Naturalist, with "You just missed it!"

Several cuss words may have passed through my mind before G nodded at his scope, which was pointed up into an oak at one hunkered down Acorn Woodpecker.

I managed to rattle off a couple of grainy Victoria Birder style record shots in the near dark of this Victoria 1st record (number 298 for my Victoria list), and number 9 (my second) for BC, before it flew off about 4 minutes later.  Sweet timing on my part, as we only got a very brief glimpse of it flying overhead after that.

Not the worst record shots I have ever taken......

It's always a treat to be part of a Victoria first record, let alone 2 of them in 8 days.  Neither bird was on my radar on my march to 300, so it will sure be interesting to see what the next two will be!

I will be heading out in just under three months to take on some new (for me) birding ground with John Puschock from Zugunruhe Birding Tours on his Lower Rio Grande Tour from Feb 2-8, 2015.  John has put together an incredible deal on this tour, and I am definitely looking forward to beefing up my Life and ABA lists with this one.  Click here for details about this trip, he is also running a second from Feb 8-14.

Good birding!