Monday, November 30, 2009
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron
Great Horned Owl
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Reddish Egret - White form - these birds were easily identified by their feeding behavior along Boca Chica Rd. They were chasing small fish along with other normally plumaged Reddish Egrets.
Lilac-crowned Parrot - this is not a countable species that was spotted in Weslaco. It is likely a bird from the pet trade that escaped or was released.
Altamira/Audubon Oriole Hybrid - “Smudgy” - These hybrid orioles have become quite common in Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Today was spent on a trip to the Norias Division of the King Ranch. The King Ranch is a working ranch comprised of more than 800,000 acres in 4 units. The Norias Division is not normally open to public tours. Once again, the people at the RGVBF were able to arrange a phenomenal field trip.
There are two target species on this trip, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and Sprague’s Pipit. Not only were both species easily seen, we were able to have extended looks at the owl at one location. I was able to get the digiscoped photo below.
In addition to the pipit and owl we were treated to excellent views of a Tropical Parula. This species barely gets into the USA and is one of the RGV specialties that birders seek out. Additionally, there were excellent viewing opportunities of Crested Caracara.
Thanks to Tom, Peggy, Kim, and Justin for leading the trip. Once again, outstanding trip leaders made for a memorable event.
I’ll complete a more thorough summary in the coming days but I wanted to say I had a phenomenal time in south Texas and I want to thank and congratulate the staff and volunteers at the RGVBF. It is a first class event and look forward to coming back in a future year. If you are looking to do some traveling and birding, put this festival on your calendar.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Today was spent at The Nature Conservancy’s Southmost Preserve and on the road out to Boca Chica Beach including parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR. The original trip itinerary included Sabal Palm Audubon Center but that property is currently closed due to budgetary issues. Both Sabal Palm and Southmost are being threatened by the new border fence. I won’t get into the whole politics of the fence but as you can see from the picture below, this fence will completely cut off the property. This photo was taken from inside the Southmost Preserve right at the entrance road looking out. When the wall is complete, the preserve will be completely cut off. The ironic part is that the Border Patrol agents I spoke with said the fence will do little to curb immigration. It might slow immigrants down but the really determined will still get through.
Southmost Preserve is a property that is not normally open to the public but our group was given special access and a personal tour by Dave Benn. It is another one of those places that make the RGVBF a truly great event since you can get access not normally available to others.
The highlight birds of the day include White-tailed Hawks that soared directly overhead at quite a low altitude allowing for excellent viewing opportunities. We were also able to closely observe a rather cooperative Peregrine Falcon. The best bird was something that isn’t even a south Texas specialty. While in Southmost, our bus split into two groups. Our group spooked a Barn Owl that was roosting in a palm tree. Later, as the other half the group was searching for the owl, the spooked bird flew directly over our half of the group affording us excellent views at less than 15 feet. All told, more than 100 species were seen on this trip.
A big thanks to the days field trip leaders Chris, Richard, Mike and Jay. They did a great job making 40 birders feel like a small group.
Lang Elliott gave a program on the new CD Valley Bird Songs. If you use BirdJam or own the Stokes bird CD’s, you are familiar with Lang’s work. The program was enough to get this cheapskate to fork over $17 for a CD.
The final event of the evening was the Great South Texas Birding Quiz Show hosted by Jeff Gordon. Groups of birders, both amateur and professionals competed for prizes in and glory in a Jeopardy style quiz show. Please note that any resemblance to the actual TV program was purely a coincidence. The only question that comes to mind after the show is how I managed to avoid Luby's in 10 days?
Tomorrow is sadly my last day of birding down here but I'm heading to the King Ranch.
The morning started with a field trip to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. This was an outstanding trip with good looks of Northern-beardless Tyrannulet. This little bird is smaller than it's name. Who would have thought that a bird with such a long name would be so drab. A small group was also able to see Smudgie, the unusual hybrid of an Altamira and Audubon's Warbler. Smudgie looks like an Altamira with a dirty and streaky hood of sorts. The name was well chosen. Over 70 species were seen on the trip. A big thanks to our guides Jeff, Jim, John, and Ben.
The afternoon and evening programs were all very interesting. Jeff Gordon spoke about Mexican birds and Xavier Munoz spoke about his work in Ecuador. Don Kroodsma gave a fascinating program on bird song and the dynamics of how a bird sings.
Tomorrow starts with a field trip to Southmost Preserve, an area not normally open to the public. More to come.......
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The morning started very early as the busses left the auditorium for our trip to the Santa Ana NWR at 6:00. A quick nap on the bus made the trip go by quickly.
Since a group of Masked Duck had been seen at Santa Ana, our group split into two. A little more than half the group headed out for the 3.2 mile hike in an attempt to get the duck. Since I had spotted it earlier in the week, I opted for the more leisurely hike on the Chachalaca trail and spending time on the tower looking for the Hook-billed Kites.
One surprise was that Don Kroodsma, the author of The Singing Life of Birds was a participant on our walk. At one point we were discussing the local Carolina Wrens. They are a subspecies endemic to the area. Dr. Kroodsma commented that they sounded “different” than other Carolina Wrens he’s heard. He’s the expert, I’ll take his word on it.
The group managed to record more than 80 species although those taking the long walk missed out on the Masked Duck
The highlight bird was a very cooperative American Bittern which did a slow fly-by in front of the group and then landed in a rather conspicuous spot. I’ve never had such good views of a Bittern.
My afternoon trip was to Weslaco to look for parrots and parakeets. Although the areas had been staked out a few days in advance, the birds had other ideas. We did get a fly-by Red-crowned Parrot and a Lilac-crowned Parrot that perched rather cooperatively for our van. The highlight bird was a pair of Merlin in a tree in someone’s front yard. The neighbors were curious when two 15 passenger vans with dark tinted windows pulled up and suddenly people with optics and cameras of all sorts started to mill around. We were like some sort of birdy clown car.
I finished the day with a program by Bill Baker on the great Texas Birding Classic.
Big thanks to trip leaders Chris Merkord, Richard Gibbons, and Cameron Cox.
Now it’s time to get some rest as another 6:00 bus awaits.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
Sunday, August 16, 2009
I’ve been away for too long. The last month and a half has been very hectic with family issues and volunteer activities. I haven’t had nearly enough time to go birding, or to write about it.
Since the end of June I’ve only been in the field twice. One day was a few weeks ago to check some of the local shorebird traps. This summer has been quite dry and there was almost no habitat available in the local places I checked. I’m hearing reports from other parts of the state but I haven’t had time to go check them myself. I’m taking part of this week off so I should have more time provided the weather cooperates.
I did manage to get out on the Black River Audubon field trip to Indian Hollow Reservation yesterday. It was a fun morning even if the heavy tree cover makes it very hard to bird. I was a little disappointed that when I pulled the 40D out of the travel case I saw the battery was nearly dead. I had forgotten to charge it after the last photo session. Oh well, sometimes it’s fun to bird without the camera. I stopped at Best Buy on the way home and bought a second battery. Now I won’t have to deal with dead batteries anymore.
If you get time, check out the new Black River Audubon Society page on Facebook. That is one of the places that took some of my time.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Sandy Ridge Reservation is a great place to bird. One of the things the place is known for is the nesting Bald Eagles. Ever since the park first opened about a dozen years ago, there have been eagles.
I was working my way around the marsh when I spotted a photographer with a tripod looking at something in the middle of the marsh. I quick scan had an Osprey on a dead tree. I continued to bird my way along the path until I got to the photographer. He was one of those very eager types who couldn’t wait to tell everyone passing by what he’s found.
“Check out the eagle” was the first thing he said to me. I took another look with my binoculars just to be sure and I confirmed that it was in fact an Osprey. I pointed that out to the photographer. He then proceeded to argue with me. He told me he’s been a wildlife photographer for 30 years and he knows a Bald Eagle when he sees one.
The "Eagle" - using a zoom tool
He then asked me “What kind of birder are you?” As I walked away I thought to myself “the kind that knows the difference between a Bald Eagle and an Osprey.”
About 150 yards further down the path I passed another birder who asked if the photographer was looking at the Osprey?
“He sure is. Go chat with him about it.”
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Earlier this spring I was birding the trails behind the Rocky River Nature Center and I was having a great day. The warblers were back and in good numbers, gnatcatchers were everywhere, and I had already booked 4 different vireo’s. I was in a good mood.
The same couldn’t be said for the angry hiker. First, a little background. I was on one of the hiking trails. The trails are packed gravel and they are 6-12’ wide, averaging about 8’. These are wide trails with lots of room to navigate. They are open to all users except bikes, horses, and motorized vehicles.
An Example of the Trail
A Group Able to Walk 3 Wide
While I was watching and photographing a particularly cooperative Hooded Warbler, I could hear the crunch of the walker's footsteps while he was still 100’ away. I moved all the way to edge of the trail which was about 10’ wide at this point. When the walker was 15’ away, I could hear the distorted roar of music from his iPod headphones. The next thing I know he was standing right next to me.
I’ve often have walkers stop to talk while I’ve been birding here. Most are just curious. As I turned toward this guy, I could tell he wasn’t curious about birding.
“Why the bleep do you birders have to be so selfish and bleep up the hiking trails?”
My response was “Huh?”
“You birders stand around and look at birds and block the bleeping trails for the proper users. This is a hiking trail, not a standing around trail. Get walking or go find a birdwatching trail. Dumbass!”
My response was “Huh?”
He then spun on his heel and stormed away.
The Angry Hiker Leaves
I was confused, perplexed, and a little angry. What was up with this guy? He’s lucky I wasn’t carrying my scope and tripod. Bogen makes a sturdy product and I once had to wield it in a threatening manner to scare off a doped up homeless guy. I felt like putting this dolt out of his misery. It probably wouldn’t have been hard to hide a body in that wooded area.
The funny part is that he really didn’t want a debate. He never turned off his iPod. He had it turned up so loud he wouldn’t have been able to hear anything I said. Maybe he’ll have “unfortunate” incident at a crosswalk. It’s the least we can hope for a guy who listens to Metallica while hiking in the woods.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Pete Dunne has done it again. I’ve read everything he has written and I’ve always been impressed. His latest volume, chronicling a 4 month trip across the great grasslands with his wife, really nails the sense of place.
The grasslands of the west are amazing. The wide open spaces and the diversity of wildlife not seen elsewhere is simply spectacular. Most birders think in terms of woodlands, marshes, and beaches. Not enough think of grasslands. I think this book will change that. Pete’s vivid descriptions are as good as photographs, maybe better. You can almost picture yourself riding along in the camper with the Dunne’s, maybe sitting in the back with the dogs.
Pete tells good birding stories but he also tells good stories. The book is as much about prairies as it is the birds as it is about the journey. One minute we’re learning about grass ecology. Then we are studying Longspurs. Then bison. And the belly busting menu at a micro-town bird festival.
If you should decide to explore the prairies, this book will also function as a bit of a travel guide and trip planner. I know it has me thinking about travel. I’m jealous that I can’t take four months to go birding.
The best part? There is more to come. Prairie Spring is supposed to be a series of four books linking places and seasons. I’ll be eagerly waiting for the next installment.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Today was supposed to be the Young Birders Hike at Sandy Ridge Reservation. However, there was a problem. For the second month in a row we had a complete absence of young birders. It’s a little disappointing that teens are not coming out for the hikes.
It was tough birding today. The wind was really blasting ahead of the front that is coming through. For most of the morning there were 20-30 MPH sustained winds with occasional stronger gusts. Then there would be periods of calm.
I left the camera in the car today. Big mistake. I missed excellent opportunities to photograph Prothonotary Warblers and Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks. Now that I know where the Prothonotary’s are nesting, I’ll head back out.
Sunday is the 5th of 6 Spring Bird Walks at the Rocky River Nature Center. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Last weekend was an excellent birding weekend but this weekend also had many nice treats. I wasn’t able to get out on Saturday so I was left with Sunday and a vacation day on Monday.
Sunday was spent at the RRNC and Sandy Ridge Reservation. Orioles and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were suddenly in abundance. So were Great-crested Flycatchers. We found the Hooded Warblers again this year. They've set up residence the last few years. It looks like they’re back. Generally, warbler numbers were down but the weather fronts have not been cooperative. It looks like mid-week might be the best. Too bad I’ll be stuck in the office.
On Monday I headed out with Dad. We went to Magee Marsh, Sheldon Marsh, and Mill Hollow Reservation. It was a strange day. The winds were from the north and rather chilly. It seemed the warblers have pushed inland. We did manage to find lots of Orioles everywhere, Snowy Egrets at Magee, and Cerulean Warblers at Mill Hollow. That was a nice surprise.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Ask a birder anywhere and they’ll tell you about their spark bird. For some it can be something exciting like a hawk, owl, or eagle. For others it can be something colorful like a warbler or oriole. For still others, it could have been an ordinary feeder bird at a friends house.
A spark bird is the bird that really turns someone into a birder. It’s the gotcha moment that you remember for the rest of your birding like. Even famous birders wax eloquent about their spark birds in their books and articles.
So how come I can’t recall a spark bird? I didn’t get started into birding until I was in college. I was taking a class largely because a girl I was really into was taking the class. It also filled a science elective so I was OK. The prof let you get extra credit if you went birding with him early on Sunday morning. 7:30 AM early. For a college student, that was torture. You know you are in a college town when the local restaurants offer their breakfast specials until 2:00.
The girl suggested we go birding. I spent several weeks earning extra credit using a loaner pair of binoculars. 20 years later, the girl is long gone but the birding remains.
I remember the girls name was Heather. I cannot remember the name of the prof. And I cannot remember a spark bird. I remember really enjoying the time outside, the thrill of the hunt, and using the field guide to sort out new identifications. I also remember the feeling that coursework and science can have real world applications which help me to put my studies in perspective.
So am I missing something by not having a spark bird? I don’t think so. Instead of having a spark to light the birding fire, I prefer to think of myself as a case of spontaneous human combustion.
Every now and then the weather gods smile on us and give us a weekend like the one we just had here in Northeast Ohio. And since I added a couple of vacation days and made it a 4-day weekend, even better. Friday was the “cool day” with highs in the 70’s. Saturday through Monday had highs in the mid to upper 80’s. It was a taste of June in April.
I started my long weekend with a trip to Magee Marsh on Friday. The birding was really good. Southerly overnight winds created the first big migration weekend of the year. Between the marsh and the surrounding areas I managed to find 81 species including 14 warblers. By the end of the day I was tired, happy, and satisfied. Who knew Friday would just be the warm-up for the entire weekend.
Friday evening was also very nice. Dad and I attended the Bill Thompson, III (BOTB - Bill of the Birds) late show at the Rocky River Nature Center that was part of the North Coast Nature Festival. Bill really needs no introduction if you are a birder. The hour-plus presentation left people smiling, laughing, and happy. I didn’t know BOTB was a Wilco fan. Not only is he an editor, author, birder, musician, entertainer, and all around nice guy, he is a man of refined musical taste and sensibilities.
Saturday started with a bird walk led by BOTB. There must have been nearly 50 people on the walk but it never felt crowded or overwhelming. It was nice to see so many new birders on the walk. If there is one thing I really enjoy, it’s helping to introducing this wonderful hobby to new people. I think we found more than a few converts in the mix. After the walk I visited the bridle trail in Rocky River Reservation to check out the eagles nest. NASA, we have eaglets!!!! My last stop of the day was a visit to Sandy Ridge Reservation where the wind was brutal. There were practically whitecaps on the marsh. Cowabunga dude! At least the trees in the forest and along the west and north edge of the marsh were full of warblers.
Sunday was the morning of the third Spring Bird Walk out of six at the RRNC. The Spring Bird Walks are in their 76th year at various locations across NE Ohio. BOTB was up early again to join the walk. This walk was a little different as the crowd was huge, 56 birders in total. There was also nice treat with Tom Bartlett banding birds. We had close looks at several species but the star of the show was a Yellow-throated Warbler. After the walk I caught another BOTB program on the Young Birders Guide. I then headed up to Huntington Reservation to see what warblers might be in the trees along the lake.
Monday started without birding. My nephew Aiden is about to turn 3. I was his VIP guest at his preschool this morning. Each child could pick someone and I was honored to be Aiden’s selection. We got to play a while, sing a few songs including the smash hit The Wheels on the Bus, and dance a little. You’ve got to let it all hang out when you do the Chicken Dance, especially in front of a 3 year old. Aiden and I both had fun. After getting my groove on and seeing Aiden off with his Mommy and little sister Nora I headed back to the RRNC for a final round of birding. It felt very strange birding here by myself after the last two days but the quiet was also nice. Field trips are great, but sometimes you need to be alone in nature. I walked the trails again and enjoyed the birds and the solitude.
The totals for the weekend are as follows:
117 species in total
100 plus birders
80 degree temperatures
20 warbler species seen
7 birding sites visited
4 amazing days
2 BOTB programs
1 shameless performance of the Chicken Dance that left Aiden roaring
And a great long weekend with lots of good memories - priceless!
Sunday, April 19, 2009
April 18 and 19, 2009
Spent Saturday out in the morning with Dad. We started at Carlisle Reservation on a very sunny and mild day. The temps warmed into the 70’s before all was said and done. There was a very clear indication of migration underway with lots of new species. The highlight bird was a Brown Thrasher actively calling from the top of a tree. We also had some good looks at a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and heard a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.
Our next stop was Oberlin Reservoir which was quite slow. Lot’s of Ruddy’s but not much else. We then headed into Wellington for some lunch. After lunch we made a quick stop by Wellington Reservation before Dad had to head home. There wasn’t a lot a variety but there was a pair of Surf Scoters with the males field marks clearly visible. This was a lifer for Dad.
Next I went to Wellington Reservation. There weren’t really any new birds that I hadn’t already seen but there were good signs for the shorebird migration. There was a lot more flooded habitat that should result in some good mudflats. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will work out.
The final stop of the day was a run up to the Lorain Impoundment. Here is another spot with some very promising shorebird habitat. I did manage to find a Solitary Sandpiper and a Pectoral Sandpiper. I was hoping for Yellowlegs or Dunlin but had no luck.
Sunday was cloudy and cooler but the birds did not disappoint. I joined the Sunday Bird Walk at the Rocky River Nature Center. This weeks walk drew a crowd of 30. We managed 3 hawks, Broad-winged, Red-shouldered, and Red-tailed. We also had more good looks at Gnatcatchers and Sapsuckers. We also managed to get some good looks at a Barred Owl thanks to a man walking his dog. He mentioned to our group that he had seen a large owl. We headed off in pursuit. I was the first to spot the bird in flight and then was able to track it until it moved out of view. That was a nice addition to the mornings activities.
After the group walk I went to explore the bridle trail south of Willow Bend. The wildflowers should be spectacular there next weekend.
This was my favorite sort of birding weekend. It had lot’s of miles on foot. After the winter doldrums and lots of time standing around by the lakeshore, it was nice to bird and cover a lot of ground.
Let’s hope next weekend is just as good.