Thursday, December 25, 2008

2008: My Best Birding Year Ever (Yet?)

Well, 2008 was a heck of a year for everyone - stock markets going nuts, gas prices up and down, and a historical presidential election. For me, it was also quite active - learning I was going to be a dad was the most momentous part for me. But this is a birding blog, so 2008 was big for birding in my life. Lots of milestones - first trip to Florida for birding, first experiences in Southeast Arizona, ABA milestones of 400 and 450, and finally hitting my major goal for the year - making it to 300 on my Ohio state life list. So let's start with that.

I posted back in February, after seeing the Hoary Redpoll, that I had 14 species left before hitting 300 in Ohio, and speculated what those species most likely would be. Here's the original list:

  1. Least Flycatcher
  2. Marsh Wren
  3. Cattle Egret
  4. Franklin's Gull
  5. Eurasian Collared Dove
  6. Golden Eagle
  7. Little Gull
  8. Connecticut Warbler
  9. Clay Colored Sparrow
  10. Least Bittern
  11. Chuck-wills-widow
  12. Marbled Godwit
  13. Golden-winged Warbler
  14. Pomarine Jaegar
And here's the list of what I actually saw:

  1. Golden Eagle, March 16
  2. Red-necked Grebe, March 22
  3. Least Flycatcher, May 6
  4. Chuck-will's-widow, June 7
  5. Black Rail, June 9
  6. Common Raven, July 12
  7. Upland Sandpiper, July 12
  8. Western Meadowlark, July 19
  9. Clay-colored Sparrow, July 19
  10. Marsh Wren, July 19
  11. Marbled Godwit, August 25
  12. Wood Stork, August 27
  13. Franklin's Gull, October 18
  14. White-winged Crossbill, December 13
I only saw half of the birds I thought I would see. Four of the birds are really rare for Ohio: Black Rail, White-winged Crossbill, Wood Stork, and Common Raven.

I also added a ton of birds to my life list - 135 ABA area birds and 137 in total (two exotic birds are state countable but were not on the ABA list when I saw them). My year list for the ABA region was the best ever - 412. My Ohio list was not as good as last year, since I never made it up to the Lake Erie marshes for spring migration, but still a respectable 255 (I also had 155 species in Florida and 131 in Arizona!).

My big challenge for next year is to balance fatherhood with birding. I suspect I won't hit 255 birds in Ohio next year, but having hit the magic number of 300, I don't feel I have to get out all the time either. I think my theme for this next year is to just see what I can see, birding serendipitously as I am out and about with a new baby. I will probably have some good opportunities to sneak off now and then when we take the baby on family visits, so we'll see what happens!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

I Did It!!!!

May I present Ohio Bird 300:

White-winged Crossbill! After three unsuccessful tries at this species, I finally found this stunning male bird at Oak Hill Cemetery, located south of Upper Sandusky. We waited for about an hour before it showed up, calling as it flew. Once it started foraging in the hemlock, however, it clammed up, emitting not a sound. We speculated that if there were other crossbills around, it would be calling. Hitting 300 in Ohio was my goal for the year. Next week, I will post an end of year roundup on what has been the best birding year of my life (so far!).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Crossing fingers for 300

I'm going birding on Saturday with the Avids. Our big goal is to get to experience the White-winged Crossbill irruption that is going on across Ohio right now. If we are successful, then I'll hit 300 birds for Ohio. Depending on where else we go, there's a decent chance to go over 300 birds, since there are still reports of Pomarine Jaegers and Black-headed Gulls, and there's always a chance for Little Gull. The Harlequin Duck that was up in Cleveland was unfortunately shot by a hunter, though.

We'll see what happens, and I'll report back.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Jaegers and horrible weather

Went up to Lake Erie today with Bill and Brad to look for rare gulls and jaegers. We got lucky with good looks at what I think may have been three different Parasitic Jaegers, including one I tried to turn into a Pomarine Jaeger (and Ohio Bird Number 300), but it was not to be.

Oddly, no out of the ordinary gulls were present. We did have some late shorebirds, including a Ruddy Turnstone at Lorain Harbor and a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher at the Cedar Point Chausee.

The weather got progressively worse during the day, and we left the lake early, just ahead of another cold front that turned the driving rain to snow. Another good day of birding!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Arizona, Day 2

Black Phoebe, Sweetwater Wetlands

Most of Day 2 in Arizona was spent at my conference. As I left in the morning to go to the conference, I did pick up ABA#419, Lesser Goldfinch, in a willow tree outside the hotel. After the conference was over for the day, I headed up to the Sweetwater Wetlands, where I had a number of very good birds, starting with Harris's Hawk flying up onto a telephone pole as I was driving towards the wetlands.

I spent about 2 and a half hours exploring the wetland, which was teeming with birds. Ducks included Mallards, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck and my target duck, Cinnamon Teal. Passerines included Barn and Tree Swallow, Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds, Black Phoebe, Abert's Towhee, Song Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Orange-crowned Warbler, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Cassin's Kingbird, GIla Woodpecker, and Marsh Wren. Other birds I observed included Killdeer, American Kestral, American Coot, Common Moorhen, Pied-billed Grebe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Sora, Starling, and, just after dusk fell, Lesser Nighthawk - ending my day by occupying #425 on my ABA list. Satisfied, I left the wetlands and drove back to my hotel.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Arizona, Day 1


I began my first day in Arizona with two life birds over breakfast at the Riverpark Inn in Tucson: Anna's Hummingbird and Gila Woodpecker, which got me to ABA #400 before I had two sips of coffee. The day was sunny and clear, and I was headed to the northeast of Tucson, with the morning planned for Sabino Canyon and the afternoon at Mt. Lemmon.

I spent 3 hours hiking around Sabino Canyon, which wasn't as birdy as I had hoped, but it was birdy enough. I started out with Cooper's Hawk, House Finches and Mourning Doves, and then started hitting the desert birds. I had great looks at Cactus Wren, Gambel's Quail and Cassin's Kingbird.

Cactus Wren

In a riparian corridor, I picked up Green-tailed Towhee, Verdin, more Anna's Hummingbirds, a Costa's Hummingbird, and another couple of Cooper's Hawks. I followed a gnatcatcher's scolding hoping for Black-tailed, but had Blue-gray instead. Further hiking gave me more birds, such as Common Raven, Turkey Vulture, Northern Cardinal, Gila Woodpecker and Northern Mockingbird, and I added Black-throated Sparrow, Gilded Flicker and Greater Roadrunner to my life list.

Black-throated Sparrow

Mt. Lemmon

At 11:30, I felt I had probably seen all the birds I would at Sabino Canyon and headed up to Mt. Lemmon, stopping frequently to bird. I spent a little over 6 hours at Mt. Lemmon, birding up the mountain. Mt. Lemmon was fairly productive, especially in a rocky dry creek bed at a campground, where I had Canyon Wren, Bewick's Wren and House Wren; Summer Tanager; Brewer's Sparrow; Painted Redstart; Western Wood-Pewee, Canyon Towhee, and Nashville Warbler.

Summer Tanager

A little further up at a picnic area I came across the only Yellow-eyed Junco I would see, along with Mexican Jay, Acorn Woodpecker, Spotted Towheeeand Red-naped Sapsucker. Finally, I made it up to the top and had a very late lunch/very early dinner at the Iron Door restaurant. I was the only customer at that time and had excellent service, enjoying German food and beer while watching the Broad-billed and Rufous/Allen's Hummingbirds feed next to me. Then, I headed to the very top, picking up Hermit Thrush, "Red-shafted" Northern Flicker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee, Yellow-rumped ("Audubon's") Warbler, Stellar's Jay, and Hermit Warbler. Light was beginning to fail and I could see rain clouds rolling in, so I headed back down the mountain, stopping to enjoy the scenery and feeling pretty good - having added 20 ABA birds in one day!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Detailed AZ posts coming, I swear

I've been pretty busy with work and life since getting back from AZ. But I promise, I'll have a summary of each day up here soon, with pictures!

In the meanwhile, I just saw my 458th ABA area bird this last weekend - Franklin's Gull, at East Fork Lake State Park. The gull also happens to be my 299th state bird!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Brief Arizona results

I've re-written this post after finally entering in my eBird data. I actually had 131 total species, 59 ABA species and 52 life birds (7 birds I had seen in Mexico - if I had Vermillion Flycatcher, I would have added all the birds I saw in Mexico to my ABA list). So here's the GRAND TOTAL copied and modified from eBird (ABA species in bold):

  1. Mallard
  2. Cinnamon Teal
  3. Northern Shoveler
  4. Green-winged Teal
  5. Ring-necked Duck
  6. Ruddy Duck
  7. Wild Turkey
  8. Gambel's Quail
  9. Pied-billed Grebe
  10. Great Egret
  11. Black-crowned Night Heron
  12. White-faced Ibis
  13. Black Vulture
  14. Turkey Vulture
  15. Northern Harrier
  16. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  17. Cooper's Hawk
  18. Northern Goshawk
  19. Harris's Hawk
  20. Gray Hawk
  21. Red-tailed Hawk
  22. American Kestrel
  23. Sora
  24. Common Moorhen
  25. American Coot
  26. Killdeer
  27. Greater Yellowlegs
  28. White-winged Dove
  29. Mourning Dove
  30. Inca Dove
  31. Common Ground-Dove
  32. Greater Roadrunner
  33. Great Horned Owl
  34. Lesser Nighthawk
  35. White-throated Swift
  36. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  37. White-eared Hummingbird
  38. Violet-crowned Hummingbird
  39. Blue-throated Hummingbird
  40. Magnificent Hummingbird
  41. Lucifer Hummingbird
  42. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  43. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  44. Anna's Hummingbird
  45. Costa's Hummingbird
  46. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
  47. Rufous Hummingbird
  48. Belted Kingfisher
  49. Acorn Woodpecker
  50. Gila Woodpecker
  51. Red-naped Sapsucker
  52. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  53. Arizona Woodpecker
  54. Northern Flicker
  55. Gilder Flicker
  56. Western Wood-Pewee
  57. Willow Flycatcher
  58. Hammond's Flycatcher
  59. Gray Flycatcher
  60. Black Phoebe
  61. Say's Phoebe
  62. Dusky-capped Flycatcher
  63. Cassin's Kingbird
  64. Western Kingbird
  65. Loggerhead Shrike
  66. Bell's Vireo
  67. Plumbeous Vireo
  68. Hutton's Vireo
  69. Stellar's Jay
  70. Mexican Jay
  71. Common Raven
  72. Tree Swallow
  73. Barn Swallow
  74. Mountain Chickadee
  75. Bridled Titmouse
  76. Verdin
  77. White-breasted Nuthatch
  78. Pygmy Nuthatch
  79. Brown Creeper
  80. Cactus Wren
  81. Rock Wren
  82. Canyon Wren
  83. Bewick's Wren
  84. House Wren
  85. Marsh Wren
  86. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  87. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  88. Hermit Thrush
  89. Northern Mockingbird
  90. Curve-billed Thrasher
  91. European Starling
  92. Phainopepla
  93. Orange-crowned Warbler
  94. Nashville Warbler
  95. Virginia's Warbler
  96. Lucy's Warbler
  97. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  98. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  99. Townsend's Warbler
  100. Hermit Warbler
  101. Common Yellowthroat
  102. Wilson's Warbler
  103. Painted Warbler
  104. Summer Tanager
  105. Western Tanager
  106. Green-tailed Towhee
  107. Spotted Towhee
  108. Canyon Towhee
  109. Abert's Towhee
  110. Rufous-winged Sparrow
  111. Cassin's Sparrow
  112. Chipping Sparrow
  113. Brewer's Sparrow
  114. Vesper Sparrow
  115. Lark Sparrow
  116. Black-throated Sparrow
  117. Song Sparrow
  118. Yellow-eyed Junco
  119. Northern Cardinal
  120. Black-headed Grosbeak
  121. Blue Grosbeak
  122. Lazuli Bunting
  123. Varied Bunting
  124. Red-winged Blackbird
  125. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  126. Brewer's Blackbird
  127. Great-tailed Grackle
  128. Bullock's Oriole
  129. House Finch
  130. Lesser Goldfinch
  131. House Sparrow

Friday, September 26, 2008

Breif update from Arizona

27 ABA birds so far! Including Cactus Wren and Black Phoebe, which I had seen in San Miguel de Allende when I was on vacation there. A big update when I come back, plus photos. oh, and ABA bird #400? Gila Woodpecker. Had that and Anna's Hummingbird with breakfast yesterday morning...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Targets for Arizona

According to my friend Joe, who is kindly hosting me for two days and birding with me next week, these are the most likely birds I will be adding to my ABA/life list in Arizona:

  1. Cinnamon Teal
  2. Gambel's Quail
  3. Harris's Hawk
  4. Gray Hawk
  5. Inca Dove
  6. Lesser Nighthawk
  7. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  8. Magnificent Hummingbird
  9. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  10. Anna's Hummingbird
  11. Costa's Hummingbird
  12. Acorn Woodpecker
  13. Gila Woodpecker
  14. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  15. Arizona Woodpecker
  16. Gilded Flicker
  17. Black Phoebe
  18. Say's Phoebe
  19. Cassin's Kingbird
  20. Hutton's Vireo
  21. Plumbeous Vireo
  22. Cassin's Vireo
  23. Mexican Jay
  24. Bridled Titmouse
  25. Verdin
  26. Cactus Wren
  27. Bewick's Wren
  28. Curve-billed Thrasher
  29. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  30. Grace's Warbler
  31. Lucy's Warbler
  32. Townsend's Warbler
  33. MacGillivray's Warbler
  34. Painted Redstart
  35. Hepatic Tanager
  36. Green-tailed Towhee
  37. Abert's Towhee
  38. Rufous-winged Sparrow
  39. Black-throated Sparrow
  40. Yellow-eyed Junco
  41. Pyrrhuloxia
  42. Black-headed Grosbeak
  43. Lazuli Bunting
  44. Varied Bunting
  45. Lesser Goldfinch
45 seems like a nice number to add to my list - that would put me at 443 ABA area birds. Four of the birds on the likely target list I have seen in Mexico, so they wouldn't be life birds (Black Phoebe, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, and Lucy's Warbler). Still, I'd end up with 470 life birds if I see these 45 birds!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Filling in some gaps in the year list

I went out after a morning rain shower on Saturday to Blendon Woods Metro Park. I thought about sleeping in but it was just nagging at my brain that morning to do some birding, so off I went.

Good thing I did, it was one of the best days for warblers I've had at the park. I spent about 2 hours birding and had 11 species of warblers for my effort, plus I finally saw the mother turkey and her youngsters that are living around the blinds near the pond. I added Blackpoll and Bay-breasted Warbler to my Ohio year list, which was good - I' m missing Cape May Warbler and Northern Waterthrush from the common warblers that pass through Ohio. I also looked for Mourning Warbler as it had been reported from one of the trails, but no luck. I'm hoping we luck into some great warblers and shorebirds on the Avids trip this saturday. I think I have a decent shot at 250 for a state list this year - not bad considering I barely birded at all in Ohio during the month of May, which is typically my best month for adding to a year list.

I also leave in a little over two weeks for Tucson, AZ. I'm really eager to get there and do some birding - I figured I could add 21 life birds just by hanging out in my friend's yard alone...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

State Bird #298: Wood Stork!

Three juvenile Wood Storks are hanging out in Coshocton County right now. I went out to see them last night with Brad, Paul and Jeff from my birding group, and we ran into Bill and Troy while we were there (along with about 30 Amish birders).

Wood Stork is an incredibly rare find for Ohio, with only a handful of previous records (I think - I need to check on that). Here's a photo of the birds from last night.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Glacier Ridge Shorebirds and waders

Yesterday I spent a fair amount of time at the Honda Wetlands Education Center at Glacier Ridge Metropark, primarily to see the Marbled Godwit. There was also a fair amount of other birds actively feeding around the boardwalk, which of course was ideal for amateur photographers like myself to practice taking pictures of birds. Besides the godwit, I got great photos of other birds. Here's the best of the lot.

Marbled Godwit

Juvenile Semipalmated Plover

Virginia Rail

Solitary Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Marbled Godwit- third times the charm!

I went out after work last night to try for the godwit again, and this time the bird was right there in all its glory! I'll have pictures up shortly. This is my 398th ABA bird and Ohio bird 297!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Waiting for Godwit

So, there's a Marbled Godwit hanging out at Glacier Ridge Metro Park. It's been there since Saturday. So far, I have been stymied TWICE in going after this bird which is about 25 minutes drive from my house:

-yesterday the park was closed for a marathon

-today I went at lunch and the bird was not making itself visible.

I should note that the bird was seen within a half hour of my arrival AND departure at the park.

I'm going again after work. This bird is NOT getting away from me that easily!

"Shall we hang ourselves?"

Monday, August 18, 2008

More shorebirding

I went out on what may have been the least well-attended Columbus Avids trip I've ever taken part in on Saturday - 5 people showed up (including me)! We went back up to the Bellevue area in search of more shorebirds. I was also hoping to snag a couple birds for my state list, but alas, I was stymied in that regard - no Eurasian Collared-Doves in Fort Seneca, missed Cattle Egret by a day at one location, and heard about a Marbled Godwit at Ottawa NWR (which happened to have the auto tour cancelled for the day).

Still, I got to study a lot of Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, and didn't manage to turn any into a Western Sandpiper. I suppose that means I'm getting better at identifying shorebirds, but it sure doesn't feel like it! I did add one bird to my Ohio year list - White-rumped Sandpiper. We also had good looks at some Stilt Sandpipers and juvenile Short-billed Dowitchers. So, not a total bust for the day, and any day birding is pretty much a good day in my book. I'm starting to look forward to the fall warbler migration, which actually should be starting around here - have to start taking the dog on the ravine walks on weekend mornings again...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Going to be a lot less bird-related travelling next year

Because I'm going to be a dad! My wife is due in February, so most of my birding will probably involve a stroller in local parks next year - perhaps I'll be able to get to go on a couple Columbus Avid trips, but I expect to be mostly a homebody next year.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Shaping up to be a poor shorebird season

Solitary Sandpiper, Bellevue area

I went out last Sunday with some friends to check out shorebird habitat in the NW corner of the state. While we found some pretty good birds, the amount of habitat was pretty sparse. Everything has either too much water or not enough, it seems. A lot of traditional great areas look like total busts, such as Medusa Marsh (too much water), Pipe Creek (not enough water) and Pickerel Creek (ditto). One exception is the Bellevue area south of Sandusky, which had suffered some severe flooding earlier in the summer.

Black-necked Stilts (background), Killdeer, Tree Swallow,
and Lesser Yellowlegs, Bellevue, Ohio

Due to a quirk of local geology, the flood waters around Bellevue are taking a very long time to recede, so long in fact that the flooded fields served to host dozens of breeding Pied-billed Grebes and ducks. More interestingly, a group of four Black-necked Stilts showed up there in June and attempted to nest, although it seems the attempt failed. We saw the stilts, along with an American Avocet, a raft of Ruddy Ducks, Solitary Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Semipalmated Plover, and Short-billed Dowitcher.

American Avocet (sleeping), Killdeer, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs

I also found out I'm getting to go to Tucson for a work conference at the end of September. I've already scheduled in two or three days to go birding!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Goodbye, nemesis bird!

On Saturday, I finally was able to place a check mark in the gaping hole of my life list and especially my Ohio list - Marsh Wren. I had a definitive observation of this species at Ottawa NWR on Saturday, which was an extremely productive day. Besides the Marsh Wren, I also added Western Meadowlark and Clay-colored Sparrow to my Ohio list (the sparrow was also a new ABA area bird), as well as Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Lark Sparrow, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Stilt Sandpiper and Spotted Sandpiper to my Ohio year list.

So, I'm now four species away from 300 in Ohio and three species away from 400 ABA birds. The next couple of months will be interesting to see what might fill in the last slots before those milestones. I may actually hit 400 ABA before 300 Ohio birds, as I am probably headed to Tuscon, Arizona in September for a conference ( and you know I'll be spending an extra day or two birding...).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Two new birds for my state list

Last Saturday, I went out with my group of birding friends to Jefferson County, which is on the Ohio/West Virginia border, south of Youngstown. Our goal was to see the Common Raven family that had bred successfully, the first time in over a hundred years for this species in Ohio. To make a long story short, we did manage to see the birds, five of them swooping and playing in the air, and I got a great look at one on someone's lawn before it flew off. I also had the best look I've ever had at a Black-billed Cuckoo at Fernwood State Forest where we started birding that morning.

Later that day, I also added Upland Sandpiper to my state list, ticking it off at the Harrison County Airport (where I also added Bobolink to my Ohio year list).

So now, I'm up to 293 species on my Ohio list. This weekend, I'm probably going out with a couple friends to the NW corner of the state, to see the Western Meadowlark and Clay-colored Sparrows up near Toledo. Both would be additions to my state list, and Clay-colored Sparrow would also be an ABA area bird for me. I'm trying to convince my buddies that we should hit a decent marsh for Marsh Wren - my Nemesis bird. I really don't want such a common bird to be a "milestone" bird -either Ohio #300 or ABA# 400!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America

A couple weeks ago, I won a free copy of a new field guide, the Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America. I won the copy by participating in the 10,000 Birds blog giveaway contest, thus saving me $25 I would have otherwise spent on this book. Since I didn’t have to pay for the copy, I figured I would do Smithsonian and Harper Collins a favor and review the book. The first thing to know about this book is that it was compiled by Ted Floyd, the editor of Birding magazine, the official mag of the American Birding Association, and thus has been put together with the membership of the ABA in mind. Each species entry in the book includes its ABA Difficulty Code, and there’s a handy ABA checklist in the back. The guide uses high quality photographs that shows all the most important and visible fieldmarks of the birds. The accounts are mainly placed two to a page in columns. At least two photos are included for each account, focused on depicting the main plumage differences that the species displays. Some accounts have further photos showing species in flight as well. Under the photos is a line with the measurements for wingspan, length and weight, followed by a set of three information lines about the plumage, including number of molts, degree of difference between sex and age related molts, and any variations in plumage. Under the plumage information is a section with a short descriptive paragraph about the species, its nesting and breeding habits and range along with a range map. Finally, a concluding section briefly describes the vocalizations of the bird. This guide does a great job of cramming a lot of information into concise, clear packets. The guide isn’t as comprehensive as the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds, as it seems to mainly include only those birds that breed or are common vagrants within the ABA area, and doesn’t include rare but increasing vagrants, such as Green Violet-ear or Green-breasted Mango. Granted, the omissions seem most evident with the southwestern hummingbirds, but it still sticks out.

Another interesting feature of the guide is the inclusion of a bird song DVD with vocalizations for 138 species, totaling 587 mp3 files. The files are intended for download onto a portable mp3 player, which I suppose is a sign of the ubiquity of these devices in birding culture (although I have yet to pick one up). While the inclusion of the DVD is a great idea, I do agree with other reviewers that it would have been more useful to include sound files for ALL of the species in the guide, at the sacrifice of the variety of vocalizations. The DVD includes many very common species, but there’s some weird omissions – Willow Flycatcher is included, but none of the other common Empidonax flycatchers that are virtually indistinguishable from Willow Flycatcher – except by voice! I think that while the idea is great, by not including an mp3 file for every bird in the book, the concept falls flat. It’s nice to have the short perch songs, dawn song, dawn flight song, and calls from two different regions for Tree Swallow, but the limited number of species on the disc just makes it more frustrating than useful for the experienced birder. The beginning birder, though, might find the disc far more useful, since the multitude of calls included for common species may be very handy in developing the skills of birding by ear.

I personally am going to stick with Sibley’s regional guides for my main field guides, but I think that the Smithsonian field guide will make an excellent back up field guide. The photographs are much clearer than the paintings in the National Geographic guide, and this guide is the equal of the National Geographic guide in everything except for comprehensiveness.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Back from Colorado

My trip out to the Rocky Mountains for my family reunion was not as productive as I had hoped for my life list, but it was still a good birding experience. I added 8 species to my ABA list and 7 to my life list: Great-tailed Grackle (ABA), Swainson’s Hawk, Violet-green Swallow, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Band-tailed Pigeon, Sage Thrasher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Upland Sandpiper. Of these, only the swallow and hummingbird were birds I saw while out birding, and not as a drive-by while traveling – although I did get better looks at Swainson’s Hawks on the 4th at Windy Gap Reservoir. The Sage Thrasher was sort of an iffy look at a rest stop as we were getting in the car but I’m about 98% certain that’s what the bird was. The Band-tailed Pigeons I saw weren’t cooperative either, as I had a very brief look at a pair flying away as we drove up the mountains on our first day, but luckily one of the species’ major diagnostic marks is best viewed on a bird flying away – the banded tail, which is what I saw on the birds. That field mark plus the habitat pretty much cinches the identification.

Violet-green Swallow - The only life bird I was able to get decent photos of!

One of the reasons I think I missed a lot of life birds, besides the fact I was doing family activities and only had an hour devoted to nothing but birding, was the fact that there was a lot of active logging of lodgepole pines at the YMCA ranch we were staying at. The logging was to remove trees killed by the pine beetle infestation, which is on track to eliminate 90% of the lodgepole pines in Grand County in two years. Considering that most of the forest in Grand County is lodgepole pine, this is a major disaster. To get an idea of the scope of the infestation, take a look at the picture of the mountain below. Normally, that mountain should look green but instead is rust-colored from all the dead trees.

Anyway, the logging at the ranch was concentrating on removing dead trees from the property as a fire prevention measure, which I am sure has driven out a lot of birds. Still, I had a lot of good birds at the ranch, including Violet-green Swallows, Red Crossbills, Mountain Bluebirds, Northern Goshawk, Spotted Sandpiper, Green-winged Teal, American Widgeon, Pine Siskin, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, and others.

"Red-shafted" Northern Flicker (note the dead pines in background)

Pine Siskin, Rocky Mountain National Park

Female Mountain Bluebird

We only spent a little time in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it wasn’t very birdy where we stopped, unfortunately. I did get some spectacular shots of some bull elk browsing at 12,000 feet, thought, and a good moose photo!

Bull Elk, Rocky Mountain National Park

Cow moose, Rocky Mountain National Park

All in all, it was a good trip, and just a taste of the birding that awaits me on future trips out there…

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Going to Colorado for a couple of days

I'll be in Colorado from Wednesday night through Friday night attending a family reunion. The reunion is at the Winter Park Lodge in Winter Park, at an elevation of roughly 12,000 feet. Obviously, I'll be birding as much as I can in between reunion activities. This won't be much of a problem, since we have a free day on the third. A lot of folks are going white water rafting, but my wife and my dad and his partner will probably go up to Rocky Mountain National Park to do some sightseeing. This will be my wife's first visit to the mountains, too, so that's exciting. It's been a long time since I birdwatched in Colorado - actually, this will be my second time, and it will be my first as an experienced birder. The first time I was there was on a family vacation when I was about 15 and I saw a lot of great birds but I didn't actually go looking for them, only saw them as encountered randomly while sightseeing with the family. I'm fairly sure that I saw a white-tailed ptarmigan that time, but I want to see one this time to be 100% sure. I don't have it on my list right now.

I went and looked at my eBird list to see what I had entered for Colorado, based on photos and memory. There are only 5 birds: Golden Eagle, Clark's Nutcracker, Black-billed Magpie, American Dipper and Mountain Bluebird (although I'm sure there's other birds on there I just didn't add, like Dark-eyed Junco which I know we saw). I should add significantly to that list this time out. In addition, my ABA list is at 388 right now (ebird says 389, but that's because they don't seem to have a good ABA filter right now - Black-hooded Parakeet isn't on the official ABA list yet). I think there's an EXCELLENT chance of hitting 400 on this trip. This is due to the fact that besides spending 2 whole days in the Colorado mountains, we had to fly into Kansas City because of airfare costs instead of flying into Denver. So we have about a 12 hour trip to and from Winter Park that will take us across the Colorado and Kansas plains, givining me a good chance at birds like Swallow-tailed Flycatcher, Say's Phoebe, Swainson's Hawk, and Ferruginous Hawk. I'll basically be plastered to the minivan window, staring out at the plains the entire time, hoping for one of these birds, as well as starting my Kansas list . . . A birder is never bored on a long car trip!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Skipped on the Burrowing Owl

No positive reports + violent T-storms on the way = me not going out for the owl. That is all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Burrowing Owl in Ohio!

Just in - a Burrowing Owl has been photographed in Darke County Ohio. This is the fourth record of the species in the state. I'm going out after work tonight with friends to try and see it. Apparently it's been hanging around some culverts for the last week. If we see it, it will be my second burrowing owl for the year (the first was in the Florida Keys).

Also, I won a copy of the new Smithsonian Guide to North American Birds by participating in 10,000 Birds Great Smithsonian Guide Giveaaway! I'll post a review of it here when I receive it. Thanks to the jammy finger of Charlie's child for selecting my entry!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Black Rail!

I went out Monday night and spent two hours at Charlie's Pond, a little wetland in Pickaway County that has a history of producing odd birds every now and again. Since the 1st of June, at least 1 Black Rail has been calling here, and appears to have set up a territory. I waited for about an hour, heard the birds at 830, and waited another hour, but one call was all I was going to get, it seems. One call is all it takes to add it to my life list though!

The Scioto County atlasing went well - my best breeding confirmation was Kentucky Warbler. We also went out on Saturday night for nocturnal birds, and had a great encounter with a Barred Owl that called and flew in so we could look at it, and in a different spot we had four Eastern Screech-owls and a Chuck-will's-widow (another heard-only lifer!).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Doing some blockbusting this weekend

I'm going to be helping my friend Brad do some breeding bird atlas survey work down in southern Ohio this weekend. He arranged for free camping, which is a nice bonus. Hopefully, I'll get some more state year birds as well - I'm having an average year for the state list, but my best year ever for the ABA area - which is partly why my state list is suckin'!

We're going to stop in Pickaway County on the way down tomorrow to try for Black Rails that may have set up shop in a local wetland - at least two males and perhaps a female have been calling all week. Of course, with my luck, it will be gone by the time I get there...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Florida Trip, Day 6: May 16

Willet, Fort Desoto State Park

The Last Day

After a fine day in the Gulf of Mexico, our last day in Florida was devoted to a bit of “mop-up” and then some time in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. First off, we arose very early in the morning and headed back to Miami in search of Spot-breasted Oriole and White-winged Parakeet, both of which we had missed on Monday but had gotten some tips about good locations. We ended up back in the same neighborhoods, just at more likely times. We spent nearly 2 hours searching. An oriole was heard but never seen at our first location, which also featured Monk Parakeets and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets. Our target birds were not present, but a great bonus prize was an Eastern Screech-Owl that flew up and perched in a tree right in front of me! After two hours, we gave up on our target birds. We were stopped at a light right before the freeway ramp, ready to head north and west, when John yelled out “Oriole! It flew into that tree!” We all whipped our heads around and while not the best views in the world, there was a Spot-breasted Oriole, perched up in the top of a palm! It flew off, and our light turned green. Our mood of defeat was turned to triumph, and away we went, life bird number 415 safely ticked.

We made it to Fort DeSoto State Park about 1pm, a place known for shorebirds and as a location for Black-hooded Parakeets. We did not find the parakeets, but some careful scrutiny of shorebirds revealed an American Oystercatcher (ABA bird 383 for me) and a Snowy Plover (ABA 384, life bird 416)! After an hour and a half at the park, we followed some directions in Bill Pranty’s guide to a marina in St. Pete, and we drove around for a bit until we heard the screeching of parrots. We found a house with platform feeders and Monk Parakeets, along with a Snowy Egret in a pine tree and a Great Egret on their deck.

Snowy Egret, pretending to be a Pine Warbler

Suddenly, a big parakeet dropped down onto a platform feeder, and there it was – Black-hooded Parakeet, a recent addition to the ABA list, and now the most recent addition to my lists (ABA 385, life 417)! This was a big, good looking bird, and pretty vocal – this was the parakeet we heard that drew us to this location. The parakeet was also the only bird of the trip that was a life bird for everyone.

Black-hooded Parakeet, St. Petersburg

We headed north again, towards Hernando Beach and possibly the last place in Florida where there is an established population of wild Budgerigars, or Budgies. For a typical noisy psittacid, these guys were difficult to find, and we spent two and a half hours driving around a sleepy retiree neighborhood until, just as we were about to give up, a small flock flew overhead and perched in some bushes. This was our last target bird and closed out our trip, as we decided to head home a day early. I finished up the trip with a life list totaling 418 and an ABA list of 386, an increase of 46 birds. Overall, the trip was highly successful, with around 180 species observed and hitting almost all of our target birds, minus Greater Flamingo, White-tailed Kite, Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, Red-crowned Parrot, White-winged Parakeet, and Fulvous Whistling-Duck.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Florida Trip, Day 6: May 15

Birding The Dry Tortugas

We left our hotel before dawn on the 15th and drove down to Key West to catch our ferry to the Dry Tortugas, the Yankee Freedom II. The boat was crewed by merry sailors, including the boat's tour guide, Tortuga Jack, who resembled the unlikely combination of Santa Claus and Luke Skywalker. The trip out to the Tortugas takes about two and a half hours, and allowed for a bit of pelagic birding along the way. Birds were infrequently seen until we got closer to our destination, but the ones we saw were pretty much all life birds for me (with the exception of the Brown Pelicans): Brown Booby, Audubon's Shearwater, and Bridled Tern. When the Dry Tortugas were in visual range, another couple of life birds were spotted, Brown Noddy and Masked Booby, and then we docked at Garden Key, amazed at the swarms of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies in the air.

Huge swarm of terns

Garden Key is home to Fort Jefferson, an antebellum US fort built with some 16 million bricks, which covers nearly the entire key. It's quite the interesting structure, and it's amazing to think about all the labor it took to transport the building materials and then build the fort in such a remote and inhospitable location.

Our first order of business was to attempt to locate our two target birds: Black Noddy and Red-footed Booby, both of which had been reported recently. We set up scopes near the coal dock and spent some time scanning all the Brown Noddies, but no luck. We did add Indigo Bunting to our trip list at this point, though, and I got some decent photos of noddies and Magnificent Frigatebirds. We then set up on the dock next to the ferry and scanned Long Key for the Red-footed Booby, and again, no luck. We did have some nice company in the form of Ruddy Turnstones scurrying about our feet, though. Then it was time for lunch aboard the ferry (make your own sandwiches).

Brown Noddies on the coal dock

Magnificent Frigatebird

Brown Noddy

Ruddy Turnstones

After lunch, a few of us explored the fort a bit while those with scopes went up to the top battlements, as a park ranger helpfully pointed out that we'd get a great view of the entire coal dock from a higher vantage point. While exploring the interior, I was able to imagine what the place must look like after a major fallout - and imagination was all I had, since this late in May, there were few migrants present. Birds present within the fort included Yellow-billed Cuckoos, American Redstarts, Common Yellowthroats, Blackpoll Warblers, and a female Black-throated Blue Warbler that caused some initial confusion, due to it's skulking about in the interior of a bushy tree and its odd field marks: an overly bold supercilium and an extremely faint wing patch. Cattle Egrets were stalking about, and Barn Swallows swooped over head. After surveying the grounds, I headed up to join the scope patrol.

Cattle Egret looking for frail neotropical migrants to snatch up

Female Black-throated Blue Warbler

Scope Patrol

After some time, we finally picked out a juvenile Black Noddy from the surrounding Brown Noddies. This was a bird that was very subtle in its differences from its compatriots, being only slightly smaller, with a slightly longer bill. The bird also had some scalloping visible on the upperwing coverts, which was what first drew our attention to the bird. The white cap on its head was fairly bright, but to be honest, I couldn't really say in the bright sunlight that it was any more brilliant than a Brown Noddy's head. Still, the differences were real, and there was a fine life bird in the scope.

Satisfied with our Black Noddy, we left the battlements and headed back out to the dock, determined to find our Red-footed Booby. We set up the scopes again, and scanned the masses of nesting and roosting Magnificent Frigatebirds on Long Key. Finally, the bird was found! Perching with some frigatebirds on a dead tree, this was a juvenile Red-footed Boobie, which stood out from the black frigatebirds through its sandy plumage. Patient scrutiny through the scope was rewarded with views of the booby's distinctive bluish-gray, dagger-shaped bill, although it was too distant to make out leg color. No other booby features this color combination, so we were confident this was the bird. Success!

Masked Boobies on Hospital Key

Satisfied, we boarded the ferry and headed back to Key West, with a pause to examine the Masked Boobies nesting on Hospital Key, the only location in the United States where they do so. On the way back, I scanned and scanned the ocean, hoping for tropicbirds or even a Cory's Shearwater, but no more life birds for me today. Still, scanning was rewarding, as I saw a loggerhead turtle swimming at the surface and numerous flying fish. Only as we neared Key West did I realize one thing: I had forgotten to put any sunscreen on the back of my calves!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Florida Trip, Day 5: May 14

Birding the Florida Keys

Wednesday was spent exploring some local birdy spots in the Florida Keys and going after certain target birds. We hit locations on Key Largo, Big Pine Key, Lower Matecumbe Key, and Vaca Key. The morning started at Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, where we picked up another Mangrove Cuckoo, had great looks at a Black-whiskered Vireo, and I had my life White-crowned Pigeon. Otherwise, it wasn’t really too birdy, with the only new bird (besides the pigeon) a Blackpoll Warbler.

We then made our way down to Vaca Key and the town of Marathon, and hit a local golf course for Burrowing Owl ( a lifer) and visited a state office building complex that had Least Terns and Roseate Terns nesting on the roofs. We waited in the heat for a while, and finally had a pair of Roseate Terns show up (another lifer). After that, we decided to have lunch at a great local spot, Herbie’s. I highly recommend it.

Burrowing Owl, Marathon

After lunch, it was on to Bahia Honda Key, which is a state park. Not much of interest there besides girls in bikinis, but I did get some good scenery photos and decent photos of Blackpoll Warblers.

Blackpoll Warbler, Bahia Honda Key

We ended up in Big Pine Key and searched vainly for a motel that wasn’t charging $100 a night for a 2 bed room with no phone, but alas. This motel did have a pool, but it was being used by Common Grackles and Eurasian Collared Doves, so any desire for a refreshing dip was quelled.

Common Grackles using the pool, Big Pine Key

Eurasian Collared Dove, contemplating a dip

After a dinner of Cuban food, we drove back up to the Marathon Airport and camped out on a picnic table on the south side, awaiting dusk and my last life bird of the day – Antillean Nighthawk. Then it was back to the hotel, eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s destination: The Dry Tortugas!

Antillean Nighthawk

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Florida Trip, Day 4: May 13

A Day in the Everglades

The fourth day of our trip was devoted to birding the Florida Everglades. We spent nearly 12 hours in the National Park and racked up a good amount of birds, although we dipped on a couple I had hoped to see.

Our first stop was at Royal Palm , normally a great spot for waders, but not today. It was a great stop for gators, though, as I counted at least 18 individuals along the raised boardwalk.I did get a good photo of the Florida subspecies of Red-Shouldered Hawk (B. lineatus extimus) and an artsy-fartsy shot of a Black Vulture.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Black Vulture

American Alligator

We stopped along the road near Mahogany Hammock, a location in past years that was good for Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow. We didn't see or hear the sparrow, but we had a fantastic fly-by from a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites, and got some close looks at Lubber Grasshoppers.

Swallow-tailed Kites

We then hit Mahogany Hammock, where we heard our first Black-whiskered Vireo (an ABA bird for me). On the way out from the hammock, one of our group pointed out a raptor and said "Snail Kite! No, I mean Swallow-tailed..." But I got my binoculars on it and said "No, it really IS a Snail Kite!!" We stopped the car and watched it hunt for a bit, then noticed another Snail Kite perched in a low tree. So we had a pair, male and female. Then another Snail Kite flew in, and another, and... In the end, we had THREE pairs of Snail Kites hunting the same field! A great life bird at 401!

Snail Kite

We stopped at the West Lake area to use the bathroom. In the lake, we noticed two crocodiles, which was pretty neat. As we were headed out of the parking lot, a Mangrove Cuckoo flew over, and began calling in the trees. A life bird for a few of us, but I had it in Puerto Rico a couple years ago. Still, great to get it on the ABA list!

Then, it was time for Snake Bight. The trail out to the bight is notorious among North American birders as being one of the most mosquito-infested places on the continent. Accordingly, we prepared by wearing long-sleeved shirts and even brought head nets. It turns out we barely needed them, as drought conditions and perhaps storm damage have resulted in lower numbers of skeeters. We didn't really need our head nets, but I wore mine anyway since it kept the skeeters that were there from buzzing my ears. At the end of the trail, we set up scopes and peered into the heat haze for something, anything pink. No luck. The Greater Flamingos weren't there at all. A bonus prize for me, however, was a Clapper Rail (lifer 402) and Wilson's Plover (lifer 403). Another treat was finding a Great "White" Heron on the way out - the white morph of Great Blue Heron that only occurs in Florida.

Having been disappointed on the flamingos, we then stopped at Flamingo for microwaved burgers and beer. While eating lunch, we enjoyed the company of a crow who was waiting for us to be careless with our food. We also added Laughing Gull and Northern Rough-winged Swallow to our trip list, and I spotted an American White Pelican soaring with a Turkey Vulture, a great trip bird! After lunch, we hit the visitor's center (unmanned) and noted a developing sand spit in the bay, making a note to stop back and check it out for shorebirds later. We then hit the campground in search of Shiny Cowbirds, and checked out Eco Pond, which before Hurricane Andrew was a great roost for waders, but had been pretty well damaged. Still, we got our only American Avocet of the trip here. We then headed back to the visitor's center to scope the sandbar, where I noticed a flock of cowbirds. We scanned them, and I found a Shiny Cowbird among them, and added another species to my ABA list. Then we spent some time scoping the now-well developed sandbar, which held a number of birds, including Osprey, Black-bellied Plover, Short- and Long-billed Dowitchers, Stilt Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, Dunlin, Forster's Tern, Least Tern, and a pair of Royal Terns (yet another bird for the ABA list). We then headed out of the park, hoping for a White-tailed Kite, but no such luck.

Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet

Overall, a pretty good day. I gained three life birds and four ABA-area birds, but we dipped on Greater Flamingo, Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow, and White-tailed Kite. Not too bad!