We picked up a rental car on 7/29 at 8:00a.m. and drove over to Cliff House Restaurant in Lincoln Park, following the advice we had that a good breakfast could be had at a reasonable price there. The rocks just off shore were filled with Brandt's Cormorants, Brown Pelicans and a Black Oystercatcher or two. A nice selection of gulls, Herrings and Heerman's were on the restaurant roof and the shore to the south below the eatery. Brewer's Blackbirds were also in good numbers in the area. The target bird here was the WANDERING TATTLER, although we had been warned that it was early in the season to find them. Good luck and perseverance were rewarded, however. In the small rocky bay just to the South (of course, we had already looked north from the observation deck) we found five of them flitting in and out of the rising tide on the rocks. A phone call to a local birder revealed that these may have been the first seen this season. Lucky us! A great way to start the day.
We stopped for tea and cookies at the Japanese Tea Garden and paid a visit to the Museum of Natural History in Golden Gate Park where we added American Crow, Scrub Jay and House Sparrow to the day list, then headed South on I-280 to the Skyline Drive. As we took CA-92 of the expressway, we noticed a large lake on the right and stopped to have a look. Added Red-tailed Hawk, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, and Caspian Tern to the list here. We took a liesurely drive down the beautiful Skyline Drive (CA-35), adding Turkey Vulture and California Quail to the day-list. (Both drive-by birds - we turned around and drove back a ways to get a good look at the very cooperative quail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.)
We arrived at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve about 2:30 p.m. A visit to Alpine Pond across the road from the Russian Ridge parking lot yielded Bushtit, Belted Kingfisher, Acorn Woodpecker, and little else. We drove the 8 miles into Palo Alto for a late lunch at McDonald's, returning out Page Mill Road to Montebello Open Space Preserve near 5:30. A walk down to Steven's Creek Canyon was surprising for the dearth of birds. We moved up the road to Los Trancos Open Space Preserve and again netted no birds.
At 6:45 we were back at Alpine Pond looking for our target bird here, Lawrence's Goldfinch. As the sun began to set, bird activity increased and we added 2 coveys of California Quail, Purple Finch, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Black-throated Grey Warbler, Mourning Dove, White-breasted Nuthatch, and American Goldfinch to the day list. I glimpsed a couple of goldfinches that might have been of the target type, but was foiled by their fast movements and deteriorating light in my attempt to make a positive id.
It was time to begin the search for the other target bird for this area, Northern Pygmy-owl. We scoured Steven's Creek Canyon with no luck.
We drove around to Steven's Creek County Park and tried there, but the rangers chased us out as the park closed at sunset. The rangers also told us not to be caught trespassing in the Open Space Preserves after dark because they, too, closed at sunset. It was now after 8:30p.m. and we decided that we didn't want to risk the heavy fines associated with chasing the bird on closed land; we returned to San Francisco. However, a lifer a day keeps the blues away.
With the near miss on the goldfinch, we decided to try the area again the following morning, foregoing (we thought) the trip we had planned to Point Reyes to look for Cassin's Auklet.
We arrived on Tuesday (7/31) at Alpine Pond about 8:30a.m. and began our day with Acorn Woodpecker, California Quail, Spotted Towhee, Violet-green Swallow, Mourning Dove, Red-tailed Hawk, and American Goldfinch. As we stood on the nature center porch thinking that we had made a mistake not going to Point Reyes, a bunch of goldfinches appeared in the pines above the center. Not too hopefully, we scanned the busy birds among the branches.
At last! Among several American Goldfinches, clearly visible for a few seconds, were three LAWRENCE'S GOLDFINCH. One of them was a male still in breeding plumage!
We decided to return to S.F. via Skyline drive and were rewarded at Windy Hill with Dark-eyed Junco, Red-tailed Hawk, Swainson's Hawk, American Kestrel, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, American Goldfinches, California Towhee, Cliff Swallow, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee. We ate the box lunch prepared by the hotel (should have done that yesterday, too) and decided that there was still time to drive up to Point Reyes.
We took the scenic route 1 off Golden Gate Bridge and arrived about 3:00p.m. at Point Reyes (pronounced, we learned from the rangers, RAY-iss).
Examining the sightings log at the Bear Valley Visitor's Center, we discovered that the Northern Pygmy-owl on the published checklist is not merely rare, it is very rare. None had been sighted and recorded at least since the last Christmas Bird Count (that was as far back as I looked).
The Lighthouse and Chimney Rock were fogged in and having a sea-watch was out of the question. On Chimney Rock Trail, we did add Barn Swallow, Brown Pelican, Cormorant sp., American Coot, Savannah Sparrow, Purple Finch, and House Sparrow to the day list. We left Point Reyes about 6:00p.m., returning to S.F. on US-101 expressway.
Bottom line: four target birds, two seen (Wandering Tattler, Lawrence's Goldfinch). Pretty good for two days of birding. We'll have to try for the Cassin's Auklet on a pelagic and the Northern Pygmy-owl when we luck onto one.
Many thanks to all the chatters who made this whirl-wind tour so profitable for us. Special thanks to Richard Carlson, Todd Newberry, Jim Yurchenko, Jim Stasz, Pete Janzen, and Paul DeBenedictis without whose input we could never have made this work so well.
I left Ohio for Nova Scotia by air on Friday 10/25. The good news was that the planes were on time and the connections good. The bad news was that Canadian immigration has tightened up on entrants and really wanted positive identification of citizenship. The good news was that I had a driver's license with my birthdate and that had always been enough to cross the border by car. The bad news was that Ohio DL no longer has place of birth on it. The good news was that the immigration officer was kind and allowed me to enter the country anyway. (Be warned - USA & Canada are both cracking down on border crossings without proper id. If you are going to cross this international border (I tend to forget that fact), have a birth certificate or passport - "An expired one will do." - with you.)
The good news was that I had excellent accomodations arranged at a B&B called the Sand Castle (4 room suite, private bath - C$55, each additional person C$5). The bad news was that it's an hour and half from the airport. The good news was that I had an excellent map provided by the tour leader.
The good news was that the accomodations were outstanding, more than I could have hoped for (TV, VCR, no charge for local calls.) The bad news was that my travel alarm was not working and there was no alarm clock in the suite. The good news was that there was a convenience store only a couple of miles away and a new battery purchased there solved the problem.
The bad news was that the day (Saturday, 10/26) started off foggy. The good news was that, by the time the boat pulled out, the fog had cleared and the day was shaping up sunny with calm seas. The bad news was that as we left the cove the seas roughed up a bit.
The good news was that tour guide Peter MacCleod (MacCleod Bird Tours) was a believer in chumming, so a good selection birds came in close to the boat for viewing. The bad news was that some of the more common birds (Great Skua, Manx Shearwater, and Dovekie were target birds for me) were not to be found. The good news was that an Iceland Gull (my only life bird of the day) followed us for several miles and we all got outstanding views.
Birds of the day were: Red-throated Loon, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Northern Fulmar, Greater Shearwater, Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Canada Goose, American Black Duck, Common Eider, Oldsquaw, Surf Scoter, Killdeer, Common Black-headed Gull, Herring Gull, Iceland Gull, Greater Black-backed Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Black Guillemot, Atlantic Puffin, Downy Woodpecker, Common Raven, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, House Sparrow. Some of these were not seen on the water obviously, but on shore before and after we went to sea.
The good news was that we had a wonderful day at sea, even if the birding was not superb. The bad news was that the following day's trip was canceled for lack of sign-ups. The good news was that Peter was interested in going birding on Sunday and offered to show me the area and see what we could find.
The good news was that we were off at an early hour on Sunday morning (10/27) to Hartgen (sp?) Point to look for sparrows and perhaps a Dovekie. The bad news was that while tramping through the woods across the point, I slipped on wet clay soil and got really dirty and took a pretty nasty bump on the head. The good news was that no harm was done there and we pressed on. The bad news was that the birding was quite slow.
The good news was that the day was still young and there were other places to bird.
The good news was that an outstanding birding spot, Rainbow Haven, was nearby. The bad news was that the birding was pretty slow there, too. We couldn't find the Sharp-tailed Sparrows that had been seen there the day before. The good news was that we found, among the gulls near the trap shooting club, a second winter Ross's Gull; a life bird for me, and one of the "in your dreams" target birds for the trip. The bad news was, when we returned to the parking lot, some vandal had smashed out the window of the car and stolen my backpack (with my Barbour rain suit and galoshes), my briefcase (with my house keys, a credit card, my records and file for the trip, Nikon 10x20 binoculars I use while traveling, my telephone calling cards, the rental car agreement, other such stuff, and, worst of all, my return airline tickets), and a bag containing, among other things, Peter's address book. The good news was that he/she/they did not get our wallets, the spotting scopes, field guides or binoculars.
The bad news was that we were far from the airport. The good news was that we were close to the RCMP Cole Harbour Detachment. The next hour or so was spent reporting the theft, canceling cards, notifying family, Hertz, and Air Canada about the damages, missing negotiable items and making arrangements for my return trip home. (Also, getting the Ross's Gull on the hotline.)
We stopped for lunch and continued birding, stopping at several Halifax area hot spots, ending up at cove near the Volvo Plant. The good news was the car was drivable. The bad news was that it was getting cold and the broken out window provided plenty of fresh air. The good news was that there was an approach to the cove near the Volvo Plant. The bad news was that the approach crossed railroad property. The good news was that there was a parking area by the tracks. The bad news was that there happened to be an engine on the tracks and the engineer chased us out of the area. The good news was that there was a place to set up the scopes just off the railroad's right of way and that is how we saw a Lesser Black-backed Gull, another life bird for me.
Peter invited me to his home for dinner. We had steaks and commiserated with each other about our lost belongings and celebrated our lucky finds. He helped me tape up the broken window and I returned to the Sand Castle. The good news was that I had these fine quarters. The bad news was the heat had gone off and my landlord was not there. The good news was that he returned as I was packing up what was left of my things to go to another hotel for the night and got the heat on again. He stayed and chatted awhile, offering to let me make any long distance calls I needed to in order to deal with the losses of the day.
New birds for the trip were: Wood Duck, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, American Wigeon, Red-breasted Merganser, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Ring-necked Pheasant, Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Ruddy Turnstone, White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Bonaparte's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Ross's Gull, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Hairy Woodpecker, Horned Lark, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, Water Pipit, American Tree Sparrow, "Ipswich" Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lapland Longspur.
The birding was done, but the trip wasn't. When I got to the airport, Air Canada was ready and waiting. The good news was that they would reissue tickets for my flight home. The bad news was that needed to know the ticket numbers of the stolen ones; without that, I would have to pay full fare. The good news was that I was sure my travel agent would have that information. The bad news was that my travel agent's 800 number was not accessible from Canada. The good news was that I had charged the tickets to my American Express Card and they had the ticket numbers. The bad news was that the fee for reissuing lost tickets was C$70. The good news was that I had just that much Canadian currency left.
The good news was that the flight from Halifax to Toronto was smooth and uneventful, the bad news was the US immigration also wanted proof of citizenship. The good news was that I was eventually allowed to proceed. The bad news was that the interview had delayed me enough to be late for the flight to Cleveland. The good news was that Continental held the plane for 10 minutes so I could catch it. The bad news was that my luggage did not make it.
The good news was that I was home, safe and unharmed. The bad news was that my car, which had just had a tire repaired the day before I left on the trip, had that same tire flat. The good news was that the parking service had an air pump and got the tire pressure restored, at least temporarily. More good news - the tire store again repaired the tire, at no charge! Still more good news - my luggage caught up with me, undamaged, later that evening.
All that remains is to file an insurance claim for the stolen items, pay Hertz for the broken window, and replace all the keys, membership and credit cards that are gone. A real roller coaster ride emotionally for the week-end, but three life birds make it all worthwhile.
It is important to note that of all the people I met in Nova Scotia, there was only one who was truly unpleasant (the thief) - well, the train engineer was only doing his job and was polite about it. Everyone else was helpful, cooperative, friendly, and kind. The RCMP officer was especially nice - he didn't even excoriate us for our carelessness in leaving things on the back seat of the car (we know it was stupid and neither of us generally make that mistake, can I hope for as much from my friends on Birdchat?) and permitted us to use the station phone to cancel credit cards and the like. I guess the moral of this good news-bad news tale is that it only takes one instance of thoughtlessness to undo all the times one is careful to not tempt the evil ones.
I plan to return some day for the birds I missed and still think it is beautiful countryside. I would highly recommend Peter MacCleod's Bird Tours (902-852-1228) and The Sand Castle (Clarence Flemming, Proprietor, 902-852-2241) to anyone contemplating a trip to Halifax.
As promised here is the field trip report for the nemesis Basham Class 1 birds I asked about last month. You may recall that the only Class 1 birds I was missing from my life list were: Ross's Goose, Red-naped Sapsucker, Gray Flycatcher, Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow, and Black Rosy-finch. I asked for sure-fire locations in April and was rewarded with a variety of suggestions from many of you. The plan was to fire up the motorhome in mid-April and not come home until I had seen them all.
On April 13 I began the quest, having already decided that the sparrow would require a separate effort in Maine later in the summer. Joan Weinmayer had given me excellent directions to some feeders in Idaho where the Rosy-finches had been seen regularly all winter and Luke Cole said they are "a common feeder bird there for at least a few more weeks." They were right and on April 16 at 8:30 a.m. I found them within two blocks of the location Joan suggested.
Also put Hepburn's subspecies of the Gray-crowned Rosy-finch "in the bank" as she advised in case of a split.
Tom Crabtree had told me that Ross's Goose would still be found at Malheur NWR in Oregon in April, so that was my next stop. On the evening of the sixteenth I was there studying a flock of several hundred Snow Geese and, as the sun was setting, made a positive identification of the Ross's while Common Snipe whinnied overhead. I spend the night in Burns and moved on to Sisters, OR the next day. I birded several spots in Burns, Bend and Sisters with no luck, so on Friday, I called Tom. He suggested that I call Dean Hale, a man with comprehensive knowledge of the county birds, and see if he could suggest some spots for the flycatcher and sapsucker. Dean offered to go out with me the following morning and he and Howard Horvath took me on a tour of the local hotspots. We found an early Hammond's Flycatcher, but no Gray. We did, however, find a
Red-naped Sapsucker at Aspen Camp on the Deschutes River. Three down, one to go! (We also looked for a bonus bird - Northern Pygmy-owl - but had no luck.)
Then it was off to Nevada, Utah, and Colorado to search for a Gray Flycatcher, the last of the target birds. The Nevada Fish and Game folks in Elko, NV were extremely helpful, but I was just too early for the Flycatcher and much too early for the Himalayan Snowcock. In Salt Lake City, I called Jules Dreyfus (the only A/C in the ABA directory) and he tried hard to locate someone who had seen a Gray Flycatcher recently, but again, it was too early.
Birding Magazine (June, 1991) had an article on Birding Utah which recommended Dinosaur National Monument for the Gray Flycatcher, so that was my next stop. The DNM checklist indicated that the bird was uncommon at best, so it was on to Grand Junction, CO to the Colorado National Monument to try my luck there, still useful, _Birding West of the Mississippi_. Unfortunately, the bird had not been recorded there since 1987. I called, at the suggestion of the staff at CNM, the Colorado Bird Observatory who said that at this early date, the best bet would be along the New Mexico border. I also called Aileen Lotz (A/B in the ABA directory and also recommended by the CNM staff) who is a very active birder in the Grand Junction area and she said I might try a nearby spot north of Rabbit Valley, but she feared I was too early for the bird. She was right.
I then returned to Utah, this time further south, near Cedar City to explore an area described by Steven Hedges in the ABA Bird-finding Guide. I drove the route he mapped and had no luck. Since he is listed in the ABA Directory as D/A I did not call him and decided that I was not going to see this bird - AGAIN!
However, I was, by this time quite near Zion National Park (a real attraction for me since I discovered the Bumbleberry Inn in Springerdale several years ago and its exceptional Bumbleberry Pie) which in turn is not far from the Vermillion Cliffs area in Arizona with California Condors! It is now the 24th of April and I am beginning to regret my pledge to not come home until I have seen all the birds I was after. My luck hit its low over the next couple of days - I had to pay an extra $10 to drive the motorhome through the tunnels at Zion, the Bumbleberry Inn was out of pie, and the drive to Pipe Springs National Monument was long and uninteresting. The only redeeming feature was the Lesser Goldfinches in the Native American Campground near PSNM.
I stopped for gas in Jacob Lake, AZ early on the morning of the 25th and got into conversation with the owner of the gas station and lodge. It turned out that he also owned a ranch in the valley below and knew that the "Peregrine Fund Guy" parked on the road to his ranch to monitor the Condors. He kindly gave me directions to his ranch and told me exactly where to find him, if the birds were in the area.
I drove down the hill and found Shawn Farry precisely where he was supposed to be. All five of the Condors were out and easily seen through the spotting scope. I watched them and talked with Shawn for the better part of an hour. He also showed me the hacking box from which the condors had been released and from which 9 more are scheduled to be released soon.
Reinvigorated, I moved on to Mesa Verde National Park which is in Colorado just a short distance from Four Corners National Monument. Again, the source was Pettingill's book. I spent the night in Moorefield Village Campground (the first night it was open for the season) and went down to the Visitors Center first thing on the morning of the 26th. A staff member there, on hearing of my quest, said I should speak to a supervisor named Linda Martin who is a birder and was on duty at the moment in the Museum. I sought out Linda and she told me she had heard a flycatcher on a trail behind the staff housing area just a day or two before. She drew me a map and I followed it to see my final nemesis bird, the Gray Flycatcher, exactly where she said it might be!
Nothing breeds greed-birding like success and it seemed silly to head home directly when I was so close to a Class 2 nemesis bird for me, the Mountain Plover. I went from Mesa Verde to Laramie, Wyoming and drove a route mapped by Oliver Scott in the ABA Bird-finding Guide. Lucky me! There were two Mountain Plovers in the road and I watched them for a quarter hour before they moved too far off into the grass to be seen easily.
From there it was homeward bound and I returned on April 29, seventeen days, 6,721 miles, and five life birds (six if one counts the Condors) after beginning the trip.
Only one more Class 1 bird and I will have seen them all (at least until the splitters strike again.) Thanks to all of you who have helped me in the effort. I'll post again after the trip to Maine for the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. Then I'll be seeking advice on the dozen or so Class 2 birds still absent from my list!
You may recall that last March I sent out a plea for help to finish up the Basham Class 1 birds on my list. Many of you responded with suggestions for sure fire locations and I was successful in rounding up the last of them except for the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow. We left on June 14 to spend a couple of weeks in New England to look for it.
We decided to also try for Bicknell's Thrush at Whiteface Mt., NY, Mt. Mansfield, VT, and Mt. Washington, NH. Even though the thrush is not a class 1 bird, it is one of the few possible life birds for me in this part of the country. Joe Byrnes, Roger Heintz, Dan Baxter, and Scott Morical were especially helpful in my attempts here. Results were: rained out, rained out and rained out. Drat! Have to try again some other time - preferably the first week in June.
We moved on the the coast of ME and thanks to suggestions from Patrick Comins, Rusty Scalf, Daan Sandee, and Lysle Brinker I was able to locate the Nelson's at Weskeag Marsh near Thomaston, ME and get good views of both Sharp-taileds at Scarborough Marsh in SE ME. (By the way, the Maine Audubon Society just reopened its Nature Center at Scarborough Marsh and it is very nice!)
After the obligatory stop in Freeport, ME to visit L. L. Bean's emporium, we toured Boston for a couple of days and then moved on to Warick, RI to look for Monk Parakeet. (Also not Class 1, but we were in neighborhood, and it was the last of the New England possible life birds.) Regrettably, the RI population of Monk Parakeets has apparently crashed: we were told by a non-birder resident that the total population is now only a few birds. We couldn't locate any nests and missed seeing the birds that remain.
We pressed on Stratford, CT to visit friends and look again for the Monk Parakeet on Milford Point in Milford, CT at the Audubon Society's South Coastal Management Center. Patrick Comins had mentioned this is a good spot to see Monk Parakeets, but that they were not always reliable. Well, it was as if the birds wanted to show off for us. We arrived at 1:15 in the afternoon on the 24th; the birds came into a tree by the parking lot at 1:16. We enjoyed watching about 8 of them for 5 minutes or so when they left as abruptly as they came. We walked around the refuge for a hour or so (missed the Piping Plovers this time, but saw Oystercatchers and expected species), hoping the Parakeets would return. They didn't.
That evening, in conversation with our friends, who are non-birders, one of them mentioned seeing "parrots" quite often not far from his home at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival grounds. We went over the next morning and stumbled on a half-dozen Monk Parakeet nests in the pines(!) on the west side of the theater and at least a dozen of the birds. Great views for over 30 minutes! Thanks to Phil Davis's postings about the status of Monk Parakeets around the country, I am quite comfortable about counting these birds.
That's it! We came home through the Catskills but thought it too late to make further attempts to see Bicknell's Thrush. We'll try again another year.
Thanks to all of you who participate in Birdchat. It is a great forum and it is certainly helpful to have a resource that can guide us to our next life bird. Having now seen all the Class 1 birds (at least until the splitters strike again), my next birding goal will be to see the even dozen Class 2 birds that have so far evaded my binoculars. I will post that wish list in August or September along with whatever (mis)information I have about them.
Just returned from the Nemesis birds class 2/3 field trip to LA, Ventura, and Death Valley. Thought you might like to hear about the results. First I must thank all of you who helped with the planning and execution of this outing, especially: Arnold Small, Steve Sosensky, Luke Cole, Bernardo Alps, Gary George, Jack Holloway, Andrew Culshaw, and Tom and Jo Heindel. The outcome of the trip was good though not in the way expected. Life birds for me are in all caps.
Departed from Ohio on 10/17 and arrived at LAX late afternoon. By the time the rental car people got me in the right vehicle, it was too late to do any birding so I went straight to Ventura and checked in to my hotel. Early to bed in anticipation of an early get-up to join the Island Packers boat ride to Scorpion Beach on Santa Cruz. Smooth sailing and a beautiful day on the 18th. No interesting seabirds on the trip either way. On the island, though, the birding was outstanding. Migrating hawks were in good numbers; Sharp-shinned, Red-tailed, and Kestrels.
I saw numerous Allen's Hummingbirds in the flowering trees just past the old ranch house. Nothern Flicker, Black and Say's Phoebes were also obvious. After a long walk up Scorpion Canyon, probably only a mile and a half mile or so and a false start up the left fork, I clambered up the right fork - it seemed like miles on the rough terrain but really was less than half a mile I suppose - until an ISLAND SCRUB JAY finally deigned to show itself for a good but brief view. Common Ravens were plentiful as well as singular Cactus, Rock and Bewick's Wrens. Surprising to me on the way back were Northern Shrike and Black-headed Grosbeak. Also seen on the return trip were Northern Mockingbird, Song Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's Blackbird, House Finch, and House Sparrow.
The 19th was the Los Angeles Audubon Society's pelagic trip from the same dock and on the same boat as the day before. Again it was a great day on the water with lots of sun and smooth water. We saw Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Eared Grebe, Pink-footed, Flesh-footed, Buller's, Sooty, and Black-vented Shearwaters, Ashy Storm-Petrel, RED-FOOTED BOOBY (excellent views as this immature tagged along behind the boat for over 10 minutes and generated a lot of comment), Brandt's Cormorant, Surf Scoter, Black Oystercatcher, Willet, Surfbird, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, South Polar Skua, Heerman's, Ring-billed, California, Herring, Western, Glaucous-winged, Great Black-backed, and Sabine's Gulls, Elegant Tern, CRAVERI'S MURRELET (much discussion about these two birds but I did not see any white in the under-wings. The Xantus's Murrelet would also have been a life sighting for me so I rely on the field marks I saw - or more precisely, didn't see), and Cassin's Auklet. Three days gone from home and three life birds, only one of them on my target list (the jay).
Monday, Oct 20 I drove to Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley and, much to my amazement, all of the rarities that have been seen there recently were still present. I ran into Dr. Donald Sorby and his wife while exploring the compound and we found Common Raven, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Brewer's Blackbird, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Smith's Longspur (behind motel unit 500), Coot, Sora, Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, Purple Gallinule (in the reeds at the south-east end of the pond), Savannah (beldingi) Sparrow, Inca Dove (only 2), Northern Waterthrush, Sprague's Pipit (on the golf fairway west of the horse corral), Killdeer, Mourning Dove, Mallard, and Horned Grebe (on the sewage pond). I stayed in a cabin that night and the morning of the 21st added Brewer's Sparrow, Starling, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, and Peregrine Falcon, a much larger flock of Inca Dove (at least a dozen) and in their midst one lone RUDDY GROUND-DOVE (these birds were all in a little grassy area on Zabriskie Ave opposite unit 8-A). Ah-h-h-h-h. Two target birds checked off the list.
I left Death Valley and drove to Anaheim's Oak Canyon Nature Center in search of the Oak Titmouse. No luck, but saw a number of nice birds including a Cooper's Hawk trying to take a Green Heron. There was much excitement and "kyonking" as the heron made its escape (I hope). From there it was on to Angeles National Forest but it was nearly dark by the time I got there so I spent the night in a hotel in Glendale.
Wednesday, the 22nd was spent touring the Angeles National Forest in search of the OAK TITMOUSE and NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL. I saw Scrub Jay, Northern Junco, Western Bluebird, Acorn Woodpecker, Mountain Chickadee, Wrentit, and Northern Flicker. By 9:30 am I had just about run out of gas when I came across the Chilao Visitor Center and introduced myself to the volunteer in charge. It turned out that Gerry had recently worn a Pygmy-owl as a hood ornament on his "pick-em-up" truck and told me he had seen them in the past on the Silver Moccasin Trail northeast of Shortcut Saddle. I followed his directions and in about half an hour walking downhill had both of these target birds on my list. I was so happy I hardly noticed the steep climb back up from the point where the trail crosses a metal culvert to the highway. I drove to LAX, turned in the Cadillac, and sat down in the hotel to update my life list.
The flight home on Thursday was uneventful and the trip concluded with six life birds in seven days, two of which were travel only. Not bad - not bad at all.
Thanks again to all of you who assisted me in the adventure. The Short-tailed Shearwater, Xantus's Murrelet, and Least Storm-Petrel will have to wait for another time.
Now that I'm back from the Harlingen (Texas) Birding Festival, I'm posting the results of the trip. Progress is good toward getting all of the Class 2 and 3 birds. I tried for the Green-breasted Mango in Corpus Christi, but I was two days too late. I was in good company, though - Paul Sykes, Jim Huntingdon, and a bunch of other super birders enjoyed Joel and Vicki Simons' hospitality waiting for it to show up.I can't say enough good things about the Simons and their willingness to share their home (even though they weren't home themselves much of the time) with us.
In Harlingen, the festival was as well done as usual and, thanks to the tours to El Canelo and King Ranches, I got superb views of the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl. The other tours were interesting and fun, in spite of the cold and rain. Kenn Kaufman's sparrow talk and Gulls workshop and Mike Austin's Shorebirds workshop were great. No other life birds for me, but I learned a lot and had a good time. I took an afternoon to go to Brownsville and put the Green Parakeet in the bank for future acceptance on the ABA list.
I stayed a day extra after the festival to spend more time at Bentson-Rio Grande State Park and was glad I did. Although the weather never did let up much, I found the two Clay-colored Robins that had been hanging around the day use and tent camping areas and also came across a Hook-billed Kite about 200 yards out the dump road later that afternoon.
All told (or should that be tolled?), three life birds plus the parakeet. A good trip.
The quest to see all the Class 2 and 3 birds has continued successfully. The targets for this trip were Greater Flamingo, Canary-winged Parakeet, Budgerigar, and Shiny Cowbird. Also of interest were Northen Lapwing, Common Myna and whatever else might turn up. Planning assistance was given by several Chatters: Margie Wilkinson, Noel Wamer, Bev Hansen, Bill Benner, Mort Cooper, Juile Craves, Dotty Hull, Sue Hughes, and Earl Fisher. My thanks to you all.
I drove from Dayton, OH to Georgia on Monday 1/5. On Tuesday I arrived in the late afternoon in the Hernando County area of Florida in the midst of cool showers. With only an hour to bird in the rain before dark, I had no luck with the Budgies reported in the area. As I passed the home on Flamingo Drive that was said to have the birds in residence, a teen-ager came out of the house to retrieve the mail. She said that the birds had not been in "their" tree for some time. I cruised the area until dark without success.
I checked in at the Best Western Tahitian Resort in Holiday for the night and, as is my custom, engaged the desk clerk in conversation about the object of my quest. She said that there were Budgies to be found in the rear of her home almost every morning and gave me directions. Those of you seeking Budgies in Florida would do well to try the residential area west of US-19 and south of Darlington Rd. (about 1.5 mi s of the junction of US-19 and FL-54). I saw my life birds there before 8:00 am Wed 1/7 and was on the way to the Northern Lapwing location before 8:30.
Alas the Lapwing was not present that afternoon (Wednesday) and, although there were a great many species present, including Greater Yellow-legs, Loggerhead Shrike, Cattle Egret, Crested Caracara, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Palm Warbler, the missing lapwing was a disappointment. On to Naples to seek a Shiny Cowbird.
By 4 in the afternoon of Wed 1/7 I arrived at the Briggs Nature Center, Shell Island Rd, 9 mi north of Marco Island off FL-951, and had the good fortune to meet Christine, one of the naturalists there. She told me that the feeders were only filled once a day in the morning and by this time of day were empty so no birds were coming in. However, she also said that at least 25 Shiny Cowbirds had been counted on the CBC last month and that some of them roosted in a palmetto behind the nature center. We went into a private office and looked out to see four males and three females in the bush that screens the office from the board walk. When we stepped outside on the boardwalk, the birds were not visible until we sidled alongside the building for about 10 feet. Life bird number 2 for the trip! On to Kendall.
That evening I checked into the Wellesley Motor Inn in Kendall, FL (just south of Miami)(by the way, if you do not require an on-site restaurant in accomodation, Wellesley is a very nice motel and quite reasonable for that part of Florida in season) and called Mort Cooper. He invited me to go out with him on Friday and look for the introduced species. I accepted and planned to go Everglades NP on Thursday.
Thursday morning I was up before dawn and at the trail head of Snake Bight Trail just after sunrise. Having been forewarned about the mosquitos, I donned a hat with mosquito netting to cover my head, face, and neck and gloves made with mosquito netting. Putting my Scope-Pak on my back and binoculars around my neck, I set off on the two mile hike to the boardwalk at the end of the trail. The mosquitos were severe and, in spite of the netting, ample repellant spray, and brisk walking I was seriously annoyed by the bugs.
I was disappointed to see no pink birds through the binoculars, but cheered mightily when, scanning through the scope at 20x, I came across a pink blob about 500 yards out. Boosting the magnification to 40x I could see that the blob of pink was indeed 25 plus or minus Flamingos or Roseate Spoonbills, but beyond that, I was unsure. I tried 60x but there was too much wind for the scope to hold steady, so I was forced to stay at 40x. For the next hour and a half, I watched the pink blob work its way closer and closer.
Finally, one of the birds fluttered its wings as it moved to a slightly different location and I clearly saw its black primaries. Hooray! Greater Flamingo! Life bird number 3.
Trekking back on Snake Bight Trail, at the halfway point, I came to something that had not been there on the way out - an alligator. It had come onto the trail and fallen asleep with its snout ending half-way across the trail and the tip of its tail still in the water, probably 6-8 feet long overall. There was no sense in trying to go off the trail into the water on the other side where there might be another alligator, and I wasn't enthusiastic about hiking back a mile to the boardwalk to wait for it to leave - not knowing how long it might remain. The mosquitos were too voracious to stand there and wait so I decided to try to wake the beast without annoying it. I tossed several small branches in its direction, trying not to hit it but get close enough to wake it so it would notice me and leave. No luck. This critter was completely zonked out. While looking for another small stick to toss in its direction, I discovered a large branch about the diameter of my leg and 4 feet long. With my heart in my mouth, I used the branch as a cane between my leg and the alligator's mouth and passed cautiously by within a foot of it. It never so much as twitched. The remainder of the walk out was made in record time.
I stopped at the visitor's center on the way out of the park and said to the naturalist on duty, "I want to tell you a story and then you can tell me how lucky I was and how stupid I was and what I should have done in this situation." After I related my tale to her, she told me that I was very lucky, but there was little else I could have done under the circumstances. She added that usually alligators are not aggressive and that if I had hit it with the stick (I can't imagine having the nerve to do that) it probably would have just slithered back into the water. On the other hand, one never knew....
That afternoon was spent looking for Common Myna, Canary-winged Parakeet, and Yellow-chevroned Parakeet. In the entrance grounds of the Baptist Hospital in Kendall I found Yellow-chevroned Parakeets in the trees around the lake. Life bird number 4!
Mort picked me up at the hotel on Friday morning and we began the search for Common Myna and Canary-winged Parakeets. We found some great birds, like Spot-breasted Oriole, Red-whiskered Bulbul, and Painted Bunting. We tried his feeders as well as Betty Furchgott's with no luck. In the afternoon we returned to Baptist Hospital and saw Canary-winged Parakeets flying overhead in the entrance grounds. Life bird number 5 for the trip! Thank you, Mort!
I left Mort about 3 in the afternoon and headed back to the Northern Lapwing site at Lake Istokpaga. After spending the night in Okeechobee, I arrived at Mossy Cove at daybreak but the bird was not evident. I drove over to the Fort Pierce Food Lion store and the Stuart library in hopes of finding Common Myna but was not successful. Late that afternoon, I again visited Mossy Cove but without success.
Late Saturday afternoon I headed home with five new birds for my list - Budgerigar, Shiny Cowbird, Greater Flamingo, Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, and Canary-winged Parakeet. Five birds in five days in Florida - yes!
The next trip will be in April-May to Big Bend for the last warbler (Colima), Arizona (Strickland's) Woodpecker, Varied Bunting, and Rufous-winged Sparrow and then to California for Short-tailed Shearwater (?), Xantus's Murrelet, and Least Storm-petrel. I'll let you all know how it comes out.
For those of you who have not been following the saga, I decided about 18 months ago to pursue the goal of seeing all of the Class 1, 2, and 3 birds in the ABA area. With much help from Birdchatters all over the world, in April, 1997, I was able to clear all of the Class 1 birds. In January of this year I was able to clear the Florida birds that had eluded me heretofore. This report tells of my adventure to Texas and Florida to see most of the rest.
I thank Ed Boyd, Mary Carter, Mike Collins, Andrew J. Culshaw, Bob Doe, Darius Ecker, Dave Eshbaugh, Tom Gill, Stuart Healy, Lynea Hinchman, Dave Jaspar, John C. LeVine, Mark Lockwood, Dick Palmer, Art & Hanna Richard, Peter G. Saenger, Ginger Travis, Noel Wamer, Don Wadsworth, and Dr. George C. West for their advice on places to go to see the target birds; Lucifer Hummingbird, Colima Warbler, Flammulated Owl, Varied Bunting, Strickland's Woodpecker, Five-striped Sparrow, Buff-collared Nightjar, and Rufous-winged Sparrow. The plan also included a pelagic trip with LAAS out of San Pedro, CA to try for Least Storm-Petrel, Xantus's Murrelet and Short-tailed Shearwater.
On April 22 I fired up the motorhome and headed west. On the 23rd I reached Dallas, TX and took care of some personal business. On the 24th I drove on to Marathon, TX and spent the night at Stillwell campground, dumped the waste tanks, refilled the fresh water and rested.
Saturday, April 25, I drove into Big Bend NP and asked about the target birds at Persimmon Gap entrance station and the Visitor Center at Panther Junction. Naturalist Mark Flippo had the weekend off so I was unable to ask his advice. The naturalist on duty said that it was probably too early for the Flammulated Owl and, contrary to reports I had, were not common or easily found in Boot Canyon or anywhere else. She also said that since the park had been suffering a drought since January and nothing was in bloom yet, the Lucifer Hummingbirds had not yet arrived. The good news was that Colima Warblers were being seen in all the canyons leading up into the high mountains and some had already arrived in Boot Canyon.
I birded Dugout Wells in hope of seeing a Varied Bunting before heading up to Chisos Basin. There was good birding there, but none of the targets.
The drive up to Chisos Basin was uneventful, although the narrow, winding road was a challenge in the motorhome. The park does not recommend the road or the Basin Campground for vehicles over 24' in length and mine is 25'. Even so, the trip was not a problem and I was able to find a campsite large enough to accommodate me.
At 2:30 or so I prepared myself for the hike up to Boot Canyon and started up the Basin Trail with the idea of hiking up the Pinnacles Trail to Boot Canyon. Although this is a harder hike, it is shorter and I thought I would arrive at Boot Canyon before dusk. With luck I could see a Colima Warbler before dark and just after dusk, try for the owl. As it happened, I got no further than the rear of Unit B of the Lodge when a Colima Warbler practically mugged me. I had ample time to study the bird and compare it to the field guide. A great beginning!
I got as far as Boulder Meadow on the trail but was making poor time and I knew that the difficult part of the hike was still before me. Since I had seen the Colima and had been told that the owl was unlikely, I chickened out and retraced my steps to the campground.
The following morning, I hiked the Window Trail and found that the naturalist was right, nothing was in bloom and there were no hummingbirds at all, much less a Lucifer. I met several birders on the trail, all of whom were seeing Varied Buntings. But I couldn't find even one! As we passed each other, a very nice lady said she had waited at the spot for me to catch up with her - and she pointed out the tree where she had been watching a Varied Bunting. Unfortunately, the bird had flown. We sat on a handy bench and waited for the bird to return. We had a drink and a snack while waiting for half an hour or more. Still no bunting. Giving up in despair that this nemesis bird meant business, we walked back to the campground. On the way, she mentioned that she had seen Varied Buntings in the campground around campsite 30 the evening before. We parted and I decided to try the campsite on my way back to the motorhome. I still had some iced tea, snacks and water with me and, since the campsite was temporarily unoccupied, I sat at the table and had a light lunch. Twenty minutes later a beautiful male Varied Bunting popped up about twenty feet away and gave me a good show! Ah-h-h-h-h!
That afternoon I drove out of the Basin down to Rio Grande Village to try to find some flowering tree tobacco that Lucifer Hummingbirds were said to enjoy. When I got there, the naturalist told me that it was true but tree tobacco bloomed in the fall, not the spring. He suggested that I try the west side of the mountains by hiking up from Sam Nail Ranchsite to Oak Springs and Cattail Springs. Four o'clock found me birding the Sam Nail Ranchsite and, now that the jinx had been broken, seeing more Varied Buntings!
I drove the dirt road up to a parking area and started up the trail to Cattail and Oak Springs. I met a tour group on their way back from Cattail Springs and they said that little was in bloom and they had seen no hummingbirds at all. The tour group leader said that Blue Creek Canyon had a reported Lucifer Hummingbird the day before. I took the other trail to Oak Springs and found nothing in bloom and no hummingbirds. Oh, well.
I spend the night at Cottonwood Campground and decided to check out Blue Creek Canyon the following morning. I was at the Blue Creek Canyon overlook by 8:00 am on Monday but 'scoping the canyon showed that there only a few ocotillo were in bloom and I decided that it was probably not worth the effort to hike down into the canyon. I drove out of Big Bend toward Study Butte content to have seen two of my nemesis birds and thinking that I still had a chance for the owl and hummingbird in Arizona.
I spent the night at a commercial campground in El Paso, dumped the waste water, refilled the fresh and bought propane.
I was in Portal, AZ before noon on Tuesday, April 28. I checked the Portal Store sighting log, called Dave Jaspar for advice, and birded the feeders by the store and next door at the Jenson's. The bad news was that Dave was not answering. The good news was the Mr. Jenson was in his yard and told me that a male Lucifer Hummingbird had been coming into his feeders intermittently for several days. I waited around for about an hour looking for it, but it was not joining the Blue-throateds, Broad-taileds, Black-chinneds and Magnificents. I decided to walk the trail from Portal to the Spofford's, but could not find it.
As I was wandering around helplessly, Don Wadsworth came along and asked if he could help me. I told him about my quest, and he said he had had a female Lucifer Hummingbird at his feeders for nearly two weeks. He offered to show me the trail and walk along with me as far as his house. When we got there, he invited me to sit with him on his back porch and watch for the hummingbird. I hung out with him for over half an hour, but the bird did not appear.
As I left, he invited me to come back any time but warned me that his rental period was over on the thirtieth and the invitation was only good for the next two days.
I hoofed it on over to the Spofford's and, although there was a nice selection of birds, the Lucifer was not among them. I spoke with Sally Spofford's daughter and she said that there had been none reported at their feeders. I walked back to Portal and tried Dave Jaspar again. This time he was in and told me where there were a couple of free campgrounds up in the mountains (the map sold at the Portal Store calls them picnic areas) as well as a couple of spots to check for Flammulated Owls. He said that it was a bit early for them, though, and that he had none staked out yet. I spent the night at John Hands Campground and set the alarm for 3:30 am.
Before dawn I was driving up the South Fork of Cave Creek Canyon. I parked just outside the picnic area well before dawn and started up the South Fork Trail.
It was 5:02 am when I heard the Flammulated Owl call. I had a big Mag-lite with 4 D-cells and just for the heck of it threw a beam in the general direction of the call. Imagine my amazement when the light fell on the owl about 30' off the trail sitting on a branch 15' up the tree! What luck! What a treat! I find it hard to believe even yet! I met Dave Jaspar as I returned to the picnic area and he said a pair of the owls had nested in that vicinity last year but he didn't know they had returned.
I drove back into Portal and was watching Jenson's feeders by 8:00. At 8:05 the male Lucifer Hummingbird came into the middle feeder, stayed for a heartbeat, and left, not to return for half an hour. I decided to repeat the tour to Spofford's via Wadsworth's on the trail. I was sitting with Don on his porch at 9:00 when the female came to the closest feeder and I got to examine it for almost a minute at 8'. Wonderful!
I spent the rest of the day scouring Cave Creek Canyon, Spofford's, and the South Fork for the Strickland's Woodpecker to no avail. I did get outstanding views of an Elegant Trogon right in the South Fork picnic area so, although disappointed about the woodpecker, certainly did not consider the time wasted.
I spoke with several people who had been across Onion Saddle to Chiricahua NM on the other side of the mountains and the consensus was that my motorhome would not have a safe trip because of the narrowness and washouts of the road.
I spent the night in a wide place in the road about a mile east of Portal and the next morning, headed for Chiricahua NM via Douglas. I arrived about noon and, after a hasty lunch, walked up the Rhyolite Canyon Trail. After about a quarter of a mile, I declared the trail a bird-free zone, having seen almost nothing and headed back. When I was about three hundred yards from the trail head I caught motion out of the corner of my eye. When I turned my head, there was a female Strickland's Woodpecker less than 50 feet away! Yes! All right!
I left Chiricahua NM immediately, figuring to make Madera Canyon before dark. On the way I stopped in Green Valley, AZ at Our Lady of the Valley RC Church to look for Rufous-winged Sparrows. In the large undeveloped area behind the church, I walked for quite a while, finding more rattlesnakes than birds. The sun was getting low on the horizon and I decided to walk the edge of the parking lot. I'm glad I did. At 6:00 pm I found two of the sparrows just off the pavement in the SW corner of the lot. Wow!
I spent the night at Bog Springs Campground in Madera Canyon and moved on the next morning to Nogales. It is now Friday, May 1. I rented a 4-wheel drive Dodge Ram Pickup Truck, a necessity for negotiating the horrible road to California Gulch and, at dawn on the second, was turning onto FR-217 just past Ruby, AZ. By 7:00 am I was walking into the Gulch from the south end, by 8:00 I was retracing my steps, having missed seeing anything resembling a Five-Striped Sparrow. I met Stuart Healy who was just coming into the Gulch and he asked if I had seen them yet. I told him that I had not and he told me where he and his group had just seen them, not moments before. I ran to the spot, set up my scope and heard the nondescript buzzy call. I scanned the area I thought the call came from and, at 20x, got the bird. It was very cooperative and allowed me good views in good light at up to 60x. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! I followed Stuart out of the canyon back to Ruby where we went our separate ways. I turned in the rental car, cleaned up my motorhome and spent a second night at Mi Casa RV Park in Nogales.
Sunday I drove to Phoenix to visit my son-in-law's mother. On the way I stopped at Chino Canyon for another look at Rufous-winged Sparrows. At the dead-end of Hawk Way, I walked about a hundred yards into state land and found several in great light. While in Phoenix, since I had seen all of the target birds and had a couple of days to spare before the guided Brown Canyon walk, I called the Arizona RBA's and learned that a White-eared Hummingbird was frequenting the feeders at Mile Hi in Ramsey Canyon. Monday I drove down to Ramsey Canyon and walked in to the feeders from an RV park about half a mile down the road. By the way, those of you who like to rent a cabin at Mile Hi had better try for reservations this summer - the cabins are going to be torn down in October; only the B&B will accommodate visitors after then.
It was here that my luck ran out. When I called home from Mile Hi at 5:30 Monday evening, my wife said that my mother was suddenly very ill and I should come home immediately. I called and cancelled the Brown Canyon tour for the Buff-collared Nightjar and the pelagic trip from San Pedro and drove that evening from Ramsey Canyon to the Tucson Airport, parked the motorhome in the long term lot, and took a plane home. I was too late. By the time I arrived, Mom had passed away.
We have had the memorial service and started the legal and personal processes that always follow a death and I must return to Tucson to get the motorhome soon. So it may be that there will be another installment on this trip.
Addendum: I returned for the motorhome on Saturday, May 23 and was able to reschedule the walk in Brown Canyon to seek the Buff-collared Nightjar. Although they had been heard there recently, they opted not to sing out or appear on this moonless night. Oh, well.
On Sunday, May 24, I again visited Ramsey Canyon. The White-eared Hummingbird was still being reported so I waited around for over an hour. My patience was rewarded with a super view of the bird flying in over my head, chattering away. It lit on one of the feeders right outside the office and drank long and deep, taking over a minute. I watched it and got good views from several angles in great light.
Just got back from a quick trip to New York to seek the Bicknell's Thrush. Thanks to Dan Baxter, Peter Saenger, Roger Heinz, Joe Byrne, and Barbara Volke for their help in planning the trip. Special thanks to Marty Michener for his sage advice and .wav file of the bird's call.
I got to Lake Placid in one day of really hard driving (750 miles) and stayed at the Ramada Inn. I was at the gate to the toll road up Whiteface Mountain at 8:30 am on June 2. The gate didn't open until 9:05 but it was worth the wait.
The weather report was perfect - winds 0-10 mph, sunny and 40 degrees F. By 10:00 I had driven to the top, parked and taken the elevator to the summit. I started down the trail east from the summit and was in perfect Bicknell's Thrush habitat within a few minutes. I heard two calling and meandered off the trail for about 20 yards. One of the birds was apparently disturbed by my passage and buzzed me within a couple of feet of my head and lit in a "tree" less than 10 feet away. I got a very good look before it dropped. Satisfied, I walked the rest of the way (about 1/4 mile) to the junction of the trail and the approach road and walked back along the road to the Jeep. Not a long walk, but the trail is moderately difficult.
The plan called for continuing on to Mt. Mansfield in Vermont if I failed at Whiteface and, if Mt. Mansfield failed, checking out several other locations in the White Mountains of NH and the Adirondacks of NY. Fortunately, this wasn't necessary and I was able to start home by noon and pulled in, after an overnight stay in Erie, PA, to home before three this afternoon.
For those who don't have access to Marty's .wav file, you can find the Bicknell's Thrush call on the tape that accompanied the National Geographic Society Field Guide (1st edition). It is the last example of the Grey-cheeked Thrush.
Thanks to all of you who helped with my continuing quest to see all of the Class 1, 2, and 3 birds in the ABA area. The next effort will be for the Himalayan Snowcock in the Ruby Mts. of Nevada in August. I'll be sure to let you know how it works out.
In my continuing quest to see all of the class 2 and 3 birds, I took a side trip from our vacation tour of Minnesota and Wisconsin to Nevada (I know, I know -- remember, this is the guy who went to from Ohio to Texas by way of Sacramento, CA a few years ago.) We arrived in Elko and camped in Thomas Canyon Campground of Lamoille Canyon on August 7. At 4:00 am on the eighth I met Mark Stackhouse of Westwings at Road's End in Lamoille Canyon and, using flashlights, we walked up the Island Lake Trail. Passing Island Lake, we walked about a quarter mile further up the mountain and stopped at a copse of trees, set up the scopes, and waited.
Mark and the others got there about 6:15. Since I don't do very well at high altitudes, I didn't catch up until 6:45. It worked out OK, though because the birds didn't show up until 7:49. We watched them for almost an hour as they fed and paraded on the talus slopes.
There was some disagreement about how many were in the flock; at least 11, possibly 15. At any rate, the views were excellent, in excellent light and 30-60x. Binoculars were useful only for noticing motion, identification required the use of spotting scopes.
For any one considering the trip, I suggest contacting:
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests
2035 Last Chance Road
Elko, NV 89801
For a mere $10 they will send you two maps of the area, a reprint of the 2/95 Winging It article "Locating the Himalayan Snowcock," and lots of other goodies about the area.
More expensive, but easier, is to contact Mark Stackhouse at:
1432 Downington Ave.
Salt Lake City, UT 84105
He says he has an 80% success rate in seeing the Snowcocks. As far as I'm concerned, of course, it's 100%. No financial interest here, just a satisfied customer.
Only 2 Class 2 and 5 Class 3 to go! Wish me luck!
Sunday, I went out with the Los Angeles Audubon Society on a pelagic trip through the Channel Islands. I had hoped to see three of my Nemesis Birds on the excursion but was only rewarded with one. I am sure that LAAS will post the full results of the field trip on its web site so I will not take up band-width now to give all the gory details.
Of interest to those who are following my quest to see all of the Class 2 and Class 3 birds, I shall mention only the Least Storm-petrel which was seen early on in the voyage and struck off another of the birds from my wish-list. The rest of the trip was a fine sail on somewhat choppy waters at times.
The other excitement came late in the trip when a few of us saw two Manx Shearwaters quite close to the boat flying across the bow and away at full speed. The sighting will, of course, have to be documented, but, since Arnold Small was among the lucky few, I hope the sighting will be accepted. This was not a life bird for me, but certainly was a California check and made for a glorious ending to a great day on the water.
Feel free to check my web site if you're interested in the few remaining Nemesis Birds I hope to see soon.
On December 14 I left Ohio to drive to Arizona to see some of the rarities being seen there. I arrived in Douglas on December 17 and called Arnie Morehouse in whose yard an Elegant Quail had been hanging out with several Gambel's Quail. He kindly invited me over to his house and, shortly after my arrival at 1:00 pm, the bird was kind enough to put in an appearance. About twenty minutes later, a Sharp-shinned Hawk zoomed through his yard and flushed all the birds away. After waiting about ten minutes the Gambel's began returning to the yard, but the Elegant Quail was not among them. I don't know if the hawk got the Elegant Quail or not, but neither the hawk nor the quail returned while I was there. I have not had the opportunity to call Arnie to see if the Elegant Quail has returned. Those of you interested in chasing this bird should contact Arnie at 520-364-3178 before making the effort.
I drove from Douglas to Hereford to visit Walter and May Kolbe at their San Pedro River Inn. As good luck would have it, they had a vacant cabin for the night, so I was able to get a good night's rest before beginning the search for the Rufous-backed Robin and Rufous-capped Warbler that had been seen for a few weeks at their place. By the way, Walter and May are wonderful people and the Inn is as nice a place to stay as one could want. There are few other accommodations in the area which makes it all the more desirable. For rates and further information call them at 520-366-5532. You also need to call before paying a birding visit to get parking directions and permission to enter their property.
I was up at day-break on the eighteenth and out in the yard as the Robin started his morning off in the yard right in front of the main house. After half an hour enjoying the Robin and a delicious cup of coffee, I set off down the 1/4 mile trail to the river to look for the Warbler. The sparrows (including a rare there Field Sparrow) in the fields along the trail delayed my progress considerably, but I reached the river before 8:30. I searched up and down the river in the areas where the Warbler had been seen previously without success. I ran into Jim Abernathy from Los Angeles and together we searched for the Warbler. A Sharp-shinned Hawk showed up and took a Yellow-rumped Warbler right under our noses and we felt a bit discouraged but decided to continue looking. Jim took the high trail along the river bank while I walked the horse trail. I spotted the warbler about a foot off the ground 25 feet ahead of me and called Jim. He came a-runnin' but the bird flew off before he got there. We looked for another quarter hour without success and I had to get packed and checked out of the cabin so I left him to continue without me.
As I was leaving the San Pedro Inn, Jim came back up the trail and we were both delighted that he had finally re-found the Warbler! We caravanned to Patagonia to look for the Ruddy Ground-dove that had been reported in a yard there, but found nothing interesting. We parted company and I headed for Bosque del Apache NWR on the way home, stopping for the night in Truth or Consequences, NM.
This was my first visit to Bosque del Apache - what a place. It's right up there with Malheur, Aransas, Ding Darling and the other superlative birding spots. My purpose was to see Whooping Cranes again - I had only seen one once before. Driving the loop was an exciting birding experience culminating in seeing two Whoopers at fairly close range near the last overlook on the loop. By the way, there are, I learned later, only the two adult Whooping Cranes at Bosque del Apache this winter so far and little hope of more arriving. I fear that the experiment to re-introduce them to Grey's Lake and Bosque del Apache is failing.
The trip home was supposed to be uneventful but a freezing rain developed in Texas as I spent the night in Amarillo and followed me all the way into Missouri. I spent the next night near Joplin but the bad weather stayed right with me. I had not been making good progress because of my great caution on the slippery roads, using the 4WD, and going very slowly. Even so, my luck ran out on I-44 as I crossed the Gasconade River bridge. Either the bridge flexed at just the wrong moment or a gust of wind came down the valley or both occurred simultaneously and the Jeep went spinning. It came to rest abruptly enough to deploy the airbags, blocking the right hand lane. It could have been worse. Although the Jeep's front suspension will need major repairs, I was unhurt and spent the rest of the morning waiting for the highway patrol to take the accident report, arranging repairs, calling the insurance company, etc.
There being no public transportation from Waynesville, I finally found a rental car at Fort Leonard Wood to drive to Lambert Field in St. Louis. Of course, this time of year and in such bad weather, getting a seat on an airplane was difficult, but TWA got me on a flight the following morning and I am home safe and sound.
This trip has brought me to 700 life ABA birds (the only two I had never seen before were the warbler and robin), 701 if the powers that be decide that the Elegant Quail is countable. Even so, the added expense of the Jeep repairs and the flight home make them two of the most expensive life birds on my list. Also this trip did nothing to help me out with the Code 2 and 3 birds I have yet to see, but another trip to Alaska and California should pretty well see that goal achieved too.
A big thanks to Jane Kostenko and Phil Davis as well as all the other Maryland birders who kept information about the Kelp Gull at Sandgates and the Slaty-backed Gull at Conowingo Dam flowing. Jane's posts have included excellent directions to Sandgates so I won't repeat them here. Those of you thinking of going to can get directions from Rick Blom to Conowingo Dam.
I finally got a couple of days freed up to make the chase and drove from Ohio to Sandgates, MD on Tuesday. After an all too short stay at a motel nearby, I arrived at the Sea Breeze Restaurant at 7:05 am on Wednesday, 2/24 and pulled up at the entrance to the dock by the restaurant. There were no other birders about (sorry I missed you, Jane.) The first thing I saw was the Kelp Gull on the 12th piling out from shore about 50 feet from my car. I studied the bird for about five minutes and, just as I was thinking to get out the scope and set up on the bird, it flew out to the top of the "T" of the dock, about 75 feet away. I watched it fly and settle but it remained there for only a minute or two and then took off again behind the Sea Breeze. I lost it and, after looking at the other birds around while waiting for the Kelp Gull to reappear, I decided to head out for Conowingo Dam. I left on the 3.5 hour drive via Washington and Baltimore at 7:35.
About 11:00 I arrived at Conowingo Dam. At first I despaired of finding the Slaty-backed Gull among the thousands of Herring and Black-backed Gulls but set up the scope and began scanning the front of the dam. I never did find the bird at rest but it flew through the scope a couple of times and I had a few good looks through the binocs before abandoning the spot at 11:55. Again, no other birders were there while I was.
I left at once to return to Ohio and pulled into my drive before 11:00 pm. What an exciting trip!
This trip would have been much more complicated and the planning prohibitively time consuming without a Garmin GPS-III receiver hooked to my laptop running DeLorme's "Street Atlas USA, v6.0." This made getting to the point where I could follow directions and the directions themselves fool-proof, which is not easy because we fools are so ingenious. It also saved me a great deal of time by showing a direct route from Conowingo Dam home. The great disadvantage of the rig is that it occupies the entire passenger side of the Jeep's cockpit.
Thanks again to all those Chatters who provided information and encouragement to see these great birds!
It was an overcast and chilly spring day in Los Angeles when I set out with the Los Angeles Audubon Society's pelagic trip on the R/V Vantuna from San Pedro on May 8. I have tried and tried to see Xantus's Murrelet but, even though it is classed as a "2" in difficulty, it had always eluded me. We embarked at 6:00 a.m. on what proved to be a choppy ride out to Santa Barbara and Catalina Islands. We saw a number of fine species (I refer you to the LAAS trip report for full details), the most exciting of which was the second record in Los Angeles County of the Black-footed Albatross. Finally, about 8:30 we came across the first pair of Xantus's Murrelet, as always, flying away from the boat. It was not a totally satisfactory sighting but the day was young.
A couple of hours later we found another flying alongside the boat for several seconds and I got an excellent look. On the way back in that afternoon yet two more showed up. All in all, five birds were seen and I got off the boat with a feeling of tremendous satisfaction that I had seen this difficult-for-me bird at last.
I have now pared the list of Class 2 and 3 birds I have not seen down to six: Short-tailed Shearwater, Emperor Goose, Gyrfalcon, Curlew Sandpiper, Ivory Gull, and McKay's Bunting. Another trip to Alaska is clearly in the future. In fact, my lovely is retiring from teaching at the end of this year and she has decided that her retirement trip should be just there. We leave June 25. Wish me luck.
First my thanks to the many Chatters who helped me plan this trip to see a few more of the "easy" birds and a hard one. Jeff Bouton, George West (not to forget his 1/98 article in Winging It!, "Birding from the Alaska Marine Highway to Dutch Harbor"), Steve Moore, Barbara Volke, Bill Shuster, Charles Duncan, Tom Bishop, Dave Quady, John Green, Joe Byrnes, and Andy Donnelly all sent recent trip reports or answered my RFI for help in finding my remaining Difficulty Class 2 and 3 birds.
The target birds for this trip were: Short-tailed Shearwater, Emperor Goose, Gyrfalcon, and McKay's Bunting. Since it would be desirable to get out to sea a bit and it would be pity to let just one bird stand between me and having seen all the alcids, I added Whiskered Auklet to the list.
The motorhome with Jeep in tow left June 24 to drive the Alaska Highway, but went by way of Wood Buffalo Park and Yellowknife NWT, then cut across the Liard Highway to pick up the Alaska Highway at Fort Nelson, BC.
The Whooping Cranes at Wood Buffalo were, as expected, nesting far from any road and their nesting areas are highly restricted so even access by canoe or air is illegal. We did, however, add Wood Buffalo to our mammal life list. Some local folks said they frequently saw Whooping Cranes flying over the Highway near Fort Smith. Discussions with park personnel led me to conclude: 1) it is unlikely that the birds would range that far from their nesting grounds; 2) locals do not distinguish between the abundant Sandhill Cranes and Whoopers.
It is important to know, by the way, that in the Northwest and Yukon Territories, and northern British Columbia and Alberta any road that has been graded and gravelled is a highway, if a path has been cut through the brush it is a road. If paved at all, the highway will be a two lane affair with long (usually 15-20 mile stretches) gravelled patches as frost heave and washout repairs are frequent and on-going. There are seldom shoulders wider than a tire and travelers are expected to thread their way through the heaviest of construction sites. In short, however much time you allow, it will take longer than you plan. I believe Yellowknife is the only capital city we have ever visited whose only land access is by gravel road. (Beats Juneau which has no land access at all!) Another necessary bit of information not often revealed in the guide books is that calcium chloride is the preferred method of snow control on gravel roads in Canada. In summer, when it rains, the calcium chloride residue mixes with the dirt below the gravel and rises, creating a surface best described as greased glass. Thus when rain caught us on the Liard Highway, the 160 mile drive became a 10 hour marathon. But I digress.
We drove on into Alaska on the now completely paved (where not under repair) Alaska Highway, via Whitehorse (side trip to Skagway across the world's smallest desert near Carcross) and Tok. It all took longer than we thought it would, but we did arrive in time to catch our Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Homer to Dutch Harbor on July 13. On the entire drive the only remarkable bird was a Northern Goshawk flying up the middle of the highway in Kluane NP.
The Alaska Marine Highway is the only means of reaching much of Alaska without flying from one town to another. It is essential to make reservations well in advance. I first contacted them in November and was told that reservations were not accepted until December 4, so on that day I called and bought our tickets for passage. There are very few cabins on the boats and they sell out quickly. Since the trip from Homer to Dutch Harbor and back takes a week, we opted to take a cabin for four so we could have a private shower and toilet. Otherwise one must take a cabin for two or sleep on the deck and use the public facilities. It's cold and usually wet on the Aleutian Islands run and there is space for sleeping bags in the observation lounges, but having a cabin, even though they are quite small, is much more comfortable.
It is also wise to check the schedule carefully if the Whiskered Auklet is desired. They are found only between Akutan and Dutch Harbor and, if the boat is not passing through that area in daylight, the whole expedition is pointless. Since the trip is made only once a month, the options are few. Our trip outbound passed the area just before dawn but the return trip went through about mid-day. We got lucky and saw 15 Whiskered Auklets in several small groups over the hour or two between Dutch Harbor and Akutan. Also got good looks at Laysan Albatross and Short-tailed Shearwater on the return trip. The complete trip list of birds is below.
The return trip from Homer to the Alaska Highway took us through Denali National Park where we wanted to see the nesting Gyrfalcons at Polychrome Pass. By now it was July 23 and, having called ahead from Homer for bus reservations, we were able to ride out and see the birds with young on their nest just a hundred yards or so off the road. Note that one can drive just the first 14 miles of the road into Denali. To get further in one must use the shuttle bus system or take a tour bus. These busses fill up several days ahead and it is wise to make reservations. The biggest problem is that they will not take reservations until six days ahead, so timing is everything. Apparently when the Gyrs first began nesting activity in the park, there was concern that they would be disturbed, so the bus drivers were not allowed to point them out or stop to view the birds. By the time we got there the young were nearly fledged and the birds had adjusted to the bus traffic so the drivers were anxious to make them a highlight of the trip. Wow!
The remainder of the drive home was uneventful and not birding oriented; we toured our way through Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, arriving home on August 15, almost eight weeks and over 15,000 miles after beginning. Only four life birds, but what a four! Laysan Albatross, Short-tailed Shearwater, Gyrfalcon, and Whiskered Auklet.
My list of "easy" (Difficulty Class 1, 2, and 3) birds not yet seen is now down to four: Emperor Goose, Curlew Sandpiper, Ivory Gull, and McKay's Bunting. At this point I feel qualified to question the classification of these. It seems to me that if the Whiskered Auklet is a 4, then the Goose, Gull, and Bunting should also be 4. These are apparently only to be found with any regularity near Gambell on St. Lawrence Island, surely at least as difficult to reach as the central Aleutians. Likewise, if a Northern Jacana is Class 4, then should the Curlew Sandpiper be 3? Ah, well, perhaps this is just "sour grapes." I shall, of course, persevere until the new ABA Checklist is published with, perhaps, revised Difficulty Codes.
Trip list for Homer to Dutch Harbor: Glaucous-winged Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Parakeet Auklet, Least Auklet, Rhinocerous Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Bald Eagle, Red-necked Phalarope, Pelagic Cormorant, Red-faced Cormorant, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Northern Fulmar, Sooty Shearwater, Short-tailed Shearwater, Laysan Albatross, Aleutian Tern, Double-crested Cormorant, Black Oystercatcher, Whiskered Auklet, Cassin's Auklet, Pomarine Jaeger.
Land birds seen in the various ports: Fox Sparrow, Varied Thrush, Greater Yellowlegs, Harlequin Duck, Common Snipe, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Grey-crowned Rosy-finch, Lapland Longspur, Common Raven, Bank Swallow, Song Sparrow (Aleutian ssp.), Snow Bunting, Common Redpoll, White-crowned Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, Northwestern Crow.
My Birdchat friends struck again when they posted the sighting of an Ivory Gull, one of the few remaining Class 2 and 3 birds I have not seen, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I had to wait until after the Holiday to make the trip for it and, deciding that time was of the essence, hopped a commuter flight from Dayton, OH to Toronto, ON on Wednesday, 12/27, rented a car and arrived at Humber Bay Park in Toronto before noon. I met several birders there who gave me the news that the bird had not been seen that day at all. Not easily discouraged and having nothing to do but wait it out, I decided to hang around as they all left to check other areas where the bird might be. Each promised to return for me if the bird were found elsewhere, but no one came back. Meanwhile all the ducks, mergansers, and a red-necked grebe made for some excellent birding.
I finally took a break for lunch about 2:00 and returned to the spot before 3:00. I was cold and discouraged by 3:30 and moved the rental car (a very nice Tahoe 4WD) around to the side of the lagoon where we had all been watching for it so I could observe most of the area from the relative comfort of the car. At 3:43, with no other birders in sight, the Ivory Gull flew by from east to west. I must have seen it for all of five seconds as it swooped across the lagoon and disappeared over the boat yards in the western section of the park. I drove to the western section but could not rediscover the bird.
After a night in a hotel I returned to Humber Bay Park about 9:30 am on Thursday, 12/28, and looked for the bird again, but had no luck. In fact, there were so few gulls that it was difficult to maintain my interest and I decided about 10:45 to return the rental car and await my flight home.
All this for a five second sighting in mediocre light, enough for an identification, but far from a satisfactory look. I think most of us call this a BVD (better view desired) bird. Thanks to those chatters who posted this one. I hope there will be others.
This brings me down to three of the "easy" birds (Class 1, 2, 3) still remaining on my want list: Emperor Goose, Curlew Sandpiper, and McKay's Bunting.
What a weekend! I finally decided that an Emperor Goose was not going to come my way by serendipity so saved up to go to Kodiak, AK where the birds winter in Women's Bay. I contacted the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge which put me in touch with preeminent birder and author of the Kodiak NWR Checklist of Birds, Rich MacIntosh. He told me that the Kodiak Audubon Society, in cooperation with the NWR, conducts a Christmas Bird Count. This year it would be on December 20. As Count Compiler, he invited me to join them and assured me that "If you don't see the Emperor Goose, there's something wrong in the world."
My first plane of the day left from Cincinatti at 9:00 am. The flight up was dicey. Seattle was caught in snow and ice. But, after a delay long enough to assure I would miss the connection in Anchorage to Kodiak, we got away. It took some doing, but I arrived at my hotel in Kodiak about ten Thursday night. (With time zone changes, it was a body time of 2am Friday morning!) The Best Western had a stuffed Kodiak bear in the lobby, one of several in town.
At sunup (about 10am) Friday morning, in heavy rain and high wind, I took my rental car and headed for Women's Bay. There were hundreds of Emperor Geese near the Russian River bridge at the bay! Wow! Life Bird 762! The birds were pretty far out because It was low tide and the weather was terrible. But I got satisfactory looks and still had the rest of the weekend!
I called Rich and bragged on my success. He offered to go out with me in the afternoon and see what we could find to add to my Alaska list. The weather did not abate much and the pickings were better at his feeders than anywhere else on the island.
Rich put me in touch with Jeff Lewis, the pilot of Ursa Major II, the refuge's boat that would be conducting the pelagic count for the CBC. Jeff said the weather did not look promising but that the go-nogo decision wouldn't be made until morning. There are only about six hours of daylight on Kodiak at this time of year (10am-4pm), so it was back to the hotel for an early dinner and TV before bed.
Saturday dawned much the same - temperatures in the low thirties, windy and rain. But Jeff said it wasn't too bad to make the tour. So off we went. The lead counter was Denny Zwiefelhofer with Stephen Bodnar to do the tallies. Jeff and I contributed what we could. It was a really rough passage but the boat performed well and we had what Denny opined was not a bad count.
I was invited to join the Compilation Potluck that night and was pleased to be made so welcome. I brought a bag of potato chips as my contribution and joined the party. Stephen introduced me to Stacy Studebaker who answered the question that is surely on everybody's mind much of the time, "What do you do with a gray whale that washes up on the beach in front of your house?" Her solution - You bury it for four years, dig it up, take another four years to reassemble the skeleton with silicon caulk, and donate it to the Kodiak NWR Visitor Center! By the way, her technique of putting the skeleton back together has since become a standard curatorial technique around the world.
All said and done, there were 73 species seen on Kodiak Island that day. Several of those were potential additions to my Alaska list but Rusty Blackbird was the one that caught my attention. However, they were seen on the world's largest Coast Guard base and access is restricted. Luckily, Dick Ross is an avid birder as well as a retired Coast Guard search and rescue helmsman. He offered to take me on base to look for them Sunday morning.
At first light Sunday (9:45 am) I went back to Women's Bay. The weather was sunny with no wind. High tide had been at 9am and was just beginning to ebb. The Emperor Geese were approachable to within fifty feet! Great views!
Dick and I hooked up at eleven and went directly to the base. We toured the whole place, but didn't find the blackbirds. We did, however, find a flock of Emperor Geese in the cutter docking area; very close and in perfect light. Nice! Dick and I parted company and I spent the rest of the afternoon looking for other potential birds to add to my Alaska list. No luck, but a beautiful day to be out.
When the sun started to set at about three that afternoon, I went to the Kodiak airport, caught an earlier flight to Anchorage and, after another full day of dodging weathered-in airports, arrived home.
My thanks to all the great folks in Kodiak who helped my with the Emperor Goose adventure. Most of them appear in the slide show below.