17 December 2009

Iliaca

Passerella iliaca. The Fox Sparrow. Long has this bird been an interest of mine. It is one of the most widespread sparrows, but also one of the hardest ones for me to find. In the summer time, I have the Slate-colored Fox Sparrows staked out in their willow carr haunts, but even there they are not common and a pleasant surprise to encounter. The Colorado subspecies, schistacea, is a rare wintering species in the valleys below the mountains in which it breeds, so when one showed up in Paonia, Colorado at my friend Dennis Garrison's office in Paonia, I decided that a Fox Sparrow was worth going after. But this was mostly because of the other Fox Sparrow currently there: iliaca, the Red Fox Sparrow. Long had I dreamed of seeing the nominate Fox Sparrow, the rusty red denizen of the northern Boreal realm, and the only Fox Sparrow of the eastern United States. So, on 16 December, I made the drive down. On the way, I picked up a few good year birds: Chukar on the road to Paonia, Harris's Sparrow in my friend Jason Beason's yard, and an Evening Grosbeak at Dennis Garrison's house. We then arrived at the sparrow spot. Sure enough, as soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow.
Passerella iliaca schistacea: Slate-colored Fox Sparrow, Paonia, Colorado.

The Red Fox Sparrow, however, was a no show. So I waited. And waited. I got to talking to Dennis about life in general, and we sorted through the numerous Juncos, with Gray-headed, Pink-sided, Oregon, and Slate-colored being present (and probably one or more subspecies of the above but I am not good enough to seperate that well). A Cooper's Hawk mobbed t
he feeders, a very reddish Song Sparrow almost gave me a heart attack every time it jumped out, and the Slate-colored Fox Sparrow put in quite a show. Just as Dennis began to say that it should show up at any time, there was a flash of red: it was the bird we were waiting for!
Passerella iliaca iliaca: The Red Fox Sparrow, Paonia, Colorado.

My lifer Red Fox Sparrow sat around for about a minute under the feeder, kicking up vegetation like an oversized junco. It soon flew back into the depths of the wood pile, and I was headed home. The bird was well worth the trip, and as I saw the some Lewis's Woodpeckers fly over the road, I realized it was good to be back in Colorado, and couldn't wait to see what tomorrow would bring.

08 December 2009

Influences

Recently, as I watched my dad suffer through the amazing cold and windy storm that struck Boyce Thompson Arboretum as we unsuccessfully searched for Rufous-backed Robin, I realized just how much people have helped me and influenced me in my birding career. My parents and their dedication to helping me see some birds and their tolerance when it comes to me being constantly distracted were instrumental in making me who I am today. And as my dad looked at me at Boyce Thompson and mentioned that I should put that on my blog, I realized just how much everyone has helped me get to where I am today.

So, at this time, I'd like to thank all of my birding friends for helping me become what I am today. Thank you all!

07 December 2009

Vaux's Swifts

In an interesting twist, my first Louisiana life bird upon returning from the west was nothing other than a Vaux's Swift! While birding briefly with Dan Lane after school one day, we saw eight of these awesome birds flying over City Park Lake in Baton Rouge. It's not every day you get Neotropic Cormorant and Vaux's Swift at the same location east of the Mississippi! At least, I thought not before coming to Louisiana... It seems I still have a lot to learn about the avifauna of this incredible region.

More posts to come soon - finals week + preparing for trips to Arizona and Montana = not much blogging.

Until next time, take care!

30 November 2009

East Meets West

Saturday, November 28, approximately 8:00 AM:

"I think I just heard a warbler chip."

"Sure it's not a Yellow-rumped?" Tyler Loomis, my birding friend from Tempe Arizona, started to look out the window.

"Not sure. Sounds a little different. There it is... it's the
Bay-breasted!"

There, moving through a tree not far away, was Arizona's 16th ever Bay-breasted Warbler. Luckily it had been sticking around and was easy to find. The cloudy sky made photographing hard but still allowed great views of the washed out rusty sides and greenish cap and wing bars. An instant classic.

I had always tried to imagine what a Bay-breasted Warbler would be like when I was younger. I heard birders talk about what an amazing bird it was, and always wanted to see one. I just never imagined how and where I'd finally catch up with this eastern bird. As we watched it forage in the same tree as an Arizona Woodpecker, I was awestruck by this stunning combo. I doubt I will ever see those two species at the same time again.

Tyler Loomis, his dad (hereafter Mr. Loomis) and I soon climbed back in the car. We had a long drive ahead of us for our next birding location of the day - Tumacacori. This spot along the Santa Cruz River has recently become popular for it's Rufous-backed Robins and Rose-throated Becard sightings. When we arrived along San Gertrudis Lane, however, all was quiet. Western Bluebirds and Northern Mockingbirds teased us among the bushes where the robin supposedly was, and a cold breeze rustled the yellow Cottonwood leaves. Seeing as the robins were a no-show, we headed down the creek looking for the Becard. Though we never found that bird either, Mr. Loomis spotted my second lifer of the day, a Varied Thrush!


Lifer Varied Thrush, Tumacacori, Arizona

The three of us then began to head north towards Phoenix once more. Ever watchful for good birds, we cut through Sweetwater Wetlands, seeing Lawrence's Goldfinches and hearing a Sora, and then headed to the Santa Cruz Flats. There, we were hit by an awesome sand storm, but still managed to get two Crested Caracaras and a Ferruginous Hawk.

Overall, it was a great day of birding in sunny Arizona.

23 November 2009

Update

Hi all,

Sorry I have been so terrible about putting up blog posts recently, but I have been extremely busy. I recently had some fairly major lung surgery on my left side to keep it from collapsing any more (three collapses this semester prompted this) and have been trying to catch up in school. Nevertheless, I have seen some good birds since my last post.

Over Halloween weekend, I went to the Louisiana Ornithological Society convention with Kevin Morgan in Cameron Parish. It was a great weekend, with Kevin and I finding/seeing some of the best birds of the weekend. At Peveto Woods, Kevin and I found an odd warbler that turned out to be a female Blackburnian (my first non-male of this species ever) and had a nice flyover by a Barn Owl. At the East Jetty, I spotted a group of three Long-billed Curlews down the beach and we had Semipalmated Sandpipers and Crested Caracaras hanging out around the viewing platform. Later on, we also co-found (along with James Maley and Jacob Saucier) the first ever Great Kiskadee for an LOS convention! Unfortunately, the 'best' bird of the weekend still has not been confirmed - an Alder Flycatcher that I heard and later photographed has still not been able to be confirmed through photos. Unfortunately, my being under the weather has postponed my posting of photos of this bird, but I will try to get on it soon.

The next day (Nov. 1), Kevin and I joined Jeff Harris and another gentleman whose name I forget at Lacassine. Out in a large raft of Lesser Scaup I spotted what I believe to have been a Greater, but the distance (and HUMIDITY!) prevented a positive ID. It was still nice to see all of the marsh birds though, and I got my state Virginia Rail and Sora in the long, unending swamp/prairie.

This past weekend I finally got out for the first time since my surgery. Though I got rained and flooded out, I still managed to get a new state bird - Dark-eyed Junco. A new campus bird was also had this week as I was talking to Andrea Robinsong on my cell phone and had a Great Horned Owl fly by.

Until next time, take care, and good birding!

26 October 2009

Fun With Sparrows

As I sat at LSU, I couldn't help but think of everything that was going on. I have suffered from two partially collapsed lungs in the past month and a half, perfectly timed for midterms. As one may expect, my grades began falling like a lung with a hole in it. Luckily, I am getting everything worked out now, and am under less pressure from school, but this last weekend, I knew exactly what I needed: a mental health day. A day that I could let myself slip away, and have fun before the tests this coming week. And as I walked out the door to my dorm and saw Jeff Harris drive up to pick me up, I knew that we were going to have a great day of birding the next day. Of course, how can you go wrong when you go to Grand Isle?

On Saturday morning, I awoke from a fitful slumber. It's hard to get a good sleep when you can't stop thinking about the birds that could be just down the street. I slowly raised myself from my couch/bed, and woke up Jacob Saucier across the room. As I woke up, I looked around at this high tech house we were staying in. It was so nice that I often forgot we were on stilts 14 feet off the air. This was the 'camp,' something that made me realize I would never say no to camping in Louisiana again. As we gathered our things in the living room and waited for the others to trickle in and be ready to go, we discussed what our first move would be. Kevin Morgan, Jeff Harris, Jacob Saucier and I discussed the best course of action for maximum bird potential. We soon decided on Sureway Woods, the Audubon property of live oaks behind your local neighborhood Sureway grocery. At first, things were rather slow. Jacob almost stepped on a Chuck-will's-widow that ended up knifing through the dark foliage, and we got a Swamp Sparrow while trying to refind the Chuck. The woods slowly began to light up, showing that the woods were really as empty as we had perceived in the dark. We found some Gray Catbirds and a calling Hooded Warbler, but then had no idea what to do. There were no birds anywhere it seemed. While we discussing other areas to go, I spotted a small bird flitting in a nearby tree: Black-throated Green Warbler! It took a few seconds for Jeff to get on the bird, and only a few more for him to realize we were looking in different directions. A calling Blue-gray Gnatcatcher joined the birds and a lone Blue-headed Vireo foraged in the canopy with them. 'The flock' was here! And just as quickly, it was gone. We soon all pressed onward to the other part of the forest across the road and ran into fellow birders Jane Patterson, Lainie Lahaye, and Sean, whose last name escapes me and was a visiting Cornell graduate looking for a grad school. As we wandered on, things began to pick up a little more. I soon spotted a Black-and-white Warbler and a Magnolia Warbler, while Jeff found a Veery running across the trail and I started losing track of who was spotting what around me. Though there wasn't much, there was a nice variety of birds.

Soon after this we decided to check out another track of woods in a neighborhood. I forget the name of these woods, but they didn't have anything extremely memorable in them. Sean spotted two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers in the neighborhood, and the woods held close to 100 White-winged Doves. We checked the beach briefly, where I decided to check the gulf. Suddenly, I spotted something a ways out, with long dark wings, and a flight that was definitely different than the other seabirds present. "HEY GUYS IT'S A... oh no wait, that's a harrier!" Sure enough, the bird turned out to be a Northern Harrier. Goes to show anything could be anywhere though...

Our next stop for the day was Exxon Fields. Kevin, Jacob, Jeff and I inched picking through the shorebirds, pulling out Stilt Sandpipers, Dunlin, Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, and even a sneaky Wilson's Snipe. While we were sitting there, I saw a hawk lilt harrier like over the field and then got a flash of the underside. "SWAINSON'S HAWK!" The other fumbled to get a better angle out of the car windows as I pointed it out. The angle on the bird remained terrible while we discussed how unlikely a Swainson's was here, until it turned again, revealing it's classic underside.
Swainson's Hawk, Exxon Fields, Grand Isle, Louisiana

Also out on the fields was a nice flock of about 30 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, always a pleasant surprise.

We then headed out to Elmer's Island to paruse the beach for the rest of the day. Sean needed his lifer Snowy Plover and I, my lifer Wilson's, so we began scouring everything for these two birds. Ironically, we found three Piping Plovers in the process but were inexplicably failing to find the other plovers. However, as we pushed further down, my luck returned. Thank goodness I had a camera...
...because there was this cooperative Wilson's Plover fighting another! LIFER! Also on the beach were cooperative Reddish Egrets, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, and a few Avocets out in the lagoon. As we drove down the beach again, Sean spotted his lifer Snowy Plover and a Lesser Black-backed Gull.

As the finale for the entire day, we stopped at a Seaside Sparrow spot, and ended up having not only Seaside Sparrows but 30-40 Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows! They were extremely cooperative as well.

One of the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrows that was a lifer for me, Lainie, and Kevin. And, my favorite pic of the day:
Seaside Sparrow at Elmer's Island.

Until next time, Good birding and thanks for reading!

11 October 2009

Game Day in Cameron

I walked around nervously, glancing upon the shelters in various states of disregard. Sections of grass were warning taped off, concrete areas fenced up, and the ESPN stage was surrounded by semis and people wanting to get the best seats for the show. The parking lots were filled, and people were everywhere. A giant semi truck full of beer drove by. I shuddered. The game was almost 24 hours away, and the campus was already starting to go into party mode. It was at this moment I realized how thankful I was that I would not be on campus tomorrow for the LSU x Florida game, and how much I was looking forward to Grand Isle.

4:45 AM: GAME DAY.

The lights of Baron Rouge reflected off of the low hanging clouds, making the sky glow an eerie, pale yellow. I sat in the front of the car, staring out the window as the windshield wipers whisked water from out field of view. I glanced back at the back seat, towards Jacob Saucier and Jeff Harris. Kevin flicked his blinker on and slowly eased off of the interstate. As he shifted his car and accelerated around a turn he glanced towards us, asking "So you guys for sure want to go to Cameron instead?" Jeff played with his iPhone a little more, and said "If we go to Grand Isle, it'll be raining for a good four hours probably. We can hit Cameron right after the front moves through though." Jacob excitedly sat up in his seat. "We could hit Cameron right after the front... That would be perfect!" Kevin started accelerating up the ramp westward, towards the land that just a few weeks ago produced my lifer Seaside Sparrow, Upland Sandpiper and more. We crossed the river and entered the Atchafalaya Basin, it's unending swamps made even more daunting by the darkness that gripped them. As we headed west, the sun slowly began to rise, but by the time it had become light enough to see, the trees were far behind us.

We raced southward through the Cameron Prairie. A prairie, by definition, is a large expanse of grassy, treeless land that is mostly flat. In Louisiana, this means it must be mostly underwater as well. The endless boggy grasslands are home to thousands of water birds and hundreds of gators. As we drove towards the coast, I got to see my first big flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese that had arrived for the winter, locally known as Specklebellies. Before I knew it, we were at the coast, with the Gulf of Mexico stretching out into distance ahead, all the way to the Yucatan hundreds of miles away. Here, at the beach, we had a Merlin perched on some litter and a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher bracing itself against the cool winds. A welcome change from the 90+ degree weather the day before was this post-front coolness, with temperatures of 67 degrees forcing all the cold and wet critters to hunker down. As the sun began to warm the land, we decided to go to Peveto Woods, the legendary migrant trap of Cameron Parish.

When we first arrived at Peveto, it was pretty quiet. Almost instantly though, the birds (and the neverending mosquito hordes) made their presence known. As we stepped into the woods, we were bombarded by the biggest American Redstart flock I have ever seen. Almost every tree we looked in had one of these flashy warblers, and it was not uncommon to have up to ten of these little warblers in view at the same time! As we slowly walked into the forest, the other eastern migrants made themselves known. Canada Warblers flitted through the brush, a male Magnolia Warbler fed in some ragweed, and a Hooded Warbler darted through the undergrowth. Indigo Buntings were flying all around us, accompanied by their giant cousins, the Blue Grosbeaks. The forest was teeming with Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, who fought over the few flowers, defending their small migratory food stores. The hummingbirds possibly outnumbered even the Redstarts, with birds flying past your field of view every few seconds. Kevin soon spotted a female Selasphorus hummingbird on some morning glory. The hummer (probably a Rufous) darted around these woods so atypical for a Western hummingbird, chasing around the Ruby-throats that tried to use his flowers. As we continued on, Nashville Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets joined the Redstarts, and some Black-and-white Warblers crept along the trees. A Common Yellowthroat called from some tangles, and Eastern Wood-Pewees darted amongst the branches. Jacob spotted a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher as a Baltimore Oriole fed in a nearby tree. The woods were simply incredible. Everywhere you looked had birds, be they Tennessee Warblers or Yellow-billed Cuckoos. It was one of the best birding spots I have ever been to, and even got two life birds out of the short visit: Black-throated Green Warbler and Philadelphia Vireo. As we watched a Reddish Egret prance on the beach just outside of the woods, we decided that it was time to move on, and to try to get some birds further down the road.

After several minor stops, each of which having Black-and-white Warblers or Northern Waterthrushes or other day birds, we ventured towards Rutherford Beach, the place where Chris West and I had found my lifer Seaside Sparrows on my last trip. Out towards the middle of the marsh, we pulled over and decided to play some Rail tapes. Though we tried almost every tape, we were only able to elicit vocal responses from two of the rails: Clapper Rails and King Rails. In these giant coastal marshes, these large Rallus species segregate out by salinity of the water, with Clappers in the most saline environments and Kings in the freshest, and all their hybrid young running around in the brackish marsh. We were soon able to get a bird out in the open with the Clapper Rail tape that was a hybird, and amazingly, he came within several feet!

Rallus elegans x longirostris, Rutherford Beach, Cameron Parish, Louisiana

Though we didn't get a pure Clapper to come out for photos, we did get this male King Rail to come check us out:

Why did the King Rail cross the road? I think the hybrid in the background is wondering the same thing...


King Rail checking us out from a few feet away.

I do have a lot more pictures of these rails, and I can (almost) guarantee that at some point in the future I will have a post dedicated to separating out King Rails, Clapper Rails, and their hybrids.

Also near the location where we harassed about a dozen rails was a new state bird for me - White-tailed Kite! I spotted it sitting in a dead tree along one of the canal roads.

After playing in the marsh, we headed back to Cameron to check out one of the Gulf shorelines for waders and other odd things. On our way there, I spotted a Crested Caracara flying across the a parking lot! It was a life bird for Jeff, which made me feel better as I was now not the only one getting lifers on a routine Louisiana birding day. Though we did not get good views, it was awesome to see one again. We continued on to the beach, where Jacob instantly spotted another state bird for me and a life bird for Jeff - a Long-billed Curlew. We soon walked up to the platform, and could see several hundred American White Pelicans, as well as a gigantic Black Skimmer flock, numerous Laughing Gulls, a few Marbled Godwits, a Whimbrel (lifer number three for Jeff), and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls. In the winter time, this location has had Short-eared Owl and is also supposed to good for Nelson's [Sharp-tailed] Sparrow, so I have a feeling I will be returning in the near future...

After this stop, we headed north towards Lacassine NWR in Jeff Davis Parish, picking up our Peregrine Falcons #6, #7, and #8 for the day as well as Merlin #~10. We arrived at Lacassine near dark and quickly birded through one of the loops. Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, thousands of Plegadis ibis and Greater White-fronted Geese crisscrossed the sky. As we were heading out, Jeff spotted a harrier out over the marsh. We stopped, and I got my binocs on the bird and froze. It was a SHORT-EARED OWL! We quickly piled out of the car, trying to get scopes on the bird when it flew. No white rump indicated that it definitely was not a harrier and that this bounding crepuscular creature was indeed Asio flammeus. It was a lifer for me, Kevin, and Jacob, giving each of us a lifer for the day. Just when we thought the action was over, Kevin's lifer American Bittern slowly flapped over the road ahead of us. We then began to race towards Baton Rouge in order to get back before the game let out, and talked about the incredible day we just had. It is a day of birding I shall not soon forget.

04 October 2009

Big Green Big Day / Fossil Fuels Find Flycatchers

This weekend, my friend John F. Garrett of Los Angeles, California and I decided to do Green Big Days in our respective areas. I have yet to hear of his final results, but have no doubt he got more than me. Regardless, I had an awesome day. Venturing out to the levee several times and wandering through the live oaks on campus produced several good birds, 56 species in all. Highlights are below:

Wood Duck: Presumably going towards a communal roost, the seemingly endless stream of Wood Ducks overhead around 6:45 PM totaled around 120, though I probably undercounted greatly.

Common Nighthawk: Not a bird I am used to seeing this late in the year, the five birds along the levee yesterday evening were fun to watch.

Eastern Wood-Pewee: A new campus bird for me, I was able to find three of these flycatchers around LSU.

Mourning Warbler: My year bird of this species was along the Mississippi River below the levee. My thanks go to Jason Beason for helping me ID this species. If not for a story he once told me about a bird he caught in eastern Colorado, I would not have realized what I was looking at!

Northern Parula: Pausing briefly at a construction site in front of one of my classes revealed this new campus bird for me. I later found another by one of the dining halls.

Canada Warbler: Taking the cake for the day, in my opinion, was a lone female Canada Warbler in a Chickadee flock in one of the most urbanized and worst-bird-habitat parts of campus: the Greek Row on Dalrymple.

Today, I took a break from my environmentally friendly attitude and drove down to Richfield Riversilt with Van Remsen, Amy Shutt, Josh Sylvest and some other (I'm sorry I'm bad with names). Overall, it was a pretty dead day with our best birds being Nashville Warbler and a flock of Wood Storks. however, as we were leaving, I saw the profile of a shirke-like bird with a long tail. I looked at it through my binoculars, and immediately got the others on it. It looked like Kingbird, but definitely not an Eastern Kingbird. Van took one look and was able to confirm that it was indeed not an Eastern Kingbird, but a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher! This was a new parish bird for me, and probably the only one I will see east of the Mississippi this year. Score one for fossil fuels finding the rarest bird of the weekend!

Until next time, take care!

27 September 2009

Unexpected Problems

For those of you who follow my blog, I know I alluded to a good post this week, but alas, life intervened. As I write this, a pelagic trip is being conducted out of Venice, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. I was one of the first to sign on for the trip, but on Monday night, I suffered from sudden extreme pain in my upper left chest. When the pain remained Tuesday morning, I went to the doctor and was informed that I had suffered from a spontaneous pnuemothorax. In layman's terms: my left lung partially collapsed for no reason. I was in the hospital for most of the remaining week, and avoided my dorm room for a few days as one of my room mates was just diagnosed with swine flu. For the time being, I am confined to nearby areas until my lung heals up all the way.

I am doing fine now, but will be grounded from crazy trips for at least a month. (Fortunately, my next crazy trip is ~ two months away.) Until next time, take care!

20 September 2009

Catching up on Common Birds

For the past several weeks, I have had the opportunity to bird with several people throughout Louisiana and catch up on many 'common' birds that I had never seen before. I don't have time to write out a whole post today, but thought I'd leave a brief update of some of the common Eastern birds I have been able to see for the first time. I will write more in a week, as I will be going on a Gulf of Mexico pelagic for Sooty Terns, Wilson's Storm-Petrels and any other birds we may happen acorss in the big blue. Until next time, take care!

New birds this weekend:

Hooded Warbler (Wilsonia citrina) - finally saw and heard this species for the first time in Sherburne. After getting over my initial awe, I found about twenty more in two days. Still a spectacular bird.

Magnolia Warbler (Dendroica magnolia) - a male of this species feeding in some roadside ragweed was a pleasant surprise. This species was hypothetical for me before this weekend, having heard a bird that I thought was this species in Grand Junction, Colorado in September 1998(?).

Yellow-throated Vireo (Vireo flavifrons) - after getting into appropriate habitat today, I got to see two of these spectacular birds. They were previously a heard only bird for me from Virginia and Washington D.C.

16 September 2009

Grand Isle

I slammed the door on the Ford Taurus and looked over at Chris West and Lanie Collette. "I'm going to hit the woods real fast, but I'll wait for you guys." They walked into the Sureway grocer, and I walked down to the end of the row of stores, glancing to my right at the beachfront levee. This was Grand Isle in Jefferson Parish, one of the most famous birding spots in Louisiana, and the location of two Black-whiskered Vireos this spring. As I reached the end of the row, I turned, and looked down a road from another era. I don't know what Grand Isle looked like before the tourists came, but I have a feeling it was something like what I saw before me: a desolate road vanishing into the dark oaks of the coastal ridge, beckoning and foreboding. I walked down the lane and scared up a Chuck-will's-widow. I smiled, and wondered how many more were out there if Chris and I flushed one yesterday in Cameron. I continued deeper into this enchanted forest, but failed to find any birds. I thought back to Peveto, and realized that, not only were the birds here, but that they were in a flock. I just had to find the flock. I walked down to the end of the road, and saw a lone Blue-gray Gnatcatcher flitting in the oaks. I started pishing, and waited. After about five minutes, a Red-eyed Vireo flew in. I smiled, realizing that the flock was on its way. Soon, about 20 Red-eyed Vireos were flitting amongst the branches and I spotted a Canada Warbler on a branch, and kept watching the birds. A quick pause by an Empidonax flycatcher on a branch became my first life bird for the day: a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. A trail bisected their numbers, but I told Chris and Lanie I would wait for them. They soon arrived, and we headed into the trees. Two Black-and-white Warblers crawled along the branches, and an American Redstart danced about in the branches. Chris sooned chimed in witha "Blue-winged Warbler!" I turned around and found myself 'face-to-face' with a male Blue-winged Warbler, another life bird for me. We watched the birds flitting through the canapy and I realized that all the birds we had seen had been in the upper stories, except for the Canada Warbler I saw earlier. I then began checking the low bushes for Oporornis warblers and was quickly rewarded with my third life bird for the day, an adult Kentucky Warbler. The flock had mostly left us by this time, so we wandered off into other parts of the forest, with Chris spotting another American Redstart and a pair of Canada Warblers. We soon decided to head out towards Elmer's Island for pelagic birds, as the heat began to make the land birds die down.

Elmer's Island WMA is mostly marsh with a small cobblestone area to drive across the mudflats for about 200 yards and then play on the beach. Here, where the cobblestones end at the surf, was a small concrete platform began eaten away by the ceaseless waves rolling off the gulf, stood three birders scanning the endless ocean for birds. The shorebirds cooperated very well, with Ruddy Turnstone and Semipalmated Plover coming within feet of us, and a distant Piping Plover down the beach entertaining us as well. About a thousand Black Terns moved up and down the beach, and Royal and Caspian Terns plunged into the water. While Chris was scanning the distant flocks of birds for shearwaters, jaegers and gannets, a glanced upward in time to see one of the most incredible birds I have ever seen. As I grabbed my binoculars, I shouted to Lanie and Chris "FRIGATEBIRD!" The Magnificent Frigatebird has a wingspan comparable to a pelican, but it is a bird the size of a goose. It's wings are long and drawn out, like an albatross, and the impressive black body with the white revealed that this was a young bird. Over the course of the next hour, I was able to pick out two more in the distance, slowly and laboriously flapping as the looked down upon the swarms of seabirds, just waiting until one presented intself as the perfect target. As we searched the endless skies for Northern Gannets, a storm began to roll in off the gulf. The people around us slowly began to depart, until we were all that remained on the section of beach. Within five seconds, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up by thirty miles an hour. I clung to the tripod, determined to continue scoping the ocean. Chris finally said "I saw a gannet, let's run!" Although I had not seen the bird, I was beyond the point of caring. I grabbed the scope, turned around and ran. Unfortunately, I forgot to wear a belt, and my pants started to fall down. I paused to grab them and it was too late. The downpour hit me. I continued to run down the cobblestones, and finally made it back to Chris's car soaked but no worse for wear.

On our way back, we paused briefly for lunch at the nearby Kajun Eatery. There, I had a delicious cheeseburger and stepped outside breifly. I scared up a really dark colored House Sparrow, and though it was kind of odd. Soon, the bird returned, and I was aware that this was not a House Sparrow but an Ammodramus. Chris came outside and I said "Check out the House Sparrow." He glanced up and said "Yeah they're... Wait. That's not a House Sparrow!" I chuckled and said "I know, I think it's an Ammodramus. Probably Seaside." Chris nodded and agreed that that was indeed what it was. As we went to our cars, we found six more picking the bugs off of car grills and the window screens. It was a great opportunity the Seaside Sparrows, which I dubbed the 'Cajun House Sparrow.'

The rest of the day was uneventful, as Chris drove across the Pontchartrain Causeway and returned me to LSU, and life fell back into it's normal pace. However, now that I know what is out there and what goodies lie in the coastal groves of oak and acacia, I can't help but be impatient to return. You never know what will show up next...

15 September 2009

Goin' Coastal

Chris West and I drove down I-10 West, heading for the legendary parish of Cameron, Louisiana. Now famous for the Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher collected there in 2008 (the first time this species was ever found north of Panama!), Cameron has long been known in Louisiana for being amazing in general. In the past, Painted Redstart, Red-faced Warbler, hundreds of Groove-billed Anis, nesting Great Kiskadees and other spectacular birds have been found along the coastal cheniers of woods, isolated from the south by the Gulf of Mexico, and from the north by dozens of miles of Saltmarsh and Coastal Prairie. This creates a migrant trap collecting birds from every direction. Chris and I crossed the saltmarshes on our way southward after dark, pausing for a moment to see what was out at night. The calls of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron quickly disappated into the unending marsh, and I was able to spot a roadside Alligator, watching me with ill intent. We soon got back in the car and headed towards Sabine, Texas, where we spent the night in Louisiana a little ways before crossing the bridge.

The next morning, we began parusing down the coast, stopping at the local beaches to see the scatted small groups of Western Sandpiper and Sanderling. At out second stop, we happened about Peveto Woods, a small, coastal patch of Oaks that is where the Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher was found. We got out of the car, bathed in bugspray, and headed into the woods, beating off deer flies the entire time. I went to the right, Chris to the left. I found nothing, as the flock was to the left. I ran to join Chris, and saw the lone Blackburnian Warbler he had found among the numerous Red-eyed Vireos. We began working our way eastward through the woods, and were surprised by a Chuck-will's-widow that flew around breifly. As we ventured towards where the bird was in hopes of refinding it, we found another small flock of migrants. Again, Red-eyed Vireos dominated the flock, but there were some warblers to pick out. After about ten minutes, we called it quits when all we could find were two Black-and-white Warblers, a Yellow Warbler, a Canada Warbler and a lone Prothonotary Warbler. Little did we know that just an hour or so later, another group of birders would arrive to not only miss our warblers but find a pair of Bell's Vireos.

As we continued on along the coastal ridgelines, we paused to photograph a perched Common Nighthawk. Though we only found two non-flying nighthawks, the fact that one of these was on the powerlines makes me think there were dozens of birds in the area.

Common Nighthawk, Cameron Parish, Louisiana

Near this nighthawk, we also found a small freshwater puddle with Short-billed Dowitcher, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Stilt Sandpiper, and Black-necked Stilt.

We soon came to Holly Beach, a place that in the past has had Brown Booby and Black-legged Kittiwake, and decided to check out one of the first flocks of gulls and terns that we came to. I lifted my binoculars and noticed that the first bird I looked at had extremely short legs for a tern. Something about the bird bothered me, and I decided to check out the other birds and come back. As I worked my way across, Chris said "Whoa, did you see this tern?" Without glancing up, I said "The one on the right?" He kept staring and said "Yeah. Something just doesn't seem right. The legs and all... wait, could it be an Arctic?" Chris handed me his camera and I quickly snapped a few pics of the bird perched near an Common Tern. We kept studying the bird and it took flight briefly before alighting again, and then took off for good. Extremely pale wings with little/no black and the smallish bill on the bird all point to Arctic Tern. However, Chris's camera malfunctioned later during the trip so, as of yet, we have no confirmation on this terns identity.

Chris and I continued on our eastward puch along the gulf, checking out Caspian and Royal Terns as they passed over and stopping at several roadside oaks, finding Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Orchard Oriole, Northern Waterthrush and my state Hairy Woodpecker. Some of our other roadside stops even turned up Clapper Rail and Seaside Sparrow (a life bird). At one of these roadside stops near a lake, we found a gigantic flock of Neotropic Cormorants. They covered the wires like pigeons, making them sag incredibly low. We estimated there might be several thousand birds. I later learned that, had we counted them all individually, this almost certainly would have been a record high count for the state. I did manage to snag a single picture of one of the smaller Cormorant groups.

Neotropic Cormorants, Cameron Parish, Louisiana

It was at about this point of the day that the storms finally rolled in off of the gulf and forced us to leave Cameron Parish, and we headed in to southern Vermilion Parish next door for a little looking around. We were only there for a little while, but I did manage to get my lifer Fulvous Whistling-Ducks flying over and find a Swainson's Hawk, a pretty good bird for Louisiana.

We decided to wrap up for the day and headed even further east, managing to get Black-bellied Whistling-Duck above Highway 90. And, as the sun set, we neared our birding location for day two: Grand Isle.

14 September 2009

Megascops asio

The cool, humid breeze blew down the levee, carrying with it a faint whinny and tremelo call. "I'm telling you, he is right here." The Barred Owl pair called into the darkness, hoping to assert themselves as the top predator in these woods. We stared at the brush before us, waiting for the Megascops asio, the Eastern Screech-Owl, to appear. We scanned the trees and bushes with our dying spotlight, waiting for the inevitable darkness to win out and force us home without our bird. Just then, Chris West paused momentarily in the low bushes. "Got him!" I looked down, and instantly replied to Chris that "It's a red morph!" Adam Ulissy, my friend from LSU and ride for the night, just stared at the bird. "This is so cool." As we watched the little owl, I looked at Chris and asked if I could have the spotlight. I had a feeling we could get a whole lot closer. We began creeping up towards the owl, using the spotlight to keep ourselves hidden from the bird. When I paused for the last time before it took flight, we were four feet from this incredible bird. It was the first Eastern Screech-Owl Adam or I had ever seen, and it was Chris's first red morph bird. It was spectacular. However, karma came back to us for spotlighting all those owls, as we crested the levee and in turn were spotlighted by the Baton Rouge Police Department. After breifly explaining what the three of us were doing, the cop left and told us to have a good night. I wondered why he checked us out until I checked my clock and found it was four minutes after midnight. We had been looking for the owl for an hour and a half almost. And it was all worth it.

06 September 2009

To count or not to count?

Today was a pretty dead day bird wise. Besides the Brown-headed Cowbirds (7000 was our final count?), the Northern Waterthrushes an a cooperative Yellow-billed Cuckoo, not much was out an about. The skies seemed empty now that the Wood Storks had moved on, and a Roseate Spoonbill flying alone overhead was merely an echo of what was here before. However, while we were wandering around, the rapid hoots and subsequent whinnies of an Eastern Screech-Owl got out attention. As we sat there looking towards the dense underbrush, I realized one of the qualms about listing: the notorious heard only bird.

Throughout my life, I have only counted birds I have seen, and have gone to great lengths to see said birds. Getting views of birds such as Buff-collared Nightjars and Great Gray Owls can be difficult (unless you get lucky), but is very rewarding in the end. However, there are the occasional birds that you can never seem to get a good look at. The rocky pillars and odd canyons of Chiricahua National Monument managed to hide the Eared Quetzal from me the entire time I was there, only allowing it's unique squealing call to escape from the labyrinth of hodoos. It was birds such as the quetzal that made me start to count heard birds, but now, I am taking another approach. I have set up my life list with two columns: one for Heard Only (H/O) birds, and one for my 'Life List.' It seems only right to count the birds that you have seen, as you miss critical details and, in a way, the essence of the bird if you don't see it. Now, for competitions, year lists, and work I count heard birds regularly without giving it a second thought. But my life list not some competition or work related thing. It is like my personal diary. I can look through the spreadsheets at the birds I have seen and where, and remember everything I did around the time that I saw the bird. And, for that reason, my life list will only include seen birds.

As it stands now: Life List = 572 (H/O = 8).

And as a side note: I got attacked by fire ants for the first time today, but am fine.

19 August 2009

South Farm

South Farm. I had heard the name before, being uttered by the Louisiana birdfolk as an awesome place to go. In my memory, I tried to sort out what all had been reported there... Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and JABIRU?

"That is a common misunderstanding," Kevin Morgan explained to me as we walked along the ditch. "The bird was in a different area nearby." And, as Steve Cardiff later told me, "The [Jabiru] was actually at 'North Farm,' some private property nearby. It was looked for at South Farm, but besides the two guys that found it, it was never seen again."

And so, into this mysterious and foggy location I ventured with Kevin Morgan, a birder from Baton Rouge who offered to take me around today. I looked through the vines, the oaks, and the plentiful greenery that is, well, green. It'll take a while to get used to. I heard a hard chip, and wondered what would be at right now. I quickly spotted a waterthrush moving up a branch and, upon further inspection, was able to determine it was a Northern Waterthrush. A year bird! My second for the day, after that goofy looking Wood Stork on the top of the tree a few minutes past. Then, erupting from the forest, my third year bird of the day: a Barred Owl announcing itself through the mist. Unfortunately, the bird blended in with its natural haunts all too well, and never revealed itself to me.

Kevin and I pushed forward through the trees along the desolate road, flushing up Yellow Warblers, Prothonotary Warblers, and even convincing a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos to clack at us from above. We neared a bend and there it was: South Farm.

This is where the realization dawned on me as to why this birding place was spectacular. No crops of any sort where farmed here. It was a crawfish farm. How many crawfish you may ask? According to the sign, "Limit of 100 pounds of Crawfish per Vehicle per Day." That's a lot of crawfish.

The abundant watery ditches and drying fields yeilded a bounty of birds. A flock of 60 or so Wood Storks took to the air ahead of us, while Tricolored and Little Blue Herons flew every which way and Green Herons called while darting through the cypress. As we continued on, Common Moorhens and Purple Gallinules showed themselves in the open and Least Sandpiper hordes ran along the banks. A Roseate Spoonbill flew over, and several Plegadis Ibis flew by, one revealing itself to be a Glossy. We continued onward still, and soon digressed onto a small wooded trail where, lo and behold, I found myself in a staring contest with a low-perched BARRED OWL! It was incredible. As we worked our way back towards the car, the goodies kept on coming. Great Crested Flycatcher, another cuckoo, Blue Grosbeak, and cardinals as far as the eye could see. We evntually made it back to the car, but didn't make it far. How can you not stop for a family group of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks?

We then drove over to the other section of Sherburne WMA, and found even more great birds. Painted Bunting, Summer Tanager, and American Redstart were definitely the highlights. But, unfortunately, I had to head back to school, where the only birds to be found are Fish Crows, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, and the occasional House Sparrow. Now that I think about it, that is nothing to complain about!

In addition to birding, Kevin, who graduated from LSU as a history major, filled me in on a lot of Louisiana's history, giving me a better idea of what the state I live in is really like. My favorite history lesson for the day:

The Huey P. Long bridge was built as a railroad and automobile bridge over the Mississippi River during the depression. For a long time, it was the only way to cross the river other than a ferry until Interstate 10 was built. Trying to boost Louisiana's economy, Long made the bridge extra special so that it could be the bridge that could keep on giving back to the community of Baton Rouge. All bridges on the Mississippi are built to accomodate the large, ocean going ships coming up the river to the ports in Louisiana and Mississippi (the state). So, when the bridge was made, Long lowered the clearance just enough to prevent all seaworthy vessels from passing under it, forcing them to unload their cargo in Baton Rouge and re-pack it into river going vessels to continue upstream, thereby increasing the traffic and business in the Port of Baton Rouge.

Until next time, take care and good birding!

17 August 2009

LSU

I know I haven't posted in a while, but a lot has been going on. After arriving back from Arizona again (looking for Black Swifts), I had to leave for College. And I have to say, college is AWESOME! I am about to start classes here at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and am still getting used to everything that is new here. As I write this, I have an entire change of clothes spread out drying behind me because my western Colorado mind though "Those clouds look like rain. How bad can it be?" Within minutes, water two inches deep was pouring off of all the buildings and across all the sidewalks. Next time, I'll take a coat. Also, the birds here are awesome. I'm so used to seeing House Sparrows, House Finches, American Crows and European Starlings out west, so seeing Carolina Chickadees in front of my dorm room window while listening to the whistles of Tufted Titmice will take a little getting used to. One of my favorite parts of the day was when I was on my way to meet James Van Remsen and two Fish Crows flew in. Their comedic calls were quickly joined by those of a Downy Woodpecker and a small group of Blue Jays foraging in the Live Oaks here on campus. I never thought I would have all these as yard birds. Even the sight of Northern Cardinals in the bushes by the college doors makes me pause for a second, even though they are dirt common here.

I will try to post more in the future, and hope to get some awesome pictures of Louisiana birds here in the coming months. Until next time, take care!

29 July 2009

A Post for the End of July

I know it has been too long since I last posted, and I apologize. I have been conducting Colorado Breeding Bird Atlas work for the White River National Forest in the Hunter-Fryingpan, Maroon Bells-Snowmass, and Holy Cross Wilderness Areas as well as a few other locations. I was also doing the amazingly fun activity known as 'data entry.' However, I did manage to get one life bird this month (thanks to Andrea Robinsong): an ALDER FLYCATCHER in Gunnison County! The bird, one of two located by Micheal O'Brien, was on the side of Highway 50 with a Willow Flycatcher, offering a good comparison. I am off in a few days to go to Arizona with Jason Beason, and will post after that. Until then, I will leave you with a parting shot of a Pika, perhaps one of my favorite creatures residing in Colorado.

17 July 2009

Brown-backed Solitaire - Huachuca Mountains

Yesterday, the Camp Chiricahua group comprised of young birders from across the country located a Brown-backed Solitaire (Myadestes occidentalis) in Miller Canyon above Beatty's Guest Ranch in the Huachuca Mountains above Sierra Vista, Arizona. If accepted, this will be a first ABA record of this species. Recordings and photographs were obtained, and soon after Dave Jasper (the camp's leader) got the word out. A few other people detected the bird, some seeing it at the original location and others hearing it's beautiful song.

In Mexico, the Brown-backed Solitaire is a denizen of the Pine-Oak mountains from Sonora south through Honduras, also occuring in the mountains of eastern Mexico. All previous records from the United States have been dismissed as feral birds, as it is one of the most common caged birds in Mexico due to its incredible song. Recordings of this song can be heard here (scroll down below the map): http://xeno-canto.org/species.php?query=brown-backed+solitaire

This species is regarded by many to be 'the most spectacular in the New World.' Hopefully the species will finally be accepted on the ABA checklist.

24 June 2009

California Condors on the Kolob

On my way to a brief weekend break in Colorado with my friend Chris West, we took a brief detour through Zion National Park to the Kolob Terrace. Recently, there was a Condor festival in the area and it was said that several condors were in the area. So, we drove up the road the said distance the festival adds said and found two cars on the roadside. One belonged to a Condor researcher who was listening to the radio trackers, and another belonging to some other tourists. I pulled over, and asked if they knew where exactly the condors were. "Here" was there simple reply, and it was right then that I spotted the following approximately a hundred feet away:

As if it could not get any better, another California Condor flew directly overhead, so closely that it could not fit inside my lens! I managed to snap one decent in flight picture:

It was about this time that I came to the conclusion that California Condors are one of America's most incredible birds. By day's end, we saw about nine condors, all at close range. The man working with the condors that we ran into told us that later in the summer it is not uncommon to have forty (40!) condors at this site. All of these birds were originally released in the Vermilion Cliffs, and found their way to the sheep-rich hills north of Zion. Food is so plentiful that the birds even ignore the food drops the researchers place for the birds. I hope one day to see these birds in even more areas, as they begin to recolinize their former range (Oregon to Northern Mexico eastward to Big Bend, Texas).

16 June 2009

Wrapping Up the South Rim

Over the past week, I have been finishing up my surveys on the South Rim, a task I do not extremely enjoy. It seems that on the North Rim, my accommodations will not be as spectacular, or possible not even existent. All of these qualms aside, though, the home stretch of the South Rim can be described in one way: Awesome birds, terrible transects. Over the past week, I have had two Northern Goshawks, two Northern Pygmy-Owls (one of which was seen fighting in mid-air with a female Black-headed Grosbeak), Williamson's Sapsucker (state bird), Clark's Nutcracker (state bird), Downy Woodpecker (state bird), and American Three-toed Woodpecker (state bird). Though not on a transect, Andrew and I also pulled off finding four California Condors on the South Rim.
California Condor (picture from 1/2 mile away).

The transects, on the other hand, were terrible. It took my an hour to walk 5oo meters through some of that terrain.... Hopefully the North Rim is more kind.

08 June 2009

Huachuca Mountains - Sunday

On Sunday, Tyler Loomis and I drove over to the Huachuca Mountains to try for the Berylline Hummingbird again. Tyler had yet to see this species, and I told him we could try for it. While he was watching for the hummer though (unsuccessfully), he managed to spy two Northern Goshawks circling overhead (that I missed) and I was shown three day roosting Whiskered Screech-Owls from just a few feet away. That night, we drove up Carr Canyon to camp, and to meet Andrew Spencer and Chris West. We didn't all coordinate at the same area until 3:30, and then slept in a little, waiting for the 50 mph wind gusts to die down. When they finally did, the birding was awesome. I got my first Buff-breasted Flycatchers and Greater Pewees of the year, as well as Yellow-eyed Junco, Olive Warbler, and Red-faced Warbler on the nest. There were Band-tailed Pigeons everywhere in these hills too. Soon though, Tyler, Chris and I made the executive dicision to hit Miller Canyon again while Andrew tried to sound record some flycatchers and warblers.

When we got to Miller Canyon, we lazed our way up the hill, and began the long wait for the hummingbird. White-eared Hummingbirds, Magnificents, Blue-throateds and half a dozen other species swarmed the oaks trying to get their sugar fix. Chris and I soon grew bored, and decided to let Tyler fend for himself with the Berylline. Not long after we left, he succeeded in his quest and rejoined us up canyon, and we searched up for more birds, specifically the recently reported Spotted Owls. Though we were unsuccessful in this venture, we did manage to see a Black Bear and three seperate Red-faced Warblers, coming as close as three feet, but only allowing me to obtain this one decent photo (after editing):

Soon after our fun with the warblers, we headed into Sierra Vista for lunch, and Tyler discovered that four Elegant Terns had materialized in the state overnight. We all looked at each other. We knew what we had to do next.

Lo and behold, two short hours later, my lifer Elegant Tern, my 550th world bird (you can see a second Elegant Tern in the background):

Here, we were forced to part our seperate ways, having successfully completed another whirlwind weekend of birding. I'm almost scared to see where I'll be in just a week or two...

06 June 2009

QUETZAL

OK, so here goes....

I know I have not completely told the story of last weekend, so I have to sum it up to tell the story of this weekend: from where I left off, we got Berylline Hummingbird, Lucifer Hummingbird, and then went to California Gulch and SAW Buff-collared Nightjar. It was incredible. The next day, we got Five-striped Sparrow, Flame-colored Tanager, and Common Black-Hawk. I will try to post pictures eventually, but this weekend started to interfere with that.

On Friday, I was forced to cancel work due to the wind. I don't usually mind a single day off, but my boss called and told me to just take the entire weekend off - the weather was not going to improve. So I took his advice, and began the long drive to Portal. When I was about a third of the way there, however, I received a phone call from Chris West. There was a GRAY-COLLARED BECARD near Portal! A first United States record for the species. I began to drive a little bit faster, and called up Tyler Loomis (who I later picked up) and Andrew Spencer, and we all began to move in on Portal. On the way down, we took a slight detour for the flock of 11 White-rumped Sandpipers, and then continued on. Unfortunately, we got there too late in the evening to see this incredible bird (and never did find it), but got Whiskered Screech-Owl, awesome looks at Whip-poor-will, Spotted Owl, and Great Horned Owl. The next morning, we woke up at 3:30 and drove over to Chriricahua National Monument, where we had an incredible bird. At 4:45, the previously reported Eared Quetzal began to call down canyon. One of less than twenty ever recorded in the United States, it was truly a remarkable thing to hear.

Now, off to catch up on sleep.

01 June 2009

The Epic Saga of Southeastern Arizona, Part 1: The Santa Ritas

Friday was the start of one of my favorite activities at work: the break. I woke up bright and early, and conducted my final transect for this period near Pittman Valley Road east of Williams, and began to pack my bags. A few days earlier, Chris West (swallowtailedkite.blogspot.com) and I hatched the master plan for the weekend: we would meet in Tucson, and then go see the Mexican rarities currently in South East Arizona. ALL OF THEM.

After meeting at the Sonoran Desert Museum in Tucson and dropping off my truck, we loaded into his little red Ford Taurus and began doing the five main things we did all weekend: Bird, Drive, Drink Root Beer, Eat Nutter Butters, and listen to Taylor Swift.

We arrived in Florida Wash, and began hiking up to the Rufous-capped Warbler location.We began shuffling up the drainage, listening to Black-throated Sparrows and Scott's Orioles on the slopes, and a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher calling in the underbrush. Soon, we neared the dam, and Chris and I began our search vigorously. We scoured the canyon up above the dam towards the last reported location, when something hopped out from under my foot. The bird was none other
than the RUFOUS-CAPPED WARBLER! (I apologize for technical difficulties, but please click the picture to see the entire bird in a new window.) It sat in a bush inches away as I called to Chris, trying not to scare the bird. "I've got it!" Chris glanced up, asking "Where?!" and finally realized how close it actually was. We followed the bird into the drainage nearby, where he was getting drinks from the stream and soon began to sing in the rushes, revealing it was the male. Just then, in response to the singing, his little lady friend came to see what was up. So there we were, minutes after starting our search, sitting five to ten feet away from TWO Rufous-capped Warblers. Our cameras firing off like the paparazzi, we got incredible looks at these birds coming in.

Unforunately though, the sun was setting fast. Chris, having seen his first life bird of the trip was elated. We began to hike out, when I heard a familiar song and glanced up the slope.

"Chris, BLACK-CAPPED GNATCATCHER."

Soon, we had decent looks at this, the rarest of the North American Gnatcatchers, and lifer number two for Chris. We glanced up at the setting sun, and hurried onwards towards Madera Canyon.

When we finally arrived there, the canyon was disturbingly quiet. Hardly anything was out and about, and we stood at the Kubo, hoping for someting to come out. And we didn't have to wait long. After a short wait, I spotted the male White-eared Hummingbird coming to the feeder. This was the second White-eared either of us had ever seen. As we watched this hummer, Chris suddenly piped up. "Hey, is that another White-eared?" I looked where he was pointing and, sure enough, a female White-eared Hummer had joined the masses at the feeders. By now though, the sun was setting, and fast. I looked around Madera as we began to organize for the push south. Next stop: Patagonia, the land of the Sinaloa Wren. As we left the canyon, Chris and I began talking about the Flame-colored Tanager that we had missed in the canyon, the bird that had been present for years at the same spot. "We'll see it," Chris said. "We have to come back by this way anyhow." I smiled, and wondered what other birds the weekend had in store...

To be continued in Part 2: Patagonia, Land of the Wren.

27 May 2009

Arizona - A Quick Update

As most of you know, I recently started my summer job with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, and have been doing transects for them for several days now in the Kaibab National Forest of Northern Arizona. Hepatic Tanagers abound, and I even have had a couple Olive Warblers and even a Red-faced Warbler. I will post more in depth later, but for now, a parting shot of a Grace's Warbler from the Kaibab National Forest south of Williams, Arizona.

11 May 2009

Williamson's Sapsucker

Williamson's Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyroideus) is one of the most unique North American woodpeckers. When it was first discovered, it was believed to be two separate species as it is so sexually dimorphic. One species was described in which no female had ever been discovered, and another in which only females had been observed. This female Williamson's Sapsucker was photographed on the Telegraph Road in Mesa County on 9 May 2009. The male is almost entirely jet black. I figured a woodpecker this cool deserves its own post.

08 May 2009

Lucy's Warbler in Mesa County!

Today, I found a male Lucy's Warbler in Rabbit Valley about a mile from the Utah Border in Mesa County, Colorado. This warbler, the smallest of the wood warblers in North America and one of only two to nest in trees, is extremely rare and localized in Colorado, regularly occurring only in Yellowjacket Canyon in Montezuma County, Colorado, in the Southwest corner of the state. In addition to these and the one observed today, there are (to my knowledge) four records of this warbler in Colorado; the first being an adult male singing in downtown Grand Junction, Mesa County in May 1991, another being observed in Lamar, Prowers County, another in eastern Colorado (location?), and finally an adult male in Gateway, Mesa County in April of last year (found the 24, I saw this bird on the 27). The fact that three records have come from Mesa County, and that two of them have occured each of the past two springs suggests that this bird may be becoming more regular on the Dolores and Colorado Rivers near the Utah border. It will be interesting to see what the future brings.

Lucy's Warbler is distinguished from other Vermivora warblers by having a plain, grayish overall look with a chestnut/rusty rump and crown, and faint eyeline.

01 May 2009

Gray May Day

It has finally arrived! May - the month when the orioles arrive en force in western Colorado, the month when warblers begin to set up territories, and when all migrants have a possibility to show! Today, though, I went up to the Colorado National Monument briefly to see what was out and about. Upon arriving, House Finches were singing everywhere. An Ash-throated Flycatcher called from the hillside, a Black-chinned Hummingbird defended his flowerpatch, and a distant Black-throated Gray Warbler sang a single 'zee-chick.' As I walked up the trail, I managed to hear a Rock Wren up the slope, and the House Finches and Black-chinned Hummers continued to fly around and be extremely vocal. That was when I spotted my third vireo of the year - a lone male Gray Vireo that was sporadically singing and swooping between the Single-leaf Ash and Utah Juniper. Further up the trail, an Ash-throated Flycatcher drifted by, and a calling Gray Flycatched wagged its tail in a nearby juniper tree. Overall, it was a good day in the PJ Woodland. You can never go wrong by birding the desert.

24 April 2009

Summer Tanager in Western Colorado!

Today, my Ornithology class went out to Highline Lake State Park in Mesa County, Colorado to see what we could find. It was a fairly productive day, with Loggerhead Shrike at the east entrance, Western and Eared Grebes on the lake, and a Long-billed Dowitcher and my FOS Western Kingbirds on the west side. But, as we were leaving the park to head back to town, I spotted an odd, reddish bird flying along the fence. My professor stopped the car and began backing up after I informed him that I thought it was a Tanager, possibly a Summer. Just as I said that, one of the girls said "Is that it?" There on the branch was a Summer Tanager male molting into its first breeding plumage. The bird was amazingly cooperative, allowing amazing views for the group from not very far away (~8 feet). Unfortunately, we had to get back to school, but I managed to coax my dad into returning out there later in order to obtain a record shot. What an incredible bird! It is the first one I have ever seen in Colorado.

15 April 2009

Sinaloa Wren

Another Sinaloa Wren has just been confirmed from Southeastern Arizona. There is a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pn-NyQNQDaI

The Sinaloa Wren (Thryothorus sinaloa) is an endemic bird to Western Mexico and ranges northward to Sonora, just south of the American border. Previous Sinaloa Wren reports have not been accepted, but the birds presence in the United States has been debated and, by some, expected for many years. The first ABA record for this bird was found last year near Patagonia, Arizona, where it has resided since it was found on 25 August 2008. I was lucky enough to see the Patagonia bird on 2 January of this year, as it called and foraged among the trees at daybreak. This second bird has taken up residence at Fort Huachuca, a military base in the Huachuca Mountains near Sierra Vista. This is an entirely seperate bird and a first county record for Cochise County (the Patagonia bird is in Santa Cruz County). I cannot help but wonder whether or not Sinaloa Wrens will follow the same path as the Black-capped Gnatcatchers. The gnatcatchers, another West Mexican endemic, were first confirmed in the United States in the 1970's when a nest was found in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. Since that time, they have become more or less regular in the canyons of Southeastern Arizona and even in Guadelupe Canyon, in Southwestern New Mexico. Just this year alone, I have had well over a dozen Black-capped Gnatcatchers in Arizona in three of the canyons in the Santa Ritas, south of Tucson. Another bird expanding northward is the Rufous-capped Warbler (also in the Santa Ritas this year), and Eared Quetzals and Crescent-chested Warblers have begun showing up more north of their expected range. It seems to me that Arizona is undergoing a Mexican bird invasion, and I would not at all be surprised if more Sinaloa Wrens were reported by year's end.

And the quiz results: I know it wasn't up for long, but congratulations to David Bell and Andrew Spencer for correctly identifying the Clapper Rail (Rallus longirostris levipes) photographed south of San Diego, California in January 2009.

14 April 2009

Photo Quiz #1

OK, so seeing how Photo Quizzes are the hip new thing to post, I thought I would do one of my own. Time of year: Winter. Location: Mexican Border.
Please e-mail answers to black.hawk.birder@gmail.com with the subject line "Photo Quiz #1."

04 April 2009

Fallout!

These past few days have hosted some of the worst Spring weather I've ever seen in Western Colorado. Winds have been howling through the valley, and storm after storm has rolled through. Yesterday's rains were a record breaking amount, and last night's storm coated half of the mountains in snow down to the valley level. So, on this cold and windy morning I picked up Sean McKee for his first day of birding and ventured out to Highline Lake State Park. This is the best decision I have made in a long time.

Just pulling into the park, I spotted the first good bird of the day - a Long-billed Curlew! This was the first Western Colorado Curlew I had seen away from the western desert's breeding haunts of this species and made sure I got Sean on the bird as it flew east, never to be seen again. I smiled at our good fortune and went down to the mudflats to see if there were any good shorebirds out and about today. Unfortunately, the lake level had been raised about five feet, destroying all mudflats for the shorebirds. I shook my head, and looked around the lake. Two Osprey circled in the dark sky, and about three distant loons seemed to be prowling through the water. A flock of ducks flew over, and I had a suspicion that they were Redheads but didn't get a good view. A Eurasian Collared-Dove flew around a boat launch, and Sean noticed the loon out on the lake. Being his first time birding, he asked about it and I took a look through the binoculars to make sure. It was a loon, but behind the bird was a large raft of birds. I thought they were loons, but shook my head a little - loons don't travel in groups that big.

We loaded back into the truck and headed over to the far shore. There, we found the group of ducks I had seen before - 45 Redheads and 6 Bufflehead. I was surprised that my guess was right. In around the ducks were several Western Grebes, and a fairly cooperative Clark's Grebe. As I was pointing out the birds to Sean, four loons began to approach us very closely.


I managed to snap this decent Common Loon pic through my window. As we glanced out across the lake though, my suspicion was confirmed - the raft of birds was loons. So we drove up farther to try to determine how many loons there really were on the lake. we were distracted en route by a giant mass of swirling birds, at least 170 Sandhill Cranes. They drifted lazily through the thermal and shot northwest towards Idaho and Northern Utah. As they departed, Sean and I continued up the road to a pull out to count the loons. Up around the corner was yet another raft of these impressive birds. I quickly started counting, and came out at 87 loons just within sight at the moment. I quickly called Larry Arnold to ask him if a flock this big was significant, and sure enough, according to his records, the largest flock ever in Western Colorado was at the exact same spot almost twenty years ago and numbered a mere 47 individuals. Before I knew it, Larry was on his way out to see it for himself. While waiting for him, we then proceeded on to Mack Mesa Reservoir just above Highline. There, a Northern Harrier drifted over the marsh, two Common Mergansers hugged the shore, and about 8 Red-Breasted Mergansers sat in the middle of the lake. A Double-crested Cormorant flew in, and it wasn't long until we spotted two loons at this lake too. One bird was diving intermittently near the fishing pier and another bizarre bird was flying loops around the lake, giving a great opportunity to study a loon in flight. It wasn't long until we drove down to meet Larry near our loon overlook, and started counting the other birds there. The only other birds on the lake were about 8 Canada Geese and 23 Double-crested Cormorants. When we arrived at our rondezvous, a Clark's Grebe and some Western Grebe's were up close and personal between us and the Common Loon horde. Soon, Larry arrived and with him, the gulls. Four Ring-billed Gulls arrived out of the south, and they were very soon joined by two Franklin's Gulls. After showing Larry everything we had found, Sean and I decided to head out. As we were leaving, though, I spotted some more ducks flying in from the south, circling down and dropping into the lake. I grabbed my binoculars to see what the were. Lo and behold, more loons. At the time we left, we had counted 92 Common Loons on the lake. It was incredible.

After Highline, Sean and I headed out to Horsetheif to see what was out and about. Though we did not reapeat our amazing success from before, we had two Bald Eagles and two more Osprey. What happened at Highline was truly remarkable though, and goes to show that bad weather really does equal good birds in migration.

26 March 2009

Another American Pipit

Bored with my normal afterschool routine, I headed down to Connected Lakes State Park to bird around a little bit. The weather today has been stormy and not good for migrants, so I didn't expect anything. The heavy clouds and bursts of wind gave the walk an eerie mood. As I walked around, I decided to go to the confluence of the Colorado River and Redlands Canal to see if a late Barrow's Goldeneye or Canvasback was loafing around. When I got there after bushwhacking through some tamarisk, I was disappointed to find only Mallards. But then, as I took a step forward, I flushed a surprisingly silent American Pipit off the river bank.

Normally, a pipit is nothing to be excited about, but seeing that lone pipit made me realize something. This winter CBC, my friends and I rafted the river and had over 170 pipits (if my memory serves me right), over 30 of which were in one flock! So what happened to them? The rest of my winter in Colorado was generally pipit-less. I walked the river but never saw them flying around. I imagine as the winter progressed, they moved on south. At this time of year, I always assumed they'd be on their way to higher elevations and latitudes. As that pipit flew in a wide circle over the river this afternoon, I realized I had accomplished my goal for the day: finding a migrant. I was hoping for something coming up from the south, but today's storms are probably to blame for the pipit I saw and for keeping the new stuff south. I then realized that this pipit was probably the last low elevation pipit I'll see this year. That lone bird made me consider how dangerous it is to get too caught up in what's new, because you never know when you'll see your last of something mixed in.

24 March 2009

Migrants Today

Due to a statewide test being administered to underclassmen today, I had some free time and decided to go out to Highline Lake State Park in Northwestern Mesa County and fill in one of my saddest county bird gaps: Long-billed Dowitcher. Long-billed Dowitchers aren't uncommon where I live; in fact, they're regular and 'easy.' However, they have seemingly avoided me on every in-county birding venture I have ever done. So today I drove out to the lake to try for this 'elusive' and 'difficult' bird, and was rewarded when I flushed a pair getting out of my truck. In fact, they were the first birds I flushed all day. After seeing my quarry, I looked around the lake a little and saw a couple Gadwall, Eurasian Collared-Doves, and heard a Killdeer. However, a Canada Goose and far off swimming thing made me think that the other side of the lake would be worth a look.

A few minutes later, I was on the other side of the lake and shaking my head. It was definitely worth the drive over - my First of Spring Osprey was sitting in a snag, and a lone Sandhill Crane circled up from its nighttime roost. A dozen cormorants wandered around the lake, and there on the shore between me and the sun were several gulls. Gulls. And they were in horrible lighting. Even in these conditions, though, I could see that one or two of these birds looked different. So I hiked the quarter mile out, hiding behind bluffs and bushes on the way, to get a better look. It was well worth it. From my truck, I thought I saw two non-Ring-billed Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. Getting closer, I found that all but one was a Ring-billed, but that one was a Herring Gull! This is only the second Herring Gull I have ever seen in Western Colorado, as they are rare and irregular. As the book "Birds of Western Colorado Mesa and Plateau Country" states, there is a 50/50 chance that a bird will even be recorded at all in any given year. Not bad. I wonder what else will show up this spring...
Two of the gulls from Highline Lake: Ring-billed in front, Herring in back.

CORRECTION: Due to much correspondence I have since had about this photograph, I am unsure whether this is a weird Herring Gull or California Gull. For the time being, I am leaving the ID as Larus species, due to mixed opinions I have heard. When I am certain of the ID, I will re-edit this post.

18 March 2009

Stalking in a Good Way

My Aunt called from down the street this evening to inform me that a Great Horned Owl had swooped into her yard and was checking out her cats (well, she didn't describe this exactly, but owls will be owls). I saw this as an opportunity to get a good picture, but upon stepping outside I realized that the lighting would be too terrible to get any pictures. But then, I spotted a new quarry. Lying about twenty feet away from me was a Mourning Dove, presumably preparing to roost. I have observed them doing this numerous times on my way out into the world in the early dawn as my headlights illuminate them, but saw this chance to photograph one. I got down low to the ground and began inching forward. At first, the bird just stared at me. So I took a picture, using the flash in the low light to better capture his image. Then, while he was dazed, I began inching forward. I repeated this method about three times until I was a mere 1.5 meters away. I then took one last picture of him attempting to sneak away, and then he thwarted my plans once and for all by taking wing and alighting on a power line above. At least I got some decent pics.

12 March 2009

Louisiana Loitering

For the past 5 days, my family and I have been traveling around Louisiana to look at Louisiana State University and whatever else we might come across. I managed to squeeze in some birding, and got a state list of 79 by the time we boarded the plane - not bad for not going birding. Louisiana is definitely an amazing state though-the endless bayous, swamps, and "upland" forests that resemble jungles more than anything else. We wandered around the swamps of St. Marin Parish in particular, given that we were staying near the Lafayette/Vermilion Parish boundary and it was between us and Baton Rouge. There we saw Alligators, Roseate Spoonbills, Anhingas by the dozen, and lots of Cajun folk. I managed to get a few gator pics from Lake Martin, including this brute loafing on a log:
Wandering around the rest of Southeastern Louisiana, we got to see a lot of other interesting things. Avery Island was incredible for the sole reason that you get free Tabasco for walking through the door! It is also the cheapest place to buy it by the gallon that I know of. We didn't have the cash to visit the rest of the island, so I was pleased to see a Louisiana Heron (now known as the Tricolored Heron) at the entrance to the park. Other places we visited included coastal St. Mary Parish, where the swamps abutted into the ocean with Boat-tailed Grackles and other birds flying through the picnic areas, and where my dad spotted the most photogenic Wilson's Snipes I have ever seen.
In all, we visited about a dozen parishes, the French Quarter of New Orleans (one of the most disturbing places I have ever been), made a small hop into Mississippi, and drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. That is most definitely the longest bridge I have ever been on. The scenery, college, and awesome birds make me want to go to college in Louisiana. That would amazing.

Oh, and Vermilion Parish was incredible birdwise - it is the only spot I have had Inca Dove, Blue-headed Vireo, both Kinglets, and Fishcrow in the same yard, at the same time (except for the Golden-crowned Kinglet, which stuck around just long enough to be one of my first state birds down there).

02 March 2009

Delta County - February 28

On Saturday, the 28, Andrew Spencer, Jason Beason, Otus Beason and I all traveled up the Grand Mesa to find crossbills near the Grand Mesa National Forest Visitor Center, Delta County. Andrew was the first to spot our quarry while driving down the road just a few hundred yards from the visitor center. We parked among the snowmobilers and ran after the calling birds. We soon caught up to a small group of "Type 5" Red Crossbills on the roadside, where Andrew realized he forgot his memory card to record their calls. I decided to test my new camera on the awesome finches before us. While watching the Reds and waiting for Jason, White-winged Crossbills began flying over, singing on the wing. Of course, as soon as Jason arrived, the finches had moved on, and needed a slight bit of chasing. So we trekked farther up the road, and though we never saw another White-winged Crossbill, we got to hear them very well. In all, we had about a dozen White-winged Crossbills, 30ish "Type 5" Red Crossbills, at least one "Type 4" Red Crossbill, and a few probable "Type 3" Red Crossbills. A successful day of crossbilling, if I may say so myself.

Later, we journeyed down the mountain to Fruitgrower's Reservoir, where we saw Pintail, Sandhill Crane and the usual winter ducks, and on to Confluence Park. There, we had great looks at a flock of Barrow's Goldeneyes in the Gunnison River, as well as Ross's and Snow Geese on the main lake. A bit of searching also produced a Cackling Goose among the Canadas.

On the way back to Junction, we managed to turn up two more good birds - a Prairie Merlin at Cheney Reservoir (Mesa County) and a Swamp Sparrow at Corn Lake State Park (Mesa County). Overall, an excellent way to say goodbye to the February Blues.