Thursday, December 18, 2014

Purple Reign (14-18Dec2014)

Hello Birders,

Last weekend I took part in the Holly Shelter and Lea Hutaff Island CBC.  Shun and I were dropped off on the North Side of Lea Hutaff Island which is the island between Topsail and Figure Eight.

Beautiful place and almost totally untouched.

4 plus miles of walking back and forth between the beach and the intracoastal marshes.

Plenty of birds over the water like Gannets and gulls. However, the beach, dunes and marsh was relatively quiet.

We were hopeful of the one small hill with vegetation but all we found was a Catbird and a House Wren.  Zero Yellow-rumps.

Savannah Sparrows were plentiful.

Ipswich subspecies of Savannah Sparrow.

It took forever to find a nice flock of marsh sparrows but then we hit the jackpot.

Seaside Sparrow

Most of the marsh sparrows were Nelson's.

This one was a Saltmarsh Sparrow.

Great times.

Wednesday morning before work I headed down to Veteran's Park to check out the reported Ross's Goose. I knew at some point one would show in Wilmington.

Then the cherry on top, today I was tipped off by my buddy Dave to some Purple Finches here in Wilmington.

First Dave spotted a female in the Sweetgum.

Then the male showed up.

Not a bad way to end my week.  Tomorrow I hit the road for Florida and then Puerto Rico for Xmas!

Keep it real homies.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Corn Country (10-12Dec2014)

Hello birders,

A business trip this week actually netted me 3 lifers!  I had to plug a hole on my team and visit 4 hospitals strewn across Illinois corn country.  One was on the West side of Illinois and then I followed the string of hospitals clear across to the East side.  Since there are no big airports I started in St. Louis, MO and ended in Indianapolis, IN.

My flight on Wednesday got me into St. Louis early enough that I was able to head to the Riverlands Migratory Bird Area which is just Northeast of St. Louis where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet.  A quick look at eBird before my trip and I saw that Trumpeter Swans were plentiful here.  I also saw reports of Lapland Longspurs so those were my two target birds.

When I got to the area, I decided to start out on the West side of the peninsula and loop my way around.  There was miles of stubbly corn fields and everything was muddy and wet.  Unfortunately the bird activity was almost nil.  That is until I got to the entrance of the Big Muddy NWR.  My first encounter was a nice flock of Horned Lark.  I knew to find Lapland Longspurs a good indicator is nearby lark.  So I combed through them but couldn't find any longspurs or even bunting.

Horned Lark.

Then I heard a noisy swan up above and tallied my first Trumpeter Swan of the day.

Trumpeter Swan - first of many.

Trumpeter Swan - no yellow on bills which is in contrast to the Tundra Swans back home which have yellow lores.

I was not sure what to expect, there were lots of reports on eBird, but I did not know how many people had gone to see them and dipped.  So I was thinking I was lucky when I found a flock in a small flooded field.  I soon found out that I would see hundreds.

The necks of the juveniles were much darker than the juvenile Tundras back home.

Big Muddy NWR - on the sign you can see Confluence Point - the area where the mighty Mississippi and muddy Missouri meet.   The Missouri starts at a small lake in the Western side of Montana and the Mississippi ends of course down in New Orleans.  So you basically have this huge river system crossing the entire USA.  Its pretty impressive and there is an enormous amount of history coursing down these rivers.

I finally looped over to the East side of the park system and found a nice little lake with lots of activity.

Common Merganser.

Common Goldeneye.

After sifting through hundreds of gulls, I headed over the Audubon Visitor's Center to charge my iPhone and I was happy I did.  There were hundreds of sparrows and finches flying around in the field overlooking the Mississippi right in front of the building.  So while my phone charged I went for a nice walk through the fields.  Much of the expected species: House Finch, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow.... Then I saw one sparrow that had me totally confused.  Of course!!!! How could I have forgotten, St. Louis is home of an established group of Eurasian Tree Sparrows.  What an idiot, I almost forgot to look for this specialty lifer.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow - this is the German version of the more common English House Sparrow.  Whereas the House Sparrow took over North America and beyond very quickly, the German Tree Sparrow has not really spread beyond the St. Louis area. However there were tons of them here.  I guess being surrounded by corn fields in seemingly all directions makes them want to stay put.

Speaking of which, I need to stop eating so much red meat.  All these corn ag fields really got me depressed.  Of course most of this corn is not even destined for our dinner tables, they are used for feeding cattle.  So we are basically dumping tons of fertilizer on the depleted soils to feed our fixation on red meat.  The fertilizer is leaching into the Great Lakes and other bodies of water and killing natural fish populations not to mention birds.  The corn is used to feed cattle that are no longer free range. And the worst part is this part of the country was probably once beautiful.  That being said it was a gray winter day so I was not seeing it at it's best.  I guess some people like seeing corn fields but they just depress me.  I have nothing against the farmers, I just wish that the average human demanded more variety in their diets and didn't just want to eat burgers and fried chicken.  If we ate more diverse food, farmers would change their growing habits to include more natural produce and would be able to cycle their fields so they were not depleting the soils to the point where they need tons of fertilizers.

The river in front had Common Loons, Horned Grebe and some Bald Eagles.

Then I finally got a decent picture of an American Tree Sparrow.  The lighting was horrible all day but I was not going to be picky.

I headed down to the end of the peninsula and hiked a short trail to the actual "Confluence Point".  It was cold and hardly any birds so I did not linger too long, but it was nice to read the plaques and imagine Lewis and Clark paddling by in canoes or whatever.

An almost adult male Harrier.

Rough-legged Hawk - I got great looks with my binos but this species has been giving me a really hard time with photos.  As soon as I got out of my car he took off.  I think this was an immature light phase bird.  Probably female.  White speckling on back and shoulders, white windows in wing tips, light patch on rump and a light colored head.

Heavily cropped photo showing what is more of a belly band than the Red-tailed Hawk's breast band.  Meaning the RL Hawk has a band that is generally lower down.

The bird finally perched but did not let me get very close.

Its a big hawk, quite a bit larger than a RT Hawk.

Finally the light was really starting to fade, as early as 3pm so I started heading out.  As I passed the lake that I birded at earlier I noticed some very light colored gulls flying by so naturally I stopped.

Glaucous Gull!!!!  This was a lifer for me.  The bill was sturdier than Iceland and the bird was too light to be a Thayer's.  Looks like a first or second winter bird.

Wait a minute, two of them??? The one on the left had a dark looking face, not sure if maybe he was a Glaucous and Herring hybrid?

Ok this is getting ridiculous, three of them!!!  Bird on the left is probably a Herring.  The three on right side of frame all presumed Glaucous.

Pure as the driven snow. Well almost.  Thayer's can be seen here and maybe are more regularly but I could not make one into a Thayer's for all I tried.

If you would have told me I would be seeing Glaucous gulls floating next to Common Goldeneyes on my business trip I would not have believed you.

4 Common Goldeneyes.

This shows nicely the size and color contrast of the Glaucous and a Herring.  The Glaucous is noticeably larger.

The three Glaucous sandwiched by presumed Herring Gulls.  I need to get better at gulls but I am fairly certain.

eBird flagged my report since seeing three here is pretty rare.

Great times!  I finally made it home last night.  Good to be back in NC.

Now there is reports of Cackling Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese in NC but I just don't have the screaming desire to drive 3 hours one way to see them.  So Sunday I am going to take part in the CBC and have a nice walk on Lea Huttaf Island with my buddy Shun and I think Addison from Audubon.

Should be fun!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Last Hurrah (05-07Dec2015)

Well folks, it's almost the end of the year and a combination of work, a lack of rare birds and the fact that I know I am very far from any records has slowed down my resolve.  In fact I knew early in the summer already that I was not on pace to overtake Derb's record.  It's amazing that all the effort I put in this year between chasing rare birds, taking numerous pelagics and spending countless ours in the field and I am still falling over 25 birds short of his 351 record.  I believe his record will stand for a long time unless someone that is retired, independently wealthy and lucky tries soon.
I was so sure that I would not touch the record that three months ago I booked tickets for the last week of December to take the family to Puerto Rico.  This week I am flying to Illinois for work.  So between those two trips I think I am effectively done for the year.
Not before one last push though.  Sherry L texted me on Friday and told me she was doing the bonus trip with Steve S and Brian P on the OBX over the weekend and they had some cancellations so I reached out and was able to secure a spot.

The following picture is actually from my way back from New York, we stopped at Pettigrew State Park to stretch our legs and I captured this image of a quick fly by which I thought was a Bald Eagle.  The only reason I am posting it now is that someone reported a Golden Eagle from Pettigrew on that same day in the same general area. I don't think this is a Golden, but I thought it was worth posting in case anyone wanted to weigh in.

Random spider hanging from a thread at Pettigrew.

Ok back to the trip report from this weekend.  On the way up to the OBX we drove the back roads outside Washington in Beaufort County and I yelled "stop the car" when I saw an owl shape sitting on a telephone wire on the side of the road.  We turned around and Sherry shone her flashlight up and we got great looks at a nice Barn Owl.  Of course it took off before I could get my camera on it and who knows if a shot in the dark like that would have worked anyway.

Saturday morning at the Comfort Inn in Nags Head dawned beautifully.  But as the saying goes, red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.  This warning was well taken as Sunday dawned with absolutely awful weather.

First stop Saturday was Bodie Island.  In the parking lot we all gave our estimates on how many species we would see in the next day and a half.  I picked 120.  I actually did not know that Sunday was going to be horrible weather so I reasoned that 120 was certainly obtainable.

Bodie was excellent!  We got great looks at 3 different rail species including Sora, Virginia and King Rail!!!  I think everyone got looks at the Virginia Rails, the Sora showed for some of us and the King was seen by Shun, Sherry and I when everyone else had gone back the parking lot.  It was very red and much larger than a Virginia and Steve had thought he had heard one earlier so we were pretty certain despite this species not being in this location normally.

Virginia Rail - Ok not the best picture, but he would not stay still and the light was still bad.  Sherry got better pics with her point and shoot.

Much smaller than a Clapper, buffy underneath and gray face.

Sora way over on far side of pond.

Have to love a Tundra!

At Coquina Beach we had large flights of Scoters which were mostly Black Scoters with a few Surf mixed in.  Notably no White-winged.

Purple SP at the Old Coast Guard Station groin.

South Pond had hundreds of thousands of waterfowl.  Snow Geese rarely ever photograph well for me because their blindingly white plumage tricks my camera and I am not savvy enough to manipulate it manually.

There was a raft of Redheads that was in the tens of thousands.

The trip leaders found this lone Brant for my 315th photographed species!

I have a better Photo digiscoped with Shun's scope and my iPhone but I have to post when I have more time.

This Dovekie was very obliging in the Jockey's Ridge visitor's center.  However, one of my rules was to not count stuffed and dead birds.

Even with his X ray goggles Shun could not find any Black Rails at the Duck Boardwalk.  But I think he was able to see Sherry's underwear.  A little creepy if you ask me. Mary was staring off at something on the horizon but no one will ever know what.  There's something about Mary.  Good people!

Day 2 was a horrible day, wind chill in the 30s and raining in Nags Head.  Poor Sherry's car was covered in sand from the wind. So the caravan headed to Mattamuskeet.  The usual suspects were found.

Blue Winged Teal.

In the end we tallied 119 species so I was the winner of the prize which was a nice Eco-glassware bowl.

I added two photographed birds for my big year effort in Virginia Rail and Brant.  So that leaves me with a very respectable 325 seen species and 314 photographed.  Not bad for a practice run!!!! That leaves me with only 11 species that I saw but failed to photograph.  I actually did get photos of the Short-eared Owl and Yellow-headed BB but they were so bad I decided to not post them.

Seriously though, it has been very fun and I think I am going to keep my blog up as much as I can.  I promised my wife I would not do another big year in 2015 but I plan on taking some ex-NC trips and I will still undoubtedly be birding in NC quite a bit.

My main objectives in doing this big year have been achieved 100%.  I have gotten to know my state better, I have met tons of interesting people and I have improved my birding skills drastically although I will still get stumped by the odd looking Pine Warbler now and again.

Thanks for reading and if you see me in the field say hi!