Saturday, November 29, 2014

Frozen Solid 25-28Nov2014

Before leaving my parents house on Long Island we headed one more time to Avalon.  Nothing special but really an amazing place.  Usually when a billionaire hits critical mass with their money, they must feel some kind of guilt and usually become philanthropists.  Well this is one time I am glad that someone became filthy rich because he really did something special with Avalon.

White-breasted Nuthatch doing his best White-wagtail impersonation.

White-throated Sparrow

After saying our goodbyes, we hopped into the Volvo and began our Pilgrimage to the other parents in Milford, PA.  Not before stopping to see a rarity at Jones Beach though!

Common Ground Dove - he took a while to find since he blended in so well with his surroundings.  Not bad habitat for a ground dove, but not the best time of year for him and a storm was on the way to boot.  I almost wanted to bring him home with us to North Carolina.

Usually these are not found further North than South Carolina.

After spending 4 hours in horrendous traffic we finally made it to our destination and just in time.  Wednesday was spent inside watching the snow come down and playing Monopoly with the family.  After being cooped up all day Wednesday it was good to get out on Thanksgiving and we headed to Warwick, NY for Thanksgiving dinner at my sister in law's house.  However on the way we drove through one of my favorite refuges - Wallkill River NWR.

Rough-legged Hawk - I got good looks with the Binos but unfortunately all the shots I took with my camera was down strokes with the wings and you can't see the best field marks.  It had a whitish tail with a black sub-terminal band, black markings at the base of the legs, whitish wings with black wrist bands much more pronounced than the RT Hawks little "commas".

We got about 5-6 inches total.

Lots of American Pipit.

Not an American Tree Sparrow as I plainly see now, they were abundant but my decent pics were of swamp sparrows.

Another American Tree Sparrow?  - this one had a nicer "stickpin" but turns out this was a Swamp too.  The American Tree Sparrows had wing bars and less streaking on upper breast.  I did see multiple American Tree Sparrows but they did not photograph well.

Northern Harrier - these were everywhere.

Beautiful!  But cold!

This Kestrel  broke up my Horned Lark Party.  I was trying to find a Lapland Longspur but his appearance messed that plan up. Not sure if that is a Horned Lark in his talons but I can only assume.

The "Gray Ghost" - An adult male Harrier.

Horned Lark - hundreds of these.

Can you see my horns?

Great times.  Now back to NC!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Northern Exposure (22-23Nov2014)

It's killing me seeing reports of birds back in NC, but I am also having a good time up North.  We planned this trip for Thanksgiving ages ago but I have managed to work in some birding already.  The trip started with a nice stop in Chincoteague.  Of course the plan was based on a rare bird sighting, a male breeding plumage King Eider seen for the past week on the causeway to Chincoteague.  Unfortunately it decided to not show while we were there.

Consolation prize for the missing King Eider - a nice fly over flock of Snow Geese including one blue phase Snow Goose.

First day in Stony Brook, New York we visited Avalon Preserve which is an amazing area with mature hardwoods, fields with now fallow wildflowers and a nice Mill Pond next door so the birding has a nice variety.  But my real target was for my lifer Ring-necked Pheasant.  The birding was kind of slow and there were people everywhere which was not helping.  Once in the field area I was lamenting all the dog walkers when I noticed a dog bolt into a section of field and a Pheasant take off.  The dog owner called the dog back and I headed over to the area where I saw the bird take off.  Luckily the male bird was still there.

Ring-necked Pheasant - not the best photo do to a quick manual focusing but good enough.  Pheasants we released in NY back in the 50s-60s and then peaked I think in the 70s.  However, they have declined rapidly due to suitable habitat which is essentially early successional habitat.

There are a few places to see them in NC but I have not been lucky enough the few times I have looked for them.

Melissa and Dad in Avalon enjoying some nice fall weather.  On the way back to the car next to the Mill Pond Melissa spotted what turned out to be a Virginia Rail. No pics unfortunately.

Later in the evening I took a stroll with my father on Long Beach which is one of my favorite places when I was younger to go fishing for Striped Bass.

Long-tailed Ducks (Old Squaw) - there was about 10 of them and they were really active chasing each other around.

These ducks were hob-knobbing with the rich and famous.

They were flying around like some oceanic parrot flock.

Next NY target is Lapland Longspurs, I hope to try for these on Tuesday.  Tomorrow will be a work day.

Great times.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Le Conte's Sparrow Orgy (16Nov2014)

Ok Orgy is a little strong, but when you have only seen very quick glimpses of species that you have spent quite a bit of time looking for, and then one day get amazing looks at multiple individuals up close for extended amount of time, it is pretty much orgasmic and face-melting (stole this word from my new favorite blog BB&B).

On my way back from Lisbon last Sunday I saw the post that John and company had seen a Barn Owl and had great looks at Le Conte's Sparrows at North River Farms.  Somehow even though I just added 35 life birds in Lisbon I still felt like I was missing out.  Its like when I used to go surfing, I would be in the water surfing some great waves but somehow I still always felt like I was missing better waves somewhere.  I wish I was not so ungrateful but as Popeye used to say "I am what I am and that's all I am".  The grass is always greener.

So when I heard John was going to try for a repeat this Sunday I was all over it.  I woke at 1:30am and got on the road by 2:30am so I would make it to the "store" by 5am.  Once we assembled we drove into the farm and tried several spots for Barn Owls.  At the last spot Jack and I saw what appeared to be a Barn Owl fly in to check us out and then quickly veer off before the rest of the group could get a look.  Not a very good look but almost certainly a Barn Owl.  We also had multiple displaying Woodcocks.

Over the next hour or so we stomped through a marshy section looking for rails and John heard a Virginia Rail but we didn't get any looks at any.  However we had tons of Marsh Wrens and Sedge Wrens.  I love John because he just does not care that we were all getting wet up to our knees in the 32 degree weather. That's how hard he birds and its makes you feel like you are in some kind of crazy hardcore birding fraternity.

About two or three hours after we started and the sun had come up enough that we could get over to the Le Conte's Sparrow spot.  John and Jack lead us through the field and it did not take long before we found this little cute Le Conte's.  We think there was at least 2-3 but this particular bird was a ham and really offered amazing looks.

"Ok take a look at my front"

"Now my side"

"Oh you want to see my famous purple nape and white crown stripe?  Ok here you go"

"I'm so sexy it hurts"

Here is the same bird in a little different light.

Ammodramus is latin for "sand runner" which is an apt name for a group of sparrows that seemingly runs along the ground more then they fly.  However, in this shot the "sharp-tailed" reference usually reserved for one of it's colleagues is evident.

While ogling this bird we had a fly over of Tundra Swans.  Noisy bunch.

Of course there was plenty of other sparrows including Swamp Sparrows and Savannahs.  Oddly they were not nearly as obliging as the usually secretive Le Conte's Sparrow.

Yet more pics of the Le Conte's.

This was an adult bird that had much more pronounced coloration but he would not let us get as close to the foolish and bold immature bird.

We had a couple new birds for John's patch birding spot of North River Farms.  The first was a fly by Anhinga.

John gets tons of Eurasian Collared Doves in his home town of Moorehead City but this was the first he has seen in NRFs.

Even the ever present Savannah Sparrow can look pretty.

Immature Bald Eagle.

Great times!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Day Off (12Nov2014)

I took a day off from work yesterday to decompress from a couple of tough weeks.  I left my house at 3:30am so I could make it to Mattamuskeet early.  My target bird was the Greater White-fronted Goose seen a couple days earlier.

Mattamuskeet is good for almost all the NC wintering duck species.  This Ruddy Duck was one of the only bold ones to come in close for a pic.  The lighting was bad with some heavy mist or fog.

3 immature Bald Eagles in one tree!

On the lake proper there were tens if not hundreds of thousands of birds.  Mostly Coot and American Wigeon.  This above picture was just a small snapshot of the total area which was covered with birds.

Hearing and seeing the Tundra Swan come flying out of the mist is an experience that no one should miss.

I took a bunch of Common Yellowthroat pics only because they were so obliging.

Once I made it over to the big impoundments deeper in the park, the sparrows were everywhere.  I was counting hundreds of Swamp Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows .....

Song Sparrow

Then this little guy showed up almost exactly where Shun saw him a month ago.

Lincoln's Sparrow - not the best picture but it will have to do.  Grayish head and nape with more dainty stripes on breast and back compared with a Song.  The best mark is the buffy coloration on breast and flanks.

Mud Snake!!

At the very end of the road in the park I had a nice flock of passerines including sparrows, an Orange Crown Warbler, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and some other usual suspects.  However that overlook at the end has to be one of my favorite places in NC.  Absolutely serene and gorgeous each time I have been there and this time it was a bit different because there is a bunch of deciduous trees and the colors were great.  Anytime a Northerner feels nostalgic for a proper Autumn experience, just come here in November.

White-throated Sparrow

By this time the fog had lifted and I went back to the main lake overlook to sift through the thousands of American Wigeon looking for one that looked different.  A Eurasian Wigeon has a cream colored frontal shield and a chestnut coloration on head instead of the white shield and green head.

Pretty much this whole side of the lake was blanketed with ducks and geese.

What you can't get from these pictures is the beautiful bird sounds coming from all directions.  The Tundra Swans are the loudest with the Coots and other ducks adding to the symphony.

Back over to the impoundments to check one more time for the Greater White-fronted but no luck.

Northern Harrier.

At Pea Island the weather was horrible.  A mist that left me shivering and left moisture all over my equipment.

American White Pelican

Nice comparison between Great Black-backed and Lesser Black-backed.  The adult GBB has a clean white head and the LBB have streaked heads.  Lesser has yellow legs and Great has pink legs.  Then of course there is the size.

Ebony and Ivory - Tricolored Heron and Little Blue Heron white morph.

Tricolored Heron

Last up was a stop at Milltail Rd. in Alligator NWR to try for owls.

When I saw this guy sitting in the middle of the field I first thought was a Harrier but I took this picture anyhow.  After watching him for a while, I noticed he looked more owl like.  Then finally just before dark he took off and I had great views of his wing pattern and more importantly the solid rump which was obviously not a Harrier.

Unfortunately I did not get a photo of him flying so I will not count the above in my tally because I can't say its a diagnostic picture.

Great times.