Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Bad Photos of a Good Bird (17Nov2015)

What is better than good pics of a bad bird?  Well I think maybe bad pics of a good bird.  I am primarily a birder first and photographer second.  I had to do a quick work trip to Gilroy, CA but of course I was able to get a couple hours of birding in. I brought the old crusher because I did not want to lug the good one for just a couple hours of birding.  

My biggest issue was trying to figure out what bird to target.  There are still plenty of lifers that I could get in Cali, like Spotted Owl or Northern Pygmy Owl or many different alcids. However, after checking the rare bird alert I decided on Tropical Kingbird.  I have seen plenty in Costa Rica, and even one in Arizona but I never got a picture for the ABA region.  Plus the spot where the bird was hanging out is a place I have never been and was curious about.  In fact there is at least two Tropical Kingbirds in the area. The town is Watsonville which is just north of Monterrey.  So it was only a 25 min drive from Gilroy.  

Well once I got there it did not take long to find one of the birds.

Tropical Kingbird - greenish back, notched tail, long bill.

I really liked this community where the bird has settled.  It is actually called Shorebirds and is right on the beach.  It has a nice pond, some chaparral, a slough and nearby ag fields.  A birders paradise.
Only hitch, a small 1 bedroom condo is over half a million.  Ouch!

I can't believe how bad my old camera is.  I was pretty close to this bird.  With my new set up he would have been properly crushed.

Next I headed to Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing. Love this area of California.  Amazing birds, great surf, not too many people and no traffic.

Pelagic Cormorant

Long-billed Curlew

I could easily move there, but I am not about to be house poor for a little condo.  So I will have to live with short visits every now and again.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Purple People Eater (13Nov2015)

Hello birders,

Some random birds from the past couple days for you ravenous masses.

Ever get a bird that should be easy but for whatever reason you are struggling on it?  This next bird was that bird for me.

I guess it is a Savannah Sparrow but it just did not look like any I have seen before.

The first looks made it look like it had no yellow in the lores, and I know that some Savannahs will not have much yellow, but this was almost white. Also the chestnut coloring in the wing? And broad white streaks on back?

Look at that white feathering on the crown! Like the Donald of birds.

In the above pic I can see Savannah coming out.

Can you see a little yellow in the lores here?

Nom nom nom..... Dang, the streaking is so dark, and the one in the middle of breast, almost makes it into a Song.  Just goes to show that a complete birder should not just focus on the few field marks in the guides, I am still learning.

In other news, I had my first 2015 picture of a Purple Sandpiper on Federal Rocks.

Purple Sandpiper

After I took this picture, he attacked a nearby tourist and managed to puncture his jugular.  Once the guy bled out this Purple People Eater fed straight from the jugular.  This is why I always stay on high alert next to this species.

I promise to never misdiagnose another Pine Warbler again.  Does this bird have a touch of that avian pox on his feet?

Bluebirds never get old and hardly ever murder people.

I understand that Mute Swans are an "invasive species" but I hope NC does not develop an eradication plan like New York has. Mute Swans probably do murder people from time to time.

Loons are back! I think I like winter birding better than summer.

I have been scrutinizing all the Garbled Modwits but they are all garbled.

Poor Swan, life is tough..

I really gave this plover a thorough going over, but never saw his arm pits.  Could it be an American Golden?  Or is that bill too big?

Is this sexual dimorphism?  One of these Least SPs looks bigger than the other.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets for the win!

This weekend I am going into full on Cave Swallow hunting mode. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 9, 2015

24 Hours (08Nov2015)

I left home at 2:30am on Sunday morning so I could do a full day of birding in the Asheville area.  My primary target was the Sage Thrasher at Warren Wilson College but I had other birds I was hoping for too that were much more probable.  I went against my better judgement because no one had seen the Sage Thrasher the previous day and it was a loooooonnggg drive.

Before we go into that, a couple pics from Saturday and a failed second attempt at the Burrowing Owl.    Shun and some friends were going for an attempt and I decided to go along for a ride with my kids in the boat to see if I could help and point out where we saw the bird previously.  However, it was Saturday and there were fisherman and surfers walking the trails before we even got to the island.  In the end we could not find it and had to settle for some other birds....

A little overkill on the bling if you ask me.  Poor J83 has more bling than Mr. T.

This other Piping Plover didn't have any bling at all.

We were able to get Jeff a year bird in this Great Cormorant.

First target for Sunday was the Ross's Goose in Pfafftown, NC.  Yes, I know... What in the world would lead someone to call a town Pfafftown?  Apparently its pronounced Pofftown and was named after a man named Pfaff and I can't find anything interesting about him other than the fact that he owned the land that eventually became Pfafftown.

I got to the lake where the bird has been roosting at first light so I could photograph it before it took off for a day of grazing in nearby fields.  Of course this meant the light sucked and although i could get very close the pictures are not great.

I had to crank my ISO all the way up for this bad boy. Notice the bluish discoloration at the base of the bill that is a field mark for Ross's Goose.

I was hoping it would stay a bit longer so I could get better pics, but the Ross's was the first bird to leave the pond.

Another 2 hours drive and I arrived to Warren Wilson College which has to be one of my favorite birding spots in NC.  I searched and searched... for 7 hours!!!!  I ended up finding 7 species of Sparrow (Field, Song, Chipping, Swamp, White-crowned, White-throated and Savannah) but I could not turn up a Lincoln's Sparrow and worse than that I did not find the Sage Thrasher!  Oh well, you never know unless you go.

There were plenty of skulkers in the thicket where the Sage Thrasher should be and the Song Sparrows seen through thickets periodically tricked me but in the end I don't think I ever had a glimpse of the thrasher.  I know a Song Sparrow looks nothing like a Thrasher, but sometimes when all you see is a couple inches of a bird through the brambles it is hard to ID them.

The good news is I did get wonderful looks at a beautiful male White-crowned Sparrow.

In the huge flocks of blackbirds there was some Rusty Blackbirds but no Yellow-headed or Brewers that I could find.


Field Sparrow

Rusty female

Hairy WP - look at that bill!

Click and Clack the tappit brothers.


On the way home I stopped at a known Barn Owl roost and heard them screaming but they did not show themselves for a picture.

I had to take a 45 min nap at a rest stop on the way home to avoid falling asleep at the wheel and did not get home until 1am.  That means my mission was almost 23 hours long.  I should have stayed 1 more hour to make it even.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Crescendo (27Oct-06Nov2015)

Hello birders,

I have been silent on the blog front, or at least this blog, mainly because I hate posting without having anything new to show for it.  Well everything came to a crescendo yesterday when I added 3 new year birds in 4 hours!!!

First some photos from the past 2 weeks.

One of my many Ruby-throats.

The new moon was causing some major high tides in the Ft. Fisher area.

Another development, some folks may know I have horrible hearing.  Mostly in the high frequencies.  Well recently I have decided to finally act on getting some hearing aids.  What a difference!  I could hear all the birds including this Downy.

Some blue moth, I should look it up but I am lazy today.

Prairie Warbler looking kind of under the weather.

The tide was so high earlier this week that all the birds were forced onto the rocks at Federal Point.  Mostly Dunlin and Dowitchers but some Garbled Modwits.

When is the last time you saw a Dowitcher in a bush????

The mighty bellow of a Boat-tailed Grackle can knock a man backwards.

So nice!   I can sit and go through groups of birds like this for hours.

Ebony and Ivory, a color pattern that will always win.

The tide was so high that all the nasty people that usually hangs out on the rocks were cut off by about a foot of water.  So I rolled up my pant legs and was able to get real close.

Even a Dunlin is a gorgeous bird when you can get close and appreciate all the fine plumage details.



On the basin trail I have been seeing all kinds of raptors.

This guy was easy to find, just follow the white arrows.

Cooper's Hawk

His Royal Highness

Last weekend I took a trip to Shackleford Island to get the Reddish Egrets and American Golden Plovers that have been reported left and right.  Or at least that's what I thought.

However I had some time to kill before the first ferry so I tried Cedar Island Ferry Terminal and all I had to show for it was some not so wild horses.

On Shackleford I had truly wild horses, although it's hard to tell when the branded number on his butt.  Kind of ruins the wild mystique.

When I walked over a dune and saw this bird, I about pooped myself.  It was in the exact spot we got a Long-billed Curlew last year.

I knew the bill was short, but immature curlews can have fairly short bills.

And he was so buffy underneath!

But the more I looked at him the more I realized it was probably just a Whimbrel.

Whimbrel? We don't need no stinking Whimbrel..

I started to scrutinize all the hundreds of Black-bellied Plovers and I probably would have found an American Golden but my two hours ran out and I had to run back to the ferry landing for my ride back.  Both my kids had soccer games in the afternoon and I didn't want to miss either of them.

Sunday I tried chasing a White-winged Dove that was chilling at my buddy Ben's house down town.  But this guy was chilling instead and WWD was no where to be found.

Red-shouldered Hawk

He does have a Rufous/Allen's coming to his feeder too.  I believe Susan will be down to band it later.  I am obviously hoping it is an Allen's.  I went back to Ben's 3 more times looking for the White-winged Dove getting skunked each time.

So the suspense is killing you right?  What were my 3 new birds??  Well it started with a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that Harry S reported the previous evening down at Ft Fisher.  I went first at first light and despite the pea soup fog I was able to capture this countable image.  If it is the same bird as a couple years ago, it's tail has grown a bit but still a bit inadequate.

I didn't stay long and neither did the bird.  I had my next quarry to tackle all the way in the opposite direction at Wrightsville Beach.  A friend called the previous evening and told me something I just had a hard time believing.  A Burrowing Owl was hanging out on Masonboro Island!!  I think the last confirmed sighting of a live Burrowing Owl was in Carteret County by none other than JFuss (I think) back in 1972!! I was just a gleam in my father's eye at that point.  Dave picked us up in his boat at 8am and we headed over.  We split up into three groups of 2 and prepared to walk the various paths in the dunes.  It didn't take long, as I got up to the path right next to the jetty, a large bird flushed from the heather about 10 feet away!  I knew immediately it was our bird.

Burrowing Owl!!!!

It flew about 100 yards away and landed on the jetty.

This picture is very cropped.  Unfortunately a Harrier began to harass the owl, but eventually left him alone and he just sat still and we were able to get the whole group together and get outstanding scope views from about 50 yards away.  We decided not to get closer so as to not stress the bird out.

A digiscoped image with my iPhone - I didn't realize it at the time but I must have had some sepia filter on.  After about half an hour, something spooked him or he decided it was time for a nap and he dove down into some rocks.  We congratulated ourselves and decided to consult the original finder of the bird (a surveyor) before letting anyone know.  It seemed only fair that we could not spill the beans until she was consulted.  We knew people would be coming from all over NC for this bird and were a little weary of it.  However, it is hanging out in a place that gets alot of traffic from surfers and weekend warriors so I would not be surprised if it was a non-birder that ultimately causes the bird to throw in the towel.  Ultimately it was decided everyone who puts in the effort should get a chance to see the bird.  Hopefully people will be respectful and keep a distance once the bird is found.  I suggest sticking to the trails and not climbing the jetty although I am sure surfers will.

This Savannah almost looks like a Vesper.

Piping Plover

So since I was on a roll, I decided to try for the White-winged Dove again.

The Rufous/Allen's was still there, but as usual the dove was not.

However, I was determined, so I waited.... and waited and finally one by one more Mourning Doves were flying in to Ben's yard.  After about 15 Mourning Doves flew in, finally the WWD showed up!

How many people in NC have seen a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, a Burrowing Owl, a Rufous Hummingbird and a White-winged Dove all in 4 hours?  Not many.

This morning I headed back to Ft Fisher to try for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and I dipped but then I saw this monster of a bird at Federal Point.  It was freaking HUGE.  But first let me set the stage.  Last week I kept seeing a massive accipiter at the Basin Trail.  When I saw it I immediately thought Goshawk.  It just looked too big to be a Cooper's and it had a "speckled back" which is a field mark in my Sibley's.  I tried to get photos but it was too fast and would always disappear before I could click the shutter.  But I know better than to post anything about a Goshawk.  People always think they have a Goshawk and 99% of the time they are wrong.  Since I never got any photos of the bird, I started going through my photos of soaring accipiters from earlier in the day and I pulled a picture of a big Cooper's and sent it to Mike T.  Mike is an expert on Goshawks.  He quickly IDed it as a Cooper's. So I forgot about the bird....  Then this morning I found this:

It was my speckled-backed beast from earlier in the week.  Look at her (yes I know it's a Cooper's and only the females are that big) blocky head and speckled back and wedge-shaped tail!!!! But there was problems, the tail striping was not staggered, the supercilium was not thick enough.

So Cooper's I guess she is.

But she is the Momma of all Cooper's...

I liked this photo.... it looks creepy.

Then she posed for me in an even closer snag..

And then she switched sides!!! What a ham!

So anyway, Cooper's right?

One more bird for good measure.

Immature Peregrine Falcon - harbinger of death and protector of habitat.

By the way, I have started a new blog at

This was mainly because my wife is sick of getting the comments she gets (emails go to her) - I post this blog using her gmail account.  So I created my own gmail account and started my new blog which I will switch to once this year is up.

Great times..