Monday, December 31, 2012

And a palm warbler in a palm tree.

We decided to wait for the sunset at Baptist Hospital, thus the palm warblers and the palm trees. After searching every nook, cranny and cul de sac, park and garden in south Miami, we sat on a bench in the memorial garden and played the bulbul song. Maybe it would come to us?

John got a great picture of a Yellow-Throated Warbler today, and we saw some Common Hill Mynas, not likely countable. Wish we could count the Yellow-Chevroned and Mitered Parakeets. There are plenty of them.

Robert sent a message about 1 PM informing us of the Thick-Billed Vireo out on Key West. We were tired, we would get out there about 4, traffic and drivers coming and going would be problematic. We kissed it off.

I will blog a few more times. John has a spreadsheet of species I will create a link to. I am sure everyone will want to know whether our house is still standing. And I will try to summarize our most blatant mistakes.

Who knows what John's final tally will be? He will go through his sightings and decide which is valid or not. He will try to figure out which species are countable or not. Then he will submit his list to the ABA and wait.

As of now, John's total for his big year is 689. It has been a lot of trouble and a lot of fun. While I traveled with him the last few months, I got a taste of what he has endured this whole year.

Should you do a big year? YES!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My oh my-na!

What a long day, Sunday, December 30th! We looked for lots of birds in the Kendall area of Miami, Florida. This park, that neighborhood, try that dead end street, how about this school, the hospital? John did get some fair pics of Monk Parakeets. He had seen and photographed them in Texas, but was not sure they were countable. Maybe the Common Myna down in Florida City? Again, that street, the next parking lot, how about there?

Mid-afternoon, John decided to change pace and head into the Everglades. First time on the Anhinga trail. Lots of alligators, anhingas, various herons, and great pictures of a Purple Gallinule harvesting a water lily fruit. John had only had a distant poor view of a gallinule last April.

Back through Florida City, we drove through an outlet mall for the second time. Looking across the turnpike, we both spotted mynas but on separate light poles. Scurry around, find ourselves in a Walmart parking lot, locate the light pole and photograph the mynas. 689!!!! Lots more mynas flew in as it got dark.

For the last two nights, we stayed in a Motel 6 in Cutler Bay. Poor thing is stuck right up against the turnpike. Not very much sleep for us. I booked us into a Quality Inn for tonight but only a smoking room was available. We got there about 6 PM. For twenty dollars we could upgrade to a non-smoking room. YES!

We have all day tomorrow to try for one more bird. Come on Miami! Give John a break!

Over the last couple of days, we have been communicating with Robert, the guy who is trying a big year without ever having birded before! Amazing! Close to 600! He happened to end the year here too. He was out on Stock Key without a place to lay his head. I steered him to Boyd's Trailer Park and they had one tent space left. He slept in his car and tried for the Western Spindalis this morning. He got it!! He flies out tomorrow to New Jersey. May add a few birds there.

The places John has gone, the people he has met! What fun!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Going for a spin

-dalis that is.

Saturday morning, December 29th, I logged onto John's email to check our car reservations. NARBA had sent an alert. A Western Spindalis had been reported on Stock Key the 28th, the same day we were looking for one on Virginia Key. Toss any plans aside, start driving down the Keys.

Kind of a long slog, but fun to see several Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring by. Three hours later, we arrived, checked in at the Key West Botanic Gardens, got a map and started out. At the first turn, there was a man in black with binoculars. The man in black said that a man in white shorts, the one who found the spindalis yesterday, had shown him where the bird was. He, in turn, showed us. The circle of life. We tried to leave detailed directions on a map at the entrance. Maybe someone else will benefit. Such a dumpy little bird, non-descript grey with dull white markings, methodical berry picker, but wonderful to see. 688 

John likes seeing naturally occurring birds like the spindalis more than remnant feral introduced species. We will try for some of those listable in Florida over the next two days, anyway. Only need two more species to get to 690 for his big year.

We celebrated with lunch at the Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island. Great spot.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The last resort!

Here we are in Miami. There are birds here John has not yet seen. They are listed on this year's local Christmas Bird Counts. Now he just has to see them.

Today, we went to Virginia Key, no Western Spindalis, but a glimpse of what looked like a LeSagre's Flycatcher, too poor a view.

Then, we went to a BirdingPal's neighborhood south of the university. It is nicely overgrown. The Spot-Breasted Oriole and the Mynas have been seen there. We will have to try again there and elsewhere.

Finally, we went to the neighborhood just north of the Baptist Hospital on Kendall. We still didn't see anything new for John, but he got excellent pictures of the White-Crowned Pigeon and saw several Monk Parakeets. We saw them in Texas, but they are more surely listable in Florida.

We will muddle around here for a few days and fly home January 1st. Whether or not we add to his total of 687, his big year will be over!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Could be meat, could be cake, it's meatcake!

George Carlin-refrigerator man reference. I wonder if some of my titles are too archival. Could be a hawk? Could be an owl? It's a hawkowl!

Anyway, Northern Hawk Owl, been there, done that! 687!  Life bird for both of us!

We had looked for it up and down the highway along Lake Superior in February. John was in Alaska in May looking up and down 100 miles of highway for the little rascal. Both places, it had been spotted regularly.Where should we go to try to see it before the new year? We consulted ebird, threw the dice and decided.

We flew into Milwaukee about midnight. Rented a car the next morning, Sunday, December 23rd. Got to the intersection of County Road Q and Highway 57 up on the thumb of Wisconsin about 1 PM. I turned left on Q, glanced left towards a red barn. On the top of a small conifer, there it was! Looked like a double-scoop ice cream cone with that long pointy tail. It seemed to pay no attention to us as it flew to several treetops north and south of Q, staying west of 57. John took enough pictures to be moderately happy with one. We drove back to Milwaukee, turned in the car about 6 PM and bummed a ride from our son to Chicago.

If the weather permits, we will fly to Miami on Thursday.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

And they're off!

We had decided to fly from home instead of Seattle. We drove from Eugene OR to Orange County CA in about 14 hours, straight through. That was Wednesday, December 19th. Thursday to recover, Friday to book flights, and Saturday to take off. Everything was so booked up we will be traveling 1st class to Wisconsin. John is after his last owl there, Northern Hawk Owl. Last February, we trolled for it up and down the highway along Lake Superior without success. We will look for it Sunday and early Monday at an intersection on the thumb of Wisconsin.

Christmas in Chicago, and then we will fly to Miami. Still don't know how long we will be there. I have tried to get someone to take us around, may find someone yet. Miami is such a rabbit warren of streets. The birds are so hit and miss. At least, it will be warm and Tropical Audubon has some good postings. We'll have fun, but we may well be flailing our arms and yelling at each other, if you happen to see us driving around.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

De Plan! De Plane!

The plan was to leave the car in Seattle, I would fly to Chicago, John to Boston and back to Chicago, then we would both fly to Miami, back to Seattle to pick up the car and drive home after January 1st.

When John looked at the possible flights from Seattle to Boston this morning, he decided he didn't need to fly back there just for the Northern Lapwing. He didn't want to go for the Barnacle Goose in New York City. The Little Egret was moving around a lot and looked a lot like a Snowy Egret.  He already looked in the same area for the Northern Lapwing unsuccessfully. 1000 dollars for one bird he might not even find? Nah.

Now the plan is to drive back home to Southern California before flying anywhere.

We started down the 101 from Port Angeles, checking out inland side roads. Small flocks of Golden-Crowned Sparrows were everywhere. In SOCAL they skulk around in chaparral. We saw several Varied Thrushes and John got good pictures. A few years ago, we found one on the end of the gravel spit out of Point Barrow. The poor bird forgot to stop flying north in the spring and ran out of land.

Along the sound, we watched a large raft of Surf Scoters all dive underwater at once. Now you see them, now you don't, and repeat. There were lots of Barrow's and Common Goldeneyes, Green-Winged Teal, American Widgeons, Mallards, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads and a few Horned Grebes. AND a pair of Harlequin Ducks! John saw lots of them in Alaska, but I haven't seen them very often. We spotted a Pigeon Guillemot in winter plumage, too. Our last stop along the shore, there were at least three American Dippers feeding where a small stream flowed into the sound. What fun!

No, John did not get any new birds for his big year today. He is still at 686. He needs a plan and a few planes to get a few more birds before January 1st.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snow news is good news

There was plenty of snow in Courtenay BC this morning, Monday, December 17th. The wonderful snow plows had already cleared the roads. We headed over to the same muddy fields we were at yesterday.  Now, they were under a mantle of snow. Another birder stopped by while we were parking, and told us he had spent the last half hour communing with the wagtail. He said someone had been there even earlier with a scope, maybe the same people that had been with us the night before, when the wind and rain started. Just past the copse of trees and the cable across the dirt road, there was a little marsh where the bird was hanging out. John needed a picture, I needed to see the bird.

We scrunched out through the snow, stepped over the cable, got almost to the marsh and the Citrine Wagtail flitted onto a frozen puddle at our feet. Our sudden proximity startled us and the bird. It flew away to the left, never to return, at least, not while we were there. John and I got a great brief view, but John did not get a photo. He did get pictures of the Spotted Towhee and Fox Sparrow, both new sub-species.

We had time to try for the Sky Lark again, this time, at the airport, but didn't see it. Still, John did get a way better picture of the Northern Shrike than he had before. Even if his search doesn't yield him a target bird, John finds something positive to celebrate.

We returned to the USA on the same ferry we took over to Victoria Saturday, a bit rougher passage, and are staying at the Port Angeles Inn again.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yes or SNOW?

Friday, December 15, we drove through deep, green canyons of trees on Redwood Highway, then over to the Willamette Valley, where all the deciduous trees looked like they had been flocked, not with fake snow, but with gray green lichen. Every flag at half-mast was a jolting reminder of the tragedy in Connecticut. We stayed in Port Angeles that night.

Saturday, December 16, there were several Long-Tailed Ducks in the Port Angeles Harbor. The ferry ride across to Victoria was smooth. :-) We drove up the 17 to a spot where a Sky Lark had been seen. Not by us. John got pictures of the Northwest Crow 684 and the Trumpeter Swan 685. He had seen swans in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He preferred counting the species where it hadn't been re-introduced. Then we needed to get up to Courtenay before dark to see the Citrine Wagtail. We got to the spot. There were people there with a scope! Grab cold gear, jump out of the car! They had the bird, but kept on losing it in the rutted field. It started raining and the wind came up. COLD! John had to go back for more gear. When he got back, the people had relocated the bird and John got on it with his high-powered binoculars. He saw the behavior, the coloring and the white wing patches. 686 The other birders were from Victoria and gave us some hints about where to, maybe, successfully see the Sky Lark. More wind, more rain, we left.

Off to a steak house to celebrate, the rain turned to lovely fluffy snow. By the time we grabbed the check and left, there was about 3 inches of snow for me to slide/drive through on the way back to the hotel. After a safe arrival, we had a little snowball fight.

John has been in several snow storms already this year. 8 inches in Newfoundland, 6 in San Diego County CA, 4 in Minneapolis MN, 3 in Portal AZ and 4 in Colorado, plus flakes here and there. That fresh snow compacts and melts a bit under the car tires. Slippery! When we wake up tomorrow, will we be snowed in?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Duck! but no grousing?

Friday, 12/14/12, back to Colusa Wildlife Refuge in central California, the ranger that tried to help us last night, came by again and spotted the Falcated Duck swimming, I saw it and described where it was to John and he took pictures. That is how it usually works, at least when I am with him. Then we went on the little auto tour. Counted 45 Black-Crowned Night Herons in about 100 feet of bushes, several Red-Tailed Hawks, a Bald Eagle and a Peregrine Falcon. The ranger had told us that when the falcon takes ducks, the hawks take the ducks from the falcon. He has a lot of mouths to feed. Back at the viewing platform, other birders had arrived and showed us where the Falcated Duck was resting. More pictures. Maybe we could have waited until there was tons of sunshine to get better pictures, but the highway north was calling. It is a pretty duck. 683 John had missed it at Colusa last winter.

Over to the 101, then up onto Dyerville Loop Road. About the time we were getting back to civilization and giving up, I spotted several large lumps of coal on the side of the road. The lumps started moving. We were too close by then and they jumped up into the brush. We parked and walked back, they flushed into the deeper woods. Were they Sooty Grouse? Probably, but countable?

Eureka! Delicious seafood at the Sea Grill.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

As the bird turns

Is that soap opera still going?

John's big year is a bit like a soap opera. Yesterday, when I tried to post my 12/12/12 blog, it kept balking. New Motel 6, in Williams, new internet connection, the blog posted!

The last Motel 6 also had very noisy tenants, especially between 3 and 5 AM. Consequently, I am really tired tonight.

Back to business, this AM we woke a bit late, got to Rush Ranch about 8:30 AM. Heavy dew, and some frost on the trail to Mallard Marsh. We were hoping for some Black Rail conversations, but they were silent. Somebody else was making chipping, chortling, tootling calls, thrasher? parrot? I saw a large dark ball on the trail ahead, then two large dark balls, wiggle-waggle, rub on the trail, somersault, skinny tail, RIVER OTTERS! John got some pictures. The otters went off the trail. There was even more noise. We got up to the spot where we last saw the otters. Three otters were tumbling and grumbling in the reeds right at our feet, too close for John to take pictures. A fourth otter was grunting from the other side of the trail. Finally, the otters declared a cease-fire. With hardly a glance at us, one crossed the trail to join the fourth otter, the other two went further into the reeds. SO COOL!

Next stop, Novato, for a reported Black Rail. We arrived well before high tide. There was lots of salicornia, John thinks they like that, and the tide kept coming in until all of it was covered. No little black chicks emerged. John saw a little bird, rounded wings, short tail, zoom from the tidal flat into a cattail marsh, but it was not enough of a sighting to call it anything. Nearby, we found a large lake and more than 300 Common Goldeneyes! Oh, and one clearly marked Barrow's Goldeneye male.

Now, we headed back to Robinson Road, arriving about 2:30 PM, last chance for the Mountain Plover. We were looking at every blade of grass, every dirt clod, every meadowlark. We were almost to the end of the best areas. I looked way out to the right. There was a beigy brown bird back. Was it just another meadowlark? A Killdeer? I got John on it with his 18 power image stabilized binoculars. THE BIRD TURNED! Big white belly, beigy brown throat and collar. Mountain Plover! I got out the telescope, the bird turned away and squatted. Then it took off and at least one other flew away with it. This sighting wasn't good enough for a life bird, but was plenty good enough for his big year list. 682 

Hurry, hurry to beat the sunset! Colusa Wildlife Refuge on Highway 20. Several people were still on the viewing platform. The Falcated Duck had just swum behind an island of reeds. It never reappeared. A ranger stopped by and tried to help us spot it from a side trail. Nope, too dark, have to come back in the morning. Fingers crossed!

The sun sets

I am blogging today just so I can write 12-12-12. John's big year total still stands at 681 bird species.

Last night, we had to decide between leaving today at 5 AM or 9 AM. Driving north through Los Angeles, you HAVE to avoid rush hour. We opted for a bit more sleep and got off about 15 minutes before 9, amazingly. BUT we needed to stop by the post office, the Triple A office and the bank. Then there was the U-turn to get our passports from the house. Canada is one of our possible destinations, passports now required. We still hit some slow traffic getting through the city.

Consequently, we got to Robinson Road in the Sacramento River Delta about a half hour before sunset. Mountain Plovers have been seen there several times in the last month. A guy, who had seen them there, drove by while we were searching, so we were in the right area.

Then the sun set. Motel 6 in Vacaville, the Clay Oven - excellent Indian food, John working on his pictures and looking at Narba, and me blogging.

Besides a Mountain Plover redo, we will be looking for the Black Rail and the Falcated Duck tomorrow. Tall order. At the end of a big year, most of the target birds are a tall order.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Yes, Santa Claus, there IS a Virginia's!

Warbler, that is. John is now at 681 for his big year.

You may recall that last Saturday and Sunday we spent several hours at the Veteran's Gardens in West Los Angeles. I, and only I (drat), got a very brief glimpse of the warbler. Today, Sunday, December 9th, we returned armed with chairs and a cooler, sunny skies instead of drizzle. We arrived about 10:30 AM. The manager said that a gentleman had been there about 10 and watched the darling little bird flit back and forth from the tree to the ivy for about 5 minutes. ACK!

So we sat, and I listened to all the chips and chirps, jumping up when I heard a particularly short, sharp series. About 11:30 AM, an Allen's Hummingbird displayed at the top of the tree. John began to look up the display discussion in Sibley. I looked back up to the now empty tree top. A little grey bird popped out on the right, hung upside down and picked at leaves. JOHN! He dropped the book, got his binoculars on the bird and confirmed it was the Virginia's Warbler. Se fue, it left. Maybe, if he hadn't been looking up the hummingbird display in the book, he might have gotten a picture. But, maybe, if we hadn't looked at the hummingbird displaying at the top of the tree, I might not have glanced up again a minute later and seen the warbler.

Another birder showed up, spent a few hours with us, I got a few nibbles, but no more views, so John gave up on getting a picture of the warbler. He has identifiable pictures of about 622 bird species for the year. As we three left, about 1:30 PM, yet another birder walked in. I hope he got lucky. Man, that is one elusive bird. John has looked for it in seven states this year. In Arizona alone, he has looked in, probably, 10 different places, some multiple times.

Now, for why I haven't been blogging, and we haven't done much birding, this last week. First, when we returned from two months on the road, we found out our credit card had been compromised and cancelled, probably at one of those many truck stops on the road. That weekend, we got the Spotted Dove, I saw the warbler. Monday, I had a couple of doctor's appointments and John worked on moving money around. Tuesday, we got the car serviced. Wednesday, I stepped into a pool of water in our downstairs bath. So, late that afternoon, the Rotorooter guy came and reamed us out. The next few days were spent ripping up a small area of carpet, cutting out the wet padding and blowing everything dry with fans. Friday, the disposal was jammed. I couldn't find the allen wrench for it, so bought a new one. This time I taped the wrench to the disposal. Saturday, the garage door stopped working and a repairman came out for that. A tree trimmer stopped by and I arranged for him to come by Monday to trim our olive trees. Their roots are what stop up our main line, but, the trees are beautifully gnarly. Our replacement credit cards are still 'in the mail'.

We will start out sometime this week for the Pacific Northwest, if something else doesn't happen on the home front.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Home for a little bit! The clocks were still on Daylight Savings Time. I decided to get rid of some of the old Jeopardys. They went back to mid-June on my DVR! Lots of delete, are you sure? yes, delete!

Saturday, December 2nd, we decided to go after some local yokels. We wandered around West LA, our old stomping grounds (in 1965), looking for the Veteran's Garden. The Virginia's Warbler, John has looked for it in 7 states this year, has returned there for another winter. We spent a couple of hours and didn't see the little darling.

Then we drove to Huntington Park for a bird that used to be common in Southern California. We found the park, walked around a bit, then John spotted the Spotted Dove! Yea! 680 for his big year. We found only four of them. I wonder what happened to them? Now we have the Eurasian Collared-Dove expanding exponentially. I just looked up its name in a 1983 Golden Guide, not even in there.

Sunday morning, I persuaded John to try again for the warbler. This time when we got to the VA there was a holiday party for veterans, lots of traffic, but we got back to the Veteran's Garden finally. A lady birder was already there, good sign? She said the warbler had been seen yesterday at 3. Yesterday? We were there yesterday! Today we brought chairs. The big sit. About noon, a photographer who has 822 photos in the ABA showed up. He just needed a better picture of the warbler than he has to date. Misty and cloudy ain't great for photos. About 1 PM, John walked over to say goodbye to the other people. I saw movement in the ivy and heard the chip. John! I have a bird! They got over to me, I saw the bird's head sticking out with a white eye ring, it dove back into the ivy, chipped along the fence, maybe popped up on the other side of the pittosporum, where the photographer just missed a shot, and was gone. Nobody else saw it. The mist was getting heavier and we were getting hungrier. We left about 2. Home to a wood fire in the fireplace.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The early birder gets the bird

Wednesday, November 28th, we left Benson, AZ for the San Rafael Grasslands to look for ONE bird. The Baird's Sparrow nests in the northern Midwest. John looked for it there earlier in the year. The bird winters in open grasses on both sides of the border with Mexico. On our way there, in Elgin AZ, we met Robin. He was leading a group of birders looking for Arizona specialties. We told him of our quest. He looked at his watch and said we should have gotten to the valley by 7:30 AM to have any chance. We soldiered on anyway. The San Rafael Valley is drop dead gorgeous. There are just a few dirt roads crisscrossing it, no power lines, very few homesteads. The tall grass prairie stretches out before you. Robin was right. We saw lots of Vesper Sparrows along the roads, Chipping Sparrows in the creek beds and Savannah Sparrows near the corrals, but no ocher-headed little brown jobbies.

Never mind, off to Patagonia State Park in the late afternoon. There was Robin loading his tour group back into his van. We consulted with him about the difficulty of finding Black-Capped Gnatcatchers anywhere in AZ. The park has a maze of cow trails through mesquite, with plenty of cows and cow pies making our search interesting. No gnatcatcher.

Where to spend the night? Too cold to camp at the park and, besides, it takes too long to get going in the morning. Back to Patagonia and the one hotel in town. Plenty of rooms, adjacent restaurant, early to  bed.

Early to rise and back to San Rafael Valley following Robin's advice to get there by 7:30 AM. We trolled past the first corral seeing lots of Savannahs, drove slowly to the first intersection and turned around to have the rising sun at our backs. Lots of sparrows, probably Vespers, were flying in and out of the grasses. One bird looked a little smaller. It perched up on a grass stalk. It looked ocher. There were tidy streaks. John took some pictures. The grass stalk bent and the bird sank out of sight. Were the pictures good enough? We drove back to the corral. On the back fence, sitting between two Savannahs, was a slightly chunkier bird. It had an ocher head! It posed for even more pictures than the other bird had. Two birds in hand! Congratulatory kiss. Thank you, Robin, for telling us to get there early!

As we were driving out, there was a van by the side of the road and people with binoculars were milling about. They were from the Texas Ornithological Society and their leader graciously vetted John's pictures. No doubt about it, the right head color and the two dots that define a Baird's Sparrow. It was nice to get confirmation from an authority. John has inched up to 679 bird species for his big year!

We tried for the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher for the 5th or 6th time in Montosa Canyon. A Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher gave us some good looks. Ah well, Tucson AZ is too close to home. We chose to suspend birding for our own beds, after more than 6 weeks on the road.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Which way will pay?

Monday, November 26th, off to south Texas to look for the Hook-Billed Kite again. We got about a block when I asked, 'why go for a bird that is rarely seen, when the rosy finches in New Mexico were seen yesterday?' So we angled northwest across Texas into New Mexico. That night we stayed in a Motel 6, of course, in Santa Rosa. My favorite I-40 restaurant, the Silver Moon Cafe, was just across Route 66. I recommend the blue corn chicken enchiladas. Lovely!

Not so early the next morning, we started for Sandia Crest, northeast of Albuquerque. Is that spelled right? From 5000 to 10000 feet in 20 miles. Another beautiful spot John's big year has brought him to. We met some other birders on the way up and up there. At the top, there is a restaurant/gift shop with feeders on the deck. You can watch the rosy-finches from inside while sipping hot chocolate or eating the even hotter chili! All three species appeared while we were there. They would come in double digit numbers briefly then take off for an hour. The only one that 'counted' for John, was the Black Rosy-Finch. It was a life bird for both of us, and number 678 for John's big year! Turns out the facility will close for the month of December, so we were wise to go there when we did. There are plans to put a feeder down by the lower parking lot. You need to check before you go.

Back down to the I-40, turn south on the I-25, stop by Bosque del Apache for a snow goose/sandhill crane fix. You have got to visit there in the winter. It is a natural wonder. Tonight, Lordsburg! Have you seen the movie 'Stagecoach'? Tomorrow, we will try for the Baird's Sparrow in San Rafael Grasslands AZ. It hasn't been reported lately.  :-(  We will try for the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher again too. If he doesn't get it, John may have to call on Melody Kehl again. Did I spell that right? Good night!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Happy 70th Birthday, John!

Sunday, November 25th, John and I went to Bouldin Creek in central Austin to look once again for the Blue-Headed Vireo. Which way to go? As we stood there blithering, a young woman with binoculars approached. Binoculars, always a good sign. Turns out she is a regular there and knows the guy who turns in frequent ebird reports. Suzanne, a real sweetheart, showed us his route, wished us good luck and went off to look for sparrows. A copse of tall trees with lots of undergrowth, kinglets, titmice, warblers. John started to chat with another lady about birds of paradise. Ack! I see a vireo! I punch John in the stomach and cut short his conversation. I see the vireo several more times, but it's movements are tangled up in all the other birds passing through. John can not get on it!

We turn to try another area, Suzanne comes rushing up! 'I just saw one! I played the tape and it popped out in plain view! It is on the far side!' Galumph, galumph, we hurry south. John and Suzanne start talking about Cambodia, where she just returned from. Come on people, let's keep our minds on the vireo! We arrive at the spot. Nobirdy. Suzanne goes off to look again for sparrows. I play the tape. Suzanne's back! She says the bird was just above our heads! I see it! She sees it! John sees it!!!!!! 677! John even gets decent photos!

That has got to be one of the best birthday presents John has ever gotten. Thank you, Suzanne!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Stormy weather.......

Cancels pelagic.

At 11 AM Monday November 19th, Debi Shearwater notified participants that the captain had cancelled Tuesday's trip due to high winds and seas. That was 11 AM Pacific. John's flight from Philly was about 1:45 PM Eastern which is 10:45AM Pacific. I saw the email in the evening and called John. He had just loaded his luggage in his rental car. At least he could sleep in.

John will probably spend the day in the motel in San Jose going over pictures. This isn't the time of year that he could easily have changed flights anyway. He had a suspicion cancellation was possible. The marine forecast didn't look bad to me, but I was wrong.

That was John's last scheduled pelagic. He was hoping for the Mottled Petrel, scratch that.

John will fly into Austin Wednesday about midnight for Texas turkey on Thanksgiving. He turns 70 on Sunday. Isn't it interesting how much younger old gets as you get older?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pretty in pink

Not that John saw any pink. After the pelagic out of Delaware, John had a day 'off' and had heard about a Pink-Footed Goose north of Philadelphia. He didn't get it in Maine, so try, try again. Sunday, November 18th, he drove up to Peace Valley Nature Center. There were about 6000 Canada Geese and no birders on the shore. John scanned from three vantage points and didn't find Pinkie. He finally went to the visitor's center. A lady with a telescope told John where to go, past a pond, across a dam to look back on the geese from the other side. Now there were other birders, good sign, and sure enough, paddling around, was the Pink-Footed Goose 675! The pink parts were under water. John took pictures anyway. Turns out, Robert, who is also doing a big year and was on the pelagic, got there a bit earlier than John and got the goose too! Good!

John had talked to a local birder on the pelagic, who volunteered to help John find the Rusty Blackbird. Davich met John Sunday evening at Quakertown Swamp. In the dusk, Davich spotted some male and female rusties amongst the red-wings, but John was not satisfied with his views and decided to return the next AM. Monday morning, John got there about 7 and Davich was nice enough to show up again on his way to work. There were no blackbirds of any kind at first. Then, Davich thought he heard a Rusty call and saw a bird fly towards them. This swamp is quite large with a road cutting through it. Large dense bushes fill the watery areas and trees grow on the edges. Lots of places for birds to hide. Davich played his tape. The bird flew nearer. He played his tape again. The bird perched up in clear view. It was a female Rusty Blackbird 676! Thank you, Davich.

It is always nice to get a little help from fellow birders. Happy, John drove to the airport in Philadephia to fly to San Jose, CA. He will be on a Debi Shearwater pelagic out of Half Moon Bay tomorrow.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

An ill wind blows some good

November 17th, John went on a pelagic out of Lewes, Delaware with Paulagics. He told me it was very cold and windy, 15 knots. The boat was of a good size so handled the seas well. Some of the passengers did not. Glad I wasn't there.

John got both target birds, the Northern Gannet 673 and the Manx Shearwater 674!!!!! Finally, some progress! He got pictures of both and a picture of the Bonaparte's Gull. He had somehow missed photographing that one well before. That makes about 617 species pictures this year.

John could even find some new bird tomorrow! Well, anything is possible. He will stay in Philadelphia tomorrow night and fly to California Monday. He has a scheduled pelagic out of Half Moon Bay Tuesday, November 20th. It looks like the weather will cooperate, just a little windy and a little wet. I won't be there either.

It isn't that I never go on boats. I went to the Antarctic and the Aleutians. I guess those were ships. A ship's captain told me a boat can be put on a ship, but a ship is never carried and do not call his ship a boat!!!! It is just that to go to sea, I have to overdose on sea sickness medications and in the down time between the birds and occasional whales, pelagics can be deadly boring. Then there is a distant sea bird that experts call a whatever. Could be a flying fish for all I know. I like to ID the bird myself.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Where have all the (rare) birdies gone?

John drove up to Maine to chase the Pink-Footed Goose, I will put in the dates later. He found the field reported on Birdseye. It was lush and green and empty. He decided to leave, several geese flew in. Scan carefully, all Canada Geese. Then a larger flock, all Canada. Another large flock, all Canada. At least one more large flock, all Canada. Of course, the Pinkie could have been hiding in there somewhere, but John didn't see it.

Maine has Spruce Grouse. John checked a few spots, no luck.

Near Boston, Northern Lapwings had been seen a few days before. John and some other birders wandered the roads of a preserve and didn't find them.

Would you believe, John tried yet again for the Virginia's Warbler. It had been reported at Alley Pond on Long Island, probably pre-Sandy. Huge trees had been toppled in the storm. Sand was everywhere. That poor lost warbler was nowhere to be seen.

That makes John 0 for 4 on target birds in the northeast. If he had the flexibility and money, he would likely do better to fly directly to see a rare bird as soon as it was reported. Like the Common Cuckoo that we happened to be near, lost birds seem to quickly lose themselves again. John still teases me that this is just a practice year. If he values his life............

John stayed in Philadelphia, Thursday night, November 15th. Friday, he is driving to Lewes, Delaware for a pelagic with Paulagics early Saturday, November 17th. I hope he at least gets the gannet! He has been stuck on 672 a long time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Am I blue?

Friday, November 9th, John's field trip left at 5 AM again, back to the Upper Rio Grande Valley. No Red-Billed Pigeon or Muscovy Duck, but some nice pictures of birds John has already seen. He is still at 672 for his big year, 706 for his life bird list and 611 plus decent photos of bird species taken this year. Not bad for an old geezer who is blind in one eye and mostly deaf.

I had signed up for Birding by Ear but didn't want to go to Santa Ana two days in a row, so managed to switch to Southmost Preserve in Eastern Brownsville. Anyone can go there if they call ahead to the manager to arrange a visit. We got to go behind the border fence. It is anything but a solid barrier. There are gaps at every road. The smugglers are funneled right past the preserve's headquarters. Not good. The preserve has lots of Sabal Palms and a working grapefruit ranch that brings in revenue. The border fence displaced about three hundred palms during construction. The Southmost Preserve successfully transplanted about half of them. Other preserves got the rest of those palms.

The preserve has a spider web of dirt roads. You definitely will need a map! We didn't see much, but had a wealth of warblers, Yellow-Throated, Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-Rumped, Orange-Crowned, Wilson's and Black-and-White, PLUS, a leader spotted a heavier, skulky warbler. I got on it too and we saw a bright split eye ring! MacGillivray's! The other leader, Derek, finally saw it too. That's pretty far east for a western warbler.

Derek has lead field trips during the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival for all of it's twenty years. It may be the oldest festival in the USA. It is certainly well run.

We didn't fly to Miami. We decided to stay overnight and try Santa Ana on our own in the morning. We ate at Longhorn Cattle Co BBQ and Steakhouse Friday night. Nice! Saturday, November 10th, we got to Santa Ana at 8 AM. We spent about two hours on the tower, Harris's Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, Red-Tailed, Kestrels, Vultures and Crested Caracaras flew by. One hawk was dipping into the trees for several minutes, flying about 50 feet into the wind, then dipping into the trees again. It had two bright white bars on its tail so I got hopeful it might be the Hook-Billed Kite. Never mind, the book says it has two DULL white bars on its tail. Grump.

We climbed down from the tower to go to Pintail Lakes where the HBK had been seen 5 days before. There was a lot of activity in the bushes around the little parking lot at the tower. I could hear White-Eyed Vireos and drifted right to follow them while John stayed in the corner. Right in front of me, a Blue-Headed Vireo appeared. JOHN! JOHN! I spluttered. He got over to me too late. Argh! Not another glimpse, though we searched the area another hour. John will have to get it elsewhere. I'm so blue! We did get nice looks at a Beardless Tyrannulet. What a drab little bird. Cute call. We never did get over to Pintail Lakes, but the kite wasn't seen there anyway.

We drove to Austin Saturday afternoon. Sunday, John changed his flight so that he would fly out of Austin to Philly, Monday, instead of Miami to Philly, Tuesday. The car rental agency showed that all cars were booked, but at the counter, John did get one. He drove to Connecticut because the Motel 6's in New Jersey were not available. Probably, Sandy, the big storm, is the culprit. I need to verify that John's pelagic on the 17th is still a go.

Hi, Edna!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The dark before the dawn

The festival field trips start before the sun comes up. John's bus left at 5 AM, mine at 6 AM, Thursday, November 8th. It is very dark when you start out and then comes the dawn. John wanted a picture of the White-Collared Seedeater so he went on the seedeater tour. They arrived up in Zapata county at La Laja and were greeted by the owner. There was a lot of staring into weedy patches and some good views of the seedeaters, but John did not get any pictures. They had lunch at the Rio Grande overlook in San Ignacio and spent some time at a county park, then headed back to Harlingen.

I went to Santa Ana. Many of the other participants were getting life birds left and right. That was fun. I did get great looks at Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs feeding next to each other. Least Grebes are always special. I even saw a Beardless Tyrannulet briefly. We watched for the Hook-Billed Kite from the towers. No luck. I would not have wanted to see that bird anyway. If I had, I would have HAD to find it for John.

Somehow, getting off the bus the day before, I left my binoculars behind! I didn't realize it until we got to our car and the bus was gone. Dark panic! The bus company closed before the festival people got a message to them. I checked with the information center this morning and they had not heard from the bus company. John let me take his 8's. He would use only his 18 power image-stabilized ones. Nice of him. After I got back from my tour at noon, I asked again. No news. The festival had lots of booths, several were optics companies, so I spent some time looking at replacements. About 2 they called me and said the bus company had finally called them back and had my binoculars! Dawn! A very nice festival volunteer was downtown and picked them up. I got them about 2:30, walked across to the park, lay down on the grass and rested for a half hour.

Then it was time for Bill Clark's lecture about Neotropical Hawks. After that was over, John had returned. There was a cool demonstration of birds of prey flying around the vendors' hall, some delicious snacks and a glass of wine. You should come to the festival!

We went to La Playa to eat. Yummy! Back to our room by 7 PM. John decide we would stay one more night instead of leaving right after our tours tomorrow. I think that means he will not go to Miami before he flies to Philadelphia.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pip! Pip!

The first tour of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival that we went on today, Wednesday, November 7th, was King Ranch Santa Gertrudis. It was a long drive but worth it. We saw lots of fun birds up there, a pair of White-Tailed Hawks, a Roadrunner, a BOBCAT, Cassin's and Clay-Colored Sparrows, Burrowing Owl, Vermilion Flycatcher, lots of Green Jays and Audubon's Oriole.

We went across to an agricultural section to look for the Sprague's Pipit. 672! We found a group of at least 5 pipits along a farm road in the cotton fields. They don't usually hang together like that. We got great views of a life bird for both of us.

King Ranch fed us a delicious barbecue and we dozed on the bus back to Harlingen.

Another EARLY morning tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Whither shall we wander?

The Louisiana tour was over. On our own again. Should we go east towards Miami, or west towards Texas? Susan, also on the tour, mentioned she was heading for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival in Harlingen TX. I mentioned it to John. Susan also asked if we needed a Jicana. I asked John and he said 'Of course!' It was only seen one day, but got him thinking. We started west ostensibly to redo some of the LA tour's areas but kept heading west without stopping. We managed to get to Kingsville that night.

The next morning we were at the festival headquarters about 9:30. They told us to come back at 12 for walk-in registration. Off we went towards Atacosa on Highway 100. As we approached Old Port Isabel Road I suggested we check it out. Some may remember that we went on it earlier in the year. John had gone on it earlier still. It was a REALLY rutted road and no falcons! This time it had been freshly scraped! Easy as pie! In fact, John was going a bit too fast and I saw the Aplomado Falcon take off from a fence post right next to us. We saw it but not well. John could count it. 671! We continued on to Farm Road 541 and back north to Harlingen.

Got back to the festival at 11:45 and the nice ladies started registering us right away. John got all day tours Wednesday, Thursday and Friday that he wanted. I will go on the first one with him and on half day tours after that. John will still have time for a couple of days in Miami if he wants, before he flies to Philadelphia next Tuesday.

We asked some of the volunteers where we could look for Sprague's Pipit. One suggested farm fields north of Harlingen. After lunch, we wandered there awhile. The sun was getting lower. I said I wanted to go back to Old Port Isabel Road. This time we would approach from Farm Road 541 and have the sun at our backs. Another car came behind us. I fussed a bit that we wouldn't be alone, we switched places a few times, the other driver seemed to not see the falcons flying off fences ahead of us. She flushed two that flew back past us and John didn't get pictures. Argh! BUT one flew back and landed right next to her car on the fence. I didn't want to move our car closer, so John got out and crouch-crawled up using her car as a shield. He got pictures of it on the fence and then in flight! Yay!!!

We continued to follow the other car north. She turned around close to the end of the road and headed back toward us. She thought she had to go all the way back to FR 541. I got to tell her that Highway 100 was just ahead. She turned around again and followed us out. Glad I could pay back a bit for the great views.

There were a Peregrine Falcon and a pair of White-Tailed Hawks along the port road too. Plus all the other usual raptors. Nice day! John was delighted that we decided to head towards Texas this morning.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Two new birds in Louisiana! (LA LA) Added to the three John got on the first day of the tour, that is all five target birds he was hoping to get. Tours are great! You have an experienced leader and lots of eyes to help spot the sneaky little birds.

Saturday, November 3rd, the group headed for Cameron Parish in southwestern Louisiana. In a coastal marsh, Dan Lane called up a Seaside Sparrow 669! They also saw tons of shorebirds, seabirds and sandhill cranes, all of which John had seen already in his big year. It isn't a waste of time for him. He enjoys seeing and photographing all of the birds again. He even keeps track of which subspecies he has photographs of.

Since I wasn't officially signed up for the tour, I stayed at the hotel Saturday. Laundry needed to be done, so I carted it all to a laundromat, stuffed all the clean clothes in pillowcases and lugged it back to the hotel. Somewhere, between the laundromat and my hotel room, I lost a pillowcase filled with John's underwear. Sunday, after giving up the search, I bought two weeks worth of new underwear and socks for him. Someone out there was probably pretty disappointed with their find. Not much market for used men's underwear, even if it was clean!

Sunday, November 4th, the group headed for the piney woods through heavy rain. The rain eased up once they got there. The standard birds were all there, Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Brown-Headed Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, etc. The fun one for John was the Bachman's Sparrow. They had chased a few and finally had one surrounded. John had a clear view and helped a few others get a good view for their life list. Dan played a Barred Owl, in it flew! His tape must say something nicer that ours does. We only got it to call back. John got great pictures and he prefers to have a visual for his big year list.

Then they went back to the rice fields. A possible Sprague's Pipit morphed into a Chestnut-Collared Longspur. Several people were happy with that. John would have preferred the pipit. Dan Lane has an alarm call tape that brings in all sorts of little brown jobbies from the tall grass. Among them was a Le Conte's Sparrow 670! Ending the day on a nice note, John saw yet another Yellow Rail pop out from in front of the rice combine in a nearby field.

The Field Guides tour, Yellow Rails and Crawfish Tails, was a great success. Thanks, Dan Lane.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cajun country combine

After a week of wandering through gorgeous fall color and not finding new birds, John and I arrived in Scott, LA (Cajun country) for a Field Guides tour with Dan Lane. John wanted to go on the first of Dan's two tours even though it did not have room for me. Lucky for me, a few of the participants were going to be late arriving, so Friday, November 2nd, I got to join in on the rice harvest. Before we got to the rice field, Dan found John a Swamp Sparrow, number 666 on his big year list!

Yellow Rails migrate south and winter along the Gulf coast. The miles and miles of rice fields are a rail magnet. Then comes the harvest. The huge combines cut the rice like giant lawn mowers, suck in the stalks, separate the rice heads and spit out the chaff. Only a few people could ride on the combine at a time. They needed dust masks and ear plugs. The rest of us walked around on the cut part of the field watching for rails to pop out ahead of the combine. The ground was mostly dry, but you still had to avoid wet holes amongst the ruts. A few of us took some hard sprawls.

John scared up a Yellow Rail out of the cut stuff on our first walk 667! To identify the Yellow Rail you have to see the white on the trailing edge of the wing. The rail pops up, flies out sideways to the already cut area, drops down and disappears. The cut stuff is less than a foot high. The combine scares up Virginia Rails and Soras too. They look dark brown all over. Lots of little brown jobbies scare up too.

When I rode on the combine, I got to be in the cab with the farmer. Great view and no dust! I saw all three species of rails pop out.

After my ride, the group got serious about taking pictures. To do that, we had to mark the spot where a rail flew to after it popped out. We ran over there en masse. We surrounded the spot and walked towards the center. Invariably, the rail would pop up unexpectedly and fly to another spot. We would run and repeat until the rail escaped to the edge of the field and tall grasses. Even though we were sure where the rail landed, it would slip unseen through the stubble and pop up from under someone's foot well away from where we thought it was. John did get some pictures of a Yellow Rail in flight. As far as we could tell, no birds were physically harmed, though they all probably had some nasty nightmares last night.

Next to where we had parked, Dan called out a Sedge Wren 668! 

I slept like a log! John messed up setting the alarm, but we both woke up at 6:30 AM anyway. The tour is going to Cameron County today. I am doing laundry. I bought a boudin sausage for my supper.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The spot to spot a spot

Saint Louie! Friday, October 26th, Birdseye pointed us to a residential area in Kirkwood, Missouri. We immediately SPOTTED Eurasian Tree Sparrows, 665, the ones with a SPOT behind their eye, in a front yard. The lady who lived there was very friendly. She told us that a neighbor boy, ten years old, was an enthusiastic birder. Perhaps he was the one who reported the sparrow to Ebird. His house had several feeders in front and several Eurasian Tree Sparrows. John got some great pictures. That made decent photographs of 600 species this year. I left a thank you note in the birding boy's mailbox. It is always fun to hear from the new generations of birders. They are out there. I meet them every year at Sea and Sage Audubon's summer camps.

Then we went over to Tower Grove Park in the city proper. It has a nice brushy path and drip on the west end of the park. There were lots of White-Throated Sparrows for John to photograph, some thrushes, and at the other end of the park, where there is a little pond, finally, a Fox Sparrow was digging out in the open. So now he has photographs of 602 species this year.

We will nose around the Mississippi flyway for a few days. There are lots of conservation areas to check out.

As I looked back through old posts, I noticed discrepancies in my running total for John's big year list. It isn't set in stone. John will go through his list and notes at the end of the year to decide just what number he will submit. Some iffy birds he will drop, some he might decide to add. The number I highlight after each new bird is close to the 'real' total, so I will continue to use it. Sorry for any confusion. We are confused every day!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

At the corner of Omar and Bluegill?

A Ruddy Ground-Dove was reported on NARBA, North American Rare Bird Alert, at the corner of Omar and Bluegill in Crescent Bend Nature Preserve inTexas.

So, after John tried yet again for the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher in Arizona, he drove to San Antonio. Early Sunday, October 21st, he was at Crescent Bend in the repurposed trailer campground, no trailers allowed, at the corner of Omar and Bluegill. A couple were setting up chairs and coolers. They were going to sit there all day to see the dove. John didn't have that long. The dove didn't show up while he was there. The NARBA report for Sunday was negative from 7:30 AM to 6:30 PM, probably that couple's report. Noble creatures!

Off John went to South Texas and Bentsen State Park. We had heard it was overflowing with Eastern Screech Owls. John was the only person camping in the primitive campground that night. Like Crescent Bend, Bentsen used to have an extensive trailer campground within it. The campers maintained feeders at their sites and the birding was terrific! The park staff do maintain a few feeding stations. We saw the Black-Vented Oriole there earlier in the year. Still, it isn't like the good old days.

Darkness fell, no owls called. John crawled into his sleeping bag, but not to sleep. He lay awake all night long listening. Perhaps the wind silenced them. Finally, at 6:45 AM, John heard a Great Horned Owl. Then, at 6:55, he heard an Eastern Screech Owl. 664 Phew!

John decamped. On the drive to Austin, he stopped by Omar and Bluegill, once again, to look for the dove. Nope.

NARBA reports all these tantalizing exotic sightings all over the place. Pretty frustrating really. We were lucky to be so near Watsonville CA when the Common Cuckoo showed up. A few days later, it was gone.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Jay redux

Don't ask me when, but John went out to Santa Cruz Island earlier in the year to get the Island Scrub Jay. The boat he signed up for went to Scorpion Bay, so that is where he went. Trouble is, from there, you have to hike in a few miles or so to get to where you MIGHT see the jay. John hiked and didn't see a jay feather, let alone a whole bird. We figured out what he should have done, after the fact. Not the best way to do a big year.

Tuesday, October 16th, he tried again. This time, the Island Packers boat stopped at Scorpion Bay, went on to Prisoner's Cove, tied up there a couple of hours, putted back to Scorpion Bay, then back to Ventura. And this time, John signed up for debarking at Prisoner's Cove.

The weather was gorgeous. Within a few minutes of landing, John spotted some Island Scrub Jays. 663 He parked at a picnic table and spent the rest of the two hours taking pictures.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Monday, October 15, 2012

All aboard!

John started a pelagic, 6 AM Saturday, October 13th, out of San Diego. They cruised out along the continental shelf to the back side of San Clemente Island, returning to port early Monday morning, October 15th.

On board were several people he has spent time with on various venues over this past year. Sandy Komito was there, we met him at High Island, also, a guy who was with John on Attu, a guy who was on the weather cancelled boat and then the boat that finally went out to Dry Tortugas, and a lady who was at the Sax-Zim festival with us last February. The bunks were nearly full. Crazy birders all.

At firs,t there were tons of storm petrals. Way out to sea, John was surprised to see lots of Brown Pelicans and Western Gulls along the continent's edge. The Sax-Zim lady got a life bird with the Red-Billed Tropicbird. John got the Guadalupe Murrelet that he had missed on the last San Diego pelagic. He is now at 662 for his big year list. And lots of pictures. He was happy to get better pictures of the Least Storm Petral. John is getting close to having decent pictures of 600 bird species taken this year.

I am blogging from my sister's farm in Minnesota. I don't do pelagics. John called me with his report as soon as he got home. He will start the download of his pictures onto hard drives and crawl into bed. It isn't easy to get a good night's sleep on a boat.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Had to blog on 10/11/12!

Birdseye has been terrific to use. It is an ap that you can purchase for your smartphone that uses Ebird data and Google maps. They do have a disclaimer when you ask for directions. Believe them! We have encountered locked gates, impassable roads, back yards, and my favorite, the 'hotspot' that is obviously the geographical center point of a day-long birding trip. John seems to think something magical will happen if only we arrive at that exact longitude and latitude.

Geography is not the only barrier. Sometimes, sheer numbers get in the way. One bird in a large park or in a large flock is like looking for a needle in a haystack. The Baird's Sparrow near Portal AZ and the Blue-Footed Booby at the Salton Sea are recent examples. Whether they were there or not, we didn't see them.

Then there is death. The Yellow-Legged Gull had shown up in Newfoundland for several years. Why it chose to spend winter there when it normally lived down by the Mediterranean is odd. It probably met with some harm somewhere, because it wasn't there this last January. -- We met the man who had reported an Eastern Screech Owl every day for months at a park in Austin, Texas. He speculated that the local Barred Owls had killed it because he hadn't seen it the last two days. Or that day, when we were there at the park with him. -- Those lost birds, like the Common Cuckoo in Watsonville CA, what happens to make them disappear? Do they find their way home? Not likely. Or do they succumb to unfamiliar predators? At least we saw the poor thing before it vanished.

Birdseye has been a great tool, NARBA is great too. It is hard to justify chasing a bird, though, when the likelihood of it still being there when you arrive is small. Rare birds are rare! If they are near John when they are reported, he might chase them. Most of the migrants are gone, though they still get seen here and there. John missed a lot of them last spring. We might look for some late migrants in Georgia.

John is still at 661. He is booked on two east coast and two west coast pelagics yet and will be in Louisiana with Wings and Dan Lane. There are other possible trips we can take before midnight, December 31st. He will get more new birds. The blogs may not be as frequent, but keep checking in. I'll be back!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Argh or not

Like Jason and the Argonauts, we seek the Golden Fleece.

A couple who are also doing a big year blogged about seeing a Baird's Sparrow along State Line Road near Portal. Saturday, October 8th, we drove slowly up and down the road, sifting through hundreds of sparrows. We saw Black-Throated, White-Crowned, Savannah, Vesper, Brewer's and Grasshopper. One Grasshopper Sparrow sat on the wire for a long time letting John take a bunch of pictures. Too bad it didn't have a necklace.


We had messed up the location of the next spot we were going to check for the sparrow. It wasn't the La Cienega Grasslands, but the San Rafael Grasslands, which were well off our route. We didn't have enough time to go there that day.


We decided to go to Florida Canyon to look for the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher. John remembered the spot described on NARBA, next to the gate to the research center, but I didn't believe him, so we spent most of the time along the creek. Didn't see a gnatcatcher until I turned around and scared it out of a bush. Birds like to sneak up behind you. The bird dashed across the trail and back again and disappeared, probably went back to hanging around the gate.


The light was gone so we retreated to a hotel. Early Sunday morning, we went to Montosa Canyon where Melody Kehl had reported a BC Gnatcatcher on NARBA. As we drove in, we flushed a nightjar off the road, little argh. I saw the BC Gnatcatcher on our last visit to Montosa. I had a clear view of the graduated white tail. Unfortunately, John was about 10 feet away at the time. Gnatcatchers don't pose. We saw no gnatcatchers of any species this time.


John was feeling the pull of home so we did not visit the San Rafael Grasslands. The sparrow spends the winter there. We might get it later. A Blue-Footed Booby had been seen at the Salton Sea, on the way home! Great! We drove up and down the dike near Obsidian Butte. There were hundreds of pelicans and cormorants. The booby could have been hiding amongst them. A young man with a good scope didn't find it either.


The young man did show us a Barn Owl sleeping in a palm tree at the visitor center. He is doing a casual big year in the lower 48. His total is pretty good so we encouraged him to turn in his list at the end of the year. A couple of Burrowing Owls along the road bid us farewell. It is painful not to get any new birds, but if it was too easy, it wouldn't be such a thrill to finally succeed.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A 'peck' of woodpeckers

Friday, October 5th, we started from Turlock and headed for Yosemite. We were following a report of Sooty Grouse in Mariposa Grove. I was feeling funky from the dust and altitude so we walked on the tram road. Up above the Bachelor and the three Graces, there was a dirt road off to the right of the tram road. We spent a couple of hours along a couple of hundred yards there.

First, we saw some White-Headed Woodpeckers, then Hairy, then Williamson's Sapsuckers, then a Red-Breasted Sapsucker 661, then Pileated Woodpeckers, then, after hearing them yacking, Northern Flickers, and John went a little further to where there was vigorous tapping that speeded up, and saw a Black-Backed Woodpecker against the sun. John got pictures of all but the Black-Backed! Some pics are great, some only recognizable. That's SEVEN woodpecker species in one location!

So what if we didn't see a Sooty Grouse! Maybe John will get it near Eureka where John Vanderpoel did last year.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


We labor, we toil, we strive and strain. Shorebirds are tidally locked. We got to Moss Landing State Beach Wednesday, October 3rd, about 5 PM, lots of mudflats, hundreds of shorebirds, cold wind and poor light. The Sharp-Tailed Sandpiper was reported there a few days ago. The next AM there were no mudflats but great light, high tide, duh. We wandered over to the Common Cuckoo shrine in Watsonville, no cuckoo today and no crowds. Where do lost birds go?

Where should we go next? We drove to Rush Ranch near Suisun CA. A Barn Owl in the barn! John had taken a picture of a bird in flight near Idylwild CA that turned out to be a Barn Owl. Much better to get a real time view of a bird and better pictures. On one of the trails, we flushed a Ring-Necked Pheasant female, a fly-away tail view for John. Back on the road we turned inland on a dead end road. There was a male pheasant on the road! 660  Great view for John even though two huge trucks roared by us. Where were they going at top speed? No pictures possible.

Tweezing out possible destinations, we have decided to head for Yosemite tomorrow,  Friday, October 6th, to try for the Sooty Grouse again. Maybe after, we will head for Nevada and the fabled Himalayan Snowcock.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Damn, I'm good!

Monday, October 1st, we headed for Big Bear. Our friends, the Cabes, had told us about the numerous Williamson's Sapsuckers they had seen at Bluff Lake. The gate was closed at the main road so we had to walk in a ways. There were piles of freshly cut logs and lots of roaring and clanking on the far side of the lake where most of the sapsuckers had been seen. A posted note said the area was being cleared of excess fuel. We took a trail away from the din down the far side of the meadow below the lake, visited the Champion Lodgepole Pine and walked back around up to the dam again. We did find a couple of trees with numerous sapsucker holes but no sapsuckers. They probably didn't like all the racket from logging anymore than we did. Sigh. Time to go.

I heard a single, faint, raspy call and turned back down the trail to where I could get a clear view of several large Jeffrey pines up slope. Stare and scan, stare and scan. Motion along the trunk high up in the biggest pine. Black, white slash on the wing! I called John over and he got views and ok pics of two male Williamson's Sapsuckers. 659  They flew to two other pines, but into the dense branches at the tops. We never got views again. That was a two-smooch sighting!

A Yellow-Green Vireo was seen a few days ago at Point Loma in San Diego, so we headed there next. The Ebird directions were very precise and we found the spot in the cemetery, but no birders and no vireo. That evening we had a fun dinner with our daughter at Bleu Boheme. The next morning, back to the cemetery, still no birders or vireo. If there had been birders around, that would have been a more hopeful sign, plus extra eyes always help. One guy showed up later to take a walk and described where the bird HAD been seen and how it HAD behaved. Chasing is no fun when you don't succeed. The Common Cuckoo is still being sighted. Now that was fun!

Home. John wants to plan where to go next, I want to take a nap.

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Sometimes serendipity is super sweet.

Wednesday, September 26th, we were pondering two trips, either to New Mexico for the Piratic Flycatcher or to Monterey CA for a pelagic promising the Flesh-Footed Shearwater. Even though John had no reservation, he decided to try for the boat trip. The flycatcher hasn't been seen since!

We picked up the car with its new transmission Wednesday night, packed and left about noon the next day. John decided to go up the 5 to Jayne Road through Coalinga to the 101. In Priest Valley by a water trough (I love those things) there were several Yellow-Billed Magpies. John had seen them before, this time, he got photographs. Returning home on this same road about the same time a few days later, no magpies! Serendipity

Early Friday morning, I dropped John off near Fisherman's Wharf with all his gear and cash to pay for the boat. He called later and said he had gotten on. John got pictures of the Flesh-Footed Shearwater 655 and the South Polar Skua he had seen on the last pelagic. The seas were MUCH calmer. No one got sick.

Even better, someone on the boat was notified about the COMMON CUCKOO just up the road in Watsonville. Extreme serendipity that we weren't in New Mexico! John was tired so we went back to his sister's, John napped and went to bed early. We took time to have pancakes the next morning. THEN we drove up the 101 to Watsonville Slough. What a ZOO! At least it was easy to find the last spot the bird had been seen. Over a hundred people were spread along the path next to some willows south of the bridge. It hadn't been seen for awhile, we sat down for a vigil. Then I noticed a few people following a guy on a cell phone. As they passed through the crowd, people began grabbing their gear and joining the parade heading north under the bridge. The bird had flown out to a willow covered island. People could see glimpses of it moving through the scrub. The crowd sloshed and surged along the bank. We ended up at the far north end and John saw the bird fly across from the back of the island to another inaccessible row of willows. The Big Wait.

Then, 'There it is!",  the Common Cuckoo 656 came out and perched on the last willow on the left for a few minutes. Back it dove into the thicker thicket. "Its down on the right', "I see it moving in the back", "It was just by that thin vee on the middle left below those greener leaves". Each 'sighting' provoked waves of excitement and demands for better directions. Then, after about a half hour of paroxyms of delight and despair amongst its acolytes, the bird sat out again in plain view and everyone got great views and pictures.

Also, on the boat, a leader told John (serendipity) about a possible Lawrence's Goldfinch spot on Gloria Road, just north of Pinnacles. We headed for Hollister then down Hwy 25. But first, a side road Debi Shearwater had told John about, Quien Sabe, where there were resident Prairie Falcons. What a cool area! We happened upon a Ferruginous Hawk 657 , serendipity again, lots of kestrals, shrikes, Red-Tailed Hawks and several Golden Eagles!

Back to the 25 and down towards Pinnacles, we missed the turn, consulted the IPhone, and turned back. Gloria Road was just a dirt track. Not far down it, I spotted a water trough, called out to John to stop! Sure enough, there were around 30 Lawrence's Goldfinches perched in the trees, taking turns at the trough. 658 A car full of birders pulled up to ask about the road conditions. I asked them if they wanted to see Lawrence's Goldfinches. They piled out of the car delightedly. It doubles the fun for us to be able to share a sighting. Turns out they were on last week's pelagic out of Half Moon Bay with John. One of them had tried to read my blog when it was down, so I explained about the incompetent doohickey that wanders around the blogosphere looking for spam.

Now, we were ready to start home. As we drove down the 25, there was a Prairie Falcon, perched on a pole, preening and happy to pose for pictures. Serendipity again! The birding gods were smiling down on us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bodega bodes swell

Thursday, September 20th, still back in the week that was, John was to drive up to Petaluma for a pelagic with Debi Shearwater the next day. Early on I happened to look at my email and found a weather alert from Debi. John hung around until about 11:30 AM Thursday, called Debi and she had just talked to the captain, "High seas but a go." Off he went.

Early Friday they putted out from Bodega Bay. The seas were high, John got soaked a few times, his camera survived, a Hawaiian Petrel floated by and John got a picture! 650 Then he got a Bulwar's Shearwater. 651 Finally back on dry land, there was uncertainty about the next day's pelagic out of Half Moon Bay. I still had no news for John around 6 PM, so he checked into his hotel.

Saturday AM, he showed up at the dock and the trip was on. Again high seas, even more wetness, but some good pictures of Marbled Murrelets and better ones of Bulwar's Shearwater. Debi was pretty tired. She let her spotter's do their thing. Then she stood up, looked up and said 'South Polar Skua!'. 652 She is good!

Saturday night, John stayed at his sister's. Sunday, he headed for  Pinnacles State Park where there were Lawrence's Goldfinches. Nope. Maybe he needed to get there earlier. Then he drove to Mercey Hot Springs. They charge a fee, give you directions. John looked in the tree unsuccessfully, the gentleman took him back to the tree and pointed out the Long-Eared Owl. 653 Way worth the fee!!

I think that gets me up to real time. Today was when we saw the Virginia Rail, got pics of the Great Horned Owls and got my car back in working order. It is 9 PM Wednesday, September 26th. Tomorrow morning, we might take off for a Monterey pelagic, or we might head for New Mexico and the Piratic Flycatcher.  Only the Shadow knows.

Boy, you have to be pretty old to get that reference!

Nine months along!

No, we are not expecting, but when we arrived home last week we found a bundle of 'joys' on our doorstep, shaky health, flaky finances, quaky car and broken blog. I am happy to say we are in the process of finding homes for all those problems.

John is getting over his cold. I have gotten inhalers for asthma. It seems to flare up rarely, maybe all the stress? The id theft was minor and months ago, so hopefully that will just go away with vigilance now that we have reported it.

The dealership just called to say the new transmission seems to have fixed the problem with my Rav4. The car would balk going in reverse up hill, not a good trait to have on a narrow mountain road with an ominous puddle ahead. At first, the mechanics swore there was nothing wrong with the transmission because no lights were lit up on their testing machines. They convinced us to replace the engine mounts, the clunking was still there. Now the clunk is gone. We just hadn't thrown enough money at the problem.

Last night, my email from Google said that a human had decided I wasn't SPAM. Nice to know. I am back in the blogosphere! Some of my recent posts will be out of order while I catch up.

Why the title? Our friend, Roy Poucher, did a big year in 1998 and came in fourth. Yes, that was the year Sandy Komito set the record. Roy blew out some car engines, his business suffered, he ate LOTS of meager meals, he went to some wonderful places and met wonderful people. Along the way, he met a girl who would join him at various hotspots and rare bird sightings. That made the grueling process a lot less grueling. Now that we are in the midst of a big year, we really admire Roy for hanging in there.

At the beginning of John's big year, Roy warned him that September (THE NINTH MONTH) is the month many big year pursuers drop out. John has been looking up some of the fairly common birds he has yet to get, kind of discouraging. It is tough to warrant traveling to a spot for one bird that you will see only if you are really lucky and the bird is still there. John does have some pelagics scheduled and a trip to Louisiana with Dan Lane of Wings. Maybe the coming winter will be more normal and drive out some of the birds we missed because of the mild winter that started the year. Maybe rarities will show up where ever we go. Maybe I will try to go along on most of the rest of John's search parties. I can help him see and hear, make sure he eats three meals a day, and that we have somewhere to sleep each night. Maybe we will keep plugging away until the end of the year.

What? Where? Whoooo!

Back to birding. This morning, Wednesday, September 26th, we went to San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine to look for the Virginia, no, not warbler, Virginia Rail.

As we were walking out to pond D, I reminisced where I had seen the rail in past years, the east side, along the back and over on the west end. We scanned the back, walked forward a few feet and started to scan the east side along the reeds. There it was, sitting out on the mud! 654 John got pics even. After a few minutes, it had slunk back into the reeds and a Sora strolled out.

A few weeks ago, while we were gone, of course,  a Virginia's Warbler was reported at Huntington Beach Central Park. Maybe it was worth a walk-about. There were some Orange-Crowned Warblers and I got a glimpse and chirrup of a Western Tanager, but not much else. We searched the trees near the library for Great Horned Owls.  I am not supposed to get a lot of exercise for a few weeks, so I asked John to continue the circle around the park while I went back to the cafe to wait.

We parted. I walked back several yards and met a guy with binoculars. 'Sure, the owls are roosting right around here.' It took us a while to find the owls and by then it was too late to chase after John. So I walked back to the cafe to wait. After John got there, we walked back to the corner, I found the owls again and John got some pictures. Yes, he has already heard them for the year. Still it was great to get a visual and pictures.

Just another time we could have used our cell phones to connect and neither of us were carrying!

A little like Pale Male of Central Park in NYC, a lot of non-birders know of the owls and keep tabs on their activities. A couple passing by said that they had come at night to watch the owls hunt and that this spring there were three fledglings. I think there has been an owl family at the library continuously for several decades. The city even modified remodeling plans to avoid disturbing the owls.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

All blogged up!

Since last Wednesday, I have been unable to post. First, the blogosphere had a weird bug and then, while that was going on, the little filter creature who climbs around inside looking for violations decided my blog was a spam. Just today, I finally got through the Google gauntlet to real help. A human actually reviewed my case and reinstated my blog. Virtue triumphant.

It is late, Tuesday, September 25th, I will blog again in the morning. Tune in tomorrow for the Hawaiian Petrel, broken transmission and Virginia's Warbler (yes, we missed it). Good night and good Googling.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

El Paso passing fair

Not my favorite part of Texas, but the El Paso area treated us well today. The first place we visited was Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. Many trails, let's take the right fork, hike a ways, Crissal Thrasher sitting up! 648 Pictures too! Believe it or not, we were there to look, just one more time, for the Virginia's Warbler.

Then we stopped by Memorial Park in El Paso proper, yet again, for the dearly departed Virginia's Warbler. The Hammond's Flycatcher had also been reported there on Ebird a week ago. At least it hadn't departed. There were at least two mixing it up with a Western Wood Pewee. 649

I think all Empids should be required to wear name tags!!!!!!!!!!!! Ruminating about past Empids he has seen, John is not sure about two or three. His final year list will involve a lot of soul and note and picture searching.

We will get home tomorrow, to what's left of the house and my potted plants. John will have to recover from this trip, and a cold he just developed, pay taxes, drive north for some pelagics and plan the rest of his big year.

The early worm gets the bird

John wanted to set the alarm for 7:30. The wonderful gentleman, who had posted on Ebird about the Red-Crowned Parrot site near Pace High School in Brownsville, had started at 7:30 AM so John moved the alarm to 7:00. We got off without breakfast and got to the site at 7:35. There were parrots all over the place. 647 John got good pictures and views. THEN we had breakfast. By 8:10 the parrots had dispersed from the park. Thus the early worm/bird reference.

If I haven't mentioned this before, we bring along bowls, spoons and boxes of cereals. On the road each day, we buy a pint of milk, cokes and ice. The next morning, we are set for breakfast. As all birders know, the best birding is in the early morning, no time for a Denny's breakfast.

The Red-Crowned Parrot was John's 647th bird for his ABA big year list. It was also his 700th bird for his ABA life list. The American Birding Association defines its area as the mainland north of Mexico, including continental shelf. So all of mainland US, Canada and Alaska, but not Hawaii, are included. Some birds, John has seen in other countries, but to include them in the ABA life list, he has to see them in the ABA area too. At the beginning for this big year quest, John's ABA life list was 639. He saw all those birds in 55 years of birding. In 9 months, he has added 61 birds to his ABA life list.

Even though he has little chance of even reaching 700 birds for his ABA big year list, John has had a great amount of fun and has learned a heck of a lot about birds and birding.

I know all these references to listings are confusing. Listing does not make it so. I like to bird and don't list at all.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Seren-dipity Goo Dah

We plunged down to South Texas. John decided we should go on FM 1420. There was a nice Harris's Hawk on a pole. Around the bend, there was another hawk on a pole. It had rufous shoulders, so I thought it was another HAHA. John exclaimed, "It has white underparts!" It was a White-Tailed Hawk! 646 It sat for several pictures, then took off and kited in the wind near us so John some great in-flight pictures also. It hadn't been reported for four weeks.

We took the circle road in Laguna Atascosa looking for the Aplomado Falcon. We scared up one bird twice in the same spot but didn't get very good looks. It was falcony. Was it THE falcon?

Now comes the GOO. We drove further south toward another report of the falcon on the Old Port Isabel Road. It really is OLD, deeply rutted and with nasty patches of slippery mud. We got about 4 miles in with 4 more miles to go and had to turn back.

To bed in Brownsville a bit late.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cape May days

John got to New Jersey Thursday, September 5. He called me after checking into his motel, exhausted, and I persuaded him to go down and case Cape May. He saw his first Mute Swan that evening. 643  Friday, he got two more birds that I already blogged about, the Veery and the Least Flycatcher. Later that day, he got the Philadelphia Vireo, a very good look. 644 With that bird, you have to have a VERY good look to be sure it isn't a Warbling Vireo. He also got a picture of a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher. He had only heard it before. John then looked around Cape May some more and met Pete Dunn at the Lighthouse Hawkwatch. Pete gave John some Cape May insiders' info, but the best was yet to come.

Bad weather!

Saturday afternoon, John went back to the hotel to hole up with tidings of great joy from fellow birders. Their area didn't get that bad of weather from the storms and Sunday wasn't that great for birding, but, Monday morning, all the warblers had piled up at the south end of the peninsula and all decided at once to go back up the peninsula to the mainland together, enmasse, knee-high to the birders on the dike. John said it was quite the spectacle, but no way could he pick out any of the species he needed.

Tuesday, John tried the platform beneath the dike and still didn't ID any new species. Others might remark, 'Oh, there goes a --------'. John can't list that. Sigh!

I might as well bring you up to date. John flew back to Texas Tuesday afternoon. I picked him up in Austin that evening. Today, Wednesday, September 12th, John and I got up early and checked out some Birdseye reports of Eastern Screech Owls. We started at Laguna Gloria, looking in tall cane on the peninsula. Robin showed up after we had been there for awhile. He had gotten a response from the owl for about two months until two days ago. He thought that perhaps the local pair of Barred Owls had done away with the screech owl. MISS! But Robin told us where to find the Monk Parakeet. Off we went and found a cooperative one at the first place. HIT! 645 

Tomorrow, September 13th, we will head for South Texas for Aplomado Falcon and more reports of Screech Owls. Maybe there will even be a few warblers wandering around.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Very Veery

John is having fun at Cape May. There are a lot of places to check for migrants and a lot of other birders around to help him spot them. Veery 641 and Least Flycatcher 642 were new. A Connecticut Warbler was sneaking around so John is going back to that spot to look for it. He will have three more days to look for it and a few other warblers. Unfortunately, the Virginia's Warbler is EXTREMELY unlikely. Drat!

John may go back to Cape May for a second visit in early October, maybe I will go too. Cape May would be fun next May too.

Today, I sent in a check to Debbie Shearwater for a couple of pelagics later in September. John will do that alone. Years ago, we went on a 'bad' pelagic and, ever since then I get queasy thinking about boats. I just got queasy typing this.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On second thought

Off early from Portal, we stopped at nearby Quail Cottage. They have a nice feeder arrangement. I guess the bears haven't discovered them yet. A Bullock's Oriole stopped by briefly. John remembered that he does not have a picture of it. Then a Hooded Oriole came by followed closely by a young cowbird. Patience........ Paid off. The Bullock's came back and fed out of a jam jar. Good pics.

On the way to Austin, we briefly considered camping for one more try at Virginias's Warbler near Carlsbad Caverns. Naw.

John looked at Birdseye while I was driving the last leg and saw that 20 plus Canada Warblers had been reported at High Island, so he took off the next AM, Labor Day, from Austin and drove over there. Not a bird, not a soul. He got back way tired that night. Tuesday and Wednesday were days of mostly napping for him while  I arranged his trip to Cape May. Thursday, September 6th, John flew to Philadelphia. Maybe a Canada will show up there for him.

Besides napping, John looked over his list for the year. A few birds were iffy. He tossed out one, decided two others were valid. Minus one plus two makes for one additional bird. You can tag it as a Barn Owl. 640

Friday, August 31, 2012

Yes, Santa Claus, there is no Virginia!

John has been looking for Virginia's Warbler in all the right places. He is running out of time. Maybe one will overwinter in our back yard like a Kentucky Warbler did many years back, second record for Orange County CA.

We got off early from Portal Peak Lodge AZ, August 31st. We try to get some milk in the afternoon when we are on the road, so that the next morning, we can have cereal in our room. I asked to drive on the road to Herb Martyr and, sure enough, I spotted Mama Montezuma Quail and three chicks ahead. John got a few photos. He had only heard them so far this year. On the road up to Rustler's Park, I heard the weird buzz of the Mexican Chickadee. 638 We saw them a few more places, no great pics.

Back down at the junction to Paradise, we came across a mixed flock. Mixed flocks are an alphabet soup of birds. Birds of different feathers flock together, a birder's buffet. There were three species of  vireos, Huttons's, Plumbeous, and Cassin's. 639 Nice to be able to compare them in the same tree.

John started his big year with 639 life birds that he acquired over 55 years of birding. In eight months, he has seen 639 big year bird species. Pretty cool.

We then drove down to George Walker House B and B in Paradise. The hostess helped us spot a young male Calliope Hummingbird. John had counted a brief view before, but was glad to get better views and pics. She also suggested we check the stream crossings for the Virginia's Warbler. After a much needed nap, we went back to Paradise Road but didn't hear a peep, even from juncos. Where are you, Virginia!

The extensive fires have forced the bears down out of the Chiracahuas and forced the locals not to maintain feeders for the birds. The owner of Portal Lodge said the bears come through about midnight and empty all their hummingbird feeders. Maybe we will hear them tonight. Kinda sad.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Thursday, August 30th, in the middle of Montosa Canyon, I got a call from my sister, that her husband would be stopping medical intervention and that they would be taking him home to his farm in northern Minnesota. Yesterday, one of my granddaughters had her first birthday.

John is trying to see as many birds as he can before they book passage south.

We didn't see anything new at Montosa, no black-capped came to our pygmy owl call. BUT we tooled over to Ash Canyon B&B and in came the Plain-Capped Starthroat 636,  plus, we got to chat with the hostess and other visitors.

John asked if the Spotted Owl was still being seen in Miller's Canyon. Affirmative, so that was our next stop. The people at Beatty's B&B were very helpful. Charles goes up every day to check on the owl location. It was a bit of a hike, lots of it was washed out and unrecognizable. We managed to find the pink tape, stood next to it, looked into the maple, and a sleepy young Spotted Owl 637 blinked back at us.

On the hike up Miller Canyon, we were surrounded by Canyon Wrens, Red-Faced Warblers, Painted Redstarts, a Black-Throated Gray Warbler, a Nashville Warbler, a Brown Creeper and Bridled Titmouse. All were visible from a spot where a Gray Fox had been standing moments before.

John has 637 big year birds to date, he has photographs of 560 of them, 58 new life birds, 697 life birds. Not bad for a guy who is blind in one eye and deaf as a post. Well, maybe not that deaf, unless I am trying to tell him something. He certainly doesn't hear all the chips and tweets out in the field that help you locate a bird, and sometimes, ID it.

Tonight we are in Portal Peak Lodge. We first visited Portal in 1970 looking for the trogan.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

And then there was one - Common Black Hawk!

August 29th, we got up early to go to Montosa Canyon, exit 56, Highway 19, south of Tucson. On the way in, we saw a strange hawk on a post, black back, white streaks on head and neck, finely striped tail, not a short tail which threw us at first, Common Black Hawk, immature! 634 Maybe one of the juvvies from Sunflower!

Montosa is a cool spot. John got pics of the Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher, Warbling Vireo and Canyon Wren. He has a picture list for the year that is up to about 557.

Should I confess? I played the Pygmy Owl down by the stream. In came the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher, but John did not see the tail. Drat! We are going back tomorrow AM to try to get him to see it. Why are gnatcatchers so coy about their tails?

Back up on the road, a Prairie Falcon zoomed over our heads, perched on the cliff and then dived down the canyon. 635 A Cooper's Hawk got all the little birds excited as we drove out the canyon.

We spent the afternoon at the La Cienagas Grasslands. Of course, John could not hear the Grasshopper Sparrow, the Botteri's Sparrow, the Lark Sparrow or the Cassin's Sparrow, but he saw them all and got fair pictures.

At Patton's, we found out about the Plain-Capped Starthroat at Ash Canyon. John has Narba updates but hasn't been going on line. We will go back to Montosa tomorrow morning to give John another try for the Black-Capped Gnatcatcher then head for Ash Canyon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Birder's Axiom

Axiom---A bird you are looking for, no matter how common, will be hard to find.

The latter months of a big year, the list of target birds gets shorter. Well, for John, it isn't that short, but still, when we arrive at a spot, there are only a few birds to look for.

We stayed at Bishop, CA, Sunday, August 26th, and drove through to Sunflower AZ by 3 PM, August 27th. There is a short residential road that we drove up and down several times looking for Common Black Hawk and Zone-Tailed Hawk. There were TONS of Turkey Vultures coming in for the night to confuse things, but we did pick out a Zoney or two. 633 Bob, a local resident, showed us the Black Hawk nest, said the two adults and two juveniles were still around and told us the screeching we were hearing was a Zoney. He encouraged us to stay until dusk and return early the next morning. Driving down the hill towards Tucson, we debated if we should go all the way back up to Sunflower. A CASINO, a Radisson Hotel, forty-nine bucks for a room, nice restaurant, only thirty miles back to Sunflower, SOLD!

BUT the next morning, no 'Common' Black Hawk. Even Bob hadn't seen one.

We headed to Mount Lemmon by Tucson. John related to me that he had been to at least eight places where people had reported black hawks, some multiple times, since the end of June. They are notoriously hard to see, but John has looked for Virginia's Warbler in even more places. He has seen little gray jobbies, but not well enough to identify them. The calendar marches on. These birds may be winging their way south of the border now.

John is thinking about taking flight too. Cape May, Florida Cape, Alaska.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A great ending to two grate days

There is nothing under heaven like a shower and a real bed after a few days of camping.

August 24th, we drove out to Yosemite West. I heard a Cassin's Vireo, but two hours later, John had not seen nor heard it. He left his 'ears' in the car. No matter how I chased them, they did not peek out of the trees.

On the way to Tuolumne, we drove out to White Wolf Campground and on one of our stops, Golden-Crowned Kinglets passed by low in the trees. 632

It wasn't all that late, but Yosemite on a weekend, we decided to find a campsite. I think we got the last one in Porcupine Flats. Not a bad site, an evening walk found us surrounded by juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and warblers. There are a ton of juncos in the Sierras.

August 25th, we broke camp and headed for Tuolumne Meadow. At the Visitor Center, a ranger suggested we try around Lambert Dome for the Williamson's Sapsucker. We found a couple of sappy trees. One had numerous, fastidious rectangles, chiseled out of the bark of the lodgepole pine. The pattern looked like ice cube trays. We stuck around each sappy tree awhile, but no sapsuckers showed up. What to do?

We ended up in Bishop. Laundry, groceries, the big Mac, wine, SHOWERS and REAL BEDS!

The right place to be, Yosemite

We got to Wawona about noon, Thursday, August 23rd. The info center told us there were few campsites to be had. We decided to get one of the last reservation required sites at Wawona campground. The reservation clerk found us a really nice site, up a hill, above the campground proper and near a bathroom (most important at night!) We set up our tent and drove down to Bridalveil Falls viewing area. There were no swifts by the falls, but a couple of granite pillars to the right, John spotted them. He has 18 power image stabilized binoculars so eventually he managed to see the field marks on all three species of swifts that had been reported there, Black, White-Throated, and, the one he needed, Vaux's Swift. 629

If you have never been to Yosemite, you must come in by the tunnel view road.

It was only 3:10 PM, John wanted to go out to Glacier Point. The drive there is SLOW. We started on the trail to Ilouette Falls about 4 PM. On the first switchback, I spotted the White-Headed Woodpeckers way high in a tree. There were a couple of chipmunks up there fighting the birds for the tastiest cones. John finally got good looks. 630 Later, some WHWO came in at eye level to pose for great pictures and chuckle to each other.

Unfortunately, some hikers returning from the falls said that they had seen tame 'chickeny' birds on the trail. Could there be Sooty Grouse out there? We would have to hike further than we had planned. Later, we canvassed some other hikers and they had not seen the 'chickens'. We turned back. Still, there were flutters and tweets to check out on the way. We didn't get back until about 6. We opted to take a trail to the point, then I opted to take a shortcut straight down to the parking lot and saw movement in some bushes. John! Take the shortcut! Mountain Quail! A whole flock of them! A male, two females, two immature males and several half-grown chicks. Before this, we have only had fleeting glimpses of this species. These birds wandered under some bushes and over some rocks, then across the street a patch of weedy grass by the parking lot. I even got a good picture of the male with my point and shoot. If we hadn't dilly dallied and taken the shortcut, we wouldn't have seen them. 631

We got back to Wawona about 8 and celebrated with a REAL dinner at the Wawona Hotel. We were glad we had set up camp already, crawled into bed and slept until 8:30 the next morning.

Carmel Delight

Wednesday, August 22nd. Our sure-fire Chestnut-Backed Chickadee site is just before the bridge in Carmel, going south, turn right into a little cluster of cabins. It did take some patient sifting of juncos and Pygmy Nuthatches but we finally spotted the chickadees. 626 

While I was buying ice, wine and cokes, John was looking through Birdseye for our next destination. He decided we should head for Yosemite. But, a little out of the way, was a Tricolored Blackbird site. We got to the marsh, no birds, but behind the marsh up a hill was a lovely manure pile. Tricoloreds are clumping birds like the Pinyon Jay. They like to be in a dense colony to roost and they seem to feed the same way. They were all together up by the manure pile, males, females and immatures. The easiest ones to be sure of were the females with their dark bellies below stripes. 627

Instead of heading for Yosemite when we got to the 41, John decided we should try a Birdseye site near Huntington Lake. We got a great campsite in Badger Flats, 00 and 1, the first right turn. It was a bit far from the outhouse, but was nestled under towering pines next to a gurgling creek with no neighbors! My kind of camping. That afternoon and the next morning we drove up towards the pass but saw none of the reported birds John needs.

John checked his official list and noticed he had not included the Lesser Nighthawk in his count. 628

Now we headed for Yosemite.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pinyon plenty

Up along Highway 24 in Riverside County, we turned on Fobe's Ranch Road and wandered amongst the pines and cows awhile. There was a smattering of birds, all already seen, so we started back out. Then I heard a honky, wheezy call. In flew a Pinyon Jay! And another, and more, until at least fifty had passed through the trees by us, all croaking with glee. They are one of those species that 'clumps'. We have been in their proper habitat a lot and have only crossed paths with their mobile colonies a few times. They are definitely fun to see, and John needed them. 624

Down the road a bit, we camped in Hurkey Creek County Park, beautiful setting and nearly empty on a Sunday night. We found an wooded corner, laid our sleeping bags out on a tarp and spent the night watching the stars and hearing owls. The Great Horned Owl started hooting, then a Northern Saw-Whet Owl peeped and shrieked (a new bird! 625), and finally a Western Screech Owl popped popcorn.

The rest of the last two days we spent on dirt roads in beautiful back country where we should have seen some new birds, but didn't. Frustrating, but fun, sort of.