Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Standing on the corner, watching all the gulls go by

John went to Newfoundland with Z Tours to see the Yellow-legged Gull. Because they never saw it, they spent most of their time looking for it. They did see nine other gull species. The group list was Black-headed Gull, Bonaparte's Gull, Common/Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, Iceland/Thayer's Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull and Great Black-backed Gull. John will have to decide if he will look for and list the west coast versions of those two two-named gulls.

So the way this works is, you find a likely pond filled to the brim with gulls and start scanning for the Yellow-legged one. It is rumored to hang out at the town dump which is closed to birders, drat. Then, when it feels like it, it visits one of the nearby ponds to bathe along with hundreds of other gulls. This gull is common in the Mediterranean and the ones that end up in Newfoundland seem to originate in the Azores and a few visit every winter. John is already considering another visit in late fall when they show up again.

Some of the other birds John saw would be difficult to get later and in other places, so he was happy to see the Purple Sandpiper, the Tufted Duck, the Black-headed Gull, the Lesser Black-backed Gull and the cute little Dovekie.

He now has about 180 species with 11 being code 3 or higher. For those who aren't hardcore birders, code 1 and 2 are birds you can usually see without risking life and limb, 3, 4 and 5 are a BIT more difficult and, I understand, code 6 is essentially extinct.

Monday, January 23, 2012


John is back from his trip to Newfoundland. Jared Clarke of Zugunruhe Birding Tours did a good job of shepherding the group around. Nice safe way for John to get some winter experience.

He learned that snow is frozen water so your boots and gloves do get wet. He wished his gloves were heavier and waterproof and that he hadn't lost one of the gloves he did bring. I told him to try on everything before he packed it, but somehow he left his long johns here and brought two pair that may have been mine. A bit of a stretch! We will have to do some shopping before we go to Northern Minnesota for the Sax-Zim birding festival in February.

'This isn't a good year for.....' may be a theme John hears a lot this year. Both in Newfoundland and Minnesota the weather has been mild so far so the birds are not as easy to see. John did get five life birds but not the one bird he went to Newfoundland for, the yellow legged gull. At least in Minnesota, there is some snow now so perhaps we will get some of the specialties there.

When the big year that the movie was about occurred there was El Nino, a big storm in the northwest, and access to Attu. John is hoping to get to Attu on a boat tour sponsored by Z Tours. Whether birds get blown there or blown away from there is yet to be determined. John's big year will be a great adventure whatever the outcome.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hardly chilly

John is winging his way to Newfoundland. Hope birds are too. Today, there is snow there, tomorrow, almost certainly rain. The rest of his stay will be in the 30's with little or no precipitation. Not bad for January.

Minnesota needs some good storms before the Sax-Zim birding festival in February. Hawk Owls are sparse this year. There was a festival a few years back that was cut short by weather but at least there were Hawk Owls. We'll just have to take whatever the fates want to offer us. Northern Lights would be nice.

It is sunny and 60 degrees here in Southern California. The Allen's Hummingbird is spitting and popping his creds. The House Wren and Orange-Crowned Warbler are looking for rentals. I'm just glad to be home.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A picture is....

John was reviewing his pictures and asked me to look at a few. Hey, I said, that is different. Turns out it was a longspur, not just another sparrow. It may be a Smith's, we already 'scared up' a few of those, or maybe a Lapland. I will have to get a local expert to look at the picture. Still, not identifying the bird in the field means to us, it isn't countable.

Was that a true story years ago? That a guy missed seeing the Seedeater but when he got home, he had taken a picture of a feeder and there was a Seedeater!

John leaves for Newfoundland in a few days. Now that should be an experience! He is a Southern Californian lad born and bred!

Friday, January 13, 2012


Friday the 13th, I know this is a two a day post, but it took me a while to recover from the trip. John went out birding Tuesday and Wednesday. I rested. He is made of tougher stuff than I. We will sit down together and rough out the next six months. An Attu trip is a question that affects the timing of many other possible destinations so I know he can't be definite. There are things I need to commit to or cancel scattered throughout the spring. How much will I accompany him? Stay tuned. I will be blogging for him anyway.

Timing is everything

Monday, January 9th, leaving Phoenix, we went to thrasher corner near Buckeye for thrashers, and came up dry, maybe too cold, too early, or we smell? The highest population is in March so John will return. Perhaps, with a guide.

Just in case the Nutting's Flycatcher in Big Bend isn't validated, John wants to stop by Lake Havasu for the one that is there. Almost all the sightings are for 7 or 8 AM, and we will get there around noon. One of the great things about birding is getting to see some beautiful natural areas. Problem is, two different people told us that the bird roosts overnight in that palo verde or that other palo verde and then starts foraging and disappears in the brush. So that is why most of the sightings are in the early morning. I thought it was because hard core birders who would report to NARBA would show up early, see the bird, and leave. Well, maybe that does happen a little but we still didn't see the bird. Nice place to have lunch.

Driving home through urban rush hour traffic was exhausting.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Lose some, win some

We did not get any Harlequin Quail in the Davis Mountains Saturday January 7th and drove on to Green Valley AZ. January 8th up to Florida Canyon for the Rufous-capped Warbler. High hopes as it was seen the 7th and we were with a couple who had seen it two weeks ago and more people showed up to help look. 11 pairs of eyes and no luck. Nice place to visit though.

Off to Phoenix, and Anthem Community Park for a very cooperative Rufous-backed Thrush right where advertised.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Drive, drive, drive

So Thursday AM back past Salinino to Falcon Dam State Park. The camp hosts maintain an extensive feeding area. They are plagued by accipiters too. Good views of Olive Sparrows, both Curve-Billed and Long Billed Thrashers, etc and a Roadrunner came up close for handouts. Off to Zapata. Other birders finally located the seedeater along the concrete outlet of the pond in back. We fortified ourselves with lunch PB&J and went back alone. I got a glimpse then we waited and the little tyke hopped up on a vine, grabbed a grass seed head and munched a bit. Too brief for John to get a picture, but at least he saw it.

The guy who discovered the Nutting's Flycatcher in Big Bend was with the other group  and encouraged us to go for it. So now we really DROVE. Ate some HOT stuff at a Stripes about 6 PM and got to Gage Hotel in Marathon about 9. What a cool place that is! Would have liked to stay longer.

Ate at Johnnie B's for breakfast then took off for Big Bend. When you are trying to use a GPS, a highway map, road signs, a NP map and John's recall of directions from the day before you end up going the right way but thinking it is the wrong way and turning around to find out after a few miles it is the right way and turning around to get to the Nutting's Flycatcher spot 15 minutes after it was last seen. BUT it seems the bird makes a big circuit around the scrub and returns after about 2 hours. Luckily, a nice young woman named Heidi showed up and reassured us that she would find the bird. I finally got out lunch fixings and she called out. The flycatcher did just what everyone else said it did, flew openly from perch to perch around the parking lot for about a half hour and then continued its circuit, I guess. We had lunch and left. 

John thought about driving to El Paso, 9 PM again, but we settled for Alpine and stopped at 5. I am glad, we need the rest. Tomorrow the Davis Mountains.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Doing the McAllen

We spent the afternoon Monday at Estero Grande. No Becard, BEC ard or bec ARD, however you say it, it hasn't been seen that day or since. Still fun and my first time there. The pauraques, the green kingfisher, the canvasback duck, the ovenbird at the drip, the battling rufous bellied hummingbirds were all fun. On the way 'home' Big Daddy's Barbecue. Huge portions. Motel 6 of course.

Bentsen Tuesday AM to see the Black-Vented Oriole. Just missed it once and waited quite a while for it to come back. I spotted it WAY back there and John was slow to locate it but did get a picture. We didn't even ride around the place on the tram. See the target and go is the drill. Bother!

Frontera Tuesday PM we got the Crimson-Collared Grosbeak at the feeding area. JOHN spotted it above my head. But the Golden-Crowned Warbler eluded us. One of the other birders reminded us of the parakeets at Dove and 10th so we headed there. WOW! They really put on a show. Dinner at Olive Garden.

Wednesday AM we stopped at Quinta Mazatlan. Wandered to the amphitheater first, then moseyed over to the new feeding station by the pond. On the furthest back branch with oranges, I spotted the tropical parula. This time John was faster to locate it, took a picture, an accipiter showed up and the warbler left. A few more moments of moseying and we would have missed it. Lady Luck is a birder's best friend and worst enemy.

Frontera again to pound the paths for the Golden-Crowned Warbler. Tired, we slumped at the feeders and heard a lady's walkie talkie announce, 'I have the GCWA by the parking lot'. We got there before the lady did. A very excellent birder had the bird and she proceeded to spend the best part of an hour helping others to see it. I saw the field marks in bits and pieces, first the yellow belly, then the stripe, then other brief views. John saw it on the ground from the back so he saw only the stripes and the olive back but that will have to do. We searched around to get a better view but gave up.

Went over to Estero Grande with little hope to see the Becard, shared a lunch table with a snowbird couple from Montana and after John thought about it, we decided to head for Salineno for the Brown Jay, got there about 2:30 PM, sat for about a half hour entertained by the three species of orioles, a bob white and a marauding sharptail hawk, when the jay came and paraded about. We decided to stroll along the Rio Grande before leaving and were rewarded by a Ringed Kingfisher. Yes, it flew along the American bank first.

A long day, a lot of driving, some success.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

It was the evening and the morning of the first day

From Winnie TX we drove back toward Houston looking for the Smith's Longspur and the Harris's Sparrow. A couple of possessive guys. Both of these birds nest FAR north so winter is the best time to find them. We 'saw' the Smith's Longspur in a field off of Fig Orchard Road. The longspurs like to crouch in the short grass and wait until you have almost stepped on them, then the whole flock flushes at once and departs for greener pastures. At least I heard their call and John saw the tail feathers so we are calling it a fair view. It just took an hour of tromping around to find them. With the help of some Christmas Count counters, we got the Harris's Sparrow on Katy Prairie. He got a few backlit  pictures of the sparrow and we both got a good view.

Not that my view matters. As the blog title says, it is HIS big year. I have better things to do for much of the year.  This blogging could be fun though. I will have to find someone to help me pretty up my page after I get home.