Monday, April 30, 2012

Noddied off

John got to the Houston airport, put his car in long-term parking, and got to Key West in time to go with the group to the Hogfish Bar and Grill. They sailed with heavy seas, got the Brown Noddy, but not the BLACK Noddy (the 'other' boat spotted the rarity), some shorebirds, warblers, boobies, not the Antillean Nighthawk cuz you need to hear it to prove it and started back to port, too late for his flight. But there was a Bahama Mockingbird reported so John decided to drive with Paul up to Orlando to see it, not.

Flight from Orlando back to Houston, midnight, long-term parking, the car window was down, must have forgotten to roll it up after getting parking time ticket, nothing missing. Drive to Winnie, discover five kittens in car! Bird a little, drive to Austin, wife and daughter feed kittens overnight, John delivers to shelter in AM. But while in Austin, he did get a fairly good picture of the Golden-Cheeked Warbler.

Wife (me) is now on her way back to California, and husband (John) is now planning circuitous route home from Austin, maybe picking up Colima Warbler and other birds on the way. Both our cars need to be junked

He is over 420 bird species for the year.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Saturday, Key West, John sat on the boat, I sat in my car, in the pouring rain. The tent leaked a little. The boat trip was cancelled about 4 PM, so we packed up the wet tent and took off up the Keys to Florida City.

John doesn't concede defeat easily. That night he booked flights from Houston to Key West and back and signed up for the next Dry Tortugas trip with Florida Nature Tours.

Sunday, we got up early and zoomed up to Key Biscayne, didn't get the Le Sagre's Flycatcher but got pics of Cape May and Black-Throated Blue Warblers. Then we zoomed up the 95, 50, and 75 to Crestview in the Florida Panhandle.

Monday, 4:30 AM, to Blackwater River State Forest. We had scouted this on the way to the Keys but arrived in the dark and had a bit of a 'tiff' time looking for the scouted spot. Where we did stop, I could hear the Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers in the dark. We finally saw them in the pre-dawn, they left, then they came back and posed for a few post dawn pics and ..... gone.

Zoom to Sabine Woods in TX, on the coast near Beaumont. No new warblers for us, but, Tropical Mockingbird, a pair of Chuck-Will's-Widows, Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Bobolink, and John's first Baltimore Oriole this year. Sunset, motel, laundry. Tuesday, we'll will pick up John's car from the Winnie Hotel and he'll drive to Houston to fly back to Key West and hopefully set sail Wednesday AM for the Dry Tortugas. Again, maybe.

I will spend a few days in Austin with grandchildren, then meet John back in Winnie Friday night.

John is up to 402.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Into each big year, some rain must fall. Today is what I would term a washout. John's boat was to leave early this morning. After I found my ferry terminal and found that the DT day ferry was cancelled, I decided to stop by the marina and check on John's tour. The boat was still there and is still there 4 hours later. John said he would call if they leave port.

At least, yesterday was great! Most of John's tour group met at a hotel for a day of birding. From the balcony, we found White-Crowned Pigeons. It took a few hours, but John's tour leaders called up a wonderful view of Mangrove Cuckoo with a side of Black-Whiskered Vireo on Sugarloaf Key. The afternoon was hot and new bird-less, but for a flyover of a Short-Tailed Hawk. So all four of John's hoped for Key birds were found.

Now if he could just get to the wet Dry Tortugas.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


The streets and avenues in South Miami are perpendicular to each other, numbered and Highway One cuts across them at an angle. Makes for interesting wanderings. You could be passing 108th Street and then 64th Avenue. It didn't help that where ever we went to see a local specialty, we bombed out, no listable parakeets or parrots, no bulbuls, no orioles. We crawled back to our Motel 6 for an early bedtime. Oh, except we did find the Cave Swallows nesting under a bridge.

Early Thursday morning we started for the Everglades. We got to the end of the road at Flamingo without seeing a LBB, Seaside Sparrows :-(. But, by the visitor center, I spotted a Gray Kingbird and then a Shiny Cowbird joined the Brown-Headed Cowbirds for a feed. The icing on the cake was the two or three manatees that were rolling around each other in the marina, hmmm. Neither John nor I had ever seen one so we were stoked. We saw no propeller scars on them, double stoked.

We have a delightful little tent spot tucked under the mangroves at the Key West KOA. John starts his boat trip with Florida Nature Tours tomorrow, Friday, and will return Monday afternoon. I will relax!

John is at 390.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A double dozen

A little hitch, Larry Manfredi emailed us Monday that John had been bumped from his boat to the Dry Tortugas. We hadn't been able to get ahold of him by phone or email for a couple of weeks. Not much warning. Pathetic, really.

At least, I had started making contact with the Tropical Audubon Society and their field trip director, Brian Rapoza, gave us some leads to repair the damage. Thank you, Brian.

John will be going to DT with Florida Nature Tours and be done a day earlier which gives us a day more to spend enroute home to California. Thanks, owner Wes Biggs, and especially BB. I had to change my camping days but that was easy. KOA has tent camping sites to spare. I will be right in Key West. It will be nice to relax for a few days while John is on the boat trip.

After crunching through all the changes Tuesday morning, we went to Harns Marsh in Lehigh Acres and saw two dozen Snail Kites perched low all over the open field. There were probably a half dozen more in the area. One was all we needed. Had to stop by Ding Darling, no new stuff for us, then drove on the Tamiami Trail to Miami.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jay day

First, there was Saturday the 14th, looking for litttle brown birds. We couldn't even get a Marsh Wren to pose for pictures, let alone the sparrows that are supposed to be abundant in Florida salt marshes. At least here was a flyby Swallow-Tailed Kite and John got pics.

Then, there was Sunday the 15th, when we entered the Ocala National Forest in search of a jay. Turns out all the road numbers have changed, plus there are roads in between just for fun, and all of them are sand. Most were passable but after a few hundred yards of soft sand, a few hours after we entered the maze, we gave up and asked for help from some 4 wheel drive enthusiasts. They had a map, sort of. We had been REALLY lost. Luckily, we were close to salvation, hard dirt roads that were on the map. Our Rav4 had been objecting by alerting us with a lost traction alarm. Not a fun sound.

I located two jay groups while we were in that area, but they did not show themselves. We finally found our way to the Yearling Trail, I saw a flit, pished, and a lovely Florida Scrub Jay came up and gave us a show. After we had lunch, there he was, sitting up an a snag, saying farewell, or something less polite.

Then, today, Monday the 16th, we spent a few hours getting the Prairie Warbler (Florida subspecies) to come out for a photo at Robert Rees County Park. There were a few stops that were semi-fruitless. But, we got a Limpkin at Safety Harbor City Park!!!!!! What a weird bird! We both got pictures!

John is up to 382.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Not that we saw any, but we saw the sappy evidence of many Red-Cockaded Woodpecker clusters in Blackwater River State Forest, Florida. When we talked to the specialist at the forest service headquarters, he explained that when rangers find a possible nest tree, they install at least 4 artificial nests close by to accommodate juveniles. The juveniles that adopt the extra holes will help the adults raise new chicks. All nest trees are marked with a white band. The woodpeckers mark each nest hole they use by pecking into the live bark and creating sap drips all around the holes. The sap may keep out some predators. The birds gather at dusk and dawn, but are easier to see at dawn. If we don't see them elsewhere, we will be back there at dawn after the Dry Tortugas.

But while we were cockaded-less at BRSTF, we did see 5 new birds: Eastern Towhee, Bachmann's Sparrow, Brown-Headed Nuthatch, Pine Warbler, and Red-Headed Woodpecker. John got photographs! Oh, and he did successfully photograph the Clapper Rail this morning on Dauphin Island.

John is up to 375.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

On the rails

For those who have never done it, the Anahuac rail trudge is interesting. They schedule it while the Yellow Rails are still there and the Black Rails haven't started nesting. Two people hold the ends of a 40 ft rope along which are tied empty gallon jugs with a few rocks in them. The two people pull the rope through the saw grass and other people slog in formation behind the rope to help flush the rails. When we did it several years ago, we spent about an hour and a half trudging back and forth across the area where this rail drag is allowed. We finally flushed a yellow and a black rail! It was a lot of work! Since he couldn't fit this year's scheduled trudges in and they didn't walk across the road for us, John might get Black Rails someplace else, and Yellow Rails up in Minnesota. Maybe.

We went to Bolivar again April 9th and got the Piping Plover while we were driving along the beach to the parking area. Cutie pie. And no walking! At High Island, Boy Scout Woods again, we got the Kentucky Warbler and the Common Nighthawk. Then we went to nearby Hooks which also has a drip. UNFORTUNATELY, I saw a Swainson's Warbler sneak in and out. We sat there a couple of more hours but it did not return for John. Drat!

Motel in Port Arthur TX, morning of the 10th in Sabine Woods, mosquitoes!!!! we added Blue-Winged and Palm Warblers, but missed the Golden-Winged by a few minutes, and there were supposed to be Swainson's wandering about. Not for us. On to Peveto Beach Woods in Louisiana, ravaged by Hurricane Rita, and a Peregrine Falcon was also hanging around so not much to report.

Cameron Prairie NWR yielded a King Rail as advertised. Not a clearly defined species. It is found in fresh water, call maybe slower cadence than the Clapper Rail. John's picture shows bright, defined colors, also.

Cool, the Motel 6 in Layfayette, LA had a business center so we printed out stuff John needed to deal with. Like taxes, and reservations for a Brian Petteson pelagic June 10th.

April 11th, we arrived at Dauphin Island, Alabama. John got his first Green Heron, we got a campsite at the campground and, well, it was a bit noisy from boat engines all night. Other new birds, Northern Waterthrush, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo.  And a Clapper Rail, in salt marsh, faster cadence than what we heard at Cameron. John will drive back at dawn tomorrow just on the off chance he can get a picture to better compare it to the King Rail we saw earlier. Not much in the way of fallout, but the island has some fun birding spots. Some people kindly told us that a Swainson's Warbler showed up 15 minutes after we left a spot, so we returned off and on all day to look for it there. John will get it yet, some time, some way, some where. Tonight, we are in a motel and hope to sleep better, and think better tomorrow.

John is up to 370 species.

Sunday, April 8, 2012


The rail trudge at Anahuac was last weekend and next weekend, but not Easter weekend. John will have to do those rails another way.

Had a good Easter anyway. We got the Hooded and Wilson's Warblers at the drip at Boy Scout Woods. A Black-Throated Green was above our parked car. Then, on the walk at Smith Woods lead by Sam of Tropical Birding, we got the Cerulean and the Yellow-Throated Warblers. Other notable sightings were the American Golden Plover, Upland Sandpiper and Wilson's Snipe. I spotted the last two. Sometimes, it is highly satisfying to be the birddog.

John and I also chatted with Sandy Komito, the guy who has the big year record. Turns out he had seen three more birds in 1998 that had not been validated by the powers that be until later, so he really got 748 not 745. While reviewing his strategy in the 11 years since his first big year in 1987 (another record), Sandy had decided that time management would be his most powerful tool, plus, he went everywhere there was a rarity. Impressive accomplishment. John will have a big year too. It will just be HIS big year and HIS accomplishment, whatever the total ends up to be. His total to date is about 360.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

To every season, tern, tern, tern

This was an eight tern day! Caspian, Royal, Gull-Billed, Sandwich, Common, Forester's, Black, and Least. That was all at Bolivar Flats. At Boy Scout Woods in High Island, we had, notably, Worm-Eating Warbler and Merlin, and some of the expected species. We have all day tomorrow to get more. Tropical Birding is still doing a great job of free tours. Thanks, Sam. Oh, and I can't omit the wonderful barbecue the Methodist Church served up today.

John is up to about 340 birds now.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Thanks a lek!

So John got snowed out of any birding Tuesday, but got over the passes to Gunnison all right. Wednesday AM EARLY he drove to the lek area of the Gunnison Sage Grouse. A volunteer showed up, god bless them, and a few more cars. John could hear the grouse booming. Heard a coyote. It got a little lighter so he could see a few grouse. Had to change the batteries on his 18 power image stabilized binoculars. The grouse were gone. The volunteer said there had been about 15 out there. Coyotes may have spooked them. John will count them but could possibly come by again later for pictures. He has a lot of laters.

Off to SE Colorado for Arena Dust Tours. A nice B and B, another early rising Thursday, muddy, muddy roads and fog, the Lesser Prairie Chicken lek was pretty far away, light not great, but countable. Phew!

John is now in MO doing laundry at another daughter's house. Tomorrow, Friday, he will drive to Winnie, TX from MO, I will drive from Austin, TX and meet him. Will we get some early migrants at High Island? Cool shore birds at Bolivar? Is John going to help drag for black and yellow rails at Anahuac?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Snow, snow, go away

High country Colorado, of course, there is snow. John has been tackling stormy passes for a couple of days. The Colorado DOT does a great job of keeping the passes clear. He contemplated buying chains, but was told he would not need them. Hope so. Some of the lovely folks in Silverthorne maintain feeders. Yesterday, he got Brown-Capped Rosy Finch, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, Evening Grosbeak. Today, he hopes to see the Black Rosy Finch that has been seen around there. He is going to need a little luck on that. He will try for the White-Tailed Ptarmigan, too. Bigger luck needed. Back a few days, on Cameron Pass, he did see a Dipper. Those are always fun. John has 310 birds now. Every bird he ticks off is one less he will have to see later. Later is coming up in a few months.

Two more leks to go, the Gunnison Sage Grouse and the Lesser Prairie Chicken, then we will meet in Winnie TX and head to Florida. I will be John's bird dog for a while.

Monday, April 2, 2012

April Fowl's Day

Friday, March 30th, John arrived in Wray, CO for their Greater Prairie Chicken Tours. That night was an orientation with local rangers. The next morning, early, the participants boarded a bus, drove out to a blind set up right next to the lek and waited until dawn for the chicken dance. More than 40 GPCH showed up for the photo shoot. After the show, the people got back on the bus, and drove over to the ranch house for a celebratory breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes. Thanks, Wray Chamber of Commerce and the Kitzmiller Grazing Association, for making this possible.

Next stop, Fort Collins. Highway 14 winds over Cameron Pass to Walden. John spent the afternoon on the east side of the pass. The next morning, April 1st, he drove over the pass to Walden and explored that area. Most of the surviving leks of Greater Sage Grouse are on private land, which protects the fowl from overzealous birders and hunters. Walden lek tours don't start until midApril, too late for John's schedule. But, just before sunset, the chicken crossed the road, I don't know why, and John got some nice shots of two GSGR.

No rest for John, he drove back up the pass, stopped and listened, and was rewarded with an owl hoot. Boreal Owl! A nice ending for April Fool's Day.