Sunday, July 29, 2012

An Almost Perfect Day

Saturday, July 28th, John and I left our Springfield MO motel about 5 AM. The Henslow's Sparrow was our first target bird. Diamond Grove Prairie Conservation Area is in several parcels south of Joplin. We went to two of them and got LOTS of Dickcissals and Purple Martins. No sparrow.

John decided we should try for our other targets, the Swainson's Warbler and the Acadian Flycatcher. Both had been seen at Roaring River State Park, our favorite MO park. The Acadian had been seen up a road past the big spring and fish hatchery. After sorting through the Eastern Wood Pewees, John finally identified the Acadian feeding young. The two species are similar in size and the Acadian's yellow was probably a little worn off, but John got some clear pictures with color showing. One target ticked off.

There is a small conservation area within the state park that had a pin for the Swainson's Warbler, a notoriously difficult bird for us. We turned down hill to park near the stream, clambered upstream aways to a deserted spot and John got pictures of a Louisiana Waterthrush. I played its song and the Swainson's song. They are quite similar. In fact, we got a rise out of the waterthrush with the warbler's song. Then I spotted the Swainson's Warbler and John even saw it! A family of Red-Eyed Vireos came in to muddy the waters, but we managed to spot the warbler twice more. It's brownish cast was our best field mark to tell it from the vireos, with their gray caps and greenish backs. Number two target bird ticked off.

John decided to try for the Henslow's Sparrow one more time. Wha-sha-she Prairie is north of Joplin so we drove through a little of the tornado devastation. Lots of rebuilding but the tornado's path will be treeless for many years. This little patch of prairie was different from those south of I44. It had mostly knee high shrubby stuff, very little grass or taller bushes. There were no dickcissals to distract us. Then I read the text in Birdseye. The sparrow was difficult to see, liked to skulk, BUT if you flushed it up three or four times it would finally sit up on a perch. Off we trudged, through the field, about five feet apart. It reminded me of January first when we trudged around a field near Houston TX trying to flush longspurs. I thought I heard a chip. I signalled to John that we were changing angles in our trudge. We flushed up a little brown bird! Trudged to the spot it landed and we flushed it again, and again, and again. Just as advertised, it perched up! Poor little thing was panting in the afternoon heat. We got great views and some pictures. We were three for three on our targets.

John is now at 605.

Heading back to Springfield on I44 we saw a plume of black smoke. Turns out it was a semi on fire and the freeway was closed just before we were going to pass. We were about 20 vehicles back from the fire and several miles past the last offramp with a freeway barrier boxing us in. It was interesting to watch the many fire trucks arrive and battle the flames that were spreading into the woods next to the freeway. I used John's big camera to take pictures and watched the activity with my binoculars. Two hours later, we were told we could turn around and go on the verge back past all the semis that would not be able to turn around, go across the 'official vehicles only' gap in the center median and drive west on the freeway to the exit behind us. I don't know when they finally got the freeway open for those poor truck drivers, but we were free! Our daughter guided us through the farm roads back to her house by phone. Thus ended our almost perfect day.

Friday, July 27, 2012


July 25th, John was trying for the Black Swift. He got to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park 20 minutes before sunrise and waited an hour after sunrise. No swifts, so he started back to the parking lot. Halfway back, he glimpsed something round and brown. There were 5-6 Dusky Grouse within a few feet of the trail! The male was sitting on top of a rock making soft cooing sounds. The rest were probably immatures and a female. John got great pictures. In the afternoon, John stopped by a reservoir in eastern Colorado and saw the Solitary Sandpiper and Baird's Sandpiper. He was up to 599.

July 26th, John drove across Kansas. Near Dodge City, he saw a Missippi Kite. 600! We were reunited in Springfield MO that night. John mentioned getting up at 5 the next morning, I convinced him that we could sleep in.

July 27th, we stopped by the Springfield Nature Center, a lovely gem. John got pictures of the Carolina Chickadee and the Tufted Titmouse at their feeders. We checked in with family. Grandkids and a couple of adults headed for Silver Dollar City near Branson. John did his laundry and I got on my daughter's computer to blog.

Tomorrow, Saturday, July 28th, we will get up at 5 to look for some target birds. Temperatures are in the high 90's midday, so birding will be limited. I fly back to California Sunday and John heads for Texas.

John has 602 birds on his big year list.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


Yesterday, John got the Dusky Flycatcher and the McCown's Longspur in the Pawnee National Grasslands. He returned there today, July 24th, and saw the longspur again, the Grasshopper Sparrow, and probably, Cassin's Sparrow. He has pics to study later. He has lots of pics to study later!

Following a lead for Dusky Grouse, John returned to Rocky Mountain National Park and hiked around Cub Lake. Besides a re-sighting of Green-Tailed Towhee and White-Throated Swift, he saw elk, marmot, chipmunk and cotton tails. No grouse.

Now John will meander toward Missouri, hitting a few more grasslands on the way. His big target is Henslow's Sparrow. I hope he gets it so that I don't have to help him find it around Springfield. Ebird has lots of sightings of it and other target birds between CO and MO.  Grasslands preservation isn't as glamorous as pristine mountain wilderness, but just as essential.

I am not taking my computer on the flight to MO. I probably won't blog until I return to California next Sunday. All the grandchildren will be in Springfield at once, so I will be happily busy.

After MO, John will drop down to South Texas to try again for the Groove-Billed Ani and other scarcities. We might even get in a week of birding in California before his San Diego pelagic, August 13th. Keep posting on EBird! It really helps John.

Monday, July 23, 2012

When is a rock not a rock?

Saturday, July 22nd, John was in Colorado National Monument and saw the Gray Flycatcher. That had been a target bird for several days. Near Silt, CO, John got a good look at a Vesper Sparrow. He had probably seen it before, but he needed to be sure. He has a lot of 'fence birds' and was glad to have one fall off the fence.

Sunday, John was west of the visitor center in Rocky Mountain National Park on a trail, staring at and taking pictures of a rock, just in case it was really a bird. Suddenly, a different rock nearby jumped up and shook its feathers. The rock he had been staring at was still a rock. The other 'rock' was a White-Tailed Ptarmigan! Huzzah!

John is up to 592.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Know snow?

Thursday, July 19th, John was in the eastern Wasach Mountains in Utah. There were gorgeous vistas, pristine forests and no people, but also, no snow, and John was again looking for the Black Rosy Finch, which is a snow lover. He did happen upon a tree that looked like a woodpecker haven so he pulled off the road and watched. The woodpeckers came, not to his tree, but to a clump nearby. They were a family group of American Three-Toed Woodpeckers! It is a little spooky sometimes to say, "We should be seeing (insert name of animal) here" and it shows up.  I think if you spend enough time searching in nature, you begin to read signs subconsciously. This animal ESP seems to happen to at least one person on every field trip I have been on. It started raining, again, and the roads in the Wasach were still in bad shape from the last storm, so John headed to Salt Lake City.

Friday, July 20th, John drove out on a causeway into the Great Salt Lake to visit Antelope Island State Park. There were tons of Franklin's Gulls, a covey of Chukar on a rocky hill and, not surprising, pronghorns. At the visitor center, John heard about a Long-Eared Owl seen at a ranch on the island. The rancher told him where to look, he met with a couple who were also looking, but though they stuck their heads into each tree in the area, they did not find it. We have looked for the Long-Eared Owls when they were perching at Scissors Crossing in Anza Borrego and would never have found them if someone hadn't kindly pointed to the branch they were sitting on. That owl could be called the stump bird, both because it stumps you looking for it and that it looks like a stump!

In the afternoon, John headed up into the Uintu Mountains, more gorgeous scenery, but people everywhere. He hiked around in the Bald Mountain/Mirror Lake area and realized he was not going to reach any snow, so had  little chance of seeing the Black Rosy Finch. Besides, as he was heading back to his car, there was - thunder and lightning and rain, oh my! The storm just kept getting worse as John drove towards Colorado. I hope some of these storms are getting to the parched prairies.

John is up to 589 birds.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Just another pretty - - place

I'm jealous. Tuesday, July 17th, John laid out his sleeping bag on a tarp in the Crackfoot area of Pine Valley Campgrounds in western Utah. He told me there were pines and trails and a rushing stream. He also spotted MacGillivray's and Grace's Warblers and a Western Wood Pewee. The next morning he got pictures of the Plumbeous Vireo. Just another pretty place we will need to visit together when his big year is over. Flooding blocked John from some other areas he hoped to bird. He did eventually get to a high pass and saw picas and marmots but not the Black Rosy Finches he was after.

Meanwhile, I am entertaining a grandson. July 25th, I fly with him back to Missouri. John says he will meet us there so that I can help him find a few local birds. I am no miracle worker, but I will try.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What field mark?

John had a good day in San Diego County Friday July the 13th. Starting at the picnic ground along highway 76, he heard the thoot call again and again of the Willow Flycatcher, but didn't see it. Finally, the bird cooperated and posed. Quickly, John noted the thin eye ring, empid wingbars, tail wag and short primary extension. How did he know what to look for? He had studied his quarry ahead of time in the book. Within a few seconds, the bird had flown. The call alone was not distinctive enough for John to list. He had to see the field marks. John talked of the thrill he felt, when he finally got a good look at the bird he had been chasing for an hour.

Then John drove up to Doane Pond in Palomar State Park. 34 years ago, the Violet-Green Swallow was a life bird for both of us at Doane Pond. 34 years later, John saw them there again for his big year list.

John drove down to southern San Diego Bay, after the reported Curlew Sandpiper. Amongst the thousands of shorebirds, he saw one that looked redder than others but it had its head tucked in. He took pictures just in case. When it peeked out to fly to another spot, it looked like it had a curved bill. Maybe it was a Curlew Sandpiper still in alternate plumage! When John got home, he reread the Narba entry. The bird that was reported was in basic plumage and should have been just one more little gray bird in a sea of gray birds. Ah, well, foiled by the field marks this time. At least, John got the Short-Billed Dowitcher for sure. They said tu tu tu and were in salt water.

John's big year list is up to 578.

He is gone now on a long road trip. I had to find him maps for most of the western half of the US. He is getting a trifle discouraged. There have been too many birds he was near that he didn't see or hear. It would be great for him to get to 700, at least, but maybe not realistic. Being blind in one eye and hard of hearing makes it pretty tough. Even with expert guides, he sometimes misses the bird. John says he is still having fun. I miss him.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Our grandson is going to the Audubon nature camp at San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine, so when I heard they had seen Wilson's Phalaropes on their daily bird walk, I called John. He was very happy to see them and get photos. Phalaropes are unusual because the females lay the eggs and then take off down south, leaving the males to brood and raise the chicks. One of the birds John photographed was still in her breeding plumage, more colorful than the male. We also walked over to another pond where a pair of Clark's Grebes have two tiny chicks, a rare breeding record for Orange County.

The next day, John went to Bolsa Chica to photograph the Elegant Tern. The last time he was there, those terns eluded him. In just two days, he took photos of five species of terns, Least, Caspian, Elegant, Royal and Forster's.

Today, July 12th, I took John to Crystal Cove State Park. The whole place is coastal sage scrub. As soon as I parked the car, I heard a soft rattle, but we walked to the edge of the bluff and back before I spotted the California Gnatcatcher. John got a good look before the female/juvenile flew on. We stayed in the same place waiting and were rewarded with a good look and a photo of a male. I even heard the mew call, haven't heard that for a few years. Birds usually travel a circuit of their territory, so patience can pay off. The California Gnatcatcher was a bird I was in charge of finding for John. Everywhere else I used to see them, I had been scouting and struck out. What a relief to finally find them. Friends had steered me to the right place. Phew!

This brings John's total to 578.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Home is the hunter

Actually, John has been home awhile. After two months on the road, he needed to recharge his batteries, literally and figuratively.

Turning back the calendar to July 1st, John birded again with Melody Kehl in Arizona. A great birder is like a Melody (sorry, couldn't resist). She helped John see or hear, Gilded Flicker, Rufous-Winged Sparrow, Varied Bunting, Buff-Bellied Flycatcher, Olive Warbler, Greater Peewee, Hepatic Tanager, Cordilleran Flycatcher and Red-Faced Warbler. That brought his total for the year to 575.

Buff-Bellied Flycatcher was a bird we first saw in 1971 in the south end of the Huachucas. Using our newly acquired Lane Guide, we hit all the hotspots and ran into the same birders everywhere. Birding wasn't quite as mainstream then. Before NARBA and ebird, rare birds were found by word of mouth. We heard about the BBFL at Mile High (no more) where we saw nine species of hummingbirds in one day. We also visited Madera Canyon, the picnic table, the Patton's, the Spofford's (also no more) in Portal, South Cave Creek, Rustler Park and practically every other place to bird around there. It was a wonderful trip.

For the second half of his big year, John is targeting fall migration, pelagics, and accidentals.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Expert advice

Friday, June 29th, John found Yellow-Eyed Junco and Black-Throated-Gray Warbler on his own. At 3 PM he met with Melody Kehl and two others for the trek into California Gulch. With her expert help, John added Botteri's Sparrow, Cassin's Kingbird, the target Five-Striped Sparrow, Brown-Crested Flycatcher, cool rattler pictures, Northern Bearded Tyrannulet, Dusky-Capped Flycatcher,  Montezuma Quail, Elf Owl and Western Screech Owl. Nine new birds all due to Melody. Saturday, John, by himself, got good pictures of the Gray Hawk, Thick-Billed Kingbird, and Elegant Trogon. Sunday, he meets with Melody at 5 AM to go up Mt Kimbell just north of Tucson. Early to bed, early to rise, is the mantra of birders.