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