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.