Monday, December 31, 2012

And a palm warbler in a palm tree.

We decided to wait for the sunset at Baptist Hospital, thus the palm warblers and the palm trees. After searching every nook, cranny and cul de sac, park and garden in south Miami, we sat on a bench in the memorial garden and played the bulbul song. Maybe it would come to us?

John got a great picture of a Yellow-Throated Warbler today, and we saw some Common Hill Mynas, not likely countable. Wish we could count the Yellow-Chevroned and Mitered Parakeets. There are plenty of them.

Robert sent a message about 1 PM informing us of the Thick-Billed Vireo out on Key West. We were tired, we would get out there about 4, traffic and drivers coming and going would be problematic. We kissed it off.

I will blog a few more times. John has a spreadsheet of species I will create a link to. I am sure everyone will want to know whether our house is still standing. And I will try to summarize our most blatant mistakes.

Who knows what John's final tally will be? He will go through his sightings and decide which is valid or not. He will try to figure out which species are countable or not. Then he will submit his list to the ABA and wait.

As of now, John's total for his big year is 689. It has been a lot of trouble and a lot of fun. While I traveled with him the last few months, I got a taste of what he has endured this whole year.

Should you do a big year? YES!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

My oh my-na!

What a long day, Sunday, December 30th! We looked for lots of birds in the Kendall area of Miami, Florida. This park, that neighborhood, try that dead end street, how about this school, the hospital? John did get some fair pics of Monk Parakeets. He had seen and photographed them in Texas, but was not sure they were countable. Maybe the Common Myna down in Florida City? Again, that street, the next parking lot, how about there?

Mid-afternoon, John decided to change pace and head into the Everglades. First time on the Anhinga trail. Lots of alligators, anhingas, various herons, and great pictures of a Purple Gallinule harvesting a water lily fruit. John had only had a distant poor view of a gallinule last April.

Back through Florida City, we drove through an outlet mall for the second time. Looking across the turnpike, we both spotted mynas but on separate light poles. Scurry around, find ourselves in a Walmart parking lot, locate the light pole and photograph the mynas. 689!!!! Lots more mynas flew in as it got dark.

For the last two nights, we stayed in a Motel 6 in Cutler Bay. Poor thing is stuck right up against the turnpike. Not very much sleep for us. I booked us into a Quality Inn for tonight but only a smoking room was available. We got there about 6 PM. For twenty dollars we could upgrade to a non-smoking room. YES!

We have all day tomorrow to try for one more bird. Come on Miami! Give John a break!

Over the last couple of days, we have been communicating with Robert, the guy who is trying a big year without ever having birded before! Amazing! Close to 600! He happened to end the year here too. He was out on Stock Key without a place to lay his head. I steered him to Boyd's Trailer Park and they had one tent space left. He slept in his car and tried for the Western Spindalis this morning. He got it!! He flies out tomorrow to New Jersey. May add a few birds there.

The places John has gone, the people he has met! What fun!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Going for a spin

-dalis that is.

Saturday morning, December 29th, I logged onto John's email to check our car reservations. NARBA had sent an alert. A Western Spindalis had been reported on Stock Key the 28th, the same day we were looking for one on Virginia Key. Toss any plans aside, start driving down the Keys.

Kind of a long slog, but fun to see several Magnificent Frigatebirds soaring by. Three hours later, we arrived, checked in at the Key West Botanic Gardens, got a map and started out. At the first turn, there was a man in black with binoculars. The man in black said that a man in white shorts, the one who found the spindalis yesterday, had shown him where the bird was. He, in turn, showed us. The circle of life. We tried to leave detailed directions on a map at the entrance. Maybe someone else will benefit. Such a dumpy little bird, non-descript grey with dull white markings, methodical berry picker, but wonderful to see. 688 

John likes seeing naturally occurring birds like the spindalis more than remnant feral introduced species. We will try for some of those listable in Florida over the next two days, anyway. Only need two more species to get to 690 for his big year.

We celebrated with lunch at the Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island. Great spot.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The last resort!

Here we are in Miami. There are birds here John has not yet seen. They are listed on this year's local Christmas Bird Counts. Now he just has to see them.

Today, we went to Virginia Key, no Western Spindalis, but a glimpse of what looked like a LeSagre's Flycatcher, too poor a view.

Then, we went to a BirdingPal's neighborhood south of the university. It is nicely overgrown. The Spot-Breasted Oriole and the Mynas have been seen there. We will have to try again there and elsewhere.

Finally, we went to the neighborhood just north of the Baptist Hospital on Kendall. We still didn't see anything new for John, but he got excellent pictures of the White-Crowned Pigeon and saw several Monk Parakeets. We saw them in Texas, but they are more surely listable in Florida.

We will muddle around here for a few days and fly home January 1st. Whether or not we add to his total of 687, his big year will be over!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Could be meat, could be cake, it's meatcake!

George Carlin-refrigerator man reference. I wonder if some of my titles are too archival. Could be a hawk? Could be an owl? It's a hawkowl!

Anyway, Northern Hawk Owl, been there, done that! 687!  Life bird for both of us!

We had looked for it up and down the highway along Lake Superior in February. John was in Alaska in May looking up and down 100 miles of highway for the little rascal. Both places, it had been spotted regularly.Where should we go to try to see it before the new year? We consulted ebird, threw the dice and decided.

We flew into Milwaukee about midnight. Rented a car the next morning, Sunday, December 23rd. Got to the intersection of County Road Q and Highway 57 up on the thumb of Wisconsin about 1 PM. I turned left on Q, glanced left towards a red barn. On the top of a small conifer, there it was! Looked like a double-scoop ice cream cone with that long pointy tail. It seemed to pay no attention to us as it flew to several treetops north and south of Q, staying west of 57. John took enough pictures to be moderately happy with one. We drove back to Milwaukee, turned in the car about 6 PM and bummed a ride from our son to Chicago.

If the weather permits, we will fly to Miami on Thursday.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

And they're off!

We had decided to fly from home instead of Seattle. We drove from Eugene OR to Orange County CA in about 14 hours, straight through. That was Wednesday, December 19th. Thursday to recover, Friday to book flights, and Saturday to take off. Everything was so booked up we will be traveling 1st class to Wisconsin. John is after his last owl there, Northern Hawk Owl. Last February, we trolled for it up and down the highway along Lake Superior without success. We will look for it Sunday and early Monday at an intersection on the thumb of Wisconsin.

Christmas in Chicago, and then we will fly to Miami. Still don't know how long we will be there. I have tried to get someone to take us around, may find someone yet. Miami is such a rabbit warren of streets. The birds are so hit and miss. At least, it will be warm and Tropical Audubon has some good postings. We'll have fun, but we may well be flailing our arms and yelling at each other, if you happen to see us driving around.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

De Plan! De Plane!

The plan was to leave the car in Seattle, I would fly to Chicago, John to Boston and back to Chicago, then we would both fly to Miami, back to Seattle to pick up the car and drive home after January 1st.

When John looked at the possible flights from Seattle to Boston this morning, he decided he didn't need to fly back there just for the Northern Lapwing. He didn't want to go for the Barnacle Goose in New York City. The Little Egret was moving around a lot and looked a lot like a Snowy Egret.  He already looked in the same area for the Northern Lapwing unsuccessfully. 1000 dollars for one bird he might not even find? Nah.

Now the plan is to drive back home to Southern California before flying anywhere.

We started down the 101 from Port Angeles, checking out inland side roads. Small flocks of Golden-Crowned Sparrows were everywhere. In SOCAL they skulk around in chaparral. We saw several Varied Thrushes and John got good pictures. A few years ago, we found one on the end of the gravel spit out of Point Barrow. The poor bird forgot to stop flying north in the spring and ran out of land.

Along the sound, we watched a large raft of Surf Scoters all dive underwater at once. Now you see them, now you don't, and repeat. There were lots of Barrow's and Common Goldeneyes, Green-Winged Teal, American Widgeons, Mallards, Red-Breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads and a few Horned Grebes. AND a pair of Harlequin Ducks! John saw lots of them in Alaska, but I haven't seen them very often. We spotted a Pigeon Guillemot in winter plumage, too. Our last stop along the shore, there were at least three American Dippers feeding where a small stream flowed into the sound. What fun!

No, John did not get any new birds for his big year today. He is still at 686. He needs a plan and a few planes to get a few more birds before January 1st.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Snow news is good news

There was plenty of snow in Courtenay BC this morning, Monday, December 17th. The wonderful snow plows had already cleared the roads. We headed over to the same muddy fields we were at yesterday.  Now, they were under a mantle of snow. Another birder stopped by while we were parking, and told us he had spent the last half hour communing with the wagtail. He said someone had been there even earlier with a scope, maybe the same people that had been with us the night before, when the wind and rain started. Just past the copse of trees and the cable across the dirt road, there was a little marsh where the bird was hanging out. John needed a picture, I needed to see the bird.

We scrunched out through the snow, stepped over the cable, got almost to the marsh and the Citrine Wagtail flitted onto a frozen puddle at our feet. Our sudden proximity startled us and the bird. It flew away to the left, never to return, at least, not while we were there. John and I got a great brief view, but John did not get a photo. He did get pictures of the Spotted Towhee and Fox Sparrow, both new sub-species.

We had time to try for the Sky Lark again, this time, at the airport, but didn't see it. Still, John did get a way better picture of the Northern Shrike than he had before. Even if his search doesn't yield him a target bird, John finds something positive to celebrate.

We returned to the USA on the same ferry we took over to Victoria Saturday, a bit rougher passage, and are staying at the Port Angeles Inn again.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Yes or SNOW?

Friday, December 15, we drove through deep, green canyons of trees on Redwood Highway, then over to the Willamette Valley, where all the deciduous trees looked like they had been flocked, not with fake snow, but with gray green lichen. Every flag at half-mast was a jolting reminder of the tragedy in Connecticut. We stayed in Port Angeles that night.

Saturday, December 16, there were several Long-Tailed Ducks in the Port Angeles Harbor. The ferry ride across to Victoria was smooth. :-) We drove up the 17 to a spot where a Sky Lark had been seen. Not by us. John got pictures of the Northwest Crow 684 and the Trumpeter Swan 685. He had seen swans in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He preferred counting the species where it hadn't been re-introduced. Then we needed to get up to Courtenay before dark to see the Citrine Wagtail. We got to the spot. There were people there with a scope! Grab cold gear, jump out of the car! They had the bird, but kept on losing it in the rutted field. It started raining and the wind came up. COLD! John had to go back for more gear. When he got back, the people had relocated the bird and John got on it with his high-powered binoculars. He saw the behavior, the coloring and the white wing patches. 686 The other birders were from Victoria and gave us some hints about where to, maybe, successfully see the Sky Lark. More wind, more rain, we left.

Off to a steak house to celebrate, the rain turned to lovely fluffy snow. By the time we grabbed the check and left, there was about 3 inches of snow for me to slide/drive through on the way back to the hotel. After a safe arrival, we had a little snowball fight.

John has been in several snow storms already this year. 8 inches in Newfoundland, 6 in San Diego County CA, 4 in Minneapolis MN, 3 in Portal AZ and 4 in Colorado, plus flakes here and there. That fresh snow compacts and melts a bit under the car tires. Slippery! When we wake up tomorrow, will we be snowed in?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Duck! but no grousing?

Friday, 12/14/12, back to Colusa Wildlife Refuge in central California, the ranger that tried to help us last night, came by again and spotted the Falcated Duck swimming, I saw it and described where it was to John and he took pictures. That is how it usually works, at least when I am with him. Then we went on the little auto tour. Counted 45 Black-Crowned Night Herons in about 100 feet of bushes, several Red-Tailed Hawks, a Bald Eagle and a Peregrine Falcon. The ranger had told us that when the falcon takes ducks, the hawks take the ducks from the falcon. He has a lot of mouths to feed. Back at the viewing platform, other birders had arrived and showed us where the Falcated Duck was resting. More pictures. Maybe we could have waited until there was tons of sunshine to get better pictures, but the highway north was calling. It is a pretty duck. 683 John had missed it at Colusa last winter.

Over to the 101, then up onto Dyerville Loop Road. About the time we were getting back to civilization and giving up, I spotted several large lumps of coal on the side of the road. The lumps started moving. We were too close by then and they jumped up into the brush. We parked and walked back, they flushed into the deeper woods. Were they Sooty Grouse? Probably, but countable?

Eureka! Delicious seafood at the Sea Grill.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

As the bird turns

Is that soap opera still going?

John's big year is a bit like a soap opera. Yesterday, when I tried to post my 12/12/12 blog, it kept balking. New Motel 6, in Williams, new internet connection, the blog posted!

The last Motel 6 also had very noisy tenants, especially between 3 and 5 AM. Consequently, I am really tired tonight.

Back to business, this AM we woke a bit late, got to Rush Ranch about 8:30 AM. Heavy dew, and some frost on the trail to Mallard Marsh. We were hoping for some Black Rail conversations, but they were silent. Somebody else was making chipping, chortling, tootling calls, thrasher? parrot? I saw a large dark ball on the trail ahead, then two large dark balls, wiggle-waggle, rub on the trail, somersault, skinny tail, RIVER OTTERS! John got some pictures. The otters went off the trail. There was even more noise. We got up to the spot where we last saw the otters. Three otters were tumbling and grumbling in the reeds right at our feet, too close for John to take pictures. A fourth otter was grunting from the other side of the trail. Finally, the otters declared a cease-fire. With hardly a glance at us, one crossed the trail to join the fourth otter, the other two went further into the reeds. SO COOL!

Next stop, Novato, for a reported Black Rail. We arrived well before high tide. There was lots of salicornia, John thinks they like that, and the tide kept coming in until all of it was covered. No little black chicks emerged. John saw a little bird, rounded wings, short tail, zoom from the tidal flat into a cattail marsh, but it was not enough of a sighting to call it anything. Nearby, we found a large lake and more than 300 Common Goldeneyes! Oh, and one clearly marked Barrow's Goldeneye male.

Now, we headed back to Robinson Road, arriving about 2:30 PM, last chance for the Mountain Plover. We were looking at every blade of grass, every dirt clod, every meadowlark. We were almost to the end of the best areas. I looked way out to the right. There was a beigy brown bird back. Was it just another meadowlark? A Killdeer? I got John on it with his 18 power image stabilized binoculars. THE BIRD TURNED! Big white belly, beigy brown throat and collar. Mountain Plover! I got out the telescope, the bird turned away and squatted. Then it took off and at least one other flew away with it. This sighting wasn't good enough for a life bird, but was plenty good enough for his big year list. 682 

Hurry, hurry to beat the sunset! Colusa Wildlife Refuge on Highway 20. Several people were still on the viewing platform. The Falcated Duck had just swum behind an island of reeds. It never reappeared. A ranger stopped by and tried to help us spot it from a side trail. Nope, too dark, have to come back in the morning. Fingers crossed!

The sun sets

I am blogging today just so I can write 12-12-12. John's big year total still stands at 681 bird species.

Last night, we had to decide between leaving today at 5 AM or 9 AM. Driving north through Los Angeles, you HAVE to avoid rush hour. We opted for a bit more sleep and got off about 15 minutes before 9, amazingly. BUT we needed to stop by the post office, the Triple A office and the bank. Then there was the U-turn to get our passports from the house. Canada is one of our possible destinations, passports now required. We still hit some slow traffic getting through the city.

Consequently, we got to Robinson Road in the Sacramento River Delta about a half hour before sunset. Mountain Plovers have been seen there several times in the last month. A guy, who had seen them there, drove by while we were searching, so we were in the right area.

Then the sun set. Motel 6 in Vacaville, the Clay Oven - excellent Indian food, John working on his pictures and looking at Narba, and me blogging.

Besides a Mountain Plover redo, we will be looking for the Black Rail and the Falcated Duck tomorrow. Tall order. At the end of a big year, most of the target birds are a tall order.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Yes, Santa Claus, there IS a Virginia's!

Warbler, that is. John is now at 681 for his big year.

You may recall that last Saturday and Sunday we spent several hours at the Veteran's Gardens in West Los Angeles. I, and only I (drat), got a very brief glimpse of the warbler. Today, Sunday, December 9th, we returned armed with chairs and a cooler, sunny skies instead of drizzle. We arrived about 10:30 AM. The manager said that a gentleman had been there about 10 and watched the darling little bird flit back and forth from the tree to the ivy for about 5 minutes. ACK!

So we sat, and I listened to all the chips and chirps, jumping up when I heard a particularly short, sharp series. About 11:30 AM, an Allen's Hummingbird displayed at the top of the tree. John began to look up the display discussion in Sibley. I looked back up to the now empty tree top. A little grey bird popped out on the right, hung upside down and picked at leaves. JOHN! He dropped the book, got his binoculars on the bird and confirmed it was the Virginia's Warbler. Se fue, it left. Maybe, if he hadn't been looking up the hummingbird display in the book, he might have gotten a picture. But, maybe, if we hadn't looked at the hummingbird displaying at the top of the tree, I might not have glanced up again a minute later and seen the warbler.

Another birder showed up, spent a few hours with us, I got a few nibbles, but no more views, so John gave up on getting a picture of the warbler. He has identifiable pictures of about 622 bird species for the year. As we three left, about 1:30 PM, yet another birder walked in. I hope he got lucky. Man, that is one elusive bird. John has looked for it in seven states this year. In Arizona alone, he has looked in, probably, 10 different places, some multiple times.

Now, for why I haven't been blogging, and we haven't done much birding, this last week. First, when we returned from two months on the road, we found out our credit card had been compromised and cancelled, probably at one of those many truck stops on the road. That weekend, we got the Spotted Dove, I saw the warbler. Monday, I had a couple of doctor's appointments and John worked on moving money around. Tuesday, we got the car serviced. Wednesday, I stepped into a pool of water in our downstairs bath. So, late that afternoon, the Rotorooter guy came and reamed us out. The next few days were spent ripping up a small area of carpet, cutting out the wet padding and blowing everything dry with fans. Friday, the disposal was jammed. I couldn't find the allen wrench for it, so bought a new one. This time I taped the wrench to the disposal. Saturday, the garage door stopped working and a repairman came out for that. A tree trimmer stopped by and I arranged for him to come by Monday to trim our olive trees. Their roots are what stop up our main line, but, the trees are beautifully gnarly. Our replacement credit cards are still 'in the mail'.

We will start out sometime this week for the Pacific Northwest, if something else doesn't happen on the home front.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Home for a little bit! The clocks were still on Daylight Savings Time. I decided to get rid of some of the old Jeopardys. They went back to mid-June on my DVR! Lots of delete, are you sure? yes, delete!

Saturday, December 2nd, we decided to go after some local yokels. We wandered around West LA, our old stomping grounds (in 1965), looking for the Veteran's Garden. The Virginia's Warbler, John has looked for it in 7 states this year, has returned there for another winter. We spent a couple of hours and didn't see the little darling.

Then we drove to Huntington Park for a bird that used to be common in Southern California. We found the park, walked around a bit, then John spotted the Spotted Dove! Yea! 680 for his big year. We found only four of them. I wonder what happened to them? Now we have the Eurasian Collared-Dove expanding exponentially. I just looked up its name in a 1983 Golden Guide, not even in there.

Sunday morning, I persuaded John to try again for the warbler. This time when we got to the VA there was a holiday party for veterans, lots of traffic, but we got back to the Veteran's Garden finally. A lady birder was already there, good sign? She said the warbler had been seen yesterday at 3. Yesterday? We were there yesterday! Today we brought chairs. The big sit. About noon, a photographer who has 822 photos in the ABA showed up. He just needed a better picture of the warbler than he has to date. Misty and cloudy ain't great for photos. About 1 PM, John walked over to say goodbye to the other people. I saw movement in the ivy and heard the chip. John! I have a bird! They got over to me, I saw the bird's head sticking out with a white eye ring, it dove back into the ivy, chipped along the fence, maybe popped up on the other side of the pittosporum, where the photographer just missed a shot, and was gone. Nobody else saw it. The mist was getting heavier and we were getting hungrier. We left about 2. Home to a wood fire in the fireplace.