Thursday, November 22, 2012

Owl Banding

Liam, Gannon and I went out last Friday to the Fernald Preserve where they were doing some Saw-whet owl banding. It was cold and late for the boys but we had a blast! Luckily we got to see an owl earlier than later and they didn't get to bed too late. This little Northern Saw-whet owl was pretty darn cute! I am sure there is some kind of "you can't count a bird seen at a banding station, yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah" but since we are nowhere near breaking Komito's
record of 748, we are going to go ahead and count it. 398. Sad but true. Our summer hiccup hurt bad number wise but its been a fantastically fun year anyway. And, we aren't done yet!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

I.D. Challenge

Another Butt.  
Homer, AK - March 2012
Put your guesses in the comments below

Thursday, October 18, 2012

I.D. Challenge

Tamiami Trail, Florida Oct 5, 2012
Shooo pappy, maybe this one will stump somebody?!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I.D. Challenge too

What was that blur that just flashed by?!
Tamiami Trail, Florida Everglades  Oct 5, 2012
Put your guess in the comments below!

Monday, October 15, 2012

I.D. Challenge

Guess who's butt this is!
Key Largo, FL October 4, 2012
Put your guess in the comments below!
The first person to guess correctly will receive a drawing of this type of bird by me.  It won't be good but it's all I got!  I am trying to talk Liam into creating the prize but he is reluctant at the moment.  Maybe on the next one..

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bienvenido a Miami!

We decided a quick trip to Key Largo via Miami would be worthwhile.  We wanted to get Smooth-billed Ani and were sure to get a couple South Florida birds we hadn't seen yet.  This trip we decided to take Gannon(9), my other son, along with us.  It seemed like a good idea, and it was..... for the most part.
Gannon and Liam were excited to find a Coconut! 
Our start was a trip that would put us at MIA at about 11:30pm.  When we got on the plane in Atlanta for our second leg to Miami we sat on the runway for an extra 45min waiting for 1, ONE connecting passenger from another flight.  As it turns out many other flights arrived late to Miami that night and the rental car place was a nightmare.  Gannon was feeling bad with an ear ache and crying out loud for most of the hour and a half we waited for a car.  Finally we got on the road headed towards our hotel in Key Largo.  About 20min in Gannon reenacted the Exorcist movie and projectile vomited all over the inside of the rental car.  He was in the backseat and the dash was covered!  Bienvenido a Miami! We got to our room at about 4am and an early start for the Ani was lost.  We started the next day in Key Largo looking for a Smooth-billed Ani reported at a local park with no luck but found a couple other cool new birds like White-crowned Pigeon and a Black-whiskered Vireo which I would have expected to be gone.  That night we heard a reliable Ani had been being seen up in Key Biscayne for the last few days but we couldn't get there in time and had to stay another day to try in the morning.

Gannon exploring

Snail Kite!
The next day we got a quick look as it dove into the scrub thanks to Gannon!  We had been looking for some time with no luck.  As we sat idle in the last reported location for it to show up, Gannon said, and I quote, "There's the bird!"  I looked where he was pointing and saw a cardinal. As I said "that's just a cardinal Gannon" I saw the Ani a few feet in front of it and it shot into the brush.  We never saw it again.  After a trek to the top of the Key Biscayne lighthouse and a fun swim in the ocean we went back to the parking lot where the Ani was and tried to get a better look and a photo.  It was 11:30 and we didn't see it.  We heard later that it sat up nicely at the edge of the parking lot at 11:45!  We had left for the Everglades and a chance at Snail Kite which we found!
I got nothing but terrible pictures of birds this trip!  The blurry Snail Kite pic above is the best I could manage.  I think I will post a bunch of cryptic blurry photos in the next post to see if we can get some fun i.d. guesses!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Southeast Arizona

Liam and I love Southeast AZ!  We got there about 3 weeks later than we wanted to and paid for it by missing Elegant Trogon and Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher.  We have seen them in the past but not this year of course!  When we got to Tucson we drove straight down to Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast.  If you want the best variety of hummingbirds in one spot, this is the place to go.  It is hard to say that one thing about Southeast AZ is the best but Ash Canyon B&B hummingbirds could be it.  And the owner Mary Jo is always so nice to us.  If you visit please put as much as you can in the "sugar fund" because it is needed and this place is worth it!  For someone who wanted to get away from it all in a remote canyon in AZ, to open up her home and give all her time to birders and hummingbirds is an amazing thing.  We were rewarded with Plain-capped Starthroat when we were there!  Also Lucifer, Magnificent, Rufous, Broad-billed etc...!!
After a few hours we headed back to Tucson instead of Madera Canyon for the night because our luggage didn't make it.  Long story short.  We wasted good birding time driving back and forth to the airport to find luggage for 2 days.  Our first trip up Old Baldy trail in Madera Canyon was very quiet and bird free.  We did manage to find a Townsend's Warbler and an Olive Warbler but that was about it.  That night we camped in the Bog Springs campground in our dirty underwear.  We made Jiffy Pop on the fire and had fun looking at the stars.   We drove down the canyon road to see if we could find any snakes or owls and got a Barn Owl! At 3am I went out to potty and was greeted by a Hognose Skunk!  I think I would have been less frightened by a bear!

The next day we went up again.  Just above the favorite Trogon spot, Liam was trying to catch a lizard and I was shaking a dead tree limb.  A minute later I was swatting at some big hornets in my hair and spinning like a dervish.  I had made my way about 20 yards down the trail and Liam pointed out that it was because I was shaking the tree.  There was a swarm of them on the end of the hollow log I had just had my hand on and they were between me and Liam.  He started to get nervous and I told him just to run quickly around and down to me and they wouldn't catch him.  I was wrong and he let out a loud frightened whine as he ran past to me.  He had 3 stings on his shoulder and I was officially the worst dad in the world.  Luckily they weren't that bad and it didn't force us off the trail.  On the way down we went into the trees closer to the creek and found some birds!  A bunch of Painted Redstarts, White-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper and a Hermit Warbler and Hermit Thrush.
Our last night we stayed in the Santa Rita Lodge and it was so peaceful and relaxing.  The next morning was our last.  While Liam was in the shower and I was putting socks on I heard some crashing through the branches out our back window.  I looked out and saw a Coatimundi!  I told Liam and he hurried out of the casita with me dripping wet to get a better look.  That morning we also saw a big gopher snake and a Greater Roadrunner!  It was a fun morning and a great way to end the trip!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Long time, No See

Wow!  It really has been a long time since the last post!  Bottom line; we have had nothing to post concerning birds.  We had life throw us some curve balls this summer and totally derail our Big Year :(  The easy thing to do would be give up.  But like Liam said back in February on a miserable day.  "Big Years aren't supposed to be easy".  So we are saddling for a fight to the end of the year to see how strong we can finish!  We still have plenty of local summer birds to get and will be heading out on the road again asap.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Pure Birding Fury

Liam and I got up at 4am this morning to drive 4 hours up to Magee Marsh on Lake Erie near Toledo, OH.  Magee Marsh is the self proclaimed, and likely proclaimed by everyone else too, as the "Warbler Capitol of the World".  We got there at about 9:30am and the place was jammed with people.  It looked like ants on cheese!  We started cramming ourselves down the choked boardwalk and started seeing warblers right away. About 50 yards in, a little boy in homemade jean overalls told us there was a Kirtland's Warbler off the boardwalk and down the way a piece.  Liam and I bolted and others came following after.  We did a combo speedwalk and run as much as possible.  Liam could run the whole way but my fat ass wasn't running 1000yds or so.  Regardless, we streamed along with the zombie hoard and came to a tree being watched by about 100 or so people!.  Mercifully, the tree was by a very wide open area and we got right in there and saw the bird easily.  As we made our way back, 100s more were on their way to see the Kirtland's.  The best part was getting back to a radically cleared out boardwalk, making for an awesome 5 hours of pure birding fury!  We got 20+ new birds with most being gorgeous wood warblers to include a skulking Mourning Warbler.  Check the list to see the other fantastic birds!
I can't wait until Liam is old enough to drive!
Liam matched the plane at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum on the way home
Checking out the warblers at Magee Marsh!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Houston Birding

We finally got the big year bus rolling again with a day and a half in Houston and High Island Texas.  We met up with our new super duper birding friends Blake and Holly Wright who are doing a charitable "Photographic" Big year.  We added 36 birds and got a few that really made the trip worth while such as both whistling-ducks!

 Laughing Gull
 Tropical Mockingbird
Some say that the heavily worn tail adds weight to the arguement that this bird is an escapee.  I got good looks at the tail and not just the ends were worn.  The tail was a wreck and looked to have "chunks" torn out.  Could it not be that the other highly teritorial Northern Mockingbirds have been picking on him excessively?  I hope that determining a bird an escapee is akin to "Innocent until proven guilty".   I believe it should be "Wild until proven escapee"
 Black-bellied Plover
 Red Knot
 Black-necked Stilt
 Black-bellied Whistling-duck
 Texas flower - "Indian Blanket"?
A "good sign"! 

Monday, April 23, 2012

About to get back in Gear

Well the school board was less than cooperative in approving Liam with more time off for his Big Year and that put the brakes on is for a bit. But it's close enough that we are going to risk having to home school him for the last few weeks as we can't wait to get out there. On our way to do some serious shore bird watching and then "bring on the warblers!". Our dog is on his last leg so to speak and we are very sad and won't likely get out birding this week. Chickens on the grill and a single Chimney Swift moments ago will have to do for now....

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Finally got Snowy Owl!

The Kids checking out a Snowy Owl in Findlay, OH

This Friday we headed up I-75 to Detroit, MI from Cincinnati. I checked and found a report for a Snowy owl the day before in Findlay, OH. Findlay, OH it turns out is directly on our path to Detroit!
When we reached the area the Snowy Owl had been reported in, we found a car pulled off the road with a man looking through a big camera lens. We thought he must be on it. We pulled over to find he hadn't seen it but had confirmed that we were in the right area. We scanned the fields together and couldn't find a Snowy Owl. We did find plenty of plastic bags and misc garbage :( We gave him our card and decided to go to the other side of the field which was bordered by a reservoir.
We walked along the flood wall on the edge of the field scanning from different vantage points and still found no owl. The reservoir had lots of good birds though: loons, gulls (Bonaparte's in numbers), ducks and grebes all in good numbers! We decided this was another missed Snowy Owl venture and made our way back to the car to head on to Detroit. The kids had run ahead in front of me and were getting in the car. As I thoughtlessly glanced at the previously unnoticed small cornfield in front of me, I saw something directly in the middle that didn't strike me as an owl but caught my eye enough to put the scope down and check it out. As I got the object in my field of view I yelled out to everyone, "I Got It!" My main birding skill is being fairly accurate at impression birding. I actually had to move 150yds closer to get an identifying look and sure enough the top half of a Snowy Owl was visible. turning his head occasionally and otherwise looking like a white rock sitting in the middle of the field. If I would have thought about it, that probably was one of the subconscious clues used in first impressions. Part of my brain probably recognized that a relatively large rock would not be sitting in the middle of a freshly plowed field.
We are so happy and relieved to have gotten Snowy Owl!!

We had enough time while in Detroit to travel over to Hillman Marsh, an annual hotspot for migrating shorebirds in Canada near Point Pelee. Although not much was around yet we were able to add Greater Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpiper to our list.

The trip to Hillman has me wanting to once again shout out my love for Eagle Optics and Vortex. I have told anyone who cared to listen for years that Eagle Optics Rangers are the best binocs you can find for the price. In my opinion, $1000 range quality for $299! Eagle Optics Vortex brand is proving maybe even more impressive. We have recently started using the $1599 Vortex Razor HD spotting scope (thanks to a loan from Grandpa) and I am certain it is as good if not better than any scope of twice the price I have looked through! Yes, including Swarovski. And the VIP warranty is second to none. If you are a birder, you have got to have a quality scope. I suggest looking into the higher end scopes. The quality of image and ability to identify birds you wouldn't be able to see with even a $500-$800 scope is a reality. If you bird often and are agonizing over the cost of high end scopes and how you wish you could have the quality a $3000 scope brings but just cant pull that much cabbage together, you will actually be glad you couldn't. Get your hands on the Razor HD! If you have a hard time justifying the cost even at $1599, think about how much that is over a lifetime of birding and it becomes a very inexpensive hobby compared to most other things even with high $ optics purchases. If you still can't swing the $ just figure out the most you are willing or able to spend and go to Eagle Optics to get the Vortex scope in your range. I am confident that it will be the best you can get for the money. With the disappointing quality of most products these days I am just happy to help fellow birders find a good product and to support a company who is producing quality products and supporting the birding community the way Eagle Optics does. It is refreshing to see.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Images from Alaska

thousands of Black-legged Kittywake

one Black-legged Kittywake

Pigeon Guillemot in forefront. 4 Common Murre in background. one still in winter plumage

Northern Hawk Owl

Long-tailed Duck

Steller's Eider

Surf Scoter

side of the road. Homer, AK

Scenery on the side of the road in Homer, AK

The quite common Black-billed Magpie

Red-necked Grebe

Sea Otters!

Pretty. On the road from Anchorage to Homer, AK

When you see this on the side of the road, you know you aren't in Cincinnati

Do you think I fit in better in Alaska or Miami?

The End

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's not all about the birds

It is 10:30pm and Liam and I are sitting in the Anchorage, AK airport waiting 3 hours for the first leg of our long journey home. This trip really has proven how our "Big Year" is more about the journey than the destination so to speak. We knew money would be tight but didn't expect to push it to $2.30 left! Am I crazy for bringing my 10 year old son to Alaska without plenty of money? Probably, but if we waited until we had plenty of money we would never go anywhere. I am good at getting us into tight spots far from home with little cash! When we went to Arizona earlier this year we had $7 left on our last day. When we stopped for a few minutes at the preserve in Patagonia they told us since we were only there briefly we didn't have to pay our $5 entrance fee. I paid anyway since it helps everything we love. $2 left. Luckily I made some calls and closed a sale and had plenty of cash to make it back to the airport. I was hoping to close another deal on this trip and stay a few more days to squeeze in a trip to Kodiak, AK but no luck this time and we are getting out by the skin of our teeth.
If I knew it would have been this tight I would have come anyway. Maybe I would have tried to be more frugal the first day though!
The trip was amazing mostly due to the people we met and even the ones we didn't meet but just spoke to on the phone. We have asked for any assistance in finding birds that anyone may have to offer and Alaska came through with the most generous birders we have met yet! Gary Lyon an amazing artist from Homer contacted us and gave us all kinds of great info and contacts. And when we got to Homer, AK he even took us out on his boat for a few hours! He also posted on the local birding forum that we would be here and another local called us 2 days in a row with tips on Northern Hawk Owl and Trumpeter Swan which both paid off. Thanks again, Katie! When I called up Dave (I won't butcher his last name here) who has the highest list count for Alaska, he talked to me as if I were a friend of his and couldn't have been more helpful. It doesn't end there! The jewel of Homer, AK, the "Alaska Islands & Oceans Visitor Center was closed both days we were in Homer. It was open today but when we got there at 10am on our way out of town we found it didn't open until noon. We were bummed and didn't think we could wait that long. As we were walking away through the parking lot a gentleman working outside chatted to us and when he heard we were from the Midwest and had to return he made us go back in with him so he could see if someone from USFWS would give us a tour! There was an extremely kind individual who would. Her name was Carla Stanley. She gave us a fabulous tour even though she was very busy with work. Amazingly, it turned out she was a birder who was also the artist for the May birding festival! And to top it off we met the festival coordinator by chance as well, Christina Whiting who was super friendly also. Everyone we met treated us like long time friends and neighbors! This kind of experience for Liam and I is the real reward for doing a "Big Year"! We can not stress enough how great a time you would have at the 2012 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival if you can make it.
Please take some time to check out our new friends in Homer, AK

Monday, April 2, 2012

Steller Day!

Going out on the bay in Homer did not disappoint! It was a beautiful day and we saw some great birds to include Steller's Eider and Yellow-billed Loon!

Liam checking out a thousand or so Rock Sandpipers with our new Vortex Razor HD spotting scope!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Homer Alaska update

We just arrived in Homer, AK today! The jet lag from the eastern time zone was brutal but sight of Long-tailed Ducks and Pigeon Guillimadoohickees in Anchor Point Alaska was a great cure!
It was very overcast today but we managed to add Northwestern Crow to our list today too.
Tonight we ate dinner at a local bar across from the Driftwood Inn. As I ate a grilled cheese with Liam we listened to an old cowboy in black with a long white bird sing "Amarillo by Morning" while the movie "Dune" played silently on the t.v. There was a stuffed gorilla at the bar with the people having a drink. Doing a "Big Year" has got to be the best way to get out and experience the USA!
We got some great pics of mountain goat and moose too! I can't wait to post pics when we get home!
Thanks to a generous birder in Homer we will be headed out on his boat tomorrow morning to see what we can see!

Sunday, March 25, 2012


We are going to Alaska to bird the Kenai Peninsula! We will be there April 1 and stay for at least a few days depending on lodging costs. We have decided its still too cold to camp.
Any advice you may have is welcome.
We can't wait!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Name that band

American Woodcock #276

Woodcock at night
Woodcock at night
whoa oh
whoa oh
whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh ooohhhhhh

The Fixx - "Red Skies At Night"

American Woodcock
stay away from me
American Woodcock
stayaway from me


Sunday, March 18, 2012

No goose. Duck!

Had no luck finding any rare geese in the Dunkin Donuts capital of the world. Do you really need 2 Dunkin Donuts on every block. Even Starbucks would be shocked at the concentration.
We are very low on cash so we headed to the coast of Massachusetts instead of Montauk, NY which would have cost another day. Not many sea birds around but we did get to see Harlequin Duck! After slipping and sliding nearly breaking my neck on the slimy slippery rocks we got a great close look for as long as we pleased at a pair!

Photos from New England

VENOM! These birds are so cool!!

Pair of Harlequin Ducks at Halibut Point State Park in MA. I would kill for a bigger camera lens!

Common Eider!

Learning about Navigation Bouys in Gloucester, MA

Liam at the spot where the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded in 1623!

Awesome mermaid art on a side yard gate in Gloucester, MA