Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hatteras, NC Pelagic!

Northern Gannett

Liam and I just got back from an epic trip to Hatteras, NC for a Pelagic birding trip. We went out Sunday with "Seabirding Pelagic Trips" with Brian Patteson and Kate Sutherland. http://www.patteson.com/

The day before was tremendously windy and the ocean was covered in whitecaps. It was supposed to calm for Sunday but I was nervous that it would still be rough enough to get me seasick. Less worried about Liam overall, I was still concerned that if the seas were rough enough even he may get sick. The morning was much more calm than the day before but the water and wind were still grumbling and my main concern switched to me. The morning swells must have been 30 -40 feet(6ft) and I did get sick! It was rough. I spent the first hour feeling terrible and agonizing over how I would make it through another 10hours. Finally I let it go so to speak over the stern and felt much better. After a rest in the cabin I felt good enough to enjoy the rest of the trip. While I was at my sickest Liam was having a blast watching Bottlenose Dolphins and Loggerhead Turtles! A special thanks to Kate for taking him under her wing while I was down! Far beyond her job description but if you meet Kate you will understand that is how she is; beaming with energy, caring and concern for the world around her. One of those people that it is a true pleasure to meet!

The trip was rather uneventful for the most part but we picked up some good birds. Lesser black-backed Gull, a rather elegant and subtly beautiful gull, life looks at Northern Gannett, Razorbill speeding by.

Uneventful that is, until Kate screamed SKUA! SKUA! with the energy and excitement of a battleship general quarters! I mean truly from the deepest reaches of her being she yelled SKUA! and the boat erupted in excitement and we all got great looks at a Great Skua! This bird really made the trip worth not paying the electric bill to go on. Not only is it a Code 3 bird, but it is also an awesome bird to behold shrouded in mystery and mystique for its powerful presence and life at sea. It would fly low across the water under the horizon and then shoot into the air as if it was playing, trying to see if it could create enough speed to glide higher straight into the air than the last run. At one point it harassed a large gull and showed its large size and bad boy attitude seemingly harassing the gull just for the fun of it. What an experience! I mean Liam is 10 years old and has experienced a Great Skua! I am so grateful to be taking this journey with him!
After the excitement the trip returned to its standard of watching the birds from the back chasing the chum. Later, while sitting in the cabin having a snack with 3 or four others, Kate screamed SKUA again and the boat exploded with excitement once more. One poor fellow tripped backwards out of the cabin and rolled on his back like a turtle trying to get up. My split second decision to leave him lying there while going out the other door, I like to think, was based on the decision that he was not injured and would be embarrassed if I made a deal out of it and tried to help him up. In reality I think I just cared more about seeing another Great Skua than helping him up. Sorry buddy.
This was the end of our excitement for the day other than the spec of a Dovekie in the distance that was not counted by us. Hardly an identifying look. We will get a better look at one sometime this year.

Liam had the time of his life, I learned how to i.d. Lesser black-backed Gulls well AND we saw 2 Great Skuas!!

The "Blackbeard" of birds. Great Skua!

We found all the Double-crested Cormorants. This view went around us almost 360deg coming back into Hatteras.

Liam diagnosing an ill sea turtle at the Roanoke Aquarium

The "Stormy Petrel II" after our trip. Look at that glassy water! I could stay out for days watching the gannetts dive like arrows into the sea on water like that!

Entrance of the Roanoke Aquarium in Manteo, NC

Brown Pelican

Kate showing Liam how to Chum!

Gulls like the chum. Mine, mine! Mine! Mine!

Liam enjoying the day!

The amount of dark showing through the underwing, it slight build and yellow legs all help i.d. this as the Lesser-black backed Gull

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lost Colony

We are visiting the Roanoke "lost colony" today. The winds are howling and I'm glad our pelagic is not today. We hope it is calmer for tomorrow and that lots of good stuff has been blown in for our trip!
The trees are literally alive with Yellow-rumpled Warblers, literally(said like Rob Lowe does in "Parks and Recreation") We just got a new bird; Pine Warbler.
Liam is now "accidentally" getting his shoes all wet in the ocean while I get my face sandblasted...

Friday, February 24, 2012

History on the road

Waiting for our Pelagic birding trip out of Hatteras, NC, Liam has been able to get even more History education. Wright Bros. Memorial today and Roanoke Island "lost colony" tomorrow!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Updated from Sax Zim Bog

The highlight of the trip: Great Gray Owl!

Had a blast sleeping in a real boxcar at Northern Rail Traincar Suites!

Aptly named Black-backed Woodpecker

"Bad boy" chickadee?

Liam said "There's a Common Redpoll" and I trained my binocs on this. Who knew a 10 year old could be so witty?

Great Gray Owl - Imagine this from a distance at an angle that put it hidden well through many other trees and you can imagine what a good spot Liam made on this one!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Duluth, MN

After a 4am start and about 7hrs in airports we finally made it to Duluth. It's the weekend of the Sax Zim Bog Winter Birding Festival. Confidence is high for amazing birds such as Great Grey Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Chickadee and many more!
We got in so late that we didn't have time for but a quick run to Canal Park on the Lake Superior waterfront. We thought we could catch a gull or 2 and admittedly Barrow's Goldeneye flashed through my mind. You know, like the ant and the rubber tree plant... Our strongest asset is that we have no preconception of what it takes to get over 748 birds in one year. We figure we will just go out and see them.
And really, spending time with views like this; does it really matter if we don't? Lake Superior waterfront!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Another near miss

Hit Nebraska today in hopes of seeing our 4th Crane this year. A Common Crane has been here but not reported on since the 12th of Feb which made us really nervous but I really felt it would still be around.
We got in the general area at dawn and searched and found nothing. The most recent section it had been seen in wasn't coming up on the GPS so we stopped at the Nebraska Nature Center on Alda Rd. just off 80 in Wood River, NE. for directions. We got to platte river rd. and 90th and saw a car pulled over; 2 birders out with scopes. Hopes soared. We got out and they said they had the crane! They got back on the scopes and an uncomfortable amount of time passed.
We could not relocate the crane and they thought maybe it had walked over the ridge so we followed them around the corner for a different look and still no luck. The friendly birding dynamic duo seemed as if they wanted to stay as long as necessary to help relocate it but they were on a tight schedule. We were left feeling a bit overwhelmed by thousands of cranes and no other birders. We reported the sighting to NARBA & the local nature center and they got it out on the local email list right away. This got us in contact with two other groups in the area. We all exchanged numbers. One couple, Roger and Mary from SD were as determined as we were with us all planning on looking all day and being back in the morning if necessary. At 2:3o we told them we had to go get some food and would be back. On our way back we stopped short a few minutes and sat scanning another field of Sandhills with frustration and fear. After 45min we decided to move on to the original spot and the phone rang. My heart was in my throat. SD crane was calling! Could it be? Mary said "we got it". I babbled something and stomped the gas peddle, and shot the luxury minivan (cheapest thing they had!) down the dirt road as fast as I dared, which was way too fast. When we got to them they were not quite sure where the crane was at the moment and the feeling of excitement and fear together was almost too much to take. Roger got it in the scope shortly after we arrived and gave me a look. When I looked through the scope and saw that crane I nearly jumped up and down and squealed like my 6 year old daughter! Imagine a Sasquatch trying to contain schoolgirl giddiness and you get the picture.
This crane was so similar in size and color at the distance we were that you could lose it while it was in the field of view. With its head up it was obvious with its striking black and white contrast head and neck but when it dropped its head in the sea of Sandhills it was like a magic trick how it just disappeared. No wonder we couldn't get back on it in the morning. It took another 20min of peek a boo before we got Liam a good look! if I didn't think they would have been freaked out I would have hugged and kissed Roger and Mary! If they happen across this; THANKS AGAIN!!
Has anyone in their 40's ever had a bird-watching induced heart attack? Geezle peets!

Birding is getting kinda squatchy...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

This week NE, AK? and MN

Tonight we are flying out to Lincoln, NE and driving out to where the Common Crane has been seen. Hopefully we will get it early in the morning and head back to the airport. We fly standby and the flights to Anchorage, AK don't look so great but if we can squeeze on a flight we will try to get Dusky Thrush in Anchorage before heading on to Sax Zim Bog in MN for the weekend.
If anyone can get us in touch with someone familiar with finding the crane in NE please let us know. Thanks!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Some Pics from Arizona

Test your id skills with this terrible photo! Patagonia, AZ

Why do they call it a Violet-crowned Hummingbird? I don't get it

Moutain Bluebird Female - Patagonia Lake State Park, AZ

Williamson's Sapsucker - Patagonia, AZ

We went to to Arizona primarily for Nutting's Flycatcher a Code 5 bird. We got in late to Phoenix around 11:30 pm and had a 3.5 hour drive Northwest to where the flycatcher was being seen. We slept for a few hours and then got to the canyon or dirt road or whatever you want to call it before the sun came up to try and be sure not to miss it. We were prepared to stay long and another day or 2 if we had to but we wanted to see it first thing so we could make the 6.5 hr haul down to Southeast AZ to try for Streak-backed Oriole and a few other rarities down south.
The birding gods smiled on us and we heard its call at about 7:55 and it made an appearance shortly after. As we were hearing it a car was driving in and we were able to wave them over to see it. One of the birders we waved over was Rick Taylor who wrote the "Birds of Southeastern Arizona" which was kinda cool! Too bad we didn't have a copy for him to sign...doh.

What followed was our hardest birding yet of the year. After a couple days with alot of hiking and searching we were unable to locate Streak-backed Oriole, Rufous-backed Robin or Black-capped Gnatcatcher. We got Rufous-capped Warbler in all that searching but it was not easy either. We spent half of one day hiking up and down Florida Canyon and finally got it. The next day proved fruitful as we persisited in looking and finally located Rufous-backed Robin and Black-capped Gnatcatcher in no small part due to fellow birders searching for the same. The Streak-backed Oriole was never found and not seen again to my knowledge so at least we missed it because it was gone before we even got there although we wasted alot of time trying to find it. Black-chinned Sparrow was a miss we thought we could get but despite reports of them in Florida Canyon we never got a good look at one. A bird guide there told us a bird we saw flit across a ravine was one but we never got an identifying look at it or any other... NO SOUP FOR YOU!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

From Russia with Love

Or from Japan with love. All the standing in the cold and staying overnight paid off; we saw the Hooded Crane this morning near Linton, IN!!
If accepted this Hooded Crane will be the first North American record!
It was too far away for us to get a picture but another birder had a lens the size of a Buick and we might be able to get a pic on here in a few days.
It looked like a turkey in the middle of the flock of thousands of Sandhill Crane. That's what Liam said anyway!
Next we will be trying for Black-tailed Gull (again), Common Crane, Falcated Duck, LaSagra's & Fork-tailed Flycatchers, American Flamingo & maybe McKay's Bunting up in WA.

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Big Chill

We thought we would run up (4.5hrs) from Cincinnati to Beehunter Marsh near Linton, IN, see a Hooded Crane and drive home. Instead Liam sat in the car playing with his iPod while I stood totally unprepared in slippers (thought I put boots in the car) getting chilled to the bone in wet wintery mix weather all day long. I must have looked at 4000 cranes.
We are learning lessons every day during this "Big Year". Adventure makes life worth living though and I wouldn't trade it for the world. We had Mexican food for dinner and watched "The Rock" in "Journey 2" for a bit of decompression. It was ridiculous bit alot of fun for us to watch together!
We have tomorrow morning to look again and then we have to get back.
There is a small army of birders here and we are all fairly well connected so hopefully tomorrow morning will bring us some luck!
The most common sight during a "Big Year"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Code 5 in Arizona!

Code 5 - Nutting's Flycatcher! (you gotta hear it)

Ash-throated Flycatcher (why you gotta hear it)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Wild Turkey

We saw some Wild Turkey today finally on the way back from Lexington today!
It is looking like we will likely be heading to AZ first on our list of places for rarity chasing. Really want to get Nutting's and there are quite a few other good ones out there right now. We were planning on heading out tomorrow but the car broke down tonight and that could delay us a day.
Thanks for the Votes!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


10hrs driving, 5hrs birding, no Black-tailed Gull. Only new bird was Common Merganser.
This was the first time having no scope hurt us. There was a ton of gulls on some buildings where the gull is said to hang out and I thought I saw a darker mantled black band tailed gull land amongst them but it was just too far for binocs alone. This is a hard pill to swallow and it won't happen again. We will get a scope if we have to sell a kidney! Liam was bummed but was a trooper and if he can handle this trip I think he can handle anything. It was a very long drive for 5 hours of uncomfortably cold Ring-billed Gull watching. He didn't get to add much in the way of new birds which is his favorite obsessive compulsive, hoarding, pack rat thing to do. He loves to collect things and bird names for his life/year list is his most prized pirates booty right now. After rarity chasing for a bit longer we will get some good trips in to add some serious numbers to the list.

This pic sums up our trip fairly well!

Black-tailed Gull or Bust!

As you know from last post I couldn't stand waiting so this morning Liam and I decided to go on a spur of the moment underfunded "educational" field trip in a broken shocked gas guzzler up to Cleveland(5hr drive) to try for the Black-tailed Gull. We only have today. Wish us luck and forward us any info if you have it.
"Damn the torpedoes; Full speed ahead!"

Liam checking out the ABA checklist on the way to find the gull

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Can't Sleep

It is 1:50am and I can't sleep. I have been working hard since 7:30am and I am tired but Liam and I are doing a Big Year. When I lay down I can't stop thinking about the rarities out there right now that we need to get to. We are going Sunday(instead of watching the Superbowl) to California to try for Falcated Duck and then down to AZ for Nutting's Flycatcher, Streak-backed Oriole & Black-capped Gnatcatcher. We will stop in NE on the way home to try for Common Crane and then home for a run up for Black-tailed Gull. Shortly after on to Northern MN for winter birds and fancy owls and also NC for a Pelagic. BUT the days in between the last trip and the next is unbearable if you are hoping for a great year and a big number. If you decide to do a Big Year be sure to be comfortable with not being concerned with your final number OR be prepared to go all out all the time; otherwise, you will lose sleep! I CAN'T WAIT TO GET OUT THERE!!!