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!