Click here to return to 2012 Birding Reports: http://www.barry15.com/2012_Birding_Reports
Tuesday, May 1
After sleeping well again, I was up a little after 6:30 and I was out on the road by 8.† This time was a little different, though, in that I had arranged for a noon checkout, and I left my stuff at the motel and headed back across the water to Port Aransas, on Mustang Island.† The complimentary breakfast at the Microtel Inn and Suites was the best one I have seen on the trip, with little omelets, sausage, and biscuits.† They had waffles, too, but I refrained from that indulgence.
I again drove right on to the little ferry and had only a short wait until they filled it.† Here is a picture of the ferry before us.† I was still at the dock on our side, so you can see what a short run it is.
The camera has foreshortened it somewhat, but it only about a five minute ferry ride.† It is interesting that they donít build a bridge.† They must have had at least 20 people working there this morning, with 5 or 6 boats to maintain.† It has to be an expensive operation.
My first stop was at the overlook where I had picked up my three birds yesterday.† Today there was less there, but I did get a picture of a Pectoral Sandpiper.† Last year I had to make a trip to Ocean Shores, on the Washington Coast, to get my first ever Pectoral Sandpiper.† Iíve seen them two or three times before on this trip, I think, but this was the closest view.
Next I stopped at the Leonabelle Turnbull (I love that name Ė the locals just call it the Birding Center) Birding Center, the place with the boardwalk and tower that I spent an hour at yesterday.† My main goal today was to see Least Bittern, a bird that everyone said was common there.
I walked out onto the boardwalk, and looked around.† No bitterns in view.† I did get some pictures of a Tricolored Heron, though, and since today has so few pictures and so little bird action, Iíll show the best one, even though I have showed that species several times before.
I climbed the tower to the first landing and used my scope to look all around, exhaustively.† Nothing.† I saw the same Black-crowned Night-herons and Yellow-crowned Night-Herons that I had seen yesterday, but not my target.
I was about ready to give up when I happened to be looking in the right direction at the right time, and I saw a bird fly in and perch by the water.† By golly, it was my LEAST BITTERN (lifer).† It was pretty far away, and after getting a good binocular view, I had to decide whether to next go for a scope view or a picture.† I opted for the camera, and I got four or five pictures before it flew off again.† It was really lucky that I happened to be looking in that direction at the right time, because it sure didnít stick around long.† It was a long way away, but here is my best picture.
A coot swam by, and I caught it in one of my pictures.† It makes a good size comparison.† The coot is larger than the bittern.
So, it was not yet 9 oíclock, and I had my bird for the day.† I didnít have a lot of prospects for another, but I moved on to see what I could find.
I stopped at Paradise Pond, which I had visited yesterday afternoon.† This morning there were 3 or 4 other people there, watching the drip, where the warblers and other migrants are most likely to show up.† I saw Tennessee Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Lincolnís Sparrow, and a lovely Magnolia Warbler, one that is considered a ďgood oneĒ, but one I had already seen once or twice before.† None were new for me, but I was birding.† At this stage of the trip, that is mainly what I hope to do Ė just enjoy the birds and take some pictures.† It has gotten pretty difficult to add anything new now.
I talked to a local birder there at Paradise Pond, and got some ideas from him.† I drove to the jetty, and then down the beach on the sand, trying for Gull-billed Tern.† I never saw one, but I did get some pictures of Black Terns in their full summer breeding plumage.† Here is one of the pics.
The wings and back are gray, the belly and undertail area are white, and the rest is black, including the bill and legs.† In the winter, they are mostly white.
On my way back to the motel, I stopped at a local park in Aransas Pass, where I was staying.† It had nothing, but I was trying.
I packed up and hit the road by about 11:15.† The plan I made last night had me stopping in Rockport at a couple of places, to again try for the Gull-billed Tern and maybe a Herring Gull.† But, after talking to the local birder at Paradise Pond, I decided to change plans.† It meant taking a longer route to my stopping place tonight, but it had a chance at Anhinga and Groove-billed Ani, so I decided to visit Pollywog Ponds, west of Corpus Christi.† On my way, I stopped at Indian Point, but saw nothing of any interest.
Pollywog Ponds is supposed to be an excellent birding site, and I had printed out maps to find it before I left home, so was sure I would have no trouble.† Well, when I got to where my maps showed it should be, I couldnít find it.† I drove around for 15 or 20 minutes, and never could figure out where it was.† I ended up giving up in disgust, and when I got here to my motel tonight, I looked it up.†
It turns out that I was in exactly the right place.† I had seen the sign on the big gate blocking the dirt road that said ďCity of Corpus Christi Water Dept Raw Water Sludge LagoonĒ, but I hadnít noticed the smaller print below that.† The smaller print said ďPollywog Pond Bird SanctuaryĒ.† Raw Water Sludge Lagoon didnít do much for me, but that is where the birds are, I guess.† It does have some nice trees and paths, based on some pictures I found online.† But, I would have had to park my car in the sun, in a very remote place, with all my stuff in my car, and it would have taken a bit of walking to get to where the birds are seen.† It was hot and humid, and Iím not sure I would have wanted to do that much walking anyway; and I know I would have been very nervous about leaving my car full of all my crap there for very long.† Knowing what I know now, I would have stuck to my original plan and hit the Rockport places.
So, I ended up driving some extra miles.† I used my cellphone GPS app to navigate across country a bit today, and that worked well this time.† I did stop at two other places along the way, ones I found in my book about finding birds on the Texas Coast.† The first one was a beach park, and was totally useless for birds.† The second one was a wetlands that a chemical company built as a mitigation project, and at least there were some common birds there.† Nothing I needed, though, and they were too far away for pictures.
I ended up getting to Bay City about 4:30, and I stopped at the local HEB to get some supplies, including a 24 ounce beer.† Iím staying at a Studio 6 motel tonight, which is connected to the Motel 6 chain, but Studio 6 offers rooms with kitchenettes.† This particular one even has utensils, dishes, pans, etc.† Most of the Studio 6ís donít, but they all have a microwave, a cooktop, and a full sized refrigerator.
So, I only added one bird today, my lowest number yet.† I donít really have any legitimate targets for tomorrow, and I have to drive for several hours to get back to Winnie by tomorrow night.† I will check my books tonight, though, and maybe I can come up with something to look for.† Iíll be driving along the coast a lot, so my gull and my tern are both possibilities, as are some shorebirds I still need.† I plan to enjoy the drive tomorrow, and not worry too much about getting a new bird for the trip.† Iíll try, but at this point, there is only so much I can do, and I would rather enjoy the day than obsess on getting a new bird.† Maybe I can get some pictures to show tomorrow night.† At this point, I plan to write a report each night and show pictures, whether I get a new bird or not.† After tonight, I have just three more nights, and Iíll be staying back at the place I stayed for five nights in, near the start of the trip.
So, for the trip so far, I have a total of 239 species, and 163 of those have added to my year list.† 80 of them are lifers.† For my year to date, I now have 381 species, and 96 of those are lifers.† What a life!
Wednesday, May 2
I was up by 6:40 and was out of my Studio 6 motel room by about 8:10, after sleeping a little less well than recently.† I sure do like having a kitchenette where I stay, or at least a little fridge and microwave.† Iíd much rather prepare my own humble meals than sit in restaurants wasting time.† I have more control over what I eat, too.
I had printed out explicit step by step instructions from Google Maps before I left home, for this morningís cross country journey to the coast, and I arrived at Surfside Beach at about 9:15.† My first stop was at Crab Street in Surfside Beach.† I was trying again for Nelsonís Sparrow.† It was the right habitat, and you are supposed to play the call or pish, and they are supposed to pop up for you.† Iíve tried it three or four places now, and had no luck.† Same thing again this morning, no luck.† I did see a couple of birds back in the grass, though, and I took a picture.† Tonight in my room, I decided that they were Short-billed Dowitchers.† Short-billed Dowitchers and Long-billed Dowitchers look very much alike, and there are subspecies of each of them, to confuse things more.† Based on my field guides and my pictures, Iím prepared to say these two are Short-tailed Dowitchers, which is a trip bird for me.† The lack of marks on the throat and upper breast, along with the habitat they were in are my biggest arguments for Short-billed Dowitcher, but it is a tough call.† Iím counting them, though, and here is a picture for any experts to take potshots at.
So, I had a trip bird, but I didnít know it until after I saw my pictures, an interesting situation.† Some birders wouldnít count them on that basis, but it doesnít bother me to use the camera as a tool.† I use binoculars and a scope, and using the camera is the same in my mind.† There is another example today, too, a little later on.
From Surfside Beach, I drove northeast up Follettís Island, which is a long narrow barrier island just off the coast.† The road I drove on today runs right along the beach, and it was mostly destroyed in the last big hurricane here, in 2008 or 2009.† Most of the structures on this part of the coast were destroyed, too, and almost everything is new now.† They must have done a hell of a lot of building in the last 3 or 4 years, because there are many hundreds, if not thousands of new houses all along the islands I was on today.† Here is a picture of the beach on Follettís Island.
And here are some typical beach houses.† They arenít allowed to have any living space on the bottom floor, because it would flood out periodically, so all the houses are on stilts.
They get a better view from being up high, too, as a side benefit.
I stopped several places and checked out the beach for a couple of species, but never saw anything that way.† Eventually, I came to the northeast end of Follettís Island, and I paid the two dollar toll to cross over the bridge to the next island, Galveston Island.† Again, I stopped to check out the beach several times, but again, found nothing on the beach.† At one place where I stopped, I got this picture of the beach on Galveston Island.
Here are some typical beach houses there.
As I said, everything is no more than 3 or 4 years old.† The hurricane really wiped out almost everything on several islands in the area.† I think that one was Hurricane Ike.
At that particular stop, there was a bird near where I parked.† It was obviously a flycatcher, a family in which it is notoriously hard to identify the species.† I thought it was probably and Eastern Wood-pewee, a bird I had already seen, but I took a lot of pictures anyway, since the bird was so cooperative.† After I looked at the pictures and consulted my field guide, I decided it was an ACADIAN FLYCATCHER (lifer).† It is a tough call, but again I will post a couple of excellent pictures of the bird, and I invite any expert who reads this someday on my website to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to correct me, if Iím wrong.
Those are both the same bird, even though the eye-ring is not as obvious in the second picture.† So, I now had a trip bird and a lifer, but I didnít know about either of them, until this evening.† A funny situation.
Somehow I missed the Dos Vacas Muertas sanctuary, which was too bad, as it had sounded like a good place to stop.† My book wasnít clear on how to find it, and it wasnít on any of their maps, that I could find.† So, my next stop turned out to be Lafitteís Cove Nature Preserve.† It is in the middle of a very upscale development, and it was obviously some kind of mitigation project by a developer.† It is extremely well done.† There are concrete paths past a couple of ponds into a very nice mixed wooded area, with oaks and deciduous trees.† There is a drip and a ďwater featureĒ, meaning a pond with a little running water, and the preserve area is a great migrant trap, they say.
One of the reasons I wanted to stop there was that there had been reports of a hard to find (in Texas) warbler species there in the last day or two.† This species, Black-throated Blue Warbler, normally migrates through Florida, but in the last few days, they have been showing up here in Texas, and everyone is looking for them.† As it turned out, I think I saw a female of the species while I was there, but it was a brief look, and I hadnít realized it until tonight, when I was looking at my field guide.† So, I didnít count it at Lafitteís Cove.† There were a few other birders there, and one of them mentioned seeing three of a species of warbler I still ďneededĒ, and he told me where he had seen them.† So, I went over to that area, and got an excellent look at a male BLACKPOLL WARBLER (lifer).† That was very exciting.†
There were several woodpeckers drumming in the preserve, and at least one of them was a Downy Woodpecker, which I had counted earlier in the trip.† I still need a woodpecker that is fairly common, though, so I spent some time looking, but had no joy.† While I was doing that, I did see a bird at the top of a tree, and darned if it wasnít a Cedar Waxwing, an excellent trip bird, even though I had seen it earlier this year in California.† Trip birds are good, though, and I was very glad to see it.† I had given up on seeing one here, as they are very nomadic, and there is no way to look for them, you just have to get lucky.
I got great looks at a male Magnolia Warbler there, too.† It wasnít new for me, but it is a good bird, and I enjoyed the looks.† It was hot (mid-80ís, but humid as a sauna), and eventually, I had to move on.† I had stopped at a Subway in Jamaica Beach and picked up a footlong tuna sandwich, and I was getting hungry by then.† As I left Lafitteís Cove, though, there was a Purple Martin house across the street from where I had parked.† That is a nesting box with multiple holes, as Purple Martins like to nest communally.† I got a couple of pictures I like of these common Eastern members of the swallow family.† We donít see them nearly as much out west, so I enjoyed seeing them and getting the pictures.† Here is the male, first.
And here is a female.
It was past noon by then, and I had some miles to go still, as well as a ferry to take to the next island, so I hurried along.† Galveston was a much larger city than I had expected.† It was obviously very tourist oriented, with lots of big hotels and beach ďattractionsĒ.† Iím sure it is Houstonís beach city, and on a weekend, Iím sure it is jammed when the weather is good.† I found a McDonaldís to stop at to pee, and moved on up toward the ferry.† It was approaching 1 oíclock, and I was getting damn hungry.† I should have just pulled over to the side of the road and eaten in the car, but I had the idea I might eat while waiting for the ferry, so I kept on.† And on.† And on.† Galveston is much larger than I had expected.† Oh, I already said that, didnít I?
Anyway, eventually I got to the ferry and was able to drive right on.† You werenít allowed to get out of your car until the ferry departed, so I wolfed down my Subway tuna sandwich and some chips and most of a Diet Coke, in my car.† I did feel better after eating, although I kind of wished I hadnít eaten quite so fast when we got out on the water and were pitching around in the waves.† Once we left the dock, I got out of my car and went to the front of the boat and enjoyed the 15 minute crossing.† I kept an eye on the sky for a frigatebird, as people report seeing them from the ferry, but I didnít.
So, when I got off the ferry, I was on the Bolivar peninsula, not actually another island, as I wrote a minute ago.† I had visited this place a couple of weeks ago, so it was all familiar now.† I drove to Bolivar Flats, and looked for Gull-billed Tern and Red Knot, but didnít see any, driving along the beach and back.† I was nervous about driving on the sand at first, but Iíve gotten used to it now, although I do watch carefully, to avoid getting into any loose sand that is deep.† When I was at Bolivar Flats a couple of weeks ago, there were quite a few people there, but today I only saw one car, and no one was around it.† Maybe that was a weekend day when I was there before.
On my drive back to the highway from the beach, there was a little pond on the side of the road, with three birds around it.† One of them looked kind of interesting, although I wasnít sure exactly why.† My first thought that was that it was a Lesser Yellowlegs, but it was doing this funny bobbing thing.† I thought, maybe a Spotted Sandpiper, which is sort of like this bird looked with the naked eye?† So, I looked at it, and it wasnít a Spotted Sandpiper, and it didnít look quite right for Lesser Yellowlegs, either, although I wasnít sure.† I took some pictures, and it turned out there were two of them there.† In a couple of my pictures, I was able to catch it with another bird I could identify, a Willet, so that was a great size comparison.† I consulted my field guide after getting plenty of pictures, and when I looked up the bird I wondered about, the first thing it said under description was ďRepeatedly bobs front of bodyĒ.† Bingo!!!† That was my bird, for sure.† That was the first thing that had caught my eye, the odd bobbing motion it kept doing.† It was one I had wanted to see, but wasnít at all sure I would recognize it when I did.† SOLITARY SANDPIPER (lifer).† Here is a picture of one of them.
Here is the size comparison shot with the Willet.
A Willet is supposed to be 12.5 to 14.5 inches in length (tip of bill to tip of tail), and it seems to me that they run at the high end of that, usually.† Solitary Sandpiper is supposed to be 8.5 inches.† Lesser Yellowlegs is 10.5 inches.† Like the Cedar Waxwing earlier, this bird came right out of the blue for me.† I wasnít expecting it or looking for it at all.
I stopped at Rollover Pass next, to look for my tern, but saw nothing interesting and didnít take any pictures.† As I neared High Island, I took a side road into the oil fields, because some people I had met down south had suggested it.† As it turns out, I think I took the wrong road, as I didnít find any pond, as they had described.† I might try again later to find the road they were telling me about.† As it turned out, though, there were Common Nighthawks flying around.† I saw four together, and later saw others.† I thought they only flew at night, but it was three in the afternoon, with bright sun.† I thought of trying to get a picture of one of them flying, but they moved around too fast.† Then I noticed a bird on a wire, and it turned out to be a Common Nighthawk as well.† So, I got some good pictures, and here is one for you.† An odd bird.
I had seen them two or three times before on the trip, so it didnít count for anything, but I was pleased to get pictures.
It was getting on toward four oíclock by then, and I wanted to stop at High Island, since I had to drive right through the town anyway.† I stopped at Boy Scout Woods, where The Drip, with the grandstands, is, and it was deserted, other than the three volunteer ladies who were collecting admissions and selling stuff.† I was really struck today by how many more people were around two weeks ago.† The middle two weeks of April are the traditional peak of migration here, and most birders plan their trips for that time frame.† Iíll be interested to see if that holds the next three days, while Iím here.
There was nothing at all going on there, so I soon moved on over to Smith Oaks.† They have a board at Boy Scout Woods that lists what has been seen today, and at which of the two reserves it was seen at.† There were two warbler species that had been seen at Smith Oaks today that I needed, so I decided to spend 15 or 20 minutes, there, before leaving to check into my motel.† I wanted to get settled in early, so I could do all my evening things, and I needed to stop at the grocery store on the way.
At Smith Woods, there were also very few people around.† I wandered the trails a little, but it was hot and humid, and I didnít plan to stay long.† I did see a male Blackpoll Warbler, the one I had seen at Lafitteís Cove this morning, and a couple of other warblers, but it was getting late, and I was about ready to leave.† About then a couple of women came by and we chatted, as birders do, about what they had seen recently.† They had seen a very desirable warbler about 15 minutes earlier, and were going to find it again.† I asked if I could tag along, and they said sure.
Well, that was a good decision on my part, as in about 10 minutes, someone spotted a lovely male BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER (lifer) high above us in the canopy.† Most of my views were from underneath, so I couldnít see the pretty blue parts on the top of the bird, but I saw enough to identify it.† That is the warbler I mentioned earlier that mostly migrates through Florida, but has been showing up hereon the Texas coast in the last few days.† What a great ending to an excellent day of birding.† At that point, I didnít even know about the Short-billed Dowitchers or the Acadian Flycatcher, but I was still feeling very good, thinking I had gotten four species today.
So, I got out of there a little late, and stopped at the store and stocked up on food and beer.† I checked in and took a shower to cool down.† As I got out of the shower, my cell phone rang; it was a Seattle birder who had been here a week or two ago, and who I had met with at the first of the year, to discuss our Texas trips.† We talked about our trips, which was fun, but it put me even farther behind in my schedule for the day, and now it is almost 9 PM and I havenít eaten yet.
I donít know what Iím going to do the next two and a half days, until I head home.† I need to review my lists, but there are very damn few birds I can get now.† I could get skunked on all three days remaining, but maybe I can come up with something.† As I said, I need to reviews my lists and try to develop a plan.
Meanwhile, today I saw six new species for my trip list, and four of those were good for my year list.† All four of those year list birds were lifers, too.† That puts me at 245 species for the trip, and 167 of those are good for my year list.† 84 of the species I have seen on the trip are lifers.† My spreadsheet had indicated 85 lifers for the trip, I think, so that number has been almost reached.
Thatís it for today, folks.† Time for me to get this off and get some dinner in me.
Thursday, May 3
I slept well last night, but only for about 6 Ĺ hours, which is short for me.† I felt fine all day today, though, so I guess I didnít need any more sleep.† I woke about 5:30, and when I couldnít get back to sleep, I got up about 6.† I was out of here by about 7:50, and I drove to High Island, to Boy Scout Woods, where The Drip with the grandstands is.
It was really dead there.† No birds and no people.† The crowds of people from two weeks ago are definitely not around any more, and there are also a lot fewer birds around, too.† The migrants have moved on, and they are setting up their little homes in the north somewhere now.† Some species migrate late, and that is one reason I planned to stay so long, to try to get some of the late migrants.
Last night and this morning, I had gone through my spreadsheets and worked up a list of birds to look for today, and where to go to look for them.† The list wasnít very long, and I wasnít very optimistic about finding anything today, but I was easy about it Ė I just wanted to ramble around and bird, taking some pictures along the way.† How was I to know that today was going to be a lucky day?
So, after checking out Boy Scout Woods, I went over to Smith Oaks.† There are some ponds at Smith Oaks, and a lot of water birds.† I had shots at Anhinga and Purple Gallinule there, and either would be a lifer.† I got there about 8:30, and it was already like being in a sauna with your clothes on.† But, I was determined to walk around and check the ponds.† I ran into three birders and asked if they had seen either of the two species I just mentioned.† They had seen a Purple Gallinule, but no Anhingas, which they had been looking for, too.
So, I trudged around in the heat and humidity, and took some pictures, but didnít see anything I needed.† Since I havenít shown one since the beginning of the trip, and since they are so colorful, here is a picture of a Roseate Spoonbill for your enjoyment.† In my mind, I keep calling them flamingos, I guess because of the color.
Next I have an experiment.† Here is a video of some Roseate Spoonbills, if you are interested.† The video is on YouTube, and Iíll give you the link in a minute.† Just click the link, and you should get YouTube and the particular video of Roseate Spoonbills.† For maximum enjoyment, select the highest resolution and make it full screen, with the controls on the bottom right, under the video.† Here is the link ( I hope ).† http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3cibgPmDSQ&feature=g-upl
Iíd be interested to hear whether that did or did not work for anyone.† Send me a quick email and let me know, so Iíll know if the experiment succeeded.
Here is a picture of a Snowy Egret, with its crest up.
So, eventually the heat got to me, and I returned to my car.† Before I left, though, I decided to take 10 or 15 minutes and walk in the woods, to Donís Drip, just to see if I got lucky.† I found my way to Donís Drip (not so easy, but I got there), and sat in the shade for 5 or 10 minutes.† Nothing was going on, and I was about ready to leave, when a little bird flew in.† It turned out to be one of the four possible warblers that I still needed, a female BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER (lifer).† I was amazed.† Talk about being lucky.† I just happened to be there at the right time.† I even got three marginal pictures.† Here is the best of them.† The bird was wet, having just had a bath.
So, I was off to a great start, and I returned to my car, to move on to my next destination.† As I was getting into my car, though, I noticed a hawk high in the sky above.† I managed a picture, but it isnít conclusive.† I think it might have been a Swainsonís Hawk, as my picture looks remarkably like a picture in one of my field guides of a juvenile light phase Swainsonís Hawk.† But, the picture is too poor, and Red-tailed Hawks have so many different plumages, that I just canít make the call.† So, I didnít count it as anything, but here is the picture, and if some expert wants to tell me what it was, that would be great.
My next destination was Anahuac NWR, the Skillern Tract.† I had been there a couple of times before, but both Anhinga and Purple Gallinule have been reported there in the last week, and I talked to a couple this morning who had seen a Purple Gallinule there yesterday.† There were also reports of Bobolinks there for the last several days, and that bird wasnít even on my radar any more, because I had given up on it.
When I got there, I played the Purple Gallinule call on my cell phone, but got no response.† I also never saw any of them, or any Anhingas either.† I got this nice picture of an Eastern Kingbird, though.† I saw them everywhere today.
There were several around, and I even saw one go to a nest and sit on it.† Here is a picture of the water channel that flows through there.† It was a pretty morning, despite the heat and humidity.
I walked around to various lookout points, including a boardwalk that overlooked some cattails.† That is where the Bobolinks had been reported, in the cattails.† I got very distant views of a little bird that I decided was probably a Dickcissel, which had also been reported there yesterday.† Then, just as I was on my way back to my car, I saw a little flock of about a half dozen birds fly in, and I had my BOBOLINK, a great year bird that I am unlikely to see anywhere else this year.† I tried for pictures, but they were just too far away.
So, I had two birds for my year list, on a day I wasnít at all sure I was going to see any at all.† An excellent start.†
On my way out of the Skillern Tract, I got some pictures of a lovely Dickcissel posing for me.† Here are two pictures, since I like that bird so much.
Next I drove to some flooded fields, where some birds I needed had been reported.† I found the fields, and my timing was perfect, as I picked up two birds for my year list at once.† I had HUDSONIAN GODWIT (lifer) and WILSONíS PHALAROPE, feeding right next to each other in the flooded field.† I got some pictures of the Phalaropes, but the pictures arenít good enough to show.† Here is one of the godwits, although it isnít anything to write home about either.
They look a lot like their cousins, Marbled Godwits, but there are several things I was able to note that convince me that these are Hudsonian Godwits.† Two more for my year list!† Outstanding!† They all flew away in a little while, and I drove farther up the road.† I found another field with several hundred shorebirds in it, but they were pretty far away.† There is just one more freshwater shorebird I need, and I doubt I would recognize it anyway, but I got out my scope and had a look.† I saw birds I couldnít identify, but nothing that I could count.† When I drove back by where the phalaropes and godwits had been, there were some godwits there again, but no sign of the phalaropes.† My timing had been just right again.
It was after noon by then, and I was hungry.† I drove to the main entrance of Anahuac NWR, where I knew there was a picnic table in the shade.† There I ate my humble lunch, ham and cheese sandwich, chips, cookies, and a Diet Coke.† You have to admit that Iím consistent, anyway.† While eating, I noted several Barn Swallows who had nests in the corners under the picnic shelter.† Here is a picture of a Barn Swallow at a mud nest.
After my lunch, I drove around the Shoveler Pond loop, there at Anahuac.† It was really striking to see how many fewer birds there were, compared to two weeks ago.† Migration is winding down fast, I guess.† I presume that is why the number of birders here is down so much, too.† It is also seems a lot hotter and more humid than two weeks ago, but I think that is just chance Ė it could have been a lot worse either time, or better.† The mosquitoes are a lot worse now, too.† I sprayed myself this morning at Boy Scout Woods, as they were attacking me right away.† The DEET worked, though, and I donít think I picked up any new bites today, although there might be one on the back of one of my hands.
As I approached Shoveler Pond, I had another surprise.† A large rail walked out onto the road.† I stopped and got a good look, but no pictures.† This bird was one of the two species I wrote about a couple of weeks Ė either a Clapper Rail or a King Rail.† They are very similar, and they hybridize, too, making it even harder.† That means that there are hybrid birds around, with characteristics of each species.† The expert who led the Yellow Rail Walk I went on had said that the Clapper Rails were near the saltwater of the bay, and the King Rails were inland, in the freshwater habitat.† He had named a cutoff point, saying that birds farther from the bay than that were most likely King Rails.† I had seen and gotten a picture of a rail a couple of weeks ago, but I was right at that cutoff point he had named, and I ended up deciding that I couldnít say which species it was.† I saw and got pictures of two Clapper Rails right at the edge of the bay, but had not seen anything I could confidently call a King Rail.† Besides the habitat (freshwater versus saltwater), the King Rail has a whiter throat, they say, although the pictures in my field guide donít really show that.† Anyway, the one that walked across the road today definitely had a white throat, and it was definitely in the freshwater zone, so I called it a KING RAIL (lifer).† My numbers just kept going up for the day.
I got this picture of a Black-necked Stilt on that drive around Shoveler Pond.† I have seen them everywhere, but I donít think I have shown a picture before.† They are a striking bird, and strangely graceful, despite those awkwardly long legs.
On the way out of Anahuac, there were a number of Dickcissels on wires, and this one on a snag that was singing away.
I was planning to quit early today, so I could catch up with some things, but I decided to stop one more time at the Skillern Tract, since I had to go right by there.† I played my Purple Gallinule calls again on my cell phone app, and this time I actually got a response.† A bird answered, and even I could tell it was the same call.† I looked for it, but it was in some very thick vegetation, and I couldnít see anything.† A little later, I heard it again, or maybe a different bird.† So I played my calls again.† Eventually, I got a third response, but I couldnít see the bird.†
In the meantime, in the middle of all that a couple of Green Herons flew in.† It was interesting because one of them stood very upright, which is uncharacteristic of Green Heron.† Normally, they are hunched over and you canít even see how long their neck is.† Here is a picture of the upright one.
Here is the other one, in the pose you usually see them in.† You wouldnít think they could tuck all that neck in so effectively.
The gallinule called again, and I kept searching.† I had been looking at the edge of the water, since I expected it to be swimming if it did show up, but then I noticed some movement in the reeds, and the bird showed up, climbing right up onto the reeds, bending them over.† I got a good look at it, to confirm PURPLE GALLINULE (lifer) for my lists, and then I got off three pictures before it went away again.† Here is the best one.† Not great, but it shows the bird.† My persistence had paid off.
It is closely related to the Common Gallinule, which used to be called the Common Moorhen.† The colors are different, and the Purple Gallinule has that light blue disc on its forehead.† It was nice that my picture showed that disc.
So, that was six birds for the day, and it was fast approaching three oíclock.† I had gone the places I had planned on today, and I was hot and ready for some a/c and a shower (not to mention some beer).
Of the six birds I saw today for my trip list, all six were also good for my year list, and four of them were lifers.† A truly outstanding day, at this stage of the trip.
I have a couple of sets of numbers that are slightly different for my expectations going in, as I kept updating my estimates, but the official numbers and the current standings are these:
On the trip so far, Iíve seen 251 species, and my expectation was 258.† I have added 173 to my year list, and my expectation was 175.† And, finally, I have seen 88 lifers, when my expectation was 85.† So, with one and a half days to go, my estimates are turning out to be very damn close.
I have a plan for tomorrow, to go to a couple of places I havenít been before.† There are two species that are a decent chance there, with slimmer possibilities for some others.† I am hopeful, but we will see.† One of the ones Iím going for is a genuine rarity, maybe the first Texas record for this Central American and South American bird.† People have been seeing the bird for a couple of weeks now, and I have been hoping it would stick around until I got back here.† I put up a post on the TexBirds mailing list this morning, asking for specific directions on how to find the bird, as well as asking if it was still there.† Two people replied that they saw it today, and four people gave me very specific directions on how to find it.† More about it tomorrow, if I get lucky and see it.
So, the trip is truly winding down now.† Iím thinking of home things, while still trying to figure out what else I can look for here.† I hope I have success to report tomorrow.
Friday, May 4
Part 1.† My report today comes in two parts.† Iím running late tonight. †Iím pretty sure I can get half of the day done, but Part 2 might not come until tomorrow or even Sunday.
So, I was up at about 6:40 this morning, and out of here shortly after 8.† I gassed up the car and headed east, driving about an hour to get to Sabine Woods, right near the Texas - Louisiana border, almost on the gulf coast.† It is a well known preserve, and I hadnít visited it yet.† In addition to being a new birding site for me, there was the attraction of the rarity I mentioned yesterday.† I was right about it being a first Texas record, but more importantly by far, it is a first US record of this South American bird.† Some people think it must be an escapee from a cage or else it was ďship assistedĒ, meaning it came here on a ship.† Sabine Woods is close to Port Arthur, which a big oil port, and Iím sure many big ships travel from the Brazil offshore oil fields to Port Arthur.† There are committees who rule on such things, but it takes many months for them to make a ruling.† I expect it will not be counted as a legitimate record, just because it is so unlikely that a bird that doesnít migrate would end up so far from its own range.† Nonetheless, I am not so fastidious, and I was willing to count it if I could see it.† Nobody seems to be disputing the identity of the bird, only its provenance.† In addition to the rarity, there are at least three other birds I needed that are seen at Sabine Woods, in addition to the possibility of seeing one of the several warblers I still needed.
So, when I got there, I put my five bucks in an envelope in the donation box, as is requested, and went looking for the rarity.† There were two young guys there, doing the same, and they had already seen it.† I soon found the TROPICAL MOCKINGBIRD (lifer).† Here is a picture of the bird.
It was singing up a storm, and I could see how someone might want to keep one in a cage, to listen to it sing.† It looks somewhat like our Northern Mockingbird, except the wings and tail are black.† There is white on the end of the tail, too, which you canít see in my picture, but I saw it when it flew.† This bird has seemingly taken up with a Northern Mockingbird, and they seem to have a nest.† Next year there might be some confusing hybrid mockingbirds around the area.† I understand that when it was first found, about two weeks ago, there were dozens of birders there each day, to see it.† I think that if people really believed the record would be accepted, there would be even more, but I think most people assume it will not be accepted.† It goes on my list, though.
So, having seen the rarity, I moved on into the woods, to see what else I could see.† The first thing I noticed was the annoying flies.† Make that extremely annoying flies.† I thought they were bees of some kind at first, but later I was told they are deer flies.† Here is what Wikipedia says about deer flies: ďÖWhen feeding, females use knife-like mandibles and maxillae to make a cross-shaped incision and then lap up the blood. Their bite can be extremely painful, and allergic reaction from the saliva of the fly can result in further discomfort and health concerns. Pain and itch are the most common symptomsÖĒ† Sounds pretty nasty to me.† After a while, I discovered that if I moved slowly or stopped moving, they were fewer of them around me.† They must be attracted to motion or something.† When I stopped completely, they didnít bother me.† But, when I was trying to get away from them and waving my hands around, shooing them away, they were fierce.† I had sprayed my arms and neck area with DEET when I first arrived, because there were mosquitoes, too, but the DEET didnít seem to faze the flies at all.† So, far, I donít see or feel any bites, but at the time, I could feel a sting if I let one settle on me for too long.† It was a bummer to see a bird and have to endure the damn flies while you got your binoculars on the bird.† When I was moving around, it was typical to have at least a half dozen of them around my face.
I had read that there was a drip, where warblers and other migrants would come in, and I found it.† When I sat there, in the shade (blessedly, as it was as hot and humid as a sauna), the flies didnít bother me.† I was only a little concerned about the five foot alligator in the pond behind me; he seemed to be ignoring me.† I got a few pictures of birds that came to the drip.† Here is a warbler called a Commoin Yellowthroat.† This is a male, which is what I am used to seeing.† This afternoon I saw a female for the first time that I am aware of, and she is much plainer, with only a yellow throat and undertail coverts to identify her with.
Gray Catbirds are very common here, especially around drips.† The local birders ignore them.† But, last year I was thrilled to see one for the first time, on my Montana trip, in Billings.† That was the only one I had ever seen before this trip, so I still enjoy seeing them.† Besides being gray, their two marks are a black cap and reddish-brown feathers under the tail.† Here is a picture of a Gray Catbird that shows both of those marks.
After a while, I wandered around some more, although the flies were again very annoying.† I saw a flycatcher that I couldnít identify (I have mentioned before how difficult flycatcher ID can be).† I got some pictures, and still couldnít identify it tonight, with the pictures and my field guides.† I am going to publish two pictures here in case someday Iím a good enough birder to identify it, or in case some expert reads this and tips me off.† Here is the unknown flycatcher.
At one point, the flies almost drove me away, but I persisted.† I ran into the two young guys I had seen when I arrived, and they had seen a lot more stuff than I had.† In fact, where they were standing when I found them (they had also discovered that if you stood still or moved very slowly, the flies didnít seem to be nearly as bothersome), we saw several good birds in a few minutes.† Several species of warblers, which I donít remember now, except there was nothing new for me.† We chatted, and they moved on after a while.† I asked if they minded if I tagged along, and they said that was fine.† I told them what I wanted to see, and they helped me find my other target species there, RED-BELLIED WOODPECKER.† They had seen one earlier, and they could recoginize the call. †They ended up leading me to views of two of them.† Both were too far away for pictures, but I had good binocular views of them.† They had seen another bird I needed, too, but we couldnít relocate it.
After a while, I needed to sit in the shade again, so I thanked them and went back to the drip.† I didnít see anything new, but it was nice to sit in the shade, cool down a little and take some pictures.
Here is a Brown Thrasher.
This is a female Baltimore Oriole, I think.
A Common Grackle came in to the water and had a bath, and the sun shone on him to show his irridescense ( I guess I spelled that correctly, as Word accepted it.† Amazing.† Actually, spell check seems to be broken suddenly, I now realize.† I have no idea why, or what to do to get it back).† Normally they just appear black, but the sun brought out the color on this one.† The speckles in the picture are water droplets, as he had just shaken off the water from his bath.
Another birder came along, or a photographer, I suppose, since he had a camera but no binoculars.† We talked and eventually we both were ready for our lunches, so we ate together at the picnic table in the sign-in area.† It was sure interesting how the flies didnít bother you when you were staying still, but came after you like mad when you were walking around.† I guess I must have been at Sabine Woods for about three hours altogether.† I had been planning to visit Sea Rim State Park, which is just down the road from Sabine Woods, but after talking to a couple of people, I decided to skip it.† Evidently, the area that my book talked about being good had been wiped out by one of the hurricanes, and there isnít any good birding there any more.
So, that was the end of my morning, and this is the end of Part 1 of my report for today.† I will send this off, and then get my dinner.† Part 2 will follow when I get it done.† Meanwhile, I need to figure out why my spell check isnít working as I type.† I have the proper option selected, and it worked fine until several paragraphs ago.† Now it doesnít correct anything or show my mistakes.† Bummer.† I rely on it, as Iím not a very good typist.† Part 2 to follow whenever.
Part 2.† Saturday afternoon.† I have to leave for the airport in just over two hours, and I still need to pack up my stuff, but Iíll see if I can write my report for yesterday afternoon.† Rebooting my computer seems to have fixed my problem with Wordís spell check.
After my lunch at Sabine Woods (pronounced sah-BEANí I discovered this morning) I drove back to High Island, arriving there about 1:30.† I stopped at Hooks Woods, a small reserve I had not checked out before, but nothing was going on there.† It was a nice layout, but no birds and no people.
Next, I visited Boy Scout Woods, where the grandstands are.† Again, almost no people and almost no birds.† I moved on to Smith Oaks, to the drip there, which is called Donís Drip.† I belatedly tried the alternate parking lot and discovered that it is much closer to the drip, which I appreciated, since it was bloody hot and humid again.† I got there about 2:30, I think.† I slathered myself up with DEET again, as the mozzies were hovering around.† No one was there, but there was a bench in the shade, so I sat down and waited.† A few birds trickled in from time to time, so I stayed.† Here is another picture of what I think is a female Baltimore Oriole.
My field guide says that there is a variable amount of black on the head of female Baltimore Orioles, and I have seen a range of them.† Here is a male Baltimore Oriole, I think.
A little brownish bird flew in and took a bath, and I couldnít identify it.† I got some pictures, and when some people showed up a little later, I showed it to a couple of them.† One woman identified it for me as a female Indigo Bunting.† I showed pictures of them before, I think, but I had forgotten.† Here is my favorite of the pictures of the female Indigo Bunting.
More people kept showing up, and so did more birds.† By 3:30, there were a dozen people there, and some migrants were coming to the water.† The next 40 minutes or so after that were amazing.† It kind of built up, but at one point there were at least a dozen birds at the water or in the trees and bushes around it, waiting their turn.† I counted seven species of warbler, a vireo, two species of oriole, and a couple of other birds.† I was taking pictures and loving it.† By 4 oíclock, there were 25 to 30 people there, enjoying the show.† It had been very good at that drip the day before, between about 4 and about 7, so thatís why so many people were there.† I was sitting next to a very knowledgeable woman, and she was quietly identifying birds and answering my questions.† Here are the best of my pictures.† They arenít great, but you have to consider the limitations of distance, lighting, and the way that warblers rarely stay still for long.
Here is a beautiful male Black-throated Blue Warbler that briefly came in twice, but never went to the water.
Here are two pictures of a female Northern Parula.
Here is a Cape May Warbler that thrilled everyone, as they are not very common.
And then, for me the highlight of the show, a couple of BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS (lifer) appeared.† I even got a picture, of sorts.
That is the female, I think, but a male was there, too.† The males have more of the bay color on them, both on their heads and on their breasts.† It was one of the 3 or 4 warblers I hadnít seen, so I was quite pleased.
I got this colorful picture that captures the excitement of so many birds at once.† The red and black bird is a male Scarlet Tanager, the yellow one is a Yellow Warbler, and the other is one of the female Northern Parulas.
Here is a closer shot of a male Yellow Warbler.† The males have those red streaks on their breasts.
The bird taking a bath in that picture is one of the several Tennessee Warblers that were part of the show.
Another popular warbler put in an appearance, too, a Chestnut-sided Warbler.
Not a good picture, but it shows the chestnut streak on the side of the breast, the yellow on the wing, and the yellow cap.
Finally, in the distance, behind the drip, a Blue Jay flew through, and I managed a distant picture.† It doesnít really do justice to the bird, because it is kind of hunched down, but it is the best I have been able to get of a Blue Jay, I think.
Oh yes, in the middle of that flurry of birds at the drip, the woman next to me mentioned a hawk she had spotted above.† I got my binoculars on it and managed to add SWAINSONíS HAWK to my year list.† That is what I thought the bird I showed a picture of yesterday was, but I was unable to make the call, as it was so high in the sky.† This time I had a good look, and that is what this one was.† I was very surprised to pick up a hawk, while sitting at a drip, watching warblers.
I had intended to leave at 4, so I would have time to process my pictures and write my report, but I couldnít leave in the middle of a show like that.† Finally, it slowed down a lot, and I got up and left at about 4:40.† I had had one of the 8 seats for the show, with everyone else either standing or sitting on the ground in the front.† I wonder how it was determined who got my seat when I left.
So, I was running late, and when I got back to my motel, I went to the front desk and paid 31 bucks, with tax, to be able to check out as late as 3:30 today, instead of by noon.† I wanted a last final chance to try to get another bird or two today, and my flight doesnít leave until 6:45 tonight.† Iím about an hour and fifteen minutes from the airport, and Iíll have to gas up and turn in my rental car.
You will have to wait until tomorrow to see if I managed to add anything new today, and to see any more pictures, if I got any today.† Now I need to get this off, pack everything up, shower, load the car, and head for the airport.† I hate the whole experience of flying these days, but I guess it beats the hell out of walking home.
Oh yes, the count.† I got a total of 4 more birds on Friday, bringing me to a total of 255 for the trip.† All four of those added to my year list, bringing the total of year birds on the trip to 177.† Two of Fridayís birds were lifers, to bring me to a total of 90 lifers on the trip.† The numbers were looking good, and spookily close to my pre-trip estimates.† More on the numbers in my final report, which I plan to write from home tomorrow (Sunday).
Saturday, May 5
So, after my big blowoff day on Friday, with so many bird pictures, my half day of birding on Saturday was pretty tame.† Iím writing this on Sunday, at home, but I need to finish off the trip.
I didnít really have a very good plan for Saturday, but there were three things I wanted to do.† I wanted to spend a little time at a couple of the High Island reserves, to see if some warblers came in the night before and stuck around, I wanted to cruise the coast a bit looking for three or four possible birds I could use, and I wanted to visit the flooded rice fields southwest of Winnie in search of a sandpiper I still needed.
My first stop was High Island, but both main reserves were slow, not many people and even fewer birds.† So, I moved on to the coast and drove along the unpaved road that runs right along the beach, east of where the road from High Island hits the coast.† There werenít very many birds, but I did see a large gull and figured it had to be a Herring Gull, one I needed still for my trip list, although I had seen them in California earlier in the year.† Still, a trip bird was a good thing.
I moved on down to Rollover Pass and actually saw three more Herring Gulls.† I got this distant picture of one of them, next to a couple of the most common gull on the Texas coast, Laughing Gull.† The large brown gull is an immature Herring Gull, and the black-headed gulls are Laughing Gulls.
Most gulls take three or four years to get their adult plumage, and each year along the way they look different.† I donít make any attempt to keep track of the immature ones, but Herring Gull is the only large gull that is on that coast at this time of year.† Herring Gull takes four years to reach its adult plumage.† This looks like a one year old bird to me, but as I said, I donít try to keep track of immature gull plumages Ė there are just too many of them to bother.
While taking distant pictures of the gulls, I got this one that happened to catch a Black Skimmer in flight.† I wish it werenít so distant, but I like the Black Skimmer, so Iím making it part of my report.
Rollover Pass is a cut across the Bolivar Peninsula, originally put in as a shortcut for ships that wanted to cross between the Gulf and the bay inside the peninsula.† Now it is a very popular fishing spot.† I suppose that when the tide is running, the fish get funneled through there.† On a spring Saturday, the banks of the cut were lined with people fishing.† Here is a picture, looking from the bay side.
Here is a closer view, where you can see the people on the far bank.
There are people on the Gulf side, too, and others who wade out into the bay.
The tides are very minimal along that coast, for some reason.† The difference between a high tide and a low tide is usually less than a foot.
I drove on west of Rollover Pass and went down Tuna Road, a site for Nelsonís Sparrow, which would have been a lifer for me.† I played the call, and I squeaked and pished, as the books instruct.† Finally I did see a sparrow-like bird perch on a bush, but it was too far away to tell the species with my binoculars.† I was afraid it wouldnít stay there long enough for me to get my scope out and set it up, so I took a bunch of pictures, hoping they might allow me to identify the bird.† Today I looked at them, and it turned out to be a Seaside Sparrow, the other sparrow that lives in that habitat.† Too bad.† Here is the very distant picture that I think shows it was a Seaside Sparrow.
As a picture, it isnít worth showing, but I am including it because it is a good example of how I use my camera as a tool in bird identification.† My binoculars are only 10X, that is, they magnify things 10 times.† My camera magnifies them about 22 times, and then I can crop out the center of the picture to effectively get a lot closer yet.† I could barely see that bird with my naked eyes, and it was just a spot in my camera viewfinder.† I took a number of pictures, but shooting at such a high zoom while hand-holding the camera introduces motion blur into the picture, in one degree or another.† This one was far better than any of the others in that regard Ė the others had too much motion blur (from my hands shaking) to even see the birdís face.† A key part of using the camera in this way is to take lots and lots of pictures, in the hope that maybe one will happen to have less blur.† It has been interesting to learn various little tricks like this over the years, shooting birds.
The morning was waning, and I wanted to be back at Boy Scout Woods at noon, in case the noon free shorebird tour was going to visit the flooded fields that day.† They kind of alternate between going to the fields (and then on to Anahuac NWR) and going down the Bolivar Peninsula.† I wanted to look for the sandpiper I needed, but I was afraid I wouldnít be able to identify it by myself, so I was hoping to go out there with a guide.
Back at High Island, I asked, and was told that they were going down the peninsula today, not to the fields.† Bummer.† That left me on my own.† The fields are more or less on the way back to Winnie from High Island, though, so I decided to swing by and see what I could see.
By the way, I donít know if I ever made it clear, but High Island is a town, not an island.† It is located on a salt dome that is raised about 30 or 40 feet above the surrounding flat coastal land.† For some reason, there are mixed oak and deciduous woods on the dome, and they attract the migrant birds when they hit the shore after flying all night from Central America, across the Gulf of Mexico.† When the winds come from the south, as usual, most of the birds fly right on over High Island and land inland some distance, although there are always some that stop there.† When the winds come from the north, though, it slows the birds down, and then there can be what they call a ďfall outĒ and thousands of birds end up in High Island and other migrant traps along the coast.† This year the winds came from the south for almost the entire migration period, so as far as I can tell it was kind of a mediocre season there.† I had a great couple of hours one morning early in the trip, and that little flurry on Friday, but the rest of the time, it was pretty slow, as I understand it.
Anyway, back to Saturday, I ate my ham and cheese sandwich and chips in the car, as I drove to the flooded fields.† As I approached the place where I had seen Hudsonian Godwits and Wilsonís Phalaropes a couple of days earlier, I saw large flocks of shorebirds flying around, so I pulled over to see where they would land.† There was another car there already, and I suspected they were doing the same thing.† Eventually the birds flew off into the distance, and the car ahead of me moved on down the field.† I did the same, and there was a handful of birds at the end of the field, pretty close to the road.† The other car stopped, and so did I.
Most of the birds were uninteresting to me, but I did see one that seemed to meet the requirements of the sandpiper I was looking for.† I got out my scope and set it up and took a closer look.† Yes, it had the right bill size and shape, the streaking on the neck that extended onto the flanks a little, the white eyebrow line, the reddish brown color to the back, and it was about the right size.† I tried to determine if the wings were longer than the tail, but I couldnít really tell that.† Eventually I convinced myself that they (there turned out to be three of them) were WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPERS (lifer).† I saw enough of the field marks to believe it.†
In the meantime, two women had gotten out of the car in front of me and they were also looking through a scope in that same direction.† So, I walked up there and asked what they were seeing.† It turned out that they were looking at the same birds I had been looking at, and they had narrowed it down to either White-rumped Sandpiper or the very similar Bairdís Sandpiper.† I mentioned that White-rumped have been reported at that location in the last few days, with no reports of Bairdís.† I also pointed out that Bairdís supposedly has no reddish tint to the brown on its back, and these birds were definitely reddish-brown.† They agreed, and right about then, one of the women, who was looking through their scope said that one of the birds had stretched, and the rump was definitely white, which clinched it all around.† I was pretty sure of my call before I talked to them, but it was nice to find that two other people had independently reached the same conclusion.
I took a lot of pictures, but they are too distant and have too much blur in them to be worth showing.† I think a couple of them do show the white rump, though, and they show the bill size and shape, which is another key feature of this bird.† I had been afraid that I wouldnít be able to identify a White-rumped Sandpiper if I saw one, so I was quite pleased.† For the day, I had two birds for my trip list and one of them was a lifer.
So, with that final bird, I headed back to my motel in Winnie.† I was early enough that I was able to knock out part 2 of Fridayís report, and then I showered, packed up, and headed for the airport.† My flight was delayed 45 minutes, due to the plane being late coming in, but it was a smooth flight home, and it was great to sleep in my own bed last night.
On the plane, I started the tedious process of checking my numbers.† I always have mistakes of one kind or another on a long trip.† I might count the same species on two different days because I forgot I had already seen it, I might add up the numbers wrong, and there are other mistakes that get made, too.† On the plane, I marked up a paper copy of my Texas spreadsheet, but only for the lifers.† When I was done, it didnít match the totals in my little notebook.† Not surprising.† I worked on it while on the plane, and then again here at home this morning, and I ended up reconciling them, but it reduced my number of lifers by two, I think, when all was said and done.† I had marked them as lifers in my notebook and reported them in my reports, but I was mistaken and two species that I thought were lifers actually werenít, Great Crested Flycatcher and Tufted Titmouse.
I found other mistakes, too.† On April 25, I made an addition error and added four too many species to my trip total.† As a result, I have had to reduce my total by 4.† Iím pretty sure that the numbers below are correct now.† On the other hand, near the beginning of the trip, I underreported the number of birds added to my year list, by 2, so that number has gone up.† I think the numbers below are correct now.
I saw 253 different species on the trip.† My pre-trip spreadsheet had indicated 257.0.† Very close, but a little short.
180 of those 253 species added to my year list.† My pre-trip spreadsheet had indicated 175.9.† So, again extremely close, but I beat the projection by a little.
My final lifer count for the trip was 89, and my pre-trip spreadsheet indicated 84.6.† So, I exceeded my expectations on lifers.
As for the year, I now stand at 396 species seen and 105 of those are lifers.† After my big Arizona/Nevada/Oregon trip last year, at about this same time, I had only 340 species and 94 of those were lifers.† So, Iím running well ahead of last yearís pace.† Like last year, things will really slow down now.† Iíve seen the easy ones, and until I go to Hawaii in October or November, there wonít be any more big number days.† But, I would like to make a couple of little trips around Washington, and I have a short trip to Sacramento planned at the end of May.† I could pick up a few species on our annual Yosemite trip in June.† Iíll put out a report whenever I get a new bird for the year list, tough, so watch your inbox.
Tuesday, May 15
Iím ba-a-a-a-a-ck.† Yes, Iím here again with a report.
I decided to make a little three day, two night, trip across the Cascade Mountains, which are just east of where I live.† Iím staying for two nights on the outskirts of Ellensburg.† This morning I was out of the house by 9, and my first stop was Hyak, which is just across Snoqualmie Pass (elevation about 3000 feet) from home.† Last year I had read about a house there that has a multitude of hummingbird feeders, and 99% of the hummers are a species I still needed this year.† So, I got off the freeway and checked out the house, and sure enough, they still have a dozen hummingbird feeders, and there was a constant stream of RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS to them.† There were usually about 10 or 12 at the feeders at any one time.† So, having secured that ďgimmeĒ, I went on down the freeway into Eastern Washington, so see what else I could find.
My next stop was at Exit 78, Golf Course Road.† I hadnít ever stopped there before, but there were instructions in my book, A Birderís Guide to Washington (great book), to a place by the Yakima River.† The book mentioned two species that I needed for my year list, so I drove to the river and played the song of one of the birds.† What do you know?† I heard a couple of responses.† Even with my tin ears, I could recognize that the song was the same.† I saw one bird, but couldnít locate it, even though I knew which small tree it was in.† Then it flew to another tree, and I got a good look at lovely WARBLING VIREO, a bird I have only identified a couple of times before, and one I wasnít at all sure I would get this year.† No pictures, sorry.
I tired the song of the other bird, a warbler, but got no response.† Next I moved down the freeway to Exit 80 and stopped at Bullfrog Pond.† Last year I got Veery there, but it is still a bit too early this year.† I walked the road to the Cle Elum River, but didnít see anything interesting.† It was a lovely day, and here is a picture of the river, anyway.
After that, I drove on into Cle Elum and went to what is called Railroad Ponds by birders.† I didnít pick up anything for my year list, but I got pictures of Tree Swallows.† There were also a lot of Northern Rough-winged Swallows around.† Here is a Tree Swallow in a nest hole in a snag.
And here is another one, presumably a female, since it has so little color.
There was also an Osprey on a nest platform, and I got this distant picture.
People build these nest platforms, so the Ospreys donít build their nests on power line towers, which were nearby.† A nest on a power line tower can cause a short, and so it is to be avoided if possible.† This nest platform was on a pole that was probably 80 to 100 feet high.
Next I drove through the town of Cle Elum and then up toward Blewett Pass on Highway 97.† I skipped the Teanaway Valley, which maybe was a mistake, but I was looking for a place to eat my humble lunch by then.† I stopped at the Mineral Springs Resort, which is across the road from the Mineral Springs campground, where I intended to have my lunch.† The attraction at the resort (which is actually only a restaurant, as far as I could tell), is the hummingbird feeders.† I had read a report that another hummingbird I needed showed up there.
The place appeared to be deserted - I guess they are only open for dinner - but I saw the feeders.† There were hummingbirds coming to the feeders, and I observed them and took some pictures.† I only ever saw females, and the females of the two possible species in that area look very much alike.† I didnít make the call until I had seen my pictures tonight, but I ended up deciding that I had seen at least one female CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD, a great bird to get for my year list.† The other possible species there is Rufous Hummingbird.† As I said, the differences are small, but with my pictures, I feel pretty confident that I can say I saw both species.† Here is a picture of what I believe is a female Calliope Hummingbird.
I have other pictures that show the key markings better, but this is the picture I like best.† Here is a picture of what I believe is a female Rufous Hummingbird.
There are three main differences between the two species that I think I can see in my pictures, but the most obvious one is the white collar that this bird has.
So, eventually I got enough pictures, and I went across the road to the campground to eat my lunch.† It was weird, as the signs for the campground were covered with black plastic bags.† The bridge across the creek to the campground had a couple of orange cones in the road, but they were at the sides.† So, I drove in and had my ham and cheese sandwich (what else?), Fritos and Diet Coke.† There was a guy there doing some work that seemed to involve plastic water lines.† I realized eventually that the campground was actually closed, and the guy working had opened the gate across the access road, so he could work.† When I came back that way later, the cones were blocking the bridge, and there was a locked gate across it.† As it turned out, I didnít see any birds there anyway, but it was a nice place to sit at a picnic table and eat my lunch.
After lunch, I moved on up the road toward Blewett Pass.† The next campground had a big closed sign on it, so that made it clear that the one I had eaten at was probably closed, too.† My next planned stop was right at the summit of Blewett Pass, at 4100 feet.† I took a side road up higher, and got to the trailhead for the Swauk Forest Discovery Trail.† Here is a picture of the trailhead.
The trail is a 2.75 mile loop, but I wasnít anywhere near ready to walk that far, so I walked up each side for a quarter of a mile or so.† I played the call of a woodpecker I want to see on this trip, and there was a response of sorts, and it sounded sort of like part of the woodpecker call.† As it turned out, I located the birds, and they werenít woodpeckers at all, but they were a species that I needed for my year list, CASSINíS FINCH.† There were five of them in the top of a dead tree.† Here is a distant picture of one of the two males.
There werenít many birds around, as usual in a mountain forest.† I did see a nice Townsendís Warbler, not one I need, but a nice one to see.† I also saw a couple of Gray Jays, again not one I needed, but I got a picture of one of them.
Gray Jay isnít a bird I have seen very many times in my life, so I was glad to see them.† Same with the pair of EVENING GROSBEAKS I saw.† I donít see them most years, so it was nice, and whatís more, they were ones I needed for my year list.† Here is the female.
The male is more strongly marked.
I also got this picture of a cute little chipmunk.
I saw 2 or 3 more species there, too, but nothing else I needed and nothing else I got pictures of.
After that, I headed back down Highway 97 toward Ellensburg and my lonely room in the Cedars Inn, formerly the I-90 Inn.† I turned off on the old highway to Old Blewett Pass, but didnít add anything there or get any pictures worth showing.† There was one bird on a distant snag, and I actually got my scope out and got a good look at it.† I think it was a Western Kingbird, although I wouldnít have expected to see one there, at 4000 feet.† This is the extreme northern end of their range.
I stopped at the Mineral Springs Resort (restaurant) again, but no hummingbirds were going to the feeders so I moved on.† I took a little side road on my way into Ellensburg, and I was glad I did.† I didnít pick up anything for my year list, but I saw a few birds and I got some pictures I like.† Here are a couple of pictures of a Western Meadowlark.† The first one is a sort of conventional shot, which shows the yellow breast with black necklace.
Here is another one I like because the bird ducked its head and you can see the stripes on the head.
There were bluebird nest boxes along that little road, and I got this picture of a female Mountain Bluebird peeking out of a nest box.
Here she is on a fence post.
Here is a picture of a male Mountain Bluebird, probably that femaleís mate.
Iíve written before about what a sucker I am for blue colored birds, and I love the shade of blue that the male Mountain Bluebird shows.† In comparison, here is a picture of a male Western Bluebird, just down the road.
The shade of blue is deeper, although these pictures might not really show that, and the breast of the Western Bluebird is a rusty red brown color.† You can just see some of that color on the flanks of this bird.† If you saw the front, it would be all rusty red-brown on the breast.† The male Mountain Bluebird has a small white eye ring, too, which my picture only barely shows.
So, that was the end of my birding for the day.† I drove on in to my motel, arriving about 4:30.† Tomorrow I plan to do a loop up into the hills, coming out down the road in Yakima, and then coming back to Ellensburg up the Yakima Canyon, rather than via the freeway, which is how I have always done it in the past.† Everyplace I go tomorrow will be new for me, and Iím looking forward to it.† Some of it is unpaved, and most of it is pretty remote, but I have my 4WD Trailblazer now, not the little Chevvy Malibu I had in Texas, so I should be fine.† There is supposed to be a creek crossing on one of the unpaved roads, and Iím a little apprehensive about that, after my experience in Oregon with the puddle, earlier in the year.
I got five more birds for my year list today, which is excellent.† When I set out on this trip, I was expecting 6 or 8 species in the three days, and 10 would be great.† Five is an excellent start.† Weíll see if I can add to that tomorrow.† Today I went over 400 for the year, and now Iím at 401, of which 105 are lifers.
Wednesday, May 16
I was up at about 6:15 this morning, and I was out of here by 7:30.† That is pretty early for the Old Rambler.† I had to stop at Subway, across the street, to get a tuna sandwich, but then I hit the road on my birding adventure for the day.† I headed up Umtanum Road, into the hills.† As I left the farmlands of the valley, I saw a little group of four California Quail scurry across the road, an auspicious sign for the day.† I drove on up Umtanum Road until the pavement ran out, after Durr Road.† It was still a very nicely graded gravel road, though, so it was no problem.† I was going through sagebrush country, and I had my eye out for three sagebrush species I hope to see on this trip, although my main focus on them will be tomorrow.
There were lots of bluebirds along the way, both Mountain Bluebirds and Western Bluebirds.† There were bluebird nest boxes all along the road, and many of them seemed to be occupied.† Yesterday I showed the male and female Mountain Bluebirds and the male Western Bluebird, so just to complete the set (and also to show off a picture I like), here is a female Western Bluebird.
She has more color on her than the female Mountain Bluebird, and doesnít have the prominent eye ring.† She also has some reddish-brown on her breast.
A little ways down the road from there, I saw a pair of kestrels.† Here is the male American Kestrel.
I was keeping an eye on the sagebrush and the fence lines, and I spotted a SAGE THRASHER on a bush a little distance off the road.† It was singing away, and stayed there for quite a while.† Here is its picture.
The next bird of interest was a flycatcher sitting off the road a bit. †I got pictures, and a good look, and I decided it was a WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE, my second year bird of the day, and it wasnít even 8 AM yet.† A great start.† Here is a picture of that one.
Flycatchers are really difficult for me to identify, but I have other pictures of this bird, and I believe it is a Western Wood-Pewee.
Eventually I came to the parking area for the Umtanum Creek trail.† The trail runs along the creek for about 8 miles, down into the Yakima River Canyon.† I actually walked the lower part of the trail at the end of my day, details to follow.† This morning, though, I walked for about a half hour down the creek.† I stopped a lot, to look at and take pictures of birds, so I figure I may have gone about half or three-quarters of a mile down the creek.† I saw a few birds, and got some pictures.† Here is a Song Sparrow.† They are quite common, and birders usually ignore them.† We even have one that lives in our yard.† Nonetheless, it was nice to see one out in the wild.
I saw a nice male American Goldfinch, but didnít get a picture.† I met a couple of women on the trail, and then rain into them again a few times during the day, as they were pretty much following the same loop I was following.† There was a Northern Flicker and other birds, but the one that got my juices flowing was a lovely male RED-NAPED SAPSUCKER.† I have only seen that bird once or twice before in my life, so it was cool.† I ended up seeing two or three more today, which was interesting.† This first one cooperated for pictures, too.† Here was an early effort, when it was in a tree on a branch.
That is a nice frontal view of the perched bird, and here is a picture of the same bird when it was clinging to the trunk of a tree, which is more typical, I think.† I like the colors and the light in this picture.
I continued along Umtanum Road, which changes its name to North Wenas Road at some point along in there.† I went over Ellensburg Pass, which isnít marked in any way, and just on the other side, I saw a car stopped on the roadside.† It was the two women I had seen on the Umtanum Creek trail, so I stopped and asked what they were looking at.† It turned out to be a couple of LEWISíS WOODPECKERS, which was one I had especially wanted to see today.† If they hadnít been stopped there, I would probably not have seen them at all.† I tried for pictures, but they were a long distance away and strongly backlit by the cloudy bright sky.† It felt really good to have my fourth bird of the day, though, and before lunch, at that.
All along the roads, there are No Trespassing and No Hunting signs, on the fences and on every driveway, it seemed.† I spotted one driveway with a refreshing difference, though.† They didnít forbid hunting or trespassing, instead, this is what they forbade.
I spotted a pair of Bullockís Orioles along that stretch, good birds, although I had seen that species in Texas.† I came to the pavement again, and then it was time to take the rough unpaved road to Wenas Campground.† The road was actually not bad at all for the first mile, but then the county maintained road ended, and it got a lot rougher.† It wasnít a problem, though; I just had to go slowly, maybe ten miles an hour mostly, to keep from bottoming out.† The creek crossing I had read about was pretty tame, too.† There was one large puddle in the road, and it was maybe 6 or 8 inches deep, but I went through it just fine.† I had read that it had a hard bottom, and indeed it did.† Here is a picture from the other side, taken on my way back.
I had planned to eat my lunch at Wenas Campground, picturing myself sitting at a nice table in the shade.† Well, the campground turned out to be completely unimproved.† There was one small sign to tell you where you were, but nothing else other than some stone circles where people had had campfires in the past.† Here is a picture of the ďcampgroundĒ.
There were deciduous trees along the creek, and evergreens everywhere else, but with lots of open spaces, as you can see in the picture.† I wandered around for half an hour or so, but didnít see much of anything, let alone the two species I especially wanted to see there, which people have reported.† At one point, I walked down by the creek, and I saw a Downy Woodpecker, a couple of Stellerís Jays, and a bird I thought might have been a Western Tanager.† I guess I also saw a Chipping Sparrow as I walked around, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler.† So, there were a few birds, but I was feeling very disappointed, after having read so much about the birding at Wenas Campground.
Since there were no tables, I ate my Subway tuna sandwich and Fritos in the car.† As I finished, I saw a bird in a nearby tree, and it turned out to be a White-breasted Nuthatch, a good bird, even if I didnít need it for my year list.† Then there was a Mountain Chickadee in the same tree, interacting with the nuthatch.† I got some pictures of the chickadee, and this is the best of them.
Not inspiring, I know, but I think it is the first picture I have ever gotten of a Mountain Chickadee.† When the nuthatch and chickadee flew away, I noticed another bird a short distance away.† It was an interesting size and color, and when I got my binoculars on it, it was one of the two species I had especially wanted to see at Wenas Campground, a TOWNSENDíS SOLITAIRE.† This was only the second one I have ever seen, and I got pictures of it.† Oh joy, oh rapture!† Here is my best one of the Townsendís Solitaire.† It is a very plain bird, but with that prominent eye ring.
So, that redeemed Wenas Campground for me, and I headed back toward my motel, but with several places to stop at on the way.† As I left the campground and was driving over the bridge, I spotted another one for my year list, too.† BLACK-HEADED GROSBEAK.† I didnít get a picture of that one, but I got a picture of another one later.† It is a species that I will see a lot of in Yosemite this year, but now it is on my list for the year.
I stopped at the pullout for the entrance to Hardy Canyon, and I walked across the bridge over Wenas Creek and walked a little.† There werenít many birds, but I got this picture of a male Spotted Towhee.
I also got a good look at a male Western Tanager there.† I hadnít known that they lived this far north, as I have always seen them in California.† I didnít need it for my year list, as I had seen one at the Convention Center at South Padre Island in Texas, where the bird was well east of its usual range.
Back at the bridge, I got this picture of a male Black-headed Grosbeak.† The female flew through, too.
I also got a picture of a male Yellow Warbler there at the bridge.
There was a flycatcher at the bridge, too.† I have mentioned before how flycatchers can be very difficult to identify.† I watched this one off and on for 15 or 20 minutes, and got some pictures.† I eventually decided that it was a GRAY FLYCATCHER, a species I have only seen once before in my life.† There are arguments you could make that it was something else, but the compelling thing for me was the birdís behavior.† My field guide says that the only member flycatcher family that bobs its tail downward, especially when it first lands, is the Gray Flycatcher.† This bird did that repeatedly, so I am calling it a Gray Flycatcher.† I donít think that anything in my pictures says otherwise.† Here are two pictures of it, for any experts who want to weigh in.
I headed on down the Wenas Valley, and I saw a raptor perched on a pole.† It flew before I could get a picture, but I got a good look.† I wasnít sure what it was, but once it was in the air I could see it was a Swainsonís Hawk.† Here is a blurry picture that confirms that.† Taking pictures of birds overhead is not easy.† It wasnít a year bird because I had seen one in Texas, right at the end of my trip.
It was getting late by then, but the final leg of my loop today was up the Yakima River, though the Yakima Canyon, which runs from Yakima to Ellensburg.† It was the route of the old highway (and the railroad) before they put in the Interstate over Umtanum Ridge.† It was a nice drive, and I kept my eyes peeled for birds of interest.† There was one in particular I wanted to see there, Prairie Falcon.† I didnít see one or anything else for my list, as it turned out.† I stopped two or three places, and at one of them I walked a little loop through the trees along the river, but the only birds I saw were an American Robin (lots of those today), and a Belted Kingfisher by a pond.
Eventually I came to the place where there is a pedestrian suspension bridge over the river.† The parking area is a federal fee area, and the signage was confusing, but I decided that my Federal Old Farts pass was good enough that I didnít have to pay.† Most of the places I stopped today required a Discover Pass, which is a pass the state sells that gets you into all the state parks and wildlife lands.† I have one of those, wonder of wonders, so I was completely legal today as far as parking was concerned.† Here is a picture of the pedestrian bridge over the Yakima River, with Umtanum Canyon in the background.
The trail down Umtanum Creek that I walked on this morning ends here, 8 miles from where I was this morning.† I walked across the bridge and up the trail for half a mile or so, but didnít see anything much.† On my way back, where the trail goes under the railroad tracks on the other side of the river, I heard a train coming.† I stood there and watched it go by, counting 111 cars.† Here is a picture of it as it approached the bridge I had to go under.
Trains are big and powerful.† Standing right next to the tracks as one passes is interesting.
That was pretty much it for the birding today.† On the way into Ellensburg, though, there was an Osprey platform right by the road, and there was an osprey on it.† It was a lot closer than the one yesterday, so I stopped and got a picture.
I got back to my humble room just before 5 PM, which made a long day of birding for this old guy.† I walked more than usual, and I can feel it.† Amazingly, I got 7 more birds for my year list.† That makes 12 for the trip.† I wrote yesterday that I had seen four, but that was wrong, there were actually five yesterday.† So, that is 12 for the trip so far, with another day to go.† I wrote last night that 10 would be great for the trip, and now I am beyond great.† I expect to see three more tomorrow, but could come up short on that, or I could get lucky and get more.† Watch for a report to find out.
My year numbers are 408 species now, of which 105 are lifers.† This has turned out to be a very successful trip, both in numbers and in terms of enjoyment.† I enjoyed seeing new places today, and I ended up seeing about 44 species on the day, which is not bad at all, when you consider there were no water birds, no shorebirds, and no gulls or seabirds.† What a life!
Thursday, May 17
So, the last day of my little 3-day Eastern Washington trip.† The first two days were great and exceeded my expectations.† How would Day Three turn out?† I was hoping for three species, with chances for more.† Two would have been disappointing, but not surprising.
I was up and checked out by 8.† I picked up a ham and cheese sandwich at the local Subway, and I set out.† I drove through Ellensburg and east on the Old Vantage Highway, which I presume is the road that Interstate 90 replaced, going east.† My first targets for the day were a couple of sparrows that live in the sage habitat between Ellensburg and the Columbia River.† I had seen them there last year, and I hoped to do so again.
I got to my first destination, 1.7 miles beyond the crest of the road through the windfarm.† I walked up the dirt road and played the song of the bird I wanted to get there.† The first bird I saw was a Sage Thrasher, which I had seen yesterday.† This one posed so nicely, though, that Iím including two pictures of it, as I like the pictures.
Is he posing, or what?† I couldnít deny him his day in the sun, by including him in my report today.† Here is a frontal shot, a little later.
This is a species I have only seen 3 or 4 times before, so I still get excited when I see one.
Meanwhile, the sparrow I was looking for did respond to its song that I played on my cell phone.† Here is a picture of a BREWERíS SPARROW, a species I had only seen once before, last year at this same place.
I know, it looks like a sparrow, big deal.† I was very glad to see it, nonetheless, and glad to get a picture.† Here is a picture of the same bird (I think) a little later, singing its heart out from a distant bush.
After that, I moved on down the road to the next location, where I had seen the other sparrow last year.† Again, I played the song, and after a while, I saw a bird fly in.† This one was pretty shy, and I never got what I think is a good picture, but here is the best I got of the SAGE SPARROW.
It wouldnít turn its head toward me, but the picture does show the gray head, the white eye ring, and the sparrow-like coloring of the back and wings.† Here is a picture of the sage habitat where I saw it.
Next I moved on down the Schnebly Coulee, toward the Columbia River.† There was a species I had faint hopes of seeing there, so I stopped and played the call on my cell phone.† After a minute or two of seeing nothing, I looked to the left, and a couple of birds flushed from the grass by the side of the road.† I didnít get my binoculars on them, but it was a pair of CHUKARS, the very bird I was trying to see.† I moved up the road and flushed one of them again, but couldnít get any pictures.† Still, this is a bird I have only ever seen twice before, and I hadnít really expected to see today, and here they were.† What a great start to my day, three species and it wasnít even ten oíclock yet.
I drove on down to the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, on the Columbia River.† I parked and went to the overlook of the river.† It was a lovely day, if a little windy, but that is normal for that area at this time of year, I think.† Here is a view of the river, looking upstream from the overlook.
The river is actually a lake at that point, as it is backed up behind Wanapum Dam.
While I was standing at the overlook, a bird flew in and practically landed on me.† It was no more than five feet away from me.† It was a VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW.† There turned out to be dozens of them flying around, and I could get great views of them as they swooped around in front of me and below me.† This is a bird I knew I would get this year eventually, and I was sort of ďsavingĒ it for a future report, by not going looking for them, but I couldnít ignore them today.
There were a couple of Sayís Phoebes around the visitor center there.† That is a member of the flycatcher family that I had seen in California in January, where I guess they must winter.† I tried to get a picture that showed its front side, but this was the only one I got, as the birds just kept flitting around.
While I was chasing the Sayís Phoebe, I saw a couple who were having lunch there, and they were looking at a tree with binoculars.† I asked them what they were seeing, and they said ďwarblersĒ.† Sure enough, there was a little mixed flock of migrants in a tree there.† In the one tree, I saw Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilsonís Warbler, a number of Yellow Warblers, and a couple of vireos.† One of the vireos was a Red-eyed Vireo, a bird I had only seen once before my Texas trip this year, and the other was a bird I was targeting on this trip, a CASSINíS VIREO.† I was blown away, as I certainly hadnít expected to see one on the cliffs next to the Columbia River, but I guess it was migrating, and the trees there attracted this little mixed flock.† I had been in the habitat where I hoped to see one yesterday, so I had looked them up and knew what to look for.† This is only the second Cassinís Vireo I have ever seen, having seen the first one with a guide in Arizona last year.† It seems like this year Iím seeing an amazing number of birds that I have only seen a very few times before.
So, when I got tired of watching the migrants there, I moved on down the river to Wanapum State Park.† My target there was a swallow that I had seen there last year, again a bird I had only seen three or maybe four times before in my life.† I got to the boat ramp, and I could see the holes in the sandy bank where these birds nest, but none were around.† A couple of swallows flew by briefly, but I didnít get my binoculars on them, and they were gone.† I waited some more, and debated with myself about whether I could count them, but I was deciding no, I just hadnít had a good enough look.† I looked out over the lake (river) with binoculars and saw more swallows, but they were too far away to ID.† Eventually, after 15 or 20 minutes, a couple more flew in close, and this time I got my binoculars on one of them, and it was indeed a BANK SWALLOW.† Success.
That made six species for the day, exceeding my expectation in a big way.† It was getting on for noon by then, so I found a table in the park and had my Subway sandwich and the last of my Fritos.† There were a couple of Black-billed Magpies around, a species I had seen on each day of my trip, but I hadnít been able to get any pictures.† They are striking birds, black and white, with long tails, but I didnít get a picture today either.† I did get some pictures of the Brewerís Blackbirds that were feeding in the grass.† The males normally just look black, with yellow eyes, but when the sun hits them right, you can see how iridescent they are, with blue and purple hues.† Here is a picture of a male Brewerís Blackbird in the sun.
So, with that, I packed up and headed for home.† I wanted to get home ahead of the rush hour traffic, and I had two and a half hours of driving to get there.† I had a little extra time in hand, though, so I stopped at the road that goes up Taneum Creek, between Ellensburg and Cle Elum.† I saw Lazuli Bunting there last year, and I wanted to try for one again.† As it turned out, I dipped on the bunting, but it was still a nice drive up the canyon and back down again.† I stopped at one point by the creek and played the song of Veery, but it is a bit too early for them, and I got no response.† Here is a picture of the creek there, though.
You can see what a pretty day it was to be out and about.† The temperature got up into the high 60ís, which I really enjoyed.† It was in the 50ís when I was in the sagebrush country earlier, and I had worn my light jacket.† I much prefer the 50ís and 60ís to the 80ís and 90ís.† Much.† 70ís are OK, too, but if I have to walk around much, temperatures in the 60ís and sunshine is perfect for me.
So, I drove on over the mountains to home, stopping in Cle Elum to get a senior coffee at Mickey Dís (69 cents plus tax, and not bad coffee at all).† I hope it doesnít interfere with my sleep tonight, I can still feel the effects, despite a couple of drinkies after I got home.† It got me over the pass without any sleepiness, though, so Iím glad I got it.
Once I got home, I unloaded the car, and I couldnít help but be struck by some of the flowering bushes in the yard.† Here is a picture of the wisteria in the front yard, from the street side.† If you arenít familiar with our house, this wisteria is on an arbor that covers a swinging bench seat.† The flowers are just at their peak now, I think.
Here is a picture taken from the front of the arbor, showing the swing inside.
It was a challenge to show the swing in the shadows as well as the flowers, so they are a bit overexposed.† They are actually a deeper purple than that picture shows them.† They have a very delicate and pleasant smell.
Having taken that shot, I was taken by how nice the Snowball tree looks this year, so here is a picture of it.
Now I was on a roll, taking yard pictures.† They have no place in a birding report, but who cares?† I make the rules, so here is a picture of Christinaís milkhouse studio, looking good in the spring greenery around it.
Moving on back on the property, here is the huge lilac at the corner of the barn.† You can also see the chard in Johannaís vegetable garden that survived the winter somehow, even though chard is supposed to be an annual.
And, to finish off the yard tour, here is the remodeled shed with the firewood all stacked under cover now.
So, it was an excellent birding day today, and a really outstanding trip in terms of numbers.† I saw six more for my year list today, bringing me to 18 for the trip.† As I mentioned, I was expecting 6 to 8 species on the trip, and hoping for 10.† Getting 18 sort of stuns me.† Iím not sure how I got there.† I had a target list of about 30 species but some of them were very unlikely, so getting 18 is just outstanding.† That brings me to 414 species for the year now, of which 105 are lifers.
My next trip is next week, when I plan to fly to Sacramento for a reunion with a couple of old-time buddies from my high school and college years.† Iím taking a few extra days, and I plan to do a little birding, but I have seen so much already this year that I might not get anything new at all on the trip.† If I do, Iíll send a report.† After that is our annual trip to Yosemite in June.† Again, I might pick up a species or two, but maybe not.† Again, a report will ensue if I see anything new.† Other than that, it will be one at a time now, I would guess, until I go to Hawaii in October/November, where I hope to pick up 25 or 30 more for my year list.† The first four or five months of the year is the exciting part, when you do a year list, but now all the easy ones are just about gone, so things slow down a lot.
So, thatís my story for today, and Iím signing off now.
Wednesday, May 23
Well, to my surprise, I have a report today.† Iím in Sacramento for a reunion with a couple of my old buddies from high school and college days.† I came a few days early, so my friend, Fred, and I could do a little birding.† There are so few birds I need for my year list at this point that I wasnít really expecting to see much, and maybe nothing. †I had done some research, though, and I found a place up in the foothills where four species I still need have been reported this year, so we headed up into the hills.† It was the Old Rambler, Fred, and his Golden Retriever companion, Tugboat, looking for birds in the hills.† A nice adventure.
The weather was wonderful, starting out cool and ending up in the low 80ís, with abundant sunshine.† We drove up Interstate 80 to Auburn and went up the road toward Forresthill.† We were headed for the trailhead for the Forresthill Divide Loop Trail.† We got to the Driverís Flat parking area, where the birds I had read about had been reported, and we paid the 10 bucks for day use.† We walked up the trail a bit, and there were a surprising number of birds, for forest birding.† Here is a picture of Fred on the trail.
It was a beautiful mixed forest, with conifers and deciduous trees.† We saw half a dozen mountain bikers at various times on the trail, which kind of surprised me.† We saw Orange-crowned Warbler early on, along with a couple of California Towhees.† There was also a little flock of Bushtits, and I got a mediocre picture of one of them.† They are a hard bird to photograph, as they flit around so much and rarely stay in the same place for long.
There was also a Cassinís Vireo, a bird I had only seen twice before in my life, and one of those times was just last week on my trip across the mountains.† Still, it was an excellent bird to see, and a lifer for Fred.
About that time, I played the song of the bird that was my primary target there.† One flew across the trail, right in front of me, and then moved around in the trees until I got some excellent looks at a BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER.† I ended up seeing 4 or 5 of them while we were in the area, and Fred saw at least one of them, and that was another lifer for him.
Back at the parking area, I played the song of another bird I wanted to see up there, and soon a bird flew in and answered with the same song.† It took a couple of minutes, but eventually I got a good look at a HUTTONíS VIREO, and I had two for my year list, which amazed me.† That was a third lifer for Fred.† No pictures of the Huttonís Vireo, but I did get these two pictures of a cute little Bewickís Wren.
You can see his little curved bill, the white ďeyebrowĒ line that extends back onto his head, and the striped tail.
We also saw Spotted Towhees there, and I got a quick look at an Oak Titmouse, while I was trying to get a picture of a White-breasted Nuthatch.† The nuthatch wouldnít stay still for long, either, and kept landing right over my head, but I did get this picture of it.
I ate my humble home-made lunch there (ham and cheese sandwich and chips Ė surprise), and we moved on.† We drove down the rather rough unpaved road to the upper end of Lake Clementine, which turned out to be just a wide spot in the little river there.† The lake is a mile or two long, I guess, though.† No birds there, but here is a picture of the upper end of the ďlakeĒ.
It was about one oíclock by then, and we decided to head down Highway 49 to Placerville, where I had another place to go, to look for another bird I needed for the year, Lawrenceís Goldfinch.† I had found the site on eBird, a website on which people report their bird sightings.† This particular location was only reported on by one person, and I suspected it was in his yard.† We found the location, which was at the end of a cul-de-sac, and wandered around trying to spot birds.† We hadnít seen anything, but after a while a woman came out of a house and asked if we were birders.† It turned out that it was her husband who had put up the eBird reports I had seen.† He was home, too, but was on the phone.† I asked if we could come up their driveway to look further, and she readily agreed.† Her name was Anita and we had a nice chat with her about birds.† Eventually her husband, John, got off the phone, and we talked with him, too.
They have a beautiful house and an incredible yard, with lots of bird feeders, and lots of birds.† We saw Lesser Goldfinches, House Finches, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Banded Pigeons, Mourning Doves, and a couple of birds that I wasnít able to identify.† No Lawrenceís Goldfinches, though, which was the one I was looking for.† Anita said they mostly come around early in the morning, and not every day.† Here is a picture of some of the Lesser Goldfinches at a feeding sock.
When we had arrived, Anita had happened to mention that they have a nesting pair of birds, and it was another species I needed for my year list, of all things.† We couldnít get a look at one when we arrived, but as we left, we checked the nest again, and this time one of the birds was sitting on the nest.† If I hadnít known what species it was, I might not have been able to identify it, but knowing what it was, I could see the eye ring with the wider area behind the eye, and I could confirm it was a PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER.† I have only seen that species twice before, so it was another really great one to add to my year list.
That was the end of the birding for the day.† Three species for my year list, which far exceeded any expectations I had for the day.† It puts me at 417 for the year, of which 104 are lifers.
Tomorrow we plan to head out to Davis, a university town just west of Sacramento.† We have an appointment with a local Davis birder, who says he can show us a nest box with owlets in it.† The idea is that you climb up on a ladder and lift the lid to see the nestlings.† Iíve never done that, and it ought to be interesting.† It is an owl that I have only seen once before, last year, and that was a very poor look, as the bird was mostly obscured by vegetation.† We then plan to go on to other birding sites in that area.† So, if all goes well, maybe there will be another report tomorrow, with some more pictures.
Thursday, May 24
Well, here I am again.† We were up and out of here by about 9:30, to meet Ed in Davis.† Ed is a guy I exchanged emails with who knew where we could see an owl I needed for my year list.† We met him at a market in Davis and followed him into a swanky development on a golf course.† The owls are nesting in a nest box on the edge of the golf course, and have been doing so every year for twenty years.† Here is a picture of the nest box and the ladder we used to get a peek at them.
When it was my turn, I climbed up the ladder, and there they were, an adult and four little fuzzy WESTERN SCREECH-OWLS.†† Here is the best picture I was able to get.† I love the one yellow eye in the bottom left corner.† The adult (mother, presumably) is in the upper left corner of the box.
So, that was really a fun thing to have done, and it got me a bird for my year list.† I had only seen Western Screech-Owl once before, and that was a very obscured view.† There were two or three dozen American Goldfinches coming to feeders in the yard adjacent to the owl box, too, and we enjoyed watching them† Here are some of them at a feeder, all males as it turned out.
We chatted with Ed for a while, and then moved on to Grasslands Regional Park, south of Davis.† We paid our six dollar day use fee, and drove out to the back side, where there is a remote control model glider field.† As we came into the area, we noticed a lot of big birds in the field in front of us.† They turned out to be Swainsonís Hawks, and they mostly took off as we approached.† There were more to the left of those, and we decided that there must have been more than 50 of them in the area.† Here is a picture of one of them that stayed on the ground while we approached.† It had a mostly white head, which was different from most of them.
Here is another Swainsonís Hawk, flying.† They come in different ďmorphsĒ, which means different colors, and this one is more common, I think.
Iíve never seen such a huge group of Swainsonís Hawks (or any other hawk) in one place, and I think that probably they are still migrating, because I know that hawks do migrate in groups.† I also know that Swainsonís Hawks migrate and are coming through at this time.
We drove back to the main part of the park, which is devoted to archery, of all things.† There are targets and bales of hay all over the place.† You could have two or three dozen archers there at one time, if you wanted to.† We walked around and saw a few birds, but not the ones I was hoping to see there.† Here is a Mourning Dove.
Note the spots on the wings.† That is the distinguishing mark.† Mourning Doves are native to this area.† Here is a recent introduction from Europe/Asia, the Eurasion Collared-Dove.
No spots on the wings, and there is a mark on the back of its neck.
Here is a Black Phoebe, a member of the flycatcher family.
It wasnít all birds.† Here is a picture of a jackrabbit.† There were several of those around.† Big ears.
Here are a couple of pictures of Yellow-billed Magpies.† They are only found in this part of California, and not anywhere else in the world.† I think they are very striking birds, and I always enjoy seeing them when I visit here.
We went back out to the model glider field and I had my humble lunch, the usual ham and cheese sandwich and chips, at the nice shaded picnic tables there.† The Swainsonís Hawks were still around, but not as many of them as earlier.† Here is a picture of one in the air, from underneath.
And here is another (or the same) white headed one on the ground, spreading its wings for the camera.
So, after that, we headed for a birding spot on Putah Creek that I had read about.† On the way, we stopped at a little cemetery that we had birded at before.† I got this picture of a Western Kingbird there.
At Putah Creek, at Pedrick Road, we walked down the levee road along the creek and played the song of Lazuli Bunting, which I was hoping to see today, but didnít have any luck with that one.† We did see a little bird, though, a House Wren.† I think it was a recent fledgling, because it was fluttering its wings, like young birds do when they want to be fed.† We saw two adult birds, too, in the area.† Here is the young one.
You can see that the wings are kind of blurry, and that is because it was constantly fluttering them.† House Wren was an excellent bird to get, as I havenít seen them very many times, and it was a lifer for Fred.
After that, we moved on to the Vic Fazio Yolo Bypass Reserve.† Fred and I always bird there when I visit Sacramento, so it was a must, but it sure was disappointing today.† It has lots of ponds and habitat for shorebirds and water birds, but in the summer, they let it dry out, and it was really dead today.† There was a little water, though, and I did get some pictures.† Here are a couple of Cliff Swallows.
Here is a picture that has three species in it.† I like the picture for some reason, maybe just because of the way the three species are arranged.† They are Snowy Egret, White-faced Ibis, and Black-necked Stilt.† Iím betting that you can tell which is which, just from the names.
Here is a picture of a Black-necked Stilt.
And here is an American Avocet.
With that, we headed for home, after a stop at the vegetable and fruit stand we like that is right next to the reserve.† I had a request for a picture of Tugboat, so here are two pictures of Fred and Tug, taken in Fredís back yard.† I couldnít decide which one I liked more, and Fred declined to help me decide, so Iím showing both of them.
So, that was my day of birding in the Sacramento area.† The screech-owls were the highlight, but it was a very nice day, and we had fun rambling around seeing other birds and taking pictures.† Iím now at 418 species for the year, of which 104 are new for my life list.† Tomorrow we have another appointment to see owls in nest boxes, and I have a chance to see another owl species for my year list, so there might be another report tomorrow.† What a life!
Friday, May 25
OK, one last report from California.† Tomorrow our reunion starts, and Iím very unlikely to see any more new species on this trip.
This morning we had an appointment for 9:15, and we met our benefactor, Jeri, at his house just a couple of minutes late.† It turned out that there were a couple of women whom he had invited as well, so we had a little group of five people to go looking in owl nest boxes.† Jeri lives on the edge of the greenbelt along the American River, and there is about a hundred yards of greenery between his back fence and the river.† He has over 50 nest boxes in the area, and he checks them and keeps track of what species of bird occupies each one each year, how many eggs are laid, how many young survive, etc.† Each morning he sits out on the bluff behind his yard and watches the birds as they come in for feed he puts out.† He is a retired professor, and he also leads bird tours professionally several times a year.
Anyway, he brought along a ladder, and we set out to see some owls.† The first box we stopped at had Western Screech-Owls, the same species that Fred and I had seen yesterday.† The ones today were much smaller, just little balls of fluff.† We learned today that the mother owl always stays in the nest box after she lays her eggs, and the male brings her food each night.† She then feeds the babies with that food.† When the young owlets get big enough that it takes both parents to gather enough food them, then she will go out at night and hunt, along with her mate.† I didnít get pictures today, as I had already gotten some yesterday of screech-owls.† I felt pretty shaky at the top of the ladder and I didnít want to stay up there that long.† Here is a picture of Jeri checking that first box.
Here is one of the women, Jolene, looking in the box.
After that, we moved on to other boxes.† There were Tree Swallows and House Wrens in the smaller boxes we checked, but I didnít climb the ladder to look at those.† The one I really wanted to see was next.† Here is the first nest box we looked in for the owl I wanted to see today.
Here is a picture of the little BARN OWLS in that box.
Not exactly little beauties, are they?† When you looked in on them, they would hiss.† We didnít see any sign of the parents, although they were undoubtedly roosting nearby.† Unlike the screech-owls, the mother doesnít stay with the owlets.
From there, we moved on to another box that had older Barn Owlets.† Here is a picture of them.† They look much more like adult Barn Owls by this point.
On our way back to Jeriís house, I got this picture of a Tree Swallow.
We said our goodbyes, gave our thanks to Jeri, and moved on to our next destination.† I was looking for another uncommon bird that lives in this area, and they had been reported out at a place called Michigan Bar, on the Cosumnes River.† We had seen this species at the same place last June, and they had been reported there several times this year, so I was hopeful.
We got there and saw nothing, so I played the song of the bird on my phone.† It took a while, and I was just about ready to give up, when a bird flew in and landed only 20 or 30 feet away.† It was our target bird, LAWRENCEíS GOLDFINCH.† I was amazed and pleased.† Here is a picture of that first one, a male.
He flew away, but in a few minutes, he returned with a companion.† I think the companion was a female, but it could have been an immature male.† Here is its picture.
I plan to send that picture to Jeri and ask him about the gender of this bird.† Here is that same bird from the front.
So, I had two more birds for my year list, which was absolutely outstanding.† We didnít really have anything else to chase, so we went back to the American River, and stopped at a place called Sailor Bar, where Lazuli Buntings had been reported.† We didnít see them, but I got this picture of a couple of Canada Geese.† It is a very common bird all over the west, and a pest in many places, but they are still beautiful birds.
I also got this picture of a Northern Mockingbird at Sailor Bar.
Here is a picture of another pretty common bird, the California Towhee.† This one had a bug or a worm in its mouth, and I had to shoot through a little opening in the branches to get this shot, which I like.
I was hungry and it was approaching one oíclock by then, but there were no picnic tables at Sailor Bar, so we drove around to the other side of the river to the Lower Sunrise area, and I had my usual ham and cheese sandwich and chips there.† On the way, while we were waiting for a break in the traffic to make a left turn on Sunrise, I got off a quick picture of this Red-shouldered Hawk getting ready to swoop down to get something.† It isnít a very good picture, but it is satisfactory considering I had to snap it quickly while waiting for a break in the traffic.† As a reminder, I wasnít driving, since I flew in this time.
Just before we made the left turn, the hawk swooped down, and it must have caught something, because it didnít come up again right away.
So, I ate my humble lunch and enjoyed seeing a little group of Oak Titmice (the plural of Oak Titmouse) flitting around.† I also got a picture of a Western Scrub-Jay.
Our last birding stop for the day was Ambassador Park, a place we often visit, on the American River.† Nothing new there today, but I got a couple of pictures, and Fred let Tug have a little swim in the river.† Here is an Acorn Woodpecker.
This week seems to be House Wren week.† It is a species I have only seen a very few times before this year, but this week we seem to be seeing them everywhere. †Here is a picture of one at Ambassador Park.
There were Western Scrub-Jays there, too, and here is a picture of one that shows off its blue color.
So, that was my day of birding.† Another two species for my year list, which makes a total of six species on this trip.† I would have been very happy with four, so six is just great.† I am now at 420 for the year, of which 104 are lifers.† It has been a great year of birding already, and I hope to add a few more in the remaining seven months of the year.† Watch for a report, maybe one will come out of our Yosemite trip in June.