Saturday, October 1, 2016

Last Day in Vegas

My last day in Vegas was all mine to go to the hottest local birding spot called Henderson Bird Viewing Area (pretty explicit huh). This is a waste water treatment plant which has big open water impoundments which attract lots of birds. I never imagined that I would see so many waterbirds in a desert but there they were. Ruddy Ducks

Ruddy Duck
 And Northern Shovelers
Northern Shoveler
And lots of grebes of all types including Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe
And Horned Grebes. There were 3 albinos in the group. This one is partially albino

Leucistic Horned Grebe
 And this one is almost all white when it is supposed to be black and white.

Leucistic Horned Grebe
And then there were the waders. American Avocets were kind of expected. I've seen them in water oasis in the desert before.
American Avocet
But I've never seen them swimming around in a flock and going butt to the air dunking for food.

Swimming Avocets
There was also one lone Black-necked Stilt in the park.

Black-necked Stilt
And one White-faced Ibis.

White-faced Ibis
Shorebirds found refuge here too including this Killdeer who wouldn't shut up the whole time I was there.

And this Greater Yellowlegs. Check out the cracked earth in the background.

Greater Yellowlegs
I was pleasantly surprised to find this Pectoral Sandpiper.

Pectoral Sandpiper
The bird that was most expected was Western Sandpiper. I saw a few but this one really caught my eye. He has something around his bill which he struggled to get off. He finally did.

Western Sandpiper
And then, there was the Life Bird. I stumbled on finding the Crissal Thrasher. They are so shy and stay hidden in the desert scrub. I heard something on the edge of the park and turned to see the Thrasher's iconic curved bill and red butt before it disappeared into the desert again.

More Costa's Hummingbirds were at this park so I took the opportunity to photograph this male. He mostly sat on a branch in the shade of the trees so you couldn't really see his bright purple gorget feathers.

Costa's Hummingbird
But occasionally, the light would catch him just right to reveal the iridescent feathers.

Iridescent Purple
This guy was molting. You can see where he is missing feathers under his chin and around his eye.

Molting Costa's
I love this shot. He stretched out just before giving his iconic call again.

Costa's Hummingbird
Alas, I has to leave to catch my flight home. An exhausting trip overall but ended on an up note.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

More Desert Birding Equals 4 Life Birds

I scheduled my trip so that I had free time on Friday and Saturday to go birding. The reason was to explore Nevada's birding locations but also to see if I could score a few life birds. I was going to rent a car and head out to explore but my boss actually gave me his rental which saved me a bunch of time (and money). I started out super early on Friday and headed northwest to the mountains in search of Townsend's Solitaire. I didn't really pay attention to the map and didn't realize how high up I was going until the sign said "Elevation 8452 ft". Suffice it to say that I didn't realize how cold it would be either - um 35 degrees and me with no jacket. Despite freezing and not being able to catch my breath in the high altitude, I managed to find not one, but 6 Townsend's Solitaires. Life Bird! Again, heard them before I saw them. This is the typical pose - right on top of the tree.

Townsend's Solitaire
One of the birds did come down a little bit. Notice the big white eye ring which is the best field mark.

Townsend's Solitaire
I only saw a few other birds at the top of the mountains including this Mountain Chickadee.

Mountain Chickadee
And of course, this Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler. Boy, you can find these birds literally anywhere.
Audubon's Warbler
After heading down the mountain, I still has some time before my first meeting of the day so I headed over to another city park - Floyd Lamb - which was on the way back to the city. I'm glad I did. I met alot of birders there. They were all looking for a Canada Warbler which showed up a few days before. Canadas are eastern warblers. We have them here in PA and NJ in spring and they even nest in our area. When they show up out west, its big news. We didn't find the Canada warbler but I got 2 more life birds. The first was Gray Flycatcher. This bird is not much to look at which is probably why I don't have it on my list yet. This trip, I really studied and was able to find the bird.

Gray Flycatcher
The other lifer was Costa's Hummingbird. Once again, the voice gave it away. This photo is a female. Wait til you see the male (next post)

Costa's Hummingbird - female
And once again, an unexpected sighting - a Brown Pelican in the middle of the desert.

Brown Pelican
I met a woman from Texas named Missy who was birding there too. We ended up birding together for most of the day which was really great. After a few hours of working, I met up with Missy again at Desert Park where we found a few birds but really not much to write about other than this interesting Leopard Lizard. Check out those spots.

From there, we made our way to another mountain park in search of Crissal Thrasher. We busted there too but got these views. We saw a Coyote and an Osprey. This Jackrabbit was HUGE.

And so was this view of Red Rocks.

Red Rocks
Thus ended Friday with 3 Life Birds in the bag. With that, I headed back to the Vegas Strip and literally collapsed in the bed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

From the Mountains to the Desert

My month of travel continued by flying from Denver to Las Vegas for another work event. I arrived and headed out to a park near the airport for an hour before heading to our newest office. This was a weird experience for sure. Sunset Park is a city park with ball fields and swingsets and a concrete pond smack in the middle. The pond attracts a variety of birds since it is an oasis of water in the middle of the desert. Some birds were expected including this Verdin.

And this Wilson's Warbler. I saw a bunch of these on the trip.

Wilson's Warbler
I also expect to see alot of hummingbirds when I'm out west. The problem is that I have a hard time making an ID when they are molting like this one. Don't worry. I sent the photo to Harvey. He'll identify it for sure.

Unidentified Hummingbird
What I don't expect to see in the desert are Ross' Geese. There were 2 at the park. Wandering around the picnic pavilions with the other domestic geese and ducks. Weird. Ross' geese are pretty adorable no matter where you see them.

Ross' Goose
Here was another weird sighting. I was walking along the path and started seeing dirt flying. And then this little critter popped out. Its a Pocket Gopher. Here he is pushing the dirt out of his hole.

Pocket Gopher
Then, I headed to work and dinner with my coworkers and out to Freemont Street which is the absolute weirdest thing I've ever seen. The photos and videos that I took are not fit for this blog. Let's just say that "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" and leave it at that.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mile High and Beyond

So I basically jumped off that boat at 6 PM on Sunday, went home, packed and jumped on an airplane on Monday morning. By 6 PM Monday, I went from being at sea level to being a mile high in Denver. I dragged my coworker out to a nearby park to do some birding. We basically busted on the birds but did get to see some interesting wildlife. Lots of Black-billed Magpies were around.

Black-billed Magpie
We found this Gopher Snake along the path. Sadly, another one was run over by a pickup truck.

Gopher Snake
We also found this little mouse in the middle of the path. He was alive but didn't look very good. We moved him off into the grass where he scampered away.

Our big mistake was thinking that we could Uber to the park and back to the hotel. Getting there was easy. Getting out proved to be a little tricky. We ended up walking about 6 miles in order to get back to the park entrance so that the Uber driver could pick us up.

Of course, that didn't deter me. The next day, I headed out to a different park in search of some life birds. Once again, I busted on the birds and ended up walking another 8 miles or so to get out of the park.
Red-tailed Hawk
Juvenile Black-crowned Nightheron

White-tailed Deer
I am learning that it is very difficult to go birding on a work trip if you don't have a rental car. Here is a screenshot of my iPhone "Health" app. You can see that on Sept 18th, I was on the boat so not much walking. On the 19th, I walked all through the airport and then all over the park in Denver. The rest are from Las Vegas which deserves its own blog post.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Sea Level

Out to see again on Saturday night headed to the blue Gulf Stream waters in search of birds. Calm seas and calm winds were a mixed blessing for birding. As you can imagine, the calm seas are good for the birders but the calm winds are not great for sea birds. Pelagic birds like petrels depend on the wind to whirl around the seas.

We lucked out with Black-capped Petrels on the trip. We saw at least two. Both were sitting on the water and also lazily flying around the boat. This is a master flyer. You can pick it out by the clean black cap (hence the name).

Black-capped Petrel
I've never seen one sitting on the water before. Incredible.

Black-capped Petrel
The bird flew pretty close to the boat.

Black-capped Petrel

Black-capped Petrel
We saw plenty of other birds including many Great Shearwaters. Notice the difference between this bird and the Petrel above. The cap on the Shearwater is much bigger.

Greater Shearwater
 Here is one of them taking a bath.

Greater Shearwater
We also saw 3 species of whales including these Pilot Whales.

Pilot Whales
And this Hammerhead Shark cruising the surface. Yikes.

Hammerhead Shark
But the best show of the day was watching the Spotted Dolphins. These guys were amazing. We first saw them in the distance but they were hard to miss. They were jumping so far out of the water. Check out this photos. I drew an arrow from the launch site to show you how far out of the water this dolphin flew.

Here they are a little closer to the boat. 3 in the air at a time.

Look how happy this guy looks flying through the air.

Here they are playing in the wake of the boat. There were a dozen of them bouncing around. Fun stuff.

We missed the main target bird. A few people saw one of the White-faced Stormpetrel but all I saw was a bird zip through my binoculars and disappear into the vast sea. Sigh. Still a good trip.