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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What You Can Learn on FaceBook

You know, I'm not a big fan of FaceBook. I use it because the birding community uses it. It took me a long time to figure out that there are "groups" that people join. (Actually, Di showed me the groups). I joined a bunch of bird groups including I Heart Shorbirds. It paid off this week. Notice the photo below - good ol' T7K. I've seen this bird on our beach alot.

Most of the banded shorebirds that show up on my beach have the green flag like T7K but occasionally I find one with a different color. That's what happened on Labor Day. I went down to the beach to look for banded birds. T7K was there. So were others including an odd one that caught my eye. This one had many colored bands and a white flag. I chased it up and down the beach to get a good photo.

What I didn't notice until I got home was the wire sticking out of the back of the bird.

I enter all of my sightings and photos into a website called . After I enter them, I can search the database to see where they were originally banded and where they've been seen since. When I searched for 23C, no results appeared. Why? This bird is obviously the subject of a research project. Having no results, I went to the best place for answers - FaceBook.

I posted the photos above with a question - Does anyone in the group know anything about this bird? The answers flowed fast and furious. One guy said that white flags mean that they were banded in Canada. Great info. The comments also agreed with my assumption that the wire is actually an antenna attached to a small transmitter like this one. You can see the wire.

Someone said that the bird was probably part of this season's James Bay Research Project but we wouldn't get any info until the researchers returned from the tundra at the end of Sept.

The Internet rocks. Just like that, researchers were posting to say that they knew the bird and shared the following info. 23C is an adult female Sanderling. And, she's also a Mom! Here is a photo of her nest taken on July 9th. Can you see the 4 pale green eggs?

The posts kept coming in all day. Another researcher reported that our Super Mom successfully raised all 4 eggs into babies! Here is one of the babies with his/her own bands. Just a little ball of fluff really.

23C made her nest in a little scrape in the tundra way up in the high arctic. The researchers also posted a map showing the Polar Bear Pass National Wildlife Refuge which is on an island in Nanuvit territories in Canada. I added the mileage between the nest and the Villas beach.

What a bird. The researchers use the transmitter to track the bird's migration path but I'm sure that sightings on Villas beach are also helpful. I'll keep my eyes peeled for the babies. Wouldn't it be ironic if one of them showed up too?

If you are at the shore, you know where to find me . . . on FaceBook of course!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Crab Fest

Do you love to eat Maryland style crabs? I do. Connie does. So do the birds. This Herring Gull came up with a prize in the rough surf on our beach. Look how proud he is.

Herring Gull - Blue Crab
 This Laughing Gull took advantage of the Herring Gull's enthusiasm when it shook off the flippers.

Laughing Gull
Even this little Sanderling tried to chomp on the leftover leg even though he usually only eats crab eggs.
Not to be outdone, this Ruddy Turnstone climbed up on a horseshoe crab to go to work.

Ruddy Turnstone
On the other hand, this Semipalmated Plover decided to sit it out.

Semipalmated Plover
Crab Fest indeed.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

My Little Friends Return

You are probably sick of reading about my little friends returning to our beach every year but I get excited when they start to arrive. No, I'm not talking about the friends that come out of the woodwork in the summer because we have a beach house. No, I'm not talking about their cute but bratty kids that whine for ice cream and the boardwalk. You know who I'm talking about.

I'm talking about my buddies - 50H scratching himself above, 13Y grabbing a quick bite below.

And 27U flying down the beach.

Here's JUA. You'll notice that this bird's flag is darker green with white lettering rather than lime green with black lettering.

I've been looking at Sanderlings on our beach for about 5 years now. I know an old friend when I see them. T7K is one of the birds that I've seen quite often.

This year, I've seen him a few times already. Here he is on a different day.

I'm not the only one that encountered T7K over the past years. Someone else ran into him in Mexico near Cancun in December of 2012! Here is a screenshot of the database that I enter the sightings into.

All of the entries from Villas Beaches that have "Click here to see a picture" are my entries. Last year, he spent some time in Avalon too.

I focus on looking for my friends in August since there isn't much else going on bird-wise and it gives me a break from the guests and whiny kids. Those friends will fade once Labor Day comes around and the kids are back in school but my bird friends will hang around until Oct or even into Nov. And more arrive every day. And they are joined by warblers and hawks and eagles too. Good times, good times.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Our Gang's Secret Spot

The birding "community" is like a giant school yard full of kids. Some you know, some you don't. Some have reputations, some are shy. Some are smart. Some are not so smart. There are cliques for sure but basically, there aren't any all out schoolyard fights. We know the cool kids but we aren't in their circle. We think the cool kids have their secret spots that they don't share with the community. Well thanks to our friend Yong, we now have our secret spot. Its not so secret but it is private property that we have permission to enter for birding purposes. 

Yong has been going on his own for some time now. He found a rare bird there a few weeks ago so Harvey and I decided to join him to see if we could refind the bird last Saturday. It was hot. Here are the guys - Yong, Harvey and Steve - and Peanut too. It started out pretty easy. 

The Gang
Then the path became more challenging. We had to bushwhack through high grasses and weeds along the dike. You can barely make out Steve's hat above the grass. Forget about trying to find Peanut. 

The Path
Once we got out to the end of the path, it opened up so that we could see the mudflats that the shorebirds love. We found a tagged bird - Semipalmated Sandpiper J5U. 

We also found this Wilson's Phalarope which is a pretty unexpected find in mudflats. We usually see these in more water.

Wilson's Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope in flight
We gave up searching for Yong's rare bird and headed back down the dike. Of course, Harvey wasn't going to give up. And of course, he found the bird - Curlew Sandpiper. I swear he is charmed with this species. Unfortunately, I was the only one that got a photo of the bird. I swear, it is in this photo . . .

Curlew Sandpiper
Peanut had a great time in the mud.  She ran out and chased some birds which wasn't cool at all. She came back pretty quick. 

She also had fun running through the grass. 


The shorebirds whirled around just above our heads when the resident Peregrine Falcons from the last post flew by.


I have to say that the experience was great. And my gang is great. We are happy not to be part of the cool kids. We have our own fun at our own pace and even find some cool birds on our own. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Best Seat in the House

If you or I looked at a dead tree, we wouldn't think of it as the best place to sit. Maybe a branch would break. Too exposed. Full of bugs. That's just us though. To a bird - especially a bird of prey - a dead tree in the perfect place to perch. Great views of their prey. Lookout for foes. That's how it was in this particular tree out in the salt marsh.  Mrs. Peregrine must have thought "this looks like a great place to perch", so she landed.

Mr. Peregrine probably thought "hmmm. Mrs. Peregrine got the good perch again" and then decided that it was his turn so he swooped in. She initially put up a fuss.

But then he showed her is talons. Now she's thinking "what's with him?"

"Fine, have the perch. I'm outta here"

Now he's thinking "wow, this really IS a nice perch" To the victor, goes the spoils.

Here are some close ups. I was pretty far away, so these are super cropped. You can see that Mrs. Peregrine has bands on both ankles.

Here you can see that Mr. Peregrine is not banded.