Sunday, December 10, 2017

Seattle Work Trip Nets 1 Life Bird and a Volcano

What a crazy work trip last week. So busy with meetings in Seattle that I didn't think I would have even an hour to be outdoors. Luckily, my boss and I had an hour to kill on Monday afternoon and went out to Marymoor Park in Redmond WA just to get outside. As luck would have it, we met a couple on the trail that told us about a Red-breasted Sapsucker pecking away at a tree further down the path. Check! Life bird!

I've missed this relatively easy bird on many west coast trips in the past, but not this time. The bird was in no hurry to leave. Bad news is that I only brought my binoculars and not my camera. You can see how close we were though since I managed to get this cell phone photo.

Red-breasted Sapsucker
I also had to head down to Portland OR to meet with some clients. The scenery was beautiful. Mountain ranges and big cedar trees all along the route. The weather was clear enough for me to see the major mountains (volcanos) that run along the Cascade mountain range. I saw Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood too. On my way back to Seattle on Thursday, I had a few hours of daylight so I decided to detour off the highway to see Mount St. Helens.

The Visitor Center has a gorgeous, but distant view of the volcano.

Mount St. Helens
Getting a closer look requires an hour drive. I made it pretty far up but the park road is closed in winter.

Imagine back to 1979 before the volcano erupted. This mountain had a pointed top. But then unexpectedly, BOOM! A cataclysmic eruption blew the entire top of the mountain right off leaving it looking like this. 

Mount St. Helens
A closer look at the back side of the volcano shows how the mountain top blew off and destroyed the side of the mountain. Pretty impressive to see first hand.

Mount St. Helens - eruption zone
If you have the opportunity to see it, you should make the trip.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Fun Facts About Birds in Australia/New Zealand

Tim is my friend and coworker. He is a great guy but definitely NOT a birder by any stretch of the imagination He is a tech geek who takes tech as seriously as I take birding. He regularly sends us emails with interesting tech news. Today's tidbit reminded me of our trips to Australia and New Zealand many years ago - before blogs were invented. I thought I would pass along some interesting facts/stories.

Tim sent a link to a story about how Sulfur Crested Cockatoos (think Barretta's bird from the old TV crime series) are tearing apart the Internet cabling in Australia. Here is the link to the article:
http://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/11/03/birds_are_pecking_apart_australian_national_broadband_network/ 

Its all true. Everything in Australia can kill you or disrupt your life. Even seemingly innocent birds! I’ve seen these birds in action. When I was at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Sydney, I watched one of the buggers follow a gardener around a fountain and pull out every flower that the guy planted. When I asked why the gardener didn’t shoo the bird away, he told me that they were protected species. He must have planted those flowers 3 times before the bird got bored and flew off. 

Here is a photo of the bird in the garden. Keep in mind, that the photos posted in this blog were taken with FILM (remember that?). I dug out the old photo albums and took iPhone photos of the photos to post here. 

Crested Cockatoos gardening
Hysterical! He was even showing a friend how to do it. "Look mate, just grab it by the flower and yank".

We saw other cool birds in Australia including the iconic Kookaburra. We sang the song alot.

Kookaburra sits in an old gum treeMerry, merry king of the woods is heLaugh Kookaburra, laugh KookaburraHow gay your life must be

This is the best photo that I could get. Back then the photography skills weren't what they are today (LOL). 

Kookaburras sitting in a gum tree
Connie and I took another trip to New Zealand in the 90's too. There, we were warned about another parrot-type bird called a Kea that would remove the rubber gasket around the windshield if you left your car in the parking lot for too long without feeding the birds. People regularly came back to the lot to find the windshields out of the car or at least, the wiper blades removed. Here is one in action on our rental car! 

Kea in action
Other tourists told us to feed the birds so that they left our car alone. Thankfully, we had some grapes in our lunch bags. These fuckers shake you down for food. Here is Connie feeding one. 

Connie shake down
They are pretty big birds with sharp, curved bills. They are prehistoric looking parrots. 

Kea
Our favorite birds of New Zealand had to be the penguins. We saw a few different species but finding the Yellow-eyed Penguin on her nest was amazing. They burrow holes in the hillsides along the coast. 
Yellow-eyed Penguin on nest
Ah, good times down under for sure. I highly recommend making the trip. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

There's Bird Chasing, Then There's This

One of the best things about Florida is that the birds are pretty tame in many areas. They are used to people walking, jogging, driving and boating by them. They are used to people with cameras snapping photos of them. But even though they are pretty tame, you still have to go out and find them like I did at Babcock-Webb NWR.

That's great, but what about this:

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
What about when the birds come right to the front door? This Yellow-crowned Night-Heron did just that. Here is his Dad or Mom sitting on Steve's railing. Notice the Halloween lights!

Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Steve has names for all of the birds. Here are a few close up photos. I actually had to back up into the house to get in focus.


You can see the reflection of the front door in the bird's eye.


Why do the birds come to the front door? Because the neighbors feed them fish from the local bait store, that's why. Here is Lori with the Night-Heron and a Great Egret.

Lori and friend
The Night-Herons prefer clams, so of course, we obliged.

Clams!
We had a lot of birds in the yard. Check out the Great Egret video.


And a herd of White Ibis too. I say herd, because they move together more like dinosaurs than birds. This one posed in front of the garden.

White Ibis

Fun times!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Babcock-Webb Again

Connie and I have this nasty habit of bringing cold weather to Florida when we visit. Makes it difficult to plan outings on the boat or other outdoor activities. On this trip, I ended up at Babcock-Webb National Wildlife Refuge a few times in the early morning even though it was pretty cold. I was really lucky to find a few interesting birds and get some photos starting with these VERY accommodating Limpkins. Connie and I first saw a Limpkin 25 years ago near Orlando. They are usually very secretive wading in dark places. Notice how bland their plumage is to hide them in the marsh and the swamps. This one seemed quite comfortable in the sunlight. He was even squawking loudly.

Limpkin
 After a while, he sauntered across the road like he owned it.

Limpkin
I found another one in a pond right at the park entrance. This one was more interested in finding a meal than worrying about me.

Limpkin
I also had good luck with a few other birds along a pretty deserted gravel road in the park. This juvenile Black-crowned Nightheron was trying to blend in but I found him anyway.

Black-crowned Nightheron
This Boat-tailed Grackle was grackling away.

Boat-tailed Grackle
This Green Heron posed for a long time and didn't care that I was practically standing right underneath the tree. They usually skiddadle as soon as they see you.

Green Heron
The best find of the day was watching 2 Red-headed Woodpeckers grabbing acorns from an Oak tree above my head. They also ignored me as I stood directly under the tree. This one flew into the same Pine tree as the heron. I guess he didn't want to be left out of the photo shoot. You can clearly see why this species is the owner of the name "Red-headed".

Red-headed Woodpecker
On the way out, I re-found the Purple Gallinule family feeding in the Alligator weed. This time, I got better photos. Check out those giant yellow feet. I have no idea how they navigate on the tiny stems.
Purple Gallinule
The juvenile struck a nice pose too. He navigated up in the weeds as if he has been doing it for years.
Juvenile Purple Gallinule

We killed some time with bird friends at the house too. More on that later.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Back in Florida

We decided to make a trip to Punta Gorda in October to see if we could extend the summer months just a little bit. Connie's sister moved down here in April and told us that it has been really hot this week. On that advice, I packed shorts, T-shirts and a bathing suit. This morning it was 50 degrees outside. Connie and I headed over to Babcock-Webb NWR before dawn to see what we could see. We had the heater on in the van and we were freezing but we saw some good birds anyway.

I watched this Osprey surveying his surroundings, then take off and catch a fish.

Osprey
Connie and I found a family of Purple Gallinules feeding on these purple seeds of the Alligator Weed. It was quite comical to watch them try to balance on top of the weeds.

Purple Gallinule
This immature Night Heron was not happy when I showed up to one of the ponds. He squawked and flew to the opposite side.

Night Heron
This Boat-tailed Grackle landed right next to the car and sang his crackly song.

Boat-tailed Grackle
There were quite a few Kingfishers. This one was hanging out on the wire at the entrance.

Belted Kingfisher
I saw some non-avian species too like this squirrel.

Squirrel
And a few gators too.

Gator
The most unusual sighting was this Turkey Vulture who decided to lay down in the middle of the dirt road. I drove right up to him before he moved. Funny.

Lazy Days Turkey Vulture
When he finally got up, he didn't fly off. Instead, he stood there watching me while I got out of the van to take this close-up photo. Pretty huh?

I'm ready for my closeup
On our way out, Connie spotted these immature White Ibis up in a pine tree. She tested her camera and actually got a closer photo than this one. I like the composition of mine. 

Ibis
Of course, a trip around Babcock-Webb wouldn't be complete without seeing a few Loggerhead Shrikes.
Loggerhead Shrike
We will be here for a few more days. I hope we find some other birds.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Out on a Limb

Of all the warblers that we can see in the eastern US, some are pretty common - birds that breed in our area or are conspicuous. Like the Common Yellowthroat. For Pete's sake, it has the word "common" right in the name. Easy to see in spring, summer and fall.

Common Yellowthroat
Others are pretty rare or secretive making those birds a big target for birders. Warblers like Mourning or Connecticut. Finding either of those warblers elicits text messages and alerts. A Swainson's warbler makes ABA Rare bird lists. I've only seen these birds a few times and none this season.

And still others may easier for some birders to see than others. These warblers migrate through each year and plenty of birders see them. Sighting these birds doesn't warrant a text message. Birders talk about the sightings in common conversation. Mostly, these birds either elude me or give me a fleeting look without photo opp. Nashville, Wilson's and Tennessee fall into this category. Tennessee warblers are very bland looking by comparison to Blackburnian or Golden-winged warblers but they have a magic all their own. I regularly miss seeing Tennessee warblers which is why I'm so confused by the past month. So far, I've spotted at least 5 of them. One day, there were even 2 together. I'm going out on a limb with the ID. Maybe the birds are another species? I checked the field guides. Overall green, no markings on the wings, light eyebrow, short tail. I finally got some decent photos after seeing the bird for 3 days in a row. What do you think?

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

I really hope it is a Tennessee warbler or I'm going to be really embarrassed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Migration of a Different Kind

Cape May in fall is touted as "off the charts" and "so many birds". This marketing brings many birders to Higbee beach in September and October expecting lots of birds. Us "locals" know that the migration phenomenon only happens when conditions are right. Those conditions consist of winds blowing from the northwest overnight and birds bottled up to the north of NJ waiting for the right winds. Even when everything looks right, the birds sometimes fool us and don't show up. That happened this weekend. The winds blew out of the northwest on Thursday night but Friday morning left us birders high and dry for the most part. Luckily, there were a few stray birds. We saw over 50 Northern Parulas. This one posed on a posy for us. The ID here is the green patch on the back and split eye ring.

Northern Parula
This young Black and White warbler was lit up by the morning sun. The ID here is that this "black" and white is really more "brown" and white. 

Black and White Warbler
This House Wren was none too happy with us walking past. Kind of giving us the stink eye.

House Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are showing up on their way south. This one was really trying to show off. They are so twitchy that they are hard to photograph.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Once this little flurry of birds past through, I went to work. Other birders found some more migrants but not the quantities that we expected.

Saturday was worse than Friday. Barely any birds at all. Peanut and I walked the fields, went to breakfast, birded some other places, then I went to the State Park at the lighthouse to sit at the hawkwatch hoping to see a show. I did get a show but not of the bird variety. I walked up the trail between the hawkwatch and the beach dunes and walked into a dream world of Monarch butterflies.

Monarch Butterfly Roost
The photo above depicts 80 butterflies. They were everywhere. Flying, feeding on flowers, and hanging on the cedar trees. Click on the video below to see them in action.


I've never seen anything like this before. I met a woman who monitors Monarchs. She said that the butterflies were stopped in NJ due to the high winds and that they would spend the night roosting in the trees. If the winds were good on Sunday, they would head south. And they did.

There were so many Monarchs that there weren't enough flowers for them to each have their own.

Feeding Frenzy
I also learned to tell the difference between male and female Monarchs. This one is a male. Notice the 2 little spots on the viens.

Male Monarch Butterfly
This one is a female. No spots.

Female Monarch Butterfly
All in all, an amazing experience. I hope the birds come through soon.