Saturday, January 5, 2019

Mega Rare in Maine

Watching the ABA Rare Bird Alert is sometimes exciting, boring or frustrating. Exciting when a rare bird is reported close to home and "chaseable". Boring when the list contains birds that you've already seen. Frustrating when a mega rare bird shows up in a place that you cannot get to or at a time when you are not able to go see the bird. Such was the case of the Great Black Hawk this year.

The Great Black Hawk is a hawk of Central America that has never been recorded north of the Rio Grand river. In April, one showed up in Corpus Christi TX which is as close to Mexico as you can get without climbing over that stupid wall. It was a one-day-wonder. Seen, then gone assumingly back over the border. But then in August, the same  hawk was reported in Maine of all places. But again, it disappeared after just 2 days. In November, the bird was re-found in a city park in Portland Maine. This time, the bird found a suitable habitat and has been in or around the park for 2 months. I had to go see the bird but didn't have time with work and holiday travel obligations. I hoped that the bird would be around after New Year. It did.

I drove up to Maine with a birder that I haven't traveled with before. We had a great time. We left at 1:00 AM, arrived in Portland at 7:15 AM and had the bird by 7:30. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. Sara did the research that said the bird was hanging out in trees across the street from the "Holy Donut" shop. Ta-da.

This bird is a juvenile hawk otherwise it would in fact be black. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have given this bird another look if I didn't know it was super rare. It looks like a lot of other common hawks. The bird is molting out his/her kid feathers and starting to grow the black ones. You can see a few popping in on the bird's back in this photo. 

The bird is definitely a celebrity in Portland. We had a few people stop to see the bird and talk to us about it including school children and teachers from the school on the corner, a guy that stops everyday, a woman whose blind boyfriend lives in the apartment where the hawk is hanging out, and even a panhandler wanted to know what we were looking at (and didn't ask us for money either). Other birders have watched the hawk catch squirrels and rats (reason that we didn't get a donut . . . ) but all the bird did when we were there is sit in the trees. He/she was even boring herself.

We were home by 3:30 PM with another mega rare bird on our list and a few fun stories.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Fun with Phoebe

Like I said, I went to Babcock-Webb 2 days in a row. The park is huge. You can drive for miles and miles on the gravel roads. If you had a "swamp buggy", you could go even further. I usually take the same route through the park stopping along the way at spots where it looks good for wildlife. On Day 1, I stopped along Seaboard Grade where I saw a few Egrets and Grebes. I left the car unlocked with windows down and approached the water's edge to snap a few photos.

Along with the sights, the forest is also full of sounds. Most of the sounds fade into the background when I am focused on photography but I kept hearing a Phoebe calling, calling calling - "Fee-bee, Fee-bee, Fee-bee" which is it's usual call but this bird added some extra grumbling to the end of the calls. I turned to see what was going on but couldn't find the bird. I finally found it - sitting on the car!

This bird was obsessed with the car. He sat on the roof rack. He sat on the side mirror. He sat on the windshield. He sat on the driver's door. I took video to show Connie. That was Day 1. On Day 2, the whole thing repeated! On Day 2, I was prepared to get better documentation too. Again, the bird sat on the driver's door.

Nice interior
Then, he decided to sit INSIDE the car too. He sat on the headrest.

This seat is comfy
 He sat on the dashboard.

Home James!
He sat on the steering wheel.

How do you start this thing? 
On Day 2, I made another video. Enjoy!

I'm still not sure whether the bird really loved the Subaru or hated it. I think he wanted to make a nest inside but who knows.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Babcock-Webb Day 2

Babcock-Webb WMA is so close to Connie's sister's house that I can't resist spending the morning there. There have been Snail Kites reported at the lake for the past few months so I thought I would try to see them. Spoiler alert: I dipped 2 days in a row. But I did manage to have a great time anyway. Day 2 started with heavy fog. This Red-shouldered Hawk was none-too-happy with it.

Foggy Morning
The park's habitat is a mix of open pine forests and shallow swamps which you can see in the above photo. The shallow marshes support tons of herons and egrets. Maybe I'm becoming a photo snob but I rarely take photos of Great-blue Herons because they are usually in boring poses and and pretty easy to photograph. That said, I took a few on Day 2. This one just because the bird was posing with such an elongated neck.

Great Blue Heron
And this one because the bird bit off more than he could chew. Literally, he spent 10 minutes figuring out how to swallow that huge fish. I didn't stay around to see if he succeeded.

Heron with a mouthful
I also usually don't photograph Great Egrets either. Not because they are boring but because they are very difficult to photograph. The white bird is usually over-exposed. To compensate, you end up making the rest of the photo dark. Today's fog was a perfect opportunity to get a good one. Fog flattens out the light so that the exposure can be good for the bird and the background too.

Great Egret
The Great Egret was crafty too. He was following a juvenile White Ibis along the edge of the water. Presumably waiting for the Ibis to stir up the fish for the Egret to have an easy meal. Juvenile White Ibis are not white. They are mottled so that they blend into the environment more. Here is the one that the Egret was following.
Juvenile White Ibis
The pine forests are great habitat for some species of warblers including well, Pine Warblers. I would come across flocks of a few dozen at a time. A few posed nicely. This guy was low in the grass.

Pine Warbler
This guy was low in a bush. 

Pine Warbler
This juvenile Pine Warbler followed Dad bush by bush, tree by tree. I guess he's not ready to go it alone.
Juvenile Pine Warbler
This Pine Warbler was acting like a Palm Warbler in the palm tree.
Pine Warbler in a palm
It wasn't all about birds at the park. I also saw a few alligators. This was the biggest - probably 7 or 8 feet long. Funny that he hustled into the water when he saw Peanut on the bank. Sissy.
Big Daddy Gator
 I found this water snake sunning himself after the fog cleared.
Water snake

I have one more story to share another day.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Florida for Christmas

We made the trip to Florida again for Christmas this year to see my Mom and Connie's sister. I make the most of the trip by going birding (what's new right?) Not much going on in The Villages bird-wise but we did get to see these Sandhill Cranes wandering around the Sheriff's Office parking area.

I also spotted these Cranes at Harne's Marsh this week. Look at how messy the juvenile's feathers are. They were honking at the park ranger's truck going by.

I also found a few other notable birds at the marsh including a life bird - Gray-headed Swamphen. I have seen a few before but never entered the sighting into eBird. Now, I can "officially" count it as bird # 1224.

There were lots of Tri-colored Herons at the marsh. This one was close to the path and didn't mind me and Peanut.
I also went to my favorite location near Punta Gorda - Babcock-Webb NWA. This is a huge wildlife management area that is a big hunting destination. This week, the park was so crowded that the campground was overflowing. I still had fun and saw some good birds. Anhingas were everywhere.

This Osprey was sitting quietly until he spotted another one flying past. Then, he started that squeeky crying.

Least Bitterns are very hard to see. They are secretive, camouflaged and stealthy. I caught this one jumping from one clump of reeds to another then spent time waiting for it to get into position to be photographed. This is the best shot I could get. I think you can get the idea of how small they are.

This was the best bird of the day for sure.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas Bird Count 2019

Another year, another Christmas Bird Count. It always seems like the worst weather too. This year, I did Pennypack Park on Saturday in drizzle and dreary overcast conditions. My territory is pretty boring but at least I found a Great-horned Owl sitting out. Poor thing was harrassed by a group of crows later in the day but didn't budge from his perch.

Great-horned Owl
And caught this Pileated Woodpecker in flight. You can see the white wing panels that make this bird easy to ID in flight.

Pileated Woodpecker
You can see by the photographs that the lighting was TERRIBLE for photographing birds.

On Sunday, I joined Paul Guris' CBC group to cover the Two Mile Unit of Cape May. I have helped with this territory in the past but this year, the weather was really snotty with sideways rain, wind and fog that prevented us from seeing very much. This Cooper's Hawk sat on the railing at the boat dock dripping wet for a long time. Even she didn't want to fly in that weather.

Once I downloaded the photo, I noticed that this hawk has leg bands. I can't read the band information but interesting to find one with "jewelry".

We were the only group in Cape May to spot a Snow Bunting this year which is weird because there are a lot of professional birders that cover this area. I guess we just got lucky. This little guy was gobbling up seeds in the parking lot of the restaurant.

Snow Bunting
I quit around 2:30 and headed home to host the DVOC photo contest judging. There were alot of great submissions this year. The judges had a tough time choosing winners to be announced on Thursday.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When Irish Eyes are Smilin'

Ireland is NOT part of the UK. It is located in Europe and part of the European Union. They like to remind you of that fact even though the island is situated right next to England in the North Atlantic Ocean. I'm in Dublin for a conference this week. We took some time at the beginning of the trip to go sightseeing around the countryside.

Sam and I drove to Howth which is a little peninsula near Dublin with a fishing village. We found a few birds. Hooded crows were everywhere.

Hooded Crow
This is a pipit. I think it is a Meadow Pipit on a rock but another birder reported it as a Rock Pipit so I changed my report to Rock Pipit.

White Wagtails are adorable.

White Wagtail
Fun fact - It's a long way to Tipperary, but we managed to get there in our rental car.

It's a long way
We went to Cashel Rock to see an old ruined church and learned that one of the archbishops who ran the church was a McGrath (my step-sister's married name). Nothing to be so proud of though. Our tour guide told us that even though Miler McGrath was a Catholic Bishop, we switched to Protestant, had 2 wives, 12 legitimate children and 37 illegitimate children all while amassing a fortune in real estate. Some bishop huh? Here is his tomb.

Miler McGrath
The only birds that we saw at "the rock" were Jackdaws. They owned the place.


Irish Cross

We returned the rental car and I did some more birding by commuter train. First, heading down south to Dalkey to see Killiney Hill. This Rook was a target bird for the trip. I saw alot of them but this one hung around for a photo.

Another target bird for me was Stone Chat. I lucked into a pair down along the coast in a city park. He posed with these flowers.

Stone Chat
Europe has a lot of tits. Not the breast kind, but the chickadee kind. Here is a Blue Tit hanging on the train platform.

Blue Tit
On the train ride back to the city, I noticed a big flock of shorebirds from the window. Naturally, I jumped off the train at the next stop and was rewarded by 2 types of Godwits. This is Black-tailed Godwit showing his black tail.

Black-tailed Godwit
 The flock was mixed with Dunlin, Red Knot, and Common Red-shanks.

Dunlin, Red-shanks, Red Knot
I must admit that on the way back to Dublin, I fell asleep on the train and ended up way north of the city. That has never happened to me before! Everything was fine and I made it to the Guinness brewery tour with my boss for lunch.

All in all, I ended up with a good birding trip and 4 or 5 new life birds on my list.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Chasing the Rare Birds on St. Paul Island

Many of the birds that we saw on the trip are expected to be there. They are arctic birds that either live on the island or pass through there during migration regularly. But as I eluded to in the last post, those birds are not really the birds that birders go to St. Paul for. Birders go in hopes that birds from Russia and other parts of Europe and Asia get blown over on west winds. Lucky for us, we had 2 days of winds blowing from the west that produced some good "vagrants". We saw a handful that pleased the crowd starting with Olive-backed Pipit.

Olive-backed Pipit
The tough part of the trip for me was that most of the vagrants that we saw were the product of us flushing the bird out of "Putchkie" weeds or flying past so fast that photos were either not possible or really crappy due to the speed of the bird and weather conditions. The Pipit above is just one example.

Another big find for the trip was this Gray-streaked Flycatcher. Again, the bird was flushed from the weeds and barely sat still. Boring little bird from Eurasia but a big find on the island. Look at this lousy photo:

Gray-streaked Flycatcher
While we were looking at this bird, another - even better bird showed up behind us. The bird first landed on the gate across the road but wouldn't sit still long enough for a photo. In fact, the bird took off and we didn't see it again until the next day. And then, only from a distance. Red-flanked Blue-tail is the name of the bird. It is one that I used to look at in field guides and dream of seeing. You can see both the red flank and the blue tail in this photo which is super cropped but identifiable.

Red-flanked Blue-tail
I didn't even get photos of the Brambling or the Eurasian Skylark at all. I managed a few photos of Emperor Goose.

Emperor Goose
And although we saw a few Yellow-billed Loons off the coast, I only managed this shot of one.

Yellow-billed Loon
All of the birders shared sightings and information with everyone else. By the time we left the island, all of the birders had seen the same species. Nobody missed a bird. Having said that - I can say that our group came away from the trip with one special sighting that some of the other birders didn't see . . . the St. Paul Shrew. This little shrew is only found on St. Paul Island and nowhere else. We flipped every piece of wood looking for one. It was a running joke all week with the bird guides. We were so happy to find the rare birds but each time that happened, one of us would say "if only we could find the shrew". And then it happened - I saw one running right down the middle of the gravel road as I was walking back to the van. I yelled "THERE'S THE SHREW! THERE'S THE SHREW!" Of course, everyone thought I was joking until they looked up and watched the little bugger run right under the tire of the van.

Shrew under the tire
We caught the shrew to get a better look. Marty had the great idea of using the cover of his camera lens to make a little corral for the shrew. Check out the schnoz on this shrew.

St. Paul Shrew
The little fella starting shivering so I put him back in the Putchkie to continue with his day. We were one-up on the rest of the birders!