Saturday, January 29, 2011

Stupid Mistake Results in 3 Life Birds

Last week, while Philly was being inundated with 16 inches of snow, I was in Seattle for a 2 day meeting at Microsoft. I left on Monday evening for a Tuesday and Wednesday event with my boss and another coworker. We all agreed to fly home on the non-stop 8:45 AM flight rather than take the red-eye. That would have been great except yours truly booked her 8:45 AM flight on Friday instead of Thursday like everyone else. Let's recap: leave Monday for a 2 day meeting, return the day after the meeting. Oops. I made the best of it. Thankfully, I brought the binoculars along. Unfortunately, I didn't lug the camera equipment. Photos below are from my Android phone.

Being at an event on the Microsoft campus is like being held captive for 2 days. They tell you where to stay. They pick you up in a shuttle at 8:00 AM. They serve you continental breakfast, meetings, lunch, meetings, and even serve you cocktails and dinner on campus. They never actually tell you not to leave, but they make a big deal about how difficult it is to get back into the building if you go outside. That crap only lasted the first day with me. By lunch time on the second day, I looked at one of the Microsoft gals and said "I'm going outside, and you can't stop me". And I meant it. Out I went. Looked up and immediately saw 2 Bald Eagles circling Building 31! Then I meandered around the building trying not to look like a freak with binoculars. One of the Microsoft guys said: "This is Microsoft. You can't possibly look any geekier than anybody else." He had a good point. It felt great to be outdoors in 55 degree weather while everyone else was being blasted by the snow.

After everyone else left Seattle on schedule (Thursday), I made lemonade out of lemons. I rented a car and headed down to the water to see some birds. I stopped at the pier where the ferries come and go. That is where I got my first life bird of the trip (remember, this is shot with a cell phone):

Glaucous-winged Gull

Notice the gray wing tips and pink legs. No other gull has this. He was my buddy for about 20 minutes. He was calling in a friend when I snapped the photo.

I also noticed 2 little alcids floating around the docks. Their ID is a mystery to me. I think they are Marbled Murrelets, but they could be Pigeon Guillemots. I marked Marbled Murrelets in eBird due to the black heads. This got me my second life bird of the trip but I am willing to change it if someone can decipher the identity based on this lousy photo.

After about 20 minutes of the docks, I headed north along the Puget Sound and stopped at a few little spots then made it to Discovery Park. This park sits on a point of land that juts out into the Sound. It has a lot of nice trails, beautiful scenery, a beach, a military base, and a waste water treatment plant all wrapped up into one park. I got a lot of great birds here including 2 Pileated Woodpeckers, Barrow's Goldeneye, Red-throated Loon, Hawk being mobbed by Crows, White-winged Scoter, dozens of Kinglets (both) and Yellow-rumped Warblers and my 3rd life bird of the day - Mew Gull. In addition, I got to watch 3 Sea Otters play around close to shore and 4 Harbor Seals pop their heads up to look at the person with binoculars. Pretty cool. Here are some scenery shots from the day:

Lighthouse at Discovery Park - Cascade mountains in the backgroud

Mount Ranier in the distance

The famous Space Needle with modern art in the foreground

To top off a great day, I got to stay with Maureen and Barbara on spur-of-the-moment, even though Barbara just had ankle surgery on Tuesday. What a terrific couple of friends.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MLK Day - Mergansers, Loons, Konnie?

OK, I couldn't come up with a bird name beginning with "K" that we actually saw yesterday on our day long journey in North Jersey. We didn't see a Kite or a Killdeer or a Kittiwake but we did see the Loons and Mergansers. I have been hoping to visit Manasquan and Shark River Inlets due to reports of Pacific Loon, Redheads, Kittiwakes so I talked Connie into going along since we both had the day off from work.

We headed to Shark River Inlet first and stood in the frigid wind looking into the gray ocean under the gray sky with 3 other nerds for about 20 minutes until Connie grabbed the car keys and ran back to the car. I stood there for another 10 mind and body-numbing minutes searching for that Pacific Loon - which the other nerds thought they saw but confused with Common Loon - until I packed it in too. Roxy didn't even get out of the car. That's one smart dog. There was still snow on the beach from last week. That is how cold it has been this week.

Once we warmed up a bit, we headed to the marina area on the back bay to look for ducks. We saw the usual suspects - Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, gulls, Brant and swans, but nothing out of the ordinary.

On to Manasquan Intlet! We pulled into an unassuming parking lot at "Gull Island" to eat our sandwiches (delicious ham salad and chicken salad from Roger Miller's on Martins potato rolls). It turned out to be the highlight of the day for us. First, I caught a glimpse of these Savannah Sparrows - one of which is Ipswich subspecies which is very unusual:

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow - Ipswich - notice how much lighter brown it is?

Then, the lunch stop got even more interesting. Two people got out of a Chevy Suburban dressed in wetsuits and proceeded to gear up for scuba diving. We were too shy (can you believe it?) to ask them if they were NUTS but another guy walked right up to them to get the scoop. Yes, they were going scuba diving in 28 degree weather hoping to catch some shrimp in a little net. I wonder if they know that they sell shrimp - already steamed - at Acme?

I didn't feel bad for the rest of the day when I was standing on the jetty at Manasquan Inlet or at Bargenat Light Inlet. I just thought about those 2 idiots scuba diving and got warmer instantly.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Land of Misfit Birds

My yard has become the land of misfit birds lately. No photos as not to make fun of the disabled - which I understand is frowned upon by the ADA and other authorities. . .

"Ilene" - the female Cardinal seems to be getting along quite fine albeit with only one foot. She doesn't appear to have been attacked, but she only has one foot. She uses her (gulp) stump, tail and other let to balance herself while hopping around at the feeders.

"Dead Dove Walking" is another story entirely. This poor Mourning Dove is not going to survive. It was mangled by a predator - possibly the fox that has been seen in the yard lately, or the Sharpie that is eating well this winter. The poor dove is really mangled with drooping wing, missing feathers, and disabled leg. Surprisingly still good at flying. I don't think he/she will make it much longer though.

"Missing" posters have been handed out by the Juncos this week. They can't find one of their clan. The Sharpie knows exactly what happened to it . . .

Circle of life as witnessed through my kitchen window. The kitchen window is the real reason for non photos. I cannot take a clear photo through the olde time glass panes. Hopefully, the new window -which is ordered - will allow photos of the action.

As you can tell, I haven't been out this week. Work and snow. With more snow predicted tomorrow, it looks like I won't get out until the weekend.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Kicking Off 2011 - 53 Species and 56 Degrees

Barbara and I headed to Jersey on New Year's Day in search of ducks and things. My initial plan was to scout out new territory at Shark River and Manasquan Inlet, but we decided to stick with what we know and head to Cape May for the day. We did try something new across from the Navy Yard, a place called Riverwinds Golf Course, to try for Canvasback ducks which were reported there last week. No luck, but we did meet a very nice kayaker and got to see some Mummers prepping for their big day.

We made 9 stops in Cape May starting with Jake's Landing Road and ending at Jake's Landing Road. We got 5 Northern Harriers - 2 of them Gray Ghosts - and a great little Savannah Sparrow on our first stop. None of my Harrier photos came out, but this Savannah Sparrow seems to be saying "You looking at me?"

Off to Cape May Point, where we saw a line of about 20 cars pulling out of the parking lot. It was the CMBO official field trip which we missed out on but we crossed paths several times throughout the day. We were very pleased with a different gull find at St. Mary's by the Sea:

Barbara pulled the ID right out of her ass - Bonaparte's Gull - by the dark spot behind the eye. I also knew that it was something different by that field mark and the buoyant appearance when floating. We also got up close and personal to this Killdeer until a van decided to park right in front of it:

We continued along the shore stopping at the Coast Guard station, 2 Mile Landing (where we saw 4 Fish Crows picking at a dead Clapper Rail but didn't count the rail in our day total), the fish processing plant, Stone Harbor Bridge and Stone Harbor Point where we saw both Black and Surf Scoters and a flock of Snow Buntings. Unfortunately, the weather turned dreary by then so the photo opportunities stopped.

We had quite a few species tallied for the day by the time we left Stone Harbor Point but I told Barbara that I would get us an owl before we went home. So we stopped back at Jake's Landing Road at 4:30 PM and so did the CMBO group. The parking lot was packed with cars and birders. As if right on cue, a Short-eared Owl rose from the reeds chasing a Harrier right across the creek in front of us. It was soon joined by a second owl. The 2 of them then saw a Red-tailed Hawk sitting on top of a cedar tree and started swooping down on it. Then the Harrier joined in on the fun for a few swoops drawing more "oohs and aahs" from the group. This is a terrible photo due to very low light but I hope you get the idea:

That was better than fireworks. The CMBO group reported 72 species. Barbara and I made it to 53 - excluding the dead Clapper Rail which isn't bad. Did I mention that it was 56 degrees? What a difference a week makes.