A New Year – Washington Birding in January 2019

[All of my blog posts share experiences that have meaning to me.  This one probably more than most is also more “for me” as it is how I am keeping track of  my birding in Washington in January this year.  So maybe a little more than usual of a recitation of “and then I and then I and then I…” Probably too much so, but it does cover a lot of ground and there was not time to go deeper.]

Although it seems like it in the middle of the year when I am chasing a bird somewhere to reach a goal, most years start off with no specific plan.  Last year was different only in that there had been a number of rare birds that were seen in late December in Washington and were still around on January 1st, so I began the year with the idea of seeing them again early.  As that proved successful and I added more birds, the idea of a Big Month came to mind and that became the goal for January 2018.  Parts of that were chronicled in several blog posts culminating in a review of the month and its 208 species in https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/20159.

This year will be different as I will be traveling much of the year hoping to finish my 50/50/50 project and I still have 26 states to go.  Most of the prime migration season – mid-April through Mid-May and into June will find me out of Washington.  I was able to bird a lot in Washington before my trip to New Mexico earlier this month (chronicled in two blog posts) and squeezed in a fun day in Eastern Washington with Frank Caruso and Deb Essman after New Mexico and before chasing the Dusky Thrush in British Columbia.     I hope to get up to the Okanogan in February when I get back from Hawaii, but after that – who knows.  This post shares some photos and experiences from January in Washington – stockpiling a few birds before my absence later.

Week One

I started the new year with a visit to Yost Park in Edmonds just down the street from my home.  At least one Barred Owl was calling but hard as I tried I could not locate it.  I also visited some other Edmonds hotspots before heading north to Eide Road and the Wiley Slough.  I was able to get a distant photo of the continuing Black Phoebe at Wiley and had a brief visual of the Northern Waterthrush that also remains in the little pond near the boat launch before a boorish trespassing photographer flushed all birds in the area.  I was not a happy camper.

Black Phoebe

skagit black phoebe

On Allen Road near Bow, there was a giant flock of Dunlin sitting in a field.  All hell broke loose when both a Merlin and a Peregrine Falcon attacked the flock at the same time.  My poor photo captured the silhouette of the latter only.

Dunlin at Rest


Peregrine Attacking Dunlin

peregrine chasing dunlin

At the East 90’s there were multiple Northern Harriers and Short Eared Owls and only a few Bald Eagles.

Northern Harrier

northern harrier

Short Eared Owl


The next day I stayed close to home first visiting Jon Houghton who had a pair of White Throated Sparrows coming to his feeder and then looking for the Harris’s Sparrow that Frank Caruso had found near the Edmonds Marsh.  I got photos of the former but only a brief look at the latter as it flushed as I approached – thinking it was closer to Jon and Laura Brou who had relocated it.

White Throated Sparrow

white throated sparrow2

A couple of days later I made my annual early winter trip up to Semiahmoo.  Lots of new species but views were limited by damage to the boardwalk that precluded getting closer to the Long Tailed Ducks for example.  A surprise rarity was a Whimbrel that I found in Drayton Harbor sitting on a rock at high tide.


whimbrel on rock1

Another surprise and an indicator of our mild winter was a small flock of Barn Swallows at the Sandy Point tennis courts.

Barn Swallow

barn swallow1

On January 5 I could not locate the Surfbird that had been seen at the Edmonds fishing pier but got nice photos of a Bonaparte’s Gull and a Belted Kingfisher.

Bonaparte’s Gull

bonaparte's gull with fish

Belted Kingfisher

belted kingfisher1

Back at Yost Park, I tried again without success to locate the Barred Owl.  It has always been a good spot for Pileated Woodpeckers.  I played one of their calls and a pair flew in close by.  They never made a sound but posed for a photo.

Pileated Woodpecker

pileated wp

Then I headed north to Tulalip where Maxine Reid had located a Ruddy Turnstone and reported it daily.  I had missed it once but was successful this time as it was close by on a crustacean encrusted log in the marina.  Always a good bird for Washington.

Ruddy Turnstone

ruddy turnstone2

On the way back home, I stopped at Everett Marine Park and was able to get a picture of a Herring Gull – one of almost 100 gulls there.  Earlier in the week I thought I had gone to the wrong place as there were no gulls present.  I had been in the right place, but this time people were there throwing potato chips to the gulls…works every time.

Herring Gull with Its Bold Yellow Eye

herring gull

There was a terrible windstorm on the night of January 5th.  I had planned to bird in the Snoqualmie Valley on the 6th but encountered roads closed and trees down.  I was able to find a couple of skulking Swamp Sparrows and get terrible photos at the Sikes Lake Bridge but I gave up when I encountered yet another closed road and went home.

I ended the week finally getting a very distant scope only view of two Surfbirds at the Edmonds Pier and then seeing the American White Pelican that Josh Adams had found in a large flock of Trumpeter Swans in a field off East Lowell Larimer Road.  It flew off while I was there and disappeared for a couple of days but returned to the same location a few days later.

American White Pelican

white pelican flight

Returning to Eide Road and then Skagit County, I finally found some Western Meadowlarks and Tundra Swans to go with the hundreds of Trumpeters that I had seen.

Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark.jpg

Tundra Swans

tundra swans

Trumpeter Swans

trumpeter swan

The Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbirds and White Pelican were probably the best birds of that first week.  I had been out for at least part of each day and by week’s end had 122 species in the state.  I had not strayed very far but the weather had been good except for the wind.  A decent week of birding but 23 species and many rarities fewer than the previous year.

Week Two

I started the week visiting a spot in Marysville that is a known location for California Scrubjays.  When I first started birding in Washington, this species was ultra rare in the state.  They became regular in Clark County and have significantly expanded their range.  I saw one incidentally in Port Townsend last December.

California Scrubjay

california scrubjay

Visits to Magnuson Park and Union Bay Natural Area added some expected species and later a visit to a neighborhood feeder with Frank Caruso brought a Townsend’s Warbler.  This is a pretty bird anytime but in the heart of the winter it is an especially welcomed spot of brightness.  We later found a Green Heron at Levee Pond in Pierce County.

Townsend’s Warbler

townsend's warbler1

Green Heron

green heron1

We stopped at Weyerhauser Pond on the way back home and as expected found Redheads (ducks).  This is THE go to place for this handsome species.  Only a handful this visit but I have had over 40 there on other visits.



Our last new species on January 10 was a Lincoln’s Sparrow at Lake Ballinger.  I had one there on the Christmas Bird Count in 2017 and Frank had one there on the 2018 CBC which I missed.  It is one of my favorite sparrows.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

lincoln's sparrow

The next day I birded again in Northern Snohomish County and then on to Deception Pass.  I found but could not get a photo of the Yellow Headed Blackbird on Thomle Road.  I was hoping for a Rock Sandpiper at Rosario Head but instead “only” had fantastic scenery views and 4 Black Oystercatchers.  I had missed this species at Semiahmoo where I usually find several so was pleased with that.  The birds called for the entire hour that I was there.  There was a distant flyby of a pair of Marbled Murrelets but no Ancient Murrelets.

Black Oystercatcher

black oystercatcher2

A gigantic raft of Scaup gathers on the Columbia River visible from Dike Road in Woodland, Washington.  Last year a Tufted Duck was found with the Scaup.  When one was reported there again, I decided to head south, look for it and then continue on to add some birds in Clark County.  I got to Dike Road before 9:00 a.m.  There were thousands of Scaup visible from the road. There was perfect light on them from behind me – and that is the ONLY reason I was able to find the single Tufted Duck in an hour of scanning with my scope.  It could be picked out only because of its all black back as the tuft was minuscule and visible only on two occasions – briefly.  The problem was that the Tufted Duck was buried in the middle of the constantly reforming raft of moving ducks.  I would relocate it with the scope but could never find it with the camera.  The ducks were far away so at best it would have been a poor photo.  Digiscoping would probably have worked.  Birders from Tacoma scoured the same raft the next day and had the same difficulty and brief view of the Tufted Duck.

I headed to Lower River Road to find the Snowy Egret that has hung out there the past two years.  On the way I found my first Great Egrets of the year and also found a Black Phoebe with a MUCH better photo than the one at Wiley Slough.  Both of these species have also been expanding their ranges in Washington in recent years,

Great Egrets

great egrets

Black Phoebe

black phoebe

At Lower River Road, I had far more trouble finding the Snowy Egret than ever before.  I may have spooked it as the first view I had was it in flight with the larger Great Egret as it moved from one end of the lower lake to the trees at the far end of the other.  In the area there were a number of swans, hundreds of Cackling Geese and many Sandhill Cranes. Their hoarse clattering calls accompanied me the entire time I was in the area.

Sandhill Cranes

sandhill cranes

My last stop was at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge.  Ridgefield is always good but also always frustrating.  The auto tour loop covers the River S unit but restricts getting out of the car.  The loop is one way and narrow and on this day it was clogged with cars.  I was able to pull over just enough to get a photo of one of the many Wilson’s Snipe that are always seen in a muddy field pretty close to the start of the loop.  I find this the best place in the state to find these shorebirds.

Wilson’s Snipe

wilson's snipe

There were hundreds of both Cackling and Canada Geese, many Sandhill Cranes, 50+ Tundra Swans and many ducks.  I had hopes for two target species that are regular here: Red Shouldered Hawk and White Breasted Nuthatch.  As is often the case my first hint of a Red Shouldered Hawk was hearing its call.  I can usually then find it perched in one of the relatively few trees.  This time I could not.  And I had not sound or visual for the Nuthatch. Missing these species added to the frustration of the traffic jam.  It is of course nice that so many people were enjoying this natural place, but it is easier to bird when I have it selfishly all to my self.  There would, however, be a fantastic reward for suffering all of the traffic.  Once you are on the relatively home stretch to complete the circuit, the road widens and somehow there seems to be less traffic.  I spied a bird posted on one of the Refuge signs.  In perfect light I got my best photo ever of an American Kestrel – one of my best photos ever.

American Kestrel

american kestrel close1

It was straight home from there and no birding the next day.  On the 14th I made another trip to the Edmonds Pier and this time was able to get a good photo of one of the Surfbirds.  Good light really does help.



A Palm Warbler had been seen on the bridge abutment at Eide Road and I had looked for it twice without success.  I tried again and this time there it was feeding on the mesh in bright sunlight.

Palm Warbler

palm warbler1

The Palm Warbler was a great bird for the day and I was happy to get the photo.  A Barn Owl had been roosting in brush by the parking area and with aid from another birder I found it buried deep and difficult to see, but it is visible in the photo.

Barn Owl

barn owl

Short Eared Owls were also being seen there and I went looking.  I found one a long way off walking down next to the rock dike.  Terrible distant photo – time to move on.  As I opened the door to my car another owl flew over me and perched on a pole not more than 60 feet away.  The light was perfect.  I include a lot of photos as they are among the best I Have been able to get.

Short Eared Owl – Eide Road – Up Close and Personal

short eared owl eyes closed short eared owl flight1short eared owl3 short eared owl flight

short eared owl

short eared owl2

It was one of the best hours of birding I have ever had – certainly so with the photos.  The next day would have one of the most disappointing hours.  A very rare Cape May Warbler had been coming to a feeder at a trailer park.  Only a few birders each day were allowed to come to see it.  The earliest I could try was the day after this visit to Eide Road and the day before I would leave for New Mexico.  The group that visited before my Eide Road day was successful and got great photos.  It was a new State bird for all of them as it would be for me.  But the group that visited on this owl rich day had not seen it.  And neither did we. A nice Slate Colored Junco – yes. a beautiful Yellow Rumped Warbler – yes.  And a Cooper’s Hawk – yes.  And maybe the hawk was the reason that the Cape May was no more.  Disappointing.

Cooper’s Hawk

cooper's hawk2

Slate Colored Junco

slate colored junco

Yellow Rumped Warbler

yellow rumped warbler (2)

The month was now half way gone.  The Cape May Warbler would have been the icing on the cake, but it had been a good cake.  The Barn Owl was species 144 for the month.  There had been good chases and good photos.  I had 32 fewer species than in 2018, but that was not the objective this year.  I was ready to head off to New Mexico feeling good.

Closing Out the Month

I returned from New Mexico on January 20th on a birding high from that wonderful trip and wanted to continue that good feeling.  I had not yet gone to the Coast or to Eastern Washington and decided to do the latter.  Frank was game for a trip and good friend Deb Essman could join us in Kittitas County and the weather looked great.  This is one of my favorite areas to bird at any season and it is always a blast to visit with Deb.  We put together a list of targets and headed off early.  Just going to touch the highlights starting with it was really a lot of fun.

We skipped our normal stop in the Spring at Bullfrog Pond, but birded across the way on Wood Duck Road.  We heard the high chattering call of Pygmy Nuthatches and found several together with both White Breasted and Red Breasted Nuthatches in neighboring trees.  We did not find hoped for Mountain Chickadees or Cassin’s Finches.

Pygmy Nuthatch

pygmy nuthatch1

We had some waterfowl and more Pygmy Nuthatches at the Northern Pacific Railroad Ponds and in a twist on the three Nuthatch find we found three Chickadee species on the road to the Fish Hatchery in a small flock with Golden Crowned Kinglets.  We also had a very early (or carryover) Western Tanager – the identification of the call check carefully and more confidently with Frank’s excellent ears and processor.

Mountain Chickadee

mountain chickadee

We checked in with Deb and told her we would see her after a stop at the Teanaway Bridge looking for American Dippers.  This is as reliable a spot for them as any I know and we were successful in finding an active pair immediately under the structure.

American Dipper

american dipper

Among the treats birding with Deb Essman is that we can travel in her rugged Jeep.  We did not need the extra clearance and traction this time, but the good visibility is a plus as well.  So is the fact that she knows every road, every good birding spot and seemingly every person in the Kittitas Valley.  She started off promising us a Rough Legged Hawk just around the corner from her place.  It was not there.  Instead we had a nice Prairie Falcon – much better for us Western Washington types.  Later we would have two more Prairie Falcons including as photogenic a one as I can remember.  We also had MANY Rough Legged Hawks, Bald Eagles, Red Tailed Hawks. American Kestrels, a flyby Merlin and a Cooper’s Hawk.  Definitely a raptor rich area – almost 100 altogether.

Prairie Falcon

prairie falcon head

prairie falcon flight-r

Rough Legged Hawk

rough legged hawk

Adult Dark Phased Western Red Tailed Hawk

red tailed hawk dark adult western

Juvenile Bald Eagle

immature bald eagle

Cooper’s Hawk

cooper's hawk

We were not able to find Wild Turkeys or Wilson’s Snipe for Frank’s year list but we did find some California Quail and a single Horned Lark.  I cannot remember seeing only a single Horned Lark at this time of years and area as they are usually in flocks often with hundreds of individuals.

California Quail

california quail

Horned Lark

horned lark2

We tried hard for Chukar and Gray Partridge but no luck with those long shots either.  We will have to return and find some later.  It was an excellent day.  Frank was going to spend time with grand kids the next day and I planned a day of catch up since I had not done any since returning from New Mexico.  A call from Steve Pink that night changed plans and led to the successful early morning chase of the Dusky Thrush near Nanaimo, B.C. that was chronicled in an earlier blog post.  https://wp.me/p79yl0-5Bv

There would be no more long trips as I looked forward to Hawaii but I made a few trips to spots in King, Snohomish and Skagit Counties to add a few more birds for the year.  I found what a think is a hybrid American/Eurasian Wigeon on a small pond near a car dealership on Smokey Point Boulevard that Steve Pink had pointed out.  I also found a single Ancient Murrelet when I scoped for an hour at the Samish Island Say Use overlook.  All the birds seen there were quite distant including hundreds of Brant.  A couple days later there were reports of a large flock of Cedar Waxwings at Magnuson Park in Seattle.  I found a couple of Band Tailed Pigeons at a reliable area nearby on the way and was able to locate a small group of Waxwings.  No Bohemians mixed in, but I was happy to get my first Cedar Waxwings of the year in any event.

Cedar Waxwing

cedar waxwing

On Sunday I actually had a “date” and skipped any birding.  So far that looks like a good decision.  We’ll see.  But that meant passing on a chance to chase a rare Tennessee Warbler that had been visiting Ed and Delia Newbold’s yard in South Seattle.  Although it was a long wait for many of the birders who looked for it that day, it was found.  I decided to try on my own on Monday and that was a wise choice as the weather was spectacular and at first I was the only birder there.  The good news was that I had a glimpse of the rarity as soon as I arrived.  The bad news was that I was looking directly into a very bright sun.  Now it is not often that I complain about sun in Seattle in the winter, but this made any photo impossible.  Moving to get a better perspective meant creating a stir and the birds all departed.  Afterwards there were lots of birds off and on including a very photogenic Northern Flicker but no more warblers.

Northern Flicker

northern flicker

I told Jon Houghton that I had seen the warbler and I was going to stay hoping for a reappearance.  He joined me about 35 minutes later and it had not shown up again.  We waited together for another 30 minutes or so and just as I was about to leave a flock of Bushtits flew in – the first I had seen there that morning.  I was blocked from my position, but Jon noticed a “yellowish little guy” had flown in with the Bushtits.  It was the Tennessee Warbler and we got great looks and many photos as it posed on the fence and then bathed in one of the small pools.  I have seen Tennessee Warblers twice in Washington before where they are quite rare – both times near Neah Bay and both times with very poor photos.  This was a very pleasing major improvement.

Tennessee Warbler

tennessee warbler

tennessee warbler fence1

We saw 15 species at this bird rich spot attracted primarily by the bathing/drinking opportunities.  A “bonus” photo was of a Ruby Crowned Kinglet that actually was still long enough for a good picture – something that rarely happens.

Ruby Crowned Kinglet

ruby crowned kinglet

There would be one last mini-trip to end the month.  There is a farm off Neal Road in Fall City that has drawn large mixed flocks of Blackbirds, Cowbirds and Starlings.  Last year there was a Rusty Blackbird in the huge gathering AND there also was a White Wagtail that was chased, seen and photographed (distantly) by many.  The Wagtail did not return this year, but there were recent reports of both a Rusty Blackbird and Brown Headed Cowbirds.  The weather was spring like and I decided to look for both as I had not yet seen either.  I went in the “back way” along Neal Road itself and made a first stop at a pullout just before the single lane when I saw some white birds in a distant field.  They were Trumpeter Swans.  As I got out of my car I glimpsed a woodpecker fly into a tree just overhead.  It turned out to be my first Red Breasted Sapsucker of the year, already confirming that I had made a good decision to take this trip.

Red Breasted Sapsucker

red breasted sapsucker

I continued on to the end of the road where there is a viewpoint back across the river to the farm and to several large cottonwoods that were full of birds.  Unlike my arrival looking for the Tennessee Warbler the light was perfect – behind me providing good scope views of the birds in the trees – hundreds of them – noisy and active.  I immediately picked out many Brown Headed Cowbirds and i much less time than I had any right to expect, found the female Rusty Blackbird among some Brewer’s Blackbirds on one of the upper and back branches.  Without the light behind me and the scope there would have been no way I would have been able to identify the target.  I took some random photos of “birds” in the trees but none showed the Rusty – too many branches in the way and too far away.  If I knew how to digiscope, I think I would have been able to get an ID photo.

Wanting to beat the traffic home, I left the blackbirds and spent a little while looking for the flock of geese that had been reported to have a Greater White Fronted Goose.  I found a flock of about 150 birds approximately evenly split between Cackling Geese and Canada Geese.  I scoped them carefully several times but never found a Greater White Fronted.

Now it really was time to prepare for the Hawaii trip.  Especially with the visit to New Mexico and the dash to Nanaimo, B.C., there had been a lot of biding in January bit nothing like the driven pace that came with the Big Month for January 2018.  I had not been to the Coast at all.  I did not visit Walla Walla and I did not visit the Okanogan.  So instead of the 208 species seen in Washington in January 2018, this year it is only 160 but many many good memories, photos, observations and time spent with friends.  That’s what it is all about.

New Mexico – Part 1 – Getting to 50+ Species and Wonderful Bosque del Apache

The government shutdown was in day 26.  TSA employees had already missed a 2 week paycheck and there was no way to know when the next one would be coming.  There were news stories about backlogs and potential delays at security checkpoints at the airports.  My flight was due to depart Sea-Tac Airport at 5:25 p.m.  I am always early, but this time I wanted to be sure to allow time – just in case…

I got through security in exactly two minutes.  I thanked everyone for coming to work despite the shutdown.  I was now 90 minutes ahead of departure time.   Travel last year had earned me MVP status with Alaska Airlines and I had been upgraded to Premium Class.  More leg room and more importantly to me – early boarding and sitting closer to the front, I would get off the plane early as well.  The trip was off to a good start.  Landing in Albuquerque 10 minutes early, a quick shuttle to the rental car center, an unasked for upgrade and quick processing by Alamo, and a 10 minute drive to my hotel continued the good start.  Clear skies and without wind was forecast the next day.  All good.  I was ready to bird.

In planning the trip as part of my 50/50/50 project, the key was to find a good local resource hopefully to be able to join in the field or at least to get useful input to help find my needed 50 species in a day.  As I often do, I started with the local Audubon Chapter – in this case Central New Mexico Audubon.  It turned out to be a great one stop answer to my needs.  I found a field trip to the Alameda Open Space and Bridge scheduled for January 17 led by Barbara Hussey.  Her contact information was included and I sent her an introductory e-mail. She responded positively saying I could join their group.  She shared probable species to be seen and over the course of other e-mails and a phone conversation, she helped me plan an itinerary both to get my 50 species and also to see some of the birds and places I hoped to visit.  She was terrific.

If I had done my homework a little better I would have found that Barbara was the author of “Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico.  She and co-author Judith Liddell knew as much about birding in this area as anyone.  Both were also very active in the birding community and as it turned out Judith was also going to be on the field trip.  Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

birding hotspots of central new mexico

The Audubon trip was scheduled to start at 9:00.  I wanted to arrive early figuring to do a little birding on my own, knowing that since the maximum number of species to expect was between 25 and 30, I would have to leave before the projected 12:00 p.m ending to be able to get to other places.  On the way over I was struck by the number of Rock Pigeons.  They seemed to be on every wire and flying over every road – I must have seen 200.  This theme continued during my entire visit.  I saw far more Rock Pigeons in and around Albuquerque than I have seen anywhere else – even in big cities.

Next I picked up a few species in the adjoining neighborhood including Great Tailed Grackle which had not been on my radar screen but is common in the area.  At the Alameda Open Space Park, my first birding was a small pond immediately next to the parking area.  It was full of ducks but only a couple of species – almost exclusively Wood Ducks – at least 70.  What a beautiful start to the day.

Wood Duck

wood duck1

Black Crowned Night Heron was also in the pond.  It turned out to be a good thing that I saw it early as it was not there later and to see one would have extended my stay on the trip.  I did not know that at the time, or if they were easy to find anywhere else.

Black Crowned Night Heron

black crowned night heron

The meet up place for the trip was the parking lot and by 8:45 birders were starting to arrive.  Lots of birders.  Lots and lots of birders.  I met Barbara and saw that she was going to have her hands full leading this big group.  When the decision was made to split the group into two, with the second group led by Judy Liddell, I decided to join her group not wanting Barbara to feel she had to “hold my hand”.  Judy was great and the group was fun.  It was mostly beginning birders although a couple of them were well beyond that.  Trips like these are great for birding and are one of the important things that Audubon chapters do all over the country.  I am sure that there were at least 50 people and all seemed to enjoy the time – seeing birds and learning about them – and just having a good time.  A large group is not the best way to maximize the number of species seen, but Judy was excellent and the area along the Rio Grand River was good habitat with a mix of water birds, passerines and a few of these and a few of those.  I spent about 90 minutes with the group and ended up with 32 species – more than expected and a good start to the day.

Barbara, Judy and a couple of the local birders gave lots of suggestions for next places to go, but it was clear to me that my best chance to maximize species would be to get to Bosque del Apache NWR – high on my “I want to visit this place” list.  This had been a great start to the visit at least as much due to the people as the birds.  Birding can be a very social activity and this was such at its best.  I am sure I would greatly enjoy more time with Barbara and Judy and with many of the birders…particularly…well that would take me off topic.  😉

I have learned that often in trying to get to 50 species in a day, there are flybys on the roads between birding destinations that could prove to be a much needed sighting for the day.  On my way to Tingley Ponds I picked up an American Kestrel and a Downy Woodpecker.  I expected to see more of the former but the Woodpecker was a miss at Alameda so I was glad to see one.  I was unsure of how to cover Tingley Ponds which I was told would add several duck species plus a Neotropic Cormorant.  I never saw the Cormorant although I learned later that I had been looking in the right place.  I added only two duck species and a Pied Billed Grebe.  There were lots of people walking or fishing in the area and I probably just did not give it much of a chance.  I left after just 10 minutes with my species count at 37 for the day.

My pre-trip research had identified Valle de Oro NWR as a good place to bird and it was also highly recommended by Barbara and Judy.  It was on the way to Bosque del Apache and just off the main road.  The first four birds I saw there were new for the day:  European Starling, Say’s Phoebe, Common Raven and Chihuahuan Raven.  The latter was a challenging ID.  I saw more than 50 Ravens.  At least two of them were much smaller with relatively  small bills.  They were in flight so I could not see any white feathers on the neck a feature not always visible and which was the basis for them previously being called White Necked Ravens.  They are regular at this location, so I was good with the check mark on my list.

Most notable at Valle de Oro were the flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Snow  Ross’s, Canada and Cackling Geese.  All of the geese except the Canada Geese were new for the day.  I am sure there were more mixed in, but I was pleased to identify a handful of the smaller Ross’s Geese among the Snow Geese.  These are very uncommon in Washington.  I would see many more later in the day. Recent visits to the Refuge had produced Ferruginous Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, Prairie Falcon and several other good birds, but I found none of them.  More time and local birder input would likely have made a difference but I was now at 44 species and thought some of these misses might be found at Bosque del Apache and I was eager to visit this famous place.  It was 92 miles south but with the speed limit at 75 (I love you New Mexico) and a bit of a fudge factor that seemed to be used by New Mexico drivers that meant it was barely 75 minutes away – lots of time.


There will be lots of details to follow but the bottom line is that Bosque del Apache was FANTASTIC!!  Overall the “Woods of the Apaches” is over 55,000 acres with the heart of the refuge being about 4,000 acres easily accessed by a double loop road that is about 12 miles long.  I spent about 3 hours at the Refuge which was not nearly enough – driving most of the loop road and getting to the very birdy visitor center after it closed and too late for as much birding as it justified in the fading light.  Ebird shows 366 species for the refuge – an incredible list.  However it is the number of individuals that may be more impressive as many waterfowl species are present in the thousands as are the Sandhill Cranes.  It was easily one of the favorite places I have birded.

On the road into the Refuge I had a single Prairie Falcon, a single Greater Yellowlegs (joining Killdeer as my only shorebirds for the day), several Loggerhead Shrikes and two Western Meadowlarks – surprisingly the only ones I saw.  I also added a Northern Harrier, Mourning Doves, Green Winged Teal and Northern Pintails to reach 50 species for the day.  With that mission accomplished, all pressure was off and I forgot about numbers and just enjoyed the beautiful day at an amazing place.

Western Meadowlark (Eastern Meadowlarks are also at the Refuge but have a white malar) – This was the 50th species for the day.

western meadowlark1

Loggerhead Shrike (Northern Shrikes are also found in Winter but are much rarer and have a much narrower eye stripe/patch)

loggerhead shrike

Twenty-six duck species have been reported at the Refuge – with 17 present in January.  I did not check every duck there and had 11 species with Northern Pintails seemingly the most numerous.  The biggest waterfowl show was the large numbers of both Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese in mixed flocks.

Goose Raft

mixed flock of snow and ross's geese

Snow Goose

snow goose flight1

Ross’s Geese (with Snow Geese) – Can readily see size difference

ross's geese

I saw fewer raptors than expected – only a few Red Tails, a half dozen Bald Eagles and a few American Kestrels.  The one exception was a good number of Northern Harriers.  One was feasting on a Snow Goose in shallow water.  I have never seen a Harrier kill a Snow Goose in Skagit and Snohomish Counties in my home state Washington although both species are plentiful there.  I do not know if this was a kill or scavenging but a good photo opportunity.

Northern Harrier with Snow Goose

northern harrier on snow goose

A typical scene in the many fields would be flocks of Sandhill Cranes with Snow, Canada and Ross’s Geese and some duck species.  I did not try to count the individuals or scan for different species – just enjoyed the spectacle.  Thousands of birds.

Typical Scenes

sandhill crane

typical scene

Towards the end of the loop, it was getting later and many Cranes, Geese and Ducks were on the move.  It was still four days away from the full (Wolf) moon, but the already large moon did provide an interesting photo opportunity as a backdrop for the birds in flight.

Moon Mallards

moon mallards

Another treat as dusk approached was a large flock of Wild Turkeys – over 125 in a single group.  I had hoped to see quail on the drive but to this point the Turkeys were the only gallinaceous species found.

Wild Turkey

wild turkey2

I wish I had had more time and especially wish I had processed how good the birding was at the Visitor Center.  It was almost 5 p.m. when I got there and the light was getting low.  There were lots of birds including more than 125 Gambel’s Quail,  They seemed to flush from everywhere.  Other treats there were a Curve Billed Thrasher, some Lesser Goldfinches and a couple of Pyrrhuloxias – one of my favorites.  273 species have been record at the Visitor Center with over 70 reported just this January.  I only had ten in the 20+ minutes I was there – completely alone.  There are feeders and native plants – really a great place.  I will get back.



Gambel’s Quail

gambel's quail1

Now the light was really low with the sun setting over the low hills to the west.  Time to go.  It had been a fabulous visit.  Without really trying to get a high species count, I had seen 38 species at the Refuge, so so but the quality of the experience was outstanding.  There would be one more species and a closing spectacle.  I headed to two ponds at the North end of the Refuge on the main road.  It was the “fly-in” spot at dusk for the Sandhill Cranes.  Just before getting there, I saw a familiar silhouette on one of the telephone poles – a Great Horned Owl.  It would turn out to be the only Owl I saw on my entire trip so I include the photo despite the poor light.

Great Horned Owl

great horned owl

The Sandhill Crane fly-in was as fitting a way to end a great day as one could hope for.  There were already many photographers and gawkers there when I arrived.  There were hundreds of Cranes already in the pool, their raucous calls filling surrounding us and they just kept coming and coming.  I did not stay until the end so I do not know the total, but there are many thousand Cranes on the refuge.  I took some videos and lots of photos.  An almost spiritual experience.

Sand Hill Crane Fly-in Spot

sandhill crane sunset

It seemed like ages ago that I had left the Audubon Group at Alameda Open Space.  The wonders of Bosque del Apache had not erased but had overshadowed the birding in the morning.  The Great Horned Owl was the 62nd species seen during this day making New Mexico the 24th state where I have now seen 50 species in a day.  All of those days have been great and this one ranks high.  There are many places I have birded that I hope to revisit.  This is definitely one of them.

Bosque del Apache

bosque del apache

New Mexico Part 2 – Foothills and Mountains – Jays and Rosy Finches

When I planned my trip to New Mexico, I had two important goals.  The first – satisfied on day one and detailed in my first New Mexico Blog Post – was to find 50 species in a single day.   I believed a visit to Bosque del Apache would play an important role in doing that.  It did but had I known how much I would enjoy that place, I would have made birding there as an essential part of my trip independently of just finding more species.  My second goal was to visit Sandia Crest to see the three species of Rosy Finches:  Gray Crowned, Brown Capped and Black.  I had seen them at the Wildernest Community location in Colorado on April 9, 2016 but the views and photos of Black Rosy Finch were limited and unsatisfactory.  Sandia Crest is THE place to go to get good looks at all three species – especially at the feeders maintained by the Sandia Crest Gift Shop and Cafe.

With two days still available, I debated whether to wait until my last day to go to Sandia Crest or to try it on Friday.  A heavy wind was projected for Friday afternoon – not good for birding or possible tourist activities.  Saturday was supposed to be better.  I decided to bird in the foothills outside of Albuquerque in the morning and then maybe head up to Santa Fe later – revisiting one of New Mexico’s major attractions.  I chose Embudito Canyon, northeast of Albuquerque as my birding spot.  It had rained over night and when I got to the Canyon, it was covered with a few inches of snow and it was snowing very lightly.  It was beautiful!!

The Trail at Embudito Canyon

scene 1

Like in Arizona, habitats here change dramatically and quickly as soon as you leave the flatlands and get into the foothills and gain elevation.  I found myself in the land of cactus and sage and low shrubs with some oaks and pines.  I also found myself immediately with birds.  The first was a Curve Billed Thrasher buried in shrubs at the last house before getting into the Park itself and the second was a Woodhouse’s Scrubjay.  I had first seen the latter in Colorado in 2016 and then later had them in Arizona in 2017 and in Texas in 2018.  I had photos from those visits, but none were great.  This one was much better.

Curve Billed Thrasher

curve billed thrasher

Woodhouse’s Scrubjay

woodhouse's scrubjay1

A photo that I missed was of a Cactus Wren.  It popped up about 1/4 mile up the trail and then disappeared rather than perching in the open as I have seen them do before.  Instead I got a photo of one of what seemed to be a pair of Canyon Towhees, a nondescript but attractive species.

Canyon Towhee

canyon towhee3

The most numerous birds were Dark Eyed Juncos which seemed to be everywhere.  I estimated there to be at least 70 but it well could have been over 100.  And there were some of many of the different forms – Slate Colored, Pink Sided and Red Backed.  They were extremely skittish and would disappear quickly into the brush.

Dark Eyed Junco – Red Backed

dark eyed junco

It was great fun to walk alone in the canyon.  The snow had no other footprints except for some deer and it was eerily quiet as the snow cover muffled all sounds except for a few bird calls.  The vegetation changed the further up I went and it is at times like these that I wish I knew more about plants.  I believe the photo below is of a Tree Cholla Cactus.  Some Desert Prickly Pear can be seen in the background.

Tree Cholla Cactus


The place was so different from what I see in Washington.  It was peaceful and restful but at the same time energizing.  The lightly falling snow added to the magic of the place.  I think I was still somewhat on a high from the visit to Bosque del Apache and this place took me to a higher place – both literally and emotionally.  The last bird I saw in the canyon was a Mountain Chickadee, a species that always brings a smile as well.

Mountain Chickadee

mountain chickadee

A good indication of just how different this habitat was from the ones I birded the previous day is that while there were only 12 species seen, 50% of them were new.  Now what?  I had so thoroughly enjoyed this visit that I abandoned plans to go to Santa Fe and decided to head to Sandia Crest which was less than 30 miles away.  It turned out to be a bad decision.

As I headed further east before going higher into the Sandia mountains and the Cibola National Forest, there was no snow on the roads although some could be seen in the hills.  The elevation of Albuquerque is just over 5,200 feet and Embudito Canyon is around 6000 feet.  Sandia Crest i is almost 11,000 feet.  My rental car was a front wheel drive which I thought would be sufficient as I expected that the road would be plowed since it was the way to a major ski area.  But I had not figured in just how much snow had fallen on the mountain the night before or that the snow plows would not have removed much of the snow past the ski area.  The last 15 miles of the trip were on a winding road with sharp turns and still some snow.  I went very slow and was doing ok until bout a mile before the ski area – which was still 6 miles before the crest.  Even though I was following right behind a working plow, I felt there was just no way I was going to make it and if I got stuck I would be in serious trouble.  So an hour into the ascent, I turned back.  It was now around 11:30 a.m.  Where to next?

When I got back to the west side of the Sandia Mountains it was almost 1 p.m. and the wind had picked up substantially.  I considered going to Sevilleta NWR – about 30 minutes north of Bosque del Apache.  I also considered going to Santa Fe about an hour and a half north.  But the wind was a deterrent.  I decided to bird a bit at Rio Grande Nature Center, a place highly recommended by one of the better birders on the field trip the previous morning.  I added a couple of duck species but the wind was now very strong and when I went into the bosque – the woods – I found almost no birds.

A friend had visited nearby Petroglyphs National Monument and said there were a few birds and  the petroglyphs were interesting.  My friend had visited before the government shutdown.  The Monument was closed to traffic and the visitor center completely shutdown.  I tried an alternative entrance which was at least open to parking but by then the wind was gusting over 40 mph.  I admitted defeat and returned to my hotel conceding that some additional sleep might be the best idea anyhow.  The weather was supposed to be crystal clear the next day, wind free and warmer.  I would try Sandia Crest again, but I was still worried about the roads as many parts of the road would not be in the sun and it was unclear how much snow would remain.  I had a plan to solve that if my rental car company would help.


My rental car was from Alamo.  From my hotel I called customer service and asked if I might be able to exchange my vehicle for an SUV.  I spoke with Renee who was very friendly, understanding and helpful.. She checked Alamo’s inventory at the airport and found that they had no SUV’s but did have 2 trucks with 4 wheel drive.  She could not reserve it for me but said all I had to do was go to the return center and work it out there being sure not to let them check me out before securing another option.  She expected an upgrade fee of not more than $30.00 or so for the one day exchange.  To me that was worth it.  The return place was barely 5 minutes from the hotel.  Bottom line is that Alamo was terrific.  Kenny, who turned out to be the manager, got me into a 4 wheel drive pickup within 2 minutes.  We modified the paper work and I drove off – without an up charge.  The whole process took less than 10 minutes.  When I got back to the hotel, I called Customer Service, expressed my gratitude and gave an outstanding review naming both individuals.  The representative I talked to was very appreciative since in general people call to complain and not to say thank you.  Thank yous are very powerful.

The plan for Saturday was to get to Sandia Crest after 10:00 a.m. which is when the Gift Shop opened.  I filled in the early morning with another visit to the foothills, this time to the Elena Gallegos Picnic Area – an Ebird Hotspot.  I was hoping to see a Juniper Titmouse but the main target was a Scaled Quail – possible if unlikely.  At the entrance building I paid my $3.00 fee and had a great talk with the Ranger.  He gave some birding suggestions in the park.  We also talked about Sandia Crest and Bosque del Apache.  I entered the park and headed off to a spot he said at least had a chance for Scaled Quail.  As I approached the area, another visitor came speeding by from the opposite direction.  Three birds flushed – one was a Mountain Bluebird, one a Western Bluebird and the other was — a Scaled Quail.  It had been on the side of the road and headed into the brush.  I prayed that it would land not too far away but no luck and it was gone.  It was a “want” and not a “need” as I had a good sighting and photo from Colorado but they are neat little birds.  Sigh…

Scaled Quail (from Colorado in 2016)

42-Scaled Quail


Missing the flushed Western Bluebird was no problem as they were abundant in the park.  I expected to see many Mountain Bluebirds but no more were seen. The skies were also bright blue, so maybe they just blended in too well.  Not so colorful were two other birds seen in good numbers:  Juniper Titmouse and Townsend’s Solitaire.

Western Bluebird

western bluebird1

Juniper Titmouse

juniper titmouse1

Townsend’s Solitaire

townsend's solitaire1

As had been the case at Embudito Canyon, there were also lots of Dark Eyed Juncos of several forms and many Woodhouse’s Scrubjays.  There was one more new bird, a Ladder Backed Woodpecker.  Only 9 species were seen at this spot in the 55 minutes that I was there, but 5 of them were new for my trip.  I really enjoyed the place and my first ever truck was performing great.  It was time to head to the Crest!!

Ladder Backed Woodpecker

ladder backed woodpecker1

View of Albuquerque from Elena Gallegos

Albuquerque from Elena Gallego.jpg

Although it was only 35 miles to the Crest, I knew much of the road was slow going so I expected it take about an hour to get there.  The Gift Shop website said they would be open at 10:00, so timing looked good.  When I got to the winding road in the mountains it was clear that much of the snow from the previous day had melted.  I wondered if the car exchange was necessary.  It was.  As I got first to the Ski Area – which was jammed – and then beyond there were still a number of spots with some snow that the plows had missed or the sun had not melted.  I only got into 4 wheel drive in a few places but I doubt I would have made it with the other car.  It was spectacular.


I arrived at the Crest around 10:15.  The road to the parking area for the Gift Shop was closed so I parked below.  Uh-oh…the stairs up to the Gift Shop were buried in 18″ to 24″ of snow – or more.  I trudged up them laboring in the thin air at almost 11,000 feet elevation and when I finally got to the entrance to the Shop, it was blocked by snow and seemed closed. So I trudged back down hoping to get a view of the finches as they came to a feeder that was visible from the parking area.

Sandia Crest gift Shop Entrance

gift shop

I heard them coming before I saw them.  Out of nowhere a large flock of Rosy Finches flew first into the tree next to the platform feeder and then on to the feeder itself.  It was a mad swirl of flashing wings and gorging birds.  They seemed to be entirely Black Rosy Finches but I picked out a single Gray Crowned Rosy Finch and a few Brown Capped. ones. It was impossible to single any out with the camera in their constant movement, so I just kept taking pictures.

Rosy Finches at the Lower Feeder


I heard some high pitched calls coming from behind me.  They were not more Rosy Finches but I was unsure what they were.  They sounded like squeaky Jays.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw 4 blue forms fly by followed immediately by at least 10 more in a tight flock formation.  The common Jay at this location is the Steller’s Jay and I had already seen a couple of individuals on the road up.  These birds were solid blue … and had no crests and no black heads.  I had only seen them twice before but I was sure they were Pinyon Jays – uncommon but not impossible here.  Unfortunately if they stopped and perched at all, it was somewhere beyond the Gift House which was above me.  Had I not been diligently searching the Rosy Finches for Gray Crowneds I might have been able to get on them for a photo, but there was no time to switch from binoculars to camera.  Additionally disappointing because I only have two  photos from the Colorado observation.

Pinyon Jay – Colorado – April 2016

54-Pinyon Jay Flight

And…the Rosy Finches flew off as well.  A few minutes later someone came down the steps from the Gift Shop with a sign saying the shop was open but that access would be via the rear entrance.  I followed him up a second set of steps where the snow was more compacted and around to the rear entrance where he had shoveled away the snow so the door could be opened and Voila! I was in the Gift Shop where it was not only warm but where I could watch the feeders AND get some hot chocolate!!  Another thank you for his efforts.

Over the next half hour, more people came up to the Gift Shop.  Some were birders, some photographers and some were just visitors including two men from Israel.  Two of the birders were from Tucson, AZ – veteran birders a little older than me who were also there for the Rosy Finches.  We shared war (birding) stories and they liked my 50 State undertaking.  One of them, Karen Morley, was a former president of the Maryland Ornithological Society (MOS), a pretty high powered and prestigious organization in my native Maryland where I lived for the first 21 years of my life but never birded.  The small world aspect of birding came home twice with this intersection.  In 1975, I attended a conference of the Maryland Ornithological Union – predecessor to the MOS.  One of the field trips I joined at that conference was led by the legendary Chan Robbins.  In an extraordinary day of birding at the height of migration, we had well over 100 species.  It is the only 50 species day that I am including retroactively because it allows me to have Mr. Robbins as part of my story.  A second small world connection was that Karen was friends with a birding acquaintance of mine from Tacoma, Washington – indeed someone who had a connection with someone in Indiana that led to my birding companion there when I had my 50 species day there last year.  A small world indeed.

Back to the Rosy Finches.  It was not for at least 30 minutes, but they did make an appearance at the upper feeder and then made several more afterwards.  The feeder is directly on the porch behind the Gift Shop.  On days without the snow, it is possible to sit on the porch and watch the finches come in to the seed that has been placed there to attract them.  They are used to humans gawking at them and tolerate the close presence.  This day the porch was closed so the view was through large plate glass windows, but the birds were still very close and the optical distortion was slight.  I took MANY photos…many, many, many photos.

Black Rosy Finch Photos

black rosy finch with snow dust


black rosy finch flight

black rosy finch detail

blrf trio

It was not so easy finding and photographing the Brown Capped Rosy Finches and I never again saw the Gray Crowned Rosy Finch that had been in the flock that visited the lower feeder earlier – or did I?

Brown Capped Rosy Finch

brown capped rosy finch 1

Brown Capped Rosy Finch with Black Rosy Finch

black and brown capped rosy finches

This is either a Variant Form of Brown Capped Rosy Finch or is a form of the Gray Crowned Rosy Finch with less than usual gray.

brown capped rosy finch2

The only other species seen while at the Crest were a few Steller’s Jays, a Sharp Shinned Hawk, a White Breasted Nuthatch and some Mountain Chickadees.

White Breasted Nuthatch

white breasted nuthatch

Mountain Chickadee

mountain chickadee with seedmountain chickadee

While the highlight of this visit was without question seeing the Rosy Finches, there were so many other great parts as well.  All of the birds were superb in this beautiful setting.  Sharing stories with Karen and her friend was great fun.  The views were spectacular.  And engaging the gentlemen from Israel was one of those experiences that is a special part of birding.  They were not birders but were aware of the great birding in Israel especially during migration.  They did not know anything about the Rosy Finches or how special this place was for birders wishing to see them.  Giving them some background and sharing my binoculars was very rewarding.  One of the men called his family in Israel and he spoke to his wife and his young daughter.  I believe it was 9 hours later there – so around her bedtime.  The magic of technology allowed this conversation to be had as clear as if they were in the same room, and with his smart phone he could let her see this beautiful place and even the birds coming to the feeder.  Amazing times.  An amazing place.

View West from Sandia Crest


It was barely 1 p.m. and the return drive would be about 90 minutes.  I considered more birding at another location or possibly some sightseeing in Albuquerque, but it had been a full three days and as is usually the case on these trips, I had gotten less sleep than I should.  I needed to get the car back to the rental return and then get back to my hotel by shuttle.Somehow it felt right to end the birding with the high – literally and emotionally with the other world feeling of Sandia Crest.  So I called it a day and a fitting end to a wonderful visit and returned to the hotel to work on photos and do some reading.

The visits to the foothills and to Sandia Crest had brought my total species count for the visit to 82 species.  There were no new ABA Life birds or photos, but some of my earlier photos had been improved.  I had visited New Mexico twice earlier – one a non-birding trip to Santa Fe and once as a brief adjunct to a trip to Southeast Arizona in 2016.  Adding species seen on those trips, my New Mexico State List stands at a paltry 95 species.  Given that the New Mexico State list is over 550 species, I want to come back and see many more.  But regardless of the species count, this visit will be one of my favorites with memories of Barbara Hussey and Judith Liddell, of Bosque del Apache, the foothills and Sandia Crest.  I really love these trips!!

24th state


Thrush Dreams Revisited – Chasing a Dusky Thrush

The Dusky Thrush Chase

Birding is NOT a static activity either moment by moment in the field or over time as we follow our passions.  I am updating my Thrush Dreams post from barely a month ago (December 21, 2018) because yesterday (January 22, 2019) with Steve and Connie Pink, I traveled to Nanaimo, B.C.  to chase a Dusky Thrush that had been reported two days earlier.  When I first heard of this mega rarity, I was returning from a wonderful trip to New Mexico – part of my 50/50/50 project that will get at least one blog post of its own later.  I had never been to Nanaimo and had it pictured in my mind as “close to Alaska”.  Wrong!  It is a 2 hour ferry ride from the Tsawwassen Ferry terminal outside Vancouver, B.C.  When Steve contacted me late on Monday – after I had returned from a great day of birding in Kittitas County with Frank Caruso and Deb Essman (another blog post to come) and corrected my geography, I said sure let’s go.

Edmonds to Nanaimo

map to nanaimo

We left early Tuesday a.m.  At the border it was a repeat of some earlier experiences with Canadian Border patrol – friendly, efficient AND we learned he had actually read about the rarity when we told him the purposes for the visit.  The ferry was more like a floating resort with comfy seats, shopping and food.  No good birds on the way but an easy 2 hour ride.  We disembarked around 10:00 a.m. and were at the stakeout site around 10:15.  There was a single car there and we were able to visit with a birding couple who were not high powered birders but were very friendly and most importantly, they had seen the Dusky Thrush in the company of some American Robins 20 minutes earlier.  They seemed equally interested in a Palm Warbler that they had seen.  It is a good bird for the province BUT we were chasing the Dusky Thrush and that was our only quest. With the details of where they had seen it before it had flown off, we walked back up the road and began scanning trees near the house and barn.

There are many emotions that run through birders as we chase rarities.  The strongest of course is a strong “want/need/desire/hope” to successfully find the target.  In a case like this where we are on unfamiliar territory, have traveled a long way (although not as long as cross country chases that many birders do), are looking for a VERY rare bird, and it is the day after the last report, there is the uneasy nagging feeling that accompanies the questions: “Is it gone?”  “Are we too late?”  When our new best birding friends told us the Dusky Thrush had been seen, even though it had flown off, the odds were very, very good that it was still there and it was now just a matter of time.  So we scanned and waited.

About 19 minutes later, with only a few views of American Robins the light rain was feeling wetter, the temperature was feeling lower, and the light wind was feeling stronger.  Another minute later, our awareness of all of those changed dramatically when Steve, with our only scope, yelled “Got it!”.  The Dusky Thrush was perched on top of the large oak tree next to the house.  Protocol in such cases is for the spotter to get a “record look”, then stand back and let the next and next person get a look.  Connie got the second look and then just as I focused on the bird, it flew off.  Yeah, countable but not even close to satisfying let alone a photo opportunity.

There had been other birders on the ferry who were coming to chase this bird.  As we were alone, we wondered where they were.  It turned out they had all made wrong turns, gotten lost, regrouped and arrived about 15 minutes after our peekaboo view.  But they too now knew that the Dusky Thrush was here and there were now more eyes to continue the search.  About 15 minutes later, the Dusky Thrush was re-spotted – again just brief looks and a fly off.  A short while later, it returned and now it was on the ground, still distant, difficult to see and moving around but there were some good views.  For the next 20 minutes we watched it forage on the ground and even perch up on a wood post that was flat on the ground.  I tried for photos in the difficult conditions.  Sure wish I had the 800 mm lens that one of the birders had!!!

First Photo of the Dusky Thrush – ABA Photo #697

dusky thrush1

Best Photo of the Dusky Thrush

dusky thrush3r

Final Photo Photo of the Dusky Thrush after it perched again in an even more distant tree.

dusky thrush tree1

The distance, poor light and interfering grass and gates and wires were all a challenge – so very poor photos BUT I got an OK photo, had OK looks and definitely had an ABA Life bird.  What rain?  What cold?  What wind?  It had seemed much longer, but it had only been 90 minutes since we had left the ferry and we would be able to return and catch the 12:45 ferry back to Vancouver and possibly have time to chase a Snowy Owl that had been reported in Skagit County the day before.  This was a very good chase.

We made the ferry, reveled in our good luck and then hit truly awful rain at Tsawassen which continued for the rest of the drive home.  The Snowy Owl had not been seen by anyone tht day and in the awful rain, we probably would not have tried for it anyhow.  Guess we would just have to “settle” for the Dusky Thrush.   And that was just fine!!

My original Thrush Dreams blog post was inspired by the successful Fieldfare chase to Salmon Arm, B.C, about 350 miles away from Nanaimo.  British Columbia is a HUGE province.  That fact plus it being somewhat closer to Alaska and there being many excellent birders has resulted in many rarities like this one.  My three rarest thrushes are from B.C. now adding Dusky Thrush to Fieldfare and Redwing.  Now we need an  Eyebrowed Thrush!!  

So I need to already revise my Thrush Dream  as the Dusky Thrush is thrush number 16 I have seen in the ABA Area and there now “only” 11 that I have not.

A White Throated Thrush continues to be seen in Madera Canyon in Southeastern Arizona.  If somehow it remains after I return from Hawaii the second week in February, maybe I will give in to temptation and go.  And I will definitely be waiting for an Eyebrowed Thrush sighting in B.C.  Steve and Connie Pink are ready to go as well…

 Eyebrowed Thrush

Eyebrowed Thrush

White Throated Thrush

White Throated Thrush                               

One sad note…  Great friend Melissa Hafting who has been my fabulous source of rare bird information and assistance in B.C. and who is an extraordinary birder with a first focus on B.C. birds is currently in Ecuador.  She is having a great time but is really hoping the Dusky Thrush remains until her return.  I hope so, too.

Looking Back on 2018

With the exception of yet another romantic failure, by all measures 2018 was a great year.  Without question the highlight was the addition of Griffin Pascal Leung to the family as my first grandchild.  Although he arrived on the scene a month early, he is healthy and happy and definitely a cutie.  Parents Miya and Lester are wonderful parents.  Unfortunately, I only got to visit them and Griffin in Newton, MA twice and Miya and Griffin made the trek to Seattle once.  I am looking forward to time with them in Hawaii next month.

Grandson Griffin – Maybe a Birder in the Future – But Entirely His Choice

Griffin Birder

As best I can recall there were only two health issues in 2018, some very brief congestion after a plane ride that was chilly or worse and some bursitis in my left knee after the crowded San Diego Pelagic trip and that darn anchor chain in the bow of the boat.  At age 71 those are hardly matters to complain about.  I am 15 pounds lighter than I was when I started the year.  That’s the good news, but the bad news is that I am 10 pounds heavier than I was maybe five months ago – another casualty of that romantic failure – or at least that’s my excuse.  Many friends have had knee replacements this year and have done very well afterwards.  So far no indication that this will be my fate in my near future, but I do not take good health for granted and am grateful for my present condition and high energy.  If only I could figure out how to sleep past 4 or 5 a.m.

It was an excellent birding year.  There were many special birds, but mostly I am very happy about visits to great places and time with wonderful people.  There is way more to it than just numbers, but I am a “lister” and not only keep track, but organize much of my birding accordingly.  Some bottom lines for the year are below.


My first priority is adding birds to my Washington state life list and state life photo list. New state birds in 2018 were LeConte’s Sparrow, Painted Redstart, Phainopepla and Vermilion Flycatcher.  This brought my “countable” state total to 420 species.  I also added a photo of a White Wagtail (seen but not photographed in 1984) to bring my Washington photo total to 409.  I guess I would have to acknowledge two remaining and recurring disappointments.  I tried several times but was unable to get photos of either a Boreal Owl or a Flammulated Owl.  Maybe next year (an annual refrain).   The only unsuccessful state “lifer” chase was for the Prothonotary Warbler seen at Neah Bay.  Ann Marie Wood and I missed it by an hour or so.  Sigh…

I did not specifically try for a big year list for the state but as reported here earlier, I did a Big Month in January. The 208 species that month made it pretty easy to get a good year list.  Since I birded out of state for more than two months including some prime time in both Spring and Fall migrations, I was very happy to end the year with 349 species seen in the State.  That Prothonotary Warbler would have been a nice round 350!!

Vermilion Flycatcher – Stanwood – Last New Washington State Bird and Photo – December 4, 2018

vemillion fc

ABA Area 

My second birding priority in 2018 was adding new ABA photos.  I had reached the milestone 700 species life list in 2017.  Now I was trying to add more ABA photos hoping to get to that same level for species photographed.  If only I had been taking pictures in the early days when I had seen many of the Florida, Texas and Arizona specialty birds as well as others here and there.  I did not keep a chronological list, but believe I ended 2017 with 628 photos.  And that was a big jump from the end of 2016 thanks to trips to Arizona and Florida in 2017 where I expect I added as many as 100 ABA photos.  Of course seeing new ABA Species was important as well, especially since each of those was also a new photo opportunity.  I will discuss it separately but much of my birding as part of my 50/50/50 Project contributed to my totals in the ABA area.

2018 was a great ABA year.  I saw a total of 564 species (my best year ever).  Of those 26 were new lifers bringing me to 728 countable species.  And 68 were new ABA photos bringing me to the oh so close to 700 total of 696 species with photos.  Some of the photos were not so great, but I did get photos of all of the new lifers for the year.  I think all of them have been included in previous blogs about many of my trips.  I am often asked to pick a favorite bird or a favorite bird for the year.  In 2018, it would have to be the Whooping Crane as much for its beauty as for its symbolic importance as a conservation success story right up there with the California Condor which was a highlight of 2017.  It was not the rarest bird of the year.  That honor would probably have to go to the Fieldfare seen in British Columbia, the Nazca Booby in San Diego, the Sinaloa Wren in Arizona, or the European Storm Petrel in North Carolina.

My biggest disappointment was having my camera lens go on the blitz while at the Yellow Rails and Rice Festival in Louisiana.  Thus despite seeing several Yellow Rails, I was not able to get a photo of any.

Whooping Crane – Aransas NWR  – April 4, 2018

Whooping Crane4

New ABA Life Birds in 2018

Rosy-faced Lovebird Golden-cheeked Warbler Craveri’s Murrelet
Streak-backed Oriole Audubon’s Shearwater Ashy Storm-Petrel
Sinaloa Wren Wilson’s Storm-Petrel Least Storm-Petrel
Red-throated Pipit European Storm-Petrel LeConte’s Sparrow
Nazca Booby Band-rumped Storm-Petrel Philadelphia Vireo
Whooping Crane Fea’s Petrel Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Tropical Parula Black-capped Petrel Tundra Bean-Goose
Morelet’s Seedeater Yellow-footed Gull Fieldfare
Black-capped Vireo Black Storm-Petrel

My 50/50/50 Project/Adventure

As explained in earlier posts, this project evolved during the year and was not officially put into action until October.  The goal here is in each of the 50 states on a single day to see 50 species and to intersect with local birders and folks in the process – also to see places of interest – birding or not – in each case.  I decided to grandfather in a few states where I had already accomplished that goal:  Maine, Arizona, Wisconsin, Maryland, Florida, Colorado and Alaska.  I may redo some of these states as I go, but for now, they are in the “Done” list.  I had also already done that on many occasions in Washington including many times in 2018 and in fact have already done it 5 times this year.  That still left 42 states to do. Having a lot of fun along the way, I was able to add 15 states in 2018 and have a very ambitious schedule to hopefully complete the project in 2019.

In each state the overriding requirement is to have fun and also to get those 50 species and to join local birders.  When possible, I try to include a new ABA species or a new ABA photo either as one of the birds or on an additional day of birding in the states.  I haven’t broken it down by year, but so far on this adventure I have seen 415 species on the day of the count itself and 594 species including additional time in the state on the same trip.  In 2018,  5 new ABA Life birds were added on the count days only and 11 more were added on extended days.  There were many favorite birds or favorite bird photos or stories along the way on these trips including the Whooping Crane above, but they have been included in previous posts so I won’t include them again.  More importantly there were many great places visited and even more great people that I met.

I include again this map which shows the 23 states where I have already finished the 50 species in a day goal.  The ones in pink are scheduled for the next few weeks – New Mexico and Hawaii.  The ones in raised gold will be a month long swing during the peak migration this Spring in the east and the ones in gold with blue border will be a car trip in late May into June when I return from that eastern marathon.  Those gray states in the plains plus Arkansas and Iowa are unclear.  Maybe this fall – may have to defer them until 2020.  It’s a big country.

Interactive Map as of December 31

Birds, places and people – truly a great combination and that is the overwhelming lasting feeling about this year.  Had all of them over and over again.  Looking forward to 2019.