Idaho with Keith and Terry -50/50/50 at Its Best

Whether in my blogs or in my conversations with those who are interested, I emphasize that while my 50/50/50 Adventure is definitely about birds, it is really about people – people who share my passion for birds and beautiful places and passion for being with other people who are out there enjoying these wonderful gifts from nature.  There is no better example of this than my birding in Idaho with Keith Carlson and Terry O’Halloran.  And this is especially so as it followed a similarly wonderful day of birding their beloved Walla Walla County with Mike and MerryLynn Denny.  That day also had more than 50 species in a beautiful place with great birders who are even better people.  It really is about people.

I got to know Keith Carlson as a resource for some of the great birds found in Asotin County and from a chase or two there and an extremely special bird across the Snake River in Idaho.  One was a Blue Jay in December 2015 and another was a Red Flanked Bluetail in January 2017.  Each time Keith went out of his way to make sure I saw birds he had already seen.  He was a great guide and great company then and even moreso on this occasion.

Red Flanked Bluetail

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When I asked Keith if he could help with my 50/50/50 quest in Idaho, he jumped on it and not only came up with a plan for the day, he also came up with another birding companion, Terry O’Halloran and with breakfast and with lunch and then went out with Terry on a scouting trip to make sure we could find 50 species.   And then…

And then he and Terry found a Great Gray Owl.  When I got to Lewiston the day before the day of the quest, Keith said we had to get together and talk about a different option.  He told me of the Great Gray and asked if I wanted to go for it knowing it might make it harder to find 50 species since it was not part of the original logistics.  And also knowing it was not a sure thing.  My answer was easy – “Of course” and if we found it it would be a great addition and part of the story of the day.  If we didn’t find it, I was still confident we would find 50 species AND our search would still be a story for the day.  AND it is another part of this 50/50/50 adventure – the getting out and doing – trying, living fully with others and with spirit and a love, a passion for the activity itself.  Results are great, but the main result is participation itself.  Sure let’s go for the Owl.

Keith’s Great Great Gray Owl Photo (and the duplication is definitely intentional)

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Keith picked me up at 5:30 a.m. and then we picked up Terry at his house.   It was about an hour to get to Craig Mountain where they had found the Great Gray.  I had learned from my other 50/50/50 trips that it was important to pick up some common species on the way to targeted birding hotspots – birds like House Sparrow and European Starling.  This morning was very productive in that respect.  Aided by some birds at Terry’s feeder including Lesser Goldfinch, we had 16 species within 10 miles of my hotel.  We also had a very photogenic California Quail.

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

California Quail

California Quail

There was high anticipation when we arrived at the meadow where the Great Gray had been seen.  Not going to hold readers in suspense.   The Great Gray did not make a repeat appearance.  Keith was disappointed.  Terry was disappointed.  Sure, so was I – but not as much as they were.  They actually felt more responsibility for the success of my day than I did.  Keith was particularly worried that we had “wasted” time – taken time away from my 50 species quest on this empty pursuit.  Not wasted at all – it was terrific.  We shared the energy and excitement of the chase.  We found many other birds including a completely unexpected Wilson’s Snipe that Keith flushed.  I used the Northern Pygmy Owl tooting call to attract a small flock that included Mountain, Black Capped and Chestnut Backed Chickadees, Red Breasted Nuthatches, Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Townsend’s Warbler and Western Tanager.

Townsend’s Warbler

Townsend's Warbler

Western Tanager

Western Tanager

We also had other birds in the area including Mountain and Western Bluebirds, Cassin’s Finch, Red Crossbills and a rare Lincoln’s Sparrow.  On the drive out of the area, we found a Townsend’s Solitaire – always a good find.

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird1

Cassin’s Finch

Cassin's Finch1

Townsend’s Solitaire

Townsend's Solitaire1

By the time we left the area, we had 33 species from there and 48 altogether.  Not a waste at all – a highly productive and very fun visit and then the local expertise of Keith and Terry took us across the finish line as we visited Red Bird Lane where we had 27 species – 8 new for the day taking us past the 50 species threshold.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird1

Tree Swallow at Nest Box (I am including it here but it may have been at Craig Mountain)

Tree Swallow

Everything now would be gravy and we had lots of it.  We went to Mann Lake, a place I had heard about many times and seen in many great Ebird reports – famous for shorebirds and waterfowl and rarities.  Not its best time but we still had 7 new species including a Spotted Sandpiper that Keith knew had to be there and with diligence we found.  And then more local expertise and more caring participation because the reality was that as it has been on so many of my visits to other states, my adventure was a shared adventure, a joint activity and Keith and Terry not only wanted it to succeed by reaching some minimum but to be a full on engagement with ongoing meaning and enjoyment.

There had been a report by Carl Lundblad of a Least Flycatcher at a specific spot – with other good birds as well.  We had GPS coordinates and a description and a bird list.  There seemed to be some disconnect between the description and the GPS, but we got to what was almost certainly the right spot and we once again added new birds for the day – Lazuli Bunting, Yellow Breasted Chat, Black Headed Grosbeak, Vaux’s Swift and a Least Flycatcher – maybe…It looked mostly like one and it made all of the Least Flycatcher calls – except no che-bek.  It flew in in response to the che-bek calls but did not repeat them.  It did not respond to Willow Flycatcher calls – but a Willow Flycatcher did.  So maybe…

Our Mystery Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher1

One more stop both because it was a known Great Blue Heron roost spot and also because we needed to eat those lunches that Keith’s wife had prepared for us.  And fittingly there would be one more great bird as two Common Nighthawks flew over us with their loud and familiar “pe-ent” call.

Common Nighthawk

Common Nighthawk

It was only 2 o’clock.  Keith and Terry were game for anything.  We had observed 77 species for the day.  We could continue and probably add another dozen or so.  My earlier planning had assumed it would take all day to get our 50 species so I would be staying at a hotel in Lewiston for another night.  Keith had already vetoed that plan inviting me to spend the night at his home.  Either way, I would then have made a long 8+ hour drive the next day to Twin Falls enabling me to try for Cassia Crossbills the next morning before heading off to Salt Lake City (another 4 hours away).  Now there was another option.  I could head south and stay at McCall, ID halfway to Twin Falls.  That would make it possible the next day to get to the Crossbills spot in the afternoon, find them if I got lucky or more likely scope out the area and make another try the next day.

The choice was mine.  Keith and Terry had been so giving of their time.  It was a Sunday and I was sure there were other things they could be doing.  Splitting the 8 hour drive in half was appealing – heck, Keith had done all the driving this day, so I was fresh.  And somehow it seemed fitting to end the day with the Nighthawk – newly arrived in the area just for me/us to see.  I decided to head south and the results of that decision have already been written up in another blog post on the Cassia Crossbills (yes I found them the next day – or rather they found me).

So another successful 50/50/50 day – great birds, great places and great people.  Idaho was state #39.  Time with Keith was great.  Meeting Terry was great.  Seeing new places that I had only read about was great.  Many thanks to Keith (and his wife) and Terry.   They even provided perfect weather.

Cassia Crossbills – Luck Was With Me

This will be a short and very focused post and will be followed later by a longer one covering my wonderful 50/50/50 time with Keith Carlson and Terry O’Halloran in Northern Idaho.  The original plan had been to do the 50 species day with them in and around Lewiston, ID on Sunday June 9 spending that night afterwards in Lewiston.  Then I would do the long 8+ hour drive to Twin Falls, ID spending the night of the 10th there and try for the Cassia Crossbills the next morning at the Diamondfield Jack Campground.

Keith and Terry were such fabulous “guides” that we had over 75 species before 2 p.m.  This enabled me to hit the road and get to McCall, ID where I spent the night of the 10th.  McCall is about halfway between Lewiston and Twin Falls.  With this head start I was able to drive through Twin Falls and get to the Diamondfield Jack Campground just after noon.  Even though I had been encouraged to try for the Cassia Crossbills early in the morning, I figured I might get lucky or if nothing else, I would be more familiar with the area increasing my odds for success on a return the next morning.

The drive along Rock Creek to the Campground was spectacular in beautiful weather.  Soaring cliffs and rock formations on both sides of the road.  The temptation was to stop and bird as I went since I was hearing Yellow Warblers and Yellow Breasted Chats.  But they would be there on the return.  I wanted to get to the Campground.

Rock Creek Scenery

Rock Creek Scenery

Word was that the Crossbills could be found near the parking area for the Campground.  This was my first “surprise”.  There was a huge and frankly quite ugly parking area.  Where to start?  I parked next to a picnic table and when I got out of the car I thought I heard some Crossbills.  I followed the sound and found a Red Breasted Nuthatch putting finishing touches on its nest hole but no Crossbills.  Then I heard some chatter at the other end of the parking area.  Off I went.  Several Yellow Rumped Warblers and some Cassin’s Finches but again no Crossbills.

Red Breasted Nuthatch

Red Breasted Nuthatch at Nest

OK, time to breathe.  I returned to my car, got my lunch and sat down at the picnic table.  Some say that they would rather be lucky than good.  Nope I would rather be good than lucky…but this day I happily made an exception.  As I sat with my lunch they came in one after another after another – Cassia Crossbills – almost at my feet.  I had expected them high up in the trees but here they were down low feasting on the cones that were everywhere for the taking including on the picnic tables.  One landed on the picnic table next to mine.  Snap…an ABA Lifer and an ABA Life Photo!

Cassia Crossbill – ABA Lifer and Life Photo

Cassia Crossbill Female

Cassia Crossbill Working on a Cone

Cassia Crossbill at Work

There was a small pile of remnant snow and that seemed to be a favorite spot as at one time there were 4 Crossbills on it and they were joined by Pine Siskins.

Cassia Crossbill 4

Cassia Crossbill

All told there were at least 22 Cassia Crossbills always on the ground or on low perches over an area of maybe 100 feet by 100 feet.  They seemed to act individually except for the bit of snow, but apparently there was some magic signal and as quickly as they had appeared – poof! and they were all gone.  The fun had lasted maybe 15 minutes.  I guess I picked the right time for my lunch.

Cassia Crossbills on a Low Perch

Cassia Crossbill3

Cassia Crossbill2

Elated does not begin to describe my feelings.  A beautiful place and wonderful birds and I had them both completely to myself.  I watched several of the Crossbills use those powerful crossed bills to pry the seed kernels out of the cones.  Their bills seem significantly larger than the crossed bills of the Red Crossbills.  The birds themselves seemed bigger as well, but without them being side to side, hard to say.  In any event this was a lucky day indeed.

The Cassia Crossbill was not recognized as a separate species until 2017.  Unlike the nomadic and widespread Red Crossbills, the Cassia Crossbills remain in their very limited habitat area in Cassia County.  They feed on the cones of the Lodgepole Pines which are plentiful in the Sawtooth National Forest.  I had great looks and a special opportunity to watch a behavior that I had not expected with them feeding on the cones ground.  A very lucky time indeed.

“Sufferin Succotash” – Birding Rhode Island

At 7:00 a.m. on May 3, 2019 my State List for the State of Rhode Island was 0.  Six hours and 10 minutes later it was 84.  Not bad.  Or as I at times say when impressed, “Wowsers”!!  For this accomplishment (and yes, I know I am dating myself), I will let Daffy Duck and Sylvester the Cat voice their opinion: “Sufferin Succotash”!!  Here’s the rest of the story…

Daffy Duck

First I am cutting myself some slack on the cartoon characters reference and their well known idiom, even if you don’t.  Rhode Island was the second of 13 states birded for 50 species in my Eastern Marathon, but this is the 13th Blog Post on the trip and I am a bit tired.  Second, it may be corny – actually doubly so, since succotash is a mixture of corn and lima beans – but the phrase has special application here as 23 of those 84 species were seen at Succotash Marsh.  Granted many more were seen at Trustom Pond, but the puns I came up with for “Trustom” using “trust ’em” just didn’t do it, so “sufferin succotash” it is.

Back to being serious.  There was no sufferin or suffering on this day.  Just lots of good birding in Rhode Island – again with my expert birder friend Mike Resch.  We knew it was going to be a good day when the first bird we saw as we started birding in Westerly, Rhode Island was a Wild Turkey at a busy intersection.  It actually looked like it was waiting for the “Walk” signal to cross the road.

Wild Turkey

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Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge is on Block Island Sound in Southern Rhode Island.  There is a large pond, the ocean coast and forested habitat – an excellent birding hotspot.  We would spend just over three hours there and record 64 species – chalk up another state for the 50/50/50 Adventure.  Surprisingly this included only two shorebirds, a Sanderling and a Willet.  But there was a good mix of everything including 6 duck species, 5 raptors, 5 warblers and some of these and some of those.  I got a nice photo of a Mute Swan in flight at least proving that these are not pinioned birds added as ornaments to some pond.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan Flight

The two Northern Gannets were too distant for a photo but they were the first I had seen in 2019, special treats for West Coast birders.  No Eiders but I would see some later.  Another new bird for 2019 was a Blue Winged Warbler.  I had seen one last year in Texas but had not for many years before that.  I would chase its close relative the Golden Winged Warbler later in several states hoping for a first ever photo.  Didn’t know it then but do now – it didn’t happen.

Blue Winged Warbler

Blue Winged Warbler

There were unfortunately no Eastern Bluebirds, Blue Grosbeaks or Black Throated Blue Warblers but we did see Blue Jays, Blue Gray Gnatcatchers, and Blue Headed Vireos.  A better vireo was a White Eyed Vireo.

Blue Headed Vireo

Blue Headed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo

It is always an adjustment for me that White Throated Sparrows are so common in the East and often much moreso than Song Sparrows which often seem to be everywhere back home.  Certainly fine looking birds, though.  The most common sparrow or sparrow-like bird was the Eastern Towhee, its song constantly reminding us to “Drink your tea.”  I well remember this as one of the first species I was aware of when I first returned as a birder to Maryland where I grew up.  At that time it was called a Rufous Sided Towhee only later being split away from the Western form the Spotted Towhee.

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow1

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Spotted Towhee (from Washington State) for Comparison

Spotted Towhee

There are many birders who think that Yellow Warblers may also be split – if not Eastern and Western forms, then at least the ones in Florida.  Until that happens, the one we saw here will continue to be the same species as ones I would see in Washington.  Even though listing is an important part of my birding, I really don’t care much about these splits.  Yellow Warblers are gorgeous – wherever found and whatever form they are.  The red chest streaks on this one were particularly bold and bright.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

We moved on from Trustom Pond to the Succotash Marsh.  Here we had lots of shorebirds, 10 different species with the most numerous being Least Sandpipers and Dunlin.  As had been the case in Connecticut, we also had both Semipalmated and Piping Plovers with even more of the latter at this spot – at least 10.  We also had the only Black Bellied Plovers of the trip.  None of the shorebirds were up close – that’s why a scope was so nice to have.  So no photos.  And the same was true for the 3 Least Terns and the Common Loon – all in the distance.  A little closer was a Fish Crow.  I was happy to hear its distinctive call – different from an American Crow – and to count it as a new species, but as with our “Northwestern Crow” in Washington, I wonder about it being a separate species or at least would be maybe more comfortable if they were all lumped together – no disrespect to any of them.  At least this one was eating a fish – well, a crab so a shellfish by some accounts.

Fish Crow

Fish Crow with Crab

Another fish eater we observed was an Osprey.  We later saw this one pluck a fish from the water.  I believe Ospreys join Barn Owls as the only or one of only a few species that are occur regularly without being introduced on every continent – except Antarctica.  I have seen them on 4 continents (not Europe or Asia) and in 25 states and believe they have been seen in all 50 although rarely in Hawaii.  A welcomed observation anywhere.

Osprey

Osprey

Since I am writing this after the blog posts for the other states, I want to include a bird that was seen frequently in all of the Eastern States – and heard even more commonly – often the first bird I heard in the morning as I left my hotel.  It is so common that I just put it out of mind and did not include it in any of the other posts.  It is the Northern Cardinal.  It may be one of the birds most recognizable by non-birders.  Gorgeous. Loud and deserving of having its picture included.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal Male

Our final stop was at Galilee Harbor where we finally saw some Common Eiders and such “rarities” as House Sparrow and Rock Pigeon.  Our day total was 84 species.  It was just a bit after 1 p.m.  Mike had been very generous with his time and had to rendezvous with family and attend a dance competition with his daughter.  I would spend the night in Rhode Island and then be off to New York.  I did some sightseeing and then got to my hotel early and crashed as I think the travel and jet lag finally got to me.

I met a birder on the trail (elsewhere) whose special project is to get his life list in each state to 100 species.  He has been working on it for a long time.  I am pretty sure that I could have continued birding that afternoon and gotten to 100 for the day.  It would have been my 20th state with that total or more.  Sure glad that is not my project.  And I am sure glad that I was able to spend more time with Mike Resch.  I would see him again in a few weeks in New Hampshire.  He really really knows New England.

With Mike Resch at Trustom Pond

Trustom Pond with Mike

 

 

 

Birds – Even in Brooklyn

The original plan had been to bird upstate New York on my way back from Michigan.  Fortunately I was able to change plans to instead do my birding in Brooklyn earlier in the trip and to try to join the Brooklyn Birding Club on a walk in Prospect Park on Sunday May 5th.  The really good part of this was that it would enable me to visit my son Alex who lives in Brooklyn.  He has a hectic travel schedule but not only would he be there but he would be able to join me for at least some of the birding.  He is not a birder so this was a major deal.  Specialty coffee has been his passion and I am sure he knows more about that than I do about birds – that is he knows A LOT.  So this was great news.

Brooklyn Birding Club

The Brooklyn Birding Club is a big deal.  It was founded in 1909 and has a large and active membership.  For me the best part was its many trips and walks in Prospect Park, a 585 acre mixed used park with a big lake in the heart of Brooklyn.  It is not quite but almost as famous for city birding as Central Park in Manhattan which is 50% larger.  On a good day in spring migration it could easily give me 50+ species.   I would get to New York after birding in Rhode Island probably arriving late on the 4th and having dinner with him and then do the birding the next day.  The bad news was that some pretty heavy rain was predicted for the 5th but the good news was that Rhode Island was easier than it might have been so I could get into Brooklyn early on the 4th and do the birding then.  Alex would not be able to join me that day but we could still have dinner and if the 4th didn’t work the 5th was available as Plan B – rain or not.

More bad news was that there was rain on the morning of the 4th as well.  A surprise was that I easily found a parking spot across from the park.  I had seen a half dozen birds including a surprise Merlin on my way into the City.  It was 8:00 a.m. and I was ready to go.  My only plan was to walk around and hopefully find some birders as well as birds.  I managed to do both but the birders were less welcoming than has been my general experience.  Not entirely and not all of them, and I maybe was less gregarious than usual as well.  I managed good visits with a few but mostly with birders who were on their way out.  In the wet morning, the birds also seemed to be less active and I heard few songs – not that I would have identified most of them alone anyhow.  I definitely could have used Mike Resch or a formal Birding Club Walk.

I did manage some birds though – 39 species including 9 warblers.  The best was a very brief look at a Blue Winged Warbler without a photo.  Second was probably a Northern Waterthrush.  I was being very careful to keep my camera dry so not tons of photos, but I was happy to get what I could.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Chipping Sparrow

chipping-sparrow.jpg

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

 

I am sure I missed birds on the Lake any many more in the trees but one I was glad to get was a Mute Swan.   Unlike in Washington, they are “countable” in the East.  I heard many stories though of why they are not a welcomed bird – doing a lot of damage.  Definitely a striking bird, however,

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

I spent 4 hours at Prospect Park – including more than 30 minutes being completely disoriented and heading off in the wrong direction.  I had wisely saved the intersection where I parked the car on my phone and GPS bailed me out.  The Park is heavily used including lots of runners, power walkers, strollers and birders.  Not surprisingly given its location, the users and the birders were of many ages, races, colors and nationalities.  I heard many languages.  English was predominant but I heard a lot of Spanish, Russian, Korean, Chinese and German in addition to many Eastern European and African languages that were not identifiable to me.  There were more non-white birders there than I think I saw at all other places I visited on my Eastern birding marathon combined.  A positive thing but telling in contrast to those other places.

Including the earlier birds seen I had 42 species.  I was hungry so I left the Park and grabbed some street food, found my car and headed off to Jamaica Bay.  The weather was improving and I wondered if maybe I would return to Prospect Park tomorrow after all.  On the North Channel Bridge to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife area I added 11 new species in the totally new habitat with a mix of ducks, shorebirds, waders and gulls and terns.  And the additions continued at the Refuge itself adding another 23 species with some more ducks, a Least Tern, some more shorebirds and a Clapper Rail plus numerous passerines.

By no means a rare bird, but a fun one to watch was a House Wren that seemed to be gathering material to build a nest.  I have no idea what it intended to do with this stick which was at least twice its size.

House Building House Wren

House Building House Wren

My favorite shot was of a White Eyed Vireo – easy to see where it gets its name.  Earlier I had seen Warbling and Blue Headed Vireos but not a Red Eyed which I had expected.  And there were some warblers as well including a Prairie Warbler which was new for the day.  I had seen Yellow Rumped and Yellow Warblers at Prospect Park but no photos in the wetness.  Much better here.

White Eyed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo1

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler1

Yellow Rumped Warbler – Myrtle

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

A species I was glad to see and photograph was the Brown Thrasher looking very brown indeed.  This guy was singing almost non-stop and stayed in the open most of the time.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher3

One more photo.  Nothing unusual but I loved this Tree Swallow – good light and a nice pose with everything in place – except one contrasting white feather.  What was that all about?

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

As it turned out I could have skipped Prospect Park altogether and just come to Jamaica Bay as I had 56 species there in less than 2.5 hours.  Many of the birds had been seen at Prospect Park earlier and I ended the day with 76 species.  The places were great but the local intersections were less than I would have liked and it was disappointing not to be able to include Alex in at least some of the birding – although that would be more than made up by visits later.  But there was going to be a great local intersection after all – one of my favorites on the whole trip.

As I was coming back to the parking area in now beautiful weather, a young family was walking towards me – dad, with an infant in a chest carrier, a mom and a toddler who was not much older than my grandson – maybe 18 months old.  Who know why these things happen, but the toddler was looking straight at me as we got closer and closer.  Maybe it was the binoculars.  Maybe the camera, maybe just the happiness that could have been apparent on my face as I had seen my 50 species for the day.  Maybe just my boyish charm (wink).  She walked away from her parents and straight towards me…and reached out her arms.  I learned long ago that the best thing to do with small kids is to bend down – get to their level.  So I did and asked her her name.  No answer, but now she actually grabbed my hand and clearly wanted to be lifted up.  I also learned a long time ago that you just do not pick up little kids you do not know.  By now Mom was next to us and she said she was dumbfounded as her little girl had never done that before.  The little girl then said “up”.  My eyes met mom’s and I got the OK approval.  I lifted her up and she gave me a hug which I reciprocated.  I told her how pretty she was and that I loved birds and wondered if she did too.  No response except for a smile.

After probably no more than 15 seconds I returned her to the ground.  Both Mom and Dad had big smiles, so I guess everything was ok.  I told them all to have a wonderful day and continued towards the car.  The toddler started to follow me away from her parents but Mom took her hand and they were off.  Not the local intersection I expected for a birding trip but it was as good as it gets.  I am almost teary remembering it.  A truly beautiful moment.

There was still time to visit Alex in his new apartment – his first one on his own in very expensive Brooklyn.  I had been apprehensive about that – just about safety, but although not luxurious and small, it was certainly safe and comfortable.  Later we went to dinner and again somehow i found a parking place on the street near the restaurant.   My son definitely knows his food.  The dinner was superb as tasty as any I can remember – clearly the work of a serious chef and a restaurant that is all about quality.  It was a good visit.

It did indeed rain the next day and with the success of the previous day, I skipped a return to Prospect Park.  I got to extend the visit with Alex and yes there was more good food, a great lunch.  And then I was off – heading to New Jersey where I would visit Cape May for the first time.  New York was the 3rd state on this trip – 10 more to go – and the 28th with 50 species in a day.  And fond memories of kids – my fine son and that lovely little toddler.  Maybe she will enjoy birds on her own someday.

A Spicy Start for the Eastern Marathon – Connecticut – The Nutmeg State

I had flown into Boston on April 29th and had a lovely visit with my daughter, son in law and grandson.  That was a great start to what was planned to be a very long trip lasting 30 days, visiting 15 states and birding in 13 of them – hopefully adding all 13 to to the “completed list” on my 50/50/50 Adventure.  The quest was simple – observing 50 species of birds on single days in each of those 13 states – with others – visiting new and interesting places and having fun.  It was now May 2nd and I would be meeting good birding friend Mike Resch in Willington, CT to start the birding part of the adventure.

Grandson Griffin – A Birder Someday?

Griffin

Mike had already been a big part of my project and his role would expand greatly on this trip.  We had birded together getting 50+ species in Massachusetts earlier.  Now Connecticut.  Then together to Rhode Island and at the end of this Marathon we would bird together again in New Hampshire.  I could not have been in better company or with a better birder.  I had learned from my other trips to look for “common birds” around my hotel before the hotspot birding began.  Species like House Sparrow, American Crow, Common Grackle etc would probably be seen later, but just in case not, get them and count them early.  If nothing else it would create some momentum.  I had 5 species in hand before Mike arrived.  Now we were off to one of Mike’s favorite areas – the Yale Forest and Boston Hollow and Kinney Hollow Roads – classic New England Forest.  I had checked out the area the previous afternoon and found it mostly quiet but still had 25 species including a Tom and Hen Wild Turkey – a very New England species to me – think Pilgrims and Thanksgiving.

Wild Turkey

Tom Turkey

We spent over three hours in the forest and aided enormously by Mike’s great skill and especially his encyclopedic knowledge of bird songs, we had 51 species.  It wasn’t the best light for photos and many of the birds were high up or buried in dense foliage but lots of good ones including 5 woodpecker species, 5 sparrow species and 7 warbler species.

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied WP

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

The best photos may have been of a White Breasted Nuthatch and we also had a Red Breasted Nuthatch, Black Capped Chickadee, Brown Creeper and Tufted Titmouse.

White Breasted Nuthatch

White Breasted Nuthatch Vertical

Only two flycatchers – Least Flycatcher and Eastern Phoebe and a single vireo – Blue Headed – lousy photo but better one laterThere would also be a better photo later of one of my favorites – Rose Breasted Grosbeak.  Two species heard and seen briefly but sadly not photographed were Northern Waterthrush (2 individuals in still water just where Mike expected them) and Louisiana Waterthrush (in moving water, again just where Mike expected them).

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher1

Eastern Phoebe

eastern-phoebe.jpg

It was now about 11:00 a.m.  I had 53 species for the morning.  Quit now?  No way; we had two more great stops ahead and would be joined by two of Mike’s friends.  It was a great start but truly the best was yet to come.  We picked up a couple of incidental species along the way and arrived at Sandy Point on the coast in New Haven County.  There were lots of Brant close to shore and we had some Red Breasted Mergansers.

Brant

Brant

Among the six shorebird species were numerous Piping Plovers – hard not to love.  We even saw one displaying.  Another favorite was the American Oystercatcher.  We have Sanderlings in Washington as well and I had seen many scurrying along the surf on the sand before I left, but they had been dressed in winter white.  These were in their very much different breeding plumage.

Piping Plover

Piping Plover1

Piping Plover

2P5A1008 (2)

American Oystercatcher

American ystercatcher

Sanderling

Sanderling

A species we do not have in Washington is the Great Black Backed Gull.  Big and with that very black back (or mantle) it is easy to see and identify.

Great Black Backed Gull

Greater Black Backed Gull Flight

We had 28 species in a bit over an hour and a half – many of them new for the day in this totally different habitat and our species day count was now at 79.  There would be more.   We got to Hammonasset Beach State Park at around 2:45 and heard birds as soon as we parked.  Then we saw birds – lots of birds – up close and personal birds – great birds – and many different types of birds.  Shorebirds, waders, gulls, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, sparrows and particularly thrushes.  Many trees had multiple birds and/or multiple species – maybe a mini fallout.  Lots of great photo ops.

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Great Crested Flycatcher

great-crested-flycatcher.jpg

Blue Headed Vireo

Blue Headed Vireo1

Warbling Vireo (We tried to make it into a Philadelphia Vireo)

Warbling Vireo1

Yellow Throated Vireo

Yellow Throated Vireo

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Black Throated Blue Warbler

Black Throated Blue Warbler1

Black Throated Green Warbler

Black Throated Green Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler1

Particularly amazing to me were the Rose Breasted Grosbeaks.  We had at least 10 of these beauties including 6 in one tree!!  And equally special were the many thrushes – 7 species:  American Robin, Swainson’s Thrush, Veery, Gray Catbird, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Cheeked Thrush and Hermit Thrush – awesome!!

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Rose Breasted grosbeak wtih Flowers

Rose Breasted Grosbeak1.jpg

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

Veery

Veery

Gray Cheeked Thrush

Gray Cheeked Thrush

We were there transfixed on the so called low hanging fruit for just under 3 hours slowly covering almost 3 miles.  It was seriously about as good as it gets in beautiful weather as well.  Fifty species in all of which 22 were new for the day.  We later added a Chimney Swift and ended the day with 102 species.  How nice it would be if there was some kind of carryover and I could put the species above 50 into a bank and withdraw them as needed in other states.  It is my “game” so I can make the rules, but that is one rule that just doesn’t work.  One really good rule would be to include Mike Resch on all trips.  We would bird together in Rhode Island the next day so I certainly felt good about that.  BUT…

BUT…when you are out on the road, there can always be curve balls/surprises and we got a big one.  Mike and I checked into our hotel and unloaded optics and baggage into the room and went out for a quick dinner.  When we got back the card reader on our locked room door would not read our cards and let us in.  I have had this happen before where  maybe the card was next to the phone in my pocket and got de-magnetized or whatever.  Off to the front desk to get new cards.  But they did not work either.  Uh-oh.  The person behind the desk had a “master key” of sorts – another card since there was no physical actual key to gain entry.

It did not work either.  Now understand – everything we had except for the clothes on our backs was in the room and we would be leaving early the next day to go to Rhode Island for the next day of birding.  An offer of “I can get you another room and will get someone to look at it tomorrow” had no value whatsoever.  I won’t go through the ensuing details but maybe 30 minutes after the initial problem was discovered, a manager arrived.  She fortunately lived nearby.  It was clear to her as it was to me that the ONLY solution was to break down the door.  She forcefully, for her, kicked the door extending her leg in front of her…nothing.  Time for action. With her consent I turned away from the door and then back kicked it open breaking the jamb of course in the process.  We gathered our stuff and then moved to that now useful other room.

The Door – After the Kick

Door

It is a little unnerving to know that there was no back up system to open the card reading lock.  If it was a bad battery, that could only be replaced if the door was open…no access from the front.  So a disaster was avoided even if we lost an hour or so and blood pressure was definitely raised.  We did receive an apology but maybe a comped room would have been in order.  Even at many chains, each hotel is individually owned by a franchisee.  Expressing displeasure on Facebook was considered…and then dropped as otherwise it had been a really good day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Sync in Virginia

I guess it had to happen – one day when it just was really difficult.  From the start I had struggled with Virginia unsure where it would fit in my schedule and thus where I would bird.  As other plans solidified I decided to bird in the Alexandria area in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.  I researched the area and made plans accordingly.  This would allow me to leave Philadelphia early and make a stop in Baltimore, Maryland where I wanted to drive by St. Frances Academy, where I had taught for a year almost 50 years ago between college and Law School.  An amazing place, it was an all girls, all Catholic, all Black school in the Baltimore ghetto, founded by free Haitians before the Civil War and run by the Oblate Sisters of Providence an order of black nuns.  Quite a year, but not a story for this post.

St. Frances Academy – and Its Neighborhood – 2019

St Frances Academy

Neighborhood

It still should have been easy but some pieces were missing.  I would arrive there on a Sunday.  No field trips were scheduled for that day but there was one the next.  Rain was predicted and it had been raining the previous day as well.  My one contact, a great source of information, had commitments that would not let him join me until late afternoon on Monday.  It was too late to rearrange my schedule so I carried on following the leads from my contact and indications from EBird that suggested 50 species should be very doable.  I would see how Sunday went and then try again Monday if necessary.

On Sunday I arrived at 9:30 a.m. much later than I would normally want to start for the 50 species day and although it wasn’t a hard rain, it was enough to make a difference.  I first went to Belle Haven Park – along the Chesapeake River.  As I got out of my car I saw another birder getting ready to get into his.  I later learned he was one of the top birders in the area who had just finished a walk with some friends.  Other commitments meant he could not continue with me in tow, but he had seen a Prothonotary Warbler (always a treat) earlier and he took me to the spot in the Marina, shared some stories and supported my choices of other spots to go later.  Unfortunately we did not find the Warbler.  In fact it was very slow, wet and windy.  He took off and I contemplated “next”.

Five minutes later I heard the Prothonotary Warbler and was able to get a brief view and a poor photo in poor light.  Maybe things would improve.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler.jpg

It was hard to tell where or whether Belle Haven Park turned into Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve – one of the areas that was part of my pre-trip planning.  I hiked on for over a mile and did find some birds – nothing of note but one of these and one of those and a couple of something else.  The rain continued lightly but I am sure it dampened the activity – literally.  Nonetheless, after a couple of hours I had 34 species.  My main birding spot was to be Huntley Meadows, where the walk would be on Monday and highly recommended by online source, my acquaintance of the morning and by Ebird.  But the former two had also recommended Monticello Park.  A Golden Winged Warbler had been seen there a few days earlier and Blackburnian Warbler was also a possibility and both were much desired by me.   Unfortunately in the continuing gloomy weather, bird activity was almost nil, visibility was poor and there was so much water on the paths that walking was a challenge.  Thirty minutes added only two new species for the day – neither a warbler.

It was now one o’clock.  I did not doubt I would eventually find the 50 species I sought, but for the first time, I really was not having fun.  I saw my first Rock Pigeons of the day – not exciting but at this point a new species was a new species.  It went on the list.  I made it to Huntley Meadows around 1:30 and spent just over an hour there.  The rain had slowed but it remained gray and gloomy, kind of like my home area just north of Seattle in March (and often in 6 or 7 other months of the year as well).  There were birds but only 11 were new for the day and I had expected twice that many.  It was still not even 3 o’clock and I had another good place to go, but were it not for the “need” to find my 50 species, I might have hung it up for the day.  It simply was not a day for photos and the best I could come up with was of an Eastern Kingbird –  at least you can see the white terminal band on the tail.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird1

 

Now I needed – just two more – Please!  This is where my local resource helped big time even if he was not physically present.  He had recommended the Occoquan Bay NWR in neighboring Prince William County.  Again nothing real exciting but in an hour I added 10 new species and then was at 58 for the day. Relief…

I was back at Huntley Meadows the next morning to join the walk at 7:00 a.m.  Maybe it was them.  Maybe it was me.  Maybe it was the rain that continued even if lightly.  Maybe I was just tired and thinking of “next” but there was no chemistry on the walk – no connection – and no local flavor.  But then there was one really good bird – a Red Headed Woodpecker – and the gloom disappeared.

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed WP2

Red Headed WP

Even in the rain – visible in one of the photos, these were ok photos of a wonderful bird and were definitely the highlight of the trip.  I had 37 species in just over 2 hours but no new photos and only a handful of new species for the trip.  Since I had seen my 50 species on Sunday, I decided to forego returns to Occoquan and head to Manassas, Virginia and visit the Manassas National Battlefield Park.  I birded along the way and in the area around the Battlefield as well as at the Battlefield Park itself.  Altogether I had 52 species for the day – fewer than the day before but there had been a local intersection on the morning walk and now I would add an historical element at the Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Manassas Visitor Center

Fence

The description of the First Battle of Manassas also known as the First Battle of Bull Run below is borrowed from History.com.  Visit that site for more information about this battle and the Second Battle of Manassas (Second Bull Run) and other battles of the American Civil War.

Prelude to the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas)
By July 1861, two months after Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter to begin the Civil War, the northern press and public were eager for the Union Army to make an advance on Richmond ahead of the planned meeting of the Confederate Congress there on July 20. Encouraged by early victories by Union troops in western Virginia, and by the war fever spreading through the North, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Brigadier General Irvin McDowell to mount an offensive that would hit quickly and decisively at the enemy and open the way to Richmond, thus bringing the war to a mercifully quick end. The offensive would begin with an attack on more than 20,000 Confederate troops under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard camped near Manassas Junction, Virginia (25 miles from Washington, D.C.) along a little river known as Bull Run.

On July 21, 1861, Union and Confederate armies clashed near Manassas Junction, Virginia, in the first major land battle of the American Civil War. Known as the First Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas), the engagement began when about 35,000 Union troops marched from the federal capital in Washington, D.C. to strike a Confederate force of 20,000 along a small river known as Bull Run. After fighting on the defensive for most of the day, the rebels rallied and were able to break the Union right flank, sending the Federals into a chaotic retreat towards Washington. The Confederate victory gave the South a surge of confidence and shocked many in the North, who realized the war would not be won as easily as they had hoped.

The area was beautiful belying the carnage that had taken place.  Only a few buildings, some cannons and the wooden fences remain.  It felt peaceful – hardly like a place of bloodshed and war, but I guess that is how it is with all battlefields and they eventually return to nature and we forget…and make the same mistakes again.

Virginia was not the high point of my trip and I felt bad that I had not gotten more from the experience, maybe had not invested sufficiently in making it better.  I wish I had birded on the coast – maybe at Chincoteague, but that was the trade-off on my tight schedule.  I had to move on – west to West Virginia.  But in other respects this part of the trip worked well – giving me the chance to revisit St. Frances Academy and to see an important part of American history – and still find my birds.

 

 

 

The Birds of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Harpers Ferry is where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet.  Harpers Ferry is where abolitionist John Brown’s raid may have actually started the Civil War.  Harpers Ferry is a beautiful place in the mountains of the Mountain State.  Harpers Ferry is where I knew I wanted to do my 50/50/50 birding in West Virginia.  And with the help of Beth Poole, that’s exactly what I did.

There have been some horrendous floods at Harpers Ferry and there had been so much rain the week before I got there that there was a lot of wet areas on a couple of roads and fields had casual water, but it was at most a nuisance and our birding day was lovely.  This photo from the town of Harpers Ferry itself shows why flooding is to be taken seriously.  That 1935 flood was more than 10′ above where I was standing and I was standing 10 feet above the river level.  Yikes!!

Flood History

Flood

The story of how I met Beth Poole is like similar stories in other states and they are the best parts of my 50/50/50 Adventure.  Through some listservs and Ebird Reports I discovered the Potomac Valley Audubon Society (PVAS).  From their web page I learned that a walk was scheduled at the Cool Spring Preserve on May 15th – the day after my schedule had me birding West Virginia.  I couldn’t really change this date because my visits to Magee Marsh and the Tawas Festival in Michigan were set in stone on subsequent days.  I contacted PVAS and had a wonderful conversation that bolstered my confidence that birding at Cool Spring would be a good idea and they gave me contact information for Beth Poole who would be leading the walk on the 15th.  They also loved my 50/50/50 project and raised my spirits about it even higher than they already were.

I contacted Beth and she suggested I join her on a scouting trip at Cool Spring on the 14th and she offered to take me other places afterwards if more species were needed.  As I said this is similar to other stories.  Time after time, members of our birding community have stepped to help with time, suggestions, and support.  I would be happy to have any of them as friends or birding companions any time and any where.

Like I had done in previous states, I checked out Cool Spring when I got to Harpers Ferry on the afternoon before the scheduled official day of birding.  In more than 90 minutes I only found 19 species, but it was mid afternoon and not many birds were singing and I did not recognize some of the songs I heard.  I figured Beth would help in the latter regard and that morning would be better – but I was a bit worried.

I got in some early morning birding before meeting Beth and had identified 14 species.  One good find was a flooded field along a road near the Preserve that had both Solitary Sandpipers and Killdeer and had a Pileated Woodpecker calling.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper1

Beth was enthusiastic and optimistic as we started out at Cool Spring Preserve.  There was more activity than there had been the previous afternoon – but it was not real birdy and some expected birds were not found.  We did have Field Sparrows, Indigo Buntings, Baltimore Orioles, Great Crested Flycatcher, an Orchard Oriole (female) and Eastern Kingbird – but only two warbler species.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting1

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole1

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested FC

Orchard Oriole (female)

Orchard Oriole Female

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird1

Certainly not a rarity but a favorite photo from the visit was a pair of Tree Swallows at a Bluebird nesting box.  It took a while but we finally found an Eastern Bluebird at another box.

Tree Swallows

TREE sWALLOWS

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

After revisiting the pool I had discovered early to show Beth, we had 34 species and it was just after 10:00 a.m. – lots of time left but lots of species needed.  We drove into the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park and picked up a handful of species.  I found an unexpected Grasshopper Sparrow so at least I felt like I was contributing something.

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

This is where Beth came through like a champ and proved how valuable local expertise can be.  We headed down to the Shenandoah River and birded a number of different spots that mostly seemed like the same to me.  But we added a species or two here and there at each stop: Chimney Swifts and then an Eastern Phoebe, a Song Sparrow and a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher.  Now we were at 48 species.  An Acadian Flycatcher brought us to 47 and a Double Crested Cormorant was #48.  It was now past noon.  Would we get to #50?  What would it be?

Acadian Flycatcher

Acadian Flycatcher

We moved a little bit off the river and hit a magic spot – seven new species in less than 15 minutes and one was the bird of the day.  As I got out of the car to look at a Hairy Woodpecker that Beth had found, I spied a flash of yellow and then the flash perched right in front of us – a gorgeous Prothonotary Warbler.  I couldn’t have chosen a better 50th species for the day.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler1

Time to celebrate with a lunch in Harpers Ferry at a funky old place dating back more than 180 years.  It also gave us a chance to see some of the historic buildings including one where John Brown had been.  I really liked the feel of the town – probably moreso with over 50 species (and a good lunch) under my belt.  These little additions were an integral part of the positive experiences that came with my adventure.

John Brown

We picked up a couple more species and ended the day with 58.  Especially after a little worrisome start, we were thrilled.  We went back to Cool Spring Preserve and shared the news and took an acknowledging photo.

Beth Poole and Blair Acknowledging the 50 Species Success

Beth Poole

It would now be on to Ohio with an intermediary stop for the night in Somerset, PA to break up the drive.  First some more background on Cool Spring Preserve taken from the Potomac Valley Audubon Society info page:

Preserve History

In 1752, 22-year-old George Washington made his first land purchase of 1,459 acres along Bullskin Run, including the area that is the present day Cool Spring Preserve. Washington leased his land in 200-acre parcels. Each lease tenant was to build a 20’ dwelling with a good 40’ barn, plant and care for specific crops, install certain “creatures,” erect and maintain fences, plant an orchard and vineyard, and preserve the woodlots without overcutting.

In 1830, 146 acres, including most of Cool Spring Preserve, was sold to Thomas Grigg’s Jr. The rest of Cool Spring Preserve was located on a neighboring property to the east, which was owned by the Haines’, a quaker family. On February 5, 1869, siblings Edward, Alvinia and Mary sold one acre of land to a freed slave, Susan B. Thornton, for $1. Mrs. Thornton’s cottage still stands on Cool Spring Preserve.

Between this time and 1998, the property was used as a dairy farm and named Cool Spring Farm. Later it was sold to Jefferson Orchards who used the land to grow peaches and nectarines. During this time, existing buildings fell into disrepair and the fruit crops eventually failed.

In 1998, Cool Spring Farm was purchased and underwent a three-year renovation to bring life back to the buildings and property. In 2008, the adjoining 12 acres including Mrs. Thornton’s cottage were purchased and CraftWorks at Cool Spring, a non-profit designed to connect art with nature was established.

Cool Spring Preserve is named after Cool Spring Farm. It was donated to the Potomac Valley Audubon Society by CraftWorks in 2016.

Nothing about birds in that write up but if it were not for my birding and this adventure in specific, I would know nothing about this, would not have visited Harpers Ferry or any of the many other places I had already been or would later go.  Each place has a story.  Who knows maybe I had walked in some of the same exact spots that had been walked by George Washington at Cool Spring or by John Brown at Harpers Ferry.  Birding opens doors to interesting people and places and tops them off with special birds like Prothonotary Warblers.  How fortunate we are to have such a passion.

Cape May and Brigantine – New Jersey Hotspots

When first planning my East Coast Marathon, there were several places that were absolute musts and the rest of the trip would be built around visits to them.  The must bird places were Cape May in New Jersey, Magee Marsh in Ohio, Kirtland’s Warbler Country in Michigan and Bombay Hook NWR in Delaware.  As I added details some more places became essentials – Heinz NWR at Tinicum outside of Philadelphia and Prospect Park and Jamaica Bay in New York.  I had never been to any of them and visiting them was in keeping with one of the major objectives of my 50/50/50 Adventure – having my passion for birding take me to places of special interest – scenic, historical or birding.

Of all these places, Cape May, N.J. turned out to be the one that least matched my uninformed conception.  At the southeastern tip of New Jersey, Cape May does include a National Wildlife Refuge and a Wildlife Management area, but some of the best birding is in the town itself – a mostly uncommercialized resort on the coast with beaches, lovely homes, and lots of great habitat.  It is probably best known for spectacular migration in the Fall but there is great birding in the Spring as well.  A place that was more like my conception of such places and which had not been on my radar at all in the trip planning stage was Brigantine NWR about 50 miles north of Cape May and along my way from Brooklyn where I had been birding and visiting my son the previous two days.

NJ

I planned for my 50 species day to be at Cape May and had arranged to spend the morning of May 8th with Tom Reed who is a scientist/naturalist/guide out of the Cape May Bird Observatory and then do more birding on my own later in the day.  As was often the case on this trip I had underestimated the birdiness of the areas I was visiting and overly cautious in projecting my ability to find the magical species in a day.  Some of this was due to concerns about weather, but I led a charmed life for most of the trip and had few weather challenges.

My first actual birding in New Jersey was as I was coming in to Atlantic City.  I had been there once before – probably at least 60 years ago as a kid on a brief, as in one day, vacation with my family.  I remembered it as “schlocky” – also defined as “exciting” to a kid with a carnival like boardwalk.  No longer so – or at least not visibly so as I drove by mega hotels and casinos.  Or maybe schlocky in a different way.  In any event, by the time I finished the drive and headed north to Brigantine, I had 19 species including a couple hundred Brant in the ocean and even more Semipalmated Plovers on the beach.

Atlantic City

Atlantic Cit

I continued on to the Brigantine Unit of the Edwin B. Forsythe NWR arriving before 9:00 a.m.  Any concerns about a 50 species day were soon dispelled.  It was a beautiful day and birds were abundant highlighted by 13 shorebird species.  Most numerous beyond a large number of undifferentiated peeps were 150 Dunlin, 78 Whimbrels, 38 Willets, and 35 Semipalmated Plovers.  There were smaller numbers of both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Black Bellied Plovers, Short Billed Dowitchers, White Rumped Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers and American Oystercatchers.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Whimbrel

Whimbrel1

Willet

Willet

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

Lots of gulls and terns as well with a large flock of Black Skimmers, numerous Forster’s Terns, a couple of Common Terns and 4 Gull Billed Terns which I had not expected.  The gulls were Bonaparte’s, Herring, Laughing and Great Black Backed.

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers

Forster’s Tern

Forster's Tern

Gull Billed Terns

Gull Billed Terns1

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull1

Great Black Backed Gull

Great Black Backed Gull

Altogether the “water” birds accounted for 29 species.  Thirty-three “non-water birds” brought the count to 62 species – not bad for a place I had not originally considered.  So I easily had my 50+ species after just over 3 hours of birding and it was just past noon.

Osprey

Osprey1

Fish Crow

Fish Crow

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow2

Common Yellowthroat (1 of only 4 Warbler Species)

Common Yellowthroat

After lunch on the way to Cape May and my hotel, I saw a couple of Glossy Ibis in a field but I couldn’t stop for a better view or a try for a photo.  I had been going strong for more than a week and was tired.  I had over 70 species for the day so since my room was ready, I checked in early and got a little sleep.  A seafood dinner and then since it was still light, I made a quick trip to the Cape May Point State Park – where I would be meeting Tom Reed the next morning.  I added a few species and called it a day – an excellent one with 74 species and some nice photos.

In the 15 minutes driving from my hotel to meet Tom Reed, I picked up 11 species and in just 30 minutes at Cape May Point State Park with Tom we had 18 including 5 new ones for New Jersey:  Northern Gannet, American Bittern, Merlin, Least Tern, and Common Loon.  I also got a lovely photo of a very purple Purple Martin.

Tom Reed

Tom Reed

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet Adult1

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

It was clear that Tom knew every nook and cranny at Cape May.  He was a wealth of information about migration, bird counts, songs and everything else avian.  He next took me to Higbee Wildlife Management Area near Cape May Point.  There we added several new passerine species including Yellow Billed Cuckoo, Eastern Kingbird, White Eyed Vireo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting among others.

White Eyed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher1

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting Singing

There were only two warbler species, but one was a lovely Black Throated Blue that flew off just as I got it in focus – so sadly no photo of this very lovely bird.  Our next stop at Cape Island was also excellent – this time with 5 warbler species including one that was essential for this trip – a Cape May Warbler at Cape May.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler3

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler1

Our penultimate stop was at another Cape May Hotspot – “The Beanery/Rea Farm”.   Tom had planned the morning to sample different habitats and this one was different from the others and gave us a few new species including Prothonotary, Black and White and Northern Parula Warblers.  They brought our species total to over 50 for the morning and our warbler count to 9 species.  Fewer than I expected but consistent with Tom’s assessment that it had not been a good few days of migration.  We made a last stop at the Cape May Hawkwatch Station.  Not much going on there but definitely the place to be in Autumn for the hawk migration.  I wish I had been able to time my visit here to take in that spectacle as the stories are astounding.  In many respects my 50/50/50 trips are exploratory runs to identify places I would like to return.  There are many and this is definitely one.

I thanked Tom and headed off for some more birding on my own.  I added some new birds for the day but only two new ones for New Jersey – Gadwall and American Wigeon.  I also saw numerous Least Terns which are always special.  Look closely and you will see why I chose this photo out of the many of this species.

Least Tern

Least Tern Pooping

I ended this day with 68 species and had over 100 for the two days of birding.  I am sure I could have added at least a dozen more if I had continued to bird.  The plan had been to bird all day this day, bird less the day before and bird hard the next morning before taking the ferry to Delaware.  If there had been more migrants, I probably would have continued on that course.  But after two days of good birding I was satisfied and planned to try for an earlier ferry the next morning.  For the rest of the afternoon, I just drove around the town soaking in the architecture and flavor of Cape May – a place I think girlfriend Cindy would very much enjoy and then celebrated another state with 50 species – the 29th – with a scallops roll dinner – a favorite.

Cape May Scenes

Cape May

Cape May Homes

Scallop Roll – Yummy

scallop-roll.jpg

I had no trouble getting on the earlier ferry the next morning – but that begins another story…

 

How Not to Gamble in Las Vegas…

What was a birder doing in Las Vegas – Sin City – the Gambling Capital of the U.S.?  At least in reference to me on May 27, 2019, the answer was easy – looking for 50 species in a day in a State for the 38th time.

Sin City

My original thinking had been to include Northeast Nevada in an upcoming Mountain States foray probably squeezed in between Idaho and Utah.   I would try for the Himalayan Snowcock and hopefully be able to either find another 49 species somehow that day or add another day in a more bird rich location.  The details were not working out though.  The Snowcock was more readily found later in June or even later in the summer or the fall.  And making the attempt would add a number of days to a schedule already getting longer because of miles to travel and non-birding plans along the way.  And there was no guarantee of finding the Snowcock, so I would be gambling in Nevada.

With the help of Alaska Airlines, I came up with another plan – return to Seattle from Boston via Las Vegas.  No Snowcock, but I have mixed feelings about that species anyhow.  So Plan B would remove one gamble.  Was it still a gamble for 50 species?  I would only have one day as I would be arriving very late the night before the counting day and really did not want to extend the visit for a second day beyond that.  Thanks to Las Vegas Audubon, I removed that gamble as well.  Researching through their website I had come up with names of some local birders who might be able to help me.  One name was Douglas Chang.  Easy contact. Receptive.  Definitely capable.  Available.  Done.  I had a birding companion for my trip.  Let’s do it.

Based on my early research and then discussions with Doug, the area west and northwest of Vegas seemed like our target area.  I had been using Hotels.com to find lodging and tried for a place in the area.  No familiar names but I came up with Arizona’s Charlies Hotel and Casino on Decatur street.  What the heck.  I try to get some local color on my trips.  The reviews were good.  The rooms looked ok online.  The price was right and so was the location.  Had I paid more attention I might have realized that the place should be named Arizona Charlies Hotel and CASINO!!  You go through the casino to get to the registration desk (inhaling smoke along the way) and then through more of the casino to get to the single small elevator that takes you to the 6 floors of rooms.  And even at midnight which is about when I arrived the parking lot was full and the casino floor was busy – automatons at the machines.  Not a pretty sight – to me.

Arizona Charlies Hotel and CASINO!!

Arizona Charlies

Smoke aside it was an ok place.  The room was large, basic and quiet.  Actually I wondered if the gamblers who stayed overnight did most of their staying downstairs at the machines.  The place seemed still half full when I left for my birding early the next morning.  That was gambling that was easy to resist – for me – not them.  Of course maybe it wasn’t really morning.  There was no light coming in to the casino, so you couldn’t tell that way.  And my body certainly had no clue.  It was midnight local time when I got to my room which meant it was 3:00 a.m. for my body – still on East Coast time.  Doug was going to pick me up at 6:30 a.m.  No free breakfast at this place, so it would be fast food down the street.  I set my alarm for 5:15 a.m. local time and woke up without it at 4:00 – as I said my body had no clue what time it was.  I gave up trying to sleep, got clean, went out for a McSomething breakfast and was waiting for Doug in front of the Casino/Hotel at 6:30 a.m.  My first bird for the trip was a Rock Pigeon as I waited.

Doug was accompanied by birding friend Paul Rodriquez.  Both were eager to go and had a plan.  It was the beginning of a really fun and successful day.  We started at a large park on Tule Springs Road.  The mix of ponds, brush, trees and scrub provided a good mixed habitat with lots of birds.  After all of the forest birding in the East it was nice to be dealing with less and lower vegetation.  We spent more than two hours and walked almost 3 miles.  The weather could not have been better – cool and clear.  The mixed habitat meant a good mix of birds, too.  Around and in the ponds we had ducks, grebes and herons and a Neotropic Cormorant.

Green Heron

Green Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Neotropic Cormorant

neotropic-cormorant1.jpg

Great Tailed Grackles were plentiful giving me the Grackle Trifecta after my Boat Tailed Grackles and Common Grackles in the East.

Great Tailed Grackle

Great Tailed Grackle

In the shrubby areas we had several Verdin , Phainopepla, Abert’s Towhee, Lesser Goldfinch, and my favorite – the relatively drab Lucy’s Warbler.  Photos of the latter even captured the red feathers on the top of the head.

Verdin

Verdin

Abert’s Towhee

Abert's Towhee

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

Lucy’s Warbler

Lucy's Warbler2

Lucy's Warbler

Doug knew of a Burrowing Owl’s nest in the park.  It was not the easiest bird to see even though it was out of its burrow.  It was just well camouflaged in the terrain.   Amazingly it was only the second owl (species and individual) that I had seen in my month of birding.

There were also several flycatchers at the park – Olive Sided, Hammond’s, Willow plus Western Wood Pewees.

Olive Sided Flycatcher

Olive Sided Flycatcher

Western Wood Pewee

Western Wood Pewee

We left the park with 40 species seen and headed up into the mountains with our first stop at the Corn Creek Field Station in the Desert NWR.  There we had some of the same scrub birds we had before but added Blue and Black Headed Grosbeaks, Ash Throated Flycatcher, Blue Gray and Black Tailed Gnatcatchers, Cedar Waxwing, Black Chinned Hummingbird, Western Tanager, Bewick’s Wren and some warblers – 11 new species at all – so 50 species in a day was accomplished already.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Ash Throated Flycatcher

Ash Throated Flycatcher1

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Black Chinned Hummingbird2

Black Headed Grosbeak

Black Headed Grosbeak at Feeder

Doug and Paul were both excellent at finding the birds and knowing the area.  They were also great guys and we had far ranging discussion about their paths to Vegas, birding in the area, Paul’s work on web design and Doug career at Proctor and Gamble before he retired and moved west.  They asked if I was interested in a Black Chinned Sparrow…definitely.  We found one quickly at a very specific location – Step Ladder Trail – the kind of place I never would have found on my own.  We also had a Woodhouse’s Scrubjay.

Black Chinned Sparrow

Black Chinned Sparrow

Woodhouse’s Scrubjay

Woodhouse's Scrub Jay

We continued up the road towards Charleston Mountain – a very beautiful trip.  There was no snow now but there had been quite a bit in the winter when even 4 Wheel Drive is insufficient and chains are required.  At some feeders we saw some Broad Tailed Hummingbirds and a Hooded Oriole.  As had been the case with many birds seen that day they were new for the day, my month long adventure and for the year.

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

Broad Tailed Hummingbird at Feeder

Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole

Even though it was Memorial Day the traffic wasn’t bad and despite the appeal of being in the mountains, it was not crowded.  Thoroughly enjoyable – and although it was not quite noon, we had 60 species for the day.  We had one more stop to make – a place Paul knew was good for Gray Vireo.  We had at lest two respond to our playback but could not draw them in for a look or photo.  It had been a great day.  I had hoped for a Roadrunner but they seem to be somewhat of a nemesis bird for me.  Paul and Doug were surprised we had not seen a Bell’s Sparrow and a couple of other regular birds, but we all know that is the nature of birding.  Demonstrating how different this birding habitat was, more than 25% of the species seen were new for my year despite many days of birding.  Last year with much birding in Arizona and Southern California, none would have been new.

There would be one more treat.  As I drove in to my hotel the night before I had noticed an odd little building with an even odder sign.  It was “Pop’s Philly Steaks” – open 24 hours.  I guess that was further proof that Las Vegas is a 24 hour city and those all night gamblers need sustenance.  This is where they suggested we go for lunch.  It was a great choice – as long as calories don’t matter.  It may have seemed out of place, but that was my sense of ll of Las Vegas – especially after my trip later to the Miracle Mile and the mega-casinos “downtown”.

Pop’s Philly Steaks with Doug Chang and Paul Rodriquez

Philly Cheesesteak

 

The lunch was the close to another fun day and I could celebrate having 50 species now in 38 states.  Doug and Paul had made it efficient, fun and memorable.  Here were regular guys who shared my love for birds and birding.  They had given up a holiday day to take a complete stranger around their town.  I would do this for them or any other visiting birder on a mission.  It is part of being in the vast community of birders.  Thank you Doug.  Thank you Paul.  I have invited you to Washington.  I hope you visit some day.

I hope I can say this the right way.  Doug is of Asian ancestry and Paul has a Hispanic background.  My forebears were Eastern European Jews.  None of that made any difference on this day of birding; but in our in our everyday world, too often it does  – how nonsensical that is.  Around the world there are birders everywhere of every race, color, belief, background, nationality, age, sex and orientation.  We share a love of birds. birding and usually of each other.  While there are definitely other Pauls and Dougs and Blairs out there, if I reflect on birding in my home state of Washington and my experiences during this past month on the road, most of the birders I have seen have been white and older.  Younger faces here and there and skins of different colors here and there as well.  Hopefully there will be more.  I have often said that the birds could care less about such things about the people that watch them.  How nice if it worked that way with people as well.