A Dovekie after the Goose and a Great Cormorant after the Dovekie

It has been a great trip to Massachusetts indeed.  In early planning I thought there was at best a 50% chance for a Dovekie and a 50% chance on top of that for a decent photo.  Then that Barnacle Goose showed up and became the priority.  Per my last blog post, the second time was the charm for that.  ABA Lifer and ABA photo #709.  It was cold today – mid-teens and wind chill in single digits, but the sun was out and I rented a car and headed to Gloucester hoping for that Dovekie.

Fisherman’s Memorial Monument

IMG_9501

First stop was the Fisherman’s Memorial Monument.  Dovekies had been seen from there.  There were lots of Common Eiders.  Wait what is that?  A small black and white alcid.  Could it be?  A quick photo and it disappeared in a deep and very long dive.  And I never saw it again.  My first look at the photo almost had me believing.  But almost is not good enough.  I had a Razorbill.  Nice but NOT a Dovekie.

Razorbill

Razorbill

Several more stops including the breakwater at the Eastern Point Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary/Lighthouse.  Lots more Common Eiders, some Harlequin Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Scoters, Scaup, Buffleheads and Mergansers.  I hiked out the length of the breakwater and flushed a Purple Sandpiper but no alcids.  The light was great for some Eider photos though.

Common Eiders – Male and Female

Common Eider Male

Common Eider Female

It was cold in the wind and I needed every layer – and I had brought many.  The breakwater was an easy walk but it was very exposed.  If the wind had been high, it would have been impossible.  It was manageable.

Gloucester Breakwater

About half way back, it happened.  Another black and white form was in front of me and it was not one of the many male Buffleheads.  In excellent light and not more than 50 feet away a Dovekie swam and dove and allowed me to get my life view and my life photo.  They are incredibly small.  It was a very nice moment.

Dovekie

Dovekie

Dovekie1

At best I had expected a distant view and without a scope that might have been impossible even if some were present.  This was as good as it gets.  I forgot the cold for at least a while.

It was just after noon.  I wanted to miss the traffic returning to Newton, but there was time for one more quest.  Not quite at the top of my worst bird photos, but right behind Winter Wren, Sinaloa Wren and American Woodcock is a terrible photo of a Great Cormorant.  I spent the next hour plus looking for them in the harbor, on rocks, on islands – in Rockport and back in Gloucester.  Nada.  One more try – Bass Rocks in Gloucester.  As I headed north on the beautiful road with beautiful houses with beautiful views, just before Bass Rocks, numerous dark forms were on a relatively flat rock about 200 yards out.  Up until this day I had seen a total of 4 Great Cormorants in the ABA area and had that one awful photo.  I had also seen them in Africa, and Asia.  On this one rock were 13.  Too far out for great photos but not too bad and an enormous improvement.  A great end to a great day and great trip.

Great Cormorants

Great Cormorants Best

Great Cormorants on Rock

Two life birds and two life photos and the third one may as well have been one as well.  Sign me up for this anytime.

Wild Goose Chases – Second Times a Charm

It is January 20th and I have just returned to my daughter’s home in Newton, MA after a second attempt to find a pair of Barnacle Geese that have been seen in Bristol and Plymouth counties over the past week.  Since this was my second attempt, you can probably guess that the first attempt was not successful.  Thankfully the second was and I now have Barnacle Goose on my ABA Life list.  The experience is reminiscent of other “wild goose chases” where the targeted rarity was not seen until the second attempt.  It is also a reminder yet again to follow Rule #1 on a chase – Go now!!

The main purpose of my visit to Boston was to see my daughter and son-in-law and my grandson who will soon be 2 years old and whom I have not seen nearly as often as I would like.  The visit was long enough to include some birding time and the plan was to get to the coast and try for a Dovekie, which would be a life bird as well.  Two days before I departed Seattle, however, I saw that a Barnacle Goose had been seen in Plymouth County and I figured if it was seen again the next day and again when I was flying out then if weather permitted, I would try for it.  It was seen both days in the same general vicinity so I gave it a go the day after I arrived.

I got to the field on Vaughn Hill Road where it had been reported and there were no geese whatsoever but there were other fields and at one I saw a large flock of geese, and more importantly, several birders with scopes were parked nearby.  It was only 15 degrees so I figured if they were not in their cars this was a good sign.  Unfortunately though, as I parked I got the thumbs down signal.  They had been there for 2+ hours and there were only Canada Geese – hundreds of them.  Disappointing to all of us and somewhat moreso for them as the earlier observations had included two other rarities for the area – a Snow Goose and a Greater White Fronted GooseSnow Geese are abundant in my home state of Washington and Greater White Fronted Geese are common as well.

I hung around for another couple of hours and tried some other fields and ponds nearby, but found no rare geese.  Several new birds for the year since this was a very different habitat than Washington.  My favorite was probably the Mute Swans but I also very much enjoyed a Red Bellied Woodpecker, found not in a tree but seemingly pecking on a cornstalk.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied Woodpecker

There were some other consolation prizes as well including nice chats with local birders including some who knew Edmonds birding friend Frank Caruso from his earlier days on Cape Cod and one who was the brother in law of a well known Seattle birder – small world.  I also learned of a great birding site – birdfinder.net – which displays Ebird checklists in pretty close to real time.  Two hours after I got back to Newton, I learned that the Barnacle Geese had been found in a different location – several miles from where we had searched.  Too late to return.  Maybe another chance would come – but a snowstorm was predicted that night.  I had some other species as well including my first Eastern Bluebirds for Massachusetts and several White Throated Sparrows.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird2

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

The snow came but they definitely know how to deal with snow here.  Sunday was a day with the family including a visit to the Boston Children’s Museum – a terrific place and some local dining including a lobster roll – yummy.  As an aside, with the promise of a Kouign Amann, we also stopped at a Nero Cafe.  These are a favorite pastry (as I have written) at the Breadfarm in Edison, WA, so this was a not to be missed comparison opportunity.   It was tasty, but the Breadfarm’s is WAAAAY better!!  Meanwhile I kept my eye peeled on Ebird reports and saw that the Barnacle Geese and the other rarities had been seen by many at several times on Sunday.  I planned another attempt on Monday.

Grandson Griffin and Bubbles at the Boston Children’s Museum

bubbles

The original plan was to leave around 1 p.m. and get to the new location a bit after 2 p.m. but my obsession with the Go Now Rule 1 changed that to a planned departure at 11:00 and then a great conversation delayed that until 11:15 a.m. – which became an almost disastrous delay.  I got to the new location on Golfview Road in Acushnet, MA around 12:15 p.m. and saw two birders there with scopes.  One was a gentleman I had met two days earlier when the Barnacle Geese were missed.  There were hundreds of geese on a pond in front of them.  Just as I pulled up, a portion of the geese took flight, circled and landed behind some reeds at the back of the pond – now invisible.  Uh-oh.  Yep, that group included the Barnacle Geese which had been in the open moments before.  The Snow Goose was still visible as was the Greater White Fronted Goose but no Barnacle Geese – the only ones I cared about.

Maybe 5 minutes later, a group of geese from behind the pond took flight and headed north.  I saw the Barnacle Geese clearly in my binoculars.  I did not have my regular camera with me – only my back up Canon SX70.  It is much harder to focus and does not reload quickly for a series of shots.  I aimed and took two photos.  Would I get lucky?  Not a great photo but lucky enough.  One of the Barnacle Geese was captured in flight.  Had I gotten there 5 minutes earlier, I would have had a nice photo.  Had I gotten there 5 minutes later – no observation at all.

Barnacle Goose in Flight

Barnacle Goose in Flight (2)

Snow Goose (Blue Form)

Snow Goose

Not a great photo but the smaller size, white face and black breast confirm the ID.  I was then a happy birder.  Later I explored the area and found a field with many geese behind a house that had some bird feeders around it.  I knocked on the door and got permission to walk out into the field for a look.  There were hundreds of Canada Geese and when I got relatively close I found the Snow Goose and got a quick look at one of the Barnacle Geese before it disappeared over small hill.  I pressed on a bit and all of the geese took off.  I saw both Barnacle Geese in flight but there was no chance for a photo.  All of the geese returned to the original pond on the golf course.  I returned as well but could not view the Barnacle Geese which I believe were behind the reeds and hill again.

Bottom line is that it was another successful wild goose chase.  In November 2016, I had a somewhat similar experience.  Mike Resch and I tried in vain to find a Pink Footed Goose that had been seen off and on near Artichoke Reservoir near Newburyport, MA.  It took a second try the next day for me to find that lifer as well.   A few months later I had two – with photos – with Melissa Hafting near Victoria, B.C.

Pink Footed Geese (Victoria, B.C.) – March 2017

Pink Footed Geese

In November 2018, I dipped on a Tundra Bean Goose in at the William R. Finley NWR in Oregon.  Again it took a second try as I found it the next week.  Another lifer and another successful wild goose chase.

Tundra Bean Goose – Finley NWR, Oregon – December 2018

Tundra Bean Goose Flight1

In December 2019, Jon Houghton and I chased an Emperor Goose that had been seen in Sequim, WA.  Again it took two tries – although both on the same day.  We missed it at the Dungeness Landing site but found it later at the base of Dungeness Spit.

Emperor Goose – Dungeness Spit – December 2019

Emperor Goose2

And to complete the Wild Goose chases which needed two attempts, there was the Ross’s Goose (uncommon in Washington) at the Ocean Shores Golf Course in January 2018.  Again it was on the same day, but the initial attempt at the wrong spot on the golf course failed.  As it is said, “the second time is the charm” I guess.

Ross’s Goose

Ross's Goose

I have written that I now so enjoy the chasing that it is not so disappointing when the target bird is not found.  Truth in birding though, I was really disappointed in not finding the the Barnacle Geese on the first attempt.  Not nearly as disappointed as I would have been if I had missed them by 5 minutes today.  I guess Go Now includes not waiting even another 5 minutes.

 

Birds and Birding Month to Month – 2019

It’s January 2020 – the start of a new year and the start of a new decade.  Lots of plans and no way to tell what really lies ahead, but I know 2020 will be quite different from last year and from many of the ones preceding it.  Birds and birding will remain a big part of my life, but there is no birding “project” ahead.  No 50 states to visit.   No Big Year in Washington or anywhere else.  Right now, I am feeling a bit of withdrawal and although I had a chance to write up a wonderful trip to San Francisco which had a little birding, in the following week I was in recovery mode from a bad cold and so did not really get out much.  There was nothing current for any blog post.  I like to write, though, and wanted to get back to it.  This is a start – a retrospective on 2019 with just a little commentary and a photo or two for each month.

For most months I was birding somewhere outside of Washington – working on my 50/50/50 Adventure and/or chasing rarities in British Columbia.  For at least a day or two I was also able to bird in familiar places in Washington.  It was an excellent year in all respects.  What follows is a month by month catalog of favorite photos – one from Washington and one from elsewhere when I birded in and out of state.   A little background is added.  It was often very hard to select only one photo to include – a nice dilemma to have.

January

Washington

Short Eared Owl  Eide Road/Snohomish County January 15th

short eared owl eyes closed

I had a great birding start to the month on January 1st with some birding in my home town of Edmonds, WA followed by time in Skagit County about 40 miles north.  76 species that first day highlighted by a Merlin, a Peregrine Falcon and 5 Short Eared Owls in Skagit County.  I had good photos of the latter from that day but I have chosen an even better photo from Eide Road in Snohomish County – about 20 miles to the south from later that month.

End of Month total for Washington – 160 Species

Elsewhere

Black Rosy Finch – Sandia Crest Scenic Highway, Cedar Crest, New Mexico – January 19th

Black Rosy Finch 2

I only birded out of state once in January 2019 – a great visit to New Mexico as part of the 50 state project.  It was a fun 3 day whirlwind visit with 82 species seen highlighted by time at Bosque del Apache NWR and a visit to Sandia Crest in heavy snow looking for Rosy Finches.  I had only seen a single Black Rosy Finch before – in Colorado in 2016 and had an awful photo.  This time there were at least 75 Black Rosy Finches and the photos were much better.

End of Month total for ABA Area- 187 Species

February

Washington

Northern Mockingbird – Anacortes, WA – February 28th

Northern Mockingbird1

Northern Mockingbirds are uncommon in Washington with maybe a handful of records each year.  When one is reported, listers like me chase after them for year and county lists.  This one was around for several days in Anacortes, WA and posed nicely for Ann Marie Wood and me on a sunny day.  There were many other nice Washington birds from trips to the Coast and to the Okanogan area but nothing really rare and I like this photo.  It was also the last bird seen that month.

End of Month total for Washington- 183 Species

Elsewhere

Red Billed Leiothorix – Waimea, HI – February 8th

Red Billed Leiothorix

Hawaii always seemed like it would be the toughest state in which to find 50 species in a single day.  I was able to join my daughter, son-in-law and grandson there on Maui in February and tacked on a couple of days on the Big Island to try for the targeted 50.  With the help of excellent guide Lance Tanino, I just barely made it with 51 species on February 7th.  The next morning I found the Red Billed Leiothorix that we missed on the Big Day and include the photo as it is a favorite although like most others in Hawaii it is an introduced species.  All told, I had 60 species in Hawaii.  It was the only state visited outside of Washington in February.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 250 Species

March

Washington

Harlequin Duck – Semiahmoo Spit, WA – March 17th

Harlequin Duck

March was a very special month as it was the month I met Cindy Bailey who has become a most important part of my life.  I hope and expect I will be able to acknowledge that in every year end retrospective I do in future years – a very good feeling.  Not even two weeks after we met we went on our first birding trip – a visit to the Semiahmoo Spit in Whatcom County, Washington – a few miles from the Canadian Border.   The first bird that turned Cindy’s head was a Black Oystercatcher, but it was this Harlequin Duck that hooked her.  She may never be a hard core birder, and that is just fine, but her participation and support sure are appreciated.  Not a lot of birding that month as much time was devoted to getting to know each other, but we did a first trip to Eastern Washington and there were no trips outside of Washington at all.

End of Month total for Washington- 206 Species

Elsewhere – (No Out of State Birding in March)

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 268 Species

April

Washington

Laysan Albatross – Westport – Offshore Waters, April 20th

Laysan Albatross2

There are many diverse habitats in Washington with Puget Sound, big forests, high mountains, sagebrush and agricultural areas, and of course the Pacific Ocean.  I usually try to go on at least two pelagic trips out of Westport, WA each year – once in the Spring and again in the Fall.  In addition to great “regular” birds, there is always the chance for something special.  Not too long ago sighting a Laysan Albatross was that something special.  With the establishment of a breeding colony off the coast of Mexico, they are now fairly common on our trips – but still a spectacular experience.  In April, I had an excellent pelagic trip combined with some “list building” at the coast and then I closed the month with another good trip to Eastern Washington catching some of the early migration.

End of Month total for Washington- 252 Species

Elsewhere

Tufted Titmouse – Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary, MA – April 30th

Tufted Titmouse

My only birding outside of Washington in April was during a walk with my daughter in Massachusetts where the focus was on family and then getting ready for a multi-state birding adventure in May for my 50/50/50 project.  Only a handful of species and I include the Tufted Titmouse because it was with her the previous year that I got my first ABA photo of this species.  I would see many more in the months ahead.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 317 Species

May

Washington

Black Backed Woodpecker – Kittitas County – May 29th

Black Backed WP at Nest1

With Spring migration in full force, May is generally the best month to bird in most states – including Washington.  But in 2019, it was almost an afterthought in Washington as I was elsewhere through May 28th and only birded a single day in my home state.  But it was a great day – again in Eastern Washington catching birds that had arrived while I was gone – and looking for a Black Backed Woodpecker in a burn area and then doing some owling at night.  I had 84 species that day, somewhat making up for time lost.

End of Month total for Washington- 275 Species

Elsewhere

Connecticut Warbler – Magee Marsh – May 15th

Connecticut Warbler3

There is no good way to summarize the month of May “elsewhere – outside of Washington” or to select only a single photo to include.  This was the month of the BIG TRIP for my 50/50/50 Adventure and I birded in 16 different states, saw incredible places and birds with incredible people.  I have chosen my photo of a Connecticut Warbler to represent this amazing month in my birding life.  I never expected to see let alone photograph one.  Additionally it was at Magee Marsh, a famous birding location on Lake Erie in Ohio that I had never visited before.  As I related in my blog posts on the visit there, I intersected with some extraordinary birders – new and old friends and was also joined by Cindy for part of a day.  So that clinched the choice.  It could just as well have been the Kirtland’s Warbler from Michigan, the Prothonotary Warbler from West Virginia, the Piping Plover from Connecticut, the Black Billed Cuckoo from Pennsylvania or any of many other great birds.

Altogether I saw 298 species in May one of my top 5 best months ever,

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 443 Species

June

Washington

Marbled Murrelet, Edmonds WA – June 23rd

Marbled Murrelet with Fish2

June was a fun combination of some more birding in Washington – a couple of chases but mostly in Eastern Washington on the way to and back from some 50/50/50 birding in the Mountain States.  Hometown Edmonds, WA is situated on Puget Sound and has a public fishing pier that gives great access to some saltwater species that can often be seen close up.  My Washington photo for June is of a Marbled Murrelet with a fish that it caught right off the Edmonds Pier.  The Murrelet is one of 4 alcid species, adding Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, and Common Murre that are regularly seen off the pier, about a mile from my home.  On rare occasions two other alcids have been seen here – Ancient Murrelet and Tufted Puffin and there have also been extremely rare sightings of a Horned Puffin and a Cassin’s Auklet.

End of Month total for Washington – 297 Species

Elsewhere

Flammulated Owl – East Canyon – Big Mountain Pass, UT – June 12th

Flammulated Owl

June brought me to Idaho where I added Cassia Crossbill to my life list and got 50 species in a day.  Next up was Utah.  I got 50 species in a day on my own and then joined Tim Avery to do it again, but far more importantly with his expert help, I finally got a lifer photo of a Flammulated Owl.  I had heard dozens but this was my first good visual and photo.  Cindy flew in to Salt Lake City and then we birded and played in Wyoming and Montana with visits to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone and some fishing on the Bitterroot River.  An excellent month.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 443 Species

July

Washington

Rose Breasted Grosbeak – Seattle, WA – July 8th

Rose Breasted Grosbeak1r

The Rose Breasted Grosbeak was the last species I saw in Washington that was not on the Review Committee list.  That first one was a female in Neah Bay in October 2016.  Then a young male showed up in Seattle in December 2017 and remained for additional views in 2018.  But the best of the lot was the bright male shown here that came to a feeder in Seattle in July 2019.  In July, Cindy and I visited Sun Mountain Lodge and easily found numerous Dusky Grouse – a regular there.

End of Month total for Washington- 307 Species

Elsewhere

Common Ringed Plover – Boundary Bay, B.C. Canada – July 15, 2019

Common Ringed Plover2

Good friend Melissa Hafting from Vancouver, B.C. called me on July 14th and told me there was a Common Ringed Plover at Boundary Bay and that she and others would be searching for it the next day.  A mega-rarity, I could not resist and joined her and others the following day for the search.  It took some doing as it staked out an area that could not be seen from our first viewing spot.  Eventually we hiked out to the other side of a little spit and found it in great light and very cooperative – an ABA Lifer for almost all of us.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 465 Species

August

Washington

Hudsonian Godwit – Crockett Lake, Whidbey Island, WA – August 5th

Hudsonian Godwit Crockett3

August is generally the beginning of good fall migration – especially for rare shorebirds in Washington.  I was able to relocate the Hudsonian Godwit that had been reported from Crockett Lake on Whidbey Island.  It had moved to a different spot that took some walking through the salucornia but fortunately remained there for several days and many others followed my footsteps out for the bird.  Other good first of year shorebirds in the month included Solitary, Baird’s and Stilt Sandpiper.  Frank Caruso and I also had some Gray Crowned Rosy Finches at Mt. Rainier – but no Ptarmigan.

End of Month total for Washington- 313 Species

Elsewhere (No Out of State Birding in August)

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 467 Species

September

Washington

Flesh Footed Shearwater – Westport Pelagic – September 7th

Flesh Footed Shearwater Gaping

Since much of September was spent in the Midwest, there was not much birding in Washington, but I was able to bird the Coast and then join Westport Seabirds for another pelagic trip.  Among the FOY’s seen were South Polar Skua, Long Tailed Jaeger, Arctic Tern and Buller’s, Short Tailed and Flesh Footed Shearwaters.   I also ended the month with a birding trip trying once again for a visual and photo of a Boreal Owl at Mt. Rainier – and yet again one heard but not seen – sigh!!

End of Month total for Washington- 323 Species

Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk – North Dakota – September 15th

Krider's Takeoff

My 50/50/50 birding took me to Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Nebraska.  Many good times with new and old friends and many fun birds.  I have chosen a photo of a beautiful very white Krider’s Red Tailed Hawk.  It was a tough choice though as there were great birds and I got my best photo ever of a favorite – Red Headed Woodpecker.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 477 Species

October

Washington

Eurasian Tree Sparrow – Neah Bay, WA – October 26th

eurasian-tree-sparrow.jpg

October was somewhat of a recovery month.  I had only one more trip ahead to close out the 50/50/50 project and I had a lot of catching up to do with “normal life” matters left unattended from the previous months.  I had a chance to go to Neah Bay the last week of the month.  I missed a few specialties/rarities but did find the Orchard Oriole.  I also found something else that was rare but I blew it big time.  A flock of “sparrows” were feeding in brush at Butler’s Motel and then flew across the street to more brush.  They were seemingly all House Sparrows. As I scanned the flock, one looked “different” specifically with a dark spot on the cheek.  I told myself that it looked “kinda like” an Eurasian Tree Sparrow which is abundant in Europe but in the U.S. is found only around St. Louis, MO where I saw my first one in 2018.  I also told myself that it was impossible for one to be here and then thought nothing of it, and as the flock flew off I moved on.  Later that day I told the story to the person in Missouri who had shown me the Eurasian Tree Sparrow there.  And that was that until the next day when someone reported seeing a Eurasian Tree Sparrow at Butler’s AND had a confirming photo.  I had really blown it big time – pretty embarrassing.  The photo above is of the Sparrow in Missouri.  Sigh (again).

End of Month total for Washington- 326 Species

Elsewhere

Yellow Browed Warbler – Panama Flats, Victoria, B.C., Canada – October 19th

Yellow Browed Warbler Flight

In a replay of the Common Ringed Plover in July, I got a message from Melissa Hafting.  Incredibly a Yellow Browed Warbler had been seen at Panama Flats, near Victoria, B.C.  So off I went the next day and with dozens of others, including Melissa, was able to get a glimpse and pretty poor photo of this incredible mega-rarity.  Fewer than a handful have ever been seen in the Western Hemisphere.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 480 Species

November

Washington

Mountain Plover – Griffiths Priday SP – WA – November 30th

Mountain Plover

I had finished my 50/50/50 Adventure in Arkansas on November 9th.  I was not burned out but not real motivated.  There had already been MANY birding days in Washington when I had seen 50 or more species, but I felt a need to have one more in the same month that the 50/50/50 Adventure had ended.  A trip to the Coast on November 21st added a couple of species for the year and with a couple of stops elsewhere enabled me to have 70 species for the day.  I didn’t know that I would be returning to the coast about a week later chasing a State Lifer.  Carl Haynie had found a Mountain Plover at Griffiths Priday State Park just north of Ocean Shores.  Jon Houghton and I went the next day, November 30th and  found birding friend Scott Downs who was already on the Plover. Yay!!  Jon and I added Rock Sandpiper (regular but uncommon) at the Point Brown jetty and then the Lesser Black Backed Gull (even more uncommon) at the mouth of the Cedar River – a great way to end the month.

End of Month total for Washington- 329 Species

Elsewhere

LeConte’s Sparrow – Woolsey Wet Prairie – Arkansas – November 9th

LeConte's SparrowR

Kansas was the last of the 50 states I had not ever visited.  It is where I started my last 50/50/50 Adventure trek – a week-long trip to Kansas, then Oklahoma and then finally Arkansas.  November is not the birdiest of months but with excellent help from some really super birders and very fun folks, I was able to find the targeted 50 species on single days in each state.  The project was completed!!!!!  There were many great birds and I have chosen a photo of a LeConte’s Sparrow.  It’s orange tones are striking and beautiful.  It can be a difficult bird to see let alone photograph as it skulks in heavy high grass.  We had several without photos in Oklahoma and then a much more cooperative one in Arkansas.

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 487 Species

December

Washington

Ross’s Gull – Union Bay, Seattle, WA – December 1st

Ross's Gull1

What a way to start a month.  Around 1:40 p.m. on Monday December 1st, Dennis Paulson posted on Tweeters  that there was a Ross’s Gull in Union Bay in Seattle.  Even though I was in the shower and 12 miles away when the post appeared, I was there by 2:30 p.m and joined another 10 birders drawn by the chance to see this mega-rarity.  Birders continued to arrive and the Ross’s Gull cooperated until at about 3:15, it flew off its platform perch and within another 2 minutes it had been caught by a Bald Eagle and … was consumed.  What a story!!  After that hardly anything else would matter.  I again had the Lesser Black Backed Gull and this time with a Glaucous Gull at the mouth of the Cedar River and then successfully chased a very rare Emperor Goose on Dungeness Spit in Clallam County before ending the year with a few days of birding in the Okanogan where birds were relatively scarce.  A great month to end a very great year!!

With all the time spent out of state in 2019, I was pleased to end the year with 335 species  in Washington even though that tied my lowest number of species in Washington for the last 8 years.  I don’t expect to be anywhere near that number in years ahead.

End of Month and 2019 Year End total for Washington- 335 Species

Elsewhere (No Out of State Birding in December)

End of Month total for ABA (incl. Hawaii) – 494 Species

There is no way 2020 will compare favorably with 2019, but in birding you never know.  It seems like there will be no irruption of northern species this winter and no Snowy Owls have been reported yet.  I am still hoping that this will be the year that a Smew shows up — someday.

Yesterday (January 10th), Frank Caruso relocated a Northern Saw Whet Owl in Lynndale Park.  It remained long enough for me to get there and see it and to take Cindy later – her third owl species as we had Short Eared Owls in Skagit County earlier in the week.  How nice if a Snowy would be #4…

Northern Saw Whet Owl – Lynnwood, WA – January 10, 2020

NSWO2

 

 

Back to the Bay – San Francisco Bay – Christmas 2019

As written in the headers for all of my blog posts, I conceived of this site as a place to “share pictures, stories, and reflections of my birding adventures – past and present…”  There have been a couple of exceptions but otherwise all of the posts, and this one will be post number 233, have had birds and birding as the main focus.  To be sure there has been much more with some history, psychology, politics, geography and what-not thrown in.  And of course many of the best times have been with wonderful people that I have tried to include.

Although there is an important connection to my birding past, indeed the very beginning of that history, this post will be very different.  It relates and reflects on a relatively short trip to San Francisco over Christmas 2019 with Cindy Bailey, the special lady that came into my life earlier this year and who has made my life immeasurably happier and better with her support and company.  We covered a lot of ground in just 4 days ending at Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, California, the largest tract of undisturbed marsh land in the San Francisco Bay and the place where I started my birding life.  The experience was so full and so fun that I wanted to memorialize it in one place – why not here?

The Flight

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Alaska Airlines flight flight 1794 was scheduled to leave SeaTac Airport at 8:00 a.m. on Monday December 23rd.  Travelers were warned that due to heavy traffic at the airport, being there two hours early was advised.  So given the distance from Edmonds, the need to park the car and then shuttle to the terminal, we planned to leave Edmonds not later than 5:15 a.m.  Maybe it is from all the early morning risings for my birding adventures or maybe because I have no hair on my head to wash, dry and attend to, but I can be ready to go within 15 minutes of waking up.  It helped that we had packed everything except incidentals the night before.  Cindy has many fine qualities, but she does have that hair thing to deal with and is generally not quick to get going in the mornings in any event.  So the alarms were set for 4:00 a.m.  I was showered, dressed and had eaten breakfast and was ready to go at maybe 4:20.  Cindy skipped any breakfast and really made good time, so we were out the door not much after 5:00.  We needn’t have hurried.

The security lines at the airport were long but for some reason, the TSA line was as short as I could remember it.  We were through in just moments and were at the gate well before 7:00 a.m.  The plane was a little late to load but about 8:20 a.m. we were all onboard and ready to go.   Alas, there was no go as we sat there waiting to taxi off for at least 25 minutes.  Finally we backed away from the gate and got in line.  Sometime around 9:00 a.m. we were on the runway apron ready to get into the queue.  The attendants announced there were a lot of planes in line ahead of us and it would take awhile.  But even though we could see the line of planes, we never moved to take our place.  We sat…and sat…and sat.  Maybe thirty minutes passed – no movement and little information other than that there were problems in San Francisco to the extent that “they were not letting any planes land”.  Huh??

We were told we would head back to the terminal to … well it was not sure what.  We got to the terminal and were at first told we could get off and then moments later were told to stay onboard and wait to see what might happen.  Well, you could get off – but then would not be able to reboard.  At least they allowed access to the bathrooms on the plane.  As you can imagine there was not much happiness among the holiday travelers on board.  This certainly included Cindy and me as we had non-refundable tickets for the musical Hamilton that night – not a cheap date.  If this flight was canceled we would not be able to find another (assuming any planes would be landing at SFO) to get there that day.   The odds were not good on finding a flight the next day either.  We agreed that a 2.5 day trip without the theater was not worth the airfare, hotels, car etc.  We would cut our losses and celebrate – somehow – in Seattle. (There was much cursing under our breaths.)

Then news came that the SFO airport was open again and we would be leaving soon – not sure what soon meant.  Out to the apron again to get in line.  It seemed to take a long time but finally we moved into the queue and around 10:30 a.m. we headed off.  This was significantly later than we were originally scheduled to arrive in San Francisco.  Now that landing would be 3 hours late…BUT our theater tickets were still good and it was going to be a great holiday after all.  The SFO airport was a zoo as hundreds of flights had been canceled or delayed.  We heard many reasons for the delays – internet problems, a runway reconstruction project, mechanical failures and weather problems including fog and wind, but the weather was fine when we got there – sunny skies and 52 degrees.  No longer our problem in any event.  We took BART to Union Square and then walked over to the Staypineapple Hotel – yes that really is the name.  We had wondered about an early check in but with the flight delay, there was no need to worry as it was after 2:00 p.m when we got there.

San Francisco

Located at the corner of Geary and Jones, the Staypineapple Hotel is self described as an “elegant hotel”.  We agree.  It is fairly small and every detail is thought out and designed around the “Pineapple” theme.  We are probably too old to understand the full hipness of the name, but we loved the look.

Location

Location

Staypineapple Hotel (Exterior)

stay-exterior.jpg

Staypineapple Hotel (Interior) – Over the Top Design

Staypineapple Interior

interior

The cookies awaiting us in the lobby – pineapple shaped and flavored, of course – were a bonus.  Our room was fairly small but very attractive and the bed – with pineapple pillow was appealing.  And he tree in the lobby was a must for a photo.

Cookies

Pillow

Staypineapple Tree

Although there were few specific details, our original plan had been to be in downtown before noon and then check out some touristy spots before heading off to dinner and then the show.  There had been a fair amount of stress with the flight situation and we had been up early so we just took it easy and had a short cat nap in the room.  We expected to do a lot of walking during this visit in part because we knew there would be a lot of food consumed (even without those pineapple cookies).  Hamilton started at 7:00 and the Orpheum Theater was maybe 15 minutes from the hotel.  We had found an appealing restaurant that was somewhat in the same direction as the theater and it was also about 15 minutes from the hotel and then there would be another 10 minutes or so to the theater.  We had a dinner reservation for 5:15 and got there a few minutes early.  There was a long line and staff was not real helpful in explaining the check-in process, but they found us a table and we were set.

Max’s at the Opera Restaurant on Van Ness Avenue

Max's

Our restaurant, Max’s at the Opera, was like a glorified deli with many theater goers in attendance.  Not haute cuisine, but that was not the goal this night in any event.  Service was excellent and our waiter affirmed that their featured Reuben Sandwich really was excellent.  Why not? We were on vacation.  It really was excellent and we dismissed any caloric calculations for it or our drinks that preceded the meal.

Cheers

At Max

The Reuben

Reuben

My son Alex was visiting Seattle and we had a chance to have lunch with him before leaving for this trip.  It was the first time he and Cindy had met.  Much of our talk had been about his life in the world of specialty coffee and a potential change in employment, but we also talked about San Francisco as he had been there recently.  He is very urban and urbane and loves the city but called it a dystopia with the overwhelming homeless situation on many streets.  We had not seen that walking to the hotel, but it was very apparent walking to the restaurant (through the edge of the Tenderloin district) and then to the theater.  Very depressing indeed.

We were now off to see Hamilton.  It is always exciting to be in a theater crowd before a performance especially so with the anticipation for this much loved production at a very nice theater.  Our seats were excellent (at the price we paid they should have been) – about 20 rows up in the orchestra.  I won’t go into details about the show.  Incredible performances and an amazing conception and production.  As much as the main characters were terrific, it was the excellence of the many smaller players in the highly complicated choreography that stood out most to me.  I had mixed feelings on how the story was related and the music.  Rap is not my favorite and we often could not hear/understand the words, but there was no missing the incredible force and energy of the production – especially in the first half.  Not so much in the second half and especially the ending.  Production and casting (deliberate I am sure) definitely made it easy to not like Jefferson and Madison.  We were glad we went but are not members of the Hamilton as Best Musical Ever fan club.

Hamilton

Hamilton Close

It was nice to have the hotel well located to get to Union Square, restaurants and the theater, but that central in the heart of the city location also meant lots of noise at night with traffic, sirens etc. – a reminder that I am not an urban type especially as a light sleeper.  The (only) other less than appealing part of our hotel stay was a very limited breakfast menu at the “Bistro+Bar”.  The only fruits available were apples and bananas.  A few pastries (good) and some limited other options.  Not a big problem but especially with local markets and delis closed on the day before Christmas and Christmas day – not great.  Of course there was a Starbucks and a Burger King (or was it a Jack in The Box and aren’t they the same?) within a couple of blocks – so much for trendy San Francisco.   We survived and began a very full day of exploring the city as tourists.

We started at Union Square – with yet another Christmas Tree photo op.  The weather was perfect, cool, dry and windless with bright blue skies, and the crowds were not yet out in force – except for the lines for the the Cable Car which we had hoped to take to Fisherman’s Wharf.  We waited for 20 minutes just north of Union Square as two cars came by too full for us to board.  So we hiked down to where the cable car starts but found hundreds of people already in line – looking like an hour plus wait.  Not keen on lines anywhere so we started off relying on “shank’s mare” – as in walking (I have always wanted to use that term).  We casually walked through the shopping areas around Union Square.  Fashions, jewelry, art, more fashions and more fashions – many high end Italian and French designers as well as Bloomingdale’s and Saks.  Our shopping was all of the window kind, keeping our wallets tightly closed, but it was fun.  Cindy liked one dress or coat but not the other and so on and we usually agreed.

U Sq

Next was a walk through Chinatown with lunch an objective at some point.  The ethnic diversity of San Francisco was hard to miss and almost everywhere we went, Asians were by far the most visible – of course much moreso in Chinatown itself.  But there as well as everywhere else we heard many languages – Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Russian, French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Hindi, Bengali and Hebrew as well as many other Eastern and Northern European and Southeast Asian ones that we could not identify.   As much as Seattle at least sees itself as a big and cosmopolitan city and I have seen it become moreso in my now almost 50 years there, there is simply no comparison with San Francisco.

Chinatown Gate

Chinatown Gate

There were LOTS of people and lots of small stores offering goods cheap and expensive and food and groceries to feed visitors and residents alike.  Many were familiar and others were not.  Lots of fish, poultry, pork and vegetables as well as herbs, spices and sauces.  We were not sure if some of what we saw was to be eaten or… We had recently joined friends Randy and Janice Leitzke for dim sum at a small restaurant in Edmonds.  Pretty good, but we figured we could do better here.  Hawkers handed out pamphlets for competing restaurants and we chose one on a side street that looked just right – the Grant Place Restaurant.  A little bigger than a hole in the wall and definitely not design conscious, but the food in the window looked good and there were many Asian couples and families and groups inside enjoying their fare.

Grant Place Restaurant

Grant Place

The food and service were both great and the only problem was that we ate too much.  Back onto the street we continued north up Grant Street towards North Beach.  Now there were even more people and we were amazed how every little shop seemed to be selling the same foods and all were jammed.

North Beach is famous for Italian restaurants, cafes and bakeries.  We were already way over our theoretical calorie counts for the day but we figured we were doing a lot of walking so maybe a dessert would be okay.  First however, we were enticed by Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop on Stockton Street.  An awesome collection of hats that were really fun to try on.  There were definite temptations but I just could not see myself wearing the top hat that I liked best or the blue fedora that Cindy preferred.  One of the best parts of this day was that nothing was really planned and we could just react to whatever appealed to us.  The hat shop was fun, but the next stop was even more appealing.

Goorin’s  Bros. Hat Shop

Hat (2)

Molinari Delicatessen was established in 1896 and is one of the oldest delicatessens in the U.S.  It was mobbed and everybody seemed to be buying something.  If we had not already had our lunch, we would have been happy with any of a number of things offered.  We moved on – reluctantly.  But then we found Mara’s Italian Pastries and Gelato and this time we could not resist.

Molinari Delicatessen

Molinari

Deli

Mara’s Italian Pastries

Mara's

Pastry

We got a wonderful poppy seed confection and a chocolate mousse to be eaten later.  Both were excellent and not terribly expensive.  I would be in serious trouble if I lived anywhere near either Molinari or Mara’s.  Happy but in serious trouble…

We headed back to the Staypineapple returning again through Chinatown.  There were easily a thousand or more people shopping.  Root vegetables seemed to be particularly popular.  Unlike the pastries or the deli, for these there was no appeal.  We took a little different route to check out the garage where we would be picking up our rental car the next morning on Bush Street.  We got back to our room while it was still light.  Being much further south and finally getting past the winter solstice, it was not dark as early in San Francisco as it had been when we left Seattle.  The skies were turning gray, however, a portent of things to come.

Recognizing that we had eaten a lot this day and the previous night, but had not had much of a breakfast, we had omelettes at a delicatessen a block from the hotel.  It was Christmas Eve and a lot of places were closed.  Not fancy, but not bad and we were back to the hotel and turned in early.  We had walked over 5 miles that day and were feeling pretty virtuous.  It was not as noisy as the previous night — until a major storm hit the area.  The rain pounded on the windows of the hotel.  Somehow Cindy slept through it but not me.  I was getting into serious sleep deprivation mode but could hardly feel sorry for myself thinking about what it must have been like for the homeless people on the streets.  Sigh…

Christmas Day was to be our day out of the City.  Cindy’s cousin Lisa and family were celebrating at their second home in Inverness, California in Marin County on Tomales Bay and near Point Reyes National Seashore.   About 50 miles away, it would be about a 90 minute ride without stops.  Our plan was to pick up the car early and drive to Inverness with some stops at Point Reyes, have lunch with the family and then return to San Francisco for a 7:00 dinner returning the car that evening.  That’s what the online rental arrangement said, but we were thrown a major curve ball when I was informed – only at the time that I picked up the car at 7:30 a.m. – that the car office would be closing at 3:00 p.m. and there was no way to drop the car off until the next morning – unless we wanted to take it to the airport. WTF!!!  There was no way we could be back by 3:00 p.m. and no way to go the airport – and then have to get back to our hotel – a two hour ordeal.  So our option was to keep the car overnight – pay (exorbitantly) for parking at the hotel and then to return the car the next morning.  To say we were unhappy would be a major understatement.  There being no other option, we carried on.

Inverness and Point Reyes – about 50 Miles Northwest

Inverness

Another curve was that instead of the small SUV that I expected, we were “upgraded” to a very racy Chevy Camaro.  It was a fun car but with very low clearance and there were a couple of spots where this might have been an issue – especially with the somewhat flooded roads we would encounter in Marin County.  I can only imagine what the traffic would have been like if it were not Christmas day, but we had very little traffic getting out of San Francisco, and our only issues were that every intersection seemed to have a stoplight and each one of them was red for us – timed terribly.  But it was lovely.  The storm from the night before was nowhere to be seen and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is a spectacular ride.  And Marin county is like a world apart compared to San Francisco – beautiful with its big trees, cypress, eucalyptus and others.  The roads were winding which thrilled me and frightened Cindy a bit.  It was a fun trek as we got more and more remote covering territory I could barely remember from early birding days in California almost 50 years ago.

We stopped at a really funky little coffee shop in Olema and felt like we were back in the Hippie days of the 1960’s.  Not a whole lot has changed since then probably.  Then we went to Point Reyes National Seashore stopping for a few birds on the way.  One was a very close in Red Shouldered Hawk, a new bird for Cindy.  It was close enough for an ID quality picture with my phone.  Birding friend Ann Marie Wood in Washington has been trying to see one there for months without success.  I could not resist sending her the picture.  I wish I could have brought it back for her.  We would see several Red Shouldered Hawks and more Red Tailed Hawks but the most common raptor were American Kestrels.  We probably saw two dozen.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Red Shouldered Hawk

We saw some of these and some of those species but mostly we were there to enjoy the spectacular scenery along the coast.  Mark Tomboulian later advised me that the ice plants that were everywhere are invasive, but they were nonetheless beautiful in many shades of red, gold and green and even purple.

View from North Beach at Point Reyes

Icicle

We left the beach and joined cousins Jimmy and Lisa, her husband John and their kids Alec, Alana, and Sean, and their kids Arden and Coral and spouses Craig and Clare, for a relaxed visit at Lisa and John’s Inverness home.  More food and good company.  I had met Lisa in Edmonds but everyone else was new.  It was a good way to spend Christmas.

Around 3:00 p.m. we left to get back to the City.  We had dinner reservations at 7:00 at Tuba, a Turkish restaurant, but since it was a ways from our hotel and we could not return the car until the next morning anyhow, we drove to the restaurant and found nearby on street parking.  Although they were quite busy the restaurant was able to take us early and we had a good meal with some wine.  I had salmon and Cindy had lamb.  The ambiance was good and the service was excellent.

Tuba Restaurant

Tuba Outside

Cindy Toasting the Holiday

Tuba Cindy

My Salmon

Tuba1

Back to the hotel parking at the “reduced” overnight rate for hotel guests of only $30 for the night.  It was convenient, though.

Before the surprise on the rental car return, our plan had been more sightseeing in San Francisco all day on Thursday and then flying home on a 7:25 flight.  Since we still had the car, I called Alamo to see what it would cost to keep it and drop it off at the airport instead.  Here was the second disappointment with Alamo.  We were told it would only be another $6.95.  When we actually did drop it off, we were charged a lot more.  I will not go into details because I want to keep my blood pressure low.  Oh well, we had the car and changed our plans to drive around in San Francisco to see where Cindy had lived in the Marina District and then to see some of the beautiful homes and scenery at Sea Cliff and then the Presidio ending at Cliff House.  It was all beautiful.

I had never gone through the Presidio or gone to Seal Rock or Cliff House.  The Presidio was incredible and the view of the sea breaking in waves over Seal Rock was spectacular.  And I had no idea that there was so much sandy beach on San Francisco’s ocean side.  Cindy said that the wind and fog could be pretty awful and that cars were sand blasted by the wind blowing the sand from the beach which significantly depressed its desirability for permanent residence, but none of that was evident on this lovely day.

Seal Rock from Cliff House

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Cindy with Our Camaro Parked at the Cliff House

Camaro

We continued south along the Junipero Serra Freeway down the Peninsula heading to Stanford University.  Cindy had never been there and I am not sure if I have been back since Law School in 1973.  Rolling along on Highway 280 it was hard to believe that dense population was so close by.  Very light traffic on the day after Christmas certainly helped.  Stanford was as I remembered it – times 10.  There were many new buildings and the campus is truly awesome with magnificent palms, eucalyptus and open space.  We parked at the main quad and found ourselves with maybe several hundred other visitors.  No students as school was in recess for the Holidays.  It seemed that at least 90% of the people there were Asian, many families with children maybe with hopes to be accepted and enrolled someday.  It was really gorgeous.

Memorial Church at Stanford

Stanfo

We walked over to the Law School – its location changed from long ago when I attended.  A placard on the building showed donors whose contributions had made it possible.  I don’t know when the donations were made, but my name’s absence was evidence of how detached I am from those days.  It has been almost 40 years since I practiced law at all.  We had a nice lunch at a pizza place at Town and Country Village and then searched for the place I lived when I first arrived for law school – an apartment over the garage behind a modest home in Menlo Park.  I could not recall the street address and despite a diligent search, we could not find the place although I am sure we were close.

There would be one more stop before returning to the airport.  This was Baylands Nature Preserve, the place where I first became interested in birding back in those law school days.  That interest was sparked by seeing – yes actually seeing a Black Rail – an extremely secretive species I have not seen or heard since.  The marsh land is awesome, a great place for shorebirds, ducks, waders and many others.  Cindy is not a birder (yet) but has joined me on some of my trips.  I wanted her to see this special place.  It was not overflowing with birds but we had good looks at a bird we had seen the previous day on our visit to Marin County – a Long Billed Curlew – and also saw a few other shorebirds including Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, Black Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Willets and Dunlin.

Long Billed Curlew

Long Billed Curlew 2 Bottle Beach

There were many duck species, some American Coots and numerous gulls, but by far the species of most appeal to Cindy were the Egrets, a couple of Great Egrets and several Snowy Egrets including one that came quite close and splayed its beautiful feathers and plumes for us.  At one spot both egrets stood together giving Cindy a great comparison and an appreciation of the very significant difference in size.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret

I had to have a picture of me there to memorialize the return visit.  Many hours were spent there back in the old days.

Baylands

We said goodbye and went to the airport.  Returning the car with the surprise additional charges was no fun but we did not let it ruin our wonderful trip.  We were a couple hours early for our flight and tried to get on an earlier one, but prior delays and cancellations made that impossible, so we waited…and waited…and waited some more as the congestion caused our flight to depart an hour later than scheduled.  I have flown Alaska Airlines many times in the past few years and have never had problems.  I am chalking the ones this time up to San Francisco Airport problems compounded by travel during the Holidays.  It was almost midnight by the time we were back in Edmonds.  Unfortunately we both picked up colds the last day we were there – maybe on the flight, maybe in any of the crowded venues we visited.  Not how you want to end a trip, but we were fine while we there and had a great time.  It was especially nice to be able to share all of the experiences together.

 

 

 

 

Emperor Goose at Dungeness NWR

A very quick post.  Today Cindy Bailey, Jon Houghton and I traveled to Sequim, WA hoping to find the Emperor Goose that has been seen intermittently in the area including specifically yesterday at Cline Spit viewable from Dungeness Landing Park (Oyster House).  No luck at that spot.  There were many hundred birds including many American Wigeon, Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Brant, Dunlin, Black Bellied Plovers and Gulls.

Later at another stop we ran into Jon Anderson from Olympia who was also looking for the Emperor Goose.  No luck but we exchanged numbers and later when Jon located it on Dungeness Spit, he called to inform us.  We were just finishing lunch in downtown Sequim and rushed out to join him.  He told us that a seaplane had flushed it a few minutes before we arrived. Damn!!

But after lots of looking Jon found it again and we all got great looks.  YES!!  A juvenile bird with a heavy molt but no doubt on ID.  Lots of good photos.  We also had a cooperative Red Throated Loon, two Marbled Murrelets and a Black Scoter among other species.  It was a beautiful place with nice weather – no rain and no wind.  A beautiful day.  Thank you Jon.

Emperor Goose

Emperor Goose with Gras

Emperor Goose1

 

Red Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon Wings

Marbled Murrelet

Marbled Murrelet

So the good chasing streak continues:  Rock Sandpiper, Mountain Plover, Lesser Black Backed Gull, Ross’s Gull, Glaucous Gull and Emperor Goose.  I am off to the Okanogan tomorrow and hopefully good fortune will be with me.

50 Birds on 50 Days in 50 States – Birding in the United/Disunited States of America – Summary

A Project Is Born

In these past few years our nation has often seemed to be made up of states that are more Dis-united than United.  Rather than read about it in the news or hear about it on the radio or television or take it in through social media, I wanted to see for myself – to get out of my own bubble and with a mind that I hoped I could open further, expand my horizons and get real time, real life input.  Maybe I would understand better.  Maybe I could appreciate differences but still hopefully find common ground.  Maybe I could make sense of it all or find peace in the process.

I had often thought about a long road trip just getting in the car and without much planning heading off to enjoy whatever followed.  I have tried to become more spontaneous but I do better with some structure and I also do better when I have set goals and put my energy into meeting them.  Birding has often helped me get out of the doldrums when things seemed bleak personally – a soothing and restorative distraction.  In addition to the political landscape there had been some personal downers as well, so a plan came together fairly quickly:  a road trip  that would use my passion for birds to explore the diversity of our country and experience both the differences and the commonality and also to sustain me in these crazy, confusing and chaotic times.  It needed some structure and being a compulsive lister and liking round numbers and patterns, I came up with the idea of birding in every state with a goal of finding 50 species on single days in each of them.  I liked the symmetry of 50 states, 50 days and 50 species – an affirmation of something shared in and by each state no matter the differences in geography, habitat, weather, or cultural and ethnic diversity.   Finding 50 species on a single day is not necessarily a difficult thing to do – certainly not so when weather cooperates and it is not in the dead of winter.   It is certainly easy to do in the month of May almost anywhere as migration is in full swing, but there is only one month of May each year and I was somewhat concerned whether I could plan visits to be in each state when there would be sufficient species around to make reaching the goal likely.

That objective would get me to the diverse places I wanted to experience, but there was one more critical need.  Birds?  Yes, I could find them.  Places?  Yes, many great places to visit.  What was missing were people, local people who shared the connection with birds but also had the special history, knowledge and perspective of all of these places I would experience, many for the first time in my now over 70 years.  They would add immeasurably to my birding experiences but far more importantly would add immeasurably to my personal experiences.  Finding and coordinating with the right people was at times a complicating factor, another challenge to logistics and planning, but it was by far the most rewarding part of the adventure.

What an adventure it has been – far beyond anything I dreamed of when I started out.  It has been barely a month since my last trip that concluded in Arkansas – the last of the 50 states where in the company of new friends, I have been able to find the 50 species in a single day.   I am still digesting all of the experiences and planning some next steps that I hope will be meaningful to me and to others.  Blog posts have been completed  for all of the visits – more than 400 pages with about the same number of photos.  I expect there will be more as I slice and dice the experiences, but here I wanted to share a mostly statistical summary and overview leaving out the personal intersections and the details of each visit.   Lots of numbers.  Here goes.

The Calendar

I first came up with the specific goal of 50 birds in each state on individual days in late August 2018.   At that time there was no time line in mind for completing the project.  It was not intended to be a form of a Big Year.  Certainly too late to start one for 2018 and I wanted to get going not wait.  First though, I looked back on some birding trips earlier in 2018 that had been spectacular – especially for target birds.  These were trips to California and Texas in March and April respectively.  I found that I had seen 50 or more species on singular days in each state and the birding was with others.  I elected to include these trips in my saga retroactively as the plan was not driven by a need to do them all in one year or for that matter in any particular time frame.

So I want to be clear from the start that this adventure was not completed in a single calendar year.  Yet, although there was no planning to do so, as it turns out, each of the 50 official 50 species days was completed on a unique day of the calendar.  The visits were not all in the same calendar year but if one looked at the days of the month only, they could have been.  (More on that later.)   The map below shows for each state the day of the year that the 50 species were seen color coded by month.

By Date

One state was done each in January, February and March.  Three were done in April and 16 in that migration rich month of May.  Another 6 were done in June and none were done in July.  A single state was done in August and then 5 in September, 6 in October, 8 in November and 2 in December.  My general approach was to schedule trips to multiple adjoining states allowing on average two days for each state to cover travel time between states and to provide a potential insurance day in case 50 species were missed on any one day.  I generally started with a travel day to get to the target area then rented a car and birded the next day, traveled a day to the next state, birding the following day, continuing for as many states as made sense and then flying home the following day.

Fourteen states were done on a one off basis (including the ones added retroactively).   I had two 5-state trips, a single 4-state trip, two 3-state trips and one 2-state trip.  My longest trip was a nearly month-long visit to 14 states in May 2019.  While the simplistic look at calendar dates indicates 50 states done on 50 different days of the year, as I said, they were not in the same calendar year and a deeper look shows that the 50 states could not have been visited on those same days in just the one year.  Take for example the states completed in the Month of November.  The last states in the Adventure were Kansas on November 5th, Oklahoma on November 7th and Arkansas on November 9th – all in 2019.  In 2018, I had visited states adjacent to those three – Louisiana on November 2nd, Alabama on November 4th and Alabama on November 6th.  While it would not have been possible to be in each of those states on those days between November 2nd and 9th in a single year, I am sure that by changing the order and stretching it out by another few days, it would have been doable.

The next map shows the years in which each state was done.  I chose to include several states retroactively both as a logistical benefit and also because I wanted to share some of the specific experiences, people, places and birds.  This map, too, is color coded – this time by year – a unique color for each of the 7 years included.  Two states, Maryland and Wisconsin went way back to my first years of birding – included for reasons very meaningful to me.  Maine was the single state for 2015 since I really wanted to include that experience.  Alaska, Colorado and Washington were in 2016.  Colorado was a very special trip chasing (and finding) many gallinaceous birds.  The Alaska trip was a magnificent trip – my only serious birding there – too good to leave out.  Finally there is my home state of Washington.  There have been well over 100 days where I have had 50 species or more in a single day in Washington maybe several times that many.  I could have selected a terrific day in either 2018 or 2019 but a day in 2016 was most meaningful to me because of place, birds and especially the person I birded with and a story I wanted to tell, so I went retroactive.

I chose visits to Florida and Arizona in 2017 again because of place, birds and people but could have included a different visit to Arizona in 2018.  The remainder of the visits were in 2018 (16 states) and 2019 (26 states).  Again  with the adjustments suggested above, I am sure that it would have been possible to have kept the dates and do them in a single year BUT Alaska would have been tight AND more importantly it simply was not what I wanted to do – committing so much time energy and money to a single year doing it.  That said, it is definitely possible and I hope someone else may do so in a single year someday.  Might that be me?…well…

By Year

Quantity and Quality – Numbers and Favorites

In each state that I visited the critical objective was to find the 50 species in the single day and only after that maybe to include some species that were either new ABA Life birds or ABA Life photos when possible.  It was also essential to be birding with others and that coupled with logistics favoring areas of one state proximate to specific areas in another further coupled with choosing what may have been less than optimal times (e.g. October as opposed to May) meant that there was not an emphasis on doing a Big Day in each state maximizing the numbers seen on that day.  In most of the states, choosing a different time or place would have increased the species counts – perhaps substantially.

The following two maps shows the number of species seen in each of the 50 states ranging from a “we barely made it” 51 species in Hawaii to 110 species seen in Maryland.  The second map gives a further slice color coding the number of species as in 50 to 60, 60 to 70 etc.

By Species Count Blue

 

By Species Count

Half of the states were in the 50’s and 60’s species range, 14 were in the 70’s, 7 in the 80’s, 2 in the 90’s and 2 over 100.  Altogether on the Official 50 Species days only I observed a total of 491 species in the 50 states – excluding Hawaii the number in the ABA Area drops to 462.   Many of the days I used were parts of longer trips some with a week or more of birding.  Including all species seen on the full trips, 660 species were found – 629 if Hawaii is excluded.  I do not have a full list of ABA Life Birds seen or new ABA Life Photos on either the official days or during the longer trips, but it would be difficult to know in any event since I have included the trips to Maryland and Wisconsin from my early days and many of the species from those trips were ABA Lifers.  As for ABA Life photos, definitely over 100 and maybe 150.

I also have not kept track of miles traveled.  Certainly more than 12,000 by car and three times that much by plane.  Another important number is that all told I birded with more than 500 other birders along the way – every age, color, skill level, religion, gender and many nations of origin.  That has been the best part of the adventure without question.

Favorite Photos

I will probably do a longer post about favorite species with photos.  For this post and summary I have chosen my all time favorite as the featured image on top – the Swallow Tailed Kite seen in Florida with Paul Bithorn.  I am closing with my favorite 12 species seen and photographed after that one.  Some were rare and/or Lifers, others just loved even more than the others.  In no particular order.

Flammulated Owl – Utah with Tim Avery

Flam2

Prothonotary Warbler – West Virginia with Beth Poole

Prothonotary Warbler1

Whooping Crane – Texas with Carlos Sanchez, Barry Zimmer and Victor Emanuel

Whooping Crane5

LeConte’s Sparrow – Arkansas with Vivek Govind Kumar

LeConte's SparrowR

Connecticut Warbler – Ohio with Danno Gesualdo, Laura Keene and David and Tammy McQuade

Connecticut Warbler3

Kirtland’s Warbler – Michigan with Sam Burckhardt and Cindy Bailey

Kirtland's Warbler

Nazca Booby – California with Doug Schurman

Nazca Booby7

Rufous Capped Warbler – Arizona with Jon Dunn and Dorian Anderson

Rufous Capped Warbler

Bananaquit – Florida with Paul Bithorn and Frank Caruso

Bananaquit Best

Willow Ptarmigan – Alaska with John Puschock

Willow Ptarmigan 2

Greater Sage Grouse – Colorado with Frank Caruso and Stephan Lorenz

24-Greater Sage Grouse 3

Piping Plover – Connecticut with Mike Resch

Piping Plover1

Final Words – (For Now…)

More than anything else this experience has been how my passion for birds energized me to get off my butt and have an incredible adventure full of memories and stories.  It has also been about community – a birding community that is readily found in every state.  Similar experiences and similar communities are available to all who follow their passions – whatever they may be.  Go for it!!

Two Extraordinary Days Featuring A Ross’s Gull and a Mountain Plover

As Jon Houghton and I left the Mouth of the Cedar River late on the afternoon of Saturday, November 30 and reflected on an incredible day, we wondered if anyone in history had ever seen the three special species we had seen that day.  It started when we left Edmonds early in the morning to chase the Mountain Plover that had been discovered the previous day by Carl Haynie.  Paul Baerny was going to join us but fearing he was coming down with a cold, he felt it better to go it alone.  Everyone would agree, Paul is a sensitive and thoughtful guy…good birder too.

We arrived at Griffiths Priday State Park just north of Ocean Shores and parked on Heath Road near the bridge over the creek and began the hike out to the mouth of Connor Creek where the target had been seen the previous afternoon.  There was a single car parked at the road end.  Was this another birder?  We soon found out.  After walking less than a mile on the open beach, I spied someone with a spotting scope and his binoculars were trained on a something on the wrack line maybe 100 feet up from the waves.  Jon was walking along the dunes hoping for a Lapland Longspur while I walked the open beach.  As I got closer, I recognized the birder to be Scott Downes, an excellent birder and lister from Yakima, Washington.  As I got closer, Scott asked: “Do you see it?”  I did not until I looked where he was pointing.  There was a single bird on the beach and it was the Mountain Plover.

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover6

Rule 1 on a chase is “Go now”.  We had followed Rule 1 and now we would benefit from another rule on a chase – look for another birder and hope he/she has found the quarry.   He had and now we had it as well.  The Mountain Plover was a state life bird for all of us.   It is extremely rare in Washington.  One was seen in 1968 in Spokane.  Another was seen in Pacific County in 2000, a third in Ocean Shores in 2011 and another one had been seen there by a single birder in 2014.  I had not known about any of those others, so this had been an important opportunity and seeing this lovely bird on the beach was a joyous moment.  It had taken us less than 15 minutes from our arrival to find it.  I called Paul.  He was only 10 minutes behind us.  We watched the Plover scurry along the wrack line – a continuing photo op as the light was perfect and behind us.  Many pictures were taken.  Paul joined us and it was a state life bird for him as well.  It was state bird #445 for Scott – awesome!!

Mountain Plover

Mountain Plover

We watched the Plover for another 15 minutes.  Another friend Mark Tombulian had arrived and was walking up the beach toward us just in time … to see the bird fly off and disappear over the waves heading south.  He had seen the shape but certainly not a chance for a real ID.  This miss took some of the happiness out of the moment.  We hiked back to the parking area hoping the Plover had somehow returned to the beach and land giving Mark a chance.  It had not…sigh!!

It was not even 10:30.  Now what?  We drove the open beach near the casino at Ocean Shores and saw an almost continuous line of white shorebirds – thousands of Sanderlings foraging in the surf.  There were also hundreds of Dunlin and numerous Black Bellied Plovers.  We checked each one of the latter hoping maybe it would be the Mountain Plover.  No such luck.

Sanderling

Sanderling

Black Bellied Plover

Black Bellied Plover

The weather was beautiful with bright sunshine even if it was a little cool.  So far there was not much wind.  That would change at our next stop – the Point Brown Jetty at the southern end of Ocean Shores.  The hope was for a Rock Sandpiper – which would be a new year bird for Jon.   Rock Sandpipers, Surfbirds and Black Turnstones are together known as “Rockpipers”.   Rock Sandpipers are uncommon in Washington but this is probably the best place to find one.  I had 4 there the previous week.  The other two are common.  A flock of Rockpipers flew off just as we reached the rocks.  I was pretty sure I had seen two Rock Sandpipers in the mix of 40 plus birds.  Would that be it? Fortunately they all returned and for the next 20 minutes we watched them dodge the waves and forage on the rocks in great light and often no more than 40 feet away from us.  There were 20+ Surfbirds and 30+ Black Turnstones but where were the Rock Sandpipers?  And now the wind was picking up and the wind chill was pretty bad.  Still we waited.

Surfbird

Surfbird11.30Best.jpg

Black Turnstone

Black Turnstone11.30

Patience paid off and the Rock Sandpipers did return.  Not as rare as the Mountain Plover, but an excellent bird for the day.  Now what?

Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpiper2

The next “what” would be a stop at the Mouth of the Cedar River in Renton to see if the Lesser Black Backed Gull was still there.  Not nearly as rare as the Mountain Plover, but a Lesser Black Backed Gull is quite rare and is a great bird in Washington.  Jon and I had each already seen it here, but I had not gotten a photo and we both felt it would be a great way to end this special day.  We found it quickly.  Later we were joined by another birder who had missed it on 5 earlier tries.  We made his day when we showed it to him as soon as he arrived.  I got my photo and as I said at the start, we wondered if anyone anywhere had ever seen a Mountain Plover, a Rock Sandpiper and a Lesser Black Backed Gull on the same day.

As we pondered that question, we got the great news that the Mountain Plover had returned to the beach at Griffiths Priday.  It was seen and photographed by Mark and many others. A very happy ending and Jon and I were pretty full of ourselves thinking we had an incredible day – one that would last in memory for quite awhile.

Little did we know…

At 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, I finally got around to taking a shower.  At 1:33 p.m. Dennis Paulson posted this on Tweeters, the Washington Birding Community’s main listserv: “Adult Ross’s Gull on platform N side of Marsh Island.”  It was not until 1:50 that I checked my emails and saw his message. OMG!!!!!  As I was getting dressed I called friends to tell them about it.  Ann Marie was on it and was waiting for her ride.  Jon Houghton was returning from West Seattle but was up for the chase.  I could not reach Mark.  Paul already knew about it too.  I even called friends David and Tammy McQuade in Florida who are doing a Big Year and had not seen a Ross’s Gull.  Jon said he could pick me up in 15 minutes.  I told him unless it was 10 or fewer, I would just go and see him when he got there.  RULE 1 – GO NOW!!  He said he could.  Traffic was not horrible and we made it to the trail leading to Marsh Island by about 2:30.  We met John Puschock coming to us on the trail.  He gave a thumbs up.  It was there…OMG!!!

We raced out to the platform.  Dennis was there as were at least another 10 birders.  All were looking out at the swimming platform – about 50 feet away – respecting its space and not wanting to scare what was there.  It was the adult Ross’s Gull sitting there quietly, its back to us.  A quick first photo and then I sat down to wait hopefully for it to turn and give us a better view.  But even if there had not been more, this was incredible.  A Ross’s Gull is iconic for a sought after mega-rarity.  This was only the third record for Washington State.  The last one was one at Palmer Lake in 2011.  There was another in 1994 in Benton County.

Ross’s Gull – Palmer Lake December 2011

Ross's Gull 2

Ross’s Gull – December 1, 2019

Ross's Gull Back

More people continued to come in.  Maybe 25 in all.  The Gull remained still for 15 minutes and then turned to give a profile view.  The light was not great, but the pink tinge which is one of the Gull’s famous fieldmarks was quite visible – more vivid in the scopes that were trained on it than in our photos.  Everyone was in awe of this occasion.  And everyone was happy – very, very happy.

Ross’s Gull

Ross's Gull1

Without any warning or any provocation from its admirers, after another 10 minutes, the Ross’s Gull took off and flew off the platform and out onto the water – maybe 50 yards out.  Some of the viewers and I then moved out onto the platform to see the Ross’s Gull on the water.  Then it happened…  A Bald Eagle swept in low and headed right for the Gull.  It lowered its talons and to our amazement and horror, it  snatched it and took off, the Ross’s Gull dangling behind it.  OMG!!!  It was like a scene from “Nature” or “National Geographic“.  The Eagle flew into a nearby Cottonwood tree and devoured what is probably the second rarest bird that has ever been seen in Seattle.  The rarest has to be the Swallow Tailed Gull found by Ryan Merrill at Carkeek Park in 2017.  [See my earlier blog post  https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/18247]

Bald Eagle with Ross’s Gull

Eagle with Gull3

Eagle Perched for Its Feast

Eagle in Tree

The lucky birders filed out and passed the unlucky ones who had arrived too late.  Many of the birders who had seen the drama unfold searched under the eagle tree for feathers or bones from the eaten Ross’s Gull.  Some were found and will make their way to local museums.  If ever there was a case in point supporting the Go Now Rule 1, this was it.  A delay of even 5 minutes had been the difference between success and failure for many this day.

Dennis Paulson – Searching for Remnants

Dennis Paulson

These past two days have probably been the best two consecutive days of birding in Washington that I have had.  As I said Jon and I had wondered if anyone had ever seen a Lesser Black Backed Gull, Rock Sandpiper and Mountain Plover on the same day ever before.  Add to that list a Ross’s Gull and I am positive that nobody has ever had those four species within any 30 hour period – anytime, anywhere.  Extraordinary is an understatement.

Earlier in the day Sunday Bill and Nancy LaFramboise had posted that they had a Brambling coming to their feeder in Benton County in Eastern Washington.  Almost as rare here as the Mountain Plover or the Ross’s Gull.  And they were the ones who had the Ross’s Gull in Benton County in 1994.  I write often about our amazing birding community.  These two days make the case.  The Mountain Plover was seen by Carl Haynie as he was working on a coastal survey.  He reported it on the Facebook where I saw it and then Ian Paulsen reported that on Tweeters.  Carl later posted on Tweeters and Ebird with great details so others could look for it.  The Ross’s Gull was reported on Tweeters by Dennis Paulson, but the underlying story is amazing.  His partner Netta Smith was walking the trail on Marsh Island and somehow noted an unusual gull on the platform.  She did not know what it was but knew enough to know it was different.  She took a photo with her phone and sent it to Dennis who of course knew immediately and took off to join her.  His report brought many others there quickly.  I had been able to get the word on both birds to some others who also made the trip.  Later Bill and Nancy reported that the Brambling had not been seen again.  I had considered a chase – but now would not.  And it all happens so quickly…

The best way to end this post is with another photo of the Ross’s Gull.

Ross’s Gull

Gull Face

 

 

 

 

 

50/50/50 Oregon – A Tundra Bean Goose and a Passion for Birding

On November 26, 2018 I chased the Tundra Bean Goose that had been reported at the William L. Finley NWR in Oregon.  I failed to find it.  Not my first miss on a chase, but it had been a long one and it was a mega-rarity.  Was it just another of those one-day wonders – here today and gone tomorrow?  As it turned out – not at all.  It took a day or so for it to be relocated but then as none of us could have known, it moved in seemingly permanently and stayed for several months.   As I wrote in an earlier blog post [See https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/21387] after dinner with my sister on the night of December 1st, I drove back to Finley, slept in the car and was able to find the goose the next morning.

William L. Finley NWR

Finley NWR 1

I had intended to return to that post, amend it and use it for my 50/50/50 experience in Oregon, replacing the experience on the day that I had failed to find the Tundra Bean Goose, but had found 50+ species.  I thought I had done so, but I got caught up in the planning and trips for 2019 and apparently forgot about it.  Actually I just discovered this as I am going through a lot of catch up work and writing after having completed that 50/50/50 Adventure – getting ready for the next phase of it – hopefully a book and a big scale project that I will keep to myself until it happens, if it does.

Better late than never, I am incorporating much of that earlier post into this one and expanding upon it.  I decided to keep much of the non-bird part of that post because there has been much personal reflection as I visited state after state and then completed the project with a wonderful trip to Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas and that was a big part of that earlier post.  Much of that reflection has been about “Why?”.  Why do we do what we do – at least if we have choices?  There will be more about that in a wrap up post about the 50/50/50 Adventure, but repeating some of that earlier post still applies.  Now on with the story…

I had missed the Tundra Bean Goose on my first attempt but it had been seen again.  It would be another long trip, should I try it?  Literally an hour before heading down to Seattle for dinner with my sister, I made an executive decision to try again.  Why?  I asked myself that as I made the decision.  There is almost certainly more to it – some psychology – as will be discussed later, but the answer was simple again.  Successful or not this would be a good story, a good experience, something to look back on with a good feeling and something to write about – and something to affirm that I was “ALIVE” – doing something I loved, following a passion and just getting out there and trying.  AND I had a calm sense that I would find the goose and put an exclamation point on the week and the previous attempt.  I wrote those words just after succeeding in the quest to find the Goose.  At their core they are at the heart of my 50 State Adventure as well – following a passion and confirming and affirming that I was ALIVE.  There is a lot to that.

The Second Chase (Again repeating the earlier post)

After a great dinner at 8:00 p.m. I said goodbye and told my sister I was off to Portland.  She thought I was nuts, and that is likely not the first time she has felt that.  I had thrown a sleeping bag and some pillows in the car and figured I would stop at a rest area somewhere and grab at least a few hours of sleep.  That worked perfectly as I got into Oregon, found a rest area bout 90 minutes from Finley NWR and actually got almost 4 hours of sleep before heading off again around 4:30 a.m.  It was very foggy and pitch black as I pulled into the parking area on Bruce Road near the path out to the blind at McFadden Marsh which is where I planned to start my search.  It would not be light for another hour, but I could already hear geese, swans and ducks cackling, quacking and whistling at the marsh.  I was worried about the fog, but there was nothing I could do about that, and I am getting better at not stressing about such things out of my control – unhappy maybe, stressed, no.  I dozed for about 45 minutes and then walked out to the blind with binoculars, camera and scope.  There were thousands of birds – barely visible.  I was  somehow confident that I would find the goose – even if not just then or right there.  But moreso, I truly was already very pleased, because I had followed through on a wish and executed it well – so far.  I was completely alone and completely engaged in my life and a passion for it.

Just after 7:00 a.m. there was enough light to be able to meaningfully start my search through the scope.  Within not more than 5 minutes among the thousands of birds in front of me I found one that raised my heartbeat as it was a goose that was NOT a Cackling Goose and NOT a Greater White Fronted Goose.  But it had its head turned away and I could not see the tell-tale bi-colored bill that would confirm the ID as a Tundra Bean Goose.  Turn, damn you turn!!  It must have heard me.  It turned and even at 20x magnification in the poor light, I could see the orange marking. Eureka!!!!!  The light was weak.  My ISO was high, the shutter speed slow, but I got a photo.

Tundra Bean Goose – First Photo ABA #694

Tundra Bean Goose First Photo

There was nobody there to share a high five.  Nobody to watch a Snoopy dance.  No congratulations.  On other chases there have often been others or if not, I still gave a shout or did a dance or a jump or a fist pump.  Not this time.  I just savored the moment as deeply as I had any moment.  There was not a need for any outward expression because it was so completely internalized.  This confirmed a really chancy decision and was like the proverbial cherry atop the sundae.  But it was going to get even better.

The goose was resting and I kept my scope on it hoping for better views as the light improved.  About 10 minutes later I heard someone approaching the blind.  When she came in with her birding gear, I asked the almost unnecessary question:  “Would you like to see the goose?”  She beamed.  I lowered the scope and she saw the bill and had a new life bird.  This was the second try for Janet Kelly also.  She had made the 3+hour trip up from Medford, OR earlier in the week on a day the Tundra Bean Goose had been seen by others but not by everyone looking.  She was one of the unlucky ones.  This made up for that.  I was almost as happy for her as I was for myself – almost.

We watched the goose for about 15 minutes and then without any warning it and maybe 2000 other birds took off in a noisy flight and were gone. We had been very fortunate.  We had been at the right place at the right time.  A little bit later and we may have missed it.  I have been in that spot before.  Not more than 5 minutes later, two more birders arrived at the blind and we delivered the words we have all heard and hate more than any others:  “You just missed it!” Our visitors were Bert Filemyr and Casey Weissburg.  To say they are both serious and accomplished birders would be an understatement.  Joining with Laura Keene –  an extremely accomplished and serious birder – they had arrived at the Refuge the day before and had missed the Tundra Bean Goose.  Casey immediately expressed her disappointment and asked which way they had flown.  All we could say was “away”.

Meanwhile Laura Keene had positioned herself at the bridge and this strategy paid off as a few moments later she texted Casey that she “had the goose!!”.  Casey took off imploring Bert to race along with her.  Let’s just say that there is a significant age difference between the two and as I accompanied Bert running with gear on the icy boardwalk, I felt I had to comment that it was not worth a heart attack.  Bert joined Casey in their rented car and they drove the 1/4+ mile to the bridge where Laura had the Tundra Bean Goose in her scope.  Not the world’s best view but when it raised its head, there was that bi-colored bill.  This was ABA life bird 801 for Laura, and number 748 for Bert.  I don’t know about life birds, but it was ABA number 642 for Casey – this year.  As I said – serious and accomplished birders.  It was wonderful to see and feel their excitement as they found this extremely rare species – a sign of its rarity being that none of them had seen it before.

The Tundra Bean Goose was cooperative in that it remained still, but not so much as it mostly rested with its head tucked down being essentially a lump of brown feathers.  Other birders arrived and we were able to show them the mega rarity.  After more than an hour with an only occasional head lift to show its bill, it joined many other geese and flew off – eventually landing across the road in an even more distant spot.  But in flight, it gave us the best views including it bright orange feet.  It also gave me my best photos.

Tundra Bean Goose Flight Shot

Tundra Bean Goose Flight

Among the birders to join our group was a father with two young boys and a couple of other young birders.  I would wager that this day will be part of their cherished memories forever.  And I can say the same for me.  A favorite day.  Anyone reading my blogs or talking to me about birding knows that for me birding is that wonderful activity that inserts me in situations where there is the chance to visit interesting places, meet interesting people and see great birds.  There is never a day of birding that does not provide one of these rewards and on days like this, I get all three.  Pretty great!!  And this day it was in spades.  The refuge is not Cascade mountains beautiful, but it is a lovely place and now had given me two days of special attachment.  All of the birds and their movement at the marsh were majestic with the Tundra Bean Goose being as good as it gets.  And how wonderful to share this time and this bird with these folks.  And it was still early.  There was time for more birding.

People – Knowing of her and especially her incredible Big Year in 2016, I had contacted Laura Keene earlier as a resource to find contacts in states I would be visiting during my 50/50/50 adventure.  She was gracious and most helpful getting me in touch with someone that I did bird with later.  It was a great treat to meet her here in person.  I hoped to see her again some day either on her home turf of San Antonio or in the field.  And I did – finally birding with her briefly at Magee Marsh the following May.  And I would intersect with Bert Filemyr again – not in person but indirectly as he got me in touch with Gregg Gorton who I joined at Heinz NWR near Philadelphia the week before meeting Laura at Magee – which is where Bert was while I was in Philly.  Casey Weissburg describes herself as a nomadic bird biologist living for the love of birds and the natural world.  Have not crossed paths again – yet, but I bet we will someday

Seeing the Tundra Bean Goose was immensely satisfying.  Sharing the wonderful birding experience with Janet, Bert, Laura, Casey and the young family and others there made it magical.

I had seen 21 species at McFadden Marsh.  Surely there would be another 29+ around somewhere.

Finley has mixed habitat with some forest, open fields, ponds, oaks and farmland.  Often retracing my stops from the previous visit, it was not hard to find most of the same species as before.  Since I do not have my notes and specific places from that trip and memory has faded, I will just add photos of some of the birds seen.  A lowlight was trying to find a Wrentit and failing, but that has happened often.  It would be a long trip back again so I did not stay as long as I had previously.  I am pretty sure that with more time and trying to add species I would have found at least another 10 or so but nonetheless was pleased with 62 for the day.

Tundra Swan    Snow Goose

Tundra Swan Standing  Snow Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

Greater White Fronted Goose

In the oaks – California Scrubjays, Western Bluebird and Acorn Woodpeckers – always a favorite.

California Scrubjay                                                                 Acorn Woodpecker

California Scrubjay1 Acorn Woodpecker

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

California Quail                                                      Wild Turkeys

California Quail  Wild Turkeys

Red Shouldered Hawk                                      Northern Shrike

Red Shouldered Hawk1Northern Shrike Juvenile

So another great day with 50+ species, one exceptional bird and some very exceptional people as well.  As I said in the beginning, I wanted to revisit this day and the previous post because of the introspection.  This was before meeting Cindy Bailey who has become another important passion in my life and has participated in several of the 50/50/50 states even though she is not a birder.  Having her in my life has changed some of my priorities but it has not changed my feeling about the role of passion in driving our lives forward and rewarding our commitments of time, energy and action – but two passions is better than one!!  So repeating from that earlier post:

Final Thoughts and Questions – Why We Chase…

  • What all is behind our “wild goose chases” and others?
  • What makes me drive 5  hours from Edmonds to look for a goose in a marsh in Oregon twice in less than a week?
  • What brings Bert Filemyr from Philadelphia to Seattle to join friend Laura Keene who had flown in from San Antonio and drive 4 and a half hours to to look for a goose in that same marsh, joined by Casey Weissburg who came from who knows where?
  • What moves Janet Kelly to drive 3+ hours from Medford to to look for a goose in a marsh after she head done it days before without success?
  • What brings us and others – many, many others – to look for “special birds” with “special” defined differently by each searcher – in marshes and sewage treatment plants and forests and deserts and feeders and mudflats and mountains all over the globe.  Why do we travel miles and miles for hours and hours, give up sleep, endure heat, cold, bugs, flat tires, lost communication and miss birthdays and other important dates?
  • Why do we chase? Why do we chase again and again when too often our chases do not find success – at least in terms of  finding our targets?

Those are some questions.  Are the answers in these defined terms?

  • Compulsion” is variously defined as “a very strong feeling of wanting to do something repeatedly that is difficult to control” or a “strong and barely controllable emotion” or “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling”.
  • Obsession” is variously defined as  “a compulsive preoccupation with an idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety. – a compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion”; or “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling”; or “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person’s mind”.
  •  “Addiction” is defined by the American Psychiatric Association (at least as related to substance abuse) as a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems.
  • Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
  • Passion” is defined as a strong inclination toward a self-defining activity that one likes (or even loves), finds important, and in which they invest time and energy on a regular basis.  Passions are seen as existing in two types: harmonious and obsessive.
  • Love”  – one theory developed by psychologist Robert Sternberg, says there are three components of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment where intimacy encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness, and connection.  Poets may define it differently.

To differing degrees and in different ways, I believe that chases have elements of all of the above.  The definitions I have used for compulsion, obsession and addiction are at least somewhat pejorative if not downright negative.  I think there are other takes on all of them but these potentially negative aspects cannot be ignored and if they are not outweighed, balanced and driven by the far more positive aspects of love and passion, we are possibly in dangerous territory for ourselves, others and even the natural world that we engage.  Our chases are driven by these factors and are not always successful.  It took a while, but I have come to so enjoy the attempt, the pursuit itself, the intersections with people, places and the birds so that I am now at peace with finding my target bird — or not.  And for me, my birding is very intimate as it without doubt encompasses feelings of attachment, closeness and connection.  And when shared with others – even better.  And now in addition to my relationship with birds I have one with a special lady.  Even better.

 

 

 

 

 

Crossing the Finish Line in Arkansas

In any relationship there is an evolution as we are informed by experiences gathered, lessons learned and perspectives gained.  When I began this 50 state birding adventure, I saw it as a framework for an activity that would take me on paths familiar and not, but always following my passion for birds and the birders that observe them.  There was no certainty that the objective of finding 50 species on single days in each of the 50 states would be met but I was certain that the rewards from the effort would be great and more than justify the cost in time, effort and expense that would be involved.  I knew there would be many interesting experiences and many interesting people along the way.  I knew there would be many wonderful birds.  What I did not know was the depth of the feelings that would grow within me as I traveled around the country and intersected with so many incredible people who make up a very special community.  These intersections have brought me much happiness and have taught me much about the generosity of others and about my own being.  My last stop was in Arkansas and again I was rewarded far beyond expectation.

The most important part of my 50/50/50 undertaking has been the requirement not just to see 50 species in a day but to do so while connecting with members of the birding communities in each locale.  And that, too, evolved as I continued my adventure and experienced and appreciated the diversity of the people who make up the world of birders.  It was always important to me that in visiting different areas I would explore and hopefully gain understanding of other viewpoints, perspectives, backgrounds and cultures something particularly meaningful in this time of polarization and tribalism in our country.  Noting and appreciating differences while sharing and appreciating commonalities has been a recurring theme and a recurring benefit.  Nowhere was this more true than in Arkansas – a very fitting close to my travels.

On October 2nd, following one of the networking paths that had succeeded in previous visits, I sent an email that began as follows: “I hope I have the email address correct and this is reaching Vivek Kumar in the Fayetteville, Arkansas area.  I got your name and email address from Ebird and the Arkansas ABA Listserv.”  I did not know this person and had never communicated with him or with anyone that knew of him.  It was quite simply a digital plea for help using two of the main social media resources of the birding world as it exists in this second decade of the 21st Century so entirely different from the time more than 45 years when I began my own birding life.  BUT…while technology has so significantly changed much of the game, what has not changed is that this wonderful community is and always will be about interesting people – and the connection between us remains our passion for birds.  BUT (again) there has been another change in those passing years – made possible and aided in part because of the expanded networking and communication possibilities from a very different world of technology – a change in the demographic makeup of the birding world.

In the 1960’s birders were more likely to be called birdwatchers and were most often conceived of as “little old ladies in tennis shoes” like Miss Jane Hathaway in the Beverly Hillbillies or possibly academics in tweeds.  That would change as the American Birding Association was born in 1969 and took flight in the early  1970’s as outlined in my earlier blog about my birding with Floyd Murdoch in Oklahoma [See https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/22978].  Birdwatchers became birders and birding was now also a sport and many especially younger men were participants.  Nonetheless, for the most part, birders were men and generally white men, often well educated and often well off.  There is still a long way to go, but I am happy to say that this is no longer fully the case, and birding with people of many ages, races, genders, cultures and backgrounds has been an enriching part of my 50/50/50 experience, broadening and deepening my views and appreciations of the complex world we travel in together.  Vivek Govind Kumar is but one case in point.  First and foremost an extraordinarily good birder and fine and generous person, he is also a person of a very interesting background greatly adding to the richness of our time together.  Much more on that later, but let’s start with the enthusiasm with which he, like Zach Poland in Oklahoma and Tom Ewert in Kansas on this trip, and so many others in prior trips, joined in my quest.  And this included scouting trips and research in advance of my visit which Vivek shared with me.

With Vivek Govind Kumar

Vivek Kumar

The plan was to meet Vivek on the night of November 8th in Fayetteville, Arkansas at his residence just off the University of Arkansas campus where he is working on his doctorate.  We would have dinner that night and then bird the next day.  Fayetteville was just over 110 miles from Tulsa with about one third of that being in Arkansas.  So like I had done on other travel dates, I did some birding in Arkansas on the way mostly on an arbitrary basis in and around Siloam Springs and then visiting Hobbs State Park and Beaver Lake Nursery Pond, two areas that Vivek had included on his proposed itinerary.  The topography in Arkansas was very different from areas I had birded in Kansas and Oklahoma.  Much more deciduous forest with rolling hills and the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.  Temperatures were pleasant.  There was little wind and some trees were still showing fall color.

My first good stop was along Robinson Road in Siloam Springs, where I found an adult Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, Northern Mockingbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, and both Carolina Wren and Carolina Chickadee.  The latter two are closely related to the Bewick’s Wrens and Black Capped Chickadees so common in my Washington birding and I include comparative photos of both together.  They are very similar but fortunately have very different songs and calls.

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker1

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Carolina Wren and Bewick’s Wren

carolina-wren-e1574196017925.jpg Bewick's Wren

Carolina Chickadee and Black Capped Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee Black Capped Chickadee

Hobbs State Park is one of those places I would love to revisit with more time.  It has extensive hiking trails in beautiful forest and a very fine visitor center which is where I got a chance to do a little birding mostly watching the feeders there.  There was not much diversity at this time but I could definitely fantasize about numerous passerines in Spring migration and maybe even get a much desired photo of a Cerulean Warbler.  I had no warblers on this visit but got fun photos of a White Breasted Nuthatch, Tufted Titmouse and White Throated Sparrow.

White Breasted Nuthatch

White Breasted Nuthatch

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse1

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow1

Backtracking a bit, I then visited the Beaver Lake Nursery Pond.  I was disappointed to find only a few birds on the lake and the pond, but there were many birds on the road down to the Pond.  Species included a Red Shouldered Hawk, Red Headed Woodpecker, a Hermit Thrush and to my surprise Pine Warbler.

Red Headed Woodpecker (Juvenile)

Red Headed WP Juvenile1

Hermit Thrush

Hernit Thrush1

Pine Warbler

Pine Warbler

I added a Pied Billed Grebe at a roadside pond on the way into Fayetteville for my 34th species of the day.  Not bad considering that I had not made an effort to add species and had but a single species of waterfowl for the day and no shorebirds.  I was confident we would succeed the next day so was not worried.  Unfortunately it was dark as I picked up Vivek for dinner as the town of Fayetteville seemed very interesting with a very vibrant downtown and campus scene with lots of restaurants.  We had excellent Thai food at one and I wondered how long ago restaurants such as this one had arrived in this very southern city.  I asked Vivek to try to explain to me the nature of his research and dissertation.  I had the most superficial understanding of the work in biochemistry but seemed much more about physics and definitely required enormous data processing capacity.

Of more interest and easier to understand was his personal history having grown up in Dubai with some family still in India and having begun birding at a young age following his birder father to many locations.  As had been the case with the world travels of companions Bob Holbrook and Floyd Murdoch in Oklahoma, I was envious of his international experience and the many birds he had seen.  We did share an awe for the Taj Mahal and tigers in the wild, two of my all time favorite life experiences on a birding trip to Northern India in 2011.  Vivek outlined the plans for the following day which included being joined by two of his friends to start in the morning and then hooking up with an Audubon group at Lake Fayetteville a bit later.  I was excited and looked forward to state number 50 and many memories ahead.

On Saturday we started at 6:45 a.m. at Woolsey Wet Prairie where we were met by Barry Bennett and Todd Ballinger.  Todd was a teacher who had just started birding a couple of years ago.  Barry had been birding a bit longer and was keen to bird with us – which I think meant mostly to bird with Vivek who in his short time in Fayetteville has developed quite a reputation for his prowess and knowledge.  Many of the birders I have met along the way on my 50 state journey have overcome a variety of health challenges to be able to spend time in the field and in many cases a love for birding has played an important part in their recovery or dealing with some limitations.  As I wrote previously [https://wordpress.com/post/blairbirding.com/22948] this had been the case for Tom Ewert in Kansas after his brain surgery.  Birding has played an important role for Barry as he has managed a long battle with Multiple Sclerosis.

It was soon apparent why this was called a “wet” prairie as we trudged through water underfoot in many areas including on the trail.  I did not have high boots but fortunately my boots were waterproof and I could manage in about 9 inches of water.  It was necessary as among our main targets here were Sedge Wrens and sparrows including specifically LeConte’s Sparrows.  I don’t think Vivek would have let me leave until we found and had good looks at both.  The Wrens were easy but the LeConte’s Sparrows were another story altogether – and fortunately one with a happy ending.  Indeed there were lots of sparrows – only six species but many individuals.  I probably heard and saw more Swamp Sparrows there than I have seen or heard in the rest of my life – over 60.  There were almost as many Song Sparrows.  Other species were White Crowned and White Throated Sparrow, Field Sparrow and yes, LeConte’s Sparrow, with at least 5 seen and at least two of them seen well and one captured in many photos.

LeConte’s Sparrow

LeConte's SparrowR

White Crowned Sparrow

White Crowned Sparrow

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

It was a spectacular morning with only a bit of wind but beautiful and photo friendly sunshine which was mostly behind us as we chased after the LeConte’s Sparrows in the grasses. They really are secretive and challenging little buggers, coming into the open at most for a split second and then disappearing by diving onto the ground beneath the grass and often running like mice between the reeds.  As I had written before, we missed them entirely in Kansas and had fleeting views without photos in Oklahoma.  Vivek was persistent in his pursuit and maybe 30 yards into the grasses we had our first good looks and then some brief poses in the open allowed for the photos.  This was a great way to start the day.

Earlier on this adventure I had worked very hard to get my life photos of a Sedge Wren.  The first one, very poor was at Dauphin Island in Alabama.  Better ones were at the Chatham County Wetlands Preserve in Georgia and with later sightings in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Oklahoma just recently.  On all of those trips combined, I had seen 18 Sedge Wrens.  This was the exact number we had here at Woolsey Wet Prairie.  And they were pretty photo friendly – again in good light.

Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren1

We also had 2 Marsh Wrens and 5 Carolina WrensHouse Wrens are found here earlier in the year as well.  I recalled how when I first started birding Marsh Wrens were called Long Billed Marsh Wrens and Sedge Wrens were Short Billed Marsh Wrens.  I had only seen one of the latter at Anahuac NWR in South Texas back in 1978 and 40 years had passed until I had another one.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren1

The wrens and sparrows were the highlights but we ended with 39 species for the three hours we spent there covering 2.4 miles.  It was as pleasant a morning of birding as anyone could want and when Vivek had a call from Joe Neal who was leading the trip at Lake Fayetteville and he learned that “the waterfowl were in”, we were pretty certain 50 species would soon be on the record book.  On the way to the Lake we added Rock Pigeon to the day list and more importantly I caught a glimpse of two small accipiters, Sharp Shinned Hawks, birds that are often present but not seen.  At the park on the way to the lake we passed by an area where Chipping Sparrows were “guaranteed” as often dozens are present.  Not a one.  “We’ll get them later”.

At the lake itself we went straight to the blind where ten species of ducks had been reported in the phone call to Vivek earlier.  Lots of friendly people on the field trip and lots of birds on the lake, but by far the largest number were the American Coots – maybe 700.  Many of the birds were quite distant and even with a scope it took some work to pull out the 9 duck species – all new except the Mallards.  Nonetheless we did find them and despite again missing Chipping Sparrows later, we added a few passerines and with 14 new species we were over 50 species for the day.  I had done it.  I had now crossed the finish line in my quest having seen 50 species in a single day in all 50 states.  There was definitely a feeling of accomplishment and joy but the day was young and we were having fun which was really the point of each day’s birding in any event.

Todd had to leave us, so Barry, Vivek and I carried on.  We found a half dozen Eurasian Collared Doves and added the species to the day list.  These doves have become abundant in Washington and appear to be replacing Mourning Doves in some areas in Eastern Washington.  Not so in these Midwestern states where they are definitely present but not taking over.  At our next stop I had a special treat – an excellent burrito at one of maybe a dozen food trucks off the highway.  There was quite an offering of food choices: Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Italian and standard American fare.  More than 100 people had chosen this spot for lunch while we were there.  A Turkey Vulture flew right over us – but I did not take that as a sign to worry about the food we ate.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

We visited the Chesney Natural Prairie and in addition to adding a few more species, we had the surprise of the day.  Walking one of the grass lined trails, we flushed a bird that could not have been more than a few feet from us.  I yelled “Bobwhite“.  Vivek changed the call to “Snipe” then to the astonishing “Woodcock“.  Unfortunately the bird flew off fast and away from us for a long distance.  I reacted as quickly as I could and actually found the flying object in the viewfinder of my camera.  I captured some images but focus was impossible.  I have only seen one other American Woodcock in my life – in 1975 on Assateague Island in Maryland.  Definitely no photo and it is high on my list of birds seen without photos that I hoped to photograph.  Certainly not the image I want (and which someday I will get) but I include it here as it was a cool part of the story of the day.  It is also proof that I am a pretty poor photographer – except when I am lucky or circumstances are so good that it is almost impossible not to succeed.

American Woodcock – Clearly (or perhaps unclearly) Atop My Worst Photo List

Woodcock1

We had spent more time at some of our earlier stops than Vivek had planned but certainly no complaint by me as we had great and at times somewhat surprising birds and were well past the goal of 50 species.   There was time to head to the places I had visited the previous day – Hobbs State Park and the Beaver Lake Nursery Pond, but first there was a very strange addition to our route as we took the road through the “Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari”.  We did not see any of them but the website for this park lists lions and tigers and bears – oh my – and a lot of other exotic animals.  We did see Wildebeests and Camels and Prairie Dogs and two species of birds – one definitely not countable and one that surprisingly is.  Uncountable were the Ostriches which somehow looked even larger than when I saw them in the wild in Kenya.  What we saw that is countable in Arkansas is an Egyptian Goose.  I saw and counted them in Florida but had no idea that they were countable anywhere else.  But I rarely refuse gifts especially when birds are involved.

Egyptian Goose

Egyptian Goose

Prairie Dog (along the road next to a fence that clearly was not working)

Prairie Dog

Camel – Don’t See These Everyday

CAmel

We were in a race for time as sundown was approaching as we arrived at the Nursery Pond.  Sadly and surprisingly unlike my experience the previous day, we neither heard nor saw any Red Headed Woodpeckers and we saw only a single Pine Warbler.  Nor did we find the Pileated Woodpecker that Vivek expected.  But we did add some Wood Ducks, Horned Grebe, and Hairy Woodpecker.  In the same area I had the Red Headed Woodpeckers the day before there was only a noisy Red Bellied Woodpecker.  We got to the visitor center just as it was closing and added White Breasted Nuthatch.

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied WP

There had been some notable misses during the day and some species that Vivek had seen or heard that I had not.  These included Fox Sparrow, Red Headed Woodpecker and somehow House Sparrow.  How had I missed House Sparrow?  Vivek asked if this was important because he thought there was a place we could try although it was now pitch dark.  My first thought was that it was unimportant and not worth any effort.  My second thought was that House Sparrows, like European Starlings and Rock Doves are disparaged, unvalued and almost universally regarded as “junk birds” – a terrible species to be the last seen on my marathon birding adventure.  But upon reflection my third thought was that it would be a fitting and perfect end.

There was no need for glamour and in fact the whole point of this countrywide endeavor was to recognize the beauty and meaning of all birds and birders – anywhere and at any time.  We can find a difference on some value scale for a LeConte’s Sparrow or a lifer photo of a Winter Wren, or an American Woodcock as poor as those pictures might be.  We can appreciate the special beauty of a very white Krider’s Red Tail or the special conservation success story of a California Condor or a Kirtland’s Warbler or a Whooping Crane or the rarity of a Nazca Booby or a Red Throated Pipit or a Bananaquit.  These are all parts of my 50/50/50 Adventure and are very special memories, but when we found a small group of House Sparrows roosting in a tree, completely in the dark but chirping their good night song at a McDonald’s in Benton County, Arkansas, it was special, too.

Every moment, every bird, every person has been special on this personal voyage.  “Unspecial” can be “special” as well.  That is the message for all of us.  We all have much that is special within us.  We just need to live a bit to find it and let it free.  I will write another blog summing up this 50 state undertaking and have thoughts for a book that may get written some day, but I want time to digest and think before that is even started.  This three state trip with Tom and Floyd and Bob and Zach and Vivek and Barry and Todd was beyond fun and beyond satisfying.  Many moments and memories that are now a part of me.  Thankful for them all.

 

 

Oklahoma Day 2 – State 49 Is Now Official

When there were heavy rains on the night of November 6 and the temperature dropped significantly and the winds increased significantly, it appeared that the decision to unofficially get 50+ species the day before had been a good one.  But enter Zach Poland who would be leading the show on the 7th and his preparation, skills and enthusiasm were confidence inspiring.  It also helped that he seemingly had an in with the weather gods as at least where we birded as we did not experience a single drop of rain.  Maybe I had something to do with that as well.  Miraculously in all of the birding I had done in the previous 48 states, I had experienced rain only for small parts of two days – a little in New York and a little in Virginia.  That rain had affected the birding but only marginally.  Similarly there had been little wind and never that combination of the two that may well have made 50 species an impossibility.

Despite a full time job and a family with two young children, Zach Poland is currently the #4 birder on Ebird in Oklahoma for 2019.  I cannot imagine that the three birders who rank ahead of him are better birders than Zach.  He is that good and there is such a positive vibe about him that there was no doubt that we would succeed this day.  And it was pretty clear that he was motivated to beat the 66 species, Floyd, Bob and I had seen the previous day as well as the 81 species I had seen in Kansas.

Zachary Poland

Zach Poland

We began at 7:15 a.m. at Mohawk Park in Tulsa and by 7:45 a.m we had 25 species including both Virginia Rail and Sora, the latter seen briefly.  We also had maybe 1000 Franklin’s Gulls constantly overhead. During my visits to the three states on this last leg of my journey, there would be lots of sparrows – altogether 13 species.  There would be some new ones today and the first of those was a Red Form Fox Sparrow – so different from the ones I see regularly in the Northwest. The best bird came almost at the end.  Zach was pushing through the grass and yelled out something.  I was maybe 30 yards away and could not make out what it was, but from his excitement I knew it was something good and I got to him as best I could – just in time for a quick glance at a Dickcissel – very late for the area.

Fox Sparrow (Red Form and Sooty Form)

Fox Sparrow (2) NB Fox Sparrow

 

It was cold and it was windy but it continued to be dry and we were half way home when we arrived at stop #2, Monument Point at Lake Yahola where there were lots of ducks (8 species) and lots of gulls (3 species) and a brief look at some Least Sandpipers.  Zach’s keen ears picked up an American Pipit, our 19th species at the spot and our 38th for the morning and it was barely 8:00 a.m.   Photos were not so great in the still gray light, but it was pretty hard to miss one of the single American White Pelican on the lake.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Now we were back to Mohawk Park at the Mary K. Oxley Nature Center.  It was wonderful with a dash of frustration.  The Center is a real gem – over 800 acres with 9 miles of trails and a 70 acre lake that was dug out by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.  More than 250 bird species have been recorded there and in our almost two hours there we saw 42 species including an astounding 10 Red Headed Woodpeckers (both adults and juveniles).  Half of the species were new for the day bringing us to 59 making Oklahoma the 49th state with 50+ species – now officially – important as I wanted this day with Zach and Floyd and Bob as parts of the official experience.

The First Red Headed Woodpecker Seen – Oxley Nature Center Logo

Oxley

Red Headed Woodpeckers (Adult and Juvenile)

Red Headed WP Red Headed WP Juvenile

About that frustration.  Zach was persistent in trying to find a LeConte’s Sparrow for us.  Oxley is the best place in the area to find them in November and the prairie grass habitat was perfect.  A beautiful sparrow, I had missed LeConte’s at Quivira in Kansas and had seen only one in my birding life – a mega state rarity at Discovery Park in Seattle last year.  At Oxley we had lots of Swamp Sparrows and Song Sparrows and White Throated Sparrows and Lincoln’s Sparrows.  Finally Zach found one and then one more in a secondary area along the trail.  But unlike the “Swampies” and Songs and White Throats and very much like a LeConte’s, the two seen were in the open for split seconds before returning to the depths of the grasses out of sight.  Countable? Yes.  Photographable? No.  Frustrating? Yes.  Fun?  Yes that too.

LeConte’s Sparrow – Unfortunately the One from Washington

LeConte's Sparrow5r

It was now approaching noon and the goal switched from 50+ to more than 66 (the previous day’s total). We soon reached that as we found new species at the Spartan College Fields.  My only White Winged Dove of the trip flew off its wire perch as soon as I got my camera on it, but the Great Tailed Grackles were more cooperative.

Great Tailed Grackle

Great Tailed Grackle

Now past 66 species for the day, we moved on to the Keystone Lake Dam and Spillway where Zach promised a Black Vulture to go with the Turkey Vultures that we would see later.  Lots of Gulls, Pelicans, Cormorants and Great Blue Herons but not a single Vulture of any kind – until I finally made a contribution to the day and spotted a single Black Vulture soaring away from us.  I will use that as a segue to talk about group dynamics.

Most of my birding on this adventure has been with a single other birder or maybe two.  A few exceptions have been when joining bird walks – Audubon trips or State Ornithological Societies.  It is usually a plus to have many eyes searching for birds but if too many, that may be accompanied by too much conversation making hearing difficult or even putting off the birds.  Only rarely do personalities conflict and prove troublesome.  That was certainly not the case on this day.  It would be hard to imagine a better threesome to have with me than Zach, Floyd and Bob.  Their birding skills far surpass mine and everyone added to the entertainment value of the day.  All had great stories about immense and diverse birding experiences as well as life perspectives.  There were only little glimpses into Zach’s non-birding life but just enough to make me believe that if alone, we would have found mostly full common ground.  Maybe it was because they were also participating in this day, but Floyd and Bob were 100% onboard from the start that a goal for the day would be to surpass the 66 seen without Zach the day before.  In fact after helping me get to 50 each day, there was no sense of competition at all – just enjoying the time together.

The proof of the previous assessment was in the group’s decision on where to head next.  We could head west for some very different habitats but there was not really sufficient time for that.  Instead we switched the focus from me to Zach.  He is an avid County lister but did not have much experience in either Rogers or Mayes counties where Floyd, Bob and I had birded the day before.  So we retraced steps from the previous day and added birds to Zach’s County lists and our day list.  It was particularly interesting that we saw some of the same birds seen the day before in almost exactly the same spots this next day.  For example we again found the Loggerhead Shrike in the same tree and a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker in the same yard.

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker – Day 2

Yellow Bellied Sapsucker

Zach had never seen the giant totem pole so we had to make a return visit to Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park.  Here is part of the story:  Ed Galloway (1880-1962) was born in Missouri, fought in the Spanish-American War, and was on his way with his family to California when he took a temporary job in Foyil. He spent over 20 years teaching boys woodworking in the Children Home orphanage in Sand Springs, and retired to property he purchased in Foyil.  Working mostly by himself, Galloway started the Totem Pole in 1937 and finished in 1948. Although sometimes credited as a monument to Native American tribes, Galloway said he built it after he retired so he would simply have something to do. He thought it would be a good thing for youngsters, Boy Scouts in particular, to visit. The totem pole is constructed of concrete over a scrap metal and sandstone rock skeleton. Sixty feet tall, 30 feet in circumference, the pole rests on the back of a giant concrete turtle. Sculpted and brightly painted renditions of spirit lizards, owls, and headressed Indian chiefs climb to the pinnacle.

Who can resist bits of Americana like this – speaking of a different age in America before mass communications and much technology.  I have made a point of visiting similar places on my 50 state journey and they are always good reminders of simple pleasures and how people express and share their passions.  For us it was a fun diversion, an opportunity for some silly photos and also a chance to add Cedar Waxwings to our list.  The place was also overrun by a flock of Yellow Rumped Warblers – our best views of the day.

Blair and Zach and Floyd – There’s A Cedar Waxwing in the Tree, Floyd!

Waxwings

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler 1

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Bob, Zach and Floyd and the World’s Biggest Totem Pole

3 Amigos

We continued retracing yesterday’s route and this time found the gate locked at the Pryor Sewage Treatment ponds.  We were still able to add a number of ducks and the Great Egret but no White Faced Ibis this time.  We ended the day with a large flock of blackbirds that included numerous Brown Headed Cowbirds our 85th species for the day so we did surpass Kansas.  It was also species number 96 for the two day combined – my Oklahoma State Life List.

There was a non-birding spot that caught our interest near the Pryor Ponds on both days.  It is a giant industrial complex in the Mid America Industrial Park that includes the ponds.  There was no signage to identify it but we were told it was a Google server farm.  One picture is from the road and the other is an aerial one from (appropriately) Google Maps.  Neither captures the scale of the complex with huge cooling and power capacities being evident.  I wouldn’t trade it for the birds we saw at the ponds but I am sure a tour inside would be fascinating.

Google

Google

Google or Amazon

I wish I had had a recorder going on these two days in Oklahoma.  Lots of laughs, some debates and lots of stories.  And lots of birds.  With one more state to go I was feeling energized and not at all tired.  In fact I was already beginning to miss the adventure that came with each state, the chance to fully commit to the task at hand while greatly enjoying every aspect of the hunt, the finds, the misses, the varying scenes and habitats, the landscapes and geography and most of all the company of fine people who shared my passion for birds and birding.  There are so many people I hope to see again.  Certainly that is the case for Floyd Murdoch, Bob Holbrook and Zach Poland.  It is not possible to fail to enjoy their company.  Deepest thanks to all three.