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

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

Grandson Griffin – A Birder Someday?

Griffin

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

Wild Turkey

Tom Turkey

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

Red Bellied Woodpecker

Red Bellied WP

White Throated Sparrow

White Throated Sparrow

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Black and White Warbler

Black and White Warbler

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

White Breasted Nuthatch

White Breasted Nuthatch Vertical

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

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher1

Eastern Phoebe

eastern-phoebe.jpg

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

Brant

Brant

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

Piping Plover

Piping Plover1

Piping Plover

2P5A1008 (2)

American Oystercatcher

American ystercatcher

Sanderling

Sanderling

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

Great Black Backed Gull

Greater Black Backed Gull Flight

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

Little Blue Heron

Little Blue Heron

Great Crested Flycatcher

great-crested-flycatcher.jpg

Blue Headed Vireo

Blue Headed Vireo1

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

Warbling Vireo1

Yellow Throated Vireo

Yellow Throated Vireo

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Black Throated Blue Warbler

Black Throated Blue Warbler1

Black Throated Green Warbler

Black Throated Green Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler1

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

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Rose Breasted grosbeak wtih Flowers

Rose Breasted Grosbeak1.jpg

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson's Thrush

Veery

Veery

Gray Cheeked Thrush

Gray Cheeked Thrush

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

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

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

The Door – After the Kick

Door

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of Sync in Virginia

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

St. Frances Academy – and Its Neighborhood – 2019

St Frances Academy

Neighborhood

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

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

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

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler.jpg

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

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

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird1

 

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

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

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed WP2

Red Headed WP

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

Manassas National Battlefield Park

Manassas Visitor Center

Fence

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Birds of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

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

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

Flood History

Flood

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

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

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

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

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper1

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

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting1

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole1

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested FC

Orchard Oriole (female)

Orchard Oriole Female

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird1

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

Tree Swallows

TREE sWALLOWS

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

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

Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

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

Acadian Flycatcher

Acadian Flycatcher

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

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler1

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

John Brown

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

Beth Poole and Blair Acknowledging the 50 Species Success

Beth Poole

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

Preserve History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cape May and Brigantine – New Jersey Hotspots

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

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

NJ

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

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

Atlantic City

Atlantic Cit

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

Dunlin

Dunlin

Whimbrel

Whimbrel1

Willet

Willet

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

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

Black Skimmers

Black Skimmers

Forster’s Tern

Forster's Tern

Gull Billed Terns

Gull Billed Terns1

Laughing Gull

Laughing Gull1

Great Black Backed Gull

Great Black Backed Gull

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

Osprey

Osprey1

Fish Crow

Fish Crow

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

Tufted Titmouse

Tufted Titmouse

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow2

Common Yellowthroat (1 of only 4 Warbler Species)

Common Yellowthroat

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

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

Tom Reed

Tom Reed

Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet Adult1

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

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

White Eyed Vireo

White Eyed Vireo

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher1

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting Singing

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

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler3

Prairie Warbler

Prairie Warbler1

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

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

Least Tern

Least Tern Pooping

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

Cape May Scenes

Cape May

Cape May Homes

Scallop Roll – Yummy

scallop-roll.jpg

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

 

How Not to Gamble in Las Vegas…

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

Sin City

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

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

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

Arizona Charlies Hotel and CASINO!!

Arizona Charlies

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

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

Green Heron

Green Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

Neotropic Cormorant

neotropic-cormorant1.jpg

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

Great Tailed Grackle

Great Tailed Grackle

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

Verdin

Verdin

Abert’s Towhee

Abert's Towhee

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

Lucy’s Warbler

Lucy's Warbler2

Lucy's Warbler

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

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

Olive Sided Flycatcher

Olive Sided Flycatcher

Western Wood Pewee

Western Wood Pewee

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

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

Ash Throated Flycatcher

Ash Throated Flycatcher1

Black Chinned Hummingbird

Black Chinned Hummingbird2

Black Headed Grosbeak

Black Headed Grosbeak at Feeder

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

Black Chinned Sparrow

Black Chinned Sparrow

Woodhouse’s Scrubjay

Woodhouse's Scrub Jay

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

Broad Tailed Hummingbird

Broad Tailed Hummingbird at Feeder

Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole

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

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

Pop’s Philly Steaks with Doug Chang and Paul Rodriquez

Philly Cheesesteak

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

What Did Dela Wear? She Wore a Brand New Jersey

Apologies – I just couldn’t help myself.  These are just some of the corny lyrics from the song “Delaware” written by Irving Gordon and sung by Perry Como and others.  It came out in 1959 – dating myself I know – with puns involving 15 states.  It just popped into my head as I started to write this blog about my 50/50/50 visit to Delaware which followed my visit to New Jersey.  I can remember many of the silly lyrics from those many years ago.  Now if I could only have remembered to take my tripod out of the overhead luggage bin on my flight from Boston to Nevada last week.  Not fair…

When I started planning this trip several months ago, much of the route could have been chosen in a variety of ways and orders, but one part was clear.  I would bird in Southern New Jersey in and around Cape May and then I would take the ferry from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware with the prime birding target being Bombay Hook NWR, like Cape May itself, another legendary birding spot I had not visited before.  The two areas were almost like one in my mind and I will use that as the excuse for the lyrical reference.

Cape May, N.J. – Lewes, DE Ferry – 17 Miles 85 Minutes

Lewes Ferry

I had originally reserved space on a mid-afternoon ferry figuring I might need or want more time at Cape May, but the birding there had gone well so I decided to try for an earlier ferry giving me more time in Delaware.  The focus and framework for this adventure of mine is about the birds but so many of the best moments are about people – even little moments.  One such was my interface with the attendant at the ferry toll booth.  I had prepaid well in advance to be sure to have a space on the boat, not knowing what to expect traffic wise.  Checking online, I knew there was room on the earlier ferry The hope was to just drive up early and be allowed to change.  Not only was I able to get on the earlier ferry, I was able to get a partial refund as the original plan was for a second passenger and he was unable to join me.  More meaningful to me was the great conversation with the attendant.  She wanted to know about birding, Seattle, my travels etc.  Granted there were no other cars waiting behind me, but this personal connection was really great – and I could understand every word even with her “Joisy” accent.  A great start to the day.

Birds were relatively few and far between on the ferry crossing, but I did have some Northern Gannets, Herring and Laughing Gulls a good way to start a list.  I had read about Prime hook NWR which was on the way to my hotel and had great birding there for about 90 minutes – with a good mix of shorebirds and passerines.  My favorite shorebird was probably a very cooperative Solitary Sandpiper.  A Blue Gray Gnatcatcher was my favorite passerine.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper Wings Up

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue Gray Gnatcatcher1 - Copy

I had 36 species there.  With the few from the ferry and some incidentals (gotta track those Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows) along the way, I was pretty sure that I would have 50 species this day – again relieving pressure from the next day which is when I had expected to make the push.  This was pretty much confirmed by the birds at my next stop, the DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion.  There were lots of shorebirds and my first Boat Tailed Grackle of the trip.  It was known as a great spot for Red Knots, but I had just missed the flock and got only a distant scope view of two birds.  The flock I did see was a group of over 50 Ruddy Turnstones.

Boat Tailed Grackle

Boat Tailed Grackle - Copy

Ruddy Turnstones

Ruddy Turnstones Flight

I was now over 50 species for Delaware and I had not even gotten to Bombay Hook NWR, my next stop.  There I had 44 species with a great mix of gulls, terns, waders and some passerines pus lots of shorebirds including hundreds of Dunlin and Short Billed Dowitchers.  A highlight was a photo of a Clapper Rail and another was a brief visual of two Seaside Sparrows.  Interestingly Snowy Egrets outnumbered Great Egrets 25 to 5.

Clapper Rail

Clapper Rail (2) - Copy

Dunlin – Just A Photo I like

Dunlin Profile - Copy

I would return the next day, but I had 70 species for the day – so I was again a day ahead of schedule.  The next morning I started birding at a small marshy area next to my hotel.  The 10 species included the loudest Carolina Wren I had heard and that is saying a lot.  Not unlike our Bewick’s Wren in Washington, this species has a wide ranging repertoire and I think I heard most of it.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren2 - Copy

My first official stop was the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center.  Here were primarily passerines including a vociferous Orchard Oriole.  It was the first decent look I had had of a male on the whole trip.  Other good birds were Blue Grosbeak, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher and Field Sparrow.  I wanted to get back to the DuPont Nature Center to look for Red Knots.  They were being seen at their go to place, Bottle Beach, in Washington but I might not get back in time to see them there.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole1 - Copy

The tide was better and so were the birds at DuPont compared to the previous day.  The 25 species included 10 species of shorebird:  800 Ruddy Turnstones, 700 Dunlin, 14 Willets, 2 American Oystercatchers and 140 Red Knots among others.

Willet

Willet3

Red Knots and Others

Red Knots - Copy

The shorebird spectacle was great but the highlight came from a marshy field as I was leaving.  From both sides of the road I heard the unmistakable buzzy insect like song of the Seaside Sparrow.  My only picture of one was from Alabama last year.  It was near the top of “Pictures I Most Want to Improve” list.  They hid at first and then several came into the open singling away from atop the grass.  Now these were good photos.  I reported 10 individuals on Ebird, but I only covered a fraction of the good habitat and there were certainly many, many more

Seaside Sparrow

Seaside Sparrow - Copy

I returned to Bombay Hook NWR and again had great birding with 48 species in almost 3 hours.  Ten shorebird species with a surprising almost 100 Semipalmated Plovers and 25 Black Bellied Plovers.

2P5A1537

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Sandpiper1

It had been another great day in the smallest of the States. Over 70 species for the day and 87 for the State all told.  A last observation was of an emaciated looking Red Fox.  The previous day I had seen what had appeared to be an abandoned Red Fox Kit sitting on the side of the road in no fear of or perhaps oblivious to the cars that stopped for photos – including mine.  I wondered if the two were related.

Red Fox Kit

Young Fox1

Now it was time to head to Pennsylvania.

Magee Marsh: Marvelous May Migration Mecca

Day One…

There have been some long breaks between energetic spurts, but I have been birding now for almost 50 years.  The Mountains and Canyons of Southeast Arizona and the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas.  Islands off of Maine and South Florida.  All over California and of course all over my home state of Washington.  Some remote Alaska and Nome.  Off the North Carolina Coast and in the Mountains of Colorado and New Mexico.  I have birded in a lot of places and have been to many of birding’s iconic hotspots.  But I had never been to Magee Marsh.  It was a must do during my Eastern Birding Marathon.  I had a lot of other states to visit and I needed to try to catch at least part of the migration in each, so making it to the Biggest Week festival at Magee was not doable.  Getting there the next week was and it worked perfectly.

I broke up the long drive from West Virginia to Magee with a night of sleep in Somerset, PA.  It was odd to be there as that was on the route our family had taken on all of our “vacations” when I was a kid.  Vacations were unexciting visits to my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins – all of whom lived in and around Pittsburgh.  It was a drive of 4+ hours from our home in Maryland just out of Washington, D.C.  My memories were not good.  I was tempted to revisit some of those spots on this trip – see how they looked now, but I opted for more time birding.  Maybe another time…well, probably not.  Magee Marsh beckoned.

It and other nearby spots on Lake Erie in Ohio were famous as migrant traps where rather than crossing the large lake, passerines would often stop for a rest and refueling on their long journeys to breeding grounds in the north.  And especially if the winds from the north making their journey even harder, there might be a “fallout” where thousands of birds could almost literally fall from the sky, exhausted by their battles and rather than flitter endlessly at the tops of the trees, they might just sit in open view maybe even on the ground – easy to see and especially appealing to me – easy to photograph.  Fallouts at Magee were legendary.  It was what every birder hoped for.

I had seen fallouts before.  One on High Island when I was just beginning birding in the 1970’s and another at Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas about that same time.  Hundreds of birds were at eye level – warblers, vireos, orioles and more.  Exciting…even exhilarating.  There had been a mini-fallout at South Padre Island in South Texas on our VENT Trip last year and it was quite a spectacle.  I was hoping for even more at Magee.  Furthermore, Cindy Bailey was flying out to join me for one day at Magee.  She’s is just beginning as a birder and those colorful warblers up close and personal could be a great way to encourage her interest.  Fingers were crossed.

Even though my planned 50 species day was not until May 16, I got there early enough on the 15th to check it out and to plan my approach for the following day.  I had noted 14 species as I had driven in Ohio on my way to Port Clinton where I would be staying that night.  I found another dozen as I drove from Port Clinton towards Magee.  I stopped first at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory Center and picked up another few species.  I was feeling pretty certain that I would have 50 species easily that day – taking the pressure off for the following one.

The main attraction at Magee is the Boardwalk, extending about 1.2 miles through the marsh with a mix of trees that are magnets for the migrating hordes. During the Biggest week in America Birding Festival, it is visited by throngs of birders – projected to be 90,000 during that week.  It is packed shoulder to shoulder and is hard to move along, but the atmosphere is electric with everyone sharing observations and helping others find their birds.  There were hundreds of birders there when I arrived.  I could not imagine what it was like the previous week.  The birds were there, too, not in great numbers, at least by Magee standards, and definitely not exhausted and down low to see, but with the team effort of all and the cooperation of so many excellent birders, all I had to do was look for a crowd with cameras and binoculars pointed up, approach, and ask “what do you have”?  Later I would catch on, find some birds on my own and reciprocate, but at the start this was a great way to go and quickly led to great birds – more than a dozen warbler species, vireos, flycatchers, and more.  Some were playing hide and seek.  Others like this Magnolia Warbler were more cooperative.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler1

I did not expect any new ABA Life birds on my visit but I had hopes for some new ABA Life photos.  In fact I expected an easy one would be of an American Woodcock.  In each of the past many years, one had been staked out in the open – even in the parking area.  No go this year – no Woodcocks.  But fairly early in the day, when I asked one group what they were looking at, the answer got my adrenaline up immediately.  They had a Blackburnian Warbler – not just a gorgeous bird but one I had seen only twice – forty years ago and and had never photographed.  It, too, played peekaboo but did provide some photo opportunities.

Blackburnian Warbler – ABA Life Photo #699

Blackburnian Warbler1 (2)

This was ABA Life Photo #699 and was probably the warbler I most wanted to see and photograph.  Not long after that I saw a familiar face.  I had met Laura Keene at a wild goose chase – literally.  She had come to the Finley NWR in Oregon looking for the Tundra Bean Goose that had been reported there.  I had missed it on an earlier chase but arriving much earlier this time, I was the first on the scene and found it in a large flock of Canada, Cackling and White Fronted Geese.  Laura was traveling with Bert Filemyr and Casey Weissburg.  The target had flown off just before they arrived disappointing Casey and Bert who came to the platform where I was stationed.  But Laura had gone to the other end of the marsh and had relocated it.  She texted Bert and Casey and they joined her and got their goose.  I joined them later and met Laura that way.

Laura and Bert had both been helpful in helping me find birders in other states that I could join on my 50/50/50 birding ventures and it was great to visit with her.  Laura is an incredible birder.  She has recently moved from Ohio to the San Antonio area in Texas.  She knows Magee well.  She also knows everywhere else well as she did a fantastic Big Year in 2016 ending with an incredible 763 species (a more incredible 815 if you include Hawaii).  More importantly she is known as a great friend to many birders, a wonderful resource in a wonderful community.  She hardly knows me, but I have found that same warm friendly spirit in all of my intersections.  [The next day I saw Laura again and she introduced me to Chris Hitt, another legendary birder who was the first to do a Big Year with 700 species in just the “lower 48” – meaning the ABA area less Canada and Alaska – an extraordinary accomplishment.  Chris, too, was wonderful and allowed me to tag along, sharing stories and helping me with many observations.]

Laura Keene (with other 2016 Big Year Birders Christian Hagenlocher and John Weigel

Laura Keene

Chris Hitt at Magee Marsh Appropriately

Chris Hitt

So Magee is obviously an important stop for many top notch birders and they come back year after year, but it is also a magnet for birders of all levels from all over the U.S. and the world.  Many were dressed in one of the standard birding “uniforms” with floppy hats, cargo pants and vests sporting patches or pins from birding hotspots that they had visited.  Still mostly a “white” crowd, but there were some birders of colors other than white and I heard many languages spoken.  A group of birders I had not seen before but for which Magee is famous is a large number of Amish birders – hard to miss with their unique attire.  I am told they are among the best birders there are and take this very seriously.  It was pleasing to see many families engaged in this activity together.

Amish Birders

Amish Birders

It was not a particularly birdy day and the birds were not always easy to see, but it was hard not to get a lot of birds with so many friendly and sharing eyes watching.  My species count got to over 60 and I decided to head off to another nearby hotspot, the Howard Marsh Metropark.  As I was pulling out of the parking area, I saw a big cluster of birders obviously looking at something – but on the ground.  Was this an American Woodcock after all?  From the car I asked what they had.  They had a Connecticut Warbler.  This is one of the most sought after birds that breeds in the ABA area.  It is a skulker, not all that common, a late migrant and almost impossible to photograph as it is usually buried in heavy undergrowth.

I parked the car – actually double parked the car – jumped out with camera in hand found an open spot among the 30 plus birders that were lined up trying for a look.  The bird gods were smiling on me as the Connecticut Warbler came briefly into the open immediately in front of me.  I rattled off photo after photo following it as it moved in and out of the light and the brush.  Some turned out pretty darn well and I had my milestone ABA Photo #700 and what a super bird to have that honor.

Connecticut Warbler – ABA Life Photo #700

Connecticut Warbler3

Later many more birders would get word that a Connecticut Warbler had been seen and they would gather hoping for a look.  At one point, there were more than 100 birders at the spot.  Some found it and some did not and I expect some claimed to have but…well, let’s not go there.

At Howard Marsh I added another 12 species for the day including several ducks and shorebirds.  I had not planned for this to be my 50 species day, but there I was with 80 species for the day including two new photos, reaching the 700 level which was important to me.  I had intersected with Laura Keene and had great interactions with dozens of other birders.  This was exactly what my 50/50/50 quest was supposed to be – great fun, people, places and birds – expanding my horizons and adding to my life.  And if having one of the species seen and photographed be a Blackburnian Warbler was special, then having another be a Connecticut Warbler was even beyond that – ultra special.  Fallout or not – it was a great day.  And the next day would be another one.

Day Two…

There had been little worry about finding 50 species in a day at this incredibly bird rich area, but it was still good to have the pressure off with the success of the previous day.  I certainly did not expect that anything could top adding the two Life Photos and reaching 700 and the  Connecticut Warbler really was that incredible – unlikely to be topped.  My warbler life list for the State of Washington is only 21, including 7 that have been seen very rarely in the state.  Magee is most famous for its warblers with 40  species having been seen there.  So far in 2019, 38 warbler species had been seen.  On my first day I had only 16 warbler species although I had missed some seen by others.  Maybe this day would add to the list.

When I got to the Marsh there were fewer birders than there had been the previous day, but it was early.  There also seemed to be fewer birds.  A storm that had been predicted for the night before, a critical element determining the birds present, had not materialized, and the sense was that many birds had departed at night.  It started as a slow go.  I saw Laura Keene again and it was this morning that she introduced me to Chris Hitt. Another highlight was meeting Shep Thorp on the Boardwalk.  He and several Tacoma area birders had been in the area for several days.  They had a good fallout the day before I arrived and also had good but somewhat slow birding at Point Pelee – another migrant trap  – but in Ontario, Canada.  Shep had grown up birding in the east and had been to Magee often.  He is also an excellent birder.  He had some terrific videos from both places.  So even if the birds were not cooperating, it was a great day for people.

Maybe anywhere else, this would have been an excellent day birding.  At Magee, it felt disappointing, yet I had 20 species I had not had the previous day including 6 new warblers.  Black Billed Cuckoos also made an appearance as new arrivals.  If I had not gotten a photo of one earlier in Philadelphia that would have been a super find.  Not as super but still a welcomed bird.

 Black Billed Cuckoo

Black Billed Cuckoo1

Another highlight was seeing an Eastern Screech Owl on a roost somewhat in the open.  Owls are always special and this was only the second Eastern Screech Owl  I had photographed.  Thanks to Chris Hitt for showing me.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

When I was planning this visit, I had hoped to meet up with Danno Gesualdo.  I had met Dan on a pelagic trip out of Westport in my home state of Washington and then birded with him again on an awesome pelagic trip out of San Diego – just two of his many stops in an incredible Big Year done entirely in the Lower 48 and entirely without any plane travel.  He had visited all 48 states, seen 704 species, spent 208 days away from home and had driven more than 140,000 miles.  Let me repeat that – 140,000 miles!!!  Even simple math says that at an average speed of 60 mph, that translates to more than 2300 hours in the car – just under 100 full days – with NO sleep.  Call it what you will – impressive, dedicated, insane, extraordinary – it is awesome and inspiring!!

It was hard to coordinate with him because he was buried in some family matters and in trying to finish a book about his incredible journey.  He self published “Highways to Flyways: A Wheels on the Ground Year of Birding” using Blurb! in time to have it available at the Biggest Week in Birding Festival.  I would have ordered it online but it would not have arrived before I left on my own adventure.  Fortunately they still had some at the Black Swamp Visitor Center.  I finally connected with Danno just before getting to Magee and arranged to meet him on the 16th – with the original thought being it would be great to have some birding with him as part of my 50 species day.  We did meet in the morning and he wrote a nice note autographing my copy.

Highways to Flyways

We were able to spend some time together and it became immediately apparent how he was able to do his Big Year – he is an awesome birder – great eyes, ears and instincts.  On one trail we ran into David and Tammy McQuade.  I had first met them on a great pelagic trip with Brian Patteson our of Cape Hatteras last year and then our paths crossed again on the same pelagic trip with Danno out of San Diego.  They are doing a Lower 48 Big Year (again) this year and had just come to Magee after being on a repositioning cruise from L.A. To Vancouver B.C.  [As of May 29, they lead the pack in that pursuit with an jaw-dropping 623 species!].  They had seen the Connecticut Warbler earlier and were about to head off to another birding spot before tending to the business of business instead of the business of birding.  I have followed their travels on Facebook – especially enjoying Tammy’s  great photos (with much lens and quality envy).  I hope to bird again with Danno and with the McQuades some time.  Great birders and great folks – adding so much to the experience.

David and Tammy McQuade (Dressed to Bird!!)

The McQuades

I moved on to the Ottawa NWR Visitor Center and Boardwalk where I added another half dozen species for the day and the trip.  I had again seen 80 species in a day.  Had the previous day not been so good – especially with the two new ABA photos – I would definitely have used this day as the 50 species day because of the personal connections with Laura, Chris, Shep, Danno, Dave and Tammy.  Since it is my adventure and I get to make the rules, I am going to include both of these days…so there.

Some other photos:

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole on Orange

Bay Breasted warbler

Bay Breasted Warbler(2)

Canada Warbler

Canada Warbler1

Chestnut Sided Warbler

Chestnut Sided Warbler2

Yellow Warbler on its Nest

Yellow Warbler on Nest

Philadelphia Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Snowy Egret

2P5A1147 (2)

There might have been more species seen but I had an important meeting ahead and I had to leave early.  Cindy was flying in to Detroit.  Even though she had a million things to do and would soon be leaving on her own two week trip to Portugal, she wanted to share in my experience and was intrigued by stories of Magee Marsh and Kirtland’s Warblers.  She is a really good sport and I was looking forward to another introduction for her into birding – one that I thought she would enjoy.  A short vacation to Niagara Falls after the birding didn’t hurt her enthusiasm.  We would spend the night in Oregon, Ohio – a weird name for a Northwesterner visiting the area – and then hit Magee Marsh early and later make the long drive to Tawas, Michigan for the Tawas Point Birding Festival and a trip to Kirtland’s country.

Magee remained slow and the Warblers remained high up in the trees.  Not the enticing great looks I had hoped for and sort of promised.  But the spectacle was great as Cindy saw hundreds of birders sharing in my passion.  She was able to see some great birds and even found some on her own.  She, too, found the Amish birders quite interesting – not an everyday sight elsewhere.  And the weather cooperated and somehow she functioned well despite little sleep and a three hour time difference.  I think her favorite bird was probably the Magnolia Warbler she found with the Scarlet Tanager being a close second.  Or maybe it was the Yellow Warbler.  Good choices all.

Cindy’s Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler2

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

So that’s the story on Magee and my 50/50/50 adventure successfully completed – twice – in Ohio.  Not the incredible birding it might have been, but damn good and lots of fun.  113 species seen.  2 Life Photos.  Old friends seen again.  And a girlfriend that hadn’t given up on me or birding – yet.  Here is my favorite picture from the trip because Cindy chose it for her Facebook Photo without even telling me.  I guess it went okay!!

Cindy at Magee

And it got better as we moved on to Michigan and later to Niagara Falls.

The East is Done!!! – 100+ Species in New Hampshire

Today started the Memorial Day Weekend and also ended my 50/50/50 Birding Marathon in the East.  Finding 100+ species in New Hampshire today (May 25th) also meant that I have now observed over 50 species in a single day in all of the Eastern states.  Each state has been different in birds, people and places but all have been rewarding, fun and full of wonderful moments and memories and all have shown over and over what a great activity birding is and that our community is fantastic.

Mike Resch was my companion again today as he had been at the start of this marathon over three weeks ago in Connecticut.  There may be birders out there as good as Mike, but I don’t think any are better – both in the field and at home doing the preparations and logistics for a trip.  He has a sharp ear, a keen eye and a wealth of knowledge and experience.  I owe him a lot.

Before sharing the birds and stories of the day, I am going to go back to yesterday (May 24th).  A major purpose of my beginning the 50/50/50 Adventure was to visit people and places along the way that had meaning to me – whether returning to old haunts or finding new ones – seeing old friends again or making new ones.  On the way from my birding spot in Vermont to my birding spot in New Hampshire, I was able to spend time with my college roommate from Harvard, Charlie Ajootian.  For the most part I have lost touch with those long ago days and Charlie and I have had only a few intersections.  How appropriate to get together this week as it was exactly 50 years ago that we graduated.

Charlie now lives in rural New Hampshire.  He is not a birder but is an avid hiker and enjoys the outdoors as much as I do.  He and I were on the Harvard Track team together for 4 years.  Charlie was a champion hammer and weight thrower and shot putter and I did pretty well with the javelin.  In our rambling get together, we recounted stories from those competitions and our travels to meets not only in New England but also to Europe and to California.  It was a stellar team with lots of great athletes.  We reminisced about many of them as well.  We also talked politics.  Charlie’s view of the current state of affairs is even dimmer than mine.  We agreed that the best cures for such depression were more birding and more hiking.  If I had not undertaken this birding adventure, I would not have had this time with Charlie.  It is working even better than I hoped.

A Harvard Track Photo from a Long Time Ago

Javelin Record

I had arrived at our agreed meeting place earlier than expected so I squeezed in a little birding when I saw some Wild Turkeys displaying in a grassy field.  I took a couple of photos and then just as I was about to leave a Bobolink flew onto a fence just in front of where I was parked.  I have now seen several on this trip – never can have too many of one of my favorite birds.

Wild Turkey Strutting His Stuff

Wild Turkey

Bobolink

Bobolink

After leaving Charlie I drove to my hotel in Dover, N.H. and did a little more birding at the Rochester WTP.  The 24 species there included numerous Wood Ducks, a flock of Chimney Swifts and more Rough Winged Swallows than I can recall seeing at one time.  Also there was a Black Billed Cuckoo.  Before starting this marathon, I had seen this species twice – both times more than 42 years ago and neither time with a photo.  I got my Lifer photo of it on my Pennsylvania trip and then another observation and photo at Magee Marsh.  I got another photo here – not in the open and not in focus – but a reminder that there are unexpected treats out there to be enjoyed.

Black Billed Cuckoo

Black Billed Cuckoo

So much for appetizers, now back to the main course.  I met Mike Resch at one of his favorite spots – Reservation Road in the Pawtuckaway State Park.  He had promised great passerines and it was a promise kept.  We were constantly surrounded by bird song.  With the trees fully leafed out, it was not always possible to see our singers, but Mike got me on most of them.  We had 58 species in about 3 hours including 19 warbler species.  At Magee March I had my Lifer photo of a Blackburnian Warbler.  It was my favorite here as well followed closely by the Magnolia Warbler.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler5

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler1

With more than 50 species observed for the day, the rest of the day would be icing on the cake.  We dipped on a stakeout Trumpeter Swan (a first for New Hampshire) but at the stakeout for Mississippi Kite, we found it as soon as we got out of our cars.  Our only views were of it soaring above us so not the best of photos but all Kites are wonderful birds so I include it here.

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite2

After the Kite we were over 80 species and we still had the Coast to bird.  We didn’t time the tide very well so we missed some shorebirds but we still added almost 20 species to the day count and finished with 104.  Highlights for me were more than a dozen Purple Sandpipers and 3 Roseate Terns.  The biggest surprise were the Spotted Sandpipers.  I do not recall having seen them in a flock.  We had more than 2 dozen around the rocks on the beach including one flock with 15 birds.

Purple Sandpipers

Purple Sandpipers2

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Mike had been very generous with his time, and his expertise was critical to the success of this day as it had been earlier.  Birding is so different in the East compared to my birding in the West.  Knowing songs and calls is always a benefit but it is essential in the East with the many warblers, vireos and other passerines.  Also the forests are very different – dense with mostly leafy and tall deciduous trees.  My not knowing the songs is bad enough but I also have trouble picking out one song among the many that seem to be present all the time.  I have birded with and met many great birders on this journey and they all have a great ear and can quickly identify the species that way.  I need a visual to really enjoy the birds.  There were many great looks today and more partial views but many of the birds were simply never seen.

I did not take time to visit “special” places in either Vermont or New Hampshire – no battlefields or monuments, but in many ways the entire trip was experiencing a different world and perspective – again an objective of my 50 state project.  Everything about New England feels different.  The small villages, the curvy roads, the endless trees, the old homes of a very different style than out west.  Signs introduce every town proclaiming when they were established – usually more than 250 or even 350 years ago.  And there are those damn ticks and black flies.  But also lobster rolls and clam “chowdah” and yes, I heard many people pronounce it that way as well as talking about “wobblers” which since they were birders I fairly quickly understood to be “warblers”.  Of course I did see a special person – roommate Charlie – a big treat.

I have enjoyed this trip immensely but I am definitely looking forward to returning home and birding in the West again.  That transition starts tomorrow with a flight to Las Vegas.  I will go for 50 species in Nevada the next day and then return to Seattle.  A short rest and then back out again.  37 down and 13 to go.  I put on a lot of miles on this trip – about 4,000 – but that will seem like nothing when I next take on Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming.  Lots of good birds ahead.

Birding in the Green Mountains

On May 10, 1775, fewer than a hundred of the Green Mountain Boys under the joint command of Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, captured Fort Ticonderoga.  Five years later, Benedict Arnold defected to the British side becoming the most famous or infamous traitor in American history.  Almost 11 years after that, Vermont became the 14th State of the Union and is known as the “Green Mountain State”.   It would be another 141 years in 1932 at the depth of the Great Depression before Ethan Allen became famous not as a military leader but as a furniture brand.

About 23 years later, my parents bought a set of encyclopedias that included a group of short books from the Landmark Series on American History/Folklore that included one on Davy Crockett and another titled “Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys“.  I devoured those books – taking me to places that existed only on their pages but fascinated me and left everlasting images.  Growing up in a drab Maryland suburb of Washington D.C. I often visited places like the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian Institute – a treasure trove of riches for a young boy – but the idea of Green Mountains was of another sort.  Green Mountains seemed magical.

Ethan Allen

As I moved on to other parts of my life and discovered the West first in California and then the splendor of Washington where I would live for more than 45 years, I forgot about the Green Mountains.   On May 22 as I drove from Buffalo, NY through western Vermont on my way to Rutland where I would be trying to add yet another state to my 50/50/50 Birding Adventure, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys came immediately back to mind.  To my Western eyes, the mountains were not imposing, but they were certainly green.  Even in the many small towns with their picturesque farmhouses or white steepled churches or white clapboard houses, there were trees everywhere.  Green. Green. Green.  So many trees.  I knew there would be birds, but would I be able to see any of them in the dense foliage?  It looked like one undifferentiated habitat.  Would there really be 50 species here?

Edmonds birding bud John Houghton was from Vermont.  He had given me the name of Sue Elliott as a great birder in the Rutland area that might be able to help me.  I contacted her and in a bit of confusing communication learned that the Rutland County Audubon Society had a walk scheduled for the West Rutland Marsh IBA (Important Bird Area on May 23 – a perfect fit for my schedule and a great way not just to find my 50 species but also to get the local perspective that was an important part of the 50/50/50 undertaking.  The confusion came from emails not from Sue Elliott but from Sue Wetmore.  Two people? or one person with two names?

It was a 6 plus hour drive from the Buffalo Airport where I had said my goodbyes to Cindy Bailey to Rutland.  I arrived in time to check out the Marsh that evening in anticipation of the birding the next day.  I immediately heard a number of noisy American Bitterns and then found a number of marsh birds along the boardwalk into the marsh and then walked just a short distance into some neighboring woods which I assumed would be part of the walk the next day.  I had 25 species in less than an hour and I had heard several songs I could not identify.  I relaxed.  I was certain I would have 50 species the next day … IF the forecast thunderstorms did not interfere and it was already starting to rain.  And that was a big worry.  In fact I thought that maybe I would have to change my ground rules and define a day as 24 hours – and have this one start at 6 p.m. on the 22nd so I could include these 25 species and hope there would be sufficient breaks from the rain to find more before 6 p.m. on the 23rd.  I shouldn’t have worried.

I arrived at the Marsh 20 minutes before the 7:00 a.m. start time for the walk.  On the way from the hotel I picked up a dozen “easy species” like House Sparrow, Common Grackle, Blue Jay, and European Starling – a good start.  At the marsh there were no people and also no booming Bitterns and no grunting rails.  Still plenty of Yellow Warblers though.  And the best news was that the weather had changed and the forecast of thunderstorms was pushed out to that night – if at all.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler1

Maybe 10 minutes later another car arrived.  “Are you Sue?”, I asked.  Yes.  “Are you Blair?”  It was Sue Wetmore who explained that I had been referred to her by Sue Elliott who would be leading the walk and they often birded together and called each other “Ditto”.  The other Sue showed up shortly thereafter with husband Marvin.  I tried staying close to them during most of the following walk and learned much about the area, birding and definitely the birds at the Marsh.  The walk was a 4 mile circumnavigation of the marsh with a group that started around 18 and dwindled to half that at the end.  There were a number of beginners and a number of experts including a young brother and sister duo who had both bionic ears and bionic eyes.  They were often the first to find many of the birds.  If they weren’t then one of the “Sues” usually did.

I had not realized that we would be doing a long walk away from the cars and had both too many layers and not enough (as in any) water.  It is tempting to blame my inability to hear and/or see many of the birds on those two matters, but the truth is simply that I was not able to identify the songs and thus had to rely almost entirely on others.  I missed many birds or was not comfortable counting them, but there were lots of birds and I did okay.  Altogether the group had 78 species.  I was comfortable counting 68 so no problem with 50 species for a day.  Included were 17 warbler species.  Some were heard only (or heard barely in my case).  Yellow Warblers were everywhere singing and setting up housekeeping.  Good looks at Black and White Warblers and a Blackpoll Warbler provided a good comparison of similar species.

Black and White Warbler and Blackpoll Warbler – A Comparison

Black and White Warbler1 blackpoll-warbler.jpg

Another good comparison was provided by good looks at both Philadelphia and Red Eyed Vireos.

Philadelphia and Red Eyed Vireos – Another Comparison

Philadelphia Vireo2  Red Eyed Vireo

Many of the birds were distant and/or hidden in the now verdant foliage.  It had been so much easier earlier in the month before the trees had leafed out or at places likes Tawas, Michigan and to some extent, Magee Marsh where the trees were shorter and less dense.  When you are big and beautiful and bold like a Baltimore Oriole, however, photos are an option.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole1

The best part of the visit was spending time with Ditto and Ditto.  These walks and other counts have been going on at West Rutland Marsh for more than 20 years and there is a wealth of knowledge about the arrival and presence of all the birds, breeding success etc.  They have also birded extensively both in Vermont and in many great places around the country.  Trading stories was great fun.  They really know their stuff and happily share it.

We had lunch at Mary’s Cafe after the walk – a very down home place in West Rutland where everyone knew each other.  How different from what has been mostly an anonymous big city existence for me.  Sue gave me directions for nearby places to try for Cerulean and Golden Winged Warblers.  Both of these warblers were ones I have seen but never photographed and had been seen in the County recently.  I was unsuccessful at both spots.  The Cerulean was a long shot and my attempt at the Golden Winged was hampered by the rains that finally came along with heavy winds.  But I added some more species for the day and got some nice photos of an Ovenbird.  We had heard many on the morning walk but no photos.  At the Cerulean spot they seemed to be everywhere and were much more cooperative.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird1

And even though I did not find the Golden Winged Warbler in the on again off again, rain, I added several new birds for the day including a Northern Harrier, Eastern Meadowlark and, a favorite, Bobolink.  The area I birded was more open country and was quite lovely and almost traffic free – always a treat.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier

Bobolink

Bobolink

Maybe I am remembering my own Northwest in the winter and not the spring, but there were very few raptors seen on all of my Eastern trips and Vermont was no exception,  But there were many Turkey Vultures including a rather gruesome sight.  Driving on a quiet road, a number of Turkey Vultures were perched in trees on both sides of the road.  I figured there must be a carcass nearby.  There was.  A dead and bloody Turkey Vulture was on the road ahead.  Some of the perched birds returned to it after I passed by.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

I returned to the West Rutland Marsh for a last time that evening hoping for a repeat of the experience from the previous night.  I heard a couple of American Bitterns and some Virginia Rails but failed to find the hoped for Sora as I dodged raindrops.

The next morning I continued my trip driving through the Green Mountains on my way to New Hampshire.  On my 50/50/50 day with much needed help from Sue Elliott and Sue Wetmore, I was able to observe 75 species.  The thunderstorm never came and the rain was too little and too late to seriously hamper my birding.  I wondered how many warblers were in all of those green trees that I drove through.  I also wondered if Ethan Allen was a birder…

Tawas, Ticks and Tornadoes: Lifers in Michigan – Kirtland’s Warbler and Henslow’s Sparrow

When I was initially planning the Michigan part of my Eastern Birding Marathon, I knew I wanted to see a Kirtland’s Warbler but I did not think I could do that as part of a 50 species day.  So I thought I would bird somewhere in the Ann Arbor area and then head north for the Kirtland’s Warbler on a following day and then head to upstate New York.  But then two women entered the calculations and favorably changed my plans.

First I contacted Karen Markey, a superb birder in the Ann Arbor area seeking her help in choosing birding locations and maybe her company on my 50 species day.  Then the new special lady in my life, Cindy Bailey, said she would like to join me for part of my trip.  Karen told me about the Tawas Point Birding Festival which she assured me would enable me to find 50 species in a day and which included a field trip to see Kirtland’s Warblers.   Cindy was game even though it meant a pretty hectic schedule that included a short visit to Magee Marsh the day after the flight from Seattle and then a long drive to Tawas.  It worked perfectly…

The Magee Marsh story will be written later, but as good as it was, it was relatively slow and definitely not a fallout with easy to see close in warblers in every tree.  I had not exactly promised that to Cindy – a beginning birder for sure – but I hoped for that to build her interest.  Tawas came to the rescue.  Our first outing was an early morning bus ride to the Pine River Preserve – one of the areas carefully managed for the Kirtland’s Warbler.  It was led by Sam Burckhardt who is intimately involved as a volunteer in the Kirtland’s story and by Eric O’Neil from Fish and Wildlife.

Sam Burckhardt

Guide

Eric O’Neil

Eric

The same trip the day before had been successful…sort of.  A number of Kirtland’s Warblers had been heard but at most there had been a brief visual sighting – maybe.  I had never seen or heard a Kirtland’s Warbler before.  I would be disappointed without a visual, so it would still be a much sought after ABA Life Bird even if just heard, but I really wanted to see one and really wanted a photo.  There was high anticipation as we neared the habitat area and then the bus stopped.  I was surprised.  On one side of the road was a seemingly mature forest with tall trees.  On the other side, the trees were much smaller and much shorter and it was these trees that were the favored ones for the warbler.

Within moments of getting off the bus, Sam heard a Kirtland’s Warbler  singing.  Maybe ten minutes later one popped up briefly – a visual – a Lifer.  More singing from elsewhere and then ten minutes after that one came fully into the open and sang for us and I had my photo.   All told we heard at least 8 individuals and had visuals of two males and one female.  It appeared to Sam and Eric that one male and the female were pairing up – a very encouraging sign.

Kirtland’s Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler1

The Kirtland’s Warbler is a great conservation success story.  Almost extinct 50 years ago with fewer than 200 pairs, today there are more than 2500 pairs.  The Forest Service has protected and expanded the Jack Pine habitat with controlled fire burns as well as preventing major fire damage. Things look good on the limited breeding grounds but as Sam explained, there are grave concerns in the wintering area in the Bahamas.  Changed farming practices threaten the availability of the insects needed to sustain the warblers there.  Time will tell.

I was privileged to spend a lot of time with Sam Burckhardt who shared his great local knowledge to help me plan the rest of the trip to find 50 species on this day.  Being able to do that with the Kirtland’s Warbler as part of the story was more than I had originally hoped for.  Our next stop added not only more species for the day but also a wonderful favorite bird – a Red Headed Woodpecker.  [Sam was having a big day as well.  Sandhill Cranes had hatched a chick on his property and like a proud grandpa, he was eager to get back home to see if the second egg had hatched.  Hoping it did…]

Red Headed Woodpecker

Red Headed WP1

By the time our morning tour was over, the species count was approaching 50 and there had been some other really good birds as well, especially a flyover Northern Goshawk, but by far the best part for me was having Cindy fully engaged and excited.  This literally was only her 4th day of birding and what a start – great birds including Black Oystercatcher and both Harlequin and Long Tailed Ducks at Semiahmoo, many wonderful birds in Eastern Washington on our trip joined by Ann Marie Wood, a half day at Magee Marsh and now a Kirtland’s Warbler and a Red Headed Woodpecker in Michigan.  And it got better.

The “better” was at Tawas Point State Park.  When we first got there, we took a wrong turn and headed off to the beach where it was windy, cold and relatively birdless.  Then we hit the correct trail and there we found the birds.  And unlike at Magee Marsh, many were low in small trees and much easier to see often with multiple birds in the same tree.  These were among the highlights:  Clay Colored Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, 13 warbler species, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose Breasted Grosbeak.  One of the Warblers was a very rare Kentucky Warbler.  

Clay Colored Sparrow

Clay Colored Sparrow5

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole with Orange

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Ruby Throated Hummingbird

Ruby Throated Hummingbird1

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager3

Rose Breasted Grosbeak

Rose Breasted Grosbeak Juvenile

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Northern Parula Warbler

Northern Parula Warbler

Chestnut Sided Warbler

Chestnut Sided Warbler1

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler - Myrtle

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler3

The photos are all of birds that were close and relatively easy to see.  Nowhere’s near the crowds of Magee but there were many birders enjoying these beauties.  The Tawas Festival, organized and run by Michigan Audubon, is low key and accessible and should grow in future years.  I would like to come back for several days in the future.  This was exactly the experience I had hoped that Cindy would experience and she was enthralled by the lovely birds and found many on her own.  We ended the day with a trip to the Tuttle Marsh Wildlife Area, another place recommended by Sam Burckhardt.  There we heard the call of the Whippoorwill which does indeed sound like Whip Poor Will – over and over.  After two long days, this was proof positive that Cindy was a trooper and at day’s end we had 79 species.  This was State #35 with 50 species in a day for my 50/50/50 Adventure – a great day indeed.

The next day Cindy and I headed off to a couple of non-birding vacation days at Niagara Falls, but we had one more birding stop.  A Henslow’s Sparrow had been reported at 25 Mile Road in New Baltimore, Michigan.  There were also Bobolinks in the area.  It was mostly on the way, so we made a stop in threatening weather.  I immediately heard Bobolinks when we arrived at the unmowed grassy field.  Cindy heard them, too, and we had distant visuals.  That was at a private field and we stayed on the edge.  A short way further along the road there was a public field.  We heard more Bobolinks and headed into the field for a better look and possibly a chance for a Henslow’s Sparrow.  This was a brilliant stupid move.  Brilliant because we got better looks of Bobolinks and really brilliant because I heard the distinctive call of a Henslow’s Sparrow which then flushed for a quick confirming look.  But stupid because we forgot about ticks and almost really stupid because as we got farther out into the field the rain started.  We got back to the car just before a true downpour … and heard a siren.  What was that all about?  My brain slowly engaged and I realized it was an alarm signal for possible tornadoes.  This was confirmed by a sign we saw later.  OK – we did not get drenched and we did not get flattened by a tornado.  But we did each get a tick – pulled off before any biting.  And if we had not ventured out, there would be no Henslow’s Sparrow – my second ABA Lifer in Michigan.  So a good story all around.