Monday, January 20, 2014

Photographic Big Year in Review

The year 2013 was great for birding and conservation. Multiple individuals across the United States dedicated their birding years to raising donations and awareness for the need for increased conservation efforts worldwide. I started a “photographic” big year to benefit the American Bird Conservancy’s work with endangered birds in Hawai’i. I set what I thought was an ambitious goal of photographing 500 birds in the ABA area. I had no idea what type of support I might get for this project.
My year started in Michigan. Winter birding in Michigan can be tough, but I made a trip to the Upper Peninsula where I photographed some great birds including Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl, Sharp-tailed Grouse and Hoary Redpoll. 

At the end of January, I moved south to Florida for my job working with Brown-headed Nuthatches at Tall Timbers Research Station. I left a week early and birded from northern Florida down to the Everglades and up to the Panhandle. This was a tremendously successful week and I picked up some great birds including Western Spindalis, La Sagra’s Flycatcher, many shorebirds, herons, gulls, terns, and wintering passerines. Sticking around Florida until early May meant I hit peak migration in the Panhandle and, before going back to Michigan, I had already photographed 300 species of birds. 

After Florida, I had a few free weeks before I needed to head out west for my summer field job. I couldn’t help myself and I used my frequent flyer miles to catch a flight to Alaska to attend the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. This turned out to be hugely successful and I photographed some tough birds like Yellow-billed Loon, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Arctic Tern, Marbled and Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Pacific Golden-Plover, Eurasian Wigeon and Aleutian Tern, among many others. 

The rest of my summer was spent in the Great Basin of Nevada and California conducting butterfly surveys. My friend and fellow Michigan birder Kevin Welsh and I drove to Nevada, making a small detour to Southeast Arizona. We saw most of the Arizona specialties including Montezuma Quail, Mexican Chickadee, Scott’s Oriole, Elf Owl and many others. 

Of course, while in the Great Basin I paid attention to the birds (not just butterflies) and spent my free days chasing birds all over California.  I even managed to get on two pelagic trips. The highlight of my year came on a pelagic trip out of Monterey Bay with Shearwater Journeys where we saw a Hawaiian Petrel! This endangered Hawaiian species is extremely rare in the ABA and was a life bird for just about everyone on board. Right before my job ended, I talked myself into making a long drive over to the Ruby Mountains. This was another successful trip as I found two Himalayan Snowcock, many Black Rosy-Finches with young, Dusky Grouse and Ferruginous Hawk.  At this point, I had already passed my goal of 500 birds photographed and still had big plans for the rest of the year.

It was mid-August by the time my job ended and it was time to start grad school at the University of Minnesota. Luckily, there were still plenty of common birds for me to photograph during fall migration in Minnesota. I picked up new birds in Duluth, Sax-Zim Bog and Minneapolis including Winter Wren, Northern Goshawk, Great Gray Owl and Philadelphia Vireo. 

After my first semester of grad school ended I booked a flight to south Texas. What better way to end the year than with a winter trip to the Rio Grande Valley? I spent 4 days birding with my friend Mike Lester and we did really well! I picked up Muscovy Duck and Tropical Parula and many of the South Texas specialties like Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, Common Pauraque, Audubon’s Oriole and many others. 

I was incredibly lucky to visit many of the best birding spots in the ABA area and had some great friends to keep me going throughout the year. I was very impressed with how many individuals and organizations helped spread the word about this big year, and I am extremely grateful to every one of them. I ended the year with 585 bird species photographed and nearly $6000 in donations to the American Bird Conservancy for Hawaiian bird conservation. I can’t thank everyone who supported this project enough and it certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the wonderful conservation-minded who donated to this cause.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

To the New Year!

Well, 2013 has passed and my photographic big year has ended. When I originally started this project, I had no idea what to expect. I didn't know how much I would be able to travel (I knew I could do some with my field jobs), didn't know how many birds I might photograph, and had no idea the type of support I would get from the birding and conservation community.

I thought I might get a few pledges from some close friends, and maybe a few more from conservation minded birders. However, as the year went on, it quickly became obvious that there was much more support for this type of project than I thought. The American Bird Conservancy began advertising the project in their newsletters and on their FaceBook page, articles were written in local newspapers and eBird even supported the project with an article featured on their home page. The pledges started rolling in, and the big year was becoming quite a success.

At the end of the year, through flat-rate donations and pledges, a total of $5768 will go to the American Bird Conservancy for Hawaiian bird conservation. This is a much higher total than I ever would have thought we would be able to achieve!

I want to thank everyone who donated or pledged for this photographic big year endeavor. The outcome simply wouldn't have been the same without you. I want to thank eBird, the American Bird Conservancy and all the other supporters who helped spread the word about this project in one way or another. Half of the battle was getting the word out to as many people as possible. I also want to thank Debi Shearwater of Shearwater Journeys for supporting this project with the donation of a pelagic trip out to Monterey Bay, where I was able to photograph a Hawaiian Petrel, the obvious bird highlight of my 2013 year! There are too many people to thank here, but, simply put, if you supported this project in any way, big or small, I am extremely thankful.

Hawaiian Petrel
Over the next few days, I'll be sending emails to anyone who pledged with instructions on how to your donation to the American Bird Conservancy so that it is used for Hawaiian bird conservation, and so that it is tax deductible! With so many pledges, this may take some time.

As for 2014, I'll be focusing on excelling in graduate school, working on an exciting research project and adopting my role as the newest member of the Michigan Bird Records Committee. As you can see, it is going to be a very busy year.

That being said, I'd like to continue to do something conservation-oriented. Therefore, if anyone is interested in buying a high-quality, matted print of any of the photos taken on this photographic big year, I'll donate a portion of all profits to the American Bird Conservancy for Hawaiian Bird Conservation. Prints won't be available for all photos (due to image quality), but email me at and I'll see what I can do.

Thanks, again, everyone for an amazing 2013. I'm glad to see so much support for conservation. Perhaps there is a bright future for our winged friends after all!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Final Days in Texas

My final days in Texas were very enjoyable. On 12/20, Mike and I met up with my good friends from Michigan, Mark and Joanie Hubinger. They volunteer in the Valley and I was excited to spend the day birding with them.

We started looking for the Tropical Parula on the University of Texas Pan-American campus. We spent over an hour and a half searching the area where it supposedly frequented. We were losing hope. It was then that I got a call from Mike from across the campus with those three words every birder likes to hear; "I GOT IT!".

It was very flighty, never sitting in one spot for very long and always staying high in the tree canopy. Thus, this was a tough bird to photograph. I wasn't about to leave without some documentation, and I eventually got it. This was a lifer for both Mike and I!

Tropical Parula
After our success, we ventured to Estero Llano Grande State park, one of my favorite locations in the Valley. Our success continued as we found two more birds we were hoping for; Cave Swallow and Common Pauraque.

Swallows were flying high overhead and were somewhat back-lit, making it hard to get an identification. I started shooting at swallows flying over, hoping they would turn out to be Caves. The first was a tree. Second was a Cave! The strategy paid off...

Cave Swallow
The Pauraque was found in the same spot it is always found. Along one of the trails is a small pile of brush. Just beyond that brush a Common Pauraque has been roosting every day for a few years. Even though we knew it was there, it took us at least 10 minutes to find it. They blend in so easily!

Common Pauraque
We continued birding the area, looking for Long-billed Thrashers. We went into the Tropcial Zone, heading straight for the feeders. Thrashers and feeders go together in the Valley. When we got to the feeders, they were devoid of birds. But, behind the feeders, a Long-billed Thrasher was busy scratching the ground.

Long-billed Thrasher
I had two more target birds. So far, we were off to a great start. We had yet to run into any cooperative Chachalacas, so we went to Quinta Mazatlan where Plain Chachalacas are abundant. It was the heat of the day and the feeders weren't very active, but it didn't take long to find a pod of them resting together just off one of the trails. Most were too close for my lens!

Plain Chachalaca
As it was approaching the evening hours, we made our way north to the Green Parakeet roost near Dove and 10th street in McAllen. A group of Parakeets was already there as we arrived. They were noisy and mobile and often flew close by.

Green Parakeet
We ended the day with the Hubingers and a wonderful local dinner (and a few celebratory beers).

The next day (12/21), Mike and I headed east toward South Padre Island. We first looked for Aplomado Falcons along Old Port Isabel Road without success. Today was extremely windy and made birding frustratingly difficult. We then stopped at Palo Alto Battlefield where the Hubingers said we may have luck with Cassin's Sparrow. They were right! At least one Cassin's popped up from the vegetation as we walked the path.

Cassin's Sparrow
We then visited South Padre Island. Among other birds, I was hoping for a Clapper Rail at the SPI Birding boardwalk. They are surprisingly cooperative here, often foraging out in plain sight during the day. It took a while of watching, but one finally came out and, evidently, wanted to cross directly under the boardwalk! Here it is, planning its next move!

Clapper Rail
We then returned to the mainland and tried again for Aplomado Falcons. This time, we tried Boca Chica Blvd where a pair was recently reported. After much searching, we found them. While these birds aren't technically "countable" by ABA standards, most people who do Big Years count them on their list. I did get some pictures, but have a hard time counting them on my Photographic Big Year when I don't count them on my lifelist.

This trip to South Texas puts me up to 585 for the year. This is likely the number I will end the year with. If I have forgotten any, I'll add them when I catch them.

I want to thank everyone who supported this endeavor in one way or another. I will make at least one more post thanking everyone for their support and include some of the highlights from the year. If you pledged for this effort, I will send you an email shortly after the new year with instructions and gratitude.

Happy New Year everyone! I look forward to a wonderful 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Texas 12/19- Day 2

For our first full day in the Texas valley we decided to go to my favorite birding location; Salineno! This spot is known for being the only "reliable" place in the Valley (and ABA Area) to see wild Muscovy Ducks. It is also a great spot for hawks, Red-billed Pigeons, and Orioles. Teeming with excitement, we left Harlingen a little too early and arrived at Salineno about an hour before sunrise. Oops! At first light we were at the river and scoping for the Muscovys.

This was my 5th trip to Salineno and I had yet to see the Muscovy Ducks. This time, however, was a different story. Mike got on a Muscovy sitting on the Mexican shore at first light. As this bird clearly wasn't in the ABA area, we watched it as it was sure to take flight any minute. It would have to fly into ABA waters, right? Wrong. The bird took flight and flew directly into Mexico, over land and out of sight. We were not pleased, to say the least.

We decided to give it a few hours, hoping another duck would fly by on the American side. While we waited, this snazzy Zone-tailed Hawk flew very close by. I missed this bird in Arizona, so picking it up in Texas was a bonus.

Zone-tailed Hawk
A pair of Ringed Kingfishers were making a ruckus and flying back and forth along the river.

Ringed Kingfisher
We were starting to get impatient. It had been nearly two and a half hours and still no Muscovy. We said we would give it until 10am before leaving to do some feeder watching. At about 945am, I just happened to turn and look downriver to see a massive duck with big white wing patches heading straight for us! It flew directly in front of us at very close range. Muscovy Duck!

Muscovy Duck
Finally, a long awaited lifer! I've seen the domesticated ones in Florida, but I wanted to see the real deal.

We made our way to the feeders. We could hear the Kiskadees and Orioles singing from where we sat at the river. When we got to the feeders, they were empty. A Cooper's Hawk had recently swung through, so we had to wait for the birds to regroup.

Once the birds started feeding again, it wasn't long before this Audubon's Oriole made an appearance.

Audubon's Oriole
This Altamira Oriole joined the feeding frenzy as well.

Altamira Oriole
The last bright and colorful bird that I photographed at the feeders was the Great Kiskadee. These loud and proud birds always make their presence known in the Valley. I wasn't complaining!

Great Kiskadee
These colorful birds were a sight for sore eyes! Minneapolis has been devoid of such exotic looking creatures since the weather went south.

We continued on to Falcon State Park to look for Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and Scaled Quail, both of which we missed. We then checked San Ygnacio Bird Sanctuary for White-collared Seedeaters and missed those too. On the way we did see this juvenile Harris's Hawk.

Harris's Hawk
We decided to make the drive to Larado where we had both seen White-collared Seedeaters previously. Again, we failed. While we had a great morning of birding, the afternoon was fairly disheartening.

We needed our luck to change. We had plans of chasing a Tropical Parula (a would-be lifer for us both) the next morning and we didn't want to miss it!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Texas- Day 1

The last stronghold for new year and new photo birds for the year was south Texas. I had yet to visit Texas this year and I found a really cheap, non-stop ticket from Minneapolis to Harlingen right after my grad school finals ended. I had to take it.

I booked it to Texas the morning after my finals ended. On December 18th I landed in Harlingen just before noon. My friend, Mike Lester, flew in the day before and picked me up from the airport. The birding started at Sabal Palm Sanctuary. A Black-crested Titmouse and was the first new photo bird of the trip.

Black-crested Titmouse
 We made our way to the well-stocked feeders where a bunch of the south Texas specialties greeted us. Green Jays were abundant.

Green Jay
This is a good spot to easily see the Clay-colored Thrushes that frequent the feeder areas. Today was no exception.

Clay-colored Thrush
White-tipped Doves were also all over the feeders. There must have been half a dozen or more.

White-tipped Dove
We saw yet another south Texas specialty under the feeders; Olive Sparrow. This was too easy!

Olive Sparrow
We continued to watch the feeders. It seemed like every few minutes a new species would pop in. This Golden-fronted Woodpecker showed nicely.

Golden-fronted Woodpecker
It wasn't long before things started slowing down and we thought we had seen all there was to see at the feeders. But this Buff-bellied Hummingbird didn't want to be left out! This is one of my better pictures from the trip.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird
We decided to walk the trails that went along the water. This is toted to be a good place to see Green Kingfishers, a bird I always have trouble finding in the Valley. However, it wasn't long before we heard, and then saw, this Green Kingfisher zipping around. I had worried that this might be a tough bird to see, and photograph, on this short trip. After a few rattles of the shutter, I worried no more!

Green Kingfisher
One bird I frequently see on every trip I take to the Valley is Least Grebe. I figured they would be all over the place on this trip as well. I got a quick look through some reeds at a pair. I snapped two pictures before they disappeared. Good thing I did as we didn't see any more the rest of the trip!

Least Grebe
On the way out of the park, we noticed a pair of yellow-bellied Kingbirds on the wires. Both Tropical and Couch's are in the Valley and can really only be safely identified by voice. Luckily, these two were very vocal toward each other and allowed me to get both pictures and a sound recording. Take a look/listen. Make sure to turn up the volume as loud as you can get it:

Couch's Kingbird

 We made our way to the Brownsville dump where we hoped for Chihuahuan Ravens. Unfortunately, the dump was closed. Fortunately, we got the ravens on the way in, so no harm done. The only crow/raven in the Valley is Chihuahuan Raven. While the Brownsville dump was historically a place to find Tamulipas Crow, they haven't been seen in years, and are much smaller than this Chihuahuan Raven:

Chihuahuan Raven
We also picked up this White-tailed Hawk sitting on the side of the road. It wasn't bothered by us in the least.

White-tailed Hawk
This was a great afternoon to start the trip! But, we weren't done yet. One last stop at Oliveira Park in Brownsville for the Red-crowned Parrots that come in the evenings to stage/roost proved successful. This was another bird I had never photographed, so it was nice to have them at point-blank range.

Red-crowned Parrot
With 13 new photo birds in one afternoon, I had no complaints. The weather was also much nicer than Minneapolis. I had high hopes for the next day as we were going to one of my favorite locations in the Valley; Salineno! Check back soon to see how it went!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Great Day with some Great Grays

Yesterady (12/14) was a day of birding I will never forget. There was excitement right from the get-go. I had planned on driving to Duluth in the morning to look for the King Eider and left St. Paul around 8am. Shortly after, I realized how bad the roads were, and how bald my tires are. It was a long, slippery drive the entire way, but we made it.

Once we were to the Eider spot we were dismayed at amount of ice that had formed or blew in close to shore. We talked to another man who said he had seen the Eider, initially very far offshore but that it had come in and he lost it. I was already nervous that the bird might be too far away to get a photo of after seeing the photos that the initial observers posted, so I joked that perhaps the bird was resting on shore!

We walked down to the observation spot and I noticed a weird looking dark "rock" on top of other rocks, but blew it off as just a rock because it had snow on it and, lets be honest, Eiders don't typically sleep on the shore of the Lake Superior. After scanning distant Goldeneye and coming up Eider-less, I took a closer look at the "rock" through my binoculars. It WAS the Eider! And it wasn't more than 30 feet away! We enjoyed watching it rest on the beach. It occasionally would lift it's head to examine the surroundings and became alert when a few friendly dogs came to investigate us.

King Eider

A great start to the day! I rarely ever saw King Eiders this close on the north slope of Alaska; this was crazy!

We made good time so I decided we should go to Aitkin to look for the Great Gray Owls that had been reported. It was a long drive so I kept an eye out hoping I might find a Great Gray along the way. At one point, I noticed a dark bird-shaped lump along the side of the road and, as we passed, I realized what it was; Northern Hawk Owl! I slammed on the breaks and turned around. The Owl was on the shoulder of the road, not far from the pavement and tire tracks. I wondered if it had just made a kill, or if it was injured or dead. I wasn't able to examine the bird immediately since two big semi trucks were passing. The bird got pelted with snow and ice as the trucks went by and didn't move an inch. This was not a good sign.

Once the traffic cleared I could see through my binoculars that the bird was not in good shape. I approached and could see that the Hawk Owl was still alive, but very lethargic. It had a swollen eye and blood around the bill and clearly had been hit by a car. I had to decide if we should leave the bird there or try to take it with us back to St. Paul. It was noon and the bird would have to travel with us as we went birding all day before making it back to the cities. However, if I left it along the road, it was certainly a goner.

I scooped the bird up in my North Face down jacket and placed it in a travel bag. This would at least keep the bird warm and, if nothing else, it would die warm instead of by hypothermia and getting hit by snow and ice from passing traffic.

We continued to the Aitkin Great Gray Owl spot. A birder passed by and said they had seen at least 3 Great Gray Owls in the past hour. After thanking them for the information, it took all but 30 seconds before we had our first Great Gray of the day. As luck would have it, we ended up seeing a total of 6 Great Gray Owls in a very small stretch of road.

Great Gray Owl
I had tried to find this bird in the Sax-Zim Bog twice in the last few weeks with no luck. I also missed them along the North Shore in February. To have six in one day was thrilling! This is one bird that I never get tired of seeing.

We ended up seeing a Snowy Owl in Aitkin as well.

When we finally made it back to the cities, at 7:30pm, a full 7.5 hours after finding the injured Hawk Owl, I was curious if the bird survived the trip. I lifted the sleeve of my jacket that revealed the head of the Hawk Owl. It's eyes were closed. I gently pet it on the head with one finger but there was no movement. However, it appeared the bird was still alive and we thought we could see the bird breathing.

I took it into my apartment hoping it could hang on just a little longer until the Raptor Center rehab person could come and pick it up. I wasn't ready for what happened next. The bird sprung to life, fought its way out of my jacket and almost out of the bag it was in. I was able to gently grab it before it went wild around the apartment. It was alive and feisty!

The Raptor Center sent a man to pick it up from my apartment and he was in shock that we actually did have a Northern Hawk Owl (I think he was skeptical at first). Besides the swollen eye and a little blood on the face, the bird seemed to be okay. I'll be checking on the bird tomorrow and will keep my fingers crossed that it is able to recover!

This was my last day to go birding in Minnesota before leaving for the year and I certainly made the most of it. Great Gray Owl and King Eider were new photo birds for the year. Check back soon for more updates! There will be a lot of updates in the coming weeks!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ross's Gull Fun!

In the ABA Area, Ross's Gulls are usually only seen in Alaska... and usually in Barrow (with a few exceptions). However, once in a while a stray bird will venture too far south, much to the delight of any birders close enough to make the chase. For over a week a Ross's Gull has graced Lake Red Rock in Iowa. On Saturday, I had the pleasure of making the chase from Minneapolis with two local birders.

We arrived on site to find that the lake was frozen. This was not good news. After waking at 3am and making a 4.5 hour drive, this is not what any of us wanted to see. The area where the bird had been reliable was almost completely ice, although a few backlit gulls were painfully far away. While some birders tried to make any small, distant, backlit gull into a Ross's, we soon realized we were going to need a different strategy. We positioned ourselves in a situation with better light, but the majority of birds were still distant. We moved to the dam where there were pockets of open water. However, there were no birders here. Clearly this was going to be our best bet as we could actually identify birds with the light at our back. But where were all those other birders that left the first site?

Within 5 minutes of setting up our scopes, an eagle flew over and spooked the gulls enough to entice them to take flight. I watched a small flock of Bonaparte's Gulls in flight and, with them, the unmistakable Ross's Gull! The other birders from the Twin Cities were able to get on it as well and we all enjoyed seeing the bird.

There was one problem, though. While I was as happy as anyone to see this bird (not a life bird, but you can never see too many Ross's Gulls!), the bird was very distant. While scope views of the bird in flight were nice, it was clear that obtaining an identifiable picture was going to be a chore. I tried digiscoping the bird when it would sit on the water or ice, but, even with my scope jacked up to 60x, my digiscoping camera batter quickly died in the single digit temps. I was left with my SLR and 400mm lens. Every time the bird took flight I rattled off as many pictures as I could (after finding the bird in the viewfinder. At these distances, even that was a hassle). Right before we needed to leave, the bird flew in closer than it had before and, again, I rattled off a dozen or so pictures.

Imagine my surprise when a series of three photos, while absolutely horrible, actually are identifiable as a Ross's Gull!

Ross's Gull
 In the above photo, you can see the gray underwing, pinkish hue on the body and a wedge-shaped tail.

Ross's Gull
In this photo, the tail shape is even more evident.

Ross's Gull
While I would have loved this bird to come closer, I'll take what I got considering I thought I had failed.

I'm now super busy with finals and grad school things. I do still have a couple birds I want to track down in Minnesota before I leave, so keep an eye out for another blog post. I'll likely get out at least once or twice this week/weekend to break up all the studying I'll be doing!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving- Family and Birds

For Thanksgiving, I made the drive from Minneapolis to Lansing, MI to spend some time with family. Although my stay was short, I certainly made the most of it. After spending Thanksgiving day with the family, I got relatively little sleep before heading for Holland State Park and Muskegon on the shore of Lake Michigan. My dad and I left Lansing early on Friday and got to Holland State Park just after sunrise. A friend, Rick Brigham, met us there. While we didn't see the Little Gull I was hoping for, we did see a couple Red-throated Loons, a fly-over Rough-legged Hawk, flocks of White-winged Scoters and Tundra Swans. Not a bad way to start the morning.

We then drove an hour north to Pere Marquette Park in Muskegon County. While there were no recent reports from the area, I always make a point to bird this county. Between Pere Marquette and the Wastewater, good birds can pop up at any moment. Once we got to Pere Marquette we started walking the breakwall. This breakwall is famous for hosting Purple Sandpipers every winter, but none had been reported for the past few weeks. However, it wasn't long before I spotted a shorebird working the rocks. Sure enough, Purple Sandpiper. The birds found here are notorious for being very obliging, and this one was no different.

Purple Sandpiper
We continued along the breakwall and scanned the north breakwall where we had our first two Snowy Owls for the day. On the way back, we had an adult Iceland Gull on the beach with the rest of the gull flock.

On to the wastewater were we quickly had another Iceland Gull. This one allowed better pictures and closer approach.

Iceland Gull
We accidentally flushed another Snowy Owl along the dikes, had a few flyover Snow Geese and a Peregrine Falcon. At the dump we had good gulling: 2 Great Black-backed Gulls, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Thayer's Gull and at least 1 Glaucous Gull.

Thayer's Gull

We dawdled until sunset and we hoped to find Short-eared Owls. We had to wait until after sunset when it was quite dark for the birds to appear. Two Short-eared Owls put on a show for the last bit of remaining light. At this point, it was nearly impossible to get a photo, but that didn't stop me from trying. I managed one identifiable picture of the bird. Pulling this off was nothing short of a miracle. I'm not proud of the picture, but I'll count it!

Short-eared Owl
Three new photo birds in one day this far into the year is outstanding! Especially when I had no idea that these birds were around.

The next day I went with my uncle to Cleveland. Little Gulls were basically a given and a Red Phalarope was sticking around. We got there to find a mass of birders enjoying the Red Phalarope. Unfortunately, the bird has a broken leg. It was feeding and pooping and able to fly and it couldn't have been more cooperative. The bird was within spitting distance!

Red Phalarope
We worked the Bonaparte's Gull flocks all day but still couldn't come up with a Little Gull. We were on a time crunch and as we were already half-way back home, I got a text that a Little Gull had been found. Bummer! Fortunately, I still have time to get that bird for the year.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! With less than a  month left in the year, I'll be frantically trying to find new birds when school isn't consuming my life. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Sax-Zim Bog Letdown

All of the recent Great Gray Owl sightings at the Sax-Zim Bog persuaded me to take a drive on Sunday (11/24). I spent 5 hours in the afternoon/evening searching for the reported Great Grays without luck. I'm sure they are still around, but they were hiding, and doing it quite well. Therefore, no new photo birds this weekend. I did see a porcupine, a sight I don't often see. I'll be heading back to Michigan for the Thanksgiving break where I'll search for Little Gulls, Short-eared Owls, Long-eared Owls and anything else that might show up. If that Red Phalarope sticks around in Ohio, perhaps I'll make the drive. Hoping for a few new ones by the end of the week!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Two weeks is too long. +2

On this dark and wet day in Minneapolis, I didn't wake early to go birding. Instead I slept in, had a great breakfast, and by 1pm was ready to go look at birds. It had been a full two weeks since my last time even picking up binoculars. To put this in perspective, the last time I had gone two weeks without birding was over 7 years ago!

Since there was a recent eBird report of 6 Gray Partridge south of the cities by only 45 minutes, I thought I'd go explore the area. I've looked for Gray Partridge only once or twice before, so calling them a "nemesis" bird isn't appropriate. More like a much overdue lifer. When we got to the location, the Great Western Industrial Park near Randolph, MN, it was dark and rainy... the exact opposite of what you want for taking pictures. To make matters worse, Gray Partridge are notoriously tough to find without snow (and even when there IS snow), and are often seen only in flight. Even if we did find them, I knew getting photos would be tough.

We walked the area where the Partridge were described from for a while, soaking our feet and pants, but no luck. As I turned to head back to the car, 5 birds flushed away from me. Gray Partridge! I rattled off a few pictures but, shooting at ISO 3200 against a dark sky isn't ideal. The photos leave much to be desired. Luckily, we saw where they landed. This time, when they flushed, there was a slightly better background. While these pictures may be the worst identifiable photos of Gray Partridge that exist, they are still identifiable.

Gray Partridge
Notice the rufous in the tail of both birds, and the rufous face, barely visible, on the top bird. No other game bird in North America will show these features. While Chukar have rufous in the tail, they lack the rufous face and are gray overall. I just barely pulled this off!

We decided to check Lake Byllesby. On the way, two male Ring-necked Pheasants were feeding along side the road. This is always a tough bird for me to SEE, so I was happy to have two very cooperative birds.

Ring-necked Pheasants
While the pictures today are far less than great, I'll take them given the conditions. Two new game birds for the year, and a long overdue lifer! New photo birds continue to get harder and harder to find. Stay tuned!