Friday, May 31, 2013

Arizona Day 1

After a lot of driving, Kevin and I made it to Arizona on the afternoon of May 24th. It was the heat of the day, so we figured feeders might be our best bet. The feeders in Portal had a lot of activity, including some very low Band-tailed Pigeons. They scattered as soon as we got there. However, many of the typical desert Arizona birds continued to feed.

Black-headed Grosbeak
Curve-billed Thrasher
Gambel's Quail
Last year I got my one and only Juniper Titmouse at a feeder in Paradise, AZ, just outside of Portal. We had great luck at this feeder with wonderful looks at Scott's Oriole and Juniper Titmouse, among many other species.

Scott's Oriole on jam
Juniper Titmouse

Once again in Portal, near the grocery store, we scored Hooded Oriole, Cactus Wren and a Lucy's Warbler! The year birds were coming fast and easy.

Cactus Wren
Hooded Oriole
Lucy's Warbler
As the sun went down, the birding got even better. We had dinner while watching 4 Lesser Nighthawks patrol a dry wash, flying only feet away from us. We heard an Elf Owl, but a huge group of people came out of nowhere and were very loud, so Kevin and I went toward Stuart Campground in the mountains in hopes of less people and more owls.

We had another Elf Owl here, quite cooperative. I attempted a photograph, and I guess it turned out alright.

Elf Owl
We also heard Common Poorwill and Mexican Whip-poor-will. We moved up canyon a bit and lucked into some Whiskered Screech-Owls.

Whiskered Screech-Owl (notice the dull yellow bill)

I have some cool voice recordings of the Screech-Owls calling back and forth to each other that I will upload when I actually have a decent internet connection (could be a while).

I have many more pictures from Arizona to sort through, and I won't be uploading all the common birds to this blog. They can be found on the flickr page here.

More pictures when I have some free time. I'm in California/Nevada and camping without internet or cell service for the most part. The birds and butterflies are great, though. More soon!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Road Trip- Michigan to Arizona to Nevada

I just got to Nevada after spending a few wonderful days in SE Arizona. Kevin Welsh and I drove from Michigan down to Arizona before having to start my master's project in Nevada. He is working here as well.

I have an unbelievable amount of pictures to edit, so be patient. I promise they will be worth the wait.

I'll start with a few birds we picked up along the way. We decided it would be a good idea to check out Horseshoe Lake State Park in Madison, IL to quickly look for Eurasian Tree Sparrows. We didn't have much of an idea of where to look, but two birds on the side of the road turned out to the Sparrows.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Our next stop was Jerome, Missouri. Recent eBird reports of Dickcissel enticed me to take a short detour to see if we could find them. I wanted to clean this bird up before spending a while in the west. There were a few birds singing.

We drove almost through the night, heading for Portal, Arizona. We took a quick "nap" in the car at a gas station somewhere along the way. After we started driving again, while stopping for gas in the northern part of Texas, we were greeted by a few noisy Great-tailed Grackles.

Great-tailed Grackle
We had no more target birds along the way, so we cruised to Portal.

Since I have so many pictures from Arizona, I'll write about those days in future blog posts.

After arriving in Nevada, we needed to get some new/better tires for our field vehicle in Fallon, NV. While this didn't work out for a few reasons, we were close to a wetland called "S Line Reservoir". We killed about an hour that was very productive. It was here I got my first Brewer's Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds for the year.

Brewer's Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird
While scanning over the hundreds of coots taking advantage of the water source, a pair of Black Terns flew through my binocular view. Excellent! This was one I didn't have time for in Michigan before I left. They were a bit distant.

Black Tern
Also present were a few Aechmophorus grebes that were too far away to photograph. However, we later came upon a close Clark's Grebe.

Clark's Grebe
Also distant, but still photographable, were my first Cinnamon Teal of the year.

Cinnamon Teal
We came upon another very close Aechmophorus grebe that we initially thought was a Western, but a thing or two bothered me. Specifically, while there is some dark around the eye, it isn't the darkest, especially near the bottom of the eye. The lores also have some white in them (a trait that shouldn't be shown in a pure Western?). The flanks are also a little light for my liking. It is my understanding that interbreeding between Clark's and Western is on the rise. I think I have to throw this bird in the hybrid/intermediate group. Perhaps I'm being too critical, but the white lores really get me...

Aechmophorus grebe
I don't have experience with many hybrid/intermediate Aechmophorus grebes, so if anyone wants to argue otherwise, I'm all ears. In the meantime, I'll work on finding a better looking Western Grebe.

I'll work on my Arizona pictures and get them up here as soon as possible. We had great luck for only being there 2.5 days. More soon!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Where I'll Be

Just a quick post to let the readers know where I'll be for the coming few months.Tomorrow (5/23) I leave on a road trip to Nevada for my first field season as a graduate student. I will be in the Great Basin area of Nevada and California and in the field every day. I'll be tent camping the majority of the time. Therefore, I won't have regular access to internet, but hope to update the blog at least weekly. The field season is over in mid-August.

Before we get to Nevada, my friend and I are taking a detour to go birding in SE Arizona. We will only have about 3 days so I hope to make the most of my time.

Expect the next update to contain tons of pictures from Arizona.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Two More Quickies

As I head out for Minneapolis in a few short hours, I thought I'd try to add a couple more birds to the photo list. Willow Flycatcher and Golden-winged Warbler were the targets.

Early this morning my dad and I visited Maple River SGA. I always get Willow Flycatchers singing from the power wires along Taft Road. Today we saw or heard at least a dozen Willow Flycatchers, they were seemingly everywhere. However, Willow Flycatcher looks identical to Alder Flycatcher. Voice is key. At the start of this big year, I pondered how to tackle this issue. The obvious answer is to take video, with audio, of the bird singing. My digiscoping camera does a pretty good job of handling this task. I then shot the bird with my SLR for good measure.

Willow Flycatcher singing, with multiple birds in the background

I took some stills of the same Willow Flycatcher.

Willow Flycatcher (same bird as in video above)
I was surprised to see so many Willow Flycatchers along this little stretch of road, but it was nice to have them back. Also along Taft were at least 3 singing Clay-colored Sparrows. 

Next target was Golden-winged Warbler. Gratiot-Saginaw SGA is a good location for this bird. We ran into one singing Golden-winged, but it moved around a lot, and the area is separated by a wet, wide ditch. The bird finally moved to a bare tree, out in the open, and I wasted no time digiscoping this beautiful warbler.

Golden-winged Warbler
Distance to the bird and backlight prevented any top notch photos. This gorgeous warbler was one of my last two eastern warblers for the year. Connecticut Warbler is my last. I won't have a chance at this bird until the fall where I'll have to be very lucky to pick one up during migration.

My friend Kevin Welsh and I depart Michigan on the 23rd to start out job/grad project out west in the Great Basin area of Nevada and California. However, we will be taking the scenic route, with  2-3 days in SE Arizona! It is my only chance to get there this year, so this whirlwind of a trip will have to be very productive. 

I hope to add a bird or two in Michigan during my last few days here, but time is very limited.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Magee and Beyond

On Wednesday, 5/15, I visited Magee Marsh in Ohio to try to clean up some of my missing warblers and other migrants I had yet to photograph. The winds looked good, and a Kirtland's Warbler had been seen the previous day. I was hoping the migrants would cooperate.

In short, they did. It was an awesome day. East Beach was loaded with warblers, including the female Kirtland's from the day before. I also added Chestnut-sided and Bay-breasted Warblers to the year list.

Bay-breasted Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Kirtland's Warbler
After enjoying the migrants at East Beach, I retreated to my car to avoid a nasty rain squall that looked like it would quickly pass. I moved to the boardwalk where the birds were just as numerous as the people. The one upside to a crowded boardwalk is that if a bird is around, some one will see it. However, I didn't need the crowd of people to point out this very vocal, and skulky Mourning Warbler.

Mourning Warbler
One of my favorite warblers, the Canada Warbler, was also present. I never see a lot of these warblers, so I always appreciate a sighting.

Canada Warbler
It was also neat to see this American Woodcock resting up right off the path, being admired by many. I wondered if I would be able to photograph this bird this year.

American Woodcock
There were a couple other migrants around the boardwalk, but you'll have to visit the flickr page to see them.

Today, 5/18, my dad and I birded Muskegon County, Michigan. I had three main targets: Ruddy Duck, Eastern Meadowlark and, most importantly, Upland Sandpiper.

On our drive over, near Coopersville, I spotted a white goose with some Canadas off the highway. I exited and backtracked, happy to find that white goose was indeed a Snow Goose. +1

Snow Goose
We drove to Pere Marquette Park to look for shorebirds. Only shorebirds present were a plethora of Spotted Sandpipers.

At the Muskegon Wastewater, Ruddy Duck was common and easy to photograph.

Ruddy Duck
Eastern Meadowlark proved to be a bit more of a challenge. I finally got one photo to show the white malar.

Eastern Meadowlark
While driving around the wastewater proper, we spotted a couple Eared Grebes. The lighting was the worst, and the picture is barely manageable.

Eared Grebe
This was going very well! Now to just find an Upland Sandpiper. On our first drive around the property boundary, we didn't see one. On our way back, we spotted one running around. If it hadn't been moving, we would have missed it.

Upland Sandpiper
We even made it back to Lansing in time to watch the Detroit Red Wings crush the Chicago Blackhawks. All in all, a great day!

I won't be doing a lot of birding in the coming few days. I need to prepare for my first field season as a graduate student, which involves a quick trip to Minneapolis. I leave for the field season  (in Nevada) on May 23rd. I hope to get one or two more birds in Michigan before I head out. Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Alaska Trip- Final Day

Sunday, 5/12, was my last day of birding in Alaska. We were still in Homer and woke early to get to the spit. We had a tip from another birder that Aleutian Terns could be seen from the middle of the spit early in the morning and would fly over with fish. It only took about 30 seconds before we found two distant terns foraging over the bay. They came closer and closer, eventually giving us great looks at Aleutian Terns! Although we had wonderful looks, the fog, low light and distance made photography a nightmare.

Aleutian Tern
Although the above picture is horrendous, this tern can easily be identified as an Aleutian by the dark secondary bar, the only tern in Alaska to have one. The tail is short, unlike Arctic and contrasts with the gray body.

Scott and I decided to leave the spit and do some land birding before heading back to Anchorage. Immediately after getting out of the car, a solid flock of White-winged Crossbills were noisily feeding in some conifers. At this point is was starting to lightly rain. I still got some photos.

White-winged Crossbill
There were Varied Thrushes singing (if you can call it that) everywhere. We ran into a few throughout our walk. Yet another mediocre photo for you to look at.

Varied Thrush
This hike was already very productive. I started pishing for migrants but instead a pair of curious Gray Jays responded. They hopped around, checking us out, before moving on.

Gray Jay
It was a long, uneventful ride back to Anchorage. We stopped again at Potter's Marsh so I could get some distant Red-necked Grebe photos. Keeping with the theme of poor photos, this fits in perfectly.

Red-necked Grebe
My time in Alaska was a huge success for my Photographic Big Year. In two and a half days I scored 36 new photographed year birds. The people were great as always, the birding was amazing as usual and I'm already missing Alaska.

I wasted no time once I got back to Michigan. Yesterday (5/15) I had an excellent day at Magee Marsh in Ohio, adding quite a few of my missing warblers and a few other birds as well. Stay tuned.

All funds raised through this big year go to support bird conservation in Hawaii. See this page for more information. The pledge is tax deductible.

Alaska Trip- Day 2

On Saturday, 5/11, I woke in Homer. Scott and I birded a bit around Homer before he dropped me off at the boat launch where I hopped on a small enclosed boat with an open back. Glaucous-winged Gulls greeted me at the harbor.

Glaucous-winged Gull
As I was walking down to the boat, I thought to check the shore as I've seen Wandering Tattlers here in the past. Wouldn't you know it, a Wandering Tattler was present.

Wandering Tattler
I was relieved to see the Tattler since they can be very hit or miss. This particular bird only stuck around for about a minute before heading elsewhere. It would turn out to be the only Tattler I saw all weekend.

Once on the boat, I was saddened by the news that the captain hadn't seen Yellow-billed Loon, Red-faced Cormorant or Tufted Puffin, three big targets, on any of his previous tours this spring. I figured they had to be out there somewhere and kept a watchful eye. Sure enough, one of the first birds I spotted on the way to our first destination was a showy Yellow-billed Loon. The captain turned around so all aboard could enjoy.

Yellow-billed Loon
This got me excited. Anything could be out in Kachemak Bay. As we cruised around the shoreline at our first destination, we scanned for Black Oystercatchers. None were seen in the traditional spots, but the captain had one more idea of where we might find them. We found a pair loafing, then feeding along the rocky shore.

Black Oystercatcher
Things were looking good! We ran into a few more of my targets as we cruised the shore including Black Turnstone and Surfbird.

Black Turnstone

To finish off the new shorebirds seen in Kachemak Bay, thousands of Red-necked Phalarope were scattered. Luckily, the water was like glass which made finding them easy.

Red-necked Phalarope
We made a stop at Gull Island where a huge nesting colony of Black-legged Kittiwake was in full swing. Surrounding the islands were thousands of alcids. Common Murre were the most numerous.

Common Murre
I knew now was the time to find a Puffin. If they were back, they would be alongside the Murres. Things looked hopeless until I spied two Tufted Puffins swimming by themselves, completely separated from the massive Murre flocks. Bingo!

Tufted Puffin
Also present in the bay in many locations were Pigeon Guillemots. They were busy pairing up and chasing each other around. I could even hear the high pitched calls they gave. Pretty cool!

Pigeon Guillemot
Murrelets nest in the mountains surrounding the Kachemak Bay. Marbled Murrelet is the most common, usually quite abundant. We saw pairs scattered all around the bay. Some were in full alternate plumage, while others were still in basic.

Marbled Murrelet in basic plumage
Kittlitz's Murrelet is much less common in the bay, but still present. I only saw one Kittlitz's this time. It was also in basic plumage, providing a nice comparison with the basic Marbled. Notice the white face compared to the black face of the Marbled.

Kittlitz's Murrelet
Red-faced Cormorant was my last big target for the boat trip. Unfortunately, there weren't many cormorants around. As I picked through the available cormorants, all I could find were Pelagic Cormorants. Red-faced would be my one big "miss" this trip.

Pelagic Cormorant
The trip was over by 3:30pm, leaving plenty of time to bird the Homer spit. Once Scott picked me up, he received a call about some Pacific Golden-Plovers in a grassy area long the spit.

Pacific Golden-Plover
This was turning out to be a fantastic day! The birds were all being very cooperative. After we left the plovers, a small group of Brant were seen in the bay off the spit. Yet another new year and photo bird.

White-winged Scoters were also present in the bay. While most were seen from a distance, we got pretty close to a few while on the boat.

White-winged Scoter
The last new year bird for the day was this Eurasian Wigeon. They were quite numerous on Saturday. Up to 8 individuals were reported from various locations around Homer. I missed the one I chased in Michigan, so this was a nice backup.

Eurasian Wigeon
So, day 2 of my quick Alaska trip was another great success. Sunday (5/12) would be my last day in Homer and Alaska. I was still missing Aleutian Tern, among a few other birds. You'll have to check back soon for the next update!

If you are enjoying the blog and are interested in pledging to support bird conservation, please see this page for more information. All pledges are tax deductible!