Sunday, August 25, 2013

Minnesota Birding

Having settled in to my apartment (kind of) in Minneapolis/St. Paul, I decided I needed to get out and explore the area. I saw a post of some Buff-breasted Sandpipers at the A&L Sod Farms just north of Minneapolis on 8/24, so today (8/25) I ventured north. It didn't take long to find the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, three in all. Unfortunately, they were distant. Amazingly, my 400mm lens did a better job than my digiscoping setup, but not by much.

Buff-breasted Sandpipers
Back to cleaning/setting up my apartment for the rest of the day. I'm considering a drive to Duluth tomorrow morning for Common Tern and some lakewatching. Maybe venture to Sax-Zim Bog. Check back soon!

Pt. Mouillee Triple Play

On 8/21, my last day in Michigan, I went to Pt. Mouillee in SE Michigan with a friend. Word on the street was that there was great shorebirding to be had and I wanted to clean up a few species before heading to Minnesota. Mouillee did not disappoint.

When we arrived at Cell 3 the shorebirds were constantly being harassed by a Peregrine Falcon. It kept kicking shorebirds out of the cell. The numbers seemed way down from what people were reporting in the previous days. However, it didn't take long to pick out a Baird's Sandpiper.

Baird's Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpipers were also easy to pick out as they towered over the small peeps on the mud flats. They were in pretty bad light and somewhat distant, so I gave my digiscoping camera a try. I only got mediocre pictures of this adult Stilt Sandpiper.

Stilt Sandpiper
Two of my main targets down, but I was starting to get worried since my third (and "most wanted") target, the White-rumped Sandpiper, had yet to show. No worries, we had plenty of time to sit at Cell 3.

As the Peregrine activity slowed down, the birds settled in, giving us a chance to pick through the peeps more carefully. I finally got on the White-rumped Sandpiper foraging out right in front of us, although a bit distant.

White-rumped Sandpiper
This couldn't have went any better! We also had American Avocet, Willet and Black-bellied Plover. Only a few remaining shorebirds left in the east to find as they head south.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Ruby Mountain Ferruginous Hawk

During my last full day in the Ruby Mountains, I photographed a very large hawk that I identified as a Ferruginous Hawk. However, I started to second guess myself so I sent some pictures around to some friends who also agree with Ferruginous Hawk. Why I second guessed myself, I do not know. Enough about that, here are the pictures.

Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
Obviously, the pictures are horrible, but it is probably the one and only Ferruginous Hawk I will see this year, so I'll have to use them.

Tomorrow (8/21), I'll be going shorebirding with a few friends in Michigan. If all goes well I should be able to see/photograph Stilt, Baird's and White-rumped Sandpiper. And Thursday I'll be in Minnesota!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ruby Mountains- Last Few Days in the West

I spent the last 3 days climbing up and down the Ruby Mountains in Nevada. Whenever the Ruby Mountains and birding are mentioned, one bird comes to mind; Himalayan Snowcock. Introduced 50 years ago, they inhabit the steepest, highest, rockiest terrain imaginable. This make locating them tough. One spot, in particular, is a good bet, but it requires a 2-mile, one way steep hike above Island Lake. I spent 7 hours the first day looking for them with no success.

Therefore, I was forced to make the 4am hike again the next day. I got to the spot before sunrise and with food to last me the entire day. I had mentally prepared to sit and wait all day. But when 5:55am rolled around, I heard some foreign sound I knew would be the Himalayan Snowcocks. I found them in flight and watched where they landed but they disappeared. Finally, after another 25 minutes of trying to locate them in my scope, I found them foraging in some greenery. Success! The digiscoped pictures I took would do them no justice, so I started to climb the scree hoping to get better photos.

Himalayan Snowcock
As I climbed, the birds moved further ahead and did not allow close approach. I got the photos I wanted, though, and was ready to climb down when I heard Black Rosy-Finches even higher up the cliff. I knew they wouldn't come down low, so up higher I went. This was an intense climb! Once I reached the area the Rosy-Finches were, they couldn't have been more cooperative. At least 11 birds, mostly young and curious, were actively feeding and being fed. Being surrounded by Black Rosy-Finches was wonderful! And all this before 7am.

Black Rosy-Finch
Relieved that I didn't have to make the climb again the following day, I worked my way down toward the parking lot.

Later that day, I looked for Cordilleran Flycatcher with no success. But as I was walking back to the car, two Dusky Grouse were feeding right off the main path. They couldn't have cared less about my presence. This was a bird I had figured would be easily missed and was not counting on seeing this year. It helps to be lucky!

Dusky Grouse
One last bird I had hoped for in, or around, the Ruby Mountains was Ferruginous Hawk. I drove Ruby Valley twice, seeing just about every other bird of prey imaginable, but dipping on Ferruginous Hawk. However, I just may have some photos of one from a different location, but more on that later.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was going to try to get the other half of the newly split Sagebrush Sparrow. I have photos of Bell's, and now I have photos of Sagebrush as well. I stopped off highway 80 in some appropriate habitat and it wasn't long before I found one skulking along the ground. As I approached, it perched perfectly for me.

Sagebrush Sparrow
This is how I spent my last few days in the west. I go back to Michigan on Friday and will waste no time cleaning up some missing shorebirds among other things. I only have a few days home before moving to Minneapolis. It is going to be a crazy, fun next two weeks!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sage Sparrow Split

While I was near Monterey for the pelagic trip last weekend, I took the time to find the Bell's Sparrow, recently split from the now Sagebrush Sparrow. If you have been keeping up with the blog, you'll know I photographed Sage Sparrows near Mono Lake, CA. However, the subspecies I photographed appears to be canescens, which got lumped with Bell's Sparrow. Therefore, the pictures of Bell's Sparrows I got near Hollister, CA don't count as a new species. This was my first time seeing the coastal Bell's, and they are stunning birds!

Bell's Sparrow
I was also able to get much better photos of Lawrence's Goldfinch than I previously had.

Lawrence's Goldfinch
I only have 6 days left before returning to Michigan. Tomorrow (8/11) is my last day of butterfly surveys. I will then spend 3 days in the Ruby Mountains trying to track down some Himalayan Snowcock, Black Rosy-Finches, and Dusky Grouse, among others. On the way there, I plan to look for Sagebrush Sparrows. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Poorwill Picture

I had thought that I wouldn't get any more new photo birds in the Great Basin before I head east. I really regretted not tracking down a Common Poorwill early in the season when they were calling and abundant. Now, I hadn't heard a Poorwill for at least a week or two and thought I missed my opportunity.

On the evening of 8/5 I decided to drive around some roads that I have heard Poorwills at before. After a bit of driving, I found three Poorwills right on the road. After carefully approaching them, I was able to get some mediocre shots.

Common Poorwill

I only have 9 days left in the Great Basin before heading to Michigan. I hope to get at least another bird or two before the trip. Once in Michigan, it appears shorebirds are coming through and I hope to clean up some of the ones I missed in the spring. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Monterey Pelagic for Hawaii(an)

Today, 8/2/2013 I attended the first pelagic trip out of Monterey Bay of the year. This trip was run by no other than the world-famous Shearwater Journeys and was stocked full of great leaders. This was a fantastic day to be out on the bay, with just enough chop to keep the birds active.

I was the/a designated chummer so I spent all my time at the back of the boat throwing frozen fish and stale popcorn to keep birds around the boat. It didn't take long before we had a good gathering of gulls following us. We started kicking up Sooty Shearwaters, and then the first Jaeger of the day, a Pomarine sporting some serious spoonage.

Pomarine Jaeger
It didn't take too long before the Black-footed Albatross took an interest in the boat. They stuck with us all day. Things were going well. Not long after everyone got their Albatross buzz, I saw Debi out of the corner of my eye make a quick movement to center of the back of the boat. Then a shot of "HAWAIIAN PETREL!!!!" and everyone was now watching this endangered Pterodroma put on a show. As far as Pterodroma go, it was very cooperative and everyone celebrated!

Hawaiian Petrel
Hawaiian Petrel
Hawaiian Petrel
The Hawaiian Petrel, apart from being incredibly rare in the ABA Area, is one of the species the American Bird Conservancy is working to preserve in Hawaii. This species is at risk of becoming extinct. Feral cats and mongoose are known to predate the eggs, young and adults. The American Bird Conservancy is working on a fence to keep out predators. Now you can see why Hawaiian bird conservation is so important! Consider pledging to support the American Bird Conservancy and their effort in Hawaii. Pledges can be made here.

More and more birds continued to show themselves as we got further and further offshore. One Northern Fulmar passed by quickly. Phalaropes, mostly Red-necked but a few Red, were seen. A Long-tailed Jaeger passed by the boat, but later a Parasitic, my last Jaeger for the year! Phew!

Parasitic Jaeger
Right after the Parasitic Jaeger flew by, the captain yelled out Sabine's Gull. It never came close, so the pictures aren't great, but the views onboard weren't bad.

Sabine's Gull
Activity slowed a little in the afternoon, but a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel made a quick pass behind the boat to jazz things up and keep observers vigilant.

We also enjoyed marine mammals. A few Humpback Whales were enjoyed by all. A couple species of Dolphin came to check us out as well. Debi will have a more complete report on her blog. I sincerely thank Shearwater Journeys for giving me the opportunity to attend this trip.

What an incredible trip, one I certainly won't be forgetting! My only regret is that I will be leaving the Great Basin soon and won't be able to do any more pelagics in the near future! In fact, this may be my last one this year. We will see...