A meteorological collision between the remnants of tropical storm Karen and a cold front from the north produced some fallout weather in southern New Jersey.
We spent the day on Tuesday checking out the birding hotspots around Cape May Point. We started at Higbee Beach WMA, visited Sunset Beach and the lighthouse park, and ended up at the Second Avenue Jetty.
Higbee Beach had a fair number of warblers and sparrows. Palm Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler dominated along with White-throated and Swamp Sparrows. There was also a fair number of kinglets, catbirds, and others.
At the beach, there were many gulls and terns and several flocks of scoters moving along the coast at the mouth of Delaware Bay. All species were those to be expected.
The area around the lighthouse park proved to be the best of the day. Here we saw Black-throated Blue, Magnolia, Pine, Yellow-rumped, and Palm Warblers and Northern Parula. There were also goldfinches, catbirds, thrashers, crows, sparrows and several other passerines. Ducks included all the usual suspects and a Eurasian Wigeon. Raptors included Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned, and Broad-winged Hawks, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Bald Eagle, and a single Northern Goshawk.
At the jetty we saw a single Northern Gannet and a couple of Pomarine Jaegers among the gulls, cormorants, and scoters moving along the coast.
It was not a spectacular day, but it was certainly worth the trip to explore the iconic birding location of Cape May, New Jersey.
Thank you to all who have commented on our idea to try to see 800 species in just 8 years.
The consensus of your comments seems to be that it should be possible if we are willing to travel enough to make it happen. In other words, it might not be possible under the birding-on-a-budget model of limiting travel to a reasonable cost (what a typical birder might be able to afford from his or her budget).
The main sticking point is travel to Alaska. Your comments considered it to be impossible to get to 800 without seeing all the usual birds and many of the Eurasian vagrants that show up in Alaska. Traveling to and around Alaska is expensive compared to our budget birding ways. So, getting to Alaska on a budget is the key to making the “8 years to 800!?” idea work.
We are exploring some volunteer opportunities, some RV travel options, and even the possibility of finding seasonal work in Alaska as ways to get to Alaska without spending the typical $5000 to $7000 it costs to do dedicated birding tours. If you have any ideas we’d love to hear them.
We’ll keep you posted on our plans.
You heard it here first!
Michael is playing around with this idea: Is it possible to see 800 species in the ABA area in just 8 years?
800 species is the Holy Grail for ABA area listers. Only a handful of people ever reach this milestone. It usually takes them decades of chasing rarities to do it. But, with the tremendous advancements in internet birding and bird finding on the web, it might be possible to do it in far less time. (BTW, the choice of eight years is completely arbitrary and was made simply because it sounds nice with 800 species!)
If you look at recent Big Years for participants who have covered the entire ABA area you find that their lists total 725 or more species, some almost reaching 750. That leaves just 60 to 75 more species to find to reach 800. Is it likely that 60 to 75 more species would make an appearance in the ABA area over an additional seven years? That’s 9 to 11 more species per year.
Or … There are 675 regularly occurring species in North America. If you make a concerted effort to see each of these it is fairly easy to do so, given enough time. Would it be likely that you could find 125 more species, about 16 per year, over the course of eight years?
Also … During our recent Lower 48 Big Year, we saw over 650 species. We kept track of other species that we could have seen if we had been luckier, more diligent, or had had more money to travel more widely. We also kept an eye on what was happening in Alaska during the year, even though we had decided not to go beyond the lower 48. We estimated that we could have seen almost 100 more species in 2012 if everything had worked out perfectly and we had visited Alaska. In 2013, we have watched reports of several more species, such as the first-ever ABA record of the wood rail in NM. Given all of that, we could have had a total of over 750 species in just two years. Would there be 50 more unique species, 8+ per year, over the next six years?
Reports on eBird, NARBA and other web sites hint at the answer to these questions. It is indeed possible for enough rarities to show up each year to reach 800 in 8 years. But it is decidedly not likely that a person would be lucky enough and mobile enough to get to them all in the short time that they would probably spend in the ABA area. For example, right now on the NARBA website there are 16 species of rare birds listed that we did not see during our Big Year. But to see them all would require about 20,000 miles of travel to get from place to place and back home.
Still, it would be an interesting eight years if we decided to give this idea a try!
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! Tell us what you think of this crazy idea. Do you think it is possible? Would you like to help us try it?
email us at info at birdingonabudget dot com
We recently bought a used Sprinter van like the one shown above. It will replace our minivan and our class A RV for the majority of our birding travels.
It starts out as a stripped down cargo van but we intend to do some conversions to it to make it into a decent camping van. In keeping with our Budget Birding focus, we aren’t going to spend a ton of money to make a full conversion but we will have a bed, a sink, a stove, a refrigerator, and a toilet so that we have good functionality for basic van camping.
We’ll show some of the work as it goes along so you can see what we do to make this van into a Budget Birding tool … or toy. Stay tuned.
We recently returned from a three-week trip to the east coast, from Florida to New York, in search of butterflies (and to a lesser extent, odonates).
Much of our time in Florida was spent helping our son get ready for his move to a new job at Duke University. That, and the fact that it rained almost the whole time we were there, meant that we did not see very many bugs. Those we did see were familiar critters that we see at home in Texas.
The trip to, and stay in, North Carolina were also wet. So, we really did not start looking for new bugs until we arrived in New Jersey to visit Michael’s father and step-mom. Throughout our stay in New Jersey, and for much of our time in New York, we were disappointed in the numbers of butterflies. There were very few most places we went. One notable exception was “Brigantine” NWR where we saw more saltmarsh skippers, a lifer, than we could possibly count.
Despite the low numbers, New York produced some more new butterflies for our infant life lists. Our favorites included the Baltimore crescent (no photo) and the common wood-nymph.
The return trip was much better. After we weathered some tremendous storms on the road in Ohio, the weather turned mostly sunny for the remainder of the trip. We saw quite a few Summer Azures (no photo), and the farther south we went bug diversity increased. We traveled for 450 miles along the Natchez Trace through TN, AL, and MS and saw most of our best bugs there. Another good stop was Catahoula NWR. Here is a small sampling of some bugs we saw:
common buckeye Creole pearly eye eastern tailed blue Carolina satyr viceroy question mark sleepy orange
We also saw quite a few odonates along the way, but we are such novices with that group that we are only including one picture of our favorite, the Halloween pennant.
Check back next month for more of our natural adventures.
The highlight of this post is a family of gnatcatchers. The adults were feeding young!
No species of gnatcatcher is expected to be breeding in the lower RGV. At first we thought they must have been Black-tailed since they were in mesquite brush and that would be more likely. But we were never able to put a black tail on any of them so we called them Blue-gray. They sounded like Blue-gray, too. Unfortunately, we had no camera with us.
X Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
X Mottled Duck
X Plain Chachalaca
X Neotropic Cormorant
X Great Egret
X Snowy Egret
X Little Blue Heron
X Tricolored Heron
X Green Heron
X White Ibis
X Roseate Spoonbill
X Common Gallinule
X American Coot
X Black-necked Stilt
X Laughing Gull
X Least Tern
X Forster’s Tern
X White-winged Dove
X Mourning Dove
X Common Ground-Dove
X White-tipped Dove
X Yellow-billed Cuckoo
X Groove-billed Ani
X Lesser Nighthawk
X Black-chinned Hummingbird
X Buff-bellied Hummingbird
X Green Kingfisher
X Golden-fronted Woodpecker
X Ladder-backed Woodpecker
X Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
X Brown-crested Flycatcher
X Great Kiskadee
X Couch’s Kingbird
X White-eyed Vireo
X Purple Martin
X Cave Swallow
X Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
X Northern Mockingbird
X Long-billed Thrasher
X Curve-billed Thrasher
X European Starling
X Olive Sparrow
X Northern Cardinal
X Painted Bunting
X Red-winged Blackbird
X Great-tailed Grackle
X Bronzed Cowbird
X Lesser Goldfinch
X House Sparrow
Enjoy your summer out there!
We have noticed that there are very few page hits on this blog since our “official” Big Year ended.
We have not decided to resume our nature tour business either … at least not yet. Those two things lead us the decision that we will be scaling back our posts here even more than we have already done.
We’ll still report on the highlights of our birding and butterfly watching, those things that are truly rare or especially interesting to us, but we won’t be posting regularly. Check back every so often for that news.
We thank everyone who has been reading our drivel and hope it was interesting drivel sometimes!
Butterflies are abundant at Santa Ana right now. Get out and go!
The recent rains have been good for Valley habitats and no place shows that better than Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. A couple of months ago much of the refuge was bone dry and almost no birds or butterflies could be found. (The exception was around Pintail Lake which held some water throughout the winter and into spring migration.) Now, the refuge is green and thousands or butterflies of dozens of species abound. The birds are good too.
We visited yesterday for the guided butterfly walk led by volunteers Mike and Ginny Rickard. We spent three hours walking the roads and trails from the visitor center to and from Willow Lake. The transformation in the butterflies since our last visit in early April was amazing. There was scarcely a time when we didn’t have something to look at. Blues, sulphurs, and crescents dominated but we also saw lots of skippers, some hairstreaks, and others. We’re still novices when it comes to bugs so we won’t try to list everything we saw. Suffice it to say that we were impressed by the sheer numbers of individuals we had the chance to see.
It made studying butterflies so much more interesting than some of our earlier attempts during the drought.
Hot and windy weather greeted us this morning but we still had a good day in the ranch country of Hidalgo and Willacy Counties.
The Valley is settling in to the long, hot days of summer and the breeding birds and butterflies take center stage. The list of Valley specials wasn’t all that special today but we did have a decent species list to show for our three hours or so of birding and butterflying time at Delta Lake and Brushline Road.
As is often the case, doves seemed to represent the bulk of the breeding birds. Every clump of trees had its share of White-winged, Mourning, Inca, or ground-doves. Joining them were all the other usual suspects; mockingbirds, grackles, kingbirds and the rest. In the dryer spots, Pyrrhuloxia, Bewick’s Wren, and Verdin made an appearance while stilts, Killdeer, and ducks graced the puddles and ponds. There were even some Painted Buntings splashing their colors around for all to see.
The rains of a few weeks past have helped the butterflies as well. Especially abundant were Lyside Sulphurs; not surprising considering the abundance of guayacan, in full leaf and lush with fruit, along Brushline Road. Other bugs of note were the usual selection of blues, whites, and sulphurs and a splendid look at Mexican Fritillary.
Make sure you make some time to get out and have a look at what the Valley has to offer this summer.
The Valley Nature Center thrushes continue to be easy to find.
We have been doing a weekly (almost) bird count at the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco since early this year. On nearly every one of those walks we have seen or heard Clay-colored Thrush; sometimes as many as six of them in one hour of effort! That has to be as near to a slam dunk as you can get for this sought-after Valley rarity.
The first location to check as you enter the park is the area immediately around the native plant nursery. A pair nested in the large palm tree just behind the potting area and produced two fledglings already this year. We have not seen the youngsters lately but the adults continue to sing and call from this area and are likely starting a second brood.
Another good location to search is the area around the main feeding station. In winter, the birds often come to the oranges at the feeder and we have seen them coming to the water dripper in the warmer months.
The final place to check is the area along the south boundary of the park and especially near the water dripper in the southeast corner.
If you dip on all those locations try our neighborhood – the corner of Barclay Avenue and Fifth Street. We have a pair of thrushes in our yard that we hear singing every morning around dawn.