The Eighth Time is the Charm

It took us eight tries over seven days of searching for the Baird’s Sparrow but we finally found it this morning along Stateline Road near our place in Rodeo, NM.

Baird’s Sparrow is a rare bird in Southwest New Mexico (It is much more common across the Chiricahua Mountains in the grasslands of Southeast Arizona.) but it has been a fairly regular visitor in the San Simon Valley and has been recorded on the Portal Christmas Bird Count for most of the recent years.

We weren’t even really looking for it this time. We had just taken our trash to the local transfer station and decided to drive back to our RV along Stateline Road and make a quick look for “our sparrow.” About halfway back, after looking at about another hundred sparrows along the way, a Baird’s Sparrow flushed from some tall grass on the roadside and perched on one of the wires of a barbed-wire fence. It had its back to us and Michael thought it was a Grasshopper Sparrow at first. Then it turned around and we could see the distinct “necklace” of dark streaks across the breast.

Unfortunately, since we had not really planned to be birding during our trash disposal run, we did not have the camera along for a photo, but we guess you could say that Baird’s Sparrow is now a “trash bird” for us!


Update: Our beloved Prius has failed us for the first time. It has broken down and we can’t get it fixed until next week. We’ll be sidelined for a few days.

Hangin’ Out in Southwest New Mexico

We’re spending about a week and a half at our place in NM and hoping to see a rare bird or two before we head out for our pelagic trip from San Diego.

So far we’ve had no luck finding a Baird’s Sparrow among the flocks of Vesper and Brewer’s Sparrows along Stateline Road or a Berylline Hummingbird hanging out along Cave Creek. There’s no surprise there. Those birds are very rare indeed.

Nothing has popped up on the eBird map or through NARBA either; at least nothing that is within chase-able range. It is uncanny how so many of the rarities we were drooling over when we were elsewhere have managed to evaporate when we got close to where they had been! At least we got the Piratic Flycatcher.

Patience is a virtue, we guess.

A Successful Chase

We usually don’t chase rarities that are more than a few hours away but we decided to go after the Piratic Flycatcher in New Mexico despite its distance.

When we were in Yosemite National Park, CA, we watched the reports for the Piratic Flycatcher in Carlsbad Caverns National Park closely but decided that it was too far away to chase and not likely to still be present when we got back to our RV in New Mexico. But the bird persisted, and as we neared our place in NM it did not seem so far away after all. It was outside our usual chase range but we could still make the attempt on a minimum budget. So off we went on a 650 mile round-trip jaunt after just completing a 4900 mile trip to California, and before we had even had a chance to get one good night’s sleep in the RV.

It all paid off, though. Less than two hours after we arrived at Rattlesnake Springs in Carlsbad Caverns one of the other birders present spotted the bird in a treetop and alerted the rest of us of its presence. Everyone was able to see the bird well and Michael took some pictures to document the sighting. The lighting was poor but the bird is recognizable in the photo that follows.

 The addition of this species to our list is a great bonus for us and it brings our year list to 642 birds.

Eleventh-hour Success in Yosemite

We spent three days in Yosemite NP and it was not until the last hour of the last day that we found both of our target species.

We visited several hotspots looking for Sooty Grouse and were disappointed. Then, acting on a tip from one of the park rangers at our campground, we returned to Glacier Point late in the day of September 18th. We spent three hours hiking the Pohono Trail and thought we had heard a male calling but we were not sure enough to make a positive id. Along the trail we were fortunate enough to see two juvenile Mountain Quail, but we thought we had struck out on the grouse. Then, while pulling around the first curve in the road after leaving the parking lot, Michael spotted a female on the roadside! Soon after, we found her mate.

We hurried back down the mountain to Wawona Meadow. We had spent several hours there on our first evening looking for Great Gray Owl. Earlier in the day we had spent some time looking for other likely spots in the Wawona area and had spoken to some people who had suggested it was worth another try. We arrived at sunset and almost as soon as we had settled in to wait Michael heard a call from the forest edge across the meadow. He asked Renee to play the owl fledgling call from her iBird app on her phone and sure enough it was our bird! We spent the next half an hour trying to get a look at the youngster but it was too dark to pick it out from among the conifers across the way. By the time we had walked across the meadow to near where the bird was still calling, it was too dark to see, period. We will have to be content with a “heard only” for that bird for now.

With these two records, we have reached and surpassed another milestone. Our first “minimum expectation” was 600 species. When we exceeded that on June 8th, we raised our expectations to 630. We exceeded that total at the end of our summer trip and raised our hopes to 640. Now that we have passed that number we guess we might as well shoot for 650!

Only nine more species to go!

Whale Watch: No Whales, Only One New Bird

We couldn’t reschedule the deep-sea pelagic trip that was cancelled but we wanted to see something of the Monterey Bay pelagic scene, so we went on two whale watches.

Unfortunately, we saw no whales and very few pelagic birds. There were many, many Sooty Shearwaters and loads of murres and auklets but few other species. One exception was our lone new species, Parasitic Jaeger. No pictures suitable for presentation were obtained.

We do have a picture of the Pacific Golden-Plover from earlier, however:

All-in-all, we are disappointed in our pelagic experience and our lack of rarities to chase along the coast. Let’s hope our final pelagic trip in October fills in the gaps in our list.

We have left the coast and are heading inland to search for our remaining forest bird targets:Sooty Grouse and Great Gray Owl.

Thank You, Docent Bob!

Bob Dyer provided us with some good tips for birding at Schollenberger Park in Petaluma and they paid off with three Pacific Golden-Plovers!

All three were found at the east side of the levee around the mostly dry pond. They were feeding in the mudflats in the adjacent Ellis water treatment area, and even though they were far away, Michael managed to get some pictures that he hopes will prove to be diagnostic. We’ll post those pictures when we get a chance.

Next up … we’re not really sure …

No Monterey-Area Pelagic After All

High winds and rough seas forced the cancellation of our deep-water pelagic trip from Half Moon Bay.

But all was not lost. We didn’t add any new species for the year but we were able to see quite a few birds from shore, including thousands of Sooty Shearwaters that were resting in a huge raft in the harbor at Point Pillar, a Pomarine Jaeger harassing a tern offshore, and lots of shorebirds and raptors around the area.

Our search for rarities continues but the birds are remaining very elusive. Nothing of note has turned up in a “chase-able” location for the past week and we haven’t found anything on our own.

We won’t try to re-schedule the pelagic trip. Instead we’re putting all our eggs in the basket of our trip from San Diego in early October. Fingers crossed on that one!

A Rough Ride to Santa Cruz Island

Wind and wave conditions conspired against us on our trip out to see the Island Scrub-Jay on Santa Cruz Island. It was a very rough ride.

We couldn’t hold the binoculars or cameras steady enough for much viewing on the way out but we did get close looks at Black-vented Shearwater to go along with our distant look from a couple of days ago.

Once at the island the jays were cooperative. We heard one calling even before we had left the boat dock at Prisoner’s Harbor. It took only about an hour more to get one to pose for a decent picture.

Throughout the day we saw as many as six jays at a time. Other birds on the island were also cooperative and we had a close encounter with an Island Fox, an endangered subspecies of the Gray Fox.

On the return trip the conditions were slightly better and Michael was able to get some shots of shearwaters. As a bonus, we added a Pomarine Jaeger to our year list.

All-in-all it was another good day!

On the California Coast

After spending a day on Mount Pinos renewing our acquaintance with White-headed Woodpeckers, we headed to the coast in search of our main target birds.

Our first stop was the site of an eBird report for a Ruff. The coordinates turned out to be wrong and we found nothing that looked like shorebird habitat anywhere in the area. So, we headed down to the ocean to look for Wandering Tattler. At our very first rocky coast habitat, in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, we found the bird!

We then headed south along thePacific Coast Highway, stopping at pullouts along the way and scanning the ocean for seabirds. At one spot, not far from where we had seen the tattlers, we saw a pod of porpoises far offshore. Following along above the mammals was a flock of gulls, terns, pelicans, and shearwaters all in the midst of a feeding frenzy. After a considerable time spent scoping the flock we were confident that the shearwaters were a new species for our year: Black-vented Shearwater.

Closer to shore there was a floating mat of kelp. Feeding in the mat were several phalaropes. One of them turned out to be a Red Phalarope, our third new bird of the day!

Our list now stands at 635. Tomorrow we head out toSanta Cruz Island.

Nothing New at the Salton Sea

We are traveling through California with Michael’s brother and our first stop was the Salton Sea.

This is the third time this year that we have visited this birding hotspot and this time we found nothing new. That’s not unexpected. It’s getting very hard to find anything new just about anywhere we go. Our possible targets for the area were Ruddy Ground-Dove and Blue-footed Booby, so you can see that we had set the bar very high indeed.

Our list for the day was almost 70 species long. Some highlights were Yellow-footed Gull, Baird’s Sandpiper, Snowy Plover, Wilson’s Plover, Prairie Falcon, four species of grebes, and thousands of Black terns.

We’ll be working our way toward the coast over the next couple of days. There is nothing new for us on the bird hotlines along our way so we are just going to do some general birding prior to our next major event, our scheduled trip out to Santa Cruz Island for the scrub-jay.

Here’s hoping that something rare will drop down to say hello!