700 Species!

“My List” has just reached 700.

This is the list of all the species of birds I have been able to identify in the ABA area since January 1, 2012. “My List” is not an “official” list. Some of the species on “My List” are not ABA birds yet, and some will probably never be, but “My List” has them included. That’s because it’s “My List” and I can do what I want.

There are many stories associated with the list but almost all of them boil down to three main ways of finding birds: research a species and go find it, ask someone and get directions to a species, or get lucky. The first method has not worked out for us very well on this trip yet, but the second and third methods added the two species I needed to reach 700.

Species number 699 was the Willow Ptarmigan. I got directions to the great ptarmigan spot that I wrote about in the last post from one of just two other birders that we have met since leaving Washington. It was very fortunate for us that we met him and followed his advice on where to look for ptarmigans.

Species number 700 was the Bohemian Waxwing. We had been looking for waxwings for a long time without success. I finally found them completely by accident and dumb luck. A flock of about 20 Bohemian waxwings was using a water-filled pothole in the road as a source of drinking water. It was just luck that we drove by just as one of the birds was landing to get a drink.

I hope to see about 20 more new species on this trip, whether by luck, hard work, or by getting help. Wish me luck!

Canada Birding Update … and into Alaska

We have made our way through Canada and into Alaska. Now that we have internet coverage again I can update you on the progress of our adventure.

Our trip through British Columbia and the Yukon Territory was a scenic spectacular full of snow-capped mountains, huge expanses of forest, frozen lakes, and sparkling rivers. Birding was good but not nearly as spectacular as the scenery. As I have said in several earlier posts, we are just too early in the season for many of the birds we had hoped to see. As we continued north through theYukon, we did manage to find most of the “winter species” we had missed in B.C. Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills became common and easy to see all of a sudden after we had been expecting them for a week. Northern Shrike finally made an appearance and we caught up to the waterfowl migration and saw hundreds of ducks, geese, and swans at Swan Haven near Whitehorse.

Our best birding day of the Canada portion of the trip was an excursion down the Haines Highway from Haines Junction to a section of alpine tundra. We had been told of this area by Jukka, a naturalist at Swan Haven. His description of the area included a phrase something along the lines of “the ptarmigan are so common it’s not a matter of whether you will see them but of how many you might hit with your car.” Given that, we just had to go see, even though it was about a 200 mile round-trip detour for us.

We were not disappointed. We saw about 50 Willow Ptarmigan and got a glimpse of what we thought was a Rock Ptarmigan (not confirmed for our list, however) in just a couple of hours.

The trip down through the Kluane National Park was equally rewarding. This area, along with sister parks in Alaska, comprises the single largest area of protected lands in the world. It is a magical place of north-country beauty and beasts.

The last 100 miles or so of the frozen Yukon was rather dull (We only added a fly-by Sharp-tailed Grouse to our list and had a close encounter with a Hawk Owl.)

but as we descended down into warmer, lower-elevation habitats in Alaska we immediately saw an increase in the numbers of birds and mammals at the edge of the road. Renee spotted a Great Gray Owl near a roadside pond while I was off photographing a moose and the area around our RV park was all a-twitter with the calls of crossbills, redpolls, and our first Gray Jay.

We continue west toward the Kenai Peninsula today. We still have a week before we need to be there so we’ll be doing a lot of exploring along the way.

Canada Is Closed Right Now

We knew that traveling to Homer in time for their shorebird festival would mean that we were too early for the land bird migration, but we weren’t prepared for how this early date would affect the services available to us along the way.

The weather when we started out was certainly spring-like but most of Canada is still closed for the winter! Every Provincial Park is closed. Nearly all of the private RV parks and campgrounds are closed. Many of the businesses and gas stations are closed, especially in the small tourist towns.

It also seems that the animals are taking a cue from the humans. We still see a few new things each day on most days but the numbers and variety of animals, especially the mammals, has been far below our expectations. In nearly 1200 miles of driving in Canada we have seen a grand total of three elk, three moose, and one bear! That includes over 300 miles on roads that are supposed to be prime wildlife hotspots, such as the Cassiar Highway.

There have been some outstanding exceptions. The most notable was Renee’s lifer Red-breasted Sapsucker. We had been looking for this bird since California and we were getting close to the edge of its usual range when Michael spotted a woodpecker with a white slash on its side flying over the van. Even at 60 miles per hour he knew it had to be the bird. A near-panic stop and a U-turn later and we were rewarded with an excellent view of a pair of sapsuckers in some aspens on the edge of the road. The lighting was poor and the photo does not do the bird justice.

The scenery along the way through British Columbia has been spectacular, almost making us forget that we are not seeing many animals. Mountains dominate the skyline in every direction and rivers, streams, and lakes are everywhere. In the higher elevations, and as we go farther north, snowscapes are the rule. No wonder the locals still think it’s winter!

Well, winter is fine, but how about showing us some winter birds. Northern Shrike and Bohemian Waxwing sound good.

Computer Troubles

We have a virus on our laptop and will be doing the blog updates from our Kindle until we get it taken care of.

We don’t expect it to affect things too much but posting photos and adding to our various lists will be more difficult, so those won’t be updated a as often.

This is our last full day in Washington. We spent our time here getting new tires, making sure the van was in good shape, and shopping for the trip through Canada to Alaska. But, mostly, we just hung out with our friends, visited some of the sights, and did a little birding. In three days we added three species; Eurasian Wigeon, Purple Martin, and Purple Finch. Our trip list is 278.

Unfortunately, we haven’t had any rarities to add to the 8 Years to 800 list. That doesn’t mean there aren’t new rarities out there. They just aren’t near us. It has happened to us again. We left Arizona to be where we thought we could see a rarity or two and while we are banging around in Washington a rarity (Eared Quetzal) shows up in Arizona (not to mention several others farther east, where we also had been not too long ago).

We’re not too disappointed, however, because we know this trip is mostly about our first visit to Alaska. Rarity chasing will take a back seat to that for the rest of spring and most of the summer.

Wrapping Up Segment Two of the Trip

We have had spotty internet coverage as we have camped our way up the Pacific coast and I’ve been a little lazy about keeping things up to date. Sorry about that.

We are at a friend’s house in Port Townsend and I have some time to fill in the gaps. We’ve concluded the second segment of our trip, the drive from New Mexico to Washington. Our trip list stands at 277 species of birds, despite the fact that we bypassed most of Arizona and southern California so that we could chase (and miss) the Brown Shrike.

From some of my earlier writings you may have the idea that we were not seeing much of anything at all but the fact is that we have seen as many different species during the trip up from New Mexico as we saw during the first leg of our trip from Texas to Arizona. My complaints about not seeing any rarities, or as many migrants as we had hoped, seem to have over powered things. That is true, but we did manage to find birds in the end, just not necessarily the ones we had expected.

We can’t really wait for the migration if we want to make it up to Homer, Alaska in time for the shorebird festival in early May. Some of the migration did manage to catch up to us along the Washington coast. At Gray’s Harbor NWR and Ocean Shores we were treated to some nice flocks of shorebirds, including some in their full breeding plumage. The passerines seem to still be farther behind however.

All-in-all, it has been a good trip. We have seen some spectacular scenery, spent a very nice 38th Anniversary at the Floating Feather Inn in Ocean Shores, eaten some great, fresh seafood (Yes, I cheated on being a vegetarian a little bit.), and seen some great birds.

Here is a selection of photos from the past two weeks. I have left the pictures uncaptioned but you can figure them out, I’m sure.

In the last photo, the Bald eagle is chasing the Osprey in an attempt to steal its fish. The Osprey escaped with its prey.

We’ll be spending a few days here in Port Townsend taking care of all the loose ends before heading through British Columbia and the Yukon to Alaska. Stay tuned.

Aarrggh!

The shrike is back in Mendocino County and I’m in Washington, of course.

That is by far the worst: the bird takes a few days off (5 in this case) and those days just happen to be the days that I am there! It is so frustrating sometimes.

Being in Washington isn’t so bad. The trip through Oregon along the coast was one of the most scenic I have ever driven. The Washington coast is almost as good in many parts.

Unfortunately, the birding has not been anywhere near as good as the scenery. We have added a few species to the trip list every day, but there have been long stretches of nothing; entire beaches and mudflats as far the eye can see absolutely empty. I knew we were getting ahead of the migration when we rushed up to see the shrike (grrr) but this is ridiculous. I guess we are in one of those between seasons. The wintering species, such as the ducks and geese, have already left but the migrants have yet to arrive.

So, maybe I should go back down to CA and get that shrike … NOT!!!

When Will I Ever Learn?

The Excellent Adventure begins with an unsuccessful chase of the mystery shrike in Mendocino County, CA.

Our plan was to start in Southeastern Arizona and “follow the migration north.” But, the Brown or Red-backed Shrike was still being seen in California so we decided to chase it instead. Does that story sound familiar? How often have I said that I was not going to chase things far away … only to do it again and again? In fairness, the shike was on our way to Washington, the destination of the first segment of our adventure, but chasing it would mean that we would bypass most of the birding stops along the way and our trip list would surely suffer from that. A smaller trip list was a small price to pay for getting such a rarity, however.

Except that we did not get the rarity. Once again, after the bird had been seen for weeks prior to our arrival, and after it was seen the morning immediately before our arrival, we missed it. I swear that the birding gods are keeping track and sending the rarities on their way as soon as they see that I am coming to chase them!

All was not lost, however. We did not see the shrike but we did meet some very nice people at the stakeout site and we did add 66 species to our trip list while we were in northern California. Our list now stands at 246. (We’ll update that list later when we get a better internet connection.)

Our plan to “follow the migration north” suffered a setback when we rushed to northern California for the shrike. In fact, it was not a very good plan in the first place. We need to leave for Alaska in late April to make it to Homer in time for their shorebird festival. Late April is too early. Most of the migration will still be far south of us at that time. It certainly has not arrived yet and we are already in Oregon now. There are some early migrants and some of the birds are starting to breed (pictures to follow) but there has been nothing like a migrant wave for us to follow north. Our Alaska plans seem to be good, but our Lower 48 plans could have used a little more thought.

What does that mean for our trip list? I think it will be very difficult to reach my rather arbitrary goal of 500 species now that we have bypassed most of the southern habitats and most of the California specialties in favor of chasing the shrike. We also have moved north of the migrants that were starting to arrive in the south and they may not catch up to us before we leave for AK. We’ll miss some of those unless they make it all the way north with us or unless we see them on the way back south. I estimate that we will fall 25 species or more short of the goal.

Now for a few photo highlights of the California portion of the trip. Please excuse the quality of some of these shots. I got a new camera and I have not figured out how to get the best quality with it yet. Plus, most of these photos are hand-held grab shots just meant to document what we are seeing.

Wrentit, one CA specialty we did not miss.

Marsh Wren carrying nest material.

 

Black-capped Chickadee at its nest hole.

 

Ditto for a Tree Swallow.

 

And one mammal, a pocket gopher at its burrow.

We’ll be exploring the coasts of Oregon and Washington for the next week. Let’s hope the migration catches up to us during that time.

 

Birding With Friends

Nothing beats birding with good friends!

We just returned from a fabulous four days birding in SE Arizona with Jim and Sally Lockwood and a bunch of their friends. Thank you Jim and Sally for your wonderful hospitality and thank you all for a great time!

We visited Pena Blanca Lake, Patagonia Lake, the Patton House and several other nice locations. Our trip list has swelled to 180 species so far. Here are a few pictures of some highlights. The photos are not named. See if you can figure them out. (Hover your mouse over the pic if you get stuck and you’ll see it’s name on my computer.)

 

 

 

We’ll be back at Rodeo for a few days before the Excellent Adventure continues!

Still Knocking Around in Southeast Arizona

We’re working on our trip list and waiting for the migration season to get into full swing. So far, we’ve seen 172 species since leaving the RGV.

One thing we have noticed is that birding in the arid southwest is different from our old haunts in the RGV. For one thing, even though species diversity is high in both areas, it is much harder to get high numbers in one day. In the RGV, we could spend a morning at Estero Llano Grande State Park and an afternoon on South Padre Island and easily see 150 species on a spring day. Here, we’d need to travel much farther and visit many more different habitats to get that many species, and it’d take about a week! We’re not complaining. Traveling around in the various habitats and at different elevations is great fun.

Our favorite spots so far have been Barfoot Park in the Chiricahua Mountains, Madera Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, and Pena Blanca Lake near Rio Rico. But all spots in between have been worth the trip as well.

We have been especially pleased to find some of the rarer birds in the area. Bendire’s Thrasher, Rufous-winged Sparrow, Zone-tailed Hawk, and Mexican Chickadee are just a few. (Sorry, but there are no pictures. I am having trouble processing them while we are on the road. I’ll see what I can do later.)

Visit the bird lists page to see our full trip list.