Top 5 2017 Highlights

What would a blog be without the Top 5 2017 highlights for the year? Actually these will be highlights from the first 8 months since I didn’t get out much after Labor Day.

#5 Western Tanager

Top 5 2017 Highlights
Western Tanager

There is something about finally seeing a bird I should have encountered years ago. Seeing the Western Tanager in Colorado wasn’t like seeing the Golden Eagle. I expected the Golden Eagle would be hit or miss. But I have made numerous trips out west and should have seen Western Tanagers previously.

#4 Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Johnson County Park

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Over the years I have seen numerous Yellow-billed Cuckoos but never one that stayed out in the open like the one at Johnson County Park last July. As Mike suggested it might have been a young bird or a hungry one.

#3 My First Butterfly ID – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Once I started on my Nature Adventure I wondered what would be the first butterfly I’d ID. Appropriate enough it turned out to be an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I came across it last May at the end of birding at Laura Hare Nature Preserve. And for a newbie it wasn’t an easy ID. If I hadn’t taken numerous photos I wouldn’t have been able to make the call.

 #2 Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

I can’t emphasis enough the surprise in coming across a shorebird in an arid environment. It just floored me. And especially a large shorebird. Seeing the pair in Western Colorado last June was easily the visual highlight of the year.

#1 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Routes

Turkey Vulture – Western Colorado

Nothing else I do can compare to the long-term good the BBS routes do for birding. I only wish I was in a position to run a couple more. This was the second year I ran them in Central Indiana and the first year in Western Colorado. My only question is why I didn’t start running them sooner??

4 Gull Species at Once

The local patches have been slow the past couple of weekends and with the rain and cold not many highlights or photos. So I’ll throw in the other half of the Connecticut Holiday trip. Always several highlights when you are away from home but I’ll go with 4 gull species at once.

Before I discuss the gulls I’ll recap the rest of the afternoon.

Brant
After earlier seeing the Brant flight I came across three at Long Beach in Stratford. I spent time viewing Brant since we don’t encounter them in the Midwest. 12/26/16
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The small group kept close before swimming out.
A comparison showing Brant are about the same size as Herring Gull.
A flock of Horned Larks are just as camouflaged on the beach as they are in a Midwest cornfield.
I was searching for Dunlin or Ruddy Turnstones along the rocks and finally came across a small group of Dunlin.
I thought this was a decent photo showing Dunlin in winter plumage and its down-turned bill.

Gulls

Being from the cornfields I spent time watching and photographing the Gulls at both locations.

The gulls were obviously used to people and wouldn’t stray far. Like this Ring-billed Gull. 12/26/16
This Herring Gull didn’t seem to be sea shell hunting but he did like to stand on them. 12/26/16
The only Lesser Black-backed Gull of the day was hanging out with a mixed flock. 12/26/16
One of several Great Black-backed Gull on the day. 12/26/16
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And now for all 4 gull species at once. The smaller Ring-billed Gull, the darker backed Lesser Black-backed Gull, and several different aged Herring Gulls. The large youngster to the right is a Great Black-backed Gull. 12/26/16
I have forgotten how large Herring Gulls are. It didn’t take long for a couple of close flybys to remind me. 12/26/16
With freezing rain forecast for late afternoon it was time to cut the visit to the coast short and head back to the interior of the state. 12/26/16

Brant Flight – Weekend Highlight

Before I continue with posts from my recent Colorado trip I’ll have to inject a post or two from birding Connecticut this past weekend. The weather was a little cooler than last year’s 70F temperatures but was still pleasant with the highs in the upper 40’s. I birded the local reservoir a couple of days and made my usual holiday trip to the Long Island Sound. There were several personal highlights but I’ll go with the Brant Flight as the main highlight.

We did enjoy a White Christmas. The area had received 8″ of snow the previous week.

As with all of the Northeast the continuing drought lowered the water level at the local reservoir. I’m not sure this had an effect on birding but I didn’t see any loons as in past years. Since most of the species I saw there are the same as the Midwest I’ll jump to the ocean.

The red lines are the normal waterline. I’m guessing the reservoir has dropped a good 8-10 feet.

I overdressed both days birding the reservoir. Unlike the Midwest I think it has to do with the hills and trees blocking the wind. So of course I under-dressed at the ocean where the winds were coming off the water dropping the temperature 10-20 degrees. I managed to layer up with some old clothes in my nephew’s trunk and made a day of it.

A view to the east where the strong SE winds were originating.

As usual I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park since it has a pond, marshes, wooded area, and an ocean each. One of those spots I could see birding every day. The woods held the usual suspects and the pond had Mute Swans, Gadwall, and American Black Ducks.

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I’ll throw in a photo of American Black Duck since it’s a species we don’t see in large numbers in the Midwest.
The surprise of the day was a Greater Yellowlegs that made its presence known by giving its tu-tu-tu call. Checking a range map, it winters as far north as New England.
Common Goldeneye had the largest count on the water with several flocks flying by and landing. Red-breasted Mergansers were the other main species.
Not as many Long-tailed Ducks as in past years.
A distant photo that appear to be Scaup from the white wingbar. I’m leaning towards Greater since they are the expected species.

Brant Flight

After walking the park for almost three hours I was about ready to leave. I was going to climb over the break-wall, take a quick scan, and make the short walk back to the car.

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The last hurdle, the main break-wall in the park. Up and over and out of the cold!

As I get to the top the break wall I’m jolted by an eruption of birds with a strange call taking flight.

Brant!

BRANT Flight flikr

They had been on the other side of the break wall.

I have never experienced a Brant Flight. The sudden flight and calling was like the Great Horned Owl experience from last week. A captivating scene that keeps one birding.

The quicker wing beats and more agile flight show the difference between Canada Geese and the smaller goose’s flight. More of a duck type flight than a goose’s.  I watched them until they were out of sight far to the east.

I wished they would have turned back but when they didn’t I headed to the car and on to my next stop.

Mountain Bluebird – Weekend Highlight

As I stated last week I was going to take an out-of-state trip. The destination was again Western Colorado. The reasons for going to Western Colorado are somewhat long and will make up the topic of the next blog. I got home late last night early this morning after a long day getting through the snow at Vail Pass. I’ll stay with Mountain Bluebird as the Weekend Highlight since I already had this 90% done but I did encounter a contender on my one stop across Colorado yesterday.

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I had several photos of Mountain Bluebirds I enjoyed with this being my favorite. Colorado River State Park-Fruita Section 12/4/16

While birding the Colorado River State Park-Fruita Section Sunday afternoon I encountered a small group of Mountain Bluebirds that turned out to be a larger group of 50 individuals. Along with American Robins, European Starlings, and House Finches they were feeding on berries adjacent to the Colorado River. They would fly back and forth from the berry trees to nearby trees or even to trees across the river.

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I first noticed a small group sitting in a nearby tree.
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They would often stop on one of the park signs before flying on to the berry tree.
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And here is the berry tree though you can’t see them inside eating away. Can someone confirm this is a Russian Olive?
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Sometimes they would fly back to a fence and eat them in the afternoon sun.
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When finished eating they would fly to a nearby lake for a drink to wash it down.
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Then back to a nearby tree to digest their food before starting the routine over.
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But all the while one or two would locate to a high limb scanning for local hawks. Something I learned was the darkness of the Mountain Bluebird’s primaries.
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With the mountains to the west blocking the sun and losing daylight fast, it was time to end another mild, sunny day.

Laughing Gulls Feeding Frenzy

While observing LAUGHING GULLS in Gulf Shores, AL earlier this month I realized once again I miss gulls. I have stated before when we lived in Illinois there were numerous gulls along the Illinois River Flyway. Mainly RING-BILLED GULLS, but occasionally others in season. Searching through a flock of gulls always seemed to round out a day of birding.

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Laughing Gull – Gulf Shores AL 8/1/16

I spent a little time watching Laughing Gulls while they were most active in the early morning. They were already on the beach when I when I arrived before sunrise. Do they roost there?

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Like the other mornings I had to keep an eye on the weather. This storm spent the day over the beach about 6 miles away.
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There were already large numbers of Laughing Gulls when I went out in the morning. I counted 500 along our stretch of the beach.

I used to spend hours watching and aging the Ring-billed, bordering on a gull geek. But not quite. I didn’t spend much time aging the Laughing Gulls but differences were obvious.

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This was one of the few with reddish legs. Not sure what else it has on its leg.
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This guy looks good for a juvenile.
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As does this one.
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A Second Year?

I enjoyed watching them fly back and forth up the coast and out to sea to feed. Their slow, efficient wing beats in unison.

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These are photos of the same gull. Talk about the consistency of the wing beat. They look like the same photos repeated over and over.

The best part was when the gulls found a pool of little fish and went crazy feeding on them. All ages partook as did the nearby Great Blue Herons.

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Here are the gulls going crazy feeding in a tidal pool.
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Here are the small fish they were feeding on.

Following is an attempt at a video of the gulls feeding. Please forgive the first few seconds as I learn to use the video on the camera.

I use to periodically see this feeding action on the Illinois River involving hundreds of gulls, but never this close.

It was fun to watch.

I miss gulls.

Snowy Plover – That Leaves One

The family took a few days and made a road trip to Gulf Shores, AL.  Most of the time was spent lounging on the beach, but for the first couple of hours each day I went birding. You gotta love the Central Time Zone for birding in the morning.

I birded a local preserve, a National Wildlife Refuge, and the beach outside the condo. Each has its own story and I’ll be relating them over the next few weeks.

I think I’ve related previously I’m at that stage of birding where I won’t be seeing many new life birds East of the Rockies. This trip had three possibilities – BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH was possible, SNOWY PLOVER would be a long shot, and SWALLOW-TAILED KITE that would have taken work. And since this was a family vacation I wasn’t going to work hard for birds.

I did see a SNOWY PLOVER – For all of 30 seconds.

The Snowy Plover was seen on the shoreline at the Bon Secour National Refugee. I had planned to bird around Fort Morgan State Historic Site but nowhere in their webpage did I noticed they didn’t open until 8AM. And I checked.

So I went back to Bon Secour where I was going to stop anyway.

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I had to keep an eye out for an approaching storm which would have driven me from Fort Morgan anyway. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

With the approaching storm I decided to walk the shoreline looking for shorebirds, particular SANDERLINGS.

Mainly though there were gulls and terns flying along the edge of the Gulf.

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Typical view of the flying terns. White forehead, dark primaries, dark bill. Offbeat Royal Tern call. I’ll call it a Sandwich Tern. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

Walking along the beach I came across a WILLET. I was up in the sand away from the water as it walked along the water’s edge.

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A lone Willet feeding along the water’s edge. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16
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The Willet ran around me and continued to feed up the shore. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

While watching the Willet a jogger flushed a small bird that flew in about 20 feet away. At first it didn’t notice me which gave me a few seconds to positively ID it and take a few photos.

At first I thought it was going to be a lone Sanderling but I immediately knew it was a Snowy Plover. Dark Bill, half chest band, dark legs, and most importantly it blended in with the sand. If I hadn’t seen it fly in I don’t think I would have noticed it.

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As good of photo of the Snowy Plover as I could get in our brief encounter. As you can see it noticed me quickly upon landing. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

It didn’t take long for it to notice me standing close. After 20-30 seconds it did and flew away. I watched it fly up the beach but the distance and the approaching storm put off a chase.

And that leaves one.

The Mountain Plover is the only regularly occurring plover in the lower US that I haven’t seen.

For comparison of features following are photos of other small plovers I’ve seen over the years.

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Semipalmated Plover – Marion County IN 8/14/15
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Wilson’s Plover – Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge TX 6/22/14
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Piping Plover – Very similar to Snowy Plover – Cape Cod MA 7/21/10

Should We be Worried?

As I blogged last week I birded the Lake Michigan Lakefront with Don and Aidan a few weeks ago. While at the Port of Indiana we heard the sound of an odd goose which Don identified as an Egyptian Goose.  An odd-looking bird which we laughed at both its appearance and call.

But inside I was worried, really worried.

And it was all the fault of Jochen blogging at 10,000 Birds.

As the goose flew by I couldn’t help but remember his story. How there were no Egyptian Geese in Germany 30 years ago and now they’re present in most of the country. I know we only saw one Egyptian Goose, but I’m sure some birder in Germany said the same thing 30 years ago. One innocent Egyptian Goose and 30 years later they are everywhere in Germany.

Since photos aren’t allowed at the Port of Indiana, here are some photos from Wikipedia with references.

Egyptian Goose
Egyptian Goose – By Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=788401
Egyptian-Goose Flight
Egyptian Goose in flight. By Andreas Trepte – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6113830

And what about the recent decision of the ABA to add the Egyptian Goose to the ABA list after Florida included them on their state list? I know, they currently don’t have a large presence but we have heard that story before.

So should we really be worried?

First, we know about the rise of the Canada Goose in the US. They weren’t here in great numbers 30 years ago but with the dramatic increase of suburbia and the ensuing retention ponds and short grass, they are now everywhere. And if I read correctly the Egyptian Goose thrives on the same type of habitat.

Secondly Germany’s climate is similar to the Midwest’s. So I don’t see that as a reason it would stop their advancement north.

And the English Channel didn’t stop them from sweeping across the UK as seen in this article.  Plus this article shows they are already in the Midwest in limited numbers.

Looking at the eBird map of Egyptian Goose there really aren’t many except in the warmer parts of the country.  But probably like many birders I never record anything in eBird not included on my state or ABA list.  It just causes too many headaches remembering what to add or take out.  So maybe there are a lot more and we just don’t know it?

Egyptian Goose
As seen by purple on this eBird Species Map, the Egyptian Goose is concentrated in the warmer parts of the US – Florida, Texas, California. At least for now.

So I wonder if we really have something to worry about. Probably not but I can’t help wonder if my daughter will be writing about the spread of the Egyptian Goose 30 years from now?

2015 – A Short Recap

First – one of the main reasons why I blog – I like to review the past weekend – month – year.

Lots of birding, and life for that fact, seems to be on the run.  Birding sometimes seems like run, check, and move on to the next spot. And for me the jury is still out on using eBird apps to list from the field. I still like to sit down at the end of the day and go over the birds I have seen. I think I”ll eventually work the apps into that routine but still not sure yet.

Favorite New Bird

Looking back my favorite new bird of 2015 was the BURROWING OWL outside Denver.  Who doesn’t love a small owl?

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With the back drop of the Rocky Mountains, a Burrowing Owl checks out the area before going and joining the rest of the group. East of Denver, CO – 6/20/15

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But the colors of GAMBEL’S QUAIL makes it a close second.

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I was amazed how close the Gambel’s Quail would come by me. Colorado National Monument- 6/21/15

And for the umpteenth year in a row CAROLINA WREN comes in as my favorite Midwest bird.

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This shot pretty well sums up my thoughts about the feisty Carolina Wren. Never sitting still and always looking about. Northwest Park – Greenwood, IN 5/2/15

Favorite Birding Adventure

I had many good adventures (really every birding outing is a good adventure) so it was hard to pick one out.

I’m going to go with chasing the CLARK’S NUTCRACKER through the alpine forest in Colorado as my best adventure on the Colorado trip and 2015. Sorry no photo of the Clark’s but here is the Alpine Forest that I would be running out of later.

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After hearing a strange call I went chasing the bird through this forest at 10,000 feet. Maybe not my best call. Uncompahgre National Forest, CO – 6/22/15

And chasing the PINYON JAY through the semi-arid landscape of Rabbit Valley and finally catching up to it was also a fun time.

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After chasing Pinyon Jays I knew they didn’t get out in the open for long. But only one decent photo? Colorado National Monument – 6/24/15

And without a doubt my best local adventure was seeing both RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and BONAPARTE’S GULLS, two new Johnson County Life birds, in one day at the same place.

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A bird I never suspected I would see in Johnson County – Bonaparte’s Gull. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

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And on the same day another county bird – Red-breasted Merganser. But in its case I figured I would eventually see one in the county. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

And 2016 has already started off with 3, count’em 3, towhees in Indiana.  What will the rest of the year bring?

A December Three Species Shorebird Day

A couple of things.  First, not one of the shorebirds was a Killdeer. And second, as you might have guessed, I wasn’t in Indiana.

Over the holidays we usually spend a few days with relatives in Connecticut. And as is my usual practice I spent the 26th walking along the Atlantic Ocean.  I don’t really care where, I just want to be birding the ocean for a day. It’s a good chance to see several species that I don’t usually get to see.  And it was even more important this year since, like the rest of the northern US, the reservoir that my relatives live on was devoid of waterfowl. Most years I get to spend time studying loons and gulls on their reservoir, but not this year. So to the beach.

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Not much happening on the local reservoir. Canton CT 12/24/15

With less birds moving south I decided to visit closer beaches in southern Connecticut instead of driving north of Boston as I have done a couple of times. Which means less chance for something uncommon but always a good day to be out.

To the beach.

I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park outside Westport, CT.  From there you can easily Long Island across the sound.

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A power station on the New York side of Long Island Sound. About 12 miles across. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

The first birds encountered were gulls, of course, but I immediately saw some shorebirds on an old pier.  First thought was the expected DUNLIN but a closer look and they were RUDDY TURNSTONES. They weren’t moving much. They seemed cold even in the unusual warm 50 degree weather?

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From the distance I initially thought these were the expected Dunlin. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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A closer view shows they were Ruddy Turnstones. Even in bad light the bright, orange legs stand out. Not an uncommon species in CT in winter. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

And the expected Gulls

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A Great Black-backed Gull leisurely flies past. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And a Herring Gull kept giving the long call about something, though I never figured out what. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Not many birds on the land portion of the park but I did have a Song Sparrow jump out. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

On these jaunts I rarely see people since the temperature is usually in the 10’s to – 20’s. But this year it was in the a fore-mentioned 50’s so there were numerous people out walking dogs or kids trying out new bikes.  So I headed to the other end of the beach. Not much happening there except a large raft of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and the occasional LONG-TAILED DUCK flying by in the distance.

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The center part of the long raft of Red-breasted Mergansers strung out along the shore. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Several came close enough for a good view. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And sometimes you just wonder. What would a piece of watermelon be doing on a beach in winter? Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

Time to head to the other 2 beaches I frequent on my trips to Connecticut.

First was South Beach in Stratford. With the wind out of the east and blowing right into the beach, not much there.  I have been there before during calm seas and have seen numerous waterfowl that I usually don’t get a chance to see.

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The waves wind and waves were coming straight into South Beach. Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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But across the channel were numerous gulls – Great Black-backed, Herring, and Ring-billed. Too bad I didn’t have my spotting scope. South Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

I checked out the gulls and on to the other beach in Stratford – Long Beach.

It was now getting late in the afternoon and with cloudy skies it was getting dark. I walked the beach checking the gulls and waterfowl flying by. On the second breakwall there were a flock of shorebirds.  The expected DUNLIN!  And mixed in were several SANDERLING.

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Mainly Dunlin, but the obviously whitish, grayer Sanderling mixed in on the breakwall. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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The gulls don’t seem to bother the shorebirds. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

 

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One of the Dunlins decided to give a good view of its wing pattern. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

The DUNLIN were as inactive as the RUDDY TURNSTONES had been but the SANDERLING in their normal behavior couldn’t sit still.  It was fun to watch them run along the beach picking at things.

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A few photos of one of the Sanderlings picking and running along the beach. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

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When I turned to head back I saw a flock of small birds land in the grass along the beach. It had to be SNOW BUNTINGS. And they were really tough to see in the grass. No wonder Mike and I couldn’t see them along the shore of Lake Michigan.  They are tough to see.

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Snow Buntings being super camouflaged. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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Where’s Waldo?
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Finally one of the Snow Buntings came out in the open. Still darn tough to see. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

And with a slight rain beginning to fall I called the end to another winter Connecticut Beach walk.

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Ring-billed Gull thought it would pose for a photo right before I got in the car. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

 

 

Colorado’s Last Stop – Veltus Park

This will be a short post to wrap up the travelogue portion of the Colorado trip.  A later post will compare it to other areas I have birded.

Since I didn’t fly out of Denver until late in the day, I had some time to bird on the drive back and still make the four-hour drive.  I chose a city park in the tourist town of Glenwood Springs not far off the interstate since it was known for Lewis’s Woodpeckers.

The birding there was considerably different from what I had experienced the previous 5 days.  Since the park was in a tourist town, it actually had people in the park.  Which was unlike the more remote places I had been birding.

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Least Chipmunk – Veltus Park, Glenwood Springs, CO 6/25/15

I don’t think I missed the Lewis’s Woodpecker, but it’s not going on my list.  A bird with an undulating woodpecker flight flew over that was black with reddish underparts.  Not a good enough view to call it a Lewis’s though.  A little later I heard tapping from an adjoining private property which kept me from investigating.  So Lewis’s is still off the life list.

I did see one more new bird in the small park.  I first heard and then tracked down an empid.  After getting a look it wasn’t hard to ID as a Cordilleran Flycatcher since it was bright yellow, unlike the gray empids I had been seeing on the trip.

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Cordilleran Flycatcher – Veltus Park – Glenwood Springs, CO 6/25/15

Otherwise the park was quiet.

It was then back to the Denver Airport, a 2 hour wait that turned into a 5 hour wait due to thunderstorms, and getting home a lot later then planned at 2AM.  Luckily I didn’t need to be anywhere the next day.

So for anyone keeping score out there, I ended the trip with 96 species of which 27 where life birds.