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
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
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
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
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
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??
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.
Being from the cornfields I spent time watching and photographing the Gulls at both locations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I get to the top the break wall I’m jolted by an eruption of birds with a strange call taking flight.
They had been on the other side of the break wall.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
I enjoyed watching them fly back and forth up the coast and out to sea to feed. Their slow, efficient wing beats in unison.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
But the colors of GAMBEL’S QUAIL makes it a close second.
And for the umpteenth year in a row CAROLINA WREN comes in as my favorite Midwest bird.
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.
And chasing the PINYON JAY through the semi-arid landscape of Rabbit Valley and finally catching up to it was also a fun time.
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.
And 2016 has already started off with 3, count’em 3, towhees in Indiana. What will the rest of the year bring?
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.
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.
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?
And the expected Gulls
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And with a slight rain beginning to fall I called the end to another winter Connecticut Beach walk.
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.
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.
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.