Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Plum Island

Wild Turkey
On the way down to visit Kathie's family in Connecticut, we stopped at a birder hot spot known as Plum Island.  It is a place that is widely spoken about in birder circles.  And we weren't going to pass up this opportunity!

Plum Island is a research area designed to help protect birds and their nesting grounds. While we were there, I spotted several people involved in research and safeguarding nest sites. 

American Redstart-finally nailed a shot of this bird!  They are tricky!

The purpose of our trip?  There were a few life birds here, but overall, it was about exploration and just enjoying better observations on birds I had already seen.  We had killer views of the American Redstart, Mute Swans, Bobolinks, nesting Song Sparrows and so much more.  

Nesting Song Sparrow
Exploration takes time.  And while on a birding trek, time always runs short.  It's just impossible to do it all.  I have a clock inside my head that consistently tells me how much time we have for each stop.  And there were way too many!  We examined every patch of reeds, tree, beach area, and fence post for that Eastern flavored Willet, Common Yellowthroat or Eastern Kingbird. 

Eastern Kingbird
While the traffic was consistent, it wasn't overwhelming like the Mt. Washington Auto Road.  People rushed to the very last beach area.  I'm not sure why as the beach was not one of the better human ones I've seen, but that's what people do. 

Eastern Willet
Along the way, we stopped.  There had been so much activity in each area that it "required" us to investigate further. 

I loved being around natural water areas again.  It's something most people take for granted.  For Arizonans, it is quite the treat. 

Also nice?  Finding Least Terns hovering around their nesting sites on the beach!

Least Tern flying over nest site
And along the way, I fell in love with Plum Island.  As of late, my eyes have been focused on the nesting habits of birds.  While none of the birds here were life birds, it was quite fulfilling to witness these birds on their breeding grounds. 

This sign made me so happy. There not only was a person watching over the nesting areas, but they were roped off with signs!  There have been many issues over this past year from states dealing with various endangered birds.  Two Whooping Cranes were shot in Louisiana in February.  A whole colony of nesting Least Terns in Florida were wiped out because several dog owners let their pooches off leashes on Disappearing Island.  It's not a bad thing to take the dog out for a walk, but here's why they should NEVER be allowed off their leashes in many areas........ 

Tiny and magical.....a baby Piping Plover!
Several small cotton balls caught my attention while on the beach. Now imagine a dog here and the damage it could do.

Piping Plover
I stood absolutely still as the little ones came running towards me. The endangered Piping Plovers!  Never in my life had I expected to observe the young ones running around on the beach!  I first saw these magnificent plovers in Florida this year at Bunche Beach.  We watched the parents protect these little ones on this very active beach.  And I realized it is a pretty dangerous world when you have hungry gulls flying around you or little kids not paying attention while they do what kids do:)   A Great black-backed gull flew nearby and chased these little ones to their parents. 

They called to their parents.  And their parents called back. Then the tiny Piping Plover turned towards the parent and.....

They both hid under the wings of their parent. That touching moment really made me feel something. I'm not one to overtly say "Awww", but this little scene reminded me that I do have a heart:)  The parent sat out in the middle of the beach, exposed, with the little ones clinging underneath the wings. The other parent observed from the nesting area.  If they needed to escape, the parent would call from the location and lead them back into the safety zone.  It was pretty cool to witness it all. With this particular plover, mother and father work as a team. 

I see human kids running around on the beach nearby and I want to place a magical force field around these birds to protect them, but sadly, I do not own this technology....yet.  I just have to trust that the person watching over the nesting Least Terns and Piping Plovers will warn the parents and their kids to look where they are running.  I hesitantly walk away from the scene.  

As the evening begins to set, we must continue our way down to Connecticut.  We stop along the way to count more birds. 

And I am granted a life bird.  The Eastern Towhee. 

Eastern Towhee
I wish I had more time, but there is only the time given.  That's it!  I feel I've made the best of my life, but I find myself frustrated that I get hungry or need to use the bathroom at times.  If I forget to drink, I get a headache!  Food, bathroom, people, transportation really use up a lot of time.  There were a lot of interesting people around the area.  However if we stopped to chat, we'd use up our daylight hours.  There is only one safe time to speak with a birder.  Unless they are owling, it's usually right after sunset.  You will have their attention for a couple hours before they fall quickly asleep as the next day is always an early one:)   

Birding is as beautiful as the Mute Swan. I won't get into the invasive part:) Plum Island is a must visit spot for the nature enthusiast.   Until next time....

For more birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday

Sunday, July 27, 2014


Gray Fox
We may love birds, but we're no dummies.  When a mammal, lizard, new plant, frog or bug shows up, we snap pics. And who can refuse those outlandish sunsets or epic landscapes? Our trip to New England was phenomenal in that we were able to observe so many wonderful mammals!

Red Squirrel
I will say that they are much easier to capture on camera than a bird:)  And sometimes while I'm behind the camera, I have to remember where I have my footing so that I don't fall into a pond or get too close to the large elk, bear or moose!  Just a little closer....and BAM! I have a squirrel on top of my head tearing the hair out! Can you tell that I have an active imagination?:)

Luckily, nature has been good to me.  No bear attacks or getting an antler jabbed into my belly.  The scariest encounters with mammals I've had have been with a mother Javelina and her babies!  It wasn't something I had been planning.  We just crossed paths together at the same time accidentally and in that moment, I thought "Oh $#%!".  

I've been mobbed by a nesting Northern Mockingbird in a parking lot.  And a Zone-tailed Hawk swooped down on my head when I accidentally got too close to her nest.  So for the most part, the trails have been kind to me:)

Red Fox
In Kathie's world, there are so many furry critters.  Everywhere we went, there was a new life mammal.  I had never seen a Groundhog or Weasel before!

But the most exciting find came from a secretive patch of forest near the New Hampshire/Maine border.  A big man in a teal rusty truck drove towards us and asked in strange drawl, "You folks wanna see a moose?!  There's one down this way feeding in the pond. " So we all looked at each other and forgot about birds for one brief moment and high tailed it down "the road" as quietly as we could.  Now the man must have said something to someone else because a noisy motorcycle from New York sped loudly in from behind us. 

Thankfully, he shut off his loud motor and we were able to observe this incredibly beautiful moment together.  For quite some time, we stood and just marveled at some classic New England beauty.  

A Chipmunk
I'm not sure which of the critters were my favorite because they were all so cool, but if I had to pick one.....

It would be the Gray Fox.  There is an intelligence with these creatures and many times while we were birding in Kathie's backyard, they'd come to visit us.  

So while mammals aren't our primary targets, they are still loved and admired.   Nature is awesome and should be enjoyed as a whole.  More to come....

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Birder's Bird

A quick note on this post today. If you're eating breakfast, lunch, etc, wait until after your done.  There's a fascinating nature pic in this  post, but I personally wouldn't want to be eating and reading at the same time on this photo journey. You've been warned:) So let's begin this birding adventure......

Beth explores the Alpine Garden
The day began well.  We met up with the lovely Beth Standard to find a bird that not only is hard to ID but also difficult to locate inside the dense evergreen forest.  The Bicknell's Thrush.  

Dark-eyed Junco
The night before, I researched field notes and sightings around the Mt. Washington area. Beth had gone on a field study of the birds some time back.  Together, we all hoped to locate this bird. 

Pic courtesy of Wikipedia
The Bicknell's Thrush is not by any means a dazzling bird.  There are no reds or blues or long tailed feathers. It's also a cryptic species in that it looks practically identical to another thrush known as the Gray-cheeked Thrush. However, the Bicknell's is smaller in size. And because it's practically unknown to the general public, it is known as the "Birder's Bird".  Or a bird that is of interest to birders.

Luckily, the Gray-cheeked Thrush was far north up into Canada and Alaska on their breeding grounds. The Bicknell's, however, breed in the highest mountains of the Northeast like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and a place called Canada.  It's range is very limited and therefore the bird is listed as Vulnerable.  During the winter months, it lives in the higher altitudes of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 

A windy top!

But this experience, for me, was frustrating for so many reasons. This isn't a place I'd recommend for birders.  As the Mt. Washington Auto Road suggests, it's for people who like to drive to the top and back down again. The noise pollution interfered with my ability to listen to the very tricky call of the Bicknell's. Because this was a one time event, we had to locate the bird early and before other motorists arrived.  

Blackpoll Warbler....Life bird!!!  Field note: Orange legs and feet
We arrived to the entrance station where a very brassy guy moved to put Kathie's car into first gear.  She knew exactly where first gear was located and didn't need a man doing it for her!  The nerve! Oh but that was just the start. The sticker price for this trip was EXPENSIVE!!!   With 4 individuals, it was around 50 bucks.  In my mind, I'm thinking that this was ridiculous. For one bird!  Yet there were several of these special thrushes located around the 3.5 mile marker and we needed to get to that spot before they stopped calling.  There is a window for these birds....early morning or before sunset.  If we missed it, we would have dipped. 

Dark-eyed Junco around the alpine level
The other option is to hike the steep mountain sides super early in the morning, but our team was not up for that one.  

Along the way, we heard so many wonderful birds calling but we couldn't stop.  The 3.5 marker first.  Then bird.  Target birding is tricky business and can be frustrating at times. Also frustrating? Motor vehicles and very few pull offs in the wrong spots! If we tried to stop, there would be a car or motorcycle right behind us.  The forest was beautiful and the vista was incredible.  We eventually reached the marker and pulled over.  Immediately we were able to hear the thrushes calling.  It was around 8 AM.  But the question was, "Was it a Swainson's or Bicknell's calling?"  I had Veery and Hermit Thrushes nailed at this point.  We were too high for the Wood Thrush so I could eliminate that call.  

One of the most fascinating finds of the day.  It's gross and cool at the same time.  This one goes out to my friend Donna who has taught me to investigate everything with a careful eye.  The colorful beetles are known as Sexton beetles.  It's a Carrion or Burying beetle and I'll leave it at that.  
But the other two?  Eventually after their repetitive calling, we could hear the frequency difference. Plus the Swainson's has a call that goes up.  BUT THE CARS AND PEOPLE!!!  Random people would stop and say, "Seeing anything good?"  My anger and frustration began to rise.  Kathie, who is all things patient and good, took over and spoke with the drivers and their running cars.  This bird was an expensive gamble and I wanted to make sure we were hearing it.  

Eastern Phoebe
Once we positively ID'd the birds, we tried to locate them in the thick of the trees.  Beth, Micheal, and Kathie all were able to get their eyes on one or two. But I wasn't going to call the bird if I didn't get a glance at it.  I became quiet.  Kathie and Micheal know me best and they could feel that I wasn't doing well. I, of course, created this stupid drama inside my head. I can call an owl or nightjar by sound and count it, why couldn't I do this with the Bicknell's Thrush? Probably because there were two flitting around the Spruce and Balsam Fir trees! Oh I saw them flitting but I wanted detailed observations!  But the cars wouldn't stop! Not much makes me react, but the trip up this cheesy road with a stupid bumper sticker that said "This car climbed Mt. Washington" made my blood boil.  Really? Just how much effort does it take for a person to put their foot on a gas pedal all the way to the top? Absolutely stupid. Nothing says tacky like this sticker does.
I'd like to stick this somewhere
Further down the road, we stopped and hiked a side trail. It was here my moment with the Bicknell's would happen. I was still skeptical of the near lookalike known as Swainson. But I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I heard the bird call and saw the bird briefly fly mid-level on a tree.  It was like, "I'm here!  Don't stress!" And then it flew away back into the trees.  

Two thrushes.  Behavior, habitat and altitude can dictate everything.  The Bicknell's Thrush is located in the lower right hand corner and prefers mid to lower levels of the tree near the ground.  In the upper left?  A Swainson's Thrush.  It is a thrush that feeds higher up in the trees.  It also behaves similar to a flycatcher at times and that behavior alone separates itself from other thrushes. 
All of this drama for one bird. It really is a beautiful mountain with some epic landscape, but I will never go on this road again.  If someone wants to go hiking, I'm up for it.  The motorists and talkative, fast paced hikers along the trails really make the birding tough.  By the time you get your eye on a bird, somebody is rumbling by and there goes the bird.  For the hikers reading this post, this is an absolute MUST!  YES!  Great accommodations for you! New England was epic, but I can say that I will NEVER return to the Auto Road of Mt. Washington.  Everything else that followed was fun and exciting.  The Bicknell's Thrush definitely lives up to its' title.....A Birder's Bird.  

Hikers stop here for a steep climb up at Pinkham Notch Visitor Center.  Really nice place with showers, etc for the hiking crowd.  This is at the base of Mt. Washington.....a very different experience than the Auto Road. 
For an interesting video on the Bicknell's Thrush, click here. Like everything, the Bicknell's Thrush was an experience that won't be forgotten anytime soon.  I blog from the heart because that's what it's all about.  I know there will be more challenges ahead.  I can say that what came before and followed the Bicknell's experience was truly wonderful.  Stay tuned for more from our New England adventures..... 

Thursday, July 17, 2014


The ocean cast her misty net around us.  A thunderous clap could be heard from the far off distance.  The fog had arrived and there was no escape. 

I imagined witches and warlocks flying around the isles of these waters. 

The wheel of the ancient mill churned the waters of the fast moving stream. A light rain fell from the sky. Did a wizard live here?

Modern day folk relied on their local weather forecaster to predict the weather changes.  Half the time, their prophesies were wrong. And so we navigated around the constant change of elements.

And while we didn't find a witch or warlock, I suspected they were there. For we spied upon crows and......

....a Snowy Owl?  Most people thought we were looking at the house and stopped to snap pictures.  Because that's what people do. But did they notice that something so rare and beautiful was on top of the chimney?  No Snowy Owl remains in July.  But this one did. 

Hedwig.  It had to be.  Harry Potter's Snowy Owl.  Only a dedicated Owl would stay in Maine during the summer. Harry and his friends must be vacationing from England. 

This life bird lived up to its' reputation. The epic landscape and weather changes around Maine were incredible. Most of the Snowy Owls should be up north on their breeding grounds, but this one stuck around just long enough for us to visit.  Pure magic. 
For more incredible birds, check out Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Tatooine Factor

The large Plain-capped "Star"throat
A long time ago in a galaxy far far way, I was able to comfortably hike and count birds.  But with the desert heat right now, I'm trying to figure out if I should pull out those dusty Star Wars toys and reenact the desert planet of Tatooine or really try and bird?

Who can resist the mesmerizing blues of the Broad-billed Hummingbird male? Like a blue lightsaber
Lately it seems I have been role playing on Endor, or the moon that is home to all the Ewoks.  There have been trees, critters and of course, ticks!  But now I'm back on Tatooine.  

My favorite shot of the day.  Plumbeous Vireo love!

My tolerance factor for the heat and humidity is rather low.  People put on weight during their Hoth(the snow planet) months in most places.  I put mine on during our summer months.  Plus I really like food and cool temps.  So I Eat. Sleep. Bird.  Sounds like a book title! 

Epic!  I've heard them so many times, but never had the opportunity to see one.  A very special moment with the Whiskered screech-owl or the secretive Yoda
While I'm not by any means trying to do a big year, it's the only time I will ever be close to doing one.  My goal this year is to stay in the top 100 for the United States.  Right now I'm in the 30's which is great, but I do need to find several more birds that are right here in Arizona.  That's what's great about this place!  We have most of the birds right here all year round!  And the chases are especially exciting during monsoon season.  

A microburst on the grasslands gives us some relief with cooler temps
 Random birds come into the state due to powerful weather systems or what some may call the "Force".  For example, while I already found the Tricolored Heron in Florida this year, it was a thrill to discover a Juvenile hidden in a trashy golf course spot up in a tree!

Juvenile Tricolored Heron
While we were observing this bird, I was sweating my #$@* off! And oh the heat exhaustion!  What's that?  Drink water you say?  Oh I do. It still doesn't help with the heat:) There are times I'd like to go into the woods and take a whole bag of ice cubes and rub them all over my body. But the birds!  They are most excellent and can ONLY be found this time of year!

The Phoenician Kingbirds....left to right.....Tommy D, Mark Ochs and Gordon Karre
It's good to have friends to motivate along the trails.  Buddies who will play Star Wars with you.  Just as long as they aren't too rough on the action figures!  Oh I hear someone snickering out there in bloggerland.  Yeah I heard that.  They aren't dolls! NEVER!  Guys play with action figures! 

A Yarrow's Spiny Lizard gets a little snack-my Luke Skywalker action figure would fit perfectly on the back!
 Anyhow, we had a lot of laughing on that day as we searched for rarities and other fun birds.  They are called the Phoenician Kingbirds.  Because we live in Arizona, we get all kinds of Kingbirds.....Tropical, Thick-billed, Western, Cassin's, and even the rare and occasional Eastern.  My schnoz is pretty big so my code name is Thick-billed Kingbird. 

Tiger Beetle love-the robots of the wild world!
Check out these alien action figures in the desert right now!  That's why it's so hard to stay indoors when all this fun is happening right outside my door!

an Indigo Bunting uses the force
I still need to collect several more action figures to complete my set here on Tatooine.  There is one spot hotter than hell and it's called Korriban(aka Phoenix, home of the Sith leader Jan Brewer).  In that locale, I can pick up 2 new birds for the national list this year.  I've already seen both, but it would still be fun to find them.  They are the Least Bittern and Barn Owl.  Due to a schedule conflict this year, I missed my Tundra Swan opportunity up in Prescott but picked up my lifers, the Mute Swans, in Massachusetts. Other birds include the Five-striped Sparrow but it's in a dangerous drug runner area and I won't go alone. They are known as the Sand People. In Maine, I only had to worry about ticks.  In Arizona, I have to worry about my safety! This is what I call the "Dark Side". The California Gulch should be birded with a group. So that bird is off my list until it moves further up from the border by the end of the month. Another includes the larking Cassin's Sparrow.  And I have another trip planned to find the Mexican Chickadee in one of my favorite places in Arizona!  Portal.  More animals live there than humans do and it's evident everywhere you turn!

San Pedro house near Sierra Vista
We have definitely begun Monsoon Madness and it should be a quite a show. I wonder if they sell air conditioning suits?  Anyhow, "May the force be with you!"  More from Maine coming up......

For more birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday. Photos featured today are from Madera Canyon, Florida Canyon, Ramsey Canyon and the San Pedro Riparian area.