Thursday, December 31, 2015

Frozen Pursuits

Point Beach State Park
At the end of it all, I returned back to my hometown in Wisconsin. Arizona is a great place to bird, but my interest these days centers around this Great Lake state.   Today I have a lot of questions about the Two Rivers and Manitowoc areas. I grew up here playing in a lot of the fields, forests and farmland along Lake Michigan. I'm now exploring as an adult and have many many questions. As I spent time with family, I, of course, wove in the necessary birding needed to find several important life birds. 

Long-tailed Ducks
I believe my book studies of the state are now leading me to a return home for the summer. On this trek, weather played a strong role in what I could and could not do.  A major snow storm blew into the area and disrupted my bird tour.  It was frustrating but I liked relaxing with the family at the same time.  

Snow Bunting
Both the Manitowoc and Two Rivers harbors are excellent for scoters, loons, ducks, rare gulls and many other amazing birds like the Snow Buntings and Long-tailed Ducks above.  

Then it was off to the Killsnake State Wildlife Area(also within Manitowoc County) for Short-eared Owls.  I had a fantastic observation as 10 owls were on the hunt.  As one of them caught lunch, they all descended into the grasses and disappeared.  Pretty amazing show!

Short-eared Owl

Everyday was overcast. And some days were downright blustery. At one point, water edged both sides of the road and had me a little nervous.  

Killsnake Wildlife Area
I had never heard of this area before nor had my family.  The birds educate me about their habitat and force me to discover new places. 

As I returned from my venture, I stopped for a quick lunch and watched this Ring-billed Gull hang out in the parking lot. 

Ring-billed Gull
Another great spot for Common Redpolls, American Tree Sparrows and Northern Saw-whet Owls is the Woodland Dunes Nature Center off of Highway 310 in Two Rivers.  I was hoping that Common Redpolls had arrived but I was a bit early for these birds to see them at the feeders.  Right now they are hanging out in the woods along with the White-winged Crossbills:) However, I did have nice observations of several birds I don't get to see often. 

Woodland Dunes Nature Center
Then I heard about this Snow Storm Ashley being discussed at the nature center.  It was scheduled to hit Two Rivers Tuesday night.  The bitter wind had kicked up and birds were quiet.  In fact, many of them had all but disappeared. Where do they go?!?!  And right before the storm, there was a feeding frenzy at the feeders. 

American Tree Sparrow
Birds flew in and out and they filled their bills with seed and suet. 

Red-bellied Woodpecker
One of the most difficult challenges on this trip was locating a rare Whooping Crane.  They are not posted on ebird nor are they to be mentioned by others about their location. Their protected endangered status and numbers parallel that of the California Condor...except that their locations are kept hidden. For an out-of-state birder, this can be very tricky with all the secrets.  But somehow, days before my trip, I had been reading that there still was a lingering Whooping Crane in the area.  Magill and Kathie gave me the extra nudge and courage I needed to explore this HUGE area.  

Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
During my ride into the ever darkening skies, I noticed several Sandhill Cranes in flight.  While I knew I was on my own with this bird, I followed my instincts and followed the Sandhill Cranes in flight.  As I did, I was careful to navigate myself into a farmer's field where they all were landing.  

One Whooping Crane next to a couple Sandhill Cranes
As I parked my car, I scanned the fields and found my bird rather easily!  In a subtle message from the bird gods, I was reminded of my 2015 start.  We went on January 1st to find a "lost" Common Crane in Roswell, New Mexico.   It only seemed appropriate that I would end my year with the last of the cranes needed for my life list in the US.  And it was an amazing experience that I shared alone.  Of course, I had been texting the crew about my chase, but ultimately, it was me in the car alone.  It's times like this one when I wish I could share this important bird observation with my friends.  For several of them, this would be a lifer.   If anything, I now have a better idea where I can take them for this bird if they visit the state. 

Top to bottom and left to right-Common Crane, Sandhill Cranes; Sandhill Cranes, Whooping Crane
Much of my wanderings were done alone.  And there is value in this.  Sometimes it's best to bird alone and keep sharpening those necessary tracking skills.  I like playing a detective whether it's finding a bird or scouting new habitat.  Connecting the dots builds the knowledge base and makes me a better birder. 

Exploring habitat for a future search of the American Woodcock at Woodland Dunes
Meanwhile my Packer loving family was shocked to watch the Pack lose to the Arizona Cardinals:)  Bird power rocks!

Then came Winter Storm Ashley.  More to come from the scenic Wisconsin......

Saturday, December 26, 2015

To The North

Dark-eyed Junco(Red-backed)

I love the cold.  And I especially love birding in it!  Well, let me define "cold".  It's anywhere between 20 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. On a trek to the North of Arizona, we journeyed once again to the lands of Heber-Overgaard for a rare visiting Carolina Wren. 

Snow Goose
The week before this exciting trip, I was mired in final exams.  The grading was grueling so I treated myself to some short birding after work finished.  At a park nearby work, I went to observe a friendly Snow Goose in its' blue molt. Normally they are very white, but I wanted better observations of this different molt.  Pretty interesting stuff.  The Snow Goose became quick friends with a fisherman along the lake who was the feeding the bird. 

I also wanted to hang out at the duck ponds near my home and watch the Canvasback swim around the area.  They are regular visitors here during the winter. 

Canvasback Drake
When the work week finished, it was time to play.  And it was time to do some serious birding.  I met up with Gordon, Magill(straight up birder with binos and a scope; no camera; no nonsense:) and Babs as we set our sights on the Carolina Wren.  We found the bird within moments after we arrived at the residential spot.  The sun was rising and we were not able to get any photos of the wren before it flew off.  But we saw it!  The meaningful birding happened for me afterwards. 

American Dipper
I didn't want to bird Heber-Overgaard just for the Carolina Wren.  I wanted to revisit the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery again.  It's a unique habitat with a gorgeous setting!

The road is only several miles long but it has a different kind of habitat that attracts some amazing birds!  It was quiet.  I was surrounded by friends.  And we were in a snowy "holiday feeling" birder's paradise. For years, I have tried to redefine what "Christmas" is to me.  And I couldn't.  It doesn't have any religious connection for me, but it does have some meaning when it is spent with family and friends.  Walking in the snow with friends reminded me of my childhood as I played outside with the neighborhood gang.  It all made sense.  This year I have found meaning through wildlife in marriage, death, work and in this personal journey.  

Words cannot describe how complete it all felt at the end of the road(literally!).   The American Dipper would become the bird of the year for me.  Seen in Utah, Colorado and in Arizona, this bird completed my 2015 birding journey in the Western States.  And it was always observed with excellent friends. 

The American Dipper is a really fascinating bird that feeds from fast moving creeks, streams and rivers.  It jumped from mossy rock to branch along the only stretch of emerald green left in the snowy covered banks of the river. 

Our group really loved watching these birds and for a couple of them, it was their first time at this location.  Gordon and I both ventured into this area during the past summer.  I wanted to go back in winter and explore this spot again.  Glad we did!  I added the Pacific Wren as my 700th bird to my life list. 

Bald Eagles
Bald Eagles watched over us as we exited the vehicle.  There were at least four flying around the area.  

The magical world of birds keeps all of our inner child alive at any age and it binds us together on this lifelong trek.  It gives meaning and purpose to my life as it does for my birder friends.  I loved this moment below of my friend Gordon as he begins a new chapter of his life.  He is a retired man now and I cannot wait to see where the road will take him!  The most meaningful life adventure lies ahead for him.  

Gordon travels the Beeline Highway
Happy Holidays everyone!  As another year comes to an end; another is about to start.  Thank you for following Las Aventuras this year.  We'll see you back next year with another chapter and many more adventures! Until next time!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The 700 Club

Green Jay-in Chiapas, the Green Jays have yellow eyes.  In Texas, Green Jays have dark eyes.
If there's one thing about a growing life bird list, it's learning that you have to be patient.  The first and middle part of 600 was not easy at all.  And I have to admit, I was doubting I'd hit my year goal of 700 by the end of December. 

Rose-bellied Bunting or as it was once called, Rosita's Bunting
Many of the birds on my 600 list are neotropical birds.  They are some of the hardest birds to spot.  And while I'd like to say I'm getting better at finding them, I'm not:) 

White-winged Tanager
So I learned some valuable things on my personal journey to the 700 Club.  No more large groups.  I know I will have to do this down the road again, but I do not prefer large numbers of people.  While I enjoyed their company, knowledge and friendship, I much prefer the quiet and slow methods I use in the field alone or with friends.  And there's something special about ID'ing a new life bird on your own....

Stripe-throated Hermit
Every day there was something new flying past me and I couldn't keep up!  It was exhausting and fun.  The one thing I loved about our organized tour in Mexico?  The transportation.  It was nice to be told to meet the leaders at their buses each day at a certain time. When I do these treks alone, I always have to think about how I will attack the bird challenge.  Many times I stay in one spot for a week and really bird the heck out of it both day and night.  On our trek into Chiapas, it was FIVE new locales in FIVE days! 

Crimson-collared Tanager
It was amazing and the leaders were wonderful.  The reason for this important trek into Chiapas was for the endemic and difficult to find birds like the Nava's Wren, Pink-headed Warblers, Blue Seedeater and Long-tailed Sabrewing.  These were the birds I needed help finding because some of the birds were on private lands or in hard to access areas.  So in the shadows of the forests, we searched and searched for these brilliant birds. 

Barred Antshrike
Along the way, I found lots of other cool birds like this Olive Sparrow below.  The sparrow species make me smile and they are one of my favorites.  

Olive Sparrow
We saw trogons, motmots, chachalacas, guans and curassows, and lots of other brightly colored birds. 

Russet-crowned Motmot
So what am I feeling right now at the 700 level?  It's hard to explain, but I feel like I'm sinking into a birder stereotype that I fear most.  It's the one where I become a much more serious person.  It's the one where I lose human emotion and isolate myself in a space only filled with birds.  I'll try and fight that inner lifeless scientist away because birds are more than just data. I still will be a scientist in my own right....just one who laughs and enjoys the adventures along the way. I've met a lot of birders who can be too serious for their own good! The experience to 700 is completely different than the one I took to 100, 200 or even 300.  I'm a sharper knife now.  And with every moment free, I find myself engrossed in a bird book or TV program or studying new areas around the US and world. 

Great Curassow
As I sit in my car, fly in a plane or read reports, I separate the good and bad observations happening out in the field.  I add some of my own rare birds.  Others report their rare birds.  And so on and so forth....

Northern Bobwhite
But 700 was difficult.  I'm not going to lie.  It was the hardest challenge yet. 

Ruddy-breasted Seedeater
Sometimes it was the culture.  Utah challenged me with its 1950's culture of "Keeping Up With The Joneses".  Yuck! And California made me yearn for the open lands back in Arizona. There are too many people in that state!  However, when I spotted a new California endemic bird, I forgot about all of it and just smiled. 

Streak-backed Oriole
Mexico made me smile because I truly love this country and our time in Chiapas flew by so quickly there. It's been years since I visited this country's interior due to the drug trafficking and kidnapping. I can say that Mexico has become safer again for travel!  But still, I'm not taking any chances.  I'll always travel with a group of people now to this country. In February, Las Aventuras will return to Sonora, Mexico for another bird trek!

White-fronted Parrot
Then there were the birds!  Mexican birds hid.  Sea birds zipped past our vessels.  Other birds were perfectly camouflaged! 

Nava's Wren
And some birds challenged my patience!  This bird above is the number one success story of the year. The Nava's Wren hides in the dark shadows of Mexico's dry rain forest. It's habitat is very tight.  There are only 9 locations where this bird can be found and it's in some rather remote areas. We waited and waited and waited for this bird.  Some birders were super sick due to food poisoning, but by the bird gods, everyone made sure they saw the Nava's Wren.  One man collapsed onto the ground waiting to see this bird.  Now that's dedication!

Lesser Roadrunner
Four years ago I began this journey.  There are over 10,000 birds on this planet which leaves me approximately 9,300 more birds to find:) Oh may the BIRD GODS be good to me!  I'll certainly die trying to find them all!

Plain Chachalaca
A lot of strategic planning goes into everything I do. I like the planning part a lot.  It's the budgeting I hate!

Green Violetear
For next year, I'm planning on setting my life bird goal at 800....maybe 850.  I'm tossing around ideas like Canada, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Cuba, Florida...or just a simple summer, vacationing in my beautiful home state of Wisconsin.  And of course, I will do my mandatory pelagic like I do each and every year. But who knows where that will take place. 

Blue Seedeater-a difficult bird to find!
There are many California birds I still need to find.  There are still many Wisconsin birds I need to find.  But overall, North America is starting to shrink:) Yet still....there are hundreds of new birds that need to be found.  Some birds require their own trek!

Long-tailed Jaeger
Casual ocean treks will now be very focused and calculated. 

Sooty Shearwater
A Bay Area trip, with a Monterrey or Half Moon Bay stop, will be needed. But that is something I want to do with Micheal. 

Pomarine Jaeger
North America is a great big continent to explore.  One could easily spend a lifetime here discovering everything there is to know about our wildlife. I can't believe how much I've learned in such a short amount of time.  But my mind is like a sponge.  I'm a detective on a case. 

California Quail
I imagine I am the bird sometimes.  This helps me figure out where they may be hiding.  And quite a few of these birds like to hide!

As this chapter of "Americano" comes to an end; another will begin.  Where will it take us?  Your guess is as good as mine.  But it's sure going to be a fun ride!  Over the next several weeks, at least until the end of the year, Las Aventuras will be leaving the desert once more to find a few more new bird species. In January, I will feature the highlights of 2015. Until next time.... 

The Pacific Wren
Number 700 was the Pacific Wren.  It was seen in the snow with most excellent company.  Birds take us to fantastic and magical places.  You never know where you'll wind up.  Until next time!