Northwest Ohio in May is…for the birds. No really. It is a very birdy place. It has been my favorite place to visit on the North American continent in May for more than 30 years. And I cannot wait to go back there again this May. It is home to one of the most amazing displays of bird migration. There are many migration hot spots in the East. Your home state probably has a few good areas. And maybe you have ticked all 37 species of eastern wood warblers that occur here in Northwest Ohio, seen all the thrushes, tanagers, buntings, and orioles (and many, many more species). So why visit Biggest Week? Aren't there huge crowds of people? Isn't it hard to find lodging and places to eat? Can't I see all those birds somewhere else? Even if you have all these birds, you should visit this area of Northwest Ohio at least once in your life and experience it for yourself. Yes. There are huge crowds. But with a little planning and patience, your experience should still be unforgettable–even if you don't enjoy big crowds. For lodging and food you should also plan ahead or you will find yourself 30 minutes (or more) away from the comforts and conveniences “civilization”.Continue reading
Packing up this morning (3/11/2013) for an early morning departure for Ft. Myers, FL. I will be a keynote speaker, classroom presenter, and field guide for the 2013 Big “O” Birding Festival on the southwest shores of Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Florida? Again? Oooooh, yeaaaah!!! Gonna see some kites (and many other cool birds) like these guys:
What a nice weekend in North Bend State Park near Cairo, WV! I got a chance to bird with this friendly group Saturday, March 9, 2013. I spoke to them Saturday evening and then we watched the movie, The Big Year. This morning (Sunday) I got a chance to visit local feeders there to see a real treat, Evening Grosbeaks!
Winding out my Florida trip after the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival was over, I tried once again for some of the rare birds that were still around. The bananaquit had not been seen in the last 2 weeks, but the western spindalis was still sporadically being reported from Virginia Key near Miami, FL. Although unsuccessful again with the spindalis, the bonus bird was a nice adult dark morph Short-tailed Hawk. Returning in late afternoon to Green Cay in Boynton Beach, FL, I was successful with the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. Not only did I get to hear it call, but I got to see it in fading light, perched and fairly well hidden behind quite an array of branches and leaves. Unfortunately, not a one of my photos turned out very well. None are presented here. But the Short-tailed Hawk? Ah. Well. That was quite rewarding as this species goes. It is often seen flying at quite a height or you just catch a glimpse as it zooms overhead at treetop level hunting the treetops for small birds.
Anyone who keeps bird lists and wants to get the best bang for the buck has to go to several geographic locations at different seasons. For Big Year folks, this means (in addition to chasing rarities) visits to what refer to as “The Big 5”. These are the 5 states where you can pick up a huge number of regular species and also be in proximity to potential rarities showing up while you are there. These states are Alaska, California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. All of these states have unique specialty birds–birds that occur more commonly there than many other places (and a few are completely unique to those areas). What’s it like to visit a birding festival in one of these locations? Read on. I will tell you about my trip to Brevard County, Florida for the an old and well-recognized festival, the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. The epicenter of the birding action here is the very birdy Merritt Island NWR near Titusville, FL.
I arrived in Florida late Sunday afternoon, 1/20/2013, with 3 hours of daylight to burn. Spending that time at Merritt Island NWR seemed like a good plan. And 70 species later I would say, “Yes. That was a good choice.”
Merritt Island NWR is a big wildlife refuge near Cape Canaveral where the space shuttle launches occurred. Here are a few pics from the Black Point Wildlife Drive.
Days 7 & 8 were chili for South Texas with one day’s high in the low 60s. Normally, I would have been out anyways but these two days found me indoors doing paperwork and getting caught up on stuff that people sometimes refer to as “responsibility”. Days 9 & 10 were back to normal with leisurely visits to Quinta Mazatlan in McAllen, TX and Estero Llano Grande near Weslaco, TX.
Quinta Mazatlan is a lush little urban gem set in the city of McAllen, TX not far from the airport. It is a place one can easily get some of the Texas specialty birds like Green Jay, Plain Chachalaca, and Great Kiskadee…while watching bird feeders. This is a lazy birder’s treat. I enjoy watching feeders sometimes. It’s quite relaxing.
The entrance road (which you walk–no cars inside the park) is a great place to see and hear the raucous chicken-like birds, Plain Chachalacas.
I am arbitrarily interrupting my posts from my trip to South Texas to present the results of more of my amateur research from the data at eBird. If you are not logging your sightings into eBird, 2013 would be a great time to start. It is easy to do and is fun. For me, it was this tinkering around with data that got me hooked on eBird. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of data on a very wide scale. Besides, if you think about it for very long, you should come to the conclusion that if you care about birds, you should be reporting your sightings to science. This is our Citizen Science project. (and here you thought your Science Fair project in high school would be your last). Continue reading
Day 4 I didn’t carry my camera. It looked a little like rain and I only had a very short time to bird. I took my birding friend, Dan Sanders back to McAllen airport so he could return home to Ohio quickly to tick the Varied Thrush that had showed up while he was in Texas.
Day 5 was a Saturday. Those of us that remained left McAllen, TX early and headed north to Raymondville, TX to visit the Hunke Ranch (owners Phil & Karen were gracious hosts). Our primary target was Ferruginous Pygmy-owl. We found two of them a hundred yards away behind the ranch house in a small group of trees.
Then we got into a couple vehicles to tour the Hunke’s Ranch. One of the vehicles was open. It was a converted Chevy Suburban that looked like a Safari tour vehicle. I chose this one to ride in.
Here’s one of the first birds we found on our tour after enjoying great views of the tiny little Ferruginous Pygmy-owl.
The White-tailed Hawk is an interesting hawk that goes through cycles. Here is what a first year White-tailed Hawk looks like.
Finally, we came across a kingbird. The differences between Couch’s and Tropical Kingbirds can be very subtle. Thankfully, this kingbird varified its identity by calling for us. It is a Couch’s Kingbird.
Yah. Yah. Yah. I’m waaay behind. It’s hard to keep up with Internet communication here in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas when you spend all your time outdoors in the nice weather looking at fantastic birds, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, flowers, and plants. It is like another world here compared to my home in Ohio.
The third day of my trip was cool. Ten of the 700+ Club birders (the few crazies who’ve traveled the North American continent and have recorded over 700 species of birds in a single year). We all met in the morning at the World Bird Center’s Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State Park south of McAllen, TX.
Here’s a picture of sunrise at Bentsen.
Our first stop was the boat ramp overlooking the resaca (oxbow).
Near the restrooms we found the reported red-naped sapsucker, a great bird for the Valley. Unfortunately, yours truly captured some photos of branches in focus and the bird out of focus. Upon switching to manual focus, the bird flew away. Who knew birds were afraid of manual focus? sigh. A distant Altamira Oriole lit in the top of a tree in morning sun. Too bad it’s so far away.
Next on the agenda was to try to find the previously reported Northern Beardless Tyrannulet–a little nondescript bird whose name is longer than the actual bird!
This time I got a lucky moment and captured a photo of this small, not so colorful bird.
Green Jays had been calling all morning and were flying from tree-to-tree around us. I finally spent a little “me” time away from the group and closer to the feeders. Ahh. Green Jay Therapy. Here’s a few photos to get you through your day.
After spending a little more time in Bentsen, we walked out of the park and headed for Anzalduas County Park a little west of Bentsen. On the way out, one of the many noisy and conspicuous Great Kiskadees lit in a treetop for a photo opportunity. I think I got a pretty good angle on this one, don’t you think?
On to Anzalduas. Here, you can look across the water and easily see Mexico. Birds on the other side count for you Mexico list and not for your ABA Area list (American Birding Association draws a boundary at the Rio Grande River. The list applies to where the bird is, not where you are standing). So, occasionally you see good birds on the other side of the water–like this Ringed Kingfisher, for example.
This Green Kingfisher was more cooperative and flew across the water to the U.S. side.
The sun was bright and hot. Sometimes birds pose in bright sunlight, but the photos are hard to get “right”–at least for this amateur photographer. The bright sun can wash out color on lit areas and the shadows can be so sharp as to hide any details on the shaded portions. But that is all technical stuff. You’ll have to use your imagination to compensate for this photo of a Vermillion Flycatcher–a nice adult male.
And here’s a picture of a butterfly. Yeah. Even this birder is starting to pay more attention to other things. The curiosity factor will take you many places. I spotted this little gem on our way back to our vehicles. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for identifying it. I’m still very new at this. But I did notice that it was different. It’s a Red-bordered Pixie, thanks to Jeff Gordon, President of the ABA (American Birding Association) for the identification on this one.
Later in the evening, we all went to see John Vanderpoel’s presentation on his Big Year and then we went out to eat. Another fun day out.