Friday, November 14, 2008

Scouting for the Atascosa Highlands CBC

Yesterday my friend Jake Mohlmann and I explored some remote and little-known areas south of Tucson in preparation for the Atascosa Highlands Christmas Bird Count, which we are organizing and compiling, set for Monday, December 15. This view is from an area called Wise Mesa, looking westward over Ramanote Canyon to the Atascosa Mountains. We're about at a mile in from the east edge of the circle looking towards the center, which is beyond the mountains. Click on the photo for a larger image.

To learn more about the Christmas Bird Count tradition, go to the National Audubon Society website.

We also went into upper Peck Canyon, where we were pleasantly surprised by flowing water and nice riparian habitat. We found an Eastern Phoebe at this location.

This is a Great Spreadwing, Archilestes grandis.

And this is a Black-necked Garter Snake

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

San Diego Pelagic Birding – 150 Miles Out To Sea

What a marathon of a bird trip!

From 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, November 1 to 6:30 a.m. on November 3, the 85-foot Grande was home for 40 birders headed out to the open Pacific Ocean. We spent all day Saturday and Sunday birding the open ocean, scanning the horizon for anything moving or sitting on the water.

The trip began with hours of sitting while driving from Tucson to San Diego, then countless hours of standing, staring at a usually birdless Pacific Ocean. And a couple of not altogether comfortable nights on a narrow bunk. And it was by far the lowest species/hour of effort birding trip I have ever been on. Sounds bad? Not at all! I didn't regret a moment of it and would do it again. Part of the excitement was never knowing what the next bird would be, and how rare it might be. The weather was good, the seas not very rough, an no one got seasick. I also really enjoyed meeting a bunch of new birders and making new friends.

Highlights were Xantus's Murrelet (the nominate subspecies Synthliboramphus h. hypoleucus), Flesh-footed Shearwater, Leach's Storm-Petrel, and Red-billed Tropicbird, the latter an especially good bird to see in US waters. For a more thorough trip report, see Terry Hunefeld's write up on the SoCal Pelagic Birding Website.
Here are the birders getting fantastic views and photos of the Red-billed Tropicbird.

Another highlight was watching dolphins ride the bow. Here are Pacific White-sided and Short-beaked Common Dolphins.

Dylan (who drove), Scott, and I broke up the drive to bird some migrant oases in SW Arizona, as well as the marshes of Mittry Lake north of Yuma and the southern end of the Salton Sea. Highlights were a Rufous-backed Robin at the Children of Light commune near the ghost town of Agua Caliente in far western Yuma County on October 30, hearing Black Rail on the next morning, and finding a Least Flycatcher at some cottonwoods west of Wellton on our way back on November 3. These photos were taken by Scott and Dylan, respectively.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Australia – A Teaser

Here are just three photos from my recent tour to Australia.

Gang Gang Cockatoo. It has an amazing, floppy crest that dangles over the forehead.

Superb Fairywren, a common, yet stunningly beautiful bird of weedy patches, hedges, yards, and parks.

We took a pelagic birding trip out of Sydney one day and saw several Wandering Albatross, with the longest wingspan of any bird in the world.

For a slideshow of 160 photos, click on this link to my Kodak Gallery.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Catching Up - Brazil Butterflies & Birds

These are the photo sheets from the Butterflies & Birds tour I led to Cristalino Jungle Lodge with Jim Brock this past August.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Try Not To Step on the Baby Lizards

The yard at 3919 N. Vine is alive with life right now, and baby lizards are among the most prominent. In some places, one must walk slowly to avoid stepping on them as they scatter. The most abundant actually seems to be the Tiger Whiptails. My point-and-shoot has only a 3x zoom, and I didn't crop this photo all the way so you can see how small this guy is.

This one is a baby Ornate Tree Lizard, even smaller than the whiptail, with a total length of about 1.25 inches. I used the super-macro on this one.

This adult female was nearby, perhaps the mother. There are also baby Desert Spiny-Lizards and Mediterranean Geckos about.

I should have posted this next photo when I took it on August 10, but I was in the midst of packing for Brazil. It's a Western Threadsnake, formerly called Blind Snake. I discovered it in the back yard as I was going out late to take the laundry off the line so I could finish packing. A minute baby gecko caught my eye, then the glimmer from this snake. It musked me nicely and squirmed nonstop. It took me 15 mintues to get one still photo.

Other stuff in the yard: Butterflies. At least 15 species, though I spent a total of only 20 minutes in the yard looking. Interesting were territorial individuals of three species of blues on an Australian acacia species. At one time, the three of them were buzzing around each other, vying for the best perch. These are Western Pygmy-Blue, Ceraunus Blue, and Marine Blue, in that order.

This is one of at least three territorial Fatal Metalmarks.

Not too many dragonflies call the yard home, but this Flame Skimmer used the hummingbird feeder stand as a perch to catch the many insects pollinating my Whitebush, Aloyisa gratissima.

And finally, there are some nice plants that have responded to the 8 or so inches of rain we've had in 2 months. This native is a Doubleclaw, Proboscidea parviflora, also known as devil's claw. It's in the Sesame family.

And yes, there are birds. There is a very dominant immature male Rufous Hummingbird who OWNS the two feeders visible from my bedroom/office window. We have 10 feeders in the yard, so the Anna's, Costa's, Black-chins and Broad-bills have plenty of food. It's nice to have five species in the yard. Migrant MacGillivray's and Yellow Warblers are in the yard today, and Purple Martins are flying over every evening.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Cristalino Jungle Lodge Butterflies & Birds and Disaster on the Computer Front

Jim Brock and I led the WINGS tour to Cristalino Jungle Lodge from August 15-23. With the exception of the doomed day of August 19, it was a great tour. What happened on August 19? On that day my iBook hard drive gave up the ghost. It froze, a whining fan sound appeared, and I had to force the power off. I tried booting it several times, and it did come on a couple, but then it was extremely slow and would freeze when I tried turning it off. Not good. Meanwhile, 4650 miles to the NW, on the very same day, someone kicked in my back door and ran off with my iMac desktop computer. They also took my USB Transceiver (which I had bought because the older iMacs had a horribly weak antenna), Yamaha P60 electronic piano, piano stand, printer, about $10 in loose change, 108 music CD's, and 8 pieces of frozen Upper Crust pizza (with pepperoni, olives, and anchovies) from my freezer. That sums up to about $4100 worth of stuff they could probably sell for $200 if they're lucky. How many hits of their elixir of choice would that buy? Meanwhile, I lost 2 years of data (my backup habits weren't very good) and a year's worth of photos. I managed to save all my contacts and e-mails, magically.

Meanwhile, we enjoyed some 350 species of butterflies, maybe 250 species of birds, and had a great time in Brazil not worring about anything at all. A sampler:

Red-fan Parrot behind the Floresta Amazonica Hotel in Alta Floresta.

Croesus Eyemark, one of the commoner species that occurs in little groups in the understory.

Soltau-Liberg Private Tour

I did a private tour of three days locally for a good friend from New York City and his friend from San Francisco August 7-9. We had a great time. I'll post just one picture here of a Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake, but on this day (August 8) we saw: Black Bear, Spotted Skunk, Tiger Rattlesnake (3 within 100 yards of each other!), 2 Black-tailed Rattlesnakes, and a Mountain Lion. And some great birds, such as White-eared Hummingbird, Buff-breasted Flycatcher, Montezuma Quail, Spotted Owl, Thick-billed Kingbird, and Five-striped Sparrow. What an amazing day.

Bugging in Montosa Canyon

I was home for a short time between tours in late July and early August. One of the first things I did was to join Philip Kline, Eric Eaton, and Margarthe Brummermann for a day of bugging in Montosa Canyon south of Tucson on July 31. We saw about 50 species of butterflies, and many beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, etc. Here's a Glover's Silkmoth that Margarethe found while admiring a cactus.

Oregon: Birds & The Bard

This is the photo sheet from my Oregon: Birds & The Bard tour. On this tour, we met in Portland on June 16, on the 17th traveled down the coast as far as Florence then arrived in Ashland on the 18th in time for a break, dinner and then our first play. Each morning for a week thereafter we went birding, with a picnic breakfast and lunch, and then returned in time for either the 2:00 or the 8:30 play. We ended up seeing all 4 Shakespeare plays and 3 of the non-Shakespeare plays. All were excellent this year. We saw: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Coriolanus, Othello and The Comedy of Errors, The Clay Cart (Sûdakra), Our Town (Thornton Wilder), and A View from the Bridge (Arthur Miller). On Monday, when there are no plays, we went as far as Klamath Falls, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and and Fort Klamath (I recommend the quaint Aspen Inn, run by two very friendly women). On Tuesday, we then return to Ashland via Crater Lake National Park. I'm already looking forward to next year's tour, scheduled for July 7 - 17.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Galápagos Islands: The First WINGS Charter

These are the photo sheets I made from the Galapagos cruise I led in early July.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Utah in Late June: American Birding Convention

The week of June 22 I flew to Salt Lake City to help lead field trips for the American Birding Association's annual convention held at the Snowbird resort in Little Cottonwood Canyon. It was a fun week of meeting new people and hanging out with friends in a gorgeous setting. The wildflowers and butterflies were particularly wonderful.

I arrived a day early to spend some time with my younger brother and his family. One of the fun things we did was cruise roads at night for reptiles. This Western Rattlesnake was our best find.

Here are just a very few photo highlights from my field trips.

Callippe Fritillary

prickly pear cactus blossom


A picnic lunch on the Deseret Ranch

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's been a while since I wrote anything here. I've been on four trips and have compiled quite an assortment of photos. I thought it would be best if I limited it to just one photo per trip or outing. But that idea fell apart when I started going through all the memories.

Starting at the beginning, in mid-April I led my 9th and 10th tours to Jamaica. The first was my regularly scheduled WINGS tour, the second a private tour of just 3 days. (Amazingly, on the second tour we saw all 27 endemic species in just over 12 hours!) This Jamaican Blackbird is one of the tougher endemics, and it ended up being the only one the tour saw.
Difficult if only for its nocturnal habits, the Jamaican Owl is actually quite widespread and tolerant of some habitat fragmentation. This one responded to iPod well before dark and landed out in the open during the private tour.

After Jamaica I did something rather different. I traveled to Jackson Mississippi where I was met by the parents of my friend Mich Coker. They own a farm which includes a lake, forest and pasture adjacent to very large properties of even more forest, some of it swampy, some hilly, and some pasture as well. Mich had kept a tally of all the birds and animals he had seen on the farm during his visits, but they were all curious what sorts of things I could find there during the peak of migration. So for 6 days I was their guest and roamed the area trying to identify every bird, animal, butterfly dragonfly, lizard, snake and whatever else I found.
Besides finding several nice migrant birds (such as Gray-cheeked Thrush, Lincoln's Sparrow and Bay-breasted Warbler) and probable breeding Painted Buntings, one of the coolest things was finding 11 new county records for dragonflies and damselflies. This one here is a Bayou Clubtail.

I was home from Jamaica only a short time before I left for Oregon. I went a week before my tour was to start in order to visit friends and family...and to go birding. In fact, one of the highlights of the week was doing a Big Day (a 24-hour birding challenge to see as many species as possible) with my friends Tim Janzen, Hendrik Herlyn, and Jay Withgott. We got 204 species, well short of the state record of 219, partly because we were experiencing a record-breaking heat wave, and by 2:00 p.m. birds were silent. We still had great fun. Here are the guys running back to the car in order to keep to our tight schedule.

On the way back home, we tried again for the stupid Spotted Owl that still wasn't calling and I snapped this Fairy Slipper, Calypso bulbosa photo.

My Oregon in Spring tour was a great one. Even though we were beset by cold, damp weather for much of the latter half of the tour, it affected our birding only one morning when we had to give up looking for Green-tailed Towhee and Fox Sparrow (but not before seeing Lewis's Woodpecker). Here are a smattering of photos from that tour. Here's the group at Yaquina Head.

Just in front of us here were breeding Brandt's Cormorants, this one displaying.

The wildflowers were spectacular. This is Pacific Trillium, Trillium ovatum.

The view of Cape Meares, Three Arch Rocks and Netarts Spit, looking north from Cape Lookout.

A very cooperative Varied Thrush at Cape Lookout. It was too dark to get good digiscoped shots, but I got lucky and snapped this one between jitters.

East of the Cascades we saw White-headed Woodpecker.

We stopped to take pictures of lots of wildflowers. These are White Mule-ears, Wyethia helianthoides and Small Camas, Camassia quamash.
One of the vagrants present this weekend at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was this male Common Grackle that our group found at the feeders in Frenchglen. There was also a female Hooded Warbler at HQ and a Black-and-white Warbler at Fields.

Just a couple more highlights, here a confiding Northern Rough-winged Swallow...

...and this a Black-throated Sparrow, a consolation prize when we did not find Chukar where we expected (we did get it later in the tour).

Immediately after my Oregon tour ended, I flew to Anchorage, Alaska for my next job. I wasn't leading a tour this time however. Instead I was in charge of cooking for the WINGS tour to Gambell. For a group of 23 people total for 6 1/2 days, I had to design the menu, do the shopping and cook all the food. I actually started in Feburary with the menu. Then in April I did a bunch of shopping for non-perishable foods and mailed it all in boxes. I had a lot of help from Gavin doing this. Then once in Anchorage Gavin and I (with some help from Jon, one of the guides) did all the shopping for perishable food, packed it all up in boxes and coolers, and took it all to Gambell with us. This involved an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to Nome with all 18 participans, some of whom claimed the boxes or coolers as part of their checked luggage. Then in Nome, we had to transfer everything to the Bering Air building, weigh it all, and see that it all got on the plane to Gambell, a 50 minute flight to the SW. Google it. This photo is from the road that goes south along the east side of Troutman Lake. The lake is still frozen, Gambell the town is on the gravel spit between the lake and the Bering Sea. Were it clear, you would be able to see the mountains of Russia less then 50 miles away.

I actually got to do some birding, but I didn't see nearly as many species as the tour group did. But I did get to see the star of the week (or perhaps even the decade), this Jack Snipe. There are only seven previous records for North America, and six of those are specimens that no birder ever saw. The other was seen by only seven people on St. Paul Island about 5 years ago. This one was seen by 30 people on June 4, and apparently by a bunch more on June 7. This photo was taken by Gavin Bieber, my able assistant cook.

Back home in Arizona I set to getting post-tour materials done as well as tending to household chores (such as reviving my nearly dead Gardenia). I've gotten out a couple times, once on a private tour I led for a couple from the Phoenix area to Dudleyville, Winkleman, and areas north. This Mississippi Kite was one of our target birds. Not seen perched very often, this one was near its nest.

Then last week I rode with Gavin and Mich to look for herps on the roads of Pinal County. We found far too many dead or soon-to-be-dead Gopher Snakes and a Mojave Rattlesnake, but by walking the desert flats we found two Long-nosed Snakes. This was such a beautiful animal.