Prep Time- Part 2

With just one full week left till our 2 week vacation to the west coast, things are beginning to shape up. The whale watching/pelagic trip has been booked for September 6th out of Anacortes Washington, which should be an outstanding trip. And just a few moments ago I booked a birding tour with Kaiyote Tours for an all inclusive 7-8 hour birding trip. Now this isn’t a tour with a large group of birders, this is just going to be Kathy, myself and the guide who’s name is Kaiyote Snow. While I talked to her on the phone she told me the basic itinerary would include birding in the mountains, forests and the ocean side. I think that just about covers all the birding habitat out there.  I can hardly wait.

Most of my birding gear is ready to be packed away into my large day pack.

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  • Peterson Bird Guide
  • Tripod with attached Scopack
  • Spotting Scope
  • Binoculars with case
  • Camera with case
  • Small Canon camera for Kathy
  • Samsung tablet
  • Garmin GPS
  • Voice Recorder
  • RavPower File Hub
  • Lens cleaning supplies
  • Extra camera batteries
  • Various chargers, cables and do-dads

Besides the tripod I’m hoping that everything fits nicely into my day pack, and then accompany me onto the plane. One thing I want to avoid is what happened when I traveled to Texas last year, when they made me check my gear into the plane. The separation anxiety was more than I could bear.

Notes From The Field

I needed to get out of the house. Despite the awful heat and humidity that has settled over the Ohio Valley, cabin fever even in the Summer can get to the best of people. However it just wasn’t cabin fever that got me out this morning, there were several reasons. First Jon had my brand new Scopack, which his wife picked up for Jon and myself while vacationing in England a few weeks past. Now I have the ability to carry my spotting scope comfortably on my back, keeping my hands free to use my bins or camera. Pretty sweet.

Second reason is I needed to just meet up with Jon before I go out to the west coast in a couple of weeks, and get a little birding in even during the summer doldrums.

The third reason is a second White Ibis was spotted a few days ago by a couple of top notch birders I know. The first White Ibis was sighted in a park north of Dayton near the airport called Englewood Metropark. My plan was to chase this bird with Jon, but when one was sighted at Gilmore Ponds, just a short 30-40 minute drive from my house, so we chase this one.

A White Ibis is a pretty rare bird for our corner of the world. Not totally unheard of, but pretty rare none the less. The one that was spotted in Dayton sure did get the birding juices flowing but I wasn’t ready to pull the trigger till this weekend if it was still around. So when the Gilmore Pond Ibis was sighted I couldn’t believe the odds in 2 immature White Ibis showing up just an hour apart in the same state. So the chase was on.

I meet Jon at 7:15 this morning an took to the field. As the name implies, Gilmore Ponds is a really nice park with several large ponds, however in these dry conditions with lack of significant rain, finding any water proved to be a little more difficult than previous visits. We wandered the length and breadth of the park finding only one area that held water.

IMG_4891This pond was the only one in the whole park that held any significant water. Other than a lone Belted Kingfisher, there were no other birds.

With the total lack of water we were able to wander freely all over the park in places where you could never walk before. Normally where there was water we walked through ankle, to knee deep vegetation. It was while we were wandering that we noticed a few low areas that was holding onto the only moisture left. We started to see loads of Killdeer. This is encouraging. We walked further out. We came across a small puddle with good shorebirds. Least, Spotted and a Baird’s Sandpiper.

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Towards a tree line a low ditch ran along the front. Several Mallards and some Double-creasted cormorants were either resting or feeding. I saw it first.

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IMG_4902Despite the terrible photographs, I’ve seen enough of these birds to know that this is the real deal. Immature White Ibis for Ohio is a GREAT bird.

But wait, there’s more to come.

While Jon and I were walking in the furthest parts of the park prior to spotting the Ibis, we noticed through some trees a small body of water that held some ducks. We checked onto Google Maps and located it. This was our next stop.

It was a few minute drive to reach this one road that held several big box industrial buildings. At the far end there was a trucking company which had this small pond adjacent to it. Standing next to the chain link fence we started to scope out the area for anything. After a minute while I was looking up, I noticed 2 Cormorant species flying towards us, Normally this wouldn’t be a big concern since Double-creasted Cormorants are seen frequently, however…..

“Jon, I have 2 Cormorants coming towards us and one of them is smaller than the other”.

“Where are you”

I pointed.

“Got them” he says.

“You got a Neotropic Cormorant”. Which confirms my original thought when I first saw the bird. It was flying with a Double-creasted Cormorant side by side. The difference was obvious. Smaller bird overall. Smaller bill with a longer tail. We follow the bird for 2 minutes before they disappear.

Talk about lightning striking twice. 2 rarities in the same day. eBird isn’t going to believe this.

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It’s been a long day.

I’m tired.

Time for a nap.

IMG_4926Parting shot

Prep Time-Part 1

So how do you prepare for a vacation where birding is intermixed with all the driving and touristy distractions one finds along the road? Where does one start when your destinations are places you’ve never visited before, let alone knowing absolutely no one while your traveling? This my friends is the cross I must bear as I ready myself for the few weeks leading up to my west coast journey.

Unlike my birding trip to Texas last November where I immersed myself from sun-up to sun-down with birds, this trip is going to challenge my skills I think. With the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival all you really had to do was sign up for the tours, and even if you didn’t know your bird ID very well, the guides would help you along the way. Knowing this ahead of time kept me sharp when we went out into the field because I was prepared. I studied field guides. I listened to bird calls (especially the difference between a Couch’s and Tropical Kingbird), plus I had a copy emailed to me of the festival check list before hand. Knowing what birds to expect was half the battle.

This is the strategy I hope to use with my west coast trip. How I succeed will be determined later.

But first my nose to the grind stone so to speak. What species of birds am I going to run into, particularly the code 1 and 2 birds? This is where I thumb through my various field guides and birding web sites. I find the most common species that I might spot and write it down. It doesn’t matter if it Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, migration or pre/post migration, if it’s listed, I wrote it down. Then I wittled it down further when I took into consideration the time of year I was visiting. Now I have a manageable list.

Now’s the time to eBird. Going into eBird and studying data could never be easier. Let’s take for instance this side trip we’re taking for part of the day while were in California. My wife who loves wine wants to go visit a few wineries in the Sonoma Valley. Now all I have to do is click on the “Explore data” tab, click on “Hot Spots”, type in Sonoma Valley, then a list is populated with all the birds seen in that area. Now I’m almost prepared. The rest is left up to me as I pour over field guides and study up on field marks and calls for all the birds I’m not familiar with. And there’s tons.

For me I feel this will work for me and how I learn. I’m sure others will attest that we all learn differently and I’m more of a visual learner. All you need to do is show me a bird once, especially of North America, and I’ll remember it. Now the vocalization is something different and might take some time.

Another advantage I have this time over my trip to Texas is a smart phone. I know, I know, I finally caught up with the 21st century, and I’ve taken full advantage of it with several purchases of  birding applications. I have the Sibley Birds, Audubon Birds (for the color photographs) Peterson Birds of North American and iBird Pro of North America, plus eBird to log all my sightings into. And I can’t go anywhere without my hard copy of my Peterson Field Guide.

So, am I preparing too much, or not enough? Am I going about this trip all wrong?      Only time, and the final bird count will tell.

 

 

Update

It’s been exceptionally hot across the Ohio Valley, as I’m sure it’s been in your part of the country. Temps in the middle to upper 90’s with suffocating humidity and sudden storms, add up to me as being as non-birding as it gets. As the month of August wears on and fall migration really begins to ramp up I’ll start to get out a little more often. Waders are beginning to show up at their usual haunts in some good numbers. Mostly Yellowlegs, Solitary, Pectoral, Stilt, Peeps and Plovers seem to be a good bet if you venture out. And despite the fact I’m not out birding during the hot Summer months as I would be any other time of year, I’m still pretty busy with other bird related projects.

A few years ago Jon and myself were taking the whole day and do some birding at Deer Creek State Park, which is located southwest of Columbus Ohio. It was late summer, early fall and were trudging along carrying our our spotting scopes over our shoulders with our bins around our necks. After a while one of us commented about the need for some kind of backpack device so you could just carry your scope on  your back, which in turn would free up a hand, plus reduce fatigue on your shoulders.

Well after procrastinating for more than a year we’re getting one. Jon texted me a week ago and told me that his wife and mother-in-law were in England on vacation and they found Scopacs. A product manufactured in England and the perfect solution for our nagging shoulders after long days in the field. Click the link below to see how it works. I’m pretty excited about adding this to my arsenal of birding paraphernalia.

Scopac Lite

However the big news comes towards the end of the month when my wife and I go on a much needed vacation. And I’m going to a part of the country I’ve never been before. The west coast.

We’re flying in San Francisco, rent a car and point it north. Our nephew who lives north of the city will be our guide the first couple of days as I check out Point Reyes National Seashore. For 2 beautiful weeks we’ll be traveling to Redwoods and Olympic National Parks, with stops along the way to visit Portland and do a pelagic trip in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound as we home base out of Port Angles Washington.

Somehow I feel this trip, from a birders perspective, will be right up there with my trip to the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. All new birds and plenty of them to help boost my life list closer to 500 species.

It’s a big trip with loads of planning to take care of, and field guide studying to do. However between now and then I’ll try to get in some much need birding so I can keep my skills sharp.

More to come.

“Notes From The Field”

“Oakes Quarry Park”

The present site Oakes Quarry Park was originally a surface mined in 1929 for limestone to make cement by Southwestern Portland Cement Company and Southdown Inc. before it was sold to the Oakes family in the 1990’s. The family finally donated the 190 acre property to the City of Fairborn in 2003. It’s the city’s second largest park with hiking and horse trails that crisscross the ancient limestone fossils exposed by the mining activity that formed the quarry. Through the hard work of the volunteers at the Beaver Creek Wetlands Association, and with funding from Clean Ohio Conservation Fund, they’re now developing prairies and wetlands that were once common in this area.

Since 1988 the Beaver Creel Wetlands Association Controls a series of beautiful parks that stretch from Oakes Quarry to the north, to Creekside Reserve in the south. A few years ago I explored a good many of the 11 parks that make up the Beaver Creek corridor. Oakes Quarry was one of the only ones that eluded me, however it came into my radar a few weeks past when a birder posted some excellent photos of Lark Sparrows taken while visiting Oakes Quarry.

As you know by now I’m a big fan of Sparrows. I think next to Gulls they can be the most problematic for any birder. All we see is a little brown bird, try to ID it,  shrug our shoulders in hopes someone close by can ID it for you. But not so with the Lark Sparrow {Chondestes grammacus}, which by the way is the only member of the Chondestes genus. With it’s distinctive harlequin face pattern  of white, black and chestnut has bright under parts with a central breast spot, much like a American Tree Sparrow, with white edges on the tail.

I arrived at the park around 8:30 and went straight to work. Most of the present sightings I reviewed on eBird indicated that the birds were congregating near the entrance. It was about 45 minutes of walking and re-walking over the same ground when I first noticed 4 birds with obvious white tail edges flocking together, then finally settling down in an area I had explored just a few minutes ago.

I heard one start to sing. It was near, so I crept closer to the sound. I noticed a couple under a stunted Cedar Tree, then I saw the one that was singing. It was in another Ceder Tree to the left of the other birds. Bringing up my bins to get a positive ID, I pulled my camera up and fired off a few quick shots before the birds flew. Very skittish.

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IMG_4872This is the exact location and the type of habitat the birds were first discovered. There’s no top soil, just gravel and rocks of various sizes and shapes.

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IMG_4876As you can see by the previous photographs this is a very open part with sparse vegetation. If you looked on any range map for the Lark Sparrow you’d notice that the bird is considered a rare visitor to western Ohio. However if you know where to look for them, you can get lucky. For myself I try to locate them at least once a year.

The morning wore on and i was still looking for the the 4 birds I saw earlier. I had returned to the original location when I heard one sing again. By the time I saw the bird it flew into a tree where it continued to sing.

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Since there wasn’t much cover to hide behind, sneaking up on this bird was pretty useless. It flew away. But I was determined, and soldered on.

Once again returning to the same area as the first 2 sightings I saw these 2 feeding on the ground.

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Despite have some tough views at some very skittish birds, I felt satisfied. I was also hungry and it was an hour drive home.

I will return.

“On The Road”

With a four day weekend and a tank full of gas, my destination for this much anticipated weekend was re-visiting my oldest son in Browns Summit North Carolina. Specifically The Summit Environmental Camp where he’s been working as a environmental educator. If you remember back towards the end of April my wife and I visited and I recalled the wonderful sightings of the Red-headed Woodpeckers at the marsh boardwalk. If you haven’t read it click on the hyperlink, “Haw River State Park, Browns Summit North Carolina”.

This time will probably be my last time visiting this part of the country since my son has taken a new job at a YMCA camp in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts. Despite the fact he’ll be moving further away from us (which totally depresses me) I feel this part of the country fits his personality. The camp is larger with more staff and some good opportunities to take on more responsibilities.

Even though the weekend was all about us having a good time together I still brought along all my gear so  I could return to the boardwalk to search for the Red-headed Woodpeckers. When I told David my plans for the morning he warned me of the biting flies that awaited me on the boardwalk. Taking heed I slowly started to bird around the main complex of buildings before wandering towards the trail that would eventually lead me to the boardwalk. I wasn’t outside more than 3 minutes when I was being buzzed by some flying bug that couldn’t resist getting into my hair and around my face. The more I walked closer to the trail it was joined by more and more flies. At the halfway point it became so unbearable I had to turn around. Besides long pants and a long sleeve shirt, it was necessary to have a mosquito net for your head if you even thought of venturing down to the boardwalk.

Nature conquered me.

However all is not lost. As I returned I heard a very distinct and loud call. A Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) was skipping from tree to tree tops foraging for food. As it sang I followed till I was under the correct tree. I’d look through the summer foliage of the towering trees till I found it. Then it fly to another tree to continue the whole process over again. Never turning down a challenge to photograph a Tanager, whichever species it is, I set out to find it as it continued to sing away.

At times it was low in the trees, and other times it was high  in the top. My presence didn’t seem to matter to him and getting the best view wasn’t too much of a concern for the bird.

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IMG_4850Not wanting to take anything away from the redness of the Northern Cardinal, but the Scarlet Tanager with it’s contrasting colors of the black wings and the red of the body, has such a bold, in your face redness I’ve never seen in any other bird, personally. Now I’m sure there’s some bird in the world with the same coloration that is equal or better than the Scarlet Tanager when it comes to RED, it’s just I’ve yet to see it.

IMG_4851Since it was perched on this branch singing it’s heart out, I wanted to take as many photographs while it was still.

IMG_4860After it left it’s perch it flew to the canopy and snagged this bug, which it consumed. It was kind of cool watching as it dismembered this bug, thinking back to all the bugs that kept me from the boardwalk earlier.

Vindication!