West Coast Wrap-up

Well, all good things must come to and end, and as of today this is my last day of a wonderful vacation. But first an apology to all my readers. I had all the right intentions to update my blog during my trip out west except for my earlier post from our stay in Novato California. This trip was a wire to wire, we’re not wasting daylight, itinerary filled trip. By the time Kathy and I finished with our day I was too tired for any writing. So now that I’ve been home for a few days and have time to upload all the pictures taken, it’s high time I do some writing.

The main reason we went on this vacation was for me to finally see a portion of the west coast, and for Kathy to re-visit Olympic National Park. And with 2 weeks at our disposal we started with visiting our nephew in Novato California.

img_4945But first a drive from the airport, through San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Our nephew was out for the afternoon hiking, so with time on our hands and having checked into our room, we asked for some fun sightseeing things to do at the hotel desk. Not wanting to waste a beautiful day we hit the road, particularly Hwy 1, that scenic but windy road with some great vistas.

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It was difficult to pay attention to the road, enjoy the views, and get some birding in all at the same time. As a matter of fact birding was a challenge this whole trip. Back home in Ohio late summer can prove to be pretty non-birdie. Migration has started but not really in full swing. Plus the birds aren’t very vocal, which never helps. Well the same can be said about the west coast. But I wasn’t here for the rarities, I just wanted as many common birds as I could find.

And it started out quick. As we were unloading our rental car at the hotel (Best Western Plus in Novato was beautiful, clean, and highly recommended) I heard a chatter in a clump of trees I’ve never heard before. Acorn Woodpeckers.

As we enjoyed our afternoon drive along Hwy 1 we passed Bolinas Lagoon where we stopped for a moment to check out the mud flats, which were extensive. Long-billed Curlews, Gulls and peeps…and is that a Whimbrel? OMG it’s a WHIMBREL. My nemesis bird is finally ticked off, and so was the bird as I was ready to take it’s picture.

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The evening was spent visiting with our nephew and going to a local brewery for dinner. The next day was a work day for him, which left us to explore even more the area. This time we traveled to the Visitors Center at Point Reyes National Seashore where I soon discovered why the California Quail was the state bird, they were everywhere.

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img_4977As were Brewer’s Blackbirds…

img_5045California Scrub Jays, Band-tailed Pigeons, and California Towhees.

After we left the visitors center we were off to Point Reyes Lighthouse, where maybe I can pick up some Common Murres and Cormorants.

The drive to the lighthouse was over some very windy roads past historical ranches and sparse vegetation. As we pulled into the parking lot and starting our hike to the lighthouse we were treated to some spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and the coast.

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img_5035Point Reyes Lighthouse

It was from the lighthouse where I picked up my lifer Common Murre, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants. Trying to get any photograph proved futile because of the windy conditions. The water was real choppy and it was difficult to hold the camera still.

After our stay in Novato we headed north to Redwood National Park, with our home base in Arcata California, just north of Eureka. All I can say about Northern California is WOW. I can now see why people love it here.

It was while we were on this drive through rolling country past countless vineyards  as any good birder would do is always watch for birds. This morning was no different as I glanced skyward at the Turkey Vultures. After and hour or so I noticed a particularly large bird that wasn’t flying like a Turkey Vulture. As we got nearer I first noticed the white windows on the wing tips, and the uniform darkness of the bird. As luck would have it, a immature Golden Eagle. Sometimes it better to be lucky than good.

img_4360The view of the bay in Trinadad California on our way to Redwood N.P.

img_5075This is just a sample of what I was in store for. Trees of monumental size and girth. If you’re not a lover of trees, than this isn’t the place for you. Pictures don’t do it justice, and the endless photos I have of trees will do nothing more than wet your appetite or bore you.

On one of our hikes were at the Lady Bird Johnson Grove on a walking tour with one of the park rangers. After the tour was over we continued onto another trail which looped back. as we walked Kathy stopped and told me to listen. CHIP…CHIP…CHIP. Skulking around in the thick undergrowth was a MacGillivray’s Warbler. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’ll take it. And just like it’s cousins the Mourning and Connecticut Warbler, it disappeared into the brush.

img_5069I did score on the beautiful Stellar’s Jay.

On the second full day at Redwood N.P. and surrounding areas, I convinced Kathy to a 4 am wake up to head over to Prairie Creek campground. According to eBird this open prairie surrounded by mountains will have fly over Marbled Murrelets as they leave the forests of the Pacific coast on their way to the open ocean to feed.

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img_4378I wish it had been this clear while we waited. Coasted fog hung low over the prairie as the sun started to rise. We had waited for over an hour, after having moved to a different parking lot to get a better view. As time wore on I finally spotted one flying low and fast as it came out from under the fog. I wanted a better view. so we waited.

Then we both heard a bird call. But not your normal bird sound, more of a too-too-too-too. I’ve heard this before on the King Ranch in Texas. It called again…too-too-too-too. Has to be a Pygmy Owl…too-too-too-too, it called again a little further away. I hurry for my smart phone to open my Sibley app…too-too-too-too, even further away now. I’m shaking now as I open the call of a Northern Pygmy Owl. Holy Cow… that’s it. Never in a million years would I have thought of ticking off an owl quite like that. There was no way in chasing this bird, nor was I going to try and attract the bird by playing it’s call loudly over my phone, which is against most park regulations concerning wildlife.

img_5060A very cooperative Black Phoebe poses on a beach at Redwood N.P. This photo sure does beat the one I took of a Black Phoebe while in Texas.

I hated leaving such a beautiful place but we had an 8 hour drive as we motored towards Portland Oregon to check out the city. We stayed at a Ramada Inn down by the river, and I would highly recommend this place as well. Plus it’s on the streetcar line which makes getting around really easy.

Our next stop was a small city of Port Angeles Washington on the north coast. For the next 4 days we really packed in activities. After arriving and settling into a below average hotel (Red Lion Inn) we set off on foot to see the water front before dinner. We climber a observation tower that overlooked the harbor and me without my camera, only bins. In the water floated my lifer adult Mew Gull. Go figure.

img_5109The most common gull species was the Glaucous-winged Gull. Another lifer.

The next day we meet up with our guide for the day, Kaiyote Snow. Kaiyote owns her own guide service and has been leading backpacking trips and bird tours for years. She picked us up at 7 am sharp and we were off on our all day adventure. After the introductions our first stop is Hurricane Ridge. Kaiyote was a wealth of information on all the flora and fauna, with a mix of geology thrown in.

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Besides the outstanding views the birding wasn’t too bad either. Besides this Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco, I ticked off Chestnut-sided Chickadee and Townsend Warbler

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Time to come off the mountain, have a little lunch and plan our next location. As we ate next to the harbor in Port Angeles we sighted a large congregation of Heermann’s Gulls, distant Rhinoceros Auklets, and a few Harlequin Ducks.

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After lunch we were off towards the Lake Crescent area. Let me tell you the setting for this historic lodge besides the lake was nothing but spectacular.

img_5143Lake Crescent Lake Lodge

img_5144Cabin row at Lake Crescent

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But we weren’t there to check out the accommodations or the scenery, we were there for the American Dipper. This small, solitary bird the color of river rocks, that feeds along fast flowing mountain streams on aquatic insect larvae is probably one of the coolest birds in North America. Kaiyote parks the car next to Crescent lake Lodge as we hike towards Barnes Creek. We start our search at the bridge of Barnes Creek over Hwy. 101 right next to the lodge. Kaiyote was here yesterday scouting the area and saw one in one of the pools. We hike a little further along and stop at another clearing next to the creek. Still no Dipper.

We continued this hike,stop and look for about 30 minutes until I noticed a caught a disturbance of the water. I pulled up and found the bird.

img_5128This birds wasn’t going to cooperate for a photo-bug like me, and continued to feed all the time we were there.

img_5131How could you not love a bird like this.

The day was getting late and we needed to start heading back to Port Angeles, however before Kaiyote dropped us off we went to this small park in town. It was here that I picked up Spotted Towhee and Golden-crowned Sparrow.

img_5155Golden-crowned Sparrowimg_4581Kaiyote and yours truly.

I told Kaiyote that I would give her a free plug for your tour company. So if you’re ever in the area contact and set up a tour. It may seem expensive to some, but for what you get it was so worth it, and would recommend it to any birder. Here’s a link to her website.

Kaiyote Tours

It was a great day. We were tired and hungry. We ate and went to bed early in preparation of our whale watching trip the next day.

It’s a 45-50 minute drive from Port Angeles to Port Townsend Washington where we were pick up our ferry ride to Coupeville on Whidbey Island. Being a very popular ferry reservations need to be made or might miss the boat. And we needed  be at the office of the Island Adventures (name of the whale watching company) an hour before the boat sails.

Well we made it with plenty of time to spare. Enough time we went had breakfast at a local restaurant set up in a small residential home.

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 The whole trip was a huge success. We saw plenty of Orcas, 3 pods to be exact, and some lifer birds.

img_5172A unexpected surprise, a Peregrine Falcon.

img_5169Plenty of seals, Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants

img_5177Common Murre

img_5175And another one.

img_5359 img_5242 img_5267 img_5270 img_5273 img_5349And plenty of Orcas

img_5364Rhinoceros Auklet

img_5093Black Oystercatcher

It was another long, tiring day. We drove back to Port Townsend and had some dinner at this really small seafood restaurant called Sea J’s. Their fish n chips are off the charts.

The last full day at Olympic N.P. Kathy and I drove to the Hoh rain forest. It wasn’t till we had lunch when I spotted my last lifer for the trip. Gray Jay.

img_4614The weather really cleared up as we passed Lake Crescent

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img_5385Gray Jay

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On our return to Port Angeles we made one last stop at Sol Duc Falls. A pleasant hike with some great photo rewards.

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We left Port Angeles the following morning an drove to Bainbridge Island to catch the ferry to Seattle. We spent several hours touring around Pike Street Market and had lunch at the Chowder House. We finally found our way to the hotel in a suburb and settled down for the long flight home the next day.

It was a special vacation that rates right up there with some of the best I’ve been on. Would I do it again? You bet, with some alterations.

Some of the disappointing moments was not getting any photos of some of the prime birds of the Pacific Northwest, notably the Varied Thrush and Pacific Wren. Being late summer hardly any birds were calling and trying to locate birds in such a tall tree canopy was next to impossible. I saw plenty, just no pictures.

All told I scored 38 new life birds, which isn’t too bad. This brings my life list to 444.

  1. California Scrub Jay
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird
  3. Acorn Woodpecker
  4. California Quail
  5. California Towhee
  6. Spotted Towhee
  7. Mew Gull
  8. Glaucous-winged Gull
  9. Heermann’s Gull
  10. Chestnut-sided Chickadee
  11. Townsend’s Warbler
  12. MacGillivray’s Warbler
  13. Tufted Puffin
  14. Common Murre
  15. Pigeon Guillemot
  16. Marbled Murrette
  17. Rhinoceros Auklet
  18. Red-breasted sapsucker
  19. Northern Pygmy Owl
  20. American Dipper
  21. Golden Eagle
  22. Gray Jay
  23. Stellar’s Jay
  24. Whimbrel
  25. Band-tailed Pigeon
  26. Brewer’s Blackbird
  27. Western Wood Pewee
  28. Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  29. Pelagic Cormorant
  30. Brandt’s Cormorant
  31. Black Oystercatcher
  32. Violet-green Swallow
  33. Vaux’s Swift
  34. Harlequin Duck
  35. Northwestern Crow
  36. Pacific Wren
  37. Varied Thrussh
  38. Golden-crowned Sparrow

On The Road

Greeting from beautiful California,  and the equally beautiful Marin County. Well our vacation has finally arrived and it has started out very well. Our flight from Cincinnati to San Francisco was pretty smooth with the added bonus of having the middle seat empty for the entire flight, which gave Kathy and me plenty of room. Our flight actually arrived a little early, and after picking up our luggage and travelling by tram to the rental car compound, we headed off into the big scary city of San Francisco.  

My GPS took right through the heart of the city and right across the Golden Gate Bridge, which was very cool. We enjoyed driving across so much, we went back to Golden Gate Park and walked around and took pictures. One thing to remember if you ever go is that it can be really, really crowded. 

So far the birding has been excellant. Granted if I could just focuz on the birds I probably would have a few more lifersthan I do at the moment. We visited Point Reyes National Seashore both yesterday and today and hit up a good cross section of birding habitat while at the park. 

So all told I’ve added 15 new life birds, with my nemisis bird, the Whimbrel going down. Pictures have been kind of tough to get. It seems when I focus in on so many new birds my camera is the last thing I think about till I make a correct ID. Anyway here are a few iconic California birds





Right now as it stands here are the new additions to my Life List.

  1. Acorn Woodpecker
  2. California Scrub Jay
  3. Stellar’s Jay
  4. Common Murre
  5. Whimbrel
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird
  7. California Quail
  8. Spotted Towhee
  9. California Towhee
  10. Pacific Slope Flycatcher
  11. Western Wood Pewee
  12. Band-tailed Pigeon
  13. Brandt’s Cormorant
  14. Pelagic Cormorant
  15. Chestnut-sided Chickadee

And tomorrow after we pack and grab some breakfast, it’s off to Redwood National Park.

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.