Monthly Archives: August 2016

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.

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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.