Category Archives: “On The Road”

“The oft traveled road, wherever it may go, refreshes the spirit”.

Life Bird # 447

For those birders who happen to read the ABA Blog on a regular basis, one of the regular posts that I always look forward to is the “Rare Bird Alert”. Each week Nate Swick updates all the rarities being seen across North America. And if you looked closely the November 3rd entry told of the 2nd sighting for Ohio of a west coast bird, a Calliope Hummingbird.

The original post of this very exciting bird on “Ohio Chase Birds” Facebook page was on November the 1st. However the bird was originally spotted 1 week prior, and considering the difficulty in giving this bird the correct ID, local birding experts with more knowledge than the home owner were called in to properly ID the bird. Rufus Hummingbird was the original ID, which isn’t out of the ordinary for Ohio this time of year, however when the bird was looked at more closely, all the field markings confirmed a first year hatch male Calliope Hummingbird.

Now this quiet, residential neighborhood that sits on a dead end street, now becomes a instant hotspot for the celebrity. And the homeowner couldn’t have been more gracious to all the birders visiting her yard. Parking she knew would become an issue, so she had pendants placed along the road so people would know where to park. A table was set up with a book so birders could sign their name and where they came from. She had yellow caution tape strung up so birders knew where they could stand and wait for the bird. She even had chairs sitting out for people. She also updated the Facebook page every morning on recent sightings. And when the rain made the path to the viewing area muddy, she laid out straw for people to walk on.

Now being a retired birdwatcher I should have ticked off this bird as soon as word went out, Delaware Ohio is about a 2 hour drive since it’s just north of Columbus. But the upcoming baby shower for my daughter kept me close to home with all kinds of prep work. This busy work kept my mind off the bird as I went about getting errands taken care of, but always checking to make sure the bird was being sighted everyday.

My time came yesterday as Jon and I drove north to chase this life bird for the both of us.

As soon as we showed up the bird was in a tree overhead, and the overcast skies gave us terrible views just before it flew off where it stayed out of sight for about 30 minutes.

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A Gift From Irma

My plans for today was go out with Jon and continue on hunting migrants in and around the lower Little Miami River valley as it nears the Ohio River. We were to meet at 7:15 and have a nice morning of birding. That was until I looked on one of the Facebook pages where birders report rarities in Ohio. With the effects of Irma still being felt all over the southeastern seaboard, reports of rare bird sightings are popping up everywhere.

States reporting rarities include Georgia, North and South Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. Some of the great birds being seen are Black-capped Petrel, Great Shearwater, Cory’s Shearwater, White-tailed Tropicbird, Magnificent Frigatebird, Sooty & Bridled Terns, Brown Noddy and Band-tailed Storm Petrel. And this list might be incomplete as to states and species reports aren’t finally in. Now we can include Ohio.

While I was out last evening celebrating with my wife on her birthday with some friends, a report of a Sooty Tern at a gravel quarry in Dover Ohio hit me pretty hard. My first thought was I need this bird for my life list, and where is Dover Ohio. 3 hours away when I finally checked my map app on my phone.

Now’s the question as to what to do. To chase or not. I made my final decision early this morning was I texted Jon to ask him if he wanted to join me. His reply was he couldn’t be gone all day, so off I went.

It was a beautiful late summer morning with light traffic as I made my way towards Columbus where I would pick up I-70 towards Zanesville. From there I turned north on I-77 which takes you finally to Cleveland. With one pit along the way it took just over 3 hours and my stupid GPS had me getting off at the wrong exit. It was a good thing I checked Google map before I left.

The gravel quarry was less than a mile from the exit, and when I turned on the road where birders were saying was the best place to park and watch the bird, there were plenty of cars and people with scopes out.

Always a good sign. An older man approached as he was leaving and said it’s just sitting there on a old tire and easy to find.

The bird was so far away that I had to use the digital zoom just to be able to get a half way decent photo. The next photo is my camera at maximum optical zoom. This will give you a good idea how far away the bird was.

So from a photographic it’s a difficult shot. But really it’s not the point of the chase. Granted when I logged the sighting into eBird a photo is really important for verifying the report, it was just total excitement for me. And to top it off this is my first life bird for 2017. It’s kind of a let down after 2 years of great birding and impressive numbers of new birds, but I’ll take it. Who knows when I’ll ever get to visit the Dry Tortugas where the Sooty Tern can easily be seen.

“On The Road”

Well it was another successful trip up to Lake Erie for spring migration this year. The weather was typical as you’d expect with very windy conditions and either too hot or cool temperatures. I traveled up early last Tuesday, arriving by 8 am, and staying till Friday late morning. This year was a little different than in years past. In the past I’ve stayed in local hotels either in Port Clinton, or Oregon. We’ve also stayed in the lodge at Maumee Bay State Park, and one of the cabins in years past. This year I camped, just like one of the first times I visited with my older son. And with my senior discount I was able to camp for the 3 nights for $50.00, which isn’t bad, considering it had electrical hookups. I ran an extension cord into the tent so I could run a fan on those hot days, plus I needed to recharge my cell phone overnight. And since I wasn’t planning on any cooking, coffee was a must have in the morning. So my wife came up with the idea of taking our Kuerig along to make my morning coffee. Brillant!

Breakfast was coffee, a banana, and a granola bar. Lunch was a PB & J sandwich and trail mix. All I had to do then is eat out for my dinner. Birding on a budget.

Home Sweet Home

In years past I would get to the boardwalk early enough to beat the big rig photographers before they set up house either on the tower, or the walkway up to the tower. This year I just couldn’t get there early enough. It was always the same group of people, set up in the same spot every day.

For the most part my morning was spent on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh till either the crowd of people drove me off, or the birding slowed down. So if I wasn’t at the boardwalk I was at either Metzger Marsh, Ottawa N.W.R., or the back roads looking for wading birds in some of the sky ponds in the farm fields.

Both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos seemed more common than in years past. Normally I’d struggle to get the Black-billed, however this year it was an easy “tick”.

 This Screech Owl was found towards the end of the Estuary Trail.

The nest box where this little guy was found is on the boardwalk at Maumee Bay State Park Nature Trail. And just to the right and above overlooking everything was…

a red phase Eastern Screech Owl.

Flycatchers made an appearance in a big way while I was there. All the ones I was able to identify I did by their call. So when I took a photo of one if I didn’t hear it call, I left it as a unidentified flycatcher.

 Another bird I didn’t have to work to hard in finding was a Snowy Egret. Every year it can either be a hit or miss bird, however this year one could always be found along the causeway as you drove towards the parking lot at Magee Marsh.

This year there was a treat for everyone. A very cooperative Black-crowned Night Heron. Easily spotted from the boardwalk on a daily basis, it was nothing to take a few dozen photos of this beautiful bird as it stalked for food.

Another bird I’ve had a bit of luck finding, usually along the drive of Metzger Marsh at one of the pull-offs, are Common Gallinule. I find them such striking birds.

Pretty reliable in the past few years are Sandhill Cranes. For the most part I’ve heard them as the feed just out of eye sight, but this year I was able to catch a couple in flight while I was stopped on the causeway.

  However the real reason the majority of birders come to Lake Erie, and this special spot in particular are the warblers. This year did not disappoint with 21 species seen. For me anytime I can reach 20 or more warblers during my stay here I feel blessed, and this year was a good year. Maybe not for the quality of the photographs, but for the birds it was great.

 The ever present Yellow Warbler

Mourning warblers seemed particularly plentiful than in years past, with female being spotted from the observation tower. Sorry for the poor quality, these skulking birds are tough in even the best conditions.

I think a front came through while I was there because it seemed that the Black-throated Green and Canada Warblers appeared in good numbers.

I know, for some reason I have really bad luck when it comes to both the Canada and Blackburnian Warbler in getting a clear photograph. I’ll just keep trying till I get a good one. I hate auto-focus.

Of course you would have to tilt back your head with a stick in the way. Nothing comers easy.I’m definitely a better birder than photographer.

Magnolia Warbler

 Not as striking as the males, the female Magnolia warblers were a little more cooperative for us inconsistent photographers.

And as expected the Prothonotary Warbler stole the show. Always present since they breed here, their clear song can be heard all over the boardwalk, and they tend to sit still long enough for people like me.

And considering how windy it was, even the birds found it difficult to keep their feathers in place.

You would think that the Yellow Warbler was the most common warbler species here, but I think it’s the Common Yellowthroat.

Northern Parula

I think the first song I heard as I stepped onto the boardwalk was of a Northern Parula

This was one of my photographic nemesis birds, the Bay-breasted Warbler. Now they may not be the best of quality, but I’m really pleased.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

But not everything was warbler believe it or not. I was able to capture some decent shots of some of the other inhabitants.

Red-eyed Vireo

If for some reason you need a Baltimore Oriole for your life list, this is the place to find them. They’re everywhere.

This male Wood Duck was tied up at one of the ponds at the golf course at Maumee Bay. I think I made a inadvertent pun.

Wait a minute, that’s no bird!

Trip List

  1. Eastern Meadowlark
  2. Canada Goose
  3. European Starling
  4. American Robin
  5. Common Grackle
  6. Mourning Dove
  7. House Sparrow
  8. Brown-headed Cowbird
  9. Killdeer
  10. Cooper’s Hawk
  11. Barn Swallow
  12. Tree Swallow
  13. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  14. Purple Martin
  15. Cliff Swallow
  16. Chimney Swift
  17. Red-winged Black Bird
  18. Ring-billed Gull
  19. Herring Gull
  20. Common Tern
  21. Gray Catbird
  22. Eastern Phoebe
  23. Carolina Wren
  24. House Wren
  25. Great Egret
  26. Snowy Egret
  27. Black-crowned Night Heron
  28. Green Heron
  29. Double-creasted Cormorant
  30. Trumpeter Swan
  31. Bald Eagle
  32. Red-tailed Hawk
  33. Northern Harrier
  34. Blue Jay
  35. Orchard Oriole
  36. Baltimore Oriole
  37. Warbling Vireo
  38. Red-eyed Vireo
  39. Philadelphia Vireo
  40. Eastern Wood Pewee
  41. Least Flycatcher
  42. Willow Flycatcher
  43. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
  44. Acadian Flycatcher
  45. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  46. Eastern Kingbird
  47. Indigo Bunting
  48. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  49. Northern Cardinal
  50. Downy Woodpecker
  51. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  52. Gray-cheeked Thrush
  53. Swainson’s Thrush
  54. Lincoln’s Sparrow
  55. White-throated Sparrow
  56. White-crowned Sparrow
  57. Song Sparrow
  58. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
  59. Horned Lark
  60. Mallard
  61. Wood Duck
  62. Semi-palmated Plover
  63. Least sandpiper
  64. Dunlin
  65. White-rumped Sandpiper
  66. Pied-billed Grebe
  67. Common Gallinule
  68. Common Nighthawk
  69. Yellow-billed Cuckoo
  70. Black-billed Cuckoo
  71. Cedar Waxwing
  72. Northern Flicker
  73. Wood Thrush Rose-breasted Grosbeack
  74. Eastern Bluebird
  75. White-eyed Vireo
  76. Eastern Towhee
  77. Eastern Goldfinch
  78. Sandhill Crane
  79. Screech Owl
  80. Peregrine Falcon
  81. Marsh Wren
  82. Yellow Warbler
  83. Common Yellowthroat
  84. Northern Parula
  85. Magnolia Warbler
  86. American Redstart
  87. Nashville warbler
  88. Blackpoll Warbler
  89. Cape May warbler
  90. Chestnut-sided Warbler
  91. Black-throated Blue warbler
  92. Black and White warbler
  93. Tennessee Warbler
  94. Wilson’s warbler
  95. Bay-breasted warbler
  96. Prothonotary Warbler
  97. Mourning Warbler
  98. Black-throated Green warbler
  99. Blackburnian Warbler
  100. Canada Warbler
  101. Connecticut Warbler
  102. Palm Warbler
  103. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  104. American Woodcock

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

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.

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.