January 30, 2009

Florida - Boring Birds Edition

Okay, here's my Florida trip report. Pics at the bottom :-)

January 30 – I got back last night from a week in Florida. Saw some great birds, played at a fantastic dance weekend and spent some time with Sarah's grandparents. On January 22 I flew into Tampa with mom and Noah. It was dark by the time we left the airport but in the morning I started picking up year birds fast. Gnatcatcher was the first official bird of the trip, followed by other common species like Osprey, Mockingbird, Laughing Gull, etc. In the afternoon we went out to a small island south of St Petersburg and walked the beach. There were lots of Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstones feeding by the water and several Loggerhead Shrikes on the telephone lines. On the way back I picked up a few more easy southeast birds like Anhinga, Wood Stork and White Ibis. When we arrived at the dance hall in Gulfport the next morning (January 24) I found some large shorebirds in the area which turned out to be Willets, Marbled Godwits and American Oystercatchers. However the first really exciting bird of the trip was a SANDWICH TERN mixed in with some Royal and Forster's Terns, right outside the dance hall. This was essentially a life bird; I had it on my list from one previous sighting over ten years ago that I don't remember at all. The bird was very cooperative and stayed on the beach for most of the day, hanging out with the other terns and, another favorite of mine, Black Skimmers. Sarah flew down on January 25 and the only new birds that day were several parrots of some kind, seen very briefly while driving back to the hotel from dinner. We tried to turn around and relocate them but with no luck. After packing things up we drove south to Ft Myers for the night. We got up early on January 26 and headed out to Sanibel Island to visit J.N. “Ding” Darling NWR. It was of course amazing. We had great looks at REDDISH EGRET, ROSEATE SPOONBILL, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Little Blue and Tricolored Herons as well as a beautiful pair of COMMON GROUND-DOVES. Over on the beach we had a couple Northern Gannets and a soaring Peregrine Falcon. Around noon we headed back inland and south, hoping to find Short-tailed Hawk or something else interesting. Unfortunately we got caught in some bad traffic and ended up wasting a lot of time since we didn't have good directions or a decent map. So we didn't find much new for the rest of the day. We started out in the morning on January 27 at Bunche Beach in Ft Myers (the end of John Morris Blvd) looking for plovers. We walked east for a long time without too much luck (although we did get to see several more Reddish Egrets). When we got back towards the parking lot I took a quick scan west and found several small and distant groups of plovers so we decided to get a closer look. Before long we could pick out a bunch of PIPING PLOVERS, little white spots on the sand, mixed in with the Semipalmated Plovers. After we'd watched them for a while I was able to pick out three or four WILSON'S PLOVERS as well. This was another “nearly” life bird. I had one previous bad look at this species on a boat ride in Texas several years ago. Very excited about finding our goal birds for the morning, we started heading east towards Lake Okeechobee looking for open land birds along the way. At some point we missed a turn and ended up heading way north of where we had planned. It was in this area that we found our first CRESTED CARACARA along the side of the road. What a fantastic bird! Sarah especially enjoyed this one since it was a lifer for her. We dipped on Burrowing Owl but we saw another Caracara along the way. Once we got to Lake Okeechobee we picked up several new species including a pair of WESTERN KINGBIRDS and our first alligator. The sun was beginning to go down and we'd pretty much stopped actively birding when it finally happened. Sarah and I both shouted out at the same time... LIMPKIN (full blown, honest-to-goodness Life Bird)! It was feeding in a ditch right by the side of the road. This was definitely my most sought after goal bird of the trip and I was thrilled, after scanning roadside ditches for so many hours to finally see one. Of course, after we get a few pictures and headed on our way again we find three more Limpkins within a mile or two. We thought for sure our birding was done for the day but there was still one more surprise for us. As we were approaching St Lucie I saw a (somewhat) familiar raptor fly up and land on a telephone line right by our car. It was an immature SNAIL KITE and we turned around one last time to get some decent, sunset scope views of this beautiful bird. We arrived in Vero Beach that evening and stayed with Sarah's grandparents. January 28 was Sarah's birthday and in the afternoon we went on an airboat ride at Lake Garcia. New species were Purple Gallinule, American Bittern, Caspian Tern and Ring-necked Duck but we also got another quick look at a Limpkin and fantastic, extended looks at a Peregrine Falcon that would follow the boat and dive bomb the coot. It was amazing to watch it use the boat to flush the waterfowl. Airboat rides are always a ton of fun. On January 29 we headed back across the state to Tampa (to catch our flight back to Syracuse). We picked up several new birds along the way including Eastern Meadowlark and American Pipit. In Lake Wales we pulled into a Publix grocery store so I could use a restroom. When I got back to the car Sarah had the scope out and had found a flock of BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING-DUCKS in a small lake across the road! This was yet another “nearly” life bird; seen badly once before on the same Texas boat ride. We drove around to get a closer look at the ducks with better lighting and we even managed some photos despite the wind. Also on the pond were Blue-winged Teal, Glossy Ibis, Wilson's Snipe and several MOTTLED DUCKS. It was a great trip and got my year list up to 145.

Crested CaracaraCommon Ground-DoveLoggerhead ShrikeLimpkinSnail KiteBlack-bellied Whistling-Duck

Florida - Friends & Family Edition

Hi all. So, Sarah and I got back last night from a wonderful trip to Florida. It was, needless to say, a nice break from the still mostly frigid temps up here in CNY. Great Bear played for the Florida Snow Ball in Gulfport (near St Pete). It was one of my all time favorite dance weekends. Right on the beach, great food, great floor, great dances, tons of birds. Aweosme. Sarah flew down on Sunday and we did a bunch of birding. More on that later. But we also visited ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) which is this very cool, global, Christian, agriculture-oriented, networking facility that we heard about from our friends Megan and Andy Newhouse. Sarah and I are both really excited about this place and would love to get more involved. Check out their website for more info. We also got to visit Grandma and Grandpa Ziegler in Vero Beach and went on an airboat ride. I must have drunk nearly my weight in fresh squeezed orange juice! That stuff is so amazing. Anyway, we had a great time... it was a little hard to come back. Actually... we literally almost missed our flight! You know, this blog is called Birds & Music because, as I've mentioned before, that's about all I know anything about. To demonstrate just how clueless I am... apparently and thoroughly unbeknownst to me, there's this football game thing called the Super Bowl that just happened to be gearing up in Tampa right as we were trying to find our way to the airport. And it turns out that a whole lotta people go to this Super Bowl thing, making the driving in that immediate area pretty ridiculously slow and treacherous, especially when your flight starts boarding in 10 minutes! We barely made it and thank goodness the weather wasn't bad. So we got home safe and now I'm just catching up on things, putting out fires, and trying to force myself not to spend too many hours at a time reading Breaking Dawn. Here are some pics...

Dana and JanTommy - wow, man... just, wow...Rima and NoahThe notorious Larry, Eden & SamSarah at ECHOMe on the airboatGrandpa & Grandma - great to see you as always

January 14, 2009

Twlog Twabout Twampires

Here are some excuses for my lack of blogging activity:
First, Edward is a vampire
Second, there's a part of him - and I don't know how dominant that part might be - that reminds me an awful lot of Chris Thile
Third, I am unconditionally and irrevocably hooked on these feakin' addictive books

So yeah, there it is. Not sure how I feel about the whole issue. I mean... it's complicated. Like, whatever. Becky's mostly to blame for all this but I did used to watch Buffy every now and then in highschool. And you know, I guess sometimes, these things happen... right?
Sarah would like to remind you all that I'm not gay.
Which reminds me... ELO is so awesome!

January 04, 2009

Canadian Owl Blitz

White-winged Crossbill
Hello folks. Hope you all had a great holiday season. Sarah and I drove up to Canada for a couple days to look for owls. Here is my trip report.

January 1 – This morning Sarah and I drove up to Amherst Island, Ontario. I wanted to jump start my year list with some good owls since I only had a couple of them in 2008. The weather was clear, calm and sunny but bitterly cold. The first good bird of the day was a NORTHERN SHRIKE just outside of Fulton on Route 3. There was also a surprise RED-SHOULDED HAWK near Millhaven, ON. We arrived on the island at about 2:00 PM and immediately had our first ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS (all light phase today). Shortly after that Sarah picked out our first SNOWY OWL flying over some fields, which was followed by two more on the eastern end of the island. Beautiful birds; most of them fairly heavily marked. Sarah also found a couple of Gadwall and a flock of Snow Buntings before we arrived at The Owl Woods. On our way in we had another SHRIKE and our first American Tree Sparrows near the feeders. Then we found a group of people with cameras and scopes all clustered around a small evergreen. Sure enough, it was a stunning BOREAL OWL perched within arms length and seemingly oblivious to all the attention. This was a lifer for Sarah and a far superior look for me (I'd seen one previous bird on Amherst several years ago, mostly obscured by branches). Just before we entered the pine plantation we had another fly over SNOWY OWL and a small flock of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS. We found roughly 10 LONG-EARED OWLS tucked away in the pines. It was difficult sometimes to find them before they would flush. No Saw-whets unfortunately but we were extremely fortunate to find a second BOREAL OWL which also allowed some fantastic photos! The cold was intense and it was beginning to get dark so we decided to call it a day. On our way back to the ferry we saw several SHORT-EARED OWLS and at least five more SNOWYS! One was perched in a tree near the road and as we approached it flew right down in front of us; one of the best looks I've ever had. All in all it was a wonderful day of birding. We're headed to Ottawa tomorrow to look for Great Gray and Hawk-Owls. My year list is at 31.
January 2 – Today we continued our owl blitz and headed north to Ottawa. Along the way we tried for a Great Gray that had been seen near Smiths Falls and a Hawk-Owl that had been reported near Perth but neither bird was out this morning. We did find a nice flock of roughly 60 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS on Route 7 with a small flock of PINE GROSBEAKS and a larger flock of Pine Siskins in the same area. When we arrived at the Hawk-Owl spot in Ottawa (Grandview & Hastings) it was blowing snow and we couldn't find the bird anywhere along the road so we decided to have some lunch and wait out the weather a bit. The snow let up after a few minutes and we saw a guy with a spotting scope emerge out of the brush. He was very friendly and showed us the NORTHERN HAWK-OWL perched in a tree a little ways back from the road. It was a very cooperative bird and gave great looks until the snow started in again. It was only early afternoon so we decided to keep heading north and cross into Quebec to look for the final ultimate goal bird of the trip... a Great Gray seen near Luskville. We arrived in the area at about 3:00 PM and decided to walk the road and scan the distant tree line. It was snowing moderately and in the fading light visibility wasn't very good. But after only a few minutes Sarah found the GREAT GRAY OWL sitting low in a tree much closer than where I was looking. What an amazing bird! We had decent scope views although we weren't able to get any pictures. It was our sixth species of owl; a fantastic final bird of the trip. There was also another small flock of PINE GROSBEAKS across the road. My year list off to a healthy start with 38 including 7 birds I missed in 2008.

Boreal Owl

Snowy Owl
Long-eared Owl
Northern Hawk-Owl