Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Summer Trip 2015 Birding Part 1

After taking many pictures it often takes me days, weeks, and even months to sort through them, add meta-data tags for archival purposes, crop and rename, and use creative digital darkroom edits in Photoshop. This past summer we took a month and half long journey that included driving to Minnesota, Canada, Oregon, and many National Parks along the way like Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain. While much of the trip was focused on family time I also squeezed in some time for walks, photos, and birding.  I still have not processed the dragonfly and damselfly photos from June 2015, but here are some bird and nature photos from the rest of the trip not already covered in previous posts. This post focuses on the birding while visiting Pacific City.

Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge

While others slept in I woke up early our first day while vising the coast and headed down to the beach to scope for birds. Many of the birds were similar to what I saw the day before while scoping and I wanted more. 

With the families planning to play on the beach I venture away to Nestucca Bay NWR and surrounding areas for birding. As I pulled into the drive I saw Wilson's Warblers and an Orange-Crowned Warbler and heard many more birds before noticing this  young buck bedded in the center island of the parking lot. 

White-crowned Sparrow
White-Crowned Sparrow
I walked up the hill (one paved road was the only trail I found to walk) and was able to observe a Hutton's Vireo for the first time, a LIFER! They truly fit the description of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets resemblance. The dense foliage did not allow for photos unfortunately,  The top of the hill did not yield many species, but I did take a picture of this White-Crowned Sparrow on what appeared to be a field of Queen-Anne's Lace ( I am not a plant person at all and fully expect my id to be incorrect.)

Returning down the hill I felt like I was using house money having already picked up a lifer, but then it got better when I heard a call that  reminded me of a flycatcher. Alas my auditory id skills are not what they could be and the bird quit singing. In this instance I used playback, a technique used often by some and hated by others to bring birds in closer, and  quickly identified the Hammond's Flycatcher family that flew in. Not a lifer but it felt like it having only seen this species once before 5 years previously. These birds once again evaded photos in the dark underbrush of the slope, but I also walked away carrying the potential cost of my choice to use playback.

I was in no hurry to leave having already picked up a lifer and decided to take a casual stroll back down the hill towards 101 and the refuge entrance. I was hoping to see the mixed flock of warblers and take some pictures.

Orange-crowned Warbler
Orange-Crowned Warblers from the west coast are more yellow than those from the east coast.

I likely spent a half an hour watching a small mixed flock of Wilson's Warblers and the Orange-crowned Warbler above when I heard a vireo. The song reminded me of a Blue-headed vireo, but admittedly many of the vireo calls are similar and differences are subtle. I checked the mobile eBird app and saw that Cassin's Vireos are expected in the area. I very quietly listened to the call after reading about their vocalizations which are described as "Song a series of phrases; intermediate between clear notes of Blue-headed Vireo and rough, husky notes of Plumbeous Vireo".  Score another LIFER, but this time I did not use playback and try to lure the species into the open for me to see it. 

I walked back toward the parking lot and patiently waited for the curious Wilson's Warblers to present themselves. As I was watching Wilson's Warblers through my binoculars and trying to determine where the best photo opportunity might be, a Hermit Warbler flew in and quickly flew off. It was the third LIFER of the day! Chasing after the bird for more views and photos was impossible as within a minute it flew across the road and away from the refuge. I was able to find a spot that gave me the opportunity to take the photo of a Wilson's Warbler below.

Wilson's Warbler
Wilson's Warblers are one of few warbler species on the west coast.

Satisfied with these photo opportunities I returned to my car and was about to leave when a SUV with three birders arrived. We quickly shared information about where to see their target species and they took off up the hill. I noticed the feeders next to the parking lot had many Rufous Hummingbirds active and I walked over hoping to take a photo. While I did take a couple of photos none of them turned out great.

I was lucky when two Red Crossbills flew in and let me snap a few frames. This is a species I have seen in many states yet have not been able to take good photos of. The photo below is a huge improvement from previous attempts. Unfortunately the one frame of the male feeding the juvenile was blurry and at a bad angle, so I can wait with anticipation for the next birding and photo opportunity.

Red Crossbill

I returned back to the rental and checked in with family, but was quickly distracted with all the potential birds and not looking forward to climbing a sand hill. So with the permission of my wife, my mother, my sister, my dad, and my brother-in-law (perhaps it was more insistence to get rid of Mr Grumpy) I took off again.

Cape Lookout SP--Cape Trail, Tillamook County, Oregon, US

Using BirdsEye to identify target species is wonderful when a birder is traveling, assuming that local birders use eBird. Fortunately for me a few people had reported sightings around Pacific City. I chose the Cape Trail from potential hikes and walked 2.5 miles to the lookout of the Pacific Ocean.

The view back toward land was better than looking straight out into an endless ocean.

Walking back I was less scared of falling off the cliff and finally set up the scope to scan. Of course this was also prompted by a lack of birds at the tip of the point where I scanned for a while. I added my fourth and final LIFER of the day with a Cassin's Auklet that was halfway back to the car. The bird was almost directly below me, but I was not going to attempt a straight down photo. Instead I snapped the photo looking out over the bay. Adding a flyby Brant while seasick rounded out a handful of lifers from our visit to Pacific City. Pretty Awesome!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Birding Blitz Videos

After 1400+ miles in 4 days, sleeping in car two of three nights, birding on average 10+ hours a day, and a memory card full of pictures to edit I am ready to go to sleep.......but before I do here are four videos and recap of my mad-dash birding extravaganza.

I left shortly after 3 am Wednesday morning hoping to see Whooping Cranes at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge around dawn. After sunup I was soon distracted by sounds coming through the open car windows, especially one that sounded like a Say's Phoebe. I stopped and looked for it but without visual confirmation I chose not to include it on my bird checklist as I have seen them before but never in Kansas. As I searched for the Phoebe this Meadowlark perched close to the car and reminded me of my daughters question from this past month "Why don't you take photos of meadowlarks?"

I turned my attention to this common species and took the video below, with a few photos, to show my daughters.  The phoebe did not appear but is often the case I hear birds I cannot identify.

I checked Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and headed west in search of Lesser Prairie-Chickens. I was unsuccessful in my afternoon searches, so I grabbed a hotel in Dodge City and returned the next morning to Hodgeman County. Success with seeing this species for the first time....a Lifer!!  I am truly thankful for the help and suggestions of fellow birders, as a pair of males were dancing right where a few people indicated they would be. 

Lesser Prairie-Chicken

I spent a couple hours watching the scene above repeat itself.  Every so often they would fly off and strut their stuff alone, only to come back together and face-off.  I headed further southwest to Morton county and Elkhart. Within Kansas this seems to be arguably the best location for rarities in the state. While the timing of my trip was not conducive to finding rarities, I still wanted to explore the Cimarron National Grasslands and the town that so many of my friends talk about. The sun went down before I was tired, so I made a split decision to drive that night to Black Mesa Preserve in Oklahoma in search of a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker. 

The terrain at Black Mesa is quite rugged and I saw Canyon Towhees and Scaled Quail for the first time, two lifers! I contributed to the death of a quail even, as my presence flushed them which alerted a Merlin of their presence. The little bird of prey swooped down and caught one of the quail. This is a bummer knowing my action has a negative consequence. This Curve-billed Thrasher was seen on the hike as well.

Returning back to Elkhart I check the Shelter-belt once again and was fortunate to be there at that time. Two youngsters were running and playing in the same area as I intended to search for birds and their presence had the Barn Owls flying around in avoidance. I heard the owl's screech and chuckled as the youngsters loudly asked what was that. I checked a few birding hotspots and started by drive back.  

Just like the first day, I started my last day at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.  I used the car as a photo blind and parked next to a small pond with two male Redhead ducks in it.  Soon after eight more Redheads flew in and I took the video below. A Say's Phoebe called and this time flew into the open, the 300th species I've observed in Kansas. While this number does not represent much, it personally was a goal of mine for last year as an incentive to get out and explore more places in Kansas. 

I may write another blog post from this trip, but I realize I am already a bit behind on photo editing (MN Winter Birding Part 4, Summer 2015 Trip Birding, or a post about spring events that we've posted through Facebook) so if you want to see photos from the trip I would direct you to my Facebook or Flickr page.