Archive for November, 2012

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Thanksgiving week started early with Nate Dias’ Curlew / Marsh Sparrow boat trip in the Cape Romain NWR on November 18.  My goal was to get a good look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow, which would be a life bird for me.  I stopped at Huntington Beach State Park on my way down where I missed all three marsh sparrows which were seen before I arrived.  I was disappointed, but I had good looks at four individual Clapper Rails – swimming, walking, and bathing.

As we left the dock in McClellanville the next morning, duck hunters were returning saying that the weather was too bad for them!  It was very cold and windy and it rained most of the day.  Nate reported the most marsh sparrows in a couple of miles that he had ever seen, including “12-13 firmly identified Saltmarsh Sparrows.”  However, I did not get a good enough view of any to count as a lifer.  It was fun to put faces with familiar names from the Carolinabirds listserv, though, and it was a good trip in spite of the weather.

On Monday, I birded Altamaha WMA with Sandy Beasley, whom I had met in January at the Georgia Ornithological Society meeting.  I had birded Altamaha before, but did not know the area at all well.  Sandy showed me new areas on the west side of the road and we had a very nice day.  Now I know where to find birds as well as where to go for a great lunch!


Quinn enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving day in Jim & Debbie’s yard

Acacia and Casey

Granddaughter Acacia (Debbie’s oldest) holding Casey (Liz’ youngest)

Thanksgiving with my stepdaughters Debbie and Liz was wonderful.  Debbie’s significant other, Jim, and I birded together again this year.  He took me to Watermelon Pond, a place where he has fished for 20 years.  Jim had not been there lately, though, and was surprised to discover that the lake was dry and the area is now an official Wildlife and Environmental Area.  I was thrilled to discover this wonderful place that focuses on preserving several Florida Threatened species including Southeastern American Kestrel and Gopher Tortoise.  We saw Kestrels and I also had my best look ever at a gorgeous adult male Northern Harrier at Watermelon Pond.

The highlight of Thanksgiving was not birds, though, but seeing the wonderful progress that Liz’ autistic two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Quinn, is making.  I visited in August, just before she started ABA therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis).  The difference in her behavior and interactions with people in just three months is remarkable.  Her progress includes a little eye contact now, a huge step for an autistic child.


Limpkin at Kapok Park

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher on Courtney Campbell Causeway

I headed to Dunedin the day after Thanksgiving to spend the weekend with good friends David and Val.  David and I birded our favorite spots on Friday afternoon and talked about Quinn in between birds.  Her therapists were using an iPad with her so I wanted to get a tablet that Liz could use with her, too.  We considered options and compared Android devices to the Apple iPad for a couple of hours before deciding upon an iPad.  David, ever smart and creative, devised a plan that would allow us to bird all the way to the Apple store.  We saw some of our favorite birds along the way – Limpkins at Kapok Park and American Oystercatchers on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

John Hood, President of Clearwater Audubon, and I had met in August at the Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine.  On Saturday, David and I birded with John.  We learned where to park for the Tierra Verde “duck ponds” and finally got to see the hundreds of Redheads that winter there.

At Fort De Soto, John easily found the Long-billed Curlew that has been there for two years.  David and I had been unable to find it on my last visit.  We enjoyed John’s company and learned a lot about birding in Pinellas County due to his local expertise.

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling,a nd Dunlin at Fort De Soto

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Dunlins at Fort De Soto

"My frog is still wiggling"

“My frog is still wiggling.”

"Maybe if I squeeze real hard"

“Maybe if I squeeze real hard.”

"Shaking is good, but I'm getting weeds on my frog"

“Shaking is good, but I’m getting weeds on my frog.”

"He's subdued now, but I still can't get it down"

“He’s subdued now, but I still can’t get it down.”

"I'll try scrunching it up into one big bite."

“I’ll try scrunching it up into one big bite.”

On Sunday, David and I headed to Honeymoon Island where we enjoyed the “usual suspects” including many Ospreys. We are fascinated with herons attempting to eat large prey and watched a juvenile Little Blue Heron struggle with a large frog.  Before we could see how this story would end, a biker came along and the heron flew off with his frog.  We hoped that the frog made a good lunch.

It was time to head home on Monday morning, but my adventures were not quite yet over.  My plan was to stay in Hardeeville and bird at Savannah NWR on Tuesday morning.  As I passed the turn-off for Tybee Island, I impulsively decided try for the Saltmarsh Sparrow at Ft. Pulaski.  I called Sandy Beasley that evening and she gave me very detailed directions to where she had seen the sparrows earlier in the month.  There would be a high tide at 6:41 AM, so I decided to go for it.

I arrived at 7:30 AM and was disappointed to find much vegetation visible in the marsh.  The birds could be anywhere and I was afraid that I had missed them.  With a little patience, though, I did find the birds and got a great look at one Saltmarsh Sparrow only a foot from the log that Sandy had described.  I was thrilled to get a life bird, but greedy for more birds, continued on to Savannah NWR.

Savannah NWR is one of my favorite places and I stayed from 9:30 AM until after 3:00 PM.  I “should” have left for home much earlier, but by staying so late my last bird of the trip was a really good one – a White-winged Scoter near the end of the Laurel Hill drive.  A check of eBird records when I got home revealed only one other sighting in Savannah NWR and it was over six years ago.


I arrived safely home, very tired but grateful for the wonderful birds that I had seen and especially thankful for my loving family and friends.

White-winged Scoter

White-winged Scoter – Savannah NWR Laurel Hill drive

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The Chinese Crested Tern, a close relative of the Sandwich Tern, was our goal for the final segment of the Zoothera Global Birding trip to China in May 2012.  This Critically Endangered tern with a total population of less than 50 birds is much rarer than the Giant Panda.  It is declining rapidly for various reasons, including egg collection (for food) and the aggressive development of China’s coast with its resulting habitat loss.

Little Tern.  Lovely, but not our target.

After a short early afternoon flight from Nanchang to Fuzhou, we started out towards the MinJiang Estuary.  The roads were so narrow that we had to switch to two smaller vehicles for this part of the trip.  After we drove as close as possible, a boatman took us a few kilometres along the channel to the edge of the estuary.  We then waded across a coastal tidal creek and were finally able to start searching for the tern.  We saw Great Crested Tern, Little Tern, and shorebirds, but the Chinese Crested Tern eluded us except for a fleeting fly-over observed by the others.  But I did not see them well enough to count.  The dense mist made viewing conditions awful and I missed many of the shorebirds, too.  We returned to the boat and were ferried to our vehicles in the fading light.

Kentish Plover

The next morning we left the hotel at 4:40 AM to try again for the tern.  The weather was even worse than the first day with rain in addition to the mist.  Luckily, the rain stopped by the time we reached the channel to the estuary.  Our boatman ferried us across, but the mist was still very dense and we could not see more than 50 yards.  We decided to wade across the channel to the other side of the estuary.  Walking out there was like plodding through four inches of mud the consistency of glue with several inches of water on top of it.  My wellingtons were a size too big and I couldn’t get my balance.  With each step, as I pulled one foot out of the muck, the other foot sunk deeper.  Finally, I lost my equilibrium and the mud won, sucking me down until my clothes and binoculars were covered with the thick gooey stuff.  Menxiu, our Chinese guide, saw what happened and came back to pull me out of the muck.  I laughed and trudged on.

Shelley at MinJiang Estuary.  Photo by Raymond Shewan.

The mist continued to present such a challenge that I asked if anyone was interested in splitting the group so that some of us could leave.  Two others were also ready to go, so we left with Menxiu, while Nick and the remaining two birders stayed to continue their search for the tern.

Chinese Crested Tern. My big miss for the trip.

I was so happy to be off of the mud flats that I didn’t care if I missed the tern.  Our little group immediately started seeing new birds as soon as we were back on solid ground.  I finally had a great look at a Eurasian Hoopoe, which I had missed earlier in the trip.  And we saw two Black-winged Cuckooshrikes mating!  The others soon caught up with us, their luck having changed shortly after we left.  They were elated with their views of the Chinese Crested Terns.  So, everyone was satisfied with their morning as we set off for lunch and then Fuzhou National Forest Park.

The park was just what its name implied – a park in a forest – and it was one of the most beautiful places that we visited.  We saw some nice birds that afternoon, including a Blue Magpie.

Blue Magpie (also called Red-billed Blue Magpie)

One of the group’s favorites was this Collared Owlet.

Collared Owlet

The next morning we went to Fuzhou National Forest Park again.  I loved the park, but I was getting tired by the last few days of the trip.  While I was tired with a general lack of energy, some of the others were tired of Chinese food.  We actually broke down and ate at KFC a couple of times.  The food was similar to any other KFC, but the drinks were different.  There were no diet drinks and no water; just Coke and fruit juice.  One frustration we had during the entire trip was the unavailability of cold water to drink.  Early on, we had given up asking for water and just started drinking beer with every lunch and dinner.  Beer was served refreshingly icy cold and it seemed to be cheaper than water.

At Fuzhou National Forest Park, the paths were pretty much constant up and down.  After an hour or so, I announced that I wanted to go back to the car to wait for the group.  But, I learned that the trail that we were on was a loop and we were in the middle.  There was no easy way back to the car.  So, I continued on with the group and was glad that I stuck it out.  The last new bird of the trip was a stunning Slaty-backed Forktail, which I would have missed if I had gone back.  Another fun sighting was this family of Great Tits bathing.

Great Tit family bathing at Fuzhou National Forest Park.

Fuzhou National Forest Park also had quite a few butterflies.  My favorite was this Papilio paris.  Those metallic greenish blue spots on the hindwing are rather large and shimmer when this gorgeous butterfly is in flight.

Papilio paris, my favorite butterfly of the trip.

After a lovely but tiring morning, we headed to the airport for our flight to Shanghai.  It was the end of the Zoothera birding trip.  I said “goodbye” to Nick and the other guys in our group.  They had all been kind, patient, and helpful and we had shared many laughs together in addition to seeing rare and wonderful birds.  I had not just survived; I had enjoyed the trip.  The next morning, I took a flight to Beijing to meet my son, Dave.

Thanks once more to Tony Mills for the use of his photos. For more of Tony’s work, see Photo Art by Tony Mills and Not Just Birds.  For Nick’s official trip report, see SE China 2012.  The dates for this part of the trip were May 13-15, 2012.

Crested Myna, a bird frequently seen on the trip.

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