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If you missed Part 1, read it here.

The third life bird that I hoped to find in Florida was a La Sagra’s Flycatcher that was being seen in the Everglades. David’s ride on Monday was one of his shorter ones, so we had time to look for the flycatcher late that afternoon. We did not find the bird, but we still had a “bonus day” that we could use to look for it again. I wanted more than one more chance, though. You can never know how long a bird will stick around. And, this looked like my last chance to get a life bird in Florida.

David agreed to look for the La Sagra’s again on Tuesday morning before starting his long ride from Florida City to Marathon. But, we still couldn’t find our target. However, David did find the nest of the Red-shouldered Hawks that were being seen close by. And, both adults were snuggled together in the nest! Neither of us had ever seen this before.

Around 9:00 AM, Angel Abreu showed up with a friend who also wanted the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. Angel is not only one of the best birders in South Florida, he’s one of my favorite people in the world and I was very happy to see him. But, he didn’t find the bird right away either. After looking for another hour, we were in the car driving away when Angel excitedly flagged us down because he had the flycatcher! During the next hour, we had several excellent looks at our bird and heard it’s distinctive call. I was thrilled, but our wonderful morning meant that David didn’t start riding until noon that day.

Later, at Crocodile Lake NWR, I played hide-and-seek with a White-eyed Vireo for 20 minutes before giving up. These birds winter in Florida in high numbers, but they prefer not to be seen. I photographed a few butterflies instead. This female Julia Heliconian is a bit faded and tattered, but still beautiful.

David had a long day, but just before 6:00 PM, he achieved his goal of making it to Marathon – 78 miles on the bike!

We left Florida City early the next day and drove back to Marathon where David got on the bike for the final leg of his ride. I had nearly an hour before meeting David at his first rest stop, so I walked part of the Curry Hammock State Park Nature Trail that we had found the previous evening. I didn’t see anything unusual, but it was a pleasant way to start the day. I liked seeing this Spotted Sandpiper, pretty even in winter without its spots.

After meeting David with water and a snack, I walked along a paved path by the water on Big Pine Key and found a Broad-winged Hawk. These birds breed in my area and farther north, but this might have been the first Broad-wing that I’ve seen in winter in the US.

David made it to Key West by mid-afternoon. We were both elated that he had fulfilled his dream of doing this ride. I had a difficult time finding safe and legal parking near his end-point, Mile Marker 0, so I stayed with the car in the courthouse parking lot in a nice shady spot. David met me there and while he was changing into clean dry clothes, we saw a hawk flying overhead. We thought it was a Short-tailed Hawk and photos confirmed our identification. It was the third one of the trip, but the first one that I had ever found and identified without help from a more experienced birder, so a little goal of mine was accomplished, too.

We bought some souvenirs and headed over to Mallory Square. David enjoyed a celebratory beer and then we headed back to Florida City. We made a couple of quick stops on our way and found a Great White Heron in Sugarloaf Key just before dark. This is the white form of Great Blue Heron and it is considered to be the same species. It is rarely found outside Southern Florida and I had seen one only once or twice before.

We had not needed to use our “bonus day” for a weather emergency or injury, so we had a free day for birding. We spent the day in the Everglades National Park as we had hoped to do. We stopped at nearly every possible area as we worked our way towards Flamingo. David and I both love just watching birds “live their lives” as he puts it and seeing new behaviors. Our favorite experience that day was at Pahayokee Overlook observing a Great Egret bathe. In all our years in Florida, neither of us had ever seen a heron or egret take a bath before. I tried to get a video, but as soon as I hit “record,” the bird stopped splashing.

David got in a few miles on the bike in the park and we saw many more birds, especially at Mrazek Pond, where we both enjoyed helping visitors get on some of the harder to find birds. You had to know just where to look to see the Roseate Spoonbill that David found way in the back of the pond or the Green Heron hiding on one side.

The time to head back to Dunedin came all too soon. I would have loved a few more days in South Florida. We prolonged our nature watching for as long as possible by driving the Loop Road Scenic Drive off US 41 on the way home. It had been many years since I was there, but Sweetwater Strand was just as magical as I remembered. My favorite photo from that spot is this Great Blue Heron.

After the birding and biking adventure with David, I set off for Gainesville and some family time with my granddaughters and son-in-law. And, then it was on to Atlanta to see my step-daughter before finally driving home.

I find that long road trips are a lot easier if I take breaks, so I stop often to walk a little and look for birds. You might be surprised at what you can find at highway rest stops. At the “Welcome to Georgia” rest area, I was pleased to see this lovely little Yellow-throated Warbler. It looks like he (or she) is singing for tips, but actually it is just picking at the nut.

Later that day, I met another birder at a rest stop for the first time. We enjoyed talking about birds and watching a flock of about 30 Cedar Waxwings.

After I got home, I had one more bird to see – a Western Tanager that had shown up the day after I left for Florida. This is a western bird as its name implies, but there have been several vagrants in North Carolina this winter. This particular bird, though, was the first one seen in Forsyth County since 1987. Luck was with me this time and I saw the tanager after waiting less than an hour. With birds, you never know what you are going to miss and what you will see. That uncertainly is what makes birding both addicting and fun.

Read part two of David’s story on his blog in Bicycling Naples to Key West – Part 2.

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David has dreamed of riding his bicycle to Key West for several years.  He explored several organized rides, but none of them felt right to him, so he asked me if I would SAG for him if he did a solo trip.  David is one of my best friends, so, of course, I said yes.  Plus, I might even get a life bird if I was lucky.  I hadn’t had a life bird in Florida since 2015, but typically a few rarities show up every winter in the southern part of the state, so I was hopeful.  In cycling terms, SAG means support and gear; I would drive David’s car along his bike route carrying food, water, tools and parts for minor bike repairs, extra clothing, etc.  We decided to start the cycling adventure in Naples Beach, travel east across US 41, and then drive/cycle down US 1 through the Keys.  To save money and give us a little flexibility, we would spend five nights in Florida City.

When I left home on February 10, there were three possible life birds that I could get, plus anything new that might show up.  I got a late start and spent the first night in southern Georgia.  The next morning, I headed towards Merritt Island NWR where a Great White Pelican had been regularly seen for a couple of weeks, including the previous day.  After I got on the road, I learned that Black Point Wildlife Drive, the spot where the pelican was most often seen, was closed for a controlled burn.  I arrived around noon and checked a few other locations where it was speculated that the bird could have gone.  I found a group of American White Pelicans at Haulover Creek, but not my target bird.

At the Merritt Island NWR Visitor Center that afternoon, I was consoled by several beautiful Painted Buntings. It’s hard to be sad while watching these gorgeous birds. Below, the colorful male is on the left and the pretty yellow-green female on the right.

After the Visitor Center closed, I was looking at birds in the trees in the parking lot when I heard what I thought was a woodpecker, but I couldn’t find it. Finally, I discovered the source of the pecking sound – a male Northern Cardinal challenging his own reflection in the rear view window of my car! This behavior isn’t unusual, but I rarely see it.

The next morning, I went back to the Visitor Center to find out when the wildlife drive would open. “Noon,” they said, too late for me as I wanted to head to Dunedin to stay with David and Val that evening. Again, I birded in the parts of the refuge that were open and actually enjoyed it more than the previous day. I had given up on the pelican and just enjoyed what I did see.

Birds winter in this area in large numbers and I saw 50 species with my modest efforts on two short days – herons, egrets, ibises, shorebirds, ducks, and more. My favorite animal wasn’t a bird, though, but this adorable Hispid Cotton Rat under the Merritt Island NWR Visitor Center feeders.  I was disappointed that I hadn’t found the pelican, but genuinely happy to see the rat, a life mammal.

I grew up in Pinellas County and I’ve visited so often the last few years that it feels like home. My favorite birding locations are Dunedin Causeway and Honeymoon Island State Park, so that’s where I headed on Thursday after arriving the previous afternoon. I had a great time at Honeymoon Island, but I couldn’t concentrate on birding because people were so friendly! Everyone wanted to talk, but I enjoyed the conversations, especially with a young couple who thanked me for being their “tour guide” after we watched a Gopher Tortoise together. It was a special treat to see this creature, a threatened species in Florida. Gopher Tortoises are important because they dig burrows deep in the sand that are used by over 350 other species including Burrowing Owl. Many of those species could not survive without the Gopher Tortoise. This particular tortoise is one of the largest that I’ve seen; note it’s smooth shell from years of burrowing in the sand.

In late winter, it’s always thrilling to observe the many Osprey at the height of courtship. Everywhere you look, Osprey are fishing, eating, calling, sitting near their mates (or intended), and soaring overhead. This male Osprey is enjoying lunch. Who can identify the fish by its distinctively shaped red tail? Please leave a comment if you know what it is.

I had one more day to go birding before David and I headed south, so I went to Dunedin Hammock City Park to look for the Short-tailed Hawks that had been reported there. I ran into a local birder who told me that the hawks had nested in the park since 2017. We went our separate ways and then ran into each other twice more. Just before we both needed to leave, he caught a glimpse through the trees of a hawk flying. We waited and it soared overhead for a minute, confirming its identify and allowing me to get a bad photo, but good enough for the local eBird reviewer to confirm my report.

This Snowy Egret at Dunedin Hammock was lovely in breeding plumage and much more cooperative than the Short-tailed Hawk.

I had enough time left that afternoon to find a Purple Gallinule (rare for Pinellas County) and then it was time to meet David after work and get ready for his big cycling adventure.

All we had to do on Saturday was drive to Naples to be in place for David’s start on Sunday morning, so we were able to do a little birding on our way down the Gulf Coast. Our first stop was at a place near Sarasota called “Celery Fields” by Florida birders. We had no idea what to expect and were surprised by the wonderful feeder area where we spent most of our time. We had great close looks at Common Ground Doves, a species that we have seen often, but never so well. A Brown-headed Cowbird is in the shadows behind the dove in the photo below.

Most fun, though, were the Nanday Parakeets, who swooped down into the feeder area and took all our attention. This is another species that we had seen before, but not this close. We found it interesting that the middle bird below was hanging by one foot with its head in the feeder port.

Below, a single Nanday Parakeet poses for a portrait photo.

We made another stop at Corkscrew Swamp, a favorite place of mine since I lived in Miami in the early 1980’s. Wood Storks were much less common then (they were assigned endangered status from 1984 to 2014). To see these birds, we had to drive across the state to Corkscrew which was the breeding ground for about half of the Southern Florida population then. Fortunately, they have had a good recovery and are now easy to see in many areas of Florida.

I had planned to look for the White-cheeked Pintail in Naples, which had been seen for weeks before I left North Carolina. But, by the time we got there, the duck had been missing for eight days, so we didn’t spend time looking. Yep, another lost opportunity for a life bird.

David started his ride from Naples Beach on Sunday morning. Our first two days across US 41 were rather tedious and I didn’t see many birds. But, I did enjoy birding the Shark Valley entrance road for an hour on Monday morning where I saw this Anhinga in the ditch drying its wings.

The trip would soon got more interesting for both of us. Watch for part 2. Read David’s story about this part of the trip in his blog post, Bicycling Naples to Key West – Part 1.

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On Sunday morning, August 18, Derek started home, David set off on the first ride of Cycle Adirondacks‘ Ultimate Cycling Vacation, and I headed out to see if I could find any birds.  I went to Crown Point State Historic Site, about 12 miles north of Ticonderoga.  I enjoyed walking around this lovely spot on a peninsula that juts out into Lake Champlain.  The birds like this spot, too, especially the gulls.

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gulls

I drove over the Lake Champlain bridge and walked around Chimney Point on the Vermont side.  I enjoyed watching an Osprey’s hovering flight over the lake before it plunged down to catch a fish.  Osprey are the largest birds that are able to hover.

A poor photo of an amazing Osprey hovering over Lake Champlain

A poor photo of an amazing Osprey hovering over Lake Champlain

I found a few other birds along the shore and this chipmunk that did his best chirping impression of a bird.

A chipmunk who's chirping almost fooled me

A chipmunk who’s chirping almost fooled me

David rode 66.7 miles with 4130’ of climbing on the local Ticonderoga ride.  The trip was going so fast that I can’t remember what we did that afternoon.  Could we both have been a bit tired by then?

On Monday David rode to Wilmington and I drove to Bloomingdale Bog before turning towards Wilmington.  I was becoming obsessed with the bog and I hoped to find Black-backed Woodpeckers on my own.  I found only Canada Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, and other species that we had seen there previously, but I enjoyed my morning.

David’s ride to Wilmington was 61.4 miles, but we had both recovered a bit so in the afternoon we drove up Veterans’ Memorial Highway to the top of Whiteface Mountain, New York’s fifth-highest peak at 4,867 feet.  The mountain’s east slope hosted the alpine skiing competitions of the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.  Whiteface Mountain is also the easiest place to see the rare Bicknell’s Thrush anywhere in it’s small range in the northeast, but by August the birds are nearly impossible to find.  I hope to return in June one year for a better chance to see this lovely thrush.

By Richard Crossley - Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Richard Crossley – Richard Crossley, CC BY-SA 3.0

The drive up the mountain was beautiful and provided fantastic views of the surrounding area in the afternoon light.  At the top, we had sandwiches and beer and David hiked to the top of the mountain.  It was cold and windy; I was a wimp and waited in the gift shop.

David enjoys the view from a a stop on Whiteface Mountain

David enjoys the view from a a stop on Whiteface Mountain

Another scenic view from the road up Whiteface Mountain

Another scenic view from the road up Whiteface Mountain

On Tuesday morning I returned to Bloomingdale Bog for one last time and David rode the long loop out of Wilmington.  That afternoon we visited High Falls Gorge.  After viewing the gorge and waterfalls, I somewhat foolishly suggested that we walk the “nature trail” which turned out to be a one-mile “moderate” hike over large rocks and tree roots that was somewhat steep.  We were tired that night!

The beautiful waterfall at High Falls Gorge

The beautiful waterfall at High Falls Gorge

The walkways at High Falls Gorge were beautifully done to be safe and provide wonderful views

The walkways at High Falls Gorge were beautifully done to be safe and provide wonderful views

Day four of the Ultimate Cycling Vacation, August 21, brought the ride from Wilmington to Westport, on the shore of Lake Champlain.  We loved Wilmington and hated to leave, but we also looked forward to the next phase of our adventure.  My birding focus shifted to looking for Little Gull at Noblewood Park again, half an hour north of Westport.  Derek and I had tried a week earlier without success, but there were three eBird reports from August 20 and I was hopeful that I would find the gull.

Cycle ADK's base camp for Westport was the Essex County fairgrounds, where some of the "art" for the fair was still on display

Cycle ADK’s base camp for Westport was the Essex County fairgrounds, where some of the “art” for the fair was still on display

I arrived at the park just after 9:00 AM and don’t recall seeing another birder although there is an eBird report from 7:30 AM that morning (without the target gull).  It was cold and windy and miserable and I did not find a Little Gull.  Reports use the phrases “searched the flock of Bonaparte’s Gulls for two hours” and “obvious” in the same report, which I found quite funny.  So, theoretically I could have seen a Little Gull and just not recognized it, but I don’t think that happened.  After talking with local experts and pouring over photos during the next few days, the gull started to feel familiar, but still elusive.

Looking for a Little Gull in flocks of Bonaparte's Gulls with a few Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns

Looking for a Little Gull in flocks of Bonaparte’s Gulls with a few Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Caspian Terns, and Common Terns

David’s day brought “interesting” events, too.  He blew his rear tire fifteen miles into the ride.  Fortunately, he was going slow at the time and was not injured.  Cycle Adirondacks gave him a ride to the next rest stop nine miles away and a new tire.  He lost an hour and a half, but was then back on the road for the ride to Westport in pouring rain for the next forty miles.

David's rides took him past numerous waterfalls

David’s rides took him past numerous waterfalls

The next morning I arrived at Noblewood Park at 8:00 AM and found three birders already there.  Stacy had arrived at 7:00 AM and had seen a Little Gull before I got there.  She was not only an expert birder, but very friendly and she tried really hard to help me find the gull.  Unfortunately, the gull did not cooperate.  Stacy had also seen two Baird’s Sandpipers the previous day and she gave me explicit directions for where to find them.  Although not a life bird, this species was another of my targets for the trip because I had only seen them a few times and never well.

I drove about an hour south to Port Henry and immediately found the sandpipers exactly where Stacy said they would be.  The next half hour was a welcome relief – gorgeous weather, no pressure, and cooperative birds.  Here is the little video that I shot from about 12-15 feet from one of the Baird’s Sanpipers.

David’s loop ride took him to Essex, just three miles south of Noblewood Park where I had gone birding, and a ferry ride across Lake Champlain.  After riding 35 miles through Vermont countryside, he rode back into New York over the lovely Lake Champlain bridge where I had birded a few days earlier.  It was the longest ride of the event at 75 miles, 6:58 hours (including the half hour ferry ride) and 4,708 feet of climbing.

David's ride through Vermont took him past miles of beautiful countryside

David’s ride through Vermont took him past miles of beautiful countryside

Friday was David’s last day of the Ultimate Cycling Vacation as the group rode from Westport back to the starting point in Ticonderoga.  I had one last chance to try for Little Gull at Noblewood Park and I was the first to arrive at 8:00 AM.  Other birders started arriving half an hour later and Matt from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology got there at 9:24 AM.  None of us were able to find a Little Gull despite five sets of eyes rigorously searching.  I left at 10:26 AM, assuming that if we had not found the bird by then, it would not be seen that day, especially since earlier reports were mostly from early morning.  And, I wanted to be back in Ticonderoga when David finished his ride.

Cedar Waxwings were common at Noblewood Park and nearly everywhere else during the trip

Cedar Waxwings were common at Noblewood Park and nearly everywhere else during the trip

I met David and sat down to eat a hamburger.  Five minutes later, a message popped up on my phone.  It was Stacy, “Matt says you left the park and he has an adult Little Gull now.”  I involuntary uttered “Oh, s***!” causing people nearby to turn and stare at me.  But, David immediately knew that meant the bird had been found.  He just said “Let’s go.”  Fortunately, we were able to think clearly and make plans.  There would be no time to check into the hotel.  So, we managed to get the bike and the bike bag into my overstuffed car in record time and I started driving north.  We made just one quick stop at Gunnison’s Bakery.  While David was changing out of his sweaty, wet cycling clothes, I bought a small strawberry-rhubarb pie, optimistically intending it to be the “lifer pie” we would use to celebrate the Little Gull that I was sure to see.  Back in the car, I learned that I could drive the speed limit after all.  Earlier I had said there was no way to safely drive 55 MPH on the twisting, hilly county road.

Matt had not been able to stay, but he had texted a very detailed description of the bird and where he had seen it.  We started scoping, but could not find it.  After four hours of searching with just one short break, we never did find Matt’s Little Gull.  As we ate “loser pie” that evening, I realized that I still have a great story; only the ending is different from the one I would have liked.  And, now I feel like a real birder; I finally have a nemesis bird.

Pickerel or Leopard Frog? David saw where it hopped as we walked through the weeds on the way back to the car at Noblewood Park.

Pickerel or Leopard Frog? David saw where it hopped as we walked through the weeds on the way back to the car at Noblewood Park.

To read more about David’s cycling adventure, see his blog post Cycle Adirondacks “Ultimate Cycling Vacation” 2019.

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After two big days of birding with Joan Collins, we were all ready for a leisurely morning.  Saturday we slept in a little, got organized, and loaded up both cars.  Then we went back to the Bloomingdale Bog feeders.  Derek and I had fun when we were there a few days earlier and we wanted to share that experience with David.  It was nearly noon when we got there, but it seemed to be good timing.  As we walked down the short trail to the feeders, David commented that the large open bog must be good for raptors.  And sure enough that appeared to be a cue for four American Kestrels to make an appearance and fly from one tall snag to another over the bog.

Next it was the Hairy Woodpecker show.  A nice male flew at eye level from from one tree to another in the feeding area for around ten minutes.  None of us had ever had closer looks.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

And then it was time for the main event – feeding the Canada Jays.  I went first and was thrilled with the feeling of the bird on my hand.  The photo below shows how happy it made me.

David was next.  Later he confessed that he wasn’t really all that interested until he saw my face when a Jay was on my hand.  He loved it, too.  He said of the jay, “He looked me in the eye.”  And, one of David’s birds chirped after every raisin “as if saying ‘Thank you’.”  David also noted that one jay stuffed five raisins in his beak at one time.

David makes friends with a Canada Jay. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

David makes friends with a Canada Jay. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

The Canada Jay was called Gray Jay for many years until last year when its name was officially changed back to Canada Jay, the name that the bird had gone by from at least 1831 to 1957.  The bird’s nicknames are more interesting, though.  “Camp Robber” is given because they frequently visit campsites for a handout and have even been known to enter tents looking for food.  “Whiskey Jack” is a name that likely stems from the Cree wisikejack or wisakedjak.

The jay is associated with mythological figures of several First Nations cultures.  But it’s to the Cree peoples especially that Wisakedjak is a shape-shifter who frequently appears as the Canada Jay, a benign spirit, fun-loving and cheerful.  The bird is seen in Cree stories as an example of good manners and good company.

A Canada Jay on David's hand. Note how his feet wrap around David's fingers. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

A Canada Jay on David’s hand. Note how his feet wrap around David’s fingers. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Canada Jays are also fascinating in their breeding behavior.  Pairs are monogamous and remain together for life.  These hardy birds live year round in the north, mostly in Canada.  During warmer months, they gather and store food for the harsh winter to come.  Nesting starts in late winter; both males and females work hard to build a nest that is well-insulated.  Eggs are laid in late February or March and the female stays on the nest while incubating eggs and brooding young chicks while the male brings food to the nest.

All done. A Canada Jay flies off David's hand. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

All done. A Canada Jay flies off David’s hand. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Derek had a turn and then we walked the short distance back to the car.  We drove to Ticonderoga that afternoon where David would start Cycle Adirondack’s Ultimate Cycling Vacation on Sunday.  David went to the welcome dinner while Derek and I headed out for one last birding adventure before he would have to start home.  Derek had 97 Vermont birds and we both wanted him to get three more.  He had picked out a great birding location in Vermont, West Rutland Marsh, but it was raining and we did not get the reprieve that was predicted.  Not wanting to admit defeat, Derek dashed out in the rain for just a moment before deciding that the thunder was closer than desired.  So, our last birding effort was a bust, but we had a nice dinner at a cute little diner and got House Sparrow for our Vermont lists while parking.

West Rutland Marsh. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

West Rutland Marsh. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

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When I committed to this trip nearly a year ago, I checked to see if any life birds would be possible.  I found three possibilities – Spruce Grouse, Northern Goshawk, and Little Gull.  They were all far from guaranteed; the Spruce Grouse would be nearly impossible.  But, I wanted to try, so I made plans to hire Joan Collins, owner of Adirondack Avian Expeditions.  The original plan was for Joan, David, and I to spend Friday looking for my birds, but Derek had joined our group since that plan was made.  The weather also affected our plans with rain forecast for Friday, so Derek and I were guided by Joan on Thursday.  We added a few birds to our wish list – Black-backed Woodpecker, which would be a life bird for Derek, Black-billed Cuckoo because it’s a cool bird and we had not seen it often enough, and Boreal Chickadee because Derek had not seen it in the US.

We saw several Black-and-White Warblers in the mixed flocks that we encountered. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

We saw several Black-and-White Warblers in the mixed flocks that we encountered. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Joan picked Derek and me up at 5:30 AM on August 15.  After a quick stop for breakfast (to eat on the way), we headed to Spring Pond Bog, a conglomeration of properties owned by hunt clubs, a small bit of private land, and The Nature Conservancy (Spring Pond Bog Preserve).  There is only one entrance into this area with a manned security gate.  We began seeing birds on the entrance road before we even got to the gate.  We had our first mixed flock of the day with several warblers.  We also saw a pair of Red Crossbills and a Blackburnian Warbler dustbathing in the gravel road.

Red Crossbill (male). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Red Crossbill (male). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Joan soon heard both a Black-backed Woodpecker and a Black-billed Cuckoo calling.  The woodpecker did not cooperate, but the cuckoo could not have been much more accommodating.  He gave us good views on both sides of the road and loudly sang for 20 minutes, “coo-coo-coo coo-coo-coo.”

Black-billed Cuckoo. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Black-billed Cuckoo. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Early in the day we saw this very young sparrow.  Initially I thought it was a White-throated Sparrow, but now I’m not certain.  It will join the list of things to research after the trip.  Babies frequently look so different from adults that identification of even common species can be a challenge, especially with species that do not breed where we live.

Juvenile sparrow [Update: it has been identified by experts as a Song Sparrow.]

Juvenile sparrow [Update: it has been identified by experts as a Song Sparrow.]

We finally made it to the gate and were waved through as Joan has permission from The Nature Conservancy to use their property.  The entire area is beautiful and much more birdy than any place Derek and I had visited earlier in our trip.

Derek and Joan looking for waterfowl on Rock Lake

Derek and Joan looking for waterfowl on Rock Lake

The entire day was wonderful and filled with surprises. Joan and Derek may have seen a Northern Goshawk quickly fly over a wetland and into the trees, but I was on the wrong side of the car for even a quick glimpse.  However, the rarest bird of the day was amazingly a Black Vulture.  There are only two or three reports of this species in the Adirondacks. In birding, rarity is mostly about location and Black Vulture is a more southern species, but its range is slowly expanding northward.

We frequently heard Hermit Thrushes singing throughout the day.  We had a few views of the birds, too.  This one held onto his beakful of bugs the entire time we watched.  It seemed as if he were saying “Would you hurry up and leave already so that I can feed my babies.”

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

We could have spent days exploring Spring Pond Bog, but we had to leave a little before 4:00 PM so that we could drive to Albany to pick up David and Derek’s car at the airport (where we had left it four days earlier).  The three of us had dinner together a little north of the airport and then we drove back to Tupper Lake.  The drive would normally take an hour on the Interstate and then another hour and a half on two-lane county roads, but the rain and fog made it even longer.  David and I got back shortly before midnight and Derek pulled in 20 minutes later at 12:15 AM.  It was a long day!  But there would be no rest for us as we had made plans to go out with Joan again on Friday.  The weather forecast had changed to give us a dry window between 8:00 AM and 2:00 PM to look for Black-backed Woodpecker at another location that Joan said was more reliable.

We met Joan as planned and started with roadside birding after picking up food for breakfast and lunch.

Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Within a few minutes Joan heard a Black-backed Woodpecker across the road.  She gestured towards the thick forest and said something like “You guys are OK with going in there, aren’t you”?  We all said yes and then Joan ran up the side of the road and plunged into the woods.

Bushwhacking through boreal forest was worth it, though, for Joan found a pair of Black-backed Woodpeckers and we saw both the male and female well.  We would never have found birds at this location on our own.  Joan’s hearing is supernatural and her knowledge of these woodpeckers and their behavior were directly responsible for our encounter with them.

Black-backed Woodpecker (female). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Black-backed Woodpecker (female). Photo by Derek Hudgins.

We ran into an old snowmobile road and used it off and on while following the woodpeckers and then we finally walked on it back to the highway.  We found other treasures besides the woodpeckers in those deep woods.

Red eft, the juvenile stage of Eastern (red-spotted) newt. These widespread, native salamanders of eastern North America can live for 12-15 years!

Red eft, the juvenile stage of Eastern (red-spotted) newt. These widespread, native salamanders of eastern North America can live for 12-15 years!

Wood Frog. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Wood Frog. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Later Joan told us about the breeding behavior of Black-backed Woodpeckers.  The male excavates the nest.  He does all of the nighttime incubation and most of the daytime incubation.  He also does most of the feeding.  Joan said she has rarely seen a female feed young.  She described the females as lazy and told one fascinating story.  A female flew in and landed near her nest tree with food in her beak.  A juvenile in the nest was screaming to be fed.  The female sat there a few moments, ate the insects she had been holding, and then flew away.

After we had our fill of woodpeckers, we drove to another roadside birding location to look for Boreal Chickadees.  Amazingly, we found over a dozen of these adorable little birds.  Joan said that specific location is the only place that she has ever seen so many in one area.

Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Boreal Chickadee. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

We also saw quite a few warblers along the roadside with the chickadees and other birds during the day.  The rain held off a little longer than expected and we were able to keep birding until after 4:00 PM.  Our two days with Joan were the highlight of our trip.  Joan Collins is phenomenal and we highly recommend her as a birding guide in the Adirondacks.

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My friend David will begin participating in Cycle Adirondacks’s Ultimate Cycling Vacation in a few days.  When he signed up nearly a year ago, he asked if I’d like to come along to give him a little extra support in case it’s needed.  He suggested that I might also see a few birds.  So, of course, I said “yes.”  And then a couple of weeks ago the birding part of the plan really came together when my birding buddy, Derek, said that he would like to go for a few days, too.

House Wren

House Wren

I left home yesterday morning, Saturday, August 10, and drove to Derek’s place just north of Baltimore.  It was mainly a travel day, but I did make a few stops to look for birds in new counties.  First was the lovely Walrond Park in Roanoke, Virginia, that Derek suggested.  The beautiful park had wonderful habitat and looked as if it should have been teeming with birds, but it was rather quiet late on a hot August morning.  I didn’t see much other than Gray Catbirds and a little House Wren family.

I had somewhat better luck at McCormick’s Farms farther north in Virginia, finding three Green Herons in one little pond along with a Great Blue Heron and a Belted Kingfisher.

The old mill at McCormick Farms

The old mill at McCormick’s Farms

My final stop yesterday was to look for a Pectoral Sandpiper behind a Chick-fil-A in West Virginia, but my search was unsuccessful.  However, I did enjoy these butterflies “puddling” in wet areas of the mostly dried-up pond.

One of several kaleidoscopes of butterflies that I saw in Ranson, West Virginia. This group contains Orange Sulphurs and probably a few Clouded Sulphurs as well.

One of several kaleidoscopes of butterflies that I saw in Ranson, West Virginia. This group contains Orange Sulphurs and probably a few Clouded Sulphurs as well.

Today was another travel day as Derek and I drove north.  But there were a couple of significant differences.  First, the weather was just perfect today, a very welcome relief from the hot temps at home.  Second, I got birds in THREE new states! I added New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts to the list of states that I have birded.

In Connecticut we walked a converted railroad path over a wetland and through some woods where we saw many Gray Catbirds, Cedar Waxwings, oodles of American Goldfinches, and a young Great Blue Heron on top of an electrical post.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Our first stop in Massachusetts was the delightful Bartholomew’s Cobble, nationally recognized for one of the greatest diversities of ferns in North America.  We saw no ferns, and while we saw some nice birds, the highlight was gorgeous Giant Swallowtail Butterflies.

The Bartholomew’s Cobble Visitor Center

The Bartholomew’s Cobble Visitor Center

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Tonight we are on the north side of Albany, New York.  Tomorrow we keep heading north.  Will we find more butterflies?  More birds?  Other critters?  Follow us and share our adventure.

A Cottontail seen in Connecticut today

A Cottontail seen in Connecticut today

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After the Zoothera Birding trip to Yunnan, I flew to Shenzhen on February 2 to visit with my son Dave and his girlfriend Rachel.  The timing was perfect as it allowed me to join Rachel’s family for the celebration of Chinese New Year, the quintessential food and family holiday.  Many stores and businesses close for the week-long holiday, commonly called Spring Festival in China, so that people can return to their home towns to celebrate with their families.  The holiday starts with a huge meal on New Year’s Eve.  Our table was overflowing with plain boiled chicken served with ginger-green onion dip, braised prawns, roasted goose, sautéed Chinese cabbage with vermicelli, steamed Turbot fish, stir-fry vegetables, fried oysters, and chicken soup.  Everything was delicious, but we could not eat it all.  I later learned that it’s part of the tradition to have leftovers so that there is plenty to eat without any cooking or other work on the first day of the new year.

Dazzling decorations in Shenzhen celebrate Spring Festival

Dazzling decorations in Shenzhen celebrate Spring Festival

When I was not spending time with Dave or Rachel, I was free to go birding in Shenzhen’s parks.  This was my fifth trip to China and I have become very comfortable going out by myself.  I don’t see a lot of species, but it’s very satisfying to find them myself.  And, I love those birds!  It’s like visiting old friends. (more…)

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After our last session of birding the blinds at Baihualing and lunch, we drove for three hours to Tengchong.  The next morning, January 27, we birded Laifengshan National Forest Park.  The first birds we saw were two Bar-tailed Treecreepers, which I thought looked an awful lot like my Brown Creepers at home.

Bar-tailed Treecreeper

Bar-tailed Treecreeper

Laifengshan is a popular park and visitors that day included several Chinese bird photographers.   A young Chinese woman with a camera excitedly showed me a Slender-billed Oriole, one of our targets here.  When I had asked Nick about field marks for the oriole, he said that the black mask goes all the way around the nape.  Like so often happens, I didn’t realize how beautiful the bird is until I actually saw it.

Slender-billed Oriole.  Photo by John Hopkins.

Slender-billed Oriole. Photo by John Hopkins.

The park was very pretty and it was a gorgeous sunny day.  While walking up to the temple we saw some nice birds including Rufous-bellied and Darjeeling Woodpeckers.

The entrance at the paved path that leads to the temple

The entrance at the paved path that leads to the temple

We also saw this Davison’s Leaf Warbler.  Asian warblers are rather drab for the most part compared to our colorful North American jewels, however, I was still happy to get identifiable photos of several warbler species during our Yunnan trip.

Davison's Leaf Warbler

Davison’s Leaf Warbler

Shortly after noon, we left Tengchong for the drive to Nabang, where would spend the next 2-1/2 days.

One of my favorite experiences in the Nabang area was time spent at a recently established photo blind/feeding station.  We were walking along a forest trail when two young women on a motorcycle came by and said “Come see our blind.”  The first half hour seemed to be a total waste of time as we saw absolutely no birds at all.  Then, suddenly, birds began to arrive.

White-crowned Forktail

White-crowned Forktail

I was very, very happy to get wonderful close views of two gorgeous White-crowned Forktails that came in to the feeding area.  This Rufous-bellied Niltava was another of my favorites.

Rufous-bellied Niltava

Rufous-bellied Niltava

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Little Pied Flycatcher, and White-tailed Robin were among other species seen well at the blind.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

One our way back to the hotel that evening, the Asian Emerald Dove below was in the road in front of the bus.  The others could not believe that this was a life bird for me.  They seriously thought that I must have seen it before as it seemed a very common Asian bird to them.  My bird was special, though, as it had extra white feathers.  This species normally has white only on the face and front of the shoulder.

Asian Emerald Dove, photographed through the bus window

Asian Emerald Dove, photographed through the bus window

We continued birding in the Nabang area for the next day and a half.  On our last morning, we enjoyed this displaying Crested Goshawk, with the distinctive white undertail coverts fluffed up across the rump.  In one of those quirks of birding, I have now seen this species three times, but I’m still looking for my life Northern Goshawk at home.

Crested Goshawk

Crested Goshawk

It was then on to Ruili, the last destination of our birding tour.  Early on our first morning there, we birded the trail to Moli Waterfalls, part of the Moli Scenic Area, one of the most beautiful locations we visited during the entire trip.  One of our main targets was Streaked Wren-Babbler, a sneaky little bird as one would expect with both “wren” and “babbler” in its name.  But, due to Nick’s patience and perseverance, I saw the little brown bird.

Streaked Wren-Babbler

Streaked Wren-Babbler

Nick loves those skulky little brown birds, but I prefer big colorful birds like this Red-headed Trogon.  Before this trip, I thought of Trogons as primarily Central American birds, but I learned that they are residents of tropical forests worldwide. The greatest diversity is in the Neotropics, where 24 species occur, but there are also three African species and 12 species of Trogon found in southeast Asia.

Red-headed Trogon.  Photo by John Hopkins.

Red-headed Trogon. Photo by John Hopkins.

February first was the last day of birding for the tour.  We started at a ridge-top road just outside of Ruili.  I picked up a few more life birds, including Black-crested Bulbul.

Black-crested Bulbul

Black-crested Bulbul

But mostly, I just remember a lovely morning with pleasant companions, friendly farmers, and sunshine.  I also remember watching drongos that morning, common birds in Yunnan with five different species seen during our two weeks there.  I got 104 life birds on the trip, but I would have had more if I hadn’t missed so many birds due to my poor vision.  Sometimes, when the others were focused on some distant or skulky bird that I couldn’t find, I just watched drongos, gracefully sallying out for insects and then resettling in the treetops.  I was mesmerized by the graceful flights of these birds.  I thought that if you could cross a flycatcher with a swallow, you would get a drongo.

Bronzed Drongo

Bronzed Drongo

And, then the morning was over and we piled back into the bus to start towards the airport.  We stopped for lunch on the way at a lovely outside restaurant.  While waiting for our food, someone noticed Asian Palm-Swifts flying low over the palm trees at the edge of the parking lot.  This seemed like a bonus bird and very appropriate for my last China life bird.  After lunch, we drove to the airport for our flight to Kunming.  The next morning, the others would start their journeys home and I would fly to Shenzhen where I would visit my son, Dave, and his girlfriend, Rachel.

I love Barn Swallows with their white bellies in this part of the world.

I love Barn Swallows with their white bellies in this part of the world.

Parts of the trip were challenging, but I have no regrets.  I saw a beautiful part of the world and many gorgeous birds.  I enjoyed the company of birders far more accomplished than I will ever be.  The other birders and our Zoothera Birding guide, Nick Bray, were fun and wonderfully kind about helping me see as many birds as possible.  Near the end when I was getting tired, I thought that it would be my last trip to China, but now I don’t know if I can bear the thought of never again seeing the spectacular beauty of China’s birds.

 

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If I’d died and gone to birding heaven, it couldn’t have been much better than Baihualing.  If you have been to South America and seen antpittas and other shy forest birds come to worms when called, imagine that.  Except that it lasts all day rather than five minutes.  The bird blinds/feeding stations at Baihualing are amazing.  Each blind (or “hide” as the Brits say) is owned by a local who created and manages it.  A good location is identified and then the blind owner creates a stage for the birds with water features, logs and stumps that can be filled with suet or worms, places to perch, etc.  On one side is the hide – a narrow rectangular tent-like structure with either a long window or portholes for binoculars and cameras and little plastic stools for sitting.

Everyone needs a drink, even shy species like these Mountain Bamboo-Partridges.

Everyone needs a drink, even shy species like these Mountain Bamboo-Partridges.

I envision the creation process is much like that of a male bowerbird who looks at his stage from various perspectives.  Will the birds find it appealing and come?  Will the birders and photographers in the blind have good views?  Ongoing management consists of chauffeuring birders back and forth between the hotel and the blind, feeding the birds throughout the day, and collecting the modest fees that birders and photographers pay for the privilege of wonderful close looks at birds that would otherwise be very difficult to find and see well.  It’s a winning situation for everyone, including the birds.

We arrived at this wonderful place late in the afternoon of January 23th and spent nearly two hours in Blind #8.  Here are some of the gorgeous birds we saw that first day.

Red-billed Leiothrix. I missed this beautiful little bird on previous trips to China, so I was thrilled to finally get such a wonderful close look this time.

Red-billed Leiothrix. I missed this beautiful little bird on previous trips to China, so I was thrilled to finally get such a wonderful close look this time.

Red-tailed Laughingthrush. It's hard to believe, but these beauties were common at the blinds with half a dozen or so frequently in the feeding areas.

Red-tailed Laughingthrush. It’s hard to believe, but these beauties were common at the blinds with half a dozen or so frequently in the feeding areas.

Chestnut-headed Tesia. What a little charmer! This is a species that would have been difficult to see well "in the wild."

Chestnut-headed Tesia. What a little charmer! This is a species that would have been difficult to see well “in the wild.”

Rusty-capped Fulvettas. These little cuties were fun to watch.

Rusty-capped Fulvettas. These little cuties were fun to watch.

Space prohibits displaying all of my photos from that afternoon, so here is a link to my eBird checklist.

The next morning we walked a nearby trail for over six hours.  It was advertised as “flat,” but several of us thought it was a bit steep and I didn’t stay with the group the entire time.  I didn’t see many birds on the trail, but I did see a beautiful Black Giant Squirrel which was so big that I didn’t even realize it was a squirrel at first.

Black Giant Squirrel.  Photo by John Hopkins.

Black Giant Squirrel. Photo by John Hopkins.

Later that afternoon, I was happy to spend two hours in Blind #77.  In that short time, I got eight life birds!  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the afternoon.

Red-tailed Minla. Such a smart and sophisticated-looking bird. I can't help assigning human-like personalities to some of these exotic Asian birds.

Red-tailed Minla. Such a smart and sophisticated-looking bird. I can’t help assigning human-like personalities to some of these exotic Asian birds.

Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler. I have been awed by scimitar-babblers ever since I first saw a Gray-sided Scimitar-Babbler in 2012. And, what a struggle it was to see that first one. Scimitar-Babblers are normally very shy birds.

Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler. I have been awed by scimitar-babblers ever since I first saw a Gray-sided Scimitar-Babbler in 2012. And, what a struggle it was to see that first one. Scimitar-Babblers are normally very shy birds.

Yellow-cheeked Tit. Punk bird?

Yellow-cheeked Tit. Punk bird?

Scarlet-faced Liocichla. These gorgeous birds were fairly common and we frequently saw them with Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

Scarlet-faced Liocichla. These gorgeous birds were fairly common and we frequently saw them with Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

And, here is my eBird checklist from that session with more photos.

The next day, January 25, we spent the entire day in the blinds starting with #35 in the morning.  Some species seem to be constantly present at a blind and others come and go throughout the day.  Some of the shyer birds may only come once or twice a day – or skip a day entirely.  A few photos from that session:

Blue-winged Lauthingthrush. Gorgeous and a little scary looking. Very shy compared to Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

Blue-winged Lauthingthrush. Gorgeous and a little scary looking. Very shy compared to Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

Ashy Drongo. He came into the feeding area like he owned it, with grace and confidence, but no arrogance. Yep, I can't help those human comparisons. Drongos are common in China and the others didn't get excited over them, but I loved them, especially this species.

Ashy Drongo. He came into the feeding area like he owned it, with grace and confidence, but no arrogance. Yep, I can’t help those human comparisons. Drongos are common in China and the others didn’t get excited over them, but I loved them, especially this species.

Flavescent Bulbuls enjoying an apple.

Flavescent Bulbuls enjoying an apple.

Streaked Spiderhunter is a species that we enjoyed seeing from the blinds, but this is one that we also saw well several times “in the wild.” Presumably, these birds do feed on spiders and insects, but that long curved bill is adapted for obtaining nectar. National Geographic even includes them in its list of Top 25 Birds with a Sugar Rush.

Streaked Spiderhunter

Silver-eared Mesia. These beautiful little birds are currently doing well in the wild, however, the population is under pressure from trapping for the caged bird trade.

Silver-eared Mesia. These beautiful little birds are currently doing well in the wild, however, the population is under pressure from trapping for the caged bird trade.

Long-tailed Sibia. One of the many species that enjoyed the apples at the feeding stations.

Long-tailed Sibia. One of the many species that enjoyed the apples at the feeding stations.

Large Niltava. This individual is a female. I think that she is just as gorgeous as her mate.

Large Niltava. This individual is a female. I think that she is just as gorgeous as her mate.

Pallas's Squirrel. These and Northern Tree Shrew were common visitors to the feeding stations.

Pallas’s Squirrel. These and Northern Tree Shrew were common visitors to the feeding stations.

Here is my eBird checklist from the morning.

We spent the afternoon in Blind #11, at a little higher elevation than the others we had visited, which produced a few new species.  Each blind has its specialties.  At this one, new birds were Hill Partridge and Gray-sided Laughingthrush.  This blind was the only location where we saw either of these species.

Hill Partridge

Hill Partridge

Gray-sided Laughingthrush

Gray-sided Laughingthrush

Himalayan Bluetail. Amazingly, we saw many of these beautiful birds. This one is a male.

Himalayan Bluetail. Amazingly, we saw many of these beautiful birds. This one is a male.

My eBird checklist from Blind #11 has more photos.

On our final morning at Baihualing, we all had a choice – walk the trails to search for species that don’t come to the blinds or have another session at a blind.  You can guess which option I choose.  It turned out to be a good decision as the others dipped again on their second try for Gould’s Shortwing, a difficult species to find.  Additionally, our little group in the blind had wonderful looks at eight Mountain Bamboo-Partridges, the only good sighting of this species during the trip.

Mountain Bamboo-Partridge (male)

Mountain Bamboo-Partridge (male)

That last morning, we also had excellent looks at many species seen during the previous few days.  A few of my favorites were the birds below.

Large Niltava (male)

Large Niltava (male)

Great Barbet

Great Barbet

Mr. Orange-bellied Leafbird. I had seen these gorgeous birds on previous trips, but I was thrilled to get much closer looks this time.

Mr. Orange-bellied Leafbird. I had seen these gorgeous birds on previous trips, but I was thrilled to get much closer looks this time.

Mrs. Orange-bellied Leafbird

Mrs. Orange-bellied Leafbird

Here is my last eBird checklist from Baihualing, but there are six more days in the Zoothera Birding trip and then a week in Shenzhen, so I’ll be back with more stories.

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My son Dave visited Yunnan shortly after he moved to China in 2008.  For years, he has urged me to see this province of China that is often considered the most beautiful.  So, when Nick Bray, who led my birding trip in 2012, posted on Facebook that he was planning Zoothera Birding‘s first trip to Yunnan, I immediately signed up.

Common Kingfishers are widespread in Asia and I have seen them on every trip, this time in both Yunnan and later in Shenzhen.

Common Kingfishers are widespread in Asia and I have seen them on every trip, this time in both Yunnan and later in Shenzhen.

I arrived in Kunming in the wee hours of January 16th, a full day before the others so that I wouldn’t be starting the trip with jet lag.  I planned to sleep late and then do a little birding on my first day.  I thought that I was so smart when I was preparing for the trip and found a little park not far from the hotel.  I printed the map so that I could show it to a taxi driver as no taxi drivers in China speak any English.  The hotel called a taxi for me and, as planned, I showed my little map to the driver.  I assumed that he would take me to the park, but after a few minutes he showed me his phone with a translation app.  It said “That park is old and depressed.  Why do you want to go there?  Guandu Forest Park is new and beautiful and it’s free.”  I tried to ask how far the suggested park was, but the translation app turned “How far is the park?” into profanity.  I vigorously shook my head “no” and gave up.  So, of course, the driver took me to the suggested park, 45 minutes away and $15.00 rather than 10 minutes and the $3.00 fare that I expected.  I was frustrated, but I should have known better.  After four previous trips to China, I have learned that communication is difficult and misunderstandings are frequent, even when simply trying to get from Point A to Point B.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak

Yellow-billed Grosbeak

The park was a typical Chinese city park – full of people, even a band playing – beautiful, but not conducive to productive birding.  But, I quickly relaxed and enjoyed the lovely afternoon for a couple of hours.  Even with all the activity, I found a little flock of Yellow-billed Grosbeaks, a species that the Zoothera group would not see at all.

Back at the hotel, I found a few birds on the edge of the parking area, including several White Wagtails.  I find Wagtails very interesting and always try to photograph them.  This was the first time that I saw an alboides subspecies and I thought that he was a rather snazzy looking bird, even in winter plumage.

White Wagtail, Motacilla alba alboides

White Wagtail, Motacilla alba alboides

That evening I enjoyed dinner with John Hopkins, another birder who had arrived early.  The next day we met up with the rest of the group at the airport – ten participants and three guides.  There was one other woman in the group, from Germany, and one man from Sweden.  The rest of the group consisted of males from the UK except for our two Chinese guides.  After a quick lunch, we were off on our adventure.  Our first destination was Zixishan, a mountain park near Chuxiong, about three hours from Kunming.  We arrived in time for a little birding before checking into our hotel and we found our two target birds right away – the endemic Yunnan Nuthatch and Giant Nuthatch.  The Yunnan Nuthatch posed quite nicely for us at a close distance, not typical behavior we were told.

Yunnan Nuthatch

Yunnan Nuthatch

The following day, we started birding at Zixishan before sunrise.  It was a nice morning and we saw a good number of birds.  This Chinese Thrush sat on the side of the road and never moved, even as we moved closer and closer for photos.  It was still sitting there when we left to look for other species.

Chinese Thrush

Chinese Thrush

The afternoon brought a 6-hour drive to Lijiang where we hoped to see Biet’s Laughingthrush, my most wanted bird of the trip.  But, alas, our good fortune at Zixishan did not continue at Lijiang.  Despite several hours of intensive searching in the areas where the laughingthrush has historically been seen, we neither heard nor saw one.  We learned that this rare bird is becoming increasingly difficult to find, perhaps in part due to illegal poaching for the caged bird trade.

The best birds at Lijiang were a pair of Rufous-tailed Babblers bouncing around the top of a big trash pile, singing almost constantly.  Several of us just sat in the grass a few yards away with our cameras and click-click-clicked as these normally shy birds put on a fantastic close-up show for us.

Rufous-tailed Babbler

Rufous-tailed Babbler

The others in our group had started teasing me about ducks almost as soon as our trip started.  Apparently I was the only waterfowl enthusiast, or maybe ducks were just too easy for the more serious birders with life lists of over 6,000 species.  I got my wish to see ducks on the morning that we left Lijiang with a quick stop at Lijiang Wetland Park.  I loved it!  There were hundreds of birds on the lake.  I got much better looks at beautiful Ferruginous Ducks than I’d had previously.  And, I even got three life birds.  Surprisingly, I had never seen a real wild Graylag Goose before.  Red-crested Pochard and Smew were also new.

Ferruginous Ducks

Ferruginous Ducks

It seemed that everyone enjoyed our short time at the wetland despite their earlier claims that they didn’t care about ducks.  I think that we could have stayed for hours and everyone would have been happy.  But, we had a long drive ahead, so we couldn’t savor the ducks and wetland birds for long.  Back in the van, the more experienced birders gave me a good lesson in separating Black-headed and Brown-headed Gulls.  With their expert knowledge and my photos, I quickly learned that it really was easy to differentiate these two species.

Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls with Graylag Geese. Even in this rather poor photo, you can easily note the larger size of the Brown-headed Gulls, the dark wingtips, and huge mirrors in the outermost primaries.

Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls with Graylag Geese. Even in this rather poor photo, you can easily note the larger size of the Brown-headed Gulls, the dark wingtips, and huge mirrors in the outermost primaries.

After leaving the Lijiang wetland, we drove 8 hours to Lushui.  The next morning we continued through part of Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve, over Pianma Pass (3,100 meters), and to the small town of Pianma near the Myanmar border where we would spend the next two nights.  The first morning in this area started with one of the most thrilling sightings of the entire trip – and it was not a bird.  It was a Red Panda sleeping in the sunshine in a bare tree!  This charismatic little mammal (about the size of a house cat) is fascinating.  It has thick fur on the soles of its feet.  It uses that fluffy 18-inch tail to wrap around itself for warmth.  The Smithsonian has more interesting facts about the Red Panda, a species classified as endangered with a population of less than 10,000 remaining in the wild.

The Red Panda as seen from the road.

The Red Panda as seen from the road.

A close-up of the adorable Red Panda. This is the view that we got through the scope. Photo by John Hopkins.

A close-up of the adorable Red Panda. This is the view that we got through the scope. Photo by John Hopkins.

After the panda sighting, things were pretty slow.  Actually, they were very slow and this was my least favorite part of the trip.  The hotel was awful, it was cold, and we didn’t find our main target birds.  For two full days, we traveled back and forth over Pianma Pass and birded along the road, which was always covered in a thin layer of ice except in sunny spots.  On the second day, several of the others found some good birds by climbing up the side of the mountain on rough rather steep trails.  I stayed on the road not wanting to wear myself out or trigger an asthma attack by too much activity at 3,100 meters.  OK, I was a little lazy.  But, my vision is so bad that I don’t think that I would have seen the birds anyway, even if I had scrambled up the mountainside.  Just like on my 2012 trip with Nick, most of the others were in better physical shape and were much more experienced and skillful birders than me.  But I didn’t miss one of the best birds of the day when late that afternoon we found this spectacular little bird, a Fire-tailed Myzornis.

Fire-tailed Myzornis. Photo by John Hopkins.

Fire-tailed Myzornis. Photo by John Hopkins.

The following morning, we left for Baihualing and it’s many bird blinds, where I would be in birding heaven.  Stay tuned.

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