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Posts Tagged ‘Semipalmated Plover’

Derek and I spent Monday and Tuesday driving around the north end of Lake Champlain, first north up through Vermont, then across Quebec and finally south into New York.  Our first major stop on Monday morning was Dead Creek WMA IBA in Vermont.  We hoped the birds we saw there would include shorebirds, but this stop was the first of many that was not what we expected.  It was beautiful, but we did not even see any shorebird habitat.  We tallied only 13 species, all birds that we see at home in North Carolina or Maryland – robins, goldfinches, an Osprey.

We saw shrubs with red berries everywhere like this one with a Song Sparrow at Dead Creek WMA IBA.

We saw shrubs with red berries everywhere like this one with a Song Sparrow at Dead Creek WMA IBA.

Our next stop was Charlotte Town Beach which proved to be an even bigger surprise.  This tiny beach on the edge of the lake with more trees than sand is an eBird hotspot with 226 species reported from over 2,600 checklists.  It is renowned by the local birding community as one of the best places on Lake Champlain for lake watching.  A Little Gull had been reported here recently and I need it for a life bird.  However, we saw just a few Ring-billed Gulls and only four other species.

The view from Charlotte Town Beach. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

The view from Charlotte Town Beach. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

The north end of Lake Champlain contains several islands and we thought it would be fun to drive through them.  Again, we were surprised and mildly disappointed as the islands were so large we could not see water except when crossing the bridges from one island to the next.  Our longest stop was at South Hero Marsh Trail.  We had our first of several experiences trying to track down the bird making sounds that we could not identify.  After ten minutes of careful searching, we found the source of the sounds under dense vegetation on the edge of a wetland – a chipmunk!

Green Heron in the swamp along the South Hero Marsh Trail

Green Heron in the swamp along the South Hero Marsh Trail

A real bird that we saw was a Merlin who flew in as we were heading back.  She landed on top of a snag and began eating dinner.  We waited until she was finished before we continued along the trail so that we would not flush her and cause her to lose her meal.  Later scrutiny of our photos showed that her “dinner” was only an appetizer or dessert – a dragonfly!

Merlin on the South Hero Marsh Trail

Merlin on the South Hero Marsh Trail

We finished the day with an American White Pelican at Campbell Bay, a rare bird for Vermont.  We were lucky to get good looks at the bird in intermittent drizzle and still enough light that we could see Canada across the bay.

On Tuesday morning, we birded at St. Albans Bay Town Park, Vermont.  We finally found a few shorebirds, two Least Sandpipers and five Semipalmated Plovers.  This helped me reach my goal of 50 species for Vermont.

Semipalmated Plover in early morning light at St. Albans Bay Town Park

Semipalmated Plover in early morning light at St. Albans Bay Town Park

 

American Redstart at St. Albans Bay Town Park

American Redstart at St. Albans Bay Town Park

We continued north into Canada where our first birding stop was Philipsburg Bird Sanctuary, just across the border.  The entrance to the park was so overgrown with weeds that I drove by it twice before I could find it.  The parking area and trails were also overgrown, but this mostly boreal forest park is beautiful.  We observed a good variety of birds ranging from southern birds such as Red-bellied Woodpecker to more northern breeders like an American Bittern that Derek found.  We also saw an Osprey and our only Bald Eagle for the trip so far.

Part of a beautiful large field in the middle of Philipsburg Bird Sanctuary

Part of a beautiful large field in the middle of Philipsburg Bird Sanctuary

A quick stop at Parc Jamison to look for shorebirds produced no shorebirds, but surprised us with a Great Egret.

McFee Brook Interpretive Center was next, with signs only in French “Centre d’interprétation du ruisseau McFee.” This was a small park with a long boardwalk over a wetland.  I imagined that it must be an excellent place to see birds on a spring morning.

A Great Blue Heron in a small pond at McFee Brook Interpretive Center

A Great Blue Heron in a small pond at McFee Brook Interpretive Center

We had lunch at Cantine Lolo in Lacolle before leaving Canada.  We ate a simple meal while we sat outside at a picnic table and added a few more birds to our Canada list.  The menu was in French only and the person taking our orders had poor English language skills.  However, another customer overheard Derek placing our order and came to his aid.

After eating we turned south and back into the US.  Beekmantown Rest Area provided a nice welcome home with clean restrooms and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at its feeders.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) at a New York rest area. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (male) at a New York rest area. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

Our last stop of the day and was Noblewood Park where we looked for a Little Gull that had been reported.  This park is almost directly across Lake Champlain from Charlotte Town Beach where we had looked for the gull the previous day.  The entrance is through thick woods and after parking it’s about a half-mile walk to the beach through more trees.  The gull had been seen much closer here but we did not see one among the 180 Bonaparte’s Gulls resting on the sand bar not too far from shore.  Little Gull is an uncommon but annual visitor to the lake, so I still hope to see one before the trip is over.

The sandbar seen from the beach at Noblewood Park. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

The sandbar seen from the beach at Noblewood Park. Photo by Derek Hudgins.

We finished the day with a drive to Tupper Lake, deep in the Adirondacks, where we would spend the next four nights.

 

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The Pribilof Islands host more than 2.5 million nesting seabirds each year, mostly on St. George, which has the largest seabird colony in the Northern Hemisphere. But fog makes travel to St. George unpredictable with frequent delays and cancelled flights. So, after our return from Nome, we flew to St. Paul Island on June 14th.  The island has a human population of about 500 and an avian population of nearly 200,000 in late spring. The regular breeding seabirds of St. Paul include about a dozen species of murres, auklets, kittiwakes, puffins, Red-faced Cormorant, and Northern Fulmar. Close-up views of these birds are enough to delight any birder. In addition, Siberian vagrants predictably show up on St. Paul. Predictable does not mean that you have any idea which rare birds will show up; just that it is very likely that something unusual will appear on the island during any week in spring.

Anchorage to St Paul

The birding routine on St. Paul is the same for everyone. You fly from Anchorage on Pen Air, the only airline that serves St. Paul and St. George Islands. You stay at the King Eider Hotel, the only hotel on the island, and eat at the Trident Seafoods cafeteria, where the folks from The Deadliest Catch also eat. The hotel is basic, but comfortable. Each room has a double bed or two twin beds and the bathrooms are down the hall. The food at the cafeteria is very good. The Alaska Native corporation, TDX, owns over 95% of St. Paul Island, including St. Paul Island Tours, which employs the birding guides. The three birding guides rotate the job of shuttling birders around the island in a bus to the cliffs, lakes, and various birding areas.  In the photo below is Ridge Wall – one of the best places to view nesting seabirds.

Come in a little closer and you can see that all those white dots on the edges of the cliff are birds.  Those below are mostly Thick-billed Murres.

On our second full day, Scott Schuette had taken us to several birding spots around the island. Mid-afternoon, we were on our way back to the hotel for a bathroom break when Scott announced “The pit stop is cancelled. Alison just found a Hawfinch.” Hawfinch is a rare Asian visitor to the Pribilofs and it would be a life bird for most of us including Bill. We drove as fast as the dirt roads would allow to the Tim’s Pond area in hopes of seeing this rarity. Scott stopped on the road closest to the area where Alison had seen the bird and we starting trekking over the tundra. Most of the birders in our group saw the Hawfinch as it flew overhead several times. I did not; I just couldn’t get on it in flight. But, we were lucky and finally got it in the scope when it landed on the ground. It wasn’t a great look, but one that I could count. Alison tells a very interesting story about this day in her blog post, A Lifer for Bill.

I was not able to get a photo of the Hawfinch, but I did get photos of some nesting seabirds.  What could be cuter than this pair of Tufted Puffins?

Tufted Puffins

Tufted Puffins

Least Auklets are pretty cute, too.

Least Auklets

Two other species of auklets nest on the island, the Parakeet Auklets shown in the photo below and Crested Auklets.  We saw all three species.

Parakeet Auklets

Parakeet Auklets

And, here are those Thick-billed Murres again, really close-up.  This is the most common nesting seabird on St. Paul Island.

Thick-billed Murres

Thick-billed Murres

St. Paul is the largest of the Pribilof Islands with a total area of 43 square miles. The typical temperature in June is in the low 40s and the high wind and humidity give the summer air a raw chilliness.

Arctic LupineAmazingly, three small songbirds are year-round residents in this harsh climate of St. Paul Island – Winter Wren, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and Snow Bunting. One additional songbird joins them for the breeding season – Lapland Longspur. The other avian life on the island consists of mostly seabirds, ducks, and shorebirds.

The landscape is marine tundra; there are no trees. Arctic Lupine and Wild Celery grow all over the island. Despite its name, the Wild Celery in Alaska bears no resemblance to the edible vegetable celery, although it is a valuable food for wildlife. The image to the left is a postcard that depicts the lupine exactly like it looked most mornings on St. Paul.

The Rosy-Finches were one of my favorite species of the entire trip.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

And, how their looks change with just a little puffing up and a different perspectve!

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

The Rock Sandpipers were another of my favorite St. Paul Island breeding birds.

Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpiper

One afternoon, I enjoyed some time with Red-necked Phalaropes at a little pond while the others trekked further out over the tundra.  Phalaropes are fascinating birds.  They are known for spinning in circles to flush small aquatic prey to the water’s surface where they can easily pluck it with their bills.  Also, phalaropes exhibit what scientists call “reverse sexual dimorphism” which simply means that the girls are prettier than the boys.  The typical courtship and parental roles are also reversed in phalaropes.  Females fight ferociously over males.  After they are paired up, the male builds a simple nest in which the female lays four eggs.  And, then she flies away leaving the male to incubate the eggs and tend to the chicks after they hatch.

Red-necked Phalarope (female)

Red-necked Phalarope (female)

Several other birds bounced around the edges of the little pond with the phalaropes, including Semipalmated Plovers.  This species is familiar to most birders due to its wide wintering range, including the southern part the U.S. mainland coasts, but it breeds in Alaska and northern Canada.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

Our four day/three night stay on St. Paul Island was over all too quickly.  All three of our birding guides, Scott Schuette, Cory Gregory, and Alison Vilag, were excellent birders and took great efforts to ensure that we saw all the birds on the island and had good looks at everything.  We couldn’t have asked for more, except maybe to go back again!

Heading to lunch at the Trident cafeteria

Heading to lunch at the Trident Seafoods cafeteria

Next in my adventure – Alaska 2015: Kenai Fjords and Denali National Park

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