Spring Break is Over – for the Airstream

When we get home from the Southwest, after negotiating our driveway and doing some unloading, we wait until the ground firms up and then park the rig — and forget it for a month or so. About two weeks ago, I moved it down to the only semi-level spot we have and now it time to start to tackle some of the many niggling items that I wrote down as we spent fifteen weeks living in it.

 

The Safari waits for repair work and local travel.

The Safari waits for repair work and local travel.

Of course, I’m always thinking about alternatives to the ’99 Safari and read advertisements weekly for newer and larger units. One week it is a longer unit with a slide out, for which we’d need a new truck, and likely, given our driveway, a new home. Then it is upgrading by about ten years to get more windows and less repairs but it seems that it’s mostly the same, just more expensive. So, we sit tight with our budget rig where we know it’s problems and attributes, and keep fixing and tuning things up.

We have had a vent/fan in our bathroom that has not worked for several years. The fan blade disintegrated after many years of use and the motor sounds a little suspect. So today, I visited our local parts dealer, Vintage Trailer Supply, to see if they had a replacement. This is not a “vintage” part per se but they had one in stock and I was in business. We are very fortunate to have this great outfit right in town — most of their sales are online but it’s neat to be able to talk with them in person.

This replacement fan unit should slide right into the opening for it.

This replacement fan unit should slide right into the opening for it.

My list of tweaks is fairly long: leaky faucet, loose shower stall, cabinet that needs gluing, new hangar for paper towels, and perhaps, a new back bumper. I’ll peck away at them this summer — and stop wasting time on want ads. This rig is just what we need for most of our traveling and is a known entity.

We plan to take it to Massachusetts this weekend while we visit Jen and her gang after too long an absence. Penny and I will boondock in the woods — it will be a good time to see what other fix-it items show up.

Posted in Airstream, boondocking, Jennifer's, repairs, rig maintenance | Leave a comment

The Kindness of Birders

A “boreal grand slam” in Vermont, and perhaps elsewhere, is to see the four boreal species (Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Spruce Grouse, and Black-backed Woodpecker) on one birding outing. Or for others like me, it’s to get them as life birds, period.

I had seen, quite some time ago, Gray Jays and a cooperative Spruce Grouse but had never seen the other two species. Monday, I hoped to remedy that with a trip to the Northeast Kingdom with my faithful hound.

It is about a 1 plus 45 trip to the Victory Wildlife Management Area but it was a beautiful drive – trees showing red buds, some patches of snow, warm temperatures. The dirt road into Victory was in great shape with no traffic and I could hear Winter Wrens, Blue-headed Vireos, and Black-capped Chickadees as we cruised in with the windows down. Did I say that it is too early for bugs — which are treacherous in later spring.

Our destination was a pipeline crossing which had recently been described by a local birder, Tom Berriman of Lyndonville, as one of the good spots for Black-backed Woodpeckers. He wrote on the list serve that they had paired up and building nests and included a digiscoped video of one at work.

I had never met Tom but “know” him through postings, Facebook, and his great photos on the NEK Audubon page. When I got to the crossing, sure enough, his truck was there. Penny and I trekked in for about a half mile when way up ahead, returning, was this guy with a telescope slung over his shoulder. I watched a young Red-tailed Hawk thermal as I waited for him. I knew it was him and he recognized me, from having Penny on a leash, as we shook hands and talked for a bit. It had been a quiet morning for him as well.

When I mentioned that I was looking for a Black-backed Woodpecker he immediately said, “Do you want me to take you to where I saw the two yesterday?” I thought that he was going to give me good directions but as we walked back to our trucks, it became evident that he wanted to take me there.

So, after shedding some layers (it was getting warm), we walked in on an adjacent gated jeep trail quietly talking about all sort of topics and listening for drumming. He has better hearing than I do, or recognizes the light tapping of the Black-backed, and he heard a couple that were off a ways. Soon, we got to the spot where he had seen them.

After a short wait, he motioned and we moved into the woods a bit, through tangles and dead trees (I had Penny on a leash which got tangled here and there) he pointed and climbing a spruce tree was a female Black-backed Woodpecker. I got a great look but no photo with the trees and dog to deal with. She flew shortly and that was it.

Female  Black-backed Woodpecker. Photo credit to sfitzgerald86

Female Black-backed Woodpecker. Photo credit to sfitzgerald86.

As we waited a bit, I asked Tom how he knew she was there. “I heard some light tapping,” he said. I would have likely walked right by the bird.

He’d been tramping for four hours or so but still went out of his way to walk another half mile or so to guide me to this life bird. It is an example of his hospitality – he’s well-known and respected for taking birders to his favorite spots – but also of the kindness that I have found in the birding community here and in other states. It is a wonderful aspect and one more reason why birding can be so rewarding. Thank you Tom for life bird #428.

Posted in Birding With Penny, life bird, Life list, Love_of_birding, Northeast Kingdom, Vermont Birding | 2 Comments

Team Pipit

I saw the silver SUV crawling ahead of me the other day as I did a quick birding check of Berlin Pond and right away, I knew it contained my birding friends, Fred and Chris Pratt who I’d last seen two months ago in the Southern Rio Grande Valley. Sure enough, as I pulled closer to them, I saw the distinctive green license plate, Pipit, which is sort of famous in birding circles.

Fred and Chris bird under the name of Team Pipit, and they are a great team.

Fred and Chris bird under the name of Team Pipit, and they are a great team.

We talked briefly, we all had other tasks that morning, but as they moved ahead, Chris driving, Fred scanning (Chris has great skills as well), I knew that they’d probably see about half again as many birds as I did.

They are retired school teachers who live in Duxbury, Vermont and winter in McCallen, Texas. Wherever they are, they are avid eBird posters and are usually in the top five or ten of the particular county.(They are #8 in Hidalgo County, Texas this year.)  When in Texas, I always am seeing Fred’s name reporting some unusual bird — and the two describe rarer species with the kind of detail that reviewers love.

In Vermont, birders who identify 150 species or more in a county are inducted into a prestigious “150 Club“. Even in counties with higher avian diversity, a birder must be dedicated and in the field during all four seasons to join this club. Fred and Chris Pratt pulled it off for four counties in 2013, a remarkable effort.

I’m always running into them on the back roads of Vermont and at times, in Texas. They are avid birders but also very sharing of their finds. This year, they are focussing on Grand Isle and Franklin counties in Northwest Vermont. It will be fun to watch their accomplishments.

Posted in Vermont Birding | Leave a comment

What’s Not To Love About Loons?

My dentist lives on a nearby lake (Elmore) so while I was being examined by him the other day, I asked if the ice was out yet. He replied “No, but isn’t it amazing – the first day it’s gone the loons arrive? How do they know?”

I mentioned that they perform recco flights and hang out until it’s time. I related a story of an incident last month at our local airport where a loon crashed landed on the dark runway and had to be rescued. Here’s the report by Eric Hansen, who is  the biologist for the Vermont Loon Recovery Project.

…On March 27, a Common Loon crash-landed at the Berlin Airport. Owen Montgomery, who works next door at the U.S. Department of Agriculture office, picked up the bird and found that it had few scratches.  It seemed healthy otherwise.

John Buck of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department transported the loon to Sara Eisenhower at VINS Wildlife Services for examination. The loon was healthy minus making the mistake that the Berlin Airport does not have a runway for seaplanes (airports in Alaska have canals next to their terrestrial runways). VINS released the bird on the Connecticut River.

This loon was likely already performing reconnaissance flights to return to its territory.  Males tend to return first, thus maybe this was the male from Berlin Pond. It may have been tired from the flight, possibly from the New England coast. Loons will fly hundreds of miles in a single migratory flight. It saw the black of the runway, and, like the rest of us suffering from spring fever, perhaps had notions of water, sun, and fish.

Yesterday, on a cool grey day, I did some birding up in Caledonia County and heard for the first time this year the wonderful call of a Common Loon lifting off water. It flew right over me at Hardwick Lake, which is open and where were three. Another three were at Joe’s Pond which has very little open water. Here is a low-light shot of a couple who were hanging out together. You can see the ice in the background.

Two loons hanging out together at Joe's Pond in West Danville, Vermont.

Two loons hanging out together at Joe’s Pond in West Danville, Vermont.

The loons we see in Texas are in winter plumage, essentially solid black, and are silent. The first lesson we learn in distinguishing them from Double-crested Cormorants is the way they hold their bill level while the cormorants have theirs pointed slightly upward.

There were only seven pairs of Common Loons thirty years ago in Vermont. Now there are more than 70 breeding pairs across the state. Due to the work of Vermont Center for Ecostudies, Vermont Fish & Wildlife, and hundreds of volunteers, this is a great success story to celebrate on the day after Earth Day.

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Posted in Caledonia County, Conservation, VCE, Vermont Birding | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Cape Cod Bird Festival

CAPE COD BIRD FESTIVAL 

September 18 – 20, 2015    
Hyannis, Massachusetts 
  
Guest speakers are:

  • Field Guide author Richard Crossley and
  • Miyoko Chu, author of SONGBIRD JOURNEY, a compelling tale on the miracles of bird migration. 

Join us for the third annual Cape Cod Bird Festival!  Last year birder’s from 20 states and Canada enjoyed weekend of birding, workshops, guest speakers, and the Vendor Marketplace. 
  
Cape Cod during fall migration! Where the unexpected is expected!  
  
Field trips will offer offshore island, pelagic, key land and shore bird sites. We have informative workshops and our Vendor Marketplace. 

Friday night enjoy our welcome social and presentation by Miyoko Chu. Miyoko will share the revelations of scientists to answer age old questions on the lives of migratory birds. 

Saturday Richard Crossley will present Past, Present and Future. Lessons learned in the wild British birding scene. Share his travels around the world from Japan to Cape May. It will be fast paced as Richard’s passion for color, art and a definite point of view will be shared. Richard will also discuss his thoughts behind his Crossley Field Guide. 

Family Day will be a free event and feature Wilsons Eyes on Owls live owl program at the CCMNH along with other events. Mark and Marcia Wilson are a charismatic team who teach, study, photograph and share their passion for the natural world.  Each has nurtured a fascination for nature since childhood.  Both have biology degrees and share a keen interest in birds.  Please join us for an exceptional day.

An Eastern Screech Owl and a Northern Saw-whet Owl join 4 other live owls at Marcia and Mark Wilson’s Eyes On Owls presentation. Photo © Mark Wilson / Eyes On Owls

An Eastern Screech Owl and a Northern Saw-whet Owl join 4 other live owls at Marcia and Mark Wilson’s Eyes On Owls presentation. Photo © Mark Wilson / Eyes On Owls

Our headquarters is the new Doubletree by Hilton in Hyannis.  Check out the hotel  www.doubletree3.hilton.com and mention the Festival to receive a special discounted room rate!  

Registration is now open.  For additional information, visit our website www.capecodbirdclub.org ,  email us at festival@capecodbirdclub.org or call 508-331-0345 for more information. 

Gerry Cooperman 
Festival 2015 – Chair 
trogon6@aol.com

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Posted in Birding Festival, MA Birding | Leave a comment

Vermont Raptors

While the Airstream is not completely unpacked, the good weather tempted me to do some birding yesterday morning, to restart my County big year effort for Caledonia County which I started just before we left for Texas.

I left early and drove about forty-five minute to the County line encountering some frost heaves and potholes but a delightful lack of traffic – and a beautiful countryside. After several stops, with some success, I arrived at my planned hot spot, the floodplain along the Connecticut River over in Barnet. I followed a farm road toward the river, through a large hayfield toward some big cornfields. The river was high and fast with little on it but the fields had ducks and Canada Geese and some sparrows while American Tree Swallows soared overhead. It was a beautiful morning and I let the dog out to roam around — she loved the spring smells. (We stayed away from the area where they are spreading cow manure.)

After a bit, I heard a loud screeching/calling from the pine trees off to the west and saw a large bird slowly moving in that direction. I got my binoculars on it: Bald Eagle, then another one.  The pair moved in to their youngsters, which I could not see, and then rested on the nest. I went back to the truck, got my scope, tried to find my iPhone setup, and returned to watch them. They were not easy to see although the white heads stuck out in the greenery where there were openings. I watched for a while, then they flew and I grabbed these two shots of one of them going overhead.

You can see that there's a missing wing feather or two from molting.

You can see that there’s a missing wing feather or two from molting.

Eagle2W

I waited a bit for them to return but I had a schedule to keep myself and headed back toward the interstate to head north. Just a mile or so up I-91 there’s a scenic pull off and I decided to make a quick stop to scan the far off river area. A car was there with two folks with cameras and binoculars, always a good sign, so I asked them what they were watching.

It turns out that they are part of a group that monitors Peregrine Falcon nesting in the region and they had spent several hours already that morning watching a nest up in the cliffs across the highway. The nest was recessed deep in a shady cave-like opening and out of sight but one of the falcons, probably Dad, was perched not far away.  I took a couple of shots of him from long range as I thanked them for their help.

Pfalcon2W Pfalcon1WIt was a great end to a nice Vermont birding morning and I added about fifteen species to my County list. Fun to be birding again on home turf.

 

Posted in Caledonia County, County Big Year, Vermont Birding | Leave a comment

Home Sweet Home

After a week of traveling, with one day off to let some bad weather pass, we arrived home Monday afternoon after ten hours in the truck. The trip was plagued by idiot drivers, some of them returning from Spring Break in Florida and others just afflicted with the "weaving through traffic" disease and so added to the heavy traffic and often-lousy pothole situation, it was not fun. Once we got off the Natchez Trace it was brutal until we got north of Albany, New York. We stayed at KOA’s in Tennessee and Virginia which are fairly predictable: cramped, weak electric systems, useless wifi and 50 cable channels of nothingness – no PBS etc. They are better than Walmart and like I said, predictable.

The last night on the road, we stay in a nice La Quinta hotel in Harrisburg. They are dog-friendly, clean and quiet, and a nice rest before the long last drive. We launched at 7:00 AM and fought trucks until we got to I-88 in Binghampton. Knowing the roads and getting closer and closer gave me time to worry about our driveway and what awaited us at home. I had talked to our friend Terry who has watched things for us and knew that the warm weather in Vermont was helping but we have a muddy dirt road, tough driveway turn, and monster ledge awaiting. (Every time I think about a newer, slightly longer rig I need to remember our driveway.)

As we always do, we rolled down the windows, tooted and yelled as we crossed into Vermont in Fair Haven and while the frost heaves from Killington to Bethel jounced the trailer, soon we were sliding through Montpelier, up Elm Street and on to Shady Rill Road. What challenges lie ahead?

Shifting into four-wheel drive, I climbed Wood Road and noted that the bad muck hole had smoothed out some but then there was a pile of ice and rocks at the driveway that I had to miss as I turned and climbed. It was a leap of faith. As we topped off I could see the ridges of frozen snowbanks that blocked the garage and the turnaround but I got stopped, spent some time with Mary’s help backing and trying to stay out of the soft ditches, finally getting the rig out of the way for the time being. We cut grooves in the soft gravel/dirt with the truck and the trailer tires but I chocked it, unhitched and we could relax and check the house (which was in good shape.)

The trailer is sitting in the mud, waiting for the snow to melt and for things to dry out.

So, some homecoming thoughts:

  • It feels so good to be back in the land of recycling and local food. It pains us to think of all the plastic we tossed away – most of the country thinks they are doing great when they collect beer and soda cans.
  • After three months with essentially no wifi (State parks and many commercial parks have dog-slow systems where it’s much faster, and costlier, to use 4G), it is great to be able to download software or magazines without having to drive ten miles to the library.
  • It is good to be back in the land of NESN, at least so far.
  • We know the warblers are following us, we saw them in Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
  • And while we avoid political stuff while traveling, it is wonderful to be back in a blue state, where the mud thrown comes from snow tires, not pompous politicians.

It was a good trip all in all. Sixteen new life birds for the trip and a number that are still waiting for me. Good birding to you all.

Screen Shot 2015-04-14 at 8.29.48 PM

Posted in life bird, Life list, Southwest trip 5, Winter2015 Trip | 1 Comment

A Rest Stop Surprise

We spent a nice day cruising up the Natchez Trace Parkway after spending the night at Natchez State Park. You drive the Trace at 50 mph which in itself is calming and the lack of trucks (or traffic) with everything green, flowering trees, windows down, 80 degree temperatures made it a lovely morning cruise. There are many pulloffs fro natural and historic sites, like this one.

The dogwood trees were more and more prevalent as we moved north on the Trace. There were pink blossoms like a wild plum and periodic swaths of bright yellow canola fields. (Here is one that I did not photograph but which we passed in Alabama.)

Mary posed beneath a flowering dogwood along the Trace.

We stopped for a lunch break at a picnic site along the creek and as we pulled in, I saw a VW camper with NY plates and asked Mary if we knew them. As we stopped, a guy came over and said, "Richard Mansfield, fancy meeting you here." I blanked on his name at first but it turned out to be some Oregon friends we met at Goose Island with their two English friends. I had thought they were headed to Florida but it turns out they are meandering. It was a great coincidence when you figure all the stopping places along the 200 mile segment we were on. Richard and Kris got to meet Mary and their dog Bella and our Penny continued the fued they started in Texas. It turned out that the Englsh folks loved the Vermont honey I had given the Oregonians.

As Mary prepared a sandwich, I took the dog for a stroll. There were warblers moving through the foliage and I saw a Black & White and a couple of Yellow-rumps but kept hearing this call I didn’t recognize. I looked and looked as we moved through the brush when I spotted it, a handsome male Prothonotary Warbler – life bird #426. He has a female with him and I watched them foraging, wondering why I lrft the camera in the truck. (I went back to get it, returned and heard him again and got these documentation photos.)

It was a wonderful stop: seeing our friends and getting a bird I missed in Texas. The rest of the trip up to Tupelo was fun – I couldn’t stop thinking of the surprise of having such a yellow gem pop into my binoculars. Likely the last life bird of this trip – and a great one.

Posted in life bird, Life list, Natchez Trace, Southwest trip 5, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

Leaving Goose Island

I saw my first fireflies of the year early Monday morning before dawn. Like the predawn birdsong and seventy-degree temperatures, it will all will soon be put aside for the realities of April in New England. We have launched on our 2200 mile journey home.

One of the challenges each year is Houston; this year I decided to do a wide circumnavigation to the west and north. But first, we needed a bit of Airstream drama. First, after I hooked up I got an alert that there was a wiring issue with the trailer. I ignored that since everything seemed to be working but then noticed some loose trim hanging off the trailer’s side. That loosened more as we got up to speed and soon I stopped and removed it until later.

We were counting Scissor-tailed Flycatchers perched or feeding along our route – the last time we’ll see those beauties for a while. After a few hours, we stopped at our favorite gas stop, [Buc-ees in Wharton](http://www.vtbirder.com/beef-jerky-one-of-the-five-basic-food-groups/), Texas.

Soon, we were truckin’ through coton fields, then cattle country, whipping along at 70 much of the way. Each small town has a 75-55-45-30 speed zone that comes at you quickly, with nearly hidden school zone lights that drop it to 25. With the polished trailer and Vermont plates, we sort of stand out so I keep it legal.

The high humidity and temps call for air-conditioning but we can’t do that when hauling the trailer so it’s windows down and cruising. Much of Texas, even secondary highways, have 75 mph limits. In one stretch, with trees lining both sides and dips and climbs, I said to Mary, ‘This is like the Elmore road with a 75 speed limit.” I tend to keep it more at 68 or so, still a little dicey to a Vermonter.

It was a long first day but we got to our campground, Martin Dies State Park, in plenty of time for walks and relaxation. There were hardly any campers (after having a thousand there for Easter) and the birds were busy. Unlike the Gulf Coast where they were silent, here many were calling. I heard and then saw a gorgeous male Scarlet Tanager. Other highlights were a Little Blue Heron, my first American Crow in three months, also my first Blue Jay. The downside was that the bugs were really tough, seeming to laugh at Off and Cutter’s. Here’s a shot of the Cypress adorned slough beside our site.

We leave Texas Tuesday after a long visit during which time I saw 235 different species and left ranked 55th in the state. It was all-in-all a good stay. Bays con food, amigos

Posted in equipment_issues, Goose Island State Park, return_home, RV Travel, Southwest trip 5, Trip Planning, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

Finally, Some Warblers

Ten days of south wind resulted in few migrants but that changed Friday with a weak cold front and wind shift to the north. Saturday was better as I noted in my last post but Sunday mid-day to evening was great. On my walk with Penny and a subsequent outing without her, I saw about ten new year birds including two life birds. Here’s the list:

Goose Island SP (CTC 048), Aransas County, Texas, US ( Map )
Date and Effort
Edit Date and Effort
Sun Apr 05, 2015 2:30 PM

Protocol:Traveling
Party Size:4
Duration:1 hour(s), 36 minute(s)
Distance:1.5 mile(s)
Observers:Dick Mansfield
Comments:
Submitted from BirdLog NA for iOS, version 1.8
Species
Edit Species List
31 species total

2 Turkey Vulture
1 Red-tailed Hawk
4 Laughing Gull
2 Forster’s Tern
2 Inca Dove
1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker -Female
1 Great Crested Flycatcher
1 Brown-crested Flycatcher
6 White-eyed Vireo
2 Yellow-throated Vireo
1 Blue-headed Vireo
2 Red-eyed Vireo
6 Black-crested Titmouse
1 House Wren
2 Gray Catbird
X Northern Mockingbird
**2 Worm-eating Warbler**
**2 Blue-winged Warbler**
8 Black-and-white Warbler
1 Orange-crowned Warbler
4 Hooded Warbler
2 American Redstart
*Seen in two locations clearly. Confirmed by Bob and Dawn Scranton. Part of minor warbler fallout from wind shift. Males actively feeding, fanning tail.*
2 Northern Parula
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
2 Yellow-throated Warbler
1 White-throated Sparrow
1 Scarlet Tanager
X Northern Cardinal
2 Indigo Bunting
X Red-winged Blackbird
2 Great-tailed Grackle

It was a great way to end our stay at Goose Island. Two other couples who had also planned to leave Monday extended their stay because of the fallout. We were tempted but we’ll hope to see them enroute and then when they arrive in Vermont. They look great in their breeding plumage but O was too busy sorting then out high in the trees to do much photo work. First night taking Motrin for “warbler neck” in a long time. No complaints here.

Posted in fallout, Goose Island State Park, Southwest trip 5, Texas birds, Washington County | 1 Comment