Some Western Birds

In addition to life birds, I have seen quite a variety of species as I’ve travelled. Many are those we see in the East as well such as this pretty tree sparrow from Wyoming. TreeSwallowW

Likewise, this wind-blown Northern Flicker is from Wyoming with cousins in Vermont.

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One of my favorite birds, which we see down south in the winter, is the Black-necked Stilt.

I love the bubble gum colored legs.

I love the bubble gum colored legs.

California has many Northern Rough-winged Swallows

California has many Northern Rough-winged Swallows

Willets are likewise common on both coasts. It is great to see their breeding plumage as the alight with wings spread.

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And lastly another favorite, a Whimbrel.

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If anyone wants to call this a Long-billed Curlew I’m cool. I have a hard time telling the difference.

Dane and I leave for a few days in the Sierras in the morning where, given the western heat wave, the temperatures at 6700′ will be in the low eighties. Sure glad I packed my wool hat and down vest before I left Vermont.

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Anniversary Birds

Friday would have been our 54th anniversary so while it was a bittersweet day, I decided to start it off with some birding at San Eligo Lagoon, one of my favorite spots in the area. Penny and I hopped into the van and ventured into the maelstrom of traffic called “the Five.” It’s always busy and even though my trip was only about six miles, it got my heart rate up. I think the Vermont plates and white RV stir up the juices in drivers already juiced up on caffeine or whatever.

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I’ve only birded here in winter and was not prepared for the many dog walkers who use the trails at the refuge. I spent as much time watching for dogs as I did birds, and Penny was her usual obnoxious self with most of the dogs we encountered.

I use the Birdseye app to check locations for recent sightings, especially stuff that I have never seen, and I had three birds on my target list. I got the first one, a Black-headed Grosbeak, in the first five minutes. The lighting was poor and branches screwed up the focus but I got the darn thing.

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Another recently-sighted bird that I hoped to find was a Ridgeway’s Rail. I’m used to furtive rails that are almost impossible to see but this guy was right out on the mud flat, oblivious to me across the estuary. These are on the Federal endangered species list.

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This bird is not in most bird books — it was a recent split formerly being the Clapper Rail. I did a little research and found this about Ridgeway:

So, who was Ridgway, and why did he earn a rail? Robert Ridgway was a giant of late 19th and early 20th century American ornithology. He worked at the Smithsonian Institution for 55 years, 43 of them as Curator of Birds. He was also a founding member of the AOU and later its president, and during his lifetime he described more new taxa of American birds than anyone else, among them the nominate subspecies of the rail that now bears his name. Ridgway’s taxonomic judgments overall have stood the test of time so well that some modern ornithologists still say, only half-jokingly, that rule #1 is: Ridgway was right.  by Dave Quady on Golden Gate Birder

The other bird I was looking for was an Elegant Tern. I figured I had to get closer to the ocean so I moved the van to the other entrance to the Lagoon and walked down the dusty trails. There were no dog walkers around and we were enjoying a nice California morning with lots of sparrows, wrens, hummingbirds, and bushtits. After a while, I saw a tern way off and got him in the binoculars, willed him to fly towards me and sure enough he did. As he passed I could see the long black crest that goes down the nape and heard the call as he departed. No time for camera work, I was just glad to get such a good look.

It was a good morning on a tough day.

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Urban Camping

Leaving Wyoming, I drove into increasing temperatures and after a long trip, camped in a state park in Utah where it was hot and dusty and 103 degrees when I arrived. Fortunately, the power was sufficient to run the rig’s air conditioner but it took a long time to cool things off after baking all day. It’s the hottest I’ve ever camped – the nighttime low got all the way down to 90.

I had anticipated these issues and had made a reservation the next night at a dog-friendly La Quinta motel in Las Vegas. The trip there was brutal – temperatures kept rising as I headed west, 105, then 110, then even higher. It peaked at 118 in Arizona and I saw highway workers spreading asphalt by hand in those temperatures. I kept checking my van’s engine readings but they stayed ok. It was 116 degrees in the parking lot of the motel: it felt like the blast that you get when you open an oven door.

The pesky check engine light is on more than it is off. I am ignoring it.

The motel was chilly and after a good rest, we headed south toward Del Mar. The only Las Vegas things I saw, including a Trump hotel, was from I-15. The temperatures were still high, around 100, the whole trip until I got about five miles from Robb and Mary’s house where the sea breeze dropped things to about 78. We were met with this welcoming sign.

Maeve and Dane were our welcoming committee. Maeve made the sign.

The backyard pool was inviting and it was not long before I was in it with the grandkids. Penny found some lizards in the bushes and kept busy stalking them.

Thursday we hit the beach for a while. Del Mar has a dog beach sectioned off so Penny enjoyed walking through the cool water. She has not had much oven time and doesn’t quite get the wave picture. The kids had a blast with their boogie boards.

I have the Interstate parked in the driveway with some ramps to level it a bit. It’s working out fine and is of course something I never could have done with the trailer. Dane and I launch for a camping trip in Sequoia National Park on Monday.

The birding here has been good and I have seen some new birds. Once I download the photos and see what I have, I’ll share it with you. Have a good weekend.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, Airstream, family visit, Interstate, road trip | 1 Comment

Birding a bit in Wyoming

I never thought that the Black-billed Magpie, a life bird I picked up in Minnesota, would become a noisy pest but that’s sort of the way they are in Wyoming. I first saw three or four at the fishing access before I hit the mountains. Here in Jackson Hole they are everywhere – flamboyant and loud. Here’s one of many on my niece’s front lawn.

I saw this wind-blown White-crowned Sparrow at the fishing access area.

I got several new life birds here in Jackson. Walking Penny, I spotted a Golden Eagle far off lumbering away from some blackbirds. The following day, I got a closer look in the morning sun but did not have a camera.

I did have a camera for this Broad-tailed Hummingbird perched nearby the house. It was a lifer and turns out to be rather common. You can hear them coming.

This crow seemed to want to pose the other day as we walked close by.

One of the birds that locals could do without is the Eurasian-Collared dove that we see in Texas. Like magpies, they are pretty the first time.

Sunday morning I saw and heard a Dusky Flycatcher, a life bird, which was camera-shy.

The birding here is good and there are a number of species that I’d like to see. The foliage is heavy in the Cottonwood areas and many places ban dogs. I do hope to see a Violet-green Swallow before I head out. With sunny skies, breezes, and no bugs it’s a nice place to be outside birding. You can see why folks love it here.

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A Few South Dakota Birds

The campground at Boysen State Park in South Dakota was nearly vacant in the middle of the week and I chose a shaded spot under a large Cottonwood on the edge of the lake. It was 90 degrees and not terribly comfortable but soon I found that I had two nesting bird families right above the Airstream. The parents and babies made quite a racket.

The first pair I saw was two Western Kingbirds.

Then I found the nest for two Bullocks Orioles – only about ten feet above my roof. The nest was well hidden but reminded me of our Baltimore Orioles nests. I couldn’t get the male to sit still but got his mate.

Penny and I took several bird walks as the temperature dropped. Ringed-billed Gulls were all over the place.

As were Lark Sparrows.

As I approached the end of the area, I saw this Western Grebe way out on the bay. It was actively fishing which means diving just as you find it in the lens finder. It was not a life bird but one of the few I have seen.

Lastly, I came upon this bird which I can’t identify. I suspect it is a female but perhaps one of my better birder friends can help out.

The park, which is a bit ugly, dusty, and unkempt, turned out to be a nice birding spot. You never know.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, life bird, Life list | 1 Comment

Heading to the Tetons

I spent a couple of days navigating the plains of North Dakota and then South Dakota, staying at a national park and then a state park. The days were hot and windy but the areas of grassland were quite impressive. Some random images: a Western Meadowlark pierced on the top spire of a conifer, singing away as I sat and watched the sunset; a pair of nighthawks swooping here and there hawking buds and giving a "permit" call; a momma pronghorn suckling a brand-new baby; depressing casinos owed by native tribes; countless miles of straight as an arrow plains driving.

It’s hard to find stopping points as you roll at 70 mph – the little access roads to rangeland are invisible until you pass them. We stopped at a cow camp for a roadside lunch and aside from a vehicle passing every few minutes, all I could here was the gentle wind and a few sparrows and meadowlarks.

Here’s a shot from my campsite at Boysen State Park in South Dakota where it was hot and dry and forecast to get worse.

Cooler mountain air sounded good so I decided to accept my niece Kim’s kind invitation to visit them in Jackson. I turned westward and soon the scenery got much more interesting.

Soon we were cruising along the Wind River which has some interesting fishing spots. We pulled off at a public access site and grabbed a snack and a little nap.

Soon we started climbing and were greeted by a "Bears in the Road Ahead" sign that I think that they just leave on all the time. The climb was steady but the diesel ate it up. At the top there was a turnout with a spectacular view of the Grand Tetons – which this photo can not really capture.

After a seven mile descent we soon came to the craziness of the Yellowstone Park traffic and then the pretty drive into Jackson Hole. Navigating through a town filled with tourists, I was glad to not have the trailer with me.

So we are parked in the yard of Kim and Lew and enjoying temperatures in the 70’s during the day and 40’s at night. No bugs, nice breeze, wifi. They have two delightful teenage daughters. Here is a dot from their driveway and one of our setup – the van is in the shade.

I suspect I’ll wait until Monday to leave and arrive in Del Mar on Wednesday.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, family visit, road trip | 1 Comment

A Couple of Life Birds

I had just pulled in Juniper Campground at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, selected s site, and walked with Penny back to register. Coming back I met a couple of birders from Minnesota who were just starting out on a short walk themselves. As I walked into my campsite, two birds flew in low, perched and then flew back into the underbrush. One had a lot of blue so I called to the birders and they joined me. I had one in the binoculars, was trying to sort it out, when Penny yanked at her leash, and I lost the bird. Meanwhile, we were joined by an experienced friend of theirs and the three of us studied the female. Combining our observations, we decided we had seen two Lazuli Buntings. A life bird but not as well-seen as I would have liked. Well, I fixed that the next morning when I saw several more and got this photo of one feeding.

That next morning was a great outing – just dozens of birds singing and cavorting. I found these two Northern Flickers doing some sort of courtship routine, stretching their necks up into the air, one after the other.

I then heard, then saw two Western Kingbirds gathering food for their brood. I thought I had already logged these but no, it was also a lifer. (There are many Eastern Kingbirds out here- their range is nearly 2/3’s of the country.)

Then I saw a guy, a Common Nighthawk, sleeping right out in the open. I had seen him or a buddy flying overhead the night before and I left him undid turned to get some beauty sleep.

There are still many calls that I can’t sort out – but that’s part of learning. I continue to be entranced by the repertoire of the Western Meadowlark. What a happy bird – just what I need from time to time.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, life bird, Life list, National Parks | 2 Comments

Visiting Teddy Roosevelt Country

I had no idea how much water northern North Dakota had until driving mile after mile of ponds, ditches, even lakes. There were ducks everywhere but I was really surprised to see many cormorants and even more gulls.

We had awoken early due to a thunderstorm and more were forecast so we hit the road early on Sunday morning. Public radio is interesting here: they had a program, which is on routinely, where a professor, a Thomas Jefferson scholar, takes on the role. He was discussing design issues which he picked up from his time in France….. you get the point. Later, I tuned into a church service which sounded a lot like Episcopal – but of course was Lutheran. I tuned in after the sermon just as communion was starting so much of the broadcast was happy organ music while folks shuffled up to received the bread and wine. I sang along with one hymn but they could use a better organ. It was an interesting diversion and in a way, grounded me for the rest of the journey.

Before long, we came into fracking territory with open flares, pumps, and all the trappings of the Bakken shale oil boom – which has tailed off but still cranking. Thousands of white pickup trucks, big “man camps” with hundreds of small RV-style apartments, hastily thrown up motels and restaurants, and many miles of pipeline snaking across the green hills. It was ugly – much worse than the parts of west Texas we visited.

Fortunately, about 12 miles south of the worst of it, we came over this bill and the vista of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. So how to react? Pull off and take a stupid selfie.

The Juniper campground lies along the Little Missouri River and like most NPS sites, does not have hookups nor does it take reservations. We have a nice quiet site and just a short path through the trees brings us to this sight.

The geological features here are truly amazing. There’s a scenic drive that Penny and I took Sunday evening. Here are a few shots from the drive.

The birding here has been quite good and I will let you know why in my next post. There’s no signal here – have to drive five winding miles to get coverage. Trying to do this with a cell phone, transferring some photos from my camera to my laptop and then syncing to my iPhone, is challenging. It’s a little backwards but driving the Lewis and Clark trail at 70, with air conditioning, kept things in perspective. And then Monday morning, as I was leaving the park to get some groceries, two big bison were in the road, just doing their thing. Which, whatever it is, is on bison-time. I blew the puny van horn, they just stood there. Finally, I eased between them too close for comfort. I had visions of having to call Progressive with a wild bull story.

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A Couple of Tired Birds

As many of you know, I am a former Naval Aviator and have owned light planes off and on until two years ago. I don’t do air shows and very infrequently air museums but I love local displays of old military planes. So it was interesting to see a couple outside Grand Forks Air Force Base even though the only thing flying out of there these days are some Border Patrol unmanned aircraft (got to keep those Canadians out) and a couple of others from some other agency.

The first is a B-52 which flew out of here for years.

The second is a KC-135 which was the major refueled aircraft for decades.

B-1 bombers flew here for seven years or so. I guess they are not ready for static displays yet although it would save us a lot of taxpayer money.

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Some Turtle River SP Remembrances

Penny and I had a nice time birding and walking trails while based at Turtle River. It’s a pretty park built by the CCC’s in the 1930’s and has some unique features. Here’s a shot of the river from a park trail.

There were several neat birds I saw at the nearby Kelly’s Slough NWR. The were a couple of American Avocets looking spiffy in breeding plumage – I see them in winter in Texas.

There were a dozen or more Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I had only seen one before.

This Northern Shoveler was one of several dozen hanging out.

Likewise, Western Meadowlark were everywhere. We are far enough west so that sorting them from Easterns is not required.

I mentioned the CCC buildings – here a local wedding was taking place on a lovely afternoon at the CCC pavilion by the river. And sure, the bridesmaids will have many chances to wear their outfits again.

And I couldn’t let this guy not make the blog. They are all over the park but Penny has yet to spot them and I don’t know what the are. May be a prairie dog. I’ll get back to you.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, road trip | 1 Comment