Getting the Scope Out

I have been frustrated with blogging from the road where wifi is often slim or none. I can use 3G/4G with the iPhone or the iPad but handling pictures from the Canon SX50 is a hassle. Too much transferring and time taken .

So yesterday, I decided to get back into digiscoping with the iPhone so I’d only have to use one electronic device. I had gotten the scope repaired this winter but haven’t been using it. So, with the tripod and scope over one shoulder and the leash for the Vizsla in the other hand, off we went for a little test hop.

I guess that the Indigo Bunting that popped up first was a good omen. He posed cooperatively as he worked several apple trees right near our campsite. Here are a few shots:

It was rather quiet in mid-afternoon but I also found a Chipping Sparrow and several Black-capped Chickadees to practice with.

I have yet to master riding my bike with the dog attached and also carrying a tripod and scope. This endeavor should prove interesting. Stay tuned.

Posted in Digiscoping, iPhone 6, Vermont Birding | 2 Comments

A Ride on the West River Rail Trail

I have walked, skied, and biked rail trails around the East and have to say that the West River one is the best I’ve seen. It’s scenic, very burst, and remote so I can let my anti-social (re dogs) Vizsla off-leash and not be bothered by hordes of joggers, cyclists, or dog-walkers.

We took a walk Friday afternoon and I was struck by the quiet. No road noise – nothing but the river and birds. This morning, we went out early and needed a jacket and gloves, which were in the van, but I was too lazy to turn around. I had set up the “Springer” attachment which allows Penny to jog alongside the bike. We use that in the park.

The rail trail goes right through the campground. We start at the southern section and head a few miles toward the big Ball Mountain dam.

It’s easy, when traveling along the trail, to visualize the small trains that once plied this 33-mile route. Lots of ledge cuts, stream crossings, and river crossing (which are mainly abutments.)

The bird calls were amazing. Of course the Veery and the Hermit Thrush are among my favorites but I also saw a dozen or more Ovenbirds. They are usually tough to spot in spite of their constant singing but these were on the path, in the low branches, just not worried about this guy and his dog. I am not carrying my camera since I don’t have my laptop with me so that’s why I haven’t posted bird photos.

Penny is 12 and moving pretty well but I don’t want to over-tax her so we stopped at where the railroad crossed the river. She enjoyed checking the place out and I enjoyed the view, spotting a couple of Common Mergansers downriver.

The trail continues, less bike-friendly, down toward the flood control dam. We turned around and ended up with a two hour outing with about 35 bird species. We earned the bacon and pancakes with maple syrup that I cooked outside after our return.

This campground is the last place where Mary and I camped – we had a lovely time last fall. Saturday marked the two-month anniversary of her death so the walks, bike rides, even the black flies that loved her and ignored me, are gentle reminders. One advantage of knowing most bird calls is that you can bird with tears in your eyes.

Posted in Birding With Penny, Penny, rail trail, shakedown trip, Vermont Birding, Vermont Camping | 1 Comment

A Shakedown Cruise

After trading some honey for future goodies from my friends at the Post Office Cafe, Penny and I launched on a short shakedown cruise. My brother had lent me a bike rack so we strapped on the old man’s bicycle and we were off.

One of the objectives is to zero in on just what I need to bring on next month’s western trip, where to stow stuff so that it doesn’t shake, rattle, and roll as we head over rough spots and negotiate curves. We never heard that when it was all back in the trailer.

Since we had plenty of time and a gorgeous Vermont day, I decided to take Route 100. It was a good diversion – just plain Vermont for much of the way. It is definitely a ski route as we first hit Sugarbush, then the Killington complex, and then Okemo in Ludlow.

As is the case every summer, there were several one lane bridge repairs and many resurfacing projects. We complain about potholes for six months and traffic delays the other six. Friday was too perfect a day to fret over some stops besides, I had no schedule and Penny certainly did not.

One of my favorite spots of this route is the chain of lakes north of Ludlow where a half century ago, I spent several great summers at Boy Scout camp. Now a state park, Camp Plymouth was special. A good friend from those times – a long-time classmate – Doug Allen said to me not too long ago, “Dick, I often wish I was back there weaving lanyards out of gimp.” I certainly agreed.

After Weston, where Dad was in the CCC’s, we came to South Londonderry, Mom’s hometown. There are no relatives left there but many memories.
Mary and I came here to Winhall Brook Campground last fall and loved its peacefulness and beauty. This time I opted for one of the no-hookup sites along the brook.

Of course, the narrow bridge is always a bit of a challenge.

So, Penny and I are on a grassy site right beside the brook. It’s quiet – bird song and gurgling water noises. We just took a good bike ride down the rail trail and after a decent supper, need to go to town for bread and a 3G signal.

Posted in Airstream, Interstate, Vermont Birding, Vermont Camping, winterization | Leave a comment

Some MA Birding

Penny and I took took a road trip yesterday down to Merrimac to see Jen and her gang – and to do a little birding. Things are several weeks ahead down here and being further south, we hear Tufted Titmice, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Mockingbirds that are less common up our way. I was just setting up the van – which takes no time at all – when I heard an unusual bird song and found a couple of Magnolia Warblers working the apple tree in the front yard.

This bouncing Magnolia Warbler reminded me how tough it is to photograph warblers.

This bouncing Magnolia Warbler reminded me how tough it is to photograph warblers.

This morning, we paused for a silly selfie before heading out for some birding along a trail I (and many other birders) like along Artichoke Reservoir.

Jen's Mini-Cooper is dwarfed by the Interstate RV

Jen’s Mini-Cooper is dwarfed by the Interstate RV

We heard and saw a lot of neat birds, the best being several Blue-winged Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Warbling Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breased Grosbeaks. Everything was singing and it was a challenge to figure out the various calls since it’s the first time this year I’ve heard them. This Scarlet Tanager greeted us as we were leaving the trail.

 

Pretty lousy photo of a pretty bird singing its heart out.

Pretty lousy photo of a pretty bird singing its heart out.

This is not only big-time mosquito territory but also tick heaven. She has a treatment each month – I have to remember to wear long pants, load up with spray, and check afterward.  It is a favorite place of mine and favorite time of year to bird – oral and visual overload. A nice problem to have. Good birding

Posted in Airstream, Birding With Penny, family visit, Interstate, MA Birding, Penny, ticks | 1 Comment

Vulture Love

As a pilot, I’ve often thought of vultures as graceful in the air but ugly on the ground. Their soaring abilities always catch my attention and adoration. Yeah, I kind of love them.

Aside from South Texas trips, most of my experience has been with Turkey Vultures but the recent Florida journey put me up close and personal with hundreds of Black Vultures. Myakka River State Park was crawling with them and while they drove my dog Penny nuts, they gave me a chance for a number of interesting photos.

Vulture1W

The campsites have warnings that Rangers may use explosive devices to move vultures away from the campground and parking areas.

"Are you as bored with these birders as I am?"

“Are you as bored with these birders as I am?”

"You know, I could go for some carry-out carrion about now."

“You know, I could go for some carry-out carrion about now.”

"Who passed gas?"

“Who passed gas?”

Vultures may not grace the covers of bird magazines or birders’ license plates but they have some redeeming values – well, perhaps not that many. They are, like many of us, best appreciated from a distance. So in any case, give my vulture pals some love.

Posted in Florida, Florida birds, road trip | 2 Comments

“f/8 and be there”

Sometimes you just have to be present with a camera and neat things can happen. That was my experience with getting a Painted Bunting for life bird #440. (I realize that the total is not that impressive but I’ve only been at this for about seven years.)

The last two winters we were in Texas, there was a very reliable Painted Bunting at the Falfurrias Rest Stop on Highway 281 north of Edinburg, Texas. Day after day I’d see it reported on eBird but the one day that Mary and I went up to look for it, we scoured the place with no luck. Of course, someone saw it that day afterward.

This winter, a Painted Bunting was frequenting a feeder in mid-state Vermont and most of my birder friends got to see it. My time was tied up completely with Mary’s treatment and care and I never even thought about leaving to look for it.

When I got to the Skidway Island State Park in Georgia last week, I asked the ranger as I was checking in about whether they had any birders on their staff. He introduced a young woman who gave me a quick briefing and said, “You can probably see the Painted Bunting at the feeder in the morning. They are a little skittish but the love the millet seeds.”

I had picked the park since it was highly recommended by by brother and sister-in-law and was the right distance for the daily drive I was planning. I birded that evening and picked up a few new year birds for me, including a noisy but handsome Great Crested Flycatcher.

Up before dawn, I exercised the dog, grabbed a coffee, and went over to the nature center and picked one of the empty chairs. No one was around but Tufted Titmice, Carolina Chickadees, and a couple of cowbirds came and went. Only about fifteen minutes had gone by when suddenly from the underbrush, a Painted Bunting fly to the feeder. My camera was in my lap and I was so close that I didn’t want to spook him – but just then a noisy compressor from the building’s air conditioning system kicked in and off he flew. Well, I certainly saw him.

I adjusted the camera so that I could shoot when he came back but time went by, and I knew I had to pack up and do a rather long drive. Then, he was at the cage feeder and I took some photos, more for documentation than anything.

The cage screwed up the autofocus but there are plenty of good shots on the web.

The cage screwed up the autofocus but there are plenty of good shots on the web.

But not these two.

But not these two.

When he left, I did as well, very happy to get this pretty bird – and that success made the trip go well, to the point that I cancelled a reservation and drove nearly 12 hours to Pennsylvania, going from tropical temperatures and brightly colored birds to drizzle and a few damp Robins. It was a long but good day.

Posted in life bird, Life list, road trip, RV Travel | 2 Comments

Florida Birds

I often tell folks that I don’t chase birds and generally that is correct. However, when I planned the 1500 mile trip to Florida to trade my truck in on an Airstream Interstate RV, I started to put a short target list together. I have never birded Florida so I wanted to grab a few of the common birds in the short time I would be there — I put a list of Limpkin, Wood Stork, and Florida Scrub Jay on a scrap of paper.

Well, the first early evening there, before the purchase was settled, I heard some sharp calling just outside the motel and got a new life bird of Nanday Parakeet. These are a lot like the Green Parakeets we see in Texas – the first time you see and hear them it is exciting, then it gets old pretty fast.

I had decided that if the transaction went ok, I’d stay in the area for a day or so. After a long Monday morning, I took possession of the new rig and drove about an hour over to Myakka River State Park and within an hour, was walking with the dog and finding two new life birds, Wood Storks and Limpkins.

 

Dozens of Limpkins and their young live in the park and are easy to spot as they forage.

Dozens of Limpkins and their young live in the park and are easy to spot as they forage.

There are many trails where in addition to birds, you might see opossum, alligators, raccoons, and plenty of squirrels. 

There are many trails where in addition to birds, you might see opossum, alligators, raccoons, and plenty of squirrels.

The next morning, we got up early and walked down to a fishing access area which was teeming with birds. Hundreds of Black Vultures (wait for a later post) were interesting to Penny but I found a new life bird foraging. I have seen many Common Gallinules but have never seen a Purple Gallinule. It was neat to see them on the same morning and note the very apparent difference.

Purple Gallinules are pretty striking looking birds.

Purple Gallinules are pretty striking looking birds.

 

This White Ibis was pretty showy in the early morning light.

This White Ibis was pretty showy in the early morning light.

So we packed up and headed out about 8 AM with four new life birds, in less than a day. Then, as the day’s fortune continued, I saw another life bird, a Swallow-tail Kite, right overhead as I drove up I-75. About a half hour later, I saw another one low over the road. They are tough to miss — lovely birds — and a nice bookend to a short Florida birding stop.

Posted in Florida_Birds, Interstate, life bird, Life list, road trip | 4 Comments

Transitions

When Mary died, I decided to act on some ideas I had been considering for a while, partially as an alternate to the heavy thoughts I had been wrestling with for months, and downsize our travelling equipment. It has happened quite fast and Penny and I are in Florida getting ready to camp our way home.

I sold the Airstream to the first guy who contacted me and held off dozens of suitors as he got his act together. It was bittersweet to see the rig rumble, down the driveway – we had made many long trips with it – but I felt good that a nice guy with lots of plans for family trips hauled it off to Maine. Penny was a bit confused by the transaction.

At the same time, I was working with folks in Florida and Ohio on finding a used Airstream Interstate. The trick was to unload my new Ford truck in the deal. After a couple of weeks of back and forth, I put a deposit on a 2011 rig that was listed by a small dealer in Florida. I asked my brother’s brother-in-law to take a look at it (He and his wife winter close by) and they went right over and gave me a positive report. So, last Friday, we launched early for a three day adventure down to Florida.

Let me tell you, it’s a bit nerve-racking to drive a vehicle that you are going to trade. We ran into a lot of construction, starts and stops, crazy drivers, and all I could think was, "if I even have a minor fender-bender, this deal is dead."

We stayed at a Motel 6 (cheap but ratty) and a couple of La Quintas – averaging 9-10 hours travelling a day. That’s enough for me.

I rank Florida drivers the worst I’ve seen, even worse than Massholes. I was very glad that I just had the truck but even then, small darty cars just flew past on both sides, when I’m holding a steady 75.

The transaction Monday was long but easy. The temperature was high and Penny spent a lot of time waiting in the shade. We had some insurance issues – problems at the company – but after three hours, we’d switched all our gear and I was tentatively heading out into I-75 traffic.

I had decided to stick around, check systems out, and try to get some Florida birds so we lumbered over to Myakka State Park which is quite lovely.

I have got everything stowed away, learned a bit more about the systems, and done some great birding. I have a lot of photos I need to go through but no wifi and very weak cell provide the normal state park challenge. Penny finds the aisle very comfortable although we so trip over one another. She’s digging the air conditioning on the 90 degree humid days.

Wednesday, we’ll head northward, perhaps to Savannah. I’m planning a rather liesurely trip back probably arriving Sunday. Now, if I can just remember where that fuel cap is – oh yes, inside the driver’s door. Don’t ask.

Posted in Vermont Birding | Tagged , | 3 Comments

The Usual Suspects

Down in Massachusetts for a few days visit, I decided to take Penny birding yesterday morning at one of my favorite spots, Salisbury Beach State Reservation. If you get there early, even on a weekend, there are few people around. Later in the morning, it seems like every dog walker in the area descends on the place.

I had just turned on to the access road when I saw a Northern Harrier working the salt flats, hunting low over the ground, swooping and soaring in the way that I just love to watch. It was too far off for photos but a great start — first I’ve seen this year.

The ocean was pretty dramatic with a stiff wind and high tide and as far as I could tell, no birds.

The ocean was pretty dramatic with a stiff wind and high tide and as far as I could tell, no birds.

Several House Finches were in the shrubbery along the walkway to the beach.

Several House Finches were in the shrubbery along the walkway to the beach.

After seeing several large dogs cavorting off leash along the beach, I decided to move inland. We ran into a host of species and Penny had a chance to race around a bit around the vacant campground. Perhaps the most interesting were the Song Sparrows, which were singing everywhere, and a half-dozen Northern Mockingbirds.

The mockingbirds were going through their repertoire - fun to hear and see.

The mockingbirds were going through their repertoire – fun to hear and see.

Mocker1AW

 

Even House Sparrows got into the act.

Even House Sparrows got into the act.

We headed toward the boat launch area and noted several large groups of Brant.

The Brant breeds in the high Arctic tundra and winters along both coasts.

The Brant breeds in the high Arctic tundra and winters along both coasts.

It was a nice morning outing, relatively quiet since many migrants have yet to arrive. Both Penny and I got some nice exercise and fresh air. We’ll be back again until they start charging $14 per car when the beaches open up.

Posted in Birding With Penny, MA Birding, Salisbury State Park | Leave a comment

Second Try Is The Charm

One of the things that grieving does to me is make me more forgetful — “Where are those truck keys?” “I just had that shopping list, Penny, did you eat it?” It’s just part of the territory these days and why I’m glad I keep good lists on my iPhone. “Where’s the $#@& iPhone?

Yesterday afternoon, the weather was wonderful for a change and I decided to take Penny out for a walk to see if we could see the Northern Goshawk again. I’d seen a pair a couple of days ago and hoped that they might be sticking around to nest.

We started out with dozens of chickadees, like this one, chattering away, probably reminding me that the feeders were getting low.

One of our Black-capped Chickadees who is believes in eating local food.

One of our Black-capped Chickadees who believes in eating local food.

As we got up to the place where we have seen goshawks, I sat down on a leafy knoll, head up against a tree, and relaxed in the sun, listening to nuthatches and chickadees. The dog flopped down for a bit and it was nice, until my cellphone dinged. I thought we were out of 3G range but a message, unimportant, made it through.

I returned to the house, started getting organized for a shopping trip, loaded the dog, and could not find my iPhone. I looked everywhere. My last resort was to look out in the woods where I had been sitting. So off we trudged, back up the hill, Penny wondering what was up but game for any outing. Just as we approached the spot, I heard a Pileated Woodpecker – first of the year — and then saw it flying through the pines. I then saw my iPhone on the leaves up ahead. Things were looking much better.

Then, I heard a goshawk calling and sure enough, the same bird I that I had seen before perched and called from a tree quite far away. I pushed the limit of my SX-50 point and shoot camera but it sat in the sun for me, and then flew off to a more distant perch.

Northern Goshawks are beautiful birds. I think this is a female since its companion the other day was smaller.

Northern Goshawks are beautiful birds. I think this is a female since its companion the other day was smaller.

So what was lost was found and I got a neat bonus plus more exercise. I’m going to be traveling a lot for the next few weeks so it will give these birds, if they choose to stay, a chance to be undisturbed. I am concerned by their noisiness and am not posting information on their location — other than it is somewhere within walking distance of the house. Let’s leave them be and see if they nest. Good birding to all.

Posted in Birding With Penny, Local Birding, Penny, Vermont Birding | 4 Comments