Snowing Geese

Yesterday, on a nice Fall day with no leaves, or leaf-peepers, Penny the Vizsla, my friend Sally, and I drove over to Addison County to check on the migrating Snow Geese — which had been reported for the last week. The hazy sun was prompting raptors to hunt and we stopped a number of times to see Red-tails and a Northern Harrier or two hunt. It was slow going as we stopped, turned around, and checked out about a dozen hawks – but it was fun.

Arriving at the Goose Viewing Area on Route 17 in Addison, there were a few cars and looker but no geese visible in the air or on the fields. Our disappointment died after only five or ten minutes when a large white flock rose into the southerly wind, honking like crazy. I’m not good at counting but it was likely a thousand or more.  Here’s what they looked like:

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snowgeese

After watching them swirl and gather, we drove over to Dead Creek where there were hundreds of Mallards and a different look at the geese.

Brylea Access Area, Dead Creek WMA

Brylea Access Area, Dead Creek WMA. There are Snow Geese in the center of the sky but hardly visible.

Here is a short clip that I took of the geese flying. The wind noise tends to cancel out their calls but believe me, they were loud.

It was a nice trip and Sally’s first experience seeing Snow Geese. They are amazing birds and we wish them well on their journey south.

Posted in migration, Vermont Birding | 2 Comments

Avian Flash Mob

Grabbing some lunch at the kitchen counter today, I noticed a bird silhouetted in the apple tree. I retrieved the camera from the car, took a shot with no clue as to what I was seeing.

 

Mystery bird

Mystery bird

It was only a few seconds before a second one, an Eastern Bluebird, landed by the garden and suddenly, there were about ten more. The bird feeder is in due to a recent bear visit and the pickings are rather slim and they were off in less than a minute. Here’s one of them:

Eastern Bluebird on the way south.

Eastern Bluebird on the way south.

It’s little gifts like this that make being out in nature, or just aware of my natural surroundings, that boost spirits on a grey October day. It’s delightful and they are also an addition to my yard list. Amigos felices del vuelos

Posted in migration, personal reflection, Yard birds | 2 Comments

Yellow-headed Stripey Warbler

During an early morning bird walk at North Branch Nature Center this morning, a participant called out, “I got a yellow-headed stripey warbler in the willow over there.” After some patient watching a little yellow bird bounce around through the leaves, we decided, well our leader Chip helped us decide, that it was a Black-throated Green Warbler in fall plumage. We went on to see several more and a wide array of confusing fall warblers along with many other usual suspects.

In the afternoon, after some futile searching for my Vizsla (who returned four hours later with a stick wedged in her mouth) I decided to wait outside for her and read. That plan was interrupted by a flock of warblers in my crabapple tree. I ran to get my binoculars and camera and saw several more BTNW’s along with finches, sparrows, and chickadees.  Here are a couple of shots of the warblers.

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A Black-throated Green Warbler on my clothesline.

I put out a clothesline this summer to save energy but it also serves as a neat warbler perch.

I put out a clothesline this summer to save energy but it also serves as a neat warbler perch.

For most of us who are pedestrian level birders, it is really tough to identify warblers this time of year. They aren’t singing, their plumage is different – it’s tough. When you have an expert along it makes life easier. A friend of mine recently wrote me, “I often wish I had Chip in my back pocket to help me identify birds that I see but have no clue about.”  I certainly second that thought. Good fall birding to you.

 

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Late Summer Birds

I’ve taken a break from serious birding for a few weeks but it’s hard not to notice that migration has started and transitions are underway. Lots of juveniles flying and feeding, some pretty ratty looking molting going on, and flocks are starting to gather and move through. It’s a bittersweet time of year as we never say goodbye — suddenly our summer friends are gone.

A week or two ago, I spent some time in Massachusetts and did a little birding with Penny. There were large flocks of Eastern Bluebirds, most looking a little ragged, who are likely gone by now. There were dozens of flycatchers out and about, silent as church mice, except for a number of very vocal Eastern Wood Pewees. Here’s one singing away.

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On the same walk, I came across a number of Chipping Sparrows. It wasn’t until I unloaded the camera that I saw the meal this one had just caught.

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Back home in Vermont, I took the boat out early one morning last week and found these Common Mergansers preening on the boat ramp. I launched quietly down the beach and left them to their morning ablutions.

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I keep the hummingbird feeder stoked and clean and love watching the youngsters fight with each other as the jockey for food. Any day they will be gone, perhaps today. I grabbed a shot of one perched yesterday morning and noted that they were pretty active all day. Long flight ahead.

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Our local Red-shouldered Hawks are active. Two juveniles have been calling and flying overhead the last couple of days. This one was right above me as I drove home from errands downtown.

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We get a lot of morning ground fog this time of year. Tuesday morning I took a drive down to our reservoir but from the dam could not see much. I got out of the car (without the camera) to walk the dog and immediately heard some geese in the fog. Suddenly, twenty-five Canada Geese came right out of the fog toward me, saw us and swerved, with lots of geese trash talk, and headed south at low level. It was a cool way to start the morning.

Cedar Waxwings seem to be everywhere, feeding like crazy, moving through in small groups. They are often pretty high in our pines but this one was feeding in the wild grapes as the dog and I took our afternoon walk out back. The end of the day was neat as well.

CedarWaxwingW

 

Posted in Backyard birds, Local Birding, migration, Vermont Birding | 2 Comments

A Therapeutic Paddle

After several weeks dealing with triple-digit temperatures and a couple of hot, humid days back here in Vermont as I mowed our cow pasture aka lawn and bush-hogged our woods trails, it was great to strap the boat on Mary’s newly inspected car and head out early this morning with the air temperature 60. I was on the water before 6:30 and had the reservoir to myself.

You may recall that we bought our Hornbeck boats last summer

You may recall that we bought our Hornbeck boats last summer

As I drove in, I saw a mama Mallard and her crew foraging along the shoreline. I launched the boat, paddled easily over towards them as she drew them into the lake, and listened to her cluck to them as I drifted, shooting with the long lens, and they motored on. I left them  to enjoy the rest of their morning.

Mama was just ahead of them, outside the camera frame. She seemed calm but attentive to this potential predator.

Mama was just ahead of them, outside the camera frame. She seemed calm but attentive to this potential predator.

Being a weekend, the highway noise was nothing and I just moved easily along with no ear buds, FitBit, or other distractions other than the birding gear. It was very refreshing, physically and mentally, and I listened to the Belted Kingfishers, the Common Yellowthroats, the Veery, some Cedar Waxwings, and a couple of flycatchers, just poking along on a cool misty Vermont summer morning.

The lighting was terrible for photography and I was rusty. I spooked several birds when I brought the camera up too fast, and missed others trying to control the boat speed and direction and doing neither well. It wasn’t a big deal – but I remembered that much of my birding in the last few months has been at preserves and locations where the birds seem more used to people, and tend to sit a little more still.

There was an Osprey perched right over the reservoir on a craggy dead tree who seemed quite uninterested in me. The camera shots were not ready for prime time. The water level was higher than it often is this time of year and so I could cover some areas that are normally mudflats.

The inlet to the reservoir is the North Branch of the Winooski and it offers a short stretch of quiet paddling with ledges, overhanging trees, and on this occasion, a family of beavers. They were very active and I was on their turf and they let me know. I felt comfortable but they were very close, as you can see here.

This guy had a stick in its mouth, then it reversed direction and .....

This guy had a stick in its mouth, then it reversed direction and …..

this image is not cropped. I got wet from it.

this image is not cropped. I got wet from it.

Four Great Blue Herons, probably this year’s youngsters, accompanied me part of the way back, squawking to one another all the way. The boat handled well — it felt good to get a little upper body workout — and Penny had slept after her morning walk and breakfast and was ready for the next item on the day’s agenda when I got home.  The next project turned out to be to remove the hundreds of baked-on bugs 0n the Airstream Interstate that I picked up in the 12,000 miles I’ve put on it since April. But I was in a good mood from the lovely paddle and it went well. Now to get some better early morning light for photography.

Posted in Canoeing, Critters, Hornbeck boats, Vermont Birding | 2 Comments

Birds of Sequoia NP

I had several target birds on my list before we left for Sequoia National Park and While I didn’t do much serious birding, got all three on dog walks around the campground.

The most obvious were Stellar’s Jays, a raucous species if there ever was one. Anyone who has camped in the West likely knows these guys well – I just had never been in their area before. There was even a nest full of fledglings on a rafter on the entrance to the camp store, where hundreds of visitors pass every day. Some of these had already fledged and these were about ready to go.

The next life bird I got was a White-headed Woodpecker. They were active every morning but hard to photograph, especially with a leashed Vizsla “helping.”

The same goes for the Mountain Chickadee. They were calling and foraging high in the trees but not close enough for photos.

One morning, I heard a commotion down near the visitor center and found a group of about a dozen jays mobbing something. I was hoping for an owl or a hawk but this guy, which I think is a Common Raven, was not a very happy camper.

The last morning, these two young bucks with velveted antlers were right outside our camper. They obviously have gotten used to people. There’s no hunting in Sequoia NP.

I still have many shorebirds and seabirds that I am missing but the 4th of July weekend is not the time to go look for them. They’ll be here for my next visit.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, CA birds, life bird, Life list, National Parks | Leave a comment

Camping With Dane

Monday morning, Dane and I and our faithful Vizsla Penny launched for the long trip to Sequoia National Park.

Several months ago I went online to look for possibilities for campsites and wanted the mountains because I feared the temperatures elsewhere. I grabbed the only site available out of several hundred and as it turned out, it was probably the best campsite there.

The trip up was tough. We had to go through LA on I-5 (the five) and there were several serious backups. I’m not sure if it helps or not to have Google Maps tell you that “there’s a 25 minute delay ahead of you in five miles. You are on the fastest route.”

The temperatures were about 108 on the steep climbs north of LA and I watched the temperature gauge get higher and higher. Then I took a shortcut which looked good on the map but was as twisty and narrow a road I’ve seen. We entered King’s National Park and drove about an hour to our campground in Sequoia. Here’s Dane and Penny just below our site.

The campground was full with nearly every site having a campfire. The daytime temperature was in the low eighties -at 6700′ – and the nighttime temps were in the forties.

The first morning I was up early to walk the dog and met this young buck, whose antlers were in velvet, about 20 feet from the van. (I saw him and his brother/cousin each morning.)

One of the problems with National Parks is that they are not dog-friendly. You can not take them on any trails. I knew this but it’s still a pain. We took a drive down to the big redwoods Tuesday morning. Left Penny in the rig with hopes she’d not tear it up, and walked with dozens of others down to see the General Sherman tree – the largest tree by volume in the world. Going down was easy but still it was nice to rest.

Here is Dane in front of the tree and a shot of one of the many other stately trees.

The following day, we drove about a half hour over to the national forest where dogs are allowed. We cloned up an old logging trail where only elk and horse prints were visible, bushwhacked up to a mountaintop, and Dane tried, without success, to find a cell signal.

He took this photo of Penny and me before we headed back toward the van, with a slight pause for getting “unlost.”

The trip back Thursday was brutal. There was more traffic (getting a jump on the long weekend) and four or five major backups that went for five or ten miles at a time. Too many people for the 8 lane roads – and the thrill of having young Marines on motorcycles threading there way between the slow-moving cars and trucks, dodging wide mirrors, driving way too fast.

The outing was great. We got some exercise, ate well, slept well, and only got lost in the woods for about ten minutes. The Airstream worked well – I used the solar a few times to supplement the batteries, and Wednesday for lunch, we ordered pizza from the campground store. Now that is glamping.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, CA birds, CA camping, family camping, family visit, National Parks, road trip | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, CA birds, Wyoming birds | Leave a comment

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.

BlackHeadedGrosbeakW

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.

RidgewayRailW

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.

Posted in 2016 CA Trip, CA birds, life bird, Life list | Leave a comment

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