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.

NOFlickerW

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.

WilletW

And lastly another favorite, a Whimbrel.

WhimbrelW

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.

SignW
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

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.

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

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