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

Thanks, Larry, for the life bird

On Saturday morning, I joined a dozen other birders for a "woods" bird walk led by Judy and Larry Geiger from Wyoming. I have known these folks for years – Larry is a "pokey" who birds very slowly and really prefers to sit and let birds come to him. Every morning as I walk Penny past their campsite (which is adorned with feeders, water sprays, brush piles..) I’ll see Larry sitting in camo clothing in his chair, binoculars and camera at the ready, armed with his coffee and a hand-rolled cigarette, waiting. He sees a lot of stuff before most of us are up and about.

Judy, on the other hand, is a walker, and birds at a pretty good pace, usually instructing as she does. They are a great team who let birders identify sightings by field marks rather than shouting out, "There’s an Indigo Bunting."

Saturday’s walk was rather routine until we visited the park feeding station. Nothing was moving in except the usual suspects and some of us were getting antsy to move on but the leaders dawdled, waiting. Then someone spotted something with yellow, always a good omen, and we were on to a Black-throated Green warbler – and then someone said, there are two birds – and sure enough, a gorgeous Yellow-throated Warbler was also flitting about. Most of us got good looks and then, as warbler do, they were gone. After a wait, we moved on psyched to have such a neat start.

We had ambled only a hundred yards, still chatting about the warblers, when Larry said, "I’ve got a great bird here. Hopefuly, he’ll sing, he’s way back in the understory." As we scrambled, he was talKing about "rain crow" and some other stuff and I had no idea what we were looking for. Suddenly, others spotted it, telling which way it was moving …I still couldn’t see anything. Then the Yellow-billed Cuckoo moved a little more into the clear and then we spent the next fifteen minutes watching it actively feed on caterpillars in the dense foliage. Photos were tough to get – this was the best I could get.

We asked Larry how he ever spotted the bird which was so well hidden and he said that he had spotted the tail, knew that only cuckoos had tails like that, etc. I could have walked down that park road hundreds of times and unless the bird was calling, would have missed it. It was nice to find out later that it was life bird #422 for me. Thanks, Larry.

Posted in Bird walks, Goose Island State Park, life bird, Life list, Southwest trip 5, Texas birding, Texas birds | Leave a comment

Easter Weekend at a Texas State Park

*Things started to change around Thursday as the vacant sites on our tree-lined park road started to fill up and the voices, energy, and comradarie of Hispanic families brought a new vitality to the neighborhood. Pickups full of camping gear, kayaks, bikes, and coolers rolled in and soon we could hear salsa music and the yells of bike-riding kids.

I know that Texas State Parks promote holiday use of their campgrounds but we have never been here before on Easter. A park friend of mine told me, "It’s especially big in areas with lots of Hispanic families – Laredo gets more than any." A Falcon park staffer told me that they get thousands and it can be an hour wait just getting into the park.

Lots of families tent camp and cluster in family/friend groups wherever there is room.

I see lots of chunky kids but few are looking at electronics: soccer games in the road, lots of volleyball practice, tree-climbing, bike riding with very little "organized (or monitored) by adults. Adults, with exceptions, tend to relax and let the kids romp.

Speaking of romping, I was out on a bird walk this morning when suddenly this girl comes racing down the path followed by a boy on a bike and a portly dad biking along. "Can’t keep up with her," he said as he rode by. I didn’t think about it until a few minutes later, when the same girl came flying by on the oyster shell trail followed by her family cyclists. Now, I was impressed. Later, back on the main park road, up they came and she stopped, bent over for a moment to recover, and began walking. I immediately asked her whether she ran in school, complimenting her as her dad answered for her.

He told me that she runs for a club, had just broken a world record, and come in second in a national race. I got her name, wished her well, and told them that I would follow her successes down the road. And off she jogged. It was a chance encounter with a young woman who may, some day, be an Olympian. Here’s part of a writeup in February by Rachel Cole for a Corpus Christi TV station:

*CORPUS CHRISTI –
Corpus Christi is the home of a brand new world record holder. Ciara Martinez, 12, is proud to have crushed the standing record in a 15K race.

Her coach, Edward Ortiz with Elite Feet of Corpus Christi says, 15K is 9.3 miles and she did it in an hour and six minutes, just about a seven minute mile pace.

Martinez set the new world record over the weekend in Dallas. Her time clocked in at four minutes faster than the previous record.

"We went to go race the 5K that I’ve been training for 6 months to break the world record, I came up short but I got first overall out of like 4-thousand women," she said….

This campground will be a ghost town Sunday night as all the local visitors return home. It will be nice to have some peace and quiet just before we head out – but we’ll miss the chaos of kids at play. It is a reminder of our grandkids and how much we miss them. Feliz Pascua.

Posted in family camping, Texas state parks | Leave a comment

Some Monday Birds

I was out walking the dog before daylight, listening to the morning chorus of birds and frogs when far off, I heard a Great Horned Owl hooting. After another coffee and bagel it was getting light out so Penny and I headed out for another jaunt, this time with my binoculars and camera. Not much was moving – we seem to be overflown by migrants – until I took a side trail, noticed some movement, and spotted this owl. It was very large, facing away from me, but turned periodically to check us out. It was difficult, with the limbs and lighting, to get a decent photo but a great start to the day.

We had planned to go over to Port Aransas for the morning for some birding and after an easy drive and short ferry ride, were at the wastewater treatment facility – one of our favorite birding spots. The Leonabelle Turnbill Birding Center has hundreds of waterfowl that are used to visitors and just hang out on the facility’s ponds. Boardwalks and spotting scopes make this popular and very productive. Here are a couple of Roseate Spoonbills overhead (most are getting their breeding plumage).

We had Cinnamon, Blue-winged, and Green-winged Teal.

Ruddy Ducks in breeding plumage were eye candy for Vermonters.

Even this Common Moorhen looked pretty spiffy trotting along.

We took a drive down to the beach, just to see it again. I noticed a flight of about thirty Brown Pelicans flying very low coming up at us so I stopped the truck and grabbed a shot. As an aviator, I admire their flying skills and love to watch them in formation.

On the way home, we picked up some healthy lunches from "The Shack," a local barbecue place. Afterward, I felt a bit like this Black Vulture which I saw later on – fat, dumb, and in need of a nap.

Posted in Birding_trips, Southwest trip 5, Texas birding, Texas birds, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

A Morning Jaunt to Aransas NWR

One of the "must-do" trips when we are a Goose Island State Park is to get to the [Aransas National Wildlife Refuge](http://www.vtbirder.com/aransas-national-wildlife-area/) so we loaded up some lunch, our birding gear, and the dog and headed out yesterday morning. It’s only a short trip, much of it at 70 mph, and it is always a bit unreal to take the narrow roads through cotton country. The fields are continuous black soil, flat as can be, cut only by irrigation ditches. Way off, like mirages on a desert, trucks float along just on the horizon. It’s about as far removed from Vermont as possible.

The refuge is large and being remote, not that busy, even on a weekend. Mary and I get in free with our Senior Pass (one benefit of getting old) and there is a pretty driving loop along the coastline with several overlooks.

The first stop after the impressive visitors’ center is the alligator viewing pond. They’ve constructed a new viewing platform and right below it was this young alligator, taking the sun. It’s Mary’s type of alligator viewing – there’s no way, unless he sprouts wings, that he’s going to bother her.

The birding was so-so with the exception of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, who have just begun to show up. Some will stay here, others will continue their migration northward. There were over a dozen and all were having trouble perching in the stiff breeze. This one balanced on a sign.

As did this one.

Later, after seeing a couple of Whooping Cranes from the elevated platform, I thought I saw a bunch of white birds way up high. I tried to get my binoculars on them with no luck, finally giving up. I told Mary that I must have mistaken a swarm of insects for a flight of birds.

We moved on, driving the long scenic loop, when I thought I saw a similar group of white objects. I stopped the truck and realized right away that they were birds that showed up when the sun was on them but disappeared when they turned away. They were making large circles, thermalling and drifting with the wind. I got Mary on them and through the binoculars, could see that they were White Ibis. My camera didn’t focus well but you can get a sense of the neat swirling birds we were seeing.

The temperature showed 80 as we stopped in a grove overlooking the water. The wind, while making casual dining a workout, kept the bugs (which were there) away. It was a nice Saturday morning in southern Texas.

Posted in Goose Island State Park, National Wildlife Refuges, Southwest trip 5, Texas birding, Texas birds, Whooping Cranes, Wildlife Watching, Winter2015 Trip | Leave a comment

Taking Princess Ariel Home

I did some geocaching at Choke Canyon State Park and want to introduce you to an interesting trackable that I found in a cache there.

I love geocaching in Texas parks: they all have multiple caches, the traffic is pretty high so there is good turnover in trackables, and they use large ammo boxes as caches that are a piece of cake to locate.

With GPS, you get led to the site. Here’s what my iPhone looked like as Penny and I zeroed in on the site.

As expected, the cannister was easily found with my "truffle hound" helping me out.

I signed the log and saw that among all the items folks had left in the container (essentially junk like lucky coins and magic rings) that the was a trackable item with a metal tag attached.

Each trackable has a unique code that identifies it and allows the owner, and others like me, to observe the activity. I reported that I had taken the item so it now shows in my inventory.

In looking up the number, I saw that Princess Ariel was launched in Vancouver in 2010 but as you can see from the chart, sort of got lost in Texas. (Probably stashed away in someone vehicle and forgotten.)

So, I plan to lug her back to Vermont, probably visiting a few caches along the way, and place her in an active cache where someone can find her and move her along. I think she needs to explore New England.

Posted in Georgia birding, Southwest trip 5, Texas state parks | Leave a comment