Monday, December 10, 2012

Estero Llano Grande State Park

Rose-throated Becard, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Cory and I really enjoyed Estero Llano Grande State Park.  We made three separate trips to this location and got some of my favorite birds of the trip.  Cory got the rarest bird of the trip here, a female Rose-throated Becard.  Alas, I missed it because I was at Santa Ana looking for Hook-billed Kites at first light.  When Cory called I rushed over, but could not relocate the bird.
Common Pauraque, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Alligator Lake was great for Common Pauraque, Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant, Green Kingfisher, waterfowl, and Least Grebe.  There was also an Eastern Screech-Owl with its head out of a nest box, and a Long-billed Thrasher here.
Curve-billed Thrasher, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Walking in the "Tropical Area" turned up a lot of great birds early in the morning including Buff-bellied and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Wilson's, Yellow-rumped, Pine, and Orange-crowned Warblers, Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Inca and White-tipped Dove, Clay-colored Thrush, Ladder-backed and Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, Green Jay, Altimira Oriole, Plain (boom) Chachalaca, and Curve-billed Thrasher.  This is where the becard hangs out when it is seen.
Neotropic Cormorant, Estero Llano Grande State Park, TX
Along the other trails in the park we saw lots of waterfowl and herons, Vermillion Flycatcher, and sparrows among other species.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Texas Trip: Santa Ana NWR

One of the places I was most excited to visit in south Texas was Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.  This beautiful, more than 2,000 acre refuge harbors many of the rare and sought-after birds in south Texas.  We visited the refuge three times during our 6 days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  Despite the refuge's great reviews by other birders, we left the park each time a little disappointed.  Perhaps we had bad luck here compared with other places.  We did two long early morning hikes in the park, but found bird activity and diversity to be relatively low.  Still, we enjoyed the long hikes through forests of texas ebony, and got a lot of great birds.  Waterfowl and shorebirds abounded in the park, and we spent a lot of time scanning the impoundments and lakes hoping for a Northern Jacana or a Masked Duck, but with no luck.
Green Jay at the feeder, Santa Ana NWR, TX
White-tipped Dove, Santa Ana NWR, TX
The main birds we saw in the park were Green Jay, White-tipped Dove, Plain (BOOM!) Chachalaca, Harris's Hawk, Great Kiskadee, Olive Sparrow, and Long-billed Thrasher.  We also spent a lot of time pishing to see what we could turn up in the flocks of wintering songbirds.  Despite our efforts, we only had common species such as Orange-crowned Warbler (just about everywhere!), Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Pine Warbler, and Black-crested Titmouse.  On the lakes we saw Least and Pied-billed Grebes, most of the normal North American waterfowl, Wilson's Snipe, Long-billed Dowitchers, and other shorebirds.
Harris's Hawk, Santa Ana NWR, TX
I put in a little bit of time on the observation tower hoping to spot a Hook-billed Kite, but much to my chagrin, I could not locate one.  Harris's Hawk, Gray Hawk, Turkey and Black Vulture, Northern Harrier, Osprey, Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks were the only raptors I saw from up there.

Even though we were a little disappointed after our visits here, I would recommend this refuge to any birder or naturalist visiting south Texas.  The extensiveness of the trails, habitat diversity, and potential for rare birds is amazing in itself.  I am absolutely looking forward to going back in the future.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Texas Trip: Aransas NWR to Port Aransas

Brown Pelican, Port Aransas, TX

I'm back from my 9-day trip to Texas with my friend Cory DeStein.  We saw a lot of good birds and each got some good lifers (Cory got more than 40!).  Over the next week and a half I will do a few posts for each of the main locations we birded, and post some photos from them as well.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge was beautiful, and our main target bird there was Whooping Crane.  We started the morning off birding near the visitor center where we picked through the winter flocks of songbirds, which contained mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets along with Orange-crowned Warblers and a few other common species.  We also had American Kestrel, Merlin, and flyover Sandhill Cranes, Snow and Ross's Geese, and a Pine Siskin.

We then drove the auto loop stopping every so often to look at the waterfowl, pelicans, and waders.  Highlights along the loop were hundreds of Redhead, Northern Pintail, and several other waterfowl species, and great looks at Whooping Crane from the observation tower.  We had six in all.  Two right by the tower (they are usually very distant), two close flybys, and two distant birds.  Other birds we had on the loop included Inca Dove, Orange-crowned Warblers, Red-tailed Hawks, and some very large wild pigs that scared the pants off of Cory (I saved him though).
Whooping Crane, Aransas NWR, Texas
Whooping Crane, Aransas NWR, Texas
From Aransas we drove south to Goose Island State Park where we saw hundreds of Brown and American White Pelicans, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Redhead, Caspian and Royal Terns, and other waterfowl and shorebirds.

We then drove to Port Aransas to look for terns (I still needed Sandwich for the year).  At the jetty we head Black, Forster's, Caspian, Royal, and Sandwich Terns, and a Reddish Egret but not much else except for an unidentified sea turtle that popped up for a few seconds.  We continued south from there adding Crested Caracara and White-tailed Hawks on the power lines on the barrier islands north of Corpus Christi.
Reddish Egret, Port Aransas, TX
 By Luke Musher

Monday, December 3, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Goodbye Farallones

As you may have gathered, I have departed from the Farallones.  Although it is weird being back in civilization, it's good to be home.  Overall I had a great first season on the Farallones, with 193 species on my Farallist.  I was hoping to break 200, but I missed a few good birds early in the season, that I just couldn't make up for during my 10-week tenure on the island.  My list includes 12 species of waterfowl, 8 tubenoses, 2 Sulids, 5 Hawks, 17 shorebirds, 9 gulls, 7 alcids, 5 owls, 9 flycatchers, 6 thrushes, 24 warblers, 19 Emberizid sparrows, 6 Cardinalids, 8 Icterids, and 7 finches!  I got 38 year birds on the Farallones (marked with stars), putting my total at 430 for 2012 (now 432 with 2 species I've gotten since leaving the Farallones, Barnacle Goose and White-winged Crossbill, both in Long Island, NY).  Here is my complete 2012 Farallist of species, including some photo highlights.

Greater White-fronted Goose (3 October)
Brant (2 November)
Cackling Goose (9 October)
BLUE-WINGED TEAL (17 September)
CINNAMON TEAL(17 September)
Northern Shoveler (29 September)
Northern Pintail (8 September)
Green-winged Teal (7 November)
Surf Scoter (30 October)
Red-breasted Merganser (7 November)
RUDDY DUCK (27 September)
Pacific Loon (15 September)
Common Loon (4 October)
Horned Grebe (7 November)
Eared Grebe (15 September)
Western Grebe (27 September)
*Northern Fulmar (21 October)
*Pink-footed Shearwater (11 September)
*Flesh-footed Shearwater (16 October)
*Buller's Shearwater (21 October)
*Sooty Shearwater (8 September)
*Short-tailed Shearwater (7 November)
*Black-vented Shearwater (16 October)
*Ashy Storm-Petrel (13 September)
*Brown Booby (13 October)
Brandt's Cormorant (8 September)
Double-crested Cormorant (8 September)
Pelagic Cormorant (8 September)
Brown Pelican (8 September)
Great Blue Heron (5 October)
Great Egret (12 September)
White-tailed Kite (13 October)
Northern Harrier (18 September)
Sharp-shinned Hawk (12 October)
COOPER'S HAWK (25 October)
*Rough-legged Hawk (25 October)
Black-bellied Plover (8 September)
Semipalmated Plover (8 September)
Killdeer (12 September)
Black Oystercatcher (8 September)
Spotted Sandpiper (15 September)
Wandering Tattler (8 September)
Willet (8 September)
Whimbrel (8 September)
Black Turnstone (8 September)
Sanderling (15 September)
Pectoral Sandpiper (8 October)
Short-billed Dowitcher (9 October)
Long-billed Dowitcher (28 September)
Wilson's Snipe (18 October)
Red-necked Phalarope (8 September)
*Red Phalarope (10 September)
Black-legged Kittiwake (2 November)
Bonaparte's Gull (7 November)
Heermann's Gull (9 September)
Mew Gull (7 October)
Western Gull (8 September)
California Gull (8 September)
Herring Gull (27 September)
Thayer's Gull (30 October)
Glaucous-winged Gull (22 October)
*Elegant Tern (27 September)
*Pomarine Jaeger (15 September)
Parasitic Jaeger (11 September)
Common Murre (8 September)
*Pigeon Guillemot (8 September)
Ancient Murrelet (23 October)
*Cassin's Auklet (8 September)
Rhinoceros Auklet (8 September)
*HORNED PUFFIN(3 November)
*Tufted Puffin (11 September)
Eurasian Collared-Dove (8 September)
Mourning Dove (12 September)
Barn Owl (8 September)
Burrowing Owl (23 September)
*Long-eared Owl (8 November)
Short-eared Owl (12 October)
*Northern Saw-whet Owl (8 November)
*Vaux's Swift (28 September)
Anna's Hummingbird (8 September)
Rufous Hummingbird (8 September)
Belted Kingfisher (19 October)
Northern Flicker (7 October)
American Kestrel (12 September)
Merlin (8 September)
Peregrine Falcon (8 September)
*Olive-sided Flycatcher (12 September)
Western Wood-Pewee (8 September)
Willow Flycatcher (14 September)
*Least Flycatcher (8 September)
Pacific-slope Flycatcher (18 September)
Black Phoebe (15 September)
Say's Phoebe (23 September)
Ash-throated Flycatcher (12 October)
Hutton's Vireo (3 November)
Warbling Vireo (12 September)
Common Raven (18 September)
Horned Lark (18 October)
Northern Rough-winged Swallow (12 September)
Violet-green Swallow (11 Ocotober)
Cliff Swallow (10 September)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (9 September)
Brown Creeper (7 October)
*Rock Wren (8 September)
House Wren (3 October)
Pacific Wren (14 September)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (17 September)
Golden-crowned Kinglet (9 October)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (25 September)
*ARCTIC WARBLER (28 September)
*Swainson's Thrush (18 September)
Hermit Thrush (18 September)
American Robin (4 November)
Varied Thrush (25 September)
Northern Mockingbird (8 September)
European Starling (2 October)
American Pipit (12 September)
Cedar Waxwing (12 September)
*Lapland Longspur (19 October)
Ovenbird (25 September)
Black-and-white Warbler (16 September)
*Tennessee Warbler (11 September)
Orange-crowned Warbler (8 September)
Nashville Warbler (25 September)
*MacGillivray's Warbler (17 September)
Common Yellowthroat (13 September)
American Redstart (12 September)
*Cape May Warbler (8 September)
Magnolia Warbler (12 September)
*Bay-breasted Warbler (12 September)
Blackburnian Warbler (12 September)
Yellow Warbler (8 September)
Chestnut-sided Warbler (12 September)
Blackpoll Warbler (10 September)
Black-throated Blue Warbler (29 September)
Palm Warbler (26 September)
Yellow-rumped Warbler (15 September)
Prairie Warbler (21 September)
Black-throated Gray Warbler (16 September)
Townsend's Warbler (12 September)
Hermit Warbler (13 September)
Black-throated Green Warbler (4 October)
Wilson's Warbler (12 September)
Spotted Towhee (1 October)
Chipping Sparrow (8 September)
Clay-colored Sparrow (8 September)
Brewer's Sparrow (8 September)
*Vesper Sparrow (17 September)
Lark Sparrow (8 September)
*Lark Bunting (8 September)
Savannah Sparrow (8 September)
Grasshopper Sparrow (18 October)
Fox Sparrow (21 September)
Song Sparrow (11 November)
Lincoln's Sparrow (11 September)
Swamp Sparrow (12 October)
White-throated Sparrow (3 October)
*Harris's Sparrow (18 October)
White-crowned Sparrow (22 September)
Golden-crowned Sparrow (25 September)
Dark-eyed Junco (24 September)
*LITTLE BUNTING (14 November; Pending acceptance by CBRC)
Summer Tanager (14 November)
*Western Tanager (16 September)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (12 September)
Black-headed Grosbeak (10 September)
Lazuli Bunting (9 September)
Indigo Bunting (17 September)
*PAINTED BUNTING (18 September)
DICKCISSEL (17 September)
Bobolink (8 September)
Red-winged Blackbird (7 October)
Western Meadowlark (23 September)
Yellow-headed Blackbird (9 September)
*RUSTY BLACKBIRD (14 November)
Brewer's Blackbird (7 October)
Brown-headed Cowbird (11 September)
Baltimore Oriole (11 September)
Purple Finch (11 October)
House Finch (18 October)
RED CROSSBILL (13 September)
Pine Siskin (28 September)
Lesser Goldfinch (8 September)
American Goldfinch (7 October)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The One that Got Away (Little Bunting)

By Luke Musher

Today was an unexpectedly good day for us on Southeast Farallon Island.  We had a Rusty Blackbird, which is a CBRC species and a Summer Tanager, which is also a rather good bird for the island.
Rusty Blackbird, Southeast Farallon Island, CA.
However, it was also an unexpectedly horrible day.  We saw a Little Bunting.  I know what you are thinking.  "That doesn't sound so bad.  Little Bunting has only occurred in North America outside of Alaska two other times, once of which was on the very island you are on now.  You guys found an extremely rare bird."  No; it was horrible because nobody photographed it.  The bird will almost certainly not be accepted by the CBRC without a photograph, and there is little we can do about it.
At least we can prove that this bird exists.
Jim Tietz initially found the bird and radioed to us to bring our cameras immediately.  When we got there the bird had just flown.  Jim described the bird to us, small emperezid sparrow with a lot of chestnut on the face, light streaking on the underparts, white outer tail feathers, eye ring, and call a faint tsip.  Then we searched a little more, but were unable to relocate the bird.  I kept looking and found a Pine Siskin with another bird.  I couldn't see the bird well, but I distinctly heard a call just like Jim had described so I kept on it.  The bird then flew straight at me.  I could clearly see the chestnut face, eye ring and white outer tail feathers, and the call matched Jims description.  I ran after the bird while radioing the rest of the crew.  The bird then flew back over my head towards where it came from and was never seen again. I just listened to several recordings of the their calls from asia, and was pleased to see that most of the recordings matched what I heard.

I am hopeful that the bird is still on the island and that we will see it tomorrow (unlikely).

Here's a link to our ebird checklist today including Jim's description of the bunting:

Ebird Checklist

Monday, November 5, 2012

Farallonia's Common and Scarce

By Luke Musher
HY Anna's Hummingbird, a common bird on the Farallons.
Since I first arrived, I have found it incredibly interesting how some species that are fairly abundant just 30 miles east on the mainland can be incredibly rare, and are thus highly coveted by us Faralisters here in Farallonia.  Then there are birds that are much more likely to turn up here than on the mainland.  For example we get far more Least Flycatchers, an eastern vagrant, than Dusky or Hammond's Flycatchers, which are relatively common species in the west.  We recently had two Farallon megas, Common Goldeneye and Cooper's Hawk that are doubtfully any birder's idea of chase birds.  However, birders who spend time on the Farallons take their island lists very seriously, so when I called out the goldeneye over the radio, the others came sprinting to me as if it were an Arctic Warbler (not surprisingly also induced a rapid and shamefully twitchy response).
NOT the Loch Ness Monster, but the 20th Island record and 6th Fall record of Common Goldeneye for Southeast Farallon Island.  Nearly all records are in winter.
Cooper's Hawk, one of roughly 30 records for the island [Photo by Ryan DiGaudio]
Despite the fact that the birding has been slow due to various amounts of wind and/or fog, we've had a a trickle of arrivals over the past few weeks, including new Grasshopper Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Short-eared Owls (almost daily), Rough-legged Hawk, Blackburnian Warbler (a good vagrant anytime, but especially this late in the season), and Surf Scoters to name a few. 
Lapland Longspur, the most likely species of longspur here, but still a relatively uncommon bird.
Short-eared Owl, a common species but an outstanding bird every time.
We have butterflies too, like this west coast lady....
...and this painted lady.
We haven't seen many Pigeon Guillemots lately, but this individual, Hermen, has been here since the breeding season, and is finally molting in a much-needed new set of remiges.
One of my favorite recent birds was a Horned Puffin yesterday (pow! that's a lifer) that was spotted while we were operating the crane to bring the boat on shore.  Ryan DiGaudio, Nora Livingston, Maggie Spilatro and I all basically spotted the bird at exactly the same time and realized it wasn't a Tufted Puffin, which breed on the island and would be far more likely, but a Horned.  Jim Tietz got this as an island bird while still waiting on the boat he was arriving on.  Note the white underparts, pinched base of the bill, and obvious paleness in the face–much different than any Tufted Puffin.  What a BAMF.
Eh not the best photo ever, but a great bird anyway.  Horned Puffin just chillin'.  One of less than 30 records for the island, 8th fall record.  This bird is far more likely in Spring, but rare any time, and scarce in any part of coastal California.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Storm Birding - Stay Safe

To all you nutty birders out there chasing hurricane birds, good luck and stay safe.  I wish I were there to join in the fun.

Be safe and smart, but of course enjoy the storm birding.  I will be vicariously enjoying the storm birds you all find.  Maybe this fog will clear and I'll get some action on Southeast Farallon Island as well tomorrow.

~Luke Musher

Friday, October 26, 2012

What A Gaggle

By Cory Ritter

We have had a bit of weather over the past few days here in Duluth, and we even had a weather day on Tuesday the 23rd due to fog and drizzle all day. So, after holding out at the overlook for a little while in the morning to check for any potential clearing, Karl alerted me of a group of geese at the Bayfront Park in Duluth.

This wasn't any regular group of geese, however. From what I heard, this group was found by Don Kienholz. It was apparently reported to him as a family group that consisted of a mother, father, one young, and one albino. Take a look for yourself.

juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
juvenile Greater White-fronted Geese, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose with Cackling Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose with Cackling Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose with Cackling Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
Cackling Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
Cackling Goose, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
Likely Ross's x Snow Goose, juvenile, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
Likely Ross's x Snow Goose, juvenile, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
Likely Ross's x Snow Goose, juvenile, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
Likely Ross's x Snow Goose, juvenile, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012
The entire group, Bayfront Park, Duluth, MN, 10/23/2012