Friday, December 23, 2005

Around LA in December

Finally updating from my short trip to the LA area this past week. It was noteworthy from a birding standpoint only because there actually was bird life that didn’t look frozen and miserable. Lots of Common Ravens and Red-tailed Hawks in and around Edwards AFB/ Lancaster area where we first stayed. Moving westward to Rancho Cucamunga, there were more birds and more activity. In my daughter’s backyard, I saw a pair of Bushtits, a few House Finches, and an Anna’s Hummingbird that put on a spectacular display for “Kitty” and I. The trip was really too short to spend any significant time hunting for birds, but it was nice just to hear some bird calls and know that sometime in the distance future, spring will again come to Pennsylvania and the birds will return. For now, I must be satisfied with the Blue Jays and House Sparrows that come to the feeders. Everything else seems to have disappeared.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cruising for birds II

If it’s Thursday, this must be Roatàn. This little island off the coast of Honduras is very lush-looking although the literature told us to expect a third-world country complete with begging children. The island is about 40 miles long and between 1 and 4 miles wide. Its population is about 30,000 and they speak mostly Spanish, however, most people are bilingual due to the amount of tourism on the island.

The weather started out bad and only got worse as a tropical depression turned to Tropical Storm Gamma. The sky was gray, it was raining, and the ocean was a sickly green. We could have cancelled our outing, but I was reluctant to do that as it would be our only time off the ship until Sunday night. We met our tour guide, Carmen, from Roatàn Island Tours and set off in a Mercedes minivan through the streets of Coxen Hole. Carmen is an islander who was very knowledgeable about the flora, fauna, and politics of the island. She also had the patience of a saint. The amount of ignorance shown by some of our fellow travelers was amazing. I hate being associated with the “gringos” who don’t realize that they traveled from one country to another during the night and that people in these two countries do not know each other nor do they know much about the other country. Why would one ask questions about Belìze in Roatàn? One woman asked how much such and such would cost in Belìze. That’s like asking someone here how much something sells for in Canada. How the heck should I know - ARGH!

We made several stops during the trip. The stop at the YUBU included native dances depicting the history of the islanders who are descended from the Black Carib Indians. We also stopped at Marble Hills farms were we found wonderful island jams and jellies made from fruits grown right at the farm. The Mutton Pepper (Habanero) jelly is to die for sweet and hot, hot, hot! The farm was loaded with small iridescent green hummingbirds called Canivet’s Emerald. Carmen was amazed to see my “magazine” of birds.

The juxtaposition of the island’s rich and poor was painfully obvious. The rich are mostly Americans and Canadians who live in opulent houses high up on the hills with fabulous vistas while the majority of inhabitants live in squalor. Small ramshackle houses line the city streets while the unemployed inhabitants sit on the windows or on the door steps. Carmen explained that while most of the people are trained in one or more occupations, most people derive a living from the tourist industry because there are so few jobs in other fields. They also live in trepidation of what the upcoming election will bring for them. The party currently in control has a history of using tax monies for the public good, while the opposition has a history of lining their own pockets. She had little confidence in the outcome of the coming election. She also told us that most children have been sent home from school because the start of the rainy season is coming and so many roads and homes are likely to be washed away, but also the children need to be at home because the upcoming election may trigger violence. It’s hard to imagine living in such unstable conditions. We don’t know how much we take for granted.

Our last stop on the tour was a four mile boat ride to see two shipwrecks. Both ships were abandoned by the companies that owned them. The first sank (I believe) after running aground in a storm and the second caught fire in the harbor. The companies didn’t even bother to pay for the crew to go home and many ended up staying on the island.

The weather got worse as morning turned to noon and we headed back to the ship. Roatàn left me with feelings of despair, yet a desire to help in some way.
We came back to the ship as soon as the tour was over. I needed a respite from the stupid gringos plus it was a good opportunity to watch the many Frigatebirds that were soaring in the skies above the ship. As the afternoon wore on, the weather became increasingly worse. The ship began to really pitch and roll so that it was difficult to stay on one’s feet. After the evening show, one of the passengers lost her footing and ended up on the floor.

I woke up feeling nauseous either from the ship’s constant rolling, the rum I had last night, or maybe both. The crew placed barf bags all along the ship, but fortunately, I haven’t needed one! After breakfast, I went back to sleep, I’m quite sure it’s the rocking of the boat making me ill as the feeling comes and goes on different parts of the ship and eating makes it much better. This afternoon, the sea calmed a bit and we seem to have outrun the storm.

The chocolate buffet this afternoon was worth it if only for the fondue and fruit. Most of the other chocolate pastries were pretty tasteless. Although the food is mostly fabulous, they do have a problem with desserts here, especially the chocolate ones. I can’t believe that I am that spoiled by Hershey’s, Ghirardelli, and Godiva chocolates, but there you are!

No birds today :-(

Spent a wonderful day with calm seas and sun. I hid on the aft deck and enjoyed the warmth I won't feel again until next year. Only one bird today (this is after all a birding blog). A House Sparrow found a respite on the boat. How the heck he got all the way out there, I don't know, but hopefully, he stuck around and got a ride back to shore.

All in all, I enjoyed the trip. I definitely want to revisit Belìze soon!

For more trip pictures, go here:

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cruising for birds, etc.

Sunday: After a long and exhausting flight from Philadelphia to Houston, we got to be scrunched into a bus with our carry-on bags under our feet for forty minutes. Then we got to wait again at the embarkation station and one more time to check onboard the ship. By the time we got to our room (which seemed too small), I was tired, hungry and very grumpy. But it was warm and sunny and after a piña colada or two, things started to look up. We have a nice private balcony that lets in lots of sea breezes. I then did the only thing a birder would do in a situation like this… I got out my bins.

There were three American coots swimming in the harbor all afternoon. Other bird life included a Great Blue heron and White egrets across the harbor and lots of sea gulls that I can’t quite ID without my scope. What kind of a birder goes on vacation and doesn’t bring her scope? (Answer: one who has packed too many shoes!)

The food here has been pretty good. Lunch was a buffet and I found a five bean salad, cucumber and yogurt salad, whole grain bread and cheese. I didn’t want to eat too much because I knew we would be having a big dinner, plus the piña coladas (did I mention the piña coloadas?) filled me up. We ate dinner at the Seven Seas for which we were probably very underdressed, but they lived with it J. I found polenta with green beans and peppers on the menu, but couldn’t have the corn and red pepper soup because they made it with chicken stock (idiots!). Later, we had dessert of chocolate ice cream and flambéed strawberries and then one of the waitresses talked me into chocolate cake, too!

After dinner, I chilled on the balcony. The sound of the ocean and the rocking of the ship is very soothing. I lined up the furniture and promptly fell asleep - going to bed after 11.

Monday: I decided I really needed to work off the ice cream and cake, so I went to the gym, but couldn’t get on a treadmill right away, so I settled for the bike. After a half hour of that, I switched to an empty treadmill and had an awesome run. I could have run a lot longer, but there was a line and a time limit of 30 minutes. After all that sitting yesterday, it really felt great to get moving again.

Yesterday the water was green and muddy looking. This morning it looked much darker, almost black, but when we went for breakfast at the back of the boat I could see how much bluer it was. Now it’s getting lighter and bluer by the minute. Although there were a lot of ships yesterday, I’ve only seen two today – one of which, a barge, is passing us right now. No birds today either. No seagulls following the ship, only the flying fish that have been our companions all day. They are skimming the water and stay airborne for at least 20 seconds. They look so much like birds, I thought they were at first.

Most of the passengers are Americans, but there are some French and Germans aboard as well. There are some really, really fat people here. Some need scooters to get around and they can always be found at the AYCE buffet tables. It’s incredible! I’m starting to get used to the constant rocking and rolling of the ship, although it can still be felt if you are looking for it. Sometimes, I get knocked off balance and I think, “Geez, I’ve had too much to drink”, but then I realize I haven’t had anything to drink! Showering takes a special skill :-)

Martes: Hoy visitamos Cozamel, Mexico! Pardon mi español. Yo no escribo muy bien pero yo hablo un poco de la manaña en Cozamel. Digo, "Un cerveza con limon, por favor" y "Eso chili relleno es muy bien!" y "¿Donde este el baño?" (It stinks only being able to speak/write in the present tense, but I'm learning).

After a very “wavy” night, we started the day with waiting (what else) while the ship got final confirmation to enter the bay. We were among the first groups of tourists allowed into Cozamel since Hurricane Wilma destroyed the place three weeks ago. There are a total of four cruise ships here today that will bring all the tourists there are here. There is no one in hotels because all the hotels are still closed.

It’s difficult to describe the place in words, but I’ll try. First every tree that is still standing is completely bare. After 48 hours of 150+ mile an hour winds, there are no leaves. It’s amazing there are any trees left, but lots are still standing. Some palms show signs of green, but leaves are still a good two months away.

Every single building on the coast, which is all we saw, is affected. Like the trees, many buildings are remarkably still standing, but whole chunks of the buildings are torn off and almost every window is gone. Our trip guide, Aldofo, told me that the island is very hard rock and builders can’t dig very far into the ground so they build up around the buildings which makes them very strong. So I guess given the magnitude of the storm, this could have been a lot worse. The inhabitants of Cozamel have been working non-stop for three weeks to rebuild. The government has apparently sent about 10,000 workers to help. Electricity and water have been restored although the cruise line told us not to drink the water because they couldn’t assure it was clean.

The coral reef where we went to snorkel is pretty much wiped out. Bob did see some nice fish while I stayed topside and viewed “un pàjaro” (a female adult Magnificent Frigatebird). I understood enough Spanish to overhear one crewmate say to the other that he saw that bird yesterday. He then waved his hand away as if to shoo it. Other than a few Turkey Vultures, that is about all the bird life to report here. I suppose any birds that weren’t wiped out flew to greener pastures. There aren’t even any seagulls flying around the docks or the ships for that matter. As this is my first time here, so I don’t know if this is unusual or not.

After the snorkeling excursion, we were taken to a still intact beach (the only one we saw) which is really a lagoon. We had free cuvasas and floated in the turquoise water for about an hour before returning to the city. We were treated to several dances like “YMCA”, “Machareña” and “The Electric Slide” by some of the crew (Aldofo and friends) and the passengers.

Once back at the dock, we wandered around for a bit. I bought some souvenirs and Bob bought some (ahem) “Cuban”cigars (for smoking here, of course). He caught the guy switching labels behind the counter, so who knows what kind of cigars they are. Haha! We ate at a little place where the guy out front assured me a meal “no con carne” and sure enough, I got a combo dinner to revival Alebreje at home. Actually, it was pretty darned good for tourist food. Now it looks as though we’ve made it back just in time to beat the afternoon rain.

Tomorrow should be the big birding day – Belìze!

Wednesday: We tendered the ship around 8:30am today and took a small craft to Belize City. Ah! This is more like what I pictured the scenery - very lush and tropical. Our tour guide was named Vel and he was this awesome little Mayan descendant who knew everything we wanted to know about Belize and more. He briefed us while we were on the bus headed for Tower Hill and the boats to take us to Laminai. On the way, Bob asked about the birds we might see and Vel told us to make sure we got to the front of the boat. Vel and his assistant, Orlando, made sure I saw any birds we passed. Orlando was a very sharp-eyed niño of 18 who spotted lots of birds and crocodiles at more than 1000 feet away.

Birds today (finally, a bird list!):
Magnificent Frigatebird
Little Blue Heron (in the picture above)
Yellow-crowned Night Heron
Jabiru stork*
Black-necked Stilt
Great Black Hawk*
Turkey Vulture
Northern Jacama*
Parrot sp.
Gray-backed Trogan*
Keel-billed Toucan*
Red-throated Ant Tanager*
Mangrove Swallow*
Boat-tailed Grackle
Oriole sp.

We also saw several wild Howler monkeys which sound amazingly like jungle cats. There were some in the trees near the High Temple and I think Bob got some good shots of them. Speaking of Laminai, the temples were amazing. I’ll need to do a little more research on the Mayans, as they were even more advanced than I thought.

We had a traditional Belizian lunch of coleslaw (traditional food???), red beans and rice which was vegetarian and quite yummy, tortilla chips and a yellowish salsa, habanero peppers with onions and lime juice and coconut tart for dessert. It tasted like more, but I refrained from being a greedy gringo. :-) On the bus back to Belize City we each had a Belitan Beer. This is the only beer brewed in Belize. It wasn’t the best beer I ever had, but it was cold, refreshing and most welcome after a long day in the rainforest.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pocono Environmental Education Center

It was very cold (29°F) this morning and the grass was covered by the first frost of the year. Yvonne and I took our “big” coats, hats, gloves and scarves, and had a pleasant 1-3/4 hour drive to the Delaware Water Gap. As we pulled into the center, we saw Blue jays, White-breasted nuthatches, Black-capped chickadees, Tufted titmice, Dark-eyed juncos, and White-throated sparrows. We secured a trail map after talking with one of the center volunteers for a few minutes. The "map" turned out to be less of a map than an interpretive guide, but it helped to make the 2 mile hike a little more interesting.

On the trail, we saw several woodpeckers, including Downy, Red-bellied, and Flicker. The chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches were our constant companions as we wove our way down through the hemlock gorges and along the little stream that runs through the park. It was crisp and cold, but the sun felt good and although there weren’t a lot of species, we agreed it was a peaceful and healing walk for each of us.

Also seen today were American goldfinch, American Crow, Turkey vulture, Red-tailed hawk, and House Finch. Not much activity at the feeders.

On our way home, we stopped at the Red Robin restaurant in Easton for swiss and ‘shroom veggie burgers (awesome!) and then shared a chocolate peanut butter dessert before Yvonne headed back to New Jersey. Another trip to PEEC is definitely in order, hopefully in December/ January when the Canadian birds migrate south - gotta see an Evening grosbeak this year!

Friday, November 11, 2005

Hawk Mountain Sanctuary: "Golden Eagle Day!"

Yvonne came up for the Veteran’s Day holiday and we spent it raptor watching at Hawk Mountain in Kempton. We had made these plans months ago when we were last in Cape May after asking Pete Dunne where we had the best chances of seeing a Golden Eagle. Sure enough, as we approached the turnstile, the hourly report came through the walkie-talkie. Two Golden Eagles had been seen in the last two hours. That’s as many as the total for the entire day yesterday. Trying not to be too disheartening we trudged up the trail to the North Lookout. If you’ve ever been there, it’s not the easiest path, but the view is definitely worth the trek.

We barely got seated when three adult Golden Eagles passed by in quick succession. They we close enough to be seen with the naked eye and were an easy ID with our binoculars. Yvonne and I both got our “lifers” for the day!

As we warmed the rocks for the next two hours, we saw many, many Red-tailed Hawks, Red-shouldered Hawks, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, a Sharp-shinned Hawk or two, 3 Bald Eagles, six Common Ravens (which, btw, are not all that common ‘round here), and 3 more Golden Eagles. According to HMS’s Website, today was the highest one-day Golden Eagle total all fall. Thanks Pete!

Among us were a bunch of kids of various ages who were crawling around the rocks. It’s nice to see kids interested in being outside and watching something other than TV. They reminded me of the little ground squirrels that live at the Grand Canyon and come up to everyone pestering for food by staring at them with big brown eyes and twitching their noses.

Before we left, we headed to the Visitor’s Center so warm up, pee, and watch the bird feeders. The feeders were keeping Slate-colored Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, a Carolina Wren and several chipmunks busy. All in all a very nice day. Tomorrow we are headed north.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Broad-winged Migration

This morning while stretching after our morning run, my running partner, Kim and I noticed a small stream of raptors traveling south along the Schuylkill River in back of RACC. As our eyes aclimated to the distance and the light, we saw it was not a stream, but a seemingly never-ending river of of Broad-winged Hawks. Our best estimate was at least a thousand. A couple hundred caught a thermal in the sky above us which was just dazzling to watch. From the height they were traveling, there was no sound at all - absolute silence - nothing to catch anyone's attention. It's weird to think that it's going on day after day and most everyone misses it just because we're not looking up, but it was a great way to start the day!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Carolinas in October

Gadzooks, I haven’t been birding in forever! It’s really hard to find the time right now between all the rain we’ve had and everything life’s been throwing at me, but thankfully with the window feeder I can do a little “birdfeeder watching” while I’m studying. A feeder first today was a pair of Carolina wrens. They’re a study in rich browns and tans, especially next to the drab House Finches who, although the males have some flashy rose color on them, are really more gray than brown. The Carolina’s feathers look sleek and clean. I could clearly see the fine barring on the wing edges and under the tail as well as the beige eye stripe. They curiously looked in the window to assure their safety and then picked around the sunflower hearts and raisins, and left. It was a definite treat on such a gloomy afternoon.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Kitchen Birding

The really great thing about birding is that some days you don’t even need to leave the house to do it. Some days, the birds come to you. Like just now as I was making a pot of veggie chili for lunches this week. I heard an unusual call and looked out of the kitchen window at the crabapple tree. At first I only saw a male Downy Woodpecker with his red crest raised, pecking at the bark, a Tufted Titmouse pecking father up the tree and a House Finch sitting nearby the woodpecker. Nothing too unusual there, but I still heard this call so I kept looking. After a few minutes I noticed some rapid flitting movement in the tree top, so I ran (literally as it seemed “warbler-ish” to me and they never hang around long) upstairs to one of the windows in my daughter’s old room that looks out into the top of the tree. There it was; a Cape May Warbler! He hung around for about two minutes before he took off over the houses.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Today Belongs to Goldfinches

OK, so even husbands can be right once in a while! If he had just told me he was talking about the Hay Creek area which I have never been able to find, I might have gone more willingly this morning. Anyway, Jody, Melissa and I decided to take a chance on this tip and it was worth it. We parked the car just before the washed-out bridge in Birdsboro (fitting place for birding, huh?) and before we were completely out of the car, a ruby-throated hummingbird popped up out of the weedy growth by the stream to look at us. “OK,” I thought “this is a good omen.”

The weather has been absolutely gorgeous here the past few days. A little chilly in the early morning, but warming up nicely by mid-morning without the abysmal humidity we had last month. We walked about two miles up the road which included a second washed out bridge that we had to climb a ladder to get over, but the area yielded quite a few species, including Carolina Wren (very vocal today), Northern Cardinal, Gray Catbird, Chipping Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Mockingbird, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Turkey Vulture and Blue Jay.

The most frequently seen bird today was the American Goldfinch. There were close to fifty in a flock chipping, fluttering, and diving near a clearing where two small streams converge. We watched them for a long time and they seemed to be consuming the tiniest gravel from the walkway and well as the sycamore and pine pods. They were in all variations of plumage (from dull brown to yellow-green to spectacular yellow and black), so it was a good opportunity for Jody and Melissa to get the gisss of them (“gisss” being the general indications of size, shape and sound). There were a few full breeding plumage males that were gorgeous.

We walked back without seeing too much more. Melissa and I stalked a Belted Kingfisher without much luck. Melissa got a wet foot and muddy pants for it! However, back at the parking lot we saw a grand specimen of a Great Blue Heron.

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Exit 0: Cape May, NJ

August 30, 2005: Much needed R & R
Spent the morning traveling “down the shore” and the afternoon in Ocean City, NJ among the Sanderlings and the Laughing Gulls. Due to the side effects of Hurricane Katrina, the water was choppy and there was a brisk wind which seemed to please the surfers. It’s always so relaxing just to listen to the surf. I would’ve stayed all day, but high tide forced me off the beach. I arrived at the Crouch’s (Ron and Yvonne) about 6:15 pm and spent the evening catching up with them over a wonderful dinner of vegetable pasta, whole grain bread, and Pinot Grigio.

August 31, 2005: A bad day birding is still better than a good day at the office!
Yvonne and I met our group leaders, Pete Dunne and Louise Zemaitis, by 7 am at the Cape May Point lighthouse. There were 18 of us present for the Warblers, Vireos, and Flycatchers workshop offered by the CMBO.

The weather had turned significantly more humid overnight and the winds were out of the south. Pete sheepishly shuffled his feet and suggested a change in the workshop name to shorebirds. A south wind is very bad for migrating passerines and he confessed that it would probably not be a good day for the workshop’s subject. However, being the troopers that he and Louise are, they sheparded us down to Higbee’s Beach anyway. The morning flight counter has already vacated his post - a very bad sign since it signified the morning migration was already complete. We birded from the parking lot down to the flight center and managed to see some birds and even a few good ones at that. Hooded warbler, Worm-eating warbler, Red-eyed vireo, many American redstarts, *Northern waterthrush, Prairie warbler, Black & white warbler, and Yellow-billed cuckoo topped the list. Also seen were: Gray catbird, Tufted titmouse, Carolina chickadee, Eastern kingbird, Northern cardinal, Barn swallow, Tree swallow, Purple martin, American crow, Common grackle, Downy woodpecker and Willet. That makes 6 warblers, 1 vireo, and 1 flycatcher by 10 am.

After 10am, Higbee’s pretty much dried up completely and we traveled back to the point to check out some of the other bird life. The newly rebuilt dunes at the point prevent anyone from seeing the ocean from the hawk watch platform or the sea watch platform. It makes birding from these points much more challenging. We did find Osprey, Peregrine falcon, Turkey vulture, Kestrel, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Semipalmated sandpiper, Sanderlings, *Buff-breasted sandpiper, Piping plover, Black-bellied plover, Least sandpiper, Common tern, Royal tern, Forster’s tern, *Sandwich tern, Great black-backed gull, Herring gull, Laughing gull, Parastic jaeger, Double-crested cormorant, Black duck, Mute swan, and Great egret.

We spent the afternoon at the Goshen center viewing warbler slides prepared by Louise. She gave us great tips on differentiating between species and had numerous slides of both males and females. We were unable to head to Jake’s Landing when the show was done due to a really bad 3-car accident right outside the center, however, we did add a Ruby-throated hummer to our list for the day while we were waiting to leave the parking lot.

There were two high points for the day. First, I met a woman in our group who lives in Berks county. We exchanged contact information and will hopefully be able to do some local birding together. The second great thing was that I had my very favorite dinner in the ENTIRE world tonight: Curry tofu roma from Cape Orient. If you ever get to Cape May, you have got to try it. There’s nothing better :-)

September 1, 2005: What a difference a day makes!
The winds lessened and shifted from south to north overnight which also brought a relief to the stifling humidity of yesterday. What a difference!

Yvonne and I stopped by the concrete ship before meeting the group this morning and we were privileged to see a King eider on the beach among a dozen or so Herring gulls. The eider was preening while the gulls scavenged through the seaweed. After we met up with the group, we traveled once more to Higbee’s beach which is the place to be during passerine migration. From the parking lot we saw American redstart (many, many), Black & white warbler, Black-throated blue warbler, Northern waterthrush, Prairie warbler, Blue-winged warbler, Worm-eating warbler, Common yellowthroat, *Chestnut-sided warbler, several Blackburnian warblers, and a *Tennessee warbler (that’s 11 species!). In addition to the Red-eyed vireo, today we also heard a White-eyed vireo (“Spit, see if I care, spit!”).

We also got absolutely fabulous looks at 4 Great-crested flycatchers one of which displayed his plumage from every possible angle and then proceeded to catch and devour an enormous dragonfly right in front of us. Not to be outdone, an Eastern wood peewee performed on a branch opposite the flycatcher although his “flies” were much smaller moths, etc. Also among those tress were dozens of Eastern kingbirds, Cedar waxwings, and Baltimore orioles that flew in during the night and allowed us to looks through the scopes. Warblers for the day = 11; Vireos = 2; Flycatchers = 3 (but not 1 Empidonax sp.)

Around 10 am we hit “the Beanery” and collected Blue-gray gnatcatcher, American goldfinch, Cooper’s hawk, Ruby-throated hummingbird, and *Black-billed cuckoo! By noon though, it was dead as a door nail, but we all agreed to meet after lunch at the hawk watch platform for some raptors. The afternoon watch yielded Turkey vulture, Black vulture, Osprey, Kestrel, and an amazing 4 (count them 1, 2, 3, 4!) Bald eagles that could be seen together in one field of view. Pete commented that this was half of all the eagles sighted in 1979 when a total of 8 for the year were sighted.

Pete and Louise concluded the workshop with “Pishing 101” so that we can all “pish” like the experts, well almost :-). As it was the first day of the hawk watch count, we stayed for a little more hawk/ shorebird watching and added Both Greater and Lesser yellowlegs. Today though, they stayed close to each other so that we could get good comparitive views – very considerate of them. Additionally, a small group of shorebirds flew in with Semipalmated plover, Least sandpiper, and Pectoral sandpiper. All totaled the group collected 52 species today – pretty fair! Ron, Yvonne and I ended the day at Gecko’s Mexican restaurant where we all had fajitas – yum!

All in all, not a bad couple of days… 5 lifers is nothing to sneeze at!

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Forest Hills/ Nolde Forest EEC

Spent the morning with Jody and Melissa doing some very fine birding. We first went to Forest Hills for just a few minutes. Had excellent looks at Eastern Wood PeeWee, Northern Flicker, Baltimore Oriole, Chickadee sp., White-breasted Nuthatch, and Tufted Timouse. Also seen were American Robin, Blue Jay,and Mourning Dove. The bugs weren't nearly as bad as the last time, but the mention of a Scarlet Tanager made us decide to hit Nolde instead.

On the way to Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center in Shillington, we saw American Goldfinch, American Crow, and Canada Goose. Nolde is one of my very first and favorite places to bird. The forest is getting quieter now that many of the birds have raised their chicks. We didn’t see Scarlet Tanager, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, or Eastern Bluebird which is funny because I almost always see those three there. We sat in the garden for a long time with only a Gray Catbird for company. We did see/hear Wood Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Brown Creeper, Downy Woodpecker, House Wren, Chimney Swift, many robins, and (best of all) a Hooded Warbler (lifer!).

Life List tally = 318

Friday, July 22, 2005

SFO July 2005

I’ve been in San Francisco on business this past week and now I know why people get so corny about leaving their heart there (or at least a little bit of it). Jody and I took a late start (a late start for a birder anyway) and the bus to Golden Gate Park. It took us a while to find some good spots, however we found a pair of Common Ravens almost immediately. In fact, we saw several pairs throughout the day – probably more than I’ve seen all put together. Among the Brewer’s Blackbirds and omnipresent Rock Pigeons were a single Red-winged Blackbird and a Steller’s Jay.

The best birding spots were among the automatic sprinklers scattered in the park. At the first sprinkler we had amazing looks at a female Anna’s Hummingbird who put on a show by hovering/ bathing in the sprinkler mist for at least ten minutes. With her were a dozen or so Chestnut-backed Chickadees and a Song Sparrow whose behavior initially confused me into thinking it was a different sparrow species. Shortly after that we spotted a mixed group of juvenile American Robins, a female yellow/ olive warbler sp., and several House Finches with an orange-variant male. It took several looks through the book to ID him as I never even knew there was an orange-variant!

A nearby sports field yielded Barn Swallows and an “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco – technically not a lifer, but a first look at an Oregon. Another sprinkler brought in a California Towhee (lifer!) and a whinnying Downy Woodpecker. We crossed JFK Avenue (?) to the Botanical Gardens. This immediately produced a Western Scrub Jay and Western Gull. We couldn’t find the California Quail that a couple from North Carolina said they saw, but we ended with a fine specimen of a Red-tailed Hawk sitting stock still in a (I don’t know any of the trees out here) tree.

Didn’t get to the Japanese Gardens, but opted for lunch on Haight Street instead. Ate at a place called, Cha-cha-cha’s which was highly recommended by a random guy standing outside the restaurant waiting for the rest of his party. We shared a pepper and goat cheese sandwich, green salad, and black beans with rice. I do believe we ate it all.

As a side note, tonight we traveled to Chinatown, bought souvenirs, ate fried bean curd strips in lemon curd sauce (awesome!), pot stickers, and puffed wheat gluten with black bean sauce (chewy, but good). Almost time to go back to work, life and reality.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Appalachian Trail (Route 443 - 501)

We backpacked this section of the trail Friday night into Saturday without bins, so it was mostly "birding by ear." Among those most frequently heard were: Eastern Towhee, Scarlet Tanager, and Gray Catbird. At the Penn's Shelter area campsite, I got a glimpse of a Black-throated Blue Warbler and Jenny got good looks at a Scarlet Tanager to which I was totally oblivious because I was reading The Hobbitt.

Birds also heard during the trip were:
Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Downy Woodpecker
Eastern Wood Peewee
Yellow-throated Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Blue Jay
Common Crow
Tufted Titmouse
Carolina Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Wood Thrush (ID'd by Jody)
Cedar Waxwing (thanks to Jenny's great ear!)
Black-throated Green Warbler
Northern Parula
Common Yellowthroat
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Cardinal
Indigo Bunting
Common Grackle

As we passed Route 625 and headed past Fisher's Lookout (where we saw a few Turkey Vultures), we heard the distinctive "pick" of a Hairy Woodpecker and were able to catch a glimpse of it at the very top of a dead tree. That's the first Hairy I've seen in a least four years.

If you go this way, be careful of the poison ivy as there is tons of growing close on the trail. So far, I've been lucky although I have a few suspicious spots on my calf that can't decide whether they want to break out or not.

If you want to know more about the backpacking adventures we had go to our Backpacking Blog: Jenny will be posting our antics there.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Forest Hills Cemetary

Jody and I explored a small area behind a local cemetary this morning with pretty good results. We almost immediately we saw a Wood Thursh with a huge bug in its mouth. Also saw (in no particular order) Carolina Chickadee, Red-bellied Woodpecker (gorgeous coloring!), Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinal (w/ young ones), Ovenbird, Catbird, Blue Jay, Northern Oriole, Robins, Chipping Sparrow, White-breasted Nuthatch, Turkey Vulture, and Common Grackles. Heard, but not seen today were Eastern Wood Peewee and American Tree Sparrow. Sixteen species in about an hour - not bad!

Sunday, June 5, 2005


Our 6th anniversary - We stayed at the Gateway Country Inn in Shawnee on Delaware, PA ( It's a very cute little B&B with owners who know lots about the area. Went to Sam Some-golf-body's Tavern for drinks. Very good Pina Colada with Chambord (yummy!). Bob had a "Dirty Birdy" a dirty martini served with bleu-cheese stuffed olives - right up his alley!We then had a wonderful dinner at Saen Thai. I had tofu and veggies with peanut sauce. He had Orange Beef. No dessert - we were both tempted, but too full. After that we went to see Phantom of the Opera at the Shawnee Playhouse. It was not the Andrew Lloyd Webber version which made me like it all the more. If you've never been to the Shawnee Playhouse, you have to know it's a very (and I do mean VERY) small stage. This company made good use of the available space though. The show was quite enjoyable even though I really wasn't looking forward to it.

Woke up this morning to the sound of Northern Parulas, Carolina Wrens, Blackpolls, Am. Crows, many Robins, Red-bellied and Downy woodpeckers, and Black-throated Green Warblers. It was soooo nice to just lay in bed and here the virtual chorus of songsters.

Later in the morning, after we had a veggie quiche, potatoes with onions and peppers, OJ, tea, yogurt with fresh raspberries, and cinnamon coffee cake, I ID'd a Ruby-crowned Kinglet that had been hanging around the inn in recent days. Seems he's been keeping himself busy bouncing into his reflection on the sliding glass doors. I've heard more stories this year of birds attacking their images than I've ever heard before. I wonder what's up with that? Appearently, three pairs of Carolina Wrens built nests inside the owner's hanging geraniums this year. This is a place I would like to explore more. It's seems very birdy!

Only half decent bird on the way home was a Red-winged blackbird. Tomorrow is back to the old grind, but I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, June 3, 2005

6 Days in Austin Texas

Dan Calloway and I by a Catus Wren's nest somehwere west of Austin, Texas.

Day 1: Arrival in Austin
Our trip started out pretty uneventful. Yvonne and I flew out of Philly (on time!) and arrived in Houston a half an hour early. Our quick flight to Austin was uneventful. From Austin we rented a car, drove to the hotel, checked in and promptly realized I had left my bag with my scope and my shoes lying in the rental car parking lot. We ended up going back to the airport and retrieving it after the airport police had confiscated and scanned it as an abandoned bag. Ah, traveling in the 21st century!

As for the birds, we started with Barn Swallows and Great-tailed Grackles at the Austin airport, followed by a dozen Common Nighthawks circling the Capitol building Wednesday night. The nighthawks were lifers for both Yvonne and I. It augured well for Austin. We dined at La Tattoria, a wonderful little Italian restaurant on Congress Ave. The salad had the tenderest greens enlivened by crushed hazelnuts and a citrus dressing. We both had fettuccini with porcini and cremini mushrooms followed by profiteroles! A glass of Pinot Grigio was perfect with it. After dinner, we went to see the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed Bats leave the Congress Avenue Bridge. Incredible!

Day 2: Delightful Dan

Wednesday started at 6am with our guide, Travis Audubon Society member, Dan Calloway. Dan took us to several places north and west of Austin where we saw many Texas specialties. Some of the places we visited were Balcones Canyonland Park, Cow Creek Road, and LBJ Lake. Birds included (lifers marked by *) Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Green Heron, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Red-Tailed Hawk, Wild Turkey (5 males displaying for one lucky female), Killdeer, Rock Dove, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, *Inca Dove, Common Ground Dove, *Eurasian Collared Dove ( a grand slam home run+ of doves), Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Common Nighthawk, Chimney Swift, *Black-chinned Hummingbird, *Golden-fronted Woodpecker, *Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Eastern Wood Peewee, *Vermilion Flycatcher, *Ash-throated Flycatcher, Great-crested Flycatcher, *Western Kingbird, Eastern Kingbird, *Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Purple Martin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Cliff Swallow, *Cave Swallow, Barn Swallow, Blue Jay, Western Scrub Jay, Carolina Chickadee, Black-crested Titmouse, *Canyon Wren, Carolina Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Northern Mockingbird, *Loggerhead Shrike, European Starling, White-eyed Vireo, *Bells’ Vireo, *Golden-cheeked Warbler (in the scope!!!) (& only occurs in this section of Texas), *Yellow-breasted Chat, *Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, *Painted Bunting, *Canyon Towhee, *Rufous-crowned Sparrow, *Lark Sparrow, *Black-throated Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Orchard Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch, House Sparrow. Counting the Northern Bobwhite, Black-capped Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and Field Sparrow which we heard plus the Pyrrhuloxia that Dan and Yvonne saw, but I didn’t, our list for the day totaled 66 species with 21 lifers for me and about as many for Yvonne!! A stellar day for sure. A Texas-sized Thank You to Dan for his tenacity and hospitality. We logged well over a hundred miles on his truck as well as more than 12 hours and he would have still done more if we would have asked him. He was all we could have wanted in a guide and more!

We returned to the hotel around 7pm. We were hot, sweaty, smelly, and tired, but very satisfied with our day. Upon our return we discovered a wet floor in our hotel room caused by an air conditioning malfunction. The hotel offered to let us change rooms, but we were so exhausted that the mere thought of repacking our stuff gave us both headaches. We told the guy to just go ahead and fix it. We then ordered room service and had no sooner done so when the hotel manager called to say that the hotel was picking up the dinner tab for our “inconvenience”. We dined in our jimmies on free pizza and salad. It tasted like heaven after a day of fast food. We retired at 9pm.

Day 3: The Wonderful World of Weberville!

We slept in on Friday (til 6am). We first went to the gym where Yvonne walked while I ran for 45 minutes. Yvonne found these wonderful chilled aromatherapy (mint and citrus) wash cloths. They were heaven! I’m going to have to do that at home. Anyway, we got a kind of late start on Friday, but headed east and still made it to the Hornsby Bend Biosolids Management Facility (a euphemism for “sewage treatment plant”) by 8:30 am. It wasn’t nearly as smelling as I thought it would be and the flies weren’t nearly as obnoxious as the green heads at Forsythe NWR or the stable flies at Point Pelee in August! Nearly three million of them (No, I didn’t count them all) got trapped in our rental car and suffered a death by overheating in the next few sweltering hours L. We first birded the “facility” by car, easily finding *Black-necked Stilt, *Western and Pectoral Sandpipers (couldn’t positively ID Least, although they were probably present), Snowy Egret, a gorgeous pair of Wilson’s Phalaropes, Blue-winged Teal, Wood Duck, a single Pied-billed Grebe, Mallard, Osprey, Red-shouldered Hawk, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and Kildeer. We searched everywhere for the Black-bellied Whistling Duck that Dan said we would find easily, but to no avail. On the back side of the facility we got out of the car and birded the River Trail. There we found numerous Northern Cardinals, White-eyed Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. Due to the lush leaf cover we heard rather than saw these birds. Also seen at the facility were several species of turtles that were sunning themselves on logs, rocks, and bed edges. They were possibly more numerous than the birds!

After another search of the pond we found Great Blue Heron, but still no Black-bellied Ducks. Both satisfied and somewhat disappointed, we left the facility. It was now almost noon and getting rather warm as we headed to Weberville for a trip to the county park. The first time we went through Weberville we actually missed it! Literally, don’t blink or you will miss it J We drove for a while before we realized we missed, but these things happen for a reason. As we stopped to turn around, we saw a Red-shouldered Hawk in a tree eating something (a squirrel?). We watched him for a good while and then moved on. We stopped at Mary’s Taco’s, apparently Weberville’s only restaurant except for the grocery store deli a few feet away. There I had the most excellent salsa and cheese enchiladas! Very good eats there. From Mary’s we (finally) found our way to the park. By this time, it was after one clock and most self-respecting birds (and birders) were taking a siesta, but not us. We heard a Belted Kingfisher and also got good looks at some adorable Carolina Chickadees. They seemed much smaller than the others we had seen (possibly juvies?).

After Weberville, we headed west back to Austin. We immediately headed for the pool, had a dip and a Lava Flow (Pina Colada with a strawberry swirl). Yvonne had an Austin Sunrise. Thus sunned, cooled and very relaxed, we went back to our room and took a nap. BTW, Yvonne slept on the most comfortable looking “cot” I’ve ever seen. It’s got a double thick mattress and an actual box spring to it. The Four Seasons is worth every penny I can’t afford to spend on it! After our naps, we explored Sixth Street which is a bit overrated if you’re not into loud music, booze and tattoos. The kids love it though. It reminded me a lot of South Street in Philly. We ended up eating at a wonderful little Thai and Vietnamese restaurant. We ate tofu satay as an appetizer. I had tofu red curry for dinner and Yvonne had shrimp Pad Thai. We skipped dessert (imagine that!).

Day 4: Roadrunners and more

Saturday started early (5 am, on the road at 5:45 am). We traveled west to Pace Bend at Travis Lake. On the way we used Dan’s directions that included a detour to Old Ferry Road. There we took a quick stop to see a deer and her fawn go into the brush, listen to a Barred Owl call “Who cooks for you?”, and then sat out the thunder/ rain storm that came upon us like a wall of water. We stopped to check out a bird and as we stepped out of the car, I told Yvonne to get back in. It rained cats and dogs. We waited out the storm in front of some corrugated metal storage spaces, talking to our husbands and then went to Lee’s where tips are greatfulLEE(y) accepted and the cashier is “Older than Dirt” or so her T-Shirt says. She recommended we have grilled onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes on our breakfast tacos which we did. They were hearty enough to lift our spirits a bit.

After breakfast we returned to Old Ferry Road to see if we had better luck. It was still raining, but not quite as hard. Suddenly, Yvonne slowly says, “Back up! Roadrunner!” I quickly backed the car up about 10 feet to see a *Greater Roadrunner prancing down a private driveway. We got about a 30 second look, but it was unmistakable. Finally, a roadrunner! After he was gone, we continued down to the end of the road (it ended in a dock), but without seeing anything one Red-winged Blackbird and a pair of Black-crested Titmice. We returned on the road from which we came and darned if the roadrunner wasn’t back at the front of the driveway. This time he took off a little more quickly, but we were very satisfied that we had seen a lifer!

From there we proceeded to Pace Bend Park, paid the $8 day use fee even though all the guide’s said that if you mentioned you were going birding they would waive the fee. We circled the park once and seeing only wet tent campers we pulled over and took a nap until the rain receded. It was 9:30 am when the rain stopped and the sky turned beautifully azure. Of course the first bird we heard was a mockingbird (I thought we had them all in Pennsylvania!). Soon a Western Scrub Jay flew to the top of a tree and started to preen himself. Two woodpeckers (golden-fronted) came out to play and finally there appeared a squat brown bird whose identity eluded us for a few minutes. However, as the bird fluttered out into the full sunlight to dry her feathers and we both got our scopes on her, we realized that this was a female *Northern Bobwhite. She stayed for at least 15 minutes! This is the bird for which I’ve been looking for almost all of my forty years of birding and there she was showing off for us. “Oh, you haven’t seen my right wing yet? Here! And the way I can reach my beak under my wing? See that?” It was fabulous: a bobwhite in a Juniper tree!

We then started to circle the park again and found ANOTHER roadrunner running on the side of the road (Where did roadrunners run before there were roads???). This one let us look at him for a bit before a short flight into the brush. Also seen at the park were Black-crested Titmouse and Golden-fronted Woodpecker, however, after the roadrunner and bobwhite, they seemed somewhat anticlimactic. We eventually headed back to Austin having decided to scrap a last chance for a Black-capped Vireo due to the lateness and heat of the day.

Heading back on Route 71, we decided to keep going straight to Hornsby Bend to check one last time for those (supposedly) easy *Black-bellied Ducks. We were also hoping for Dickessel and/ or Crested Caracara. We were barely inside the visitor area of Hornsby when we spotted three black-bellies one of which was standing right in the middle of the road! We watched for a long time and crept up on them getting better and better looks. Finally they flew off with flashes on white and black wings. That made three lifers in one day – not a bad day at all! We were happier than pigs in poop even though we didn’t see a single sparrow, much less a Dickessel.

On the way back to the hotel, we looked for Monk Parakeets at Zilker Park, but found nothing on any tall light standards. Feeling like Jane Hathaway look-alikes amidst all the runners, walkers, and street people on the trail, we decided to head back to the hotel. It was almost 4 pm anyway and Yvonne needed to pack yet.

We spent our last night’s dinner at Dona Emilia's South American restaurant and dined on goat’s milk cheese with small squares of corn “bread” (not your mother’s corn bread, but light and not at all crumbly – very delicate), roasted vegetables, black beans, roasted asparagus, and (Yvonne had) salmon. Dessert was an ultra-rich chocolate- chipotle torte topped with chocolate ganache, and raspberries. We each had two glasses of a wonderful apricot-ty Texas Chenin Blanc. A wonderful end to a wonderful birding trip! Thanks Yvonne – you are the greatest birding buddy a person could have!

Day 5: Blah!
I hate the first day of conferences, especially when I’m there by myself. ‘Nuff said about that day!

Day 6: Sorry Yvonne!

Rented a bike from the hotel and took a ride along the trail that runs behind the hotel and across the river. It was beautiful morning and the trail was exhilaratingly muddy after the rain we had again last night. Bringing the bike back I saw what I thought was a Great Blue Heron crouched down hunting near the hotel landing. There was no way to not scare him away so I approached as slowly as possible hoping he would find his prey before I moved him. When he did fly, I saw he was not a Great Blue, but a *Yellow-crowned Night Heron! Another lifer and it wasn’t even 7:15 am. Sorry Yvonne, but he flew right in front of me.

Life Bird count: 316