Thursday, March 30, 2006

East coast loop trip journal

Journal for the spring 2006 loop trip to the East Coast

This was a loosely organized trip, originally planned to Philadelphia, routed through a number of states where I wanted to find lots of species while the winter visitors were still around. I started the trip with a little less than 5000 total tics, the sum of the species count for each state and Canadian province. I ended with over 300 more, making it a very sucessful trip from that point of view, though not from some others.

Mar 10 Fri

Took care of some bank business, bought Travellers Checks, and drove to Conway, which I always time for an empty tank to take advantage of cheaper gas (it was the lowest of the trip), drive to Stuttgart Airport, Sprague's Pipit, a barn owl flying low apparently hunting in daylight, acompletely surprising Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow with facial patches as orange as a pumpkin, other usual parrow suspects. Drive to DeWitt, teh White River NWR office had been moved. Drive to St Charles to the brand new Visitor's Center, (but pre Ivory-bill), get maps and info, hike the trail at office, then across White River to Buck Lake CG (where Laura Erickson had stayed for a week birding and suffering from the daily hunting), now it was way deserted, usual supects, first Barred Owl staring from a nearby tree. There was ocassional rain in night. Really strange was a chorus of three Barred Owls all night, hooting and yowling.

Mar 11 Sat

Up at first light after a good sleep. An owl was still staring from a nearby perch. There was a message from Brook Trotter, made me uneasy, but it was way early to call and the signal was very low. Birded around Buck Lake roads, then played mob tape. Gazowee. It's an mp3 recording of chickadees mobbing a screech owl set up to play on portable speakers, the whole thing fits in a pocket. As I was driving north for some breakfast I called Corpus Christi; it was worse than I feared. Joe Trotter, my friend of about thirty-five years, is dead. Some calls, with bad reception. Crying and remembering (the remebering went on for two weeks, big chunks of time emerging, varied scenes, joyous, stoned, angry, whole nights of grinning music, hard dirty work, philosophy and revelations). Breakfast in Marianna with great potato pancakes, drive to Wapanocca, bird there around the tour loop, drive on to Memphis. Visit with Steve, got the web page project started when Shiloh got home and Steve could distract baby Lydia, lots of geeking and talking and eating fresh Lobster and such. I did call Lani, Joe's wife, in there, she seemed more together than Karen or Brooke, but maybe just that high tight focus until the immediate job is done, keeping it together for the orphaned daughters.

Mar 12 Sun

Up well before dawn, as if you can tell time in the city, where it's never dark. Birded Mud Island waiting for Jeff Wilson, nailed Peregrine, went over to Arkansas, picked up more birds and got shown some great spots, up the river and west of Wapanocca. One was Daley's boat dock. Back to Memphis, birding some lake stuff on the south end of town, then into Mississippi, mostly east of Tunica, big flat wet fields and such. 40 new MS species, many ducks and shorebirds, and 12 new TN. He's arguably the best birder in Tennessee, and probably one of the best in the country. I learn so much, and find out about so much else I should learn. This time we had the meadowlark lesson, how to tell eastern from western by the way they fly. Back to Shiloh's after dark. Call from Nichole about staying in Richmond.

Mar 13 Mon

Slept a little later, then bath and grooming. Drive to Pickwick Lake with a stop at Wolf River WMA, very neat. At Pickwick I found the two loons Jeff had promised and 2 other species. Fucked around following map ideas, which didn't lead to much bird payoff, there was rain off and on all day, sometimes hard. Ended at Tishomingo SP, Mississippi. Fantastic. Eight new MS tics starting at 5pm, walking around the lake as the sun set. Best was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Mar 14 Tues

Birded around Tishomingo Lake again, more tics, then into Alabama via Natchez Trace about 9am. Found a good site at Town Creek Marsh, recommended in the N Alabama birding guide, and then off to Wheeler NWR. Four sites there, plus VC. The first three stops were great, but I wasted too much time at Blackwell Swamp, but got two sparrows on the way out. I should have spent more time at the boardwalk, but the parking lot had guys just sitting in cars, making me paranoid. Maybe a gay pickup rendezvous. Then a dismal drive through Huntsville rush hour (not) and finally found Buck's Pocket in the dark. What happened to the concept of signs. Yayy GPS. Cold night, sorta.

Mar 15 Wed

Rimmed out in the dark. Muddled around finding DeSoto SP, on Lookout Mountain. Great results with sound setup. Great place, many mop up tics. Ended with 42 new for AL, 95 total, almost over my 100 benchmark. Then Georgia. Poor results without the books, and just not very birdy. The inevitable one item forgotten and not packed that happens on each trip was the supply of state bird finding guides. Altitude made for colder more barren habitat, it was the south end of the Appalachians. Wasted a lot of time driving crooked mountain routes. Kept being thwarted by expensive SPs and closed NF cg. Ended with 9 new tics, and that just barely, since I must have found the last pair of Buffleheads and the first pair of tree swallows in GA at the last expensive parking lot State Park by a lake. Hit SC at last light. Shunpiked in the dark to a NF campground, which was where the map showed and open. Who'd have thought?

Mar 16 Thurs

Great place, started walking some trails, found a nice meadow with good birds, then back near campsite played the mob tape and got more new ones,12 new tics in less than two hours. The mobbing tape is miraculous. Then took off for Carolina Sandhills NWR, with a side trip for a big lake, got a grebe, but it wasn't necessary. Sandhills also great, after a slow start, no map, so I had to wander around a bit on just the info in the GPS. Ended with 28 new tics, all woodpeckers counted, some sparrows, ducks, LBJs. Drove to town for groceries, gas, back for RCW. This is he RCW capital, with lots of colonies active and a great dealof habitat under recovery. There was a controlled burn the day I was there. Camped in an obscure state forest place, showing no signs of maitenance except graded sand roads.

Mar 17 Fri

Went back into the refuge, caught a couple more birds, but not new. Headed north just a short ways to PeeDee NWR, arrive before noon. NC gas is way higher, beat myself up over that, since I hadn't filled up when cheaper. PD was okay, the covered bridge blind was inspiring, nice design and setting. I added 12 new tics for NC, and two more at Campground (good considering that NC is already a strong state) in Uwharrie NF. Very new and very well done, even a shower, tho not quite hot. What was neat was I wanted Grackles and Red-headed WP, and the Gracks were in a tree where I parked and the WP started chuckling while I was glassing the Gracks. I also got the last cheaper gas in NC, the pump literally running dry.

Mar 18 Sat

Spent some morning time working on Gulls, but couldn't make even one turn into a Bonaparte's. Drove along diagonal NE, several stops, got socks, had trouble getting up Wifi, but finally harvested a lot of email after I'd used a non-wifi library in desperation. Upshot was about 1:30 got to VA, some quick stops, then Staunton River SP. Nice quiet place and got lots of birds. Added 27 to VA list in four hours, including a Veery, which turns out wasn't new for VA. I'd seen my first yers ago in Shenandoah NP. Nice young woman at check-in, Beth T., gave me a spreadsheet of the bird list. Was able to geek liesurely on the connection from the office, being a bad boy in the dark.

Mar 19 Sun

Got up early to a strange owl call, which I'd heard in the night too. Closest tape was Long-eared Owl, and it was coming from their usual thick pine habitat. Got several other birds too, then drove into Richmond, two hours arriving about noon. Nichole was waiting on the steps. Put in a load of laundry, then headed for a sight-seeing trip around the house and the older part of town. Pretty nice. Stopped at a wifi cafe, swooped up mail, then headed to Peace rally and march, maybe 3-400 people. Mildly interesting, but just chilly enough to be uncomfortable all the time. After candles and singing and a pittance of counter-protesters went to a nice veggie dinner place with several of her friends. Back home for a small party with a pit fire in the backyard, talking wobblies.

Mar 20 Mon

Slept late for me, but out before Nichole was up. Drove down a sweet two lane backway through tidewater VA. Got to Jamestown before opening, pricey, so drove the Colonial Parkway to Yorktown, which was interesting. Explored and watched the movie, then went looking for a refuge that turned out to have no entry. Turned around, decided to bail on Richmond, feeling time pressure. Drove to Mason Neck NWR, which was great for late in day, got good sparrows, and decided to skip Philly. Just going home. Couldn't face the family, nor BAB (at least that was regretted). Managed to cross DC rush hour fairly smoothly and ended up at NF CG near Front Royal. In the dark.

Mar 21 Tues

Rimmed out of there, and into West Virginia. Slow inefficient hilly going. Canaan NWR, office closed, no nice Jackie, and it started snowing. West VA has a curse on it, this is third time I've hit bad weather there when expecting to get some birding done. Rather than scenic drive and camp in WV wet cold, I went for speed. Got to the interstate, and drove all the way to Louisville KY in snow, drizzle, yuck. Got to Patoka Lake SP Indiana after dark, almost fifteen hours driving, mostly bad roads or bad weather. Quite whooped, bedded down early.

Mar 22 Wed

Cold, really cold at dawn. Computer wouldn't start until I blew heat on the battery and keyboard. But I started finding new Indiana birds, good sparrows, even a loon. Spent about 3 plus hours there, trying different sites, then headed for Patoka River NWR. Found a 2 McDonald's town with a Wally for bug juice. Got to the refuge office about 11, and ended up talking for quite a while with Bill McCoy, manager, about IBWO, and all sorts of other stuff. He laid out a nice tour loop, trying to avoid flooded areas. They've had 10 inches of rain, I had acute envy. And found excellent birds. Rusties, good WP, lots of kinds of ducks, snipe, some hawks. Also drove through some long stretches of water over the road, maybe a quarter mile total. I'd glass the situation carefully, and if there were no deep spots I'd try it. Good mild danger high. Ended with 32 new IN tics, 62 species in all, way better than I'd expected. Drove down through Evansville to find Rock Pigeon, then into IL over the flooded Wabash. Seemed farther than I'd thought, but finally found yet another NF primitive campground, $5.

Mar 23 Thurs

Slow drive south to Paducah, several stops, best at a small state park, Dixon Springs, and the lake north of it. Got a Loon, and Horned Grebe too. The park had some nice trails, including one called Ghost Dance Canyon. Good ducks, more IL tics. Got email in Paducah, learned to just go straight for Holiday Inn. After Paducah headed SW to Hickman KY, great place birding along the Mississippi R, good sparrows and the surprise loon. Was leaving, and scanned one last time, saw a cormorant where there had been nothing earlier, but it didn't look right, so stopped engine, got scope back out, and found a Red-throated Loon. Then went for KY part of Reelfoot NWR. Found a viewing tower, for KY ducks, and some flooded areas for a couple of shorebirds, including a flocking, as in 100 birds flying tight formations, flock of Snipe. Went to the Visitor's Center in TN, fat woman and yappie dog, uninformative. Tried a tour road, but not much good, big windy water with lots of boats, and no birds. Got a Redhead Duck in the swamp tho, surprising. Stayed at State Park Campground, lots of flooding, but eked out a usable space in the primitive (cheap) area. Cold N wind most of the afternoon.

Mar 24 Fri

Up early and down to Choctaw NWR. What a nice place, and good birding too. Walked out into the waterfowl impoundement, filled in missing TN ducks and sparrows. Vast pools of habitat. Drove out of there and looped around the south end, found the road into Long Lake. Parked and walked in. Guy named Joe Morris comes in, turns out its private and hunting leased, but not in season. He didn't mind me birding, showed me around, we talked critters, got a phone number for a later visit. Got missing YBSA and RC Kinglet. After tht I drove a lot, but very few other hits. Did get a good idea how the place is laid out. Then N to the Interstate bridge into MO, straight through except gas stop, into AR and down to Crowley's Ridge Nature Center. Well done place, bought a book and Bird Sanctuary sign. On down to Dagmar, bird Mud Slough until dark, back to town for BBQ at Gene's, then back to the remote lake at Dagmar. Stayed there.

Mar 25 Sat

Planned to bird Mud Slough again, but first met Randy Little of CLO and Bell Labs, an audio master. Good conversation on some tech issues, tho he is way over my head. Did turn him on to the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron call, which is something like Ivory-bill. His assignment was to record similar sounding calls in various circumstances to use for rejecting bogus recordings on the remote sensing units. Headed down Mud Slough again; birdy but no surprises. Best sight was three vultures hanging in a tree above three beaver carcasses. On the trail met Kathy and Keeta from my area. Promised to get together for hiking sometime. Started drive home via Beaverfork Lake, hoping for the long staying Western Grebe. It was there, but I started on the wrong side of lake, two long slow spotting scope scans before switching position. Came up quick, but far enough that I might not have got him with just binocs. Made for a satisfying drive on home, arrived about three pm.


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