Saturday, January 03, 2015

Notice to users

This blog is intended to be a resource for folks planning birding trips. If you see something that makes you want more info, leave a comment. I get the notices immediately. I can provide more detailed information including directions, GPS co-ords, sightings lists by date or site or both, and answers sometimes to more specific questions. Good birding!

Friday, January 02, 2015

Using this Blog

In order to read the trip reports, refer to the below. I've put the reports in the archives, listed on the right side of this page, in their natural order, rather than blog order (last post first) That means ignore the posted dates, and refer to the dates in the posts themselves.

WARNING: If you're not a fanatic bird lister, some of this will seem real boring.

This project is not completed, so some disorder is to be expected.

Ten day Gulf Coast trip is archived in February 2007
Platte River Crane viewing is archived in March 2007
Mississippi River lower valley is archived in April 2007
Ten day Kansas etc trip archived in May 2007
New England trip is archived in June 2007
The Northern Prairie trip is archived in June 2008
A fall trip to the Four Corners is in November 2008
A trip truncated by hiccups is in May 2009
New England trip with lifers is posted in September 2009
The Gulf Coast CBC tripis nin Dec 2009
The Spring 2010 western loop trip is in May and June 2010
The Fall 2010 Southwest mop-up trip is in September 2010
The New England mop-up and project finish is in October 2010

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Logistics and techniques


I got into birding in the early 90s, and it gradually became one of the great sources of joy and satisfaction in my life. At first, I focused on seeing as many different species as possible, called working on a life-list. I told myself that when I'd seen 200, I could start feeling competent, but that only took a few months since I started from something over 100 seen and identified with just ordinary curiosity. So I said 300, but that only took a year or so. 400 was more of a challenge and by then I was starting to have some skill, but was also becoming aware of how many more species could be found with moderate effort. I was hooked.

When I joined the American Birding Association, it was clear that their minimum goal was 500 species to get your name published, and half the species seen in a state to be named for that area. So I knocked off my home state and several adjacent ones in easy reach. By then I was somewhere near 600, and it was getting harder to find new species. In 05 I added 11, in 06 it was 2, and one year it was a single species. I got the thrill recharged by being a conscious total ticker, someone who keeps a list in every state, and works on adding tics. Somewhere in there I got the notion that I wanted to see at least 100 species in all 48 lower US states, and that's the current project. The end is in sight. It's a nice goal; state by state it's not hard usually, I generally have some sightings already recorded when I focus on a target, and it makes me really travel and look at the whole country, and in the process get a good understanding of distributions and seasonal patterns.

Planning the trips requires carefully working out a route that maximizes potential species and minimizes distances and gas costs. I tend to be drawn to borders and places where several states meet like the boot-heel of Missouri, or New England. I get a perspective over several years as well, since different seasons present a variety of opportunities, eg, there's spring New England trip, a fall migration one and someday a deep winter foray. Since I'm independently poor, that is, not cursed with a lot of income, but also free of a lot of expenses, I make the whole production as low cost as possible, meaning eat and sleep as cheap as I can and spend the travel funds almost all on fuel. That will account for some of the details of the items that follow.

The truck

I travel in my 2000 Ford Ranger, 4WD, king cab, which replaces two earlier small pickups. It has a camper-shell, aluminum, with side opening windows and a rear lid. The inside has had various shelves and nooks built in that are where I usually keep the tools of my trade, which is a hodge-podge of building skills used to maintain, modify, add-on-to, and generally care for a number of old buildings in the town where I live, as well as make displays for the various shops there. The buildings range from Victorians on the National Register to more modern things up to the mid twentieth century.

When I'm on a birding quest, the trip always starts with piling tools from the truck into the shop, though I usually leave a few just in case of friends in need along the road. Then I load it with sleeping and other fittings to stay tolerably comfortable for several weeks. I always forget something, which is why I have doubles of lots of things, the originals that got left behind, and its replacement bought along the road. I've bought towels, several pillows, various underwear, tarps and ropes and minor camping gear like mosquito coils.

The stuff in back

A mind working at the beginning will remember: blankets, sleeping bag or two depending on anticipated weather (Minnesota in winter is two zero degree bags), pillows, towels, dirty clothes bag, detergent, a container of personal maintenance items, some kind of pack with clothes and another for backpacking if I'm feeling ambitious. Usually several pairs of footwear; sandals, rubber boots, extra hikers. There's usually some kind of bag of books for reading and lots of bird-finding reference stuff. Then the spotting scope and tripod, water bottles, a small lantern and flashlight and a headlamp, the pee bottle, some rags and then impulsive last minute items or junk and bother acquired along the way.

The sleeping setup is a four inch thick foam pad that is cut to fit the floor of the shell, a heavy cheap sleeping bag to cover it, and sometimes a sheet, even though they get tangled and dirty easily. It's more comfortable than the bag lining in warm weather. Depends on my aggravation tolerance. Always two pillows, makes it easier to set up a comfortable reading position. My primary sleeping bag is an almost forty year old North Face "Ultralight". When I took it into the factory one time people gathered around to admire it, it was one of their first products, then they put four ounces of new down in it, and voila, better then new. Zipper and Velcro still work, and I've slept under it at least a thousand times.

I sometimes take along a large water cooler jug in a five gallon plastic bucket. It makes a convenient campsite washing-up arrangement. Sometimes there's an ice chest too, especially when encountering hot weather. Cold drinks can be the key to revival at the end of a day. Keeping food cold is secondary, since there are usually plenty of opportunities to replenish at C stores or groceries at least every other day, and not buying much at once lowers the chances of spoilage.

The stuff in front

The truck has a king cab, meaning extra storage behind the seat, and there's a lot of leeway there for just stuff. At least a propane camp stove, tarps, blankets, water bottles, fuel bottles, binocs, cameras and other gadgets, state road atlases, spare jackets and sweat-shirts, backup laptop computer, and so forth. The passenger seat has a little wooden office contraption that holds the laptop used for GPS, and space for bird guides and magazines. There is a charger for batteries, the cel-phone, the iPod, and an inverter to run the laptop. I usually have one good road atlas handy on the floor for marking routes traveled and planning. The GPS doesn't have a very good format for large overviews, and the atlas I favor has lots of public campgrounds marked, especially ones in National Forests, which is great for figuring out where to end each day.

The GPS is so central to my trips that it deserves more comment. I use DeLorme Street Atlas on a seven year old laptop, which works great. All trips start in deep winter wishing for getaway. So once I've visualized a rough and over-extravagant route on the wall map of the whole US, I'll get some bird-finding information, including books, pamphlets, web sites, downloaded pdfs, places mentioned on birding listservs, and word-of-mouth recommends from friends and folks met along the road. The next step is plotting and labeling the various sites that look interesting in draw files in the software. This is useful and sometimes aggravating as hell.

The descriptions of how to get to places are often incomplete, and so working out the actual locations can take some time. Road names often change or are given in forms that don't show in the software. Distances may be confusing. Landmarks may not be indicated. Fortunately, water features usually are and that can give vital clues. But if the effort is made during dark winter nights, a lot of time is saved when the quest is actually on. Sometimes alternate routes manifest. though caution is advised since the software maps have roads shown that are private, closed, gated, impassably rough or muddy, and just plain non-existent. This isn't so much a failing of the software as of the old county level maps they use to produce their maps. Just as frustrating is whole cohorts of roads not indicated at all, which has been worst in National Forests. A lot of times if it looks like I'll be spending time in those, it's best to get the official forest maps. These are usually big and unwieldy, and have gotten more expensive than the good old days of $4 a pop. A lot of times if you go to the ranger stations there are less detailed versions available that just show roads and campgrounds. That's ideal usually.

General approach

A typical day starts before first light, either by spontaneous awakening, generally prostate motivated, or by alarm clock. If the weather is mild and the bugs not bad, and if the setting doesn't require a lot of privacy, then the back lid of the shell is open just in case some owl starts calling in the dark or at dawn. If possible I try to park in places where owls are a possibility. Usually I try for sites in parks that are on the edges of the campgrounds near woods. The alternative is a a site with the sound of running water, just because it's hypnotic, and I like to think engenders good dreams. Surprisingly, this really works, and every third or fourth night I'll get to hear some kind of owl, or dream well.

After dressing, which can be thrilling if it's really cold, I'll drink some coffee saved from the day before and eat fruit or whatever. If I've managed to stay in some good habitat, especially if it's a target birding site, then I'll spend from an hour to all morning birding. Sometimes on colder mornings the truck has to warm up, and on really cold mornings it has to run until the computer is warm enough to boot up. I may have a planned route for the day, or maybe impulse rules, but in any case most of the day will be spent birding. Lunch is C store or fast-food, so called, often neither fast nor even food. Sometimes I get something big enough to serve as lunch and dinner so that I don't need to be near a town at the end of day. I'll fill up the coffee cup and thermos at the last possibility and then manage it so there's some left for morning and get whatever will work for breakfast. The one thing I'm trying to avoid is breaking up the morning birding when it's generally at its best.

Days usually end with getting to a camping site; National Forests, Wildlife Management Areas, and State Parks preferred. The latter are good for showers and sometimes even laundry. I generally avoid private KOA type camping, they're good for amenities, but a little pricey and usually have very little attractive habitat. State Parks are usually reasonable away from the ocean coasts. If possible I hope for free and uninhabited by other folks. The WMAs are good that way since there are often primitive campsites and no-one about when it's not hunting season. Experience has shown that it's best to plan ahead and be nowhere near civilization, so-called, on holiday weekends in mild weather. The campgrounds are often full or noisy until late at night, and the traffic is a waste of time and gumption.

About email: There are a lot of places to get on-line for free. The best are public libraries, and many of these keep their wifi on at night so you only have to park outside. Motels are good too, but sometimes require passwords. The likelihood of that is inversely proportional to the distance from an Ocean coast or a major city, ie, closer equals more likely. Paranoia factor. There are Internet cafes too, and I like Panera Bread joints since they have good reasonable sandwiches and baguettes. Whatever you do though, do not sign up for their newsletter. It never stops. The link for removing your name from the list is bogus. Usually Holiday Inn Express is a good choice, Super 8 is terrible, they try to install spy-ware when you connect and it usually takes a re-boot to get control of the computer back even if you have spy-ware blocking working.

Before sleep and after dark is the time for record keeping. I mark the days route in the big road atlas, save the GPS log for the day, enter the day's sightings in AviSys, the national standard list keeping program, and calculate my statistics for the day, nothing complex, just the new tic totals and percentages. Maybe I'll look over the site info for the next day. It's the time for showers and laundry if possible and if I'm not just whooped I'll read something non-birding, novels or history or ...

Cautionary tales

Mud: Several times I've encountered impassably muddy roads. The first and worst was just over a blind rise, and I was stuck before I knew it. Required the proverbial walk to the farm-house and beg the tractor. The folks were very kind. Another time I was aware of the hazard, but tried anyhow. When I came to my senses it was difficult to steer the truck backwards in 4WD for a couple of hundred yards until I could get turned around safely. Other times I didn't even try.

Gas: There are areas of western rural America where it can be fifty miles or more to a station. And they're usually one person operations with a tendency to close around five or six. You can park there all night waiting for the dawn opening, which fortunately is usually quite early. Client driven operations. Best to never get under a half tank out there without starting to look for a fill-up opportunity.

Lousy food, old coffee: Speaks for itself. Generally a good idea to taste the coffee before driving off. Sometimes at the end of the day they won't make more, but then at least you can dump in more sugar.

Insects: I've been held prisoner in a tent by ten thousand mosquitoes. This is why you need a pee bottle. Seed tick encounters can be handled with duct-tape wrapped sticky side out around your gathered fingers. Adult ticks I just pull off, contempt born from years in Arkansas where they are the state invertebrate.

Bad guys and girls: Usually surly overworked counter-folks. This is your mantra; "I'm not in a hurry, I'm not in a hurry" Strike up some conversation, be kind. Yield and leave if necessary. These folks are also sources of very good and very bad directions. They often know of local camping places not on any map. Unfortunately the proof of quality is in the pudding.

Mechanics: Most, especially in small towns, are honest if not widely experienced (you're in luck if you bird from an 8WD diesel tractor). Otherwise, they don't survive where word-of-mouth operates. The rip-off situation is larger places, 10,000 plus population where your out-of state license is a red-flag. Best to ask some locals, more than one, before committing. I got an excellent mechanic in Rawlins, Wyoming that way.

Really bad guys: This happened several years ago. I tell this to show a worst case scenario. You could live a hundred lifetimes without anything like it happening; the world, at least the US, is a surprisingly safe place and people are generally kind. No general culture of lethal revenge, no religious warfare. But one time I parked at the locked gate of a refuge in a drenching rain and settled in as night fell. It was about 100 feet from a two lane paved county road. Perfect site for owl listening if the rain let up. It was really dark except for some distant yard lights and I couldn't hear much because of the drumming on the thin aluminum roof. I had finished reading, turned out the lights and was half asleep when I heard a couple of car doors slam. I figured it was a cop or two checking on me, which happens now and then, and they're generally just concerned and helpful. Never been told I had to move. In fact been told it was OK to stay even though it was not so officially. Birders exude goofy harmlessness.

Anyway, I looked out the back lid and there was the outline of a large SUV with a couple of figures coming around to the back. What was curious was that even though the headlights were on there were no lights on the back, and no interior light even when they had opened their back lid. Certainly no license plate light. In other words, it was really dark and rainy and noisy, and I couldn't see anything but vague silhouettes. From each side they leaned over and seemed to pick up something large and heavy, and then together carried it to the brush along the edge of the dirt lane we were on. Remember I'm watching this from less than fifty feet away parked right in the open. They returned to the front of the SUV, got in, again no dome light, and drove off, no brake lights like the pedal was depressed to get in gear, no backup white lights like most vehicles do when shifting into gear, just the full headlights pointing away from me into the pouring rain. They drove away. I never heard any speech since the shell was closed and the rain thundering on the roof.

At that point I panicked. Quickly got dressed and got the truck started. I figured I'd seen a drug drop, and had no desire to be around when the next vehicle came for the pickup, even though I had a brief vision of a suitcase full of cash. So I'm backing out carefully onto the highway, it was hard to see, and I needed to make sure I was in the firm part of the lane since a mud event was a really bad idea. It was pouring, standing water already on the lane and in the side ditches. As I got to the paved road and backed out the headlights swept across a large undefined lump of some white and a lot of blood red. Like a body wrapped in a sheet oozing blood. I was freaked out. I got out of there quickly, afraid every minute that I would encounter another car-load of bad guys and they would somehow know that I was a witness. I didn't stop driving until halfway across the next state, in pouring rain the whole way.

I made one call to a friend with an FBI connection, but the contact had faded and I let it go for the time being. Even though I'd gotten away from the scene and was presumably safe, the sense of threat and horror wasn't going away. As I drove it was becoming clearer how much danger I'd been in. I had no doubt that if those folks had realized I was watching they would have killed me also. I was not hidden, I was not far off, quite the opposite. I have to assume that they were night-blind from driving with headlights, that they were in a hurry both from their fear and that they were being drenched, probably that they were well practiced also. That was no ordinary vehicle, the lack of lights indicated a careful electrical kill switch set-up. Good for me, life-saving in fact. If they'd had a single light I would probably have been seen, and that would be the end of my life-list.

I don't know that there's a lesson here or not. I have still kept sleeping in the truck, but not like that for a few days afterwards since there were campgrounds and truck-stops to use. It was a PTSD setup, as I know from my work as a psychologist for the VA. Exposure to an unpredictable, uncontrollable, life-threatening event. I remember having some vivid and scary dreams in the weeks following. But I haven't avoided similar situations, since it was such a unique event. I sent an anonymous report to the authorities through my lawyer, for some reason still wishing to be unknown personally as a witness (the professionalism of the perps still scares me), but nothing has come of it and I have no further information.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Mad trip to New England, finish the project

Eastbound October 11-13, 2010

When I started I really didn't plan that in ten days it would be over four thousand miles driving for about five days of birding, and a lot of driving on those. The vision was a lot mellower and more thorough. In four target states I'd see almost nothing to count save roadside drive-bys, so you have the makings of a grand waste of time and gas. What clicked the pace up was a couple of potential lifers that made me hurry to avoid near-misses. There was great birding along the way in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. In Rhode Island I found the more than a hundred species in the forty-eighth state to reach the goal I had set several years back.

Now I have the new question of what's next? Maybe try for 50% in all the states I've lived in. Maybe try for one third of the species in 48 states, Probably some combo of those until one or the other seems within reach, then focus on that. Worse is the question of why the hell am I even doing this. As if this modern, so called, world had even one sensible alternative priority better than trying to see some of the wonder of creation before it's bulldozed and poisoned into a planet sized grave-yard. I can't even do that without adding my heap of gasoline ashes to the shit piled on the graves of a half million species, plodding along on the verge of tears.

Eastbound - This was the shakedown trip for using the Roo to sleep in, so I loaded quite a bit less gear than was my habit, Just stuff on one side in the back, and space for pads and sleeping bag and pillows on the other. I managed to forget a couple of small conveniences, and some clothing for the colder weather I'd encounter, but knew I'd be in Freeport, Maine, home of several good gear outlets. I took the direct route east, north out of Arkansas to the Interstate in Springfield, MO, then up I-44, through, actually around the south side of Saint Louis. Then blow east on I-70 across the boredom of the craton, but it was dark until I crashed in a truck-stop just past the Ohio border. The next day was more steady driving, northeast from Columbus to Erie, PA, where I wandered around a little but still pressed on to Allegheny State Park in New York, nice place and probably worth a day or two when I'm in less hurry and more focused on New York State.

Continued along the southern edge of the state, and finally slept in a rest area between Binghamton and Albany. That's where I made the mistake of getting off the thruways to save money. Wasted a lot of time and endured slow and snarly rush-hour traffic. Strangely enough, the east side was not so densely populated and suddenly the driving was a lot easier. Continued on into Massachusetts, near Pittsfield, then north but I missed the entry to the Mount Greylock road so just sorta drifted into Vermont without doing any western Mass birding. In VT I poked around in a couple of places, but for some reason, probably the Curlew Sandpiper in Eastern Mass on Plum Island, I just kept going. Fortunately once in New Hampshire I ran across Miller State Park, which contains Pack Monadnock and overlooks Wapack NWR. Literally did a U-turn to get in there and asked the gatekeeper if there was a hawk-watch. Yes she says, so I gave up the $5 bill and drove up the mountain. Very worthwhile stop, even though I missed the Golden and Bald Eagles. What I did get was several hawks, and two great views of Northern Goshawks, one flying straight at me until it filled the binocs field. Loved that.

From there it was a dead run for Parker River NWR, Plum Island, but a couple of wrong choices at interchanges wasted just enough time that I wasn't able to walk down the beach at the south end to look for the Curlew Sandpiper before the gates closed. Somewhere along there I had another Goshawk fly over the Interstate, a real good tic for MA. But I was in position to get the CUSA in the morning, drove back through Newburyport, then south a little ways on the Interstate to an abandoned Weigh-station where I'd stayed before, and where I got a decent night's sleep.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New England Coast

Wednesday, Oct 14

Plum Island area - I was up way early and on Plum Island when the sun came up. First goal was drive all the way to the south end where Sandy Point Reserve is located. It's just outside the Parker River NWR, but is open to the public. Parked at the lot there, walked east to the beach along a small inlet, then more south following the wrack line which was where the bird had been found according to the one detailed report I found on-line. Walked most of a half mile to the sandy tip, and scanned everything I passed, and at the end it was there, a long billed, a little droopy, slightly larger than peep shorebird with a distinctive white rump patch. Relaxation, since it was the goal that had flogged me along in the three day driving effort. I talked to another birder when I got back to the lot and was steered to a wooded area where there were a couple of Summer Tanagers, an uncommon find in Mass. Actually got several other good state tics, including Bonaparte's Gulls in the actual Parker River inlet. The one that really surprised me was a Yellow-rumped Warbler, which I paid no attention to until I was entering stuff in the computer. I took it for granted that I'd seen it everywhere.

New Hampshire shoreline - I was poking around looking at some sites I'd tagged on the GPS, when I turned a corner in a state park and saw a few obvious birders, binocs and scopes, so I stopped to get the news. One turned out to be Lauren Kras, a young NH super-birder. She had the highest year list for the state when she was like 22(?) years old. So I was asking her about sites, and finally asked her if I could just ride along with her for awhile, and she said yes! Great good luck. We stopped at about a half dozen places in the next ninety minutes, and she pulled out two Scoters, Gannets, a Short-billed Dowitcher and a couple of other shorebirds at a little inlet behind a marina, plus giving me hints on ID-ing several other species, and showing me some sites that didn't pay right then. Invaluable in the next few days. Also sold me the current version of the NH Coast bird-finding booklet, $5, a bargain considering the instruction that it came packaged with.

Maine, rained out - I headed further north but the weather was closing in and I needed to get to Freeport to fill in the gap in my wardrobe where the warm jacket or vest should have been. Tried Northface first but then ended up at LL Bean. I put it off cause it's pricey, and it was, but after poking around I went upstairs to the hunting and fishing section, a different world from the yuppie downstairs, and there was the perfect vest, goose down, waxed canvas, good pockets and hardware, $90. Mine. Back out in the weather to a local state park, but I decided against it when I realized how lousy it was getting to be. I had hoped to get some good fall seabirds along the coast, similar to the NH finds, had in fact stopped at Rachel Carson NWR but felt too squeezed for time. Ended up getting nothing in Maine but the vest. Drove back south to the weigh station as the rain set in hard. For some idiot reason didn't close the driver's window quite all the way, open just a crack.

Thursday, Oct 15

Plum Island reprise - So it was a pretty classic Northeaster, heavy rain and high winds all night. Guess which side the cracked window was on? Front seat soaked, but no particular damage except a cold butt most of the day. Got to McD in the rain for Wifi, then out to Plum Island again as it was getting light. The rain was just a mist but the wind was still relentless. The new vest was magnificent, actually comfortable in 30mph wind right off the ocean at the north end of the island. I walked out with the scope wrapped in a plastic bag and was ablle to get two Scoters and a Gannet there as well, plus a Common Loon. Took some doing since they kept disappearing in the swell, which was about five feet even in the sheltered area by the river jetty. I had one more place to try, a small reservoir where some diving ducks had been reported, and was able to find Lesser Scaup and Ruddy Ducks in more sideways rain. There were others along the far edge staying out of the wind, but viewing conditions were truly lousy, I was using the scope in the car, hand held looking through a slightly lowered window for as long as I could stand to have the rain blow in.

Rhode Island - Enough of that, got back on the Interstate and drove without stopping all the way around Boston and into Rhode Island. The rain let up during that time, but not the wind. My first stop was Sachuest Point NWR near Newport. It's a barren point right out in the ocean and the wind was pretty awful for the whole 1.5 mile loop walk along the sea-cliffs. I hoped for Scoters, but the only sea-ducks were plentiful Common Eiders hiding in the lea of the rock piles. The truly amazing thing though was a pair of Great Shearwaters being blown south, and I figured out the flying Red-Throated Loon with the lowered head and neck, and then finally a perfect and close in Male Black Scoter with a beak so orange it looked like it had a light in it. The two females beside him seemed impressed. Back in the Visitor's Center I was told of a private reserve very close by, The Norman Bird Sanctuary, so I drove over there. Still was way too windy to bird in the woods, but they had an excellent sightings list from the ABA conventioneers the previous weekend. Need to go back there in the fall but with decent weather. Same for Block Island which I once again missed. Did have some luck on a couple of little inlets along the road to Norman.

I had hoped to make a jaunt to Block Island on this trip, and then had also hoped to go birding with Dan Finizia and his partner Susan Talbot who I'd met in NH three years earlier. He's the top lister in RI, but I'd just had an email saying they couldn't make it until Wednesday, several days off. They had just spent a week on Block Island, and had to do some catch-up. The wind made a trip offshore senseless, especially without a good guide, and I was feeling time-pressed as well. So I crossed Narragansett Bay to the south shore on the west side, Trustom Pond NWR. That was where a nice selection of puddle ducks and some fall sparrows made 16 RI tics for the day, and 106 for the state total, and the end of the hundred-species-per-state project. That's a whoopee, but I was beat from the cold wind all day and didn't really have much of a response except to drive on into Connecticut and stay at Hammonasset State Park where I had arrived late, but thought I'd try some birding in the morning.

Friday, Oct 16

Connecticut to New Jersey - Didn't work out that way, up way too early to wait around, and there was a Barnacle Goose north of New Haven that was calling me insistently. It was located about fifteen miles northeast, or at least the reservoir was, but the only geese were Canada. It was small enough that I could see all of it, including the ripped up northern end where they were deepening it. After driving around it once I went back to my original sweet viewpoint, and there met a local guy, whose name I didn't retain, but may he be blessed. He told me where the geese went to graze after leaving the lake, and we drove about a mile uphill to harvested Corn fields. Must have looked over a couple of thousand geese, but couldn't find the one with a white head. Did get a Red-tailed Hawk for CT. Back at the viewpoint we found a Greater White-fronted Goose, which was new for my guide, so one of us got a lifer. The Barnacle was re-found the next day, and so on for at least a week. Tough luck.

I went into New haven and checked out a site my buddy had told me about behind a power station on the inlet, and it did have some shorebirds and gulls. From there it was on to Milford Point Audubon Center, an almost always great place. The marsh behind the center was good, but the tide was coming in and covering the mud-flats, and when I tried the beach, the wind was still a problem. I crossed the river there and headed south where it was possible to get an ocean view, and patiently waited for my Connecticut Northern Gannet, which I'd learned, again, from Lauren in NH. Once I was clear of Milford I got on the Interstate again, and just blew through New York and on into New Jersey, and after a while ended at Cape May. Gas was 30 cents cheaper there than it had been in New England, and there was always a person to pump it for you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Cape May for two days, then home

Sunday, Oct 17, 2010 - I made a brief stop at the Hawk-watch by the lighthouse when I got into town and fished for some news. Eurasian Wigeon on one of the ponds was the best, and then got a hoagie at the Wawa on the way north to Belleplain State Forest, where I arrived well after dark, Tried setting up in the same area on the woodland edge that I'd used before in hopes of owls. No luck. In the morning another Wawa stop for coffee, and then over to the morning flight area, where I decided on the top of the dike instead of the tower. That was really good, there are some amazing, often Brit, birders up there, and we were getting close to the big fall weekend so it was an excellent time to be there. Started adding tics pretty quickly, learning some flight calls. Some flying birds I got decent looks at, some I found later in the brush-rows at Higbee up the hill, a few actually landed and posed briefly.

I made all the scenes, hawk-watch for awhile, walking Higbee, working the woods at the lighthouse and scoping the ponds (got the wigeon), drove up to the sea-watch in Avalon and got some seabirds, but not all the likely suspects, came back to the TNC meadow at dusk to watch for owls coming out of the trees in the setting sun. Ended up parking in the lot at Higbee and walking the brush lanes in the dark playing a Screech-owl tape. On a raised platform that got me nearly mowed down by a Great Horned Owl looking for dinner, came within ten feet as it rounded a tree making a stealth approach. Slept good there too, and no forty miles of driving or $20 fee like the park required. I ended up adding eight-teen NJ tics. Great day interrupted by a brief episode of terror when I couldn't find my wallet. It had slid off the computer and hid by the door I never open.

Monday, Oct 18 - Another morning flight on the dike, with the great spotter picking up an incoming shrike, they fly in deep long bouncing swoops, like a really exaggerated woodpecker. It flew by us and disappeared over the end above the ferry channel, but then reappeared an sat beautifully perched fairly close across the dirt road at the bottom of the dike. That allowed determining that it was Northern Shrike, a really good bird for the state. I knew it was about time to start back home, but made another stop at the sea-watch, good thing too. I had missed Red-throated Loon the day before, but it was almost the first bird as I got the scope set up. It was one of the ID trick that Lauren had showed me in New Hampshire. Hang out with just the one official spotter who was there, we saw gazillions of birds some flocks so big and far they looked like great bands of smoke on the horizon. I had some really interesting conversation with that guy, but again didn't get a name which I regret. And just as I was about to leave the missing Surf Scoter made a flyby. More or less perfect ending.

Then it was time for the long boogie home, not quite as far as the trip out since I'd been making progress west and south as I traveled down the coast. In a couple of hours I was on the Pennsy Turnpike, and cleared New Stanton around ten and found the first truck-stop to crash.

Tuesday, Oct 19 - It had been raining since I got off the turnpike, and all night, and into the dawn, fog and rain and a fishbowl dawn. Managed to drive out of it beyond Columbus, but in Indiana I realized I was fried from high speed and boring driving, so opted to check out a place called Goose Pond which was supposed to be one of the few decent shorebird places in the state. Not that it was shorebird time, but it was an interesting place, mined land and so lots of small narrow ponds scattered over the landscape. I even managed a couple of tics for Indiana while just sitting and reading and un-rattling, or walking around just letting the tension of the last few windy cold days of pressure fade.

Wednesday, Oct 19 - after breakfast crossed into Illinois and headed fro Cape Girardeau. I still wasn't entirely together, missed a turn and crossed a river back into Indiana, then when I got back managed to miss the school zone warning and found myself talking to a young cop. Another $100 ticket, depressing since the trip was a low budget squeeze from the get-go. He comes back after awhile with his clip-board and says he's giving me a warning since I was clearly rattled, lost, a stranger, and he liked my "I brake for Tailgaters" bumper stickers. May he and his progeny be blessed. In Cape Giradeau I got a way overdue oil change and then headed south and west into Arkansas on US 412. It's the longest road across the widest part of the state, two lane mostly, little towns, hills, curvy, and really tiring. Got home around sundown, all's well. I had added 83 tics total, not as good as I'd hoped, but it had done the job of testing the Roo and finishing Rhode Island's hundred.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Shake-down trip for used Subaru wagon

Since my Ford Ranger had died completely I needed another vehicle, and was determined to get something that was more fuel efficient and also usable for birding trips. I found a 2003 Subaru Outback locally, which I got for an OK price. Turns out it immediately needed some work, timing belt and water-pump, brakes while on this trip, and some other fixes that became obvious with use. I studied the maps and my listing goals and decided to make a trip through Colorado and New Mexico primarily, but rounded it out by adding a corner of Nebraska, a corner of Wyoming, and a one day trip into Arizona.

The first puzzle was how to shrink the accumulation of gear in the truck, in nooks and crannies in the camper-shell, and an archaeological dig behind the seat of the cab. Way more than I really needed, multiple copies of stuff, five sweatshirts, three first aid kits, three cook-sets, four stoves of various sizes and designs, gloves and hats and pencils and bird checklists, on and on. What I was envisioning was a gear set that would allow camping in comfort but still be small enough to make space to sleep in the back if that proved necessary. First goal met, second not tried on this trip. I still ended up with way too much, and cursed the bulky stuff like the ice-chest, though not really big, and the water jug and bucket. It'll shrink again as I get more realistic about my needs and how involved in camping I want to be on a given trip.

Anyway, I piled it all in, and it only came to one layer behind the seat, so good enough to start the gear calibration. The sleeping space already looked unlikely.

Sunday, Sept 12, 2010

Got away after some final ditzing around with the load, the usual trying to remember all the little items that usually are part of house life that need to go on trip, like phone and log-book. Headed west to cheap gas, filled up and started logging numbers for gas mileage determination. Drove through the NW corner of OK, and onto the southern-most highways of Kansas. The start was late enough that it was mid-afternoon and hot by the time I got to Quivera. Really wasn't very focused, still in a pissy and depressed mood from dealing with an endless parade of small harassments. Still managed to get a couple of tics, Black-necked Stilt, one among a couple of thousand Avocets. The really good bird was a perfect American Golden-Plover in a borrow ditch, maybe the best and closest view I've ever had.

I had wanted to stay a night, even two at Lake Scott State Park, but there was no way to make it before deep dark, so instead I headed northwest and drove way too late until crashing in a rest area, sleeping in the front seat. So much for the resolve to not push and spend relaxed campsite time along the way.

Monday, May 13

The primary component of the parade of aggravations was the task of getting AC power in the front of the wagon, hereafter called Roo, so that the laptops, phone charger, some battery chargers, and whatnot could run as if I was in the twentieth century. I had purchased a nice inverter, checked it with a drill, it passed, then hard wired it to the battery so it wouldn't switch off with the key. Then it wouldn't work. So I tried another inverter, which blew a fuse. After dawn I tried a parts store in Goodland, but we couldn't find the fuse, and I couldn't find the owner's manual, which was surely in there someplace. Truly amazing that an object that can fill your hand can be totally lost in a volume 6 feet by 3 feet by 10 feet, mostly empty space.

To make up for that I found the Goodland Water Treatment Facility, as recommended by Pete Janzen who I'd called as early as seemed un-intrusive. It was very nice, a long wetland of small pools surrounded by natural vegetation stretching over a quarter mile down from the main settling ponds. Had waterfowl, and passerines in the edges. Farther north and east along Beaver Creek before Atwood was some nice riparian habitat which belonged to a ranch welcoming birders. Unfortunately there was no sign, so I didn't know which lane to try so I just birded along the road. Very quiet, one Nuthatch.

In Atwood there is public camping that looked a good potential overnight someday, but I headed on into Nebraska. I was hoping to add some tics by swinging through the southwest corner along the Platte before going into Wyoming. Stopped at the VC for Lake McConaughy Rec area for info and bird list, but it seemed sorta pricey, day fee and camp fee, and more for water etc. Besides that I wasn't seeing a single bird, not sparrows or Redwings or Meadowlarks, really nothing. And it stayed that way all through nearly three hundred miles after leaving Goodland. There weren't even good roadside places, bridge crossings, farm ponds, really strange. I ended driving right on into Wyoming with hardly a stop, and not one tic.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Wyoming, Southeast Corner

Monday, September 13, 2010

Wyoming was a fine change from Nebraska. I already had a place picked out for camping that I'd discovered reading the bird-finder and studying the maps. Vedauwoo turned out to be a high (8000'plus) piece of geology beloved of rock climbers. I knew I was in the right place when, after driving around to pick a campsite, got out and the first bird was a calling Clark's Nutcracker.

And I finally got down to camping, or at least setting up the new REI tent. Actually went up pretty easy for a first run, since they had used some hardware treatments that I knew from other of their tents that I've used a lot. Roomy inside with two doors. I put out some hopeful kitchen gear too, but never managed to cook anything. I get too swept up in the birding part. But I slept well.

Tuesday, Sep 14

Up in the dark and drive back to Cheyenne, with a stop first at McDonald's for battery recharge on the laptop. I was nursing it along for GPS use since the inverter problem still wasn't solved. The first place I wanted to try was the Wyoming Hereford Ranch. I wasn't sure exactly what it was, but check the link. There had been reports of shorebirds on its reservoir, which I finally managed to reach from the wrong direction, the GPS saved me, and when I climbed the embankment along the road was actually able to find a few species. There were passerines in the trees along the road, and it turned out to be a good stop. I was really about ten days too late the whole trip for shorebirds, having waited to start until after a hike I'd agreed to lead for an adult education group from the University of Arkansas. That delay would cost me the whole trip.

Next stop was was lion's Park, and especially Sloan's Lake on the north side of Cheyenne. Very good birding, a small lake surrounded by lawns and patches of woodland, completely surrounded by a paved trail, and then another that seemed to be the birding and fishing trail. Several good migrants including MacGillivray's Warbler, and many Wilson's Warblers. Even White-throated Sparrows and a Wood Duck. Walked all the way around, and then made some other stops in the park, none as good, but the Mississippi Kite fly-over made the time not wasted.

Another place I'd noted was some grasslands north of town, apparently a research ranch for the University of Wyoming. Poked around on the roads but never really did find the heart of the place, at least not a place where I could ask anyone questions. It was a great area for raptors though.

The day was still young enough that I decided to try a drive out Happy Jack Road, WY Rte 210, after buying some ice. That store was where I learned how to say Vedauwoo. Veda, as in Hindu sacred books, voo, as in French "you", vous. So: veda-voo. That was a beautiful drive. parallel to the Interstate and up over the ridge that made the highest point on I80. Just before that point in Curt Gowdy State Park, I met a young man from New England who was crossing the country for the first time, on a bicycle. We talked routes and weather. I advised him that crossing the northern part of Nevada riding on the shoulder of the interstate wasn't such a good idea, and suggested a more southern and scenic route through Southeast Utah. Incidentally the same general route, Happy Jack and Interstate, was the line of the original coast-to-coast railway, the Union Pacific from Utah eastward. Happy Jack joined the Interstate about five miles east of Laramie, and when I got there Hutton Lake NWR lay to the south. So I drove south and wasted twenty miles because that's not the way to get there. Back through Laramie to another two lane blacktop heading southwest, then ten miles of dirt.

This was a great place, partly because there were a few good birds, but mostly for being simply open and quiet and well watered with healthy native vegetation. I felt terribly centered. relaxed, and mellow. Looking back I'd say a real high point for the trip.

Wednesday, Sep 15

Up before sunrise, full dark, took down the tent in a fairly good wind, and it was easy, very smooth, no struggle. I was so proud of myself. Not so much when I found the two dead ground squirrels in the water bucket, which they couldn't escape since I hadn't leaned a rough surface stick in there, something I always do at home with my buckets and tanks. I felt really dumb. Did the only logical thing, split and drove to Laramie. I'd made a note that there was possible good birding on a dirt road along the Laramie River north of town. First stop on a bridge over the river got three shorebird tics, and the road was generally birdy for fifteen miles until it rejoined the highway. Many sparrows, including flocks of Chestnut-collared Longspurs, but the best birds were White Pelicans and an immense and very secure pale hawk that just stared as I approached in twenty foot idling coasts. I could not figure it out, but it was beautiful, very fully feathered in what looked like a new molt, just some chest speckling, not a band, and a smallish two colored beak. It finally flushed and showed the big white upper-wing spots of a Rough-legged Hawk. A very light morph, which I'd never seen.

When I got back to the highway, after once more failing to find even decent looking habitat for Mountain Plovers, which there was a note about, headed south with a parts store stop for a fuse, which fixed the lighter and mirrors. Still no working inverter, but closer. Then a hundred mile drive south into Colorado, coming into Fort Collins from the northwest.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Colorado, thwarted by urbanity and bad luck

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I drove SE into Colorado directly to the REI in Fort Collins. I was looking for one of those little cowboy coffee grinders, but they had nothing like that. Everything seemed expensive, which explains why I pretty much only buy from their sale catalogues. I did get a dozen Powerbars. From there I worked my way over to Timnath Reservoir, finally found the public park area, which put me close to lot of mudflats as the res was pulled way down. There had been lots of good shorebird reports from there, but I was about a week too late. Got a couple of tics, Baird's Sandpiper, which seemed to be the reliable late moving species. Stayed at Crow Valley on the Pawnee NG, just hanging and desultory birding. Did find a Townsend's Warbler. Didn't feel like setting up the tent, slept in the wagon, actually fairly comfortable.

Thursday, Sep 16

Woke up around 4:30 and headed to a recent grass fire site which might have been good for Mountain Plovers (I still had hopes), sat and read for awhile until the edge of dawn, then drove north to Norma's Grove, a little migrant trap of cottonwoods and willows where a small stream crossed a dead end county road. The birding was good once the sun had thrown a little heat into the area, but nothing new except a Cooper's Hawk which seemed to upset the tree-top Starlings pretty thoroughly. Went back to the burn, and spent thirty minutes scanning from three or four stops, it was quite an area when the light showed the extent, but no luck.

I drove back into Fort Collins and ended up sitting for half an hour waiting for Best Buy to open, but didn't get an inverter there, seemed overpriced at more than $70 when they were in truckstops for thirty. Put it off again. I then went non-birding sight-seeing through Estes Park and down through Ward, where I'd lived for a winter many years ago, sent a bill payment from there, hand stamped in the one room Post Office. Then down the windy narrow two-lane to the highway into Boulder. I wanted to check out some sites there, but got frustrated by traffic, entry fees for places that I just wanted to glance at, no outlets in Micky's to charge the battery, then realizing that the prime reservoir for some interesting Gulls was a State Park, and not worth it. When I studied the map and found a road straight out of Boulder that would completely skip Denver and set me on the Interstate headed west, I went for it. I'd had enough urban challenge.

I wanted to stay for a couple of nights in Guanella Pass, and had visions of cool high altitude laid back practice camping. But in Georgetown I discovered that the road up the pass had been closed by a landslide, and then going west there was at least an hour's delay for tunnel construction. I was getting fried. Finally got going south, and was able to re-find an undeveloped campsite south of Salida where I'd stayed several years ago. Got there at sundown and just threw a couple of pads on the ground and crawled into the bag. But when I woke in the night the stars were glorious, Jupiter was blazing, closest approach in fifty years, and suddenly it seemed Okay.

Friday, Sep 17

I was up at first light and gone before sunrise, headed south for Monte Vista and Alamosa NWRs. Monte Vista was good, with four new tics including Black Duck and a bird that I first, after some guide study, took for a Little Gull. There had been one or more reported on the big lakes further north, and no matter how hard I looked, I couldn't get the bird to show the dark patch behind the eye that would have made it a simple Bonaparte's. But the bill didn't seem as small as the guides showed, although that is a variable feature in its reality, its verbal description, and its illustration. So I first recorded it as LIGU. Then I got cold feet and changed it to BOGU, much more likely. But I may change my mind again if I look at some more pictures. Either way it was a good tic. Alamosa was dried up just as it had been in the spring, and I didn't linger. Headed on south into New Mexico.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New Mexico, mechanics and zooties

Friday, Sep 17, 2010

The first important thing was a squealing in the front brakes that had become sorta persistent. My mechanic in Arkansas just before I left had mentioned that the squealers would go off when the brakes got thin, and I considered that a providential "heads-up", after going through the piece of grit and dusty roads stages of denial. And I quickly recalled that my friend Beth in Glenwood had mentioned that she had a good shade tree mechanic there, so I set my course for her place. First I had to stop in Taos to meet up with another friend, but I got a message at the library there that they were not well, so I got the battery charged again and kept driving.

I took a scenic back road, labeled the "high road to Taos", which was really nice until I hit the fifteen miles of construction. The next time it'll be faster if I ever get back that way. This time it was twenty mph torn up dirt. Finally got back on pavement but it led through Santa Fe for miles of traffic and boring monochromatic pseudo-Spanish architecture, so called. The Interstate into Albuquerque was faster, but when I tried to get to the Rio Grande Valley Nature Center, the last intersection that the GPS showed as the final turn for the approach was actually an underpass and then a parkway for several miles with no way off. It wasn't even easy to get turned around, and I ended up skipping the Nature Center since I still had to get to Socorro and up to Water Canyon.

Finally made it there, around sundown. Another beautiful sleep on the ground night, with the bonus of a Western Screech-Owl. Perfect ending to a pretty good day. I wanted to be there for the chance of a Flammulated Owl, but just didn't have the gumption to do more than walk the road by the campground for a ways, nothing dramatic like a drive up the mountain. Wanted to be there for an early start to see the Very Large Array (VLA) on the Plains of San Augustin.

Saturday, Sep 18

Good sleep and good start, Got to the VLA before the VC opened, but walked around the tour path and took pictures. The VC had some very informative exhibits, I watched the film, talked to the nice woman in charge, bought a notebook, and just grooved on really amazing technology that's not for war or profit.

I got to Beth's in Glenwood around noon, set the computer charging, found her at her station at the roadside market along the highway, and generally everything was copacetic. I birded around the fish hatchery, got some NM tics, took a nap. When Beth got back, I met CJ the mechanic, who pulled the front brakes and found them paper thin, but no gouged rotors. Fixable with simple pad replace. I had been told to replace all four wheels since it's an AWD vehicle, but opted for the economy move with the proviso to service all wheels and replace some rotors when the rear started squealing. It was Yom Kippur, so Beth let me break her fast with her at sundown. A very good healthy meal was appropriate, got us talking about regrets and learning from mistakes.

Once it got dark we got a great sky show, Venus was ultra bright to go with Jupiter, and I'd found an illustration that showed how to find Uranus right next to Jupiter, so that was the first time I found it on my own, and not seeing it through a scope pointed by someone else. Then she broke out this amazing device called a tent-cot, which at first I thought would be some incompetent hybrid, but it was great. A little heavy, but well made, roomy, and comfortable. Slept great.

Sunday, Sep 19

I went over to the hatchery early, then came back to the house to wait for the brake pads being brought from Silver City by another friend, Diana. She arrived around noon, since she and Beth were conducting a tile mosaic project by local kids at the Community Center. CJ went to work on the wagon, and I went over to watch the art work. The kids had already laid out the outlines of various horse images culled from magazines and what-not, each figure was 8-10 feet long and maybe six high. Then they went through the boxes of tiles that they'd made and decided on what pieces and colors went to each figure. All the work and all the decisions belonged to the kids, all that Beth and Diana did was keep the work flow going in a sensible order, no actual decisions from them. The whole business was fascinating.

I had a sit-down lunch at a diner along the way walking home, then went to work updating the Windows install on the Dell computer. They always take longer than I think they will, what with restarts and such. CJ got the brakes done, $90 parts and labor and it stopped well and straight. Very pleased. By the time I'd driven to Silver it was past dark, I hung with Diana and Bob for awhile, then slept in their guest house.

Arizona interlude in the post below

Wednesday, Sep 22

It rained all day. I visited with old buddy Pat Mulligan in the morning, a great dose of polished curmudgeonry, refreshing like a good purge. Then I went to hang out at Diana and Bob's art supply store, and took another nap. Sorta worn out from the little trip in the Tucson heat. Had dinner at Jalisco's after Diana showed me her new work in the studio, and some projects under construction. Stayed at Laura's good bed with aura of woman after a hot sit down soaking bath. Great treat in a life of showers, does wonders for the traveling knots.

Thursday, Sep 23

The rain cleared off so I went to the Little Walnut Picnic Area and the Gomez Trails. The start was slow, but then I found a Swainson's Thrush, a Townsend's Warbler and a Mexican Jay. That was a sweet three tics. From there I went to Lake Roberts thinking I might find a White Pelican, they had been moving south earlier in the trip, but apparently hadn't made it this far south yet. Instead, a totally unexpected Sora flew out of the reeds at the parking area. I backtracked slightly to the hummingbird house of Joan Day-Martin, and found that two species had shown up that would be new for the state. The Blue-throated wasn't too hard, showed up fairly soon and was well marked. The Calliope was more of a challenge, but after about a half hour wait a significantly smaller bird arrived with wing extensions wail beyond the tail, nothing dramatic in the marking since it was a female, but it was good enough for me.

On the way back to Silver I stopped at McMillan Campground and walked up the trail behind it, I guess hoping to maybe hear a Greater Pewee. What I got instead was a Veery, a Wood Thrush and then another thrush-sized bird flew up off the ground and settled on a branch just above head height less than thirty feet away. There was a bit of foliage in front of it being used for cover while it studied me and I it. I could see the head and tail well, the head was dark with a dark thrush bill and weirdly marked, black with white speckles, like a juvenile Robin, but much darker. The tail had a white band and seemed pale along the edges, but that may have been some trick of the light. I had no idea what I was looking at except that I was certain it was a thrush. When I got back to the car I started studying the book and hit juvenile Aztec Thrush, "very rare fall vagrant in SE Arizona", that is, just on the other side of the state line. Serious Zootie.

In the meantime I was worried about the cat I had been sitting for Laura, which had disappeared. I needed to call the backup cat sitter so I could go back and try to get a picture of the bird. I thought I might rally some help if I called a guy in Silver who was a kind of authority, so I got his number from Diana, and when I called him he immediately started talking drivel. How big was it? I said, thrush size, 10 or 11 inches, although the tree it was in had leaves rather than rulers. He says they're way bigger than that, Robin sized. When I checked the field guides, Aztec was 10.25, and Robin was 11. I'm pretty sure that was the last call I'll ever make to any so-called expert. O he says, you have to see the white spot on the wing, vital to ID. Turns out the juveniles haven't developed it yet. Jerk. I finally yelled at him, said "if you want to try to make a fool of me, that's not hard to do, but what I'm trying to tell you is exactly what I saw, and if you have a different guess that fits what I saw, I want to hear it." Silence. I hung up. I went back with a camera, but the bird was gone, along with the other thrushes. Still, a very good day, now at 48% New Mexico species.

I've had about a half dozen similar conversations with pompous idiots that seem to do all their ID work with dead birds in hand and guides by their sides. They never talk like they actually go into the wild world and look at wild birds under wild weather and wild light using less than perfect eyes and optics, and their lack of any contact with wild they take as a credential rather than the crippling liability that it is, especially coupled with their inflated and unjustified egos. See the essay on official birders.

I stayed at Laura'a again, the missing cat jumped up on the bed about 4am. Shut the door and pile fresh food with cat candy on its dish.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Arizona for an Owl on Mount Lemmon

Monday Sep 20, 2010

I got up early enough to be waiting at the door for McDonald's to open, then drove to Lordsburg where I finally solved the computer power supply problem with a simple unit for $30. That was a real increase in freedom since I could keep things charged and running. For the first time in years on this trip I didn't have a detailed record of the roads taken since I couldn't run the GPS software continuously. Guess it really doesn't matter, but it had become traditional, and could be useful someday for re-finding particularly sweet spots.

I made a stop at the Lordsburg Playa, which had a few birds, but nothing notable. The Wilcox Playa was great. There were about thirty Long-billed Curlews as well as a good variety of ducks and other shorbies. At the Benson Sewage ponds I found a Greater White-fronted Goose, which had been notable on the Arizona listserv, though I only found that out later when I got my revitalized computer on-line for mail. From there I drove on into Tucson to find Sweetwater Wetlands. This was really hard, even with a pretty good idea where it was. First I poked around in a city park until I figured out that the sewage plant that fed the wetlands was on the other side of the river. I finally found one human, a gardener, in the 104F heat who was able to tell me how to find the access to the road that led there. Even then I took a couple of wrong turns until I tried asking in a little building on a dead-end parking lot. They sent me back to the obscure lot that was parking for the wetlands. I couldn't even bear to get out of the car, but at least I knew exactly where it was and the exact, and only(!) route to get there. The trick is getting on the access road along the interstate, which can only be done from the north end since it's one-way. About a mile down there's a road back to the treatment plant, and the wetlands parking is about a quarter mile down that road on the south side. Make a note of that.

I wanted to get up Mount Lemmon, as much for birds as to get above some of the heat. My goal was the General Hitchcock Campground in the Bear Canyon area. There had been repeated reports of Flammulated Owl from there when I was out earlier in the year, but a long evening there and in several other picnic areas nearby, playing tapes, and going from one to the other walking in the woods by headlamp had failed completely. Fortunately, I'm a model of idiot persistence. I settled into the campground well before dark, the temp had dropped 20+ degrees, I met a guy named Justin, who had a Harley but seemed un-biker-ish. He had been camping for almost two weeks and had seen and heard owls, but wasn't a birder.

He shared cold water and talk, then I set out up the trail above the campground, the typical parallel along a creek-bed. There were good birds, and great butterflies including a Fritillary that simply blew me away. I also found a lot of bear sign, scats in the trail, normal, a stump seriously torn apart fairly recently, and then a scrape showing four clear claws where he/she had dragged her paw in the middle of the trail. The distance across the claws was four or five inches, and the scape was nearly two feet long. That made me think, especially when I got back to my chosen site and found more fresh scat there. There were bear-proof food storage lockers but I didn't see any way to sleep in them. So I ended up sleeping on the picnic table, which is an approach I've used a lot, no tent, just pad and bag with a water bottle and light at hand.

As it was getting dusk I started hearing some owl-like sounds, but not the Flam's double hoot, so I was reading up on the local owls. Apparently there were three small varieties and one I was able to make out as the southern Rocky mountain version of the Northern Saw-whet, which has different sounding call, the individual notes aren't toots as normal, but more like "cuck"s as in the prep notes for Yellow-billed Cuckoo's call. It's at least a sub-species, called Mountain Pygmy Owl, and there's some talk of full species status though I read somewhere that the DNA doesn't support a wide split between the types. More disheartening was the info that the Flam's only call on the breeding grounds, and that was way past. I pretty much gave up and was just sitting there in the new dark when I heard something coming down the canyon from up the trail that resolved into double hoots. I jumped up and walked over to Justin's site as the bird flew by, tree to tree, calling irregularly as it passed down the canyon. Not all the calls were doubled, maybe a little more than half, but it was distinctive. I didn't hear it again after it passed. It was my last sought owl species and I'd been looking for it for several years. Two people I talked to the next day said I'd been very lucky to hear it in the fall.

I slept pretty well, only a little of the normal scurrying noises, and no bears in the night.

Tuesday, Sep 21

Got into Tucson at first light and went directly to Sweetwater with some C-store grub in hand. It was great, the flowing water in the ditch by the parking was really attractive to passerines, and I found new warblers for the AZ list. Back further in there were nice ponds surrounded by vegetation and all the way to the back were large open settling pools with a lot of duck and shorebird activity and at least one Peregrine Falcon. I spent a couple of hours walking and re-walking the trails, it's not very extensive, and added a half dozen AZ tics, including neat little surprises like a Common Moorhen.

I had noted on the maps a BLM National Monument not too far north called Ironwood Forest, and since it involved driving by the Red Rock cattle yards, a possible location for Ruddy Ground-Dove, it was the next goal. The road makes a loop around some dessert hills, or maybe small mountains, but as I got further down the road it got worse quickly, and I didn't want to bang up the low riding Roo going the full distance, so I drove back and this time really studied the yards and wires and fences, but nothing dove-like showed.

Back In the city I tracked down the Tucson Audubon Society (TAS) bookstore. It was well hidden by the fact that the house numbering and the Avenue numbering run in opposite directions. The staff didn't seem to realize how confusing that could be to someone who was only familiar with every other city in the US. The book selection was good, pricey, and the staff aloof. They seemed troubled that someone had actually walked in, so I didn't stay long, but was disappointed since such places are usually hotbeds of late breaking news and insider tips. Not this one, not for me, I guess I should have been wearing expensive binocs.

I could have stayed in Tucson some relatives, but had become grossed out by the aggravation of street numbers and the rising heat. They wouldn't be home for hours and I could be back in Silver City if I just made a run for it. Which I did, back by dusk, met up with my friend Laura and agreed to house-sit her cat while she went off to visit her daughter for a few days. Got to sleep in her woman smelling bed, take a hot bath, and do laundry, but not 'til the next day.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Trip Home through Eastern NM

Friday, September 24, 2010

Time to head back, packed and gone by nine, driving over the Black Range with a stop at Emory Pass, high enough, 8000+ ft, there was a chance for a Clark's Nutcracker, which I'd made a couple of tries at on the higher parts of the Gila, especially Signal Peak. It';s a bird in serious decline since it's primary food source, referred to as Rock Pines, trees with nuts in the cones rather than the usual light-weight seeds, are in decline due to a disease. Got to the parking lot, there was Forest Service guy working on the restroom, and a scan didn't find many birds. But I walked around the edge, then down a little side-trail a short ways, and when I came back out in the open, a Nutcracker landed close and beautiful in a snag about fifty feet from the lot. Good omen there for the trip home.

Drove pretty directly to Bosque del Apache NWR, it's not very interesting low desert this time of year, and the refuge wasn't very birdy either, though I did find two new NM birds there. But not the Aplomado Falcon that had been reported. Needed to be there earlier when the thermals are just starting.

The main goal for the day was to get in position to bird the Melrose Trap the next morning. Drove on up the Interstate from the Bosque, then east on US60. Made a few stops along the way, one in an area of dried up saline lakes hoping to find shorebirds, but got only a couple of Killdeer. Another stop was at the Headquarters of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The two folks in the office were knowledgeable and very helpful, the older gentleman looked up some god detailed info on the Trap, inviting me into the office to study the computer screen, then printing out the best pages. The woman was promoting The IMBD activities and gave me a spreadsheet of the past several years' results. Sold me a nice baseball hat of the old design for the old price. Great folks. I had visited the actual missions many years earlier when first getting into birding, and one held my lifer Blue Grosbeak. One of my favorite species, and now they sometimes nest on my land.

Anyway, I drove on into the town of Ft Sumter, gas and snacks, then up to the State Park on a lake. The book said it was good birding, but I was late and tired and fell out soon after dark, on the picnic table again. There were some really strange noises in the night, presumably birds, but nothing I was familiar with, and later an immense lightening bloated thunderstorm formed to the west. It first seemed to be approaching, so I went to sleep in the front of the car, but an hour later decided it was more comfy back on the table. It never arrived and not a drop fell on me.

Saturday, Sep 25

Slept a little later than usual and wasn't driving until there was light in the sky, so that when I got to the trap there were already six or eight cars there. Those folks must have left really early from the distant cities, or stayed in the area. It looks like it would be a good place to just stay for the night, and a lot of owls have been reported from there. It was a great place, the tree area was less than twenty acres but filled with action. And good birders so I was able to get some tics that would have escaped my limited familiarity with the western birds, like immature both Painted and Lazuli Buntings. What the day showed me, there and later, was that eastern New Mexico has clumps of vegetation that concentrate what are actually very low numbers of more eastern individuals on the edge, actually even beyond the edge, of the central flyway. Ended up adding eight tics there, and a couple more later.

One was a Blue Jay at Bosque Redondo Lake. Bosque Redondo was where the Navajos from Canyon de Chelly were forced after being driven out with scorched earth zeal by idiots in blue uniforms. They hated it, it wasn't quite desert, at least the day I was there, but was nothing like the wild Red Rock beauty that had been their home. Sad chapter. From there I cur back through Albuquerque, but that was a waste of time. I followed the Interstate on through Santa Fe to Las Vegas, which I'd never driven around in, and which seemed like a neat small city with several colleges it turned out. My goal was a National Forest campground about twenty miles up in the forest near El Povenir. But the CG was closed and I ended up sleeping in the car, not well either, as it was a cold night.

Sunday, Sep 26

I was up early for some breakfast and hot coffee, and a wifi check-in at Micky D's, and then about an hour at Las Vegas NWR. It was about the fourth time I'd been there, and was once again worth the stop, netting Red Phalaropes and a Chestnut-collared Longspur on a fenceline. From there I took a semi-direct route to Oklahoma.

A second eastern stray was an Eastern Phoebe I found at Conchas Lake in the trees across the highway from the office building. Twelve species in two days was enough to make the list for New Mexico with a little slack. From Conchas I ended up at Black Mesa State Park just inside Oklahoma at the west end of the panhandle. I left there early the next morning and was home before dark on the 27th.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Back South through Utah and Nevada

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It was still early enough to have time for a quick loop around Bear River NWR, but nothing really notable presented itself. I ended up sleeping in a WalMart parking lot, which some allow, but I've noticed that more are forbidding this simple hospitality, even when the stores are open all night. And I always go in and spend some money.

Wednesday, May 19

Since it was still winter in the Uintas, and I still couldn't hook up with my friend in Park City, I just decided to head directly back into Nevada and hit some of the eastern and southern sites that had been skipped on the first pass. Quick means five or six hours of driving on secondary highways, which aren't really direct routes. Goal was Great Basin National Park, and I started at the south end along Snake Creek Road. Added quite a few tics, I show 71 species (not all new) for the 19th and 20th. Excellent birding there and more when I got to the campground.

The upper reaches were still snow-bound, but the lower campground was open. When I'd finished with Snake Creek, I went to the Visitor's Center, passing a property with a yurt and a distinct UFO theme, the space-suited guy on skis was a clue. Grabbed a map and paid for camping, only $6, since the water wasn't working yet. Met John B Free and his wife Melissa, serious birders and owners of the yurt. They invited me to sit with them, I did, and added another 5 tics including Pinyon Jays. Great folks. I stayed at the park, walked around the woods and roads, it was a beautiful place, filled with snow-melt rushing streams and gorgeous weather.

Thursday, May 20

Got up early and lucked into open restroom at the VC, so I could service my head, that is, shave and brush teeth with running water. I stopped at the Moore Sanctuary just down the hill from the park, spent almost two hours, kinda foothills scrub habitat, not a lot of birds but good variety and seriously worth poking around in. By then it was late enough for a little restaurant in Baker to be open. I little pricey for me, but good fresh food and I was the only customer so the waitress/cook was willing to talk. That's a rare luxury for my travels. Found a couple of copies of Granta that interested me for sale used as well.

I drove into Ely, got cellular service and made a couple of calls to renew registration and insurance while getting a load of laundry done. Then took off on a long drive south, introduced by a "no gas for 130 miles" sign. Not a good sign. It was pretty desolate and few birds, mostly ravens. Got to Pahrangat NWR, which was un-birdy as well, I guess the winter waterfowl had already moved out. Strange place, obviously run by someone obsessed with organization, lots of signs about what's allowed and not, how many vehicles in a space, etc. Well, at least they're staying busy.

I took a side route toward Moapa, since there was a refuge along there, but I couldn't find it and figured out finally that it was a protected space for Desert Tortoises. Maybe keep a few ORV off their backs. Then it was dismal Las Vegas traffic and vibe until I had looped around to the Mountains to the Northwest of the city and was close to the Corn Creek Field Station in Desert NWR. Slept in a National Forest off the side of a side road.

Friday, May 21

Once again, up way too early. I ended up driving about thirty miles past the Corn Creek entrance before finding a truck stop with coffee, then back to a very satisfying morning of birding. The Field Station has trails running through a good variety of habitats, and it's managed for maximum oasis attractiveness to things flying by. I picked up around 10 new tics, and saw several times that. Two of my favorite obscure southwestern species were there, Verdin and Lucy's Warbler. I lucked into a local birder, no name, who pointed out several critters that had escaped my attention, which helped.

There had been reports of some more desirable species at Ash Meadows NWR, which didn't look too far, but when a state as big as Nevada takes up but one page in the atlas, I always get in trouble. It was a long drive up there, a large refuge, and it turned out the birds were in places where I would have to spend a lot of time to reach, if I could even figure out how to get to them. A situation where I should have arranged with the reporting birder to meet up and get some guidance, after dedicating the whole morning and getting started early from a nearby overnight. I messed up on every count, only found two new tics when it could have been a half dozen.

And then it was a long way back to Las Vegas, which was necessary since Arizona was on the other side, and the route was two-lanes through small towns. It was after noon when I got to Sunset Park, and way too hot. Problem with Nevada that time of year is each good site should be first. By then it was close to a hundred degrees. Sunset Park could have been very good if anything was out playing in the mid-day sun. Not. So I went to WalMart for an overdue oil change, and then tried to find the birdy wetland the city keeps by a water treatment plant, but I arrived too late or the wrong day. It was closed.

Fall-back was to try Lake Mead which seemed really low, I guessed maybe 40 feet down. Tried several places recommended in the ABA Metro bird-finder, and got one tic, a Bonaparte's Gull at the marina, which had retreated about a half mile from the laid out parking areas. When I stopped at the Visitor's Center for a bird list and AC relief, the desk ranger said the lake was down 125 feet, and I got the impression that it would probably never return to full. Victim of Global Warming and Population Growth. By then I was fed up with urban Nevada and crossed Hoover Dam, armed and paranoid, into Arizona. Drove as far as Kingman before dark where I was rewarded with a Popeye's in a truck stop, beans and rice, and a decent parking place for a decent night's sleep.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Arizona again, with success

Saturday, May 22, 2010

After running the truck's AC in Las Vegas, it had developed a ragged idle, but I didn't pay a lot of attention to it. Mostly I just wanted to get to Tucson and see my ex brother-in-law David and his wife Romenia, There were birds possible in Tucson as well, and up Mount Lemmon also.

Out of Kingman and drive pretty directly to Tucson, just stopping for food. Once there it was gonna be a while before the folks got home so I went by the Broadway-Shannon Dessert to look for Rufous-winged Sparrow. But the place had been covered with condos. Very little undisturbed habitat, so no luck. I found David's house and took a big nap, a hot soaker bath, a fine meal by Romenia with lots of fresh salad, and wifi. It was terribly like civilization. David is a lawyer for the Salt River Reservation and Romenia has worked for the airlines for years and loves her work. The house was a new acquisition, and fairly new, nice stucco with good space in a subdivision on the west edge of town. Had a great backyard, with plantings from the previous owner to attract hummers and other critters. After I got home I sent them a nice Hummer ID book. I took it easy and indulged for a day.

Sunday, May 23

Great breakfast omelet, and sitting on the back ramada watching birds in the plantings and on the roofs of the surrounding houses. I took a ride all the way up Mount Lemmon to Summerhaven, making some of the free stops, and furtively poking into a couple of campgrounds, which cost $8 just to park and walk around. Scouted out the Flammulated Owl area in Bear Canyon, a campground and three picnic areas all close together. Went back into town for supper and good talk, and then as dusk approached went back up the mountain to work the area I'd scouted earlier. I tried walking the area as it got dark driving the short hops from one to the next, and then when it was full dark tried the tapes, but it was a big and disappointing dip (that's brit for a miss). So back down in the dark and south on the Interstate to Madera Canyon, actually the parking area at Florida Wash, which is right at the trailhead and blessedly free, also dark and quiet. It was pretty late when I got to sleep

Monday, May 24

I was up the wash before the sun and hiked up to the burn area where The Rufous-capped Warbler had been seen. The bottom of the wash is narrow with short sight-lines, so I climbed up the east side so I'd have a good view of the opposite side as the sun got into the valley. No trail, not even a cattle track, bad footing and pots of hazardous rocks. And I have just a tiny bit of dizziness sometimes after real effort, so when I finally found a flat surface sitting spot it was relief. It took over an hour after sunrise before the bright light actually got to the bottom of the wash, but what a mellow morning, just sitting and looking around, watching sky and occasional critters, until the target bird showed up. Good thing I'd taken up a good viewpoint since it only called briefly once or twice. If I'd been down in there it's unlikely I would have found it, but from up high I got a few decent albeit not close looks. I drove up into Madera Canyon proper to the Kubo B&B, where there had been a Berylline Hummer, but after an hour I gave up.

I drove down the Interstate to the turnoff for California Gulch, some chance of the Owl, but mainly to find a Five-striped Sparrow. The road is decent but narrow and winding as far back as Arivaca. Made a short stop at the cienega, then continued on a rapidly worsening dirt county road for miles and miles until the turnoff onto a Forest Road to the gulch. It was three or four times worse, extremely rough, deep waterlogged spots, and I was getting worried that if the engine, which had noticeable problems, should give out, it might be a day or two before somebody found me, and God Knows how we could tow it out. I chickened, and was genuinely relieved to get back to the Interstate.

Drove south to Nogales, then back north up to Sierra Vista, and from there south again to Miller Canyon. Met both of the Toms at Beatty's and, after some small talk, the elder invited me up to the guest-house hummer viewing place, very nice small open building with good seats and lots of feeders. Got a great look at a Berylline Hummer, and also a White-eared, which I'd seen before in Texas, but still a damned good bird. At that point I had two lifers for the day, and sleeping easy at the little parking area at bottom of the entrance road was easy, after the obligatory paranoia about being surrounded by drug smugglers. They and the ordinary refugees from Mexico are a regular occurrence there, and Tom Beatty told me of the troubles they caused, mostly disconnecting the irrigation to take baths. There are regular rescue missions by the Federales too, to save thirst or accident damaged folks.

Tuesday, May 25

In the morning I drove up to Benson and found the Sewage Ponds, which had some new tics, and it was even better when I headed further east to the Willcox Playa. Had the good fortune to meet a couple of local women birders who turned me on to some details in the surrounding country club, and I was having such a good time that I drove off leaving my spotting scope set up in the middle of the road. Fortunately they caught up with me as I came off a side road and sent me back to where it stood unmolested. Wilcox Playa is a "don't miss" any time of year since it's such an obvious wetland in otherwise hard dessert.

The next stage was amazing. I had intended to go to Glenwood and back to Beth's again, and took an innocuous looking road, on the map, that headed north from Clifton and Morenci through Apache National Forest to Alpine. I had mentioned my intent to go that way to the folks at Wilcox, and they had sorta rolled their eyes and cautioned me about it taking a while. I found out that road was the old US 666, called the Devil's Backbone. It started out in Clifton looking sorta southwestern mining habitat, great multi-colored cliffs and lots of machinery, and then morphed in Morenci into the most amazing industrial landscape I've ever seen. And I have lived in Silver City and that area, which some locals call Mordor. The road went on for miles and miles as the ten mph highway twisted and climbed through and under and over tracks and great pipes and haul roads along the edge of immense pits, until I passed the last almost dried-up reservoir and broke into th forest at about 8000 feet. Made several of stops in there, playing my "crack-for-birds owl tape", getting great results, but never could get any Grey Jays or Clark's Nutcrackers, which should have been find-able at that altitude and habitat. As I was finally on the last run into Alpine, a Clark's flew across the road ahead of me. I want to spend a couple of days camping and birding along that whole area. Got to Glenwood later than I'd expected, but still light, found Beth's house, and stayed there in the truck.

I was done with Arizona for this trip, starting at 148 tics and adding 65 more made 213 at the end of the trip. On a later trip in September I added another 17 and made it to 42%.