Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in review

Mountain Bluebird, Badlands National Monument, South Dakota 

I saw a facebook update on someone's "year in birds" and realized I hadn't really done any tallying of how 2012 went for me bird-wise. When I did do a tally (thank you, eBird), I was pretty darned impressed!
Bronzed Cowbird, near Donna, Texas 

Northern Hawk Owl, near Fryeburg, Maine 

Here are my numbers:
North America (USA) Lifelist total: 371 (updated after a counting error)
2012 total birds: 282
2012 lifers: 52!

FIFTY-TWO! I had no idea! That's what happens when you visit seven different states in a year, baby! A big trip west, a big trip to Texas, and my move to Maine: keys to birding success.

Brown Jay, Salineno, Texas

Burrowing Owl, Badlands National Monument, South Dakota
Greater White-fronted Goose
Common Eider
Greater Sage-Grouse
Red-necked Grebe
Eared Grebe
Great Cormorant
Ferruginous Hawk
Whooping Crane
Upland Sandpiper
Hudsonian Godwit
Marbled Godwit
Glaucous-winged Gull
Black Guillemot
Green Parakeet
Northern Hawk Owl
Burrowing Owl
Barred Owl
Short-eared Owl
White-throated Swift
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Western Wood-Pewee
Dusky Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Philadelphia Vireo
Brown Jay
Clark’s Nutcracker
Black-billed Magpie
Chihuahuan Raven
Violet-green Swallow
Mountain Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Rock Wren
Mountain Bluebird
Sage Thrasher
Yellow-throated Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
Cassin’s Sparrow
Brewer’s Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Crimson-collared Grosbeak
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Bronzed Cowbird
Hooded Oriole
Altamira Oriole
Audubon’s Oriole
Pine Grosbeak
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll

Hudsonian Godwit, Pine Point, Maine

Some really special moments on this list: the trip down the West Coast and across the northern plains, going up the Rio Grande to Salineno, moving to Maine and going to the beaches. Who knows what 2013 will bring?

Crimson-collared Grosbeak, McAllen, Texas
So how did your year go?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Snow, snow, snow

It's been snowing like crazy up here! Here's the view from the porch:
We had to park out by the storage garage way back there on the left.

Look at it come down!

It was so beautiful that I wanted to go out to Wharton Point to see it fall on the sea water. It seems so crazy to watch snow hitting the ocean, or in this case Maquoit Bay:

Here's what it looked like back then:
This is the same place I saw all those little Least Sandpipers back in September:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Anticipation: sneak peek at the spring birding trip!

Every year for the past three years I've traveled down to Texas to visit my parents and see new birds, and 2013 will provide a new twist on the trip: sister Mary and I will be going to Big Bend!

Usually, I go to the Rio Grande Valley, my birthplace and home until I went to college. Mary, however, has been lobbying for a Big Bend trip after spending time there with her hubby, professional drummer and all-around cool guy Jim. So this time around, we'll be headed for the Chisos Mountains and points west!

So far, my research indicates we'll be seeing some crazy new specialties like Phainopepla, Scaled Quail, and more. We might be a touch early for the featured bird, the Colima Warbler, but I like heading down there in February or March. Why so early in the year? because I grew up in Texas and know how hot it gets even in February! Next year, I'll head down for the last week in March.

You'll recall previous trips from 2010, 2011, and 2012. This time around, it'll be Mary and me, "roughing it" in Big Bend National Park. 

Can't wait!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thanks for the owl!

On Thanksgiving, AB and I went to Bethel to spend the holiday with her parents and grandma. We all had a great time, including a Scrabble victory by yours truly (courtesy of an illegal letter trade from AB's mom so I could spell fusilium (which I don't actually know is a real word heh heh), use all my letters (a BINGO!) on my last move, and end the game! A whole lot of cheating went on there, I think, but it was all in good fun!

I had also seen on the Maine listserv that there had been a Northern Hawk Owl seen near Fryeburg, which was only a 40-minute drive from Bethel, so how could we NOT go try for the owl?

Usually, what happens on these little "twitching" missions when I drive for a bird, I "dip" on the bird -- I don't see it. (I don't know who thought of these terms like "twitch" and "dip;" I just picked 'em up on the listservs). I drove over three hours once with Gretchen and birding heroes Alex and Anna to see a Black-headed Gull. Result: Dip. I've dipped on crossbills in Pennsylvania, Eastern Grosbeaks in Maine.

So what happened this time?


Northern Hawk Owl, digi-binned with my phone-cam and bins! It was awe-inspiring. We got to the road where the owl had been seen; it was only about two miles long, so we just turned onto the road and crept along, eyes peeled. Wouldn't you know that AB saw it first with her eagle eyes.

AB: That light pole looks taller than the other ones....
DG: (head swiveling all around) Where, where?!
AB: Look, right over there (pointing)!
He was perched on a pole about 50-60 yards away; he then flew into a tree in front of a farmhouse, about 100+ yards away.

Suddenly, he flew out of the trees STRAIGHT AT US! He flew across the road, in front of our parked car, maybe ten feet away! He then swooped straight up and perched on the light pole right across the road from the car!

I was on the passenger side, across from the owl, so I sllllooooowwwlly opened my car door, laid my bins, pointing up toward the owl, on the roof of the car, put my phone up to the bins, and snapped away. I got several photos, including the one above, and then crept back into the car. He just looked at us for a few more seconds, with full-on disapproval, and then flew away.

AB and I just kinda sat there, totally freaked out. That moment was among my best birding experiences of this whole year. Even AB loved it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pine Grosbeaks!

We're having a winter finch blowout up here in Maine, but I've struck out every time I've gone looking for them... UNTIL TODAY!

This morning, someone on the listserv posted that there was a big flock of them in the crabapple trees outside the L.L. Bean HQ about ten minutes from here. So I actually got out of bed before 9:30 (which rarely happens!) and drove down -- and there they were! I heard their little two-note high-low "PEEP-peep" calls, looked up, and there they were -- lifers.

Beautiful! And they were so accommodating, posing for me with the beautiful blue sky as their backdrop.

Last night, I had gone to buy birdseed at a local dealer who'd had some PIGR at their feeders, but all I got were piggy little House Finches:
I've got to plant some crabapple trees soon; they're magnets for winter finches!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hermit Island and Head Beach

First, some old business: Lifer Greater White-fronted Goose! Saw this one a couple of weeks ago:

Look behind the Canada in the middle!
There he is!
I know, I know, it doesn't look like anything! But he's back there, I promise!

Nearby, I found this immature Bald Eagle -- and he has bands on both legs!
My first-ever banded bird! I can't read the bands, but it was cool to see.

Now -- to today. This morning, I went to a new spot: Head Beach near Hermit Island. It's a few fingers of land over on the coastline. What a great place!
There's a nice sandy beach, and then big rocks up on one side. I'm standing on one taking this picture.

Here, I'm standing in the dunes looking out onto the ocean:
 I saw a VERY pale sparrow on the beach:

He fits exactly Peterson's description of an Ipswich Sparrow, now a subspecies of Savannah Sparrow: "Ocean dunes; like large pale Savannah." That's exactly where he was and what he looked like. No longer its own species, but still nice to see -- he was beautiful with his light streaking and overall paleness.

Complete list of birds seen:
Common Eider  100
White-winged Scoter  4
Black Scoter  4
Common Merganser  3
Red-breasted Merganser  8
Ruddy Duck  4
Horned Grebe  7
Red-necked Grebe  2
Double-crested Cormorant  2
Great Cormorant  1
Great Blue Heron  1
Black-bellied Plover  2
Greater Yellowlegs  1
Ring-billed Gull  19
Herring Gull  6
Great Black-backed Gull  1
American Crow  1
Black-capped Chickadee  3
Yellow-rumped Warbler  9
Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich)  1
Song Sparrow  2
Northern Cardinal  1

The sand, as the tide went out, proved to be not only beige but black:
And the black had bits of quartz or mica in it and the bits shone like diamonds in the sunlight. Here's a video:
I did see a couple of Red-necked Grebes, frolicking among the waves along with Red-breasted Mergansers and Common Eiders, but they were too far away to get a photo. Luckily, a guy on the beach who was also birding confirmed my ID -- lifer! I now have every grebe except Clark's, but I'll have to go out west again for that one.

A beautiful sunny, crisp day at the beach! Finally, I leave you with a picture of some Moon Snails!
Note that each of those white boxes with maroon lines is two inches x two inches. The snails were bigger than my fist! That little tiny dark circle is a small snail about 3/4" big. The others are HUGE.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More beaches, more birds!

Weekend before last, continued! Gretchen and the girls and I went to Pine Point to see if a juvenile Hudsonian Godwit might still be hanging around. Sure enough:

Also present, a Black Skimmer in molt or a bad feather day or something:
Haven't seen one of these for a long time. Man, I LOVE living near the ocean!

Having hit our targets, we scooted up to Scarborough Marsh to see what might be hanging around:
Bald Eagle! Right over our heads.

We followed this guy around for a little while:
He had so much yellow, not only on his lores but on his whole head and throat and nape. I was trying to make it into some kind of seaside sparrow, but no go -- the color pattern on the back, the stubby tail -- Savannah Sparrow. Dangit!

Not much else happening at Scarborough, so we went to Dyer Point near Two Lights. What a great spot! It was cold and windy and rainy, but it was right on the ocean and we got some great views!

The lighthouse:

The lifers!
Northern Gannet! There were bunches of them, both close and far out, some of them (way out) doing their cool dives into the water! I had only seen them do that on The Life of Birds; it was so cool.

And a Great Cormorant! The white belly was the sure sign! He was waaaay out on a little point, so this is digiscoped on Baby G's Vortex with my camera:
So that was now THREE lifers for the day! 367! I LOVE Maine!

There were so many birds flying by, just offshore; having the scopes, both mine and Gretchen's, made it so great -- we just stood there and watched White-winged and Black Scoters, Northern Gannets, and more, all just flying by. I hadn't seen anything like that since Cape May. Here's a Black Scoter:
I even had some seafood -- fish -- at the famous Lobster Shack on Dyer Point. Nice!

On the way home, we went through Portland and over the Casco Bay bridge, which lifts for big boats:

The big boat:
Pretty great day.

Last week, on my way home from a work trip to Boston, I swung through Kennebunk, looking for a Northern Wheatear. I didn't expect to see him, as it was around 3 or so in the afternoon, but I tried -- and missed. Oh well. I haven't heard any more reports of him.

However, every week or so, I see a report of Evening Grosbeaks in the area. They're elusive; I'll keep you posted. I've got big hopes!

Saturday, October 06, 2012

BFF birding at Reid State Park!

Super excitement this weekend as my BFF Gretchen and her gf Laura came to visit us! Somehow, everything now looks even more beautiful and magical around here because we're sharing it with friends. It's been lonely for just AB and me and the kittehs.

Today, we went birding all day! Our first outing was to Reid State Park, about 35 minutes from our house. On the way there, we saw a huge Snapping Turtle:
Very cool.

We got to Reid and immediately the good birds came:
Black-bellied Plovers

A Common Eider still in breeding plumage, catching a crab:

By now, he's ripped the legs off:

Now we're working on getting it down. Going:

The most exciting bird was a Black Guillemot, which I managed to get a (bad) photo of!
There he is! Lucky photo!

Lots of Savannah Sparrows too:

We also saw my first Maine loon:
to match my license plate:
We had a great time, and I got lifebird #364! Gretchen got that one and the Common Eider.

After that we had some seafood (okay, I ate chicken tenders; G ate a hot dog, Laura had a crabcake sandwich, and AB had lobster stew), and then we took the dogs to Wolf's Neck. No photos there, but the tide was higher than we'd ever seen it.

For dinner, we made pizza:
I slapped out the dough (sorta, a remnant of my Domino's days) and topped the left one (pepperoni, onion, green pepper, black olives, mushrooms, and artichoke hearts) and Laura topped the right one (crab meat, artichokes, a light pesto, cherry tomatoes and heirloom tomato slices, olive oil, scallions, crushed fresh garlic, and mushrooms). That's also my salad there. Delicious! AB also made my favorite pumpkin pie using OnePie (it's the BEST)!

It's been a wonderful weekend, and it's not even over!

Tomorrow: Scarborough Marsh!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

At long last, birding!

I have finally gotten/made some time for a little birding, both last night and this morning. I hit two points quite close to home: Wharton Point (on Maquoit Bay) and Simmons Point (on Middle Bay). Here are my results:

Wharton Point, last night: The tide was in, unlike last time when the tide was out although it was about the same time of day but two weeks ago. I got lucky and found a flock of peeps huddling together and shivering in the cold:
 I counted the flock both there and in my photos, and I got 166 Semipalmated Sandpipers...
 What a cutie!

...and four Dunlins, including this juvenile:

Here's a shot of both species:
A view of the bay:

The wind chill must've been in the low 40s.

This morning, after seeing a report on eBird of a Red-necked Grebe at Simpson Point, I went there. Here's the boat launch:

and the shoreline:

and the bay with some small islands:
I got no photos here, as all the birds were way out on the water. Again, it was chilly and windy and overcast, so photos would've been ridiculous. Still, I got some nice birds:
Canada Goose  19
American Black Duck  9
Common Eider  13
Long-tailed Duck  1    
Double-crested Cormorant  19
Snowy Egret  1
Ring-billed Gull  54

There were more birds out there but I couldn't make any confident ID due to distance and conditions. My little Meade Condor scope was working as hard as it could, but I'm pretty sure that Gretchen's Vortex scope (a Razor, I think) would've performed better. Someday, maybe I'll spend the dough, but for now -- I just can't do it. I also saw a dark sparrow for a split second, but I couldn't ID it in that short a look.

I thought you might also want to see the house and the yard, so I took some pics. We'll start with the outside:
 We live in the left half, the front half. It's three bedrooms, two floors, a nice-sized kitchen and a bath (downstairs, while the beds are upstairs - unfortunately). Here's the big barn on the property:

 Wish I could say I have access to such a fabulous place, but it's off-limits. Our landlady runs her business out of it. It's part of a farm:

 And there is granite EVERYWHERE.

Here's the cool weathervane on top of the barn:

and there are five or six old-fashioned lightning rods:
complete with the glass globes. I love these!

The grounds are rather extensive:
 Back there right in the middle is where my veggie garden will go in the spring.

Part of the front yard, including the woods across the street in which I heard the Barred Owl:

And this is the side yard:
You can just make out our firepit and Adirondack chairs out there.