Monday, January 28, 2008

EVERYBODY needs to watch this

OK, I am not one to preach to others, especially as I am just as guilty of excessive consumerism as the next person...


Everybody, and I really mean everybody - every man, woman and child that values life on this planet, should take 20 minutes and watch this online video of:
The Story of Stuff.

I'm not going to say anything else about it - just watch it and think.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Trip Report (long!)

Well, I have finally completed my trip report. It took four pages in Word, and I'm not sure how well this is going to translate into a blog, but here goes...

Saturday, January 12th
Left Boston at about 8am and arrived at SW International Airport in Ft Myers Florida a little before noon, rented our vehicle at Avis (received a complimentary upgrade to a Hyundai Santa Fe, which is a very comfortable small SUV) and headed out. My first Florida bird of the trip was the same as every other time I have come to Florida – Boat-tailed Grackle. Our first stop was exit 111 off I75 at a small Thai restaurant for lunch. We then headed to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary for our first real Florida birding. We arrived at about 1:30, and I was expecting things to be slow since it was the middle of the day, sun was high and it was warm. I was pleasantly mistaken. The birds were very active and close. We saw the Painted Buntings at the feeder that they occasionally visit right as we walked up, (Pamela’s first life bird of the trip) as well as Ovenbird, a brief look at a Summer Tananger, and Brown Thrasher. A Pileated Woodpecker landed closely on a tree and while we watched it, the buntings decided it was time to go. Continuing along the boardwalk Blue-grey Gnatcatchers seemed to be everywhere. Blue-headed and White-eyed Vireos flitted from branch to branch for very close looks, before we encountered a flock of mixed warblers, some of which were so close you couldn’t use your binoculars! Further along the boardwalk gave us additional looks at the Pileateds that were almost ubiquitous, as well as the Red-bellied Woodpeckers that actually are. The lettuce lakes area had all the expected waders – Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, White Ibis, Tri-colored Heron, both Black-crowned and Yellow-crowned Night Herons. Anhingas were fishing and drying their feathers close by. My favorite bird of the area was a very obliging Purple Gallinule – not a life bird, but my only previous look had lasted just a few seconds. This one was brilliant. We also had our first close-up experience with a Red-shouldered Hawk – an experience that would be repeated here with each visit, as they are very common here. We left the sanctuary very satisfied with our first outing to head to the Quality hotel for the first of two nights in Golden Gate outside of Naples. On the access road to the sanctuary I did notice a few ducks at the edge of a pond on greenhouse property that turned out to be Muscovy Ducks. We checked into the hotel had a little dinner then settled in to review pictured and a great start to the trip list.

Sunday, January 13th
After such a successful first day at Corkscrew, we decided to head out to the Everglades instead of going right back to the same place. Our destination was Shark Valley for the 9am tram, as the loop is not drivable.
We traveled there along the Tamiami Trail (Rt 41) driving through intermittent rain showers. I have never seen so many Kingfishers in my life as the ones that were perched along the wires here – they even outnumbered the Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes that are the usual “birds on a wire.” Also along the way a large group of Black Vultures were feasting on a road-killed alligator. The sun came out as we arrived just in time to make the tram, which follows a several mile route through open wet Everglades sawgrass prairie, interspersed with hammocks of hardwoods as well as alligator holes. Alligators were abundant, with nice looks of gators of all ages. Also seen along the way to the tower were several herons and egrets, a nice look at a Snipe, as well as our first Wood Storks of the trip, and Pam’s life Roseate Spoonbill – which was a brief look in flight as our over-excitable tour guide shouted it out. Not a common species in Shark Valley I guess. After returning to the visitor’s center, it was still so nice out and too early for lunch, so we decided to walk back out the trails a bit. Unfortunately, while we were about as far away from shelter as we could be, the rain returned, and completely soaked us! Still wet, we headed across the street to the Miccosukee Indian Restaurant for lunch – someplace I had visited once before with a tour back in 2006. After lunch I recognized where we had stopped for Snail Kite in 2006, and as I mentioned it to Pamela, I noticed one quite close in the corner of my eye (in Grouch voice - 'how it got in the corner of my eye, I'll never know). We pulled over immediately and relocated the bird as well as two others, all of which were more distant now, but we still had good looks with the scope – and another lifer for Pamela. I was thrilled as this was not a bird I expected to see. We followed the Tamiami trail back towards Naples with a few stops along the way which produced nothing notable.
We decided as we were approaching Naples that we still had plenty of light left in the day and decided to take a ride down to Marco Island to see if any shorebirds could be found. When we reached Tigertail Beach on Marco Island, a fog/haze had rolled in, limiting visibility. We did stop again at the bridge before exiting the island and had our first looks at gulls, Brown Pelicans and two Magnificent Frigatebirds. At that point we decided that we’d had another good day and it was time to have dinner and head back to the hotel. It turns out that we weren’t quite done yet, as we noted two adult Bald Eagles atop a telephone pole across the street from a WalMart along the way.

Monday, January 14th
Had breakfast and checked out of the hotel early to get back to Corkscrew to see if the morning would be anything like Saturday afternoon there. We took the longer boardwalk trail today, and saw mostly the same species as before – including the Painted Buntings at the feeder, as well as ‘crippling’ looks at the Red-shouldered Hawk which sat on a dead branch in the morning light, at eye level, not eight feet from the boardwalk. In the distance a Barred Owl called out it’s distinctive question. Near the lettuce lakes a volunteer mentioned that an Eastern Screech Owl had been noted along the trail but we decided not to chase it as they are relatively common at home. He also mentioned a nice mixed flock of warblers just ahead of us. In addition to the regular Common Yellowthroats, Yellow-rumped, Palm, and B&W warblers they saw, I managed to locate a Yellow-throated Warbler and a rather secretive Worm-eating Warbler that got everyone pretty excited. The Purple Gallinule was out again in brilliant sunlight and I decided I wanted to go back to the car for the digiscoping set-up. Another check at the feeder produced a new species for the trip – an immature Indigo Bunting who’s blue was very reminiscent of a light blue of a Varied Bunting. After spending an hour or so digiscoping, we packed up and headed to Sanibel for our first of several visits to the J.N. ‘Ding’ Darling NWR. It was past low tide when we arrived, but the birding was excellent nonetheless. The large pools along Wildlife drive provided excellent looks at all the waders that people travel here to see, including Reddish Egret as well as my favorite, Roseate Spoonbill. There were large numbers of White Pelicans as well as Brown Pelicans. Also, among the shorebirds we were able to pick out another life bird for Pamela – a Marbled Godwit. Notable by the comparatively large numbers were Pied-billed Grebes. I never saw less then 8 in a group and we had several different groups. A Wood Stock posed nicely for us among a group of egrets in the mangroves, and the resident Ospreys were not shy. Also there were large rafts of Blue-winged Teal as well as some Red-breasted Mergansers. We had lunch at Cheeburger, Cheeburger before leaving Sanibel. Once we crossed over the San-Cap Causeway, we made a quick stop at Bunchee Beach at dusk, where large numbers of Black Skimmers were settling in for the evening. Then it was off to Cape Coral for the first of 5 nights at the Quality Inn, Nautilus there.

Tuesday, January 15th
A quick breakfast at the hotel before heading back to Bunchee Beach to see what shorebirds could be found. All the skimmers from the previous night were still around, and the exposed sands provided a bit more variety – semi-palmated and western sp, dunlin, semi-palmated and piping plovers, and willets were all easily identifiable, as well as two distant immature Bald Eagles. We then crossed the causeway to go back to Ding Darling NWR. We stopped in at the refuge headquarters before entering Wildlife Drive. We did the drive twice before heading off to lunch – first drive to see what was hanging out where, and the second to catch the birds at low tide. Nothing new there that day, but seeing some of these birds this close is a treat that you want to re-visit again and again. One highlight was meeting and chatting with a gentleman named Iver Brooks who has been birding since 1937. We had lunch at Schnapper’s Hots on Sanibel before heading out to the Seven Mile Slough Preserve outside of Naples. At the preserve, things were quieter than my last visit there, but nice nevertheless. A large flock of White Ibis feeding were fun to watch, and we heard a pair of Barred Owls calling to each other. Two pairs of Wood Duck were a nice surprise there, and just before leaving hundreds of herons and egrets flew in too roost at the trees alongside the large body of water near the entrance to the trail. We then headed back to Cape Coral and had an enjoyable dinner at the Leaping Lizard restaurant.

Wednesday, January 16th
Started birding this day at the Bailey Tract, a part of DDNWR. Rather cool and quiet this morning. The highlights there were our first Mottled Ducks of the trip and several Common Moorhens in the early morning light on one of the freshwater ponds. Another good chance for digiscoping, which kept us there for a while longer. We then drove further out the island towards Captiva. We stopped for about an hour at the beach at San-Cap pass for excellent close looks at all three of the local terns – Forsters, Royal, and Sandwich along with the laughing and ring-billed gulls. Scanning the bay, I did manage to spot a distant Gannet for the trip list. We continued to the northern end of Captiva (past the entrance to South Seas Resort and the post office) to the beach and walked the beach for about another hour. The highlight here was a few kids creating a portrait in the sand of a White Ibis using different colored shells from the beach. They did a great job of it and we took a few pictures on our walk back. We had a chowder and fish ‘n chips lunch at one of my favorite spots in Captiva – the Mucky Duck, then made our way back to Sanibel to do our last drive through Ding Darling and stop at the refuge gift shop to pick up a few mementos of the trip. Then we went to Tarpon Bay for an afternoon/evening sea-life cruise as our kayak trip to the heron rookery was cancelled due to wind and chop on the bay. We still did get to see the rookery on this tour as well, as well as getting nice looks at a Great Egret with its breeding plumes and lime green face – not something we get to see often in New England! We window shopped on Sanibel for a while after then headed back to Cheeburger, Cheeburger for dinner.

Thursday, January 17th
We decided that this day we would head inland for a couple of birds that we wouldn’t get near the coast and our luck continued as we found our targets as well as a few surprises as well. We started out in the morning towards the Archbold Biological Research Station in Lake Placid/Venus in search of ABA countable Florida Scrub Jays. It rained for most of the drive there, getting heaviest just before we arrived then tapered off. We signed in at the office, where a Ring-necked Pheasant was meandering around the parking lot, then headed off towards the nature trail. It rained on us a little, but we were better prepared this time. Unfortunately, there was very little bird activity. A bit discouraged at first, but then we started hearing more birds, we decided to spend some more time near the beginning of the trail (where we were told that a family of the jays were occasionally seen.) We finally spotted one on a distant snag, but the light was bad, and we had a difficult time seeing the field marks. Pamela then spotted a closer bird getting her the life looks you’d prefer to get. A few more showed up and the family did come in for closer looks but stayed on private property next to the station’s property. I went back to the car for the scope and camera, and Pam decided she’d not chance more rain. While watching the jays a bit loner, a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers landed on a nearby snag, but as soon as I got my bins on them, they took off again in the direction of the car. I called Pamela in hopes of getting her to see them as they passed, but they seemed to veer in another direction. Finishing up here, we tried to head south on Rt17 (Old SR8) as suggested in Pranty’s Florida guide, but the road was detoured for some reason back to the highway, where we happened upon a Bald Eagle on the side of the road with some roadkill, but it quickly took off when we tried to pull over for better looks. We circled back around to try Rt17 from the south, which enabled us to see several other species including some sparrows, warblers, orioles, and especially several groups of Sandhill Cranes, which was especially nice for Pamela who had only seen them at great distances before. We made it back to the suggested area for the Scrub Jays and they were exactly where described in the guide. They were more inhibited than the Scrub Jays of the other coast, as I tried to coax them down from the wires for some nuts, but they did come down to the road for them after we got back into the car which got us great looks at them. Next we headed toward Punta Gorda, but were waylaid for a few minutes by a Crested Caracara very close to the other side of the highway. Somewhat to Pamela’s distress, I pulled over to take some pictures out the window as 18-wheelers barreled past us on the highway. I was certainly glad for the SUV at this point which allowed us to pull safely away off the side of the road – not sure I would have tried it in a sedan. At Punta Gorda, we went to the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area in search of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Trees where they are known to roost are marked with a white painted ring around the trunk. We were there mid-afternoon which is not the best time to look for them at the cavities, and continued to explore a bit. Eventually we did spot a distant woodpecker that turned out to be a Red-cockaded, and were able to get it in the scope for better looks before a Red-bellied WP flew to the same tree and the red-cockaded took off to a patch of trees even further away where I saw it joined by another two woodpeckers. By the time we were able to get to the area it flew to, we were not able to relocate them. An hour or so later I did find one more next to a cavity after hearing it call, but when I repositioned myself for a better look, it had disappeared – possibly into the cavity for the night, but I couldn’t be sure. We then headed back to Cape Coral after a long but satisfying day.

Friday, January 18th
I had originally planned to use this day to explore inland a bit (as Ding Darling NWR is closed on Fridays) but since we managed to hit all locations on Thursday, we decided that with this unplanned day that we would go back to Corkscrew Swamp again, since everything that we see there is so close. Unfortunately, the day started out overcast and very cool, so we didn’t have the same luck as on previous days – the Painted Buntings never appeared for us, and the White-eyed Vireos which I decided I wanted to get some pictures of decided to go somewhere else that day. We did find the Eastern Screech Owl that had been putting in an appearance all week. The lettuce lakes continued to have all the herons, egrets, anhingas that we’d seen on previous visits. While heading back towards the visitor center the sun finally broke through the clouds, and we had several Pileated Woodpeckers working the trees a little way from the boardwalk. I never tire of these majestic birds. With the sun out we decided to do one more time around the boardwalk to enjoy the last of our time at Corkscrew. (One the way out, we also set up the camera to take a few pictures of us together.) We then headed back to Cape Coral for the Burrowing Owls and Monk Parakeets that reside a few miles from where we’d been staying for most of the week. In the back of my head, I just assumed that we would make it there to see them before we left, and decided we’d better check wile the light was good rather than waiting until the morning we left and possibly miss them. The parakeets were impossible to miss, but the owls proved a bit more difficult. We checked several locations before noting one low in the entrance to the burrow across from the library. Upon driving back past the first burrows we visited, we found another two owls also very low – not standing outside the burrows as one would expect.
We then headed back to Sanibel for our last afternoon/evening, as I wanted to visit the south end of the island, and Pam wanted to do a little shopping before we went to dinner. We arrived at Sanibel Light parking lot with plenty of light left in the day and were heading towards the lighthouse when Pam spotted a Gopher Tortoise working it’s way across an open area, so we watched and photographed it for a while, until it burrowed into the sand. Just past the lighthouse, an old and well worn Palm tree snag hosted a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers in spectacular light next to a roost cavity. This pair has been here for years, and are very acclimated to people so we were able to get stunning photographs. We finally left as we needed to get to one shop before they closed (where Pamela got a lovely pair of earrings). We then went for our last (ad most expensive) dinner at the Bubble Room on Captiva to celebrate a great week of Florida birding.

Saturday, January 19th
We ‘slept in’ this morning, packed our bags, went to breakfast at Perkins, and checked out of the hotel. Before heading to the airport, we stopped in again to see the Burrowing Owls and Monk Parakeets. A final interesting sighting proved to be a Loggerhead Shrike – a common enough bird. But what made this one interesting was that this particular bird was “singing”, something that neither of us had heard before.

We returned our Hyundai Santa Fe with 921 more miles on it then when we picked it up!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Got Swamp?

I was going to title this entry "got pics" because, after many hours sifting through hundreds of digital pics (both straight from camera and digi-scoped), I have finally posted 64 pictures from our trip to southwest Florida, to my pbase gallery at:

I chose this title, because I just remembered I bought it as a bumpersticker while at Corkscrew and for some reason I just love the way it reads. (And maybe because if definitive proof of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is ever accquired, it will likely come from a swamp.)

Here is a photo that I didn't post to my gallery, because it's not my artwork, but I took a picture of it:

This wonderful piece of shell art was being created by three kids as we walked along the beach in Captiva and was completed when we walked back. Kordyshi Kids, wherever you are - GREAT JOB!

And, because the other movie I posted went over so well, here's another:


Saturday, January 19, 2008

We're back!

Just got in a few hours ago from a week away.

For those of you who did not know where we went (and didn't want to play with Google Earth to figure out the coordinates) here is a hint...

7 days, over 900 miles driven, about 110 species of birds...

... and about 2500 pictures taken. Of course, not all are going to be good! I've already deleted over 400 while reviewing them in the camera. And after downloading the rest and reviewing them on the computer I expect to probably delete at least that many more. Then there are probably going to be duplicates for almost everything that I took a photo of.

OH, and movies - I took about a two dozen movies. SO, here is a quick movie also...


It's going to take me a while to go through them all, edit, etc then upload them. I'll post the link when I get it on my pBase gallery. I will also have a rather long trip report to write and I'll try to post an abbreviated version here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

26°27'3.25"N , 82°6'47.25"W

Gettin' ready to head off to one of my favorite places on this blue planet.

Be back in a week...

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sunday birding on the refuge

Pamela and I took a couple hours to visit the Parker River NWR (on Plum Island) on Sunday morning in an attempt to 'fatten up' my 2008 PI Birds list. I have thrown my hat into the ring for a casual contest among some of the folks on the PI Birds Group to see who can tally the most species in one calendar year. I don't expect to come in anywhere near the top - in fact it is my only hope to not be last. We'll see what happens.

Highlights included the always exciting winter species on the refuge: Snowy Owl, Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawk, Bald Eagle, and especially cool - hundreds of Razorbills just a few hundred feet off-shore. An interesting high/low-light was also a roadkilled Cooper's Hawk with a similarly roadkilled pigeon still in it's talons. I felt like something of an avian CSI agent trying to figure out what happened - was this immature bird chasing the pigeon into the roadway and the two of them got hit simultaneously as the hawk clutched it's prey in it's talons? An interesting note is that these birds were at the edge of a parking lot - and they weren't there when we had first pulled up but were there when we returned 15 minutes later. Looked almost like somebody pulled over - pried them from the grill of the car onto the snowbank, then moved on.
Very odd. I did take a few pictures, but am not going to post in the interest of allowing any reader to keep their meals in their respective places. Anybody interested can e-mail me and I'll send them along. (I don't expect anyone to!)

One of the biggest highlights of the day for me though, was watching a male Hairy Woodpecker go about it's work just 15 feet away from us, (while a Downy worked on the same tree for a short while)

More photos are at my pBase gallery - including a few with him sticking his long sticky tongue out!

I have seen Hairy's up close before, but usually at a feeder, and there is something much more satisfying to me about seeing a bird in a more wild environment.

Now I know that Hairy Woopeckers aren't anything special, but anybody who knows me can tell you that I am a woodpecker fanatic (hence the name of this blog). The impetus for many of the locations I have selected to travel to for birding have had woodpeckers in mind first, then all other species next. How many birders do you know that go to Southeast Arizona primarily to see Acorn and Arizona Woodpeckers, then get excited for Elegant Trogon afterwards? In the last few years I have managed to see all US species in the family except Nuttall's - which I will be going to California to see in February, staying with friends Pica & Numenius of the "Feathers of Hope" blog - and, of course, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, which I hope to someday have the pleasure of seeing. (But that is a blog entirely to itself, which I have no interest in getting into at the moment.)

Friday, January 4, 2008

Barn Owl as ring-bearer

I just found this story via the Birdchick blog.

I wonder how one would go about doing something like that here....

... and if Pamela would go for it for our wedding.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A sadder note...

Yesterday evening, Pamela's mother passed on. It was very quiet and peaceful, and Pamela was able to be there with her along with one of her sisters.

I have not known her long, but I do know that she was a beautiful woman who raised some wonderful children. Her passing is sad for the family, but was dignified, and I think will be agreed that it is a blessing. My personal feeling is that she has now regained her facilities, and I'm sure knows how much she was loved and will be missed by all who knew her.
She is now with lost loved ones, and will continue to watch over and love those that she has left behind.

God bless, Edith Lorraine Dean.

The new year (and a new list) begins

Pamela and I started out the day yesterday with our friends Paul & Diana to start our new year list. We attended the BBC trip lead by Laura de la Flor and Mark Burns that they have led annualy on Jan 1st for the last 11 years. (This is my fourth year doing it) The morning started clear and crisp but the weather deteriorated slowly throughout the morning until early afternoon where it turned to mixed snow and rain. We did manage to get some good birds in before the weather turned - with fantastic looks at a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk that I managed to get some decent photos of...

*more photos posted in the "raptors" gallery at my pBase page

I even managed to get a life bird after the weather turned- two VERY wet and bedraggled Hoary Redpolls in absolutely miserable conditions.

The day did end on a very different note, which I think deserves a seperate post to follow.