Monday, February 29, 2016 conclusión.

First Mexican views from the plane

This is it, the last post from Mexico.   I already blogged about almost everywhere we went and everything we saw, but of course there are numbers to be discussed and a bloopers reel and all that.  There is also Peso Island, which I completely forgot to blog about.

Let's talk numbers first. 

Total species seen in Mexico*:  340
Total lifers:  138
Quesadillas consumed:  20+
Cookies consumed:  80+ (probably way more)
Bottles of el Jimador consumed by the group:  8??
 *This is my list, not the group list.  I missed many birds.

This means roughly 40% of the birds I saw were life birds.  Many more were birds I had only seen once or twice.

Now for Peso Island...

This fellow got us there

We visited this island off San Blas to see Purplish-backed Jays.  We saw them and they were rad and then they disappeared.  I offer you piglets instead, which are abundant on this island.

Royal and Common Tern pals

A Common Black Hawk was standing in the sand on the beach, then flew closer to us giving us ridiculous opportunities to crush it.

Nerd trio on a jetty

 Mexican skies are filled with frigatebirds

 Quality combo:  White-collared Seedeater and Great Kiskadee

American Oystercatcher

Steve crushing that poor oystercatcher

That's it.  That's all of it.  Mexico is over.

A million thank yous to Steve for planning this whole thing.  Sometimes I think about how different my life would be if I had not met Steve, and it is too sad to dwell on for even a few minutes.  He is probably the best birder I know and for some reason puts up with all of my stupid questions and rarely makes me feel like an idiot.  I could gush all day about his many attributes but I won't because I don't show emotion.

Let it be known that I also adore Frank, Dan, and Caroline (see nerd trio above), as they were fantastic birding and browning around companions.   I appreciate them putting up with me, my lack of birding skills, and Miss Brown on this trip.  

The best, most amazing, dazzling, and yet also good, times!!!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Gilliam County.

This will probably be my last Gilly post for a long time as I finished up my winter raptor surveys this week.  It's a beautiful county and I can only imagine how amazing it would be if it wasn't all private land. 

Run pronghorn run

 I ran the north part of the raptor route a couple weeks ago, stopping at an open structure where there is always a Barn Owl.  One might call it reliable.  But if I have learned anything about reliable birds, it is that they are not reliable. 

This is not a Barn Owl. 

My route took me past a couple approachable Prairie Falcons...

 Shortly after seeing the above bird I turned onto Bunker Hill Road and noticed a large pale hawk on an irrigation device. 

I got the scope out and I was 99% sure I was looking at a Ferruginous Hawk, a fine bird for winter in Gilliam County.  So fine that eBird scoffed and I doubted myself and sent a bad photo to Seagull for verification. 

These long drives are super boring for the dogs and we have to get out to stretch our legs here and there...

On Thursday I went back out to run the south route finding a similar number of birds but with far less diversity (RTHA, RLHA, AMKE, PRFA).  Good mammals though, and the scenery never disappoints.

Roughie staredown

In Buttermilk Canyon a Say's Phoebe was flying out and singing from the high rocks while Canyon Wrens hopped around plucking insects from the low rocks.

Not far from here I caught sight of a herd of Rocky Mountain elk on the next ridge. 

Here I also had my first wildflowers of the season to look up!  If only I could retain flower info from year to year this would be much easier.  My Oregon Wildflower app tells me this is sagebrush buttercup:

Before descending into the town of Lonerock there is a nice stretch of hillsides scattered with junipers that Mountain Chickadees and Townsend's Solitaires love.

As I was returning from the short stretch of raptor route south of Lonerock I came across a flock of 52 Wild Turkeys in a field.  I only saw four records in eBird of turkeys in Gilliam, the highest number being 10 at one time, so I was concerned they were not actually wild.  But they were.  I have since learned at least one other person has had a large flock near Lonerock.   County bird.  Year bird.  Yay.

After backtracking through town I started the climb up Lonerock Road, stopping short when I saw a small mammal on the side of the road. 

Marmot!  This yellow-bellied marmot took me by surprise as I had never seen one away from really high elevations (Mt Rainier, Mt Hood, Yellowstone, etc) and I was only at 2800 feet.  The internet strongly suggests they are found at 6000+ feet but in talks with other Oregon birders I have learned they actually have a much bigger range.  That's awesome though I can imagine them being a yard pest in some places. 

The internet mentioned they wake from hibernation the last week of February so this dude was right on schedule. 

Somewhere along the way I stopped to check out a gorgeous horse family who wanted nothing to do with me. 

See ya.

The route ends in Arlington where I drove out to the port on the Columbia to look for ducks and things.  Close in Barrow's Goldeneyes are nice. 

That's it from Gilliam County where my list stands at 107.  Not bad for such a weird county.  Good times!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Edmonds, mostly.

Yesterday I planned to finally make the trek up to Seattle to hunt down a life bird, Common Redpoll, as a flock of 40+ birds had been making the rounds of Green Lake Park.  They had been seen daily for over a month and I believe I referred to them as "reliable" when I convinced Audrey to join the chase. Our first stop of the day was at a hotspot called Weyerhauser Pond for a weirdly large flock of Redheads. 

It was freezing and foggy but the birds were there, a lifer for Audrey. 

From there we drove straight to the redpoll spot located along a ridiculously busy multi-use trail that circumvents Green Lake in a residential neighborhood.  So busy that Audrey said "it's like a parade" which was totally accurate.  We spent an hour and a half walking the dogs up and down the trail in the area the birds are known to frequent, staring at birches hoping they would come to life with redpolls.  They did not.

 Luckily we had more places to visit and things to see, and we headed north to Edmonds.

Edmonds waterfront on Puget Sound

I cannot remember why I first visited this town years ago, but I have been several times since and it's always awesome.  Lots of great birds hang out close to shore or in the marina, and a pier offers a decent spot to check for alcids.  Within minutes Audrey had her lifer Red-necked Grebe hanging out with a pile of Red-breasted Mergansers and a couple Horned Grebes.

We began walking out on the pier and noticed a couple people looking below at something.  Harbor seal! 

It was too much, we had to walk away.  We didn't get far because there was a female kingfisher perched on some fish art not giving an eff about people.  It was insane. 

We crept closer and she kept not caring.


Then she dove straight down, snagged a fish, and flew up to a perch.  This was when you might say "hilarity ensued."  She started slapping the fish back and forth on the metal beam she perched upon.  It was so loud and we could not stop laughing as it went on for SO long.  Finally she swallowed it and returned to her perch for another. 

This was not a life bird nor a year bird nor even a county bird for this random county in Washington.  A good reminder that sometimes the best things do not fit on a list.  Or a reminder to start a "Birds I have seen slapping a fish around" list. 

We walked out on the pier after that, finding some Surf Scoters directly beneath us.

There had been Surfbirds reported from the jetty but all we could find were starlings and Dunlin.  A wander through the marina turned up more common birds giving us fantastic looks. 

Underwater Horned Grebe

We came across a Common Goldeneye trying to eat some kind of crustacean.

Finally she swallowed it and dove back down to look for another.  One of the best things about this area is being able to see birds swim underwater.   So cool.   A second trip out on the pier turned up a Pigeon Guillemot close in.

Some Brant flew by that I later learned were yet another life bird for Audrey.  Luckily we got closer views from Sunset Ave. 

After Edmonds we headed to Discovery Park where I took no photos, so I'll skip ahead to our return trip to Green Lake.  We decided to give it our all and walk around the whole lake, 2.8 miles according to the internet.  Nope.  No redpolls.  Sometime between our morning trip and our afternoon trip someone reported them in the birches, right where they were supposed to be.  Reliable. 

So yes, we dipped but I am so glad we tried anyway, and am still amazed at how well-behaved my dogs were all day.  I've been working on their leash-reactivity and holy crap, we were walking right by tons of dogs without them so much as sniffing the air.  This is a victory I cannot even describe as it's something that has been super hard to deal with the last couple years.   The good dogs combined with the kingfisher and all the other fun stuff made this a day worthy of the title "good times!"

Friday, February 19, 2016

Mexico...Volcán Nevado de Colima y Playa del Oro.

January 15th was arguably the best day of birding we had in Mexico.  We drove up Volcán Nevado de Colima into the area designated as a national park and birded the hell out of it.  If you want to see a ridiculous eBird checklist, look at ours here.  

Chestnut-sided Shrike-Vireo.  Smoky-brown Woodpecker.  Transvolcanic Jay.  Fucking Slaty fucking Vireo.  Long-tailed Wood-Partridges calling.  Crested Guans flushing from trees.  There was a lot going on and I don't have any bird photos at all from it.  

Nerds in front of fake-looking scenery (Volcán de Fuego aka Volcán de Colima)

 Anyone know what this is?  

It was a very long, very awesome day that did not end like a normal day.  No.  We had been admiring the view of Volcán de Fuego all day but when we were getting ready to turn around someone noticed it was getting active.  This took us all by surprise.

The car was probably a mile away so we eventually decided to just not worry about it.  

 Steve picking out hawks through the volcano ash clouds

The next morning when we were heading out of town to return to other parts of the volcano we immediately saw the same thing happen.  It is common. 

Volcanoes make for good selfie backgrounds. 

The location above was a random stop (I think) where the road crossed a dryish river bed where men were collecting boulders.  A sign warned against stealing birds.

Crossing the path were a bunch of leaf cutter ants which are so freakin cool:

From the bridge I managed my first and only photos of Varied Buntings, also freakin cool.

From this stop we headed to Laguna La María, a well-maintained park on a lake complete with a playground and domestic geese.  Caroline showed her dominance to the geese whereas I got nipped by one that could smell my fear.  

Over a hundred Lilac-crowned Parrots were flying around when we arrived.  

So many Jasmines.

There were some cool trails leading into the woods where I finally saw an Olivaceous Woodcreeper.

Such a good photo.

 Around the lake there were plenty of great birds, ripe for the picking. 

 Tufted Flycatcher

 Ivory-billed Woodcreeper

Black-throated Green Warbler

Somewhere it is stated that a good place to find Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrushes is around the picnic tables.  Es verdad. 

What a pleasant little bird. 

That night we stayed in a very pink motel in Barra de Navidad, the most touristy ridiculous town we visited.  It was super cheap (I want to say 500 pesos?!) and we had the top floor to ourselves which included a rooftop patio and a dead armadillo.  After securing booze at the Oxxo where I was offered both blow and weed, we settled in to watch an amazing scene:  thousands of Barn Swallows flying in to roost just up the street.  They covered powerlines and walls and ledges and windowsills.

The next morning we headed out to Playa del Oro, a favorite party spot of local teenagers.  The road leading to the beach was a good one. 


 Citreoline Trogon

From the beach we are able to scope Red-billed Tropicbirds, Black and Common Terns, and Brown Boobies.  It was warm and the ocean looked deceptively soothing.  Frank and Dan both wanted to get up in there.

I won't speak of the events that transpired following this photo except to say that Steve had to take over driving responsibilities and Frank became Hank.  

There it is.  The Chrysler.  A Mexican miracle occurred upon returning the chrysler to the rental agency:  they only charged us $80 for damages.  And none of that was from the car I sideswiped that first night when I was still allowed to drive.  

We left the beach and headed back along the entrance road, stopping where Dan had seen a Golden-crowned Emerald earlier.  This was a bird Frank had also secured when no one else was around.  Amazingly, we found the emerald in exactly the place where Dan took us and we all bowed to it's fork-tailed loveliness.  No photos of course. 

For lunch that day we dined with Brown Pelicans in Barra de Navidad and Caroline and I drank the only strong margaritas of the whole trip.

From there we headed back to Rancho Primavera for our last night in Mexico.  Good times!!!