Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Out of area: WA/OR trip

On probably the last birding trip of the year - since I do mainly late winter and early summer trips - I went to the last chunk of the lower 48 that I hadn't really birded, the Pacific NW. I wound up with 19 life birds which is rather remarkable given that I started out with 622 USA species and it's hard to envision adding 19 in one trip. 9 of these were added in one day on a Westport Pelagic trip on 6/25: Sooty Shearwater, Pink-footed Shearwater, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Leach's Storm-Petrel, Black-footed Albatross, Laysan Albatross, Short-tailed Albatross, South Polar Skua and Cassin's Auklet. The Laysan's is fairly rare, but the Short-tailed Albatross is a real rarity with much excitement on the boat - there are only ~2,400 in the world. This one was an immature. Laysan is also unusual but it's possible that the tsunami kicked many off their breeding grounds this year. Previously I'd seen one Albatross species: Royal Albatross in NZ. I added 3 new ones on this trip.

Other lifers: Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled Murrelet, Common Murre, Tufted Puffin, Pacific Wren, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Northwestern Crow, Vaux's Swift, Cassin's Vireo, Tricolored Blackbird.

Pretty much impossible to see more than a few life birds in one trip in the Lower 48 going forward.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Arizona in flames

Way out of area, but anyone who has birded the sky islands of south-east Arizona can understand the cumulative horror of the extensive wildfires that are active right now.

The Chiricahua's (Portal, South Cave Creek, Paradise) are extensively burned, with a firestorm nuking Rustler Park, but S. Cave Creek partially saved by preventive burns. (Inciweb for Horseshoe Two, Coronado NF). The boundaries of this fire extend over the entire AZ Chiricahua footprint.

The nigh-on half-million acre Wallow fire at the eastern edge of AZ (away from the sky islands but still in valuable montane habitat).

The evolving Monument fire in the Huachucas (inciweb link now active) which appears to have consumed chunks of Ash Canyon and rumor has it burning Mary Jo Ballator's birding B&B. There was a brief fire in Ramsey Cyn recently. Evacuation seems possible for Miller Cyn now. Lack of containment on that fire would see decimation of Miller, Carr and Ramsey Cyns.

The Murphy fire west of I-19 and nw of Nogales that probably burned out Sycamore Cyn and covered the area around Pena Blanca Lake.

So far Madera Cyn and Mt Lemmon don't have fires on them or this might constitute a total loss of habitat. Of course fires are part of the natural process and some fire suppression policies in national forests might have contributed to the severity of this - but the drought is the biggest issue and perhaps these fires won't be totally over until the monsoon season in July, assuming it arrives.

The fires mentioned above cover large areas that I visited in the AZ segment of my AZ-NM-CO birding trip in 2006 (Sycamore, Ramsey, Miller, Carr, Ash, S. Cave Creek Canyons, Rustler Park in three different mountain ranges)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Negri-Nepote Dickcissel

Trying to pack in a few breeding season sites in good weather before I wander off to the Pacific NW I went to Six Mile Run (Grasshopper Sparrow etc) and Negri-Nepote Grasslands. I've been to Negri-Nepote before but not very often - it's just far enough away to represent a higher effort barrier. However this Franklin Twp-managed site is better than Griggstown and probably should become my spring-summer alternative to that.

For example: I heard (and probably saw) a Grasshopper Sparrow within the first 200 yards from the parking lot at Negri-Nepote. I wasn't there for very long since this was a short visit sandwiched between Six Mile Run and work. Predictable birds were: Indigo Bunting, House Wren, Field Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat. On the pond was a male Mallard, Killdeer, Great Egret and a swarm of feeding swallows (Tree, Barn). The bird I mainly came to see was a singing male Dickcissel, given a relatively monotonous and uninspired song even compared to other Dickcissels, but it did make it pretty easy to find.

Dickcissel's breeding range once covered the Atlantic coast but breeding in this area has become a rare to very rare event. They breed here and there in Delaware, but breeding in NJ is extremely irregular. Normally I see this species as a misdirected fall migrant (Jones Beach) or more rarely as a spring wanderer (Central Park) but this is the first Dickcissel I've seen in NJ. Unlike the movement of Cassin's Sparrow's east in response to the major drought of the interior west, there's no obvious climatic reason for Dickcissel turning up in NJ. I saw some in very late May in coastal TX at Anahuac NWR, in March in FL, and for me this is a banner year for them since previously I've seen them very infrequently.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Grasslands, 6/12

Sunday wasn't any better weather-wise than Saturday, and in fact it was lightly drizzling by the time I reached Six Mile Run State Park (Franklin Twp, NJ). I found the usual suspects fairly straightforwardly: the usual Willow Flycatcher tussle near the parking lot (could it actually be the same two males each year), American Goldfinch feeding in the thistle, Tree Swallow and Barn Swallow, Field Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow out in the field. One Grasshopper Sparrow was singing consistently and the other one (also probably male) was just giving contact calls. One singing male Indigo Bunting, a distant Prairie Warbler, Eastern Bluebirds, and an adult Cooper's Hawk hunting the area. The Red-winged Blackbirds must have just fledged or be close to it - several males ended up hovering in an agitated way over my head although they didn't dive-bomb me.

No orioles and no Blue Grosbeak, but Willow Flycatcher and Grasshopper Sparrow were new birds for the year.

A few miles to the south I visited Griggstown. I didn't hear any Grasshopper Sparrows, nor any Indigo Buntings, but I did add both Baltimore and Orchard Orioles for the day. Red-winged Blackbird numbers seemed low and this site definitely appears not to have bounced back from mismanagement in recent years. We shall see if it pulls in the sparrows this fall.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Baldpate Mtn, 6/11

An early morning check of the radar showed a patch of thunderstorms headed toward Mercer county so I ran errands while waiting for the storms to pass by. Afterwards I drove up to the top of Baldpate and found almost exactly the same species as a previous visit. Notably no Kentuckys singing at any point, although it being later in the morning and later in the year may play a role.

I also explored the trails off the north side of Baldpate via the parking lot at the powerline cut. This had lots of habitat that seemed Hooded/Kentucky-friendly yet I only came up with one singing Hooded on the mile-long loop trip.

Upsides were House Wren nesting in the trail map structure, Great Crested Flycatcher, singing Blue-winged Warbler (not seen).

Hairy Woodpecker
Great Crested Flycatcher
Red-eyed Vireo
House Wren
Wood Thrush
Gray Catbird
Blue-winged Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler
Hooded Warbler
Eastern Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting

Friday, June 3, 2011

Louisiana May-June

Away from the NYC area I took advantage of a conference trip to New Orleans in late May into June to do a little birding for one of my nemesis birds: Bachman's Sparrow. Via my own research and a lot of helpful advice from TX birders they weren't all that hard to find at Boykin Springs and another site, both near Jasper TX in the pine woods at the eastern edge of the state. As a bonus I saw two Red-cockaded Woodpeckers at the second site, these being my second and third RCWO respectively.

June is going to be the month for trips - I'm off on a pacific northwest trip in two weeks.