Wednesday, November 9, 2016

1 Was By Sea, 2 Was By Land - Calibirdication Day 10

Summon out the rain clouds
Someone should hear how loud we sing
Blinded by the notion
Of fog in an ocean, all around
Oh Monterey
How can I say
I'll always stay
And slip away

Today's birding was planned around birding the Monterey vicinity, and visiting the world famous aquarium. We started out by heading to the Esplanade Park, where Lisa had scouted an eburd spot for us to hit. On the way we passed a small pond and got Pied-billed Grebe, a nice get for the day.

This park was a few blocks of greenery in the center of the road between the quaint houses that make up Pacific Grove. It was quite nice to walk around the neighborhood and find birds in the park and in the yards of the houses as well. 

Nuttall's Woodpecker was a save for the trip, and it didn't hurt that it cooperated nicely. Another nice bird here was Townsend's Warbler, as well as Yellow Warbler. We saw more of the usual suspects and then moved over to the rocky shoreline and walked our way towards Asilomar. 

Arlene and I mused over the rugged beauty of the shoreline and compared it to Maine's coast while Lisa in her typically overly enthusiastic deportment mentioned that she wanted to find Black Oystercatchers. I said: 'gimme a minute'.

I think it took six minutes, but find one I did, and then two more. Striking bird, nice lifer for Arlene. And then in the same vicinity I spotted Marbled Godwit, and Surf Bird: the latter so named because its call sounds like "gnarly dude". 

Hidden a bit but visible nonetheless was a Wandering Tattler which afforded us much better looks than the first one we had at the start of the trip, and Black-bellied Plover.The later was much more photographically cooperative than the aforementioned.

Black-bellied Plover

A short distance down was a pond where we watched the distinguished looking Heerman's Gulls bathe.

Heerman's Gulls
When we were satisfied with our birding in these locations, it was suggested that we go to the Aquarium as had been planned because of strong desire to see Sea Otters, and the fact that its one heck of an aquarium.

Having seen otters in the wild very well on this trip, and noting that it was mid-day on a Sunday with teeming masses probable, Arlene and I declined because we did not feel like dealing with the crowds. We dropped Lisa off at the Aquarium, and thought lunch and a brew at the Alvarado Street Brewery was a better idea for us.

Having walked past it a few times it had called to us like a siren. A siren with beer. How could we resist? OMG was it such a pleasure. Arlene and I sat outside while enjoying a tasty lunch, some exceptionally tasty beer, and relaxed - something we had not really had the opportunity to do on this trip. That was by design, "bird til you drop" you know...

Cookies and Creme
"Inspired by the wave of Golden Milk Stouts some of our favorite breweries are making, we decided to replicate Oreo Cookies in beer form, with a luscious, milkshake-like texture on nitro. Ample amounts of Dutch cocoa, Madagascar bourbon vanilla beans & Ecuadorian cacao nibs coupled with minimal bitterness and a rich, toasty malt base, this beer is ice cream in a glass."

We had luxuriated and relaxed, and when we were summoned by Lisa who had completed her visit to the aquarium, we collected her and headed off on more exploration.

Our first stop was Fort Ord, an impromptu stop. We had a nice walk and got good looks at Pyghatch, Spohee, Bewicks and House Wren and Chestnut-backed Chickadee before continuing on to Moon Glow again.

This visit was far more productive, as we arrived much earlier than previously but... We got great looks at multiple White-tailed Kites, much differently colored Red-tailed Hawks. Red-shouldered Hawks, Harrier, and Merlin rounded out the raptors, and we added American Goldfinch for the trip. 

We also met the owner of the property who stopped to check in on us. He was very affable, and happy that we had traveled from the east coast to visit his farm. The bad news for us was that he said that the best way to see the Tri-colored Blackbirds was in the morning. We had missed them again, and for the trip. Doh! Oh well, better luck next time, but a wonderful visit to Monterey and vicinity nonetheless.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Moby Tick, Or The White Wagtail

Picture of the picture on Earic's camera

It all began when I arrived home and got a text from Mike Zino’s Petrel. I had not heard about any new rarities so when he asked if I was going to Rye, I presumed he meant for the Virginia’s Warbler in Westchester, NY. He did not. He sent me a screen shot of the news from the alert. Wow!

White Wagtail was not on my radar, and I thought it would be a life bird. It turns out I had seen it back in 1979 in Israel, so this would still be a bird for my ABA list and a neat bird that I had not seen in many years.

Mike though inquisitive was also tentative: long drive, rain, blah blah blah.  I was piqued. I read the reports and reached out to old friend Steve Strickland’s Woodpecker from up that way. The reports were not 100% encouraging, but encouraging enough. For me anyway. The White Wagtail was discovered by birder Josh Gahagan at Ragged Neck on 11-2. It lingered most of the day of discovery for lots of folks to see it.

I next began the all important task of grabbing a posse. No. Can’t. Can’t. No. Finally Earic Miller was interested, so things were looking up. A call to avIan Resnick gave the usual I’m interested but have to work tomorrow response. However, after much coercion I was surprised that eventually I was successful in convincing him that this was much needed debauchery. With others on board I suggested that Mike reconsider and he came aboard. I have a posse comitatus!

The weather forecast was of the sucky variety. I told avIan and reminded Earic that on the last twitch to NH the conditions were forecast to be similar. We met early in the am and got on our way.  The weather was holding on during our travel, and I checked the lists periodically for updates.
Dreary, but at least not raining and the foliage was nice

At 7Am the report was no sightings yet. I bit my tongue and do not tell the others. At 9am  the report was its been relocated! By 10am we made it to New Hampshire and made a pit stop at the welcome center.

While maneuvering into a parking spot we saw a man walk by who we looked at and looked at us. Do you know him? someone asked. I replied “no, but he looks like a birder, then again, most peoples apparel in New Hampshire makes them look like birders”.

Guess what: not only was he a birder, but none other than Donald Stokes of the field guide fame. He and his wife were on the way to the bird too.

What do you mean by 'where is the squirrel'
Inside, we had to squelch a moosogeny attempt by Mike, who was transfixed by the display. “Look at the snout on that thing - I must touch it!” “Come on Mike, we have to go” we said as we dragged him back to the car kicking and screaming....
Along the final stretch and on the lawn of a quintessentially New England home we saw some Turkeys  and arrived to a crowd of other birders at Rye Harbor Park by 10:30.  The word? No bird, but no rain so there was at least that. 

The bird had been relocated earlier in the day a short distance south of its original location by Steve, off Straw Point’s private property. After getting permission for people to visit, the bird flew off with only a couple of people seeing it. Dang!

Conferring with Steve now, most of us stayed where we were and birded this park while others tried to relocate the bird in areas not publicly accessible. Good thing, because as promised it began to rain. This was not so bad for us as there was a picnic shelter to stand under and a surprising number of good birds to look at while we hoped to find the intended target as well.

We saw Black-bellied Plover, Bonapate’s Gull, lots of Snow Buntings, several Common Eider, Common and Red-throated Loon, Surf and White-winged Scoter but also a late lingering Pectoral Sandpiper, and Ipswitch Sparrow. Even better was Red-necked Grebe, Western Grebe and an immature Black Guillemot.

We maintained hope that it would be relocated by at least one pair of the myriad eyes present. In the crowd of birders it was nice to recognize and greet Sam Millerbird who I had met previously also in New Hampshire, also at a good bird: a Redwing, and also in the rain.

Eventually I got a call from Steve that the bird had been relocated! The birders present were alerted and we made our way by following a local who knew the area so we caravanned it to Great Boar's Head some 7 miles away and 2.5hrs after the first sighting that day. What good birding detective work!!

We arrived and parked, but another birder was heading back to his car explaining that the bird had just split headed south a bit more. Double-dang! We continued down the road a little, parked, and tried scanning. Earic and Mike headed back north, while Ian and I looked from near where we parked.

After 10 minutes or so, Earic who had wandered back away, called me and relayed that a bunch of birders further on had just started running back towards the beach! I ran that way, as did Ian, and a bit out of breath we finally got to the sea wall where the crowd was either oohing and ahhing, or saying ‘where is it’? Of all the skills needed to bird, it amazes me how many folks still have not mastered how to relay the location of a bird to others.

To begin with, Do NOT say ‘straight ahead’. EVERYTHING you look at is straight ahead of you! Do NOT say ‘in the tree’, chances are there are a lot of trees where you are if you are birding. Instead select a ~distinct~ landmark; something that is unique to orient others to where you are looking. Then say come forward, left, right etc of that object. If it is a tree, start as before to get the correct tree then use the clock method- 9 o’clock... 3 feet in and towards the back etc.

Of course its nice to get a photo too. That’s made a whole lot easier if you have your camera at hand. Doh! Ian volunteered to go back to the car and drive over. Unfortunately by the time he got back the bird had flown off yet again.

It flew quite a distance, and looked for all intents and purposes that it was gone. Photo-less were Ian and I, but Mike and Eric had gotten some. I need one of those bridge cameras that don’t weigh a ton like my beast.

Wow. Great bird! I thanked Steve for being so diligent in making sure people knew about this bird, and when he pointed out Jeanne-Marie Mash-Harrier, the person who had relocated it here. I thanked her as well. She had stopped here because she thought it was good habitat. Then she heard it call! Way to go Jeanne-Marie! And well deserved of the thank you hug I gave her.

We were all understandably happy with our splendid views of this rarity, and upon its departure, we sought out comestibles. Petey’s was recommended, and with libations on tap and lobster on the menu who could argue with the choice? Most of us enjoyed a lobstah roll with a celebratory Guinness (or two).

Da boiz be chimpin

After lunch we made a brief attempt at a Western Kingbird 2 miles up the road at another beach, but dipped on that. Oh well, no complaints here, and it was time to hit the road.

The ride home was devoid of rain and traffic and with our return at a good hour, a most pleasant conclusion to another epic journey. ABA #717!

                         For a video of the bird click here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Albatross, Albatross, Get your Albatross - Calibirdication Day 9

The people came and birded.
Some of them came and played
Others gave flowers away, yes they did
Down in Monterey,
Down in Monterey.

Albatross! Albatross!
We awoke after a very restful sleep. Staying at the Days Inn afforded us ease of access to the dock where our pelagic would be departing. We went on foot and perused the nearby restaurants and such. We had great anticipation of this our second pelagic of the trip, which was egged on by the message below From Alvaro, the trip leader. We had to be the first ones to the dock.

    Hello all,
        Conditions are forecast to be relatively calm, low winds and low waves on Saturday. It will be neat to see what is out there in these conditions, which make it easier to see small birds like storm-petrels and murrelets. As well, it is a great situation to find whales, so we have a nice weather setup. We hope that the calm conditions also allow for good photography! There may be patchy fog, but hopefully that will not last for long...

At the dock we got our first goodies. A Sea Otter was floating under the nearby structure and munching on Pelagic Crabs, and the latter were floating just under the surface. They look like shell-less hermit crabs, and are related to them. Large numbers of them have been in the area and this happens from time to time. It is said that they are related to warm water and skew the normally cold water fish further north.

Sea Otter enjoying breakfast

Pelagic Crab

Lisa as well as everyone else I'm sure, was pleased to see this cute beast. Lisa had this creature high on her desire list so she was hoping to be able to see one. And there it was within a few feet, exuding cuteness. Also at the dock were Barn Swallows, swooping right past us. Not what I expected here but hey. Of course as we motored out we got the expected stuff: Black Turnstone, Brandt's Cormorant, Brown Pelican,  Heermann's Gull, Common Murre, on the very populated jetty.

Brant's Cormorants and California Sea Lions

Black Turnstone

Common Murre disgusted by the slacker Sea Lions
Great Egret hunting on a kelp forest's canopy

Too dam cute
Once we were out on the water, of course we had  Black-vented Shearwater and California Gull, but also Pomarine, Long-tailed, and Parasitic Jaeger.

Ever the elusive bunch, we did see a few Cassin's Auklets and Rhinoceros Auklets.

Rhinoceros Auklet

Rhinoceros Auklet

Risso's Dolphin

The ocean conditions were sublime

'Common' Murre is an appropriate name here abouts

Sooty Shearwaters

Yeah, the ocean conditions didn't suck!

A special highlight was a flock, yes a ~flock~ of Albatross'. We came upon a research vessel with them queued up behind it, and we were able to stop nearby and observe. It was not to long before the Albatross' noticed us and swam over! 

Albatross! Albatross!

I'll Take Two

What flavor is it?
Flavor? Albatross!
Do you get wafers with it?

Sheesh, next you'll be asking for Gannet on a stick

It was so calm, that Common Terns and Elegant Turns were loafing on strands of bull kelp way out off shore.

Common and Elegant Tern
But surely the unique conditions were the most memorable, as throughout the day the birds were mirrored in the surface of the water so the looks at the Fulmar weren't too shabby.

Northern Fulmar with multiple reflections!

Red-necked Phalaropes reflected

Red-necked Phalaropes reflected

Red-necked Phalaropes resting

Northern Fulmar

Of course there was other amazing sightings along the way that involved creatures that inhabit the other side of the waters surface.

Humpback Whale

Krill being chased by fish

Krill leaping out of the water in a frenzy
We drifted over to the commotion and as we approached we could not only see them but hear the splashing of the jumping krill, see the fish that were chasing them, and even catch wiffs of  distinct krill odor. Wow! We even heard the krill scream; they said: save us Shrimpke!, But there was nothing Lisa could do. And then the whales swallowed them. {the fish and krill, but not Lisa }

the whales gulped down

The sun never came out, but this sunfish, or Mola Mola did.
Blue Whales are huge!
Lest you think the bird show stopped, it didn't. Sabines Gulls in all stages of plumage became more and more numerous and gave goods looks as did some of the other birds we hoped to get good looks at.

Sabine's Gull

Pink-footed Shearwater

Cassin's Auklet
Yes! Finally a good look at and a photo of this elusive though not particularly rare auklet. But alas all things come to an end and we motored back to port; though the gifts came coming right up to our approaching the dock.

A Pigeon Guillemot was feeding its young most confidingly.

Pigeon Guillemot

Young Guillemot trying to swallow a skulpin

Arriving at the dock we decided to make the most of remaining daylight, because that’s what daylight is for, and headed up to the Elkhorn Slough area. A pit-stop at a farm stand was nice for a snack of battered deep fried artichoke. Yum!

We followed the road that took us all around this inlet / estuary otherwise known as a slough, and it was picturesque, but not entirely obvious where folks stopped to bird.

So we followed directions and headed towards the eburd hotspot Lisa had found in preparation for this trip. Definitely a good resource, but not a complete one. I prefer to use the ABA 'Lane' guides, which give a lot more information beside what has been seen there recently.

Important stuff like driving directions, access, hours, days closed, fees etc. It really sucks to get somewhere and finding out that it is closed, or in this case that the sign says private property do not enter...

I had tried to look up some info on the Moon Glow Dairy prior to the trip but nothing specific did I find. After looking at the map and the hotspot location I figured we must be in the right place sign or not. 

A very pleasant get was a Golden Eagle on Dolan Road. We entered the dairy mindful that it was a working farm and tried to stay out of the way. We saw lots more birds such as Savannah Sparrows, Killdeer, and by the cattle we had Brown-headed Cowbird, Brewer's Blackbird, and Red-winged Blackbird...? 

This place was supposed to be -the- place for Tricolored Blackbird, but the views were furtive and we, and especially I, did not hear them sing or call. The birds sound so different from one another that had they vocalized we would have been certain of the ID

We headed down towards the water view where we saw a lot of good stuff. White Pelican, Kingfisher, Snegret, Black Phoebe, Americoot, and heard Great Horned Owl.

My should have been favorite bird here was the Chickadees we had in the Eucalyptus trees, as they were a trip bird. Having spent so much time in the mountains I reflexively blurted out Mountain Chickadee. Lisa rapidly pointed out that in this location we should be getting Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and she was correct. Much to her delight. Much much to her delight; as she savored pointing out I was incorrect and then enjoined Arlene to taunted me mercilessly. My plaintive cries that they look the same from underneath went unheeded. "We're not in the mountains" they rebuked. Golly. All day out on the ocean and dulled by Dramamine { which I took though it was thoroughly unnecessary } and not a sliver of sympathy. 

Chestnut-backed Chickadee
One of the last birds we saw here was a very secretive Wilson's Warbler. It was in a dense shrub so getting good looks was tough, but we finally saw its yarmulke and cinched the ID. 

With light fading we decided to try Moss Landing, and did nicely there. Western Grebe is always a nice sight, as well as White-crowned Sparrow. And much to Lisa's delight we saw more Otters floating in the water. She was even more delighted when I misidentified them as Wolverines. Will the taunting ever stop?