Welcome to the ongoing quest to photograph 700 or more ABA countable North American bird species. Of the 732 total species of birds possible to see in North America currently published to this site, the number of ABA “countable” species presently stands at:
April 7 – 17, 2015: Colorado
Purple Swamphens at Green Cay
March 20: Purple Swamphens have become permanent residents at Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach. Look for a pair of them half-way across the north end of the wetlands on the north side of the boardwalk.
March 14: La Sagra’s Flycatcher is primarily a Caribbean species, but each year one or two are seen in South Florida and this year is no exception. Currently there is one at Lantana Nature Preserve, a small nature trail adjacent to the inland waterway on East Ocean Blvd. in Lantana, less than fifteen minutes from where we are renting this winter in Boynton Beach. A few minutes’ patience will be rewarded with the bird flying into its favorite gumbo limbo tree along the main trail just across the small bridge by the butterfly garden. Not a bad way to mark my 70th birthday…read more »
February 2-6: During three prior trips to the Texas lower Rio Grande Valley, one species that managed to elude me all three times despite hours of searching, is the Aplomado Falcon. Accordingly I resolved to one day make another trip to the valley, but at such time that the prospect of an especially tempting rarity or two would make the trip extra worthwhile. So when a Gray-crowned Yellowthroat showed up at Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco on January 24, to complement the first-time-in-the US Striped Sparrow that was being seen in Williamson County since January 11, it was finally time to head back to Texas. To add to the allure, these three species could bring the ABA photographed species total for birdspix.com up to 700, not even including the planned stop at Aransas Bay for Whooping Cranes.
I arrived in Harlingen at 10:30 AM on February 2 and headed straight from the airport to Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco, but the Yellowthroat, which had been seen two or three times earlier in the morning, was not to be spotted again that day, so I planned to return early the following morning, hopeful despite the weather report for temperatures in the 40’s with a strong likelihood of rain.
Accordingly, I was at the appropriate spot on the Spoonbill Trail by 7:45 AM, only to be told by the one other observer there that I had just missed the bird by five minutes. By and by a small group gathered, and the Yellowthroat actually was briefly seen twice, but both times off the trail at a spot where I somehow managed not to be, and by noon I had to leave in order to allow adequate afternoon time for the elusive Aplomado Falcon.
The falcon search began along route 100 which runs east-west past the northern end of the Old Port Isabel Road north of Brownsville, since Old Port Isabel Road itself, also a place where Aplomado Falcons are known, is too muddy to traverse at this time of year. With no luck there, it was on to Lake Buena Vista Boulevard, which runs past the Cameron County Airport and becomes the access road to Laguna Atascosa NWR. With a bit of patience, this general area, with the fence posts on either side of the road, starting just north of the airport, is arguably the best place in Texas to find Aplomados. The falcons hunt the fields here and repeatedly return to the roadside fence posts to eat their catch, usually a small bird. I spotted a juvenile Aplomado on a fence post almost right away, but I had seen it too late and the car spooked the bird, which flew off to perch on a low tree branch some hundred yards away. I continued on about a mile and made a u-turn, hoping the falcon might return to its roadside fence post, but it remained on its same distant perch. Then, just a hundred yards up on the opposite side of the road, a pair of adult Aplomados flew in, one with a fresh kill. As I inched the car forward with the window rolled down, the birds paid me no mind at all, and I was able to spend an uninterrupted half hour observing them. The bird with the kill (which looked to be a swallow) proceeded to devour its meal while refusing to share even a morsel of it with its mate. They were still there when the forecasted rain finally began in earnest and I left, feeling elated, just before the heavens opened up.
The third day (second morning) the rain had moved out, and I had the entire day, if necessary, back at Estero Llano Grande since there was now no need to return to falcon country. This time the Gray-crowned Yellowthroat called cooperatively and popped up out of the deep grass at 8:45 AM and remained more or less in view continuously for some twenty-five minutes allowing for excellent viewing and photography. Ample free time then remained to find a few other local specialties here including a beautiful male Green Kingfisher at Alligator Pond.
Next was an afternoon drive up US route 77 and then through Corpus Christi to Rockport on Aransas Bay, the winter home of nearly all of the world’s limited population of Whooping Cranes. It was foggy in the morning and the 7:30 AM three-hour Whooping Crane outing on Captain Tommy Moore’s “Skimmer” had to be canceled, but we went out at 1 PM instead. The fog had lifted and it was unseasonably cold, but boating conditions on Aransas Bay were otherwise fine. Captain Tommy, a knowledgeable birder in his own right, has a jovial upbeat manner, and takes special pride in endeavoring to provide as good views as possible of Whooping Cranes for his visitors, many of whom have traveled to Rockport especially for that purpose. Tommy also suggested an after-boating stop at the nearby Big Tree area outside Goose Island SP where one can usually find additional Whooping Cranes in the cow fields there, and indeed such turned out to be the case. If you visit Rockport, be sure to try Charlotte Plummer’s Seafare Restaurant and order the house specialty baked fish – one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in many years of birding travels.
The last morning of the trip, following an overnight in Rockdale in Williamson County, began at sunrise along the San Gabriel River at a junction of two country roads where a lone Striped Sparrow, a first ever US sighting, was being reported keeping company with a mixed flock of other sparrows. The flock turned out to include Harris’s, Lincoln’s, Savannah, Song, White-crowned, White-throated, and Swamp, as well as numerous Northern Cardinals, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Dark-eyed Juncos, but to my utter amazement the very first bird I spotted on arrival to the site at 7:30 AM was the Striped Sparrow itself, perched all alone conspicuously in a small tree along the roadside fence. It stayed in view for just a few minutes before it disappeared and, while I remained for another three hours hoping for a closer view, I never saw it again.
This Texas trip turned out to be the culmination of a ten year quest to photograph 700 ABA species in North America. Aplomado Falcon (recently made “countable”) was no. 698, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat 699, and Whooping Crane no. 700. Striped Sparrow becomes no. 701.read more »
January 11, 2015: In January, 2009, shortly after our annual “snowbird” migration from Connecticut back to Florida, an Ivory Gull showed up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I was still fairly new to birding then and didn’t fully realize what a rarity the Ivory Gull was, or I might have at least considered a flight up and back to New England to see it, but it wasn’t until a few more years had passed that I resolved to do everything within reason to try to see an Ivory Gull if and when such an opportunity ever presented itself again.
On January 2, 2015 an adult Ivory Gull was first reported along the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois. By the sheerest coincidence the location happens to be less than an hour from the Missouri home of my good friend and birding colleague Bob Mustell, who viewed the bird on January 4 and encouraged me to come visit. Last minute airfares being as ridiculous as they are, I thought this would be out of the question until a web search turned up a late Thursday evening non-stop flight on Frontier Airlines from Fort Lauderdale to Saint Louis for an almost unbelievable $49, and so the game was afoot!
After my overnight stay near the airport, Bob picked me up promptly at 8 AM, and after a brief en route stop at his home, we arrived at Quinsippi Island in Quincy, Illinois just before 11. The problem inherent with contemplating a long trip for just one lone bird is of course that the bird may simply have departed the night before, so this was going to be a case of either joyful vindication or ignominious defeat, but on this very cold but perfect sunny day with a brilliant, cloudless azure sky, the bird gods smiled upon us. At the marina we found about ten parked cars and folks with cameras and telescopes – just the very sight we were hoping would greet us – and there was the unmistakable pure white gull perched conspicuously at the apex of the aluminum roof of one of the marina sheds. Except for a short time-out for lunch at the Burger King in nearby Quincy, we were able to spend some three-plus unhurried hours photographing the Ivory Gull and studying its habits.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at various spots along the Mississippi River admiring the views and watching the absolutely astounding numbers of Bald Eagles. Much of the river was frozen, but rushing water at the various locks and dams provided open holes for the eagles to easily find fish. I have never seen anywhere close to this many Bald Eagles in one place. We also noted several large flotillas of ducks, primarily Common Mergansers.
The following morning we looked for Eurasian Tree Sparrows in some wild brushy areas, but they tend to congregate mainly at residential feeders at this time of year, and we found none in the wild areas. We did have some ten species, the most notable being a group of three Northern Bobwhite that scampered across a dirt road just in front of the car.
It helps to have luck on your side. We saw the Ivory Gull so easily on Friday, but, as I learned on social media only after returning home to Florida, all the people who went to see it on Saturday, many from who knows how far away, were in for a major disappointment. The gull was gone.read more »
January 3, 2015: Today we conducted our annual bird count here in the Boynton Beach – Hyploluxo – Wellington section of Palm Beach County. We tallied some 75 species, but once again this year the dwindling number of passerines was undeniable. For example, whereas just a few years ago we had a number of productive sparrow fields in our assigned canvassing area, today our complete sparrow count in the entire territory was a grand total of three individual birds. One sparrow field is now part of Bethesda Hospital West, a second has been bulldozed for yet another new gated community, and a third is now a new polo field. The birds are gone, gone, gone, and it’s more than sad because these disappearing sparrows are the canary in a much larger coal mine, and no one seems to take note.
There were no particular rarities, although an American Wigeon and several small groups of Lesser Scaup were uncommon for the area. The most unusual observation actually turned out to be a Great Blue Heron trying unsuccessfully to swallow a large turtle.read more »
December 27: This morning it was time for another visit to Storm Water Treatment area 5 (STA-5) in Hendry County, FL, this time to help my young friend Ari Dinerman find some new Florida life birds. The area is generally not open to the public, but one can make arrangements to visit on alternate Saturday mornings. Many species of water fowl and shorebirds can be found here, and it is the most reliable spot in the state for seeing Snail Kites. Notable of the 55 species seen this morning were five Snail Kites, four Fulvous Whistling Ducks, eleven Common Ground-Doves, five Roseate Spoonbills, and a Great Blue Heron white morph (Great White Heron). Just outside the entrance road (Deer Fence Road) we counted five Scissor-tailed Flycatchers along route 835.
On the way back to Boynton Beach we made a stop south of Belle Glade to visit with Rick Raid who was kind enough to spend two hours helping us find some Barn Owl nesting and roosting spots. Prior to today, the only Barn Owl I had managed to photograph in the wild was sleeping in a cave on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos.
This northwestern part of Palm Beach County is an important sugar cane growing area where small rodents abound making for ideal Barn Owl habitat. Barn Owls are nocturnal hunters and like to spend their days in a dark secluded corner among the roof rafters of an old building. In addition Rick and his group have set out over a hundred nesting boxes in the sugar cane fields, virtually all of which have attracted families of Barn Owls. Unlike most other species, the eggs are laid three days apart so that hatchlings in the nest are typically in different stages of maturation. We found many regurgitated “pellets” which, when dissected, reveal the fur and disjointed skeletons of the voles and mice that comprise the major portion of the Barn Owls’ diet.read more »