(written for Fort Worth Audubon newsletter).
hard to believe it, but I’m doing something even more obsessive and crazy than my 2005 Texas big year of birding. I’m
doing an ABA big year—which means that I am trying to see as many bird species in the continental US and Canada in one
year as I can.
So far it’s been great fun,
with only a few big misses. I began the year doing a big day on January 1 with 4 women birders from Rockport (where my husband
and I were vacationing). We got 101 species, a great start. Among the expected coastal species that we saw were Brown and
American White Pelican, ducks including Common Goldeneye, all sorts of egrets and herons, and all of the Texas grackles. After
that Debra Corpora from Rockport and I went to the lower Rio Grande Valley for 3 days to find as many of the valley specialties
as we could—such as Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca, Green Parakeet, Ringed and Green Kingfisher, Groove-billed Ani,
Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Common Pauraque, and Clay-colored Robin, plus the rare Dusky-capped Flycatcher being seen at
Sabal Palm sanctuary. And of course we went to Aransas NWR for the Whooping Cranes.
After a day in Fort Worth and a quick trip to see the Short-eared Owls on Winscott-Plover
Road and a few other local north Texas birds, Jerri Kerr from Plano joined me on a trip to Minnesota, where we were able to
see Snowy, Great Gray and Northern Hawk-Owls, Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers, displaying Sharp-tailed Grouse,
Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Northern Shrikes, Bohemian Waxwings, a Varied Thrush, Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, Snow
Buntings, Common and Hoary Redpolls, and Red and White-winged Crossbills.
After a two-day stand and fanatic client work in Fort Worth, I hopped in my car on January 14th and began my
4300-mile solo trip to and from Morro Bay, California by way of two stops in Madera Canyon, Arizona, for some rarities reported
there and a stop on my return trip at Sandia Crest in New Mexico for the three species of rosy-finches. South-east Arizona
allowed me to see my lifer Aztec Thrush and my first ABA-area Crescent-chested Warbler (after three hikes up the Old Baldy
Trail in Madera Canyon), plus a lovely Rufous-backed Robin in Tucson and a Northern Jacana outside of Phoenix.
My western trip was timed to allow me to participate in a birding
festival in Morro Bay, including a pelagic trip there. It was an excellent festival, and allowed me to increase my year’s
total by 56 species, including various western cormorants, gulls and shorebirds as well as Marbled Murrelets, Rhinoceros Auklets,
Black-vented, Short-tailed, Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, and Northern Fulmars. On land I also had wonderful views of
Yellow-billed Magpies, as well as other California specialties.
And the misses—they include the Ruff that would not show for me in Arizona, although others saw it when I wasn’t
there, and the birds that I haven’t chased because I could only be one place at a time. It’s a hard lesson to
learn, but the best lesson I’ve learned is that I sure do love to go birding. Even after doing it almost non-stop for
a month. Only 11 months left.
through Feb. 27th (written
for Fort Worth Audubon newsletter)
This will need to be a whirlwind summary of my last month’s big year adventures,
as I’m off to Oregon in a couple of hours. February started with a couple of local forays, for Rusty Blackbirds (Johnson
Co.), American Woodcock and Brown Thrasher (Western Oaks off Lake Worth), and Eastern Screech-Owl (park off Memorial Oaks).
I then ventured farther afield to Hagerman NWR for Purple Finches and Red-headed Woodpecker. It turns out that I need not
have searched for Purple Finches—they were almost common on my unsuccessful eastward trek to look for Smith’s
The highlight of the month was the
White-crested Elaenia on South Padre Island. Some type of elaenia had been reported down there, and I knew whatever it was,
I really wanted it for my big year list. So for I think for the first time in my life, I made a solo, all-night drive to SPI,
where Gail Morris, Ann Hoover and Jerri Kerr (from Plano) met me, also having driven all night. Shortly after dawn, we all
saw the cute little flitty flycatcher with its bright white top-knot. It’s good we went when we did, because after that
day, it was never seen again.
My big trip of the month was to
go east for a North Carolina pelagic trip, followed by Florida birding and another pelagic off Delaware. Ann Hoover joined
me for the NC portion of the trip, where we found many Great Black-backed Gulls and Black Ducks, a single Great Cormorant
and a single Purple Sandpiper. On the pelagic trip, the highlight was the Great Skua and the Dovekies. There were quite a
few Razorbills and Red Phalaropes and couple of distant Manx Shearwaters.
For the Florida portion of the trip, I was very lucky in that a Bananaquit had been discovered in Fort Lauderdale just before
I was due to arrive in Miami, and within a couple of hours of landing I was seeing the cute little black, white and yellow
bird stick its beak in the flowers of a bottle-brush tree! With the help of a local guide, I was able to locate most of the
Miami-area specialties, including the various now-established parakeets, the White-crowned Pigeon, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Spot-breasted
Oriole, Snail Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, Limpkin and Shiny Cowbird.
The Delaware portion of the trip looked like it was going to be
a bust as I was caught in East Brunswick, NJ in a heavy snow that eventually reached over 6 inches. I decided to abandon the
idea of the pelagic (which was really a relief) and instead try for the two rare geese being seen in NY and NJ. After a long
drive across Long Island, I spent most of the day not seeing the geese, and then went back west to try at another place where
a Pink-footed Goose had been seen. About an hour after I got to Stony Brook, a flock of geese, including the Pink-footed,
arrived, and the next morning, I scanned through a flock of geese in Califon, NJ and found the reported Barnacle Goose.
For the last few days, I’ve
been super-busy with client work, and of course, with laundry and re-packing for my Oregon trip. The species total so far
for the year is 395 (2/27).
summary through March 26
At the end of February, I flew west to
Oregon with Debra Corpora from Rockport, TX in order to go on a pelagic trip and add some western birds to my year list. We
explored the Oregon coast for a couple of days, and were delighted to find Harlequin Ducks perched on rocks, pigeon guillemots
easy to find in the water and a Red-necked Grebe. We discovered Sweet Creek Trail near Florence, Oregon, and located two cute
American Dippers tucked away under some overhanging branches along the fast-rushing creek. Debra declined to go along on the
pelagic trip itself, but it was a great day, with highlights being numerous Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses. When I disembarked
from the boat, Debra rushed me away in the twilight to see the Trumpeter Swan that she had found during the day. The next
morning, she and I drove to Washington state preparatory to our next day’s ferry ride to Vancouver Island. Once on the
island, we saw many Northwestern Crows and then hit the known spots for Sky Lark, and at the “daffodil fields”
we found them displaying around and above us. Mission accomplished, we took the ferry back to the US, tossed around as if
we were on the ocean in the very strong winds.
day after my return to Texas, I raced over to Dallas where the Little Gull had again been reported. Even though it was raining,
it was easy to see amid the Bonaparte’s Gulls, it’s dark underwings visible almost without binoculars.
My next trip was a “wild crane chase” to Nebraska where
a Common Crane had been reported among the zillion Sandhill Cranes that were gathering there. Because I had never witnessed
the Nebraska crane spectacle, it was a worthwhile trip, but it was a lot like looking for a needle in a haystack. Not successful
in that, but I did locate a locale lek spot in NE for Greater Prairie-Chickens and got a good view of one peering at me over
the grasses. I then went east to visit the Stuttgart, AR airport where Smith’s Longspurs winter. Most of them had apparently
gone north, but I did find one lingering on.
returning to Texas, I spent some time on long-needed client work, and then, the call of the wild drew me to Sabine Pass, where
Jana Whittle had discovered a Fork-tailed Flycatcher. I saw it within about 25 minutes of my arrival there on Sunday March
16th, and then headed down the Texas coast and south to bird the valley. It was too windy for much to be seen,
but on the 18th, I checked to see if anything was being seen at Allen Williams’ yard in Pharr and learned
that he might have a White-throated Robin. I raced over there, and lo and behold, that’s exactly what he had!!
The second great Texas bird in two days!
day was totally uneventful, with wind keeping all the birds hunkered down, and I assumed that I probably had reached the end
of the March excitement. But I kept checking the rare birds alerts and kept having this nagging feeling about a bird that
had been seen for months in Georgia, a Green-breasted Mango. I just couldn’t decided whether I should gamble and go
there, spending lots of money on last-minute airfare, with a good chance that the bird would be gone by the time I got there.
But finally, I bit the bullet, and on March 23, I flew to Atlanta, rented a car and drove to Dublin, GA. Within 20 minutes
of my arrival at the Jackson’s yard there, I saw the Mango, gorgeously large and glowing blue and green. I saw it again
the next morning before I headed out to explore Georgia, and added a couple more southeastern birds that are also found in
Texas but which I hadn’t yet seen for the year.
at this writing (March 26), I’m at 434 species for the year. I’m planning to go to Colorado and Florida, and of
course, the Texas coast for migration, in April, so I’m looking forward to the coming weeks. And I’m still enthusiastic
and motivated (though I’ve gone through a few down times when things were particularly slow). Mostly, it’s been
AUGUST BIG-YEAR TRAVELS
August was a month for me to travel to quite a wide variety of sites
to further my big year quest. And August was a month of finally finding a few birds that I’d spent much time trying
unsuccessfully to find earlier in the year.
where did I go in August? I began August in south Florida, then flew back to Texas, then to Utah & Nevada, then back to
Texas, then to Arizona, then back to Texas, then to North Carolina, then to Texas, and finally to St. Paul Island, Alaska
(and of course back to Texas). Sort of a dizzying schedule, but not unlike the months preceding it and not unlike the months
yet to come before this year is over.
My highest goal
for my Florida trip was to find an Antillean Nighthawk before they all migrated south. My trip to Florida in April had been
too early for Antillean Nighthawks. On August 1st in the very early morning darkness, I sped down the highway from
Florida City toward Key West. As I neared the Marathon airport, a place the books said was good for the nighthawk, I rolled
down my window and drove slowly. Even before I reached the airport, I could hear their “pit a pit” calls somewhere
in the dark sky. Once the sky started to get light, I began to see them, followed by the sound and sights of a few Common
Nighthawks. Mission accomplished, I went down to Key West anyway, although I no longer needed to check its airport, since
I had reserved a room there.
The next day was spent trying unsuccessfully
to find a Mangrove Cuckoo (also missed in April) in all the so-called “good” spots for it. I finally gave up and
joined the mass of traffic heading north to the Miami airport. Amazingly, after I’d given up hope for it, a Mangrove
Cuckoo flew across the road immediately ahead of me!!
Utah/Nevada trip was yet another attempt to try to find a Himalayan Snowcock in the Ruby Mountains. Even the sound of one
would have been ok. In July, Linda Ford of Dallas and I had twice climbed the trail to Island Lake, and beyond, before dawn,
and had not heard or seen a thing! So this time (Aug. 6th), I decided to camp up at Island Lake, to try to catch
the predawn/early morning sound of a snowcock. And it worked! The hike with all my camping gear the afternoon before was awful,
and the camping a bit cold, but at about 5:50 am, as I was hiking above the lake, I began to hear the very distinctive ringing
calls of first one, and then at least three snowcocks. And before they quit about 45 minutes later, I actually saw (and got
a lousy photo of) a distant silhouetted snowcock. Although I tried for a few other new birds on that trip, there were no others.
But I was happy—the snowcock was a lifer!
quite a few possible goal birds for my Arizona trip (the 4th time I’d been there this year), and I saw some
of them (Berylline Hummingbird, Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Thick-billed Kingbird, and Olive and Virginia’s Warblers).
But my main goal for the trip was to find the bird I’d chosen a year ago to decorate my notebooks with for this year,
the Spotted Owl. I’d already hiked Miller and Scheelite Canyons in Arizona, and the Devil’s Hall Trail in the
Texas Guadalupe Mountains, without seeing any Spotted Owls, and was feeling like it was going to be an impossible quest. But
Spotted Owls had become regular again in Miller Canyon in early August, and I thought I might have a sure thing this time.
Unfortunately, the day before I arrived, the owls were not found at their normal spot nor anywhere around it. I went up to
check anyway, without success, so I decided to just go birding at Madera Canyon, one of my favorite southeast Arizona spots
to see what I could see. But after my hike up the Old Baldy Trail, on my way down, I found I had two phone messages. Both
Tom Beatty of Miller Canyon and Helen Nelson (of FWAS!!), who was staying at Beatty’s, had called me to tell me that
the owls, two of them, had returned. I raced down the trail, jumped in my car, and without breaking too many traffic laws,
I sped back to Miller Canyon (nearly 3 hours away), and was led by Helen right to the owl! My photos showed them to be likely
young of the year with a few wispy down feathers still showing. The Spotted Owl was number 659 for my big year.
My North Carolina trip was for the purpose of going out on two pelagic
trips, which I did in spite of the rough seas that were probably due to hurricane Fay down in Florida. The new year-birds
seen were the likely mid-Atlantic ones – Cory’s and Greater Shearwaters, Black-capped Petrel, and Wilson’s
and Band-rumped Storm-Petrels.
But there was no time to hang around North
Carolina because I had reservations to go to Alaska the next day. And I did, all the way to St. Paul Island off the west coast
of Alaska. Again, the new birds seen were the most likely ones – Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, a fall but not spring migrant
there, and Red-necked Stint, a bird I’d missed on my spring trip to Alaska. The tour guides on St. Paul worked hard
to help me get more birds, but even though I had an extra day there due to the flight being canceled on account of fog, that
So here I am at the end of August, at 666 species for
the year! While I’m not overly superstitious, I hope I can soon get beyond this number, and I’ll try to in my
next trip, which is to California. Again, stay tuned.
September was supposed to feature three pelagic
birding trips out of California, plus a shorter trip to Santa Cruz Island for the Island Scrub-Jay. The first pelagic trip
got canceled, but I already had scheduled my flight and I had the island trip scheduled, so I filled my extra time out west
doing California land birding , adding Elegant Tern, California Thrasher, California Gnatcatcher, Pacific-Slope Flycatcher
and Spotted Dove to my year list instead of ocean birds.
The day after the island trip my goal was to look for Le Conte’s Thrasher, make a swing
by Mount Pinos to look for Mountain Quail, and see if there were any other mountain birds I could find. As I sped down the
mountains in the predawn to where I hoped to look for the thrasher, having skillfully avoided all the fallen rocks on the
mountain roads, I crashed into a single rock in the middle of the flat road, and instantly blew out a tire! I was very thankful
that a nice man lived in the only house anywhere near my downed car, who changed my tire and directed me to the nearest tire
garage, some 35 miles away. By this time, it was getting light out so I decided to look for thrashers on my way to the garage,
which probably wasn’t even open yet. Not only did I quickly find a Le Conte’s Thrasher scratching in an open area
amid the sage plants, but I got one of my best ever looks at a Sage Sparrow.
the tire shop, they found a single tire somewhere that fit my rental car, and the mechanic was able to straighten out the
bent tire rim, so my cost was minimal. And he was quick, so I was on my way to Mt. Pinos before 9:00. Amazingly, shortly after
I got into the mountain road area, three Mountain Quail (lifers!) ran across the road. I was unable to stop because there
was no shoulder on the road, so no pictures, but their lovely long head plumes are emblazoned in my memory. I stopped at a
park that had been recommended, Mil Potrero Park, and there found a “magnet tree”, at which I saw Pygmy and White-breasted
Nuthatches, Hairy, Acorn and White-headed Woodpeckers, and Oak Titmice, all poking about in the bark 3-5 feet from the ground.
The next day I went to the Salton Sea, where Yellow-footed Gulls often
are found, and indeed, I found one, just one. And then, because I had run out of ideas for California birding, and because
a Sinaloa Wren from Mexico was being heard and seen in Arizona, I drove to southeast Arizona. I heard the wren many times
the next day, as did everyone who was there, but only got a quick glimpse as it darted along the streambed. But for an ABA
big year, you do not need to get any look, much less a good look at a bird if you hear it. I concluded that trip with a calling
fly-by Nuttall’s Woodpecker back in California.
than a week later, I came back to Monterey, California for my two pelagic trips, where I added Ashy, Black, Leach’s
and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, Buller’s and Flesh-footed Shearwaters and South Polar Skuas, plus a Cassin’s Vireo
at Andrew Molera State Park.
Back again in Texas, I agonized over the
fact that a Plain-capped Starthroat was being seen at feeders in Patagonia, Arizona, so today (Sept. 22) at 3:45 am I left
Fort Worth and drove out to Arizona. I arrived at the Paton’s feeders at 4:52 Arizona time (15 hours and over 900 miles
after I left Fort Worth), and within five minutes had seen the starthroat!! So, I plan to look at it again tomorrow morning,
then go see if I can get a better view of the Sinaloa Wren (just a couple of blocks from the Paton’s) and then see if
there are any other Arizona birds that I can add before I drive back to Texas.
next scheduled trip is another California pelagic trip out of Bodega Bay in October, and then to Barrow, Alaska, where I’ll
meet up with Ann Hoover to look for gulls. What fun!
October has been a great month in which I’ve been
able to fill a few holes in my 2008 bird list.
being told by many that I need to go to the state of Washington to find some “chickens”, I did so on October 1st,
and immediately took the ferry to Port Angeles, where Sooty Grouse were supposed to be easiest to find. Unfortunately, the
best place turned out to be mostly closed between Sept. 15-Oct. 15, so I tried a nearby lengthy drive up into the mountains
on a very wet morning. Even though I drove slowly and stopped often, there was no sign of anything larger than a Varied Thrush
all the way up and most of the way down. I had given up and was on my cell phone to my husband when all of a sudden a single
male Sooty Grouse stepped into the road and I nearly ran into it.
I could do resulted in my finding a Gray Partridge, so I’m still missing that, but I did at least hear and briefly see
a Chukar. And I spent one evening watching Vaux’s Swifts spiral down into a tall school chimney, probably nearly the
last day they would be there before they headed farther south.
meanwhile, John Puschock, a leader with Birdtreks who lives in Seattle and with whom I’d been in email contact but had
not met, told me that the Wood Sandpiper that had been reported in Oregon was still there. He and I arranged to meet and drive
all night to central Oregon, where we arrived just after dawn, hurried out across the marshland, and immediately were able
to see the sandpiper through someone’s spotting scope.
next trip was to California for a pelagic trip, which was cancelled due to stormy seas, but since I was there, I did some
land-birding, finding Virginia Rail and Lawrence’s Goldfinch. From California, I flew to Barrow, Alaska, meeting up
with Ann Hoover in Seattle. My goal there was Ross’s Gull, and Ann also had Ivory Gull and polar bear as goals, and
we found all of them! Ross’s Gulls (“pinkies”) were constantly streaming by from west to east all day long
both days we were there.
That was followed by a last-minute two-day
driving trip to St. Louis for the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, and another last-minute trip to Florida, when I heard that Smooth-billed
Anis were again being found there. In Florida, I also added Common Myna (just made countable in the ABA area), Greater Flamingo
(reappeared after being gone for a long time due to past hurricanes) and Budgerigar (“budgies”- the last eight
of them left in the U.S. that are wild and countable).
now, I’m in California for a two-day pelagic trip out of San Diego that begins Nov. 1st. I came two days
early, and today found a Northern Saw-whet Owl, and actually saw it as well as hearing two of them!
And so, I’m at 704 species for the year in the “ABA area”. The Smooth-billed
Ani was the lucky bird that brought me to 700. But I’m still looking for more.
As could be expected, November in a big year requires
a lot of effort for just a few birds. But before I tell that story, I need to say upfront—I still have not added Gray
Partridge to my year list, and, while I am up in Washington right now trying again, it’s not looking good for getting
that bird. They apparently hide in the grasses most of the time.
I have added some birds this month. On the 2-day pelagic trip that began the month, the first new bird was Xantus’s
Murrelet, a tiny black-and-white bird bobbing on the waves very close to the boat. Two different times we had a Red-billed
Tropicbird circle the boat. And the third new bird for the month was a very distant Least Storm-Petrel. I was amazed that
not only did I not get sick at all on this trip, but I very much enjoyed it and could have lasted longer out on the water!
I actually haven’t gotten sick on any of this year’s pelagic trips.
spent time birding in Texas this month, drawn first to the Valley by the report of a Rose-throated Becard in Weslaco. The
trip down was another all-night drive, since I couldn’t spare the daylight hours for driving, and I dozed in a Walmart
parking lot until Estero Llano Grande opened for the day. It took until mid-afternoon to find the bird, but before then I
had a couple of views of the gorgeous but uncountable Black-throated Magpie-Jay that is also there. The next morning I spent
at Anzalduas County Park, waiting and watching for a Hook-billed Kite (which I’d gotten there in 2005), and finally
I was treated to a fly-by view of one.
Luckily a Kelp
Gull was found in the Quintana beach area while I was down in the Valley, so I headed over there before returning home. Shortly
after dawn it flew by. Since I did not get a picture of it, I was glad to join Gail Morris, Buck Buchanan and Jerri Kerr when
they went down to see the Kelp Gull.
The goal of my
next trip was three missing Arizona birds, two of which I found – the Bendire’s Thrasher on Stateline Road, where
I’d tried and failed at least three other days on previous trips, and the Baird’s Sparrow, at the San Rafael Grasslands,
and which I’d also tried for earlier this year. On the way to AZ, I wasted some time trying to see the Sungrebe that
had appeared miraculously in New Mexico, but by the time I got there, it had disappeared and no one was seeing it. I tried
for the Ruddy Ground-Dove in AZ, but did not manage to find one.
had two more days on this trip, and decided to give up on the dove, and drive to Colorado to try again for the White-tailed
Ptarmigan. In April the snow had been too high and there had been too many skiers at Loveland Pass. My reason for going now
was that Guanella Pass is supposed to be better for these birds but was closing for the year on November 28th,
so I needed to go now. On the way to Colorado, I stopped along the edge of a turfgrass farm which is known for its McCown’s
Longspurs, and although it is no longer open to birders, I finally found the longspur flock and was able with my scope to
determine that at least most of them were McCown’s. The morning after I arrived in Colorado, I picked up Rich Stevens
of Cobirders, whom I’d arranged to help me, and so he directed my drive over to the right place at the pass. We tromped
around on the mountain in the 50 mph winds for a couple of hours, and eventually, I found 4 ptarmigan in one area at about
the same time that he found 6 in another area, and we were both very happy with the result even though we were frozen and
I could not get enough oxygen at the greater than 12,000 foot elevation.
so, the White-tailed Ptarmigan is number 714 for the year, and I’m now in Washington state not finding a Gray Partridge.
In just over a week I will be part of a small group going to Newfoundland, where I’ve never been, hoping to find 2-3
new gulls for the year. And there’s just one month left in the big year.
after the above was written, a flock of Gray Partridges was found on November 27 just east of Spokane, WA]