Sunday, July 27, 2014

Adventures in Northwest Tennessee

Island 13 & Reelfoot Lake (Lake County, TN) 
Macedonia Bottoms Heronry (Gibson County, TN)

   Tennessee summers are horrible - hot, and even worse, overly humid. But when you're birding and having fun, you hardly notice it. And that's how it was today.
   Ruben Stoll, Victor Stoll, Alan Troyer, my dad (he wasn't birding), my brother Nolan, and I spent the morning at Island 13 at the Northwest corner of the state. Bank Swallows and American White Pelicans were by the hundreds, and Mississippi Kites - by the dozens. I definitely did not expect to find myself driving a four-wheeler while we were out there, but well, that's what happened. It was my first time to drive one (and bird from one), and I honestly could have driven it all day! However, when my brother started driving, I pretty much started screaming. :0
   Shorebirds were our main target for the day, and we flushed several peeps as we rode along the river. It was only on the main island (Island 13) that we were able to give them a positive ID. Our eyes immediately landed on the larger-headed bird - a Western Sandpiper - then checked the other birds - both Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers. They were very close and wonderful to observe. We continued and found an adult Sanderling with some hints of previous breeding plumage. Nearby, a Spotted Sandpiper in complete breeding plumage bobbed on the shore. And of course, I can't forget to mention the noisy Least Terns which continuously fished in the mirky water.
   Next we went to a section of Reelfoot Lake in search of Least Bitterns. Here I rode in a kayak for the first time (by myself, actually), all the while praying that I wouldn't flip into the water! But despite our efforts, we never heard or saw any Least Bitterns. 
   Our final stop as a group was at the Macedonia Bottoms Heronry in Gibson County. Anhingas had been reported here previously, and it would be a lifer for Nolan and I. We parked along the road, waiting for them to fly over, and we would have waited for hours had Victor and Alan not gotten in the kayaks and found one actually visible from land. So we drove over to where they were, and sure enough, a female Anhinga was perched in a bare Bald Cypress preening.
   We parted ways, and Dad, Nolan, and I went to the Tennessee NWR - Duck River Unit to look for a previously reported Wood Stork. We were pretty much on a race to beat the dark and unfortunately came up empty.
   But overall, we had an incredibly long, fun, and hot day! So fun that I forgot to take photos! Oh well...

View my eBird checklist for Island 13 here.
View my eBird checklist for Reelfoot Lake here.
View my eBird checklist for Macedonia Bottoms Heronry here.
View my eBird checklist for Duck River here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Flashback to Our OBX Trip - May 2014

   Our family took a vacation to the Outer Banks (specifically Hatteras Island) in North Carolina during May 18 - 25, 2014. Although I mentioned that I went on three pelagic trips while I was there, I neglected to mention the other fabulous birding experiences I had. I've decided to briefly reflect on them below.

   On our first full day at the Outer Banks, my dad, my brother and I went to Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in Rodanthe. Pea Island is one of the best spots for waterfowl, shorebirds, wading birds, and terns on the Atlantic coast. This was quite apparent today as there were hundreds of Dunlins and Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, dozens of Black-bellied, Semipalmated, and Piping Plovers, plus Greater Yellowlegs, American Avocets, Sanderlings, (Eastern) Willets, one Killdeer, and one Marbled Godwit. We were very surprised to see both male and female Black Scoters diving in two different spots. There were also a couple Seaside Sparrows vocalizing as we walked the trails. Waders included Tricolored Herons and Snowy Egrets. But of all the species we observed (and there were quite a few), our favorite had to have been our lifer Gull-billed Tern. There were two of them resting on a mud flat, then one of them took flight and joined the Least and Caspian Terns which were also in the area.

The endangered Piping Plover breeds on Hatteras Island.

   The next morning brought a surprise: our lifer Whimbrel at the beach in Salvo. These Whimbrels (there were around 3-5 of them) were picking at food in the sand with other shorebirds, including more (Eastern) Willets, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones and Black-bellied Plovers.
    After checking out Salvo beach we went to Cape Hatteras Point. I was happy to see two little Wilson's Storm-Petrels pattering on the waves and what were likely Sooty Shearwaters arcing in the horizon. Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, (Eastern) Willets, and two American Oystercatchers were also present.  Laughing, Lesser Black-backed, Greater Black-backed, Herring, and Ring-billed Gulls were resting on the shore as we watched an immature Northern Gannet flying in the distance.

 Ring-billed Gull
 Ruddy Turnstone
Black-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher

   I spent days three, five, and six on the Stormy Petrel II looking for tubenoses. I had the time of my life, and you can read about these trips here:

I got a total of seven lifers during those three pelagic trips including Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Audubon's Shearwater, Bermuda Petrel, Leach's Storm-Petrel, European Storm-Petrel, and Red-billed Tropicbird. 
   You might have noticed that I completely skipped day four (May 22nd). I literally had to spend this whole day recovering from the rough ride we had on the May 21st pelagic trip!
    Thus pretty much concluded our 2014 vacation in the OBX. Although I didn't go into too much detail about our trip, hopefully you can get a small glimpse of the fun birding adventures we had.

Additional photos:

 Boat-tailed Grackle
 Brown Pelicans


 Laughing Gull
The beautiful view from Salvo beach.

Nothing beats the sunset at the beach.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Bachman's and Bell's - Check and Check!

Fort Campbell, TN

    There we were, fifteen of us gathered in a small parking lot in Fort Campbell, Tennessee, anxious to look for two particular species - Bachman's Sparrow and Bell's Vireo. Neither are easy to find in our state, and we had the special opportunity to visit land with limited access to see them. So, we drove the short distance from the parking lot to the Bachman's Sparrow spot. As soon as we stepped foot out of our vehicles, we could hear the Bachman's Sparrows' sweet trill sounding from the clearing. We walked to what looked like a good viewing area and waited for the sparrow, which had temporarily ceased its singing. We stood there for a good ten or fifteen minutes of Field Sparrow after Field Sparrow, Indigo Bunting after Indigo Bunting, but no Bachman's Sparrow. Finally, he sang again, and within seconds one of the birders spotted the bird in his scope. The sparrow just sang away, perched atop a bare branch on a cherry tree. All of us had wonderful looks at the bird, and it was a lifer for most of us (my 307th). This particular Bachman's Sparrow was rather drab with a grayer belly and only the faintest wash of yellow on its face. Yet it was still a Bachman's Sparrow portraying the longer bill and larger size compared to most other sparrows.
    We left that spot in good spirits and headed to the area where Bell's Vireos had been found. On the way, we stopped by a field with breeding Henslow's Sparrows and found a couple plus Grasshopper Sparrows and Dickcissels. None were lifers for us, but good birds for the day nonetheless. We came to a thicket of willows and other small trees and shrubs. Here we hopped out of our cars to look for Willow Flycatchers and Bell's Vireos. A Willow Flycatcher was spotted flycatching in a small, Wild Plum tree (whose fruit tasted pretty good by the way), but we never did find a Bell's Vireo.
    Next we stopped in a field with a patch of un-mown shrubbery, and it was here that we had some success. We heard a Bell's Vireo immediately, and it sang for a minute or two and gave only the slightest glimpse of himself. Then he was silent, and we waited for fifteen minutes without hearing him again. Finally, the vireo sang one last time but from a different area farther back in the willows. We never saw the uncooperative fellow again. However, Bell's Vireo was my 308th lifebird and a pretty good one.
     Anyway, we had a great time, saw cool birds, and checked off a couple of lifers. I couldn't ask for much more.

View my complete eBird checklist here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sunday Birding

Bowie Nature Park, Fairview, TN
Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge - Duck River Unit, New Johnsonville, TN

    My dad, my brother Nolan, and I birded Bowie Nature Park in Fairview this past Sunday, mainly to scout the place for an upcoming field trip. The morning was unseasonably cool, and I started the walk shivering from the temperature and from the anticipation of another day of birding. The woods beside the parking lot were full of singing birds, but I enjoyed hearing and seeing the Red-headed Woodpeckers the most. We chose to take the Loblolly Loop trail, and I was only somewhat surprised to find the woods nearly devoid of birds yet filled with mosquitoes. However, there were several singing Pine and Yellow-throated Warblers, one Red-eyed Vireo that was only managing a few whispered notes, a couple Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, and an Eastern Towhee. A Green Frog called from one of the ponds as well. We left Bowie unhappily scratching our legs but at least satisfied with the Red-headed Woodpeckers.
     We decided to head to Duck River and bird there for a couple hours. As I scanned through my scope I came upon an Osprey nest containing three young Ospreys that seemed due to leave the nest any day. Soon, I noticed a fourth Osprey in the nest (the mother of the young, I'm assuming). Then, a fifth flew in carrying a fish. This was probably the father. Five Ospreys eating fish in one nest is quite a fun thing to watch. But there weren't just the five Ospreys. Two more were perched and flying in different spots but viewed from the same location. Many Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Double-crested Cormorants were also fishing in the area. Nearby, A stunning male Prothonotary Warbler was singing from a bare branch just above a male Indigo Bunting! Wow!
    Next we checked out the main refuge. We stopped at Pintail Blind first, and along the walk, several Southern Leopard Frogs leaped from the trail. Inside the blind we were greeted by dozens of noisy wasps and dirt daubers, plus a Green Treefrog sitting on a plaque of wood. There wasn't anything too spectacular at the blind, but we did hear a Dickcissel, and I always enjoy hearing them sing.
    We drove along a few side roads within the refuge and added Green Heron, Warbling Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, and several other species to the list. We pulled over at one spot, and I (unwillingly!) let Nolan look through my scope. As he scanned, he spotted several shorebirds flying in the distance. While I didn't get a very good look, they seemed to be the right size and shape for yellowlegs.
     We took one last side road and pulled off at a spot with a different vantage point of the river. I was surprised to see two American White Pelicans (normally only a winter resident around here) lazily swimming in the water. Then, two Caspian Terns flew over us.  Although I had already seen several Caspian Terns in North Carolina this year, these were my FOY Caspian Terns here in Tennessee. 
     As we exited the refuge, Nolan spotted Cattle Egrets in a field with (you guessed it) cows. In my opinion, Cattle Egrets are one of the funniest-looking birds with their awkward, long legs. Their beady, yellow eyes also give them a silly appearance. 
       It was a short but fun day of birding with several highlights including a total of thirteen Ospreys, several unidentified shorebirds, the two pelicans, and my FOY (for Tennessee) Caspian Terns. I can't wait to go birding again sometime soon!

You can view my eBird checklist for Bowie Nature Park here.
You can view my eBird checklist for TNWR - Duck River Unit here.