Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014 ABA Camp Avocet - Days One & Two

   After my pelagic trips, I headed up to Lewes, Delaware for a once-in-a-lifetime experience at the American Birding Association's Camp Avocet. All of us campers were dropped off on the afternoon of August 10th, and we were to leave on August  16th.
   Day One (August 11th): We took a brief walk past the salt marsh at the Virden Center where we were based. The seven Clapper Rails we saw strutting openly in the canals were definitely the highlight. (It would have been even better if I hadn't left my camera in our dorm....) Next we headed to the point at Cape Henlopen for a little sunset birding. We saw a couple American Oystercatchers and Semipalmated Plovers, and several Sanderlings, among other distant shorebirds. We observed over a dozen Black Scoters and one Red-breasted Merganser, plus loads of gulls and terns as well.

The breathtaking sunset at Cape Henlopen

   Day Two (August 12th): On our first full day of birding we went to various spots within Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge. Shorebirds, terns, and waders were the highlight here, and they all provided great study!

 Great and Snowy Egrets
 Semipalmated Sandpiper

 Snowy Egrets and American Avocets

Snowy Egret (left) with a Black-necked Stilt (right)

   At Fowler Beach (still part of Prime Hook) we flushed several sparrows but without satisfying looks. Our camp counselor George Armistead started pishing, and finally multiple Seaside Sparrows and one Saltmarsh Sparrow popped up and landed on a dead branch. The Saltmarsh Sparrow was a totally unexpected sighting, and it was my 314th lifer! Other than the sparrows, we had wonderful looks at Snowy Egrets, Glossy Ibises, Least Sandpipers, one Whimbrel, one Piping Plover, and much more.

 Saltmarsh Sparrow

Snowy Egret

 Glossy Ibis

 Least Sandpiper

   Back at our base at the Virden Center, we had a fantastic dinner and an awesome presentation by Louise Zemaitis on "Birding by Habitat." We all went to bed satisfied with the day and excited about birding at Chincoteague the next day. (Days 3 - 6 are soon to follow.)

Monday, August 18, 2014

August 8th and 9th on the Stormy Petrel II

August 8th & 9th, 2014
Gulf Stream off Hatteras, North Carolina

   I was fortunate to spend August 8th and 9th spotting with "Seabirding" on the Stormy Petrel II in the Gulf Stream off Hatteras, North Carolina. Once again, I had the most amazing time!
   A glorious sunrise greeted us as we departed from the inlet on August 8th. After the two-hour ride out to the shelf break, Kate Sutherland prepared the chum, and storm-petrels quickly gathered in the slick. Band-rumped Storm-Petrels made an incredible showing with multiple trailing behind the boat throughout the day - even making a few close passes.

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

   While the Band-rumps seemed to steal the spotlight, I must give the Black-capped Petrels some attention as well.

Black-capped Petrels

   And the Cory's and Audubon's Shearwaters...

Cory's Shearwater

Audubon's Shearwater

   We had a very special visit from a Yellow Warbler about 30 miles off shore. This bird landed on the boat several times, on passenger Jeff Spaulding's head, and another gentleman's shoulder! You can see that the bird was so close my camera couldn't even completely focus on it!

Yellow Warbler 

  The average pelagic trip here in the Gulf Stream seems to slow down as the day progresses and pick up near the end. Today it picked up with a "WHAT IS THAT?" and then "FEA'S PETREL!!!" 

Fea's Petrel

   This bird was fairly distant by the time I grabbed my camera, so excuse the quality of my photos. Fea's Petrel was the last of the four Atlantic gadfly petrels I needed on my list. I saw my first Black-capped Petrels last summer and got Bermuda and Trindade Petrels this spring.
   After the Fea's Petrel sighting, we headed back to the inlet. On the way we found a line of sargassum and we flushed a few Red-necked Phalaropes - my second lifer of the trip and one that I missed early this spring. 

   Day two on the Stormy Petrel II started off in a disturbing way. We formed the slick and tossed the chum, but not a single tubenose (not even a Wilson's Storm-Petrel!) would remain to feed. But finally, after at least thirty minutes, a couple Wilson's Storm-Petrels and one Band-rumped Storm-Petrel arrived, and more followed.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel

Band-rumped Storm-Petrel

   I like this photo right here because the birds are in the same position, showing how much longer the Band-rumped Storm-Petrel's wings are versus the Wilson's Storm-Petrel's.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel (left) with Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (right)

    As I stood at the stern scanning the horizon with my naked eye, a couple Cory's Shearwaters arcing over the waves grabbed my attention. I looked through my binoculars and was very surprised to see a "beehive" of shearwaters in the air and on the water. I literally ran to Brian above deck where he was driving the boat and informed him about the shearwaters. We changed our direction and headed toward the birds. As we approached, several Sooty Terns and one Bridled Tern were spotted gracefully flying in the sky. Sooty Tern was actually a lifer for me - my 313th, to be exact!

Sooty Terns

   The Cory's Shearwaters were pretty impressive too as they bobbed up and down on the water and followed each other to feed. 

Cory's Shearwaters (borealis)

   Overall, it was two fantastic days at sea! 

Click here for a checklist from our trips.
Click here for the blog post on the Seabirding blog.
Click here to see the photos from my 2014 pelagic trips with Seabirding.
Click here to see Chris Sloan's photos from this weekend.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Eastern Screech-Owl Photos

   As a follow-up to my previous post about our gray morph Eastern Screech-Owl sighting, I've composed a new post of photos I took of the screech-owl this evening. Despite the poor lighting, I played around with my camera and was finally able to get some decent photos! See below...
   In case you were wondering, these photos were taken with my Canon EOS 70D SLR with an Ultrasonic 100-400mm IS lens. They are not edited. As always, feel free to comment below!

The Birds Will Tell You...

Our Backyard

   If you've been birding for a while, you've probably subconsciously noted that songbirds will make certain calls when a predator has been spotted. When a raptor has been sighted in the sky, Carolina Chickadees will make a high-pitched whistle followed by a quick, rough "dee dee dee," and American Robins will also make a thin, high-pitched whistle similar to a Cedar Waxwing's call. On the other hand, when a predator (like an owl) has been spotted in a tree, chickadees and titmice, among other birds, will harshly scold, and robins will make a frantic "yeep" call.
   Yesterday I heard a robin making its "warning call" from one of our dogwood trees. I walked over there and searched the branches but didn't see anything unusual. Later, several chickadees were scolding madly from the same spot the robin had been, so once again I looked around. And then I saw it - a gray bird with a stubby tail and two squinty eyes and an oval-shaped bill peering down at me. It was a gray morph Eastern Screech-Owl!  

Gray morph Eastern Screech-Owl.
   Of course, I was overly excited and ran to tell the rest of my family. We all had wonderful looks at the little dude, though he did give us some pretty evil expressions! 

His head looks rather fuzzy...perhaps this is a juvenile??

   As the sky rapidly darkened, the screech-owl started hopping and flying from branch to branch. Then we heard a quiet trill descending in pitch. The owl was calling! Although this was my third time to see an Eastern Screech-Owl, I had never actually heard one before. And then we heard the second type call - the one that stays at a steady pitch. Wow!
  This was our first gray morph screech-owl in our yard. Last winter we had a rufous morph that stayed in our birdhouse for several weeks. I wonder how long this one will stick around...??