Brown Noddy

Brown Noddy

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Nebraska: The Hunt and a Touch of Wyoming & Colorado

My third day in Nebraska was a journey to the old farm and to venture to Camp Hayes Recreational Area, which is a small man-made lake not far from the old family farm. The lake is so small that powered watercraft are not allowed.  But with the Red Willow Creek feeding it and flowing out of it, there is a lot of great habitat for birds.  

I always get a kick out of seeing recently hatched Killdeer chicks and I had to stop the car to allow this one to find better cover than on the road.  

 Killdeer Chick

 Killdeer Adult

Double-crested Cormorant

Whitetail doe and fawn

Spent a few hours in the town of Hayes Center reminiscing with my classmates and then headed out, taking the long way back to Denver, with an overnight stop in Sidney, Nebraska.  My plans were to leave Sidney early in the morning and head west to Kimball, Nebraska.  I was keen on trying to locate Mountain Plover in Nebraska.  They breed in western Nebraska in a restricted range and habitat, but are probably a bit more common on their breeding grounds just a bit south, across the border in Colorado.  The Mountain Plover is a migratory bird that spends winters further south than their breeding grounds, and some show up in Arizona in winter.  This is where I have always seen them in the past.  So I was going to attempt to locate them in Nebraska.  The drive to Kimball was shrouded in fog making visibility really tough.  It was still foggy when I arrived on the roads south of Kimball and was getting a feeling that the weather was going to jinx my effort.  Walked down one road for a ways without my camera and found a male McCown's Longspur in breeding plumage!  Being without my camera was a mistake, so headed back to the car and got my camera, but was not able to relocate the longspur.  Headed down the road a bit further and pulled over and lo and behold, there was a Mountain Plover on a side road.  I took photos from the car as I did not want to spook it.  Yay, success can be so awesome at times!  It is a mis-named bird as it does not spend any time in the Mountains.  This sighting was also cool to me as this one was in breeding plumage, compared to all those I see in Arizona in winter, non-breeding plumage.  Yes, it is a subtle difference, but still fun to see the differences.

Mountain Plover in breeding plumage in Nebraska

Mountain Plover in non-breeding plumage in Arizona for comparison.

Horned Larks were everywhere!

From there I headed into Wyoming where I have never done any birding in the past, so I stopped at an eBird Hotspot called Wyoming Hereford Ranch which is just east of Cheyenne, WY.  A great place to spot and I highly recommend this spot to anyone interested.  By then the fog had lifted and the lighting was much better.  Ended up with 34 species to start my Wyoming bird list.

 American Goldfinch

Gray Catbird
 Spotted Sandpiper

 Western Wood-Peewee

Western Wood-Peewee

My next couple of days was spent in Colorado staying with friends.  Birding was not the full focus of my stay, but I did manage a couple of photos during the bouts of rain and overcast skies and even some snow.

 Barn Swallow

Steller's Jay

One of the key birds that I wanted in Colorado was the White-tailed Ptarmigan.  Unfortunately, due to bad timing and the incredible amount of snow fall in Colorado the roads to the best location were still closed.  At least I have learned from this adventure and hopefully I will be better prepared for the next trip to Colorado for this bird.  The trip overall, was a success and I am happy with the results. I was able to add 19 new species to my Nebraska list, 9 species to my Colorado list, and got my first 34 species to my Wyoming list.  


Sunday, June 16, 2019

Nebraska: The Good 'Bird' Life

It is no secret that Nebraska is my home state, where I was born and raised.  That is also where my first recollections and my fascination with our avian friends began.  As a farm child growing up in very rural Nebraska, I have some very vivid memories of some of the birds that captured my interest as such a young age.  Of course, and like most kids, the more colorful or unusual birds caught my eye back then.  Now that I have matured a little more, it isn't always the most colorful birds that catch my eye all the time. (Still hard to ignore those colorful birds!)

Surprisingly, this year was the 50th year for my high school graduation and of course a get together was planned.  My high school graduating class consisted of only 28 students.  That tells you how small and sparsely populated some places in Nebraska happen to be.  So I planned a trip in late May for this occasion and decided to add in a few extra days for birding and visiting family.  Stayed with my sister and her family in McCook and took advantage of the birding opportunities that were there.  The first morning, I headed out to Barnett Park on the south edges of McCook to see what I could find.  It was amazing and I got the pleasure of seeing and photographing a lot of birds.

 Red-headed Woodpecker - Probably one of the best looking woodpeckers in the United States and I saw a lot of these birds during my visit.

 Downy Woodpecker

 Spotted Sandpiper - This one is in breeding plumage which we do not see very often in Arizona in the winter months. We normally see the drabber winter plumage without spots.

 Yellow Warbler - Male

Yellow Warbler - Female

American Goldfinch - Male

 Baltimore Oriole - Male

 Cackling Goose - This was a new species for my Nebraska list.  As a kid, I might have seen them, but just assumed they were probably Canada Geese.  (Little did I know back then!)

 Cedar Waxwing

Common Yellowthroat - These birds can be quite secretive and hard to photograph.

Swainson's Thrush - Not a bird that was on my radar, but found out that they are quite common.  Helps to pull out the old field guides once in a while to study range maps!
  Later in the day, I headed north of town and visited Red Willow Lake. Saw many of the same birds, but also found a few different birds that I do not recall ever seeing in Nebraska before.  No, they are not rare by any means, but I have been away so long, that one forgets what is possible.

 Bell's Vireo

 Field Sparrow - This was another bird that was not on my radar, but their range does reach Nebraska.  Makes me wonder if they were around when I was a kid, but just shrugged them off since they were just LBJ's. (Little brown jobs! Ha Ha!)

Tree Swallow - Another bird not on my radar, but apparently fairly common, note the man-made nestbox.

The next day, I headed even further north to the small town of Wellfleet, Nebraska.  Not much of a town, but they have a nearby small lake.  When I was young and had a great uncle and aunt living in this community and I remember spending a summer with them to help them with their farming.  I can also recall our family spending time in the summer to help with the irrigation of the farm land.  It was a really nice nostalgic visit and I was astonished by the birds that I found while exploring the town and the land around the town.

 Bars Swallow - These were very common on the farm as they nested in our barn and in the summer they entertained us when we milked cows every morning and night.

 Eastern Kingbird - Another bird that i was familiar with as we had them from time to time on the farm.  Western Kingbirds were much more common.

 Gray Catbird - Do not recall this bird from my childhood, but due to their nature to be a bit secretive, they were probably overlooked as a kid.

 Orchard Oriole - This was another surprise to me.  I do not remember this species as a kid, but had Baltimore Orioles every year.  This bird was fairly common for me on this trip.

Yellow-breasted Chat - A very enjoyable bird to see and hear, even though they can be tough to see sometimes, their calls and songs cannot be ignored.

The next 4 photos are the Indigo Bunting, plus a bonus photo at the end.  This bird was one of my fondest memories of my interest in birding as a child.  Being a farm family, we were very much involved in 4-H and in 1962, 4-H offered a bird course and I gladly signed up.  We had to keep a record book, and the Indigo Bunting was the species that I focused on for my study bird.  I have added a photo of the page from the record book showing what a talented artist I was back then!  HaHa!  Regardless, of all of that, this bird along with a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that visited our farm back then, have been the impetus for my interest in birds.  It was such a joyous occasion when the male in my photos below offered me a chance to get all these great photos.  It is so blue that it almost blends in with the blue sky.

 Indigo Bunting - Female

 Indigo Bunting - Male


So now you all know a bit more about my childhood in Nebraska.  It is fun to return after being away for so long and now that I have a much larger understand of birds.  There is so much more of the state that I would like to explore.  So maybe i need to plan a road trip in the future!  Stay tuned for a second post covering this trip to Nebraska and my search for a special bird. 

Here is a photo of the old farm where I spent the first 18 years of my life. The house is now vacant.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Florida: The Remainder

My first two blog posts featuring my trip to Florida covered a trip to the Dry Tortugas and the chases for some rarities that are hard to find in the United States.  There were many more birds that were on my list and of course we planned them into our schedule as well.  This trip resulted in 24 new life birds for me and added 30 new species to my ABA list.  I am currently at 1042 life birds and 619 ABA birds.  For my next goal, I probably have a better chance at hitting the 1100 life bird target.  One strategically planned international destination would probably push me over that number.  Reaching 700 ABA birds will be a bit tougher as it will require several planned trips to more than one destination in the US.

One of the species that was high on my list was the Florida Scrub-Jay.  There are 4 species of Scrub-Jays in the United States and I had seen and photographed 3 of them prior to this Florida trip.  The Florida Scrub-Jay is endemic to Florida and found no where else in the US.  They have a specific habitat requirement and although they are not super rare, their range is a bit limited and they are listed as 'Vulnerable' by IUCN.  On this day, my birding friend Jeff Kietzman, who lives in southern Florida, offered to show us around and chase some of these target birds on our list.  The Florida Scrub-Jay was one of those birds.  Our target location was Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  When we reached the entrance to the park, Jeff thought we might be at the incorrect entrance, so we pulled in at the immediate parking lot to see if there was another entrance that we should maybe try.  As he parked the car, I was looking straight ahead into the scrub and saw a bird perched on the dead snag.  Immediately, I could tell it was our target bird the Florida Scrub-Jay and all 3 of us quickly got out of the car to view it through binoculars and try to get some fairly distant photos of this bird.  As we were watching it, the bird dropped down off the dead tree snag and headed directly to us. It kept coming and I thought it was going to land on my head, but veered off at the last second and landed in a tree very close by.  It was so close, that I could not even use my zoom lens for photos.  I had to back up a bit to get photos.  You will note that this bird has quite a bit of jewelry on its legs.  Most of these birds are banded as young birds in nests to assist in keeping track of their numbers and distribution.

Florida Scrub-Jay

Same bird on the distant perch.

And here it is, preparing to launch itself in our direction.

Jeff also knew where to find some of our other key targets, including Snail Kite, Gray-headed Swamphen, Shiny Cowbird, White-winged Parakeet, and Common Myna.  We are so thankful that Jeff volunteered to help us locate some of these birds.  In the process of finding those birds, we also saw many more that gave me opportunities to get photos of some of these birds that I had not been able to photograph in the past.  

Gray-headed Swamphen

Snail Kite - Juvenile

Shiny Cowbird - on right, Brown-headed Cowbird on left for comparison.  Had to settle for a couple of distant photos like this one.

Common Myna - An introduced species, but is well established in Florida.  This was taken in the dark before the sun came up.

White-winged Parakeet - Another introduced species, but established in Florida.  Recent trends show the numbers are declining.

Of course we found many birds on our own as well.  With the traffic in southern Florida, we did try to manage our time and destinations to maximize productivity.  Here are some more photos of some of these birds that we got to see.  Several were lifers and some were new birds for my ABA list and many were just birds that I had never been able to get decent photos.  Had a lot of photos to process once I returned to Arizona.  

 Piping Plover - Had only seen this bird once before. 

White Ibis - Juvenile - Got my lifer of this species in Arizona, believe it or not!  But this was great as I got to see many more in Florida.

White Ibis - Adult

Glossy Ibis

 Fish Crow - Very distinct call, recorded for my eBird report.  Very similar in appearance to the more common American Crow.


 Anhinga - Male in breeding plumage

 Anhinga - Nest with chicks

 White-crowned Pigeon

Yellow-crowned Heron

 Wood Stork - Pair

Wood Stork - With chick

Tricolored Heron

 Red-bellied Woodpecker

Swallow-tailed Kite

 Black and White Warbler

 Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler - Had only seen this bird once before

This is a Saffron Finch that I discovered in a cemetery the morning that we departed Florida.  Most likely an escapee from someone in the neighborhood.  They are established in Hawaii, but not in Florida, so they are non ABA countable in Florida.  But it was fun to find something a bit different.  Not a lifer for me as I saw several of these colorful birds in Ecuador last summer.  

Par for the course, I did not get to see every species that I had on my original list, but I narrowed it down considerably.  Next trip will be fewer life species, but I will have more time to target the species that I am still missing from this key area of the United States.