Friday, December 30, 2011

Hooded Crane Adventure Day 2

Day 2
Instead of going back to the hotel off the interstate, we decided to give the Holiday Inn Express in Dayton, TN a try.  It was only about 15 minutes from the Refuge, and we had met a couple who had stayed there last night.  Glad we did, too, because our room was $30 cheaper tonight!  Plus, we got a King Size bed!  For those of you who know my husband, Dave, you know what I mean – he’s a giant.  In our queen size bed at home, he has to sleep diagonally, and I get this little triangle of the bed for me.  But, in the King Size bed, I got to spread out!  It was terrific!  We aet dinner at Alaya’s Mexican Restaurant and I was not impressed.  I think I can still taste the onions from my taco on my tongue today.

Up at 6:30am, in truck by 7:30am and its 35F.  Great!  10 degrees warmer than yesterday, and NO FOG! 

We got to the Refuge at about 8:10am and as we approached the observation deck, we asked “Anything?”  “Yep, it flew by at 7:55am.”  Shit!  We had missed it by 15 minutes!  We had stood on that observation platform, looking through our scopes, all day yesterday – and I mean all day.  I have never spent an entire day, just standing looking through a scope and scanning 1000’s of birds before, and I sure didn’t want to do it again today!  Crap!  The Hooded Crane had dropped in just behind a row of corn, down into what appeared to be a swell coming off the inlet. But, we couldn’t see it.

We all trained our scopes to that spot.  All 30+ of us.  Then Dave yelled, “It’s up!  Flying right to left”.  And, sure enough there it was for about 1 second and then it dropped behind the point of land sticking out into the inlet – it was gone.  A few of us were lucky enough to see it, but not many.  Ugh!  This is so frustrating.  We really want to watch the bird, see its behavior, and really SEE it.  So, again, we trained our scopes at the spot where it had dropped, hoping that it would walk up the rise on the point so that we could see it again.

The Whooper’s were there again, as well as a couple of Red-tails.  We saw a few of the folks that had been here yesterday too.  As I signed our names to the guest list that was circulating, I casually scanned the names on the list to see where everyone was from.  A guy had driven all the way down from New Jersey, and Vic Fazio was the name just above mine.  I recognized that name from the Ohio birding network.  So, I tapped him on the shoulder and introduced myself.  How cool is that?  Plus, Herman Mays from the Cincinnati Museum Center was there with his 6 yr old son, Cameron.  Small world, this birding community…

I rotated between looking through my scope at the spot where the crane had dropped, to scanning the weeds along the shoreline, to using my binocs to scan Sandhills that were continually taking off and landing along the back side of that point of land.  Nothing.  At least it was warmer today. 

Then I saw a white head raise up in the weeds on the back side of the point of land.  I whispered to Dave, “Hey, Dave, behind the 6 Sandhills that are eating behind the Whooper is a white head sticking up in the weeds. Do you see it?”  I noticed that Vic immediately rotated his scope over to that area too.  I could see a white neck and head that was much brighter than all of the Sandhills.  But, I wasn’t confident and the light could be playing tricks on me.  I waited, saying nothing.  

Then Dave said, “That’s it!”  I quickly shouted out directions to everyone on the observation deck.  Then the head went down.  Crap!  You could feel the excitement and tension among the observers on the deck.  Some had seen it, and some were still trying to figure out where to look.  Voices could be heard explaining which weeds to look at.  Everyone was focused on that spot.  We waited, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, then the head was back up!  Then gone.  This was torture!  We waited, increasing the zoom on our lenses to their maximum.  Watching every movement of the weeds, hoping the bird would resurface.

Then it was back!  Walking right up the bank and into full view!  Wow!  How cool was that!  The camera shutters were flying!  The Hooded Crane was beautiful!  Elegant black with a white neck and head.  Casually meandering in the weeds picking at food.  High fives went around the deck!  Sounds of celebration could be heard all along the boardwalk.  We lingered for a good 30 minutes taking photos and hoping that just one would turn out.  The bird was still a good 200 yards from us.  Wow!  What a great life bird!

It was 10am, and we could head home.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Man, I love Bonnie Rait.  I was finally able to enjoy some downtime after Christmas.  The grandkids were gone, and the other kids, home from college or the military were sleeping off their evening adventures.  I was sorting through the music my son had downloaded onto my computer from his ipod, named Pinky.  Other than the techno stuff that all sounds the same to me, he actually has good taste in music.  Lots of R&B, classic rock and some American standards.  It was fun to see Aerosmith and Perry Como mixed in with 50Cent and Sublime.  Anyway, I was happily listening and organizing my itunes, when my phone beeped and a text came in from Sammy.  “Hooded Crane in Tennessee”. 

Before I could answer the text, my phone rang and it was my birder husband. Funny how that timing worked.  He’d gotten Sammy’s text too.  So, why beat around the bush.  “Are we going?”, I asked.  Hooded Cranes are from Japan, so hearing that one had dropped in only 7 hrs south of us, was a real score!  We were going to have to cancel bird banding tomorrow anyway, because of high winds, so we COULD get away. I don’t see a trip to Japan in our near future, and Dave has been obsessed with Vanderpool’s Big Year, so I already knew the answer to my question.  “I’m on my way home now”, he replied. “If we leave now, we can be back home tomorrow”.  He’d already reworked his schedule and called our sleeping 20-something year old children to make sure they would take care of the pets while we were gone.

By 4pm, we were on the road.  Then, we had to turn around and go back home because I forgot my phone on the charger!  So, at 4:30pm we were at the bank getting cash, filling the gas tank and running into Radio Shack to get an adaptor so we could listen to a book on the ipod through the truck speakers.  Man, I love Radio Shack.  I really like those new 4 G phones – maybe a HTC Resound or Thunder….  I guess I took too long in the store, because the next thing I knew, Dave was pacing next to me asking me if I was done yet.  Yep, done.  Adaptor in hand, and off we went to Tennessee. 

But, wait, where was Dave's phone?  He's ALWAYS on the phone - worse than a woman.  We scoured the truck and called home on my phone.  Nope, the kids couldn't find it at home, but the bank had called.  He'd left it there, and Amanda would pick it up tomorrow. LOL!  They say the mind is the first thing to go, sweetie!  :-)

We made it to Athens by 11pm and got a room at the Holiday Inn Express.  Very nice hotel with comfy beds and friendly staff.   6am wake up call, a quick shower and breakfast and we were on the road by 7:30am.  27F with frost on the truck, Thursday, December 29, 2011.  I‘m surprised that it’s already light outside! We soon hit fog as we meandered our way up Hwy 60 to Birchwood and the Hiwassi Wildlife Reserve. 

The fog was thick and visibility was only about 30 feet until about 9:15am.  Even so, there was an average of 30 people on the observation deck all day.  Apparently, John Vanderpool saw the bird yesterday morning by 9am, and no fog.  So our hopes of seeing the bird were high.  Dave and another guy saw a fly-by of the bird at about 3pm, but that was it.  

Two Whoopers were hanging around all day.  We were pretty far away, but Dave got this shot of the younger one.

We stayed until dark, but didn't see the Hooded Crane again.  I hate to come all this way and not see the bird, so we've decided to spend another night and try again in the morning.  I’m hoping for no fog in the morning.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Woops! That's a Life List of 650!!!

So, I just found out from my Birder husband that he doesn't have 600 species on his life list.  He's got 650!  That's 6-5-0!  Oops!  I just performed another birding fau pas when I mistakenly reported his life list 50 species short.   Sheesh!  LOL!!! Am I ever going to get this birding thing right?! *smile*.  
Congrats on 650, baby!  I'm proud of you, no matter how many species you have on your life list.

Four Life Birds in Four Days!

I realize that the title of this entry probably sounds funny to most of our family members as well as the general public.  But, in the world of the "elite" or should I say "freakishly obsessed" Birder, Life Birds become harder and harder to get.  With only 675 or so breeding species in North America, the Birder with over 500 species on his/her Life List has to really work to get those last 175 - as well as transient migrants and rarities that drop in.
Well I'm married to one of those maniacal Birders and while attending the Inland Bird Banding Association meetings in the lower Rio Grande Valley last week, he saw his 600th bird species for ABA North America.  Yep, that's right.  600 species!  Like Greg Miller, of The Big Year told me, "You've got to be lucky and good!"  Well, not to brag, but my husband is a damn good birder, and one of the luckiest SOBs I know!

Great job, Dave!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

IBBA - Rio Grande Valley Dec 2010

What a beautiful area of the country, south Texas is... clear blue skies that go on forever, and 80F weather with a nice strong wing to keep you cool.  The dragonflies are in abundance, and I was able to snap this shot of a Roseate Skimmer at Alligator Pond in Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco, TX.
Also got great looks at Green Jays!

More photos to come!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday Extravaganza!

Great road trip to NE Ohio this weekend!  In honor of Black Friday, we picked up life birds Black-headed Gull (above) at Conneaut, Black-tailed Gull at Ashtabula as well as seeing an adult Black-crowned Night Heron at the Ashtabula marina.  Black Friday all around!  Sister Mary also picked up a 3rd life bird, Cackling Goose, in with a bunch of Canada's swimming around the marina.  Observers:  Sr Marty Dermody, Steve Kolbe, Dave and Jill Russell.

Just want to thank all of the birders who helped us all find the gulls this weekend. We had a great telephone tree system in Ashtabula that helped get the word out quickly. Met some terrific folks who had driven up from New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina, Michigan, and of course all over Ohio!
Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Transcontinental Trek 2011 Day 9: Fort Nelson - Teslin, Yukon

Fort Nelson is about 283 miles from Dawson Creek, the beginning of the Alaska Highway (formerly called the Alcan).  The town was first established in 1805 by the NorthWest Fur Trading Co. and the current site is the fifth location for town.  Sort of a bloody history with massacres, high finance bidding wars, natural disasters, etc forcing the town to be moved repeatedly.  Currently, the town operates around the oil and gas industries, especially, Spectra Energy, the largest natural gas processing plant in North America. We stayed at a nice hotel and had breakfast at 6:30am in the hotel  – Ham & Eggers (kind of yucky, but Dave loved them).  I had a yogurt instead.  I swear, I've eaten so much on this road trip that I think I've gained 10 lbs!  Yuck!

Leaving Fort Nelson, the highway veers west through the northern Canadian Rockies for the next 200 miles.  This is my favorite part of the entire drive. 
A few miles out of town, we saw this black bear walking along the highway and then stopping for a drink at a little stream.
As we entered Stone Mountain Provincial Park, we climbed in elevation until we reached Summit Pass.  This is the highest summit on the Alcan and the lake was still frozen.
Less than a mile down the road, we saw a couple of caribou through the trees.
Coming down from Summit lake, the highway winds through a rocky limestone gorge before descending into the wide and picturesque MacDonald River valley.  As we navigated the sharp turns of the gorge, we came upon two Stone Sheep rams.

How cool is that?!  Stone Sheep are indigenous to the mountains of northern BC and southern Yukon Territory.  These are darker and somewhat slighter than the bighorn sheep in the Rockies. Last August, we saw females and babies here, but no rams. 

Not even a mile further down the gorge, Dave spotted these Bohemian Waxwings sitting in a tree.  He slammed on the breaks, sending gear falling on Bob's head, and turned around to snap this photo!

We stopped at the Toad River Lodge to go potty and stretch our legs.  The lodge is historic and has been in operation since 1950.  It's a cool place with tons of ball caps (over 6800) hanging from the ceiling.  On the way out of town, this Ruffed Grouse walked across the highway.

We finally made it to my favorite place on the Alcan - Muncho Lake.  I just don't understand why Dave refuses to move here with me!  See that little purple speck on the bottom left?  That's me, just soaking in the beauty of this magical place.  Much of the lake was still frozen.

The highway along the lake required considerable rock excavation by the Army in 1942. Horses were used to haul away the rocks. Muncho Lake is known for its deep green and blue waters, and is 7 miles long and 1 mile wide. - elevation 2680 ft. The deepest point is about 730 feet.
It just doesn't get any better than this.

I vote we skip Alaska, and just stay here.
The lake drains the Sentinel Range to the east and the Terminal Range to the west and the mountains surrounding the lake are about 7,000 ft high.

We stopped in at the Double G truck stop, motel, post office, bus station and Environment Canada station and visited with Jack and Lois.  This one cluster of buildings makes up the town of Muncho Lake.

Lois and Jack are two of the hardest working people I have ever met - and boy can they cook!  I got a loaf of Jack's brown bread to bring home with me!

Dave relinquished some control and let Bob drive to Watson Lake.  A few miles outside of town we came upon this family group of Bison.

Then we saw this little guy digging for food.
Carl Lindley, a US Army Soldier in company D, 341st Engineers, working on construction of the Alcan in 1942, started the Signpost Forest in Watson Lake.

Now there are over 70,000 signs hanging in the forest, including our AREI licence plate from last summer!

We pulled into the Yukon Motel in Teslin, Yukon Territory at about 7:30pm.  Grabbed some dinner and birded a little behind our cabin and hit the sack.  Exhausted, and extremely happy!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Transcontinental Trek Day 8: Prince George to Fort Nelson, BC

7:30am foggy, but promising to be a sunny day. Stopped at McDonalds for coffee and ate a cinnamon roll we got in Kirkland at the Brown Bag Café.

Bob saw our first moose standing near the side of the highway, but neither Dave nor I saw it. Yeah!!! Our first moose! We couldn't go back to see it, though, because it quickly walked into the woods and was hidden from sight.  It is now a bright sunny day, 53F. At mile 70 we stopped at the rest area next to Crooked River and saw our first Golden Crowned Sparrow. 

We haven't seen this species since we were on Kodiak Island on our honeymoon. How cool! Lincoln Sparrows were skittering all around in the leaf litter.
At about 115 miles from Prince George is a roadside turnout for Bijoux Falls Provincial Park. 

We were the only ones there and were able to get some great views of the falls!  Do you see what hat I'm wearing, Fred?

There were a couple of Steller’s Jays hanging out in the parking lot.  Yes, I know there is a stick in front of him!
We stopped at Pine Pass (elev 3061 ft), the highest point on the Hart Hwy and the lowest pass breaching the Rockies in Canada.

Azouzetta Lake still frozen.

 Myrtle Butter-butts, as we have moved out of the range of Audubon’s. It's Sunny and 59F.  I gotta tell you, we've had the best weather on this trip.
Trumpeter Swans on pond just before Peace Foothills welcome sign overlooking the Pine River Valley. We could see the foothills of the Rockies to the south and west.

Chetwynd at noon, 65F and absolutely gorgeous! Chetwynd (formerly called Little Prairie) is the division poit of the BC railway.  It is considered the "most livable small community" in BC. Stopped at the visitors center and looked at the collection of sculptures from the World Chairnsaw Championships. Very cool!

My turn to drive. North on 29 (Hudson’s Hope Loop) toward the Alaska Hwy (some still call it the Alcan). We drove by this lumber processing plant and were amazed at how many logs were stacked here.

 The birch trees here have not begun to leaf out, whereas the birch down along the Pine River Valley have bright green leaves springing out. Dave says he’s been suffering from a little altitude sickness all morning, and is finally feeling better. He grabbed a hotdog at the 7 Eleven gas station. Yuck! That would MAKE me sick.

We reached Fort Nelson at a reasonable time and decided to walk down to the RV park Saloon for dinner.  The best meatloaf dinner I've ever had!