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Old Sunday 3rd April 2011, 04:21   #1
MKinHK
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USA Grand Tour

[b][/BThis afternoon I flew into Washington DC at the beginning of a five week work-cum-holiday tour that will take me from DC on the East Coast, to Corpus Christi (apparently America's birdiest city) on the Gulf Coast, then to Yellowstone, and on to St Louis, Missouri, before finishing off with 10 days in California (based around San Francisco) and four days near Chicago.

Having never birded before in N America, except for being in Canada as a five-year-old (I remember American Avocet, rather spectacularly in a meltwater pool at the base of the Athabasca Glacier) its all going to be new and a bit mind-blowing.

The first view of the US was some lights in the dark somewhere in far western Alaska, and one movie later I opened the blind again to stupendous views of the first rays of sunlight touching endless snow-covered mountains all the way to the gently curving horizon (sorry flat-earthers), and the most incredible deep blue above - a stunning spectacle!

Rtaher less exciting was my first and only identifiable bird - a flock of 20-odd Eurasian Starlings in a greener corner of lawn between the terminals at Chicago where I changed planes. The fun should really start tomorrow.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Monday 4th April 2011, 00:39   #2
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Hey Mike,

Sounds like it will be a great time. Looking forward to hearing about all you see! (Guess you're in time for cherry blossoms in DC, or maybe they're finished already?)

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Old Monday 4th April 2011, 09:57   #3
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Hi Gretchen

The cherry blossoms are out in all their glory on the edge of the tidal lagoon and and in various other spots around the city - If I don't fall asleep I'll add a pic or two at the end of this posting.

First day in a new continent and a whopping 29 new species in just a few hours of birding in a range of urban parks

A Northern Mockingbird called loud enough to pierce the hotel roomwindow I can't open from an aerial across the street from the Hotel before swooping down to the trees right next to my room.

After breakfast and I walked down to Lafayette Park, bursting with magnolia trees in the full glory of their spring bloom, and was delighted to find some 30 Dark-eyed Juncos in fine voice and very tame. For China birders there are superficial similarities to Fujian Slaty Bunting, but their jizz and demeanour was so different that the association swiftly disappeared. This was the first of four sparrows, which also included several Song Sparrows, incuding a couple of birds doing some strange scraping of the gound wit ther right foot as they foraged in the grass, a single White-throated Sparrow, showing a fine yellow supercilium, and a smaller, longer-tailed, and wonderfully confiding Field Sparrow at my afternoon birding spot - Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (plus the plastic House Sparrows).

There were a couple of Downy Woodpeckers in the park, along with half a dozen each of American Robin (plus a quartet patriotically patrolling the White House Lawn) and glittering black Common Grackles and a single, pointy-tailed Mourning Dove. Birds overhead included a couple of groups of flyover Double-crested Cormorants half a dozen Ring-billed Gulls, while the second of two female Brown-headed Cowbirdskindly dropped in so I could enjoy a look at the bird that made international news by falling dead from the sky in their hundreds a few weeks ago.

A short city tour of the major monuments under an an almost disturbingly blue sky - its never this colour in HK - even on the good days - bore eloquent testimony to the value of greening (or in the case of the cherry blossoms) pinking for urban biodiversity.

A trim Sharp-shinned Hawk was the first of a fine set of raptors, followed by a Turkey Vulture drifting easily over Capitol Hill, a fluffy- vented Cooper's Hawk kept things interesting at the haunting Korean War memorial, while a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk, a fish-carrying Osprey and best of all a pair of soaring adult Bald Eagles more than compensated for an unexpectedly costly cross-town taxi ride to Kenilworth.

Other highlights of the day included a female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a handsome posse of Northern Flickers - kindly flaunting their yellow tail shafts as they chased off a Hairy Woodpecker out of their tree, and a pair of White-bellied Nuthatches at the Vietnam Memorial.

I headed over to Kenilworth after lunch and immediately scored on arrival, with a fine adult Great Blue Heron and a complaining Belted Kingfisher. A protracted loiter along the Boardwalk also delivered a pair of Pied-billed Grebes and a female Red-breasted Merganser, and half-a-dozen Killdeer and a lone Lesser Yellowlegs puttering about on the exposed mud. I also had close views of my first "real" Canada Geese.

The loiter here really paid off as what I took to be a mixed flock of migratingTree Swallows and Northern Roughwing Swallows dropped out of the sky and fed over the marsh. The Tree Swallows were elegance personified, with immaculate white underparts and rose-beetle green backs, while the buff-headed, square-tailed rough-wings reminded me of Brown-throated Martins from western China.

Cheers,
Mike
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Old Monday 4th April 2011, 12:02   #4
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Nice pics and good to have you in the States. You had perfect timing on the cherry blossoms. Keep us posted.
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Old Tuesday 5th April 2011, 03:19   #5
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Thanks Lashinla

A quieter day today, with just one new bird and one probable - a pair of Cardinals showed briefly in the garden where my course is being held, and there was not much more than a few American Robins in Lafayette Park this evening, including one that provided a view more usual in deep forest birds.

I did also see a long rufous tail disappearing into a bush that was almost certainly a Brown Thrasher, but that one will have to wait for another day.
And finally . . . the White House was looking pretty in the late evening sunlight.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Tuesday 5th April 2011, 04:46   #6
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Well, after the incredible first day, it was bound to slow down (especially as you're indoors more). I was last in DC two years ago, my first time as a bird watcher, and I was quite impressed with how bird friendly it is. Your observations just confirmed that for me. Keep your ears out for B. thrashers - I recall having heard some before seeing them (though not always). Guess that you will see some finches before too long and could be getting warblers already....

Loved your high stepping Grackle picture - they are a favorite bird of mine actually. I also appreciate Tree Swallows as very handsome birds. Glad to see the weather (and flora), as well as the birds, are really putting on a good show.
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Old Tuesday 5th April 2011, 10:52   #7
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I enjoyed reading about your birding adventures here in the states. It is always a thrill to go birding in new territory!
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Old Tuesday 5th April 2011, 15:19   #8
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Hi Mike,

Looking forward to following your 5 weeks of discovery! I'm going to have to wait till the last couple of weeks though for your time in the Bay Area that I know.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Tuesday 5th April 2011, 16:20   #9
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Hi Mike. Welcome to the States!

You've got a nice itinerary, though you'll miss a bunch of eastern migration. Hopefully you'll catch up with those species in Chicago.
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Old Tuesday 5th April 2011, 21:07   #10
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Birding in D.C. area

Hey Mike!

I seem to be the last to know where you were (are) (( for which, thanks Gretchen)) and hope you are still in D.C. because that is where I come from and I have a couple ideas of places for you, although I guess you researched before you left. Anyhow ...

In Virginia, down the Potomac River about 10 miles from Washington there is a wonderful marsh that juts out into the river and is a magnet for the locals (birders as well as birds). Name is Dyke Marsh. Not far away, and inland, there is a place called Huntley Meadows which is a rather large pond (created by beavers) surrounded by marsh and woods. I suggest, if you are interested, you look up Virginia Birding on the net and post a request for someone to take you around there.

If you don't have a car, you can take the metro (yellow line) to the terminus at Huntington which is about a mile and a half away from Dyke Marsh (and maybe the same from Huntley Meadows.)

Let me know if you have any questions.

Best from here and enjoy your adventure (how could you not - lots of red, white and blue birds waiting for you! :-)) )

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Old Wednesday 6th April 2011, 03:40   #11
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After missing out this morning - a bummer as overnight rain may have dropped some migrants - I had a terrific session this evening - walking down to the cherry-ringed Tidal Basin from the Washington Monument.

A small stand of cherry with a couple of pines held a pair of Cardinals - and I enjoyed watching the female munching away on the blossoms. An unfamiliar call was being troublesome to pin down, before a pristine Palm Warbler dropped onto the ground and gave tremendous views.

The same stand also held 10 House Finches, another new bird for me, and looking very similar to Common Rosefinch in Hong Kong.

The weather in Washington has been bizarre - 15 centigrade on Sunday, 26 on Monday and then back to a chilly 15 again this afternoon and the chilly wind blowing across the Tidal Basin made it pretty difficult to view the water. However I did get killer views of a Pied-Billed Grebe down on the water and as I walked round behind the Jefferson Memorial found first a Dark-eyed Junco and then a flock of 20 odd Chipping Sparrows with a couple of Field Sparrows lurking amongst them.

Crossing the road to another stand next to the Potomac River a small posse of Song Sparrows were feeding in a flowerbed and my optimistic rooting about in the back bushes eventually resulted in good but brief views of a handsomely rufous Brown Thrasher, complete with dashing long tail and a slim piebald wing bars. The same area held a pre-roost flock of some 30 Common Grackles and a Northern Mockingbird popped up a couple of minutes later.

Back on the Tidal Pond a couple of Slavonian Grebes (one still in winter plumage and one with a fine set of ear tufts but a very mucky throat. Both had the flat crown and deeper bill that comfortably separates Slavonian Grebes from Black-necked.

There was a flock of some 30 Tree and Barn Swallows feeding and a couple of Rough-winged Swallowshunting over the pond, but the real highlight and a fine cap to a very good evening session was seeing a pair of Bufflehead which had obviously dropped in to roost for the night.

I'm wiped out now - pix tomorrow.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 01:11   #12
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Another good day with a few birds coming from a site visit to the Shenandoah Valley in rural Virginia.

Birds from the bus included good numbers of Black and Turkey Vultures, and when we arrived at the Avex Fibres Superfund site a hunched blob on the edge of a rainwater puddle obliged by becoming my first Pectoral Sandpiper of the trip.

Other birds at this impressive example of Government taking a proactive role in ecological restoration included 2 American Coot, 5 Ring-necked Ducks and a couple of female Red-breasted Merganser on a single pond, along with a Red-winged Blackbird in the bulrushes,a glorious flock of American Goldfinchesa pair of Red Cardinals and a Northern Mockingbird. Down by the river a Great Blue Heron landed briefly before realizing I was there, and a large, noisy flycatcher in the mid-storey has left me scratching my head.

Lunch was a trip to small-town America, along with a great micro brew and a fine half-pound burger plus a pair of House Finches in the main square.

Afterwards a trip to the Smithsonian Institute's forest research site added Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a Common Raven and a pair of Tufted Titmouse, and as a final treat a perched Bald Eagle from the bus on the way back to DC.

Cheers
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 11:47   #13
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Many thanks for the recommendation Norm - it looks like a great site. I've struggled to find a good single source for sites around DC, so the Dyke Marsh/Huntley Meadows recommendation is welcome indeed!

I may have time on either Friday or Saturday to get that far out of town - my programme here is pretty full, and I head on to Corpus Christi on Saturday afternoon.

As promised a few days ago . . . a few more pix.

Note to photogrphers - pic 3 is a gentle reminder of what "record shot" used to mean!

Cheers
Mike
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 11:50   #14
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Nice one Mike, this'll be an interesting read, I look forward to the Yellowstone and California bits. Any concrete plans for the Chicago area?
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 13:31   #15
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Enjoying your report, Mike!

I've been to a number of birding spots around St. Louis. One spot I can recommend for some good wetland birding, if you have the time to make the hour drive north, is Clarence Cannon National Wildlife Refuge and nearby state-run B.K. Leach Conservation Area. Both areas hold some of Missouri's last King Rails, and are great for other marshbirds, ducks, and waders during migration.

Augusta Busch Conservation Area is a bit closer, on the E side of St. Louis, and is good for woodland birds. There are a few fields that held Henslow's Sparrow when I was there a few years ago, although I don't know if that is still the case.
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 13:51   #16
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Dyke Marsh / Huntley Meadows

Hi Mike,

As I say, if you look up Virginia Birding you will see a lot of postings, and if you make a plea for someone to show you around, I'd bet someone would offer.

Failing that, take the yellow metro line to the Huntington terminus and catch a taxi to either place. I'm not sure the driver would know Huntley Meadows, but for Dyke Marsh, if he doesn't know that tell him the marina off of the George Washington Parkway. Dyke Marsh is to the right, downriver from the picnic grounds along the Parkway.

Very sorry I didn't know of your plans in advance. Also that I will be there myself in three weeks - which is of little use to you ...

Anyhow, good luck!

Norm
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Old Thursday 7th April 2011, 16:32   #17
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Nice shot of the Jefferson Memorial, Mike. A place every American should visit.
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Old Friday 8th April 2011, 03:11   #18
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Mike, sounds like the trip is off to a great start! Sounds like you're finding most of the "basic birds" now that the finches have started to show. Interesting to have as many eagles as hawks (individuals not species)!

Some very nice pics - I like the squirrel nibbling the leaf (flower?) buds. I've seem them doing that on the tree - but never saw them pick their branches off the tree (or perhaps he picked it up). Hmm squirrels as producers of nesting materials perhaps...
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Old Saturday 9th April 2011, 04:26   #19
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Many thanks for all the encouragement and advice about where to go birding in different cities. No plans yet for Chicago, but I'll be staying abut 30 miles south in a town called Bourbonnais - any recommendations welcomed!

And another good day today - First up were four Northern Flickers and a mutant Dark-eyed Junco on Lafayette Park A nice pair of American Wigeon a female Lesser Scaup and a Great Egret on the pool by the WWII memorial, plus three Red-breasted Merganser and half a dozen Bufflehead on the Potomac by the Lincoln Memorial. The afternoon was even better as an adult Slavonian Grebe preceded a male Ruddy Duck with a pair of Hooded Mergansers as I walked south along the riverbank.

Other good birds in the morning included a very approachable Osprey eating a good-sized fish in a tree close to the Vietnam war memorial statue, while a female Red-winged Blackbird and a small band of Chipping Sparrows were the best birds before heading back for the start of the programme.

The rain came down in the afternoon, dropping a few migrants along the cherries south from the Jefferson Memorial. Three Hermit Thrushes were a big new tick for a very small thrush, while my second Palm Warbler and Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a couple of Brown Thrashers, 3 White-crowned Sparrows lurked along the same hedgerow next to the golf course. A single Blue Jay and a apir of Northern Cardinals added a little more colour.

Five Greater Black-backed Gulls were in the Ring-billed Gull flock by the Jefferson Monument.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 11:50   #20
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Having missed the bus for my first meeting the day before, discretion beat out valour and instead of heading down to Huntley Meadows I went to Theodore Roosevelt Island to make sure I did not miss the bus to the air port for my 2pm flight to Corpus Christi. Online research suggests I missed out on the chance of some great birds, but in the limited time available I had a terrific session.

As I crossed the bridge onto the island a pair of ducks flew in and to my delight landed on a tree branch some 15 metres above the ground. This is of course what Wood Ducks are supposed to do!

At the same spot a bit of pishing brought in a fine mix of woodland birds. A pair of Carolina Chickadees led the flock, followed by a couple of very curious American Robins, and shortly thereafter a bundle of Tufted Titmice, White-throated Sparrows, a White-Bellied Nuthatch and best of all a highly melodious Carolina Wren.

As I persisted I was surprised to find that the woodpeckers were also being drawn in. A Downy Woodpecker appeared first, followed by a couple of noisy Northern Flickers, which kept to the treetops. The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker came much closer than expected, but all of these were knocked into a cocked hat by the appearance of a magnificent Pileated Woodpecker just 10 metres away. What a bird!

After this tremendous start I headed round the island, walking from north to south along the boardwalk through the swamp that runs along the eastern shore. A quartet of Blue Jays greeted my next bout of pishing with a mix of curiosity and suspicion, and chse to keep their distance. Here I again got great eye-level views of the Carolina Chickadees, and a Brown Creeper, along with the first of five Blue-grey Gnatcatchers - an elegant and understated bird which, with its long slender bill and frequently cocked tail, looks like it fills a similar niche to the tailorbirds of Asia. These also responded well to my pishing, as did a posse of five handsome Palm Warblerswhich came in close to check me out, tails pumping.

The only waterbirds present were a couple of flyover Great Blue Herons and a dozen each of Mallard and Wood Duck on the pond. As time ran out I headed back along the centre of the island, hearing another Carolina Wren and getting terrific views of a Hermit Thrush.

Excluding the gloom-obscured birds of the evening before, the last time I had seen a catharus thrush was one of the more fortunate of an ill-fated fall of Grey-cheeked Thrushes on the Isles of Scilly in 1987 (one was taken by a cat and another landed on a rock which was immediately swamped by a wave). I had forgotten how small and neat they were, and without the rain and stress about missing the bus of the evening before, I was able to enjoy close views as it calmly examined me before disappearing into a bush.

With time ticking away I had fine views of a perched osprey and my first distant, indistinct, female treetop dendroica warbler. An olive-grey bird with almost no colour except for some fine streaks on the flanks and a hint of yellow below the point of the wing suggested a first winter female Yellow-rumped Warbler. However at 40 metres against the sky and with no confirmatory flash of yellow from the rump this will have to be one that got away.

And that was it for DC, or almost . . . as the bus headed out to the airport an immature Bald Eagle with a newly caught fish was flying down the Potomac river, right by the edge of the highway.

The post should end here. Not too long, some good birds,a bit of history and a nice finale. However when we touched town in Corpus Christi on the Gulf Coast several large rabbits with long black-tipped ears were feeding on the grass next to the runway and, amongst the Common Grackles loitering outside the terminal building were several of the larger, far more flamboyant, Great-tailed Grackles making the fitst avian reminder that everything is bigger in Texas.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Sunday 10th April 2011, 17:06   #21
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Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
No plans yet for Chicago - any recommendations welcomed!
Can't help there sorry, I was asking for much the same reason - I'll be passing through Chicago later in the year, but plan is to probably do no birding (or even linger) anywhere within 500 km of the city.


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Originally Posted by MKinHK View Post
Excluding the gloom-obscured birds of the evening before, the last time I had seen a catharus thrush was one of the more fortunate of an ill-fated fall of Grey-cheeked Thrushes on the Isles of Scilly in 1987 (one was taken by a cat and another landed on a rock which was immediately swamped by a wave).
I was there that year, maybe we have met
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Old Monday 11th April 2011, 12:35   #22
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After today Jos I'm quite happy to believe we've met. The reason being that as I arrived at Blucher Park - a famous migrant trap in Corpus Christi - I met an English birder, Martin Reid, who I had last met at Mai Po in Hong Kong in March 2011.

However before that a couple of corrections - there are no Common Grackles in Corpus Christi, so all the smaller birds I saw yesterday were female/imm male Great Tailed Grackles. I also mis-wrote Swainson's Thrush for Hermit Thrush which I have since corrected.

Today kicked off with a terrific 40 minutes on the waterfront opposite the Omni Hotel. As dawn broke flotillas of Brown Pelicans and a couple of hundred Laughing Gulls were flying south along the coast and past the marina. In amongst them were a few American Herring Gulls and a couple of dozen each of Sandwich and Royal Terns, and on a distant sandbank (and I hope to see more later) five Black Skimmers, one of my top targets here. Other bits and pieces included a Pied-billed Grebe, 8 Great Blue Heron, a flyover Peregrine, a couple of Black-bellied Tree Ducks Turnstone, Willet and American Oystercatcher on the breakwaters. The Willet was doing a pretty good Hudsonian Godwit impersonation, but I learned from Martin Reid that the western population is longer-billed and longer-legged than my mental picture of Willet, and much more likely to be perched on a rocky breakwater here. Nearby landbirds included my first White-winged Doves, more Great-tailed Grackles and a Collared Dove.

After breakfast I headed for Blucher Park, picking up Bronzy Cowbird, Crouch's Kingbird, Inca Dove and Golden-fronted Woodpecker immediately - a fine quartet of southern specialities! As I was scoping a tussle between a House Sparrow and a Purple Martin over nesting material a flock of Chimney Swifts wafted over, and I scored big time by meeting Martin and his wife Sheridan, who very kindly gave the rest of the morning to showing me how to get the best out of this small, but far from easy site.

Blucher Park is a sunken area with a stream running through it, and a good mix of trees, shrubs and lawns - a wonderful migrant trap on a very windy coast!

The fist bird we got onto was a female Hooded Wabler, flashing white tail feathers in the gloomy understorey, followed by a drab, but reassuringly yellow-vented Orange-crowned Warbler, a patchily blue Indigo Bunting. I reached overload when an absolutely stunning Scissor-tailed Flycatcher flew up and perched in view while we were watching a Long-billed Thrasher calling in a treetop, only to be distracted again by a Loggerhead Shrike!

Thankfully things calmed down a little after that - if seeing my first ever hummingbird - Black-chinned Hummingbird - and on the nest too! could be called calming! This was followed by Ruby-throated and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds coming into feeders on the Nature Conservancy Building and, after a brief foray to Rose Hill Cemetery, where we found Brown-crested Flycatcher and Blue-headed Vireo we returned to find a Lincoln Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and both Carolina and House Wrens. After Martin & Sheridan headed off my final explorations gave me better views of the Hooded and Orange-crowned Warblers and as a terrific finale a superb Yellow-breasted Chat gave excellent close views.

Nearly forgot -I also had my first Grey Catbirds, giving me a staggering 29 ticks on the day!

Cheers
Mike
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Last edited by MKinHK : Tuesday 12th April 2011 at 03:52.
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Old Wednesday 13th April 2011, 20:08   #23
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Old Saturday 16th April 2011, 05:31   #24
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Hi Jos. Back in the late 1980s I always went to Scilly at the end of October/beginnng of November to coincide with school half-term, so if you were around at that time in 87 or 88 its certainly possible that we met. How the world shrinks.

The list is certainly growing, Jeff. A combination of being too busy and too tired has kept me away from writing up the last couple of days, but three flights in 6 hours from Corpus Christi to Bozeman, Montana at lest gave me time to catch up with some pictures, which I'll post below.

Monday April 11 a round of meetings in the morning at Texas A&M University, which is situated right next to the Hans Suter wetland (giving me a drive-by Black-necked Stilt) was followed by a visit to the National Park visitor centre on North Padre Island. I was hopeful of seeing a few birds as the wind had switched from southerly to northerly and there was even a few drops of rain around 10 am.

As we drove down the island towards to centre a constant stream of hirundines were heading north on either side of the road, along with good numbers of Turkey Vultures and unidentifiable buteos, but the major highlight was a couple of Crested Caracaras perched on roadside fenceposts. A short walk along the beach in front of the visitor revealed a few waders picking over the mounds of seaweed washed up on the shore. These included a couple of Willet, several Turnstones, a couple of Grey Plovers and flock of Sanderlings. It was good to get close views of the Willets, confirming that my bird of the day before really was one.

After our meetings I sneaked off to a shallow pool just opposite the visitor centre that was full of birds. As I walked over a couple of gulls showing distinctive white flashes inside the dark primary tips flew over my head and landed behind some reeds. I was morally certain they were Franklin's Gulls, but had to wait a good forty minutes before the flock of what turned out to be 13 birds came off the marsh and flew over my head as they headed north together. This was a huge lifer as I've been wanting to see Franklin's Gulls ever since first seeing them in vagrants section of the Shell Guide when I first started birding in the 1980s.

The pond itself was exactly what any visiting birder dreams of - a good selection of easily identifiable birds at relatively close range. In addition to the familiar Great and Cattle Egrets, Reddish and Snowy Egrets were interspersed with four Little Blue Herons in a range of plumages, a couple of Tricoloured Herons and a fine flock of 20-odd Glossy Ibis. The Franklin's Gulls were hiding in a 200-strong mixed flock of Laughing Gulls, Royal and Sandwich Terns, and a solitary Caspian Tern.

I was delighted to find a White-tailed Hawk quartering the dunes and on the way back a Northen Harrier also showed well. It was also a pleasure to see good numbers of Brown Pelicans and a couple of White Pelicans drifting easily north, far too accomplished as fliers to be troubled by a headwind.

Cheers
Mike
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Old Saturday 16th April 2011, 13:13   #25
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The next day was set aside for a much anticipated visit to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Sadly this huge coastal sanctuary was in between seasons - most of the wintering waterfowl, including the Whooping Cranes, had already left, and few of the summer migrants had arrived.

There were still plenty of new birds, and things kicked off well with a flight of half-a-dozen Black Skimmers drifting over the highway from one lagoon to another, while an American Kestrel, several Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and 3 Crested Caracaras were good wire birds. 25 Franklin Gulls flying over the road were totally eclipsed by the Pickled Pelican bar, a glowing testament to the ingenuity of the good people of southern Texas, which offered midget wrestling and belt sander racing.

For reasons unknown the exterior of the Aransas visitor centre looks like a cross between a large tiled toilet block and a sunken command centre from the Maginot line. While the carpark was filled with fine old trees I was surprised that it did not overlook any significant habitat feature as reserves in the UK tend to do.

Anyway, I did get my first Wild Turkey stalking casually through the carpark and enjoyed the noise made by a big group of Great-tailed Grackles, Bronzed Cowbirds and Red-winged Blackbirds. A guided tour with a group of non-birders is often a frustrating experience, but we were all agreed on the undoubted excitement of seeing several good-sized Alligators at close quarters, and a Virginia Rail, panicked into immobility by our appearance, was a quality bird an highly reminiscent of Water Rail. A Tricoloured Heron posed nicely above one of the alligator pools.

A stop at Jones Lake provided a burst of new birds, including five Redheads and an American Purple Gallinule scrambling about in a tree by the water, but I could not string any of the Pied-billed Grebes into Least Grebes and many calling passerines remained stubbornly out of sight.

The final stop was an elevated viewing platform looking over some tidal mudflats and marshes. A mixed flock of juvenile and adult White Ibis exploring the water's edge were joined by a gorgeous Roseate Spoonbill, but the waders were a disappointment - a couple of Grey Plovers four Lesser Yellowlegs, and a flock of Dowitcher sp. were the only birds within decent viewing and I did not have enough time to sort out the Dowitchers.

On the way back we drove through the affluent Rockport suburb of Fulton Beach and a group of Blue-winged Teals floated serenely on one of the ponds.

And finally, the tap/faucet in the fifth pic reminded me of that incredibly annoying character in one of the later Star Wars movies.

Cheers
Mike
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