Tag Archives: birdwatching

Hawaiian Shirt Shorebird Safari

semi-palmated plover

You are not really here to see shorebirds are you?  C’mon, fess up.  You want to see birders in Hawaiian shirts. Well, I’ll get to that.

I first heard about the Hawaiian Shirt Shorebird Safari back in June when I attended the Bloggers who Blog, Tweet and Chirp outing.  I was chatting with Laura about birds, birding, our cats, and trips she has led; when she mentioned this crazy thing they do with the Brookline Bird Club.   They all wear Hawaiian shirts and leis while scouring South Beach for shorebirds in migration.  I instantly fell in love with the idea and resolved to go.

I drove up the day before and spent the night with Laura and Mark. We had to be at the meeting place at 8:30 am; the boat to South Beach left at 9.  (We used Rip Ryder in Chatham $25.00.)  As soon as we arrived, it was obvious this was not your usual birding trip.

birders meet-up

While Laura checked on the boat, Mark put out the box of leis.  I was wearing a cobalt blue shirt with hibiscus flowers and macaws on it.  Pretty snazzy, huh.  A multi-colored lei just added to the chaos.  The trip across to the spit was uneventful.  As we were wading to shore, a shouted “Whimbrel!”  made us all look up.  Nice.  On shore, scope legs were quickly slid out and the real business of the day began.

birders in Hawaiian shirts

There were Semi-palmated Plovers, Sanderlings, Short-billed Dowitchers, and a few Red Knots.


There were hundreds maybe even thousands of Terns including a few fly-by Roseates. There were Herring, Laughing and Ring-billed Gulls.

Birders in Hawaiian shirts

There was as a Ruddy Turnstone determined to dig a hole to China in search of sand worms.

Turnstone in a hole

Can you see it there in the bottom left?

We birded sitting,


and standing.


There were a lot of shorebirds, we ended up with 51 species. The Godwits put on quite the show.

hudsonian godwit

Big aloha thank you to Laura


and Mark


Dude, Mass birders so rock.  For more birds and less birders check out Picus Blog.


Filed under Travel

Birding with Alligators


I live in the northeast where there are, thankfully, no alligators (NYC sewer gators, notwithstanding) so when I come across them in my travels they always freak me out a little; it’s all that nature programming that shows them running with burst of speed at 30 MPH.  Of course, I have seen them in Florida, but it took me completely by surprise that there are alligators in Texas.  Call me naive.

I was walking along a boardwalk at Brazos Bend State Park when I noticed a cluster of folks blocking the trail.  As I stepped around them, I glanced over to see what the fuss was about and there was an alligator sunning itself on the bank.  gulp.  I hustled along the path.  By the time I had made the turn, I had seen several more in the water.  Interestingly enough, the birds did not care about the them at all.  There were flocks of Black-bellied Ducks standing on the bank, White Ibises picking in the shallows, American Pipits bobbing along the path.  But the gators eat birds, right?

Fed up with the rain, I was heading back to the car along a path between two of the lakes, when I heard a tiger roar.  Seriously.  That is what it sounded like.  A small pesky thought started bouncing around my head that it might be an alligator doing the bellowing.  With adrelinin pumping I started to walk more briskly down the path.  I fumbled in my pocket for the park map; I had noticed alligator etiquette tips on it.  Here they are in case you are somewhere without helpful tips on a map.

  • Do not annoy or feed the alligators
  • Keep pets on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Do not throw objects in the water for your dog to retrieve
  • Keep at least 30 feet from an alligator – do not assume they are slow-moving
  • Do not swim or wade in the water
  • If an alligator goes after a fish you have caught, cut the line and let the alligator have the fish
  • Avoid any alligator sunning itself in the middle of the trail or lake bank
  • Stay clear of grasses, twigs and/or soil near the side of a trail; it may be a nest and the mother alligator is probably close by guarding it.
  • If an alligator opens its mouth and hisses, you have come to close.  Retreat slowly, make no quick moves.  Keep your eyes on the alligator.

Be careful out there.



Filed under Travel

Birding Liberty State Park


Loads of toursits visit the Statue of Liberty when they come to New York City for the first time.  Few of them realize that Liberty State Park,  located smack-dab on the Hudson River amidst the crush of humanity in Jersey City, is a local birding hotspot.  With a mix of large open fields, marshland, a pine grove, weedy margins and mudflats when the tide goes out, it offers up a plethora (I love that word) of birding habitats.  It is especially good in winter.  There is a Snowy Owl there most years, living large on the rats.  There are also lots of different types of ducks, gulls and shorebirds.

I went down to the park with friends today to try for the Snowy.  It has been hanging around the golf course and waterfront.   I was also hoping to see the Eurasian Widgeon, immat. male Common Eider and 7 Woodcock that had been reported.  But I skunked on all of them.  I did see Green-winged Teal, loads of Brant, 2 Killdeer, 2 Horned Grebe, lots of Buffleheads,  DC Cormorants, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Black Ducks and the regular seagulls crowd-Herring, Greater Black-backed and Ring-billed.

Now that I know the lay of the land, so to speak, I plan on going back when it is a nicer and hopefully less windy day.  I wonder when Snowy Owls leave to go back north???


Filed under Local schmocal

Not all Red Birds are Cardinals


Cardinals were everywhere at Brazos Bend State Park .  I was seeing 10-15 at a time.  They were in the shrubs, trees, bushes and on the ground.  I’m tellin’ you there must have been a flock of 70 birds there.  Often I would see movement, only to swing up my bins to see yet another Cardinal.  By day 2 of birding the park, I was basically ignoring them-the cardinal sin.  (cardinal, sin, get it.. hehehehe.)  But you know what they say.  “Bird every bird.”  That means, do not assume, take for granted or otherwise be a lazy birder.   Because you never know. In this case.  Ain’t that the truth.  I brushed past this guy with a shrug  then a little alarm bell went off.  “Wait, something is not right!”  Turns out, it was So NOT a Cardinal.  While it was not a life bird, it was the best look I have ever had of a Vermillion Flycatcher.


I seem to have to re-learn this lesson pretty regularly.  I pass it on to you.  “Bird Every Bird.”


Filed under Photos, Travel

Birding San Bernard NWR

Do you read Birding on the Net regional lists before you travel?  I do.  A few weeks before the trip I started to see reports on TexBirds of a Least Grebe at San Bernard NWR.  Although I had seen this bird in Costa Rica, I did not have it on my North American list.  Since I was still in the planning stages I factored in a trip down there as well as one to Brazos Bend State Park.   Both places were getting a lot of write-ups on the ListServ.

When I got to San Bernard, never having been there and not knowing where to go, nor for that matter where the Grebe was being seen;  I headed straight for the 3 mile auto loop around Moccasin Pond.  The ‘pond’ was full of thousands of ducks,  geese,  shorebirds, in fact it looked like every kind of waterfowl.   

I was marveling at the abundance when a Crested Caracara soared over; I stopped inching the car forward to watch it.  When I turned back to the pond, a Sora stepped out of the reeds to poke among the short grasses.  It scurried into the reeds when a Wilson’s Snipe spooked from the bank and landed where the Sora had just vacated.  Every few feet there was some new and delicisus surprise.  Up ahead a few White Ibis were standing next to the gravel road eyeing me warily.  When I had almost reached them; they took off and something brown and white striped dashed into the cattails.  Hoping it ws an American Bittern, I peered among the reeds.  Sure enough, there it was, trying to be a one with the reeds.  Luckily it was also curious and kept peeking around at the car. 

As I made the turn at the back of the pond, I had almost given up on the Least Grebe.  I didn’t think there was any way I was going to see a Grebe smaller than a Robin in all the mass of avifauna.  Watching a small flock of Black-necked Stilts wing past; I saw the outline of something in a small clump of grasses.   Looking only at the back end, I was trying to figure it out when I occured to me that it had a pillow butt.  That reminded of the the Eared Grebe from a few weeks ago.  When I opened the door to get out fo the car, it dove and reappeared further away in open water.  It was tiny, charcoal gray, with a thin bill and a beady yellow eye.  Wahoo. The Least Grebe.   I could not belive my luck.  Now that I knew where to look,  I saw 2 of them.  So a word to the wise, if you go, and I encourage you to do so, look close to the edge, they like short grasses.    

Here is a complte list of what I saw (not everything that was there mind you, because I didn’t have a scope.)

Snow Goose, Gadwall, Mottled Duck, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Least Grebe, Pied-billed Grebe, DC Cormorant, Anhinga, American Bittern, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, White Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Black Vulture, Turkey Vulture, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Sora, Common Moorhen, American Coot, Killdeer, Black-necked Stilt, Greater Yellow-legs, Long-billed Curlew, Dunlin, Sanderlings, Dowitcher (sp), Wilson’s Snipe, Mourning Dove, Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Phoebe, American Crow, Tree Swallow, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Wren,Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Northern Mockingbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellow-throat, Savannah Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Red-winged Blackbird, Eastern Meadowlark, Boat-tailed Grackle.

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Filed under Travel

Birding Southeast Arizona-Part 2

Here is the list for today.  I saw many of the same birds as yesterday; but did add a few lifers.  We spent time in the grasslands since the rain had stopped before heading down to the Chiracuahuas to look for the Mexican Chickadee, Yellow-eyed Junco and the Olive Wabler.  I only saw the Junco.  What a terrific bird!    




Northern Shoveler

Northern Pintail

Ruddy Duck

Eared Grebe

Great Blue Heron

BC Night-heron

Turkey Vulture

Red-tailed Hawk

American Kestrel



American Avocet

Western Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper

Long-billed Dowitcher

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Mourning Dove

Greater Roadrunner

Western Screech Owl

Whiskered Screech Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl

Acorn Woodpecker

Red-naped Sapsucker

Hairy Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker

Red-shafted Flicker

Hammond’s Flycatcher

Say’s Phoebe

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Cassin’s Kingbird

Western Kingbird

Loggerhead Shrike

Cassin’s Vireo

Hutton’s Vireo

Steller’s Jay

Mexican Jay

Chihuahuan Raven

Common Raven

Horned Lark

Violet-green Swallow

Barn Swallow

Bridled Titmouse



Bewick’s Wren

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Hermit Thrush

Northern Mockingbird


Audubon Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Hepatic Tanager

Green-tailed Towhee

Brewer’s Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

Black-throated Sparrow

Lark Bunting

Savannah Sparrow

Baird’s Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Dark-eyed Junco – Gray capped form

Yellow-eyed Junco

Northern Cardinal

Brewer’s Blackbird

Brown-headed Cowbird

Lesser Goldfinch

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I was with friends the other day and we were talking about if you were a bird which one would you be.   There were lots of interesting answers from hawks (of course) to a vulture (you can’t be serious!) to eagles (hmmm, yes but have you heard their call?), and an Anna’s Hummingbird (biggest of the small).  Me?  I want to be a scissor-tailed flycatcher.  I love that tail and their soft demure beauty, but buddy, you had better watch out when they fly.  The underside of those wings are the most amazing shade of salmon pink.

What bird would you be?

Interested in seeing other skies from around the world?  Visit Skywatch

And check out Bird Photography Weekly for some great shots of birds.


Filed under carnival, Photos, Travel

I Like Gulls

Heerman's Gull

Heermann's Gull

Can we talk about gulls for a moment?  I know some birders eschew them, won’t even look at them, call them names like sea rats, G-U-11s, but, truth be told, …shhhh…I sorta like them.  Maybe it’s because growing up in the flat land, we didn’t have any.  Or they are a visual reminder of the sea.  I like their brashness, their insistence, their laugh, their size.  Yes, they are frustratingly confusing.  Yes, they have a several year maturity rate so there are lots of in-between plumage variations.  Yes, they loaf around garbage dumps and shopping center parking lots, the tops of lamp posts on the Tappan Zee Bridge and oddly enough even at the beach.  I am by no means an expert in picking out the juveniles but the adults are not that difficult.  With closed eyes the call of a Laughing Gull always and forever will remind of the Jersey Shore.
My favorite gull (is it terrible having favorites?) is the Heermann’s Gull from California.   I love the soft ombré of their fashionable plumage, going from white through shades of gray, ending with tidy black stockings.   And the red beak, what a color, as red as the best lipstick.  I think they are absolutely the most beautiful.


Filed under Photos, Travel, Uncategorized

Birding in Napa Valley

Currently in between business conferences, I am loafing in Napa Valley.   Unable to find a bird guide (Grrrr), I randomly drove around this morning looking for birds.  With the countryside being so dry, I thought it would make the most sense to find water.   Looking at the map, I headed off to Hennessey Lake.  As soon as I got out of the car, I heard the crik-crik Western Grebes.  Scanning the lake from a distance, I saw what looked like white sticks planted out in the water.   It was a flotilla of Grebes.  Cool.  Even though I have seen them many times before, it was still a thrill to see so many.

The walk around the lake produced: Steller and Western Scrub Jay, Acorn Woodpeckers, California Quail, Oregon Junco, Spotted Towhee, some sort of dark sparrow protecting its hard-won worm from a maurading western fence lizard, Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawk, a big flock of Bicolored Blackbirds, Black Phoebe, Great Egret, Canada Goose, Mourning Dove, Oak Titmouse, Coot, Pied-billed Grebe and maybe some others that I forgot.

Of special note, was the very dark, almost chocolaty Winter Wrens I saw feeding young at Muir Woods yesterday.  The woods was also full of Wilson’s Warblers and Brown Creeper.  I mean full, they were everywhere I looked.  Oh yeah, and there were Chestnut-backed Chickadees too.

I hope to bird the marshes on the way back to the city tomorrow.


Filed under Travel

Birding around San Diego

You know how once you have been to a place several times birding on your own and have seen most of the easy/common birds how frustrating it becomes, right?  Where are the other harder-to-find birds?  Are there local hot spots?  This trip I gave up and hired a guide.  I was looking for 4 life birds (elegant tern, bell’s vireo, black-headed grosbeak, california gnatcatcher) and I had no idea where they might be.  Local expertise was needed. 

I have had a terrible track record with finding guides.  I twittered-nothing.  I emailed some of the birdingpal folks-nothing.  Finally, I emailed San Diego Audubon.  Score!  I got an email back recommending Claude Edwards.  What a terrific find.  He knows all the bird songs and chip notes, where the birds are likely to be locally and has a vehicle.  A big bonus for me, is that as a biologist, he also knows plants, wildflowers, lizards, insects and points them out too.   If you are going to San Diego and need specific target species, I recommend hooking up with Claude (keps1@flite-tours.com) .  

Here’s the list of what we saw from 6:15-11:15 am. 

From the San Diego River Floodway to Old Mission Dam and Lake Kumeyaay,
to the bayside of Silver Strand, Imperial Beach Pier. and south Seacoast Drive

Pied-billed grebe
Western grebe
Brown pelican
DC cormorant
Great blue heron
Great egret
Snowy egret
Little blue heron – Silver Strand mudflats
Reddish egret – Silver Strand mudflats
Black-cr night-heron
Ruddy duck
Red-tailed hawk
American coot
Black-bellied plover
Black-necked stilt
Long-billed curlew
Marbled godwit
Western sandpiper
Least sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Western gull
Gull-billed tern – IB Pier
Caspian tern – Silver Strand mudflats
Royal tern – Silver Strand mudflats
Elegant tern – Silver Strand mudflats
Forster’s tern
Least tern
Black skimmer – Silver Strand mudflats
Rock pigeon
Mourning dove
White-throated swift – Old Mission Dam area
Black-chin hummingbird – Old Mission Dam area
Anna’s hummingbird
Nuttall’s woodpecker
Downy woodpecker – Old Mission Dam area
Ash-throated flycatcher
Black phoebe
Pacific-slope flycatcher
Cassin’s kingbird
Tree swallow
Hutton’s vireo – Old Mission Dam area
Bell’s vireo – Old Mission Dam area
Western scrub-jay
American crow
Common raven
White-breasted nuthatch – Old Mission Dam area
Bewick’s wren
House wren
Northern mockingbird
California thrasher
European starling
Orange-crowned warbler
Yellow warbler
Common yellowthroat
Yellow-breasted chat
Black-headed grosbeak
Blue grosbeak
Spotted towhee
California towhee
Song sparrow
Savannah sparrow (Belding’s)
Brown-headed cowbird
House finch
Lesser goldfinch
House sparrow

70 species and 3 of the 4 lifers.  Still no California Gnatcatcher.


Filed under Travel