Kodiak

After Nome, we returned to Anchorage and caught the early plane the next morning (March 26) to Kodiak. 

Kodiak is the 2nd largest island of the United States, 2nd only to Hawaii’s Big Island.  Kodiak (the Island, not the town) is big, but its population is small, probably under 20,000, most of whom live in the town of Kodiak.  There are only 5 or 6 other towns (none of which has over 300 residents) on the island.  Over 90% of Kodiak Island is set aside as a preserve for the 3,500 or so Kodiak Brown Bears living there.  Kodiak Bears are contenders for the claim to be the biggest bear on earth, challenged only by Polar Bears for that distinction.  The only roads, totaling less than 100 miles on the whole island, basically connect the part of the very irregular coastline of the island with Kodiak Town.  At the south end about 40 miles from Kodiak town, is Pasagshak Bay, where my nephew Mike has a house

We had expected to meet up with Mike in Kodiak town the day after our arrival there, to spend the rest of our time on Kodiak with him. The weather was extremely uncooperative, with snow, wind and fog.  So much so that Mike was unable to make it  to Kodiak because of weather related cancellations.   With the help of messaging with Mike, and intrepid driving in adverse conditions by Adam we made it out to Pasagshak.  There we spent a most enjoyable 3 days.  Thank you Mike, but we would have preferred your company and are very sorry that you could not join us. 

Pasagshak

The “settlement” (not a town)

Mike’s place

We enjoyed Mike’s largesse not only in our accommodations, but also his on-site frozen fish as the main dish for an exceptional dinner prepared by Chef Adam.  We chose salmon over halibut. 

The fireplace got good use and established a cheerful and cozy atmosphere. 

The view from the great room.

And Adam’s early morning beach walks (I abstained, not wanting to wear myself out) were — beautiful:

But back to our chronology. 

Our first stop for birding was near the water in or near the Town of Kodiak, where we just happened to coincide with another birder, Stacy Studebaker.  She was very helpful to our search for birds.  We later found out she is or has been the President of the Kodiak Audubon Society, as well as a published author, naturalist, radio talk show host, botanist, musician, artist, etc. A couple of her childrens’ books are available on Amazaon. 

The Unique Winter Birds of Kodiak

We saw many Bald Eagles hanging around the water in order to better indulge their taste in fish. 

Also present in big numbers were beautiful Emperor Geese, which were the main target of our birding on Kodiak.

These somewhat rare Steller’s Eiders were difficult to identify in the distant fog, but the photo shows them well:

And wrapping up our bird photo exhibit is this pair of Harlequin Ducks, which were present in good numbers but somewhat obscured by the heavy snow flakes:

Other birds seen but not pictured above (or in the case of Glaucous Winged Gulls, below) were Tundra Swans in flight, a busy Northern Shrike near Pasagshak, and Black Oyster Catchers. 

The Animals

We were there too early to see any Kodiak Bears.  But this Sitka Black Tailed Deer was one of several seen:

This Sea Otter cruising Pasagshak Bay is being trailed by a hungry Glaucous-winged Gull. We saw a couple of groups of 8 or 10 Sea Otters near Kodiak Town

Nome in March, 2022

I have a love affair with (not in) Alaska.  This trip marked the 8th time I have traveled there.   A couple of those trips were not for the birds, but were great fun nevertheless:  first, in 1998 a spring break on a 5-day dogsledding and northern lights adventure with Clarissa and Barbara in the Gates of the Arctic, near Bettles; and second, in 2002, on a grandparent/grandchild outing with Jill and Barbara in Sitka.     

This was my 5th trip to Nome, my favorite place in all Alaska.

1.  In 2003 (pre-blog) Alaska was among my first guided birding destinations after my retirement.  Nome was just a short stop on my flights from the Pribiloff Islands, through Anchorage, through Nome and on to St. Lawrence Island on June 1.  Or maybe it was the stop on June 6 on the way back from St. Lawrence Island, through Nome, to Anchorage, and on to Minneapolis and Des Moines.   Either way it was a short and unsatisfactory partial day between connecting flights, with a van ride with the other participants in this tour with High Lonesome.  Our target bird for this short stop was a Bluethroat, but we saw none.  I resolved to come back for a better experience and maybe a Bluethroat.  In 2004 I went to Alaska again with High Lonesome Tours, but this time only to Adak in the Aleutian Islands, with no stop in Nome.   

2.  Trip 2 to Nome was recorded in one of the first  posts on my blog, Emptynestbirder.com, on July 10, 2010.  On this ill-planned trip, I first connected with local guide Richard Benville of Nome who was most helpful.  See my Blog report. 

3.  Trip 3 was posted on my blog on June 10, 2014, again with Richard as my arranger.  Finally, I was there at the right time and saw several Bluethroats. 

4.  Trip 4 was posted on my blog on December 2, 2014.  The highlight:  McKay’s Buntings.  This was a guided trip with Aaron Long, of Wilderness Birding Adventures, following a more extended tour with Wilderness Birding, in winter, to Adak Island. 

5.  In 2022 with Covid Pandemic induced cabin fever, I talked son-in-law Adam into making a trip to Nome and Kodiak with me.   I contacted Aaron Lang of Wilderness Adventures to see if we could sign onto one of his guided tours to Nome and Kodiak in 2022, but they were full.  He recommended that I contact Carol Gales of RoamNome.  I did.  She did a great job developing and implementing a custom tour  around Nome for Adam and me, my trip 5 to Nome, reported more fully in the following paragraphs.  We arrived in Nome shortly before noon on Tuesday, March 22. 

Nome:  Nome was a boomtown in the late 1890s and early 1900s because gold was discovered there.  At its peak, about 30,000 would-be riches seekers showed up, with terrible conditions.  The population today is about 3,000.  Gold mining still continues, but on a much less productive basis. 

The Birds

Nome in March is still ice-bound and snow covered.  There are not a lot of bird species to be found at that time of year.  Here are some:

McKay’s Buntings and Snow Buntings.  McKay’s Buntings breed on isolated Saint Matthew Island which is generally not reachable by humans.  But in the winter the Buntings come to the continent and can be found very reliably in Nome.  They are closely related to the more widely spread Snow Buntings.  In the following pictures the McKay’s Buntings are the nearly all-white species; the Snow Buntings show more dark feathers on the back and wings. 

Willow Ptarmagin.  Toward the end of our stay in Nome, we ventured out on one of the 3 roads that spoke out from Nome.  We found a Canada Jay (unusual for that area).  But the most impressive sighting was the multitude of Willow Ptarmagin that were flocking to the road to stuff themselves with the gravel, which had until now been covered with hard ice.  We estimated the flock contained over 200 birds.   

Other Nome Birds.  Ravens were numerous and obvious.  A Canada Jay was seen along the road before we came upon the flock of Willow Ptarmagin.  A Boreal Chickadee was among the Black-capped Chickadees.  Not many species.      

Gyrfalcon (trained to hunt).  I had never seen an adult Gyrfalcon up close and personal, and I was lucky enough to hold this trained hunter on my arm, with plenty of glove between its claws and my skin.  

The Helicopter Ride and the animals and other sights therefrom.

Bering Air has been in business in Alaska with Nome as its headquarters for many years, with a great safety record. [I was a passenger on Bering Air from Nome to Saint Mathews Island and back in 2003].   Adam and I were lucky enough to draw Pablo as our pilot, and here is our Helicopter

Below, a gold mining dredge on (or in) ice for the winter. 

We saw 3 herds of Muskoxen for a total of about 70, from the Helicopter. 

We saw about 15 sets of Moose for a total of about 40 from the Helicopter.

The earth below

Nome Attractions.  The famous Iditerod dogsledding competition from Anchorage to Nome had ended shortly before we arrived.  Evidence of the party was still around.  Here is the Iditerod Finish Line in Nome just before it was taken down for the year. The race originated in the 1970s to commemorate the  delivery of diptheria vaccines to the stricken population of Nome around 1900.  The dogsleds were the only available means of delivery to the icebound town.  There are lots of interesting Documentaries relating to the rescue mission, and the winning lead dogs.

The Welcoming Committee

We enjoyed the old Polar Café for all of our tasty and ample breakfasts, and it was an easy walk on Front Street from our room at the Aurora Inn and Suites. 

The moon over adjacent Norton Sound

Some vehicles get stuck for a very long time. 

Historical buildings:  Carol’s House, the oldest building still standing, was a saloon.

The Carrie M. Mclain Memorial Museum was a nice surprise.

Dogsledding.  Unlike our trip to Gates of the Arctic in 2003, I was not up physically to driving my own team, so I was (finally) treated to a seated dogsled ride.  It was icy and bumpy, but I enjoyed it very much.  Here we are, ready to go:

Adam drove his own team. 

Snowshoeing.  Snowshoeing was a highlight for Adam, who ventured out twice with Carol, notwithstanding the icy conditions. 

Crabbing through the ice via Snowmobile.  Another experience that Adam enjoyed but I declined was a snowmobile trip on frozen Norton Sound to observe the harvesting of Alaskan King Crab by local natives. 

Here is Norton Sound in winter.

And here is the line to the crab pot, 60 feet below the ice. 

And the Pot.

And the Catch. 

And the return of the Pot to the bottom of the Sound. 

We flew back to Anchorage on Friday, March 25, spent the night there and the next morning we went to Kodiak.  That trip will be the subject of my next posting. 

Ver Meer Woods – Pella, Iowa – May 6, 2019

On May 6, 2019 my son-in-law and I assisted a member of the Ver Meer family in an inventory of the species at Ver Meer Woods, on the banks of the South Skunk River near Pella, Iowa.  Here is a list of the birds we saw that morning.

First and most spectacular were the nesting colonies of Great Blue Herons in the great old Sycamores on the property.  We saw about 100 nests and even more Herons, and in many of the nests could be heard young chirping.  Hatched eggshells littered the ground.  This may be the largest Great Blue Heron rookery in the State of Iowa.  What a sight and sound it was.  And what a Natural Treasure it is!!

vermeer-tree-blog

Other species seen at the Woodland during the morning were:  Turkey Vultures, Crows, Red-tailed Hawk, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Turkeys, Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatchers, Barred Owl (heard only), Least Flycatchers, Empidonax species, Wood Thrushes, Swainson’s Thrushes, Veery, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Mourning Doves, House Wrens, Yellow-throated Vireos (heard only), Blue-headed Vireo, Cardinals, Indigo Buntings, Catbirds, Common Grackles, Bluejays, White-breasted Nuthatches, Baltimore Orioles, Robins, Eastern Towhees, Red Headed Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Pileated Woodpecker (heard only), Goldfinches, White-throated Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrows, and the following bonanza of 7 Warbler species:  Redstarts, Northern Waterthrush, Ovenbirds, Palm Warblers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black and White Warblers, and the bird of the day, a beautiful male Blackburnian Warbler.  Total Species at the Woodlands: 45

Others seen near the Woods were Pheasants (at least 5), Great Tailed Grackles (3), Meadowlark species, Barn Swallows, and Red-winged Blackbirds, bringing the number at or near the Woods to 50 species.  The Ver Meer Family deserves great credit for placing this unique place under a conservation easement to assure the preservation of its treasures far into the future.

Other sightings of special interest were a lovely Coyote, a very large Woodchuck, a Garter Snake and Spring flowers covering the forest floor in profusion:  among others,  Spring Beauty, Rue Anemone, Violets, Buttercups, Jack-in-the Pulpit, with a few Jacks present in their pulpits, May Apples (but no apples yet), Wild Ginger, and Dutchman’s Britches (of course), but not in flower.

Tufted Flycatchers in Arizona

On June 19, 1915 I hiked up Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains in search of Tufted Flycatchers.   During the past month a pair of Tufted Flycatchers has been seen regularly about 2 miles up the canyon from the Nature Conservancy’s Ramsey Canyon Visitor Center.  Rarely seen in North America, this pair constitutes the first recorded North American nesters.

The first mile of the hike, approximately, is on the Nature Conservancy Preserve.  The trail there is well marked and has benches at regular short intervals for the benefit of those of us not accustomed to hiking above 5,000 feet, as this is.  Where the Nature Conservancy Preserve ends, the Coronado National Forest begins.  Ramsey Peak stands at 8,725 feet at the upper end of the Canyon.

Following the detailed description provided by volunteers at the Nature Conservancy, one of whom was the first to locate these Tufted Flycatchers, I located them about 2.5 hours after I started on the hike.  I was very surprised that there was no one else on the trail.  At the specified location one, and possibly both, of the Flycatchers gave me great looks as they sallied out from the bare twigs at the end of a couple of Engleman Spruce trees to capture passing insects.  I was not able to locate the nest which apparently can be seen fairly easily with binoculars.    I was thrilled to add this colorful little flycatcher as number 739 on my North American Life List.  Due to hip replacement surgery in early March, I have not been travelling to find new birds, so this, only my second new life bird in 2015, was very rewarding.  Particularly rewarding was discovering that my recovery has been so very good that I was able to negotiate the high altitude and 2 miles of high trail with no difficulty.

The day was beautiful and the silence supreme, so I decided to have my lunch while sitting on a rock watching the Flycatcher(s).  About 12:30 I began the return trip.  Over-confidence in the mountains, however, can be a big mistake.  As I walked slowly along the trail, I was careless in failing to observe the sign at the place where the trail split.  I thought I had merely continued on the same trail that I had come up, but after a while I began to wonder why nothing looked familiar.  At first I thought I just had not noticed things as I labored upward earlier, so, instead of turning back, I foolishly continued on the trail.  About 2:00 p.m., I realized that I was on a different trail.  Not to worry, just follow the trail downward and I would come out at the base.  About 2:30 I decided that strategy was too risky, as sometimes the trail ascended on switchbacks, and sometimes it went down, and I did not know how far I would have to walk to get out.  Still, no one else showed up on the trail, but there began to be bear sign.

At about that time the trail passed into the open on a rocky point, from which I could see Sierra Vista in the east.  I guessed it to be about 5 or 6 miles down the canyon from where I was.  I had lost confidence in my ability to get out safely on my own, so I took the opportunity of open space and hoped for reception, to call 911 on my cell phone.  The 911 representative, after finding out where I was (“in the mountains”), informed me that 911 did not respond to problems in the mountains, but that the Cochise County Sheriff’s office had a Search and Rescue Team that she would contact for me.  She did, and they quickly got on the line, asked some questions about my physical condition (which was still good, mostly because I had carried a good supply of water with me) and informed me that they would send out a team to get me.  I relaxed, feeling that my problem was now under control, and stretched out on the trail with my backpack for a pillow and dozed for a while.  My phone rang, and the Searcher asked me to tell him if I could hear their series of 3 whistles.  I could not hear them. He told me they would try again in a bit.  I then tried to get up and could not, because of severe cramps in both of my legs. Postassium deficiency, from the heat and exertion of the day.   After working that out, I was able to get up.  A little while later I heard their whistle and called out that I could hear them.  Five searchers arrived a few minutes later.  A welcome sight indeed!

They did some checking on my vitals and had me drink some Gatorade (hot Gatorade, due to the time on the trail getting up to me) to restore my potassium level and ability to avoid cramps.  When they were satisfied that I was mentally and physically capable, they asked if I felt that I could walk out with them.  I asked how far, and they said .4 of a mile, and I said yes.  It turned out to be .7 of a mile, but I made it down to their Polaris ATV.  I got in the Polaris and then experienced the absolute worst road trip of my life, on the rutted and steep road down to “civilization”.  It was about 3 miles.  I clearly could not have walked out.  I marvel at the durability of the vehicle, and the skill of the driver, to traverse that “road”.

The Cochise County Search and Rescue Team consists of about 85 people, all local volunteers.  They are very impressive and professional. When we all arrived at the base, we were greeted by about at least a half dozen more volunteers.  One of them, Ursula, had a camera and took our picture together.  The man third in from the right is Manny, who had the idea of organizing the volunteer group about 40 years ago.  I wonder how many people they have saved over those years.

dons-rescue-blog

Surprisingly, I felt pretty good the next morning so I hiked back up the short mile to the Bledsoe Loop on the Preserve, in further search of the Flame Colored Tanagers that had previously been seen there for several weeks.  However, they had abandoned the nest that they had built and were either gone, or in hiding whenever I was in that area.  So, I have yet to get to 740 on my North American Life List.  I was pleased to meet the Nature Conservancy Preserve Manager, Eric Andersen, who was overseeing some work on the trail near the Bledsoe Loop.  He kindly provided me with a can of cold sweet tea to wash down my second picnic lunch of the trip.   I found my way back.

Ivory Gull in Illinois — January 3, 2015

Late in the afternoon of January 2, 2015, the bird hotlines came alive with reports that an Ivory Gull was seen on the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois.  This ABA Code 3 bird has long been on my wish list, but my expectations of ever seeing one were lessening every year.  My research indicated that the probable best place to find them was at Barrow, on the northern shore of Alaska in the fall.  Not a place that I was anxious to go to in the fall, especially since the chances of seeing them well there were not very good in any event.

The Ivory Gull is of concern for its long-term survival because of the loss of the frigid habitat that it requires.  The liquidation of the ice in the Arctic is affecting not only the Polar Bears and other ice dependent creatures, but the few species of birds that depend on that environment for their specialized mode of survival.  These are the most northern nesting birds in the world.  And so I was becoming quite pessimistic about ever seeing this, to me, most beautiful of all the North American gulls, with the possible exception of Ross’s Gull, which can claim its own stake to beauty.

Unfortunately the weather forecast called for freezing rain in the Quincy area on January 3 and blizzard conditions here in Des Moines on the evening of January 3.  Nevertheless, I convinced Barbara (it really took very little convincing) that we should make the 4 hour trip from Des Moines to Quincy the next morning, for what well may be my last chance to see an Ivory Gull.

Fortunately the temperature stayed at or above freezing all the way to Quincy, so the fog and drizzle were inconveniences but not dangers.  We arrived in Quincy about noon and stopped at the last place where the bird had been reported: on the river near the Pier Restaurant parking lot.  There were no birds there.  Other sightings had been between the Restaurant and Lock and Dam 21, several miles to the south.  We found Lock and Dam 21 and there were a few birders there with scopes set to look north from the road.  With a little help from the bystanders, I was able to pick out a white spot on a small ice floe far to the north, shrouded in fog and mist.  It gradually floated nearer to us, but as it was becoming identifiable, it decided to fly back up river.  We took off in the car to try to find a better viewing spot.  Much of the river bank is closed under private ownership, but we were able to locate a couple of accesses between the dam and the Restaurant on the east shore.  No luck.

We drove back to Lock and Dam 21, and no one was there.  Obviously, the birders had found a better viewing site so we returned to our efforts to find the right viewing site along the east shore.  We finally spotted a number of birders in a small parking lot along the river and as we pulled to a stop, the bird soared past us within feet, as it pulled a small fish from the shoreline and flew to a floating ice island to consume it.  Barbara was really disappointed that we arrived too late to get a real close-up of the bird as it flew near shore.  However, the currents were with us and the bird floated past at a reasonably close distance, and I was able to get terrific scope views of the all-white plumaged gull with the black eyes, black legs and feet, gray bill and yellow bill-tip.  Here are a few of Barbara’s photos of my long sought after Ivory Gull, number 738 on my North American Life List.

gull-1

 

An interesting side note to our trip was the concern expressed by the Missourians among the birders present, as to whether the bird was on the Illinois side of the river or on the Missouri side of the river.  Never before has an Ivory Gull been seen in Missouri.  The Missouri birders were very anxious to be among those who identified the first Ivory Gull ever seen in Missouri.  I believe the consensus was that the bird at least flew over the Missouri side of the river, so perhaps the Official Birding Judges of Missouri will approve this as a verified sighting in their state.

gull-2

 

Harlequin Duck in Iowa – December 31, 2014

In November I saw hundreds of colorful breeding plumaged Harlequin Ducks in Adak, in the Aleutian Islands, but never before have I seen a Harlequin Duck in any plumage in Iowa.  This plain jane “Harley” showed up in Des Moines below the Center Street Dam in late December and continues to inhabit our local waters.  I wonder where she will go from here?  Birds found so far out of their normal territory are always of concern for their ability to find their way home.

harlequin-duck-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The size difference is noticeable between the Harlequin Duck and the Canada Goose.

harlequin-duck-2

Adak and Nome – November Birding – 2014

On November 16, 2014 I joined a group of 6 other venturesome birders and Aaron Lang of Wilderness Birding Adventures for his first fall birding trip to Adak.  Luke DeCicco assisted Aaron in leading the tour.  The photos were taken by either Aaron or Luke.

My primary target bird of the Adak trip was Whiskered Auklet.  We were a bit handicapped by being confined to land as we scoped the waters around Adak for glimpses of this little Alcid.  Its big sibling, Crested Auklet, was present in large numbers, but hours of scoping led to just 3 (others saw several more) quite distant views of my target.  Though somewhat distant, the smaller size and whitish under-tail area of this little seabird were enough, barely, for me to say yes, I have seen Whiskered Auklets, albeit with the help of a good telescope.  Needless to say, we did not get any good pictures of the Whiskered Auklets.  Thus I added number 736 to my North American Life List.

Other targets which would have been new to me were the Asian species sometimes found wintering at Adak, Whooper Swans and Smew (a duck).  We failed to find either.  Perhaps this was because of the unusually warm weather at Adak, leading to open water on many of the inaccessible  interior lakes which may have harbored the birds before the lakes froze forcing a move to the more saline waters near the shorelines that we were able to view.

Off-setting the somewhat disappointing lack of new birds, were great views of at least 33 Emperor Geese.  I had previously seen Emperor Geese at Adak in the spring, but the views were distant and poor.  These fall birds were very cooperative and we saw them each day we were there.  I think they are one of the most beautiful of the goose family.

Another highlight was the sighting of 2 or possibly 3 light-phase Gyrfalcons.  My only prior look at a Gyrfalcon was of nestlings north of Nome several years ago, so the sight of the adults was a thrill.

Among the more numerous inhabitants of Adak in winter were the colorful Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, a lone Glaucous Gull, several Pacific Wrens and the dark Song Sparrows of Adak.

blog-gray-crowned-rosy-finch

In 1997 the U.S. Navy closed its base at Adak and the formerly nice homes at the base have deteriorated badly, especially since my last visit there in 2003.  A few of them are still maintained and we all stayed in one of them where our leaders prepared all our meals.  I am told that there are only about 40 registered voters living at Adak and we saw very few people among the deteriorating buildings.  Supplies arrive twice weekly by air on Alaska Airlines along with the few passengers who come to bird or to hunt.

We returned to Anchorage on the 20th and flew to Nome on the 21st. As our plane approached the Nome runway, it suddenly gunned the engines and lifted up and away from the runway.  I later found out that the reason for the interrupted landing was that a herd of Muskox started across the runway.  A large herd of Muskox is making the town of Nome their headquarters, to the chagrin of many of the residents.  One of these most interesting beasts is shown below.

blog-muskox

 

My only target bird at Nome was the McKay’s Bunting.  Fortunately on the afternoon of the day we arrived there we were blessed with long, close views of at least 20 of these beautiful little creatures as they frequented the feeder area provided by one of the Nome residents.

blog-mckays-bunting

The picture below shows the contrast between a Snow Bunting in winter plumage (the dark bird) and the McKay’s Bunting in winter plumage (the right, white, bird).

blog-snow-bunting-mckays-bunting

And so this beautiful and very difficult to find bird became number 737 of my List.  This leaves me with only 1 ABA Code 1 bird to find (the Clapper Rail of the east which was recently split, with the newly named Ridgway’s Rail of the west being the one that I had previously seen while it was lumped with “Clapper Rails”), and 2 ABA Code birds, the elusive Sooty Grouse and the sea-going Mottled Petrel.

Hawaii – Kauai and Maui September 30 – October 5

We flew to Kauai on September 30.  This was our first time on Kauai.  We arrived late and stayed at a nice resort north of the Lihue airport. The next morning (October 1) we were awakened by the persistent crowing of the Red Jungle Fowl (chickens)

jungle-fowl

that were introduced onto the island many years ago and now occupy almost every acre of the island.   We birded on our own from Lihue up the east and north coasts.  At the Kilauea Lighthouse, we found our first interesting birds: lots of Nene Geese, 

nene-goose

Red-footed Boobies 

red-footed-boobie

and Great Frigate Birds.

great-frigate

The best finds of the day were the Wedge-tailed Shearwater chicks, looking very vulnerable and exposed.

chicks

 
We went on to the end of the road at the northwest corner of the island, looking for a way to get near the taro ponds, where we had been told we might see Koloas, or Hawaiian Ducks, which would be new for me.
 
 
koloa-2
 
We failed to find an access point on the way out, but on the way back we took a little turn-off toward the taro ponds, and just a few yards in, spotted two pairs of Koloas.
 
koloa-1
 
Coots and Common Gallinules were plentiful on the ponds and rivers along the way.
We then drove back through Lihue (and heavy rain) to Waimea where we stayed over night at a rustic motel.  The next morning (October 2) we met our bird guide, Jim Denny, at the end of the Grand Canyon of the Pacific where he helped us find a couple of new birds for me, an Elepaio (a native Hawaiian bird, one of the few that has not become extinct), and an Erckel’s Francolin, an introduced game bird species.
 
ercklels-francolin
 
The only other native forest birds seen were  Apapanes, which were fairly numerous.
 
 
apapana
 
 
We flew to Maui on October 3 and enjoyed the rehearsal dinner for my great niece’s wedding.  On the 4th we drove up to the Coffee Plantation near Kanapali, where we saw a number of interesting birds, including Chestnut Manakins,
 
 
chestnut-mannikin
 
Pacific Golden Plovers,
 
 
plover
 
and Gray Francolins.  Later we spotted several beautiful Black Francolins.
 
 
black-francolin

Whiskered Tern at Cape May, NJ September 17, 2014

On September 12, 2014 a Whiskered Tern was identified at Cape May, New Jersey.  The Rare Bird Alerts were immediately filled with reports of this sighting, because it is only the third time that a Whiskered Tern has been recorded in North America.  It is classified as an ABA Code 5, the rarest of the ABA classifications.  The prior sightings, both in the Cape May area, occurred in the 1990s.

Barbara and I flew to Philadelphia and drove to Cape May on Wednesday, September 17.  I hoped to add the Whiskered Tern to my North American List, as species number 735.  It was one of the easiest excursions to find a rare bird that I have ever experienced.  As we drove into the parking lot near the Cape May Lighthouse,

lighthouse

we saw dozens of observers with scopes and binoculars lined up on the Hawk Watch platform at the north end of the parking lot.  We joined the lineup and immediately saw the Whiskered Tern snatching insects from the surface of Bunker Pond as it engaged in swift, acrobatic flight.

flying-over-pond-2

It soon disappeared toward the Atlantic Ocean and we walked a short distance to the beach, hoping to re-find it.  It was there and Barbara was able to photograph it among the other terns and gulls resting on the sand.

on-the-beach-2

After a few minutes the tern took off to return to the pond to feast on more insects.

taking-off-2

 

A visit to Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helen’s August 25-26, 2014

We went to Washington State to see my sister and to try once again (the third such effort) to locate a Sooty Grouse.  Seeing my sister was by far the most rewarding and the easiest part.  The Grouse remained unseen in spite of two days of searching at Mount Rainier, supposedly the best place in Washington to find them.  I am beginning to question the Difficulty 2 rating ascribed to this bird by the American Birding Association.  It has proved far more difficult for me to find.  The consolation prize, experiencing Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helen’s, made the effort all worthwhile.

I would guess that Mount Rainier is one of the most photographed natural phenomena in the world.  It is very striking from all angles.  Looking to the east in the evening, from Eatonville, it is bathed in horizontal sunlight.

sunset

Looking north in the morning across Reflection Lake, near Paradise, produces a dramatic result.

reflection-lake

In the afternoon, looking southwest  yielded an entirely different perspective.

sunrise1

Here we did see a Western Tanager foraging for bugs with Mount Rainier in the background.

tanager

There were many chipmunks scurrying around the hiking trails.  We also saw a few marmots.  This one was enjoying a warm rock in the sun and was not intimidated by our presence.

marmot

The flowers in the mountain meadows, both at Paradise and at Sunrise, are in full bloom.

flowers

By mid-morning of day 2 it seemed unlikely that a Sooty Grouse would show itself, so we drove to Mount St. Helen’s to see what has happened since it exploded in 1980 and destroyed the landscape around it.

mt-st-helens

The Visitor Center at Johnson Ridge is terrific.  The Ranger led programs are well planned and the movie showing the revival of the biology of the area in the 30 plus years since the explosion (eruption) is one of the best such documentaries I have ever seen.

We walked along the trail for some distance to experience the landscape on a close-up basis.  Among the highlights were a herd of elk resting on a distant hillside.  The remains of the giant trees that were blown away by the volcanic blast litter the hills and valleys and will probably remain visible for years to come.

elk-on-hillside1

Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helen’s are worthwhile destinations for anyone who enjoys the beauty or the power of nature.