27 May 2011

Breaking the mould...COLORADO (2 May)

OK so not everyone cares for sparrows. I mean they are all so challenging and difficult to ID, so people often abandon their cause, which would be unfair at least to something like this Sage Sparrow, a hidden gem among sparrows. Easy to ID and even dare I say good looking. OK so it was a lifebird for me at the time but I still think the comment stands?

We found this bird near the town of Craig, Colorado, where we parked ourselves for the night before we visited our final lek of the tour the next day (for Sharp-tailed Grouse-more details of this and more to come). Checking the large swathes of sagebrush led to frustration at first, so we amused ourselves with several neon blue male Mountain Bluebirds flitting in and around a nest box as if deciding whether it fit the bill for this years nesting season. Then there it was, singing its heart out at the top of its beloved sagebrush, that it shared with a number of Sage Thrashers too in our time there.

More from Colorado to come...

26 May 2011

Return to Colorado...COLORADO (May)

Now that migration has ended, I am back in my home Quito (Ecuador), and ready to reminisce some more on my brief sojourn in Colorado in late April-early May this year, where along with Nick Athanas and native Coloradan we covered all corners of the state in five days, and managed to rack up 26 odd lifers for me in the process! So I will post some of the many images from there I have not yet had the chance to upload. Like this one, of what must be Colorado's "state" raptor, the Swainson's Hawk that were dotted on fenceposts in all corners of this scenic state...

More from Colorado to come...

25 May 2011

The End of Migration...OHIO (May 22-23)

My last few days in Magee Marsh saw another push of migrants although the mix had changed markedly. Warblers seemed to be being challenged un numbers by a mass of flycatchers that have moved in on the Sunday at least. The warbler mix also held a number of female birds, like Blackburnian, Canadas, and even the odd female Wilson's too. Alder Flycatchers called regularly, Least Flycatchers also showed up in good numbers too, outnumbering their similar cousin the Yellow-bellied that was also around the boardwalk too. Although the star flycatcher of the Sunday at least was a statuesque Olive-sided that seemed rooted to a dead snag all day long. A good few days to mark the sad drawing to a close of my migration season, something I always find hgard to leave behind.

My migration season began in High Island (Texas) in late March with Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and a mass of shorebirds, and ended at Magee Marsh with a flurry of warblers and flycatchers, and this wonderful shorebird-an American Woodcock that on this occasion at least did a bad job of blending into its surrounds. A fitting end seeing as they have been so visible this year along the Magee boardwalk, where rarely a day would go by without one of these dumpy shorebirds being on view somewhere along this rightly famous boardwalk.

20 May 2011

Magee Marsh...OHIO (20 May)

OK so today on the boardwalk was not what I had hoped (no Connecticut, no Kirtland's) but the weather was wonderful, feeling like what spring should be-warm and bright with the air full of bird song. Warblers were sparse but in typical Magee fashion very showy at times. Highlight for me was a brilliant Bay-breasted Warbler that used the railing to forage along at length, allowing extremely close approach.

More from Magee tomorrow...

19 May 2011


With the last two days being dominated by meeting indoors, and lots of "gripping" photos of birdins I wanted to see outdoors at Magee Marsh (Ohio), my photo opportunities and birding chances have been none. So here is a photo from my short trip earlier in the month in Colorado with fellow guides Andrew Spencer and Nick Athanas. One of my many obsessions was to find a Mountain Bluebird. To find one posing so beautifully in the snow was just fantastic. In just a few weeks I saw all the three bluebirds, with a Western near Denver (CO), and more recently an Eastern Bluebird was seen hanging about behind Ottawa NWR (Ohio), that has seemed to so far avoid all the purpose built nest boxes this spring (the Tree Swallows taking full advantage of this lapse from the bluebird). However, my current favorite this "true blue" trio is this mountain-loving turquoise dream looking sharp in the white snowscapes of Colorado in springtime...

Still got a few days left in Magee Marsh Ohio, and tomorrow I hit the boardwalk again. Hoping for a late Kirtland's, although would be happy to catch up with one of today's Connecticut's also...

18 May 2011

Migration continues...OHIO (18 May)

Word from the Magee Marsh boardwalk is that the chilly warbler that have been hanging around during the last few days appallingly wet and windy conditions have been putting on an exceptional show even by Magee heady standards. Sometimes showing down to just inches. Sadly while these enticing tales come back to me from the boardwalk, I have been "marooned" in meetings and am desperate to get another migration fix soon. So here is an American Redstart from a sunnier day last week to tide me over until I can get out birding and shoot some more Magee migrants.

Updates from Magee to come again soon...

16 May 2011

Empid conundrum....OHIO (15 May)

Empidonax flycatchers are some of the most challenging North American birds to identify. However, one of the easier of this confusing bunch is the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher courtesy of its rich yellow belly for one thing. It is an empid you do not have to hear call to get a positive ID, which makes it pretty appealing in my book! However, it is interesting that some photos of this fairly standard YBFL can appear less than clearcut, which illustrates clearly that photos can lie, and can be often misleading without the true colors displayed in real life, and the jizz of the bird that is almost never evident in a photo. It is for this reason I dread the mystery bird photo, as I have often so heavily relied on jizz to get to an ID, but which is rarely portrayed in a still single photo!

This bird was photographed at Magee Marsh yesterday during the final day of the Biggest Week of American Birding. Yesterday like today was dominated by high winds and wet conditions which drew the warblers down to low, low levels much to the joy of me yesterday and a number of birds I heard today too.

Biggest Week Finale...OHIO (15 May)

Well the Biggest Week in American Birding finally came to a close today in the Ottawa/Magee Marsh region of NW Ohio. It did not finish quite how we would have liked: rain lashed down and a strong northerly wind picked up and made birding along the lakeshore of Erie impossible. Thankfully though the well-sheltered boardwalk at Magee provided welcome refuge from this for both birders and birds. The birders were bundled up in winter clothes, and the birds responded to the weather by feeding extremely low and at extremely close quarters even by Magee's high standards. Some of my memorable moments of the day included a "fired-up" male Blackburnian Warbler feeding literally inches away from our noses (while my camera was tucked away from the rain in the car-frustrating!), a Canada Warbler just as close feeding on the ground while we watched on, a Philadelphia Vireo that too had abandoned its usual lofty position in the trees for much lower quarters, a female Bay-breasted Warbler making me look down at her, and a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher found later in the day that was my first of this spring. Nashvilles were scarce now, having been super abundant earlier in the week, so I have added of photo from one from then that I completely forgot to post then!

Of course the Biggest Week ending does not mean migration has ended in Ohio by any means. Me and a few other guides will still be in the area this week and hope to see the next big push in the Magee region, that is usually touted as the biggest push of the season. So more birds are on the way, although not sure quite when with this awful weather sitting overhead, but I sure hope I get to have one more spring show before I head down south to the tropics again...

14 May 2011

Magee Update...OHIO (14 May)

After the good fortune that the unluckiest day (Friday 13th) on the calendar brought me yesterday, today was a bit deflated. Warbler diversity at Magee Marsh was still high - some 24 warblers seen. Of this illustrious list, I only managed a "paltry" 21 species, without chasing a thing. This is very typical of Magee though. You simply wander around casually, covering less than a mile of boardwalk and walk away with a sterling list of warblers that other birding venues would die for! Among the star turns were several Black-throated Blue Warblers, Canada Warblers (including the first females of the spring), and a rather sad looking Black-throated Green looking moribund just off the trail. Let's hope this warbler which has come so far on its epic journey makes it through the night. Other highlights included a very showy Gray-cheeked Thrush (that was supported by the full thrush contingent in Magee, including Swainson's, Veery and Wood also along the famous migrant magnet boardwalk).

Sadly, the Connecticut appeared to have moved on, or had returned to master-skulker status, although with ten days left in the area I hope to catch up with the "ringed one" once more before I head back south into the tropics of Ecuador once more...

13 May 2011

LIFER...OHIO (13 May)

Friday 13th is not a date that you expect to get lucky but for me it was one sweet day, where I finally put my nemesis bird to bed. Yes, I finally, after three long tortuous years got my lifer Connecticut Warbler at the warbler magnet Magee Marsh. A sweet moment. There was a little frustration when the crowd amassing at the famous boardwalk could clearly see it, (and I was quite clearly blocked), but then there it was crisp white eye ring and long, long undertail coverts and all. The most obvious "slam dunk" Connecticut of all. The eye ring glowed, my life list crept up undeniably by one. Memorable Magee moment...

Here is a truly terrible, though personal, photo of the memory to treasure for me for a long, lone time anyway! Poor photo, awesome bird, sorry.

Photofest...OHIO (12 May)

OK so it was not a mega Magee day, but this was a great day to wander the boardwalk and check out warblers doing their classic "low down" thing at Magee Marsh (that the boardwalk is rightly famous for). So a good day for people, with the weather warm and sunny, birders as the birds were readily seen, and photographers as the birds were so so showy and the weather just perfect for capturing images of some of North America's most beautiful birds. My favorites today are pictured here: Cape May Warbler devouring a bug with elegance from the platform, and one of the many Prothonotary Warblers today that just dared you to take their shot as they dangled so invitingly and blasted out their "sweet" song. Plenty of Canada Warblers rounded out a fine day on the boards.

STOP PRESS: Just got my lifer Connecticut Warbler this morning at Magee. Three years and plenty of torment has driven me to this point. Elated and completely satisfied!

09 May 2011

Marvelous Maggie...OHIO (9 May)

A late afternoon show by a marvelous Magnolia Warbler had cameras clicking, and birders buzzing. And the best thing is we know there are lots more of these to come in the so-called "second wave" of migrants due to come this week (when Maggies usually dominate), widely predicted to be coming on Wednesday. I am hoping for a Kirtland's or even an early Connecticut, my Ohio nemesis in that next warbler wave ...

More updates from Magee soon...

Cryptic 'cocks...OHIO (9 May)

Magee Marsh is usually talked about in terms of warblers (being referred to famously by Kenn Kaufman as the "warbler capital of the world", which is hard to argue with in May). Although to not mention some of the other birds would be a travesty. In addition to the warbler fare several neon male Scarlet Tanagers peaked our interest. Furthermore , so far this spring the Magee boardwalk has also been a regular hangout for American Woodcocks. They are daily right now in several spots, with even several sightings of "woodcocklets" with parents, jumping up and and down as if to try out their newly formed wings with the parent watching on. However, in spite of this, the regular views of a "four footer" today stole the headlines. To have a Woodcock at four feet away was pretty special, where we could absorb every tiny cryptic detail of its masterfully camouflaged plumage, and even see ants crawling across the body, and take in its bizarrely positioned eyes that give it 360 degree vision. A superb shorebird for sure and my highlight from today at the BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING.

Another late afternoon highlight was a Magnolia Warbler simply begging us to take its photos, which in due course we did, again and again...

08 May 2011

Ottawa Swallows...OHIO (7 May)

Just a quick post of a photo of one of the gorgeous Tree Swallows fluttering behind the visitor center at Ottawa NWR yesterday, (if only I could have got it on a better perch than one of the irwell-placed nest boxes). It still looked incredible in the early morning light as it glowed greenish blue. Sometimes photos make you see the gorgeousness of birds all over again, of a bird that perhaps sometimes you might just have taken for granted once too often. This was one such occasion. I have unashamedly rediscovered the beauty of a tree swallow through the joys of photography!

07 May 2011

Ode to Ottawa (and Magee)...OHIO (7 May)

I begun my day working the woodlots of Ottawa NWR, where an Ovenbird showed its unhappiness at me disturbing it from its hiding place in the leaf litter by flaring up its burnt orange crest at me. An Alder Flycatcher yelled out for "free beer" in the woods and was my first of season. Other highlights today was a bright Blue-winged Warbler and an even brighter male Prothonotary Warbler that led a band of 17 warblers tallied on my personal list today. OK so this was not up to the ridiculous high standard set yesterday where I managed a personal best of 28 warbler species in the day, but this felt pretty nice all the same, and I would take this day again in a heartbeat!

Here are some photos of an American Redstart form today, and a shamelessly tame Philadelphia Vireo both from Magee Marsh.

06 May 2011

Magee Madness...OHIO (6 May)

Now I am embedded in Ohio, I spent a thrilling day for the BIGGEST WEEK IN AMERICAN BIRDING sifting through warblers and moving no more than 500m in the process. The birds were everywhere, they were in my face, and this is the very reason I am unashamedly addicted to this migration scene. I personally only managed a "paltry" 28 species! So what a day. My favorites today were Cerulean (if only it would have hung about for more of us), Bay-breasted (they were a little more showy than usual), Cape May (I just always like this one), Canada Warbler, ridiculously tame Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a skull-capped Wilson's Warbler. On top of that a surprise Barn Owl also caused a bit of a stir in this part of the world, where it is very scarce.

More from Magee coming soon...

05 May 2011

A taster...COLORADO (May)

Well I have to admit I have yet to be able to process my Greater Sage-Grouse shots from Colorado (and so am posting some "emergency" ones here as a taster of more to come), possibly one of the greatest surprises in birding I have had to date. I went in completely unprepared for what would unfold in front of our eyes. This was simply put right up there with one of the greatest avian spectacles I have ever seen (and yes I include the birds-of-paradise in this assessment). I urge any birder to go and experience these birds, for lovers of strange bird behavior this was up there with the best of them. The males strutted, fanned their pointed tail feathers out, made bizarre plopping sounds, and thrust out strange pink "breasts" that made for a completely unique and freakishly comical scene. We laughed at them, but reveled in the whole thing, which was a genuine spectacle.

More to come from this Colorado chicken run soon...

04 May 2011

What a Lovely Evening...COLORADO (3 May)

Way back when while I was twitching (chasing) rare birds around the UK, I would dream of seeing an Evening Grosbeak, as one of these birds turning up as an old Scottish record of this striking American bird was on the record books. Sadly this dream was never fulfilled in the UK as that record remains the only one on the books. So I had to wait until this May, decades after those first dreams, to pick up my first one, quietly sitting in a pine tree in the snow-cloaked town of Silverthorne in Colorado. Great bird, dream fulfilled. It was everything I had hoped, big, bold and beautiful!

More to come from Colorado soon...

My First Dipper...COLORADO (May)

While I sort through a mass of grouse shots to post some serious Greater Sage-Grouse action, I'll post this shot of my first American Dipper in a park close to the famous Red Rocks rock venue of old.

Grouse shots to come, sometime during the Biggest Week in American Birding that I am currently attending in Ohio...

02 May 2011

Greater Chicken Run...COLORADO (1 May)

After the Lesser Prairie-Chickens had thrilled us in the far SE of the state the day before, we awoke before an extremely chilly dawn in the NE of Colorado on a ranch, ready for more chicken action. This time though it was the "booming" Greater Prairie-Chickens that were to put on a phenomenal show for us. We positioned our car as we'd been instructed during an absorbing speech by the owner of the ranch, and waited for light to hit the ground. Before the rays of sunlight lit up an extraordinary scene all around our vehicle, we heard the strange moaning booms, cackles, gurgling, and noisy flapping of wings that betrayed the presence of these strange birds all around us. The show that unfolded surpassed even the one from the day before, as upward of 32 males strutted, raised their feathered horns, glared angrily at each other, and even fought with each other intermittently. All this went on and a female did not even show up! A lot of effort for these male chickens for little return it seems. They puffed themselves up to make themselves look large and formidable, suddenly possessed horns, flared up their orange-colored fleshy eyebrows and flared out their fiery peach-like skin sacs on the sides of their throats that looked stunning in the early morning sunlight that warmed our chilled bones. A truly awe-inspiring sight. We left dazzled and frazzled from all the action and then went on to the Ptarmigan mentioned in my earlier post-what a day!

Next up yet another Colorado chicken show...

01 May 2011

"Prairie Plover"...COLORADO (30 April)

Just a quick post of one of yesterday's lifers for me, a much-wanted Mountain Plover (although quite far from the mountains on the prairie of SE Colorado). Overshadowed by the chicken show maybe, but one I had been after for some time, being a self-confessed, unashamed wader/shorebird fan!

More to come from Colorado very soon..

Snowbirding....COLORADO (1 May)

If I thought May was spring in the US, when it comes to Colorado I was way wrong. After some more chicken-action on the prairies of the northeast in the morning (and more will come from that spectacular morning later-I promise), we ascended once more up into the mountains and Loveland Pass for another shot at a true snowbird, the White-tailed Ptarmigan. We had dropped in there a few days back but were driven off in blizzard conditions. As we approached the pass again, there was no doubting the thick blanket of snow, I mean this is springtime in Colorado after all!), but the wind that caused us such problems last time seemed to be missing-dare we dream of finding this ermine-white "chicken"? Well we left the parking lot determined to put in maximum effort, but as it turned out twenty paces from the car was all that was needed to bag this beautiful and hardy mountain bird. A ghostly white female barely blinked an eyelid as we sidled up to her and took photos from a foot away at one point, while snowboarders and skiers left her equally unperturbed as they walked on by oblivious to this beauty sitting munching snow!