19 May 2012

Venturing into the Far East...TAIWAN (16 May)

I arrived in Taipei in the depths of night, knowing Keith Barnes was waiting, armed with my wish list, and ready to have two days intense chasing of endemics in Taiwan, an island I had never visited before. After a few mumbled words in the middle of the night from Keith we were up at the crack of dawn, after precious little sleep and were heading into the heart of the island and the Dasyueshan Recreation Area. This forested mountain offers most of Taiwan's much coveted endemics. My first endemic to fall was a Steere's Liocichla, which were ridiculously abundant on the mountain, closely followed by a cheery bunch of Taiwan Yuhinas, which were sharing a fruiting tree with the dapper White-eared Sibia. And not long after the boisterous and friendly White-whiskered Laughingthrush came bounding by and threw out the rulebook that all "Chinese" laughers are skulkers. Not on Taiwan.

However, it was the true "king of the mist" (and it was misty and rainy on the mountain), that I was truly hoping to see. Right on 4pm "he" appeared as predicted by Keith...a magnificent (and oh so tame) Mikado Pheasant foraging along the roadside. As if to prove that misty days are true "pheasant days" we also found another two males working the road verges on the way down to our accommodation. One day in Taiwan and three Mikado Pheasants, I had the feeling I was going to like this island!

The End of Spring...OHIO (13 May)

Well my spring started when I landed in Houston, Texas on the 28th March, and headed for my annual sojourn to High Island...and my final day of the US spring came at Magee Marsh in Ohio where I spent a day ogling the warblers and taking their every detail for one last time. The day was warm bright and sunny, and provided a great setting for photographing some of these warblers. I said goodbye to many friends on the Magee boardwalk, which I sincerely hope to see next year again. Meanwhile the Blackburnian Warblers, Blackpoll Warblers and Prothonotary Warblers put on quite a show (the later mating in full view of the west tower-no shame those prothons!) and ensured my migration addiction remains healthily satisfied for another spring, and also ensures I could not possibly miss a spring in the eastern US!

As I headed out for Detroit my annual sadness at leaving migration behind for another year was tempered somewhat with the knowledge that my ticket was whisking me away for a fun few days on the island of Taiwan in the Far East...to come!

14 May 2012

International Migratory "Kirtland's" Day...OHIO (12 May)

Well, Saturday dawned with the large parking lot at Magee Marsh packed with cars, which could only mean one thing...it was either International Migratory Bird Day (traditionally the busiest day of the spring season) or there were some great birds around. As it happened both were true. Some of the long-established scenes from this special spring day were there to see as usual...Tom Bartlett perched on his ladder (YES-ladder) doing his traditional fund-raising big sit from his lofty perch, and swathes of Amish were in town sporting their distinctive dress, and keen eyes on the birds. Indeed it was an Amish group that brought so much joy to many that day as they stumbled upon a female-type (or immature male?) Kirtland's Warbler along the new Ottawa NWR Crane Creek Estuary Trail. Up until this point many did not even realize this trail existed (indeed it is new since last spring), although I doubt anyone in the Magee Marsh/Ottawa area on Saturday will ever forget this trail. The Kirtland's hit the headlines mid-morning and was still performing in the evening bringing many people a lifebird and lot of people excellent views of this scarce warbler, which amazingly turned up on at least four occasions in the week at both Ottawa NWR and Magee.

Indeed it turned out to be a good day for warblers all round for me with other choice species including several - Bay-breasted Warbler sharing an area with a couple of patched male Cape May Warblers which both drew considerable attention from a small gathering which were watching in excitement. Squeezed in between these warbler viewings was a red-ringed Black-billed Cuckoo, which was my first at Magee this spring, and was one of a handful adoring the trees there on this day. However, best of all, besides the "Special K" of course, was a super male Mourning Warbler that abandoned its usual furtive habits and popped up in plain view of an appreciative group of around 100 birders late on. The suddenly (and just as I had realized I had forgotten in the excitement of the moment to raise my camera-a Homer Simpson moment for sure!), it took off and flew low over everyone's heads, then dropped out of sight, at which point a loud cheer and applause went up from the group. I am not appalled to say I was infected with the moment and clapped heartily too! It is these snapshot magic moments in birding that I wished I had the nuance at the time to film, as they would perhaps convey to the new birder or non-birder the extreme heights of elation that these marvelous winged creatures produce among us. Indeed I hope to be clapping warblers at Magee Marsh each spring from now on. It is truly a special place for warblers, and the community spirit among the birders there. I definitely once again felt part of the "flock" there this spring, so thanks to all who made it so, and I enjoyed every warbler-filled moment! 

More to come from Magee mighty soon...

11 May 2012

"Shooting H"...OHIO (11 May 2012)

A distinctive, insect-like buzzing sound drifted to our ears as we climbed out of the car at Ottawa NWRwhere we were greeted by not only a bright, beautiful spring dawn, but also the sight of the normally extremely elusive Henslow's Sparrow posing in glorious first rays of sunlight-LIFEBIRD! We gorged on it as it posed again and again and allowed remarkably close approach, despite my photos suggesting otherwise! I might have to post Iain Campbell photos later with an 800mm lens which put mine to shame and revealed to true beauty of this little brown job, something us Brit birders get a kick out of! Special thanks to Rebecca for taking us out there to see it - very generous of you indeed!

09 May 2012

"Special K"...OHIO (9 May)

Well I arrived at the boardwalk took one step towards the start of this famous Magee Marsh trail, and immediately turned away as the news trickled in of a male Kirtland's Warbler showing at the far, eastern end. I quickly retreated to the car and sped (within local speed limits of course) to the other end, hoping to beat the crowds...Clearly I was a little off the pace, as a large glum-looking crowd greeted me and others! No one was seeing it, but suddenyl we heard a clear burst of song, then fifteen minutes later the news came through from Ann Oliver of Ohio Ornithological Society that it was heading towards East Beach, a famous hangout for this species...The crowd and me surged towards the beach, and I soon felt like I had gone back ten years to my twitching days in the UK! Some frustration followed before the crowd moved off as if from a silent message and then there it was thrilling us all by bobbing its tail and flitting around a large Cottonwood tree on the shore of Lake Erie. My first warbler of the day! Another highlight for the day was this awesome Cecropia Moth that slept prominently by the boardwalk and drew quite the crowd of its own. Still missing a Mourning Warbler this this season yet...maybe tomorrow?

08 May 2012

Warblering Free...OHIO (9 May)

Have spent the last few days warblering along the infamous Magee Marsh boardwalk in Ohio - the home of American Warblers. Thew last few days have seen some choice sightings including Blackpolls, Bay-breasteds, and a stunning couple of Hooded Warblers yesterday.
After the rigors of a challenging spring in Texas, dominated by strong southerly winds and some frustratingly slow periods of migration, this was just the antidote needed...lots of warblers, and in full song too. After the silent springs down in High Island (where they sing little as they are so far south of their Boreal breeding grounds), it is always a joy to hear the Magee chorus of warblers. Don't get me wrong, High Island, will always be very special to me, and probably cannot ever be surpassed as my favorite US birding destination, but it's nice to have the contrast in birding styles. When at Magee, it is back to birding by ear, which we oft forget when dealing with the mute migrants down south.

Today's highlight was several feisty male Prothonotary Warblers daring you not to pick them as your favorite warbler, and competing with the local Tree Swallows for nesting cavities. One persistetn lemony male has been driven out from a hole several times by a belligerent pair of swallows staking their claim to the hole. Another crowd favorite today was this male Northern Parula that hung around in front of a wall of lenses at the close of day. It may have had a crowd that any Hollywood star would have been proud of, although the parula showed none of the antics of actors in the face of the paparazzi, and simply foraged away plucking bugs from the trees, as if there was no one there...magical.