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After our last session of birding the blinds at Baihualing and lunch, we drove for three hours to Tengchong.  The next morning, January 27, we birded Laifengshan National Forest Park.  The first birds we saw were two Bar-tailed Treecreepers, which I thought looked an awful lot like my Brown Creepers at home.

Bar-tailed Treecreeper

Bar-tailed Treecreeper

Laifengshan is a popular park and visitors that day included several Chinese bird photographers.  I was able to get the photo below of a Slender-billed Oriole after a young Chinese woman with a camera excitedly showed me the bird, one of our main targets here.  When I had asked Nick about field marks for the oriole, he said that the black mask goes all the way around the nape.  Although my photo isn’t great, I was excited that it so clearly shows that key field mark.

Slender-billed Oriole

Slender-billed Oriole

The park was very pretty and it was a gorgeous sunny day.  While walking up to the temple we saw some nice birds including Rufous-bellied and Darjeeling Woodpeckers.

The entrance at the paved path that leads to the temple

The entrance at the paved path that leads to the temple

We also saw this Davison’s Leaf Warbler.  Asian warblers are rather drab for the most part compared to our colorful North American jewels, however, I was still happy to get identifiable photos of several warbler species during our Yunnan trip.

Davison's Leaf Warbler

Davison’s Leaf Warbler

Shortly after noon, we left Tengchong for the drive to Nabang, where would spend the next 2-1/2 days.

One of my favorite experiences in the Nabang area was time spent at a recently established photo blind/feeding station.  We were walking along a forest trail when two young women on a motorcycle came by and said “Come see our blind.”  The first half hour seemed to be a total waste of time as we saw absolutely no birds at all.  Then, suddenly, birds began to arrive.

White-crowned Forktail

White-crowned Forktail

I was very, very happy to get wonderful close views of two gorgeous White-crowned Forktails that came in to the feeding area.  This Rufous-bellied Niltava was another of my favorites.

Rufous-bellied Niltava

Rufous-bellied Niltava

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Little Pied Flycatcher, and White-tailed Robin were among other species seen well at the blind.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

One our way back to the hotel that evening, the Asian Emerald Dove below was in the road in front of the bus.  The others could not believe that this was a life bird for me.  They seriously thought that I must have seen it before as it seemed a very common Asian bird to them.  My bird was special, though, as it had extra white feathers.  This species normally has white only on the face and front of the shoulder.

Asian Emerald Dove, photographed through the bus window

Asian Emerald Dove, photographed through the bus window

We continued birding in the Nabang area for the next day and a half.  On our last morning, we enjoyed this displaying Crested Goshawk, with the distinctive white undertail coverts fluffed up across the rump.  In one of those quirks of birding, I have now seen this species three times, but I’m still looking for my life Northern Goshawk at home.

Crested Goshawk

Crested Goshawk

It was then on to Ruili, the last destination of our birding tour.  Early on our first morning there, we birded the trail to Moli Waterfalls, part of the Moli Scenic Area, one of the most beautiful locations we visited during the entire trip.  One of our main targets was Streaked Wren-Babbler, a sneaky little bird as one would expect with both “wren” and “babbler” in its name.  But, due to Nick’s patience and perseverance, I saw the little brown bird.

Streaked Wren-Babbler

Streaked Wren-Babbler

Nick loves those skulky little brown birds, but I prefer big colorful birds like this Red-headed Trogon.  Before this trip, I thought of Trogons as primarily Central American birds, but I learned that they are residents of tropical forests worldwide. The greatest diversity is in the Neotropics, where 24 species occur, but there are also three African species and 12 species of Trogon found in southeast Asia.

Red-headed Trogon

Red-headed Trogon

February first was the last day of birding for the tour.  We started at a ridge-top road just outside of Ruili.  I picked up a few more life birds, including Black-crested Bulbul.

Black-crested Bulbul

Black-crested Bulbul

But mostly, I just remember a lovely morning with pleasant companions, friendly farmers, and sunshine.  I also remember watching drongos that morning, common birds in Yunnan with five different species seen during our two weeks there.  I got 104 life birds on the trip, but I would have had more if I hadn’t missed so many birds due to my poor vision.  Sometimes, when the others were focused on some distant or skulky bird that I couldn’t find, I just watched drongos, gracefully sallying out for insects and then resettling in the treetops.  I was mesmerized by the graceful flights of these birds.  I thought that if you could cross a flycatcher with a swallow, you would get a drongo.

Bronzed Drongo

Bronzed Drongo

And, then the morning was over and we piled back into the bus to start towards the airport.  We stopped for lunch on the way at a lovely outside restaurant.  While waiting for our food, someone noticed Asian Palm-Swifts flying low over the palm trees at the edge of the parking lot.  This seemed like a bonus bird and very appropriate for my last China life bird.  After lunch, we drove to the airport for our flight to Kunming.  The next morning, the others would start their journeys home and I would fly to Shenzhen where I would visit my son, Dave, and his girlfriend, Rachel.

I love Barn Swallows with their white bellies in this part of the world.

I love Barn Swallows with their white bellies in this part of the world.

Parts of the trip were challenging, but I have no regrets.  I saw a beautiful part of the world and many gorgeous birds.  I enjoyed the company of birders far more accomplished than I will ever be.  The other birders and our Zoothera Birding guide, Nick Bray, were fun and wonderfully kind about helping me see as many birds as possible.  Near the end when I was getting tired, I thought that it would be my last trip to China, but now I don’t know if I can bear the thought of never again seeing the spectacular beauty of China’s birds.

 

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If I’d died and gone to birding heaven, it couldn’t have been much better than Baihualing.  If you have been to South America and seen antpittas and other shy forest birds come to worms when called, imagine that.  Except that it lasts all day rather than five minutes.  The bird blinds/feeding stations at Baihualing are amazing.  Each blind (or “hide” as the Brits say) is owned by a local who created and manages it.  A good location is identified and then the blind owner creates a stage for the birds with water features, logs and stumps that can be filled with suet or worms, places to perch, etc.  On one side is the hide – a narrow rectangular tent-like structure with either a long window or portholes for binoculars and cameras and little plastic stools for sitting.

Everyone needs a drink, even shy species like these Mountain Bamboo-Partridges.

Everyone needs a drink, even shy species like these Mountain Bamboo-Partridges.

I envision the creation process is much like that of a male bowerbird who looks at his stage from various perspectives.  Will the birds find it appealing and come?  Will the birders and photographers in the blind have good views?  Ongoing management consists of chauffeuring birders back and forth between the hotel and the blind, feeding the birds throughout the day, and collecting the modest fees that birders and photographers pay for the privilege of wonderful close looks at birds that would otherwise be very difficult to find and see well.  It’s a winning situation for everyone, including the birds.

We arrived at this wonderful place late in the afternoon of January 23th and spent nearly two hours in Blind #8.  Here are some of the gorgeous birds we saw that first day.

Red-billed Leiothrix. I missed this beautiful little bird on previous trips to China, so I was thrilled to finally get such a wonderful close look this time.

Red-billed Leiothrix. I missed this beautiful little bird on previous trips to China, so I was thrilled to finally get such a wonderful close look this time.

Red-tailed Laughingthrush. It's hard to believe, but these beauties were common at the blinds with half a dozen or so frequently in the feeding areas.

Red-tailed Laughingthrush. It’s hard to believe, but these beauties were common at the blinds with half a dozen or so frequently in the feeding areas.

Chestnut-headed Tesia. What a little charmer! This is a species that would have been difficult to see well "in the wild."

Chestnut-headed Tesia. What a little charmer! This is a species that would have been difficult to see well “in the wild.”

Rusty-capped Fulvettas. These little cuties were fun to watch.

Rusty-capped Fulvettas. These little cuties were fun to watch.

Space prohibits displaying all of my photos from that afternoon, so here is a link to my eBird checklist.

The next morning we walked a nearby trail for over six hours.  It was advertised as “flat,” but several of us thought it was a bit steep and I didn’t stay with the group the entire time.  I didn’t see many birds on the trail, but I did see a beautiful Black Giant Squirrel which was so big that I didn’t even realize it was a squirrel at first.  Later that afternoon, I was happy to spend two hours in Blind #77.  In that short time, I got eight life birds!  Here are a few of my favorite photos from the afternoon.

Red-tailed Minla. Such a smart and sophisticated-looking bird. I can't help assigning human-like personalities to some of these exotic Asian birds.

Red-tailed Minla. Such a smart and sophisticated-looking bird. I can’t help assigning human-like personalities to some of these exotic Asian birds.

Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler. I have been awed by scimitar-babblers ever since I first saw a Gray-sided Scimitar-Babbler in 2012. And, what a struggle it was to see that first one. Scimitar-Babblers are normally very shy birds.

Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler. I have been awed by scimitar-babblers ever since I first saw a Gray-sided Scimitar-Babbler in 2012. And, what a struggle it was to see that first one. Scimitar-Babblers are normally very shy birds.

Yellow-cheeked Tit. Punk bird?

Yellow-cheeked Tit. Punk bird?

Scarlet-faced Liocichla. These gorgeous birds were fairly common and we frequently saw them with Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

Scarlet-faced Liocichla. These gorgeous birds were fairly common and we frequently saw them with Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

And, here is my eBird checklist from that session with more photos.

The next day, January 25, we spent the entire day in the blinds starting with #35 in the morning.  Some species seem to be constantly present at a blind and others come and go throughout the day.  Some of the shyer birds may only come once or twice a day – or skip a day entirely.  A few photos from that session:

Blue-winged Lauthingthrush. Gorgeous and a little scary looking. Very shy compared to Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

Blue-winged Lauthingthrush. Gorgeous and a little scary looking. Very shy compared to Red-tailed Laughingthrushes.

Ashy Drongo. He came into the feeding area like he owned it, with grace and confidence, but no arrogance. Yep, I can't help those human comparisons. Drongos are common in China and the others didn't get excited over them, but I loved them, especially this species.

Ashy Drongo. He came into the feeding area like he owned it, with grace and confidence, but no arrogance. Yep, I can’t help those human comparisons. Drongos are common in China and the others didn’t get excited over them, but I loved them, especially this species.

Flavescent Bulbuls enjoying an apple.

Flavescent Bulbuls enjoying an apple.

Streaked Spiderhunter is a species that we enjoyed seeing from the blinds, but this is one that we also saw well several times “in the wild.” Presumably, these birds do feed on spiders and insects, but that long curved bill is adapted for obtaining nectar. National Geographic even includes them in its list of Top 25 Birds with a Sugar Rush.

Streaked Spiderhunter

Silver-eared Mesia. These beautiful little birds are currently doing well in the wild, however, the population is under pressure from trapping for the caged bird trade.

Silver-eared Mesia. These beautiful little birds are currently doing well in the wild, however, the population is under pressure from trapping for the caged bird trade.

Long-tailed Sibia. One of the many species that enjoyed the apples at the feeding stations.

Long-tailed Sibia. One of the many species that enjoyed the apples at the feeding stations.

Large Niltava. This individual is a female. I think that she is just as gorgeous as her mate.

Large Niltava. This individual is a female. I think that she is just as gorgeous as her mate.

Pallas's Squirrel. These and Northern Tree Shrew were common visitors to the feeding stations.

Pallas’s Squirrel. These and Northern Tree Shrew were common visitors to the feeding stations.

Here is my eBird checklist from the morning.

We spent the afternoon in Blind #11, at a little higher elevation than the others we had visited, which produced a few new species.  Each blind has its specialties.  At this one, new birds were Hill Partridge and Gray-sided Laughingthrush.  This blind was the only location where we saw either of these species.

Hill Partridge

Hill Partridge

Gray-sided Laughingthrush

Gray-sided Laughingthrush

Himalayan Bluetail. Amazingly, we saw many of these beautiful birds. This one is a male.

Himalayan Bluetail. Amazingly, we saw many of these beautiful birds. This one is a male.

My eBird checklist from Blind #11 has more photos.

On our final morning at Baihualing, we all had a choice – walk the trails to search for species that don’t come to the blinds or have another session at a blind.  You can guess which option I choose.  It turned out to be a good decision as the others dipped again on their second try for Gould’s Shortwing, a difficult species to find.  Additionally, our little group in the blind had wonderful looks at eight Mountain Bamboo-Partridges, the only good sighting of this species during the trip.

Mountain Bamboo-Partridge (male)

Mountain Bamboo-Partridge (male)

That last morning, we also had excellent looks at many species seen during the previous few days.  A few of my favorites were the birds below.

Large Niltava (male)

Large Niltava (male)

Great Barbet

Great Barbet

Mr. Orange-bellied Leafbird. I had seen these gorgeous birds on previous trips, but I was thrilled to get much closer looks this time.

Mr. Orange-bellied Leafbird. I had seen these gorgeous birds on previous trips, but I was thrilled to get much closer looks this time.

Mrs. Orange-bellied Leafbird

Mrs. Orange-bellied Leafbird

Here is my last eBird checklist from Baihualing, but there are six more days in the Zoothera Birding trip and then a week in Shenzhen, so I’ll be back with more stories.

My son Dave visited Yunnan shortly after he moved to China in 2008.  For years, he has urged me to see this province of China that is often considered the most beautiful.  So, when Nick Bray, who led my birding trip in 2012, posted on Facebook that he was planning Zoothera Birding‘s first trip to Yunnan, I immediately signed up.

Common Kingfishers are widespread in Asia and I have seen them on every trip, this time in both Yunnan and later in Shenzhen.

Common Kingfishers are widespread in Asia and I have seen them on every trip, this time in both Yunnan and later in Shenzhen.

I arrived in Kunming in the wee hours of January 16th, a full day before the others so that I wouldn’t be starting the trip with jet lag.  I planned to sleep late and then do a little birding on my first day.  I thought that I was so smart when I was preparing for the trip and found a little park not far from the hotel.  I printed the map so that I could show it to a taxi driver as no taxi drivers in China speak any English.  The hotel called a taxi for me and, as planned, I showed my little map to the driver.  I assumed that he would take me to the park, but after a few minutes he showed me his phone with a translation app.  It said “That park is old and depressed.  Why do you want to go there?  Guandu Forest Park is new and beautiful and it’s free.”  I tried to ask how far the suggested park was, but the translation app turned “How far is the park?” into profanity.  I vigorously shook my head “no” and gave up.  So, of course, the driver took me to the suggested park, 45 minutes away and $15.00 rather than 10 minutes and the $3.00 fare that I expected.  I was frustrated, but I should have known better.  After four previous trips to China, I have learned that communication is difficult and misunderstandings are frequent, even when simply trying to get from Point A to Point B.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak

Yellow-billed Grosbeak

The park was a typical Chinese city park – full of people, even a band playing – beautiful, but not conducive to productive birding.  But, I quickly relaxed and enjoyed the lovely afternoon for a couple of hours.  Even with all the activity, I found a little flock of Yellow-billed Grosbeaks, a species that the Zoothera group would not see at all.

Back at the hotel, I found a few birds on the edge of the parking area, including several White Wagtails.  I find Wagtails very interesting and always try to photograph them.  This was the first time that I saw an alboides subspecies and I thought that he was a rather snazzy looking bird, even in winter plumage.

White Wagtail, Motacilla alba alboides

White Wagtail, Motacilla alba alboides

That evening I enjoyed dinner with John Hopkins, another birder who had arrived early.  The next day we met up with the rest of the group at the airport – ten participants and three guides.  There was one other woman in the group, from Germany, and one man from Sweden.  The rest of the group consisted of males from the UK except for our two Chinese guides.  After a quick lunch, we were off on our adventure.  Our first destination was Zixishan, a mountain park near Chuxiong, about three hours from Kunming.  We arrived in time for a little birding before checking into our hotel and we found our two target birds right away – the endemic Yunnan Nuthatch and Giant Nuthatch.  The Yunnan Nuthatch posed quite nicely for us at a close distance, not typical behavior we were told.

Yunnan Nuthatch

Yunnan Nuthatch

The following day, we started birding at Zixishan before sunrise.  It was a nice morning and we saw a good number of birds.  This Chinese Thrush sat on the side of the road and never moved, even as we moved closer and closer for photos.  It was still sitting there when we left to look for other species.

Chinese Thrush

Chinese Thrush

The afternoon brought a 6-hour drive to Lijiang where we hoped to see Biet’s Laughingthrush, my most wanted bird of the trip.  But, alas, our good fortune at Zixishan did not continue at Lijiang.  Despite several hours of intensive searching in the areas where the laughingthrush has historically been seen, we neither heard nor saw one.  We learned that this rare bird is becoming increasingly difficult to find, perhaps in part due to illegal poaching for the caged bird trade.

The best birds at Lijiang were a pair of Rufous-tailed Babblers bouncing around the top of a big trash pile, singing almost constantly.  Several of us just sat in the grass a few yards away with our cameras and click-click-clicked as these normally shy birds put on a fantastic close-up show for us.

Rufous-tailed Babbler

Rufous-tailed Babbler

The others in our group had started teasing me about ducks almost as soon as our trip started.  Apparently I was the only waterfowl enthusiast, or maybe ducks were just too easy for the more serious birders with life lists of over 6,000 species.  I got my wish to see ducks on the morning that we left Lijiang with a quick stop at Lijiang Wetland Park.  I loved it!  There were hundreds of birds on the lake.  I got much better looks at beautiful Ferruginous Ducks than I’d had previously.  And, I even got three life birds.  Surprisingly, I had never seen a real wild Graylag Goose before.  Red-crested Pochard and Smew were also new.

Ferruginous Ducks

Ferruginous Ducks

It seemed that everyone enjoyed our short time at the wetland despite their earlier claims that they didn’t care about ducks.  I think that we could have stayed for hours and everyone would have been happy.  But, we had a long drive ahead, so we couldn’t savor the ducks and wetland birds for long.  Back in the van, the more experienced birders gave me a good lesson in separating Black-headed and Brown-headed Gulls.  With their expert knowledge and my photos, I quickly learned that it really was easy to differentiate these two species.

Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls with Graylag Geese. Even in this rather poor photo, you can easily note the larger size of the Brown-headed Gulls, the dark wingtips, and huge mirrors in the outermost primaries.

Brown-headed and Black-headed Gulls with Graylag Geese. Even in this rather poor photo, you can easily note the larger size of the Brown-headed Gulls, the dark wingtips, and huge mirrors in the outermost primaries.

After leaving the Lijiang wetland, we drove 8 hours to Lushui.  The next morning we continued through part of Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve, over Pianma Pass (3,100 meters), and to the small town of Pianma near the Myanmar border where we would spend the next two nights.  The first morning in this area started with one of the most thrilling sightings of the entire trip – and it was not a bird.  It was a Red Panda sleeping in the sunshine in a bare tree!  This charismatic little mammal (about the size of a house cat) is fascinating.  It has thick fur on the soles of its feet.  It uses that fluffy 18-inch tail to wrap around itself for warmth.  The Smithsonian has more interesting facts about the Red Panda, a species classified as endangered with a population of less than 10,000 remaining in the wild.

The Red Panda as seen from the road.

The Red Panda as seen from the road.

A close-up of the adorable Red Panda. This is the view that we got through the scope. Photo by John Hopkins.

A close-up of the adorable Red Panda. This is the view that we got through the scope. Photo by John Hopkins.

After the panda sighting, things were pretty slow.  Actually, they were very slow and this was my least favorite part of the trip.  The hotel was awful, it was cold, and we didn’t find our main target birds.  For two full days, we traveled back and forth over Pianma Pass and birded along the road, which was always covered in a thin layer of ice except in sunny spots.  On the second day, several of the others found some good birds by climbing up the side of the mountain on rough rather steep trails.  I stayed on the road not wanting to wear myself out or trigger an asthma attack by too much activity at 3,100 meters.  OK, I was a little lazy.  But, my vision is so bad that I don’t think that I would have seen the birds anyway, even if I had scrambled up the mountainside.  Just like on my 2012 trip with Nick, most of the others were in better physical shape and were much more experienced and skillful birders than me.  But I didn’t miss one of the best birds of the day when late that afternoon we found this spectacular little bird, a Fire-tailed Myzornis.

Fire-tailed Myzornis. Photo by John Hopkins.

Fire-tailed Myzornis. Photo by John Hopkins.

The following morning, we left for Baihualing and it’s many bird blinds, where I would be in birding heaven.  Stay tuned.

Arizona Birding

My second trip to Arizona was a few weeks ago.  I find that I can’t think about that trip without also recalling memories from my trip in April 2010.  The first trip was short – just four days – but I got 67 life birds!  My recent trip was a little longer – six days – but with more experience now, I was pleased to add just nine birds to my life list (plus one new ABA area bird).  Perhaps it’s the contrast that makes me acutely aware of the stages we go through as birders and the joys of it all.  In 2010, I remember my head spinning at Patton’s as I got three life birds in about three minutes.  “Oh, a Lincoln’s Sparrow.”  “Quick, over there – Lazuli Bunting!”  “Stop looking at those birds.  There’s a Violet-crowned Hummingbird at the feeder!”  My friend Susan and I birded from dawn to dusk with time for only one real meal.  It was wonderful fun, but sadly I have no photos at all from that trip.  The trip in November 2018 was with another friend, Diane.  Instead of mad dashes from one lifer to another, we had time to savor and study.  It was a different trip entirely, but just as enjoyable.

No Violet-crowned Hummingbirds on my recent trip, but Blue-throated Hummer was a lifer and one of my favorites.

No Violet-crowned Hummingbirds on my recent trip, but Blue-throated Hummer was a lifer and one of my favorites.

On our first day, Diane and I found life bird number one of the trip – adorable Rosy-faced Lovebirds.  We have no explanation for the “beads.”  Suggestions on Facebook included marking by a researcher or perhaps a pet escaped and joined the wild flock.  These colorful little parrots are popular cage birds.  Escaped pets became established in the wild and for over 30 years they have been breeding in residential neighborhoods in the Phoenix area.

Rosy-faced Lovebirds nest in the palm trees.

Rosy-faced Lovebirds nest in the palm trees.

Because I was such a new birder in 2010, life birds on that trip included quite a few common species.  I clearly remember being excited to see Brewer’s Blackbirds.  Susan could not understand my joy.  “Shelley, they aren’t classy birds.  They’re eating horse shit.”  But, she then conceded that every birder got their life Brewer’s Blackbird at some point.

This year, none of my desired lifers were widespread common birds.  Some of our targets would be challenging to find, so Diane and I hired local expert Melody Kehl for three days.  Melody delivered the first morning with Gilded Flicker, a bird that is found almost exclusively in Arizona.  I have now seen all 22 North American species in the woodpecker family.

My life Gilded Flicker

My life Gilded Flicker

Next, Melody found Rufous-winged Sparrows for us and then Black-capped Gnatcatchers, a primarily Mexican species that reaches its northernmost range in Southeast Arizona.  We had good looks, but the gnatcatchers did not cooperate for photos.

Diane had missed Elegant Trogon on her first trip to Arizona in 2010 and it was one of her most-wanted birds.  I told her to forget it, it was the wrong time of year and would be extremely unlikely.  But, guess what Melody found at the Madera Canyon picnic area?  Yep, an Elegant Trogon!  Madera lived up to its reputation for good birds that day with Olive Warblers, a Blue-throated Hummingbird, Hepatic Tanagers and many others.  One of my favorites was this Red-naped Sapsucker eating berries.  I had seen my lifer just a few months earlier in Montana, but this was my first good close look.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Red-naped Sapsucker

On our second day with Melody, we went to Santa Cruz flats to look for sparrows and raptors.  We struck out on Sagebrush Sparrow; apparently they had not arrived yet for the winter.  But, I was thrilled with the Prairie Falcon that we did find.  I had wanted this falcon as a life bird for a long time.  Now I was looking at a gorgeous cooperative bird.  I think that I can see hearts in the spots on its thighs.  Look at that face!  I am in love with this bird!

Prairie Falcon

Prairie Falcon

I have seen very few Barn Owls, any place, ever, so it was a thrill to also see these beautiful birds that day.  Doesn’t everyone, birder or not, love owls?  Barn Owls are one of the most widespread of all birds, found on every continent except Antarctica.  But widespread does not mean common and most owls are very sensitive to disturbance, so we just took a quick look, used no flash for photos, and did not disclose the exact location of these birds.

We were privileged to see these beautiful Barn Owls.

We were privileged to see these beautiful Barn Owls.

We got back early enough that afternoon that Diane and I had time to visit Reid Park, not far from our hotel.  We were amazed to see dozens of American Wigeons competing with Mallards for bread that kids were throwing.  Even an immature Black-crowned Nigh-Heron joined in the feeding frenzy!  While feeding bread to ducks is a common practice, it is not a good idea.  See this for 3 reasons you shouldn’t feed bread to ducks.

An immature Black-crowned Night-Heron joined the ducks snapping up bread thrown by the kids.

An immature Black-crowned Night-Heron joined the ducks snapping up bread thrown by the kids.

We headed to the Chiricahua Mountains on our third and last day with Melody.  Another much-wanted life bird, Crissal Thrasher, started the day.  We got a good look, but it was too quick for photos.  We then searched for Juniper Titmouse which Melody found and Diane saw well.  But, with my poor vision, I did not see the birds well enough to count them.  Next time.

An Acorn Woodpecker at the George Walker House in the Chiricahua Mountains. A common western species, but always fun to see.

An Acorn Woodpecker at the George Walker House in the Chiricahua Mountains. A common western species, but always fun to see.

After a morning of exploring the mountains and visiting several yards with feeders, we had a wonderful picnic lunch at Barfoot Park.  Just as we finished our meal, Melody heard Mexican Chickadees.  Mexican Chickadees, as their name implies, are primarily a Mexican species which occur in the US only in the Chihuahua and a small mountain range in New Mexico.  These birds were our main reason for the long drive from Tucson that day.  With some effort, we saw about a dozen birds and I even got so-so photos.  The timing could not have been better if Melody had trained those chickadees!

Mexican Chickadee

Mexican Chickadee

Diane and I then had two more days before we had to be back in Phoenix for our flights home.  We decided to spend our last night near Tucson at WOW Arizona so that we could bird there in the afternoon and again the following morning.  This wildlife sanctuary/B&B with numerous feeding stations was the perfect place for close-up study of many species we had seen during the previous days.  A bonus was watching a gorgeous Harris’s Hawk, a new species for the trip, come for its chicken leg supper.

Harris's Hawk waiting to come down for its supper.

Harris’s Hawk waiting to come down for its supper.

WOW Arizona was very relaxing.  We just walked around a bit and sat in front of the feeders watching beautiful birds.

The many hummingbirds at WOW Arizona provided a good opportunity to study a few species up close. I especially liked this immature male Broad-billed Hummingbird.

The many hummingbirds at WOW Arizona provided a good opportunity to study a few species up close. I especially liked this immature male Broad-billed Hummingbird.

CJ, co-owner of WOW Arizona, helped me get good looks at Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.

CJ, co-owner of WOW Arizona, helped me get good looks at Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.

I loved watching this Cactus Wren in a cactus in front of the house!

I loved watching this Cactus Wren in a cactus in front of the house!

This adult male Costa's Hummingbird gave me my best looks ever for this species.

This adult male Costa’s Hummingbird gave me my best looks ever for this species.

Diane and I had a great week in southeastern Arizona, but, as always, it was over too quickly. There were quite a few places that we wanted to go, but our limited time did not allow. I think that I see another trip to Arizona in our future!

The view from one of the trails at WOW Arizona. The tree in the foreground is overflowing with Mourning Doves.

The view from one of the trails at WOW Arizona. The tree in the foreground is overflowing with Mourning Doves.

On August 5, 2018, I went birding at Lake Waccamaw State Park.  The birds were more scarce than I’d expected, but I finally found Blue Jays and a few other common birds near the Visitor Center.  Why is this even worthy of mention?  Because the park is in Columbus County, the last of North Carolina’s 100 counties in which I have observed birds.  Yep, I’ve now seen birds in every county in my home state.  If you are not a birder, you may still think that this is not worthy of mention and you should stop reading now.

No, these particular birds were not my life Forsyth County Brown-headed Nuthatches, but you weren't going to keep reading without some cute photos, were you?

No, these particular birds were not my life Forsyth County Brown-headed Nuthatches, but you weren’t going to keep reading without some cute photos, were you?

County birding is my favorite of games birders play, but it took a while before I got serious.  In December 2009, eBird introduced county birding to “inspire people to go birding in places that don’t typically get much coverage.”  I am a huge fan of eBird, so I wanted to help with this effort.  I started birding the counties adjacent to Forsyth that didn’t have many checklists.  Sometimes I went alone, but frequently I enlisted friends Carol or Brent to go with me.  We had great fun on our outings and it wasn’t long until Carol and I found a county record Horned Grebe for Stokes County.  It was the first time that anyone had reported the species in that county.

In the County Birding "game," an American Robin counts just as much as a rare bird.

In the County Birding “game,” an American Robin counts just as much as a rare bird.

At some point I became aware that county birding was more than an eBird effort; it was almost a competitive sport.  I discovered that birders in Texas, Florida, California, and a few other states were obsessed with focused on county birding.  And then I met Derek, right here in Forsyth County, who had seen birds in all of North Carolina’s counties.  I started joining him occasionally for a day of birding as he upped his county ticks.  County ticks are simply the sum of one’s life lists for each county in an area (usually a state).  So, if I had seen 200 birds in Forsyth County and 100 birds in Guilford County, I would have 300 county ticks for NC.  It didn’t take many days of birding with Derek until I decided that I, too, wanted to see birds in all of North Carolina’s counties.

Cynthia and I spent a day with this Golden-winged Warbler in Watauga County

Cynthia and I spent a day with this Golden-winged Warbler in Watauga County

I also birded with other friends whenever I had a chance.  One of my favorite county birds was the gorgeous Golden-winged Warbler in the photo above.  My good friend, Cynthia, wrote a guest post on this blog, Golden-winged Wonders, about our experiences with “Andy.”

I am especially grateful for my friend, David, and my son-in-law, Jeff.  David is not a birder, but he understood my craziness and helped me in the western part of the state.  It can be hard to find birds in those small mountainous counties and I was happy to have the company and the help.  Jeff is only a casual birder, but he spent several days with me in the northeast corner of the state searching for birds.

A pretty Hermit Thrush that Jeff and I found in Chowan County.

A pretty Hermit Thrush that Jeff and I found in Chowan County.

I wish that I’d kept notes on every outing, every new milestone, but I did not.  Instead, I have only delightful random memories, like a stream of consciousness.  Please indulge me as I share a few of those memories.

Derek is an excellent birder with the energy that comes from being young.  And, he was willing to go birding with me – a woman with bad eyesight and old enough to be his grandmother.  The love of birds and birding that transcends all other differences is one of the things that I love about the birding community.  But, I digress.

A lovely Cedar Waxwing found on the Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County

A lovely Cedar Waxwing found on the Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County

A typical day of birding with Derek started with meeting around 7:00 AM and driving two to three hours to get to the counties we needed.  Derek is a great planner and he continued to watch bird alerts while I drove.  We birded until dark and then Derek drove on the way home.  Sometimes it was 11:00 PM when I pulled into my driveway.  But, we always had fun and we always got new county birds.

In January 2017, Derek introduced me to the idea of combining county birding and state birding, seeking birds not just new to a particular county, but new for the state.  A rare (for North Carolina) Anna’s Hummingbird had turned up on the coast, inspiring us to make a two-day trip to see this beauty.  We added several new birds for Dare County, including a surprise Brown Thrasher while waiting in line at the Nags Head KFC drive-thru.

The Anna's Hummingbird that Derek and I drove to the NC coast to see

The Anna’s Hummingbird that Derek and I drove to the NC coast to see

Later that year in May, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to see this cooperative Mourning Warbler in Avery County, another state bird for both Derek and me.  This led to stops in Wilkes County, an Alder Flycatcher at a blink-and-you-would-have-missed-it bog on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Burke, and then multiple stops at under-birded hotspots in Mitchell, Yancey, and McDowell counties.  Our favorite location that we discovered that day was the lovely Bakersville Creek Walk in Mitchell County, which I made into an eBird hotspot.

Our lovely Mourning Warbler on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Avery County

Our lovely Mourning Warbler on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Avery County

In addition to finding notable birds, I enjoyed the quirkiness and little surprises of county birding.  Derek and I called it the “wavy road.”  It was as much in the middle of nowhere as any place in NC.  I think we were on a mission to find a Clay-colored Sparrow.  The road was completely level on the middle line, but the edges rose and fell like waves.  Driving the road felt like a ride at an amusement park.  We marveled at the oddity of the road and were happy that it didn’t last too long.  And, yes, we got our bird.

On a day of birding with Hop in Cleveland County, he pished up this Golden-crowned Kinglet.

On a day of birding with Hop in Cleveland County, he pished up this Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Plenty of mistakes were made in my search for new birds, mostly when I was birding alone.  I currently have only one bird for Halifax County even though I spent the night there.  I got confused about the county line and did not even realize where I was!  A more serious mistake occurred when I was birding alone in the Croatan National Forest and became totally lost.  Fortunately, I was able to use the eBird track on my phone to navigate back to my car.  Once on a trip with Derek to the Sandhills area in the middle of summer, I failed to take water on our walk.  When we were almost back to the car, I began to feel sick – very hot and nauseous – so I just lay down on the sand and sent Derek back to the ranger station.  I knew the ranger would come for me in his truck, which he did, and I learned a very valuable lesson.

This young Brown-headed Cowbird appeared to be hot, too, on that sweltering day in Cumberland County.

This young Brown-headed Cowbird appeared to be hot, too, on that sweltering day in Cumberland County.

But, the heat might have been responsible for the wonderful lizards we also found on that hot July day.  Derek and I considered all wildlife sightings a big bonus of county birding.

Eastern Fence Lizard at Carvers Creek State Park, a lifer lizard for me!

Eastern Fence Lizard at Carvers Creek State Park, a lifer lizard for me!

I made even more mistakes finding birds, again usually when I went out on my own.  Many these errors were my poor decisions about which birding hotspots to visit.  A State Recreation Area on a large lake was “Closed for the Season” when I got there in the middle of winter.  Some hotspots no longer had access and some were just about impossible to find.  One location with many great eBird reports appeared to be a road that no one would walk except hunters or crazy young male birders.  I’m pretty brave, but I was not going to park my car on the side of the road and walk alone into the wilderness in a remote, isolated part of the state.

A Great Spangled Fritillary that Derek and I found near Boone in June 2016. We frequently encountered beautiful butterflies while searching for birds.

A Great Spangled Fritillary that Derek and I found near Boone in June 2016. We frequently encountered beautiful butterflies while searching for birds.

As I have written this, more memories keep flooding back.  Looking for Swallow-tailed Kites with Nathan and Sarah.  The Person County Northern Lapwing with David S.  The Brown Booby with Jay.  The Allen’s Hummingbird with Phil and Carol C.  Transylvania County.  Forsyth Audubon and Piedmont Bird Club trips.  I can’t name them all, but I treasure every one of my birding adventures and I am grateful to have shared so many with friends.

My most recently photographed county tick is this Tricolored Heron, right here in Forsyth County, only the second of this species to be observed in our county.  But, I now have an even newer county bird, a Royal Tern that David Disher found at Salem Lake during Hurricane Florence.

My Forsyth County Tricolored Heron

My Forsyth County Tricolored Heron

My eBird map for NC is below.  As you can see, I don’t have many birds in most counties, so I’ll be able to continue the county birding game for quite a while as I add new birds.  I hope to keep birding in North Carolina for a very long time.

If you rode shotgun with me on my big trip, thank you!  It was great to have your company and your comments encouraged me along the way.  My longest road trip yet began on May 16 and ended on June 11, 2018.  That was 27 days away from home and 7,114 miles driven in my wilderness green Subaru Outback.  Montana and Nebraska were brand new states for me that I had never visited before.  I had not been in Wyoming since a 1971 trip to Yellowstone National Park.

My approximate route for the trip. I continued on home from Tellico Plains, TN.

My approximate route for the trip. I continued on home from Tellico Plains, TN.

Birds provided the structure for the trip and I observed 171 avian species, including a few in the North Carolina mountains during the Cherohala Challenge part of the trip.  The life birds that I hoped to find were all challenging; I got eleven of my 20 targets.  Birds that I was thrilled to find by myself were Mountain Plover, Greater Sage-Grouse, Baird’s Sparrow, McCown’s Longspur, and Gray Flycatcher.  All of those are prairie birds and I found that I enjoyed birding in that habitat best.

I would have liked to see more mammals, but I did enjoy the Pronghorn, Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, Prairie Dogs, and especially an adorable little Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel.  Snakes and lizards would have been interesting, too, but I saw none.

A Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel at a rest stop in Wisconsin.

A Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel at a rest stop in Wisconsin.

Other life birds found with a little help were Gray Partridge, Williamson’s and Red-naped Sapsuckers, Flammulated Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, and Sage Thrasher.  I can’t pick a favorite bird of those, but my favorite moment was standing all alone on the prairie in Grasslands National Park watching my life Baird’s Sparrow and listening to him sing.  The moment probably lasted close to an hour and I tried to just soak in the beauty of the time and place and take a few photos.

My life Baird's Sparrow at Grasslands National Park

My life Baird’s Sparrow at Grasslands National Park

I missed other birds for various reasons.  My poor vision and hearing are most likely what cost me Sprague’s Pipit.  I even stood next to someone one day who said that she was hearing them in the distance.  When I arrived at Waterton Park and learned that many of the trails and roads were closed due to last year’s fires, I knew that I was unlikely to find Spruce Grouse as that was the only location in my itinerary where there was any chance for it.  It was also the best location for Dusky Grouse, so I missed it, too.  I’m not totally certain why I could not find a Prairie Falcon.  Before the trip, several folks had said that they expected I would find one, but perhaps it was a little too late in the season as the birds were nesting.  Once in Montana, people said that it would have been easier earlier in the year.  Northern Goshawk is always a difficult bird to find, so it’s no surprise that I missed it.

With a little more time, I probably could have found Cordilleran Flycatcher, especially if I’d had another day in Helena with Stephen’s help.  He and Bob had seen them earlier in the day that I arrived.  But, we spent our time focusing on the woodpeckers and owls, birds that are more fun and we had wonderful success with those.  I lost half my chances to look for Sagebrush Sparrow when I got rained out on Bannack Bench Road in Montana.  I tried to find it on Bear Canyon Road, but had no luck there.  Black Rosy-Finch was missed because I wimped out on driving the steepest part of the Beartooth Highway.  Next time!  And, lastly, Virginia’s Warbler just did not want to be seen in Roby Canyon in South Dakota.  Even the top local birders had no luck the day that I was there.  My late husband used to say “Always leave something for next time” and I certainly did just that.

A Yellow Warbler peeks around the tree to watch me. One of my favorite photos!

A Yellow Warbler peeks around the tree to watch me. One of my favorite photos!

Photographing birds can be challenging due to poor light, the birds being too far away, and various other difficulties, but I did my best.  I posted 155 photos to my eBird lists, some only good enough for identification and some that make me very happy.  Sometimes it was the simple shots of common species that made me smile.

All that driving turned out to be relatively easy, especially since I planned my route to miss major cities.  Getting over 400 miles on a tank of gas helped, so most of my stops on big travel days were at rest areas.  I took food from home for lunch and dinner and replenished perishables at grocery stores a couple of times.  I started each day with two canteens full of fresh cold water, so I had everything that I needed in my car.  These strategies enabled me to drive 1,300 miles in the first two days, to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, northwest of Duluth.  From there, I had no more especially long days until heading back home at the end of the trip.

A nice rest stop bird, a male Blackpoll Warbler. They were so much easier to see in Minnesota than at home!

A nice rest stop bird, a male Blackpoll Warbler. They were so much easier to see in Minnesota than at home!

There is little traffic on many of the western roads and what you have heard about high speed limits is true.  I drove many two-lane roads with speed limits of 70 MPH.  Most of those roads had a feature to facilitate safety – rumble strips on the center line.  A lot of the roads in Canada were gravel and relatively wide, which made it easy to stop for birds.

In parts of Saskatchewan there were only Card Lock fueling stations rather than typical gas stations.  Their purpose is mainly to serve commercial vehicles and some only have diesel fuel, but the ones that I encountered also had regular gasoline.  They are always unattended and always open.  You go into the little house, insert your credit card and specify a dollar amount greater than what you will use.  After approval, you go out and pump your gas.  And, then you go back into the little house and insert your credit card again to get a receipt.  And, don’t forget to shut the door behind yourself (the sign reminds you).

The Card Lock station in Val Marie, Saskatchewan

The Card Lock station in Val Marie, Saskatchewan

My trip took me through much of the current Greater Sage-Grouse range.  Historically, Sage-Grouse occurred in at least 16 states within the western U.S. and three provinces in Canada.  Experts estimate that the population was as high as 16 million before European settlement; today there are only a few hundred thousand.  The decline has continued relentlessly, by 60% in just the last five decades.  Sage-Grouse are now extirpated from British Columbia and five U.S. states.  In 2015, a fierce political battle about listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) resulted in the decision to not list the grouse.  They face many threats, the most serious being habitat loss.  But even without ESA listing, serious efforts are underway to protect the species.

A Greater Sage-Grouse that I found in Montana

A Greater Sage-Grouse that I found in Montana

As a casual observer driving through Montana, none of this was obvious to me.  It looks like immense areas of sagebrush remain almost pristine, but that was an illusion.  The recovery efforts are addressing various threats to the grouse.  The one that I heard about from a local rancher is fence line flagging – clipping small reflective markers along the top row of barbed wire fences every three to four feet.  The markers help the low-flying grouse see the wires and avoid collisions which result in injury or death.  He told me about his conversations with a biologist studying the birds and said that he readily agreed to have the fence on his land flagged.

In Canada, the total population of Sage-Grouse declined by 98% between 1988 and 2012.  A total of only 93 to 138 adult birds were estimated for Alberta and Saskatchewan combined in 2012.  The species has been listed as Endangered in Canada since 1998.  Nature Canada has a nice summary of the species status and recovery efforts.

See the Cornell All About Birds site for more basic information on the fascinating Greater Sage-Grouse.

One of my favorite experiences on the trip was finding an American Three-toed Woodpecker nest at Cypress Hills.

Nestling American Three-toed Woodpecker

Nestling American Three-toed Woodpecker

Papa Three-toed flew to a nearby tree to preen after leaving the nest cavity.

Papa Three-toed flew to a nearby tree to preen after leaving the nest cavity.

Did I get lonely on the road traveling alone for so many days?  No, not at all.  Actually, I met some wonderful people and feel like I made a few new friends.  First, was Allison Henderson.  Allison and her family were packing their car after camping at Two Trees in Grasslands National Park just as I arrived.  In an amazing coincidence, I was looking for Baird’s Sparrow and McCown’s Longspur and Allison is a wildlife biologist who studied grassland songbirds for her PhD.  She gave me a few tips and we stayed in touch with phone calls and text messages.  Thanks for the alert on the Long-billed Curlew, Allison!

Next was PJ Chudleigh at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.  PJ is in charge of maintenance at The Resort at Cypress Hills (where I stayed) and is passionate about the natural habitat.  PJ and a buddy saw me birdwatching when they were riding their bikes.  I always feel dorky when I’ve got my binoculars and am out looking for birds when “normal” people are doing other things.  But, they thought it was cool that someone was paying attention to the wildlife.  We felt an instant connection and could have talked for hours.

And, then there was the rancher I met on Bannack Bench Road, the nice couple walking by the lake at Waterton National Park, and many others.  Some conversations were short, but when I told someone what I was doing, I always got “Good for you!” in response.

I was impressed with the beauty of Devils Tower in Wyoming - 867 feet from its base to its 1-1/2 acre summit.

I was impressed with the beauty of Devils Tower in Wyoming – 867 feet from its base to its 1-1/2 acre summit.

In addition to these surprise encounters, I enjoyed spending some time with the birders whom I had contacted before the trip, Stephen Turner (and his wife, Patty) in Helena and Ron Farmer in Bozeman.

I loved meeting new people, seeing new parts of the country, and finding my own way through it all.  My goals to see a few new birds and new landscapes were accomplished.  But, more than that, I gained confidence in myself and I feel stronger than ever.  I might not be ready to backpack through Europe alone yet, but I’m ready for another road trip!

More photos can be seen in my Flickr album for this trip, Prairie Road Trip 2018.  As of June, it’s not complete, but I will add more photos and label them all correctly soon.

Driving through Nebraska was monotonous compared to the more western states.  The view from the highways was nothing but agricultural fields for mile after mile.  I did not even see birds from the road as I had in other areas.  However, beautiful rest areas along the Platte River were like little oases in this hot and dry land.  They had lovely trees, birds, and each one came with a history lesson about the Oregon Trail.  Here are a couple of photos taken at O’Fallon’s Bluff rest area on Interstate 80.

Crossing The Overland Trail

Crossing The Overland Trail

The Great Platte River Road

The Great Platte River Road

Late in the afternoon, I also made an unplanned stop at the Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary in Buffalo.  The center is most well-known for Sandhill Crane viewing on the Platte River in the spring.  It is a lovely spot along the river and even on a hot June afternoon, I easily found birds.

It was fun to see Dickcissels where they are common. These guys seem to sing all day!

It was fun to see Dickcissels where they are common. These guys seem to sing all day!

An Eastern Kingbird enjoys its perch over the Platte River.

An Eastern Kingbird enjoys its perch over the Platte River.

On Wednesday, it was on to the next state – Missouri. Again, it took most of a day to drive through one state. But, I did start the morning at Loess Bluffs NWR, which I suspect may be one of the best wildlife refuges in the country.  I was pleased with the 32 species that I found in two hours without getting out of the car.  But when I checked eBird, I saw that the previous day two guys had recorded 97 species!  Loess Bluffs is definitely on my list of places to go again.

An adult Bald Eagle at Loess Bluffs NWR in Missouri.

An adult Bald Eagle at Loess Bluffs NWR in Missouri.

My third and last big travel day towards home was mostly through Tennessee.  It was one of the few days that I did not do any birding at all.  I needed to be in Tellico Plains on Thursday night to help my friend, David, with his adventure – The Cherohala Challenge, a road bike event.  David successfully completed the 62-mile ride last year.  This year he would be participating in the longest ride, 115 miles up the Cherohala Skyway, through The Tail of The Dragon, an 11-mile stretch of US-129 with 318 curves, and then back to Tellico Plains.

David stopping to pose with the dragon during the ride on Saturday.

David stopping to pose with the dragon during the ride on Saturday.

On Friday, we drove the route in the car and I marked every stop in my GPS.  We had a very nice time and finished with a few hours to spare, so we went in search of Tennessee birds for my list obsession.  I randomly choose an eBird hotspot not too far away.  At first it appeared to be a dead-end road with a path to the river at the end.  We walked the path and were lucky to see both White-eyed and Red-eyed Vireos as well as an Orchard Oriole.  Those birds helped me reach one of my goals – over 50 species for Tennessee.  The path led to Chota Memorial,  a full scale representation of the townhouse, or council house, originally erected by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, a completely unexpected and interesting surprise.

Chota Memorial lies along Little Tellico River.

Chota Memorial lies along Little Tellico River.

We were up at 5:00 AM on Saturday, the day of the big ride.  I dropped David off at the starting line and headed to the first rest stop to wait.  The volunteer was just setting up and gratefully accepted my offer to help.  I made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cut up fruit, and put out other goodies for the riders for an hour.  Then, it was off to the next stop to wait for David.  For over 10 hours, he rode and I did what I could to help my friend and others with food, water, and encouragement.

Coming into a rest stop on the Cherohala Skyway.

Coming into a rest stop on the Cherohala Skyway.

At the toughest part of the ride – 8 miles at a very steep grade to the highest point – I even gave one guy a ride because he was cramping too badly to ride that stretch of road.  Fortunately, David’s hard work training paid off and he got to the top under his own power.  After another 31 miles, he reached the finish line – tired, but extremely happy.

David was happy and smiling after riding 115 miles!

David was happy and smiling after riding 115 miles!

Sunday was a recovery day, so we did a little birding in the NC mountains. We were able to add a few birds to my county lists and see more beautiful scenery. After all my traveling this past month, I still love North Carolina.  I drove home yesterday, June 11, and that’s the end of the trail. Stay tuned for a few numbers (miles driven, species observed, etc.) and reflections on the adventure in a few days.