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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

I still remember the first time that I travelled to Austin, Texas.  Running through O’Hare Airport to catch my plane to Florida, where I would spend a couple of weeks with my parents while my husband looked for an apartment.  Being aware, but not afraid, that flights to Florida were being hijacked to Cuba.  The flight to Houston on a jet and then the final leg to Austin on a small prop plane.  It was 1968 and I was 8-months pregnant with my first child.  A month later, my son, David, would be born at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin.

Me shortly before and just after the birth of my son David in 1968 I think the photos were taken at Bastrop State Park.

Me shortly before and just after the birth of my son David in 1968 I think the photos were taken at Bastrop State Park.

This trip in March 2017 was much easier.  I just got in my Subaru Outback and drove to Austin.   The purpose of traveling to Texas this time was to visit Trissie, mother of Dave’s daughter, Amber.  Sadly for me, Dave and Trissie are no longer together.  Dave is still in China, but Trissie is now in the US and engaged to Mike.  Trissie is familiar with my birding addiction from our time together in China, so I knew that I could combine birding with a family visit.

My road trip skills are improving, although I still have much to learn about planning and finding birds.  The first day on the road, I drove through heavy storms for much of the way, but it was clear when I got to Nashville.  I didn’t have time to go to the park that I had originally planned, but I found J. Percy Priest Dam just a couple of miles from my hotel.  I’m easily entertained, so I enjoyed the cutest mongrel Mallard that I’d ever seen, studying the feet on the coots, and watching a Common Loon try to choke down a very large fish.

On day two, I drove to Texarkana and stayed the night on the Arkansas side.  My planned stop near Little Rock hadn’t worked out, so I decided to find some Arkansas birds in the morning before driving into Texas.  The next morning was magical – sunny, perfect temperature, no wind – and Alex Smith County Park proved to be one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.  A dirt road passed the official park, a lake, and a wetland on the way to the river.  A couple dozen Gadwall were on the lake.  When they flew from one side to the other with their white speculums gleaming in the sunlight, I thought that I’d never seen anything so beautiful.

Hermit Thrush basking in the sun at Alex Smith County Park in Arkansas.

Hermit Thrush basking in the sun at Alex Smith County Park in Arkansas.

I drove on to Austin, where it was great to see Trissie again and meet Mike.  On Saturday, our first full day together, my hosts indulged me with a trip to Balcones Canyonlands, where two endangered species, Golden-checked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo, breed.  It was a bit too early for either species, but the landscape was beautiful and I hope that Trissie and Mike found a beautiful place for hiking.

Male Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a species that I saw at Commons Ford Park and again later at Pedernales Falls State Park.

Male Ladder-backed Woodpecker, a species that I saw at Commons Ford Park and again later at Pedernales Falls State Park.

Andrew Dickinson, the son of friends, lives in Austin and we had arranged an outing for Sunday morning at Commons Ford Park.  Trissie and Mike were good sports and got up early to go with me.  It was a nice introduction to Travis County birding and exciting that Andrew found an early Northern Parula.  I also saw my first western birds here – Spotted Towhee, Black-crested Titmouse, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers.

That afternoon, we toured the Texas state capitol because it seemed like something that tourists should do.  We were all a little surprised at how interesting we found the capitol and how much we enjoyed the tour.

Great-tailed Grackles were abundant on the Austin capitol grounds.

Great-tailed Grackles were abundant on the Austin capitol grounds.

Monday was one of my favorite days.  Mike had to go to work, but Trissie took the day off and we went to Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  A volunteer immediately greeted us and pointed out a Great Horned Owl on a nest right above the entrance to the courtyard.  “Athena,” as she is called by the staff, has nested in the same location for 8 years!  She just sat there watching all the visitors look at her and take photographs, but she must have felt safe from predators.

Look carefully under the sotol to see Athena's eyes just peeking over the edge of the planter.

Look carefully under the sotol to see Athena’s eyes just peeking over the edge of the planter.

I especially enjoyed the butterfly garden where I found a new butterfly, White-striped Longtail.

I especially enjoyed the butterfly garden where I found a new butterfly, White-striped Longtail.

A gorgeous Texas Spiny Lizard.

A gorgeous Texas Spiny Lizard.

Trissie became engrossed in the beautiful books that were available for browsing and we both enjoyed the film about Lady Bird Johnson.  She was an amazing woman who accomplished much good and I now have an increased appreciation for her numerous environmental contributions.

Trissie enjoying the arboretum at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Trissie enjoying the arboretum at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Next it was a trip to the Alamo for Trissie and me.  It’s a place that everyone should go once, but once is enough for most, so Mike was happy that Trissie could go with me.  We enjoyed being tourists and walked the river front after touring the Alamo.

I went to Pace Bend Park by myself on Wednesday and could have spent days there.  I foolishly did not read eBird reports before I went, so I missed a lot of birds, but did find the only Canyon Towhee of the trip, more Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays, and several pretty butterflies.

'Olive' Juniper Hairstreak

‘Olive’ Juniper Hairstreak

That evening Carlos Ross, a new friend made on Facebook, met us at Commons Ford Park to look (well, actually listen) for Common Poorwill.  It was a lovely evening and the four of us were the only people at the park.  We talked about the mysteries of birds and life while we waited.  And, then I heard the soft “Poor will, Poor will” in the distance.  Yay!  This was my only life bird of the trip.

Female Golden-fronted Woodpecker

Female Golden-fronted Woodpecker

I had planned to leave on Thursday, but I couldn’t tear myself away from Texas birds, so Trissie and Mike invited me to stay with them another day.  The volunteer we had met earlier in the week at the LBJ Wildflower Center had shown us some beautiful photos that he took at Pedernales Falls State Park, so we decided to go there on our last day together.  We walked into the bird blind at the park and my jaw dropped.  The bird area contained a large pool/fountain and several tree stumps stuffed with suet – all designed to draw in the birds.  And, did it ever draw them in!  Golden-fronted and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers up close.  A flock of Cedar Waxwings in the pool.  Good looks at Spotted Towhee and Lincoln’s Sparrows.  We saw only 16 species, but some like Bewick’s Wren were birds that I had not seen anywhere else on this trip.

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

The next day, Friday, I really had to start heading home, so I reluctantly said goodbye to Trissie.  But I was greedy and drove two hours west to Pedernales Falls before heading east.  The difference from the previous day was astonishing.  It was so quiet that I could hardly believe it was the same place.  But it was still nice to do my last Texas birding at such a wonderful place.

Pine Warbler at an I-30 rest stop in Arkansas.

Pine Warbler at an I-30 rest stop in Arkansas.

The drive home was uneventful.  I have learned to pace myself by not driving too far each day.  I stopped at nearly every rest area and walked around for 20-30 minutes with my binoculars and camera.  I usually didn’t find anything more exciting than robins or chickadees, but sometimes I got lucky as with a lovely male Pine Warbler in Arkansas.  I will definitely be doing more road trips.  One of them is sure to be to Texas again to visit Trissie and Mike and see more Texas birds and butterflies.

Texas Indian Paintbrush

Texas Indian Paintbrush

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View from The Bund on the overcast day we were there.

View from The Bund on the overcast day we were there.

“There are some birders,” said my son, Dave, as we walked along The Bund, a famous waterfront area in central Shanghai.  Birding is unusual in China, so I could hardly believe it, but two men and a woman had binoculars and scopes fixed on gulls in the river.  We walked up to them and introduced ourselves.  Surprisingly, I was familiar with Craig Brelsford, an American birder living in Shanghai with his wife, Elaine Du, and their friend and fellow birder, Michael Grunwell, from the Facebook group Birding China.  We all marveled at the coincidence of meeting there and had a great time talking about China, birds, websites (a common interest of Craig and Dave), and travel.  Elaine was surprised that Dave has been to Baoshan, in the western province of Yunnan, and they compared notes on their trips there.

Dave - all dressed up and ready for the awards presentation, the reason that we were in Shanghai.

Dave – all dressed up and ready for the awards presentation, the reason that we were in Shanghai.

I had arrived in China a week earlier, on March 4, for my fourth trip to visit my oldest son who has lived in Shenzhen since January 2008.  We were in Shanghai for one of Dave’s occasional jobs as an awards presenter for an organization similar to Guinness World Records.  The Chinese take these awards very seriously and about 200 people attended the presentation.  Three awards were given that day, including one for the world’s largest enamel floor.

Images of fish and other oceanic creatures were scattered about the beautiful blue and gold enamel floor.

Images of fish and other oceanic creatures were scattered about the beautiful blue and gold enamel floor.

Dave was done with his responsibilities shortly after noon, so we spent the afternoon exploring The Bund.  Craig and Michael showed me a little group of Black-headed Gulls that I hadn’t picked up with my binoculars and we talked about the identity of the big white-headed gulls, which Michael was confident were Mongolian Gulls.

Probable Mongolian Gull on the Huangpu River.

Probable Mongolian Gull on the Huangpu River.

Dave and I had planned to go to Shanghai’s Century Park the next morning and Craig confirmed that our plan was a good one.  He said that I could expect to find Pale Thrush there and I was pleased that I did find one right away.  Life bird number one for this trip!  A short time later Dave pointed out a bird perched on a branch of a nearby tree.  When I started taking photographs, a young Chinese woman walked right over to where my camera was pointed and flushed the bird.  All I’d seen was a crest like a tit or bunting and yellow on the throat.  But that was enough to identify the bird as a Yellow-throated Bunting, another life bird.

The most interesting bird at Century Park was this Red-flanked Bluetail.  After working with a millipede for quite a while, he finally swallowed it whole.

Red-flanked Bluetail in Shanghai's Century Park.

Red-flanked Bluetail in Shanghai’s Century Park.

Dave and I did a little more sightseeing, had a nice dinner, and flew back to Shenzhen the next morning.

Dim sum for Dave, Amber, and me.

Dim sum for Dave, Amber, and me.

My previous trips included serious birding; this time I focused on spending time with Dave and my three-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter, Amber.  A bonus was meeting Dave’s girlfriend, Rachel, and her family.

I had arrived on a Friday evening, just in time to join Rachel’s family for their traditional Saturday dim sum the next day.  The American equivalent of dim sum would be a family style meal consisting exclusively of shared appetizers. Dim sum originated in Guangzhou (formerly called Canton), just an hour from Shenzhen.  It just may be my favorite type of Chinese food; I love trying so many different dishes.  Food is an important part of Chinese culture and there is an abundance of it at every meal.

Making dumplings with Amber and Rachel's father.  It's harder than I expected.  Mine barely held together when they were cooked.

Making dumplings with Amber and Rachel’s father.  It’s harder than I expected.  Mine barely held together when they were cooked.

Shortly after we got back to Shenzhen, I spent a weekend with Amber and her mom, Trissie.  We went to Evergreen Resort, a place we had visited in 2014, but this time we stayed overnight.  The resort has lots of outside activities for kids, but it was hard to get Amber away from the hanging bridge.  She is absolutely fearless and walked back and forth on the bridge until dark.

Amber and Trissie crossing the hanging bridge at Evergreen Resort.

Amber and Trissie crossing the hanging bridge at Evergreen Resort.

After the weekend, I was back at Dave’s and we quickly settled into a routine similar to my last visit.  I usually went for a walk to nearby Shenzhen Central Park by myself each morning.  Dave, Amber, and I did something together in the afternoon, and then Rachel joined us for dinner.  Dave is the primary caregiver for his daughter and he works from home, so we had a lot of flexibility with our schedule.

Amber loves climbing trees.

Amber loves climbing trees.

The park was usually busy with people as the Chinese walk, talk, sit, dance, and generally enjoy their parks.  Between the people and obsessive cleaning up, I thought that I might not see many birds.  Still, I managed to see 30 species in Shenzhen Central Park.  I can recognize the songs or calls of only a handful of birds, so I couldn’t bird by ear like I do at home and had to actually see the birds.

Sweeping up fallen flowers in Shenzhen City Park. I have observed this "cleaning up" in all of Shenzhen's city parks.

Sweeping up fallen flowers in Shenzhen City Park. I have observed this “cleaning up” in all of Shenzhen’s city parks.

I was thrilled with Masked Laughingthrushes on my first visit to China.  I saw them again on my second visit.  By my third trip, I realized they were one of the most common birds in Guangdong Province.  Regardless, they are one of my favorites.

Masked Laughingthrush, a very common bird in Southern China.

Masked Laughingthrush, a very common bird in Southern China.

Asian Koels symbolize city birding in China for me.  I loved this proud, bold male singing from a treetop on the edge of the park with apartments in the background.

Asian Koels could be heard calling at nearly every park I visited in Shenzhen.

Asian Koels could be heard calling at nearly every park I visited in Shenzhen.

Unidentified damselfly.

Unidentified damselfly.

Dave and Rachel knew how much I loved going to parks, so they planned fun and interesting outings farther from home on the weekends.  Shenzhen may be the greenest city in China with its many gorgeous parks.  But in spite of much time spent outside, most Chinese seem rather removed from nature.  When we found this little damselfly, Rachel’s first reaction was “get it away from me!”  But, she saw my delight and was soon right there beside me getting as close as possible to get a photo with her iPhone.

Our most exciting nature find was these Clearwing Tiger Moths at Fairy Lake Botanical Garden.  We spent quite a bit of time admiring and photographing these mating moths.  We were on a narrow path and it wasn’t possible to pass us without seeing the objects of our attention.  These gorgeous creatures caught the interest of everyone who came by.

Clearwing Tiger Moths at Fairy Lake Botanical Garden, perhaps the nature highlight of the trip.

Clearwing Tiger Moths at Fairy Lake Botanical Garden, perhaps the nature highlight of the trip.

I was able to plan one day dedicated to birding.  Mike Kilburn, who had guided me for a day on my first trip in 2009, no longer works as a guide, but he generously invited me to join him for some birding in Hong Kong.  Since I had spent very little time in Hong Kong, Dave and I decided to go a day early and do some sightseeing.  We stayed in the area most tourists flock to, Tsim Sha Tsui in the central area of Kowloon.  We enjoyed walking the streets, Kowloon Park, and the Science Museum.

The next day Mike took us to Lantau Island, the largest island in Hong Kong, which is less densely populated than the other Hong Kong islands and primarily consists of mountainous terrain.  First we went to Tai O, a three-centuries-old fishing village which is famous for its waterways, stilt houses, fishing boats and scenery.

Stilt houses at Tai O.

Stilt houses at Tai O.

This was where I got my third and last life bird of the trip, Gray-faced Buzzard, when five birds flew over.

Next, Mike took us to Pui O, a more agricultural area on Lantau Island, which has a resident population of water buffaloes.  Pui O is one of the few remaining areas where they still occur in Hong Kong.

Water Buffalo and Cattle Egret at Pui O.

Water Buffalo and Cattle Egret at Pui O.

I had my best look ever at Intermediate Egret here, which is just like its name suggests – an egret intermediate in size between Little Egret and Great Egret.

Intermediate Egret at Pui O.

Intermediate Egret at Pui O.

It was great to catch up with Mike and especially to hear about his new job as Senior Manager, Environment, Air Port Authority of Hong Kong.  I was impressed that the airport had such a position and knew that no one could be more effective in that role than Mike.  After an enjoyable day, it was all too soon to thank Mike and head back to Shenzhen.

The last few days were filled with family time and visits to the nearby Shenzhen Central Park.  I was fascinated by three White-shouldered Starlings that arrived at the park just before my trip ended.  I had seen them once before (during the Zoothera bird tour that was part of my 2012 trip), but I found these by myself.  That always makes birds special to me and I had time to really study these birds.

White-shouldered Starling. Many species of birds were attracted to these trees with huge flowers.

White-shouldered Starling. Many species of birds were attracted to these trees with huge flowers.

I was in China for nearly the entire month of March, but it went quickly.  After four trips, it now feels familiar and comfortable.  I miss Dave and Amber and the birds of China, but not the seven flights of stairs to Dave’s apartment.  I expect another trip is in my future, but for now it is good to be home and back to even more familiar and comfortable surroundings.  More photos can be found in my Flickr albums China 2016 – Birds & Butterflies and China 2016 – People  & Places.

Amber the explorer.

Amber the explorer.

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Most birders don’t head to Florida in the summer.  And, I wouldn’t either if my step-daughters and my best friend didn’t live there.  I lived in Florida, too, for over 30 years, so it still feels like home and I visit every chance I get, even in summer.  Mid-day can be brutally hot and muggy, but nights are usually balmy and lovely.  The fresh gulf air brings memories of childhood summer days spent at St. Pete and Clearwater beaches.  How I wish my mother were here to see how much like her I’ve become.  As a teenager, I wanted to go to the beaches with nothing but pure white sand.  My parents preferred beaches with signs of life – sandpipers, pelicans, fiddler crabs, shells (some still alive).

Snowy Plover

Snowy Plover

I’ve had many rewards for summer birding in Florida.  The first was seeing brand-new just-fledged Snowy Plovers on July 7, 2008, on Caladesi Island.  David and I devoted an entire day to searching for these birds which had risen to the top of my most wanted list.  Their light colors blend into the sand in the hot summer sun, but David quickly found a group of five.

Loggerhead Shrikes are also memorable summer birds.  On June 27, 2009, I was thrilled to watch a Loggerhead Shrike family at St. Pete’s North Shore Park.

A juvenile Loggerhead Shrike enjoys lunch provided by a parent.

A juvenile Loggerhead Shrike enjoys lunch provided by a parent.

On June 22, 2013, we enjoyed a group of 14 Black-necked Stilts, including several juveniles, in a ditch between the road and the county landfill.

Juvenile Black-necked Stilt

Adult Black-necked Stilt

 

This year I headed south on June 20, the first day of summer and my step-daughter Debbie’s birthday.  My first stop was Savannah National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s birdier in winter, but I enjoyed watching mama Red-winged Blackbird feed two begging fledglings.  Common Gallinules were accompanied by little fuzz balls.   I tallied 20 species and drove to my motel.

Common Gallinule

Juvenile Common Gallinule. Note the feet on that baby!

I went back to Savannah NWR the next morning and then drove on to Harris Neck NWR, another of my favorite places to stop on the way to Florida.  Harris Neck’s Woody Pond is one of the south’s biggest rookeries and it overflows with Wood Storks, White Ibises, Great Egrets, and other wading birds in the spring and summer.  Harris Neck also hosts breeding Painted Buntings.  They are a little shy, but I was able to photograph this gorgeous male after he flew from the feeder to a close-by tree.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting

Quinn and me

Quinn and me

I made it to Gainesville that evening in time for dinner with my step-daughter Liz and her family.  For the next three days I went to Sweetwater Wetlands Park for a couple hours in the morning and then spent the rest of the day with the girls.  It was fun to catch up with Debbie and her horse and spend time with Liz and her young daughters, Quinn and Casey.  We took Casey to see “Finding Dory,” the first movie that I’ve seen in years.  Quinn seemed immune to the heat and enjoyed our time at the “weekend park.”

Sweetwater Wetlands Park was created to improve water quality in Paynes Prairie.  It filters pollutants from urban runoff and wastewater which were harming the Alachua Sink with an excess of nitrogen.  The wetlands were also designed to also be an environmentally friendly park.  The result is outstandingly successful.  It is beautiful and functional and 217 species of birds have been reported there since work on the wetlands began in 2008.

 

One species that I especially appreciated was Least Bittern.  I had seen this secretive bird only a few times previously, but at Sweetwater there were lots of them and I even got a photo.

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Birds at Sweetwater are accustomed to people; Limpkins and Purple Gallinules perch right on the boardwalk rail.

Purple Gallinule

Purple Gallinule

On Friday I moved farther south to visit David and Val in Dunedin.  We had a rather quiet weekend, but I always enjoy spending time in the county where I grew up.  On my first evening there, Ruddy Turnstones entertained me on the Dunedin Causeway.  My appreciation for this common bird has increased since David and I found a banded one (with color flags) on August 11, 2012.  I reported that bird to Bandedbirds.org and learned that it had been banded along the Delaware Bayshore in the month of May, most likely in Delaware in 2009.  Ruddy Turnstones have a very wide range, but North American birds breed in the far north arctic and winter along the U.S. coast and southwards to the southern tip of South America.  The turnstone that David and I found had already flown thousands of miles in its young life.

Ruddy Turnstone, June 2016, on the Dunedin Causeway

Ruddy Turnstone, June 2016, on the Dunedin Causeway

On Saturday morning, David and I found another banded bird, a Least Tern, and this one had color bands enabling it to be traced to a specific bird.  It had a very interesting history related to us by Dr. Marianne Korosy.  “This bird was banded at the Ulmerton Warehouse complex, a rooftop nesting colony of least terns located just west of intersection of Starkey and Ulmerton Rd. in central Pinellas County in 2011.  It was banded as a chick when it fell off the roof there and survived unharmed. It was banded and then returned to the roof.  The last time this bird was seen was July 20, 2011 on the south end of Clearwater Beach.”  Our report was the first in five years!

Banded Least Tern

Banded Least Tern

Least Terns are also migration champions.  They leave North America entirely in winter, moving to tropical waters as far south as Brazil.

One of the young Least Terns in the flock at Courtney Campbell Beach.

One of the young Least Terns in the flock at Courtney Campbell Beach.

I left for home on Monday morning and decided to try some different birding stops on this trip.  First was Okefenokee NWR in Georgia.  I enjoyed getting to know the place a little.  Several Bobwhites called during my few hours there.  Bachman’s Sparrows were singing all along the wildlife drive.  I made a mental note to go back some time in spring.

Royal Tern

Royal Tern

Next was a detour to Tybee Island.  A Lesser Black-backed Gull and Common Terns had been reported recently and I thought it would be fun to see them.  After I finally found the north beach and a parking spot, I walked to the water.  I had no idea which way to walk, so I turned right.  No birds were in sight except for a cormorant and a couple of Brown Pelicans that few over the water.  I resigned myself to having wasted several hours for nothing.  And, then I saw the flock!  Literally hundreds of birds were at the water’s edge where the shoreline curved.  I love this kind of birding; the birds calmly stayed put or flew just a short distance before settling down.  There were no trees for them to hide in.  Yes, beach birding is definitely the way to go for those with poor vision.

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

I had no trouble finding the Lesser Black-backed Gull amongst the Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns which made up 98% of the flock.  I also found two Common Terns, a few Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, and two Black Skimmers in the flock.  I love gulls and terns, so this turned out to be a good stop after all.  After taking photos, I hurried back to my car and set the GPS to “go home.”

More photos from this trip are on Flickr in my NC to FL – June 2016 album.

Black Skimmer

Black Skimmer

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Dave and Amber

Dave & Amber

After my birding trip to Poyang Lake and Wuyuan, I spent two weeks with my son Dave, his girlfriend Trissie, and their eighteen-month-old daughter.

Amber making friends

Amber making friends

Amber is a beautiful little girl and she attracted compliments everywhere we went. She likes Mommy or Daddy in sight, but is otherwise quite bold and unafraid. She makes friends easily, both human and canine. She loves climbing and enjoys playgrounds, trees, and stairs. She liked the slide at Evergreen Resort, too, and could have played on it all day. She is adventurous with food and will eat anything, even peppers that were too hot for me. Amber is like her Daddy in many ways. I remembered Dave as a baby when I tried to get Amber to sit still for a story. I had no more luck reading to her than I’d had with Dave 45 years ago.

Amber and Trissie playing with bubbles while waiting for the rain to stop.

Amber and Trissie playing with bubbles while waiting for the rain to stop.

We quickly settled into a routine in which I went birding alone on weekday mornings. I feel totally safe in China and had ventured out a little on my own on previous trips. I knew that the biggest challenge would be communication. Very few Chinese speak English (including taxi drivers), so Trissie wrote the names of the parks that I wanted to visit in Mandarin as well as directions for getting home. The first day that I got a taxi by myself things went smoothly and I was thrilled to find a life bird, Scaly Thrush, at Da Sha He Park.

Scaly Thrush.  A life bird that I found by myself.

Scaly Thrush. A life bird that I found by myself in Shenzhen.

HomeOne day, I decided to take a taxi to a park close to the apartment and then walk home. I naively got in a taxi and the driver started down the road. I showed him my directions and could see that something was wrong. I called Trissie and she talked to the driver. And, then I talked to Trissie. She said “He doesn’t know where the park is. Get out.” I needed her help to even get the driver to stop. Soon I was standing on a very busy street, not knowing where I was, or how to get to the park or back home. I quickly learned to never get in a taxi without first showing the little piece of paper with my destination to the driver and getting a nod “yes”. The next two taxis that stopped that morning both shook their heads “no.” Finally, a bike taxi stopped. I showed him the piece of paper with the park address, he shook his head “yes” and motioned for me to get on the bike. After yet another call to Trissie, I cautiously got on the bike, which was just like a regular bicycle, but with a bigger seat on the back for passengers. The park turned out to be very close and the bike taxi got me there quickly and safely.

At the park, I got a little confused about which path to take when I got to the top of the mountain. A very friendly woman called me over and I said “Nǐ hǎo,” the Chinese greeting for “Hello.” That started a long one-sided conversation in Mandarin. I am certain that the man who was with her told the woman that “Nǐ hǎo” was the only Chinese phrase I could understand, but the woman kept talking. She tried to give me a glossy flyer with photos of apartments and prices and her name and phone number. All I wanted was help getting off the mountain! After calling Trissie for help once again, the woman took me by the arm and led me down the mountain path. I could not make her understand that I wanted to go slowly and look for birds on the way. Finally, she let me go when we neared the park entrance and I sneaked back to search for birds.

Oriental Magpie-Robin

Oriental Magpie-Robin. A common bird in South China.

My taxi experiences were inconsistent, but it was usually easier to get to a park than to get back home. Getting home from the park farthest away was easy one day and took four taxis the next day before a driver shook his head “yes” when I showed him my directions.

The phone calls to Trissie were made using a phone that she and Dave had loaned to me. I did not check into using my own phone as I assumed that it would be prohibitively expensive and/or just plain not work. So, I could communicate within China, but not with friends at home. I could receive email, but could not send messages. Facebook is banned in China, so that was not an option either. Finally, I figured out that instant message programs that work over Wi-Fi were easy and reliable, but I had not planned for their use in advance. Next time I’ll be better prepared.

Asian Koel (female)

Asian Koel (female)

All the challenges of getting around by myself were worth it, though. I enjoyed the morning birding and found one more life bird on my own, Asian Koel. It’s a rather common bird and I found two males and two females before the trip was over. Many birds I had seen only once before, like this Common Tailorbird.  I had to work hard to identify them, but even poor photos helped.  I couldn’t get both ends of the Tailorbird in the same photo, but these two together nailed the ID.

Common Tailorbird tail

Common Tailorbird tail

Common Tailorbird

Common Tailorbird front end

I also had to work very hard to get a photo of this Little Ringed Plover. I never could see the bird in the viewfinder, but had to just point the camera in the right direction and snap a photo.

Little Ringed Plover

Little Ringed Plover

The water birds at Shenzhen Mangrove Coastal Ecological Park were easier to identify and photograph. I saw dozens of my ABA nemesis bird, Eurasian Wigeon, along with Northern Shoveler, Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Tufted Duck, and many others.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

Little Egret

Little Egret

The last bird that I saw in Shenzhen was this lovely female Red-flanked Bluetail. I was disappointed in the park I visited that day, but when I saw this bird as I was leaving, she made the morning worthwhile!

Red-flanked Bluetail at Zhongshan Park in Shenzhen

Red-flanked Bluetail at Zhongshan Park in Shenzhen

Birding alone in a foreign country is a great way to learn birds. I was able to identify 51 species in two weeks. I noticed details (and will remember them) much better than when I had a guide. I would not want to do all of my birding alone, but it’s a great complement to a few days with a guide and I look forward to doing it again.

Red-whiskered Bulbul - a common bird, but one of my favorites.

Red-whiskered Bulbul – a common bird, but one of my favorites.

 

I enjoyed the experience of living in China for nearly three weeks rather than visiting as a tourist. I thank Dave and Trissie for doing so much to make it easy and comfortable for me. The dates for this part of the trip were February 24 to March 10, 2014. More photos of Amber can be seen in my Flickr set Amber – Feb/March 2014. Photos of the birds that I saw in China (including the first part of the trip) are in my Flickr set China – Feb/March 2014 (Birds).

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Looking for Lemmings

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“Grandma, I like birds, but I’m not going to be a birder.”  My granddaughter, Melody, told me this before her fifth birthday.  So, on a lovely summer evening just after she turned five, we go for a walk through the woods and along the edges of fields.  We are not searching for birds, but for mice and lemmings because rodents are Melody’s favorite animals.  We especially hope to see one of Melody’s favorite lemmings, Brown Lemming or Southern Bog Lemming.  She knows exactly what the mice’s tunnels in the grass look like and we find one possible mouse home, but no mouse.  Of course, we don’t find any lemmings either.  The “problem” is not that Melody doesn’t understand species ranges.  She is smart and I think that she does know that each animal species lives only in certain areas.  Our search for lemmings is because her young heart is full of hope and optimism – if we just TRY, just LOOK, we could find anything.  Melody holds my hand and happily skips through the woods, the air filled with the magic of possibilities.

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Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Osprey at Honeymoon Island

Thanksgiving week started early with Nate Dias’ Curlew / Marsh Sparrow boat trip in the Cape Romain NWR on November 18.  My goal was to get a good look at a Saltmarsh Sparrow, which would be a life bird for me.  I stopped at Huntington Beach State Park on my way down where I missed all three marsh sparrows which were seen before I arrived.  I was disappointed, but I had good looks at four individual Clapper Rails – swimming, walking, and bathing.

As we left the dock in McClellanville the next morning, duck hunters were returning saying that the weather was too bad for them!  It was very cold and windy and it rained most of the day.  Nate reported the most marsh sparrows in a couple of miles that he had ever seen, including “12-13 firmly identified Saltmarsh Sparrows.”  However, I did not get a good enough view of any to count as a lifer.  It was fun to put faces with familiar names from the Carolinabirds listserv, though, and it was a good trip in spite of the weather.

On Monday, I birded Altamaha WMA with Sandy Beasley, whom I had met in January at the Georgia Ornithological Society meeting.  I had birded Altamaha before, but did not know the area at all well.  Sandy showed me new areas on the west side of the road and we had a very nice day.  Now I know where to find birds as well as where to go for a great lunch!

Quinn

Quinn enjoying a beautiful Thanksgiving day in Jim & Debbie’s yard

Acacia and Casey

Granddaughter Acacia (Debbie’s oldest) holding Casey (Liz’ youngest)

Thanksgiving with my stepdaughters Debbie and Liz was wonderful.  Debbie’s significant other, Jim, and I birded together again this year.  He took me to Watermelon Pond, a place where he has fished for 20 years.  Jim had not been there lately, though, and was surprised to discover that the lake was dry and the area is now an official Wildlife and Environmental Area.  I was thrilled to discover this wonderful place that focuses on preserving several Florida Threatened species including Southeastern American Kestrel and Gopher Tortoise.  We saw Kestrels and I also had my best look ever at a gorgeous adult male Northern Harrier at Watermelon Pond.

The highlight of Thanksgiving was not birds, though, but seeing the wonderful progress that Liz’ autistic two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Quinn, is making.  I visited in August, just before she started ABA therapy (Applied Behavioral Analysis).  The difference in her behavior and interactions with people in just three months is remarkable.  Her progress includes a little eye contact now, a huge step for an autistic child.

Limpkin

Limpkin at Kapok Park

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher on Courtney Campbell Causeway

I headed to Dunedin the day after Thanksgiving to spend the weekend with good friends David and Val.  David and I birded our favorite spots on Friday afternoon and talked about Quinn in between birds.  Her therapists were using an iPad with her so I wanted to get a tablet that Liz could use with her, too.  We considered options and compared Android devices to the Apple iPad for a couple of hours before deciding upon an iPad.  David, ever smart and creative, devised a plan that would allow us to bird all the way to the Apple store.  We saw some of our favorite birds along the way – Limpkins at Kapok Park and American Oystercatchers on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

John Hood, President of Clearwater Audubon, and I had met in August at the Hog Island Audubon camp in Maine.  On Saturday, David and I birded with John.  We learned where to park for the Tierra Verde “duck ponds” and finally got to see the hundreds of Redheads that winter there.

At Fort De Soto, John easily found the Long-billed Curlew that has been there for two years.  David and I had been unable to find it on my last visit.  We enjoyed John’s company and learned a lot about birding in Pinellas County due to his local expertise.

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling,a nd Dunlin at Fort De Soto

Least Sandpiper, Sanderling, and Dunlins at Fort De Soto

"My frog is still wiggling"

“My frog is still wiggling.”

"Maybe if I squeeze real hard"

“Maybe if I squeeze real hard.”

"Shaking is good, but I'm getting weeds on my frog"

“Shaking is good, but I’m getting weeds on my frog.”

"He's subdued now, but I still can't get it down"

“He’s subdued now, but I still can’t get it down.”

"I'll try scrunching it up into one big bite."

“I’ll try scrunching it up into one big bite.”

On Sunday, David and I headed to Honeymoon Island where we enjoyed the “usual suspects” including many Ospreys. We are fascinated with herons attempting to eat large prey and watched a juvenile Little Blue Heron struggle with a large frog.  Before we could see how this story would end, a biker came along and the heron flew off with his frog.  We hoped that the frog made a good lunch.

It was time to head home on Monday morning, but my adventures were not quite yet over.  My plan was to stay in Hardeeville and bird at Savannah NWR on Tuesday morning.  As I passed the turn-off for Tybee Island, I impulsively decided try for the Saltmarsh Sparrow at Ft. Pulaski.  I called Sandy Beasley that evening and she gave me very detailed directions to where she had seen the sparrows earlier in the month.  There would be a high tide at 6:41 AM, so I decided to go for it.

I arrived at 7:30 AM and was disappointed to find much vegetation visible in the marsh.  The birds could be anywhere and I was afraid that I had missed them.  With a little patience, though, I did find the birds and got a great look at one Saltmarsh Sparrow only a foot from the log that Sandy had described.  I was thrilled to get a life bird, but greedy for more birds, continued on to Savannah NWR.

Savannah NWR is one of my favorite places and I stayed from 9:30 AM until after 3:00 PM.  I “should” have left for home much earlier, but by staying so late my last bird of the trip was a really good one – a White-winged Scoter near the end of the Laurel Hill drive.  A check of eBird records when I got home revealed only one other sighting in Savannah NWR and it was over six years ago.

 

I arrived safely home, very tired but grateful for the wonderful birds that I had seen and especially thankful for my loving family and friends.

White-winged Scoter

White-winged Scoter – Savannah NWR Laurel Hill drive

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Jesse

Jesse

During the past 12 years, I’ve frequently said that I wanted to be like my dog and I really meant it.  I considered him my role model for life.  The dog is Fallsview Jesse Cleveland, whom I also called Angel Puppy, Sweetie Pie, and The Boy.  I had wanted another girl dog, but I still remember making the decision one morning in the shower, a few days after seeing photos of the litter, that a boy would be OK.  The pups were 4 weeks old when I visited and they were adorable, as are all Labrador Retriever puppies, especially yellow ones.  While the other pups climbed over each other in my lap vying for attention, Jesse was off playing in the woods.  He was the wild boy and the prettiest pup in the litter.  The breeder would donate one puppy to a service agency and expected them to choose Jesse; I would get one of the calmer boys.  But it was like being back in junior high school; I was secretly in love with the beautiful bad boy.

Three weeks later, I drove the 2 hours with my friend, Karen, and my standard poodle, Ruskie, to pick up my new puppy.  We were greeted with a surprise; the service agency tested “the slug” first and found him perfect!  They didn’t even test Jesse or the other male.  So, the breeder quickly re-assigned puppies and asked if I was willing to take Jesse!  One the way home, he whined on Karen’s lap, so I suggested putting him in the back seat with Ruskie.  He immediately snuggled up to her and fell promptly asleep.  Jesse only had his big “sister” for a year, but she helped him get a great start in life.  When she was lying down and he wanted to play, he would grab her “topknot” and pull upwards.  She usually obliged and played with him.  After we lost Ruskie to cancer, Annie, another yellow Labrador Retriever, came into our lives.  Annie was only a few months older than Jesse and they seemed like doggie soul mates right from the start.  Their play was so entertaining that some evenings I didn’t turn on the TV; I just watched the dogs.  One favorite game was for Annie to lie on her back on the floor while Jesse grabbed her by the throat and spun her in circles.  Yes, it sounds rough, but Annie seemed to enjoy the game as much as Jesse did.

So, what made Jesse so special that I’d want to be like him?  I present the following list that I wrote on December 1, 2002, just a few weeks before Jesse’s third birthday.  I envisioned a little book with a rule on each page and an appropriate photo.  While I don’t have a photo for each “rule”, they all bring back wonderful memories and images of Jesse, the sweetest dog I’ve ever known.

Rule #1:  Don’t admit you’re a dog.  You are just as good as anyone else.

Rule #2:  Keep the pack together.

Rule #3:  If someone tries to kill you for taking their pig ear, don’t do it again.  But assume that they still love you and keep on playing.

Rule #4:  Don’t play politics.  Just ignore those who want to be alpha.

Jesse demonstrating Rule #5

Jesse demonstrating Rule #5

Rule #5:  Humor those who love you.

Rule #6:  Treat guests like family.

Rule #7:  Be persistent in making friends.  If someone doesn’t want to play today, ask again tomorrow.

Rule #8:  Share.

Rule #9:  Be relentless in going after what you want.

Rule #10:  Be happy.  Wiggle your butt and thump your tail.

Rule #11:  Enjoy the simple things in life.

Rule #12:  Relax at the end of the day.

Jesse shows how to perform Rule #12

Jesse shows how to perform Rule #12

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