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Posts Tagged ‘American Dipper’

Diane and I headed to Kenai after a couple of wonderful days in Homer.  This area is the heart of salmon fishing country.  At a couple of river crossings, the fishermen were standing shoulder to shoulder in the river in their hip waders.  We took a short detour through Anchor Point SRA on our way to Kenai and we found these gulls on the river beside Slidehole Campground.  In Alaska, Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull hybrids are common and I suspect that at least one of these birds is a hybrid.  Regardless of their identity, the birds were beautiful on their nest on the rock in the middle of the river.

Nesting gulls at Anchor Point SRA

Nesting gulls at Anchor Point SRA

We found this Northwestern Crow when we stopped for gas.  It looks just like an American Crow, but it’s a different species, so it adds to a birder’s life list.

Northwestern Crow

Northwestern Crow

We also had time that afternoon for a stop at Kenai NWR and a walk on the trail behind the headquarters in Soldotna.  This part of the state was quite different from Homer and we found the wooded trail just beautiful.  There was much lush mossy vegetation like that in the photo below.

Along the Kenai NWR headquarters trail

Along the Kenai NWR headquarters trail

Early the nest morning, July 1, we met our guide for the day, Ken Tarbox.  Ken and his wife Connie are largely responsible for the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide.  Ken is also one of the friendliest and most generous people we have met.  He told us that he likes to go out with visiting birders whenever his schedule allows.  Ken took us to all the birding hot spots around Kenai and Soldotna – the river flats, viewing platforms, the landfill, and even his yard and a friend’s yard.  We felt like we’d made a new friend and hope to go birding with Ken again.

Bonaparte’s Gulls were one of my favorites that day.  We watched this adult swimming and foraging by plunging into a little stream.  Here it is with the little fish that it caught.

Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte’s Gull

And, I saw my first juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull.

Juvenile Bonaparte's Gull

Juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull

One of our target birds for this part of the state was Spruce Grouse.  On our way to Seward the next morning, Diane and I drove Skilak Lake Road and enjoyed Pine Grosbeaks on the side of the road and Common Loons and Common Goldeneyes on the lakes, but we failed to find a grouse.  We decided that this was another good reason to go birding again in Alaska.

Ken had given us several tips on where to find American Dipper.  We did not find any at Tern Lake, but we found this cooperative bird at the next location we tried, Ptarmigan Creek Campground.

American Dipper

American Dipper

Diane had found the adorable and comfy Abode Well Cabins for our stay in Seward.  In addition to being clean and cute, birds were literally right outside our door.

Our Abode Well cabin near Seward

Our Abode Well cabin near Seward

Just a couple of blocks away was a yard with juvenile Varied Thrushes.  They were fairly easy to see with our binoculars, but they hid in the grass just well enough to make getting a photo a challenge.

Juvenile Varied Thrush

Juvenile Varied Thrush

There were also beautiful butterflies and wildflowers near our cabin.  This is an Arctic White butterfly on fireweed.

Arctic White butterfly on fireweed

Arctic White butterfly on fireweed

On July 3, after a little birding near our cabin neighborhood, we ventured into town.  Seward’s population of 2,500 swells to about 30,000 for the Independence Day festivities.  Main Street is completely blocked off to traffic and the streets fill with people.  Most come to run in or watch the Mt. Marathon Race, which has quite an interesting history.  According to legend, it began with two old guys arguing about whether it was possible to run up and down the rather steep Mount Marathon in less than an hour.  The first official race was in 1915 and it has since become an important part of the July 4th celebration in Seward.

Seward Harbor

Seward Harbor

We drove Lowell Point Road, which runs along the edge of the harbor, where we enjoyed dozens of gulls, a couple of Harlequin Ducks, and Pigeon Guillemots.  We drove the road a couple of times, hoping to get close enough to the Marbled Murrelet to get a photo.  We had stopped at the end of the road closest to town and were watching the gulls.  And, then things started happening so fast that I’m not entirely certain exactly what happened, but here’s how I think it went.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

A group of about eight young people were standing about 20 feet from where we were, also watching the birds.  Suddenly there were two Bald Eagles right in front of us.  One of the eagles caught a fish, the other tried to steal it, and the fish was dropped.  One eagle flew away.  One of the young men picked up the fish and threw it for the eagle.  The eagle swooped in to within 10-20 feet from all of us, but missed the fish.  This happened several times, the young man throwing the fish and the eagle attempting to catch it.  Excitement and enthusiastic shouts filled the air.  With one throw, the eagle came in especially close and the young man shouted “Hello America!”  And, we couldn’t imagine a more American place in the county than Seward, Alaska, on that gorgeous sunny Independence Day eve.

Shelley and Diane enjoying a seafood dinner

Shelley and Diane enjoying a seafood dinner

After a delicious dinner with a view of Seward Harbor at Ray’s Waterfront Restaurant, we ended the day with a drive on Nash Road to see the family of Trumpeter Swans that are regulars there.

Trumpter Swan family

Trumpter Swan family

The next morning it was time to head to the Anchorage Airport again, this time to fly home.  I will forever be grateful for 28 summer days in Alaska, truly the “trip of a lifetime.”  And, I’m especially grateful for the last week with Diane on the Kenai Peninsula.

Bald Eagle in tree

Bald Eagle

This is the sixth and last post about my trip to Alaska.  The other posts are:

Alaska 2015: There’s no place like Nome
Alaska 2015: The Pit Stop is Cancelled
Alaska 2015: Kenai Fjords and Denali National Park
Alaska 2015: To the Top of the World
Alaska 2015: Bird Nest Habitat

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Bill Drummond’s Southern California trip was a wonderful adventure that included great looks at some difficult to find birds and gorgeous scenery.  Sixteen birders in four cars covered several coastal areas near Santa Barbara and most of Kern County with its varied habitat from forest to desert.

Island Scrub Jay

Island Scrub Jay. Photo by Eric Labato.

We got off to a great start on our first day by exploring Santa Cruz Island.  Close-up views of our target bird, Island Scrub Jay, which is a brighter more intense blue than the Western Scrub Jay, delighted us all.  We certainly enjoyed these gorgeous cooperative birds, but the highlight of the day may have been the Island foxes.  Historically, foxes were the top predator on the island, but introduced feral pigs and the Golden Eagles they attracted pushed the fox population to near extinction.  Santa Cruz Island fox was listed as an endangered species in 2004.  Things turned around with a science-based recovery program established by The Nature Conservancy and its California government agency partners.  The fox population rebounded and the recovery is described as one of the ”fastest and most successful endangered species recovery programs in U.S. history.”

Island foxes

Santa Cruz Island foxes.  Photo by Eric Labato.

Dave Pereksta joined us the following day to help with our search for Mountain Quail.  We headed north towards Lake Casitas and then we continued north into Los Padres National Forest.  On Lockwood Valley Road, we had our first Sage Sparrow (the dark coastal California subspecies belli), now Bell’s Sparrow with the recent split.  At Iris Meadow, we had several extremely cooperative Thick-billed Fox Sparrows.  While they were not a life bird, I enjoyed the opportunity to leisurely observe every detail of the birds up close.  Other highlights were Lewis’ and White-headed Woodpeckers.  After a full day of birding, we headed to Bakersfield for the night.

Thick-billed Fox Sparrow

Thick-billed Fox Sparrow at Iris Meadow

The next morning, Dave Pereksta joined us again to continue our search for Mountain Quail in the Los Padres National Forest. Dave found a pair on Mount Pinos Road, but he was the only one to get a good look. A few others got glimpses of the birds, but no one saw them well.

Bitter Creek NWR signWe were more successful at Bitter Creek NWR where the California Condors appeared at exactly the time Dave predicted (just after 9:30 AM).  Everyone was thrilled with our wonderful views of these majestic birds.  We said goodbye to Dave and headed back to Bakersfield and Beale Park, where we met Ali Sheehey and found our target – beautiful Rose-ringed Parakeets.

Dave Hursh, assisted by Zach Weber, gets great views of the parakeets for the kids in the park.

Dave Hursh and Zach Weber showing Rose-ringed Parakeets to kids in the park.

Ali is the expert on Rose-ringed Parakeets, but she is also full of energy and enthusiasm for just about every living thing in Kern County and we enjoyed our time with her.  Thanks to Ali’s knowledge of the area, we got a bonus bird at Beale Park – Spotted Dove.

Wood Ducks

Hart Park, near Bakersfield, CA. World’s tamest Wood Ducks?

American Dipper

American Dipper immediately before delivering the fish in its bill to the nest.

On the 22nd, we headed towards Kern River Preserve. The drive along Kern Canyon Road was spectacular. We made several stops along the way and found Lawrence’s Goldfinch at the Democrat Fire Station. At the boat ramp in Keyesville, we watched one of my favorite birds of the trip, an American Dipper fishing and attending a nest.

Kern River Preserve was delightfully birdy and I especially enjoyed great looks at Tricolored Blackbirds.

Tricolored Blackbird

Tricolored Blackbird. Kern River Preserve, California

After leaving Kern River Preserve, we found a California King Snake and this Horned Lizard on the road.

Horned Lizard

Horned Lizard

Mountain Quail

Mountain Quail.  Photo by Eric Labato.

The following day we drove to the famous birding hot spot, Butterbredt Springs, a small oasis in the Mojave Desert.  We hoped to find Mountain Quail there and I have to admit that I was skeptical since with stops along the way, we arrived in the middle of the day.  We were incredibly lucky, though, and nearly everyone in our group had spectacular views of a pair in the open for over five minutes.  This was a life bird for many of us and we were all thrilled.

California desert from Jawbone Canyon Road

California desert from Jawbone Canyon Road

On April 24th, we drove Jawbone Canyon Road again.  It was sad to see how badly the fragile desert habitat has been damaged by illegal off-road vehicle use.  How could anything survive in such conditions!  But, again, we were lucky and found our targets, Le Conte’s Thrasher and Chukar, as well as the canescens (interior) subspecies of Sage Sparrow. So, now we had two subspecies of Sage Sparrow on the trip, but both are Bell’s Sparrow after the recent split.  We visited Butterbredt Springs again and then we found another oasis in the Mojave Desert, Silver Saddle Ranch and Club.  The private resort 20 miles north of California City generously allows birders on the property.  Local birders consider it one of the best hot spots for migrants.  The day ended with a stop at the Tehachapi Loop overlook on Highway 58.  The Tehachapi Loop is a 0.73-mile ‘spiral’ on the Union Pacific Railroad line through Tehachapi Pass.

Tehachapi Loop overlook

Tehachapi Loop overlook

Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise

April 25 we started at Silver Saddle and then stopped at the Desert Tortoise Natural Area before lunch in California City.  The naturalist called us over as we arrived, saying to hurry because they had a tortoise.  The guy in the photo at the left is #589, a 15-20 year old male, just reaching breeding age.  Individuals may live 60 to 100 years.  The desert tortoise (Gopherus agazzizi), listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, is the official California State reptile.  We got good looks and photos before #589 wandered off into the desert.

After lunch, we birded nearby Central Park.  Mary, a trip participant with over 700 ABA area birds, still needed Hermit Warbler.  She got her bird that day at Central Park and amazingly, I found the bird.  Because of my poor vision, I usually have difficulty getting on birds that others find.  So, being the one to actually see the warbler first and help Mary get it was absolutely thrilling.  Next, we went back to Silver Saddle where we found more Hermit Warblers and many other migrants including my life warbler for the trip, MacGillivray’s.

Hermit Warbler

Hermit Warbler

The 26th brought the drive back to Santa Barbara.  We stopped in the charming Danish village of Solvang for lunch and saw Yellow-billed Magpies on our way out of town.  Back in Santa Barbara, we had hoped to see Elegant Terns, but it was one of the few misses of the trip.

Our last day of birding was a pelagic trip out of Ventura.  The cocktail of seasickness drugs that worked for me last summer in Florida were no match for the rougher waters of the Pacific.  I was sick for most of the trip.  After I finally stopped throwing up, I just wanted to sit inside with my head on a table.  Even when I heard “Laysan Albatross!”, I could not muster the energy to get up and look for it.  Memories of pain fade with time, though, so I suppose that one day I’ll try a pelagic trip again.

My totals for the trip included 15 countable ABA area birds, California Condor and Rose-ringed Parakeet.  This was a wonderful trip with a nice group of birders and great leadership by Bill Drummond and Dave Hursh.  More of my photos are in my California – April 2013 set on Flickr.  For additional (and better) photos, see Eric Labato’s California 2013 Flicker set.  The trip took place between April 19 and 27, 2013.

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