Friday, December 13, 2013


I know it's been awhile since I last posted, but life has been pretty hectic. Between multiple trips to Ohio and moving into a new house- I just haven't had the motivation to sit and write (or the time!). So, to recap my last month or so of birding:

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes and a handful of Whooping Cranes have arrived at Wheeler, and are easily seen from the Visitors Center Observation Building. I have been over several times to attempt photos, but shooting in a dimly lit building through tinted windows doesn't do my camera or photography skills any justice. So here's the best I can give you:

Whooping Cranes with Sandhills

Besides the Cranes, many other birds have been arriving in northern Alabama. I was fortunate enough to find a Black-legged Kittiwake over at Wilson Dam in November, bringing my year list to 296. Only four away from my goal.

I moved south of Huntsville, to the Morgan City area. This puts me directly between Guntersville Lake and Wheeler NWR. However, I haven't made a trip to Wheeler in a couple of weeks now. Guntersville Lake is quickly becoming my favorite waterfowl birding spot. I've seen just about everything there so far this fall. Dozens of Common Loons, Red-breasted Mergansers, Gulls galore, Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Redheads, and lots of Canvasbacks (among others). The causeway along Route 69 is my favorite place to pull over and get photos... though with the cars whipping by, it doesn't exactly feel safe.

Common Loon

Ring-billed Gull

Red-breasted Merganser

My new home sits atop Brindlee Mountain. My four and a half acres is surrounded by mountain woods... which so far, has made for some excellent birding. In my first week of birding here, I have seen 44 species. Unfortunately, my yard is full of holes, which has contributed to two falls while out shooting photos. Now, the calibration of my lens is off, which means no great photos to contribute to the blog until I upgrade my glass in February. Until then, you will just have to suffer through sub par photos like I do! Ha.

My second night at the house, we had an unexpected visitor somehow make it into the mudroom/laundry area. I snapped off a few shots before opening the door to let him out. He hangs around the porches at night, but hasn't come back in... yet.

Eastern Phoebe

Another busy night ahead of me... so will keep this post short. Hopefully I will be heading north in the next month to see a Snowy Owl. Stay tuned!

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Owling at Salt Fork

Took a trip to Ohio yesterday, albeit a short one. I had an entire morning to kill, once arriving in Cambridge around four in the morning. I was able to catch some z's along the way, so I wasn't sleepy once I arrived. I decided to drive over to Salt Fork State Park to do some owling. I've always wanted to do this, but I'll be frank: Waking up that early and birding when you can barely spot the trail at your feet has never been my idea of a good time. Well, I was wrong. It was a great time! Equipped with my iBird app, and my camera flashlight... I set off to try to coax some owls out from where they might have been hiding.

First, I decided to hit the dog park area... here I would have a Short-eared Owl vocalize in response to the calls... but I would not see him perched in the fields whatsoever. I decide to wait, knowing he's in the area... and move on to the horse trail area. Here, I parked, and went walking the trails... at 6:30 A.M. It was pitch black, and I can't say that a million different frightening scenarios weren't running through my head. I am a wuss when it comes to heights, and the dark... imagine if both were an issue at the same time! I shudder to think!

Anyways, about a quarter mile into the trail, I start playing Saw-whet and Screech-Owl calls. It doesn't take long... maybe 10 minutes as I continue walking, for a Saw-whet to respond. As close as it sounded, I start scanning the trees and shining my flashlight, hoping to catch a glimpse. In the crook of a tree right along the trail, I spot him- as the reflection of his eyes to my light give him away. I spent all of this past winter searching for one of these guys, but all along I was doing it wrong. I sit for about ten minutes, him and I checking each other out. I know I don't have a lot of time left until full on daylight, so I walk back to my van. Here I would drive back over to the beach and dog park area.

As I drive into the parking area, I look out across the larger field and see the Short-eared Owl hunting, his moth-like flight unmistakable. I always assumed, since it took me awhile to see a Short-eared this past winter, that folks often mistook Harriers as Owls. But, once I saw the flight of a Short-eared, I realized that it was distinguishable so much so that I couldn't see anybody mistaking them for something else. 

Over in this area is a lot of field, and a beach... and some trees, but not dense enough for me to search for a Screech-Owl. I decide to try one other area near the marina while I waited for the sun to come up.

Somehow, luck was with me. As I drove the road leading to the marina, I heard him- a Screech-Owl! I pull to the berm, park, and play the vocalization. By this point, it's light enough to see with the naked eye, but still not bright enough for good photos. He was pretty bold, flew right out into the open to check out that odd bird that was calling back to him. All this time I've looked for owls and never once used playback... ethically I've questioned the use of it. I went against my former thoughts and tried it out, and the results I got may have changed my mind on the subject.

Since the beach is close to the marina, I decide to drive back there and check it out again. I'm mostly looking for shorebirds and waterfowl, as I broke my toe and hiking long distances wasn't really something I wanted to endure. Sparrows were present in the thickets and fields, and once I got to the beach, I saw a group of Canada Geese and about fifty Ring-billed Gulls hanging out. Running the shoreline were several Killdeer and a group of three Dunlins. By the time I'm finished walking this area, the sun has come up and I can see the beauty of an Ohio fall surrounding me.

I bird a little while longer, seeing a fine assortment of species. Activity is high as the front that came through overnight grounded the birds. No rarities, but definitely a lot of species I never get tired of seeing. Fifty four to be exact- a wonderful morning spent again at Salt Fork State Park. If any readers in eastern Ohio are looking for a nice spot- I cannot recommend this park enough.

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sparrows, Waxwings, and Wrens... Oh my!

So, a front came through Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, yesterday was busy for me, so I couldn't get out to see what migrants might have been grounded. But this morning, I decided to go for a walk at my new favorite place: Harvest Square Recreational Preserve.

The air was brisk this morning, but comfortable. Around forty five degrees. I arrived at 9:30 and first started by walking over to Terry Pond. There's a group of Muscovy Ducks that hang out here. I don't know if they're "countable" in Alabama, but I won't count them regardless. Looking out over the pond, from a distance I see some shapes on the water. There were three Pied-billed Grebes present and a male Ruddy Duck. I work my way over to the Beaverdam Trail, as last time I walked here this area was the most active.

Along the trail, I would see sparrows darting in and out of the grass and shrubs. I would probably miss identifying about seventy five percent of the sparrows I saw, simply because they hid so well in the undergrowth. However, Song and Field Sparrows were in large numbers. The Field Sparrows sang as I continued to walk. They are more bold than the other sparrows, often perching right out in the open to investigate who was coming down the path.

As I'm walking the trail right along Terry Pond, I see a small bird flittering about through the cattails. I am in desperate need of wrens for my list this year (as by this point I've only gotten House and Carolina for the year)... so I stalk the bird, and patiently wait for it to become visible enough for an ID. My patience pays off, because it's a Marsh Wren: The black and white markings on its back unmistakable. Oh, this day is already shaping up to be awesome.

I continue on, and suddenly out of the corner of my eye, notice a bird taking out on the water. I turn and do a quick photo snap and see an American Coot.

Among this surprise bird, a few others flitter about: Eastern Bluebirds, a Gray Catbird, a Hermit Thrush, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows, a couple Dark-eyed Juncos... Blue Jays chase each other as a Red-tailed Hawk soars overhead. At this point, I have almost finished the Beaverdam Trail, but not before seeing a Lincoln's Sparrow. He flew into the tall grass, and paused to watch me, allowing great looks with the binoculars, but not a great spot to get a photo.

Once I finish this trail, I walk the one back to Turner Pond. But nothing to report really along that trail. It was eerily silent and no birds were present on the pond.

I spent two hours, and walked a grand total of 1.5 miles. Forty-one species in two hours makes for one fantastic fall day!

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Big Day at Dauphin Island

As I posted before, I would be featuring my blog post about my Big Day at Dauphin Island on Birding Across America. It's now posted! Huge thanks to Josh Wallestad for asking me to do a guest spot on his site. If you haven't been there- please sign up! Once it really gets rolling, it's going to be a great place to get information about birding across the United States!

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Big Day!

So, I'm too broke to do a Big Year (and most people are, haha)... with that being said, this Sunday, I'll be doing the next best thing: a Big Day! Locations not entirely public yet, but keep an eye out at for a guest blog post about the trip.

Until then...
Happy birding to all of you!

Friday, October 4, 2013


Have a lot of new ideas for the blog, so stay tuned. There may be interviews, articles about local Alabama parks (and maybe some other states I travel to), rare bird chases, etc. I am pretty excited what the future of this blog holds. I am open to other ideas, so if there's something you'd like to read or see here, shoot me an email:

Happy birding to all!


Sunday, September 29, 2013

Birding in Ohio

This past Thursday and Friday, I spent time in Ohio dealing with an urgent family matter. To pass the time when I had nothing else to do, I decided to hit a couple spots to bird. First spot was Phillips Park in Beavercreek, where I met up with a friend and spent three hours walking short, mowed trails through trees and brush field/marsh areas.

I arrived at 8:15 A.M. to be greeted by three Mallards, a drake and two hens, who then proceeded to follow me around the front of the park near the pond. I sat in the gazebo and they came over and foraged in front of me, waiting on me to make it easier on them to find breakfast. I watched the pond and the trees surrounding, while waiting on my friend. Saw mostly city birds: Starlings, Cardinals, House Sparrows, a Mourning Dove, Robins, and a few Blue Jays. Then a flock of birds perched high in one of the trees, and looking through my binoculars, I watched some Cedar Waxwings hopping around in the branches. A short time later, my friend pulled in and we hit the trails.

Birds were plentiful this fine fall morning. Chipping and chirping filled the air around us. At our first stop, mostly we saw Tufted Titmice dancing through the trees, about six which seemed to be following us on our walk. It took another fifty feet or so to find the next cluster of birds, which so happened to be a few species of warblers- notably Tennessee and Magnolia. Throughout our walk we would also find Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, Cape May, and plenty of Common Yellowthroats.

(My eBird checklist )

It was a nice morning walk, catching up, laughing, and watching birds. Nothing is better than getting to share a passion with another person, that not too many people you know share. We walked about two miles, tallied up our sightings (over 40 species), and said our goodbyes. My next stop would be Pickerington Ponds right outside of Columbus.

Drive drive drive. I'd already spent about 8 hours on the road, plus the three hours hiking... I was getting kind of tired, but I don't get to bird a ton on my trips to Ohio and this day, I had plenty of free time. I arrived at Pickerington Ponds around 2 P.M. Water levels were super low, which made for plenty of shorebirds. Egrets, Herons, and several waterfowl were hanging around the Wood Duck trail area. I had to hike through the tall weeds to get closer, but with my binoculars, I was able to identify a Baird's Sandpiper, and a Western Sandpiper- both new birds for my Ohio list this year! I didn't spend much time at the Ponds because I had to get out to the Cambridge area to see my daughters.

Pickerington Ponds Checklist

I would spend the evening in Cambridge, and the next morning, make my trek over to Salt Fork State Park.

The fog was heavy around the lake. I drove clear back to the dog area, parked my van, and watched through the fog and was able to pick out a Greater Yellowlegs through the fog. I couldn't see much else (even though I could hear it)... and I knew I was just going to have to wait for the fog to lift. It only took about thirty minutes. That's when my checklist exploded with species. This was an open area, full of sparrows. White-throated, Song, Vesper, Savannah, and Lincoln's. Watched two Palm Warblers flying from the ground, up onto the fence, and back down again. The beach had a bunch of my gulls walking around. (My gulls are Ring-billed Gulls... I call them my gulls after a friend affectionately deemed them to be "Amber's Gulls") Ospreys soared over Salt Fork Lake, and Killdeer ran the shoreline. I spent a couple hours walking, and driving, through the park and got several other species.

Salt Fork Checklist

All-in-all, though the family issues made the trip somewhat somber, I was glad to see a dear friend and get to bird while I was up there.

Until next time....
Happy birding to all of you!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Photographs and Memories

I'm sure you've all heard the song, unless you're younger than me... in which case you might not even know who Jim Croce was. But the song has been playing in my head today as I think about Ohio.

I love Alabama, but Ohio is my home. Does that mean I want to move back? No. I've started a new journey here. In fact, I plan on moving down to Mobile next year. I fully intend on staying in Alabama. The birding here, while Ohio's is great, has actually helped me decide to stay for good.

But, I have been thinking about my old birding haunts. All I have left of them are photographs and memories. Killbuck Marsh, Killdeer Plains, Battelle Darby, Pickerington Ponds, Brown Family Environmental Center and the Kokosing Gap Trail, Mohican Valley Trail and the Bridge of Dreams, Knox Lake, and Kokosing Lake.... all of these places are now things of my past. 

Part of me is homesick, I think. Maybe for the birding, maybe for the people and family I left behind... moving to Alabama was a difficult decision. I don't normally tell my personal story publicly, but I haven't seen my two oldest daughters in two months now, as I prepare to save up for a place of my own. Currently, my three youngest children and I live with my sister. My two oldest are with my parents back in Ohio. I gave up practically everything I owned other than the clothes on our backs, one of my dogs, and my vehicle to move down here. I am rebuilding my life, my belongings, my family piece-by-piece. This is why I bird the way I do. It's the only thing, the only thing, that makes my situation bearable. It's the only thing, that keeps me from running back to Ohio.

Wow, so this birding blog is suddenly turning personal isn't it? I guess because I don't really talk about it, it builds up to the point that I need to put it somewhere...

Maybe you can relate to me. Maybe you can't. Maybe you feel sorry for me... but don't. I can assure you at times, I do that quite well on my own. But, like anything else in life... there's always light at the end of the tunnel, and nothing is ever hopeless.

I miss Ohio. I know I've said it before on this blog. I know it will take time to acclimate here. I need friends... common interest friends. I don't tend to run with the mommy crowd. I don't do play dates and playground get-togethers. I feel pretty socially awkward at times, because I've spent my last almost ten years as a stay-at-home-mom, with my only real socialization being interaction with my children. I'm short-fused, mostly because every ounce of patience I have is saved for my children. But still, I think I could make friends if given the opportunity. I think I'm fairly likable anyways!

This post is almost becoming one of those "About Me" type deals. Why am I posting this? Hmm... that's a good question. I think it brings some sort of depth to the blog. The majority of my audience doesn't know me personally... and when I just write about trips, sure you can see my passion and sense of humor, but do you really see who I am?

So, who am I?

I am first and foremost a mother of the five most amazing children:

 Aubrey is my oldest. She is smart, a free-thinker. She loves to dance and draw and talk about dinosaurs. She is an Aspie (Asperger's Syndrome), but don't let that define her. She is truly a one-of-a-kind child. Her goofy laugh could put a smile on most anyone's face.

Morgan is my second daughter. She is a polar opposite of Aubrey. She's my only brunette, which can get me a few odd stares when I have them all out in public together, as my family has dubbed my children "The Blonde Brigade +Morgan". She looks just like my dad, and is a friend to everyone. She loves meeting new people and telling them her life story. She sings, dances, dresses up like a princess... a true girly girl. But she also loves to go on hikes with me to learn about birds.

Charlotte is my third daughter. There is one word to describe her: Hilarious. She is so friendly, and so funny. She loves to tell "Knock-Knock" jokes, loves to cuddle with Rumor (our dog), loves to play, and loves birdwatching with mom. She might be my future birdwatcher of all of them. She LOVES trying to find the birds hiding in the trees and bushes.

Libby is my youngest daughter. Wow, how to describe her. Spirited is a word used commonly in the natural parenting community to describe children like her. She is constantly on-the-go. Never stops moving. She is also on the spectrum like her oldest sister, but doesn't have a definitive diagnosis. She can be challenging, frustrating, and difficult, but she is still amazing. Even though it's rare, sometimes, she will just want to cuddle and get hugs and kisses, and it melts my heart. Just like all of my children, she is truly one-of-a-kind.

And finally, there's Seth. My only son. Seth was a surprise child, and what a pleasant surprise he was! My easiest pregnancy, my calmest baby. Yeah, that's all gone by the wayside! Once he started walking at nine months, forget about it! He's inquisitive, social, and very talkative. He's always climbing, and diving off of things, and yelling at the dogs ("Bad girl!"). He loves to eat (what growing boy doesn't?), and also often times tags along on birding outings with mom, riding on my back in my Boba carrier.

I truly adore all of my children. While they've made my life tons more challenging, they've also made it tons more rewarding. There is nothing quite like birding with young kids in tow, showing them your passion, and hoping it leads them to their own things to be passionate about. (Even if it's not birding!)

Enough with the proud mom braggery... I guess I can tell you a little bit about me.

I was born in 1983 in Columbus, Ohio. I am a twin (fraternal though... we couldn't look more different if we tried!), with two older brothers. I grew up in the city, of course, and learned to be tough from an early age. Mostly because my two older brothers taught me to be. As long as I can remember, I loved birds. My first bird book was the Reader's Digest Birds of North America. I memorized every single bird in the book. By age six, my parents said I could name any bird that we came across with 100% accuracy. My fondest memories as a child were going to Blacklick Woods Metro Park and walking the trails and watching the birds at the feeders behind the nature center. Once I was in high school, though, birding fell by the wayside. Then, shortly after high school came a marriage and children, and it wasn't until recently (this year actually), that I once again became active on the forums and met someone who really inspired me to start doing what I'd always loved once again. (I am forever grateful to you for that, by the way!)

I have traveled to each coast. Once at 19 years of age, traveling to Los Angeles from Mount Vernon, Ohio with my best friend, Denise. I have lived in Kentucky (Louisville), Missouri (Kansas City and Saint Joseph), Ohio (Columbus, Mt. Vernon, Howard, and Fredericktown), and now Alabama (Huntsville). I like to believe I am fairly well-traveled for my age, though there are definitely more places I want to see (and bird at!).

I love to sing, which includes karaoke with my sister. Not to toot my own horn, but we tear it up! I also draw... mostly animals (almost all my clients were dog owners). I used to help a professional AKC handler show Cane Corsos, and I have owned dogs all of my life. My current dog is a Bouvier Des Flandres named Rumor.

So, to sum it up. I love my kids, birding, dogs, singing, and drawing. In that order.

Is there anything else you'd like to know about me? Feel free to ask!

And of course, until next time....
Happy birding (and life!) to all of you!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

At the beach....

Six in the morning, after a seven hour drive (counting all the stops)... I cross the 193 bridge into my final destination for the day: Dauphin Island, Alabama.

The first turn I make, I am welcomed by this guy right here... lifer #254: Laughing Gull.

Not even a minute on the island, and I've already found a lifer. I had great feelings about this day. I knew the seven hour drive was going to be worth it!

I pull out my phone, with barely a 3G signal (yes, I need to upgrade) and open up my email to read the emails I received in response to my Listserv post looking for spots to bird. The airport was one mentioned, and also Pelican Island. I would seek help finding Pelican Island later in the day, but part of me just wanted to follow the Alabama Coastal Birding Trails signs to see what I could find. This early in the morning though, most of what I saw were Mourning Doves, Eurasian Collared-Doves (lifer #255), two Common Ground-Doves (lifer #256), and European Starlings.

First, I headed west on the island. This took me through a strip of residential homes, where I spotted a turtle in the middle of the road. He was taking his time, and even though there wasn't heavy traffic, I could never live with myself if I didn't help him along. So I pulled over on a side-street, ran over and picked him up, with passing cars staring at me probably wondering why I was bothering to help a turtle.

Godspeed, little Three-toed Box Turtle!

I ventured back out to Bienville Boulevard, heading west. Passing the elementary school, the road narrows a bit, to two lanes. On either side are homes on stilts and white sandy beaches. It was like something out of a movie. This girl from the midwest has only seen the ocean twice, while driving. Once was on a road trip to Los Angeles with one of my closest friends, and the other time, crossing the bay bridge to reach the eastern shore of Maryland. But I'd never set foot on a beach or really marvelled at the ocean for any length of time. The white sands against the morning sky was breathtaking. I started searching for a parking area, and eventually found one about a mile down the road. I parked, took off my sandals, and walked out to the beach, camera in tow.

Laughing Gulls were everywhere. All different plumage stages. I completely understand where the name comes from! They may very well be the hyena of the bird world. I was able to snap a couple photos of them, and they were more than willing to oblige to close up shots, obviously used to human interaction.

If you haven't felt the sand beneath your feet, and in between your toes, you certainly have no idea what you are missing. I sat on the beach, looking out over the water, gulls flying all around. I look to my right and notice lifer #257 darting to the waves, and running back as they approach. Hello, Mr. Sanderling!

To my right, two Great Blue Herons scuffled over a fish. One walked right up next to me. If I wanted to, I could've reached out and touched him! This is a far cry from Heron behavior up north. Up here, I am lucky to get within thirty feet of a Heron! Normally, once they spot me, they take off! I snapped a few photos of these two, a smile on my face. Already, three lifers, and nothing in the world could ruin my day. It was cathartic.

I decided to explore more of the island. I wanted to stop by the visitor's center for a map, to figure out where Pelican Island was since it was my one spot I wanted to stop by before leaving. Unfortunately the center was closed until ten, but I noticed this young Blue Jay sitting on the fence so I decided, why not take a photo?

Next, I decided to find the airport. Luckily, there are plenty of signs around Dauphin Island to direct you wherever you need to go, and the Airport was close to the west end and the visitor's center. At first, I pulled in and it didn't look like much. There's a short road leading in, saltwater marsh on either side... and there's a small parking area. You pretty much have to bird from the road or the parking lot, as there's no kind of walking trails or access to the marsh. This early in the morning though, it was dead, and I only saw one lone Great Egret fishing. A little disappointed, I left to check out other parts of the island. I headed out east towards the ferry to see what I might find.

Out here, I drove along the shore, where plenty of folks were out fishing. This is where I got lifers #258 and 259: Willet and Mottled Duck. My photos are very poor though, so I won't bother posting them here, as I have many more Willet photos from later in the day.

I still had no idea where Pelican Island was at this point, so I stopped in the Bait Shop and asked the owner. He seemed clueless as to what I was talking about, so a little disappointed I left and walked out on the pier next to the parking area.

Out in the tree sat a lone Osprey. I looked out across the water, saw lifer #260 flying low: Brown Pelican! (I would see many more throughout the day, but no great photos) Then, another bird flew in. At first, I dismissed it as a Willet and almost didn't take a second look, since it was flying in to the rocks where a Willet was standing. Glad I took a second look though, because it was a Whimbrel! Not a lifer, but definitely a bird I love seeing. I'd only found one other, up in Ohio at Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area earlier in the spring. This time, I got a much better look.

Next, I head out to Cedar Point Pier, at the beginning of the 193 bridge across from the island. This is where I would find lifers #261,#262, and #263: Ruddy Turnstone, Gull-billed Tern, and Boat-tailed Grackle. It cost to go out on the pier, so I got back in my car and decided to head back to the island.

I headed back to the airport, hoping that since an hour had passed, I'd see something new. Boy, I was right. As I drove in, lifer #264 darted across the road in front of me. I pulled ahead, parked my car, and got out to try to find him as I heard him calling in the tall grass. I turn my back and notice him dart across the road again. Exacerbated, I decide to wait, but this time... when I turned my back, I kept my head slightly turned so I could catch him out of the corner of my eye. Sure enough, as soon as I turned... he took back off across the road and I got this photo of him:

Clapper Rail

Once I snapped off a few photos, I look to my left and see lifer #265 take off... Tricolored Heron!

I hung around for a little while longer, but didn't really see anything else of interest or significance, so I headed east on the island.

While on this end of the island, I ran into two birders, and proceeded to pull over and ask them about Pelican Island. They told me exactly where to go, I shared with them my Clapper Rail sighting, and they told me where to find an American Bittern. I thanked them and went on my way.

Pelican Island.... the one place I'd been searching the past three hours for.. I couldn't wait to get there! The one bird I wanted to find the most was supposed to hang around on Pelican Island, so I won't lie and say I wasn't super-excited to get there and see if I'd find him.

I arrived at the west end of the island (I'd been driving right past Pelican Island all morning and didn't even realize it!), paid to park, and proceeded to walk to the pier. Once up there, I had good views out over P.I. I noticed a pool with two Tricolored Herons, a man "fishing" for crabs, and wait... was that... could it be?

Lifer #266- Reddish Egret!!!

I was on cloud nine!! I hadn't even actually stepped foot onto Pelican Island yet... still up on the pier, and I found the one bird I didn't want to leave without seeing. Looking around, I caught a Gray Kingbird (lifer #267) in flight, but no IDable photo, and a couple Seaside Sparrows (lifer #268) flittering about in the long grass... I was antsy to get down to the actual beach though. I wanted closer shots of that Reddish Egret!

Finally, I'm off the pier!

The pier

Can I live here forever? Seriously! The smell of the ocean air, the white sandy beaches.... I've never been anywhere so beautiful in my life.

Unfortunately, by the time I got down to the marshy pool, the Reddish Egret had flown off. However, two very aggressive and noisy Willets decided to make their disapproval of my presence known.

Walking further down the island is where the lifers really started to roll in: 

#269-Piping Plover
#270-Sandwich Tern
#271-Black Tern
#272-Royal Tern
#273-Black Skimmer
#274-Least Tern
#275-Forster's Tern

Beach o'birds!

Royal Tern in flight

By this time, I was exhausted. Other than some Short-billed Dowitchers, Willets, and Sanderlings... the walk back was rather uneventful. My legs and feet ached, and I was ready to go home, even if I didn't find any Oystercatchers!

Walking back on the pier.

I was certainly not looking forward to the six to seven hour drive home. I had one last surprise as I left Dauphin Island: A Brown Pelican paced my car as I was driving the 193 bridge. I was able to get this blind shot: 

I already miss the ocean, and the birds. I plan on making a trip back down in the near future, especially after talking to someone on the Listserv who spotted the Oystercatchers and other species of Plover that I still need for my list. 

My end of the year goal is 300 lifers. Think I can do it?

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

They're Back!

Who's back?

Shorebirds are back!

Today was beautiful. Mid-80s this morning, with a slight breeze. Humidity was moderate and tolerable. Sun was shining. Just a perfect morning to head out to Blackwell Swamp over at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge.

I was on the search for ONE thing though: Shorebirds. And boy, did I find them!

The thing about Blackwell Swamp is you drive through woods practically the entire way to the actual swamp. The swamp is in a clearing, but still in the woods. Normally, there are tons of herons and egrets at the swamp, but this morning it was eerily silent. One Great Blue Heron fished in the distance.


So, I drove on. Once you get past the swamp area, and through the trees, there starts to be cropland to the right side of the road. On the left is the Tennessee River. Now, I chose here because of these croplands. Most are nothing but mudflats, and with the rain we had, I expected some water to be laying in the fields.

My expectations were correct.

But what took my breath away wasn't shorebirds, it was the sheer number of Great and Snowy Egrets. 108 Great Egrets, 15 Snowy Egrets, and at least one immature Little Blue Heron. They coated the farmland, every which way you looked, an Egret was standing or flying. It was amazing. I don't think many people would argue against the beauty and majesty of these birds.

Finally, we get to visible mudflats (crops were blocking the ones in the distance), and I kept my eye out in the puddles for movement. The first few mudflats were void of any shorebirds... but once we rounded the first bend past the creek that shoots off the river....

Dozens. All over. Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers scattered in the flats. I decided to try to hike through the soybean field, careful not to harm any of the plants (especially since you're technically not supposed to walk in the crop fields.... oops!). This helped get IDable photos, though they're nothing I would share with you here.

This is my eBird checklist (50 species in 2 hours on the first of August? I'll take it!):

Still on the hunt for Avocets, which were recently reported at Wheeler. Maybe I will check in next week and see what other birds will show up. Tonight, I leave for my long-awaited trip to Dauphin Island. Check back in the next couple of days for my report!

Until next time....
Happy birding to all of you!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Down at the Swamp

I decided to make a short trip to Blackwell Swamp yesterday. No, my radiator isn't fixed yet... but it's a slow leak, so short trips feel safer to me than say... driving to the coast. I was having birding withdraws. I had to get somewhere.

Blackwell Swamp had an overabundance of one thing: Mosquitoes. My youngest daughter and I were magnets for them. As of right now we are covered. Luckily for me, they don't really itch... but poor Libby is miserable. I keep forgetting the DEET. Never needed it back in Ohio.

Anyways... saw the usuals. Indigo Buntings singing around every bend. Cardinals flying from one side of the road to the other. Summer Tanagers dancing in trees, loudly announcing their disapproval of my presence. Watched a family of Brown-headed Nuthatches making a racket. Spunky little birds. Heard Prothonotary Warblers singing, but oddly.. never caught a glimpse of one, which is a first since going to Blackwell Swamp.

I inched along the dirt road back to the south side of the swamp... I always keep an ear out for bird calls, and drive slowly so I can come to a stop and search for what I'm hearing.

Low and behold... I heard a call of a bird I'd been searching for since getting here: the elusive Swainson's Warbler.

No, it couldn't be! It was probably something else that sounded similar, right?

Well, the habitat was right. And it just kept singing its little heart out. So, I pulled out my phone and opened my iBird app. I played the Swainson's Warbler song and it matched. Not just matched, but perfectly matched. 

I hopped out of my van and started walking through the undergrowth. Bird still singing. It stopped once I got about twelve feet in. I started scanning the undergrowth. Then, there it was. A brief enough glimpse too short to get a photo, but long enough to see that I was, in fact, looking at a Swainson's Warbler. As soon as it appeared, it was gone. I went back to my van and waited, but didn't hear the song again. Lifer #254. Goodbye, you little dude. Godspeed!

I continued back to the swamp, pulled over and parked. So many birds chattering in the trees. Fledglings and their parents were out in full force. Downy Woodpeckers, Blue-gray Gnatcatchers... and then, a large family of Eastern Wood-Pewees, one of which allowed me to take this photo:

A few Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons graced the swamp. Heard a King Rail chattering. But otherwise, nothing to see. I decided to call it a day and head home, before there wasn't an inch of skin not affected by mosquito bites.

Next week, I'm driving down to the coast and hitting Dauphin Island. It will be an all day trip, so stay tuned for a long blog post with (hopefully) lots of pictures!

Until then...
Happy birding to all of you!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Out of Commission

Don't expect too much from me for the next week and a half or so... unfortunately on my fantastic bird outing to The Sinks, I managed to slap the front end of my vehicle on some concrete on the road that leads back to Mallard Fox WMA... and in turn, my radiator is cracked and needs replaced.

Birding is hard on cars, for real.

However, my next trip is going to be one that takes me much further away from home... down to Eufaula NWR and on a chase for Swallow-tailed Kites and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. Stay tuned!

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you! (Watch those back roads!!!)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Sinks

And I don't mean the kind you wash your hands in...

The Sinks is private land with sinkholes that fill with water (all depending on the amount of rainfall), and attracts a wide variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, and waders. I decided to check it out, because Little Blue Herons had been frequently/regularly spotted there, and I still needed them for my life list. (Of course the report of a Roseate Spoonbill definitely didn't hurt matters!) So at 4:45 this morning, I headed out to see what I could find once I got there.

I went straight out I-565, which turns into AL-20. Followed 20 for awhile, until I turned onto Old 20, and then again onto Fennel Road. You follow Fennel Road until it deadends into Sixth, and that's where The Sinks are. (Otherwise known as the Leighton Ponds.)

Just a fair warning, I have no idea if it's fertilizer or what, but the drive out AL-20 smelled something awful. A mix of manure and rotting flesh/dead animal. Do not drive with the windows down, whatever you do!

With that being said...

Holy herons and egrets, Batman!

(If you can guess all of the birds in this photo, I'll bake you some cookies)

Everywhere you looked, Snowy and Great Egrets were taking flight. I'm not exaggerating when I say everywhere. This was nothing like I'd ever seen back in Ohio. And to think, I got excited when I saw around two dozen Great Egrets congregating at Charles Mill Lake!

Of course (as evident in the photo above), there were plenty of Little Blue Herons. I counted 8 adults and two juveniles, but the fog made it difficult to get exact numbers on the birds I saw.

I also got a quick, but not very clear photo of a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron, who I flushed as my van approached.

(Can't say I didn't warn you)

I was simply floored. I just stood there, snapping off photos left and right. Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, a Least Bittern, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Belted Kingfisher, Little Blue Herons, and Killdeer. (Not the entire list, but most of what I shot)

Like this young Snowy Egret in flight:

I almost didn't want to leave, just in case the Spoonbill wanted to make an appearance. However, the fog got even thicker, to the point that anything more than 50 yards out was barely visible. This was around 7:30 in the morning, so I decided to move onto Wheeler Dam.

Damn, Wheeler Dam! And I thought The Sinks was hosting a lot of wading birds! Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, a couple Green Herons, and lots of Black-crowned Night-Herons.

Instead of gulls, Wheeler Dam has herons and egrets! Oh, and Black Vultures by the dozens. Though, you should park there at your own risk. You might come back to this:

(Disclaimer-Not my vehicle)

These Black Vultures weren't afraid of anything... well, except my minivan getting closer than ten feet to them. But it made for awesome shots such as these:

By this point (9:30 A.M.), the humidity and heat were quickly picking up so I decided to call it a day and head home. But not before I spotted this Ouachita Map Turtle taking advantage of the beautiful, warm sunshine:

What a fantastic birding morning! Two lifers: Little Blue Heron and Least Bittern. And enough birds to last a birding lifetime! Can't wait to go back!

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!

Monday, July 15, 2013

THAT bird

That bird.

Do you know what I mean? That bird. The one that no matter how many times you see it, you're reminded of the joy that this hobby brings you. You're reminded why you travel all over the state/region/country/wherever it is you go just to watch birds. You're reminded of the first time you can remember birding, the first time you realized that you found something you enjoyed, that you were passionate about. Do you have a bird like that? I have one.

The funny thing, for me, is I thought it would be an owl of some sort... and while owls are my favorite group of birds, they aren't that bird. While I get the joy and excitement from seeing owls, they just aren't the bird I'm speaking of.

I bet you're dying to know which bird that is for me.

Well, this post was inspired when Chris Collins of Birding Beavercreek told me he posted a photo of that bird on his (very awesome!) blog. I miss that bird. My old home was close to two wildlife areas that bird nested in. Before my circumstances changed and I was forced to relocate to a different state, I looked forward to watching babies of that bird grow. Now, I miss out on that bird until the winter months. Maybe it will make it all the more special when I finally see that bird again.

Which bird is it? Still don't know?

Are you surprised? Most non-birders would think I'd choose something like a raptor, or a colorful bird such as a Painted Bunting. Nope. My heart belongs to the Sandhill Crane.

Have you ever watched these birds? Gorgeous, yet awkward... which makes them incredibly endearing. Their gargling trumpet call, their statuesque beauty... no other bird in the eastern United States is quite like the Sandhill Crane.

Every single time I made a trip to Funk Bottoms or Killbuck Marsh, I'd find at least one. Like this one I got within 30 feet of on a rough marsh trail:

Gorgeous, isn't he?

Or these guys hanging out in the fields at Funk Bottoms:

I'm not sure there's another bird out there that compares, short of another type of crane. I'm not exactly sure what it is about that bird. But that bird made all of the birding this year worth it, and will continue to do so.

Feel free to share with me the bird that makes you feel this way (if you have one).

Until next time.
Happy birding to all of you.

Cathedral Caverns

So yesterday, took a trip to Cathedral Caverns out in Woodville, Alabama. I'd never actually been in a cave before (not like they're common in Ohio)... so I was honestly looking forward to the trip. I figured there were multiple caves (since the park has caverns as plural), and that we'd just be exploring one with a flashlight. Figured there'd might be some wildlife/flora/fauna of some sort, but other than the reptiles we came across near the gift shop, I would learn that not too much lives in a cave. Especially not a cave with a man-made trail and a tour guide.

I want to make a disclaimer here before we get too much further: All of my photos were shot handheld at 75mm, 1/80, and 6400 ISO. Out of 200 pics, only a small handful were clear enough to post. It definitely was a challenge. I'd tried full automatic settings, but my flash would not work, and during the tour, we never stopped long enough for me to toy around with it and figure it out.

Anyways, the tour starts at 3:15 P.M. Our tour guide is named Taylor, and is a young guy, probably late 20's, early 30's, shorter than me, with a great sense of humor. Right off the bat, he has the group chuckling at his one-liners.

Once he explains general information about the cave, we move on to the next "room". The path is lit with small lights- reminiscent of a movie theater. The concrete path is also steep (either up or down) in places, and I wore shoes with no traction. Pair that with the trails being wet, and I start having bad visions of face-planting and my camera taking the brunt. But that doesn't happen, luckily.

Nothing super special in the first "room"/section. It was pretty dark. However it led to a small tunnel that went into a second room. This part was a little trippy, with reflection pools on either side of the trail. If anybody knows me, they know that I like to keep both feet firmly on the ground. In other words, I'm scared of heights. The reflection pool to the right was definitely the worst. Even though I knew it was there... I still couldn't shake the feeling that everything beside me just dropped down into a dark abyss.

We couldn't move out of this room fast enough.

The next section was short, and included some smooth rock (I forget the scientific name for it) that they had coined "The Rock Waterfall". Being that I was shooting at 75mm, I could not back up far enough to get a decent shot without it turning out too blurry. Taylor explained how the rock waterfall came to be, and we moved onto the next section.

Now here's where we start seeing stalagmites. If you don't know what stalagmites are, they look a little bit like this:

Throughout the next three sections (until the end of the path), we would see all sorts of these stalagmites. Taylor would laser point to different parts that looked like various things... most specifically; a caveman, a turkey, and a skull.

Here are a couple more photos of the next sections:

Once we reach the very end of the trail, Taylor asks the group if we'd like to see what it's like to be in a cave without all the fancy lighting. The group gives an enthusiastic "yes". He shuts off all lighting and it looks like this:

(Bet you were expecting something awesome, weren't you?)

Once it's pitch black and everyone stops with the oohs and aahs, Taylor pulls out his laser pointer and proceeds to do a mini-light show, but not without asking if anybody was prone to seizures first.

We'd walked 2/3 of a mile back into this cave, and once the tour is over, you have to walk back out. The way in has a lot of steep downhill grades, and let me tell you, the walk back out was no picnic. Mostly uphill, and my thighs were burning by the time we were back to the first section. Once we hit it, I felt major relief. 

We all had a great time (minus my sister, but she has a knack for whining) at the caverns. The only negative I could really say about it, other than the workout it gives you (seriously, was not expecting it), was the price: $15 per adult. However, it was educational and just plain neat. Found out you can explore the cave on your own, minus a guide, and may come back out eventually to do just that. 

No birds to report (obviously). :)

Next post should be about my long-awaited trip to the sinkholes (The Sinks), so look out for that in the next 4-5 days.

Until next time...
Happy birding (and cave-exploring) to all of you!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Not supposed to be birding...

But we all know if you're a birder, and I mean truly a birder... you bird everywhere you go. Driving to work? What's sitting on the power line? Out with the family? What bird showed up in the tree next to your car? I don't know about you, but my eyes are always peeled for new and exciting birds.

Took a trip with my sister, her husband, and my daughter, Charlotte to Cathedral Caverns today. (Today is Charlotte's fifth birthday!) I didn't expect to bird, so was only taking my camera for pictures of the cave. And, the birds were in very short supply. I pretty much counted what I saw once we reached the state park and got back to the parking area for the cavern tours.

It didn't disappoint. Sitting on an electric pole was a bird I'd been hunting from the first day I moved here. At first I thought he might be another Mockingbird- the rat of the south. I almost didn't give him a second look as we slowly approached. Glad I did- because I got lifer #251: Loggerhead Shrike!

(Bet you're expecting a photo here, but I'd already set my ISO for the caves and everything was a blur since we were moving. Bummer)

Anyways, we approached a pond where two Red-tailed Hawks were sitting in a dead tree. A mallard was on the pond, and the sound of our car flushed a Double-crested Cormorant. Near the pond, an Eastern Bluebird was hanging out on the power line.

Didn't see much else. A mockingbird and some Mourning Doves. Nothing was hanging out back in the cavern tour area at all when it came to birds. Did find an Eastern Box Turtle, some Five-lined Skinks, and a Green Anole:

The cavern was amazing, and I will make a non-birding post about it in the next couple of days. 1.3 miles up and down steep hills makes for a very tired Amber. Stay tuned.

Until next time...
Happy birding to all of you!