Thursday, July 7, 2011

New River Festival - Belated Post #1

Julie Zickefoose on the hunt for golden-winged warbler at Muddlety....

Geoff Heeter, on the hunt for a Cerulean warbler...

Facebook has killed my blog. It's true. I am woefully late in getting this post (the first of two about the May 2011 New River Nature and Birding Festival) done. It is so much easier to put a pithy post or two and a quick photo on Facebook then to juggle the slow-loading and cumbersome Blogger site to put together a blog post. Besides, writing a blog post is more demanding intellectually (yeah, yeah - no comments from the peanut gallery on the quality of my writing, please) than a quick sentence on FB. But the wonderful New River Festival and the gathering of those wonderful women (and new man, Doug Sanchez!) who constitute The Flock deserve some attention. This trip fed my soul. Just like it did in 2009.

New River Gorge bridge (as seen from the boat in Birding By Boat field trip)

This year I did the Birding by Butt, Birding by Boat and Muddelty field trips. My goal - a Cerulean warbler. The Cerulean has been my nemesis bird for five years. I missed seeing it in 2009 at New River when everyone was racking them up by the dozens. I deliberately chose Muddlety since that mountain is known for breeding Ceruleans and may be lost to mountain-top strip mining any day now. Muddelty, Geoff Heeter and Julie Zickefoose (I was in total birder geek-dom) did not disappoint. Upon hearing that it was my target bird, Geoff and Julie put their trained ears and amazing talents to work and soon picked up a singing Cerulean. They worked hard to get me on the bird and I had satisfyingly long looks at a single male working a treetop just off the road. Yes, I cried. Hard. Sometimes good birds can move you to tears. And my friends, Susan Kaiholz-Williams, Laura Hardy, Kathy Hutton and Doug Sanchez were there to share the moment. It could not have been more perfect. Sometimes the birding gods hand you a lifer. And sometimes, they make the moment absolutely unforgettable.

Jim McCormac pointing out birds before we board the boats.

Birding the parking lot at Burnwood after breakfast. We never lose an opportunity to look for birds - even while waiting for our bus.
Another unforgettable moment occurred while wandering the grounds of Opossum Creek Retreat after breakfast at Birding By Butt. Walking with Doug Sanchez (welcome to The Flock, Doug. You fit in perfectly!) and Susan Kaiholz-Williams, we came across a yellow lady slipper. Susan remarked that it looked like a yellow scrotum. I said it had Hasidic Jew side curls. That's all it took. We all broke into uncontrollable giggles for long, long minutes. I will never be able to look at this beautiful wildflower the same way again.
Yellow ladyslipper (aka Yellow Scrotum Hasidic Jew Flower)

Other life birds at New River included black-billed cuckoo (wonderful looks at Opossum Creek) and golden-winged warbler. Thanks to Julie Zickefoose for getting me both of these birds. Once again, New River didn't disappoint in the sheer volume of birds, the beauty of the mountains and river and the amazing company. As Jeff Gordon once said, "this place is like summer camp for birders". Yes, it is. It really is.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Arizona and Life Bird #300

This May (a few short weeks away!) brings two wonderful birding trips to my bird-deficient work-intensive life. The first is a half-week at the always-popular New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, West Virginia. Accurately described by Jeff Gordon, ABA President, as "summer-camp for birders", New River is warbler heaven in one of the most beautiful places on earth - green, rolling mountains, white-water rivers, gorgeous sunsets over the gorge, breathtaking flora and a gathering of the noisiest, most gregarious and boisterous group of birders ever to assemble in one place - The Flock. Spending any amount of time with these wonderful women (and a few men) re-energizes my soul and I miss them terribly. The Cerulean warbler is my target bird for this trip - I missed it on the 2009 New River trip and it has been my nemesis bird for five years. I know Geoff, Keith, aka Paco, and the other trip leaders will make sure to find it for me. If I can put in my request now, I would like them to deliver a Cerulean to my hotel room as I drink my morning coffee. Now that is the kind of service one can expect at New River and Opposum Creek!
Vermillion Flycatcher

After one and a half days at home following New River (just enough time for laundry and a quick cuddle with the cats and the boyfriend - in that order), I fly to Arizona for my first west coast birding experience. At Thanksgiving last year, my bird mentor, Uncle Jim, casually mentioned that an Arizona trip with him and his lovely wife, Laura, was a possiblity in the spring of 2011. I agreed, assuming that like all good intentions, it would never occur. But I should never underestimate the lure of a life bird - Uncle Jim needs the Mexican chickadee and the juniper titmouse for his list. His good friend and fellow birder, Nell, knows Clifford Cathers, owner of Economy Birding Services, Inc and voila - a few emails, phone calls and plane reservations later, Jim, Laura, Nell and I are joining Cliff for a four day tour of southeastern Arizona.

Most of the birds on this trip will be lifers for me since I have no western species on my life list. Regardless of the number of lifers I collect at New River, the Arizona trip should put me over 300. I hope the 300th bird is a special one - my 200th bird was a Florida Scrub Jay at the Space Coast Festival in Titusville, FL. What will make the 300th bird so special is not the number, but the fact that I will be with Uncle Jimmy when I get it. It can't get more perfect than that.

Stellar Jay

The itinerary that Cliff prepared for us includes the Chiricahuas, Santa Rita Mountains, the low desert near Continental, Madera Kubo, Tubac, Rio Rico Ponds, Pena Blanca Lake, Madera Canyon in the evening for some owling (yes!!), Miller Canyon, Ash Canyon, Huachuca Mountains, Willcox Cochise Lake and Rustler Park. Wow! I will be one tired little birder - but with an amazing list.

Species we are targeting include gilded flicker, gila woodpecker, ladder-backed woodpecker, Gambel's quail, pyrrhuloxia, ash-throated flycatcher, vermillion flycatcher, brown-crested flycatcher, Lucy's warbler, Bell's vireo, verdin, curve-billed thrasher, cactus wren, black-throated sparrow, hooded oriole, Northern bearded tyrannulet, Albert's towhee, greater roadrunner, rufous-winged sparrow, red-faced warbler, Grace's warbler, olive warbler, Hutton's viroe, plumbeous vireo, Western wood pee-wee, white-throated swift, broad-tailed hummingbird, hepatic tanager, Western tanager, greater pee-wee, pygmy nuthatch, hermit warbler, Townsend's warbler, red-shafted flicker, dusty-capped flycatcher, elegant trogon, Mexican jay, acorn woodpecker, flame-colored tanager, Scott's oriole, magnificent hummingbird, broad-billed hummingbird, bewick's wren, bridled titmouse, juniper titmouse, Mexican chickadee, sulphur-bellied flycatcher, Arizona woodpecker, black-throated gray warbler, black-headed grosbeak, Cassin's kingbird, black-capped gnatcatcher, tropical kingbird, Western kingbird, gray hawk, common ground-dove, berylline and white-eared hummingbirds, least grebe, bronzed cowbird, black-chinned hummingbird, elf owl, western screech owl, whiskered screech owl, lesser nighthawk, common poorwill, Lucifer hummingbird, Montezuma quail, zone-tailed hawk, Botteri's sparrow, Anna's hummingbird, Western bluebird and short-tailed hawk. Whew! ALL of these would be life birds for me. Intense? Yes. Exhausting? Yes. Exciting? YES!

Juniper Titmouse (a target species for this trip)

I have purchased three new field guides for Western US and Arizona and am studying like mad. I don't think I will be nearly ready enough, but with four experienced birders to assist, I am looking forward to hitting 300. West Virginia with The Flock and Arizona with Uncle Jim. How lucky can one birder get?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

70 Degrees in February

A tree full of turkey vultures

With a gorgeous and unusual February day, what is more perfect than birding? I have been ashamedly lax in birding. The harsh winter and a job that keeps me on the road and working for hours when I get home are my excuses. But no more. A well-deserved vacation day and record-setting warmth and sunshine were on the calendar. I was prepared to bird in the cold, but lucky me.

Going to my usual haunts- Nockamixon State Park and Peace Valley Park- afforded looks at all the usual suspects. But at Nockamixon, hundreds of snow geese were unexpectedly flying over and making a terrible racket. I found one dark morph goose in with the rest, perhaps a blue morph snow goose. Nice. Life bird wiggle all alone while standing at the shore of a partially frozen lake surrounded by woods. Hope no one saw me and thought I was having an epileptic fit. But one must appease the bird gods after all.

Melting snow making torrents of miniature white-water rapids down the sides of the road added a beautiful background noise to the soundtrack of scolding titmice, frenetic chickadees, throaty red-bellied woodpeckers and single note chirps of brilliant red and orange Northern cardinals. The cardinals have never looked more striking.

The tall iron branches in the forest,

the dense fertility on the ground.

The world is wet.

The morning time

Mother earth is cool.

The air is like a river

which shakes the silence.

It smells of rosemary

of space and roots.

Overhead a crazy song.

How out of its throat

smaller than a finger

can there fall

the waters of its song?

Invisible power

torrent of music in the leaves.

Clean and freshwashed is this day

resounding like a green dulcimer.

Oh invisible little critters

birds of the devil with their ringing

with their useless feathers.

I only want to caress them

to see them resplendent.

I want to see them living.

I want to converse with them

sitting on my shoulders.

You can't touch them.

You can hear them like a heavenly

rustle or movement.

They converse with precision.

They repeat their observations.

They brag of how much they do.

They comment on everything that exists.

And by a sure science they know

where there are harvests of grain.

-Pablo Neruda