Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Leaving Wyoming and Heading West: Watery Wednesday

Greetings From Battle Mountain, Nevada

I finished all of my work a couple days ago and headed south into Utah. I camped in some of the mountainous area in the northeast part of the state. While driving south out of Utah I found a Western Scrub Jay which was my first for Wyoming. Yesterday I drove west and was able to see the Great Salt Lake which is very impressive. The birds around the lake are good too, but I didn't bird too much since I went through in the heat of the day. I made it into Nevada and decided to get a hotel room so I didn't have to suffer through the heat of the Nevada desert.

A beautiful creek in the mountains of Utah.

Tomorrow I will arrive at the airport in Reno to pick up my mom, dad, and brother then will be heading to California. We are going to be spending time in San Fransisco, Eureka, and Yosemite. I should see many birds including many species I have not seen in the past.

Check out more great Watery Wednesday Posts here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Bear Encounter

Greetings from Lander, Wyoming

I haven't been spending much time in libraries over the past few days so I haven't had internet access for a few days. I had a few mornings of work in Shoshone National Forest southeast of Grand Teton National Park and one morning of work east of Yellowstone National Park so I decided to visit both parks. I visited both parks last summer with my brother and dad but there is definitely many areas I have yet to explore. I like Grand Teton National Park much more than Yellowstone so I spent most of my time exploring it. I spent one morning in Yellowstone and birded and photographed around Yellowstone Lake. This lake in the largest mountainous lake in the country.

This is the beautiful Yellowstone Lake.

I decided to spend most of yesterday at a lake in Grand Teton National Park that is supposed to be good for Calliope Hummingbirds unfortunately I never found one but many other birds were around. I had my first Hammond's Flycatcher and the number of Red-naped Sapsuckers was overwhelming. There were also Barrow's Goldeneyes on the lake and a drumming Ruffed Grouse in one of the Aspen stands. As I was heading back to my car I came over a small hill which happened to be hiding a bear on the other side.

I was a little too close for comfort at only about 40 feet. I thought there were two but only got a look at one. They were very close to the trail so I decided to turn around and walk around the lake the other way. As I was headed the other way I ran into three ladies who all had bear spray so I followed them back through the area. On the way back we talked to a few hikers who had come through the area I had seen the bear and nobody had seen it so I thought it must have wandered off. When we were about 500 feet past the area I had seen it the first time I heard something scratching a tree. I turned around and could see a bear through the trees. She was not alone however, she had two cubs with her who had climbed up one of the trees. She was on her hind legs with her paws on the tree her cubs were in and staring in our direction.

Luckily, she decided we weren't a real threat and stayed close to her cubs. It was very interesting to know she had been there the whole time and about 15 hikers had gone by that point without realizing they were very close to a family of bears. I had seen bears from inside a car before but until you see one when you are hiking you really haven't experienced a bear in the best way.

Goose Pond Spoonbill Makes Local News

With my recent posts about Goose Pond FWA I thought that some of you might be interested to know that the Roseate Spoonbill has attracted the attention of two local television stations, WISH-TV and WXIN Fox, in Indianapolis. Both sent reporters and cameramen to the property and interviewed both Lee Sterrenburg, a frequent Goose Pond birder, and Brad Feaster, the property manager. It is great to see that the property is getting the attention that it deserves and just maybe this will lead the surrounding communities to realize the potential economic effects of quality natural areas.

You can see the segments by following these links:

WISH-TV (the better segment in my opinion):


It's great to see local media taking an interest in the birds!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Holy Grail of Mountain Birds - Watery Wednesday

The last three days of birding in the Bighorn Mountains have been the best birding I have had this summer. I camped in the middle of the forest to be close to a transect that I had to do the next day and the transect turned out to be great. I heard a woodpecker drumming and it didn't sound right for any of the common woodpeckers so I tried to find it. Luckily, I was successful and was able to watch my first Three-toed Woodpecker for the next five minutes. I also found a Red-tailed Hawk nest, a Pine Grosbeak, and a few Cassin's Finch.

As always when I am out photographing I have my binoculars and am always on the lookout for birds. I didn't have many more birds to hope for in the Bighorns but you never know what you will run into when hiking in the mountains. I had set up to photograph the sunset next to a meadow creek. When I looked up from my camera I saw a hawk coming in over the trees. My first thought was Northern Goshawk but I have been trying to make every hawk I see into a Goshawk so I had to get my bins on him to believe myself. He banked over the trees and started heading the other way. The views of his grey back, pale underside, and huge size made it an easy id but a very exciting 20 seconds. He soon moved back into the trees and disappeared from view. (I consider the Gos to be the holy grail of mountain birds.)

I saw the Gos over the trees across this creek.

The Bighorn Mountains: West Tensleep Lake - SkyWatch Friday

While birding I always look for places that will be good for photography. When I arrived at West Tensleep Lake I knew it would be good. It took over a week to get a sky that wasn't just gray and I never got the type of sunset I wanted but I did have one that turned out to be interesting.

This shot was taken at 7:35 pm.
This shot was taken at 7:55 pm.
This shot was taken at 8:16 pm.

This shot was taken at 8:21 pm.

Check out more great SkyWatch Friday posts here.

First Indiana State Record: Roseate Spoonbill

As I got up at 4:45am on Saturday to head to Goose Pond FWA, I had a feeling that I would have a fantastic day of birding. As it turns out, I was not mistaken. I arrived on the property at 7:30am and quickly started finding some of the awesome summer residents. There were Blue Grosbeaks singing from the telephone wires as well as many Dickcissels. I could also hear numerous Northern Bobwhites doing their “bob WHITE” calls and Eastern Meadowlarks singing beautifully.

While trying to get to the first unit that I planned to bird, I ran into a major problem. The road was completely flooded over from both directions and was way too deep for me to drive across. I quickly changed my plans and headed to a large pulloff along SR-59 to see if I could find any of the rarities that had been reported. Right as I pulled up, I noticed a large group of Egrets feeding in the marsh and immediately noticed 3 smaller egrets among the 40 or more Great Egrets. Once I got my scope out and put it on the group, I was able to see the beautiful orange coloration on their heads, necks, and backs. This allowed me to identify them as Cattle Egrets.

Just after looking at the Cattle Egrets, I found my first rarity of the day when a single Fulvous Whistling-Duck flew over SR-59 and landed in GP16. This was the first time I had seen this species in Indiana and only the third or fourth time I had ever seen this bird. Unfortunately, it landed deep in the marsh out of sight. I continued on to the parking area by the new tern island where I meet up with Lee Sterrenburg and Jeff McCoy, two well-known Indiana birders. Although Lee had to leave shortly thereafter, Jeff and I spent the rest of the morning birding together.

Since the tern island is not yet complete and it sticks out a long way into the marsh, we hiked out to the end of the island to get a better view. We were looking specifically for the ducks that had been seen and reported as possible Mottled Ducks, and we did find the four individuals in question. They were at quite a distance, but I am personally not convinced as of yet that they are truly Mottled Ducks. I would have to see them at much closer range to be sure.

Just before we were about to head back to the parking area, three terns flew into view. The first one I saw was a Black Tern but the other two were smaller and white. After a quickly study of the two terns, we identified them as Least Terns, a very good record for the property. As we watched them fly away from us, they were joined by a third individual and possibly a fourth.

We then headed back to SR-59 to search for the Roseate Spoonbill. As we set up our scopes and started to scan, Jeff found the spoonbill sleeping behind some reeds. Over the next 15 minutes, the bird woke up and started to walk around and feed. It then took flight, giving us some awesome views. It settled back into a large bush in plain sight for all that had gathered to see. This individual is the first state record for Indiana and has been on the property for about three weeks now.

For the five and a half hours that I spent on the property, I had almost 50 species, including most of the resident breeding birds. I highly recommend that every that has the opportunity visit this property.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Birding this Weekend - Goose Pond FWA

This weekend, I will be birding at Goose Pond FWA in southwest Indiana. This is the best place to bird in Indiana during the summer and possibly throughout the year. Currently there is one first state record, Roseate Spoonbill, and two rare ducks, Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, at this property. There have also been reports of a group of 6 possible Mottled Ducks, but that has not as of yet been confirmed.

I have seen a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in Indiana before. It was at Goose Pond last summer, but I have not seen any of the other species in Indiana. With all of these rare birds in the area, you might wonder what it is about Goose Pond that attracts all these amazing southern birds. Goose Pond was a wetland up until the 1960s when it was drained so that the area could be used for farming. In 2000, NRCS, Natural Resource Conservation Service, bought a permanent easement on some of the former wetlands. After they began to restore the property, the Indiana DNR purchased the 8,034 acre site in 2005 for $8,000,000.

The restoration process continued and was finally finished in the summer of 2008. The end result is one of the best wetland complexes in the Midwest. As more and more people learn about the possibilities of birding at this fantastic location, I believe that birders from all over the country, or at least the Midwest, will flock to this site in large numbers. Goose Pond may end up being a great example of how birding and conservation can lead to economic gain for the surrounding communities - in this case, Linton, Indiana.

One of the most recent additions to Goose Pond is an island that will be set up for the possibility of nesting Least Terns. Although it seems like a stretch to have Least Terns nest here (as there is currently only one nesting colony in Indiana), three individuals were spotted over the area last week. This could be great news for the endangered Interior Least Tern population. This population has only about 7,000 pairs, and it would be great to see it expand its range in Indiana.

So, this weekend I will be looking for all of these recently reported rarities as well as the multitude of local breeders. I am hoping to find both bittern species, Blue Grosbeak, Bell’s Vireo, Sedge Wren, and Henslow’s Sparrow. I am also hoping to find another rare bird for the property. With all these southern specialties showing up, you never know what might be found next!

I always enjoy any opportunity I get to explore more of Goose Pond, and I am sure that this weekend will be no exception! If you are interested in visiting Goose Pond FWA, check out our guide to birding the area here. If you have any questions or would like more information about visiting the site, please contact us!

Where do you plan to bird this weekend?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Few More Alaska Pictures: SkyWatch Friday

Here are a few more pictures from my trip to Alaska. The first two are of a sunset that we watched one night while having dinner. The other two shots were taken from the plane as we flew from Dallas to Seattle. The scenery that you fly over on that flight is incredible.

Sunset from the Ship

Another shot of the same sunset.

View of the mountains on the flight from Dallas to Seattle.

Another picture from the airplane.

For more great SkyWatch Friday Posts click here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Bighorn Mountains: Watery Wednesday

Greetings from Buffalo, Wyoming

Over the past few days I have been working in the Bighorn Mountains. Since the snowstorm dropped a couple inches we haven't had any more snow but it has still rained on most days. Some of the highlights lately have been many Moose including a few bulls, a flock of 250+ Rosy-Finches consisting mostly of Black, and finally seeing and hearing Western Wood-Pewee. The Wood-Pewees are very common birds but did not arrive until early June. I also birded some areas in the foothills of the Bighorns and was able to find Bobolink and Sharp-tailed Grouse. Although I am missing the amazing number of rarities being found at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area including a first state record Roseate Spoonbill I wouldn't trade places with any of the Indiana birders.

One of the many beautiful creeks in the Bighorn Mountains.

This is one of the areas I camped. I usually try to stay away from campgrounds because it is cheaper and many times there are cooler areas to camp.

See other Watery Wednesday posts here.

Mendenhall Wetlands

While traveling in Alaska last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Mendenhall Wetlands in Juneau. This is the most well-known birding location in Juneau, and it’s very obvious why after spending only a short amount of time there. I was able to visit the site with Mark Schwan, the president of the Juneau Audubon Society. He taught me a lot about this amazing birding site as well as a few of the other local hotspots.

The wetlands cover 3,764 acres and 9 miles of the Gastineau Channel, and there are many access points and areas that are worth a visit. The wetlands are a major stopover for shorebirds and waterfowl as well as home to numerous other wonderful birds.

In addition to being an awesome place to bird, Mendenhall Wetlands is a globally recognized Important Bird Area. This means that this site host a over 1% of the North American population of a species at one time or over 5% of the population for a whole season. Mendenhall Wetlands doesn’t just qualify due to one species; they actually host 15 species that qualify under these criteria including four species, Surfbird, American Golden-Plover, Rock Sandpiper, and Short-billed Dowitcher, are on the Audubon WatchList.

This site has recorded 256 species of birds and that represent 83% of the birds seen in the whole Juneau area. Birders have been flocking to this area for a long time and once birder from the area has recorded over 15,000 observations from the area!

The major attraction for visiting birders is the mouth of the Mendenhall River which hosts huge numbers of shorebirds. During the right season you may even find thousands of shorebirds at this location. Many rare shorebirds have also been found in this area including Bar-tailed Godwit.

We only had time to visit one area within the wetlands, so we chose to visit the Dike Trail. While we arrived at a rather bad time for birding (early afternoon), it was a great place to be. As we hiked around, we found a few interesting species, but the main highlight was just getting to see this amazing property. It is truly a huge property when you start walking around, and while I only had one hour to , I can definitely see how you could spend a whole day or more here.

To learn more about this great place to bird and the conservation issues facing this property, check out The Mendenhall Wetlands: a globally recognized Important Bird Area by Robert Armstong.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Birding Daniel Boone National Forest: Lifer #455

On Saturday, June 6, my wife and I headed down to Daniel Boone National Forest to seek out a Swainson’s Warbler. This would be a lifer for both of us (lifer #455 for me) and really the first chance that either of us has had to find this species. We left home at 5:30am for the hour and forty-five minute drive to our first stop, Natural Bridge State Park.

Natural Bridge is one of Kentucky’s oldest state parks and is a fantastic place to hike and to find breeding warblers during the summer months. In addition to the Swainson’s Warbler that we were looking for, the park has Hooded, Kentucky, Black-throated Green, Pine, Black-and-white and Worm-eating Warblers, and Ovenbird as well as a few others. It was immediately evident that the park contained a large concentration of Hooded Warblers as you can hear them singing as soon as you enter the park.

Most of the trails start by the inn so we parked there and went in to pick up a trail map so that we wouldn’t get lost. We set off down the trail and quickly found nearly all of the breeding warblers. I had heard that one of the best places to find Swainson’s Warbler was along the start of Battleship Rock Trail so that is where we began our search. The habitat along the trail is great for this species and it did not take long until I heard the first individual singing. Unfortunately, seeing this species is not quite so easy.

We continued a little farther along this trail and heard one more individual, but we again could not find the bird. We decided to go back and continue along the Original Trail and check out the natural bridge. Along this trail we had many of the species that I have already mentioned and were also able to find a Louisiana Waterthrush and a surprising Chestnut-sided Warbler. It was a semi-difficult hike since it was uphill most of the way, but the views once we got to the bridge were worth it.

As we approached the bridge, we found a Worm-eating Warbler sitting out in the open that allowed us to view it for several minutes until another person came along and scared it off. As I attempted to follow the bird, another bird popped into view. It was my lifer Swainson’s Warbler. It only stayed for a few seconds but I got amazing looks at this highly secretive species! Unfortunately, my wife did not get to see this individual, but we will definitely be back to this area.

Once on top of the bridge, we found a pair of Pine Warblers feeding their fledglings. We were able to watch from very close range as the adults were too busy feeding their hungry babies to even notice us. It was the first time I had ever observed this species with young.

After a couple more hours of hiking, we headed over to the Red River Gorge to have our picnic and take another hike. This area has many of the same birds as the state park, and we did not end up adding any species while birding here. The highlight of our hike was seeing the only natural bridge in the Red River Gorge that is created by a river. After almost 4 miles of hiking, we headed for home exhausted but very happy with our awesome day of birding!

The following pictures are a few of my favorites from the day.

View of Natural Bridge from below.

Tiny passage way that you must travel through to make it up to the top of the natural bridge.

View of Natural Bridge from a scenic lookout.

For those who are unable or unwilling to make the hike,
a Skylift is available to take you to the top.

Worm-eating Warbler

Rock Bridge in the Red River Gorge

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Snowy Bighorn Mountains - SkyWatch Friday

Greetings from Sheridan, Wyoming

Crazy Woman Creek after some of the snow had fallen.

After being able to complete one morning of work in the Bighorns the weather turned to rain/snow/sleet. It was mostly just rain for the first day or so but when I woke up one morning I quickly learned that anything can happen even in June in the Bighorns. There ended up being about 3 or so inches of snow in lots of areas and there was even snow in the lower elevations of the mountains.

Mountains in the Bighorns.

I have found two pairs of Barrow's Goldeneyes, Black Rosy-Finch, and Cassin's Finch among many other species of birds. I also found a herd of about 20 Elk and in a different area saw 2 Moose.

This is one of the ponds that I have found Barrow's Goldeneyes.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Drumming Ruffed Grouse - Watery Wednesday

Greetings from Sheridan, Wyoming

A few days ago I had some work to do just south of Shoshone National Forest so I camped in the forest and spent most of a day birding/sleeping/reading/photographing at a lake in the forest. Lots of rain came through in the early afternoon so it took me about 3 hours just to see 10 species of birds. It was very quiet and the lake was completely devoid of birds. As it got into the evening hours the birds started to show up and I had Common Merganser and Ring-necked Duck on the lake. I was also able to watch an Osprey make an unsuccessful then a successful dive for a fish. I also had a Mountain Chickadee come within 3 feet of me. The Mountain Chickadees are very curious birds. As I was getting ready for sunset to photograph the lake I heard a Ruffed Grouse "drumming". I hiked up the trail to try to find it and eventually was able to watch it "drumming" and preening for about 10 minutes before it moved farther into the forest. "Drumming" is when a Ruffed Grouse flaps its wings to make a noise that sounds like drums to attract a mate.

Follow this link to watch one at it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_lkj9SRTEI&feature=related

If I turned around from this spot on the lake I could almost see the Ruffed Grouse.

Now I am in the Bighorn Mountains and have been snowed on for the past two days. Many pics of this beautiful mountain range are to come.

A scenic creek in the Snowy Range.


Many of the pictures that you have seen me post from Alaska were all taken with a lens that I rented from www.borrowlenses.com. I have a Nikon D50 camera body but do not have a lens that is good for the type of wildlife photography I was hoping to do on my trip, so I choose to rent a lens. I decided that my best lens option would be a Nikon 80-400mm zoom and after looking at several other companies, I settled on Borrow Lenses for a few different reasons.

The first and most important feature that Borrow Lenses offers is the lack of a required security deposit on the lens. Many of the other companies that I considered renting the lens from required a deposit equal to the original value of the lens. That would have been a deposit of $1,800, and while I didn’t expect to have anything happen to the lens, I really don’t like having an extra $1,800 sitting on my credit card.

Borrow Lenses also had the lowest rental price of any of the companies that I considered. They also offer two different shipping options allowing you to control the price of shipping as well. Another great feature was their reasonably priced insurance. While I didn’t think anything would happen to the lens, you never know what can happen when traveling. It was nice to know that I was insured for only $14.00 for the whole two weeks. (Insurance rates vary depending on the item you are renting).

They also have a large selection of camera bodies, lenses, and other accessories for both Canon and Nikon. If you are considering purchasing some new equipment but would like to test it out first, I would highly recommend renting it from Borrow Lenses as they seem to have all the newest items. This gives you the ability to test a product prior to purchasing something that ends up not working for your particular needs.

I only had one small issue when renting the lens from Borrow Lenses. After ordering the lens and getting confirmation that it would be available on time, I received a call from Borrow Lenses informing me that the person who had last rented the lens did not return it on time. To remedy the problem, they offered to send it to me using overnight shipping free of charge (I had originally selected two day shipping), and the lens would arrive only one day late. Luckily, I had built in a few extra days in case a situation such as this was to occur. I ended up receiving the lens in plenty of time for my trip.

I highly recommend Borrow Lenses for your camera lens rental needs. While the shipping can get a little pricey (these tend to be heavy items), it is still much cheaper than having to purchase the lens itself. They also offer the added bonus of local pickup if you happen to live in the San Francisco area.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Birding by Cruise Ship

I must admit that when I first considered how productive birding from a cruise ship might be, I was not expecting much. Although I had a room with a veranda and my spotting scope, I knew it would be a challenge to find and then identify the many seabirds that I had never seen before.

There are several thoughts on the best way to bird on a cruise ship - some like to get as close to the water as possible to get better views of birds that remain near to the ship; others prefer to get to a high point towards the front of the ship for a better view. I personally preferred the comfort of my verandah. It allowed for a great view of one whole side of the ship and gave me enough time to find the birds in my scope before they got behind the ship. I also spent a little time in the crow’s nest (the highest point on the boat where I could still be inside). This also offered a great view, but the tinted and angled windows made viewing difficult.

Just before the trip, I was pleasantly surprised to find an article in Winging It Vol. 21, no. 2 April 2009 (a quarterly publication by the American Birding Association) all about birding by cruise ship in Alaska. What great luck for that to come out right before I left! The article was written by Bruce Whittington and offered many great tips that really made my birding experience much more fun. If you are traveling to Alaska by cruise ship, this is a must read article. Unfortunately, this article can only be found if you are an ABA member.

While it was a challenge, it was very rewarding to bird this part of the country by ship. I found very few birds as we sailed out of Seattle, but the birding quickly improved during our day at sea. Since nearly every bird I saw was a lifer, it was a fantastic day for me. I haven’t had so many lifers in one day in many years.

The biggest recommendation that I have for people attempting to bird by cruise ship is to be patient. Not all areas had large concentrations of birds. Stay on the balconies for extended periods of time and be sure to have your binoculars with you at all times because you never know when you will see a bird flying by.

We also spent some daylight hours at sea while traveling between ports. The Inside Passage can be almost as rewarding as the open ocean and offers the opportunity to find different species than you find at sea. There were huge groups of White-winged Scoters totaling more individuals than I had seen in my whole life and also many Pelagic Cormorants and Pacific Loons.

I had two major highlights while cruising though the Inside Passage. The first was my lifer Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel that I found while we went past St. Lazaria Island near Sitka. This is a remarkable bird that I hope to get much closer to on future trips. The second highlight was the small groups of Brant that continually flew past our ship while traveling from Ketchikan to Victoria. I had never seen a Brant before but got great scope views from my verandah.

Overall, I had a great experience birding from the cruise ship, but it was difficult to get used to at first. The ship is moving, the birds are moving, and it can be a challenge to actually get the birds in your scope. Also, if the birds are moving in the opposite direction of the ship, they pass by very quickly. It’s better to use your binoculars to attempt to identify these individuals.

A cruise is a great way for a birder and a non-birding friend or relative to have a ton of fun on the same trip. My wife’s family was with us on the trip, and by the end my wife had lost her binoculars to her sister because she was enjoying finding the birds and other wildlife so much. Also, the ships offer many entertainment options, so if you ever tire of birding (which I never did) you can always find something else to do on board.

As you have seen from my previous posts, there is some excellent birding to be done when you are in port. Be sure to check out A Birder’s Guide to Alaska by George West to find out about all the best birding spots while in port.

If you have any questions about birding on a cruise or want to share your experiences, please feel free to comment on this post!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Alaska Day 6: Victoria, British Columbia: Orca - SkyWatch Friday

The final stop on our cruise was in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. We decided two days before that we would do an excursion that was planned through the ship and settled on an orca, or Killer Whale, watching trip. While we were not guaranteed to see orca, we had heard good things about the chances of finding this species around Victoria, and we were definitely not disappointed.

It took about 30-40 minutes to get to the best orca area, but we got our first individual only minutes after arriving. This individual's name was Mike and he is a part of one of the resident pods, J-pod (J26). The crew running the excursion were very knowledgeable and answered all of our many questions. After about 30 minutes of watching Mike, we moved on to find more whales.

After just a few more minutes moving at top speed, we spotted more whales. This time we were especially lucky. We had come across a mother name Princess Angeline (J17) with her young calf that had only been born in early February (J44, name TBD) as well as two of her older offspring. The calf stuck close to its mother as she came closer and closer to our boat. It was amazing to watch the huge mother orca with her tiny baby. While we weren't able to capture the mom and calf, one of the guys on the crew got some great shots. They can be found on the company's blog - http://orcaspirit.blogspot.com/2009_05_01_archive.html. (Scroll about one-fifth of the way down the page and look for Saturday, May 23rd.)

I also was able to observe and photograph a Rhinoceros Auklet at very close range. It was awesome to watch the Auklet so closely, but the photos are a little blurry due to the lack of good lighting and choppy seas.

It was my most memerable experience of the whole trip, and I highly recommend that anyone that travels to the area take an orca watching trip! We really liked the company that we went out with, and I would recommend them to everyone. They're called Orca Spirit Adventures and you can find out more about them by clicking here.

Below are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Mike coming to the surface

This behavior, known as kelping, is done because the
orca enjoy the feeling of the kelp on their skin.

Orca coming to the surface

Female dorsal fins can be up to 4 feet tall while the
males can reach 7 feet. This is a female.

Rhinoceros Auklet

Rhinoceros Auklet

Sunset from the boat

To learn more about the resident pods of this area, the Center for Whale Research (http://www.whaleresearch.com/) has a catelogue of each pod that can be used for identifying whales and also has some great orca facts.

Check back tomorrow to learn more about birding from cruise ships!

Check out more great SkyWatch Friday Posts here.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Alaska Day 5: Ketchikan

Of all the cities that we visited, I did the least amount of birding in Ketchikan. This is one city that is just not easy to bird from a cruise ship. I know that if you have the chance to drive the roads on the outskirts of the city there are some magnificent birding opportunities, but there's not much close to the docks.

That said, I did still have a few good birds. I got a great photograph of a Red-breasted Sapsucker after my wife found it and called me over. It was only there a few seconds but I managed to snap three shots before it flew. I also finally got a great look at Townsend's Warbler. After having heard this species many times throughout the trip, it was very rewarding to get long looks at this beautiful warbler!

Other than those species, the birds were few and far between. I did manage to find two American Dippers along a creek and found my only Violet-green Swallow of the trip while at the Lumberjack Show.

We took a beautiful walk along Creek Street. Creek Street really isn't a street at all but a boardwalk with shops that follows a rushing creek. The creek in this area is known for its salmon runs, but we were there out of salmon season and therefore saw no salmon at all.

Below are a few of my pictures from our short time in Ketchikan.

Saw this shirt in a window and just had to take a picture.
Creek Street had a large brothel on it during Ketchikan's time as a logging town.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

City Park where I finally saw a Townsend's Warbler

Be sure to check back tomorrow to hear about my Orca watching trip in Victoria, British Columbia!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Medicine Bow National Forest

Greetings from Laramie, Wyoming

Me sitting on a rock after making a difficult climb. It was only difficult because of course I had to have my tripod up there.

Since my last post I took a quick trip into the Snowy Range looking for Brown-capped Rosy-Finch without success. I along with another field tech, Thomas, hiked around in the deep snow of up to 6 or 7 feet where it was drifted making birding difficult. Over the past day I have been working and hanging out in the Medicine Bow National Forest. After being in Laramie for the afternoon I drove up the mountains to my camp. A storm had moved in and dropped over 3 inches of hail in some places. Some fellow campers told us that the hail had been golf ball sized at times.

I really liked the texture on this dead tree against the rock. (the tree in the background is an Aspen)

To do one of my bird surveys I hiked into an area about 2.5 km from the nearest road. It was a very cool place and had many birds. But the highlight was the numerous Elk, many of which were just starting to get there antlers. Cool birds included Steller's Jay, Red Crossbill, and Hermit Thrush. I also heard a Canyon Wren but was unable to find it making the score Canyon Wren: 35, Eric: 0. I still have yet to see this bird but have heard it many times. On my hike back to my car I found a Green-tailed Towhee nest with four eggs in a small sage bush. Unfortunately I did not have my camera so I can not share it with all of you.

This was taken in the Vedauwoo area. Common Ravens and White-throated Swifts nested on the rock walls.

The rain and sleet have now moved in so my photography has suffered a bit. I found an amazing place that is a very popular climbing area called Vedauwoo. It is also an awesome place to see and photograph. If only the clouds would thin out a bit.

The fog and rain moved in this morning making my work impossible so I went to the Vedauwoo area to photograph some rocks in the fog.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Alaska Day 4: Sitka, Totem Park and Alaska Raptor Center: Watery Wednesday

As we sailed into Sitka, it became very obvious how beautiful the area surrounding this city is. Sitka Sound, the body of water that Sitka sits directly on, is covered with small rocky islands with many pine trees on them. Most are uninhabited but a few have huge, beautiful homes on them that can only be reached by boat. It must be quite a place to live.

This was also the first stop at which we had to have a tender to get to land. Tender is when the cruise ship cannot get right up to the docks and must anchor out in the bay and therefore you must ride smaller boats up to the dock.

This is one of the many tender boats that were running back and forth to the cruise ship all day.

After getting off the tender, I immediately noticed a shorebird working its way along some rocky coastline. I was able to quickly relocate the bird and identify it as my lifer Wandering Tattler. It was exciting to start the day off with such a great bird!

We then quickly headed off to Sitka National Historic Park or Totem Park. This park has many totem poles and magnificent views of the sound in addition to numerous bird species. The pine trees at this park are so dense that it is extremely difficult to find the birds even when you can hear them. Needless to say, knowing the bird's songs was very important in this park. When I would hear something that was new for me, I would have to spend a considerable amount of time finding the individual that was singing. I was rewarded for my efforts with a wonderful look at a Chestnut-backed Chickadee. The rocky shores in the park were also productive. I found Harlequin Duck, Whimbrel, Long-billed Dowitcher, and a juvenile Glaucous-winged Gull. The following five pictures were all taken within the park.

View of Mt. Edgecomb from Totem Park

Our cruise ship

Sitka Sound

Totem Pole

Totem Pole
After birding in Totem Park, we headed over to check out the Alaska Raptor Center. This place is really amazing and their work has saved hundreds if not thousands of raptors over the years. Please watch for a follow up post to learn more about the center and how you can donate to help them continue to serve injured raptors throughout Alaska.
Me in front of the Alaska Raptor Center Sign

The Alaska Raptor Center

Bald Eagle at the Alaska Raptor Center

Be sure to check back and continue to follow my awesome trip to Alaska!