Sunday, March 31, 2013

Patagonia-Rufous-backed Robin

Eric writes: Greetings from Tucson,

I had some time to bird this holiday weekend, and with a Rufous-backed Robin in Patagonia, that was the direction I headed.  My first stop was at Florida Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains to look for a pair of Rufous-capped Warblers.  I had never birded this canyon and I was sorry it took so long for me to bird here for the first time!  The habitat is spectacular; the trail splits and goes up two different canyons.  One is relatively dry and the other is lush.  Due to this, you can see completely different species in each canyon.  I dipped on the Rufous-capped Warbler but it was good to see the layout of the area and I will be back sometime soon to look again!

Cactus Wren-one of the species that inhabits
the dry hillsides of Florida Canyon
Rufous-crowned Sparrow-another species of the dry hillsides
Black-throated Gray Warbler-many of these were
using the canyon both days I visited
The next morning after birding Florida Canyon for a second time, I headed down to Patagonia Lake State to look for a reported Elegant Trogon.  I hiked up and down Sonoita Creek, saw many birds, birded with a lady (I am spacing on her name) from California, but never saw the trogon.  I wasn't too disappointed since I will see this species later in the year when they start breeding in some of the mountain canyons.  After we gave up on the trogon, the birder from California and I headed over to Spirit Tree B&B and ran into a birding couple (again, sorry, spacing on names, I think I need to start writing them down).  After looking around for about 15 minutes, the Rufous-backed Robin was spotted and I was able to get a couple identifiable photos.  An Elf Owl nests nearby so we all waited around for the owl which showed on cue to end a great day of birding.

Rufous-backed Robin
Rufous-backed Robin


Chasing Another Rare Bird at Goose Pond

Rob writes: Yesterday I went to Goose Pond FWA in search of the reported Spotted Redshank originally observed on Thursday. This is the first time ever that a redshank has been seen in Indiana and is one of very few inland records from North America. Goose Pond seems to be a magnet for rare shorebird,s and this is the second species in the past year seen on the property that should be all the way in Europe and Asia!

When my wife and I arrived at 8am, there was nothing to be seen at all! The fog was so thick that you could barely see more than 50 feet in front of you. We were on a tight schedule because I had to be all the way back in Indianapolis (about a 2 hour drive) for work at 1:30, and I was extremely worried about my chances of seeing this bird. While waiting for the fog to wear off, it was fun to talk with all of the birders that had come to the property for this rarity - some all the way from Texas and Pennsylvania.

At 10:30 the fog started to clear, and by 10:45 it was completely gone. Lee Sterrenburg got a call from another group of birders that they had found the bird in another field, and everyone rushed off in search of the bird. Luckily, I was one of the first people to arrive (it was half-mile hike), and I saw the bird right away! It stayed for about 3 or 4 minutes and then took flight. It was too quick for me to get photos, but my friend Ryan Sanderson was able to stick around for quite awhile and got some great photos in the afternoon despite the fact that the bird stayed pretty far away.

One of the Spotted Redshank shots from Ryan Sanderson. More shots of this bird can be seen on his Flickr page
Another shot from Ryan, this time of the bird in flight.
I had seen the bird at literally the last possible minute, so I hurried back to the car and quickly left for home. It was a successful trip and I fortunately made it to work right on time.  Have any of you made the trip to Goose Pond to try to see this bird?  What was your experience like, and what did you think of the property?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Testing Out the Digiscope

Rob writes: I am very excited to have just received a Swarovski ATX 85mm Spotting Scope to review. Along with the scope, Swarovski Optik has provided a digiscoping setup that hooks to my Canon 50D! Everything arrived in the mail yesterday and I was so excited to test it out that I rushed out to Eagle Creek Park this morning. Although there were not all that many birds around, this Ring-billed Gull gave me a great opportunity to put the new digiscoping setup to the test!

Not to bad for my first day out with a new digiscoping setup!
I will be posting more photos as I learn more and more about how to better use all of the equipment and will be providing a full review of the product at the end of the loan period that Swarovski has given me!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Birding Southeast Arizona

Eric writes: Greetings from Tucson,

Keep up to date with my bird list at:

Before my training started for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, I had a single day to bird in southeast Arizona.  I camped in the Chiricahuas in Pinery Canyon but didn't spend much time birding in the mountains. Since it is still early spring, the lowlands have many more birds than any mountainous area.  Due to this, I birded Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area and Cochise Lake in Willcox.  

Mexican Jay-while still in the mountains I saw
many of these
Even though Whitewater Draw had practically no water it was still an amazing place.  Sparrows constantly flitting up in front of you and a nice mix of shorebirds and waterfowl using the small patches of open water awaited at every step.  The raptors overhead only added more excitement to the show.  

I had birded Cochise Lake a few times before my visit and knew what to expect . . . tons of birds everywhere.  I wasn't disappointed but I did find a different mix of birds than when I have been there in the past in the late summer.  Instead of being loaded with shorebirds it was loaded with waterfowl.  Many species of ducks were accompanied by Snow, Ross's, and Greater White-fronted Geese.  Even the passerines put on a show with one McCown's Longspur mixed in with many Chestnut-collared Longspurs and my first of season Western Kingbird.  

A pair of American Wigeons at Cochise.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lesser Prairie Chickens at Milnesand Prairie Preserve

Eric writes: Greetings from Tucson,

From Austin, Texas I drove west to the Roswell, New Mexico area.  This part of eastern New Mexico is comprised of grasslands with a number of rivers creating wetlands.  The Lesser Prairie-Chicken specializes in these grasslands  in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Colorado.

Lesser Prairie-Chicken
The Prairie-Chicken was also another of the species that would be a lifer for me on my drive out to Tucson.  I had one location in mind to try first, and boy was I glad I did.  The lek was right next to the road and the chickens were very easy to watch.  I spent two mornings watching the chickens; the first was great but I didn't know where to park and didn't want to move once the chickens were displaying, the second morning the weather was terrible; very windy and cloudy so the chickens didn't display for as long and the light was never good.  
A beautiful Eastern Meadowlark at the prairie-chicken lek.
After spending one morning at the lek, I headed to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.  I hadn't heard of this refuge but just saw a sign so went to check it out on a whim.  It was an extremely productive stop with lots of waterfowl.  I could only imagine how awesome this refuge was before the birds started heading north; I guess I will just have to make another visit!

Northern Shoveler

Monday, March 25, 2013

Birding Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Eric writes: Greetings from Tucson, AZ

To follow along with my species list go to:

On my way west across the great state of Texas I made a couple of stops.  One was at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge.  I didn't realize beforehand, that neither my Delorme Texas map nor my GPS in my car would show Balcones Canyonlands so getting there was a bit tricky.  It is located just west of Austin, which is one of the worst traffic cities I have ever driven through.  It wouldn't have been nearly as bad but my gps took me directly to the traffic, then said I had arrived when I was in the middle of the city.  Luckily, I had looked at Google Maps when I was planning my trip and had a rough idea of where the park was located.  It still took me a couple hours, mostly because of the traffic, to get to a place 15 minutes away.  The light was fading by the time I arrived, so I went to a campground nearby.

Such a beautiful warbler, the Golden-cheeked!

The above Golden-cheeked was cooperative enough to sing from a tree
directly above this rock . . . can't get much easier than that.

The next morning, I drove over to the refuge, and while getting out of my car heard my first Golden-cheeked Warbler.  I had only heard this species in the past, so I knew it might be difficult to locate one.  I was wrong; I was able to watch one individual for over 30 minutes as it foraged and sang.  Some other nice birds were Pine Siskin (never thought I would hear GCWA and PISI simultaneously), Western Scrub-Jay, and Black-crested Titmouse.


Answer to Bird Quiz #166 - Broad-winged Hawk

This week's quiz was extremely tough and not many answers were submitted because of that. Only three people got the answer right this week!

Last Week's Quiz:

How to Identify:

I think we can safely start by saying that everyone was able to figure out that this was some species of bird of prey and more specifically a hawk. From there, it gets much trickier. One of the first steps is to determine that age of this bird. From the streaking on the chest, we can see that it is transitioning from juvenile to adult plumage. The best feature to look at on this bird is the shape and color of the barring on the chest. The brownish color and spacing of the barring lead us to identify this as a Broad-winged Hawk rather than a Red-shouldered Hawk that would be more red in color and show denser barring.

Next Quiz:

The next and final quiz in our March quiz series can be found here

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Birding Bolivar Peninsula

Eric writes: Greetings from Tucson, AZ

I have arrived in Tucson, where I will be based until the end of May, while working for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory.  I should be able to catch up on posting and my species list for my trip (which can be seen at: over the next few days since I will, finally, have internet on a consistent basis.  

Here are a bunch of photos taken on Bolivar Peninsula in Texas, one of the best shorebirding spots on the entire Gulf Coast!

A Dunlin in its subdued nonbreeding plumage.
A very small portion of the 1000 or so American Avocets present!
Long-billed Curlew-look at that bill!
Burrowing Owl-I was watching a Reddish Egret on one side of the road,
only to turn around and find this owl watching me from the other side.
'Nother Dunlin-these guys were pretty bold and got quite close at times.
Marbled Godwit-one of my favorite shorebirds.
Red Knot-I don't get to see this species nearly enough, it had been a few
years.  This was the duller of two present.
Reddish Egret-The egret that I was watching while the Burrowing
Owl watched me.
Western Sandpiper-not exactly colorful but still a beautiful bird.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Bachman's Sparrows in Angelina National Forest

Eric writes: I had read some recent reports of a number of Bachman's Sparrows using the forests of Angelina National Forest in Texas.  This is one species I have had bad luck with and would be a lifer for me.  I arrived early and parked along the road so I could get some things situated in my car, and what did I hear . . . my first Bachman's Sparrow. So I though, "Now, it's going to be easy since I can just follow the song."  Not quite, it took me at least 45 minutes to locate one while listening to 4-5 singing all around me. I had heard that they perch up, and out in the open, but all of the ones in this area were singing from the low vegetation.  

Red-cockaded Woodpecker
Red-cockaded Woodpecker stretching for one more morsel.

After my success with Bachman's Sparrow, I decided to walk a couple of roads that were closed to cars.  The birding was great!  I heard more Bachman's Sparrows, watched a couple of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers foraging for about 20 minutes, and had many Brown-headed Nuthatches and Pine Warblers. After I had my fill of these specialties of the pine forest, I drove along some roads with a mixture of habitats. Many more woodpeckers stole the show with Red-headed and Red-bellied chasing each other, a couple Pileated Woodpeckers, and some flickers.

Cedar Waxwing-a large flock of these was flycatching along the road.
Zebra Swallowtail-one of the most beautiful butterflies.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians

Rob writes: I must admit that I never really thought that I would be writing a review of a book about moss, but it turns out that once you start birding, all of the other aspects of nature tend to become more fascinating as well. When asked if I would like to review Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians by Princeton University Press, I decided that I could not pass up the chance to take a look at a book on a subject that I had never really thought much about.

We see moss pretty much everywhere that we go hiking and birding. Other than the fact that I knew it was indeed moss, I have never given the plant much thought and certainly did not realize that there were so many different species. After reviewing this book, I will likely be taking a little closer look at any moss that I come across!

As someone who has not looked at moss before and knows very little about it, I find the introductory chapters of this book to be incredibly educational. After a quick overview of how to use the book, and some of the key features of different groups of mosses, there comes a section on how to look at mosses. This chapter provides you with the base knowledge that you need in order to begin the process of identifying mosses.

The book is extremely easy to use. The tab system that the authors included helps you to get to relevant species quickly and keeps you from flipping through a multitude of pages that are not going to help you with your identification. In addition to a typical index in the back of the book, the authors have also included an index that is sorted by habitat type. This is a great way to learn what to expect in each habitat before beginning look at mosses in the field.

This book will help anyone that considers themselves a naturalist become more well-rounded in their field and is a very interesting look into a world that most of us are unfamiliar with.

Title: Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians
Authors: Karl McKnight, Joseph Rohrer, Kristen McKnight Ward, and Warren Perdrizet
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication Date: February 24, 2013

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Greater Roadrunner in Arkansas

I didn't have long in Arkansas but figured I would spend a morning looking for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in Ouachita National Forest along Pine-Bluestem Buffalo Road.  I camped in the area so I could be there at sunrise and I was not disappointed.  The morning started off well with a flyover Red Crossbill, which I have since learned is the furthest south that a Red Crossbill has been reported in Arkansas this year.  Tons of Pine Warblers and Eastern Bluebirds warming up in the sun, after a cold night, constantly sang all morning.  

A Red-cockaded Woodpecker in . . . Texas; I couldn't get a photo while
in Arkansas.  So you will probably see this photo again

After a little while, I heard then briefly saw a Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which I had only seen once before.  Their calls are quite unique and make if fairly easy to locate the birds when they are vocalizing.  A few Brown-headed Nuthatches moved by and I decided it was my time to move on and head to Texas!  While heading down the road out of the pine forests and into the fields that come with residential areas . . . a WHAT?  Greater Roadrunner in Arkansas! I had forgotten that this species' range extends into southwest Arkansas.  

A REALLY bad photo of one of two Greater Roadrunners.
To follow along with my species list go to:


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Horseshoe Lake State Park

The view of St. Louis from Horseshoe Lake State Park
My first stop while heading west from Indianapolis was at Horseshoe Lake State Park to look for Eurasian Tree Sparrows.  This species was introduced, just like the House Sparrow, but it has not spread to every corner of the country as the House Sparrow has.  They are mostly found in Illinois and Missouri, mainly around the St. Louis area.  I have driven through the area many times and never looked for this species, so I decided it was time.  I chose Horseshoe Lake State Park as the location to visit due to the diversity of waterfowl that visit the lake during migration.

Hooded Merganser pair
Before leaving for the park, I couldn't find much information about where to, specifically, find the sparrows, so my plan was to just drive around, looking and listening for Eurasian Tree or House Sparrows hoping that they would be hanging out together.  I spent about an hour only finding House Sparrows and searching through the abundant waterfowl.  I needed to quit wasting time, as I still had a long drive ahead of me, so I just started concentrating on the sparrows.  After a little while I figured out the problem, the sparrows were on the other side of the road, across from the park. At least they were still I could see them from the park but I couldn't get any photos.

Pilfink / Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
This is not my photo; to see the photographer's photostream
on flickr go to:
To follow along on my species list go to:


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Answer to Bird Quiz #165 - Wilson's Plover

We received a lot of response to the quiz this week and most people were able to figure the quiz bird out this week!

Last Week's Quiz:

How to Identify:

It was pretty easy for everyone that submitted an answer to decide that this was some species of shorebird and more specifically a plover. Killdeer can be eliminated by the lack of any dark banding on the neck, this also helps us to determine that this bird is in nonbreeding plumage. Piping, Semipalmated, and Snowy Plovers can all be eliminated based solely on the gigantic size of the bill on the bird in this photo. We also know that both Piping and Plovers would be a significantly lighter color on the back. Our only option that we are left with is the Wilson's Plover.

Next Quiz:

The third quiz for March is posted here

Friday, March 15, 2013

Exciting Announcement for Our 600th Post!

Pico Bonito Lodge is one of the best places in
the world to find the Lovely Cotinga!
Rob writes: It's hard to believe that Eric and I have been writing and sharing our stories on this blog for over 4.5 years! A lot has changed since we started. We didn't have up and running when we first started blogging. The website was something that we had tossed around for a long time, but it wasn't until we started telling our birding stories on the blog that we believed we could make a larger birding website work.  The blog allowed us to see that people were actually interested in our birding adventures and photos, so we decided to take a shot at expanding to the full website.

Through our website and associated work, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing groups and meet many spectacular people! I have spoken to many groups around Indiana sharing my passion for birds and have led field trips even farther afield.

The Honduran Emerald is the only
species that is endemic to Honduras.
I'm excited to share that I now have the opportunity to show people even more of the birding world! This July, I will be leading my first international birding tour for Sabrewing Nature Tours. Our destination will be Honduras, with one of the main stops being the famed Pico Bonito Lodge.

The full itinerary can be found on the Sabrewing website by following this link!bird-honduras/c1zxq. We will be looking for some really amazing species such as Honduran Emerald (the only bird endemic to Honduras), Resplendent Quetzal, Lovely Cotinga, and Keel-billed Toucan, among so many others! I hope that you will have the chance to join me in Honduras.  Please feel free to email me with any questions or if you're interested in signing up for the tour.

Keel-billed Motmot
Keel-billed Toucan
Red-capped Manakin

*Thanks to James Adams from Pico Bonito Lodge for the photos!

Book Review: Gifts of the Crow

Rob writes:  Having always loved to watch the American Crows in my area and Common Ravens as I have traveled around the US, I was very excited to read Gifts of the Crow by John Marzluff and Tony Angell. This book tells the amazing stories of corvids around the world. From crows in Russia using plastic lids to slid down steep roofs to New Caledonian Crows using problem solving skills to access food, this book will have you amazed at what this family of birds can accomplish.

The book, while very scientific in areas, is easy to understand as the author takes complex functions of the brain and presents them in such a way that they don't seem so complicated. The author also does a wonderful job of combining both scientific studies with very fun personal and anecdotal observations to provide a very well-rounded view of corvids.

One of the best parts of the book to me was the section on gifts that crows have left for people. The most fascinating story in this this section was about a couple that had saved a crow that was hanging by its feet that were stuck in the slots of a wooden fence. Several months later, what is assumed to be the same crow, showed back up at the couple's home as left gifts such as dead mice and sticks in the exact location where they had saved this bird's life. It's difficult to believe that a bird would do this, but there are several other equally amazing examples in the book!

Gifts of the Crow was released last year in hardcover but is now available for the first time in paperback. I would highly recommend this book for anyone that is interested in animal behavior and anyone that has enjoyed the corvids in their backyard.

We received a copy of this book from the publisher to review on The links are to our Amazon Affiliate account.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

On to the Big Island and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Rob writes: After saying goodbye to Maui with a wonderful dinner at Mama's Fish House (you have to go here when you visit Maui), we headed for the Big Island. We landed in Hilo and after grabbing some shave ice (another must when you are in Hawaii) we headed for our hotel in Volcano Village. Volcano Village is a tiny town on the slopes of the Kilauea Volcano. The town sits on one of the most easily accessible active volcanoes in the world!

By the time we arrived on the first day, I did not have much time to do anything other than bird a little bit around the lodge where we were staying. Luckily, the Volcano Village Lodge has beautiful grounds that make you feel like you are in the middle of the rain forest and there are birds everywhere. Since it was raining pretty had I was unable to get any photos but it was still nice to walk around looking at tons of 'Apapane as well as some of the exotic species that occur in the area.

The next morning we arrived at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park early and went to the Visitor's Center to learn more about the best places to explore. I am always a little hesitant to do this at National Parks as I have found that many times the rangers really don't know as much about the parks as they should but this was not the case here! The rangers in the Visitor Center were the most knowledgeable about both the park and even more shockingly the birds that I have ever run into.

Even though I am typically most concerned with finding birds, even I agreed that our first stop should be at the Halema Ľuma Ľu Crater where you can see the fumes and ash raising from the crater. On our drive over to the Jagger Muesum, where you can view the crater from, I got to see my first Nene! They were on the lawn at the Kilauea Military Camp. This made taking photos of them extremely easy!

My first Nene!
This Pacific Golden-Plover was hanging out with the Nene.
The sight of an active crater spewing fumes and ash into the air is something that I really cannot even begin to describe. We all stood at the over look for a long time just staring into the crater. While that was amazing, it is even better at night when you can see the glow of the lava that is flowing about 100 feet below the opening of the crater but I will talk more about that in another post.It was about at this time when it started to rain. We knew we were in a rain forest and would likely get rained on some while we were here but we had no idea what we were really in store for. Over the next 5 days, there would only be several hours without rain!

The view from the Jagger Museum.
We all decided we would make the best of the situation so we got our rain jackets on and headed out to hike the Pu'u Huluhulu trail which the rangers had recommended to us. The hike was absolutely beautiful and the scenery that you can observe here is different from anything that I have ever seen! The birding was pretty good too! I had both Hawaii 'Amakihi and 'Apapane in the parking lot, Nene in the old lava fields, and many more 'Apapane in a Kipuka (a patch of trees that was surrounded by a lava flow but not run over by it) along the trail.

Some new growth in a crevice in the lava.
By the time we got back to the car we were all thoroughly soaked through and freezing cold. We headed for lunch and then the hotel to warm up and to change into some dry clothes.

In the afternoon, we took a drive down the Chain of Craters Road. While there is not much in the way of birds on this drive, there is nothing quite like driving though old lava flows. The vast amount of nothing but lava is impressive and scary all at the same time. To think about how much land the flows have covered up over the years is really quite impressive. At the end of the road there is a really cool sea arch and if you walk just a little bit down the trail, you can see where a recent lava flow completely buried the road!

The sea arch at the end of Chain of Craters Road.
Our day ended at the Kilauea Lodge talking about all of the amazing things we had seen and eating a wonderful dinner. If you are staying in Volcano, Kilauea Lodge is one of very few restaurants and is by far the best!