Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 Big Birding Year in Review

During 2015, I undertook what I describe as a "Bigger Year Than I Normally Do" (BYTIND). After a goose chase to Pennsylvania and New Jersey in December 2014, my ABA list stood at 688 species. With gas prices remaining low, and with our Prius still getting 50 miles per gallon, it was a good year to try to reach 700. Over the course of the year, Nancy and I traveled to 27 states, never getting on an airplane the entire year. The number of miles driven was...a lot. I didn't keep track! In this process, I recorded my highest ever annual ABA list, ending the year with 495, And we did get ABA species #700, and 701. Brief summaries of our trips are presented below, with links back to the blog postings from the time. At the end, I have included the states we visited with the number of species seen in each state this year (quite a few were just "pass-thru"), and my overall life list in each state.

Our first trip was to Florida in January. Details of this trip can be read in four parts, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here. We had 7 target species: Egyptian Goose, American Flamingo, Black Rail (lifer), Purple Swamphen, Key West Quail-Dove (lifer), Black-hooded Parakeet (lifer), and Budgerigar (lifer). We succeeded in finding 4 of them; #689 was Purple Swamphen, #690 was Key West Quail-Dove, #691 was Egyptian Goose, and #692 was Black-hooded Parakeet.
Egyptian Goose. Florida. January 2015.

Black-hooded Parakeet. Florida. January 2015.

A review of my ABA list during a very cold and snowy February resulted in my finding that I had not taken into account the "split" of Sage Sparrow into Sagebrush Sparrow and Bell's Sparrow, both of which I'd seen more than once, so sitting home watching the snow come down, my ABA list rose to 693 species.

In March, we drove down to east and south Texas. Details of this trip can be read in four parts, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here. On this trip, there were only 5 target species (often in winter Texas hosts many more, but not this year): Aplomado Falcon, Black Rail, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat, Striped Sparrow (lifer and potential ABA first, pending TBRC acceptance), and Blue Bunting. We did manage to see the Striped Sparrow as our first new bird on the trip, but it will not be added to my ABA list unless it is actually accepted onto the ABA list, perhaps in a year or two. The Black Rail proved impossible to find, and both Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Blue Bunting had last been seen about a week before our arrival. So, we left Texas with only Aplomado Falcon as species #694.
Aplomado Falcons. Texas. March 2015.

We stayed in Michigan during the spring, which resulted in one more species for my Michigan list, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck only about 12 miles from home, and a Kirtland's Warbler only 7 miles from our home (a first for my Wayne County list).
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks. Michigan. May 2015.

Kirtland's Warbler. Wayne Co., Michigan. May 2015.

In June, we took a shorter trip to the East Coast, through New Jersey to North Carolina, were I took a pelagic trip out of Cape Hatteras. Details of this trip can be read in two parts; Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Target species included several possible species on the pelagic trip, including Bermuda Petrel, Fea's Petrel, Trindade Petrel, European Storm-Petrel, Red-billed Tropicbird, and Bridled Tern. Alas, none of these made an appearance. But another target species, Black Rail, finally....FINALLY after 37 years of trying, was found in New Jersey and added to our life list, and was ABA species #695.
Cory's Shearwater. North Carolina. June 2015.

Over the summer,  another review of splits by the AOU resulted in Ridgway's Rail being added to my ABA list (#696).

Our last trip of the year was a very long drive, to West Texas where I was attending a hummingbird bander's conference. There were no new ABA species there, but we had a great time, and I also added several species to my Texas list. All 9 target species for my ABA list were in Arizona:  Plain-capped Starthroat (lifer), Rosy-faced Lovebird (lifer), Buff-collared Nightjar, Tufted Flycatcher, Sinaloa Wren (lifer), Rufous-capped Warbler, Slate-throated Redstart, and Five-striped Sparrow (lifer). Details of this trip can be read in four parts: Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here. We succeeded in finding #697 (Plain-capped Starthroat), #698 (Five-striped Sparrow), #699 (Rufous-capped Warbler), #700 (SINALOA WREN), and #701 (Rosy-faced Lovebird).
Adult male Lucifer Hummingbird. Texas. August 2015.

Five-striped Sparrow. Arizona. August 2015.

Rosy-faced Lovebird. Arizona. September 2015.

The rest of the year was spent in Michigan, with good chunks of time devoted to banding at Lake St. Clair Metropark. I tried to break 500 on my annual ABA list, but that would have required a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and by late fall my schedule no longer was open enough to make that possible. Attempts to find species more locally, like Northern Shrike and Ross's Goose, failed. My last new ABA species for the year (#495) was a Golden Eagle in Jackson County, Michigan.
Golden Eagle. Jackson Co., Michigan. November 2015.

Here is a summary of my 2015 bird lists from states visited during the year.Life lists are in parentheses:

ABA - 495 (701)
Lower 48 - 495 (685)
Michigan - 273 (376)

Texas – 263 (400)
Arizona – 163 (277)
Florida – 160 (279)
North Carolina – 115 (198)
Virginia – 96 (211)
South Carolina – 95 (158)
New Jersey – 91 (211)
Georgia – 80 (143)
New Mexico – 79 (207)
Ohio – 78 (289)
Louisiana – 77 (168)
Oklahoma – 77 (123)
Indiana – 71 (194)
Maryland – 62 (145)
Kansas – 51 (131)
Arkansas – 40 (116)
Pennsylvania – 40 (126)
Tennessee – 40 (125)
Colorado – 38 (227)
Missouri – 37 (78)
Delaware – 26 (128)
West Virginia – 26 (114)
Kentucky – 25 (123)
Illinois – 18 (146)
Mississippi – 18 (140)
Alabama – 16 (168)

Next goal, 700 in the Lower 48 states...

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fall Bird Banding at Lake St. Clair Metropark

From 1989-1999, Ellie Cox banded songbirds in an area of Point Rosa marsh that encompased a transition from a swamp woods to cattail marsh, along the maintenance road at Lake St. Clair Metropark, Macomb County, Michigan. For most of those years, I was a regular banding assistant. From 2004-2014, I continued banding in this same area under my own master banding permit. In recent years, efforts have been undertaken to restore the hydrology of these wetlands. In 2014, the banding area became flooded, partly due to these restoration efforts and partly due to above average rainfall, making banding in the area much more difficult. With 10 years of data from Ellie Cox, and 10 years of my own data, it seemed like a good time to end the banding efforts in Point Rosa marsh. So, in 2015 I began looking for a new site within the same park, and during September and October I tried out an area adjacent to the Meadow Loop, close to the Nature Center.

Access to this site is much easier, with almost no mud or water to walk through, and the few volunteers who helped this fall really enjoyed it. Net runs are shorter, as the acreage where the nets are set up is about 3 acres vs. about 7 acres back in the marsh. Sitting in the mowed field adjacent to the banding area has a clear view of the open sky to the north. On one day in late September, when the wind direction shifted from northwest to southwest, suddenly the sky was filled with Broad-winged Hawks. Over 3500 went by that day.
Broad-winged Hawks


On a slow day in late September, I was able to drive around in the parking area looking for a previously reported Buff-breasted Sandpiper, between net runs. I did not find the bird there, but after we closed the nets that day I did find it on the beach.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper

This fall banding was done on 14 days from September 6 - October 25, with nets open 83.75 hours (1005 net hours). The 10-year average in Point Rosa Marsh was 24 days, with nets open an average of 158 hours (1800 net hours). This is about 60% of a full fall season's efforts, and hopefully beginning in 2016 there will be enough volunteers available for a full effort again.

A total of 632 birds of 54 species was banded, plus 41 recaptured (some originally banded in Point Rosa marsh!), for  total of 673 total captures and a capture rate of 66.9 birds per 100 net hours. The 10-year average in Point Rosa marsh was 1714 banded of 70 species, plus 303 recaptured and released unbanded, for an average total of 2017 total captures, and an average capture rate of 112.1 birds per 100 net hours. So, the number banded, and species diversity at the new Meadow site, does compare favorably to the Point Rosa marsh site. A complete list of the birds banded this fall follows the photo highlights below.

This new site appears to be a great place to capture and band American Woodcocks. The total of 4 banded this fall equals the previous 10 years combined in Point Rosa marsh, including both spring and fall!
American Woodcock. Hatch-year male. Note shorter bill.

American Woodcock. Hatch-year female. Note longer bill.

The 35 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds banded was a good number, considering the late start to the season. Also missing from the nets were flycatchers, as many are captured during August and early September. One exception was Eastern Phoebes, which were captured in numbers 5 times the 10-year average in Point Rosa marsh.
Eastern Phoebe. Hatch-year.

And, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher on October 7 was a surprise, and very late.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Hatch-year.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Hatch-year

Another surprise, since very few have come south in Michigan this fall, was a Red-breasted Nuthatch captured in a net in a fairly open habitat.
Red-breasted Nuthatch. Hatch-year female.

Kinglet and thrush numbers were comparable to Point Rosa marsh, compensating for the reduced effort (see below), and there were some good days of warbler migration as well. The abundant goldenrod in the area was good for certain species, including Nashville, Tennessee, and Orange-crowned Warblers.
Orange-crowned Warbler. Hatch-year male.

A Northern Parula was caught very low in a net adjacent to a row of pines. There were no conifers in the Point Rosa banding site.
Northern Parula. Hatch-year female.

And it was nice to capture another species associated with pines, the Black-throated Green Warbler.
Black-throated Green Warbler. Hatch-year female.

Sparrow numbers were modest, although a couple of Field Sparrows were interesting, and the prime habitat where we were expecting to capture good numbers was mowed by the park staff before the migrant sparrows arrived. One surprise was this Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Hatch-year male.

And here is a complete list of the birds banded this fall at the new site, with the capture rate in parentheses. The 10-year fall average from the Point Rosa marsh site for each species is shown in brackets [avg. no. (avg. capture rate)]. Any number greater than about 50% of this 10-year average indicates a good number captured, but of course this is only a single season of data.

American Woodcock - 4 (0.40) [0.1 (0.01)]
Ruby-throated Hummingbird - 35 (3.48) [80.5 (6.35)]
Downy Woodpecker - 5 (0.50) [7.9 (0.62)]
Northern Flicker - 1 (0.1) [3.3 (0.26)]
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher - 1 (0.1) [2.9 (0.23)]
Willow Flycatcher - 1 (0.1) [3.4 (0.27)]
Eastern Phoebe - 15 (1.49) [2.4 (0.19)]
Blue-headed Vireo - 3 (0.30) [3.4 (0.27)]
Red-eyed Vireo - 11 (1.09) [5.0 (0.39)]
Blue Jay - 6 (0.60) [4.3 (0.34)]
Black-capped Chickadee - 15 (1.49) [15.0 (1.18)]
Tufted Titmouse - 4 (0.40) [2.1 (0.17)]
Red-breasted Nuthatch - 1 (0.10) [1.5 (0.12)]
Brown Creeper - 6 (0.60) [18.0 (1.42)]
House Wren - 6 (0.60) [16.9 (1.33)]
Winter Wren - 9 (0.89) [16.2 (1.28)]
Marsh Wren - 2 (0.20) [5.9 (0.47)]
Golden-crowned Kinglet - 22 (2.19) [65.8 (5.19)]
Ruby-crowned Kinglet - 87 (8.65) [48.2 (3.80)]
Gray-cheeked Thrush - 16 (1.59) [12.6 (0.99)]
Swainson's Thrush - 32 (3.18) [34.7 (2.73)]
Hermit Thrush - 53 (5.27) [79.1 (6.23)]
American Robin - 9 (0.89) [24.9 (1.96)]
Gray Catbird - 7 (0.70) [16.7 (1.32)]
Tennessee Warbler - 12 (1.19) [16.5 (1.30)]
Orange-crowned Warbler - 6 (0.60) [5.7 (0.45)]
Nashville Warbler - 46 (4.57) [50.5 (3.98)]
Northern Parula - 1 (0.1) [1.3 (0.10)]
Chestnut-sided Warbler - 1 (0.1) [6.9 (0.54)]
Magnolia Warbler - 22 (2.19) [35.5 (2.80)]
Black-throated Blue Warbler - 4 (0.40) [32.8 (2.59)]
Yellow-rumped Warbler - 1 (0.10) [16.5 (1.30)]
Black-throated Green Warbler - 2 (0.20) [1.4 (0.11)]
Palm Warbler - 2 (0.20) [6.1 (0.48)]
Bay-breasted Warbler - 1 (0.10) [5.1 (0.40)]
Blackpoll Warbler - 3 (0.30) [16.8 (1.32)]
American Redstart - 15 (1.49) [15.3 (1.21)]
Ovenbird - 1 (0.10) [13.9 (1.10)]
Northern Waterthrush - 2 (0.20) [8.2 (0.65)]
Common Yellowthroat - 16 (1.59) [64.6 (5.09)]
Wilson's Warbler - 7 (0.70) [14.4 (1.13)]
Canada Warbler - 1 (0.10) [5.1 (0.40)]
Northern Cardinal - 14 (1.39) [14.7 (1.16)]
Rose-breasted Grosbeak - 1 (0.10) [1.5 (0.12)]
Field Sparrow - 2 (0.20) [1.8 (0.14)]
Fox Sparrow - 6 (0.60) [8.3 (0.65)]
Song Sparrow - 14 (1.39) [162.6 (12.82)]
Lincoln's Sparrow - 5 (0.50) [12.1 (0.95)]
Swamp Sparrow - 11 (1.09) [72.3 (5.70)]
White-throated Sparrow - 61 (6.07) [217.1 (17.11)]
White-crowned Sparrow - 1 (0.10) [23.2 (1.83)]
Dark-eyed Junco - 6 (0.60) [4.2 (0.33)]
American Goldfinch - 16 (1.59) [278.5 (21.95)]
House Sparrow - 1 (0.10) [0.0 (0.0)]

Thank you to the following volunteers (hours in parentheses) for helping this fall. Email me in early spring (March) if you want to volunteer in 2016.

Allen Chartier (114.5)
John Bieganowski (26.0)
Jacob Charlebois (7.5)
Neil Gilbert (8.5)
Stevie Kuroda (72.5)
Dave Lancaster (25.0)
Steve Mangas (4.0)
Joan Tisdale (44.5)
Bruce Watson (72.5)
Blanche Wicke (67.0)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Continuing Quest for #700 - Part 4

Today, Monday, August 31, the first destination was going to be Fort Huachuca in the Huachuca Mountains, for the first chance for Allen's 700th ABA species. After a two hour drive from Green Valley, the mountains came into view as we approached the city of Sierra Vista.
Huachuca Mountains, Arizona

We arrived at the security checkpoint for this military base just before 8 a.m., and unfortunately there were about 20 people ahead of us. Entry now requires getting a photo ID, and an on-site background check is conducted. It took us about an hour to get into the base and on to the birding, but at least they were giving out monthly ID passes. The southern portions, including Sawmill Canyon, were closed due to flood damage from last year, but luckily our target bird, Sinaloa Wren, was near the east end of Huachuca Canyon. It had been silent, or not in the area, most of the summer, but had started calling and singing a few days before. We waited about 45 minutes before we heard even a single rachet-like call. After another half-hour we heard a couple of songs. Then, after almost two hours the bird began scolding and made an appearance, along with a Bridled Titmouse, down in a dense tangle. It didn't cooperate for photos, but this lifer was also Allen's #700! About the only things that were cooperative for photos here were the butterflies.
Bordered Patch. Huachuca Canyon, Arizona

Southern Dogface. Huachuca Canyon, Arizona

Marine Blue. Huachuca Canyon, Arizona

The allure of the Huachucas are the canyons on their east slope, heading west into the higher elevations, with several of them providing great birding. Our next stop was Ramsey Canyon, where today's backup target bird was Tufted Flycatcher, which had nested earlier in the year about two miles up the canyon. It was raining when we arrived, so it was easy to pass on a 4-mile hike for a bird that we'd seen many times south of the border.
Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

We enjoyed the feeders for a while, and when our attention turned to the huge orb-weaving spiders (Araneae) under the eaves of the building, we decided to move on to another canyon where it wasn't raining, farther south at Ash Canyon.
Orb-weaving spider, Ramsey Canyon, Arizona

Ash Canyon, Arizona

The attraction here was the array of feeders, with good photo opportunities, providing a good way to spend an hour relaxing. The seed feeders had a number of interesting species, including two mainly terrestrial species, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Canyon Towhee.
Canyon Towhee. Ash Canyon, Arizona

Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Ash Canyon, Arizona

A Ladder-backed Woodpecker was visiting a suet cake, and a small group of Mexican Jays paid us a visit as well.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Ash Canyon, Arizona

Mexican Jay. Ash Canyon, Arizona

Mexican Jay. Ash Canyon, Arizona

Of course, the highlight of the feeders here are the hummingbird feeders. Those toward the back of the property were frequented by the big one, Magnificent Hummingbird.
Magnificent Hummingbird. Ash Canyon, Arizona

And, at times, this particular canyon can be a reliable spot to see Lucifer Hummingbird in Arizona. This year must be a good one for them, as the photo below shows three different Lucifers (of at least 4 that were present) on the feeder at the same time.
Lucifer Hummingbirds. Ash Canyon, Arizona

There were some nice butterflies around too, including the Spicebush Swallowtail below.
Spicebush Swallowtail. Ash Canyon, Arizona

Our final destination of the day was going to be Miller Canyon, where there were again lots of hummingbirds, including possible White-eared, but we'd done that before in other years, and it looked like rain coming in the mountains, so we headed east into a drier area to San Pedro House. The feeders weren't too active, with two main species. A couple of Gila Woodpeckers were dominating the hummingbird feeders, feeding on nectar and also snapping the numerous bees out of the air if they got too close!
Gila Woodpecker. San Pedro House, Arizona

And the thistle feeders were covered with Lesser Goldfinches.
Lesser Goldfinch. San Pedro House, Arizona

The restroom building provided interesting non-bird subjects, including a grasshopper that is tentatively identified here, and a  lizard which is positively identified.
Two-striped Grasshopper (Melanoplus bivittatus)
San Pedro House, Arizona

Clark's Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus clarkii)
San Pedro House, Arizona

On Tuesday, September 1, we began our long departure for home, but with one more species on our target list, which was in the Phoenix area. On the way there, about half way between Tucson and Phoenix, is scenic Picacho Peak. We stopped briefly to enjoy the scenery.
Picacho Peak, Arizona

Picacho Peak, Arizona

Picacho Peak, Arizona

This was also almost our last chance to check out some of the many species of cactus in this part of Arizona.
Saguaro Cactus

Tree Cholla

Cane Cholla

Teddy-bear Cholla

Along the way, we found this Tree Lizard on the wall of a rest area restroom.
Tree Lizard (Urosaurusn ornatus)

Once we got into Phoenix, we had a bunch of places to try to see our target species, the introduced Rosy-faced Lovebird (formerly named Peach-faced Lovebird), which the ABA has recently added as a "countable" species. The best location was supposed to be Encanto Park, adjacent to the Encanto Golf Course. As luck would have it, thunderstorms that had rolled through the area the night before hit this area the hardest, with trees down, and lots of traffic lights out. Traffic was a nightmare, but once we got into the park, it was a pleasant walk, and not difficult to find the lovebirds, which seemed to prefer the palm trees.
Rosy-faced Lovebirds. Encanto Park, Arizona

Rosy-faced Lovebirds. Encanto Park, Arizona

Rosy-faced Lovebird. Encanto Park, Arizona

After ticking #701 in the ABA area, we headed out of Phoenix as quickly as possible. On the western side of town, in a suburb, we visited an area of reservoirs where there was a nice (but distant) breeding plumaged Sabine's Gull. Driving north to Flagstaff, we then headed east along I-40. A short distance east of there, we needed a place to stop and stretch, so went to Walnut Canyon National Monument, which had a few different birds than we'd been seeing in southeastern Arizona, and was an interesting area preserving cliff dwellings.
Walnut Canyon NM, Arizona

Walnut Canyon NM, Arizona
Walnut Canyon NM, Arizona
Walnut Canyon NM, Arizona
The next day, Wednesday, September 2, we drove through northern New Mestopped at the Quivira xico, driving through two excellent National Wildlife Refuges in the northeastern part of the state: Las Vegas NWR, and Maxwell NWR (click the names of these refuges to view our eBird checklists). There were lots of sparrows in both places, as well as lots of waterbirds. On Thursday, September 3, we did some birding in Colorado, at the John Martin Reservoir, then we headed east into Kansas. There, we stopped at the Quivira NWR. There were tons of shorebirds there, even though we found out at the headquarters that the bigger lake to the north had even more! Our  final day, Friday, September 4, was spent driving across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, with no specific birding stops.

So, now that Allen's ABA list is at 701 species (possibly to be 702 pending a Texas decision on the Striped Sparrow), what's next? Our birding adventures during 2015 have taken us to 27 states so far, all by car (we have not taken any flights anywhere). Allen's list for the Lower 48 states is now up to 685, so he needs "only" 15 more for 700 in the Lower 48...but that will surely take a few more years.