It's a Great Day to Bird

Month: September 2017

Queensland Top to Bottom – Part One

Lisa and I booked a 21-day tour with Sickelbill Safaris called Queensland Top to Bottom.   To keep the blog post from being too long (that would be a lot of days to cover in one blog posting),  I will post at least three, possibly four parts covering the trip.  Any long delays are due to lack of internet service.

12 September 2017

We started our Queensland Top to Bottom Tour today by catching a flight from Cairns (pronounced Cans) to Lockhart River, located on Cape York Peninsula.  We arrived in a Dash 8 airplane to overcast skies and windy weather.  At least the temperatures were cool.

We got into our vehicle and began driving towards the community of Portland Roads on the Portland Roads Road (yes, I know confusing).  We stopped at several places en route to our lodging at Portland Roads looking for parrots, riflebirds, honeyeaters, shorebirds – to name a few.  Most of our birding is occurring within the confines of the Iron Range National Park.

My favorite spot of the day had to be Chili Beach, where we stopped for shorebirds.  I finally got to see my Grey-tailed Tattler.  We also had four different kinds of plovers: Red-capped, Pacific Golden, Lesser Sand, and Greater Sand Plover.

While watching and photographing a pair of Red-capped Plovers the male came up behind the female and started kicking its foot out at her vent (see photos below).  He did this for about a minute or so before he mounted her.  I’ve seen Sandhill Cranes mating and if you blink you could miss their copulation.  Not so with Red-capped Plovers.  The male must have been on top of the female for at least 15 seconds.  Then the oddest think occurred – the male and female fell backwards onto ground.  Later I wish I had video taped the event.  Truly amazing to watch.

On the way back to our lodge (Portland House), we spotted a Large-tailed Nightjar.  The female bird didn’t flush even under the hot spot light as it had a chick on its far side –  momma protecting her young.  Then further along the road we had a Papuan Frogmouth near the road. The bird flew off before we could get good looks at it.

Oh and least I forget, another great moment was at lunch.  While eating our delicious food, several Lovely Fairywrens came into the campground where we were parked.  These are truly beautiful birds and my bird of the day.  Both the male and female are stunning.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photographs.  These birds don’t stand still for long – definitely not long enough for this photographer to capture a decent photo.  To see what this bird looks like go to: http://www.graemechapman.com.au/library/viewphotos.php?c=142

One of the roads we birded

Here is the group waiting, and waiting, and waiting for a Magnificent Riflebird to appear.

Here is the group checking a local stream (need to watch out for crocodiles) for birds. Saw a beautiful Shining Flycatcher.

The Portland Roads Road

This is a primitive campground in the Iron Range National Park

The sign warning of salt water crocodiles in the streams

This is our vehicle. You really do need a 4WD vehicle for this part of the country. We never did see a regular AWD vehicle.

This Australian Bush Turkey has a different colored wattled (purple) from the Bush Turkeys found in and around Cairns (yellow)

Only a face a mother could love

Termite nest in a tree

These are actually wasps. At first I thought the little brown things were ants.

Female Shining Flycatcher – beautiful

Male Shining Flycatcher

Cane Toad

Isn’t it cute?

Chili Beach – lots of great shorebirds here. But it was very windy.

Driving was allowed on the beach

Our group in search of shorebirds

Common Sandpiper

Red-capped Plover. The male is in the back and he came behind the female where he would kick up his foot towards her vent …

… shown here

Then he copulated with the female, which lasted almost 15 seconds

Then they both fell backwards

Bar-shouldered Pigeons

Portland House – our accommodations for four nights

13 September 2017

Today our quest was the Palm Cockatoo, the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird, the Magnificent Riflebird, Red-cheeked Parrot, and the Yellow-billed Kingfisher.  We did get a few other species in addition to these, including the Northern Scrub Robin, a bird which can be difficult to spot in the dense understory.

The morning was spent searching for the above key species.  We found a Palm Cockatoo in the same area as the Fawn-breasted Bowerbird.  The bowerbird builds a “bower” to attract a female.  The Fawn-breasted Bowerbird’s bower is made up of thin sticks and is adorned with fruit (see photo).  We stood for about 15 minutes waiting for the Bowerbird to come into its bower.  We could hear the species, but not see it.  Finally, I happened to look at the bower (I think most people were looking at other birds in the area), and there was the bird.  We watched the male put in sticks, and shape the nest.  I hope the female appreciates the effort.

Today’s humidity is greater than yesterday.  After lunch, but before we went out for our afternoon birding foray, I walked the road near our lodge.  It was HOT, HOT, HOT outside, and very muggy.  When the wind did blow it was a welcomed relief.  Despite the heat there were a fair number of birds flying, singing, and foraging in the trees.

After lunch we went back out birding in search of the Magnificent Riflebird.  This bird is a member of the bird of paradise family.  We went to an area where our guide has seen the bird perch.  We sat on the ground and waited for the bird to make its rounds and come to the perch.  After about 15-20 minutes, the bird flew onto a horizontal branch about 30 feet away from us.  What a truly magnificent bird.  Its name fits the bird to a tee.  Although he didn’t stay long we did get excellent looks and a few decent photographs of the bird (not always easy in the dark rain forest).

The Orange-footed Scrubfowl is a small bird that can build a big nest on the forest floor.  We saw one nest today that stood over 5 feet tall, and at least 10 feet wide.  The thing was huge for a bird about the size of soccer ball.

We then continued birding and eventually found, after much anguish (we could hear the birds but not see them as they blend in well with the foliage) the Red-cheeked Parrot.  The lighting was poor so I was unable to get a photo of the bird.  The bird we found was a female so not as colorful as the male.  Still a great bird to see and one that is localized to this particular area.

Here we are entering the rain forest to search for the Yellow-billed Kingfisher

But not all of the park is rain forest – here is tropical savanna

We spent a lot of time birding along the Portland Roads Road

Typical camper for the area

A Palm Cockatoo – this guy was way out in the distance. A good sized bird.

Lots of Common Sandpiper

The magnificent “Magnificent Riflebird”. This bird is a member of the bird of paradise family. Does stunning displays, which we unfortunately did not get to see.

Ben (our guide) and Jan

14 September 2017

In the morning we birded around Portland House (our accommodations for the first four days of our bird tour) – specifically the Mangrove swamps.  We actually walked into the Mangroves in a few places.  Luckily no crocs were around.  That could be bad news.  The goal was to find the Mangrove Robin, but this bird remained elusive – no calls or anything.  Another target bird for the morning was the Rose-crowned Fruit Dove.  This bird is one of three beautiful fruit dove species.  We could hear them calling, but didn’t have much luck finding them until almost the end.  Turns out the fruit dove was in the same tree as a Red-cheeked Parrot.  We found the parrot first – a male this time.  He is much more colorful.

After birding the Portland House area, we drove back to Chili Beach.  Yay!!!  I love the beach and shorebirds.  We did get a Pied Oystercatcher.  There were two of them on the beach and when they finally came together we saw they had a chick that had been hiding in some vegetation.  So cute.   The target bird here was the Beach Stone Curlew.  No luck, however.  We did get to see a new tern – Little Tern.  This tern was much smaller than the other terns we’ve observed so far.  Today the tide was much further out than two days ago so we could get some good looks at the different tern species roosting on a series of rocks just off the beach.

It was another hot, muggy day.

In the afternoon, after a brief siesta, we went back out birding in search of the ever elusive Yellow-billed Kingfisher.  Despite hearing several birds calling close by, they remained elusive.  We have one more day to find them.

We ate a box dinner (I’ve been eating a lot of bread on this trip – too much, in fact) and spent an hour searching for nightjars and frogmouths.  Kim in our group spotted the Marbled Frogmouth, which isn’t always spotted on these trips.  The bird had called and most of us walked right under the bird looking for it in the trees to the side of the trail, rather than over the trail.  Way to go Kim.  She’s been good at spotting a lot of our species today.

On the way back to our lodging, we also got to see the Papuan Frogmouth – much better views this time.  This frogmouth is much bigger than the Marbled, and more abundant.  All frogmouths are great birds to see.

I do have to mention that the food at the café adjacent to the Portland House has been delicious.  I think I will have gained a pound or two in the four short days here.

Rose-crowned Fruit Dove. The Fruit Doves are difficult to find and see in the high canopy, so we were fortunate to have this one in the relatively open.

We went back to Chili Beach and found this Pied Oystercatcher. I just love this beach and all the shorebirds there.

Golden-Orb Spider – a big spider

A Dingo

Wompoo Fruit Dove – beautiful, colorful bird

15 September 2017

Today our quest was the Yellow-billed Kingfisher.  If we didn’t get the bird here we wouldn’t get it anywhere else on our trip.  The pressure was on.  We have been looking for this bird for the past two days, spending at least 2-3 hours in our search.  The bird was heard a number of times, and in some instances seemed to be just above us.  But no matter how hard we searched we could not find it.

En route to the rain forest (that is where the kingfisher would most likely be found – it is a forest kingfisher, not a riverine kingfisher), we spotted several Palm Cockatoos flying overhead.  We quickly stopped the car, got out, and found one of the cockatoos in a nearby tree, sitting pretty as you please.  We all started snapping off photos.  The bird then flew to the other side of the road, in a tree that let us get even better views and photos (better lighting).  What a magnificent, spectacular bird.  In all, we had 5 Palm Cockatoos in the flock.

Then back into the vehicle to find the kingfisher.  We tried several locations, finally ending up near the Rainforest campground.  There we heard several birds, but didn’t see them.  Finally we walked into the rain forest, in an area where we heard 4 kingfishers the first day we tried for the bird.  Kim, one of our fellow tour participants, found the kingfisher in the tree.  Problem was only three of the seven people found the bird before it flew off not to be spotted again.  After several more tries to find the bird at this location (again hearing, but not seeing the bird), we left to check out other potential locations.  After no luck, we continued onto the community of Lockhart River.  This community of 700 people consists primarily of aboriginal people.  Our guide was told by the mayor that we could not take photos.  I guess some woman was taking photos of their emaciated dogs and he didn’t like it.  I told the guide – Ben – that maybe they should feed the dogs.  They did look pretty sad.  Can’t say the same for the residents.

We visited the Community Farm Dam, Sewage Treatment Ponds, and the beach near the community searching for birds.  The best bird found was the Red-backed Fairywren, especially the juvenile.  What beautiful birds.  I love the fairywrens.

Afterwards we headed back to the rain forest to conduct one last search for the Yellow-billed Kingfisher.  We went back to our favorite spot near the Rainforest campground.  This time we scored – all seeing the kingfisher thanks again to Kim.

We can now leave the Iron Range National Park having spotted all but one of the special localized species of this area – birds generally not found elsewhere (or at least not where our tour will take us).  Tomorrow we head to Lakefield National Park, south of Lockhart River.  I’ve really enjoyed this area, the Portland House, and Sheree and Greg our hosts.  The meals were fabulous.  One night they serve fresh lobster and prawns.  And of course great French fries (aka “chips”).

Fruit of the Red Beech

Palm Cockatoo – got good views of the bird today

Looks like it is having a bad hair day

Maybe it doesn’t like us hanging around

We spend a lot of time waiting and searching for the birds

And walking the roads – good exercise though

These are green ants and they are making a nest out of leaves. They weave or connect the leaves together using larval silk.

Our guide trying to get us on the bird

Lots of pretty butterflies here too

And epiphytes abound

And termite mounds

Regular burning of the forest occurs to prevent the rain forest from encroaching on the savanna

The Lockhart River community dam – we came here to check out the birds

Love the purple water lilies

Whistling Kite

Pied Heron (immature)

Lockhart River sewage ponds – lots of great birds here

Australasian Grebe

And yes, we FINALLY, saw the Yellow-billed Kingfisher near the end of the day.  This was our last chance to find this bird, which is a localized endemic.

Sunset at Portland House – tomorrow we leave here for points south

16 September 2017

Today we left the Portland House and the Iron Range National Park.  We did make a quick stop at the Eclectus Parrot tree where there were two females guarding their nest (in a hole in the tree).  Good thing too because two Sulphur-crested Cockatoos proceeded to fly to the tree and try to inspect the nest hole.  We could see the cockatoos peeling the bark away near the hole.  Not sure why they were doing that.  One of the female Eclectus Parrots was outside of the tree and another was in the nest hole.  Once in awhile the parrot in the nest hole would stick her head out.  She was not happy to have the cockatoos trying to take over her nest.

We then proceeded towards Musgrave Station, stopping at a few places along the way to check out plants and birds.  At Winlock River we got to see one of my more sought after birds – the Blue-faced Honeyeater (see photo).  What a cool looking bird.  And whenever you are near a water body you need to keep at least 20 feet back due to crocodiles.   Luckily we haven’t seen any yet.

We stopped for lunch at Archer River Roadhouse.  The place was busy (not a lot of places to stop and eat or camp along the Portland Development Road).  The food was good, but not cheap.  I think my lunch alone cost about $27.00 Australian dollars.  Kind of like eating in bush Alaska.

Our next stop was at the community of Coen.  I was surprised at how large a community it was (very small by most standards, but large for the area).  Here we got our first glimpse of Galahs (see photos).  This is another bird I was hoping to see in Australia.

We did make an emergency stop to save a Blue-tongued Skink (Lizard) from being run over by the crazy road traffic.  I’m surprised at how much traffic there is in this undeveloped part of the country.  Most of the roads we have traveled are gravel and people drive fast.

Before reaching our destination – Musgrave Roadhouse, we had car problems.  The muffler pipe on our vehicle cracked.  Not good news.  We did make it to the roadhouse and are now waiting to hear what will be done to fix the problem.

Double-eyed Fig Parrot

The view from Portland Roads (where Portland House is located)

Female Eclectus Parrot

Sulphur-crested Cockatoos checking out the Eclectus Parrot nest hole – looking to take it over

Iron Range National Park boundaries

Pitcher Plant

A sundew plant – this plant is smaller than a dime

Another type of sundew

We saw this outline on the road. Our guide said he doesn’t recognize the animal – maybe someone’s dog

Steve standing in the water covering the road

One of the “few” sections of paved road on what is known as the Portland Development Road

This gobular termite mound is about four feet tall

Torresian Crow

Blue-faced Honeyeater

Blue-tongued Skink – he was about 1.5 feet long, and chubby. Slow moving too. Jan was nice enough to poke him along. Probably saved him from becoming road kill.

Great Bowerbird

Galahs (a type of parrot)

Agile Wallaby – there were quite a few around the Musgrave Roadhouse

Diamond Dove

This cow was checking us out while we were looking for birds in the large parking lot at Musgrave Roadhouse

17 September 2017

After an early breakfast we headed out in search of the Golden-shouldered Parrot.  This parrot is endangered and only about 1,000 remain in the wild.  This is the place to be (near Musgrave Roadhouse) if you are going to see them.

We walked the field adjacent to the road and despite getting 20 new species we did not see the parrot.  We will try again tomorrow for the bird.   We also got to see some favorites, like the Red-backed Fairywren, which I was almost able to photograph.  I should start counting the number of times I have my finger on the button to click off a photo and the bird flies off.

We drove back to the Musgrave Road house for a little birding around the grounds, lunch, and a 2 hour catnap or whatever.  I did go out to check an area where a Latham’s Snipe had been spotted the night before.  No luck.  However, I did see a Brolga (type of crane) family – mom, dad, and a colt.  Too far away to get a decent photo, and with the heat waves even looking at them was difficult.

After a couple hour siesta we were back into our loud Toyota Land Cruiser and off to find more birds.  We drove to a road called Lilyvale and saw a rare Red Goshawk on a nest.  The female was straddling the nest protecting at least one young.  This is one beautiful raptor and my photo does not do the bird justice.  Google the bird and you will probably find some beautiful photos of the bird.

After birding Lillyvale Road we head to the Lotusbird Lodge and the lagoon they have near their guest cabins.  This lagoon was filled with hundreds of waterfowl and waders.  I was mesmerized by all the different bird species.  I think my two favorite ducks were the Hardhead (yeah, strange name) and the Pink-eared Duck (you can see a little bit of pink on their head).  The Pink-eared Duck has the strangest bill of any duck I’ve ever seen.  At first I thought it looked like a shoveler’s bill, which it does in some respects, but the bill turns down at the sides (See Photo).  Most weird.  I would definitely like to spend more time here.

We were supposed to visit Lakefield National Park but due to our vehicle’s mechanical problems we stayed closer to Musgrave Station.

Black-backed Butcherbird

Blue-winged Kookaburra

Lots of Eucalyptus Trees

This layering is actually caused by termites and is their nest.

Here we are looking for the Golden-shouldered Parrot, a seed-eater.

And this is their habitat

A Grass Tree

Magnetic Termite Mound – supposedly they are oriented north and south

White-throated Gerygone (pronounced ge-ryg-o-ne)

Female White-winged Triller

Weebird

The gravel portion of Portland Development Road

Double-barred Finch

Little Friarbird

White-winged Triller

Australian White Ibis

Large flock of Plumed Whistling Ducks

Red Goshawk

Lotus Lagoon – lots of Magpie Geese (foreground) and a variety of ducks, cormorants, shorebirds, and waders. I loved this place. So much to see.

Pink-eared Ducks

They have a really strange bill

Magpie Geese feeding

Black-backed Butcherbirds

Masked Lapwing

Little Black Cormorants

White-headed (or Black-winged) Stilt

Our accommodations at Musgrave Roadhouse

18 September 2017

Today was our final search for the Golden-shouldered Parrot.  We went to check out a dam where the birds have been known to come to drink.  They didn’t show, although other birds did come for their thirst and our enjoyment.  However, I think the birds knew we were there as they seem reluctant to come to the water to drink.  The cows though didn’t see to care about our presence.

After about an hour at the dam, we then went to several other areas and walked the woods in search of the birds, but we got skunked on this bird – a no show, although several thought they heard the bird.

Sometimes I wonder about our quest to see so many of the world’s birds.  I think it is great there is such an interest in birds, but I also worry about the impact that we have on the birds – chasing through their habitat, playing their calls to attract them, getting too close to the birds.   A growing dilemma for me.

We did see a few new birds today despite not seeing the parrot.  On our way to Redmill House in Daintree, we saw about 50 or more cranes – mostly Sarus Cranes and fewer Brolga (another crane).  We also see the Australian Bustard.  Like Jack, I too like the big birds.

We drove over 300 kilometers (180+ miles) today.  At Laura (a small community) we changed vehicles.  We now have a van with more seating, but not as comfortable seating.  Always a tradeoff.  Nothing in life is perfect – well except the birds.

Since leaving Portland House we’ve been traveling on the Portland Development Road.  This road is most gravel, with interspersed paved areas.  I sometimes wonder why one area is paved and another is not.   Before Lisa and I signed up for this tour we had talked about renting a 4wd vehicle and driving this road to visit Lakefield and Iron Range National Parks.  Having now driven on the road I’m glad we decided to go with a tour and leave driving and logistics to someone else.

Where we have dead deer on the sides of the roads (at least in the lower 48), here I’ve seen dead wallabies on the road.  So sad.

Also of note, there isn’t a lot of litter alongside the roads.  This is always a positive.

Common Bronzewing …

… here at the watering hole

Pale-headed Rosellas

Australian Hobby

Sarus and/or Brolga Cranes in flight

Rainbow Lorikeet (properly named bird)

Australian Bustard

Brown Falcon

Apostlebird

This is a “bower” of a Great Bowerbird. The males “adorn” their bowers to attract females.

Lots of white plastic pieces

Tawny Frogmouth

Pale-headed Rosella getting a drink of water

Mt. Carbine Caravan Park – some of the campsites

We did get a different vehicle since the exhaust pipe in our original vehicle cracked

Here is another outline of the same animal. Someone’s idea of a joke, I guess. Our guide wasn’t sure of the origin.

Ah, what is traveling without some kind of road construction

Next stop – the Wet Tropics of the Cairns area.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

Cairns, Queensland, Australia

6 September 2017

Finally made it to Cairns, Australia after traveling over 24 hours on four separate flights, the longest just short of 15 hours, and the shortest lasting just short of three hours.  And I don’t sleep well on planes.   Needless to say I was a little bit cranky once we landed in Sydney.  I am not enamored with the Sydney International Airport.  We had to leave the international terminal and head over to the domestic terminal to catch our flight to Cairns, and the signage was something to be desired.  I’ve had easier times finding my way around airports in third world countries.

We then arrived at the Cairns airport.  My friend Lisa is with me as Jack didn’t want to spend time in hot, humid weather – understandable.   Although it is beautiful here, it is hot and humid.  He definitely would not like the weather.

We are staying the next six nights at the Kookas B&B in Cairns.  And yes, there are kookaburras at the B&B.  The owners feed the birds ox heart.  Two Laughing Kookaburras come to the railing to be fed twice per day.   They are so cute.   Since we arrived at the B&B around 2:30 pm, we spent the afternoon just hanging out at the B&B and enjoyed the variety of birds that came onto the property.  This is a really nice place, with great hosts, and delicious breakfasts.

Oh and Lisa is driving (thank you Lisa).  She gets to learn how to drive on the left hand side of the road – and I get to tell her to stay there.  Luckily there are signs everywhere that say “Keep Left”.  What Australia does differently, besides drive on the wrong side of the road (ha ha ha), is instead of a yellow line to separate lanes they use white lines – which we use to separate lanes of traffic going in the same direction not the opposite direction.

Magpie Lark at Cairns Airport – our first Australian identifiable bird

Art work at the Kookas B&B

The view from our B&B

Drum roll please …. Laughing Kookaburra

Tomorrow we head to the Cairns Esplanade for waterbirds (shorebirds, waders) and then to the Cairns Botanical Gardens for songbirds and waterfowl.

7 September 2017

In the morning we birded the Cairns Esplanade.  Lots of great new birds.  We walked along the beach front board walk in search of shorebirds.  And luckily we did find some, although all were in winter plumage making it more difficult to identify.  The primary species present was the Great Knot.  We also saw four Black-fronted Dotterels.  These are cool birds.  Most of the birds observed today are life birds.

White-breasted Woodswallow

Pied Imperial Pigeon

Boardwalk – there was a large cruise ship docked at one of the wharfs

Willie Wagtail

Australasian Figbird

Australian Pelicans

Silver Gull

There eyes almost look silver – kind of spooky

Black-fronted Dotterel

Black-fronted Dotterel

Great Knots, Curlew Sandpipers, Bar-tailed Godwit

Rainbow Lorikeet

Willie Wagtail – and yes it actually wags it tail

Magpie Lark

Masked Lapwing

Welcome Swallows – very similar to Barn Swallows

Eastern Great Egret – check out the kink in its neck

Cairns Esplanade Lagoon

Sacred Kingfisher

White-faced Heron

In the afternoon we birded the Cairns Botanical Gardens and Centenary Lakes, and again had a lot of great birds.   The gardens offer a little bit of rain forest within the city.  In addition to the birds we did see a good sized Monitor Lizard – a first for me.   There are a number of trails through the area, most of which we walked as we checked for new birds.  And the lakes had plenty of waterfowl – well at least the freshwater lake.  The other lake was devoid of bird life.  It is a salt water lake.

Australian Bush Turkey

Saltwater Creek

Laughing Kookaburra

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo

Straw-necked Ibis

Radjah Shelducks

Freshwater Lake near the Cairns Botanical Garden

Magpie Goose

Pacific Black Duck

Striated Heron

Rainbow Bee-eater

Me with a Southern Cussowary – hope to see a real one on our bird tour.

8 September 2017

Today we took the Seastar Cruise to Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef.  My purpose for the trip was to check out pelagic birds, especially those nesting on Michaelmas Cay.  The rest of the people on the cruise were there to snorkel or scuba-dive among the coral reefs.  I chose not to get wet, although I did get to check out the coral reefs via a glass bottom boat.  Beautiful coral (but lots of dead coral too), fishes, and turtles.  The day was warm, with some winds – so glad I put on my seasickness patch.  Don’t think I could of done the trip without one.

As for the birds, there wasn’t the variety of species I was expecting.  In fact, I only observed seven different species:  Ruddy Turnstone, Greater Crested Tern, Sooty Tern, Brown Noddy, Brown Booby, Silver Gull, and Great Frigatebird.  I was a little disappointed, but these were all great birds nonetheless.

Michaelmas Cay is a spit of land in the Pacific Ocean, about a 1.5 hours from Cairns.  The cay was much smaller than I expected, and although we landed on the beach we were only able to access a small portion of the cay.   This is good news for the birds nesting there.

When talking with others, Hastings Reef had better coral reefs than those near Michaelmas Cay.  I did see some amazing corals and wildlife through the glass bottom boat tours.  The company offered two different opportunities to see the corals, fishes, and turtles through the glass bottom boat, and since most people were tired from snorkeling, I was able to go on both tours.  Lucky me. I think they keep the glass bottom boats anchored near the reefs, as the boats were already there when we arrived.

City of Cairns

Michaelmas Cay – well at least part of it

Juvenile Sooty Tern

Nesting Brown Booby – note the plastic used for its nest

I love the blue on the beak of these Brown Boobies

Our boat and some of the snorkelers

Sooty Terns (adult and hatch year birds) and Brown Noddies

 

Sooty Tern

Birds, birds, birds

Silver Gull

Hastings Reef

Snorkelers at Hastings Reef

9 September 2017

Today we went back to the Cairns Botanical Garden and Centenary Lakes hoping to get a few more species, which we did.  We were hoping to see a Black Bittern, but no such luck.  We did find a Radjah Shelduck duckling that was just adorable (aren’t all ducklings).  A gentleman who was feeding the birds (not recommended) said the pair used to have six ducklings just a week ago.  I wonder what killed the other ducklings?   We read that a Papaun Frogmouth can be found along the rainforest boardwalk, but our search came up empty.  If we come back here as part of our Queensland Top to Bottom tour then maybe our guide will be able to spot the bird for our group.

Flowering plant at our B&B

Not sure what this is, but it sure is pretty

Water lilies in the freshwater lake – Centenary Lakes

Turtles

Magpie Lark

Radjah Shelduck

up close – weird eyes (like the Silver Gull)

And a baby shelduck

This Magpie Goose looks is standing on the lakebed

Magpie Goose

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a green-eyed bird before – Little Black Cormorant

More beautiful flowers

New Guinea Creeper

Rain forest Habitat

Australian Bush Turkey – there were a lot of them

Rain forest Boardwalk

Lisa on the trail in search of the elusive Papuan Frogmouth

This is a tree is all tied up in knots

Very dense vegetation – finding a bird in there is like finding a needle in a haystack

Black Butcherbird – I wonder how it got its name?

After the botanical gardens we went to the Jack Barnes Mangrove Boardwalk in search of the Mangrove Robin.  This bird remained elusive, but we did get to see a Collared Kingfisher.   He posed quite nicely for us.  There were actually two of them present, but one flushed.  There wasn’t much bird activity along the boardwalk – could be because it was the middle of the afternoon and siesta time for the birds.  Or maybe because it was hot, hot, hot outside.

Jack Barnes Mangrove Boardwalk

This area only gets flooded during an extreme high tide event

Mangrove swamp

Collared Kingfisher – boy what a big bill you have

We keep seeing these nests, but we are not sure who makes them

Our final stop of the day was back to the Cairns Esplanade to check out more shorebirds.  There was one shorebird that has been puzzling me since we first arrived.  I got a photo this time and hope to show it to our guide for identification.  Any ideas???

My mystery bird – I’m thinking a Grey-tailed Tattler

10 September 2017

Today we got an early start and headed to the Cattana Wetlands located north of Cairns.  These are reconstructed wetlands.  In all, there are five separate ponds.  We had hoped to see a lot of waterfowl and waders, but we were surprised to find only a few species: Green Pygmy Goose, Comb-crested Jacana, Little Pied Cormorant, and Australasian Darter.  We did get some songbird species, which was nice.  And of course there were a few species we just couldn’t identify – frustrating.  Hopefully we will see the species again when we are on our guided tour.

Trail at Cattana Wetlands

Forest Kingfisher

One of Five Ponds at Cattana Wetlands

Pink Water Lilies

Crimson Finch

Another pond at the wetlands

Female Leaden Flycatcher

Comb-crested Jacana

Green Pygmy Goose

Two Orange-footed Spurfowl running away from us

Male Olive-backed Sunbird

A fallen nest

I love this sign for pedestrian crossing

After visiting and birding the Cattana Wetlands we ventured into Yorkey’s Knob to do some birding.  I had read about this place in my “Finding Australian Birds: A Field Guide to Birding Locations” by Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarke.   Well don’t waste your time and effort.  The lagoon they mention, which is located at the golf course, was essentially devoid of bird life.  We did see some species at or near the golf course, but nothing new.  We decided to cut our losses and head to the Stoney Creek Trail and do a little hiking.

The Stoney Creek Trail is part of the Barron National Park.  There is a short (1 km) trail to Stoney Creek falls.  The trail is very rocky, which makes it hard to bird.  You have to keep looking at the ground to avoid ending up on the ground.  We did see some birds however, including one that could be one of three Honeyeaters.  We also heard, then saw, a large flock of Metallic Starlings high in some trees.  This area is part of the rain forest, which is dense with vegetation.  Makes birding here challenging, but the scenary is beautiful.

Lisa on the trail

First time I’ve seen a “No Dogs or Cats” sign

After birding we drove back to Cairns for dinner at our new favorite Thai restaurant (okay we’ve only been to one in Australia) – the Samgasat Thai Crusine on Pease Street.  Yum!!!

11 September 2017

Let’s take a moment and remember all those who lost their lives as part of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Today we went to Lake Morris/Copperlode Dam to bird.  This area is only 21 km from town but the road is steep, narrow, and winding  The road is also a training circuit route for bikes – we did encounter several on this narrow, winding road.  I’m not sure I could have ridden a bike up that long, winding hill.

We spent about six hours birding the area and saw some great new birds including the Topknot Pigeon, Spectacled Monarch, and the Wompoo Fruit Dove.  The fruit dove took some effort.  We heard the bird calling in the tall leafy trees, but could not find it for over 20 minutes.  Lisa finally spotted the dove and we got some great looks and adequate photographs.  Have you noticed when you want to photograph a bird that many times there always seems to be leaves or branches or both in front of the bird.

A view of Cairns

Feels like I am in Hawaii

Lake Morris

Topknot Pigeon …

… In flight

Did a short hike on this trail in search of birds but didn’t find any

Wompoo Fruit Dove

Beautiful

Tomorrow we leave for the Iron Range where we start a 20-day bird tour with Sickelbill Safaris.  The tour is called Queensland Top to Bottom.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD … DOWN UNDER

 

Summer Birding … Going so Fast

My friends always groan when I take a simple song and change it to include birds.  So I was walking the Eveline State Recreation Site trails out of Homer, Alaska and “Summer Loving” (think Grease) popped into my head.  But of course I had to change the words to “Summer Birding, went by so fast, Summer Birding I know it can’t last”.  Well you get my drift if you are familiar with the song sung by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in the movie.  And it does go by fast.

A word of warning!!!  This blog encompasses the entire summer (June-July-August).  Luckily I didn’t blog every day.

JUNE

Summer in Alaska is from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  That is when many Alaskans in the tourism industry make their living for the year.   We haven’t had much sunshine yet this summer.  I’m hoping that changes.  I always wonder about the birds and how they survive during cold snaps, heavy rain, and strong winds.  Our yard this year is loaded with lots of nesting birds: Fox Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Orange-crowned Warblers, and American Robins.  I’ve actually seen a Wilson’s Warbler and Townsend’s Warbler, which are both new yard birds for us.

Many of those birds are now feeding their young, like the two American Robin hatch year birds who follow around one of the parent as it searched for worms in our yards.  After watching this robin gathering worms over the past 30 days, I’m surprised our lawn had so much to offer.

But with new hatchlings (they love chasing after one another and are careless) we also tend to see an increase in the number of birds that strike our windows.  That always breaks my heart.  In the kitchen I’ve put up tape on the lower windows.  And after an Orange-crowned Warbler hit one of our living room windows, I painted them with poster paint (white, washable).  This stays on until the birds migrate south in the early fall.

NOTE:  We have had a total of three window strikes – all Orange-crowned Warblers.  One bird striking an window is one bird too many, let alone three.  And, don’t think that if they are merely stunned and fly away, that they are okay.  Most times they are not.  They die later of brain injuries.  So please do what you can to prevent window strikes.  There are many products available on line.  Check out: https://abcbirds.org/get-involved/bird-smart-glass/

Tape on my kitchen windows

This is poster paint on my living room windows. I paint this once the young hatch and then remove it (warm water and soap) once the birds migrate south for the winter.

This is an Orange-crowned Warbler that hit my window before I painted them. Although the bird didn’t die right away, it most likely experienced brain injury and died later.

This is the third Orange-crowned Warbler to hit a window. I put tape on the bottom ones but not the top. Remedied that problem, but don’t know if this guy made it or not. Just because the don’t die right away doesn’t mean they don’t die later. I feel terrible.

Saw this sign and thought of my sister-in-law who loves her cats and coffee. Now outdoor cats are another cause for concern, but I won’t get into that in this blog posting. JUST KEEP YOUR CATS INDOORS for the sake of the cat and birds.

Living near Eveline State Recreation Site, I am able to walk the trails regularly.  I’ve noticed this year a large number of Wilson’s Warblers and Yellow Warblers.  This is great news.   And now the wildflowers are in full bloom (well most of them anyway).

Jacob’s Ladder …

… up close

Alaska’s State Flower – the “Forget-Me-Not”

Chocolate Lilly …

… that smells bad …

… but is beautiful

Spring violets

The park used to have a tons of Lupine, but now only a few plants can be found

Some of these Forget-Me-Nots are pink

Wild Geranium and Indian Paintbrush

Oh and the proliferation of dandelions in the park is HUGE, unfortunately

As you can see the dead dandelions out-number the wild flowers

A picnic table along the trail

This open field is generally covered in wild flowers. Not so much this year. More dandelions, grasses, and Pushki (Cow Parsnip)

This portion of the trail is good for songbirds

Savannah Sparrow – lots of these birds in the park this year and they love to perch on old fence posts and at the tops of young spruce trees.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

The flies LOVE the pushki (cow parsnip)

Mushrooms are starting to show up

And Prickly Roses

Monk’s Hood – poisonous plant … but beautiful

Even the flies like the roses

This Fireweed has a stunted flower

Some Fireweed is already in bloom – but not much

JULY

The other day I conducted my July monthly COASST walk (see http://depts.washington.edu/coasst/  for more information about this program).  COASST stands for “Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team”.  Each month I walk a 3..0 mile (round-trip) beach near the community of Anchor Point searching for, and recording information on, dead birds found on the beach.  I did find a portion of dead gull I suspect was either a Herring Gull or Glaucous-winged Gull.

The day was pleasant (little wind, sunny), and just past the boat launch area I came across a large flock of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds roosting on the beach near the surf line.  Later I flushed a flock of 11 Whimbrels.  There were at least five Greater and one Lesser Yellowleg along the banks of the river or at the adjacent wetland/mudflats, plus a Spotted Sandpiper.   Nice to see all the outbound migrating shorebirds.

Black Turnstone at the surf line

Greater Yellowleg feeding along the Anchor River

Spotted Sandpiper along the Anchor River

Savannah Sparrow

You can always find them (Savannah Sparrows) in the grasses adjacent to the Anchor River

Anchor River

Herring Gulls

Herrring (or is it a Herring/Glacous-winged hybrid) Gull

This was another day at Anchor River. I observed a large flock of around 250-300 Surfbirds and Black Turnstones.

Two Surfbirds and a Black Turnstone

And a few more …

Can you count them all?

How about now?

And this wasn’t even all of them

Fish remains – you find a lot on the beach. The gulls and eagles eat whatever the fisherman throw overboard and washes up on the beach

Hatch Year (Juvenile) Black-legged Kittiwake

This gull in front has awfully white wings tip. Could it be a Glaucous Gull?

Love it when gulls yawn

The Three Gullacateers

This gull decided to rest on a large patch of kelp

Each summer I conduct Loon Surveys on behalf of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Eagle Lake off Basargin Road.   This lake supports a pair of nesting Pacific Loons.  Our first visit to Eagle Lake in early June found the Pacific Loon pair on the lake – apparently not nesting.  It was too early for any eggs to have hatched, so I suspect the nest failed rather early.   There are a large number of Mew Gulls nesting on the lake as well, and these Gulls or a raptor may have depredated the nest.   We went back in early July and did not find the Pacific Loon pair at all.  It could be the female attempted to re-nest and with the grasses so high it was impossible to see the loon on the nest, and its mate may have been off in search of food.  However, in late July we saw one of the parents with a chick.  Woohoo!!!  As of late August the chick was still alive.  I hope it is able to fledge and live a long life.  We started monitoring loon nesting at Eagle Lake in 2009 and this summer is one of only two times a chick has survived to near fledge or fledged over the past nine years.

Eagle Lake

This Merlin hunts around the lake – watch out songbirds, gull chicks, and bird eggs

We saw this female Spruce Grouse on the road after conducting our survey in July

We did attempt to go camping this summer.  Our intent was to visit my brother and his wife in Valdez, taking the Alaska Ferry from Whittier to Valdez, before heading to Anchorage to spend time with other family members.  However, our dog ended up getting sick the first night out (Granite Creek Campground) so we  returned to Homer to get her issues taken care of before heading to Anchorage.  She’s fine now, but we did miss the ferry and so aborted that portion of our trip.

Before we made camp at Granite Creek Campground (Chugach National Forest), we stopped at Cannery Road (off the Kalifonski Beach Road near Kenai) and the viewing platform near the mouth of the Kenai River.  At the wetlands along Cannery Road there were lots of shorebirds feeding: Greater and Lesser Yellowleg, Dowitcher sp., Western and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers.  There must have been 50+ shorebirds feeding there.  Fun to watch.

At the wetlands near the viewing platform we only saw two Greater Yellowleg.  This was a disappointment as this area generally has a lot of shorebirds.  However, it was the day prior to the start of Subsistence Dip-net fishing and the City of Kenai had already put up traffic cones along the road for the people coming to put in their boats for dip-netting.  Maybe the birds went to Cannery Road wetlands to feed instead.

Cannery Road wetlands

Wetlands from another angle

This Savannah Sparrow liked to hang out on the railing at the viewing platform

And even allowed me to get quite close

Mew Gull – also hanging out on the viewing platform railing

Wetlands near the viewing platform

In the distance we did observe some Sandhill Cranes, and there were Whimbrell on the mudflats (Kenai River bank).

Next we drove the Skilak Road (Kenai National Wildlife Refuge) to check out some of the lakes and to see what birds or other wildlife we might find along the way.

One of several Black-capped Chickadees feeding in the trees near Skilak Road

Aspen Grove along the Skilak Road

This area had burned in recent years (Skilak Road)

Swallowtail butterfly

Skilak Lake

This female Pine Grosbeak had been enjoying a bath in Engineer Lake

Skilak Lake

After birding the Skilak Road we continued on towards our campground for the night.  As always, we made a stop at Tern Lake.  Tern Lake is one of my favorite spots in all of Alaska.   From there we traveled on to our campground – Granite Creek (operated by the U.S. Forest Service).

Tern Lake (Seward turn-off) – cannot drive by Tern Lake without stopping. To me this is one of the prettiest spots in Alaska.

The view from our campsite at Granite Creek Campground

Another view from our campsite

At home, tree swallows nested again this year, although in a different nest box.  We have four nest boxes on our property, but only one nest box is generally occupied.  In the past, the birds have used the nest box located furthest from our house. However, when we arrived back home in early June we found the side of that nest box open.  Jack must have forgotten to close it after he cleaned out the nest box last summer.  This summer they chose the nest box near our driveway.

Tree Swallow

Where’s the food?

This one ready to fly the coop

As soon as the young fledge, the parents and young hang around for a day or two at most, before leaving.  We lose our swallows by mid-July every year.  Hate to see them leave.

We’ve had several  American Robins in the yard this year.  They search – morning to night – continually for worms in our mowed lawn.  I never knew we had so many worms.  Fun to watch them stuff their beaks with multiple worms before heading back to their mate sitting on the nest or back to feed the young.

Once the young are old enough they join the parents.  The parents work continues – ever seeking worms, with the young ones following closely behind – always hungry and hoping to be fed.

Parent and juvenile American Robin

These two juvenile American Robins are waiting for their parents to find the grub and feed them

I love their spotted breast and belly (juvenile American Robin)

And we do have a pair of Sandhill Cranes that frequent our yard.  For some reason they love roosting/loafing in the garden – could it be the cracked corn we put out for them…?

Sandhill Crane

These violets and johnny jump-ups are growing in driveway. They are volunteers (i.e. I didn’t plant them there)

I am leading a birding walk in about a week to the Anchor River/Anchor Point beach.  I decided to head out there ahead of the walk to see what is out and about.  I had a total of 19 species, of which 10 where shorebirds.   Of the shorebirds, I had 29 Wimbrel on the beach foraging among the gulls.  It was a sunny, calm day with few people on the beach – amazing considering it was a weekend.  Since the tide was high (22 feet), boat traffic was minimal.

This wetland/mud flat area between the beach and the Anchor River is a great place to check for shorebirds. During waterfowl migration you can find Green-winged Teal here as well.

Whimbel (one of 29)

Ruddy Turnstone hanging out with Black Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

I recently visited with my friend, Nina, who lives on a beautiful piece of land off Skyline Drive.   We went for a hike on her property and heard and saw several bird species, including a Spruce Grouse hen with four hatch year birds (i.e., chicks).  The hen was flushed from the road and landed in a nearby spruce tree (see photo), and was quite visible.  She taught her young well as when they flushed, they flew further into the spruce tree; and I could not for the life of me find a single spruce grouse chick, despite having seen where they flew and landed.

View from Inspiration Ridge

Nina and faithful Chipper Dog

A bear has been using this tree as a scratching post

Pink Pyrola

Grass of Parnassus or Bog Star

Spruce Grouse – hen

On July 29th, I lead a group of eight birders on a bird walk at the Anchor River and beach.  We had 37 different species, including 13 (at least) shorebird species.  We even watched (well two of us did anyway), a Peregrine Falcon fly off with a small shorebird.  The falcon landed in a nearby tree (scope needed) to eat its prey.  We watched the bird pluck the feathers from the shorebird.  I could only see a white belly, so I assume it was a Western or Least Sandpiper we had just been observing in the small wetland/mud flat near the river.  This spot was host to the following shorebird species:

  • Greater Yellowleg
  • Lesser Yellowleg
  • Dowitcher sp.
  • Wilson’s Snipe
  • Western Sandpiper
  • Least Sandpiper
  • Black Turnstone
  • Semi-palmated Plover

Sweet!!!  The number of different shorebirds spotted there, not the falcon taking the shorebird.

We also later observed, along the beach, several Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, and Surfbird.  On the calm water of Cook Inlet we could observe Horned Puffins flying south.  Unfortunately not much else was moving out across the water.   We had a nice mixed flock of songbirds at the parking lot, including hatch year Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a nice Townsend’s Warbler.

For the walk, we had summer visitors  from Oregon, Tennessee, and Louisiana.  Glad to have you all join us.   Since I was leading the walk I didn’t have much opportunity to take many photos.  A good day was had by all.  After four hours of birding we reluctantly returned to our vehicles and left for Homer.

Whimbrel and Yellowleg

Four Whimbrels in flight

Went for a hike at Eveline State Recreation Site, out East End Road with friends – Lani, Duane, Skip, and Joan.  The day was sunny, warm, and we had occasionally winds to keep the mosquitoes at bay.  There were plenty of wild flowers to observe and enjoy.  I was surprised to find Siberian Aster, a flowering plant I hadn’t seen at the park before (maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough).  Nice to see more variety at this park.  If you haven’t been to the park you are really missing a beautiful walk.

Siberian Aster

Fireweed

View from near the park

AUGUST

I once again conducted by monthly (August) COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) survey of the Anchor River South beach (this is where I always go birding).  I did find a dead Glaucous-winged Gull.  The bird was a recent kill as my walk is an out-and-back walk and I did not see the gull on the way out – and it would have been hard to miss.  There were two subadult Bald Eagles feeding on the gull.  I don’t think they were too happy to have their meal interrupted, but I did have to take measurements of the bird (tarsus, beak, and wing chord), and photographs.  Once done it was a little while before any bird came back to feed on the dead gull.

Bald Eagle feeding on dead gull

Dead Glaucous-winged Gull

There was a lot of shorebird activity on the beach.  Lots of small flocks (20 or less) of Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and Western Sandpipers moving up and down the beach.  Along the river and in the wetlands I observed Lesser Yellowleg, Greater Yellowleg, Dowitcher Sp. (which I suspect were Short-billed), and even a Hudsonian Godwit.

Mushrooms on the beach

Black Turnstone

This Common Raven was screeching at me. I think it was hoping I had food.

I did observe a Greater Yellowleg on the banks of the Anchor River playing with a small fish.  The bird would swish the fish in the water and then try to eat it.  It did this several times.  Fun to watch.  Again, nature at its best.

The real surprise was a Sabine’s Gull which came up over the dunes from the river, flew right in front of us (nice and slow), and then turned abruptly north and headed up the beach (we were walking south).  The “M” pattern on its wing was unmistakable even without binoculars.  I didn’t get a photo, but did enjoy watching the bird in flight.  Oh and yes, the gray/black head was quite visible too.

I had heard that Wandering Tattlers had been observed at the Homer Small Boat Harbor, so after the COASST walk we went to see if there were any Wandering Tattlers.  Score!!!  There were two feeding and two roosting Wandering Tattlers.  This shorebird is another favorite of mine.  Not sure why, but I just love this bird so I was happy to see four of them.  Safe journey Tattlers.

Wandering Tattler …

… feeding along the waterline

… and another roosting along the shore

Black-legged Kittiwakes on the Deep-water Dock

Adult with a hatch-year bird. Looks like the hatch-year bird is trying to preen.

Morning is really the best time go walking/hiking at Eveline SRS if you want to see birds, as it gets quiet later in the day.  The area changes daily it seems, and definitely yearly both in terms of plants, wildlife, and birds.   Always something new, something different.

Eveline State Recreation Site sign

Trail Map

Delphinium (aka larkspur)

Field of Fireweed

Evidence of a dead bird along the trail. I’ve found four (4) so far this year. Loose dogs could be the cause – the birds are feeding alongside the trail and don’t move fast enough to escape a loose dog?

The elderberry berries are starting to ripen. I love the scientific name of this plant – Sambucus racemosa

Triangular Leaved Fleabane

Sitka Burnet

What is left of another dead bird – wings and tail feathers only

Boardwalk on the Alpine Meadows Trail

Large-leaved Avens

False Hellebore – poisonous plant

Geranimum leaves starting to turn color

Dead Pushki (Cow Parsnip) flowers

Spruce cones

The trail (Alpine Meadows)

Went back to Eagle Lake to check on the Pacific Loon pair and their chick.  The chick is growing and stretching its wings.  I didn’t see it feeding yet.  Other than the loon parent and chick, not a whole lot of other bird life around.  Did see a Common Goldeneye hatch year bird in the small pond just before the lake.

Common Goldeneye

Have also continued my almost daily walks to Eveline State Recreation Site.  Today, I had a small flock of songbirds:  Townsend’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Lincoln’s Sparrow.  It won’t be too much longer before most of these species  migrate south – we are experiencing less daylight hours and more crisp nights.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Ferns

Dead Red-backed Vole observed on the trail

Fireweed in bloom

Pushki leaves dying out

Pushki (cow parsnip) flower seeds

False Hellebore

Goldenrod

Lots of angelica (Wild celery) in the fields at the park

Wild Celery

Remnants of a bird – one that didn’t make it?

Pineapple weed – the flowers if rubbed smell like pineapple – try it, smells great

Cotton Grass …

… up close

We have had some stormy weather this year.

And a two Sandhill Cranes that have been frequently our yard over the summer.  This may  be their bonding year and we hope they nest nearby next year.

Lesser Sandhill Crane

This Sandhill Crane is feeding near our home

Went to Anchor Point again to check out the shorebirds migrating south.  Not as many different species, but did see some new ones:  Rock Sandpiper and Sanderling.  Actually the Rock Sandpipers are most likely not migrating south, but are migrating to the Kenai Peninsula for the winter.  Rock Sandpipers breed in western Alaska and are tough enough to winter-over in Homer, so a nice winter bird to enjoy here.   We can get flocks of up to several thousand during the winter in Homer.  Want to see them?   Check out the Homer Small Boat Harbor during high tide November through February.

Rock Sandpiper

Sanderling

The beach at Anchor Point. Regularly traveled by vehicles.

Red-breasted Merganser hatch year birds

Red-breasted Merganser female and ducklings

Anchor River

Northern Pintail – love that blue bill

Northwestern Crow

Had a nice surprise today when we walked the Eveline SRS trail.  At the road where we enter the park there were 11 (yes 11!) Spruce Grouse eating grit along side the road. I was actually able to get really close.  All but one of the birds (Mom) is a hatch year bird.  Way to go mom.

Migration is definitely in full swing.  On my walk at Eveline SR, I had a total of 16 species today, including a Hairy Woodpecker.  I rarely see or hear them in the park, so actually seeing the bird was a treat.  Of course he (red on head) was too far away for a decent photo.  Also observed were Wilson’s Warblers and Townsend’s Warblers.  This year I’ve seen more Townsend’s Warblers at the park than I’ve seen in all my previous years in Homer (9).  A Brown Creeper was also spotted, and I’ve seen a lot of creepers in the park this year too.  Today really was a great day to bird.  I am going to miss the warblers and the sparrows when they are gone for the winter.  But, will look forward to the Pine Grosbeaks, and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch.

I love the color of the pushki (cow parsnip) leaves when there are dying.

Trail

And the dying False Hellebore is pretty too

The bog will be turning orange, red, and yellow soon

Hatch year Varied Thrush

Fireweed leaves are turning colors. If the plants are still in bloom, the reds and the magenta combination is beautiful.

Fireweed flower

One of our resident Gray Jays

We went to Diamond Creek SRS to walk the road and part of the trail that takes one down to the beach.  It was a beautiful day out with plenty of warm sunshine and calm winds.  Surprisingly there were a fair number of birds also.  Unfortunately most weren’t singing or calling so not sure what they were – other than sparrows or LBJs – Little Brown Jobs.

Road to Diamond Creek Trailhead – most of the birds we observed were found along the road, rather than on the trail.

Devil’s Club

Entrance to trail that takes one down to the beach.

Upper portion of trail – we didn’t go all the way down

Yellow Monkeyflower or Wild Snapdragon

View from a side trail

We are now nearing the end of the month of August, and already days seem more like fall than summer.  Most of the flowering plants at Eveline State Recreation Site have finished blooming.  The plants’ leaves are starting to turn colors, and more fungi are appearing.

Fungus

This shrew bit the dust

More Fireweed turning colors

Up close view

Our local birding group – the Kachemak Bay Birders – had a field trip birding Kachemak Bay on Saturday, August 26th.  When I woke up the view of the bay from our home  was total fog.  Not a good prospect for birding the waters of Kachemak Bay.  However, by the time we got on the boat and out onto the bay, the fog had lifted – at least over the Bay.  Fifteen lucky birders got to spend three hours on Kachemak Bay under dry, overcast skies, with calm winds (and therefore calm seas), and some great birds.  One of those best bird sightings was the Ancient Murrelet – a life bird for me.  I had a total of eight ‘First of Year’ (my first sighting for 2017) species on the trip:  Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Black Oystercatcher, Tufted Puffin, Ancient Murrelet, Marbled Murrelet, Red-necked Phalarope, and Sooty Shearwater.  It was truly a great day of birding.

Homer Small Boat Harbor near Ramp 3

This Wandering Tattler was found near Ramp 3 – foraging for food

And was joined by a Spotted Sandpiper with the same goal – food

Our boat trip on the bay included a visit to Gull Rock – a must for any birder (or anyone really) visiting Homer, Alaska

Gulls, puffins, and murres nest on Gull Rock

Sea otters

Black Oystercatcher – we saw four of them on the island

Black-legged Kittiwake

Nesting gulls and seabirds

Black Oystercatchers

Immature (Hatch Year) Black-legged Kittiwake

Tufted Puffin

The next day I went to Anchor River since it was a beautiful sunny day with calm winds.  Most of the shorebirds are gone, although there were still plenty of Greater Yellowleg along the river bank.  In the wetlands/mud flat area (between the beach and the river), I found a lone Red-necked Phalarope probing the mud for food.  The only other shorebirds observed were a flock of  17 Sanderlings (always late summer migrants) and two Rock Sandpipers, probably in Cook Inlet for the winter.

There were over a dozen sea jellies on the beach

Rock Sandpipers

Red-necked Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

I continue to bird Eveline State Recreation Site.  The number of sparrows present are dwindling.  Time for them to head south for the winter.  The warblers too will be leaving soon.  Alder Flycatchers were gone by mid August.   Black and Boreal Chickadees, Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Gray Jays will remain throughout the year.

Fireweed – the leaves turn brilliant reds in the fall

The Golden-crowned Sparrows continue to feed in our yard.  Not sure when they will make the trip south.  And a few days ago a Sandhill Crane family made an appearance – a pair with a colt (chick).  Today our resident pair weren’t too happy when the crane family showed up for cracked corn.  We’ve also had up to three Red-breasted Nuthatches at our feeder.  This is the first year we’ve had them in the yard.  I’ve only ever heard them nearby.  They are tenacious when it comes to getting food.  They don’t care if a Steller’s or Gray Jay is there or not.  Most other birds leave when a jay or two shows up.  We’ve also had a Wilson’s Snipe in the yard, searching for food.  I so love those birds.

Here the snipe is checking something out. What’s has raised his curiousity?

And here the Wilson’s Snipe is trying to hide in the grass

I’ve never seen a Black-billed Magpie’s tail up close. Love the coloring.

You can’t see it here, but its head is missing some feathers (molting)

Sandhill Crane Family

I think next summer, I will try to post a blog once per month, as I have found this summer-long blog posting to be quite long.  I do hope you enjoy it, however.  And Remember …

September and October will find me in Australia.  I plan to blog during my visit to that country, although I’m not sure how often.  Until then ……….

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

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