Monday, November 23, 2009

Rooi Els

Saturday morning I visited Rooi Els, a well known spot for Cape Rockjumper, a South African endemic. Situated on False Bay, Rooi Els offers breathtaking views and a huge diversity of fynbo plants. I strolled down the rocky track taking in fynbo-loving species including Cape Bulbul, Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Robin-Chat and Cape Siskins (see a pattern here?).

Cape Sugarbird

Eventually the distinctive calls of Cape Rockjumpers echoed down the hillside from above. There are only a few pairs along this stretch so without hesitating, I climbed the rocky slope. The next hour or so was spent scanning the rocks unsuccessfully. However, a trio of Ground Woodpeckers mobbing a Dassie and a Victorin’s Warbler nearby made the trek worth it. The latter is highly sought after and with its limited range and skulking habits, this species is a tuff one to see. Luck was with me as I watched it from a few meters away as it blissfully foraged, occasionally teeing up to sing.

Victorin's Warbler

I eventually descended down the slope and once I returned back to the rocky track, there were the rockjumpers! I didn't know what to think about being fooled by a bird but I happily watched them as they teed up on the rocks and jumped down the track. They eventually moved on and after I had my filling of Familiar Chats, Karoo Prinia and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, that concluded a remarkable morning of birding.

Cape Rockjumper

Karoo Prinia

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cape Town, South Africa

After nearly 40 hours of traveling via Pittsburgh, John F. Kennedy, Abu Dhabi, Johannesburg and Cape Town airports, I arrived in Cape Town early Sunday morning. The past couple days were spent recovering from jet lag and exploring the surrounding area. I’m currently staying at the Tropical Birding office in the northern suburb, Bloubergrise and only had time to bird areas within walking distance. It appears the the blogger photo uploader isn't working right now but when it does, I'll go more in dept on what I'm seeing.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Northern Wheatear!

After receiving several phone calls around noon, I was Bunker Hill bound. Ohio’s third record of a Northern Wheatear was found at the residence of Emery Yoder in Holmes County. After a 45 minute delay on Rt. 62 with a car completely engulfed in flames, I was eventually standing there with a small crowd watching the wheatear. It was probably the most cooperative bird I have ever chased teeing up only 30 meters away. Ohio’s last wheatear record came from Marion County in November 1998.

Here’s a shot by Gabe Leidy:

For more details visit:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Arctic Pelagic

Sabine's Gull

Last Saturday a local Inupiaq invited us on a pelagic trip to look for whales and birds. After boarding his boat, we were soon 4.5 miles out into the Chuckchi Sea and surrounded by Gray Whales, Bearded Seals and seabirds. Lewis has a lot of experience with whales being one of the local whaling captains so he was able to get us fantastic views of Gray Whales.

Here’s how close we got to view these majestic mammals. Words can’t explain how incredible it was to have them surface just feet away. We could feel the rumble as every whale took a deep breath before submerging back into the water to feed on the ocean floor.

These whales skim the top layer of sediment on the ocean floor returning to the surface straining the sediment through their baleen. This allows them to swallow only the bottom-dwelling invertebrates. As we watched them surfaced, we were able to see a lot of the sediment they brought up from the ocean floor.

After tearing ourselves away from the whales, we cruised along some of the sea ice in search of pelagic birds.

As we passed an iceberg we came across this group of Red Phalaropes. It took me a split second to remember that Red Phalaropes are actually pelagic birds. For the past two months I was studying their nesting habits on the tundra.

Here are the three most common Laridae off Barrow apart from Glaucous Gull. From left to right – Arctic Tern, Sabine’s Gull and Black-legged Kittiwake.

Arctic Terns are rather abundant in well…the Arctic. Here’s an oddly shaped iceberg with a couple dozen roosting on top.

I really want to get out on another pelagic but with only four full days remaining in Barrow, it’s unlikely. Perhaps next week, we will take a trip off Homer or Seward, Alaska.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

July update 7/16

Baird's Sandpiper

Things are slowing down here on the tundra and only a few nests remain on our study plots. Even though a lot of chicks hatched, the majority of the clutches were predated – probably around 60%. This is partially due to it being a lemming crash year. Predators such as jaegers and foxes feed on lemmings and when numbers are low, shorebird eggs are next on their menu. During the past month and a half, I personally saw only one Brown Lemming. Last year a few hundred a day wasn’t out of the question. Here are a few chick photos..

Semipalmated Sandpiper chick (the white dot on its bill is an egg tooth which helps them break through their shells)

Red-necked Phalarope chick

Red-necked Phalarope chick point-of-view

Dunlin chicks

Two days ago we experienced record high temperatures reaching somewhere in the low 70’s. I would have never guessed that 70 degrees would feel too hot but we were feeling it. Every year the Barrow shorebird group partakes in a ‘mandatory’ polar bear dive in the Arctic Ocean. With water temps barely above freezing, it’s actually not that cold…you just instantly go numb!

The height of the moment when we were asking what did we get ourselves into?

The rest of the season will be spent monitoring the last remaining nests, data entry and gear cleanup/inventory. I leave Barrow on August 1st and will be back in Ohio on the 10th. The time between will be spent birding around the Denali/Seward/Homer area with a few friends that I’ve been working with in Barrow. Until next time, cheers!

Semipalmated Plover - banded in '08

Monday, July 6, 2009

Unofficial state bird of Alaska

Yesterday was a stunning day with warm temperatures and practically no wind. Unfortunately, that’s when all the mosquitoes decided to hatch out. Swarms of mosquitoes engulfed us as we attempted to nest search and band shorebirds. Here’s a short clip I took showing the hordes of them surrounding us as we banded an American Golden-Plover.

It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago there were practically no mosquitoes. Who wants to come and visit!?! As bad as it looks, the majority of them weren't biting.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Rope Dragging & Nalukataq

Rope Dragging Crew: L to R - Stephen Yezerinac, Ethan Kistler,
Charlie Governali and Fabrice Chevreux.

We finished rope dragging yesterday, discovering a lot of new nests. It was exhausting but rewarding at the same time. I think we had about 50 new nests in those 4 days. Today we returned to our normal schedule of plot searching. Even after rope dragging, we are still finding new nests.

Last Sunday was our day off so a few of us went to the second Nalukataq (Whale Festival) of the year. The Inupiaq Eskimos celebrate their successful whale hunts and during these gatherings they pass out the whale meat, dance, sing, tell stories and have a blanket toss. The blanket is made of several Bearded Seal skins sewn together. Locals gather around and toss people up in the air similar to a trampoline. Here are a few pictures from the festival.

Distributing the whale

Nalukataq Blanket for the Blanket Toss

Hunting boat

Fraction of 850 Long-tailed Ducks

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Update 6/23

Not too much to report on the past few days. Today I saw my first Arctic Fox while driving out to my plot. Tomorrow we begin rope dragging. It’s as simple as it sounds – two people drag a 30 meter rope across the tundra and flush shorebirds off their nests. This will help us find species that typically don’t flush easily such as Long-billed Dowitchers.

Northern Pintail nest

Friday, June 19, 2009

Polar Bears

Point Barrow, Alaska

Nine miles northeast of Barrow lies Point Barrow, the most northernmost point of the United States. This is where the locals dump whale bones to prevent Polar Bears from coming into town. After word of eight bears, four of us ventured out there. Right away we had two Polar Bears out on the ice and after a while, they came ashore to feed on the four whale carcasses.

Tomorrow will be the first whale festival of the year. I'm hoping to see some of it after nest searching. The blanket toss sounds interesting...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Ruff Day

Yesterday was my day off from nest searching so I ventured around Barrow. Late morning I got news of two Ruffs being seen near the new landfill so a group of us drove out there. It wasn't long before we were standing there watching two Ruffs chase around female Pectorals.

Male with white ruff

Male with chestnut ruff

On our way back we scoped out a couple lakes adding Killdeer and American Wigeons to our trip list. Later, Charlie and I drove out to Nunavak Bay where we added a Yellow-billed Loon and Herring Gull. Vega Gulls can be found at Barrow but the Herring Gull was too far for varification. On our way back we stopped to snap a few photos of this nesting Rock Ptarmigan.

Female Rock Ptarmigan on nest

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Barrow Update - June 10th

Sorry for the lack of blog posts the past few days, I’ve been pretty busy now that nest searching started. I will do a separate post later on what exactly we are doing. I just thought I’d post a few pictures before you think a Polar Bear got me or something…

Red-necked Phalarope (male)

Red Phalarope (female)

Red Phalarope Eggs

Lapland Longspur Nest

Long-billed Dowitcher Distraction Display

Long-billed Dowitcher Nest

Dunlin Nest

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Birding in the night

It’s one in the morning here and Charlie and I just got back from birding the BASC area and a few cemeteries. It’s great having 24 hours of day light to bird whenever we feel like it. The BASC area once again proved to be productive producing a Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, White-rumped Sandpipers, two Varied Thrushes and more Hoary Redpolls. The cemeteries didn’t produce much but the one we visited yesterday had another Varied Thrush bringing our daily total to three! Our last good birds of the day were two Sanderlings that were copulating and scraping. According to the USFWS, Sanderlings are "very rare and irregular breeders on the North Slope, with most confirmed records limited to Barrow".

Well, it’s time to sleep as I'll be spending all day tomorrow nest searching..

Semipalmated Plover

Days 3-4, June 4-5, 2009

Hoary Redpoll

Yesterday began with Charlie Governali and I birding around the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium buildings. This area, located a couple miles east of town, is a great place for vagrants. Trip birds include: two Varied Thrushes, two American Robins, Green-winged Teal and a singing Blackpoll Warbler!

Blackpoll Warbler

In the afternoon, we all broke up to different study plots to search for banded shorebirds. Fabrice Chevreux and I went to the Freshwater Lake area and had a lot of great birds including ~15 Arctic Terns, Spectacled Eiders, Short-eared and Snowy Owls. Afterwards we drove several miles south on Cake Eater Road to plots 3, 5, 7 and 8 finding two Sabine’s Gulls and three Snow Geese among all the jaegers and Glaucous Gulls.

Before heading to bed, Charlie and I walked over to a cemetery along Ahkovak Road where we found our first Baird’s Sandpipers for the trip.

Most of today was spent going over protocols, nest searching, safety and culture issues. For about a half an hour, four of us did a short sea watch seeing a couple Bearded Seals and a Slaty-backed Gull.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Day 2 - June 3, 2009

I was wide awake by 2am this morning; it doesn’t help coming from Eastern Time zone. Before the others woke up, I took a short walk around town adding only Savannah Sparrow to my trip list.

The rest of the day was spent walking back and forth across the tundra collecting snow and lemming data. It was very tiring but it was great to go out onto the tundra.

Here’s what one of our survey plots looked like – still a lot of snow. You can go from walking on bare tundra to snow up to your waist and occasionally you’ll find yourself sliding as you walk across puddles with iced bottoms.

The most abundant shorebirds were Dunlin, Pectoral and Semipalmated Sandpipers but American Golden-Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Long-billed Dowitchers, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes were also present. At one point I watched five Red Phalaropes in full breeding plumage feed just a few yards away as I sat there wondering why I didn’t have my camera. I will try to get back there soon and take some photos.

Besides shorebirds, I also added Common Raven, Pomarine Jaeger, Parasitic Jaeger, Tundra Swan, Brant, Northern Pintail, Long-tailed Duck and these Greater White-fronted Geese to my trip list.

It looks like we’re having orientation and protocols tomorrow so I’ll have some free time to bird around. Also, sorry if any of my blog posts are too dull...I've been running on very little sleep so it's hard to think what to write.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Day 1 - June 2, 2009

I arrived in Barrow, Alaska around 7:30pm (Alaska Time). After grabbing our luggage we were picked up on 4-wheelers and taken to the Polar Bear Theater where we will be staying the next couple months. On the short drive over, it was evident that Snow Buntings are one of the most abundant passerines. They are all over town in full breeding plumage and as I type, I hear one outside the kitchen two just flew by. Other birds around town include Lapland Longspurs, Glaucous Gulls, Hoary Redpolls, Wilson’s Snipes and my first unusual bird – a Bank Swallow cruising along the Arctic Ocean. It was only a short walk so we didn’t see many shorebirds and other tundra nesting species.

This is the Polar Bear Theater, which isn’t a theater. I still haven’t figured out why it’s called that. It’s pretty rough looking but so are the majority of the other houses in Barrow.

The Arctic Ocean is still frozen over for the most part. Soon it will be open and birds will be migrating.

And last – looking down Stevenson’s Road near the Polar Bear Theater. This is what most of Barrow looks like.

Today we will be heading out onto the tundra to start collecting snow measurements. More to come!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Barrow, Alaska

I'm off to Barrow, Alaska tomorrow to begin my summer job with the USFWS. I will be investigating the reproductive ecology of shorebirds until the end of August. Internet access won't be a problem so keep checking back for photos and reports!

Barrow, Alaska (circled) - 320 miles north of Arctic Circle

Monday, April 27, 2009

Smith’s Longspurs to Golden-crowned Sparrow

Sorry again for yet another lengthy delay. I have a lot of projects going on which makes it hard to find time to update my blog. Instead of going into detail on the past couple weeks; I’ll just give quick reports on my two new state birds.

Back on April 11th, a few Amish birders chased the Mountain Bluebird and continued to the Ohio/Indiana border to search for Smith’s Longspurs. Right away they discovered a male and female along Manley Road in Mercer County. Within a couple days, I took the four hour drive and was rewarded with great views of a few males as they flew over the road. As soon as they landed in the wheat field or corn stubble, they vanished. Up to 40 individuals were reported and a few are still being seen today.

On April 8th, a Golden-crowned Sparrow appeared at a feeder in Hancock County near Findlay. Due to access issues, it wasn’t chaseable. Eventually the owners allowed access but only on April 22nd and 23rd. Since it was a first state record, I left school early due to a serious case of ‘twitching’ and drove 2.5 hours. It was only a couple minutes before it popped out into the open and eventually making it to the feeder. I generally hate chasing birds coming to feeders but since it was an adult, it was worth it.

Golden-crowned Sparrow
Hancock County, Ohio - April 22, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

Mountain Bluebird in Ohio!

On April 5th, a birder came across what they believed was a Mountain Bluebird at Oak Openings Metropark near Toledo, Ohio. That evening I checked out the area but as soon as I arrived, it started to rain and nothing was found. Finally on April 7th a couple birders discovered and confirmed the Mountain Bluebird at the corner of Wilkins Road and Rt. 295 – Ohio’s second record. Since it would be a state bird for me, I tagged along with Jen Brumfield and her dad Wednesday to chase it. It wasn’t five minutes before we spotted it sitting in a small bush along the road. We continued watching it for the next 30 minutes as it activity fed ignoring the oncoming traffic. I attempted to get a few photos with my 55mm lens (my 70-300mm are being repaired) but they didn’t turn out at the distance I was taking them at. If you want to see some great pictures, check out

Mountain Bluebird

Friday, April 3, 2009

Panama - Part 1

No, I wasn’t captured by a rebel group or got lost in the Panamanian jungle – I’ve been so busy catching up with stuff, I haven’t had time to update my blog.

I left for Panama on March 16th and didn’t arrive at the Tocumen International Airport until the following evening due to delays and misfortune. This is where I met up with Ian Davies and Andrew Spencer who I was going to be birding with the rest of the trip. We left the airport around 8pm and drove east a couple hours to San Blas province. Since there weren’t any accommodations around, we pulled off the side of the road and slept in the car.

Day 1 – We birded Nusagandi, a 60,000 Ha reserve managed by the Kuna Indians. After getting permission from the locals, we headed down a few of the well-maintained trails. Some of the highlights include: Sapayoa, Black-and-yellow Tanager and an awesome ant swarm that attracted approximately 15 Chestnut-backed, 3 Dull-mantled, 20 Bicolored, 1 Spotted and 8 Ocellated Antbirds among others. After a great day, we headed back to Panama City and stayed at the Hostel Amador.

Near Nusagandi Reserve

Southern Lapwing

Day 2 – Unfortunately Ian got sick (which stayed with him for most of the trip) so he stayed in bed today while Andrew and I birded Pipeline Road. This 17km long road is one of the most famous birding localities in Central America. Located within the Soberania National Park, Pipeline Road is only 40 minutes from Panama City. You can only drive in so far so we parked the car and hiked 5 miles roundtrip finding a lot of great birds such as Yellow-green Tyrannulet (endemic), Spectacled Antpitta, Golden-winged Warbler, Cocoa Woodcreeper, Black-bellied Wren along with plentiful toucans, motmots, trogons etc. When birding hit the mid-day low, we headed back to Panama City. After dinner along the canal we stayed another night at the Hostel Amador.

Pipeline Road

White-whiskered Puffbird