Black Oystercatcher Search; Yes, It’s a Bird!

It’s been more than a month since seeing a new bird for my life list. With my desire for cooler daytime air temperature, I headed to California’s San Diego area. Dreams of cool ocean breezes, riding my bicycle or walking the beaches to find a black oystercatcher were on my mind for this quick trip to the west coast.

Along the west coast are numerous beaches. Bird watchers reported seeing one or two black oystercatchers along the coast. The chances of me seeing the bird? Honestly slim when only one or two birds are seen!

Learn About the Bird …

Before the trip, I wanted to learn all I could about the bird. Where do they hang out? What do they eat? I sketched the bird so its body shape and colors were in my head. I cannot miss their long red bill and how they carry themself. Black oystercatchers eat mussels so I look for them too. These birds do not eat oysters, but in 1731 an English naturalist observed the bird eating oysters so named it so.

My sketch of a black oystercatcher

Where is the bird?

For a few days, I walked the beaches from north of Dana Point Harbor to La Jolla Cove area of San Diego. At some sites, I went a second time at a different time of day. Just by chance I was looking at a Google map where another person reported, via the eBird website, seeing 2 black oystercatchers a few days prior. It was a beach site, just a stone’s throw, south of my more southern area of observations. So I went there!

Everyone is at the beaches this summer. I’m the only one walking along with camera and binoculars so I am often asked questions: what am I photographing, what is that bird over there, what do I hope to see, and I hear their stories. One man and I were talking about the gulls acting like they own the beach. He told me of a young gull walking right into his hotel  room here by the beach. We laughed as he wished me luck finding a black oystercatcher.

The Search Continued for the black oystercatcher …

As I was heading back to my van, especially since a local person reminded me I can only park for 2 hours at the spot I was in, I thought it would be crazy for any bird except seagulls to be hanging around on a beach with all these people. So I walked even further from people when I noticed a body shape and color not like a gull. I thought I was dreaming, strongly hoping, wanting to envision the bird and in actuality it really did look like a black oystercatcher! 

Expecting most of my photos to be the beach, surfers and overall scenery, I did not have my longer telephoto lens on my camera. I walked slowly and with no flurry of activity as I took photos. Creeping ever so close to not disturb the bird, yet also making it possible for me to capture a photo worthy of some editing for a good final photo. I could not believe it, the bird looked one way and then another so I could take a few photos. When I looked down at my phone to drop a pin for location, the bird flew off. That was it! I had my observation, my photos and the bird was gone! Amazing luck!

Black oystercatcher!
Shellfish these birds eat

I saw the black oystercatcher at Cuvier Park, also called Coastal Boulevard Park, just south of the more popular La Jolla Cove in California where brown pelicans and seals are seen by thousands of visitors. No one else on this beach saw this black oystercatcher … I could not believe it … yet I saw it! My search is over. Someday I hope to see 2 black oystercatchers feeding on a mussel because I would like to see how they do it. Until then, I’m good!

Surfer was fun to watch
Black oystercatcher before flying off!

Travel & Everest at Age 50? Why Not?

Recently I immediately saw a photo of Mount Everest on the wall behind the bar at the Dutton-Goldfield Winery in Sebastopol, California. It was a photo of Mount Everest from Kala Pattar! So many of us climb this 18,519 foot peak to see a spectacular view of Mount Everest and the nearby peaks. I love travel and the chance to share experiences with others who have been to a same place! I wanted to know more.

Who traveled to Nepal and took the Everest photo hanging behind the bar? Thankfully the man setting up our wine tasting knew. After finishing a business meeting at a nearby table, Dan Goldfield was introduced to me! (He’s the Goldfield in Dutton-Goldfield Winery!) Both of us, many years ago and at different times, turned 50 years old and trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp. On his trek he continued to a neighboring valley. When I turned 50 years old, I trekked to Mount Everest’s base camp, thanks to the support of my employer allowing me time in Nepal during the school calendar.

Was it easy to train and complete the trek?

Train for the trek: carry a fully – loaded backpack, climb up and down garage parking lot stairwells – often smell horrible – and icy northeast USA roads, plus time on hiking trails in Arizona and the Grand Canyon (my favorite place now that I moved to southwest USA) to determine best hiking boots! Many times I wished I was 20 years old because the months of training were hard work! In retrospect, I am thrilled to have accomplished what I did! Out on the trail, “climb the mountain” was my mantra. Burning through hundreds of calories, sleeping on the ground, hiking for hours at continued increasing elevation – hike high, sleep low – and enjoying the company of fellow trekkers and locals where we enjoyed delicious food all added to the experience! Of course, arriving at Kala Pattar and Everest Base Camp were the ultimate goals and then downhill to safely arrive home!

Yes, life is good with travel!

After the trek, I made presentations for my students and staff at my school, my community and at a local Eastern Mountain Sports – provider of my reasonably priced outdoor gear – some I eventually donated to our trekking porters. I cannot speak for Dan; however, if I was able to travel to Nepal to climb mountains when I was younger, I would have. From my point of view, when reaching 50 years of age it is time to travel and climb mountains or it will never happen. I love mountains! Thankfully my school’s faculty, board of education, student body and community allowed me the opportunity to trek in Nepal. Writing this post brought back wonderful memories!

Kathmandu – city time
The monkeys were everywhere!
On our way as we enter the park.
Loved the food.
Bridges – not for the weak of heart! I loved their sway!
On top to see Everest still in the distance.
What a sight …Mount Everest!
Avalanche while we were there at base camp.
I could not step on the Khumbu Icefall as Chinese liaison stop you. Look closely, in center of photo, of people crossing a crevasse. The icefall is huge.
I visited a local school as I do on all my travels. Eventually we send additional supplies to the school.
I love seeing children be educated!
Our group leap-frogged up the trail with Erik’s group. He is with his brother and father who I meet. Years later his father is involved with a Tibetan project I had; small world!
Wally – wonderful person and guide. I follow him to my next big mountain the next year!
I admired Rob Hall and was saddened by his death so left prayer flags at his memorial.

A few decades later, I am so glad I kept these photos! While having great memories is wonderful, especially since I am still of an age with a good memory, it is fun to see the good times and other people in the photos. Don’t wait till you are 50 years of age if you can make some of your dreams happen now! There’s a big world out there with many fantastic adventures to be had, so enjoy!

Long Point State Park … NY fog, rain and birds!

Why am I not surprised that it is raining on this trip and raining in upstate New York? No worries, birds are around. My friend and I visited Long Point State Park on the east side of Cayuga Lake in Aurora, New York. 

The rain let up, the fog rolled in, but we still walked to the lake’s edge. We immediately saw the silhouette of common loons! These birds bought back wonderful memories for me! I used to hike 4 miles to an Adirondack lake where I knew loons were nesting; few people knew of this location. Also and often, a friend and I would canoe to and set up our tent on an island on Stillwater Reservoir. We loved hearing the eerie calls of the loons at night. 

We saw other birds on this park visit … so we continued to walk the lake’s shoreline and a section of a hiking trail.

Here are some of the birds we had seen:

Common loon
Warbling vireo
Caspian terns
Common merganser

We watched 6 buffleheads. Two male buffleheads were being aggressive toward each other and the female bufflehead swam away!

Female bufflehead followed by male bufflehead
Bufflehead conflict between two males

And then, the best way to end a day … relax with a friend at a local brewery … Aurora Brewery … and drink a craft beer; time for a German style lager! AAAHHH!!!

Time to Connect or Not … 

Solo travelers, such as myself, can choose how connected we wish to be with others while we visit a place or observe some activity. There are times I want/need a quiet, meditative experience; other times, I enjoy newly discovered connections, shared moments, with individuals or people around me. 

With travel, one does not know the individuals one may interact with and/or if a possible connection, shared moment, or not will be made. This is a huge part of why I find solo travel so enjoyable. Conversations with people I had never known may spark new ideas in my brain as I listen to their point of view. This allows me think through what is said and to speak my mind to someone who cannot assume they know what I will say. Shared observations open my eyes to see and learn about something new or can be a reminder of things I should have known. It is the perfect time to be non-judgmental, in the moment, and with no expectation. When meeting new people it is time to break away from possible old habits, thinking you know what the person will say and not really listening. No assumptions can be made and thus I find myself more engaged and enjoying the moment. The level of connection, shared moment, varies upon the place and/or activity … and of course the individuals you’re with … and can be most fun!

I was at Southard’s Pond Park in Babylon, NY when I had an amazing shared moment while walking the trail and looking for birds. I met one woman and almost immediately we were sharing birding and photography info, talking about life, and the wonderful park with its wildlife. This woman patiently pointed out where a red morph Eastern screech owl was sitting, a new bird for my life list. Finally seeing it through many branches blowing in the wind and about 50 feet off trail, we continued walking, talking and observing birds for each other. When we bumped into another woman it was obvious she wanted her own space, so little was said to her and that was okay. Next we were talking with a man with his very young daughters. He was such an animated guy one could not help but be excited as he talked about the observations the 3 of them made, but he also wanted to know where the owl was… so we gave him the bird’s location. 

At one point I continued on and the woman I was walking with headed back to the parking lot. When I decided to return too, I got talking with another birder who was looking for the owl. I tried to help since I had seen the owl earlier, but which tree was that bird in? Before I knew it, the father with his daughters and the woman who initially pointed out the owl to me was returning to the spot. She pointed the owl out to all of us! There was such joy with help in locating the owl and seeing the young girls and father excited too. It was a magical moment; the power of connection, a shared moment, was perfect as we all saw the owl!

As I walked back to the parking lot I thought how wonderful a world would be if we could have more positive connections in the world. I struggle in understanding why there is so much negativity, conflict and disconnect among humans in the world. Why is there no desire to have a healthy, supportive, fair world for us all to live in for the decades we are only here? I simply do not understand the strife we put before ourselves when with the same energy we could do for the betterment of all. It seems this is one of those things I will never understand and can only do my part to to remain positive.

Thanks to the woman pointing out the red morph Eastern screech owl to me or I would never had seen it! It was a challenge taking this photo, the wind blowing tree branches in front of the bird, but I wanted it since few times do I see an owl.

I did see 15 different bird species on this walk. Photos of a mute swan and osprey are below. This is a nice park to visit if you are in the area. I’ll return someday as I did not walk all the trails and would like to do so.

Wildlife Surprise … Not a Bird!

My eyes are scanning … up, down, across … bushes and trees, the water’s surface while also wondering if a water bird will pop up through the surface and dive again, observing the ground and thinking the birds may not be enjoying the light rain that is currently falling … I too would fluff up and tuck away if I could! 

I am at Ithaca’s Stewart Park, located at the southern end of New York State’s largest Finger Lake, Cayuga Lake. It’s a beautiful park with plenty of human activity when the weather cooperates. Some 10 -12 brave souls are learning and practicing sailing techniques in their sailboats, a couple of hearty fishermen are hoping to catch something and I am sitting in my van with the window open, camera and binoculars ready, and all of a sudden I notice something!

What is that drowned rat-looking creature? I think to myself, that animal is too large to be a weasel or a rat, I am guessing a mink. Thanks to the app, iNaturalist, I include a photo and the necessary info about time, date and location of my observation for others to agree or disagree with my identification. Here the American mink is running by:

American mink sniffing around…
And then it was running off!

I was surprised to see the mink since they are usually nocturnal, but the gray rainy weather may be throwing us all off kilter. The mink’s thick brown coat appeared to be soaking wet, possibly from just being in the water. Mink are known to rely on aquatic prey so it may be the reason it was active during the daytime. I like seeing other wildlife. My outdoor time is not only about birds, but observing the web of life firsthand … yet I do worry about its future… in this moment though, time to enjoy this critter as it will be gone in a flash! And so it was!

Hiking at Grand Canyon National Park … I Love it!

Whenever I am within 150 miles of Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park I have no reason not to visit! A recent quick day trip allowed my friend and I to hike a few miles on the rim trail, socially-distanced from other people, and to view wildlife and the canyon’s grandeur once again!

The Covid pandemic is still unfortunately our reality! Signs are posted everywhere to remind people face masks are required inside various shops, hotels, shuttle buses and some viewpoints overlooking the canyon where people cannot socially-distance themself from others. Another sign I saw and had never seen before was designating an area for people to exercise their Constitutional First Amendment Rights. No one was in the area on this day.

I have hiked to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon a few times. When I am at the rim, I love looking over the canyon’s edge to locate certain points, such as Plateau Point, Indian Garden, South Kaibab Trail, Ooh-Aah Point, etc. If you were interested in hiking to Plateau Point, plan a full-day to hike down the Bright Angel Trail, then take a side trail to it just before reaching Indian Garden. It is still a bit of a hike out to the point, although it does have the flattest terrain of your day. At Plateau Point you’ll be overlooking the Colorado River and it’s a nice place to have lunch. It’s a long day to hike 12.2 miles. Or you may choose to hike only 600 feet down to Ooh-Aah Point on the South Kaibab Trail. Any hike in the canyon, remember to double the time for your return to the rim, bring water and snacks, and take breaks as needed. All can be accomplished with good planning.

Find a trail off to a point which is Plateau Point!

From Yavapai Point on the rim trail, one can see the Colorado River. With our current drought concerns, lowered water level at Lake Powell and less snow-melt into the rivers feeding this river, there has been much discussion and hopefully productive actions taken since we are far beyond a rain-dance solution to assure citizens of Arizona, California, and Nevada of a continued water source. You hear of places where water restrictions are required and this will be a larger, continued concern if we are not careful with our water management. 

As we look below the canyon’s edge, one can see the Kaibab Trail Suspension Bridge. Look closely, it is there! It’s an important bridge used by trail riders and mules to carry supplies to Phantom Ranch. Just before the pandemic there was a dedication of the 1928 trail and bridge construction. It was amazing construction and remains in use today! 

Look at the bridge and that is where you walk to cross the river.

I usually hike down the South Kaibab Trail to Phantom Ranch, crossing the Kaibab Trail Suspension Bridge …. Campout or stay in a cabin/dorm …. then return a couple of days later on the Bright Angel Trail to the rim. I love seeing the Bright Angel trail because it brings back so many memories of good times I have had hiking the canyon! Looking closely for the zig-zag of the Bright Angel Trail just before the rim. Many day hikers will walk down from this point … but remember… double your time as that is what you will need to return to the rim! And please wear hiking boots, sunscreen and bring water and snacks!

See zig-zagged trail …you hike it!

There are interesting weather-worn trees and wildlife in the canyon. On our latest visit we saw mountain goats and elk. Condors are sometimes in the air. Just keep your eyes open and appreciate nature at its best! 

I wish everyone could visit the Grand Canyon. It is an amazing place to feel humbled by what nature can accomplish with no interference from humankind. I can only hope we do not destroy our planet. I want future generations to see this canyon with water. Currently recycling scarce water is happening as explained in this diagram:

My hope is for all to look across the canyon, on a clear day, to the horizon 60 + miles away and see Mount Trumball as seen in the photo below:

Off in the distance is Mount Trumbull … this was a clear day!

Water and air are so important and canyon visit should reminds us all of their importance. Be safe and enjoy the canyon!

Butterfly Photography Drives Me …!?!

I thought it was difficult to photograph birds in flight, but I am beginning to get the hang of it … or let’s just say I am slowly improving! Lately I have not seen many birds, but the moths and butterflies have been all over the place! So I had this bright idea to try to photograph them … or at least one!

Every photo was with their wings closed tight … not helpful for identification, nor for seeing their beauty! So click, click, click and burst of clicks with hopes of capturing a butterfly in the photo frame! Finally, I got a photo of a butterfly which I think is horribly named … Southern Dogface … really!?! I would rather call it by its scientific name: Zerene cesonia. The upper side of the pointed forewings supposedly have a dogface pattern, you decide.

Look like a dogface to you?

The yellow underside of the wings have a black eyespot on the forewing and two white spots on the hindwing. Good to know since I see these butterflies this way the majority of the time when trying to photograph them.

See the spots?

I will keep at this challenge of photographing butterflies since at least it continues to teach me to be more patient while watching wildlife. Who knows, I may learn about another butterfly too!

Thousands of Sandhill Cranes!

Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area is where you will find sandhill cranes roosting. Yes! and between November till March it is possible to see thousands of them! Let’s not forget though, other birds winter here too. This property was once a cattle ranch; however, since 1997 the Arizona Game and Fish Department has maintained the wetland habitat.

My future goal is to visit when I can capture the birds at sunrise and sunset. It is more a photography goal than birding one, and I hope I am up to the challenge. Results will be shared in a future blog! For now, here are some of the birds I saw on a recent visit:

And of course, sandhill cranes:

Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona

Two weeks ago I finally walked the birding trail at Patagonia Lake State Park. I was searching for an elegant trogon and while not successful in seeing one there were plenty of other birds!

A canyon towhee was one bird I thought, now you look a bit different from others so let me photograph you! It was wonderful for the bird to sit on the branch and allow me to photograph it. Other birds like the bridled titmouse were all over the place before I could get a decent photo. But the verdin won the movement contest! With all of its moving around I could only capture a photo while the bird hung upside down! I almost missed one bird. I saw some action at a spot. I took a photo even though it was the back end of what I guessed to be a wren. Fortunately its eyebrow is in the photo to know it is a Bewick’s wren!

Canyon towhee
Bridled titmouse
Verdin
Bewick’s wren

Plenty of woodpeckers were in the woods. I felt like it was practice in determining is it a Gila woodpecker or a ladder-backed woodpecker?

I saw this next bird and was not sure what it was till I arrived home to enter it into Merlin Bird ID, love that app! I captured a photo of an Eastern phoebe!

Eastern phoebe

Another little bird I have not seen in awhile is the next photo: ruby crowned kinglet.

Ruby crowned kinglet

And finally a bird I knew as soon as I saw it…hermit thrush! Always wonderful when I can actually identify a bird on the spot of observing them!

So many birds on that birding trail and the creek near it, along with an entire lake to check out. I saw 15 different bird species during the 2.5 hours on the trail. It is a great day trip for any time of the year! I’ll be back!

Travel in the Age of Covid-19 & Birding

There would have been no other time I would consider a drive of 2.5 hours to a site, spend 3 hours there, and then drive home, yet that is happening in my world these past months! I am doing my part in wearing a mask, physically distancing from others and trying to get our world back to what will be a new normal. As a result, my travel is a long day trip, with hopes of learning and seeing something new since that has always been my goal when traveling anywhere in the world.

My latest adventure took me to the Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert, Arizona. The town of Gilbert made a commitment in 1986 to reuse 100% of its effluent water and by 1999 the Riparian Preserve was developed. It encompasses 110 acres of land. Seventy acres of the land have 7 recharge basins filled on a rotating basis with treated effluent to then percolate into the aquifer for future use. There is an observatory, 4.5 miles of trails, various vegetative zones, plenty of birding opportunities, a compass course, and one side of the property borders the eastern canal of the Salt River Project where people were bicycling and walking.

Some basins had no birds, some had no water and some basins had hundreds of birds. I loved walking the entire place. My goal was to check out this place and see the birds. I saw four birds new to me in Arizona: roseate spoonbill, least sandpiper, American avocet and snowy egret (notice black bill, black legs and yellow feet) … photos follow:

My most exciting time during my visit was watching a female belted kingfisher and a great egret (notice yellow bill). I discovered the egret looking to the sky and I wondered what it was watching; then I discovered it saw a belted kingfisher. I had never seen this happen before so I was amazed! The belted kingfisher would fly over the way from a good distance from the water’s surface and then literally dive-bomb into the water, catch a fish and fly off … unless it missed and then in a few minutes you could see it happen all over again. The bird returned. I was fortunate to get the photos I did since this bird had to be diving at a huge speed. Then I was wondering if I could anticipate where it would hit the water’s surface and get that photo … probably not … what a photo it would be! The bird did not return so I never had a chance at my guessing game.

Great egret, scroll back and see the difference to the snowy egret.

I saw 31 different birds. Two birds I had not seen in years: long-billed dowitcher and black-necked stilt … so I will include them here.

It was a long day, but worth it! Thankfully people of Gilbert had foresight in reusing the wastewater. There is little doubt Arizona will have a water crisis in its future unless basins around our homes collect rainwater to water our landscape, water tanks are connected to rain gutters, and other plans are developed so our rivers will someday flow again. May we be reminded of the words from Theodore Roosevelt, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will”. Thank you to all who do his/her part.