My 2023 eBird Challenge

I decided to challenge myself and take on a challenge listed on eBird. Could I observe birds everyday and submit a checklist per day in eBird? Don’t know, but I am on my way to attempting the challenge … to be done every day in 2023!

With this challenge, there will be no difficulty in completing a checklist per day when I can observe birds at our home feeder. Then to enter the list in eBird, simple. The challenge will increase when I am not at home, yet there should always be a parking lot, campground or wherever to observe birds and then submit the list. 

I meet the challenge with 2 submissions in one day when there is so much bird activity at our feeder! It happened recently as the morning crowd of birds finished off some of the bird seed. After I replenished the feeders many more birds came by! Word was out … new seed at the scene!

It is interesting to watch the house finches calling others … I even heard the Gila woodpecker, first at a distance and then it flew in to check out the new cylinder of seed. 

So many birds crowd in on the feeder! They seem to take turns, but every so often a couple of lesser goldfinch would challenge each other to a perch. It was fascinating to watch. Exciting at times when a yellow-rumped warbler or a ladder-backed woodpecker would show up. Unfortunately I could not get my camera in place fast enough to capture good photos of them. 

We have railings and plenty of trees near the feeders for birds to simply sit and wait their turn or to call in other birds before that bird went to a feeder. I will continue this challenge … 365 checklists to be done during 2023 … on my way!

Morocco, Oh What Memories!

I had a busy 2019 traveling to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, then a few weeks in Canada, a month in Poland, and at the last minute I added a fall trip to Morocco. I thought, why not? My lifetime goal is to see the world, get on with it! Little did I know in March 2020 all my upcoming plans of international travel would be scuttled by the Covid virus affecting the entire globe!

While hearing recently about Morocco’s team playing at the World Cup, I realized I had fond memories of that trip. I traveled with a friend and the tour company Intrepid. It is a no-frills company. We carry our own luggage, why I always pack and use my backpack, use public transportation, and meet with local guides in each town. The tour company attracts younger people than us, but we held our own, especially as they tried to roll suitcases down escalators or to carry their heavy bags up stairs!

Morocco is beautiful! Here are some photos from that adventure. My goal is to return and spend more than one night in the Sahara Desert. While I loved our one desert night there it was not enough! I love dark skies as stars pop through and always seem to twinkle my way. Enjoy the photos!

Rio Grande Valley Bird Festival in Harlingen, Texas

This is my first bird festival where I am attending field trips. During the 5 day festival, I attended morning field trips from 6am – 1pm, afternoon speakers and interacted with many other birders day and night. It was wonderful to walk and see birds with people of all abilities. For me, the guides and fellow birders provide support in locating and identifying birds seen or pointing out birds I would have missed if on my own. My goal in coming to the festival is to see different birds. We are not far from the Mexican border and the Gulf of Mexico; there will be different birds than from landlocked Arizona!

Here are the trip locations and number of new birds seen by me at each location:

South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center , SPI Convention Center & Valley Land Fund lots – this was actually my second visit to the Birding & Nature Center since I went on my own a couple of days prior. With my festival group and guide, I added 10 new birds to my list at the listed above locations: buff-bellied hummingbird, clapper rail, Magnolia warbler, bronzed cowbird, short-billed dowitcher, dunlin, red knot, white-eyed vireo, golden-fronted woodpecker and groove-billed ani.

Clapper rail

Magnolia warbler

Kings Ranch – Norias

The next morning we drove to a section of Kings Ranch and I had 3 new birds: Couch’s kingbird, Sprague’s pipit, and after three hours of searching we finally saw a ferruginous pygmy-owl! 

Ferruginous Pygmy-owl

The next day I birded on my own at Hugh Ramsey Nature Park and found 2 new birds: plain chachalaca and long-billed thrasher. I actually had a better photograph of the plain chachalaca in upcoming days but I am including it here.

Plain chachalaca

The next day was many degrees colder, damp and overcast. I found myself wearing a pair of pants and fiberfill jacket, winter hat and gloves. The birds seemed to have hidden deep in the shrubs. At Sabal Palm Sanctuary on the Rio Grande River, I saw an olive sparrow and black-crested titmouse. We were not having that much success here. Our hiking boots had tons of clay on them. We were walking on trails muddy from the previous night’s rain. So we went to the RGV- University of Texas campus. It’s a beautiful campus, we saw a number of birds and my new ones were: greater scaup and social flycatcher.

The next day, our last day of the festival, was a park I liked best: Estero Llano River Grand Park. We saw many birds and 2 birds I would never have seen unless the guides pointed them out. They were a common pauraque and a McCalls Eastern Screech owl.

McCalls Eastern Screech Owl
Look closely for the Common pauraque…eye is in top right area.

San Benito Wetlands

That afternoon a few of us birded at San Benito Wetlands. My new birds were a white-tailed kite, least grebe and a fork-tailed flycatcher. We had a fun time trying to identify birds as we saw them. At one point we saw 4 birds high in a tree. We identified them as 3 scissor-tailed flycatchers and 1 fork-tailed flycatcher, yet we were unsure of our identifications. If correct, this would be the first fork-tailed flycatcher any of us had seen. We were thrilled when another group yelled up to us and asked if we saw the 3 scissor-tailed and 1 fork-tailed flycatcher … yeah, yes!

Least grebe

Afternoons I attended the various speakers, the trade show and checked out the silent auction. The festival was very well organized. It is wonderful having such a positive experience at a festival … not only for the birds, but the many nice people who also attended. It was a joy to be in such a positive experience. I look forward to more opportunities. I suspect I will see some of these people again at other festivals. Come to the Southeast Arizona Festival each August in Tucson, Arizona.

Final tally: I saw 140 different bird species. Thirty-five bird species were new to me! WOW!

Birding at South Padre Island Birding Center, Texas

I arrived to the Rio Grand Valley Birding Festival a few days early so I could explore this part of Texas I have never been before. It is so very hot and humid, simply not enjoyable to be sweating and continually drinking fluids! But the great news is I have seen 8 new birds in one day while visiting the South Padre Island Birding Center! I also listened to a presentation about American alligators. The presenter had a 3 year old alligator and we could touch its soft, smooth leathery skin …cool!

The birding center has a 3/4 mile boardwalk through mangrove trees, to the bay, and mudflat areas. As a result there are various birds at each location plus the ones flying overhead. I arrived early to walk the boardwalk and then my entrance fee allowed me to return before 5:00pm when they close and stay as long as I wished! That was fantastic! Fewer people were here later in the day so I felt like I had the place to myself with the birds.

Here are my new birds after hanging out at this place for a couple of hours in the morning and another hour in the late afternoon.

Green kingfisher
Scissor-tailed flycatcher
Black-bellied whistling-duck
Great kiskadee
Muscovy duck
Mottled duck
Franklin’s gull

The American oystercatcher is the only one I did not get a photograph of, yet I will be back out to this place in a couple of days and maybe it will be possible then. For that bird I needed a longer zoom lens. However, there was a nice sunset:

Great way to end a very hot and humid day!

A Road Less Traveled

How often do we watch a television program where the adventurer takes a road less traveled? There are benefits away from people, especially when taking landscape photos. We want few to no people in the photo and to view wildlife in their natural habitat, so I can relate to that idea in traveling a road few will be on. 

Recently I ventured down a road I had never driven before. It was a winding, paved road with no center line or shoulder. No consultation with Google maps was possible so I decided to drive at least 10 miles, assess the situation, and turn around if nothing caught my eye. In the first 5 miles, I only saw one other vehicle and then a bicyclist on the side of the road!

I pulled along side the bicyclist and asked if all was well. The guy smiled and said, “Are you checking on me?” Of course I thought; “Yes, you are in the middle of nowhere, stopped on the side of this road, and I wanted to be sure all was well.” Actually I was miles into my drive and not sure if the exploration was worth it. Then suddenly surprised to see another human being out here … and on a bicycle … or more specifically off his bicycle! Why not check on the cyclist!

While talking with him, one vehicle pulling a trailer passed us by … no other traffic … which is the reason this guy bicycles the road. He was simply having a snack break, one he takes every 45 minutes. When he heard me say I was exploring, he had a suggestion. Another mile down the paved road, the road splits and becomes dirt roads. Take the road to the left, drive about 4 – 5 miles and when finally up a hill the land opens to San Rafael Valley … what he suggested I should see since I am already this far down the road. He also mentioned to go straight, no turns, and remember how to come back out, back track, so I do not end up in Mexico. Easy enough. I drive on after we discuss the importance of bicyclists hydrating and eating food for fuel. I wish him a good ride.

Montezuma quail are in this area from research I had done last year. Despite no chance seeing them now, I did want to know where the San Rafael State Natural Area was. I continue down the road. 

I enter and leave national forest land, drive over cattle guards, pass signs informing me “illegal smuggling can occur” in this area (okay, I am less than 10 miles from the Mexican-USA border) and a “primitive road” sign indicating use at my own risk as surface is not regularly maintained. Of course, when you are driving a dirt road, through arroyos/washes, on rocky and winding roads it is a good time to check where clouds and the sun are in the sky. All was good. I continue on since the point of my drive was to discover a new place.

Do you know how long 5 miles is on a dirt road? It can seem like forever! Finally, up… up… an uphill and I thought this must be it! Yes! 

I pull over at this 4-way dirt intersection and within 2 minutes of my arrival, a truck pulling a trailer with hay turns off on the side dirt road, a regular pick-up truck and a Fed- Ex vehicle drive down the road I just came up! Then I have the place to myself! Wow!

I really need to plan these adventures earlier in a day! Of course, I probably would not have met the bicyclist to learn of this road to then drive and explore. Such is life; such is adventure! I will need to return another time … maybe Montezuma quail time! I loved seeing this beautiful expanse of land in the middle of nowhere! So glad we still have these places on earth!

Looking one direction
Another direction
Wonder where he was going?
The road I just came up.
The reason for the cattle guards.

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!