Monday, February 27, 2017

Monkeying Around

FEB 18-25, 2017

I spent last week on the "friendly island" working on my project, The Birds of St. Martin, French West Indies, a photographic guide.  With rare exception it was a great weekwise for weather, I got a nice tan, I drank too much, had a nice visit with many couples we knew from around Minneapolis, and I saw a whole lot of birds, some of which I needed for my field guide.

The cover is a work in progress:

I also saw monkeys, green vervet monkeys, stealing mangoes.  I lifer mammal for the island.

These are troublesome troopers, these damn monkeys, biting beachgoers at Dawn Beach, throwing poo at innocent hikers, charging people enjoying a breakfast baguette, and or generally making a nuisance of themselves, only monkeys can do.  These guys are not native, here, first being "officially" reported by wildlife types in 2001, but they may have been here sooner and may have escaped from somewhere during the Hurricane Luis disaster, but no one is fessing us, most of all these crazy thieves. Luckily, my wife and friends didn't get harassed zip lining....them and I had more problems with ants.

I explored the entire French domain and I got some good shots of birds.  

Caribbean Elaenia

One of those Scrabble or spelling bee words, but this small flycatcher is not easily seen.

I saw a record number of white cheeked pintail, and proved they nest on St. Martin as I saw ducklings in a pond.  You know that with this duck it first appears that only males ever show in Florida but then being southern ducks, the sexes are the same. so those maybe aren't males...but the most handsome of all ducks, is this resident from the Bahamas through Argentina.

White-cheeked pintail

I spent a lot of effort looking for Caribbean (American) coots which are now not a species.  There are 300 at most on both sides of the island and they are wary birds.  I found two, which came back to this pond for three days and then disappeared and could not be refound.  I spent some effort trying to get closer but well.... 

American Coot
I needed a semipalmated plover picture here and found a flock of them.

Stilt sandpiper 

I found an enclave of Mangrove cuckoo, calling, and trying to get them out of the extremely dense cover, and well this one appeared momentarily, four feet dead above me, too close to get a quality pic, although I already had one, so no loss
Mangrove Cuckoo

I got three lifer island birds and a ??  which was a great accomplishment for me.  My St. Martin list is not something quite like Paul L's Gambell list nor Scott S's  St Paul list which are something beyond compare, sort of Pete Rose's record or Cal Ripkin....Mine? It is sophomoric by comparison and I probably shouldn't even bother but I've got some good St Martin birds over the years, maybe someone has seen more than me, I don't know, I may have to add some old birds onto ebird and see....and sometimes these are even on trips that I'm not even really birding.

 Northern Parula

Any over-Gulf migrating warbler can end up here but I've never gotten a parula before, and unlike normal, it even posed for me.

I added a green-winged teal
I know big deal right?  Which along with the northern shoveler isn't even on the usual French published checklist of birds on the island but I had seen one of them before in 2014.  There was a huge flock of blue-winged teal on the island this year that had moved into this pond apparently for the winter, and I suspect, brought some friends with from up north.

 I thought I had all the ducks that could occur here, so another one....great!
I guess looking for West-Indian whistling duck will go on forever, so I'll keep looking as seeing one of them here, or even hearing one would be awesome!

In one of those odd birding moments, I  was saying goodbye to a neighbor when a purple throated carib came into his feeder at sea level, "was that purple?"  I shouted as it zipped off..."Yes," the professor answered.....

The purple throated carib is on the checklist as endemic but in 300 days plus here, I've never seen one, of the four eBird posts I've looked at, and curiously none of them are from up elevation where you'd expect this bird, as that is where it is on other island I've seen.  No photos have ever been added to these checklists, and I, for one, have been suspicious of these reports.  I had been thinking, even a few hours before this sighting, that they do not exist here.  This sighting by me and a professor of comparative biology in Canada who now both now have a sighting, has changed my mind....sadly my camera was not handy, and I may have gotten away with using it here at a location not approved for photography and by then we also needed to go.

That wasn't the strangest bird I saw, though, for just a hour earlier, I saw this bird, over the tennis court, and two hours before that, I flushed it off a powerline above the mangroves a few hundred yards from the gate of where we live.  I had flushed a second bird, over near the Butterfly farm five minutes before that.  It's like 'that had a white bar on the wings....?'  WTF?

The second time was a good sitting look if only for a moment.  I may be mistaken, but that is a bare-eyed pigeon, so I say "WTF?"  Native of the A-B-C islands, Venezuela etc. but reported nowhere north of there, what is that doing here and....there are two of them.  Provenance?  There have been other reports this week, but what to do with this bird?  It could be here on its own, BUT..people keep pigeons, people release pigeons.  This bird was a true wild acting bird, all times I looked at it, and twice from almost 50 yards, very skittish.  This bird by its reaction has been hunted, flighty as ever, as bad as the wild scaly naped pigeons which I spent days trying to photograph in the hills, and walking looking, I barely did, one photo in 6 sightings.

scaly -naped pigeon

There is no local approval committee, so count, or not?  Until a couple years ago, 90% of the ebird lists on this island were mine,  so it not being reported here, maybe the French report it elsewhere...maybe worse for other islands south of here and this bird wanders....but I'm not sure....It acted wild, had no bands on it, and a pigeon from a few hundred miles is theoretical plausible, they got a white-crowned hanging around, and they get those flyiong through every once in a while.
 so a ??? bird.  This would be a real lifer bird............

I did try to get a look at a scaly-breasted thrasher, and failed, only pearly-eyeds around the island that I could find.  The pearly-eyes have started singing, which also react to cuckoo calls, so I assume the two are here for the same purpose and cuckoos are utilizing parasitism of this species' nests.

I hiked Pic Paradis, without getting robbed or mugged, unlike the last time I braved it up here in 2006.

I did it twice, and the fear has gone, so I'll keep doing it.  The view is good and if I avoid monkeys and brigands, it is a good birdy place.

Some more birds from my great backyard bird count day, one man's yard bird is another's **MEGA**  (why do birders love the word mega?):

Green throated carib

Black-faced grassquit

Zenaida dove

For a few cool local birds, ....we had a nice dinner party with friends at our place.  We worked on a plumbing problem at our rental villa, I didn't get hurt, I have no sunburn in any hidden locations, I wrote well on my field guide, and well...I avoided monkey bites. 

Well, home now, heading owling here tomorrow, after an interview with Homeland Security tomorrow.  Life and ...biridng...goes on.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Peckers, Tits, and Hooters

On Thursday I drove to Sheboygan, WI  to see a woman about her pair of great tits, and let me say it here, they really were great tits!

I knocked on her door and told her I was there to see her tits and she look out the window and then showed them to!  It was another item off of my bucket list.  I took a picture, so you'd believe me and then decided to go outside and check out a very large pecker.....

Wait a minute.  I'm not sure that came out correctly.  I really did see tits.

parus major, the great tit.  This is a European bird and one may ask....what is this doing near Lake Michigan in Wisconsin?

Somewhere in the end of the last century a person began releasing songbirds from Chicago.  These tits started finding each other and they began to breed.  The earliest I can find in the record documenting nesting was from Milwaukee county in 2004 although someone had seen them farther north and west earlier than that.  I guess the Wisc Checklist committee will have something to do. They continue to establish themselves, hanging out with black-capped chickadees, showing up at feeders and Christmas bird counts, and allowing people like me to use them in puns.

It is only a matter of time before this cute little bird will end up on the Wisconsin state list.
Then I can count it!

This isn't the oddest great tit report.  In 2016, there was a photo documented report from Cape Cod.  Okay, that was not one of these birds.  Then I scratch my head, why did that bird get a yawn from the birding community?  Could it have been a ship assisted bird?  I don't think it could have dispersed to here from northern Europe but a ship....where was NARBA or the rare bird reports?   This deserved more than a yawn, imho.  Oh well, the past, as they say is past.  I got this tit.

I also found a really cool effigy mound site with deer and other effigies in nearby Indian Mound park and I need to map these effigies better as I didn't know they were this far NE in Wisconsin, so I need to do more research.    

My pecker was a pileated woodpecker, year bird nothing more.  I drove to Ripon last night after my tit fest and met my sons and decided that even though this wasn't technically a life bird I drank a lifer beer none the less.  Leinenkugels dunkel!

Odd how it looks like I'm seeing the light...!...?

Today I gave a lecture in Ripon Ornithology Class about the perils of the Hawaiian birds and went over the ABA checklist and then to a large crowd this afternoon I presented my big year report.  The Green Lake Birding club and others were there in mass.  I had more questions than I've had at a talk in a while and it was generally fun.  Dr Khan was the gracious host and  interestingly Dr Skip Wittler introduced me by discussing briefly a paper I was lead author of on the Leaf-ling behavior of Buteo hawks, from 1995.  I forgot about that paper, that came off of my senior research when I was in school, and a student a few years later had taken up my project and continued it.  I stopped by Dr Bill Brooks, now retired, when I was out this way interviewing for Position in Appleton.  What a blur.  So learning that was kind of cool.   I met a couple of Blog friends and had a really nice time, thanks Ripon!!!  Thanks to all of the Ripon biology department for being so nice.  I was here last 29 years ago and many of the faculty are still here from I was here.

Between lectures, I went out to scour the countryside and bingo about 8 miles away....Snowy owl!

A nice very white owl.  It is good to know I still have it for digging up cool birds!
I also flushed a great horned over the highway so I had a two owl lunch, how great is that!

I went out with some of the local birding club members later and we chatted and had a cocktail and then  it was time to stop memory lane and drive home.  My goal in visiting was to see my boys before they graduate in May, they are off soon to start their lives, maybe thousands of miles away and well, it was fun to see them.  It is so cool having them go to where I spent 4 years of my life.

Well, it was certainly a hooters, peckers and tits kind of trip....did I really just write that?

Go Red Hawks!  I'm just out owling around in Wisconsin looking for tits....


Friday, February 3, 2017

Musings from up north

It has been a busy week, all in all, last Friday, I got to be on live on the Weather Channel, although I wanted to plug Hawaii, I didn't get the chance.  I had a Weather Channel interview cancelled due to bad weather months ago when they wanted me live from Barrow, but at least they came back around.  I didn't make a fool of myself.  I used to be a DJ on the Radio so I'm quick enough thinking to not pause when live, but it was only 2 minutes and I'm surprised so many people actually saw it.

Last Sunday, I was the guest speaker at the Friends of Sax-Zim Bog gala in Minneapolis.  It was well received and I shall continue in my mission to inform everyone about Hawaii.  I think I had 300 people there.  It was fun. I'm glad they raised some good money to buy more bog land.

After a week of accounting, and getting my life back in order, I got bored, I always get bored, so I went birding.......
I did the western spur of the "Willie the Walleye Route" today.  My self-guided tour that can give me all of the lower 48 non-mountain winter birds.  I had a reason to have lunch with some clients in Roseau, MN so I said, 'what the heck' and took off today at 0330.  The weather was decent, however, it was -18F when I drove into the bog I know.  This is not the Sax-Zim Bog, btw, just a bog I know well which is more manageable and typically better, especially for hawk-owls.

It all starts here:

A semi-secret location that is known only to a select few

The trip was fun, there is a dearth of winter finches up this way so except for a few purple finches, there was nothing else of note but I was not disappointed in the owl department.  Below is my first Minnesota bird of the year...Northern shrike.

I saw the Cadillac of owls, the great gray owl, and had him, or her, on a very small branch, before it spooked and flew away.

I go up here almost every year around Groundhog's Day.  It has been since 2013, I think, since I got a great gray here although I may have gotten one in 2014, I forget, it is becoming a blur.  I don't disclose my exact spot for owls up here (unless we've traded info in the past) since some of the other local owl birders refuse to disclose their sorry.

If the GGOW is the Cadillac of owls, the Northern Hawk-Owl is the Fiat 500 of owls, small sporty, sassy and cute although, how practical?....I'm not sure.

I got to count this next bird twice today.  That doesn't happen too often:

Seen here about 100 feet from Manitoba, it is clearly a Yank bird, but it later flew north and became my Canada lifer Northern Hawk-owl, FWIW.  It wasn't long afterwards when out of nowhere a white SUV with a green stripe skidded to a stop next to me....."Oh.  You are a birder...."  He drove off.

So there was a good bunch of hawk-owls about, all in their usual location, I've still never been shut out up here.  I scarfed a great horned but no snowy owl to complete a grand slam.

I was planning and heading to my second favorite country until...I realized my passport was not with.  So I decided to switch to grousing.   I jumped gray partridge in four locations, and sharp-tails twice.  I had previously flushed a pheasant so was on a roll, but alas, struck out on the spruce and ruffed grouse, and despite about an hour checking fields, all I found was a coyote and no prairie chickens so was only 3/6 on the grouse grand slam.

It would have been fun to trace the whole route but I only had a day and then rest of the tour takes two more, but it was a good day, long, 800 miles but good. It is always fun to see owls.

Well next week is another week, with stuff to do.  I do go to lecture at Ripon College in the Biology department which I've done before.  Maybe I'll even chase an oriole in Pennsylvania although I'm scratching my head on that one.  I giving a lesson on bird-listing and explaining the checklist to students and then for a 2nd lecture doing my Big Year and embarrassing my sons.

Then, I should be done, unless I get shocked and someone wants to hear from me, otherwise my 2016 exploits should be relegated to dust bowl of history right where it belongs.  Hunting for owls with my camera is fun though.

So that is the update from the life of Olaf.

Keep on Birding


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