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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Las Vegas - Day 1 & 2

Desert Cuties - Two Burrowing Owls
Carl Perretta, V.P. of the Birding Club of Delaware County (BCDC), decided to run a birding blitz to Las Vegas for eight intrepid birders of the BCDC. Participants included Carl, of course, plus Gary Becker, Bruce Childs, John and Susan D’Amico, Bob Kelly, Nick Pulcinella and myself.  We all made our own flight arrangements, but Carl had made our hotel accommodations. Five of us arrived on the same plane and Carl and I rented two vans as our preferred mode of transportation.

        Our home base was located at the South Point Casino on Las Vegas Blvd.
South Point Hotel
          This is far from my usual two story motel that I’m used to staying at on vacations. Nick and I ended up on the 16th floor of 25 in the hotel complex. The hotel included two different bowling alleys, an equestrian center and a large gaming area including about six different restaurants. While we were staying at the hotel there was a women’s bowling tournament and a cheer leading competition on the weekend which added to the crowds.

        After we checked in, we immediately headed out to a local park called Sunset Park located directly across the street from the airport. We were able to immediately pick up the western flavor of the birds to be seen in the Vegas area. We found Ross' Geese, Eared Grebes, Gambel's Quail, Anna's Hummingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and some Bullock's Orioles. You can view the eBird checklist at
         The next morning, and every morning afterward, we were eating breakfast at 5AM and on the road by 6AM. Today our northern commute took us to Pahranagat NWR. On the way to the refuge, as we were speeding down the road, we spotted a Prairie Falcon sitting on a pole allowing us to study the bird and watch the stiff wing beats as it flew around.
         Carl had arranged to meet a park ranger at the refuge and he gave us a tour of the place. The first location produced a lot of waterfowl including Cinnamon Teal, multitudes of Coots, Pintail and Gadwall and a calling Sora. 
Redhead - photo by Nick Pulcinella

       We also found California Gulls, Western Grebes, Wilson's and Yellow Warbler, Western Kingbirds and Ash-throated Flycatcher. But the bird that caught everyone's attention was when Nick yelled out MacGilliray's Warbler. Although difficult to see we all managed to get a look at the warbler.
Western Kingbird - by Nick Pulcinella

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's) - by Nick Pulcinella
         The next stop was to find the western subspecies of the Willow Flycatcher which we were able to see but since it didn't call the subspecies ID was undetermined. We were also excited to find an Orange-crowned Warbler, Western Tanager, Black Phoebe, Cliff Swallow, Yellow-breasted Chat, Pine Siskin, White-crowned Sparrow and Lesser Goldfinch. Moving on we stopped at the HQ and found a Blue Grosbeak and an adult Great Horned Owl and two young owls sitting in a Cottonwood tree. The final stop at a large lake wasn't helpful with waterfowl but we did add Vermilion Flycatcher and Olive-sided Flycatcher.
Male Vermilion Flycatcher
         At this point we stopped to have lunch at the lakeside picnic table. We were able to identify the Desert Spiny Lizard and a Great Basin Whiptail.
Desert Spiny
Great Basin Whiptail
         After a delicious lunch of Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwichs we moved on to Moapa NWR. This refuge was established in 1979 to protect the population of Dace, a small fish living in muddy creeks. Dace populations were in decline due to habitat destruction and modification. Competition with introduced species such as mosquitofish and shortfin molly, as well as the appearance of non-native tilapia, contributed to the dace's decline. However, as more and more habitat is restored and non-native species are removed, the fish has begun to rebound. Recent population surveys show a healthy increase in numbers. 
         Our target here was Hooded Oriole. When we arrived we found that the refuge was closed for the summer. So with much determination we walked the road outside the refuge and were able to find the Hooded Oriole. As an added bonus we also picked up Lucy's Warbler and a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk. Check out our eBird list at

Hooded Oriole
       Continuing on, we headed back toward Las Vegas and stopped at the Floyd Lamb Urban Park. As soon as we got out of the car we were treated to the booming call of several Peacocks.
        As we ventured around the park we added Eurasian Collared-Dove, Black and Say's Phoebe, Verdin and Wilson's Warbler. At the back end of the park we ran across a large tan rabbit which someone must have released. It was clearly a former pet. All of a sudden we were surrounded by all kinds of rabbits. Little black bunnies, a white rabbit and even a lopped eared rabbit. It felt like Alice in Wonderland. 
          I walked to the end of the park and saw some desert habitat I wanted to explore and was rewarded with a nice Black-chinned Hummingbird.
Black-chinned Hummingbird
             There were other strange activities also going on at this park. I don't know what this guy was doing.
Horse Thief
          We concluded our stay here with a decent list of birds including Pied-billed Grebe, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Common Gallinule, Osprey, Anna'a Hummingbird, Warbling Vireo and Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler.
            The day was winding down and we were getting tired so we made one more quick stop before we headed home. We drove to a vacant lot in the middle of town and Carl had a nice surprise for us. There in the middle of the lot were a couple pair of Burrowing Owls.
          Tomorrow we head for northern Arizona. Stay tuned

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Heislerville May 1, 2016

Short-billed Dowithcer (hendersoni)
             What better way to spend a rainy Sunday than a birding trip to Heislerville WMA in New Jersey. Although it was raining the whole time I was there I was able to bird from the car the entire time, thus staying comfortable and dry. 
             The main reason I picked Heislerville WMA was a report the previous two days of a Curlew Sandpiper and a Ruff at the refuge. So instead of writing a long story about the trip I have included a link to my eBird trip list which has many photos of the shorebirds that were present. I did not find the Curlew Sandpiper but the Ruff was present. Hope you enjoy. 

You can view the list at

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Shenk's Ferry Wildflower Preserve in Lancaster County - April 14, 2016

          For those of you who have never been to Shenk's Ferry this is a must trip in April. Stunningly beautiful wildflowers and native plants are easy to view from this well-maintained short trail.  The area is very tranquil, with rolling hills and a small stream.  There is an ideal picnic spot at the end of the trail, less than 1 mile from the trail head.  There are no fees to use this trail.
         Many of the wildflowers are in full bloom and there are many species to appreciate. Shenk's Ferry is located on Green Hill Rd in Conestoga, Lancaster County. It was an hour and a half drive from our home in Media. I must warn you however, the last mile of the drive to get to the preserve is a rugged dirt road. We made it in our Camry but we were stop and go at many of the ruts and bumps. 
          As soon as we got out of the car we could hear a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher calling and quickly spotted him. One of the first wildflowers we saw upon entering the trail were hundreds of Virginia Bluebells which were spread all over the hillside.
Virginia Bluebells

             Soon you come to the Trilium which are in full bloom and interspersed with the Bluebells
                     Along the creekside of the trail we were able to spot some Yellow Ragwort

Yellow Ragwort
             Along the creek you can hear Louisiana Waterthrush singing their hearts out with their boisterous song. Getting a glimpse of the little buggers is another thing.
Picture of Grubb Creek which runs the whole length of the Preserve

You can have a picnic at the end of the trail pictured here

           The full length of the trail is an easy 1.75 miles round trip and we did the trip in about an hour with all the stops we made for photos and observations.    
           Some of you might be familiar with Dutchmans Britches from seeing them along Ridley Creek in the state park. Well, we found lots of them and the similar looking Squirrel Corn which was almost done blooming.

Dutchman's Britches

Squirrel Corn - notice the shape of the flower is more like an elongated heart but the leaves are similar
           Blue Violets along with yellow and white violets were everywhere.
            May Apples were present but I didn't notice any that were blooming as of that date. There was also some Blue Cohosh blooming.

May Apple
Blue Cohosh
              This flower below is not known to me so let me know what you think they are.

              I believe these are Early Saxifrage

Early Saxifrage
           Of course any trip out to the Susquehanna River area includes a stop at our favorite lunch place. We always stop in Quarryville at the Lapps Restaurant for lunch and most times we get their Baker's Special, which is a bowl of soup and a large apple Dumpling. Yummy!

Lapp's Restaurant - Home of the Apple Dumpling
Apple Dumplings

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Middle Creek BCDC field trip, March 5, 2016

          About a dozen BCDC members spent the morning of Saturday, March 5 at Middle Creek reservation near Kleinfeltersville -- and a wonderful experience it was, set up by John and Susan Damico, many thanks to them!  The weather was kind to us, cold but not too brisk, and dry.  It was interesting to note that Middle Creek has become a place of multiple popular pilgrimages at this time of year for the spectacular numbers of Snow Geese and Tundra Swans, with some rarities added.  Ten years ago one could almost count upon having the entire place to oneself at the peak time of spring wildfowl migration, but now, in 2016, the parking lots are crowded absolutely to overflowing and parked cars line the roadsides for a hundred yards or more in both directions from a parking lot.  One might for a moment wish there were not so very many people, crowds even, but then one remembers that it is the caring and the loving enthusiasm of so many devotees of wildlife that give it a chance for preservation, so after all is said and done one has to be indeed grateful for their presence: every member of the public, save the occasional beloved (although maybe squalling) child was quiet and respectful, and kept away from all the banned breeding areas on the reservation.  It was good indeed to see many young people there, no doubt the first birding experience for some of them, and we encountered several foreigners eagerly exploring this facet of America.
          Snow Geese were the stars of the trip, oh yes indeed they were!  We first caught a glimpse of them as little more than tiny dots high in the sky, flying in to the reservation all through the morning in lines and V's way high up over our heads.  It almost looked as though a child had scribbled lines of little dots on the wallpaper.  (This and all subsequent photographs were taken by Dave Eberly.  Thank you, Dave!)  

          As the birds far aloft flew closer they were clearly identifiable as Snow Geese. Then they landed, and a whole stretch of the lake turned snowy white. Several thousand Snow Geese landed on a field bordering the loop road that we took around the lake, so we drove across and stopped as close as we could.  There was no way to estimate the numbers of the geese since they stood or sat so thick upon the ground that it was not possible to count, say, a hundred geese and then multiply that block of a hundred across the whole mass, counting how many blocks comprised the flock. 

          Four times I scanned the entire flock carefully, counting the Blue Geese.  You can see one Blue Goose in the centre of this photograph, and another in the lower left-hand corner.  My counts yielded fourteen, sixteen, eighteen and twenty Blue Geese.  The total varies because sometimes the Blue Geese were hidden behind white morphs, so my own count was no more than approximate.  I thought that if one could establish the accepted ratio of white to blue morphs one might get a handle on the total size of the flock by counting the blues alone.  But the only website I have been able find with any reference to this ratio was '', which gave the ratio as 100:1.  (There are also videos of Snow Geese flocks on this site.) A ratio of 100:1 would mean that the whole flock numbered at least 2,000, but I suspect it was a good deal larger than that.  Meanwhile of course there were all those other thousands of other geese still out there sitting on the water.  Readers, please let me know if you can come up with any better ratio!
          Meanwhile Al Guarente and Dave Eberly concentrated on scouring the huge flock for a Ross's Goose, and they found one, --- more power to them, since identification was quite a challenge in spite of the good light.  For myself, I had a much easier time counting Blues.
          We noticed incidentally, some little distance away, two immature Bald Eagles floating lazily across the sky a couple of hundred feet up or so, more or less in our direction, and we didn't think very much about that.  But the Snow Geese did, oh yes, did they ever!  With an echoing squeal of several thousand voices, and the rushing roar of double several thousand wings, the entire vast flock suddenly and with no warning took off into the air, peeling back consecutively from those closest to where the invasive eagles put in their appearance, all the way back to those geese that had taken their places at the end of the field farthest from the lake. These were actually the geese closest to us and to the couple of dozen other visitors' cars pulled up along the verge of the road; these were the last to take to the air, a few seconds after the first.  The unfolding ascent of thousands upon thousands of geese struck me at once as just like the steady peeling back of a thick section of the skin of an enormous ripe orange -- but the noise was something else.  We gazed open-mouthed in awe at this phenomenon of nature.  It took a distinct and appreciable length of time for all the thousands of these bulky birds to get themselves airborne, to wheel around, to loft themselves with all their strength into the sky, and to head out to the waters of the lake and to safety.  I suspect that this phenomenon was a spiritual experience for some of the fifty or sixty observers, perhaps even a religious experience.  I found myself repeating the words of Kenneth Clark in his book Civilisation: "I never come to Iona -- and I used to come here almost every year when I was young -- without the feeling that 'some God is in this place.'"
          Through the half-hour or more while we were standing around admiring the great flock on the ground before those rude young eagles disturbed the resting geese, we noticed from time to time here a few, there a few Tundra Swans taking off from the surface of the lake.  There were several hundred of these swans in groups here and there across the lake, not tens of thousands like the Snow Geese. The swans were also finding Middle Creek a blessed stopover and resting place on their migratory flight far, far to the north, away to the Arctic coast of Canada.   

          Tundra Swans are among the most elegant of the birds one can hope to see in a lifetime, and their voices delight the ear with a sweet flute-like note much gentler and much more refined than the assertive honking of Canada Geese or the more yapping calls of the Snowies.  Most of the Tundra Swans floated gently around on the lake, or silently preened themselves, but every now and again, a few of them would take off, running with all their might across the surface of the lake, beating their wings as hard as they could and eventually becoming airborne.  Most of these would circle around and then skid down to land once again on the surface of the lake.  But some chose to move on, northwards, with no ceremony of farewell or God-be-with-you, heeding only the silent call of migration.  As few as two or three, or perhaps as many as a couple of dozen, would turn away from the lake, rise up not so very much higher than the treetops, and then beat their way steadily north, up the long slope, past the edge of the dark wooded hill, and away over the ridge and out of sight, heading for the Arctic.  If there is a God in this place, thought I, surely these are his angels.
           Well, we drove along the rest of the loop road around the lake past the fields and the woods, glimpsing a Killdeer out on a field, emerging at Red Rock landing stage on the lake shore, from where far away across the water we could discern Pintail, Shoveler, Wigeon and Red-breasted Mergansers, mostly tucked in under the opposite shore. 

          Closer at hand, just a little farther along the road back to the reservation headquarters, on an open bay along the shore of the lake, Al Guarente and Dave Eberly found for us an undoubted Cackling Goose, here photographed on the water following a Canada Goose.  The signature round head, the absence of a slope to the beak and the smaller size made identification as easy as it could ever be.  We also saw this Cackling Goose in flight among the Canadas.  And there, there was a Mink to be seen, wandering across the ice, in and out of the bushes that hung low to the water's edge.

          Lastly, at the pond at the foot of the hill below the refuge headquarters, we were gifted with the clear sight of five sparkling Ring-necked Ducks upending in search of food, a couple of vivid Buffleheads, and a few familiar Mallard.
         What a wonderful, what a marvelous trip, to a destination only an hour or a half away from the very centre of Delaware County!  Thank you,  John and Susan for setting up the trip, and to everyone else for your friendly companionship.
George Wrangham

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