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Sunday, November 24, 2013

MacGillivray's Warbler in Dauphin County, PA

MacGillivray's Warbler
          Sharon and I made the hour and forty five minute drive to Highspire Reservoir in Dauphin County in search of the MacGillivray's Warbler found the day before. Upon our arrival we saw a small crowd of birders standing on the boardwalk, so we knew where the bird was being seen. As soon as we walked to the spot the warbler popped into view. We watched the bird for about fifteen minutes as it would perch on an open branch and start making its chip notes. We got good photos and two videos of the bird. It was a fine looking specimen and only the second MacGillivray's Warbler recorded in PA. The white split eye ring was very conspicuous. 

         This was a large warbler compared to a Yellowthroat. The bird had a whitish-gray throat patch bordered on the bottom with a broad grayish band. The bird appears to be a first year male. The tail was long and extended well beyond the yellow undertail coverts as compared to a Mourning Warbler.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Grand Canyon Visit

                                                                  by Gary Becker

          After flying out of Palm Springs California we headed to Flagstaff Arizona.

 During our stay in Palm Springs the week before I took a chance and phoned the El Tovar hotel on the south rim of the Grand Canyon and was able to book a night's stay there. Turns out this late in the season there is a good chance you can find vacancies(which during the summer require up to a year's advance booking), so when we arrived in Flagstaff we headed straight to the Grand Canyon less than 2 hours away. The weather was sunny and gorgeous the entire time with temperatures in the 60's and no crowds.

           We did not venture down into the Canyon but took advantage of the shuttle bus service and traveled westward on the Hermit's Rest road. We made multiple stops and enjoyed the breath-taking views. At one of the stops we happened upon a ranger-led program on the California condors. A scope had been set up with views of a juvenile condor in a nest on a very distant cliff. Unfortunately you could only see the lower half of its body but you could still appreciate the size of these birds. The adults were seen soaring a good distance from the nest. The ranger talked about the captive breeding program which started back in the 1980's when the total population of condors was down to 9 birds. He went on to describe the difficulties in setting up a successful program and the need to use hand puppets in the form of adult condors to prevent the juveniles from imprinting on the human caretakers. Apparently it worked and the program has resulted in producing over 400 birds(half of which presently are in the wild). Right now there are more than 70 condors in northern Arizona and southern Utah. Many of them frequent the Grand Canyon particularly in the summer. The captive breeding program continues but the birds have started breeding in the wild and there are at least 7 wild-bred birds flying free in Arizona and Utah with 5 active nests in the Grand Canyon. 

          When we arrived at the last stop at the Hermit's Rest lodge we were greeted by a very tame raven who provided photo ops in return for tourist handouts.  The next morning we awakened to sunrise at the Grand Canyon. I was out on the rim with my coffee, binoculars and a camera snapping pictures of the views, the local mountain chickadees, juniper titmice, western bluebirds, western scrub jays, pinyon jays, pygmy and white-breasted nuthatches, ravens, hairy woodpeckers and juncos. 


          On the last trip here over ten year's I saw bighorn sheep on the adjacent and very close cliffs. Unfortunately none were seen today. I later spoke with some of the staff at the hotel who told me that I was lucky on my last trip as many of them who worked here for years had never seen any sheep that close to the hotel. We spent the better part of the morning walking the eastern rim trail and  headed out late morning to check out the eastern end of the Canyon. 

          One stop was the Lipan Point. On this particular morning there was a serious wind making standing upright a real challenge. The sign there mentioned that this was a prime hawk migration corridor and that a hawk watch was conducted yearly by Hawk Watch International. The reason for the popularity of this route for the hawks was the short distance from the Northern Rim(8 miles) to the Southern Rim. If the wind that day was typical I would say that late fall conditions at Rosetree Park were pretty tame and I was thankful for not having counting duty in Arizona. 

Our last stop just before leaving the park at the East entrance was the Watchtower. This building was the creation of a woman architect named Mary Coulter. She succeeded in a profession that men dominated at the time. One of the brochures mentioned that her works were seen by many more citizens than creations of her contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright. She used the Grand Canyon as her inspiration and incorporated native rocks and Hopi art work in her creation. The high vaulted ceiling looked like an European church with Native American paintings(she hired a local native artist) in place of Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel. The whole experience was awe-inspiring and a beautiful end to our brief visit to the Canyon. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Birding in Seoul , South Korea

Seoul Birdwatching
By Michael De Rosa

Several weeks ago I was in Seoul for a chemical conference. Seoul is best known for its food, palaces, and shopping. It also has a lovely riverside park that attracts local birds and migrants. Through an online contact, with a member of the Korean Wild Bird Society, I was able to arrange a Saturday morning walk along the Tancheon Ecosystem Landscape Conservation Area with Byongwoo, a Korean birder. The Tancheon is a tributary of the Han River that flows through Seoul. Seoul is a city of 20 million and has an extensive Metro System. We arranged to meet at the Suseo station (line 3) exit #4. Exit numbers are important as some stations can have more than 10 exits, each one leading to a different destination. With signs and announcements in English, getting around is relatively easy. But we had neglected to arrange where we were to meet—so of course while I waited outside the station, he waited inside. The path is a short walk from the Metro station. He indicated we would walk about 4.5 km, and that it was a bit early for fall migrants. The path skirts the river, and there are places where you can get close to the water. During our three-hour walk we would see 19 of the 47 species that have been recorded along the trail. We shared the path with walkers and bikers. It was also the only place I saw a dog being walked.

We saw the following: Spot-billed Ducks (various places along the river); Upland Buzzard; Eurasian Magpies (many and noisy-they over winter and then head back west); Grey Heron (several, closely related to the Great Blue Heron); Yellow-throated bunting (brief views of a group of three); Eurasian Tree Sparrow (large flock-abundant through out Seoul); Black-backed Wagtail (several); Japanese Wagtail; Common Teal (Our Green-winged Teal is sometimes considered a subspecies); Long-billed Plover; Mallards; Great Cormorants (several groups resting on the river side and trees); Common Kestrel (hovering and then on a power pylon); the very lovely Daurian Redstart (several in bushes along trail); Rufus (Oriental) Turtle Dove (very common in Seoul); Brown-eared Bulbul; Great Tit; Carrion Crow; Herring Gull (flying over river).

Food is a very important part of Korean life. As you walk around it seems that everyone is either eating, or selling food. And if they are not eating, they are drinking coffee. Byongwoo invited me to lunch where I gave him a bird book. We eat at the Mandoo Restaurant-that he described as serving Korean-style Chinese dumplings. Lunch was fish cake soup, Kim pap (Korean sushi), Mandoo dumplings, and Teobbaki. This last is a staple dish made with rice cakes (in the shape of cylinders) mixed with various ingredients and sauces. In Seoul there is an entire museum devoted to rice cakes. From the restaurant he walked me back to the Metro.

We shared the path with bikers & walkers

 Great Cormorant

 Great Tit

 Eurasian Magpie

Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Daurian Redstart
Spot-Billed duck

Japanese Wagtail
Grey Heron

An old friend-last bird I saw before we headed back

River side view

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Joshua Tree National Park

                                                                      by Gary Becker

          While on our stay in Indio, California we took several side trips to surrounding parks. We made two trips to Joshua Tree National Park on separate days and were surprised by the difference in habitat on each occasion. On our first trip we entered the park through the northwest entrance apply named Joshua Tree Visitor center. Turns out this section of park was in the Mohave desert and loaded with its namesake(the Joshua tree). 
Susan and Joshua Tree

          On our second trip we entered through the southeast entrance(Cottonwood Visitor center) and found no Joshua trees. Seems we were no longer in the Mohave desert but rather the Colorado desert which is below 3000 feet above sea level and lies within the much larger Sonoran desert which spans southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico.       
         Common to both areas however are the enormous pilings of smooth rocks. These rock piles began underground as a result of volcanic activity. Magma(which was to become granite) rose from deep within the earth and intruded into the overlying rock.

          As the magma cooled and crystalized underground cracks formed both vertically and horizontally. The granite continued to lift upward where it came in contact with ground water. Chemical weathering caused by the ground water worked on these angular granite blocks widening the cracks and rounding their edges. 

Flash floods eventually washed away the ground surface and exposed the huge eroded and smoothed boulders which settled one on top of another creating the impressive rock piles.

          The Joshua trees are not really trees but species of yucca. With their twisted spikey branches they look like a Dr. Seuss creation. In these arid areas we saw cactus wren, rock wren, Gambel's quail, ravens and  red tailed hawks.
Cactus Wren

Rock Wren

Gambel's Quail

          There were several species of reptile including what I believe were the desert iguana and the zebra-tailed lizard. Predictably the better birding was in the wet areas and so we sought them out. My only life bird on the trip was the rufous-crowned sparrow which we found in a wonderful watering hole called Barker Dam. 
Rufous-crowned Sparrow

          The dam was built in the early 1900's to hold water for the cattle and mining use. Today the cattle are gone and the mines closed but this small rain-fed reservoir attracts lots of park wildlife. Besides the sparrow I found lesser goldfinch, Say's and black phoebe's, phainopepla, Cedar waxwing, Townsend's warbler,yellow-rumped warblers, scrub jay and Western bluebird all in this rather small area. 

Lesser Goldfinch

Western Scrub Jay

          It was certainly the highlight of the first day's tour along with the Key's View Vista which is an overlook at 5185 feet in the middle of the park with views all the way to Palm Springs and the san Bernadino mountains.

The high flying twosome - Gary and Susan

          When we made a return trip several days later we entered through the Cottonwood visitor center at the southeast entrance. The Joshua trees were gone but replaced by cholla cactus, ocotillo, green-backed palo verde trees and smoke trees. 


          I can't say that we added any new birds on the visit but the landscape was gorgeous and the hiking exhilarating and definitely left us vowing to return.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Palm Springs Trip Report

                                                                Authored by Gary Becker

        Two weeks ago my wife Susan and I spent a wonderful week in the Palm Springs area of southern California. We stayed at the Wyndham Resort which included the Terra Loga golf courses. There was a lot of acreage to bird and hike starting on our own back deck. The first morning Susan sprinkled some Cheerios on the deck railing and floor and within minutes we were attracting Brewer's Blackbirds and great-tailed grackles. 
Great-tailed Grackles
        Cliff swallow nests were under the eves of many of the buildings but it appears the swallows and swifts had moved on. 

        The lazy river pool right next to our condo attracted a group of 20+ mallards every morning.  In spite of the pool guys vacuuming activities the birds didn't budge until the human guests arrived and started their daily ritual of walking the lazy river against the current as part of an hour long aerobics ritual. Susan and I occasionally joined the group but most days we walked the golf course and grounds for an hour or two. Several ponds and waterfalls attracted a host of birds including a large flock of coots, snowy and great egrets, green herons, killdeer, spotted sandpiper, and black-crowned night herons.
Black-crowned Night-Herons
       There were 2 courses but one was closed for sodding so we could walk there without running into golfers. On the other we walked the back nine early before the golfers caught up with us. We always ran into several of the resident roadrunners in our walks and one in particular could be reliably spotted on the first tee and approached within a few feet. 
Roadrunner that missed his Tee Time

Say's Phoebe
There were four Anna's hummingbirds hanging out in the shrubs at the end of our building and several verdin tending to their surprisingly large nests(for such a small bird) in some trees nearby. Say's and black phoebes were regularly seen along with yellow-rumped warblers, white crowned sparrows, house finches, house sparrows, blue gray gnatcatchers, white-winged doves and mourning doves, and the ubiquitous ravens. 

Black Phoebe

         Raptors were few in number: only a single kestrel and several redtails. I did not see any crows the entire week there and it was not until we traveled over to Arizona the following week that I encountered American crows.

        A pair of Crissal's thrashers, a pair of Inca doves, Abert's towhee, loggerhead shrike, and ash-throated flycatcher were all great one time sightings. 
Crissal Thrasher
Loggerhead Shrike

Anna's Hummingbird

       We were busy with side trips every day and were pretty exhausted by the end of the week. We spent two days at Joshua Tree National Park, made two trips via the Palm Springs aerial tramway to the San Jacinto state park, and visited a desert oasis owned by the Nature Conservancy. These were beautiful areas and I would like to share some photos with the bird club.