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Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: March 1st, 2017, 2:13 pm
by intermedius
Well I was originally going to do a second half of 2016 post of all the birding highlights from recent trips (Florida and Arizona). However, college and exams have overwhelmed my time so I will just post a few of the big highlights from the rest of the year and early 2017. I was able to boost up my ABA list to 395 and racked up 200+ species in my home county back in New Jersey, which I am very happy about. It's starting to get overwhelming memorizing both calls, morphology and behavior of both birds and herps. My snake knowledge has been slacking recently. That, or my memory space is being replaced with IUPAC nomenclature for Alkenes, Esters and the various chair conformations for Cyclohexanes.

Perhaps the highlight of the year was getting to visit southeast Arizona for the first time. It was something my dad and I wanted to do for a long time, so after a long time planning we decided on a week-long period in late July. We stayed around the Chiricahuas and the surrounding spots around Rodeo and Portal. Over 100 species were new for me there, and it was thrilling to finally see some species of birds that are extremely rare vagrants to the east coast. We missed a few: largely the owls, shorebirds, Costa's and Lucifer Hummingbird, and some of the mountain species. We also had some great unexpected birds too (Elegant Trogon, White-tailed Kite, Painted Bunting, Long-billed Curlew). Herping was also great. We didn't have too much species diversity, but managed to score a twenty-seven snake night in the San Bernardino Valley. We were able to score at least one montane rattlesnake. A pricei escaped into talus as soon as we spotted it, so no pictures.

Around three Elegant Trogons. made up for the lack of klauberi. We saw one pricei, but it slid into talus before I could snap a photograph. The males did not want their photos taken, but the female stayed long enough for me to snap a few shots. My 300th ABA bird was an unexpected White-tailed Kite, found close to the NM border. Apparently they are casual vagrants to this area. One of our last birds of the trip was Montezuma Quail, spotted on the way up the mountains from Portal.

ImageElegant Trogon by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageSwainson's Hawk eating Greater Roadrunner by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageViolet-crowned Hummingbird by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageMontezuma Quail by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageRufous Hummingbirds by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageWhite-tailed Kite by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

The three Molo's came on a single morning hike. We had walked up an Arroyo and spotted the first one basking in an open clearing close to some rock outcrops. We ended up taking our break right above her, and watched her move down lower into the arroyo for a few minutes until we finished. Then on our way down we spotted two more crossing the arroyo. Needless to say, a memorable experience.

ImageNorthern Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus molossus) by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageNorthern Black-tailed Rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus molossus) by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

Post-Arizona birding consists of stuff from Maryland and New Jersey. Lots of birding was done on my college campus, where a few wood lots acted as nice migrant traps for warblers and thrushes. Good birds on campus included Gray-cheeked Thrush, Tennessee Warbler, Cape May Warbler. Lincoln's Sparrow and an extremely late Wilson's Warbler found on November 1st. Also constantly around were a breeding pair of Red-shouldered Hawks that perched right near my dorm hall.

The male even snagged a Brown Snake. He gobbled it before I could snap a photo. So far the only snake I've seen on campus.

ImageRed-shouldered Hawks by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

Sometimes they allow me to get good shots.

ImageRed-shouldered Hawk by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImagePied-billed Grebe by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageAmerican Coot by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageCape May Warbler by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

My few excursions out into Maryland for herps have been profitable. Despite the permethrin, I would often get tick bombed. I counted around 134 seed ticks crawling up my socks at one point, and another 25 that managed to find a way up my hands and legs. A wonderful introduction to coastal plain snake hunting. The copperheads and hognose snakes made up for it. The individual below was a large female, probably past 90 centimeters. She was flipped underneath a bed mattress where she glistened with morning dew.

ImageNorthern Copperhead by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageEastern Hognose Snake by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageMole Kingsnake by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

On Thanksgiving Day, I was back home for some R&R and went out for a hike to scout out some locations for birds. I went into an area that historically had owls roosting and decided to see what the habitat looked like. I find that taking what I know about herping and incorporating it into birding often had some nice results, the flipside is also true. I went through some deer trails and ventured silently into a large cedar grove. Then I saw an imprint in the ground, which I thought some large mammal made. As soon as I went to the vicinity of the mark to investigate, I heard wings flapping and looked up to see two dark silhouettes in the surrounding trees. I realized I had stumbled across an owl roost and scanned my binocs to get the features. Indeed, they were Long-eared Owls, easily spooked and never to be seen. I haven't visited the roost again, since I flushed them by accident, but I was simply speechless.

Here's one of them:

ImageLong-eared Owl (doc shot) by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

Besides the owls, I scored three other new bird species during that break and broke 200 species for my home county. The 200th bird was a flyover American Pipit, a bird I recognized by its eponymous flight call. I had practiced memorizing the calls of the bird on Xeno-Canto, so I was thrilled to finally get a successful identification. The resident Merlin from the EOY post last year was back at it again. He didn't have turkey for Thanksgiving, but I guess a sparrow is close enough for the guy.

ImageMerlin with Thanksgiving Dinner by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

Also checked off during this trip were Long-billed Dowitchers, skillfully identified by my friend. Note the white spotting on the primaries, drabber tertials, and more subtle "wiggly' supercillium.

ImageLong-billed Dowitcher by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

It's also a new tradition for my Dad and I to try for Tiger Salamanders when it's cold out. Try we did, with success.

ImageEastern Tiger Salamander by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

No herps were seen during my annual florida trip, besides a few Iguanas and Anoles. A Coachwhip and Racer skidded off from a few trails I hiked, that was cool. A pilgrimage of young herpers invaded many of the areas around where I was. I'm pretty introverted, so I just decided to go birding. It was a rather good decision on my part. I got many cool rarities and new birds. At one of the many Everglades Water Treatment Areas, I got my first Limpkin and plenty of Snail Kites. The Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were a no show, try as I might. We also tried for a rare blackbird at a random rice plant in the Everglades. The plant was rather empty, as both a Red-tailed Hawk and a Merlin were scouting out some stragglers. Then a large flock of grackles and red-winged blackbirds flew in, and I began scanning with my spotting scope. Thirty minutes went by, no success. Then in the last area of the flock, I saw a small blackbird with a brown top, lack of red or yellow on the primaries, and orange-yellow breast. Bingo! Female Yellow-headed Blackbird!

ImageYellow-headed Blackbird by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageLimpkin by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImagePurple Gallinule by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

We headed south to Miami on the latter half of our trip in Florida. We spent the morning in the suburbs surrounding the city, waiting for some exotics to show up. Some of them did (Mitred Parakeets, Yellow-cheveroned Parakeet, Egyptian Goose, Muscovy Duck). Others (Red-whiskered Bulbul, Streak-backed Oriole, Common HIll Myna) did not. By then, it was the afternoon and all the songbirds were under cover. So we ended up going south even more, and staked out more birds. The first - Buff-bellied Hummingbird, was a success. There were three of them, representing the second records of the bird in Florida. The second rarity, Groove-billed Ani, was not. Oh well. We spent awhile sitting on a lone bench waiting for the hummers to show up and feast. After awhile, I got photographs that I was happy with.

ImageBuff-bellied Hummingbird by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

On the way back up from Florida, we stopped in Savannah, Georgia. Again we opted to go birding. Two more new birds resulted from the trip. A much needed nemesis of mine - Vesper Sparrow, was spotted by some local birders. In return, I spotted two local rarities for them. The first was a Sedge Wren, a relative of the much more common Marsh Wren. Like their Marsh cousins, they're small and a pain in the ass to photograph. But they're charismatic birds, crawling through grasses and marsh habitat the same way a vole or mole would. The second bird(s) were Western Kingbirds, a bird I saw too many times out west, but is a casual vagrant in the east coast. I also saw them most amount of Meadowlarks in my life.

ImageVesper Sparrows by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageSedge Wren by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageWestern Kingbird by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageWestern Kingbirds by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageEastern Meadowlark by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

Back in New Jersey, I spent the rest of the month chasing rarities before second semester began. I woke up one day and went on a hike. Afterwards I checked the local text alert system and heard news. An ABA Code 4 Barnacle Goose was spotted just twenty minutes away. I've tried for the damn bird three times, and always dipped. I NEEDED this bird badly. So off I went to the location - a small chapel in the middle of a large suburb. Scanned for a minute, and saw straight ahead my query.

ImageBarnacle Goose by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

Nemesis avoided!

Some other local rare queries included these below. I'm especially happy with the Short-eared Owls. There were four of them just a few minutes away, and I would often brave the cold winds to watch them hunt rodents in fields.

ImageShort-eared Owl by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageAmerican Tree Sparrow by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageGreater White-fronted Goose (Western ssp.) by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

A bunch of other rarities were spotted in NJ when I was in Florida. The biggest was a Rock Wren, which isn't any Code 3 or Code 4 or Code 5 rarity, since it breeds in the western United States. However, it's only the second ever record for New Jersey. Some birder serendipitously found the little guy at a construction site while out searching for some MIA Sandhill Cranes. The others were Ross's Goose, a bird almost impossible to find when in the similar Snow Goose flocks. Luckily it was in a Canada Goose flock. The last one was the legendary Pink-footed Goose, hanging close to the Ross's Goose. Technically, the Pink-footed is the rarest of them all in terms of the ABA area (a solid Code 4), but there were actually two or three of these geese in scattered locations around the state. The Rock Wren, in terms of state records, is actually the rarest of them all.

Naturally, my Dad and I chased the Rock Wren first. We left early to the site, accompanied by dozens of other "twitchers". Bad news, the bird was missing. The search began. After twenty minutes, it was raining and the prospects looked gloomy.

A few New York City birders shouted in the distance. They had the bird. I was able to get on the bird quickly, its rufous tones barely sticking out on the piedmont soil. Its features were incredibly distinctive = it bounced up and down on its legs and had a light brown supercillium. It gave us incredibly good views, and many people got superb photographs. Woo hoo!

ImageRock Wren by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageRock Wren by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

The Ross's and Pink-footed were literally a 'wild goose chase' . There were several sites where both had been seen, so they could literally be anywhere. One would just have to scan the endless flocks of Canadas until one sticks out. I spotted the Ross's after an hour in a small field off the side of a road. I alerted several other birders via text, and they came flying in with their telephoto lenses and spotting scopes.

ImageRoss's Goose by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

The Pink-footed was difficult and never showed up around the Ross's. At that point, it was raining hard and my Dad was getting discouraged. I managed to convince him to drive another half hour to a location where another Pink-footed was located. The endless scanning of geese repeated, until I saw a small bit of the flock fly up and land further back, as I studied them, I noticed one of them was noticeably smaller. It had a banded tail, and appeared lighter gray and brown in comparison to the others. Maybe that was the Pink-footed?

I carefully walked to where the flock landed and got the scope out once again. The Pink-footed was there, completing a "rarity three-peat". This bird was famous for me, as it was the last bird Jack Black and Steve Martin's character found in the 2013 movie "The Big Year".

ImagePink-footed Goose by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

I saw a few other rarities during my New Jersey break. Here they are.

ImageIceland Gull by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

ImageIceland Gull (spp. kumlieni) by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

I also found another Barnacle Goose. All by myself.

ImageBarnacle Goose by Justin (NoNameKey), on Flickr

And that's about it. Thanks for taking a look. As I write this I am studying for an Organic Chemistry exam. Hopefully i'll have some time to continue birding and herping. More and more I've been learning more about birds, along with biology in general. The forum has provided some interesting perspectives on the matter to say the least.


- Justin

Re: Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: March 19th, 2017, 7:16 am
by chrish
That's a great year.

To those of us not near the east coast, the idea of seeing a Pink-footed Goose is a bizarre concept!

Re: Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: May 7th, 2017, 8:33 pm
by intermedius
Thanks Chris,

Actually, we're getting pretty spoiled with them. We get at least one every year now that people know what to look for. If not, at least one Barnacle. I suppose it's a bit like those Tropical vagrants you folks have down in the southwest ;)

– Justin

Re: Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: June 22nd, 2017, 8:04 pm
by Brian Hubbs
intermedius wrote:Thanks Chris,

Actually, we're getting pretty spoiled with them. We get at least one every year now that people know what to look for. If not, at least one Barnacle. I suppose it's a bit like those Tropical vagrants you folks have down in the southwest ;)

– Justin
Damn, I hate those vagrants...they stand on the freeway off ramps holding signs and asking for meant birds...nevermind... :lol:

Re: Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: June 24th, 2017, 9:16 pm
by NACairns
Great post, I love the Chiri's and it's nice to see the critters. Montezuma quail are always great to see. Hope the chem exam went well.
Thanks for sharing,

Re: Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: June 25th, 2017, 11:42 am
by Brian Hubbs
I'm jealous of his Trogon and Montezuma quail...I still haven't seen those, and I live in AZ... :lol:

Re: Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: June 26th, 2017, 9:38 am
by intermedius
Thanks guys! It was certainly a privilege spending time in the Chiris.

Nick, survived my first semester of Organic Chem, but the struggle continues... :?

– Justin

Re: Trogons and Code 4's (feat. three molossus)

Posted: June 26th, 2017, 6:49 pm
by NACairns
Well good luck with those classes, the Chiri's are a heck of a nice place to tack a break alright.