A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: skwclar

Twitch: Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Part 2!

Amherst Co, VA

sunny 43 °F

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 14:
Well, after five days of continuous, infuriating Rosy-Finch reports from Mt. Pleasant, I had to find a way to get back up there to find this lifer. Luckily, this morning the young artists were free so I was able to take the car that the girls were renting up to the trailhead. This turned out, of course, to be a much more cost-effective and flexible plan than my crazy uber expedition the other day.

I really wanted to find this finch as it breeds in Alaska and the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevadas and the Idaho/Montana Rockies and usually stays generally west of the Continental Divide. This is the first-ever Virginia record of this species and is a nemesis bird for me as I have tried to find these in alpine areas of Idaho for over six summers now.

Here are views of the mountain from halfway down the trail — you can see it is quite the elevation gain:
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The trail was beautiful but basically devoid of birds during this chilly wintry morning, apart from a small flock of DARK-EYED JUNCOS on top of a ridgeline:
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As I neared the summit, about an inch of snow covered the ground:
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A large foraging flock of a dozen+ EASTERN BLUEBIRDS were around the summit which was hopefully a good sign for finding the Rosy-Finch.
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Then, it took us birders about fifteen seconds to process that a weird whistle we were hearing was coming from a human, and not just any human, but most likely a birder signaling us that he’d found the finch!

And found the finch he did! At first, my lifer GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH was tucked deep in a mountain ash tree foraging berries:
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Luckily, it came to the outer edges of the tree within a minute of observation, allowing for STUNNING views showcasing why it is called a Rosy-Finch. Wow!!! What an impressive, long-awaited life bird.
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Mob of birders on top of Mt. Pleasant photographing the Rosy-Finch:
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What an incredible life bird, and my absolute bird-of-the-day: Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. Runners-up to the Eastern Bluebirds. WOW!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1187 Species (1 life bird today: Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch)

Posted by skwclar 22:26 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Twitch: Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

Amherst Co, VA

overcast 53 °F

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 10:

Before my coaching today, an ABA rare bird alert message came in about a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch in Virginia. As I am currently in Virginia, I immediately mapped the location to see if it was anywhere nearby.

As it was just under an hour away, at the top of a peak in the Blue Ridge Mountains, I hatched a crazy plan: I would hire an uber to take me into the mountains directly from my opera coaching, and hopefully bribe the uber driver into waiting for me at the trailhead to take me back to Lynchburg.

Well, so far I accomplished the task of securing an uber driver for this extraordinarily-long uber drive. The mountains were beautiful!
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Luckily, I was able to come up with a cash sum that persuaded the uber driver into waiting me at the trailhead. I rather insanely gave myself exactly two hours to complete a 5.5-mile hike with 1300 feet of elevation gain. This resulted in my sprinting up this trail!
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I had to stop to snap a few pictures of the beautiful scenery, as well as to catch my breath.
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After just 45 minutes of absolutely hoofing it up to the top of the 4000-foot Mt. Pleasant, where the Rosy-Finch was reported, I was rewarded with beautiful 360-degree views of the Blue Ridge Mountains:
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Then, another birder up there pointed out a distant raptor that I had first discounted as a Turkey Vulture, but upon further inspection, it turned out to be a GOLDEN EAGLE! A fantastic Virginia lifer — this is a bird that some birders try to find in Virginia for YEARS!
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Well, it wasn’t meant to be as I soon had to sprint back down the trail as to not keep my uber driver waiting too long. Rats! That was a large investment for a bird that wasn’t there…

Bird-of-the-day to the Golden Eagle.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1186 Species

Posted by skwclar 13:43 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Birding on the James

Lynchburg, VA

all seasons in one day 58 °F

This month I am down in Lynchburg, VA to sing a residency as a young artist with a small company here called Opera on the James. I have a wonderful host here, Nancy, who lives on top of a hill — so there is a wonderful view to watch for birds. A few days into my stay, a lovely SHARP-SHINNED HAWK graced us with its presence:
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CAROLINA CHICKADEES, a species I have actually seldom photographed before as I am not in their range terribly often, are abundant here at the feeders:
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Here’s another view of the Sharpie circling above:
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I took a walk to Percival Island, Lynchburg’s main nature park, and noticed an absolute proliferation of vultures. Outside of the tropics, I have never seen so many vultures in one place! Most were TURKEY:
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But there were a few BLACK VULTURES mixed in — note the silvery wingtips:
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A compare-and-contrast view of the two species while perched:
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WHITE-THROATED SPARROW:
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YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER:
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DOWNY WOODPECKER:
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RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET:
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NORTHERN FLICKER:
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MOURNING DOVE:
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SONG SPARROW:
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CAROLINA WREN:
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Bird-of-the-week to the Sharp-shinned Hawk with runners-up to all the Turkey & Black Vultures:

STAY TUNED!
1) An incredibly rare bird has turned up not too far from me in Virginia. Will I get it?
2) On March 10, after my opera residency is over, I fly down to PANAMA to meet my friends Kim and Susie for a week of incredible birding in the Canal Zone and environs.

Happy birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1186 Species

Posted by skwclar 18:01 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Bruxelles et Paris: Part Deux!

Europe!

all seasons in one day 36 °F

Writing this as I’m waiting to board my connecting flight back in the states…I had a fantastic trip with my dad and friends to Europe! I decided to book this trip not for banner birding destinations or anything, but because my dad was on his tour to Europe and my friends Evan and Scott were staying in Paris at the same time. So, I spent four nights in Brussels with dad, two nights in Paris with dad, and then when he left to Essen Germany with the CSO, I stayed in Paris for two more nights with friends. It was a lovely trip!

I managed to get out birding one more time while in Brussels — I took the IC train out past Ghent while my dad was in rehearsal in search of would-be lifer Mediterranean and Caspian Gulls. On my walk to the reservoir where they are frequently reported, I had a good number of COMMON CHAFFINCHES, as expected:
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And beautiful EUROPEAN ROBINS:
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EGYPTIAN GEESE with EURASIAN COOTS and a GADWALL:
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EURASIAN MAGPIE with a CANADA GOOSE:
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COMMON SHELDUCK:
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Flyover feral domestic-type farm geese, kind of a weird sight:
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Soon enough, I found the roosting flock of gulls which was comprised mainly of BLACK-HEADED along with a few LESSER BLACK-BACKED, as pictured here:
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MUTE SWAN with MALLARDS:
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This annoying boat kept on flushing the gulls, seemingly on purpose!
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Soon enough, I located a definitive CASPIAN GULL: A large, Herring-type Gull with a tall, long neck posture. I even was able to faintly make out its red eyering at one point! Lifer!
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Eventually, I got way too cold and had to stop scanning because it felt like my fingers were ready to fall off, even with gloves on! So one life bird is not bad for a twitch these days, awesome to get these Caspian Gulls! (I ended the outing with five!). Bird-of-the-day for that day.

The rest of the time in Brussels was great!
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Along the drive down to Paris, I spotted several ROOKS at the rest area, a bird I hadn’t seen since 2014 in Chartres, France!!! Amazing.
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EURASIAN MAGPIE:
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No birding was done in Paris but I had a wonderful time with dad, friends, eating, and sightseeing.
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It was a fabulous trip overall! I gained eleven (!) life birds in Belgium which was an awesome way to start the new year.

Coming up: expect a bit of radio silence from me due to an insane upcoming musical schedule (including singing at a young artist program called Opera on the James in Virginia), and then expect a flurry of posts in MARCH — I am headed to PANAMA with my friends Kim and Susie!!! Stay tuned!!!

Happy birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1186 Species (11 life birds on this trip)

Posted by skwclar 21:44 Archived in Belgium Comments (0)

Het Zwinpark with Dad

Knokke, Belgium & Retranchement, Netherlands

sunny 25 °F

On our first day here in Brussels, my dad and I awoke extra early to take the train to Knokke by the coastline and the bus to the Het Zwinpark to hopefully find some lowland European lifebirds! Please excuse any typos as I am posting this to keep from falling asleep too early due to jet lag…

Target birds today included: White Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Meadow & Tree Pipit, Spotted Redshank, European Stonechat, Eurasian Curlew, Common Snipe, Taiga Bean-Goose, Common Shelduck, and others…all would-be lifers!

As the sun was still in the process of rising (!) at 9:30am, we were treated to silhouetted birds to start our hike, such as this EURASIAN JACKDAW:
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Female COMMON BLACKBIRD:
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GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER was nice:
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GREAT TIT, male:
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And its relative, the BLUE TIT:
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EURASIAN MAGPIES:
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My first lifer of the day came in the form of a EURASIAN CURLEW with its impressive diagnostic decurved bill! Very cool!
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Nice looks at EUROPEAN ROBINS today:
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There were some paler BARNACLE GEESE mixed in with the GRAYLAG and GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE:
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My second lifer of the day: beautiful looks at a pair of WHITE STORKS! Awesome. This is the species featured in the fable of storks delivering families’ babies.
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GREEN-WINGED TEAL and EURASIAN COOT:
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A lone WESTERN CATTLE EGRET was also nearby:
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My third lifer came in the form of a REDWING, a subarctic Robin-like thrush that winters in Europe. Cool!
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More Curlews with a mixed flock:
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At one point, this COMMON BUZZARD flushed out of the trees and away from us:
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EURASIAN WIGEONS:
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Lifer #4: COMMON SNIPE!
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CANADA & GRAYLAG GEESE:
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NORTHERN PINTAILS, NORTERN SHOVELER, GREEN-WINGED TEALS, EURASIAN WIGEON, and a Canada Goose:
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More Graylags:
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DUNLIN with the Teals:
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More great views of European Robins!
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COMMON CHAFFINCH!
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Another Barnacle Goose flying over:
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Red Fox hunting with NORTHERN LAPWINGS in the foreground:
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Lapwings with oxen in the back:
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Lifer #5: EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHERS!
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Here’s one with a COMMON REDSHANK:
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CARRION CROW:
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Lifer #6 for the day: MEADOW PIPITS!!!
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SONG THRUSH:
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COMMON CHIFFCHAFF, slightly out of season so cool to see!
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EURASIAN JAY:
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DUNNOCK:
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BLACK-HEADED with a EUROPEAN HERRING GULL:
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My seventh lifer of the day came in the form of a beautiful pair of COMMON SHELDUCKS!!
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Then, I spied another lifer: PIED AVOCETS in a mixed feeding flock — awesome! Lifer #8 for the day!
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At the back right hand corner of the flock is a larger shorebird with a longer bill — that would be my lifer SPOTTED REDSHANK, my ninth life bird for the day! Now, just one more to hit double digits!
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Another beautiful Great Spotted Woodpecker on the walk back from the beach:
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The pond by the visitor’s center was fairly productive with EURASIAN MOORHEN:
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Alongside TUFTED DUCKS:
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And a LITTLE GREBE!!! This bird I only also saw at the London Wetlands, where I also happened to be birding with my dad.
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Another look at the Tufted Duck before continuing on — it was a long walk today — 7.98 miles to be exact, and in 25-degree temps with a chilling 15mph wind!
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We even briefly ventured into the Netherlands when I discovered on google maps that one of the park’s trails crosses the Netherlandish border! Of course we had to go, and we didn’t even bring our passports! :)

This EURASIAN KESTREL made use of that wind, hovering in place, looking for Meadow Pipits on which to prey:
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BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (white in nonbreeding plumage):
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EUROPEAN SHAG Cormorants with COMMON POCHARD (front) and COMMON SHELDUCKS (back):
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And a nice close look at my lifer from earlier, the Pied Avocet:
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The final tenth life bird of the day was a flyover EUROPEAN STONECHAT, a brief but clinching look in the appropriate habitat! Awesome!

What a day of birding — the most lifers in one day since my first day in Switzerland last summer, also with Dad!

Bird-of-the-day to the Eurasian Curlews which in my opinion were the most stunning birds seen today, followed by the Pied Avocets! Great to catch up on these more marine-adjacent european species, finally!

Stay tuned for more!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1185 Species (10 lifers today: Common Shelduck, Pied Avocet, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Snipe, White Stork, Redwing, European Stonechat, & Meadow Pipit)

Posted by skwclar 21:11 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

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