Thursday, July 24, 2014

July 24 (Day 205) - Goodbye Sonia, rest, plans for the next week and well beyond!

I had to say goodbye to Sonia very earl this morning. She repacked her life into the car and headed to Los Angeles where she will spend much of the second half of the year with her family. She will likely catch up with me around San Francisco in Mid-September. I will get to see her and her family as I pass through SoCal in October, and Sonia will meet me in Texas at the end of the year. It's great that I will get to see her at periodic intervals, but I will miss her greatly during these long stretches during which we are apart.

I have hardly moved from the sofa today. I have made a few foraging ventures towards the kitchen, but otherwise I have behaved in a very sloth-like manner. I am going to venture out to the Black Bear Diner for dinner a bit later. Sonia and I ate at the diner last night. This place serves the largest portions I have ever seen (the portions are very excessive for most everyone else - such a waste of food). However, it's perfect for someone like me who is probably burning 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day. Leftovers don't exist this year.

Tomorrow I will get back on the road. The plan for the next 4-5 days is to head north from Salt Lake, UT to Jackson, WY. I will try for Chukar at a very reliable spot north of Salt Lake tomorrow. After that, attention will shift to Trumpeter Swan. I should be able to pick up this species with relatively little effort as I move towards Jackson. I will look for Great gray owl and Black-backed woodpecker around Jackson. Should I miss either or both of these species, I will have another crack at them in Eastern Oregon in another 2 weeks. I am hoping to run into Calliope hummingbird sometime in the next two weeks as well. I expect to catch up with Ruffed grouse in either Wyoming or Idaho, and I will spend some time in Idaho looking for Gray partridge. This last species is not one I expect to find, and depending on how much time is spent looking for other species, I might to concede the partridge to keep moving.

If I end up in Boise around August 7-10 or so, I will have a lot of time in hand. Right now I thinking about making a run through Eastern Oregon and South-Central Washington towards Mount Rainier where I could catch up with Gray-crowned rosy-finch. I could then head to the coast to grab Mew gull. This is a bird I could easily miss further south since I will me migrating south well ahead of it. These normally reach Northern California by mid-October; I will be in Southern California by then so I need to make an effort to pick this bird up this summer (I won't get Thayer's gull or Ancient murrelet since these arrive in the lower 48 too late). After Mew gull, I could head towards Haystack Rock in Oregon where it seems totally feasibly that I could add Tufted Puffin. Although I think I can get Marbled Murrelet along the California Coast, I could possibly knock that bird out in Oregon as well. I could then spend some additional time inland in Oregon looking for birds that I might have missed on my first pass through the eastern part of the state. Mountain quail, White-headed woodpecker, Sooty Grouse, and Varied Thrush all fall into this category.

Here's the overarching timetable. I have allocated all of September and October to the Pacific Coast. It is ~1,400 miles from Seattle to San Diego where I plan to be at the end of October. I have covered 1,400 miles (with mountains!) in the past 23 days, so the ride down the coast does not intimidate me at all. I think most of the California bird-finding will be relatively straight forward. Yes, some species like Le Conte's thrasher, Spotted dove, and Pacific golden-plover might take some time to find, but many of the species will be free birds along the road (sparrows, titmice, wrentit, woodpeckers, chickadees, blackbirds etc). Heerman's/Glaucous-winged/Western gulls, Black oystercatcher, Wandering tattler, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, cormorants, and alcids will be easy to find in Oregon and California. The point is that once I make the turn south along the coast, I really don't think I will have much trouble finding the birds I hope to find. I could even ride as far north as Seattle before I make the turn south. Who knows...maybe I could be Boreal Chickadee or Spruce grouse in the Cascades (yes, I know these are LONG shots). As long as I start heading south by September 1, I think I will have time to bird California thoroughly enough to get the species I need. 

Looking even further ahead, my plan is to reach Monterey, CA around the end of September or the very beginning of October. While this year is going to be successful irrespective of the final species count, my ability to get within sniffing distance of the 600 species mark hinges squarely on my ability to tick a handful of pelagic birds in Monterey. I should be able to get Sooty and Black-vented shearwaters from shore with ease. With the right wind I should be able to get Black-footed albatross, Pink-footed shearwater, and Pomerine Jaeger from Point Pinos. Getting out in a kayak would virtually guarantee me all of the above even though I expect to get them from shore. However, if I could get onto a sailboat for 2-3 days, I would then have chances at Black and Ashy storm-petrels, Buller's shearwater, Red phalarope, Black-legged kittiwake, Long-tailed jaeger, Sabine's gull, Northern Fulmar, and other rarer species (Flesh-footed shearwater e.g.). There has been some talk about kayaking from Santa Cruz to Monterey across the Seavalley. This might work well, but surely a sailboat would be the best option. If anyone knows someone who might be able to sail me around Monterey Bay for 2-3 days, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know! Pulling this off would surely be the biggest score of the year!

After Monterey, I will head South to SoCal to pick up what California birds I may have missed. I will also spend some time chasing what October rarities might appear. I will also need to chase down birds like California gnatcatcher, Bell's sparrow, and Spotted dove. From there its back east past the Salton Sea for Yellow-footed gull, across southern AZ and NM to Texas were I am as f now planning to end the year. 

The point is that I do want to move down the West coast too fast. I actually want to slow down in the Pacific Northwest before I dip south into California. The best time for Monterey seabirds is right around the turn from September to October, and the best time for migrants and rarities in SoCal is mid-October. Racing down the coast really doesn't get me much, so expanding my route north a bit to grab a few more birds with my extra time seems reasonable to me.

So, now that I'm at 505, we can start to play the "How could I get to 600 game?" Here we go...

Birds from UT/WY/ID/Interior OR (10 species)
Trumpeter swan
Great gray owl
Black-backed woodpecker
Calliope hummingbird
Sagebrush sparrow - if I miss this in the next few weeks, I'll get it wintering in AZ
Gray partridge
Ruffed grouse
Sooty grouse
Varied thrush

Birds from Coastal Pacific Northwest if I expand my route that direction (3 species)
Mew gull
Gray-crowned rosy-finch
Tufted puffin

Birds from Southern Oregon South to San Diego (49 species)

****I will get many of these before I get to California, but its easiest to sort them into this category

Greater-white fronted goose
Snow goose - will get in NM/TX if too early for it in CA
Ross’s goose  - will get in NM/TX if too early for it in CA
Pacific loon
Brandt’s cormorant
Pelagic cormorant
Sooty shearwater - I don't even consider this a pelagic species, will get it easily
Black rail - This is going to require some serious luck. I also need to contact Henry Detwiler in Yuma about this bird.
Mountain quail - Will require some serious searching
Black oystercatcher
Wandering tattler
Long-billed curlew - Might be at Salt lake tomorrow
Black turnstone
Pacific-golden plover - Maybe.......
Red-necked phalarope - Might be at Salt lake tomorrow
Heerman’s gull
Western gull
Yellow-footed gull - Salton Sea
Glaucous-winged gull
Elegant tern
Common murre
Pigeon guillemot
Marbled murrelet
Rhinocerous auklet
Spotted dove - LA peeps - I'll need help with this!
Cassin’s vireo
Yellow-billed magpie
Nuttall’s woodpecker
White-headed woodpecker
Red-breasted sapsucker
Chestnut-backed chickadee
Oak titmouse
Pacific wren
California gnatcatcher
Pacific-slope flycatcher
Allen’s hummingbird
Vaux’s swift
California thrasher
Le Conte’s thrasher - Can also get at famous "Thrasher spot" west of Phoenix on the way back east
California towhee
Hermit warbler
Golden-crowned sparrow
Bell’s sparrow
Tricolored blackbird
Lawrence’s goldfinch
Purple finch
Nutmeg mannakin

California pelagics (11 species)
Black-footed albatross
Northern fulmar
Buller’s shearwater
Pink-footed shearwater
Black-vented shearwater
Ashy storm-petrel
Black storm-petrel
Red phalarope
Sabine’s gull
Pomarine jaeger
Long-tailed jaeger (I have Parasitic from Florida)

Texas Lower Rio Grande Valley (20 species)
Least grebe
Plain chachalaca
White-tailed hawk
Whooping crane - I will have to ride up the Gulf Coast to get this
Red-billed pigeon
White-tipped dove
Groove-billed ani
Common paraque
Buff-bellied hummingbird
Green kingfisher (I have Ringed kingfisher already!)
Red-crowned parrot
Green parakeet
Green jay
Great kiskadeee
Couch’s kingbird
Long-billed thrasher
Sprague’s pipit
Olive sparrow
Altamira oriole
Audubon’s oriole

This is 92 total species. Added to the 505 I have now, this would bring me is 597. I fully realize that I will not get all 92 of these. If I can get more than say, 88, then 600 is possible when we consider the Code 3 and 4 birds below (I know Baird's sparrow is not a rare bird, but getting to where I can find it in AZ is going to be VERY difficult). The above 92 species take into account only Code 1 and Code 2 birds. If I could find a few of these rarities, then 600 becomes remotely possible.

Red-throated pipit (CA)
Yellow-green vireo (CA)
Rufous-backed robin (AZ)
Ruddy ground dove (AZ)
Baird's sparrow (AZ, wintering)
Harris' sparrow (TX) - I could swing into northern part of state en route to LRGV - requires medium detour
Smith's longspur - again not rare, it would just require a big detour
Aplomado falcon (TX)
Hook-billed kite (TX)
Brown jay (TX)
Muscovy (TX)
White-collared seedeater (TX)
Clay-colored robin/thrush - whatever the hell it is called these days (TX)
Blue bunting, Crimson-collared grosbeak, ??????. (TX)

If I could get to Santa Cruz Island to add the Scrub jay, that would be amazing! Who knows, maybe I could get Scripps murrelet on that trip too!

The point is that if I can get these last few mountain birds in the next 5 weeks, and I can get out on boat in Monterey, I should at least have a remote chance at getting to 600. It is going to be very exciting for sure! Hopefully, you'll stay tuned!


  1. Thayer's Gull is "somewhat" regular at the Brownsville dump in Texas, so you might want to give that a try in late December.

  2. Clay-colored Thrush is a fairly easy bird to find now in South Texas. Calliope Hummer may be at feeders in Jackson. See if the feeders are still up behind Dornan's north of town.

  3. Harris's Sparrow appears to be findable most winters in San Antonio. Aplomado Falcons in the LRGV are not rarities, but also aren't strictly countable . Arctic Tern is something to keep an eye out for in California. Glaucous-winged Gull would best be taken care of in Washington/Oregon, because finding "pure" birds can sometimes be a challenge in California.