Friday, February 29, 2008

In search of the Ivory-colored Frost-lover

                So what is an Ivory-colored Frost-lover?  
 "Pagophila Eburnea".   The infamous Ivory Gull.  A fantastic life and year bird, if you can find one.   However, there's been some rumors going around that Ivory gulls don't really exist. They are just figments of the imagination.  On Tues, Nick Block from Chicago emailed me to say he and Tropical Birding tour leader Michael Retter were going after the bird. what could I say? Naturally I had to test the rumors that were going around.  We left Madison at 12:30am and drove straight through. After picking up Caity in Sioux Falls SD, we arrived at the Oahe Dam north of Pierre SD just after 10:00am. 

As you can see, there's no snow there. Just ice on the lake.  Upon arrival, we commenced searching for the Ivory Gull. 

No Gull yet but there were several Bald Eagles hanging around. 

The above picture was taken from the top of the hill above the lake.  Over the two days we were there, we hiked up and down that hill about 4 times.  This is also where we were scoping from when we had a false alarm. 

Climbing back up the hill the first time, we saw a flock of Townsend's Solitaires.  I managed to digiscope one of them.

                     I thought this tree was interesting.

Finally, a Northern Shrike!  One of three we saw. 

In the very middle of this picture, waaaay out on the ice, is a flock of Canada Geese. There were several thousand of them on the lake while we were there. in the middle of the flock, Nick managed to pick out my lifer Glaucous Gull! 

We then changed our angle on the flock and  the Glaucous Gull disappeared only to be replaced by my lifer SNOWY OWL!!  The bird was about 300yds out on the ice so this is the best pic I could get. 

Here's a beautiful Dark morph Rough-legged Hawk we saw. 

                     It's the sunset over the lake.

                   The RL Hawk again

And a sunset to end Wed. All day searching without seeing the bird. 

8:00 Thurs morning. We were back out at the lake searching for the Gull.  I added more year birds on Thurs and one more lifer.   We did have one false alarm. We were scoping from the top of the hill I mentioned earlier when Nick suddenly saw a white bird fly quickly across his field of view and disappear in a rift of jagged ice. We ran down the hill and around the point but could not refind the bird. It could very well have been the IVGU but we don't know for sure.  After that, we stopped at the dam once more before heading home.  Still no sign of the bird.  
With this trip, we successfully proved that Ivory Gulls are impossible to see and are indeed only figments of the searcher's imagination.  Only someone sane and not looking (like Ricky Olson) would find one.  
We headed back home completely dejected after searching the lake more thoroughly than almost anyone else. 
At least the trip was not a total loss for me. I gained 5 lifers and 17 year birds. That brought my life list up to 396 and my year list to 61.
My lifers were:
Glaucous Gull
Ross's Goose
Sharp-tailed Grouse
Gr Prairie Chicken

I was really glad to see that Snowy Owl!!!  Thanks Michael!! 
The Glaucous Gull was great too! Thanks Nick!! 

Anyway, it was a fun 2 1/2 days.  No mythical Gull but some fun birds anyway! 

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Year bird #45

I spotted a Cooper's Hawk this afternoon down by 80 and the WI river.  That's year bird #45!  I hope to have at least 50-60 before I take off for TX.  I'm hoping to come back with closer to 250. 

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Elaenia pictures

All photos copyright Erik Breden from Andrews TX.
More of his pics can be found @:

I'm wishing I could drop everything and catch a plane to SPI TX. oh well, I'll have to make do with all the N Shrikes that are being seen. I saw another one today. That's something like 10 for the entire winter.

Happy Birding!

Monday, February 11, 2008

News flash from TX!!!

DATELINE: Feb 9 2008, Sheepshead road, South Padre Island, lower TX coast, 3:54pm

photo credit: scarlet colley

A post shows up on the Texas bird list. The poster explains that Dan Jones ( just called to report a very rare bird. A bird so rare that there is not yet a record north of the equator.
The bird Dan reported was initially IDed as a Yellow-Bellied Elaenia. A common flycatcher of central and south america. Hours later, the bird was Re-identified as a WHITE-CRESTED ELAENIA. A bird rarely seen in Northern Brazil and never before north of the equator.

The following is excerpted from the ABA's E-bulletin:
"Elaenias are tyrant flycatchers found in two genera, Elaenia and Myiopagis (smaller than former and often resembling tyrannulets), all representatives native to the Caribbean, Central, or South America. There is one accepted North American record of a Greenish Elaenia, Myiopagis viridicata present on High Island 20–23 May ’84 and another elaenia, one not accepted to species but thought to be a Caribbean Elaenia, from Santa Rosa Island, Escambia County, FL on 28 April ‘84.

As many birders to South America know, elaenias are very difficult to separate. Elaenias in the genus Elaenia are mostly frugivorous birds of the forest edge. First thought to be Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Elaenia flavogaster, a species which breeds north to the southern Mexican states of Veracruz and Oaxaca, the SPI bird is now thought to be a subspecies of the highly migratory southern subspecies of the entirely South American White-crested Elaenia, Elaenia albiceps chilensis (embed this URL in the word “White-crested Elaenia”) Elaenia albiceps chilensis, a species that breeds as far south as Tierra del Fuego, Chile. The chilensis subspecies spends the Austral winter as far north as Brazil, arriving by March.

John Arvin, from the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, explains that highly migratory southern populations of species (longer wings) are often the ones that are found as extralimital, and not the northern populations that are usually short distance migrants."

Pictures and videos were taken as well as recordings.
While the record still has to be reviewed by the TX records committee, the ABA, the AOU and a few other people, there is little doubt that it is indeed a White-crested Elaenia.

This bird, if accepted, will be a new record for North America, the ABA area, the AOU area and the Northern Hemisphere.

Huh, and the closest I will come to the bird will be High island TX. If the bird is still there 5 weeks from now.

Links to posts and pics:

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Golden Eagle field trip

Dan Jackson and I went along on the Golden Eagle trip today led by Scott Mehus with the National Eagle center in Wabasha MN.
A total of 8 hardy, or foolhardy I should say, birders met in Cochrane WI at 1:30pm. We quickly headed up into the hills to see the Golden Eagles. Scott quickly pinpointed two adult goldens before a half hour had passed.

Dan and I cut out at about 3:00 to head up to Prescott to look for the Harlequin Duck. Alas though, it was not to be.

This beautiful adult Golden Eagle, 45 mins, one wrong turn and a 4-foot snowdrift later, we ended up right back where we had started.

We finally made our way to 35 to head north, but by the time we got there, it was too late the head up to Prescott. instead, we backtracked and picked up this very cooperative N Shrike:

This pic shows the tail quite clearly:

Across from the National Eagle center, we found these Trumpeter Swans:

all in all, a good day. 23 species despite the frigid cold and 3 new year birds and 1 new state bird.

Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan and Golden Eagle were new year birds and Trumpeter Swan was a new WI state bird.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Year bird #41!!

So exactly what is year bird #41? if you haven't guessed already, it's an American Robin!
Kinda hard to believe that such a common bird would be found AFTER Lesser Black-backed gull but, there you have it.
It was far enough away that I spent about 15 mins making sure it wasn't a Varied Thrush!

I guess I just wasn't expecting a Robin at this time of year.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mississippi river today

My family and I headed over to the Mississippi this afternoon to watch Bald Eagles (this time it wasn't me conning dad into going, it was the other way around. This was his idea for a change). We started at Prairie Du Chien and headed up the river to Ferryville, then took Rush Creek Rd to county B to 27 to 171 and back home from there.

Here's some pics of the first Eagle we found:

We found a grand total of 3 Bald Eagles for the entire trip. No Goldens.
The river is still mostly frozen over except for small patches near the dams. The almost complete lack of birds was still astounding.

We took a detour back home via Rush Creek Rd where I found this N Shrike:

Other birds found today included:
about a dozen Mallards
20+/- Red-tailed Hawks
3 Bald Eagles
1 Rough-legged Hawk
2 N Shrikes
2 Kestrels
hundreds of starlings
Assorted common winter birds, including White-breasted Nuthatch, Titmouse ect

The weather wasn't all that great though. It was cloudy and gray all day. Even the birds knew it wasn't a great day.