Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Travel maps: where have you been?

Blue: counties/states I've been to, Red: counties I've  lived in,
Copper: states I haven't been to, Green: counties I haven't been to

Birders travel. That's the plain and simple fact. It's what we do. Birds live in many habitats around the world and one must travel in order to see them. Whether it's 1, 10, 100 or a thousand miles, birders have always traveled and will continue to travel. Some of us, no farther than our back yards, others, to every corner of the globe. It is an inevitable consequence of being a birder.

I have been more fortunate than most. I've been traveling ever since I was 6 months old when my parents took me on my first trip. This map of the US details all the places I've had to good fortune to travel to. Let me tell you about some of them:

When I was old enough (i.e. around 3) I took my first trip to Colorado. I've been there over a dozen times since then. Florida was a regular vacation spot for my family as well and was a favorite destination for many years.  Single trips to Idaho, Washington and Glacier National Park added many of the counties shown there. A three-week trip through central and southern Utah put those counties on the map with places like Arches NP, Canyonlands NP and Zion NP.  Three trips to the Grand Canyon of Arizona also added the four corners, much of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
I lived in Cochise County, Arizona for 4 months one summer and was able to travel quite a bit and add many Arizona counties to my list. California was entirely on my own in the space of two separate week-long birding trips.

The western US was always a favorite destination for family vacations, but we managed to add a few trips to the east as well.  A week in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee was a great experience and included a jaunt into Kentucky to visit the world-famous Mammoth Cave.  A spur-of the moment vacation to the southeast coast added both Carolinas to my list of states as well as my lifer Swainson's Warbler.  Louisiana was done in two different trips, years apart. The first to the southeast, the second to the southwest. The first included a stop in New Orleans which fully qualified as the filthiest city in the country.  The second was a birding trip on my way home from Arizona that included birding the famous Cameron Parish.   Maine was an interesting trip that included driving through Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax before returning south through New England.

Being from Chicago and living in WI, snapping up counties in that general area is easy to do and I have almost completed all of the WI counties.

If you follow my blog, you know I'm an avid chaser/twitcher. That little bunch of counties in Maryland were from such a twitch, a crazy, non-stop chase for a Black-headed Gull in a Best Buy parking lot in Cockeysville, MD.

And that pretty much sums up the US for me. Twenty years of family vacations, twitches and birding trips.

But what about Canada?

Canada is a country that can be difficult to get around due to lack of roads. Fortunately, where the roads do go, is spectacular country.  The trip to Jasper, Banff National Parks started by heading straight up through MN and then cutting across the endless tracts of open grassland to reach the Canadian Rockies. We completed the loop by returning through Waterton-Glacier National Park into Montana.
Eastern Canada was as much a cultural trip as it was a vacation/birding trip. Stops in every major city were mandated for this trip. Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Halifax were all included. The churches and old buildings in Montreal and Quebec were beautiful, but nothing compared with the harsh, rugged beauty of the Atlantic coast around Halifax and the Bay of Fundy.

Combined with my recent three trips to the tropics (Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru respectively) and I can only wonder at how fortunate I have been to be able to visit so many wonderful places. Everywhere in the world has something different to offer, new scenery, new experiences, new things to try and do.

Traveling is something I will always do and always be eager to do. The one place I am most at home is en route to a new destination full of new things to do and discover. The anticipation of visiting a new place, finding myself there, not believing that I really am there, brings excitement beyond what words can describe. I will always be on the move, visiting new places, seeing new things. My goal is to visit every country on the planet and to see every sight that everyone dreams about seeing one day. Of course, along the way, seeing every bird on earth would be nice too.

Leaving you with that thought:
I hope to see you out there, somewhere, in the world of wonder, excitement and limitless imagination!

Even with all my traveling, only a small fraction of the world has fallen under my gaze.
There is still much left to see
(Travel map idea thanks to my friend Ethan Kistler over at the Nomadic Birder blog)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Book Review: Antarctic Wildlife: a Visitor's Guide

I've been a bit behind on book reviews lately. I have a backlog of books still needing work.
This was one that I thought people might find somewhat interesting.

James Lowen is a naturalist guide for Polar Star Expiditions.  In the introduction, he writes: "On my first trip to Antarctica, I yearned for a compact, portable book detailing the region's wildlife."
Finding no such book, Mr Lowen undertook the task of writing one.  The result was this visitor's guide.

Everything you need for a trip to the Antarctic is contained within this book. Not just birds, but also mammals from Whales to Sea Lions with detail on where they can be found and how to identify them, along with some interesting information about them.   With this guide, multiple field guides are combined into one small package with beautiful photographs, excellent, detailed text and coverage of most of the regular places that cruise ships visit.

I could say more, but there really is little I could say without having the book right in front of you. You really just need to read it. ;)

"Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitor's Guide" can be found online or in stores for around $23.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

East-west migrations: Varied Thrush

Most people are used to the "normal" migration routes taken by many birds. This does apply to many bird species in North America. They migrate north in the spring to their summer breeding grounds and then migrate south in the fall to their southern wintering grounds.  In this ongoing blog series, I will be talking about some of the slightly less known migrants. Those that migrate from west to east and vice versa.

A number of species have been known and documented to migrate from their western summering grounds to wintering grounds in the eastern part of the country.  Included in this group are some surprising species that you might not expect. Birds like White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, several species of western hummingbirds, many of our eastern wood-warblers, Townsend's Solitaires, Vaux's Swifts, Varied Thrush and others.  In this post, I will detail some of the migration patterns of Varied Thrush.

 Let's start with the bird itself:
Varied Thrush (ixoreous naevius).    
The word "varied" of course referring to the striking gray, black and orange plumage.
"ixoreous"means "belonging to mistletoe." Reference is to this bird's resemblance to the old world Mistle Thrush.  "naevius" is used to imply varied and is used in reference to the bird's plumage.

Isn't this an awesome-looking bird?

Varied Thrush has a summer range that stretches from the mountains of northern California, all the way up to the Arctic Circle in Alaska. Throughout breeding season, their haunting trilled songs can be heard echoing through the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.  In winter, most field guides will tell you that while they can be found year-round in Washington and Oregon, a portion of the population heads south into central California to winter in the hills around the central valley. 
However, there is another wintering area that is not mentioned in most field guides.  It is an extra-limital wintering area: The Eastern US.  The numbers are small, but the birds are certainly present. Every year, Varied Thrushes are found in small numbers across the upper and lower midwest and partly into the east.  

Here in Wisconsin, we don't require documentation for Varied Thrush because they show up in the state in small numbers every year. The same goes for Minnesota, although, they do require documentation. Interestingly, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana also require documentation for Varied Thrush sightings.  

The birds are starting to show up more regularly though and it's only a matter of time before they're found in these states on a regular basis. 

Varied Thrushes are one of my favorite birds of the temperate rainforests of the northwest. The haunting, trilled song floats through the patchy, mist-filled spots of sunlight that filter down through the redwoods and sequoias. They are often hard to see, sitting in the tall, dense-foliaged trees, but you'll never miss their song.