A recent visit to New Orleans to collaborate with birding buddy Caz allowed me to revisit Audubon Park. In a previous visit in late March I had been impressed by the close views of dozens of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, but I was completely unprepared for the spectacle (and cacophony) of thousands of them, lining almost the entire shoreline 3 rows deep. Attracted by easy pickings at a nearby grain silo, ever-increasing numbers are gathering each winter to roost on the lake, and best of all, they draw in the occasional Fulvous Whistling-Duck, a species I hadn’t seen for several years (we saw 3 in one morning). Additionally, you can get really great views of other waterfowl that become accustomed to throngs of people. I had eye-popping views of Wood Ducks, Blue-winged Teal and Anhingas, while the nearby golf course ponds held Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall and Ruddy Ducks. I would recommend going to see the whistling-duck spectacle soon, as it is possible that the ever-increasing numbers of these birds (and associated poop) may eventually become regarded as pests.
Our base for the wedding was the resort town of Princeville, conveniently situated for birding the Hanalei NWR for superb views of the endemic Moorhen, Coot, Stilt and Koloa (Hawaiian Duck), and the seabird colonies at Kilauea Lighthouse. Even though my visit was a little too early for peak seabird season, the eye-level views of Laysan Albatross, Great Frigatebird, Red-footed Booby and White-tailed Tropicbird were so great that I came back for second helpings. I was pretty shocked to see a Snow Goose fly in with a pair of Nenes, but apparently this individual is known to winter in the area. Princeville itself offers a chance for good views of Laysan Albatross in the vicinity of the golf course, plus amazing, up-close views of Pacific Golden-Plovers foraging on almost every front lawn.
I spent the last week on Kauai for the wedding of dear friends Becky and Brett, but before the wedding party arrived I spent a day hiking in the beautiful (but soggy!) Alaka’i Swamp with guide David Kuhn. This high elevation bog and surrounding streams are the last stronghold of Kauai’s endemic passerines, but overall the bird activity and song seemed much lower than the native forest preserves of the Big Island and Maui. Thanks to David’s keen ears we did very well, running into 5 of the 6 endemics, with only the declining Akikiki eluding us. The highlight was getting great views of the Puaiohi or Small Kauai Thrush, perhaps the rarest of the endemic passerines, and pretty exhilarating to see after a tough hike along a slippery stream. We also got to watch an Akeke’e feeding for an extended period.
Waimea Canyon itself was stunning, and though the only native birds I saw here were the occasional soaring White-tailed Tropicbirds, driving all the way to the end of the paved road to the Na’pali coast overlooks was well worth it for the vista, and eye-level views of feeding Apapanes. To get to the beautiful Polihale beach required a long drive up a muddy and partially-flooded dirt road, but offered a good spot for watching breaching humpbacks and Brown Boobies gliding along the surf, as well as more White-tailed Tropicbirds along the cliffs.
I had the shortest amount of time (2 full days) on Maui, but thoroughly enjoyed the great vistas from Haleakala crater, amazing views of Humpback Whales from shore and watching the warbler-like Alauahios and I’iwis around Hosmer Grove picnic area on my first day. On day two I had an unfortgettable hike into Waikamoi TNC preserve, thanks to my friend Chris who works on the forest bird recovery project. We were incredibly lucky with Maui Parrotbill, and enjoyed great views of a pair almost immediately on entering the native forest (we didn’t encounter them again over the next 6 hours), and saw multiple Akohekohe (the fanciest of the honeycreepers) too.
I just returned from a fantastic trip to 3 of the Hawaiian islands, starting with a few days spent on the Big Island. Christina was my gracious host, and we spent the first day exploring amazing Volcanoes NP. Aside from the spectacular scenery, I had my first introduction to some wonderful native passerines in the ohia-koa forest, including the abundant Apapane, several Hawaii Amakihi, a good view of a singing Omao and a couple of fly-by Io (Hawaiian Hawk). The open lava fields yielded the first of many Nenes and Pacific Golden-Plovers. We had a fantastic guided walk with Jack Jeffrey in the Hakalau Forest, a reserve he was instrumental in preserving and revegetating. All the speciality birds (Hawaii Creeper, Akepa and the amazing Akiapola’au) were seen well, multiple times in the bright sunshine, alongside plentiful I’iwis and a couple of Pueos (Short-eared Owl). While I didn’t make much effort to chase down exotics, I enjoyed seeing some of the more exotic gamebirds (Kalij Pheasant, Erckel’s Francolin) which I might never see in their native range. On my last day I had great luck locating a few endangered Palila feeding in mamane trees, and was thrilled to pick up Bristle-thighed Curlew at Kukio Beach.
The polar vortex finally reached Athens in late January, and I took advantage of the subsequent snow day to photograph yard birds. The most interesting find was an apparent ‘white-eyed’ Eastern Towhee, a subspecies supposedly confined to the Georgia coast but reported with some regularity as far inland as Augusta.
Highlights from the Mid-Winter Shorebird Survey on St Catherine’s Island. Great day, great company, looong drive there and back from Athens in a day…
The winter meeting of the Georgia Ornithological Society went on holiday to the Florida Panhandle this year, and since I’d never been to this part of the world, I was excited to check it out. Krista, Simon and I made the most of our birding opportunities on the way down from Athens, with Red-cockaded Woodpeckers in the Piedmont NWR, and exceptional birding along Laramore Road in Lee Co. (Brewer’s Blackbirds, Lapland Longspurs, Sandhill Cranes, and nearby, cooperative Western Kingbird and Vesper Sparrow). We spent all day Saturday in wonderful St Marks NWR, where eventually we got good views of Henslow’s Sparrow (lifer for Simon), walked a very, very long way to see a Cinnamon Teal, and then had some wonderful, up-close encounters with Nelson’s Sparrow, Sora and Least Bittern at the lighthouse. On Sunday, Simon and I got up painfully early for the 90 minute drive to Apalachicola airport in the hope of seeing Sprague’s Pipit. Things didn’t exactly get off to a promising start – torrential rain and a locked airport gate greeted us – but our fortunes turned around a couple of hours later thanks to local birder John Murphy and a change in the weather. The Sprague’s cooperated (lifer!), we had knockout views of a male Calliope and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds at a nearby feeder, male Vermilion Flycatcher at Carrabelle, and finished the day watching Parasitic Jaeger and all 3 scoters at close range from Alligator Point. A fitting finale to an excellent trip was watching 2 Whooping Cranes fly out of their roost site at dawn, before embarking on the long drive back to Athens.
I always love visiting the Georgia coast, and was fortunate to be able to join the Sapelo CBC on the first weekend in January. Following a fun visit with Bob and Leigh on St Simons (side-by-side views of Wilson’s and Piping Plovers, January Roseate Spoonbills, Henslow’s Sparrows and delicious barbecue at Southern Soul were the highlights), I joined the CBC crew at the Meridian dock. George and I covered a stretch of Nannygoat Beach with some woodland and marshland at either end, walking about 10 miles over the course of the day. Red-breasted Mergansers were the duck du jour offshore (though getting good counts was tricky among the whitecaps), and we were treated to close fly-bys of White-winged Scoter. It was an extremely high tide, and we had excellent luck with all three ‘salty’ sparrows. Weather on count day was bright and sunny, but fairly cold, so the hot showers and delicious food courtesy of Rebecca Lang were a real treat. Count compiler William Dopson attended his first Sapelo CBC in 1963, and we marked the occasion with sparklers and cake. I hope to make it back next year!
January has been much chillier than in recent years, including a memorable night where temperatures dropped into the single digits (F) and with wind chill, felt much colder! Several American Black Ducks toughed it out on the one ice-free patch at the Oxbow Lake, before congregating on Lake Chapman where James Neves found a mixed flock of Canvasbacks and Redheads (only the second time I have seen the former species in the county).
Several Fox Sparrows have emerged from the woodwork, including 2 together in the State Botanical Garden.
Nearby, a Grasshopper Sparrow has been showing very well in a field near the N Oconee River.
One of the many American Pipits frequenting the S Milledge fields.