Wednesday, December 28, 2011

La Rep├║blica Dominicana

Dominican Cloud Forest
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Yet, another late post from Chad. To not be late would be a post by someone other than myself.

Hispaniolan Woodpecker and Antillian Palm Swift... this is one my favorite pictures!

Narrow-billed Tody (endemic)... Ebano Verde Reserve
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This past September, my best friend John and I went to the Dominican Republic for our annual birding trip. More specifically, we went to the Santo Domingo and Boca Chica area. As with all of our trips, we were excited to go and could not wait for the plane to land! I mean, we were heading to hot weather and sunshine in the tropics! Not to mention an island that has 31 endemic species. Yeap, 31! I wonder how come you don't hear much about the Dominican Republic or the island as a whole - Hispaniola? Not a clue.

Nutmeg Manikan... a common bird but always fun to stop and watch.

Boca de Nigua... gorgeous grounds of trash.
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John and I, along with a very willing and anxious Dominican resident, Steve Brauning birded three primary areas: Santo Domingo National Botanical Gardens, Ebano Verde (Science Reserve), and Boca de Nigua. All three places, full of great birds! The botanical gardens (as with most botanical gardens) was easy to bird and in addition, provided some great scenery of a very well kept garden. Highlights were Red-legged Thrush, Hispaniolan Parakeet, Antillian Mango, and Black-whiskered Vireo.

Our next stop was Boca de Nigua, a wetland area that hugs the coastline just outside of Santo Domingo. This place is nothing short of a success story that will continue to improve and flourish so long as the restoration continues. Prior to the restoration, the area served as a garbage dump. Finding this large reserve was no easy task as nobody in the very nearby vicinity seemed to know anything about it. We finally found one local taxi driver that knew exactly where we needed to go.

As we approached I became quickly in awe at the beauty of the large marshland which included a pristine blue ocean acting as the backdrop. Instantly, we saw Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, and Green Herons all birds that signify the beauty of a wetland. I knew right away we were in a great place. As we left the car and started to bird the marsh edge, it was obvious that the area used to be a garbage dump. Everywhere we went, we walked on trash - none of which you could see unless you looked straight down. The plant growth covered most of the unsightliness. But, the birds didn't seem to care what the area used to be, they seemed to be very content with what it now was. Snowy Egrets, Tricolored Herons, Smooth-billed Anis, Black-necked Stilts, and Lesser Yellowlegs all seemed to forage in harmony. One very cool highlight for us was the White-cheeked Pintail. The area is apparently a very reliable spot to find this species of duck. Actually, we thought we were skunked until the very end. And then, they appeared - seven I think.

West Indian Whistling Duck... Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens. Gorgeous!
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Our last destination was Ebano Verde. A mountain reserve west of Santo Domingo about 2 hours away. We left at about 4:30a and arrived just before light. At our arrival, we were welcomed by the tiny sound of multiple Black-faced Grassquits. The original plan was to walk down the mountain about two miles and have a car bring us back up. This plan changed when the gate was locked at the top of the trail. Guess what this means? Yeap, you guessed it, we had to start at the bottom. Now, I am not complaining but, walking up a mountain is tough for anyone, especially if you are 60 pounds overweight. The strenuous journey up began, complete with an armed security guard (a first).

The reserve was gorgeous. Lush and green, just as you would expect it to be in the tropics. The exception to this would have been about another 3 hours west in the land of Haiti where (from what I am told) the tree line ends. Very sad. Anyway, we weren't in Haiti, we were in the DR so I'll keep it lush. One of our first birds was the Hispaniolan Trogan and endemic Trogan that like most others is as gorgeous as any parrot or parakeet. It would seem all down hill after starting with this bird but thankfully it was just the opposite. Like magic, birds such as the Narrow-billed Tody (endemic), Hispaniolan Spindalis (endemic), Antillian Piculet (endemic), and Hispaniolan Pewee (endemic) all appeared to ensure excitement throughout the hike and to make this big man forget all about the strain of walking uphill.

Black-crowned Palm Tanager (endemic)
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The everyday birding location was our hotel grounds. We stayed at the Bellvue Dominican Bay in Boca Chica. All I can say is it was a good thing that we were there for the birds because the hotel itself was NASTY! The two most abundant birds that were almost everywhere you looked were the Antillian Palm Swift and Hispaniolan Woodpecker. I could have watched either species for hours. The Antillian Palm Swifts were very active around the hotel and were most likely feasting on the bugs flying in and around the luxury hotel grounds. Other highlights on the hotel grounds inlcuded: Palmchat (endemic), Gray Kingbird, and the very awesome Hispaniolan Lizard-cuckoo!

Hispaniolan Emerald (endemic)... Boca de Nigua Reserve

Hispaniolan Trogan (endemic)... Ebano Verde Reserve. Beautiful!!!

Hispaniolan Parakeet (endemic)... Santo Domingo Botanical Gardens

Bananaquit... very common but always cool!

Boca Chica Beach... as sad as it looks!
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Probably the worst part of the trip was the cleanliness of the Santo Domingo and Boca Chica area. To the locals, trash either goes on the street or on the beach - yes, I said the beach. I was so upset at the conditions of the beach that I had to drink just to make the trash disappear! The area is also a haven for prostitution which is legal in the area. Everywhere you look you will see men and women in their 50's and 60's with young men and women who are probably no older than 21. So, while most visitors in the area were focused on their prostitution needs, John and I remained focused on the birds. The safe, moral, and much cleaner alternative.

In all, I ended the trip with 27 new birds. Only 11 of which were of the endemics. And, although I would have loved to have gotten more of endemics, I left the island mostly perturbed that I did not get the Vervain Hummingbird. This hummingbird, the second smallest in the world, is allegedly very common. John saw it and Steve could not believe I hadn't seen it. He assured me if I sat next to some flowers long enough that it would show. But for me, it never did.

In the end, I left the island Vervainless and with 20 endemics to go so I guess I will have to put on my prostitute repellent and go back someday very soon!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

OYBC Annual Conference - Columbus, OH


Grange Audubon Center... Columbus, Ohio. The location of the coolest birding event of 2011.

Young birders... looking through Kenn's scope at a Pied-billed Grebe.

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I am embarrassed that it took so long to write about such a great event but it had to be done, no matter how irresponsibly tardy. The event, the 2011 Ohio Young Birders Club Conference in Columbus, OH was without a doubt, the highlight of my birding year! I repeat, the HIGHLIGHT of MY birding year! I would not consider myself a hardcore birder but would say that I am an intense birder to the very extent of my abilities – in 2011 I officially birded Indiana, Florida, Texas, California, North Carolina, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. I say this to say that I had many great birding experiences over the past year and many individual highlights that could easily qualify as the “best” of 2011 but none of these events remotely compared to the one single event that I attended in Columbus, Ohio on November 5, 2011.


A great group of young birders... from the left (Kathleen Seeley, Lukas Padegimas, Robert Reynard, Rachael Butek, and Jessie Barry). Jessie represented the Cornell Lab of Ornithology with a very cool presentation about careers in the world of birding.

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It is honestly quite difficult to sum up such an awesome event in just a few short paragraphs but I am going to try my best. The event is inspirational and touching in a way that cannot really be described. Kim Kaufman, along with her team of staff and volunteers were able to wrap this event in a package that would surprise and impress the Grinch himself. From logistics to door prizes and bird banding to presentations – the event rocked! Seamless and smooth in every way, it was obvious the event was something more than just an event; it was more like a gem that had been polished with a lot of obvious care. As Kim stated at the event, the OYBC is her “baby” and it was evident she was telling the truth!


Hermit Thrush... being shown during a morning bird banding demonstration.

Rachael Butek (ABA Young Birder of the Year)... This young lady gave to date what I would consider the best overall birding presentation that I have ever seen! I wanted to jump up for an encore.

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The highlights of the event were the presentations given by the young birders – each outstanding and very professional. Presentation topics included Artic Shorebirds, Lake Erie Water Snake recovery, Bird Banding, and Service Learning. The keynote presentation was: No Scope, No Car, No Problem! The Keynote Speaker, Rachael Butek (ABA Young Birder of the Year) gave a flawless presentation that had the entire audience almost speechless and picking their jaws up off the floor. From her first words to her amazing presentation layout, Rachael showed an entire room that seniority in the world of birding is no longer necessary and that the number of years birding DOES NOT make you the top dog. I am not sure Rachael came to Ohio to prove anything but she definitely did, whether she intended to or not. She instantly became my newest mentor – she just does not know it.


Kim Kaufman and friends... giving out some great door prizes. Nobody leaves the OYBC Conference empty handed.

Emerging Monarch... a bonus on the grounds of the Grange Audubon Center.

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I could go on and on but I won’t. Anyone that knows me knows that I do not please nor impress easily but when I am impressed or excited I have to make sure the world knows about it. If you are reading this and you attended the event, I know you are on my page and agree with everything I have said. If you have not attended and you call yourself a birder you have to make the conference a priority next year. Trust me, if you don’t you will be left behind by a generation of birders that will be ruling the birding world very soon and will sadly regret that you had a chance to meet them and did not – don’t do this to yourself!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Midwest Birding Symposium 2011


Bald Eagle... I took this picture of a captive eagle that was injured to the extent it will never be returned to the wild. I love how the picture turned out! What a great symbol of our nation!

Lake Erie... the gorgeous shoreline across from Magee Marsh.

Its been a while since I have posted anything here as I have simply not spent much time birding this year. In fact, I haven't had much time to do anything outside of keeping up with the requirements of life. Although I do believe birding to be a requirement in life, the others such as work, family, school, and bills always tend to trump the birds. But, all of the hard work has paid off and finally, I was able to get some time to bird and spend some time with others who enjoy birding as much as I do.

This past weekend I was able to attend the Midwest Birding Symposium - an event sponsored primarily by Birdwatcher Digest. The event is a place for birders across the nation to come together and attend workshops, talks, etc. all to feed our love of birding and to raise money for bird conservation. In addition to a ton of great information, the symposium is loaded with vendors that cater to birders. From birding trips and spotting scopes to t-shirts and field guides, you can buy almost anything you can think of as it related to birding.

Great Egrets... what would a marsh be without egrets? This picture was taken at Ottawa NWR.

The Birders of the IAS... doing what we do!

A major incentive to the event is having a chance to see the famous people in the world of birding. Authors, speakers, field trip leaders, etc. are always present mingling among the crowd sharing their stories and knowledge freely and leaving all of us bird people star struck to have shared their presence. Kenn and Kim Kaufman are the best examples of this. Kenn is one of the most well known birders in world and is the author of an entire series of popular field guides along with other great works of writing. Kim and Kenn both have many regular writing gigs that now also include Birds and Blooms. They are always present and always willing to share their stories! Other great speakers and guests included: Bridget Stutchbury (speaker, author and overall advocate for birds), Al Batt (very funny nature comedian), Julie Zickefoose (author, artist, and nature lover), and Wyatt Miller and Sarah Winnicki (future conservation leaders and members of the Ohio Young Birders Club. In one way or another, all of these presenters fight to conserve the birds we love each and every day!

Speaking of the birds we love, if you haven't been birding to Magee Marsh or Ottawa NWR on the shoreline of Lake Erie, you are missing one of the best birding destination in the Eastern United States. Although fall doesn't remotely compare to spring, the birding is without question, simply phenomenal. Warblers, swans, egrets, and ducks along with a backdrop of pristine wetlands and an ocean-like shoreline - it's hard to beat. Am I painting a picture here?

Trumpeter Swan... we saw a number of while birding Ottawa. We also saw some Mute Swans. Both - very gorgeous!

Me posing with the SUPERSTARS of the birding world - Kenn and Kim Kaufman. Yeap, I was cheesin'!

The fine folks of IAS... tired after a long weekend but always happy for family time!

Just like any event, this one too had to come to a close. I was sad to leave but very happy to have attended not only for the birding or great events but mostly because I was able to spend time with the great people and friends of the Indiana Audubon Society, Inc. They are a small group in an overall small birding circuit where I can always talk about the the things that make me nerdy without the fear of ever feeling like a nerd.

I'm ready to go back in 2013!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It's All About the Kids!

A group of Indianapolis teenagers from the group "Can We Help?" came out to help the Indiana Audubon Society install Bluebird boxes during the annual Spring Festival. They were a HUGE help and did a fantastic job!!! Thanks girls!

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It feels like forever since I last posted. Actually, it has been forever - since February anyway. So much has been going on that making any time for anything other than day to day life has been almost impossible. To catch up... I have survived yet another job restructure, took a short birding trip to Florida, finally - FINALLY graduated with my Master's Degree, and just recently watched my daughters' take their first communion. In between all of this I have been working, working, and guess what else? Working. The story of our lives, right?

Amongst all that has been going on, I have not been able to do much birding. In fact, I have only been able to see a handful of Warbler's this spring, which in itself could cause any birder to go into a spiraling depression. But, I have been able to avoid this type of health condition the only way that I know how and that is that on the few days that I have been able to get out - I celebrated nature with kids!

Over the past few weeks, I have been able to take a group of kids birding and on another occasion been able to coordinate a project with a group of awesome teenagers to install some new bluebird boxes at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary. Both events were nothing short of absolutely wonderful. Being able to see kids in a setting other than a movie theater, in front of a TV, or even playing structured sports is so rare nowadays that to experience it feels like IT should require an admission fee.

I could go on and on about the importance of us as adults ensuring that our kids have adequate time in nature but I will save my many random thoughts and opinions for other posts. For now, I am just happy that the few times I have been able to be in nature this spring has been times when I could do it with kids - the ones that will ensure its protection when I am long gone.

Barred Owl... not the best picture but not bad for being in the woods. An awesome bird on any day of birding, this bird made itself present right after the kids were given a presentation of a captive bird of the same species - as seen below.

Posing with Kevin Carlson at the Eagle Creek Ornithology Center after learning all about the Barred Owl.

An unknown woodland fungus - gorgeous in its own right!

The victim of a child curiosity. We released this frog shortly after giving everyone a chance to experience its uniqueness.

Studying the frog. This is what its all about. Who needs a TV?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Santa Cruz Island, California


I can't wait to go back to California! In my short time in the state, the weather was sunny and warm and the birds were plentiful. When I left the snow-covered state of Indiana I had no idea what to expect. As mentioned in a previous post, my thoughts of California were very stereotypical. My head was filled with images of traffic, smog, and frivolous behavior - the exact opposite of the images I left with.

My favorite spot was Santa Cruz Island - one of a string Islands known as the Channel Islands. Santa Cruz Island is about 20 miles off the coast of California just west of Ventura. We decided to take the trip to the Island with the specific intent to see the Island Scrub Jay - a bird endemic to this one Island. So, we booked a trip with Island Packers and before we knew it we were on a boat in the Pacific Ocean. A BEAUTIFUL Pacific Ocean I might add. Thank goodness for the little miracle patch behind my ear!

On our way out to the island, we were entertained by some breathtaking fauna, including: Dolphins, Whales, Seals, Gulls, Cormorants, Grebes, and Ducks. And... as exciting as all of these animals were, the star of the show was none other than the Island Scrub Jay.

Lilacs... everywhere you looked were breathtaking reminders of God's creations!

Santa Cruz Island... gorgeous!

Santa Cruz Island... home of the Island Scrub Jay. Could you live here?

Island Scrub Jay... the star of the show in an Oscar winning pose! These Jays NEVER leave Santa Cruz Island.

Island Scrub Jays... a pair actually picking up twigs, etc. working on a home for the next generation. Notice the bands on their legs? This helps scientists identify them as individuals.
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Once we arrived to the Island, we were orientated by an Island Packers Naturalist about the Island. He gave us a short history and then gave us the option of going on our own on the National Park side of the island or with him to the Nature Conservancy side of the island. We opted to go with him as the Island Scrub Jays are reportedly more reliable on the TNC side. So off we went UPHILL to find the Island Scrub Jay! The bad news is that I quickly realized once again how out of shape I was but determined, I lifted this 260 pound body up the hill to see the Jay! The good news is that the Jay made a presence known pretty quick once we got up the hill. I was instantly in love with this bird and the island. The even better news is that not only did we see two Jays rather instantly, we saw several more - at least 6-7 in total.

Hillside Lupine... the beauty of Santa Cruz Island.

Bewick's Wren... relatively plain as compared to the Island Scrub Jay but this bird was singing with such passion that I had to make sure I gave him credit. He was loving life one Santa Cruz Island!!!
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I spent most of the remainder of my time on the Island watching the Jays and simply enjoying the views from all directions. We were only on the island about 3 hours before our ferry was back to pick us up but our short visit was definitely worth every moment. To see a bird such as the Island Scrub Jay in the setting of Santa Cruz Island is memory that I never want to forget!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pismo Beach, California. Monarchs, Monarchs, Monarchs!


Until now, I had never been to California. In fact, anytime the word "California" came up, the image that I had of the state was nothing more than a land of complete chaos and corruption - something I had no desire to be a part. I was invited by my two friends, Amy and Sally to join them on their already planned birding trip. I instantly (and probably imposingly) accepted the invitation and met them about mid-week into their vacation just two weeks ago. I arrived on a late flight so it wasn't until the next morning that I knew I had a made a mistake. Instantly, I knew that I had messed up - I should have come sooner! The mountains that surrounded the hotel said, "Welcome to California" in a way that I never expected. The state is absolutely beautiful!

Our first stop was a park in Pismo Beach, just north of Santa Barbara - a location known for its magnet attraction to Monarch butterflies. It was only a matter of seconds after our arrival before we knew were someplace special. Monarch's by the thousands were coming to life as the sun warmed the air. They seemed to be dripping from the trees, mostly Eucalyptus, from all directions. If you are a butterfly lover, you would feel as though you were in heaven. If you have yet to come to appreciate butterflies, I am certain that this amazing place would be your changing point. If not, well... we have some work to do!

Oh, and the birding at this park? Fantastic! But, I will talk about that more another day!

A low-light picture but I think you get the idea!

At times, they seem to become a permanent part of the tree.

Enjoying the sun!


Not for innocent eyes! I was extremely uncomfortable with the amount of frivolous activity going on!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge - 2011

Aransas NWR... How gorgeous is this? Waaaayyy out in this picture was actually two Whooping Cranes!

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This is the last of my posts from my recent trip to Texas. It has been a depressing day so I figured a little reminiscing of this trip would do me some good! Just a short drive from Corpus Christi, TX, Aransas NWR is just one of many places in the area that require much more than just a few hours to bird properly. It is, in short, one of many Texas birding locations that I would consider my favorite. Well, actually, every stop we made in Texas was my favorite. So, what made this stop so special? Birds, of course!

The target bird for the day was the Whooping Crane and the Whooping Crane was the first priority. After a quick stop to the visitors center, we made a trip to a location where two Cranes had been reliably seen. Thankfully, they were on location as I had hoped. Next, it was anything and everything. Highlights were everywhere you looked. They included: Northern Pintails (tons), Snow Geese (tons and a life bird), Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Redhead's, Crested Caracara's, American Kestrals, Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Phoebe's, and Bufflehead's to name just a few. We even saw three more Whoopers!

My time at this location was short but it just gives me one more reason to go back. Perhaps this November for the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival!

Great Egret... if this bird wasn't present, the experience would not be complete.

Pine Warbler

Ducks and Geese... Mostly Snow Geese and Northern Pintails... this raft of ducks stretched forever!

Alligator Pond... actually one of the best stops. A fantastic diversity of ducks were present in a very small area... as you can see for yourself!

Alligator... at Alligator Pond!

Royal Terns... this was not taken at Aransas. It was actually taken in South Padre but since I had to get my 250 pound body on the the ground to take this picture I wanted to be sure and share it! The sun was almost down but for the lighting I had, I like the picture!

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal