Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Canoeing on the Potomac

Saturday I went canoeing on the Potomac River with some new birder friends. One worked for the Potomac Conservancy, and needed to do an informal survey of invasive plants on an island owned by the Conservancy. We paddled out to Minnie's Island, with some difficulty since the water level was so low and the area rocky. We enjoyed great looks at a very active Green Heron, and then pulled the canoe out and hiked around the island, looking at plants, bugs and birds.
 It was so lush and green, and the hum of cicadas so loud I felt like I was in a tropical forest in South America, or back in time. A native sunflower bush was attracting droves of Eastern Tiger-Swallowtails and Monarchs.
We birded around and discussed the various invasive plants, trying to ID them and and figure out how best to go about doing a removal and restoration. The high water line was well overhead, which really gives you goosebumps when you realize the ground you're standing on could, and has been, under water.
After we finished surveying the island, and feeding the happy mosquitos, we got back in the canoe and paddled up-river for a while. We saw what at first looked like a stick bobbing toward us, as it came closer, we realized what we were looking at was a water snake - swimming with an eel in it's mouth! It swam under the boat, and to a rock where it lost the eel. I felt sorry because I wondered if our paddling in for a closer look had distracted the snake enough for the eel to twist away. I hope it wasn't our fault he lost his lunch. He was a big gorgeous snake, probably a brown water snake. So exciting!
It was definitely the highlight of the day, and after paddling up a bit further, we headed back to the boat launch and hauled the canoe back up to the lockhouse, then headed home. It was a great morning and although I had so many mosquito bites coating my legs it looked like chicken pox, I was extremely happy to have gotten out on the water.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reminiscing About Texas, 2006

I was Wildbird Magazine's 2005 Birder of the Year, which won me a trip to Texas in early spring of 2006. Here's the recount article that I wrote for the July/August 2006 issue of WildBird:

The trip to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas was an incredible experience. We--my mom, Amy Hooper and I--started off the trip by spotlighting for Common Pauraque on Saturday with Sheridan Coffey and Martin Reid. We walked along the water at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. When we finally saw a pauraque fly, it became my first lifer of the trip. My nonbirding mom unexpectedly enjoyed the outing so much that she chose to bird with us for the rest of the trip.

Sheridan and Martin enthusiastically guided us for the first two days. On Sunday, we first stopped at Anzalduas County Park (956-585-5311) and saw 
Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks, a quirky species. The Turkey and Black Vultures (a lifer) riding a thermal over the park provided an unexpected surprise. We also saw Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, a Northern ParulaCouch’s KingbirdsGreat Kiskadees and a magnificent Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.

On our way back to Bensten, I spotted my life 
Harris’ Hawk. Once at Bensten, we got our first look at Green Jays, and on a feeder, we watched a Long-billed Thrasher, an Altamira Orioleand an Indigo Bunting take turns. In a photo blind, we heard Plain Chachalacas calling from all sides.

Next stop: 
Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, where we birded with intern Heidi Trudell. Life birds included Black-crested Titmouse and Roseate Spoonbill. We sat to wait for the day’s last lifer, a Buff-bellied Hummingbird.

On Monday, we visited the hawkwatch at Santa Ana and saw 
Broad-winged HawksMississippi Kites and many others overhead. The lift-off was breathtaking. Up the river at Chapeno, we picked up Ringed Kingfisher from a distance as well as Brown Jays, one juvenile and one adult. We later parted ways with Martin and Sheridan and headed to San Benito.

Tuesday morning, Pat Wade joined us as our guide, and we quickly got my first lifer of the day: Tamaulipas Crows carrying nesting material. Then we went to the 
Sabal Palm sanctuary, where I got my life Carolina Wren singing on a branch. We also saw the controversial Gray-crowned Yellowthroat.

Aplomado Falcon (unbanded) and the White-tailed Hawk provided roadside treats on the way to South Padre Island, an amazing place. My last lifer of the trip was Upland Sandpiper off-island, and like my first Texas lifer, I lost a pint of blood to the mosquitoes in order to get it.

I gained more than 40 new birds, enjoyed fantastic experiences and met some superb people. To top it off, my mother gained a better understanding of who I am and what birding is. I’d say that alone made it a successful trip.