Big Bend: The Big Hike to Boot Springs

Colima Warbler

The third day of my trip to Big Bend National Park, the group started the hike up the mountain trail to Boot Canyon. In spite of the fact that my right knee issues had slowed me down, I intended to do the entire hike, which was advertised as a ten-hour expedition up and back, but I’m sure it took me longer than that! The decision whether to continue down to Boot Springs was at the halfway mark with the spectacular view of the “Boot”, and I figured I wasn’t coming back to do this again, so the only way to go was onward.

The object of what is always lovingly referred to as a “forced march” in birding was to see the elusive Colima Warbler. As it turns out, those of us who made the trip to Boot Canyon saw four or five of these individuals, but I don’t remember encountering any on the way up to the decision point, so my election to go the entire hike was fortuitous.

Chisos Basin, with the lodge in distant view…

On the way, we encountered this Black-Crested Titmouse, a species seen almost on the entire trip, but nevertheless a bit challenging to capture, so I was glad to have a picture of this individual.

Black-Crested Titmouse

One thing I discovered, though, on this hike, was that my decision to take the biggest lens may not have been wise. Actually, the Tamron lens barely survived the trip: by the end, the rubber gasket on the focus wheel was loose to the point where I could barely take a picture. I ordered a replacement, but I haven’t attached it yet. Instead, ever since I got back from the trip I’ve been using my Canon 100-400mm lens and, combined with my best camera, I think this is the way to go, so I’m reluctant to pick up the Tamron again although I’m sure I will before I decide what its ultimate fate will be.

But the biggest problem on this particular day was that somehow, on the way down to Boot Springs, my settings on the camera changed, and I was oblivious to the fact that I was shooting on “M” which I guess is the manual setting I never use, until long after the stop at Boot Springs where we encountered all these delightful warblers availing themselves of the water feature. In effect I had nice photographs of some rocks because they required no attention to shutter speed. So there I was in heaven at least looking at these amazingly beautiful birds, but not capturing them entirely with the camera. I am surprised that I was able to salvage the photographs you see here, which are certainly not of high quality but at least you can see what the birds look like. Something to learn from an exhausting hike situation. Be Over-Prepared. Or don’t forget to check your camera settings after: adjusting your pack, tying your boots, grabbing your water…

Anyway, in addition to the Colima, the Lucy’s and the Hermit were lifers for me.

Lucy’s Warbler

Some other species I’ll likely not see again…

Rock Squirrel
Threadleaf Phlox

The Slate-throated Redstart was a very hot item, and I’m sorry I didn’t get a decent picture of it, but it’s here anyway as a memory. Apparently this bird is more common south of the Rio Grande.

Variable Dancer
Eastern Fence Lizard

So all in all it was an exhaustingly beautiful experience, one I will always treasure, and I survived! Now if I can just get through the rest of my pictures from this trip before I go on the next one. More to come. Summer is upon us.

A Townsend’s Warbler in Chicago?

Townsend's Warbler Millennium 4-28-2016-7362I usually miss these exciting events because I’m at work, but I decided it was crazy not to walk a few blocks over to Millennium Park yesterday to see this bird which I first saw in Washington State last fall. Below is the one I saw much better there. Although it looks as if the light wasn’t any better!

TOWA 9-17-15-2418However, in spite of the overcast and the fact the bird was flitting about at the top of very tall crabapple trees, the blossoms of which were snowing on the sidewalk, I managed to get a few shots.

These birds belong west of the Rockies and go up to British Columbia and the Yukon to breed. So this constitutes a Rare Bird Alert. And it’s also likely this warbler will be around for a little while, until more favorable winds than the ones that blew it off track occur. The Townsend’s was reported still being seen this morning at 6:30 AM. If there’s any chance for me to get out this afternoon I’ll likely try to find it again. Could be just as easy as yesterday when I saw three people with binoculars staring into the trees.

Below is a Nashville Warbler that was also in these tree tops.

Beyond that I discovered scores of White-Throated Sparrows hanging out in a planted area of Maggie Daley Park, so maybe there will be some recreated habitat after a while.

The weekend birding prospects look very iffy with clouds and rain periodically, so I’m trying to psyche myself up for coming downtown an hour earlier Monday morning when sunshine and a bit more warmth is predicted.

WTSP Millennium 4-28-2016-7463

White-Throated Sparrow

Briefly from the Olympic Peninsula

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon

Getting home late one week ago from the American Birding Association Olympic Peninsula Birding Rally, I went straight back to work the next morning after making a quick run to the grocery store for a few perishables to tide us over. I am still reviewing all the pictures to clarify gull and shorebird species identification, and I hope to post more seaside pictures later in the week, but I wanted to at least gasp quickly while coming up for air.

I got 13 life birds on this trip, I think, at least that’s the number that’s sticking in my mind at the moment. George Armistead from the ABA promised to send us all complete lists which will be helpful, as I kept somewhat of a list from memory only each day, which is never entirely reliable.

There were life birds that I did not get pictures of, but here are a few ones I did. Light conditions were generally miserable (overcast, drizzly, backlit) but I did the best I could. I’d like to go back someday, spend a little more time and have more lenses ready for different situations. The plant species…trees, shrubs, mosses and fungi to generalize a few…were amazing.

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend’s Warbler

I was very happy to get a good look at the Townsend’s Warbler, especially because it still looks similar to a few other species I don’t know well!

Hutton's Vireo

Hutton’s Vireo

I have seen Hutton’s Vireo before, but never got a picture of one, so this was a lifer for the lens.

Red=Bellied Sapsucker

Red=Bellied Sapsucker

The Red-Bellied Sapsucker kept darting around the tree trunk to the other side but I did manage somehow to capture him and lighten him up enough…

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen a Harlequin Duck. I thought perhaps I might have, but now I am 100% certain that I can add to my list as there were several. Not in breeding plumage, but still a remarkable bird.

Thousands of Sooty Shearwaters

Thousands of Sooty Shearwaters

Standing on the beach watching gulls and shorebirds, when suddenly a seemingly endless stream of Sooty Shearwaters flew by over the space of several minutes. The trip leaders estimated 50,000. So I guess I can never say I barely saw this bird if I saw thousands of them!

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

The White-Crowned Sparrow is not new on my life list but I heard murmurings that this could be a subspecies to eventually be split. Whatever, I don’t care, it was nice to get a picture of a lovely young cooperative bird.

Heermann's Gulls

Heermann’s Gulls

I know I said gulls will come later, but the Heermann’s Gull is definitely a life bird for me, and what a beautiful bird with the distinctive orange-red bill. Here’s what Cornell has to say about it on their All About Birds website:

“This gray-bodied, white-headed gull breeds in Mexico and then moves north along the Pacific Coast to southern British Columbia.”

White-headed must refer to the adult breeding plumage of this species. I did find the gray bodies to be distinctive too. It’s always a pleasure to get to know an easily identifiable gulls species. I should never have to worry about confusing this bird with any other gull!

Generally the trip was brief but enjoyable, and I will be back with more pictures and thoughts as soon as possible. I also have some catching up to do with a little midwest passerine migration.