San Diego Deep Water Pelagic on the Searcher



I got home yesterday from a 5-day pelagic trip out of San Diego on the 95-foot Searcher. I wrote a trip summary on my notes page. For anyone interested you can see the notes here:

San Diego Deep Water Pelagic Trip on Searcher

I felt the trip was exceptionally well organized, run and led. The ship is reasonably comfortable, the food outstanding, and overall I recommend the trip as an experience and as a way to see deep water SoCal specialties.



Rolan Nelson Memorial Great Gray Owl Trip

Our Group in Spring Creek after Ryan's family joined us.  Photo by Diane Y-Q

Our Group in Spring Creek after Ryan’s family joined us. Photo by Diane Y-Q

Our ABC Birding club took off on Friday May 20th and headed south on a trip to find the Great Gray Owl in LaGrande, OR as a tribute to Rolan Nelson, one of our longtime members who passed away last year. GGOW was one of his long-time nemesis birds, one I believe he never saw, and our hope had been that his widow Kathleen would join us on the trip. Kathleen was unable to come due to a work conflict, but the rest of us had a great adventure as Rolan would have wanted us to do.

Friday we caravanned south, 4 cars, 14 birders, to our first stop to the cemetery on Balsh Rd, Lyle, WA. There under sunny skies we had FOY looks for many of us at Ash-throated flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, White-breasted nuthatch, Chipping Sparrow, and others. checklist

Ash-throated Flycatcher by Diane Y-Q

Ash-throated Flycatcher by Diane Y-Q

To see a photo montage of the whole trip visit Diane’s Flickr site

From there we headed to the Acorn Woodpecker granary, where we found neither the granary tree or the woodpecker, but heard a wild turkey gobble, saw a male Western Tanager up close, and enjoyed the sunshine. checklist

Western Tanager by Diane Y-Q

Western Tanager by Diane Y-Q

Next stop was Rock Creek, where we birded the gravel road, had great looks at more Lazuli buntings and a Yellow-breasted chat. We also saw my FOY Willow Flycatcher. checklist

We spent the first night in La Grange after a good Mexican meal in Pendleton

Saturday we were up early to seek the Great-gray owl ner Spring Creek on nest boxes provided by the Walawa-Whitman National Forest management group. We headed back east out of La Grande, and onto FR 21 where after a few more turns came to the area for the first search. This area involved a walk through beautiful monotone meadows on a muddy two-track road looking for the promised Purple polka-dotted flag to mark the first nest box area. We looked, and we looked, and found no tape/flag but did manage two very brief fly-by sightings of large, gray silent owls. One look seen by most was adequate to ID the GGOW but not good enough to feel satisfied. The next was only seen by Ken and myself, and was much more fleeting, in a deeper forest area. We got good looks at Mountain bluebird, and enjoyed the exercise. checklist

After this we sent to the box described as where everyone goes. We figured out why, it’s where you can actually find the box and see the owls. The box had 3 downy chicks, and we had one good but brief fly in by the adult presumed male to feed them a rodent.

by Pat Dameron

by Pat Dameron

By Pat Dameron

By Pat Dameron

Better photos to follow when our photographers send them. As we got ready to flee the incoming rain a male Williamson’s sapsucker treated us to a great show, working a vertical “V” of sapsucker holes on a tree near the nest box. checklist with photos

We spent the rest of the day birding a large wetland near La Grande called Ladd Marsh. This area has huge colonies of Northern Pocket Gophers, and this brings in large numbers of hawks, Swainson’s (12), Red-tailed, (10) and Northern Harriers. (10).

In addition there were large numbers of Yellow-headed blackbirds, lots of waterfowl, and just generally good birding. See checklist.

We drove back to Pendleton for dinner and a room, as due to multiple graduations in Walla Walla we couldn’t find space there. We enjoyed excellent food, service and ambiance at The Prodigal Son Brewery and Pub.

Sunday we headed back to WA and Biscuit Ridge where we targeted Green-tailed towhee on a day when it was flat out cold and windy. We battled through the elements and most of us got at least fleeting looks at a GTTO. We got to hear it sing along with at least one more farther down a slippery, wet, rocky hillside. Just after seeing this some of us got on an adult Northern Goshawk as it flew up the valley. After briefly considering a try for Great-gray owl in WA where it has been seen on Jasper Mountain Rd, we decided to stop shivering and head for lower ground. checklist

Millet Pond, near the mouth of the Walla Walla River, has had Glossy Ibis recently, and so we headed there to explore, warm up, and seek Blue-winged teal, Yellow-headed blackbird, Black-crowned Heron, and a good afternoon of birding. We got all of this in spades (except only Donna saw the YHBL). We had good numbers of Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, two GWTE, Lots of AWPE, a nearly invisible Wilson’s snipe, and after a long walk and good exploring by Donna LaCasse we got on a flock of 6 White-faced ibis near the back of the wetlands. Other good birds were Eastern Kingbird and Bullock’s oriole. checklist with photos

Many of us extended the day with a trip to the Tyson Blood Ponds hoping for a White-rumped sandpiper seen there the prior day, but neither our group nor prior birders relocated one. It was a cool place, with lots of Black-necked stilts, a few ducks, and Greater yellowlegs and Spotted sandpiper. Checklist

We spent our last night in Yakima after dinner in Pasco. The last day we headed for Oak Creek Canyon where it seemed like Lewis’s woodpeckers were everywhere
and Rock wrens were singing from several of the basalt columns.
We added good looks at one of several MacGilvery’s warblers we heard, and tried for looks at drumming Downy woodpeckers and Red-naped sapsuckers. checklist

I’ll let another of the group finish the report of the day about the stop at Bethel Ridge as I left early to drive home to help out participants with a family emergency. (use the comments to discuss the last stop)

Rolan, we wish you had been able to be with us, and remember you with fondness. RIP.

I also wrote daily posts on my personal birding notes readers are welcome to see. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4

Here are a few more of Pat’s nice photos.


Banded Swainson's

Banded Swainson’s


ABC Goes Cruising: Pelagic Trip LA to Vancouver

ABC Pelagic Cruise

15 birders gathered at the LA World Cruise Center to board the Ruby Princess departing at 4 PM on May 3rd. For many of us it was a first cruise experience and with lifers in our dreams we set sail from LA headed north to Victoria and then Vancouver.
Day one we were all excited as we left port and were hoping for some near shore SoCal specialties like Black-vented shearwater and Scripp’s murrelet. Neither happened but we did discover how physically challenging it is to stand on the ship railing scanning with our spotting scopes for distant birds. We made it until dark, but were grateful for darkness as an excuse to call it a day. We did manage both Ashy and Leach’s storm petrel, Black-footed albatross, Sooty ad Pink-footed shearwaters, Elegant and Caspian terns, Western and California gulls, and Cassin’s aucklet. Many of us were in rooms near the front of the boat on the 9th floor, and birding is from the bow on the 7th floor deck, so getting to our rooms from the birding area was a relatively short walk.
Day 2 we were up early, meeting at the bow at 6 AM and many of us opening the 15th floor buffet breakfast room at 5 AM. The breakfast was fine. We also had dinner late at this area on the first night. Day 2 started very birdy for about the first hour, with large numbers of Leach’s storm-petrel, Sooty and Pink-footed shearwaters, and Brian Pendleton spotted a Laysan’s albatross cross the bow just before the rest of us arrived. For the next 4 hours we struggled to find many birds. We took a lunch break a little after noon, and as Ken, Bruce and I finished eating Kathryn Cooper told us about the birders having Cook’s Petrel being sighted. We rushed back to the bow area, and on arrival a Murphy’s petrel was being seen, and we all relocated it and got good looks, but no Cook’s seen initially. Throughout the afternoon we had fairly steady bird activity, with good numbers of Cook’s petrel seen well by all, another Murphy’s giving close views, but the highlight was a close fly by of a Hawaiian Petrel. We were able to see the all dark above markings, the black cap, and the heavier stronger flight pattern of this bird.
About 2:30 I mentioned to Ken that it was past time I get my life Laysan’s albatross, as we were getting good numbers of Black-footed. Not five minutes later I spotted a Laysan’s fly so close to the bow that I had to lean over the railing to get a good look. It flew right by us with everyone getting great looks. By 5 PM we were all exhausted, sore from standing, cold, and called it a day.
I slept well but many ABCers were kept awake by loud sounds form the ship. It turns out that winds were so strong that the ship had to stop for a while in the night. The reason is not certain, but one possible explanation was that “stabilizers” had to be extended due to the high winds. Whatever the reason for the noises, the captain changed course to run much closer to shore, approximately 35-40 miles off shore, not the expected 100. Winds were reported on the ship’s TV as 40-63 knots with 11 foot seas and this seemed to match the feel on the deck.

This may have been a part of the reason we had lots of Common murres, only a few Parakeet auklets, and those were tough to see, and only 2 Murphy’s petrels. There were very large numbers of Sooty shearwaters but relatively few Pink-footed. We did get a Laysan Albatross near the end of the day for an Oregon sighting. After dinner Ken and I joined Brian Pendleton, John Anderson (Olympia addition to our trip) and Brian Sullivan and his 4 person contingent for a last 30 minutes of birding after we entered Washington waters. Unfortunately it was not at all birdy, with just 2 Cassin’s aucklets and four Phalaropes. Fortunately I was able to ID one of them at a Red phalarope because it was nearly fully in alternate plumage and red below.
We were all disappointed that when the sun rose on Day 4 we were already well into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and so there was no chance for deep water birds in WA. Still it was a really nice morning to socialize with both each other and the other birders on the boat. The level of both talent and great personalities out with us was truly extraordinary.
Some of us used our half day in Victoria to chase a reported Red-throated Pipit (not found) at Panama Flats where we did see two breeding plumage Pacific Golden Plovers, and to see the Sky Larks still hanging on near the Victoria Airport.
We all got back on board in time to go to sleep, get up early and arrive at Vancouver at 7:30 AM.
Starting with Brian Sullivan the leader of 4 outstanding non-millennial birders the talent around us was truly extraordinaty. Brian was truly an expert pelagic birder and was generous with both his time and giving away copies of his new book, Offshore Wildlife ID Guide: West Coast, Check it out. It is a must have for non-experts in any aspect of offshore bird, mammal, fish or turtles. The link is to Amazon where you can buy it. 
Dorian Anderson of the Biking Big Year notoriety kept us smiling with his stories and was a strong addition to the birding expertise in addition. He is planning a book about his year on the bike. It sounds like a book club book, maybe next year.
A local young man, Christian Hagenlocher, is doing a big year who was always sharing his new 90mm Swarovski scope and helping get us onto birds. He was both another expert to help us spot birds, and a joy to have around. He is doing this big year on a shoestring budget, and would appreciate any help we can give. Check out his web site The Birding Project where you can follow his adventure, and if you like contribute to his cause.
Another young expert on the ship was Chris West. Chris was a leader Kay and I first met at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival where we enjoyed his birding esxpertise, gentle manner, and hi general nature expertise in butterflys, dragonflys, and plants. He leads trips for Naturescape Tours based in Minnesota, though he is from Wisconsin. You can follow Chris on Facebook at Chris W Birder.
Another terrific young birder was Andy, but I don’t have contact info about him.
Overall I am pleased that ABCers were able to get a group together for the trip and that we all arrived in Vancouver safely and that most of us got on the Pterodromas and the Laysan’s albatross as well as the Storm petrels and learned what Cruise pelagic birding is all about. Notes to self and advice to others: Don’t underestimate how cold it can be on the deck of the ship, and expect long periods of tedium interspersed with exciting birds.

Repositioning Cruise

Interest has been keen for the repositioning cruise and we have 12 persons who have expressed interest on this first day. As of now there are 12 persons who have sent their names to the agent, but we have one woman and one man without same-gender berth-mates. If one more male and one more female contact me I’ll see if I can get a seventh berth reserved and we can make it a 14 person trip. Please contact me if you are interested in filling up the last two beds.

Current list of interested persons

Ed Pullen
Ken Brown
Art Wang
Bruce Labar
Donna LaCasse
Kay Schimke
Vera Cragin
Kathy (Vera Cragin’s daughter)
Joe Tieger
Margaret Tieger
Jody Hess
Brian Patterson

Thanks, Ed

ABC Trip on Repositioning Cruise LA to Vancouver

Repositioning Cruise LA to Vancouver. May 3-7, 2016. Limit 12 persons. 8 spots left. Sign up by Friday Jan 22 to assure a spot.

I have set up a trip for ABC on a Princess Cruise ship for the purpose of looking for pelagic birds. Size limit for the group will be 12. The ship leaves Los Angeles on May 3 at 4 PM and arrives at Vancouver BC at 7:30 AM at May 7th. There is a single port-of-call at Victoria BC from noon until 11:30 PM on May 6th. There should be a good part of May 6th in WA waters.
I have used an agent to reserve 6 double person inside berths at what seems to me to be an excellent cost of $634/ room, or $317./ person double occupancy. This includes everything except tips and alcohol. These reservations will be held just until noon EST on this Friday Jan 22nd. To reserve a spot on the trip send an email to Gail Agamie. I expect the spaces to fill quickly, so sign up right away.

I have arranged for Bruce Labar, a spotter on Westport Seabirds, to come with us so we have expertise to recognize the birds As an inducement to Bruce to come I agreed that ABC members would pay $30. each which if 11 of us come will cover his cruise fee. A bargain given that to do the same trip with wings is $275. per person plus cost of the cruise.

This is a different type of pelagic cruising. No stopping for birds, viewing mostly through a spotting scope, and several days long. A big plus is much less motion, so seasickness should be less of a concern.

So far Ken Brown, Bruce Labar, Art Wang and myself (Ed Pullen) are signed up. 8 spaces left. I expect them to fill fast. There is no financial commitment to sign up. Just send you full name and date of birth to:

Gail Allen Agamie
Cruise Consultant
Cruise Vacation Outlet
5575 S. Semoran Blvd Ste. # 4
Orlando, FL 32822
Toll Free: 1-800-797-4635 Ext 137 #
Local: 407-275-2244 Ext 137 #
Fax: 775-206-1012

Please also send me an email at edwardpullen — at — gmail dot com.

E-Bird End of Year Details

I find it handy on Dec 31 each year to use the CSV Download feature of lists on eBird to save to my own database the lists I want to be able to see easily on e-bird. For things like my 20145 state & county lists I just open the list on my eBird and click on the csv download button at the top right corner. Then open and save the file. It’s handy to add the year to the file name, as eBird just calls it a year list without the year prominently showing.

Just a friendly reminder for you listers out there.