Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Lifers: Birds and Friend

I first heard about the Le Conte’s Sparrow in Virginia Beach a few weeks ago and gave it a very quick try on the 14th without success. But when Lynn and her sister Sherry were going up to NYC for several days, I decided I should go birding. I dropped them off at the train in Fredericksburg, VA then drove down to Virginia Beach to the Princess Anne Wildlife Management Area arriving about 3:30pm. After slogging around in the mud for about 45 minutes, a beautiful lighter colored sparrow flew by me and perched-up in the scrub. Tick!

After spending the night in our almost empty house in Manns Harbor (and having a take-away mahi mahi BLT from Blue Moon as my lifer supper!), I drove back up to Fredericksburg. I had asked Mom’s Big Year Birder, Nancy McAllister, if she had the Barrow’s Goldeneye in Maryland. She said she was going to look for it on Thursday. I said that I was too! We had become good Facebook friends, but had yet to meet in person. As she said, “The planets aligned.” And we decided to converge upon the Elm Environmental Education Center about 10am.

I had a lovely drive over from F’burg through the Virginia and Maryland countrysides. I stopped just after crossing into MD because I saw a very small, stubby-billed Goose. I hopped out with my camera and found that my battery was flat. I had neglected to check it before I left, something I had never done before. I also did not have my spare battery.

Nancy had more traffic to deal with and was running late. I arrived just past 10 at the end of the dirt road and parked by the center. I took my scope and started up the beach. The weather was perfect, calm and sunny. I stopped to scan a raft of ducks and in just moments I saw the white spotted side of the Barrow’s Goldeneye! YES! I decided to try to digi-scope it and immediately lost it. I texted Nancy that I had the duck. I walked further up the beach to get a better angle, but I could not relocate it. After about 15 minutes, I re-found it as Nancy was walking up the beach. I thought I could just stay on the bird until she reached me. It dove. I lost it again. We then spent about a half an hour both scoping through ducks before I was finally able to say, “I’ve got it.” Nancy looked through my scope at the Barrow’s Goldeneye, then snapped a few photos in its general direction. Tick! We did not find out until days later that she had indeed gotten a definitive photo of the duck. Sweet. I am grateful.

Nancy McAllister's recording shot of our Christmas Barrow's Goldeneye (on the left).
Nancy and a crazy man.               
The parking area by the center. It is beautiful there.
We had a lovely lifer lunch and Lifer Pie desert at a little local restaurant. That might have been the last time I have fresh rockfish. It is not a fish that is available in Australia. It was a delicious end to a very excellent day. I added a new lifer and a new life long friend. I am very grateful.
Excellent local rockfish and good pie!
Here are a few photos of the Le Conte’s that I had already posted on Facebook. That is one lovely little bird.

Le Conte's Sparrow!

Peace. Love. Birds. Hope.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

It. Is. For. Sale.

Click the link above. It is official and listed. The house between the Sandbar and the Swamp is now on the market. My real estate agent has told me that she does not think most potential buyers would care for that description. It seems that “Swamp” is not a good word for some folks, but as I told her, my kind of people like swamps. Hell, birders love sewage works! But there are no sewage works near this cottage. It is located in Manns Harbor, NC between the Outer Banks Beaches (the Sandbar) and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (the Swamp). It is beautiful here. I absolutely love it, but we are moving to Australia and so we have to sell it.

The view of the water is phenomenal. It is a panoramic view of Croatan Sound without the worry of maintaining a bulkhead (we are one “lot” back from the water) or flooding. This property has not flooded. For example, hurricanes: Irene, Floyd and Matthew which caused major flooding in many of the surrounding areas of Dare County, never pushed water into this yard. It is a just a bit higher than the surrounding properties. This was a comfort during the recent Hurricane Matthew from which we suffered no damages.

The house also has a new (2013) propane-powered generator that runs all the essential parts of the home. During the recent hurricane, the power went out at 4:30 Sunday morning, the generator automatically came on and we had electricity until mains power was restored 36 hours later (and it used only about 10% of our propane).

The predominant trees here are lovely Live Oaks. There are no pines in, or around, our yard. Pines, as you may know, are weaker and tend to break-off or blow down in storms. We are indeed nestled amongst sturdy trees and it is a very birdy place.

The cottage is about ten minutes from downtown Manteo, ten minutes from the Nags Head beaches, fifteen minutes from a Fresh Market and Food Lion, fifteen minutes from the OBX Hospital and twenty minutes from Harris Teeter. You get the idea. We are close to the beach area and all its amenities, without the cost, or the hassle. It is (to me) an ideal place to live. If I were not moving to Australia, I would want to stay right here.

Again, here is the link to the MLS Listing. It has a lot of photos and gives a very good look at, and into, the house. Please have a look... The Cottage Listing

And please do feel free to share the link or this blog with any friends who you think might be interested in the cottage. I would love for birders to live here. It is such a special place.

Wishing you joy and peace from this very drawing table. I truly will miss this view.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Monday, October 17, 2016

One From Between the Sandbar and the Swamp

This morning I was having coffee while checking facebook and emails at my drawing table as I do. I was also drinking in the new and “improved” panoramic view of the sound. I am sad for the loss of some beautiful, big old live oaks in neighbor's yards, but it has opened the water view from this house even more! It is gorgeous. I will truly miss it.

I dearly do love it.
As I sat, I noticed a small bird fly into the live oak on my right and thought that it seemed different than the Yellow-rumped Warblers that are so ubiquitous this time of year. I got up and peered into the tree and finally got a good glimpse. I told Lynn, “I’ve got a Blue-headed Vireo out here.” We went back to the bedroom for a better viewing angle and it was still there, but on the backside of the tree. I cracked the window and pished and it popped right up in front of us. I went to get the camera, but it flew over the house toward the front yard.

I decided to wander out and see if it was still there and it was. It posed (although back lit) right in front of me for a few moments and I snapped a few photos. It had been far too long since I took photos of a bird. I am grateful for this little vireo and his visit this morning.
Beautiful Blue-headed Vireo

The cottage between the Sandbar and the Swamp will soon be listed as they say. It is easily one of my favorite places I have ever lived and certainly one of the best views I have ever had. I would love for it to go to someone who birds. I will keep y'all posted and I will, of course, post the link to the house once it is officially on the market. Anyone can contact me if they are interested and I will be happy to talk to you about this wonderful home.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

We Are Moving To Australia (Want To Buy A House?)

Yes, we are moving to Australia full stop. We did this once before, but there were some difficult and unexpected problems and we ended up back in the USA. That was a blessing in part because Lynn (and I as well) was able to spend a lot of time with her father. Not long after we had returned, we found out that he was terminally ill. Lynn was able to take a very active roll in his care. It truly was a blessing (and I try not to over use that word). She was able to be with him until the end.

We returned to Oz and made the decision to do the massive year of travel and birding and keep our Permanent Resident Visas. With our visa requirements satisfied, we prepared to return to the US for a while, but then we found a house in Victoria that we could “afford.” We have found a tiny, one bedroom house that is... 2 minutes from the railway station, 2 minutes from good grocery stores, 5 minutes from the Avalon Airport, 5 minutes from the WTP (yes, the world famous birding location also known as the Poo Farm), 10 minutes from the You Yangs Regional Park, 5 minutes from Serendip Sanctuary and close enough to our kids and grandkids. It is a wondrous location, but as I said, it is very small house. We will be getting rid of a LOT of stuff.

So we are selling the House Between the Sandbar and the Swamp in Manns Harbor, NC. Our incredible cottage that is only 2 minutes from Alligator River NWR (the swamp) and 10 minutes from Nags Head’s beach (the sandbar). We renovated it just over two years ago. It has 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 reading loft, bamboo floors, new stainless appliances and an enclosed porch with a breathtaking view of Croatan Sound. I will be adding more photos in the coming days. We also have an excellent generator that powers the majority of the house should the electricity go out. This is an ideal little house. I. Love. It.

Our US Prius in the driveway.           
The wonderful porch (one end of it anyway).
Living room into the kitchen 
The new shower in the bath off the master
Five minutes down the road (and there are bears there too!)
Bears in Alligator River NWR... just down the road.
The guest room
Sunset crossing the old Manns Harbor bridge.
The view from where I sit every morning when I am here.
If I were going to live in the USA, I would want to live nowhere else. I love this house and coastal NC. But we are going to be living in Australia… Parrots, Grasswrens, Fairy-wrens and Universal Healthcare… I will be coming back to you. I am coming home.

Peace. Love. Birds.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Not A Big Year, A Massive Year

We (and our luggage) arrived safely in Raleigh Durham last Thursday evening and for that I am grateful. Our dealings with Qantas have continued to disappoint to say the very least. It has been a steady decline in their service and services in the almost 20 years we have flown with them. I do not need to go into it here. It just is what it is now. As a good friend said, “Qantas is now a shell of what it used to be.” I could not agree more.

It’s been close to two weeks since I posted a blog entry. We are here in the USA and a lot of things need to be sorted out. These are the kinds of things that set my anxieties ablaze, burning through my brain leaving scorched earth where creativity could normally grow. Even if the growth were only some “thought weeds” pushing up between the blackened cracks, they would at least be spots of green amongst the darkness.

So as I wait for returned calls that do not come, or as I attempt to deal with any of the overwhelming organizational tasks at which I am less capable than most Golden Retrievers, I thought I would try to write something in here. Yes, that was all one sentence.

Over the last several days, I have managed to start a rewrite of the beginning of the "book" about the year. I am searching for the voice in which I will write it. It will of course be my voice, but it will be a bit different from the blog. I am also working out how detailed and personal I want it to be. Getting it going may be a slow process (see the scorched earth hyperbole above). But one of the things that I possibly can write about at this time is the notion of a “Big Year” in relation to our year of birding and our Couple’s Year List.

As birders know, a Big Year is when a person(s) attempts to see as many different species of birds in a specific area as they can in a year. The year usually would run from 1 January through 31 December. Because of our time situation, we began keeping a list on 20 August and stopped on 18 August since we did no birding after that. So the dates in themselves would make it a pretty unconventional “Big Year.”

Non-birders often point to the fact that occasionally we twitched a bird, or birds. Twitching is traveling a distance specifically in hopes of seeing a rare or unusual bird somewhere. That we did. But these were usually not too terribly far out of our way and never involved air travel. Real Big Years involve many flights for twitching rarities.

We also only did four pelagic birding trips during our year. Anyone really gunning for numbers will all but grow fins in pursuit of the deep ocean specialties. We missed many a pelagic bird, which a trip or two more would have probably provided. But those trips are not cheap and are often uncomfortable and we chose not to do an excessive number of them.

And believe me, we birded hard, very hard, but even then you sometimes dip. There were basically three bogey birds of the year. The baddest bogey being Black-breasted Buttonquail (alliteration anyone?). We put over five days into searching Inskip Point for that damn bird without a glimpse. The second bad bogey was Yellow-rumped Mannikin and last but not least, the Wandering Albatross. These were all birds that we put serious time and travel into, but did not see. It happens. It has to. If you don’t have a bogey bird (or three) you are not really birding.

We basically “let go” of quite a few birds that would have added numbers for us. We knew that Pheasants on Rottnest Island were a tick, but decided not to spend the money to get over there. We did not drive an hour off our route to tick the Ostriches near Barham, NSW on our way to twitch the Laughing Gull in Venus Bay. And speaking of twitching, we did not back-track for the House Crow near Perth, nor the Ringed Plover in Carnarvon, nor dash ahead for the Franklin’s Gull in Darwin (we tried but were late). I could go on, but I shouldn’t. I am not whinging, I am only giving a few examples of our not “big yearing” it.

Make no mistake, the year itself was massive. It was the biggest and most wonderful year of my life and I will be grateful for the rest of my days for the experience. We accomplished something that few people have. We birded the entire continent of Australia. God, I love that place and those birds.

Although it was so difficult to choose which ones, here are just a very few of my favorite non-bird photos from the year. A few I have posted previously...

My favourite photo of the year. The unposed pic of Lynn listening for (and hearing, then seeing) Sandhill Grasswren with Uluru in the background. This is as good as it gets.
Second favourite, Lynn and I crossing the King Edward River in Troopi (for the second time).
Early in the year, Lynn and Matilda at Hattah-Kulkyne NP
Lynn catching a bit of mobile signal at Chilli Beach, Cape York, QLD        
Birding on Norfolk Island
21 November 2015, our 25th Wedding Anniversary at Jamberoo Lookout, NSW
And I love this photo too... nine days later and heading for Tassie.         
Just one of the many faces of Tasmania. This is on the east coast.
Kangaroo Island gorgeousness.     
Troopi base camp in Gluepot.
The Great Australian Bight near the Nullarbor Roadhouse. It actually looks unreal.   
In the Stirling Ranges with Lily and Mike, dear new friends.
I particularly love this photo of Lynn. Just wow. This was our base camp in Carnarvon.
And one of my very favourite photos of Lynn. This was at the Broome Bird Observatory and it was that hot. I think she looks absolutely beautiful here.
Looking at White-quilled Rock-Pigeons in the Kimberley. There was a lot of rock-hopping.
This was taken just after we had crossed the King Edward River. Lynn and I went swimming in it.      
A lot of climbing and crawling, but we got Kalkadoon Grasswren! Mt. Isa, QLD
The road into a piece of heaven... Kingfisher Park Birdwatcher's Lodge.
I. Love. It. There.
I really felt a bond with that Laughing Gull. 
Looking back at Troopi from near where we saw the Short-tailed Grasswren. I loved the Flinders Ranges.        
One of the last days of the "year." Lynn birding back in Victoria in the You Yangs.
Stay tuned, there will be a lot more to come in the coming days. But I really needed a look back at this year right now. Sending much love from North Carolina at present.

Couple’s AUS Year Total: 638
Peace. Love. Birds.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Pink Robin Yard Bird

It’s been a week since my last blog entry. I have had my 63rd birthday, a happy one spent with family. I have continued to battle with this cold-ear-throat-chest thing and I am better. I’ve done several doctor visits. I have nasal sprays, pills and I have had lots of rest, a gross amount of rest. To quote an old AA saying, I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. But as I said, I truly am better. To my American friends, this is not really unusual for an Aussie “bug.” These things here often run for weeks at a time. I am just very grateful that I am getting much better and that I remained healthy (excepting the eye issue) throughout our year of travels.

About a week and a half ago, as we were getting in the car here in Torquay, I saw a robin in the bushes. I just caught a glimpse of it, but enough to recognize it as a probable female Pink Robin. I pished and she popped out for a quick, bare-eyed view. Yep, pretty sure it was a Pink Robin. I thought I saw her again a few days later as well, but I still was not positive.

Saturday morning, I took the camera out for a look around. I pished a bit by those bushes and sure enough, she popped up for a proper look and some photos. I saw my lifer Pink Robin (a female) several years ago at Point Addis, about ten minutes from here. I saw (and showed others) that robin a few times. I am very pleased to have such a sweet bird in the yard here at my son’s house and I hope it hangs around. I am grateful.

The lovely female Pink Robin 

It is also Father's Day here in Australia. I was delighted to get a second present (the first were the tickets to Delilah's school show). Here is my new mug from my grandchildren and the sweet bag that it came wrapped in. I am very grateful.
I hope to write another blog entry before we leave for the US on Thursday. If I have time, I certainly will. I am very much looking forward to seeing my friends and loved ones in the US, but I am quite sad to leave my adopted home (and Troopi). We plan to return early-ish next year. I will tell y’all all about the plans and things soon. I will also be working on the book of our amazing year. I know I will have some jet-lag time coming to me in NC and I hope to get some writing done. I am grateful.

Peace. Love. Birds.