Texas Here I Come

A week from this morning at about the same time I am writing this post, I'll be standing along the banks of the Rio Grande at Salineño scanning up and down river for Muscovy, Red-billed Pigeon, White-collared Seedeater, and Audubon's Oriole on my first venture to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. All 4 birds I've seen outside of our borders, but never in the U.S.A.

A White-collared Seedeater--in Costa Rica

Along with 4 friends, we'll have about 90 hours to make our way through the hot spots and rack up as many lifers and new ABA species as possible. For me, that means 15-20 life bird and potentially 35-45 new ABA species. South Texas, along with south Florida, and Alaska are the 3 big holes I still haven't filled for North America.

A Clay-colored Thrush--in Panama

For years I always wanted to go Brownsville and McAllen for birds--but after having traveled to a number of destinations south of the border, my fascination with southern birding in the states dwindled. I am not an ABA lister, and the only reason I know my tally is because of eBird. After my first trip internationally, I realized how much more there was out there to see than what was within a set of borders defined via war, purchase, treaties, and downright theft.

A Ringed Kingfisher--in Costa Rica

Political borders are an innocuous thing--especially when it comes to wildlife. Birds and other animals have natural borders. Lakes, river, mountains, valleys, oceans, forests, etc. What defines where a bird goes and doesn't is far more complex than a line drawn in the sand and a proverbial money pit border wall that won't solve the issue of illegal immigration. South Texas is a mecca of sorts for birders who care about ABA listing. You have to go here to see a chunk of birds you won't get anywhere else in America. For birders who aren't so quick to worry about seeing 700 in the ABA, it's affordable, relatively safe, and a close to home option to see things with a flair of the tropics.

I fall into that latter category. If I only saw 650 birds in the ABA area before I died that would be okay with me, especially if I saw 6,500 species in the world. But, it's not all about the lifers, and the lists. Birding the LRGV from what I've heard from others is an experience in itself. It's as much about the journey as it is about the birds. And this trek will involve a group of friends that have experienced a lot of birds together. From Salineño we'll follow the course of the river southeast to places like Bentsen State Park, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Estero Llano Grande, South Padre Island, Laguna Atascosa, and the famed King Ranch.

A Plain Chachalaca--from the Yucatan, Mexico

These places evoke strong feelings amongst birders when you mention them. They are sites that have seen some of the rarest finds in North America--birds from 100's of miles south popping up on this side of the Rio Grande and flocked to by birders for a glimpse within this political border. Things like: Bare-throated Tiger-Heron, Crane Hawk, Mottled Owl, Amazon Kingfisher, Collared Forest-Falcon, Variegated Flycatcher, Masked Tityra, Black-headed Nightingale-Thrush, Blue Mockingbird, Gray Silky-flycatcher, and Red-legged Honeycreeper.

A Red-legged Honeycreeper from Panama

They are also the best places in America to see birds typical of northeast Mexico where their range limits. Green Jay, Olive Sparrow, Plain Chachalaca, Altamira Oriole, Ringed Kingfisher, White-tipped Dove, and Common Pauraque are all common here. Then there are birds like the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, which can currently only be seen on King Ranch on this side of the border.

A White-tipped Dove--from Costa Rica

These are the things that draw birders here. And despite my desire fading in the last decade, this trip has sparked an interest for me again. As my departure and arrival approach, I'm excited for the opportunity to photograph some birds I haven't, see a few I've missed over the years, and experience the LRGV the way so many other birders have. Hopefully, I'll have a story to share here in the aftermath!

Papyrus Must Die

For the love of everything holy, please do me a favor. If you use the font, Papyrus, go into your fonts folder right now, and send that bad boy to the recycle bin. Give it an honorable death. A quick death. And then promptly forget it ever existed. It is a font that never should have been but instead has become the go-to for anyone--from your grandmother to your brother--when they get the urge to "create" something with an "earthy" feel. It is for lack of a better word, an abomination. And for designers like myself it has become a joke, often referenced when clients send their idea of what an "earthy", "natural", or "wild" font looks like. It is lazy. If you are a bird or wildlife photographer that uses it for your watermark, you are perpetuating the idea that this font "matches" your photographs. Maybe it does in some cases. But if you think your work deserves better, read on.



For those maybe not aware of what I am talking about, here is a little background. Papyrus is a widely available typeface designed by artist Chris Costello in 1982. Chris spent 6 months designing the font, by hand using a calligraphy pen on textured paper. The distinct font is adorned with "rough edges, irregular curves, and high horizontal strokes in the capitals" (from Wikipedia). The concept for the font is that it should represent what English writing would look like 2,000 years ago on papyrus paper.

The popularity of the font is in part due to its inclusion in many versions of Windows and iOs in the standard font set. Readily available and with a unique look it has become so popular and overused, that even it's own designer has gone on record criticizing the overuse. The design community generally frown upon its use. We mock, point, curl our noses in disgust, and occasionally become visibly ill when confronted with it in the real world.

I follow a lot of photographers of all things wild on Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr and am part of groups where photographers--professional and amateur post with regularity. On any given day I am accosted by no less than a handful of photos so willfully shellacked with this font so that its owners may "copyright" its usage, that I recoil and scroll on shaking my head and asking, "why why why?".

As a side note, your photos are already copyrighted. You don’t need to submit a form, and you don’t have to use that “©” symbol or a watermark — those are just customary ways of identifying the copyright owner. But alas, if you must, you don't have to be one of "those" photographers. You can be unique (somewhat). You can be original (more so than most). You can use another font! That's right there are a whole slew of fonts out there you can use for your fancy little "©" watermark you insist on plastering on every single image you share.

To help you get started here are 5 fonts with that "earthy", "natural", or "wild" feel you seem to love with Papyrus.

Cabin Sketch



IM Fell English


Octin Vintage


Sketchetik


Xenophone


And here are 5 fonts that are clean, easy to read, and will give you that professional look you want and need.

Aleo


Caviar Dreams


Montserrat


Quicksand


Raleway


And as my gift to you, here are all 10 of these fonts available zipped and ready to use. Just tap the very ironic download button below! Please use them, please share this. Please help us do the right thing, and put Papyrus to death in the genera of bird and wildlife photography!



Thanks for listening to me rant, I hope you enjoyed!


The Mountain West Most Wanted Tour


Okay, so about a year ago I was talking with my buddy Kenny Frisch about the most requested tours I get each summer.  Besides the obvious Flammulated Owl trips which are the majority of my tours, I also get a fair number of requests to see Black Rosy-Finch and Chukar.  These 3 species easily account for like 99% of my trips nowadays.  But I also get a few requests each year to see Black Swift and Himalayan Snowcock.  These 5 birds come up in more emails and requests than anything else.  I had the idea for a tour that brought these 5 birds together, as well as more than 140 other species.  It would be a quick tour--5 days and 4 nights out of Salt Lake City.

Kenny quipped something to the effect of, "The Most Wanted Tour". Boom! Mountain West Most Wanted.  It flows so nicely.  So after thinking about it for the better part of the last year and working on an itinerary, I've finally got this tour ready to go.  The 1st ever Mountain West Most Wanted Tour kicks off July 20, 2017!  Here is the teaser from our website:

Himalayan Snowcock, Black Rosy-Finch, Black Swift, Chukar, Flammulated Owl and More! This is the mother of all mountain west birding trips. This intensive 5-day tour will focus on the most highly sought after birds of the mountain west, the BIG 5 as we call them. Fast-paced bird-filled days should have you in and out in a weekend with a list full of life birds!

And the itinerary:

Day 1 (THU): Arrive in Salt Lake City by 5:00 pm and transfer to hotel. At 6:00 pm we'll have a brief overview of the coming days trip, complete with a catered dinner. By 7:00 pm we'll be on our way to a nearby canyon and waterfall where we'll scan the skies above for the elusive and amazing BLACK SWIFT. We'll also see the more common White-throated Swift, along with Violet-green Swallow and possibly Golden Eagle soaring overhead. As darkness descends on the mountain west we'll visit a nearby forest to look for our second target of the trip--the tiny, moth-eating, black-eyed, flame-streaked wonder of the mountain west--the FLAMMULATED OWL. We should be able to track these beauties down while also finding Common Poorwill and Ruffed Grouse. Night in Salt Lake City, Utah


Day 2 (FRI): If we missed out swift the night before we'll try again this morning before making our way into the mountains to look for our third target of the trip. Arriving in the Uinta National Forest, we'll climb to 11,000'. Here we might encounter American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gray Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, and Pine Grosbeak. After a short hike to the barren tundra above, we'll seek out a North American endemic in the BLACK ROSY-FINCH. In recent years White-tailed Ptarmigan have expanded to the area from further east and are always a possibility. Mountain Bluebird often flycatch over the open grass and rocks above the tree line. The views from up here are incredible and will create memories to last a lifetime. We'll play the rest of the morning and afternoon by ear as we need to leave Salt Lake City by 3:00 pm for our 4-hour drive into Nevada. We should arrive before dark and will have a hearty dinner before turning in early for the night. Night in Elko, Nevada



Day 3 (SAT): Leaving the warmth of our beds in the dark we'll head into the nearby mountains to be at a trailhead 90 minutes before sunrise. In the dark, we'll make our way up the trail towards Island Lake and the easiest spot for HIMALAYAN SNOWCOCK viewing in the United States. This highly sought after introduced species spends the summers high on the ridges of the Ruby Mountains, and most mornings can be heard calling, and often seen as it forages among the rocks. We'll spend the first few hours of daylight here before retreating to the desert below. Despite being in the middle of summer we'll try to turn up Sagebrush Sparrow and Sage Thrasher nearby. The afternoon will be relaxed with another early evening. Night in Elko, Nevada


Day 4 (SUN): Today is a backup day for the snowcock. If we didn't have great views on Saturday or had weather issues, we'll head back into the mountains for a second round, before packing up in the afternoon and heading back to Salt Lake City. If we had good fortune on Saturday, this morning we'll bird the surrounding desert before heading back to Utah. We'll plan birding accordingly to fit in with either scenario. We'll enjoy a great dinner tonight at one of Utah's best Mexican restaurants before watching the sunset on the Great Salt Lake. If for some reason the weather was inclement on our first night, we’ll use tonight for swifts and owls again. Night in Salt Lake City, Utah


Day 5 (MON): On your last day in the mountain west, we'll kick things off at the world famous Great Salt Lake. We'll take a tour of a local island where our 5th and final target of the trip resides--another introduced game bird, the CHUKAR. Other birds we often encounter while on this day include Burrowing Owl, Barn Owl, Rock Wren, Long-billed Curlew, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Say's Phoebe. On the shores of the lake, it's the time of year for the very first southbound shorebird migrants to show up with Wilson's and Red-necked Phalarope both possible. We'll finish off the trip with one last visit to the mountains where Western Tanager, Lincoln's Sparrow, Green-tailed Towhee, and MacGillivray's Warbler are possible. In the afternoon we'll drop you off to continue the rest of your visit or for your outbound flights (after 5:00 pm).

We can expect to see around 150 species of birds during this tour, as well as more than 10 species of mammals. We'll be hiking at elevations between 4,200' and 12,000' with hikes up to 2 miles each way possible. Please be sure you are in the right physical condition to take part in this adventure!

Sound like something you want to do? Click here or on any of the images in this post to get more information or to sign up!

It's a Cackler, look at the bill, vol. 2, the video

Just a video I shot of that Cackling Goose last week.  Look at the bill...


Death From Above: Peregrines Killing Vagrants

This Peregrine tried unsuccessfully to take out a Cattle Egret in the desert

If you're tuned into the national rare bird scene, you might be aware of something that happened in San Francisco this past week.  Here, I can't tell it better than those who saw it happen:

The Ross's Gull was just taken by a pair of Peregrine's, 2:10 PM today, Saturday, from the same muddy field reported earlier. The actual hunt lasted no more than 30 s. The Peregrine's got it in the air, and then the gull didn't stand a chance.  
We were all stunned.  
Lynn Miller/Patrick Temple

Yeah! That's right, a vagrant Ross's Gull in San Francisco was taken out by a Peregrine Falcon in front of birders who were watching the stunning bird.  What a way to go!  So I'm not going to lie, when I read this I thought to myself, "this is freaking awesome!".  You might be thinking that's kind of a dick thing to think, but come one, think about it.  This bird that is 1,000's of miles from where it normally is found had been around a day and a half in California and boom! Finished.  What are the odds? Really, think about that, out of the 1,000's of gulls present along the coast, the Peregrine managed to get the rarest of them all.  How? Why?  Is there a reason?

I've found it interesting that over the years I've heard several stories and seen for myself, Peregrine Falcon's going after birds that are seemingly out of place.  This begs two questions:

Is this normal? Do predators regularly go after birds that are out of place?

or

Is it just that people tend to be paying closer attention to vagrants, so when one is picked off by a predator, we tend to notice?

And maybe it's a little bit of both.  Here's a look at some of my favorite vagrant meet Peregrine stories.

Peregrine v.s Parasitic

Peregrine Falcon chasing Parasitic Jaeger

So this is from my personal file.  In the fall of 2005 an emaciated Parasitic Jaeger showed up in northern Utah.  My friend Colby Neuman and I were the first people to chase the bird the morning following the report.  As we watched the bird and I was taking photographs, a dark streak flashed through my lens, and then the jaeger was gone.  Colby was freaking out and let me know a Peregrine had just attacked! I got out of the car and watched the falcon chasing the jaeger out over the Great Salt Lake until both bird disappeared out of sight.  I thought for sure the jaeger was a goner, but about 10 minutes later it drifted back on to the beach and landed right where it had been before.  The falcon lost this battle, but the jaeger died a couple days later on its own.

Peregrine v.s. Purple

Check out the orange feet of a Purple Sandpiper

So this story is strictly anecdotal.  I don't know the facts but was told this by a birder while I lived in Indiana in 2006.  Every winter Purple Sandpiper show up on Lake Michigan.  Usually in relatively small numbers if at all.  If you know PUSA, you know they like rocks, and the best places to look tend to be break walls and jetties.  In Michigan City, there is a great break wall where these birds have been reported sporadically in the past.  As the story goes a birded ventured out around Thanksgiving one year following the report of a sandpiper.  They arrived at the break wall and were scoping it when they found a Peregrine Falcon sitting on the wall.  Upon closer inspection they noticed two bright orange feet sticking out from underneath the falcon.  The sandpiper wasn't reported again and the assumption is that is was breakfast.  Whether or not there is any truth to this story, it remains one of my favorites.

Peregrine v.s Egret

One lucky Cattle Egret avoids the Peregrine Falcon Attack

This is another one from the personal archives and involves a pair of Cattle Egrets in Washington, Utah.  Wath remains of this farming community rests on the edge of the Mojave Desert and isn't a great place for birds like Cattle Egrets.  They do pass through during migration, but this was only the 2nd time I had seen them in the county.  In a flooded field were a handful of shorebirds, ibis, ducks, and the pair of egrets going about their business as usual.  As my friend Kenny Frisch and I watched the birds a Peregrine Falcon slammed into one and attempted to take off--but the egret fought back.  For several minutes the Peregrine tried to stoop on the egret as it worked on hiding in some tall grass, finally managing to do so and leaving the falcon empty handed.  The ibis eventually flew right past us, looking a bit unkempt, but alive.

For those keeping score, it's tied 2-2 Peregrine v.s. "Vagrants".  So here's the tie-breaker, and perhaps the best story--mainly because there is video...

Peregrine v.s. Ibis

On April 26, 2011, a White-faced ibis that had been seen for most of the previous week at Plum Island, Massachusetts was being watched by a class from Green Mountain College.  While the class was watching, and video was being taken explaining that this was a rare bird for Massachusetts, a Peregrine Falcon enters scene right.  I'll let the video take it from here:



Make that Peregrine 3 - "Vagrants" 2...  The clear winner the Peregrine Falcon.  The ibis video while amazing, and sensational because of the college kids and their reactions, is just another example of a Peregrine taking out a bird that is seemingly out of place.

But, that still doesn't answer the why?  In each case above there are other far more common birds the falcon could have taken instead. In each case, the rarity is what was attacked.  Predatorial birds and animals are well known to go after the weakest, often injured and sick individuals because it poses the least challenge with the greatest chance of reward.  In many cases are these out of place birds obviously the weakest link to the predators?  Whatever it is, it's an interesting topic, and one that I think about a lot when I see falcons.  Now whenever I see a rare bird I'm always keeping one eye to the sky so I can see the next attack coming!

Have you witnessed a Peregrine attacking an out of place bird?  If so share below!

Ruddy Turnstone Limited Edition Print

So the 2017 ABA Bird of the Year is one of my favorites--it's a shorebird and a species that was my Utah nemesis bird.  It wasn't for lack of trying, I just seemingly missed the Ruddy Turnstone at every "turn".  So... Anyways, my first Utah Ruddy Turnstone came in 2007--not on the coast or at a beach, but right here in northern Utah.  Imagine having spent a morning hiking around a 12,000' peak looking for White-tailed Ptarmigan.  The hike is a success and as you return to a normal elevation and cell phone coverage, you have a phone full of voicemails.  Birders aware of your current big year attempt want to let you know there's a turnstone at Bear River MBR on the north shore of the Great Salt Lake.  The only problem--you're 5 hours away...

Well, needless to say, I didn't let that stop me, and after a long long drive, I finally nabbed that turnstone--on a mudflat, in a drying out unit of a bird refuge in the desert.  It was a beauty, and the most colorful turnstone I've ever seen.  Check it out here.

Now since then, I of course as with all nemesis birds, have seen more than I ever could've imagined in Utah--and beyond.  I've seen them in Oregon and California, and in Mexico, Panama, and Peru.

The nemesis no more is now a bird I come across several times every year.

With the ABA announcing this clown-faced, flipper of rocks, dweller of beaches, and all around handsome as a devil Ruddy Turnstone as their bird of the year, I decided to design a  print showing my admiration of the bird.



This is going to be limited to 100 prints at each of the following sizes:

8x10 - $15

16x20 - $25

+ $5 S&H anywhere in the lower 48

Either will be a matte finish and come shipped to your door in a protective tube or envelope. If you like turnstones or know a shorebird aficionado, this print is the perfect way to show your admiration for the clown of the beach. You can get yours today through the link below!




It's a Cackler, look at the bill

One of my all time favorite quotes from one of the biggest personalities in birding here in Utah, "It's a Cackler, look at the bill!".  You have to know the voice to understand the effect of this sentence.  A few birders reading this might know who I'm referring to and can really appreciate what a great quote it is.  And speaking of Cacklers, and "those bills", here is a Cackling Goose I came across on the way home from work this week, just a couple miles from home in the heart of Sandy, Utah.

"Look at bill!!!"

And here it is next to a lovely little "Lesser" or Parvipes Canada Goose, showing how much smaller it is and how that bill shape is so different.

Lesser Canada Goose (L) with Cackling Goose (R)

Much to my chagrin, this goose has kept around the area much of the week and was still here over the weekend.  I'm a little obsessed with undersized white-chinned geese, and any chance I get to look at Cackling Geese I overindulge.  I've got twice as many Cackling Goose photos on my website as Canada Goose--despite the obvious disparity in the number of Canada Geese over Cackling Geese I see annually.  So when I drove through "downtown" Sandy and saw the flock of geese was feeding in the median on Centennial Parkway, I couldn't help but pull up and take a few more pictures...

Cackling Goose (L) and Lesser Canada Goose (R)


 Lesser Canada Goose (L) with Cackling Goose (R)


Grainy picture in terrible light--but I had to take it... Just "look at the bill"

So the point of this post--there is no point, I just really like Cackling Geese.  But if there must be a takeaway, it's this--next time you see a Cackling Goose, point at it and say the following in a voice that makes you smile, "It's a Cackler, look at the bill".  It will make your birding experience all the more enjoyable!