More Travels with the Dilettante Birders

Article and photos by Jackie Brooks

The primary purpose of our spring break trip to Hawaii was not birding. It was a family vacation to introduce the grandsons to one of our favorite places. Their interests were Pearl Harbor and volcanoes, so, in a whirlwind, we hit three islands in nine days. Two + days on Oahu, two + days on Hawaii, and four days on Maui, where the boys were introduced to my favorite sport, snorkeling. In addition, there was pool time, exploring and hiking, good food, and a great time making family memories. This did mean, however, that most of the time, I did not have my “birding lens,” but did have my “grands” and tourist lens on my camera. 

Any birding was purely incidental, although one grandson (11) has been interested in birds since he was a baby.  His choice of a souvenir from Bishop Museum was an Audubon birding book which he read almost all of before we returned to the hotel. This was a good thing as he was able to identify a Red vented Bulbul that night at dinner. 

Despite -and somewhat due to—Hawaii being a tropical paradise for people, it is not a haven for birds. There is no other place in the world that has more bird species under threat of extinction. Thirty-three (33) of its 44 endemic species are listed as endangered, the other 11 are probably extinct as they have not been seen for decades. 

Many factors contribute to this dilemma. Loss of habitat, predation by invasive species, and mosquito-borne illnesses are the predominant ones. 


Not all birds are found on all the islands, as I found out when I misidentified a Red-crested Cardinal as a Yellow-billed Cardinal on eBird. The two look very similar, especially when seen while driving past a traffic median, but the Yellow-billed is not found on Oahu.

However, the Red Junglefowl and Common Myna are found in abundance on all of the main islands. Every time we saw a Red Junglefowl, we chanted, courtesy of our youngest incidental birder, “Chicken!!!, it is a fowl, fowl creature.”

One of the more interesting birds that we saw on Oahu was the White or Fairy Tern (manu o ku)—Bird of Peace. This fish-eating seabird needs trees as much as it does the ocean waters. Fairy terns lay their one egg on the bare branch of a tree without any sign of a nest. The chick stays in that spot, holding tenaciously to the limb with long, sharp claws on its feet. Oddly enough on the main Hawaiian Islands, Fairy Terns are only found in urban Honolulu, although they are found on some of the islands in NW Hawaii.

Our trip to Pearl Harbor not only provided the us with history and a sense of awe and appreciation for what occurred here, but on the grounds, we were able to spot Rock Pigeons, Zebra Doves, Spotted Doves, Saffron Finch, Java Sparrows, Pacific Golden Plover, and the ever-present Junglefowl and Common Myna birds. That’s 8 incidental species without any effort.

Birds seen on Oahu: (12 species)White Tern, Red-crested Cardinal, Red Junglefowl, Common myna, Common Waxbill, Saffron Finch, Java Sparrow, Zebra and Spotted Doves, Rock Pigeons, Pacific Golden Plover, Red-vented Bulbul. Watch this video of the Common Waxbill.


Our primary interest on the Big Island, Hawaii, was Volcano National Park. Our rooms in Volcano House overlooked the Caldera where we could see the steam rising from the vents. Several excursions and hikes out to see other areas of the park yielded some birds, but not as many as the other islands. The rain that we had off and on while we were there wasn’t conducive to seeing birds either. 

From the bank of windows in the restaurant, we did see a White-tailed Tropicbird fly past and over the caldera. Not bothered by the sulfur fumes, they nest in the ledges, and are known by locals as “Crater birds”.

We saw quite a few Apapane around the grounds of Volcano House, but, again, rain prevented any photos. This colorful honeycreeper is red, black and white, with a shorter, less curved beak than the iconic honeycreeper, I’iwi, with the long, curved beak. 

On our way to see petroglyphs we literally drove past one of our most unusual encounters, a first for all of us—a feral pig.

Feral Pig

Separate hikes by younger family members brought back photos of an unusual bird. With the help of Merlin Bird ID and the internet, we identified it as Kalij Pheasant. As we were packing the car to leave, a pair of them came to see us off. These birds were introduced to Hawaii from SE Asia in 1962 as game birds. Now they are relatively common in the higher elevations.

A lunch stop near the airport netted a Yellow-billed Cardinal sighting in addition to a Junglefowl in a tree

Birds seen on Hawaii: (9 species)Yellow-billed Cardinal, White-tailed Tropicbird, Apapane, Red Junglefowl, Common Myna, Kalij Pheasant, Zebra and Spotted Doves, Rock Pigeons


Maui time was devoted to snorkeling from shore, deep water snorkeling at Molokini and Turtle Town, Outrigger canoe trip where we saw more Green Sea Turtles which thrilled this SITP Geema (Grandmother). There was also pool and beach time, trips into Lahaina, so very little birding. Yet we still managed to see Pacific Golden Plover, Hawaiian Hawks, Wandering Tattler, Zebra Doves, Spotted Doves, Rock Pigeons, Common Myna…..and you guessed it , Red Junglefowl. Eight incidental species just by observing what was around us as we went about our days.

Once those who had to return to work or school left us, we were able to devote a little more time to specific birding, but being true dilletantes, we lack the incentive to get up really early, especially while traveling. So, by the time, we would get started, the eBird hotspots would no longer be hot. We also got sidetracked by historical parks and monuments, giving us a chance to learn about Hawaiian history and culture.  

As we headed toward the airport for a week on Kauai, we stopped at nearby Kanaha Pond Wildlife Sanctuary. As we got out of the car, we could hear squawking, and see a Hawaiian Stilt running back and forth across the path. Just as we opened the gate, we were greeted by three Hawaiian Geese or Nene   (nay-nay), the state bird of Hawaii and a wonderful conservation success.

In 1778, with the arrival of Capt. Cook, there were approximately 25000 Nene. By the mid-1900s, due to hunting and predation (they were particularly hard hit with the introduction of the mongoose), there were less than 30 Nene in the wild. Breeding programs in England and Hawaii have helped bring the present population to almost 4000, most of those on Kauai. 

DNA has shown that they are close relatives of the giant Canada Goose. Their feet have evolved to handle the rocky lava terrain where they live.

A walkway leads to a shelter/blind so it was ideal for a quick stop before heading to the airport. Originally part of ancient Hawaiian royal fishponds from 1500, this part of the sanctuary attracts mainly Hawaiian stilt (A’eo), Hawaiian Coot (‘alae), and Hawaiian Duck (koloa). 

During our visit, the main attractions were the stilts, although we did see one duck at a distance. The stilts were loud and active because they had babies. We were fortunate enough to see several adorable chicks.

Birds seen on Maui:(9 species) Red Junglefowl, Hawaiian Hawks, Common Myna, Wandering Tattler, Pacific Golden Plover, Hawaiian Goose, Hawaiian Stilt, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cattle Egret


On Kauai, we did a little more organized birding. Well, we still didn’t get early starts, but we did check ebird hot spots and found some wildlife refuges. Of course, we continued to get sidetracked by historical sites as well as the usual vacation distractions. Sitting on a balcony, overlooking beautiful, clear , multi-hues of blue water does tend to sidetrack us. 

House Finch, the orange variety

On one of our hikes to a primitive site, we did flush a flock of birds. Imagine our excitement when we saw flashes of red. Here, at last, had to be one of the elusive endemic birds. As we looked with binoculars and camera, which finally had a birding lens attached, what to our wondering eyes did appear, but a tree full of House Finches. Of interest, house finches in Hawaii can be red, yellow or orange.

Hawaiian Duck

Salt Pond Park is adjacent to the only natural salt ponds on Kauai. These ponds are only for the use of native Hawaiians, but the park itself has many amenities for public use. Here the birding was slim. We did see house sparrows, house finch, and the obligatory, Junglefowl. In addition, we were able to see several Hawaiian Ducks which are relatives of the Mallard.

One of our more exciting stops was at Kawaiele Waterbird Sanctuary. Since the first bird we saw was a Northern Mockingbird, I didn’t have high hopes, but we soon saw a Hawaiian Coot and it’s chick, a Black-crowned Night-Heron, a pair of African Silverbills, a flock of Pomarine Jaegers and our first Laysan Albatross. We also saw and heard many Hawaiian Stilts.

I was walking ahead of Walter, as usual—unless there are spider webs to be knocked down. All of a sudden, I heard a screech, turned around and a stilt flew right at me, veering away at the last minute. Thinking I might be too close to a nest or chick, I carefully walked forward, only to be attacked by another stilt. 

Now we have a scene from Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS. Two stilts coming at me from different directions, coming within a foot of my head with those long-pointed beaks. At first, I tried to get a video, but flinched every time. Then I was trying to figure out where to go so I would stop upsetting them. Finally, I just turned around and quickly retreated. By this time, Walter had almost caught up with me, and the 1st stilt attack him, so we both quickly left the area.

Enough cardio excitement for one day!

a calm Hawaiian Stilt, Kauai

The highlight of our birding adventures was a visit to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. We had visited the lighthouse 30+ years ago, long before we became interested in birding, but, even so, at that time, the highlight was seeing a Blue-footed Booby and Green Sea Turtles in the water below. 

Now you need a timed entrance ticket to go onto the lighthouse grounds, although you can see lots of birds from the turn around area outside of the refuge. 

Instead of Blue-footed Boobies, the area is now a vast breeding area for Laysan Albatross, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Red-footed Boobies, and Red and White-tailed Tropicbirds. The surrounding waters are also a refuge area for whales, monk seals, and sea turtles. 

Great Frigatebird

While Great Frigatebirds do not nest here, they frequent the area, and we were fortunate enough to see one. Their Hawaiian name I’wa means thief. This is due to its habit of chasing other seabirds until they give up their food, which the frigatebird then steals in mid-air.

Red-footed Boobies (Ā ) put those bright red feet to good use. Unlike most birds, they don’t incubate their single egg in a brood pouch, but with those vein-filled red feet. They are able to plunge dive up to 15 feet in order to capture fish and squid.

The Red-tailed Tropicbirds (Koe’e’ula) provided entertainment with their courtship rituals of flying backwards in circles and vocalizing as they swooped over the nesting area. Their tail feathers were used by ancient Hawaiian royalty.

Red-tailed Tropicbird

We missed the courtship dances of the Laysan Albatross (Moli), but it was still a thrill to see these magnificent flyers. They can fly millions of miles in a lifetime, and glide for hours without a single flap of its 6 foot wingspan. We were able to see some on their nests, and others flying below us along the cliffs.

One of the more usual birds that nests in the Refuge is the Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Ua’u kani). Here is a seabird, like puffins, who nests in burrows. The grounds around the Lighthouse were peppered with burrows in which were nesting shearwaters. Some were literally inches from the sidewalk. Of particular interest was the moaning and groaning sounds that they make. Hear these sounds here.

Birds seen on Kauai: (15 species) African Silverbill, Red-footed Booby, Red-tailed Tropicbird, Laysan Albatross, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, White-tailed Warbler, House Sparrow, House Finch, Hawaiian Goose, Northern Mockingbird, Hawaiian Duck, Hawaiian Stilt, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Pomarine Jaeger, Northern Cardinal

You don’t have to devote extra time or go to a particular place when you are traveling in order to add to your bird list. Just keep your eyes open and be aware of your surroundings, you will quickly find that incidental birding can be as fulfilling as specific birding. 


SIB Travels: Panama

It was over a year ago that Melanie Jerome started asking people if they wanted to join her for a birding vacation to Panama. She had heard great things about Canopy Tower. Bob and Eileen Mercer and myself (Judy Morr) thought it sounded like a good idea. We decided to go in March which is the end of the dry season and the beginning of migration. Melanie and I opted for the 7 night all inclusive package at the Canopy Tower while Bob and Eileen made their trip into a 10 night package, adding 3 days at the Canopy Lodge before joining us at the Tower. The trip was everything we hoped it would be!

Bob graciously kept the eBird lists and was our photographer. He shared both with us and SIBBig. Each of us could then remove any birds we didn’t get the chance to see or add ones we saw that he didn’t. The complete list of birds are available for your review in the eBird Trip Report for SIBBig. In their 10 days, Bob and Eileen went on 17 tours and saw 262 different species of which 96 were “lifers” plus 5 heard but not seen lifers. For her 7 days, Melanie went on 11 tours, observed 197 species of which 154 were lifers. I had 13 tours in 7 days, seeing 214 species of which 180 were lifers. Since we also birded at hotels, during drives, from the Lodge and the Tower the group reported a total of 267 species on 38 checklists! Needless to say, not only were our feet and legs sore, we had severe cases of “warbler neck” since many of the birds were high in the canopy. Our brains were also tired from trying to absorb all these new species. It was like being a beginning birder all over again. The guides were all excellent, helping us find and then see the birds.

White-necked Jacobin

How do we tell you about all those tours and birds without boring you? We decided to talk about a few favorites rather than the details. First of all were the hummingbirds. 17 unique species of hummingbirds were reported! Both the Lodge and the Tower had hummingbird feeders placed near the tour gathering places.

The most frequently reported bird at the Tower is the White-necked Jacobin. We reported this hummingbird on 9 separate checklists in 5 locations! Our last tour included a conservative count of 12 individuals seen at the Panama Rain Forest Discovery Center. Melanie and Eileen were able to attract White-necked Jacobin to their hand held feeders while I had them swarming just inches from my head.

The Panama Rain Forest Discovery Center was one of the easiest walks of the tour with 63 species seen. Besides the Hummingbird Center, there was a trail to a pond where we had a close view of the Lesser Kiskadee and Rufescent Tiger-Heron. The 5:30 start for our day was so we could get to the top of the 100-foot tower near dawn. We were rewarded for climbing the 172 steps with good views of the Blue Cotinga, Yellow-throated Toucan, Black-tailed Trogan and a Crane Hawk. Jose, a worker at the Hummingbird Center took us on the short walk to where he knew the Choco Screech-owl was napping. We finally saw the Great Tinamou on our way out of the Discovery Center….our last day of tours.

Owls were not on my radar as I was planning for the trip. In addition to the Choco Screech-owl, there was a pair of Black-and-white Owls that could be counted on to be perched in their tree on the steep road leading up to Canopy Tower. An adult Spectacled Owl and its chick were seen in a tree on the way to one excursion. In addition, Bob and Eileen saw a Mottled Owl and a Tropical Screech-owl while they were at the Lodge.

Bat Falcon

Near the Spectacled Owls, we stopped at the veranda of the Gamboa Rainforest Resort. From their balcony, we saw another trip favorite….a pair of Bat Falcon. Interestingly, this location also provided glimpses of some birds known to us…Little Blue Heron, Snowy Heron, and Anhinga. This was where we got the best view of the Magnificent Frigatebird soaring overhead. At the marina, we were able to get a good comparison of Great Kiskadee, Lesser Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird and a Social Flycatcher. I’m still unsure I could distinguish these birds. These are all in the flycatcher family. For the trip, we reported 36 unique flycatcher species. No wonder I got confused!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the tours of Pipeline Road. This “road” is really a dirt lane through the rain forest originally built in the mid-30s to service an oil pipeline still visible along it’s edge. The pipeline was never used but we spent one full day and another half day walking this road, observing birds. The near 12,000 steps each day over uneven terrain was worth it to see the 69 species. My favorite bird of the trip was seen both days on Pipeline Road.

Red-capped Manakin

The Red-capped Manakin is only 4 inches so smaller than many of the other tropical birds. Besides his beautiful red head contrasted to his black body, he became my favorite when it was my turn to look through the scope, he did his signature dance….the moon dance. The guides called him the Michael Jackson bird.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow

Another interesting bird was the Purple-throated Fruitcrow. When just hanging out, his throat was a nice deep purple. But when he was attracting attention, the throat became a bright crimson. The Broad-billed Motmot was seen on Pipeline as one of it’s 6 checklists. A name like Motmot can’t be wasted so we saw 5 different motmot species on the trip. The beautiful colors of motmots made for a favorite photo shoot.

Most days we started our mornings by climbing the ladder from the common area on the third floor (our fourth floor) to the outside observation deck. (Did I mention the Tower didn’t have an elevator?) From there, not only could we see the canal and beautiful sunrises but also numerous birds.

Green Honeycreeper

The gorgeous Green Honeycreeper was a regular morning visitor as were the Orange -chinned Parakeets, Yellow-billed Toucan, Keel-billed Toucan and Mealy Parrot. This is one of 6 locations for seeing the Masked Tityra (one of our favorites). This is probably a good time to mention that tanagers were almost a ho-hum siting. 12 different tanager species were seen on the trip (Did you know that grosbeaks and tanagers are in the same family?). We saw the following tanagers at the Tower (with their total number of checklists for all locations): Summer Tanagers (5), Scarlett Tanagers (4), Palm Tanager (10), Golden-hooded Tanager (7), Plain-colored Tanager (10), and Blue-gray Tanager (18).

Rosy-thrush Tanager

One of the guide’s target birds for us was the Rosy Thrush-Tanager. This bird has a big voice but doesn’t like to be seen. In our first visit to Sendero La Chunga we had no luck hearing or seeing this bird at its known location. The next day, the guides worked for about an hour trying to encourage this bird to show himself but we only heard him. On our last tour of the week, we returned to Sendero La Chunga. The guide played and played it’s call and finally the bird responded. It came out and nicely posed for us, singing away. He kept singing and singing near us with good opportunities for photos. Finally after 10 minutes, we left him while he continued to sing and sing.

White Hawk

One of our “tours” was a walk down that steep hill from the Tower. (Luckily they sent us the Bird Mobile to take us back up the hill). This hill gave us numerous good experiences on various days. In addition to the Black-and-white Owls, the day of the walk, we were distracted by the Geoffroy’s Tamarin (Squirrel Monkey) playing in the trees. As we stopped to watch them, Melanie saw a White Hawk fly in and it nicely posed for us.

Most trips up and down the hill saw a Central American Agouti (think big tailless rat) cross the road. One time, we stopped to watch a Northern Tamandua (anteater) devour a hanging ant nest. The spooky howl of the Mantled Howler Monkeys were heard (and often seen) almost daily. We saw both Hoffmann’s Two-toed Sloths and Brown-throated Three-towed Sloth literally hanging out in trees. On one of our return trips to the Tower, our guide stopped the Bird Mobile on a busy road to return a sloth from the road to a safe tree nearby. Other mammals seen include White-faced Capuchin, Variegated Squirrel, Red-tailed Squirrel and Lesser Capybara.

The Semaphore Hill Road also gave us a Ringed Kingfisher and a Green Kingfisher. A Collared Aracari and both a White-whiskered Puffbird and a Black-breasted Puffbird were seen. I thought I recognized a Piliated Woodpecker but instead, we saw a Crimson-Crested Woodpecker which our guides later compared to the Lineated Woodpecker, both of which are closely related to our Piliated Woodpecker.

I haven’t even mentioned the 11 warbler species seen nor the 10 wren species. If you want to see the complete list, check out the eBird Trip Report. By clicking through the lists, you can even see Bob’s pictures which he attached to the list.

Submitted by: Judy Morr
Photos by: Bob Mercer

SIB Travels: Hammock Coastal Bird Festival

In October, we published a blog telling you about a scheduled Bird Festival sponsored by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce called Hammock Coastal Bird Festival. Melanie Jerome, Jennifer Jerome, Susan Markum and Judy Morr decided to have a “girls weekend” to participate. After finding a 4 bedroom condo, deciding on meals (the conference provided dinners), we could focus on BIRDS!

We easily agreed on which of the wide variety of tours to register. Mark, from the Chamber, worked with us to be sure we all got on the same tours. The weekend was a success with 94 species identified…Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Mute Swans, Screech Owls, and more!

Continue reading “SIB Travels: Hammock Coastal Bird Festival”

SIB Travels: Southern Florida

Not coordinating our schedules, Jackie and Walter Brooks were in Florida the same time as Judy and Dean Morr. We were in different areas so two blogs. Today, the Brooks! The Morr’s trip report to come soon. – Judy Morr

Never ones to pass up an opportunity for a trip, we set off for Miami and our Global Entry interviews with thoughts of seeing all sorts of exotic birds as we extended our trip to include birding and traipsing the Keys.

Burrowing Owl – Jackie Brooks

The 175 acre Brian Piccolo Park is a sports venue located in Cooper City, Florida (Near Fort Lauderdale). It was the chance to see the ever adorable Burrowing Owls that made this stop a must.

Interviews completed, we hit several Miami-Dade hot spots where such creatures as the Red-legged Honeycreeper, macaws of all descriptions, and Red-masked Parakeets had been seen by many. Along with other birders, we waited in excited anticipation. We waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, we left with only ibis, butterbutts, White-winged Doves……oh, and one lone cardinal that I excitedly motioned birders over to see, thinking it was something exotic as it was so red. Color me red!!

Everywhere we went, it was the same story and same birds that we see daily here on Seabrook Island. Iguanas, however, were plentiful. In A.D. Barnes Park, we , with Merlin’s help, heard a Red-masked Parakeet but never saw it. We did see two Egyptian Geese, which are an introduced species.

Messy Osprey nest – Jackie Brooks

We had a little better luck in Key West at Fort Zachary Taylor. No exotic species, but an Osprey who had succumbed to the island attitude with the poorest excuse for a nest I have ever seen.

Sandwich Tern – Waiting to go to rehab – Jackie Brooks

We also watched Royal and Sandwich Terns doing “touch and goes” with a couple of fishermen’s baits. Sure, it was all fun and games until someone gets hurt. In this case, a Sandwich Tern was hooked in the leg. The fisherman went above and beyond to safely reel in the tern, crawling over slippery boulders to bring it to safety. Fortunately, since it was bleeding from the leg, there was a knowledgeable local nearby who offered to take the tern to a local rehab place after letting it rest and calm down a bit.

Some of the easiest birding ever can be spotting the infamous Red Junglefowl of Key West, aka the chickens and roosters. They’re everywhere. As mentioned in an earlier post, this bird is considered Naturalized (in Key West) or Escapee (most other areas).

Leaving the Keys is always a sad thing for us, but we ended up at Homestead and Everglades still hopeful of finding the elusive parrots, parakeets, and macaws. At Frog Pond WMA, we spotted 2 wire birds- a Loggerhead Shrike and , at last, something different, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. Of course, it was cloudy and not great for photos. We met a birder from Chicago who was excited to see an alligator. Didn’t have the heart to tell him we had them in our backyard.
After checking out a couple of canals that were supposed to have Smooth-billed Ani, but we had no luck, so we headed back to hotel.

Dreams of going back to the hot spots in Miami- Dade were dashed the next morning when we acquired our only real exotic from the trip-Covid. Cutting our trip short and limping back home, we planned a return trip next January. We will get those parakeets, parrots, and macaws if we have to return multiple times.

Article and photos submitted by Jackie Brooks

SIB Travels: Bucket List Birding – Jackson Hole, Wyoming

It all started around the dinner table one night.  We were at the beach with friends and started talking about travel destinations still on our bucket list when Jackson Hole, Wyoming came up.  Of the four of us, I was the only one who’d been to Wyoming but that was years ago and I really looked forward to the return trip.  

I’m usually more of a warm-weather girl, but there’s something magical about winter in Wyoming.  Snow is measured in feet, icicles hang from every rooftop, and wildlife is all around.  With only six people per square mile in Wyoming (South Carolina averages 154 in case you’re wondering) the quiet, wide open spaces have a way of melting away your stress. 

My husband and friends were excited to see Yellowstone National Park, to go snowmobiling, and of course to see the town of Jackson.  For me, my first thought was birds!  Which birds would be spending the winter in Wyoming that were not yet on my life list?  

We were there only a few hours when I found a new lifer – the Black-billed Magpie.  A combination of black and white, with a blue gloss on the wings and long tail, their flashy appearance was very eye-catching, and they were everywhere!  Like the crows of SC, you didn’t have to look very far to spot one in the trees or along the roadside.  

Day two took us to Yellowstone National Park on a snow coach tour.  Since Yellowstone is closed to cars in the winter, snowmobiles and snow coaches are the best way to see the park.  And I must admit a 12 hour day in 20 degrees is much more comfortable inside a coach.  Bison and coyotes were the first of our wildlife sightings that day and the birds du jour were the Common Raven and Common Merganser.  Raven calls filled the air and soon became a familiar sound.  Two Coyotes ran alongside us for a bit before drifting off through the trees, and a family of bison decided we could stop and wait for them to cross the road.  Yellowstone is a true highlight and well worth the long day.

On the drive back to Jackson we saw two elegant Trumpeter Swans swimming in a nearby river.  Unfortunately, there was no time to take a picture but a good look at them from the car gave me another addition to my life list.  

Gros Ventre was the next area to explore.   We spent seven hours on snow mobiles riding through pristine trails surrounded by the Gros Ventre mountains and only saw three other people all day.  Total and complete silence – we were definitely off the grid. We passed several private ranches and realized life is very different here.  Satellite phones and internet are the primary forms of communication and calling 911 gets you a helicopter, weather permitting, and maybe even Harrison Ford!  He lives in the area and generously volunteers with local emergency rescue teams.  Can you imagine Indiana Jones coming to your rescue?!    As for the wildlife, sheep and rams clinging to the sides of mountains were the order of the day and the only bird we saw was a magnificent Golden Eagle circling over the river.  It was another new lifer for me so I was thrilled. 

Our last full day included a sleigh ride through the National Elk Refuge.  An estimated 6000 elk were wintering on the refuge the day we were there and while they’re wary of people they completely ignore the horse drawn sleighs, making it a convenient way to see them up close.  As for the feathered residents we saw Common Goldeneye ducks, the ever-present Ravens, and two Bald Eagles, who kept a close eye on us from a nearby tree.  

If you find yourself in the area be sure and stop by the National Elk Refuge & Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center.  The naturalists and park rangers who work there are a wonderful resource and even offer free nature tours of the area during the winter.  Garrett Moon is the birding expert and was extremely helpful in giving us information about the best places, and times, to find local birds.  Here’s a tip – the best time to see migrating birds in Wyoming is mid May. 

Our long weekend flew by and it was soon time to come home. Was I disappointed that I didn’t see more birds? Not really. We were blessed to have beautiful weather, to spend time with good friends, and thankful to see as much as we did.   And now I have a good excuse to go back in May.

To learn more, check out this link for the Visitor Center.

Submitted by: Gina Sanders
Photes by: Gina Sanders

SIB Travels: Christmas Birding in Frigid Ohio

This year’s visit to Ohio for Christmas was COLD to say the least. The HIGH temperature on Friday, December 23 was -1 degrees with 30 mile per hour winds. Not good conditions for birding. I was able to work in some birding by car before the front came through and continued birding from the comfort of my sister-in-law’s great room.

American Tree Sparrow (All About Birds)

As we drove into town on Wednesday, we detoured through the St. Mary’s State Fish Hatchery. I was able to get a group of American Tree Sparrows at this known site. I had seen them here on prior years but had not seen them anywhere in 2022 so it was a good sighting. The fish hatchery is at the end of Grand Lake St. Mary’s, a feeder lake for the Miami Erie Canal. Last year, when the temperature was a warmer 50 degrees with open waters, I got a Trumpeter Swan on one of the ponds. The frozen ponds this year only yielded the expected hundreds of Canada Goose. (I conservatively reported 250).

As I drove through the flat country, I was able to get the expected Red-tailed Hawks, European Starlings, and Red-winged Blackbirds. I’m still surprised when I frequently see Great Blue Herons, Herring Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls. The gulls seem to like the Walmart parking lot in addition to lake banks.

Horned Lark (Monica Hall Photography)

After finishing my Christmas shopping, I drove the south side of the lake, stopping at each of the local hot spots. It had started to mist as the front approached so there wasn’t much visible. When I stopped at the Mercer Wildlife Management Area, I again encountered primarily Canada Goose (this time I reported 300 but was probably closer to 500). My highlight was when a flock of Horned Larks flew into the area. These were also the first of the year for me. Unlike last year, there were no Bald Eagles, White Pelicans or Sandhill Cranes.

At the Montezuma Boat Ramp, a group of Mallards were hanging out. There was also a domestic white duck and two mystery ducks. They looked very similar to the Mallards but their chests were white rather than the usual chestnut. Since I couldn’t identify, I initially didn’t report them. After I got home and was reading Mom’s Birds and Bloom, there was a brief article ( with a picture of a duck just like I saw….a hybrid of a domestic duck and a Mallard. So I was correct in not reporting it.

House Sparrows in Bush (Dean Morr)

By Christmas day, the temperature had warmed to a “comfortable” 15 degrees. The bushes at the end of the street had numerous House Sparrows looking like ornaments on a Christmas Tree. When we got to my sister-in-law’s house, she reported her feeder had been busy. At one point, I counted 27 House Finch on or below her feeder. A Downy Woodpecker was in the nearby tree. I was happiest when the four Dark-eyed Junco visited the ground below the feeder. My pictures through the window were worthy of the trash bin but at least I was able to enjoy them from the warmth of her home.

Dark-eyed Junco (Project FeederWatch)

Overall, the trip wasn’t a great bird experience but it was productive considering the inclement weather. If you have a birding experience while traveling, please share with us so we can enjoy vicariously.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

SIB Travels: Hammock Coastal Birding Festival

As previously reported, several SIB members are always on the look-out for birding festivals. The Hammock Coastal Birding Festival recently was brought to our attention. This inaugural festival is scheduled for the weekend of February 10 – 12, 2023 in nearby Georgetown.

The festival includes speakers plus opportunities to bird Brookgreen Gardens, Huntington Beach, Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center and Hobcaw Barony. It should be a good weekend.

Although this is NOT a Seabrook Island Birders activity or sponsored event, we think other members may be interested in the event. Several members have already registered. Let SIB know if you plan to attend as we can share car pool arrangements.

Submitted by: Judy Morr

Beyond Our Backyard-College of Charleston’s Stono Preserve

Saturday, October 15,  2022     7:30 am – 2:30 pm
Birding at College of Charleston’s Stono Preserve
Location:  Meet at Seabrook Island Real Estate to carpool at ­­­­6:30 am
                  Meet at Publix on Main Road and Hwy 17 at 7:05 am to carpool to Stono Preserve
Max:  14          
Cost: Free for members; $5 donation for guests 

Join SIB to bird at the Stono Preserve of the College of Charleston.  This beautiful 981-acre property along the Stono River and the Intracoastal Waterway provides a natural, outdoor laboratory for a variety of disciplines at the College of Charleston.   For more information on this property, be sure to visit the link above. In the morning, we will enjoy a tour of this property led by Dr. Melissa Hughes, Professor in the Biology Department, in which she will take us birding through a variety of habitats.  In the morning, we will walk along lowland forest bordering the Stono River, passing open marsh and both brackish and freshwater ponds; depending on time, we may also walk along open fields. We should see a variety of wading and shorebirds (depending water depth in the brackish pond), raptors (Osprey and Bald Eagles both nest on the site; American Kestrels are also common and both Great-horned and Barred Owls have been spotted during the day by following the commotion of crow and jays), woodpeckers (the site hosts all SC species except the Red-cockaded) and wintering warblers and sparrows.

As always, be sure to bring your binoculars/cameras, hats, sunscreen and bug spray.  Bring plenty to drink and a picnic lunch to eat on the property.  There is water on the property but we have been advised that it may not taste very good because the pipes are infrequently in use.  We have also been warned that the Dixie Plantation Road leading to the site is a dirt road that may not be in great shape so drive with caution. We will have access to bathroom facilities and the beginning of our tour and during lunch.  After our morning tour, we will picnic on site in the screened porch/classroom or on the outdoor deck.  Following lunch, Melissa will suggest some areas where we can do additional birding.  We ask that all participants wear a mask when unable to social distance if they are not vaccinated.

If you are not yet a 2022 SIB member, you must first become a member by following the instructions on our website:

Once you are a member, please REGISTER no later than Thursday, October 13, 2022.  All registrants will receive a confirmation letter the day prior the event.  

SIB Travels: Arizona in August

Bob Mercer recently shared the information below about their birding trip to Arizona in August.

Who in their right mind would go to Arizona in August? A birder. I have birded in Arizona on three other occasions. Years ago, my first trip was in mid-September. My second trip happened in March. In 2017, Eileen and I spent 5 weeks exploring the birds in Arizona from mid-September to mid-October. Even after spending that much time, there were still a lot of birds we missed. Apparently, by mid-September many of the birds leave Arizona or go quiet and are difficult to find and March is too early.

So, when a young friend of ours, Rachel, said she was going to go to Arizona at the time the Arizona Audubon Society has their birding festival, Eileen and I decided to spend nine days with her on a birding adventure the second week of August. Several surprises awaited us. First, August is monsoon season in Arizona. Expecting a dog biscuit dry desert, we could see rain and hear thunder every day. Fortunately, we only got caught a couple times. To our amazement, the desert was green!

Being familiar with many of the birding hot spots in Arizona, we decided to forgo the expense of joining the festival groups and set off on our own. For those of you who know me, you may know I keep two life lists. One is the accumulation of over 40 years of birding. The other is the birds I have reported on ebird, something I did not start until I retired and then not seriously until late in 2017 (after our 5-weeks in Arizona).

Our itinerary included Saguaro National Park and Wilcox Lake (our best chance for water birds) the first day. Then we spent 2 nights at Cave Creek Canyon at the base of the Chiricahua Mountains. From there we visited the East Fork of Cave Creek, The George Walker House, and Rustler Park. From there (after a short stop at the Portal Impoundment), we swung down to Sierra Vista Arizona where we visited several locations with hummingbird feeders (Ash Canyon B&B and Ramsey Canyon Inn) and took a few short trails. That night we settled into an Airbnb in Green Valley Arizona. That became our base of action for the rest of the trip. From Green Valley visited the Tubac area, the Patagonia area, Madera Canyon, Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and Mount Lemmon. During this whirlwind trip, we created 45 ebird lists and recorded 146 species of which 31 were ebird lifers and 12 were totally new life birds for me. It is getting really hard to add life birds in North America, so this was outstanding!

The following are some of either my better pictures from the various locations or some of my lifers.

Continue reading “SIB Travels: Arizona in August”

SIB Travels: The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine

We have participated in many dance and local seasonal festivals over the years,
but we were totally unaware of bird festivals until early this year.

The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine was a spur of the moment idea that morphed into a 3 week, 12 state, 3600+ mile road trip. In addition to the birding, we enjoyed lake life, genealogy, and history. We also added 24 life birds to our list.

Egg Rock Lighthouse, built 1875

For those unaware of birding festivals, this is what The Cornell Lab has to say: “A great way to enjoy bird watching is by going to festivals—they’re organized to get you to great birding spots at a great time of year, and they’re a great way to meet people. Experts and locals help you see more birds, and you’ll meet other visitors who share your hobby.”

Although late registering, we were still able to participate in 4 trips. There were
talks, and a large variety of scheduled activities. You could schedule 2-a-day if
you timed it right—and had the stamina. We were surprised to meet people
from CA, TX, and FL.

(Read more to see photos and details)

Continue reading “SIB Travels: The Acadia Birding Festival in Maine”
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