“Ding” Darling Dreams

White Pelicans_DingDarlingNWR-FL_LAH_6696_filtered-001What do you do when you can’t go birding? After 21 years in the same house, my husband and I are moving. The goal is a smaller house, less upkeep, and more time for birds and photography. But in order to reach that goal, we have a lot of sorting and selling and donating to do. So, instead of strolling down the trail looking for winter songbirds, or driving across the prairies looking for raptors, I’m prowling around the house trying to find an object that will fit perfectly in that space left in the moving box I’m filling.

Trust me, it’s nowhere as much fun.

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Fall Birding, Part 3

Eurasian Collared Dove-CO_LAH_2386_fLast Chance. It sounds as if it’s a small town in the middle of nowhere, and that’s about right. Situated at the intersection of Colorado Highways 71 and 36 (the same road that goes to Boulder, some hundred miles to the west) we found several houses, a fire station, and a church, along with some abandoned buildings piled with broken furniture and other castoffs.

The big draw is a small roadside rest (complete with portable “facilities”) right next to a small pond surrounded by green shrubs and some trees. It’s a birder’s dream. Surrounded as it is by miles of dry fields, the tiny riparian area at Last Chance is a migrant trap.

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Carlsbad: Beyond the Cave

Butterfly_RattlesnakeSprings-NM_LAH_8611-001Rattlesnake Springs is an oasis in the middle of the desert. Located 27 miles south of Carlsbad, New Mexico, it’s owned by the Nature Conservancy. You can take in the entire place in one glance—a small pond surrounded by mowed grasses and some weeds. Further back some small trees and thick brush take advantage of the water. (There’s also a caretaker’s private residence, and some off-limits desert.)

Situated as it is at the juncture of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, the species list for spring migration is awe-inspiring. Unfortunately, we were there well past that season. Well, you go when you can.

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National Wildlife (and people) Refuges

Cattle_Egrets_NoxubeeNWR-MS_20090618_LAH_3978A few years back I wrote an article about the Duck Stamp, formerly known as the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp. (I like “duck stamp” a lot better!) Hunters need to buy the stamp to hunt ducks, and the money goes to purchase and maintain ducky sorts of habitats, with lots of water, good cover, and nice slimy plants to munch. You may know these places as National Wildlife Refuges (NWRs).

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Shark Valley Birding

Red-Shouldered Hawk_EvergladesNP-FL_LAH_5107-001My camera was aimed at a Red-shouldered Hawk perched high in a tree, diligently preening its tail feathers. The angle was awkward—too far and the bird was a mere speck in the picture, too close and I was looking at the bird from below. I slowly backed up, trying to fill the frame and still capture the action. Intent on getting the shot, I stumbled over something behind me, and turned to see what was blocking my way. Oops! I’d tripped over an alligator!

Lucky for me, it was a relatively small alligator, perhaps six or seven feet long, and sound asleep in the warm sunshine. As my adrenalin levels receded, I made a mental note to pay more attention to my surroundings. After all, I was birding in the Everglades!

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Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

CorkscrewSwampSanctuary-FL_LAH_6275Florida is a birder’s paradise—if you don’t count the mosquitoes, alligators, fire ants, and other hazards—and one of my favorite Florida birding spots is Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Located more or less in the middle of nowhere, just north of the Everglades, the closest place to stay is Bonita Springs, south of Ft. Meyers on Florida’s west coast.

The 13,000 acre sanctuary preserves the largest remaining stand of old growth bald cypress in North America, along with plenty of plants and animals. I arrived shortly after 7 am, when the 2¼ mile boardwalk opens, and spent the next six hours watching wildlife, taking photos, and ticking off bird after bird.

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Trip Report: Merritt Island NWR

It’s January. Where can you find warmth, green leaves, and lots of birds? We found all three at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Located on Florida’s Space Coast, Merritt Island shares a boundary with Cape Canaveral. You can actually see the launch pad off in the distance as you enter the refuge. Apparently launches don’t discourage the birds from hanging out nearby. Maybe that’s because they know they can fly circles around any rocket!

The day we arrived, the temperature was predicted to hit 83°. In my opinion, that’s perfect January weather! We planned to show up at dawn but we didn’t quite make it. Still, it was plenty early and the birds were out and about.

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A New Birding Site Worth Joining

birdingacrossamerica website

I was so excited—I was flying to Washington to visit our daughter and her family. Of course, the main point of the trip was to hug our baby granddaughter, but I was also hoping to do a bit of birding while in a different state. The problem was, I didn’t know a single birder near Everett (north of Seattle), I didn’t know where the good birding sites were, and even if I did, the roads were unfamiliar enough (and traffic crazy enough) that I was sure I’d get lost.

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Bosque Birding, Part 2

(Be sure to see Bosque Birding, Part 1.)

Snow Geese_BosquedelApacheNWR-NM_LAH_6273It was pitch black, and our motel room was uncomfortably cold, despite the noisy heater that had run all night. I groped my way out of bed, half asleep but excited about the coming day. We were in Socorro, New Mexico, just north of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. In less than an hour, I’d be taking pictures of some 30,000 Snow Geese flying into the dawn sky.

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Bosque Birding, Part 1

Question: I’m a birder and nature photographer living in Colorado, with a limited budget for travel. Where can I go for fun and photos at this time of year?

Answer: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge!

Geese and Cranes_BosquedelApacheNWR - NM_LAH_7495Just a day’s drive south of Colorado Springs, Bosque del Apache is the place to go for anyone interested in birds and/or photography. The week we visited, right after New Year’s, the refuge was home to 8,100 Sandhill Cranes, over 32,000 “light” geese, and a whopping 57,000 ducks! With such numbers, spectacular photos are pretty much guaranteed.

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