Thursday, 30 September 2010

Kicking Around On A Piece of Ground In Your Own Town

waiting for someone or something to show you the way! - 'Time', Pink Floyd.

It's always great to get back onto familiar territory, but after an adventure that in a single word would be described as 'invigorating' it was also fantastic to get such a warm welcome. Lorne & Sheila Edwards had invited me to dinner even before I left for the USA, but last evening was a little bit more than simply a meal. After eating they invited me to watch a DVD which has been pending for some months now. Black & White Night - Roy Orbison was filmed in 'black & white', which adds to the mood, but The Big 'O' could stand on his head and still be one of the top vocalist that ever lived. The backing band was theTCB Band, which accompanied Elvis Presley from 1969 until his death in 1977: Glen D. Hardin on piano, James Burton on lead guitar, Jerry Scheff on bass, and Ronnie Tutt on drums. Male background vocalists, some of whom also joined in on guitar, were Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Jackson Browne, J.D.Souther, and Steven Soles. The female background vocalists were Jennifer Warnes, Bonnie Raitt and Dorset's own k.d. Lang. The latter often sings in The George pub in her home town of Bridport and we have promised time after time to go and see her, but so far never have. I would strongly suggest this a 'must have' item in any muso's collection.

and talking of Elvis, that was the next DVD of an unknown venue on an unknown date but it certainly looked like the man 'pre-Army' another excellent set.

Late to rise, but no sign of 'jet lag', it was straight off to Ferry Bridge to catch the turn of the tide but that wasn't all I caught. With rain bearing clouds rapidly approaching from the west I incorrectly calculated that I would beat the impending 'front', but exactly half way between the shelter of the Ferry Bridge Inn and the lee of the Fleet Visitor's Centre I caught the full packet. A little dampened, to say the least, I declined a lift from Anne Howe who was driving back to Weymouth and found a few birds on the foreshore. In the main just common, expected things but it's great to re-connect with such things when you've been away for a while so I did just that.

First on the scene were over 50 Alba Wagtail

all seemingly young birds showing a light yellow hue to the face which makes them just that little more attractive. Unfortunately difficult to see from the photograph.

Due to the rain I had overlooked the c3

Little Egret preening on the Fleet side of the Chesil Beach, but that's when the

started flying in

to feed. A couple of

Black-headed Gulls were already there

but now more or less in 'winter plumage' (no black on the head).

Ringed Plover

were quick to join the other Waders, but not so a small party of Turnstone that continued flying up the Fleet towards Abbotsbury. c2 each of Meadow Pipit and Skylark also flew overhead calling, while a small flock of

Linnets fed among the Samphire.

Turning to leave, there was a larger Wader close to the bridge and with a little stealth managed to get these shots of a

Grey Plover

which didn't hang around at all long

before following the Turnstones.

During my absence, Lorne and Sheila also took delivery of a few discs I had ordered from Amazon which include the sensational Complete Greatest Hits of Manfred Mann 1963 - 2003. Manfred fans may remember when vocalist Paul Jones left the band topursue other music projects, his place was adequately filled by Mike D'Abo. His composition Handbags & Gladrags has since been one of my all time favourite track, but until today had never heard his own rendition. This, in my humble opinion and on a single listening, outdoes Rod Stewart, Chris Farlowe and Kelly Jones' (Stereophonics) versions.

In addition, I replaced the copy of Joe Bonamassa Live at the Albert Hall which I gave to Jim the Medic and his partner Liz as they enjoyed it so much during my visit up there. You & Me, by the same artist contains the 'difficult to sing' Led Zeppelin track Tea For One, but I bought this album for that version of a magical song alone. This will probably be the only time in my life when I suggest anyone has outshone Zeppelin on any particular track, but make your own mind up. Finally, a 'punt' (simply taking a chance) on the Rolling Stones DVD 'Shine A Light', I have it on good authority that it's sensational.

and finally,


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Home, Home Again

Cooper's and Sharp-shinned Hawks have been a bane to me ever since I started 'birding' the USA. The field guide describes the best way to differentiate between the 2 is by the shorter and more squared tail of the latter, but easier said than done when only one or the other is present! While it was perched in a tree and in bad light, this raptor was always going to present identification problems, but looking at the photographs this looks to be more rounded in the tail which also looks long?

so, here is Cooper's Hawk showing a rounded tail and a view from the

front showing the extent of the tail.

The United States of America

Travel in the USA is about as safe as it can be anywhere in the world, take you 'eye off the ball' and your bag will be gone, but generally all is well. Again a generalisation, the people too are welcoming, kind,hospitable and mostly wanting to talk to those from what they describe as 'Mother England'. One thing, almost throughout, is lack of direction so if you want to know how to get to the Post Office the last person you should ask is a 'taxi driver' or a 'local'. A visit to just about anywhere would be worth it, but it has to be said that the pace of life is less hectic and attitudes much milder the further north and central you get.

Greyhound Line Coach Services

Arguably the best way to travel, especially if extensively, with buses in the main reasonably comfortable, at a good temperature, cleaned regularly but be advised about the discipline. The drivers of these vehicles will tolerate no messing about at all and are adequately backed by State and Federal Laws and the Police. On boarding, there is a longish verbal instruction as to the do's and dont's, for instance no alcohol, drugs, firearms, swearing, profanities etc the punishment being instant removal from the bus, wherever it may be with a supporting report sent to the police immediately. Cell phones, music makers and the like are allowed but again in moderation, while after nightfall even the smallest distraction to the driver will be met with disdain. This all makes for a much more comfortable ride and if a passenger makes a genuine complain to the driver, he / she is duty bound to investigate and sort out the problem to the customers satisfaction.

If you anticipate long distance travel, value for money is guaranteed, with a 15 days Greyhound Discovery Pass costing just £255. This pass is not restricted only to that 'line', but to most major carriers throughout the land including much of Canada and Mexico's California Baja and as far south as Chihuahua. Be diligent on arrival that the correct document (The Voucher) is issued for the papers issued in UK as incorrect issue can lead to serious delays. It is my intention to work out my personal distance travelled and if the relevant fares are available on the Greyhound website, total just how much my journeys would have cost on an 'at thecounter' price - don't hold your breath!

Finally, there are good numbers of Supermarkets where quality, healthy food can be purchased, but these are NOT on the regular coach routes and stops. Here it is wall to wall junk, with only the very occasional apple or banana being available. Not expensive, you can eat for just a few dollars at each stop, but in the main it is burgers, chicken, tacos and fries.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Leaving On A Jet Plane - John Denver

It has been a long but exhilerating journey back from Panama City, Florida to Minneapolis - Minnesota which took me via Tallahassee & Jacksonville - Florida, Savannah - Georgia, Manning - South Carolina, Raleigh - North Carolina, Richmond - Virginia then Washington DC (District of Columbia).

As we crossed the Potomac River the first recognisable building was the (Smithsonian) Museum of American History, the Greyhound following the road directly in front of the columned museum.

Only the top of the Jefferson Memorial could be seen,

but not long after the sun had set and the moon about the same as in the image, this was very much the scene across the Washington Memorial, at the end of the National Mall, and the Capitol Building in the distance. These (borrowed) photographs should have some memories for Lisa as we saw much of this during our visit in the 90's. On that occasion we also visited the huge restaurant complex below the Union Train Station where it was posible to eat the food of just about every nation in the world!

A change of coach and it was onward to Baltimore - Maryland, Pittsburg - Pennsylvania, Cleveland - Ohio, Gary - Indiana and again to Chicago - Illinois. The final addition to the States list was Wisconsin which we crossed diagonally from south east to north west, taking in the city of Milwaukee in the process.

So, I've come to the end of this visit to the United States of America (about my eighth I think) but feel sure I'll be back again. When I left England the US readership on this Blog was what I considered a most respectable 52 individuals, but since this has risen to a monumental 378 (at the last count) comprising some of people I have met and enjoyed company with on the way.

The highlight on the bird front had to be the Red-headed Woodpecker (if only the Brown-headed Nuthatch had been as obliging), which I have had the opportunity of seeing in the past but has never shown up for me, a brilliant creature to say the very least. As for places, that has to go to the Crazy Horse Memorial carved into the Black Hills of Dakota, what a pity that he, Chief Henry Standing Bear and sculpter Korczak Ziolkowski could not be here to view it! People? Well that would be impossible to pick a favourite as the vast majority have been kind, polite, respectful and helpful. However, a minor situation that visited me just a day or two ago could have left me up a small creek without a paddle but for yet another immeasurable kindness.

I met Steve on the balcony of the AquaView Motel in Panama City Beach, and while a little loud he was a pleasant enough character. Over a beer it turned out that our next paths were in the same direction and on the same day at the same time. Without coaxing he offered me a lift which I accepted, and asked if I would contribute £30 to the fuel bill. That was not a problem and we agreed to meet in the lobby at an appointed time. Jerry, the landlord, was already concerned that he would not show up and in the end, to cut a long story short, he didn't. Jerry had already phoned the Car Hire firm to remind Steve of his commitment but he had told them he simply wasn't going to bother about me. With that Jerry drove me the 20? or so miles to the Greyhound Station without a care. I would like to take yet another opportunity to thank him and his lovely wife Sonja for their help and hospitality.

There are now just 3 States in the US that I have not visited, Idaho, Utah and Hawii which should fit in very nicely when I get my act together to try for 2 of the final 3 Gull species needed. They are Red-legged Kittiwake off Alaska and Yellow-footed Gull in Baja California, Mexico which would make for a very neat trip in itself. The final one is Relect Gull which may take a little more effort.

Ammendments, I'm sure there must be a number, but the only one I have discovered and put to right was when in Chicago last I reporte making it to Lake Superior, which should have read Lake Michigan.

Over the past 2 days, other species to have been added to the 'trip list' have included Belted Kingfisher, Double-crested Cormorant, Osprey, Mute Swan and American Herring Gull none of which were photographed. This brings up what I guess will be the final

Total Bird Species - 70, World Lifers - 7 (10% of those seen is considered incredible),
Total States Visited or Passed Through - 28, New States Visited - 15.

The Star-Spangled Banner

Monday, 27 September 2010

A Stroll In The Park (Part II)

By mid-morning the heat was getting oppressive, but armed with plenty to drink plus signs of other avian activity up ahead I wandered on.

Northern Mockingbird, this has been the best pose so far of this very common species.

Sheephead, one of a catch otherwise Grey Mullet this man had with his throwing net.

and a couple of examples of the water-craft

and dwellings on the edge of the Gulf.

Forster's Tern (first winter) were also fairly numerous, this one making for a decent shot despite loss of a wing tip.

At last a 'settled' Dragonfly, this a Great Blue Skimmer.

Brown Pelicans then hove into view and were obliging as several sat atop waterside posts,

many on the wing, and close while

this juvenile and adult were content to swim past.

This Sharp-shinned Hawk chased a flock of small birds through the understorey before perching, for a few minutes, close by.

I had now completed the full circuit, and arriving back at the main gate I noticed it was both mid-day and 93F, time to head back. On the way a second Dragonfly was found perched in the middle of the pavement and allowed a number of uninterrupted shots. A little strange I thought, so moved to flush it but it didn't move. Unfortunately it was dead but in perfect condition, I believe its a

Eastern Pondhawk.

The best was most certainly saved until last as looking up from this beautiful insect to find a

Loggerhead Shrike perched on the wires above. Unconcerned with my presence it just sat there, and although not a 'first' for me, it was certainly the 'bird of the day'. In addition to the species shown, others to have been seen include Brown-headed Nuthatch (another 'lifer' which I 'twitched' and missed with my New Jersey birding pal Doug Johnson when we drove into Delaware some years ago) and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

'World Lifers' so far have been:-


Sunday, 26 September 2010

A Stroll In The Park (Part I)

The reason for yesterday's hiccup? Plenty of time but no Internet access wherever I went, my only life line being 'new found mate' Steven Salem. He had an I-phone and the know how, but I had the information but couldn't see the digits on the blessed phone. Eventually, settling to post where or however it turned out, the gist of the message was there and will now be noted to be in correct chronological order. I would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to Steven, not just for the access but for also being yet another fantastic character I have met during this epic through the USA. Further Steve I hope your son remains safe in Afghanistan and all goes well with your job man!

After the beer and a much needed rest it was out at 06-30 to try and find some bird-life. The beach was much the same as yesterday, and with a wait of 90 minutes before the park opened I decided on some scrub land close to a huge hotel. The area was full of Blue Jays and Northern Mockingbirds, but most numerous were Dragonflies but none that I could identify and not one that would perch.

Arriving at the gate at 07-50 in the hope of entry was met with a rebuff, Miss More Than My Jobsworth was on duty and wasn't letting me in until the appointed hour. Coupled with the fact she had no idea what I might find within, no bird list and no map things weren't getting off to the best of starts. A little searching and she did find a map and as I'd seen, from a distance, what looked like a few Terns perched on the adjacent pier thought that the best start.

There were plenty of Cactus and some little tiny 'spurs' that clung to anything they could.

She did however let me take a shot of her 'badge of office'.

Great Egret the first new bird for the trip today, but it flew straight past.

Gulf Fritilliary were numerous,

with undersides as spectacular as the upper-wings.

Royal Tern. By now the pier was full of anglers and other holidaymakers so chances of a perched Tern had diminished. However, this single did do a flypast before disappearing seaward.

Next to fly in was this Snowy Egret, but much more obligingly

it landed allowing a better and longer look.

The anglers were doing quite well already, one lady landing this decent Flounder as I arrived.

Rufous-sided Towhee also seemed quite common,

this one responding to 'pishing' allowing good views.

Two small birds together in a dead tree was a lucky shot,

but this Carolina Chickadee was nearly overlooked as a Black-capped until consulting the field guide realised there is a distinct and defined border between the two species at the northern edge of the Carolina's.

The second was a little more difficult being a juvenile, but think I have this pinned down to Northern Parula. A little help would be welcome if anyone thinks differently send me an e-mail please!

What appears to be another juvenile, this time a Red-bellied Woodpecker there was an adult also present but not stopping for a photo call.

White-tailed Deer ran across the road right in front of me and seemingly unaware of my presence stood and posed.

With the temperature in the high 80's+ there was little in the way of wetland, so felt lucky to get these 2 in one frame.

The Great (White) Egret obligingly caught a fish

and swallowed it while the

Great Blue Heron did its best to relieve it of the catch.