December 30, 2021

Wrapping up 2021 Part II

After an already unbelievable year of wildlife my girlfriend surprised me by finding flights to Hawaii at a huge discount, and we decided with little planning to make our first trip to the islands in early December. We decided on a three Island trip, starting on Oahu then two days on Kawai and four days on the big island. The birding was incredible, and I was able to see some bucket list Hawaiian birds such as Iiwi, Omao, Amakihi, Elepaio, and Akiapolaau in the cloud forests of Kauai and Hawaii. On the rocky coasts we saw Nene with young babies, White-tailed Tropicbird, Masked and Red-footed Booby, and Laysan Albatross. On a whim I decided to buy a cheap snorkel set from a souvenir shop and check out a nearby reef. I was amazed by the abundance of incredible tropical fish and within a few hours found myself addicted to this new hobby. Across the three islands we snorkeled at four more locations and I was able to see and photograph 72 species of fish. While in Hawaii we also had the opportunity to dive with Galapagos sharks, Sandbar sharks, Green Sea Turtles, and Reef Manta rays! All said and done I saw a staggering 117 species of animal in Hawaii alone! Now back home in Iowa with the first snow storms rolling in, I finished the year seeing 119 new birds, 28 reptiles/amphibians, 18 mammals, and 75 fish. A total of 240 species of vertebrate. The year was a blast, and I already have plans for an equally exciting 2022!

Posted on December 30, 2021 15:44 by dean_hester dean_hester | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Wrapping up 2021: 100 Species goal-Year Three!

The third year of my 100 species resolution found me deep in the Covid 19 pandemic, and recounting 2020s dismal total of 29 new species. Little did I know 2021 would shape up to be my most exciting year of travel, birding, and wildlife diversity yet! The first trip of the year was a pilgrimage to Sax-Zim Bog to look for two northern boreal forest targets, Hoary Redpoll and Bohemian Waxwing. I managed to find both of these species plus two elusive mammals, Pine Marten and Ermine in the few days I was there. After this trip, a rare Eurasian Wigeon showed up on the Mississippi river in eastern Iowa, and with a quick chase I added my third bird species for the year. Realizing at this pace I would fall far short of my 100 species target, I decided that some travel was in order. I planned a trip to Monterey Bay California to coincide with the migration of gray whales and Orcas in the hopes of adding some new marine mammals and coastal birds to my list. On my first day in California a quick walk along the beach netted me some of my primary target birds including Black oystercatcher, Black turnstone, Pelagic cormorant, and Surfbird. I decided to go to a small local park that included some natural scrub land and pine habitat and was rewarded with good looks at California scrub Jay Golden Crowned Sparrow, Oak titmouse, Chestnut-backed chickadee, and my favorite woodpecker in North America, the Acorn woodpecker. About three days into the trip I heard news that a White wagtail that had been staying at a nearby beach was still being seen. My girlfriend and I raced up to the last known location, and she found the bird foraging in a small estuary near the beach! This would be my 13th (and rarest) bird for the trip bringing my yearly total into the mid 20s. After the quick rarity chase we went on a short whale watching trip into Monterey Bay where I saw my first albatross! Two Black footed albatross, Risso's dolphin, Gray whale, and Sea otters abounded. It's not often I add 5 new mammals in one day! We then ventured inland to snag a few more desert and upland species like Hutton's vireo, California thrasher, Tricolored Blackbird, and a personal favorite bird of mine, the California quail. A few spots were tried for the endemic yellow-billed magpie and the third, Coyote Lake Park, was a success! Having acquired most of the expected animal targets on this trip I was happy to head home. No matter how bad a year starts in Iowa, a trip to California practically guarantees success for a Midwest boy.
Soon after my trip to California a few friends decided to take a quick road trip to Galveston Island, Texas to enjoy some warmer waters and a well-deserved vacation from a long stint of overtime work. I had a few targets here including a long-time nemesis bird: Painted Bunting. Before arriving in Texas a quick stop in Oklahoma City got had me staring at a beautiful male Painted bunting in a small farm field just outside the city limits. In Texas scanning the salt marshes in the early morning I found a few singing Seaside sparrow's and one very secretive King rail. After a few days of enjoying the beach we headed home, but made sure to make a quick stop at Brazos Bend State Park where we were greeted with numerous beautiful Painted gallinules and Boat-tailed grackles. July was fast approaching, and with the halfway point of the year in my sites the biggest birding trip of my life was on the horizon. Earlier in the year a few birding buddies and I had planned another whirlwind birding trip to southern Arizona. We had scheduled nine days to explore the sky islands and desert to try to see as many endemic bird species as possible. The lifers are too numerous to list but some highlights of the trip were Zone-tailed hawk, Olive Warbler, Rose-throated Becard, Violet-crowned hummingbird, Whiskered screech owl, Montezuma quail, Five-striped sparrow, Elegant trogon, Ruddy Ground-dove, White-eared hummingbird, Lucifer hummingbird, and a family of Spotted owls! Along with this plethora of new birds, I spotted many new reptile/amphibian lifers including Ridgenose rattlesnakes, whiptails, and Spadefoot toads . After this incredible trip my yearly tally stood at 118 species, well above my goal for the year and with five months left to go. Upon returning to Iowa an incredible combo of Long-tailed Jaeger and Pomarine Jaeger appeared at a reservoir a couple hours from my house. With these two extra birds I sat at 120 species. Quite a start!

Posted on December 30, 2021 05:37 by dean_hester dean_hester | 1 comment | Leave a comment

July 12, 2020

100 Species or bust 2020!

Another year and another goal of 100 new species to see. In a blink of the eye its already mid-July and I'm a bit behind my lofty goal. The year started slowly with only 2 new species January through April, an American Three-toed Woodpecker and American Porcupine in Sax-Zim Bog, MN. After that a friend and I found a mega rarity male Ruff at a local WMA. This was later joined by a flock of Hudsonian Godwits to make 4 lifers for the year. Herping central Iowa got me a long-overdue Central Newt, and I saw both Muskellunge and Shortnose Gar while out birding near the Cedar river. A dry spell ensued until an early June vacation to Rocky Mountain NP, where I turned up 18 life critters. American Pika, Yellow-bellied Marmot, Abert's Squirrel and Franklin's Ground squirrel for mammals, and Bullock's Oriole, Western Wood-pewee, Lesser White-fronted goose, Broad-tailed Hummer, Pygmy Nuthatch, MacGillivray's warbler, Grace's Warbler, Clark's grebe, Williamson's and Red-naped sapsuckers, Dusky Flycatcher, Hammond's Flycatcher, Townsend's Solitaire, and Cassin's Sparrow. American Dipper was ABA bird #500, a huge milestone for me! Since that trip the stifling Iowa summer has kept me mostly indoors, and nothing new has surfaced yet. I currently stand at 26 new species for the year with 5 1/2 months to go! It looks like 100 might be out of reach, but I'm still looking!

Posted on July 12, 2020 21:45 by dean_hester dean_hester | 6 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 31, 2019

100 Species or Bust: May-October

My goal of seeing 100 species had become much more attainable after the influx of sightings in south Texas. Now, with only 12 to go, I had spring in Iowa to look forward to! In the first three weeks of May I had the fortune to see three new species of wood warbler, Cape May, Mourning, and the very hard to find Connecticut warbler. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27513224Soon after I stumbled across an American bittern at a local park in Iowa city, a bird I had been trying to find for years! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27513210A singing Eastern Whip-poor-will and a Black-billed Cuckoo in June were nice additions, although both avoided photos! In August a Yellow-billed Loon was found in central Iowa, a bird that should be in northern Alaska! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/31096797Only 4 to go! Later that week I found a Plains Leopard frog in my own backyard to make it 97. A surprise trip to Florida to visit friends was planned for the end of August, and #100 was in my sights. On Sanibel Island the first day on the beach yielded Boat-tailed Grackle, Limpkin,https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32030673 and then with 100 in sight, A Gray kingbird on Captiva Island became the magic 100th species! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32030672Not missing a beat I upped my goal to 125 and explored more of the parks in the area. In Naples I saw Gopher Tortoiseshttps://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32030670, And on a short boat trip in the mangroves of Cape Coral, we saw West Indian Manateehttps://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32030669 and a flock of over 100 Magnificent Frigatebirds! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32030674At our friend’s apartments, invasive species like the Cuban tree frog and Tropical House Gecko https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32030667hunted by porch-light. Florida softshell turtle, Red-bellied Cooter, Oscar Tilapia, and Peninsular Cooter were seen in 6-mile Cypress slough. On the last day, I spied a Short-tailed Hawk while enjoying the pool, and a pair of Snail kites hunting on the way back to the airport to return to Iowa. I left Florida with 112 species for the year, with plenty of time to add a few more!
Back home in Iowa I got to explore a bit with some herping buddies and turned up my first Boreal chorus frog, and the state endangered Blue-spotted Salamander, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/33352568these guys were a real treat to see! My final species of 2019 as of Oct. 29th was a lone Sabine’s gull that appeared at a nearby lake, this arctic gull is certainly enjoying the early snow this week as winter rolls back into the Midwest. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/34723780Today I sit at 115 species for 2019, I better save a few for 2020!

Posted on October 31, 2019 02:25 by dean_hester dean_hester | 11 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 30, 2019

2019 Resolution: 100 Species or Bust!

After catching the birding bug a few years ago, and recently creating an account here on Inaturalist, the pursuit of biodiversity has become a bit of an obsession for me. I think it’s a healthy one though, as it invariably leads me outdoors to new and strange places where I meet new animals and new people. Before I’d even heard of Inat I was sitting inside on a -25 degree January day wishing I was out exploring the world. On that thought, I decided to start 2019 with a resolution/goal of seeing as many new species of animal as possible. I decided to set a target of 100 species of vertebrates, assuming insects and other inverts would likely push me past 100 in no time at all. Since wildlife photography was already a hobby of mine, I figured this was destined to be a resolution I might actually stick to!
My year of exploration started slowly in the grip of an especially cold Iowa winter, and my first new species didn’t come along until February 1st, when on the way to work I was surprised to spot a Gyrfalcon munching on a ground squirrel in a snowy farm field. Another month passed with no new species, and I began to realize my eyes may have been bigger than my stomach. I’d already recorded the majority of the common vertebrate species in my area, and there weren’t many easy additions to make. I would have certainly failed my mission if it were not for a fortuitous road trip with a close friend to the Rio Grande valley of Texas, a mecca for wildlife enthusiasts and especially bird watchers. We had planned our trip over 8 days in early April, the peak of migration in south Texas, and had a target list of over 50 species of birds neither of us had seen before.
The trip began on a cold morning in Iowa City, headed south for the next 22 hours we couldn’t resist an early stop at a Prairie chicken lek in southern Iowa which earned us the state endangered Greater Prairie Chicken, our first lifer of the trip! We pushed south through the rest of day and night to our fist Texas location, the Hill Country, which divides fauna of the southeast from the southwest. Here we encountered endemic species such as the Golden-cheeked Warbler, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27545173Ladder-backed woodpecker, White-tipped dove, and Rufous-crowned sparrow.https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27543393 It was after this that we received word through the birding grapevine that an extremely rare Mexican species, the Yellow Grosbeak had been appearing at a backyard bird feeder in the tiny town of Concan. We took a chance and diverted the couple hours to the little resort town. After getting to know the homeowner we were sitting in their beautiful backyard, and within minutes the star of the entire trip was busily feeding just feet away! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27545186This was one of only a dozen or so records of this species in the United States. Spirits up, we drove on the remaining 4 hours to Kingsville, TX to get our first real sleep in the last 36 hours and to prepare for an all-day guided tour of King Ranch the next morning.
King Ranch is legendary amongst birders, and it was a smorgasbord of new southern species. Crested Caracara, Greater roadrunner, Harris’s hawk,https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27530072 and Olive Sparrow abounded. On our tour, we also managed to see and photograph all of the King ranch “Big 5”, the five most desired species in the area. Ferruginous pygmy Owl, Audubon’s Oriole, Northern Beardless tyrannulet, Sprague’s Pipit, and Tropical Parula all made prolonged appearances! On the tour, I divided my attention between the sky for birds and the sandy scrub for reptiles, I was rewarded with Texas horned lizard https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27511713and keeled earless lizard, two target species for the trip. In true mad-birder style we decided to forego dinner after departing king ranch and check just one more spot. The grounds of Quinta Mazatlán, in the border city of Brownsville TX, rewarded us with Broad-billed hummingbird, Plain Chachalaca, and Common Paraque as the sun set on our second day in Texas. Day two closed with 29 birds, 2 reptiles and 1 mammal, a heard of feral nilgai, (an Indian antelope species) adding to the tally. Day three in TX was nothing short of spectacular, and after a short morning trip to Estero Llano Grande, 10 more bird species were added to the list. Alligators and Rose-bellied lizards, Common Spotted Whiptails, a 6 and-a-half foot Bullsnakehttps://www.inaturalist.org/observations/22969314, and Western Ribbon Snake were all seen in the space of an hour. Four more lifer reptiles made the list. The biggest surprise of the day was a low-flying Swallow-tailed Kite,https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27545189 a rarity in the valley, and one of my favorite birds. Green Jays, a jewel of the valley were also a treat! https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27540146That night a side trip to Bentsen Rio Grande State Park had us (and about 30 other eager bird watchers) looking up at a small hole in a telephone pole as the last rays of light faded, hoping to catch a glimpse of another south Texas specialty, an Elf Owl.https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27543388 After an hour of staring the tiny head popped out and everyone got great looks at the bird. Cave swallows migrating up the Rio Grande, and a family of Collared peccaries rounded out the night. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/30640592
Over the next couple days, we returned to Estero llano Grande to see more incredible birds like White-tailed Kite, Gray Hawk, and Great Kiskadee, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27540166we stood in a Red Lobster parking lot to witness the mass roosting of Green parakeets and Red-lored parrots on the power lines of Brownsville, we saw White Ibis and Roseate Spoonbillhttps://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27524387 in wetlands and Green and Ringed Kingfishers at local parks. At Quinta Mazatlán, we got special access and a brief glimpse of a Crimson-collared grosbeak, another rarity that had shown up recently. By the end of day six we had tallied 51 new species of birds, half a dozen reptiles, 3 more mammals, (Nutria, Rio Grande Ground Squirrel, and Hispid Cotton rat). We had already exceeded our expectations for the whole trip! With two days to go we headed for the coast, to the legendary South Padre Island.
Here the shorebirds and seabirds abounded, and Black skimmers, another favorite of mine were seemingly everywhere. By wonderful coincidence a Varied Bunting appeared at the visitor’s center, a beautiful rarity we had searched fruitlessly for earlier in the trip. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27516128On our way up the coast to Houston we stopped by a nesting platform for the endangered Aplomado Falcon. Luckily for us, there was a female resting on the nest, after this we continued north to Bolivar flats to catch a glimpse of Snowy and Wilson’s plovers, and a surprise Clapper Rail in the intertidal marshes. Finally, a stop outside Houston at WG Jones State forest to see the western-most population of Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Brown-capped Nuthatches.https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/27516118 As we left southern Texas we knew the trip had exceeded our wildest expectations. I had recorded 65 life birds, 9 reptiles, 1 amphibian, 4 mammals, and 7 fish.
Whew, suddenly 100 species didn’t seem too far out of reach! With the Texas trip included, I was at 88 new species, and it was only mid-April! Eight months and 12 species to go!

Posted on October 30, 2019 01:56 by dean_hester dean_hester | 17 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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