Saturday, August 24, 2013


It would be an understatement to say that I'm not having much luck with pelagics this year. I've managed to miss all the ones with the rarities on - I've spent 63 hours at sea this year with no code 3+ birds - and then either get on boats where there are no birds, or boats that don't actually go anywhere. Today was a boat that didn't go anywhere. 

My plan for this weekend was the 2 day, overnight pelagic out of Cape Cod, MA. This is an almost slam-dunk for White-faced Storm-Petrel, as well as other rarities; I've had Great Skua on this boat in the past, and not been on the boat when they got Little Shearwater. Anyway, that's all academic now, since the weather was so bad today the boat didn't go out - and it's not going to be rescheduled. A similar fate befell John Vanderpoel in his big year. Pelagic birding is so hit and miss - with usually more of the missing than the hitting.

So, I spent most of this morning all over Expedia, mainly to reassure myself that I'm still actually birding and doing something vaguely productive. I'm heading down to Hatteras again this evening. They didn't go out today - bad weather - but hope to go tomorrow. If they do go, there's still a chance for White-tailed Tropicbird and Herald Petrel, as well as White-faced Storm-petrel. This would be my last east coast pelagic this summer, so any of these would be last chances.

After that I'm coming home and packing for Alaska. I've managed to travel most of this year with a shockingly small amount of luggage (most of which is my telescope) - which means if you've seen me a second time I'm probably wearing the same thing you saw me wearing the first time. And probably slightly smellier. This time though, after freezing in the Pribilofs during the "spring", I'm taking more stuff (ski pants and even more layers.) I'll either need bigger bags (although I'm approaching the limit on raised eyebrows from air stewards and actually getting my bag into the overhead compartment) or I'll wear more clothes on the plane, or I'll just abandon my principles (and pay for checked luggage!) So, keep your eyes out for a hipster dufus wearing 3 coats on a plane near you...

On my way to Alaska I'll probably stop at Seattle and try for Sky Lark and Vaux's Swift, and hopefully catch up with my friend, Hans de Grys - who's now finished his crazy mid-year to mid-year Big Year and is back to his day job teaching chemistry.

Apart from rarities, I still need to work on some code #1 and #2 birds. Here's what I still need for the year:

Code #1:
  • Vaux's Swift (hopefully in WA state before or after Gambell.)

Code #2:
  • Sharp-tailed Grouse (really need help on this. Don't have any good ideas except Arrowwood NWR in ND, which is a bit of a trek. Any ideas?)
  • Mottled Petrel (probably not going to happen)
  • Black Storm-petrel (CA pelagics in Sept.)
  • Whooping Crane (Aransas in Dec)
  • Common Ringed Plover (the nesting birds on Gambell will probably have left by the time I get there, so probably not going to get this bird.)
  • Whiskered Auklet (trying to plan a trip out of Dutch Harbor after Gambell - or before Barrow in early Oct.)
  • Sprague's Pipit (Dec in Texas)
  • Smith's Longspur (Dec in the south)
  • McKay's Bunting (Dutch Harbor, or Nome in late fall)
  • Sagebrush Sparrow (probably wintering birds in the southwest.)
  • Eurasian Tree Sparrow (IL late in the year, when there's nothing else to chase!)
I'm most worried about Sharp-tailed Grouse - so I'd love any suggestions. I'm still amazed that I've seen all the other grouse and quail this year and that this is the only one I still need - so I should be pretty happy to be in this position. Thank you again Mountain Quail!

OK. Off to Hatteras. 2 hour flight. 5 hour drive (from RDU). 3 hour "sleep."

+ + +


  1. Don't know if this helps, but I understand that Sharp-tailed Grouse are fairly easily found around Nicolet and Nine Mile Roads in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. If you do look for them there I suggest contacting someone from WPBO as they should have a better idea of exactly where they are.
    Good Luck!

  2. Hi again. As I'm sure you probably know, the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area in southern Montana/northern Wyoming is probably one of the best spots for Sharp-tailed Grouse. They're listed on the Area checklist as "easily found, without much effort, in suitable habitat" all year.

    I know of course that it all depends on where you're going and when. But the Area is at least "on the way" to Alaska from Boston :).

    I hope your Hatteras pelagic was more successful this weekend. I've been on Brian's boat several times and, although it is still the usual crap shoot, he and Kate do a great job of finding what's out there.

    Dave Hardin
    Newton, NC

  3. Northern Minnesota can be pretty reliable for Sharp-tailed Grouse. Sax-Zim bog is probably the most accessible bet. My buddy Mike Hendrickson, who helped Sandy Komito with his big year, could probably help put you on them. I still lived there, I'd happily scout and take you out. I had them there this early June, but fall is a different season.

    In the winter, they're very findable in the Sault Ste. Marie area of Upper Michigan, in areas between M-129 and Riverside Dr, north of M-80. You might find yourself searching for them in December, which wouldn't be last ditch.

  4. I concur with looking for the Grouse in the UP of Michigan, where Tom suggested.

    Steve Bobonick

  5. North Dakota has much suitable habitat in the western two-thirds of the state, but yes, Arrowwood NWR does get hundreds of grouse on CBCs (as do several other counts in the state). I am curious why Arrowwood was singled out but no matter. The bird would be much easier to find with snow on the ground. North Dakota is out of the way from most of the action, so see what fits in. BTW - Love the blog, keep up the good work!

  6. I would second the last opinion. Sharpies are much easier to find once there is snow on the ground and you are bound to be chasing something between Montana and Minnesota this winter. I would plan on fitting it in then, with an last-chance trip planned for the end of the year if necessary. If you end up coming out to Montana for a rarity, I can certainly point you in the direction of some Sharp-tailed Grouse out here.

    Andy Boyce
    Missoula, MT

  7. I would also agree with Tom about looking for Sharp-tailed Grouse in the UP of MI in the winter. And definitely check out the area around Nicolet and 9 Mile Rd like Anonymous mentioned in the first comment, as it really seems to be one of the best spots for this species in the UP.

  8. Sharp-tailed Grouse are fairly easy (based on a series of two visits) in Delta Alaska, SE of fairbanks. September should be a good month for them.
    McKay's Buntings are easy in Nome in winter and some winters a few are found here and there in Southcoastal Alaska

  9. Sharp-tailed Grouse are pretty easy in winter in Paradise, Utah south of Logan--sitting in trees in people's yards when there is snow on the ground. Bonus is it is a small place, so only a few square blocks to search.

  10. I often find ST Grouse along I-94 in North Dakota, between Valley City and Jamestown. Another spot is Hwy 83 at the KS/NE state line, just south of McCook, NE.

  11. Also, some of the lower elevations in Banff National Park, AB have had good numbers of ST Grouse.