Category Archives: Travel

Scenes From Acadia, September 2022

  • Snowball bush, Northeast Harbor, Maine, 24 Sept 2022

1 October 2022

Last week, after a four-year hiatus, my husband and I enjoyed revisiting Acadia National Park. The scenery was beautiful and even the fog was gorgeous, as shown in the slideshow above. Jordan Stream was in full flow after a long day of rain.

We also learned a few things about Acadia and ourselves in 2022.

  • The park is jam-packed with visitors even in late September. Labor Day used to be the the last big weekend — which is why we visited in mid/late September — but the number of people and cars on 23 September rivaled anything we’d seen in the past.
  • I used to drive up Cadillac Mountain on a whim to visit the Acadia Hawk Watch but now all visits are by reservation, reviewed at the checkpoint at the base of the mountain. The photo below shows why reservations are required. We did not visit Cadillac.
Sunrise is the busiest time on Cadillac Mountain (photo by Ashley L. Conti/Friends of Acadia embedded from
  • Four years ago we still climbed the mountains. This year we climbed a low one — less than 300 feet above sea level — and did not enjoy the challenging bits. Perhaps we are out of shape … but I think four years makes a difference at our age. Alas.
  • Seven days were too short for a vacation to Acadia because it takes so long to get there, even by air.

Acadia will be busy through Columbus Day weekend and perhaps beyond. Fall color still hasn’t peaked yet.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Eiders In Eclipse

Male common eider in eclipse plumage (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

28 September 2022

In September large, dark brown sea ducks swim in rafts off the coast of Maine. When they aren’t resting on the water they dive for mussels and crustaceans or walk up on the rocks to stand among the seaweed.

Common eiders on seaweed rocks (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They vaguely resemble the lead field guide pictures for common eider (Somateria mollissima) but their current plumage is motley and variable. Right now common eiders are in eclipse.

Like many ducks and geese, eiders completely molt their tail and wing feathers after the breeding season, rendering them flightless for 3-4 weeks. Flight is restored in time for fall migration, but then they molt their body feathers. All told the process takes 4+ months.

To see eiders in all their glory watch them in breeding plumage from January to early June.

Male and female common eiders in breeding plumage (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And you’ll see them fly.

Male common eider running to take off, April, East Sussex UK (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Revisiting a Favorite Place

Brooding sky at Acadia National Park near Thunder Hole, 2009 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

23 September 2022

Today we’re in Maine for a week-long return to a favorite place.

For 36 years starting in 1983 we visited Acadia National Park every September, only missing two years in all that time. But now it’s 2022 and we haven’t been back since 2018.

The ocean, mountains and lakes will be the same.

Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, 7 Sep 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Jordan Pond, Acadia National Park, 7 Sep 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

But some things will be different.

Maple leaves turning red, Acadia National Park, Sept 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

We’ll be surprised by the changes to businesses, buildings and people we haven’t seen for four years though my husband and I have changed, too. We’ll notice our own changes when we pass by difficult trails we won’t climb anymore. Fortunately there are plenty of easy trails we’ve never walked because we thought they were “too easy” 30 years ago.

Tomorrow we’ll re-experience a hurricane passing offshore when Hurricane Fiona generates high surf and high winds on its way to Nova Scotia. Many things are memorable.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and by Kate St. John)

Mesmerizing Dance

Sunbittern, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

29 July 2022

The sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) looks rather boring when its wings are closed but when it flies you see a gorgeous pattern on its wings. Why is that?

Subittern in flight, Costa Rica (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And then it dances …

If you want to see a sunbittern in the wild, here’s where they live.

Range map of sunbittern from Wikimedia Commons

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Wild Parrots in the Backyard

King parrot and crimson rosella perch on a fence (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

11 May 2022

Imagine having wild parrots visit your bird feeder.

Australia is home to 56 parrot species including the Australian king-parrot (Alisterus scapularis) and the crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans) of eastern and southeastern Australia. Though they nest in the woods they often visit urban parks and backyards.

Sometimes they scuffle over rights to the feeder, as captured by this feedercam. (The constant loud hooting in the video is a wonga pigeon.)

Occasionally an individual learns how to be hand-fed like a black-capped chickadee.

How cool it would be to have wild parrots in the backyard!

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)

Watch White Storks Nest in Britain

White stork pair in Zamora (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

15 March 2022

White storks (Ciconia ciconia) are large iconic birds that spend the winter in Africa and nest in Europe, northwest Africa and western Asia. Famous for the legend that they bring babies, storks migrate long distances by soaring on thermals on 5 to 7-foot wing spans.

White stork range map with migration routes (map from Wikimedia Commons)

Storks avoid crossing open water that lacks thermals and are rare in the British Isles. Until 2020 they had not nested in the UK since 1416 when the last pair used the top of St Giles High Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland. That changed in 2016 when the White Stork Project decided to reintroduce them to Britain. Since then they have released 166 juvenile storks brought in from Poland.

In 2020, for the first time in over 600 years, a pair of white storks nested successfully in the UK. This pair, which are part of the reintroduction program, nest at Knepp Castle in Horsham.

In this video they build the nest and pair bond by bill-clacking.

Right now the storks are gathering sticks and preparing to nest. Watch as they raise a family, live at the White Stork Project. (Note: Britain is 4 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time. This is a good site to watch in the morning.)

Instead of bringing human babies these storks will bring their own.

White stork carrying baby (image from Shutterstock in 2013)

(photos from Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock; click on the captions to see the originals)

Watch Wading Birds

Wading birds feeding in Florida (screenshot from MyBarckyardBirding on YouTube)

24 February 2022

Take a visual trip to Florida and watch at least 10 species of birds feeding in a marsh. Notice that some stab at underwater prey, others nibble below the surface, some pick at the shore and some (the pink ones!) swipe their bills side-to-side.

How many of them can you identify? Leave a comment with your answer.

(Note: The embedded video is limited it to the first two minutes. Click here to see the entire 13.5 minute video.)

Check back later for my checklist from the video.

(screenshot and embedded video from MyBackyardBirding on YouTube)

LATER. Here’s my list of the birds I saw in the video:

  1. Great egret
  2. Snowy egret
  3. Little blue heron
  4. Tricolor heron
  5. Glossy ibis
  6. White ibis
  7. Roseate spoonbill
  8. Boat-tailed grackle
  9. Lesser yellowlegs
  10. Greater yellowlegs.

Seen While Birding in San Diego

Black-crowned night-herons perched on a chain-link fence, Lindo Lake, 20 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 February 2022

Back in Pittsburgh since Monday night, I’m getting reacquainted with the Eastern Time Zone and sorting through the few cellphone photos I took during the San Diego Bird Festival.

The festival lived up to its rating as one of the Top 10 Bird Festivals in the US. It is very well run with convenient accommodations, excellent bird guides and great birds! By the end of the festival I’d seen 155 species and 6 Life Birds (more to come when all the eBird lists get in). My Life Birds were:

  • Clark’s grebe,
  • Allen’s hummingbird (can’t believe I missed this bird nine years ago),
  • Pink-footed shearwater,
  • Red-masked parakeet,
  • California gnatcatcher,
  • Swinhoe’s white-eye.

I also saw some bird behavior I didn’t expect. The black-crowned night-herons at Lindo Lake stayed awake during the day in order to feast on food thrown down for the ducks. Above, two waited on the chain link fence for the handouts to arrive. When the food came the night-herons walked among the pigeons.

How many black-crowned night-herons can you count in this photo?

Black-crowned night-herons foraging with pigeons, Lindo Lake, 20 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Our next stop brought us to scrubland within sight of El Cajon Mountain(*) where we heard California gnatcathers and watched a peregrine pump past us on its way west.

El Monte area as seen from Hanson Pond Trail, 20 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

At El Monte County Park at the base of El Cajon(*) our guides showed us a great-horned owl roosting (digiscoped below) and a golden eagle near its nest on the mountain more than a mile away. (*If I have misnamed this mountain, please let me know.)

Great horned owl roosting, El Monte County Park, 20 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

While in the Tijuana River Valley on Saturday some flowers and fruits caught my eye. I didn’t know what they were until Janet Campagna and Dianne Machesney helped out.

The first two plants can only be found in southern California and Baja California. The first is lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia), a member of the sumac genus native to coastal chaparral from Santa Barbara County to northern Baja California. Most sumacs have compound leaves. This one is odd for having simple leaves.

Lemonade berry at Tijuana Valley Regional Park ranger station, 19 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

The golden-spined cereus (Bergerocactus emoryi), below, has such a limited range in Baja California, Santa Catalina Island, San Clemente Island, and San Diego that is listed “at risk” of disappearing due to habitat loss and climate change.

Golden spined cereus at Tijuana Slough NWR, 19 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Sticky monkey-flower (Diplacus aurantiacus), below, is found in southwestern North America. Though it has a similar common name it is not in the same genus as our Allegheny monkey flower (Mimulus ringens) in Pennsylvania (see our plant photo here).

Monkeyflower at Tijuana Slough NWR, 19 Feb 2022

On 16 February I took a quick walk on the beach and discovered that only one gull in this group can be found in western Pennsylvania. The black-backed gulls are western gulls. The gray-backed are California gulls. There is a Heerman’s gull in there and one ring-billed gull. Our bird guides explained that ring-billed gulls prefer to stay inland in San Diego.

On Monday I said goodbye to sunny San Diego. During my trip to California there was not enough time for an outing to the pine forest mountains. I’ll have to go back!

Sunset at Mission Bay Marina, 18 Feb 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Cutest Bird of the Year

Burrowing owl, Imperial County, CA (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

20 February 2022, San Diego Bird Festival, Big Day across the county

In more than a decade of choosing an annual ABA Bird of the Year, this year’s choice, the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), has the most personality. It’s hard to look at one posing near it’s burrow without seeing its defiant and endearing stance.

The owls, of course, take themselves seriously, choosing a mate, finding an appropriate prairie dog, ground squirrel or man-made burrow to nest in, and raising a family.

Burrowing owls at man-made nest near Salton Sea (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The owls have had recent success in Imperial County, California where many of these photos were taken. Unfortunately by 2019 their population in nearby San Diego County was down to 75 pairs due to habitat loss and destruction of the ground squirrels whose holes the birds rely on.

In 2020 researchers began to turn that around by releasing eight young owls at Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve. In the winter of 2020-2021, 24 pairs were reintroduced to man-made burrows at Ramona Grasslands Preserve. This winter they plan to reintroduce several more. The hope is that the young birds raised at Ramona will return to their birthplace to nest.

Ramona grasslands, San Diego County (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Read more about burrowing owls in San Diego County at San Diego Burrowing Owls get new homes.

If you want to see great photos every day of the cutest Bird of the Year, follow Wendy @geococcyxcal on Twitter.

They are so photogenic!

UPDATE 21 Feb 2022: Did not see a burrowing owl on this trip.

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)