Down East at the Autumnal Equinox

We took a few days off from our work with the Massachusetts White Shark Research team to travel to Down East Maine and embrace the onset of Autumn in the New England north country. We were eager to explore a new destination in the mid coast region well known to birders especially in the fall migration. Our target was Monhegan Island , a tiny wooded rock pile about ten miles off the Maine coast. The island is well visited in the fall as it is a famous stop-over for southbound migrants that get blown off the coast in certain weather conditions. Among these visitors are various warblers, other song birds and the raptors who feast on them in these confined island habitats. The island was settled some 400 years ago by English colonists and has been home to fishing families ever since. In the early Twentieth Century a private land trust was set up by a generous benefactor to set aside most of the island as natural woodlands with maintained trails. The result is a beautifully wooded natural preserve of conifers and deciduous trees which at the fall time can harbor some exotic migrant birds who found there way to Monhegan as the last refuge before getting blown out over the Atlantic Ocean. While we were on the island we observed Merlins and Peregrine Falcons constantly in pursuit of the visiting song birds. Warbler highlights included a Cape May warbler, Nashville warbler, Black throated Green warbler, Black throated Blue warbler and many Myrtles. Pam spotted a Scarlet Tanager male and the star bird of the few days was a Yellow headed Blackbird that was way out of its range usually seen west of the Rockies… Pretty amazing sight, though no photos were acquired of this bird.

Meanwhile the islanders were busy getting lobster traps rigged for the big October 1st opening. They were very friendly and knowledgeable about the birding that was going on all around them. We were privileged to join a group of experienced birders which included ornithologist Dr. Trevor Lloyd-Evans from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The weather was magnificent and Monhegan is truly a magical place at this time of year and we look forward to returning!

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Nashville Warbler Fall 2014

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Raven in the lower foreground

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Monhegan Harbormaster – Shermie Stanley receives his surprise gift. The photograph is of a school of Blue-fin tuna “Giants” taken by legendary spotter pilot and photographer Wayne Davis in celebration of their time fishing together years ago.

Read more.. Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Pacific Northwest Signs of Spring

Our time in the Pacific Northwest has been heavy with family and the brand new babies as our previous posts will attest. However we have managed an outing with our old friend and fellow birder Paula Johnson who lives in the area. Paula was kind enough to guide us to a couple of birding hotspots in the region one day this past week. They are the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in southern Washington near the Columbia River and also the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia.

We got on the road long before dawn, were blessed with some decent spring weather (read no rain) and were rewarded with some excellent sightings of the areas wildlife feeling the urgings of spring.


Nisqually NWR

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Bald Eagle


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Tree Swallows were in abundance on their way north to breed

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Nisqually NWR

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A pair of river otters frolic

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A Pair of Cinnamon Teals

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Newly fledged Bald Eagle watching

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Hooded Merganser pair

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Hooded Merganser pair

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A family of raccoons

Dowitchers yellowlegs

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A pair of Wood Ducks

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A Yellow -rumped warbler migrant just showing up at NIsqually NWR on its way north

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Cinnamon Teal Drake preening

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Red winged Blackbird displaying his colors proudly hoping to attract a mate

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A pair of Northern Shovelers

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Read more.. Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Forest Observations: Costa Rica

Flower piercer in Savegre

Scintillant hummingbird - Savegre

We manged to take time out of enjoying the Cape Cod winter to perform a surgical strike into two distinct wild areas of Costa Rica over a short ten day window. Long a preferred destination by Eco-adventure travelers all over the world we had never taken the time to visit and were keen to get in on the experience. Our primary goal in this exploratory trip was to explore two significant  and different areas in the country – the magical lowland rainforest on the Osa Peninsula in the south and the spectacular cloud forest near San Gerardo de Gota and the headwaters of the Rio Savegre in the Talamanca Mts. What we found with the help of excellent local guides were some of the most beautiful bird life we have witnessed anywhere in the world. In fact we were successful in identifying more than 200 different species while on the ground in Costa Rica. 75% of which were birds we had never seen before anywhere..known as “life birds” among the active birding community. Here are a few of the images we recorded.

Yellow thighed Finch - Savegre

Silver throated Tanager

Golden Winged Warbler - A Rare Beauty, Osa Peninsula

Long tailed Silky Flycatcher

Black mandibled toucan, Osa Peninsula

Violet eared hummingbird

Collared Redstart

Incredible Scarlet Macaw

King Vulture

Mangrove Black Hawk

White Hawk and Scarlet Macaw share space but have different interests

Magnificent Quetzal (female)

Black chested Trogon

Magnificent Quetzal (male)

Tiny Hawk - Rare and hard to see in Central America

Sunrise Osa Peninnsula

Read more.. Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Travel Advisory

Apex Expeditions specializes in one-of-a-kind adventures to explore the world’s most fascinating places.

“Many of you might recognize Jonathan Rossouw here, a close friend, supreme wildlife guide and extraordinary tour leader specializing in remote destinations all around the world. We have traveled with Jonathan on many adventures including the now well known Ugandan Mountain Gorilla encounter which changed us both forever. We are wonderfully pleased to learn that a new venture has surfaced called Apex Expeditions and from examining their sneak peek website looks like they will be visiting some of the most interesting and bio-diverse regions in the world. We also have learned that Jonathan has been involved in the design of most of the itineraries for the new venture and has been invited to also lead many of them beginning in 2015. This is terrific news for adventure eco-tourists, especially those who have followed our own adventures and wondered who, where and when to travel to the earth’s remote places. Do check these guys out. The groups will be intimate and trips will fill quickly. We might see you on one!”

Again their web address is

Read more.. Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Transitions of the Season

Aleutian Dream at Cow Yard landing

It is that time of year when the NE Gales start to become more frequent and the temperatures drop toward the freezing mark. Our boat  Aleutian Dream has been in the water here on Cape Cod for over 6 months and the time has come to haul it for the winter season. It is always hard to give up the chance to be on the water in a moments notice. Here are some additional unforgettable images from our last adventure a week ago out with the humpbacks off Chatham Inlet.

But even as the seasons change there are still wild adventures to enjoy on land with the onset of the “off-season” quiet time on Cape Cod. Just check out these images Pam made from our porch the past few days.

Read more.. Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: North Country

Took a day trip to the lower Cape this week – which means if you live in Chatham, as  we do, one travels to the north toward the unique and beautiful landscapes of the Cape Cod National Seashore  and the sprawling sand spit that is the Provincelands. The deciduous forests here are at their peak in fall foliage color and when one observes these surroundings in the incredible autumn light at this time of year ……well…..see what you think. Also lovely to study the magnificent Northern Harrier hunting rodents amongst our stunning natural environments. Other notable bird life observed were a sharp shinned hawk , 2 pairs of hooded mergansers , several golden crowned kinglets, a ruby crowned kinglet, a blue headed vireo, a black throated blue warbler and a magnificent blue winged teal which was foraging among the cat tails.  Note that some of the images are made of the same vistas as lighting conditions changed in the warm late afternoon offering changes in the mood.

All part of the “septober” magic we have been blessed with again this fall on Cape Cod..

Harrier hunts in the Provincelands

Harrier hunts

Harrier hunts

Fort Hill, Eastham - looking toward Coast Guard station

Fort Hill, Eastham

Northern Harrier hunting

Pilgrim Heights, Provincelands

White Cedar Swamp, Wellfleet

Race Point, Provincelands

Race Point, Provincelands


Hooded Mergansers and a Blue winged teal

Blue headed vireo, Cedar Swamp

Mallard at the Beech Forest, Provincelands

Read more.. Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Flight & Pursuit: Autumn Migrations

Autumn Sky - South Beach, Chatham

Beautiful fall weather continues here on the outer edge of Cape Cod and a continuing flow of returning raptors are visible in our open spaces and barrier beaches….but you have to look for them. Had a brilliant encounter with a pair of red tailed hawks in Chatham today. See below. Also as previously reported – sightings of Marbled Godwits are rare – anywhere. This fall we were blessed with sightings and images in three different areas. Mount Desert Island, ME, Tern Island, Chatham, MA and Del Mar, CA. shown in our previous post on our visit to Maine in late September.

In addition we decided to include some similar images of raptors and shorebirds we recorded while we were in California observing the west coast migration a month ago. So much is similar as many bird species pass from the Arctic nesting areas south using the Pacific flyway on their annual migrations to warmer climates for the north American winter just as we see in the Atlantic corridor here on Cape Cod. Do not miss our first ever sighting of a Long billed curlew – found in an estuary near Del Mar, CA.

Marbled Godwits - Mt. Desert Island, Maine

Turkey Vulture heading south, Mt Desert Island, Maine

Hunter Moonrise - Chatham, MA

Black bellied plover and a short-billed dowitcher, Tern Island

Marbled Godwits in Chatham

Snake River, Chatham

Marbled Godwit in Chatham

Pair of Red Tailed Hawks, Chatham

Northern Harrier - Stage Harbor, Chatham

Set up for watching waterfowl at the Powderhole, MNWR

Yellow rumped warbler, MNWR

Red shouldered hawk, near San Diego

Marbled Godwits near Del Mar, CA

Long billed Curlew lands near Del Mar, CA

Godwits and Pacific Willets near Del Mar, CA

American Kestrel hovers near Del Mar, CA

Osprey hunts near Del Mar, CA

Shooting shorebirds near Del Mar, CA

Beautiful Point Loma, CA

Marbled Godwits on Tern Island - Chatham, MA

Read more.. Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Wild Cape Cod Notebook – Spring

Stunning Common Eider Drake

We are happy to back home on Cape Cod and over the past week have started to get back out in the field to see how the slow warming trends of spring here are signaling the changes and new wild visitors. Here are a few images we captured.

American Widgeon (male) in Ryders Cove

Eastern Bluebird returns! - Chatham

Common Eiders getting up and heading North

Very rare vagrant visits - a King Eider

Male Woodcock set to perform his amazing mating dance at dusk - Long Pasture Sanctuary

Northern Bobwhite pops out after a brief rain shower - Falmouth

Yellow Crowned Night Heron - looking for lunch - Sandwich

Read more.. Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Hawaii Journal: Rare and in Danger

Nene - an ancient goose

Palila in Mopane forest on Mauna Kea


Amakihi feeds in endemic ohia trees


Akiapola'au - Juvenile

Mature male Aki feeding

Juvenile Aki



Palila - these birds occupy the dry mopane forest

Hawaiian Akepa

Of Hawaii’s birds, the honeycreepers (Drepanidinae) are most famous, having put on what is arguably the world’s most dazzling display of adaptive radiation–an explosion of species from a single unspecialized ancestor to at least 54 species that filled available niches in the islands’ habitats. In fact, speciation in the Hawaiian honeycreepers dwarfs the famed radiation of Darwin’s 14  Galapagos finches. Robert Fleischer, Cheryl Tarr, and Carl McIntosh at the National Zoo’s Molecular Genetics Laboratory estimate that the honeycreepers’ ancestor arrived three to four million years ago; others put the arrival farther back, at closer to seven million years ago. This ancestor–one colonizing species of finch, possibly a  Eurasian rosefinch (Carpodacus sp.) or, less likely, the North American house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)–started what proved to be an evolutionary snowball. “There must have been a lot of open niches, and the birds hit the islands and speciated very rapidly,” says Fleischer, who studies the genetics of fossil and living Hawaiian birds. Rapidly, in terms of geologic time, is thought to be within the first 200,000 to 300,000 years after the first finch touch-down.

Nectar-feeding honeycreepers evolved dramatically curved bills designed for probing and extracting the nectar from the flowers of Hawaii’s endemic lobelias and other plants. Insectivorous honeycreepers developed thin, warbler-like bills for picking insects from the foliage. Seed-eaters developed stouter, stronger bills for cracking tough husks. Some species probed or cracked bark with strong hooked bills seeking wood-boring insects, thereby filling a niche woodpeckers do elsewhere.

Honeycreepers shared the islands with an array of other unique bird species. In 1991, Storrs L. Olson and Helen F. James of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History described for the first time 32 extinct species they identified from bones found in lava tubes, sinkholes, dunes, and excavated Polynesian refuse piles (middens) on the main Hawaiian Islands over the past 19 years. Three others had been previously described. When their analyses are through, at least 20 more species will likely be added.  These recent findings conjure up a vision of an almost mythical world where birds, not mammals, dominated. Large flightless waterfowl called moa nalos were the islands’ large herbivores. A harrier, a hawk, an eagle, and four owls topped the food chain as predators. No mammals patrolled the ground (Hawaii’s only native land mammal is a bat), and, with the need to fly gone, many of the castaway bird species, such as endemic ducks, ibis, and rails, lost their powers of flight.

'Io , Hawaiian Hawk (white phase)

'Io (dark phase)

The rare `akia pola`au occurs in only a few areas of upper elevation on the Big Island. Its bill is the most unusual in the honeycreeper family. The lower bill is short, straight, and stout. With mouth agape, it is used to chisel holes, woodpecker style. The upper bill is long, curved, and slender. It is used to probe, pierce, and pull insects and caterpillars from the hole. The male is brilliant yellow with a black mask; the female is dull green with a less distinctive mask and slightly shorter bill.

The `akepa is an insect-eating bird with a short, straight bill. The male is blaze orange; the female is gray-green with tinges of yellow or orange on the breast. It is the only Hawaiian honeycreeper that always nests in natural tree cavities.

The largest endangered forest bird in Hawaii is the ‘Io (Hawaiian Hawk). It is frequently seen soaring high above the tree canopy in search of birds, large insects, mice, and rats. Rarely seen in the 1960s and 1970s, hawks are now frequently observed from the coast to the tree line on mountain slopes.

Hawaiian Thrush - Omao

Read more.. Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Chatham Fall Journal: Pictures in Nature

On a recent visit from my friend Wayne, I made a conscious decision to embark on an early morning birding excursion without bringing my camera. Wayne is an avid birder who doesn’t get to wander on the outer beaches of Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge very often so I was keen on making sure he had a good experience. Common practice for birders here is to have good binoculars but especially for small shorebirds to pack a spotting scope on a tripod. We each decided to bring a scope. Though a beautiful early morning we did not have favorable tidal conditions ( a falling tide) forcing us to anchor in fairly deep water before wading out to examine a large mixed flock of shorebirds foraging along the waters edge. The light was mellow and the birds showed well in golden light as they jostled around while feeding aggressively for their next hop in the long flight south.

As we eased our way in shallow water toward the flock we began to scan for the birds that were different hoping to find a rare vagrant. This is a “bird watcher” thing. In this case we were looking at a flock of maybe three hundred Black Bellied Plovers in non breeding plumage with a few dunlins, sanderlings and ruddy turnstones mixed in. The Black bellies’ were a bit drab compared to the dramatic black markings of the breeders we might see heading north in the spring. One particular bird caught our attention and we trained the scopes on it hoping to see the subtle differences that indicate the rare American Golden Plover. This bird species occasionally passes through Cape Cod beaches heading south. At this moment I was just beginning to regret NOT bringing my camera….when the entire flock of birds exploded into the air in flight. The target of our observation was now lost amongst the blizzard of panicked birds. Experienced birders know that this sort of excitement can be caused by the sudden presence of a predator threat so we immediately scanned to see. Within seconds a perfectly silent deadly attacker came streaking in about 6 feet off the beach at 60 miles an hour. “Peregrine!” I yelled. ..very excited but now really regretting I did not have my camera. Wayne corrected me and said ,”Merlin, looks like a female” (NOTE: the female merlin is slightly larger than the male but both falcons are considerably smaller than a peregrine.

What was to happen next are one of those experiences you cannot soon forget. As the streaking falcon came into the panicked flock she quickly picked out one of the tiny dunlins as her target narrowly missing with extended talons on the first strike. Stunned into jaw dropping wonder we watched as the merlin darted and the dunlin flailed as the rest of the flock separated to a safe distance oscillating in erratic flight. In one panicked motion the little dunlin headed directly for us – the two gawking bird watchers standing in knee high water and looking like some kind of cover. Whoosh – the falcon bolted over our heads and swung tightly in pursuit of the poor shorebird who was in the flight of its life and had pivoted back to the beach. With predator precision the merlin climbed up to about 50 feet overhead and then dove into a blistering stoop with talons extended and this time struck the dunlin with such force about three feet above the water that both birds powered into the sea with a massive splash. Unlike ospreys, falcons of this type are not comfortable in water and this maneuver could have been dangerous for lift off – soaking wet is difficult. In this case the dunlin was left stunned and floating in the water while the merlin struggled to attain lift with totally drenched feathers hoping to gain altitude and set up for another strike to retrieve its now helpless stunned prey. At this very moment however, an attentive Greater Black backed Gull who had been carefully observing the melee, now launched from a nearby beach position, crashing into the water and plunged its wide open beak over the still bewildered dunlin, engulfing the hapless shorebird in one gulp! YIKES!

Meanwhile the Merlin, still soaked and having missed the gull’s surgical strike was in a frantic search overhead looking for her prey,  flying back and forth , alternately hovering to try to see the meal she had worked so hard to procure. Alas it was not to be. After about 2 or 3 minutes of searching she made her way back to the beach and perched on a piece of driftwood to dry off. Wayne and I looked at each other and mused that with my camera I may have captured one of nature’s great spectacles but we also agreed the odds were better that while trying to follow the battle in a view finder I would more likely have missed the action altogether.

The pictures included here were taken at a different time just to give you a little sense of the actors in this natural drama.

Merlin in flight - nature's stealth fighter

Greater Black backed Gull in "conversation" with a Common Tern

Dunlin in a calmer setting

Read more.. Sunday, October 7th, 2012