CONGRATULATIONS to my eldest (Sarah) for recently becoming engaged to Ben Yudysky! She is the person responsible for the creation of this blog over ten years ago. A trip to Miami to celebrate them was in order. Bonus for me – a code 5 Cuban/Central American Red-legged Honeycreeper that eluded me (twice) in Texas last Autumn, had just appeared last week, twenty minutes from their Brickell apartment. Presumably the Fall tropical storms sent a few of these individuals north to our Gulf states and this particular female had remained undiscovered through the winter.

American Airlines has a 6am non-stop flight to Miami that enabled me to start looking for this diminutive member of the tanager family by 10am on Good Friday. I anticipated another needle-in-the-haystack search. However, within minutes of my arrival, two friendly gentlemen appeared on the scene. They had driven 17 hours from Harrisburg to chase their target!

After only 90 minutes of birding Brewer Park, one of the fellows located a quiet bird in a leafless tree, basically in the same spot this specialty had been reported previously. HONEYCREEPER! She briefly preened and then moved across the street to probe the pods of a fig tree with her oversized bill. For fifteen minutes we three fired off dozens of digital photos.

This morning Ben suggested we look for the LaSagra’s Flycatcher on Key Biscayne. A code 4 that I had seen ten years ago but eluded him earlier in the week. Oh, I forgot to mention that Ben DID see the Red-Legged Honeycreeper a few days before my arrival. Was Sarah marrying someone in her Dad’s image? Maybe Ben only birds for MEGA-rarities? I’m sure our Family will have fun with this:).


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I am still smiling after picking up the code 4 Nutting’s Flycatcher – ABA lifer #811. As promised, here are a sampling of photographs of other birds seen in the canyons of Southeastern Arizona. Enjoy!

(Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona)
(Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona)
MEXICAN JAY (Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona)
(Ramsey Canyon Inn, Hereford, Arizona)
BROAD-BILLED HUMMINGBIRD (Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona)
RIVOLI’S HUMMINGBIRD (Ramsey Canyon Inn, Hereford, Arizona)
(Ramsey Canyon Inn, Hereford, Arizona)
(Ramsey Canyon Inn, Hereford, Arizona)
PAINTED REDSTART (Paige Creek, Pima, Arizona)
VERMILION FLYCATCHER (Paige Creek, Pima, Arizona)
GRAY HAWKS (Paige Creek, Pima, Arizona)
Posted in Quest for 700 (*800!) | 21 Comments


I had no intention of traveling to Arizona until Nina mentioned she had a business trip to Phoenix. The timing coincided with my spring break so I decided to hit SE Arizona before joining her for the upcoming weekend. My objective was to obtain photographs of the wonderful birds that frequent the canyons in the mountains south of Tucson.

I was chasing colorful and common birds not rarities. Some of those photos will be an upcoming blogpost. BUT….the discovery of the code 4 NUTTING’S FLYCATCHER on Tuesday… in the same remote spot it was located last spring, altered my plans somewhat.

My bed & breakfast in the stunning Ramsey Canyon Preserve was only a 90 minute drive to the target bird. However, the last 17 miles are on unpaved roads in the Coronado National Forest, crossing no fewer than six flowing creeks. Fortunately, the Hertz “Manager’s Special” provided me with a sturdy SUV capable of handling these tough conditions.

No wonder I did not see another human for the next six hours! Unfortunately the bird didn’t appear or I simply missed it. This flycatcher vocalizes very infrequently, is somewhat skittish and at only 6-8 inches, not that conspicuous. I returned to Ramsey Canyon with some wonderful shots of common birds but no Nutting’s. Of course, I had to try again today.

I skipped the B & B’s delicious breakfast, and arrived at dawn, three hours earlier than yesterday. Surprisingly, two other cars were already parked by the area close to “the spot”. Two guides with eager clients in tow were already searching the sycamores, cottonwoods and creek beds for any sign of Mr. Nutting’s. Heavy winds kept things quiet and after four hours I was beginning to despair. But then I saw one of the guides (Nolan) in the distance move quickly towards a thicket. He kindly motioned to me across the creek. One of those urgent-like motions. Within thirty seconds, I waded a straight line across the creek and joined him and his elated client viewing the bird!

I discreetly handed Nolan a bill from my wallet and said: “Thank you. I don’t believe I would have found this guy by myself. Buy yourself lunch and a beer”. At first, Nolan politely refused my spontaneous gesture. I insisted. Then he sheepishly smiled at me and stated: “I’m only nineteen”.

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PA Landfill hosts a (potential) CODE 5!

I have always been fascinated by landfills. In a previous life, I was the Operations Director of The Waste System Authority of Montgomery County (Pa). My responsibility was to license and regulate the municipal waste haulers and, in the interest of protecting the environment, make sure they disposed their trash loads in a properly lined, EPA-approved landfill or a (more expensive) waste-to-energy facility. My Ohio State master’s thesis (1995) was written about the future of Ohio’s county landfills and thus I visited every single one in that state.

Lucky for me, interesting birds can be found at landfills. My lifer (first) Mexican Crow was spotted at the Brownsville dump in Texas. Duluth, Minnesota’s landfill wasn’t my trip’s primary destination but it did produce a Snowy Owl along with some unusual gulls. On December 19th, 2022 a code 5 Common Shelduck was spotted in one of the pond’s on the Lebanon County (Pa) landfill’s property.

The Common Shelduck is common in the UK, Europe and Asia but NOT in the USA. It is a popular pet among American farmers so many sightings have been deemed “not countable” as domestic birds are not accepted on the American Birding Association (ABA) check list. However, recent studies have shown that breeding populations of this large, strong flyer are moving closer to Iceland and the eastern USA.

This particular bird is very skittish, lacks leg-bands and has perfect feathers. All signs pointing towards being a WILD individual. This potential mega-rarity was still present on January 2 and sat only 86 miles from Haverford. Serious “FOMO” (fear of missing out) was setting in last night so I decided to drive west this morning…..twelve hours after arriving home from a two week respite in Vermont.

The landfill operators have entertained hundreds of curious/anxious birders since December 19th. They conveniently placed orange cones on the road marking the spot to park. Then they constructed a bridge across a creek to an aerated pond where this goose-like duck was an easy spot among several mallards.


Stay tuned but I have a feeling this is ABA Area #810 for me. Happy 2023!!

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The best chance one has to see and possibly photograph the very elusive yellow rail, a small chicken-like bird, is to attend the Yellow Rail & Rice Festival in Lafayette, Louisiana. The yellow rail breeds in northern Canada and spends the winter in our Gulf Coast marshes. Louisiana is our second-largest rice-producing state and the second harvest of the year, also known as ratoon, occurs in Autumn. This amazing example of cooperation between rice farmers and birdwatchers has been an annual late October event for over a decade.

I decided to trek to southwestern Louisiana to witness this spectacle. I was joined by my intrepid friend, Joe Knowles, who tallied the mega-rare Steller’s Sea-Eagle with me in Maine on New Year’s Day. Joe had worked in Lafayette in the early 1980’s and he couldn’t resist the opportunity to revisit the heart of Cajun & Creole country.

As the farmers drive their combines through the rice fields, birders watch for wildlife – generally rails – which are harmlessly flushed from their hunkered down positions by the loud noise of these huge machines. The birders have an option to sit in the cab, ride alongside the combines in ATV’s, or walk quickly alongside the vehicles paralleling their path. Safety is of utmost importance so many green-vested volunteers shepherd the eager birders and keep them a safe distance from the equipment.

After about an hour, most of the festival’s 75 participants had viewed at least one weak-flying yellow rail. Their large white wing patches are very visible in flight and immediately distinguish them from the other more common rail species that also frequent the fields. But the rails fly a very short distance before settling down beneath the level of the crop. How would I obtain a decent photograph?

Thankfully a group of bird-banders had joined the party and set up their mist nets in one corner of the property. One yellow rail was captured, albeit very briefly, for ornithological research purposes.

Of course, I was pleased to record ABA (USA & Canada) area # 809. But even more enjoyable was witnessing Joe tabulate this rarity to go along with his code 5 Eurasian eagle. Baseball analogy – his lifelist’s “slugging average” is reminiscent of Bryce Harper’s monster play-off performance.


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Bird Tales: A Lifetime Pursuit

Dear loyal blog followers, I am pleased to inform you that my “bird book” was published yesterday and is available for purchase on Amazon. This 120 page manuscript is basically autobiographical and ties many of my blog posts together chronologically. In short, it captures my quest to see as many birds as possible in the ABA Area (USA & Canada). I hope you choose to order it ($29.95 hardcover) – I profit a whopping $4 for each sale:), read it and send me your comments.

THANK YOU for helping to motivate me to reach (and surpass!) my goal of seeing 800 bird species in my lifetime, as well as documenting this marathon effort in print. The front and back covers are pictured below.

Sincerely, George

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What are the odds (x2)!?

The Oriental Turtle-Dove ranges mainly from Asia to Japan. Technically it has now been seen three times in California but realistically the chances of seeing one in the USA are basically 0% (see #221 below).

I received a NARBA (North American Rare Bird Alert) text that a presumed wild Oriental Turtle-Dove was identified in Palo Alto on February 2nd….while I was preparing for our February 10th Alumni gathering in San Francisco. Frankly, I had never heard of this species. It doesn’t even have a range map in the field guides but heck, a potential ”lifer” is always exciting.

The bird was continuously seen for a couple of minutes every morning around 7:30am before disappearing into a residential area from the 2nd through the 10th. I arrived at dawn on Friday, the 11th and took my place among fifteen or so anxious birders at the ”stake-out” area.

By 7:30 am the crowd had grown to over 50. One elderly lady mumbled ”It isn’t going to show” and walked despondently back to her car. I wondered how she could give up so easily but maybe she was a local and had already seen it. By 8:15 I thought she could be right. Ugh! Then at 8:25 a voice rang out: “in the redwood!”. It was right in front of me about 50 yards away!! Binoculars first for the positive ID and then quick, camera, need a photo for this blog! No more than thirty seconds elapsed and it was gone. But I knew I had captured it. I had a similar confident feeling of exhilaration as the Olympic snowboarder who nailed her first half-pipe (and won gold!). A reach comparison, perhaps, but not for me! Check out the diagnostic orange-red eye!

Oriental Turtle-Dove (Palo Alto)

During the chaotic moment of birders scrambling to view and photograph the dove I noticed a young guy that I thought could be our friend’s son from Sacramento. Three years ago I had shown him a rare Garganey (Eurasian duck) and I am very proud to write that he caught the birding bug after that special experience. But by the time I had snapped my photos, calmed down and gathered my wits, he was gone. So I texted him and immediately my phone rang. Miles Horton and his friend (Alex Albright) had indeed witnessed the same spectacle I had. The pleasure seeing them and satisfaction I felt knowing I had helped inspire a life-long hobby in another person far outweighed seeing ABA AREA #807.

Posted in Quest for 700 (*800!) | 16 Comments


I was hesitating to write any more blogs partly because I have surpassed my goal of seeing 800 species in the USA/Canada but mainly because I did not want to diminish the significance of my recent post recording the INCREDIBLE Steller’s Sea-Eagle sighting. However….the past 24 hours were so unusual, so exhilarating, so unprecedented….I had to share the stories/photos somewhere with somebody. YOU!

The American Birding Association (ABA) defines a code 5 species as one that has been seen five or fewer times in the ABA Area…EVER. Code 6 is extinct. I have seen less than ten code 5 birds in my lifetime. When the opportunity to see THREE (3) code 5 birds in one weekend presented itself, there was no question I would try. Even the leading bird-tour companies are scrambling to offer trips in February, praying these Mexican/Central American vagrants stick around.

Logistically, frequent flier miles pretty much covered the airfare and car rental for a South Texas swing combined with a slight side trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico. With an upcoming Holiday weekend, 72 hours was sufficient time to have a chance to go “three for three” – a hat trick in sports parlance. Seeing one of these three species would be nice, two was my expectation and three was simply too exciting to imagine.

The Central American Bat Falcon had NEVER been reported in the USA until December 18, 2021. It is not even mentioned in the National Geographic field guide nor my phone-app. Guaranteed to be coded a ”5” when accepted by the ABA records committee, the Bat Falcon was being seen fairly regularly in the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge near McAllen, Texas. It had developed a pattern of perching on a certain telephone pole on Highway 281 outside the Refuge at crepuscular hours.

My flight from Houston to McAllen arrived in time for me to wait and watch with 60 other birders on a foggy Thursday evening. Nothing. A similarly-sized group assembled ten hours later outside the Refuge entrance before Friday’s dawn. A fly-by American Kestrel elicited several gasps from the anxious crowd. The kestrel is a relative of and similar in appearance to our Batman-looking falcon. Three hours later we had yet to see it. At this point I decided to drive the 60 miles to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) and chase the code 5 Social Flycatcher; then return for another crack at the Bat Falcon.

The Social Flycatcher had been hanging around the UTRGV campus for a couple of weeks. Once I figured out that I had been searching for an hour from the wrong bridge on campus, I found several birders focused on branches overhanging the body of water. I heard the diagnostic ”squeaky toy” call and bam….there was the Social in my view.

After picking up the Social, I birded my way back along the Rio Grande Valley, returning to the Bat Falcon stake-out pole at 4:00pm. Patience is a virtue and birdwatching has helped me develop this weakness of mine. More than an hour passed and nothing except some birdy conversations with folks from Illinois, California and Corpus Christie had ensued. Then at 5:50pm a fellow far to my left hollered: ”That’s it! Flying towards the pole!!”. For the next twenty minutes the Bat Falcon posed on the telephone pole in fading light.



(Santa Ana NWR, Texas)

Full of adrenaline from the success of this last-minute appearance, the 6am flight to El Paso and subsequent two hour drive to pursue the elusive code 5 Blue Mockingbird in New Mexico was not an inconvenience. E-bird was providing hourly reports and the chances of seeing it Saturday afternoon were 50/50. Upon arriving at the much publicized Rattlesnake Campground spot at 12:45, I was surprised that only one other birder was scouting the vast area.

I patiently waited near the deer skull marking a creek-side Cutleaf Hackberry bush where the shy bird was seen at 7am. One hour, then two, then three hours passed. Several birders came and went. I ticked 18 species including a Hermit Thrush and Brown Thrasher in the distant tangles across the stream….both looked very much like our target at first glimpse. But no. At 5pm the sun had dropped below the tree-line and I was beginning to think about reserving a hotel in Carlsbad and return Sunday morning. My flight home was booked for Monday anyway.

The quiet was interrupted by a mockingbird’sh sound to my right. I stood up from my log seat and walked around the corner. Just maybe. Please. Three guys were viewing the interior of a nearby fruiting Hackberry tree. BLUE MOCKINGBIRD! It disappeared across the creek after 90 seconds.



(Carlsbad, New Mexico)

The impending snow storm allowed me to switch my flight to Sunday morning – without any charges:). My lucky weekend. I should be home in time to watch my favorite green-jerseyed birds.

Go E-A-G-L-E-S!

Posted in Quest for 700 (*800!) | 30 Comments


The intrepid Steller’s Sea-Eagle is basically an endangered species native to Russia and Japan. It had NEVER been spotted in Canada or the Lower 48 states until this past summer. Startlingly, one was photographed in New Brunswick, Canada in July, 2021. Covid and location made it impossible for anyone but the game wardens to see it. This vagrant disappeared after a few days and a month later showed up near Halifax, Nova Scotia. After another brief visit, it wasn’t located again until early December …..in Taunton, Massachusetts. Again, a two-day stay and poof…..the “largest eagle in the world” (20 pounds with an eight foot wingspan) was gone. Not to be found again until 3:30pm on December 30….in Georgetown, Maine. National publications have been tracking this incredible individual’s travels.



Lucky for me, I was only 268 miles from Georgetown on Friday, December 31. But it was New Year’s eve. Family and friends were planning to gather at our Vermont home. Was there time to chase this MEGA-rarity, maintain relationships and show up at work on Monday? Yes! Provided one sleeps only three hours, has a VERY understanding spouse, flexible houseguests and a forgiving daughter and agreeable paddle tennis teammates who had already been “calendared” on January 1 & 2 for activities in Haverford, Pa.

Accompanied by my adventurous buddy (Joe Knowles), we left Vermont at 4am New Year’s day, arranged to collect my lifelong friend Jeff Dingle…..THE friend that introduced me to birding in 1968….in NH, and headed to Maine. By 9am we had not received any sighting reports so we drove to the spot our bird was last seen a day earlier. But where were the birders? We expected to see a crowd given that 250 people had posted on e-bird December 31st. Then Joe checked his phone for any possible listserv updates.

We drove the foggy and winding 2.9 miles (in what felt like an hour) to the Five Islands Lobster Company located at the end of a pier. As we approached the sea coast, dozens of cars lined the road. Our hearts raced as we knew the distant bird could disappear behind an island at any moment or become obscured by the accumulating fog. Thankfully the birding Gods delivered an impossibly wonderful New Year’s gift.

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope your 2022 starts off as well as ours did.

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ABA AREA #800!

Apologies for bombarding you with blogposts today but I promise….this is IT for awhile. Besides, I need to keep doing something to fight the red-eye jet lag:)

After the excitement of Mr. Middendorff, my mind immediately shifted to: #800 has to be special. Really special. But I cannot control things out there in Gambell….so relax. Yeah, right. I couldn’t sleep that night as I imagined the possibilities for #800. The Gray-tailed Tattler (code 3) was the most likely statistically but not what I envisioned. Lesser Sand-Plover? Maybe. Another possibility was returning home stuck at 799. Not a bad outcome. But I was there to rack up new birds and I didn’t want to go ”oh-for” the last four days.

The day after Mr. Middendorff’s appearance started like every other Gambell day. Coffee, two hours at the Sea-watch followed by a sweep of the Far & Circular bone-yards. The elusive Stonechat was on our minds as several of us climbed rocky slopes looking for that specialty. Nada. After lunch we kept to the routine of marching through the Near bone-yard when the call came. Far bone-yard, SIBERIAN ACCENTOR. What a cool name I thought. I only knew a little about this Code 4. A native of northern Siberia, it’s a small, shy, sparrow-like bird with beautiful streaked patterns on its head.

Aaron shuttled most of the participants via ATV while two of us power-walked the 3/4 mile at a very brisk pace. The entire group viewed this migrant up close. S-A-T-I-S-F-A-C-T-I-O-N.


SIBERIAN ACCENTOR in wormwood vegetation

GCW & Guide extraordinaire Aaron Lang

Truth be told, we found that Tattler two days later. #801. Now what?!

Gray-tailed Tattler (Troutman Lake, Gambell, Alaska)

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