The Non-Bird Animals

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Birds were not the only critters we saw a lot of in Costa Rica. We also saw 17 species of mammals. By far Russell’s favorite was the Northern Tamandua, a type of anteater.

Here they are with the location and date of the first observation. The names follow A Field Guide to the Mammals of Central American and Southest Mexico 1997, by Fiona A. Reid.

  • Crab-eating Raccoon (Procyon lotor) Sotavento II, 10 August 2019

  • White-faced Capuchin (Cebus capucinus) Sotavento ii, 11 August 2019

  • Varigated Squirrel (Sciurus variegatoides) Sotavento ii, 11 August 2019

  • Brown-throated Three-toed Sloth (Bradypus variegates) Sotavento II, 12 August 2019

  • Mantled Howler (Alouatta pigra) Manuel Antonio NP, 13 August 2019

  • Red-backed Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri oerstedii) Manuel Antonio NP, 13 August 2019

  • Heller’s Browd-nosed Bat (Platyrrhinus helleri) Manuel Antonio NP, 13 August 2019. My id could be wrong, but this seems to be the best fit for when and where we saw it. We saw many bats, big ones, little ones, black ones, and brown ones. They are just impossible to identify unless you have them in your hand.

  • Northern Tamandua (Tamandua mexicana) Carara NP, 14 August 2019

  • Central American Aguti (Dasyprocta punctuata) Blue River Resort Area, 15 August 2019

  • White-nosed Coati (Nasua narica) Blue River Resort Area, 15 August 2019

  • Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus) Blue River Resort Area, 15 August 2019

  • Hoffman’s Two-towed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanniI) Blue River Resort Area, 15 August 2019

  • White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) Santa Rosa NP, 16 August 2019

  • Central American Spider Monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) Santa Rosa NP, 16 August 2019

  • A small unidentified rodent, Rincón de la Vieja, 17 August 2019. Actually, this was the only small mouse/rat type rodent we saw on the trip.

  • Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctusI), La Fortuna, 19 August 2019

  • Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) Irazú Volcano NP, 22 August 2019

If anyone can help me identify the reptiles that would be great. I don’t have any good references for Central American reptiles.

Costa Rican Travel Tips

First line of advice: Choose your travel companions very carefully.

First line of advice: Choose your travel companions very carefully.

Length of your stay

By this I mean length of your stay per location. In 1991, Mary and I stayed 5 days at each hotel. We both felt that was too long. During our 2019 visit, we stayed four days at each location and that seemed about right. This was plenty of time to do day trips from the hotel and then use the 4th day as a travel day to our next location. You might have guessed that the type of travel that we like is to keep moving. If you have a week and just want a resort to relax in without worrying about anything else, there are plenty of places in Costa Rica to suit your needs. We did a different thing every day with most of our day trips being about an hour to an hour and a half drive from the hotel. We did spend the first day at each location pretty close to the hotel. Each of our hotels were about three hours from each other which allowed us to see a broad swath of the northern half of the country. Also, aside from knowing which hotels we were staying in, we did not have a set itinerary. We had a general idea of what we wanted to see and do, but we pretty much figured things out the night before or the morning of our day out and about depending on our energy level. Weather was a concern as we were there during the rainy season. It did rain, but not that much. Definitely you could expect it once a day. Let’s just say we carried our raincoats more than we wore them, and we were only rained on once. On the other hand, it was pretty cloudy. The temperature was comfortable and nice and cool in the mountains.

Rental Cars

Of course, in order to employ an itinerary like ours you will need to have a rental car. Rental car companies in Coast Rica have a reputation of putting the screws to people for the smallest of things via the fine print in the rental agreement. There are some good recommendations on the internet, the best of which was (costa-rica-guide.com). I followed their advice and used Alamo. Knowing that the car was likely to come back pretty dirty and muddy, I took the plunge and got the full insurance coverage for the vehicle. This worked out well. When we returned the car, the person at Alamo looked and saw that we had full coverage. He made sure we left the keys and that was the end of it. He didn’t bother to look the car over. Within ten minutes we were on our way (five of those minutes was me looking over the car to make sure we didn’t leave anything in it).

Four-wheel drive vs. ground clearance

When we first visited Costa Rica in 1991, we read that if you visit any of the parks or places like Monteverde, a four-wheel drive vehicle is a must. Well, being a southern hick, I gave that idea the finger and proceeded to rent a small economy car. In the end, I was right, the small economy car worked out just fine and we saw everything we wanted including Monteverde. With our 2019 trip, we now had five people including luggage do deal with. So, in order to get something that fit, we went with a Toyota Forerunner type car that was four-wheel drive by default. In the end, I used the four-wheel drive once, on a road we went down by choice, knowing that we had four-wheel drive. If we didn’t have a four-wheel drive, we would not have gone down that particular road and still gotten to where we wanted to go.

We do strongly recommend a car with shocks because there are a lot of bumpy roads down there. Probably more important than four-wheel drive would be ground clearance in general. The difference in the roads between 1991 and 2019 is significant. In 1991 the trip from San Jose to Quepos on the Pacific Coast took the better part of a day, and (if I remember correctly) involved a lot of dirt roads. Today about half of the trip can be taken on a divided toll road and the rest on a paved, well developed, two lane highway with a total driving time of under three hours. That said there are still some fairly major roadways that are all dirt road. For instance, Route 917 that connects Guanacaste to the Caribbean lowlands in the northern end of the country is almost all dirt road with big pot holes. It connects to Route 4 which is unpaved, but pretty smooth, until reaches the town of Upala (if I remember correctly).

Along the dirt roads in rural areas I did see some small sedans, but they all were going pretty slow over the bumpy areas. In our SUV we could cruise along at a pretty good clip. We did not see a single Ferrari or Lamborghini on any road in Costa Rica. So, my ultimate recommendation is that the average tourist in Costa Rica traveling to the various and sundry national parks and beaches, does need to have a four-wheel drive vehicle, but something with a better than average ground clearance would work quite well.

My last thought on driving the roads in Costa Rica is that if Costa Ricans have a collective fault it would be their driving habits. They are relaxed and laid back in every way…except when they are behind the wheel of a car. You will get passed in every unsafe situation that you can think of while driving there. I recommend getting as far to the right as you can and just let them go.

Google Maps

Google maps did a pretty good job with getting us from one place to the other with one exception. When we were going to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, it sent us up the wrong side of the valley that we needed to be on, then guided us to an unpassable bridge. In this case we used our better judgement and backtracked to the correct route. That said, the quest to get to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest was one of our most enjoyable days of discovery of our whole trip.

Our Personal Safety

A lot of people that I have spoken to before and after our trip asked us how safe we felt being in a Central American country where we did not speak the language. I can honestly say that we did not ever feel unsafe at any point in our trip. Back in 1991, there were a few spots (Braulio Carrillo National Park in particular) that were pretty remote that were popular with birdwatchers who carried very expensive optical equipment. These places had a reputation for robbery, sometimes at gun point. I have trained myself to be on guard at all times when I am out in remote areas birding. On a scale from 1 to 10, with a 10 being “I wouldn’t go there if you paid me,” I would put my level of concern in the remote areas that I visited between 2-4. In contrast, I would put many of my regular birding and beetle collecting spots close to home between 7 and 9, and yes, there are a few places at home that are at a 10 where I just don’t go.

Dollars vs. Colones and cash vs. credit card

For our 2019 trip, we took about $1000 in cash. I kept half and Mary kept half. We exchanged about $400 into Costa Rican Colones. In the end would could have come home with about $990 of that cash untouched, and $400 in Colones was way too much local currency. Costa Ricans will readily accept dollars. The only place that we used Colones that I can remember were toll roads. Even there, I think we could have used dollars. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere for everything. The entrance fees to parks, gas, the smallest of roadside sodas, all accepted my credit card. I would recommend taking cash as a backup in case of emergency or if you lose your card, and I would recommend get only a small amount in Colones ($50 to $100).

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Food and Water

The resorts and hotels will have food options that are safe and generally expensive. I recommend that you go out and seek the local sodas where the Costa Ricans eat. They are good and very inexpensive. We kept a bag of snacks and PB&J in the car or hotel room. We could generally get by having the hotel breakfast and a later meal at a soda or restaurant. If we had lunch at a soda, we could skip dinner by just having a PB&J, if you wanted it. Usually, no one did. Also, the water is safe to drink in all areas of the country that I know of. If you just are uncomfortable drinking tap water in a foiregn country, bottled water is available everywhere.

Phone Service

We used the ATT international plan. When Emily and I went to Croatia in 2016 we used that plan which cost $30 per phone at that time. It worked great. This time it was $60 per phone with only one gig of data, and $0.35 per minute for phone calls with unlimited texting. Well the texting didn’t work well at all (some text arriving hours after it was sent) and the one gig went pretty fast. After the one gig of data it was gone it was $50 per gig which they are happy to add on without telling you. In short, it sucked and was very expensive (about $450). The reason I wanted it is because I would be able to use the find my phone app (or “find my family” app). This did function enough at times. We used it once to find Emily’s phone which fell out of her pocket when she was taking pictures of macaws. We were able to locate the phone in tall grass.

I don’t know what other options are there for international phone use, but I would have to think that they would all be cheaper than ATT. I asked ATT customer service why it was so expensive and the person told me it was because the “technology has gotten better.” What? The other plan that ATT really wanted me to have as their best deal ever was $10 a day per phone charged only if the phone was turned on. So, if I wanted to text or use GPS, which we all did daily, it would have cost $750 for our family to use their phone for the trip. I told them that this sucked. Their response was “just don’t turn on the phone.” I asked them how would I communicate with my kids. Their answer “well then it would be $10 a day.” I told them again that their plans sucked…a lot.

Lastly, behave yourself at the airport or they will put you in a time out.

Lastly, behave yourself at the airport or they will put you in a time out.



Our Big Costa Rican Bird List 2019

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Birding in Costa Rica 

Thoughts and notes on biring in Costa Rica 28 years apart

Our first visit to Costa Rica was in July 1991. I don’t have the full list of species seen at that time but it exceeded 300 species as compared to the 216 species tallied on our 2019 trip. We spent more time at a variety of elevations in 1991 than our recent visit which accounts for most of the difference in species count. Also, on the 1991 trip we only spent one day on the Caribbean side of the country. However, as luck would have it, that day on our short stop at Braulio Carrillo National Park we encountered a very large mixed flock of birds. Russell picked up more lifers per hour of birding there than any other time in my life. Also in that flock was the most memorable bird of the trip, a Lanceolated Monklet at eyelevel a little more than an arm length away from me. 

On this recent trip our time was split about half and half between the Pacific and Caribbean sides. However, the vast majority of that time was in the lowlands (0-500 m) or in the low end of the middle elevations (500-1000 m). Only one day was spent at an elevation between 1000-1500 m and one day at very high elevation of +3000. We also did not encounter a mixed flock of birds like the one in mentioned above in 1991. Most of the birds were ticked off one or two at a time throughout the course of the day. 

We also found that it there is not really a morning flurry of birds at daybreak like it is here in North America. Some mornings there was a very low amount of activity at dawn. Some days we would run across the type of activity I would expect at dawn later in the day. 

Another important difference in our 1991 trip and my recent visit is the advancement of some technologies were not available way back then. The first of these is light. Russell invested a lot of time birding in the first hours after sunset and the first couple of hours before dawn. We have a small LED flashlight and a LED head lamp that can cast shadow puppet images on the moon. The number of nighttime birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects that were seen this time went up very sharply. I saw no nocturnal birds on my 1991 trip.

The second is the iPhone and a couple of birding apps that are available for Costa Rica: the first of these apps is Costa Rica Birds – Field Guide (BirdingFieldGuides.com) and BirdsSounds Costa Rica 1.1 (BirdingApps.com). Both of these are available on the Apple App Store. The first has range maps and photographs of birds with brief descriptions for ID and life history information which was marginally helpful at times, especially the range maps. The real advancement with these apps is that they both have bird vocalizations for just about every bird found in Costa Rica and can be played on demand. That is invaluable and an awesome tool for both birding and field ornithology. 

For identification in the field Russell still prefers a hard copy of a field guide. In 1991 the only option was the A Guied to the Birds of Costa Rica, by Stiles and Skutch 1989. For our recent trip Russell preferred the Birds of Costa Rica, A Field Guide, Second Edition (Garrigues and Dean 2014). It was small enough to fit in the pocket of Russell’s cargo pants and it included range maps which are very much preferred over descriptions of the bird’s range. 

See the rest of our bird photos here.

COSTA RICA BIRDS

Annotated list of birds seen and heard by Russell Rogers and a few of his family members, 10-24 August 2019

I should note that I didn’t break my neck to get the highest trip or daily total possible. The focuse was on finding birds that were not likely to be seen in North America. For example, the mudflats on the Tarcoles River had many migrating shorebirds already. I scanned the mudflats for things like Collared Plovers or Southern Lapwings but didn’t spend any time sorting out peeps.

On the list below lifers are denoted with an asterisk (*). A list of capitalized place names with GPS coordinates and photos of some of the areas can be found here

 TINAMOUS –These were heard only. If you visit any region that has tinamous it pays to learn their calls beforehand. In 1991 the only tinamou I saw as a Highland Tinamou at the famous dirt road at KM marker 66 on the Carretera Interamericana (see Stiles and Skutch 1989, p. 475, location number 50). I did not know any of their calls in 1991. This trip, being a little more prepared I heard them frequently in all areas that I visited. 

  • Highland Tinamou– Heard calling at Children’s Enternal Rain Forest. 

  • Great Tinamou*– Heard calling at in forest near Hotel Punta Leona, (8/12), at Carara NP (8/13), at Manuel Antonio NP (8/14), and at Arenal NP (8/20). 

  • Little Tinamou*– Heard calling at in forest near Hotel Punta Leona (8/13), at Manuel Antonio NP (8/14), at Arenal NP (8/20) and near La Fortuna (8/21). 

  • Thicket Tinamou*– Heard calling at Santa Rosa NP (8/16).

  • Slaty-breasted Tinamou*– Heard calling near La Fortuna (8/19), and at Arenal NP (8/20), and along Calle 508 near San Carlos (8/22).

DUCKS

  • Black-bellied Duck– Many were seen along in the Tarcoles River Area and in fields along the highways driving to and from places on the pacific side of our stay and at Santa Rosa NP (8/10). I did not see any on the Caribbean side.

  • Muscovy Duck– A few seen in wet fields in the Tarcoles River Area. At the Blue River Resort where we stayed (8/15 to 8/18) there was a small pond where they had a number of domesticated waterfowl, including Muscovy Ducks. Some of the Muscovy Ducks showed no signs of domestication in their plumage and were quite weary when you approached the pond, flying off to the far end of the adjacent wet meadow. 

CURASSOWS AND GUANS

  • Crested Guan*– Several birds were seen on the hike to the Tarcoles River in Carara NP (8/12). They were common in Arenal NP, a male and female at our Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/21) and 1 along Calle 508 near San Carlos (8/22). 

  • Great Curassow*– Amongst the more memorable observations of the trip was watching four males slowly forage along the forest floor in Rincón de la Vieja NP (8/17). A few days later 3 females and two males were seen at Arenal NP (8/20). 

STORKS

  • Wood Stork– Wood Storks were common around the Tarcoles River Area. There was a tree just on the edge of the town of Camaronal that would have 40 or 50 storks roosting in it at night. At sunrise from the Playa Pógeres I would see small groups (up to 10) of Wood Storks flying over the surf towards the south. My assumption is that they were dispersing from those roost near Camaronal. 

FRIGATEBIRDS

  • Magnificent Frigatebird– These were almost constantly overhead during our stay at Hotel Punta Leona on the Pacific Coast. 

 BOOBIES

  • Masked Booby*– This was probably the biggest surprise bird of the trip. There is a small unnamed island off shore from Manuel Antonio NP (I’m calling it Booby Island) which has a sizable nesting population of Brown Boobies. With my scope I could just make out a single adult Masked Booby sitting on the top of the island amongst the Brown Boobies. 

  • Brown Booby– The rocky island at Manuel Antonio NP with the nesting colony on it mentioned above is the place where I saw my lifer Brown Booby in 1991. They are still there!

 CORMORANTS

  • Neotropical Cormorant– Common in the Tarcoles River Area.

 PELICANS

  • Brown Pelican– Common along the Pacific shoreline. 

 HERONS

  • Bare-throated Tiger Heron*– A single adult was roosted in the same spot nightly with the Wood Stork colony at the town of Camaronal mentioned above. An adult was flushed from a very small pond at the Blue River Resort (8/17) and a juvenile was perched on top of the Rio Arenal Bridge near San Carols (8/22). 

  • Great Egret– One was seen on the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14). One was seen daily around the small ponds at the Blue River Resort. 

  • Little Blue Heron– A single adult was seen on the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14).

  • Cattle Egret– These were common on the Pacific lowlands north through Guanacaste region where cattle and other livestock were the predominate form of agriculture. They were less common on the Caribbean slope. 

  • Green Heron– Two were seen in a small pond near Camaronal (8/12 and 8/14). 

  • Yellow-crowned Night-Heron– 3-5 on the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14). 

IBISES and SPOONBILLS

  • White Ibis– Seed daily in all locations on Pacific coast portion of our stay. 

  • Glossy Ibis– A single bird at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/12). According to the field guide, this bird was south of its normal range in Costa Rica. 

  • Roseate Spoonbill– A single bird at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14).

NEW WORLD VULTURES

  • Black Vulture– Very common, seen at nearly every location we visited. 

  • Turkey Vulture– Very common, seen at nearly every location we visited.

  • King Vulture– A single bird soaring overhead at Sotavento II (8/11), and one (kiting like a Red-tailed Hawk!) near the town of Liceo el Consuelo (8/16), and three perched on a large snag along Rio Peñas Blancas (8/21).

HAWKS, KITES, and EAGLES

  • White-tailed Kite– A couple overhead at Hotel Bougainvillea (8/22).

  • [Ornate Hawk-Eagle– Arrgh! While eating lunch at Soda El Guacimo (8/12) Ilooked up to catch a glimpse of a large raptor flying past. From what I saw in that brief moment the only bird it could have been was an Ornate Hawk-Eagle. However, the look was so brief that I can’t in good conscience add it to the trip list or to my life list. Ironically, in 1991, when we were at Manuel Antonio NP I ran into a birder who was a local guide for Victor Manuel Bird Tours. He told me that minutes earlier he was looking at an Ornate Hawk-Eagle perched on a snag a couple hundred meters down the trail. Upon hearing this I sprinted to the spot to find an empty snag. Next time]. 

  • Double-toothed Kite* – Two flying overhead at Hotel Punta Leona (8/11 and 8/13). 

  • Bicolored Hawk* – one over flying overhead at Hotel Punta Leona (8/11)

  • Common Black-Hawk– Very common in the Pacific coast and Guanacaste Regions. 

  • Roadside Hawk* – one at Santa Rosa NP (816) and many seen in the Blue River Hotel area, and one at La Fortuna (8/19). 

  • White Hawk* – two birds near the Blue River Resort one overhead and one perched on a snag (8/15). 

  • Gray Hawk– Fairly common in the Blue River Resort area and at La Fortuna. 

  • Short-tailed Hawk* – I saw birds flying overhead in just about every region we visited. We saw one bird bathing in a mudpuddle at close range in Santa Rosa NP (8/16). 

  • Red-tailed Hawk– One adult at Irazú Volcano NP (8/23).

RAILS

  • Rufous-necked Wood-Rail– Two were in thick brush by the side of the road at the Wet Meadow Near Tarcoles (8/14).  

 LIMPKIN

  • Limpkin– One at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/12)

 PLOVERS

  • Black-bellied Plover– Many at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14).

  • Collared Plover– One at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/12).

  • Semipalmated Plover– Many at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/12 and 8/14). 

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JACANAS

  • Northern Jacana – One seen at very close range at the Wet Meadow Near Tarcoles (8/12), and several were seen in fields on the Caribbean side driving between hotels (8/18 and 8/22)

 SANDPIPERS

  • Spotted Sandpiper– Very common at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/12 and 8/14). They were seen twice at upland locations, one along a stream in Arenal NP (8/20) and one at the Rio Arenal Bridge (8/22).

  • Willet– Three or four at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14)

  • Whimbrel– One at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/12 and 8/14). 

  • Ruddy Turnstone – Three at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14).

 PIGEONS

  • Rock Pigeon– In just about every urban area we visited. 

  • Scaled Pigeon* – My nomination for the most surprisingly bizarre looking bird of the trip. “Scaled” is an understatement. One was perched on a snag at the Blue River Resort (8/17). 

  • Red-billed Pigeon– Very common. Seen every day at every location. 

  • White-winged Dove– Almost as common as Red-billed Pigeon. Seen every day at every location

  • Mourning Dove– One flew across the road on the way to the top of Irazú Volcano NP (8/23). 

  • Inca Dove– Common around Hotel Punta Leona, also one at Santa Rosa NP (8/16) and one in the gardens at Hotel Bougainvillae (8/23). 

  • Common Ground Dove– Two by the side of the Road as we drove out of San Jose our first day (8/10). 

  • Ruddy Dove– Very common. Seen every day at every location.

  • White-tipped Dove– Common. Seen almost every day. 

CUCKOOS

  • Squirrel Cuckoo– Seen every day while staying at Hotel Punta Leone, one was at Santa Rosa NP (8/16) and one at La Fortuna (8/22).

  • Groove-billed Ani– Very common. Seen at all locations except San Jose. 

 OWLS Despite 3 to 4 hours of birding in the dark almost every night, the only two owls I came up with were in the daylight hours. 

  • Central American Pygmy-Owl* – Heard twice calling in the day. One each at Arenal NP (8/20) and at the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl* – I played a recording of the call to try to stir up some activity of small birds at Tarcoles, which it did. It also prompted three Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls to call back! 

NIGHTJARS

  • Short-tailed Nighthawk* – One bird every night along the road to Hotel Punta Leona. I suspect it was the same individual every night. 

  • Common Pauraque– Very common. Seen or heard every night at every location. I evan heard them calling in urban areas of San Jose. 

POTOOS

  • Northern Potoo* – Heck yeah! We arrived at the Blue River Resort just after sunset. When I finish registering I walked out the office door and heard the very unforgettable call of a Northern Potoo! I tried to relocate the bird later that night and the other nights I was there without any luck. 

SWIFTSI am certain there are swift species that I missed on account of bad lighting. At every location every day there were swifts overhead. Sometimes there were groups of hundreds. On several occasions on our visit in 1991 I was able to observe swifts looking down at them from above. No such luck this trip. 

  • Spot-fronted Swift* – I was able to pick several of these out from the hotel balcony (8/11 and 8/14). 

  • White-collared Swift– Daily from over the Blue River Resort (8/14 to 8/16). 

  • Lesser Swallow-tailed Swift* – I picked several out of a large flock of swifts over Blue River Resort (8/17).

HUMMINGBIRDS On our last visit it seemed that nearly every restaurant that we ate in had a hummingbird feeder hanging somewhere. This trip, only one location, the Blue River Resort had hummingbird feeders. Another factor is that there seems to be a greater diversity of hummingbirds at higher elevations, which we mostly missed on this trip. The end result 1991 had 25 species, and 2019 only 12. I think on my next trip to Costa Rica, or any tropical area with hummingbirds where I spend more than a couple of days in one spot, I’ll take a small hummingbird feeder with me and hang it outside of my room. 

  • White-necked Jacobin* – Wow. What a hummingbird! Seen daily at Blue River Resort. 

  • Long-billed Hermit– Seen daily at the feeders at Blue River Resort.

  • Stripe-throated Hermit– Seen daily at the feeders at Blue River Resort.

  • Green Violetear– One in the gardens at Hotel Bougainvillea (8/23).

  • Green-breasted Mango– One female in the gardens at Hotel Bougainvillea (8/23). 

  • Long-billed Starthroat* – Seen daily at the feeders at Blue River Resort, one at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/19). 

  • Volcano Hummingbird– Several seen at the summit of Irazú Volcano NP (8/23). 

  • Scaly-breasted Hummingbird* – Seen daily at Hotel Punta Leona and surrounding area, at the feeders at Blue River Resort.

  • Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer* –Seen daily at the feeders at Blue River Resort and in the gardens at Brisas Arenal Hotel. 

  • Crowned Woodnymph* – Seen daily at the feeders at Blue River Resort and a pair that were in constant battle with a Rufous-tailed Hummingbird over a flowering shrub at the biological station at the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest 

  • Steely-vented Hummingbird– One at Hotel Punta Leona (8/12) and one at the feeders at Blue River Resort (8/15). A small non-descript hummer that I could have easily overlooked at other locations. 

  • Rufous-tailed Hummingbird– The most common hummingbird we encountered. Seen at every location every day. 

TROGONS

  • Black-headed Trogon* – One at Santa Rosa NP (8/16).

  • Gartered Trogon– One at Hotel Punta Leona (8/14), two along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/20) and one in the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Elegant Trogon* – One at Santa Rosa NP (8/16). 

MOTMOTS These are wonderful birds to see. They are probably more common than my four observations would imply. As brightly colored at they are they are very difficult to see in tree where they sit in silence. 

  • Broad-billed Motmot* – One on Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22). 

  • Turquoise-browed Motmot– Seen twice along road to Hotel Punta Leona (8/12 and 8/14) and one in the gardens at Hotel Bougainvillae (8/23).

KINGFISHERS I was disappointed that I only saw one species of kingfisher my entire trip despite being around aquatic habitats fairly frequently. At a couple of locations I even tried using play back to elicit a response with no luck. 

  • Green Kingfisher– One at the Tarcoles River Mudflats (8/14 and 8/15). 

PUFFBIRDS

  • White-whiskered Puffbird* – One at Carara NP (8/12) and one at the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

JACAMARS

  • Rufous-tailed Jacamar* – One by the road up to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest. 

  • Great Jacamar* – One along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22). 

TOUCANS

  • Collared Aracari* – Most common toucan on Caribbean side of our stay. Seen daily at Blue River Resort and in the La Fortuna areas. 

  • Black-mandibled Toucan – Most common toucan during our stay on the Pacific Coast. Seen sparingly at Blue River Resort and at Brisas Arenal Hotel. 

  • Keel-billed Toucan– Fairly common everywhere except the Pacific coast area. 

WOODPECKERS This is another group that I expected to see more of. By far and away, the most common woodpeckers were Black-cheeked and Hoffman’s. They seemed to be everywhere. 

  • Black-cheeked Woodpecker– Common at all locations every day. 

  • Red-crowned Woodpecker– One at Manuel Antonia NP (8/13). 

  • Hoffman’s Woodpecker– Common at all locations ever day.

  • Red-rumped Woodpecker* – One in the forest near Hotel Punta Lenoa (8/11). 

  • Lineated Woodpecker– One at Guanacaste Biological Edcuation Center (8/15). I found a nest cavity with both adults entering with food near Blue River Resort (8/17). 

  • Pale-billed Woodpecker* – Three individuals at Carara NP (8/12). 

FALCONS

  • Crested Caracara– Fairly common, especially in rural agricultural areas. Seen just about every day at all locations. 

  • Yellow-headed Caracara– There was a pair in an open area near Hotel Punta Leona (8/13 and 8/14) and one seen at close range at Hotel Bougainvillea (8/23). 

  • Laughing Falcon– One at Manuel Antonio NP (8/13) and one near Blue River Resort (8/15). 

PARROTS Seeing parrots in Costa Rica is easy. There are always some flying overhead making a ruckus. Seeing parrots well enough to identify them is a different matter and despite their constant vocalizations, I found trying to identify them by voice very difficult. 

  • Crimson-fronted Parakeet– Common around Hotel Bougainvillea and San Jose. 

  • Olive-throated Parakeet – 3 perched in a tree at Blue River Resort (8/18)

  • Scarlet Macaw* – Mary and I missed seeing these in 1991. Honestly, I don’t know how we missed them. They could almost constantly be seen and heard from the Tarcoles Area to just south of Jaco. 

  • Orange-chinned Parakeet– The most common parrot. Seen at all locations every day. 

  • Brown-hooded Parrot– 2 at near Hotel Punta Leona (8/14). 

  • Red-lored Parrot– The second most common parrot of the trip. Seen every day in all locations. 

  • White-fronted Parrot* – Wonderful views of these at Rincón de la Vieja NP (8/17). 

  • Mealy Parrot– Good looks at a pair on the wing at Hotel Punta Leona (8/14 and 8/15). 

TYPICAL ANTBIRDS Anbirds, AntshrikesAntvireos, Antwrens, Antpitta, and Antthrushes are groups that I would have benefited from by knowing their calls better. I am certain that I missed a number of these. If I had it to do over, I would have drilled the vocalizations of these birds a little harder before the trip. 

  • Faciated Antshrike* – One bird near Blue River Resort (8/17). 

  • Great Antshrike* – One bird perched on a wire near Hotel Punta Leona (8/11). 

  • Barred Antshrike– Fairly common in Pacific lowlands and at the Blue River Resort area. 

  • Black-hooded Antshrike – One bird near Hotel Punta Leona (8/11).

  • Chestnut-backed Antbird– One bird sulking in the understory at Carara NP (8/12). 

ANTTHRUSHES

  • Black-faced Antthrush* – 1 bird constantly giving a nondirectional call from the forest floor at Carara NP (8/12). It took a while to figure out that the sound was at our feet and not high above us. 

  • Black-headed Antthrush* – Several birds crossing the nature trail at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/20). 

WOODCREEPERS A difficult group. For every sighting I had where I could identify a bird, there were two where the bird went unidentified. I saw several that definitely were not Cocoa or Streak-headed Woodcreepers. I didn’t fare any better in 1991. 

  • Cocoa Woodcreeper* – By far the most common woodcreeper I encountered. Seen in most locations almost every day. 

  • Streak-headed Woodcreeper– One at the Blue River Resort (8/18). 

  • Plain Xenops* – one at Blue River Resort (8/17) and three along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/20). 

  • Ruddy Treerunner– 1 on the nature trail at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/20). 

  • Slaty Spinetail* – Single birds at Blue River Resort (8/16), Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/18), and along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/19 and 8/20) and at Arenal NP (8/20). 

TYRANT FLYCATCHERS There were at good many little greenish birds in the bush along the way that went unidentified. My assumption is that most of them were flycatchers. The most common group of birds for the trip were the large yellow breasted stripe-headed flycatchers (Great Kiskadee, Boat-Billed, Social, and Gray-capped Flycatchers). I probably overlooked a few Boat-billed and Gray-headed Flycatchers here and there. On the Caribbean side I only saw one bird that I was certain was a White-ringed Flycatcher. It was difficult to separate from Social Flycatchers. 

  • Yellow Tyrannulet* – One in the gardens at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/19).

  • Yellow-bellied Elaenia– One along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22)

  • Scale-crested Pygmy-Tyrant* – A strange little bird visually. One at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/19) and several along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/20). 

  • Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher– One at Santa Rosa NP (8/16).

  • Common Tody-Flycatcher– Fairly common and seen every day around Blue River Resort and La Fortuna. 

  • Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher* – One in the gardens at Blue River Resort (8/18). 

  • Tropical Pewee– Common along fences and roads around Blue River Resort and the La Fortuna Area. 

  • Black Phoebe– Two at Rio Arenal Bridge (8/20 and 8/22) and one at Rio Peñas Blancas (8/21). 

  • Long-tailed Tyrant– Two seen on the road up to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Bright-rumped Attila– One near Hotel Punta Leona (8/11). 

  • Rufous Mourner* – One along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/19) and one at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/21). 

  • Brown-crested Flycatcher* – One at Santa Rosa NP (8/16).

  • Great Kiskadee– Seen on every day at every location.

  • Boat-billed Flycatcher– One at Hotel Punta Leona (8/11), Santa Rosa NP (8/16), and at Hotel Bougainvillea (8/22 and 8/23). 

  • Social Flycatcher– Seen on every day at every location.

  • Gray-capped Flycatcher* – Seemed to be more common on the Pacific side. Seen daily at Hotel Punta Leona and at the Blue River Resort.

  • White-ringed Flycatcher* – One in the gardens at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/18)

  • Streaked Flycatcher– Serveral seen along the road to Hotel Punta Leona (8/11 and 8/13). 

  • Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher– One along the road to Hotel Punta Leona (8/12). 

  • Tropical Kingbird– Very common, seen every day at every location. 

COTINGA 

  • Rufous Piha* – Nice looks at one in a fairly large mixed flock of birds at the Guanacaste Biological Edcuation Center (8/15).  

MANAKINS

  • White-collared Manakin* – Several males along the nature trail at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/19 and 8/20). 

TITYRAS and BECARDS

  • Black-crowned Tityra– One near Hotel Punta Leona (8/11) and one at the Guanacaste Biological Edcuation Center (8/15).

  • Masked Tityra– Seen daily the Tarcoles River Area, one near the Blue River Resort (8/15 and 8/18), one at Santa Rosa NP (8/16), one at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/19), and one along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22).

  • Cinnamon Becard– Several along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/20 and 8/22). 

  • Rose-throated Becard– One along road to Hotel Punta Leona (8/11) and one at Carara NP (8/14). 

VIREOS

  • Yellow-green Vireo– Many at Santa Rosa NP (8/16) and one along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22). 

  • Lesser Greenlet– Several at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/20, 8/21, and 8/22). 

JAYS

  • White-throated Magpie-Jay* – Common along roads in the Guanacaste region. Many at Santa Rosa NP (8/16), Rincón de la Vieja NP (8/17), Arenal NP 8/20).

  • Brown Jay– Seen infrequently in all areas, near Hotel Punta Leona (8/11), the Blue River Resort (8/16), Santa Rosa NP (8/16), along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22), in the gardens at Hotel Bougainvillea (8/23) and Irazú Volcano NP (8/23). 

SWALLOWS

  • Blue-and-white Swallow– Common around San Jose, La Fortuna and Irazú Volcano NP. 

  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow– Common, seen at most locations on most days. 

  • Southern Rough-winged Swallow– Very common. Seen at all locations every day. 

  • Gray-breasted Martin– Only driving on roads between Blue River Resort and La Fortuna (8/18) and between La Fortuna and San Jose (8/22). 

  • Mangrove Swallow– Very common around the Tarcoles River Area. 

WRENS

  • House Wren– Seen daily at Blue River Resort, La Fortuna, and San Jose.

  • Rufous-napped Wren– Very common along Pacific coast area, Santa Rosa NP, and San Jose area. 

  • Rufous-breasted Wren* – A pair were nest building along the trail to the Tarcoles River in Carara NP (8/12). 

  • Black-throated Wren* – Several birds were present along the nature trail at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/19 and 8/20). 

  • Rufous-and-white Wren* – 1 along the trail at Carara NP (8/12)

  • Stripe-breasted Wren* – Seen or heard daily at Brisas Arenal Hotel. 

  • Riverside Wren* – Two birds at Manuel Antonio NP (8/13). 

  • Bay Wren– One at Blue River Resort (8/15) and two at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/20). 

GNATWRENS and GNATCATCHERS

  • Long-billed Gnatwren* – Two birds along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22). 

  • White-lored Gnatcatcher– Several birds at Santa Rosa NP (8/16) and Rincón de la Vieja NP (8/17).

  • Tropical Gnatcatcher– One at Carara NP on (8/12). 

THRUSHES

  • Sooty Thrush– Many birds at the summit of Irazú Volcano (8/23). 

  • Clay-colored Thrush– Very Common. Seen at every location every day. 

 MOCKINGBIRDS

  • Tropical Mockingbird* – One bird at Dos Rios (8/18), many birds at La Fortuna and San Jose. 

 SILKY-FLYCATCHERS

  • Long-tailed Silky-flycatcher – One bird overhead at summit of Irazú Volcano NP (8/23). 

NEW WORLD WARBLERS

  • Gray-crowned Yellowthroat – One at close range on road up to Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Olive-crowned Yellowthroat* – One along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22). 

  • Tropical Parula– One along road to Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Rufous-capped Warbler– One in gardens at Hotel Bougainvillea (8/22).

  • Buff-rumped Warbler– Many in the area of the Blue River Resort (8/15, 8/16, and 8/17), a few were seen on the road to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

TANAGERS and SPARROWS

  • Crimson-collared Tanager* – One on road to Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Passerini’s Tanager* – Very common at locations on the Caribbean side (Blue River Resort, Arenal NP, La Fortuna, and San Jose). 

  • Cherrie’s Tanager– Very common at location along the Pacific coast. 

  • Blue-gray Tanager– One of the most common birds seen on our trip. They were in numbers at all locations every day. 

  • Palm Tanager* – Also very common. Seen at just about every location and every day. 

  • Golden-hooded Tanager– several at Carara NP (8/12), 5-6 at Blue River Resort (8/15 and 8/16), almost daily at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/18-21), and at the Children’s Enteral Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Rufous-winged Tanager* – One in a sizeable mixed flock at the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Bay-headed Tanager* – 2 at Carara NP (8/12). 

  • Scarlet-thighed Dacnis– several at the Blue River Resort (8/17) and several along the road to the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Shining Honeycreeper– Several in sizeable mixed flock at the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21). 

  • Red-legged Honeycreeper– Approximately 12 in on a snag at Rincón de la Vieja NP (8/17), a few at the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest (8/21), and 5-6 at the Rio Arenal Bridge (8/22). 

  • Green Honeycreeper* – One near Blue River Resort (8/15), daily at Brisas Arenal Hotel and around La Fortuna. 

  • Slaty Flowerpiercer– One at the summit of Irazú Volcano NP (8/23). 

  • Blue-black Grassquit– Very common in just about all open grassy habitats. 

  • Variable Seedeater – Very common in just about all open grassy habitats. 

  • White-collared Seedeater – Scattered fairly widely, near Hotel Punta Leona (8/12), Blue River Resort (8/16), Santa Rosa NP (8/16), and Calle 508 near La Fortuna. 

  • Thick-billed Seedeater* – Fairly common on the Caribbean side. Seen at most locations on most days. 

  • Bananaquit– Common, in gardens at Brisas Arenal Hotel and gardens at Hotel Bougainvillea. 

  • Yellow-faced Grassquit– Fairly common on the Caribbean side. Seen at most locations in small numbers. 

  • Grayish Saltator– Common in the Blue River Resort Area and La Fortuna. 

  • Buff-throated Saltator– Common at Hotel Punta Leona and in the La Fortuna area. 

  • Black-headed Saltator– One seen along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22). 

  • Orange-billed Sparrow– Several along the road to Hotel Punta Leona (8/12) and 5 on the nature trail at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/19).

  • Olive Sparrow– several at Santa Roas NP (8/16). 

  • Black-striped Sparrow– a few birds seen at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/21 and 8/22). 

  • Stripe-headed Sparrow* – Several birds in the Tarcoles River Area (8/12), many seen along the roadside on our drive between Hotel Punta Leona and the Blue River Resort (8/14), one along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/17). 

  • Rufous-collared Sparrow– Very common at La Fortuna and San Jose. 

  • Volcano Junco– Common at the summit of Irazú Volcano NP (8/23). 

  • Sooty-capped Chloropingus– 3-4 birds at summit of Irazú Volcano NP (8/23).

BLACKBIRDS and ORIOLES

  • Red-winged Blackbird– Common in the wet fields of the Caribbean side. 

  • Eastern Meadowlark– A few birds heard and seen in the dry open fields of Guanacaste province. 

  • Melodious Blackbird* – Fairly common at all locations seen almost daily. 

  • Great-tailed Grackle– Abundant. Seen absolutely everywhere. 

  • Black-cowled Oriole* – Seen daily in the La Fortuna area. 

  • Streak-backed Oriole– One female seen at Santa Rosa NP (8/16). 

  • Montezuma Oropendola– Abundant. Seen daily along the Caribbean side. Seen daily from 8/15 to 8/23).

  • Yellow-crowned Euphonia– one at Hotel Punta Leona (8/11) and several daily at Brisas Arenal Hotel. 

  • Yellow-throated Euphonia– Many daily at Blue River Resort and a few scattered around La Fortuna. 

  • Olive-backed Euphonia* – Three at the Rio Arenal Bridge (8/22)

  • White-vented Euphonia* – Several in the gardens at Brisas Arenal Hotel (8/18 and 8/19) and along Calle 508 near La Fortuna (8/22). 

OLD WORLD SPARROWS

  • House Sparrow – Only encountered in the urban areas of La Fortuna and San Jose. 

Costa Rica 2019

View from Playa Mantas, near Garabito, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. 14 August 2019.

View from Playa Mantas, near Garabito, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica. 14 August 2019.

On June 29th William broke his leg putting a large question mark on our planned trip to Costa Rica. When we saw the orthopedic surgeon and told him that we planned to leave on August 10th he said that he did not believe William would be able to go as he would still be in a cast and unable to safely get around. We told the doctor that was not an option and that he was going as the trip was in celebration of William graduating high school. We were hoping that at best he would be in a walking cast that would at least allow him to get around and go swimming. 

By the two-week follow up with the doctor healed enough that the hard cast was removed and replaced with a walking cast. By the time we left William had been walking around home without a cast at all for over a week. We made William wear the walking cast on the flight down to Costa Rica because it was bulky and didn’t fit in the suit case well. And that was the last time he had it on. We were able to do everything we wanted! Go William!

Our trip to this wonderful country in the southern part of Central America was fantastic. Over the next few weeks, I’ll gather our thoughts and photos and post them to our website over the coming weeks. For now, We’ve posted a collection of our best photographs here. 

In 1991 Russell and Mary visited Costa Rica for a two-week honeymoon. Returning 28 years later and retracing some of our steps with our family was special for us. Our first trip was mainly in the northwest part of the country, spending five days each in Quepos, Liberia and San Jose. From each of these locations we took day trips to other locations. We took the same approach this time except we spent 4 days at each location and the two final days in San Jose. Here is our itinerary. 

August 10 – Flight from Philly to San Jose. Picked up rental car and drove to our hotel (Hotel Punta Leona) which was about 5 km north of the resort town of Jaco, on the Pacific coast. 

August 11 – Chill day, swimming and relaxing. 

August 12 – The original plan was to go to Manuel Antonio National Park. However, it was closed and it was raining heavily south of Jaco. Revised our plans and visited Carara National Park instead. 

August 13 – Manuel Antonio National Park with a celebration dinner at La Luna, a fine restaurant near Quepos. The morning was bright and sunny. The afternoon saw rain with an attitude. 

August 14 – Travel day. Used the morning for one last swim in the ocean. Afternoon drive to Blue River Resort only a few kilometers from the Nicaraguan boarder. 

August 15 – Mary and the kids became zombies after sitting in the hot springs and taking baths in lava mud. Wasted day…

August 16 – Day trip to Santa Rosa National Park.

August 17 – Day trip to Rincón de al Vieja National Park. 

August 18 – Travel day to La Fortuna.

August 19 – Chocolate and coffee tour, explored town of La Fourtuna. 

August 20 – Arenal National Park.

August 21 – Children’s Eternal Rain Forest. 

August 22 – Travel Day to Hotel Bougainvillea, near San Jose.

August 23 – Mary, Emily and Paddy explored downtown San Jose. Russell and William went up to volcan Irazú. 

 August 24 – Fight home. 5:00 PM: arrived in Philly. 5:20 PM: on the way home the family dropped Russell off at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester to see the Union play DC United! Philly crushed 3 to 1. 

West Chest Coffee Blog

Untitled 1989 17X46 cm. Oil on wood.

Untitled 1989 17X46 cm. Oil on wood.

The West Chester Coffee Blog lives! You may recall that a little over a year ago Russell and Emily announced the start of the West Chester Coffee Blog...and then you never heard mention of it again. This is because shortly after we started visiting coffee shops Emily decided to make a small change in her life. At that time, she had decided to get an associate degree in dental hygiene. We visited schools and planned it all out and were just about to commit to applications and such. Then she came to the realization that she would rather go to art school and study photography. Luckily, her father went to art school and knew she was going to need a crash course in drawing if she wanted to do this. We signed up for a figure drawing session at the local art association and started visiting art programs. The bottom line is that the coffee blog quickly fell off our plate. 

A lot has happened in the last year. We are happy to say, in case you didn't know, that Emily is now enrolled in Kutztown University as a freshman in the fine arts program. Also, Emily and Dad went to Europe where we were able to connect with the outer reaches of our coffee inner-selves, and a whole bunch of new coffee places have opened up in and around West Chester. 

I won't go over the my relationship with coffee since you can read about in my original post here. In that post, I describe my life before good coffee (LBGC) and life after good coffee (LAGC). What I am looking for is a cup of coffee that can change your life. Going to Croatia this past summer really did help recalibrate exactly what that cup of coffee is. The immediate issue for me is how do I convey what I think a good cup of coffee is to you? I have actually thought about this a lot over the past year. This is what I have come up with. 

Cafe macchiato from Cafe Festival, Dubrovnik Croatia, 10 August 2016, 8:34 AM. All is good in the world. 

Cafe macchiato from Cafe Festival, Dubrovnik Croatia, 10 August 2016, 8:34 AM. All is good in the world. 

What you see above is a Cafe macchiato from Cafe Festival in Dubrovnik. On a scale from 1 to 10 this cup off coffee was an eleven. Cafe Festival was on a street with a whole bunch of places that served coffee in the 9 to 10 range. This place stood out not just because the coffee was perfect, but because the setting was perfect. A beautiful cafe, on a busy street, with lots of people where you could sit and do nothing but take in humanity for hours at a time. There is simply no words to describe how good this cup of coffee was. 

In my post from a year ago, I mentioned how Starbucks would play into this whole thing. If I were to say on a scale of 1 to 10 how does an expresso from Starbucks compare to one from Cafe Festival I'd say it was somewhere in the 6-7 range. It's not so much that Starbucks is bad, it's more that I have a really high standard for what is truly exceptional. That said, what is great about Starbucks is that they are consistent. I have been to many Starbucks across North America. When you order an expresso from any of them, you will consistently get an expresso that is a 6-7. With that information in hand and instead of trying to rate the coffee shops around West Chester on a scale from 1 to 10, I will simply say in very general terms how it compares to Starbucks. My assumption is that most people have been to Starbucks, thus you will be able to gauge what I think it better or worse based you your experience there. Make sense? Great. 

Our retooled plan, now that Emily is not here, is to go out every Saturday morning and visit a coffee shop. Rule one is that it has to be walking distance from our house (after we visit all the places that are walking distance we will reevaluate rule one). I (Russell) will get an expresso, Mary will get a drip every time and give you our opinion as best we can comparing apples to apples. William and Paddy will be color commentators for everything else. Every once in a while Emily will come home and head out with us as a guest commentator. She will almost certainly order a fancy dressed up drink that barely qualifies as coffee. We will try to convey the whole experience. We will certainly order some kind of yummy treat (William and Paddy are forcing us to do this), and we will let you know about the general ambiance of the place. 

Our next post will start off with a visit to Starbucks. Preview below. 

 

Dulpo espresso at Starbucks. 

Dulpo espresso at Starbucks. 

Going back to the concept of LBGC and LAGC. Emily has been raised since a very early age not to compromise when it comes to coffee. She get physically agitated if someone ask her if she wants a cup of coffee from Wawa. She is one of the lucky ones as she has always had pretty good coffee options since birth. However, until our trip to Europe this summer she had never crossed the line into the world of LAGC. I have actually captured this on film. Yikes, can we even say that any more. Let me rephrase. I have several files with a series of 1's and 0's that form an image of Emily's LBGC and LAGC. 

Here she is, an eighteen year old girl, terribly jet lagged, hating the world. Before her is her first european cappuccino. Let's see what happens. 

There you have it ladies and gentlemen! The results are stunning! LAGC! After the first sip the world is now a happy place. Colors are vibrant, all the sounds in the world are now like a symphony! Everyone is beautiful. Life is good! 

Emily took to cafe culture like nobody's business while we were in Croatia. I think it is safe to say the hook as been deeply set and there is no going back. As it should be. Mary and I couldn't be prouder or our little girl. 

Ciao for now. Remember...contemplate the cup...be the bean...and for the love of Pete don't put pumpkin spice in your coffee. That is just nasty. 

Russell 

Bug Milestone

#00001 - Seven Spotted Lady Beetle,  Coccinella septempunctata  Linnaeus 1758, collected at Cleman Mountain, Yakima Co., WA, on 18 August 1999; #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle,  Peltodytes edentulus  (LeConte 1863), collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

#00001 - Seven Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata Linnaeus 1758, collected at Cleman Mountain, Yakima Co., WA, on 18 August 1999; #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle, Peltodytes edentulus (LeConte 1863), collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

I have always liked insects and in particular I enjoy beetles. I find their diversity endlessly fascinating. I started collecting insects when I was in high school in the late 1970's. I amassed a small collection of a couple hundred specimens. Then I went of to college and didn't think about them for a number of years. When I dug the boxes out to storage I found that beetles liked my beetle collection as much as I did. All of the specimens had in fact been put through a beetle biomass recycling program, which is to say they were consumed by dermestid beetles and turned to beetle poo. Such is the economy of nature. 

But to be honest, birds consumed much of my time and attention. When we moved to Washington in 1992 I spent most of my time traveling from one end of the state to the other trying to see as many birds as I could and learning about the natural history of the Pacific Northwest. I didn't have time or the resources as to seriously collect insects. 

Then in on August 4, 1998, Emily was born. All of the sudden I no longer had the time to go bird watching the way I had prior to her birth. With a readjustment how my time was allocated I began to think more about insects. I realized that I could collect a specimen, mount it, and tuck it away with a fairly small time commitment and later when time permitted, I could sit down and figure what they all were. 

So it began. I entered the first specimen into a database that I created for my collection. A seven spotted lady beetle. Two days shy of 17 years later I collected the 10,000th specimen, a crawling water beetle. 

Close up of #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle,  Peltodytes edentulus , collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

Close up of #10000 - Crawling Water Beetle, Peltodytes edentulus, collected at Bridgeport Township, Gloucester Co., NJ on 16 August 2016. 

Crawling water beetles are one of my favorite beetles. They have large expanded plates where their rear legs attached to their bodies. These plates are for holding little bubbles of air. By doing this they can stay underwater for extended periods of time. Natures little scuba divers. Here is a good photo of one showing the bubble

Here are a few statistics of my insect collection. 

  • Of the 10,081, approximately 8000 are beetles. 
  • I have representatives of 85 of the 131 beetle families known to occur in North America. 
  • Approximately 90% of the beetles are identified to genus.
  • Approximately 50% of those are identified to species. 
  • 79 counties are represented from every continent except Australia, all collected as interceptions from international cargo entering the United States.
  • 17 different states represented.

When I set up my database I figured I would only need 5 digits for the numbering system. At the rate I'm going I should get no where near 99999. My insect collection is also the primary reason I don't update this blog more than I do! With that, I have some insects to sort out!

Balkan Birds 2016

An adult Red-backed Shrike, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 10 August 2016

An adult Red-backed Shrike, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 10 August 2016

I'm sure every birder does what I when they are about to take a trip to a part of the world that they don't visit often and that is to get out a field guide and tally up all the possibilities that are out there. From my past visits to Europe and the Middle East I did fairly well in ticking of a great number of species you would expect to see there. In taking account as to what I might see in Croatia the one species that floated to the top of the list was ELENORA'S FALCON. I discovered that they nest on the Island of Mlijet about 20 km away from Dubrovnik. For a large wide ranging bird like this that is probably in it's post breeding dispersal, I gave my realistic chances at seeing one to be very low, even if I were to visit the island they nest on.

As luck would have it, an ELENORA'S FALCON was fluttering down to land on an antenna on the main terminal at the Dubrovnik airport as we got of the bus from the airplane. It was literally the first bird that I saw in Croatia. Awesome. Check that off the list and relax.

Another bird that is always on my most want to see list for Europe is HAWFINCH. When I lived in Rome, every day that I stepped out of doors I thought to myself "is this the day I'm finally going to see a Hawfinch?" Well, sadly that day never came. They can be a very difficult bird to see. In reviewing the range map for this time of year and for area I would be going for this trip, I didn't even include it on my list of possibilities as the breeding range didn't seem like it extended on to the coastal area that I was staying.

When it came time for us to pack up and head to the airport, we got there early with several hours to kill before our flight to Zagreb. I remembered from our arrival that there was a nice stand of pine trees outside of the terminal. I thought I'd take a walk over there to see if I could get one or two more species for the trip list. I had also forgotten how sulken passerines can be in Europe. Just about all of the birds on my trip list up till then took a lot of work to get them to come out of the bushes. As it turned out this little patch of trees was full of birds. I quickly picked up a WHITE WAGTAIL, WOOD WARBLER, and SPOTTED FLYCATCHER which were new for the trip. There was also an immature RED-BACKED SHRIKE that landed on the ground to catch and eat an insect no more than 18 inches or so from my feet. I actually had to bend over to see it's facial features well enough to make sure of my id.

While I was looking at the SPOTTED FLYCATCHER I noticed a bird higher up in the trees that seemed to be preening. As I got my binoculars into focus I could see the giant bill of a HAWFINCH sorting out the wing coverts of an extended wing. I nearly fell over in disbelief. This was my second lifer and literally that last bird that I saw in Croatia, both at the improbable location of the Dubrovnik Airport.

Ironically, as soon as I saw the HAWFINCH at the Dubrovnik Airport, I realized that I had actually seen a flyover that same morning at Park Ursula. It was so out of the realm of what I was expecting it just didn't register until I saw the one at the airport. 

Hillside of Park Orsula, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Hillside of Park Orsula, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Park Orsula is just to the south of Dubrovnik. It consisted of a blocked off road that ran along the steep slopes that dropped down the Adriatic coastline. There was no development along about a one mile stretch of road. There were very few people as well. From old city Dubrovnik it was a bout 6 miles of total walking. I tried to get up just before sun rise (5:00 AM). I managed to this walk on four mornings and one afternoon. I was also able to collect a few good insects along the walk as well. Otherwise all the birding I was able to do was incidental.

Below is an annotated list of the 48 species that I saw from August 7 to August 13. The main locations were Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor Montenegro (8/9); Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina (8/11); and Frankfurt, Germany (8/7). There were several other unidentified birds as well; a probable eagle species over a mountain along the Neretva River in Bosnia-Herzegovena; a small brown backed warbler, possibly as Cetti's Warbler at Park Ursula; a couple of finch types that I just couldn't get an eye on and at least one other species of unknown thrush. I was surprised that there were no Redstarts, Windchats, or Stonechats. 

Mallard - 5 or 6 birds were seen in the moat area of the city walls of Kotor. Approximately 10 birds flying over Mostar..

Gray Heron - 1 bird seen in the Neretva River near Pocitlj, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kestrel - 1 seen two different days along Park Orsula road.

Hobby - 1 adult flying over Mostar.

Elenora's Falcon - LIFER! 1 Adult at Dubrovnik Airport.

Common Sandpiper - 1 seen briefly at the water's edge along Park Orsula road.

Black-headed Gull - Many seen along coast Kotor to Dubrovnik. A few seen on Neretva River.

Herring Gull - Very common. Seen in every location every day.

Yellow-legged Gull - A few seen in Dubrovnik. Probably more common that I noted. I admittedly didn't look at every large Herring Gull to make sure it wasn't a Yellow-legged Gull.

Caspian Tern - Only 2 birds seen. One in the Bay of Kotor and one near Dubrovnik.

Rock Doves on rocks, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Rock Doves on rocks, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Rock Dove - Common, seen everywhere. Some of the birds seen in the rocky cliffs along Park Orsula may have been pretty close to real Rock Doves.

Wood Pigeons in the grass, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Wood Pigeons in the grass, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Wood Pigeon - Common parks in Frankfurt.

Turtle Dove - Common in Dubrovnik, Kotor and Mostar.

Swift - A few, 12 or so total, mixed in with the Alpine Swifts around Dubrovnik. 

Alpine Swift - Very common, at Dubrovnik. Scores constantly overhead. Even late into the evening they would fly up and down the Stadun of Dubrovnik. Occasionally I'd see them land on a ledge top of buildings.

Kingfisher - Only 1 seen along the water's edge at Dubrovnik our first day.

Bee-eater - 1 seen on a tombstone from the bus just outside of Mostar. A short but very good look.

River Neretva, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

River Neretva, Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

Roller - 5 or 6 in the trees of the River Neretva in Mostar.

Crag Martin - 5 0r 6 a day in Dubrovnik. 2 or 3 in Mostar and Kotor.  

Barn Swallow, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Barn Swallow, Dubrovnik, Croatia. 

Barn Swallow - The most common swallow by far. Hundreds seen every day. 

Red-rumped Swallow - The first morning out, 8 August, 20 or so were seen with Barn Swallows around Dubrovnik. After than only 1 or 2 a day. 

House Martin - Approximately 10 a day in all locations. 

White/Pied Wagtail - One at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Grey Wagtail - 1 at Kotor and 5 at Mostar. 

Blackbird - 10 - 15 a day around Dubrovnik. 1 along Main River in Frankfurt. 

Blue Rock Thrush - 4 or 5 on the cliffs at Park Orsula. I heard more than I saw. 

Wheatear - 1 from the bus window on the way to Kotor in Montenegró

Lesser Whitethroat - On 9 August around 8 - 10 were seen in one back yard on the way to Park Orsula. After that only 1 or 2 a day and only in Dubrovnik. 

Sardinian Warbler - Probably the most common passerine in Dubrovnik. Including House Sparrow. Their calls were incessant in yards and hillsides around just outside of the old city. 

Eastern Subalpine Warbler - 1 female at Park Orsula. Great looks at it using play back of its calls on my phone. 

Olivaceous Warbler - At least 2 in a yard on the way to Park Orsula on 8 August. 

Willow Warbler - One I figured out the song with the deciding notes was a Willow Warbler (not a Canyon Wren) they seemed to be every where. I only got a good look a couple of them. 

Wood Warbler - 2 along the road to Park Orsula. 

Chiffchaff - 1 at Park Orsula. 

Spotted Flycatcher - 1 at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Great Tit - 2 or 3 along Main River in Frankfurt. 2 or 3 daily in Dubrovnik. 

Nuthatch - 2 on the last day at Park Ursula. I was surprised not to see Rock Nuthatch. I remember them being very common in Greece. 

Tree lined walk along Main River, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Tree lined walk along Main River, Frankfurt, Germany. 

Treecreeper - 1 on a tree along the Main River in Frankfurt. 

Lesser Gray Shrike - Fantastic views of one my first day in Park Orsula. 

Red-backed Shrike - Fantastic views of one my second day in Park Orsula in almost the same location as the Lesser Gray Shrike from the day before. 1 immature at the Dubrovnik Airport. 

Jackdaw - Dubrovnik, Croatia, 8 August 2016. 

Jackdaw - Dubrovnik, Croatia, 8 August 2016. 

Jackdaw - Only one! And there it is on a roof top in Dubrovnik. 

Alpine Chough - about 30 high above Kotor. 

Carrion Crow - Only in Frankfurt. Pretty common there. 

Raven - 1 in Croatia just before the boarder crossing into Montenegró.

Starling - Only in the agricultural areas of Croatia on the way to Mostar and a few in Mostar. Otherwise, they were absent. 

House Sparrows - Dubrovnik, Croatia. Eating ice cream? 

House Sparrows - Dubrovnik, Croatia. Eating ice cream? 

House Sparrow - Common in towns and cities. 

Hawfinch - LIFER! BIRD TO MY TRIP! Stuff! I at the Dubrovnik Airport and 1 flyover at Park Orsula. 

Ortolan Bunting - 4 or 5 daily at Park Orsula. 

 

 

 

Emily and Russell's Big Trip

Dubrovnik, Croatia, the "Pearl of the Adriatic."

Dubrovnik, Croatia, the "Pearl of the Adriatic."

Now that Emily has graduated from Henderson High School and will soon be off to Kutztown University to work towards a BFA in Photography, she gets a "senior trip" . We have told each of the kids that they can have a trip to wherever they like in the world, within reason. When we asked Emily were she would like to go, she said London. Great. We started making plans for London. 

About two or three weeks later Emily thought something further afield would be in order. Since we hadn't purchased anything for London yet, we double clicked on google maps and started looking around. She definitely wanted to go to Europe, so I suggested Scandinavia. We looked there for about ten minutes and realized places like Oslo and Copenhagen were very expensive. I then suggested perhaps some places in eastern Europe would be interesting and almost certainly less expensive. We clicked on a number of places, Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Bratislava, and so on. We then clicked on Dubrovnik, Croatia. Right away, Emily knew that was the place for her. Why you might wonder? Well it is where many scenes from the HBO series "The Game of Thrones" is filmed. It is the setting for King's Landing. Who wouldn't want to hang out with kings?

So, Dubrovnik it was. We made plans, got airline tickets, reserved a place to stay, got an international plant for our phones, cleared a credit card for cash advances, and got passports. Mine expired in 1994, and I forgot that on that original passport they put the wrong year of birth on it. This caused much distress with the issuers of passports, and they requested much more in the way of paperwork and a long form birth certificate. No sweat. It arrived in the mail within a week of our departure. On August 6, Emily and I left Philadelphia heading for Frankfurt, Germany, then on to Dubravnik. While we were in Dubravnik we took day trips to Mostar, Bosnia-Heregovina and to Kotor, Montenegró.

This post will be a condensed summary of our trip. Between the two of us, we took over 1800 photographs. We will reduce that down to the best 100 or so for this post. Over the next couple of weeks or so, I'll try to do a more in depth post on the various places we went, the food, birds, the war, etc. 

If you want to skip all the reading and go right to the photos click here

As a side note, in case you are wondering where the Coffee Blog went, it is still in the works. Shortly after Emily and I set out to visit coffee spots in West Chester, Emily decided to change directions in her life. Up until that time, she was thinking of going to school for a career as a dental hygienist, mostly because mom insisted that she needed to take some direction.  Then one day, she woke up and decided that she wanted to go to art school and be a photographer. This meant we had to do some crash courses in drawing, do extra work at school, create twelve concentration pieces for AP art class, and make rush visits to art schools. Something had to fall off the plate, and that something was our coffee blog. As it turns out, Croatian's excel in making great coffee. We think it's probably a good thing that we held off, as we both have a better world view of what great coffee should be. 

Downtown Frankfurt. 

Downtown Frankfurt. 

Frankfurt, Germany

[Day 1, August 7] On our way to Dubravnik we had an 8 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. We arrived at 7:30 AM so we had most of the day ahead of us. With our suitcases checked all the way to Dubrovnik, we decided to head out of the airport and take a train downtown. I had been to Frankfurt 31 years earlier in 1985. It was strange to think that in 1985 none of the four countries that we planned to visit existed as they do in their current state. Germany was still divided and Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro were areas within the former Yugoslavia. East and West Germany came together in a peaceful festive way while Yugoslavia fell apart in a horrible and violent civil war. 

We really had no objective with our visit other than to find some coffee and something to eat and to roam around and see what we might find. From the airport we found the train right train to take in to Frankfurt but getting the tickets turned out to be a little bit of of a challenge. There were automated kiosk where you would get the tickets but for some reason the all would only accept exact change, which was 15.80 Euros. Getting that last .80 Euro cents was not easy. We got a pretty grumpy response from all the places we asked for change. Finally we found a train ticket place that had a human being behind a desk and were able to get the ticket with our credit card. Fortunately that was the most difficult part of our day. We got on the train and into town without any problem. We actually made it to town before most of the breakfast places were even open. 

We found our way to the main tourist part of town, just as the espresso machines were being turned on. Emily and I sat down to a giant cup of cappuccino and a yummy breakfast. After than we walked around like zombies as jet lag set in. We did get to see a lot of nice sights around Frankfurt. There was a big triathlon taking place throughout the downtown area so we kept running into runners and cyclist giving all that the've got. However, I don't think any of them were suffering like Emily and I were suffering. We walked in a big loop back to the train station and got back to the airport just fine and with plenty of time to catch our flight to Dubrovnik. 

Dubrovnik's main street, Stradun, at 5:00 AM when all is quiet. The surface is not wet, it is highly polished from centuries of foot travel. 

Dubrovnik's main street, Stradun, at 5:00 AM when all is quiet. The surface is not wet, it is highly polished from centuries of foot travel. 

Dubrovnik, Croatia

[Day 2, August 8] Our flight from Frankfurt to Dubrovnik was only about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Our landing in at the Dubrovnik airport was about as rough a landing as I have ever experienced. I thought that it must be the pilots first day with the new airplane. However, when we exited the plane on to the tarmac we realized that we should probably give the pilot a little more credit because the wind was absolutely howling! 

Our flight arrived around 5:30 PM. I figured we would be pretty worn out by the time we got there, so I arranged to have our hotel pick us up at the airport and drive us into into Dubrovnik. The driver dropped us off at the city gates as there are no cars inside the city walls. All we can say is that Dubrovnik was as stunning from the first time we laid eyes on it until we left seven days later. What a place to behold. 

Dubrovnik is one of the few walled cities from the middle ages that is still intact, and as such it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's origins go back until at least the 7th century. Recent archaeological evidence suggest that the spot has been occupied by humans for much longer probably dating back to Greek and Roman times. I won't go into the history here as other webpages do it much better than I can. The wall is in fact completely intact as you can walk around the entire old city on it. This was the first thing we did on our first full day there. 

The Old City does not have any automobile traffic with the exception of early mornings when delivery trucks drive in the the city at it's main gate and on the the Stradum. From there deliveries are made on little trucks a little smaller than golf carts. These little trucks can deliver stuff to about half of the cities homes and shops. The others have to have thing brough in on hand carts or by hand alone. The absence of automobiles is the primary reason that we chose to stay in an apartment in Old City as opposed to a cheaper hotel outside of the city walls. While this cost a little extra, it was well worth it. We were able to explore the city for as long or as little as we liked and could easily retreat back to our apartment to rest or take a short nap. 

Everything about Dubrovnik was charming. many of the shops were the size of a large closet. Many of the restaurants in fact had no indoor seating. The kitchen's occupied the area of a large closet and the dining area was outside under large umbrella's or simply a row of tables a long a narrow street (a narrow alley by most cities standards). The middle part of the day, however, got pretty crowded with people as the cruise ships would bus people in from the nearby harbor. 

The tourist were from all over the world, but it seemed to us that the majority were Russian and Italian. Most of the local residents speak fairly good English, so for us getting around was pretty easy. All menus were in at least Croatian and English, and many were in four or five languages. All of the local people that we met were very friendly and easy to get along with. We really couldn't have asked for a more pleasant place to vacation. 

Kotor, Montenegró

Kotor, Montenegró

Kotor, Montenegró

[Day 3, August 9] From Dubrovnik we scheduled two day trips. I was able to schedule these several weeks prior to our arrival through Expedia. Both trips were about $65 per person. Our first trip was to Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is another walled city which is about 51 miles to the south. Our tour also stopped at Our Lady or the Rocks, in the Bay of Kotor, off the small town of Perast. Montenegró is Europe's newest country gaining its independence from Serbia in 2006. 

We took a tour bus from Dubrovnik. We knew things would be a little different in Montenegró as soon as we crossed the boarder. This trip was my first trip out of the country after being employed by the US to guard our borders, thus I took a special interest in who other countries handled such things. When our bus pulled up to the border crossing for Montenegro, there was a long line of vehicles. Our tour guide hopped out of the bus and ran down to the guard station. A after a moment or two, she returned to the bus and we were waved over to another empty lane and made a very short stop at the guard's booth and then headed on down the road. Our tour guide told us that we were able to skip a long wait by bribing the customs officers with bottled water! I would have thought that would at least warrant some Belgian chocolates or a sandwich. 

This actually kind of set the tone for the look and feel of Montenegró. It seems to have been struck fairly hard by the Soviet ugly stick. When Yugoslavia broke up, Russia took Montenegró under its wing as a Adriatic vacation spot for Russians and invested heavily in the country. When Montenegró gained independence it applied to be a member of the European Union. This put Montenegró in a rough spot, as the EU had condemned Russia for it's actions in the Ukraine. If Montenegró wanted membership in the EU it would also have to condemn Russia. As a result, Russian money dried up and has left the region in some economic hardship. It shows. To us, Montegeró looked like what most of eastern Europe probably looked like before the fall of the Soviet Union. Everything there seemed to have gray and depressing feel about it. 

Our first stop was the Our Lady of the Rocks. This is a small church built on an artificial island ????? the By or Kotor. Legend has it that a sailor found an icon of the Madonna and child on a rock in the bay. A tradition formed where sailors who returned from sea would drop a rock at the site to pay respect for their safe return. The story goes that after 200 years of dropping rocks and sinking old vessels loaded with rock ballast, there was enough island to build a church on it. After the church was built instead of leaving rocks sailors would leave items of various and sundry nature. What we have today is a church in the middle of the bay with a vary large and strange collection of odds and ends from the last 500 years or so. To get to the church, you have to take a short ferry ride. The church is still used today for sailors who still leave stuff and weddings. There is a tradition that the brides leave their flower bouquet attached to the inside of the church doors. There are hundreds of bouquets hanging there now. 

After a hour or so we headed on to Kotor. Like Dubrovnik, Kotor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is about the same age as Dubrovnik and it its old city walls are mostly intact. However, it looks much different as it was under Venetian rule for 500 years. So the architecture more resembles that of Venice. The old city of Kotor is much smaller than Dubrovnik. You can pretty much walk around the entire city in a few minutes. The difference is that the city walls go high above the city up a hillside to a height of 260 meters (850 feet). In all there is approximately 3 miles of wall that goes up and around the hillside (mountain side?) The walls were built this way in order to defend against invading Turks. Otherwise, invaders would just about be able to sit on the hillside and throw rocks down onto it's inhabitants. 

The most interesting thing that we saw in the old city was the church of St. Lukes. It was built in 1195 and looks notably older than everything else in Kotor. It was used by both Catholic and Orthodox worshipers until 1812, and is still used by Orthodox today. 

Lokrum Island as seen from the top of Mount Srd. 

Lokrum Island as seen from the top of Mount Srd. 

Lokrum and Mount Srd

[Day 4, August 10] What we didn't mention about our trip to Montenegró was that we had to get up "early" and meet the bus at 8:25 AM. This of course nearly killed Emily. To be honest we were both really tired after the day's bus ride. For the midway point of our trip we chose to stay close to Dubrovnik and sleep. Well Emily slept in, Dad got up at 5 AM and went birdwatching. 

We visited the island of Lokrum and took the cable car up to Mount Srd. Lokrum is a small island that is actually within the city boundaries of Dubrovnik and only 600 meters from the mainland shore. It is a short 10 minute ferry ride the first of which leave the Dubrovnik harbor at 11:00 AM. This was almost to early for Emily to make but a valiant effort on Dad's part to get her up and moving before noon (with the promise of a nice breakfast and big cup of coffee) we made the first ferry out. The ferries come and go about every 30 minutes throughout the day so you can leave pretty much whenever you are ready. 

Lokrum is a billed as a nature preserve. It has a monastery, a nice restaurant, a spa, soccer fields, and a bar where you can get some relief from the wilds of the European forest. We brought our own lunch but we did take advantage of the local watering hole. I got a freshly squeezed glass of lemonade and Emily got a fruit smoothy. Very refreshing. We spend a fair amount of time on the rocky beach and walked around the island seeing the sights. We walked to the very top of the island where there is an old fort that was built in the early 1800s. 

Emily's big contact with nature was a fish pedicure in the spa. This is the the trendy new thing where tiny fish nibble the skin on your feet down to make for smooth soft skin. Or so we are told. Whatever the purpose, Emily seem to really enjoy it. The forest there was actually fairly nice. The trees were full of cicadas which were doing what cicadas do, which as buzzing so loud that it was kind of hard to hear anything else. All in all it was a very pleasant day spent in the out doors. 

We headed by to town early enough make sure we could get on the cable car up to Mount Srd to see the sunset on the Adriatic. We still had to wait about 45 minutes before we could get on the cable car. At the top of Mount Srd there is a war museum commemoration the Bosnian War from 1991 to 1995. There is an old fort at the top of the mountain that was built during the Napolianic Wars in the early 1800's This fort and Mount Srd was the site of fierce battles between the Serbian army and air force and the Croatians. 

The views from the top of Mount Srd were breathtaking (by the way, don't ask how to pronounce "Srd" as we don't have a clue!). You could see the many island to the north of Dubrovnik. On the other side of the mountain to the east the you can see the many mountain peaks of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The boarder with Bosnia and Herzegovina is only a little more than a mile from the top of Mount Srd. We headed back down after the sun set and found a nice place to eat in the old city. 

The bridge over the river Nevereva, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

The bridge over the river Nevereva, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

[Day 5, August 11] I didn't let Emily know the bus for Bosnia and Herzegovina left a little earlier than the one for Montenegró, 7:45. There was lots of moaning. Fortunately Cafe Festival starts serving breakfast and espresso at 7:00. Moaning arrested. 

The old city of Mostar has long been a place that I had wanted to visit for a long time. From Dubrovnik it is only about a 2 and a half hour bus ride. The first thing that we learned from our tour guide is that you never say just Bosnia when referring to Bosnia and Herzegovina. She said it would be like saying just "Great" for Great Britain or "United" for United States. Bosnia-Herzegovina is acceptable. Also the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina that we were visiting was actually Herzegovina. Herzegovina occupies the southern part of the country while Bosnia occupies the northern part of the country. Our tour that we signed up for also included stops in Medjugorje and Počitelj. 

The first stop of the trip was a rest stop that served espresso, which we were very happy about. If you look at a map of Bosnia and Herzegovina you will notice that it is a completely landlocked country with the exception of a small narrow dog leg that shoots out towards the sea. This small dog leg also separates the narrow southern extent of Croatia from the rest of the country. We were told that this little dog leg was a concession from Croatia to ending the Bosnian war (Also known as Croatia's War for Independence). Bosnia and Herzegovina's only costal town, Neum is there. This is where we had our espresso. We are happy to report that everything is alright. 

Not counting the three border crossings (Croation into Bosnia-Herzegovina, back to Croatia, then back into Bosnia-Herzegovina, and there was no bribing the Customs officers with bottles of water), our first stop was Medjugorje. We had never heard of this town and had no idea what was there. We should have asked the Catholic in the family, Mom, because she knew exactly what it was, a famous pilgrimage site dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Apparently, back in the 1980's a group of kids claimed to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary on a hillside. And that would be all she wrote. Catholic pilgrims now flock there by the thousands. The town and church otherwise is nothing special to see. What is staggering is the a degree of commercialization that surrounds it all. There are countless shops selling every kind of religious trinket imaginable. Most of the tourist there were Italian. We were there on  a Thursday morning and the church was filled to capacity. There were 500 to 600 people outside of the the church who couldn't get in. Behind the church was a large outdoor amphitheater that could seat another 8000 or so people  

We were only there for about an hour, which is good because Emily said she was starting to feel uncomfortable and was afraid that a nun was going to jump out of an alley and try and convert her at bible point. Mary commented that frankly, she was surprised we didn't spontaneously combust. 

Moving on we arrived at Mostar at about 11:00 AM. Mostar is a very old city who's origins go back to Roman times. It is a city where east meets west and where Europe starts to turn into the Middle East or Asia. The city is famous for its bridge that spans over the Neretva River and the old town areas is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over half of the cities residents are Islamic.

The bridge much of Mostar were destroyed in the Bosnian Civil War from 1991 to 1995. The bridge and the old city were rebuilt and reopened in its current state by 2004. However, if you go out side of the are of the old city, the scars of war are still very easy to see. Many buildings are still in a state of ruin. The apartment buildings at the spot where our bus dropped us off were absolutely riddled with bullet holes. It all stood as a stark reminder of the bad things humans can do to each other. 

Nonetheless, our stay in Mostar was fairly short. Our local tour guide was fairly long winded and once she was done we had just enough time to get some lunch and walk from one end of town to the other. 

One the way back to Dubrovnik we made one one more short stop at yet another walled town from the middle ages, Počitelj. This small wall town (population of about 900) is unique in that it has change very little moving into the modern era. It is still a living city that is, for the most part, contained within it original walls. 

This is a spot in Park Gradac, just outside old city Dubrovnik where Joffrey's (Purple) Wedding was filmed in the HOB series "The Game of Thrones."

This is a spot in Park Gradac, just outside old city Dubrovnik where Joffrey's (Purple) Wedding was filmed in the HOB series "The Game of Thrones."

Dubrovnik

[Day 6-7, August 12-13] Our last two days of our trip were spent in Dubrovnik shopping and relaxing. We tried to walk to spots around the city where we hadn't yet seen. We did sign up for a "Game of Thrones" tour that walked us around the city to see the locations that were used for various and sundry scenes in the television show. That was neat to see, but our tour guide might possibly have been the most annoying person ever. We got dressed up and went out for a nice last dinner at a place call "Lady Pi-Pi" The meal was great. The name of the place is strange. We will give a full explanation on our post about food. 

Our flight back home was also annoying. Remember, when you buy the cheapest tickets you are probably going to pay in other ways. Our flight from Dubrovnik left at about 9:00 PM. It went to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. We got there a little after 10:00 PM. Our flight to Frankfurt didn't leave until 7:30 AM. We were left with nothing to do other than find a quiet corner of the airport and try to get a little sleep. That was only a little bit successful. Once we got to Frankfurt, we had another long layover of 5 hours. Thankfully, the Frankfurt airport is very large and had many good options for a grand breakfast, our last meal in Europe. Our flight from Frankfurt to Philadelphia left at 1:00 PM and arrived at 4:30 PM. I think by about 6:00 we were both fast asleep! 

West Chester Coffee Blog

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

Coffee. 1990 61X81 cm Oil on canvas.

In 1984, when I was 23 years old, I headed off to Rome to study abroad for a year. The first thing that I remember doing on the very first day that I was there is ordering a cup of coffee. That moment can really be considered a dividing point in my life, Life Before Good Coffee (LBGC) and Life After Good Coffee (LAGC). Prior to that moment, coffee was just something you would have in the morning to get you moving. After that moment, it became ritualized. Not just any cup of coffee would do. Each morning I'd stroll up Via del Corso on my way to school, and along the way I'd take in a dozen or so cups of cappuccino. Aah. La dolce vita!

When I returned to Philadelphia in 1985 a stark reality slapped me square in the face. The thing that had become a daily sacrament was replaced by something unfit to clean the bathroom floor at the 30th Street Station. I either made my own cup of coffee or there was none to be had. Life took a serious down turn for a while. In fact, you will see a cup of coffee in many of my paintings from the late 1980's, like the one above. This manifestation of me crying on the inside. 

By the time Mary and I were married in 1991, I had heard rumors that good coffee could be found in Seattle. This left us with only one option; we packed up the wagon and headed west. For the next 20 years or so we lived in a relative state of coffee stability. In the Pacific Northwest every wide spot in the road had a drive through espresso stand. Really. As a wildlife biologist, I often worked in some very remote areas in Washington. There was never a place so remote that I couldn't find an espresso stand and get something good to start my day off well.  

It also happened that during that 20 years, the idea that "coffee was something more" seem to spread throughout the county. In our return to the east coast in 2011, Starbucks could be found from coast to coast and everywhere in-between. Albeit, the Great Plains can still be considered the great plain. I actually had to put some effort into finding a Starbucks in that part of the county but it could be done. 

Here in West Chester there is a Starbucks on the corner of the main junction downtown. It is always full of people. That is not all; Starbucks has competition. There are many cafes and restaurants around West Chester offering something better than could be found here in 1985. Some of these places seem to know what the coffee ritual is all about and some of them think that running Folger's through an espresso machine will do. 

Emily and I are here to help sort out the good and the bad for you. We plan to visit as many places in West Chester that have coffee to offer beyond the roadside diner drip swill. Every weekend or so, we plan to visit a different coffee shop and report to you what we think about it. Our first stop will be the Starbucks on the Corner of High and Gay in Downtown West Chester. 

I mention Starbucks a lot in this short blog post. In the Pacific Northwest Starbucks was considered a dirty word amongst coffee snobs, me being one of them. However, there are many reasons to like Starbucks and what they do. More on that in our next post. 

Russell and Emily. 

We're still here!

What is the difference between being unemployed and employed? When I was unemployed I managed to post something to my blog almost every day. With full employment I seem to be averaging about two posts a year! Its not that I don't have things to say, I have plenty to say. As I mentioned in my post from way back in November 2014, it is that I have little left in the tank at the end of the day, week, or month, to actually say it. 

We are currently in the second week of our vacation at Rehoboth Beach. This would be the first full vacation that I have had since I started my job in August of 2013. That said, I have now done enough lying around to muster up the energy to catch up on a few things. To start with, the one post that I did manage to make to the blog back in May, I was unable to get the word out because my email server wasn't allowing my to send a email message to more that five or so people as the addressee. By the time I worked that problem out, I had forgotten that I updated the blog. That post was about sending Ed, our primary vehicle, up the great parking lot in the sky and replacing it with Walter, a 2014 Honda Odyssey. 

For the rest of my family update, I'll list things off the top of my head and tell you about them with plenty of links to family photos and such through out. Feel free to read the stuff that interests you and skip the others. Or, just skip the whole thing and go back to browsing Facebook, checking the latest baseball scores, or reading the news. I think 'The Donald' stuck his foot in his mouth again. You would think he would run out of feet at some point. He appears to be a human millipede. 

WORK. Now that I have been in my new job for two years a lot of people have asked what I do and the things that I find guarding the boarder from agricultural pests and the like. You would think that after two years I would not refer to it as a new job, but that is very much the case. Unlike the private sector, with public sector jobs it can take much longer to hit your stride. Back in Washington someone once told me that in the private sector you are pretty much given two weeks to get up to speed and then you are on your own. With the public sector, the get "up to speed" period is more like a year after which you are then put on a very short leash. I would have to agree with this statement. However, with my current agency, the size of our regulatory umbrella is so vast, that even after two years I feel like I'm only halfway there. Check out photos of my ramblings from the Port of Philadelphia here

THE BOYS VISIT PHL. One of the benefits of my job is that I am allowed to escort people in and out of the airport. Occasionally the airport will have an interesting display of arts or crafts. Back in November they had a display from the Philadelphia Model Ship Society. I also gave them a tour of other interesting things at the airport like the Lego Liberty Bell. We finished off the day with a cheesesteak and fries. See photos of a lot of really cool model ships here

EMILY. It is funny how Emily will never let her parents take a picture of her. However, since our phones and computers are all linked, I often find photos of her various and sundry hair styles that have been automatically uploaded to our family photo album. See the many faces of Emily here

CHARLIE. Another group of photos that I find from the kids are of Charlie. Poor little critter never gets a moment of peace. See the cute photos here

DRESSING UP or down. A favorite activity of some of the current teen and twenty-something generation is to dress up like a favorite animation character and go to a convention (called a con or comic con) to show it off. Some of these homemade costumes are truly spectacular. See them here

SOCCER! Again, Russell, Steve and Paddy, along with an occasional guest, head for the football pitch. We usually define the season as that time when we go scream obscenities at the opposing team. However, this year our home team, the Philadelphia Union, are playing so poorly that most of our obscenities are tossed in their direction. Paddy played indoor soccer over the winter then moved outside in the spring. In the middle of the outdoor soccer season he fell at practice and broke his collar bone! Ironically two weeks prior to breaking his collar bone, he was in the hospital due to an infection in the same arm and shoulder. Because he was in the hospital he was unable to attend a Union home game, thus giving William his opportunity to attend his first professional soccer game. In July, we had the rare opportunity to attend the Gold Cup final match between Jamaica and Mexico at Lincoln Field in Philly. We decided to support the Reggie Boyz, who were the clear underdogs. We also stepped up our tailgate actives a notch. We bought a new camp stove that has a grill and a burner. While our teams usually end up on the loosing end, our tailgates are winners every time. See photos of our season so far here

BIRTHDAYS, WEDDINGS, AND FUNERALS. Since the last update, William turned 14, Mary turned 49, Kenny turned 86, Russell turned 35 (remember I'm dyslexic), and Emily turned 17. Kevin and Rico got married, and sadly Uncle Willie, William's namesake, passed away. Just incase I don't update the blog for a while, Paddy turns 11 in September. See photos here

MISCELLANEOUS. These are miscellaneous photos that you will enjoy seeing. Click here

VACATION. We are currently on vacation which brings us up to date! Check out scenes from Rehoboth Beach here

 

Goodbye Ed, Hello Walter

We recently said goodbye to our long time trusty steed Ed. Mary and I bought Ed new way back in 1994. Ed is a 1994 Honda Passport that has hauled our family up and down both coast and across the country. More that 250,000 miles in all. 

In case you are wondering, anything that we buy that cost more than $1000 gets a name. The name for my spotting scope is Zeke, my road bike is Zippy, my binoculars Bob, my microscope CarL., and so on. We gave the Honda the name "Ed" as "Ed" sounds like the name of a good friend who wouldn't leave you in a ditch. 

We bought Ed when I was doing a lot of field work on birds in rough and remote areas of Washington State. On Fort Lewis I had to travel down dirt roads that Abrams M1 tanks and Bradley Personnel Carriers used. These vehicles did not produce roads that an average personal vehicle can traverse. I am happy to say that Ed never once left me in a ditch. 

Between Ed and Tiny, our Toyota Echo, these are the only cars that Emily, Will, and Paddy have ever known. Ed brought each one of them home from the hospital and at various times since then hauled them all back to the hospital for miscellaneous cuts, bruises and broken bones. I also see a picture of Ed each time I open iPhoto on my computer because of the 37,219 digital photos we have the first ever was of Ed sitting in the driveway of our house in Olympia WA way back on April 18, 1998 (see below). 

As you might guess, Ed has been paid for for quite some time. In the 21 years that we have had Ed (yes, Ed is now old enough to drink!) he never had a major repair issued. In fact, it still has the original transmission and most of the clutch. This is remarkable considering that it is a manual transmission. If I remember correctly we only had the flywheel worked on, or something of that nature. It was my intention to drive Ed till it quit going forward as the total cost of maintaining it was far lower than the monthly payments for something newer. 

I am happy to say that Ed could still move forward. This year however, there were just to many little things that needed fixing in order to pass the annual inspection such as replacing the muffler. Plus, three of the four power windows lack power and the air conditioner no longer functions. Not a good combination for summer time in Philadelphia. So, back in February we started the process of getting a home equity loan to get a replacement.

Ed's days were numbered once the loan was approved at the end of March. On April 2 we all went down to the local Honda dealership to take a look around and came home with Walter, a slightly used (only 9000 miles) 2014 Honda Odyssey. Where did we come up with the name Walter you ask? Well, after we bought the car we went to a local cheesesteak vendor for a family meeting. We talked at length as to what would be a good name. I won't tell you out right, but here is a hint; the color of the new car is white and Mary and the kids recently watched all the Breaking Bad episodes on Netflix. 

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Wow! Was my last post really on 23 March?

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Well, I guess I have some explaining to do. All I have to say is: jobs...they just get in the way of doing most anything that you enjoy. 

Yes, I'm blaming it all on work. Through the end of May I was still doing on the job training, which meant that every two weeks my schedule would change, sometimes quite dramatically. Like going from 5:00 AM to 1:00 PM at the Philadelphia International Airport to 8:00 to 4:00 PM at a seaport in New Jersey, to 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM back at the airport. Each change in my schedule also brought a change in the days I would have off. We always have two days in a row off, but they might be any two consecutive days of the week (i.e. Monday/Tuesday, Thursday/Friday, Sunday/Monday, etc.). While I enjoy the variety, it does reek havoc with anything going on in your home life. 

This schedule was to continue through August but then four of my coworkers took positions elsewhere leaving us very short handed. At that point it was determined that I was trained enough and I was thrown into the regular rotation and another new schedule. The regular rotation changes every four weeks, however, recall that we lost four people. Add to that one person out on long term disability, and two out on paternity leave with new babies. That is a total of seven people from a staff of only 26. I might add that I was hired because they were short staffed to begin with. 

So, being so short on people since the first of June means that there has been a plethora of overtime available. Since I was unemployed for two years, I volunteered for every overtime shift available. This has meant that the first of June, I've worked approximately 60 hours a week, leaving very little time to keep up with a blog or even eating meals regularly. 

So, where do I begin with updates. First Mary has a new job! She is still teaching in the Catholic School system but instead of driving to King of Prussia (anywhere from 30 minute to a hour and a half comment) she is now teaching in a school about 4 miles from home. The kids are all doing well. Emily is in 11th grade, William is in 8th, and Paddy is in 4th. There has been many various and sundry things going on since March. I'll try and summarize it all in a photo album that you can click through which you can see here

 

The Stroud Preserve, 23 March 2014

Last season many people were interested in the Wilson's Snipe that I saw at the Stroud Preserve. Some were able to find them and others were not so lucky. Today there were at least 14 Wilson's Snipe in plain view. In the photo above Zeke, my trusty spotting scope, is set on the location of said birds. I got excellent views of the snipe through the scope from this position. I also got good view with just my binoculars. So, if there are people out there that are still looking for good looks of snipe now is a great time to visit the preserve. Also with them were at least 14 Killdeers. 

Paddy, William and Charlie

I have a lower species count compared to yesterday mainly because of the crew I brought along with me today. I always say that the best way not to see animals in nature is to bring one with you. Today I brought three, Charlie our dog, and my sons William and Paddy. 


Start time: 11:27

End time: 1:00

Temp: 36-40º

Wind: 8 mph from the NW

Skies: overcast

Species Total: 26

  • Black Vulture – approximately 15
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 15
  • Canada Goose – approximately 100
  • Mallard – 4
  • Green-winged Teal – 6
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 2
  • American Kestrel – 1
  • Killdeer – 14
  • Wilson's Snipe – 14
  • Mourning Dove – 5
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 2
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • Northern Flicker – 1
  • Blue Jay – 3
  • American Crow – approximately 10
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 30
  • Carolina Chickadee – approximately 10
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 2
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 35
  • American Robin – approximately 30
  • Northern Mockingbird – 2
  • European Starling – approximately 25
  • Song Sparrow – 2
  • Dark-eyed Junco – 1
  • Northern Cardinal – 5
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 15

The Stroud Preserve, 22 March 2014

Snow drops ( Galanthus nivalis )

Snow drops (Galanthus nivalis)

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis). 

Spring is finally making a good push forward here in Chester County despite a forecast of more snow on Tuesday. As you can see from the photo above, the patch of snow drops (Galanthus nivalis) on the west end of the preserve are in full bloom. A short distance away was a pactch of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), which is a new species for the preserve plant list. Both of these species are introduced and I try not to get to excited about non-native things, but since spring has been such as long time in coming I’ll give them both a pass for this year only. As expected, the one native plant that I found blooming was skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). But because of the extra moisture that the melting snows have provided I could not get close enough to them without sinking up to my chin in it. So for this installment of LeBlog, we’ll settle for the bloomin’ non-natives.

As mentioned above the melting snows have provided a lot of moisture to the landscape. In particular the field on the north side of the main road coming into the preserve has a lot of standing water. This standing water continues to attract many ducks and shorebirds. Today there were at least 12 Killdeer and at least 8 Wilson’s Snipe, which is the largest number of either that I have ever encountered here. I probably could have gotten a higher count if I had my spotting scope with me. At least 8 Green-winged Teal were with the Mallards and Canada Geese.

I should mention that if you look at a map of the preserve it shows that this field is not within the preserve boundaries. However, I do know that it will be given to the Natural Lands Trust to be apart of the preserve. This land also includes the pond that can be seen from the east end of the Bobolink field. I always check this pond for ducks that I would not otherwise see on the preserve. I have never seen anything different there until today when 10 Ring-necked Ducks were present. There is another farm pond a mile or so to the east were Ring-necked Ducks are regular visitors all throughout the winter.

First of the year birds were a single Osprey over the Brandywine and an Eastern Phoebe on the west end of the preserve. I finally managed to check out the Red-tailed Hawk’s nest site from last season. I was hoping that a Great Horned Owl would have taken up in it but the nest did not seem to have an owl or hawk present at all. In all 37 species were seen. See the details below. 

 

Start time: 11:35

End time: 2:17

Temp: 50-64º

Wind: 0-7 mph

Skies: Clear

Species Total: 37

 

  • Great Blue Heron – 1
  • Black Vulture – approximately 20
  • Turkey Vulture – approximately 25
  • Canada Goose – approximately 400
  • Wood Duck – 4
  • Mallard – 10
  • Green-winged Teal – 8
  • Ring-necked Duck – 10, a first for me.
  • Osprey – 1, first of the year.
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk – 1
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 3
  • American Kestrel – 1
  • Killdeer – 12, highest number ever observed on the preserve at one time.
  • Wilson's Snipe – 9, highest number ever observed on the preserve at one time.
  • Ring-billed Gull – 8
  • Herring Gull – 1
  • Mourning Dove – 3
  • Belted Kingfisher – 1
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 3
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • Eastern Phoebe – 1, first of the year.
  • Blue Jay – 3
  • American Crow – approximately 30
  • Tree Swallow – approximately 20
  • Carolina Chickadee – 4
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 4, heard only.
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 15
  • American Robin – 7
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • European Starling – approximately 20
  • Eastern Towhee – 5, heard only.
  • Song Sparrow – 5
  • Dark-eyed Junco – approximately 25
  • Northern Cardinal – approximately 10
  • Red-winged Blackbird – approximately 15
  • House Finch – 3
  • American Goldfinch – 5

The Snow that Just Won't Go

I'll be honest. This has been a long and cold winter. Yesterday when William woke up and looked out the window he said in a weary and exhausted tone "God damn this snow." Now, Mary and I don't condone the kids use of cursing around us, but in this instance, William simply beat us to the punch. So, you know it has been a long winter when a 13 year old boy thinks such a thing about snow on the morning of the first school day of the week. 

The nice, nearly spring like day that we had on Saturday is now nothing more than a fading memory. It seems like it will never end. Hopefully this current cold snap that we are in will be short lived and we will be on to blooming flowers and buzzing bees soon. 

As for the kids, the winter took its toll on their spring break. All the snow days have whittled it down to just one day. I don't think they will have their school year extended at this point but we are not quite sure. 

For this area I can recall a few individual snow storms where we got some incredible accumulations. My first winter here in 1981-82, we had a blizzard with around 24-30 inches in one storm. But a week or so later, it was all melted away. I can't recall any winter where we have had snow on the ground for so long. If I recall correctly, we have had some snow around (as in not completely melted) since Thanksgiving. I am certain we have had it since December 20th when I returned from Maryland. 

Check out some of the photos from this snowy winter here

Let the Season Begin!

This past Wednesday I observed a sure sign of spring at the Stroud Preserve when 8 Tree Swallows were noted flying over the Brandywine River. Yesterday another sign of spring was observed as Steve, Paddy and me donned blue apparel and started our annual migration to PPL Park in Chester PA for opening day for the Philadelphia Union. As luck would have it it was a beautiful day with a temperature approaching 60! 

This marks a big year for us, we got Paddy his own season ticket this year. Seat 6, in Row J, in Section 101 is his. He is now a full member of the 4S club (The Sorry Suckers Soccer Supporters) which is a SOB subgroup (Son's of Ben). 

The Union actually started their season last weekend in Portland where they play to a draw with the Timbers. It was a pretty exciting game as the Timbers tied it up with a goal in the last 30 seconds of the game. It wasn't a win for the Union, but more importantly, it wasn't a loss. Yesterday's game was squarely in the win column with a 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution. So we appear to be off to a good start! 

Also, back on March 4th, the Union had a "Meet the Team" event that was open to the public, however, season ticket holders got to go in first. Paddy and I went and were lucky enough to be the first season ticket holders in that they let in. This was awesome as we got to walk around and talk to all the players that we see out on the field. Check out photos of Paddy with all his favorite players as well as a few picture from opening day here

 

The Stroud Preserve, 12 March 2014

After getting the kids off to school I looked at the clock this morning and determined I could get about an one hour walk in at the Stroud Preserve before I headed off to work. The first bird I saw as I pulled into the parking lot was a male American Kestrel. They are always nice to see. At the large field to the north just after the bridge over the Brandy Wine were approximately 25 Mallards, 12 Green-wing Teals, and 3 male Northern Pintails in a wet depression in the middle of the field. The teal and pintails are very uncommon at the preserve. Scanning a little further back I could easily see 15 or so Canada Geese scattered about. What was more difficult to see against the white back ground of snow that was still there was a immature Tundra Swan! A first for me at the preserve!

The other spectacle was a giant flock of blackbirds. My best guess at the number of birds was between 75,000 and 100,000. This flock was foraging in the open fields on the west end of the preserve. I spent about 20 minutes looking it over. Much to my surprise it was nearly all Red-winged Blackbirds. In all I could only find about 20 Common Grackles and about 25 European Starlings. Large portions of the flock took to the air and flew a short distance to land in another section of the field. When it did I kept an eye out for other species like Yellow-headed Blackbird, but could find nothing. Still, seeing such a large group of living organisms is a pretty awesome thing.

For such a short walk, and one where I kept up a decent clip, I saw many interesting things. I was so rushed that I completely forgot to take a photo for the blog header. The best part of the walk was on the way back to my car. As the sun came out and the temperature hit 50° a total 8 Tree Swallows flew over head. Regardless of the spring equinox, I always consider my first Tree Swallows the first day of spring. May the thaw begin!

 

Start time: 10:30

End time: 11:38

Temp: 48°- 50°F

Wind: 5 mph from the SE

Skies: Overcast

Species Total: 32

 

  • Great Blue Heron – 1
  • Black Vulture – 1
  • Turkey Vulture – 2
  • Canada Goose – approximately 250
  • Tundra Swan – 1 immature
  • Mallard – 45
  • Northern Pintail – 3
  • Green-winged Teal – 12
  • Common Merganser – 3
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 2
  • American Kestrel – 2
  • Mourning Dove – approximately 15
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 5, heard only
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1, heard only
  • Northern Flicker – 1, heard only
  • Blue Jay – approximately 10
  • American Crow – approximately 15
  • Fish Crow – approximately 10
  • Tree Swallow – 8
  • Carolina Chickadee – 5
  • Tufted Titmouse – 2
  • White-breasted Nuthatch – 2
  • Carolina Wren – 1
  • Eastern Bluebird – approximately 10
  • American Robin – approximately 25
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • European Starling – approximately 25
  • Song Sparrow – approximately 10
  • White-throated Sparrow – 3
  • Northern Cardinal – 5
  • Red-winged Blackbird – 75,000 to 100,000!
  • Common Grackle – approximately 20

The Stroud Preserve, 2 March 2014

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Finally, after a long, long absence, I was able to visit the Stroud Preserve today. My last visit was way back on 15 October! I must admit that my motivation to get out and walk around this winter has been pretty low. I can’t remember a winter where we had snow on the ground from the first of December to at least the 2 of March. To add insult to injury, the forecast for tonight is for more of it, anywhere from 3 to 10 inches. Ugh.

I didn’t get there until 2:30 so my expectations for a long list of birds was pretty low. This is in fact, exactly what I got - twenty-one species in all. Even with this low species count there were a few surprises. I observed a single Hermit Thrush in one of the thawed out patches of grass. This is only my 12th observation of one since August 2011. I also saw 2 Killdeer in the old farm bed. This would only be the 18th time I’ve seen them on or from the preserve. I still consider both of these species to be uncommon here.

The bird of the day, though, was a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk. This is only the 7th one I have recorded at the preserve. Five of the previous observations were birds flying overhead. Only one time prior have I seen one perched on an object attached to land that was within the boundaries of the preserve. Even then it was a great distance away. Today I was less than 100 feet away and had fantastic views looking down from a hill onto it. I still don’t understand why this species is seen so infrequently here. It seems to me that it would be great habitat for them. What I do see here are great numbers of Red-tailed Hawks. Perhaps it is a simple case of competition that keeps their numbers low.

One of the main reasons I decided to head out today was that I wanted to check the Red-tailed Hawk nest from last year to see if it had a Great Horned Owl on it. The nest site is on the north end of the preserve not far from the failed owl nest from last year. However, the loop trail that goes past the site was quite the difficult trek. So, I opted to bird from the main road that runs through the preserve. I’ll wait until some of the snow melts before I try that again. Here is the rundown of my very short list of birds.

 

Start time: 2:33

End time: 3:54

Temp: 37

Wind: None

Skies: Overcast

Species Total: 21

 

  • Turkey Vulture – 4
  • Canada Goose – 50
  • Mallard – 25
  • Red-shouldered Hawk – 1 immature
  • Red-tailed Hawk – 3, 2 adults, 1 immature
  • Killdeer – 2
  • Red-bellied Woodpecker – 3
  • Downy Woodpecker – 1
  • Hairy Woodpecker – 3
  • Northern Flicker – heard only
  • Pileated Woodpecker – heard only
  • Blue Jay – 4
  • American Crow – 8
  • Fish Crow – 5
  • Eastern Bluebird – 2
  • Hermit Thrush – 1
  • American Robin – 20
  • Northern Mockingbird – 1
  • Song Sparrow – 1
  • Northern Cardinal – 1
  • Common Grackle – 25

A little catching up with family matters

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It has been a while since I have had a chance to update the blog. The last time that I posted an update was way back on 4 November! Since then we have had three holidays and two birthdays pass. The puppy is almost grown into a full size dog, The kids are halfway through their school year, oh, and so is Mary. Most importantly I am finally finished with my training in Maryland and back with Mary and the kids.

Our graduation was on 19 December. Mary and the kids, along with Mary's dad, came to Frederick to see me get my badge and be sworn in. It was a long haul. I headed down to for the training on 9 September. We had a three week interruption with the furlough that drug thing out longer than needed. I didn't get any break from work however. On Monday the 23rd, I was back at work at the airport. I got Christmas day off, but that is about it. From here on out, holidays and weekends will be a foreign concept for me. One lucky thing is that our port does not function around the clock. The first shifts start at 5:00 AM and end around 10:00PM. Eventually, I'll get a shift that is a regular reoccurring schedule, but for the next 6 months or so, they will bounce around every two weeks. I greatly enjoy the work and I'm very grateful to have found a job that fits my knowledge base and career path so well. 

Mary is still teaching middle school boys. We are not sure how she tolerates such a thing but she seems to do it quite well. Paddy and William have started taking guitar lessons. Which they seem to enjoy...sometimes. It seems that Paddy has some issues with practicing. That said it does seem as if soccer is the sport that Paddy will pursue. He has been taking indoor winter soccer skills clinics at the YMCA. These clinics are taught by Paddy's coach and our good friend Dave.

Emily has decided to take a break from fencing for a while to focus on school. She has a very challenging english class that takes more time that she would like, however, she really likes the class, so that works out okay. Emily's hair color seems to vary quite a bit. Currently it is blue. 

Check out photos from the last couple of months here. Also, check out photos of me and my classmates from Frederick here. As always, it would be good to hear from you and what is going on in your neck of the woods.