Monday, October 30, 2023


I'm sorry to have let this blog lapse -- bird guiding is requiring increasing time each year -- but I figure it's worth posting a few words about my new book, Birding Under the Influence: Cycling Across America in Search of Birds and Recovery. Primarily the story of my 18,000-mile, bird-motivated bicycle trip around the lower 48 states, the adventure narrative is also an honest look at the alcoholism and substance abuse which preceded my departure. Beyond the birds I seek, I write about the people I meet along the road, the incredible array of landscapes I experience, and the overdue introspection which thousands of solitary hours permitted. Rather than rehash the entire story, I'll point you here to read more about and buy the book. 

You can also check out my new website,

And since I'm still doing a lot of photography, here are a few recent clicks!

Monday, June 20, 2022

Post # 216 - Warblers in the House!

The transcontinental crazyiness continues!!! I was in Asheville, North Carolina when I posted on May 4, and I've since visited Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan while guiding for Tropical Birding and Tennessee, Indiana, and Illinois as part of my pet-sitting adventure. I've been fortunate to see a lot of migrating songbirds along my spring arc, and I'll use this post to share a bunch of recent warbler frames. Songbirds are the weakest part of my portfolio (shorebirds are the strongest), so it's great to grow my collection with new species!

First up is an obliging Protonotary Warbler which I found in Meeman-Shelby State Forest just outside of Memphis, Tennessee. A couple cycles of audio lured this curious individual into a fallen tree, and I was able to capture a couple frames as the bird bounced around the trunk and branches. 

Prothonotary Warbler - Protonotaria citrea
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 12500

I'm even happier with this next frame because of the unique foliage/setting. Sandpipers, herons, and ducks are some of my favorite subjects, but their wide open and watery surrounds don't change much from place to place. In those instances, I really need the lighting to imbue the frame with color, mood, and character. However, that's not the case when shooting in forest as every perch and setting is unique. I mean, c'mon, how cool is this fallen log with the vines wrapped around it? I would have loved to have the green sprig in focus, but that wasn't gonna happen with so little light under the canopy (and the bird only posed for a second).

Prothonotary Warbler - Protonotaria citrea
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 2000

Since the above image was nearly full-frame, I had the pixels/resolution to extract the below image from it. I really like the negative space above the bird, especially with his gaze tilted in that direction. I think this would make a cool magazine cover.

Same frame/settings as above

OK, let's move to Kentucky where I found this Swainson's Warbler at Red River Gorge outside Lexington. This species is very shy and shifty, so I'm stoked with these results! The shot with the dark background was dumb luck. The bird landed on a lit perch in front of a shaded hillside, and I darkening the shadows a bit in post in post to accentuate the spotlight effect. 

Swainson's Warbler - Limnothlypis swainsonii
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

Swainson's Warbler - Limnothlypis swainsonii
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

Swainson's Warbler - Limnothlypis swainsonii
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/500 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

I'l leave you with this Blue-winged Warbler which materialized fifty feet from the Swainson's Warbler. I had no idea what this frame would like like since I had to shoot through multiple layers of leaves, but I am super happy with the result because it's different from everything in my collection. I think it's a natural representation of how we see spring warblers: feeding and buried in foliage. Fortunately, there was a window to see into this beautiful bird's world.

Blue-winged Warbler - Vermivora cyanoptera
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/1250 at f/6.3, ISO 2500

That's it for now. I'm currently in Philly visiting my family but head to Canada to lead a Nova Scotia and Newfoundland Tour on the 27th. After that I go to Denver for a week of dog-sitting before traveling to South Africa and Namibia for 6 weeks. Yes, you read that right 6 weeks!!! But more on that next time. Cheers!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Post #215 - A morning with Greater Prairie-Chickens in Colorado

Spring has been a whirlwind with Tropical Birding! I guided an 11-day Chasing Chickens loop through Colorado and Kansas April 6-16, flew directly to Texas where I lead a 5-day Upper Coast Migration trip from April 17-21, and finished the season with an 12-day haul through Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan on our Warbler Tour from May 8-19. With five weeks of downtime before I head to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia June 28-July 9, I'm going to try crank out a few bog entries. Here we go...

I don't take many pictures on tour because I'm busy spotting and identifying birds for clients, but the stars aligned in Colorado, when we visited a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek outside Wray. My clients were content to sit the van on that frigid morning, so I exited the vehicle and slowly belly-crawled towards the birds. I reached a small rise 10 yards beyond the van, hunkered down, and waited. The males started displaying, and I had incredible views when the sun rose forty-five minutes later. I took ~1,200 photos across the next hour, and I'll use this post to present my favorites. After the lek slowed down and I crawled back to the van, the clients said they had as much fun watching me as they did the birds. They all thought I was crazy for lying on the frozen ground for nearly two hours, but that what it often takes!

This first frame was captured just as the sun cracked the eastern horizon behind me; that's why it has such a strong pink/orange hue. The window to preserve this beautiful cast on any given morning is really narrow, so I was stoked this displaying male wandered into photo range at the magic moment. Besides minimizing disturbance to the birds, getting into position in the dark guaranteed that I'd be able to utilize this amazing light.

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 2500

This next frame shows the same bird, albeit a few minutes later, when he wandered closer to me to confront an approaching rival. I'm a huge fan of close-cropped portraits because they reveal feather detail so I couldn't have asked for more from this guy, the cluck at the other male rendering this frame full of personality.

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/1000 at f/5.6, ISO 2500

The first two shots don't show much habitat, so I present this third to offer more context. You can see how wide open the landscape is, and you'll note the drifting husks because this lek abutted a cornfield I think it's a nice contrast to the tighter crops.

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

This fourth frame shows a different male. The sun is higher than in the first frame -- hence less orange/pink tones -- and I like this one as a color-neutral complement to it. I also like that both display tufts are visible in this shot. The pattern on the far/right one is really pretty. Notice how my shutter speed and ISO decreases as the sun rises (and thereby lends more light). In this instance I had sufficient light to stop down to f/7.1 (from f/5.6) to get more depth-of-field and critical detail across the bird's body.

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/3200 at f/7.1, ISO 1000

And the fifth shot? Well, I saw this flying bird from the corner of my eye while I was looking at something else. I got my lens up, squared the subject in the viewfinder, hit the focus button, pressed the shutter, and hoped for the best. It was a classic example of 'spray-and-pray', but I couldn't believe this result once I put it into the computer. This shot is definitely one of my all-time favorites, and I've already put it on my website homepage. I got a bit lucky with the shutter since I didn't have time to cut it in the moment. 1/2000 is pretty slow for fast-flying birds, but it was enough here!

Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/2000 at f/5.6, ISO 1600

As you can see, it was a memorable morning. There weren't many females/hens on the lek on this time around, so I'm hoping for photos of them next year. If you're thinking about joining us on next year's tour, have a look at this year's trip report for a detailed description of what we saw and did. My tour was birding-focused, but we offer a separate photo tour as well. That's it for now. Cheers!

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Post #214 - My Extended Absence Explained

For those that don't know, my wife (Sonia) and I are pet-sitting our way around the US this year ( Her employer (Airbnb) lets her work remotely, and my employer (Tropical Birding) doesn't care where I'm based because they need to fly me in and out to lead tours regardless. The map below attempts to illustrate our movements. The blue dots represent our house/pets sits, the yellow dots represent personal stops in between those responsibilities, and the green trace is our simplified driving trajectory. So what the heck are the black lines? Well, those are the various flights I've taken to lead the indicated tours. The lines from Kansas City to Denver to Houston and onto NW Arkansas might be confusing, so I'll lay that bit out verbally. We finished our sit in Kansas City on April 5, and I immediately flew to Denver to lead a tour April 5-16. When that tour ended, I flew to Houston to lead a Texas migration tour April 16-21. When that tour ended, I flew to Bentonville/Fayetteville in NW Arkansas and joined Sonia at a sit which she started on April 12 (while I was in CO).

Think that's confusing? Our current sit in Asheville runs May 3-14, but I will be leaving on Saturday the 7th to fly to Detroit to lead another tour through Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky which runs through May 19th. Sonia will finish the Asheville sit, spend May 14-18 with her sister outside Knoxville, then drive to meet me in Nashville on the 19th where we have another sit which runs until May 28. Our subsequent sit is in Chicago runs June 4 to 14. Then we fly to Philly to see my family for a week. Then back to Chicago. Then we have 3 days farm sitting outside Milwaukee. Then back to Chicago. Then I go to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia for another tour June 27-July 8. Sonia sits in Omaha on those days and we rendezvous in Denver on July 9. We then sit in Denver July 10-15. And then it's off to Africa for six weeks on July 16 (more on that later). Hell, planning six weeks through South Africa and Namibia is its own challenge, but do it on top of everything else we're doing and it's beyond hectic!

And that's why haven't written a thing since February. I am doing a lot of birding in the areas we're visiting, but the blog has really taken a backseat to logistics, pet-sitting, and pet-blogging ( I've also done very little photography this year. It takes time to learn new areas, and we're moving around so fast that I don't learn anywhere well enough to shoot it efficiently; I'd rather just go birding since it's easier. I did take some really nice photos on my Colorado Grouse tour, so I'll try to get those up in the next few weeks.

So, that's what's happening with me at the moment. I hope to have more time to write later in the year, but please know that communication will continue to be sporadic for the next few months.

OK, planning and dogs call. Later!

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Post #213 - Waterfowl photos from Arizona

Our nomadic year of pet-sitting continues! Last time I recapped my bike-birding exploits in Henderson, Nevada, and this time I'll share a few photos I captured while we were in Prescott, Arizona. Although we were there for ten days (Jan 16 - 26), I didn't discover Fain Park (pictured below) until our second-to-last morning. It's nothing remarkable, just a man-made pond surrounded by hillsides and rudimentary trails, but the small sample of wintering waterfowl which it held were remarkably approachable; accustomed to being fed, the ducks swam towards me as soon as I lay prone on the frozen earth. The scaup, in particular, spent a lot of time inside the minimum focusing distance of my 600mm f/4 IS II lens (14.75 feet), so I had to shoo them back at several points! I shot from the blue shoreline with the morning sun rising behind me to the southeast. That big wall in the foreground is the dam which creates the lake.

Let's start with this male Lesser Scaup. He was very confident in his approach, this image being nearly full-frame, and the golden water results from the reflection of the backing hillsides. With zero wind at this moment, the surface was as flat as a Trump electroencephalogram (aka EEG).

Lesser Scaup (male) - Aythya affinis
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS R5
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Since the female wasn't as contrasty as the male, I raised my lens a few inches so that I could capture a bit of texture on the water. I really like how the browns, tans, golds, and yellow blend together in this frame.

Lesser Scaup (female) - Aythya affinis
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS R5
1/2500 at f/5.6, ISO 640

This male Canvasback wasn't present on my first visit, but I nearly crapped my pants when the stunning bird dropped into the park pond on my return the next morning. I've only had one other opportunity at this species, at Alondra Park near Los Angeles, but a concrete lip on the urban pond prevented me from getting my lens as low as I would have liked. Without similar impediment this time around, I was able to isolate this guy in super smooth surrounds.

Canvasback (male) - Aythya valisineria
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS R5
1/3200 at f/7.1, ISO 800

He kept his distance at the outset, but he eventually swam a bit closer. I'm a huge fan of close-cropped headshots, so I was stoked with this result. Craned neck a definite plus!

Canvasback - Aythya valisineria
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS R5
1/2500 at f/7.1, ISO 800

And lastly, I present this male Common Goldeneye. He wouldn't come as close as the others, so I had to slap the 1.4x teleconverter (TC) onto my lens.  TCs can degrades the images when they're used on crappy lenses, but I don't have to worry about that with my 600 prime.

Common Goldeneye - Bucephala clangula
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/2000 at f/7.1, ISO 800

I also did a fair bit of bike-birding around Prescott. Our pet-sitting gig (red pin on below map) was close to Willow and Watson Lakes, and I enjoyed a trio of long-staying Tundra Swans on the former and several Wood Ducks on the latter. Exploring farther afield, I caught up with Williamson's Sapsucker and Pacific Wren (pictured below, poor digibinoc) at Granite Basin Lake. All four of those were state birds for me, so it felt great to grow my Arizona list under my own power. Since Prescott is at 5,400' of elevation, I was really sucking wind on the 1,000' climb up to Granite BAasin. It felt like 2014 all over again! I visited the highlighted sites on different days, but I've shown them as one ride to streamline the imagery and give you a global view of where I explored. The bottom image is a view of the northern part of Watson Lake.

Things have been really hectic since we left Prescott. I spent a week in Albuquerque, flew to Minnesota to guide a six-day owl/finch tour, and returned to ABQ yesterday. I have three additional days around ABQ, then Sonia and I drive to Denver in Super Bowl Sunday, hopefully in time for the game. We're there for 3 weeks while we execute back-to-back pet-sits, but I'll disappear for five days in the middle of those to guide another winter tour, in Massachusetts. I'm not sure how I got suckered into leading all the cold weather tours for Tropical Birding, but I'm sure I'll survive (I really don't mind the cold). Plus, if the 2014 Polar Vortex didn't break me while I was on the bike, nothing will!

That's it for now. Later......

Monday, January 31, 2022

Post #212 - Biking for Birds in Nevada

Regular readers know that Sonia and I are traveling the US for at least the first half of 2022, but I haven't revealed our exact motivation/purpose until now! Our plan to exchange pet-sitting for lodging while home/owners travel might sound insane, but allows people to do exactly that. I kept this news on the down-low until now because Sonia and I wanted to get a second blog, A Tail of Two Sitters, up and running before we let the cat/dog/whatever out of the bag. While we have a loose itinerary of places/states we'd like to visit in upcoming months, we're generally going to allow the pet-sitting winds take us where they will. And that's how we landed in Henderson, NV from January 13-16. I did a bit of birding while we were in the area, most of it by bike, and I'll use this post to highlight some of the places I visited. Here's how we're carting the bike around!

Among three Henderson sites which I visited on my bike, the Henderson Bird Preserve on the east side of town was the best. The impoundments hosted a great number and variety of waterfowl, and desert birds like Costa's Hummingbird, Crissal Thrasher, Vermillion Flycatcher, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and Abert's Towhee lurked in the surrounding bushes. Over 300-species have been recorded at the reserve, and I tallied 60 across two morning visits, a breeding plumage Hooded Warbler an unlikely highlight. Beware - the HBP has very strict hours. Please consult this webpage for info. If I had only one morning to bird in the Las Vegas area, the I'd use it at HBP. Images of reserve below.

Neighboring Clark County Wetlands hosts similar species, but not in the same numbers as HBP. A series of trails winds through scrub and impoundments, and I think it's worth a quick pass even if it's a distant second to HBP.  Same for Sunset Park. Though urban and heavily-visited, the park pond was loaded with waterfowl. The ducks are fed constantly, so super close views of Ring-necked Ducks, Canvasbacks, Redheads, Lesser Scaup, and American Wigeon were afforded. I hit the place on a cloudy afternoon, but it could be great for photography in the right conditions. Here is a map to show the relative locations of these HBP, CC Wetlands, and Sunset Park. It was easy to move between the three locations on the bike given our central location.

A bit farther afield, Red Rock Canyon on the west side of Las Vegas is totally worth a visit. It doesn't hold diversity or numbers of birds, but the landscape is amazing. There are loads of trails, and it would be easy to spend a full day exploring the area. The two dogs which we were watching loved scrambling over the stratified geology! Birds were few and far between, but I did find Rock Wren, Phainopepla, and Peregrine Falcon. 

The bottom line is that there's an unexpected amount of birding and hiking to be done in the greater Las Vegas Area. While most who visit the city do so for other reasons, birders and outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to occupy themselves over a three- or four-day stay.

We've already completed our second sit -- in Arizona -- but I'll save my Prescott birding thoughts/experiences until the next post. Cheers!

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Post #211 -- Some Southern California Photography

Sonia and I are back in the US! There was, however, some serious doubt as to our return from Chile; the Abbott Labs COVID AG-Card tests which we took with us kits were defective, so we had to cobble testing together the night before our flight from Santiago to Dallas (and onto Los Angeles). To compound the drama, Sky Airlines, a Chilean carrier, pushed our final domestic flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago back three hours, a circumstance which cut our connection time in Santiago from five hours to two. We landed in that capital, scampered off the plane, claimed our luggage, sprinted to the international terminal, checked into our American flight, and fought our way through immigration and security. By the time we hauled ass to the terminal's farthest gate, we had only ten minutes to spare. So yeah, getting back was a total circus!

We made it, barely.....

I'll write more about Chile in future posts, but I'm gonna keep it simple this time around and post some photos I captured in Southern California just before we left. Recall that we've rented our San Mateo apartment and become digital/guiding nomads through September. Without a place of our own, we crashed with Sonia's dad in Riverside County for five days pre-Chile. There is some excellent photography to be had in that area, and I'll present a half-dozen shots that I captured across two sun-drenched mornings.

Those who read this blog regularly might recall a post from early-December where I described a choice run-in with Greater Yellowlegs, a common bird that managed to avoid my lens for the eight years since I departed Massachusetts. And wouldn't ya know it? A month after that entry, I had an even better crack at the species!

Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS R5
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 1000

Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 640

Besides those, I had mint opportunities at American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt. The color in all these shots is provided by the early-morning light reflecting off the rocky hillsides behind the impoundment. The stilt shot was taken earlier than the others; that's why it's the most color-saturated and dramatic of the bunch. The avocet waded hella close, and the crouched pose was the only way I could get the whole bird and reflection in the frame. Stoked with the water drop bouncing off the surface!

Black-necked Stilt - Himantopus mexicanus
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS R5
1/4000 at f/4, ISO 400

American Avocet - Recurvirostra americana
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II on EOS R5
1/4000 at f/4, ISO 400

OK, enough shorebirds. Let's finish with two raptors. Birds of prey are a weak-point in my portfolio, so it's always nice to fluff-up those galleries. While I had several nice Merlin shots prior to this awesome encounter, the Red-tailed shot represents my best frame of that species. I'm not sure what the Merlin is eating, but relative abundance and light-colored legs suggest Savannah Sparrow.

Merlin - Falco columbarius
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/4000 at f/5.6, ISO 800

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis
Canon 600mm f/4 IS II + 1.4x III on EOS R5
1/2000 at f/7.1, ISO 1600
*opted for f/7.1 instead of f/5.6 to keep feet in focus when AF point placed on eye

And for those who made it this far, let me point you towards a gallery of my favorite photos of 2021. Several of the shots in this post made the cut, and you'll find a bunch of Chilean birds represented as well. There are 25 images in total.

Here is a link to my phots from Chile. I ask for one good frame a day when I'm traveling -- shooting in new places is really tough, especially without idiot-proof set-ups like in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Colombia -- so I'm super-satisfied with this haul of ~50.

And lastly, there is still space on the following tours which I anticipate leading for Tropical Birding: