Thursday, April 13, 2017

Amazing Arizona

It was great to return to Arizona after the rainy weather in the Pacific Northwest.  Oregon and Washington definitely have some great birds that cannot be found in Arizona and have even more that I was not able to add to my life list.  However, Arizona just happens to be an awesome state for birds and one never knows what might show up.  Such was the case of a White Wagtail that was discovered at the small southern Arizona town of Ajo.  Some sharp birders had found it on one of the 2 small sewage ponds that are enclosed by a chain link fence.  This species had only been reported once before in the state of Arizona back in 1985 in the Grand Canyon area.  In the United States, this Eurasian species breeds in western Alaska and most generally spends its winters in Southeast Asia.  They do show up on occasion in the United States, but are more common on the west coast and are usually near water.  To have one show up in Arizona is just plain weird.  But there it was and since Ajo is only about 2 hours away, I took off to look for it the day it was reported.  When I arrived, I was not disappointed and neither were the rest of the birders that had beat me to the location.  The only disappointment was that it favored the back pond and the best views were with a scope set up in the back of a pickup.  But long distance photos are better than none when it come to adding a new life bird to my list!

White Wagtail

Guess I am not the only 'bird nerd'.  Rarities can draw a crowd!

But even without these extreme rarities, Arizona has some species of birds that are hard to find in the rest of the US and are limited to very small isolated spots in Arizona.  In 2015, a pair of Tufted Flycatchers were found in Ramsey Canyon of the Huachuca Mountains and I joined forces with 3 other friends to search for this bird and we found it which made it a lifer for me at that time.  This year, not only are there reports from Ramsey Canyon again, making it 3 years in a row for this bird in Arizona, but another pair was discovered higher up in elevation at the Carr Canyon Reef Campsite.  So this year, I joined up with Barb Meding and we headed up the winding, twisting road filled with many switchbacks with some narrow sections and drop offs to the campsite.  This time the views were incredible and this bird was generally very accommodating to us.  This is another amazing bird for Arizona.  

 Tufted Flycatcher

While we were enjoying the Tufted Flycatcher the Buff-breasted Flycatchers were everywhere and very vocal as well.  This is a bird that can usually only be reliably be found in Arizona in the United States, although some can also be found in the Big Bend area of Texas.  So the Buff-breasted Flycatcher is another great bird for Arizona and there is no doubt that it is my most favorite of all the Empxidonax flycatchers that can be found in the United States.

 Buff-breasted Flycatcher

Yellow-eyed Juncos were also quite common at the campsite.  They are a bird of the higher elevations in the Sky Islands of the southwest.  

Yellow-eyed Junco

A very relaxing stop at Ash Canyon B & B, gave us great looks of many birds including several stunning male Scott's Orioles.

Scott's Oriole

Some butterflies that we enjoyed included a Mylitta Crescent, which was a new species for me and a Gulf Fritillary, both of which are pretty good looking if you ask me.

 Mylitta Crescent

Gulf Fritillary

A few hikes near home gave me some more butterflies and some cool reptiles.

Checkered White

Marine Blue

 Echo Azure

 Empress Leilia

 Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Western Patch-nosed Snake

The natural world is full of some amazing and awesome creatures and being able to observe so much of it in the amazing state of Arizona is a blessing.  It truly is an amazing place and hopefully it will continue to be amazing.  I do have concerns with what the future holds with climate change taking place and what politics might do to the nature around us.  Hopefully a 'wall' will not be built that will isolate and fragment some of our natural resources and flora and fauna.  Wall will isolate populations of animals for gene pool diversity and will also cut off some from their water and/or food sources.  Lets hope that mankind can prevail and help preserve this natural world around us.   



Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Water Birds of Oregon

I have saved all the water-related birds for the last blog post.  After all, my last lifer on this trip was a water bird, the Mew Gull.  And we got it on the last day before our flights carried us back to the sunshine of Arizona.  And, par for the course, Chris and I had to deal with the rain to find it.  They are fairly common, but trying to locate one in the rain with binoculars getting wet, proved to be a challenge.  So we just stood on the shoreline of the Columbia River at Broughton Beach and started taking photos of a lot of gulls that were traveling upstream in the rain.  

Mew Gull

Gulls are not my forte in the birding world and not one that I would chase a lot.  There are a couple of species that would definitely get my interest to chase, but doubt if either will show up in Arizona.  We were challenged with the identification of the various gulls in Oregon.  Gulls are notorious for hybridizing and we quickly found out that some of the hybrids in this area are quite common.  So we had to approach the gull identification process with caution.  We did have other gulls that were not hybrids and one of them was the Glaucous-winged Gull.  This was not a lifer for me, but it was the first time I got to see one in adult plumage.  My previous sighting was a juvenile in Arizona several years ago.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Below are a few photos of some of the other water birds we observed during our stay.  Some I have seen in Arizona in the past, and some I have not.  But always fun to see and observe some of these species that I do not see as often.  

Horned Grebe

Common Murre

Common Murre

Surf Scoter - Male

White-winged Scoter

Black Oystercatcher

Black Turnstone

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Golden-crowned Sparrow

Was also pleased to see a few other unusual flora and fauna.  My first ever sighting of a Vole.  I know they are a common rodent and are frequently seen as part of the diet of many raptors including owls. 

My first ever photo of a Vole

Western Skunk Cabbage was a new and interesting plant that we found.  Had heard of it before, but never knew much about it until now.  It is sightings like this that are fascinating as I read up on things like this and understand more about our natural world.

Western Skunk Cabbage

These last 2 photos are of a spider species that was fairly common clambering around on the snow in the vicinity of where we had the gorgeous male Spruce Grouse.  I have no idea what species it might be, but I had never seen a spider on snow before and seeing several of them leaves me in awe of what else is out there yet to be discovered.
Spider in the snow!

I returned to Arizona with 9 more new life birds so it was a great trip with some really awesome birds.  If anyone is planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest and have some of these birds on your wish list, I highly recommend contacting Khanh Tran.  He knows his birds well and not only knows where to find many of them, but also how to find them and what time of the year is best to observe them.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Rainy Days and Mondays

The 8 days of the trip to Oregon/Washington were filled with RAIN!  It rained every day during our stay and at one brief moment in the state of Washington, we did see a few snow flurries, but nothing to cause any road condition problems.  Only once did we encounter a MONDAY, but it was a special MONDAY as I picked up 2 new life birds that day.  The first was the Gray Partridge (see previous post) and the second lifer was one that has been on my wish list for a few years, the Short-eared Owl.  This owl is one that is rather difficult to get in Arizona although they are reported from time to time in the winter months.  We arrived at the location that Khanh knew about at dusk and, of course it was RAINING!  I got my binoculars on it quickly and confirmed the ID and was happy.  Had to bump up the ISO on the camera since it was so dark, which allowed me to get some photos of this cool owl.  I now have only 2 species of owls left to see in the list of North American owls; one is pretty easy in the right range and the other is one of the hardest to find.

 Short-eared Owl

A couple more lifers that I added to my life list on this trip were found in Washington. They were the Bohemian Waxwing and the White-headed Woodpecker.  The Bohemian Waxwing is a cousin to the Cedar Waxwing that we see quite frequently in Arizona, but it is a bit larger and grayer overall with a dark red vent area.  They are very nomadic and can be hard to find as they travel a lot, in search of food sources.  Luckily we stumbled on to a flock of about 200.

 Bohemian Waxwing

The White-headed Woodpecker has been on my wish list for a long time and I know they can be found a few hours away in California, but I had never taken the time to pursue them in their habitat.  We had a stunningly beautiful female show herself to us.  The white head on a coal black back and body is very striking. 

 White-headed Woodpecker

A couple other lifers that I acquired in the Pacific Northwest were the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch and the American Tree Sparrow.  The Rosy Finches were using some of last year's Cliff Swallow nests for roosting at night.  Who said birds are not smart?  We got there at twilight just as they were going to roost and had to use our flash to get photos.  Not great for photography and I usually despise using a flash and try to avoid it at all costs.  

 Gray-crowned Rosy Finch

The American Tree Sparrow was one of the hardest birds to get for my satisfaction.  They did not cooperate by any means.  We had heard them in a few spots and I caught glimpses of them, but not enough to confirm the key field marks for an ID.  Finally at one stop, I got some good looks, but photos were not meant to be.  They really played hide-and-seek with me.  The photo below is the best I could get and one has to really look hard to see that there is a bird in the background behind all those branches.

American Tree Sparrow - Yes, it is in there!

Other birds that I was able to get photos of included Rough-legged Hawk; one I have never photographed before.  And a female American Three-toed Woodpecker.

 Rough-legged Hawk

American Three-toed Woodpecker - Female

Even some of the birds that are found in this area are the same species as those found in Arizona, but some of them can look quite different.  The next 4 photos are examples of these birds.

 Horned Lark (Western Rufous Group)

Gray Jay - 2 different subspecies in the northwest

 Gray Jay - 2 different subspecies in the northwest

Spotted Towhee - less spots and its call was a bit different as well.

Even though it was RAINY and we only had one MONDAY, we still got to see some great birds.  Will have one more post to cover this expedition, so you can look forward to it in the future.