Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Monday, January 15, 2018

Maricopa County Has Awesome Birds!

Southeast Arizona most generally gets all the attention for the best birding in Arizona and rightfully so.  After all, that area is located near to the border with Mexico, and it is expected that some of these Mexican specialties wander north over the border and into Arizona.  But at the other end of the spectrum, Maricopa County which is further north, has its share of some pretty awesome birds. It does get its share of northward wandering Mexican birds as well, just not as regular as southeastern Arizona.  The county also gets some pretty amazing northern and eastern migrants that can whet the appetite of many birders.

Recently, I was invited to join Barb Meding and Jeanne Burns to head a little ways north of town of Carefree and look for Grasshopper Sparrows which had recently been reported by a team of birders participating in a CBC (Christmas Bird Count). We had decided to make a day of it and explore various other locations in the vicinity as well.   First was the search for Grasshopper Sparrow in the desert grasslands and we found them (at least 4).  This is a bird that is not too commonly found in Maricopa County, and we had to endure looking at a lot of White-crowned Sparrows to find these rather cool and interesting sparrows.

 Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow - backside

2 Grasshopper Sparrows

Rufous-crowned Sparrows and a Sage Thrasher also rounded out this area along the recently paved road.

 Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Sage Thrasher

Next stop was the Seven Springs Campground area.  We arrived to find a wedding had been scheduled for the campground, so we did not have a lot of time to explore, but we were able to find Cassin's Finches feeding on the many Juniper berries.  

 Cassin's Finch - Male, munching on juniper berries

Cassin's Finch - Female, also feeding on juniper berries

Our final stop on the way back to civilization was Lower Camp Creek.  We had seen reports of a Louisiana Waterthrush and a Golden-crowned Kinglet from that location, so those were our target birds.  The kinglet was actually quite easy to hear and it showed itself well.  It is rare for this species in these lower elevations, but this year seems to be a bit of an irruption year for it.  It can be notoriously hard to get photos of this bird, and this one offered me the best views ever for this species.  

 Golden-crowned Kinglet

Took a bit longer to locate the Louisiana Waterthrush.  We could hear it giving its single note 'chick' call, but getting on it was a bit tough.  And it got tougher as I happened to spy a Pacific Wren down near the water, which had not been reported and it too, is a hard bird to find in Arizona due to their secretive habits.  It is always fun to find an uncommon bird to add to the list for others to locate. 

 Pacific WrenWren

After getting over the distraction of finding the Pacific Wren, we were able to finally get some views of the Louisiana Waterthrush. They can often be confused with the Northern Waterthrush, but one of the key identifications is the white supercillium, or eye-brow.  These photos show how wide it is all the way back behind the eye towards the nape of the neck.  Northern Waterthrush has a similar marking, but it tapers to a very thin line in the rear.  This is a species I had only had seen very well once before.  This sighting is great as it provides a learning experience for me. 

 Lousiana Waterthrush

 A couple more birds we saw at this location was a Hutton's Vireo and another Sage Thrasher.  Both species are always great to see.  

 Hutton's Vireo

Another Sage Thrasher

What a great day of birding with a couple of really good friends, so I was in good company.  Finding the Pacific Wren was really great so we could add to the list of uncommon birds at this location.  Several other birders have chased the Pacific Wren since our report and found it, so you know it is a desirable bird.  Maricopa County really has some great birding of its own and birders need to take note that not all special birds are found in southeastern Arizona.



Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Arizona's Grasslands and More

This past week, I had the privilege of searching for Arizona birds for a person that has been birding for more than 50 years and has a life list of of over 6400 species.  Peter Bono and his wife Elaine, made a stop in Arizona on their way to Mexico and had contacted me through Birding Pal.  Believe it or not, he was missing 3 species on his life list and was hoping I could assist him on these 3 species.  It is a bit intimidating to be trying to help find life birds for a person that already has almost 5000 species more than myself.  His life list targets were Baird's Sparrow, a species that I had only seen once before and that was almost 7 years ago, Cackling Goose and Sagebrush Sparrow.  The latter 2 species, I felt would be a bit easier than the sparrow as they usually winter in Maricopa County and there had been solid reports of them in the recent weeks.

Our first full day, we headed out early to southeastern Arizona to search for the Baird's Sparrow.  We arrived at our destination right around sunrise and we stationed ourselves in one spot to let the birds get acclimated to seeing us in their habitat.  After checking out many sparrows, we finally zeroed in on a Baird's Sparrow, which is a good looking sparrow!  A couple of them were kind enough to pose for photos. 

 Baird's Sparrow

Baird's Sparrow

As mentioned earlier, other species of sparrows were present; Grasshopper, Savannah, and Vesper A well as several Eastern Meadowlarks.  So it was a great opportunity to observe the finer details in sparrow identification.

 Grasshopper Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Eastern Meadowlark

From here we headed to Madera Canyon and the Santa Rita Mountains.  Madera Canyon is one of my favorite places in Arizona and I never get tired of birding there. 

 Hammond's Flycatcher

 Hepatic Tanager

 Painted Redstart

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

The next day, we birded in and around the Phoenix area.  Was able to get the Cackling Goose at Glendale Recharge Ponds, luckily I had my scope to zero in on them as they were quite a ways out in the water.  Next stop was the Thrasher Spot where we were able to get the Sagebrush Sparrow, which is a bird he did not have due to the recent split of the Sage Sparrow.

Sagebrush Sparrow

We then headed back to the eastern part of the valley to do some birding, and on the way I was able to locate the returning winter resident dark-morph Ferruginous Hawk.  I think this is the first time I have been able to photograph in in sunshine instead of cloudy skies.

Ferruginous Hawk - (dark-morph)

Now that his 3 lifers had been confirmed, we started working on birds to add to his Arizona list, so a stop at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve and other various spots were in order.

 Chestnut-sided Warbler

 Hooded Merganser - Female

 Orange Crowned Warbler

Wilson's Snipe

We also visited the backyard of a resident that has an awesome back yard for birds.  He was kind enough to allow us in to spend some time and we were hoping for the Ruddy Ground-Dove that has been visiting his back yard.  It took about 1½ hours before it made its appearance, but it finally did.

Ruddy Ground-Dove

It is rather satisfying to be able to assist a person in adding some new life birds to their list, especially when they are approaching the 6500 number.  In retrospect, it is an educational opportunity to fine tune my skills on birds that I do not see that often.  Sparrows can be so challenging, but the more one is exposed to them, they getting easier to identify for any future sightings.  


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Winter Birding in Nebraska

Due to a death in the family in December, I had to make a trip to southwestern Nebraska.  While it is difficult to deal with a death in the family, one of the activities that gave me personal time to reflect on life and death, was the opportunity to spend some time with nature.  Even in the cold of winter, nature is amazing and can offer a sense of joy and what is right in this world.  And by getting out to see what abounds during the cold of the winter, we can learn to appreciate all it has to offer.

First free morning that I had to myself, I ventured out and arrived at Barnett Park before sunrise and the temperature was a 'balmy' 19° F, (-7.2° C), at the start!  Much of this early birding was completed within a short distance of my rental car for brief periods of warmth.  At first it was slow and quiet, but as the sun rose and a trace of warmth started to settle in, the birds became a bit more active.  

Downy Woodpeckers are fairly common throughout most of the United States, but in Arizona they are most generally restricted to the northeast part of the state and in the higher elevations.  

Downy Woodpecker - Male

 Great Blue Heron - surprising to see them in such frigid temps.

 Snow Goose

Canada Geese

A video of the Republican River and some Canada Geese flying over

The second place I visited was Red Willow Reservoir north of the town of McCook.  I liked it so much, that when I had a chance to take my niece, Trina McPherson, out birding a couple days later, I selected this same location for that journey as well. 

 Cedar Waxwing - always a favorite

 Downy Woodpecker - Female

 'Red-shafted' Northern Flicker - Also saw a 'Yellow-shafted', but it did not pose for a photo.

 Ring-billed Gull - Not a great photo, but nice that if had caught something for breakfast.

 Red-bellied Woodpecker - Haven't been able to capture too many photos of this bird.

 This photo shows some of its red belly for which it is named.

American Goldfinch - not in its bright summer plumage, but still very attractive.
On the second trip to this location with Trina, we found some different species that surprised me a bit as I expect some of them to be more confined to further west in the United States.  However, eBird does show records of these birds in Nebraska.  But they were new to me for my Nebraska state list. 

 Townsend's Solitaire - this was one of my surprise birds.

 Mountain Bluebird - This was my biggest surprise and awesome to see!

 Mountain Bluebird - in a tree before it went down to the water edge for a drink.

Trumpeter Swans - Not a great photo by any means as they were on the far side of the lake.  I was thrilled to be able to add them to my Nebraska list and after consulting eBird, I discovered this was the first report in eBird for this species for Frontier County.  

Winter birding can be spectacular just about anywhere.  You might not always see the birds in their bright breeding plumage, but there is more to birding than just flashy colors.  So glad that I was able to work in some time to spend with nature during my stay and happy to have Trina join me for a couple of hours one morning.