Saturday, March 18, 2017

Hunting 'Chickens': Avian Style

Just returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest and spent some time traversing the states of Oregon and Washington.  The word 'Chickens' is a collective term that many birders refer to that covers a lot of the game birds found in the United States.  And the reference to 'Hunting', in the mind of a birder is to view, observe, and document any bird in the wild.  As a much younger lad, many decades ago, hunting was a bit different for me as I did a little bit of actually hunting with a shotgun, especially Ring-necked Pheasants in Nebraska.  I have not actively hunted anything for many years with a shotgun and no longer have the desire to do so.  When I refer to 'hunting' now, it is only as a birder, not a hunter with a gun and my weapons of choice are binoculars and a camera!

Chris and I planned this trip several months ago and we were fortunate to have a great guide during our stay.  Khanh Tran, knows this area well and he knows his birds very well; where to find them, and lots of information on behaviors and what to expect at different times of the year.  One has to cover many miles to find some of these birds as many are located in some very remote areas.  The winter this past year in this area has been very wet with lots of snow and rain.  We dealt with gray skies and intermittent rain throughout our stay. 

First 'chicken' we chased was the Spruce Grouse.  I quickly learned how tough it is to find this bird.  One almost has to know its territory as they do not wander far.  They are quite cryptic and camouflaged in thickets of spruce trees and they are also quite confiding, so once found, one can approach them fairly easy with caution.  We had to trek over some snow for about 1½ miles to get to the territory.  But once this stunning male was found, he was very cooperative and it was an exalting encounter.

 Spruce Grouse - Male

Note how easily it blends in when it is hidden in a tree.

The next species we had the privilege to observe was a Greater Sage-Grouse and a lek.  This is really pretty special and the location will go unpublished to preserve this area for future generations of courtship displays for this bird.  A lek is a type of bird territory in which males of a species gather for courtship displays.  These locations are used year after year and if not protected, it could jeopardize future breeding and a decline in the numbers of these magnificent birds.  We were a bit early for a lot of serious courtship, as we counted 18 males and only 1 female.  The numbers are more likely to increase in the next couple of weeks.  

 Greater Sage-Grouse - Male

Note the lone female on the right side of the photo, with 2 males on the left.

This next 'chicken' is the Ruffed Grouse and was not a lifer for me as I saw several in Minnesota in January 2016, but this time the numbers were higher and offered much better photographs.  All grouse have cryptic plumage that offers camouflage in their environment for survival purposes.  But these plumages are very intricate and beautiful. 

 Ruffed Grouse - Note how it blends in with the tree

A bit more extreme than the grouse species is the family of quail.  I have seen California Quail before, but had never been able to photograph them.  This trip rectified that problem with providing us several looks at this bird.  Similar to the Gambel's Quail we have in Arizona, but still much different and in some respects a bit more colorful. 

 California Quail - Male

 California Quail - Female

The next species is one that we looked for on just about every road that we traveled and finally we found a group of about 13 of them along side of the road, the Gray Partridge.  But as we turned around to go back for a better look, they started running away from us and eventually flew.  Great photos were not meant to be this time, but I did get some good looks through the binoculars and seeing the bird is more important than capturing a photo.  Here are a couple of the butt shots that I managed.

 Gray Partridge - on the run

This was a great experience for me to learn how hard it is to find some of these game birds and and to learn their habits and behaviors.  It is a group of birds that can be difficult to find and see, but when found the rewards are outstanding.  Stay tuned to more future posts on this trip to the marvelous Pacific Northwest! 


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Some Part-time Guiding

With a big trip planned in the very near future, I have been staying close to home recently, but have had the opportunity to guide a few out-of-state birders to find birds in and around the Phoenix area.  It has all been a lot of fun and it is interesting how different birders have different goals.  Some just wanted to see birds, ANY birds, but some wanted to hone in on some target birds.  I had the pleasure to assist Geruza from Texas, Barry from British Columbia, Susan from Colorado, and Marvin from Nebraska.  Was a lot of fun meeting these intrepid birders and enjoying their excitement when they locked on to something new.  

First person was Geruza from Texas and we took in 2 days of birding; first along the Salt River and Kiwanis Park and day 2 was spent at the Gilbert Water Ranch and Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  She was new to Arizona birding and just wanted to see as much as possible.  Here are a few of the photos I managed to capture during those two days. 

 American Robin

 Bald Eagle

  Lesser Golfinch

 Northern Rough-winged Swallow

  Rosy-faced Lovebird

Vermilion Flycatcher

The biggest shock came at Kiwanis Park in Tempe while we were checking out the Rosy-faced Lovebirds and we found this incredibly beautiful Rose-ringed Parakeet and it is a blue mutation.  It is a popular cage bird and the normal color is green, but pet breeders have a knack in developing color mutations and I have always loved this color mutation of this bird, but have never owned one.  I know this is an escapee, and I did post this to several Facebook lost pet sites.  Not sure if the original owner was found or if a local pet bird breeder may have captured it for safety sake.

  Rose-ringed Parakeet - Blue color mutation

 American Avocet

 Cinnamon Teal

 Northern Cardinal

 Orange-crowned Warbler

 Ring-necked Duck

 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Next visitor was Barry from British Columbia, and he has been to Arizona in the past and has done a fair amount of birding on his own and for this trip he was hoping to find the hard-to-get Le Conte's Thrasher.  This bird is kind of a Maricopa County specialty.  While it is found in other parts of southwestern Arizona, the famous 'Thrasher Spot' west of Buckeye is well known.  We did find the Le Conte's Thrasher and Barry also learned how difficult this bird can be to find and observe.  We also got some other birds that were new to him as well.  It was a great outing!

    Burrowing Owls

 Sagebrush Sparrow

White-faced Ibis

Number 3 was Susan from Colorado and her goals were a bit similar to Barry's; get the Le Conte's Thrasher.  So it was back to the same location.  And once again, I was able to help Susan get on a Le Conte's Thrasher.  Plus we got Bendire's and Crissal as well.  

 Bendire's Thrasher

 Crissal Thrasher

 Gilded Flicker - male and female

 Gila Woodpecker

The final birder was an 86 year young gentleman from Nebraska and his enthusiasm for birds has not diminished at all and being able to show him some birds up close that were relatively calm around humans was a delight for him at the Gilbert Water Ranch.  

 Abert's Towhee

 Curve-billed Thrasher

 Gambel's Quail

  Pied-billed Grebe

Song Sparrow

Have an out-of-state trip planned in the very near future.  Hope to come back with some photos of some new life birds.  Stay tuned for more.



Saturday, February 25, 2017

California Specialties

The main target bird, the Island Scrub-Jay, was covered in my previous post, but I had a couple more to look for as well, but these birds are non-natives, and have established breeding populations in the United States and are ABA countable.  So I figured that I might as well put some time and effort in trying to locate these other 2 species.  

The first one is the Red-whiskered Bulbul, which is native to tropical Asia and was introduced to the United States.  With a little research, I discovered that the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Gardens might be the best place to find this bird.  It did not take long to find one either.  As soon as I got out of my vehicle in the parking lot, the first thing I heard was Indian Peafowl, which everyone is familiar with, and the 2nd one was an unusual song that I had not heard before and it did not take long to pinpoint the source; a Red-whiskered Bulbul near the top of a tree in the parking lot.  Once I got inside, I found out that they were quite numerous and they are very vocal, so it was not hard to locate many more.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

As mentioned in my previous post, I was captivated by all the Allen's Hummingbirds and the chance to get some respectable photos of them.  

Allen's Hummingbird

Indian Peafowl were introduced to this site in the late 1800's and they are thriving, breeding, and well established at this location.  Have always loved the colors of these large birds.

Indian Peafowl - Male


From this spot, I then traveled to the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife area and Balboa Lake, which are fairly close together and just separated by a golf course.  And I got a nice assortment of birds there as well.  

A leucistic American Coot - rather attractive for a coot!

Bushtit - Sure looks different from those in Arizona

California Gull

California Towhee

Egyptian Goose

A hybrid goose of some sort

Song Sparrow (ssp heermanni) - Much different than what we have in Arizona

Found a couple of lizards as well and not being real familiar with the species found in California, I had to rely on some of the experts on to supply an ID for them.  

Great Basin Fence Lizard

Western Fence Lizard

The Santa Cruz Island trip was wedged in between my arrival date and my departure date.  (See previous post.)  On my last day I had enough time to chase another countable non-native bird that is established in California; the Spotted Dove.  I had spent a lot of time researching in the weeks before my visit, to find out where it was being reported this year.  Incredibly, it was not being reported at any eBird Hotspots, so I had to make my way to the intersection of a couple of cross streets to begin my trek.  Who says you can't do any good birding at Home Depot or Target?  I had to walk up and down a street behind those two businesses that was lined with residences on one side.  Birding in and around a residence has to be done a bit judiciously.  Most people are not fond of people with binoculars and a camera probing their yards.  I walked this street from one end to the other and finally decided I was going to have to give up.  About a block from the car on my return, I saw a Mourning Dove fly up to an electrical line and shortly after, another dove-like bird fly to a line nearby.  Got my binoculars up and sure enough, there was a Spotted Dove.  Quickly took a couple of distant photos and then tried to get to an area with a closer view and by that time it was gone.  Talk about a last minute find!

Spotted Dove

I had time for one more stop before heading back to the airport in Burbank, so I headed to the San Gabriel River Parkway Nature Trail.  Nothing new, but got to view and photograph a couple of cool birds.

 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

 Cassin's Kingbird

California Scrub-Jay

Yes, the time flew by very quickly, but being able to notch a few more life birds made the trip all worthwhile.  New adventures await me in the next few months of 2017.  Hope they are successful.