Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Continuing Education: Grasslands and Riparian

It did not take long for me to head back south to the grasslands of southeastern Arizona after my first trip with Barb and Jeanne.  Four days later, I was heading back again and this time I asked Kyle Waites if he would be interested in checking out some of these grasslands.  He readily accepted and off we went.  This time we headed straight to the grasslands and the longspur pond just east of the town of Sonoita, Arizona.  We arrived early, around sunrise, and it was overcast, cloudy and windy.  But we had prepared for that and we bundled up, got out our scopes and started scanning.  We actually arrived a bit too early as the only activity we had in the beginning was a few Horned Larks and Savannah Sparrows. It did not take long to hear the first of the longspurs flying in.  Once again, this was educational for me to experience their flight calls as they arrived and to also observe the flight patterns and compare those flight patterns to the Horned Lark flocks.  One can read about these details in books and hear it from other birders, but to actually experience it, it then gives a new meaning to continuing education. Hopefully, I will remember these points for the future.

On this visit I managed to capture a photo of the single Lapland Longspur that had eluded me on the first visit. Sad fact to this photo was that after finding the bird in my scope, and then trying to find it in my binoculars, when I raised my camera, I had no idea what I was seeing.  I just saw something moving in all the piles of cattle manure, I just started taking photos.  Surprised to get home and find I had the right bird.  We did manage to find and see all 3 species of longspurs;  Chestnut-collared, McCown's, and Lapland .

Lapland Longspur

Grsshopper Sparrow - Nice have this one pay a visit as well.

Pronghorn - I always love seeing these mammals.

From here we headed to the quaint and fun town of Patagonia to stop in for a visit to Paton's Hummingbird Haven which is now managed by the Tucson Audubon Society.  This place is well known to most birders in the United States as the best place to find the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.  And once again it lived up to its expectations as one came in to visit one of the feeders.  

 Violet-crowned Hummingbird

Keeping an eye to the sky!

Finding Cassin's Finches at this location was a bit unexpected and was a welcome bird to add to my Santa Cruz County list.  

 Cassin's Finch - Female

 Cassin's Finch - Male

 Lincoln's Sparrow

And of course Pyrrhuloxia is never a bad bird to see.

 Pyrrhuloxia - Male

Pyrrhuloxia - Female

Since we were already that far south and needed to plan a route home, I suggested stopping at Santa Gertrudis Lane on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains.  There had been reports of a Sinaloa Wren in the recent past, but it had proven to be a bit difficult to find and did not always cooperate with many birders.  Guess this day, it decided to cooperate with a few of us birders that were there. This is Mexican species that seems to be a bit more regular in the past few years in Arizona.  It has not been reported in any other state in the United States. 

Sinaloa Wren

Our final stop was at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon, which is one of my favorite spots in the entire state of Arizona.  They have created a great setup for birders to watch and enjoy the birds.  And they have made it very friendly for the birds themselves.  

 Arizona Woodpecker

 Hepatic Tanager - Male

 Rivoli's Hummingbird

 Rufous-winged Sparrow

Wild Turkey - Male

We had an amazing day of birding and was able to see many of the southeastern Arizona specialties along with a lot of the really great regulars as well.  I believe Kyle ended up with 8 new life birds and he now knows where to find some great birds in some amazing spots in that part of the state. I am sure he will venture to the southeastern part of the state a bit more in the future.  It is amazing in the diversity of birds only a couple hours away from the Phoenix metro area.  We have our specialties as well, so many from the southeast also make the trek northward to see some of our great birds.    

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.