Sunday, February 19, 2017

Target Birding

What is 'Target Birding'?  It probably means many things to different birders, but to me, it means making a trek to focus on one particular species of bird.  The one species might mean a rarity that has shown up in the most unlikely place such as the Lesser Sand Plover that showed up in northern Arizona last fall.  Or it might mean chasing a bird that has a limited range and is endemic to a particular area or region.  Such was the case this past week for me and I made a trip to southern California to 'target' an endemic species.

This species for me was the Island Scrub-Jay that is found only on Santa Cruz Island which is part of the Channel Island National Park off the coast of California near Ventura.  The only access to Santa Cruz Island is by sea via a boat and taking the ferry was my only option.  I opted to take the ferry to Prisoner's Harbor where most reports were coming in for the ISSJ (banding code for Island Scrub-Jay), and where most people recommend for seeing this bird.  The ferry does stop at Scorpion Bay before venturing on to Prisoner's Harbor and that is the point that most people got off.  My primary focus was to find the Island Scrub-Jay, so that is what I did before focusing on other birds and interesting flora and fauna.  I could hear the jays calling from the hillsides, but those hillsides were on the Nature Conservancy property where we were not allowed access.  Eventually, 2 of them ventured down to the stream and I finally got my first views of them and managed to capture a few photos.  

Island Scrub-Jay

Allen'a and Anna's Hummingbirds were fairly common on the island, and since Anna's is a species I get in my back yard, I focused on the Allen's Hummingbirds.  I have seen this species once before in southern California, but this was a long time ago and I had never gotten any photos.  It was a treat to see these and observe their behavior and listen to them for a change.

Allen's Hummingbird - Male

During my stay on the island, I was constantly hearing a call that I was unfamiliar with and eventually I was able to track it down and found out it was an Orange-crowned Warbler and they were plentiful.  This is a sub-species (sordida) that is endemic to the Channel Islands and they look different and sound different than the other sub-species of Orange-crowned Warblers. 

 Orange-crowned Warbler (sordida)

There were also many sea birds that we observed on the ocean from the ferry and also from land.  Birds on the ferry were almost impossible to identify and photograph as this boat was fast moving and they were not focusing on the pelagic birds.  Only when it slowed down or stopped for whales or dolphins, I was able to snap off a few photos.   

 Brandt's Cormorant

 Black-vented Shearwater

 Caspian Tern

Common Murre

The ferry did not focus on sea birds, but it would stop when ever they spotted mammals in the ocean such as whales, dolphins, and seals.  Of course everyone on the boat got excited in seeing whales, as did yours truly!  I had the privilege to see 2 groups of these whales from the boat; a group of 2 and then later a group of 6.  Pacific Gray Whales migrate down the coast of California this time of year to areas off the coast of Baja California where females give birth to calves.  
 Pacific Gray Whale

Also VERY numerous out on the water were large groups of Common Dolphins.  One group we encountered was estimated at over 2000 by the crew and they would swim up to ans around the boat as if playing games.  They are very fast and nimble and hard to photograph, but what a wonderous sight to see.

 Common Dolphin

Elephant seals were also seen, specially on the ride out to the island in the early morning.  They will raise their flippers out of the water to expose them to the sun for warmth.

Elephant Seal

On the island I found this butterfly that I had never seen before and after a little research, I came up with an identification of Gray Hairstreak.  A very striking butterfly in my opinion.

 Gray Hairstreak

I was also impressed by the Giant Coreopsis that grows on the Channels Islands.  This variety is almost like a small tree as it grows up to 3½ feet tall with a trunk that is almost 4 inches in diameter.  

 Giant Coreopsis

More adventures of my birding trip will be covered in another post in the very new future.  The rest of the trip involved birding on the mainland and chasing a couple of introduced species that have established some breeding regularity in the United States.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

South Mountain Park

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have been spending a lot of time in Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park.  It is a place that I adopted as 'My Patch' in eBird,  It was only natural that I did this becasue this spot is one of the closest locations for me to get some good exercise and over the years I have found some pretty good birds here.  Many of the birds I see now are the more common desert species, but being able to document them and enjoy them on a personal level is really pretty cool.  This post features some of the recent experiences that I have encountered in this location, including a couple of crushing scenes of hummingbirds.  And hummingbirds will be my starting point for this blog post.  

Probably my most favorite hummingbird that is a year-round resident of this part of Arizona is the Costa's Hummingbird. Of course there are others that really trip my trigger during the summer months, but don't tell that to any of the COHUs!  This bird, with its stunning royal purple gorget is really hard to beat.  I have discovered one in Pima Canyon Wash that is a fixture and he has his special favorite perch and he really defends the wolfberry bushes in his territory.  And he is fairly approachable.  Photographing hummingbirds in natural settings are so much more pleasing than those around feeders.  Here are some photos of 'Mr. Reliable'.

 Costa's Hummingbird

The Anna's Hummingbird is also a year-round resident in this part of Arizona and it ain't no slouch either.  It is by far the most numerous and probably outnumber the Costa's by 8 to 1.  It is the most common and frequent hummingbird to show up at feeders in people's yards.  And when a male is in just the right angle of sunlight, its brilliance is almost blinding.

 Anna's Hummingbird

That just about covers all the hummingbird possibilities for this time of year, but we have other species that are enjoyable and fascinating as well.  Case in point; the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.  This is another tiny passerine that is very vocal and also very common.  They usually give up their location by their buzzy like notes.  In winter, both sexes are a pretty boring overall gray on top and white underneath, reference the first photo.  However, as spring approaches, and it is definitely approaching in Arizona right now, the male starts donning a spiffy black cap and subsequent photos show one such male beginning to get that dapper look.  

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Of course there are many other regular birds in this part of South Mountain Park and when they properly present themselves and cooperate for photos, why not take advantage of it?  Black-throated Sparrows are dapper LBJs (little brown jobs as many novice birders lump them).What's not to love with those very contrasting blacks, browns, whites, and grays on a sharp-dressed bird? 

 Black-throated Sparrow

Curve-billed Thrashers are one of the easiest birds to recognize with their sharply curved bill and bright orange eye.  Now this bird has a proper name that describes it well.

 Curve-billed Thrasher

This one was singing while on the rock, maybe trying to translate the petroglyphs.  However, since I do not speak 'thrasherese' I could not understand it.

When it comes to woodpeckers in the desert, Gila Woodpeckers and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers are in order.  Gila take advantage of the Saguaro Cactus for its nest cavities, creating a new cavity every year.  The Ladder-backed uses the trees it finds for its nesting cavities. 

 Gila Woodpeckers

Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a possible new nest cavity in the making?

The never ending parade of the Verdin entertains an entire hike.


As for the wren family, the 2 most common species found are the Cactus Wren and the Rock Wren.  The Cactus Wren has the distinction of being Arizona's State Bird.

 Cactus Wren

Rock Wren

On one of my recent trips, a Lesser Goldfinch had apparently taken a liking to the desert habitat as well.  Not always assured to be found in the desert, but not rare by any means either.

 Lesser Goldfinch

And finally a 'Gambel's' White-crowned Sparrow, which is a winter only resident.  Come springtime, they will be headed north.

White-crowned Sparrow

Now that I have covered all the birds, lets move on to a butterfly and some mammals. The butterfly, a West Coast Lady, seemed a bit early this year, what a bright spot to enjoy in January!

West Coast Lady

The Coyotes seem to be thriving very well in this environment as they all look healthy and not malnourished.  Thankfully, none of them were hungry enough to be viewing me as a possible meal! On one occasion a couple of them starting howling at me as I was walking down the wash.  Really had some neat encounter with the Coyotes so far.  They are very wary and try to stay far away from any humans.    

 A sequence of Coyote photos

 Harris's Ground Squirrels

 Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Desert Cottontail

For those that read my previous blog post, I also made comments that I was also branching out to more diverse groups of organisms.  So with this post, you get to witness a couple of photos of some flora (or plants if you prefer).  

Graham's Fishhook Cactus-love how it puts forth roots in a rock crevice and thrives!

This next one is a very tiny little plant.  I have probably walked right by them countless times, but once a person 'stops and enjoys the roses', little things like catch my eye and the tiny whitish flowers were intriguing for sure.  I was only able to identify this by posting it on a citizen science website,  Exact species is not known but at least someone suggested a 'probable' species.

 Genus Pectocarya-most likely Pectocarya recurvata, note the tiny whitish colored flowers.

Same plant but with the corner of my cell phone next to it for size comparison.

It has been enjoyable following a lot of the regulars and learning new flora and fauna along the way.  Hopefully my next post will be interesting as I am taking a short trip out of the state.