Monday, May 22, 2017

Arizona's Last Frontier - Part 2

Our second full day in Greenlee County was Saturday, May 13, and it was the Global Big Day.  We wanted to try to get as many species of birds as possible to put Greenlee County on the map for birding, so we concentrated more on the southern section of the county and some of the riparian locations to try and accumulate the highest number of species as possible.  We started out in the town of Duncan and ended the night in the Big Lue mountains north and east of Duncan.  It was a wise decision as we ended up with 107 species for the day and we covered a variety of habitats, from riparian, to desert, to a pond and ending up in the mountains.

The town of Duncan is located along the Gila River and has a wonderful riparian area and a place designated as the 'Duncan Birding Trail'.  This was our starting point on Saturday and it did not disappoint.  We ended up with a whopping 66 species in this location alone!  Finally got my best views to date of a Mississippi Kite.

 Mississippi Kite

 Mississippi Kite

  Mississippi Kite

Rose-breasted Grosbeak - Uncommon but annual in Arizona

 Summer Tanager

 Blue Grosbeak

 Cedar Waxwings with a Summer Tanager for extra measure

Barn Swallow

 Common Black Hawk

Thistle-down Velvet Ant - one of the most painful stings of the insect world

Antlion - with a quizzical look

Olive-sided Flycatcher

We finished the day at Coal Creek Campground in the Big Lue Mountains where we were able to detect a Mexican Whip-poor-will.  Obviously this is a nocturnal bird and photos were not to be had, but I was at least able to capture its call on a video and it can be heard by clicking on this LINK.

Sunday was our day to return, but we made the most of the morning before our departure by visiting a spot in the town of Clifton and Lower Eagle Creek and finally the eastern access point to Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area.  

Anna's Hummingbird - rare in Greenlee County

 Gray Vireo - This was the first eBird report of this species in Greenlee County

For video and song of this Gray Vireo, please click on this LINK.

Now a bit of interesting information for those of you that are actually reading this post and it concerns the next 2 photos of these whiptail lizards.  These 2 species of lizards are parthenogenetic which means they are asexual and are all females.  They lay unfertilized eggs and all the offspring are actually clones of the parent.  Now isn't that an interesting tidbit of information?   Both of these species were new lifer reptiles for me as well.

Desert Grasslands Whiptail

 Sonoran Spotted Whiptail

 Sleepy Orange

Tiger Whiptail

Sonoran Gopher Snake - It was quite docile, so we enjoyed it until it finally crawled off the road and into the brush on the side.

Sonoran Gopher Snake

This trip to Greenlee County was a real eye-opener and I feel that I need to return to fully explore it some more in the future.  I do have some ideas in mind that might enable others to take a peak at what this county has to offer, but timing will be crucial to get the most species of birds.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Arizona's Last Frontier - Part 1

Greenlee County, in far eastern Arizona, was the only county that I had not yet visited in Arizona.  Guess that qualifies it as my Last Frontier in Arizona.  This county is the most under-birded county in the state and it is Arizona's second smallest county and the smallest in population.  This county borders New Mexico on the east and is sandwiched between Apache and Graham Counties on the north and south, and is located in a very remote area.  Highway 191 that runs north and south is a very good highway, but once one heads north from the mining town of Morenci, it is slow driving on a mountainous stretch that is full of twists and turns, but the vastness of the area is stunningly beautiful.  Deserts in the south and mountains in the north.  It may be Arizona's second smallest county, but it is still larger in area than the state of Rhode Island

Good birding buddy Tommy D., and I decided to do some birding in Greenlee County as it was a place I had always wanted to visit but had never made it there in the past.  Tommy has been there recently in the past and knew where a lot of hotspots were located.  We planned our visit to coincide with the Global Big Day where eBird takes a snapshot of all the bird sighting data on one day of the year throughout the world. Since it is a very under-birded location, all of our reports for May 13 would get Greenlee County represented in the Global Big Day.

The first full day was a trip to the northern part of the county and it was a very full day.  Highway 191 is a very good road, but it is not a road one can travel very fast on due to the many twists and curves and switchbacks.  Once you head north from Clifton, you travel through the mining community of Morenci where one of the world's largest reserves of copper is located.  This is an interesting ride and it is hard to imagine the enormity of this mine until you drive through in daylight.

This day was spent in the higher elevations and with that type of habitat, many of our birds and other critters consisted of the types of animals that favor those habitats.  At one point as we rounded a curve, we had a Black Bear in the middle of the road and it took off running and disappeared into the brush on the side before I could get my camera ready.  The photos below are indicative of what we found up north.  We even venture to the isolated community of Blue, Arizona, which has a post office, a school and a library and in 2000, it had a population of 36 people!

Red-faced Warbler

Swainson's Hawk - This was one of my first birds in Greenlee County and this photo was taken late in the afternoon as we arrived on Thursday.

 Small but fascinating Aker Lake where we had American Three-toed Woodpecker and Purple Martin.

 American Three-toed Woodpecker

Click HERE for a link to a video of the woodpecker and its drumming.

Purple Martin

 Arachne Checkerspot

 Arachne Checkerspot

Common Black Hawk - They were seen in several places.

 Common Ringlet

 Dainty Sulphur

 Dusky-capped Flycatcher -We found 2 of them at the Upper Blue Campground, which was further north than previously reported for this species.

Click HERE to a link to a video of the Dusky-capped Flycatcher where it can clearly be heard calling.

Golden-crowned Kinglet - Hannagan Meadow Campground

 Greater Pewee - Blue River

 Marine Blue Butterfly

 Mountain Bluebird - Near Aker Lake

Friday was a very long day due to the distance we traveled and the many stops we made.  We were secretly hoping for Dusky Grouse in one o the many places we visited.  Habitat was very good, but the pesky grouse were not meant to be.  Stay tuned for part 2 of this adventure and my initiation to Greenlee County.  There is much more to come, including Saturday which was the Global Big Day.


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Warblers, Vireos, and a Crane

The old blog has not seen any recent posts, so figured it is time to rectify that issue.  Most of my recent birding has been near home and I am truly enjoying the wonders of migration and discovering a few new spots around the Valley of the Sun. Many of the birds I am seeing are species that I have more than once posted on my blog site in previous posts.  

Having the time to spend on exploring regular sites and observing many of the migrating birds that are usually only seen for a short time, once or maybe twice a year as they pass through the state of Arizona.  During a 1 week period in late April, I made 3 trips to my regular spot in South Mountain Park and during that period, was able to detect a total of 8 migrating warbler species in this dry desert wash.  When birds are migrating, they need to constantly replenish their their fuel by devouring many insects, pupa, larva, and even unhatched insect egg cases.  The species list of these warblers include:  Hermit, Townsend's, Wilson's, Yellow-rumped, MacGillivary's, Black-throated Gray, Nashville, and Orange-crowned.  That s pretty remarkable considering that none of these species calls this place home for breeding purposes.  Of course, being a warbler, most do not pose for photos very well, so several did not get documented with photos.

Townsend's Warbler

Wilson's Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Vireos are also a common migrant through Arizona, but are usually not quite as colorful and flashy as the warblers.  Some are very vocal and are easy to detect by sound even though they do not always present themselves for photos very well, just like the warblers. 

Gray Vireo

 Bell's Vireo

 Cassin's Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Then something remarkable happened.  A Common Crane was found at Mormon Lake in northern Arizona.  This is a Eurasian species that has appeared in the United States from time to time, but has never been recorded in Arizona.  I took off for Mormon Lake shortly after I heard the news.  It was about a 2½ hour drive from Mesa and it took me awhile to locate the bird on this vast lake.  As I was trying to get a bit closer for better photos, it took flight and disappeared over a ridge.  I was able to snap a few photos before it flew and also as it was in-flight.  Wish I could have gotten better photos, but getting a lifer is much more important.  What a great bird to add to my life list.

Common Crane

My current life list now sits at 689 species and currently there is a big trip in the planning stages that should easily push me over the 700 mark and then some.  Looking forward to some great birds in the near future.  

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.