Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Monday, April 30, 2012

Rocky Point--The Beginning!

Puerto Penasco, Mexico, known by many as Rocky Point, Mexico.  Really hard to start this post as I really am not sure where to begin.  Spent 3 days and 2 nights in this splendid ocean community.  Guess it could be called Arizona's closest beach with sand.  Just a wonderful little get away where life is much more relaxed and a place to turn off one's electronic devices such as cell phones (roaming charges will add up quick!).  I did visit this spot about 3 years ago, but it was a short visit and most of our group was more into shopping and not birding.  Finally got the chance to go back this year and this time got to spend more time birding.  Being from a land locked state of Nebraska, many water birds were easily new life birds for me and with advanced guidance of a few experienced birders in Arizona, I had a great time and came away with 12 new life birds. 

Arrived fairly early on a Wednesday and it was cloudy (which is very unusual) and windy, and I spent my time birding around the fishing boat docks and near to downtown.  Sea gulls of many different species thrive here and they could be found all over.  Many of them were juveniles and for novice birders, these birds can be very difficult to identify.  Many species take up to 4 years to finally molt into their adult plumage, and they can look very different from year to year before they reach adulthood.  Then to make it even more confusing, some of these species seem to be a bit promiscuous and will hybridize quite readily which just adds more confusion to the identification process.  I decided to spend my time only trying to identify adult birds and leave the juveniles to the more experienced birders.

First birds I saw were large numbers of Eared Grebes on the water feeding on the fish in the clear water.  While I have seen Eared Grebes before, most usually in their winter plumage, most of these were all decked out in their breeding plumage and they are quite striking.  They were very active in diving for fish and the water was so clear that I was able to somewhat capture a photo of the fish in the water which they were feasting on.

Also located a Heerman's Gull along the rock near downtown.  The red beak is unmistakable.

Both the Heerman's Gull above and the California Gull below are 4 year gulls indicating they need 4 years to completely molt into their adult plumage and both of these are clearly 4 years old.

After spending some time downtown we returned to the condo where we were staying and and I spent some time in the later afternoon under the dark and gray skies on Sandy Beach.  It was approaching high tide and it was at this time that I discovered 2 of the birds on my 'want' list right on the beach following the waves that were rolling in and out.  The first birds were a pair of Sanderlings and they were very active probing in the sand and while I was trying to capture photos of them a pair of Surfbirds flew in nearby and actually were spending time in and around the Sanderlings.  I was able to get both species in one photo.  The Sanderlings are the smaller, whiter looking birds.

Later on as it started to turn to dusk and the waves were a full high tide, the gulls flew in and became very active and it took a while, but I finally found out the reason.  There were some fish coming in on the waves and beaching themselves in the sand and the gulls were feasting on those they could catch.  Not sure of the species of fish, but did manage to capture a photo of some of them and also a photo of one of the gulls that had caught one and it proceeded to swallow it whole.  The gull appears to be a a 2nd year Ring-billed Gull which are smaller than those earlier in my post.  The Ring-billed Gull is a 3 year gull instead of a 4 year gull and they are all over down in Rocky Point.

So far this was just the first day at Rocky Point and the 2nd day which will be posted later was even more memorable.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Patagonia Lake

Our final day was going to be spent at Patagonia Lake and look for a couple of birds that are rare in the United States, but have been found at this lake fairly frequently in the past.  Patagonia Lake is a state park and is located a few miles off State Highway 82 between Patagonia and Nogales.  Our goal was to try and locate a Black-capped Gnatcatcher and possibly a Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet.  (Really do not know how that bird got its name and why.  Someone must have wanted to created a tongue twister name for this little bird that is only 4½ inches in length.)  The east end of the lake is a fantastic birding area and one of the first new birds that we encountered was a Mexican Mallard.  This duck is considered a sub-species of the common Mallard, but it is definitely not as colorful.

As we approached the east end of the lake we discovered a couple of doves and after a closer look, we found out they were Common Ground Doves which are more irregular than some of the other dove species.  They are probably the smallest dove found in the United States.

Shortly after this photo was taken, the whole fun of this entire excursion suddenly went bad for me.  I suddenly got sick and could not continue on with the group and I asked them to continue without me.  As I lingered behind in my misery, a pair of Bridled Titmouse put on a good show for me, maybe they were trying to make me feel better and I managed to capture one photo of one of them right when it had found a late morning snack in the bush in which had been foraging.  One of the cutest little birds.

That ended up being my last photo of the day and the excursion.  Our absolutely wonderful tour guide and coordinator, Claudia, came back to find me and slowly but surely escorted me back to our vehicles.  By the time I got to the parking lot I was severely dehydrated and very pale.  There were no medical facilities at the lake, so another one of our members, Susy, got me loaded into her vehicle and we made a trip to the Emergency Room in Nogales where I spend about 3 hours getting re-hydrated via an IV.  I started coming around and we can only guess that it had a been a severe case of food poisoning and I have ideas what caused it, but it is speculation only. 

The rest of the group did continue on and did find the 2 birds we had gone there to find.  I am so happy that they were able to locate them and add them to their lists and that I did not prevent them from obtaining their goals.  Since I missed out on these 2 birds, I guess I get to go back on my own sometime to find these birds by myself.

Empire Ranch and more

On Saturday, April 21st, our group of birders from the Desert Rivers Audubon Society started the day by visiting the Empire Ranch in Santa Cruz County.  This ranch is now managed by the BLM and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The ranch is situated near a stream bed called Empire Gulch that is marked by very tall and large cottonwood trees and has a trail that is easily followed.  We encountered over 30 species of birds in this area including more Gray Hawks which we found perched in the trees and also found many of them soaring on the thermals.  My photo below really does not do these magnificent raptors justice.  This one was sitting partially in the shade, but since it was a new bird for me, any and all photos were better than none at all.

We were also treated to a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers.  The male of this species happens to be one of the most photographed birds in Arizona due to its vibrant colors.  I remember the first time I saw one of these birds after I had relocated to Arizona from Nebraska and it was an exciting moment for me.  At that time my little point and shoot camera just didn't do them justice.  Now I will take photos of these birds just about anytime I find them.  Females have eluded me so far in the photgraphic department; they are a bit more subtle in coloration, but still quite attractive.

Another bird that we found several of in this location is the Summer Tanager.  They had begun the spring migration and we found several in the Cottonwoods along the stream bed.  This bird has also been a little tough to capture in a photo as most the time they are up in the highest parts of trees in the foliage or well hidden in the shady parts of the tree.  The male below was also in the shade, but he at least perched on a branch near main trunk of the tree and allowed us some clear views and a photo.

As we ventured down the dry stream bed we eventually found water trickling from some underground springs that eventually turned into a small stream of flowing water.  Near the source of the springs, it pooled up under trees and we encountered some Leopard Frogs basking in the sun.  Not sure of the exact species of Leopard Frogs they might be, but they almost look out of place in the desert.

We finally departed the Empire Ranch site about 11:00 am and ventured back to the town of Sonoita where we stopped for sandwiches and then continued on back to Patagonia and then ventured back into Harshaw Canyon.  At the site of the former village of Harshaw we stopped and visited a very small but old cemetery and also discovered a Red-tailed Hawk nest high in a tree above us.  We found the mother on the nest in a crouched position with wings out a bit giving us thought that she might have babies.  Sure enough, when she took flight, we saw 3 little white fuzzy heads pop up just barely visible over the edge of the nest.  When she returned and landed on a branch near the nest, one of the chicks moved to that side of the nest, but thankfully did not fall out.

The heat was starting to build and the bird life was quieting down in mid afternoon, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the Duquesne Bed and Breakfast for some rest and relaxation.  The hammock in the back yard was ideal for relaxation and watching the birds fly around the back yard.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Duquesne Bed & Breakfast, Patagonia, AZ

During the 3 day outing with the Desert Rivers Audubon Society, we stayed both nights at the Duquesne Bed & Breakfast in Patagonia.  What a fabulous place with the most gracious hostess, Nancy.  We were served an awesome breakfast each day that included some of the flowers grown in her back yard.  The back yard is a sanctuary for both humans, birds and butterflies, beautifully landscaped and in full bloom.  We were greeted with over 20 species of birds that appeared at one time or another in her back yard.  Also blessed with a large number of butterflies that were attracted to the many colorful blossoms throughout the back yard.  I would highly recommend this place for anyone wanting to spend some time in the Patagonia area. 

We will start out this post with a couple of photos of a butterfly.  These next 2 photos are of what I believe to be a Gulf Fritillary (thank you Larry!), which is very flashy and showy.  One with wings open and one with wings closed.

There were many Pinevine Swallowtails also fluttering around in the flower gardens.  Now in the birding department we found some unusual finds, the first up was a Bewick's Wren, which I had never seen close to human habitat before.  Have seen many over the past few years, but always further out in the wild and not very close to human population.  This is a small bird at about 5" in length, but very active and sometimes be hard to locate as they tend to forage in dense vegetation and when a lot of that vegetation is brown and gray, they can be hard to see.

The Gila Woodpeckers, which are very common in Arizona, were constantly in the yard or not far away.  This female landed on a tree and was very accommodating and let me snap a photo or two.  Kind of liked the quizzical look she is giving me and wondering what I am up to.  Males have a red spot on the top of their head while females do not.  But this photo does show a glimpse of the yellow belly that many times is not seen by the casual observer.

Next up is a Lesser Goldfinch, another very common bird in the right habitats of Arizona.  This bird is a bit less colorful than the American Goldfinch from back in Nebraska, but still brings a splash of yellow sunshine. 

Next we have a Northern Mockingbird (which was one of my mother's favorites from back in Nebraska) and I am sure just about everyone knows about their outstanding singing abilities.  The photo indicates pink on their underside, which not correct, but this bird was perched on a bird feeder that had been painted red, so the reflection on the white underside is appearing a little pinkish.

The last 2 birds on this post were not actually taken in the yard of the Duquesne B & B.  The Northern Cardinal was found in the lot next door and the Acorn Woodpecker was taken a block west on main street in the Patagonia City Park. 

The Northern Cardinal is one of my favorite birds as it was our high school mascot when I was growing up in Nebraska, and you must admit the males are usually very vibrant in color.  Even the females are very attractive even though they are a bit more subdued in color.

And finally, but not least an Acorn Woodpecker.  I just love the way they look.  They have unforgettable faces and this one almost fits the name with what looks to maybe a acorn in its beak.

This last photo I hesitated about adding, but decided, no, this is nature and we all need to see how some of these creatures adapt.  This is a Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's sub-species) and even though I had seen it flying about the trees for 2 days, I was not aware aware that it was missing a foot until I got the photos processed on my computer at home.  It goes to show that some of these creatures can survive and adapt with handicaps.  Do not know if the foot is missing due to an accident or if it was hatched that way.  But it is remarkable that it is doing as well as it is.

Duquesne B & B is a great place to stay if you are wanting to spend some time in Patagonia.  They do have a website and the rooms are very nice and very nicely decorated.

Paton's, Patagonia, AZ

What a unique and remarkable place this happens to be.  It is a very well known throughout the United States and beyond for its abundance of hummingbird species that are constantly visiting its feeders.  If you ever visit the place, please be sure to donate anything you can afford as the birds greatly rely on the feeders for one of the sources of food and it helps keep this place open for the benefit to all of us. 

During our visit (Desert Rivers Audubon Society) we observed a minimum of 6 hummingbird species; Broad-billed, Anna's, Black-chinned, Costa's, Rufous, and the much sought after Violet-crowned.  This is one of the best places in the United States to view the Violet-crowned.  It is one of the largest species of hummingbirds to visit the US and I was able to capture a couple of photos.

I think the name fits the bird nicely.

And of course, not to be outdone, we have a photo of a Rufous Hummingbird to share.

Hummingbird feeders are not the only feeders in use.  They have several seed feeders and also some platform feeders where many species partake of the fruit being offered as seen by this Bullock's Oriole in the photo below.

The seed feeders attract a different set of birds such as sparrows and sparrow related species of various types.  What I found odd, but in a good way, was no House Sparrows were present during our visit.  Here is a photo of a Chipping Sparrow.

And a photo of a Lark Sparrow.

Here is a Green-tailed Towhee, which is closely related to the sparrows.

And also quite plentiful were Black-headed Grosbeaks.

And finally, one of the prettiest birds around, (and most sought after), the Lazuli Bunting.

One must keep in mind that this place is a wondrous place and that the birds are constantly changing due to migration schedules.  Some are residents, but many are just passing through and remember that birds do molt and go through various plumage changes, so the colors will change from month to month and week to week.  Other notable birds that we saw while we were there include Northern Cardinal, Pyrrhuloxia, Pine Siskin, Gambel's Quail (with baby chicks!), Bridled Titmouse, Hooded Oriole, White-breasted Nuthatch, and the 'rare for Arizona' White-throated Sparrow.  If you ever make it to Arizona for a visit and would like to see some birds, this place is a must see.  It is set up with chairs and benches and an overhead canopy for easy and leisurely viewing.

Patagonia, Arizona

What a week it has been for me in the world of avian adventures.  This will definitely require more than one post to cover all the ground. 

On April 20th, I joined 7 others for a Desert Rivers Audubon Society trip to Patagonia and the surrounding area in southern Arizona.  We departed Mesa very early in the morning and made a pit stop at Sweetwater Wetlands just outside of Tucson and could have spent an entire day there as it is a wonderful birding spot.  However, we did have an agenda and did not stay long and headed on to our first destination, the De Anza trail at Tubac, Arizona.  One of the first birds we encountered near the parking area was a Rufous-winged Sparrow singing its heart out from a nearby tree.  This just happened to be one of my target birds on this trip and added to my life bird list.  Did not get the best photo that I would have liked, but good enough to show the 2 black whisker marks which is one of the best field marks in identifying this species.

Also in the parking lot we found some very active Barn Swallows that had very little fear of humans and perched on wires right above our heads.  This is a bird that I am very familiar with as they were always present on the farm back in Nebraska every summer.  Always nesting in the rafters in the barn where we milked cows by hand.  Seeing and hearing one of these up close, brought back many old memories.  My dad always told me a child how nice it is to have these birds around in the summer due to the huge numbers of insects they consume, especially mosquitoes.  They feed on the wing catching many insects while flitting every which direction.

We followed the De Anza trail for about a mile and a half in saw many birds during the walk, most were not so cooperative when it came to photos.  Also observed a Gray Hawk, another life bird, soaring on the thermals above us.  Got to observe more of these graceful raptors in other areas of our trip, but for now I was very pleased.  As we came to the end of the trail a female Ladder-back Woodpecker made her appearance in a tree above us and although she did not present the most ideal opportunity for a photo, I did manage to capture one image of her before she flew on to the next tree.

From the De Anza trail in Tubac we then continued on to the Sante Fe Ranch where we stopped for our lunch break and saw some new bird species including a Canyon Towhee that really put on quite a show for us.  Actually there were a pair of them, but one of them in particular was quite entertaining.  First it took advantage of the the bird bath that was available to them, and then it flew up to a branch in front of us and fluffed itself up even while wet.

After giving us some good looks at it there, it then proceeded to fly to the ground and took a dust bath as seen below.

After completing its dust bath, it decided to take a break and pretend it was hidden and we couldn't see it nestled down by a weed.

Finally it must have decided it was no longer hidden and flew up on a stump to check us out and let us know it was done with the fun and games and continued to dry out. 

These few encounters were just the start of a fun filled trip.  Next up on my blog will be photos from the wonderful birding hot spot in Patagonia, Paton's house.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Birding adventures and other odds and ends

This is a new adventure that I am about to embark upon.  Never had a blog and really did not give much thought to starting one, but have seen a few others that are really quite impressive and they appear to be quite enjoyable to follow and hope others might find mine a bit enjoyable and informative along the way. 

Birding has become my latest obsession and will probably be my obsession for the rest of my life.  I have always enjoyed birds and been intrigued with them from a very young age.  Growing up on a farm in Southwestern Nebraska and can still recall some very vivid memories of birds and my fascination with them.  Some of those vivid memories include a pair of Baltimore Orioles building their hanging nest in a tree in our front yard, an Indigo Bunting nesting in our sand cherry bushes, a Scissor-tail Flycatcher paying a visit to our farm, discovering an impaled insect that was a victim of a Loggerhead Shrike in one of our mulberry trees, and of course the many Barn Swallows nesting in our barn every summer.  Regrettably, I did not actively pursue any serious birding until after I relocated to Arizona in 2006.  Then with the realization of such a diverse abundance of bird life found in the desert southwest, I came to the realization, that it is now or never if I am going to get serious about it.  Even in Arizona the birding obsession came about simply because I had started hiking for exercise and it was during one of my hikes that I observed a Phainopepla and was struck by the beauty of these birds while in flight, showing off those white wing patches.  I could not get home fast enough to look it up and identify it.  I could recall seeing photos of one of those birds in a bird book as a child and never thought I would actually see one.  But that one moment made me realize that yes, it is now possible to see new and exciting birds.  Hummingbirds held a big fascination for me as they are virtually non-existent in southwestern Nebraska, but in Arizona they are everywhere!  And the variety of species is awesome throughout different parts of the state.  Here is a photo of the bird that brought back my interest and passion, a female (which is gray) and a male (which is black) Phainopepla.  And that stunning red eye on both is quite remarkable.  The white wing patches are visible only in flight.  This is a bird that belongs to the Silky-Flycatcher family and this is the only species that occurs in the United States. They feed on insects and mistletoe berries.

The photography on birds kind of developed along the way.  It started out wanting to identify every bird I saw and found out that some bird species are difficult to identify and if one is in the field trying to identify a new bird, you might only catch a short glimpse of it and then it is gone and then you have to rely on your memory of what you saw when you open up a bird guide.  Most generally a person does not notice every minute detail of they they just saw.  Photographs have been a tremendous help, but it still does not resolve all bird identifications.  I am by no means a professional photographer and never will be.  I know just enough to capture a good photo now and then.  With the advent of digital photography, there are now thousands of amateurs that are capturing some awesome photos every day.  It is enjoyable to share some of my photos in the hopes that some people might learn something from them and who knows, it might lead another person to pursue the wonderful and crazy hobby of bird watching!