Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Neatly tucked into a small valley along Highway 60 about an hour east of Phoenix is a wonderful place known as Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  It is located right on the highway and has Picketpost Mountain looming up on the south side of this marvelous place.  The first time I visited this place I fell in love with it and immediately purchased a membership.  The place is first and foremost a mecca for horticulturists with its many different areas of plant life.  One really should take a look at the BTA web site for a much more comprehensive list of what can be found there.

Obviously when they created all these different habitats it also created a haven for a lot of wildlife, including birds.  Anyone who is passing through this part of Arizona should make it a point to stop and check it out.  You never know what you might find there as you walk the trails.  It is a frequent place to visit for me and to round out my 3 day weekend, I travelled out to BTA with Ellen Hairston, one of my regular birding friends.  One of the first birds we discovered was a juvenile Zone-tailed Hawk sitting in one of the pine trees.  These birds are most often seen soaring the thermals and look very similar to a Turkey Vulture.  Since Turkey Vultures do not attack live animals and only feed on carrion, the Zone-tailed Hawk can soar with the vultures, and their prey think they are safe as they appear to be vultures and of course the Zone-tailed Hawk can sometime find easy prey.  This was the best close-up view that I have ever had with a Zonie and it seemed to have very little fear of us.

Zone-tailed Hawk

As we traveled the higher elevation path with Ayer Lake as our next destination, a Northern Cardinal put in an appearance singing from an Ocotillo limb.  Most generally, these birds are found down in the foliage near the stream, so it seemed just a little out of place on the high desert trail.

Northern Cardinal

As we ventured around the main path, which is about 1 ½ miles in length, we worked out way to Ayer Lake.  While it is a small lake, it sometimes has a surprise or two in it.  This time was the first time I found a Great Blue Heron at this lake.  I am sure they have been there before, but it seemed a bit out of place.  Also had a Green Heron in this small lake, but alas, it kept to the other side of the lake and I had to settle for photos of the Great Blue Heron only, which is still nice bird to find.

 Great Blue Heron

Working our way downhill from Ayer Lake, we found a Broad-billed Hummingbird actively sipping nectar from some spent Agave blossoms.  This is one of the most attractive hummingbirds and their red bill is an easy way to identify them from other hummers.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

And a short distance from this we found a Hooded Oriole singing from the top of a palm leaf.

Hooded Oriole

The prize of the day was found in the Demonstration Garden, a Varied Bunting.  This is a bird more commonly seen in Mexico, but with a few reports in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.  This is a bird I had never seen before, so it was a welcome addition to my lifetime list.  Even though it is not a great photo, it is clear enough to see the beautiful colors this male has and a photo that I can live with since it is a fairly rare find in Arizona.  With luck, maybe there is a pair of them at BTA and nesting would and rearing some young at this location would be a really big plus.

Varied Bunting

While waiting for the Varied Bunting to appear, I had a few opportunities to shoot a couple of photos of some Lesser Goldfinches that were very busy feasting on some flower heads in this area.

Lesser Goldfinch

Boyce Thompson Arboretum is a place that will return to very frequently as it is beautiful with flowers, abundant bird life and some amazing wildlife when one is alert and looking.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tres Rios Wetlands-Again, 27 May 2012

What to do with a 3 day weekend?  Take advantage of the 3 days and go birding every day to a different location.  Weather was very nice with cool nights and warm days so after the Saturday trip to Sycamore Creek, decided it was time again to check out Tres Rios once more before the summer heat arrives.  Started off the day with a visit with the Burrowing Owls on Burrower's Row, (see previous post) which was done mostly from inside the vehicle.  Then it was time to get out and do some walking.  The west side of Tres Rios is birding by permission only and one has to get prior approval for parking near the gate and then venturing to the west area behind the closed gate.  So with one copy of my permission slip on the dash of my car and one copy in my pocket I headed out once again to explore the area. 

One of the first birds that I photographed was a Peregrine Falcon.  While these raptors are fairly common in the winter in Arizona, it was a bit of a surprise to find one still here at this time of the year.  Many, but not all, migrate to far northern climates for the summer.  And for the first time, I found one that was fairly approachable and allowed me to snap a couple of shots of it.  Their facial pattern is quite remarkable and they look so regal perched up high.

 Peregrine Falcon

Killdeer are so common and seen just about everywhere and really like to be heard.  Many times it is easy to ignore them, but they do some strange things at times maybe to just get attention.  This one was calling to make sure I heard it and then it would run a bit and stop to see if I was watching.  Then it would run a bit more, but this time it decided to try and hide behind a rock, thinking that I was not going to see it, but it did not fool me.  They can be so entertaining to watch their antics.


For those that think we do not have waders in Arizona, I just had to capture a photo of a Great Blue Heron.  These are really very common in Arizona, even though Arizona is part of the Sonoran Desert.  They can be found just about anywhere where there is water with fish.  This area in Tres Rios has a large population of these birds and in fact they even have a tree with a rookery of several nests that raise several young every year.  As this one shows, they quite frequently perch in trees.

Great Blue Heron

Also near this area I found several White-faced Ibis.  Most were easily spooked, but this one was hanging out with some Black-necked Stilts and allowed a bit more time for some photos.  It is a bird that can easily be confused with the Glossy Ibis, but the red eye is a sure sign of a White-faced Ibis.  The white face is evident on breeding adults.

White-faced Ibis

Just a bit past the spillway area is a small area going down near the river and the vegetation is very thick, so I just stood there watching the activity in the trees and during this time I was able to capture a photo of a Song Sparrow and also a Lazuli Bunting.  The bunting is a bird that is so colorful that they just try to make it difficult to those that want to take photos of them.  This photo is not bad, but would have loved to capture a front view with the cinnamon breast band.

Lazuli Bunting

Song Sparrow

Two more photos to round out this outing; one of an Ash-throated Flycatcher and the other of a Common Gallinule.  The flycatcher is a common bird in the summer in Arizona and have a subtle beauty to them even though they are not strong on bold colors.  The Common Gallinule was formally know as the Common Moorhen.  The name change took place just one year ago.  While they look a bit like the American Coot, they definitely have a bit more color to them.  They have already bred here in Arizona as I did see several chicks, but the ever-attentive parents quickly got the chicks to take cover when I approached too closely.

 Ash-throated Flycatcher

Common Gallinule

Will need to make some future trips out there again in the future, but with the heat starting to built for the summer, the trips will become less numerous until the fall night time temps start falling.

Burrower's Row

Thanks to Laurence Butler and his post about the small community of Burrower's Row, I was able to locate this small village and document some of the inhabitants as well.  Recommended reading before reading this column would be to visit his original post

When I visited the community very early on Sunday morning, sure enough the eastern edge of the village had its sentinel as a lookout to warn the rest of any unwelcoming intruders.  After staring at me intently for some time, he must have decided that I could enter their territory.

Of course I was closely scrutinized by every inhabitant, and a couple of them apparently were a bit skeptical and flew far enough away and continued their observations for afar.  But one of the inhabitants must have decided that I look safe as long as I stayed in my vehicle.  Getting out the the vehicle was a sure sign of caution for them as they would take for cover. 

And it appears their offspring are starting to come out for exposure to the new world about them.  But this youngster seemed less than impressed with his new surroundings in the outside world.  I am sure it will eventually come to like becoming an adult and like most juveniles, won't be able to resist the urge to leave the nest.  Won't be too long and there will be no more room at the Inn for this youngster.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Sycamore Creek

Never wanting to waste a weekend day off and missing out on a new adventure, today was a day that I ventured to a relatively new birding spot for me.  Sycamore Creek is an amazing stream bed that flows to the south and west basically along the same directions of the Beeline Highway, Highway 87.  The place I took on today is not well marked, but it proved to be a great choice when all was said and done.  Got some photos on some great birds that I did not have before.  The best experience was a Canon Wren that landed on a dead tree snag just a short distance from me and sang like there was no tomorrow.  Stayed there for the longest time and allowed plenty of photo ops.  This bird is my favorite Wren.  I think it is one of the most attractive and also has the most distinguished song that is unmistakable and not one too easily forgotten.  As someone else mentioned to me a few months back, this bird maybe should have been chosen as the Arizona State Bird instead of the Cactus Wren.  Nothing wrong with the Cactus Wren, but at least the Canyon Wren is found throughout the state where the Cactus Wren is not.  Some might agree and some might not.

  Canyon Wren

Actually the first critter that I found was not a bird, but a beautiful doe deer and she struck a nice pose for me that I found attractive.  Can't argue with wildlife beauty in any form.

Early on in the hike down Sycamore Creek I ran across many of the common species of birds that I see quite frequently on my birding adventures and today I found this Anna's Hummingbird sipping nectar from flowers that did not even look big enough to have nectar.

Anna's Hummingbird

Shortly after the Hummingbird a Western Tanager flew in from the left and actually landed on a branch in full sun to show off its handsome colors.  This is probably the best photo to date that I have taken of this species.  Love it when they return for the summer.

Western Tanager

The Brown-crested Flycatcher is very similar to the Ash-throated Flycatcher, but not quite as common.  Sometimes they are best identified by their songs.  Today I was able to capture my first photo of this species.  This photo is not perfect, but it does help to define some of the subtle differences in the two species.  The Brown-crested is about an inch larger than the Ash-throated, but if you are only seeing one bird in the field, sometimes size comparisons are a mute point.  In this photo it is easy to notice the more extensive yellow below that is not as extensive and bright on the Ash-throated Flycatcher. 

Brown-crested Flycatcher

One of the most common birds today was the Lucy's Warbler.  They were everywhere and could be heard singing their songs long before I could spot them.  Like most warblers, they are very active and spend a lot of their time in the trees without making themselves too visible.  One male decided to show himself  to me briefly in the open but a bit of a distance away so I took a chance on a photo and got one that is good enough to show off the reddish cap that is found on males.

Lucy's Warbler

Other birds I found but did not get great photos are listed below, including the always colorful Lazuli Bunting.

Lazuli Bunting

Curve-billed thrasher

Cliff Swallows on a Cliff!

An added benefit to all these birding excursion is that sometimes the scenery is also incredible.  This last photo just happens to have a Turkey Vulture soaring the thermals nearby.

Turkey Vulture and Mountain

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mesquite Wash-Revisited

After my first spring visit to Mesquite Wash, I just knew I had to return for more.  This time fortune was not on my side.  Seems a group of young people had decided to use this place as a campsite on Saturday night and here I was on a Sunday morning attempting to have a quiet and peaceful bird outing.  When I arrived very early on Sunday morning, the music was blasting from a camp site quite a distance from the the parking area and several of the young people were milling about and appeared to have slept very little.  So I worked my way down to the bridges and then along the south side of the wash.  Still found many birds and it always surprises me how resilient they can sometimes be to human interference and commotion.  As I got further down stream, the music faded away and I was finally enjoying the solitude of the area and the stream of running water.  Found an Ash-throated Flycatcher that was feeding on insects it could spot from where ever it decided to perch.  Another bird that was playing hide-n-seek with me and my camera, but I still enjoy these birds immensely.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

As I continued further down the stream bed, I had noticed a few Warbling Vireos and decided it was time to attempt capturing a photo of one of them.  The only one that actually gave me a chance did not want to face me, so I had to settle for a shot from behind.

Warbling Vireo
It was this same time that a juvenile Anna's Hummingbird decided to try taking a bath in the stream water and I found it quite remarkable and even did an earlier post on this little dynamo earlier in the week. 

Anna's Hummingbird Juvenile

A bit further on down the stream I found several Black-headed Grosbeaks and like the Blue Grosbeak in an earlier post, I enjoy seeing these birds and will almost always try to capture a photo.

Black-headed Grosbeak
And finally at the point where I decided to turn around and return, I finally got a fairly good look at a Yellow Warbler.  I had been hearing them and seeing fleeting glances of them in the upper limbs of many trees, which is quite normal for them, but this one appeared in a shorter tree and gave me just enough time to get my camera up for a couple of shots before he was gone.  This is a bird that is fairly common, but like most warblers, they can be very diffcult to photograph.  Not a great photo, but knowing their nature, I am not embarassed by the photo either.  As one can see, with its outstretched legs, a fraction of a second later and I would have had a photo of twigs and leaves.

Yellow Warbler
As I returned to my car in the parking area, I heard a Yellow-breasted Chat.  These birds have a bold and boisterous call in the breeding season.  I had heard and seen them at Boyce Thompson Arboretum earlier in the month, but this was the first one of the season that I had found in Maricopa County for the year.  Considered our largest warbler, but there is some question as whether or not is should be classified as a warbler at all.  Handsome birds never-the-less.

Yellow-breasted Chat

In my meanderings around the Mesquite Wash area I also found a couple of intriguing insects.  I think my butterfly friends have helped me identify the butterfly as a Marine Blue and the red insect as a Bloody Net-winged Beetle. 

Marine Blue Butterfly

Bloody Net-winged Beetle
As always, Mesquite Wash is an intriguing place and is one of the best birding spots in Maricopa County.  Thanks to Tommy D. for posting this on his website and opening up my eyes to this spot.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Hummingbird Bathing

Most weekends I try to make the most of my off time by going birding.  Many times I travel the same areas that I have passed before, but it seems that everyday is a different adventure and today was one of those days.  Mesquite Wash in Maricopa County, Arizona is an amazing place (especially if you get there on a day without a lot of campers and ATV riders), and this place holds an amazing diversity of wildlife.  Currently there is a small stream of water passing through the wash, but in the heat of the summer, many times this water source is non-existent and the stream bed can be very dry.  As I was walking downstream and trying to check out some of the little birds flitting in and out of the trees and brush along side of the stream and I was focusing on trying to get photos of a Warbling Vireo I also noticed a plain, non-descript hummingbird near the stream of water.  So I starting focusing my attention on this little dynamic bundle of energy and was aware that it was attempting to bathe in the stream while it was still in flight mode.  Many, but not all, female hummingbirds and juveniles can be very difficult to identify and at the time I witnessed this, I was not sure what species this one might be.  However, once I got my photos processed I was able to determine this little gemstone was a juvenile Anna's Hummingbird.  It was amazing to watch this small feathered creature flying down low to the water and dipping is feet and part of its lower body into the fast moving water and then fly out and go land on the nearby twig for a moment and then go back in for another dip.  I have seen hummingbirds bathe in bird baths at times, but this was a first for me, to see one doing this out in the wild.  Just really makes one appreciate the little things that nature has in store for us to admire.  Below is a series of 4 photos of this little bird attempting to take a bath in a fast flowing stream.   

Anna's Hummingbird Juvenile

Anna's Hummingbird Juvenile

Anna's Hummingbird Juvenile

Anna's Hummingbird Juvenile

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tres Rios Wetlands, May 2012

Summer heat has partially arrived in Arizona and birding becomes more uncomfortable as the temperatures rise, so my best plan is to get out early and take advantage of the cool mornings.  Later on, there will be no cooler mornings, all hot, and when that happens the best escape is higher elevations.

Today I wanted to take advantage of the cool morning air and traveled to Tres Rios Wetlands along the Salt River in the west valley.  This is another birder's paradise and much of it is off limits and inaccessible without permission for birding on the west side of 91st Ave.  On the east side of 91st Ave is the Hayfield Site that is open to all.  Although I did not get any photos, I did actually see my first Least Bitterns and was very excited.  I knew they existed there as I have heard them in the past, but they are very elusive and sometimes very hard to spot.  The excitement at the Hayfield site was a Western Wood Pewee that put on quite a show, flying out to capture an insect and then flying back to devour its morsel.  This one capture what I believe is a Mexican Amberwing Dragonfly (correct me if I am wrong), and gave me a lot of shots of it with the insect in its beak.  What was interesting was that just before it swallowed the insect, it flipped it in the air to position it so it went down head first, sort of like a heron or egret when swallowing a fish.  Here is shot just before the insect disappeared down the hatch.
Western Wood Pewee

On the west side I was treated to a wide variety of birds, some common and some not so common and some just being difficult to photograph!  First up is a Song Sparrow that wanted to play 'hide-n-seek' with me in the bushes.

Song Sparrow

Next we have a Red-winged Blackbird, which is very common and quite gregarious.  Most of them must have already raised one clutch as the reeds and bushes were full of juveniles.  The photo below is an adult male that was being quite vocal.

Red-winged Blackbird

The next couple of photos are of birds that are difficult to photograph.  The Common Yellowthroat likes to hide in reeds and brush along streams, but this one popped up long enough to get this photo.  The Blue Grosbeak is a stunningly beautiful bird, but they seem to be a bit skittish and, at least for me, difficult to approach and get a good photo of one. 

Common Yellowthroat

Blue Grosbeak

Killdeer are very common and quite vocal with their calls that are very distinct.  Even though they are usually found near water, it is just a bit uncommon to see them actually standing in water like this one.


And finally, a Snowy Egret was putting on a courtship display to an eligible female.  Those plumes are stunning when on display. 

Snowy Egret

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mesquite Wash 2012

One of my favorite birding spots in Maricopa County in Arizona is Mesquite Wash especially during spring migration.  Fall migration can also turn up some great birds, but in the spring many of the birds that are in migration mode are all decked out in their breeding plumage.  This spot is about a 30 minute drive from the valley of the sun and the urban setting and it attracts a large variety of bird species, especially if there is water running in the stream.  Not always the best opportunity for photographs as there is extensive cover that makes photos a bit more of a challenge.  It is also a fairly popular place for ATV riding and camping and sometimes those activities can be a big distraction.

On Sunday, 13 May 2012, I ventured out to this amazing place and was not disappointed.  Got to see a lot of different birds, but was not able to capture photos of all that I saw.  One of the nicest birds I found was my 'first of the season' Blue Grosbeak, but alas, photos were not in the cards that day for this bird, but just seeing this bird really started the day off right.  Another bird that I found fairly early in my adventure was a Summer Tanager.  I have seen these birds many times, but most often they are high up in trees with fairly dense foliage or they are a bit secretive and hiding the the shadows.  This male Summer Tanager actually made his presence know by posing in a bit of sunlight for me and my camera.

Summer Tanager

Another bird that I found fairly early was the Say's Phoebe.  This is a very common bird in Arizona but they are always a joy to watch as they fly out and catch insects in the air, or flutter to the ground to gave an unsuspecting insect and then go back to the closest perch and devour it.  This time I found a family of them with at least 2 of them being newly fledged juveniles.  The young birds were not all that flighty and not yet afraid of human encroachment and the gave me some fun entertainment. 

Say's Phoebe

Say's Phoebe-wing stretching

Turkey Vultures are a very common site in the state of Arizona and this one was warming up in the sun's rays early in the morning.  Most people say they have a face that only a mother could love.

Turkey Vulture

The next find was a couple of Black-headed Grosbeaks who flew down into the stream of water to catch an early morning drink.  It was nice to capture a male and a female in the same photo frame.

Black-headed Grosbeak

Last bird in my photo collection is a Bronzed Cowbird.  While a Cowbird is usually not a birders favorite bird due to their behaviour being a parasitic bird; which means they do not build nests of their own.  They lay their eggs in other birds nests and expect the host birds to raise their young, many times at the expense of the host birds babies.

Bronzed Cowbird

Mesquite wash is a fantastic habitat for many birds and a place I truly enjoy returning to time and time again.  I always see many more birds than what I am able to catch on the camera, and this place is a lot of fun.