Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Monday, July 30, 2012

Mt Ord, the 1688 Trail, 29 July 2012

Wanting to be adventurous, Ellen once again joined me on checking out a new birding spot: the 1688 road/trail on Mt Ord in Arizona.  I think it is referred to as a road, but most vehicles would have a tough time navigating it.  But it is a fantastic hiking trail.  It is located on the west side of Mt Ord so it is entirely in Maricopa County and the trail is about 2 miles long and then the 2 miles return made for a great hike and some much needed exercise.  We got started early in the morning and with the higher elevation, it made for a very cool and comfortable hike.  We felt pretty good as the first bird we actually saw was a Painted Redstart.  In all, we saw 3 on our hike but heard more and of those three we actually saw, 2 of them were juveniles from this year's hatch, which is nice to know that this species is breeding on Mt Ord.  Here is a photo of one of the juveniles (no red on their bellies)!

Painted Redstart

One of the next exciting birds birds was a Black-throated Gray Warbler juvenile that flew across our trail in front of us and then proceeded to come out and pose for us.  Maybe it was checking us out since it was a juvenile and had not inherited its caution with humans yet.  Very striking little birds with that spot of yellow in front of the bill which is quite interesting.

 Black-throated Gray Warbler, Juvenile

Black-throated Gray Warbler, Juvenile

Another fairly common bird that we found were Western Wood Pewees doing what they do best, perching on bare branches and flying out to snag an insect and return to its perch.

Western Wood Pewee

We also discovered 3 Greater Short-horned Lizards during our hike; 2 adults and then a young one.  Does a baby lizard have a name?  Many people call these lizards, Horny Toads, but in fact they are lizards, not amphibians.  I don't see these that often, so when I do I get excited at seeing them and I am always amazed at them.

 Greater Short-horned Lizard, Adult

Greater Short-horned Lizard, Baby

It is probably a toss-up on which bird was the most numerous during our hike; the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher or the Rufous-crowned Sparrow.  The gnatcatcher can be found in a lot of places in AZ and they are active and busy as most small birds are.  Couldn't seem to capture a decent photo of one sitting in the sun for me, so I had to settle for this photo of one in the process of hopping from one twig to another. 

 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The Rufous-crowned Sparrow had eluded me until last year when I found my first 2, but this trip really increased my count of this species.  They were everywhere along the trail and I finally had a couple stop long enough to let me capture some decent photos of them.  One photo is a straight on head shot that readily shows off the strong facial markings of this bird and the second photo give a side view of this bird.  It was very nice to capture some decent photos of this sparrow to add to my sparrow collection.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

This place is definitely a worthwhile place to visit for the views, scenery, birds and other wildlife and of course the solitude.  We only encountered 1 other person during our 4 mile hike.  Need to stay in shape for some upcoming short trips planned in the month of August. 


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Pinal Mountains, 28 July 2012

Made another trip to the Pinal Mountains this morning since the higher elevation is much more inviting than the heat in the desert. It is a long a winding road to the top, but the temperature was a cool 65 degrees at the top and very refreshing.  Got to meet the residents in the cabin with the hummingbird feeders and they were so cordial and invited me in for a cup of coffee.  They have several hummingbird feeders in their yard and the hummers are everywhere.  The regular visitors are Broad-tailed, Anna's, Magnificent, and Rufous Hummingbirds.  Today I realized that even though I have seen Broad-tailed Hummingbirds many times, I have never gotten a photo of one.  So I decided to make that a priority and the birds did not let me down.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird-Male

In addition to the Broad-tails, there were several Rufous Hummingbirds and below are photos of both a male and a female.

Rufous Hummingbird-Male

Rufous Hummingbird-Female

Everywhere I stopped I heard Spotted Towhees calling and saw about a dozen or more.  They are a beautiful bird, but most generally do not like to pose for a camera by hiding in dense vegetation.  Found one today that must have had a streak of exhibitionism as it really put on a singing show for me out on branches in the open.

Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Also in the area near the top, the House Wrens which I found a couple of weeks ago now have fledged some babies and there were House Wrens all over the place.  Who knows, this might even be the same bird I photographed on my previous trip.

House Wren

One last stop on my way down the mountain produced some Black-chinned Sparrows.  This photo is a female or possibly an immature bird.  The males in breeding plumage have a nice black patch on their chin and around their beak.  This species is unique in the fact that it has an all gray head which is a bit similar to some of the Dark-eyed Juncos.  This species of sparrow also has a fairly long tail compared to many of the other sparrow species. 

Black-chinned Sparrow

There is so much more to explore at this wonderful haven east of the Phoenix area and I have a lot more future trips planned to return to the Pinal Mountains.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Boyce Thompson Arboretum, 7/21/2012.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum (BTA) just happens to be one of my most favorite places in Arizona.  I loved this place the very first time I visited it a few years back and try to get there as often as possible.  This place along Highway 60 about an hour east of downtown Phoenix is a place that you never know what you might find.  Of course, their specialty is the horticulture and plant displays that abound in this area; desert, low mountains, riparian stream bed and even a small lake.  With all that variety it also attracts many birds and a lot of unusual other life forms, the latest being Desert Bighorn Sheep, (which I was not fortunate enough to find on this last outing).  This latest trip I arrived early without too many other visitors yet at 6:00 am and as I started down the main path from the visitor's center, the first bird that made an appearance for me was a pair of Brown-crested Flycatchers.  These birds are very similar to the Ash-throated Flycatchers that tend to be a bit more common and have a larger range than the Brown-crested.  This day I saw more Brown-crested than Ash-throated and have noticed that the Brown-crested have recently fledged young in the Arboretum.  Here is one of my very first photos of the day that really set the tone.

Brown-crested Flycatcher

As I worked my way up to Ayer Lake, I was able to find a Bronzed Cowbird, some Phainopeplas and some Lark Sparrows, along with a Great Blue Heron on a rock cliff at the lake.  One of the Lark Sparrows and a male Phainopepla allowed me to get a 'twofer', 2 birds in the same photo. 

Bronzed Cowbird

Phainopepla & Lark Sparrow

Great Blue Heron

As I continued on the path up into the drier and rocky areas a Black-throated Sparrow made an appearance and bit further down the walkway a couple Canyon Wrens were being very vocal.

Black-throated Sparrow

Canyon Wren

Continuing on the main trail which led down to the stream bed, a Bell's Vireo made an appearance.

Bell's Vireo

I eventually made it to the area of the Demonstration Garden where I found a very vocal Yellow-breasted Chat, a Blue Grosbeak, and a young Broad-billed Hummingbird on one of the feeders.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Blue Grosbeak

Broad-billed Hummingbird

The most numerous bird at BTA on this day were the Lesser Goldfinches as they were everywhere including bathing and drinking in the water fountains. They adore sunflower seeds, so it is not unusual to see them on sunflower seed heads and the bright yellow of the male goldfinch really matches the sunflower quite well.

Lesser Goldfinch

Probably the highlight of the morning were the newly fledged Cooper's Hawks.  The resident pair succeeded in producing two chicks this year and you could hear them in the trees.  I first saw them in the Australian eucalyptus trees and later when I was visiting one of the bird baths watching some Lesser Goldfinches bathing a drinking, one of the adults flew in and when that happened the goldfinches disappeared and shortly afterward the 2 young hawks came in and posed for me. 

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper's Hawk

BTA is a fabulous place to visit, so if you are ever in Arizona and love nature, a visit to this place is definitely worth it.  You will not regret it.  To learn more of Boyce Thompson Arboretum please visit their website at this link
They have many activities throughout the year and they have something for the whole family to enjoy.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Montezuma's Well---A new birding hotspot!

Last weekend, on my return to the valley of the sun, from Mund's Park, and with a birding friend, Wayne along, we made a short detour to Montezuma's Well.  We first stopped at the picnic spot and found it to be a very nice place with lots of shade trees and nice restrooms and we decided to check it out.  Within a few minutes we had discovered the trees and grasses were alive with birds.  The place is not a photographers friend as most of the birds were in heavy shade.  This weekend I travelled back to this spot mainly to try and get a glimpse of the one elusive bird that I had only heard the weekend before but was not able to see; the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  More on that later in the post.  Both visits produced 3 red birds:  the Vermilion Flycatcher, the Summer Tanager, and the Northern Cardinal.  No photos of the Cardinals, but I did manage a couple of the Vermilion Flycatcher and the Summer Tanager.  Not outstanding photos, but the red is hard to miss in the canopy of trees.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Summer Tanager

Also seen in the picnic area were Lazuli Buntings, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, Anna's Hummingbird, Gila and Ladderback Woodpeckers, juvenile Yellow Warbler, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Western Wood Pewee, Bell's Vireo, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Bewick's Wren.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Bewick's Wren

And finally the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  This is a very elusive bird; they tend to be very shy and definitely make it difficult to find.  Photos are even harder to come by, but today when I got out of the car, it was the first bird I saw and it took off and I followed a short distance trying to get a better view.  I finally got a couple of photos of it that are recognizable, but far from being what I would have liked to have gotten, so here is my very first salvageable photo of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  It is nice to know these birds are breeding in this location in Arizona.  They have a very short stay in the US for breeding in the summer. 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

After spending a considerable amount of time in the picnic area, I ventured on to the actual sight of Montezuma's Well.  This is a natural up-welling of warm water into a large limestone sink and was utilized by ancient indigenous people for irrigation for crops in the Verde Valley.  It is a very interesting place to visit with no admission fees and you can follow the trail to the top looking down into the large pool of water.  After only being there twice in two weekends, I have decided this is the best place to view Canyon Wrens.  What show they put on both weekends.  Here are 3 photos that they were so eager to give for me and my camera.  (By the way this happens to be my favorite wren species!  Might have been a better state bird for AZ instead of the Cactus Wren!)

Canyon Wren

Canyon Wren

Also had a Rock Wren make an appearance today that was making quite a fuss about something, but not quite sure what it was.

Rock Wren

And to end this post I thought I would toss in a photo of a Empress Leilia Butterfly and a Katydid that I enjoyed during my short stay.  If someone reads this and notices that I have missed the identification on the insects, please let me know so I can correct it.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Munds Park, AZ

On Sunday July 15th, 2012, I drove to Munds Park, Arizona which is a short distance south of Flagstaff, to join a fine group of birders in exploring the bird life in and around Munds Park. Another birding friend Wayne, joined me, and we were treated to some wonderful birds.  Our host, Margaret, started us out first on the local golf course with some ponds on the edges.  We got a lucky break as they had given about a 1 hour rain delay to the golfers and we were fortunate to actually get to venture out on the course for a better viewing vantage for a while.  The nearest pond was very busy with bird life including many juveniles and babies from this year's hatch.  Got my first photos ever of a baby Pied-billed Grebe and they look quite different than their parents, but are quite cute to say the least.  There were several youngsters in the water, but this one was kind enough to pose for a photo.

Pied-billed Grebe Juvenile

Also in the same pond were young American Coots.  The American Coot is a very common bird and sometimes the numbers are so great it is quite easy to just ignore them, but to actually see a youngster from this year's hatch was quite special.

American Coot Juvenile

One of the groups favorites was the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Males are quite stunning with their bright yellow heads and shiny black bodies.  This photo is an immature male.

Yellow-headed Blackbird Immature

On the way back to the vehicles to move on to a different spot, I spied a woodpecker high up in a tree, but could not quite make out what it was, but the photo helped verify it as another youngster, but in this case a young Red-naped Sapsucker.  So it was a morning of youngsters!  Also seen on the golf course were Black Phoebe, Barn Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, Tree Swallow, Red-winged Blackbirds, Great-tailed Grackles, American Crows, and a Yellow Warbler. 

Red-naped Sapsucker Juvenile

Next stop was Lake Odell and it was very busy with abundant bird life.  Unfortunately, most of the birds were a bit of a distance away yo capture photos, but we found Canada Geese, Mallards, Great Blue Herons, a male Ruddy Duck, Eurasian-collared Dove, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Western Bluebird, and Pygmy Nuthatch.

Next we were invited to sit in the front yard of one of the residents and watch their feeders for a bit.  It was not a disappointment and the owners generosity was greatly appreciated by all.  The feeders were visited by House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a Mountain Chickadee.

Hairy Woodpecker-Female

Lesser Goldfinch

Pygmy Nuthatch

Mountain Chickadee

Also at the club house we were also greeted by a Say's Phoebe.  What a beautiful place to spend a couple of hours enjoying the birds and great company. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pinal Mountains, AZ 8 July 2012

Time to share my trip to the Pinal Mountains this last Sunday.  Ellen once again joined me to escape the low valley and summer heat.  The Pinal Mountains are not as high in altitude as Mt Graham and are really not considered as part of the 'Sky Islands'.  The elevation here is slightly over 7000' and it is still markedly cooler here than in the valley of the sun and metro Phoenix.  The drive is south out of the town of Globe, AZ and the road is approximately 20 miles to the top.  The road is mostly dirt and rock and gravel but it can be negotiated by a regular car.  During our trip up to near the top and back, we found a total of 49 species of birds.  Different species were at different elevations which is indicative of each individual species habitat.  

On the trip on the way to the top we found Gambel's Quail, Turkey Vultures, White-winged and Mourning Doves, Red-tailed Hawk, Western Kingbirds, Bell's and Gray Vireos, Western Scrub Jay, Common Raven, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, Canyon Towhee, Northern Cardinal, Bronzed Cowbird, Bullock's and Hooded Orioles, House Finch, House Sparrows, and Black-chinned Sparrows.  Also found Bushtits at 3 different locations and elevations and a family of Juniper Titmouse, which happens to be the bird in my first photo.  This was an easy spot from the car as that short little crest was standing up and made quite a profile with a blue sky background.  And of course this family was foraging in a Juniper Tree.  Guess that is exactly where they were supposed to be, living up to its namesake!

  Juniper Titmouse

The next photo is another gray bird, this one is a Gray Vireo.  Not a boldly colored bird, and by no means a rare bird, but they can only be found in certain habitats and require a birder to look a bit harder to find them.

Gray Vireo

More birds that we saw on the way up was a female Black-headed Grosbeak, a Greater Pewee, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Painted Redstart, Hepatic and Western Tanagers, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Wrens, Anna's Hummingbirds, Lesser Goldfinch's, and several Spotted Towhees all along the way.  Below is a photo of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, that surprised me that the focus was actually on the bird considering all the leaves around it.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I have seen more Cordilleran Flycatchers this year than in the past, but part of that is due to fact that I am birding more in the mountainous habitats where they are found.  Here is my latest photo of one.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

Near the top and just before we came to the cabins we stopped in a small wash area and felt we really hit the jackpot on birds, they were coming from all over and we had a hard time keeping up with everything we saw, so there is a good chance we missed a few.  In this area we found Northern Flicker, Hairy and Acorn Woodpeckers, Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos, White-breasted Nuthatches, Mountain Chickadee, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-eyed Juncos, Olive, Grace's, Red-faced, and Black-throated Gray Warblers.  Going to add a not-too-great photo of the Red-faced Warbler.  It is a much sought after bird in the summer as it is fairly restricted to Arizona and New Mexico for breeding in the summer within the United States.  Like most warblers, they are very difficult to photograph as they are very active and are usually found in dense shade.  A bad photo just beckons to me to try harder for a better photo in the future.

Red-faced Warbler

Might as well add photos of a Hermit Thrush and a juvenile Yellow-eyed Junco since they at least posed a bit for me!

Hermit Thrush

Yellow-eyed Junco

Near the summit and in the area of the cabins, one of the cabins had their hummingbird feeders filled and the owners were very generous and gave us permission to take some time and enjoy their hummingbirds.  The feeders were the center of activity and hummers were buzzing in and out constantly.  The majority were Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, but they also had visits from Magnificent Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds.  Below is a photo of one of the Magnificent Hummers with its green gorget.

Magnificent Hummingbird

Pinal Mountains is a great place top go birding and not a great distance from the Phoenix metro area.