Friday, August 31, 2012
After spending a week in the White Mountains and also in the Madera Canyon areas of Arizona a week ago, I figured it was time to stay home on Saturday and Sunday to recuperate. During my time away from home, there were a few intriguing bird sightings of interest in and around Phoenix. Guess I just could not resist checking out a couple of these just to see if the birds were still around or not. On Sunday morning, decided to check out the Glendale Recharge Ponds in the west valley to see if the Roseate Spoonbill might still be hanging out. It was not meant to be as I could not locate it in the couple of basins that actually still held water. But I still found some interesting birds and was able to capture a couple of interesting photos in the process. It is almost never a waste of time to go birding when the birds can be so darn entertaining and interesting.
The most numerous birds on the pond that early morning were Wilson's Phalaropes. These birds are usually only seen in Arizona in the spring and fall as migrants though the state. Very rarely do we get to see them in their bright colorful breeding plumage, but they are always a joy to see and watch.
Also present were 3 American Avocets that also were not in their bright breeding plumage but no matter, they are always an elegant and graceful bird to observe. This one appears to be a female as the females have a stronger upturned bill than the males do.
Another bird that is quite common around water in the winter time in Arizona is the Least Sandpiper as many of them will spend their winters here. Note the yellowish legs of this bird which helps to define the difference from the Western Sandpiper.
And finally as I was walking down low in one of the dry ponds, a Killdeer landed on the path near me. I use this vantage point when birding at these ponds as the birds in the ponds with water do not see you and when you step up to peek over the pathway you normally get better views before they all spook and fly away. Glendale Recharge Ponds are devoid of trees, so hiding from the birds can be quite a challenge. It was interesting to see and photograph a Killdeer at eye level.
Since the spoonbill did not make an appearance, I decided to head across the valley to the Gilbert Water Ranch to see if I could locate another rarity that had just appeared a couple of days before. When I arrived at pond 2 where this target bird had been sighted I also found 6 other birders there watching for it (Scott, Fonda, and Lindsey and her father, plus 2 others). So while we were waiting to see if this bird would come out of hiding I captured and couple of other photos that I liked. One was an American Wigeon and one was a female Mallard. The wigeon is not a rare bird by any means but they usually do not arrive for the winter this early in the fall. The female Mallard was showing off it characteristic bright blue speculum and the sunlight was hitting it just right for a photo.
And finally after an hour wait, the mystery bird did make an appearance on the far side of the pond and thanks to Lindsey and her scope and her running me down to find me, I got some good looks at my first Purple Gallinule. This one is a juvenile and they are not seen in Arizona very often. A few of them stray north out of Mexico from time to time, so it was nice to add another new life bird to my list. Now my goal is to see one in adult plumage and to capture a much better photo than what I could manage this time. This photo was taken from quite a distance, but once again a bad photo is better than no photo when it comes to a new life bird.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Still have a lot of photos left over from my trip to Southern Arizona last week, so decided to make a post with what is left over. These photos were taken at a variety of places and to start off, I wanted to show a photo of one of my favorite warblers, a Painted Redstart. On my 2nd trip up Carrie Nation Trail, I found several of these beautiful birds at various places along the trail. Kind of a southwestern specialty in the United States.
Also along this trail I found other wildlife than just birds. Had a Gray Squirrel come down out of the upper reaches of the trees to check me out.
Now on to Montosa Canyon where I went searching for the rare Black-capped Gnatcatcher, but can't quite claim it as a new life bird just yet, will have to search again. But while I was there, I found more Varied Buntings than I have ever seen. They are not an easy bird to photograph as they like to forage in deep plant cover. I did manage to get one photo of this very unusually colored bird.
Also in the area were some hummingbirds and this male Broad-billed Hummingbird on a branch with its wings spread was a very nice find.
And I really enjoyed this juvenile Acorn Woodpecker. I had never seen a juvenile before and it was very education for me to see the differences in males, females, and juveniles. This is the same one that was hanging around Santa Rita Lodge.
One more little hummer to add to my post and that is a Violet-crowned Hummingbird. This was taken at Paton's yard in Patagonia where my friend Larry Morgan is the current caretaker. This is probably the easiest location to catch this rare hummer in the United States.
As mentioned earlier, birds were not the only creatures that my camera was focused on. I enjoy all sort of creatures and consider them marvelous and wonderful. Unfortunately with a zoom lens, not all insect species are easy to photograph. But I still enjoy trying and below are some of the insects that found their way under the scrutiny of my camera lens.
Horse Lubber Grasshopper-Female
Horse Lubber Grasshopper-Male
Gulf Frittilary Butterfly
Empress Leilia Butterfly
Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly
Hope everyone enjoyed this latest and last post from my birding trip. It was a lot of fun and I saw and lot of wonderful creatures and met some wonderful people on my latest adventure.
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Santa Rita Lodge was my destination in Madera Canyon and the place I chose to use as my base camp while exploring the area. The lodge itself provided plenty of birding opportunities and I found 2 new life birds right at the lodge. The most exciting find was totally unexpected but it had been a bird on my 'want' list for for quite some time. During my 2 night stay I ran into a very nice couple and their very young son from Texas that were also staying at the lodge and their cousin from Tucson had come down to visit, and they were kind enough to allow me to tag along. We had decided to walk across the road to a picnic area and check it out before heading into town for a bite to eat. We found a deer grazing in the grass and as I was trying to get my camera focused on the deer, the blurring noise of 2 birds flew across our path directly in front of us and landed in some grass nearby and disappeared. By their flight pattern and sound I knew immediately that it was some kind of a quail, but it took us awhile to finally catch enough of a glimpse of them to see they were Montezuma Quail. This little bird can be very elusive and it is a much sought after bird for many birders. The male finally worked his way around a rock and peeked over the top to check us out and allowed us to get some nice photos of him. Quite a handsome little bird don't you think?
The Santa Rita Lodge also has many feeders out and lots of hummingbirds visit along with several Mexican Jays that seem to come and go and lots of Acorn Woodpeckers. But the most numerous birds were probably the Lesser Goldfinches. Here are some photos of some of the other birds that were in abundant numbers; Mexican Jay, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Lesser Goldfinch, Wild Turkeys, a female Hooded Oriole (that was a bit camera shy), and an Anna's Hummingbird sipping from a feeder right out side the front door of my Casita.
This last photo is one of another one of my new life birds, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher. It would fly into the feeding station area every once in a while and chase an Acorn Woodpecker or two and then fly off again. It never did land in the right spot for a decent photo, but sometime birds do not want to cooperate and I guess I should count my blessings that I got to see the bird!
Next on the list of places to see was Beatty's B & B in Miller Canyon. Quite an amazing road to get there, but my car made it with no problems. The fire damage up in the mountains a year ago was quite evident and the deforested mountains created a lot of flooding from the monsoon rains last year. But the place is still there and the birding is still pretty wonderful! This place is also famous for its variety of hummingbirds and a pair of Spotted Owls that have nested further up in the canyon. It was a bit of a walk to the owl site, but was well worth it as I saw my first Spotted Owl even though it was a juvenile. Hummingbird feeders were active with many species including a Blue-throated Hummingbird which was another new life bird for me. Here it was not even 11:00 am and I had added 4 new life birds to my list for the day! It was nice of the Blue-throated Hummingbird to land in the trees right behind our viewing area as he gave me a chance to get a decent photo. The Spotted Owl was in deep shade, but I managed to get a good enough photo for now.
Only one more photo to add to the Miller Canyon adventure, due to some time constraints we had to be headed back to Patagonia for a short visit and then head on to Madera Canyon to get checked in at the Santa Rita Lodge. We also found these Guinea Hens on the property. While they are not a native or wild bird, it was fun to see them again. I remember as a kid that many farms had these birds around to help control grasshoppers and to act as alarms. They get very vocal when they feel threatened.
Yes, Miller's Canyon is worth the visit there as well, a bit higher up in elevation, and with a bit different diversity of birds, and that is what makes it unique and worth the visit. It will be on my list for future visits.
Monday, August 27, 2012
Decided to focus on 2 groups of birds on my first post from southern Arizona; Hummingbirds and Woodpeckers. Larry Morgan from Paton's in Patagonia, AZ met me in Sonoita, AZ and we headed to a couple of hot hummingbird spots near Sierra Vista, AZ. We drove through pouring rain almost all the way there and by the time we got to our first destination which was Ash Canyon B & B, the rain had almost stopped. I had never been to this wonderful spot before and now that I have been there, I most certainly want to go back. Mary Jo has a wonderful set up of hummingbird feeders and other feeders and the quantity of hummingbirds was simple awesome! We counted 8 species at the feeders in just about an hour. someone before us had counted 10 species and they are all over the place. Of the 8 species we saw, 2 of them were new life birds for me; the Lucifer Hummingbird and the Plain-capped Starthroat. Both of these birds are not easy to find in the United States. Lucifer Hummingbird is a gorgeous bird with a long curved bill and a vibrant purple gorget. The Plain-capped Starthroat is not as colorful as some hummers, but it is one of the largest hummer to be seen in the United States. You can notice the size difference in the photo below. Also included are photos of the Magnificent Hummingbird, which is another large hummer and also a photo of a Broad-billed Hummingbird with its red bill tipped in black.
Plain-capped Starthroat on the far right
The next group of birds are a couple of species of woodpeckers; the Ladderback Woodpecker and the Acorn Woodpecker. And for both of these species I am including photos of both the males and the females. The first set is a male and female Ladderback Woodpecker, the male has the red on the crown whereas the female does not.
The last set of photos are that of the Acorn Woodpecker and along with the male and female photos, I am also including a photo of a juvenile. The difference between a male and female is that the female has a black bar on the crown between the white and the red. The male does not has this black bar.
And the 3rd photo of the juvenile readily shows that the full black and red colors have completely developed. Also note the dark eye in the juvenile compared to the white iris in the adults.
What a great start to a wonderful day of birds! Next up: Miller's Canyon.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
For my final post on the trip to the White Mountains of Arizona, I am combining 2 different locations; Woodlands Lake Park in Pinetop and then Green's Peak near Greer. Going to begin with Woodlands Lake Park in Pinetop which is very easy to find, just a short distance off Highway 260. In my humble opinion, this has got to be one of the best places to view and observe Lewis's Woodpeckers which is probably the oddest colored woodpeckers in the United States. It feeds on many insects which it most generally finds by catching them in the air a bit like flycatchers. I found a dead tree with 6 of these woodpeckers perched on it and they would take turns flying out to catch an insect and then returning.
The park has a small lake/pond on the property with very good paved trails leading around the entire perimeter. Along the the way I found a Pygmy Nuthatch that appears to be collecting lichens or moss for maybe a nest? I also found a small flock of Lazuli Buntings in the grasses near the water's edge. My photo captured 2 males and 3 females and there were more hidden in the grass.
A female Hepatic Tanager also made an appearance, but was a bit camera shy.
Now on to Green's Peak which is located in the high mountain meadows. When driving up to it, it does not look like much of a 'peak', but since the meadow is already at about 9000' in elevation, the peak only rose about another 1000' from the meadow. The top is crowned with a ranger tower and some communication towers, with plenty of good paths for walking and birding.
Once again the Pine Siskins were plentiful and gave me plenty of chances for photos.
Also making an appearance was a Cliff Chipmunk and a deer. The chipmunk posed on a tree trunk for me. The deer was an interesting experience. As I was standing there scanning the trees and grasses for birds, I saw the deer come out of the woods very casually. Naturally when I saw it, I just froze to prevent spooking it off. It must have smelled me because it stopped and started scanning the area back and forth and then it locked its eyes on me and just stared at me. Of course, I remained motionless so as not to startle it. I did snap a couple of photos of it during this time, but it must have decided I was a threat but not a serious one as it turned around and casually walked back into the forest. Looks like it has had a couple of mishaps by the look of its ragged ears.
Finally decided to head back down to the meadow below and as I was driving down, that is when I got my 2 biggest surprises. Both of these birds were new life birds for me and I was trying to shoot photos from the car, and although they are not the photos I would like to have had, this is another case of 'a bad photo is better than no photo'! The first photo is a Red Crossbill; a bird that has been on my want list for a long time. This bird appears to be a first year male that has not yet obtained its full red color. They use their unique crossed bills to pry open pine cones for the pine nuts inside.
The second bird I found at the base of the peak in the meadow area was a Swainson's Hawk. Once again the distance and trying to photograph from the car did not make for a great photo. This hawk is not really a rare bird, but I just never went to the right place and time to find one before this trip. The crossbill is usually a bit tougher to find as they seem to be a bit nomadic and not staying in one place for any length of time.
The bad photos are just a reminder to look for these birds again and try to obtain better photos in the future.