Monday, October 22, 2012
With my car in the shop for repair, I stayed close to home this weekend with a birding excursion on Sunday only, and I opted for the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve which is probably the best place for racking up a lot of species of birds in one spot in the suburban area around Phoenix. It is easy access for just about anyone and with the constant changing of water levels in the 7 ponds, you never know what you might encounter when paying a visit. Many rarities have been seen here throughout the years and this spot is well known to just about every birder in the state of Arizona. When I arrived at about 6:30 in the morning I quickly found another birding friend, Bernie Howe, so we then completed our adventure together. And in the process of our birding together we did find a bit of a rarity in the birding world. We had found a fairly large flock of Inca Doves in the plowed under sod of Pond 5 and while scanning the many doves, I discovered one that stood out as being a bit different. We had found a Ruddy Ground-Dove which is not a new bird to either of us, nor the state of Arizona, but they are quite uncommon. Their normal breeding range is much further south in Mexico, but occasionally a stray shows up in the American southwest. When checking on the eBird web site, for the year 2012, there has been a sighting in Texas and about a half dozen in the state of Arizona, all of them in the early part of the year. To many people it is not a dramatic bird to view, but for those that are listing birds, it is always a nice bird to add for the year. Below is a photo of the Ruddy Ground-Dove and also a photo of an Inca Dove, which often gets ignored (but shouldn't) by many birders.
This area of upturned sod in the south part of Pond 5 must have been a great place for feeding for the birds. Even while we were checking out the doves, we had various sparrows flying in for visits and scavenging in the dirt for seeds and maybe even some insects. We had a huge number of White-crowned Sparrows along with a Song Sparrow, some Savannah Sparrows, a Dark-eyed Junco, and some Abert's Towhees. (Yes, the Junco and the Towhee belong to the Sparrow family!) The Junco seemed a bit out of place as I normally see them in higher altitudes in pine forests. All the birds were having a merry ole time feeding until a Northern Harrier flew over and then they all took cover in the nearby trees.
Now on to some of the water birds that we found. Needless to say, I saw many more birds than the number of photos I have, but that is usually the case. While we were scanning the many ducks a Black Phoebe flew onto a sign in the pond right in front of us and posed for a couple of shots before it realized that there were people close by and then off it went! So along with the phoebe's photo we also have photos of an American Wigeon, a Mallard drake, and an American Coot. OK, so the Mallard is probably one of the most common ducks in the US, but that green head in the right light is still stunning. And the coot is quite handsome when you get to see them up close.
The final photo is one of the many Anna's Hummingbirds found in this location. It is a resident all year in parts of Arizona and is probably the most common hummer in Arizona. What a feisty little hummer and quite amusing to watch. They have no fear and if one is wearing red, it is not uncommon for one of these little hummers to fly to within a couple of feet of your head and check you out from several different angles. It can be quite an experience.
Friday, October 19, 2012
Already posted about the 2 lakes I visited while in the Rim Country, so to finish my posts on my trip from last weekend, decided to highlight a few photos that were taken while staying at Wayne's cabin in Heber, AZ. A very nice secluded 2 acres of quiet! And thanks to a few feeders that were hanging around we had a nice variety of birds at all times during the day. Birds were constantly coming and going and the most colorful of the lot were some Lesser Goldfinches. Maybe not as brightly colored as the American Goldfinch, but still quite handsome. These birds are a bright addition to the winter season and are usually quite at home visiting feeders in yards.
Lesser Goldfinch - Male
Another little bird that visited off and on was a Mountain Chickadee. It would come to the feeder, snatch a morsel and then take off with the food itme and finish eating it elsewhere.
Another species of bird that was quite common and numerous in and around the feeders was the Pine Siskin. Too many people they look a lot like House Finches, but when you look at them and study them, you will see they are quite different in structure and their beak is quite different than a House Finch beak. But the best field mark is the bit of yellow on the edges of the wings and the tail.
We also had our share of Chipping Sparrows flocking around the feeders, especially on the ground and cleaning up any seeds that had fallen. This photo is a Chipping Sparrow in their first winter plumage. A juvenile would have streaks on the chest and an adult would have a rufous crown and a bold white stripe above the eye complimenting that black line that extends from behind the eye all the way to the lores.
Now on to the Dark-eyed Juncos, which is actually a type of sparrow, but they can be a bit confusing to the novice birder as there are several races or sub-species of them. The coloration is variable in these races and on this trip we were fortunate enough to see several of these sub-species. Here are some of the photos I was able to capture of these fascinating birds.
'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco
'Gray-headed' Dark-eyed Junco
'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco
'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco
'Pink-sided' Dark-eyed Junco on the right
'Gray-headed' Dark-eyed Junco
'Gray-headed' Dark-eyed Junco
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Now to continue with another stop at another lake in Rim Country. Wayne and I decided to visit Black Canyon Lake in the early afternoon and it is not as popular for boating or fishing like Woods Canyon Lake and it also requires taking a dirt road about 5 or 6 miles to arrive at the lake. We did not have to deal with crowds of people during our stay.
I had only been to Black Canyon Lake once before, but after this last trip, you can bet that I will stop by on every future visit to the Rim Country. Little did we know that we were in for a treat in the birding department at this small lake on this visit. Another one of those lucky instances of being in the right place at the right time as we discovered a bird that is considered rare in Arizona; a Pacific Loon. This species has been seen on rare occasions in the state of Arizona, but it is not very common. Have also since learned that it is probably the first record of this species in Navajo County. That and the fact that it was a new life bird for me, makes it a bit more special for me. When we started surveying the lake, I saw this bird far across the water and knew it was not a Western Grebe which was also on the lake along with a couple of Ring-necked Ducks. Unfortunately it was far enough away to make it hard to make a positive ID on it with my binoculars. (A scope would have been nice! Oh where was Lindsey when I needed her and her scope?) Even at such a distance I decided to shoot some photos hoping that maybe by viewing them on the computer monitor at home I could get a positive ID. I was thinking it was a loon at the lake (body and head shape along with beak was what gave me the impression of a loon), but since any loon would be considered rare and the fact that I have only seen one other loon species in my like, I was not confident enough to call the ID at that time. And the photos at home definitely helped with a positive ID. So I am posting one of my not-so-great shots of it, but better than I thought it would be.
And of course it never came any closer for any better photos, but the Western Grebe sure did not mind us and gave us some excellent views and some great photo opportunities.
Western Bluebirds were quite numerous all along the edges of the lake. Some were their winter drab plumage, but a few still showed off some of their bright blue colors. Even had one posing on a dead tree branch and a 'Pink-sided' Dark-eyed Junco joined it and allowed me to capture a 'two-fer' photo; 2 different bird species in the same shot.
Western Bluebird and 'Pink-sided' Dark-eyed Junco
A couple of other birds that spent some time foraging on the ground near the water's edge was a 'Red-shafted' Northern Flicker and a Brewer's Blackbird.
We also had a fly-over of a Bald Eagle that appeared to maybe be about a 3 year old bird; not fully molted into the pure white head and tail, but close. Unfortunately, I could not get the camera disconnected from the monopod in time to get anything better than a rear end shot as it flew away.
And finally to end this post, I have to leave a photo of another mammal, this time a Gray-collared Chipmunk. If you saw my last post of a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, you might have noted the fact that only chipmunks have facial stripes; squirrels do not. This animal clearly has stripes.
Black Canyon Lake is an under-birded spot in Arizona as well as many of the hot spots in Rim Country. I highly recommend this area to birders to spend some time to explore this area, you never know what you might find!
Monday, October 15, 2012
This past weekend I headed north to the Rim Country of Arizona. Thanks to a good friend, Wayne who has a cabin in Heber, it turned out to be a great day for birding. This is an area in Arizona that is often overlooked by birders, but it should not be ignored. One of my future posts from this trip produced a very nice find for me and for the state of Arizona as well. More on that on a later post. Wayne and I started the day traveling to Woods Canyon Lake which is located about halfway between Heber and Payson, but above the Mogollon Rim. This lake is fairly well known for is pair of nesting Bald Eagles, but during our visit on Saturday morning, we were not able to find them. However we did have an Osprey that kept us well entertained by its foraging flight over the lake and a couple of failed plunges to catch fish. We got there while it was still very chilly and the steam was rising off the lake and we viewed 3 Common Mergansers before they disappeared into the fog over the water. Once we moved away from the water area is when we started finding birds. I think the crowds of people fishing at the lake edge might have kept the birds away from the water.
Going to make my first photo one of some Red Crossbills. This is a species that I thought I was fortunate enough to find a single bird in August in the White Mountains near Greer, AZ. This time was a complete different story. We came upon a small puddle on the side of the road in a clearing in the pines and saw several birds flying from the tops of the pines on the side of the road down to the pond of water. We stopped the car and I was amazed at all the Red Crossbills coming in for bathing and drinking. We stopped counting after 20 birds and I tried to concentrate on photos from the car. What is interesting to see in this first photo is the color variations on these 3 males. The one on the right is a mature adult in all its red splendor, but the 2 on the left are probably first year males which are in the process of molting from yellow to red. This is a bird that is fairly nomadic as it wanders in search of its food source, pine seeds. They use their crossed bills to pry open the pine cones and extract the seeds which is their chief diet. It is thought that there are as many as 9 sub-species or races of this bird and they do vary in bill size and location. But they are very difficult to identify from one another. Not always an easy bird to find; in this case it was a bit of luck being in the right place at the right time.
Also during our wanderings around the woods, we found many Dark-eyed Juncos, which makes me think that I should maybe do a blog on Juncos alone. So that will be a future post. We did manage to find a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers and I was able to capture a photo of the male. Females do not have a red spot on their head.
And during this time of activity from the birds a Brown Creeper made an appearance. These birds are very hard to photograph. They are very active, and they blend in so well with the tree bark most of the time that it is difficult to get a single focus point on the bird. This is a small bird with a curved bill that it uses to probe in bark of trees searching for insects, eggs and larvae. The photo kind of shows why it is difficult. Kind of reminds me of the 'Where's Waldo' photos from some time back.
We did spot a Red-tailed Hawk on the edge of the lake in a very tall pine that kind of gave me an evil eye as I was trying to capture photos.
We also found quite a few squirrels and of course I am a sucker for just about every living creature, so the camera comes to the rescue. One of these squirrels turns out to be an Abert's Squirrel and one that I do not recall seeing before. It was quite handsome in its gray and white suit. The other squirrel appears to be a Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, often confused as a chipmunk. However it is not a chipmunk as all chipmunks have stripes on the face and squirrels do not.
Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
Mores post will be forth coming on my adventures in Rim Country.
Tuesday, October 9, 2012
With family visiting last week, my birding experiences have slowed considerably, but will try to rectify that situation this weekend. In the meantime, I will have to rely on my back yard or the unexpected bird elsewhere. Monday, turned out to be something a bit unexpected and for me quite extraordinary. When I returned home from work on Monday afternoon, I peered out into my back yard and saw some movement along the back wall. I was quite surprised to find a hawk feasting on a Mourning Dove. I have had American Kestrels in my neighborhood for the past couple of years, but this bird was not a kestrel. Turns out to be a Sharp-shinned Hawk juvenile. My first thought was a Cooper's Hawk as that would have been the most expected bird to see. But after checking the photos and with some advice from a couple of other birding experts, we have identified it as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Not really a new life bird for me, but it is not one that I see very often and have never been able to photograph, so it was a real treat for me. Definitely not a treat for the Mourning Dove, but they are quite numerous and not in any danger of extinction. In fact, the Mourning Doves in Arizona breed all year. Hope you enjoy the photos as I have and it is another wake up call to always be alert to what you might find anywhere at any given time.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
People are probably starting to think I am losing my mind by going out to Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park once again, and maybe they are right. However, since the night time temps have fallen and the mornings are much cooler and very pleasant, I would much rather spend a couple hours hiking in the desert mountains than spending 1 hour on the treadmill at home. It is much more enjoyable to be in the outdoors and observing nature. One would think I would get tired of seeing the same old species of birds all the time, but what is interesting is the fact that I seem to discover something different on each hike on the same trails. This past Sunday was no different. I found some different birds than before and learned that the monsoon rains most likely trigger breeding behavior in some bird species.
Here it is the end of September and the end of the breeding season for the vast majority of birds, especially those who migrate for the winter. Some of the permanent residents do breed several times of the year in Arizona due to the mild temperatures and in this case I discovered that Black-throated Sparrow happens to one of these species. As I was walking the wash area I saw some of these birds on the rocky and brushy sides of the wash and when I looked at them closely, I found an adult and a young fledgling working their way down the slope towards me. I quickly captured a couple of photos and then the adult flew towards me and veered off to the left and into some brush about 20' away. The fledgling also took flight but came right at me and I thought it was going to land at my feet, but stopped about 4' short. It looked me over as I stood there and then it flew/hopped off to the left and the adult moved in to meet it and was feeding it. This has to be about the cutest baby bird I have seen in a long time and was so glad to witness this taking place at the end of September.
Black-throated Sparrow, adult and fledgling
Black-throated Sparrow, adult
Black-throated Sparrow, fledgling
Sunday was a 3 Wren day for me as well, as I found Cactus Wren, Rock Wren, and House Wren. Struck out on the Canyon Wren, but they don't always make themselves well known until they sing their unmistakable song. The Cactus Wren was showing off as was the Rock Wren, but the House Wren obviously decided it wanted to remain a bit secretive.
Two flycatchers were present, a Western Wood Pewee and an Ash-throated Flycatcher. Both of these will be gone for the winter very shortly, in fact I was a bit surprised to see the Ash-throated Flycatcher still around as most have moved south already.
Western Wood Pewee
To round out the photos on this blog, we have a Loggerhead Shrike, a Verdin, Green-tailed Towhee, and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The Loggerhead Shrike was photographed in the early morning sun light as it came over the crest of a hill. The Verdin is showing that they must feast on spiders, or it is collecting spider webs for a new nest. If you been following my previous blogs, you know the Green-tailed Towhee can be hard to capture in a photo and this photo is another good example of that. The Yellow-rumped Warbler was a bit of a surprise, but really shouldn't be. I have not seen them too often in this habitat.
All in all, it was another good adventure. The only negative aspect of the trip was that once again, my viewing of the Great-horned Owls consisted of only 1 bird in their usual roosting spot. I am starting to feel that something has befallen the 2nd owl and I feel a bit sad that one might be gone permanently, but keeping hoping for the best.