Monday, November 26, 2012

Tres Rios Wetlands - 23 Nov 2012

Kind of exhausting when one has a long weekend to go birding.  With all the birding excursions I completed in the 4 days off for Thanksgiving, I have not had time to create any posts to my blog.  Will have to work on that this week, before the next weekend arrives.  My idea of a Black Friday is to go birding!  So on Friday, Ellen joined me once again on a trip to the Tres Rios Wetlands and we had Ann Givey join us on this trip.  Remember that to go birding at this location, a permit is required, so don't attempt to go birding out there without your permit.  Marsh Wrens were making their presence very well known by their constant singing and this time many of them were actually coming out of the reeds and we got several really good looks at them early in the morning. Most generally this is a bird that I hear quite often, but they rarely allow glimpses of themselves. 
 Marsh Wren
 Marsh Wren
Another bird that we encountered early on our adventure was a Black Phoebe perched on one of the fence wires, but actively hunting for the first insects of the morning.  We also watched at least 3 Belted Kingfishers during our walk and as usual, all of them did not allow any close-up photos; they always like to keep their distance!  An early morning Loggerhead Shrike pretty much ignored us and let us take a good look and allowed a photo or two.
Black Phoebe
Belted Kingfisher-Male

Loggerhead Shrike
We also had a couple of juvenile birds make their presence known; a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron and a juvenile Common Gallinule.
 Black-crowned Night Heron
Common Gallinule

Birds in flight is always a challenge and on this day the best shots came from the American White Pelicans and a female Northern Harrier.  The pelican has a wing span of about 9' feet, which really fills up the sky and it is one bird you can't miss in flight!
 American White Pelican
Northern Harrier

Will be going back soon to this location as I have promised a few others to join me in checking out this amazing place.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pima Canyon Wash - 19 Nov 2012

It is amazing that sometimes when you do something routine, you get a big surprise ending.  That is what happened to me on Monday afternoon.  Recently I have been going straight to my favorite hiking spot from work to get my exercise, and believe me, it is so much more enjoyable taking a 3 to 4 mile hike in Pima Canyon Wash on South Mountain Park, than doing 1½ mile on the treadmill at home.  Monday was just like about every other day on this hike; seeing the usual Black-throated Sparrows, Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Rock Wrens, Northern Mockingbirds, a Curve-billed Thrasher, and hearing a Gilded Flicker and a Gila Woodpecker.  I was very excited that I re-found an Ash-throated Flycatcher from a couple of weeks ago and then found another further down the trail.  Of course I got photos of some of these along the way, but about 50 to 75 yards shy of the parking lot I noticed a small bird flitting about in a Mesquite Tree and at first glance I thought of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, which is so common this time of year, as parts of Arizona is their winter home.  But once I caught a glimpse of the head, I knew it was not a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and its counterpart, the Golden Crowned Kinglet entered my mind.  But I was thinking that species was not possible as it is a bird of higher elevations and favors Pine trees in coniferous forests.  This was a desert canyon wash with no Pine trees in sight.  As it moved about, I finally caught a good look at the top of the head and knew then that I had found a Golden-crowned Kinglet.  What was a normal everyday hike just turned into a wonderful hike and seeing this bird forage in the Mesquite Trees was really special.  It even showed itself well enough to capture some photos of this bird I had not seen before, so it was one to add to my life list.  Checking with eBird, this appears to be the first sighting of this species in Maricopa County for this year.  (Obviously, not everyone records their findings on eBird, so there could have been others.)
 Golden-crowned Kinglet
 Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Kind of made the rest of the photos seem quite trite after seeing this awesome bird.  Even though this little one stole the show, there were a few other birds that made their presence known and also brightened my day.  My favorite sparrow, the Black-throated Sparrow, obliged by showing off its stunning black throat.  A Rock Wren was on the opposite side of the wash from me sounding off its dry trill, ti-keer call.   And a Curve-billed Thrasher was in a small tree only about 10 feet away from me but was playing a game of hide and seek thinking I could not see it in those branches.
 Black-throated Sparrow
 Rock Wren
Curve-billed Thrasher

And last, but definitely not least, one of the Ash-throated Flycatchers presented itself well on the opposite side of the wash as well. The 2nd one I found was about ¼ mile further down the wash from the first one and I actually hear its single note prrt call before I saw the bird.  I knew it was there but it was hard to find deep inside the tree.
Ash-throated Flycatcher

And to just add a bit of variety to this post, I found a Queen Butterfly that seemed a bit out of place in this dry wash, but it definitely added some color to the landscape.

   Queen Butterfly

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mesa/Chandler Canal - 18 Nov 2012

Was not able to get out and about this past weekend like I usually do, due to an out-of-state house guest, but once in while it is really nice to see and visit old friends.  Had a free afternoon on Sunday, and I needed some good exercise, so I took off and spent a couple of hours on the hiking/biking trail between Mesa and Chandler.  One of my FB friends suggested this place as they had seen quite a few species of birds during their biking on the trail, including kingfishers.  Well I struck out on the kingfishers today, but still had a good time and came away with some great photos of a Greater Yellowlegs.  This is not a rare bird by any means in Arizona in the winter months.  This bird was found at a small pond at Carriage Lane Park.  Normally I would not expect to find one of these birds at such a small pond, but there it was, across the pond from me and as I tried to walk around the pond to close the distance, it would move further away, so I finally gave up and walked back to the south side and was getting ready to leave when it decided to fly to my side of the pond.  As I stood there shooting photos, it was putting on quite a show for me by strutting, posturing and even calling, all the while keeping a close eye on me and my actions.  It was one of those fun moments when you feel like the bird and you are communicating in some sort of weird way.  This is the first time that I can remember seeing one of these birds with feet out of the water and noticing their black toenails.
 Greater Yellowlegs
 Greater Yellowlegs
 Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs
A couple of other fairly common wading birds were also seen such as the Great Blue Heron and the Green Heron.  It was easy to see why they were there as the canal was full of fish and even some of the fish allowed their photo to be taken. 
Great Blue Heron

 Green Heron
Heron food---Fish!!!

2 birds of prey were encountered including an Osprey that was not very cooperative for a photo and the American Kestrel was perched high up on a pool.
American Kestrel

Ground birds were common birds as well which included a Killdeer which is quite a striking bird once one sees all the beautiful markings on them. 

While this trip did not include anything new or rare, the point to becoming a better birder is to expose oneself to even the common birds and learn more of their behavior and their habitats.  In this case, I saw some different behaviour with the Greater Yellowlegs than I had in the past and it is a very fond memory for this species and they have become much easier to identify from a distance from the Lesser Yellowlegs which is remarkably similar in appearance, although not quite as common as the Greater Yellowlegs in Arizona.  


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fountain Hills Lake, AZ - 13 Nov 2012

Fountain Hills Lake, in the community of Fountain Hills, AZ is a man-made lake with a HUGE fountain that that can be seen for miles when it is shooting water far up into the sky.  But not only are the local inhabitants drawn to this spot, it has also become quite the hot spot for birds, especially migrants.  Ellen and I stopped here on Tuesday and we saw large numbers of waterfowl and some were birds that are normally only seen in this area during migration and on this day the Hooded Mergansers were the ones that were putting on quite a show.  We found 1 group that consisted of 10 males and 1 female and the the males were putting on quite a show for the lone female with their displays and strange croaking sounds. A short distance away, another male was with a group of 6 females, but they were more interested in feeding and constantly diving.

 Hooded Merganser-Male

Hooded Merganser-Male

Hooded Merganser-Male

Along with all the waterfowl, we also found a few shore birds and a plover as well.  The Killdeer is considered a plover and spends a lot of time on dry land, but usually in the vicinity of water.  This photo of a Killdeer is actually one of my favorites from this visit.  We also found Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper and some Least Sandpipers.


 Greater Yellowlegs

 Spotted Sandpiper

 Least Sandpiper

We also found a Great Blue Heron that allowed us close enough that I could focus in on a close-up of its head.  We also watched a Green Heron fly into a tree and it stayed there long enough for us to get close enough to capture its photo as well.

Great Blue Heron

Green Heron
Back to some waterfowl and some Lesser Scaup, with a photo that included a male and a female.  And finally a group of Northern Shovelers all taking part in a feeding frenzy.
Lesser Scaup

Northern Shovelers

Monday, November 12, 2012

Jewel of the Creek Preserve - 11 Nov 2012

Sunday morning arose with a definite change in the weather and Ellen joined me once again and we paid a visit to a new birding spot that I had not yet been to, the Jewel of the Creek Preserve which is located a few miles north of the community of Cave Creek, AZ.  When we arrived it was 'COLD'!!! This place is a creek and a stream bed and the sun had not yet risen over the mountains on the east side.  We even found frost on the grass and dead tree limbs, but some of the birds were already stirring, including the Gambel's Quail, Mourning Doves, and the songs of Verdins and a Curve-billed Thrasher beginning to greet the day.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets were everywhere and the cold was not slowing them down.  In the winter in Arizona these little 4¼" birds are very active as they fervently explore every bush and tree for any small insect that is exposed.  The ruby crown is seldom seen.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
This is a great birding spot and I think it would be interesting to visit this place in spring or summer.  We had the fortune of seeing 3 wren species; Canyon Wren, Rock Wren, and the House
Wren.  I am sure that on a really good day, one could also find Cactus Wren and Bewick's Wren.
 Canyon Wren
 Rock Wren
House Wren

The most colorful bird of the day had to be a male Northern Cardinal.  Even though he did not want to fully expose himself in full sunlight for great photos, he still brightened up the landscape.  He was very intent on feasting on what I believe are wolf berries.  But he was not the only one doing so as a bit further down the trail we witnessed a male Gila Woodpecker doing the same a distance away.
 Northern Cardinal
Gila Woodpecker

At one spot we found 3 Gila Woodpeckers drinking water from a pool of water, but at the same time a Black Phoebe was apparently intent on protecting that area as it repeatedly kept chasing the Gila Woodpeckers away from its claimed water territory.
Black Phoebe

Probably one of the most exciting finds was a couple of Red-naped Sapsuckers, which is another species of woodpecker.  Although these 2 were hard to photograph because of them being in deep vegetation and in really deep shade, I did manage to capture a photo of one, but without much detail.  In the same area we also found a female Anna's Hummingbird in the trees.  It amazes me that these tiny birds can tolerate freezing temperatures.
Red-naped Sapsucker
Anna's Hummingbird

Ellen and I did make a point to re-visit this location maybe next spring to maybe find some migrants and also what might occur there during the breeding season.  Thanks to Tommy D. for having this place listed on his Maricopa County birding sites.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Buckeye/Arlington, AZ - 10 Nov 2012

Way out west, (or at least on the west fringes of Phoenix!), there is a fairly large agricultural area that encompasses parts of the communities of Buckeye and Arlington.  Included are a few ponds and a wildlife area as well.  This area is a magnet to many migrating birds and also many winter resident birds.  Saturday this was my destination as I had not been there for a few months and it ended up being a very fruitful trip as I came home with another life bird, a White-tailed Kite!  This bird is not a common bird in Arizona, but there are reports of them every year in various parts of the state, especially in the south and east.  Their hunting technique is 'kiting', where they hover in the wind in one spot looking for prey down below.  When I first saw this bird it was about 100 yards away and that is exactly what it was doing in the brisk northwest wind.  As it moved further away from me, I eventually lost sight of it, but nonetheless, I kept moving in the general direction where I last saw it, and sure enough it had landed in a dead tree across a marshy area from me.  Not the most ideal conditions for photos, but good enough to identify this marvelous avian wonder.
 White-tailed Kite
White-tailed Kite
The kite was seen in the Arlington Wildlife area and not far from this spot I discovered a fairly large flock of Sandhill Cranes.  Being from Nebraska, this is nothing special as this species creates quite the birding experience for about 6 weeks in the early spring in central Nebraska where they stop and lay over during their migration and their numbers are in the hundreds of thousands.  But in Arizona, they are a bit smaller in numbers and many birders make special trips to find them. 
 Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes

Also in the area of the Arlington Ponds I found numerous sparrows including a Lincoln's Sparrow that gave me a very nice pose.  The most numerous species by far was the White-crowned Sparrows, especially a lot of juveniles.  The juvenile White-crowned can be easily mis-identified by new birders, but it is one that is learned quite early on.
 Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow - Juvenile
Raptors were in seen in good numbers throughout the area with the American Kestrel being the most numerous.  There must have been 2 per mile on the power lines that lined the roads.  Also a nice find was 2 Ferruginous Hawks.  While they did not allow me to approach too close, I was able to capture a few photos of this large, magnificent raptor.  And of course with all the small ponds and irrigation canals running through the area, one is bound to find an Osprey somewhere.
 American Kestrel
Ferruginous Hawk

Western Meadowlarks were everywhere along the roadsides and out in the many alfalfa fields.  Their bright yellow breasts really brightens up the morning.
Western Meadowlark

Definitely a place to return to more often, especially in migration season.