Sunday, July 28, 2013
Above the Rim - Day 1
Since my fantastic trip to Sonora, Mexico at the first of the month, and with the suppressing heat of the Arizona summer in full force, I decided to take it easy for at least one weekend in the month of July. But the last 2 weekends have been covering a lot of miles all across the state and the extremes of Arizona weather and habitats. On July 20th and 21st, I spent 2 days of birding with some great birding partners above the Mogollon Rim and in the cool pine forests in and around Heber, AZ. I was joined by Barb Meding, Ellen Hairston, and Chris Rohrer and we made quite a team searching for birds and any other critters that caught our attention.
We departed Mesa early on Saturday morning and headed straight to Woods Canyon Lake, which is in Coconino County and just above the rim. Gorgeous lake surrounded in pines and with an elevation over 7000' the temperatures were very refreshing. And naturally this place is extremely popular with campers and many people fishing, so it was very crowded. It also has its resident Bald Eagles which we had the honor to view across the lake. The first bird that cooperated with us and allowed great viewing and photos was that of a female Western Tanager that did not appear to be very concerned with our presence as it was actively feeding nearby. At bit later we also found a male that was also feeding in a tree. The male of this species is an awesome and beautiful bird to behold.
Western Tanager, female
Western Tanager, female
Western Tanager, male
Virtually in the same area, we had several Golden-mantled Squirrels foraging in the rocks and when one posed nearby with the remains of a peanut shell, of course it wanted its photo taken so I obliged. It was not until I got home and started processing the photos that I noticed the reflection of 4 humans in the eye. Kind of puts a bit of perspective on what it is seeing as we ogle these creatures.
Look at those humans staring at me!!
Another small rodent was active in this area as well, a Gray-collared Chipmunk was delicately balanced on a small limb, also feasting on what appears to be a peanut. Chipmunks can be identified by stripes on their faces, whereas squirrels do not have have facial stripes.
As we started walking the trails around the lake, we started encountering Townsend's Solitaires, both adults and juveniles. The juveniles have a very different look as they appear very speckled. The adult in the photo below is in the process of swallowing a berry that it had plucked. Note the buffy colored wing patch on both birds which helps to clearly identify this bird.
Townsend's Solitaire, adult
Townsend's Solitaire, juvenile
Shortly thereafter a male Williamson's Sapsucker flew in and was intently probing in the trunk of a nearby pine. This was the first time I had actually seen a male of this species, so it was quite a treat. Got to see a female earlier in the year at Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Unfortunately, this male did not cooperate by turning its head for photos, but just being that close to one was good enough for me. Maybe the next time I will have a better chance at a better photo.
Also making brief appearances were a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a Brown Creeper and a Mountain Chickadee.
Brown Creeper doing what they do best, probing for insects.
I think that everyone in our group will agree that the highlight of the day were the Red-faced Warblers. The trees were full of them and with obvious juveniles mixed in, it was a pretty good indication that they had a very successful breeding season this year. This is a bird that is highly sought after by many birders and is usually only reliable in the summer breeding season in Arizona and New Mexico. They have been seen in parts of California and Texas but not on a consistent basis. Most people agree that this is a unique and stunning bird.
Our next stop was Twin Springs area, which was in Navajo County, luckily we had Ellen along and with her sharp eye she discovered this Greater Short-horned Lizard on the ground. It would have been easy to step on it had she not seen it. Always a cool find and adds to the enjoyment of a day of birding and enjoying nature.
Greater Short-horned Lizard
Greater Short-horned Lizard
We spent the night in Heber in a quaint little motel and we discovered a bat in the yard of the motel. We knew it was not well as this was not typical bat behavior, so we kept our distance. I was able to capture a couple of photos of this little one, but alas when we returned from dining, it had expired. Always sad to see a creature of nature perish, but in the natural world life is harsh. Since I am not any kind of an expert on bats, I have yet to determine what species of bat this might be. If anyone is reading this and can give a positive ID on it, I would appreciate it.
*************** Update on the bat *****************
Not 100% positive, but this might be a Mexican Free-tailed Bat, one of the most common in the US.
Thus our first day came to a close with the four of us enjoying a little wine in the motel courtyard in the evening. Day two would dawn bright and early with another day of adventures.