Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Canal Birding in Arizona

Recently I have taken to get some hiking exercise along one of our neighborhood canals.  This canal is a border between the cities of Mesa and Chandler and it has been greatly improved with a nice concrete walkway on the south edge of the canal and pedestrian traffic lights installed where it crosses the major heavy traffic streets.  Not sure how far east it goes, but I know that one can walk all the way to parts of
Tempe to the west.  I had a Facebook friend suggest I check it out as there seemed to be plenty of bird life all along the length.  And she was right!   (Thanks Tina!) 

I have discovered this has been the best place for me to see and photograph the Greater Yellowlegs.  On my last visit, I found 3 of these birds within just the first mile and they have been quite accommodating.  What fun it is to watch them bob up and down while watching me as I take photos.  Here is a variety of photos in different poses.  Notice the black toenails in the photos.  Also note the bi-colored bill and the very slight upturn of the bill.  These are key identifications of this species compared to the Lesser Yellowlegs. 

 Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

 Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

This last visit I was graced with an elegant Black-necked Stilt.  Such a lovely and very photogenic wading bird and when I can capture the red eye clearly of this species, then I am happy with my photo.

Black-necked Stilt

Another bird that I see on almost every visit is the Green Heron.  Quite often they fly away before I can get close enough for a shot, but finally one of them stayed put as I walked past.  Just wish it could have chosen a better back drop!  On one other occasion, another one attempted to hide behind a stick.

Green Heron

Green Heron

The Belted Kingfisher has always been one of my nemesis birds as far as photographs, but along this canal, I had a nice male finally allow me to approach and get some decent photos.  Usually this bird is quite skittish and can be difficult to approach for a good photo.

 Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Of course this is not about water birds only, there are usually a few predators in the vicinity as well and this handsome American Kestrel was another of those obliging avian friends.

 American Kestrel

 American Kestrel

A couple of ducks also presented themselves for photos; a Ring-necked Duck female and a very handsome Mallard drake.  The Mallard is probably the most common and recognizable duck in the United States, but one cannot help but marvel at the iridescent green head on this bird. 

Ring-necked Duck-female

Mallard

Of course a blog would not be complete without a mammal of some kind.  Saw a couple of Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrels on the opposite bank running and hiding, so I just stopped and got myself and my camera ready and waited for them and sure enough one of them had to come up and check on me to see if I was still around and what I was up to.  

Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrel

Don't be surprised to see more future blogs about this wonderful spot for getting some great exercise and observing some very enjoyable wildlife as well.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Veteran's Oasis Park - 20 Jan 2013

This is a location that I probably don't visit often enough.  It is a relatively new park with ponds of recycled water in Chandler, AZ and this last visit proved to me that it keeps getting better with age.  Ponds had more water in them than my past few visits and of course that attracts a lot of waterfowl in the winter time as many species spend their winters in this area and head north in the spring for their breeding grounds.  The water birds also bring many predatory birds and other predators as well.  This place has the highest concentration of Jack Rabbits that I have seen in AZ.  Along with the rabbits, this is usually almost always a great place to see the Greater Roadrunner.  And just like the old cartoons, the battle with the Coyote and the Roadrunner continues to this day.  We still don't have a clear winner as I found the Coyote first and the Roadrunner next.

 Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

'Wylie' Coyote

Speaking of predatory birds, the Northern Harriers were in constant flight until one decided to land at the edge of one of the ponds.  I approached very cautiously and slowly stepped around some bushes to find it resting on the ground.  

 Northern Harrier

 Northern Harrier

The last predator is not quite as fierce looking, but is a favorite of many people and this place is almost always one of the most assured places to find the Burrowing Owl.  They have easily taken to the man-made nesting area that has been installed at this location.  Most people walking on the trails do not even see them as they sit so quite and still.  People think they are just rocks on the ground.

Burrowing Owl

Lots of waterfowl all over the ponds and my best photos were of a pair of Blue-winged Teal sliding silently through the water.  This species is a bit more uncommon than the Green-winged Teal in AZ in the winter.  The Green-winged Teal are quite abundant.  And I learned long ago, not to pass up a photo of an elegant Northern Pintail.  They may not be decked out in bright colors, but they look so elegant and refined.

 Blue-winged Teal

 Green-winged Teal

Northern Pintail

While I was concentrating on the Blue-winged Teal, a lone Least Sandpiper scampered right in front of me along the shore line giving me just enough time to get 2 photos and I was quite surprised the photos showed some pretty decent detail on this little shore bird.  

 Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

One species of bird in AZ for the winter is so abundant right now, you see them just about everywhere, is the 'Audubon's' Yellow-rumped Warbler.  And of course this place was no different.  One of the great aspects of this location is that many of the trees are still small and in this case photographing warblers is a bit easier than in dense foliage of older and denser trees.  Also just had to include a photo of one of those Jack Rabbits that I mentioned early in this post.  My what big ears they have!

 'Audubon's' Yellow-rumped Warbler

Desert Jackrabbit

With such a diverse variety of bird and animal life at this park, I think I need to return a bit more often.








Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve - 9 January 2013

Another post on another regular spot and an easy place to visit.  The Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve, (aka GWR or Gilbert Water Ranch) is a birding spot one should not miss when visiting Arizona.  Always has a lot of the regular in-season, local birds, but many times some rarities decide to pay a visit, such as the Winter Wren from a few posts back (and to my knowledge is still there, but being a bit more discreet).  The latest bird that decided to camp out here was a Northern Parula.  This is a bird of eastern United States, but just about every year a few wander to the west for the fall and winter.  Many birders got great views of it and many also got some great photos, but for many reasons I was not able to get there and look for it until about a week ago before the cold temps kicked in.  It was pretty well known what area it was hanging out, so of course that was my priority location when I arrived and sure enough it made its regular appearance where I got great looks at it.  It definitely made me work for my photos (as most warblers do), and although it did not come to the front of a tree and pose in full sunlight for me, the photos are adequate enough for a positive ID.

 Northern Parula

Northern Parula

Along with the Northern Parula there was another visitor in the same area that should not have been there.  A male Yellow Warbler has been hanging out in the same vicinity.  This bird should have been much further south, like maybe Mexico, not in Arizona for the winter.  The Yellow Warbler was even more difficult to photograph for the simple fact it did not stay in the area for a very long time.  So I had to settle for a photo with a lot of branches in front of the bird.

Yellow Warbler

After seeing these two wonderful warblers, my wanderings then veered to some of the ponds to find a couple of specialty waterfowl; a Common Merganser female and a Hooded Merganser female.  Neither species is considered rare in Arizona, but they are a bit uncommon compared to some of the ducks, which includes Mallards which is probably the most common duck throughout the entire United States.  

 Common Merganser-female

 Hooded Merganser-female

Mallard

Also could not help but taking a couple of photos of some birds in the trees; a male Anna's Hummingbird and a female Red-winged Blackbird.  The later bird has stymied more than one novice birder in trying to identify it as it looks so much different than the male of this species.

 Anna's Hummingbird

 Red-winged Blackbird-female

Monday, January 14, 2013

Buckeye/Arlington, AZ - 13 January 2013

This past Sunday I had the pleasure to go birding with Marceline VandeWater and she was kind enough to offer to drive which gave me an opportunity to do some birding as a passenger.  The Phoenix area has been dealt a cold spell, with below freezing temperatures the past few nights and Sunday was no exception.  When we left our meeting place in Tempe at 7:00 am it was about 27° F.  Buckeye and Arlington on located in the west valley and by the time we arrived in the farm grounds outside of Buckeye the temperature had dropped to 21° F and by the time we found ourselves near the canals and flowing water it was 17° F.  With temps like this, we did not spend much time outside of the vehicle!  Of course when the sun made an appearance it did warm up by mid day into the upper 40's or maybe even 50°.  

We spent the entire day birding and ended up with a total of 74 species of birds which was a very respectable count. One of the first birds we spotted was a Wilson's Snipe in a canal at dawn that had a lot of steam rising from it.  That was a good omen to start the day.  We observed more in different spots along roadsides and a couple of them were downright quite cooperative with us.  But since much of our birding was done inside the car, many of the birds did not spook quite so easily and it makes the birds a bit more approachable.  Such is the case with the photos of the Snipe below.

 Wilson's Snipe

  Wilson's Snipe

Raptors were in abundance throughout the entire area with Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels being the most common.  However, we also found several Northern Harriers, 4 Ferruginous Hawks, a Prairie Falcon, a couple of Cooper's Hawks and a couple of Sharp-shinned Hawks.  But the icing on the cake was a pair of White-tailed Kites, a bird I have only seen one other time and it was not far from where we observed these 2.  Have to apologize for a bit of poor photography on this bird, but for me a bad photo is better than no photo of an uncommon bird such as this.  In the long horizontal photo, notice on the far right a white blob.  That was the 2nd kite off in the distance on a stick pile.

 White-tailed Kite

White-tailed Kite

A couple of photos of 2 different Red-tailed Hawks; one is a stunning adult dark (or rufous) morph and the second one is a juvenile that must have captured a morsel to eat in some mud as there is mud on both feet and even on the beak.  Have no idea if it was a failed attempt or if it was a kill and already eaten.

 Red-tailed Hawk - Dark Morph

Red-tailed Hawk - Juvenile

We were not lacking in observing many of the smaller birds as well.  Included are a couple of sparrows; a Vesper Sparrow and a Savannah Sparrow.  We also found about 4 Loggerhead Shrikes and a few Least Sandpipers in various spots along the roadside.

 Vesper Sparrow

 Vesper Sparrow -- in the middle of a hop.
 Savannah Sparrow

 Loggerhead Shrike

Least Sandpiper

As far as the cartoon delimma, I think the Roadrunner is still surviving the battle with Wile E Coyote as we found about 4 Greater Roadrunners, but only 1 Coyote.

 Greater Roadrunner

Coyote

This is always a great place to find a great variety of birds.  It is far enough away from the heart of Phoenix and provides an abundance of habitats for numerous species.