Monday, March 25, 2013
On Sunday March 24th, I had the honor to take a couple of gentlemen from Ohio out to the 'Thrasher Spot' west of Buckeye. Brian and Larry were interested in trying to find some thrashers, Sage and Le Conte's. We did get a bit of a late start, but we also knew that they definitely would not see either if we did not go. It was very quiet when we arrived and as we made out way further out in the desert scrub I was starting to think we may have been too late. But then a male Black-tailed Gnatcatcher made his appearance and that was a new bird for them, so I know it would not be a total loss. Finally we found some thrashers and 3 of them perched up in a leafless bush and allowed us some time to circle around them for better lighting to confirm that 2 of them were Sage Thrashers, one of the target birds, and the third was a Bendire's. We knew that none of the 3 were the Le Conte's ase on bill shape and size. Then as they flew to the ground, we started to follow them as they quickly ran from one desert bush to another, and soon discovered there were more than just 2 and during this time, we actually did catch sight of a Le Conte's Thrasher with its pale coloration and long and sharply down-curved bill. Unfortunately, it was not going to allow any photos for us this day, so we had to settle for photos of the Sage Thrasher only.
Not the birdiest spot around, but during our short stay we got 2 of their target birds and a bonus 3rd bird, the gnatcatcher in the process. From there we took a bit of a detour to the Lower River Road ponds and found a much larger variety of birds. It was at this place that the Northern Rough-winged Swallows were just being downright passionate about having their photos taken. So what was I to do? I just could not ignore them. It may not be the flashiest or most colorful swallow, but they are one that is very common in Arizona in just about all seasons and one species that a novice birder learns to identify very quickly in AZ.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallows
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and we have lift-off!
One more thing that I did early on Sunday before meeting up with Brian and Larry was to scout the Scottsdale Community College for Burrowing Owls. So I made trip to that location around sunrise and I found my Burrowing Owl and along with that a Gambel's Quail and a Savannah Sparrow in the early light of dawn. The owl location is needed for a future guest that is arriving to see birds in Arizona. I know of other locations, but was interested in some place a bit further north to we can hopefully save some driving time and cover more spots. So here are my photos of these 3 birds in the warm early light of sunrise.
Burrowing Owl (taken through a chain-linked fence)
Another awesome day of birding!
Sunday, March 24, 2013
On Saturday, I was privileged to take part in the AZFO (Arizona Field Ornithologists) Survey in the Santa Cruz Flats area to try and obtain evidence of any possible breeding attempts of the Crested Caracara is this vicinity. This bird does have a confirmed breeding area in far south central Arizona in the Tohono O'odham tribal lands, so they are considered a resident of the state. However there numbers seem to be increasing in the Santa Cruz Flats area and are being seen in small numbers in every month of the year in recent years. The goal of this survey was to divide in to several small teams to research the various habitat areas and try to locate any evidence of breeding in this area. While no one found any definite proof a lot of data was gathered and several spots were determined to be spots of interest for further observation. My team consisted of Marceline and Norma and we kind of stumbled upon the jackpot fairly early in the morning, shortly after 8:00 am. We found a flock of 12 of these interesting birds and as we watched them from a distance, they slowly dispersed a few at a time until they had all left. Throughout the day, we saw more of these birds, but we cannot be sure if they were part of the original flock or different birds. Normally they do not allow close approaches to them, so we had to settle for some distance shots.
4 Crested Caracara
While the day was focused on the Crested Caracara's, it is hard to ignore the rest of the birds one finds on such outings. We found several American Kestrels, which is a fairly common bird and our smallest falcon in the US. I was able to capture photos of both a male and a female of these beautiful raptors.
American Kestrel - Female
American Kestrel - Male
One more bird that I was able to photograph, but not easily, was a Pyrrhuloxia (aka the 'western cardinal'). This male did not want to make the photography easy on me. He definitely wanted to stay fairly well hidden and that really makes focusing a tad bit difficult. But since I had not seen on of these birds in about a year, I was happy to at least see one and ecstatic to actually see 3 of them on this day!
This was a day well spent with others that are avian enthusiasts and maybe I might have contributed just a tiny bit of information to the avian scientific community.
Monday, March 18, 2013
After leaving Mt Ord, we wanted to stop and check out Sunflower, AZ which is not much more than a dot on the map, but yearly the Common Black Hawk has been nesting here along with Zone-tailed Hawks which nest a bit further up the stream. First bird we saw soaring high above was a Zone-tailed Hawk, so that answered the question about whether or not this species had returned. We had read a report the day before from one of the residents of Sunflower that mentioned that one of the Common Black Hawks had returned. They also mentioned that the 2nd bird normally arrived a few days to a week later. As we walked down the road we quickly found the one that had returned, perched in a tree, unfortunately on the back side of the tree not giving us the best photo ops. Soon it started calling and we looked up in the sky and found a 2nd one circling and riding the thermals. We thought maybe the mate had returned, but as they called back and forth to each other and the 2nd bird never came in for a landing and eventually kept going north, we decided that maybe this might have been 2 males and the one the trees was defending its claimed territory. We will never know for sure, but it was quite wonderful to observe.
Common Black Hawk
Common Black Hawk
Common Black Hawk
While we were watching this spectacle, we also noticed a pair of Red-tailed Hawks riding the thermals above us in the sky. I had never witnessed 2 of them flying so close to each other and after looking at my photos at home, I noticed that one of them had it legs and talons extended while in flight. This is not a normal soaring behavior, so I decided to read up on the their breeding and courtship behavior and it seems the male of this species will often do this in courtship display. Learn something new every day! (Obviously it is not hard to see where this bird got its name!)
Since we found our 2 target birds, we did not spend much more time there, so photos were concentrated on the hawks. We did discover an unusual and rare bird along the road. A very skittish Eastern Phoebe was found and would not let us approach it very closely to get good photos. It is not unheard of in Arizona, but this state is usually not where most of them migrate to. Every year, maybe about a dozen or so show up in the state in the winter months. So when they are found, it is highly recommended to try and get documentation. While my photo leaves a lot to be desired, it is still good enough for a positive ID as it was also dipping its tail in the classical phoebe style.
And last but not least, a nice male Phainopepla made himself look very attractive in the afternoon sun.
What a way to finish off the day with these 3 incredible and beautiful hawks and an Eastern Phoebe as well.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
All I can say about this trip 'What an awesome day of birding!' Mt Ord is in the far northeastern part of Maricopa County and rises to an elevation of about 7100' making it the highest spot in Maricopa County. I had not been to this location for some time and was wanting to go, so I was joined by Tommy DeBardeleben and Dominic Sherony and away we went. Tommy is very familiar to this area and thanks to him and his website: http://www.birderfrommaricopa.com/ this area is a bit easier to locate. We chose to hike the 1688 trail, which can be a bit strenuous if one is not in pretty good physical condition. The trail follows the west side of the mountain for about 2 miles in and then one has to return. If you discover an uncommon bird and you have to deviate from the trail, be prepared to do some bushwhacking and climbing as it will get much more strenuous. And that is exactly what happened to our party of 3.
Near the far end of the trail, we heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl and chose to locate it by climbing and bushwhacking and the prize was well worth it. These tiny, but ferocious, owls (about 6.75 inches) seem to not have much of a fear of humans and once found, this one gave us lots of great views while perched in a pine and at one point even turned around so we could capture photos of the back of its head which shows off the distinct black marks on the nape, which is a key field mark, and give the appearance of 'false eyes'.
Northern Pygmy-Owl---back view with false eyes
This owl was definitely the highlight of the day, but it was far from being the only great bird we saw. We found evidence that the spring migration has begun in earnest. Black-chinned Sparrows and Rufous-crowned Sparrows were in abundance on the first mile of the road leading to the 1688 trail. The Black-chinned has a song that reminds one of a bouncing ball and they were singing from the hillsides, but most did not want to make themselves visible, until one of them finally flew in and circled us all the while foraging and singing and giving us fantastic views.
Black-chinned Sparrow---Note the long tail
A very welcome find was the Painted Redstart, a warbler of the southwestern US and probably a bit earlier than normal for migrating into this area. We found about 5 or 6 of these birds singing and foraging high in the trees, constantly flicking their tails and wings, which is a normal behavior of these birds.
We also found 3 species of nuthatches, the Pygmy, Red-breasted, and the White-breasted. Unfortunately the only species I was able to capture with a photo was the White-breasted, which is probably the most common species found throughout the US. We also heard Spotted Towhees all along the trail and finally one of them popped up out of the dense vegetation and gave us great views and some wonderful photos.
Awesome birds, awesome scenery, and awesome company for the day. We also made a stop at Sunflower on our way back, but have decided to do a separate post on that as we got some new migrants there as well.
Monday, March 11, 2013
OK, I finally got away from South Mountain Park and this time I ventured east to Boyce Thompson Arboretum, one of my favorite places. And all I can say is WOW! What a great day to go. This place was a birders haven on this day as the AZFO was holding a meeting there and it attracted birders from all of the state and I got to meet a lot of people that I knew by name only. And of course, the icing on the cake was a couple of special birds that have been seen at this location and past couple of weeks. Both species happen to be Sapsuckers; one was a male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and the other was a female Williamson's Sapsucker. Just a couple of months ago, I saw my first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and then saw a 2nd one on one of my CBC's. I had never seen the Williamson's Sapsucker, so this one was a new life bird for me. The Yellow-bellied is a very handsome bird and with the assistance of others, it was found and I lingered behind to try to get some photos and it finally obliged. The Williamson's female was much easier to find as she has a special territory that she seems to favor. The male of this species is much different in appearance and someday I hope to see one of those handsome birds as well.
While the Sapsuckers were the main draw with many birders coming and going to get a look, the rest of this place did not disappoint! Since we are on the subject of woodpeckers (Sapsuckers belong to the woodpecker family), I had a nice male Ladderback Woodpecker pose for me on top of a Prickly Pear Cactus.
You really know springtime has arrived in Arizona with the birds putting on quite a display and even found a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers feeding young chicks already. The thrashers nest was in the confines of a Cholla Cactus, which is one of their favorite nesting habitats. Will definitely keep a lot of the predators out! Also had a nice looking Verdin land on another cactus to pose for me with its nice yellow head and its dark red shoulder patch. It is amazing that they can land on a thorn of a cactus and be delicately balanced and not be harmed by any of the spines of the cactus.
Curve-billed Thrasher, with babies
Down in the picnic area, the Northern Cardinals were putting on quite a display, there were 2 males and 2 females flitting from tree to tree with one of the males dropping to the ground allowing a photo without all the twigs in front of them. A Lincoln's Sparrow stopped by for a visit in the same area shortly after the cardinals dispersed.
Probably the most vocal and gregarious of all the birds that day were the Cactus Wrens. They were everywhere, singing and chortling and croaking, I think trying to entice a mate. Had one land on the dried parts of a palm tree and then dug in and went up inside the dry area and soon emerged with a morsel, a bee. Great for the Cactus Wren, but not so good for the bee.
What a wonderful day of birding!
Friday, March 8, 2013
I know what most of you are thinking, "Not this place again! Gordon needs to find some new territory to explore!" And I can definitely understand that way of thinking, but one of the reasons I hit this spot is that for me it is a great place to get some much needed vigorous exercise and it sure beats getting on the treadmill at home day every day and starting at the same old walls. That will happen in due time, when the summer heat arrives and makes the outdoors in the afternoon a bit unbearable. Right now the Pima Canyon Wash and its many trails is very green due to our wonderful winter rains and the wildlife is usually pretty much the same, but I have come to realize that every once in a while something different is discovered. Such was the case this last Wednesday afternoon.
As I was hiking up the wash, I heard the unmistakable call of a Western Screech Owl softly hooting in the distance. This is a bird I have never seen or heard in this location before. So of course I had to go exploring to try and locate it I finally came upon the source of the hooting; it was a very tall Saguaro Cactus with several holes in all sides of the cactus. Took me a complete walk around the cactus to figure out which hole the sound was coming from and once I did, I could see with my binoculars the owl back inside the hole, but with just enough of its head looking out and checking me out. I took some photos even though the hole was on the shady side and the interior was dark. Got just enough of a its head to see the owl. Not great photos, but was very happy to find it. It is about nesting time for these birds in parts of Arizona, so I am not sure if this was a nesting cavity or a roosting cavity, but I decided to get out and leave it alone. It is far away from any of the main hiking trails, and I don't think it should be disturbed by too many people.
Western Screech Owl
The owl was the highlight, but found some other interesting birds as well including a Greater Roadrunner. I don't always see them out in this area, but every once in a while I stumble upon one and they always make me smile. Also found a Brewer's Sparrow, which is not always very common at this location. Yes, it is one of the plainer birds without much for color or contrast, but it is a good sparrow to learn to help with identifying other sparrows.
One bird I see and hear on every trip to this area is the Verdin. Along with the Curve-billed Thrasher which can be seen on just about every visit to this location.
Moving on to non-avian creatures I had a cute little Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrel pose very nicely for me on a rock. And right below it on a smaller rock closer to the ground a Common Side-blotched Lizard was sunning itself.
Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrel
Common Side-blotched Lizard
This winter has been a blessing in the moisture department for the parched desert with nice rainfall and it looks like the desert will be blooming in color before long. As I write this bog, we have received another wonderful rainfall to keep the spring flowering spectacle continuing. Have to stop and enjoy the flora along with all the fauna that can be found on these birding adventures. Enjoy these flowers!