Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Monday, April 29, 2013

Granite Reef & Sunflower - 21 April 2013

After all my travels from that week off from work, I was finally home on Saturday and a very good birder friend, Muriel, contacted me and asked me if I would like to go to Sunflower birding on Sunday since the last time we were there, we missed out on the Common Black Hawk.  I had already been thinking about going to Granite Reef on my own as I knew the Bullock's Orioles had returned.  So we decided to combine the 2 destinations and off we went early on Sunday morning.  The first stop at sunrise, was Granite Reef, and I was not disappointed as the Bullock's Orioles were easily found.  This is a bird that has always eluded me in photos (at least clear photos) and this time wasn't much better as they love the very tops of the trees and are often hidden by small twigs of foliage.  I did manage a much better photo this time around and am happy with the results.  But there is always room for improvement.

Bullock's Oriole

My goal was filled so off we headed to Sunflower and what a great idea this was.  The road in was particularly very birdy and we spent a long time walking along the road. We also found Muriel's target bird, the Common Black Hawk.  We first spied it on the east side of the road back among the trees and in poor lighting.  But then it decided to make our day and flew to the west side of the road on a clear open perch.  Yes, it was fairly high up in the tree, but still a great view of the magnificence of this bird.  We later also discovered its mate in another tree in a nest.

Common Black Hawk

There were lot of other birds happening about the same time, including a fly-over by a Zone-tailed Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk.  Summer Tanagers had returned and were singing from every direction.  Turkey Vultures were sunning themselves in the cool of the morning air.  One of the most unexpected finds was a Cedar Waxwing that Muriel spied, while I was concentrating on a Vermilion Flycatcher nest.  Almost too much happening at once.

 Zone-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

 Summer Tanager

Turkey Vulture

 Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

With all this activity, we had a hard time deciding to continue the walk on the other side of where the road is closed for vehicle travel, but so glad we decided to continue our walk further up the road.  And it was definitely worth the extra walking.  We discovered the Zone-tailed Hawk nest with presumably the female sitting on the nest.  

Zone-tailed Hawk nest--you can see a head and part of the tail

The trees were alive with singing Yellow Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  The Yellow Warblers are returning migrants and the Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon's), are migrants thinking about heading north, but a few of them were sporting their bright breeding plumage.  And to top it off, another oriole was seen; this one being a Hooded Oriole.  Really made my day to get 2 oriole species.  In addition to all that color a very handsome Violet-green Swallow thought we were safe enough to stay perched for good looks from us.

 Yellow Warbler

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's)

Hooded Oriole

Violet-green Swallow

While we were making our return walk to the car and the parking area we had a friendly encounter with a fairly large Gophersnake (at least that is what I think it is). Growing up I remember my father catching these reptiles back on the farm and then releasing them in places to control the rodent population.  This one was quite long, about 3½ feet long and very nonchalant.  It was not at all aggressive or agitated with us in any way.  If fact, it had pretty much disappeared by the time we regained our composure and was retreating into the grass before I could think about photos.  If you ever get to Sunflower and run across this beautiful reptile, just let it know that Gordon and Muriel said 'Hi'!

Gophersnake as it slithers away.

What a great day of birding and some wonderful birds.  And I can thank Muriel for suggesting the trip and she just happens to be the person that has taught me just enough about photography to help me get a few good photos once in awhile.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Above the Rim - Part 2

The 2nd day of my visit to the Heber/Overgaard area was spent checking out some new sites and returning to some familiar ones.  Most of this visit was to familiarize myself a bit more on where to go and how to get around in this upper elevation region.  On May 11th I will be taking part of the NAMBC (North American Migratory Bird Count).  This year I volunteered to assist in Navajo County, and it will be a new area with different birds and is an exciting adventure to look forward to in a couple of weeks.

Took a road trip early in the morning to Zeniff, which is an agricultural area about 30 minutes north and east of Heber/Overgaard and a totally different habitat with different birds.  This is high desert country and the tall conifers are absent in this area.  First thing I found when I turned off the highway was a Western Meadowlark perched on a fence post singing is very melodic song; one that I am very familiar with as it was a very common bird on the western plains of Nebraska.  About 200 yards further along the road I happened to find another meadowlark, but this one was singing a much different song; this was an Eastern Meadowlark.  These 2 species are almost identical in appearance, but their songs are so very different and this was a great opportunity to listen to the differences in song and make mental notes for the future.

 Eastern Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark (and a very poor photo)

I also counted 3 Swainson's Hawks at this location, and one of them perched close enough to capture a couple of photos.

 Swainson's Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

As I made my way back to H/O and Forest Road 86 on my way to Black Canyon Lake again, I stopped at the bridge over the stream and checked out the area and discovered a pair of House Wrens that had taken advantage of a hole in a dead tree trunk and was using it as their nest.  

 House Wren

House Wren - peeking out of its nesting cavity.

Finally I got to Black Canyon Lake once again and a couple free loaders came right up to the car to greet me and looking for handouts.  Apparently they have learned to rely on hand outs from the few people that visit this lake to fish.  The first was a Steller's Jay that flew into a tree on the opposite side of my car, less that 15 feet away.  He was so close that my zoom lens could not get the entire bird in one frame.  The other beggar was a Golden Mantled Squirrel, that came running up to the car as well.

 Golden Mantled Squirrel

Steller's Jay

This visit resulted in another unexpected find, a Bonaparte's Gull.  This species seems to show up every now and then in some remote place where they are not expected and this was the case with this one.

 Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

This second day I also located a Spotted Sandpiper that I did not see the day before and as normal for this species, it kept running in the opposite direction from me.  I had also seen many 'Red-shafted' Northern Flickers just about everywhere I stopped to bird.  Was finally able to capture a photo of one before it disappeared into the trees.

 'Red-shafted' Northern Flicker

Spotted Sandpiper

As I made my way back to town, an Abert's Squirrel ran across the road in front of my car and then stopped.  Of course I stopped as well and shot some photos from the car.  Those ear tufts are just too fascinating.  With that I bid adieu to the northern areas above the Mogollon Rim and headed home to return to birding in my old hangouts.  But with migration in full swing, I have been seeing some wonderful birds since then.

Abert's Squirrel

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Views of Blues Above the Rim - 18 April 2013

After spending few days in the southern part of Arizona, I traveled north to the towns of Heber/Overgaard and the surrounding area which is above the Mogollon Rim and at an elevation around 7000' and higher.  Quite a different landscape and much cooler temperatures.  Included in this area is Black Canyon Lake, which has been a very nice spot for me to go birding.  Last fall, this lake was where I discovered a Pacific Loon, which was apparently the first record of that species in Navajo County.  The entire area is very under birded and I would encourage other avian enthusiasts to visit the area when they get a chance.  

My title of this post, already suggests the color blue, so I should probably start off this post with my collection of birds decked out in the color blue.  The first bird is the bluest of blue; the Mountain Bluebird.  So if you like the color blue, then you have to ♥ this bird.  Then if you like your 'blue' birds a bit larger and with a crest and a little bit of black highlights thrown in, then maybe your preference is the Stellar's Jay.  And to top it off, we have a third 'blue' bird, which is the Western Bluebird and one of the most common birds to be found in this area. And for this species I have photos of both a male and a female.

 Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

 Steller's Jay

 Western Bluebird - Male

Western Bluebird - Female

After seeing the Yellow-eyed Junco on Mt Lemmon, the northern areas is the place to find the Dark-eyed Junco.  This bird was the most numerous of all the birds I encountered above the Rim and most of them were the Gray-headed subspecies, but I did see 1 Oregon type. 

Dark-eyed Junco

A rather unusual bird that I found at Black Canyon Lake was a male Vermilion Flycatcher.  The species itself is not rare by any means in Arizona, but they are extremely rare at such a high elevation of about 7100'.  It was very cold on the first day I visited this place and the cold must have slowed down this one's molt, as it has not completely molted into the adult plumage.

Vermilion Flycatcher

Also found lots of nuthatches, especially Pygmy and White-breasted with the Pygmy being the most numerous.  They are dynamic little acrobats in the trees.

 Pygmy Nuthatch

 Pygmy Nuthatch

White-breasted Nuthatch

Will round out this post with another beautiful bird, Grace's Warbler.  This is a bird that I had only seen twice before this year.  Now this year I have seen several and after this trip up north I can honestly say I have seen dozens of them.  They were singing from the pines at just about every place I stopped.  Still not easy to photograph, like most warblers are, but always a pleasure to find and enjoy.

 Grace's Warbler

 Grace's Warbler

Grace's Warbler

Will follow up with one more post from this area and then back to basic birding in the valley again.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Huachuca Canyon, Day 2 - 16 April 2013

After being blown around on Monday by the gusty winds, Larry had an appointment with another couple to go back to Huachuca Canyon again on Tuesday morning, and they invited me along.  And since we were planning on leaving early, we hoped to miss the afternoon winds from the day before.  So, with Jan and Dave joining us, we headed back and explored the canyon once again and this time we found a little more diversity on the birds.  The highlight of this trip was a Red-faced Warbler, which was a new bird for both Jan & Dave.  I have seen a couple before, and have never gotten very good photos in the past.  I did succeed a bit better on this viewing with photos; still not great, but much better than the past.  This is a warbler that is usually found at elevations above 6000' in habitats of conifers mixed with oaks and is a summer breeder in primarily Arizona and New Mexico.  To many birders in the US, this is a very sought-after bird as it is unique when compared to all the other warblers.  Its markings and coloration is very distinct.

 Red-faced Warbler

 Red-faced Warbler

 Red-faced Warbler

Red-faced Warbler

Another bird that we saw was the Arizona Woodpecker which is one that can be found in the southern and eastern areas of Arizona.  Still looking for a good photo of one as this one did not stick around long enough for photos.  Just gives me another excuse to travel south once again! 

Arizona Woodpecker

We also had a couple of similar looking Myiarchus flycatchers.  There are 3 species in this family that can be found in Arizona in the breeding season with a 4th species that has recently been documented as breeding in Arizona for the first time and maybe a first for the United States, the Nutting's Flycatcher.  But the 3 more common species are the Ash-throated, the Brown-crested, and the Dusky-capped Flycatchers.  Not always easy to tell one from the other, especially for novice birders, but as one sees them more and more, one learns  their calls and that is most generally the best way to identify them.  On this day we had both the Dusky-capped and the Brown-crested.  I was able to identify both by their calls as confirm the ID's.

 Brown-crested Flycatcher

Dusky-capped flycatcher

Last photo is one of a new butterfly for me, an Arizona Hairstreak Butterfly.  This was a fairly small butterfly, but I thought it to be quite beautiful.  This all ended my trip down south as I headed back to the city suburbs and rested up for a couple of nights, then headed north to higher elevation and above the Mogollon Rim.  What a contrast!  Future blogs will definitely show the difference.

Arizona Hairstreak Butterfly

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Paton House - 15 April 2013

As promised, I had to dedicate one post to just the Paton House alone.  This place is listed as the most reliable place in the United States to view the Violet-crowned Hummingbird, and I have never been disappointed in seeing one of these hummers during my visits to this place.  And along with it, one will usually see a lot of other birds as well.  During my visit, I recorded 38 species, which is a very respectable number for bird species in or around 1 yard.  Have to thank Larry Morgan for his hospitality.  If you ever get a chance to visit this place, please consider a good will donation to assist in the feeding of the birds.

Now on to the birds and the photos.  We will start off with 3 hummingbird photos.  Of course the Violet-crowned Hummingbird is going to be featured, and a photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird and also a photo of a Broad-billed Hummingbird. 

 Violet-crowned Hummingbird

 Black-chinned Hummingbird

Broad-billed Hummingbird

And now a couple of sparrows; the White-throated Sparrow, and a Song Sparrow and a Green-tailed Towhee, which is related to the sparrows.  The White-throated Sparrow is not that common in Arizona, so it is always a joy to find one and then get one that is willing to allow photos.

 White-throated Sparrow

 Song Sparrow

Green-tailed Towhee

Now lets add some color to the photos with a Summer Tanager, a Black-headed Grosbeak, and a Hooded Oriole.  This was the first day of the return of the Summer Tanager at Paton's.

 Summer Tanager - Male

Summer Tanager - Male

Summer Tanager - Female

Black-headed Grosbeak

Hooded Oriole

Not too bad of a selection of birds in just one yard.  If anyone gets anywhere close to Patagonia, AZ, it is worth your time to stop in and check out the Paton House.