Sunday, June 23, 2013
After spending last weekend at home and staying cool, I started having withdrawal symptoms on my birding habit! It was time to venture out again, and with the summer heat in the valley likely to be around for about the next 3 months, I needed to find someplace cool to go birding. Just a short drive east of Mesa and the heat of the valley, are the communities of Globe and Miami in Arizona. And just south of these communities is a small range of mountains known as the Pinal Mountains. The elevation of these mountains is around 7500', and maybe a bit higher at the highest point and they are surrounded by desert which makes this habitat almost a mini Sky Island. Temperatures near the top can be 20° to 30° lower than in the lower elevations. The communities of Globe and Miami, have all the amenities one could want for a casual vacation or getaway. The area is often overlooked as a getaway from the big city heat and crowds.
When I visit this place, I usually head south out of Globe and follow Russell Road until it intersects with FR 651 which I follow the rest of the way to the top. There is great birding all along the way with the variety of species constantly changing as one drives up higher in elevation. In the lower elevations I found several Western Kingbirds that were busy being what they are, 'flycatchers', meaning they catch and feed mostly on flying insects. Occasionally, they will perch from a high spot looking for its next insect.
On this trip I also heard and then saw, several Black-chinned Sparrows, which is not an unusual species, but this time I found them at lower elevations than I had in the past.
A bit higher up, I started finding the beautiful Spotted Towhee and due to their general behavior, many times they are heard and not seen as they tend to be a bird that favors foraging under the bushes and low to the ground. However, at one stop, I heard one calling and the next thing I knew, it flew up into a tree along the road where I had parked and posed for some photos. (It must have known that the first one I saw earlier caught me off guard and I was not able to get a decent photo!)
Just as I was reaching the area where Pine trees start appearing, I found some Black-headed Grosbeaks. The males were a bit far away for photos, but one female, did come in for a close landing, but she made sure that some leaves of a nearby branch partially covered her face.
During the trip to the top, I had two different flocks of Bushtits making their presence known. These small birds (about 4½") usually travel in small flocks, flitting from bush or tree to the next, gleaning insects. Although they are not real skittish around humans, they can be difficult to photograph as they are very active and constantly on the move.
A short distance into the pines, and at my first stop on the road, a very vocal Cooper Hawk came flying in to my area flying from one tree to another, all the while calling, so it was not hard to find. These raptors are simply amazing with their ability to navigate in the trees. They can swiftly fly from within the thick branches and trees to capture their prey.
Further up near the top, I rounded a curve in the road and discovered a couple of deer in the road, so I stopped my car and very quietly and slowly got out to capture a photo. Once of them looked back very inquisitively. At the same time, a couple of Painted Redstart juveniles were flitting close by and I was have having a hard time focusing on what I should be shooting with the camera. Guess I settled for a little of both. The Painted Redstarts are juveniles from this year's hatch as neither one has obtained its fully red belly coloration, although one of the them has started with a few red feathers on its side.
The next stop along the road was fascinating as well. What got my attention was some Red-faced Warblers, but alas, I was not able to capture any photos. But while I was concentrating on viewing them, several birds flew in and made their presence known. Guess they did not want to be ignored and I was not going to let them down. First was a White-breasted Nuthatch that actually landed on a branch not far from me and worked its way down to the end, not more that 10' from me making it too close for a photo. Had to wait for it to move a bit further away. A Western Tanager male also came in for a good close-up view.
A pair of Hepatic Tanagers also put in a brief appearance, but definitely did not want to pose for the camera.
Still in the same spot, I had probably my best view of a Virginia's Warbler ever. Even though it was seen at the top of a tall pine a distance away, this time I actually was able to get an identifying photo of it. It has not been an easy warbler to find and photos have been even tougher. Another warbler that came in for a visit was a juvenile Grace's Warbler, or at least, that is what I think it is. Definitely not as brightly colored or marked as the adults that I am used to seeing, but the color patterns look right. And a Broad-tailed Hummingbird made an appearance feeding on nectar from the roadside flowers.
Once I reached the top, I always enjoy spending time at Roy and his wife's cabin. They have created a bird haven and the hummingbirds are the main attraction. But along with the hummingbird feeders and the several species of hummingbirds that can be found there, they also have some other great features that attract many other species of birds. On this trip, one of the highlights was a pair of House Wrens being kept very busy by feeding their very vocal babies in their nest. They were making countless trips bringing back various insects for those voracious appetites.
The small pools of water they had set out were attracting many birds for a drink or for a chance at bathing. A few of these birds consisted of Yellow-eyed Juncos, Western Tanagers, an Acorn Woodpecker and even a Red-breasted Nuthatch.
What a great way to spend a day when the heat of the desert is creating a hot and not-so-enjoyable day for birding around the city. It is wonderful to be able to venture out of the city a short distance to a spot that is cool and refreshing. Anyone needing directions, please feel free to contact me.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
June 8, 2013 turned out to be probably my longest day of birding so far in my life. At a very early hour of 4:00 am, I met up with a couple of extraordinary birders, Tommy DeBardeleben and Mark Ochs and we headed to the southern parts of Arizona to try and find some great birds, including the rare Buff-collared Nightjar that had been recently reported near Madera Canyon. That was going to be our last objective as it is a nocturnal bird and becomes active at dusk and into the night. Before the day was over, we had covered over 550 miles and it encompassed about 20 hours.
Our first destination was the Monastery at St David. We struck out in trying to locate the Mississippi Kite, but we did make a short hike down to the dry riverbed and back. We did find plenty of good birds and I was able to capture some photos of a couple of different kingbirds, Cassin's Kingbird and the Tropical Kingbird. A novice birder might look at these 2 photos and think these are the same species, but alas they are not the same. Their songs are very different along with some other subtle differences.
Another cool bird that we found was a juvenile Gray Hawk. I have seen adults before, but never a juvenile, so this was a great learning experience for me.
Gray Hawk, Juvenile
From there we headed south and west to the Huachuca Mountain area and drove up Miller Canyon to Beatty's B & B. Great place for hummingbirds and some other specialties as well. At the hummingbird feeders, I got my first of 4 new life birds and this was the White-eared Hummingbird. The long white stripe behind the eye surely verifies where it got its name.
Besides this beauty, there were several other species of hummingbirds visiting the feeders, including the Magnificent Hummingbird, the Blue-throated Hummingbird, and plenty of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. One of the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds really gave me a excellent close-up that allowed for an up-close shot of the head and a very fine detailed photo of the feathering on the head.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird-Close up
A couple of other birds that paid us a visit while we were viewing the hummingbird feeders were an Acorn Woodpecker who apparently needed some sugar water, and a Rock Wren paid us a visit by posing on some metal. (Do you think it was secretly wishing it was a 'metal' Wren?)
Two more special birds were waiting for us further up the canyon and stream bed. This place is well known for its resident Spotted Owls and on this day I had the best views I have ever had of this species. And even further up the steep canyon, we got to observe a Northern Goshawk nest with a fledgling still in it. We waited around for some time, hoping one or both parents might come in to feed it, but did not get that lucky. But since this was another new life bird, I was happy to get a photo from across the canyon to definitely identify this magnificent bird. This was my second life bird for the day.
This is turning into probably my longest blog post, but since it was a long day, this post should be long. From Miller Canyon, we headed further west to the Patagonia area and I was able to add my third life bird, the Thick-billed Kingbird to my life list. No photos, but I now know where to find them and then we ventured on to Madera Canyon. While waiting for the sun to set we stopped at Santa Rita Lodge to help kill some time and just before sunset, the Blue Grosbeaks came out and put on quite a show. I had never seen so many of these birds all in one spot and what a gorgeous bird to observe, even the females are very sleek looking even if not quite as colorful as the males.
Also seen near Proctor Road was Botteri's Sparrow. I managed to get 1 so-so photo of one of these dry grass loving birds that do not spend much time off the ground. Usually found by hearing their song.
The day ended about 2 hours after the sun set. We ventured down Proctor Road a little before sunset so we could be there when the Buff-collared Nightjar started calling. A group of about 10 people had gathered and sure enough we started hearing their call and we determined there were 2 out there in the brush somewhere. Since this was a nocturnal bird, I had already decided that photos would not be feasible, but we tried chasing one down with flashlights with very little success. It was not until we were leaving that another car load had found one not far off the road and I was able to at least catch a glimpse of the green glow of its eye in the beam of a flashlight. A rare bird to be found in the United States and one of the few places to find them, but it rounded out my day as my 4th life bird for the day. What a great finish to a long, tiresome, but fruitful day of birding.
Monday, June 3, 2013
Well, today it was back to my usual haunt. The desert heat has arrived and when that happens, my birding around the Phoenix area greatly subsides. When the morning temps can be 90° at 5:00 AM, then you might as well stay home or head to higher elevation spots. Today, I decided to get in a good hike before the sun came up and the heat set in, so I made it a point to arrive at the trail head at 5:00 AM. Was so early I had to wait for the gate to open and I was the second vehicle in line to enter. Today when I started my hike, I decided to keep track of birds that I could identify by song or call as I made my way around. At 5:00 AM, it is still fairly dark and many of the birds are hard to see and are not yet very mobile. The whole experiment actually turned into an enlightening fact for me. In my 2 hour hike I counted 16 species of birds and 13 of those birds I identified by song before I actually saw the bird. The other 3 birds were birds that I found and were silent, so I did not know they were there until I actually saw them. And those 3 species are also birds that I can easily identify by song or call. So the reality of this experiment, was that I knew every species today by song or call. 2 years ago I was not even close to identifying that many species audibly. Guess my knowledge of the avian life is getting better. I do know that the more a person spends observing birds and their habitats, the easier identification becomes.
Since I was trying to beat the heat, I did not spend long periods of time photographing birds, but I did capture a few images and for the most part they are birds I have photographed many times in the past. One of the most interesting scenes was my photographs of a Canyon Towhee. It was sitting on a branch in a tree, which is a bit unusual as they prefer being difficult to see and near the ground as most towhees are. So I was trying to get some decent photos of this one singing and did not notice until I got home and started processing my photos that a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher was photo-bombing my photos in the background. Guess it was trying to get noticed as well. Kind of nice to see some birds can be comics!
Canyon Towhee; photo-bombed by a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Canyon Towhee; photo-bombed by a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Later down the wash, another Black-tailed Gnatcatcher took front and center stage and left no doubt who I was supposed to be shooting.
Very near my turn around spot of the hike, I turned a corner and was surprised to find a Canyon Wren. This is bird that I normally hear long before I see it and its song is so unique and an easy one to remember. Here is a link to to the Cornell University site where one can listen to its call: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/canyon_wren/sounds
This was a nice find as it stayed fairly close and allowed a couple of decent photos. Many times this bird is seen from a distance on rocky slopes of canyons. In my opinion, it is one of the prettiest of all the wrens.
Other photos include an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a Cactus Wren and a Mourning Dove.
And just so you know I am not stretching the truth about the early starting time, I took a photo of the moon at 4:30 AM just a few minutes before I left the house to go hiking this morning. Actually turned out better than I thought it would.
Moon over Mesa, AZ