Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Above the Rim - Day 2

Sunday dawned with cool temperatures and a lot of clouds.  They clouds persisted throughout the day and at times brought intermittent rains showers.  Consequently, some of the birding was slightly dampened.  But it was a great day as we saw more great birds.

The day before, our visit to Woods Canyon Lake was highlighted by the Red-faced Warblers, so on this day we paid a visit to Black Canyon Lake and was treated to a different species of warbler, Grace's Warbler.  Black Canyon Lake is a bit more secluded and consequently we had smaller crowds of humans.  Grace's Warbler is a another warbler that breeds in the southwestern parts of the United States.  Its range tends to be a bit larger than the Red-faced Warbler and it loves the pine trees as it forages for insects on the tips of branches covered with needles.

 Grace's Warbler

 Grace's Warbler

Grace's Warbler

A couple of other birds at the lake were the Steller's Jays and Brewer's Blackbirds.  The Steller's Jays were quite numerous, but on this day, they played hard to get when it came to photos.  So I just ended up with a rear end shot, but that blue color on those wings is quite vivid.  The Brewer's Blackbird is quite striking with its bright eye and glossy colored plumage.

 Steller's Jay

Brewer's Blackbird

To reach Black Canyon Lake, we took FR 86 from Heber and along this road are several historical points of interest and they also include several hot spots for birds.  At one of those spots, we found a Broad-tailed Hummingbird that posed nicely for us.  We had several males zip by us and they are easy to recognize when they do this by the trill the males make with their wings.  Another bird was the Cordilleran Flycatcher; another one of those 'difficult-to-identify' Empidonax flycatchers.  Much of the time, this family of birds are best identified by their call notes, but by knowing habitat preferences, ranges, and breeding behaviors, many can still be identified.  Cordilleran Flycatchers choose coniferous pine forests at high elevations for breeding and are quite common in Arizona in the right habitats and in breeding season.  Not an easy class of birds to learn for a novice birder, but with practice and repetitive familiarization of them, it does get easier

 Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Cordilleran Flycatcher

At another stop along the road, we happened to locate the Arizona state Amphibian, the Arizona Tree Frog.  I had not seen this species before and it was quite a treat.  Their bright green color blends in quite nicely in the bright green grass near the stream.

Arizona Tree Frog

Our day came to a close with heavier rain showers and at one point when we arrived in Payson, it was pouring and visibility was very low.  But by the time we got out of town, it had subsided quite nicely for a very enjoyable trip back to the heat of the city.   

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.

 Golden-mantled Squirrel

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.

Gray-collared Chipmunk

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.

Williamson's Sapsucker

Also making brief appearances were a Red-breasted Nuthatch, a Brown Creeper and a Mountain Chickadee.

 Red-breasted Nuthatch

 Brown Creeper doing what they do best, probing for insects.

Mountain Chickadee

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.

 Red-faced Warbler

Red-faced Warbler

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.

Unknown Bat

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.  

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Rancho El Aribabi, Sonora, Mexico - Part 3

We knew we were departing this wonderful place on Sunday, so we tried to take advantage of the few hours we had.  Chris Rohrer and I headed down a trail that we had briefly visited on Saturday to see how far we could go.  It followed the stream and was lush with all kinds of trees and shrubs, but the hillside was right there as well and we heard and found Five-striped Sparrows.  And we were seeing a lot of the regular birds that we had already seen.  We did however heard the call of a White-tipped Dove in the canopy.  As we ventured back after hitting a dead end that appeared to be impassable, we heard a very loud and unique song coming from the upper canopy.  As it seemed to be moving as it was calling, we finally caught a glimpse of a small bird flying across our path.  Chris headed to the back side of the tree it landed in, while I stayed on  the near side.  This bird was not making it easy for a clear view and an ID, but Chris did manage to snap a couple of photos of it in the dense leaves of the tree.  We had found the Sinaloa Wren!  A new life bird for the both of us.  Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of this bird, but Chris did and he deserves the credit for the photo I am posting.  He graciously gave me permission to use this photo in my blog.

Sinaloa Wren - © Chris Rohrer

About mid-morning back at the house, I walked out the front door and spied a snake sticking its head through the pillars near the stairs.  I snapped a couple of photos of it and alerted others nearby, it must have realized that it had been seen and took off.  It was quickly identified as a Coachwhip, and was very colorful in my opinion.  Jim was going to try to catch it as it is non-venomous, but I heard him mutter as he hurried past me, 'I wonder how many times I am going to get bit!'.   I had never seen this species of snake and of course had no knowledge of their behavior.  They are extremely fast and can disappear very quickly and this one did just that.  Even though they are non-venomous, they are notorious for biting a lot if caught and handled.  What fun this was to find and observe.


A new hummingbird made an appearance at our feeders this day; a male Rufous Hummingbird at first was timid about coming in for a sip of nectar, but as the morning wore on he got just as bold as the others.  Rufous Hummingbirds breed and nest in the far northwestern part of the US and up into Canada and Alaska, so this bird just happens to be one of the early migrants headed back south.  The males tend to migrate earlier than females and a few have already been reported in Arizona in migration already. When one thinks of the miles these birds travel, it is amazing.  Here is this little 3 to 4 inch bird that has already traveled probably over 1000 miles.  This is part of the awesomeness of nature and they are gorgeous hummers.

 Rufous Hummingbird

 Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

And the Violet-crowned Hummingbirds were still around and of course I took more photos.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

On Saturday, I had crossed one of the small tributaries of running water and managed to find a quite colorful beetle.  I had no idea what it was, but just had to take some photos.  Since my return, I have found out that this is a species of a Leaf Beetle.  Thanks to a Facebook friend who helped in the identification of this and also gave me this link for those that are interested.  They change colors as they reach sexual maturity.

 Leaf Beetle

Leaf Beetle

Here is a photo of the small stream and Chris maneuvering the crossing.

The final creature photo is one of an Earless Lizard, but I am not sure of the exact species, it might be an Elegant Earless Lizard.  Loved the yellow stripe on this and it is a new one to me.

Earless Lizard

We finally packed up and left in the early afternoon, but our return trip took us east so that we could use the border crossing in Naco, AZ as it would be far less crowded on a Sunday.  On the way, we stopped at the Cocospera Mission ruins.  This mission was under construction in 1695 so the ruins are well over 300 years old.  They have erected a support to prevent it from totally collapsing.  There is also a small cemetery in the back with burials as late as early 2000's.

Ruins of the interior of the Mission

What a wonderful 3 day visit; new faces, new scenery, new birds and new creatures.  A place that I think would be awesome to visit in spring or fall migration sometime.  I just might have to get some birders together for a future visit.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Rancho El Aribabi, Sonora, Mexico - Part 2

Saturday morning I awoke before the sun had even risen and what woke me was the multitude of bird songs all around us outside the ranch house.  Of course I was excited and headed outside and heard the Buff-collared Nightjars calling their last calls before they went to rest for the day.  Those nocturnal birds are hard to get visuals, but once you learn their calls, you know they are out there.  We had already been told by Jim Rorabaugh that the hillside to the west of the ranch house would have Five-striped Sparrows singing in the morning, he was absolutely correct.  This is a bird that is very hard to find in the United States as it is only found in a couple of very remote canyons of southern Arizona, so it was one of my target birds on this little trip.  We found several singing all over the hillside and they were being especially cooperative and allowing several photo opportunities.  It is another one of those handsome sparrows.  So, Saturday started out fantastic as I got my first new life bird of the weekend!  (But things were going to get even better fairly quickly.)

 Five-striped Sparrow

Five-striped Sparrow

As we were standing there looking up a small draw at the Five-striped Sparrows, I heard a rattle call and saw a bird fly in and onto some dead branches just below some Saguaro Cactus.  That call immediately made me think of a kingfisher and low and behold, a Green Kingfisher had landed on those dead branches.  I was almost afraid to call out the ID on it because it really did not belong here; should have found this bird down in the stream bead and the trees and heavy shade.  This was a female and it sat there for several minutes allowing all of us to get some good looks and of course some photos.  This bird does show up occasionally in Arizona, but it is far from being common and not easy to find when it is present.  Another new life bird for me and one that I had secretly hoped to find, but thought it was going to be harder to find.

Green Kingfisher

What a way to start the day!  Also during all of this our resident pair of Barn Swallows took a rest in this area as well.  It is not often one gets photos of them on vegetation as they love to perch on power lines and fences.  This pair has a nest on the patio portion of the ranch house, so they were our constant companions along with a couple of Canyon Towhees that kept the patio free and clear of a lot of insects.  Even a Black Phoebe flew in to snack on a few flying insects once in a while.

 Barn Swallow

 Canyon Towhee

Black Phoebe

Other birds that were seen constantly in and around the ranch house were red and blue, such as the Blue Grosbeak and the Summer Tanagers and Northern Cardinals.  Yes, these birds can be seen in Arizona, but here they were constantly all around us.

Blue Grosbeak

 Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager- Male and Female

 Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

During my wanderings on Saturday, I finally got around to photographing some of the many flycatchers located at this place.  Dusky-capped Flycatchers were abundant as were Brown-crested and Ash-throated Flycatchers.  We also had kingbirds, Cassin's Western, and Thick-billed Kingbirds.  I was really pleased to see the Thick-billed Kingbirds as it was a bird that I had only seen fleetingly in early June, but this time I was able to capture photos of this huge billed kingbird.  No doubt where it got its name.

 Thick-billed Kingbird

Thick-billed Kingbird

 Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Western Kingbird

Of course we also had both species of vultures.  The Black Vulture is one that is usually a bit harder to find and capture in a photo, so I took advantage of this one perched on an electrical pole.  Another bird that was seen in abundant numbers was the Common Ground Dove.  They are found in Arizona as well, especially in the south and occasionally they do stray as far north as the Phoenix area as I have seen them at a couple of places in the urban areas.  

 Black Vulture

Common Ground Dove

 A person never knew what to expect flying in the canopy of trees and even though we had heard them a few times, finally a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flew from right to left and actually landed on a branch for good viewing.  This is another one of those secretive birds that one hears a lot and gets an occasional glimpse.  Still not the best photos that I would like of this elusive bird, but much better than any I have captured before.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Anytime anyone wanted to take a break, we could sit around on the patio and watch the hummingbirds.  For the most part only 2 species were making regular visits; the Broad-billed Hummingbird and the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.  (A third species made an appearance on Sunday, but that will be on my next post.)

 Broad-billed Humingbird

 Violet-crowned Hummingbird

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

Must have been lunch time to find all of us together in the daylight.

This was the full crew, minus myself in this photo

Finding out how long this post turned into, I have decided to stop and continue on the 3rd and final post which will include a photo of the only snake we found.