Saturday, August 31, 2013
I left off with the Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake on Harshaw Canyon Road and now to continue on with our final 2 stops on Saturday before retiring to our motel in Nogales. Kelly Rishor accompanied us on to the Paton House, which is a very well known spot to stop and enjoy the various birds that pass through here. It is probably best known for being the most reliable place in the United States for finding the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. Plus it also receives many rare and scare birds from time to time. My good friend Larry Morgan is the current caretaker of this place and when Tommy, Muriel, Kelly and myself arrived he was quick to tell us that they had just seen a male Painted Bunting in the yard. This was actually another one of our target birds, but we were planning on travelling to Kino Springs to try to find this bird as it had been reported at Kino Springs for several days. Larry suggested that we go out to the road and go down the wash which was behind his feeding area. So away we went and we quickly discovered an area with running water where several birds were bathing and drinking. Tommy was the first to spy the bird in the reeds near the stream bed and shortly thereafter it made its appearance at the water to bathe. I definitely came away with very poor photos of this bird, but now I have to try to find more. This bird is not very common in Arizona and it breeds in Texas and the deep south, but every year a few of these turn up in Arizona as they start migrating south. Since it was a new life bird for me, I at least got a shot of it that helps to identify it. Has to be one of the most colorful birds to be found in the US. And as Tommy was processing his photos, he also discovered that there was a female Painted Bunting at the same time. So the less colorful bird in the background is the female.
Painted Buntings, male in front and female in the rear
Did manage to get a couple other photos of some of the various birds that were bathing in this stream of water. Even these photos left a little to be desired.
And we can't forget a photo of our wonderful host that advised us of the Painted Bunting being around, Mr Larry Morgan. Always a pleasure to stop and visit this place in the town of Patagonia. You will be glad you stopped by and even happier if Larry is at home and you get to meet him.
From Paton's, Tommy, Muriel, and I continued on to Kino Springs and Kelly headed back home to Tucson. We wanted to see if we could find the male Painted Bunting at Kino Springs as well that had been reported by several others. We did manage to find it, but it was very secretive and photos were out of the question. We did find other birds there including an Indigo Bunting which gave us 4 species of Buntings on this trip. We also discovered a family of Tropical Kingbirds and found parents still feeding some recently fledged young.
Tropical Kingbird, fledgling
Tommy and Muriel, AZ is not all desert and sand!
To finish out this post, I did manage to capture a few photos of some dragonflies while we were at Patagonia Lake earlier in the morning. Such fascinating insects and some are very colorful as well.
Blue Dasher, male
Mexican Amberwing, female
Finally after a full day of birding we headed to Nogales to get some rest for the night and start another day of birding on Sunday.
Friday, August 30, 2013
The awesome show from the Blue-footed Booby was not the only show in town on this day. Tommy, Muriel and I also got photos of a lot of other great birds and some other critters as well. On the road into Patagonia Lake, we stopped along the road and got to see and hear, both Botteri's and Cassin's Sparrows. What was odd, was the fact that the Botteri's Sparrows seemed to favor one side of the road and the Cassin's Sparrows favored the other side. I have seen Botteri's Sparrow before but have never gotten very good photos. The Cassin's Sparrow was a new life bird for me and they we performing their skylarking displays which was really cool to watch how they would flutter up into the air about 10 to 15 feet and then glide down into the grass and then disappear. They were singing all the while. The Botteri's Sparrow has a song a bit similar to the Black-chinned Sparrow, but totally different in appearance. Both birds are little brown birds that are fairly drab in appearance, still great birds to add to one's bird list.
Botteri's Sparrow, juvenile below and adult above
And while we are looking at little brown birds, another sparrow species was quite plentiful near the far western part of the lake; the Rufous-winged Sparrow. A little more distinctive than the first 2 species, but one that can only be found in the United States in southern Arizona as a regular breeder.
While we were waiting for the Booby to return to the dock area, we also had a fly-by of a Black Vulture. Not a rare bird by any means, but definitely not as common as the Turkey Vulture. This was the first time I was able to capture photos of one in flight. They are definitely much different in appearance and structure than a Turkey Vulture and their flight pattern is much different.
While we were at Patagonia Lake, we met Kelly Rishor, another birder that we knew only through Facebook and she joined us as we then headed to the Patagonia Rest Stop and then on to Harshaw Canyon and on up to the San Rafael Grasslands. At the Patagonia Rest Stop we found another specialty bird that is hard to find elsewhere in the United States, the Thick-billed Kingbird. This photo really points out how big and thick that bill is on these birds.
Next area of birding was Harshaw Canyon on our way to the San Rafael Grasslands. This is a great place to find Eastern Bluebirds which is not a bird that too many people are aware even exists in Arizona. The one in Arizona is a subspecies of the more common bird seen in eastern the United States and is much paler in coloration. We had a pair of these birds feeding recently fledged babies and the babies are very different in appearance than the adults.
Eastern Bluebirds, adult and juvenile
Eastern Bluebird, juvenile
Finally we reached the San Rafael Grasslands and with the monsoon rains that have been taking place this summer, the grasslands were plush with vegetation and the Grasshopper Sparrows were in full breeding mode. We saw more of these birds than I have ever seen before; they were lining the fences and were obviously feeding some young in nests that were well concealed in the grass. One of the photos has more than its share of bugs in its beak!
Grasshopper Sparrow, kind of a glutton if you ask me!
After leaving the grasslands, we headed back down Harshaw Canyon and once we reached the paved area of the road, I noticed a rattlesnake in our lane of the road and Muriel drive over it by straddling it with the car. We turned around and went back to check it out and it was totally motionless and we thought it was dead or mortally injured by maybe another vehicle driving over it. Tommy tossed some water on it and it flicked its tongue out, so then we knew it was not dead, but it sure was not disturbed or agitated in any way. I gave it a very gentle nudge with the end of my monopod and it reared up into a striking pose, but still was not agitated and did not use its rattles. After watching it and getting photos, I gave it one more gentle nudge and it took off and slithered quite rapidly into the grass on the side of the road. I was concerned that if we left it on the road, the next vehicle to pass by might not have been quite so kind. I prefer to let them live as they were inhabiting in this land long before we came along.
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake
Western Diamond-backed Rattlesnake, has a few rattles to the tail!
The photos below will show the lushness of the grasslands, plus we have photos of the the foursome. The photos will show that Arizona is not all desert and sand dunes!
San Rafael Grasslands
Muriel, Tommy, and Kelly
Muriel, Tommy, and myself
Have a lot more to share, but am going to create another post to cover some of the other great birds we saw.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Once again, I have to admit that living in Arizona really has its perks as far as chasing our fine avian friends. The state is situated close to Mexico and also to some bodies of salt water. With the proximity of these features, the state does get its share of casual and rare birds. Such is the case this August. A juvenile Blue-footed Booby made an appearance at Patagonia Lake, in southeastern Arizona. This bird is an ABA code 4 bird and is very rarely seen in the United States. I have actually seen this bird in Puerto Penasco, Mexico before, and it is quite at home in that location as they breed close by on Bird Island in the Gulf of California. This bird seems to have lost its compass and flew off course by about 185 miles and ended up at this remote, but very popular lake in Arizona. Once again I had the privilege of birding with a couple other excellent birders, my good friends Tommy DeBardeleben and Muriel Gordon Neddermyer. We decided to make a weekend of it and our target bird was this Blue-footed Booby, which was a new life bird for both of them and is one that was really great to add to my Arizona and US list.
Since this bird is a juvenile, it has not yet developed the striking bright blue feet that it will attain as an adult bird. Our first viewing of this bird was a distant fly over to the beach and visitor's center area. Once we worked our way to the visitor center, all we had to do was stand on the small dock and watch the show. It would fly up and down the lake making many dives for fish. One time it hit the water not more than 15 to 20 feet from our little dock area. We can truly say it put on quite a show for us. Definitely not overly concerned with the humans all around. This post is centered on this magnificent bird and I will let the photos speak for themselves.
The beginning of a dive for fish
Starting to fold in the wings before hitting the water
Would have loved to be in the boat with this close fly-by.
Friday, August 23, 2013
Last Sunday I headed to one of my old standby spots which I usually select when I really need to get some good exercise, Pima Canyon Wash, South Mountain Park. Of course birding and any other nature related sighting is always welcome. This is August in the desert of Arizona and what I found was a lot of birds NOT dressed in their Sunday finest! Lots of molting and lots of juveniles make many of the birds look 'unkempt' and not well groomed. But here again, this is more educating myself on what to expect at different seasons when birding.
The first photo is one of a very common bird that can be found in this location, but certainly does not look like what we normally see. This bird is a juvenile, or this year hatch bird and has not yet obtained its adult plumage When I first started birding seriously here in Arizona, I ran across a couple of these birds and really had a hard time figuring what species it was. It was obviously a sparrow, but really had me confused. But an expert birder that I know quickly helped me identify them and I have remembered it ever since. This is a Black-throated Sparrow and I am including a photo of an adult taken in the past. One can clearly see how handsome this youngster will be in the future.
Black-throated Sparrow, juvenile
Black-throated Sparrow, adult
The next bird appears to be an adult based on the size and curvature of it bill. However, it is in the middle of a summer molt with many missing feathers and new ones coming in. This is a Curve-billed Thrasher and since I am offering comparisons, one in its finest plumage would also be apropos. Once again, the difference in appearance is astounding.
The third bird is one of the coolest birds in the desert, the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. This is a bird that I have photographed probably more than any other. Number one they can be a challenge to capture photos as they are small, very active, and like to forage for small insects within the various bushes. My first photo is what I believe to be a juvenile, this year hatch bird, although it is possibly a female as well. This bird reacted quite readily to my pishing which makes me think it might be a juvenile. Sometimes they are a bit less wary than the adults. Then I found a male that is already starting to molt out of its breeding plumage and is losing its black cap. And finally the third photo is a male in breeding plumage.
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, juvenile
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, molting adult male
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, adult male, breeding plumage
As far a non-avian creature, I stumbled upon a Zebra-tailed Lizard. This is a gravid female, meaning she is carrying eggs to be laid. They will lay clutches of 1 to 15 eggs in the summer. Note how fat she is around the belly area.
Zebra-tailed Lizard, female
Obviously a spot that I explore very frequently, and once again I found something new about the life forms that inhabit this dry arid canyon. I never get bored with this spot, but it did take me a while to figure out the best trails to follow to get the most out of this place.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Once again, I headed out to the Glendale Recharge Ponds and knowing it was going to be another scorcher (Friday it hit 113° in Phoenix), I arrived right around sunrise to find 4 other people had arrived be fore me. Guess I am not the not only crazy bird person! And all 4 of these happened to be people I already knew, Jeff Ritz and his mother Shirley, Dick Ashburn, and Pam Barnhart. Pam was a new face, but I knew her through many Facebook postings. Luckily the cloud cover allowed me to linger out a bit longer than I would have had the sun been beating down on me with no shade trees to offer any respite.
The most interesting find, happened to be a juvenile Long-billed Curlew. These birds are usually found in Arizona during migration in fall and spring, and some can be found in the winter. They are most frequently seen in farm fields that have been flooded by framers irrigating their crops in Arizona. They breed much further north from the western high plains of the United States and on up into parts of southwestern Canada. This bird has a much shorter bill than the adults that I normally see, which is an indication of a juvenile, probably a hatch-year bird and just now finding its way south for the first time for its first winter.
Long-billed Curlew, juvenile
Long-billed Curlew, juvenile
Long-billed Curlew, juvenile
A Green Heron was quite undisturbed by us as we watched it feeding along the canal. The birds can look so short and compact when resting, but when they make a strike for a small fish, one can really see how long those necks really are. Looks can be quite deceiving. First photo is of it getting ready to strike, the second photo is of the strike itself and finally the third photo is the recoil.
3 White-faced Ibis were also present, which was another species that I did not see the week before. This one was being photo-bombed by a Black-necked Stilt.
White-faced Ibis (rear) & Black-necked Stilt
The most numerous birds were the Least Sandpipers and Killdeer, which were everywhere. These are birds that many times, I just count them and ignore them as they can be so plentiful. It is always worthwhile though to check out every Least Sandpiper as there area a couple of species that can look very similar and are a bit rarer to find, especially in migration.
While nothing rare was found, just finding and studying a juvenile Long-billed Curlew was definitely worth the trip. Birding is a never ending education and learning process and one that gives me a lot of enjoyment.