Thursday, October 31, 2013
Saturday October 26th and where should I go? Since my last trip to the lower Salt River Area was shortened, I decided to go out and start at the far end at Butcher Jones Beach Recreation Area of Saguaro Lake. A Tonto Forest permit is required to go to all the places along the Salt River and this is no exception. Passes can be purchased in Mesa before heading out to any of these locations.
I arrived early as usual when the birds are beginning to wake from the night. It was chilly being near the water and as usual, I began my trek by taking the hiking trail that follows the north and eastern shore of the lake and shortly I came across a Cactus Wren in the process of building a nest. I doubt if this was a nest for breeding purposes at this time of the year, but perhaps more of a roosting nest to be used during the winter months. I had witnessed the same behavior by another pair but in a different location the weekend before. It is amazing how much nesting material they can accumulate in their beak at each trip in returning to the nest.
Throughout the edges of the lake and in the cattails, the Marsh Wrens were being their typical self in announcing they had returned for the winter and were claiming their piece of turf. Always readily heard but very elusive in being seen, this bird has always been one of my favorite winter birds in Arizona. Finally along the trail that follows a finger of the lake that reaches up into one of the canyons a couple were being very vocal and since the cattails were in a narrow strip in the lake, and the trail was right along the edge where it abruptly had steep sides that were filled with mesquite, these birds were foraging not only in the reeds, but the mesquites as well and were a bit easier to see.
Across this finger of the lake a female Belted Kingfisher found a tree that it preferred over the one that I flushed it from on my side of the water. This species is notoriously skittish and definitely like to keep their distance from humans. Once in a while they will allow a closer approach, but not often. Even at a distance, I still enjoy shooting a couple of photos just to document my sighting of them. This is another bird that visits us in winter and is admired by almost all birders.
Belted Kingfisher - Female
On the trail when returning to the beach area a few White-crowned Sparrows were found foraging on or near the ground. There are about 5 subspecies of this bird and only recently have I tried to start learning the differences in the 2 subspecies most often seen in Arizona, oriantha and gambelli. This bird in the photo is gambelli which has an orangish/yellow bill and a whitish/light gray supraloral.
White-crowned Sparrow (gambelli)
Once I returned to the beach area and was preparing to move on to another spot, a very vocal pair of Black Phoebes decided to be very cooperative with me. This is a bird seen all year in Arizona just about anywhere near some kind of water. By now the sun had risen and was really highlighting their dynamic pattern.
After leaving Butcher Jones Beach, I decided to stop by the marina area to see what I might find. It was quickly filling up with people so I did not stay long. But I did manage to find a trio of Pied-billed Grebes, which are common but so likable and with the sun behind me while I was trying to capture a photo or two, one of them decided it was time for a stretch and I got a nice sequence of photos of it during that short time frame.
And finally, one more photo of one of these cuties that swam right up near to where I was standing which created a nice reflection off the blue sky.
Definitely a great morning with some great common birds and watching and observing them in their natural habitats.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
On Saturday October 19, I took to Pima Canyon Wash again, but this time with someone new that had never been birding before. Fellow worker, James Tryon joined me in my hike over my familiar trail and showed a keen interest in birds. He has been in this same area before, but like most hikers on these trails, was not aware of the bird life that abounds in this dry desert wash. I did not find anything new or unusual on this trip, but it was very rewarding in the fact that James was quite interested in what I was finding and pointing out to him. These are birds that are very common for me as I have seen them countless times, but it is always an eye-opener when someone new to birding gets their first look at some of these birds and seeing and hearing their reactions. It quickly reminds me of how unique and wonderful all these birds are and why I still enjoy them like I do.
I arrived at the parking lot before the sun came up and was treated to a magnificent full moon setting in the western sky. So of course a photo of the moon was in order.
Since it was dawn and still fairly dark, some of the first birds were not that readily seen with any clarity. But the first bird that made itself presentable and that James got to look at and observe was a Black-throated Sparrow. This is one of those birds that often go unnoticed since they are a sparrow and do not exhibit any bright and bold colors. They are also most generally ground feeders that frequent the areas below small bushes and in the grasses. Their overall brown and gray colors often blend in with their surroundings making them difficult to see. But they are very common and if one has the patience to look for them and listen for them, they can be found. Once you see one up close and see that stunning black throat and those bold black and white markings on the head, then one can truly appreciate the beauty of these 'little brown birds'.
A couple of Cactus Wrens were very active in gathering nesting material and building a nest in the forks of a Saguaro Cactus. Not their normal choice for a nest when breeding as they prefer to nest and raise young in various cholla cacti. This nest in a large Saguaro will most likely be used as a roosting nest for the winter months. This one appeared to be gathering as much as it could fit within the confines of its beak.
Rock Wrens were calling from all sides of the canyons and were not being very cooperative until on our trip back down the wash to the parking area, when I spotted a movement in the dead brush and rocks. A minute or two later this one popped out into view and allowed great looks for us as well as showing off its behavioral habit of bobbing up and down.
The Loggerhead Shrike is a bird that I can count on finding at almost every visit to this place. There is a resident pair that has successfully bred for the last 3 years. A very striking bird in its gray, black and white outfit. James mentioned that they remind him of an Air Force Cadet, and I thought that was a pretty good description for these birds.
Another common bird to be found in this location is the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, but it is another one that is often overlooked by hikers, bikers and others walking the trails. Many of the hikers and runners are too busy listening to their electronic devices with their ear buds, so they would not hear this tiny bird. They are actually a bit larger than the various hummingbirds, but as they go about foraging for insects in the low bushes and trees, they are easily missed.
The Curve-billed Thrasher is a bird that is common in a lot of habitats in Arizona. They can be found in urban settings as well as these dry canyon wash areas. Many times I will hear them before actually seeing them with their loud 'wit-a-weet' call that is very familiar. They are another one of those plain brown birds and are much larger than sparrows and gnatcatchers, but that brilliant orange eye and that thick curved bill set them apart and really give them a magical look.
The only mammal that I was able to photograph was a 'wild' canine (alright the adjective 'wild' is really out of line as this one was about as cute and friendly as it could be). Near the apex of our hike we happened upon a very nice man who was getting his very behaved dog, Dominick, to pose for photos on the rocks. What a friendly little guy he was and Neil Liszt was kind enough to allow me to shoot a couple photos of his very photogenic canine companion. So much for the wildlife of Pima Canyon that day!
Even though this was a familiar hike for me, seeing all the regular birds that I usually encounter in this spot, it is always gratifying to open up the wonderful aspects of the avian world to new people. Who knows, but we might have another future birder!
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
On Sunday, I decided to check out a couple of spots along the lower Salt River outside of Mesa. Had not been there for a while and with the government shut down, most of the sites along the Salt River had been closed for about a week and a half. I had a limited time for birding that day due to other commitments so I planned my arrival to coincide with sunrise. Arrived at the Granite Reef Recreation Site about 6:30 am and immediately started seeing several Yellow-rumped Warblers and was hearing their single note calls that are so common here in the winter. They are very numerous and seen just about everywhere until next spring. Within a few minutes I detected a different call that told me that there was something different among all those warblers and I could see something very small flitting about high up in the mesquites, but with all the leaves and twigs and it still being dark I was having trouble getting a good view of it. Then I saw a brief glimpse of it and saw that it had a black throat. It was about that same time that I heard someone calling my name and I looked down in the parking lot to find that Muriel Neddermeyer had decided to visit the same place that morning. I quickly got her up to the same tree to help locate this bird again and it was about that time the bird just called out its name (chick-a-dee-dee-dee) to us, which confirmed the identity that I was thinking, a Mountain Chickadee. What on earth was a Mountain Chickadee doing in this location? Habitat and elevation were all wrong and it was foraging in a Mesquite Tree of all things. They are usually found at much higher elevations and in pine forests. But this bird kept calling and singing and we followed it from one end of the picnic ground to the other and we came to realize that there were actually 2 of them. By now the sun had come up a bit and one of them came out and perched in the sun just long enough for both of us to get some photos of it. This was quite an exciting find for Maricopa County in Arizona and I was really happy that Muriel arrived in time to enjoy this unusual sighting with me.
After such an exciting start to the morning for both us, we then decided to head up the road to the Coon Bluff Recreation Site to what we might find there and shortly after we got out of our vehicles, a flock of Bushtits flew over our heads briefly landing in a tree and quickly moving on. Such a short sighting we did not have an opportunity to get photos, but this is another species that I have not seen at this low of an elevation and certainly not this close to the metropolitan area. They can be found at lower elevations and in different habitat than the chickadees, but this was the lowest I have seen them. We had 3 species of woodpeckers at this location, Red-shafted Northern Flicker (no photos), Gila Woodpecker and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. These last 2 species can be seen at his location on just about every visit.
Gila Woodpecker - Male
Ladder-backed Woodpecker - Female
We also had a couple flycatchers in and around the area. Both are residents here and can be seen quite regularly, the Black Phoebe and the Vermilion Flycatcher.
Vermilion Flycatcher - Male
Also discovered a couple of Green Herons and one of them flew in and perched for us. Would have liked to have gotten a bit closer, but considering the distance we still got some decent photos.
A couple of non-avian critters also delighted us; a beautiful Monarch Butterfly and a Red-spotted Toad. (If the toad is mis-identified, please feel free to email me or post it in comments and I will correct the name.)
Red Spotted Toad
Since my day was shortened due to other commitments, I headed home from Coon Bluff. But on the way, I decided to stop at the ponds along Power Road to look for the Redhead drake that Lindsey Story had seen earlier in the morning on their way up to look for the chickadees. He was easy to find, but a bit of a distance away, but what a gorgeous duck to see.
Redhead - Male
This was definitely a worthwhile adventure and shows that rarities show up in some unusual places from time to time.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
On Sunday, I had the honor and privilege to take Walter Thurber birding at my most common birding spot, Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park. Walter was the person that asked me to assist his group in doing the Tom's Thumb transect survey in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve a couple of times this past year. The Tom's Thumb trail is much more difficult than my regular hike in Pima Canyon Wash, but in some respects, the habitat is a bit similar but due to the variance in the elevation, there does tend to be a bit different make up of the bird life. Yes, many of the species are common to both spots, but just enough of a difference to make it interesting.
In checking eBird, I think I have contributed more reports than anyone else at this location. (Doesn't mean that other birders have not birded there, but if they did, they are not reporting on eBird.) Time and time again, I think I have seen all I can find at this location in terms of new species, but every once in a while I find something new and this was precisely the case on this day with Walter joining me. Burrowing Owls are by no means a rare bird in Maricopa County as I know of 4 locations where they can be seen regularly; 2 locations are due to man made habitats for them, one is a college campus and one is a natural setting where they found the right place to make a home. But on Sunday, I discovered one of these birds in Pima Canyon Wash for the first time. Not sure if this is a going to be a regular spot for this bird or not, but it will be interesting to check it out in future hikes. So I am looking forward to another trip back to this location to check it out. As one can see from the photo, this one has found a hiding spot in a small cave area along one of the cliffs. It was great to share my excitement with Walter on this find.
Of course we were also treated to many of the regulars such as Anna's Hummingbirds (quite common throughout the year), Black-throated Sparrow (also common throughout the year), White-crowned Sparrow (just returned to spend their winter here), and the Loggerhead Shrike (another permanent resident).
Another permanent resident is Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrel. When I first started birding in this location, this rodent really gave me fits on the first couple of trips. I hate to admit how many times I chased down its call thinking it was a bird. I finally learned to recognize its call and no longer have to chase down the sound.
Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrel
When we finally returned to the trail head and stopped to take a break in the shade of the ramada, we were blessed by a visit by a Greater Roadrunner that came right up to the ramada and actually came in looking for handouts. All the while it was approaching it was being mobbed by a couple of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers and a couple of Verdin that were scolding it. Once the Roadrunner started feeding on the human handouts that were being offered by some of the other humans in the ramada, the smaller birds stopped their harassment and left it alone while we were treated to various poses by the Roadrunner. This bird must be used to receiving handouts as it showed very little fear of the humans nearby. I really do not condone the feeding of wild birds in the wild settings because of what the humans are feeding (in this case donuts or bread), are not the proper diet of what these creatures normally feed on, but I will admit, it presented a unique viewing of this marvelous and lovable bird. (Now if I can just figure out how to capture a lizard and offer that as a treat!)
One last bird came into view by soaring in the sky near the ramada as we were getting ready to head out, a Red-tailed Hawk made several passes over us and the rest of the hikers that were in awe of this gorgeous raptor. It had been some time since I had seen on of these birds in this location, so it was a welcomed site.
After all the visits I have made to this spot, I have decided it is time to start on a report or at least a species list of the birds that I have been able to document in this location. Sounds like a lot of work, so not sure how quickly that will be, but gives me some plans for the future.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Tuesday arrived and the planed birding trips had come to an end. But Jim and Vince were staying a few extra days and Chuck Hoppe was flying into the San Jose Airport that day and we were going to spend some time with my cousin. So, the 3 of us headed out to find some more birds before heading to the airport and our main target bird was the Yellow-billed Magpie. This bird is endemic to California and cannot be found in any other state except California. But one has to travel to some interior areas of the state as they would not normally be found along the coast. Growing up in southwestern Nebraska, the Black-billed Magpie is a fairly common bird; and they have a fairly large range covering much of the western United States and as far north as Alaska. So the Yellow-billed was our focus bird. I had been given directions by one of our guides that we had on Sunday and was told they could be found near Ed Levin Park near Milpitas, CA. So we set the GPS and took off. We followed Al's directions and sure enough we found a pair of them almost exactly where he directed us. They can be very vocal and would be hard to miss with their size and bold black and white markings. Yes, another life bird for all of us!
We had achieved our goal already and had some time to spare, so we drove back to Ed Levin Park to kill some time there and at this stop, I finally got a photo of the Oak Titmouse. Although I had seen them on Sunday, this was my first photo of one.
We stopped once along the road to admire 2 more Golden Eagles (this brought my total of Golden Eagles up to 6 on this trip!), and I had the opportunity to snap a photo of a Common Raven from the car window.
Couple of items that caught my interest in the park were the ground squirrels that were very prevalent in the park and in the fields and pastures near the roads all around the area. Have done a little research and I think the species is the California Ground Squirrel, but I could be wrong and if someone reading this can give me a better ID, I will be more than happy to make a correction. Jim also discovered a nice large Tarantula which was not a creature he wanted anything to do with. He went running one way and I couldn't get to the spider fast enough to get some photos! Lovely creature that I estimated to be about 4" to 5" across.
California Ground Squirrel, (I think)
California Ground Squirrel, (I think)
So much for the birding on this day as our attention then turned to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium. for those of you still following along, expect to see some mammals, some fish and yes, some more birds! First things first, Sea Otters! That in my opinion is the biggest reason to come to Monterrey Bay. They do have a couple of these enigmatic mammals in the Aquarium itself where they can be viewed up close and personal and putting on a show for the spectators. But to me, it is more satisfying to actually see some out in the open water of Monterrey Bay and capture photos of them in their wild state. Such marvelous creatures and so unique.
Of course the Aquarium itself is full of various underwater life all in huge and sometime very small aquariums. I did attempt a few photos of some of the fish, but found it difficult to focus with my large zoom lens, so remember these photos were being shot through a thick aquarium glass without a flash. I have no clue what species we have in these photos, but I think they are simply beautiful.
Also within the confines of the aquarium itself is an area where they have rescued and rehabilitated injured birds and one can see them up close. Here are a couple of photos of a couple of birds, that were in this open area that were almost too close for photos, but this is closer than I have ever gotten to either one; a Ruddy Turnstone and a Snowy Plover.
Ruddy Turnstone in Captivity
Snowy Plover in Captivity
Once we left the Aquarium we made a side stop to the docks and jetties of Monterrey Bay. Really came to see the California Sea Lions up close and in the process I was able to discover a couple of birds up close. Brandt's Cormorant was one that I had seen at several places around Half Moon Bay, but was not able to get very close for photos, but this time it was different. They were going to roost on the pilings all around the seal lions. And by peering down and over the edge, I also discovered a Surfbird on the rocks. Another bird that I had seen from a distance earlier in the trip, but was never able to get photos.
And of course the California Sea Lions were what we came down to look at. Got one up close and personal, but also got a view of the jetty with just about every rock covered by one of these magnificent mammals.
California Sea Lions
The Monterrey Bay Aquarium is a must see for anyone that is near this area. Their displays of all types of marine life including many species of jellyfish and anemones and corals are outstanding. The huge 2 story aquarium of fish and kelp is awesome and readily shows how fish move with the water currents. If I lived in that area, I would not hesitate in purchasing a year pass.