Friday, August 8, 2014
Taking Advantage of a Cool Down
As mentioned many times in previous posts, the Arizona summers in and around the city of Phoenix can be quite brutal with the excessive heat. When one gets up before the sun rises and the outside temperature is 94° F in the dark, then you know the daytime temperature will be very uncomfortable. That's when it is time to head to higher elevations in the summer to go birding. But every once in a while there is a slight break in the weather especially during monsoon season and the first weekend of August was one of those times. Our day time highs did not quite reach the 100° range and the overnight lows were in the low 80's. With this break, I decided it was time to get out early in the morning to see what I could find in an hour or two before the sun made it miserable.
Saturday, I decided to visit one of my regular spots, Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park. I arrived while it was still dark, and I began my hike in the dark, and was listening to the Common Poorwills calling higher up on the slopes of the canyon. I could vaguely see some movement in the sky as the sky started letting go of the pitch black darkness and I figure those were the Common Poorwills remaining activity before going to roost for the day. All of a sudden I detected another bird movement, very close and right across the path in front of me and it was very silent, reminiscent of an owl as they are very silent flyers. Sure enough I was able to pick out and count 3 Western Screech Owls with my flashlight. Obviously as dark as it was, I was not going to get any photos, but it was great to find them and then I made a mental note of the tree they had flown into as I wanted to check it on my return hike. Sure enough, on the return, I approached the tree with caution and one of them was perched on a branch in the tree. The colors blended in quite well with the tree limbs and most people would walk right by and not notice this bird sitting there. Approaching slowly and cautiously, I was trying to get some photos as this is one bird that has been difficult to photograph mostly due to their nocturnal habits. First photos of it consisted of squinting eyes, then they opened a bit as I got closer and once it's eyes were open and I got a couple of photos, I quickly retreated to leave it rest in peace for the day. I have always known these owls were in this location as I had heard them many times in the past. Looking forward to a return visit to see if this particular tree is a common roost for them.
Western Screech Owl
Western Screech Owl
Western Screech Owl
What an elated feeling and glad I made the decision to get in a short hike that morning. Then as I approached the parking lot I stopped in the wash as I had heard a different call from a nearby tree and just about that time, a Black-headed Grosbeak flew from the distant tree into the tree I was standing under and gave me a chance at a couple of photos. I suspect that this bird is a first fall male with that bright yellow chest and belly stripe.
Sunday, I decided to check out Glendale Recharge Ponds in the western part of Phoenix. Some nice shore birds were being seen and I wanted to check it out. (Have to make a mental note to try and find a reasonable priced spotting scope to use in places like this. Those ponds are fairly large and a scope will greatly assist the viewing of the birds on the opposite shores.) There were lots of shore birds on the two ponds that held water, including 37 Wilson's Phalaropes. These birds are a lot of fun to watch as they forage. They swim in circles in a spinning motion like a top to stir up larvae, crustaceans, and insects to feed on. They were so busy spinning in circles that I was able to at least approach them close enough to get a photo or two.
Long-billed Dowitchers were quite numerous as well and some were still sporting the remnants of their summer breeding plumage as was a Neotropic Cormorant.
After about an hour of scanning the ponds, and the sun staring to make its mark, I decided to calls it quits for this day except for the fact that I made one last stop at the southwest corner of this area. There is a concrete bridge here that is at the dead end road and one can park and go exploring. Glad I stopped for a few minutes as I was treated to a couple of very nice birds; Lazuli Buntings and a Sora. Lazuli Bunting males are downright stunning in breeding plumage and usually we see them in and around Phoenix only in migration in the spring and in the fall. Springtime sightings are a hit or miss on the breeding plumage, but early fall can be a great time to see them so colorful.
As I was observing these colorful birds from the bridge, I also caught glimpse of a Sora that flew into the area. Always a great bird to see as they can be a bit secretive most of the time. But of all the rails, this species is not as shy as the rest.
As an added bonus, a first year male Red-winged Blackbird also paid a visit. Not a bird that I usually spend a lot of time observing, but that bright red patch on the wing really stood out, giving an indication of how handsome it would be next spring.
Red-winged Blackbird - first year male
So two short excursions turned into some nice birds when I was least expecting to find much in the heat of the summer. Just shows that even with the heat, many birds are doing well.