Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Friday, January 31, 2014

Lake Havasu, AZ - 26/27 Oct 2012

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the annual AZFO (Arizona Field Ornithologists) meeting, which was held in Lake Havasu, AZ this year.  This was the first annual event by AZFO that I have attended and I found it to be very worthwhile and informative.  Besides attending an all day meeting on Saturday, we also had the opportunity to do some birding as well.  The original plans called for a pontoon ride out into the lake itself to observe much of the waterfowl to be found on the vast lake.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature altered those plans with a very windy day that prevented most boats of any kind to even go out on the water.  So we settled by doing a bit of birding along the shores and some of the points looking out over the lake.  But even on land the winds did create a few difficulties with the viewing of birds (And photography was even tougher!).
Having to bird waterfowl from the shoreline, the photo opportunities were greatly reduced, so we will have to settle for less than what I had hoped for.  We found 3 species of gulls on the lake and thankfully all 3 were spending most of their time near the shoreline.  We found a single 1st year Herring Gull and even though its plumage is far from looking like an adult, the brown and white markings on this bird is quite beautiful. 
Herring Gull
Gulls tend to be one of the most difficult families of birds to identify, mainly due to the fact that it can take 2, 3 or even 4 years for most of these gulls to attain their adult plumage. Then to confuse matters even more, many of the gull species hybridize with each other, making many of the field marks even more difficult.  The photos below show the differences in a first winter and second winter Ring-billed gull.  The second winter bird has also captured a mollusk of some kind and was not about to give it up to any of the other gulls.  The mollusk eventually became a snack for the gull.
Ring-billed Gull - 1st winter

Ring-billed Gull - 2nd Winter

A few more waterfowl that I was able to capture were the Pied-billed Grebe and the Eared Grebe.  Pied-billed Grebes are quite common, but they are one of the most endearing.  The Eared Grebe was displaying a behavior that I had not seen before.  It was chasing insects that were flying near the water surface and snatching them in mid-air.  I had never thought they would feed on insects, but guess they are opportunistic when they get the chance.
 Pied-billed Grebe

Eared Grebe

Enough of the water birds, now lets move on to some of the smaller birds.  During the short time we had early on Saturday morning, we had a Black Phoebe, a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Song Sparrow that presented themselves well before the camera.  The Black Phoebe was a bit of a challenge trying to focus between the grass blades and in fact, one of the grass blades is a blur in front of the bird.  The Yellow-rumped Warblers actually allowed us some good looks, and the Song Sparrow was in some pretty deep shade, so I had to bump up the ISO for the photo.

 Black Phoebe

 Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler

 Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler

  Song Sparrow

One more bird photo and this is one of a female Great-tailed Grackle.  Not a bird most people enjoy photographing and while I have got a few photos of males of this species, this is actually the first photo I have taken of one of the females.  When they pose and the lighting is just right, it is hard to ignore and a photo or two is sometimes worth the effort.

Great-tailed Grackle - female

Going to end this post with a couple of shots of insects.  One is a very colorful Rambur's Forktail Damselfly and the other is a Common Buckeye Butterfly.  My lens is definitely not the best lens for photographing these last 2 as I have to stand back about 12 to 15 feet to zoom in on them.  A macro lens would be much better, but changing lens in the field is a bit of a challenge.

 Rambur's Forktail Damselfly

 Common Buckeye Butterfly

Payson CBC - 29 Dec 2012

Continuing on with more CBC's (Christmas Bird Count's), this year for the first time I signed up for the Payson CBC.  Payson is a city about 1½ hour north and a bit east of the Phoenix area and is located at an elevation of about 5200 feet.  Being that high in elevation makes it a mountainous community and we knew that the weather would be sharply colder there than in the valley.  But the prospect of seeing birds other than desert dwellers and getting to count them as well was very enticing.  Ellen and I got the far north section called Control Road, which is a maintained dirt/gravel road situated just below the Mogollon Rim.  Yes, it was cold and lots of snow in places.  In fact, we drove down into the small settlement of Geronimo Estates and almost did not make it out due to snow pack and ice.  Thankfully we did get out and was able to continue our trek in an easterly direction, but we did finally reach a point where we observed a couple of pickups having a lot of difficulty getting up a hill, so we decided we were not going to tempt fate twice and we back tracked the way we came in. 
We did manage to find some wonderful birds in spite of the cold.  The best find for me was a Merlin, and it was my first ever as well.  And to top it off, it had recently captured a House Finch for its breakfast.  Sorry for the House Finch, but that is how nature works.  Not a rare bird by any means, but usually only seen in Arizona in the winter and until this day it had eluded me.
Other birds that I was able to capture photos were the American Robin, the Western Bluebird, and a Red-naped Sapsucker.  The sapsucker was our reward for almost getting stuck in the residential area.
 American Robin
 Western Bluebird
Red-naped Sapsucker
On our way back to town in the afternoon, we stopped at a place along the Verde River and were greeted by a flock of Bushtits.  To find one of these flocks of birds is simply wonderful.  They are always in small flocks and they will cover a tree gleaning it for every little insect or morsel they can find and then one by one, they move to the next tree, kind of like a wave.  They are not real skittish around humans and once one gets a feel for the direction the flock is moving, one can quickly move down their obvious path and get ahead of them and then wait for them to to come to you.  This is exactly what I did and when they arrived, I started shooting photos.  Below are photos of several of them in their acrobatic poses.  I cropped one photo a bit larger so that a second bird could be seen in the same frame.
One other positive thing to come out of this trip was the fact that I was able to learn more of the area around Payson and I know I will be making future trips to this beautiful area at different seasons of the year.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Addition of 2 New LIfe Birds

On January 11, 2014, I decided to venture to the southern part of Arizona to try for a second time to locate another new life bird that resides in some very select canyons in that area; the Rufous-capped Warbler.  I contacted my Tucson birding friend, Chris Rohrer to see if he would be interested in going along.  And of course, he said yes and we made our plans.  There was another rare bird being seen in Tucson at the time.  A Harris's Sparrow had been hanging out with several House Sparrows in a very well used city park.  This is normally a bird of the central part of the United States, but one had managed to head west for the winter.  This park was not far from where Chris lived, so we headed directly there and within 10 minutes we caught our first glimpse of it and within another 10 minutes, it was allowing us some photos.  Very early in the morning and 1 new life bird found and enjoyed!
 Harris's Sparrow
Harris's Sparrow
The main focus life bird, the Rufous-capped Warbler, which is found frequently in Florida Canyon, and we felt timing was critical to catch this bird.  I had made an attempt last August to find this bird and came away with no sighting, but found out there were chiggers in that grass where they reside.  This time was much colder the so chiggers were absent.  We arrived early and hiked to location they were being reported.  We knew we were probably early, so decided to wait a bit and sure enough, the first one was seen about 15 minutes later and we eventually had 2 of them flitting around for us.  This is one sexy bird in my opinion and one of my birding highlights.  Will have to go back for hopefully some better photos someday, but happy I got to see this bird and capture a few images.
 Rufous-capped Warbler
Rufous-capped Warbler
Oddly we had another warbler in the same vicinity of the Rufous-capped Warblers (there were 2 of them) and I was really so wrapped up in trying to photograph the Rufous-capped Warblers, that it came a quite a surprise when I got home and started processing photos and discovered this photo of a Wilson's Warbler right in the midst of the others.  While this is not a rare warbler to Arizona during spring or fall migration, it is uncommon to find one this far north in January as they spend winters much further south in Mexico.

Wilson's Warbler
A Loggerhead Shrike presented itself to us well on our drive out of Florida Canyon. Fairly common bird, but when they pose for the camera, one cannot resist the photo opportunity.
Loggerhead Shrike
From Florida Canyon we then ventured further south and then east to make a visit to Patagonia Lake State Park which just happens to be a very reliable spot the past few years to find in the winter one of the most sought after birds in the United States, the Elegant Trogon.  And we were not disappointed in our visit.  This has to be one of the most unusual and fascinating, but also most beautiful birds to find in the US.  Birding in Arizona is really awesome!
Elegant Trogon
While there a pair of Western Bluebirds came down for a drink and displayed some more wonderful colors of the rainbow. 
Western Bluebirds
One last stop on our way home was at Paton's in Patagonia.  Host Larry Morgan is the host extraordinaire and it is always a pleasure to stop and say hi and see what is new showing up in his yard.  The yard is always full of wonderful and interesting birds and this visit was no exception.
 Acorn Woodpecker
 Anna's Hummingbird
 Bewick's Wren
White-breasted Nuthatch
 Another great day of birding with great birds and great friends!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve - 7 May 2013

Probably one of the most popular birding spots in the metro area of Phoenix and its suburbs is the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve.  The name has kind of been shortened by many people to be known as the Gilbert Water Ranch, or GWR.  This is a spot where anyone with a bit of interest in birds can go and see probably a minimum of 50 species in one day and most likely at least 60 or more species.  It is an easy access area with very well maintained paths and recently they have did a bit of trimming of trees to allow some excellent viewing.  It is a series of 7 man-made ponds of recycled water and the water levels can vary from pond to pond and from week to week.  It is a winter haven for many winter birds escaping the cold weather up north and it is amazing what rarities seem to show up at this location every year.

For me it is a great place to go if I only have an hour to go birding as I live only about 15 minutes from this gem.  And one day in early May, I had some time to go out after work and I spent about an hour there.  There had been a couple of birds reported there the day before that are not all that common, so decided to check it out after work.  A Bonaparte's Gull had been reported and even though I had discovered one in Navajo County a couple of weeks before, it was nice to find one this close to home.  Plus this one was a bit easier to photograph as it put on quite a foraging show for me.  That is another reason to visit this spot; photography.  It is a great place to maybe capture great photos as some of the birds are quite used to humans.

 Bonaparte's Gull

Bonaparte's Gull

This gull was on pond 5 and also on the pond was a small flock of 9 Western Sandpipers.  Yes, I had seen and photographed this species at Glendale Recharge Ponds about a week before, but since it is less common than the Least Sandpiper, plus they are showing breeding colors right now, I love to capture their photo when I can.  Sometimes these 'peeps' can be difficult to photograph with their beaks out of the water as they are usually very active probing in the water and mud.

 Western Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

And since it is spring time in parts of Arizona, many resident birds have already nested and their fledgling offspring can be detected by just being alert to what is going on.  This trip yielded fledglings of both the Killdeer and also a Curve-billed Thrasher.  The Kiildeer chick is pretty much on its own at this stage, but the Curve-billed Thrasher chick was still begging and being fed by one of its parents.

 Killdeer fledgling

Killdeer fledgling

 Curve-billed Thrasher fledgling

  Curve-billed Thrasher adult & fledgling

 Curve-billed Thrasher adult & fledgling

What a great way to spend an hour outdoors and enjoying the wonders of nature.  Some of these birds are birds I see all the time, but it seems that I learn more about them and their behavior with every encounter.  Much more enjoyable than spending an evening in front of a television.  


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A 'Wedgie"???

Had a day of birding that was wedged between 2 CBC's, and could not think of a better name than a 'Wedgie'.  On my previous posts I covered the CBC in Carefree on January 2nd and also the CBC in Payson on January 4th, and that day in the middle, January 3rd, just happened to be another day of birding on my own.  I started the day out early at the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve and finished the day in Payson, Arizona. 
I had not been to the Gilbert 'Water Ranch' for sometime and I got there early and as the sun rose in the southeast, it enhanced the photography opportunities much more than I could have hoped for.  This is a magical place for photographers and the birds.  I arrived just a few minutes before the 200+ Canada Geese took flight and they took off in small flocks, some before the sun arrived, and some after the sunlight washed everything in a warm gold tone.  Obviously, my photo came later instead of earlier!
Canada Goose
A stop at Pond 5 was where I ran into another Facebook birder friend, Pam Barnhart and some birds that really did not care that we were standing on the side of the pond and they practically attempted to get as close as possible to us, almost like 'Pick me, Pick me!' for our photos, specifically, American Avocet, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great-tailed Grackle, Green-winged Teal, Mallard, and of course the elegant Northern Pintail.  In fact a Great Egret was so close, that my zoom lens could only focus on its head!
 American Avocet
 Black-crowned Night Heron
 Great Egret - close up
 Great-tailed Grackle
Green-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Other birds that presented themselves well, were Anna's Hummingbird, Red-winged Blackbird, and the European Starling, which is a much despised bird by many people since it is not a native species to the United States.  But one does have to admit that their iridescent plumage does have a bit of a wow factor to it.
 Anna's Hummingbird
 European Starling
Red-winged Blackbird
After returning home and packing the car I headed for Payson so I could be there early on Saturday morning for the CBC.  On the road up, I decided to make a stop at Sunflower a favorite birding spot in the summer.  This place was practically overrun by American Robins.  Growing up in Nebraska, these birds were always a good omen every spring as the winter started to fade.  In Arizona, they are a winter resident except in the northern and higher elevations where they also breed in the summer.
American Robin
Another winter resident that we see lot in the lower elevations is the Dark-eyed Junco.  Technically, this species is made up of several sub-species and they can and do hybridize from time to time.  The various sub-species can be a bit tricky for those that are interested in identifying them, and I have seen at least 5 of the sub-species in Arizona, but after this visit to Sunflower, I can add a 6th sub-species to the list.  My first reaction at seeing this bird, was to quickly ID it as an 'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco, but when I started looking at my photos at home, I quickly decided it was not quite right for an 'Oregon'.  A few posts on some Facebook ID pages and the general consensus came back that this was a 'Cassiar' Dark-eyed-Junco.  From what I have read, it is a hybridized bird of the Oregon and the Slate-colored sub-species and it breeds primarily in Alberta, British Columbia and as far north as Alaska, so finding one in Arizona is a bit unusual.
'Cassiar' Dark-eyed Junco
To finish out my day of birding, I stopped in Payson at their ponds and actually had a good time with some birds there as well.  Birds included a quizzical female Brewer's Blackbird, a Song Sparrow, a vocal female Redhead, and just before leaving an adult Bald Eagle high on the ridge above surveying the entire scene below.
 Brewer's Blackbird - female
 Song Sparrow
 Redhead - Female
Redhead - Female
Bald Eagle
An overall great day of birding with a lot of different habitats and different birds in each place.  This was a day that will not soon be forgotten.