Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Birding in Prescott, Arizona

On Sunday 2 February 2014, I teamed up with Jason Morgan and headed north to the areas of Prescott and Prescott Valley to do some birding.  Jason along with a couple others were getting some very nice photos of the Common Goldeneye.  This duck is quite spectacular in appearance and while I have seen them many times in the past, the birds were always at quite a distance and my photos always left a little to be desired.  My goal was to try and get a better photo than I had in the past, so our first stop was Yavapai Lake and I was not disappointed.  Amongst the 100 or so Ring-necked Ducks were at least 6 male Common Goldeneyes and a single male Canvasback, which was a bonus to me.  Had to search a different spot, Fain Park to find the females.
 Common Goldeye - Male
Common Goldeye - Female
Canvasback - Male
While we did not linger too long in Fain Park, we did find some other cool waterfowl including a female Lesser Scaup and some Common Mergansers of which the females were the only ones that I could approach close enough for photos. 
 Lesser Scaup - Female
Common Merganser - Female
During our brief visit we were witness to one of Mother Nature's events in the survival of birds, a raptor capturing another bird for its daily existence.  In this case, it was a Cooper's Hawk that captured a Western Scrub-Jay.  Typically, jays are notorious for finding the location of a raptor and then sounding the alarm to other birds by sending out alarm calls to let others know of the raptor's location.  In this case the Cooper's Hawk got the jump on them and once the victim had been captured, the rest of the Western Scrub-Jays really did a lot of scolding to no avail.  Yes, is a bit disturbing to see this, but this happens daily in nature and we could only revel in what we had just witnessed.
Cooper's Hawk with prey, a Western Scrub-Jay
Our next destination was going to be Watson Lake and this is where we had agreed to meet up with another Facebook birder, Cynthia White.  She knows the Prescott area well and we were very happy to meet her and actually get the chance to do some birding with her.  Watson Lake was covered with waterfowl and it was mindboggling to try to count the various ducks.  A couple of highlights were actually raptors that were putting on a show for us.  The first was a juvenile Bald Eagle that was being harassed by a couple of Common Ravens.  But this eagle really seemed unperturbed by all the commotion and continued to ride the thermals and in fact at one time they were flying almost side-by-side.  For those that are reading this and are a bit confused by the coloration of the Bald Eagle, this is a juvenile.  It takes about 4 years for a Bald Eagle to obtain its complete white head and tail and dark brown body, which is the vision most people think of when they hear Bald Eagle.  A good example in showing that identifying birds can be a bit confusing, especially to new birders and to non-birders. 
 Bald Eagle - Juvenile
Bald Eagle and Common Raven - (note the size difference)
We also had a Northern Harrier put on quite a show for us as it was flying over the reeds in the lake hunting for prey.  A one point it landed on a tree snag and gave us really good close up views of this winter visitor to Arizona.  This bird has an 'owl-like' appearance to it, but usually is hard to see as these birds rarely pose close for photos and for viewing.
Northern Harrier
Once we finished our walk around Watson Lake, we then discussed our other options and I had heard that a Tundra Swan had been reported a few days ago at Willow Lake and we agreed that since we were in the neighborhood, we should at least stop by to take a look.  Thanks to Cynthia for knowing how to get there quickly and finding easy access parking.  We got out of our vehicles and I noticed a white mound that kind of looked like a white rock or maybe a white piece of trash out in the lake.  We all looked a little close and decided it might be the swan with its head tucked under the wing taking a nap.  We quickly made out way to the lake edge and the closer we got, I knew we had found our target bird, the Tundra Swan.  I had really never seen a swan in the wild before, but I knew they were big and when we got to looking at this one and noticing the company it was keeping; Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and American Coots, then I realized how huge these birds really are.  This one never took flight for us, but it think it would be an amazing sight to see these birds take to the air.
 Tundra Swan
Tundra Swan
In our (or was it my?) obsession to get closer to the swan to try for photos, I observed another unusual bird flying towards us; a White-tailed Kite!  I have seen this bird before a few times in Maricopa County and was rather surprised to see one in this location.  We made a note of where it might have went and once we finished our business with the swan, we headed in the direction of where we thought it might be and once we got around the large cottonwood tree, we found it perched in another shorter tree.  We took a couple of distant photos and as we tried to approach it to get closer it took flight again and it put on a 'kiting' show for us where it would hover in flight without moving forward.  This was especially rewarding as I found out that this bird was a life bird for both Jason and Cynthia!  While my photos leave a lot to be desired, they are at least good enough for an ID if needed.  Cynthia managed a very nice in-flight photo when we first discovered this bird.
White-tailed Kite
This turned out to be a great day for all three of us with Jason getting 3 life birds and Cynthia and myself 1 each.  This is definitely a spot that I need to visit more often and I encourage others to do so as well.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Seven Springs Wash - The Morning After

'There's got to be a morning after', or so goes the theme song from the Poseidon Adventure movie and such was the case after spending a pretty full day of birding the Santa Cruz Flats (see previous post).  I contacted another birding friend, Muriel Neddermeyer, to see if she might be interested in checking out the Seven Springs Wash area, north of Carefree, Arizona on Sunday morning.  She too had spent a full day on Saturday at the infamous Thrasher Spot, and we both decided to go for a couple of hours as there had been several reports of Bluebirds in this area and we thought it would be nice to see if we could get some photos of some of them. We were only going to spend a couple of hours and then get home.  Wrong!  We found the Bluebirds and more and had a very enjoyable day of birding. 
We started out by following some instructions by our friends, Scott and Fonda Christopher, and found FR 562 and drove up the road to the cattle guard and parked and started walking.  The grasses and trees were full of birds; several species of sparrows, Western Bluebirds, and American Robins.  Then Muriel noticed something a bit different and we quickly discovered it was a Sage Thrasher.  Not a rare bird by any means, but also not that common and not always easy to find.  This one decided it did not want to come out in the sun to show itself very well, so most of our photos had to contend with a lot of shade, but we did manage to obtain a couple of photos. 
 Sage Thrasher
Sage Thrasher
We returned to the turnoff at the bottom of the wash and discovered the various pools of water and at the same time, we discovered that was the attraction at this time of the day for the Bluebirds.  By far the most numerous were Mountain Bluebirds followed closely by Western Bluebirds.  The Mountain Bluebird male is stunning especially if you like the color blue.  I have seen these birds in higher elevations in the summer in pairs, but this was winter and they had migrated to lower elevations in vast numbers.  What a sight to behold as they would land in the trees, then survey the area around the water and once they felt safe, they went down to drink and bathe.
 Mountain Bluebirds
Mountain Bluebirds
 Mountain Bluebird
 Mountain Bluebirds
Mountain Bluebird
Now that you are tired of looking at this shade of blue, how about tossing in another shade of blue, along with a bit of orange, that of the Western Bluebird. 
Western Bluebird
Bluebirds were not the only visitors that stopped by for a visit.  We were also blessed to have a small group of Cedar Waxwings stop by to check us out.  This is one of my favorite birds as they have a very sleek appearance to them.  Their call is a very high pitched whistle that often goes undetected, but in this case we were hearing them quite well.
 Cedar Waxwing
 Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
We had other birds visiting as well, but usually considered not quite as colorful as these first 3 species.  This included a Chipping Sparrow and a Rock Wren that was enjoying the water as much as the other birds. 
 Chipping Sparrow
 Rock Wren
Rock Wren
Well our couple of hours turned out to be a bit longer than we planned, but how can one leave a spot like this with all the great birds that we were seeing?  Just reminds me of how great Arizona is for birding, year round. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Santa Cruz Flats - Life Birds for a Non-Resident

On January 25, 2014, I had the honor and privilege to show Frances Raskin around the Santa Cruz Flats area in Arizona.  Frances is an avid and very good birder in her own right.  Currently she resides near the east coast of the United States with a new job lined up in another state.  What brings her to Arizona is the fact that her parents currently reside here which really give her the best of a lot of birding opportunities.  I think the Mountain Plover was probably her main target bird and some years this bird can be found fairly regularly in and around the sod farms in this area of ag lands south of Eloy, AZ.  This year had been a fairly reliable year for them but having not read any reports of them for about 10 days, I was thinking maybe we had lost our window of opportunity.  So we met and headed out together to explore this vast area of roads to see what we could find.
In the early morning light we happened upon a Merlin perched in a tree along the road and really enjoyed the good looks this one provided for us.  Merlin is always a great bird to find, so that started us off on a good note.  This is a very fast falcon and they come in 3 color forms and this one was the darker or'Taiga' form which is the most common form seen in AZ.  About 3 miles further down the road, near the corner of Baumgartner and Wheeler we discovered another Merlin and it looked so different than the first one, that I had to get out my bird guides to confirm what I thought it was; another Merlin, however this one was the lighter of 'Prairie' form.  I have only seen one of the Prairie forms once before and that was a quite a distance and in flight, so this one was a real treat to find and see for the sake of comparison. 

As we were driving the roads we came upon a Ferruginous Hawk that flew from a pole in front of our car.  Unfortunately, it kept on flying until it flew out of sight, but that was the first new life bird that we found for Frances.  We had an abundance of birds in many different habitats including a Western Meadowlark and of all the Red-tailed Hawks we found, one of them included this gorgeous 'dark-morph' Red-tailed Hawk.

As we continued driving the roads, we finally came upon a very nice Prairie Falcon and since was life bird number 2 for Frances, we stayed in the car and approached as close as we could without disturbing this bird.  I angled the car sideways so that she could get good looks at this bird out of the passenger window and study it well.  Prairie Falcons are very skittish especially when a car door opens.  We finally made it to the sod farms and tried as we might by scanning every field multiple times, we never came up with any Mountain Plovers.  Our consolation prize was the resident Burrowing Owl and some Brewer's Sparrows.

After a quick drive to grab some lunch, we headed back to the roads and this time we were on the west side of this vast area and as soon as we got to Pretzer Road I decided to head east to the sod farms once again and about a mile west of where we were looking before, I found a good friend Claudia Kirscher with a group of birders and they had found some Mountain Plovers and were gracious enough to point them out to us in their scopes.  Finally, we had succeeded in finding this bird for Frances giving her 3 new life birds for the day.  (Incidentally, Claudia was the person that helped me find my first Mountain Plover a few years back!)
As we worked our way back to our meeting point, we passed through an area with water and fields on both sides and the number of American Pipits were staggering, flying in huge swarms over the road and the fields.

At several places along the roads Frances had spotted some of the resident ground squirrels, so finally at one point I was able to capture a photo of one of these adorable little rodents.
We had a great day of birding and hope to do more in the future when she makes another visit to AZ.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Buckeye/Arlington with Peggy

Just recently discovered that I have fallen behind on some of my blog posting.  In the process of going through my photo files of 2013, I realized that I neglected to write a post on my trip to the Buckeye/Arlington, Arizona area with Ms Peggy Coleman.  She is the person that started and maintains the 'Birding--Arizona and the Southwest Facebook' group.  I offered to take her out west and she accepted, so on Dec 8, 2013 I met her at her house (got to see her neighborhood Lewis's Woodpecker) and away we went.  We headed straight to the 'Thrasher Spot' to see if we could find any thrashers.  And we were in luck on that day with viewings of both Bendire's Thrasher and the most sought after thrasher, Le Conte's Thrasher. 
 Bendire's Thrasher
Le Conte's Thrasher
From there we ventured on some of the various roads checking out the birds with a few stops for photos when the opportunities were present.  This included some raptors and a brief stop at the Arlington Ponds which produced a fly-over of Sandhill Cranes which was a bird that Peggy had wanted to see in Maricopa County. 
 American Kestrel
 Gambel's Quail
 Northern Harrier - Male
Red-tailed Hawk
Sandhill Cranes
The final stop was the Lower River Ponds and the American White Pelican numbers were awesome and a few Ring-billed Gulls were leisurely basking in the sun on the bank of one of the ponds.   
 American White Pelicans
American White Pelicans (does the one in the middle far right count as a baker's dozen?)
Ring-billed Gulls
We had an enjoyable day and had lunch in Buckeye before heading home.  One last stop at the Glendale Recharge Ponds was in order, where we observed a Great Blue Heron and a Peregrine Falcon sharing the same turf.  This place is not the best for photography so we enjoyed the birds for a while then called it a day.  Another great day of birding in the great state of Arizona.