Sunday, March 30, 2014
Earlier in March, I was contacted by Madison Creech who had found my listing in Arizona Birding Pals, http://www.birdingpal.org/az.htm. She is a graduate student at ASU studying art with a focus on birds. She wanted to have someone show her around and focus on birds so I gladly accepted and we made plans to meet at the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve on March 23rd. This place is always an excellent place to watch birds and their behavior and is usually a great place to capture photos for those that focus on photography. We spent a great deal of time talking and discussing birds and the various species we were seeing. In order to introduce Madison to many of the different species, I would try to point them out and talk about them briefly and encouraged her to take as many photos as she liked. Of course I took a few photos along the way as well.
The American Avocets were seen in good numbers and some were even performing their courtship rituals; this female appeared quite receptive while the male danced around her. Note the very strong upturned bill of the female. This is one way to sex these birds since their coloration and markings appear to be the same. Females have a more pronounced upturned bill than do the males.
In another pond we discovered a male Blue-winged Teal, which is not a rare bird by any means, but they are not that common in Arizona and always neat to see and add to the years's list for those that are listers. The white mask on the drakes are usually the best identifying field mark.
As we walked the pathways between the ponds, various birds were being seen including one of my favorites, the Curve-billed Thrasher. Maybe not considered the most colorful bird, but once you see that orange eye and that huge curved bill, one takes notice of this bird. Not only that, but this bird can sing as well as a Mockingbird and this one was singing up a storm right above us.
We also found a few Brown-headed Cowbirds, which many birders do not like very well due to the fact that they are parasitic birds. They do not build nests of their own; the female searches out other bird nests that are left unattended for a short time and then lays an egg in the nest. The result is the foster bird then incubates the egg and hatches it and feeds it along with it own clutch of babies. One of the problems in this, is the fact that many times, the parents real chicks are much smaller than the Cowbird chick and many times only the Cowbird chick survives. Interesting bird behavior.
The critter that first gave us a lot of photos was one of the resident Coyotes. As we were standing in a clearing of Pond 7, this animal can wandering out into the mud flats probably with an original focus on trying to catch some waterfowl for breakfast. It gave us some looks of interest, but then sauntered away and then double back and started walking towards us before disappearing into the underbrush along the edge of the pond.
(No, this was not a growl, more like a yawn.)
On our way out of the preserve, we passed by the fishing pond where the Ring-necked Ducks congregate. These ducks are fed by many of the locals and with the boardwalk over the north end of the fishing pond, they can swim by quite close and that view helps to show why they were named Ring-necked Ducks instead of ring-billed ducks. That neck ring on the males in not very noticeable at a distance, but the ring on the bill is much more noticeable. Many think this duck is misnamed.
And one last bird that I photographed on the way out and not one that I photograph very often, the most common House Sparrow. It came to me a few weeks ago that I have never posted a photo of this most common and widespread bird to any of my blogs, so now for the sake of adding a photo of this species to my list of bird photographs on my blog site, I give you a female house Sparrow.
Monday, March 24, 2014
When I go birding, I tend to keep records of what species that I find and how many of each species that are found. Along with this, I also record the location, how much time is being spent at this location and what distance is traveled if walking. All of this information is extremely easy to enter on a website that is called eBird which can be found here: http://ebird.org/content/ebird/
Once a person sets up an account on eBird, then this site basically keeps track of all your sightings including all your lists, locations, dates and various other information. It is also a great place to use for research when one wants to try and locate a certain target bird. It can also be used to explore 'Hotspots' to go birding in spots throughout the world. A couple of years ago I had one of my most frequent birding spots close to home added as a 'Hotspot'; Pima Canyon Trail, South Mountain Park in Arizona. This will never become an infamous birding spot, but it is unique enough to be designated as a Hotspot. Its proximity to the city of Phoenix, being a dry desert wash, and the variety of birds found there is a little impressive. These past 2 weekends I found a couple of new species in this location that pushed the number of species located in this location to 100. Of the 100 species that have been reported in this location, I have recorded 87 of these species on my list from this location. There are a few other birders that have also birded here and reported a few species that I have not found; yet!
This post is going to focus on a few of the birds that I have recorded recently in this location. First off, the 2 newest birds that I have discovered. A week ago I wanted to see if any warblers might have arrived and was passing through on migration and sure enough I discovered a Lucy's Warbler. Not a rare bird in Arizona in the summer, but usually not is this habitat, this is one of the earliest warblers to return in the spring.
The second bird was from this past weekend and kind of caught me off guard, but when thinking about it after the fact, I am kind of wondering why it took so long for one of these to be seen here, a Sage Thrasher. I have seen them in several places in Maricopa County, so it was a nice surprise to finally record one in this location. This is also most likely a migrating bird.
Last weekend along with the Lucy's Warbler, I found a stunning male Costa's Hummingbird that was quite accommodating by landing in the tree close by. This is a species that many think migrate south for the winter months, but for some reason or another, I found this species in this location in just about every month of the year (currently missing July and December). Their numbers are not as common as the numbers of Anna's Hummingbirds, but can be found with a little patience and luck.
Here is a photo of an Anna's Hummingbird which are much more common.
A couple of very common birds seen on that day included Gambel's Quail and Northern Mockingbirds. Both of these species were very vocal in calling out all along the trails. I am sure much of the calling involved the mating and breeding season that has arrived in Arizona.
Other fairly common birds at this location include Ash-throated Flycatcher and Cactus Wren. The Ash-throated Flycatcher is a bird tends to migrate south from much of Arizona for the winter, but for the past couple of years I have discovered that some are spending their winters in this location. Many times they are fairly silent and can be hard to spot unless they fly out to capture an insect in flight. The Cactus Wren is the state bird of Arizona and is beloved by many. It is probably the easiest wren to identify due to its larger size and bold markings. They favor Cholla Cactus for their nests and this one was busy gathering material for a new nest.
The Gilded Flicker belongs to the woodpecker family and has found the dry desert habitat is perfectly suitable for existing and raising their families. Nests cavities are usually made in the Saguaro Cactus and abandoned nests are frequently claimed and used by many other desert dwellers. They can frequently be seen on the ground digging into the earth with their long and sturdy bills.
One of my favorite birds to be found in this habitat is the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. These are small birds with long tails and they are forever on the move searching out insects in the trees and shrubs. In breeding season the males don a nice distinguished looking black cap. This one was probing the nearby trees and was rewarded with a small yellow spider which he immediately flew away with and was probably taking it to feed a fledgling in a nest somewhere.
The Rock Wren is a another very common bird in this location and can be heard calling from a short distance away. They have a unique habit of bobbing up and down as they scamper over, under, and all around the rocky areas in search of those insects trying not to be seen.
This eBird Hotspot is a place that I have adopted as one of my eBird Patches. It is a place that is easy access for me and has turned into a wonderful spot for birding. Sometimes I see nothing but the regular birds, but I have encountered enough odd species to know that there will be more that show up in this spot and I hope that I am there when they do. It is also a bit gratifying to know that all of my reports are in a very small way contributing to the data and study of ornithology.
Thursday, March 20, 2014
Last Sunday, birding friend Muriel Neddermeyer and myself, carpooled to attend a meeting of the Arizona Field Ornithologists (AZFO) at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, Arizona, so we decided to start out the day early by driving a bit further east to Oak Flats Campground. This place is a rather amazing place and a great spot for birding among the sometimes many campers. Our target birds were the Gray Vireo and the Black-chinned Sparrow. Neither bird was a life bird for us, but they are birds that can be difficult to find and then get photos. One has to know the proper habitat to locate them and the area around this campground was perfect. We were rather surprised how many campers were there, but we also quickly discovered the place was full of birds.
Initially, we were not having much luck with our target birds, but as we roamed about the hillside surrounding the campground we found some really neat birds such as an Ash-throated Flycatcher, several Bewick's Wrens, a Hermit Thrush and a lot of Spotted Towhees.
As we worked our way to the east side of the camp grounds we heard a vireo in the distance and as we forged our way to the call, we knew it was a Gray Vireo, one of our target birds. About the time we actually saw it another bird came flying in to us and landed in tree right above us and it was our other target bird, the Black-chinned Sparrow. What a stroke of luck to get both of them at almost the exact same time. Caused a bit of a dilemma on which one we should focus on, so we just focused on both. Eventually the Gray Vireo also came out of the cover of the shrubs and landed on a branch for us for clear viewing. It is not a new bird to either of us, but we had never had one display itself so well for our viewing.
Knowing that we had successfully achieved our goal on our 2 target birds and also realizing that we needed to think about heading back to BTA for our meeting, we decided to start back. We calculated that we had about 15 minutes of free time on the way back, so we made a brief stop at the small city roadside park in Superior which can have some pretty nifty birds for such a small area and on this day we were treated to wonderful views of one of the most beautiful birds in Arizona, the Vermilion Flycatcher. The males are stunning and the females are quite attractive in their own right, but the bright red of the males can sometimes be hard to capture in a photo, but on this day it was not a problem.
What a way to end our day of birding with some of our favorite birds.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Our third and final day was spent at Bosque del Apache which is located about an hour south of Albuquerque and Linda was able to join us on this final day. This place is a very well known birding hotspot for its huge flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese in the winter. It is also known for having some very unusual and rare bird appearances, the most recent being the Rufous-necked Wood Rail. Our arrival was fairly late in the season and the Sandhill Cranes and many of the Snow Geese had already departed for nesting grounds much further north. A few lingering Snow Geese did give us some great views in the sky along with a loner that was foraging by itself near one of the ponds.
Snow Geese Flock
A pair of Bald Eagles on a tree far out into one of the ponds presented a rather nice perspective with the distance mountains in the background.
The grassy areas along the roads and pond were full of Western Meadowlarks and when they land in the dry grass they almost disappear. But when they expose that bright yellow breast, then they really stand out.
A visit to the Visitor's Center here was quite the bonanza. They also had an indoor seating area with glass windows with feeders right out side and the birds were easily feasting on the bountiful food supply. We had American Goldfinch, White-throated Sparrow, Harris's Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and a fairly rare Golden-crowned Sparrow.
We were also fortunate to see some Mule Deer while driving the roads around the ponds at Bosque. Almost drove right past them as they were walking away.
Finally after a full day of birding we called it a night and after a restful night in a local motel, Chris and I headed back to Arizona the next morning and birding at several odd spots along the way in this remote area of western New Mexico. Just outside of the town of Magdalena, NM, we came across 3 Pronghorns of which 2 of them were sparring when we first saw them. But once we stopped the car, they stopped their sparring and headed out across the dry grassland.
I think that each of us came away with 4 new life birds on this trip which made it all worth while. It is getting harder to find new life birds for both of us in this part of the United States, so future different trips are in store for both of us outside of this area this year and it will be amazing to see what all we find. Chris will probably get more as he has more trips planned than I do for different areas of the country.
Monday, March 10, 2014
After the descent from Sandia Crest, Chris and I headed for the Rio Grande Nature Center which was highly recommended by Linda Rockwell. This place did not disappoint; cannot imagine what it would be like in spring or summer with everything showing up green. One of the first eye-catching birds we found were Wood Ducks. Obviously not a new bird to either one of us, but one that is not abundant in Arizona and one that I have never been able to obtain decent photos. This time there were a lot of them and this place has an inside viewing area that is really awesome. But even outside the Wood Ducks could be seen easily and this duck has to be one of the most beautiful ducks in the United States. Even the female is very stunning.
Wood Duck - Female
Wood Duck - Male
Wood Duck - Pair
Of course we found other birds while exploring this great spot including Black-capped Chickadee, White-crowned Sparrows, Canada Goose, and new bird for me the Cackling Goose. The chickadee is not a new bird for me as they were common in eastern Nebraska, but pretty rare in Arizona, so they were a welcome sighting. The Canada Geese approached us fairly closely as we hid behind the blinds near the ponds and allowed some up close photos. The Cackling Goose is one that I honestly never looked for very hard as they can be a bit difficult to pick out in large flocks of Canada Geese. But when I glanced out at this pond, there were 3 that just had a different look to them and it was clear that these were Cackling Geese. (Note the short stubby bill compared to the Canada Goose.)
Canada Goose - Close-up
After leaving this wonderful spot and since it was about mid-afternoon, we headed north through some residential areas near the Rio Grande River and we amazed at the Sandhill Cranes foraging in the small fields along the streets.
Our next destination was the Alameda Bridge over the Rio Grande River to finish out the day. We walked the canal on the west side of the river and then worked our way back along the bank of the river. The area along the canal turned out to be an interesting walk with some interesting birds. We found ourselves in the midst of Bluebirds and what was unique was we had both Western Bluebirds and Eastern Bluebirds in the same area. What a great way to see both so close together and see the differences in the two species.
Also in this same area we happened upon a Downy Woodpecker. This is another bird that I was familiar with in Nebraska, but in most of Arizona it is replaced with the Hairy Woodpecker, so it was another pleasant surprise to find this bird in New Mexico.
Once we started back along the river bank we had a few Ring-billed Gulls take flight and offering a few in-flight shots.
The final photo on this post is obviously not a bird, but a mammal and I was quite excited to see. As we were walking through the trees towards the lot where we had parked, Chris and his sharp eyes looked up and said "What's that?" and pointed up to where a ball of fur was resting on a branch. Immediately, I knew it was a Porcupine even though I had never seen one before. Obviously it was resting and we did not want to disturb it, so we settled for photos of it in its afternoon slumber. What a cool find and always exciting to see something new which is another one of the benefits of exploring nature. What is really spectacular is the fact that we found another one on the way back to Linda's home for the night. Having never seen a Porcupine before and then seeing two in the same day is quite remarkable. What a splendid ending to an awesome day!
So far we have had an amazing 2 days of birding and with more to come on day three. Stay tuned for part 3.