Monday, April 21, 2014

Fire & Ice

Title of this post is probably a bit melodramatic, but after reflecting on this adventure, it did seem a bit apropos.  On Saturday April 19th, I had the pleasure of birding the Pinal Mountains with a couple of  friends that just happen to be excellent birders as well; Marceline VandeWater and Muriel Neddermeyer.  The Pinal Mountains are located just south of Globe, Arizona which is about 1½ hours from Mesa.  This is another great spot to visit in the middle of the summer when the heat of the lower elevations is stifling.  Temperatures can be 30 to 40 degrees cooler around the summit.  Before the day was over we would see and drive in falling snow and at least one of us ended the day in shorts sipping a beer on a patio in sunshine and heat.  It made for an interesting day.

We starting listing birds on the south edge of Globe en-route to the summit and back.  For the day we ended up with a total of 75 species of birds, so we were not disappointed.  Warblers were part of our main objective and we managed to see 10 species of warblers, but with overcast skies and the typical frenetic feeding habits of warblers, photos were a bit tough to capture.  But at least one warbler must have felt a bit sorry for me and offered some photos and this was the Olive Warbler.  This is a bird I have seen briefly about 4 times, but have never been able to acquire a decent photo and on this day a very stunning male was fairly cooperative even with the bad lighting.  When I get a decent photo of a bird like this, it is almost like seeing it again for the first time.

 Olive Warbler

Olive Warbler

At the very same spot, we had a couple of Red-faced Warblers also make a showing and these birds are also stunning.  What is interesting is that both of these warblers have ranges pretty much restricted to Arizona and New Mexico in the United States.  The Olive is a resident bird and I have seen them in snow, but the Red-faced is a summer resident only, spending its winters is southwestern Mexico.

 Red-faced Warbler

Red-faced Warbler

We also observed 4 species of vireos on this trip; Plumbeous, Cassin's, Gray, and Warbling Vireos.  Of these birds, I was only able to capture photos of 2 of them, the Cassin's Vireo and the Warbling Vireo.  

 Cassin's Vireo

Warbling Vireo

Photos are not always a given, never are and never will be, but it just adds to the chase when finding birds.  Just getting out and enjoying the birds, their songs and their wonderful and refreshing habitats is what it is all about.  Even with snow falling on our road with thunder and lightening being seen and heard, we definitely had a lot of fun and are already planning another trip in the near future.  Oh yes, did not want anyone to think the snow was a fabrication to embellish the post, so I have to add a couple of photos of the vehicle and the road.  Photos courtesy of Marceline VandeWater.  Have to thank her for offering them for use in my blog post and for thinking ahead and jumping out to capture a couple of shots.  (Aren't the pine trees along the road gorgeous?)

 Yep, this is snow!


An Early Spring Visit to Mr Ord

On April 12th, I ventured out to visit Mt Ord for an early spring bird outing and hike.  This is a spot that I have come to love to visit as it is the highest elevation in Maricopa County and much of it lies within Maricopa County while part of it also lies in Gila County.  I discovered this place only because of a great website designed by a good friend and great birder, Tommy DeBardeleben.  His website was my primary tool for birding Maricopa County when I first became very active in birding in Arizona.  First couple of visits to this place by myself and I will admit that I was a bit timid about wandering around up there by myself, but now, I feel quite at home and very comfortable.  A great place to get away and enjoy some solitude and some great birds.  The elevation of this wonderful spot creates a whole new habitat not found elsewhere in Maricopa County.  The pine forests are a breath of fresh air.  On this trip I devoted most of my time to the 1688 trail which is totally in Maricopa County.  

Warblers were my main objective and they did not disappoint.  By far the most numerous species was the Black-throated Gray Warbler and was basically what I expected.  Par for the course, warblers are one of the trickiest group of birds to photograph as they are usually quite energetic and many species can be only found high in the trees.  With all the pine needles around this bird, I was quite surprised to actually capture a couple of view-able photos.

 Black-throated Gray Warbler

Black-throated Gray Warbler

I also had Grace's Warblers and Painted Redstarts, but they proved to be much more difficult and did not allow any photos.  A Virginia's Warbler did allow some photos but made it a bit trickier.

 Virginia's Warbler

Virginia's Warbler

It seems that I am always learning something new about birds on just about every outing, even on places I have visited frequently and this day was no exception.  The 1688 trail is rather unique in that it passes through tall Ponderosa pines, but is also on the upper reaches of the desert scrub oak, so it is kind of on the fringe of 2 different habitat zones.  Along this road I had several Black-chinned Sparrows and a few Gray Vireos.  Normally I stop at points lower on the mountain to observe these birds, but this time I was finding them in this higher elevation.  At least 2 Gray Vireos made themselves seen, not necessarily providing the best pose for photos, but just seeing them is very positive.

 Gray Vireo

Gray Vireo

A couple of other very numerous species were the Spotted Towhee and the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  Both species do breed in these habitats, so seeing them and hearing them throughout the hike was very much welcomed.  

 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Spotted Towhee

One last photo to share is my FOS (first of the season) Broad-tailed Hummingbird, which is a hummer usually found in higher elevations in Arizona.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

This place is always a fresh new place to visit after spending so many birding excursions in and around the Phoenix desert spots as the variety of bird life is very different and such a great change.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sunflower, AZ

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a birder, Dwight Molotsky, from Pennyslvania about birding in and around the Phoenix area.  He had contacted me through the Birdingpal website:  as he was going to be visiting the Phoenix area for a couple of day in early April and was wanting to discover some new birds in Arizona during his short visit.  First few days were spent in the Tucson area and when he arrived in the Phoenix area, I decided that maybe the spot on the map know as Sunflower might be the best bet to get the most birds for his one day adventure.  This place is about an hour northeast of the Phoenix metro area off the Beeline Highway.  Since this was the beginning of the migration season I had high hopes in finding some good birds for him and at the same time give good enough looks for a few photos and also allowed for a little bit of behavior observation as well.  

Shortly after we pulled off the highway we saw a fairly large flock of birds and discovered they were Cedar Waxwings. They had landed in a leafless tree and were taking turns about 2 or 3 at a time flying to a nearby Juniper and feeding on berries.  I have seen these most handsome birds many times and always get a big thrill every time I see them, but this flock was the largest I have ever seen.  I counted 43 of them and think I could only capture about 35 of them in one photo frame.

Cedar Waxwings

Slowly we made our way to the dead end where we parked the vehicle and then started walking on the paved barricaded road.  All along the way we were adding new life birds to Dwight's life list.  We had a fly over Common Black Hawk, many singing  Bell's Vireos, a lone Eurasian-collared Dove and a lone Inca Dove, Cassin's Kingbird, several Violet-green Swallows, several Lucy's Warblers, a couple of Canyon Wrens, and a bright red male Vermilion Flycatcher.  Further up the road we found the 2 resident Zone-tailed Hawks that were soaring the thermals and have not yet started the nest building process yet for the year.  

Zone-tailed Hawk

A couple of Red-tailed Hawks were in the area as well but at a higher elevation in the sky.

Red-tailed Hawk

The bird that gave us some of the best views was a stunning male Hooded Oriole.  He did not want to face the camera for us, but at least continued to forage in the same tree giving us a lot of time to enjoy him.

 Hooded Oriole

 Hooded Oriole

Hooded Oriole

With our time running short, I decided to make a short trip about 3 miles further north to the Mt Ord turnoff.  Great place for Black-chinned Sparrows and Gray Vireos in breeding season.  While we did hear one Gray Vireo calling down one of the canyons, it would not show itself, but one of the Black-chinned Sparrows gave us some great looks.

Black-chinned Sparrow

If I remember correctly, Dwight was able to add 11 new life birds to his list.  It is a lot of fun to show out of state birders some new life birds to add to their lists.  I know that I have been in reversed roles and I am always happy when I am in a new place and some of the locals help to show me around.