Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The End of Dipping on the Dipper

This past weekend, I had the honor and pleasure of heading to the White Mountains of Arizona with a couple of excellent birders and friends, Magill Weber and Chris Rohrer and once we arrived, we met up with another excellent birder and friend, Tommy DeBardeleben.  Magill, Chris, and myself were camping out near Greer, AZ and Tommy was already in Greer with his family on vacation. Once we got our campsite, Tommy came to visit so we could plan our strategy for our birding on Friday.  As dusk settled in, we heard the familiar call of a Common Nighthawk near the campground, which was really a nice start as I was now officially able to add this species to my Arizona bird list.  About 15 minutes later, something totally unexpected happened; we were visited by an owl right in our campsite. It was getting very dark and we could see it fly from tree to tree and we finally got a flashlight and our binoculars on it for a good look.  It was a Long-eared Owl and a new life bird for me!  This was not on our list of target birds for this weekend and although they are not rare, they can be a bit difficult to get a visual sighting on one.  Chris was quick with his camera and got a nice and very diagnostic photo of this bird.  What a great omen to our weekend of birding and it is amazing that it visited our campsite instead of one of the many others.  It must have known that we would appreciate it more than anyone else in that campground.

Long-eared Owl - photo courtesy of Chris Rohrer

Early the next morning the 4 of us headed to the Mt Baldy area to look for a few of our target birds.  There were 2 species on my target list that I have been wanting to find for some time; the American Dipper and the Gray Jay.  We parked at the trail head which is right on the Little Colorado River and Tommy suggested we check the river before heading upstream on the trail.  We were early enough to beat the crowds of fly fishing people.  It did not take long for Tommy to pick one out in the stream.  There are 5 Dipper species throughout the world and only one of these species is found in North America.  What a cool bird, as is wades and even swims underwater in cold mountain streams as it forages for food.  A favorite bird by many birders and rightfully so.  (My second lifer of the trip already!)

American Dipper

American Dipper

We then headed out on the trail in this beautiful area of mountains and pines.  Along the way we had several Lincoln Sparrows including one recently fledged bird that perched in a small pine and created a perfect frame of pine boughs around it.

Lincoln Sparrow

Further down the trail, we finally came upon another great bird and one that was on my target list, the Gray Jay.  This bird has a very large range in the far northern reaches of North America with scattered remnants in spots of the Rocky Mountains.  In Arizona, they can only be found in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, a small population which is cut off from the others.  My third lifer on this trip and we were only on the first full day of birding.  

 Gray Jay

Gray Jay
As we returned on the trail, we also got looks of one of the Gray Jay's cousins, the Clark's Nutcracker.  Not a new bird for me, but one that I have never been able to obtain photos.  This just added to the excitement of the day and already made this trip worthwhile.  

Clark's Nutcracker

When we returned to the the trail head parking area we had the opportunity to see some Red Crossbills up close.  Most generally these birds are high in the pines where they extract seeds from pine cones with their unique crossed bills.  Luckily the pine they chose to visit had its base down by the stream bed and we were on a bridge above it which brought the top of the tree to an eye level for us.

 Red Crossbill

Red Crossbill

Also along the river Tommy and Chris discovered a House Wren nest with babies being heard and the parents were actively seeking insects and bringing back to feed the young.  I had a opportunity to capture a photo of one of the adults as it returned with an insect.

House Wren

The day was far from being over with much more ground to cover and some equally other great birds to be found.  More to come on day 1 of birding in the White Mountains near Greer, Arizona.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pinal Mountain Respite

On Saturday, July 19th, birding buddy and friend, Tommy DeBardeleben and I ventured east from the desert valley and the Phoenix area to check out the birding in this awesome place just a short distance to the east.  The Pinal Mountains rise to an elevation just a little shy of 8000'.  This place sort of reminds me of Mt Ord in Maricopa County but at a much larger scale as it covers a much larger area and has an elevation a little bit higher than Mt Ord.  Consequently, this results in a larger diversity of wildlife.

Starting out on Russell Road in Globe, a person can make many stops along the way and it is amazing how the habitat changes as the road slowly gains in elevation.  The birding is excellent in the lower elevations, and we did stop a few places to add birds to our list, but our ultimate goal was to reach the higher elevations and some of the specialty birds found there. One of the birds that we found was the Greater Pewee and both of us wanted to attempt to get some decent photos of this bird.  Definitely easier said than done.  These birds made us work for our photos and we still want better.  But I know I at least got some better photos than any I had gotten in the past.  Our first viewing was early morning where it was overcast (even a few drops of rain) and then the birds wanted to perch in some fairly dense shade and then usually up high.  We even bushwhacked up the slopes hoping to get up higher than the birds, so we could look down on them while they perched in trees lower down.  A couple of the males were singing which is how we located them, but they were a bit lazy in their song.  Their song is one of the funnest to set to words, "Jose, Jose Maria".  But the 2 we were hearing were dropping the last syllable and calling "Jose, Jose Marie".  Twas actually quite funny.

Greater Pewee

Greater Pewee

Greater Pewee

Greater Pewee - finally one in the sunlight but still far away

While the Greater Pewee did provide better photos than any I had in the past, it will continue to be a bird that I want to observe more often in the future.  Other birds that we encountered included Brown Creeper and Red-faced Warbler.  The Brown Creeper is a master of disguise and can be easily overlooked and is often detected by its high pitched calls to make a person aware that they are in the area and also by their movement.  They glean insects from the trunks of trees by landing close to the bottom of a tree then work their way up and around the trunk and once they are done with that tree they fly to the base of another nearby tree and start all over.  And the Red-faced Warbler?  Well, it kind of speaks for itself.  Probably the most dynamic warbler in the United States in my opinion.  Not very easy to get photos, but that is the case with most warblers.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Red-faced Warbler

Red-faced Warbler

At one place I walked back to the car while Tommy continued to do some bushwhacking and birding and a couple of birds made themselves available for photos; a male Black-headed Grosbeak and a Plumbeous Vireo.  

Black-headed Grosbeak

Plumbeous Vireo

A brief stop at Sulfide del Rey Picnic area gave us the Dusky-capped Flycatcher which is one of the sometimes hard-to-identify species in the myiarchus family. There are visual differences in the 3 to 4 species found in Arizona, but habitat and range along with the call notes is the most reliable way to ID these birds.

Dusky-capped Flycatcher

Once we reached the top of the mountain area, a visit to one of the cabins near the top really produced some great birds.  It was here that we discovered a Hairy Woodpecker nest cavity that had a lot of activity taking place.  This is woodpecker of higher elevations in Arizona and can be distinguished from the much more uncommon Downy Woodpecker by its large bill.

 Hairy Woodpecker - at nest cavity

Hairy Woodpecker - nest cavity up and to the right

In this same area we were visited by a first year Olive Warbler which always a cool bird to find as they are limited in range to high elevations only in Arizona and New Mexico in the United States.

Olive Warbler

The hummingbird feeders were attracting a lot of attention by several Broad-tailed Hummingbirds along with a couple of Magnificent Hummingbirds and a couple of Rufous Hummingbirds.  Obviously for me the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds provided me my best photos.

 Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

As we descended back down the mountain we pulled off at a couple of spots to see what we could find and react to our pishing and one spot we kind of hit the jackpot with a Red-breasted Nuthatch that was very inquisitive and was begging for attention.  I have never before had a photo opportunity of this hyperactive little bird like this one.  This nuthatch species is most generally the hardest of the 3 species in Arizona to be found.  

 Red-breasted Nuthatch

 Red-breasted Nuthatch

 Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, we had Mountain Chickadees that came in to our pishing as well.

Mountain Chickadee

The scenery in this area is enough justification to travel here, and then with the bird life as well, it is an awesome place to visit.  And to finish this post, I do have to thank Tommy DeBardeleben for sharing with me much of his knowledge about birding, especially in Maricopa County of Arizona.  Thanks to his great web site; I have learned much about birding in Maricopa County and beyond.  I would not be as knowledgeable as I am today without his willingness to share and help me find birds.

Definitely a cool spot to visit when the heat of the desert gets to be too much!



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A One Day Escape to Madera

Most generally when I think of the term 'cabin fever', I tend to think of long months of cold winter weather keeping a person confined indoors for an extended period of time.  That thinking is probably due to the fact that I can recall many cold winters in Nebraska in the past.  However, this same term can be applied to Arizona's summers; the heat can make it miserable to be outdoors in the desert.  But the summer cabin fever in Arizona does have a fairly easy cure; head to higher elevations.  So this past Saturday, I joined forces with fellow birders, Tommy DeBardeleben, Mark Ochs, and Chris Rohrer.  Tommy and I left the Phoenix area about 4:00 am and picked up Mark at Picacho Peak and then the 3 of us picked up Chris in Tucson and we headed to Madera Canyon for the day.  We had a couple of target birds that we wanted to try and locate and get photos.  We dipped on the Whiskered Screech Owl, which is a bird that I have heard before, but never seen.  We visited the Whiskered Screech Owl's nest cavity several times but never got a glimpse of them or their fledglings which were seen and photographed the day before.

The second target bird was the Plain-capped Starthroat which is native to Mexico, but every year it seems that a couple of them show up in Arizona and this year was no exception.  In fact this year seems to be a banner year as a few more than normal have been discovered.  This is a bird that I have only seen once before about 2 years ago, so seeing it again was really quite wonderful.  This is one of the larger hummingbird species and once it makes its appearance, there is no confusion of what it is compared the rest of the hummers flitting about.  It is about an inch longer than the rest at the feeders this day and its long straight bill is quite remarkable.  (While I really prefer to capture photos of birds away from feeders, sometimes one has to endure and take what one can get!)

 Plain-capped Starthroat

 Plain-capped Starthroat

Plain-capped Starthroat (with a Black-chinned Hummingbird on the left)

Late in the afternoon the feeders at Santa Rita Lodge received a visit by a male Rufous Hummingbird, that added a dynamic to the Black-chinned and Broad-billed Hummingbirds that were by far the most common species to be found at the feeders that day.

Rufous Hummingbird - on the left

We also had a couple of species of woodpeckers that returned frequently for our enjoyment.  The Acorn Woodpeckers were heard and seen quite frequently, but the most intriguing one for me was the Arizona Woodpecker.  This is another bird that I had seen on various occasions and at various locations, but have never really been able to obtain any decent photos of this species.  Well, my luck was a bit better on this day with several visits by a couple of these birds.  In the United States the range of this woodpecker is pretty much restricted to extreme southeastern Arizona and just a little bit into the southwest corner of New Mexico.  

 Acorn Woodpecker

Arizona Woodpecker

Some of the other birds that visited Santa Rita Lodge during our visit were the resident flock of Wild Turkey, Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jay, Hepatic Tanager, and a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher playing with it's food, which provided a nice array of color and interest to our birds for the day at Santa Rita Lodge.

 Wild Turkey

 Black-headed Grosbeak - Male

Blue Grosbeak - Male

 Bridled Titmouse

 Hepatic Tanager

Mexican Jay

 Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher playing with prey

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher - with prey

Late morning we decided to make a short trip down to Florida Canyon to see if we could locate the Rufous-capped Warblers, another bird that is hard to find in the United States.  While we struck out on the warblers, our consolation prize turned out to be 3 Black-capped Gnatcatchers, another Mexican species that can only be found in the United States in Arizona.  I have seen one of these birds once (or maybe twice) before, but this time I got photos that leave a lot to be desired, but that is all the more reason to search for them again and maybe find a male in breeding plumage in the future.  A couple of the keys in identification of this species is the long bill and the white underside of the tail. 

 Black-capped Gnatcatcher

Black-capped Gnatcatcher

A couple of other fine birds to find in this location were the Indigo and the Varied Bunting.  Both were a bit far off and did not allow for the best of photos, but it is hard not to attempt to snap a couple of photos anyway.

Indigo Bunting

Varied Bunting

The day was not yet over as we had seen on the list that a juvenile Tricolored Heron had been found the day before in Tucson, so when we returned to Tucson, we stopped to try and locate it.  And at that time of the day, it was resting and was pretty well hidden in a tree, but this is another fairly rare bird in Arizona.  I had seen several on my trip to Texas in April, but this was a first for me to see in Arizona.  

Tricolored heron

In the same vicinity, we found a pair of Cooper's Hawks and they must be fairly used to people as they did not seem to be as wary as most that I encounter.

 Cooper's Hawk

Madera Canyon is always a great place to visit as there seems to be no end to the wonderful birds and other critters that can be found in this area.