Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Graham County Weekend - Part 2

Saturday night we selected the Soldier Campground for our campsite, but there were many to chose from and on Sunday we found several more that might have been a bit better selection.  One of our neighbors arrived later than we and little did we know that they were much more prone to staying up late at night and were a bit noisier that what we would have liked once we retired for the night.  As we gathered firewood for our campfire, we noticed that much of the wood was very wet from some of the previous monsoon rains that prevailed near the summit in the past few weeks.  I am sure some of the neighboring campers were probably a bit amused at us lighting and getting our fire started, but we prevailed and had a great fire before long.  We were up early and broke camp and headed out to take advantage of what little time we had left.

We headed once more to Riggs Lake, which is at the western most point and close to where the road ends and we started heading back stopping at various spots along the way.  Yellow-eyed Juncos were the most numerous birds all over the top of the mountain and were seen at every place we stopped.  Their bright yellow eyes in adults separate them from the Dark-eyed Junco group which consists of several sub-species.  Yellow-eyed Junco is a totally separate species with a range that only extends into southeastern Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico in the United States.

 Yellow-eyed Junco

Yellow-eyed Junco

At Shannon Campground we ventured out on the trail that leads to Arcadia Campground for a bit.  This trail is about 6 miles in length and would be a great trail to follow on a future trip.  We did manage to get a Wilson's Warbler to make an appearance after Tommy heard its chip note call and then proceeding to do some pishing.  I must say that Tommy has many bird calls and chip notes memorized and this talent makes for better birding as many times, the hint a birder has of a bird being in the area is one of its calls or songs.  

Wilson's Warbler

Eventually the road brought us back to Arcadia Campground which was the most active spot we had the day before and it included the juvenile Spotted Owl.  Almost immediately after we parked, we got out and started pishing again and this resulted in a Mountain Chickadees and a Painted Redstart making an appearance.  At one point an Acorn Woodpecker actually responded to the pishing and came in to investigate.  Mountain Chickadees were another species that was very numerous on our trip and seen or heard at just about every higher elevation spot.

Mountain Chickadee

 Painted Redstart

Acorn Woodpecker

After finding the Spotted Owl the day before, we wanted to head back into the same area to see if we could relocate it again.  This time it was nowhere to be found, but it could have been hanging out up in tree with better cover watching us.  But shortly after this, Tommy spied another Spotted Owl higher up in a different tree and in much deeper shade and foliage.  This one turned out to be an adult; most likely one of the parents to the juvenile that we located the day before.  Once again the adrenaline was pumping for both of us.  As usual the adult did not seem too disturbed by our presence and went about preening its feathers while we watched.  Interestingly, some of the photos show those sharp talons and the feathering on the tarsus.  (I swear Tommy made me use the word tarsus!  He used it as we were admiring the owl and I liked it so much, decided to use it probably for the first time in a post!)

Spotted Owl - Adult

Spotted Owl - Adult

Spotted Owl - Adult 

Once we returned to the heat of the valley and cell phone service, we received word of the Anhinga sighting on Dankworth Pond the day before, which had been sighted about 3 hours after we had been there.  Of course we made a mad dash Back to Dankworth Pond, only to find several Neotropic cormorants and a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons, including this juvenile.  No signs of the Anhinga.  Oh why didn't it fly by about 3 hours earlier the day before????

Black-crowned Night Heron - Juvenile

To finish off this final post of our incredible trip to Graham County and Mount Graham itself, I will add a couple more photos of wildlife and some of the incredible scenery.  Photos really do not do justice to the scenery and the incredible views that we had from the road.  This place is really awesome and definitely deserves some return trips.  There is much more to be explored in this area.

Squirrel - they were common everywhere on Mount Graham

Clark's Spiny Lizard - courtship display

Roseate Skimmer

Tommy keeping records




Riggs Lake


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Graham County Weekend - Part 1

This past weekend, Tommy DeBardeleben and I set out to do some birding in Graham County in Arizona and specifically visit Mt Graham.  At 10,720 feet in elevation, it is the highest 'Sky Island' in Arizona and what an awesome place to visit. The Swift Trail or Road 366 is about 35 miles from the start off Highway 191 all the way to Riggs Lake, with about the last 12 miles being unpaved.  Campgrounds abound at many places along this road. 

Our goal was to search for as many species of birds we could in the short 2 days that we had and create a year list for Graham County.  Tommy had never been birding in Graham County and I had only visited it twice in the past, once in 2011 and once in 2012.  Of course our focus was Mt Graham, but we had some other stops to make on the way and the first of these was Cluff Ranch, south of the small town of Pima.  We started off great with a Swainson's Hawk on the road into the preserve that allowed some photos from the car.
  
Swainson's Hawk

One of our target birds was the Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet, (a small bird with a funny name).  This bird is fairly common in spots in southern Arizona, but this location is close to being the on the northern fringes of its range.  It had been a nemesis bid for me for some time, but I knew it was just a matter of time that I would be able to add this bird to my life list.  They have been reported here, so we knew our chances were good in finding one and it's call was the first clue to knowing it was here.  A small bird that can be easily overlooked if it is not calling or foraging.  

 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet

Lark Sparrows were in abundance.  It is one of our largest sparrows and its distinctive facial pattern helps to make identification of this sparrow fairly easy.

Lark Sparrow

Our visit to Pond #3 resulted in several White-throated Swifts flying over the water along with many swallows.  I have never attempted to photograph this bird before simply for the fact that they are always in-flight and their flight pattern is fast and erratic.  But never-the-less, this time I made a feeble attempt to obtain photos and got a couple that were at least identifiable.

 White-throated Swift

White-throated Swift

From Cluff Ranch, it was a short drive to the Leay Lane Water treatment ponds.  Unfortunately, everything was enclosed in chain-link fence and locked up, so we were not able to view quite as well as we would have liked.  We did have a Greater Roadrunner run ahead of our vehicle for a distance before exiting off into the fringes of a cotton field.

Greater Roadrunner

View of Mt Graham in the distance from Leay Lane

Next stop was south of the town of Safford, Roper Lake State Park.  This spot is fairly well known for its birding, but this day was a bust for for us.  I have been here on both my previous visits and found some decent numbers of birds.  The only bright spot was a Belted Kingfisher that flew over and hovered above the water in front of us.

 Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Next was a brief stop at Dankworth Pond which had far more diversity and numbers of birds than Roper Lake.  We found out the next day that about 3 hours after our visit to Dankworth Pond, another birder reported a fly over by an adult Anhinga at this location.  Apparently we were about 3 hours too early bit for this location on this day.  An Ahiniga in Arizona???  That would have been an awesome find as there had only been one other sighting of that bird in AZ and that was in 1893.  Several others including Tommy and I checked back at the pond and it was not seen again.   

Ruddy Duck at Dankworth Pond

From here we then started the long trek up Mt Graham with several stops along the way.  Probably the most rewarding stop was the Arcadia Campground.  This campground was full of people, but we chose to skirt the main campground and follow some trails and also some dry washes without trails.  We had several warbler species including Red-faced Warbler and several Hermit Warblers.  

 Hermit Warbler - Female

 Hermit Warbler - Female

Red-faced Warbler

We had read some reports that Spotted Owls had been found in and around this campground, so we did have a bit of a strategy in trying to see if we could locate one.  Obviously we felt the need to get away from any of the main trails and focus on where a Spotted Owl might be.  During the day they are basically hard to find as they just sit perched without moving and this species is one that can be quite unafraid of human activity.  We knew we had to keep our eyes open for them and even though it seems they would be easy to spot sitting motionless in a tree, they can be very easy to overlook.  In the bottom of one of the washes, we stopped for a couple of minutes to discuss where they could be hiding, then as we took no more than 5 steps, Tommy looked back and up to the right and lo and behold, one of them sat on a limb, probably watching us as we were discussing them.  This one was a year hatch bird, so we know that the adult parents had to be nearby although we did not see any.  It would stare down at us from just a few feet away, probably wondering what these 2 humans were doing.  It would look down at us and every once in a while would stare off in the distance at a squirrel.  After a some great photos and some adrenaline pumping, we departed to leave it in peace.

 Spotted Owl

 Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl

 Tommy & the Owl - note upper right of photo


So much for the first day of birding in Graham County.  The Spotted Owl, which is a threatened species was definitely the highlight of this day.  More to come on the 2nd day, but will finish off this post with a few photos of some other non-avian specialties.

 Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

Yarrow's Spiny Lizard

 Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

Checkered Setwing

  












Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hummingbirds in Arizona

This last Sunday, good friend and birder, Muriel Neddermeyer and I headed to the southern parts of Arizona specifically to check out the hummingbirds.  Arizona has more species of hummingbirds in the United States than any other state, so if a person has a love of hummingbirds, this is the place to visit.  Of course not all the species are year-round residents as some are migrants and the time of the year will dictate a lot of what one can see.  Some of the species are more common in parts of Mexico, but there is always a few that cross the border into Arizona providing for some great birds.  There are several hotspots in southern Arizona that cater to the hummingbirds and most of them ask for a nominal fee of about $5.00 when visiting their facilities.  This helps to defray their costs to keep the feeders maintained.  Trust me, that small charge is definitely a bargain to see some of these amazing hummingbirds. 

First stop was Ash Canyon B & B, which is probably the best known location to view the Lucifer Hummingbird.  It's range extends into southeastern Arizona, an extreme very small area of southwestern new Mexico, and also into the Big Bend area of Texas.  Not to be confused with the more common Costa's Hummingbird, this bird has a long curved bill that is a key identification mark.  Still have not been able to capture a photo of this bird away from a feeder, but someday I am sure with enough visits, that will happen.

Lucifer Hummingbird

We counted 6 species of hummingbirds at this location on this day, but I have been there before when I got 10 species in one day.  Broad-billed Hummingbirds were in abundance here and at the other places where we stopped.  It is another stunning bird and unfortunately, I most generally focus on photographing the males, this time I did make an attempt at getting some photos of some of the females.  I do not ever recall getting a photo of a female Broad-billed Hummingbird, so on this day I did manage to do so and am glad that I did.

Broad-billed Hummingbird - male

Broad-billed Hummingbird - female

And of course the most common hummingbird in Arizona is Anna's Hummingbird which I have throughout the year in my back yard at my feeders.  Kind of enjoyed the markings on this juvenile male with the magenta coming in on its molt in streaks and patches.

Anna's Hummingbird

Of course there are more than just hummingbirds to be found here and I just could not resist taking a few photos of some of the rest: Acorn Woodpecker, Bewick's Wren, Black-headed Grosbeak, House Finch, and the Mexican Jay.

Acorn Woodpecker

Bewick's Wren

Black-headed Grosbeak

House Finch - not a bird that I photograph very often, but this one was redder than most.

Mexican Jay

Next stop was at Beatty's B&B in Miller Canyon, just a short distance up the road.  This location is just a bit higher in elevation and results in some different habitat.  Usually one of the best places to find Blue-throated Hummingbird and White-eared Hummingbird, but this day we did not have that luck.  But we still got lots of hummingbirds including the Magnificent Hummingbirds, Rufous Hummingbirds, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and Black-chinned Hummingbirds.  Hope you enjoy the photos and the variety of hummingbirds, including some females.

 Black-chinned Hummingbird - female

Black-chinned Hummingbird - male

Black-chinned Hummingbird - male

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - male

 Rufous Hummingbird with yellow pollen on its bill

Rufous Hummingbird with yellow pollen on its bill

 Magnificent Hummingbird - male

Magnificent Hummingbird - male

As the afternoon was quickly arriving, we headed west to Patagonia and to Paton's Bird Sanctuary, one of the most reliable spots to find the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.  Host, Larry Morgan, is always a pleasure to visit with and is glad to help anyone find some special birds that visit this spot.  And the Violet-crowned Hummingbird did not let us down, although it did spend most of its time at the feeders, it is still a very different appearing hummingbird with that pure white throat, chest, and belly to offset that violet crown.

Violet-crowned Hummingbird

When the day was done, we had observed 8 species of hummingbirds and if we would have taken the time to visit Madera Canyon, we might have been able to add a 9th species, the Plain-capped Starthroat.  As mentioned in the early part of this blog, Arizona is an awesome state to see hummingbirds!!!