Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Friday, September 19, 2014

Apache County Birding - Day 2

The second day we wanted to get an early start for another reason than just the birds.  September is the rut season for Elk and we were hoping to find a bull Elk or two and maybe witness some bugling.  As we were driving we happened to come upon a lone bull on the highway, but it bolted quickly through the meadow and into the pine forest before we even got a chance to get our cameras out.  But it wasn't much further down the road when we came upon a herd of about 30 cows and calves and one large bull.  They were quite a distance from the highway, making photos a bit tough, but the bugling was an awesome sound and we did witness a couple of smaller bulls that first appeared to maybe try challenging the large bull, but they turned away and we did not see any fighting.

Elk herd - large bull on the right

After enjoying this for a short while, we headed to South Fork for some birds and what a great place this was.  This will always be on my list of stops on any future trips.  Of course we were back to seeing and counting Wilson's and MacGillivray's Warblers again, but no complaints about that especially since one of the MacGillivray's Warblers actually came out and into the sunlight for photos.  This bird is a skulker and likes to hide and forage deep the foliage of shrubs and trees, so sometimes it can be a bit difficult to see and photograph.

MacGillivray's Warbler

We had a Willow flycatcher the day before in Wenima Wildlife Area, and one again on this day and this one proved to be a bit more photogenic.  Western Tanagers were also quite numerous and even though the bright colors of the males were not to be found, the bird is still a great one to see anytime.

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

Western Tanager

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Once we started heading out of this place in the car, I spied a Downy Woodpecker in a small tree along the road, that was doing quite a number on chipping away at small branch on the tree.  It had sawdust and wood chips flying all around. 

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

A pair of White-tailed Deer walked out of the woods near us as we were walking the roadway.

 White-tailed Deer - Buck

White-tailed Deer - Doe

Our next stop was Grasslands Wildlife Area which is a place that is easy to drive by if one is not looking for it.  The road into the area passes through grasslands pretty much void of trees, but here is where the habitat is just right for Burrowing Owls that have made their home here and we found one in a natural setting which is rather satisfying.  Man made nest cavities are wonderful as it has really assisted in the increased numbers of this species, but it is always fun to see one in a natural setting and this one was definitely skittish and not used to humans near its domain.

Burrowing Owl

Once we took off on the trail from the parking area, we were greeted by Pinyon and Western Scrub Jays.  Speaking of Pinyon Jays, this bird was a nemesis bird for me for a long time, but on this weekend I saw and heard well over 100 of these birds at various places.  A nemesis bird no more!  A Western Wood-Pewee and a Cooper's Hawk provided my only decent photo opportunities.

 Western Wood-Pewee

Cooper's Hawk

From there we started checking out many of the lakes in the White Mountains.  A stop at Crescent Lake produced a few first of the fall American Pipits which were still sporting a bit of their more colorful breeding plumage.  We also had a Prairie Falcon at this location.  

American Pipit

At Lee Valley Reservoir we found a couple of Gray Jays which was great to see once again after my first sighting in July.  Also had a Red-naped Sapsucker and Red Crossbills.

 Red-naped Sapsucker

Red Crossbill

At Big Lake we had a nice flock of White-faced Ibis, but our greeter was this very handsome Mountain Bluebird.

 Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

One of the last places we visited on this day was Benny Creek.  We had walked along the creek to the turn around point all the while with the threat of rain nearby.  The overcast cloudy sky made the trail fairly dark and Tommy had mentioned that the habitat seemed ideal for Spotted Owls and we were focused on finding one.  On the return hike Tommy did spot an owl deep in the shade in front of us, but it was not the Spotted Owl that we had been looking for.  It turned out to be a Long-eared Owl!  After having one of these visiting our campsite in late July in the Greer area, it was awesome to find another one.  It was daytime, and I attempted photos, but had a hard time getting focus on the bird in the heavy shade.  Might be a crappy photo, but it is one of my own photos for this bird and I am sure there will be more and better chances in the future for photos.

Long-eared Owl

This would normally be where I would end this post so I could finish with a third post covering the final day.  Sad to say that early the next morning, my camera had an accident so I was without a camera the whole day on Monday.  Tommy graciously gave me permission to use one of his photos from Monday from a new place called Concho Lake.  I love this photo because it is one with 3 different species of sandpipers all in the same frame and is a great photo for comparison on the 3 species.  It contains a Baird Sandpiper, a Western Sandpiper, and a Least Sandpiper.  The 'peeps' are known to be a difficult bunch of birds to sometime identify and this photo really helps to learn and study the differences in these 3 species.  Definitely will help me for future birding trips.

Baird's Sandpiper - rear center, Western Sandpiper - front center, and a Least Sandpiper - on the right.
Photo courtesy of Tommy DeBardeleben.

A couple of flowers to add some color and end this blog post.

 From Sunrise lake

I started out this trip with only 108 species in Apache County, but I gained 59 species and now have 167 species.  Pretty awesome trip with a lot of birds!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Apache County and the White Mountains

This past weekend, good birding friend, Tommy DeBardeleben and I headed to the White Mountains in Apache County of Arizona to do some exploration of the many awesome birding spots to be found here.  This county is unique in Arizona and has some unique habitats that are hard to be found elsewhere in the state.  Our hope was to maybe discover some vagrant migrating eastern birds and at the same time, try to add to our Apache County lists.  Tommy knows the area very well so we hit up some of these spots and also explored some spots that he had not been to.  

First stop on Saturday morning was Sipe White Mountain Wilderness Area.  This is an incredible place to visit and fairly easy to get around on the trails.  The trees in the parking lot were full of warblers including Townsend's, Wilson's, Nashville, and MacGillivray's Warblers.  By the time the weekend was over we found dozens of Wilson's and MacGillivray's Warblers; both species were very common and in high numbers.  Out in the grassland area we had a surprise sparrow, the Grasshopper Sparrow; not a bird that we had expected to see.  We actually found 2 of these birds in the massive numbers of Chipping, Brewer's, and Lark Sparrows.

 Grasshopper Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Mountain Bluebirds were quite easily seen along with many Brewer's Blackbirds.

Mountain Bluebird

Brewer's Blackbird
A nice juvenile Townsend's Solitaire is always nice to see with their spotted plumage which differs greatly from the adults.  Western Wood-Pewee is another bird that is great to find and on this trip we were able to compare and note the differences between this bird and the Willow Flycatcher.

Townsend's Solitaire - Juvenile

Western Wood-Pewee

After about 3 hours at Sipe, we then headed to Becker Lake for a short visit and added several water birds to our list and a few more warblers, including this Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler

Next stop was Wenima Wildlife Area along the Lower Colorado River.  We added Willow Flycatcher along with some raptors in this location including a nice Swainson's Hawk.  Also discovered a new snake species that I had not seen before; a Striped Whipsnake.  It was long and wanted nothing to do with us, so it quickly headed into the cover of the bushes, but then it proceeded to stick its head out to observe us a bit closer with the rest of its body totally hidden.

 Swainson's Hawk

 Striped Whipsnake

Striped Whipsnake

Our next stop was Lyman Lake State Park, a place that we had passed by on the highway back in July that appeared to have a lot of potential for some great water or shore birds.  At first, we got a feeling that this place might turn out to be a bust, but once we reached the southeastern shore and the mud flats and shore lines we discovered a juvenile Sanderling foraging along the shore line with Least, Western, and Baird's Sandpipers.  Not a new bird for me, but a new bird to add to my Arizona list.  Also found huge numbers of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers.

 Sanderling - Juvenile

Sanderling - With a grasshopper that did not get away

Once we had covered the mud flats fairly extensively, we then head back to the main part of the lake and Tommy quickly spied something different out on the lake, a juvenile Sabine's Gull.  This ended up being my one and only life bird on the trip when I was not expecting any, so it was a great find.  Although it was far out in the lake, once it took flight, the key field marks were clearly visible on the wings.  

 Sabine's Gull - Juvenile

 Sabine's Gull - Juvenile

Sabine's Gull - Juvenile

Tommy's scope came in real handy for viewing so many birds much better than binoculars and he also picked out 6 Black Terns flying low over the lake.  We also ended the lake visit with a fly over Caspian Tern.

Black Terns

By this time of the day, the monsoon rains had settled in the White Mountains and we visited a few more lakes, but with the threat of rain in many places, we left our cameras in the car for protection and enjoyed the birds we could see with our binoculars and the scope.  

At Lyman Lake

 At Wenima Wildlife Area

 At Greer Lakes checking out a Peregrine Falcon

 Luna Lake

 Wenima Wildlife Area

Wenima Wildlife Area

Day one came to a close and we headed back to Greer for the night and plan of day 2.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Utah - The Final Post

Torrey, Utah is just west of the entrance to Capital Reef National Park, a park that does not draw the number of visitors as the others, but it is equally as beautiful and worth the visit.  With fewer visitors, it does tend to cater to birding enthusiasts such as I.  When I was planning this trip to Utah to visit relatives, I did a lot of research on eBird to see what species have been reported in much of the area that I was visiting to see if there were any possibilities of any new species to be found.  And I found only 1 species and that was the Chukar, an introduced game bird in the western United States that has become established in many areas.  The sightings had all come from Capital Reef National Park, with the last report dating back to May of 2014.  I was confident that the birds were there somewhere, but did not have high expectations in finding any.  Must have been my lucky day as I stopped in one of the shops in the park and was visiting with 2 ladies that worked there and while I was visiting, one of the local Park Rangers came in with some freshly picked peaches for them to sell and overheard me asking about Chukar sightings.  He quickly mentioned that he had seen a fairly sizable flock just the day before in one of the fenced off, enclosed and locked orchards and he asked me if I wanted he would take me there!  What an incredibly nice man to offer to take me to where he had seen Chukars.  We drove about a mile down the road and came to the enclosed orchard and then unlocked the gate and we took off looking for this bird.  We walked and scoured the rocky hillsides and grassy areas for quite a distance and I was beginning to think our timing was off as we were coming to the end of the orchard.  And suddenly, there they were, 8 of them running in the grass.  Might not have been the best photos, but just being able to add them to my life list was really sweet.  We watched them for awhile and then quickly retreated to leave them alone and cause any undo stress to them..




With my one and only target bird finally conquered, I considered my vacation a rounding success for birding.  

Capital Reef National Park

One other bird that I was able to capture a photo, was a Plumbeous Vireo in Capital Reef National Park.

Plumbeous Vireo

In the afternoon, we all took a drive to Bicknell Bottoms, where I added several other birds to my Utah list.  I was surprised to hear and then see about 10 Sandhill Cranes, and if I had been paying more attention looking out my window, maybe I could have gotten a better photo than I did.

Sandhill Cranes

A few bird photos from the yard included a regular Western Scrub Jay and a Pine Siskin.  

 Western Scrub Jay

Pine Siskin

Finally Friday rolled around and it was time to depart and head back to Arizona.  For the trip back we headed east on Highway 24 through some very desolate areas where the pit stops and human habitation were few and far between.  While traveling down Highway 95 in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, where cars were few and far apart (averaged meeting only 1 vehicle every 6 miles), we came around a bend and found some Bighorn Sheep.  The adult ewe was grazing on grass along the highway while 2 younger lambs were keeping a safe distance in the rocky cliffs on the side of the highway.  To find this on last day was pretty awesome!  Not always easy to see these mammals up close and personal.

Definitely an outstanding vacation and it makes we want to return.  There is some really awesome wild and remotes areas to be found in Utah and northern Arizona.  Will add this to my lists of places to return to.