Tuesday, November 25, 2014

From Desert to a Lake

After taking several trips to the desert area of Pima Canyon Wash, I decided to change it up a bit and check out Saguaro Lake which is located on the Salt River.  A recent sighting of a Surf Scoter was the main reason to visit this lake.  Although it is not a life bird for me (having seen it twice before), it is a fairly rare bird in Arizona.  But every fall it seems that about a dozen or two show up in Arizona and various lakes.  So with that being my main focus I headed to Saguaro Lake and arrived very early at the marina area; found a parking spot about in the middle of the floating docks and walked to the edge of the lake.  And there it was, had there not been a couple of American Coots in the vicinity, it would have been the first bird I encountered.  The 3 species of scoters in North America, are stocky, short-necked diving birds that feed on crustaceans and mollusks and their breeding habitat is the tundra regions of the far north.  I walked out on the floating dock and stood there watching and observing as it was diving and if a coot ventured too close, then it swiftly chased it away from its claimed territory.

 Surf Scoter

 Surf Scoter

Surf Scoter

Not too far away I witnessed a Pied-billed Grebe surface with a crayfish held firmly in its beak.  Looks like this grebe captured itself a nice morsel for breakfast.

 Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

After leaving the Marina area of Saguaro Lake, I then headed to Butcher Jones Beach area which is still on Saguaro Lake, but have to travel a few miles to get to this spot.  As soon as I got out of the car, I heard a Gray Flycatcher calling.  It was not too hard to locate due to its incessant calling, but trying to get a photo was very difficult as I could only find one small clearing in the branches to shoot through.  This bird is one of the infamous and difficult-to-ID birds in the Empidonax family.  Many of them can only be safely identified by their calls.  However the Gray Flycatcher is probably one of the easiest to ID because of a behavior that it displays that the other do not show.  I has a behavior of pumping its tail downward very similar to the phoebes.  

 Gray Flycatcher

Gray Flycatcher

And of course standing on the beach area and checking out the waterfowl was the main objective.  While using my scope to check out the birds further out, much to my surprise, a couple of Common Mergansers swam right by close to shore.

Common Merganser

After getting good shots of a male Lesser Scaup a while back at Fountain Hills Lake, I decided to try for a photo of a female at this location.  While not nearly as good as I would have liked, it still is nice to capture the females to add to the personal photo library.  A small flock of Buffleheads were also noticed a bit further out.  This is our smallest duck in the US, but it is also one of the most dynamic to see with its clean look and iridescent colors in the sunlight.

 Lesser Scaup - Female


Probably the strangest photo that I captured was a Great Blue Heron perched on some rocks on a desert cliff with Saguaro Cactus in the photo.  The bird definitely looks out of place in this surrounding, but water was not far away.

Great Blue Heron

It is always a joy to be able to go birding and just simply observe and watch the habits and behaviors of the birds, especially those that are visiting Arizona for the winter months.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Following up on a Mini-Oasis

After finding and describing a seep that created a mini-oasis in Pima Canyon Wash, I followed up on this spot on another visit a week later to see if there were any changes worth noting.  This spot is about 2½ miles from the parking area so I headed up there early on the morning of November 16th.  This time, I made this my destination and found myself a spot to sit and observe.  In the time span of only about 15 minutes, I counted 6 different species that came in to visit this area and its small pools of water:  Canyon Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, 'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco, Chipping Sparrow, Rock Wren, and House Finch.  Who knows what all I might have seen had I stayed there for several hours. This obviously shows how big of an impact this small mini-oasis can have on the various avian life and I am sure countless other wildlife and insects.

 Black-throated Sparrow

 Canyon Towhee

 Canyon Towhee

'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco - was a bit shy and did not want to show its face!

As I was sitting on a rock observing this area, I happened to glance up in the sky and found a pair of Peregrine Falcons flying near the north ridge line of the canyon.  Yes, they were a bit high, but just being able to capture one photo for identity purposes was cool as this just added another species to my patch total for this spot.  

Peregrine Falcon

As I made my way back to the parking area after another successful trip to Pima Canyon, I encountered a stunningly beautiful male Costa's Hummingbird, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet that almost showed me its full ruby crown, and a pair of very obliging Loggerhead Shrikes.  

 Costa's Hummingbird

 Costa's Hummingbird

 Costa's Hummingbird

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

 Loggerhead Shrike - Number 1

Loggerhead Shrike - Number 2

Seems I find a new surprise just about every visit and I will be back for more.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Finding a Mini-Oasis in the Desert

One of the beauties of using eBird to report all bird sightings and expeditions is one of their applications called an eBird Patch. This is a spot that you chose on your own where you might frequently do a lot of birding.  I have 3 of them, but the one that I have the most fun with is Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona.  It is not a frequently birder by very many people, but since it is fairly easy access from where I live and I definitely need exercise, I use this spot to incorporate birding and exercise.  Of the 108 species seen in this spot, I have seen 93 of them.  I have contributed 85 checklists to eBird for this location and the 2nd place person has contributed only 12.  So I feel like my contributions have been a big plus for avian statistics.  In the process of exploring this area, I have been checking out some of the trails and washes that the hikers and bikers tend to ignore.  The reason?  More birds!!!!

One of these washes contains a couple of seeps where water from an underground aquifer seeps to the surface.  One of them is known by the parks and recreation department as it has been fenced off for many years as a wildlife site.  The second one that I have found is a bit unique and this past weekend I visited this spot once again and found a lush tall grassy area and small pools of water in the wash.  Without any rainfall in over a month, this is extraordinary to find pools of water in a desert habitat.  And of course this small oasis is a big attraction to some birds and other wildlife.  Here are some photos of this spot that I took this last weekend, and it was outstanding to see the lush green grass in all the dry desert habitat around it.  The pools provide drinking and bathing for the birds.This past weekend, this spot was being used by a flock of Chipping Sparrows, but in the past I have also had a Lincoln's Sparrow and a House Wren.  Who knows what else may be found there at other times.

Pools of water in the wash from the seep.

More pools of water from the seep

This view is from upstream looking downstream with the thick mass of branches that had washed down during the monsoon rains.

Lush vegetation behind the branches.

Looking from downstream to upstream and the lush green vegetation.

Another view of the lush vegetation.
This is definitely a spot that needs to be checked out more frequently in the future.

And while we are on Pima Canyon Wash again, I might add a few photos of birds that I have recently seen in the area, starting with a Curve-billed Thrasher and a female Ladderback Woodpecker that were photographed on this trip.

Curve-billed Thrasher

Ladderback Woodpecker

The next photos were all taken on my hike on October 26th, 2014.  Most of these birds are fairly common and are birds that I detect on almost every trip to this area.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

Canyon Towhee

Loggerhead Shrike


The next two birds are not quite as common as the previous 4.  Ruby-crowned Kinglets are by no means a rare bird, but they are only a migrant and a winter visitor to this location and even this location is a bit more of a drier spot with fewer deciduous trees, and not many would spend a great deal of time here.  The Cooper's Hawk is seen frequently, but not always.  Usually they prefer trees with a bit more foliage for hiding.  This one is a juvenile, so maybe it is still exploring because it sure wasn't hidden too well from me.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Cooper's Hawk

Many points to be made about birding the same areas fairly frequently.  Birds are very mobile and have very unique habits and behaviors which result in seeing something different quite frequently.  This spot will continue to be an often visited place for me, after all, there are more birds to be found here in the future!  


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Desert Meanderings

After so many birding trips to escape the heat of the desert and with fall finally settling in, the temperatures have subsided somewhat and now it is much more enjoyable to do some some local birding.  A large part of Arizona lies in the Sonoran Desert, including Phoenix and its surrounding suburbs.  Recent birding trips have been to familiar desert locations with some familiar birds.  Saturday, my original goal was a long hike in South Mountain Park, but changed my plans after seeing the reports for a Red-breasted Merganser at Glendale Recharge Ponds by birding friend, Tommy DeBardeleben earlier in the week and then reconfirmed by Steve Hosmer a couple of days later.  The last time I had visited this place, my camera was out of order and I tried birding it with binoculars only.  This is a tough place to go birding with just binoculars as the ponds are fairly large and the waterfowl are usually on the opposite side.  (Not too difficult to figure out why that is!)  I also recently purchased a modest spotting scope and this would be a great tool to have when visiting this place.  

I arrived there early and started scanning pond number 5, that had lots of waterfowl on it and during this time Babs Buck arrived and joined me.  We spent a lot of time scanning this pond without finding our target bird, so we moved over to pond number 4 to see if maybe it might be there and after about 45 minutes we moved back to pond 5 (those 2 ponds were the only ones with water).  Within about 5 minutes of returning I discovered our target bird out past some American Coots and a couple of Eared Grebes.  Mergansers are diving birds and easy to miss as one scans a pond if they are under water in one of their dives.  The distance to the bird was pretty far, but since this was a life bird for both of us, we took photos anyway for documentation purposes.  Of the 3 merganser species in North America, this is the species that is hardest to find in Arizona.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

Not the best place to try to get photos of birds, but a couple that did cooperate to a certain extent we an American Pipit and an adult Bald Eagle that flew over being harassed by an Osprey.  The pipits were abundant and could be heard flying overhead before we finally found them on the ground.

American Pipit

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The title of this blog post is 'Desert Meanderings' simply because my most recent birding had been brief visits to some of my most familiar spots and along with some of those hikes, a few photos were taken from time to time of some of the birds that I find in almost every trip.  Since I never get tired of looking at birds, why not take more photos?

First off, Javalina Trail and Pima Canyon Trail in South Mountain Park.  From one of my hikes on Javalina Trail, I found a couple of cooperative Gilder Flickers and my first-of-fall 'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco.

Gilded Flicker

Gilded Flicker

'Oregon' Dark-eyed Junco

Next from Pima Canyon Wash in South Mountain Park, an Ash-throated Flycatcher, a Northern Mockingbird, and a Rock Wren.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Northern Mockingbird

Rock Wren

A quick stop at ASU Research Park presented me with a very nice Green Heron and a Ring-necked Duck.

Green Heron

Ring-necked Duck

And finally from a short stop at Fountain Hills Lake, a Killdeer and another first-of-fall Lesser Scaup.



Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Have some interesting birding trip planned in the future, so it should be interesting to see what I might see and photograph.