Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tucson CBC

Sunday morning came very early for the 3 of us and our coverage of the Winterhaven area for the Tucson CBC.  Chris and I met Jan at a Trader Joe's in our coverage area before the sun came up and the first birds we heard were White-crowned Sparrows.  Have to remember that the goal was to count birds and find as many species as we could find in one day in this mapped out area.  We then headed to the Winterhaven residential area first as we wanted to arrive before the crowds converged on this district to admire the many decorated yards with their Christmas lights and displays.  The first bird that we actually saw right after we stepped out of the vehicle was a Great Horned Owl!  Finding this bird was a great start to the day!  
One of the target birds was the Bronzed Cowbird which is a summer resident in southern Arizona, but in winter they can be a bit difficult to locate as most have migrated south for the winter, but a few stay the winter in the Tucson area.  Thanks to some great scouting by Chris and Jan two days before, they knew exactly where to find them.  And we found more than 40 of them; a great bird to add to the count. Of course a few other birds got in the way of my camera along the way, including a Gila Woodpecker and a male Phainopepla.
Bronzed Cowbirds

Bronzed Cowbird - Male

Gila Woodpecker


At the University of Arizona Ag farm, we had the pleasure of observing and listening to a male Costa's Humingbird as he was putting on a display for the local female.  And a Verdin got into the act of fluffing out to dry on an branch after an early morning bath. 
Costa's Hummingbird - Female

  We also had the fortune of locating three Cactus Wrens in a residential neighborhood that was close to a racquet club and a dry stream bed.  The stream bed was a hot spot for many raptors, including Cooper's Hawks, Red-tailed Hawks, and a very 'high-in-the-sky' Prairie Falcon.  (Horrible photo of the Prairie Falcon, but the photo does help to identify this falcon.)  The Red-tailed Hawk was for a while sitting on top of a very tall electrical pole, but then it joined a second one soaring the thermals for an elaborate display.

 Cactus Wren

Cooper's Hawk

Prairie Falcon

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawks

Red-tailed Hawks

 Red-tailed Hawks
Our last bird of the day was a Red-naped Sapsucker that we found in a tree in the corner of a schoolyard.  By observing the many holes in the limbs of this tree, one can tell it has been used by this bird or other like it for some time.
Red-naped Sapsucker
I want to thank Chris and Jan for making this a very enjoyable day of birding on my first ever Tucson CBC.

To Tucson and a CBC

This year I took part in the Tucson CBC (Christmas Bird Count) for the first time.  The CBC was being held on Sunday and good friend, Chris Rohrer, invited me to come down on Saturday night so we could get an early start on Sunday.  I decided to try taking advantage of the Saturday road trip and do some birding on the way by detouring through the Santa Cruz Flats area.  The weather was definitely not in my favor as it had rained earlier in the day and when I reached the Flats, the rain had stopped, but the roads were a bit muddy, so I restricted myself to the paved and good gravel roads. Not too much to report, as I dipped on the Black-throated Blue Warbler that had been reported, but as I started heading to Tucson, some of the birds along the road were very interesting such as several Lark Sparrows, a Prairie Falcon, a pair of Harris's Hawks, and a juvenile Cooper's Hawk.
 Lark Sparrow
 Prairie Falcon
 Cooper's Hawk - Juvenile
Harris's Hawks
Once I left the Flats, I texted Chris to let him know I was on my way as we had made plans to meet at Sweetwater Wetlands.  Amazingly, as I turned the corner onto Sweetwater Road, Chris was coming in from the south.  Talk about perfect timing!  Sweetwater Wetlands is one of the premier birding spots in the Tucson area and I have never been disappointed with any of my visits to this spot.  Great place to find raptors and waterfowl together. 
 Cooper's Hawk - Adult
 Green Heron
 Ladderback Woodpecker - Male
Pied-billed Grebe
From here we still had a bit of daylight left and we headed to Reid Park in Tucson.  Usually a crowded place with lots of people, but with the dark and overcast sky, the number of humans were quite low and it actually started raining while we were there and we had to take cover for a brief time in one of the ramadas.  The waterfowl here are so accustomed to people that they actually swim right up to the shore looking for handouts.
 Canvasback - Female
Canvasback - Male
Another Pied-billed Grebe - had to use a flash as it was very dark with cloud cover
 Results of the CBC and photos will have to be addressed in the next blog post. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Meandering in the Valley of the Sun

Last weekend, I had a 3 day weekend and of course I went out birding all 3 days, but this time it was all local with a variety of sites to visit.  I first started off on Friday by meeting good birding friend Tommy DeBardeleben and we headed to Lake Pleasant which is located on the northwest edge of the Valley of the Sun.  This is a fairly large lake in Arizona and in fact parts of it lie in two different counties, Yavapai and Maricopa.  This spot is a great spot in the winter for some of the more uncommon winter migrants and some have been reported there in the last month.  And as with viewing birds on most lakes, most of the viewing is done by spotting scopes with very little chance of good photos.  We started out in Yavapai County where I was able to add 5 new species to my Yavapai County bird list.  From there we headed to the Maricopa County area where one of my target birds would hopefully be found after it had been report there sometime ago, the White-winged Scoter.  This is not a life bird for me as I had very distant views of some at Lake Havasu a couple of years ago and then the views were only through a scope.  Being able to see one a bit closer and in Maricopa County would be great.  Tommy was quick to find it in his scope about 2 coves away on the lake with a fairly large flock of Common Goldeneye.  So we took off on foot to see if we could get any closer, and we did, however as soon as our heads appeared over the ridge, the goldeneyes took flight and so did the scoter.  I just raised my camera and fired off about 10 shots of it flying away.  Not quite what I wanted, but at least good enough for identification purposes.

White-winged Scoter

White-winged Scoter

I added 2 more birds to my Maricopa County list as well.  

Saturday morning, I headed out to the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve and once again I had a target bird in mind that had been reported there about 2 weeks before, the Brown Thrasher.  This is not a new bird for me by any means as I remember seeing many of them when growing up in Nebraska.  And I had the fortune to see a couple of them in my visit to High Island, Texas in April of this year.  This species is a bird of the eastern United States and just about every year one or 2 of them are reported in Arizona, so it is relatively uncommon in the state. 

I headed to the area where this birds had been reported and sure enough it made an appearance.  This species is not usually the most gracious in allowing photos as they tender to skulk a bit and can be fairly secretive and wary and such was the case with this one.  It did however give me one chance at photos, so I took advantage of it and was surprised that the photos were actually in focus considering all the foliage in front of the bird.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

The Brown Thrasher is not only a new Maricopa County bird for me but a new Arizona state bird as well.  I also was able to find the Ross's Goose that has also been reported there and the juvenile Harris's Hawk that was being seen and showed very little fear of humans.  

Ross's Goose

Juvenile Harris's Hawk

Juvenile Harris's Hawk

Just before I left this place, I stopped at the north end of Pond 7 for one more scan with my scope and as I was scanning the sandpipers, one of them really stood out from the rest.  It was a leusistic Least Sandpiper and needless to say it was quite striking compared to the normal ones.  In all my viewing of the thousands of sandpipers, I have never seen a leusistic one.  So here are a couple of photos of this bird and also a photo of a normal one for comparison.

Leusistic Least Sandpiper

Leusistic Least Sandpiper

Normal Least Sandpiper

And last but not least, I spent Sunday checking out 3 spots in Chandler; Zanjero Park, Veteran's Oasis Park, and Higley Ponds.  Zanjero Park is well know for its Burrowing Owls that reside here.  This was a human effort by the Desert Rivers Audubon Society to introduce these owls into some man made burrows and they have definitely made this place their home.  I found 4 of them in the early morning light, with a couple of them watching me warily with their big golden eyes.  

 Burrowing Owl

  Burrowing Owl

 Burrowing Owl

Probably the oddest bird I saw while I was there was an adult Bald Eagle flying in for a brief moment.  Really was not quite the right place for one to be spending a lot of time.

Bald Eagle

Next stop was Veteran's Oasis Park, which turned out to be a bit unnerving as there were several hunters just over the fence on the east side hunting doves and would shoot at any dove that flew over.  Was not enjoying my day with shots being fired so close by.  About the only good thing that I discovered was a small covey of Gambel's Quail that were smart enough to stay inside the boundaries of the park and near the parking lot.  

 Gambel's Quail

Gambel's Quail

Birding around the Phoenix area offers a big choice and a big variety of birds at all times of the year, however winter, fall, and spring make it a much more enjoyable and accessible hobby.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Apache County in Late Fall

Thanksgiving weekend and where to go birding?  Well, that was decided some time ago as Tommy DeBardeleben and I invited Babs Buck and Susan Fishburn to join us for a trip to the White Mountains in Apache County.  This area is not your normal stereotypical Sonoran Desert of Arizona.  It is quite the opposite; high elevations with grasslands, lakes, and forests and a few peaks with snow and of course colder temperatures.  We definitely planned on the cold and prepared for it, and while it was cold in the mornings, it quickly warmed up when the sun arose and the whole weekend was relatively mild.

This was a true birding trip and not a big focus on photos as we knew that many of the birds we came to see were going to be on lakes and our best views were going to be with our spotting scopes.  Many of our key birds were quite a distance away.  Trying to remember the sequence of every stop gets confusing, so with this post I will post some of the OK photos along with some of the bad photos and some interesting photos as well.

Bald Eagles were quite abundant at several spots including this one flying over Lake Luna, which is a gorgeous lake and was not covered in ice, unlike several lakes that were higher in elevation.

Bald Eagle - Luna Lake

On the road to Luna Lake and just outside of Nutrioso, Tommy was quick to spot this stunning dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk perched on a log pile, but once we stopped to view it for a while it decided it had enough of us and took to the air.

 Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk

Dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk

Luna Lake

Great Blue Heron at Luna Lake

When we stopped at Winema Wildlife area and started walking on the west bank area, it was not very birdy; but things sure changed as we approached the southern end of the trail.  We stumbled upon a rather large flocks of Mountain Bluebirds with a few Western Bluebirds among them and couple of Cassin's Finches.  The Mountain Bluebirds had claimed a small pool of water in which to get a drink back in the grasses and they were flocking in to get a drink and an occasional American Robin joined them.  One of my photos captured a minimum of 38 Mountain Bluebirds and those flashes of sky blue on the golden dry grass background was pretty amazing.

 Mountain Bluebirds - at least 38 in this photo

More Mountain Bluebirds

Mountain Blubirds with an American Robin

It was also about this time that we heard a California Quail call, and since that was a new Arizona bird for all of us we got quite excited.  Tommy was quick to climb the canyon wall to see if he get a sighting on it while the rest of stayed behind and admired the bluebirds and others.  Unfortunately the quail failed to show itself.

Another stop was at Sipe Wildlife area, which is a favorite spot of mine.  This time we did not hike the complete trails and birded mostly near the Visitor's Center.  Had a couple Red-naped Sapsuckers in the area and I got off one lucky shot when one of them moved in between a large fork in the trunk of the tree and into a bit of sunshine.

Red-naped Sapsucker

Driving along Hwy 260 we spotted herd of Elk in a dead run, probably spooked by a hunter somewhere further back.  We quickly pulled off to view and watch the herd of 30+ running, as did a few other vehicles at the same time.


Sunday arrived with some fairly strong winds which did have a negative effect on our birding and we had to change our plans a bit.  A quick stop at South Fork, produced some great birds including this Stellar's Jay.

Steller's Jay

We also made a trip to the Grasslands Wildlife Area and found the wind had a big effect on the birds, but we did have a lone Mountain Bluebird that struggled to keep its balance on a wire in the winds that were buffeting it.

Mountain Bluebird

We actually stopped here on our first day as well and we actually got out and started walking the grasslands in search of Horned Larks and any longspurs, but came up empty.  But you have to admire this wide open area and the beauty of it.


We had discovered that most of the high elevation lakes already were covered in places with ice and one of the strangest sights was an adult Bald Eagle standing on the ice on Big Lake.  Wish it could have been a bit closer for a better photo, but still an interesting sight.  

Crescent Lake with ice

We returned on Sunday with a couple stops along the way in Gila County and came home with more ideas for future trips.