Friday, February 27, 2015
On Sunday, February 22, 2015, Muriel Neddermeyer and I headed down to southeastern Arizona to search for a few rarities and along the way, we picked up Chris Rohrer in Tucson and began our quest. Muriel had checked the forecast and found that the weather was not going to be the best for birding with some strong and gusty winds. We decided to go for it anyway as staying at home would produce 'nothing'! Our first stop was Huachuca Canyon to try for the Sinaloa Wren that has been there for some time. We had mixed success with this bird. Chris saw it briefly and called us to his location where we did not see it again. A short time later, we heard it give its infamous ratchet call, but once again it did not present itself. We finally left there feeling a bit unfulfilled; but there will be another time.
We then headed west towards the grasslands of Sonoita and Elgin where a Rough-legged Hawk had been reported recently. This area is where the strong gusty winds made for some difficult birding. With no wind breaks in sight, even the birds were having a difficult time. The raptors were almost non-existent, except for a couple far off in the distance. But the smaller grassland birds helped to make up for the miss on the RLHA. Vesper Sparrows were fairly common, but did not flush from the grasses too often, except for one that landed on a fence near a vineyard and was desperately hanging on to avoid getting blown off the wire.
We also observed several flocks of Chestnut-collared Longspurs. These birds will burst out of some tall dried grass with no warning and circle around and eventually all land back in another spot of tall dry grass. Once they are in the grass, they are almost impossible to find. But I somehow had a bit of fortune on this day as one of them landed on a post within camera range. This a male just starting to molt into its summer plumage.
Also in the grasslands, we found a mangy looking Coyote and a very impressive herd of Pronghorn.
From here we moved on to our last target bird the Yellow-throated Warbler that has spent the winter on the main street common of the small town of Patagonia. We quickly spied a male Hepatic Tanager in a pine tree. Even this species is a bit on the uncommon side at this time of the year. Not too long after that we all caught sight of a bird or two that flew in and Chris and Muriel were quick to see that a female Hepatic Tanager had also arrived in the tree. Interestingly, I had noticed a much smaller bird flit in, but was having trouble re-finding it. But with a little perseverance, I finally located it again and there was our target bird the Yellow-throated Warbler. We then followed this bird around the tree as it foraged higher up in the limbs of the pine. At times it seemed to disappear and then one of us would relocate it again. We were even able to assist a couple of other people that arrived locate it as well. This bird is fairly rare for Arizona as it is a bird that breeds in the eastern part of the United States. Success! Another new life bird! Adding new life birds in Arizona is getting more difficult for me as most of the common birds have been documented. I have to rely on some of the rarities these days to add new species.
And just for good measure, here are the male and female Hepatic Tanagers.
Hepatic Tanager - male
Hepatic Tanager - female
Finally we departed back for Tucson to drop off Chris and Muriel and I headed back to the Phoenix area. But we did make one short stop at Amado Pond to check up on the Pacific Loon that has spent most of the winter in this location. Surprisingly small pond for this bird, but it appears healthy suggesting there are plenty of fish in the pond for feeding.
The wind definitely played a part in some of our success, but in some cases, some of the birds hunkered down a bit more and it added to some of our success. Cannot complain about a little wind compared to some ugly weather in other parts of the US right now.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
An 'almost' perfectly timed event took place in February for birders in the greater Phoenix area, including all the suburbs. The date was off by one week. Valentine's Day was on Saturday February 14th, and one week later on February 21st, AZFO held a Rosy-faced 'Love'bird Census. This bird is well established in and around Phoenix and its many suburbs and is recognized and is a countable bird by ABA standards in Arizona for this reason. These birds were first noted in the wild in the late 1980's in the Mesa/Apache Junction area and since then have made themselves at home in this vast suburban area. The object for the count is to get an update on the status and distribution of them since they were thoroughly studied and documented which led to the acceptance by ABA as a countable species.
I volunteered to try and take part in this count and offered to cover the same area that I covered in the January Waterbird Count. And yes, I found lovebirds. They are not that easy to count as many are constantly on the move and one has to drive slowly through many residential neighborhoods with the windows down listing for their screech like calls. They are very loud and distinct and easy to recognize. I also studied eBird reports for this species for my area and found that many reports came from the Mesa 'Electric Park' vicinity. This is long narrow strip of land (about 25 yards wide and 2 miles long) and directly under some huge power lines, that has been set aside for the residents. With that in mind, I found a place to park then set out on foot to start walking this area. Most of the time I heard them long before I saw them and most of the time they made my life easy for counting as they were perching on power lines. When they are in trees with green leaves, they can be a bit more difficult to count. Here are a few of my photos of this 'lovely' small species of parrot that is native to Africa, but has found a home in Arizona.
This one is just starting to molt into adult plumage, notice red spots on head.
Juvenile, notice the brown on the beak.
This entire Electric Park is actually quite a cool place to view many of the desert birds. The birds are used to people and with its narrow design, they can escape but not necessarily go very far. Here are photos of some of the other birds that I was able to photograph.
Anna's Hummingbird Male
Anna's Hummingbird male
Curve-billed Thrasher (Western)
Kind of saving the most unusual bird for last. Once again, it belongs to the parrot family and it is a most likely escapee from someone's home, a Budgerigar, or 'Budgie' for short. Most often seen in pet stores identified as a 'parakeet' which is really a very broad name as there are many wild and very different parakeets in the wild throughout the world. It is not unusual for some of these birds to escape and maybe some are even turned loose by owners. Probably a bit of both contributed to the Rosy-faced Lovebird story back in the 80's. Not sure why these have not faired as well in the wild, but it might have to do with being easier for birds of prey to single out the most unusual marked or colored birds, hence they are a target. I did have a Peregrine Falcon in this location, so they are probably kept in check and not being able to multiply as easily and the competition for food and nesting sites are also quite high.
A very productive day, as I was able to turn in a final count of 68 lovebirds and I am sure there were probably many more as I could not physically drive up and down every street. But I think they are here to stay and counting lovebirds a week after the 'love' holiday was a lovely way to spend a day!
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
On February 7th, I had the good fortune to spend a day birding with Caleb Strand. This young man is an extraordinary birder for his age and birding with him is really something special. He has keen ears and eyes and has many chip notes memorized. Only makes me regret that I did not pursue this hobby much younger in life when I had the chance. We met in central Phoenix and we had left the day open without a concrete destination in mind. Two days before, he went birding with good friend and excellent birder, Tommy DeBardeleben, and picked up two new life birds. So the pressure was on to see if I could help him add another bird or two for the week. I knew that I could find at least one new bird, that was pretty easy, but we headed east instead to the Salt River area, and specifically Coon Bluff. Tommy and Caleb had dipped on this bird, (although, not for the lack of trying), on Thursday. Might have been the time of the day though, as they searched in mid afternoon when the birds are less active. I had found this bird myself a week before, but in the morning hours.
We arrived around sunrise and decided to check out the river area first to allow the sparrows in the mesquite Bosque to warm up and wake up. In the process we got to see a lot of cool but common birds such as the Vermilion Flycatcher, Gila Woodpecker, and Phainopepla. Coon Bluff is the Phainopepla capital of Maricopa County. This is probably the best spot in Maricopa County to find this bird. Sometimes they even photobomb other photos such as one of the Gila Woodpecker shots.
Gila Woopecker - Photobombed by a Phainopepla
Phainopepla - Male
Finally after the sun had risen and the temps started warming up, we headed to the land of the mesquites to look for the target bird, the Harris's Sparrow. We knew it was hanging out with a small flock of White-crowned Sparrows, so we concentrated on finding them first. While doing so, a few flocks of Cedar Waxwings flew in and this is just one cool and sleek looking bird and they just beg for a camera to be pointed at them.
We spent a lot of time looking for the sparrow and sifted through about 3 small flocks of them, even checked the other side of the road to see if it moved over there, but alas, we were not having much luck. Finally went back to the original area and we split up to cover more ground and I heard Caleb shout that he had it. I hastily joined him and we followed it as it kept moving further away from us and did not want to pose for photos. Both of us finally got photos, and Caleb was just fascinated to watch this handsome looking sparrow. SUCCESS! Caleb had found his first new life bird of the day.
We then headed back west and our next stop was at the Arizona State University campus in Tempe to try and locate a Chestnut-sided Warbler that someone had a discovered in a lone cottonwood tree a few days prior. It is not a new bird for either of us, but one that is not that common in Arizona, so they are always a pleasure to see. Within 2 minutes, Caleb had already found it in the cottonwood. Typical of most warblers, they do not sit still and pose for photos, so any photo is better than none and I never expect too much. However, I think I lucked out on one of my shots on this day and caught this cutie with part of its chestnut colored side showing.
Our next target was the Eurasian Wigeon located at Dos Lagos Park in Glendale. This is the bird that I figured should be pretty easy to find for Caleb and it was. This bird has been reported here for the last couple of years and can be found in the flock of American Wigeons that spend their winters in Arizona. Did not take long to find the wigeons and all the other waterbirds in the pond because on the opposite side, some of the local people were feeding the ducks. I quickly found the Eurasian in the water and pointed it out to Caleb. so we headed around to the opposite side of the pond and we both got photos. Caleb just informed me today that this was his 300th bird species that he has photographed.
Decided to take a photo of the feet of an American Coot while they were there since they were fairly tame and used to humans. These feet are just fascinating to look at.
Our last stop was the Rio Salado, just south of downtown Phoenix right off Central Avenue. No, we did not discover anything rare at this location, but I did manage a photo of an Orange-crowned Warbler.
As we headed back to the car, Caleb followed the river bed area while I went up on the path on the bank above the river. It was there that I met up with a pair of Greater Roadrunners that were in courtship display. Most people are surprised to find out that these birds are members of the cuckoo family. They can be quite entertaining to watch and these 2 did not disappoint.
Pair of Greater Roadrunners - Running, imagine that!
Caleb - Photobombed by Roadrunner (the blur in the front)
Greater Roadrunner - Caleb, blurred in the background
We covered a lot of miles that day, but in the end it was all worth it as we had a great time and found and observed some incredible birds. Caleb is a phenomenal birder and is a joy to have around on birding field trips. Thank you Caleb for a great day!
Friday, February 6, 2015
On the last day of January I had planned on taking part in a birding field trip that was being led by an extraordinary young man to some spots in the west valley in and around Buckeye and Arlington. I have been out west twice already in January, but knowing Caleb Strand and birding with him before, I knew how good he was and I wanted to join him and support him. Friday the rains hit Arizona and the decision was made to postpone that birding outing because of the many roads that were not paved and would be muddy. I had already made plans to ride with 3 other familiar and great birders; Susan Fishburn, Babs Buck, and Barb Meding. Once the four of us heard of the cancelation, we got together and decided we would go out anyway and at least try to do some birding from the paved roads and I contacted Caleb to see if he would like to join us. He was happy to join us and with the threat of possible rain showers on Saturday, the 5 of us headed out to see what we could find.
With dark clouds and an overcast sky, we started out at the infamous Thrasher Spot. First thrasher we heard and saw was Bendire's Thrasher, but our focus was the more difficult species, the Le Conte's Thrasher. After a bit of walking around on the northeast side, we heard a Le Conte's singing in the distance. Eventually we found it on top of a bush singing away. While my photos on this day did not compare to the one a couple of weeks earlier, it is still a bird I will photograph anytime I can find it. We also had sparrows in the shrubs, but they were very reluctant to show themselves very well. Of course the most common sparrow was the White-crowned Sparrow, but we also had Sagebrush Sparrows and Bell's Sparrows. At least on this trip, I was able to get a photo of a Bell's Sparrow, which I missed last fall when I got my first view of them.
Le Conte's Thrasher
The muddy roads definitely kept us away from many places that we have like to drive to so we were definitely put at a disadvantage. A trip down Arlington School Road presented us with a few Vesper Sparrows and one that really fits the description of 'LBJ', Little Brown Job. Many new birders are less intrigued with sparrows due to the difficulties of identifying some of them. Yes, it takes a lot of exposure to them to start learning how to ID them, but they are definitely worth learning and getting to know.
Also along the paved roads we did spy a few raptors, including a very wet Osprey and a handsome Peregrine Falcon.
The bird that presented us the best photo op was a Burrowing Owl. We were all looking on the left side of the car for this bird when I turned around and there it was by the car on the right side. The windows went down and the cameras started clicking.
The most exciting bird of the day, at least for me, was a bird that Caleb had discovered about a week before in his neighborhood. The Greater Pewee is a summer resident in Arizona, so just being in Arizona this time of the year is rare. When it is a resident, it is found in higher elevations, so this lower elevation added a bit more intrigue to the find. I have seen this bird elsewhere in Arizona several times, but had never seen it in Maricopa County and figured that I would have to find it on Mt Ord sometime in the summer. Caleb's find was definitely a great find and nice to add to my Maricopa list.
This may not be the most colorful blog post, but nonetheless, there are some great birds that we got to observe on a dark and dreary day in Arizona. Thanks to Caleb for showing us around and thanks to Susan, Babs, and Barb for joining forces and making this a great day of birding.