Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Black Canyon City, Arizona

Probably not considered much of a birding spot in the past and just a community to pass through on I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff (except for the pies!), but that is probably going to change in the near future due to an AZFO Field Expedition to the riparian area in this area, this past weekend.  I had the pleasure of taking part of this field expedition which was to focus on the reports of a breeding population of Broad-billed Hummingbirds.  There have been reports of a fairly stable population of these birds at this location for 5 years or longer.  The focus of the expedition was to try and document if this is a breeding population with substantial numbers.  Some of the residents have had this bird come to their feeders year-round and if this is a true breeding population then, this will be the northern most known breeding range for this species.

So early on Saturday morning, I met up with Nick Vendehei in Mesa, then we travelled to northern Phoenix where we picked up Jason Morgan and continued on our way to Black Canyon City where we met the rest of the team of about 12 individuals.  One of the local residents then led us to the riparian area on the west side of town and showed us where the access point was located.  It did not take long for us to be amazed at this riparian area of cottonwoods and willows with the Agua Fria River with running water and pools of water.  We divided up into teams, with one team heading north and our team heading south.  Since there really are no well marked trails, much of our progress was a bit of bushwhacking through the brush and trees.  Our finally tally came up to about 50 species of birds in just the southern section only, including Broad-billed Hummingbirds.  We observed and recorded males in the riparian area, but no females, but we also surmised that it is possible that females might be nesting at this time of year.

 Broad-billed Hummingbird - Male

Broad-billed Hummingbird - Male
 
More photos of these stunning hummers will follow later in the post.  We also had Anna's Hummingbirds and discovered a nest with a single pinkish colored egg.  They usually lay two, so I am sure she is now incubating her eggs in her nest.  One of the photos has one of our party off to the left of the photo which helps to put the size of the nest into perspective.
 
Anna's Hummingbird Nest

Anna's Hummingbird Nest - Close up
 
We also had other birds that were also fun to see and observe such as a Phainopepla that had his territory staked out.  But if he thought he was going to blend in with the catkins on the tree, he was obviously very mistaken. 
 
 Phainopepla - Male

Phainopepla - Male
 
This area was flourishing with Northern Cardinals, and at least one of them gave me a short photo opportunity.  We had this birding singing constantly from the beginning to the end of the hike.
 
Northern Cardinal - Male
 
A Red-tailed Hawk also was found along the dry west side desert slopes,  peering down into the lush river valley. 
 
Red-tailed Hawk
 
After both groups met up, we then ventured to the back yard of one of the residents where he has a few bird feeders set up.  And boy did he have the hummers visiting along with a few others as well.  Four species of hummingbirds; Anna's, Black-chinned, Costa's, and our target species the Broad-billed Hummingbird.  With 12 people in the back yard, the birds were a bit more cautious so I had to settle on some photos of them visiting the feeders.  Always like to get photos in a more natural setting, but sometimes this will do.  Several Broad-billed males were seen and at least twice we also had females show up at the feeders which makes for a bit better of a confirmation that this species is breeding in this area.  Since we did not find any active nests, we don't have proof positive, but you can bet that the general consensus is they are breeders in this area. 
 
 Broad-billed Hummingbird - Female on the right
Black-chinned Hummingbird - Female blurred on the left

Broad-billed Hummingbird - Female, note red underside of bill

 Broad-billed Hummingbird - Male

 Broad-billed Hummingbird - Male, What a stunning bird!!!

Broad-billed Hummingbird - Male
 
 Black-chinned Hummingbird - Female

Black-chinned Hummingbird - Female
 
A male Hooded Oriole also came in to probably get a sip of sugar water, but I think it might have been a bit intimidated by the number of people as it did not stay long after it noticed the crowds near the feeders.
 
 Hooded Oriole - Male

Hooded Oriole - Male
 
One last place we visited before we headed back to the city was some high desert terrain.  Compared to the huge numbers of birds we had in the lush riparian area, this was sparse as far as numbers of birds.  But we did discover a nest of a Curve-billed Thrasher which contained 3 lovely blue speckled eggs.  We snapped a couple of photos and then got out of the area to leave it alone.
 
Curve-billed Thrasher Nest
 
Definitely a spot that needs more exploration and several of us already know we will be returning to check it out.  Not the easiest place to find access to, but now that I know, I will return sometime and hope to show a few others how to gain access to the lush riparian riverbed. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Golden Nugget in Maricopa County

Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my birding expeditions that I fail to stay home and take care of yard and household chores, so last weekend, my intent was to stay home and get something done instead of birding.  Those plans went by the wayside for me on Saturday.
 
A rare bird for Arizona, let alone Maricopa County, was discovered by Louis Hoeniger in the west valley; an American Golden-Plover.  This bird has one of the longest migratory flights of all birds.  Its breeding grounds is the Arctic tundra in Canada and Alaska in the summer of the Northern Hemisphere.  They spend their winters in Patagonia, a distance of about 25,000 miles.  This is incredible when a person considers the fact that they fly this distance twice a year!!!  Louis found this bird at a little known pond of water at the end of a dead end street that is not well marked.  Not knowing how long this bird might stay was impetus enough to get out there to try and locate it before it decided to move on. 
 
I arrived before the sun came up and before anyone else arrived and I started my search.  It was not long before 3 more people showed up looking for it as well.  It took us a while to locate it and all of a sudden it appeared right where we were looking for it.  But alas, I discovered that I had a 'senior' moment as I got ready to take photos and my camera was indicating there was no memory card in the camera!  So I enjoyed watching the this marvelous bird while other were getting killer shots.  I finally left and drove to the nearest Sam's Club and purchased a memory card and headed back.  Of course when I arrived for the second time, it was a new cast of birders, including birding pal, Laurence Butler and he was on his way out, but gave me the scoop on where he last saw it.  So I headed to the extreme eastern edge of the pond but was not having much luck in relocating it, and it was not long before I was joined by Caleb Strand and his mother Debbie.  We then joined forces looking for this bird.  We did discover another smaller pond of water at the far east end inside a cattle corral and it did contain a lot of shore birds including a cousin of the American Golden-Plover, the gregarious Killdeer that is very common.  But what was cool about that, was 4 baby Killdeer in the mud flats foraging with the adults.  While this is not the best photo due to distance, it is still kind of cool to see how even the chicks blend in.
 
 Killdeer and 4 chicks
 
After searching for quite some time, I decided that my own stupidity was going to leave me photo-less on this cool bird and I started heading back to the parking area.  Leaving Caleb and Debbie on the far eastern edge, I noticed another couple had arrived and they were on the far western edge of the pond.  All the while I was scanning the pond to no avail, until I was about halfway, and I glanced across the pond and there it was!!!!  Eureka, I had re-found it and I started waving my arms and both parties, trying to get their attention that it was here after all.  While waiting for them to show up, I was trying to keep an eye on the bird and also get photos at the same time.  Both parties managed to get close enough to see it briefly and then it took flight and flew to the northeast in a direct straight away pattern that made all of us wonder if it had decided to start heading further north on its way to the tundra regions.  I finally did manage to get a couple of photos of this 'Golden Nugget' after all.  But a lesson was well learned from this because the views I had earlier were much closer and better than the second viewing.
 
American Golden-Plover
 

American Golden-Plover on right, Black-necked Stilt on left for comparison
 

  American Golden-Plover
 
Very thankful for Louis Hoeniger for finding this marvel and reporting it.
  

Sunday, April 5, 2015

AAAA+ - An Amazing Arizona Adventure (Part 2)

After dropping Josh off at his hotel and family in Green Valley on Tuesday night, Tommy and I headed back to Madera Canyon to set up camp at Bog Springs Campground.  While Tommy and I were discussing the best place to try and locate the Elegant Trogon search for the next day, Josh was busy in the motel checking out the latest reports of this bird on eBird.  Josh texted us stating that two days prior there was a report of 2 male Elegant Trogons in Madera Canyon about ¼ a mile from the parking lot and on the Super Trail.  So Tommy and I decided to try scouting this trail before darkness set in and away we went.  Discovered it was a great trail and prime habitat for the Trogon, but we did not detect one in the twilight, however we did hear one calling a bit up on the ridge from the actual trail.  So plans were made to pick up Josh early in the morning and hike the Super Trail and hope for the best.
 
With darkness setting in on Madera Canyon, Tommy and I decided to see if we could hear any owls when total darkness descended on the canyon.  We were hanging out in the Amphitheater parking area listening to the Wild Turkeys settle in for the night when suddenly Tommy heard a Whiskered Screech-Owl calling.  We took off on foot towards the hooting and within 5 minutes, Tommy had located one of them with his flashlight, just waking up from a day of slumber. This is a bird that I have heard before and already added it to my life list as a 'heard only' species.  So this was a real treat for me to actually see one for the first time. I was surprised at how small they are at only 7¼ inches, which is about a inch smaller than the Eastern and Western Screech-Owls.  The range of this species is predominately in Mexico, but it does reach into southeastern Arizona and possibly a very tiny area of New Mexico.  Now my camera, does not do well in low light situations, so I was not expecting much in the way of photos and I am not fond of using my flash on nocturnal birds.  So I bumped my ISO up to 3200 and hoped for the best with light from Tommy's flashlight.  He would shine it on the owl briefly for a couple of photos, then point it away to avoid continual light in its eyes.  All my photos were taken without a flash and I was quite pleased with how some of them turned out considering this is a nocturnal bird that is going to be hard to photograph.  While we were watching the first owl, we heard a noise behind us and turned around to find a second one had landed in a tree behind us and had a lizard in its grasp and its wings spread out.  We later found another one, but it may have been one of the first 2; we are not certain on that.
 
 Whiskered Screech-Owl
 
 Whiskered Screech-Owl
 
 Whiskered Screech-Owl - Note lizard foot in bottom of photo
 
 Whiskered Screech-Owl
 
Whiskered Screech-Owl
 
We also heard and got some brief views of Elf Owls, but were not able to get photos.  What an incredible time birding at night. 
 
The next morning we picked up Josh and we were lucky to have his son Evan join us for the morning of birding.  This youngster has quite the eye and loves to add birds to his life list as well.  We headed straight to the Super Trail at the top parking lot in Madera Canyon.  We had not traveled far on the trail when Josh quickly pointed out an unusual mammal coming down the trail towards us.  It just happened to be a Hooded Skunk.  I have seen many skunks in my life, but not this species and it was quite a treat.  When it sensed our presence, it quickly left the trail and went down to the stream bed leaving us to contend with photos from above. 
 
 Hooded Skunk
 
Hooded Skunk
 
As we headed up the trail, we finally heard an Elegant Trogon and we pursued the sound and were treated to some brief views of it.  I tried to keep my eyes focused on where it landed as it moved up the slope so that Josh and Evan could get some good looks of it and some photos.  This was the number 1 target bird for Josh and we were happy that we found one for him on this trip.  Although it was not the most cooperative for photos, it still is a fantastic bird to find in the United States. (The photo that I am including in this post, is one that I captured in 2013.  Wanted to include a photo of this really awesome bird so others understand why this is so special for Josh, Evan and many others.)
 
Elegant Trogon (photo from 2013)
 
After another search that was deemed successful, we headed back down the trail and just before we reached the trailhead, a small flock of Bridled Titmouse made an appearance and it has to be one of the cutest little birds around. 
 
 Bridled Titmouse
 
Bridled Titmouse
 
We stopped for a short time near the Santa Rita Lodge and found this Band-tailed Pigeon.
 
Band-tailed Pigeon
 
We then returned Josh and Evan back to the motel in Green Valley so they could check out with their family.  But they took out a little time to show Tommy and me a pair of Great-horned Owls that Evan had discovered the day before hanging around the motel.  We took an elevator to the 3rd floor and once the elevator door opened, there was one on them viewable on the roof just outside the window.  Another one was trying to remain unseen in one of the palm trees outside. 
 
 Great-horned Owl
 
 Great-horned Owl - Photo taken through window of hotel
 
 Great-horned Owl - Photo taken through window of hotel
 
 Great-horned Owl
 
Great-horned Owl
 
What an incredible two days of birding!  Anytime someone gets the privilege of seeing an Elegant Trogon it is a great day of birding.  Really enjoyed my time birding with Tommy and also meeting Josh and Evan and being able to find some cool birds.  A very enjoyable two days.  (Now to start planning on owling in Minnesota in the winter in the future!!!!) 
 
 
 
 
 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

AAAA+ - An Amazing Arizona Adventure

This past week, I had the pleasure of birding once again with Tommy DeBardeleben and joining forces with a birder from the great state of Minnesota, Josh Wallestad.  Josh was visiting Arizona and wanted to add a few new birds to his life list and Tommy offered to show him around for a couple of days and invited me to join them.  So a two day bird trip to southeastern AZ was planned in the middle of the week.  Josh's main two target birds were the Painted Redstart and the Elegant Trogon.  Tommy and I knew the Painted Redstart would be easy, but the Elegant Trogon has the potential of being a hit or miss. And of course there were several other birds that could be added to his list as well. 
 
On Tuesday, Tommy and I picked up Josh on the way to Tucson and our first destination was Mt Lemmon just on the east and north side of Tucson. We made our way to Rose Canyon Lake and it did not take long to start piling up on the life birds for Josh.  Painted Redstarts were everywhere and success was quickly in the books and crossing off the first of his two target birds.
 
 Painted Redstart
 
Painted Redstart
 
Buff-breasted Flycatcher and Olive Warbler were a couple more that we added for assurance.
 
 Buff-breasted Flycatcher
 
 Olive Warbler - Female
 
Olive Warbler - Male
 
After finding about 8 new life birds on Mt Lemmon for Josh, we then ventured further south to Florida Canyon which is not far from Madera Canyon.  This location has been a spot for Elegant Trogons this past winter, so this was going to be our first try for this bird.  Alas, it was not meant to be, as we did not have any luck in locating that bird at this location.  However, we did have some rather cool birds to add to our list.
 
Broad-billed Hummingbirds were plentiful at many stops in the lower elevations and in Florida Canyon we had some stunning males, and also an attentive female tending to her nest.
 
 Broad-billed Hummingbird - Male
 
 Broad-billed Hummingbird - Female on nest
 
  Broad-billed Hummingbird - Female on nest
 
 Broad-billed Hummingbird - Female on nest
 
Another stunning bird was a male Rufous Hummingbird.
 
 Rufous Hummingbird on left - (photobombed by a Broad-billed Hummingbird on the right).
 
 Rufous Hummingbird - Male
 
Rufous Hummingbird - Male
 
A Hooded Oriole was another nice addition.
 
Hooded Oriole
 
But the bird that stole the show in Florida Canyon were a couple of Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets.  At only 4½ inches in length, this is the smallest flycatcher in the United States.  It is so small that it can go undetected very easily if it does not move.  I had only seen this bird once before on a trip to Graham County in July of 2014 with Tommy.  So this sighting and viewing was really awesome as they really stole the show and allowed a lot of photos. 
 
 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
 
 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
 
 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
 
 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
 
 Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
 
  Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet
 
After Florida Canyon, we made a brief stop at the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon before taking Josh to meet his family in Green Valley.   Tommy and I had plans to camp out in Madera Canyon and then meet up with Josh again the next morning.  Once darkness fell, our evening turned into some more great birding.  More to come in the second part of this 2 day adventure.