Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Friday, May 29, 2015

Arizona: The Chase is On

The Friday after my return from a pelagic trip to San Diego, a very rare bird was reported in Ramsey Canyon in Arizona.  A Tufted Flycatcher is an ABA (American Birding Association) code 5 bird which is one of the rarest birds to find in the United States and one was spotted in Ramsey Canyon not too far from Sierra Vista, AZ.  I have heard various comments from several birders that this sighting is only the 7th record of this bird in the United States.  I do recall one being reported at Boyce Thompson Arboretum about 3 years ago, but it was a one day wonder and was seen by very few birders.
Since the report came in on Friday, through a series of several text messages, 4 of us planned a crazy trip to head to Ramsey Canyon on Saturday to try our luck at locating this bird as it would be lifer for all 4 of us. I met up with Magill Weber and Tommy DeBardeleben very early on Saturday morning and we headed to Tucson and met up with Chris Rohrer to chase this bird.  Since we arrived in the area almost an hour earlier than Ramsey Canyon's Visitor Center opened, we opted to drive to the campground at the end of Carr Canyon and then walk down the back way. I have never been to either one of these places before but after this trip, I know I want to check them out sometime in the future.  This is absolutely stunning scenery and the birds were awesome and numerous.  However our objective was the Tufted Flycatcher so we focused on getting to the spot where it had been seen the day before.  An awesome 3 mile hike later and we came upon the spot and it was not hard to find as you can see by the following photos that others arrived before we did.  Guess it was a popular spot in this very remote area that day!  Gives you an idea how special this bird is.
The crowd that had already gathered.

Another awesome and respected birder, Andrew Core, was there and he reported that they had seen it about 45 minutes prior to our arrival.  About 15 minutes after our arrival, Tommy was quick to exclaim that he just heard it and within a few seconds, this magnificent little bird flew in and gave almost all of us brief views of it.  Unfortunately, it did not stay long and it disappeared again.  But birders are a crazy lot, most of them stayed around hoping for another appearance and about an hour and 5 minutes later it reappeared and for those that hung around, this visit was much better and I was able to get better photos this time and those that missed it the first time got it on this visit.
Tufted Flycatcher

To this day the bird is still being seen and there is talk from several that claim to have seen a nest so if that is the case, this would most likely be a US breeding record.  A very reliable and respected birder in our group insisted there are 2 of them as he heard two of them calling from different spots in the canyon.  This is a species whose normal northernmost range is southern Sonora, Mexico where is breeds in highland forests.  This is an awesome bird and one that I derived a great pleasure in seeing in the United States.
Another rare bird is nesting lower in Ramsey Canyon and many birders are 'flocking' there to add it to their life lists.  And I was the only one of the 4 that had not seen this second bird before.  Tommy, being the gentleman that he is, was so kind to offer to hike back up the way we came and drive the car to the visitor center at the Ramsey Canyon entrance while Magill, Chris, and I all headed on the down the trail towards the nesting site of this second species: the Flame-colored Tanager.  This bird is only an ABA code 3 bird, but it is one that is absolutely stunning to look at.   
The 3 of us started down the trail towards the visitor center and quickly discovered that this trail was also very steep and it would have a been a tough climb accessing the TUFL spot from this direction.  Even the trek down was taxing on the legs.  The Flame-colored Tanager has a confirmed nest and the staff from Ramsey Canyon has very wisely fenced off the area around the nest to give the birds and their nesting attempt some space.  Nest is very well concealed and for the longest time the only view of this bird was that of the tail of the female on the nest.  Not a view that I wanted to claim as a life bird.  But with patience and perseverance, the male finally paid a visit to the area and we quickly got what photos we could.  I later saw the female in a distance tree and got better looks at her as well.
Flame-colored Tanager

Getting life birds in Arizona is becoming more of a challenge for me, so getting 2 in one day was pretty amazing.  At the end of the day we took a group photo and dubbed ourselves the 'Tufted Angels'.  Birding with this group of people turns this hobby and passion into a lot of fun and is something that I cherish and look forward to as long as I can continue to keep up with them. Very happy that they agree to allow me to join in on their adventures! 
'Tufted Angels'
Here a few other photos from the day of birding and some great fun with some great birding friends. 
Arizona Sister Butterfly

Unidentified Butterfly

Unidentified Moth

Painted Redstart

Unidentified Butterfly - a Skipper of some sort

 Yarrow's Spiny Lizard
And Chris, we have a very big adventure coming up this summer!  Looking forward to adding dozens of new life birds to my list.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

California: Coast to Mountains

Our 3rd day in California was the day to return to Arizona.  Tommy and I had already decided we wanted to check out Laguna Resort in the mountains about an hour out of San Diego, but we also wanted to get some breakfast to start off the day.  We had talked briefly a few times about maybe searching for the Red-crowned Parrot that now has large enough numbers and are breeding freely in southern California.  They can be found in the San Diego and Los Angeles areas, but we really had not gotten too serious about locating them to add them to our life list.  Even though this species is now accepted as an ABA reportable bird, somehow if feels weird adding a life bird to one's list that is not a native to the United States.  But then, when one thinks about it a little more, then I suppose that if we are going to  follow that standard, we probably should not count House Sparrows, European Starlings, Eurasian-collared Doves, and a whole slew of game birds that have all been introduced. 
But fate stepped in when we pulled into the parking lot at Denny's for breakfast and we heard the unmistakable calls of parrots in the air.  It did not take long to see them flying overhead in small flocks and landing a block or two away.  Too easy!  The chase was on and we finally located and saw over 20 parrots. 
 Red-crowned Parrot
Red-crowned Parrot - juvenile

We just added a new life bird without much difficulty and after a hearty breakfast, we then headed east with Laguna Resort as our next target location.  This place is in the mountains east of San Diego and although we stopped here on our way in on Friday, it was pouring rain so this visit would be much better weather wise.  We did have a target here, so there was a reason to check it out.  We had did a little researching on eBird and found that this location was one of the most southerly locations with resident Purple Finches.  Believe it or not, this would be a life bird for both of us.  The place was full of higher elevation birds and many were common to Arizona, but we focused on locating Purple Finches.  In the process we did locate a Swainson's Thrush and a couple of Band-tailed Pigeons.

 Band-tailed Pigeon
Swainson's Thrush

And in the same vicinity we found our target bird the Purple Finch.  There were several of them, but photographing them was a bit of a challenge as they did not like to expose themselves to sunlight.  They can be identified from House Finches due to the reddish/raspberry color in the brown feathers on their wings.  They kind of look like they have been dipped in raspberry sauce.

 Purple Finch
Purple Finch

So for the final day, I tallied 2 more life birds for a total of 6 during our 3 day epic trip.  Once we left Laguna Resort and headed east, I was rather interested in stopping at a another location, Kitchen Creek Road which was on the east side of Laguna Resort but at a much lower altitude.  Tommy had gotten photos of a Wrentit in this area a year before and although I had gotten very brief glimpses of this cool little bird in September 2013, I had not gotten good looks of them and no photos.  Well this time was a much better experience because we had 4 of them show themselves for photos.


And for a final and last stop we visited Cibbets Flat Campground to check it out before we took the long trip home. 

 Steller's Jay
 California Scrub-Jay

It was an awesome 3 days of birding and exploring some new birding spots and was well worth the trip by adding 6 new life birds to my list.  And I believe Tommy added 14 new birds to his life list as well.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Pelagic Pinnacle

Saturday, May 16th!  The day had arrived for our pelagic trip, Tommy's first and my second with hopes of a better outcome than my first.  This time we went prepared and with a very positive attitude, which has a lot to do with a successful trip.  We applied a medical patch the night before which helps prevent seasickness and also took some ginger tablets to help settle the stomach.  The next morning waking up was a bit weird as we both felt a little dizzy, but contributed that to the medical patch.  We also took a chewable tablet and ate a mild breakfast and headed across the street to sign in and meet up with the fellow passengers.  I forgot about the dizziness and it must have went away, because it never crossed my mind the rest of the day and I did NOT get sick on this trip.  
Check-in was from 5:00 to 6:00 am with a departure time of 6:30 and we were going to be travelling on the great vessel the Grande, one of the largest in the fleet.

As we made our way out into the channel and out towards the open water a look back shows where our ship was moored.  And we sailed past some of the huge Naval ships and a submarine all at anchor.  Fascinating vessels to see up close.

Almost immediately part of the crew started chumming by using bags of popcorn, a few kernels at a time.  This was to attract the many gulls, mostly Western Gulls, and they in turn would attract other birds closer to our boat. 
Our trip was to be a full 12 hours on the Pacific with visits to 9 Mile Bank and as far out as 30 Mile Bank.  We even found buoys out in the main channel and many of them had become longing spots for California Sea Lions.  We also had Flying Fish, some whales and a couple of visits from schools of Common Dolphins.

But since birds were the main focus of this trip, we will get started posting some of the bird photos.  I will say that some of these sea birds are on the small side and many do not approach the boat or scurry off when the boat approached and trying to take photos with a camera with a zoom lens is a bit of a challenge as it is hard to get it to zero in on the bird only.  Keep in mind that while the birds are zigzagging every which way, the boat is also constantly moving up and down and sometimes rolling sideways.  Therefore many of my photos of these smaller birds leave a lot to be desired, but most are at least good enough for a proper ID.
Black Storm-Petrel

Black Storm-Petrel
 Sooty Shearwater

 Pink-footed Shearwater

Pink-footed Shearwater

Pink-footed Shearwater (middle front) & 3 Sooty Shearwater
A flock of Shearwaters and a Western Gull

On Friday both Tommy and I got 2 new life birds apiece, and on this pelagic trip I added 2 more life birds while Tommy racked 'em up with 10 new life birds!  One of my new life birds was the Scripps's Murrelet.  Most were quite skittish and one pair had a chick with them which made them even more difficult to approach.  However, I did manage at least one photo of this new life bird.

Scripps's Murrelet
After our visit to 30 Mile Bank we started back towards the harbor, but with a bit of a different route that took us into a bit of Los Angeles County and then back to 9 Mile Bank before heading to shore.  While we had seen several cool seafaring birds, we did not strike it rich with one of the much rare specialties.  However, our luck changed once we arrived back at 9 Mile Bank.  We were still chumming and had plenty of Western Gulls to follow us when all of a sudden I noticed a new and very different bird and I knew immediately what it was and one of the guides quickly called it out, Black-footed Albatross!!!!  An albatross was one of Tommy's target birds, so I quickly turned around to see his grin, but he was not there. I scanned the boat and did not see him anywhere.  I went back to the BFAL and tried to get some photos for myself and twice more I turned around to look for him and on the 3rd try, I saw him headed down the side of the boat looking at me wondering what was going on.  I quickly got him on the albatross so he could enjoy this moment.  (Found out later he was in the bathroom and all he heard over the loud speaker was Black ??????? ????????????.  But he knew it was something special because of the excitement.  About an hour later he was able to finish what he started!)
Black Footed-Albatross

 Black Footed-Albatross

Black Footed-Albatross

 Black Footed-Albatross

Black Footed-Albatross
 Black Footed-Albatross

Black Footed-Albatross
The pinnacle had finally been reached in getting a really cool bird and Tommy's first albatross!  And my first photos of one, even though I had seen one once before on my previous pelagic and I was under the weather. 
What happened next was even more astonishing!  Within a minute or so of the appearance of the Black-footed Albatross, one of the bird guides yelled out LAYSAN ALBATROSS!!!  Just that quick, this much rarer species for this area came into join the rest of the birds.  This is only the 2nd record of this species in San Diego County, so you know it is pretty special.  And now I had my second life bird of the day and it was a spectacular one.  After the Laysan Albatross arrived and a few moments later a second Black-footed Albatross appeared, giving us a 3 albatross day.
 Laysan Albatross

 Laysan Albatross

 Laysan Albatross

 Laysan Albatross

Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross beating the Western Gulls to a piece of popcorn (in its beak)
This was an epic grand finale to our pelagic trip and to celebrate we finished the evening back on land by dining on seafood!
After seeing Tommy's blog post on this glorious day, I lost a bit of interest in finishing my post as his was way more informative and interesting and included a bit of video in it.  But I finally persevered and finished it.  We have one more partial day to finish our trip out west, so I will have one more post to complete this3 part series.