Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Mogollon Rim Area - Part 2

When we decided to head to Woods Canyon Lake, I knew it would be crowded as well as it is usually a more popular destination than Black Canyon Lake.  And it was, they even had to open up extra free parking in one of the maintenance areas where we parked.  As we made our way to the lake, we stopped to enjoy some of the birds in the pine forest.  American Robins were abundant and some of them were this year hatch and it is always interesting to see the different looks of a juvenile bird.

American Robin - juvenile

Hairy Woodpeckers were also quite numerous and busy searching our insects on the trunks of trees.  Why is it, that they always seem to land on a tree and in the shady side of the trunk?

Hairy Woodpecker - Female

At the east end of the lake where the water trickles down the embankment, a group of raucous Steller's Jays put on quite a show,  A couple, including a fledgling, came in for a drink before heading up into the trees.  It was interesting to see the fledgling did not have the white streaks on the head like the adults.  Most likely this takes place on its first molt.

 Steller's Jay - Adult

 Steller's Jay - Recently fledged

Steller's Jay - Adult

Just a few minutes with the jays and then we watched some excitement unfold before our eyes.  The first was an Osprey that came in and dove and captured a fish right in front of several people fishing.  Think the Osprey was having better luck than the fishers!


Osprey with its catch of the day

Shortly after the Osprey had a successful dive, an adult Bald Eagle also came in for a shot at a fish, but unfortunately the eagle was not successful.  The adult pair do have a nest at the lake and hatched 2 chicks in April and both are almost fledged and ready to leave the nest.

 Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle starting its unsuccessful dive

What happened next was a first for me.  With all the the antics of the Osprey and the Bald Eagle taking place, I also caught a glimpse of a Great Blue Heron also flying over the lake.  Normally, when I see a Great Blue Heron, I move on to something else because the heron is a very common bird around water.  For some reason or another, I focused my camera on this one and in a sequence of photos we saw it fly near the surface of the lake and actually plunged while in flight with its beak and came up with a fish and then continued on in flight with its prized catch.  I have seen many of these birds spear and nab an unsuspecting creature while standing motionless in the water, but have never seen one capture a fish while in flight.  Always something new to learn.

 Great Blue Heron - flying across the lake

Focusing on its target

 The plunge and grasp with its beak

 Lifting off again from the surface of the water

Flying away with its prize catch!

That is the end of the birds in this post, so if you, dear reader, are not interested in other critters, you can consider yourself done with this post.  However, if you are still inclined to marvel at some more wonders of nature, then please continue on!

We will start with a couple rodents; squirrels and a chipmunk. (FYI: Chipmunks have stripes on the face and squirrels do not.) 

Cliff Chipmunk - Note the stripes on the face

 Golden-mantled Squirrel - no stripes on face

Pine Squirrel

Next up are a couple of butterflies and a cicada.

 Blue Azure Butterfly

 Queen Alexandra Butterfly


And last but not least, a reptile which is a Terrestrial Garter Snake, the Arizona subspecies.

Terrestrial Garter Snake

Really turned out to be a great afternoon at Woods Canyon Lake with more than just birds, even if the place was swarming with humans enjoying their weekends.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Mogollon Rim Area - Part 1

Another hot weekend in June and time to seek higher altitudes to enjoy the birds and nature, Chris Rohrer and I headed to the Mogollon Rim area and some of the awesomeness of the land around the towns of Heber/Overgaard in Arizona.  We had the privilege of staying in Heber and my friend Wayne Manske's cabin which made for great accommodations as well.  We started out early on Saturday morning doing a little exploring of the Navajo County Park in Overgaard, which is a great place to visit and is worth a more lengthy visit sometime in the future.  It was a bit too early for too many photos, but had a nice male Hepatic Tanager pose long enough for a snapshot.  

Hepatic Tanager

After spending about an hour there, we then headed south and west out of Heber on Black Canyon Road, which has lots of really neat spots to visit along the way.  Our destination was Black Canyon Lake which has always been a favorite spot of mine and it would have been but we failed in remember that this was Father's Day weekend, and this place was more crowded than ever before.  Must have been the weekend to take dad out fishing.  At one spot along the way, we had some Brewer's Blackbirds making quite a fuss and as we approached, they were even more agitated, and finally we discovered the reason: a fledgling Brewer's Blackbird in the grass and an adult female with some grub in its beak to feed the young one.

Brewer's Blackbird - Female with lunch for the following fledgling.

Brewer's Blackbird - Fledgling

At almost every stop we made along this road, we were entertained by Violet-green Swallows; probably one of the most colorful swallows in the United States.  They are cavity nesters and readily take over any unused woodpecker nest cavities.  Not always easy to spot their nests, but with enough patience, a nest can be found by observing these swallows when they approach a tree.  And we did find a couple of nest cavities, and one of them would have gone unnoticed had we not been watching.

 Violet-green Swallow - in nest cavity

 Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow - Showing the green and a little bit of the violet

After arriving at Black Canyon Lake and discovering how crowded it was with families fishing all around the lake, we decided the birds were not going to be easy, so we then headed west and headed out the back way and back to Hwy 260 and then back to Heber for lunch.  We did make one brief stop at Twin Springs to see what we might find and found a very cooperative and entertaining Grace's Warbler.  Normally a warbler of the pines and high up in the canopy, this one paid a visit on a young pine sapling near the pond of water.  

 Grace's Warbler

Back in Heber we had lunch and then headed west again, this time to visit Woods Canyon Lake.  That visit turned into something special but it will be covered in the next blog post.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Start of a Long, Hot Summer

Blog posts have been a little sparse recently for me, but there is a reasoning behind all of this.  With a major epic out-of-country birding trip planned in the month of July, I have been focusing on more local birding rather than many 2 to 3 day trips around the state of Arizona as I had done last year.  But at the same time, I just cannot stay home and ignore all those marvelous avian creatures we have in the great state of Arizona.  It is becoming hard for me to find too many more life birds in Arizona, but there are still a few on my wish list and with luck I will be able to pursue those goals in 2016 and beyond.  But rather than staying at home while planning this epic trip in July, I like to return to visit some of my favorite haunts in Maricopa County and the surrounding area.  So with that in mind, I made a couple of trips on consecutive weekends and both ended up being the same destination, although the first was meant to be a little bit different.  

On Saturday June 6th, another birding acquaintance, Rob Bowker, and I planned to make a trip to Slate Creek Divide and we gave it the good old All-American try, but due to some really freakish weather, we were not able to make it up the road.  Seems Mother Nature decided to bless many areas of the state with rainfall in June.  June is traditionally one of the driest months of the year in AZ, but this year we have been blessed with rainfall in most areas of the state.  Since we were not able to access the muddy road to Slate Creek Divide, we opted to go across the highway to Mt Ord and see how the roads were and what we could find.  

It was still cloudy from the rain the day and night before, but the road was fine to navigate and we ended up enjoying the hiking in and around the 1688 trail.  While I have had Acorn Woodpeckers near this area in the past, they have always been a bit distant, but on this trip at least one of them perched within a decent distance to allow a photograph.  It is a bird I have photographed many times in many other locations in the state, but I believe this is my first photo of one in Maricopa County.

Acorn Woodpecker

At one point as we were bushwhacking through some of the pines, I heard a squawking noise fairly close by and low to the ground and it did not take long to discover the source of the noise; a newly fledged chick, but a bird at that age can be difficult to identify at first glance.  This is a case though of having patience, because a youngster making that much racket will most likely have a parent nearby fetching morsels of food for them and they will return.  Sure enough, in less than a minute, one of the parents dropped in with some food and it became clear this youngster was a Plumbeous Vireo fledgling.  And here is a sequence of photos of this youngster and his parent.

Plumbeous Vireo - Fledgling

It is always a treat to witness something new like this and obtain a few photos knowing that is a moment in time that only 2 of us witnessed and captured some documentation by our photos.  

As we finally headed back towards the vehicle, rounded a corner on the trail and found this Painted Redstart singing up a storm for us.  Lighting left a little to be desired, but one can never have enough photos of this smartly dressed bird.

Painted Redstart

While we were not able to access our target location, we still had a great time birding at one of my favorite locations in Maricopa County.  

A week later and the summer heat had arrived, but I thought I could maybe get in a couple of hours of birding early on a Saturday morning before the heat kicked in and once again I chose to go to Mt Ord, but this time by myself.  Wanted to do a little more practicing with my new camera and this time around, different species of birds made themselves available to my camera.  There are going to be some challenges for photography on my upcoming adventure in July.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Spotted Towhee

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Hutton's Vireo

Hepatic Tanager

Hepatic Tanager

Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay

And to round out the trip, the agave plants on Mt Ord were sending up their tall flower spikes which really added to the color of the spring day.