Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Weekend Meanderings

Finally with the days becoming shorter and the nights a bit longer, the temperatures in and around the metro area of Phoenix have been moderating.  The mornings are actually quite pleasant before the sun starts beating down, so now is the time to start birding some of the local spots once again.  

Saturday morning I decided I needed to do a scouting trip out to my local patch, Pima Canyon Wash.  I will be leading an Audubon trip out there in October, so I wanted to see if anything new was taking place.  Arriving before sunup, allowed me to listen for Common Poorwills and this morning was no exception.  They call from the steep slopes of the canyon before the sun rises but then quickly stop calling as they go to roost for the day.  I have never actually seen one here, but maybe one day I will get lucky.  About the same time the COPO's stopped calling I saw a movement in the dark in the trees and flashed my light up in the trees and was met by 4 eyes from 2 Western Screech-Owls staring back at me.  I made a feeble attempt to mimic one of their hoots and it got their attention enough that one even came a bit closer to check me out.  While they were interested in me, I noted 2 more a bit more distant in the next tree to give me a count of 4 of them.  I attempted to bump up my ISO on the camera and by holding the flashlight next to the lens I was able to get a couple photos.  This one was so close, that I could not focus on the entire bird.  Once I got the photos downloaded on my computer at home, I noticed the red blood on the beak and some feathers around the beak, indicating this one must have just finished its breakfast before going to roost for the day.  What an amazing moment that I got to share with these awesome birds.  When they finally flew away, they were so silent.  It is amazing how their wing beats do not make a sound, even in the trees.

Western Screech-Owl

That little experience was just about the best I could have hoped for, but a few more surprises awaited me before this hike was done.  I was excited a couple of weeks ago when I found a new bird to add to my patch  list for Pima Canyon Wash with a Black-chinned Sparrow.  Well this trip I chalked up 2 more new species for this patch.  I had 3 Barn Swallows fly over the wash as I was there and I also discovered an Olive-sided Flycatcher toward the end of the hike.  These 2 species now puts me at 99 species for this location.  Wonder what number 100 will be???

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Found 2 warblers in the canyon, a Yellow Warbler juvenile and a handsome Black-throated Gray Warbler adult male.  The Yellow Warbler was not cooperative and the BTYW at least allowed one mediocre shot.

Black-throated Gray Warbler

I usually get 3 species of wrens in this location and Cactus and Rock Wrens are almost always assured.  Canyon Wren has only recently become a steady find and on this trip, I thought was going to dip on it until on the return back down the canyon and I heard its single note 'jeep' call and quickly found it hopping around in the rocky canyon walls.  Probably my most favorite wren that can be found in the US.

Canyon Wren

As mentioned in my previous post, I do not hesitate to photograph other creatures and the Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrel is so numerous there that I rarely pay too much attention to them, but every once in a while, one of them poses in just the right spot and with the right light to capture a photo.  I remember when I first started birding several years ago, I chased many of these squirrels thinking it was a bird calling.  Felt like a fool when I discovered it was a squirrel instead!

Harris's Antelope Ground Squirrel

On the return trip back to parking lot as I was walking down the sandy wash, I heard a slight rustling in some brush off to my left side.  When birding, I always check out any noises like this to check for birds as many birds like to forage in the brush.  Well this time it was not a bird but a rattlesnake that was contemplating crossing the wash.  As I was trying to get photos of it with only its head showing in the edges of the brush, it retreated just a bit to conceal itself.  At this point, I was not 100% sure of the species, so I walked to the back side of the brush and saw the tail and knew then it was another Black-tailed Rattlesnake.  Since I was in the back of the brush pile, this handsome snake then decided that the coast was clear for it to complete its journey to the other side of the wash.  This one was larger than the one that I previously saw; about 3 feet in length and was very fat appearing in the middle of the body which might be a sign that it is well fed, or maybe a female getting close to giving birth.  Not once did this reptile show any aggression or concern with me.  They really do not want to tangle with humans and as long as we show them respect they are most likely going to try and get away from us.

 This was taken when I first discovered it.

 This was taken right after it withdrew a bit into the brush pile.

 This was taken when it decided to complete its crossing of the wash.

And this is the tail that confirms the species identification.

Once again, my patch excelled in giving me than I bargained for it is a good example of why it is always advantageous to re-visit some of those well known and common sites.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

White Mountains: The Final Field Trip

Sunday morning arrived and we had signed up to join the field trip to Wenima Wildlife area and also Becker Lake.  Kurt Radamaker along with his wife Cindy took the lead on this field trip and we started out at Wenima hoping to find a nice rarity or two but we had no luck on rarities but had lots of great birds.  My best photo from Wenima turned out to be a Common Buckeye butterfly.  (Yes, I am guilty of photographing butterflies and slowly, but surely, I am starting to learn the common names of some of them.)  In this post, you will see that birds are my number 1 target, but I also have a passion for all types of wildlife including butterflies, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.  For those that have read many of my previous posts, you probably already know that, but for those that might be new to my blog site, you will see a sprinkling of other creatures in my posts from time to time and this one has a good blend of several creatures.

Becker Lake proved to be a bit better for some bird photography.  We no sooner parked our vehicles in the parking lot and was scanning the area and we were blessed by a couple of Yellow-headed Blackbirds that came in to feed very close to the parking lot.  They seemed unperturbed by us and allowed us great looks and some nice photos as well. Stunning birds with their bright yellow on black bodies and when they fly they show off a nice white wing patch as well.  

Along the shore of the lake near the boat ramp, we happened upon a Woodhouse's Toad, which I believe is a new species of toad for me as I do not recall seeing one in the past.  

As we made our way along the dike on the northeast side of the lake, we had a couple Virginia Rails come to check us out.  This is a fairly secretive rail and most times I hear them in the marshes without seeing them.  They are one of the most elusive and secretive rails, so when they do show themselves, you know you are in for a real treat.

This photo is a sighting of what I would consider normal and then they would disappear just as quickly as you saw it.

But this one mush have been unfazed by us as it put on quite a show with the photos below.

We also discovered a new lizard for most of us including our leader.  We found a couple of very young Lesser Earless Lizards.  This one was only about 2½ inches in length, including the tail.

And a Praying Mantis is always a cool insect to see.

The tree that normally holds a pair of Bald Eagles proved to be just the place that 3 Great Blue Herons decided to stop in for a rest.

I had not been in the White Mountains for almost a year, so it was great to return to some old stomping grounds.  Maybe next summer I can spend a bit more time in this remarkable place and explore some more spots as it is truly a magical spot in the state of Arizona.

Friday, September 25, 2015

White Mountains: A Weekend With Fellow Birders

It is an annual event in Arizona and one that I always thoroughly enjoy and this year was no exception; the AZFO (Arizona Field Ornithologists) annual meeting.  A great place to meet new friends and touch base with some of the old friends that reside in other areas of the state and beyond.  This year the meeting was being held in Show Low, in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona.

Early on Friday morning, birding pals, Tommy DeBardeleben and Mark Ochs, joined me in our weekend trek and we headed east and north to Show Low.  Once we arrived in Show Low, we picked up Brian Ison and from there we traveled to Lyman Lake.  It was on this stretch of road that we had a bit of misfortune; we got a flat tire.  Indicator on my dash was stating low tire pressure so we stopped and sure enough, we heard air leaking.  Once we dug out the spare after unloading the entire back to get to it, we got it on and proceeded the rest of the day on the donut tire.  It succeeded in our quest for birding.  For this Friday afternoon field trip, we met up with 4 others to scope out the birds at the lake.  We saw a lot of good birds, but most of the viewing was by scope at a distance, so photos were not going to be possible.  However, the pair of White-fronted Geese, that were flushed by a Northern Harrier on the far side of the lake, at least approached our location before heading north.

Greater White-fronted Geese

We did manage to find one bird that stumped me because I have never seen a juvenile of this species before and this is the time of the year that juveniles can appear to confuse a lot of birders.  As usually is the case, many of these birding adventures can turn into a learning experience as this one did.

Horned Lark - Juvenile

Have to throw in a photo of an American Coot while I am at it.  Yes, they are plentiful and can be seen just about anywhere, but they are not always shore line birds that are used to people and allow a close approach, so I always appreciate a chance at a good photo.  

American Coot

Saturday consisted of the all day meeting with many presentations of which some were awesome and very informative and one or 2 that I kind of lost interest in.  But before the meeting started, we had some time to kill, so we stopped at Woodland Lake Park in Pinetop.  This is one of the best places to find Lewis's Woodpeckers and I have sent many birders to this location to find this bird.  Once again, we were not disappointed as we found several of these unique looking woodpeckers.  

Lewis's Woodpecker

This place was swarming with Chipping Sparrows.  Even though they are much more striking in their breeding plumage, they still have some nice marking in their winter plumage.  The black line from the base of the bill through their eye and continuing beyond the eye, is one of the key identification marks for this species.

Chipping Sparrow

And who can resist of photo of a Pied-billed Grebe?  They are just too cool and their chicks really unique.  

Pied-billed Grebe

Sunday we took part in another field trip and that will be covered in my next post.

And for those that are interested in the tire situation, we got back to Show Low and pulled into a Discount Tire store that appeared to be open with several people around and inside.  But when checking the front door, it was locked and the sign indicated that they close at 6:00 pm and we arrived at 6:20.  As we were preparing to leave, one young man from the work bay area came running out and offered to repair the flat (the screw was very obvious in the tread).  He had it repaired and put back on my car in about 15 minutes and told me to go see the manager inside, so I did and had my credit card out to pay for the repair.  The manager printed up at receipt with 'NO CHARGE'.  That is amazing!!!  I did find the young man that repaired the tire and made sure he got a nice tip.  It is amazing that they cared enough to go the extra mile and helped me out when all of them probably wanted to get home on a Friday night.  If you are even in Show Low, AZ and need anything related to tires, I highly recommend going to Discount Tires!  


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Pinal Mountains: Warbler Wonderland

Finally tired of the summer heat in the desert around the Phoenix area and wanted to go birding.  Had a couple of options: head to Glendale Recharge Ponds to see a couple of rarities or head to the Pinals and look for migrants.  Glendale, with no trees and no shade and temps hovering around 110° F, or the Pinals with lots of trees and shade and temps hovering around 72° F near the top?  As much as I wanted to add a couple birds to my Maricopa list (but not life birds), the cooler temps of the Pinals won this battle.  The Pinal Mountains is a fairly small mountain range south of Globe, AZ and at the highest point, Pinal Peak has an elevation of 7848 feet, so they are not huge by any standards, but they are much cooler than the surrounding desert and are considered to be part of the Arizona Sky Islands.  

August tends to be a great time to visit as many migrants, including warblers, pass through here to fuel up on their trek south into Mexico and points beyond. In some cases, it brings juvenile birds of some species that can be difficult to identify at times, but very often it also brings in some strikingly stunning adults as well, still dressed in their breeding plumage.  I found at least 6 species of warblers on this day and probably could have found more had I spent more time.  Maybe a trip involving an overnight camp out, might be something to plan for the future.  I know of a special place where there is most generally a small spring of water that rises above the ground and trickles down a short distance before disappearing back into the sandy stream bed.  That bit of water is a mecca for many of these birds to drop in for a drink and a quick bath.  My list of warblers for this awesome 6 hours included:  Nashville, Wilson's, Orange-crowned, Hermit, Black-throated Gray, and one of Arizona's favorites, the Painted Redstart.  

 Hermit Warbler

 Nashville Warbler

 Nashville Warbler

 Orange-crowned Warbler

 Orange-crowned Warbler

Painted Redstart

Wilson's Warbler

Of course, warblers were not the only migrants to be found, but they are some of the most interesting and since most warblers are prone to be fast movers gleaning insects from plants, they are almost always a challenge to photograph.  Not to be outdone by the warblers the family of hummingbirds was right up there with 6 species as well.  Getting 6 species of hummingbirds in one area this close to the Phoenix metro area is rather special.  Of course, there are many spots in southeastern Arizona that can double those numbers, but coming up with 6, is still pretty special this far north;  Anna's, Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Rufous, Calliope, and Magnificent were the 6 species.  Part of the success for this, is the fact that one cabin owner at the tops of Pinal Peak has 5 hummingbird feeders out and many of these birds are fueling up and taking advantage of this on their southbound migration route.

Black-chinned Hummingbird

 Broad-tailed Hummingbird - Female

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - Male

 Magnificent Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

Migrating Western Tanagers were thick and covered a large area of the mountains.  This photo is definitely not the brilliantly colored male that most people go gaga over, but I have to admit, that this happens to be one of the most stunning female Western Tanagers that I have seen in a long time.

Western Tanager

Yellow-eyed Juncos must have had a banner year for breeding as they were quite numerous at almost all elevations.  The Pinals are the northern most point in this bird's range.  Will they eventually expand further north?  Who knows, but one was located in Coconino County near Flagstaff a year ago.  

 Yellow-eyed Junco

Yellow-eyed Junco

And how can one ignore a bathing Mountain Chickadee or a foraging Brown Creeper, two of my favorite mountain dwelling birds?

 Mountain Chickadee

Moluntain Chickadee

 Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper - Note that thin bill which is designed for probing into cracks and crevices in the bark of trees for insects, grubs, and insect eggs.

One more item to mention, was that I found my first bear track.  I did not know it was there, but a vehicle coming down from the mountain stopped and pointed it out to me in the mud on the side of the road. It was right above me and my warbler spot where I was watching warblers.  Next time, I need to place an object next to it, to give an indication of its size.  This track was about 7 or 8 inches in length.  Maybe someday I will finally see an actual bear at a distance! 

I definitely do not regret giving up the 2 rarities at Glendale for this turned out to be a great outing!