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.
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???
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.
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.