Fan-tailed Warbler

Fan-tailed Warbler

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Snow Birding in Arizona

The weekend before Christmas, I teamed up with Chris Rohrer, Babs Buck, and Magill Weber to chase an Arizona rarity up above the Mogollon Rim in Navajo County of Arizona.  A Carolina Wren had been making an appearance at a feeder in Overgaard, AZ.  This was only the 4th confirmed sighting of this species in Arizona, so it is a pretty special bird.  We knew it was going to be cold in the higher elevations and we planned accordingly.  There was plenty of snow on the ground as the winter weather so far in Arizona has been a little on the wet side, especially in the high country where quite a bit of snow has already fallen and the ski resorts are in full operation.

We arrived at the location and spotted the yard and feeder and managed to get a short, quick look at it briefly and then it took flight and did not return during our stay. During the time we were waiting and hoping for its return, we took advantage of the many other birds around in this snowy winter wonderland.  Steller's Jays were raiding the feeders while a flock of over 100 Pinyon Jays were moving though the trees behind us just beyond a fence that blocked any closer access to them.  

 Steller's Jay

 Pinyon Jays

 Pinyon Jay

Of course Dark-eyed Juncos were just about everywhere.  This is a bird that consists of several sub-species with variable coloration and markings.  On this day, we were quit fortunate to see at least 5 of the sub-species; Oregon, Gray-headed, Pink-sided, Red-backed, and Slate-colored.  We did not see them all in the same place, but at various locations and it is fun to note the differences in them.  Below are photos of the Red-backed and the Slate-colored.

 'Red-backed' Dark-eyed Junco

 'Slate-colored' Dark-eyed Junco

On the return trip we decided to visit the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery which is always a great place to visit and this trip did not disappoint us in any way because one of the very first birds we spotted when we pulled into the parking area was an American Dipper!  This is quite a unique bird and it has found a niche in the wonderful world of nature.  They feed on aquatic invertebrates by walking and swimming under water in cold mountain streams.  They are most entertaining and it was hard not spend the entire rest of the day with them.  They have to be one of my top ten most favorite birds.  

 American Dipper

While we were enjoying the American Dippers and the show they were putting on for us, we had a pair of majestic adult Bald Eagles acting as sentinels watching over us in the tree above our heads.  

Bald Eagles

As we were leaving this area and about a ½ mile down the road, we found another Bald Eagle.  This one was a third year immature.  Bald Eagles take 4 years to reach their full adult plumage, so it is always exciting to see a youngster such as this one surviving in the wild.  

 Bald Eagle - Immature

Another fascinating bird is the Brown Creeper and one of them paid us a visit as well.  This bird, with its curved needle-like bill, will usually fly to the base of a tree and work its way upward in the spiral, probing for insects and larva in and under the bark of a tree.  Then it will fly to the base of a neighboring tree and do the same thing.  Always tough to photograph as they do not sit still and their brown coloration sometimes blends in with the bark of a tree to make it hard to zoom in with a good focus.

 Brown Creeper

One other bird that we encountered at this magical place was a Pacific Wren.  They do not like to come out and show themselves very much, so photos were not too great.  However, this bird was quite a milestone for Chris as it was his 700th life bird, which is a big milestone and it is a great bird to claim for number 700.  A big congratulations to Chris on his achievement!

 Pacific Wren

The 700 Club!

One last stop on the way home was Green Valley Park in Payson.  We added several waterfowl species to our daily tally, including a couple of Great Scaup.  They can be difficult to ID when Lesser Scaup are so much more common in Arizona.  But there was no doubt on these females that we saw, with the smoothly rounded head and the bill with a wide black nail at its tip.  

Greater Scaup

A couple of male Hooded Mergansers were also present and I was able to capture an adequate photo of one of them with its prized catch.

Hooded Merganser

It was a one day trip that was filled with a lot of special birds with great company along for the ride!

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Minnesotan's Last Hurrah

One last post (temporary, as I know they will return!), for Josh Wallestad and his son Evan.  After an exciting trip to southeastern Arizona under the belt, I met up with Josh and his entire family at Kiwanis Park in Tempe a couple of days after our epic one-day trip.  Once again, Josh had a couple of target birds for this city birding.  The first is the Rosy-faced Lovebird, which is very popular as a caged bird in the United States and the pet industry has over the years perpetuated various color mutations of this small parrot. This bird is originally from southwestern Africa, but readily breeds in captivity and it was easy to introduce to the pet industry decades ago.  In Arizona, small feral flocks of these birds started being reported in the Phoenix suburbs, especially in the east valley ion the late 1980's.  These birds were most likely escapees or ones that owners turned loose when they were no longer wanted.  These birds were a natural for desert life and they quickly adapted to Arizona.  They favor the towns and suburban areas with water sources nearby, so they have slowly but surely expanded their range within the suburban areas and now range throughout the Phoenix metro area from east to west.  Their population has expanded to well over 6,000 by the latest lovebird census count.  Due to the expansion and the fact that they have been holding their own, they are now an acceptable bird included on ABA's list of birds in the United States, but can only be counted in Arizona, and specifically in the Phoenix area.

Along with the normal color of these ubiquitous bird, some of the color mutations occasionally show up in the wild mixed flocks. I arrived at Kiwanis Park a bit earlier than Josh and his family, and immediately counted 13 of these very noisy birds and was astounded that besides the normal color, I also found a couple of color mutations; blue and lutino (yellow).  It was not long before Josh arrived and I quickly got him and Evan and their family on them, even though a few of the birds had departed.

 Rosy-faced Lovebirds - Note the yellow (lutino) one second from the top on the wire.

 Rosy-faced Lovebirds - Note the blue color mutation on the left lower corner

 Another photo of a normal adult and a blue adult.

While observing one of the lovebirds a pair of Gilded Flickers flew in and landed within 15 feet of us.  Can't pass up photos of this bird when that happens!

 Gilded Flicker - Male

Gilded Flicker - Female

The next target bird for this day was the Brown Pelican.  Interestingly, this mostly coastal bird, has had a couple of them take up residency in Tempe Town Lake, the past few years, which makes them a bit of an anomaly in the state of Arizona which does not have a sea coast.  Josh had mentioned that he would not be disappointed if he did not get this bird in AZ as he knew that sooner or later, he would be able to see them in Florida.  But isn't it a bit more of a novelty to say you got your lifer Brown Pelican in a land-locked state?  At least that is the way I look at it and that was my history of this bird.  So away we went to Tempe Town Lake.  It did not take long to find one at the east of the lake as it came flying in from the west.  

 Brown Pelican

A bit of a short day, but an easy way to add two new life birds to Josh and Evan's life lists.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Catching Up!!!

Recently, I have been very lax in posting to my blog site and with a recent big change in my employment status, it is high time to try a catch up a bit on some posts that have been neglected for far too long.  In theory, I should now have more time to to accomplish some of these tasks, but I have been told by many other retirees that all that free time that one envisions coming with retirement, is quickly filled up with many other functions.

Without further ado, I will attempt to catch up of some past experiences that have been woefully neglected.  The first is centered around a visit from Josh Wallestad and his son, Evan, from Minnesota in October.  Good birding friend, Tommy DeBardeleben, and I headed south and picked up Josh and Evan in Green Valley, Arizona.  We headed to Hunter Canyon where the target birds were the Rufous-capped Warbler and a Slate-throated Redstart.  The redstart had not been seen for the past few days and of course we dipped on it, but we did manage to find the Rufous-capped Warbler.  This bird was not very cooperative and knowing it was a life bird for Josh and Evan, I tried to stay back and let them enjoy this bird as much as possible.  This is my feeble attempt at a photo.

Rufous-capped Warbler

Just before Tommy spotted this warbler, he also had a Scott's Oriole and a Northern Pygmy Owl, both of which were new life birds for both Josh and Evan.  It was a moment of overload for the two of them to have that many new species in a matter of a couple of minutes.  

Northern Pygmy-Owl

From here we made a brief stop at Ash Canyon B & B, hoping for a lingering Lucifer Hummingbird, and we did succeed.  Unfortunately, it was not one of the brilliant males, but the long curved beak makes it easy to identify.

Lucifer Hummingbird

Acorn Woodpeckers and Mexican Jays were quite gregarious and hard to miss while we were there for this short visit.

Acorn Woodpecker

Mexican Jay

After staying for just a short time, we then ventured on to Miller Canyon with the hope for them being open and not closed for the season.  We got extremely lucky as Tom Jr, was around and he was more than happy to take us up the trail to look for the infamous Spotted Owl; a specialty for this location.  Just before we reached the area where the owls had been hanging out, Tom found an Alligator Madrean Lizard in the pathway and pointed it out to us.  This was really cool as I had never seen one before. This is a very handsome reptile!

Madrean Alligator Lizard

Tom then got us on one of the juvenile Spotted Owls from this year's hatch.  It was totally unimpressed with us humans as it sat on its branch sleeping and occasionally opening a eye to check out one of Tom dogs that had come along with us.  

 'Mexican' Spotted Owl

With 2 lifer owl species for Josh and Evan, and a couple more species, we have to consider that this was a successful one day trip.  It is always a lot of fun to help birders acquire new life birds.  Someday in the very near future, I believe Josh is going to be guiding us in Minnesota for some great new birds.