Thursday, January 14, 2016
Finally after completing my 5th and final CBC, (Christmas Bird Count), for the year I should now have more free time to go birding on my own. But what I am finding is that it is easier said than done. Seems I have this guilt complex of not getting anything done around the house like I think I should. But then it dawned on me that the chores around the house are not on a time schedule, so there is no rush on getting them completed. So on Saturday, I met up with Joe Chernek to do some birding on the Salt River. We only made it to 3 of the locations, but those 3 locations are my favorite spots for casual birding.
I arrived at our meeting spot a little early and got to witness a Yellow-rumped Warbler that had discovered its reflection on the passenger side mirror of a parked car. It would fly down and land on the door frame of the car and then see its reflection and fly up to the mirror as if to attack it and then land on the top of the mirror. By the string of photos and the droppings on the side of the car frame, this bird has been at it for awhile. It would take breaks from this activity and go forage for insects for awhile and then return.
Our first stop on the Salt River was Coon Bluff, which is one of my favorite spots. We made attempt to see if the Rusty Blackbirds might still be around that had been reported in December. But due to the recent week of on and off rain, the river was quite full and the sand bars in the river were completely submerged. They had been associating with some Great-tailed Grackles on these sand bars, but we could not even find any of the grackles, so it was a miss on the Rusty Blackbird. However, we did take advantage of a couple of photo ops of a Song Sparrow and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker.
Next stop was Butcher Jones Beach at Saguaro Lake. It was here that I got my most favorite photo of the day of a White-throated Swift. This is a bird that never perches except on its nest in the crevices in rock cliffs, so they are constantly in motion when out feeding on flying insects. Their fast and erratic flight makes photos tough to come by. Most of the time when I attempt photos of them in flight, I just get a photo of blue sky. But on this day, I captured a very lucky shot of one, and was quite surprised.
A few other birds that we enjoyed were Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Ring-billed Gull, a Redhead, and a tailless empid, that I suspect is a Gray Flycatcher, due to the color of the lower bill.
Epidonax Flycatcher - Most likely a Gray Flycatcher
On the road out of Butcher Jones, we stopped to marvel at the snow cover on Four Peaks. The rains that feel in the lower elevations, fell as snow in the higher elevations. Really enjoyed this view of the Sonoran Desert with snow-clad peaks in the distance and clouds enshrouding the peaks.
At our feet while taking our scenic photos, we had Cholla cactus plants at our feet, which can be very nasty if one brushes up against one or even steps on one of the heads lying on the ground. This is one method of how this plant reproduces, as these spiny pieces can take root fairly easy. These broken off pieces can be relocated to new areas by wildlife or humans. They are hard to remove from clothing and shoes and those spines can be very painful if they break skin.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
It is not often that I will travel 3 hours to chase a rare bird, but on New Year's Day, I did just that. Yuma is about a 3 hour drive from the the Phoenix area and I had seen the reports and some photos of a rare Mexican bird that had showed up in Yuma; a male Streak-backed Oriole. This was not going to be a new life bird for me as I had seen several in July of 2015 when I made a trip to Chiapas, Mexico. Even though it was not a life bird, it would be a new bird to my United States list and also my Arizona list. They do show up in the United States from time to time, but are considered rare and are a review species for the Arizona Bird Committee to review and verify.
The trigger that got me to go to Yuma for this bird was an email from Muriel Neddermeyer wanting to go birding and she suggested that as an option, so I kind of jumped on the band wagon, as it is much more fun to travel with a friend when on a long drive for a new bird. At the last moment, we found out that good friend, Chris Rohrer, was going to be returning late the night before we left and he was interested in joining us. So the 3 of us headed out in the dark on New Year's Day morning and we knew this was our goal so we were going to go straight to the oriole location, and not look at any other birds. Well that is easier said than done because I was a passenger and when the sky started to get light before we reached our destination, I happened to spy a Red-tailed Hawk and a Common Raven along the road for my first 2 birds of 2016.
It was cold when we arrived and 2 other birders were already there staking out the place and they had not yet seen it. It was not long until another 4 more birders also showed up and then a 5th, so we had 10 people watching and listening for this bird to make an appearance. After about a half an hour I heard its chatter call as well as another good birder and sure enough it came in to the tree next to the palm tree where it liked to feed on the fruits of that palm.
Streak-backed Oriole -showing the streaks on its back, hence its name.
Feasting on a palm fruit.
Wow! What a stunning bird to observe on the first day of the year! Since we were in Yuma, we decided to head to the agricultural fields south of the city as there had been some reports of high numbers of raptors, with Ferruginous Hawks being the most numerous. We were amazed at the numbers of these marvelous raptors as we counted over 40 individuals. One of them even managed to fly over our vehicle while we parked along the road which offered us some incredible close observations.
With Yuma being a 3 hour drive home, we departed the area in early afternoon as we tried to do a little birding on the way home including a drive through some of the agricultural fields in and around the town of Maricopa, Arizona, which is in Pinal County. We found one stretch of road where we were astonished by the number of Burrowing Owls. Our final tally was about 30 of these cuties. At one spot, we found a pair on a concrete ridge, so we tried to get the car in a position for photos. First 2 photos are of the pair when we stopped the car. Then one of them got a bit concerned and shy, and ducked down behind the concrete while the other just stayed perched and acted very nonchalant about the whole experience. I love how the shy one was peeking up over the concrete to check on us.
Burrowing Owl #1
Burrowing Owl #2
Burrowing Owl # 2 - showing its shyness
Burrowing Owl #1 - being very nonchalant
A couple more shots from the road were an American Pipit and a Loggerhead Shrike in the waning afternoon sunlight.
What an awesome day to start of the new year with an awesome bird! The oriole was a life bird for Muriel and a state and national bird for both Chris and myself.
Saturday, January 2, 2016
In the early part of December, I just happened to celebrate a landmark birthday and I was fortunate to have it fall on a Saturday. What better way to celebrate a birthday than getting out in nature to see what cool birds one can find! One of my best birding buddies, Chris Rohrer ventured north from Tucson and joined me in our quest to find some birds in and around the eastern suburbs of Gilbert, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tempe.
First stop was the Gilbert Riparian Water Preserve in the search for some rare Purple Finches that had been seen there for a week or so. We did not have any luck with that species, but the birding was was still excellent with the highlight being a White-throated Sparrow. Of course several others were gracious enough to allow photos as well; Neotropic Cormorant and Wilson's Snipe.
Wilson's Snipe well camouflaged
Wilson's Snipe zoomed in and cropped
Our next stop was Coon Bluff on the Salt River northeast of Mesa to search for another rarity, a Reddish Egret which had not been reported for a few days, so our hopes were not very high and once again, we dipped on this bird as well. But once again, several other species made our visit very enjoyable such as Cedar Waxwing and Vermilion Flycatcher. And a couple more passerine species graciously gave me a chance to get photos with their reflection in the water, which is not too common; Say's Phoebe and American Pipit.
From here we headed to Scottsdale Ranch Park to look for a Red-breasted Sapsucker which had been reported there. It is an uncommon winter migrant in Arizona; its more common winter range is the Pacific Coast from Baja California northward to Washington state and into British Columbia in Canada. It is always a treat to see this bird in Arizona. We arrived and spent some time searching in the trees that it favored and was not finding it. As we decided to maybe head to the next location on our agenda, we met a handful of other birders also looking for it, but to no avail. I started scanning its favorite tree one last time and Bingo! there it was! I quickly got everyone else on it and it was quite accommodating to us all.
One last point of interest on our list: Tempe Town Lake. Sorry to say, but we came here to actually locate a drake Mandarin Duck that had been seen here for some time Although, it is non-countable as an ABA bird, you have to admit it really is quite a handsome specimen.
A nice adult Bald Eagle is always a bonus, and it is nice to find one is such an urban setting such as Tempe Town Lake.
Adult Bald Eagle
I was a great way to spend a milestone bi(rd)thday!