Pacific Wren

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Specialty Birding: Arizona Style - Part 2

Friday we were up early and had plans to search for another specialty bird, the Sinaloa Wren and Chris was joining us for the entire day on this trip.  This is a bird that Chris and I had seen at Rancho El Aribabi in Mexico, twice, but photos were difficult as this bird is very secretive.  We also made a trip to Huachuca Canyon over a year ago to try for it without much luck.  Chris had gotten a glimpse of it and I had heard its ratcheting call on that trip.  Very disappointing to say the least.  Jennifer and Peggy had never seen this bird, so it would be a life bird for both of them.

Huachuca Canyon is accessed only through a military base, Fort Huachuca and they are very cognizant of how much birders love to visit this canyon.  They are very agreeable to allow birders to go exploring, and they have now installed a check-in system and with a proper photo ID, one will get placed in their data base and will be issued a 30 day pass to access Huachuca Canyon.  After the initial check-in, it is easier to get a new pass on future visits.  This was a process that took us about 20 minutes to complete, and was fairly easy, so it is nothing to keep one from going in.  We went immediately to the location where this bird has been seen for almost 2 years.  I am sure it is getting lonely and wondering why a female has not found it and its location for a nest.  We knew it frequented the stream bed and loved the dense brush piles along the flowing water, but it is very secretive and not often seen.  We split up and watched and waited for a while with no results.  One other person was there when we arrived and he claimed to have heard it and saw it about 20 minutes before we arrived.  Chris and I wandered down stream a bit further and found a spot that looked good for it and we stood there for about 15 minutes, when suddenly, we saw a movement in the brush pile of a bird that darted out in the shade and then back in for a split second.  Adrenalin just kicked up a notch for both of us!  We wanted to make sure it was the Sinaloa Wren and not a Bewick's Wren, and a couple of minutes later it popped out into the opening once more.  A quick photo and confirmation got me quickly running back to get the girls to join us.  

What happened next was utterly astounding, this shy little bird, started to put on a show for us.  At first, it started coming out but staying undercover in the brush and grasses occasionally popping its head out for us.

Eventually, it came out and perched on a small twig and sat there in the light and just took its time and looked both, right and left, multiple times while our cameras clicked away.  By this time the other person that was there earlier had found his way down to where we were and he also got to see it well.  Another young couple had showed up and they too, knew that we were on it and they came in behind us to get in on the show. At one point, it almost looked like it was resting and relaxing; may have been the clicking of the cameras.  Good example of where persistence pays off.  I finally got some great photos of a rare US bird as did Chris, and Jen and Peggy got a new life bird, which is hard for them as their lists are very high already.  So glad to be a part of the special occasion! 

After this success, and since we were on Cloud 9, we decided to head to the Patagonia area to see what we could find.  The stop at the Paton House was quite good, but we really missed our good friend, Larry Morgan, who has been the host for this place for the last couple of years.  He was Mr Congeniality for that place and everyone that visited, left with a great experience. In the process, I captured some photos of a Bewick's Wren, a Green-tailed Towhee, and an Inca Dove. 

Bewick's Wren

Green-tailed Towhee

Inca Dove

And a quick short stop in downtown Patagonia, resulted in an Anna's Hummingbird, which was already nesting.  Note the nest well disguised on the top of a pine cone in the first photo and the female Anna's Hummingbird on it in the second photo.

Anna's Humingbird nest on the top of a pine cone.

Anna's Hummingbird

Since our day was getting shorter and we wanted to get to Madera Canyon with some daylight left, we headed in that direction so we could arrive in time to get some birds before calling it a day.  Santa Rita Lodge has an awesome set up for birders.  Very relaxing where one can enjoy the many birds that come to visit the feeders.  We had a total of 4 species of hummingbirds at Santa Rita Lodge.  In addition to Anna's and Broad-billed Hummingbirds, we also had the first of the season, Rufous and a Magnificent Hummingbird.  

 Magnificent Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

A couple of the stars of the show were a male and a female Arizona Woodpecker along with the regular Mexican Jays and the always classy looking Yellow-eyed Junco.

 Arizona Woodpecker - Male

 Arizona Woodpecker - Female

 Mexican Jay

Yellow-eyed Junco

We also got a 'lifer' butterfly on this day, an Arizona Powdered Skipper.

Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the Phoenix area and we had to bid adieu to Chris.  It was a remarkable day with some really great birds and the icing on the cake was the Sinaloa Wren.   

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Specialty Birding: Arizona Style, Part 1

This past weekend, I finally extended my Arizona birding, outside of Maricopa County for the first time this year.  I had the privilege of escorting a couple of serious birders from out-of-state in the quest for some highly desired birds, Jennifer Rycenga and Peggy Macres.  I had collaborated with friend, Chris Rohrer, in advance in trying to find a couple of specialty birds that were being seen in southeastern Arizona and we had come up with a plan.  Chris was working on our first day, so Jen, Peggy, and myself headed to the first spot on our own in the search of a Rufous-backed Robin.  

This bird is a resident of western Mexico, but it is considered annual in Arizona in the winter and there always seem to be a handful that make an appearance in the state every winter.  The one we were looking for, has been reported for some time at Catalina State Park, so this was our destination.  We knew it frequented the Hackberry Trees, so it was just matter of being patient and keeping our eyes open for it.  As most birders will do while waiting, we wandered around and started keeping a tally of the birds we were seeing.  For Jen and Peggy, almost all of the birds we found were new 'year' birds, and for me as well since I had not been out of Maricopa County yet this year.  So the first cool bird we found was a pair of Rufous-winged Sparrows.  Just looking back on my history and I had not seen this bird since 2013, so it was time to reacquaint myself with it and the two we found were actually quite calm with us.  They did prefer to stay a little deeper in the trees, but really did not show any stress with us observing them and enjoying them.  Often the small rufous colored lesser wing coverts are covered and may be difficult to see, but at least one of my photos does show this distinctive marking for a change.

 Rufous-winged Sparrow

Rufous-winged Sparrow with visible rufous wing patch

As we walked up the road a bit, we started finding a plethora of other birds as well and part of that group was a couple of male Vermilion Flycatchers.  Yes, this is a pretty common bird in Maricopa County as well, but when one sees this bird and it poses so well, you just cannot ignore it and not take photos; that would just be rude!

 Vermilion Flycatcher

Another bird that we discovered in the area was a couple of Pyrrhuloxia, also known as the 'desert cardinal'.  But unlike the Rufous-winged Sparrows, they wanted to be seen on the far side of the trees which meant trying to see them through the branches through small openings.

 Pyrrhuloxia - Female

We had a lot of White-crowned Sparrows to look at and while sorting through all of them for a possible misfit, I caught glimpse of a bird in the background and when I focused my binoculars on it, I discovered it was a Lawrence's Goldfinch.  Like the Pyrrhuloxia, this is another bird that I do not see that often, so it is always a treat to find it.

Lawrence's Goldfinch

After about and hour and a half of waiting and watching, Jen caught a glimpse of our target bird, the Rufous-backed Robin, coming in and sure enough it worked its way to one of the Hackberry Trees and put on quite a show for us.  It was not long and we had a crowd of others showing up and asking what we were looking at.  Some were not birders, so we pointed it out to them and some were birders that just drove in and they almost could not park fast enough so they could get over to see this gorgeous bird.  The non-birders were interested and thought it was very pretty.  One of the birders that drove in was a lady that had flown into Phoenix that morning and rented a car to come down to look for it.  Another was a trio of 3 young kids with binoculars and cameras and they were very excited when they saw it.  This bird acts a lot like the American Robin that just about everyone in the United States is familiar with, but that rufous colored back really stands out.

 Rufous-backed Robin - First View

 Rufous-backed Robin, posing.

By the time we finished at Catalina State Park, Chris had gotten off work and proceeded to join us in pursuing a few other birds in the short time we had left of the daylight hours.  At our last stop on the Mt Lemmon Road, and while we were listening for and trying to locate a Black-chinned Sparrow, a couple of deer made an appearance on the opposite side of the road on the slope and it was amazing how easily they could disappear into the foliage and rocks.

 Deer in the rocks and grass

Even though the first day was only about a half of a day birding, we really got to see some incredible birds.  The Rufous-backed Robin is one that I had only seen once before and I only got mediocre photos, but this one was more than accommodating and I along with Jennifer and Peggy thoroughly enjoyed it to the fullest.  The next day was going to be a long one and an epic one.  Stayed tuned for part two.


Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Another Arizona Chase - Arizona #400

After residing and birding in one state for any length of time, there comes a time when it becomes difficult to get any new life birds in that state. This is the case of myself and Arizona.  There are a few birds that reside in Arizona that I have not added to my life list, but that list is less than the number of fingers on my hand.  So I have come to the point where I have to rely on rarities to show up in the state and once reported, then one has to chase that bird in a fairly timely manner as those rarities many times do not stay long.

Since my return from the epic Minnesota trip, I had not done much extensive birding and birding pal, Tommy, had to work 10 days straight, but when he was scheduled for his 2 days off, he wanted to know if I was interested in chasing a rarity in northwestern Arizona, the Yellow-billed Loon.  This is North America's largest loon species and its breeding range is above the Arctic Circle in Canada, Alaska, and part of Siberia in Russia.  Winter usually finds them on the Pacific Coast of Alaska and Canada, but a few do wander south in the winter and this year 2 of them appeared on Lake Mohave in northwestern Arizona.  Surprisingly, at least one of them was still being seen, so Tommy and I drew up some hasty plans and headed northwest on a Thursday afternoon.  I had did a little research for a cheap motel and quickly found several bargains in the Nevada casino community of Laughlin.  We found rooms in a casino for only $20.00 per night!  We had reservations about it, but we were not disappointed in any way.  It was a great room and they had a fabulous breakfast buffet the next morning before we headed out on our search for the loon.  

Many sightings were at Davis Dam which was only about 10 minutes from Laughlin, so it did not take long to arrive.  Within 5 minutes of arriving, Tommy had found the Yellow-billed Loon near the Arizona side of the dam in his scope.  We both had great views of it and could discern all the proper field marks.  Then it dove and we never did see it come back up.  They are notorious for diving and then coming up far away from their diving spot and they can stay under water for a very long time.  It was not until early afternoon that we re-found this bird far over on the western Nevada side.  Best views were through a scope, but I did attempt to capture some photos with the camera.  Really bad photos, but with the distance, and the unrelenting wind blowing, and trying to keep my balance this is best I was able to come up with.  But the photos are good enough for identification purposes. This was a milestone bird for me as well, as it was my 400th bird in the state of Arizona.  They start getting tougher from here on out!

 Yellow-billed Loon - Common Loon behind it.

This was not the only species of loon that we found on Lake Mohave.  True to its name, the Common Loon, was by far the most common species.  We also got a scope view of a Pacific Loon, but dipped on the Red-throated Loon that a few others had found.  The Common Loon at least allowed a bit better photos as some of them were fairly close to the shore.  

 Common Loon

Common Loon

Another nice find was some Red-breasted Mergansers and in one group we had a couple of males.  Previously, I had only seen females, so the males were a nice addition.  

 Red-breasted Mergansers

A lone, but also distant, Horned Grebe was found by Tommy as well.  

Horned Grebe

I had never been to Lake Mohave before, so it was a new experience and it was an awesome body of clear water, surrounded by some cool desert mountains.  

Lake Mohave

With the warm weather a couple of Common Side-blotched Lizards came out to enjoy the heat of the sun.

Common Side-bl;otched Lizard

The best mammal was a Raccoon along the Colorado River at the casino.  


This post is one of the worst for great photos.  Hate to list excuses, but it was a challenge due to the distance of most of the water birds.  The wind, which made it difficult to hold the camera steady and focus on the subject.  And lastly, I was operating with a rental lens, one I was not familiar with.  It is funny how one gets so used to using their own equipment for so long, you get a feel for what adjustments need to be made.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

San Diego: The Quest For a Tattler

In preparing for this trip to San Diego, I had gone through a lot of lists and reports to see what new birds I could possibly find in San Diego.  Surprisingly, the list was relatively small.  Only 2 life birds stood out for me, without taking a pelagic trip for sea birds out on the ocean, the Wandering Tattler and the Scaly-breasted Munia.  Most of the other species in southern California were either birds that could also be found in Arizona, or birds that I had already found on a few previous trips to the area.  Prime target was Wandering Tattler.  After perusing the many eBird reports on this bird for the month of January, it appeared that it was most frequently encountered around the La Jolla Cove area on the coastline.  I decided that this would be my first stop to see if one might be hanging out in this area. Thanks to all the new smart technology and the use of my iPhone, I was able to locate this place in a reasonable amount of time.  What a view this was from the parking along the street high above the ocean waves crashing on the rocks below.  It was early morning and the cliffs were covered with cormorants; Brandt's, Pelagic, and a couple of Double-crested in the mix.  A few Brown Pelicans dotted the rocks as well.  But what quickly caught my attention was a Brown Booby on the cliffs with all the cormorants. Not a bird that I see that often and fairly close.

 Brown Booby

 Brandt's Cormorant

Brown Pelican

I decided to walk the entire coast road and along the way, I had the pleasure of seeing some California Sea Lions and at the far end, some Harbor Seals.  Both species had pups and they were pretty darned cute if you ask me.  And for those that are interested, sea lions have small visible ear flaps, whereas seals do not have visible ear flaps

 California Sea Lion & Pup

 Harbor Seal & Pup

Harbor Seal

Just as I reached the end of the walk, I noticed a different bird on a large boulder along the shore and once I got my binoculars on it, then I knew that I had struck gold; Wandering Tattler!  Sandpipers can sometimes be notoriously difficult to identify, but knowing behavior of many birds can most assuredly help in the ID process.  The Wandering Tattler has a behavior of bobbing and teetering as it walks or stand still.  This behavior is also seen in Spotted Sandpipers, but these 2 birds are vastly different in appearance, so it would be difficult to get them confused.

 Wandering Tattler

Also along this area I was able to find and photograph a Black Turnstone, a Royal Tern, and a Western Gull.

 Black Turnstone

Royal Tern

Western Gull

Mission accomplished for my number 1 target bird and I still had a lot of time left in the day.  My next plan was to visit Tijuana Slough, which is a place I had visited in May of last year and I liked it so well, I wanted to go again.  But along the way, I decided to make a slight detour off the freeway and visit Tecolote Canyon Natural Park.  Reports of the Scaly-breasted Munia had been sketchy on eBird up to this point, but this spot seemed to be the most likely possibility.  I pulled into the lot, parked my car and got out to hear an American Crow calling and then heard something unfamiliar to me on the north side of the parking lot, and lo and behold, there was the Scaly-breasted Munia!   That just seemed too easy, but then I remember so many of the times I have dipped on birds, so I guess I was due for a bit of good luck!

 Scaly-breasted Munia

Scaly-breasted Muni

But since I was there, I decided to hike a ways up the canyon to see what else I could find.  Got some decent looks at Bushtits, California Towhee, and California Thrasher.


 California Towhee

California Thrasher

I then made my way to Tijuana Slough, and while there, my zoom lens on my camera quite working.  I was left without a workable zoom lens for the rest of Saturday and all day on Sunday, so photos became a bit tougher.  Nevertheless, on Sunday I headed out to the area of the San Diego Harbor area.  I was looking for another bird that I had only seen once before in Rocky Point, Mexico, and at quite a distance.  This time I was hoping to see a Brant a little closer and also add it to my USA list.  I not only saw it, but I saw over 100 of them!  Without a zoom lens, I still had an issue with photos, but did the best I could with my regular lens.


Also, quite plentiful, were Surf Scoters, which is a bird we see occasionally in Arizona in the winter, most generally females.  But this time, I got to see the males and they are outstanding!

 Surf Scoters

One last stop on Sunday, gave me a view of a new reptile for me; a San Diego Alligator Lizard.  What a cool looking reptile, very long at probably about 14" from snout to tail and such tiny legs.

The trip was most definitely worthwhile and I got my 2 new life birds that I had targeted plus so much more.