Monday, July 11, 2016
On Tuesday, July 5th, a group of 4 of us birders decided to head south and east from the Phoenix area to try for a couple of rarities that had been reported. The team consisted of myself, Susan Fishburn, Caleb Strand, and Josh Smith. There were a few target birds for Caleb and Josh as they would be lifers. No new lifers for me, but I would have the chance to add the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher to my Arizona list. After stopping at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson to try to locate a Purple Gallinule that had been reported the day before, we found out that they were closed that morning to perform their weekly mosquito spraying. So we continued on down the road to the Sierra Vista area to look for the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher.
This was not a life bird for me as I recall one that visited our farm in southwestern Nebraska when I was a kid, and then I got to see them in Texas a few years back. Once a person sees this bird, it definitely creates a memory for years to come and I can still picture that one from my childhood in Nebraska. Well this one was pretty easy to find and it put on quite a show for all of us and we all got great looks at it. It was a life bird for both Caleb and Josh.
What I had not expected was the sparrows we had on the road just before the STFL. We had Black-throated, Cassin's, and Botteri's Sparrows. Black-throated are fairly common in and around the Phoenix area, but the Cassin's and Botteri's are not. So to see these two species of sparrows and also being able to capture photos of them is pretty special.
Another bird found on the road was a pair of Chihuahuan Ravens. This is another bird I do not see too often and have never really been able to get decent photos of them. They provided us with great views and for once some decent photos.
Chihuahuan Raven (with a drgonfly for good measure)
By now it was staring to warm up and since we were close to the San Pedro House, we made a brief stop there where the only bird I photographed was a Barn Swallow. But the coolest thing was a Coachwhip snake that was relaxing in one of the trees.
It turned out to be a great day for Caleb and Josh. I believe Caleb garnered 3 life birds that day and Josh added 4 to his life list. It was hot as Arizona summers usually are.
A couple of photos to finish this post are a Cooper's Hawk at Sweetwater Wetlands and a 'Coue's' White-tailed Deer at Miller Canyon.
Coue's White-tailed Deer
Sunday, July 10, 2016
After my return to Arizona, I had the privilege to escort a birding friend from New York to the White Mountain area of eastern Arizona. A trip to this area in the middle of summer is always welcomed. It is a great place to escape the unbearable heat of central Arizona and also a fantastic place to see some really cool birds that cannot be found in the lower elevations amidst all the heat.
Ernie Welsh and I met on the same trip to Chiapas, Mexico, last July. Those kind of trips are awesome in the fact that one meets other birders from other parts of the country and it is nice to know these people as they can assist in finding birds in their own turf if one should ever decide to visit. Ernie is an accomplished birder and was approaching the mystical number of 800 on his life bird list. So the pressure was on for me to help him hit that magical number. Our route to the Greer area took us through the communities of Pinetop/Lakeside where I knew we could most likely find a Lewis's Woodpecker, which was one of Ernie's target birds. Just driving on the main highway through town, Ernie quickly spied a Lewis's Woodpecker. We got amazing views of it, even though we were parked on a busy street. We then headed to Woodland Lake Park, where I figured we would get much better views and they did not disappoint us. A rather unusual colored bird, especially for a woodpecker, but one this is highly sought for many birders.
Pygmy Nuthatches seemed to not be concerned with us as well. They were bold and brazen while feeding just a few feet from us in some low bushes.
In Greer we were treated to a Red-naped Sapsucker that also seemed unconcerned about us and was busy tapping away on these saplings along the Little Colorado River.
Gosh I love Golden-crowned Kinglets! They are such a nice treat to see especially having seen many of their counterparts, the Ruby-crowned Kinglets in the winter.
Bridge over the Salt River between Globe and Show Low.
After checking out both the East and West Forks of the Little Colorado River in Greer, and srriking out, we finally made it to Sheep's Crossing at the Old Baldy Trailhead in the search for an American Dipper. Congratulations go out to Ernie when he spied one flying down the river and in the process, we also discovered they had a nest under the bridge. They were making forays to the river to find food for the babies in the nest. This bird was number 800 for Ernie on his life list and I was happy to be with him to celebrate the occasion. Even went so far to write it on the rear window of my vehicle for documentation purposes!
American Dipper nest and babies.
And here is the traveling billboard!
When we got to South Fork, just west of Eager, we found a bit of a surprise. As we were walking the road we found a couple small birds flitting around in trees overhead. Once I got my binoculars on them, I realized that they were American Redstart juveniles! (This can be determined by the small patches of dark feathers in the chest area.) Normally this is a bird that I see in Arizona in migration and casually in winter. All the range maps of this species indicate it breeds much further east. The general western limit of its breeding range only extends to the far eastern part of Texas and the eastern part of the United States. To see juveniles in Arizona at this time of year indicates they were hatched in AZ. After returning home and consulting the Arizona Breeding Atlas, it appears there has been a history of this species breeding in this area in Arizona irregularly since 1936. But has been some time since any evidence had been discovered, It is experiences like this that goes to show how the study of birds is an ongoing and fact finding of research. Every little bit of data collected and notated, is immensely helpful to the trends of avian knowledge.
One other bird that caught my attention was this Brown-headed Cowbird with food in its beak. Normally not much to ponder with most species as it would appear it is fetching food for some nestlings. However, since this species is a brood parasite and it lays it eggs in the nests of other species for the unsuspecting other species to raise, it should not have a nest of babies to feed. Quite puzzling to me, but I am sure there is a logical explanation for this.
Another life bird for Ernie was this pair of Clark's Nutcrackers.
This Townsend's Solitaire was also a welcome sight at the river where it took a bath.
This was a much needed short break to an area of the state that I dearly love. And to see all the diversity of these different birds is always exciting. I think I assisted Ernie in getting about 6 or 7 life birds on this trip.
Saturday, July 9, 2016
I could probably make at least 2 more blog posts on my trip to Wisconsin, but instead I am going to attempt to wrap it up in one last post. This might be a tad long, and will have a lot of photos, but I need to move on to more birding adventures.
Finally it was time to return to the Manitowoc area, but before we did, we wanted to visit a spot that some others had recommended to us when we were at Horicon. So we found our way to the Sandhill Wildlife Refuge just north of Necedah. What a great little jewel this place was and it is grossly under birded. We had heard from these people that it was a great place to see Golden-winged Warblers and that was one species that had eluded us so far. But that changed quickly at this location. This bird hybridizes quite easily with Blue-winged Warblers. And as the BWWA's range has expanded northward, the GWWA's range is shrinking and their numbers are falling. That is not a good option in the scheme of the avian world. What a handsome warbler!
As we were driving the road, I finally got my first visual look at a Black-billed Cuckoo, another new life bird. It was rather surprising that this bird was not as elusive and skittish as the Yellow-billed species found in Arizona.
After catching fleeting glimpses and hearing Veerys at other spots in Wisconsin, we finally had a couple of them cooperate with us and allowed some photos.
Ovenbirds and American Redstarts were numerous as well.
A couple of butterflies from this spot:
Northern Crescent Butterfly
White Admiral Butterfly
Next stop on the way to home base was the Buena Vista Grasslands/Marsh area. In the winter this location is a good spot for Short-eared Owls, but this time of year, not so much. So we settled for some birds of the grasslands such as this Grasshopper Sparrow.
We discovered another Least Flycatcher after finding one the day before at Necedah.
Apparently this area is probably good for Greater Prairie Chickens as well after seeing the signs that are posted throughout the area.
Finally we headed back to the Manitowoc area and made one more stop at the Manitowoc Impoundment where we detected a Great Black-backed Gull. This bird was a lifer for me earlier in the year when Tommy and I made a visit with Josh to the Canal Park in Duluth, MN. This one was much closer and allowed for a better photo.
Great Black-backed Gull
The next day was one of local travelling and checking out the shores along Lake Michigan and surprisingly, Chris spotted another unusual gull and it turned out to be my last life bird on my trip; A Lesser Black-backed Gull.
Lessser Black-backed Gull
The birds around water are constantly on the move and are ever changing in diversity. This day belonged to the Bonaparte's Gull. We had well over 100 of these birds and this is actually the first time I have seen one in adult breeding plumage.
Flock of Bonaparte's Gulls
Common Grackles were aptly named as they were very common. When presented in proper sunlight, they sparkle and look very attractive.
Other critters seen at various spots.
The beach on Lake Michigan
Red Admiral Butterfly
Finally it was time to head back to Chicago to catch my flight home. It was bittersweet and ominous as well. because the temperature forecast in Arizona the day after I returned home was 120° F. That was not something to look forward to. So on the way back to Chicago, I made one last stop at the Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Wisconsin just north of the Illinois border. Did not find any new species, but enjoyed seeing a pair of Sandhill Cranes with 2 young in the grass. Bobolink males and females made a great showing along with a Gray Catbird and I finally had a Common Yellowthroat perch in the open long enough to capture a couple of photos.
Sandhill Crane with 2 colts in the grass at lower left.
Bobolink - Female
Bobolink - Male
I ended up with 21 new life birds on this trip. Missed a few target birds, but got the two rarest birds and plenty more. Wonder where my next adventure will lead and how much closer can I get to the magical number 700 life birds?