Monday, March 27, 2017
The 8 days of the trip to Oregon/Washington were filled with RAIN! It rained every day during our stay and at one brief moment in the state of Washington, we did see a few snow flurries, but nothing to cause any road condition problems. Only once did we encounter a MONDAY, but it was a special MONDAY as I picked up 2 new life birds that day. The first was the Gray Partridge (see previous post) and the second lifer was one that has been on my wish list for a few years, the Short-eared Owl. This owl is one that is rather difficult to get in Arizona although they are reported from time to time in the winter months. We arrived at the location that Khanh knew about at dusk and, of course it was RAINING! I got my binoculars on it quickly and confirmed the ID and was happy. Had to bump up the ISO on the camera since it was so dark, which allowed me to get some photos of this cool owl. I now have only 2 species of owls left to see in the list of North American owls; one is pretty easy in the right range and the other is one of the hardest to find.
A couple more lifers that I added to my life list on this trip were found in Washington. They were the Bohemian Waxwing and the White-headed Woodpecker. The Bohemian Waxwing is a cousin to the Cedar Waxwing that we see quite frequently in Arizona, but it is a bit larger and grayer overall with a dark red vent area. They are very nomadic and can be hard to find as they travel a lot, in search of food sources. Luckily we stumbled on to a flock of about 200.
The White-headed Woodpecker has been on my wish list for a long time and I know they can be found a few hours away in California, but I had never taken the time to pursue them in their habitat. We had a stunningly beautiful female show herself to us. The white head on a coal black back and body is very striking.
A couple other lifers that I acquired in the Pacific Northwest were the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch and the American Tree Sparrow. The Rosy Finches were using some of last year's Cliff Swallow nests for roosting at night. Who said birds are not smart? We got there at twilight just as they were going to roost and had to use our flash to get photos. Not great for photography and I usually despise using a flash and try to avoid it at all costs.
Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
The American Tree Sparrow was one of the hardest birds to get for my satisfaction. They did not cooperate by any means. We had heard them in a few spots and I caught glimpses of them, but not enough to confirm the key field marks for an ID. Finally at one stop, I got some good looks, but photos were not meant to be. They really played hide-and-seek with me. The photo below is the best I could get and one has to really look hard to see that there is a bird in the background behind all those branches.
American Tree Sparrow - Yes, it is in there!
Other birds that I was able to get photos of included Rough-legged Hawk; one I have never photographed before. And a female American Three-toed Woodpecker.
American Three-toed Woodpecker - Female
Even some of the birds that are found in this area are the same species as those found in Arizona, but some of them can look quite different. The next 4 photos are examples of these birds.
Horned Lark (Western Rufous Group)
Gray Jay - 2 different subspecies in the northwest
Gray Jay - 2 different subspecies in the northwest
Spotted Towhee - less spots and its call was a bit different as well.
Even though it was RAINY and we only had one MONDAY, we still got to see some great birds. Will have one more post to cover this expedition, so you can look forward to it in the future.
Saturday, March 18, 2017
Just returned from a trip to the Pacific Northwest and spent some time traversing the states of Oregon and Washington. The word 'Chickens' is a collective term that many birders refer to that covers a lot of the game birds found in the United States. And the reference to 'Hunting', in the mind of a birder is to view, observe, and document any bird in the wild. As a much younger lad, many decades ago, hunting was a bit different for me as I did a little bit of actually hunting with a shotgun, especially Ring-necked Pheasants in Nebraska. I have not actively hunted anything for many years with a shotgun and no longer have the desire to do so. When I refer to 'hunting' now, it is only as a birder, not a hunter with a gun and my weapons of choice are binoculars and a camera!
Chris and I planned this trip several months ago and we were fortunate to have a great guide during our stay. Khanh Tran, knows this area well and he knows his birds very well; where to find them, and lots of information on behaviors and what to expect at different times of the year. One has to cover many miles to find some of these birds as many are located in some very remote areas. The winter this past year in this area has been very wet with lots of snow and rain. We dealt with gray skies and intermittent rain throughout our stay.
First 'chicken' we chased was the Spruce Grouse. I quickly learned how tough it is to find this bird. One almost has to know its territory as they do not wander far. They are quite cryptic and camouflaged in thickets of spruce trees and they are also quite confiding, so once found, one can approach them fairly easy with caution. We had to trek over some snow for about 1½ miles to get to the territory. But once this stunning male was found, he was very cooperative and it was an exalting encounter.
Spruce Grouse - Male
Note how easily it blends in when it is hidden in a tree.
The next species we had the privilege to observe was a Greater Sage-Grouse and a lek. This is really pretty special and the location will go unpublished to preserve this area for future generations of courtship displays for this bird. A lek is a type of bird territory in which males of a species gather for courtship displays. These locations are used year after year and if not protected, it could jeopardize future breeding and a decline in the numbers of these magnificent birds. We were a bit early for a lot of serious courtship, as we counted 18 males and only 1 female. The numbers are more likely to increase in the next couple of weeks.
Greater Sage-Grouse - Male
Note the lone female on the right side of the photo, with 2 males on the left.
This next 'chicken' is the Ruffed Grouse and was not a lifer for me as I saw several in Minnesota in January 2016, but this time the numbers were higher and offered much better photographs. All grouse have cryptic plumage that offers camouflage in their environment for survival purposes. But these plumages are very intricate and beautiful.
Ruffed Grouse - Note how it blends in with the tree
A bit more extreme than the grouse species is the family of quail. I have seen California Quail before, but had never been able to photograph them. This trip rectified that problem with providing us several looks at this bird. Similar to the Gambel's Quail we have in Arizona, but still much different and in some respects a bit more colorful.
California Quail - Male
California Quail - Female
The next species is one that we looked for on just about every road that we traveled and finally we found a group of about 13 of them along side of the road, the Gray Partridge. But as we turned around to go back for a better look, they started running away from us and eventually flew. Great photos were not meant to be this time, but I did get some good looks through the binoculars and seeing the bird is more important than capturing a photo. Here are a couple of the butt shots that I managed.
Gray Partridge - on the run
This was a great experience for me to learn how hard it is to find some of these game birds and and to learn their habits and behaviors. It is a group of birds that can be difficult to find and see, but when found the rewards are outstanding. Stay tuned to more future posts on this trip to the marvelous Pacific Northwest!
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
With a big trip planned in the very near future, I have been staying close to home recently, but have had the opportunity to guide a few out-of-state birders to find birds in and around the Phoenix area. It has all been a lot of fun and it is interesting how different birders have different goals. Some just wanted to see birds, ANY birds, but some wanted to hone in on some target birds. I had the pleasure to assist Geruza from Texas, Barry from British Columbia, Susan from Colorado, and Marvin from Nebraska. Was a lot of fun meeting these intrepid birders and enjoying their excitement when they locked on to something new.
First person was Geruza from Texas and we took in 2 days of birding; first along the Salt River and Kiwanis Park and day 2 was spent at the Gilbert Water Ranch and Boyce Thompson Arboretum. She was new to Arizona birding and just wanted to see as much as possible. Here are a few of the photos I managed to capture during those two days.
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
The biggest shock came at Kiwanis Park in Tempe while we were checking out the Rosy-faced Lovebirds and we found this incredibly beautiful Rose-ringed Parakeet and it is a blue mutation. It is a popular cage bird and the normal color is green, but pet breeders have a knack in developing color mutations and I have always loved this color mutation of this bird, but have never owned one. I know this is an escapee, and I did post this to several Facebook lost pet sites. Not sure if the original owner was found or if a local pet bird breeder may have captured it for safety sake.
Rose-ringed Parakeet - Blue color mutation
Next visitor was Barry from British Columbia, and he has been to Arizona in the past and has done a fair amount of birding on his own and for this trip he was hoping to find the hard-to-get Le Conte's Thrasher. This bird is kind of a Maricopa County specialty. While it is found in other parts of southwestern Arizona, the famous 'Thrasher Spot' west of Buckeye is well known. We did find the Le Conte's Thrasher and Barry also learned how difficult this bird can be to find and observe. We also got some other birds that were new to him as well. It was a great outing!
Number 3 was Susan from Colorado and her goals were a bit similar to Barry's; get the Le Conte's Thrasher. So it was back to the same location. And once again, I was able to help Susan get on a Le Conte's Thrasher. Plus we got Bendire's and Crissal as well.
Gilded Flicker - male and female
The final birder was an 86 year young gentleman from Nebraska and his enthusiasm for birds has not diminished at all and being able to show him some birds up close that were relatively calm around humans was a delight for him at the Gilbert Water Ranch.
Have an out-of-state trip planned in the very near future. Hope to come back with some photos of some new life birds. Stay tuned for more.