Brown Noddy

Brown Noddy

Monday, April 15, 2019

Lesser Prairie-Chicken - An Endangered Species

Earlier this month, Chris Rohrer and I embarked on a journey to Texas and New Mexico.  We had several targets in Texas, but only one target in New Mexico; the Lesser Prairie-Chicken.  This species is endangered and for that reason, locations are not posted publicly.  I spent some time weeks before our visit in researching on who to contact.  I was able to contact the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) in New Mexico and get permission to pay a visit to one of the leks where the males strut about and try their hand at seducing the females.  The location we visited is a permission only location, so it is not recommend that people just go in and disrupt this mating ritual.  The BLM gave me permission to visit and supplied some very good guidelines on how and when to view them, including the idea of visiting the lek the day before in the afternoon when it was not occupied.  That really helped us get a feel for the lek and how to approach it in the dark without lights.  We followed those guidelines and it really paid off.  I also submitted a couple of survey forms back to them on our experience.  Definition of lek is given below, courtesy of Google Definitions..   

lek2
/lek/
noun
noun: lek; plural noun: leks
  1. 1.
    a patch of ground used for communal display in the breeding season by the males of certain birds and mammals, especially black grouse. Each male defends a small territory in order to attract females for mating.

Here is a sneak peek of this remarkable bird.  They are endangered due to the fact that their populations are very fragmented and also have a threat of destruction of habitat.


We arrived about an hour and 25 minutes before sunrise.  We wanted to get there before they started coming in to the lek area.  Arriving after they have started, will disrupt the display for that day and in the long run might conceivably disrupt some of their breeding success for the year.  That would not a good outcome for an endangered species.  At about 5:25 am, we first detected a few clucks of some of the birds that were arriving.  We sat in the car with no lights, no engine running and the windows down.  (Yes, it was a bit chilly, but in the long run it was totally worth it.)  They started getting louder as time went on, even though it was still dark.  That is when I made recordings of them.  Still too dark and you for sure do not want to use a flash unit or you will spook them.  (I almost had a incident, but quickly recovered!)  As the sun started coming over the horizon and it got lighter, we had the pleasure of watching the males strut around and clucking and inflating their air sacs and erecting their crests.  That is when I took a couple of videos and then started taking photos as the light permitted.  As the morning continued to pass, individual females began to fly off from the lek and other into the grassland.  The males continued to strut and show off for the few remaining females.  At about 7:40 AM, the remaining 7 males all flushed and took off when a Northern Harrier came flying over the lek.  Finally that was our queue to leave.  Had we left any sooner, we would have spooked the entire population and we did not want to have that happen at the expense of humans.  The harrier was a more natural way for them to disband.  

Enjoy the following photos and the videos that I have added to YouTube.  You will need to click on the links to view the videos, but you will get a better feel for what happens and how they sound with all their clucking and calling.

Videos:


     


Female

 2 Females

Female

 This photo and the next appeared to be perhaps a first year male. He was always on the fringes of the activity and trying to strut his stuff, but got chased off countless times.  Maybe next year?


 Two adult males that spent a considerable time fighting for dominance on one side of the lek,




One photo shows some cages with a male perched on top.  They had scattered cages at this location where biologists were capturing and banding many of these birds.  My understanding is they are also radio tagging a few of them so they can track their movements throughout the year.  You can see that several of them have a lot of bling on their legs. Also wanted to remind anyone that attempts to visit a lek, aviod drinking a lot of liquids, including coffee early in the morning.  Sitting the car for almost 3 hours with no way to relieve yourself can get a bit uncomfortable. 

This was a memorable experience and one that I will not forget.  I will cover the rest of the Texas portion in a separate blog post.  

     

Monday, April 1, 2019

Puerto Penasco & Quitobaquito Springs

Last October, in conjunction with the AZFO (Arizona Field Ornithologists), annual meeting, Chris Rohrer and I joined forces to do a little birding in southwest Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. The meeting was held in Ajo, Arizona, which is just a short distance to the Mexico border and the city of Puerto Penasco is just a short 1 hour drive from the border.  We also visited a small oasis in the desert in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument called Quitobaquito Springs.  Going to start off the blog post with the birds of Puerto Penasco.  I always enjoy my trips to Puerto Penasco, (aka Rocky Point).  With the close proximity to Arizona, it is the shortest distance for us to visit the ocean and the beaches.  And of course shore birds and water birds are plentiful.

Terns filled the air as we walked the beaches of sand.  These birds are birds of the sky that feed by diving into the surf to capture small fish.  I recall my first visit to Rocky Point when I was naive to sea birds and the difficulty I had with identification.  But over the years of seeing the different species, it does get easier.  Still not an expert, as it is not a group of birds that are seen year-round in Arizona. We were joined by Keith Kamper for our birding portion in Rocky Point.
 
 Elegant Tern

Forster's Tern

Probably one of the most iconic birds to be found in and around oceans, is the Magnificent Frigatebird.  They are sometime called 'Pirates' of the Sea', due to their habit of trying to steal fish from other birds that are carrying food.  They have been known to harass other birds enough to cause them to regurgitate what they have just eaten and the frigatebird is quick to catch the food before it hits the water.

Magnificent Frigatebird

 Brown Pelican - A very common bird along the Pacific Coastal areas.

Gulls are plentiful as with most ocean areas, but the Yellow-footed Gull's range is pretty much confined to the Gulf of California, and is pretty much endemic to Mexico.  However, a few do wander northward and can sometimes be found in and around the Salton Sea of California.
 
Yellow-footed Gull

This next bird was the most unexpected find in the Rocky Point area.  This is a Fox Sparrow and it was feeding in some trash overflow from a local dumpster.  Somehow this bird forgot to stop off in Arizona for the winter and overshot its wintering target.  Not a common bird to find in Sonora, Mexico.  This is the 'Slate-colored' subspecies.

Fox Sparrow

We had the pleasure to observe 4 species of plovers during our visit.  It was great to be able to compare, Snowy, Semipalmated, and Wilson's Plovers all on the same beach and sand.  (By the way, I am kind of partial to Snowy Plovers!)

 Snowy Plover

 Semipalmated Plover

 Wilson's Plover

Black-bellied Plover

We also got to observe a couple long billed shorebirds; the Long-billed Curlew and the Whimbrel.  These next 2 photos help to show the differences for identification purposes.

Long-billed Curlew

Whimbrel

 Marbled Godwit - This bird has a much different bill than the previous 2 species.

 Willet - Take note of the next photo that shows a much different look when this bird takes flight.

 Willet - In Flight - Hard to believe all that black and white is being hidden when this bird is standing still.

Least Sandpiper - Probably the most common 'peep' or sandpiper around.

      Red Knot - Yep, it is hard to understand why this is a Red Knot, but this is their winter plumage.  Breeding plumage is much different.

The other part of this blog post is focused on a well known spot in the Sonora Desert, but is just inside the border in the state of Arizona.  It is so close to the border that one can see the vehicle traffic on the highway in Mexico that runs along the border.  Total distance is probably about 25 yards.  This is definitely a spot that would probably be destroyed if a border wall is built in this location.  Quitobaquito Springs is an oasis in the Sonoran Desert.  It is fresh water spring, that was well known to the Native Americans that resided in the desert southwest.  At one time, settlers lived near the spring and dug trenches and created a pond to capture the flowing water and use it for irrigation for a few fruit trees.  It is now part of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and is being preserved.  As it is the only source of water for miles around, obviously, it is a spot that many animals, birds, and insects will congregate.

Since the water is a draw to a lot of wildlife, there were many migrants that were visiting, including this Wilson's Snipe and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Wilson's Snipe - Keeping an eye to the sky for predators.

  Yellow-rumped Warbler - Feasting on a tasty snack that it found.

One of the big highlights at Quitobaquito Springs was a coupe of Odonata experts just happened to visit this spot earlier in the day and discovered a damselfly that is pretty rare for the United States.  If I remember correctly, this was only the 3rd record for this ode in the US.  So of course, we were lucky enough to see it as well.  Enjoy the Baja Bluet.

 Baja Bluet

 Amethyst Dancer

Desert Firetail

Exuviae of a dragonfly - In other works, this is this exoskeleton that remains of a dragonfly nymph after it molts. 

In addition to the birds and odes, this location is the home to the Quitobaquito Pupfish, an endangered small fish that is endemic to this location.  There are a couple other selected locations for this fish now with breeding taking place to ensure the fish does not become extinct in the case a disaster might take place at this location.  

 Quitobaquito Pupfish

Quitobaquito pupfish

Finishing up this blog post with photos of a couple more arthropods, just because I liked the photos. 

 Empress Leilia

 Variegated Meadowhawk

 White-lined Bird Grasshopper - This was a new insect for me and is pretty handsome for a grasshopper!

The AZFO meeting had some very informative presentations that adds to a person's knowledge of our avian world.  All in all, this was a wonderful 3 day adventure.