Sunday, February 9, 2014

Another trip in the Planning

9 February 2014 Sunday: Louise and I took hike along the Nature Trail in Madera Canyon at sunset.  I needed to get away from the computer and the planning I've been doing.  We were fortunate to hear several Whiskered Screech Owls, new for the year (245). I am guiding locally tomorrow and am planning to leave early Tuesday morning on an expedition to see Black-capped Chickadee in far northern Arizona. Originally I was planning three days but since a client booked me for three continuous days beginning Friday, I've backed my excursion back down to two.
Some recent excursions:
6 February 2014 Thursday:  Today I did a solo trip to northern Maricopa County.  I planned out the target species, allocated adequate time for driving & birding, and pretty much ended the day back home when I planned. 
The first target was Golden-crowned Sparrow (3) being seen at the Desert Hills Golf Course clubhouse.  When I arrived my first order of business was to use the facilities.  It’s a long drive and I had been nursing a cup of coffee the entire time. I work towards the restroom with binoculars but not camera and before starting a checklist. I was kind of hurried.  Literally the first sparrow I see is the Golden-crowned Sparrow.  My biological urges subside for the moment, I return to the truck to get the camera and then back to the sparrow.  A dog walker passes by and flushes the sparrow.  I take care of my other business and re-find the Golden-crowned Sparrow among the accompanying flock of White-crowned Sparrows after about ten minutes of searching. I begin to take a few pictures when another dog with its human in tow pass nearby.  The sparrows flush again.  Re-find, dog passes by, sparrows, flush – this sequence of event repeats several times until I see Deb Finch.  We talk for a bit, look at the sparrow once again, and take off to our respective destinations.
My second target was the three remaining White-winged Scoters (4) on the south end of Lake Pleasant.  Upon arriving at southwest side of Lake Pleasant, I followed Desert Tortoise Road to where it ended in the lake.  I thought the cover to the south was Two Cow Cove (I ignored the map that I asked for at the pay station).  All I found here were a couple of Mallards close to the shore and a bunch of coots out in the cove.  I scanned the main body of the lake, at least what I could see and saw nothing.  I checked the map I had asked for at the pay station and realized that the desired cove was to the north. I backtracked a few hundred yards, found a dirt track (which happens to be named Two Cow Road), and parked at the top of a rise.  To the north in Two Cow Cove, near but not amongst a large flock of Common Goldeneye were three larger darker ducks.  These were the scoters!  I digiscoped a few images before heading down to the lake shore in their direction.  From the lakeshore, still looking north, I was able to study the three White-winged Scoters at length.  I also got many photographs including a few showing one bird flapping revealing the white wing patch in full glory.  Sweet!
The third target was the Herring Gull (3) being seen at the north end of Lake Pleasant. Within a few minutes of leaving the scoters, I am parking at the Castle Creek boat ramp.  There are several Ring-billed Gulls flying about and perching on a dock.  I count twelve Western Grebes, all paired off in Castle Creek Cove before finding a large flotilla of Aechmorphorus grebe.  While trying to count the large grebes, I find two Horned Grebes.  I digiscoped the Horned Grebes, they are considered an eBird rarity in Yavapai County.  I continue scanning and checking each gull.  Two immature Ring-billeds provided temporary amusement while I try turning them into Mew Gulls.  I find a Peregrine Falcon across the sitting on a point at the edge of the water.  I would have missed this bird except that when I scanned past it, it was shaking off water apparently bathing.  Then I see the Herring Gull flying by at about fifty yards.  It is an adult-looking bird, as reported, complete with a reddish spot on its bill. I think it’s going to circle and settle down with some nearby Ring-billed Gulls.  However it flies a direct path across the cove and lands on the opposite shore probably more than a quarter mile away.  I take a couple of digiscope images of a white blur.  I resume scanning and keeping an eye on the Herring Gull incase it flies again.  Across the widest part of the cove, I see a mass of dark objects flying towards me.  They turn out to be American Coots.  Behind them is an adult-looking Bald Eagle.  The eagle circles and repeatedly dives on something on the water that dives under water just prior to the eagle’s arrival.  I eventually see the eagle’s target, a coot.  On one swoop, the eagle hits the coot, which bounces out of the water, but the eagle fails to capture it.  This scenario continues for many minutes.  I use my iPhone to record crappy video. Final, while I was not taking video, the eagle grabs its prey, carries it to far shore and begins … well you know what.   What a wonderful place!
The fourth and final target for the day was a Dunlin (4) at the Gilbert Water Ranch.  Up to three Dunlins have reported from the furthest ponds from the parking area.  As I walk down the trail between pons 1 & 7 I find the previously reported White-throated Sparrow.  A few yards down the trail, I see another person photographing something in the wills along the southwest corner of pond 1.  She points out the Yellow Warbler and then asked me to identify a bird she previously took a picture of.  At first, looking at the back of her camera I think it’s a Verdin, however she points out the live bird in the bushes a few yards away.  It’s a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher.  I slowly continue to back my way to the southeast.  This is a wonderful place to bird watch. I really need to come here just to bird, and not when I’m chasing some rarity or year list twitch.  I look out over pond 4 and see a small flock of large shorebird sitting o a small mud island.  In the scope I see that one is smaller.  This is one of the Dunlin.  Just as I am getting the ready to take pictures, the entire flock flushes and flies towards me and then veers westward, I think they landed in Pond 5.  I scanned Pond 5 for about an hour but was not able to re-find any Dunlin.  This pond was full of Long-billed Dowitchers, Northern Pintail, and Least Sandpipers.  The Dunlin could have been there but I was tired and viewing conditions not that great.  As was heading out, on the west side of Pond 5 I witnessed a pair of American Kestrels copulating.  I captured a few post-copulation photographs to commemorate the moment.  I almost got back to my truck when I realized I had a few minutes to spare so walked a bit more hoping to find some Cattle Egrets that had been reported recently. No luck with the Cattle Egret. 
Per my plan, I arrived home around 5pm.  Tired but feeling good about the species I was able to add to the year list and for birding some areas that I have not birded before.  One of the reasons for doing a big year was to “force” me to bird in new places. 

7 February 2014 Friday:  I was out today with Deb, Nancy, & Richard (from the Houston area) for a day of general birding.  Our first stop was Patagonia Lake State Park.  The bird activity here was slower than normal but for folks on their first visit to Arizona it was delightful.  Personally the most interesting birds were the White-throated Swifts.  They were hawking unseen insects about 50 to 100 feet off the ground and over the lake.  It is really nice to see this species at such distances and for the most part they were quiet. We managed a modest 37 species at the lake.  The biggest surprise miss was Abert’s Towhees, I neither heard nor saw one.  The next stop was the Paton’s.  No matter the season, this is always a delightful place.  I think there were only three individual hummingbirds coming in, two Anna’s and one Broad-billed Hummingbird.  The seedeaters and the woodpeckers entertained. Next, after the long drive, was the Santa Rita Lodge Feeders in Madera Canyon.  Only seven species but most were new for the day.  Madera Kubo produced a few more new species including two male Magnificent Hummingbirds and a Painted Redstart. Overall it was a very nice day birding and it was a privilege to share it with Deb, Nancy, & Richard.

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