Wednesday, June 18, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-Three

4 June 2014 Wednesday: Due to a medical issue, Ed & Sylvia cancelled their last morning.  So I took the opportunity to fill the hummingbird feeders where the Green Valley starthroat has been visiting.  The bird arrived at 06:52, fed for 45 seconds and left.  I waited for another hour and it did not return.  I then headed over to the Green Valley Waste Water Plant. Not much of interest except a pair of Blue-winged Teal and a male Northern Shoveler.
5 June 2014 Thursday:  Today was the first of two days with Nolan from Arlington Heights Illinois.  Nolan began making arrangements for these two days back in September 2013.  Then and now his two primary targets were Five-striped Sparrow and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.   For this day we headed down to California Gulch.  The Five-striped Sparrows were uncooperative at first.  We walked all the way to the third stream crossing before hearing a male singing.  This crossing hides one a the few puddles of open water (and maybe the only puddle this season) and at least one pair of Five-striped Sparrows & several other birds (Varied Buntings, Rufous-crowned Sparrows) were staying close.  We spent a fair bit of time watching & photographing various species of birds at this water hole before heading out.  Somewhat ironic was a five more Five-striped Sparrows detected (singing or calling) in the heat of the morning as we retraced our tracks back out of the gulch. 
After a two-hour drive we found Montosa Canyon rather quiet (and hot).  We managed to bird for an hour; finding 17 species including a family group of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.  The fledged family of Black-capped Gnatcatchers was not to be found.
6 June 2014 Friday: Fortunately the Black-capped Gnatcatchers in Florida Canyon were friendlier this morning.  I heard & then saw a female Black-capped Gnatcatcher in flight.  By following her trajectory, we were able to locate a calling male and got good views and some decent photos.  Before we found the gnatcatchers, I saw a large hummingbird flyby and then hover & land at a dried agave stalk.  I knew immediately that it was a Plain-capped Starthroat but was not able to get Nolan onto the bird.  There was a report of a starthroat a few days prior about a quarter mile up canyon so this was probably the same bird.
7 June 2014 Saturday: I was back in Florida Canyon this morning.  David Pettee from Massachusetts had requested we search for Rufous-capped Warblers & Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  We found two (a pair?) of the warblers 45 minutes after starting out and flushed three Montezuma Quail (unexpected) as we hiked back down.  We wandered the around the area I had seen the gnatcatchers yesterday and only heard one further into the thorny tangle.  [David found them in Montosa Canyon the next day.]  While David & I were searching for the gnatcatchers, I got a phone call and message from Cora at Madera Kubo.  One of her guest reported a Fan-tailed Warbler behind their cabin.  Even though I was skeptical, David & I decide to check it out.  When we arrive at Madera Kubo and a little more information from Cora and the guest that believed she saw a Fan-tailed Warbler.  My skepticism increases but David & I walk the creek bed from the Amphitheater Bridge to Kubo just in case.  [A Fan-tailed Warbler spent several days in late May of 2011 along this stretch of Madera Canyon.] 
8 June 2014 Sunday: I “just-in-case” walked the drainage below Madera Kubo once again this morning.  If there was a Fan-tailed Warbler around, it was playing hard to get.  I watched the feeders at both the Madera Kubo and the Santa Rita Lodge. I found nothing unusual for the season.
Sunday evening I went to my spot for the Buff-collared Nightjar.  This evening the nightjar began singing at 20:06 in the distance, somewhere to the southwest of site 7.  It appears that the nightjars are not nesting where I found them nesting last year.  I stopped on the cattle guard to listen for the other nightjar.  There was a Common Poorwill calling close so I decided to record it.  While recording the Poorwill, a nightjar began singing and then two Buff-collared Nightjars were singing simultaneously.  I got at least one recording of both singing.  This means that there are three male nightjars in the area!
9 June 2014 Monday: Not much this birding activity this day.  I went over to check on the Plain-capped Starthroat, did not see it.   
10 June 2014 Tuesday: I headed over to Las Cienegas NCA this morning primarily to search for Yellow-billed Cuckoos.  Cuckoos have been reported at various spots in Arizona for about a week and yesterday Arlene reported them from St. David.  That was the spark I needed to go to my favorite spot for them, Empire Gulch.  Once getting off highway 83 on to Empire Ranch Road I opened all my vehicle windows so that I could listen for singing grassland sparrows.  Amongst the few Botteri’s Sparrows hear singing and the many Eastern (Lillian’s) Meadowlark I heard a Western Meadowlark song.  I saw this singing bird about 150 feet away and could see little white in the close tail.  Before I could reach for my recorder the Western Meadowlark flew, flaring its tail revealing minimal white when compared to nearby Eastern Meadowlarks.  The tail appeared white roughly the outer quarters and dark on the center half.  The song of the Western was bubbling and musical while the nearby Lillian’s were singing their typical slurred whistled “see yur see yeeer”.  The Western Meadowlark flew away from me and disappeared over a rise.  I didn’t hang around to listen for it further.  A little further down the road I saw and photographed three adult & two young Pronghorns. 
I walked from the parking lot at Empire Gulch, to the west past the “headwater”, through the gate, and up to roughly the back of the headquarter buildings, about a half mile.  I heard my first cuckoo in the vicinity of the gate high in the cottonwoods.  This bird was doing the “cooing” calls and had it not emanated from the top of the cottonwoods it could have been confused with a roadrunner.  When I had almost made my way back to the truck, I heard the classic “cuk cuk cuk cacacowlup cacacowlup” (my phonic description sucks).  I eventually saw the pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and tracked one down and got a butt-shot photograph.
Besides the targeted cuckoo, there were many other birds along Empire Gulch, particularly where there was water.  Many family groups of Lucy’s Warblers, several Blue Grosbeaks, Summer Tanagers, Common Yellowthroats, singing Yellow Warblers, and unseen but vocal Yellow-breasted Chats. I was surprised to see a Pacific-slope Flycatcher believing it was too late in the season for them.  However, when looking at eBird records, they are regular migrants through the area until mid-June.
Next I headed over the Cottonwood Pond.   I figured that any body of open water in this grassland-desert should be attractive to birds & wildlife.  As I am pulling in to parking area, a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos fly by and land in a mesquite at the edge of one of the impoundments.  And almost immediately one of the cuckoos flies back with a male Vermilion Flycatcher chasing.  Across this same impoundment is a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks feeding on the aquatic vegetation seemingly unconcerned with my presence.  A Great Blue Heron flies from a nearby cottonwood and heads away. This is a pretty neat place and deserved more time however it is getting warm and I’m ready to go.
I drive out with windows open listening for singing sparrows or meadowlarks and stopping for sparrows flitting off the road.  One stop for a singing Botteri’s Sparrows produced a Grasshopper Sparrow.  For some reason I didn’t have Grasshopper Sparrows on my mind but this is one of the few areas that they breed in southeast Arizona.  At another stop, the flitting sparrow turn out to be a Cassin’s Sparrow.  This bird was silent but I got decent binocular views and some photographs that show none of the field marks. 
About a half-hour later, after coming out of the west end of Box Canyon I see a hawk soaring low over the road carrying a snake.  I am able to stop, grab the camera, and shoot several photographs of a Red-tailed Hawk carrying some sort of snake.  What a wonderful way to wrap up a little adventure and two new year birds.

End of the week year total: 368.

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