Tuesday, July 15, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-Six

This was another nice week of mixed personal time and guiding.  On Wednesday 25th I casually birded hummingbird feeders in Madera Canyon.  In the evening I checked in on the Buff-collared Nightjars along Proctor Road.  I recorded the male singing near site 3 that I believe is unmated and possibly recorded two singing simultaneously, the other I believe to be the Site 1 bird (possibly mated).  
On Thursday 26th morning, I got a late start but went over to fill the feeders at the Green Valley Starthroat spot.  The Starthroat showed up and perched for about 5 minutes 30 minutes after I got there.  I got a few well backlit photographs of it sitting in a Palo Verde Tree.  I did not see it come to any of the feeders though a few of the feeders are out of sight.  While I waited for the Starthroat to return, a report of a Marbled Godwit at Kennedy Park came in.  Mark Stevenson had found the bird along the south shore of the lake.  Though I had seen one earlier in the year, I did not photograph it.  So here was my chance to catch up on the “photo’d” list.  Forty minutes later I photographed the Marble Godwit.
I guided Brian Johnson on the 27th & 28th.  On Friday 27th, Brian & I headed to California Gulch for the Five-striped Sparrows.  Near the old dam & silted in pond (now cow pasture) we had a very tattered Common Black-Hawk fly over. This species was on Brian’s wish list however I warned him that it was not likely to be seen in this part of Arizona in the summer time.  It was probably a second year bird that was spending the summer wandering.  What ever the case, this situation was a fine example of “birding” – sometime you don’t get what you expect and other times you get what you don’t expect.  I have found it much easier on myself to “expect the unexpected” or don’t set any “expectations”.  I did however expect to see and hear Five-striped Sparrows in the section of the gulch now bypassed by Forest Road 217.  We heard five of these sparrows either singing or calling; the first being above the first stream crossing.  It wasn’t until we reached the north end of the riparian area that we finally put eyes on a Five-striped Sparrows.  And did he perform! Singing from various perches including one about twelve feet from us – nice bird!
We stopped at Pena Blanca Lake on our way back to Green Valley hoping to find a Least Grebe.  The grebes had not been reported for a few weeks and we did not find one this morning.  We also stopped by Rio Rico Ponds; found four Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks together with two White-faced Ibis on the pond east of the train tracks and one Tropical Kingbird.
Brian and I regroup in the evening for some night birding.  We park at site #3 along Proctor Road, hear a Buff-collared Nightjar singing back towards Site #1, walk back to Site #1 , listen to two male Buff-collared Nightjars counter singing, and then follow one of them back to Site #3.  Even though we did not see any nightjars, Brian was pleased with hearing them rather well.   Next we went up canyon to the Mount Wrightson Picnic Area and heard several Whiskered Screech-Owls and Mexican Whip-poor-wills. 
On Saturday 28th, Brian & I began birding in Green Valley.  While the Gilded Flicker played hard to get giving us only flying away views, the local group of Harris’s Hawks put on a nice show with three individuals perched up.  Our next stop was Florida Canyon with the targets being the Rufous-capped Warblers and Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  The pair of warblers performed nicely and while waiting for the warblers to return Brian & I heard an unfamiliar warbler calling.  While Brian continued watch for the warblers, I searched for the vireo.  When I first saw the vireo I immediately recognized it as one of the “red-eyed” types and took several long distance photographs.  I looked at the images on the back of the camera and re- enforced my initial impression.  I showed one of the images to Brian and he agreed with my initial impression.  Looking at the screen on the back of the camera I thought bird had an overall yellowish wash so I was beginning to think “yellow-green”.  I moved closer to the Sycamore tree the vireo was foraging in.  Not immediately find the bird I played a recording of a Red-eyed Vireo song – no response that I noticed.  I then played the so-called “tchway” call - that was the call we were hearing!  The vireo appeared about 12 feet away in an oak next to us.  A quick binocular view provided all the field marks needed for identification: red eye, white supercilium, dark gray crown trimmed with thin black frame, and mostly whitish under parts (minimal yellowish on the flanks).  We had a Red-eyed Vireo!  This was my first for the year.  Brian, though a common species where he comes from, gets into the excitement of seeing a locally rare bird.  While hiking out, we hear and then see a male Black-capped Gnatcatcher. As we watched the gnatcatcher disappear in the thick cactus & thorny bush habitat, another bird flies by.  I initially thought the dark bird was a Varied Buntings or a Blue Grosbeak, but something wasn’t right.  I find the bird foraging on the ground a few meters away.  It’s a Five-striped Sparrow, a species very rare in Pima County and local anywhere north of the border.  I believe this only the second time one has been found in Florida Canyon.
On the way to Madera Canyon, we stopped at intersection of FR 62A/481 and walking down into Florida Wash.  We were searching again for Black-capped Gnatcatchers since our previous opportunity was so nice interrupted by the Five-striped Sparrow.  Here we heard & saw one female plumaged Black-capped Gnatcatcher foraging in oaks.  I believe they may be nesting in the vicinity again based on her behavior.  In Madera Canyon, we hiked the Carrie Nation Trail hoping to find an Elegant Trogon.  We hiked to the second stream crossing and even though it was rather birdy we did not hear or see a trogon. 
On Sunday 29th I did some local casual birding at the Green Valley Water Treatment Facility and Torres Blancas Golf Course.
I reached another milestone today Monday 30th; I saw two new year birds which puts my total at 373. This number is a milestone because it is the most species of birds I’ve seen in Arizona in a single calendar year and amazingly I still have anoth half-the-year to go!
I headed to Las Cienegas NCA again to search for a Common Nighthawk and planned to go to Cave Canyon to look for a Hooded Warbler, both were reported yesterday.  I searched the open grasslands around the Empire Ranch without seeing any nighthawks flying about.  I stopped at Empire Gulch and walked to the spring hoping to see an American Redstart that was also reported yesterday; not a year bird but still a good bird for Arizona any season.  Just before reaching the spring I hear a song that reminds me of a Warbling Vireo yet not quite. I am in the process of recording the song when I see Andrew Core.  Both of us get decent recordings of the bird and we decide that we are probably hearing an “Eastern” Warbling Vireo, a subspecies that neither of us had observed in Arizona.   Andrew plays the song of the eastern form and both of us recognize it as the same bird we are hearing and the bird responds by investigating us.  We see the bird visually and confirm we have a Warbling Vireo but there are only subtle plumage differences between the two forms. We do however take many photos.  While recording the vireo’s song, I am looking though a gap in the canopy and see a Common Nighthawk flyby.  Andrew records me exclaiming “Yes, nighthawk!” while he was trying to record the vireo. After documenting this bird the best we can Andrew and I part ways.
I head over to nearby Cave Canyon where a Hooded Warbler was reported.  I have never birded Cave Canyon and have only rarely birded the east slope of the Santa Rita Mountains.  After following the excellent directions, I hear it sing twice and catch a brief glimpse of the male Hooded Warbler.  Finding this bird feels somewhat anticlimactic.  I’m not sure if it was the poor views or that I had potentially just seen a first for Arizona.   
On Tuesday 1st I join Mark, Molly, & Andrew in a search for the Five-striped Sparrow & Red-eyed Vireo I found in Florida Canyon a few days prior.  Both birds would be county birds for Andrew and the sparrow a county bird for both Molly & Andrew.   Though we do not find the two target species, we do find the Rufous-capped Warbler pair that are probably breeding nearby, rack up a pretty decent checklist for Florida Canyon, and saw a Coati scurring up the hill side.  Mark & Molly headed up to Madera Canyon while Andrew dropped me off at home.  Later in the afternoon, I get word from Molly that they had a possible male Allen’s Hummingbird at Madera Kubo.  As soon as I get the news I head up and find the suspect.  I was confident that I saw the necessary field marks to identify an Allen’s Hummingbird, solid green back, thin outer retrices (R5), and un-notched R2. I not able to get any photographs of this bird but did photograph my second Coati of the day. 
Amazingly I saw four new year birds this week bringing my total to 374.

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