Tuesday, September 30, 2014

AZ Big Year - Weeks Thirty-Six & Thirty-Seven 9/3-9/16

On Wednesday 3rd I guided Bill Jacobs for a day of birding around Madera Canyon and Green Valley.  I picked up Bill at the Santa Rita Lodge early and we quickly headed out to the grasslands to hear (and see) the waning dawn chorus.  Waning from both the time of day and the end of the season.  Afterwards we headed into Green Valley and found a much obliging Harris’s Hawk perched on a light post over La Canada & twenty-six Gambel’s Quail on Quail Drive (of course).  On our way back up toward Madera Canyon we stopped at the Florida Wash crossing.  Highlights there included multiple MacGillivray’s Warblers, Green-tailed Towhee, five Varied Buntings, and two Crissal Thrashers that we heard but could not see.  A nice walk along the Proctor Road trail produced two species exceptionally low in the canyon, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and a female Elegant Trogon.  The trogon played hard to see while the flycatcher perched up nicely for photographs.  We also had a flyover Zone-tailed Hawk, an incredible nine MacGillivray’s Warblers, and three very close Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  Below the Madera Canyon Picnic Area we had a flyby of one of the Plain-capped Starthroats.  We hiked up the Carrie Nation Trail hoping to get a good look at an Elegant Trogon.  The entire hike was very quiet.  Wandering down to the Chuparosa Inn B&B, we found a male Blue-throated Hummingbird as well as several other expected hummingbird species.  We finished up at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders where two Plain-capped Starthroats and the female White-eared Hummingbird visited.  This turns out to be my last sighting of the Starthroats this year.  After Bill had departed (by about five minutes), a male Arizona Woodpecker shows up at the suet feeder.  Bill had very much wanted to see this species and thought it was a joke when I shared my eBird checklist with him. 
On Friday 5th Louise & I left for our nearly annual trip to Colorado to visit my Mom on or about her birthday.  Though these trips are rarely planned for birding, I did plan our route with my AZ Big Year, my Colorado state list, and my ABA life list in mind.  For my AZ Big Year (and Arizona state list) I planned to spend a few hours near Teec Nos Pos is the extreme northeast corner of Arizona.  A few recent and several not so recent records of Black-billed Magpie were of extreme interest.  We arrived at Teec Nos Pos Wash after 4pm.  This location is on the Navajo Indian Reservation and I had never stopped here before.  I was pretty unsure of what to do but parked my truck just off the highway and ventured on foot towards the riparian area marking the wash.  After a few minutes I heard what was once a very familiar call, a Black-billed Magpie.  I pursued the calls for a little ways until the uncomfortable feeling of unknown terrain and being on the reservation and not knowing whether I should have a permit and … I turned back.  I would have really liked to have seen my first magpie for Arizona but had to settle with a heard only.  Next we tried a residential area south of town where friends had recently (5 days prior) seen a magpie.  Again, I hear one but could not see it.  So we left.  Within a few minutes, we crossed into Colorado and across the San Juan River.  We crossed through the shortest stretch of New Mexico but I do not recall seeing any signs except for the Four Corners Monument.  Once into Colorado, Black-billed Magpies became a roadside attraction, well for at least this birder. This was only my second time leaving the state so far this year.
After spending the night in Cortez, Louise & I took a hike in Mesa Verde National Park Saturday 6th morning.  We hiked the Spruce Canyon and the Soda Canyon Overlook Trails.  This was a nice relief from driving all day the previous day and driving much of the rest of the current day.  But before we really got back to driving, I had planned to look for a colony of Acorn Woodpeckers outside of Durango.  I navigated to the coordinates I found on eBird to the Rafter J Subdivision near Durango in La Plata County.  Louise first spotted the woodpeckers.  There were at least 3 Acorn Woodpeckers present storing acorns in a large dead Ponderosa Pine (standing high above all the live trees in the surrounding forest).  They have been reported here since at least 2001.  This was my first attempt at this colony though I had tried for them near Trinidad several years ago. A new state bird!  The remainder of the drive from Durango to Gunnison though uneventful bird-wise was full of wonderful scenery. 
I was up and out of our hotel early Sunday 7th morning.  I left Louise to enjoy her morning routine in the hotel while I enjoyed the sunrise at 36 degrees in the low sagebrush covered hills south of Gunnison.  I eventually found my quarry, at 7:06am a Gunnison Sage-Grouse flushed from the side of County Road 38A several hundred yards north of the Gunnison-Saguache County line.  Within ten minutes, eight grouse had flushed and I got a few bad photographs of flying birds.  Wanting to see (and photograph) this species on the ground before flushing, I tried the other fork of the road.  And in short order, one sage-grouse flushed while another stood fifty feet away at the side of the road.  While photographing this bird I see another standing on a hilltop rock several yards away.  This is amazing, a new ABA bird!  Ultimately five Gunnison Sage-Grouse depart this area, one of them by running over several low ridgelines.  I smiled all the way to Niwot, 5 hours away.
Louise and I spent much of the next four days around my Mom’s yard with an excursion on Monday 8th to Rocky Mountain National Park to see Elk.  For myself, I needed to get above timberline into the tundra.  Evening though it was cold, windy, and sprinkling I took a half-mile walk on one of the paved paths off Trail Ridge Road.  Louise & Mom stayed in the car.  I heard & saw Brown-capped Rosy-Finches and Marmot, no ptarmigan.  We did see Elk, mostly cows & nearly full-grown calves in Moraine Park.  It was very wonderful to spend some time in a place that was such an important part of my youth.
On Thursday 11th morning, Louise & I took a few hours to walk around Golden Ponds Park and Nature Area in southwest Longmont.  On our second pass around the paths we finally found a mixed-species flock that included a Blue-headed Vireo & a Tennessee Warbler, both species rare locally.
On Friday 12th Louise & I left my Mom and started our drive back to Colorado.  I drive was most uninteresting bird-wise except for a rest stop in Mora County, New Mexico where I saw a kettle of thirty-four Swainson’s Hawks and a hatch-year Townsend’s Warbler.  After a nice Thai dinner in Santa Fe we spent the night in Socorro.  Both of us were somewhat anxious to get home and see our kitty so we opted to not make a pass through Bosque del Apache on Saturday 13th.  However I did make a quick loop around Lake Cochise.  With binoculars only, I picked out a Whimbrel among the loose flock of Long-billed Curlews and a Sanderling.  The latter was fortuitous by being my 385th year bird in Arizona to date.

On Sunday 13th I chased a report of a Prothonotary Warbler in Madera Canyon.  I covered the area around the Madera Picnic Area and the Santa Rita Lodge.  The only noteworthy bird I saw was a single Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher downstream from the Madera Picnic Area, somewhat late in the season. One Monday 15th & Tuesday 16th, between appointments and chores I birded the local ponds hoping for a stray gull or tern prior to the arrival of a tropical weather event.

At the end of this period, the year list is at 385, with Black-billed Magpie and Sanderling being the new ones.

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