Thursday, October 9, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty 10/1-10/7

As mentioned in my last post, I have another target bird, the Clay-colored Sparrow.  Though considered rare this species is probably fairly regular as a fall migrant.  They winter in south Texas through western Mexico and are occasionally found in southern Arizona in the winter.  I do not see Clay-colored Sparrows every year but when I do, it is usually in a mixed-species sparrow flock, often with Brewer’s or Chipping Sparrows.  So that is my focus.  It is the First of October and that means I should also be looking for vagrant warblers.  I’ve wanted to go play in the mud, so Wednesday 1st morning I head down the Santa Cruz River at Clark Crossing.  I heard the conditions there were great for anyone wanting to play in the mud – I wasn’t disappointed.  The De Anza Trail doesn’t exist anymore immediately south of Clark Crossing.  The Santa Cruz River has created multiple channels and much of the underbrush has been washed away or buried in mud.   It still looks promising for birds, particularly waterthrushes which I did not find.  I did find one mixed-species flock the held several warblers including a Tennessee Warbler.  This species is easily missed and is not found every year.  I feel pretty fortunate to have found one for the year and so early in the fall.  Once I had enough of playing in the mud, I following the De Anza Trail to the north.  Rather than mud, the trail was dry & dusty, I found mosquitos.  While I was listening to the Sinaloa Wren performing his ratchet calls, it was all I could do to not run because of the mosquitos.  There were at least six Gray Hawks still present, though I only saw a couple of them I heard six distinct individuals calling as an adult Zone-tailed Hawk cruised south along the river at tree-top level. After leaving Tubac, I stopped at the Amado Pond.  There was very little activity except the fifteen Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and they weren’t very active.  I made what I thought was going to be just a scouting stop at the Elephant Head Road trailhead for the De Anza Trail.  I wanted to check out the weed conditions to see if it was worth a stop at a later time to look for sparrows.  It was late morning and I didn’t think much would be active.  The weeds, grass, and scattered Mesquites looked good for sparrow.  I walked from my truck to get a better look at several yellow-bellied kingbirds when I flushed a small flock of sparrows.  The second sparrow I look at in my binoculars was a Clay-colored Sparrow! I studied it for several seconds before it took off with at least two Brewer’s Sparrows and six Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows. What an incredible morning of birding! At this point in the game, any year bird is good; particularly good when they come in twos, and even better when I find them myself rather than chasing someone else’s find. Now I need to find another target bird.
Townsend's Warbler
Louise & I decide late in the morning Thursday 2nd to take a hike up in Madera Canyon.  It is October and I decided this would be the first of the Quetzal Quest Treks.  More like a training hike than a QQT.  It was a wonderful hike with the highlight bird-wise being four Townsend’s Warblers. There were quiet a few Red-bordered Satyrs flitting about and Madera Creek is flowing wonderfully.   The biggest highlight of all was being able to spend some quality time with my beautiful wife.

Red-bordered Satyr
Hopkins Fork Madera Creek
On Friday 3rd I ventured up in to Florida Canyon.  It has been a long while, since late August that I’ve birded here.  I was hoping that the Rufous-capped Warblers had moved down the canyon a bit making it easier for guiding.  The paths that birders created & basically the entire area are now overgrown and the creek is running full.  Because of the former, seeing birds was difficult.  Because of the latter, hearing birds was difficult.  Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable walk through the bush.  I did hear at least one Rufous-capped Warbler and one Black-capped Gnatcatcher.  I was away from the creek a bit when I heard each of them but both were deep in the vegetation so no visuals.
On Saturday 4th I joined Molly, Mark, & Gary for an enjoyable day at the AZFO Annual Meeting in Miami, AZ.  It was a wonderful day of informative presentations and meeting with birding friends from through the state.  I also was fortunate to meeting several birding colleagues that previously I had only communicated with via email or known only by reputation. It was a day full of birds with only one eBird checklist, Mark stopped along the highway overlooking Boyce Thompson Arboretum and we counted Turkey Vultures coming onto roost.
On Sunday 5th I paid a late morning visit to the Green Valley WTTP.  Among a loose group of Long-billed Dowitchers I found one Short-billed Dowitcher. Otherwise shorebird numbers and there habitat are diminishing.  Also of note was an immature Greater White-fronted Goose in the basin south of the entrance road.  I am note sure what was more noteworthy, the goose or the basin filled with water. During an evening walk Louise and I found five Lesser Nighthawks hawking insects of the lighted entrance to the neighborhood.

Broad-billed Hummingbirds
On Monday 6th Louise and I walked from the Proctor Road parking area up past the Whitehouse Picnic Area & back.  We found an almost late Yellow-billed Cuckoo feeding with a large number immature Blue Grosbeaks and a female Broad-billed Hummingbird feeding one juvenile.  I photographed the hummingbirds while the juvenile embraced its mother’s bill for the food transfer, very interesting to witness.  There was also a late(?) Botteri’s Sparrow at the Proctor Road parking area where I believe a pair bred recently. On our evening walk through the neighborhood, Louise & I counted only two Lesser Nighthawks and late in the evening I heard a Barn Owl calling near the house.
Moon & Lesser Nighthawk over Madera Reserve
Juvenile Gray Hawk

On Tuesday 7th I walked the De Anza Trail south & then north of Santa Gertrudis Lane.  I had a large number of vireos; 1 Plumbeous, 4 Cassin’s, and 10 Warbling.  The latter two triggered eBird filters.  There was also a female Black-and-white Warbler along the river just north of the lane.  Otherwise it is starting to feel like fall.

At the end of this week, the yearly total is 392 with the addition of the Clay-colored Sparrow & the Tennessee Warbler.  I’m still deciding on what the next “target” will be but I am planning a trip to look for Baird’s Sparrow, Sprague’s Pipit, and McCown’s Longspurs soon.

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