Sunday, November 16, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty-four 10/29-11/4 Goal Met & Record Broken!

On Wednesday 29th morning I spent an hour at Desert Meadows Park before continuing on to Santa Gertrudis Lane south of Tubac.  At Desert Meadows I find the continuing Blue Grosbeak and an adult male Broad-billed Hummingbird. The Clay-colored Sparrow was not to be found.  It was another productive day along the Santa Cruz River.  I headed south along the Anza Trail from Santa Gertrudis Lane.  The migrants/wintering birds were not so much as in flocks but just about everywhere. I had a brief but diagnostic view of a Chestnut-sided Warbler just before being chased by a Painted Redstart. In one tree I had three Western Tanagers, the female Orchard Oriole, and an adult male Bullock’s Oriole.   I did not see the Orchard Oriole as well as I had previously, but this time I heard it call in response to the Bullock’s calls.  I had seen a male Bullock’s in the area previously.
Friday 31st morning I awoke with the feeling that this was going to be a wonderful day.  And what a glorious day it was.  My wife, Louise, accompanied me on a search for a Worm-eating Warbler that was reported yesterday at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.  The weather was absolutely wonderful, a mix of clouds & sun and cool temperatures.  We arrived at the preserve at 8:18, paid the fee, and got some information from the host.  The host is actually the person that found the Worm-eating Warbler a few days ago and notified some Patagonia locals to get it confirmed.  She told us where she thought this bird was hanging out and with whom it was foraging (vireos).  Louise & I head to the location, heard a solitary-type vireo singing and saw numerous warbler-like birds foraging but light & distance prevent me from making very many identifications.  Shortly afterwards Susan, the host, arrives and gives us permission to walk the creek bed. In short order Louise & I were searching the riparian forest from Sonoita Creek.  It took me nearly four hours to find the Worm-eating Warbler.  Louise had wandered back to the truck for food and to get some reading material.  At 12:38 I observed this warbler about twenty feet up in a small willow with several other warblers.  Because the Worm-eating Warbler was so distinct, a split second look with the binocs was enough and I reached for the camera at the same time one of the other warblers seems to attack the Worm-eating.  I took a picture of the spot in the tree where the Worm-eating was.  It took me thirty minutes to catch up with this warbler again and it was only 40-50 feet from the original spot in the next tree over.  This time I began blasting away with the camera.  Louise appeared and I got her on the bird.  And I continued inconveniencing as many electrons as I could (a geeky way of saying I took more pictures).  The Worm-eating Warbler was foraging in a flock that included Audubon’s, Black-throated Gray, & Orange-crowned Warblers and Cassin’s & Plumbeous Vireos.  I managed a few decent shots; Louise confirmed it was a Worm-eating Warbler for me (we had seen them together many years ago at High Island).  She probably saw it better than I did since viewing through the camera is typically less optimal than through binoculars.   I am pumped up, seeing & photographing number 399 for the year and getting to share it with my wonderful wife.  To add to the wonderment of the day, before seeing the warbler we saw several species of butterflies, talked to a White-tailed Deer lying in the grass a few yards off the trail, and twice saw a Coati running down the creek. I knew this was to be a glorious day!
Louise & I spent much of Saturday 1st up in Tucson in activities not related to bird much at all.  I did receive email from both Mark & Andrew, and later from Bob Rolfson, concerning a Long-eared Owl within easy striking distance.
Early this morning Sunday 2nd I took off to Arivaca to search for the Long-eared Owl that was seen yesterday.  About three quarters of a mile from my truck and about 50 yards from yesterdays observation spot, I saw white wash in a hackberry tree, looked a little higher in the tree and saw the face of a Long-eared Owl nervously looking back at me. The owl appeared to be playing peak-a-boo.  I started backtracking away and the owl showed its streaked under-parts as it flushed & flew up a wash.  I saw a second owl flinch near where the first owl landed and both disappeared visually due to obstructions & distance once they settled.  Wow, number 400 for the year. I didn’t think about dancing, I was pretty concerned about the nervousness this first owl appeared to show.  Long-eared Owls are generally pretty skittish but this seemed extreme.  Nearby at Arivaca Cienega, a part of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, I found another Clay-colored Sparrow.  This was my third Clay-colored of the year and I got a few poor photographs.  This Clay-colored was flocked with Chipping & Brewer’s Sparrows and Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows whereas my previous two this year were flocked with Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows primarily.  While I was picking through a large flock of Yellow-rumped Audubon’s Warblers, searching for something different, I found a warbler walking on the ground & fallen branches bobbing vigorously. It was a western Palm Warbler.  At that moment, I wasn’t expecting a Palm. I was thinking about Blackburnian or Pine or Black-throated Green. Though rather rare, the Palm Warbler is more regular than the others and should have been the one I “expected”.  This Palm was rather dull with the only real color being the yellow under-tail coverts.   My encounter with the Palm Warbler was terminated by a Sharp-shinned Hawk swooping in; the Palm and all the Yellow-rumps disappeared into the brush. Now the count is 401. I have met & exceeded my goal and tied the record with almost two full months left in the year.  How far can this go?
On Monday 3rd Louise & I are back up the Carrie Nation Trail.  The Cassin’s Finches must have moved on since we didn’t detect them.  We did find a late Hermit Warbler and three Townsend’s Warblers.
On Tuesday 4th I was back at Clark Crossing.  As I am getting out of my truck I realize I forgot to pack my mud boots.  Oh well, I’ll adapt and perhaps the water level will have subsided.  Upon reaching the Santa Cruz River drainage I find the water level may have subsided but it was still very muddy.   So rather than going south as planned I head north along the dry Anza Trail towards the Sinaloa Wren spot.  I paused at the wren spot with hearing or seeing this often-elusive individual. I continued north to where an Eastern Phoebe had been reported.  It too was elusive for me today.  Turning back south I come across a small mixed-species flock including some vireo doing a fuss-call.  My initial reaction when I saw this bird was ‘wow that’s a sharp-looking Cassin’s Vireo’ and then a split second later I’m taking notes & trying to photograph what I believe to be a Blue-headed Vireo.  I reported this bird as a possible Blue-headed Vireo.  I wanted to write up my notes before looking at any references.   I now believe I had a Blue-headed Vireo and have sent a report off to the records committee.

With the Blue-headed Vireo, my total for the year is 402.  This week I have met & exceeded my goal (400) and tied & then exceeded the previous record (401). 

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