Thursday, November 27, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty-six 11/12-11/18

Louise and I took another hike classified as a Quetzal Quest Trek on Thursday 13th.  We started at the Amphitheater Parking Area and headed up the Four Springs Trail to Bogs Springs, then across to Kent Springs, and then down past Sylvester Springs & the Kent Springs Center back to the parking area.  While no Quetzals were found again, we did find some interesting birds though.  Above Bog Springs, the spring itself not the concrete box, we found a Red-breasted Sapsucker.  The sapsucker was in an area with many Madrone Trees and I was looking for something like a Varied Thrush.  This is the second known Red-breasted Sapsucker in Madera Canyon, the first being the multi-year returnee at the Whitehouse Picnic Area.  Between Kent Springs Center and the main canyon road, we first found three Band-tailed Pigeons and twenty-two.  There seems to be a good crop of acorns in the canyon, which may account for the late occurrence of these birds or they could be foraging on Madrone berries.  Before leaving the canyon, I stopped at the Whitehouse Picnic Area so that I could have a two Red-breasted Sapsucker Day!
On Friday 14th I hiked & bushwhacked up Florida Canyon.  I personally had not seen the Rufous-capped Warblers for several months and have not heard of any recent reports.  So this could be considered a scouting trip for the Green Valley/Madera Canyon CBC.  I still haven’t seen a Rufous-capped Warbler in a while.  It was good to be up in one of my favorite places enjoying what was there.  I heard but did not see a Black-capped Gnatcatcher and I found & photographed a White-throated Sparrow.
Sometime during the day on Saturday 15th  Louise decided she wanted to take a hike in the Grand Canyon before it gets too cold.  And she justified taking me along so that I might get a California Condor on the year list.  We finalized the decision on Sunday and began making preparations to leave Monday morning.  I began researching what other benefits to year list I might able to arrange while driving up.  There were reports of Winter Wren, Rufous-backed Robin, & Varied Thrush from Hassayampa River Preserve somewhat on the way to the canyon.  Two of the three would be year birds.  Louise agreed to make the detour if we could leave by 8am so that we could be at the Grand Canyon by sunset.  All was going well until I check the preserve’s operating hours and found that they were closed on Monday & Tuesday, oh well.  I also learned that the condors seem to pull away from the south rim in the winter, another oh well.  I didn’t think I should ask to drive another hour north to the Navaho Bridge or two hours to Vermilion Cliffs where Condors are regularly seen.  Then I found a find that there have been two reports of Pine Grosbeaks near the east entrance to the park, so something to look for.
We arrive at the Grand Canyon Visitor Monday 17th afternoon after a long and uneventful drive.  I quickly find entertainment with three species of nuthatches simultaneously visiting a water bottle filling station near the visitor center.  Louise & I spend the next few hours enjoying the scenery at Mather Point and at the Bright Angel Lodge.  While at Bright Angel Lodge I learn that a Glaucous Gull has been reported from Patagonia Lake.  This is an incredible bird for southeast Arizona and I find myself struggling to focus on the present moment.  Later I learned that one observer saw the gull and after he got decent photos, it was last seen flying away.  No one else saw the bird.  I also learned that an American Tree Sparrow was seen & photographed at a feeder in Cochise County, another fantastic bird for southeast Arizona. 
The original plan for Tuesday 18th was to hike to Dripping Springs but after hearing that this trial is unmaintained & rocky, we decided to hike into the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail.  We hiked in the shade most of the time and I was keeping a watchful eye to the sky.  Every few hundred yards I would stop and scan for raptors. Several hundred yards past the 1.5-mile rest shelter, I see what is obviously a California Condor circling a butte with a bunch of Common Ravens and a Golden Eagle.  I watch and take very distant photographs of the Condor; it was probably more than a mile away.  We continue hiking, getting closer to the Condor, and the Condor eventually lands and perches wings spread on the closest outcropping of this butte (actually the south end of Battleship Formation).  Several minutes later I notice that there are two Condors perched on the rock and they remained there for an hour at least.  Any hiker on the trail that expressed even the slightest interest got shown the Condors or the pictures on the back of my camera.  In addition to the Condors, Louise and I saw two immature Bald Eagles, two Golden Eagles, a few Red-tailed Hawks, several Western Scrub-Jays, and a flock of Bushtits.  And we saw, no make that became one with some spectacular scenery!
To begin our drive back to Green Valley on Wednesday 19th Louise & I started at Bright Angel Lodge and headed east along the South Rim.  Our second stop was the Yavapai Geological Museum.  Upon parking I notice a small group of birds (Western Bluebirds, Cassin’s Finches, & Gray-headed Juncos) vying for the opportunity to get some moisture from an ice cube dropped on the pavement.  Walking to towards the museum, we see a Juniper Titmouse struggling to break into a Pinyon Nut without having it stolen by nearby scrub-jays.  I noticed a mixed-species flock off to the side of the museum so I investigated.  While watching a Western Bluebirds & Cassin’s Finches in the top of a small tree, a male Pine Grosbeak joins them!  I am in shock.  I stare at the grosbeak through my binoculars at less than thirty feet, awed.   The grosbeak along with the other birds flew eastward along the rim and then down below the rim.  I lost them a hundred or so yards out and did not see if they came back onto the rim. I walked along the Rim Trail searching but was not able to relocate this wonderful bird.

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