Monday, July 29, 2013


7/24/2013 Wednesday:  I was spending a nice morning scouting Montosa and Madera Canyons for an upcoming client.  I heard and saw the Five-striped Sparrow in Montosa.  I saw the two Violet-crowned Hummingbirds at Madera Kubo however missed the suspected White-eared & Berylline Hummingbirds.  As I am walking from Madera Kubo back to my truck at the Amphitheater Parking Area I receive a message from Andrew, “STRE in Huachuca Cyn”.  Once I get out of the canyon I check email and find that Melody Kehl has reported a Slate-throated Redstart above the 1.7 mile parking area in Huachuca Canyon.  Andrew is not able to go, I have to decide whether I want to try on Thursday or head over immediately.  At 11:30 I turn right onto Box Canyon Road, every rabbit scatters and the dust cloud takes hours to settle. 
I arrive at the 1.7-mile picnic/parking area at 12:49 without speeding on any of the highways.  Mine is the only vehicle there, could I be the first to respond to the posting? I hike up the streambed and the jeep trail looking for the dam referenced in the report.  I have been to the dam before but do not remember exactly where it is.  I pass several trogons, two families actually, that had I taken a little time I could have had some neat photographs.  But there is something else destined to be photographed today.  At 0.6 mile above where I parked, I find another vehicle parked in a second turnaround parking area.  There Arlene & Doug Ripley are also searching for the Slate-throated Redstart.  Arlene informs me that we are not the first responders; a bunch of birders has already come and gone.  She also tells me about a bear attacking someone’s vehicle back where I have parked.  Nothing I can do about it now.  Arlene and I walk up the north side of the creek bed while Doug travels within the creek bed.  Upon reaching a second small dam Arlene spots a redstart foraging directly over my head.  I look up and through my binoculars witness the tail fanned with the pattern of the Slate-throated Redstart.  I try to raise the camera when it flies and then lands on the trunk of a Sycamore.  I snap off a half dozen images and it flies again.  All three of us get wonderful looks at the celebrated bird. We follow it for the next eight to ten minutes, watching and photographing it.  Then it disappears.  We probably could have re-found it had we not began chatting and simply felt very satisfied.  Doug & Arlene leave and I casually resume searching for the bird for several minutes.  I notice I have internet access so I post to the listserve and then begin the walk back down to my truck.  My head is in the clouds.  As I walk down the canyon, I hear trogons calling but do not give them much attention.  I watch a butterfly that seems to be leading me down the trail.  I try taking a few pictures of this yet to be identified butterfly, but again my thoughts are on the Slate-throated Redstart.  Another totally unexpected lifer that I missed a few months ago, my last North American Wood-warbler until we discover another one north of the border, and a really special bird.

Slate-throated Redstart - 7/24/2013 Huachuca Canyon, Cochise County, AZ
A few more images are posted at my Flicker site

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Nightjar Family

Thursday 7/18/2013: This evening I headed back up to Proctor Road determined to see if the Buff-collared Nightjars has fledged young from the suspected nest site I had been watching for several weeks. On Monday night I had been to the spot with a client; we briefly heard clucking from one individual and I heard the male sing a few rounds at 20:19 a few hundred yards down the wash.  My feelings were that if the adult pair was successful, the young had fledged and had left the immediate vicinity of the suspected nest site. So I went to the bushes where I suspected the nest to have been to look for any signs. I hoped for a feather, an eggshell, or some whitewash.  The sun dropped below the Sierrita Mountains to the west, the moon stayed behind clouds, and I listened for any signs of the nightjar.  At around 20:30 I begin making my way back to the truck, diverting towards but not reaching each Western Screech-Owls I heard. 
As I was putting my binoculars, camera, & recording equipment back into the truck, a Western Screech-Owl begins calling fairly close.  I grab my camera and start heading towards the little owl.  Only a few feet from the truck, I hear the male Buff-collared Nightjar singing from quite a distance (time=21:11), I’m guessing a few hundred yards.  I start heading towards the nightjar at a fairly quick pace.  The nightjar continues singing for perhaps a minute before going silent.  I continue heading in the same direction fortunately not finding too many obstructions.  I reach a point that I need some reaffirming audio before continuing.  Another Western Screech-Owl provided the audio. I continue on towards the owl and before I can get into a position to try for a visual on the owl I hear nightjar “chucking” calls and more than one.  I end up at the edge of a wash with two birds calling from up the wash, one from straight across the wash, and one across & down the wash (time=21:50).  I scan the flashlight back & forth hoping to catch eye-shine but bushes & small trees obscure any viewing.  These calls are the same calls I heard when I saw both the male & female nightjar “popcorning” near the suspected nest site two weeks ago. Several times one of the birds (the one down wash) did the intro/windup of the song but without the follow through of the full song.  Incredible, I have a family of Buff-collared Nightjars feeding virtually in front of me (and I can’t see a single one).  I attempt to record the calls with my iPhone but all I capture is the crickets, I left my shotgun microphone back in the truck. I listen and search for about ten minutes before deciding it is time to leave.  As I make my way back out, two Western Screech-Owls begin talking to one another.  One is in front of me.  This owl pretty much ignored me, kept calling to the other and searching for prey, while I took several pictures. 
Western Screech-Owl - seen and photographed after hearing the family of nightjars

For several weeks I have suspected that at least one of the pairs of nightjars was nesting.  Without a photograph of nestlings, fledglings, or eggs this will probably end up as a probable breeding in the official record books.  But in my mind, the pair of Nightjars I most frequently visited has fledged young.  Perhaps in the next couple of nights with a near full moon I’ll be able to see the family.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

To Chase or Not?

While I don't care much about the numbers, I enjoy seeing things I haven't seen before - particularly when it comes to birds.  In recent weeks there have been two lifers found within relatively easy driving distance from home.  An Arctic Loon and a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail.  The Loon was discovered 31 May 2013 on Puddingstone Reservoir in Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park.  This is east of Los Angeles and “only” seven hours driving from Green Valley.  Arctic Loons are incredibly rare in the lower forty-eight (typically along the west coast) and apparently rare in Alaska.  This is a species I did not see on my two adventures to Alaska and I thought I would never have a chance unless I returned to Alaska.  The Rufous-necked Wood-Rail was a species I had barely heard of and never dreamed of seeing unless I birded Central America.  The Wood-Rail was discover at Bosque del Apache NWR on 7 July 2013.  Bosque was a mere five hours away.  The closest known location for this species previously was south Sinaloa, Mexico.
I meet Ed Wetzel on Thursday 6/20/2013 night at 10:45 and by 11:15 we were driving through Tucson on our way to Los Angeles.  Ed had come to Tucson to see the Buff-collared Nightjar and hoped to find a Plain-capped Starthroat.  Hours before Ed boarded a plane in Dallas, we decided we would drive the seven hours to see an Arctic Loon and then drive back in time for me to guide a client for the nightjar Friday evening.  The drive back and forth from LA was uneventful except for the traffic delay on I-10 east of Palm Springs where a semi-trailer had overturned.  We arrived at Frank G. Benelli Region Park at 06:39 and within three minutes were looking at the Arctic Loon in the scope.  We could have jumped back into Ed’s rental car and started the long drive back to Tucson.  Sore butts and the need to stretch our legs kept us at the park for more than an hour.  We watched the loon and birded the immediate vicinity.  I of course expended most of my energy trying to photograph the loon.  A few other interesting birds for us included: a Ross’s Goose flying with a flock of Canadas, a single Nuttall’s Woodpecker, and heard only Wrentits & California Thrashers.
Arctic Loon - 6/21/2013 Frank G. Benelli Region Park, Los Angeles Co., CA
On Sunday 7/7/2013, a Rufous-necked Wood-Rail was discovered at Bosque del Apache NWR and reported to the AZ/NM Listserve by way of the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook page.  The Wood-Rail was seen again on the 8th and that evening I text-messaged Andrew to see if he wanted to go chase.  It turned out that Andrew was on his way to Colorado, stopped at Bosque to see the bird, and replied to my text just after seeing the Wood-Rail.  Being that this was a bit far for me to try alone, I put the idea of seeing the Wood-Rail to the side.  On the evening of the 9th, Molly Pollock asked if I was willing to chase the Wood-Rail on Thursday or Friday if it was reported again on Wednesday. The Wood-Rail was seen again on Wednesday and Molly & I met at 4am Thursday to begin the quest.  After a very non-eventful, full of nice conversation, 4 hour 22 minute drive Molly and I arrive at the Marsh Overlook Trail at Bosque del Apache.  We step out on the boardwalk, ask the first person we approach about the Wood-Rail.  He began to say something about it just being across the way when he says “there it is”.  We watch it walk along the mud between the cattails and water, I take several images and we could have left in less than a few minutes.  We both decided to hang around for at least a few more minutes, I wanted some better more close photos and Molly had seen some people she wanted to say hi to.  We stayed at the Marsh Overlook Trail for 35 minutes, completed the Marsh Loop drive and were again on the road. 
Rufous-necked Wood-Rail - 7/11/2013 Bosque del Apache NWR, Socorro Co., NM
<see a few other images on my Flicker site>

Within three weeks I have chased and “easily” seen & photographed two very rare birds for North America.  I don’t like gambling but the odds have been working in my favor recently, maybe I should go buy a lottery ticket.