Friday, January 31, 2014

January Ends at 231

The first month of my Arizona Big Year draws to a close.  I have managed to see 231 species of birds thus far in Arizona, well on my way to exceed 400 species in 2014.  So far at least 306 species have been reported to eBird, an unknown number of those reported may be unconfirmed and/or not countable, however I use this for my benchmark.  I have been to a few places I have never been before and several other places that I rarely go.  And I have seen one new state bird, the Bell’s Sparrow.  More importantly I have a long way to go.  For the last few days I have been playing catch-up and not really planning what I need to do next.  I need to plan a trip to northern Arizona however the rewards are still small for the effort.  With less effort, relatively speaking, greater numbers of less valuable additions to my list may be had.  Whatever I do, I need to do it sometime before I get consumed with spring guiding.
A day-by-day summary of birding activities will follow.  My intentions were to post a blog every day or so, however I gotten overwhelmed.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

AZ 400 in 2014

2 January 2014 Thursday: I added two birds of significance today and picked up several of the regulars to bring the year total to 99.  I had an errand to run in Tucson so I returned to Reid Park in Tucson to make another try for the Pine Warbler.  Andrew and I tried for the Pine Warbler yesterday.  We found nearly all the warblers were foraging I the treetops probably because of all the human activity at ground level.  And with the road noise from 22nd Street and people enjoying the wonderful day hearing warbler chips was nearly impossible.  Today I arrived at Reid Park at about 08:00 and it took less than 15 minutes to find the bird.  With the exception of one maintenance worker I was the only one in this section of the park.  I found the Pine Warbler foraging on the ground with small flocks of Yellow-rumped “Audubon’s” Warblers between the children’s play area and Ramada #7. It was rather breezy this morning and all the birds feeding on the ground frequently flushed for cover at each gust.  Re-finding the warbler took a few minutes after the small flocks of passerines returned to ground feeding.  About the time I am sneaking up on the Pine Warbler for a photograph a lady with two toddlers arrive on the scene.  From my perspective, it appeared as if one of the toddlers saw the flock of warblers on the ground. The child seemed to know that in a few months they would be bright & colorful and ran towards them as if to catch one.  Though the scenario was cute and child was delighted with the birds scattering, why couldn’t he have targeted the House Finches?
I stopped at the grassy knoll on the north side of Reid Park and watched the Lewis’s Woodpecker fly back and forth between the small oak trees and the tall palms.  It was caching acorns in the crevices between the pruned palm fronds. I really enjoy watching Lewis’s Woodpecker.  They have been a fascination of mine since I first saw them in eastern Colorado as a young teenager.
My next stop was Himmel Park.  Andrew and I got very nice looks at the Harris’s Sparrow yesterday, however the battery in my camera was dead so the only pictures I got of this bird was with my iPhone.  It’s a pretty neat picture of Andrew’s back while he takes pictures of the sparrow and the Harris’s Sparrow is visible in the image.  I didn’t see the Harris’s Sparrow this morning.  Another birder has just seen it and believes it is hiding in the Oleander bushes when I arrive.   I see Mark Stevenson who has also just seen the sparrow.  We chat while we bird nearby alleys.  Since I truly do have a non-birding reason to be in Tucson, I stow my binoculars and take care of my errands.
On my way home, I stopped at an undisclosed golf course pond and pick up two species of Mergansers, Common and Red-breasted. Red-breasted Mergansers are rare in southeast Arizona though they occur with some regularity.  This individual was discovered during one of the local Christmas Bird Counts and the discoverers wish its location kept "secret" for reasons of neighborhood civility.
Late in the afternoon while cleaning house, I decide I need to get outside again.  I make a quick trip up to Madera Canyon hoping to find the Red-breasted Sapsucker and/or the recently discovered “Red” Fox Sparrow.  I find neither but add several species to the year list here and on the drive back home.  I resisted the urge to twitch several other easy species in Madera Canyon that I have yet to see this year.  I will probably see most or all of those species tomorrow or someday while looking for some significant species or while guiding.  I am not rushed to get a big list, I want to get the birds that cannot be gotten elsewhere in space and time. The big list will develop.

I have made arrangement to go birding with George West on Saturday.  We are going to hit Huachuca Canyon and Whitewater Draw. Tomorrow I believe I will return to Madera Canyon and make another attempt for the sapsucker and Fox Sparrow.  Then I will probably go to Florida Canyon to see the Rufous-capped Warbles.  It feels really strange not to have this species on my list already!
Added 13 species for a total of 99. Almost a quarter of the way there!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Four hundred in 2014

1 January 2014 Wednesday: Today I am embarking on another adventure.  Every New Year, like many other bird watchers I head out on the 1st of January to see as many species as possible.  This year, 2014, I am going to attempt to see 400 species of birds in Arizona. Why? - because I want to, because I can, because it is possible, because it will not be easy, because it should be fun, and just because!  Throughout much of last year I was asked if I was doing a Big Year since I was in lead the eBird Top 100 for Arizona in 2013. I wasn’t particularly working on a Big Year since I knew that I would be out of the state four of the eight final weeks of 2013 and that the time between these trips I would be focusing on things other than Arizona birding.  I have no lengthy out of state trips planned for 2014.  I probably also caught this fever from several of my clients in 2013 that were doing ABA Big Years.  So why 400? – because it is a nice round number higher than any Arizona year list total I can find in eBird or ABA Listing Central. I’ll work further to refine my goal but for now I’m running.
At the beginning of previous years, I seemed to focus on maximizing my species count.  Or at least it feels that way.  My plan this year is to focus on the rarities that are around presently and those species that I seem to miss most years.  And let the more common and regularly occurring species fall in when and where appropriate. 
I coaxed Andrew Core to join me today, not that it took much coaxing.  We targeted many of the rarities occurring around Tucson, particularly those rarities that could not be found easier at another time and place in Arizona.  Our targets for the day:  the Louisiana Waterthrush on the Santa Cruz at Ina Road, the junior flock of Greater White-fronted Geese at Arthur Pack Park Golf Course, the recently discovered Harris’s Sparrow at Himmel Park, the not seen recently until this morning by someone else Pine Warbler at Reid Park, the Black Scoter behind the Hardesty Building, and the Magnolia Warbler & Northern Parula along the Tanque Verde Wash on the eastside of town.  We were successful with all except the Pine and Magnolia Warblers.  The Pine Warbler is difficult to find when the park has few visitors.  By the time that Andrew & I got there, it was being overrun many folks enjoying the beautiful weather and a day off of work.  The Magnolia Warbler can be difficult and mid-afternoon today especially so.  I plan to search for the Pine Warbler early tomorrow morning. I am not sure what I will do about the Magnolia Warbler.

I finished the day by taking a neighborhood walk with Louise at sunset and added a few easy birds to the todays tally.  Total Species Count = 86.