Tuesday, March 25, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twelve

19 March 2014 Wednesday:  I was out today with cousins Gail & Beth.  We started in Tubac.  The Sinaloa Wren was quickly found in the middle of the power line cut just off the Anza Trail.  Though I saw it briefly on the ground & in the bushes everyone else there including Gail & Beth only got to see it flying across an opening in the vegetation.  We waited for the next forty minutes with only a few ratchet calls letting us know it was still in the area, no more visuals.   While we were walking back toward Ron Morriss Park, three Common Black-Hawks & two Zone-tailed Hawks lifted off from nearby and flew overhead at close range giving all excellent views. Such good views of these two hawks and having seen a perched Gray Hawk earlier in the morning, we didn’t even hang around the hawk watch spot.
Common Black-Hawk just after lift off - the white spots are cottonwood cotton

Zone-tailed Hawk just after lift off

If it wasn't for the difficult walk up Florida Canyon, we could have called finding the Rufous-capped Warblers easy.  We found the two warblers foraging along the path just past the low branch juniper tree.  They danced around us for several minutes. With little other activity we decided to head to Madera Canyon.
Rock Wren

One of the two Rufous-capped Warblers

At the Santa Rita Lodge, among the few hummingbirds was a Rufous Hummingbird and we found the continuing female Cassin's Finch up in the seed feeder nearest Cabin 1. Up at Madera Kubo the highlight was six Townsend's Warblers foraging in the large sycamore across the road from the gift shop.
20 March 2014 Thursday: Today was simply delightful.  I watched the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge and Madera Kubo with Barb & Helene, a mother daughter duo.  Helene, the mother was in her nineties and a wonderful lady. There was no particularly exciting species, just a wonderful few hours sharing the beautiful feather creatures with the ladies. The female Cassin’s Finch continues at the Santa Rita Lodge.  In the afternoon, I stopped at the Amado Pond after running an errand.  Only a handful of winter ducks remain and the summer ducks have yet to arrive.  There was a new year bird for me there, a Western Kingbird (278).
21-23 March 2014 Friday – Sunday:  This particular weekend was reserved for Louise and I to spend some time together in Sedona. That means no guiding, however it doesn’t mean a lack of year birding. The only year bird I wanted to pursue this weekend was Evening Grosbeak.  There have been reports all winter at a few spots in and around Sedona.  Unfortunately for me most of the recent reports were much closer to Flagstaff and Williams. The lack of recent Sedona area reports didn’t keep me from checking spots in the Village of Oak Creek and near Red Rock State Park prior to arriving at our lodging.  There was even a report of four Evening Grosbeaks in the neighborhood where we were staying back in November.  Before breakfast our first morning, Saturday, I walked the west half of the loop formed by Kachina Drive, no grosbeaks but a really nice walk with many birds.  Later Saturday, Louise and I are hiking along a trail towards “Devil’s Bridge”.  I stop to enjoy one of the several Black-chinned Sparrows singing.  While watching one of the singing sparrows I hear a remotely familiar but presently unidentifiable fight call.  I look around and put my binocs on two Evening Grosbeaks flying past, a male and a female. In awe I kept my binoculars pointed in the direction of where they disappeared over a rise a few hundred yards to the west.  A few hours before, it was the only species I was looking for on my morning walk.  I had totally put them out of my mind for the time being and there they are! It is totally amazing how nature works! 
Scenery - no hidden bird

Sunday morning I find my self walking the complete loop of Kachina Drive.  I am able to enjoy all the “regular” birds far better without my “grosbeak-tunnel vision”.  As I am stepping up on the porch of the B&B I hear Evening Grosbeaks. I look up in time to see three grosbeaks land in a tall leafless tree about 60 yards away.  I run inside to grab my camera and manage to get two of the three photographed, the two females.  The male of this trio flew overhead as I got back outside.
Perhaps a new tactic needs to be employed.  I was zero for three while looking for the Evening Grosbeaks and two for two while not looking for the grosbeaks.  Hum?
24 March 2014 Monday: I spent the morning scouting lower Madera Canyon.  Singing Say’s Phoebe and Canyon Towhee greeted me at the Proctor Parking Area.  The towhee wanted his picture taken so I obliged him.  There were fewer migrants than I expected.  It was delightful to hear and see one of two Townsend’s Solitaires in full song. At the farthest bridge on the loop from the parking area I found a pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers mixing it up with a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers. Further up canyon at Madera Kubo, my first Black-headed Grosbeak of the year made an appearance.  Though in another week or two I’ll be seeing them by the “hundreds” it is always exciting to see the first.  The Inca Dove continues to defy the checklist, it is supposed to be rare however it has been present throughout the winter at either Santa Rita Lodge or Madera Kubo.  And now it is singing.
25 March 2014 Tuesday: I guided John from frosty New Jersey today to Tubac and Patagonia.  As we are getting on the highway in Green Valley, we see three Harris’s Hawks perched together on the first light pole south of the onramp.  At Tubac we heard but did not see the Sinaloa Wren and no migrant hawks passed while we watched.  We did hear and see four Gray Hawks and photographed several Broad-billed Hummingbirds, Vermilion Flycatchers, one Dusky-capped Flycatcher and a Lucy’s Warbler.  For the year list I saw a brightly plumaged Cassin’s Vireo, the first of several for the day.  Before getting to the lake, we saw a Northern Harrier soaring over the entrance road.  At Patagonia Lake State Park, waterfowl were few but the Cinnamon Teal were spectacular.  We saw & heard another Gray Hawk, watched American Coots live up to one of their nicknames - mud hen, tried to photograph more Broad-billed Hummingbirds & Vermilion Flycatchers, and successfully (I believe) photographed a Northern Beardless Tyrannulet.  We searched in vain for any of the trogons that were reportedly seen earlier in the day.  On the sweep up Sonoita Creek (where I saw a female trogon recently) I found a Warbling Vireo, my third year bird for the day. We arrived at the Paton’s apparently following a visit by a Gray Hawk.  There were no birds except a few hummingbirds.  While we waited for the return of the passerines John photographed Broad-billed, Anna’s, & Black-chinned Hummingbirds.  Eventually the Violet-crowned Hummingbird showed up but at the feeder in the opposite direction we faced.  A lone male Lazuli Bunting cautiously visited the seed feed on the west side of the yard and eventually other seedeaters and the woodpeckers began to visit.  Now it was as the Paton’s yard should be – like a candy store. It was quite a productive day.

At the end of this week, the year list stands at 283.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Eleven

12 March 2014 Wednesday:  For our second day, Jay and I decided to head south.  Jay’s list of birds to photograph included hawks and with the Common Black-Hawk & Zone-tailed Hawk migration in full swing what better place to start the day than Tubac.  We arrived at Ron Morriss Park outside of Tubac minutes before 8am and immediately saw several Turkey Vultures rising above the Cottonwood trees to the south.  Guessing that the hawks wouldn’t start lifting off for at least another hour we walked down the Anza Trail to the Sinaloa Wren spot.  No wren, which wasn’t a big deal to Jay.  Jay is not a lister.  He wants good photographs of birds, particularly the flashy ones.  Two “flashy” species caught Jay’s attention as we walked down the trail - Vermilion Flycatcher & Broad-billed Hummingbird.  While the flycatcher gave Jay several opportunities for photography, the hummingbird proved to be frustrating until later in the day.  We returned to Ron Morriss Park and enjoyed a good showing of both Common Black-Hawks & Zone-tailed Hawks.  After Jay gets several hundred images of the hawks we head off to Lake Patagonia.  The birds along the birding trail, particularly the “flashy” birds were particularly uncooperative.  That is until I find the wintering female Elegant Trogon.  Though not nearly as flashy as a male trogon, this bird was incredibly cooperative.  We spend more than thirty minutes with her as she perched, preened, stretched, yawned, and repositioned a few times.  Jay reported later that he got many good pictures of this bird (so did I).  After we finish at the lake, we head over to the Paton’s Birders Haven now owned and managed by the Tucson Audubon.  Here Jay found himself in the wonderfully chaotic situation of what bird to take a picture of first.  Two Violet-crowned Hummingbird were coming into the feeders irregularly and on a few occasions perched in the small tree above the feeder.  Broad-billed Hummingbirds were everywhere but would rarely stay in one place long enough for photos.  Many White-crowned Sparrows, a couple of Abert’s Towhees, a single Green-tailed Towhee, and a Cotton Rat were feeding around the seed feeders.  Several Lazuli Buntings made an appearance.  Three species of woodpeckers, Audubon’s Warblers, White-breasted Nuthatches, and a Northern Mockingbird were visiting the suet feeder.  A female Broad-tailed Hummingbird made a brief appearance.  Two individual, male & female, Black-chinned Hummingbirds made brief appearances.  Richard Fray previously had seen a male Rufous Hummingbird. Oh and I shouldn’t forget Pyrrhuloxia and Northern Cardinal in the same field of view.  After dropping off Jay, I receive word that there is/was a Rufous-backed Robin at Kino Springs today.  We passed by Kino Springs twice today, only if I had known earlier.   I finished the day with three new year-birds: Ash-throated Flycatcher at Patagonia Lake, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird & Lazuli Buntings at the Paton’s.

13 March 2014 Thursday:  I was out with a mother-daughter pair this morning in Madera Canyon.  While the birding and company were enjoyable, it was pretty quiet along the Proctor Trail.  And by the time we got to the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge & Madera Kubo much of the feeding activity had subsided.  After dropping the ladies off in Green Valley I head to Kino Springs.  I was pleasantly greeted at the pro-shop, asked if I was here to see the robin, and told were it was seen yesterday.  I searched for an hour without success, purchased a Mountain Dew (my first in years), and headed home.

14 March 2014 Friday:  Today’s client cancelled so I took the opportunity to go watch hawks again.  My motivation was two more year birds, the Gray Hawks and Cliff Swallows.  A pair Gray Hawks reportedly arrived along the river near Ron Morriss Park on Wednesday after I left.  The Cliff Swallow was reported yesterday at the I-19 bridge at Tubac.  As I passed under the bridge, a Cliff Swallow flew past.  I wasn’t able to distinguish which subspecies but it really doesn’t matter to a year list. Also, Cliff Swallow was not a species I was too concerned with seeing however it has been somewhat frustrating as they have been in the area (near Tucson) for nearly a month.  At the hawk watch, I continued my peculiar behavior.  I setup about fifty yards from the crowd surrounding Peter and work my way in as the crowd begins to diminish.  This morning almost immediately after getting the lens cap off the scope, I spot a raptor (hawk or vulture) to the south and over the river.  I see the hawk watch crowd is looking at stuff to the west.  After what seemed like an eternity (probably only a minute) I finally identified the raptor as a Zone-tailed Hawk and announce it.  Several minutes later a pair of smaller looking hawks soar above the cottonwoods and by behavior alone they could be identified as Gray Hawks.  So now I can relax and enjoy the rest of the hawks and vultures passing by.  Until I start talking to Peter and learn that a Short-tailed Hawk was seen & photographed late yesterday afternoon.  The bird was reportedly coming in to roost.  Wow, this is news! A Short-tailed Hawk in Arizona seen migrating. There was also a few Swainson’s Hawks reported yesterday and earlier this morning - so much for relaxing.  I gave up around noon, leaving Peter and a few persistent observers to count the afternoon flight.  The addition of two species today puts the year list at 275. 
15 March 2014 Saturday: Carrie Nation Trail with Louise
16 March 2014 Sunday: Madera Canyon bird walk. Cassin’s Finch at Santa Rita Lodge.
17 March 2014 Monday: Harlan’s Hawk at Continental Road Bridge
18 March 2014 Tuesday:  I didn’t do what I planned to do.  I guided Connie & Karen for a half-day.  Connie had a recent foot injury and previously told me that she was not able to walk very far or over rough & unstable surfaces.  I had planned to take Connie & Karen up to Madera Canyon and walk part of the Proctor Trail & then hang out at the feeders.  While driving to pick them up I had a thought and shared it with them upon meeting up.  We went to Tubac.  I parked at Ron Morriss Park and ran over to congratulate Peter Collins on his first Short-tailed Hawk for the Hawk Watch.  I also got to say hello to Molly & Mark whom arrived just after I did. 
Connie, Karen, & I took a slow walk down the Anza Trail towards the Sinaloa Wren spot. Karen & Connie were from the Houston area so there were plenty of birds to please.  Upon arriving at the wren spot, I queried a couple about the wren.  They had heard the wren in the vicinity of the nest but had not seen it.  Almost immediately I hear the Sinaloa Wren ratchet calling from the ground across the power line cut that is to the north.  I find the Sinaloa Wren foraging on the ground and call Karen & Connie over. They both get good looks, I get a few pictures, and the couple there previously gets to see the bird.  Unusual for this wren was that it ratchet called nearly the entire 4-6 minutes we watched it.  I last saw it heading to the south towards his nest.
Connie, Karen, & I begin walking back north towards the hawk watch spot.  I am keeping my eyes moving from bushes, trees, and open sky.  I know that one of the hawks could pop up at anytime and it’s likely to be close.  About half-way back to the park I hear a large bird flopping through the canopy and then see two Zone-tailed Hawks circling at tree top level right over our heads.  Both Connie & Karen get good albeit multiple brief looks as the birds appear between leafed out branches.  Once we make it to the hawk watch crowd I learn that there were three Zonies, I could only see two at a time and didn’t speculate about a third bird.  Cool!
We arrive back at Ron Morriss Park and find many birders stationed around Peter (hawk watch master).  In short order another Zone-tailed flies over and provides prolonged views for all.  Then the first of several Common Black-Hawks cruise by.  I’m able to get my scope one a few of these and share the scope with Connie & Karen. We had to wait through many Turkey Vultures, few Black Vultures, several Red-taileds, a Peregrine Falcon until the local Gray Hawks showed themselves.  These too I was able to share scope views with Karen & Connie.  Molly spotted a bird in the distance to the south that turned out to be a Swainson’s Hawk, not that unusual but a first for me this year.

With the little time I had left with Connie & Karen, we drove back to Green Valley and found a few more species of interest including an adult Harris’s Hawk next to last years nest. Perhaps they will be at it again.

At the end of this week I’m at 272 species for the year.

AZ Big Year - Week Ten

5 February 2014 Wednesday:  Today I was guiding Dinah from Toronto Canada.  I picked her up at the Chuparosa B&B early and we immediately headed out.  Her main targets were Montezuma Quail and Black-chinned Sparrow with secondary targets of Crissal Thrasher & Rufous-capped Warbler.  Sounds like a recipe for Florida Canyon.  Unfortunately, Florida Creek was not being cooperative.  Due to heavy rain storm a few days prior, Florida Creek was running full.  The first crossing near the parking lot left us with wet feet.  The water at the second crossing beyond the metal gate was too deep and fast.  So we aborted our efforts for the warblers.  The sparrow and the thrasher were not to be seen this morning. Florida Canyon was quiet.  We headed back to Madera Canyon; walked from the Whitehouse Picnic Area to Proctor Road & back, looked around the Madera Picnic Area, then the Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Kubo, and back to the Chuparosa.  All quiet. Two birds saved the day; a Townsend's Solitaire along Proctor Road and a Painted Redstart near the Whitehouse Picnic Area.
6 February 2014 Thursday:  Kennedy Park, Columbus Park - female Wood Duck
7 February 2014 Friday:  half-day Madera Canyon valentine gift
8 February 2014 Saturday:  black-hawk, zone tail
9 February 2014 Sunday:  Florida & Madera BCHU
10 March 2014 Monday: Florida & Madera Canyons with Jay LUWA
11 March 2014 Tuesday:  I had planned to head to Patagonia this morning to pick up a few new species for the year. I changed plans based on what I have planned for guiding the following day.  So I stayed home and cleaned house in the morning – no birding.  In the afternoon George West and myself culled through my hummingbird photos looking for some that may be suitable for his hummingbird identification book.  In the evening I went up to Madera Canyon and heard Elf Owls & Whiskered Screech Owls at the Amphitheater Parking Area & Common Poorwills along Proctor Road.

At the end of this week I’m at 272 species for the year.