Wednesday, April 16, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Fourteen

2 April 2014 Wednesday: I was out with Mother Hildegard and two of her friends this morning in Madera Canyon.  We started off walking the Proctor Road trails and were fortunate to watch a pair of Zone-tailed Hawks flying together and interacting as if courting.  I had seen a bird at last years Gray Hawk nest as I was driving up earlier, so we stopped to look but the Gray Hawks were not to be seen or heard. Up at Madera Kubo we found the wintering Inca Dove still present and singing.  Several hummingbirds, a beautiful Painted Redstart, and a lone Yellow-eyed Junco were delightful to watch.  At the lodge, more hummingbirds and the continuing female Cassin’s Finch entertained not only us but also many folks out for the day. Even though Mother Hildegard already has an impressive life list, she was able to see several new species this morning and many more opportunities in the days to come. [She was part of the party that saw the Slate-throated Redstart at Barfoot Park on the 10th.]
3 April 2014 Thursday: This was a very interesting and productive day.  The first half of the day was spent with Jen & Justin, from San Francisco, birding Huachuca Canyon.  The second half of the day was spent solo in Miller Canyon target birding. 
This was Jen & Justin’s first trip to southeast Arizona and I felt given the limited time together and where they were staying, Huachuca Canyon be a good place to start. We arrive at Camp Coconino Picnic Area in lower Huachuca Canyon around 07:30.  There was much bird activity at the wet area to the north.  One of the first birds we saw was a male Bullock’s Oriole.  A female quickly joined him.  The local pair of Gray Hawks were calling near constantly and making quick flyovers until one finally perched out in the open and gave us prolonged & photographable views.  We eventually turned our attention to looking for the Sinaloa Wren.  Within a few minutes I hear some rustling in the leaves below the swing set along the bank of the stream.  We positioned ourselves along the path in the streambed and had the wren popup from behind us.  The Sinaloa Wren foraged its way around us coming within about six feet of Jen while Justin & myself took pictures.  We watched the wren for a good ten minutes before it move far enough away that we could back away without disturbing it.
From the 1.7-mile picnic area we walked the jeep trail to the turn around area & dam.  There were many interesting birds including a cackling Elegant Trogon, which Jen & I briefly saw (glimpse of it flying off) and a Buff-breasted Flycatcher in the wet area just above the 1.7-mile picnic area.
I left Jen & Justin around noon.  Both appeared very happy with their first morning birding in southeast Arizona and were looking forward to pie & tomorrows walk at Casa de San Pedro.
I planned to I take advantage of this opportunity.  I planned to first hike up Miller Canyon to see the nesting Spotted Owls & Northern Goshawk, then spend a bit of time at the hummingbird feeders at the Beatty’s & Ash Canyon B&B hoping for Calliope & Lucifer Hummingbird.  The male Spotted Owl was at his prescribed place.  It was an easy find with the directions provided and with a human mother-daughter duo staring at this wonderful bird.  I continue hiking up canyon and come across three women, one from Texas & two from South Carolina.  They were in search of Red-faced Warblers and Eared Quetzals.  I told them that it was a bit early for the warblers and asked them were they got their quetzal information.  The Texan said that the Audubon Guide they were using said there were quetzals all over this area.  I’m not sure what guide they were referring to but I smiled and told them that their chances of finding an Eared Quetzal this day were about the same as finding an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in east Texas.  Above split rock and the mine shaft, at an elevation of about 6700 feet, I find a flurry of bird activity.  Prior to checking out the all the little birds, I heard a goshawk call.  While scanning around looking for the source of the call, I see a shadow pass below and look up in time to see an adult Northern Goshawk fly by at about fifty feet.  Too quick for binoculars but didn’t need them anyway.  Numerous Ruby-crowned Kinglets were flitting through the trees and one Golden-crowned Kinglet called & gave me a brief but satisfying observation.  A warbler sings from across the drainage and I raise my binoculars to see a Red-faced Warbler.  Then another warbler sings and I find a Virginia’s Warbler.   I also see & hear a Nashville & Grace’s Warblers, and a pair of Greater Pewees.  While all this is going on, I’m hearing the distinctive tiny tin-horn call of Red-breasted Nuthatches high in the pines & firs.  I eventually see at least two of these nuthatches and photograph one poorly.
Having spent so much time in upper Miller Canyon, I bypassed the feeders on the way down and decided to skip Ash Canyon B&B in favor of trying to get to Benson WTP for the Franklin’s Gulls report in the morning there.  I tried twice looking for the Scaled Quail that had been reported in the neighborhood at the base of Miller Canyon.  I guess the mid-day is not a good time. 
I arrive at the Benson WTP at 17:15 and the gate was closed.  Before I can start laughing I see a bunch of white things on the water through the fence.  A quick binocular viewing revealed a bunch of Franklin’s Gulls.  I set up the scope from a position that I am not looking through dead tumbleweed and count sixty-one gulls.  I digiscope several images just to verify my count.  I was once familiar with flocks of hundreds or thousands in eastern Colorado, however seeing more than a few in Arizona is exciting. 
So ends a day with ten new year-birds.  Total: 296.
4-5 April 2014 Friday-Saturday: When I started this adventure, I knew a trip to Yuma County was in order if for nothing else the Black Rail.  I really don’t care for birding along the Colorado River in Yuma County because of the silt-dust.  It gets everywhere.  Further research revealed that the agriculture areas around Yuma are the only places in the state that Ring-necked Pheasant have been established.  The time was right; I had a few consecutive days with no guiding, pheasants should be courting, and rails should be calling.  I felt that I needed an evening and a morning in the area for a chance at the main target species.  I attempted to work out a plan that would include Andrew however between his personal commitments & my desired timing, this didn’t happen. 
After sleeping in Friday morning (Thursday was a long tiring day) I left Green Valley for Yuma mid-day.  Once I got on the road I finalized my plans.  I would first check out the area southwest of Yuma and then get up to Mittry Lake at dusk.  Henry D provided valuable information concerning the timing & whereabouts of the pheasants; dawn & to the southwest of Yuma.  Being unfamiliar with the area I decided to check it out in the late afternoon before heading up to Mittry for rails.  About thirty-minutes prior to sunset, I hear a male pheasant crowing from a cornfield.  I was not able to get a visual on any pheasant due to many factors; wind, knee high corn, & bad light. And I am not even sure of the direction of the sound.  I press on to the south and then see four brown blobs on a dike across a wheat field.  I check out the blobs and one is a male Ring-necked Pheasant.  I grab to the camera and snap a few images of the blobs.  The pheasant is not in the image.  I look again; the pheasant has walked past three Mallards & now is fifty yards south of them.  I take several more pictures making sure the pheasant is in the image.  Wow, a new year-bird and a new state-bird!  Rather than rushing up to Mittry Lake, I stop for dinner. 
I make it to Mittry Lake with little or no glow from sunlight but plenty of glow from the nearby Yuma Proving Grounds and the City of Yuma.  It is also very windy with much wind noise – conditions not very conducive for hearing marsh birds at night. It is also dusty, the thing I dislike most about Yuma.  Oh well, I’m here and will make the best of the situation. My first stop is Rail Overlook.  I can hear Aechmophorus grebes and American Coot out on the open water of the lake between gusts. At 8 pm I hear the distinctive pump-call of an American Bittern.  I hear a Clapper Rail but no Blacks.  I check out several other spots where I’ve had Black Rails calling all night long this time of year, but not tonight with the blasted wind.  I head back to Rail Overlook, seems the wind is a bit less severe at this site.  Listening, I hear the American Bittern once again, a Least Bittern starts a long series of calls, and a couple of Soras sound off. I notice some whitish blobs out in the marsh. Through my binoculars I think at least some of them are Snowy Egrets.  It takes setting up my scope to confirm for myself 19 Snowy Egret.  I eventually find an out of the way spot where I shutdown for the night.  I am hoping the wind dies down before morning.
I wake up with the sun, which means I slept-in a bit.  However within minutes I hear several calls of the elusive Black Rail. What was a nice morning got even better when a Merlin flew past, a species I had somehow missed since the New Year.  I make my way south to Highway 95 with plans to checkout any wet fields before hitting the road (aka heading home).  As I pull off at the first wet field I find, I notice several curlew-like birds feeding.  Putting the scope of these birds reveals 25 Whimbrel and one Long-billed Curlew.  Whimbrels outside of Yuma County are rare and these are early according to eBird reports.  I take photographs just to prove to myself that I not making things up.  I also find two Semipalmated Plovers nearby.  With the exception of the long drive home this effectively ends a very good trip.  Seven new year birds and one new state bird brings my year total to 303.
7 April 2014 Monday:  I went out with Donna & David from Lampasas, TX.  I have guided this couple twice previously and each time, including today, have been wonderful.  They are beautiful people with a love of nature.  They are not listers but appreciate anything new.  Since each of their visits have been at different times of the year, there is always something new. We first venture up Florida Canyon in search of the Rufous-capped Warblers.  While searching for the warblers, we flushed a pair of Montezuma Quail.  Not what one would call a good view but it was my first visual of this species for the year.  Later while we were hearing but not seeing the warblers, we also heard the male quail calling.  In Madera Canyon in the skies over the Santa Rita Lodge, a pair of Gray Hawks combines courtship displays with chasing a Red-tailed Hawk.  Highlights of a hike up the Carrie Nation Trail include a nesting Black-chinned Hummingbird and a singing Grace’s Warbler but no trogon.
8 April 2014 Tuesday:  On second day with Donna & David, we head south to Tubac & Patagonia.  Though we never had any spectacular views, the Sinaloa Wren performed rather well. Going in and out of the nest many times while we watched.  Possibly more exciting for David & Donna was the nesting Vermilion Flycatcher at Ron Morriss Park. We head down to Patagonia Lake State Park.

As a guide, I am always excited to show clients the wonderful Elegant Trogon, even a molting second year male. Todays encounter will rank as one of the more special encountered I have had showing this species.  First, a couple that David & Donna had run into at Cave Creek a few days prior tells us that they have just seen the trogon.  They (the other couple) lead us back to the spot where they saw the trogon fly across the across the stream.  After thirty minutes of searching and about a hundred yards away I find the second year male Elegant Trogon perched almost on the ground. After getting David & Donna onto the bird, it sallies for prey and lands about ten feet up in a mesquite.  We watch and photograph for quite a while before breaking off and start our walk out, all smiles.  Before we get 200 yards from the trogon, David recognizes a couple that they had assisted identifying birds at the Santa Rita Lodge the previous evening.  Still excited himself, David shares news of our observation with this other couple and then leads the other couple back to the trogon.  It is wonderful to see a client get the same thrill I get while showing others amazing birds.  

End the week at 308 species for the year. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Thirteen

26 March 2014 Wednesday: Out again with John.  This morning we headed up to Florida Canyon for the oblivious.  We found the Rufous-capped Warblers at 08:30 and spent a large amount of time trying to line up for good photographic opportunities.  Uncharacteristically the two warblers did not cooperate, they did everything in their power to make photography difficult.  We did however come away with a few good shots each.  Almost back at the parking lot we found an entertaining pair of Bewick’s Wrens filling a knot hole cavity with grass and twigs, I suppose nest building.  While John took their pictures, I watched for trogons.  Next we went up to Madera Canyon to watch the feeders. The big news there was two female Cassin’s Finches at the lodge where there had been only one seen previously. Not every spring day will hold a year bird for me - shucks.
27 March 2014 Thursday: I scouted Montosa Canyon this morning before the strong winds set in.  I was hoping to get some photographs of the reported pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers, I settle with hearing one.  I also heard my first Scott’s Oriole for the year. 
28 March 2014 Friday:  I guided Sharon & Phil and four friends around Madera Canyon this morning.  We spent most of our time walking along the Proctor Road trail.  I did not bring my camera today because of the large number of people – therefore we had up close and personal looks at a Zone-tailed Hawk over a thirty-minutes period, a pair of Northern Beardless Tyrannulets foraging at close range with no viewing obstructions, and a pair of Bell’s Vireos doing the same. Had I brought the camera, none of that would have happened.  We also heard at least one singing Scott’s Oriole and up to three Montezuma Quail calling.  Up at Madera Kubo, most of us saw a male Blue-throated Hummingbird.  At the Santa Rita Lodge, one of the female Cassin’s Finches remains and a male Black-headed Grosbeak was heard singing but not seen. 
29 March 2014 Saturday: With the exception of about 45 seconds, I did not watch birds today.  During the morning hours I was at the Friends of Madera Canyon volunteer appreciation breakfast and for the rest of the day I was replacing the kitchen sink and faucet.  As I was unloading the new sink from my truck, I heard a call that I’ve not heard for several months – a Hooded Oriole.  I got my binoculars and was fortunate to see a wonderfully plumaged male fly into the Palo Verde tree in the front.  Number 286.
Immature Harris's Hawk - Green Valley
30 March 2014 Sunday: No birding, completed a faucet replacement project.
31 March 2014 Monday:  I was out with Sharon & Lois this morning.  Sharon had a few lifers she wanted to see and unfortunately still has.  We first tried for the Sinaloa Wren in Tubac.  Though we heard it rather well several times, we were not able to see any movement from this bird. Next was Montosa Canyon for the Crissal Thrasher.  Similar story, we heard one thrasher singing way up on the hillside (south slope of canyon) and we were not able to put binoculars on it.  A last minute decision paid off, a second year Harris’s Hawk perched atop an Agave stalk in a Green Valley neighborhood.