Wednesday, June 18, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-Three

4 June 2014 Wednesday: Due to a medical issue, Ed & Sylvia cancelled their last morning.  So I took the opportunity to fill the hummingbird feeders where the Green Valley starthroat has been visiting.  The bird arrived at 06:52, fed for 45 seconds and left.  I waited for another hour and it did not return.  I then headed over to the Green Valley Waste Water Plant. Not much of interest except a pair of Blue-winged Teal and a male Northern Shoveler.
5 June 2014 Thursday:  Today was the first of two days with Nolan from Arlington Heights Illinois.  Nolan began making arrangements for these two days back in September 2013.  Then and now his two primary targets were Five-striped Sparrow and Black-capped Gnatcatcher.   For this day we headed down to California Gulch.  The Five-striped Sparrows were uncooperative at first.  We walked all the way to the third stream crossing before hearing a male singing.  This crossing hides one a the few puddles of open water (and maybe the only puddle this season) and at least one pair of Five-striped Sparrows & several other birds (Varied Buntings, Rufous-crowned Sparrows) were staying close.  We spent a fair bit of time watching & photographing various species of birds at this water hole before heading out.  Somewhat ironic was a five more Five-striped Sparrows detected (singing or calling) in the heat of the morning as we retraced our tracks back out of the gulch. 
After a two-hour drive we found Montosa Canyon rather quiet (and hot).  We managed to bird for an hour; finding 17 species including a family group of Black-tailed Gnatcatchers.  The fledged family of Black-capped Gnatcatchers was not to be found.
6 June 2014 Friday: Fortunately the Black-capped Gnatcatchers in Florida Canyon were friendlier this morning.  I heard & then saw a female Black-capped Gnatcatcher in flight.  By following her trajectory, we were able to locate a calling male and got good views and some decent photos.  Before we found the gnatcatchers, I saw a large hummingbird flyby and then hover & land at a dried agave stalk.  I knew immediately that it was a Plain-capped Starthroat but was not able to get Nolan onto the bird.  There was a report of a starthroat a few days prior about a quarter mile up canyon so this was probably the same bird.
7 June 2014 Saturday: I was back in Florida Canyon this morning.  David Pettee from Massachusetts had requested we search for Rufous-capped Warblers & Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  We found two (a pair?) of the warblers 45 minutes after starting out and flushed three Montezuma Quail (unexpected) as we hiked back down.  We wandered the around the area I had seen the gnatcatchers yesterday and only heard one further into the thorny tangle.  [David found them in Montosa Canyon the next day.]  While David & I were searching for the gnatcatchers, I got a phone call and message from Cora at Madera Kubo.  One of her guest reported a Fan-tailed Warbler behind their cabin.  Even though I was skeptical, David & I decide to check it out.  When we arrive at Madera Kubo and a little more information from Cora and the guest that believed she saw a Fan-tailed Warbler.  My skepticism increases but David & I walk the creek bed from the Amphitheater Bridge to Kubo just in case.  [A Fan-tailed Warbler spent several days in late May of 2011 along this stretch of Madera Canyon.] 
8 June 2014 Sunday: I “just-in-case” walked the drainage below Madera Kubo once again this morning.  If there was a Fan-tailed Warbler around, it was playing hard to get.  I watched the feeders at both the Madera Kubo and the Santa Rita Lodge. I found nothing unusual for the season.
Sunday evening I went to my spot for the Buff-collared Nightjar.  This evening the nightjar began singing at 20:06 in the distance, somewhere to the southwest of site 7.  It appears that the nightjars are not nesting where I found them nesting last year.  I stopped on the cattle guard to listen for the other nightjar.  There was a Common Poorwill calling close so I decided to record it.  While recording the Poorwill, a nightjar began singing and then two Buff-collared Nightjars were singing simultaneously.  I got at least one recording of both singing.  This means that there are three male nightjars in the area!
9 June 2014 Monday: Not much this birding activity this day.  I went over to check on the Plain-capped Starthroat, did not see it.   
10 June 2014 Tuesday: I headed over to Las Cienegas NCA this morning primarily to search for Yellow-billed Cuckoos.  Cuckoos have been reported at various spots in Arizona for about a week and yesterday Arlene reported them from St. David.  That was the spark I needed to go to my favorite spot for them, Empire Gulch.  Once getting off highway 83 on to Empire Ranch Road I opened all my vehicle windows so that I could listen for singing grassland sparrows.  Amongst the few Botteri’s Sparrows hear singing and the many Eastern (Lillian’s) Meadowlark I heard a Western Meadowlark song.  I saw this singing bird about 150 feet away and could see little white in the close tail.  Before I could reach for my recorder the Western Meadowlark flew, flaring its tail revealing minimal white when compared to nearby Eastern Meadowlarks.  The tail appeared white roughly the outer quarters and dark on the center half.  The song of the Western was bubbling and musical while the nearby Lillian’s were singing their typical slurred whistled “see yur see yeeer”.  The Western Meadowlark flew away from me and disappeared over a rise.  I didn’t hang around to listen for it further.  A little further down the road I saw and photographed three adult & two young Pronghorns. 
I walked from the parking lot at Empire Gulch, to the west past the “headwater”, through the gate, and up to roughly the back of the headquarter buildings, about a half mile.  I heard my first cuckoo in the vicinity of the gate high in the cottonwoods.  This bird was doing the “cooing” calls and had it not emanated from the top of the cottonwoods it could have been confused with a roadrunner.  When I had almost made my way back to the truck, I heard the classic “cuk cuk cuk cacacowlup cacacowlup” (my phonic description sucks).  I eventually saw the pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos and tracked one down and got a butt-shot photograph.
Besides the targeted cuckoo, there were many other birds along Empire Gulch, particularly where there was water.  Many family groups of Lucy’s Warblers, several Blue Grosbeaks, Summer Tanagers, Common Yellowthroats, singing Yellow Warblers, and unseen but vocal Yellow-breasted Chats. I was surprised to see a Pacific-slope Flycatcher believing it was too late in the season for them.  However, when looking at eBird records, they are regular migrants through the area until mid-June.
Next I headed over the Cottonwood Pond.   I figured that any body of open water in this grassland-desert should be attractive to birds & wildlife.  As I am pulling in to parking area, a pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos fly by and land in a mesquite at the edge of one of the impoundments.  And almost immediately one of the cuckoos flies back with a male Vermilion Flycatcher chasing.  Across this same impoundment is a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks feeding on the aquatic vegetation seemingly unconcerned with my presence.  A Great Blue Heron flies from a nearby cottonwood and heads away. This is a pretty neat place and deserved more time however it is getting warm and I’m ready to go.
I drive out with windows open listening for singing sparrows or meadowlarks and stopping for sparrows flitting off the road.  One stop for a singing Botteri’s Sparrows produced a Grasshopper Sparrow.  For some reason I didn’t have Grasshopper Sparrows on my mind but this is one of the few areas that they breed in southeast Arizona.  At another stop, the flitting sparrow turn out to be a Cassin’s Sparrow.  This bird was silent but I got decent binocular views and some photographs that show none of the field marks. 
About a half-hour later, after coming out of the west end of Box Canyon I see a hawk soaring low over the road carrying a snake.  I am able to stop, grab the camera, and shoot several photographs of a Red-tailed Hawk carrying some sort of snake.  What a wonderful way to wrap up a little adventure and two new year birds.

End of the week year total: 368.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-Two

28 May 2014 Wednesday:  Today began two days guiding Barbara & Douglass, two ladies from Louisiana.  We started in Green Valley with three Harris’s Hawks near their nest site and were fortunate to see a Gilded Flicker in a nearby Saguaro. At Continental Wash we looked in on the nesting Red-tailed Hawks and found a pair of Rufous-winged Sparrows.  Further up Whitehouse Canyon Road we found a pair of Crissal Thrashers in an area that I had not seen them before.  At Proctor Road in lower Madera Canyon we scored many of the expected species for the season including Botteri’s Sparrow, Varied Bunting, & Blue Grosbeak.  At the Santa Rita Lodge & Madera Kubo we enjoyed a few hummingbirds including Magnificent, Arizona Woodpecker, Greater Pewee, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, and Painted Redstart.  We dipped on Elegant Trogon along the first mile of the Super Trail yet found Dusky-capped Flycatchers, a Swainson’s Thrush, and Rufous-crowned Sparrows.
Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
Arizona Woodpecker
Blue Grosbeak
In the evening I headed back up to Proctor Road for a nightjar search.  While driving up at milepost 4 on Whitehouse Canyon Road I saw a Prairie Falcon cruise by.  Prairie Falcons in southeast Arizona at this time of year are very local and this is not one of the usual locales.  At my nightjar spot, the Buff-collared Nightjar began calling at 19:35, earlier than the other two night birds heard this evening.  The nightjar sang for eleven minutes from various perches, one within twenty-five feet away and I saw it silhouetted as it flew by once.  The bird resumed singing at 20:12 (nearly a half hour of silence).  I was able to approach the bird, see eyeshine with my headlamp, and made several voice recordings.  The bird continued singing until at least 20:37 when I got back to my truck.
29 May 2014 Thursday:  After the long drive from Green Valley, we (Barbara, Douglass, & myself) birded Huachuca Canyon above the 1.7 mile picnic area.  We found three Elegant Trogons (a female & two males), three pairs of noisy Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers, two Buff-breasted Flycatchers, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Western Tanagers, Black-throated Gray Warblers, and heard a day calling Spotted Owl.   
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (rare) - shaking off water after bathing

Black-throated Gray Warbler - posed after bathing

Male Western Tanager
Up Miller Canyon we were able to see the female Spotted Owl on the well-advertised nest however the chicks were not visible.  The male White-eared Hummingbird continues to dazzle. Among the boulders of the washout through the middle of the Beatty’s property, a family group of Rock Wrens were entertaining.  I left my camera & big lens in the truck because of the slight threat of rain.  I did carry my scope since it was going to give us the best view of the Spotted Owl.  Below are two photographs digitscoped with my iPhone:
Female Spotted Owl in cavity

Dorsal view of male White-eared Hummingbird
Just after starting down Miller Canyon Road from the Beatty's, we came across this beauty.  My experiences with Gopher Snakes it that they usually flee unless cornered.  Well this one wasn't fleeing and kicking at its tail did not seem to help encourage it to move along.  I was about to get one of my hiking sticks when two AZF&G guys arrived.  One jumps out of the truck and says its just a Gopher Snake and without hesitation reaches down, grabs the snake mid-section, and drops it in the weeds on the side of the road.  Now that's a real man!

I left Barbara & Douglass in Sierra Vista and drove up to St. David to see if I could find my year Mississippi Kite.  They had been reported in the vicinity for more than two weeks and since I had the opportunity I thought I would take a look.  Near the north end of Miller Lane in St. David, I found a perched Mississippi Kite perched in a large cottonwood.  I pull off take several pictures and then leave; the lighting was poor, the neighborhood did not look conducive to birding, and I was tired.
Mississippi Kite

30 May 2014 Friday:  I pulled feeder duty this morning and did not see the startthroat. At Amado Pond, the most interesting sighting was my year Purple Martin. There are not many reports of this species at this particular location.  Perhaps nearly as interesting were two continuing Neotropic Cormorants.  What could these cormorants find so attractive at this pond with so many golf course ponds with fish just a few miles away?  At Torres Blancas Golf Course an Osprey fly over provided very nice photo opportunities with some very nice results.
31 May 2014 Saturday: The evening I took Ed & Sylvia for an unsuccessful search for the Buff-collared Nightjar.  Unlike a few evenings ago, the nightjar was not heard my “secret” location.  Fortunately I will be with Ed & Sylvia for the next four days and will have other opportunities for hearing the nightjar.
Five-striped Sparrow singing
1 June 2014 Sunday: This morning Ed & Sylvia joined me on an excursion to California Gulch.  It was not until we got to the third stream crossing that I found any Five-striped Sparrow.  Three birds were foraging in the old roadbed just above where it crosses the dry stream.  There is a small pool of open water in the vicinity and that must have been the attraction.  Otherwise, we ended up with a good count of Five-striped Sparrows, seven with most of them being heard only.  We also saw a few of the other specialties in the gulch; Varied Buntings, Blue Grosbeak, Hooded Oriole, and Rufous-crowned Sparrows.
Five-striped Sparrow feeding

In the evening, we met again for some owling up in Madera Canyon.  We heard Flammulated, Elf, & Whiskered Screech-Owls and Mexican Whip-poor-wills. 
2 June 2014 Monday: Another morning with Ed & Sylvia, this morning we headed to Florida Canyon to search for the Rufous-capped Warblers.  We found two singing male and potentially a female (or at least a third bird) Rufous-capped Warblers near the oak grove where they have been hanging out for several weeks.  In addition to the warblers we found a calling Cordilleran Flycatcher (unusually low elevation), several fly by Band-tailed Pigeons, and two adult male singing Indigo Buntings.
In the evening, we tried for the nightjar again.  This time we settled in at the cattle guard on Proctor Road along with about eight to ten other folks and listened to the Buff-collared Nightjar sing for about 3 minutes.  Thankfully this species has such a distinctive song.
Adult Northern Pygmy-Owl
Baby Northern Pygmy-Owl
3 June 2014 Tuesday: We arrived at the trailhead parking are below the Beatty’s Guest Ranch at 07:35 and immediately proceeded through the Beatty’s property up the trail to the Northern Pygmy-Owl nest.  This species was one of Ed’s prime targets for their visit to Arizona.  It was also the one I was most worried about.  There does not appear to be any accessible nests in Madera Canyon, I don’t know of any along the Catalina Highway, the pair in Huachuca Canyon is nesting in an inaccessible location, and these (Miller Canyon) birds could have fledged.  As it turns out these birds have not fledged.  The female flies from the nest cavity upon our arrival.  After a few minutes delay, one of the chicks pokes it head out of the hole.  For the next hour or so we watch and photograph the chick, sometimes two, looking out of their secure cavity in a small oak tree in the middle of the dry streambed.  After a while a couple of Mexican Jays arrive on the scene, or at least nearby.  One of the adult pygmy-owls perches on a branch 50 yards away watching the jays.  And when one of the jays forages directly under the nest cavity, a second adult appears from nowhere and attacks the Mexican Jay.  The jay silently flees into a nearby oak tree with the little owl in pursuit.  After a scramble in the tree the jay flees further with the owl on its tail and eventually away from the nest area.  All the while the adult sitting on a branch watches the other jay and the action.
Baby Spotted Owl
I don’t think we could ever get tired of watching the pygmy-owl family in action, time was waning and we need to move on.  We stopped briefly at the Spotted Owl nest cavity and saw one chick.  We spent a little bit of time at the Beatty’s feeders allowing ourselves to be dazzled by the hummingbirds including mister dazzling himself, the White-eared Hummingbird.
We next headed over to Ash Canyon B&B with hopes of getting a mid-day look at a Lucifer Hummingbird.  Unfortunately (but expectedly) the Lucifer Hummingbird was a no show for the 90 minutes we waited. However, we were entertained by four other species of hummingbirds and sweet looks at both Scott’s & Bullock’s Orioles, both were brilliant males.
Male White-eared Hummingbird

On our way back to Green Valley, along Greaterville Road just west of Highway 82 we found a Zone-tailed Hawk soaring over.  This bird stayed overhead long enough for me to stop the truck and all to get out & look.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-One

21 May 2014 Wednesday: With a last minute cancellation, I found myself with a free day.  With little time to plan, I chose to visit a few of the ponds near Green Valley.  A quick visit to the Amado WTP produced two Snowy Egrets and a male Ring-necked Duck that will probably be spending the summer. Otherwise, I rested and began catching up on paperwork.
22 May 2014 Thursday:  Today I guided Bruce & Kris to Huachuca and Miller Canyons.  The Sinaloa Wren was not to be heard or seen this morning.  Two Pacific-slope Flycatchers seem to me to be late.  To be expected, Sulphur-bellied Flycatchers were visible & vocal at both ends of Huachuca Canyon Road.  A pair of Curve-billed Thrasher appeared to be building a nest a near the Camp Gila Picnic Area. Above the 1.7 mile picnic area we were blessed with wonderful looks at a male Elegant Trogon.  In Miller Canyon above the Beatty’s Guest Ranch, the female Northern Goshawk continues incubating or brooding, the female Spotted Owl was perched just outside the cavity, the Northern Pygmy-Owls were not to be seen.  At the Beatty’s feeders, the male White-eared Hummingbird continues to dazzle.
After I finished guiding, I headed over to Lake Cochise with hopes of seeing several rarities found yesterday and see earlier this morning.  I first saw the American Golden-Plover.  I took some distant yet identifiable photographs of this rare species for southeast Arizona and very good year bird.  On the east edge of the lake I found three Ring-billed Gulls and one ratty California Gull. And then I see the Black Tern hunting over the lake nearby.  On my pass around the lake, I found the Snowy Plover foraging & hiding beyond clumps of grass.  I was fortunate to see it and had no time to even attempt to get a photo.  I looked for the Snowy Plover from other vantage points without seeing it again.  Back on the east side of the lake, amongst the four larger gulls was the basic plumaged Bonapart’s Gull, probably a second year bird that won’t get full alternate plumage this summer.  I check out the golf course pond prior to leaving.  The sun is low in the sky and makes viewing this pond and the nearby golf course difficult.  However, I found a Willow Flycatcher in the willows (go figure) at the northeast corner of the pond.  This little excursion netted five year birds!  And I saw several other species of personal interest like Scaled Quail, Green-winged Teal (rare this time of year), a flock of White-faced Ibis, and twenty-two Spotted Sandpipers.
23 May 2014 Friday:  I was out again with Bruce & Kris in the Huachuca Mountains.  We first climbed up Carr Canyon Road to the Reef Townsite and Ramsey Vista Campgrounds.  At Reef Townsite among the numerous Buff-breasted Flycatchers were pair of Greater Pewees that appear territorial.  We also scored with the warblers, good views of singing male Virginia’s, Grace’s, and Olive.  At Ramsey Vista, we found three Band-tailed Pigeons perched up fairly close (rather than flying by), an Olive-sided Flycatcher, a male “Azure” Eastern Bluebird, and more Buff-breasted Flycatchers.  During the drive down Carr Canyon Road, we encountered a pair of Bushtits in the scrubby oaks at one of the hairpin turns overlooking Hereford.
We then spent an hour at Ash Canyon B&B hoping that a Lucifer Hummingbird would show up, no such luck.  While there I learned of an Elegant Tern that was found at Patagonia Lake State Park.  We already had plans to go to Patagonia. We traveled to Patagonia where we spent a half-hour at the Paton’s feeders scoring at least one Violet-crowned Hummingbird.  By the time we got to Patagonia Lake, it was hot.  The tern had been reported flying from the west end to the east end of the lake.  We concentrated out search from the visitor center eastward and came up empty. 
After dropping Bruce & Kris off back in Patagonia, I headed back to the lake.  This time I obtained a permit for the nature area.  From here, I am able to scan the west end of the lake, section of the lake not visible from any of the park’s picnic areas.  There it was! An Elegant Tern flying high over the lake plunge diving.  I watched & photographed for several minutes before it disappeared to the east.  I re-found the bird thirty minutes later in a cove across from the swim beach area (I was at the visitor center). 
24 May 2014 Saturday:  Today I participated in the Santa Rita Mountain Trogon Survey.  My assigned territory was the upper end of the Carrie Nation Trail in the Hopkins Fork of Madera Canyon.  This is about a ½ trail-mile above where Louise & I surveyed last year and near the location where I found two recently fledged trogons last summer.   The first part of the count was stationary (06:00-09:00) and I positioned myself along the trail a settled in for the long wait.  As it turns out, I positioned myself within a hundred feet of a trogon nest.   When I arrived on the scene a male trogon was calling as if on territory and would occasionally fly down canyon to deal with another male intruding.  Eventually he settled down and called consistently from one group of tree (not in the stream bed) and at least trice called with his head in body-out of the cavity.  Either he likes the acoustics of the hollow tree or the female was hard of hearing.  Between episodes of watching trogon behavior, a female White-eared Hummingbird visited me.  Though brief, it was a wonderful visit.  Wonder if she is also was nesting nearby.  During my hike down the Carrie Nation Trail, I ran into a couple of birders (also trogon surveyor) that told me about a Mexican Whip-poor-will on the trail below the second stream crossing.  Sure enough, not on the trail exactly but close was a Mexican Whip-poor-will sitting on a rock in plain view across the stream bed.. What a wonderful punctuation for a wonderful morning.
25 May 2014 Sunday:  Today another trogon survey, this one in the Patagonia Mountains.  For the second year I was fortunately assigned Corral Canyon.  Last year was my first visit to this shallow canton and I found at least one breeding pair of trogons and a second year male.  This day I found one breeding pair at their nest thanks to the female flying across the road and landing in the cavity. The mated male was off barking at another male, apparently an intruder on his territory.  Another mile & half up the this canyon was a second male calling & foraging in the oaks on the side of the canyon.  This male’s calls sounded as if he was bonded to a female and therefore implies a second breeding pair nesting in this canyon of marginal habitat (at least to this human’s perspective).  Besides the trogons this is a wonderful place to spend a morning birding.  I had a Thick-billed Kingbird at 2.6 miles above the main road and a pair of “Azure” Eastern Bluebirds.
After completing the survey and in route to home, I stopped at Montosa Canyon to look for a male Hooded Warbler reported from the day before.  No luck with the warbler on this rather warm early afternoon.
26 May 2014 Monday: Absolutely nothing in the field having to do with birds.
27 May 2014 Tuesday:  Another day with no guiding.  I could even claim I was unguided.  I tried check on the nightjars early in the morning on my way to Las Cienegas.  Then checked out the Amado Pond and Torres Blancas Golf Course.  The only excitement was two Greater Scaup at the pond on the Torres Blancas Golf Course. These birds are rare at any season in southeast Arizona and were will documented.