Friday, July 18, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-Seven

I had yet another week of mixed personal time & guiding.  On Wednesday 2nd I went to check on and fill the feeders at a private residence in Green Valley.  The long continuing, yet secret, Plain-capped Starthroat, made a fly by and checked out a feeder.  It may have stopped and drank from one of the feeders not visible at the time. One Thursday 3rd, I found an over summering Ring-necked Duck and now three Neotropic Cormorants (previously two).  I learned that Pima County has introduced Minnow Fish to the pond. That explains what attracting the cormorants and maybe we can get some mergansers here this winter.  While checking out the Torres Blancas Golf Course pond, I get a message that a Rufous-backed Robin has been seen in Madera Canyon. About thirty minutes later I’m talked with Peter Salomon & John Mueller and in five more minutes watch the Rufous-backed Robin fly across the trail.  For the next hour & half I tried to find the bird again so I cold get a photograph for documentation, July Rufous-backed Robins are rather unusual north of the border.
A truly spectacular beginning to Independence Day (Friday 4th) – a Plain-capped Starthroat at the Santa Rita Lodge while waiting for clients Larry & Allison to arrive.  It was still rather dark in the canyon and took a bit of time to tweak the camera settings.  I ended up with one of my most viewed photographs ever on Flicker, more than 9800 views! See
I take Larry & Allison to the Proctor Road trail.  We find many of the expected species for the season and a resurgence of singing & breeding activity.  I was surprised to hear a Buff-collared Nightjar singing a few songs in the daytime (it was overcast).  This bird was across the stream & road in the vicinity of the cattle guard. I was also surprised to see without hearing Botteri’s Sparrow from the parking lot. These sparrows have been singing all spring and now that the conditions are right for breeding they were silent.  Maybe they’ve done the prenuptials and are getting on with nesting.
After Proctor we stop at the Madera Canyon Picnic Area since we heard one of the Gray Hawks calling as we drove by. We found an adult Gray Hawk perched on the west slope of the canyon.  We searched for the Rufous-backed Robin that was seen yesterday but no luck. As we were driving up canyon heading for a hike on the Carrie Nation Trail we saw a birding friend standing in the road looking at a known Whiskered Screech-Owl cavity.  Of course we stopped and enjoyed wonderful views of the bird that normally does not perch exposed in its cavity. [I later learned that the actual nest cavity was on the other side of this sycamore and held at least two young.]  In addition to the owl we see and hear Greater Pewee, Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher, marvelous looks at an adult Painted Redstart.  With our time together waning, we decide to skip the hike and spend our last hour together working on hummingbird identification at the lodge. 
With no guiding on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th I do a little local birding at Amado WTP, Green Valley WWTP, and around the house.  On Monday 7th I fill the feeders at the private residence in Green Valley; the Starthroat was a no show.  I headed up to Madera Canyon and photograph the Allen’s Hummingbird at Madera Kubo & the Plain-capped Starthroat at the Santa Rita Lodge.

At the end of this week, my annual total is 375 for Arizona.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-Six

This was another nice week of mixed personal time and guiding.  On Wednesday 25th I casually birded hummingbird feeders in Madera Canyon.  In the evening I checked in on the Buff-collared Nightjars along Proctor Road.  I recorded the male singing near site 3 that I believe is unmated and possibly recorded two singing simultaneously, the other I believe to be the Site 1 bird (possibly mated).  
On Thursday 26th morning, I got a late start but went over to fill the feeders at the Green Valley Starthroat spot.  The Starthroat showed up and perched for about 5 minutes 30 minutes after I got there.  I got a few well backlit photographs of it sitting in a Palo Verde Tree.  I did not see it come to any of the feeders though a few of the feeders are out of sight.  While I waited for the Starthroat to return, a report of a Marbled Godwit at Kennedy Park came in.  Mark Stevenson had found the bird along the south shore of the lake.  Though I had seen one earlier in the year, I did not photograph it.  So here was my chance to catch up on the “photo’d” list.  Forty minutes later I photographed the Marble Godwit.
I guided Brian Johnson on the 27th & 28th.  On Friday 27th, Brian & I headed to California Gulch for the Five-striped Sparrows.  Near the old dam & silted in pond (now cow pasture) we had a very tattered Common Black-Hawk fly over. This species was on Brian’s wish list however I warned him that it was not likely to be seen in this part of Arizona in the summer time.  It was probably a second year bird that was spending the summer wandering.  What ever the case, this situation was a fine example of “birding” – sometime you don’t get what you expect and other times you get what you don’t expect.  I have found it much easier on myself to “expect the unexpected” or don’t set any “expectations”.  I did however expect to see and hear Five-striped Sparrows in the section of the gulch now bypassed by Forest Road 217.  We heard five of these sparrows either singing or calling; the first being above the first stream crossing.  It wasn’t until we reached the north end of the riparian area that we finally put eyes on a Five-striped Sparrows.  And did he perform! Singing from various perches including one about twelve feet from us – nice bird!
We stopped at Pena Blanca Lake on our way back to Green Valley hoping to find a Least Grebe.  The grebes had not been reported for a few weeks and we did not find one this morning.  We also stopped by Rio Rico Ponds; found four Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks together with two White-faced Ibis on the pond east of the train tracks and one Tropical Kingbird.
Brian and I regroup in the evening for some night birding.  We park at site #3 along Proctor Road, hear a Buff-collared Nightjar singing back towards Site #1, walk back to Site #1 , listen to two male Buff-collared Nightjars counter singing, and then follow one of them back to Site #3.  Even though we did not see any nightjars, Brian was pleased with hearing them rather well.   Next we went up canyon to the Mount Wrightson Picnic Area and heard several Whiskered Screech-Owls and Mexican Whip-poor-wills. 
On Saturday 28th, Brian & I began birding in Green Valley.  While the Gilded Flicker played hard to get giving us only flying away views, the local group of Harris’s Hawks put on a nice show with three individuals perched up.  Our next stop was Florida Canyon with the targets being the Rufous-capped Warblers and Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  The pair of warblers performed nicely and while waiting for the warblers to return Brian & I heard an unfamiliar warbler calling.  While Brian continued watch for the warblers, I searched for the vireo.  When I first saw the vireo I immediately recognized it as one of the “red-eyed” types and took several long distance photographs.  I looked at the images on the back of the camera and re- enforced my initial impression.  I showed one of the images to Brian and he agreed with my initial impression.  Looking at the screen on the back of the camera I thought bird had an overall yellowish wash so I was beginning to think “yellow-green”.  I moved closer to the Sycamore tree the vireo was foraging in.  Not immediately find the bird I played a recording of a Red-eyed Vireo song – no response that I noticed.  I then played the so-called “tchway” call - that was the call we were hearing!  The vireo appeared about 12 feet away in an oak next to us.  A quick binocular view provided all the field marks needed for identification: red eye, white supercilium, dark gray crown trimmed with thin black frame, and mostly whitish under parts (minimal yellowish on the flanks).  We had a Red-eyed Vireo!  This was my first for the year.  Brian, though a common species where he comes from, gets into the excitement of seeing a locally rare bird.  While hiking out, we hear and then see a male Black-capped Gnatcatcher. As we watched the gnatcatcher disappear in the thick cactus & thorny bush habitat, another bird flies by.  I initially thought the dark bird was a Varied Buntings or a Blue Grosbeak, but something wasn’t right.  I find the bird foraging on the ground a few meters away.  It’s a Five-striped Sparrow, a species very rare in Pima County and local anywhere north of the border.  I believe this only the second time one has been found in Florida Canyon.
On the way to Madera Canyon, we stopped at intersection of FR 62A/481 and walking down into Florida Wash.  We were searching again for Black-capped Gnatcatchers since our previous opportunity was so nice interrupted by the Five-striped Sparrow.  Here we heard & saw one female plumaged Black-capped Gnatcatcher foraging in oaks.  I believe they may be nesting in the vicinity again based on her behavior.  In Madera Canyon, we hiked the Carrie Nation Trail hoping to find an Elegant Trogon.  We hiked to the second stream crossing and even though it was rather birdy we did not hear or see a trogon. 
On Sunday 29th I did some local casual birding at the Green Valley Water Treatment Facility and Torres Blancas Golf Course.
I reached another milestone today Monday 30th; I saw two new year birds which puts my total at 373. This number is a milestone because it is the most species of birds I’ve seen in Arizona in a single calendar year and amazingly I still have anoth half-the-year to go!
I headed to Las Cienegas NCA again to search for a Common Nighthawk and planned to go to Cave Canyon to look for a Hooded Warbler, both were reported yesterday.  I searched the open grasslands around the Empire Ranch without seeing any nighthawks flying about.  I stopped at Empire Gulch and walked to the spring hoping to see an American Redstart that was also reported yesterday; not a year bird but still a good bird for Arizona any season.  Just before reaching the spring I hear a song that reminds me of a Warbling Vireo yet not quite. I am in the process of recording the song when I see Andrew Core.  Both of us get decent recordings of the bird and we decide that we are probably hearing an “Eastern” Warbling Vireo, a subspecies that neither of us had observed in Arizona.   Andrew plays the song of the eastern form and both of us recognize it as the same bird we are hearing and the bird responds by investigating us.  We see the bird visually and confirm we have a Warbling Vireo but there are only subtle plumage differences between the two forms. We do however take many photos.  While recording the vireo’s song, I am looking though a gap in the canopy and see a Common Nighthawk flyby.  Andrew records me exclaiming “Yes, nighthawk!” while he was trying to record the vireo. After documenting this bird the best we can Andrew and I part ways.
I head over to nearby Cave Canyon where a Hooded Warbler was reported.  I have never birded Cave Canyon and have only rarely birded the east slope of the Santa Rita Mountains.  After following the excellent directions, I hear it sing twice and catch a brief glimpse of the male Hooded Warbler.  Finding this bird feels somewhat anticlimactic.  I’m not sure if it was the poor views or that I had potentially just seen a first for Arizona.   
On Tuesday 1st I join Mark, Molly, & Andrew in a search for the Five-striped Sparrow & Red-eyed Vireo I found in Florida Canyon a few days prior.  Both birds would be county birds for Andrew and the sparrow a county bird for both Molly & Andrew.   Though we do not find the two target species, we do find the Rufous-capped Warbler pair that are probably breeding nearby, rack up a pretty decent checklist for Florida Canyon, and saw a Coati scurring up the hill side.  Mark & Molly headed up to Madera Canyon while Andrew dropped me off at home.  Later in the afternoon, I get word from Molly that they had a possible male Allen’s Hummingbird at Madera Kubo.  As soon as I get the news I head up and find the suspect.  I was confident that I saw the necessary field marks to identify an Allen’s Hummingbird, solid green back, thin outer retrices (R5), and un-notched R2. I not able to get any photographs of this bird but did photograph my second Coati of the day. 
Amazingly I saw four new year birds this week bringing my total to 374.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

AZ Bird Year - Week Twenty-Five

Hot temperatures continue and the humidity is increasing.  It won’t be long before the afternoon showers begin.  I am continuing the “catch-up” of chores and paperwork with a little birding & guiding thrown in for good measure.
On Friday June 20th I took Steve Lima down to California Gulch in search of Five-striped Sparrows.  It was a good thing that Steve got eyes on one of the pair that flew across the trail early.  That was our best views of what turned out to be a difficult bird to see & hear this morning.  We did end up seeing or hearing seven Five-striped Sparrows; mostly heard call notes, a few shadows seen flitting through the scrub after hearing calls, one male sang a few times, and the one of the pair that Steve saw teed up.  The small water hole at the third crossing is almost gone.  It is amazingly dry down here. 
Saturday morning June 21st I picked up Bill & Landra at the Chuparosa B&B for a morning of birding in Madera Canyon.  We started at the Proctor Road trail, then stopped by Madera Kubo for a short feeder check, and then walked the first mile of the very quiet Super Trail.  The highlight of our time together was a Zone-tailed Hawk but their highlight of their visit was the male Elegant Trogon calling around the Chuparosa Sunday morning.
I found myself back at the feeders at the private residence in Green Valley on Sunday morning June 22nd.  It was less than ten minutes after filling the previously empty feeders that the Plain-capped Starthroat shows up. It came out of the wash, landed in a Palo Verde tree called for several minutes, briefly visited the back feeder (closest to the wash), perched up on the other side of the Palo Verde, for a few seconds, and then headed back into the wash. I waited 50 minutes for the bird to return – it did not.
[Sunday 22nd night - My client from a few days prior emailed a report of a Berylline Hummingbird in he saw in Ramsey Canyon.]
I joined Mark & Molly in a search for Gray Vireos on Redington Pass Monday June 23rd.  Even though I did not need the Gray Vireo for the year list, it was good to get out with Mark & Molly and for my part explore.  The few times I have been up Redington Pass Road I usually go up in search of a few particular species (Sage Thrashers, Juniper Titmouse) and typically do not find the road/corral/tank I was supposed to bird at.   We heard and saw at least two Gray Vireos singing around MP 14.  This was one of the two locations that Mark & Molly had found them last summer (July).  
I thought about chasing the Berylline Hummingbird after leaving Mark & Molly.  There was a positive list server posting concerning this bird and I knew the Nature Conservancy Preserve is closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays. The posting also stated that Rick Romero had received permission to “escort” birders in while the preserve was closed.  So decided that I would try for the Berylline tomorrow.  Later in the afternoon I got a premonition (actually bored of working on the computer) and went down to Torres Blancas Golf Course.  I normally do not see much at Torres Blancas but every now and again something unusual shows up that keeps me looking.  This afternoon the unusual was a Long-billed Curlew out on the fairway.  I photographed this bird; this is perhaps the only Pima County June record of this species.  I have one other record of Long-billed Curlew from this location, 16 September 2012.
Louise and I took an evening hike along the Nature Trail in Madera Canyon.  This was not a birding hike however we witnessed thirty-six Turkey Vultures coming in to roost and heard seven individual Mexican Whip-poor-wills, impressive numbers locally.
24 June 2014 Tuesday:  This is target birding at its best! I drive into a beautiful sunrise arriving at the Ramsey Canyon Preserve with Sycamore filtered sunlight illuminating the path to the hummingbird feeders.  Almost immediately both Rick and I hear the Berylline Hummingbird singing.  I take numerous pictures and make a few recordings over the next hour & half.  See
Since I am in the neighborhood, I decide to stop by Huachuca Canyon for a little bit to see if the Hooded Warbler that was reported there several days ago might still be around.  No luck with this warbler.  It was still a worthy stop being that Huachuca Canyon is such a wonderful spot. 
In the evening, I convince Louise to join me on a nightjar search up Faber Canyon.  Last year I had a pair that probably bred.  This year, I have not heard a nightjar sound from this area of excellent habitat.  We did find a Common Poorwill flycatching from the trail, always fun to see.

With the addition of the Berylline Hummingbird, the year list stands at 370.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Twenty-Four

So arrives Junes… hot temperatures, guiding slows down considerably, chores that I’ve put off for months now become priority, and did I mention it is hot.  Much of the week was consumed with chores around the house and completing the administrative part of being a bird watching guide.  I did get out with the binoculars a couple of times. On Sunday 15th June Louise & I took a hike up the Carrie Nation Trail in Madera Canyon.  This trail is one of our favorites, I like it because it is often birdy and one of the reasons Louise likes it is because it is mildly strenuous.  As approach the junction with the Vault Mine Trail on our way down, a Mexican Whip-poor-will goes into a distraction display and a very young fledgling appears just off the trail.  This is exciting; I have never seen a fledgling nightjar of any species.  I rattle-off several dozen pictures of both the adult (presumably the female) and the youngster before leaving the two be.  Both Louise and I had independently experienced this adult’s distraction display in the past few weeks.  We suspected a nearby nest but didn’t look too hard since we wished to minimize disturbance.  [About two weeks later I find the possible nest with an abandoned unhatched egg at this location.  I suspect that one egg failed due to the time the adult must spent off the nest distracting hikers passing by.]
I had been watching reports of one to three Caspian Terns being seen at the Glendale Recharge Basins on the west side of the Phoenix metro area.  I convinced Andrew to join me and early on the 16th Monday morning we arrive and immediately begin searching for the terns.  In the southeast-most basin we find three female Wilson’s Phalaropes amongst more than a hundred noisy Black-necked Stilts.  The phalaropes were probably early southbound migrants!    We eventually find one Caspian Tern in the middle-north basin (#2).  This is a great year bird as well as a state bird.  I have missed Caspian Terns several time before in the state so this was a particularly good treat, and we got some decent pictures.  The long drive didn’t seem too long and I was home before noon.
Common Nighthawks were being reported from the east side of the Huachuca Mountains and various place to the north.  They must be in the valleys on the east of the Santa Rita Mountains; the most “reliable” spot close by.   I left the house before 6pm and was on Empire Ranch Road around 6:30.  I drove the roads in Las Cienegas NCA from the Empire Ranch to Highway 82 and both the Elgin Roads southeast of Sonoita before calling it quits at about 8pm.  My most exciting find was singing Grasshopper Sparrows in the dark on Lower Elgin Road.  At about 8:30, Louise calls from McKinney, TX and tells me all about the Common Nighthawks swarming over her motel.  I learn all about the differences in the wing shape, the position of the wing patch, and the different vocalizations.  How wonderful!
I finish the week with one new year bird putting me at 369 for the year.