Tuesday, September 30, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Thirty-Eight 9/17-9/23

The tropical weather system that moved through the area did not deliver the hoped for displaced seabirds.  The worst of the weather (mostly flooding rains) went south & east of Tucson/Green Valley; Nogales, Patagonia, & Portal/Cave Creek areas flooded.  On Thursday 18th I found a Forster’s Tern at the Amado Pond that was more likely a migrant slowed down because of the weather rather than a bird displaced from the Gulf of California. 
Juvenile Forster's Tern Amado WTP

On Friday 19th, I took Terry & Virginia up the Catalina Highway birding.  We had scheduled to make this trip earlier in the week however because of the forecasted rains we rescheduled.  The whole day was a calm enjoyable experience with wonderful clouds and few migrants.  One bit of excitement occurred while we were walking down Incinerator Ridge Road and a juvenile Northern Goshawk flew up to the road turning away only a few yards from our position. 
I always get a charge out of seeing something new.  Saturday 20th afternoon after picking up a bag of birdseed at the Amado Feed Store, I noticed a couple of Swainson’s Hawks soaring overhead.  It turned out to be at least 26 Swainson’s Hawks, both light & dark morphs, soaring over the field west of the highway and north of the feed store. I don’t notice kettles of Swainson’s Hawks very often in Santa Cruz River Valley.  As I was photographing a couple of the dark morph birds, I watched them randomly diving as if attacking a fellow raptor but I could not see what they were diving at. Then I noticed several times that they would bow their heads and bring their talons forward towards their bills. I had witnessed this latter behavior before with aerial feeding Zone-tailed Hawks & Swallow-tailed Kites, but at the time didn’t realize that Swainson’s Hawks also aerial feed when their prey is an invertebrate. I get home and look at my photos finding several images showing the transfer from talons to bill of some sort of flying invertebrate (like a grasshopper).  I read the behavior paragraphs in the Swainson’s Hawk section of “Raptors of Western North America” by Brian Wheeler and confirm my observations.  A wonderful personal discovery!
Dark morph Swainson's Hawk near Amado, AZ

For days I had been toying with a trip to Lake Havasu to search for jaegers, terns, & Sabine’s Gulls. I felt as if I was running out of the window of opportunity these birds.  Saturday evening Troy Corman reported that he and two fellow birders found a juvenile Reddish Egret west of Gila Bend.  Well, my plans solidified instantly - leave the house early Sunday afternoon, drive to Gila Bend, see the egret, continue to Havasu, and hopefully bird sunset at BWD, and Monday all day & Tuesday morning birding around Lake Havasu City.  Simple and high risk, the egret should stay around and time of day shouldn’t be important, Sabine’s Gull have been unreported from Havasu this month, and the only jaeger was a Long-tailed more than two weeks prior.  In order to break 400 I will need to take these risks and do the best I can.  After hiking in Madera Canyon with Louse Sunday 21st morning I leave Green Valley at 13:35 in route to an area ten miles west of Gila Bend.  I’ve never been to this particular spot, following Troy’s direction with one south to north substitution I find the canal that the Reddish Egret was seen along yesterday.  There area numerous white egrets and a few Great Blue Herons along the canal.  About a half a mile in from the paved road (Painted Rock Road) I find the Reddish Egret standing on the dirt bank above the canal.  I snap a few “for-the-record” shots and then work my way closer.  This egret and all his white colleagues are very skittish.  I eventually get a fairly close shot followed by a flying away shot.  And later get a shot of it with other egrets at a mud hole.  Great bird for Arizona and particularly for the year.   The sun had long set by the time I reached the south end of Lake Havasu (BWD area).  I check into a hotel in Lake Havasu City and rested for the big day tomorrow. 
I am scoping the lake before 07:00 Monday 22nd from the red & white lighthouse on the north side of Pittsburgh Point.  There were surprisingly very few gulls & terns out on the lake.  I was equally surprised to see several Common & one Pacific Loon.  My big excitement came in the form of a jaeger.  At 07:30 I found a jaeger sitting on the water that I immediately believed was long-tailed.  I was even more convinced when I saw it flying & chasing some terns.  However it has been such a long time since I’ve seen let alone studied jaegers, I thought it best to leave it unidentified until I could compare my notes with some reference material.  [See http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S19912950 for my write up after determining it was a Long-tailed Jaeger!] A little mishap between the tripod & myself caused me to lose track of the bird while it was chasing terns and I was not able to find it again for the next forty minutes from this location or any other spot around the lake for the rest of the day (and the next).  The next spot I check was Site 6.  As I was approaching a place to park I saw a small gull very close to the shore.  A quick check revealed my first Sabine’s Gull.  By the time I got parked and had my camera ready, this bird had moved further off the shoreline and joined four others.  I watched five juvenile Sabine’s Gulls for thirty minutes; mostly on the Arizona side though I am sure all ventured into California waters multiple times.  Where would a jaeger go? Surely it would go to where there is a concentration of gulls.  Where do gulls concentrate on Lake Havasu? Rotary Park of course, so I make my next stop Rotary Park.  There was a small group of 31 gulls but not what I would call a concentration.  My next stop was Lake Havasu State Park at Winsor Beach.  If it weren’t for the Sanderling I probably would have left after 30 minutes.  While trying to get pictures of the Sanderling, I see a very dark bird far out on the water.  I turn the scope in its direction and find another jaeger.  This one is very dark brown and different that the one seen previously.  I send an email to Lauren Harter and she informs me the David Vander Plyum is in the field also looking at a jaeger.  After phone calls & text messages we determine that David & I are looking at the same jaeger feeding on a dead fish and we both conclude that it is a Parasitic Jaeger. After I take the best photographs I can manage from this distance (digitscoping, long lens camera, flying, swimming) I meet David, Michael Lester, & Andrew Eberly at Mesquite Bay south view point hoping for a less distant look.  David finds the bird; it was not less distant and flying directly away to the south.  I end up back at the red & white lighthouse on Pittsburgh Point.  After a few minutes of not seeing any jaegers, I return to my hotel for a short rest.  Then before sunset return to the lighthouse and let it get dark.  What a fabulous day!

I am at it again early Tuesday 23rd.  My plan is to leave Lake Havasu City by noon so that I can get home at a reasonable hour.  Starting again just before 7AM, I search the lake from the red & white lighthouse, Windsor Beach, Mesquite Bay South, Site 4, and Rotary Park.  I returned to the hotel, closed my eyes for about five minutes, checked out, and started the drive home.  I thought about stopping at BWD but that was about it, a thought.
What a week! The year list climbs by five and I am at 390.  Only ten more species to go! Ten more difficult species!

AZ Big Year - Weeks Thirty-Six & Thirty-Seven 9/3-9/16

On Wednesday 3rd I guided Bill Jacobs for a day of birding around Madera Canyon and Green Valley.  I picked up Bill at the Santa Rita Lodge early and we quickly headed out to the grasslands to hear (and see) the waning dawn chorus.  Waning from both the time of day and the end of the season.  Afterwards we headed into Green Valley and found a much obliging Harris’s Hawk perched on a light post over La Canada & twenty-six Gambel’s Quail on Quail Drive (of course).  On our way back up toward Madera Canyon we stopped at the Florida Wash crossing.  Highlights there included multiple MacGillivray’s Warblers, Green-tailed Towhee, five Varied Buntings, and two Crissal Thrashers that we heard but could not see.  A nice walk along the Proctor Road trail produced two species exceptionally low in the canyon, a Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher and a female Elegant Trogon.  The trogon played hard to see while the flycatcher perched up nicely for photographs.  We also had a flyover Zone-tailed Hawk, an incredible nine MacGillivray’s Warblers, and three very close Black-capped Gnatcatchers.  Below the Madera Canyon Picnic Area we had a flyby of one of the Plain-capped Starthroats.  We hiked up the Carrie Nation Trail hoping to get a good look at an Elegant Trogon.  The entire hike was very quiet.  Wandering down to the Chuparosa Inn B&B, we found a male Blue-throated Hummingbird as well as several other expected hummingbird species.  We finished up at the Santa Rita Lodge feeders where two Plain-capped Starthroats and the female White-eared Hummingbird visited.  This turns out to be my last sighting of the Starthroats this year.  After Bill had departed (by about five minutes), a male Arizona Woodpecker shows up at the suet feeder.  Bill had very much wanted to see this species and thought it was a joke when I shared my eBird checklist with him. 
On Friday 5th Louise & I left for our nearly annual trip to Colorado to visit my Mom on or about her birthday.  Though these trips are rarely planned for birding, I did plan our route with my AZ Big Year, my Colorado state list, and my ABA life list in mind.  For my AZ Big Year (and Arizona state list) I planned to spend a few hours near Teec Nos Pos is the extreme northeast corner of Arizona.  A few recent and several not so recent records of Black-billed Magpie were of extreme interest.  We arrived at Teec Nos Pos Wash after 4pm.  This location is on the Navajo Indian Reservation and I had never stopped here before.  I was pretty unsure of what to do but parked my truck just off the highway and ventured on foot towards the riparian area marking the wash.  After a few minutes I heard what was once a very familiar call, a Black-billed Magpie.  I pursued the calls for a little ways until the uncomfortable feeling of unknown terrain and being on the reservation and not knowing whether I should have a permit and … I turned back.  I would have really liked to have seen my first magpie for Arizona but had to settle with a heard only.  Next we tried a residential area south of town where friends had recently (5 days prior) seen a magpie.  Again, I hear one but could not see it.  So we left.  Within a few minutes, we crossed into Colorado and across the San Juan River.  We crossed through the shortest stretch of New Mexico but I do not recall seeing any signs except for the Four Corners Monument.  Once into Colorado, Black-billed Magpies became a roadside attraction, well for at least this birder. This was only my second time leaving the state so far this year.
After spending the night in Cortez, Louise & I took a hike in Mesa Verde National Park Saturday 6th morning.  We hiked the Spruce Canyon and the Soda Canyon Overlook Trails.  This was a nice relief from driving all day the previous day and driving much of the rest of the current day.  But before we really got back to driving, I had planned to look for a colony of Acorn Woodpeckers outside of Durango.  I navigated to the coordinates I found on eBird to the Rafter J Subdivision near Durango in La Plata County.  Louise first spotted the woodpeckers.  There were at least 3 Acorn Woodpeckers present storing acorns in a large dead Ponderosa Pine (standing high above all the live trees in the surrounding forest).  They have been reported here since at least 2001.  This was my first attempt at this colony though I had tried for them near Trinidad several years ago. A new state bird!  The remainder of the drive from Durango to Gunnison though uneventful bird-wise was full of wonderful scenery. 
I was up and out of our hotel early Sunday 7th morning.  I left Louise to enjoy her morning routine in the hotel while I enjoyed the sunrise at 36 degrees in the low sagebrush covered hills south of Gunnison.  I eventually found my quarry, at 7:06am a Gunnison Sage-Grouse flushed from the side of County Road 38A several hundred yards north of the Gunnison-Saguache County line.  Within ten minutes, eight grouse had flushed and I got a few bad photographs of flying birds.  Wanting to see (and photograph) this species on the ground before flushing, I tried the other fork of the road.  And in short order, one sage-grouse flushed while another stood fifty feet away at the side of the road.  While photographing this bird I see another standing on a hilltop rock several yards away.  This is amazing, a new ABA bird!  Ultimately five Gunnison Sage-Grouse depart this area, one of them by running over several low ridgelines.  I smiled all the way to Niwot, 5 hours away.
Louise and I spent much of the next four days around my Mom’s yard with an excursion on Monday 8th to Rocky Mountain National Park to see Elk.  For myself, I needed to get above timberline into the tundra.  Evening though it was cold, windy, and sprinkling I took a half-mile walk on one of the paved paths off Trail Ridge Road.  Louise & Mom stayed in the car.  I heard & saw Brown-capped Rosy-Finches and Marmot, no ptarmigan.  We did see Elk, mostly cows & nearly full-grown calves in Moraine Park.  It was very wonderful to spend some time in a place that was such an important part of my youth.
On Thursday 11th morning, Louise & I took a few hours to walk around Golden Ponds Park and Nature Area in southwest Longmont.  On our second pass around the paths we finally found a mixed-species flock that included a Blue-headed Vireo & a Tennessee Warbler, both species rare locally.
On Friday 12th Louise & I left my Mom and started our drive back to Colorado.  I drive was most uninteresting bird-wise except for a rest stop in Mora County, New Mexico where I saw a kettle of thirty-four Swainson’s Hawks and a hatch-year Townsend’s Warbler.  After a nice Thai dinner in Santa Fe we spent the night in Socorro.  Both of us were somewhat anxious to get home and see our kitty so we opted to not make a pass through Bosque del Apache on Saturday 13th.  However I did make a quick loop around Lake Cochise.  With binoculars only, I picked out a Whimbrel among the loose flock of Long-billed Curlews and a Sanderling.  The latter was fortuitous by being my 385th year bird in Arizona to date.

On Sunday 13th I chased a report of a Prothonotary Warbler in Madera Canyon.  I covered the area around the Madera Picnic Area and the Santa Rita Lodge.  The only noteworthy bird I saw was a single Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher downstream from the Madera Picnic Area, somewhat late in the season. One Monday 15th & Tuesday 16th, between appointments and chores I birded the local ponds hoping for a stray gull or tern prior to the arrival of a tropical weather event.

At the end of this period, the year list is at 385, with Black-billed Magpie and Sanderling being the new ones.

AZ Big Year - Week Thirty-Five 8/27-9/2

Somewhat on a whim, I went to Willcox this morning, Wednesday 27th.  A Short-billed Dowitcher had been reported on Sunday 24th and was seen yesterday.  I was hesitant to make such a trip, ~90 miles each way,  but knew that if I want to reach 400 species by the end of the year I needed to go!  I arrived at Lake Cochise at 08:23.  There were a fair number of shorebirds on the main lake, most obvious were the larger one like Long-billed Curlew, American Avocet, & Black-necked Stilt.  My routine here is to make one pass around the lake to get most of the species and then make a second pass to count individuals & look for the more subtle species.  On my first pass, I flush the Short-billed Dowitcher and was able to get a flight shot.  This dowitcher lands along the east shore so I’ll have another opportunity. Once I get around to where it landed, I find two dowitchers with the second one being a Long-billed Dowitcher. I didn’t recall a second dowitcher being reported and dowitchers usually don’t go unnoticed, so I guess there has been at least a small influx of shorebirds since yesterday.  I take several more photographs of the dowitchers and move on searching for something else new.  In spite of my influx prediction, I don’t find any more species of shorebirds on this or my second pass around the lake.  In all, I found eleven species of shorebirds on the main lake.  One of those was a new species for the year! Before leaving I stop at the golf course pond, still hoping for that Forster’s Tern from yesterday.  No tern, but I did hear and see two family groups of Tropical Kingbirds.  As I am driving out, after calculating the duration of my eBird checklist I see several  large shorebirds at one of the temporary pools within the Border Patrol’s fenced area.  At first I see four Greater Yellowlegs and then three more with a similar but smaller shorebird.  It’s a Stilt Sandpiper, my second year bird of the day.  This adds a bit of sweetness to an already successful day!
On Friday 29th, I guided Allison & Bryan from Green Valley to Madera Canyon.  In Green Valley one of the Harris’s Hawk perched out on a light post for an extended period of time.  In the grasslands below Madera Canyon we heard several Scaled Quail, saw ten (at least) Botteri’s Sparrow several of which were feeding juveniles, and a very out of place Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Along Proctor Road trail we saw two adult Yellow-billed Cuckoos, both were carrying food but we were unable to determine where the nest or youngsters were.  The Santa Rita Lodge continues to host many hummingbirds including two Plain-capped Starthroats and one White-eared Hummingbird.  Perhaps nearly as unusual for the specific location was a Common Ground-Dove briefly at the water feature Gray Hawk and the two Starthroats below the Madera Picnic area, Allison got photos of the Starthroats together.  On our hike up the Carrie Nation Trail, we found two adult male Elegant Trogons nearby each other and barking.  One of these birds looked rather ratty and was very much in molt.  I do not recall ever seeing an adult trogon in such condition.
On Sunday 31st, Louise & I took a hike up the Carrie Nation Mine Trail.  It was a wonderful hike; highlighted bird-wise by seeing the molting Elegant Trogon and hearing at least six Pygmy Nuthatches.  On Monday 1st I resumed my futile search for Forster’s Tern.  Though not finding any terns I was pleased to see 37 (counted) Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks at the Amado Pond including 7 juveniles. And any day seeing an Osprey is a good day, particularly when it is flying over the Green Valley WWTP.  On Tuesday 2nd I temporarily suspended my search for terns and walked the De Anza Trail from Tubac to Clark Crossing to search for land or tree based migrants.

The year list stands at 383 leaving only seventeen species to go to reach my self-proclaimed goal of 400.  Only seventeen! This isn’t going to be easy but it is doable.

AZ Big Year - Week Thirty-Four 8/20-8/26

On Thursday 21st two new year birds were at the Green Valley WWTP at the same time I was.  First a Pectoral Sandpiper was in the deep concrete basin on the southwest corner of the complex. This species is not rare however it is not really that regular in Pima County.  Several minutes later while searching a flock of blackbirds for Dickcissel a female Bobolink enters into view.  I wasn’t expecting this species in August, maybe later in September or October.  But here it was mixed in with the flock of Red-winged & Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Brown-headed Cowbirds. After several minutes of observing the Bobolink, the entire flock of blackbirds moved into the dense tall grass bordering one of the basins and I was not able to re-find the birds.  I searched again with quite a few other birders on Friday 22nd and none of us found the Bobolink again.
On Saturday 23rd I guided Charles S. around Madera Canyon.  We started on the grasslands below Madera Canyon, over to Florida Canyon, and then worked our way up Madera Canyon.  Highlights included: up to six Scaled Quail calling near Florida Wash, a male Lazuli Bunting feeding juvenile in Florida Canyon, two Plain-capped Starthroats below the Madera Picnic Area, a Blue-throated Hummingbird at Madera Kubo, and a single Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher on the Carrie Nation Trail.  
On Tuesday 26th upon receiving a report of a Forster’s Tern (need for the year) I headed to Columbus Park in northwest Tucson.  There I met Andrew who had already checked the main lakes so I head south to the Silverbell Recharge Basins and Andrew heads to Sweetwater across the Santa Cruz River.  Neither of us find the Forster’s Tern.  On my way back home I also try Kennedy Park and find it tern-less.  

With the Pectoral Sandpiper and the Bobolink, my year list stands at 381.