Thursday, November 27, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty-six 11/12-11/18

Louise and I took another hike classified as a Quetzal Quest Trek on Thursday 13th.  We started at the Amphitheater Parking Area and headed up the Four Springs Trail to Bogs Springs, then across to Kent Springs, and then down past Sylvester Springs & the Kent Springs Center back to the parking area.  While no Quetzals were found again, we did find some interesting birds though.  Above Bog Springs, the spring itself not the concrete box, we found a Red-breasted Sapsucker.  The sapsucker was in an area with many Madrone Trees and I was looking for something like a Varied Thrush.  This is the second known Red-breasted Sapsucker in Madera Canyon, the first being the multi-year returnee at the Whitehouse Picnic Area.  Between Kent Springs Center and the main canyon road, we first found three Band-tailed Pigeons and twenty-two.  There seems to be a good crop of acorns in the canyon, which may account for the late occurrence of these birds or they could be foraging on Madrone berries.  Before leaving the canyon, I stopped at the Whitehouse Picnic Area so that I could have a two Red-breasted Sapsucker Day!
On Friday 14th I hiked & bushwhacked up Florida Canyon.  I personally had not seen the Rufous-capped Warblers for several months and have not heard of any recent reports.  So this could be considered a scouting trip for the Green Valley/Madera Canyon CBC.  I still haven’t seen a Rufous-capped Warbler in a while.  It was good to be up in one of my favorite places enjoying what was there.  I heard but did not see a Black-capped Gnatcatcher and I found & photographed a White-throated Sparrow.
Sometime during the day on Saturday 15th  Louise decided she wanted to take a hike in the Grand Canyon before it gets too cold.  And she justified taking me along so that I might get a California Condor on the year list.  We finalized the decision on Sunday and began making preparations to leave Monday morning.  I began researching what other benefits to year list I might able to arrange while driving up.  There were reports of Winter Wren, Rufous-backed Robin, & Varied Thrush from Hassayampa River Preserve somewhat on the way to the canyon.  Two of the three would be year birds.  Louise agreed to make the detour if we could leave by 8am so that we could be at the Grand Canyon by sunset.  All was going well until I check the preserve’s operating hours and found that they were closed on Monday & Tuesday, oh well.  I also learned that the condors seem to pull away from the south rim in the winter, another oh well.  I didn’t think I should ask to drive another hour north to the Navaho Bridge or two hours to Vermilion Cliffs where Condors are regularly seen.  Then I found a find that there have been two reports of Pine Grosbeaks near the east entrance to the park, so something to look for.
We arrive at the Grand Canyon Visitor Monday 17th afternoon after a long and uneventful drive.  I quickly find entertainment with three species of nuthatches simultaneously visiting a water bottle filling station near the visitor center.  Louise & I spend the next few hours enjoying the scenery at Mather Point and at the Bright Angel Lodge.  While at Bright Angel Lodge I learn that a Glaucous Gull has been reported from Patagonia Lake.  This is an incredible bird for southeast Arizona and I find myself struggling to focus on the present moment.  Later I learned that one observer saw the gull and after he got decent photos, it was last seen flying away.  No one else saw the bird.  I also learned that an American Tree Sparrow was seen & photographed at a feeder in Cochise County, another fantastic bird for southeast Arizona. 
The original plan for Tuesday 18th was to hike to Dripping Springs but after hearing that this trial is unmaintained & rocky, we decided to hike into the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail.  We hiked in the shade most of the time and I was keeping a watchful eye to the sky.  Every few hundred yards I would stop and scan for raptors. Several hundred yards past the 1.5-mile rest shelter, I see what is obviously a California Condor circling a butte with a bunch of Common Ravens and a Golden Eagle.  I watch and take very distant photographs of the Condor; it was probably more than a mile away.  We continue hiking, getting closer to the Condor, and the Condor eventually lands and perches wings spread on the closest outcropping of this butte (actually the south end of Battleship Formation).  Several minutes later I notice that there are two Condors perched on the rock and they remained there for an hour at least.  Any hiker on the trail that expressed even the slightest interest got shown the Condors or the pictures on the back of my camera.  In addition to the Condors, Louise and I saw two immature Bald Eagles, two Golden Eagles, a few Red-tailed Hawks, several Western Scrub-Jays, and a flock of Bushtits.  And we saw, no make that became one with some spectacular scenery!
To begin our drive back to Green Valley on Wednesday 19th Louise & I started at Bright Angel Lodge and headed east along the South Rim.  Our second stop was the Yavapai Geological Museum.  Upon parking I notice a small group of birds (Western Bluebirds, Cassin’s Finches, & Gray-headed Juncos) vying for the opportunity to get some moisture from an ice cube dropped on the pavement.  Walking to towards the museum, we see a Juniper Titmouse struggling to break into a Pinyon Nut without having it stolen by nearby scrub-jays.  I noticed a mixed-species flock off to the side of the museum so I investigated.  While watching a Western Bluebirds & Cassin’s Finches in the top of a small tree, a male Pine Grosbeak joins them!  I am in shock.  I stare at the grosbeak through my binoculars at less than thirty feet, awed.   The grosbeak along with the other birds flew eastward along the rim and then down below the rim.  I lost them a hundred or so yards out and did not see if they came back onto the rim. I walked along the Rim Trail searching but was not able to relocate this wonderful bird.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty-five 11/5-11/11

On Wednesday 5th Molly Pollock and I chased a report of a Red-headed Woodpecker at the west end of Aravaipa Canyon.  We arrived at the trailhead at about 8am and within several minutes determined what the situation was based on the relatively large number of woodpeckers working some nearby pecan trees & perching high in nearby dead snags.  At about 08:35 I got a brief inflight view of the Red-headed Woodpecker as it disappeared behind a tamarisk.  The woodpecker shape & flight style, contrasting white secondaries & rump against otherwise black-looking upper parts satisfied me of its identity.  Unfortunately I was the only one who saw it.  About thirty minutes later four of us hear the Red-headed Woodpecker call, understandably that was that was not very satisfying for the others.  We waited for another four hours without any further sight or sound of this woodpecker.  A stop at the Mammoth Sewage Ponds on the way home was rather productive.  A late Pectoral Sandpiper and brilliant plumaged male Wood Duck brighten the afternoon.
11/9 Sunday: This morning I headed out to Willcox.  Again I was feeling the call of something unusual and new for the year.  I thought the calling was from a Common Grackle that Lynn & Max Jarrett found in their yard a few days ago.  Or maybe it was from some migrating scoters, perhaps Surf Scoters.  I turned out that a Black-bellied Plover was doing the calling.  I was scanning the opposite shoreline when I found the plover.  Initially I couldn’t identify it being that it was too far and I was looking into the sun.  A few minutes later I’m on the other side, perhaps a little closer with the sun at my back. I now identify this plover as a Black-bellied and take several documentation photos.  Dave Pearson pulls up and asks if I’ve seen the same plover, he said he heard it calling.  Later I too hear it calling while watching it in flight. In flight I am able to see the black axillaries, the whitish tail, and the white wing-stripes – any lingering doubt gone, this is a Black-bellied Plover and #404 for the year.  While scanning again for shorebirds, a small flock of passerines fly through the scope view.  At least two of the birds show mostly white tails with a black ‘T’.  These are McCown’s Longspurs, well at least two of them. The others are recorded at “longspur sp.”.  McCown’s Longspur is #405 for the year.  Though neither species should be considered “unexpected”, I wasn’t expecting either.  Some of the other birds seen around Lake Cochise include: several hundred Sandhill Cranes, seasonally large number of Greater Yellowlegs, one Lesser Yellowlegs, five late Wilson’s Phalaropes, and numerous ducks that I did a poor job of counting. There were no scoters on the lake while I was there.  Before leaving the area, I stopped by the golf course pond.  I was pishing at some Marsh Wrens as I walking up the viewing platform when two Bendire’s Thrashers flew up & landed on the railing next to me for a few seconds.  I was shocked; I’ve never had such accommodating Bendire’s Thrasher s before and probably will never again. I town I spent about an hour looking for any sign of a Common Grackle to no avail though I did have a nice talk with Max.
11/11 Tuesday: There had been reports of a very cooperative female Surf Scoter at Saguaro Lake for the past several days and yesterday Tommy D. reported this female as well as a flock of Surf Scoters (including adult males) and a Winter Wren. Now I have two species to chase, making the trip a worthwhile gamble.  Saguaro Lake is northeast of the Phoenix metro area just outside of Mesa and 2 ½ hours away.  I have never been there so even if I don’t see any new birds for the year I am satisfying one of my intentions for the year – birding at new locations across the state.  I arrive just before 10am.  Within a minute of parking I find the female Surf Scoter swimming just where she is supposed to be.  I take many photographs, many of which will be deleted because of lighting.  While at this portion of the lake (Saguaro del Norte), I scan as much of the lake as I can see for Tommy’s flock.  After awhile and many more photos of the cooperating scoter, I proceed to Butcher Jones Recreation Site where Tommy reported the Winter Wren and relocated his scoter flock.  I find neither but do find four Greater Scaup, probably a family unit.  All four were in female or immature plumages – in other words brown.  At around noon and after several passes along the trail where the wren had been reported from, I decided to head for home.

In route I detour through the Santa Cruz Flats.  I make a stop at the lake in Arizona City, again hoping for more scoters.  I found a Bonapart’s Gull and a Western Grebe. Turning east on Pretzer Road from Sunland Gin Road I checked out a large number of Common Ravens and find a Crested Caracara sitting in the field.  All of the pipits at the turf farm appeared to be American Pipits based on calls & poor visuals.  Had there been another species of pipit present, I probably wouldn’t have been able to identify it because of the distance & heat distortion.  There were two more Caracaras near where E. Baumgartner makes a jog around some wet fields. A few miles to the east I find a light-intermediate morph Harlan’s Hawk.  It was a very interesting looking bird.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty-four 10/29-11/4 Goal Met & Record Broken!

On Wednesday 29th morning I spent an hour at Desert Meadows Park before continuing on to Santa Gertrudis Lane south of Tubac.  At Desert Meadows I find the continuing Blue Grosbeak and an adult male Broad-billed Hummingbird. The Clay-colored Sparrow was not to be found.  It was another productive day along the Santa Cruz River.  I headed south along the Anza Trail from Santa Gertrudis Lane.  The migrants/wintering birds were not so much as in flocks but just about everywhere. I had a brief but diagnostic view of a Chestnut-sided Warbler just before being chased by a Painted Redstart. In one tree I had three Western Tanagers, the female Orchard Oriole, and an adult male Bullock’s Oriole.   I did not see the Orchard Oriole as well as I had previously, but this time I heard it call in response to the Bullock’s calls.  I had seen a male Bullock’s in the area previously.
Friday 31st morning I awoke with the feeling that this was going to be a wonderful day.  And what a glorious day it was.  My wife, Louise, accompanied me on a search for a Worm-eating Warbler that was reported yesterday at the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.  The weather was absolutely wonderful, a mix of clouds & sun and cool temperatures.  We arrived at the preserve at 8:18, paid the fee, and got some information from the host.  The host is actually the person that found the Worm-eating Warbler a few days ago and notified some Patagonia locals to get it confirmed.  She told us where she thought this bird was hanging out and with whom it was foraging (vireos).  Louise & I head to the location, heard a solitary-type vireo singing and saw numerous warbler-like birds foraging but light & distance prevent me from making very many identifications.  Shortly afterwards Susan, the host, arrives and gives us permission to walk the creek bed. In short order Louise & I were searching the riparian forest from Sonoita Creek.  It took me nearly four hours to find the Worm-eating Warbler.  Louise had wandered back to the truck for food and to get some reading material.  At 12:38 I observed this warbler about twenty feet up in a small willow with several other warblers.  Because the Worm-eating Warbler was so distinct, a split second look with the binocs was enough and I reached for the camera at the same time one of the other warblers seems to attack the Worm-eating.  I took a picture of the spot in the tree where the Worm-eating was.  It took me thirty minutes to catch up with this warbler again and it was only 40-50 feet from the original spot in the next tree over.  This time I began blasting away with the camera.  Louise appeared and I got her on the bird.  And I continued inconveniencing as many electrons as I could (a geeky way of saying I took more pictures).  The Worm-eating Warbler was foraging in a flock that included Audubon’s, Black-throated Gray, & Orange-crowned Warblers and Cassin’s & Plumbeous Vireos.  I managed a few decent shots; Louise confirmed it was a Worm-eating Warbler for me (we had seen them together many years ago at High Island).  She probably saw it better than I did since viewing through the camera is typically less optimal than through binoculars.   I am pumped up, seeing & photographing number 399 for the year and getting to share it with my wonderful wife.  To add to the wonderment of the day, before seeing the warbler we saw several species of butterflies, talked to a White-tailed Deer lying in the grass a few yards off the trail, and twice saw a Coati running down the creek. I knew this was to be a glorious day!
Louise & I spent much of Saturday 1st up in Tucson in activities not related to bird much at all.  I did receive email from both Mark & Andrew, and later from Bob Rolfson, concerning a Long-eared Owl within easy striking distance.
Early this morning Sunday 2nd I took off to Arivaca to search for the Long-eared Owl that was seen yesterday.  About three quarters of a mile from my truck and about 50 yards from yesterdays observation spot, I saw white wash in a hackberry tree, looked a little higher in the tree and saw the face of a Long-eared Owl nervously looking back at me. The owl appeared to be playing peak-a-boo.  I started backtracking away and the owl showed its streaked under-parts as it flushed & flew up a wash.  I saw a second owl flinch near where the first owl landed and both disappeared visually due to obstructions & distance once they settled.  Wow, number 400 for the year. I didn’t think about dancing, I was pretty concerned about the nervousness this first owl appeared to show.  Long-eared Owls are generally pretty skittish but this seemed extreme.  Nearby at Arivaca Cienega, a part of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, I found another Clay-colored Sparrow.  This was my third Clay-colored of the year and I got a few poor photographs.  This Clay-colored was flocked with Chipping & Brewer’s Sparrows and Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows whereas my previous two this year were flocked with Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows primarily.  While I was picking through a large flock of Yellow-rumped Audubon’s Warblers, searching for something different, I found a warbler walking on the ground & fallen branches bobbing vigorously. It was a western Palm Warbler.  At that moment, I wasn’t expecting a Palm. I was thinking about Blackburnian or Pine or Black-throated Green. Though rather rare, the Palm Warbler is more regular than the others and should have been the one I “expected”.  This Palm was rather dull with the only real color being the yellow under-tail coverts.   My encounter with the Palm Warbler was terminated by a Sharp-shinned Hawk swooping in; the Palm and all the Yellow-rumps disappeared into the brush. Now the count is 401. I have met & exceeded my goal and tied the record with almost two full months left in the year.  How far can this go?
On Monday 3rd Louise & I are back up the Carrie Nation Trail.  The Cassin’s Finches must have moved on since we didn’t detect them.  We did find a late Hermit Warbler and three Townsend’s Warblers.
On Tuesday 4th I was back at Clark Crossing.  As I am getting out of my truck I realize I forgot to pack my mud boots.  Oh well, I’ll adapt and perhaps the water level will have subsided.  Upon reaching the Santa Cruz River drainage I find the water level may have subsided but it was still very muddy.   So rather than going south as planned I head north along the dry Anza Trail towards the Sinaloa Wren spot.  I paused at the wren spot with hearing or seeing this often-elusive individual. I continued north to where an Eastern Phoebe had been reported.  It too was elusive for me today.  Turning back south I come across a small mixed-species flock including some vireo doing a fuss-call.  My initial reaction when I saw this bird was ‘wow that’s a sharp-looking Cassin’s Vireo’ and then a split second later I’m taking notes & trying to photograph what I believe to be a Blue-headed Vireo.  I reported this bird as a possible Blue-headed Vireo.  I wanted to write up my notes before looking at any references.   I now believe I had a Blue-headed Vireo and have sent a report off to the records committee.

With the Blue-headed Vireo, my total for the year is 402.  This week I have met & exceeded my goal (400) and tied & then exceeded the previous record (401). 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

AZ Big Year - Week Forty-three 10/22-10/28

On Wednesday 22nd I guided six doctors and a spouse to Catalina State Park & Sweetwater Wetlands.  They were all from the west coast and most had very little birding experience in southern Arizona.  The excitement for me was finding my second Tennessee Warbler of the year.  And better yet, I photographed it.  Apparently this bird hasn’t been seen (or at least reported) since.  I could not re-find it an hour or so after the initial observation.  Hopefully, it will show up again.
On Thursday 23rd I tried to bird the area around Proctor Road below the waterfall.  I was hoping to find Abert’s Towhee, a species I do not believe I have seen in Madera Canyon.  With the pending arrival of dozens of school kids, I aborted. Instead I went up to the Whitehouse Picnic area and found the Red-breasted Sapsucker.  This will be the fifth winter this individual has graced Madera Canyon with its presence. At the Santa Rita Lodge, I found a female Blue-throated Hummingbird.  This species is possibly one of the most misidentified, meaning other species are turned into Blue-throated Hummingbirds.  Someday I’ll write myself an article about it.
On Friday 24th I was again birding along the Santa Cruz River at Santa Gertrudis Lane.  About 300 yards south of the lane while heading out, I came across the largest mixed species flock I had encountered all morning.   The highlight of this flock was a female plumaged Orchard Oriole that appeared in the top of a nearly leafless Cottonwood tree.  Without binoculars it appeared to be a large warbler.  With binoculars it was clearly an oriole and after a few seconds of viewing it flew out of sight.  For the short period of time I had viewing the bird I was able to see and note enough to identity it as an Orchard Oriole versus one of the more expected species. Soon after I finished recording my notes for the oriole, I notice a different looking woodpecker.  This turned out to be a juvenile plumaged Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Fortunately, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers often make their first migration south still wearing much of their juvenile plumage whereas other sapsucker species are mostly in adult-looking plumage before arriving on wintering ground.  This fact makes their identification easy. 
On Saturday 25th Louise and I made another Quetzal Quest Trek up the Carrie Nation Trail.  As with our previous trek up this trail and continuing past the mine, we found the flock of Cassin’s Finches and not much else bird-wise.  There were a few Chiricahua Whites (butterflies) flying around the pine trees above the mine and Louise found a Madrean Alligator Lizard. 
On Sunday 26th I was up in Florida Wash looking for a Long-eared Owl roost when I received a text message about a possible Field Sparrow in Green Valley.  Having already determined that there were no Long-eared Owls present I quickly headed down to the Desert Meadows Park.  I was not able to turn up a Field Sparrow but did find a close relative, a Clay-colored Sparrow.  This was my second of this species this year but the first time to get a photograph.  This little park has plenty of habitats suitable for sparrows.  I visited here three times on the 27th and once on the 28th it was worth the effort for a possible Field Sparrow in Arizona.  A few of the more unlikely species found during these visits include: female Lark Bunting, continuing Clay-colored Sparrow, female Blue Grosbeak, several Lazuli Buntings, and a single Lawrence’s Goldfinch.
On Monday 27th I guided Rick Shaw around Green valley & primarily up to Madera Canyon.  As mentioned above, we stopped at Desert Meadows Park with the highlight being the female Lark Bunting.  We stopped at Proctor Road but quickly continued up canyon since grass cutting & associated noise made birding unpleasant & nearly impossible.  The noise wasn’t quite as bad at the Whitehouse Picnic Area, still few birds.  But when one of the birds is a Red-breasted Sapsucker life is good. Madera Picnic Area had a few more birds & even less noise.  A stop at Madera Kubo was productive; six Magnificent Hummingbirds graced the feeders while two Anna’s Hummingbirds took turns at the feeders when the Mags were off chasing each other.  The highlight though was a Greater Pewee calling from the tip-top of the trees above cabin #4. Good things that the orange lower mandible is a good field mark since it was much easier to see than the pointed crest (the call is also diagnostic).  At the Santa Rita Lodge, an Inca Dove made an appearance at the feeders.  This is perhaps the same individual that spent the summer in the canyon, either at the lodge or Madera Kubo. 
On Tuesday 28th I guided Rick & Felice around Green Valley & Madera Canyon.  Our first stop was the Green Valley Foothills neighborhood where three Harris’s Hawks showed off very nicely.  A stop at the Desert Meadows Park produced at least one female Blue Grosbeak. Though she played hard to get, we finally got decent photographs to document this late occurrence.  We walked from the Proctor Road parking area to the Whitehouse Picnic Area and back.  The Proctor Road area was a much different (improved) place than yesterday.  Without the noise & disturbance associated with grass cutting & bush trimming, we records twenty-six species including a late Broad-billed Hummingbird.  At the Whitehouse Picnic Area, we found the continuing Red-breasted Sapsucker and close looks at a flyby Sharp-shinned Hawk. At Madera Kubo we had two more Broad-billed Hummingbirds with the same hummers that were there yesterday.  We heard but could not get our binoculars on the Greater Pewee.  And just before leaving, I checked some tree cavities and found a roosting Whiskered Screech-Owl.  It was in a cavity behind cabin #3 and to see it one had to stand in exactly right place to peer through the vegetation.

For this week, the Orchard Oriole was a new species for the year bringing my total to 397.