Tuesday, October 31, 2006

This is less of a blog entry than it is a test of the Google Doc's blog settings feature, but I do have one small tidbit of birding news to share. Tonight, I experienced the beauty of the Saguro National park on the west side of Tucson. As I was driving back on this dirt road a sinlge Gambel's Quail ran in front of my car. I had to wonder where he was hurrying to at the end of his day. The sunset was so fabulous that I felt a bit breathless.

Hmmmm.... i'm looking for a spell checker here and can't find one, but if you want to try this out the address is http://docs.google.com Pretty interesting stuff. Hope there aren't too many spelling errors :-) Here's goes nothing...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Sulpur Springs Valley

I had no idea how honored I should have been when our guide, John Yerger, and his friends, Keith Kamper and Jake Mohlmann showed up today for the TSA trip to Sulphur Springs Valley. All I knew was that this was the youngest guide I had yet to meet and perhaps I was a little suspicious of the fact that the driver of the lead vehicle, Jake, was eating a can of cold cream of potato soup for breakfast, but I’m already ahead of myself!

The group met at the Houghton Road spot at 6 am. It was a small group today – just 7 of us including the leader(s) so we only needed 2 vehicles. I rode with Howard and Mary who have just moved to Tucson from Montana. They will be “part-time” residents and are avid birders. Sid also rode with us, so it was the four participants in one car and the three leaders in the other. As we left the parking area, we all noted how beautiful the oranges, pinks, and reds were in the sunrise. Actually, it was quite cold this morning and got colder as we climbed in elevation making our way south and east. I was wishing I had dressed just a little warmer.

It took almost 2 hours to get to out first stop, White Water Draw and we were all getting a little antsy to do some birding which meant that we started stopping to look at the Red-tailed hawks along the road. This proved to be more than a little dangerous as there really wasn’t a good place to pull over and we almost got rear-ended once. (Folks, birding and driving are almost as dangerous as drinking and driving. Don’t let your friends bird and drive!) However, as we turned onto the road leading to White Water Draw we did stop to take a look around and bang, bang, bang, I had my first four lifers of the day – Bendire's Thrasher*, Lark Bunting*, Western Meadowlark*, and Sandhill Crane*! The cranes were just fabulous in that totally prehistoric way that Great Blue Herons are; only there were many of them flying in groups and you could hear them well before you could see them. It was then that I started to appreciate how good these guys were. Keith was excellent at pointing out the distinguishing marks between two similar species and Jake was great at getting every bird in his scope and making sure we all got to look at it. It was like having our own private pro birding team. Here we also saw a Loggerhead Shrike, Mourning Doves, and Great-tailed Grackle.

From what I could tell, White Water Draw is usually one fairly large pond created by a dam, however with all the rain we’ve had recently, it is now kind of a series of ponds. There was even water submerging the dam breast at some point so we couldn’t walk from one side to the other over the breast. Westarted out looking for owls near the pole barn, but didn’t find any. In the water of the main pond there were quite a few American Coots, Eared Grebes, and Cinnamon Teal. We also saw a Greater Yellow legs, some Killdeer, Spotted and Least Sandpipers, and Black-bellied Plover along its banks while an adult and a juvenile male Vermillion Flyctacher, Say’s Phoebe and Black Phoebe caught bugs in the are surrounding the ponds and a Northern Harrier and Cooper’s Hawk surveyed the fields for prey. Making our way around the pools, we saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and several sparrows including Vesper, White-crowned, and Brewer’s, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallow, Violet-green Swallow (which I didn’t see) and House Finch. The back pools provided us with a small flock of Snow Geese and 2 Ross’s Geese*, A ruby-crowned Kinglet, Northern Shoveler (one dead and one alive), Ruddy Ducks, Gadwall, American Widgeon, and Ring-necked Duck. Finally, as we started to leave, it started to warm up a little.

Next we headed toward Willcox, but had a few good birds on the way. One was a Greater Roadrunner that was perched in a tree (!) and flew down just as we approached it in the cars. Another good one was a Ferruginous Hawk* that was soaring with a Red-tail. Finally, we stopped to flush some sparrows and found a Black-throated Sparrow. We were hoping for a Sage Sparrow, but I don’t think we ever found one.

Once we got to Willcox, there didn’t seem (to me) to be a whole lot going on. Again, lots of Coots, but also a beautiful great Blue Heron perched high atop what looked like an empty swing set although it was somehow in the pond. Then overhead erupted lots of twittering which Keith ID’d as a flock of Chestnut-collared Longspurs. I didn’t get a great look, so I probably won’t count those on my list just yet, but I did see a flock of 20-30 small dark birds fly by ::grins::

Other birds of note here were Long-billed Dowitcher, Blue-winged teal, Pied-billed Grebe, Raven sp, Mallards, and Savannah Sparrow. That’s almost 50 species (the “boys” counted 57 on their list) and 5 lifers today. ¡Excelente!

As a side note, it turns out that two of our leaders are from Pennsylvania. John is from suburban Philly and went to Penn State. Jake grew up in Bangor, went to Kutztown U and then Penn state. They were impressed that I actually knew were Bangor was. Small world, huh? Well, I should've known...look at those great PA Dutch names :-)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Upper Santa Cruz River Corridor (Rio Rico & de Anza National Historical Trail, Clarks Crossing)

It was just one more fabulous day here for being outside here in Tucson. The trip to the upper Santa Cruz corridor started at the same place as last week. I’m beginning to appreciate the value of a high clearance vehicle here. I rode with Roger, Danny and Sid in Roger’s new Kia Sorento. Again, the Celica would not have made the river crossing between Rio Rico and de Anza, but the Kia had no problems at all. It’s great birding vehicle.

Our first stop was in Rio Rico at the fields next to the road. We birded the pond and found a pair of Wood Ducks and a Belted Kingfisher among the many Mallards. We also saw a first-year and an adult male Vermillion Flycatcher, Kestrel, Laurence’s Goldfinch, Red-winged blackbird, Brewer’s Blackbird, and a few Black-bellied Whistling Ducks that were feeding along the berm of the pond.

We moved onto the de Anza trail system a few miles down the road, but it was already almost 9:30 until we got there and it seemed the birds had already settled for the morning. We walked the trail for quite a while. Our leader, Scott Wilbor who is an AZ IBA Conservation Biologist, told us of the multi-faceted conversation efforts all along the Santa Cruz river corridor. He was a surprised as we were when we found that the river had actually rerouted itself through a field which is quite a distance from its original route.

We did find one really good spot where some pishing brought out a great variety of birds, including Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bridled Titmouse*, Blue Grosbeak, and Nashville Warbler. We also saw an oriole sp. in the willows by the river, but were unable to further id it. On the way back to the vehicles, someone spotted an abandoned Gray Hawk nest. Looks like I’ll have to wait until next spring to add these guys to my list.

Afterward, Roger took us to the Amado water treatment pond where we were able to view Black-bellied Whistling Ducks with their young at a close range. We also saw a pair of American Coots, a pair of Ruddy Ducks, a Spotted Sandpiper, and Great-tailed Grackle here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Roadrunners on a road run

Today while on a run through Gates Pass, I saw three roadrunners. These were the first ones I've seen since I moved here and to see three in one place seemed very special!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Whhheeeeeee!!!! I hit 350!

Santa Cruz River at Esperanza Ranch

I wasn’t sure if this walk would go or not as the weather people have been predicting rain and storms all week for this weekend. However, there were clouds, but no rain when I left this morning and, as it turned out, the weather people were wrong (again). We met our leader, Kendall, just off Irvington Road which is on the south side of Tucson and then traveled to a second meeting place in Green Valley. I drove this week after assurances from Kendall that my car would make it. Newbie Leslie (today was her very first birding trip!) and old-timer/ field guide, Bob rode with me to Esperanza Ranch which is just north of Nogales on I-19.

As we walked down the access road to the ranch, we met two more birders who said they saw a Black-throated Gray warbler. As I didn’t see it, I’m not counting it among today’s list, but it was a “Darn! That one got away” bird! It wasn’t long before we came to a small pond that was rich in birdlife. Here we saw: Barn Swallow, Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, American Coot, Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebes, Vermilion Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Mallards, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. We spotted a Great-horned Owl who had been roused from his hiding place and flew over the pond (twice). He was really a treat!

We again saw many sparrows this week. Around the back end of the pond, we had Brewer’s, Lark*, Lincoln’s, Savannah, White-crowned and Vesper sparrows. Another great treat was an entire flock of Lawrence’s Goldfinch*. The males were still very beautiful in their (not quite dismantled) breeding plumage. Another frequently seen, but never tiring bird was the Lazuli Bunting* – a lifer for me. As pretty as the males were, I was also fascinated by the females who looked as though someone dunked their tails in blue ink.

Moving along the trail behind the pond, the amaranth fields yielded a few more surprises for us. Among the first was a Loggerhead Shrike and a Northern Harrier. One of the best though was a Plumbeous Vireo* who was singing in one of the mesquite trees. His white spectacles and gray plumage were easily spotted with bins.

Other notable passerines today were: Abert’s Towhee, Green-tailed Towhee, Barn Swallow, Black Phoebe, Bewick’s Wren, Cassin’s Kingbird, Common Ground Dove, Gila woodpecker, House finch (that’s for Leslie – her first!), Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch (nice contrast with seeing the Lawrence’s today), Mourning Dove, and Northern Cardinal.

At the end point, while we were watching the Common Ground Dove, two Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and a Greater White-fronted Goose were spotted. We also found a Loggerhead Shrike who had caught his breakfast, a lizard, and had it speared on a mesquite thorn. I had often seen that behavior illustrated in books, but never in real life. Cool! As we headed back toward the pond, someone spotted a Green Heron, American Kestrel, Solitary Sandpiper, and Northern Flicker (red-shafted). I count 42 species (not including the Black-throated Gray warbler or the Red-naped Sapsucker that I didn’t see). It was very much worth risking the rain!

Life List count: 353!

Saturday, October 7, 2006

San Rafael Grasslands and Patagonia

The full moon graced the morning sky as I drove to the meeting point at Houghton Road and I-10 for this week’s Audubon Society bird walk. Our leader, Scott, made sure that we carpooled as compactly as possible and I ended up as a passenger with co-leaders Craig and Dave and fellow birder Danny in Craig’s SUV after originally offering to drive. However, as the morning wore on, I was more and more grateful that I hadn’t driven as the roads to Bog Pond were, to put it mildly, treacherous. The Celica would have never made it.

However, those treacherous roads led to some pretty decent birding. Scott found a White-tailed Kite waiting for us by the road. We had several minutes to look at his very white breast and back before he floated off.

As we birded Bog Pond, we found Sora, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, Green-winged Teal, Savannah Sparrow, Vermillion Flycatcher (the male was absolutely stunning in the sunlight!), Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Meadowlark sp., Cassin’s Kingbird and Northern Harrier. We also flushed about a dozen Scaled Quail from the tall grasses. Some of us almost stepped on the birds (unknowingly, of course) before they broke flight.

As promised, there were many sparrow species present. Savannah seemed to be the most prevalent today, but we also had, after much looking and debate, a Baird’s Sparrow. Lincoln, Grasshopper, Chipping, Vesper, and White-crowned were represented as well.

After a brief stop at the Patagonia rest area, we headed to Paton’s. I vaguely remember reading about this place a while ago, but I guess I didn’t understand the full extent of the idea here. Paton’s is a private residence – a pre-fab home, really that has quite a few hummingbird feeders in the yard. The residents of the house keep the feeders filled and allow the public to come in and view the birds. This has been going on for some 20 years, so the feeders and the birds are very stable.

Today there were four hummingbird feeders, although there were spots for at least 8 more feeders. Each feeder is numbered, so birders can call, for example, “There’s an Anna’s at 9” meaning that an Anna’s Hummingbird is feeding at feeder #9 which is a good thing because the birds come and go so fast that you’d probably miss them without the numbers for reference. Hummers seen today included Anna’s, Broad-billed, Black-chinned, Rufous, and Violet-crowned. They all glimmered in the sunlight like the little jewels that I had read so much about, but what impressed me most, coming from the east coast, was the shear variety of hummers in one spot sharing feeders. Yes, they were aggressive, but many times there were three or four different species all enjoying the same feeder at one time.

There were a few other birds here as well. I got my first look at an Acorn Woodpecker which was very stunning in his black, white and red feathers. Danny found a Gray Hawk that we heard, but I couldn’t get it in my bins fast enough. There was also a Lesser Goldfinch that was almost fully black on his back – just a little bit of dark green. He hung around the fountain for a drink.

Our car was the last to leave Paton’s and now that the “official” trip was over, Craig suggested we check out the nearby Nature Conservancy reserve which is only about a mile away. We stopped along the road for a Canyon Towhee and a few more Cassin’s Kingbirds. We also stopped for a large-ish bird sitting in a bare tree and debated whether it was a hawk, a vulture, a dove or something else. We spent a good 10 minutes trying to decide, but in the end we gave up. It would be our mystery bird for the day. As we were backing the car out of the parking lot, the bird finally turned positions so that we could all clearly see it was a Black Vulture. So much for our mystery bird!

One more bird show awaited us as we drove toward Tucson. Craig spotted a small raptor flying fast on our left. Until we got the car turned around and found the spot, it was gone, however, on the other side of the road was a Red-tailed Hawk being harassed by a Northern Harrier being harassed by an American Kestrel. We thought it unusual for three raptors to be engaged in such a dispute, but it was a great ending to one more great day of birding in and around Tucson.