Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Tofurkey Day!

A short after dinner walk with my daughter and her boyfriend produced the usual local suspects including Gambel's Quails, Mourning Doves, Gila Woodpeckers, and House Finches, but toward the end of it, we spotted a Greater Roadrunner who allowed us to snap a few pictures of him.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Northeast Tucson

Common fields
We began our birding trip in northeast Tucson by exploring the common fields of our leader’s housing development. The most prominent bird by far was the White-crowned Sparrow, but we also saw one or two Lincoln’s, Lark, and Brewer’s sparrows among the weeds. The shear numbers of White-crowned gave those of us who needed it an excellent opportunity to study the birds in all its forms, both juvenile and adult. Common birds, such as Great-tailed Grackle, House Finch, Rock Pigeon, and Mourning Dove were also plentiful. Raptors included American Kestrel, Sharp-shinned Hawk, and a beautiful Merlin identified by Sid. Other birds here included Cactus Wren, Common Raven, Gila Woodpecker, Abert’s Towhee, and Lesser Goldfinch.
Woodland Road
After a short break we traversed Woodland Road where we saw a gloriously-colored Vermillion Flycatcher and his mate flycatching from the trees. There were large groups of blackbirds which included Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Brewer’s Blackbirds, European Starlings, and Great-tailed Grackles. Quite a few Western Meadowlarks were also in the area. In a small brush pile someone spotted a Dark-eyed Junco of the Pink-sided variety. A Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Eurasian-collared Dove and Northern (red-shafted var.) Flicker were also seen along this road.
Marsh pond
From Woodland Road we entered our leader’s development to see what could be seen from one of the larger ponds. There were a number of American Coots, Mallards, and American Widgeon (which Danny identified quite nicely!). A Great-blue Heron, a Green Heron, and a female Belted Kingfisher spent time fishing the pond. Among the trees lining the pond we saw Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Yellow-rumped Warblers and a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers. However, the real action began when we went around to the back of the pond behind some trees and sat quietly. After a few minutes, the birds forgot our presence. We were rewarded by almost unheard of looks at a Marsh Wren as well as a Common Yellowthroat. Both birds were completely cooperative in showing themselves while drinking the water among the cattails. As we tired of them a Sora made a brief appearance before swimming back to the marshy netherlands.
We meant to stop for lunch when we were through with the pond, but were distracted by the flight of something in a bare tree. Sid said it acted suspiciously like a Lewis’ Woodpecker, so the whole troupe turned around and indeed we were rewarded with not one, but two Lewis’ Woodpeckers flycatching from the tops of the bare trees. We stayed for a while just soaking in the giss (general impression, size and shape) of the birds before heading off for lunch around another little pond. A Great-blue Heron, Great Egret and Green Heron also made their lunches in the pond.
Aqua Caliente Park
By this time it was getting pretty warm and some of us were tiring, but most of us made the short trip to Aqua Caliente Park. Sid, in his third spectacular ID of the day, found a roadrunner perched on top of the wash birm as he, Danny and I drove to the park. New birds seen here during our trip around the pond were Black Phoebe, Northern Harrier, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Mockingbird, and Black-throated Grey Warbler.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Is it possible to OD on birding?

I knew the day would be a long one, but apparently, I can still OD on birding which is an indication of the amateur I really am! Our leader, John Higgins was as friendly as any I’ve encountered. He assured us that the day was not about counting species, but about having fun! I carpooled with him, a very nice woman named Lois, and a gentleman named, Jerry. In all there were 6 cars and 16 participants. Of course, the weather was fabulous with a nice breeze out of the southeast all morning. It was decidedly warmer than the same trip two weeks ago. I never even put my heavier jacket on and needed my gloves for only a few minutes at Whitewater.

We birded several spots in the Sulphur Springs Valley including Whitewater Draw, Elfrida, Kansas settlement, Willcox, the AEPCO power plant and the Benson ponds. The best birds were the thousands of Sandhill Cranes. At the power plant they were close enough to see the red heads of the males and to watch the cranes stretch out their legs for a landing. John was careful to explain how the cranes land differently from the Snow Geese (which were also at the same spot). The cranes put their long legs forward, pulling their wings above themselves and drop like an elevator while the geese “whiffle” themselves by turning their wings to one side and “dumping” the air lift so that they drop down sideways. Then at the last second they right themselves to land on two feet. I’d seen this process hundreds of times before in the Snow Geese at Middle Creek, but really hadn’t given thought to it until now.

It would be too redundant to list all the species we saw as they were, for the most part, the same as two weeks ago with the exception of many of the sparrows, the Bendiare’s Thrasher and the Scaled Quail which we did not see this week. We did see several Ferregenous Hawks on this trip compared to the single one we saw two weeks ago. I did add Eurasian-collared Dove to my life list. There were many of them as we drove through Tombstone and then again at Kansas Settlement. Although it was good for the life list, it’s a little disturbing to see so many of them and know that they are quickly and quietly invading the country sides of many places in the US.

The best stop of the day, however, had to be Stout’s Cider Mill in Willcox where we had homemade apple pie. I had the apple-marionberry that was awesome!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

After several trips back to the apartment for forgotten items (money, camera, iPOD, etc.) and a really bad Chai tea spill, I finally made it to the museum in time for the 8:30 am bird walk this morning. I met the docent, Buzz, on the front patio and found out I was the only person ready to go today. Yeah, I love personal birding trips! Buzz is a transplant from Maryland and was really helpful in telling me about the local wildlife including tress, plants, and butterflies, as well as the birds. We only birded about an hour, but we picked up several species, including Northern Mockingbird, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Gambel’s Quail, Costa’s Hummingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Black-throated Sparrow, and Black-chinned Sparrow*. The Gilas were being particularly cooperative by staying low and close to the trails.

After about an hour, Buzz ended the walk by showing me to the walk-in aviary. I did go in, but frankly, after a little while I felt ill and anyone who knows me will understand why. A gilded cage is no less a cage. No matter how natural or realistic it looks to us, the truth is these animals are trapped for our “enjoyment”. I did, however, enjoy being out on the desert loop trail. I walked it twice and being the rabble-rouser that I am, I walked opposite the “suggested path” so that I felt like a salmon swimming upstream - hehe. The views were spectacular and I can see why many people who live here love this place. During my walk here, I spotted a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher darting and hissing among the Palo Verde, but not much else new. The sun was warm, the sky was blue, and it felt good to be off work and outside.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Madera Canyon/ Sweetwater Wetlands

OR "Was Mexican Jay really a lifer today???

Took my first trip to Madera Canyon today with Danny. We left before the sun rose and headed south on I-19 arriving at the canyon around 7:30 am. It was pretty chilly – a 3 or 4 layer morning – as we drove up Whitehouse Road into the park. We stopped at the Ampitheater Nature Trail and started up the trail. This trail reminded me of hiking the Appalachian Trail in PA with the running stream and the oaks’ leaves changing color. A regular fall day complete with brown leaves with which to shuffle under your feet! At first, it seemed unusually quiet for that time of the day, but we soon were surrounded by several chattering birds. It took a few minutes to find them and then a few more to positively identify them as Mexican Jays*. First birds, first lifers of the day! We took a long time to look at them and really make sure that was what we saw.

We headed back to the car and drove up the road to a picnic area where we saw a few more Mexican Jays. We then drove into the Bogs Spring campground area and followed a trail that went up the side of the mountain. We walked a short way when we spotted what I thought at first was a Towhee, but ended up to be a Rufous-crowned Sparrow. We also saw some jays along this trail. At this point the sun was starting to come up over the mountain giving us a fabulous view of the mountains and valleys, but the birds were still really quiet. We hiked up the trail a bit more following the streambed and found a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a red-shafted Northern Flicker, and more Mexican Jays. Not really seeing much on that trail, we headed back down and drove to a sunny spot near one of the gift shops. The place had several feeders and there was lots of activity, so we decided to do a little feeder-watching. Here we saw about a dozen Mexican Jays (are you getting the idea that this was the most frequent bird of the day?), but we also saw lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Bridled Titmouse, and more Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The woodpeckers were somewhat aggressive with each other - lots of squawking and bickering going on around the feeders. This was the best birding of the day so far and we stayed for a long while drinking the hot apple cider that Danny brought along. We both got some pretty good pictures of the jays and the woodpeckers.

We finally pulled ourselves away from the activity of the feeders to walk up the hill a bit to the other gift shop and feeders. Along the way we encountered a Brown Creeper and a Red-naped Sapsucker working different sides of the same oak tree. As I was looking at these two, a Painted Redstart* burst into my binoculars and then flew off before I could get the directions out to Danny. We eventually gave up looking for it and started back up the hill where we stopped at the second gift shop. Upon exiting, we saw the redstart once more. This time he stuck around and let us look at him. He even ducked under the little bridge and took a bath so that we could watch him preen in the tree. There were also several Acorn Woodpeckers at this site. As we turned to leave, we heard a sound that Danny ID’d as a hummingbird and sure enough, there was a hummer at the feeder. He also sat in the tree and let us get a really good look at him. A truly Magnificent Hummingbird* was he!

We left Madera Canyon after lunch as it was getting really warm and a bit buggy as well. On the way back home, we went to Sweetwater Wetlands off of Prince Road. This sewage treatment plant is tucked away behind the Interstate and is well worth the trip! There are several ponds with a wide variety of bird life. Here we saw (in no particular order) Common Moorhen, Ruddy Duck, American Coot, American Widgeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Pied-billed Grebe, Gambel’s Quail, Northern Harrier, Harris’s Hawk*, Sora (heard only), Mourning Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Common Raven, Marsh Wren, White-crowned Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, and Great-tailed Grackle. We had the Harris’s Hawk in the scope for a while as he was quite cooperative in giving us good views of all his best sides. I definitely will need to come back here! That’s 4 lifers today plus the 5 from yesterday make 9 lifers this weekend- pretty amazing!

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Sabino Canyon and Bear Creek

The 7 am start this morning put us right past daybreak at the Sabino Canyon recreation area in the Coronado National Forest. The group was limited to 12 participants and was led by Scott Wilbor who was feeling much better this week. Although I don’t know the area that well and really wasn’t paying all that much attention to where we were going, I believe we started up the main trail about a ¼ mile or so to the first rest area. Here is where we first got a glimpse of how good the day would be: Phainpepla, Morning Dove, Northern Mockingbird, Pyrrhuloxia*(finally! Since I missed the one in Austin a year and a half ago and one last week), Canyon Towee, Abert’s Towhee, Black-throated Sparrow, Curve-billed Thrasher and Red-winged Blackbird.

We then proceeded down to Bear Creek and walked along its banks crisscrossing the stream several times. We spent much of our time here as it was very good birding. Among the cottonwood and sycamore trees there were dozens of Ruby-crowned Kinglets including one pumped-up male who displayed his crown several times for us. Also saw Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Hermit Thrush, Orange-crowned Warbler, a beautiful Green Heron, Red-tailed Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Cactus Wren, Bewick’s Wren, Rock Wren, House Wren, Hairy Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, a very faded Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Raven, Verdin, several different species of Hummingbirds, probably Anna’s and Broad-tailed. In addition to these fine birds, we saw some really spectacular species, including several great views of a Prairie Falcon* both in flight and at rest, a Red-naped Sapsucker* that let me get close enough to take its picture (above and thanks to Ben for encouraging me to take my camera today!), a Black-throated Gray Warbler*, and an ARIZONA Woodpecker* (a truly rare and uncommon bird). At one point we could see all four from the same spot. Phenomenal!

How do you top something like that? Actually, you can’t. Reluctantly, we hiked up the trail toward the road. From there we connected with a smaller trail that led back to our starting point. Along the way we saw several more Phainopeplas, but it was all kind of anticlimactic, however, as you can see Sabino Canyon is certainly well-marked as one of Arizona’s Important Bird Areas