Saturday, December 30, 2006

David Yetman Trail & Feliz Paseos Park

Although not as foggy as last week, this walk started off much quieter. Both the birds and the birders seemed to me extraordinarily quiet this morning. Our leader, Darlene Smyth, led us briefly through a few of the Feliz Paseos trails, but wisely decided it wasn’t worth the time spent there as there were only a few Verdin about.

We carpooled to the David Yetman trailhead which is (technically) on Camino de Oeste near Speedway/Gates Pass. While waiting for the group to gather we focused the spotting scopes on a Gilded Woodpecker and a Curve-billed Thrasher that were perched near the houses along the edge of the trail. After we gathered, we followed the trail for about a half mile or so and did have better luck seeing birds here. One of the first we saw was a Green-tailed Towhee bathing in a small rock indentation filled with water. The sunlight hit him just right and his rufous cap and green tail were almost iridescent. He was quickly joined by a Curve-billed Thrasher. Over the next few minutes we spotted several species of wrens. Cactus, Rock, and Canyon wrens all allowed us several opportunities to study them. Another Verdin also gave us a chance to study his species by sticking to the branches of some Paloverde and Ironwood trees below us. Other birds seen were Black-throated Sparrow, Gambel’s Quail, Phainopepla, Northern Mockingbird, Gila Woodpecker, Mourning Dove, House Finch, Loggrhead Shrike, and White-crowned Sparrow. Noteworthy is the fact that we didn’t see one raptor on this trip, however, an adult Bald Eagle fly over was noted in this very area later in the day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Sweetwater Wetlands

The group this morning was an interesting mix of birders from parts as far away as California, Vermont, New York City and South Africa. We were led by co-leaders Peggy Wenrick and Liz Payne and started the day enveloped in thick fog that delayed any good views of birds for the first 45 minutes or so. The fog gave us a chance to refine our birding by ear skills for American Coots, Soras, American Widgeon, and Common Moorhens. We also concentrated on viewing the few passerines we could discern in the trees directly in front of us. We spotted Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped warbler, female Summer Tanager*, Abert’s Towhee, Song Sparrow, and several Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Gradually, we began to see the outlines of coots like ghosts in the shadowy recesses of the water. As the sun rose and warmed the air, the fog quickly burned off. Above us, several flocks of Yellow-headed Blackbirds flew. The sight of these birds with their bright yellow heads sparkling in the sun drew enthusiastic oohs and aahs from visitors and Tucson residents alike (myself included). There were probably several hundred of the. Soon we were able to see the ducks in the ponds (Pied-billed Grebe, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, and Cinnamon Teal, American Widgeon, Bufflehead, and Ruddy Duck). The Red-tailed Hawk with the stick/arrow in his wing was seen on his usual roost as was the Harris’ Hawk. Sid, as per his usual, picked out a wonderful Prairie Falcon specimen sitting on a far-away electric tower. A Cooper’s Hawk was also briefly seen.

As we made our way around the ponds, we saw more ducks and lots (relatively speaking - more than I’ve ever seen in one place at one time) of Common Moorhens. When we got to one of the lookouts, we had wonderful views of a Green Heron and a Sora that stayed for a long time! We checked the back pond for Kildeer and shore birds, but there wasn’t one blessed bird in that pond. With that I bid adieu to the group to begin my little trip to Phoenix. Highlights of the day were definitely the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, the fluorescent green of the Green-winged teal and Green Heron, and the long looks at the Sora.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Ducks for Dummies

Started the day at Kennedy Park pond with leader John Higgins. Lots of Rock Pigeons, Great-tailed Grackles and Brewer’s Blackbirds as well as American Coots, Mallards, and domestic hybrid ducks. Best birds here were the Peregrine Falcon (found by Sid), one Redhead duck and a Black-crowned Night Heron. We really only spent about 10 or 15 minutes here and then drove to the Avra Valley Waste Water Treatment Plant by traveling west on Ajo Way.

Here sat the plethora of ducks promised in the trip’s title. Several hundred ducks were seen in the three treatment ponds. I immediately put my scope on a gorgeous Wood Duck drake and then found at least three more close by. Also lots of coots, Green-winged teal (a great day to get to know these birds well as there were literally 100’s of them), Gadwall, American Wideon, Northern Shoveler stirring up the waters, Blue-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Eared Grebe with a wonderful red eye, Pied-billed Grebe. In addition to the ducks were Least Sandpiper, American Pipit, White-crowned Sparrow, Abert’s Towhee, Killdeer, Red-tailed Hawk, Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Common Raven and a beautiful Mountain Bluebird* which I now feel I “own” well enough to put on the life list. At least two Northern Harriers were also spotted by the group, one immature who gave a group of ducks a fright and a gray adult male. Finally, as we were set to leave, a Wilson’s Snipe flew overhead and performed some spectacular aerial displays. All in all not a bad morning for little more than 2 hours of birding.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Red Rock area

Billed as “Raptors, Thrashers, and Sparrows of the Santa Cruz Flats”, our guide Doug Jenness led us northeast on I-10 to the Red Rock exit. From there we did “stop and go” birding from the cars which was quite an event since there were eleven cars in the group. Our first real stop produced a Barn Swallow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Gren-tailed Towhee and a small flock of Green-winged Teal that flew over our heads. As we couldn’t ford the Santa Cruz River in our cars, we birded the banks of the river for a few minutes mostly producing nothing. Heading back to the cars and turning around we made our way around a blurry maze of back roads, all unpaved and some requiring downright daredevil driving skills (picture an indentation in the dust just wide enough for two tires between an irrigation ditch and a dirt ditch), along this agricultural area (cattle, cotton, sorghum, and sod). It was quite productive for Mountain Plover*, Crested Caracra*, Mountain Bluebird*, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, Lark Bunting, Horned Larks, American Pipits, Kildeer, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Gila Woodpeckers. The Caracaras and Mountain Plover were particularly interesting because we were able to get really good looks at them. One plover even walked up to have its picture taken. Very cute! There were a few Bendaire’s Thrashers as well as some sparrows, but I never got a good enough look at any of them to “own” them for the day.

In the course of the day, we spotted quite a few raptors in addition to the Caracras: Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Harrier, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon and several morphs of Red-tailed Hawk including dark morph and Southwestern. We ended at a small pond in Arizona City where the lighting was bad, but which produced American Coots, Redhead Duck, and Ruddy Ducks, but no Wideons as far as we could tell. Highlight of the trip home was a much needed stop at Baskin-Robbins for some chocolate ice cream with hot fudge sauce. Oh yeah!