Thursday, November 1, 2007

New Zealand and Fiji

October 13-20: New Zealand: South island

We left LAX on the 13th and flew non-stop to Auckland, NZ. My veg food didn’t get on board, but the staff was accommodating and I finally got some food. The individually controlled movies were a cool feature, but thank goodness for Ambien. I had a much better night’s sleep than I could have ever imagined. Since we flew across the International Date Line, we arrived in Auckland in the early morning on October 15. We then traveled by plane south to Queenstown which is known as the “Adventure Capitol of the World.” It rained much of the time there and there was even a little snow. It is very beautiful, sitting right on Lake Wakatipu with snow capped mountains called the Remarkables all around.

When we arrived, we went on a jet boat ride in the lake. We squished inside the boats as Mark, our guide explained the rules to us. It was fun getting some fresh air after all that time on planes and busses. Mark pulled many 360's on the water which got everyone very wet. After checking into our hotel, we met up and walked to the Skyline Gondola which rises steeply from Queenstown. The view from the top was awesome and we happened to catch a rainbow over the town.

That night a 6.7 earthquake shook me awake around 1:30am. The next morning, we found out that epicenter was about 38 miles west of our destination for that day. We were a little concerned about avalanches, but our bus driver, Dawn, assured us we would be OK.

We loaded on the bus and headed for Milford Sound. The drive to Milford Sound was filled with waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. Along the way I also saw lots of White-backed Magpies which looked very much like crows except for their brilliant white backs that shone when they flew.

Once we arrived at Milford Sound in the fjord lands, we went on a three-hour scenic/lunch cruise. While waiting for the cruise to leave, I was able to catch my first glimpse of New Zealand’s chaffinches which then seemed to be everywhere. The scenery on the cruise again filled with waterfalls. Some of the waterfalls would literally get blown away by the wind before they could reach the water below. The most exciting part of the trip for me though was the three Fjordland Crested Penguins we saw from the bow of the boat. They hopped among the rocks and jumped into the water. I had never expected to see penguins!

I had scheduled a birding trip on Lake Dunstan near Cromwell, but it was canceled due to the horrible weather we were having. Undaunted, I set out on Wednesday morning for some “lammie” pictures. I knew there was a farm just outside the town and decided to walk to it and get some pictures. I took my bins so that I could bird along the way. It turns out that I waked (according to Google maps) 9.8 kilometers one way which makes about 12 miles round trip. Wow! No wonder I was tired and had sore feet at the end of the day. But it was all worth it because this was the only real birding I got to do in New Zealand.

The first birds I saw were a small flock of silvereyes acting very warbler-ish at the ends of a tree. Among them I saw my first “Blackbird” which looks like a completely black robin. In the lake were some New Zealand Scaup and Australian Coots. Underneath a conifer tree was a single Song Thrush among several Redpolls. When I finally reached first a deer farm, then a sheep farm, and then a cattle farm all in the same general vicinity, I checked out the birds in the fields. Among the many White-backed Magpies were also some Island Pied Oystercatchers which looked and acted like typical oystercatchers. The sheep were quite shy and took their lammies with them almost as soon as I got close to the fence, but I did manage a few good shots while I had a bit to eat (some NZ cheddar, crackers, and a power bar). Tired, cool and wet, but happy, I headed back to the hotel. That night on the way to a bar called Minus Five Degrees (where they dress you in parkas, snow boots, and mittens, take you into a room make, quite literally, of ice and serve you a vodka drink in a glass made of ice – just what I needed after the cold and wet of the day!), I spotted a Yellowhammer and several Red-billed Gulls.

On Thursday we left Queenstown and started toward Mt. Cook, New Zealand's highest mountain. Although the bus drove to the viewing point, we couldn't see Mt. due to the clouds. The next day we get a good view of it while driving towards Christchurch along Lake Pakaki. This lake is incredibly beautiful! It’s water is tropical blue and so clear. I wanted to jump in, but I’m sure I would have turned to a popsicle in a instant.

Our last stop in New Zealand was Christchurch. I loved this place even though we were only there less than 12 hours. It’s a very English city and was much warmer and sunnier than we’d experienced anywhere in New Zealand. A few of us spent some time exploring the pubs and found a terrific Thai restaurant that was so good I licked my plate clean!

October 20 – 26 (Fiji island)

On Saturday, we arrived into Nadi, Fiji Island. The Hideway Resort was our home here. Ahhhh! Warmth and relaxation! The sun didn’t really want to show it’s face for the first two days, but it was warm and I didn’t care. I didn’t get to do much birding here, but there were both Common Mynas and Jungle Mynas everywhere.

On Sunday, a few of us went to the Kula Ecopark which housed a whole bunch of caged birds. I got to see a lot of Fijian birds, but to me, they all looked sad to be there. The natural birds I the park where all well hidden in the trees, and, not knowing the vocalizations, I wasn’t able to ID any of them.

On Tuesday, some of us started on what we thought was to be a kayaking trip. It turned into “a three hour tor, a three-hour tour!”, Anyway, this story is better said by one of my fellow travelers, Pam West. Here’s the story blatantly stolen from her blog:

…nine brave souls embarked on the adventure of our entire trip. We had originally signed up for a kayaking trip, but because of all the rain the road leading to the river had been washed out. So the river company instead treated us to a whitewater rafting trip on the Upper Navua River.

The ride up to the river was the scariest thing I had ever experienced. It was a steep and very narrow mountain road and I just kept praying that the bus wouldn't slip off the edge into a deep gorge. Once we made it to the top, we had to walk about 20 minutes through a muddy slippery path to the river. We loaded up two rafts and off we went. Talk about awesome. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, but the brochure referred to this river as the "Fiji's Grand Canyon" and I concur.

We rafted for 15 miles and then the "fun" began. We jumped on the bus to take us back but shortly after we started out, the bus became mired in mud. We jumped back out and the guides told us women to just start walking and they would pick us up. Inez, Joe & I followed their directions. About an hour or so later, Brian, Tony, Connie & Pier caught up to us. The monsoon rain soon started and after walking nearly 3 hours or approximately 7 miles in a jungle rain forest, the bus finally comes to our rescue. We were cold, thirsty & hungry, and our feet & legs were killing us. But it certainly didn't dampen our spirits. We laughed about it all the way back to the resort. And of course we became the talk of the group over the next couple days.

My only additions to Pam’s narrative would be the two birds I managed to see without binoculars while we were walking through the Fijian backcountry jungle: Golden Dove (totally unmistakable in its brilliantly golden plumage) and Scarlet Robin.

On Wednesday, a few of us took a cab ride to Suva to check out the Suva Museum which house the leather boot soles of Thomas Baker. He was a missionary who was cannibalized right down to his boots, but when they got to the boot soles, the cannibals found him inedible. His boot soles, along with the fork, cooking pot and other utensils used to consume him are house in the Suva Museum. We also did a little shopping here and ate at a wonderful Indian restaurant called (I believe) Gandhi’s Curry House. We then stopped at a Fijian Cultural Center on the way out of town. A lovely day!

After all that running around, I was glad to hang by the pool and soak up the sun on Thursday. It was a very quiet day as almost all of the others went on a sailboat trip for the entire day.

While not a birding trip specifically, I did get to add a few species to the world list and make a few friends in the process. Not sure I would go back to New Zealand unless it was later in the spring or in their summer months, but I would go back to Fiji in a second. The people there were so nice and the food was awesome!
You can check out my pictures from this trip at: Picasa

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Esperanza Ranch

Fourteen birders, including our leader Kendall Kroesen assisted by Moaz Ali, birded the Esperanza Ranch conservation area between Amado and Tubac. The area follows the riparian area along the Santa Cruz, but also has a number of other habitats which make for a great variety of birds. One of the most prominent birds seen was Lawrence's Goldfinches which seemed to be everywhere. Kendall estimated there were about 100. We got some excellent scope looks at them in really good light.

Another prominent bird was Swainson's Hawks which were migrating in large kettles above us. We also saw Gray Hawk, Northern Harriers, American Kestrel, Cooper's and Red-Tailed Hawks. Also in the air, we saw a small flock of both Great Egret and Cattle Egret. Of course, there were also many Turkey Vultures scanning the fields.

Lots of sparrows and a couple of warbler species were founded among the grasses and mesquites. Rufous-Winged, White-Crowned, Brewer's, Vesper, Chipping, Lark, Grasshopper and a few only the experts could see well enough to identify. Warblers included a fairly large flock (10 or 12) of Orange-Crowned Warblers. We also got good looks at Wilson's, Nashville, Lucy's, and Black-Throated Gray.

We had a great view of a Greater Roadrunner running down the path and leaving us in his dust. Also a good day for tyrant flycatchers: Black Phoebe, Say's Phoebe, Vermilion Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin's Kingbird, and Western Kingbird. Other passerines included: White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Ground-Dove, Gila Woodpecker, Northern Flicker (Red-shafted), Loggerhead Shrike, Chihuahuan Raven, Tree Swallow (one only), Barn Swallow (many), Bewick's Wren, House Wren, Phainopepla, Summer Tanager, Northern Cardinal, Blue Grosbeak, Lazuli Bunting (female), Yellow-headed Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Great-tailed Grackle, Lesser Goldfinch and House Finch.

Next up...birding New Zealand!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Las Cienegas

I’m coming to hate birding with large groups and today was no exception. Twenty-seven birders showed up for the TAS trip to Las Cienegas and even though we split into two groups, it was still very noisy and generally not good birding for me. Despite that, there were a few friends and good birders among the group which more than made up for the lack of “seeables”. Raptors were perhaps the highlight of the day, with excellent comparisons*Zone-tailed and *Gray Hawks. Red-tailed, Swainson's, Cooper's, Northern Harrier and American Kestrels were also there for good measure.

Another good study was the comparisons between Western and Cassin's Kingbirds. Western Wood-Pewees were numerous on any exposed snags. The weather was a bit windy and that combined with the noise levels made warbler numbers seem very low. I did see Wilson's and Orange-crowned as well as a Warbling Vireo. Also seen were Summer and Western Tanagers, lots of Blue Grosbeaks, Green-tailed Towhee, plus Brewer's, Lincoln's, and Song Sparrows.

Thursday, September 20, 2007



It’s been a while since I’ve updated, mostly because I don’t feel as though I’ve done a whole bunch of birding lately even though I’m aware that migration is in full swing here. Let’s see… the hummingbird feeder was pretty intense the part two or three weeks as Costa’s, Anna’s, and Rufous hummers fought for seating. However, all of a sudden this week it’s very quiet on the balcony. Tonight I saw 2 birds sharing the feeder - no noise, no fussing.

Got out to support Liz’s TAS trip at Sabino Canyon a few weekends ago. Best bird there was *Vaux’s Swift. Also got some awesome looks at the desert regulars through the eyes of a pair from Britain. It’s refreshing for us “locals” to look again at a White-winged Dove or a Cactus Wren and try to see it for the first time.

Yvonne came out for a visit last week. We went to the Desert Museum where she got her first looks at Gila Woodpecker and Curved-billed Thrasher. On Tuesday, we started with a short trek up the street and found a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher. Then we went to the morning walk at Agua Caliente, but due to high wind, it was almost a complete bust! She did get Broad-billed hummer which she ID’d herself. We then went to Mount Lemmon to pick up Mountain Chickadee, Acorn Woodpecker, Arizona Woodpecker and (I think) Yellow-eyed Junco. What was disappointing were the birds we didn’t get her: Verdin, Phainopepla, and Painted Redstart among others that should have been little tiny feathered pieces of cake. We had a good time nevertheless doing the Tucson tourist thing. I already wish she were back here :-(

Last weekend was a bit better. Liz, Rosie and I headed for the Chiracahuas for some high altitude mountain birding. We rented cottages at Cave Creek Ranch in Portal. I do think the ranch grounds were one of the best places, if not for birds, for wildlife in general. We saw deer, javalina, squirrels, chipmunks, and a bobcat with bob kittens (a first for me!). The bobcat and I startled each other. It was lying underneath the shade of a tree near the office property. S/he jumped up when we spotted each other and for a moment I thought it looked crouched to spring, but it turned and scampered off. We saw it a few more times throughout the weekend.

As for the birds, the ranch feeder list is extensive: Black-headed grosbeak; White-breasted Nuthatch; Gambel’s Quail; White-winged Dove; Black-chinned, Anna’s, Costa’s, and Rufous/Allen’s hummingbirds. Also on the grounds were Red-tailed Hawk, Greater Roadrunner, Curve-billed Thrasher (by far the first one vocal in the mornings!), Cassin’s Kingbird, Common Raven, Cactus Wren, American Robin, Cassin’s Vireo, Western Tanager, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker.

On Saturday, we drove a few of the roads around Portal. Most of them were pretty dead, but we did get some good activity on South Fork Road. The very first bid we turned up was a female Elegant Trogan! She squawked as we invaded her “space” by the creek, but allowed us to look at her for quite some time. Also along this road we found Hermit Thrush; *Mexican Chickadee; Mexican Jay; Bridled Titmouse; Painted Redstart; Sharp-shinned Hawk; Cooper’s Hawk; Red-shafted Flicker; Orange-crowned Warbler; Black-throated Gray Warbler; Canyon Wren; Brown Creeper; Turkey Vulture; and Arizona, Hairy, and Acorn Woodpeckers.

After that, we dove down to the Museum of Natural History’s Southwest Research Center to watch their feeders. There was a larger assortment of hummers here including Blue-throated (monsters!), Magnificent (also monsters!), and Rufous. There was also a female Summer Tanager hopping among the branches.

On Sunday, after a very quite drive up the mountain road, we decided to optimize our birding and head for the George Walker House in Paradise. The feeders were alive with little buzzing jewels and we added Calliope and Broad-tailed to our hummer list. Say’s Phoebe, Canyon Towhee, and Lesser Goldfinch rounded out the list for that region. The owners of The George Walker House, Winston and Jackie Lewis, are wonderful people. Jackie was so helpful in ID’ing the hummers! What a great life that must be.

As we left GW House, the storm clouds were brewing, so we decided to head for home. On the way home though, I was awakened from my snooze (Rosie drove) to find that we were going to Willcox to look at “Cochise Lake.” The lake is really part of the sewage treatment system in Willcox and is well known for its waterfowl and shorebird populations. It turned out to be a great stop even though the storm clouds (and lightening and thunder) had followed us west. The list here included: Great Blue Heron, Northern Shoveler (large numbers), Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, American Avocet (gets my vote for most graceful bird), Ruddy ducks, American Coots, Northern Harrier, Northern Pintail, Mourning Dove, White-faced Ibis (a lifer for Rosie), Long-billed Dowitchers, and two *Sabine’s Gulls that only got identified after the fact through the WG05 listserv.

I guess that about covers it. I feel as though I’m starting to get back into the swing of things again (finally!). Here’s to good bird and birding friends!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Arivaca Cienega

Bolstered by yesterday’s successful trip, I met the TAS group for a trip led by new executive director, Paul Green. Paul and his wife, Ang Li led about 20 of us to Arivaca Cienega in the Buenos Aires WMA. This was my first trip to this area. It’s very green right now because of all the monsoon rain we’ve gotten this year. The mosquitoes were probably more numerous than anywhere I’ve ever seen except in Cape May. We all used a lot of bug goop and after a few encounters with some big biting ants, many of us also tucked our pants legs into our socks. P.S. an ant still got up into my hip area and bit me leaving a huge welt that is only now receding.

It was all worth it though as the birding was as good as it gets. The first bird we saw was a Lark Sparrow, quickly followed by a rather grungy Blue Grosbeak. We watched Vermillion Flycatcher and Cassin’s kingbird feeding young with bugs almost too big to carry. The youngsters swallowed them whole. Yellow-billed Cuckcoo and *Tropical Kingbird allowed good, but fleeting looks as did several *Varied Buntings. A single *Gray Hawk was harassed out of sight by a kingbird. Liz found a great Black-throated Sparrow perched on a branch and two Yellow Warblers, but no one had to go out of their way to find the Yellow-breasted Chats that were everywhere we looked. Others seen or heard were: Common Yellowthroat, Northern Cardinal, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove, Common Ground Dove, Northern Flicker, Black Phoebe, Canyon Towhee, Summer Tanager, House Finch, Red-winged Blackbird, Barn Swallow and Turkey Vulture (and not one yellow-eyed Junco the entire morning!).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Mount Lemmon

Liz and I spent a fine day of birding at various spots along the Catalina Highway on Mount Lemmon. We started out with a quick spot at Le Buzz for a caffeine fix and then headed up the mountain with two finely detailed lists from the listserv. We first stopped at Bear Canyon where we found Yellow-eyed Junco, Painted Redstart, Western Wood Peewee, Acorn Woodpecker, Black-headed Grosbeak, Abert’s Towhee, American Robin, Cassin’s Vireo, and White-breasted Nuthatch.

We stopped along the highway to try to identify an accipiter sp., but no such luck! It flew straight away from us too quickly, so we traveled to the General Hitchcock’s campground area. Here is was eerily quiet for a long time. There were lots of campers making human noises, but not much bird activity. The only birds we found were more yellow-eyed Juncos and a lone female Hairy Woodpecker which we watched for a while, but eventually we decided to move on. .However, also as soon as we made that decision, a mixed flock of warblers fluttered in to give us great looks at Painted Redstarts, Red-faced, Wilson’s, Black-throated Gray, and *Grace’s. There were so many painted Redstarts in this group that started to tire of them. Surely we here in southeastern Arizona are spoiled! The Wilson’s stuck around for great looks and having the Redstarts and Red-faces in one’s bins at the same time was awesome. We also saw a female Western Tanager, Hermit Thrush, Bewick’s Wren, and Cassin’s Vireo.

A little further up the road we headed toward Mount Bigelow. We drove the entire loop to Bear Wallow picnic area and back. This area was even more quiet then Hitchcock’s. The only birds here were Yellow-eyed Juncos (we had started calling them not-very-nice names by this point) and a single male Hairy Woodpecker.

As it was noon and we were starving, OK I was starving, we stopped at the Summerhaven Pizza and Cookie shoppe for a few slices, a soda and a monsterous chocolate chip cookie. We saw several hummers at the feeders above the shoppe and also Stellar’s Jays and more Turkey Vultures while we waited for our food. I should mention that the weather on Mount Lemmon was wonderfully crisp and almost cool enough for a jacket. I’d say it had to be in the 70’s.

After lunch we made the side trip to Ski Valley and checked out the view. Not too much going on there, but we did see Broad-tailed hummers at the Iron Door restaurant’s feeders. Feeling somewhat disheartened as the birding seemed to be drying up, not to mention the carb coma that was hitting us, we almost had to force ourselves to ascend the top of Mount Lemmon even though it’s a short drive from Ski Valley. However, we were soon glad we did as the bird gods smiled on us once again. This time in the form of a wonderful mixed flock consisting of Mountain Chickadees (my closest looks ever), all three nuthatches (white-breasted, red-breasted, and pygmy), Orange-crowned Warbler, *Hermit Warbler, *Cordilleran Flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, House Wren, Brown Creeper and let’s not forget the numberous Yellow-eyed Juncos!

Today’s great total is 30 species and 3 lifers in 8 hours of birding! The bird gods are smiling :-)

Saturday, August 4, 2007



A small group of birders left the Houghton meeting spot at 6:30am and drove to Fort Huachuca. The list of species at this site include:
• Cassin’s Kingbird
• Western Kingbird
• Brown-headed Cowbird
• Say’s Phoebe
• Eastern Meadowlark (in beautiful bright yellow plumage)
• American Kestrel
• Northern Cardinal
• Lesser Goldfinch
• Swainson’s Hawk (most prevalent raptor of the day)
• Red-tailed Hawk
• Rufous-crowned Sparrow
• Northern Mockingbird
• Canyon Towhee
• Violet-Green Swallow
• Blue Grosbeak
• Ladder-backed Woodpecker
• Cooper’s Hawk
• Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher
• Western Wood Peewee
• Phainopepla
• Acorn Woodpecker
• Yellow-eyed Junco
• Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

After leaving the fort, we traveled to Beatty’s and watched a few hummers at the store, but the numbers were really small, mostly females and juveniles. I did spot one Black-chinned though. The monsoon storms blew in around noon and we headed home. A short day, but it was good to be back to my favorite hobby again.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Red-faced storm

What better healing for a broken heart than a “most-wanted” lifer? Saturday morning, Liz and I made the climb up Mount Lemmon to the Marshall Gulch picnic area in search of a red-faced Warbler or two. The temperatures were much lower on top of the mountain and we’d both wished we had dressed just a tad warmer. Parking was already getting tight at 8:30am at Marshall’s Gulch picnic area where we encountered a large group of noisy hikers at the rest rooms, one of whom apparently had never seen birders before – “Look! A birder!”

We hadn’t ventured far from the picnic area when we heard a lot of “pishing” Stellar’s Jays and although we never did find what was causing their upset, it brought a flurry of activity to where we were. First there were Brown Creepers, Mountain Chickadees and a White-breasted Nuthatch. Then three Pygmy Nuthatches appeared at the base of a gnarled oak tree. After a short while, Liz shouted that she had a Red-faced Warbler. I was unable to see it for several minutes. Just as I was about to give it up as gone, I saw it. Not just one, but an entire flock of Red-faced Warblers! There were at least 8 or 10 of then. Some were obviously juveniles with pinkish to orange-ish faces, but the adults were absolutely vibrant red. For a few minutes, the trees seemed to drip with them. It was amazing. During this fray, we also spotted an Orange-crowned Warbler, a pair of (Red-shafted) Northern Flickers and a Red-breasted Nuthatch, plus an unidentified bright yellow warbler sp. Then, as suddenly as it began, the noise and flutter subsided. We waited a few minutes and then headed back down the mountain and into the heat.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Butterfly Trail

Danny and I escaped the valley heat and headed to Mount Lemmon to do some mid-week birding. We stopped at Butterfly trail which, like most other trails on Mount Lemmon that I’ve seen, is a reverse hike – going downhill first and making you climb uphill on the way back which is quite cruel if you ask me! The birds were very cooperative and we needed to stop every few feet to watch and listen for something new. I’ve lumped them all together as they were all seen along this trail:

White-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Mountain Chickadee
Red-shafted Flicker
Black-chinned Hummingbird
Stellar’s Jay
Turkey Vulture
Bewick’s Wren
House Wren (possibly the Mexican ssp.)
Olive Warbler
Black-headed Grosbeak
Yellow-eyed Junco
Western Tanager

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Ramsey Canyon/ San Pedro House

Danny, Liz and I started the drive to Ramsey canyon at 5:30 am, but even after stop for coffee and bagels, we still arrived before the canyon preserve (owned by the Nature Conservancy) opened. So we did the only thing good birders know how to do. We parked illegally by the side of the road and birded the road leading up to the preserve. In addition to the typical MoDo’s and White-winged Doves, we saw Lesser Goldfinch, Bullock’s Oriole, Northern Mockingbird, Acorn Woodpecker, and Cassin’s Kingbird on this road.

Once we officially entered the park, we were warned of an active bee hive further up the trail. Since none of us truly wanted to get that close to the bees, we wandered very slowly up the trail. Beside which, it was already very hot at 8 am! Going slowly definitely had its benefits. We took the first side trail, called Grandview Loop and were treated to great looks at Western Wood Peewee, Bridled Titmouse, Mexican Jays, many Painted Redstarts, American Robin, and *Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher (thanks to Danny’s good spotting). As we sat on a nearby bench watching the Peewee, a group of Bushtits flew into the oak tree above us. They flitted noisily from branch to branch for awhile while we had our attention on a small group of White-tailed Deer on the opposite side of the trail. We counted six (5 adults and 1 young) in the group and none of them really seemed to care that we were so close.

Leaving the bench, we again walked up the main trail where Danny spotted a hummingbird on its nest. After much debate, we decided it was a female Black-chinned Hummingbird. We also found a pair of *Northern Beardless Tyrannulet (again thanks to Liz’s good spotting) and a small family of Spotted Towhees. We also traversed another short loop trail where we saw a pair of nesting Hermit Thrushes and more Painted Redstarts. Before leaving, we sat by the hummingbird feeders for awhile and saw Black-chinned, Broad-billed, Broad-tailed hummers.

We were lured into a Mexican restaurant in Sierra Vista by a multitude of cars in the parking lot. Once inside, we were even more heartened by the sight of many Mexicans, oddly enough mostly young women. It soon became apparent that there was a bridal or baby shower going on and there was almost no one else in the restaurant. However, the service was quick and the food satisfying enough. From there, we decided we still had enough energy to check out San Pedro house just a few miles away.

San Pedro house sits on a long thin green strip of land along a stream or river, called a “riparian area”, a term I had never heard of since there are no such things back east. The San Pedro House is an organization that focuses on preservation and education about the San Pedro River and riparian area. I’d been there briefly in November, but failed to see the targeted Green Kingfisher. On this day, however, we were greeted by several birders on and around the feeders, including a beautiful Blue Grosbeak, several Barn Swallows and a ton of Brown-headed Cowbirds. The sun was getting hotter and hotter, so we quickly walked the trail down into the riparian area and its cooling shade trees. A short way into the trees, we interrupted a Great-horned Owl’s rest. We only spotted him as he moved noiselessly from one tree to another. He allowed us really good looks and even returned our quizzical glazes. In this spot, we also found Vermillion Flycatcher, Western Tanager, and Summer Tanager, Abert’s Towhee. After this, we pretty much fizzled out and returned to the entrance. The feeders this time yielded a Say’s Phoebe and a marvelous specimen of Barn Swallow waiting by the storeroom door.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Puerto Rico June 13-15, 2007

Spent just a few days on the lovely island of Puerto Rico earlier this week. It was more a tourist trip than a birding trip, but I did manage to drag my friend along for some birding. This marks the start of my official world birding list.

June 13 – Old San Juan
Of course, the first bird spotted was the ubiquitous Greater Antillean Grackle* – bright yellow eyes and black shiny feathers. Also spotted a Brown Booby and Brown Pelican fishing the bay near El Morro. Hundreds of Rock Pigeons were hanging out at el Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park). These birds have apparently been here hundreds of years and are fed by tourists and local school children alike. Other birds in the old city included Common Ground Dove, White-winged Dove, Mourning Dove and House Sparrow. Here as well as for the whole trip, there were many Turkey Vultures in the sky.

June 14 – Guanica
Most of the day was spent driving from Ponce to Mayaguez, but we stopped near Guanica in southwest Puerto Rico for a few hours to eat and visit el Bosque Seco or dry forest. This forest gets just a small amount of rain fall each year, but the forest does seem to survive. It seemed to me that it must have rained here recently as the trees were very green with lots of new growth and the mosquitoes were very active.

Within minutes of entering the forest, we were greeted by a number of small birds. The first one spotted was the Puerto Rican Tody*. This little bird looks like a cross between a hummingbird and a kingfisher. It had a mechanical sound that I thought might be an insect of some sort at first. He sat in a tree for a while and let me get good looks as well as a couple of shots with the camera. The picture above is one I took myself.

Also in the trees that afternoon were Bananaquit*, Puerto Rican Flycatcher, Puerto Rican Vireo* (being quite vireo-like in his annoyingly constant singing and excellent hiding places!) and Adelaide’s Warbler*. There were probably many more, but the mosquitoes were also numerous and we hadn’t armed ourselves with any insect repellant. We practically ran for the car and the Benedryl it contained.

We stopped at a small inlet on the Guanica Bay and spotted a Magnificant Frigatebird* flying among the Turkey Vultures. There was also a youthful Little Blue Heron molting to adult plumage and stepping carefully on the clumps of water plants. At the restaurant, a Pearly-eyed Thrasher* checked out the patrons and foraged for scraps under the tables.

June 15 – Cabo Rojo

Just south of Mayaquez is Cabo Rojo and it was recommended as one of the best birding places in PR. When we got to (what we thought was) the entrance, the sign indicated that the gate did not open until 7:30. So we scouted around for somewhere to eat breakfast and found (what else) McDonald’s. At 7:30 we headed back and as we drove down the access road, a Gray Kingbird* was flycatching from the wires. He allowed me to get some good looks at him before we drove off to find the parking lot.

We had our choice of places to visit and decided to first explore the “dry bird” area which I took to mean as “land birds” and opposed to the “wet birds” of the opposite direction. Lots of Bananaquits here as well as great views of Yellow Warblers, a bird I haven’t seen a quite a few years. Also got good views of Puerto Rican Woodpecker* and Lesser Antillean Peewee* here and a fleeting look at a Black-faced Grassquit. Interestingly, there were lots of Eurasian-collared Doves here, but they aren’t listed on my Puerto Rican bird listing, so I guess, here as elsewhere they are extending their range.

As for the “wet birds” we found lots of Blue-winged Teal family groups, although the babies looked almost full grown; Great Egrets, Black-necked Stilts (who were obviously nesting and quite agitated by our presence); Common Moorhen; and American Coot. Someday, I think I would like to go back and bird this island seriously to find more of the specialties.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Lower Santa Catalina Mountains

This was one of the largest turnouts I’ve ever seen on a TAS trip – over 30 people in 10 cars. It’s great to know there is so much interest in birding, but the crowd made for a noisy and mostly unproductive day even though our leader, Barbara, split the group into two. Our first stop was at the Molino Basin camping area. Here our group saw a pair of Ash-throated Flycatchers feeding young in a dead tree stump and a couple of Canyon Towhees.

Old Prison Camp was the next stop. We had a little more luck here and saw Black-headed Grosbeak, Bewick’s Wren, Summer Tanager, White-throated Swift, and Wilson’s Warbler. Three Cassin’s Kingbirds gave an exciting chase to a Cooper’s Hawk. Then on to Bear Canyon picnic area where we saw Painted Redstart, Grace’s Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Acorn woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Yellow-eyed Junco, and Bridled Titmouse. We also heard a Western Wood Peewee, but he was not very cooperative.

Finally, we made the trip up to our leaders cabin near Willow Canyon and hit pay-dirt at her feeders. Even with thirty some people on the porch and around the house, the feeders were very active with Lesser Goldfinch, Pine Siskins, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches. Black-chinned, Broad-tailed, Broad-billed and Magnificent Hummingbirds populated the hummingbird feeders, while *Mountain Chickadee, Bridled Titmouse, Grace’s Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, and American Robin were seen slightly beyond the feeders.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Boyce-Thomspon Arboretum

Arlene and I met at Danny’s house to carpool up to the Boyce-Thomspon Arboretum near Superior, AZ. Danny provided a wonderful traveling breakfast of western-omelet sandwiches (on his famous homemade rolls) and tea. At BTA, we immediately heard a lot of birds singing, but had a difficult time finding them. We were about to give them up as invisible when we spotted a beautiful Northern Cardinal male singing from the tree-tops, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet and two Bell’s Vireos (adult and young) chattering incessantly among the bushes. We also saw Broad-billed and Costa’s Hummingbirds in the flower beds. We stopped for a while at a small fountain and sat quietly for a few minutes. We were rewarded by a Western Tanager coming in for a drink. Lesser Goldfinches and House Finches had also found the water source. As we slowly made our way to the pond, we saw a singing Abert’s Towhee, Phainopepla, and Turkey Vulture. At the pond, we sat for a long time under the shade of the viewing platform. There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of activity and it was starting to get very hot even though it wasn’t yet 10. In addition to the many Great-tailed Grackles, there was a female Pied-billed Grebe with her young. Five stuck very close to her, but one more seemed to have been ostracized from the family. We guessed it would be either raptor or turtle food within a day or so. We also found a Common Yellowthroat and Violet-green Swallows here.

We had to force ourselves out of the shade, but continued along the path to the next ramanda. There we again sat for a while to cool off. A brilliant male Summer Tanager kept us company for a while. We hurried a bit to get to the herb garden which was a wonderful respite. There’s a little 2-room stone structure in the garden that was the original house on the property, but was then turned in to a playhouse for the grandchildren. By the time we reached the end of the trail, we were too hot and thirsty to think about birds anymore, so we quickly buzzed the gift shop after deciding that the Dos Hermanos restaurant up the highway a bit would be the perfect place to satisfy our hunger and thirst.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Hummingbirds for Beginners

This week’s TAS trip was led by John Higgins and promised visits to three hummingbird hot spots. I rode with John, Louise, Danny, and Jason (from Vancouver, BC) to Paton’s in Patagonia. There we saw Broad-billed, Violet-crowned, Black-chinned, and Anna’s hummingbirds. The feeders also brought in Bronzed and Brown-headed Cowbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinch, and Mourning Dove. On our way out of Paton’s, we got great looks at the *Thick-billed Flycatcher that inhabits the area.

Next we headed to Beatty’s Bed and Breakfast in Miller Canyon. There we found Costa’s, Magnificent, *White-eared and *Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Some of the others saw the Blue-throated, but I did not. We eat lunch here and watched the hummers buzz around the feeders while Violet-green Swallows buzzed around the pond.

At Ash Canyon Bed and Breakfast, we added Lucifer Hummingbird to our list as well as White-winged Dove, and something else which I don’t remember at the moment. The trip ended on a good note with a refreshing stop at Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Northern Arizona

My aunt and I spent the past few days in northern Arizona, specifically in Sedona, Page and the Grand Canyon. Since it was more a vacation for us both, there was little in the way of formal birding trips, but we did see some good species. During a rafting trip down the Colorado in Page, we saw two adult Golden Eagles soaring above their nest and also heard several Canyon Wrens. At the Grand Canyon, we were honored to be able to watch eight *California Condors come in to roost at the South Rim near Bright Angel Lodge. This was a special thrill for me as I remember not having much hope as a child that I would ever see this magnificent bird in the wild. Their rescue from near extinction is certainly one of the few ecological celebrations we have these days. In addition to the condors, we also saw quite a few Common Ravens (who seemed almost tame no doubt due to the food associated with humans) as well as *Clark’s Nutcrackers. Pictures from this trip can be seen at

Sunday, May 13, 2007

ASDM/ Mount Lemmon

My aunt who is visiting from Pennsylvania and I took a morning trip to the desert museum and participated in the daily bird walk at the museum before the heat of the day. The docent led the eight participants to some of the best birding sites, including the desert garden and the Otter/Big Horn Sheep exhibit areas. Besides the usual suspects, Cactus Wren, Verdin, Cooper’s Hawk, Gila Woodpecker, MoDo, White-winged Dove, and Gilded Flicker; we also got some pretty decent looks at a Bronzed Cowbird*, Hooded Oriole*, and a Scott’s Oriole.

Once I drug my aunt away from the museum gift shop, we went to lunch at Guilin’sand then headed to Mount Lemmon (or Lymon Mountain as it is sometimes now known – sorry, inside joke!) where we explored several outlooks. Rose Canyon Lake was particularly interesting with its Ponderosa pines. I heard quite a few American Robins, but didn’t see any. We saw a few Turkey Vultures and a raven sp. who scavenged a Dorito dropped, no doubt, by a fisherman or a child. As we ascended the mountain, it became noticeably cooler, or, better said, less oven-like. Only bird seen toward the top was a single Yellow-eyed Junco who responded to pishing. I was hoping for a Red-faced Warbler, but perhaps another day…

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Trogans and Tanagers and Grosbeaks, oh my!

After a phone call from Danny, who taunted me about the birds he saw last Monday at Madera, I decided it was high time I made another trip to the canyon to see some of the fabulous birds that have been sighted there recently. I took along a non-birding work friend who turned out to be an excellent set of eyes and ears. We decided to head straight up the road into the canyon bypassing all the usual spots people stop to bird in Madera and then bird our way back down. This turned out to be an excellent strategy and we worked against the flow of all the other birders and hikers. There was plenty of parking at the top of the canyon road. We followed Old baldy trail to the Sycamore strands where we listened hard for the “unusual” call of the Elegant Trogan*. This wasn’t all that easy since neither of us knew exactly what it sounded like. However, after about 30 minutes of wandering slowly up the trail, we knew at once when we heard it call, that the description that of the call that sounds somewhere between a dog barking and a frog croaking was about as accurate as one could get. We made our way a little way further up the trail when Laurie-Ann spotted it. We looked and listened for several minutes before heading back down. Lifer number 403.

Our next stop was Chuparosa B&B where were got great looks at Black-headed Grosbeak and a Hepatic Tanager* that practically landed on us! Also saw several hummers at the feeders as well as Lesser Goldfinch, House Finch, and Acorn Woodpecker which were all new to Laurie-Ann.

A stop at the Kabu gift shop was the next destination. We didn’t have to wait long for Western Tanager who was resplendent in yellow and red. The Flame-colored Tanager* required a bit more waiting, but he was definitely worth the wait! He was, well there’s no other word for it, flaming orange in the sunlight. Lots and lots of Black-headed grosbeaks here (best looks I’ve ever gotten), as well as Acorn Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, a gorgeous male Rose-breasted Grosbeak who hung around for while, and Bridled Titmouse.

While we could have stayed longer, we headed back to town for some cheese enchilladas and lemonade at El Charro. Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Benson Ponds and Willcox in Sping

Seven birders and our leader, John Higgins traveled south to the Benson sewage ponds. I drove with John, a local bird trip leader named Steve, and fellow from Vancouver, BC named Jason who is in town on business. As we drove south, we spotted Chihuahua Raven and red-tailed Hawk. At the ponds we saw American Coot, Ruddy Duck, Eared Grebe (in full breeding plumage), Blue-winged teal, Cinnamon Teal, and Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Ring-necked Duck, a female Canvasback, Eurasian-collared Dove, Mourning Dove, Barn Swallow, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, and a Say’s Phoebe feeding young in an overhang.

We then traveled to Willcox where we spent about an hour observing the ponds. We saw many of the same ducks and grebes as in Benson, but added Pied-billed Grebe, great Blue Heron, about 100 white-faced Ibis*, 50 Willet, a Baird’s Sandpiper*, 2 American Avocet, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Phalarope, several western Kingbirds, and a Savannah Sparrow. Of course, no trip to Willcox would be complete without a stop at Stoudt’s Cider Mill for Apple-berry pie and cinnamon swirl ice cream!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

...399, 400!

Snow could dust Mt. Lemmon's tip this morning
If you think that's abnormal, well, the weather service begs to differ
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 04.21.2007

"The chance of snow has returned to the Tucson area forecast, but you won't have to worry about getting those heavy coats out of the closet. The very top of Mount Lemmon may be graced with about an inch of snow overnight and into this morning, according to the National Weather Service. Highs today on Tucson's favorite mountain are expected to be in the mid- to upper 40s. "

As if on cue, the rain began to fall in northeast Tucson at 6 a.m. sharp while the seven of us gathered around our TAS leader, Bob Bates, as he outlined what he had scouted this past week. We split into three cars with Arlene and I driving with Danny. The rain let up somewhat as we approached Aqua Caliente Park, however the park didn’t open until 7 a.m, so we looked forlornly through the gate, but only found a few Mallards, Great-tailed Grackles and a Cooper’s Hawk overhead.

As we began our ascent to Mount Lemmon, things deteriorated as the rain came down cold and steady. However, being the stalwart birders that we are, we pulled on our warmest clothes and raingear and made two stops. Both of which were complete failures. Not one bird was seen or heard. At 7:45 a.m., our leader called an official halt to the trip. Taking this in stride, Danny, Arlene and I did the only thing we could do and headed to Millie’s Pancake House for breakfast! It’s amazing what a hot hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs will do to the spirit, not to mention the fact that, as we ate, the clouds cleared and the sun made an appearance in the eastern sky.

Since Arlene had a previous commitment, Danny and I decided to take a chance on Mount Lemmon one more time. As we neared the base of Mount Lemmon, we were stopped by two Pima County sheriffs who informed us that only the first 14 miles of the 27 mile road were open due to the 2-3 inches of snow above that point. We agreed that 14 miles was better than no miles.

Our first stop was the Molino Basin campground were we (surprisingly) picked up four others that had been part of our earlier group and saw Wilson’s Warbler, Canyon Towhee and Cassin’s Vireo. We decided to drive as far as we could on the road and bird our way back down, so we drove to General Hitchcock campground and almost immediately picked up Yellow-eyed Junco* and Spotted Towhee. The Yellow-eyeds came very close to us and the eye was very intense-looking. After traversing up and down some not-very-well-worn trails, we ended up sitting by a dry stream bed watching several Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Bridled Titmouse and an Olive Warbler* (400! High fives and hugs abounded). We hated to leave such a great spot, but the campers were starting to arouse from their snowy tents.

We headed back down the mountain only a little way to Bear Canyon picnic area and followed the stream bed under the road and up a very steep hill. Seeing limited birds there, we decided to hit another spot further downhill, however, once we got to the parking lot, we realized that’s were the bird action was! Within two minutes, we saw Painted Redstart, Red-naped Sapsucker, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. We spent a long time in this area which eventually yielded a flycatcher sp, more Kinglets, more great looks at the Yellow-eyed Juncos, and a Western Wood Peewee (which I thought was a lifer, but was not). The day was well worth the trip back to Mt. Lemmon and is one of the great things about Tucson – if it snows, just wait 2 hours and it’ll all be melted!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Fort Hauchuca and Ash Canyon

Met the limited group at the Houghton/I-10 meeting place. The first bird of the day was a Cooper’s Hawk that flew above us in the parking area. We waited around for a couple who didn’t show up by 7:10, so we left and made our way directly to Fort Hauchuca’s Garden Canyon. As we entered we saw a pair of Wild Turkeys (a state bird for me) and a few Swainson’s Hawks. A short stop at the picnic grounds yielded my first lifer of the day, a Hutton’s Vireo*. At first I thought it was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but it seemed much less “caffeinated” which made sense once our leader, Dick Carlson id’d it for us. The two species do look amazingly alike!

On our way to the Sawmill Canyon area we stopped to watch a full adult Golden Eagle soaring above the canyon. The light was just right to see the gold color on the shoulders of this enormous bird. Once we were in Sawmill, we caught sight of a number of passerines, including Buff-breasted Flycatcher*, Townsend’s Warbler*, and Black-throated Gray Warbler among the warming pine trees. The smell was also mesmerizing as the birds flitted among the tree branches. On the way back to the picnic area we stopped for a family of Steller’s Jays, a pair of Cassin’s Kingbirds, and good looks at several Lucy’s Warblers, however the picnic area itself was dominated by House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches.

After lunch, several of us suffered the hike up Scheelite Canyon for a change to see the Spotted Owls* (Mexican subspecies). We just about gave up after ½ an hour of searching when one person in our group decided to explore a faint side trail on her own. Personally, I didn’t think this was a good idea, but she very quickly found one of the owls and it was quite tolerant of us watching it for a long time. Also in the canyon was a singing Canyon Wren which is one of the most beautiful songs I know. I think only the thrushes sing more beautifully than this little wren whose voice echoes down canyon walls. We also spotted a group of Mexican Jays and we heard a Band-tailed Pigeon, but unfortunately, didn’t get to see it.

While we were stopped to look at some of the pictographs (much like Petrogylphs, but painted on the rock instead of being chipped into the rock), we saw a small flock of white-throated Swifts fly overhead. Before leaving the Fort we took a good look at the Golden Eagle’s nest which is contained in a hole on the side of an extremely steep cliffside. We then made our way to the Ash Canyon Bed & Breakfast. This amazing little place was hopping with birdlife, especially hummers. We watched seven species of hummingbirds at the feeders – Broad-billed, Magnificent, Lucifer*, Black-chinned, Anna’s, Calliope*, and Rufous. The Lucifer’s bill was so distinct that I think I will definitely be able to id that one next time I see it. The Black-chinned shone purple when the light hit him just right. Each one was so beautiful! At the B&B, we had several other species, including Scott’s* and Bullock’s* Orioles, Ladder-backed and Gila Woodpeckers, as well as the Whiskered Screech Owl that has taken to sitting in the nearby nest box. I didn’t see much except his face, so I don’t think I want to count that on my life list as yet. A Curve-billed Thrasher singing in a small nearby tree rounded out the day. Although our leader didn’t think we had a good quantity of species, we all agreed we had excellent quality of species!

Total life list is now: 398(!) – Dang! I even went back and checked every single bird on my list and recounted one more time.

Postscript to DG: Don't know if you still read this or not, but wanted you to know you were right about those two people the other week!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Cape May Once Again

Back east for a short visit with my friend Yvonne. I slept at Yvonne’s house in Stow Creek where I awoke to dismal skies offset by the cheering sound of a Carolina Wren. I checked out Yvonne’s feeders while she got her stuff together. Not much action due to the invading gray squirrel who has apparently developed the ability to eat safflower seeds while hanging upside down on her feeder. Yvonne told me that he dominated the feeder this winter after learning that trick as all the other squirrels had to right themselves to eat and this little guy could unseat them while they were upright. In addition to this trickster, a small mixed winter flock of Carolina Chickadees, Northern Cardinal, and Tufted Titmice visited the feeder. A shot walk down to the back yard pond yielded Mallard, Wood Duck, Canada Goose, a vocal Red-bellied Woodpecker, and a a pair of gorgeous Golden-crowned Kinglets. We could have stopped here as these guys turned out to be the best bird of the day, but, of course, we weren’t even in Cape May yet!

During the trip to Cape May, we made a few stops. The first was to enjoy a group of about 20 Wild Turkeys feeding in one of the fields by the road. A second stop was at the Mauricetown Bridge and the other at Jake’s Landing Road. Mauricetown yielded nothing while at Jake’s Landing, we saw a Great Blue Heron that gave us wonderful looks. An odd sight on the way back to 49 from Jake’s landing was a pair of Rhode Island reds along the road. Not really sure where they came from, but they sure were cute!

Our first stop in Cape May was Sunset Beach were we encountered Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Red Throated Loon, DC Cormorant near the Concrete Ship. Stops at Lily Lake and the Point gave us a bunch of ducks, including Redhead Duck, American Black Duck, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Blue-winged Teal, American Coot, and Mute Swan. In addition to all the swimmers, we found American Robin (good to see that guy again!), Common Grackle, Turkey Vulture, Mourning Dove, American Crow, Fish Crow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird, House Finch, Song Sparrow, Rock Pigeon, & Northern Mockingbird.

After lunch at my favorite Asian restaurant for lunch with Ron (can anyone say Roma Curry Tofu or is it Curry Roma Tofu?), Yvonne and I drove up to Forsythe NWR in Brigintine. On the way, we stopped at the Wetlands Institute and picked up Tree Swallow, Northern Harrier, Red Tail Hawk, & White-throated Sparrow. Forsythe was pretty bare except for lots of ducks, but we were able to add Brant to the day’s list. It was a pretty short trip as we weren’t allowed to travel ¾’s of the drive because of the controlled burn the rangers were doing. So we stayed around and watched them burn for a little while and then headed out. The number of species wasn’t bad for late March and it sure was great to bird with Yvonne again. Next time, it’s her turn to come to Tucson to bird!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Elgin Longspurs

Liz and I took a short jaunt down to Elgin today to (pardon the expression) kill two birds with one stone. First we found our way to the rather remote public access road off Upper Elgin Road where several species of Longspurs have been reported. Once we arrived, a fellow birder directed us to a puddle of water where the birds seemed to be gathering. We saw tons of Western Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrows, Horned Larks, and Vesper Sparrows. We got great looks at them all in the scope. In addition, we had a few fleeting opportunities to view male Chestnut-collared Longspurs who occasionally alighted by the puddle for a few seconds – usually just long enough for us to get a glimpse of them.

After a while we headed over to the “cow patty” field which is very aptly named! There were hundreds of Chestnut-collared Longspurs and, with the help of one “sparrow expert”, we were able to pick out a Lapland Longspur who was not quite in full breeding plumage. We were able to watch him for almost 10 minutes and got some really good looks as he sat atop his favorite cow patty. Also making showings today were Raven sp., Modo’s, Red-tailed Hawk, Northern Harrier, and Loggerhead Shrike. The meadowlarks stole the show for me though as they were brilliant yellow in the sun today!

The other bird to kill, so to speak, was to visit some of the local Elgin wineries in search of a bottle of good red wine for my friend Kim. So, Liz and I stopped at the Sonoita Winery which had an excellent CabSav that pairs nicely with 55% cacao chocolates. Finally, on our way back, we hit the Grasslands Bakery/ Café. This is a wonderful little German bakery with healthy vegetarian food and not-so-healthy, but delicious baked goods. I had an early lunch of green chili and cheddar croissant while Liz opted for the healthier Chef’s salad. Unfortunately, neither of us had room for a Johnny Depp bar, but maybe next time. I also scored a quart of homemade sauerkraut. In Arizona no less – imagine that!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

el Sewer de Tucson

The ‘sewer’ tour was shortened by our substitute leader, Darlene Smyth who had to pinch hit for the original leader and his substitute. After scouting the sites listed in TAS’s description, Darlene concluded that Sweetwater Wetlands was the best bet. The five followers and our leader carpooled to Sweetwater as the sun rose. Despite the chilly start, a finer day in Tucson could not be found once the sun burned off the lingering cloud cover. Until then, those of us who had two layers of clothing wished for a third and the luckiest among us still had their hats and gloves in our birding bags.

Darlene asked us to be as quiet as possible so we crept around the ponds which I think helped us gain more species. One of the first birds we saw was a Cassin’s Vireo* in the cottonwood tree near the parking lot. He was a very cooperative bird and we all got good looks at his spectacles. There were also hundreds of Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Great-tailed Grackles among the cattails making so much racket it reminded me of Jurassic Park. Interestingly, the male Red-wings were concentrated in the cattails while the females seemed to be feeding in the almost-dry recharge basins. Also in the recharge basins were 3 or 4 Killdeer.

Ducks included Gadwall, American Widgeon, Mallard, Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, Northern Shovelers (quite possibly every one in the country was at Sweetwater), Green-winged Teal, and several beautiful Ruddy Duck males in full breeding plumage. Among the reeds we also spied many American Coots, a Sora, Common Gallinule, and a Virginia Rail. We spotted a Harris’ Hawk from the parking lot and also saw a pair of Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, Common Raven and Turkey Vulture.

Of course, there were plenty of MoDo’s to be found which Darlene told us have a pinkish cast to the breast feathers. There was also one Eurasian-collared Dove which isn’t listed on the Sweetwater checklist. Smaller birds included 2 woodpeckers (Gila and Ladder-backed), Cactus and Marsh wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and a hundred-gazillion Yellow-rumped Warblers. We also spotted a few pairs of Abert’s Towhees, Common Yellowthroat, Phainopepla, European Starling, tons of Song Sparrows, quite a few White-crowned Sparrows and Lesser Goldfinches, Black Phoebe, House Finch and House Sparrow.

The biggest disappointment was not seeing the Rose-breasted Grosbeak that brought many people out this morning. We searched every bird in every willow, but to no avail. By the time we finished 2 trips around the ponds (a little after noontime), the sun was downright hot and we were all glad for the cool and comfort of the ride back to the meeting place.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Mismosh of Entries

Jeez! It's been all but a month since I posted last! I misplaced my Agua Caliente list from February 10th. If I find it , I'll write it up. Otherwise, I haven't done much in the way of "official" birding in the past few weeks although I am aware of the increased activity, chatter, and song all around me as the birds celebrate the coming of spring here. Some interesting birds I've seen while out and about include:

  • A Eurasian-collered Dove in Tubac while winning a bet with a (non-birding) friend about what the group of people with binoculars were doing. Looking at the mountains, my foot! They were birders if I ever saw birders!

  • Several "Oregon" dark-eyed Juncos in Albequerque last weekend.

  • Hearing a Mountain Chickadee at El Malpais in NM, but didn't see him.

  • Several Greater Roadrunners at the Boca Negra section of the Petroglyphics Nat'l Monument. The picture above is him. it was the best coloring I've seen yet on a roadrunner.

  • A beautiful specimen of the Audubon's subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warbler in the mesquite from my balcony this morning.

  • A Gila Woodpecker that has invaded my hummingbird feeder. He announces himself by calling from the railing of the balcony to produce a ringing echo before he grips the tiny feeder perches and sticks his tongue into the feeder. He's quite acrobatic and amusing to watch, but I think he's chasing the Anna's away.

  • Daily views of the American kestrel that sits on the wire on Greasewood near Anklam. Also quite beautiful in his plumage right now.

  • The Anna's hummer still comes to the feeder fairly frequently. If I'm outside, she buzzs around for a few seconds so that I get a feeling she's looking me over. No other hummers seem to be around.
  • White-tailed Kite from horseback in mid-February in Sonoita. No mistaking that beautiful white plumage even while hanging on for dear life!

Looking forward to a few days back east soon even though it's far too cold there for me right now. It'll be good to see Yvonne and Cape May (AND the ocean!) again.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

First Hummer

Just now had the first hummer (that I've seen) to the feeder I put up last Sunday. It was an adult female Anna's id'd by the small dark central throat spot. Will try to get a picture to post soon.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Simpson Farm Restoration Area

Ten very chilly birders met our guide, Kendall K. 7am at the Jack-in-the-Box on Ina Road this morning. There were several of the usual suspects along with some newcomers on the trip and it made quite a good group today. We picked car pool assignments and headed north to the Marana exit of I-10. Our first stop was along Trico Road to check for Burrowing Owls. We got great looks at one perched on one of the PVC pipes in the field and also saw Black Vultures, Loggerhead Shrike, and many White-crowned Sparrows. We didn’t stay here long as it was still pretty cold.

Next we headed to our main viewing area of Simpson Farm which was north of our first stop. Both the city of Tucson and TAS are doing tremendous work here in restoring this area. We worked our way along the “path” which really isn’t much of a path, but more a bending in the weeds. As we worked our way along, the day began to warm up quickly and we all had shed at least two layers by the time we got back to the cars. Occasionally, we wandered down toward the river or up along the birm and out along the valley. We flushed 2 separate Barn Owls out of whatever those green fluffy trees were. It was on one of these forays up to the birm that we spotted the first white-tailed Kite sitting in a bare willow tree along side a Western Meadowlark. We all watched him for several minutes when someone spotted 2 more flying over the fields! As if that were not site enough, there were also about 20 Mountain Bluebirds flitting among the low bushy vegetation in the valley. No one knew quite where to look for a few minutes. Species also seen here include Mallard, Gambel’s Quail, more Black Vultures (excellent views of them), Northern Harrier (at one point being chased by a WTK), Sharp-shinned Hawk (also allowed good looks), Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Mo Do (of course), Red-naped Sapsucker, at least three Loggerhead Shrikes (but, you know, three shrikes and you’re out! Yuk yuk!), Common Raven, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (one came very close to us in the salt bush), Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abert’s Towhee, plus Chipping, Brewer’s, Vesper, Lark, Lincoln’s, and White-crowned Sparrows.

Finally, most of us ventured a little farther north to the wheat/cotton farms just south of the Pinal Air Park. Here we added Say’s Phoebe, Black Phoebe, Gila Woodpecker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Brewer’s and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and, best of all, White-throated Swifts*. To top it all off, I picked up greater Roadrunner at the corner of Ina and Silverbell on the way home to bring the total to 39 species for the day.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Madera Canyon and GVWTP

Liz said she felt drawn to Madera Canyon this morning and so armed with the Finding Birds in SE Arizona book and a print out of the AZ bird list, we set out down I-19 to Continental Road. Our first stop was the Continental School where we easily found Gambel’s Quail, Black-throated Sparrow, Verdin, Blue-gray and Black-tailed Gnatcatchers, Cactus Wren among many White-crowned Sparrows. As we proceeded on White House Canyon Road, we spotted Northern Mockingbird, Phainopepla, the first of three Roadrunners as well as a Harris’ Hawk.

The day was very sunny and mild. As we walked along the trail at Proctor parking area, the air warmed significantly (into the 60’s easily) and we quickly stripped off a layer or two of clothes. Along this trail, we saw Spotted*, Abert’s, and Green-tailed Towhees in abundance as well as a pair of Northern Cardinals, Mexican Jays, Bewick’s Wren, 2 more Roadrunners, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Hermit Thursh (an AZ state list bird), and a very large flock of Lesser Goldfinch.

At the Santa Rita Lodge visitor center were the ever-present Acorn Woodpeckers and Mexican Jays. We also saw several subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos including the Pink-sided and Oregon. After a few minutes there, we drove up to Chuparosa Inn to check out the lodging. While talking to the owner, several Bridled Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Pine Siskins, a Costa’s Hummingbird and Painted Redstart flitted in the trees overhead. Other birds seen in the Madera Canyon area were: Red-tailed Hawk, Mourning Dove, Common Raven, Chipping Sparrow, and House Finch.

Finally, we stopped at the Green Valley Wastewater Treatment Plant on the way back. Among the odiferous waters we found Northern Shovelers, a few Gadwall, American Widgeon, Ruddy Duck, Snow Goose, Ross’ Goose, Killdeer, American Coot, Blue-winged Teal, Mallard, Great-tailed Grackle, Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings and American Pipit. They were joined by a single female American Kestrel hunting along the birm. That’s almost 50 species today!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Lakes at Castle Rock (NE Tucson)

Similar to the trip November 18th trip, this trip was led by Brian Nichols and was a tour of The Ponds at Castle Rock development and surrounds. There were a few birders with life lists in the thousands, others with decades of birding under their belts and still others from various parts of the country which made for a nice mix of experience levels. The morning began sunny and just a little chilly, but turned colder and cloudier as the morning wore on. Our trip this time we began at the pond in the middle of the development where we immediately spotted a Green Heron, American Widgeon, and American Coots. We then explored the common fields and saw a few White-crowned Sparrows, Lincoln’s, Lark, and Brewer’s sparrows skulking among the weeds. Since the birds seemed to be hunkered down, Brian decided we should travel to Woodland Road and see what we could find there. We had slightly better luck seeing common birds, such as Great-tailed Grackle, Rock Pigeon, and Mourning Dove, Cactus Wren, Common Raven, Gila Woodpecker, European Starling, Abert’s Towhee, American Kestrel, Verdin, and Lesser Goldfinch. The goldfinches were especially cheering as they were in groups of about 50 or so birds. We also saw a Prairie Falcon perched on a eucalyptus tree.

After a short break at the gas station where we saw Harris’ Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a Costa’s Hummingbird, we again entered Castle Rocks and traveled to one of the larger ponds. However, first we stopped at a smaller pond to see if we could pick up the Eastern Phoebe that someone in the group claimed to have seen. Although we checked and rechecked the pond several times, we saw only Yellow-rumped Warblers and Vermillion Flycatchers in the area. The larger pond held American Coots, Mallards, including a Mexican Mallard mix, American Widgeon, Common Merganser, Ringed-necked Ducks, and two Pied-billed Grebes. The surrounding trees held Ruby-crowned Kinglet, tons of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a pair of Red-naped Sapsuckers (probably the same pair we saw in November) and another Costa’s hummingbird. We again went around to the back of the pond, but alas, no show such as that in November waited for us there. It is an incredible place though. I simply closed my eyes and drank in the woodsy/salty/cinnamon-y/ eucalyptus smell of the place. Had it been a little warmer, I might have curled up for a peaceful nap there. On our way out of the pond area, we got really good looks at a Green Heron hunkered down on the back side of the pond. At the last stop before leaving, we watched a Peregrine Falcon be chased from his perch by a Red-tailed hawk. I skipped Agua Caliente park this time in favor of some hot grub at home.

Added to e-bird

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bosque del Apache, NM

January 12-14, 2007

This three-day trip began with a bit of a surprise Friday morning. As I was preparing to lock my car after loading my gear into Liz’s car at her house near Sabino Canyon around 6:45 am, I saw several large shapes move into her driveway through the gate. It took me a few minutes to put them into my animal schema. At first I thought they might be coyotes as they were gray and moved in a stealth-like manner with heads lowered (they had obviously seen me), but I quickly realized they were way too big. My brain suggested wolves, but no this is Tucson. Then one of them moved into the light and I saw its snout. Aha! I realized they were javalinas. I stood perfectly still and they must have determined that I was no threat as they continued walking into Liz’s backyard to drink from the birdbath. My first close encounter with a peccary!

We got everything packed into the car and met the group on Houghton Road around 7:30am. Our leader, John Higgins, told us that we were all to ask the dumbest questions we could think of, drag things out as long as we could, and above all, have lots of fun. One thing I like about John as a leader is his relaxed attitude about birding. We started with about 8 cars and 15 or 20 people. Our first stop was Texas Canyon were we saw Western Scrub Jays and Yellow-rumped Warblers at the rest area there. We then traveled to Willcox for a quick check of the ponds. We saw several Common Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, Canada Geese, and Ring-billed Gulls. No cranes here as they had all left for the day.

We entered New Mexico near Lordsburg and stopped at the visitor’s center hoping for a few Scaled Quail, but alas, it was not to be. :-( However, we did get good maps of Bosque and other New Mexico birding sites. Up until this time the weather was beautiful, but by the time we finished with lunch in Deming at La Fonda Restaurante where I ate dos enchiladas quesos con salsa verde (yes, my favorite and quite good, too!), it had started to rain. Between Deming and Hatch we saw a very wet and hunched up Golden Eagle on a telephone phone. He looked pretty miserable sitting up there, but we were glad to stop and take a look at him. Also along this route we spotted an American Kestrel kiting its prey, a flock of Ring-billed Gulls and several Common Ravens. Just prior to reaching Caballo dam, we spotted our first Sandhill Cranes! There were several dozen grazing in a field fairly close to the road. By this time it had stopped raining and we were able to get some very good looks at them.

We got to Bosque del Apache around 3 o’clock (if I remember right), and watched the many Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers dabble around near the Eagle Scout deck. We also spotted the first of several Northern Harriers scouting the marsh lands here. We then made our way around the refuge to the lookout ponds and watched the hundreds of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes return for the evening. If you’ve never witnessed hundreds or thousands of birds converging on a pond at dusk it’s hard to describe the excitement that is practically palpable in the air. I always wonder how far away they have been all day and how they know how to get back to this pond. It’s been this way for thousands of years – the coming and going of geese, ducks and cranes. Some basic annual rhythm that is essential to life on this tiny blue marble in the universe. OK, too deep, let me progress a bit to something more mundane…

After checking in at the hotel, Liz and I scouted an outlet for our own evening ritual of putting food in our mouths. We were directed to the “The Brewery” which turned out to actually be named “Socorro Springs Brewing Company”. We shared a 7-cheese and a wild mushroom pizza for dinner and chocolate mousse for dessert. Heaven!

The next morning, Liz and I tentatively stepped out of the motel room. How cold was it going to be? The forecast was for 20 degree nights and 30 degree days, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the day was already in the upper-30’s with very little wind. We joyfully joined the group at the front of the motel and headed back to Bosque for the morning flight. The day dawned beautifully over the refuge ponds. The Snow Geese had already departed when we got there, but the cranes were still walking across the pond waiting for some invisible signal for departure. Meanwhile a mature Bald Eagle sat on a bare tree and surveyed the layout. After the cranes lifted off, John decided we should go back to a smaller pond we past on the way into the refuge where several hundred snow geese had been. The chatter of the geese was quite intense and by listening carefully, you could hear it slowly rise in pitch until finally the entire group rose as one mass and departed leaving only a few pintails and 2 cranes on the whole pond. It was quite a sight!

We took advantage of the balmy weather and birded the both loops of the refuge. Birds seen here in addition to those mentioned above included:
Pied-billed Grebe
Neotropical Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Greater White-fronted Goose
Canada Goose
Cinnamon Teal
Green-winged Teal
Hooded Merganser (2 females and a male, thanks to Liz’s persistence!)
Common Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Bald Eagle (with a prey duck)
Northern Harrier (trying to wrest the eagle’s breakfast)
Red-tailed Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
American Coot
Long-billed Dowitcher
Common Snipe
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner
Northern Flicker
Say’s Phoebe
American Crow (haven’t seen those since I left PA!)
Common Raven
Mountain Bluebird
American Robin
European Starling
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon, Pink-sided, and Slate-colored varieties)
Red-winged Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Great-tailed Grackle

Around noon we headed to the “famous” Owl Café were the specialty of the house is burgers with green chilies, but I found that the chilies taste just as good on a grilled cheese sandwich. Please check out the “art” of the Owl Café on my Multiply site. It’s a “hoot”.

After lunch, several of us headed west toward Magdelena where we stopped at an improved campground, the name of which escapes me at the moment since I didn’t write it down. Anyway, along the road we saw a large herd of Pronghorns and a Golden Eagle flew overhead. At the campground we searched quite a while for signs of bird life. It was all very quiet. We couldn’t even “pish” them out. Just when we were about to give up, we spotted 2 jays which we first took to be Mexican Jays, but later ID’d as Western Scrub Jays. Then we were joined by an amazing mixed flock of about 20 Western Bluebirds*, Pine Siskins, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets many of whom sat in the same coniferous tree (except the kinglets, of course, who couldn’t sit still if they wanted to). The tree looked like a Christmas tree with birds of many colors on almost every branch. It was such an amazing sight! Then back to the refuge for the evening fly-in. Saturday night’s dinner was quite tasty New Mexican food at Frank and Lupe’s El Sombrero. The chili rellenos were delicious as were the sopaillas.

Sunday was the travel back day and we had hoped to find Pinyon Jays as we traveled west, but found none. However, the trip back was not without excitement even though it was quite cold traveling over the Continental Divide. There was about a ½ inch of snow on the road as we traveled over the mountains and the air was cold much of the day. We stopped at the VLA (Very Large Array) and then again at a campground where we saw 2 Lewis’ Woodpeckers in excellent light. The greens, pinks and gray of this bird are just stunning. We also spotted a Ferruginous Hawk perched on a telephone pole along the road. He performed a few fabulous aerials as he flew from pole to treetop a bit further back in the field.

Our next stop was the Glenwood fish Hatchery between Reserve, NM and Safford, AZ. There we saw several duck species including Ring-necked Duck and American Widgeon. We also had a beautiful Vermillion Flycatcher (never tire of watching those) and Black Phoebe while a Bald Eagle flew over. We didn’t stay here long and were soon off to our lunch stop. The Black Jack campground in the Apache National Forest was alive with birds flitting about a bush as we entered. We soon realized there were several Ruby-crowned Kinglets feeding in various areas. One was gathering sap from a Yellow Pine. We were looking at a White-breasted Nuthatch when some of the others reported a Williamsons’ Sapsucker*. John helped us chase it down so that everyone got a look at it - an excellent lifer to end the trip. The rest of the trip home was pretty uneventful except that it warmed nicely as we descended in elevation and the scenery was fabulous!

Monday, January 1, 2007

New Year's Day 2007

Looking back to last New Year ’s Day, I am amazed at the difference one year can make in a person’s life. There have been major changes in my life this year. Among them are where I live, work, and play. I’ve had to make adjustments and revisions in the ways that I define myself. I’m no longer a Pennsylvanian, but an Arizonan; I don’t work at RACC, but at Pima Community College, I’m not a homeowner, but an apartment dweller; I no longer scout the maples and pines for robins and Blue Jays, but the saguaros and mesquites for Roadrunners and wrens. Although the birds I see on a regular basis have changed, my love of “chase and identify” has not. Birding has been one of the few constants in my life. It may ebb and flow depending on how busy the rest of my life is at the moment, but it is always at the undercurrent of how I define myself.

Last year, my first bird was a Tufted Titmouse and as I sit here reflecting on the past year, I realize I hadn’t thought about that little bird for quite some time. I couldn’t always distinguish between a titmouse and a chickadee by the chip call and sometimes, a titmouse would fool me into thinking it was something totally different by singing an unfamiliar song like the time when I lived on Filbert Ave and called it my “Deedee- do-dee” bird for a year before I discovered it was a tufted titmouse singing. I do miss the thrill those few over-wintering birds gave me. The titmice, chickadees, Downy Woodpeckers, cardinals and Blue Jays gave me hope that spring would surely come soon even though I knew the worst weather of the year was yet to come. It’s somewhat comforting to know that even though I have had lots of changes in my life, those birds are still there as they have been for years and years before I was born.

Enough looking backward! I’m so happy to be living in a place where the birds from the colder places migrate TO instead of FROM! The end of 2006 brought lots of new bids to my life list and I know that 2007 will bring more. I suppose that I must count the once-exciting, but now ever-present Gila Woodpecker as my first bird of 2007 since I heard him before my eyes opened this morning. He made me smile as he always does when I hear him. During my morning run, I remembered it was New Year’s Day and ALL the birds counted today. I easily found Mourning Doves, English Sparrows, Gambel’s Quail, Phainopepla, Northern Mockingbird, Greater Roadrunner, American Kestrel, Curve-billed Thrasher, House Finch, Rock Pigeon, Lesser Goldfinch and not a few Gilas. Here's to good birding all through the year. Cheers!