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!