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/ CafĂ©. 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.