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!