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.