Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wings over Willcox

On the spur of the moment, David and I took a road trip down to Willcox to see the Sandhill Cranes. David had not seen them before and it was fun for me to watch him try to get some good pictures. Our first stop was Cochise Lake where we almost immediately saw some cranes landing in a field beyond the golf course. There were a few ducks i the lake - mostly Northern Shovelers and American Coots, but also a few Common Mergansers, some Ruddy Ducks, and a lone American Widgeon. Two Northern Harriers swept the fields surrounding the lake - one pale and the other brown.

Next we headed to the AEPCO (Apache) power station ponds. We were able to get closer views of the cranes - there were maybe 2 or 3 thousand of them here. There were also more ducks at the forward edge of the ponds, including Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, a couple of Canada Goose, and Mallards. We spent a fair amount of time here, David trying out digi-scoping and me trying to get a fix on the swans in the neighboring pond (I vote for Mute swans, but I seem to be outnumbered). More Northern Harriers and a Red-tailed Hawk here.

Finally, we drove down to Whitewater Draw. At last we had found the hordes of cranes! More and more came in as the afternoon wore on. This time David got some very excellent pictures as the cranes were flying right over our heads. Also seen's at this location were: Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal, American Pipit, Killdeer, American Kestrel, Black Phoebe, and four Greater Yellowlegs that were doing a bang-up job of imitating Hudsonian Godwits! It took me over an hour to convince myself that they were, in fact, yellowlegs and not Godwits. Dang! The Vermillon Flycatcher stole the show as we were leaving. He practically burnt up in the setting sun. So beautiful.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Salton Sea on New Year’s Day 2009

The first of the year: (Oh no, don’t let it be so!) Rock Doves outside the Best Western Date Palm Inn in Indio, CA.

On our return trip from Ontario, CA, David and I made several stops along Highway 111 at the Salton Sea. Our first stop at the northern end of the sea beside an abandoned hotel/ restaurant yielded a nice variety (and quantity) of water birds, including:

White pelican
Brown pelican
Black-necked stilt
Eared grebe
Great blue heron
Great heron
Snowy egret
Herring gull
Ring-billed gull

We then stopped at Visitor’s Center a few miles down the road. There we enjoyed the video after checking out the sea by the campgrounds. This area had even more birds than the previous stop and a few different species. House finch, Northern mockingbird, and Great-tailed Grackle hung around the visitor’s center. The birds came in pretty close so we were able to get good looks at the Western grebes, Caspian terns, and Killdeer. An American pipit gave us the best looks I’ve ever had of one as it stayed within 5 feet of us along the rocky edge of the water. The terns were catching lots of fish, but the gulls and pelicans almost always grabbed the prize away. A flock of about 50 or 60 Double-crested cormorants flew by and I added one lone Ruddy Duck to the day list. This was a lively place and we could have stayed a lot longer, but our hour of free bird watching was up and we needed to move on.

After canning a trip to Wister State Waterfowl area due to lack of change (there’s a $2.50 day usage fee), we headed to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea Wildlife Refuge Area which, after a questionable start, was the very best of the day. Along the drive into the area, there were several European starling and American kestrels on the telephone poles scoping out their next meal.

We weren’t sure when we got there if it would be productive since there was only one viewing platform and fencing around the rest rooms. Even here though, there were quite a few birds including Gambel’s quail and a Greater roadrunner along with numerous Yellow-rumped warblers. We could see about a thousand Snow geese from the viewing platform, but they were kind of far away for picture taking. Eventually, we found the Rock Point trail and hit the jackpot.

The combination of salt and fresh water ponds in addition to the mesquite tree edge gives this area the variety of habitat needed to support a wide variety of birds. New species seen here:

American avocet
Marbled godwit
Long-billed dowitcher
Greater yellowlegs
American coot
Western sandpiper
American wigeon
Northern shoveler
Say’s phoebe
Black phoebe

As we came off the Rock Point trail back at the entrance, a female Cooper’s hawk landed in the trees near the parking lot causing all the songbirds to seek cover. A small (ah-hem) detour (AKA a “shortcut”) into the back roads on the other side of 111 yielded Cattle egret and Western meadowlark. Thirty-nine species in all and a very good start to a (hopefully) birdy 2009!