Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cape May Warbler!

My original plan for today was to take my girls to the insect festival at the university.  But a Cape May Warbler showed up at Peña Blanca Lake on Thursday and changed all that.  We made the hour drive and arrived at 9:20 a.m.  We found the bird immediately in the same spot where it was seen yesterday.  Incredible!


I wish all lifers were this accommodating!  This is a very rare bird in Arizona with only 11 previous records.  It breeds in the boreal forest of Canada and the northern U.S. and can be found in the eastern states during migration.  What a gorgeous bird!  Even my girls were able to get good looks at it.

There were many other warblers around including Townsend's, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Nashville, and Orange-crowned.  There was even a Palm Warbler, a very good bird for the state.  But the show belonged to the Cape May.

Nashville Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler
Two families of Least Grebes have been seen recently totaling 11 individuals.  I got this poor shot of one:

A Great Blue Heron cruised by a couple times.

What a great way to start the weekend!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Shorebirding in SE Arizona

When you think of birding in Arizona, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not shorebirds.  However, we get our share of migrants that pass through every fall.  One of the best places to see shorebirds during migration in Arizona is at Lake Cochise in Willcox.  Well, "lake" is exaggerating a bit.  It's more like a pond.  But it has the necessary mud that attracts a variety of shorebirds.  Two species were reported there in August that I would love to add to my list.  Short-billed Dowitcher and Semipalmated Sandpiper.  In SE Arizona, both of these species are rare but expected in August and September during migration.  It seems I waited too long to see these two species, but I did see some cool birds today.

I started the morning at the Benson wastewater ponds to check if a Sabine's Gull reported two days ago was still around.  No such luck.  However, I did pick up a new bird when I spotted a Red-necked Phalarope spinning around with some Wilson's like this one:

Wilson's Phalarope
Along the road to Lake Cochise, some pools have been created from the recent rains.  As I drove past, I flushed a bunch of Wilson's Snipe and White-faced Ibis.  I stopped and noticed this Killdeer when it gave its loud alarm call:

A Western Kingbird was flycatching from this perch:

The first peeps I saw as I circled the lake were Baird's Sandpipers.  I got out of my truck and got as low to the ground as I could to get these shots:

Then I noticed a couple Semipalmated Plovers, a new state bird for me:

The second individual appears lighter in color, a juvenile perhaps?  On the other side of the lake I noticed a Long-billed Curlew, but it departed before I could try for a photo. 

The best spot of the day turned out to be some rain pools next to the lake.  I was able to park my truck close to the birds without disturbing them.  I awkwardly maneuvered into the passenger seat to take some photos.  As I rested my lens on the window, I noticed some peeps only fifteen feet in front of me!  They were in some shallow pools that I hadn't even noticed because I had been distracted by these:

White-faced Ibis

Here are the nearby peeps I saw:

Least Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper

A little further from the peeps, I spotted some Stilt Sandpipers with a Greater Yellowlegs:

And these Pectoral Sandpipers:

As I was leaving, this Vesper Sparrow posed on a fence:

I ended the day with 17 shorebird/wader species!  Who would have thought you could see such cool shorebirds in Arizona? 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tucson Urban Birding #1

This morning I went to the Reid Park area behind the Hardesty Building in hopes of photographing a reported Northern Waterthrush.  This area borders the golf course and has a pond and some nice mesquites and willows.  It also has a concrete-lined basin where a single Lesser Scaup continues.  Unfortunately, the riparian area now contains a lot of garbage due to the runoff from the five plus inches of rain we've received in the past week.  It was very quiet at first, I didn't hear a single chipping migrant warbler.  Then I ran into Brian and things soon picked up.  Wilson's and Yellow Warblers finally showed up.

Yellow Warbler

Then a flycatcher swooped in snapping at an insect.  The branch it landed on and used for the next 15 minutes was unfortunately in the shade, but the sun eventually reached it.

Western Wood-Pewee

Brian spotted two Nashville Warblers munching fruit from the palms.  Then he heard a Spotted Sandpiper, Green-tailed Towhee, and this Lazuli Bunting:

Lazuli Bunting

Then he spotted a Phainopepla, a bunting, and three Purple Martins passing overhead.  Then a "Western" Flycatcher in a mesquite.  Then this tanager:

Western Tanager

Hold on!  He was identifying everything before I even raised my binoculars!  It turns out he's a leader for Victor Emanuel Nature Tours.  Well, duh!

We heard the Northern Waterthrush call once, but it never showed itself.  Well, I heard it.  But Brian identified it.  A Harris's Hawk quieted down the bird activity when it perched in a willow, out of our view.  30 species in a little over an hour.  Not bad for the center of the city.

On to Silverlake Park... 
This is an under-birded park that I've never birded, but always been curious about.  Right away I spotted a young pair of Vermilion Flycatchers.  Not a bad way to start.



Then I saw this cool butterfly.  I'm not a butterfly guy, but it looks like the painted ladies I've raised in my classroom.

This young Chipping Sparrow was the only other bird here that I got a decent photo of:

The only migrant I detected out of 16 species here was a flyby Western Tanager.  Other cool birds that zoomed through the park were an American Kestrel and a Cooper's Hawk.  This brings my species total for this location to 17, including a Lesser Nighthawk I spotted in May while driving by.  More to come from this park...

My last stop on the way home was Sam Lena Park...
This vulture was circling as I parked:


It was obvious from the dried mud on the sidewalk and many frogs that the water level of the pond/wash to the north had risen drastically during our wet week.  Migrants seen here were a Yellow Warbler and a "Western" Flycatcher.

I found the recharge basins the highest I've ever seen them.  Usually there are two distinct basins.  One smaller one lined with black plastic usually sits above the larger concrete one.  Not today!  This is a photo closest to the smaller basin.  You can see the railing that protects from the steep drop to the larger basin.  It's one big muddy mess now. 

basins with the Catalinas in the background

Two weeks ago there was a Great Egret, a Great Blue Heron, and four Double-crested Cormorants .  Today, nothing.  I can't imagine the fishing is any good now.  The only birds I saw here were some Barn Swallows.

I ended with 38 species total in 3 hours.  I plan to visit other under-birded parks soon to see what I can turn up.  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

White Mountains, AZ 2009

In July of 2009, I was lucky enough to go on a 3-day solo birding trip to the White Mountains in eastern Arizona.  The weather was spectacular and I enjoyed lots of gorgeous birds.  I also had a once-in-a-lifetime experience on Green’s Peak near Greer, AZ.  I wrote about it four days later.  Luckily it was still on my computer:

July 20, 2009

At the bottom of the peak, I slowed my truck to a crawl and jammed it into first gear.  If there was any way I was going to make it up this narrow road, I better do it slowly, I told myself.  The path cut into the side of the mountain was not much wider than my truck, at least not wide enough for my liking.  No guard rails here.  I took a deep breath.  Let’s do this!  After all, there could be Dusky Grouse up there waiting for me.  I made my way slowly up the nerve-wracking road while my engine growled at me to be put into second gear.  There was no birding and driving on this trek.  This is as close a road to el camino de los muertos I ever want to come.   

view of the peak from the road 7/20/09

I finally made it to the top of the peak and parked my truck under the fire lookout tower.  A cool breeze greeted me as I opened the door and stepped out.  I zipped up my wind-breaker and strapped on my binoculars.  While gathering my camera gear I recalled Stuart Healy’s birding journal where he said it had taken ten visits to the peak before finally getting a glimpse of the grouse.  This was my number one target bird and I was feeling good.  

view from the road on the peak 7/20/09

This was my first trip to the White Mountains.  I had already seen some great birds and wildlife.  Pronghorn at Sipe Wildlife Area.  An American Crow and elk along the highway near Nutrioso.  Mountain Chickadees, Gray Jays, and a Northern Goshawk at Sunrise Campground.  Rufous, Calliope, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds at feeders in Greer.  And who could forget the American Dipper at the west fork of the Little Colorado River?

pronghorn, Sipe Wildlife Area 7/18/09
American Crow near Nutrioso 7/20/09
elk, horses, and a donkey near Nutrioso 7/18/09

Mountain Chickadee, Sunrise Campground 7/19/09
Gray Jay, Sunrise Campground 7/19/09

Rufous Hummingbird, Greer 7/19/09
Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Greer 7/19/09

American Dipper, west fork of the Little Colorado River 7/19/09

I walked back down the road on the southeast side of the peak where the power lines were.  I had read to follow the power line cut north for the best chance of finding them.  As I maneuvered through the clumps of grass and wildflowers on the hillside, I reminded myself to move slowly and look carefully in the aspen grove to the east.  The leaves shimmered in the cool morning breeze.  My eyes slowly scanned up in the trees for any perched birds.  As I looked down, I detected some slight movement on the ground at the edge of the grove.  And there it was, a Dusky Grouse!  I could hardly believe my eyes.  I was close enough to see it blink, and I had been searching for less than five minutes!  Was it beginner’s luck?  I raised my binoculars to get a better look.  There was another nearby, wait, three more!  I snapped off a few photos in case they flushed. 

Dusky Grouse, Green's Peak 7/20/09

They worked their way through the grass into the shade of the aspens.  I kept my eyes on them and followed behind very slowly.  They kept an eye on me too, but surprisingly they didn’t seem to be too bothered.  Their behavior was much different compared to the unapproachable Sooty Grouse I had encountered in Yosemite National Park the previous summer.  I had made it to the edge of the grove.  The morning sun pierced through the leaves, creating good lighting that unveiled the grouse’s beautifully camouflaged plumage.  To get a better look on this steep slope, I had to balance myself against the cold, white trunk of a large aspen.  I stood silent and in awe.  This was one of those special moments that birders dream about.  

I continued to watch and photograph the grouse for almost an hour as they moved in and out of the sunlight among the bright green foliage and fallen branches.  Every now and then they would poke their heads above the grass and leaves to check on me.  Then without warning, with loud wing flaps, they took to the trees.  Startled, I was able to relocate the closest one peeking at me from above.

I stayed a while longer to enjoy the tranquility of this special place.  And also because I thought I had heard the drumming of an American Three-toed Woodpecker.  After all, I had other birds to chase!  But this unique encounter will not soon be forgotten.

West Fork of the Little Colorado River 7/19/09

Check out Stuart Healy's site containing fantastic information on the White Mountains of Arizona.