Friday, May 16, 2014

San Carlos, Sonora, MX Day 1

Last month during spring break we ventured 320 miles south of Tucson to San Carlos, Sonora.  I had only been there once as a kid so I was looking forward to the beach and birds.  When Gaby told me we'd probably stay at a condo right next to an estuary, I couldn't contain my excitement.  I immediately went online to find any birding info I could about the place.  I found one birding blog about several birding spots around San Carlos and a few eBird checklists.  After checking the range maps in my guides I had a pretty good idea of what I might find.  I was stoked about the unknown, especially with spring migration underway.

As we neared our destination I could see four Magnificent Frigatebirds cruising over the condos near the beach.    

Fragata Magnifica
As we were walking in the parking lot I heard an unfamiliar bird call.  I thought, could it be?  I think it is, my first Great Kiskadee!

Luis Grande
It turns out they like the trees near the pool right outside our condo, well at least this one did, I never saw more than one at a time.  In fact I didn't see any away from the condos, so this might have been the only one.

White-winged Doves were the most abundant bird on the condo grounds.

Paloma de Ala Blanca
This is a shot of the condo we rented, not a bad view!  

Pilar Condominiums
After we got settled, I sat on that wall and found lots of Brown Pelicans, cormorants, Elegant, Royal, and Caspian Terns, Heermann's and Yellow-footed Gulls, Reddish Egret, and a couple distant Blue-footed Boobies.

Gaviota de Patas Amarillas -- Yellow-footed Gull 
Charran Caspia -- Caspian Tern
As the sun was setting I noticed a group of white birds leaving the mouth of the estuary half a mile away.  No way, my first White Ibis!  It wasn't the killer look I had hoped for, but it was my only ibis sighting of the trip.

18 very distant and blurry White Ibis
I had seen two lifers in only a few hours, I could get used to this!  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Scaup Comparison

Before this weekend I had only seen Greater Scaup four times and two of those were identified by birding experts in San Diego.  Obviously I haven't had much experience with this species in the field.  On the other hand, I've seen Lesser Scaup many times in Arizona where they are much more common than their slightly larger look-a-likes.  The identification challenge presented by these two species warrants extra pages in field guides and their own chapter in advanced field guides.

Last week, Cornell's big day birding team found a Greater Scaup at a wastewater treatment plant on the southern edge of my county.  On Sunday I took my chances and waited until the evening when the sun would be at my back.  The identification would be tough enough through binoculars even in ideal lighting.

I arrived at the Amado Wastewater Treatment Plant and found two scaup roaming around.  I was glad they didn't have their heads tucked away taking a nap!  I studied the closer of the two in my binoculars and noticed the peak at the back and top of the head, most likely a lesser.  I found the other scaup moving closer and immediately noticed a difference in the posture of the two birds.  The first bird held it's head higher than the second bird whose more relaxed posture made the head look more round.  A birder with a scope joined me and I had great scope views of both birds.  At one point they came close enough to get this decent comparison photo.

female Greater and Lesser Scaup
They don't always pose this nicely!  The more rounded head and larger bill make the bird on the left a greater, very rare for Pima County.  With the help of the scope and the cooperation of the birds, this identification challenge was much easier than it could have been.  Hopefully this will help me identify future scaup, but I won't count on it.

CERange Map for Greater Scaup      

CERange Map for Lesser Scaup