Friday, December 13, 2013

Yellow Inked Warbler

As you probably know, the common names of birds range from very fitting to what were they thinking?!  The Magnolia Warbler isn't the worst bird name, but it's not the best either.  Alexander Wilson named it after blasting a spring migrant out of a magnolia tree in Mississippi in 1810.  He used magnolia in the Latin name (Setophaga magnolia) and "Black-and-yellow Warbler" for the English name, but Magnolia Warbler stuck for the common name.  To Wilson's credit Black-and-yellow Warbler makes a lot of sense.  But do you know how many North American warblers have black and yellow plumage?  Neither do I, but it's a lot.  That might be a good bird nerd question to ask non-birders at your upcoming holiday get-together.  Grab your guide, start counting, and you'll be the life of the party!

I think a more hip name for the Mag would be "Yellow Inked Warbler" referring to its "ink"- black streaks on the chest and sides, and especially the tail that looks like its been dipped in black ink.  It could be the mascot for the "Sharpie" brand!  Imagine if Terrell Owens had pulled out a Sharpie with a Magnolia Warbler on the label during his famous end-zone celebration.

It's fun to imagine new catchy names for birds, but birding is serious business...

My only sighting of the aforementioned warbler was six years ago at the Gilbert Water Ranch in the Phoenix area.  So on Sunday I took a break from moving to our new home to chase one that was found in the Tanque Verde Wash in east Tucson.  It was a cold, cloudy day by desert standards.  As I reached the area where it was last seen I noticed another birder glassing the trees.  I walked over to him and asked if he had seen the magnolia.  He had, but it had flown.  So I looked where he was pointing just in time to see a bird fly out of the tree.  "Maybe that was it," he said.  Maybe?  Well that sucks.  The sun was failing us, making it hard to pick out any color on flying birds.  We repositioned ourselves in different spots to try to find it again.  After 20 minutes, no luck.  He left having seen the bird, leaving me out in the cold.

I spent the next hour scouring the area without any luck.  I decided to head home since my truck was parked in our new driveway packed with Christmas decorations that Gaby was waiting for me to unload.  I checked every bird I detected on the half-mile walk back to the car.  Suddenly I spotted a Black-throated Gray Warbler in the willows.  Then there she was, the Yellow Inked Warbler!  Success.  Too bad the lighting was awful.

The sun came out a little but this photo is still pretty crappy.  On a positive note it was my 34th warbler species for Pima County!

CERange Map for Magnolia Warbler

Monday, November 25, 2013

Rarity Run Part 2

So yesterday I set out to check for a few rarities around town.  My first stop in the morning was at Lakeside Park where I struck out on a Forster's Tern and some Bonaparte's Gulls from the previous evening.  However, a check in the afternoon was successful.  The Forster's Tern is a very late record for Southeast Arizona with no records that I know of in November.  

Forster's Tern
There were also two Bonaparte's Gulls near the shore.  Unfortunately one of them got tangled in some fishing line.  I watched from the other side of the lake as three men tried to untangle it.  By the time I drove around to the other side they had managed to free the bird.  Apparently it hadn't been hooked at all, but I stayed and watched it to make sure it was okay.  After ten minutes of watching it motionless on the edge of the water I decided to approach it hoping it would be okay to fly off, but instead it went into the water.  Birders later reported seeing both birds flying all around the lake, so it seems to be fine.

Bonaparte's Gull
Another nice surprise was a this Merlin.

Since the lighting was much better than on Friday, I decided to see if the Black Scoter was still around (see previous post here).  Success!

Black Scoter
To cap off a great afternoon of rarities I found the continuing Lewis's Woodpecker in the park.

Lewis's Woodpecker
Have a great final week of November!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Rarity Run

Some fantastic birds were found today in Tucson after/during a big rain storm.  First I went to Kennedy Lake to check out six Bonaparte's Gulls.  It turns out I got there just in time.  As soon as I started taking pics, they flew up high and out of sight.  They're rare here, a state bird for me.  Coincidentally, there was one at Lakeside Park today at the same time.

Bonaparte's Gulls
 CERange Map for Bonaparte's Gull

The best bird of the day and the top candidate for Pima County bird of the year was a female Black Scoter!  It was found on a concrete pond behind a police station in Reid Park.  The only other time it's been seen in the county was in 1975, with only two previous records for Southeast Arizona.  Sweet lifer!

Black Scoter
CERange Map for Black Scoter

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Tug o' War

Much has been written about the different types of birding and birders.  Are you an armchair birder or a chaser?  Are you a competitive birder?  Do you take in each bird and their behavior, or do you tick and run?   Do you fire away with your camera at the sight of a bird or do you take time to observe and identify it?  I like to think I'm a well-rounded birder that enjoys all aspects of birding.  But I admit I could take more time to truly observe the birds.

As you know, many factors dictate how much birding one does.  Currently my outings are limited.  But I did have a few hours this weekend to bird two Tucson parks.  It was birding not dictated by recent reported rarities, but a chance to go out and just enjoy the birds and beautiful weather.  This is something I wish I could do more often, but doesn't everyone?.  You see, Southeast Arizona has so many good birds and such an active rare bird alert in terms of reporters and rarities, that my few birding adventures are often of the chasing variety.  Not a bad problem for a birder to have.  This makes it hard to keep that little Sandy Komito on my shoulder quiet- that drive to go, tick, and conquer.  But this weekend the little Kaufmans (Kenn and Kimberly) on my other shoulder reminded me that it's refreshing and relaxing to just go out and enjoy all the birds, even the common ones.  It's a delicate balance, right?  Not when little Sandy is screaming at you to get your butt out of bed and go find a rare bird!  More like a tug of war.

My first stop found me at a park with a decent sized pond, which we call a "lake" here in the desert.  Here I've ticked such rarities as Greater White-fronted Goose, Pacific Loon, Tricolored Heron, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, Least and Elegant Terns, and both pelican species.  Wait, I said I was going out to enjoy the common birds, right?  Yes, in a minute.  First I scanned the water for any vagrants, maybe a Eurasian Wigeon or California Gull?  No luck, only lots of Coots and a few Mallards.  But they need love too.  Then I noticed a large flock of blackbirds across the water.  I could make out a couple yellow heads among them and decided to go around and check them out.  Yellow-headed Blackbirds are uncommon in the city and are most often found in my neck of the cacti in marshes or on farm land.  When I do see them, they're usually distant, hidden in the reeds, or flying away.  I rarely get an opportunity to photograph one in the open.  When I saw this bird perched on a bare branch, I observed it for a moment in my binoculars.  Then I moved in a little closer with my camera and snapped a few (dozen) photos.  It's nice to finally have a shot of one without a feed lot in the background.  After taking advantage of the photo op, I took time to enjoy the bird in my binoculars again.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Among the flock were Brewer's Blackbirds, abundant here this time of year.  I decided to study them more than I have before and gained a new appreciation for their iridescent plumage.  Komito says, "Fine, if it'll help you pick out a Rusty Blackbird one day, go for it."  I snapped a few photos because I don't remember ever getting a decent shot of one, or ever really trying to.

Brewer's Blackbird
My final stop was at a little known park only 2 miles from my home.  It's hidden back in a neighborhood so I didn't know about it until recently.  It has lots of big trees and sits adjacent to a wash so I was looking forward to checking it out.  There were lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers chipping and foraging in the trees, a good sign.  As I walked along the edge of the park near the wash I flushed a Sharp-shinned Hawk from a mesquite and heard a familiar chattering.  It was a House Wren!  Common in the Catalina and Santa Rita Mountains, this was my first one in the lowland.

House Wren
I continued my leisurely stroll around my newly discovered patch and contemplated its potential as a productive birding spot.

It was a gorgeous and relaxing outing just like I had hoped, until I got home and read the rare bird alert...

*Note: Sandy Komito and listers are not evil.  If they were, I'd have horns.  But the Kaufmans probably are angels.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Clark's Nutcracker

A few years ago I searched for Clark's Nutcracker in the White Mountains in eastern Arizona without success.  So four days ago when some were reported on Mt. Lemmon, I couldn't wait to go.  On my third stop I found three foraging in the pines along the Meadow Trail, a lifer!

These birds are casual wanderers in Southeast Arizona with most records coming from the Chiricuahua and Huachuca Mountains.  They are more common further north and east, but very rare in Pima County.

CERange Map for Clark's Nutcracker

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rare Hawk

A rare hawk was found this morning at the Randolph Golf Course driving range 7 miles from my house.  When I arrived the guy who had found it and another birder were looking at it through the netting that surrounds the driving range.  The bird was originally reported as a possible Red-shouldered Hawk but apparently others thought the description fit well for Broad-winged Hawk. 

The birders and I witnessed some odd behavior a couple times when the hawk flew into the netting, grabbed on, and flapped its wings.  It also spent some time on the grass.  It was flying well, but clearly not feeling 100%.  Golf balls whizzed by the perched bird more than once.  Then out of nowhere a Red-tailed Hawk swooped down and tried to grab it!  We thought that was the end of it, but it somehow survived.  It wouldn't have been the first time a rare bird was killed right in front of a group of birders. 

After getting good looks at it, it was clearly an immature Red-shouldered Hawk.  This bird is casual in Southeast Arizona with around 20 records, but this is the first that I know of from October.  I've seen them in California, but this was my first for Arizona.  These photos show the brown head, very light red shoulder, barred secondaries, and the beginning of dark streaks at the top of the breast.

These flight shots by my friend Andrew Core show the rufous wing linings and white crescents near the tip of the wings, making it the subspecies from California.

CERange Map for Red-shouldered Hawk

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cooler Birding

Cooler birding has finally arrived here in the desert!  It was a gorgeous 58 degrees yesterday morning when I set out to check a few local parks.  I started at Lakeside Park hoping for a Blue-footed Booby or some other wayward treat.  I was disappointed when the only birds on the water were mallards and coots.  I heard and briefly saw a distant kingfisher, but never located it.  There were some active flycatchers out and about.

Vermilion Flycatcher

 A few Killdeer were on the ballfields as well as my first of the season lone White-crowned Sparrow.

Next I was off to Reid Park to check out what ducks had arrived.  There were a couple Ring-necked Ducks and wigeon, but no Redheads or Lesser Scaup yet.

These two were at their usual hangout out near the pond.

Great Egret
Double-crested Cormorant
Not near the water was this Black Phoebe...

who was harassing this cute Vermilion Flycatcher.

A beautiful kestrel wasn't having any luck with breakfast...

 and the goldfinches and Verdin were taking turns at the drinking fountain.

Lesser Goldfinch
It was a great way to start off the weekend.  Did I mention I'm loving the cooler temps?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Birding with Bria

I took a quick birding trip yesterday morning with my 8-year old (and no longer the baby) Bria to look for a Barn Owl.  My first and only (wild) one I've ever seen was over 6 years ago, so I was pretty pumped about the possibility of seeing one.  We had no trouble finding the tell-tale owl pellets and poop.  The next thing I know Bria was wide-eyed and pointing up, "I see it."  She was very excited about seeing her first owl, what a beauty!

Barn Owl
A nice Western Tanager posed for us too.

The sun was beating down on us as we walked back to the truck, but it was a successful trip.  I can't wait for the forecasted 65 degree weather tomorrow morning.  Happy (official) fall birding to all!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Patagonia Booby

Patagonia Mountains
The drive from Tucson to Patagonia is gorgeous right now.  It's amazing how lush and green everything looks from the recent rain.  But rain isn't the only thing that's blown in recently.  A few weeks ago an immature Blue-footed Booby was discovered at Patagonia Lake, becoming the first documented species of booby for Southeast Arizona.  I finally got a chance to make the trip and it didn't disappoint.

After running into fellow Arizona blogger Laurence Butler, the booby did a fly-by.  For the next half hour I enjoyed watching it fly around the lake, dive for fish, and even scratch an itch in mid-air!  I wonder how long it will stick around, there's plenty of fish to eat.


Later I was joined by Will Russell of WINGS Birding Tours.  It was a pleasure talking with him.  He amazed me when he identified a Yellow-billed Cuckoo flying 100 feet away in the sun, a bird I wouldn't have even tried to ID.  We watched the booby make passes with a backdrop of cactus, pretty cool!

CERange Map for Blue-footed Booby 
Will and I also enjoyed close views of an Osprey.

We watched one have a face-off with a Turkey Vulture, but not much happened.

My next stop was the Patagonia Roadside Rest Area to try to photograph a Thick-billed Kingbird.  They were very cooperative and even seemed to be wearing their brighter fall feathers.  Check out that massive bill!

CERange Map for Thick-billed Kingbird

A Blue Grosbeak shared a nearby perch.  

There were also a few beautiful Varied and Lazuli Bunting, but they weren't cooperative for photos.

No trip to Patagonia would be complete without a stop at the Paton's yard, the most reliable spot to find the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.


The Paton's property is now up for sale.  The American Bird Conservancy, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, and the Tucson Audubon Society are trying to acquire it to preserve it as a sanctuary for birds and birders.  For more details and a way to contribute, visit here.  

Here are a few other birds that were in the yard.

a young Abert's Towhee
Inca Dove
Western Tanager
Western Tanager
White-breasted Nuthatch
On my way back to Tucson I visited the grasslands north of Sonoita in hopes of finding a Grasshopper Sparrow.  The first birds I heard were Botteri's Sparrow, but then the grasshoppers chimed in and a few even posed for me.

CERange Map for Grasshopper Sparrow

A few Eastern Meadowlark also made an appearance.

I tried to find a Grasshopper Sparrow a little further north for my Pima County list without any luck.  But I did enjoy the views of the mountains.

Patagonia Mountains
Whetstone Mountains
 All in all it was a much needed soul-satisfying day.