Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Tucson Tremor and a Marbled Godwit

Some things in Tucson never change in June, like 100+ degree temperatures.  But in the last few days we've had two very rare occurrences.  Bird wise, on Thursday morning this Marbled Godwit was found at Kennedy Lake.

It's a rare bird for Pima County.  In fact, it's my first one in the county.  And it's extremely rare for June.  Before this bird I'd only seen three in Arizona, all on different occasions at Lake Cochise in Willcox.  I've seen a bunch in California and always enjoy watching them.  It's there beautiful patterning and long bi-colored bill that I like the most.  To the dismay of many birders, this bird was a one-day wonder.
Last night I experienced something I've never felt in my 36 years living in Tucson, a tremor!  There was a 5.2 magnitude earthquake in Greenlee County just east of Safford, AZ at 10:00 pm.  This is about 150 miles east of Tucson.  I was watching TV when my bed began to shake and a few things rattled in the drawer of the bedside table for about 15 seconds.  What a shock!  I wonder if it startled the birds?  I've felt a couple earthquakes in California while on vacation, but I never expected to feel one here.  If you're from California you're undoubtedly laughing at this entire post.  You probably don't even flinch at what I felt.  Only Tucsonans would get excited over a Marbled Godwit and a little earthquake.  It's also the same city where schools closed a few years ago because of an inch of snow.  So California, you're not the only state that's laughed at us before about birds and forces of nature.

Now neighbors will have something more to talk about other than the blasted heat and why you're pointing binoculars at their house.  Read and see more about the Tucson Tremor here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mexican Chickadees On My Mind

I finally decided after many years of procrastination to try for the Mexican Chickadee in the Chiricahua Mountains.  My only excuse for not trying sooner is that the Catalina and Santa Rita Mountains are much closer to me and have similar birds.  But these tiny birds don't live in these mountain ranges.  They can only be seen in the US in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona and the Animas Mountains of southwestern New Mexico.

I got an early start on Sunday morning and reached Lake Cochise in Willcox by 6 a.m.  I was hoping to find the Snowy Plover that had been there for a couple weeks.  No luck.  There were a few California and Ring-billed Gulls, rare this time of year and difficult to tell apart in similar plumage.

I did finally manage to get a mediocre photo of a Scaled Quail.

Scaled Quail
No offense to the quail, I wondered if that was going to be the highlight of the day.  Near the golf course Cassin's Kingbirds were singing sweet nothings to one another.

Cassin's Kingbird
Black-necked Stilts were chilling in the shallows.

Black-necked Stilt
The nice thing was I didn't have to get out of my car for these shots.  I was on a mission, on to the Chiricahuas!

Pinery Canyon
As the trees transitioned from oaks to pines, I slowed down and listened for the chickadee's buzzy call.  After the second one-lane bridge I thought I heard it.  I got out of the car and there it was!  I couldn't believe it.  As I watched I noticed there were at least three birds.  They were difficult to photograph, so I spent a while trying to get a good shot.  Unfortunately I never got a great one, but here are a few.

Mexican Chickadee
I feel extremely lucky to have seen them, I'm told they're tough to find this time of year.  As the birds moved on, I continued walking down the road.  Western Tanagers were singing all along the canyon.  Bridled Titmice were tough to photograph too.

Bridled Titmouse
I drove down the road and all was very quiet until something caught my attention crossing the road, a Montezuma Quail!

female Montezuma Quail
As the female crossed the road I looked ahead to see if there was a male with her.  There was, my luck continued!

male Montezuma Quail
This was only the second time I'd ever seen this species and this was a much better look than when I saw a pair in the Santa Ritas.  Satisfied with two awesome sightings, I headed out of the canyon.  I stopped at Lake Cochise again to check if anything new had arrived.  There were many more White-faced Ibis, now 34.  And 42 Long-billed Curlews had showed up, the most I'd ever seen.

Long-billed Curlew
It was another amazing day in Southeast Arizona!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

San Carlos, Sonora, MX Day 4

On my last morning in San Carlos I decided to check a pond behind Blackie's Restaurant that I had read about on another blog.  The pond isn't visible from the main road through town because of vegetation so I never would have seen it.  I parked in a dirt lot west of the restaurant.  I noticed some people had set up their home in between the pond and the lot, so I decided to walk the long way around.  They stared at me and I'm sure wondered what the heck I was doing.  I didn't take a lot of photos since I was by myself and kept my camera hidden in a bag most of the time.  This was the only time I felt a little nervous while in Mexico.  I did manage a shot of one of the 21 Bonaparte's Gulls I found there.

Gaviota de Bonaparte - Bonaparte's Gull
I also saw three Lesser Scaup, a Laughing Gull, Inca Doves, and lots of Northern Rough-winged Swallows.  If you ever go here, I suggest parking along Camino de los Seris north of the pond along the golf course.

Back at the condo I had my best views of Blue-footed Booby.

Bobo de Patas Azules - Blue-footed  Booby
I also witnessed a couple frigatebirds and a gull harassing a tern with a fish.  It was quite a show!

But the real show came about an hour later when I witnessed a massive feeding frenzy, something I've never seen from shore.  There were cormorants, Brown Pelicans, Yellow-footed Gulls, Heermann's Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls, Magnificent Frigatebirds, Blue-footed Boobies, Elegant and Royal Terns.

I watched the video on a big screen hoping to find a storm-petrel or shearwater, but I didn't have any luck.  Overall it was a wonderful trip with four lifers seen along with lots of other wonderful birds.  One year I hope to go back in the winter when more species are around and maybe go out on a boat.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

San Carlos, Sonora, MX Day 3

I could get used to seeing this every morning!

Mt. Tetakawi
The first bird I heard that morning on day 3 was a Tropical Kingbird.  It was hanging out by the pool.

Tirano Tropical - Tropical Kingbird
But the resident Great Kiskadee was not to be out done.

Luis Grande - Great Kiskadee
A nice male Hooded Oriole put in his two cents.

Bolsero Enmascarado - Hooded Oriole
Add to that more Yellow Warblers and I was seeing yellow!

Chipe Amarillo - Yellow "Mangrove" Warbler
This was the only Royal Tern that I saw in breeding plumage with a complete black head.

Charran Real - Royal Tern
A Snowy Egret stalked the shallows nearby.  It's Spanish name translates to "Golden-toed Egret".

Garza de Dedos Dorados - Snowy Egret
I had seen a few Reddish Egrets fly by the condo, but never got a decent shot of them.  Here is a distant shot of one from the estuary that morning.

Garza Rojiza - Reddish Egret
I still had not refound a White Ibis from the first day or my most wanted bird, a Roseate Spoonbill.  So in the afternoon I decided to check a different section of the estuary to the north.  Right away I found a winter-type Forster's Tern and an oystercatcher.  Then far off in the distance I saw some pink!

Espatula Rosada - Roseate Spoonbill
I had to almost stand in the mud to get the angle needed to see this bird but it was worth it to see this lifer.  I was grateful for my newer 10x binoculars.  Interestingly it's being photo-bombed by a Great Egret and I believe a plover.  While looking at it I also discovered a Clapper Rail, something I didn't expect to see there.

I also had what I thought was another Forster's Tern with more black on the head fly by, so I took one shot of it.  When I looked back towards the spoonbill, it was gone, so the tern was quickly forgotten in my attempt to relocate the spoonbill.  I wish I would have paid more attention to it because after checking the photos later I noticed black legs and a black bill, so I'm wondering if this was a Common Tern?  The bill looks too thin to me for Gull-billed Tern and I'm leaning towards Common, but I have limited experience with these smaller terns.

unknown tern
Any thoughts on this bird?

Friday, June 6, 2014

Elegant Tern

This morning an Elegant Tern was found at Reid Park only 7 miles away from my home.  When I arrived it was hanging out and caught a couple fish.  Two weeks ago, one was also found at Patagonia Lake.  It's a rare bird for AZ with only 15 previous records.  It's even more rare for Pima County.  I hope it survives the forecasted 104 degree heat!

CERange Map for Elegant Tern

Sunday, June 1, 2014

San Carlos, Sonora, MX Day 2

With a great afternoon on day one, I was excited to get out early to visit the estuary, Estero El Soldado.  There were plenty of pelicans around, my favorite bird to watch cruise low over the water.

Pelicano Pardo - Brown Pelican
A few Willets were on the beach.  I'm used to seeing them in dull winter plumage in California, so it was nice to see this individual sporting its slightly fancier outfit.  I love the Spanish name of this bird, Playero Pihuihui, referring to its call and where it hangs out (playa = beach).  In English its call is usually thought of as pill-will-willet.

Playero Pihuihui - Willet
The terns were making a lot of noise at the mouth of the estuary.  I was glad to see a Black-bellied Plover pop into view over the sand, with an actual black belly.

Elegant Terns with a few Royals, Black-bellied Plover, and Snowy Egret
Elegant Terns greatly outnumbered Royal and Caspian Terns.  My favorite thing was watching the Elegant Terns' courtship flight, a very impressive flight display.

Charran Elegante - Elegant Tern
Thankfully the Royal Terns were still in non-breeding plumage with a white forehead so I was able to get pretty good at telling them apart from the Elegants, even without binoculars.

Charran Real - Royal Tern
After watching the terns for a while and failing to get a closer look at a White Ibis, I walked back along the mangroves hoping to see the mangrove subspecies of Yellow Warbler.  They did not disappoint.  Right away I had a pair respond to pishing.  I think it's safe to assume this little guy is an immature male, but guide books don't show this plumage.

Chipe Amarillo - "Mangrove Warbler" 
The female, not shown in guide books either, was a light yellow with a touch of rust on the crown.

Chipe Amarillo - "Mangrove Warbler"
Further along, a gorgeous adult male put on a show at close range.

It's interesting to note that I never get eye-level, close range looks of this species in Arizona.  I'm lucky to see them at all, usually only hearing them high up in the trees.

Another bird that's hard to get long, good looks of is the cardinal.  They never let me get close enough for a decent photo.  This one was found between the mangroves and the beach in some desert scrub.

Cardenal Norteno - Northern Caridinal
Back near the condo I spotted this nice male oriole.  Its Spanish name makes much more sense.  Bolsero Enmascarado means "masked basket-maker" which refers to the basket-shaped nests it builds and its black mask.  I think the black mask on this bird is the distinguishing mark and is worthy of being part of the name, not the orange hood.

Bolsero Enmascadero - Hooded Oriole
Frigatebirds in different plumage could be found throughout the day cruising over the condos.  They never get old to watch and photograph.

Fragata Magnifica - Magnificent Frigatebird
Some day I hope to see one displaying his big red throat balloon.

I went back to the estuary in the late afternoon to see what was different from the morning.  I was excited to see this Whimbrel feeding along the edge of the water.

Zarapito Trinador - Whimbrel
Then I heard a couple Laughing Gulls approaching, a lifer!

Gaviota Reidora - Laughing Gull
There were two pair that were constantly "laughing."  I love the transition of the underwing from gray to black.

Another new bird from the morning was this oystercatcher.  Previously I had only seen them at a distance on a San Diego pelagic to Islas Coronados, so it was a treat to watch one feed at close range.

Ostrero Americano - American Oystercatcher
I wish I had an estuary next door to check every day!  Winter would be a great time to be here when more shorebirds would be expected.  Stay tuned for more from this trip!  Hopefully you won't have to wait so long for the next installment.