Sunday, January 4, 2015

Winter Break Birding

I've been able to get out and do some birding the past couple of weeks.  I started off by chasing longspurs and a Fulvous Whistling-Duck in Buckeye with the new Arizona Big Year record holder Laurens Halsey.  He needed Lapland Longspur for the year and I needed McCown's Longspur.  The longspurs were found by a young birder named Caleb.  We searched for a couple hours through dozens of Horned Larks without locating them.  Our luck and timing were bad because Caleb spotted them later in the day after we had left.  The duck was also a no-show.  However, we did see this nice hawk for a few seconds before it took off...

Ferruginous Hawk
...and this harrier.

Northern Harrier- photo by Laurens Halsey
We also saw 125 Long-billed Curlew and 179 Killdeer, a high count for the year (at the time) for Maricopa County.  Even though we missed our target birds, it was a great day of birding with Laurens.

A few days later I went to Florida Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains to look for a Gray Catbird.  It was cold in the canyon when I arrived and there was little bird activity.  After an hour of waiting, the catbird made a brief appearance and then disappeared.  Lifer, MEOW!

Gray Catbird
CERange Map for Gray Catbird

The only other cooperative bird was this sparrow that perched out in the open despite the wind.

Rufous-winged Sparrow
On New Year's Day we woke up to snow on the ground in Tucson!

photo courtesy
I decided to chase three would-be county birds: Eastern Bluebird, Wilson's Snipe, and Eastern Phoebe.  The snipe was the most common bird I still needed for my county list.  I had seen 338 species in the county without seeing a snipe, how embarrassing.  So I headed out to the Santa Cruz River at Ina Road where they're known to be in the winter.  It didn't take long before I flushed one along the water.  Finally!  Getting a decent photo of one is another story.

Next I was off to Fort Lowell Park to look for Eastern Bluebirds.  A few of the regulars made appearances.

Belted Kingfisher

Northern Mockingbird

Phainopepla female

Phainopepla male

Red-tailed Hawk
Then I spotted eight bluebirds.  They moved around a lot but most of them were Eastern Bluebirds with a couple westerns mixed in.  The easterns are rare in Pima County but were found on the Tucson Valley Christmas Bird Count not too far from this park.

Eastern Bluebird male

Eastern Bluebird female
CERange Map for Eastern Bluebird

I also photographed a handsome male Ladder-backed Woodpecker.  By luck it was chosen for Flickr Eplore.  At least this one's better than my other one that was chosen in September.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
Next I headed to Sabino Canyon to look for an Eastern Phoebe.  I spent almost an hour looking for it above the dam but only saw four species and no phoebe.  Bummer!  But I did see a few cooperative birds on the hike to the dam.

Cedar Waxwing

Western Bluebird female

Western Bluebird male

Western Bluebird & Lesser Goldfinch

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
It was a great way to begin the New Year.  In 2015 I hope to continue to add to my county list.  Here are ten I'm hoping for from most to least possible:

1. Grasshopper Sparrow- breed near the county line
2. Juniper Titmouse- uncommon in Reddington Pass
3. Winter Wren- one currently in Florida Canyon
4. Flammulated Owl- Catalina Mountains
5. Cassin's Finch- been seen recently in the Catalinas
6. Black Tern- maybe
7. Common Black Hawk- fat chance
8. Ferruginous Hawk- yeah right
9. Long-billed Curlew- not likely
10. Eurasian Wigeon- ha

Hope you're off to a great new year of birding!