Thursday, September 8, 2016

Newtonian Fall-Out: Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel

     Earlier this week a former hurricane named Newton made land-fall on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. The path was forecast to carry it into Sonora and then across the border into Arizona. Birders in the Southeastern part of the state were ready to see what the storm would blow in, but nobody expected what really happened. The AZNM Listserv came alive with announcements of Storm-Petrels and Shearwaters at Patagonia Lake State Park. And then at water treatment ponds closer to Tucson and finally Petrels and other seabirds were seen flying over yards. Since I was up in Gilbert and was responsible for getting the kids to and from school, there was no way that I could make the trip down and resigned myself to watching the emails and looking at photos on Facebook.
     But that changed Thursday morning when a report of a Storm-Petrel at a suburban park's pond came over the listserv. It was so close, barely a dozen miles from me, and hundreds of miles from the other reports. I was literally walking into my son's preschool to collect him when I saw the message. The only problem was that Thursday was his gymnastics day, which was bad news. The good news was that it was closer to where the bird was located. I wracked my brain thinking of ways to get out of taking him to gymnastics to twitch the bird, but being an adult with responsibilities can suck. So I got him lunch and loaded the van with my camera and scope for after gymnastics.
     I spent the next 90 minutes pacing and waiting for him to finish up while watching my inbox like a junkie. As far as I knew the bird was dying. That the animal rehabbers were on their way to collect it. That it had flown off to try and find the ocean. I hurried my son out of class and into the van, barely getting his shoes on and took off for Mesa. We found the park near the Cubs' spring training facilities and quickly spotted an dozen-odd birders looking at the bigger pond there. My son and I hurried up and as easy as pie, saw the bird on the water.

Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona, USA
     It was very close to shore and the only bird on the water. The shape was clearly Storm-Petrel despite me only seeing them in guidebooks, none of which of mine had this bird in them. Someone there identified it as a Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel, named for the white patch above it's tail, seen below, and certainly a county record, if not state and ABA.

Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona, USA

     The bird seemed fine to everyone there. We watched it preen and then fly around and maybe even feed on something. It would fly off when the crowd of shore-bound birders would grow too large. But my son and I watched it for a solid 15 minutes before it was time for us to leave.
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona, USA

Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona, USA


Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona, USA


Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona, USA
     Ah, seeing that bird in a park in front of a bench blows me away! This bird nests on the Galapagos Islands. What an amazing day. My son had fun going on our little adventure and now I want to see even more seabirds, maybe even on the ocean next time.

Cheers!


Monday, August 22, 2016

Madera Canyon - Elegant Trogon

     I've had a fairly busy Summer. Not as much birding as I'd like, but yesterday I got to get away for the day run down to Madera Canyon in Pima County, south of Tucson. I've been there 3 times before looking for Elegant Trogons to no avail. But I've always been there later in the day. But I was up at at 3am for some reason, an hour earlier than my alarm even, so I got my gear together and hit the road. I still didn't get there until after the Sun was up. 
     I noticed a few birds along the road leading to Madera Canyon, so I stopped for a few minutes to see if a Black-Chinned Sparrow would appear, or better yet, a Five-Striped Sparrow. But none of those were around, but I got to see a bunch of Cactus Wrens on the back-lit side of the road and a Black-Throated Sparrow and Ladder-Backed Woodpecker on the side with better light.
Black-Throated Sparrow and Ladder-Backed Woodpecker
Black-Throated Sparrow and Ladder-Backed Woodpecker - Pima County, Arizona
     I continued into the canyon and drove past the various lodges until I reached the end and trailhead for the Carrie Nation Trail. I made a quick detour across the stream to check on the Pygmy Owl nest that I saw on my last trip, but it appeared empty. All this time I was surrounded by the dog-toy squeaks of Sulphur-Bellied Flycatchers. There were a half-dozen or so and a few of them seemed to be juveniles. 

Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher
Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher - Madera Canyon, Pima County Arizona

Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher
Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher - Madera Canyon, Pima County Arizona

      I crossed back over to the main trail and continued on my way. I knew that some Trogons were recently reported where the trail crossed the stream, a few hundred feet further up. I didn't get too far before I ran into a trio of birders coming down and I asked them if they had seen any Elegant Trogons. They said yes, and pointed over my head!

Elegant Trogon
Elegant Trogon - Madera Canyon, Pima County Arizona
     Finally, after 8 or 10 different visits looking them, one was right over my head. And then I saw another one fly in next to the first. They both quickly flew back up the trail.

Elegant Trogon
Elegant Trogon - Madera Canyon, Pima County Arizona
     One of the birders ended up being from Pittsburgh and out for the week with his wife, who was further up the trail. He had a canon 500mm and offered to let me put my 7d mkII body on it for a few shots. The angle wasn't the best, but wow, what a difference over my 300mm.

Elegant Trogon
Elegant Trogon - Madera Canyon, Pima County Arizona
     We followed the Trogons as they continued back up the trail. It appeared like they were gleaning insects off of leaves. They would fly up to the ends of leaves, stop in mid-air, and then continue on a bit to a roost. It was amazing the looks that we were getting.
     One was certainly a male, which I got a great look at. And I also met my least-favorite branch in all of the world...

Elegant Trogon
Elegant Trogon - Madera Canyon, Pima County Arizona
     Even better than a pair of Elegant Trogons are three of them. Near this male were 2 together on a branch.
     
Elegant Trogons
Pair of Elegant Trogons - Madera Canyon, Pima Country Arizona
     What an experience. These are some great looking birds and with their greens and reddish-pink colors. 

Elegant Trogon
Elegant Trogon - Madera Canyon, Pima Country Arizona
    I'm still on a rush after finally seeing these birds. And I have some more photos on my Flickr page. I wasn't done with Madera Canyon, the real reason that I drove down to Madera Canyon was to twitch a hummingbird. But I'll post those photos in a separate blog post.

Thanks for making it this far,

Cheers.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Tres Rios Wetlands - Glossy Ibis

     I recently had a day to go birding, so I decided to look for Yellow-Billed Cuckoos. The closest reports to me were west of Phoenix along the Salt River. I chose the Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands as I'd been there before and I knew the area a bit. This is where the City of Phoenix cleans the water that it releases back into various rivers. A permit is needed to visit, and can be obtained via email, details can be found following this link
     The majority of the wetlands are located behind a fence and only a bit of the larger ponds are visible from the road that you can walk along. Here you can see some ducks, cormorants and waders. One of the birds that are regulars are American White Pelicans, there was a group of a dozen or so there even in Summer.
American White Pelicans
American White Pelicans - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona
     You can see the fence in this photo. This is from a higher vantage point, most views aren't as nice. This place really needs a raised hide like the type found throughout Europe. 
     I noticed a large bird sitting in a far off tree. By the time I got a closer for a look it had flown, but I managed to see that it was an Osprey.
Osprey
Osprey - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona
     It flew near another larger looking bird sitting in a different Cottonwood. The view that I got made me think that there was a pair of Osprey. And when the bird flew off holding a fish in it's talons head first, I really thought that it was another Osprey. But once it got closer I was surprised to see that it was an adult Bald Eagle carrying a sunfish or maybe a bass.

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona
     Along the fence at Tres Rios, there is the overflow area. Water pours through a weir under the fence and runs parallel to it. This feeds long, thick patches of reeds and cattails. They are filled with Red-Winged Blackbirds, Sora, Rails, Herons, Great-Tailed Grackles and Common Yellow-Throats. At the end of this stream is another weir with a large pond behind. I noticed some Coots out in some low vegetation with something else lower in the leaves. They were Green Herons stalking prey. I counted 6 for sure, but there could have been half again as many in there. 

Green Herons
Green Herons - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona
      Like I mentioned before, it was hot and I was feeling it. But I wanted to get to a series of smaller ponds where I thought tent worms and Yellow-Billed Cuckoos would be found. But I ended up never seeing or hearing any. I did take a short break in one of the few bits of shade where I watched a Common Gallinule leave one of the smaller ponds and enter the next one down-stream. 
   
Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona
     There were so many Dragonflies everywhere. I saw some small amberwing dragonflies, which I thought were hornets at first. 


Amberwing Dragonfly
Amberwing Dragonfly - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix Arizona
     And so many Blue Dashers.

Blue Dasher Dragonfly
Blue Dasher Dragonfly - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona

     I also got some close looks at some Black-Tailed Gnatcatchers (I initially ID'd these at BGGN due to their eye-rings and non-black tails. But the white eye-stripe is better for female BTGN - Steve), which I thought were Verdin when I first saw them. The one I saw looked a bit worn and ready for some new feathers.
Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona

     At this point I was running low on water and pretty sure that I was too late to hear any Cuckoos, so I headed back to the car. I made it back to the large pond at the end of the fence and took a short break there. I was looking for the Green Herons, and hoping for a Sora or Rail, when I saw a lone Ibis foraging. I had seen a flock fly into the big lakes inside of the fence on my walk out. The common Ibis for Arizona and the west are White-Faced Ibis, which I assumed this one was. But as I was observing through my binoculars I didn't notice any pale areas on the face. And I noticed lots of green highlights on the feathers without any of the rusty colors from a WFIB. It was a Glossy Ibis! I have been looking for one in the western USA for years.
     I didn't have my scope with me, I don't carry that and my camera usually, so I took some time watching it and taking as many photos as I could. The bird was far off, but I managed some good shots.
     
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona
    I cropped the photos a bit more to try and get a clear shot of the face. 

Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix, Arizona

     I didn't see pale skin anywhere. And a White-Faced Ibis would have a red iris on the eye, no matter the age. This bird was black with no signs of red tint. I adjusted the crop and shadows in Lightroom to show the face as best I could.
Glossy Ibis
Glossy Ibis - Tres Rios Wetlands, Phoenix Arizona
     Finally, after looking at so many Ibises in New Mexico and Arizona, a Glossy Ibis. This is the default Ibis in Europe and I had seen hundreds and hundreds in Portugal and chased a few in Ireland, but this was my first tick in the USA. It's not the most rare bird for Arizona, but they only show up every few years. All in all a good day despite dipping on Cuckoos.


What to know
The wetlands are located 20 minutes west of Phoenix. Take the 91st Ave exit from I-10 and go south towards the Salt River. The parking area is on the west (right) side of the road before a closed gate and a sign. Please do not block the gate.

Tres Rios Overbank Wetlands are a private area and a permit is required to visit, simply send an email and you should get a response in a day or 2. You can find where to get on here. The majority of the water is off-limits behind a fence, but views can be made from service roads nearby.

A list of the birds that you can expect to see can be found at the eBird hotspot page and at the wonderful Hotspot Birding

Thanks for making it this far, 

Cheers




Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pine Flycatcher - First ABA Record

     On May 30th Dave Stejskal made a post on the Arizona/New Mexico listserv describing a bird that he noticed while camping with his family in a remote part of teh Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson. After taking some fellow experts out to the location they all agreed that Dave had found the first record of a Pine Flycatcher in the United States. There was quite a discussion about the bird in birding circles and people really wanted to see it, but it's location was at the end of a very rough and difficult road. Lucky for me, a local birder was offering people rides out to see it, for a fee. I took advantage of my parents visiting and scheduled a spot for an early-morning ride out to Aliso Springs.
Santa Rita Mountains - Pima County, Arizona
     I met Garrey the driver and a birder who traveled out from California and another from nearby Sierra Vista to see the bird. The road was really terrible and I am really glad that I didn't try taking any of my cars out there. But after 45 minutes we finally made it to the campground where the Pine Flycatcher had built it's nest and was continuing. The bird wasn't found until ten or fifteen minutes after arriving.
Aliso Springs - Pima County, Arizona
    We found what was probably the nest early on, and spread out to try and see the bird out foraging.
     
Pine Flycatcher
Pine Flycatcher Nest - Aliso Springs, Pima County, Arizona
     Finally the bird was spotted at the base of the nearby hillside. We watched it for a bit before agreeing that is was indeed the flycatcher that we were looking for. 

Pine Flycatcher
Pine Flycatcher - Aliso Springs, Pima County, Arizona
     We stood around watching it visit the nest and then fly off, then fly back over and over for close to an hour. At one point it flew in and landed on a branch just 5 feet away from me, I was able to get a good look at the bright yellow lower-mandible.

Pine Flycatcher
Pine Flycatcher - Aliso Springs, Pima County, Arizona
     What an amazing bird to see, and my second first ABA record bird. I got to see the Rufous-Necked Wood Rail in New Mexico a few years ago. After watching the bird come and go, a few of us walked back down the road a bit to try and see if an Aztec Thrush spotted a few days earlier was still around. It wasn't, but I did see a Sulphur-Bellied Flycather perched up in a tree, but flew off before I could get a shot off, my second lifer tick of the day. We loaded back up into our ride's truck and he took us back down to where we had parked.
    It was still fairly early, so I decided to do a bit more birding on my way back to the Phoenix area. Just across the road from where I had parked I spotted some Botteri's Sparrows in some shrubs.

Bonetti's Sparrow
Botteri's Sparrow - Pima County, Arizona
     There were some Cassin's Kingbirds flying around along with some House Finches and a Red-Tailed Hawk flew past. I had enough time to stop by Madera Canyon on my way, which was fairly close to the Pine Flycatcher spot on a map.  I took some back roads through Box Canyon where I saw some Eastern Meadolarks, a Swainson's Hawk and Turkey Vultures. Box Canyon and the grasslands leading to Madera Canyon wasn't very busy, so I drove right to the Santa Rita Lodge
     There had been some rare hummingbirds reported recently, but nothing recently. I did get to see a nice male Scott's Oriole visit the feeders. 

Scott's Oriole
Scott's Oriole - Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona
     The other usual birds were about: Lesser Goldfinches, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, White-Winged and Mouring Doves, Black-Headed Grosbeaks, Great-Tailed Grackles, Acorn Woodpeckers, House Finches, Broad-Billed, Black-Headed and a few Magnificent Hummingbirds and Blue Grosbeaks were all busily feeding. But then I saw a small Woodpecker towards the back. It was brown colored and could only be an Arizona Woodpecker! A surprise and a lifer for me.

Arizona Woodpecker
Arizona Woodpecker - Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona
     But that wasn't the only new bird for me. Some blue and red birds were foraging in dead trees below me. A fellow birder, a Frenchman visiting from Oregon, confirmed that they were Varied Buntings, at least 3 males where there.


Varied Bunting
Varied Bunting - Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona
     And I finally got some good shots of a Bridled Titmouse in good light.

Bridled Titmouse
Bridled Titmouse - Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona
     You are asked to only stay at the lodge feeders for 30 minutes, so I decided to head up canyon and see if I could find any Elegant Trogons, despite it being the wrong time of day for them. I've said before that these are my new nemesis birds and they continued by not making an appearance or a sound for me once again. But I met a couple hiking who pointed out a Northern Pygmy Owl nest in a sycamore tree. I waited for a full 30 minutes for one of the adults to either leave or arrive, but they were being homebodies this day. I had to settle for a shot of one peeking out and somehow seeing me standing on the other side of the canyon.

Northern Pygmy Owl
Northern Pygmy Owl - Upper Madera Canyon, Arizona. 
     Just seeing the Pine Flycatcher was the highlight of my day, but I got to add some other lifers to my list and see some old favorites too. It was another great day in Arizona, a true birders paradise. 

Thanks for making it this far,

Cheers!

Extras: Read more on the historical significance of the Pine Flycatcher here and here. The location of Aliso Springs can be found on eBird here. And once again, the lovely Santa Rita Lodge is one of the many great places to stop in Madera Canyon. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

South East Arizona part 2: Slate-Throated Redstart and More

     In my last post, found here, I talked about the first part of my visit to the Southeastern corner of Arizona, centered around Sierra Vista. There were 2 rare birds that I wanted to twitch, Tufted Flycatcher and Slate-Throated Redstart. I got the Tufted Flycatcher the first day, and planned on driving East to the Chiricahuas and the Redstart, on the second. Or course there were other birds to see, and this part of the state is the Hummingbird Capital of the USA. 
     There are a few people in the area who host hummingbird feeders at their B&Bs or just their house. You can pay a nominal fee, $5 or sugar, to sit and watch for a bit. I stopped by the Beatty's Guest Ranch in lower Miller Canyon in Hereford. They have a few feeders with bleachers nearby and have been the home of some very rare hummingbirds in the past. The day that I went they only had the usual suspects: Broad-Billed, Black-Chinned and Magnificent Hummingbirds. 
Broad-Billed Hummingbird
Broad-Billed Hummingbird - Miller Canyon, Arizona
     They also have Spotted Owls on their property, I was giving directions up the canyon to where they were seen the day before, but I spent an hour scanning every tree and never saw them. I'm thinking that I wasn't up far enough. Instead I went below their property a bit and got to see a Northern Goshawk nest.

Northern Goshawk Chick
Northern Goshawk Chick - Miller Canyon, Arizona
     I saw just the one chick, but it was hidden very well and there could have been another. I didn't want to get any closer because (I'm assuming) dad was watching out from a nearby tree.

Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk - Miller Canyon, Arizona
     The Sun was setting and I had a bit of a drive ahead of me, so I hopped into the van and drove east towards Tombstone. I was surprised by the amount of wildlife on the road. I saw foxes, coyotes, javelinas, Lesser Nighthawks, mice and 4 rattlesnakes. I stopped to let one get across, these were the first wild rattlesnakes that I've seen.
     I finally made it into the Chiricahuas and drove over the worst washboard roads that I've ever been on. Fillings barely intact I drove by the Slate-Throated Redstart stake-out looking for a campground that was supposed to be just a mile or 2 away. I never found one and instead spent a restless night on a wide-part of the road. I wanted to be up before dawn since that's when the bird has been seen reliably, so the alarm came early. I had just short drive downhill to the location and I was there before 5am. It was already light and I sat waiting. There was supposedly a nest located beside the road and a hand "STRE" sign was scrawled on a rock. I sat there waiting and waiting but not much of anything was happening. I made my way next to a bush in order to get a better view to where I thought was the nest location when a bird appeared right next to me and starting screeching away. I got a glimpse of a plain, dark upper with a yellow belly. It looked like a juvenile Slate-Throated Redstart to me. I never managed a photo before it disappeared again. I stood around for another 90 minutes without another look. I walked back to my van for some breakfast and to wait for the Sun to make a proper appearance.
     I walked back down to the spot around 7:30am and it was much busier now. There were some Painted Redstarts, Hutton's Vireos, House Wrens and Yellow-Eyed Juncos flying and calling about. 

Yellow-Eyed Vireo
Yellow-Eyed Junco - Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona
     At this time a van pulled up, too close to the nest location in my opinion, and a tour group of birders from Florida exited. They spread out looking for the bird, and anything else around. Then, just a minute or 2 later, I saw the Slate-Throated Redstart fly off and up the hillside from the road. We waited patiently and a few moments later it came down into the trees on the inside of the horseshoe bend and jumped around inside of some pine trees.

Slate-Throated Redstart
Slate-Throated Redstart - Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona
     It never sat still long enough to get a really nice shot, but it did take the time to tell us what he really thinks about everyone bothering him.

Slate-Throated Redstart
Slate-Throated Redstart - Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona
     Supposedly there are 2 different STREs present, but nobody has had photos of 2 at the same time.  I was satisfied with the looks that I had and the photos were good enough for a bird that can't stand still and sit outside of the shadows.
     Instead of turning towards home, I thought that I would head towards the Southwestern Research Station, which is run by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. They supposedly had some Blue-Throated Hummingbirds which I have wanted to see. And also the chance of seeing Elegant Trogons in the area. So I continued further into the mountains and further away from mobile phone signal and access to Google Maps (stupid me didn't have a paper one).
     When I got to the research station, which is in a beautiful location and was really busy with people. I found the hummingbird feeders which were also really busy. Most of the Hummingbirds were Magnificents and Black-Chinned, but a few Blue-Throated were there too. These are another large hummingbird, 2nd in size only to the Magnificent that are found in the USA.    

Blue-Throated and Magnificent  Hummingbirds
Blue-Throated and Magnificent Hummingbirds - Southwestern Research Station, Portal Arizona
     Here's a good size comparison, Magnificent on the left and Black-Chinned on the right.

Magnificent (L) and Black-Chinned Hummingbirds
Magnificent (L) and Black-Chinned (R) Hummingbirds - Southwestern Research Station, Portal Arizona
     The Blue-Throated Hummingbird were great to see. They would fly in making "peep" sounds.

Blue-Throated Hummingbird
Blue-Throated Hummingbird - Southwestern Research Station, Portal Arizona
       If you couldn't tell any other way, the BTHU have nice white eye-stripes or ears on the sides of their heads, but are much larger than a White-Eared Hummingbird would be.

Blue-Throated Hummingbird
Blue-Throated Hummingbird - Southwestern Research Station, Portal Arizona
     Not to focus and the larger ones, the Black-Chinned Hummingbirds are great to watch too.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird (female)
Black-Chinned Hummingbird - Southwestern Research Center, Portal Arizona
     Since I was in the area I decided to visit the South Fork trail to try and see Elegant Trogon. One of the Florida birders that I met earlier said that they were there and saw 4 or 5, with one right from the carpark. Well, I made the drive and ended up not seeing or hearing any (seriously, the glove has been dropped Elegant Trogons!). But along the drive in I saw an American Redstart fly into the trees from the roadside, which gave me three Redstart species in one morning (Slate-Throated and Painted earlier)! And on my hike up the South Fork trail, which is in the bottom of a lovely canyon, I added a lifer, Rufous-Crowned Sparrow.

Rufous-Crowned Sparrow
Rufous-Crowned Sparrow - South Fork Trail, Portal Arizona
     Still having no access to data, and thus a map, I drove further East into Portal Arizona. At this point I was really tired, and a bit birded out. So I stopped at a tiny diner/convenience store and had some lunch and got directions back to the Interstate. Which oddly enough took me into New Mexico for a stretch, my first visit back since moving away 2 years ago. It was a long drive back towards home, but a successful 2 days birding. I would end up seeing 62 species with 6 lifers seen, and 2 of those ABA code 5 birds. The Sierra Vista and Chiricahua areas are beautiful locations that I can't wait to visit again.




And here's a link to some information to birding around Portal Arizona.

If you do plan on visiting the area, then I recommend finding a copy of the very handy book: Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona sold by the Tucson Audubon Society. 

As always, thanks for making it this far.

And I'd like to wish a happy 4th birthday to my son Benny!!! 

Cheers!