Friday, November 11, 2016

Autumn in Arizona

It has been a busy Autumn for me, unfortunately, I haven't been able to get out birding very often with the kids playing baseball on Saturday mornings. But I have been out here and there. And maybe 30% of my photos have been of butterflies lately, they have been great recently. But here's a bit of a highlight reel of October and half of November.

I took my kids to the Desert Botanical Garden in early October. We were looking for a Great Horned Owl that hangs out there, but we picked the day that the were hanging Christmas lights, so no owls were around. But we did get some close views of some Cactus Wrens.

Cactus Wren
Cactus Wren - Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix AZ
This Gambel's Quail was actually running up and trying to steal crumbs from us at lunch. I've never seen or heard that before. They are usually running as far away as possible from people.
Gambel's Quail
Gambel's Quail - Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix AZ
After the gardens we stopped at Kiwanis Park in Tempe Arizona to show my daughter some Rosy-Faced Lovebirds. But they had a special friend with them that I was not expecting, a Budgerigar! This was an escaped pet while the Lovebirds have a healthy feral population in Phoenix, over 3000!

Budgerigar and Lovebirds
Rosy-Faced Lovebirds and escaped Budgerigar - Tempe, Arizona
Towards the end of October I was up early on a Sunday and made the 90 minute drive to Tucson to visit Sweetwater Wetlands again. There had been a Baltimore Oriole there each winter and I wanted a photo. Plus there were reports of many Sora, so I thought that I would try my luck with them again.
I got some nice views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler foraging in the scrub.

Orange-Crowned Warbler
Orange-Crowned Warbler - Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson AZ
I had been hearing Sora calling everywhere, but I really wanted a peek, or even better photos. I was sitting at the gazebo near the main pond and was scanning the edge of the reeds when I saw a very small bird just at the edge at the far end of the pond. It was easy to ID as a Sora, a lifer for me. It was much smaller than I expected to see, and probably why I haven't seen it until this point. It shortly disappeared and I was getting up when I saw another Sora just beside me! Wow, when it rains it pours.

Sora - Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson AZ
I never did get to see the Baltimore Oriole that is being seen there, so I made my way home.

There is a cornfield near my house and this has turned into quite the little hotspot, especially for Northern Harriers. I almost always see one gliding over the cornrows and decided to walk over with my camera one late afternoon. It wasn't long before I saw one flying by.

Northern Harrer
Northern Harrier - Gilbert, AZ
This area is also frequented by Red-Tailed Hawks, American Kestrels, Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds, the occasional Osprey or Peregrine Falcon. Turkey Vultures are also always overhead, but that day I spotted a lonely Black Vulture. Not rare, but not common either.
Black Vulture
Black Vulture - Gilbert, AZ 

Monday, October 10, 2016

ABA Bird Number 400: Lesser Sand-Plover

     My First eBird checklist was submitted in May of 2002. It has taken me 4 years since then to finally tick my 400th ABA record. I did live in Ireland for nearly 2 years, so my global list is nearly 600, but I like round numbers, and for some reason it felt like a battle for me to get the last few ticks that I needed, as a matter of fact, most of my last few were rare birds that I twitched. I did spend a few weeks trying to see a Sora to get 400, but I still haven't seen one. Same with Common Black Hawk. But as an update for the blog, I'll go over the last few.

Number 396 was the beautiful Tricolored Heron. It showed up at the Gilbert Water Ranch in late August, and is continuing there as of today (10 October).

Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron - Gilbert Water Ranch, Arizona
     And then a week later Hurrican Newton blew in some amazing birds to the state, including the Wedge-Rumped Storm Petrel to a small pond in nearby Mesa, number 397 for me.

Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel - Mesa, Arizona
     I wrote about the Storm Petrel in my previous blog post, here. The weekend after that, September 11th, I headed towards Gila Bend with a list of target birds to see. The only one that I was able to find were some adorable Red-Necked Phalaropes, number 398.

Red-Necked Phalarope
Red-Necked Phalarope - Gila Bend, AZ
     ABA number 399 for me came as a report on the AZNM Listserv, someone spotted a Blackpoll Warbler in a stand of trees next to my local ACE Hardware. The timing worked out that I was able to shoot over there after school with my kids in tow. Once I found the right tree, it was easy to spot the Warbler gleaning the leaves in a big Cottonwood.

Blackpoll Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler - Chandler, AZ
     Just then another birder showed up and I pointed the bird out to him and then we both watched it disappear down along the bank of a large pond and out of sight. Some other birders showed up, but the bird was never seen again. It was just luck that I was there in time.

     I spent most of the rest of September looking for a Sora. I tried a few different places, but no luck. Even one spot where 4 were seen at the same time in the middle of the afternoon out in the open. But on 3 or 4 separate trips I never saw or heard any. Then my kids started a long Autumn break at the beginning of October, 2 weeks off school. So the family decided to go back to Albuquerque to see the International Balloon Fiesta and visit some old friends. On Sunday October 2nd a report of a Lesser (aka Mongollian) Sand-Plover was seen in Northern Arizona, just east of Flagstaff. This bird is rare for Attu, let alone the middle of Arizona. A first state record and the first inland record of the Asian Species in the USA. It also happened to be just off I-40, the route that we would be taking home from ABQ. I spent the next day watching the reports still coming in and crossing my fingers that it would remain for just one more day, which it did.
     Tuesday morning, October 4th, we left New Mexico after spending the morning watching the balloons launching on a beautiful fall day. We made our way West and I kept an eye on my inbox and talked my wife into making a quick detour. After leaving I-40 and driving through the Navajo Nation and town of Leupp, we left the paved road and followed a sandy track to the muddy puddles where the bird was located. We pulled up and my kids jumped out to run around. I begged them to stay away from the water and not to throw any rocks in. I also noticed a couple of other birders already there. I walked up and anticlimatically saw my 400th ABA bird, it was the only wader near the water. 

Lesser Sand-Plover
Lesser Sand-Plover - Round Ceder Lake, Leupp AZ
     It was fun to watch the bird for a bit while my kids collected some rocks and watched some "Bison" (just regular cattle). As luck would have it, another birder arrived and he turned out to be one of the co-discoverers of the Sand-Plover, Chuck LaRue. I asked Chuck what were they doing in the middle of nowhere. He simply said that they knew there was water out there and decided to see what could be there. An amazing discovery for sure. 

Round Ceder Lake
Round Ceder Lake - Navajo Nation, Arizona
     We left scenic Round Ceder Lake for a few days in Sedona where we rented a cabin. I didn't do much birding, but I did try my best to see a Common Black Hawk to no avail. It seems they've all gone for the winter. But we weren't back for a day when someone else found a wandering warbler on the far side of Chandler, and my 401st ABA tick: a Chestnut-Sided Warbler.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler - Chandler, AZ

    I do want to apologize for sounding like such a lister, but we move so often that I want to see what I can see in as short a time as possible. But it is really fun to twitch those rare-birds.


Thanks for making it this far.

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.


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,


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 - 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, 


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,


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.