Friday, May 27, 2016

Patagonia Lake State Park and Madera Canyon

A really busy month and some laptop issues have kept me from posting more often. But I've side-stepped the one problem by building a computer for the family with a gorgeous 27-inch UHD screen and a proper keyboard. 

In the beginning of May I met a friend from Pittsburgh in South-Eastern Arizona at Patagonia Lake State Park. This a nice little lake surrounded by drier areas. I drove down the night before and camped so that I could meet him as early as possible. The first bird that I saw while waiting was a Red-Breasted Sapsucker, but it flew by before I could even get my camera out of the car. The second bird was another red one, a male Northern Cardinal flew into some trees nearby.
Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal - Patagonia Lake SP, Arizona
As we hiked out along the birding trail we were scanning the lake for any Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks, which would be lifer ticks for both of us. Instead we saw many Neotropic Cormorants, Mallards, Eared Grebes and watch some Green Herons chase each other from reed-bed to reed-bed. 
We were lucky to have Vermilion Flycatchers everywhere, they were our trash-bird of the day.

Vermilion Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher - Patagonia Lake SP, Arizona
Dusky-Capped Flycatcher
Dusky-Capped Flycatcher - Patagonia Lake SP, Arizona
Neither of these birds were new to me, but I did get to tick Bronzed Cowbird, Lazuli Bunting, Broad-Billed Hummingbird, Grey Hawk, Zone-Tailed Hawk, Bell's Vireo and Bridled Titmouse to my life-list. Unfortunately, I had a UV filter on my lens that gave me really crap photos for the entire day.

We also saw this neat lizard doing some push-ups in the sunlight.
Ornate Tree Lizard
Ornate Tree Lizard - Patagonia Lake SP, Arizona
The bird that I most wanted to see there, Elegant Trogon, was nowhere to be found. Apparently it's more common in winter there. So my friend suggested that we visit Madera Canyon, which was an hour away from us and on the way back towards Tucson.

We got there in good time, and I saw a Gila Monster on the side of the road, but I DID NOT STOP TO GET A PHOTO! I'm still kicking myself in the arse over that, but oh well, I can easily visit the area again. I met my friend in the first picnic area for a quick lunch and noticed some Western Scrub Jays hopping around the ground. Except that they were not WSJA, but Mexican Jays, and a lifer tick for me.

Mexican Jay
Mexican Jay - Madera Canyon, Arizona
Shortly after seeing the Jays fly off I noticed a red bird up in the canopy. I thought Summer Tanager, but on closer inspection, it was a Hepatic Tanager instead, and another lifer for me. It stayed up high and I didn't manage to get a better photo of one, but there was a female nearby too.

Hepatic Tanager
Hepatic Tanager (male) - Madera Canyon, Arizona
Hepatic Tanager (Female)
Hepatic Tanager (Female) - Madera Canyon, Arizona
My friend and I decided to walk up along the creek trying to see a Trogon among the sycamores to no avail. But we did get to watch some Acorn Woodpeckers.

Arizona Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker - Madera Canyon, Arizona
In the above photo you can see how it uses it's tail for stability. It's almost as if it has another set of legs. And another shot of the woodpecker inspecting a cavity. 

Arizona Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker - Madera Canyon, Arizona
We ran into some other birders who said that they had heard that Elegant Trogons were higher up in the canyon. So we drove up to the last parking spot and started heading up the creek. We didn't see as many birds as we did lower down, but the ones that we did see were really nice. It took us a few minutes to ID a flycatcher that was sitting at the end of a snag. It ended up being a Greater Pewee, and another lifer-tick for me.

Greater Pewee
Greater Pewee - Madera Canyon, Arizona
We also got to see some Painted Redstarts, get looking birds for sure. 

Painted Redstart
Painted Redstart - Madera Canyon, Arizona
But like I said, no Trogons to be seen or heard. On the way back down we stopped at one of the many B&Bs in the canyon. These all have feeders out and are a great place to see some hard to find Hummingbirds, we chose the Madera Kubo B&B, mainly because it was on the right side of the road. We got lucky to see a few more lifers. We saw a Broad-Billed Hummingbird earlier at Patagonia Lake SP, but we had much better views here.

Broad-Billed Hummingbird
Broad-Billed Hummingbird - Madera Kubo B&B, Madera Canyon, Arizona
Broad-Billed Hummingbird
Broad-Billed Hummingbird - Madera Kubo B&B, Madera Canyon, Arizona
As impressive as these BBHU were, they were outshone by some Magnificent Hummingbirds that were also at the feeders. They were huge, nearly sparrow sized.

Magnificent Hummingbird
Magnificent Hummingbird - Madera Kubo B&B, Madera Canyon, Arizona
And we weren't done yet. Below the hummingbirds we saw some Yellow-Eyed Juncos feeding, yet another lifer for me.

Yellow-Eyed Junco
Yellow-Eyed Junco - Madera Kubo B&B, Madera Canyon, Arizona
Then a Painted Redstart made an appearance too.

Painted Redstart
Painted Redstart - Madera Kubo B&B, Madera Canyon, Arizona
My friend had to get back to Tucson, so after a few minutes watching the feeders we had to go our separate ways. I had enough time to visit another B&B, the Santa Rita Lodge, and try to get something small to take back for my kids at their gift shop. The Sun was in a better spot on this side of the road and the same Hummingbirds were there too. Here's a Black-Chinned Hummingbird.

Black-Chinned Hummingbird
Black-Chinned Hummingbird - Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona
And I managed to get a shot showing just how big the Magnificent Hummingbirds are by comparing it with an average-sized Broad-Billed Hummingbird.

Broad-Billed Hummingbird and Magnificent Hummingbird
Broad-Billed (left) and Magnificent (right) Hummingbirds - Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona
On the other side of the size spectrum, some Turkeys were crossing the road to visit the feeders as I was on my way to the car to leave.

Turkey - Santa Rita Lodge, Madera Canyon, Arizona
What a great day, By the time that I got home, I ticked 82 species with 14 of those being lifers. Madera Canyon was a beautiful place that I plan on visiting again soon. 


Thanks for making it this far. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

New Glass at Last!

     Back in April I had the pleasure of going to Pittsburgh for the wedding of two wonderful friends of mine. During some down time between events another friend of mine decided to waste a bit of time at the local casino playing craps. Two hours later I left with nearly twelve-hundred dollars in my pocket! For a minute I thought of all of the sweet, sweet Lego that I could get but then my lovely wife said "now you can get a lens". She's brilliant.

     I've heard good things about Canon's 300mm F/4L lens. It was sharp, light-weight, and worked well with a teleconverter. So I decided to rent the lens and a 1.4x TC version III from Lens Rentals.

Canon 300mm f/4L, 1.4x Teleconverter and 7d mkii
My concern was having a prime lens after using the zoom 100-400mm for so long. But I knew that most of my photos were always at 400mm anyway. Turns out, I didn't mind that and I love the lens. That combination gives 420mm on a full frame camera, and on the cropped sensor of the 7D Mkii, a whopping 700mm in 35mm equivalent. And on top of that, the 300mm f/4L has Image Stabilization while the 400mm f/5.6 prime does not.
I took the gear into the backyard for a test run.

Anna's Hummingbird
Anna's Hummingbird - MBY, Gilbert, AZ

House Finch
House Finch - MBY, Gilbert, AZ
And a trip to some local parks for more practice. These next two were taken at dusk and hand-held.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl - Zanjero Park, Gilbert, AZ

Great Blue Heron
Great-Blue Heron - Zanjero Park, Gilbert, AZ
I wanted to get the most out of the lens since I was just renting it for the week. So my daughter and I went to Veteran's Oasis Park in Chandler the next evening while my son was at soccer practice.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Yellow-Rumped Warbler - Veteran's Oasis Park, Chandler AZ

Say's Phoebe
Say's Phoebe - Veteran's Oasis Park, Chandler AZ

Verdin - Veteran's Oasis Park, Chandler AZ

Verdin - Veteran's Oasis Park, Chandler AZ

     I liked the lens so much, that I utilized Lens Rentals' "Keeper" option and bought the lens and TC outright. They let you see the price it would take to keep the equipment that you are renting if you like it. The price takes into account the condition of the gear that they sent you, and removes the rental fees that you have already paid. Great options if you are test-driving gear that you aren't sure if you want to buy it or not. You can also go to their sister site, Lens Authority, to buy their used gear, which can come with a 2-year warranty.
     The other reason that I wanted to rent the gear this particular week, was that I was meeting a friend of mine in South-Eastern Arizona to look for Elegant Trogons. I will write about that trip in my next post.

Thanks for making it this far,

And if you'd like, follow me on Instagram: @bothering_birds

Monday, March 21, 2016

California Dreaming: Bolsa Chica Wetlands

     My family took a little holiday to California to attend a wedding.  Living in the next state over, we decided to drive and visit Joshua Tree National Park and spend a few extra days in Los Angeles around the wedding. It was our first time at Joshua Tree and it was a beautiful place. We stayed the night at Twentynine Palms in a hotel, but we plan on going back to camp soon.

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park - California
    I wasn't really concentrating on birds, but I did see some Western Scrub Jays and loads of lizards on the rocks.

     Once in LA I got the chance to meet my friend Brent Hall, a brilliant photographer who moved to LA from Albuquerque. Check out his website, he does amazing work. We went to Huntington Beach CA and visited the Bolsa Chica Wetlands.  This is a salt water marsh located on the other side of a road from a busy beach. It's a beautiful place and much larger than I thought it would be.  My target birds for this area were Reddish Egrets and the endangered Ridgeway's Rail, along with whatever else we could see.  
     We left the car-park and walked across a long, wooden, boardwalk further into the wetlands.  One of the first birds that we saw was a Pied-Billed Grebe diving for food.

Pied-Billed Grebe
Pied-Billed Grebe - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Brent was nice enough to loan me a couple of his lenses on this walk.  The first was a Canon 100mm f/2.8 with a teleconverter, which is how I shot the Gebe photo above.  But then he offered to let me try his new Canon 100-400mm version 2. It's the lens that I've been wanting, talk about a treat.
A bit further along were some shorebirds, Marbled Godwits and lifers for me.

Marbled Godwit
Marbled Godwit - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Along with the Godwits were a few Surf Scoters, both males and females.

Surf Scoter
Surf Scoter - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
They weren't the only fancy ducks about, a Red-Breasted Merganser was foraging along one of the waterways in the area.

Common Merganser
Red-Breasted Merganser - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Ruddy Ducks seemed to be everywhere, I've seen nice size groupings of them here in Arizona and quite a few were around in California.  But the ones in Arizona didn't seem to have such nice blue bills yet.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
The air was busy too.  There were quite a few gulls flying around, but this Forster's Tern fly by nice and low for us.

Forster's Tern
Forster's Tern - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
A Northern Osprey also flew by, it was the only raptor that we saw on our walk, but always nice to see.

Northern Osprey
Northern Osprey - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
All of those birds were nice, but it wasn't the one that I was hoping for.  That was a Reddish Egret.  We had seen one towards the beginning of our trip, but it was fairly far away and we didn't get any good photos.  But as luck would have it, we came upon another one.  

Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret - Bolsa Chica Wetlands

What a beautiful bird, much nicer than it's cousins the Great Blue and Grey Herons in my opinion. Brent and I watched it hunt around the marsh for a bit, and then fight a bit with a short squall that came through, bringing a bit of wind and higher waves.

Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret - Bolsa Chica Wetlands 
It was time for us to head back, I had a rehearsal dinner to attend.  As we made our way back we got some good looks at a Willet prowling around.

Willet - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
And I took the time to watch this clever Snowy Egret hunting fish.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
It staked out a stream between two ponds in the marsh and was snapping up some small fish as they passed through.

Snowy Egret
Snowy Egret and Prey - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
If Bolsa Chica Wetlands are known for one bird, it would be the endangered Ridgeway's Rail. Brent and I met a pair of Fish and Wildlife officers who were out doing a census on them, but they said that they hadn't seen any yet that day.  We resigned ourselves to dipping on them as we went to cross the boardwalk to the carpark. But a couple of out-of-town birders, who we had met earlier, told us to be quiet because there was a Rail just below them!  Brent and I crept up so as not to disturb it's calling.
Ridgeway's Rail
Male Ridgeway's Rail - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
As it would happen, the bird couldn't care less who was watching it. It was just looking for it's mate. These birds were recently split from Clapper Rails due to some differences and no habitat over-lap.  From what I understand, they prefer salt and brackish water and Clapper Rails do not.
I was able to record a bit of the calling on my phone.

Just as we were about to move on, the simple calling turned into a cacophony, a female had arrived and some mating was taking place just below us. 

Ridgeway's Rails
Ridgeway's Rails - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
Afterwards they quickly went their separate ways with the female moving on to forage in the marsh.

Ridgeway's Rail
Female Ridgeway's Rail - Bolsa Chica Wetlands
What an amazing chance to get such great looks at some normally hard-to-see birds, and endangered ones at that.  It's sobering to think that these birds may not be around for my grandkids to see.

Ridgeway's Rail
Ridgeway's Rail - Bolsa Chica Wetlands

Hopefully I'll update this blog more often, especially after I get a new lens. The Hummingbird photos that I am missing from my own garden is depressing. I'll have another short post from California to follow this one.  

Thank you for making it this far,


Thursday, December 31, 2015


Howdy from the last day of 2015!  I'm writing this from my parent's house in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, back in the USA. My family and I are currently in the middle of our move from Ireland to Arizona, so I've been very busy and have not done much birding.  But the good news is that I've finally bought myself a new DSLR, a Canon 7d Mkii, which is awesome.  I don't have a birding lens yet, but that will be remedied as soon as possible.

I really need to post some photos from my last time in Ireland, but unfortunately, I didn't get out as much as I wanted to, and the weather was plain shite most of the time.

But I'm looking forward to getting this thing kicked into high gear in 2016 with a new look and some quality photos.



Saturday, June 13, 2015

Eastern European Trip Day 1: Arrival and White Storks

     I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a week-long birding trip to Central Europe with Birdwatch Ireland.  It was my first long-birding trip, and the longest time that I would be away from my kids since my daughter was born over five years ago.  Myself and 34 other birders would spend 6 hot, sunny days looking for birds in Austria, Hungary and Slovakia from our base in Illmitz.  The town is situated within Austria's only steppe nationalpark, Neusiedler See.  The area was composed of a very large lake, extensive reed beds surrounding the lake, various smaller, brackish ponds and extensive meadows and farmland.  Which put together offered the potential for a variety of bird species to see.
     We left Ireland early Tuesday morning June 2nd and landed in Vienna just before lunch.  We met our Austrian guide, Leander Khil at the airport and boarded our very large, white motorcoach.  Our first stop was to a local cafe in Fischamend for lunch, and my first lifer tick of the trip, a Black Stork circling overhead.

Black Stork
Black Stork - Austria
     We picked up some other common European species: Common Swifts, Common House-Martins, Carrion Crows, House Sparrows and White Storks sitting atop large, rooftop nests.
     Our second stop was a wooded area near Marchegg, just a few hundred meters from Slovakia, and along the March River.  This area is special because it's the home of the last tree-nesting White Stork colony in Europe. They've moved onto houses everywhere else.  But seeing their nests on trees near an old castle really makes you feel like you are in Europe.

White Storks
White Stork Nest - Marchegg, Austria
   Some of the trees held multiple nests, around 50 in all throughout the surrounding forest.

White Stork Nests
White Stork nests - Marchegg, Austria
This tree had 3 levels of nests in it.

White Stork
White Storks - Marchegg, Austria
And if you look closely to the one in the bottom-most nest, you will see that it never good to be on the bottom of the pecking order.

White Stork
White Stork - Marchegg, Austria
     It wasn't just Storks in the area.  I picked up my second lifers of the trip, Collared Flycatcher and Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, 36 species in total.  Unfortunately, we wouldn't see Collared Flycatchers again, and I never got a good photo of one.  In addition to the birds, there were quite a few other animals about.  Edible Frogs (yes, that's their name) were in the water all around us.

Edible Frog
Edible Frog - Marchegg, Austria
     After reaching the town of Illmitz and checking into our home for the next week, we had a nice dinner and started getting to know one another a bit better.  But as the day was ending, I noticed my neighbors across the way, a White Stork family.

White Stork
White Stork - Illmitz, Austria

   I'll be making each day it's own post since we would concentrate on a particular area, and thus get some different birds each day.  


(I have changed the posting dates of these posts so that they are shown with day 1 first, etc, so that you can read them in order)