Monday, July 17, 2017

East Coast Trip part one: Ohio

Back in June I had the opportunity to spend a week birding somewhere. A friend of mine suggested trying to see Kirtland's Warblers in Michigan. I didn't know much about these birds, but after some research I was sold. I expanded the trip to include some time in Ohio too. I used eBird and to plan an itinerary. A friend of mine from Albuquerque now works at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in NW Ohio, so stopping at their famous boardwalk was a no-brainer, plus I would find some other places using the Birdseye app. I would end up with 29 lifers on my trip, with 11 of them being warblers, out of 150 species seen.

I'm going to mainly talk about warblers and some of my other lifers. Overcast skies and dark forest made for not so good photo opportunities, but I managed to get photos of almost everything new to me.

I started off by visiting Bath Nature Preserve near Akron Ohio. This was  mixed forest and field habitat with nice trails and a large pond. I didn't see too much here, but I got some good looks at maybe the most popular warbler seen, the Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler - Summit County Ohio, USA
Although not a warbler or a lifer, I was excited to get good looks at a Brown Thrasher. The one that I saw in Arizona was very shy and stayed in thick brush for the most part. But I got to see a few, including this one getting a big worm for it's nest.

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher - Summit County Ohio, USA
I also saw many Tree Swallows, Song Sparrows, a Bobolink, Hermit Thrush, Red-Winged Blackbirds and a lifer Swamp Sparrow at the preserve.
My second stop was near Sandusky Ohio and Cedar Point Amusement park. I had hotel reservations for the night, but had time to explore Pipe Creek Wildlife Area at the base of Cedar Point peninsula. This is a man-made wetlands designed to replace what was lost to development. It was also the start of the terrible mosquitoes that I would deal with for the next week. I arrived just as sunset and made my way out towards the water. I passed a family of Mallards. I saw even more Yellow Warblers, so many that I reported 16 but it may have been more. I saw some uncommon Black-Crowned Night-Herons and added Yellow-Bellied Flycatchers to my life list. But the most exciting bird was one that was crossing the path behind me. I turned around to look behind me randomly and saw a King Rail crossing the path. It stopped just before reaching thick cattails and I managed to get some photos of it.

King Rail
King Rail - Erie County Ohio, USA
The next morning I was up early to meet my friends at Magee Marsh. I saw some surprising Mute Swans on my drive in. We were the only people at the Boardwalk, which hosted thousands of birders just 2 weeks prior to my visit.
We would see many birds on our walk, and may lifers for me. But the "rarest" bird was this late-for-the-season Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Yellow-Rumped Warbler - Magee Marsh, Ohio USA
The star of the show was this American Woodcock that I spotted just off of the boardwalk. We got to watch it for such a long time once it got used to us.

American Woodcock
American Woodcock - Magee Marsh, Ohio USA

American Woodcock
American Woodcock - Magee Marsh, Ohio USA
I learned that their long bills are flexible and they can use it to root around in the mud and leaf litter for food.
I did get to see one of the warblers that I was hoping to see, a Prothonotary Warbler, which breed in the swamp there, but it was too fast and the light wasn't good enough for anything better than this photo.

Prothonotary Warbler - Magee Marsh, Ohio USA
The second most common warbler on my travels was the aptly named Common Yellowthroat, which I saw at almost every stop. I saw this one on my way out of Magee Marsh on my way to Toledo.

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat - Magee Marsh, Ohio USA
I was told about a nice place to bird outside of Toledo Ohio called Oak Openings Metropark. This was an amazing spot. The main attraction was a large open area in the forest caused by a Tornado many years ago. This made for a varied habitat of older forests and a younger open area in the center. It wasn't very good for warblers, but I got to see some great birds. This Indigo Bunting let me get fairly close.
Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting - Lucas County, Ohio USA
And it was a pleasure to see a few Red-Headed Woodpeckers, these two were inspecting nest holes, I believe.
Red-Headed Woodpeckers
Red-Headed Woodpeckers - Lucas County, Ohio USA
One of the lifers that I did get here was Field Sparrow, in the middle of the tornado scar.

Field Sparrow
Field Sparrow - Lucas County, Ohio USA.

After Toledo I traveled north in Michigan. I'll cover this part in my next blog post since I was able to see some great birds up there.

Thanks for making it this far,


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

(Un)Common Crane

    A few weeks ago an amazing bird was reported on the Arizona/New Mexico listserv. A Common Crane was reported at Mormon Lake, which is near Flagstaff and Sedona Arizona. A mountain lake surrounded by pine forests and cabins. This was the first state record for Arizona. The first report came in on a Thursday and I had to wait until Saturday morning to twitch it, and hope that it was still there. But my kids had soccer games at noon, what to do? I decided to wake up at 4am and make the 3 hour drive, try and see the bird in an hour, then drive back 3 hours for kick-off, easy right?

    I arrived at the lake just after dawn. It was just me and some elk. I found a turn-off on the East side of the lake and scanned the water for a large, grey shape. I didn't see it, but I saw some birders on the opposite side of the lake. One thing that I've learned is that if you can't find the bird, find the birders. I made my way over and a small group were at their scopes scanning the circumference of the 12 square mile lake. The lake reminded me of the Neuseidlersee in Austria, where I spent a week with a group from Birdwatch Ireland a few years ago (you can read about it here). Like Mormon Lake, it's a wide, shallow lake formed by drainage from the surrounding land.

     Back to the search. I recognized some fellow twitchers, but some of the birders had made the drive out from California the night before. We ID'd some crane-looking stumps. I spotted a large, flying bird that was very far away, but flew away from the water. But no Cranes. Then, the youngest birders there spotted something from way out to the south. It looked good for a crane shape, it was moving around a bit, but way too far for an ID. Forget Swarovski, we needed a Meade at that range. We all decided to drive to the Southern part of the lake and try to get a closer look. I made my way past some vacation homes to a dead-end road that should get a better vantage point. Some other birders had followed me and we all scanned to no avail. Then, from behind a fence I spotted a grey shape feeding in the grass. It was light above and dark below and looked to be the right size. I got my scope on it and ta-da, it was the Common Crane.

Common Crane
Common Crane - Mormon Lake, Coconino County Arizona
     Can you make it out there in the center of the above photo? We all wanted better looks and then I noticed the road that I had just driven in on a half hour before. We all jumped back into our cars and took off for a closer look.

Common Crane
Common Crane - Mormon Lake, Coconino County Arizona
What a great looking bird. We had an even bigger crowd at this point and we all congratulated the keen-eyed young birder from California who had the initial sighting. We watched it walk back and forth feeding for a few minutes. Then it took off and started flying around.

Common Crane
Common Crane - Mormon Lake, Coconino County Arizona
     To our delight the crane landed even closer and we got amazing looks at it.

Common Crane
Common Crane - Mormon Lake, Coconino County Arizona
     What an amazing bird and an amazing lifer an a beautiful location. I'm not sure how many Common Cranes see snow-topped mountains in the distance.

Common Crane and Humphrey's Peak
Common Crane and Humphry's Peak near Flagstaff - Mormon Lake, Coconino Lake, Arizona
     The Crane ended up sticking around for a couple weeks (the last eBird reports seem to be from May 14th) and adds to the amazing run of rarities to visit Arizona in the last year. 

This was also one of the first outings with my new lens. I added the Canon 100-400mm mark ii recently and sold my 300mm f/4L. I'm really happy with it so far, although I need to sort out a monopod and an easier way to carry it. But it's a quality piece of hardware.

Thanks for making it this far,



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tour de Tucson

This past Sunday, 9th of April, I took a late trip down to Tucson. An American Bittern was being seen at Sweetwater Wetlands and this was a bird that I've been wanting to see and photograph. I also wanted to try and see an Olive Warbler and an Elf Owl, all of which were in the Tucson area.
Despite reports of it being out in the open on the listserv, there was no sign of it during the 90 minutes that I stood around (sometimes in a tree so that I could see over the reeds) but I managed to see some good birds anyway.
There were so many Yellow Warblers around, I reported 7 but there could have easily been more.

Yellow Warbler - Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson AZ
Again I saw a Cooper's Hawk in nearly the same tree as last time, near the Gazebo. But this one had no rings. And notice the furry mess at it's feet.
Cooper's Hawk
Cooper's Hawk - Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson AZ
And a brief flyover of a Prairie Falcon (which I thought was a Peregrine until I got home).

Prairie Falcon
Prairie Falcon - Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson AZ
I left Sweetwater Wetlands with no AMBI and had a quick lunch at Illegal Pete's in Tucson. I looked over the Finding Birds in Southeast Arizona guidebook and the Birdseye App on my phone to try and determine where on Mt. Lemmon I should concentrate my limited time up there. I decided on Rose Canyon Lake with stops at some lower picnic areas if I didn't have any luck there with Olive Warblers. There was also the added bonus of a potential life Buff-Breasted Flycatcher in the same area. But when I got to the turn-off to the lake, it was closed due to fire. I decided to continue up instead of down and stopped at Incinerator Ridge Road. I parked at the gate, as recommended by the guidebook, and started walking up. I shortly heard some Common Ravens making some low calls and then saw a few Yellow-Eyed Juncos along the road. And then a Steller's Jay flew by me and downslope. I ran into a couple from Connecticut who were birding. They mentioned seeing Olive Warblers at the top of the road and down a nearby trail. I continued on my way and ran into some Western Bluebirds with some very vibrant colors with some Pygmy Nuthatches nearby.
I found the trail at the top and kept on going. Shortly after I noticed a small bird fly into a pine tree above me and quickly got it in view with my (new) binoculars. It was a warbler with an yellow-to-orange head and breast, dark eye-line and white wing bars: OLIVE WARBLER! I've been hoping to see one of these birds from the time I lived in New Mexico. 

Olive Warbler
Olive Warbler - Mt. Lemmon, Pima Co Arizona
I turned and walked back down towards my care elated at finally ticking this bird (and getting my first lifer in what felt like forever). I passed back through the Western Bluebirds and was just about half-way down the road when some activity to my left got my attention. I noticed a few small birds that quickly became a mixed-flock working their way through the trees. I saw a Mountain Chickadee, Grace's Warbler, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, another Olive Warbler and a Painted Redstart, which was flying all around and displaying while it foraged.

Painted Redstart
Painted Redstart - Mt. Lemmon, Pima Co, Arizona
I tried to get some photos of the other birds, but they were too busy and the light was bad. But I heard some Brown Creepers and quickly spotted 2 of them working their way up some trees.

Brown Creeper
Brown Creeper - Mt. Lemmon, Pima Co Arizona
By the time that I made it back to my car, I had enough time for one more stop. Despite being fairly tired, I wanted to stop by Catalina State Park in nearby Oro Valley to try and hear some Elf Owls. I made it there just at dusk and parked at the trailhead for the birding trail. It was quite busy with people leaving but eventually I was the last person there along with a few cars. I didn't know if a gate was going to be closed trapping me in, but I thought that I would take my chances. 
It wasn't fully dark when I heard a deep "hoot-hoot-hoooooot" coming from the west. I scanned the tall Saguaros until I saw the culprit, a male Great-Horned Owl was calling away.

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl - Catalina State Park, Pima Co Arizona
As it got darker I heard a higher-pitched and more rapid hooting from south of me. Going against my better urges, I headed off into the trees and followed a trail as the sound got louder. I eventually passed where it was coming from and turned around. Somehow I noticed a glint of eyes coming from a nearby cactus in the light of my headlamp. It was a tiny Elf Owl calling away. I got a bit closer, and using my headlamp, and maxing out the ISO of my camera, I managed to get a shot if the owl! Another lifer for the day and a bucket list bird for sure.

Elf Owl
Elf Owl - Catalina State Park, Pima Co Arizona
Despite dipping on that darn Bittern it was a great day. I managed to add 2 lifers and get an amazing hand-held shot of an Elf Owl. 

If you are ever going to be in Arizona and want someone to show you around, or just give some advice on where to go, feel free to contact me at

Thanks for making it this far,


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Beware the Owls of March...

     It's the middle of March and I've not posted in awhile. I had an accident up on Mt. Ord in February where I slid on a muddy, ash-filled slope and landed on my camera lens and broke it. I sent it out and $500 later it was repaired and looks to be as good as new.
     I finally had a chance to get out with the repaired lens and do some birding. I actually did not know where I was going to go. According to my Birdseye App, all of the birds in my area are already on my list. I never meant to be a lister, but because I tend to move around often, I really like to build my life list. Most of the ones that I need in Arizona are outside of Phoenix and I need more than a morning to go after them. But, there were still some. I've been trying to see Mountain Plover in the Santa Cruz Flats all winter. It's just at the end of their snowbird season, but I thought that I would try one more time for them. There was also a chance of seeing a Ruddy Ground Dove in the area too, so it was worth a trip if I could get either one of those.
     I got a late start on the day, but one of the first birds that I saw was an Osprey just out of my hometown of Gilbert on the Gila River Native American lands enjoying a fish's head.

Osprey - Gilbert, Arizona
     After arriving in the north part of the Santa Cruz Flats I was greeted by a large flocks of Lark Buntings. These guys were gathering together to make their trip north in the coming weeks. One of them was even getting into it's breeding plumage.

Lark Buntings
Lark Buntings - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona
Just before the turn-off East towards the Evergreen Sod Farms I noticed a speckled bird fly across the road and land on a fence post, so I pulled over and went to get a better look. It was a surprise Sage Thrasher, also on it's way north. 

Sage Thrasher
Sage Thrasher - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona
It was shortly joined by a second one and together they did some foraging along the roadside. I noticed a large, tan building behind me that had some birds flying around. I recognized some House Sparrows and a Say's Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe
Say's Phoebe - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona 
The building was clearly empty with no windows or doors and a large for-sale sign out front and no fence, so I decided to take a peek inside on a hunch. I looked up into the rafters and saw someone looking back at me.

Barn Owl
Barn Owl - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona
It was a Barn Owl! I've been trying to see one for years. I had a glimpse of one near Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico 5 or 6 years ago, but just as it flew out of a nest box and off into some trees. I couldn't believe it. And just then, it got even better, a second one flew next to the first.

Barn Owls
Barn Owls - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona

Barn Owls
Barn Owls - Santa Cruz Flats, Arizona
The owls ended up being the highlight of my day since I once again dipped on Mountain Plovers and Ruddy Ground Dove. But there is always next winter. 

The following day, Monday, I had a few minutes free and decided to check in on some other owls, there are Burrowing Owls which are year-round residents in a park near my house in Gilbert. They live in artificial burrows made from PVC pipes which are just along a concrete footpath and fairly used to people. I also wanted to ditch my teleconverter because I haven't been very happy with the quality of my photos and read that the aren't the greatest for shorter-focal length lenses (I just have a 300mm). I saw two Burrowing Owls in the few minutes that I had and along with some blooming wildflowers were very nice to see.

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl - Zanjero Park, Gilbert Arizona

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl - Zanjero Park, Gilbert Arizona
My kids have just started 2 weeks of spring break. We had a Monday afternoon free and I wanted to show them some Great Horned Owls. I knew of a nest in Scottsdale, but not the exact location. Plus it is already hot here in Arizona. It's mid-March and already over 90°F, too hot for a hike if we didn't need one. But I also knew of another nest of GHOW at a Lowe's Home Improvement store, also in Gilbert. So we made a quick stop there and were rewarded with seeing three of them in the lawn and garden section.
The single young bird there was looking older than I was expecting, with many adult feathers poking out of it's baby-down and getting it's wings ready to fly.

Great-Horned Owl
Great-Horned Owl - Gilbert, Arizona

Great-Horned Owl
Great-Horned Owl - Gilbert, Arizona
Both parents were nearby watching everyone too.

Great-Horned Owl
Great-Horned Owl (Male) - Gilbert, Arizona

Great-Horned Owl
Great-Horned Owl (Female) - Gilbert, Arizona
I my kids loved seeing them. I got to show them some pellets on the ground below them we got to see some tiny bones. My parents flew in to visit us and I took my mom by today to see them too (and to get some keys made). What a great urban birding experience.

Great-Horned Owl
Great-Horned Owl - Gilbert, Arizona
Hopefully my owl-luck continues and I get to see some Elf Owls this spring, they are just now arriving back to Arizona.

Thanks for making it this far,


Monday, January 30, 2017

De Anza Trail: Rose-Throated Becard

     After a few busy weekends, I was finally able to get out and do some serious birding. I decided to head down south to Santa Cruz County. There had been some noteable birds seen in the area, namely some Rose-Throated Becards. In addition there had been a very reliable, but rare for Arizona, Brown Thrasher in the area and also some Ruddy Ground Doves too, all would be lifers for me. After I had ticked all of those and had lunch (hahahahahah) I didn't know if I'd head to Paton's for a Violet-Crowned Hummingbird, trying for the Nutting'f Flycatcher or maybe cruise through the Santa Cruz Flats for Ruddy Ground Doves and Mountain Plovers... at least that was the plan.

     My focus was the Rose-Throated Becard since it was least common bird in the area. The listserv reports had dried up, but that didn't mean that the bird had moved on. Checking eBird I decided to start at the northern range of sightings in Tubac at Ron Morriss Park and the Tubac Bridge. An Accipiter that flew by me and into the woods was the first bird that I saw while looking for access to the trail. I could see the trail, but it was behind a fence and a locked gate.  A quick hike north to Tubac Bridge Road put me in the right place to access the trail and to see a Merlin perched in a tree.

Merlin - De Anza Trail, Tubac Arizona
I followed the trail down south along the river and past my car. There were some Bridled Titmice about and the always present Gila Woodpeckers, but nothing that I saw in the Flycatcher family. The Sun was in my face too, so my plan was to head south quickly, and then return north with the Sun to my back.
I did stop to see a low Plumbeous Vireo that was foraging near some nice-looking houses.

Plumbeous Vireo
Plumbeous Vireo - De Anza Trail, Tubac Arizona
I made it a habit of asking anyone with binoculars about the Becard with no news. One of the people that I met was a friend of a friend that I had talked to the day before.
While walking along I saw a hawk fly down along the water and land on a tree east of me. It was all dark with a uniform dark back and a dark tail with a white band across the end of the tail. The only bird that would fit with the area and that appearance is a Common Black-Hawk. I don't think that a Zone-Tailed Hawk would be in that habitat. It is rare for them to be there in the winter though. Before I had a chance to get a photo it was scared off by some passing dog-walkers. I did get to see a Harlan's Red-Tailed Hawk,which is uncommon for Arizona. 

Harlan's Red-Tailed Hawk
Harlan's Red-Tailed Hawk - De Anza Trail, Tubac Arizona
I finally reached the part of the trail that disappeared into the flooded river. I saw some Sparrows, but nothing close to being the Becard, so I turned around and walked back to my car. I decided to pass through Ron Morriss Park proper to save some time and was rewarded by a large, mixed-flock of Sparrows. Some White-Crowned, Chipping, Vesper and even some Lark Sparrows were all feeding under some pine trees. A Greater Roadrunner and hunting Say's Phoebe were also nearby.

Greater Roadrunner
Greater Roadrunner - De Anza Trail, Tubac Arizona
At this point I decided to drive a bit further south to Santa Gertrudis Lane where a Brown Thrasher had been reliably seen for most of the winter. It's an odd private road that only allows foot traffic in. It was just a quick walk down  to the right spot, so I decided to leave my pack and water behind and just take my binoculars and camera. I noticed a birder already down there and it wasn't a far walk. Once I reached the area I realized that the birder was an English lady who I had met in October. She was on her way from Seattle to Green Valley for the winter and needed a place to stretch her legs. She randomly stopped at Hassayampa River Preserve after seeing the binoculars sign on the highway. We talked a bit then and nearly missed an American Bittern.
She mentioned that the Thrasher had yet to make an appearance and that she had dipped on it once before. It was a busy location with a bush full of red berries. A robin flew in at one point and we got excited that it may have been a Rufous-Backed Robin, but it was just an American Robin, still nice to see in Arizona. There was also male and female Northern Cardinals eating the berries in front of us.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal - Santa Gertrudis Lane, Santa Cruz County Arizona
We were waiting nearly 20 minutes before the Brown Thrasher made an appearance. It seemed to come out of nowhere and stuck to the thick bushes and shadows while it foraged. 

Brown Thrasher
Brown Thrasher - Santa Gertrudis Lane, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
Satisfied with my looks and a few blurry shots, I decided to walk a bit on the De Anza Trail which was very nearby. I said cheers to my friend from Seattle and went on my way. I ran into a birder who had just seen a female Rose-Throated Becard  a quarter mile back up the trail. I told her where to look for the thrasher and hurried on my way.  A short way later I noticed another hawk flying over, this was another dark one and fairly low. It was another Harlan's Hawk, but different than the first one. This one had a dark border on the end of the tail and wings which the other did not. 

Harlan's Red-Tailed Hawk
Harlan's Red-Tailed Hawk - De Anza Trail, Santa Cruz County Arizona
It was mad to see two uncommon hawks in the same area. But I continued on my quest. I knew from guides that the Becard preferred the tops of tall trees near water and there was plenty of that around. But the trail at this section was covered with some shorter trees and made looking at the tops of the taller trees difficult. So I made my way into a clearing and looked around for movement. There were loads of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and sparrows lower down, but not what I was looking for. And then a shape went flying about me head-height to my left and I had to make a double-take. It was a Great Horned Owl cruising by in the middle of the afternoon, weird.
I continued scanning hoping to see something. I walked around a bit, but it all looked the same to me. I was on my way back north to the main trail when I did one last scan. That's when I noticed some activity in the top of a tree filled with forming buds. I noticed a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and then a Black-Throated Gray Warbler.

Black-Throated Gray Warbler
Black-Throated Gray Warbler - Da Anza Trail, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
There were still more birds up there, some more Kinglets, and Orange-Crowned Warbler and then I saw it. A patch of pink among the yellow (flowers?) at the very top of the tree.

Rose-Throated Becard
Rose-Throated Becard - Da Anza Trail, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
Can you see it? That's a cropped photo from the top of a tall tree about 75 feet or so in front of me.

Rose Throated Becard tree
Tree the Becard was in.
 I'm still not sure how I spotted it, but I let out a "whoot!" when I did.

Rose-Throated Becard
Rose-Throated Becard - De Anza Trail, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
The bird never stood still for very long and never in a spot on the side of the tree near me. I watched it for a long while getting infrequent looks. By this point I was really thirsty, it had been a couple of hours since I left the car and water behind. I finally gave in and turned to go. I made it a few hundred yards down the trail when I recognized a familiar face scanning the treetops. I said hi and asked if he was looking for the Becard, he said "yeah" and I said "follow me". He was with a guide from the area and two clients. I took them back up the trail and found the side-path to the clearing. All this time I had my fingers crossed that it was still there, and it was. Everyone managed to get some good looks for another half an hour or so, even when it finally changed trees.

Rose-Throated Becard
Rose-Throated Becard - De Anza Trail, Santa Cruz County, Arizona
There's a feeling that you get when you work really hard to see a bird and I certainly had it, as tired and as thirsty as I was, and that's probably why do it. All in all, a great day.

I also learned that Becard is pronounced like "Beck-hard" and not "Be-card".

I'm sorry, I have no idea what kind of tree that was or what those yellow things are called, if you know, please let me know in a comment.

Here's my eBird checklist. You can see where I saw the Becard, which was near the Tumacacori section of the De Anza Trail, and more information on that can be found here.


thanks for making it this far,