Monday, August 13, 2018

Summer 2018 Update

     Howdy, it's been a busy year for me. I was in a coding bootcamp for the first half of the year and had class on almost every Saturday, so my chances to bird was really curtailed. I did get a chance now and then to get out, mainly to twitch some rarities or lifers. So I thought I'd take a chance and share some of the more exciting birds and better photos from the first 6 months of the year.

     In January Arizona was abuzz when a Sinaloa Wren was spotted along the De Anza Trail near Santa Gertrudis Lane in Santa Cruz County, Arizona. I made a few trips down to try and see the bird with no luck. On my third or fourth try I was rewarded with some good looks at the Wren as it foraged in the leaf-litter.
Sinaloa Wren
Sinaloa Wren - Santa Cruz County, AZ-USA

     At the same time another great bird was visiting a yard in the city of Tucson. This was a bird seen in a "what's this bird" post on Facebook. Turns out that it was a Streak-Backed Oriole. This bird was visiting orange feeders in a suburban neighborhood randomly. I again tried a few times staking out the yard, frequently with some fellow birders (nothing is sillier than a bunch of people dressed in tan wearing binoculars standing on a city street).

Streak-Backed Oriole
Streak-Backed Oriole - Tucson, AZ-USA
     I've have had to work really, really hard to get a lifer in the past (Like the first Rose-Throated Becard that I ever saw), other times it's as easy as walking into a restroom. In February a Common Poorwill was was roosting in one of the ladies' rooms at the nearby Gilbert Riparian Preserve, and it somehow stayed there for 2 days in a row.

Common Poorwill
Common Poorwill - Gilbert, AZ-USA
    In April a fabulous bird was found in someone's yard way down near Portal Arizona, a Fan-Tailed Warbler! The bird would stick around for almost a week and be visited by birders from all over the country. I was fortunate enough to be able to make it down there early in it's visit.

Fan-Tailed Warbler
Fan-Tailed Warbler - Cochise County, AZ-USA
     On the same trip I managed a few other lifers. My friend Max and I heard some Mexican Chickadees, but never saw or photographed them. And we also got to see a sleeping Whiskered Screech-Owl in a tree (lifers 691, 692 and 693).

Whiskered Screech Owl
Whiskered Screech Owl - Portal, AZ-USA
    Later in April I had a rare weekend to get away. So I drove out to California to try and see a few new birds. The first was White-Headed Woodpeckers in Idyllwild, where I also heard some Mountain Quail, but never saw them.

White-Headed Woodpecker
White-Headed Woodpecker - Idyllwild CA-USA
I was also able to get some photos of a California specialty that I only got to see a few years earlier in Monterrey Bay California, a Nuttall's Woodpecker.

Nuttall's Woodpecker
Nutall's Woodpecker - Idyllwild, CA-USA
     On the same trip I swung south around the Salton Sea where I got to tick Gull-Billed Terns(696) as well as some other great birds (a place I can't wait to revisit).

Gull-Billed Tern
Gull-Billed Tern - Salton Sea, CA-USA
     This was the same trip where I dipped on the Black Rails, but had my wonderful encounter with the Virginia Rail family, which I blogged about previously here.

     Back in Arizona I decided to spend a day trying to tackle two of my nemesis birds, which were both down near Sierra Vista. I had tried 2 or 3 times to see the Flame-Colored Tanager atop Ramsey Canyon Preserve. And I've been trying to see (and photograph) a Montezuma Quail for YEARS. I had probably seen them on two previous occasions being flushed from the roadside, but not good enough for an ID. Fortunately for me, a pair had been visiting Ash Canyon B&B in Hereford Arizona. Since Ramsey Canyon Preserve opens fairly late, I had time to stop and see if the birds would show up that morning. After waiting for over 90 minutes with no quail visits I was on my way out. I had stopped to chat with a friend about places to go when I saw movement over his shoulder. A female Montezuma Quail was creeping into the yard. I gasped and told him to turn around while we were treated to some great views of Mrs. Quail.

Montezuma Quail
Montezuma Quail - Hereford, AZ-USA
  With that bird finally ticked (697) I ventured to Ramsey Canyon Preserve for another climb to the top of the Hamburg Trail. I shortly heard a tanager song from the tree-tops. The song would move frequently without any good views. I had a false-alarm with a Black-Headed Grosbeak in a pine tree. But I finally saw something really orange, glowing even, fly past and into a tree. Finally, the Flame-Colored Tanager (698).

Flame-Colored Tanager
Flame-Colored Tanager - Sierra Vista, AZ-USA
     By this point I was so close to 700 that I was getting anxious. It's just a number, but it was a nice one. It was barely a week after my trip to Sierra Vista when another bird I had dipped on in the past was reported again at near-to-me Gilbert Water Ranch, Little Blue Heron. I was able to get out very early the next morning and twitch the bird before my class that morning. What a great bird to see (699).

Little Blue Heron
Little Blue Heron - Gilbert Water Ranch, Maricopa County, AZ-USA
     Just a few days later I saw a beautiful photograph of a Flammulated Owl at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. It was another what-bird-is-this post on Facebook. There were no other details, but I figured out that the photographer had been at the DBG that day. I got the kids to school and headed up there for a really hot search. I had no idea where the owl was seen, there were no details, the photographer wouldn't respond to messages and none of the docents at DBG knew about it. I literally walked around and looked up every tree in the freaking botanical gardens. I found a family of Great Horned Owls and a well hidden Western Screech Owl. I somehow managed to find the same type of tree where the Flammulated Owl was photographed, but no owls were found. I walked around and looked up into more trees and hoped to maybe find some birds mobbing a sleeping owl. But no luck. I circled back to where the owl was just to note the type of tree and I did another quick look in the branches. I noticed a darker patch of leaves and did a double-take, there was an owl shape there. The breast pattern and small ear tufts were those of a Flammulated Owl, an owl not expected to be seen in an urban area, and number 700 on my life list.

Flammulated Owl
Flammulated Owl - DBG, Phoenix AZ-USA

Flammulated Owl
Flammulated Owl - DBG, Phoenix AZ-USA
That's a good enough place to stop. I've been fairly busy job searching (email me if you need a website made) and fitting in some birding. I recently attended the Tucson Bird Festival and will post about that great event later. I'm also going to flex my HTML and CSS powers on the blog and see if I can give it a facelift.


thanks for making it this far! 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Virginia Rails

     I recently got a break from school and was able to get out for a quick weekend trip birding. I decided to swing through California and down past the Salton Sea to Yuma Arizona. I camped at Mittry Lake in Yuma Arizona in the hopes to see or hear a Black Rail, but that didn't happen. Instead, I had a great encounter with a cousin to that bird.

     I was staking out a gap in the reeds hoping to catch a rail as it passed by when I saw movement in the reeds. I saw a dark, squat shape and at first thought it was a Black Rail, But the long bill and stripe flanks showed it to be a Virginia Rail instead. It was very busy foraging and paid me no care at all.

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail - Yuma AZ-USA

     I continued watching the reeds when I saw a dark shape passing through the shadows and managed to get a few shots off. I was hoping it was a photo of a Black Rail, which would have made me much happier than just hearing one, which I would have been fine with.

Virginia Rail chick
Mittry Lake - Yuma AZ-USA

     But I had to wait to get home to see that it wasn't a Black Rail, but a chick. The Sibley Guide even mentions to "beware that downy young of all rails are black." I continued my vigil. Fifteen or more minutes when by when I saw another Rail pop right out in front of me, not more than 10 feet away. 

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail - Yuma AZ-USA
     I was amazed to watch it so close and shake off some water before it disappeared into the opposite side of the gap. 

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail - Yuma, AZ-USA

     It was only gone for a minute before it was back. Didn't it see me, I was sitting next to a shrub but fairly in the open. Maybe it was the sun being behind me, but there it was. And this time it was carrying something. 

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA

     The Rial had a wriggling worm in it's beak. Meanwhile all this time I was hearing some peeping noises from off to my left, deep in the reeds. I didn't recognize it, which is par for the course for me. But shortly after something amazing happened.

Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA

     Two rail chicks ran out from cover to get the worm! I just sat there and took photos.

Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA

Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA

Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA
     Look at that foot! 
Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA

Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA

Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA
     Shortly before they finally ran off, a third chick joined them and they quickly disappeared.

Virginia Rails
Virginia Rails - Yuma, AZ-USA
     And going back to that original photo of those shadows passing through the reeds, they were these chicks scampering by. 

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail - Yuma, AZ-USA

     What a great experience and made up for dipping on their cousins, the Black Rails (turns out I wasn't far enough north). I also got to hear some Ridgeway's Rails during the night, what a great spot.

     Thanks for making it this far. My next post will be of an amazing bird that showed up in Southeast Arizona the previous week.

     Cheers and thanks for making it this far.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Michigan: Kirtland's Warbler

     In June I traveled to Michigan from Pittsburgh, PA to try and see one of the rarest warblers in the USA, the Kirtland's Warbler.  At one point in 1987 there were only 167 singing male Kirtland's Warblers in their range, less than 400 birds. 
     The birds were placed on the endangered species list and a massive effort was started to understand what was happening and to devise ways to fix it. 
It was discovered that there was a one-two punch affecting the birds. They need a specific environment to nest in, on the ground beneath young Jack Pine trees, and they were being taken advantage of by Brown-Headed Cowbirds, a nest parasite. 
     The Jack Pines use fire to help reproduce. They keep branches long past the point that they dry out and become kindling and they also have pine cones that open with heat to release seeds. Fire burns everything in the area and only Jack Pines are left to sprout in the now fertile soil. But in modern times there were too many people living in the northern lower peninsula of Michigan that fires were not safe.  
     Today, through active and intense forest management as well as capturing of Brown-Headed Cowbirds, the population of Kirtland's Warblers have recovered to the point that there are over 3000 singing males. 
     To be honest, I had no idea about any of this prior to the spring of 2017. But after I found out about their history, I had to try and see them. Fortunately for me, Michigan Audubon leads tours in the summer to known nesting areas. I made my way to Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling Michigan, right in the middle of the mitten. I camped at the park and met up with the tour in a really nice visitor's center in the park. As we were waiting we could hear Ovenbirds calling from the parking lot and watched as Rose-Breasted and Evening Grosbeaks visited some feeders. After a short talk about the history of the Warblers we all drove off in caravan to a stand of young Jack Pines east of the park (no Kirtland's breed in the park itself, it's mainly White Pine and deciduous trees). We left the paved road and followed a dirt 2-track into the trees. It was a bit eerie to see the trees all 12-15 feet high with taller Aspens sprinkled in. We were told to listen for the call of the Kirtland's and then look for a gray and yellow bird singing. Shortly after our walk someone did see a grey and yellow bird sitting on a snag, but it was just a lowly Nashville Warbler (but a lifer for me!).
Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler - Grayling, Michigan
 We continued on into the trees quietly listening for the Kirtland's. Suddenly a warbler with a yellow breast was right there along the road. Those of use with cameras snapped away... but this time it was a beautiful Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler - Grayling, Michigan
     Once again we ventured on. Another hundred or so yards down the road someone heard the rising and then falling tones of the Kirtland's Warbler. It was coming from far off and the looks were really poor. 

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan
Then all of a sudden another call, this time right near the group, but behind some really small trees. And then another bird singing from the opposite side of the road, they seemed to be all around us. 

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan
     I was fortunate enough to see a female Kirtland's Warbler. These birds are very shy and typically stay out of sight on the ground. It's the males that sing up high and why the census of their population given in singing males. 
Kirtland's Warblers - pair seen foraging together
Pair of Kirtland's Warblers (female below, male above) - Grayling Michigan
     You can see the duller female in the bottom circle compared the brighter male above. I was so excited to get to see these birds and to get such great looks as I did. Some trips go out and fail to see any of the birds. The group returned to the main road and we all went on our separate ways. I ventured west and found some more lifer warblers along a great stretch of road. 
     The next day, on my way back to Ohio, I stopped at a nearby location where some Upland Sandpipers had been seen. I found another stand of Jack Pines and wandered around looking at all of the power lines for sandpiper shapes. But not more than 300 yards into the woods I heard the now familiar call of another Kirtland's Warbler. 

Kirtland's Warbler
Kirtland's Warbler - Grayling, Michigan
     I would hazard a guess that if you ventured into any young looking Jack-Pine trees in the area of Grayling and listen carefully, you'll hear and then see some Kirtland's. And if you need another sign, look out for these cowbird traps along the way.

Cowbird trap
Cowbird Trap - Grayling, Michigan

     If you do make the trip to Hartwick Pines SP, take the time to walk around the various trails. They were full of Ovenbirds, Blackburnian and Black-Throated Green Warblers. 

Ovenbird - Hartwick Pines State Park, Michigan
Blackburnian Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler - Hartwick Pines State Park, Michigan
Black-Throated Green Warbler
Black-Throated Green Warbler - Hartwick Pines State Park, Michigan

     If you do make the trip, take advantage of the free tours from Michigan Audubon. 

     Or attend the Kirtland's Warbler Weekend the first full weekend in June. 

Thanks for making it this far,


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,