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