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,


Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016: Year in Review

2016... what a year for good and for bad. It took my family from the Republic of Ireland to Arizona USA. I also upgraded my camera from a Canon SX50 to a 7Dmkii with 300mm f/4 and 1.4x TC. That also brought my photography game up a notch or two. Honestly, I'm not super happy with that lens and will try and upgrade in 2017, I just need to stop buying so much Lego.

I wanted to make a best of 2016 post to share what I think are my highlights. I ticked 81 lifers in the past year, and in the process hit 400 ABA birds and 600 world birds. But there's no way to show all of those. Instead, I'll try and find the dozen or so ones that were special to me.

Early in the year I made a trip to California and got to meet my friend Brent at Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Orange County. We got to watch a pair of threatened Ridgeways Rails below the boardwalk we were standing on.

Ridgeway's Rail
Ridgeways Rail - Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Orange County CA
And we got to watch a Reddish Egret dancing over the water.

Reddish Egret
Reddish Egret- Bolsa Chica Wetlands, Orange County CA
Back in Arizona I got to see many Hummingbirds throughout the year. We have Anna's in our back garden all year round, but further south in the state you can find some spectacular ones. My favorite may have to be the Blue-Throated Hummingbirds that I saw near Portal in June.

Blue-Throated Hummingbird
Blue-Throated Hummingbird - Portal Arizona
The rarest Hummingbird that I got to see was a Plain-Capped Starthroat in Madera Canyon. It was making daily visits and I just happened to be there at the right time with the family.

Plain-Capped Starthroat
Plain-Capped Starthroat - Madera Canyon Arizona
Arizona is home to an amazing variety of Flycatchers, a family of birds that I'm still trying to learn about. We have probably the best looking trash-bird anywhere, the Vermilion Flycatcher. They are seen everywhere south of Phoenix and at Patagonia State Park they are every other bird that you see. 

Vermillion Flycatcher
Vermilion Flycatcher - Pima County, Arizona
A less common Flycatcher that I got to see in the Santa Ritas were Sulphur-Bellied Flycatchers, which break the normal appearance of a small, thin-billed bird.

Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher
Sulphur-Bellied Flycatcher - Santa Rita Mountains, Pima County AZ
But we also get some down-right rare ones too. I hiked up into Ramsey Canyon in June to see some nesting Tufted Flycatchers in Ramsey Canyon. This is their only nesting location in the USA. I got to see just the one of them while the other was presumably sitting on eggs. 

Tufted Flycatcher
Tufted Flycatcher - Ramsey Canyon, Cochise County AZ
But as awesome as it was to see the Tufted Flycatcher, the following week a Pine Flycatcher was reported nearby in the northern Santa Ritas. It was found by a birder camping with his family who thought that he heard an odd note. A few days later he returned with some expert birding friends and they all agreed that it was in fact a Pine Flycatcher, which would be the first USA record for that species. It continued long enough to me to catch a ride up a very torturous road to the location deep in the mountains.

Pine Flycatcher
Pine Flycatcher - Santa Rita Mountains, Pima Arizona
The same weekend that I was down seeing the Tufted Flycatcher (and dipping on Spotted Owls) I headed East to the Chiricahuas to see a Slate-Throated Redstart. Not an extremely rare bird, but uncommon none-the-less. I staked out it's nest-site at dawn and managed some good looks, but some lousy photos. It moved around like a warbler would. 

Slate-Throated Redstart
Slate-Throated Redstart - Chiricahua Mountains, Cochise County, AZ
I knew that this would get too long. So I'm going to fire through the last few notable birds of the year.

Back in September a hurricane brought a load of seabirds to the southern half of Arizona. Tucson and places south got the most variety and most amazing birds, many American first birds. But the Phoenix area wasn't completely forgotten. A Wedge-Rumped Storm Petrel was located at a suburban park in Mesa. My son and I raced up after he was out of school and we were given great views of the birds preening and flying around the park.

Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel
Wedge-Rumped Storm Petrel - Mesa Arizona
My 400th ABA tick happened to be a nice visitor to Arizona, a Lesser Sand-Plover appeared at a muddy pond on the Navajo Nation near Flagstaff. We happened to be driving by while on a family trip.

Lesser Sand-Plover
Lesser-Sand Plover - Navajo Nation, Arizona
Another rare bird that I got to twitch appeared at my local patch, Veterans Oasis Park in nearby Chandler. A Groove-Billed Ani was observed there off and on the previous day and early the morning on the first day that I could go. It was nowhere to be seen when I showed up, but after nearly 2 hours of looking and pshing, it made a very brief appearance before flying off never to be seen again.

Groove-Billed Ani
Groove-Billed Ani - Chandler, Arizona
Warblers made up a lot of the birds that I got to see this year. Some noteable ones were a Chestnut-Sided Warbler and a Blackpoll Warbler both seen in different parts of Chandler during migration.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler
Chestnut-Sided Warbler - Chandler, Arizona

Blackpoll Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler - Chandler, Arizona
An Arizona specialty is the Red-Faced Warbler. It's not uncommon in the mountains and a really great bird to see. I got some great looks up in Ramsey Canyon while I was looking for the Tufted Flycatcher.

Red-Faced Warbler
Red-Faced Warbler - Ramsey Canyon Arizona
But the best looking, in my opinion, was a warbler that I just saw last week in Florida Canyon. Rufous-Capped Warblers are supposed to be hard to find, but I saw 4 in the same area, and in a location where they were not supposed to be.

Rufous-Capped Warbler
Rufous-Capped Warbler - Florida Canyon, Pima County Arizona
But if I had to pick my favorite bird that I saw in 2016, and I saw 81 new species and nearly 300 species in all, it was another one that I saw just last week. In my last blog post I talked about searching for a Green Kingfisher for hours in Patagonia Lake State Park. I was turned around to head back to my car and home without seeing it when I saw one flying up the creek. I managed to get soem ok photos and some really good looks until it flew off and out of sight. 

Green Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher - Patagonia Lake SP, Arizona

Green Kingfisher
Green Kingfisher - Patagonia Lake SP, Arizona
I really love kingfishers and would like to see more. There's a 4th species being seen in Texas, and maybe that's where I'll go this year for a trip. We'll see what 2017 has in store for me.

My birding new years resolutions are to keep a yard/patch list and try a Maricopa County Big Year, but that will wait until tomorrow when the rain moves off. I also want to get a new pair of binoculars, if there's a pair that you like, let me know.

Happy New Years everyone!

Thanks for making it this far,