Monday, January 30, 2012

The Streak Ends

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. With all the good luck I was having chasing birds, one had to get away. Yesterday, 1/29, we chased the Streak-backed Oriole in Tubac, AZ. As I was fully expecting to see the bird, it hurt deep down when Garrett and I missed the bird by 9 minutes, and hurt even more knowing it was being seen for 30 minutes while we were there! It was also re-found today, driving the knife even deeper. If it sticks, we will make the 3 hour drive on Saturday to try once again.

The birding hasn't been all that bad. We checked out Cienega Creek Preserve (permit required) on the 28th and the birding was phenomenal! We saw great birds such as Black-throated Gray Warbler, Gray Hawk (previously reported), Eastern Phoebe (continuing) and the Common and Ruddy Ground Doves. Speaking of Ground Doves, we saw this one perched up and thought Ruddy due to the grayish bill and lack of any scaling on the breast. What do you think?

This Hutton's Vireo also was in the preserve, and quite curious.

Earlier in the week, we had to drive to Bisbee to pick some stuff up for work, and the San Pedro House is right on the way. We dipped on the Winter Wren, but did find an American Goldfinch. Actually a decent bird for Arizona.

We have now moved from the Sonoita area over to Whitewater Draw where we will finish the season. Tomorrow we survey around Willcox. Here is to hoping that Oriole stays until Saturday!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

San Rafael Valley

Oh what a magical place the San Rafael Valley is! Reports have been coming in of Baird's Sparrows, Short-eared Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, McCown's Longspurs and White-tailed Kites, so I certainly wasn't sour over the fact that our "work" took us right in the middle of it all. In fact, we saw all these birds, and most of them on our surveys!

The Short-eared Owls stole the show. After our first transect, upon returning back to our vehicle, I was tickled to see a Short-eared Owl hunting the field opposite the one I just came from! And this was at 9am!

A little further up the road, 2 more were hunting and doing some acrobatic dives towards prey. Then, on my next transect, I flushed another from 2 meters! Throw in the numerous White-tailed Kites, Northern Harriers, Kestrils, Prairie Falcons and Red-tails and you have a great day of surveys!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Phoenix Weekend

Fellow blog readers, sorry for the lack of posts lately, but as you probably figured out, I've been birding. Oh... and working too.

This weekend Garrett and I headed to Phoenix in an attempt to see some of the sweet birds that have been staked out. On our way, we stopped at Santa Cruz Flats where we quickly relocated the McCown's Longspurs, Mountain Plovers and Crested Caracaras. We moved to the Gilbert Water ranch where we added a few nice species to the year list, but nothing to brag about.

We finished Saturday looking for the Lewis's Woodpecker at Encanto Park and the Eurasian Wigeon just north of there, with no luck. That night, the AZ listserve yielded a positive report of the Lewis's and Wigeon from earlier in the day! This would just not do.

Sunday morning, we headed straight for the Lewis's Woodpecker at Encanto Park, and this time we nailed it. Moving to the Wigeon spot, we also found the bugger in with some Americans. Two good birds before breakfast.

It was time to move along for the Smith's Longspur in Buckeye and upon arrival, we saw some fellow birders stalking the subject bird. We moved in and quickly got on it in flight. Great scope looks were had by all.
To think this was only my second Smith's ever. I surely wouldn't mind seeing more.

We moved to the Thrasher spot (Baseline and Salome Hwy) with our new friends from the Longspur viewing, and we quickly found a pair of LeConte's Thrashers. This time, everyone got great looks.

Seeing as it was only noon, we bolted to back to Tucson and went to Saguaro National Park in hopes of Gilded Flicker, another bird I've only seen once. We stopped at the second pulloff on the loop and wouldn't you know it, a pair of Gilded Flickers! Both were calling and checking out holes in the Saguaros... it sure starts early down here!

Here is an Arizona Woodpecker from Ramsey Canyon, where we also had 2 calling Painted Redstarts:

And these Vermillion Flycatchers seem to be quite common this year:

We will soon be moving from the Sonoita/Elgin area over to Whitewater Draw. Good things to come!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Keep em' Comin'

We are finally settled into the Audubon Research Ranch in Elgin, Arizona after a hectic few days of figuring things out. Between figuring things out, we birded.

We spent a day off in Florida Canyon in hopes of getting a few their life Rufous-capped Warbler and some year birds. The plan worked great, and before long, we were seeing Black-chinned Sparrows, Rock Wrens and other fun desert-like birds. We finally bumped into the Rufous-capped Warblers which put on quite a show. Too bad the lighting wasn't better, but it was very enjoyable nonetheless.

We eventually found Hutton's Vireo and Olive Warblers, and the continuing Rufous-backed Robin to top it off.

We spent some time at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson where highlights were Lawrence's Goldfinches, Summer Tanager, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Solitary Sandpiper, among other things. As always, this place was very birdy and a fun spot to be at!

Today, between scouting out two blocks for surveys, we hit the Patagonia area to get Garrett his lifer Black-capped Gnatcatcher. Little did we know what a PITA it is to seperate Black-capped and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in winter. I had seen Black-capped once before, in July 2006 with a VENT tour, but that bird wasn't exactly rocket science. This time, we found a silent gnaty, followed it forever, photographed the crap out of it, asked a few more experienced people about it, and conclude it is a Black-capped. It finally gave a few calls, but since we both have no experience with Black-capped calls, it didn't help much. Western Blue-gray calls are harsher than eastern, adding to the confusion.
This picture shows the tail and bill pretty well. I feel like the bill could be longer... but the tail looks really good.
If you have reason to believe this could be a Blue-gray, I'd love to hear why. I'm pretty frustrated with gnatcatchers, guess I need to study Blue-grays a littler harder.

We ended the weekend with quite a few new birds for the year, Garrett got a lifer and ABA bird. We even managed to get a flat tire a couple miles from the Mexican border in the middle of nowhere, luckily our less-than-adequate spare tire held up before we were headlines in the news.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Whilst packing and cleaning before our early departure tomorrow, Lucas went outside to pack up the car. Moments later the word "RINGTAIL!" was yelled, and all the techs rushed outside. Lo and behold, this Ringtail was about as shocked to see us as we were him. After enjoying his company for a minute, I decided it was time for a crash course in night photography. I think this picture sums up the night pretty well!

Definitely one of the cooler animals I have ever seen. This little guy wasn't on my radar!

Tomorrow morning we leave the El Coronado Ranch early and head to Florida Canyon to pick up Rufous-capped Warbler, and whatever else may be around. While not a lifer, it sure would help on my quest for 500 ABA birds this year, and it is a darn good lookin' warbler to boot!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Week 1, 2012

This had to be my best birding week to start a year ever. Yesterday, our luck continued as we went to the Chiricahua National Monument to scout areas to try for Whiskered Screech-Owl. At the very top, immediately after exiting the vehicle, we got on two Mexican Chickadees! Garrett and I visited this place last year with no luck. This time, they fell in our lap! They were mostly in the shadows, but here are a couple mediocre pics.

While photographing the Chickadees, this female Williamson's Sapsucker wanted in on the action, landing in perfect light. This is just a quick edit, better pictures will be on my website sometime.

One week, 154 species of birds, 3 lifers, 4 ABA birds, and the fun is just beginning!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Arizona Strikes Again!

Today was one of those days where you ask yourself if life really can get any better. The morning was somewhat uneventful as we checked out a spot we went to yesterday. This afternoon, we scoped out a very nice looking grassland and we hit the jackpot!

The habitat looked very "ammodramus-ey", and it wasn't long before our first Grasshopper Sparrow popped out. We spooked another ammodramus that everyone got looks at except me, and they called out Barid's! It took me 5-6 more times of tracking down the skulker before I got disappointing looks at my ABA Baird's Sparrow. But the looks only got better from here.

Ammodramus sparrows continued to flush, and tracking them down revealed they were all Baird's Sparrows! After enjoying prolonged, so-close-I-could-have-spit-on-it views in excellent light, I decided to try to photograph one.

And a mid-hop shot of one skulking away.

After having to walk away from several Baird's, another special species popped out. This obliging Sprague's Pipit gave everyone very satisfying looks, and was even a lifer for a couple. The light wasn't the greatest, but you get the idea.

On our way out of the grasslands, a Sage Thrasher couldn't have been more cooperative. I've had run ins with this species before, but they have all been very skittish and did not allow close approach. This one actually flew towards us. Curious little bugger he was.

These photos are all just quick edits, I'll post some better quality ones to my website when I get a chance, which could be a while.

The year is off to a rockin' start, and there are still plenty of birds to see in this part of the world. If this is any indication as to how the rest of the year will go, I say bring it on!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Field Season and the El Coronado Ranch

As some of you may know, I have returned to my previous field job in SE Arizona. For the next two months I will be surveying various grasslands in SE Arizona for wintering grassland birds. Between surveys, I'll be gallivanting around the state enjoying the birds and the sun.

We are currently staying at a huge, beautiful ranch at the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains, the El Coronado Ranch. We took today to get acquainted with the area and birded the pine/juniper/oak habitat right around the ranch. It wasn't long before we were into some great birds, including this female Williamson's Sapsucker.

Arizona Woodpeckers were also around, and this one, although a bit far, gave us great looks while in a somewhat unusual perching position.

Around the feeders and brushy areas along the "mansion", Garrett MacDonald alerted us to a White-throated Sparrow. I believe this is a pretty good bird for the location, and I got a somewhat disappointing picture.

Shortly after the sparrow excitement, I found this very pale blue butterfly. I had no idea what it was at first, but after consulting field guides/butterfly gurus, it appears to be a pale, aberrant Reakirt's Blue.

Tomorrow, and for the next week, we will be training for the field season and staying at the ranch. I'll be very busy, but if anything exciting happens, you'll be the first to know!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Years Sweep!

What an amazing end of the old year, and fantastic start to the new year! I flew to San Diego on December 31st and was picked up by a buddy and we hit the ground running. We had a few hours before sunset and I managed to pick up a few year birds to push my year list to 465, my best year by far. The continuing San Diego Thick-billed Kingbird put on quite a show.

We also picked up Grace's Warbler, California Towhee and a few other things.

Yesterday, New Years day was started at Point Loma to jump on the annual New Years Pelagic. We had some serious fog for a lot of the trip, but not enough to hinder me from getting my life Black-vented Shearwater. Out in the warmer water we saw a Pink-footed Shearwater, quite a rare bird for the winter.

We also scored this Xantus's Murrelet, another great winter bird.

This was good and all, but the fun didn't stop here. We quickly moved north to look for the long-staying Dusky-capped Flycatcher at some ritzy high-class place. We ran into another dude and split up. Long story short, we searched a lot, the other dude found it, we saw it. We also picked up a Hermit Warbler right in the same tree. We decided to push our luck and head to Yuma to try for Black Rail.

We hit the Mittry Lake area and played copious amounts of playback at a plethora of locations around the lake. We stirred up Clapper Rails and Sora, but no Black Rail. We made our way to our hotel in Yuma at 1 a.m. with our first missed target of the trip... or so we thought.

Early this morning, after 4 hours of sleep or less, we had plans to head to Lake Havasu for the Nutting's Flycatcher. Garrett had a crazy idea; why not stop at West Pond for another shot at Black Rail before sunrise? So we did. We played the Black Rail song many times, and finally, right before dawn, one Black Rail called 6-7 times for us. Score!

Off to Lake Havasu, we drove to the Nutting's Flycatcher spot and heard the bird call right away. After a little patience we heard, and then saw the bird right off the road, 6 feet up in a bush and it gave great looks, but I got on it too late to watch it call! This tragedy would not be acceptable, so we continued to search for the bird a while longer. This Phainopepla kept me occupied for a minute.

Either the Nutting's Flycatcher is attracted to the sound of a camera's shutter click, or it was very jealous that the Phainopepla was stealing it's thunder, because as I was photographing the 'pepla, the Nutting's flew up and perched right above me! Quite convenient indeed.
After following the bird down the wash, I finally got to see it vocalize through my binoculars. Success!

We needed to be in Tucson tonight, but why not push our luck even further? One last stop at a famous Thrasher spot at the intersection of Salome Hwy and Baseline Road, 40-some miles west of Phoenix. We broke up to look for the skulky Le Conte's Thrashers. After much searching, I finally heard, then saw a pair feeding right on the ground! I moved to get a better look, and it popped right up!

I ran to get Garrett and Bo since they were outside shouting distance (and I shouted pretty loud), but when we got back to the area, the Le Conte's Thrashers were no where to be found. We searched for another 2 hours and came up with only one Bendire's Thrasher, a few Sage Sparrows and Abert's Towhees, and not much else. This was only my second time seeing Le Conte's, and would have been a lifer for Garrett and Bo.

We finally are currently in Tucson after a great expedition! Work starts tomorrow, and I'm on a serious lack of sleep.

I fell short of 500 ABA birds in one year last year, but I'm going to take a stab at it again this year, and I have quite a few tricks up my sleeve. Stay tuned!