Thursday, June 23, 2016

Birding Wisconsin

Cedar Waxwing at the Gill Farm
 The Wisconsin adventures are about to begin.  I'm still on the road and will be getting back to you all during the month of July so I apologize for my absence. It has been a fun trek into the Eastern part of the US looking for rarities and other beautiful things. 

My niece is growing up SO FAST!
I'm spending much needed time with the family.....

A mother Eastern Phoebe guards her nest
 ......and their birds.  Sometimes I tune out and revert back to my old self.  Just for a moment. 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak at a nest in Peninsula State Park
 We explore nature preserves, campgrounds and meet wonderful new people on the road. 

Searching for Barn Swallow nests in an old cattle barn at the Gill Farm
I eat Mom's homemade cooking.  There are dumplings and kraut, brats, sausage sticks and CHEESE!  Yum!!!  We grill out.  We gossip. 

And while doing so, my lifer American Woodcock stops to visit while I am without my camera.  I do have a Malibu and Rum in my hands though.  It figures that a secretive bird would stop by and visit when I am not prepared!  My family all watched the bird land and then take off.  The moral of the story.  Never leave your camera in the car:)

My brother gets the fire going.  I make the same expression when the American Woodcock stops by to PEEK on us. No photo.  Next time.
Other birds stop by and calmly pose for photos.  Heck!  Some of them even nest on the porch!

Babies take selfies.

The family gets together for Father's Day
And Downy Woodpeckers come for a sip at the feeders. 

My brother Jared exposes me to a new toy....the drone.  It's easy to operate, but the filming part is tricky.  I safely navigate the drone away from people and birds, but my brother has other ideas:)  

And while all this commotion is going on, I sneak in the time to chase rare birds in Wisconsin. There are rainy days which I treasure because the cool temps allow me to sleep in and enjoy my vacation. 

The Little Gull
 Every part of the world has its challenging birds. Here in Wisconsin, gulls are the challenge as are the many flycatchers.  I like gulls so I don't mind sitting through the thousands of them looking for one or two rarities. 

Red Admiral
So on this overcast and cool morning, I scoured the Sheboygan shoreline and found 3 Little Gulls mixed in with the hundreds of similar looking Bonaparte's Gulls. 

The header to this blog contains a Bonaparte's Gull so you can imagine how much I loved observing all of these birds.  They are one of my favorite gulls that I don't get to see often because I'm in Arizona:) It was a treat!  After a half hour, I located one Little Gull on a shoddy pier.  

Bonaparte's Gulls and a Little Gull.  Can you find the bird?
 Other gulls joined the fun as the Little Gull wobbled around the "Big Leagues".  I think Ring-billed Gulls are small but when they stand next to the Little Gull, they are GIANTS!

A Ring-billed Gull is a giant to the much smaller Little Gull
At the end of my count, I found 3 of them mixed into the crowd.  They have a shorter bill, are a quarter size smaller than the similar looking Bonaparte's Gulls, and have darker legs.  The cap on the head was also slightly different as were the primary tail feathers.  But to the naked eye, they look the same.  I found these birds because there wasn't anyone around me during the early morning hours.  The birds made their weird sounding short squawks at one another. Once I located the "different" calls, I was able to have a debate inside my head.  Why aren't these Bonaparte's Gulls?  I know. I know. I need to see a counselor:)  But hey, it's better than getting into a political debate with my father!  So let's turn off the news, internalize a little more, and enjoy nature!  Birds make for a much healthier debate:)

Door County with the family.  My niece catches me falling asleep on the ferry to Washington Island
At the end, I was confident about my ID. Native to Northern Europe and Asia, these Little Gulls have a known smaller population around the Great Lakes area and East Coast.

The people started arriving and asking me about the Pelicans.  Instead I spoke with them about the rarer gulls.  I helped other birders get on the birds and it was a satisfying bird challenge. But the people were still jabbering on about the PELICANS!  So I'll jabber about them as well in a future post:) Their presence is significant. Today it's raining in Wisconsin and I love it.  The temps are a cool 58 degrees and I have the house to myself!!  I sip my coffee with my gentle music playing in the background.  The doors are open and a breeze is moving through the house.  Tonight, we try out Bloody Mary's at a local restaurant.  Yeah, birding and family is a lot of fun.  Over the next several weeks, my friend Gordon and I will take you on some epic adventures that truly challenged us in the state of Wisconsin.   

I'd also like to make a shout out and thank Nancy and Earl Gill for their wonderful hospitality. Several of the photos featured in today's post are from their property. Nancy gave me a tour of their beautiful farm and a delicious jar of canned pickles!  I like pickles but these pickles are amazing.  Needless to say, I'm rationing the jar:)  SO GOOD!  There are so many shades to birding.  I love Wisconsin.  I love the relaxed pace.  Arizona birding is wonderful but it's stressful when you're with so many professional birders! They've made me a better birder, but sometimes the birding can be demanding there. Here, it seems less stressful with a lot more laughing.  And when I'm with my Shire, I feel at home.  Until next time........

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Always Chasing Rainbows

The hikes have been grueling lately.  With desert heat and rarities popping up left and right, it has made the birding a true challenge.  Which bird should I chase first?  Many of the birds are in difficult or remote locations!

Violet-green Swallow
For the all the "hits" I get on my target birds, there are also the misses.  Aztec Thrush, Berryline Hummingbird, Rose-throated Becard, Slate-throated Redstart. All misses because of time.  Only one would be a lifebird.  And when I dip on a bird like I did with the Aztec Thrush, it burns bad. Timing.  It all comes down to the timing. When you don't have the time, you appreciate every minute you have more.  My life is one long schedule.  It's pretty awesome, but like everyone else reading this blog, we have lives outside our hobby that require us to be present:)  It will just make the story sweeter when I do finally see these birds in Arizona:)

Black-throated Gray Warbler
I'll hike miles to find a new bird.  But with time constraints, it makes waiting around for a bird difficult.  Had I only waited 10 minutes, I would have seen the bird!!!  BUT NO.  We had to head back down the mountain to get home.  It's a terrible feeling.  I got into my car and couldn't talk for awhile.  I got a text from a friend who told me that the bird popped out as we were heading back down the trail. 

Gordon spots an Hepatic Tanager.  In the distance, a wildfire burns near Young, Arizona.
Time was ticking and my window for the Aztec Thrush closed. No more Southern Arizona birding for awhile.  On our last days in Arizona, I birded with Gordon(above) once more on Mt. Ord.  

The heat was an astounding 117 degrees in the desert!!  I use this reliable kitty weather forecast for help. So we had to climb the mountains for some reprieve.  But not by much. It still was pretty hot up there!

It's amazing how birds can even survive these extreme temps!

Hutton's Vireo
Like good Arizona birders, we pack lots of water. Some it is frozen while the rest is chilled.  The body MUST stay cool in the extreme heat!  We also went early and left the house by 5 AM. Although, you can get up at 4 AM to start!!!  But that's way TOO early! Or is it?

Hepatic Tanager
We track water sources.  Cattle tanks.  Mountain streams, etc etc to find birds. During the Arizona summer, birds will feed before the sun rises(the 4:30 AM time period), hang out in the shade during the sunny and hot times of the day and stay near any water sources that may be around the area. Visiting birders need to take care and do the same!

We find plenty of wildlife resting in the shaded areas.  We also take advantage of these areas along the road staying out of the intense sun.  As we do, we spot several deer casually crossing the road ahead of us. 

It is also completely acceptable to sit at public bird feeders and search for rarities:)  Especially after the 10 AM time period.  

Lucifer Hummingbird
Sometimes I will chase ONE bird for 30 minutes in the sun. I am confident about where these birds are hanging out. Otherwise, I wouldn't go and get them. So I get my pic and run back to my air conditioned car:) Take for example the Tropical Kingbird below. It is currently nesting in its' typical spot at the Sweetwater Wetlands. Easy.

Tropical Kingbird
There are even easier ones to snag. Park and bird! There is nothing wrong with birding from your car. This American White Pelican decided to hang out at Lakeside Park for a few days before taking flight.  

American White Pelican from the Utah area(note green tag)
And around the same time, a Least Tern returned to the same spot.  I think it's the same one that I discovered here a year ago. The migration dates were almost exactly the same. Note the times I used "same" in this paragraph:)

Least Tern
But when it gets too hot, it's time to head up to the higher elevations.  Early mornings are still the best as they provide cooler temps. 

House Wren
While the canyons are still dark, you'll hear the owls finish up their last calls. 

Brown Creeper
Of course you have to do some hiking to see some of this stuff, but WOW!

And then an owl calls.  It's like a dream come true.  WHOA!  And the crowd goes wild!

In the shadows, lurks a Northern Pygmy Owl
With so much hiking going on, it was time to just rest and get ready for the cooler temps. June is the BEST month to leave Tucson or Phoenix.  It's hot and the rare bird alert is fairly quiet during this month.  Where do we go?  North:) Or West, to the beaches of San Diego.

It's hard to get up when you have such cute cats around you purring nearby.
My blog series will once again focus on a new birding area outside of Arizona. It can be cool, rainy.......and GREEN!

Until then, I'm going to do as this male Anna's Hummingbird is doing.....hanging out in the shade!  Birds will often "pant" to exhale the hot temps in the body through evaporation of moisture along their mouth, throat and lungs.  In other words, they stay cool.  

A HOT male Anna's Hummingbird hanging out in the shade on a 117 degree day!

Stay tuned for our next adventure.  Gordon will be joining me on an epic journey into one of the most beautiful states of the US.....Wisconsin.  So get your bug spray on and pull out those cheesehead hats!  Until next time!

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Wrath of Khanh

Rock Wren
Captain's Log: Stardate 5/23/16.  On a mission to find the elusive Montezuma Quail, Khanh explored the nether regions of Southern Arizona. A wildfire prevented us from going to the Peña Blanca region which has an extremely healthy population of this bird. We had to reroute to other areas near Portal where they were being seen on a regular basis. I gave him homework assignments from within Madera Canyon(where he was staying) as to where they hung out.  I was catching my "zzzzz's"

I plotted coordinates to the old Jasper's Yard(now Bob Rodriguez's place) where a pair were being seen daily. I encountered good friends Mary Jo, Melody and Jackie to help us aide in any recent sightings.  We spoke with Edith.  We spoke with visiting birders.  And we did our best to find this secretive quail. 

Magnificent Hummingbird
But first we headed to Madera Canyon where I heard them calling from a hillside.  Instead, we saw this Magnificent Hummingbird. 

Western Tanager
It wasn't until we reached the George Walker House that we'd get Khan on an active pair foraging in a neighbor's yard. 

Vast and wide expanses of rock and canyons we had traveled for a reliable look at one of the most difficult birds to capture on camera.  

And of course, while we were exploring, we found lots of wonderful birds to keep us going. 

Black-headed Grosbeak
Khanh was intense!  He was so focused on the quails that he almost missed these amazing snakes!  I used to cringe at snakes but I may be changing my mind about them.  For on this trek, I wasn't scared at all.  I was curious.  For the first time, I actually thought they were beautiful.  I didn't jump or scream. I just watched to make sure they crossed the road safely. 

Knobloch's Mountain Kingsnake
It has taken me years to get over my fear of snakes.  And please understand, if one jumped out at me, I would still scream in the most unmanly way possible:)  These two species of snakes are absolutely stunning. 

The Gophersnake was 4 feet long!  It was hard to capture the whole snake in my lens!

While we waited for the Montezuma Quail, we found lots of other thirsty birds needing a drink. 

Curve-billed Thrasher
Patience.  It's all about patience.  

Painted Redstart
Other quail showed up like the Scaled and Gambel's Quail....but no Montezuma.  Of our 3 quail species here, the Montezuma is THE most secretive. 

Female Gambel's Quail

Then we heard a male Montezuma Quail calling.  His call marks his territory but also lets the female know where he is.  Khanh grabbed his camera and secretly followed Jackie to an area of grasses where they were creeping around.  He saw them.  And they saw him.  

Stock photos of Montezuma Quail
And like magic, they disappeared after realizing there were people watching them.  Khanh never did get pictures but I DO know he'll be back one day to capture amazing photos of these birds.  For now, here are the birds he truly focused on for this trip.  Elegant Trogons, Owls and the Montezuma Quail. 

Elegant Trogons are tricky as well, but with patience and timing, these birds are likely to be found

We had a great time searching for birds and I hope we get to do it again someday. 

I see a sequel in the making.  Probably something like, "The Search for Quail"  It would make a great two parter.  For now, I need to sleep forever. Until next time.....