Monday, July 25, 2016

Juvenile Boot Camp

Northern Flicker(Red-shafted)
Right now, up in the mountains, around the grasslands, hopping around the cacti and playing in the canyons, many Arizona fledglings are learning how to be birds. AND SURVIVE! Each species is unique when it comes time to raise their young ones. 


Yellow-eyed Junco just developing the yellow eye:)
Yellow-eyed Juncos work together as a team.  The young ones stick together and hunt along the ground for food.  

Olive Warbler
Olive Warblers learn how to fly for the first time as the parents lead them from branch to branch. Sometimes if they stray too far, they remind the little ones to return to their location. 

Red-faced Warbler
Young Red-faced Warblers are curious just like most juveniles of our planet's species (which includes our own).  Parent's keep a close eye on their young ones when a Cooper's Hawk or Steller's Jay gets too close. An alarm call goes out and parents will actively chase the predators away. 

Bushtit
The smaller birds, like this young Bushtit, try to figure out how to eat this ant.  It takes the bug and smacks it many times against the branch.  And then again and again until the bug is dead.  Many of his siblings are doing the same.  The parents know that with time and practice, they'll be pros. 


Some birds, like the Cordilleran Flycatcher, just sit on a branch and wait for Mom or Dad to come feed them. Then the parent's call their young one to fly to their new position where they'll feed them again. Clever flight training technique! 

Cordilleran Flycatcher
A young Bridled Titmouse tries to take down a very large moth that is much bigger than the bird.  It grabs the wing of the moth and the moth pulls the bird with it!  Once again, Mom and Dad save the day and help out!  

An older photo not taken from this photo shoot but one to help tell the story of the Bridled Titmouse
Young birds MUST learn quickly how to survive.  It's a do or die world out there in the land of Nature.  They face so many obstacles and as we observe these young birds, we hope they make it. Sometimes, it's heart breaking to observe a Steller's Jay take down a young Dark-eyed Junco while the parents helplessly scream and attack the Jay. But we understand that the Jay is also part of the world and needs to survive. 



Other times I am mortified by what I see. Here are some stock photos from a couple years ago.  I see babies jumping out of nests and parents and older siblings flocking around the predator to make sure the young ones survive.  Again, I do nothing in this case.  It's part of Nature.  

Pyrrhuloxia on high alert
 But when I see the young ones on the road where they can get run over by a car, I do assist because most headphone wielding joggers or drivers aren't paying attention to their surroundings. I block traffic and allow these young ones passage to the other side of the road where they will be safe.  


Mom is waiting with food once the young are off the road.  Dad and Uncle P are screaming at the snake while the fledglings bounce out of their nest onto the road. 
Anytime, humans are involved, I will break the Prime Directive of Birding and assist when needed.  They already have enough to worry about and don't need the human threat added. Fortunately, the Pyrrhuloxia story ended well.  As for the Coachwip(Red Racer) snake?  Well once the birds were off the road, I backed away carefully.  It's a beautiful snake but I've seen it get nasty with Herpers when they try to hold them.  That's why I don't hold snakes or lizards:)


We had a great time helping Jeff from Madison, WI find his lifers on Mt. Lemmon.  And while he found his lifers, we observed some amazing parent/fledgling activity. Every time I go out into the field, there is ALWAYS something new and different happening. 


Life is good.  Until next time.......

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Toad Witch


The invasive Bullfrog
I know I know.  You're all saying, "Um, frogs?"  Well, I better clarify.  It's frogs, toads and a snake with some birds:)  I did my yearly bird survey at the Aribabi Ranch in Mexico during the first week of July. Somehow, the tiny developing Herper inside of me showed some interest:)

Anny holds her target study, the Sonoran toad.  Here is a breakdown of the frogs and toads seen here.  Left side top to bottom-Sonoran Toad, Red-spotted Toad.  Middle, top-bottom, Lowland Leopard Frog, Sinaloa Toad, Spadefoot Toad. Right, top-bottom. Bullfrog, Woodhouse's Toad

It was hot and miserable.  There were also plenty of bugs to add to the uncomfortable nature of our stay.  BUT.  I went with a group studying the Sonoran Toad(also known as the Colorado River Toad).  While they were doing their investigations, I did my own.  They were a wonderful group and made the trip down a whole lot of fun. 


The target species-the Sonoran Toad
Below is a pic of the crew during our dinner event.  The young lady at the corner of the table is Anny.  She is a graduate student who will be working with the venom of the Sonoran Toad to help develop a treatment for such things as drug addiction.  It was fun watching the crew brainstorm and put this project together as a team.  Meanwhile, I was with the herp guy, Jim Rorabaugh.  He's into everything "nature" but he really really likes lizards, toads, frogs and snakes. Over time, I've learned to appreciate them more thanks to Jim's work out in the field. 



I've seen most of the birds on this ranch so getting the bird survey done was a snap.  And I had great views of some birds that would be considered "rare" for the US.  During the nasty heat, a Summer Tanager sits down on a fence and poses. 


As he sings quite proudly, a Broad-billed Hummingbird sails past him. 



During the early morning hours, I would run my survey.  During the afternoon, I'd hide away from the nasty sun.  And during the evening, I went out with Jim and crew to look for frogs and toads!

Sinaloa Toad
In the process, Jim ID's his first ever Sinaloa Toad at the ranch!  There's nothing quite like finding a new species at a place we have surveyed for several years.  Jim has been coming to Aribabi for years and it was a first for him.  To watch him get excited was great fun.  Surprises are the best. This toad was very rare for the area. 

Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Also rare?  the Western sub-species of Yellow-billed Cuckoos.  I've been to the ranch over several summers and haven't had more than two pair calling from the Cocospera River.  This year, we had an amazing 3+ pairs of cuckoos!


The first night, it looked like it would storm but it didn't.  Instead, it stayed muggy and I didn't sleep at all.  The second night was better.  We did have a storm blow into the area, but we didn't get any rain from it.  However, the temps cooled way down! 

Spadefoot Toad
During that night, the crew went under barbed wire fences and into grassy areas to look for toads and frogs.  Or whatever else came our way.  People went after frogs in nasty water.  I'd flash lights and bugs would run into me.  I am definitely a birder.  This business of picking up frogs in poopy cattle ponds is not my idea of fun.  However, watching frogger people get into the whole activity was fun. Night time photography is the worst!  50 photos for one decent one.  

Vermilion Flycatcher
During the day time, I relaxed as I casually saw my birds. 

Sinaloa Wren
I made an effort to track down the very vocal Sinaloa Wrens.  They appear to be working on a second clutch for the summer.  The nesting sites were active. 


Here is one of those nests.  It hangs down from the tree.  The hole of the nest is underneath this basket.  Pretty cool!


There were also several other birds I needed to track.  

Woodhouse's Toad-note scary "spider" behind the toad! 
The Thick-billed Kingbirds were back again nesting. 

Thick-billed Kingbird
AND I finally heard and saw the Rose-throated Becards that are always reported from this area. This bird is significant because it is only found around healthy riparian areas.  Their populations have been said to be in decline, but thankfully on this trip, two adults and two juveniles were seen!  I was SO happy.  This is the 4th time I've seen this species in my life.  Maybe one day, I'll finally get to see one in Arizona.

Rose-throated Becard
Then it's time for a muffled scream, followed by a cooooool moment.  If I know there are snakes, I'm okay.  Had I not known about this tiny snake, I would have freaked out.  But Jim gave us a heads up. 

Sonoran Lyresnake
I stand back and try to get a decent photo of the snake for documentation purposes. I can't help feeling the heebie jeebies.  It's a way cool critter and I know it.  But I have this stupid human reaction to snakes.  I wish I could control it, but I can't.  Maybe it's the way they sneakily slink silently along the vegetation. 


Anyhow, our crew got the job done and we were ready to head back home to the cooler temps.  I wish Anny the best of luck on her grad project.  It sounds like a lot of fun.  


Life is an adventure.  Where will we go next?  Stay tuned for more......


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Arizona Birding

Five-striped Sparrow
Since I have been home from Wisconsin, I have forced myself to get out of the house to help friends and new visitors to Arizona find birds in this relentless heat. You might think they are crazy for visiting Arizona during this time of year until you see what birds have been showing up!  So here is the latest from the Arizona highway birding patrol.......

Mesquite Beetles
A couple weeks ago, birding friend Ernie came to visit from New York to find the ABA countable Five-striped Sparrow in the remote California Gulch. However, it was more than a tick for him. He just wanted to see the bird! While I was in Wisconsin, I was mentally planning for his arrival in Southern Arizona. He was doing the same on his side. The Gulch is a rough area and can be quite dangerous during monsoon. But in a miraculous turn of events, we had the most beautiful weather ever! 


The California Gulch on a cloudy day
The Gulch is hot and very remote.  Ernie rented an SUV and the ride was smooth.  He really wanted to see this sparrow and quite honestly, the summer is the best time to find it there.  We had overcast skies and a gentle rain that day.  It was an amazing morning full of wonderful birds and other critters.  But even better?  Ernie had great views of the sparrow. 


Five-striped Sparrow
I'm always afraid that I won't deliver on my part.  I try my best to help others find the birds and most of the time, the birds cooperate.  I had such a wonderful morning out with Ernie and Fran.  And we couldn't have asked for better weather on this day.  

Widow Skimmer-thank you Gordon for the ID!
We listened to the night sky and heard owls and nightjars.  And something strange that growled at us from beyond the edge of darkness!  Still not sure what it was, but I know there is a Mama Cougar in the area and the call was reminiscent of a larger mammal.  The night is dark and full of terrors!  Well if I could have ID'd the growl, it would have been less terrifying:)

The rough and beautiful Proctor Road at sunset
After Ernie left, a series of events happened.  One right after the other:)  They were quick and easy spots.  On a very hot and muggy day, I met up with Jon and Michael to find a rare Purple Gallinule at Sweetwater Wetlands.  After 20+ minutes, we located the bird.  I began to see stars from the heat and it was time to get back into the car.  But WOW! I mean....it's a purple bird.  It was a lifer for Michael and a state bird for Jon.  It was great to see their smiling faces on the trails. 

Purple Gallinule
Then it came time to go find the Scissor-tailed Flycatcher that made Sierra Vista home for a couple weeks.  So we went down to visit family but stopped along the way to view this very beautiful bird.  Easy summer birding! The heat once again pulled us back into our vehicle after a really great time observing the bird. 

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
After several expeditions between rare bird chases, I went with Gordon and Jeff to the Huachucas for some honest and real birding.  This time the bird gods would grant us a rare and beautiful Berryline Hummingbird.  Finally!  I've never been around when one shows up.  So this bird taught me to let it happen as it happens:)

Berryline Hummingbird
 While we were up in the Huachucas, the birding community received word that rare Black Skimmers and a Hudsonian Godwit were found in a hot and muggy agricultural area in Buckeye. 

The old Gillespie River Dam bridge
The Hudsonian Godwit would be a lifer and it was a no brainer.  I dipped on the Black Skimmers but had a great time observing the Hudsonian Godwit!  Again this was an easy observation.  Get out of your car.  Look through a scope(thanks Caleb and Tommy!).  And watch the bird.  Then it was back in the car.

Hudsonian Godwit surrounded by Black-necked Stilts, Killdeer and other peeps
After the viewing, I didn't want to drive back to Tucson wasting gas on just one bird.  So I met up with good friend Magill for some fun research to various areas around the Gila Bend area. We mostly birded from the car and had a lot of great laughs.  And along the way we found a bird or two checking out historical ebird hotspots.


Migration has begun and I feel it in the air.  Shorebirds and hummingbirds are beginning their journey south.  As you can see, Arizona is a hot bed for birds(in every way possible).  It has been a thrill to help out on surveys, help friends find birds, etc.  We have one last summer trip planned up into the North to find some great birds.  I need two more expected birds to complete my Arizona list.  They would be two more lifers and bring me closer to my year goal of finding 100 new birds. 

Beatty's Ranch House
Birds guide me.  By finding birds and hanging out with friends, the summer seems to be flying by quickly.  Life is good.  And so are the Arizona birds!  Until next time....



Saturday, July 16, 2016

Nature's Little Surprises

Blue-winged Warbler-a pair came out of the grasses towards us at Mill Bluff in Portage County
Sometimes you never know when something amazing will happen.  I think that's one of the best parts of birding anywhere at anytime.  When you go to a place without expectations and find something wonderful, it really enriches the entire birding experience. 


Brown Thrasher-a pair is feeding a nest. These birds are often difficult for pictures
They can be life birds, old birds or birds you never had great views of the first time you saw them.  It's finding that secret forest in a new place. Or discovering a new little spot full of birds. 

Red-winged Blackbird
It's the joy that comes from exploration. 


Common Ringlet

It's the joy that comes from, "Oh my gosh, isn't that cute?!"

Red Squirrel
Or it's that shocking moment when an American Bittern suddenly flushes from the reeds! I don't get to see that often!

American Bittern 
It takes but a moment........


......before the bird returns back into the vegetation and completely disappears. 



Each day.  Each place.  Each experience holds something new.  If you are open to it, you'll find it.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Life is truly an adventure.  Until next time....