Monday, October 20, 2014

Withdrawal Symptoms

A Mallard approaches us
Have you ever closed the curtains to your windows so that you could just keep the outside world out?  Lately, I have been unmotivated and tired.  But I made a promise to myself at the beginning of the year that I would work on my US list.  My only goal?  To stay within the top 100 in the national scheme of things.  So far so good.  

I'm tired of the chasing.  I'm tired of the ebird reports and most of all just feeling a bit confined for the moment. The home requires a little TLC and I'm working on several projects right now that will add a little spark to our place.  

Black-capped Chickadee at one of the hotspots I created for Ebird in Colorado Springs.....Quail Lake
So I understand that there are birds out there that need to be seen for the year but their locations are rather uninspiring. What does that mean?  Well, there are cool birds that can be found in trashy locales full of sketchy people or hot desert scrub in the middle of nowhere. I'm much more inclined to sit in my pajamas with a cup of coffee during the weekend and read a good book. 

Bucks hidden in a secret canyon outside of Colorado Springs during hunting season
Granted there are always birds that amaze me....even the common ones.  But after a year of chasing (and this last road trip to Colorado), I'm about ready to hang up my birding vest and cap.  Next year I'll be stepping back from the birding scene and just focusing on new life birds.

American Avocets in Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico last week
For now, I've made the New Year's Resolution "find and re-find as many new and old birds as I can" a reality.  It's not as easy as it sounds.  Family, weather, money, work and home have interfered with my focus at times.  Time is everything. 

People will ask me, "What has been the most challenging part about this birding trek?"  Time and money are a challenge especially when there is a full-time job to consider. I've only hit half the necessary hot spots in the US to stay in the top 100. With more money and "free" time, I could plot and strategize better. Another challenge?  Locating grouse!  They are some of the most difficult birds to locate.  Some of the grouse that have eluded me so far this year have been the Dusky, Spruce and Gunnison sage-grouse!  They are VERY difficult.  It took me two years to discover the secretive nature of this Montezuma Quail below!  Hearing the bird is one thing but to watch it watch me only inches away was quite a learning experience.  The bird was completely camouflaged by the grasses and for me it was one of the hardest things I've had to do as a birder this year!

Montezuma Quail
BUT! The Montezuma Quail live here so I've been able to constantly go back and study their habitat. This has allowed me to get a better idea about how they interact with their environment.  But the other grouse?  Not common here in Southern Arizona and when I'm in their territory, their environment and habits are completely alien to me. Rails also fall into the same category.  There are several in December that I hope to locate.  Sometimes finding mammals are easier than spotting birds!  And let me tell you, if I were a hunter, I would have done very well this last week. Thankfully I use a camera to shoot.  Then I whisper to the deer, "Stay safe."

So as I slow down, for now, I am learning to just enjoy the simple things and pull back from my personal challenge of "finding all the birds".   I have one last big trek for the year scheduled into California.  For the time being, I'm drawing my shades and just relaxing a bit before going back on the road again.  I'm not going to let the competitive birding out there drive me insane:)  Maybe it's too late for that?

Sparrow love-Brewer's Sparrow.  Yeah it's brown and plain but.......what a cool bird!
Currently for the year, I've seen and documented 450 species of birds. I'm not done:) Last year, I observed 452 species.  While out on the road this year, we had a little fun on our treks around Arizona.  The mastermind, Tommy D, loves putting together birding videos while on his Arizonan treks.  In this state, a birder can go from extreme heat to snow within a half hour!  Sometimes we desert rats forget to prepare for the colder terrain while on that chase for a rare bird.  Here is one of my favorites he filmed while looking for a super rare bird in the north country!  Check out Tommy D's Birding Stereotypes.  Arizona truly is an awesome place to bird.  Where will we be next weekend?  Stay tuned for more from Las Aventuras. 

Don't forget to check out Wild Bird Wednesday!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Paint The Wind

As the year begins to wind down, we head into the heart of autumn.  Today we take you to the southwestern regions of Colorado state to search for the beautiful Black-billed Magpie. 

Earlier this year, we, the band of birders, tried to find this bird in the 4 Corners region within the reservation town of Teec Nos Pos.  Unfortunately, we were unable to locate the birds, but on this epic road trip, we finally discovered at least one hanging out around the town. 

Spotted Towhee
Once we quickly located the bird(8 minutes!), we were off to Gunnison, Colorado for one of the most scenic autumn treks ever. Highway 50 right now is gorgeous!

The weather went from sun to rain to snow! What is a journey without a little adventure? 

Along the way, we stopped at watering holes and snapped pics of not only the birds but the amazing fall colors.  The brightly colored leaves swirled all around us as we inspected each site for that rare bird.

Mountain Bluebird
When life gets a bit....well....crazy, a road trip always seems to do the trick:)

Most of the birds in Colorado have already been seen this year in various parts of the country.  We were hoping to spot the endangered Gunnison's sage-grouse, but the weather had other plans.  However the addition of the Black-billed Magpie to the year list was great. 

Black-billed Magpie
Hunting season has begun and the hunters were out in FULL force.  The deer, pronghorn and elk kept their distances. While high up on a sage hillside, we noticed dark clouds approaching us. 

We were unsuccessful in our attempts to locate this grouse, but I now have a better understanding of their habitat.  However, having past experiences with a storm like the one approaching made us depart earlier than expected.

With our elevation and cold temps, I knew we weren't looking at rain in the forecast...... 

We high tailed it off the dirt roads before they became impassable and turned into mud and ice.  

The surreal autumn colors were blanketed by frost. There were several moments in whiteout conditions that had me at the edge of my seat. Winter had come.

We made it down the mountain and thankfully had an uneventful trip to Colorado Springs.  

Black-billed Magpie
Magpies still made their presence known and we really had fun observing these beauties.  They were very numerous and in most of my ebird reports while in Colorado. 

Our journey continues.  Check out the video below made from my cell phone over this past year.  It shows a bit of the Hwy 50 magic. 

Update on the owl from last week's post.  The bird is doing well and healing. It had a fractured humerus(the bone that attaches the wing to the body).  The appetite has come back and things are looking up. For more about birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday

Monday, October 6, 2014

Discover Gila County!

Parker Creek in the Sierra Ancha Mountains
Exploration.  Study. And new Arizonan ground to cover.  This weekend, I attended an AZFO conference in a very unexplored area of Arizona.....Gila County! 

Brown Trout are found in a stream fed pool
Mountains, like the Pinals(specifically Pinal Peak), had some of the best birding.  Here we were able to observe Band-tailed Pigeons(difficult to get pictures of!), Cassin's Finches, a Lewis's Woodpecker, Sage Thrasher, and a strange covey of Gambel's Quail!

The camera shy Band-tailed Pigeon finally poses on Pinal Peak
While attending the conference in Miami, Arizona, birders from around the state and country had the opportunity to meet each other.  Lectures included Gray Hawk diet and expansion, the differences between the fairly new Sagebrush and Bell's Sparrow split, the Desert Purple Martin, global warming and warbler migration, etc.

White-tailed Deer watch us through the branches as Gordon and I search for elusive birds
While I didn't find any new birds for the year (or life birds), I did gain A LOT of information about the birds found around the state of Arizona.  Our visits marked new areas for ebirders in the state.  Bird populations around Gila County are relatively unknown.  While ornithologists know what birds can be found in the area, there isn't much birding data entered for this Arizona county.  So we explored the rough roads and along the way we discovered wonderful flora and fauna.

Jones Water Campground
On this trek, I went with my birding bud and friend Gordon Karre.  I really appreciate the times we get to bird together as they are few and far between.  Each birder has a mission.  Our mission this weekend wasn't necessarily finding new birds but exploring new and unknown areas.

Empress Leila butterfly
The conference was rather large this year which suggests that this birding addiction is catching on.  There were birders of all ages and that was encouraging!

Ground Beetle-Pasimachus  A special thank you to Doug Taron for helping me ID my bugs better
The participants also came from a wide variety of backgrounds ranging from photographers and artists to professors and wildlife specialists.  So on our outings, we had lots of knowledgeable people who knew their plants, bugs, lizards, birds and what to do when a sick bird was found like this Great Horned Owl below.  

The team came together and secured the owl for transportation. 

If you live around the Phoenix area and find an injured bird or animal, contact Liberty Wildlife at 480-998-5550.  

Check out the talons on this GHOW!
I'm hoping this bird makes a full recovery.  So send out your positive thoughts and well wishes for this poor owl.

Photography was "meh" when it came to the birds this weekend:)  I put together this collage highlighting several of our interesting finds.  From top to bottom and left to right.  
Band-tailed Pigeon, playful Common Ravens
Red-naped Sapsucker, Brewer's Blackbird, Brown Creeper
Turkey Vulture, male Cassin's Finch 

Alligator Lizard
I'll be back on the road again next week searching for new North American year and life birds.  Birding is a science.  It's an art.  It requires quite a bit of dedication.  It can be social. But most of all, birding for me is something quite special. I never take any of my treks for granted. Every moment matters. Many of our common birds face an uphill battle in the years to come.  Extinction will continue as our carbon emissions rise and the world's human population explodes across the globe.  Humans are using up water resources and spreading over land that is utilized by our planet's wildlife. Compound that with poisons used in agricultural fields and traffic deaths for low flying birds/crossing mammals and it doesn't paint a pretty picture. Many of these critters are getting "squeezed" out of their habitats by us.

The artist Narca Moore-Craig gets up close and personal with her amazing discovery of the Alligator Lizard
My mission will be to continue my studies with organizations like Audubon, Ebird and AZFO(Arizona Field Ornithologists)We live in a very complicated world.  With opportunities like the ones presented this past weekend, we can help explore these "new" wild areas and contribute our knowledge for the better protection and conservation of these areas.

Gila Country offers wonderful vistas and lots of great Arizona wildlife viewing!
 For more about birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday. 

An agave stalk
Below is an overview of the Workman Creek Falls in the Sierra Ancha mountains.   Our trek into Gila County was fantastic!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Swiftly Passing By

 I spent a whole week debating what I would birds or just relax and bird a favorite hotspot.  There are more birds I need to find but they are simply too far out of range to observe properly within the short amount of time given.  Everything now points to California but I only had the weekend for birding.  And I didn't want to be on the road driving for most of it. 

Sparrow love.....Vesper Sparrow
When I am conflicted with direction, I know what I must do.  Bird the Whitewater Draw.  I think it has to be one of my absolute places to visit.  The location feels like I'm back in the Great Lakes region again.  It's a pretty special place. 

Now if we took the mountains out of the shot above, this could be a wetlands somewhere in central Wisconsin. During the winter months, this place becomes a hotspot for many birders as thousands of Sandhill Cranes congregate these waters and surrounding farmer's fields. As one might imagine, lots of waterfowl also hang out here. 

It's a little too soon for all of these birds, but we did have one large flock of Cinnamon Teal hiding out in the reeds.  We did a little walk around the area and flushed over 60 of these ducks!

It's still warm and it's still wet in Southern Arizona.  Another storm passed through our area from the Pacific Northwest and it pushed down several more migrating Vaux's Swifts. 

Vaux's Swifts are pudgy swifts with short tails that breed between Southern Alaska and central California during the summer.  As they head back to Central and South America, several will pass through Arizona. Many times, this bird can be seen riding the winds in front of major storms around watering holes.  In my case, Hurricane Odile helped me locate one around the Sweetwater Wetlands. This year has been a very good year for many birders in Southern Arizona with all of our monsoon storm activity. 

There were lots of brown and gray birds from our adventures.  From top to bottom and left to right.  
Merlin, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Red-tailed Hawk
Loggerhead Shrike, Killdeer, Mississippi Kite
Common ground-dove, female Lazuli Bunting, Vaux's Swift

Perhaps the most significant part of this trek was observing migrating swallows as they gather in great numbers heading south.  The highlight of our day is captured below on this fence line. Swallows tend to be tricky birds to capture on camera.  And it's rare having 3 different swallows sit still long enough for a picture. As I've stated in previous posts, a lot of birders have a hard time id'ing swallows above them because they fly so fast.  On this trek, they surrounded us in great numbers.  We stood inside their cloud amazed by their acrobatics.  There were lots of bugs....including chiggers.

L to R- Bank Swallow, Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow
The bug life increases with heat and moisture.  This Great Swallowtail below found our citrus trees at El Presidio, laid the eggs and is now in the final stages of butterfly life. A bit like Charlotte's web. 

Giant Swallowtail
There is a birding loop I make if we go to the Whitewater Draw.  We drive through Benson and Tombstone and count birds along the way.  Once we arrive at the Whitewater Draw near McNeal, we spend a good portion of our time birding.  At around lunch time, we head over to Bisbee for break and then head over to the San Pedro House near the San Pedro river for an afternoon of birding there. Then it's visiting our relatives in Sierra Vista and back home in Tucson. 

And Arizona sunsets are always amazing.  If you haven't birded Arizona, you're missing out.  Over the next several weeks, my journeys will take me to Globe, Colorado and a return back to California.  And the adventure continues.....

For more fascinating finds, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!