Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Caravan

Our trek to Organ Pipe was interesting, but it was the work in Mexico that had me more interested.  A lot of birders signed up for a gull workshop with AZFO's Lauren Harter and David Vander Pluym.  And on the last day of the conference, a large caravan of birders crossed the border into Mexico.

Magnificent Frigatebird
We planned on staying the night in Rocky Point or Puerto Peñasco.  Many of the birders wanted to go with the caravan together.  No matter how many times I write this, there are still birders who are afraid to cross the border even though it's completely safe to travel to Rocky Point.  Like everything else, people need to use common sense. 

30+ birders scour the ocean with their scopes
We spent our morning with scopes and gulls.  But we also had our own agenda.  I wanted to do a count around Morúa or the Pinto Estuaries so we broke away from the group after lunch to do our own counts. I've been doing work around those areas for several years now and had never birded the area in October.  We rented a place on the Morúa estuary and really had a nice hike full of excellent birds there.

AZ Fish and Wildlife's Troy Corman and Wrenegade team member Tim H scope the horizon for possible rare birds

It's hard to navigate areas with large groups of people.  Many were there to spot the Yellow-footed Gull which is a bird of interest for many people.  These gulls live around the Sea of Cortez in good numbers.

Yellow-footed Gull
We said our good-byes and then were off to our sector of Rocky Point to get some work done.

At Morúa Estuary, we do a major bird count
The first bunch of birds we crossed paths with were plovers.  Snowy Plovers were everywhere.  They are the cutest of the bunch.   

Snowy Plover
Another common plover along the Pacific waters is the Black-bellied Plover.  Most of the shorebirds are in their winter plumage right now so they all look rather gray together.  Some can be downright tricky!

Black-bellied Plover
Another special bird that people come to see in Rocky Point is the Wilson's Plover.  They have a big bill and are the sassiest of the bunch.  In the pic below, the bird is throwing a little "tude" at an oncoming Snowy Plover. 

Wilson's Plover is the sassiest of the bunch
Even though it is cooler and pleasant, the sun can be quite strong as it bleaches the landscape.  In the pic below, we arrived at the mouth of the estuary where the bird life was at its highest.  I discovered my first Black Skimmers for Mexico here.

The bright light of the dunes and the ocean create a bleaching of color affect
Another great bird to see was the Elegant Tern.  They were the most common tern in this area next to the Forster's Tern. This species is listed as Near Threatened.

Elegant Tern
There were schools of fish everywhere.  And where there were large numbers of fish, there were hundreds of birds diving into the waters. Heermann's Gulls closely followed Brown Pelicans and tried to steal the food from their bills. 

A near threatened Herrmann's Gull sits on the back of this Brown Pelican
On Sunday morning, Gordon wanted to do his survey at Cholla Bay.  So he showed a couple birders how he likes to do his count.  As always, we had a great time and finished our counts with a nice list of bird species there.  The key is to go at low tide if you're a photographer.  At high tide, Cholla Bay is great with a scope.  

Short-billed Dowitchers
Short-billed Dowitchers had to be carefully ID'd by listening to their flight call.  As they flew, we were quickly able to ID them as Short-billed and not Long-billed.

Birding Cholla Bay at low tide is great for photographers wanting to get up close to the birds
As the bay drains of water, shorebirds, like the Red Knot below, go crazy on the crabs. 

A dull winter plumaged Red Knot forages for food
I've seen Red Knots in a lot of places but they are often too far to get clear views. One of my goals for this visit was to observe this species better. And it was great! 

Western Willet
Our special find, and definitely off my radar, was this gorgeous Fox Sparrow, the Sooty-colored subspecies. At the Morúa and Pinto Estuaries, there are specific green spaces or migrant traps that have green lawns and mesquite bosques.  I looked over at the trash bin and saw a bird scratching on the ground.  At first I thought it was a towhee until we put our bins on it!  HOLY COW!  We ended up with a Fox Sparrow on our Mexican life list. I also added a Dark-eyed Junco which was yet another bird I had not expected for Mexico.  Anyhow, the migrant traps around the hotels are great near the estuaries!!  I've had so many surprise warblers and sparrows show up in these green spaces. 

A rare Fox Sparrow
Our adventures continue......

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Sometimes it goes beyond the birds.

Zebra-tailed Lizard

It's a bunch of things.  It's people.  It's new places that weren't always open to birding before.  It's new information.  And it's about spending time with other birders.

This past weekend, birders from all over Arizona (and beyond) got together for AZFO's(Arizona Field Ornithologists) conference in Ajo, Arizona.

Several of us met in Los Alamos Canyon inside of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  For several years, this remote place was shut down to the outside world due to safety concerns along the border.  Recently, the park has opened back up again and it was time for us to explore.

The waters inside the canyon flowed thanks to a recent rain storm.  It was a rare sight.

Townsend's Solitaire

The canyon was green and lush.

Life was evident everywhere.  Check out the tadpole video from Alamo Canyon.

While there weren't any new birds to discover, it was still just fun to explore.  It was a new hotspot.

Inside the canyon, we observed thousands of tadpoles feeding in the stream.  Damselflies and other insects were breeding like crazy.

Breeding Desert Firetails
Underbirded areas are fun because there's always a potential to find something good!

We came across Townsend's Solitaires, Black-throated Sparrows and many other birds.

the Familiar Bluet
At the end of our hike, I had the privilege of having dinner with Janet Witzeman, one of the authors of the Birds of Phoenix and Maricopa County.  I was able to contribute to her book and it was great meeting her for the first time.

She is one of the great Arizona bird pioneers of our time and has made so many contributions over the years. And because of her work, she won a lifetime achievement award from AZFO. 

Organ Pipe was a blast.  We even took the time to bird a quirky little spring known as Quitobaquito.

Wilson's Snipe
It is the only place you can find the VERY endemic Quitobaquito Pupfish in Arizona as they only live in this tiny pond.

Sometimes it's all about the fish.  Not often.  Just sometimes:)

This once mining town, almost a ghost town now, is a great place to stay if you are planning on spending some time in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  It's a HUGE place to explore and one of the few places in the state to find Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls.

Until next time......

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Last Stretch of the Year

Bridled Titmouse
Wandering through the elevations of Arizona state, we stop and glance at the various birds around us.

I marvel at the intelligence of the Common Raven.

Ravens, hawks and a condor look like tiny specks against the mighty Grand Canyon.

Along the rim, a Pygmy Nuthatch bops around on the ground looking for food.

We stop and carefully look over the edge.

Winter birds begin to arrive and we see them in great numbers.

Western Grebe
The rains and the cool weather force leaves to change color.

Birds normally secretive in summer, like the Canyon Wren below, pop up for a longer linger.

Birds and berries evoke thoughts of making a holiday card.

I'll be honest.  I am tired.  Exhausted.  So many feelings.  So much stress.

Blue-throated Hummingbird
If it wasn't for friends and birds, I'd think I'd go insane.

A special friend from Wales makes a visit to southern Arizona.  Hello Ms. Bonnie!
We have arrived at the final chapters of this year. There is still work to do, but for now, it's all about the enjoyment of birds.

It has been an amazing year for las Aventuras.  As always, thank you for following the adventure!
This post is dedicated to Barb Padgett who was a strong supporter of Tucson Audubon.  She passed away last week at the age of 65.  I will miss her chats about Star Trek, government and so many other things.  I never met her in person, but I got to know her via Facebook.  Thank you Barb for everything you've done in the birding world.  Thank you for supporting and believing in me. When I see a Yellow-headed Blackbird, I will know that you are with me in spirit.  You are loved by so many people.  Thank you for everything.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Wisconsin Autumn

Like a flip of the switch, the weather dramatically changed in both Arizona and Wisconsin.  Arizona was hot until the onset of Pacific hurricanes brought much needed rain to the desert. And cool temps! Summer is gone. In Wisconsin, I could sense that bird migration was still happening. 

And for the first few days there, I followed up on theories and was rewarded with a couple nice birds like Blackpoll Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Ovenbirds and Black-throated Green Warblers.  Then the weather changed overnight and the migration faucet was shut off. 

Red-breasted Nuthatch
The first few days were intense as I birded most of the time.  I couldn't help it.  I had been trapped these last two months inside my house in Arizona.  When I experience perfect birding weather, I take the time to enjoy it.

Nancy spies a Red-bellied Woodpecker
While there, I met up with friend and naturalist Nancy Gill and new friend Travis Moore. Together we explored a new hotspot along the lakeshore in Sheboygan.

We find a tree hut at the park
While we didn't find our target bird, I was just happy to be with friends and birding again in amazingly cool weather.  I got to wear my jacket and even use my umbrella!

Yeah, fall back east is amazing.  But it's more amazing in Wisconsin and in other places like Maine and Minnesota....or Upper Michigan!  The trees were already turning color.

But like all fun things, it ended too fast. I tried memorizing the landscape before all the leaves fell.  And I do believe winter is going to be a doozy this year for my Cheesehead peeps.  I'll be back in June with Ms. Kathie Brown next year when it'll be warm(not hot) again. 

The real reason I flew home was to hang out with family and also take care of some family business. Life is full of transitions. 

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary
Over the years, I've taken you all to these amazing locations.  I never have to travel far in the state because the Lakeshore has it all when it comes to eastern birds.  Almost every location is a good birding spot.  Take for example my parent's home.  We had a random Purple Finch and late Ovenbird come through the yard. Their yard made the rare bird alert!

My Mom was babysitting my little nephew and nieces.  So we went out each day and had some fun.  J-man wanted a pair of binoculars like his uncle so he had a pair to help assist me with my counts. 

Of course we saw lots of other things. 

There were lots of deer and squirrels. 

And even a Bald Eagle!

But J-man was so focused on using his binos that he forgot to put them down.....

Now a Myrtle Warbler won't attack. 

But a grouchy Canada Goose will!

At one point, I had to intervene.  He put his binos right up to a Canada Goose who wasn't having any of it.  Next thing I know, the goose was on top of J-man.  I separated the two.  My mother was laughing.  I think she got the shot of the charging goose.  And if you're reading mother, I think you should put that pic in the family calendar.  It's the shot of the day:)

Chaos ensued when we gave him corn.  This little fellow is fearless.  The geese however were having fits. 

I was geeking out with sparrows.  This sparrow above, the White-throated Sparrow, isn't one I get to see often.  It's one of my favorites.  Meanwhile I see a flock of Sandhill Cranes fly into the zoo. Again, J-man is feeding deer.  And in a moment of shock, I saw the cranes go right up to him to eat the corn out of his hands!  Their eyes narrowed like a velociraptor as they towered over our little guy.  If a goose can do some damage, imagine what an angry crane could do?!

They are such spectacular birds. 

I counted my American Black Ducks while J-man fed the birds.  Mom snapped pics.  American Black Ducks are absolutely beautiful.  That little purple in the wing is such a knockout color. 

Boys are curious.  He just wanted to pet the goose but the goose got up and moved.  

During my in between moments, I walked out in the dense fog, or rain, or super windy conditions alone.  I love Wisconsin birding.  It's quiet and I like it.  Sometimes I wish the weather had been more cooperative, but I can't complain.  

Woodland Dunes in Two Rivers
I remember growing up wondering what there was to do.  It was SO BORING!  I had to be an adult to understand just how many amazing things surround me when I'm home.  Things regular people don't see. 

The colors of the tree were brilliant.  And in the sunlight, the trees glowed. 

I went back to Woodland Dunes to say good-bye to Bernie.  I think he heard me because he sent me a late Sedge Wren for me to observe out in the open. 

Right by the barn where Bernie and I first met after all those years away from my hometown, a Sedge Wren hopped about the reeds. 

They should have all been gone by now, but one remained.  It has taken me years to see this tricky bird.  Sure, I've heard it.  But on this day, I'd be granted this amazing view. 

The bird stayed with me for several minutes listening to the clicking of my camera.  It hopped around in the fog and I dared not take my eyes off of it.  I don't know when I'll ever see one again like this so I made the most of my observation. I put the camera down and just watched as it fed and hopped around the swamp. 

On other days, we took the kids on field trips and had a blast. 

On my final day, the coldest and windiest of them all, I went to go find Doc.  He's such a cool guy.  Everyday along the Manitowoc lakefront, he takes a walk and birds. 

It's amazing we found each other at all with the thick pea soup type fog!

And even though it was foggy, I found a strange Pectoral Sandpiper feeding in the dog park casually strolling along in the grass. 

Note the difference between intelligence and stupidity.  On the left, Doc wears a smart hat to protect his head and ears from the cold winds.  On the right, the doofus with the beard, me, is about to catch a cold.  And I do.  And I still have it! When will I ever learn?

Like everything in this life, it goes by too fast.  Now I'm back in Tucson needing to burn off all that delicious Wisconsin food I ate.  There is so much going on and I do get tired at work.  Living two lives is not easy. I'm working on my last big trek for the year and it should be something very special.  I've done some birding with friends from out of town.  And we'll be heading down to Mexico by the end of the month.  Every waking moment is used to plan something.  Until next time....