Monday, March 11, 2019

To Russia With Love

My idea of LA traffic:)
The mission to find 10,000 plus birds in this lifetime continues.  Today's trek takes us deep into the heart of LA. 

LA Traffic's version of traffic
It was an unexpected trek, or hiccup, in the overall scheme of things. Sometimes you just have to do it. The trek to Los Angeles from Phoenix can be a little over 6 hours by car.  And the traffic is the challenging part.

Allen's Hummingbirds are quite common along the coast of California
I have been buried by home and garden projects, house chores, bird books and research, lecture prep and travel work.  I don't mind a single bit of it, but it's the reason I took a break from blogging last week.  There just isn't any time.  Over the past several weeks, I've been out with lots of great people finding Arizona birds, but it was time to get back in the race. This trek was all about one bird, the Red-flanked Bluetail.


I had wanted to observe this bird but I didn't want to drive alone to LA.  Then Gordon mentioned the trek and it was done.  I'll be honest.  I'm still recovering from the weekend, but it was worth the chase.

Indian Peafowl at their best
The Bluetail has been hanging around the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library for about 3 months. It's the second record for California with most records up in Alaska.  So this bird is a long way down the North American coast. The bird is native to Northern Europe and this particular Bluetail may have crossed over from the Russian side into Alaska and then down as they do migrate in their home range.

Bewick's Wren
We stopped along the way and had some fun birding, but it was this Red-flanked Bluetail that became our target. We arrived to the library in beautiful weather.  Everyone has seen this bird and posted pics of it everywhere. But for both Gordon and myself, we needed this lifebird to just give us a little excitement again.  The last time we both added new birds to our life list was in the summer. Sometimes when things get a little slow, all I need to do is just chase a new bird to feel that adrenaline again.


With a little patience and being surrounded by wonderful people, we found our thrushy flycatcher acting bird. While we were there, the bird was secretive and always hid in the shadows, but that's because I believe the bird is a Russian spy:)

Red-flanked Bluetail
So like the guy who calls himself the US "president", I did a little colluding with a Russian bird.  It's not quite the same. Plus I don't think I'll go to jail for it:) 

Kurt and Gordon chat.  I catch Kurt in mid-thought.  These guys are great.
Anyhow, my work really begins to pick up over the next 4 months.  Like every spring I've been doing this, I always feel a little antsy.  I am an explorer at heart wanting to understand the natural bird world and how it relates to people from different cultures and societies. I get to put on my birder's ambassador hat this upcoming week.  Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Snowy Arizona


This storm has been in the making for some time.  We've been hit with storm after storm here.  Visitors escaping the frigid cold temps of the North aren't so happy, but we, the locals who live here, have loved it. The night before the storm arrived, our local weather forecasters told us to get ready for the arctic blast. 


Schools were closed and an official "snow day" was declared. The night before we planned a trek to Saguaro National Park to take pictures. In the morning, there was just rain and then I heard Micheal yell from the dining room, "There's snow!"  Snow is midtown is RARE.  In fact, I don't ever recall seeing snow here.  The closest thing to white this neighborhood ever sees is cocaine or maybe a leucistic Rock Pigeon:)


As always with these two crazy friends, one was focused on using her new camera in the snow while the other was throwing snow balls.  We were amazed by the amount of water here. 


I counted birds and did my surveys at my local patch, Reid Park, taking lots of documentation photos.  For those of you who know Tucson, you know how hot it gets here.  So today was for Tucsonans.  There were so many happy faces everywhere. 



It was an unofficial holiday. For one moment, there wasn't any Christmas madness in the air.  The news focused ONLY on the weather.  And for the first time in a long time, I didn't hear that orange baboon's name ONCE.  We were just people in Tucson, in Arizona, having fun in the snow.


The weirdest thing that I witnessed was this cat below playing in the snow with his human companion.  They were doing a photo shoot together and this cat acted like a dog.  Never in my life have I seen a cat do something like this before.  The guy snapped his finger and the cat chased him on the lawn.  If I did that with our cats, we'd have a revolt!



Then there was the day after. WOW!  The views were incredible.


I continued counting birds and enjoyed the cool temps. 

Ferruginous Hawk
The birds were hungry after the storm. During the storm, they huddled under the bushes to stay warm. Every species acts differently in extreme weather. 


the Southwestern Song Sparrow
 Some people were stupid. In the pic below, we saw this submerged truck in Willcox around Lake Cochise.  It's either a stolen truck dumped in the grasslands OR a bunch of idiots who thought it would be fun to go "mudding" in the snow.  Either way, it looked like a perfectly good truck.



It was a strange weekend full of fun and rare snow birding. 

Curve-billed Thrasher
The wildflower show should be amazing this spring. In a way, it was sad saying good-bye to the storm because the summer temps will be arriving soon enough.

Marsh Wren
 For now, I'll try to take in every moment I can outdoors.  There's no rush:)


Until next time.....

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Trogon Kingdom

male Elegant Trogon at Madera
Nothing.  And I mean NOTHING is more exciting than the discovery of the Arizona Elegant Trogon.  I've worked with these birds over the years doing surveys and attending meetings about their breeding grounds. So when I see one, I get excited just like everyone else does but I forget about what these birds do to people. In a canyon full of rare and exciting birds, these resident birds still win the popularity vote.

British birders spy their first Elegant Trogon and the world is complete
Let me share with you what happened.  I went to Proctor Road to get my Townsend's Solitaire and Gray Flycatcher for the year in Pima County.  And while I was there, birders from all over were looking for the Elegant Trogon.  HOWEVER, there was a "better" bird in the canyon, the ABA AZ first, White-throated Thrush.  This bird should steal the show, but no, the Trogon was more popular.


Several birders from Scotland and Ireland were there while I was birding.  They had tried 3 times over their lifetime to see this bird and when it literally landed in their laps, it was thrilling.  I felt so happy for them.  Their joy was contagious.

In Scotland, Trogons do not exist.  Here in AZ, they do!
The Elegant Trogon can be very difficult to observe in the wild.  If you ask any birder who has chased this bird, you'll hear lots of stories about how they dipped on the bird. During my years as a birder, I can tell you from experience that winter seems to be the best time to observe these birds as they often just sit out in the open and hunt.

The ABA mega rarity, the White-throated Thrush
I nearly had a heart attack when the TRUE gem, the White-throated Thrush landed right next to me. And I had no one around to say, "hey.....pssst....the bird is right here!" So I took my documentation shots and passed the word onto others who were all much more interested in the Elegant Trogon.

Townsend's Solitaire
Last month, I shared my reports of all those birds with you.  But on a quiet stroll after things have somewhat quieted down on Proctor Road in Madera Canyon, I had my best views. It was funny.  I saw those birds before I saw my own target birds, the Townsend's Solitaire and Gray Flycatcher!  But I eventually found them:)


None of them are as "exciting" as the trogon I suppose, but I still like them!


After my hike, I went up to the Santa Rita Lodge and just watched amazing birds.

Painted Redstart
Their feeders were active.  Here in Arizona right now we are experiencing storm system after storm system.  This is not a complaint.  This is wonderful rain that the desert needs. But it requires careful planning.

Arizona Woodpecker
After 2 months of attempts, I was finally able to head to Mt. Lemmon for some important reports.  I went up with friend Hollie and together we saw some amazing birds!  And it was just in time too!  Another storm system came our way while we were on the mountain.  Temps dropped to freezing and snow clouds began to encroach upon the skies. They were dark and heavy.

The frigid cold on Mt. Lemmon!
This is the one time of year that I have an easier time finding Golden-crowned Kinglets in a couple spots.

magical Golden-crowned Kinglets
And like always, I heard them first but what I didn't expect to observe was a male territorial dance!  WOW!  It was like something out of a bird book.  Incredible!


We both watched in awe as they did their display.


Now, the biggest challenge is getting out of work to find an Arizona first(for me), the Varied Thrush! As I near 500 birds for the state, the list gets smaller, especially with the Pima county challenge on!  The 2019 birding adventure is only just beginning. Until next time!

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The USS Betty White


My shuttle, the USS Betty White in her native habitat.  I'll admit it, I'm a little too in love with my car but it has made for the best birding vehicle ever.
OH how I love my Betty White. She makes everything better. This past weekend we went on a mission with Tucson Audubon to save the Chestnut-collared Longspurs in the scenic grasslands known as San Rafael.

The guardian angel of the grasslands, the White-tailed Kite of the early morning
We do these counts every year to protect the habitat for this species of declining longspurs.  In fact, the grassland species on a whole have had the largest impact with declining numbers due to loss of habitat.  So it's important to protect these spaces for birds.

The USS Betty White is a survey vessel used for research and saving birds
I love the grasslands.  And I especially love any sparrow or sparrow-like bird. 


It's challenging and requires a little know-how but our collective experience helped us find quite a few of them. 

The team listens carefully for longspurs, makes note of the grass that they are in and searches for any movement
It's hard not to notice some of the other beautiful birds that winter in the grasslands like the White-tailed Kite below.


When the world seems like it's falling apart, I only need to stroll in the open air of the grasslands to forget all of it.


As we walk towards the cattle tanks, we hear the high "tribble tribble" of the longspurs as they prepare to fly.

Chestnut-collared Longspurs are amazing.
As they flush from the grasses, the longspurs fly in a popcorn pattern zipping here and there every second they are up in the air.  This is one of the most challenging bird species to capture in photos.  They are secretive and fast when discovered.


Most people just see little brown dots vanishing into the grasses. 

Maureen is a pro and was a lot of fun to work with
To make a great day, you need great birders.  And we had it all.  The worst part of looking forward to something is that it also ends before you know it. To say that I was on a high would be an understatement. Grasslands, friends(new and old), Betty White, the target bird and fantastic weather made the event fly by like...well....the longspurs.


Sure they are sparrow-like and brown but they are fascinating birds. To not have these birds around in the winter would break my heart.  They belong here.  It's why we do these surveys. 


To find wintering AZ longspurs, you'll need your ears, some good grassland habitat and cattle tanks/ponds.  And a little luck😉


It's an incredible experience and one that every birder should celebrate.


After our "work" was done, me and the Betty headed over to Paton's to do some birding there.

White-crowned Sparrow
It was super active and the birds put on a good show. 
 
Canyon Towhee
Especially the Cedar Waxwings!

Cedar Waxwings
As always, I'd like to thank Ms. Jennie Macfarland for leading up this survey and inviting me and the USS Betty White to explore strange new grasslands and seek out all things longspur.

Richard, Minnow and Jennie

We ended our birding at Patagonia Lake State Park for a quick scan of birds.  We did see a Common Loon.  That was fun.


AZ birding is the best. Until next time......