Thursday, July 4, 2013

Peña Blanca Lake

Northern Cardinal
Before my trip, I got a little crazy with my time off.  The power of finding the next bird is overwhelming sometimes.  I'm addicted.  Free time=time to bird and hike.
Rock Wren
But there are limitations and sacrifices.  Sleep is one of them.  Heat is the other.  It is super dangerous to go to these canyons or desert areas alone.  Many times, I lose wifi service including my ability to call for back up.  To avoid the heat, I will get up at 4 AM in the morning and get on the road by the time the sun rises.  The birds now call before sun and they are only really active during these first few hours of decent temps.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow
I did have a bit of anxiety on this day.  When there is too much going on, I tend to get antsy.  Do I shop for my trip?  Or do I bird and try to get new species on my list?  The latter question wins and I'm on the road. I absolutely hate shopping of any kind.  So I try to go when people are busy.  It's really a lot like birding.  The earlier you go; the less of a crowd you'll have to deal with:)
Ash-throated Flycatcher
On this day, I had my information all screwed up.  I went to film Canyon Wrens.  I've seen them before but I don't have any great ID shots of them. And again on this day, there were two flying around a rock cliff, but there aren't any photos.  I'm beginning to think there is a conspiracy going on!
Cinnamon Teal photo bombed by a mystery bird
So I went to Peña Blanca Lake.  Alone.  I had been looking for a Least Tern.  So I looked around the lake where terns tend to fly and perch.  I listened for the birds because I know their calls.  And I wasn't hearing anything.
Barn Swallow-not a great pic but I like the outline
By this point, the temps had reached into the mid-90's.  I went into a shaded area and didn't stray too far.  I had limited water.  I forgot to take the water out of Pat's car and put it into mine!  I only realized the fact after I got to my destination.  I went to the public bathroom area to see if I could spot a water fountain, etc but there wasn't anything.  So then I located the few people fishing around the lake in case I needed to call on their help.  This is how my mind works.  I don't care what anyone says, but Arizona can be a dangerous place to bird.  If it's not the heat or the illegal activity around the border, it's the chiggers, monsoon floods, lightning, etc.  Summer is a time to be very very careful here.  Just recently a 21 year old died from heat exhaustion.  He wasn't the first victim nor will he be the last.  We have wonderful and incredible things to see here that will make you fall in love with our state, but be careful during our monsoons and always bring plenty of water with you.  Forget the suntan.  You'll get it whether you like it or not:)

I did have water with me, but I always like having more.  I'm a big guy who drinks more than the average person. Wisconsinites, in general, sweat a lot.  People say it's good to sweat, but I think it to be a pain sometimes.  Our genes overdo it!  Most of us prefer breezes and cool air. Don't ask me why, but that statement is generally true for most of my kind back home:)  Maybe it is for you as well?  And therefore, I must always make sure I bring enough water on these epic treks.  The birds are always incredible.
So back to lack of preparation.  I searched for a Least Tern.  There were none.  I went into the public restroom searching for the reported nesting Canyon Wrens.  They weren't there, but a Barn Swallow shot out from the toilet area and scared me half to death. Maybe I should have knocked?  On my way back to the car, I noticed a Grebe floating around the waters that wasn't a Pied-bill Grebe.  I took shots to study back in my cool and comfortable dining room.  I was sipping my coffee when I finally was able to examine the shot below.  It was one of those "ah-ha!" moments.  For it was not a Least Tern I should have been looking for......but a Least GREBE!  I then went over my other photos and began to laugh.  The bird was present in nearly all of them as if to say, "Hey idiot, LOOK at me! I'm right here.  I'm the one you want!"
Least Grebe
But I was distracted by other birds.  Today I present two happy shots.  One, the Least Grebe, is lifebird 337 for me. And the other is below.  Finally!  The Warbling Vireo has been a difficult one to get shots of, but it was just in reach of my camera lens and that made me smile.  There was a nest and the parents were feeding them. It's a very quick and tiny bird!
Warbling Vireo
Peña Blanca Lake is a real treat to hike and bird.  I pulled out some fish wire from the water though.  I was very upset by some people's lack of respect towards the wildlife in the area.  I nearly cut myself on the fish line, but I got it all out of the water.  Someone used a water bottle as a way to fish from the lake.  It was a makeshift fishing rod which leads me to believe that these may have been illegals crossing through the desert for some food.  Our wildfire season will be coming to an end with the onset of the monsoon rains.  Several fires every year are caused by illegal activity along the border(and also from cigarette butts thrown out of the car).   Whether it is drug trafficking or from people entering the US for work, they have caused some of the worst environmental pollution in our deserts.  Trash is left behind.  Fires are not completely put out causing the wildfires. This last bit is also caused by campers or recreational day users who ignore the rules concerning grilling out.  This year I grieve for the 19 firefighters who have lost their lives near Yarnell. One of the biggest tragedies that come to my mind in recent years.  And safety is a concern, especially early in the morning or late at night, when a lot of birding is done. The lake is situated near the international border between Mexico and the US.  Lock your doors, but also have fun.  And if you can, bring a buddy with you. Please have a safe and happy 4th of July everyone.  And if you're in Arizona be careful with those fireworks.   More to come.....


  1. Chris, great post and photos! Awesome bird sightings. It was sad hearing about the 19 firefighters! Stay safe and happy birding!

  2. totally laughing at the wisconsin sweaters. i always say i inherited my father's sweat glands. *thanks, dad!*

  3. As always, you got some interesting shots. Seems you forgot which bird you were looking for.

  4. Yes, prayers for the families of those firefighters. Very sad.

    Great bird photos... You amaze me at your knowledge of SO many birds...Wow!

    Hope you had a wonderful 4th of July... God Bless America.

    We had rain all day --but we still enjoyed our BBQ and watermelon!!!!!


  5. El Cardenal es verdaderamente un pájaro espectacular.. Enhorabuena..

  6. Great post Chris. Your commentary really described how dangerous your part of the world is right now so take it easy and take care - it's only birding after all and not worth risking life and limb for.I agree with you about those anglers being a pain in the butt leaving their rubbish lying around.

  7. Really nice bird shots Chris. Love the Cardinal. I'll never understand why people don't get it about fire. Or is it they just don't care??

  8. Can't help it...the cardinal just stole my heart!

  9. U nas nie ma kardynałów, dlatego zawsze je podziwiam ogladając je. Pozdrawiam.
    We do not have the Cardinals, so it's always admire them watching them. Yours.

  10. I really enjoyed reading your account of this hike, Chris. What a rewarding one it was! Please, however, take great care! I was concerned to hear of the several real dangers in this area, especially at this time of year.

  11. That's a beautiful lake and the birds are great but there are certainly a lot of other - undesirable - things to look out for around there. Heat can be a problem anywhere - and I have found that most birds keep still and quiet in the middle of the day!

  12. Love that Northern Cardinal what a gorgeous bird. I honestly don't think I could stand the heat where you are!! Take care on your birding trips.

    So sad to hear about the firefighters.

  13. Chris, wonderful photos of the Rufous-crowned sparrow and the grebe. You are such an air-head at times! I'm glad you worked it all out in the end. And I am always telling you to DRINK MORE WATER! I think you have gotten spoiled by when we go birding because I always bring enough water for us both! I missed out on being there on this day but made up for it when I came back! Now I have the grebe as well! Congrats to us both!

  14. That's quite a nice lake. Your bird finds are always interesting and your shots amazing!


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