Monday, August 25, 2014

A Mere Fact

At the tip of Merepoint, ME
 Our trip to Maine was so much fun.  I wish Kathie were closer so that we could bird more often, but we knew the time would fly by quickly. 

I won't forget the first night Gus made us Lobster rolls!  I had watched birders salivate while telling me their stories of Maine and their love for....lobster rolls.  Now I understand better why they went crazy over the mention of Maine. 

Chestnut-sided Warbler in Kathie's backyard

For me, birding is about great observations on new birds. It's also about getting better observations on older birds that I've previously seen. Sometimes the work is difficult but it's also very rewarding. 

Many times we didn't have to go far to encounter new birds.  We'd find them everywhere around Merepoint, Wharton's landing, Brunswick and other areas. 

Pileated Woodpecker near Brunswick Landing
The primary targets for the Maine adventures were finding all the "Eastern" versions of our "Western" birds like the Eastern Whip-poor-will, Eastern Towhee, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Kingbird, etc etc.  Because I don't live on the eastern side of the US, many of these birds were new!  For many others, these are common birds around their feeders. 

Copulating Horseshoe Crabs
The other targets for our Maine journey focused on the Atlantic Puffin and Bicknell's Thrush.  Those required special trips out to the various areas and were planned well in advance. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
As our checklist and time narrowed, we chose our destinations carefully. I think over the course of two weeks, we took two days to do some light birding around Kathie's house. These days were meant for relaxing and recharging our birder batteries:)

These days allowed for us to closely examine several already seen birds and their nesting habitats better.  For example, we watched a Yellow Warbler family nest near the landing by Kathie's house. 

Yellow Warbler
Without disturbing the nest, I took some photos and watched the parents feed their young ones over the course of several days. 

Nesting wasn't just limited to the Yellow Warbler family.  Song Sparrows were busy feeding their young ones as well. 

Song Sparrow
There was a lot of great habitat around Kathie's house. 

She had nesting Bald Eagles and a field full of Bobolinks!

Bobolinks in the fields of gold
And when we weren't walking around, we just sat and watched the feeders together.  Hairy Woodpeckers, Purple Finches and Tufted Titmice came to visit.  

Hairy Woodpecker parent feeding juvenile
Common Grackles lived up to their name. And looking back at it all, Kathie's backyard was a wonderful place of discovery.  The entire drive up and down her magical Merepoint was a wildlife experience.  I will forever remember driving down that several mile road along the forest and ocean.  It was always relaxing and peaceful.  So on the 4th of July when we had to say good-bye, I was sad to go. We didn't have fireworks but we did have fireflies:)

Common Grackle
It is always hard to say good-bye to dear friends.  Everyone was exhausted by the time the trip came to an end, but it was a pretty exciting ride! At the end, I added 35 new bird species to my list and Kathie added several more to her Maine and Life Lists as well. 

I'd like to thank Kathie and Gus for a wonderful time.  It's now time for me to reciprocate the love.  She will need to come and visit in the spring of next year to Arizona so that I can help her find the LeConte's Thrasher and several others she needs for her list:)  Life is short.  It is to be enjoyed and explored.  Our adventures continue back home in Arizona. Until next time Maine!

Micheal discovers L.L. Bean in Freeport, ME
For more birds both near and far, check out Wild Bird Wednesday

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Working With Unknowns

Thick-billed Parrots at the Sonoran Desert Museum.  This is a place I like to go and actively study my birds.  
Lately, I've taken on a slower birding pace due to the heat and my work. Oh wait! I need to track down a Painted Bunting, Short-tailed Hawk, Mississippi Kite, Mexican Chickadee, Ridgway's Rail(formerly known as a Clapper Rail) and several other elusive-but-already-seen birds like the Pinyon Jay and Brown Pelican(for AZ).

A Swainson's Hawk alongside the road near St. David
This is probably the closest I'll ever get to doing a "Big Year" in the US.  I mostly stayed within the United States to search for new birds. I thought that while I was doing that I'd rediscover a lot of the other birds already seen.  So it has been a lot of fun chasing them down. 

A kettle of Turkey Vultures on Mt. Lemmon

Next year it will be a different game as we head to Southern Mexico.  In fact much of my work will be taking me out of Arizona.  There are lots of other new birds for me here in the US but my attitude is to take it slow and enjoy the fun.  

A pair of Red Crossbills(male and female) in Greer
July and August are the starts to early migration, but since I had done all my running around earlier in the year, most of my work is done within Arizona.  For the birds mentioned above, I need time and money to find them.  Since my work has begun again and my funds are exhausted, I have to budget yet again for the new year.  Plus I am personally exhausted. I have seen 442 bird species, so far, in North America. So there are nice trips coming up over the next several months but they aren't as frequent as they once were.  Which is good!

A Mountain Bluebird in Greer
I was going to head over to find the Mexican Chickadee in a remote part of the state, but the uncertain monsoons came and wrecked major havoc around the area.  Imagine desert landscape without water.  And then imagine sudden raging rivers coming out of nowhere carrying you away on an isolated road!  That's what happened with this poor lady below! Over the past several days, there have been many rescues around Southern Arizona due to the heavy monsoon rains.  Running washes are no joke!

Pic courtesy of KOLD news
The treks right now are very dangerous as we experience random intense storms, deal with really bad insects known as chiggers, rattlesnakes(cool) are out with their little ones and the heat is oppressive.  So I stay close to home and bird locally for an hour or so before returning to my air conditioned home.  I find that August and October generally tend to be my "off" months when it comes to birding.  

Female Vermilion Flycatcher
It allows me to catch up on my reading and studies on birds I'd like to find.  I think the highlight for me this month has been my study of the Cassin's Sparrows in the grasslands.  They are rather plain birds but they are so different from their relatives.  During breeding season, they will shoot straight up into the air and back down again.  I think these birds are real gems because they are difficult to ID when they aren't "larking".  So it's great fun to spend a good part of our birding adventures just observing one bird.  I have spent a lot of time studying this bird at home so that when I go out into the field, I am able to recognize the various behaviors and sounds of this bird right away.  I really enjoy the challenging birds. P.S.  Any bird with the label "Cassin's" is a piece of work.  Ask any beginning birder:)

Cassin's Sparrow in the Buenos Aires grasslands
In fact many of my evenings are spent inside of bird guides.  There are SOOO many birds.  Flycatchers can be tricky and offer a real challenge sometimes when it comes to ID.  But my biggest challenge will be the sea birds found off of the coast of California.  To me, they all look the same.  I'm beginning to note the differences between Skuas, Gulls, Terns, Jaegers, Petrels, etc. 

Great-crested Flycatcher at Merepoint, ME
On occasion, I've been known to go to an area and not really study up on the place. Sometimes it's on purpose and others times it isn't. Take for example the bird below, the Upland Sandpiper.  I didn't even know this bird existed until Kathie had mentioned to me that this was a bird she had hoped to observe.  So while I was in Maine, I studied the call which is pretty cool.  The bird runs around in grassy areas and can often be hidden from sight if it's not sitting on a fence post.  And their call!!!  I started laughing because to me, it sounds like a guy whistling at a woman passing by.  By today's standards that activity in the US is considered tacky, but we aren't dealing with humans here, are we?:)  Pretty awesome bird.  I'm no scientist but my first impression was that the bird was the offspring of a Curlew and Sandpiper:)  In fact, it looks like the evolutionary step between the various species.  They are after all related. 

Upland Sandpiper in the Kennebunkport Plains
 Other birds that are difficult for me are the warblers.  I think they're tricky for everyone not only because they're small but because there are so many of them!  In Arizona, I know where I can find my warblers but when birding another state, it's all unknown.  I try to study their habitats, but memorizing it all is impossible. In fact, the bird guides have several pages dedicated to ALL the warblers! Take, for example, the Prairie Warbler below.  I kept hearing this call that I could not ID. I went through every warbler call I knew in my head and it wasn't matching anything I knew.  At that point, I realized I was dealing with a life bird.  But who was it?  I had heard it several times on the trip to Maine but couldn't pinpoint it. Then it happened!  We were able to get a visual on the bird calling and that's when we discovered our Prairie Warbler!  But alas, the rain began to fall and the observation ended:(

Prairie Warbler near the Kennebunkport Plains, ME
I always hope for better observations.  Seeing common birds spoils us into thinking that they are all this way.....but as many birders and photographers's not.  On our camping trip to Greer, I was hoping to observe Red Crossbills better.  And we did!  It's never a given as all of it is always unknown, but when it happens, there is an internal sigh.  Even if the chances are good, I try to hold back from saying outloud, "Oh we'll find that bird!" because it will jinx the observation!  

Okay, so some of you might be wondering how a Crossbill eats?  The bill is shaped to get the seeds out of pine cones!  Pretty cool!  They eat other things as well like insects, but they do have an interesting bill!

Summer Tanager at Audubon's Paton's House in Patagonia
So on these days of extreme heat, raging rivers, nasty chiggers and avenging baby rattlesnakes protecting themselves from being stepped on, I take a step back and explore close to home....and study.  One of my projects in the next couple years is to take on the Eared Quetzal and Thick-billed Parrots of Chihuahua, Mexico.  They do rarely show up here in Arizona, and when they do, the whole birding world from around the US flocks to find them.  Sadly, these parrots were extirpated from our area a long time ago.  They tried to reintroduce them back into their former habitat many years ago but found that hawks had taken over the area making it difficult for the parrots to reestablish themselves. Another issue was starvation.  Since many of these parrots were captive bred relying on human handouts, they didn't stand a chance.  The project was terminated with little hope. Today, the parrots can be found in a small area of Northern Mexico.  However, once and a decade one shows up.....:) 

 I also believe this is a sensitive species in that if one did show up, it would be kept secret on places like Ebird.  I've discovered sensitive birds over the past several years and those records are locked for my eyes only and the researchers at Ebird.  In part, it's to keep the bird(s) safe from poachers or photographers who would endanger a bird for a photo.  

Anyhow, it's good to take a break and do so some relaxing.  I'll be back in force at the end of the month searching for some rarities in Sonora, Mexico, learning about birds and doing some birding with Gordon and AZFO in Globe and finally, taking a trip up to Colorado.  But for now, it's back to the books. And it's kind of nice:)  More soon......

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Southern Arizona Canyon Guide

 With the onset of our monsoon summer months here in Southern Arizona, many nature lovers seek the cool comforts of our beautiful canyons.  There are so many to explore and I must admit that there are several isolated ones that I'd like to discover with others down the road.  

Each canyon is unique and has its' own personality.  My favorites are Ramsey, Huachuca, Garden and Miller Canyons of the Huachucas, and Cave Creek Canyon near Portal of the Chiricahuas.  Other canyons of birder interest are Florida and Montosa of the Santa Ritas with the main attraction being Madera.  And there are SO many more!  I haven't mentioned the Catalina Mountains but her star attraction is the internationally popular Sabino Canyon.  But if you're going to see nature quietly, the best canyons are the ones least known by the outside crowd. 

Tarantula Hawk looks for a delicious juicy grasshopper or tarantula!
So here's my rundown on some of the more popular canyons.  Again this is just a sampling of the various canyons.  There are so many more.  It's hard to believe and embarrassing to admit but I have never visited the gorgeous, mouth drooling, scenery stealing, Big Horn Sheep bucking magic of Aravaipa Canyon.  It's on my list.  Maybe for my birthday in October......

Red Mite

The Santa Rita Mountains

  1. Madera Canyon-star attraction for birders, hikers and picnickers seeking cooler temps.  Easy access with wonderfully maintained paved roads.  There are Bed and Breakfasts in the Canyon.  We've stayed at one and had a great time. It is a popular place for observing lots of wonderful hummingbirds! 
    The very special Black-capped Gnatcatcher can be found in both Montosa and Florida Canyons and sometimes along the Proctor Trail of Madera Canyon.
  2. Montosa Canyon-the secret gem of the Santa Ritas.  Lots of specialty birds can hang out in this area. It is a canyon for hunters, joggers and birders.  Access into the canyon isn't difficult but can be if there is a monsoon storm. Parts of the road are paved while others are gravel. I also recommend going with others as I have run into drug runners.  It is an area that can be remote.  
    Rufous-capped Warblers along the narrow canyon and stream bed of Florida Canyon
  3. Florida Canyon-really a lovely canyon with a good chance of spotting the rare-to-the-US Rufous-capped Warbler.  The road can be rocky and difficult at times if there have been rains. There are trails but they are geared more towards birders and hikers.  Often, there is an active stream.  There is a small waterfall area that requires climbing.  It's good to have someone there to spot you in case you fall.  And it does happen. 

The Huachuca Mountains

This is easily my favorite mountain range because of its proximity to Tucson. It's also near the border and attracts all kinds of exotics! Great birds and other critters!  Here are just a few of my favorites.

Ferruginous Hawk near the entrance to Huachuca Canyon
  1. Huachuca Canyon-one of my favorites!  There is great hiking here along with the birding.  You'll need to bring your US ID to get onto this military base but it's easy.  Be careful with your Canadian birder friends.  Personally I never had an issue, but I've heard reports of these snowbirds getting turned away.  Military threats indeed!  This canyon has been home to the infamous Sinaloa Wren and other rare Mexican Species.  The issues?  The road can be rough after a rain event.  Wildlife!  This canyon, like many others, is home to bears and other fun critters. But for some reason, we hear more reports about bear in this area than any other canyon during our summer months. 
    Arizona Woodpecker is another special bird that people hope to glance!
  2. Ramsey Canyon-my personal favorite.  Sure there are great birds here but it's more than that.  Sometimes I just want to go for a nice lovely hike and walk among deer and coati.  There is a 6 dollar entrance fee but it's worth it.  This is also a great canyon for rarities like the Violet-crowned Hummingbird. And I personally think this canyon and Montosa have some of the most interesting bugs flying around!
    Violet-crowned Hummingbird
  3. My surprise new favorite canyon this year has been Garden Canyon on the Ft. Huachuca base.  Dark and magical with streams crossing the road, this place reminded me of something I've read in a fairytale.  I even got a fairytale picture of a Spotted Owl! This shot reminds me of Winnie the Pooh.....and I don't know why.
    Garden Canyon and a beautiful Spotted Owl!
  4.  Miller Canyon-Epic trails with lots of specialty birds like the Montezuma Quail, Northern Goshawk, and White-eared Hummingbird.  Here you can visit Beatty's Orchard and enjoy lots of incredible hummingbirds around his CAS(Controlled Access Site).  There are benches and lots of feeders to keep a nature lover occupied for some time.   Sit underneath the shade of the ramada and enjoy the show!  He does ask for a donation to keep his feeders full.
    A Montezuma Quail watches me from a trail off of the gravel road of Miller Canyon
  5. Ash Canyon is another great spot for birders to hang out for a break from the trails.  There are lots of hummingbirds including the very special Lucifer Hummingbirds that hang out at her location.  They are rare to Southern Arizona but they are regulars at Mary Jo's place.  A 5 dollar donation is requested to help maintain the feeders around her bed and breakfast. 

Juvenile male Broad-billed Hummingbird

The Chiricahua Mountains

Admittedly, I have barely touched these mountains.  The trip from Tucson is a bit further than other mountain ranges so I have to carefully schedule my visits here.  This is one incredible place full of species that cannot be found anywhere else in the US.  It is home to the Mexican Chickadee and other specialty birds.  Normally if I visit the Chiricahuas, I will stay for a couple nights because the one way trek is almost 3 hours long.  

Sulphur-bellied Flycatcher

Cave Creek Canyon is the only canyon I have visited.  It's pretty amazing as it feels like there is more wildlife than humans in this rather remote part of the world.  If you are driving from Phoenix or Tucson, you will need to pass through New Mexico and then reenter Arizona on the other side of the Chiricahuas to enter Portal. There is another road that crosses over the mountain range but it requires a sturdy car:)  Again, it's another favorite hotspot for me.

Bridled Titmouse
Everyone has their favorite birding hotspot.  Southern Arizona is rich with diversity and has lots to offer.  That's why it's such a wonderful playground for so many outdoor aficionados from around the world.  We're more than just a desert.  Happy Birding! Until next time.....

A little hummingbird fun at Madera Canyon.  For more bird fun, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Height Of Emotion

New England is a gorgeous place to bird.  I found myself drawn towards the borders of New Hampshire and Maine. The mountains and heavily forested areas were rather magical.  So we decided to take a trip into the Rangely District where we would explore several areas. 

We stopped at several hotspots which included rest stops, campgrounds and the infamous Boy Scout's road.  But before we began our walks into the wooded areas, we stopped at this amazing overlook.  Talk about breathtaking!

As the day went on, we had some amazing views of vireos and warblers. The humidity increased and a storm was brewing. 

Blue-headed Vireo
It would be great if someone could invent a light air conditioning outfit that would keep us cool on our hikes:) When we explore new areas(or old), we become wrapped up in all the wonderful discoveries forgetting about the bugs biting or terrible heat beating us slowly down.  But there comes a point when it doesn't matter how many bottles of water you drink or what sun hat you wear......

There comes a point when someone (or everyone) breaks down and says enough is enough.  Yet the bird song keeps us from using our common sense.  What's that?  Who's making that call? Just a couple meters here.  Pangs of hunger. Thirst. Itch. Damn mosquito!  Itch. Blood. Itch! A tick!?! How long has that been there?!  Just a few more minutes. Northern Parula!  Awesome!  And the time flies.  The dearest of friends become grouchy. The bug bites become too much.  And....

Northern Parula
SHAZAM!!!  Like that storm building on the horizon, words become thunder and lightning.

Red-breasted Nuthatch
Wait!  A Blackburnian Warbler!?!  Life bird!!!  And then the storm hits:)

Blackburnian Warbler
I look back at this day and really enjoyed our visit to this region.  The views were beautiful but I remember everyone suffering from humidity and heat exhaustion.  At one point Kathie and I were grouchy with each other and dare I say it.....sounding like a bunch of old farts. Looking back at it, I have a good chuckle. Recently I witnessed another birder duo go at it and realized it's a natural part of any friendship/relationship.....especially when birds are involved. I had a smile. 

It rained hard later that day. A welcome relief from the unrelenting heat. We sat inside of a cute and cozy restaurant watching the thunderstorm take hold. 

I ate my warm chowder and noticed a couple Killdeer running around in the parking lot. On the way home, we spotted yet another porcupine for the year!  I have gone years without seeing them in the wild and within this year alone, I've had 7 different sightings in Arizona, Maine and New Mexico!

Locals know where to go for some relief from the humidity!
I think of all the incredible places we visited in New England, and I have to say that this area and the Lost Pond were my favorites.   Stay tuned for more!

Broad-winged Hawk

For more about birds from around the world, check out Wild Bird Wednesday!