Monday, March 30, 2015


Common Raven
Life can get crazy. This past week included getting rid of a swarm of bees on our patio, preparing for Micheal's birthday and running errands for various things.  So when do I get to bird?

Willow Lake in Prescott, AZ
Well like everything else, I have to make the time.  One of the hardest decisions that I've had to make recently was letting go of the Presidency at our HOA.  As of the 31st, a huge weight and stress will be lifted from my shoulders.  More precious positive time again!

Evening Grosbeaks in Sunflower, AZ
As for other transitions? Well I also need to get back into shape again.  I've let myself go.  Yes, I hike and exercise, but it's the food!  I love it so much:)  I'm good the entire day until around 4 PM and then I go crazy.  This summer, I will be trekking around Southern Mexico and I need to get my body prepared for the high humidity hikes.

The treks make me laugh.  One week, I'm freezing my butt off on Lake Michigan.  The next weekend I'm down in Mexico birding along the beach.  This past weekend, we headed up north for a little R&R in Prescott, AZ. Talk about crazy weather extremes!

Western Meadowlark at Willow Lake
I think if it wasn't for birding, the friendships/family or my other half, I'd simply go insane.  Life is crazy.  At the beginning of the year, I thought my time out in the field would be cut to a minimum due to the wedding.  However, I've discovered that I can't let that happen. One day versus a whole year?  I just don't get the crazy need for spending thousands upon thousands of dollars for a one day event. Anyhow, I find the time to explore wherever we go now.

White-breasted Nuthatch
And of course, I enjoy the fun ride that goes with the birds. Today's post takes place at Willow Lake with Micheal and Cynthia near Prescott, Arizona.  Everything was blooming.  Allergies were high and so were the warblers!

Micheal, me and Cynthia
I marvel at it all.  From the chilly woods, to the mountain terrain, and so on and so on.  When one birds, life is an everyday adventure.  Until next week friends..... 

Pops feeds the Mallards, Canada Geese and American Black Ducks  Look lower left in pic to see the ABDU.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Balancing Act

My voyage home to Wisconsin focused on family and several target birds.  Last year, I discovered Long-tailed Ducks in Maine but wasn't able to obtain decent photo documentation.  I scheduled my birding treks during the day while everyone was working and carefully targeted several of Wisconsin's finest harbors along beautiful Lake Michigan. 

Long-tailed Duck
I needed ice chunks and an enclosed harbor to find this duck above.  The temps had warmed up and the ice was rapidly disappearing.  In winter, the Long-tailed Duck likes to hang near harbors full of ice.  We headed north where it was colder and the ice still remained.  On the way up to Door County with my parents, we stopped in a town known as Algoma.  It had a harbor with all the right conditions.  As I looked out over the frozen piers, I spotted what looked like trash in the water next to several large ice chunks.  Jackpot!  What an amazing bird!

The Amish return from their Sunday services

While I preferred and spent most of my time on the lakes, harbors and rivers, I needed to explore the country.  There were several birds that liked this marshy field area. So I went to Collin's Marsh and entered the land of the Amish.

American Tree Sparrow
Here I picked up two lifebirds with several new year birds including a rare Snowy Owl!  The problem?  I got so caught up with all the cool birds that I forgot about my lifebird targets.  However, the American Tree Sparrows wouldn't let me forget that I needed to see them.  I sat for a good ten minutes looking at the sparrows confused.  They weren't Chipping or Song or Swamp Sparrows. These sparrows were like a combo of these three birds....rufousy yet gray with a central breast spot.  Then it clicked within my head that I wasn't dealing with any previously observed sparrows.  I still think about that moment of confusion and marvel at the power of observation.  Sparrows are way cool!

Rough-legged Hawk pursuing a Red-winged Blackbird
However, I spent a good part of my morning locating several Rough-legged Hawks at this marsh with my cousin Erin and her boyfriend Josh.  After years of thinking I saw one, I was finally able to safely pull off the side of the road and watch several of these hawks in action. There are always a few in Arizona every winter, but every time I get close, I have a line of cars behind me and the bird flies off!   

Black-capped Chickadee
Other birds thrilled!  The common birds were as cool as the rare ones.  I observed lots of nesting Bald Eagles.  

Greater Scaup
Family events are always fun.  My family likes to be outdoors and we had a night out at Point Beach State Park eating chili in the cold temps.  These are all of my nephews and nieces from my side!  And that doesn't include several on the way from both our sides of the family!

What's that angry bird doing here??!!!
Lake Michigan is like the ocean. It's vast. People who have never been to the Great Lakes Region are always surprised by how large these bodies of water really are. Many people cross the bridges or drive along the lake not really looking at all the cool birds hanging out in the waters. They seem to look at the horizon wondering what's on the other side. 

Common Goldeneye
When I reported a Red-throated Loon, they were surprised.  So I pulled out the pics to show the loon make its awkward landing in the chilly waters.  The following pics are field pics not worthy of anything art.  Just cool moment shots in poor lighting conditions. 

Red-throated Loon-lighter overall with a speckly back in winter plumage.  No barring at all on this bird which eliminates Common Loon.
Also of great interest to me were the numerous White-winged Scoters found along the shoreline.  Now again, this isn't a great shot, but it's cool.  I watched this Scoter chow down on some mussels along the pier.  

Hooded Merganser
I find the photography of a new life bird at times irritating because I want to observe their behaviors instead of focusing on the shot.  Don't get me wrong. I love excellent photos but I'd much prefer sitting on the pier watching the birds.  So when I'm searching for new gulls(another favorite of mine to ID), I'm always happy.  Gulls play nice and don't mind posing most of the time.  

Left to right.  Glaucous Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, several Ring-billed Gulls(smaller) and Herring Gulls

On this journey, I studied a lot more about gulls.  In the photos above and below, there are 4 different gulls.  My targets were the Glaucous, Thayer's and Iceland Gulls.  

For the Glaucous gull, it was fairly simple to ID.  I had to look for a larger gull that was plain gray.  These gulls lack any black coloration.  Soon I hope to be advanced enough to pick out the much more difficult Thayer's and Iceland Gulls. 

Ring-billed Gull
Finally, I went looking for Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs and ended up with a Northern Shrike.  This Shrike was shy and didn't hang around long enough for me to enjoy a decent observation. But I got to see one finally!

Northern Shrike
It's difficult. I have birds in my head all the time.  I wish I could get them out, but there's nothing like the addiction of fresh air and the excitement of something new and wonderful just waiting to be discovered. 

Usually towards the end of the trek, I wear myself out. Then it's just fun hanging out with the gang.  If you come visit Wisconsin, you have to check out the sausage and cheese factories. BEST sausage and cheese in this country! Unless of course you are a vegetarian:)

Sausage fest!
 My cousin and her boyfriend were visiting from Colorado which made for a fun week. They loved the beef sticks. Be careful how many you eat or you might have a sore stomache:)  And like everything in this life, it all flew by much too quickly.

I'm going to apologize to my family now for my insane intensity.  I can't shut off this crazy addiction.  Here is the best way I can put it. I've always been an explorer and will continue to be one until the day I die.  I've realized that the days ahead are some of my best.  I will never have kids and I do want to leave something behind for the world.  I'm hoping I can contribute in some way to the preservation of our world no matter how dark it may seem sometimes. The more I know; the more sucked into this adventure I become.  

My pops or as the grandkids say.....Grandpalf The Gray. "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"
 Take for example the Ruffed Grouse.  It's a bird on my list but like any grouse, it requires a bit of study.  While we were up in Door County, we studied this bird's habitat. I then went to a local zoo where they had this grouse for me to study.  I was able to listen to the low hum and vibrating vocalizations, observe movement, etc to get an idea what this bird was all about! Meanwhile my nephew and niece were getting slimed by a couple giraffes:)  Classic.  

Never have I become so acutely aware of time as I do now.  Time with friends and family and birding seem to all collide.  I want to do it all, but I can't.  And when I do it all, I'm exhausted from wearing myself out in the field all day.  But WOW!  I go to bed at night happy.  I know that someday my light will dim, but for now, my appetite for knowledge grows leaps and bounds. 

Woodland Dunes-home to the Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Saw-whet Owls
I am back in Arizona again, but my adventures will take me south once more into Mexico. So for now, I want to say thank you to my family for a wonderful time.  I love you all.  See you in a few months! 

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Migration North

Long-eared Owl
I am spending my warm spring break this year in Wisconsin.  The temps are somewhat agreeable for the outdoors:)  It's definitely not the 90 degree weather back home!

Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary rescues 8 Red Fox pups after their mother was killed by a car.  I like to stop here when I visit to see what's happening at their center.  So grateful for all the work they do!  Plus they have nice bird feeders and it's a reliable place to pick up the American Black Duck:)  Over a hundred of these beauties mix it up with their Mallard friends along a wonderful wetland area. 
While hanging out with the family, I've managed to rack up some birds here along Lake Michigan.  The wintering birds are starting to head back north and my wintering birds from Arizona are starting to migrate back north into places like Wisconsin.  The Sandhill Cranes and Red-winged Blackbirds have made their debut!

Red-winged Blackbird
While here, I've gotten permission to survey a restricted area, visit a wildlife rehabilitation center, explore Lake Michigan's shoreline and surrounding marshlands. 

Family helps explore a restricted area near a nuclear power plant.  We obtained a permit to walk the land. Very cold!  But we found an active nesting pair of eagles!
It's tricky maneuvering as I try to balance family and birding together.  So far I've managed to land myself 4 new lifebirds including the American Tree Sparrow, Glaucous Gull, Northern Shrike and Rough-legged Hawk.  All these birds will be or are heading north.  I have been trying to track Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs, but I don't have many opportunities to chase these birds now as my time is coming to a close. I missed these birds in our area by just a few days.  They are now further north in Wisconsin!

Herring Gull
I met up with my favorite Manitowoc birder and former Professor, Doc Sontag.  We chatted for awhile discussing the various birding trends in the area for the month of March.  

Meeting Doc Sontag at the Manitowoc Impoundment
Balancing it all out is super tricky! Either way, it's weird watching a very active migration take place right before my eyes.  Everything this year seems to be a week or two early in many areas. 

American Black Duck
The birds out in Lake Michigan have been very exciting for me.  I love all the gulls and waterbirds floating around the piers and harbors. I've found the White-winged Scoters, Red-throated Loon, and the Common, Hooded and Red-breasted Mergansers!  Other delights include MANY Common Goldeneyes and Greater Scaups. But where oh where are those darned Long-tailed Ducks everyone is reporting:)?

Female Hooded Merganser
So for now, I leave you.  I still have "work" to do on this spring break.  

Red-bellied Woodpecker
I leave you now with one of my favorite lighthouses along Lake Michigan.  Until next time!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Water Highways

Dean scouts the area for animal tracks
This week's episode takes us into the heart of the "Riparian Debate".  I have adopted three birding "patches" or places where I actually try and do regular counts.  One is my home.  The second is at my work site and the third takes place at a ranch known as Aribabi which is south of the Mexican border.

Northern Cardinal-will this be a new species on the ABA list?  We'll find out this year.
There is an active waterway known as the Cocospera river which is surrounded by a rancher's property. This river is home to many rare and wonderful critters. The goal of my survey this past weekend was to examine this riparian corridor and see if there were any hawks using the Cocospera river for their migration route.  Others came to check the Jaguar cams.   While it wasn't a "hawk route" during this observation window, I did find Red-tailed and Gray Hawks.

Each time I visit, there is something different hanging out around the ranch house.  My bird tally was great with over 70 different species being seen.  There were high sparrow numbers.  Northern Cardinals were active and calling.  Rufous and Violet-crowned Hummingbirds stopped at our feeders. For evening birds, several highlights included the Buff-collared Nightjar, Common Poorwill, Western Screech-Owl, Elf Owl and Great Horned Owls.

Our friend, the Burro, follows us along the trail
The rancher in charge of this riparian area is trying to keep the land and river protected, but there are other parties who are interested in using this ribbon of liquid gold for agricultural purposes.  Others would like to construct a road over a portion of the river for access, etc.  And there are others who would love to hunt the elusive Jaguars that have been seen in this important conservation area.

From on top of the hill.  It shows the vast country of the ranch.  The sparkling green Riparian stands out as the Cocospera rivers bends and turns through the area.
Just recently, a jaguar was shot and killed illegally at a ranch several towns over. The pelt, we were told, sold for around 40 US dollars. This endangered animal faces many obstacles which include habitat loss, poaching and of course, the long border fences that block jaguar routes into the desert southwest. 

Jim explains the importance of this riparian corridor to several of the newcomers.
I can't imagine what would happen to everything around this area if the river was redirected elsewhere.  The affects would be devastating for not only the wildlife that lives within this corridor but for the people who work on the ranch.

Once considered extinct, the Rufous-winged Sparrows have rebounded once more into existence.  They were found in great numbers singing on branches throughout the ranch.
During my studies, I had many male Rufous-winged Sparrows calling from on top of branches.  It's that time of year:)

But the surprising bird for me?  The Wilson's Snipe!  There is a "ciénagas" (pronounced see-en-eh-gos) or marshy area that is perfect habitat for these birds.  However, they are tricky:)  Look at the pic below.  I chose the best one from my camera to make it easier.  There is a snipe within those grasses.  Can you find the bird?

Even trickier?  Trying to get a photo of these camera shy birds! If I got out of the truck, they'd fly.  So we had to do our survey from the vehicle:)

Wilson's Snipe
What would happen if people took away the water from this riparian corridor? In the past, it has devastated wildlife populations. Today we continue to destroy these prime water habitats around the world by damming up rivers for energy, shifting waters for agricultural uses or redirecting it for other human needs. And our needs are plenty as the human population continues to grow globally. Migratory water "highways" are fragmented or disappear making the long distance flights for many birds difficult or nearly impossible. Will the snipe be forced to relocate?  Or is this the end of snipe visiting this region for good?  

 Back in Arizona, it is estimated that less than 10 percent of our original riparian areas remain in their natural form.

Rufous Hummingbird
For now, I continue to document the birds around my various areas.  What changes will we notice in our lifetimes?

Checkered Skipper (Pyrgus communis) 
It was another productive outing in the field and our first adventure into Mexico this year.  Where will we be next weekend?  Stay tuned for more.

Kathy looking for those Coati tracks.