Saturday, May 2, 2015

Veni, Vidi, Vici

The power and beauty of nature! at Empire Gulch
This weekend was a whirlwind as the Wrenegades united once again for a good cause to find as many birds as we could around Southern Arizona. It was a successful trek into mountain, riparian, desert and grassland habitats.  Along the way, we avoided heat stroke, falling asleep at the wheel and a rabid skunk attack!

Northern Pygmy Owl
 Overall, our team discovered 163 birds which beat our record from last year. There were a lot of great birds that unfortunately were too far for my camera to pick up. Or it was too dark!  Among my favorites were an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Flammulated and Barn Owls, and Buff-breasted Flycatcher.

Two-tailed Swallowtail
 Timing is everything on these trips and it's tricky business doing three things at once. However, I need to train and practice for this upcoming Mexico trip! Finding the birds.  Entering the data.  And photo documentation.  By the end of our Audubon Birdathon, we were exhausted. I fell asleep but woke up later with a splitting headache!  I've never experienced that kind of pain before and I think it was related to an overworked eye.  It's intense non-stop birding that really doesn't allow for a break.  So when I got home, I took a shower and fell asleep. 

Wrenegade strategist and data analyst Tim leads the team over a stream to potential birds while Wrenegade surveyor Sara carefully scans the surrounding area with her excellent spotting. 
 But our treks were successful and very rewarding. Anytime you work with a group, you always pick up something new that you didn't know before. Take for example, these Black-tailed prairie dogs(below).  They are a threatened species that have been reintroduced back into the CiĆ©nagas Grasslands near Sonoita after being wiped out since the early 1900's.  These mammals have been doing very well and seem to be reestablishing their population once again. In the past, ranchers poisoned these "pests" off their lands. This is a keystone species for the grasslands in that other species benefit by their presence.  Without them, other species begin to decline.  Since their introduction, Burrowing Owls have returned thanks to the abandoned Prairie dog burrows. 

In other news, I have been following my heart on several other birding treks.  We were going to hike up a mountain a week ago but it had rained that day.  Working on a hunch, we headed down to Cochise Lake and scored big!  Not only was it freezing cold(very unusual this time of year) but the storm pushed a thousand+ shorebirds our way!  Hot birds for this frigid day included my first state Sanderling, a Greater White-fronted Goose, Bonaparte's Gull, Forster's Tern, and my favorite, the Franklin's Gull(below).  

Large numbers of Lesser Yellowlegs(below), Long-billed Dowitchers and Wilson's Phalaropes were also present. White-faced Ibis and Marbled Godwits dotted the lake shore as well.  It was an amazing day out. Plus shorebirds are a fun challenge. Sometimes you gamble and win!  This day was definitely one of those times:)

Lesser Yellowlegs
It's now May and my current list for North American birds is at 303 species for the year. Last year I finished the year with 476 birds(including Mexico).  This year I hope to beat that number with 500. The Life bird chase has slowed down dramatically now until I am free from work for the summer.  This year has been quite unique for me. The "Americano" chapter of my birding life feels different.  For one thing, it lacks the crazy adrenaline chases of last year's "Across America".  It's much more relaxed, but I find myself pulled in deeper to the birds that I know. For many I smile, but for others I worry. 

American Avocet
For example, the Barn Owl below.  I have been documenting a lot of dead Barn Owls this year along our highways.  This particular LIVING owl is also nearby the interstate and I worry for its safety.  They are low flyers and are often hit by motor vehicles. Their numbers seem to be in decline in many areas.  When I see an owl, I get excited, but I never want to disturb them.  I quickly snap their picture from a distance and leave.  Sacred birds, they are.  I wish this one well!  

I leave you with a collage of the owls I've seen this year.  I've heard several others and will hopefully get some photo documentation on them. The Flammulated Owl still evades my camera. Although it had no problem flying over my head early Friday morning! Next week, we slow down and enjoy an event known as "The Big Sit".  If you'd like to donate to the Tucson Audubon, click here. A login is not required after you go to the donate button. Remember, we are the Wrenegades and our fearless leader is Jenny Wren:) A Birdathon Big Day is an important way to share the excitement of being outdoors and watching birds while raising funds to support the programs that make this region a better place for us all to live(or visit!) and enjoy. Since 1987, Birdathon has garnered support for birds and bird-friendly habitats, and for Tucson Audubon's work to conserve these unique natural resources and to educate our community on their importance.  Until next week friends....

Top left-Long-eared owl, Top right- Barn Owl, Bottom Left-Spotted Owl. Middle Right-Great Horned Owl  Bottom Right-Northern Pygmy Owl


  1. Oh you Wrenegades. I'll be you see more by sharing with a group. I smile every time we get this life web and return what we've destroyed. Burrowing owls are one of my favorites, but all your shots are spectacular. Are all owls low flyers?

    1. Not all owls are low flyers Gaelyn. Most are mid to higher....ish. But Burrowing and especially Barn and Short-eared owls get hit more by cars because they do fly low over the ground. Burrowing face dangers from tractors and their plowing. And the grasslands have a lot of projects in store. That area is going to be dynamite. Herds of pronghorn are returning, the Chiricahuan Leopard Frogs are stabalizing, etc etc. There's lots of more wildlife returning again and it's awesome!

  2. Great post as always Chris with some great photos :) I so enjoy reading about how your life and year lists are growing. Love the owl and Swallowtail photos. Sad about Barn Owls being killed by traffic - have similar problems over here :( Glad to hear the reintroduced prairie dogs are doing so well :)

  3. Hi Chris. I've much enjoyed this post, and your beautiful images.

    Traffic accidents are the main cause of death of Barn Owls over here too (50% and rising!). It's recommended not to encourage them to breed or roost (provision of nest boxes, etc.) within 5 km (3 miles) of a major road. However, I've seen more Tawny Owl as road accident victims than Barn Owl, and Little Owl are also regular victims. Sadly, this situation will only get worse, unless mega-bucks are spent on building continuous high roadside barricades along major highways - and I don't see this happening ever!

  4. the splitting headache afterwards sounds dreadful, but i know you love birding excursions. :)

  5. Some really fantastic birds in there. Super waders and lovely Barn Owl.

  6. After that very interesting but tiring weekend the 'Big Sit' sounds just the ticket.

  7. Wow Chris, the owl mosaic is awesome.. Good luck with your BIG SIT!

  8. Great post! We have been searching for owls lately but have yet to see one we can photograph. What a great weekend trip! Love the photos. Sorry you had such an awful headache!

  9. You have been busy. The owls are great to see, not many around here but then maybe I am not looking in the right places. Happy birding.

  10. Splendid post - team bird watching is always fun and often productive!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  11. Beautiful pictures, Chris.
    My favorite picture 3 with the butterfly, and the collage of the owls.
    Well done.
    Have a happy weekend.

  12. I'm a tad jealous, Chris- you really have too much fun! Have a super day and stay safe if the storms are in your area.

  13. My goodness you have been busy Chris. Lovely owl shots. I am still keeping an eye out for our little buddy in the saguaro but a pair of kestrels are raising young in another hole slightly higher up so I think he has been 'evicted!'

  14. Quite an intense birding experience, and productive indeed! I especially liked the owls.

  15. Thank you for the owl post! I just love your owl photos.

  16. Your photos are an inspiration, Chris. LOVE the photo of the flying avocet!

  17. Another GRAND Adventure for Las Adventuras! I love the Northern Pygmy owl, and I had no idea they were bringing prairie dogs back in Sonoita!


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